A few lessons about Canada gleaned along the road: (1) Kilometers rock! If your rental car measures speed in metric terms, you'll find it's far more gratifying going 120 than 75, even if it doesn't get you there any sooner. (2) Canadian roadsides, for reasons no one could clearly explain, contain virtually no litter. Remarkable. (3) The all-purpose ending to any Canadian sentence"eh?"lives on, with regional twists. The Tofino version of adios: "Choo, eh?" On the mainland, among the maniacal mountain bikers we would meet in Williams Lake, more of a nasal hey: "I'm feeling pretty punched, hey?" And the classic, muttered to me by a little hobbit-woman standing in the morning ham-and-eggs line aboard the Queen of Prince Rupert: "Little rough last night, eh?"
We had boarded the boat the previous evening in Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island's northern tip, for a 15-hour cruise to Prince Rupert, one of B.C.'s northernmost coastal towns, just shy of the Alaska panhandle. As the ferry chugged into the exposed waters of Queen Charlotte Sound, unprotected from Pacific storm swells, we sat in the dining room and watched the wine in our carafe begin to pitch and yaw, my stomach soon following suit. Happily, the seas calmed once the ship entered the sheltered channel of the passage. After overnighting in a small cabin, we had Sunday breakfast while watching spotted humpback whales spouting on the horizon. At noon, porpoises arced in circles to starboard. Gulls raced alongside the ship like farm dogs chasing a pickup truck. Now and then we passed tugboats pulling log-piled barges, lonesome logging camps, a floatplane. It was a peaceful day's idyll, at an almost forgotten pace.