Have you ever felt the urge to simply escape from your life for a few days? In my experience, it’s an essential part of being human. It’s a means of accepting that spark of curiosity that’s often responsible for driving us towards fulfilling new experiences. Or simply a signpost guiding us towards a space for release.
When it came to my recent trip to Tofino, though, I acted first. Analysis came later.
I’m often grateful for this age of technology. The complex set of issues surrounding constant instant gratification aside, a few clicks allowed me to secure accommodation and a reserved spot on the ferry. A good thing, since the impromptu nature of the trip wouldn’t allow for any delays. Hitches or hiccups would have likely resulted in its non-existence.
I donned a rough denim jacket the morning I left. It smelled faintly of sunlight and sweat, which imparted an inexplicable sense of calm. Everything’s going to be OK. I grabbed a small bag and my well-travelled hiking boots, and headed into the grey morning drizzle towards my destination. Beyond the white streamers winding their way through towering dark conifers and the calm moss embracing placid granite, my final stop waited: Tofino.
Why Tofino? Lots of reasons, none of which particularly stood out to me at the time, other than the ocean. I’ve always felt most at home near the water. For all its vastness, the sea seems to be able to ground me to humanity in a strangely intimate way. Maybe because it’s so easy to view it as a reflection of the mind. Its surface is constantly shifting, reflecting, revising. The dancing whitecaps are insights, brilliant ideas, fleeting moments of joy. Sometimes, a moment of unexpected calm and clarity lets you look deep beneath the waves and fathom the multitudes contained within. Hidden, yet essential. And profoundly beautiful. Chin in hand, surrounded by a smattering of languages from all over the globe, the time passed, and eventually, the clouds cleared.
And then, the real adventure started.
Pausing briefly in the two-storey sprawl of Nanaimo to pick up supplies, I left the city to rapidly shrink in the rear-view mirror. In populated areas, sweeping curtains of rain sometimes only seem to highlight the dullness. However, with autumn tracing paths of vibrant colour through the forest, the moisture contained in the air served to intensify and saturate the hues. Everything was refreshed. Clean. Uncertain shafts of sunlight caused the scattered droplets to resemble bright jewels strewn across the leaves.
After the rain had passed, banks of bright, sunlit clouds piled on top of each other, offering a stark contrast to the dusky mountains, underscoring the breathtaking vastness of the sky. Winding along the narrow road they called a highway, it wasn’t long before I’d arrived.
The place I’d chosen to stay was an older building, accented with creaking, sun-bleached wood and scrupulously clean white paint. A highly-patterned rug covered the ancient, polished floorboards, and a wide bed with rustling white linens welcomed me. As the sun declined, pastel clouds marched in formation across the horizon and the ocean grew calmer.
Invigorated by the chill, I wandered between pools of light spilling from local businesses. At night, the streets are scented by woodsmoke and the gathering whisper of the twilight breeze imparts a sense of radiant movement. The delicious fatigue that comes with travel crept its way into every muscle, and I returned to the hotel for sleep.
The next day dawned bright and hopeful. An impossibly blue sky arched above, inviting adventures and wanderings. Fortified by coffee so strong that it almost didn’t need the cup for support, I took to the trails. The familiar crunch of gravel under boots was my only companion. Emerging from the forest via a rain-swelled stairway, the sand and sea unfolded before me. I couldn’t help but smile as the colours soaked in, assisted by the particular sharpness of oceanic air in autumn.
Perched on a rough outcropping of rock jutting into the sea, I felt the tension start to ebb away. I was startled by the resulting vacuum, and pondered what it might mean. It wasn’t a good or bad feeling, necessarily. Just… space. I realized that I’d come here in a state close to frenzy. I also began to understand that I didn’t have to hold onto that frenzy. It wasn’t keeping me strong, it was leaching away at that precious faculty that allows me to perceive the strange, wonderful beauty of this life. And with that, I joined my own salt and water to the wavelets that rippled around the stones.
I wept for things that were. Things that clearly could never be. Things I’ve wished for, and things I’ve sacrificed. I wept for the moments of joy that slipped by almost unnoticed, but never forgotten. I wept with longing, and an earnest desire for the strength to withstand a trial that still looms on the horizon.
I let my emotions skip across the waves like stones, take on water, and sink harmlessly to the bottom. And continued along the trail.
At a certain viewpoint, I stopped to enjoy the distant boom of water hurling itself at the land. I was lighter, almost dizzyingly so, having pitched a number of negative feelings overboard. As I’m sure is often the case, a wordless wish to remain in my present location formulated itself. But the lines impacting the shore and the crash of the surf almost seemed to be nudging me back. I’d gotten what I’d unconsciously come for, and after that night, it would be time to go home.
I departed early the next morning, wishing to slip out quietly. My dew-soaked car eased out of the back-alley parking lot and out onto the hushed highway shrouded in mist. At first, it was a morning of soft-edged titanium and pewter. Almost mournful. Then, while navigating a sweeping curve, the burgeoning sunrise suddenly illuminated every molecule of fleecy white with an indescribable golden hue. It was easy to believe that I was skirting along the edges of reality, between the world of the tangible, and the realms hidden at right angles to the existence we know. I put the moment in a secret place.
The fog, interleaved with fingers of brilliant sunlight, followed me along the twisting highway, until the road towards home turned to sea.
And I came back.