It was summer in Canada. Motor homing season had arrived. The previous year we had purchased a 29-foot colossus and took a few trial runs, realizing that motor homing is a pretty fun activity. Initially I had been entirely intimidated as the intended driver of the beast, but found it to be fairly easy to navigate. In four trips last summer, my most errant driving moment was to leave tire marks on the top of a curb and cause the dishes to clatter while my co-pilot screamed that I was such “a silly old fool”. Well, that wasn’t quite accurate. Even though she may consider such lurid thoughts, my beloved would never call me such a name. The “silly old fool” was actually some poor guy at the next campsite trying to negotiate an even bigger colossus into a postage stamp sized allotment. His wife, apparently having few positive thoughts where her husband is concerned, had thrown up her hands in frustration and walked away, as the “silly ol’ fool” rammed his rig into a water tank. I didn’t feel so bad about the curb incident.
This summer we, therefore, planned bigger and better trips. The first few trips of the season tend to be more local ventures early in the year. We find May to be a very nice month to travel, as the weather is usually very fine in the Okanagan and the tourists haven’t yet descended upon us. We, therefore, set out for two such trips to the Shuswap and Skaha Lakes. Both were successful with good weather and no curb-like mishaps. We had a very busy summer with about 6 weeks of guests, so getting away for any length of time longer than a weekend, was challenging. We, however, booked two weeks on Vancouver Island, leaving all stray relatives to fend for themselves.
There was also a most important bonus to this trip. The poodles were staying at home. My very wise partner had read that wolves on Long Beach have been known to attack domesticated dogs and we were to spend several days on Long Beach. Even though the poodles are rather large, they are really big lap dogs, more likely to seek romance from wolves, than conflict. They could, gleefully, not be risked on Long Beach.
Yahoo! No poodles charging around our metal box or laying their six-foot-long bodies in the middle of the only walkable space. No expectant canines coming to attention every time I move in the direction of the door, or milling around in the night to protect against wolf attacks…..and no malodorous canines. This was like a second honeymoon. I was in a state of bliss.
As the big day arrived, the motor home was stocked, oiled, new batteries installed, and all relatives were deposited at the airport. Miss Caroline, however, began to have cold feet regarding travel without her curly-haired companions. What if I spent all my days off running or biking somewhere? Who would be her companion? Who would protect her? Not that I usually spend all my days running and biking, and poodles offer no semblance of protection, but there may have been a sliver of reality…I guess!! A few tears emerged, and stern looks in my direction, but we waved goodbye to the poodles, and set out for an island adventure.
The first stop was to be Victoria where a good friend lived. We had booked a campground on the seashore near his home. The motor beast easily conquered the Coquihalla and found its way to the Tswassen Ferry without difficulty. With my well honed motor home skills, lining up with a bunch of semi’s and lumbering into the belly of a ferry was a cinch.
In summer months, reservations are essential as motor homers are like lemmings, they congregate around shiny, sunny, or tasty objects. In this case the object was Victoria, that venerable old city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. I lived in Victoria for a couple years and always love returning to this rather small city that is the capital of our province. Named after Queen Victoria, it is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, having begun as a British settlement in 1843. A large number of its historic buildings remain, in particular its two most famous landmarks, the Legislative buildings that were completed in 1897 and the Empress Hotel that opened its doors in 1908. Victoria’s Chinatown is also the second oldest in North America after San Francisco. I was anxious to reacquaint myself with this beautiful city as well as connect with a few friends who are residents.
We booked both the ferries and our accommodation online many weeks in advance. Ferry reservations remove the stress of waiting for hours in lineups or missing ferries entirely. However, with regard to RV park reservations, one never really knows what is waiting at the other end until the motor home emerges over that threshold and we actually see what will be our home for a few days. Motor home parks are all unique. I have ranted previously about the state of campground washrooms in Canada, but there is much more to consider. Some parks are well organized, with gravel pads and little ticky tacky spots all in a row. Others are more rustic, with sites randomly placed among the forest, no real border between our rented properties, and everyone fends for themselves. The dreaded washrooms can go from pristine to plugged. The park theme may range from party central to sedate and elderly or family orientated. Trusting in good faith, we had booked the Oceanside Resort and RV Park about half distance between Victoria and Sydney with the one dominant feature over its neighbour being that it had a washroom.
Lumbering off the ferry at Sydney, our trusty GPS guided our path from the highway and through a First Nations (or is it Indigenous…..or Aboriginal or whatever…I can’t keep up) reserve. Our hearts began to beat a little faster when we noticed a congregation of, lets call them rustic, homes with old furniture in the front yard, and two decades of deceased vehicles splattered around each property. Menacing stares followed us as we passed, a vehicle such as ours apparently having never driven these streets. I began to envision the strumming of a banjo as a tune very close to Deliverance drifted past my ears. We continued on as quietly as possible, mostly because it was too difficult to turn around, but serious second thoughts were being considered. We initially came to a motor home park that fit in very well with the surroundings, called Popeye’s. The motor homes, without the motor part, sat among the rubble, apparently not having moved in many years. Was this to be our home for four days? But no, an arrow beckoned us onward. As we rolled through the disarray, the last corner revealed a gleaming Oceanside Resort and RV Park with a veritable postcard sunset in the background. We were pleasantly surprised to see order among the chaos. At first glance it became apparent that Oceanside is one of those very organized, gravel plotted, paved roaded, resorts. It appeared to be a special place, with each site uniquely landscaped and pristine washrooms set among appropriately designed streets. The streets appeared based on the Roman centuriation street grid system, with such order pleasing me very much. We entered the fortified gates that would surely protect us from the outer elements, and rolled past a row of monster motor homes. I began to detect that we may have looked a bit like the Beverly Hillbillies of old with our antique and puny camper. Perhaps we were intended for Popeye’s but, to hell with it, we were not going back.
Oceanview Resort and RV Park seemly only catered to the gleaming monstrosities of the RV world that some would consider works of art. Their walls are painted with artistically pleasing graffiti, and each vehicle is equipped with all manner of technological wonder. There is truly nothing close to roughing it for the residents of these leviathans. In sad contrast, our most advanced technology is a backup camera with a screen so small I am unable to discern a pedestrian from a telephone pole.
The occupants of these houses on wheels are similar to those of most privately owned waterfront accommodation, one never sees anyone home. Maybe they are in the movie theatre on the second floor, or doing laps in their private pool, but they do not sit around a campfire. Perhaps they are off somewhere trying to earn enough money to pay for their palaces. In my experience, the only time they emerge from the confines of their homes is about 4:00 PM on balmy days. That is when happy hour is declared and silver domed heads can be seen bobbing around glasses of excellent wine, while discussing art or wondering what the poor people are doing. We have never actually met any of these people, even that silly old man of spousal acrimony fame, but, really, how could you expect them to associate with the likes of us. I was feeling a bit like Jethro as I sipped my homemade hooch while the gleaming megaliths on steroids cast ominous shadows across our feeble tin box.
Ignoring condescending glares, we settled in between the giants and set up our little home. We were happily protected from without. Our first night was to just settle in. Never being idle for long, I hopped on my bike, abandoning poor Caroline to the potential wolf threat and loneliness, and set out to explore the area. We were truly on the oceanside, albeit, seemingly a small patch of serenity among the local First Nations lands. Trails beckoned, along the coast past stretches of driftwood and the lapping sea beyond. Few others dared to enter the reserve, but I was confident as a fully paid customer, with my trusty steed to protect me or, at least, provide a quick getaway, I was safe. Not wishing to elaborate on the abandonment theme, I was back before dinner and communing with a fine rosé wine, sharing happy hour thoughts among my well-healed, sort-of, peers. Life was good.
The next day a friend’s wife picked us up for an action-packed evening of over-indulgence, reminiscence, and plenty of laughs. This man is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We have known each other since we attended grade 3 together, some 57 years ago. We had shared accommodation at university, travelled in Europe together, and achieved many of life’s milestones in a very similar fashion. Not considering my three marriages to his one, we were very much alike in upbringing and character until, sadly, he deviated from the path and became a dentist, while I entered the world of crime. Poor man.
This man is one of those friends whom you may not see for 10 years, but when our paths cross, it is like we had just talked yesterday. There were long periods when we did not see each other, but more recently we have been getting together yearly for some golf and a few laughs. I had brought some Indigenous wine from Kelowna, in keeping with the theme of the lands bordering our RV park and, with a few appys, we started our re-acquaintance. As the evening progressed stories of our past began to emerge, likely, to our aghast wives. There were stories of camping under the Eiffel Tower, being robbed and abandoned in Turkey, crossing the border of Spain with, unbeknownst to us, drugs in our vehicle where the penalty for possession was 7 years in a Spanish prison, and university dorm pranks where I was usually the butt of most jokes. It was very interesting, however, when recounting these tales, that we each remembered different aspects of each adventure. For example, when we travelled to Europe together, I recalled nothing of how we got there or which communities we passed through until we were actually staying in a friend’s home in Germany. My buddy related intricate details of this time. My memories were more of the time on the road with two other friends as we travelled through Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and on to Turkey. At any rate, a few lies were told as the Indigenous was consumed and we went on to the Ruffino. We were eventually poured out of his wife’s vehicle around midnight, and found our way to the Hillbilly Hotel.
Sometime during the evening, no doubt instigated by wine bravado, we had decided to meet the next day for a bike ride. Since I am supposed to be the fit one, while he is a dentist, I was to ride from my campground to his home along the seashore, and we would leave on some hilly route that he had, no doubt, practiced many times in consideration of my impending visit.
Come morning, as is usual on the Island, it began to rain. Since we had made our wine flavoured deal and I was too macho to cancel, I set out to find his house in the blinding rain. It turned out to be a little further than I thought, about twice as far in fact, at 10 kilometers. I arrived sopping wet. I was certain a semi-retired dentist would melt in such weather, and we would go for coffee and a lunch, but to my considerable surprise, there he was, all decked out in designer biking gear, ready to go. Drat!!
So off we rode, me on my 20-year-old Rocky Mountain and, he, on a gleaming new Specialized hybrid, that was probably electric assist. This was to be no contest as his gears slipped up and down the sprocket with precision, while mine needed two hands to change and occasionally slipped a gear altogether. On one occasion I found myself heading for a pavement landing before my handlebars broke my fall with my chest and face, avoiding all but a few bruises and scratches. The ride turned out to be as billed, very hilly, but most likely beautiful on a sunny day. On this day there was only mist and rain. About two hours into the ride, my beaming buddy awaited my arrival as I slogged up a last hill, and asked if I wanted to do another loop. Pointing out I had done an extra 10k, and had a further 10k to go to reach Hillbilly Hotel, we headed for the local Tim Horton’s. Where else would two strapping Canadian boys go after a sloppy ride in West Coast weather? After a tall steeped tea and a few more laughs, we parted ways and I returned to my little motorhome sanctuary to dry out, with Miss Caroline making me well aware that she felt abandoned without her furry associates.
In a motor home, there is a bit of setting up to do and, of course, taking down before one labours on. Our more modest colossus, at least compared to our neighbours, is relatively simple. As I undid our two cables, flushed the tanks, and shut off the propane, I could see a bunch of “silly ol’ fools” struggling with hydraulic levelers, satellite dishes, cable television, the inevitable tow vehicle, and all manner of technology. Leaving, possibly hours before our neighbours, we ventured through the wasteland, and emerged on the Island Highway. The next leg of our journey was to be Ucluelet on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.