Today we were leaving Tofino. After a final visit to the local coffee shop, store and surfer/kayak hangout, we checked out of our roadside motel and began the drive along the incredible road through the rain forest. It is now officially the steepest paved road I have ever been on. On some of the hills coming down to Tofino it was impossible to see the road over the edge even with the short hood of our rental vehicle. We would just shout "Trust Canada!" with Southpark voices as we went over the edge, hoping that there really was a road down there. On the way back up we stopped several times at falls and overlooks along the Kennedy River. At each stop we found more mushrooms and fungi to take pictures of. The variety was incredible. We were reluctant to leave the area. Slowly we made our way up the steep road ((route 4) and over the spine of Vancouver Island to the east coast , stopping briefly in Port Albierni. This is a small city at the top of a very long fiord that eventually meets the ocean south of Ucluelet. There is a ferry at Port Albierni that can take you down the fiord.
From north of Campbell River we struck out on a dirt road through the primitive center of Vancouver Island to a little village at the head of a long fiord, Tahsis. The road winds along a lake through the Rugged Mountains, a range with enough height and steepness to keep even the virulent Pacific Northwest from covering the peaks. The steep shore plunges down into the long inlet making it a problematic place for camping in a kayak. However, four mile down the narrow waterway another passage led off to the north and Nootka Island and the sound. It looked like interestingly remote territory for serious kayakers. Certainly getting to Tahsis was no easy task either. On the stream that flowed through Tahsis we saw a black bear fishing. On another section we saw what we thought was a dark rock in the water. But then it moved upstream and we could see that it was made up of a swarm of salmon. the size of the fish was amazing to us and the temptation of seeing them in the water must be agony for fishermen knowing that the salmon season is not open. We left town and headed back over the dirt road as night fell. Our headlights scared up some elk that ran down the road in front of us. The huge rack of the bull elk looked like it would make it impossible for him to get into the thick growth of small trees at the edge of the road, but he finally found a place and bounded up the bank and disappeared into the brush with his three cows in tow.
The next morning found us once again northbound on Route 19, headed for Zeballos, another small town at the end of long fiord. Although it is not very far from Tahsis to Zeballos by water ( 30 km ) , it is a long way by road (90 km) . We stopped on the shores of a small lake that paralleled Highway 19. The morning sun was burning off the last of the fog with clouds still hanging low in the sky. We turned inland and followed the dirt road to Zeballos. Along the way we stopped at a park that featured a river that flowed into a karst cave, emerging a hundred meters downstream. Not something to poke about in as the water filled up the cave completely. The riversides were steep and covered with thick slimy moss and algae. It seemed a little precarious and I could only imagine the signs and warnings that would accompany such a site in litigious United States. There was bear signs everywhere, purple piles of poop full of seeds of berries ripening on bushes all around us. The drive in the park was beautiful. Along the edge of the road were tall toadstools in four phases of their life. ( 1 2 3 4 ). At Zeballos there is a kayak outfitter, Zeballos Expeditions. Their location is very good for getting out to Nootka Sound, Nootka Island and Nuchalitz, but their selection of boats that we saw in the yard looked to be dominated by heavy wide doubles. Perhaps their singles were out since no one was around the store. Finding a kayak for a group of experienced kayakers might be problematic. The town is really tiny with only a few houses, some commercial fishing boats, the kayak outfitter and a tiny store. Only very rudimentary provisioning could be done here. There is a little park at the very end of town.
We left town and headed over to Espinosa Inlet where we had heard that the tidal current was particularly impressive. When we got here it was running at perhaps ten knots through the constriction of a bridge that supported the road. Portaging did not look to be difficult here and at the right tide level I would think that the flume under the bridge would be possible. Certainly the ride with the current would be fun.
The next day we headed off to Port Alice, yet another town on the shores of a long inlet. As we drove down the dirt road carved on the side of the steep mountain over the water, fog rolled up the slope from a gentle wind across the water. The tall trees stood eerily in the enfolding mists. We came around the curve to see the most magnificent animal I have ever seen in the wild. Sauntering across the road was a mountain lion a.k.a. cougar or panther. He turned with an unconcerned look, yellow eyes gleaming from a broad head. With complete cat disdain, he continued across the road and down the embankment to slip into the cloak of the trees. It was a brief encounter that will be burned in my memory forever.
Soon we had rejoined Route 19 and we headed up to Fort Rupert and Bear Cove. The waters here looked calm and forgiving, and the area felt much more tourist infected than the wild coast we had just left. Totems and native lodges abounded and some were even for actual tribe use not just an attraction. We did some gawking but it wasn't the same. We drove up to Port Hardy, the last community of size and the end of Route 19. There we stayed overnight. in a modest motel on the shore overlooking the open waters to the north. Tomorrow we would start back.
There wasn't much to see at Port Alice, a town with primarily a logging and commercial fishing industry on the only shore along the inlet that wasn't too steep for a town. We didn't spend much time here, but stopped at a small park with a boardwalk through the rain forest. A riot of ferns and large trees joined the fungi in a display of temperate rain forest splendor. It was a great walk among the tall trees.
We put the harmer down and ran quickly down Route 19 to Victoria stopping only to snap a picture of one of the many roadside bears grazing on the green grass on the side of the highway. We arrived late in the evening. I took back my newly purchased camera to Wal Mart as I had realized that the new camera had its buttons placed differently than the old one and would not work in my underwater case. The packaging had also been missing a memory card. The store took it back without question. From this point on all pictures will be from Julio's camera.
We drove into the center of town and found an acceptable hotel in the heart of Victoria after running around in the dark for a bit
We arrived early at the Washington ferry, paid for our ticket and got in line and then left our car for a walk around the harbor. For a big city, the downtown section of Victoria is quite pleasant. Old hotels and buildings with a distinctly Canadian feel were everywhere. Soon we needed to get back in our car and load up onto the ferry for the ride over to Washington State. The United States' customs procedures seemed woefully inadequate in the age of terrorism. ( Later in the year, United States Homeland Security announced that they would be tightening security at this lax facility. ) The ferry was large and fully capable of handling potentially rough conditions in the Straight of San Juan de Fuca. But today it was a smooth sail.
We turned west and drove out to the Pacific side of Olympic National park. Out on the wild coast the beach was clogged with tremendously large logs from the heavy rain forest of the slopes of mountains to the east. I didn't resist to play the clown for a few pictures. On this windy and foggy day it was a "hard" coast. I was glad to be onshore.
With only a day left before our flight back to Maryland, we wanted to see Mt. Rainier. Julio had been many times before but I had never seen it. We got an early start and were blessed with a beautiful clear calm day on the mountain.
After our hike we continued south along the flanks of Rainier, eventually making a full loop around the mountain. We headed back up north to SeaTac airport for our evening flight. We took the red-eye home and arrived early the next morning. We were exhausted but very pleased with our great trip.
We parked in the large parking lot that only had a few cars at this early hour and began hiking up the trail to the white snowcapped peak. it was still many miles away and although we would make only a small part of the way toward it, the mountain soon filled the camera lens. It was a gorgeous mountain and easy to see why it attracted so many climbers, in spite of its deadly reputation. Sadly, many lives have been lost on the mountain when unforecast storms sweep in from the Pacific, catching the prepared and the unprepared alike.