On the Road Again – Part 1

Road trips happen to be my favorite pastime. Driving along highways and byways, over passes, along rivers and lakes and through new towns is like a live movie with constant new scenes, impressions and input. Even driving through big cities can be exciting. It is certainly living in the moment. Lucky for me Clare is an excellent navigator and always checks her maps against the TomTom GPS which has been known to send people the wrong way.

In this time of the pandemic we decided on a trip north and explore our own backyard for a change. We were supposed to be walking around Cornwall but all that got cancelled and now we have the opportunity to play tourists at home for a change. We have a campervan which is an upgrade from our Westfalia and is basically a bathroom on wheels. That, according to Clare, is the most important feature – not the motor, not the solar panel, not the generator, not the fridge. We are not the only ones with the same idea as we found out when we try to book campsites and ferry passages. In this time a lot of people had the same idea and used RV’s and campervans are now at a premium since this mode of travel is safe, practically quarantine on wheels.

First night we camped in Lund, where our favorite campground, Sunlund has been welcoming us for years. Right above the harbour and within walking distance to the boardwalk restaurant and the Lund hotel which now features a new international chef that according to himself has cooked for the Al-Sauds and the President of Georgia. ‘I had a choice between Dacca, Bangladesh and Lund, B.C.’ he told us when I wanted to know the secrets of the black garlic butter he served with the spinach and crab infused chicken breast and the creamed potatoes.

‘I was tired of running around the world and this is the end of the road, a fitting place to put down some roots.’

Alas, this time everything was closed in Lund due to a covid-19 outbreak after 200 people attended a funeral on the local band-lands. They counted 49 infections from that event, all of which are now contained and sequestered. Not as bad as the Sturgis biker rally in South Dakota which was apparently responsible for a quarter million infections, but hey, what part of isolating and small bubbles did the good folks from the Tla’amin nation not understand?

We took the ferry to Comox on Vancouver Island and drove up to Campbell River (no relation to Camp, my drinking buddy) where we overnighted at the Thunderbird RV place, right across from the indigenous cemetery and within walking distance of a ginormous mall with acres of box stores and the biggest All-Canadian-Superstore I have ever gotten lost in. I was looking for bouillon cubes and yogurt and walked out with a cart full of stuff. I lost Clare somewhere in the cookie and chocolate aisle and we regrouped outside the behemoth store.

On the way back we passed a 1968 Pontiac Parisienne convertible in pristine shape, with whitewall tires on spoked rims, white leather interior and not a dent or scratch on the gold- brown body. I was drawn to it like a bear to honey and almost got run over crossing the street, my eyes focused on the car. A guy that looked like Kris Kristofferson came out on the balcony  and yelled down to me: ‘It’s for free but your wife will never let you have it.’

‘Free,’ I salivated, peering in through the driver’s side window.

‘Don’t even think about it,’ Clare said from across the street.

‘See, I told you so,’ Kris laughed.

We cooked a stir fry on the portable bbq and a neighbour brought us fresh tomatoes. ‘I grow them on a vine in a bucket and have way too many,’ she said. Many of the RV’s in this park seem to be permanently parked with little patio setups, fences for their dogs and potted plants.

‘It’s not a bad life,’ I said to Clare. ‘Waterfront, walking distance to shopping, and a friendly community.’

‘Better than an old-folks home,’ she said and we noticed that most of the residents were indeed seniors.

The drive to Port Hardy was uneventful, past a monochromatic green landscape on both sides of the road, interspersed with low mountains and hills fading into the mist, a lot of them logged off in the past.

The cheapest way to see the inside passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert is by BC Ferries. The ‘Northern Adventure’ takes about sixteen hours with a stop in Bella Bella, and it’s a fraction of the cost of a cruise ship. Mind you, these days cruise ships are an anachronism, moored in memories and scrapyards in Bangladesh. For the price of a good meal we booked an outside cabin (which sleeps four) with a full bathroom and a large oval window looking out at the desolate but beautiful waterscape. We were hoping to see some humpbacks or orcas but not this time.

We slept through the midnight-stop in Bella Bella and woke up to a misty morning with hues of blue, green and grey, almost like a Chinese watercolour. The inside channel is like a large west-coast river, with endless rocky shores and the cedars and firs blanketing the hundreds of islands indistinguishable from the mainland. A cloudy sky promised cool days ahead.

Prince Rupert is the closest North American deep-sea port to Asia and it’s evident in its large container port loading onto mile long trains going east and south.

The downtown features wide, mostly empty streets, lined by old, square roofed clapboard buildings, interspersed with modern uninspiring architecture. The most striking building is the Museum of Northern BC, celebrating millennia of indigenous culture in a grand cedar longhouse. There is a cruise ship port, a relic to the past with empty souvenir and trinket shops lining the adjacent streets. We stopped in a Smileys’ one of Rupert’s oldest eateries, that has been in the same place since 1935 as weas the interior décor with photoprint paneling, plastic lined booths and Formica tables. Black and white photos of past fishing glories line the walls and the low white panelled ceiling seems fine once you sit down. Nobody wore masks and the traditional fish and chips was served on proper china with real cutlery. No cardboard here. I asked the very smiley, tiny older server that looked like a Chinese doll, how long she’s been here. ‘Thirty years, she said, grinning from ear to ear, one cook 40 years another 50 years.’

‘Wow,’ I said, ‘did you have a good summer?’

‘Very good,’ she said, bobbing her head up and down, ‘food good, people come back.’

Words of wisdom.

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