1,800 Miles B.C.

Our two-week pleasure tour samples the best of Canada's most bountiful province

Jul 22, 2005
Outside Magazine
British Columbia

The eagles have it: A Vancouver Island Totem Pole    Photo: Weststock

IT WAS WEDNESDAY EVENING aboard a ferry bound for Vancouver Island, and although my wife, Kelly, and I had arrived in British Columbia for our clockwise loop around the province just hours earlier, things already seemed a little hinky. INVESTMENT STRATEGY FOR A SOARING LOONIE, read a headline in the National Post ("loonie" referring to the Canadian dollar), but frankly the term might lend itself to a broader application. Everyone we'd encountered so far seemed half a bubble off center. The customs lady at the Vancouver airport confiscated our apples, then sweetly recommended a restaurant in Tofino. The waitress at the Vietnamese pho shop where we stopped for a late lunch looked at me and beamed. "Long time no see!" she chimed.

"Uh . . . yes," I stammered. I had never set foot in her city before.

Soon after, we drove onto a car ferry larger than some airports, to cross from Vancouver the city to Vancouver the island. Moments after the ship cruised out into the Strait of Georgia, a woman in a corridor on level six unrolled a small mat and nonchalantly performed a perfect headstand, the first I had ever seen done at 15 knots. The moon rose full, looming over a bank of cedars atop one of the Gulf Islands: a perfect circle to launch a circle tour. Then, to our astonishment, a shadow blurred its eight-o'clock edge, the beginnings of what would gradually become a total eclipse. Aha! A possible rationale for irrational behavior: The word lunatic, after all, stems from the Latin lunaticus—moonstruck. Loonies, lunatics, lunar eclipse. The dots began to connect.

Daftest of all, perhaps, was our own agenda: to try to do justice to the treasures of British Columbia in a mere two weeks. The province's population is roughly equal to that of Los Angeles—about four million, not counting any post-reelection wave of American lefties—scattered over an area larger than two Californias combined. Its borders encircle thousands of Pacific islands, untamed mountain ranges, pristine lakes and rivers, and ancient rainforests. Sweetening the pot were the creature comforts scattered along our route: hotels and lodges both rustic and indulgent; cuisine flaunting its Pacific Rim provenance and an abundance of local, organic ingredients; spas with an emphatically West Coast tilt. I came to think of B.C. as the Northern Hemisphere's New Zealand—only three and a half times the size of the original, and not requiring the 12-hour flight.

Our journey's dotted line would zigzag across Vancouver Island; take us on a voyage through the Inside Passage from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, far north on the mainland; trace Highway 16 inland, south of Hazelton and through Smithers and Prince George; turn south on Highway 97 through Williams Lake and the Cariboo Country; then wind southwest toward the coast, through Whistler, and back to Vancouver—more than 1,800 miles in all. To recall a saying I learned years ago from a group of people who bungee-jumped out of hot-air balloons: Go big or go home.

Here are a few postcards from the continent's edge.