We love hammock camping! We also love riding our motorcycles so it’s no surprise that we planned yet another motorcycle hammock camping trip. This time we wanted to head to Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve for the Victoria Day long weekend. NMBL and I both took some extra vacation time as well, stretching our long weekend out by a few more days. Our goal: ultimate hammock-hang relaxation. It was mostly perfect.
The ride to Tofino along Highway 4 is spectacular. The #4 crosses the width of Vancouver Island, winding through the mountains of the central island from east to west. The road is narrow and twisty, a real riders’ paradise, leading to Canada’s surfers’ paradise. At this time of year, riding the meandering track across the island, one can see snow-capped peaks, bright blue lakes, and tumbling rivers. It is simply gorgeous. It is also incredibly dangerous. A moment of inattention can result in disaster.
The ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo was wonderful. The waters of the Straight of Georgia (Salish Sea) were calm with clear blue skies overhead. Relaxed and full of energy, we rode our bikes off the boat to start our journey across Vancouver Island. Our ride took us up-island a bit and then onto the #4 heading west. We passed Cathedral Grove at MacMillan Provincial Park, filled up in Port Alberni, and continued on along the rough but scenic highway.
An hour out of Tofino we stopped at a pullout along the side of the highway. I wanted to mount the camera on my bike and there was a group of three bikers pulled over with mechanical problems. We talked with our fellow riders for a bit. They had their bike problems in hand so we just chatted about general things when we heard the squealing tires, the result of hard braking. I looked up in time to see an eastbound white mini-van plow into the concrete barrier on the other side of the road. It launched up off the barrier and careened towards us!
The van came right at me and a couple of others as it first came off the barrier. We scattered! As the passenger side of the van came down it curved away from us and towards the last couple of bikers… NMBL was one of them. All I could do was watch as the van continued on its arc, missing NMBL and another biker, Moose, by a mere couple of meters. It careened back across the highway and plowed into the concrete again. Was the saving grace the driver having the presence of mind to steer away from us or was it the fact that he lost his passenger side wheel on the first impact which caused the van to turn away? Maybe a bit of both.
Of course we all jumped into action. NMBL and a couple of the others went to check on the driver. I was wearing my new high-viz jacket so I took up traffic duty for oncoming vehicles. Unfortunately we were in a cell blackout area so we couldn’t get a call out to 911. Fortunately it was only a few moments before a truck pulled over with an EMT in the passenger seat! And minutes after that another vehicle pulled over with a doctor inside. In the meantime yet another vehicle got the accident info and drove off to call emergency services.
With everything in hand we continued our ride, a bit rattled and definitely more aware of the road. Our assessment of the accident was that the driver thought the pullout in the opposite direction was another lane. A lane that ended abruptly. We ride with a lot of awareness plus a lot of communication. This incident reinforced how good our riding habits are.
25 years ago NMBL had lived in Tofino at a place call Poole’s Land. Back then, it was a burgeoning eco-village where people could go to live in return for their labour and passion for the environment. It was the time of the Clayoquot Sound protests to save some of the last stands of old growth temperate rainforest on Canada’s west coast. NMBL wanted to “go home” for a visit to see how things have progressed over the intervening time. A few online reviews suggested that it wasn’t the place she had left but we decided to give it a chance.
The entry to Poole’s Land was lovely. It suggested the haven that NMBL had left. However, only a few meters down the dirt drive showed the property to be nothing like the promise. Derelict vehicles, used as bunk houses, and various bits of junk littered the place. It wasn’t the eco-village we had hoped for. Because it was getting late we decided to stay the night. Mike, the kind and outgoing site administrator, showed us a few spots where we could hang our hammocks. We chose the best of the lot. It was an area behind a couple of beat-up vans, tucked away in the trees with a rotted wood platform, a couple of soaked and moldy van seats around a fire pit, and various pieces of garbage strewn about.
We decided almost immediately that this would be the only night we’d stay at Poole’s land. NMBL had already talked to Poole; her disappointment was palpable. Poole’s Land was exactly what those negative reviews had said: a poor surfer’s flop-house where the residents were more interested in their next high rather than the environment in which they existed. Sure, there were still a few people doing some work but but they obviously weren’t keeping up. It pained NMBL to see it. We set up our camp, stayed the night, and bid Poole’s Land goodbye early the next morning. We went in to Tofino for breakfast, coffee, and a reconsideration of our trip.
After leaving Poole’s Land behind we went to Tuff Beans in downtown Tofino for some food, some coffee, and a discussion about what we would do next. Going home was one consideration. But after filling our bellies and caffeinating our brains on the patio under a clear blue sky we, decided to find a place to hang instead. It felt like the right choice. Why go all that way to just turn around after one night? It would be a waste of time and a hit to our egos to just GIVE UP NOW!!! We weren’t having it. After chatting for a bit with a Poole’s Land denizen named Mary, who joined us at our table, we rode off to explore our hammocking options.
Riding south from Tofino through Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Long Beach we saw a sign for a campground. One can’t just camp in a National Park. Well, you can but don’t get caught! They like you to camp at campgrounds for some of the same reasons we left Poole’s Land (irresponsible people can make a wonderland into a real dump).
The campground we found? Long Beach Campground. Nice. It was closer to what we had hoped Poole’s Land would be: clean, with beautiful tall trees, and more natural. We took our new Loco Libre quilts and DutchWare Half-Wit hammocks on this trip. We found a great site to hang the new gear, paid up for two days, and got to work setting up camp. There were some really good options for hangs and I think we picked the best. What do you think?
After setting up camp we had loads of time so we rode back into Tofino to pick up some wine to go with dinner. The road into Tofino is lots of fun to ride. It has ups, downs, turns, S-curves, and amazing scenery. We rode back and forth a number of times over the long weekend. It was a joy each and every time.
We did a lot of riding in the area over the weekend. None of it was taxing, just a whole lot of fun. To be honest it was some of the best riding we’ve done since we started doing this motorcycle camping thing. The weather over the weekend was perfect. The roads, while a bit rough from a bad winter, were just a hoot to ride. There’s nothing like being on two wheels; you’re so in the moment, so present, that you get to enjoy the road in a way that no other driver can even dream of. Unless they’re also riders.
People go to Tofino to surf. Nearby Long Beach is world-reknowned for its great waves coming in off the North Pacific. It’s open ocean all the way to Japan from there, so the swells come in big and long over the huge sandy beach. It’s among the most spectacular natural wonders in Canada. Rain forest, sandy beaches, blue skies, and ocean to the horizon. It is paradise.
NMBL and I spent much of Monday at Long Beach. It has been a long time since I’ve felt the sand between my toes with the surf rolling over my feet. The water was invigoratingly cold. The roar of the ocean was a constant as the waves crashed down one after another. There were a lot of people enjoying the same wonders we were, whether it was by surfing, frolicking in the waves, boogie-boarding, or just chilling.
I walked up and down the beach taking it all in. And taking pictures. Lots. There was just so much to capture! I meandered north along the water’s edge enjoying moments as they came, snapping pictures the whole way. Towards the north end of the beach was a woman wearing a wetsuit, arms crossed, feet planted shoulder width apart, a surf board off to the side as she contemplated the waves. Her name was Kira and she allowed me to take a few pictures of her in that stance. She was in Tofino with her husband on her birthday weekend for some surfing. I think you’ll agree, she’s an incredibly strong yet feminine woman. Kira, if you read this, get in touch. I’ll send you the pictures I took.
Tuesday was ride day. I made some breakfast and coffee, we struck camp, and loaded the bikes. It was time to get back out onto some of the most enjoyable road we’ve ridden. The sun was out making it a warm morning. After a quick ride back into town to fuel up, we set off for Nanaimo and the ferry home. The #4 was kinder to us on the way back. No accidents, and there was less traffic. We rode along, the FZ-6’s just loving the corners. Sure, the road was still rough but it didn’t make the ride any less wonderful. Everything is better on a bike.
On we rode, past the accident site of a few days before, on into Port Alberni to fuel up our bikes and bodies. From there we rode off to our final tourist destination, Cathedral Grove at MacMillan Provincial Park. We like our trees big.
Cathedral Grove is home to some of the largest trees on the planet. They are striking examples of nature at its best. Towering tree trunks climbing straight up with the branches at the top spread out as a canopy to gather the sunlight. On the forest floor, ferns and lichen create a rich green mat. The air is fresher, cleaner, richer, easier to breathe. Walking through Cathedral Grove is a numinous experience.
With Hwy 4 all but done, we rode into Nanaimo on the Island Highway, your typical freeway trip. The joyful ride was behind us along with the shared experiences of the weekend. I can’t recommend motorcycle camping with your partner enough. The adventures you will have are incomparable. We’re stronger because of our adventures.