Last week I talked about the difficult choice to bring my car on an annual trip I normally do on my bicycle. I had planned to use bus support on the trip, but that wasn’t enough; my knee was really damaged and it was down to two choices: take the car or stay home. I took the car.
Getting on the ferry with a reservation was a breeze, but I missed my favorite part of every bike trip—riding across the auto deck before the cars get on. As I roll across the smooth metal floor, my inner 8-year-old shrieks with delight and sometimes my outer adult actually weeps with joy. I lock up at the bike rack and scoot up to the passenger deck before the first car rolls on. This time I waited for the elevator with the parents with strollers and older people with walkers. I got The Look—why is that seemingly able-bodied woman taking the elevator?
I stayed in the hostel in Nanaimo my first night like I usually do, and got a nasty surprise at check-in; despite calling ahead twice, I was issued a top bunk. With my shoulder and knee both down, I can’t physically get into a top bunk right now. I explained that I’d called ahead twice, and the desk clerk gave me a bottom bunk in a co-ed dorm. I didn’t really care; after age 50, the young men don’t really look at you anymore. But no one else came in, and I got the room to myself for the night.
The next morning I was on the road to Free Spirit Spheres by 10:00. I didn’t want to arrive before 3:00 because my friends who own the resort are busy with changeover until at least 2:00, and I didn’t want to make more work for them. They had a full house—they have a capacity for 3 treehouses, and the small one I usually stay in got temporarily retired to make room for Tom’s latest creation, Luna. With a larger diameter and a motorized platform bed, she could generate more income than humble Eve, built for one (which is what I like best about her). Just as a treat for me, they put Eve down at ground level in an egg-cup-like holder. With my knee in the shape it’s in, I couldn’t be happier that she was on the ground.
To avoid arriving too early, I stopped in Parksville and checked out the world-class sand sculpture competition. This year’s theme is Wild Things, and most of the entries were touching commentaries on the interaction between humans and the rest of the natural world. After Parksville, I went on to Qualicum Beach, where I took a short ride around town, then swam the Ravensong Aquatic Center. The remaining drive to Free Spirit Spheres, which typically takes me an hour on my bike, took just 15 minutes in the car. I tried not to feel like the magic was being sucked out of my experience.
I didn’t need to worry about that for long; the moment I pulled in to Free Spirit, my friend Jamie ran to hug me so hard he practically knocked me off my feet. Then came Tom, the master craftsman who built all these wonderful Spheres. His greeting made me cry—“Welcome home.” We spent some time catching up before I unloaded and made myself comfortable in Eve. There was a slice of apricot cheesecake on a plate waiting for me, a gift from Rosey. I didn’t see her until 10 the next morning. She’s always so busy!
On Friday I drove up to visit the site where I scattered the ashes of my 3 cats in the gorgeously productive Courtenay River estuary, normally a day’s bike ride from the Spheres. What cat wouldn’t want to be buried in a bird sanctuary? I did my annual ritual in which I play each cat’s songs on my iPod, then finish it with The Wailin’ Jennys’ rendition of By Way of Sorrow, to commemorate my long bike ride over mountains with the ashes in my panniers.
I parked at the rest stop in Union Bay and rode my bike back to the Union Bay Store where the road is fairly flat and quiet, just to stretch my legs and feel like I was really there. Being in the car feels like watching a movie of a vacation; I’m not really part of it until I feel the air rushing past my body, I smell the beach and hear the things you miss in a car, like once I heard saxophone music and peeked through a hedge to see a musician on his front porch, playing like no one was listening.
That evening I tried to avoid the other guests, but when I heard that all 6 were vegans like me, I got pulled in and joined them for a shared dinner. I made friends with Liam and Kendra from Calgary, and we sat together on the deck and watched the bats sweep the pond surface at dusk. The next morning Kendra said she barely got to know the place, then thanked me for the stories of my 7 previous visits that made her feel like an insider. I grinned and said, “I’d like to give you a present.” I signed a copy of my book to her with “Now you can come back 4 more times before next summer.”
On Saturday I took a bike ride around the neighborhood, then I tried to go swimming at Qualicum Beach. The tide was the highest I’ve seen it, and the bay was whipped with whitecaps. I waded in to waist deep and waves slammed my chest. It didn’t feel safe or fun, so I got back in the car and drove back past Free Spirit Spheres to Spider Lake Provincial Park, a place I’d never made it to on my bike because not only did the road plunge downhill (which I’d have to climb back up in order to get back), but the pavement gave way to dirt that was so washboarded, my teeth chattered as I drove. The lake turned out to be perfect—cool, refreshing water with just enough current to keep it clean despite the 100 or so people splashing around in it.
Saturday evening I went to dinner in the Big House—a resplendent meal with Tom, Rosey, and Rosey’s best friend from college. Someone had swiped the good bottle of wine I brought with me from the communal fridge, but there was still plenty at the table. We talked until it got so dark that Tom had to walk me back to Eve with a flashlight.
Sunday it was hard to leave, but I told Rosey how grateful I was that I hadn’t been so rigid in my thinking that I would let myself miss the good times we had. I drove away with tears misting my vision, Silver perched dutifully on the car rack. As I drove by Qualicum Beach, the tide was perfect—way out and just starting to creep back in, so no undertow. I changed in a Port-a-Potty as the cabana was closed for renovations, and ran out into the sun-warmed water. Now this was proper sea swimming! I paddled about joyfully for a good hour, until the beached swimming float rose from the bottom and bobbed about in 2 feet of water.
In Parksville I noticed the sky was full of kites over the public park. I had a kite in my trunk and I wanted to play! I grabbed my kite and my swim bag and set off across the beach. First I flew my humble pyramid-style kite, then I swam for another happy hour or so.
I had planned to ride the E&N Trail in Nanaimo, but by the time I arrived, it was over 90 degrees and my knee was visibly swollen. I settled for a short ride around the harbor, where I ate a gourmet cupcake and watched people hang laundry on their boat rails, cheesy yacht-people piano music pouring from a swanky restaurant on shore.
The hostel dorm room was full and well over 90 degrees, despite two fans working hard to push the sultry air around. I woke up an hour before my alarm was set to go off and checked out. There was a lively craft fair outside the ferry terminal while we waited to load. The soap vendor I bought from last year remembered me; I got 3 bars from her this time.
It was hard to come back into the US and go home. Only my 2 cats could have drawn me back. I dearly hope my knee is better when I return next month, but if it’s not, I know I will make the best of it again. I hope this post emboldens you to make a tough choice to make the best of something. I want to hear about it!