We are now settled into a condo in Invermere to experience a month of actual winter before it disappears for another year, so it seems like a good time to recap what we’ve been up to so far in 2021. In light of current global events, international travel seemed uncertain and unwise but, with nothing forcing us to endure what has appeared to be a fairly brutal Sask winter, we decided that we could still responsibly spend our time getting to know the beautiful west coast of Canada. Not the people of the west coast, necessarily, as, outside of a couple brief outdoor connections with friends we know from Guatemala, we basically saw no one. But we have been able to enjoy plenty of spectacular hikes, beaches and waterfalls, and are constantly thankful we have this kind of freedom, given the many complicated issues in the world at the moment. Plus, we can always vicariously interact through the many BC women who seem to see packing their groceries as the perfect opportunity to engage in long, meandering conversations with the Superstore clerk as a way to fill the social void in their lives. No rush, by all means, take your time.
Anyway, here’s the jist of our 2021 so far:
We spent all of January in the pleasant city of Langford on the outskirts of Victoria. Going in, I assumed Langford was more or less a suburb but, it turns out, it is actually the fastest growing city in BC (and 10th in Canada). I can see why, the place is very nice. Just a reasonable size (40,000 or so), close enough to Victoria (if that’s a place you need to be on a daily basis which, of course, we did not) and, more importantly, very convenient to dozens of great outdoor destinations. Goldstream Provincial Park, East Sooke Provincial Park, Esquimalt Lagoon, Witty’s Lagoon, Mill Hill and Thetis Lake are just a handful of the outstanding natural attractions within 15 minutes drive of our terrific AirBnB where we could enjoy the hikes and views in virtual isolation.
Our helpful host even generously introduced us to “docking”, a somewhat bizarre pastime of Glen Lake residents, somehow made even more bizarre by the fact they don’t seem to find it unusual at all. The way it works is, you go down to their private floating dock on the lake, set up a chair, grab a drink, get comfortable, fire up a tiny electric motor, pull a metal pin and, voila, your floating dock is transformed into an impromptu party boat. Apparently, lake residents spend most summer nights docking with each other (I think the “with” is pretty important in that sentence), although on a chilly Saturday afternoon in January we somehow had the lake to ourselves.
Some of the other main highlights of our time in Langford:
The mysteriously menacing driftwood sculptures of Esquimalt Lagoon.
Hatley Castle, which overlooks Esquimalt Lagoon and starred in some Hollywood blockbusters such as the X-Men movies and Deadpool (although we hear that roles have dried up and it is stooping to a role in the next Celebrity Castle Makeover).
Niagara Falls (not the one you’re thinking of, but with a pretty cool log creature waiting at the bottom) and Goldstream Trestle (exhilaratingly unsafe).
An adult man creepily dressed as a Boy Scout at Witty’s Lagoon – pretty unsettling on his own, much less so when we saw him again with a large group of similarly dressed children.
The stunning views of the Juan de Fuca Strait from the East Sooke Coast Trail.
Whiffin Spit – just a narrow walking path out into the bay with a name I really enjoy.
Everything about our two long day trips to the Port Renfrew area; especially the amazing beach waterfall at Mystic Beach, hidden waterfall at Sombrio Beach, tide pools at Botanical Beach, miniature “bonsai” tree on Fairy Lake, and Big Lonely Doug, a giant Douglas fir with no friends. We also saw the alleged “Gnarliest Tree in Canada” at Avatar Grove (named for its resemblance to the big-treed forests in the famous movie, minus the blue people).
An adrenalin-pumping, bacon-related smoke alarm incident. Then another one, chicken this time.
Hiking to the spectacular viewpoint atop Bald Mountain on Lake Cowichan with Rob and Donna (Guatemala friends).
Golfing at Highland Pacific (the best of the 5 courses I’ve played on Vancouver Island so far) with a man who recently got his 18th hole-in-one (!!!) on his, get this, 89th birthday. Needless to say, he played much better than I did. Weirdly, he also lived most of his life in Saskatoon, yet somehow I only learned that from an article about him online, it never came up when we were playing.
The unsettling “tent towns” of downtown Victoria parks (recently a bylaw officer was forced to hide in his truck to escape a homeless man wielding a shovel).
Laynni getting free Vitamin D from a guy who was either hitting on her (he did touch her shoulder, which is kind of a big move in COVID times) or was just worried she couldn’t afford all the vitamins she needs because she returned some to the shelf after learning the price. Either way, free D!
The eerie quiet of Kinsol Trestle under a blanket of new snow, and the three mysterious spots far from the trestle or any trees, where something (3 things, in fact) seemed to have simply fallen from the sky (then just as mysteriously disappeared, apparently).
Beach-hopping in Victoria.
Mill Hill viewpoint hike:
“A hidden gem!” – Laynni Locke
Just like when we arrived in Courtenay and then in Langford, we endured another travel day in the pouring rain (which beats snow, obviously, but is inherently worse than a dry road with sunny viewpoints) but our journey did take us past a few interesting lakes, to the awesome “Hole in the Wall” waterfall, a couple precarious pee spots and the impressive Wally Creek until we finally reached “the end of the road” in Tofino. This surf mecca has a real outpost feel (despite the Best Western hotel on the way into town) and a bunch of enormous beaches constantly battered by massive Pacific waves. We decided a week was sufficient there, partially because even if you include nearby Ucluelet, this is a pretty small area, and partially because in Tofino the same price we were paying for a modern, 2 bdr lakefront place with a deck, kayaks and detachable motorized dock in Langford only got us about 250 sq ft with stove burners that had to be physically removed to shut them off. Nonetheless, we loved the area (and the place was fine, as we have become good at adapting to the size of our surroundings, much like goldfish, or horses).
Here were the main highlights:
The amazing sunset on our first night that we found down a slippery little trail behind the hospital – great photos at the relatively small price of a minor (but still problematic) shoulder injury after a rotting log gave way under me (not so surprisingly, in hindsight, given the rotting part).
The Wild Pacific Trail near Ucluelet, and some up-close views of the lighthouse because we were lucky enough to not see the “no entry” signs until we were leaving.
Ukee Dogs – I ate a whole Whole Hog Dog.
Watched the movie, Promising Young Woman – Carey Mulligan gets tough on shitty guys.
Lismer Beach islets, tide pools and great clouds – ran into an old local guy suggesting too much stuff was closed in the area but COVID wasn’t the problem, that “they always shut down half the trails here in winter. Then in summer there are way too many people around.” Harrumph.
We weren’t lucky enough to get a true “Tofino Storm”, but we did get one windy, rainy day that provided some pretty cool crashing waves in Cox Bay. And roughly 30 minutes of useless video trying to capture the coolest of said crashing waves.
Cox Bay was literally littered with dead sand dollars, which Laynni wanted to collect but I told her they might have something living inside, you know, like hermit crabs do. That, apparently, is not how sand dollars work.
We undertook the relatively short but muddy hike to the fascinating Canso plane crash site. This RCAF plane crashed here in 1945 and then they just… left it there. Was really hoping to spot that fat dude from Lost, but no luck.
Then we checked out Grice Bay and, oh, a lot more beaches:
Tonquin, McKenzie, Chesterman, Middle, Third, Long, Little, Big, Wikaninnish, Terrace Bay. And Brown, obviously.
We spent two weeks just across the Lion’s Gate Bridge from the “Big Misty” (I think I just made up a new nickname for Vancouver but, who knows, maybe I subconsciously stole it from something, I never know any more), staying in a nice basement suite with a big couch, great location, a cat named “Moo” and a 7-part recycling process that somehow involved 3 bins, 1 giant bag and quite a bit of freezer space. The best part, though, was being just a couple blocks away from lovely Lynn Valley, full of big old growth forest, good hiking trails and robust waterfalls. When we return later in the spring we are looking forward to the warmer weather allowing us to take on some of the higher altitude hikes in the area, and maybe even try out some bigger adventures like skiing (Whistler or Cypress Mountain), whale-watching tours or glacier kayaking.
Other memorable moments:
Choosing to bike the Stanley Park Seawall on the coldest day of our stay. Sure, -8 with windchill may cause scoffing among the Sask contingent of readers but, let me assure you, it feels pretty cold when the already chill wind of riding a bike is compounded by exposure to the wind off the sea. Plus, we parked in the wrong spot, had a hard time getting to the trail, missed the lighthouse because the seawall path is apparently one-way and then Laynni got a flat, and it was cloudy the whole time. Could we have waited for a nicer day? Yes, we could have.
Speaking of which, though, we did experience a pretty big snowstorm, by Vancouver standards. We had to brush snow off our vehicle to go for groceries, so that’s not nothing. It melted the next day, but still.
Quarry Rock viewpoint – a short hike down to the water’s edge, a couple photos, hike back up. It’s the simplicity I like.
While hiking our own version of the Twin Falls Loop we saw the same couple and their dog three different times throughout the hike, then ended up passing them on our way out of Safeway. I just thought that was weird.
The honour of “most people seen by Dean and Laynni at one time” was a dead heat between the easy loop trail around Rice Lake on Family Day (“finally, a holiday that excludes orphans” – The Beaverton) and the nice Ambleside oceanfront path on a Saturday morning featuring disputes between joggers and the self-appointed jogging police (i.e. a random woman) over “no jogging between 10-4 on weekends”. High level drama.
There was an exciting moment while hiking to Shore Pine Point and Lighthouse Park where we encountered an entire gaggle (horde, clan, mischief?) of toddlers in their natural habitat (the mud) and natural attire (full body waterproof onesies).
Easily the best hike we did in North Vancouver was actually in West Vancouver (irony, or simply inaccuracy?), the Cypress Mountain to Eagle Bluffs hike. Huge mounds of perfect new snow, a nicely groomed trail perfect for our micro-spikes and absurd views of the Georgia Strait and Bowen Island. And no, to answer your question, there is nothing quite as satisfying as peeing in immaculate new snow. Or watching your wife use her jacket as a toboggan to slide down a steep, snowy hill, squealing merrily the whole time (resulting in a far less popular TikTok video than we imagined).
Finally, we got to catch up with Sarah-Jane and Tyler in Maple Ridge for a short fireside visit on our way to the interior, another set of friends we know from Guatemala. It’s amazing how a daily dose of alcoholism (although we prefer the term “happy hour”) can expand your global social circle.
Big trees are cool.
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