We had steeled ourselves for a harrowing drive. We were emotionally prepared to drive our 16’ cube van through sleet, freezing rain and black ice, through twisting mountain roads with low visability, white-knuckle driving all the way. It was November after all, and we’d never driven through mountains in the winter before.
But it was beautiful weather, the island seemed to be welcoming us personally. The uncanny clear day and perfect conditions had us making good time, and we were in Port Alberni before noon. We made a brief stop at Canadian Tire for cleaning supplies, cat litter and bathroom breaks, and then we were on the road again, heading into the mountains.
The first time we saw the mountain range between Port Alberni and the West coast of the island, Kat & I were in speechless awe. The second time we drove through them, with our surviving belongings and four critters in the back of our overly-huge moving van, we were thrilled, giddy with delight. We live here now, we did it!
We drove past Cathedral Grove, the place of 800 year old Douglas Fir trees, when the jack-o-lanterns started to appear. Grinning pumpkin faces were perched high in tree branches, wedged into cracks in the cliff side, set on roadside stumps, lined up on the highway dividers, hundreds of pumpkins – everywhere! Every person from Port Alberni must have driven out to Cathedral Grove to stash their contribution to the roadside pumpkin show!
The pumpkins continued to line the highway all the way through the mountains to the Ucluelet turn off. We must have seen thousands of pumpkins – it was so weird! And funny! Delightful! The Olympic Torch relay had just passed from Tofino to Port Alberni two days before, so the pumpkins must have been part of the audience, cheering the torch on.
The mountain highway itself had recently undergone some major improvements. It was less of a pot-holed logging road and more of a major through-way, with new black top, a few passing lanes to supplement the courtesy pull-outs and sturdy barriers between us and the terrifying sheer drop-offs on the sharpest corners. Between the new highway, the pumpkins and the ideal conditions our drive across the island was the opposite of what we’d expected.
We arrived in Ucluelet, tired but happy, at 4:00. Time enough to take the dogs on a much-needed romp on the beach before sunset.
Mocha’s first encounter with sea weed:
Bonus racing along the shore:
Group snuggle at last! No more kennels!
The “wet coast” rain held off for another two days – time enough for us to unload our belongings and drive the truck back through the mountains to drop it off in Port Alberni. The pumpkins were a little worse for wear by then, scattered by wind, soggy, chewed by deer and smashed on the highway.
We arrived at the Port Alberni Budget truck rental two hours ahead of time, and I remarked aloud how great the trip had been – completely without incident. All we had left to do was fill the truck up with diesel.
The Al, the Budget guy, directed us to the Husky gas station a block away, so we hopped back in the truck and swung into the gas station. It was a bit of a tight fit to access the deisel pumps and so I backed up a bit to give me more room to maneuver… and backed right into the Husky Gas Station sign.
Dammit. Five minutes away from returning the truck.
I was obliged to stay at the Husky for another hour filling out statements and incident reports, and then another hour at Budget where we tried to figure out whether the damage to the sign was covered under the insurance. Ultimately it’s up to the underwriters at the insurance company, so if I get a bill in the mail in a couple of months, I guess that means it wasn’t covered.
Another little irony – that drive down to the gas station put us over our alotted km for the rental, so we had to pay for the additonal 1.5 km driven to back into that sign.
The cultural difference between Toronto and the west coast really shone through during this incident. The gas station attendants kept telling me it could happen to anyone, and told me about someone with a 24’ truck who’d taken out the roof overhang above the gas pumps just the month before. Apparently the station manager’s car gets backed into at least once a month. Everyone was trying to make the incident easier for us – that would NOT have happened in Toronto. Al even drove us right to the bus station after we’d finished with the paperwork.
“Welcome to the west coast,” Al chirped as he dropped us off and proceeded to the Tim Horton’s drive thru. (I guess some things are the same all over Canada.)