Summer Sojourn – part 2
The slow Way South
Unlike my voyage North by Night, which included two overnight ferries, I chose to drive back by land. Not unlike Outer Shores’ philosophy of slow-paced adventure, I decided to drive from Haida Gwaii to Victoria, a journey of roughly 2000 kilometers by land and 150 nautical miles by sea.
I wanted to get a true sense and understanding for the distance; the distance of the islands from the mainland, and the distance from one place to another. Something you just can’t get if you fly. I imagined what it would be like to paddle a dugout canoe with 40 people in stormy weather across the Hecate Strait, to trade or pillage other villages on the mainland.
Living on Haida Gwaii nearly 100 kilometers away from the mainland – where everything is perpetually wet, lush, and green – it was hard to imagine other areas of the province were on fire. As I made my way east it became quickly very evident the reality of the dire situation. This year the wildfires were worse than they have been in over a decade. Over one-million-hectares of British Columbia was burned by wildfires this summer, causing the first province-wide state-of-emergency since the devastating fires in the Okanagan Valley in 2003. This caused road closures and entire towns to be evacuated.
Smoke enshrouded the Bulkley Valley surrounding Prince George making it difficult to breathe. The smell of burnt timber and ash filled my nostrils and left my eyes feeling heavy. My original route down highway 97 through Williams Lake and Quesnel was inaccessible, forcing me east onwards to the Robson Valley. It had been years since I had seen the Rocky Mountains and anticipated this new route with excitement, although deeply saddened for the families having to evacuate, leaving most of their possessions behind.
Not everyone has the luxury of time but in my experience travelling by land lends so many subtleties to the landscape, drawing out detail in your surrounding environment. You’ll notice the nuances in the trees; the slight change in temperature as you gain elevation on the mountainous roads; the slow, shortening of days as the sun dips below the horizon getting darker, earlier and earlier every day.
Having the time to assess a territory as you transition through it is a luxury and perhaps a lost pursuit. Technology allows us many great advances: flying through the air in semi-comfortable seats as we nap, read a book, watch a movie, or gaze out over the expansive earth below. Departing from a busy city terminal, in a minor 2 hours you can be transported to a remote wilderness without much physical (or even emotional) effort at all. It’s impossible to gauge the change in terrain and climate when you travel by plane, but sometimes we have no other choice to get where we want to go.
I travelled along bends of the mighty Fraser River, the longest river in B.C. with its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains, flowing nearly 1400 kilometres before meeting the Pacific Ocean in the Strait of Georgia. I welcomed the Fraser as a guide to lead me back to the ocean once again. I would stop at sections of cascading waterfalls, some of which are the end of the line for spawning Pacific salmon, sections that not many fish get the chance to see. I got there just in time to witness the final feat of the lucky few that persevered all this way.
I began my ascent of the mountain passes boasting dramatically steep canyons and cliff sides, lined by precariously close highways, this time of year typically packed with semi trucks and camper vans. The roads today were less travelled than usual, a result of the burning region just south. I am humbled to think of the First Nations and Pioneers who would traverse these mountains on foot and later on horseback, not shy of peril I’m certain.
I boarded the ferry in Tsawwassen for the final leg of my slow-way-south journey back home to Vancouver Island. Completing the circle had a certain sadness yet comfort as I headed west once again. Was that all a dream? Behind the city traffic and the din of construction in the distance, there is a silence and a simple appreciation of the little noises, even those found in the city. Are my senses now heightened? Or does it sometimes take disconnecting in order to remind yourself of the simple beauty found in the everyday?
It will be a slow re-entry back into city civilization as I reintegrate to the humble hustle of a busier life. I feel I now hold a secret, a secret of a place that exists not only on a map but a place that you can take with you. Perhaps it is a feeling after all.