Journey’s Pause: Tips on Traveling and Writing (Day 12)

Sunrise at University Heights, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

As we head south, I will be taking a pause to schmooze with family near Seattle for the next few days. Saturday we took a nice little lazy ferry through the San Juan Island channels over to Anacortes, at the northern Washington border. We passed the site of the pig war, mentioned the previous day, into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, with its currents that turn into the Pacific Graveyard, from a blog earlier in the week. This is a day to reminisce about greatest hits of the trip, and maybe share thoughts about traveling itself.

People sometimes ask why we are so lucky to find the amazing things we find and see the things we do. People also often say, Gee, I wish I could write. I thought I would offer a few tips.

Friday Harbour on San Juan Island, WA. Photo by kajmeister

Ain’t It Grand?

There are plenty of travel hacks that I’ve learned, such as wearing layers regardless of your destination or the season, traveling in shoulder season (April-May or September-October), or eating lunch–not dinner–at highly-touted restaurants because it’s the same food at a discount. But if I think about what makes our trips really successful, I would highlight three core parts of our philosophy.

Plan Well, Then Be Flexible

An enjoyable trip is a balance between scheduled stops and spontaneity. Overplanning, which to my mind means shoving more than two planned activities into a travel day, leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. You keep checking your watch and worrying about whether the traffic or the crowds will “prevent” you from seeing the Next Thing. Give yourself plenty of time to breathe in the place you are seeing.

On the other hand, if you go into a famous location and hope to just soak up whatever is interesting by wandering around, then you may end up only seeing what is advertised. And, usually what is advertised is the overpriced, schlocky, “touristy,” least-localized experience you can get. Do some advanced research, and pick a planned tour that you like–Food Tour, Hiking Tour, Bus Tour, Shopping Tour–whatever floats your boat. A starter goal really helps. That will anchor you; then allow time to spontaneously return later to wander around interesting that you spot on your tour.

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Victoria Wander (Day 11)

After so much eating over the past few days, I cleverly planned to start this day with a long, leisurely bike ride, curated by The Pedaler Cyclery. Detouring through the back neighborhoods and beaches of eastern Victoria showed me a new side of this beautiful city, and my excellent guide, Charlie, filled me in on a plethora of fascinating history.

Willows Beach, Victoria BC. Photo by kajmeister.

Keep Yer Potatoes Outta My Pig

Y’all know that I love a good story, so I’m going to steal most of Charlie’s, but I have to say if you are ever in Victoria–and don’t you think you must go after everything I’ve said?–please do take a tour with these folks. I was immediately seduced and, for the first time in several days, it was not by bacon. I fell in love with the electric bike. I like a long ride, but my knees have not been cooperative in recent months. Yet all you do with these little contraptions is up the power a little and whup-up-up, bob’s your uncle, you’re up the hill and still pedaling. We meandered hither and yon through beautiful neighborhoods and park, first stop over to Finlayson Point where Charlie started spinning tales.

Guide Charlie at the swanky Oak Bay Marina. Photo by kajmeister.

Did you know that the U.S. and Canada nearly had shots fired over–a pig? It was June 1859, which Americans who paid attention in school will note was right before the outbreak of our Civil War. Despite the belligerence of a previous President ( Polk: 54.40 or Fight!), the U.S./Canada boundary had been set at the 49th parallel of latitude, which was cleanly below Vancouver Island and what is now also the city of Vancouver. But there was a problem.

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What’s Not in Victoria? (Day 10)

So you’re taking the ferry across Puget Sound to Canada? Going to see Vancouver?
No? Oh, over to Victoria. Butchart Gardens, then…
Wait–not the Gardens? Just Victoria?…well, gee… what’s in Victoria?

To begin with, chef’s choice trio in Tapas Garden, Trounce Alley, Victoria. Photo by kajmeister.

I don’t mean to cast aspersions on Vancouver. It’s a lovely city, and I’ve been there twice, cycling around Stanley Park, walking through Gastown, and so on. Butchart Gardens, I’ve seen three times, with and without children, with and without lesbians, just two years ago, in fact. You should come up here just to see them, if you like gardens and I do.

But Victoria, BC has its own vibe worth delving in deep, and we decided on this trip to grant it our full and complete attention. It reminds me of Seattle and San Francisco–very walkable, very picturesque, full of eclectic vibrancy that ranges from the swankiest of hotels to the kitschiest tourisma, pubs, coffee houses, little theaters, modern office buildings, with everything from pierogi bars playing heavy metal to high tea served under a dress code. The culture is spread thickly, but genteelly, on the most delicate of multi-grain, Himalayan sea salted toast.

I’ll prove it to you.

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Driving Back (Day 9)

Tofino Sunrise. Photo by kajmeister.

Tofino was the apex of the trip, the land’s end for Vancouver Island and the land’s end for us. It was as far as we were going, north and west. Next, we boomerang back through Victoria, Washington, Oregon and the boring part of California.

Toddler-sized Wetsuits

Since most of the day would be in the car, we started with a hearty walk along Chesterman Beach. There were surfers, which was impressive enough, but I was gobsmacked by the daddy with his two-year-old, rolling around in the surf. It’s 47-freakin’ degrees outside, or 8 degrees as the metric people would say. The water is decidedly frigid. I checked.

It’s 8 degrees (47F) outside. Time to frolic in the Northern Pacific!. Photo by kajmeister.

I didn’t know you could acquire toddler-sized wetsuits, but clearly you can and, apparently in Tofino, you must.

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Yes-Whales! Yes-Tofino! (Day 8)

Tofino on Vancouver Island. Photo by kajmeister.

I have been whale watching before. I have been to Tofino before. I have been on a boat in very choppy waters before. But everything old can be made new.

We changed our overnight stay from Ucluelet to Tofino specifically because the whale watching season ends in Ucluelet October 1, but continues in Tofino until the end of the month. This is the hazard of traveling in shoulder season; services are shut down. We passed a lot of CLOSED until May 2020 signs. On the other hand, no crowds, and it’s easy to imagine this cute little town crammed with cars circling for the handful of available parking spots.

Thar She Blows

Of course, when you book whale-watching, you never know if you will see whales. The migration season to Mexico starts in September or so, and whale sightings are most plentiful in the summer, when they travel up to Canada to spend the summer feeding. That might mean no whales. Tours like these always post multiple warnings that whales are NOT GUARANTEED. Jamie’s Whaling Station, the tour we picked, was unique in specifying that they would give you a ticket for another boat another day if you didn’t see a whale. But we weren’t going to be here another day.

Then, I thought, maybe climate change was making the water warmer and causing the whales to stay up north a bit more. Could Exxon and our doomed love of carbon-spewing SUVs have created the perfect opportunity for me to see whales? Sorry, future generations, but I want to see whales.

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