yes virginia - there really is a tofino time

Yes Virginia — There really is a Tofino Time

by Colleen Stewart


Travelling from Alberta this past August - where it was so chilly we felt we had to get away for a summer vacation just to warm up – we found ourselves deep in the west coast rain forest of Vancouver Island on a Sunday evening, a little over half an hour from Long Beach and not much further to Tofino, immobilized by a traffic tail-back stretching over eight kilometres long. Ahead of us, a huge number of assorted vehicles carrying parties of holiday makers, locals and internationals numbering in the dozens and dozens along the single lane highway were stalled on a long, straight stretch of the road leading into Tofino – 58 kilometres, the last sign had read. The sun was lowering quickly through mountain peeks and a tad weary we were, after having driven nearly 1500 kilometres to arrive at land’s end of Canada. As we were on our honeymoon, we realized we would not reach Long Beach before the sun set, such were our romantic plans.

Messengers voluntarily dispatched themselves – running, jogging, rollerblading – to obtain an update on the situation. Word quickly spread from vehicle to vehicle that a transport truck had jack-knifed four hours earlier, blocking the road. No one could get by either way – car, van or motorbike – so narrow is this road and so extensive the truck’s mishap.

With great jocularity and interminable patience, a gentle camaraderie developed amongst the travellers who began climbing out of their vehicles. Hibachis appeared and hot dogs disappeared as quickly as cell phone service and batteries in a digital camera. Mosquitoes attached to bare legs and arms, children wailed, and a first quarter moon crested over the wooded mountain peaks. Eventually word spread along the road that it was going to be cleared soon. A tow truck had been dispatched from Nanaimo and the expected wait time before the transport truck could be extricated might be 3-4 hours, we were told. Warm evening air currents turned cool, stories of bear frights spread, even though footballs were being thrown, guitars and camping chairs were dug out of trunks of cars and vans, and new found friends attempted to normalize the rather unsettling possibility that we might be stuck in the middle of nowhere until midnight.

Relief spread quickly, was palpable, amongst the many travellers wedged on the road when the logjam broke sooner than expected. We’d been there a little over two hours when we began to see weekenders who had left Tofino make their way slowly, patiently, filing one by one along the highway, plans to reach the ferry back to the mainland obviously all gone awry, and travellers such as ourselves now relieved to be able to make our way into Tofino, our long awaited destination.

And, amidst best laid plans that do go awry, where normally one might start grousing, we fell into a curious phenomenon that pervades the itinerant traveller on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Time changes. We realized that we just didn’t care that we were running late.

Maybe the forest made us feel snugged up to nature, protected and nurtured, even though in the wilds. Maybe the collective comforting of other stranded travellers eased our fears. Certainly, the clear air from cedar and ocean creates an overdose to the senses.

Hiking through the grandeur of the redwoods, beach combing amidst the driftwood of Long Beach, or meandering along the Pacific Rim Trail around Ucluelet later that week, we discovered there is a magic that envelopes you unlike any other place. It leaves you walking like a jellyfish – mind, body and spirit slowed down to a state resembling transcendent pudding – and remains attached to you even on your arrival home, days later.

So now, when people ask about our trip, a strange smile pulls up on my face, I tell them about the traffic stall on the highway, and realize that wonderful Tofino time sensation, like soft pulled taffy, is still with me and I tell my friends – beware – a trip there may change your life.

I realize I’ve not worn a watch since coming back.

Colleen Stewart is a freelance writer in Calgary and has had a number of articles published in an assortment of magazines, locally and nationally.

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tofino time september 2005

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