Our time in Tofino was a blur. It rained one day and was sunny and perfect the next. We bounced from the beach to the campsite to town and back again.
The Rip Curl Pro had everyone in a surf frenzy. The water was 52 degrees and the air was possibly colder, but the whole town came out. Dogs and kids and strange kite-powered vehicles raced around the beach in dizzy circles.
The waves were tiny. It didn’t matter, everybody was doing the contest anyways. Someone was going to win.
Some friends caught fresh salmon, halibut and prawns. We fired up a barbecue and paired the fish with grilled asparagus spears over rice. Together, we watched the sun set on the beautiful sound, snow-capped mountains peeking above the distant pink clouds.
Bald eagles soared in a purple sky. We stood on the edge of the water and it was a perfect mirror of the clouds above. The sunset felt infinite.
On a hike to the beach we followed a trail through the redwood forest. Ferns towered over us and we fell under a strange and wonderful spell. We crossed a wooden bridge and balanced precariously on a redwood tree, high above the canyon floor. The beach at the end of the trail was perfect for exploring. We raced off in every direction, climbing rocky islands in search of the unusual and paddling out to catch the tiny waves we found there.
That night we gathered around a crackling bonfire beneath a sparkling sky. The beach and the crashing surf glowed in the darkness. A wild-haired man was tending the fire in a pyromaniacal frenzy, flipping huge logs to stoke the blaze. We watched in awe and then threw fruit loops at our new friends, snapping photos of each other waving sparklers and laughing into the camera.
We didn’t want the night to end. In the morning, we would say goodbye, some of us leaving to catch ferries and flights back to the real world while Annie would continue the journey with Lady Liberty, heading into the sunrise towards Portland, Maine.
But in that one perfect moment, just before dawn lit the sky, time stood still and the bus and the bonfire and the people there were visible in other universes, a brilliant streak lighting up the night sky like a shooting star.
In the morning, Mackenzie gifted us with a hand drawn treasure map of the island, his favorite beaches, waterfalls and campsites marked in black ink. After an impromptu clothing swap, we made plans to meet again, then waved goodbye as Mackenzie’s bus disappeared around a bend in the road.The road to Tofino was a windy highway with stunning views of the island’s snow-tipped, forested mountains and shining lakes. We passed through a few small, tidy towns sprinkled with chain stores and unfamiliar gas stations. Bafflingly, the price of gas was displayed in liters, with the decimal point shifted two points to the left, so that the price of gas appeared to be in the range of $114.9.
We reached Tofino in the late afternoon, pulling into Bella Pacifica campground not long before sunset. The cheery young staff sent us off to find the “Hobbit Hole,” a tucked-away beachfront campsite in a gnarled grove of redwoods and covered in vines and foliage, where a family of hobbits or Wendy’s Lost Boys could believably live amongst the tree boughs and burls. A short semi-trail led down to the beach, which was a wide, flat swathe of hard-packed sand bordered by small rocky headlands, tree-spotted and licked by tiny ripples and a billowing onshore wind. Not far offshore, rocky islets sprinkled with tall trees were visible. The landscape and flat ocean created the illusion that this was a lakeside campground, with only the much higher high tide line, and rocks covered in barnacles, muscles and anemones to reveal our Pacific location.The nightly race to set up our tents was taken to the next level this time, with beers shotgunned to start, tent pole sabotage and victory dances. After setting up the rest of our camp, including the hammock and twinkly lights, we enjoyed fireside tacos and sipped “cheap” expensive Canadian beer.Bella Pacifica campground was a haven for the young, fun and surf-stoked crowd. Within an hour of our arrival, we had made new friends around the campground and met campers from all across Canada.
Some old friends were arriving in Tofino that night for the Rip Curl Pro. We invited them over to the Hobbit Hole for beers and s'mores, and excitedly shared stories of our adventures on the road while they filled us in on the action-packed days ahead and their favorite Tofino activities.It was hard to believe we had reached our destination. The route to Tofino was filled with memories of smoky campfires in campsites we had loved, delicious camp dinners, the tantalizing search for surfable waves and oodles of fun times on the road in Lady Liberty.Of course, along with the highlights, we couldn’t forget the long hours on the road, the chilly nights, dirty clothes, cold showers, roadside pee breaks and the grind of setting up and breaking down camp every day, plus the hours spent huddled in coffee shops along the way as we updated the Girl Bus Vibes blog and kept up on other responsibilities to the wider world.Life on the road is a shifting tapestry of fleeting moments that are both beautiful and tempered by reality. Each time we pick up a camera to document these moments, we chose what to include in the frame, just as what’s included in these blog posts is unavoidably an unconscious selective process sifted from our memories. Ultimately, the reality of adventure is both greater and less perfect than what we remember.
Overnight, the waves at La Push had disintegrated into small, crumbly, short period windswell. Uninspired and hoping for better surf on Vancouver Island, we packed in a hurry and were on the road by 10 AM, racing to catch the 12:30 ferry.We were the last car to board the ferry in Port Angeles. Elated, we raced along the deck to the bow as the ferry horn blew. We ate cheese, crackers and charcuterie as we chugged across the sound towards Canada. Across the sound, the tidy port town of Victoria seemed shiny and toylike, with little yellow water taxis zipping around the harbor, colorful umbrellas dotting oceanfront patios and miniature seaplanes zipping skywards.We met up briefly with Ryan from Guayaki, and he took the time to show us to a local health food store where we stocked up on essentials and kombucha.
It quickly became obvious that Canadians were contenders for the nicest people on earth award. Compliments, friendly advice and a genuine kindness seemed to be the norm, adding up perfectly with this prosperous, beautiful and rule-abiding country. Perhaps the rumor that Canada’s entire population was smaller than LA was true, meaning there were simply less people to get annoyed by. In contrast, we felt unruly, rebellious and rude.The drive to our campsite in Parkville was a bit of a grind. Everyone was ready to be outside the bus, exploring Canada. We had a campground rondeveau planned with another Vanagon traveler we had met along the road back in Fort Bragg, California.
Mackenzie drove a forest green synchro with Audi wheels, a custom built interior and wood paneled ceiling.We linked the vans with a strand of twinkly lights and circled around the crackling campfire with ukulele and mate cocktails in hand.The sprawling, tidy campground was set amidst a beautiful redwood and Fern forest on the Vancouver Island sound. Across the sound, mist-shrouded, snow-topped mountains were visible towards the horizon.After a vegetable curry with grilled salmon dinner prepared by Madison, we shared s'mores and swapped stories by the fire until it was nearly midnight.
The earthy smell of fresh brewed Guayaki Yerba mate greeted my senses as I awoke. It was our first day without coffee; and somehow I didn’t even miss it. That mate buzz was a cleaner, less jittery high that sustained without crashes.
I sipped mate on the porch and watched as Cyrus and Annie deconstructed an old Polaroid camera, ripping through the old film, which was separated and useless. Annie wanted to dispel the glorified myths of van life, and Cyrus was game to share a few gory details of the truth behind the perfect vistas and van scenes he often shot. Cyrus and Annie played “I’ll show you my van if you show me yours,” a fun comparison of the finer details of his Dodge sprinter van, with a wood-paneled interior, a hammock and surfboard storage, and Lady Liberty’s 30-year old German multi-purpose engineering.
After a quick stop for camp supplies at Whole Doods, we headed out towards La Push and the Washington coast. “The push to La Push” was our rallying cry for the day.
The road skirted the Olympic National Forest and Native American lands. The stark contrast between the wild, overgrown forest and the land that had been logged, all of the replanted trees exactly the same height and species. I wondered how long the forest took to regrow enough to be logged again, how much profit their was in logging a swathe of trees, and what biodiversity was lost in the process. Beauty certainly was sacrificed, but as a consumer of paper products I can’t really hate on responsible logging.
At the golden hour, we reached La Push and saw towering Native American totems in front of community buildings. The bus rounded a curve in the road and the coast opened up before us, a long cove with a massive, rocky headland covered in fir trees. The beach was strewn with driftwood trees stretching for more than 100 feet, with huge root burls that stood 20 feet or higher.
We made camp along the beach, mixed up some mate tequila cocktails and watched the stars come out.
The day in Portland flew by. We did three loads of laundry, ate Voodoo donuts, hit up a couple of breweries and updated the Girl Bus Vibes blog. At five, we headed towards the airport to pick up Zac and Madison, and drop LA off for his flight to New York. It was a bittersweet bon voyage.
Buzzed up on mate, we flew back to downtown to grab a quick bite and hatch our plans for the week ahead. Maps were consulted and possible routes and agendas discussed. We made the call to push towards La Push, Washington, out on the Olympic Peninsula in hopes of finding waves and solitude.
From Portland, it was a short drive out to the Columbia River gorge and our destination for the night. The bus rolled into Cyrus Sutton’s driveway at quarter past ten, greeted by the excited yaps of his foxy pup, Miley.
Cyrus had recently moved to the property and was in the process of unpacking his van and making improvements to the space, but he welcomed us with open arms. We sat on cushions on the floor beside a wood burning stove, sipped kombucha, talked van life and and generally enjoyed our time together.
On Sunday morning we woke up to rain and the sobering realization that we were still 300 miles from Portland. We packed up camp, including wet gear, as best we could in the rain and strapped the boards on the roof.
Less than a minute down the road, the bus passed a pullout full of surf cars, boards strapped to roofs and sticking out of pickups. A few surfers were changing out of their wetsuits. The signs were too promising to ignore. LA and I followed a long boarder down a sketchy, overgrown trail to the beach.
As we stepped out of the forest and onto the sand, we saw we were standing near a rocky headland beside a long cove, a harbor jetty at the far end. The surf was clean, with a light rain falling on a couple of mellow, chest-high peaks.
The rain and cold forgotten, we raced back to the bus and grabbed our boards and wetsuits. The water was surprisingly warm, and our Rip Curl wetsuits made sure we stayed toasty even in the chilly air.
It was one of those magic sessions where time stands still and the only thing that matters is the next wave. A small wind swell was in the water, producing consistent waves. A four wave set came every few minutes. The session lasted for three hours and we paddled until our arms nearly fell off. The sun peaked out from behind the clouds and the water revealed itself to be crystal clear.
The long, tapered right broke into a second cove and a finger or rock covered in fir trees jutted out into the ocean, protecting the break. The takeoff was a slow glide, followed by a long, even wall that peeled evenly towards shore for 100 yards.
Back at the car, we packed up and peeled off soggy wetsuits.
The drive to Portland followed the beautiful, wide and slow-moving Umpqua River.
We hit Portland close to 10 pm, checked into the Jupiter Hotel, a hipster haven with a party vibe, and found a ramen joint up the street for a late dinner. The underage front desk girl was a fan of that van life and she upgraded us twice to a nice ass party suite with mirrored walls. We slept like rocks in the king size feather bed.
Searching for coffee in Oregon is not a quest for Starbucks’ green lady, but scanning parking lots and driveways for drive thru coffee huts. We hit our first Dutch Bros after a morning rain shower had us packing up camp before we’d fully woken up.
At the drive through window, we were greeted by the world’s happiest barista. She could not have been more ecstatic to hear about our road trip, that this was our first Dutch Bros experience or that LA wanted almond milk in his Americano. It was contagious –We giggled for three blocks.
Our first roadside attraction stop of the day was at the Prehistoric Garden. Dinos peeked out of the redwoods and from behind ferns. It was kitschy and awesome.Next we pulled off for a pitstop at a chainsaw wood carving roadside outdoor store. There was big foot. There was a 15 foot tall fire-breathing dragon. There was a chainsaw-wielding wood carver man with wood chips flying everywhere. A detour off the 101 sent us out to Cape Arapo near Coos Bay, where we found our second luxurious Oregon campground at Sunset Beach State Park.
After setting up camp, we cruised down to the bay to enjoy an evening paddle. The tide was low and the reef was exposed, covered in seaweed and sea anemones. As we packed up our gear, the sun set and lit up the rain clouds on the horizon.
After a leisurely breakfast of bacon and pancakes, we packed up and headed south to Moonstone Beach. A river swept along the shore and met the ocean at a scenic cove. The waves weren’t happening but we enjoyed the beach and got wet anyways. We made sandwiches and listened to the classic soul and funk tunes on blast by the parking lot’s self appointed guardian, a scurvy character with flames tattooed on his legs.
Back on the road, we meandered up highway 101 to Fern Canyon, a ferntastic hiking experience in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.
Besides being filled with beautiful cascading 100 foot high walls of ferns, Fern Canyon was home to the thickest swarm of mosquitos I had ever encountered. They filled the air like confetti in a ticker tape parade.
Fern Canyon was also the unfortunate site of the great drone crash of 2016, when the phantom got too wiley and tried to weed wack some of the canyon walls. It careened off the wall, fern leaves flying, and wobbled over some large root burls before coming to rest high in a young tree. Luckily we were able to bend the tree branch and retrieve the drone, a bit worse for the wear and smeared with green fern juice. It was a defeated hike back to the bus.
On the way out of the park, we passed a herd of wild elk, grazing peacefully in the rain on the roadside. The lady elk lifted their heads to watch Lady Liberty pass by.
We drove north in the dark. It was raining and an almost full moon peaked through gaps in the rain clouds, illuminating a rocky coastline and misty, tree-covered mountains. The trees were so dense as to feel like an impermeable walled tunnel, almost touching their branches together over the road.
Finally, we stopped at a Denny’s in Crescent City for a late dinner, checking out the local Friday night crew with interest. Rhinestones, bad tattoos, baggy black clothes and obesity and missing teeth were not unusual.
A short drive farther north put us over the Oregon border, where we made camp outside Brookings at Harris Beach State Park. This all-amenities campground outdid all of the California campgrounds with its free, hot water showers, clean, bug-free heated bathrooms and ocean views.
The serpentine road from Mattole Campground to the trapped-in-time town of Ferndale passed quickly, and we spent the afternoon recharging in a quiet coffee shop. After stopping for supplies in the college town of Arcata, we drove through Trinidad to Patrick’s Point State Park and made camp in a wooded meadow next to a bush covered in large, fragrant white flowers. Patrick’s Point had huge vegetated rocks scattered offshore, and a mystical, peaceful feeling in the air. It was very quiet at night.
The road traced the Rocky Mendocino coastline north towards the Lost Coast, veering inland before Shelter Cove. We wound through the Redwoods and reached the drive through chandelier tree in Leggit. The bus didn’t fit, but we posed it in front, laughed at the fat tourists and shot a million photos.
After a quick stop for veggies in Garberville, we headed out towards the Lost Coast. The potholes got bigger and the road got narrower. We passed off the grid ranch style homes and prosperous grow operations.
As the road descended towards the coast, a random glance at the side of the road revealed a bizarre sight –an old pickup truck, suspended between two trees. It was an eerie scene, made creepier when we noticed the single fin surfboard in the truck bed. Was it a warning to visiting surfers?
The last few miles to the coast was a washboard dirt road. We crossed a small creek, then emerged into a small, windswept campground that was somewhat sheltered by the dunes. The Mattole River met the ocean here, and the dunes were scattered with vegetation, wild morning glories and weathered driftwood.
We grabbed beers and raced down the beach for sunset, taking shelter from the wind in a driftwood fort.
Dinner was another Annie special —cold soba noodles, avocado, shaved carrot and soft boiled egg plus a simple salad of cucumber, carrots, avocado and greens tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
We ate inside the bus, sheltered from the wind, sipping wine and snuggled up under our Rumpl blankets.
A minor panic happened just before bedtime as we discussed the bear warning signs posted near the campground entrance. We didn’t have bear lockers or bear cans. Our solution was to remove all food from the car and store it in bins away from camp. If a bear wanted it, at least it wouldn’t rip the car door off!