Long weekend camping

Sun, May 25, 2008 @ 19:50

Most unlike me to not mention upcoming things in my life, especially when they are interesting ones like a weekend camping trip to Vancouver Island. As it turns out, camping is a pretty common activity in BC, with the May long weekend being the point when most camping fans break out their gear for another season. I headed out with my friend and coworker Jordan and his girlfriend on Friday, and along with seven others spent the three nights in Green Point Campground, which is in the Pacific Rim National Park.

I will also quickly warn you that this is a long post. Lets just say I have written university papers that were shorter. It is pretty much a blow by blow account of what I did over this weekend. You may enjoy it, I tried to make it entertaining, but in reality it is mostly for me. A historical record that I can look back on in years to come and remember with fondness these good times. My desire to create and publish are the only reasons it doesn’t remain a file on my computer. All the best. :)

Preparation

The three day long weekend was actually four days for me as I took the preceding Friday off from work. All week in fact I was busy stocking up and buying supplies. New sleeping bag, thermal sleep mat and flashlight among other things. I will say that I was talked into getting a nice head-mounted flashlight – one of the ones on the elasticized headband – and I was very pleased with it. It was both a nice powerful flashlight with a clear LED beam, and highly convenient to use whilst my hands were otherwise busy preparing firewood, or cooking something. How many times have you held a mini-maglite in your mouth? C’mon… I can’t be the only one or these things wouldn’t have a market. While this pre-camping stockpiling was a tad pricy, it was a capital outlay and the cost can be spread out over all future camping trips. Assuming that I don’t abandon my new camping stuff here and end up buying new stuff somewhere else.

The weekend really started Thursday evening when I went to the grocery store with Jordan to stock up on the camping essentials. It was an interesting adventure trying to buy food for three days with no clear plan as to what meals we wanted, and other than a campfire, nothing to cook them with. Add into the mix a vegetarian, and you end up with a random assortment of foods that may or may not work well on a camping trip. In the end, we did manage to buy a large box worth of food and other camp products.

Friday, 16 May

Friday was largely spent on the road. Not necessarily driving on that road, but certainly on it. The issue was that we didn’t have a ferry booked. Being west coast neophytes, Jordan and I didn’t really appreciate the need to do this, or the possibility of it. I do have a bit of car ferry experience, having grown up merely 15 minutes away from the ferry between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. In my experience, catching the ferry was a matter of getting up early and crossing your fingers that you don’t have a multiple hour wait. Such was the case on this long weekend. Since none of us had a car, Jordan had arranged for a rental. This he picked up Friday morning and he and his girlfriend packed up and drove across the bridge to pick me up. When they arrived, I noticed that the vehicle wasn’t the intermediate car that we had booked, but a Chrysler Pacifica SUV. While it would likely be harder on gas, it turned out that the extra size and storage were a blessing as we had a fair bit packed.

I added my belongings to the pile and squeezed in amidst the camping paraphernalia. Back into downtown, through Stanley Park and across the Lion’s Gate Bridge and we were in North Vancouver. A couple of stops for yet more last minute supplies (first aid kits can be a boon) and we were headed through West Vancouver to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal. We arrived shortly after 11:30 and we were told that we would be on the 3:00 ferry. Damn. With some time on out hands we did a bit of resting, reading and exploring the terminal. After the 12:30 ferry departed and we were shifted around, Jordan and I headed out for some lunch and recreation. We found a nice little shop: hybrid convenience store/dollar store, where we bought some frisbees and cards, just in case.

The sailing itself was fine and we arrived in Nanaimo without any complication. In charge of navigating, I guided us up to the highway and then along route 4 cutting westward across Vancouver Island. Once off the highway, things got pretty rural, pretty fast. Not typically prone to car sickness, I found myself in the back seat buried in a map which, combined with the hairpin roads and Jordan’s tight cornering, cause a bit of discomfort. At that point I decided since there was only one road to be on, that I could lose the map, and enjoy the scenery. We eventually arrived at the campground shortly after 7pm. We picked up 5 bundles of firewood and found our site, number 70. Or should I say their site, since I was going to be sleeping in a tent which was being brought by Jordan’s friends who were yet to arrive.

So before we ran out of light, we set up Jordan’s tent. No problems there. We then endeavored to get a fire going. Here we encountered a bit more trouble. The primary issue being that the firewood sold to us was damp. Actually, most of the firewood wasn’t too bad, it was a the kindling that came with it that was damp. Luckily we had brought a hatchet and were able to split some slender pieces from the larger, drier wood. After a couple of false starts, we got something going. It was after dark when most of the remaining members of our party arrived. Five people had traveled up from Victoria in one car, with a dog. How they managed, I’ll never know. In the car were Brent and Heather who had organized the trip, along with another Heather, Geneviève and Jon. They were toting the tent I would be sleeping in, so after introductions, I dug in and lent a hand to get it set up.

After people were settled, everyone gathered around the fire at Jordan’s site and we chatted until eventually people started peeling off to turn in for the night. The night was quite mild and I slept well in my new sleeping bag.

Saturday, 17 May

I don’t know if I have ever slept in past 8am in a tent, but when you are tired and relatively comfortable, then anything is possible. Around 8:30 I emerged along with most of the other inhabitants of my tent and the other tent on our site. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm. It wasn’t long before I changed into shorts. Although just having spent the night in a tent with some of them, I was still a little while getting familiar with the group. Breakfast was made, eggs, beans, bagels, etc. They had brought a camp stove. Something that Jordan and I didn’t have and we had only brought cold breakfast items. We cleaned up eventually, after a morning of puttering around the campsite, and before long it was decided a beer run need to be made to Tofino. So around noon we packed our stuff up and headed into town.

Noting the location of the liquor store, we wandered around a bit (Tofino is pretty small) and found a place for lunch. The Sea Shanty served a surprising selection of non-seafood thankfully and we all ate a quite civilized lunch. Emerging once again into the cloying heat, we decided we should just go back to the camp which had beach access and go down to enjoy the weather while we could. We grabbed the necessary supplies, like alcohol, my root beer and some ice and headed back to the camp.

We changed into bathing suits, although we suspected the water would be too cold for… anything. The temperature at the campsite was notably chillier than in town we noticed with some disappointment. When we got down to the beach (which is down quite a hill) we first noticed that it was quite windy. The sand was being blown down the large sandbar quite forcefully. The tide was low and the size of it impressed me, almost like the Bay of Fundy. Almost. The wind also made the frisbees obsolete. We thought about the possibility of constructing a wind wall, but it never really materialized. The girls attempted one, but it didn’t really work as well as hoped. At one point after tossing a long stick around with the dog, we embedded it in the sand and I tried to mark it off as a sundial. Well, I marked and labeled the current time, and that was about as far as I knew. Then Jordan upended a larger piece of driftwood as his sundial.

Okay, we could go one better, so we found a large driftwood log about the diameter of a telephone pole. It was between four and five meters long. We decided to dig a hole for it and erect it as our huge sundial. Digging was carried out by Jordan and Brent, while I rigged up a yoke from a long stick and a piece of drift rope. I tied it around one end of the embedded log and when the hole was sufficiently deep, Brent and I dragged the pole around to the hole and then in a coordinated effort managed to get it upright. We filled in the hole with sand and surprisingly enough, it held. We had joked about the pole falling over on some small child, and plagued with a conscience, we decided to take it down. After some posing with the pole for photos, we took turns trying to bring it down with a large club. No go. So in the end we pushed it over, surprised with just how stable it was.

At this point the girls decided to return to camp. Ironically the wind died down shortly after they left and Jordan and I managed to get some frisbee in. It had been a while since I had last tossed a frisbee and it was nice to get the opportunity. Eventually we too returned to the camp as it was chilling off and nearing dinner time. Dinner was hamburgers: mostly vegetarian for the folks of that persuasion, but I had brought some meaty ones as well. We also tried to cook potatoes in the fire, and the group from Victoria also had fire-cooked corn-on-the-cob, which was apparently delicious. The wind picked up at this point and our campsite was exposed to it, so Jordan moved the fire to his site which was considerably more sheltered.

Around this time we were joined by Jag and Amy, the last two members of our camping troupe. Also coming from Victoria, Jag had to work Saturday, so came up afterward. They got their tent set up and their stuff sorted out and then they joined us around the fire. Another evening of reminiscing, and story telling around the warm of the fire pit. I had a bit more energy this night, but it was colder and eventually I turned in, careful not to wake my tent mates.

Sunday, 18 May

Sunday started off a bit more grey, and a bit chillier. Not shorts weather. However, we didn’t let that get in the way of a decent breakfast. Pancakes were on the menu for this morning. After sating our morning hunger and washing up, we grouped up to discuss our agenda for the day. Having been pretty lazy the day before, we wanted to do something somewhat significant today. Amy had brought up something about some hot springs which we could catch a boat to from Tofino. Some of the other guys wanted to go surfing. Not really my bag, but if they wanted to suit up and freeze their asses off, who was I to stop them.

We decided that we would head into Tofino and scope something out. We all brought our bathing suits in case we did end up heading to hot springs. After finding suitable parking we wandered back into the heart of Tofino and some of the group stopped for drinks at a coffee shop. Apparently the camp coffee just wasn’t cutting it, especially given the chill and dampness. When we the group joined up, the other half said they had been down to a boat operator and with a group of our size, they would be willing to give us a discount per person, but it would still be $80 a head. This caused some discourse regarding who wanted to go, and who would rather stay in Tofino and/or return to the camp. The whole trip was six hours long: three hours at the springs, and 90 minutes boat trip each way. In the beginning it was split 7:3 in favour of the springs. We went down to the boat operator to sign up to make sure we had a spot. We talked them down to $70 plus tax, for an excursion which normally cost $110. All the while it seemed to be getting nicer, the sun breaking through the clouds.

In the end, the seven managed to convince the three that they should go too, and all ten of us were signed up. At this point we had an hour to kill before the boat left – around 2:30. We moved our cars to the parking lot beside the tour operator and brought out the food and made ourselves a sandwich lunch. We also packed a few sandwiches to go, since we would be gone quite a long time. I realized as the sun gained intensity that I would be in trouble since I left my hat in the tent. Upon a good recommendation, I quickly ran up to a gift shop and purchased a new hat, which doubles as a souvenir of Tofino. With some of my burning mitigated, we were ready to head out to Hot Springs Cove.

The boat had a closed front cabin which could seat all of our group which consisted of the ten of us and a family of four. However, if the water was choppy, the smoothest ride was in the back, outside on the bench of seats. A few of our group started outside to enjoy the sun and the wind, but before long it became too cold for some. I headed out at that point because I like being outside on the water. At a couple points when we cruised through fog, it was pretty harsh out, but otherwise, it was a brisk ride. The ambient temperature wasn’t that low, so it was mostly cold fingers and ears.

Arriving at the dock, we were told we would actually have an extra half an hour as the pilot had to refuel the boat. The dock was pretty much, just that, a dock. There was little else there and some of us used the washroom at this point to don swimwear. The walk to the springs is really pleasant. It is about 2km of boardwalk, with stairs. All along the length of it in addition to the beautiful west coast forest, you can see carvings in the individual planks. Some of these carvings, which seem to be a combination of people’s names and ship names are quite ornate. At the end of the trail the smell of sulfur gets pretty strong and there is another washroom and a separate changing room. Past those, the spring itself which spills over the edge of a cliff and creates a very hot waterfall. The water then forms several pools as it works its way to the ocean. There were a number of people there when we got there, but I suspect they had a boat to catch as they left before too long and it was pretty much just the ten of us there for a while. It was the closest thing to a bath or shower any of us had seen in a couple days, and it was a welcome chance to soak for a bit.

After a while the warmth gets to you, and I don’t think I was the only one feeling a bit poached by the whole experience. Slowly we tore ourselves away from the oasis of heat and back into the mist that was starting to creep in from the ocean. Dried, changed and relaxed, we made the scenic journey back to the dock. The boat was punctual and the ride back was uneventful. We returned to our cars and then made a quick stop at a coffee shop for some warm drinks to punctuate the experience. By this point it was dark and we returned to the campground for a late dinner. The meal was vegetarian stew or fettucini depending on which car you arrived in. There was an incident with some of the stew, but to protect the careless innocent, I will skip the details.

The dampness was setting in and by the time dinner was wrapping up, we were getting the odd drop of rain. But we settled in around the fire regardless as we set out to burn the last of our wood. It took a while, but we burnt everything and the last of us ended up getting to sleep after 4am to the sound of soothing rain.

Monday, 19 May

There is nothing soothing about the rain when you wake up and you have growing puddles inside the tent threatening to reach you and your stuff. Fortunately, I was able to get up and pulled together and my stuff out before anything got too wet. Not that it would matter, since the rain was coming down pretty hard and things managed to get wet organically. It isn’t fun tearing down camp in the rain with everything wet, but we got it all in reasonably well. Since we were going to be trying to catch the ferry without a reservation, we needed to head out sooner rather than later, so we said our goodbyes to the others and headed out.

Through a series of unfortunate events, involving, among other things, a similarly large puddle in their tent, Jordan was without any pants to wear for the drive home. So, altruistic as I am, I lent him my jogging pants, which although a tad big for him were long enough, and most importantly: dry. We returned through the winding mountain roads, and once we emerged back into civilization (relatively speaking – it was Port Alberni) we stopped for lunch at Boston Pizza. It was at this point that I realized how much sun I had gotten. It was also after ordering that Jordan went to the mall across the street and bought a new pair of jeans. Lunch was great, and we hit the road again for the last leg toward Nanaimo. When we arrived they were directing traffic every which way in order to accommodate the massive amount of ferry traffic. We were lined up for quite a while before we even got to the payment gate. Only a two hour wait… seemed like small change compared to what we were used to, or what it could have been.

The wait and the ferry ride passed without incident. We spent a bit of the time waiting by sorting through a bit of the mess of our stuff in the back of the SUV, but there really wasn’t much to be done before getting back. Once back on the mainland, we drove the reverse route we took out and dropped some stuff of in North Van before dropping me off at my place. Tired and in desperate need of a shower.

Afterword

All said and done, it was an amazing weekend, with a great group of people. I love camping, but I usually don’t get out as often as I’d like. That is one great think about the west coast, it seems like hiking and camping are quite prominent. I’m slowly stockpiling supplies and equipment of my own, some to replace things that I didn’t bring out with me, and some that I never had before, but recognize a need for if I am going to get out and camp some more. Hopefully I’ll get a chance, and I suspect when I do, you’ll hear about it. At great length, in more detail than a normal person would ever need. Cheers.