Nature offers a much-needed respite from the intensity of the pandemic for DEIDRE OLSEN and her mother.
The rhythm of the ocean’s sway beckoned us forward. Salt filled the air. A bright green carpet of skunk cabbage and moss blanketed the forest floor. The canopy of old-growth Sitka spruce, hemlock and western redcedar lined the trail’s edge, sheltering us from the drizzling rain above.
At San Josef Bay, I felt a million miles away from the grey, gloomy, suffocating city streets back home. For the first time in a long time, the outside world brought me an immeasurable sense of peace.
My mother and I were on a three-day road trip on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives in Delta, a mainland municipality where the river meets the ocean. We packed her Ford Explorer with the essential supplies: food, clothes and a mattress to sleep on in the back of the truck, plus blankets and pillows. My tiny, elderly dog Padugi cozied up in the makeshift bed.
We reserved a spot on the 7 a.m. ferry and arrived nearly an hour early. Once on the boat, we put on our face masks, departed the vehicle and headed upstairs. The ferry used to be bustling, full of folks heading home or to the Island for a weekend getaway. This time, the atmosphere was somber. People either stayed inside their vehicles or kept apart from one another on board.
I felt melancholy and gratitude in equal measure as our ferry landed at Duke Point in Nanaimo. From here, it would be a six-hour drive to our destination on the northwest tip of Vancouver Island—Cape Scott Provincial Park. My mother and I wanted to go somewhere there’d be few people around so we could breathe in the open air.
The trip up-island was calming in every sense of the word. I felt relieved when my phone lost its signal. Before that moment, it had been so hard to be present—I felt like I was constantly on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next. Finally cut off from the noise of social media and barrage of Covid-19 news, I sank into my seat and took a deep breath, eyes fixated on the coastline.
If you want to fuel up and grab snacks or use your cellphone, Port Hardy is your last hope. From this town on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, the highway becomes a gravel road filled with potholes. There is little-to-nothing but logging traffic and a short tour through the quaint town of Holberg for a 75-kilometre stretch.
As we drove deeper into the rainforest, I could feel my senses heightening. Rolling down the window, the air was crisper, the smell of the trees more potent and the sound of rain hitting the Earth louder. We came across several black bears and stopped to let them cross the road or to snap a quick picture. I was amazed by how quickly they disappeared into the foliage, camouflaged from view. I felt free to do the same: to retreat into nature.
We arrived in the early afternoon to find quite a few people coming and going at the parking lot. It was wet so we put on our raincoats and waterproof hiking boots. As Cape Scott Provincial Park is hike-in only and we were short on time, we opted for the 2.5-kilometre trek to San Josef Bay.
At my feet, Padugi ran beside me, tongue hanging out of her mouth in a joyful pant. I smiled at the sight of nursing logs breathing life into new trees. Beetles, lichen and fungi were hard at work helping old plant and animal life decompose to make way for the next generation.
As we the trail, sand dunes greeted us. We climbed over one and both gasped in awe at the sight of the majestic beach. The stretch of golden sand was empty, save for a family with two children happily running and playing. I could picture what Tofino might have looked like long ago, before the swarms of tourists arrived and constructed oceanfront real estate.
In a place so pristine and untouched, I felt like I was both at the beginning and the end of time. We walked until we found ourselves at the feet of rock formations surrounded by tidal pools. These tall structures, weathered by the ocean, stood skinny at their bases. I could see how high the water would rise as the tide came in. I felt at the mercy of nature and ever so small.
My mother and I looked at each other and exhaled deep sighs in unison. We could feel the magic of nature and its powerful impact on us. It was incredible to be outside without the threat of Covid-19 lurking around every corner, to breathe in the fresh air without a mask on and not be worried about being in close proximity to others. Here, at Cape Scott Provincial Park, we found peace.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Canadian Traveller.