Left is West – Right is East, a journey to Tofino
by Matthew Lovegrove, Tofino
When I was younger, something would escape into the air when I would
unfold the faded map of Canada that I found in my Father’s car.
It was like opening up a book with an infinite amount of stories inside
and in each one of those stories, whichever one it was, I was a character
headed somewhere magical. With my index finger I would trace routes
along the highways, imagining myself lost in a country deep with cold
rivers, tall pines and sunsets that would steal me away into the great
open space. I always felt as if I was joining in an age old tradition;
a ceremonial air hung thick in my parent’s living room until
the journey was over and it was time to rejoin the real world. What
I found in that map was the possibility that the unknown was accessible;
that I could drive into a fantastic landscape where my reality and
fable were intertwined and somehow become apart of it. With time, life
taught me that this unknown place did not exist. There were meetings
to attend, fences to build and money to save-things whose structure
often seemed more real than my own thoughts. Roads seemed to dead-end
in alleyways or in traffic jammed bumper to bumper on an overpass.
The destination was always carefully marked, precisely timed and likewise,
horribly boring. One day I was driving down a country road somewhere
in between cities when the memory of that imaginary landscape flashed
vividly into my mind. With it an excitement washed over me: I had no
clue where I was or where the road was going, but all that mattered
was that whatever happened just over the next hill, it would be a surprise.
As they usually say, that was that.
My map of Canada is now in the glove compartment and instead of an
index finger tracing the highway; I’ve got two hands on the wheel.
With my girlfriend Laura beside me, we are headed west on the Trans-Canada
Highway; a road that is epic in distance, thick in legend and mind-bending
in the endurance needed to travel upon it. There are not many feelings
rival to having such an expanse of land set before you. It’s
hard to put it into words, so maybe you should come along for the drive.
There are stories out there waiting for us.
Morning: Desperation and a Good Strong Cup of Coffee
Next to gasoline, caffeine is the most crucial element in the movement
of lives across this country. As such, you must treat its replenishment
accordingly. It will pick you up from the dreams you left in the tent
and place you behind the wheel in order to hurl yourself into the morning
with jittery eyes and the illusion that you are awake. So in Sault
St. Marie, I don’t mind waiting in line. Truckers discuss their
hauls, old friends stand silent to gain their bearings and drifters
stare intently at nothing. Me, I’m two or three back from reaching
Old trucker in front of me turns around, sizes me up and then turns
back. I keep staring at the waitress who is doling out steaming cups
of java and looks as if she belongs in a 1950’s furniture commercial.
It is this woman who holds in her reach the essential ingredient of
The old trucker does it again, now I start to wonder if there’s
something he knows that I should also know.
We are slowly getting closer to the coffee so I pay no mind.
When he turns around again, he stays and asks:
Are you a tree planter?”
At this failed prediction, I shake my head no and he slowly turns
back to the counter without a word. What on Gods-Earth, after 24 hours
driving, 15 cubic feet of interior-car-contained madness and numerous
(!) conversations discussing the “actual” lives of plastic
toy animals, can someone please tell me: What does this mean!? Turning
around for the last time, he gives me an answer:
You’ve got that look of desperation in your eye”
Just ahead is the haunting yet somehow biblical northern shore of
Lake Superior. I know that it is a place where words will try but never
be able to hold their own among the stark rock outcroppings and cold
currents breaking on the shore. Already the monotony of sitting in
the same position for so long and staring out from the same perspective
is starting to affect me. When I look over at Laura, I can tell that
she feels the same way. For most of the winding drive through Superior’s
massive granite headlands, we don’t speak a word to each other.
It is almost as if we are holding our breath for what is coming next.
On the way, you’re bound to notice how towns across this country
entertain themselves by erecting monumental replicas of almost anything.
There is only one rule to this phenomenon that has swept the land and
sold countless merchandise to people like me: the object can, under
no exception, be that large in real life. Sudbury has that giant nickel,
Wawa a pair of monstrous metal geese. On many occasions driving in
Ontario, my eyes have been steered off the road by a 20 ft high rocking
chair or a giant fibreglass apple inhabited by a concession stand.
In Upsala, a ragged collection of houses and gas bar grown out of the
harsh Superior environment, you’ll meet Waldo. He’s the
kind of friend that gives destination to a days drive and plentiful
fodder for you mind when it stops working correctly. From the local
literature (i.e. postcard):
The battle took place on the third Saturday of May, 1888 and Waldo
met his match, for many men and many ships, who dared sink a hook in
Waldo’s lip, met their fate at Heavens Gate, on Lac Des Mille
It is true? Does it matter? All you need to know is that Waldo is
a monumental plastic and metal catfish mounted on a pole 15 ft. above
the gas bar parking lot. His mouth is agape in a terrifying grin; his
knife-like fins have been ravaged by the elements; but he sits proud,
almost dignified, demanding your attention and respect. Waldo lets
me know that we are almost done with Ontario, and in some strange way,
entering a landscape where stories like his are completely possible.
Leaving Waldo’s legend to gather in the imaginations of others,
I gain the sense of driving into a place far too large for any reasonable
reaction to it.
Growing up in suburbia, there was not much space for the unknown.
Behind the supermarket was a parking lot and beyond that another collection
of houses or a Dairy Queen or perhaps another McDonalds. Even mental
space was staked and claimed; advertising mapped it out, designated
billboards and ultimately, explained that the space was not our own.
There was escape into a movie and television landscape, but you couldn’t
set foot inside them and always knew that it would end sooner or later.
It was in this environment that we grew the illusion of a mundane life
and then later, grew the urge to leave it behind.
Twilight: Only Imagine Ice
West of Winnipeg, we are faced with the most expansive landscape
yet and with it comes the realisation that maintaining our sanity on
trip is going to be an uphill battle after an ice storm. Logical thought
has been slowly dissolving with each day of driving and it is here
that I begin to feel as if the car isn’t moving at all. I imagine
that the passing landscape of barns and pale yellow silos is old national
film board footage that has been looped, infinitely, on each side of
the road. Falling into a confusing state of restlessness, I write Saskatchewan
on my bare left foot, hang it out the window and start yelling at the
random grazing cows that we pass. This state is the most overt symptom
of the ceaseless drive and although it is initially treatable (reading,
music and conversation are typical anecdotes), it will come to a head
in the prairies. More specifically, your head. Long drawn out breaths
of land disperse around us; flattening my thoughts and pulling my perception
north. I can picture the prairies stretching for days and days, shedding
meaning with each horizon until finally—exhaustingly—I
can only imagine ice. We travel through small towns along the way that
appear like mirages of metal and wood. They seem to exist just long
enough for us to travel through them before disappearing in the rearview
with the waver of a candle. Travelling through the prairies quickly
becomes a deep meditation that is impossible to resist. For what feels
like hours I am immersed in a trance, lulled by the mechanical consistency
of the driving and hypnotized by the highway’s yellow dotted
line. It takes Laura’s concerned voice to snap me out of it.
I shake my head of the fog and bring my focus back to the road, but
in my mind there has been a shift.
Looking out into the fields, I can sense that there is a common thread
out there, something that can connect our lives like the railway did
a hundred years ago and the internet does today. My eyes grow wide
with possibility and my hands clench tighter around the wheel. Teetering
on the brink of epiphany, I search for a way to express it; a way to
pass it on so that everyone can celebrate this beautiful possibility
that lies on the periphery of our lives. It is on the tip of my tongue,
just out of reach but moving closer with each moment. I can feel it
gaining momentum, promising an illuminating revelation—a glimpse
into that unknown Canada that I dreamt of as a child.
And then I see a billboard with a cartoon chicken on it selling insurance.
I look at it and wonder why a chicken would want to sell insurance.
It seems like something a chicken would never do and therefore a
paradox worthy of reflection. And for 20 kilometres, that is what I
On the Insurance Chicken.
Shortly thereafter and sadly several worlds away, my epiphany has
dissipated and I am only left with faint footprints as to where it
was going. I try to follow
them, get lost and twisted in strange circles of thought and fall back to the
road, deflated. But it’s ok.
Burning on into a Saskatchewan dusk, the lights of those small mirage
towns have spread a thin warmness over the prairies. Like walking into
a dimly-lit theatre
in the dead of winter, everything else has been stripped away and all that
I begin to feel is a warm and encompassing comfort.
In Southern Alberta, you are not alone. Giant wind turbines spinning
their ivory white arms welcome us to our destination province as they
toasters and hairdryers in nearby towns. It is an efficiently courteous Canadian
gesture. We strain to trace the outline of the Rockies from the hazy summer
clouds and as the mountains slowly reveal themselves, it feels as if
we are awaking
from a five day dream. Many moments of the trip have settled in my mind like
sand in a riverbed, but the ones that surface do so with immediacy, in an attempt
at making some sense of it all. Of course, they don’t. But it’s those
pieces that you take with you that will grow to mythic proportion and eventually
become the legends that you remember. It’s the people you speak to while
paying for gas in Regina or the story that a stranger tells you while sitting
on the hood of your car in Thunder Bay. It’s the sunrises that you’ll
see in the rearview mirror and the feeling that you will have standing under
a rising prairie moon. Most of all, it’s the countless stories and lives
that you will somehow know just by passing them by that makes this a magical
and life changing trip. As the road gains elevation towards the mountains, leaving
the eternal flatness of the prairies to mingle with the sky, I feel like our
own stories have been sewn into the land, left out there for some other traveller
to conjure up on an empty stretch of road. If we meet you out there, I’ll
Sometimes, I feel as if driving Sutton Pass is a religious experience,
a passing through from the real to the surreal and a means of entering
the dream landscape
I have chased across Canada. Around a sharp bend in the road and the coastline
unfolds: Of rounded mountains steeped with cloud and thick with trees silhouetted
by crashing waves. From up here, it all seems pretty simple: The end of the
The people that have collected in Tofino are among the most interesting,,
playful, raving-mad and inspiring group to be found anywhere in the
world. They wake up
and tread through their life in this dream, conscious of how their lives have
led them here and what Clayoquot Sound means to them.
Driving towards town, you begin to feel the air loosen and with it,
your thoughts follow suit.
As the tall trees usher you along the highway towards the water,
there are now neon McDonalds signs, abrasive billboards offering you
a better life or other
hallmarks of our plastic culture. When you get to town however, there is an
ancient tree harnessed by rusted metal supports, leaning with the wisdom
of years, anchored
to the middleground between a conversation with ourselves and a communion with
It has been saved by a few dedicated individuals years ago and stands
like a testament to a place that is changing, but more importantly,
held together by
a strong community.
Welcome to Tofino, from the end of the road, there is no telling
where you might go.
Matthew Lovegrove currently lives in Tofino and spends his time playing
music. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Lovegrove desribes his journey to Tofino in this article from Tofino Time Magazine.