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North American Road Trip

Canada Destinations

Touchdown in Tofino

On this day we finally reach the ultimate stop of our westward journey across North America.

It was also the day I saw a sea lion poop.  So it was remarkable, in many ways.

We woke up in Sayward, in the back of our van in our friend’s lawn. We were just in time to catch the dawn.


We had a four and a half hour drive from Sayward to Tofino and wanted to make the most of the day. Thus the early start.

We snuck into our host’s house to brush our teeth and quietly take some sandwiches out of the fridge we had prepared the night before for the road. Then, we were off.

The way from Sayward to Tofino happens to run through one of Vancouver Island’s most stunning natural features: Cathedral Grove.

It houses some of the oldest and tallest trees in Canada. The oldest are around 800 years old, but most sprung up about 300 years ago when a large fire opened up the area.

A short walk directly off the highway takes you around a quick loop of some of the oldest trees. You can do the quick loop in less than 20 minutes, but if you want there are longer walks.



When Rob touched the oldest Douglas Fir, the largest tree in the forest, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m having a serious religious experience right now.”

He was kind of joking, but kind of right. It was amazing breathing air being filtered by ancient trees and walking amongst this Jurassic-Park-esque foliage. Even the ferns were huge.

We returned to the car and discovered even though our radio fuse was still blown, (it blew up on our way to Sayward) somehow the alternator had come back on. This meant we could charge our phones and camera batteries again. Woo! 

In response to this good discovery, Rob shouted, “The Tree! The Tree has blessed me!”

Rob also overcame his fear of spiders to hug the tree. It was crawling with them. This is a man who run from the room when there’s spider and makes me throw it outside. That’s a miracle in itself.

For the rest of the drive I mostly stretched out in the back (perks of having a mattress in the van). 

Finally, we arrived.


Twenty-five days after leaving home we finally dipped our toes into the Pacific Ocean.

I didn’t want to go home.

I imagined us rowing the van out into the ocean, paddling west and eventually we’d get to Japan and then keep going.

The next most sensible thing to do was to have a beer.


Luckily, the Tofino Brewing Co. was only five minutes away. Our decided favourite was the bull kelp stout (made with real bull kelp). Their sour was good too – almost like a cider.

The area around Tofino is a series of inlets. It’s known as a surfer’s paradise. It’s also a paradise for anyone who wants part-time work in the summer. Our friend Sandy Powell who is a wonderful writer and outdoor adventure wunderkind was living there and we were lucky enough to have him show us around the place.


Always good to be reunited with old buddies! Rob knew Sandy from high school back in Labrador. Sandy was an Australian import student.

The first place we headed (for another beer) was Jack’s waterfront pub. It is at this very locale that I glimpsed some of the beautiful inlets and islands that make up the Tofino coastline.


And, this beautiful creature:


Yes. That’s what it looks like when a sea lion poops. So majestic. I’m sorry if you were eating.


Said sea lion was hanging out around the wharf because there’s a gutting station position perfectly. All the lazy thing has to do is wait until the fisherman or tourists throw the fish offal down the disposal shoot where it ends up in the water. Occasionally the sea lion would receive a spray with the hose from the fisherman.

Tofino was 100% lovely. I can see why some people come back there to work summer after summer. Hearing the town gossip from Sandy was entertaining in itself. I won’t share it with you here though – that’s why YOU need to get to Tofino, so you can hear the stories firsthand. Hearing them secondhand through me (making you the third hand, in effect) just wouldn’t be the same. Rest assured though, as with many small towns there’s an entertaining tale or two (or ten) about the local colour. Ask about the drugs. Ask about the characters. Ask about all sorts of things.

Actually, do this no matter where you are. Do it in your own hometown. Keep throwing out lines to people and fishing. You’ll probably be surprised what you come up with.

For dinner we ate at what is possibly my favourite restaurant in Canada. Seriously. I spotted Kuma on Tofino’s main drag when we first pulled into town and KNEW that I would love it.


Are you kidding me? Can I get married here? The food was so good that I literally bought the t-shirt. It’s so good that I’m going to dedicate an entire post to it instead of going into detail here. Because I would get side-tracked. Forever. And then this post would be obscenely long (and it’s already pretty long).

Post-dinner at Kuma we went for a walk, grabbed some beers and then headed down to the dock to watch the sunset. Perfect. A glorious day. A glorious trip. Then it floated into my mind: “Oh, yeah. Now we have to drive all the way back…

Nah, better not think about that just yet. Better just enjoy the sunset.


Day 25 Costs

  • Tofino Brewing Company Swag: $84.00
  • Tofino Brewing Company Flight of Beer and Growlito: $37.33
  • Victory Dinner at Kuma: $70.00
  • Souvenir T-Shirt at Kuma: $28.61
  • Beer at Tough City Sushi: $12.94


Canada Destinations

Exploring Sasquatch Territory in Sayward

On day 24 of our cross-Canada journey we awoke to warm sun on our faces and the nearby buzzing of chainsaws. We were in the village of Sayward on the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, B.C.


We parked the van in Gordo’s parents’ front yard. Right across the street is a logging camp. That’s Mount H’Kusam in the background.

You see the white cloud on top of the Mount H’Kusam? Local people affectionately call the cloud “Oscar”, but the First Nations used to call it “Hiyatsee Saklekum”. That means something akin to ‘where the sea lions’ breath gathers at the blow hole‘. The legend says that there’s a cave on the other side of the mountain that the cloud comes out of.

Some Cool Things About Sayward

Sayward is where Gordo’s parents live. He and his girlfriend Danielle are friends of ours from Halifax and have just returned from South Korea a few days ago, so we’re all staying together at their place. The entire population is about 400 people, so it’s a tiny place and nestled right in the wilderness of Vancouver Island.


Give that, it’s no wonder that they are known for…


Sayward has lots of sasquatch sightings! Never had our bumper sticker felt more relevant. We were going out to play in the river in the woods later, so it was important we understood to be on alert for bigfoot at all times.



Sayward’s main export is logging. Thus, the logging camp right across the street.


There’s this little, near-unsinkable tug boat that moves logs from one side of the inlet to the other. It’s easy to stand there watching as it bobs around, looking like a toy and coming so close to tipping over, but then jumping right back up, incredibly buoyant. A floating bumper car.



A fossil from Gordo’s front yard.

Sayward has rich fossil beds. Mostly sea creatures and plants.

The Kusam Klimb

Held annually in late June, this tough 23km race goes up and down Mt. H’Kusam. Gordo’s Dad did the Kusam Klimb last year. That’s because he’s tough as nails.


He’s also the owner of the awesome classic Grizzly truck you see behind him. This tough piece of automobile is also a piece of Canadian forestry history. Only 14 of these backwoods diesel trucks were ever built in Canada.

So now you know some cool things about Sayward. Go visit sometime!

Swimming in the River

The number one thing our friends had been looking forward to on returning from South Korea to Vancouver Island was the fresh air.


Filtered through the trees, cool from the mountains and fresh with sunlight, we couldn’t wait to get outside.

But first, breakfast and picnic packing.

Okay, now off to the wilderness.


We went swimming, picnicking and cloud staring at the Salmon River. It was clear as could be and, yes, full of salmon! We’d be swimming and then hear this splash like someone threw a rock. It was the salmon jumping around us.

Then we all went back to home base and made some supper together, including Vietnamese shish kabobs.

Remember this folks: Whether you’re at home or traveling, it is the people you surround yourself with that make all the difference. Relationships are the gold of life. They are the magic elixir.

Seriously, there was even a 75-year Harvard study done on it.

Wherever you travel next, be it across the street or across the planet, I hope you find people to laugh with.

Day 24 Costs:

  • Coffee at Sayward Convenience: $8.20
  • Groceries at Sayward Convenience: $7.46

TOTAL: $15.66


Lovely Friends on Beautiful Vancouver Island

We woke up in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Squamish and had a short forty minute ride to the ferry.


This is the silhouette of central Vancouver against the sunrise as we boarded the early morning ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

We were meeting friends in Campbell River on the Island that afternoon, but first we had time to hit up a few beaches.

We hit up Kin Beach outside of Comox and Saratoga Beach. We grabbed some coffees, opened up the van, cleaned it out and took a nap with the sea breeze blowing through.

We eventually made our way up to Campbell River to meet up with our friends Gordo and Danielle who were celebrating their return from South Korea (they just flew back to Canada the day before) at Gordo’s grandfather’s house.


There was a family barbecue, some great food and some very cute kids to welcome Danielle and Gordo back to Canada.

After dinner, we piled into vehicles to head towards Sayward. Sayward is further north up the coast. Sasquatch territory. Also, where Gordo’s parents live and where we’d be staying for a couple days.

We gassed up the trucks are picked up some last minute groceries at the gas station, then packed in behind the Grizzly. The Grizzly is a massive, behemoth of an old truck with a cobalt blue cab and massive drive shaft you can see in the undercarriage. It leads us into the woods, the twin red eyes of its rear lights guiding us further and further down into the mountains.


As we went deeper into the island, I thought to myself, ‘Yeah, if I was a sasquatch, this is where I would live.’

Nestled deep and safe between the tall shoulders of the forest.

Vancouver Island has some of the highest sasquatch sightings reported in Canada.

It’s also polygamist county. But that’s another story.

The fuse on our alternator blew on the way to Sayward. The alternator is the thing we’d been using to charge our laptops, camera batteries and cell phones. It also took the radio fuse with it.

Here we went, into sasquatch territory with no radio and no camera batteries. How was I ever going to get a picture of sasquatch?

Day 23 Costs:

  • Tim Horton’s breakfast: $13.75
  • Second breakfast on BC Ferry: $20.84
  • Ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, Vancouver Island: $88.50
  • Komox Grind Cafe: $18.10
  • Groceries in Campbell River: $45.58
  • McDonald’s Happy Meal: $4.75
  • Gas in Campbell River: $71.68

Total: $263.20


Chasing Cattle with Dirtbikes in Alexis Creek


My Aunt and Uncle are cattle ranchers. They live in a no-cell-reception, off-the-map area near Alexis Creek in northern B.C.

They have a really active lifestyle – they’re always chasing their cattle around on their dirtbikes (easier than horses), or going waterskiing at the nearby lake.


They took us on a tour of their vast property where 200-some cattle graze and they grow hay to bale and store for winter.

Dirtbikes are the easiest way to get from one place to another. So they put me on one. The fools.


I’d never driven anything with a clutch before. This is the kind of thing that would have had me scared and in tears in Jr. High school.

Here’s the mantra I kept chanting in my head: neutral gear, kickstart, idle, clutch, move thing to first, hold clutch, throttle, slowly release clutch.

I’m really awkward at coordinating the clutch. As we were halfway across the property, we stopped so Mike and Corinne could show us some of the huge bales they already stacked.

They looked like giant shredded wheat cereal.

I stopped my bike to take some photos and then as I was preparing to go between the stacks, I jumped off my clutch really quickly and my front wheel flew up as I was propelled right into the side of a giant bale. My neck snapped back and my face banged into the side of a hay bale. I was fine, just sore with straw in my eye.

Not deterred, I got back on (after Mike cleared the engine, which had flooded when I crashed and the bike tipped over). After some prodding from my aunt actually, I ended up riding across the plains in second gear. I did it!!!

The joke is that I was on the littlest dirtbike. Only 100ccs. The ones my family was riding had a lot more power. They’ve been riding forever.


Uncle Mike above is great at riding dirtbikes. He’s also broken his collarbone and dealt with numerous other bike injuries. You can tell he loves it.


They tell me the key to looking pro is learning to release the clutch ‘gently’, and remembering to give it enough gas in the upper gears so it doesn’t stall when you release the clutch.

Around the property we saw the cattle, the huge irrigation systems, the hay and the jumps.

Readers, I did not try the jumps.

There’s one that’s made out of a cow my uncle had to bury after it wandered to a secluded part of the property and got into trouble while trying to give birth. As my uncle put it, “her sacrifice was not in vain, because I made a ramp out of her.”


It’s called the dead cow jump.

We had fresh steak, sandwiches and cold beer in iced mugs when we got back. We had to be on the road to Whistler by 3:30pm.

I wish I could have stayed longer. It was great to see my family. We had to catch the morning ferry to Vancouver Island so we could meet our friends and drive up to Sayward with them.

I was still shaking the hay out of my clothes as we got back into the car.

A little poof of straw dust appeared every time I opened my wallet .

The next time we’re back, we’ll learn how to waterski.

We headed east to Williams Lake and then turned sharply south down one of the most beautiful highways I’ve ever been on.

Also, one of the most dangerous.


The BC-99 South is a highway best viewed at sunset. It has painted canyons, rivers and stunning gorges lined with emerald farmland. The irrigation machines cover the agricultural plateaus with an avalon mist.

There are tiny towns with twinkling lights in the purple dusk situated on the edge of a sheer cliff face. All this around hairpin turns that make things disappear around corners as quickly as they come, so you’re whipping your head around so fast you wonder if they were ever there.

You pass through a lot of small reserve towns. I see a sign that says, “All natives go to heaven because they have rezervations.” across the street from Lightfoot Market and Gas.

You see a gas station and think, “Wow, that gas is so cheap!” But keep driving kids, because that is reserve gas and unless you have native status it is not for you.

We drive past grazing deer, up and down switchbacks, up and down hills so steep they’re at 13%, 14% and then 15% grade. Howling with excitement each time we came to a steeper hill.


Be careful here. In winter, this is a death trap. There are no lights on this highway and six bridges that only fit one vehicle at a time.

There are runaway lanes at sharp turns (they’re shorter roads that go about a kilometre off the main road at sharp turns – they’re meant for large trucks that don’t slow down in time. You can take the runaway lane to avoid colliding with another vehicle, or flying off the cliff).


After the sun sets, the shadow of darkness runs away from your headlights as you scan the roadside ditches for the telltale reflection of deer eyes.

There are rest areas every five kilometres or so. And by rest areas, I mean a larger shoulder of highway where you can pull off if you get driving fatigue.

We stopped a few times for coffee.

After driving for about seven and a half hours from my aunt and uncle’s house, we reach the Wal Mart in Squamish where we set up camp for the night. We weren’t alone. About 30 other camping vehicles were spending the night with us. In the morning, the Horseshoe Bay ferry to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island would only be a 40 minute drive away.

Day 22 Costs:

  • Gas in Clinton: $75.47
  • A&W: $20.34
  • McDonalds coffees: $5.37

Total: $101.18


Chinese Lessons and Salmon Dipping in Northern B.C.

Somehow in less than twelve hours we went from a cabin in the woods of Quesnel, to a historic gold mining town stuck in 1925, to a cattle ranch outside Alexis Creek, to the Chilcotin River where we watched people in the Alexis Creek First Nation band dip for salmon and I gutted my first fish.

Let’s start at the beginning.


A Cabin in the Woods

We woke up with my cousin and his wife gone. They were en route with their pups so that one of them could get knee surgery in a neighbouring city.

We had a nice, slow morning of card games, hot breakfasts, hot coffee, playing with the cat and exploring the cabin.


Their cat has an outside escape through the loft window in the cabin – through it she can get to the ground outside using these cat ledges.



After finally packing up and bidding Rob’s dream cabin goodbye, we headed east from Quesnel, through an area known as Devil’s Canyon in order to get to…

Barkerville Gold Rush Town


Barkerville is about an hour east of Quesnel. It’s the historic gold rush town that the brewery we visited yesterday takes their name from.

When we got out of the cary in the parkng lot we could hear dogs barking off in the distance and I found a loonie right outside my car door.

Rob: “Wow. This really is a gold town.”

This place was in its heyday during the 1860s. The whole town burned down once in September of 1868 but was quickly rebuilt.

The most people this town ever held was 5,800. That was in the 1930s and the population declined steadily after World War II. There is still gold mining in the area.

The last person who actually lived in Barkerville died in 1979. Since then, it’s been kept alive by preservation staff and actors.

It’s got saloons, horses, minstrels, and a full schedule. They had some kind of demonstration or re-enactment going on all the time. I’m not a huge fan of re-inactments. I’d rather read about the history. For whatever reasons I’ve got a natural aversion to groups of re-enactment actors. They make me nervous.

I was most excited for their historical Chinatown.



Chinese Lessons in 1925

Immigrant Chinese labourers and marchants are a huge part of Barkerville’s legacy. A third of the town is considered Chinatown.


So we found this little Chinese school house.

Okay, let’s do one re-enactment. We went into the smokey, wood-heated schoolhouse with about ten other people. Everyone from a little boy to one of his grandparents.

Our 1pm lesson lasted 45 minutes. We learned some phrases in mandarin like how to say, ‘Hello’, ‘My name is..’, ‘Thank you’, and ‘Goodbye’.


The teacher also taught us a few kanji, how to count using an abacus and the basic principles of Confucian philosophy. Actually, for a short lesson with a mixed demographic it was quite good.


We learned about the four treasures of study in Chinese philosophy:

  1. Brush
  2. Ink
  3. Paper
  4. Ink Stone


According to Confucius, these treasures lead to a higher spiritual level of being and greater character.  Confucius was the godfather of Chinese education. It was actually his belief that education was a right that everyone deserved.

In the recreation classroom, our teacher tells us, “He had over 3,000 students in his lifetime, and many of them came from poor families.”

Salmon Dipping at Alexis Creek

Our Chinese practiced (Rob: “You’re such a teacher’s pet.”), we headed four hours southwest, to my Aunt and Uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Alexis Creek.


Another place that was rebuilt after it burned down, my Aunt and Uncle lost their whole house in a fire in ’97.

Like Barkerville, they rebuilt.

We arrvied there around dusk. Wasting no time, they told us we should head down to the Chilcotin River to watch the salmon dipping. We all jumped in their Ford truck and headed down the dirt road.

When we got to the river it was packed with trucks full of families there to fish.


During the salmon run in August the first nations people use big nets to go dipping for sockeye salmon.  They go down with their families and make a day out of it. Only aboriginal people in the area are allowed to do this. But even if you can’t dip, it’s fun to watch. The nets are huge and the fish are heavy.


From the bluffs above the river we watch as the fishermen anchor themselves to rocks on the edge of the river. Being tied in means if they fall in they don’t risk being sucked under with the current. They dip the nets in and weave them around in figure eights until a fish flies into it. You can tell by watching that some fishermen are better at anticipating where the fish will go.


For the past 30 years my aunt has worked as a nurse at the reserve in Anaheim outside of Alexis Creek, so she knew a lot of the people dipping there with their families. One of the women she works with stopped to give us a few salmon as a gift.


How To Gut a Fish

My big challenge of the day. I had never gutted a fish before. This was supper!


It’s best to gut and clean the fish right away. The hardest part? They’re freaking slippery.

My part of the counter looked like a murder scene.


See the roe in the photo above? I had a lady fish.

Uncle Mike showed me how to cut down along the stomach, cut the heads off, pull the guts out and then fillet the meat to go in the parchment paper to stick in the freezer.

We barbecued it with peppers and parsley and it was really, really good. The best way to end a big day. We slept well this night.


Day 21 Costs:

  • Gas, Jack O’ Clubs in Wells: $20.00
  • Barkerville Entrance for 2: $30.45 (can return a second day for free)
  • Groceries, Williams Lake Safeway: $16.81
  • Shell gas in Quesnel: $71.73

Total: $138.99


Across North America, Day 20: Cousins, Reunited!

I seriously couldn’t stop staring at it.


You might think this trip can’t get any better, but, it does.

Newly-engaged, Rob and I hiked down Mt. Robson in our pajamas.



Once again: Mt. Robson is one of the best hikes in the Canadian Rockies and if you’re in the area you’d be amiss to skip it.

Next we were headed southwest. To Quesnel (pronounced kwuh-nell, NOT kwez-null, as I repeatedly failed to remember).


We were going to meet up with my cousin Kai. I hadn’t seen Kai in years. Like, eleven years. The last time I remember seeing him was in 2004 at my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary. He’d been to Nova Scotia since then, but after 2008 I was in university and our trips would often miss each other in passing.

And, as you can imagine, so much had happened! I’d gotten my undergrad, he had an undergrad and a masters. As of the day before I was now engaged, and he had married his wife Lawrence. I have two cats and he has two dogs!

There was a lot to catch up on.

As we were driving first westward on the Yellowhead Highway towards Prince George before taking the highway south to Quesnel, I was texting everyone about my new engagement and feeling excited and nervous to see Kai again.

I was nervous because he’s one of my favourite cousins, like the cool older sibling I never had. He’s seven years older than me and he’s really smart. When I was little I definitely I looked up to him. Would he still be as awesome as I remembered? (okay, spoiler, yes he was).

But to put a point on the smart/badass argument, let me show you his LinkedIn summary:


Kai facilitates environmental field work, research, planning and assessment activities throughout British Columbia, Alberta and the Yukon. Kai is an experienced consultant who engages Aboriginal communities in environmental and socio-economic processes federally and provincially.

Kai strives to develop the connections between the environment, development, First Nations, land use planning and regulatory processes. He applies his integrated environmental planning background to all of his work.

For the past eight years, Kai has coordinated environmental projects for industry, government, First Nations, NGOs and academic institutions. Currently, Kai enjoys specializing in Aboriginal engagement activities related to proposed pipeline projects in Western Canada.


See? Badass.

In Prince George we stopped for burgers at this place called Nancy’s O’s. They had great ambience and great burgers, but not such a great part of town.

We were propositioned for change about seven times in fifteen minutes. And not just “Hey, spare change?” but, “Hey I’m knocking on your window and you should roll it down so I can ask you if you have any spare change even though you’re waving your hand and shaking your head no at me.” But hey, it was harmless and the burgers were awesome.

Burgered up, we turned south down Old Cariboo Highway and towards Quesnel.

Barkerville Brewing

Kai had suggested to meet at Barkerville Brewing, “theres a giant rotating mustache sign,” he messaged.


Barkerville Brewing opened in 2013. Barkerville is this historic gold rush town  about an hour east of Quesnel.  In the 1800s there was an original Barkerville Brewing and the owners here wanted to continue the legacy.

So, what do you do when you’re reunited with your cousin after so many years?


You drink all the beers.



You practice your skeptical faces.


The Cariboo Hotel

Then you eat all the chicken wings.



And you feel super lucky that it turns out your cousin’s wife is also one of the coolest people.

I liked Lawrence right off when I saw her tattoos. I mean, she has the ant diagram explanation of a tesseract from Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 classic, ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ on her arm.



Right away, I knew this woman was amazing.

She’s also really smart (big surprise), funny, super kind and is studying to be a nurse.



Also, in a coincidence of coincidences…


It was completely unintentional.

A few days before when we were in Jasper by uncle (Kai’s Dad) said, “Hey, are you going up to see Kai?” to which I replied, “Yeah, it looks like we’ll be getting to Quesnel on August 20th,” to which he said, “Oh really? That’s Kai’s birthday.”

Me: O.O … “No way.”

I tell you. There’s some magic in road trips.

So we had about four litres of honey and a bunch of vegetables from my aunt and uncle to give them as well. Birthday honey!

After wings, beer and catching up we went back to their home in a cabin in the woods (no cell reception, but good wifi, aka perfect).




We met their sweet dogs and had some tea. Caught up some more. They had to head to bed early because one of their dogs was having surgery on her knees in the town over the next day and they had to get up early to get everyone into the car and drive there.

We cozied up in their spare bed and slept like babies.

Very happy I got to see my awesome cousin again after so long. It was a good day.

Have you ever seen a family member after a long time? What was it like?
Day 20 Costs:

  • Mt Robson Cafe: $36.65
  • 2 Growlitas + Beer Flight, Barkerville Brewing Co.: $26.19
  • Burgers and drinks at Nancy O’s in Prince George: $45.52
  • Gas Station treats in Prince George: $9.11
  • All the wings and beers at Cariboo Hotel: $57.63

Total: $175.10 (but really, once again, priceless)