Dad and I woke up deleriously happy and refreshed this morning, with a couple of showers and a good night's sleep in soft beds behind us. The weather continued to be gray and a little drizzly, which fit the islands nicely, but blocked some of our view of the mountaintops. In my mind, I had pictured the geography of Haida Gwaii as a large sandbar with trees. In reality, it's a ridge of long snowy mountains right at the very edge of the continental shelf (the long sound that stretches for hundreds of miles to the mainland is actually quite shallow). The road we had driven up to Masset and back the day before was really the only flat part of the island, but there's no roads up into the mountains anyway. The southern half of the islands is primarily an inaccessible wildlife reserve, but the little airport is there, and a small open-air ferry runs between the northern island dock (Skidegate, where we came in) and the southern (Sandspit) every hour or so.
Having done the collecting we needed the day before, Dad and I had until 1:00 to be at the ferry docks. We had an utterly enormous breakfast at the adjoining restaurant and chatted with the nice hostess. We checked out of our hotel. The receptionist wanted to know what I was doing, and when she discovered that we were only going to be on the island for 24 hours, she exlaimed "what a waste". I was a little put out by this...I hadn't come all this way to have someone tell me I wasn't doing it right. Thing is, if you don't fish, there's not a lot to do on the island besides hang out. You can stay for one day to see it, or 100 days to really absorb and relax, but not anywhere in between.
Dad and I put our stuff in the rental car and just did a little sightseeing. We went to Skidegate to see the new Haida heritage center that was being built (they were installing the glass while we were there) and to check out the museum, which was almost impossible to find and was run by two incredibly surly women. I think the museum had been crammed into a tiny, out-of-the-way space for the remodel and they were none too happy about it. We drove by the little town cemetery to get a better look at all the leaning stone monuments with eagles and whales on top, and drove back to Queen Charlotte City to check out the visitor center (it had a neat 3-D map of the islands and seafloor. I also collected a few wildflowers for the herbarium, including some wild columbine.
We dropped off the rental car at 1:00 (ferry left at 3:00) and walked down the hill to the ferry docks to check in. We watched large tanker trucks holding asphalt come off our ferry, and then turn right around and get back in to the line for the little ferry to Sandspit. Lord only knows how far they'd come, and how far they'd have to go for the next load. We mingled with other passengers and chatted with a friendly ferry worker. He told us that some of the crew on the sunken Queen of the North were still off on stress leave, but some were now working on our vessel. The crew work 12 hour shifts (12 on, 12 off), for four weeks at a time.
We boarded our ferry around 1:45, and quickly nabbed our favorite seats (good view, lots of room, no cold draft). This run was mostly empty, so there was tons of space. The seas were very choppy during the crossing (nothing like Semester at Sea, though), so I stretched out across the aisle to ease the queasiness. I got up later to go have a look outside at the islands receeding us behind us, and when I looked ahead, the view I saw literally made me stagger backwards a step. It was that there was nothing to see...just gray skies, violent water, and a hazy horizon. I hadn't been out of sight of land since Semester at Sea, and hadn't seen a view like that since our adventure in the Pacific. It was a wonderful view, but it knocked the wind out of me to be confronted with it again.
Dad and I had a leisurely dinner up in the restaurant, and I wandered around, slept, or wrote Tyler. We reached Prince Rupert at the comparatively decent hour of 10:30 PM, still in daylight at that latitude. It was dimming, though, so after Dad glommed onto a taxi and I got our tickets (we were getting to be huge pros at this), we got to the hotel (he went to sleep instantly), and I marched outside with my clippers to sample what I could on foot.
I don't know what the residents of Prince Rupert thought of this strange girl, walking jauntily up their streets near midnight with a pair of hedge clippers in one hand and a handful of tree branches in the other. I was wondering if some of the town guys would think I was crazy and try to take advantage of me, with made me start thinking about how I would defend myself with hedge clippers, and once I solved that problem, what the headlines would read ("FOREIGN STUDENT PRUNES JUGULAR OF LOCAL YOUTH").
Another day, another ungodly wake-up call. Dad and I dragged ourselves up at 3:30 AM to check in at 4:00 for the 6:00 ferry...the same vessel we'd been on all along. Thankfully, at least we'd had a few hours of sleep in a bed this time, rather than a forced consciousness in an uncomfortable waiting room. The waiting room and ferry lines soon showed that this voyage would be the most crowded of the four, so as soon as the announcement to board came on, Dad and I were out the door and making tracks down the dock. We were second to board and got our favorite seats. To my chagrin, pretty much everyone working on the ferry recognized us at this point.
The passenger lounge were most people sat wasn't full by any means, but there wasn't a lot of extra room to be had. There were absolutely scads of European backpacking students, several families with crying infants (on the other side of the room, happily), and several more with very small children. One family handled it well be erecting a small tent in the back of the room where their two girls could play or sleep. This worked beautifully and we never heard a peep the whole time. Another family had two boys, a younger who was just learning to use his lungs, and an older who felt that he should outdo to the younger one in everything. Since our seats were grouped in threes, the couples in front of and behind us each had an empty seat. At some point, in an effort to escape the baby, a bossy woman came over and demanded the use of these empty seats for her family members or friends. Dad and I had spread our stuff everywhere and were sprawled on the chairs and floor, and I put my feet on everything, so she didn't ask us. But if she had, I think Dad and I would have fought for the death. Having that extra space was the only way we could sleep at all.
The previous movement of the inside passage simply played itself out in reverse this time. I was more alert this time, and the weather was a little sunnier, so I took the opportunity to get some of the photographs I'd been to tired to run outside for on the way up. There's a section of the voyage called "waterfall alley" for its high frequency of flumes cascading into the narrow canal-like passage (22 cables wide at its narrowest point), and we got some great views. It was around here that we also saw a pair of whales passing though. They were definitely not orcas. I guessed humpbacks, or maybe greys.
The world just rolled by, seemingly without end, for 19 hours. The mountains and island just kept coming, occasionally with a spate of waves if we passed an opening to the sea. We stopped at Bella Bella again. We saw tons of bald eagles. I charted our course on my GPS and watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding twice (once with commentary) and thought about marriage. Dad and I traded off sleeping. I snooped for free Nanaimo bars again, but no luck.
There was just so much scenery to see that I couldn't absorb it. Luckily, we were under one of the PA speakers this time, so when the captain came on to point out certain sights of interest, we could actually hear him. We also heard every time the people with cars were allowed a few minutes to return to the car deck to check on their pets.
I went to sleep around 11, and woke up at 1:00 AM upon our arrival at Port Hardy.
As stated, we got off the ferry at 1:00 AM. We staggered to the car with all our stuff (my backpack, a light duffel of blankets, a plant press, Dad's rolling suitcase, and a little soft-sided lunchbox that had once held cookies) and wearily drove back to the vomitous Thunderbird Inn, where we checked in and slept for the next 7 hours. When we got up, we loaded the car, got gas and breakfast (a bottled frappucino for me, some overpriced gas station cookies for Dad), briefly drove back to the ferry dock to get some pictures and a few more samples, then spent most of the rest of the day driving down south to Nanaimo, stopping often to buy drinks and later, to use the bathroom. And once for Dairy Queen.
We also made a stop at Rathtrevor Park, an absolutely beautiful camping area I'd stayed in with the Bardens many years before. Once we reached Nanaimo, Dad and I drove to the ferry dock to confirm that we knew where it was (and to ask the ferry workers a ton of questions), then found a really nice hotel to stay at by Long Lake. Once we were settled, we spent several hours driving around Nanaimo for samples, but finally stopped short of the last one or two because it was starting to rain in earnest and I was soaked. We had dinner at some western-themed restaurant (the Montana Cookhouse) for dinner. I got pasta, Dad got ribs, and then we went to see the DaVinci Code, just for fun. Then it was back to the hotel, I took a luxurious bath and tried to figure out how to cool the room down a little, and Dad and I watched Frasier until we dropped (which was like, 2 episodes). We could have chosen to go all the way back to Seattle on this day, but we were tired of running ourselves into the ground.
We got up as usual and checked out. I skipped the hotel breakfast and munched on a doughnut. We made a stop at a grocery store to look for Dad's cokes (this ended up being difficult), and were able to find several rolls of the interesting crumbly digestive biscuits that Mom and I had tried in England and liked. We also got one more sample, and after refueling, we headed for the ferry docks, where we had an hour and a half wait. I read the newspaper, but was feeling tired and congested and generally irritable. I was ready to be home.
The ferry ride wasn't long (90 minutes), but again, we were tired and didn't take much interest. We got a few more maps in the gift shop and I braved a cafeteria packed with island commuters to try and find a bite. When we finally arrived, we were in Horseshoe Bay (north of Vancouver), not Tsawassen (south), because Dad wanted to take me to the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a long bridge that spans the gorge above the Capilano River. The near side (by the street) has some old-timey attractions (weaving demonstrations, old artifacts, First Nation arts and crafts, lots of staff in garb, live music), which is very touristy, but tastefully so. The other side of the bridge lets out at a small network of wide paths and boardwalks through a section of native northwest temperate rainforest, including some elevated bridges up in the trees. It was very beautiful...a little like walking through Endor, I imagine. Dad let me out to go enjoy it, and I had a great time walking around.
We drove south through Vancouver. As we did, we crossed the big bridge that the Explorer went under as we left, and when I looked over at the piers, there was a ship in that looked a lot like mine (we checked...it wasn't). It was rush hour, so it took a long time to navigate out of the city (we stopped that the same gas station that we used when we were coming up to drop me off for SAS) and cross the Fraser bridge.
On a whim, I asked Dad to stop at the duty-free shop on the way down. Mom had wanted to check the shops in Heathrow for her favorite perfume, but didn't remember what it was called until 6 hours later at 35,000 feet when she sat up and blurted out "TUSCANY!" Dad and I stopped, and did find it...and it was on sale. Mom ended up with a nice (belated) Mother's Day present.
We got in line for the border. It was a little slow, so I got out and made a point of walking up to, around, and through the peace arch, since I'd never actually been to it. The border guard could not have cared less about the plants I had in the back of the car. And once we were through, it was only a quick food stop in Bellingham before we were on the road for home.
(crossposted to losthemlock)