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
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 –
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