Recently, Tyler and Erin got married (HOORAY!) in one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited – Tofino, British Columbia. It was such a great event all the way around with lots of fun memories. So I wanted to get a blog post written before all is forgotten in my goldfish style memory bank.
My trip began in Switzerland. We knew about the details of this trip far in advance and made the decision to have me go alone, without Sarah and the kids. Though we would have much preferred to all be in attendance, the planes, trains, automobiles and boats involved in getting there, along with the travel time made the decision easy.
And it was the right call. For one, we learned on our trip from the States to Switzerland that Maren, one of our 3 year old twins, gets air sick. The flight from Frankfurt to Vancouver was about 9 ½ hours. One can only bask in the aroma of vomit for so long. That being said, the flight was great. I flew Lufthansa which has now one-upped Delta, in my mind, for Economy Class Superiority. It helped that the seat next to me was empty. But where they really nailed it was the entertainment and food categories. I watched FOUR MOVIES and ate two reasonably tasty meals. It’s the little things.
The plan was for me to meet up with the parentals and my sister, Caroline at the Vancouver airport and hit the road to Tofino from there. At the time, I was so fried from the travel that I didn’t realize how impressive it was that we all arrived within 1 hour of each other. We were all coming from separate locations. Bags in hand we went to pick up the rental car. And were pleasantly surprised when the Alamo Guy said we could have the Tahoe we ordered or a Suburban. Our whole family has something of a soft spot for Suburban’s which you can read about here. But I’ll be honest, I jumped at the chance to drive the most ridiculously large, gas guzzling, planet destroying, All-American Grade A beef burger of a vehicle. Most Swiss folks drive much more reasonable (read:small) cars. It was a nice taste of home.
We missed the 3 PM ferry which worked out quite nicely as it resulted in us finding the Olive & Anchor, a cozy restaurant in the town of Horseshoe Bay. The staff was super friendly, the beer was delicious (a Postmark Stout hit the spot) and the food was excellent. May I recommend the smoked salmon flatbread? The upshot to this meal was that not one of us wanted to board the ferry at 5 and make way for Nanaimo. Food comas were setting in, HARD, and motivation was LOW. But we pulled ourselves together and made for Vancouver Island, site of the wedding in Tofino.
The ferry ride is a blur. I will say it was super smooth which given the fact that we were visiting during Storm Season, was a bonus. I do have my fears. Many years ago, I was on a 20ish foot Sea-Ray in Florida. The man behind the wheel – we’ll call him Horatio – while driving the boat, did not apparently possess a boating license. We were in the ocean and the swells were maybe 4-6 feet. Not mammoth, assuming you know what you’re doing. For instance, bringing the boat up on plane, staying on the gas and slicing through the swell. Certainly not going to be a glassy ride. But it surely would’ve been an improvement over gunning the throttle UP the swell face, pulling back on the throttle DOWN the swell face and repeating – forever. I can’t be certain but I THINK that may have impacted my low level of enthusiasm for boat travel.
Safely on shore in Nanaimo 2 hours later, which is on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, we made way for the Ramada Inn to spend the night as the drive from here to Tofino looked to be about 3 hours. The road winds through the Pacific Rim National Park and we had heard the old growth forests we’d be driving through were not to be missed. We also figured it would not be the best road to tackle, on a rainy night, after having already traveled for most of a day. Sleep came easy.
The next day, Tyler suggested we pick up the essentials – beer and food – in Nanaimo as the options in Tofino were limited and pricey. This was an excellent suggestion though we may not have been the most qualified candidates for this task. Four people, all of whom love food and beer, with a Chevy Suburban that needed filling. Richard and I hit the beer store. As I stuffed a shopping cart, I paused and asked the father unit if perhaps we were buying too much beer? He first looked at me like I was crazy, put a bottle of Maker’s Mark and Jameson’s into the cart and then grinned at me like a lunatic. Mission accomplished. We joined the ladies in the grocery store which was a mistake. Four of us, stalking the shelves of food like malnourished wolves.
“Do we need smoked salmon? It’s WILD.”
“Look at all this cheddar cheese! They don’t have it in Switzerland.”
And so on. The result was an overflowing shopping cart. Going into a supermarket hungry is always a bad idea. Doing it with a 4 person team of foodies was like competing on Supermarket Sweep. Of course with the benefit of exchange rates, it was like getting a 20% discount. Right.
Filled to the gills, we finally hit the road for Tofino. And it was a good thing we waited. For one, the scenery was epic. Dense forests stuffed with massive trees covered in moss, raging rivers and sweeping vistas. For two, the road was on the squirrely side and had signage displaying statements like “Ponding Ahead”. Ponding and Suburbans mix, driving fast in the curves and Suburbans do not mix. We would later learn that the river was the highest in recent memory of the locals. Which would explain the standing wave we witnessed but thankfully no ponding.
The speed limit signs in some places had the number in the middle with black lines radiating out from it like the flag of Japan. In the States, you generally go 10 mph or more over whatever is posted. We quickly learned that you follow the posted speed TO. A. T. on this road. 30 kmh is not even 19 mph but on one particular stretch where you are winding around blind cliffside curves with 18 wheelers coming the other way, it seemed to be way too fast. This drive at night is not on my bucket list. With daylight however, it was killer.
We arrived at our AirBnb that the mother had discovered and she picked a good one. Hot tub, glorious showers, a big kitchen and most importantly, bunk beds for children of which Dave Russ and I were quite excited to get a look at.
I have funny memories of abusing bunk bedded roommates in college. And in high school, I got to join the Russ family on their Outer Banks vacation, also with bunk beds. These were not those. At a glance, the lower bunks looked to be a wee bit tight. Dave confirmed this by squeezing himself into one. Rolling over in the middle of the night would be tough given the roughly 12” of open space. So though I feared my porky 200 pounds would crumple the ladder to the top bunk, it was the only choice. Midnight bathroom visits after much beer were uh, interesting, but the ladders survived and the beds did not collapse. #GreatSuccess
From here on out everything is sort of smeared together in my brain but I’ll do my best to keep it chronological.
We figured there were lions, tigers and bears in the vicinity given all the primeval forest, thick and foreboding. But I can’t say I was expecting to read a bulletin posted on a board at the tourism center about wolves. Turns out there has been an uptick in wolf activity and this notice shared tips on what to do in case of an encounter. I recall that if a wolf approaches, you’re to maintain eye contact, yell, make yourself seem bigger and if necessary throw sticks, stones and loose change at the mammal. And “if the aggression escalates, fight back.” You should probably remove your pants after soiling them too but yeah, I guess that would be better than curling up in the fetal position and sucking your thumb.
The first night in town, Tyler and Erin got everyone together for dinner at the Wolf in the Fog in downtown Tofino. A lovely restaurant with Top Chef style food, I was fully baked and jonesing for a burger. Hamburgers are not exactly a specialty in Switzerland and the Wolf was there for me. Big, meaty, cooked to perfection with just right toppings – it hit the spot. With an outrageous food coma setting in, I enjoyed some beer and failed completely at conversing with new people. I’m fairly certain we had dessert but cannot for the life of me remember what it was. Worth a visit if you’re in town particularly if you’re into eating off my great grandmother’s china.
Turns out Tofino is the surfing mecca of Canada. There had to be half a dozen surf shops. May I recommend Live to Surf, everyone was super nice and helpful. A group of us rented big ol’ soft tops and hit the waves. I think it’s safe to say the conditions weren’t ideal but I was so stoked just to get in the ocean, it could have been lake-flat and I’d have been happy. The first time we went out, I paddled and caught a couple dumping close outs. The second time out, the swell had picked up, there was a ton of water moving around and after paddling out I decided it was outside my wheel house, as Richard loves to say. So I took my board in and floated around in the white wash for an hour. It was AMAZING.
The beaches were another huge bonus. Ringed by evergreens, incredibly wide with lots of small islands right offshore, it doesn’t get more picturesque. The tide swings are massive and one day Dave and I went for a walk, all the way out to one of these little islands. With a sign naming it Frank Island, access was via a spit of sand only visible at low tide. It was bizarre having the waves breaking both left and right of us as we hiked out. The island was a rocky outcropping with great views of the POWERFUL looking surf breaking across the western shore.
I had a great time meeting all of Tyler and Erin’s friends and family, many for the first time. Surfing together, drinking together, all the usual wedding weekend stuff. And of course catching up with family and old friends – Dave/Druss/Bruce, Dan and Kim, Seth and Laura and Steve and Stephanie. I am happy to report that Seth is up to his old tricks of offering to get me a refill of Maker’s Mark on the rocks but returning with a double Makers – neat.
Did I mention we were there for a wedding? Yes, that was the raison d’etre for this trip. Which Erin and Tyler nailed. Though we there for Storm Season, a time of year where shining sun is nearly nonexistent and the hours of daylight are short, their special day bucked all norms and blew collective minds.
The day began with a polar bear plunge at the beach just outside the Wickaninnnish Inn where the wedding would take place. The Wick’s tagline is “Rustic Elegance On Nature’s Edge”. Whoever coined this phrase deserves a raise because you can’t sum it up much better. Luxurious but low key, it is built seemingly on the rugged, boulder strewn coast and feels like the waves are going to break right through the windows.
Anyway, the plunge was polar. The water temperature being in Celsius meant nobody had a clue as to what was coming. In a wetsuit with booties and a hood, it’s invigorating. In nothing but board shorts it’ll take your breath away. This has the immensely rewarding effect of feeling like you’ve just stuck your finger in an electrical socket which is what the doctor ordered when you’ve mixed jet lag and drinking.
The ceremony took place in the rain forest on the grounds of the Wick Inn. This was a last minute change by the photographer that turned out to be the win of the day. With a humongous tree as the back drop, Erin and Tyler got married under an arbor made by wood elves with their friend Josh doing a fantastic job as officiant. My sister Caroline and Erin’s brother Kelsey did lovely readings and it was all made official by a nice Canadian woman who had us signing some paperwork right there in the forest. I didn’t drop the rings, nobody fell in the weeds and Tyler and Erin were newly wed.
From there it was off to the beach for photos. This entire time – from the forest to the beach – the sun was shining. In fact, I believe it was out until the sun went down. To make it even more incredible, a bald eagle casually cruised above us at the beach not once but twice. When we had arrived a couple days earlier, my mom said that the one thing she really wanted to see in Tofino was a bald eagle in the wild. The timing could not have been more amazing. There is a chance the Wick Inn folk have a drone dressed up like an eagle but it certainly LOOKED real.
Into the Wick we headed for cocktails and dinner. I was completely fooled by the BEET tartare hors d’ouevres. My mind read BEEF and my mouth was duly impressed at this tiny pile of raw beef. So sweet. There were a pair of musicians in the corner keeping some mellow tunes flowing and soon we sat for dinner. The menu was composed of words that no one understands but I will say it was quite tasty. Erin’s dad Keith said some really nice things, not only about Erin but also about Tyler’s ginger beard and its association with ISIS. The ladies running the show behind the scenes could not have been nicer and more helpful. All in all, a fantastic wedding day.
Some other things that come to mind:
- Tyler and Erin drove the 1,500 miles with their cat Lincoln lounging on the dashboard. If you have not met Lincoln, he is the most unusual feline around. In the most awesome way possible.
- Linda made the most epic wedding cake. Why? Because it was a tower of her famous butter-free pound cake! Surrounded by molded star fish made of lo mein noodles and peanut butter chips. Supported with tiny plastic pillars of love. This trip would be the first time, in my life, that I overdid it on my mom’s pound cake. It was WORTH it.
- Erin’s dress was stunning and I don’t notice things like this. Just ask my wife Sarah 🙂 Tyler looked ok too.
- One afternoon, Dave and I went for a walk on the Tonquin Trail and came upon a tall woman, dressed head to toe in some sort of white terry cloth get up, replete with hood and face mask. She was immediately named Mortal Kombat. Standing there, staring into outer space, holding an old milk container filled with water – she startled the shit out of us. To the point that we took the wrong trail and ended up in a recycling center instead of on the beach. We snapped a pic of her later from a safe distance that looked like a blurry Bigfoot sighting since we were convinced she’d try to eat us if we got too close.
- One morning, in the fog of time zone changes and Daylight Savings Time, the mother excitedly woke Caroline and me up to join her in the hot tub and look at the stars in the early morning dark. The weather had been mostly clouds till then so the clear skies were, admittedly, exciting. When I stumbled downstairs a few minutes later, I discovered Caroline standing behind the stairs squinting at me with one eye closed. “Where’s Mom?” we both wondered aloud. “What the shit time is it?” I asked. “Uh, it’s FOUR THIRTY” Caroline shared. With the threat of wolf packs on our minds, we went to make sure Linda had made it to the safety of an outdoor pool of hot water, alone, in the thicket. I can see the Farside comic strip now, titled “Human Soup”. She had made it and seemed nonplussed by the early hour. I was plussed and Caroline agreed (thank you) to hang out while I climbed back into my toddler bunk bed.
- Stories abound from wedding attendees on the adventure of getting to Tofino. Dave flew from Seattle to Victoria, the southern end of the island then drove the rest of the way. He described the puddle jump as non-stop jostling in an itty bitty prop plane. Fun. Dan and Kim did in fact experience ponding in their offroad ready VW Jetta. Dan said something about driving through a lake, that had formed on the road surface and hoping for the best. They made it. Seth and Laura opted to take a flight directly to Tofino. They got within striking distance when the pilot said they’d have to turn back due to rough weather. They landed in parts unknown and were shuttled in from there. The pilot wondering what the hell they were thinking bringing 11 month old Wyatt along, the whole time. Bobby and his wife made the landing in Tofino to the welcoming cries of airplane alarms and an ashen faced twenty something pilot. Double the fun.
Our last night in town, we ate at Shelter restaurant, another bonanza of local, organic, fair trade, sustainable, non GMO tastiness. They have a great indoor/outdoor eating area that we enjoyed. The wind was howling and the rain was teeming which was wild given the fabric roof covering and windows that were open at the top. But the overhead space heaters and available warm blankets were just right. I was shockingly over-beered and went with a cocktail. It felt like my body was begging me not to imbibe another brew. Since we had to travel the next day, I figured it best to listen. I had a glorious salad of braised greens with salmon. The greens were along the lines of collard or kale but they did a commendable job of cooking them to be tender without being mushy. Delightful seafood chowder was also passed around. And a shared dessert of apple pie capped the evening.
The next day, it was sadly time to leave…AT 10 AM SHARP! The rental Manual For Proper Use Of Home was VERY serious.
- There were threats pasted next to all toilets warning of dire consequences for anyone that clogged up the septic system. The caretaker would be investigating the status of the septic lines after our visit and should they be ruined, a charge somewhere between 2 and 4 Thousand Dollars would be charged to bring out the Septic Man. Not to mention that an alarm would sound if you were the boob to gum up the works. Needless to say, we all went to the bathroom in the woods during our stay.
- And check out at 10 AM is “defined as being off the premises at 10:00 AM. Every hour or portion of hour late, guest will be charged $100.00.”
No doubt the owners had a bad experience or two along the way resulting in these Soup Nazi orders. And I’ll say they were effective. Fearing the neighbors were watching us from the woods with a stop watch, we hustled to be off premise with a few minutes to spare.
The drive back to the ferry was another exercise in watching the road and not nature. Did I mention the waterfalls? They were everywhere. And on arrival to Nanaimo, there were rainbows all over the place. We even saw an upside down rainbow, not kidding. Also, rainbow en Francais is arc-en-ciel. Just learned that on Tuesday.
Our plan was to spend the night near Vancouver airport so we wouldn’t be worried about the 2 hour ferry ride messing with flight plans. On the way in, we stopped for dinner in downtown Vancouver at Steamworks Brewing. Minus the fact that we were just in time to watch the election results in horror, that place is a must visit if you’re ever in town. The place is mammoth and their Flagship IPA is difficult to not drink all night. And thank you to Seth for the Fairmont Hotel recommendation. It’s the first airport hotel I’ve ever been to where you are literally inside the airport making the whole day that much more pleasant. Unfortunately I only got to watch THREE movies on the flight home but I and the rest of us otherwise survived. Thanks again Erin and Tyler, I love you guys!
P.S. I certainly have forgotten things so feel free to berate me about it below.
P.P.S I have jacked, without permission, many photos from many people at the wedding. Sorry?
P.P.P.S. Tyler, if you’ve gotten this far (which I know you haven’t) I’m sort of sorry for how ridiculously long this is but mostly not sorry because it was fun to write.