Dream trip: Pacific Northwest with a family

Photo: Ingo Hübner
Cruising with the family in a camper van through the Pacific Northwest (Canada/USA) can be quite like a fairytale journey. Especially if the daughter is really into man-eating animals.

“Oh, a bear. And an elk. I want them!” Ruby is happy, and so are we, the parents. We have been awake since one o’clock, and the jetlag made us so tired we lost our voices. In the grey of dawn, we escaped onto Vancouver’s lifeless streets which are shining in the rain. Ruby rushed through the first open revolving door and into a souvenir shop to show us one soft toy after another, to the delight of the Chinese shop owner. We notice that we might not be able to afford the entry fee into the aquarium and get out of the situation. After the beluga show – “Daddy, listen how funny the fat white dolphins are whistling!” – we decide on a soft pink toy beluga.

Big nature at Rialto Beach ... | Foto: Ingo Hübner
Big nature at Rialto Beach ... | Foto: Ingo Hübner

What other people are scared of is just really exciting to Ruby. The more the Capilano suspension bridge across the gaping canyon swings, the louder her laugh becomes. Afterwards, a long and loud tour of the tree top trail – of course, you can do a lot of swinging there as well – which rounds off the work-out introduction to the camper van tour.

From now on we need sitting power and always a charged iPad loaded with many Heidi episodes. The mental preparation for such a tour is a two-edged sword. Family time and freedom with no limits. But, maybe the camper van will soon be too small and we will get on each others nerves? And what about the fun aspect for a three-and-a-half-year-old when everything revolves around forests, mountains, bears, wolves and vast landscapes? Children do like everything if you sell it to them in an exciting way, don't they?

 ... and two big friends for Ruby. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
... and two big friends for Ruby. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

So when we are in the forest at the upper end of the Sea to Sky Gondola, I tell Ruby tales about the bears sneaking around the area with their babies which are easily frightened. And about Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel, and that their forests look just the same as ours. But now take my hand and don't be so noisy daddy! I am silent at the viewing platform where the grey but none-the-less turquoise Howe Sound is squeezed in between the dark mountains below us.

After the old lumberjack nest of Pemberton, the Duffy Lake Road labours cumbersomely past the mountain lakes and up the mountains. The wet green vegetation slowly disappears giving way to a dryer and golden landscape. Until we drop down to the melodious Lillooet. It used to be the centre of the gold rush and the second biggest city in the west after San Francisco. Now the paint is peeling off the houses along the Main Street. In the evening, the cooling wind carries along the spicy smell of sagebrushes and the noise from freight trains thunders through the valley. On the road. Jack Kerouac. Deep, dark sleep. In the morning, I remember: After many years of absence, I dreamed about the mud roots again, and how they were craving for my legs.

Overbearing solitude

Little Red Riding Hood Ruby, the wolf and the bear. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Little Red Riding Hood Ruby, the wolf and the bear. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

At the Helmcken Falls Lodge in the Wells Gray Provinicial Park, Ruby can pet horses and we, the parents, can enjoy the epic formats of the landscape. The park is renowned for its ever-present waterfalls and the roars of the wild Clearwater River. Isolation quickly claws us into its grasp. It is very present at Ray Farm, an abandoned hut where, at the beginning of the 20th century, a family tried to live a life in the wilderness. Ruby has great fun stopping her parents eating berries from the side of the road. “Keep your hands off those, they are for the bears! Otherwise they will have to eat the children!”

We say goodbye to Gord, the canoe rental agent at Clearwater Lake, who mumbles back something like “And don’t forget, there is nothing else than hundreds of thousands of hectares of wilderness around you.” Soothing silence, heart beat, paddle stroke. Ruby also wants to paddle, of course. We play hide-and-seek in the forest on the other side of the lake. It is a tricky game with those trees which can easily hide five people behind their massive trunks.

Overwhelming landscapes at Wells Gray Provincial Park. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Overwhelming landscapes at Wells Gray Provincial Park. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

Later, at the swimming spot, before we know it, Ruby strips off her clothes and jumps into water certainly cold enough to cause a heart attack. Only the imminent sunset makes her realise that there's been enough adventure for one day. The forest quickly becomes a black shadow against a bleeding sky and I wonder how much of my Novalis-focussed romance is inherent in my own daughter? She is definitely excited about stories with trolls which always build caves of moss and bark. And apparently she also likes wolves and bears. You would not believe that looking at her sleeping so innocently, all cuddled up in her sleeping bag.

Garlic festival

Our camping neighbours give us two trout as a goodbye present. We put them into the freezer and keep moving. The landscape becomes more and more desert-like towards the west. The road leads to a gigantic plateau which is pretty dry. The main attractions of the isolated area are rodeos, garlic festivals and, of course, nature. Irrepressible, so vast, unpredictable and wild – even the Canadians say so.

 Relaxing at Clearwater Lake. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Relaxing at Clearwater Lake. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

The parents philosophise about the beautiful simple life so far away from everything. The child is happy with Heidi. The following day, snow-covered mountain chains appear in the west, the trees are low and rugged. Alaska feeling. Villages which only consist of signposts, names like Kleena Kleene. Break at the Nimpo Lake Café, warm berry cake with ice cream. Ruby infatuates the other guests.

We drive past Tweedsmuir Park and along a steep gravel road into the Bella Coola Valley. The brakes on our bus work fine, the iPad too. Bella Coola is a ferry harbour for the Inside Passage to Vancouver Island for some, and for others it is an unknown waiting room at the end of the world. Men in vests with beards down to their chests and dirty tennis socks  sit around  in front of their motel rooms smoking and sipping cans of beer, fly screen doors creak in the wind.

Humpback whales

On the ferry, Ruby is excited about the dolphins that follow us from time to time. And for the sunset, a humpback whale jumps out of the water. But this is nothing in comparison to the full animal program two days later. In Port McNeill, we climb on board Mike Willies’ boat which takes us a long way into a fjord. Hundreds of dolphins accompany us in the steely morning light, their relentless jumps merge to a roar like a waterfall. Afterwards, a little grizzly on the beach which turns over surprisingly big rocks to find crabs. And there are humpback whales to the left and right of the boat that blow out noisily before diving back down.

Highway to Happiness. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Highway to Happiness. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

We anchor in front of a beach with a bit of tree cover. Hada Village, a settlement of his First Nation ancestors, used to be at the location, explains Mike. Many songs of his culture originated here, such as those about the ten moons and birth, for example. Mike sings. Sonorously and hypnotising as if the wind were carrying the melody and words along. Even Ruby is fascinated.

When we are in Victoria, we tell Ruby that we once slept in the Empress Hotel, walked in at tea time covered in mud after a week on the West Coast Trail. “What is that?”, she asks. So we drive there, at least close by in the Juan de Fuca Provincial Park. We go down memory lane when we descend through the forest to Mystic Beach. The ocean is roaring from below, sometimes louder, sometimes quiet. The path winds its way down, step by step, the view to the sea opens up. Our memories from then come crashing back.. The beach, vast, long, salty, the waves breaking. But before we get nostalgic, Ruby discovers the swinging rope hanging from a tree sticking out above a 20 metre high sandstone wall. She wants to swing above the sea, and when I help her do that, her hoots of laughter are  louder than anything else around.

Hello USA

Traces of the First Nations culture. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Traces of the First Nations culture. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

“Hello USA”, shrieks Ruby when the ferry arrives in Port Angeles in the late evening. On the next afternoon we sit on Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. Victoria and Vancouver Island are in the haze. Suddenly, Ruby seems stateswoman-like – just like the Queen – and shouts: “Goodbye Victoria!” in the direction of Canada. A little bit later, at the nearby Visitor Centre, she leads us to a sign displaying the animals of the park and gives us a lecture on mountain lions. How they take the children away if the parents do not watch out. A unique sunset in the evening at Lake Crescent. It is so beautiful, even Ruby is quiet for a few minutes and takes a deep breath. And because it is all so beautiful, we, the parents, watch an episode of Heidi in the evening while Ruby is already deep asleep.

The giant trees and all the moss  on the way to the Sol Duc Falls once again motivate Ruby to build caves for dwarfs and put little gifts in them. She really wants to get a glimpse of those lousy spoilsports. But ruby quickly forgets the dwarfs when she makes friends with a couple at waterfalls who have just come back from a tour through the rainforest and are lighting up their stove at the edge of civilisation.

Adventure playground

The wrinkled, dark green and impenetrable foothills of the Olympic Mountains often run out on primeval beaches in the west. Covered with mighty driftwood, grey and worn out from the salty surge. Adventure playgrounds. Perfect for balancing, building caves, playing hide and seek, for parents to take a deep breath. Ruby does not want to leave any more because she still has to build so many more stone houses for the dwarfs.

  Mum says not to get dizzy.  A bit difficult sometimes… | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Mum says not to get dizzy. A bit difficult sometimes… | Photo: Ingo Hübner

When it gets dark, I try to make a campfire between the rainforest trees but the firewood is wet and does not want to make a proper fire. “It does not matter, I want to go to bed”, says Ruby. Usually, I would be so happy to hear that but now I feel offended and keep trying with the fire. Finally I can stare into the flames for a long time before it starts raining.

There was a little storm over night that has thrown trees on the road back to Forks. The idea of free fire wood has attracted voluntary helpers with chainsaws. As soon as the streets are clear, cars with surf boards on their roof come in our direction.

At Ruby (!) Beach, it is actually so stormy that our daughter believes she can fly. The people who arrived to fly kites have a battle on their hands. The access road to Hoh and Quinault Rainforest is closed because of the continuous danger of falling trees. Rangers with plastic bags above their broad-brimmed hats make us turn around.

In the evening, I read “The Other” by David Guterson. The book is about a hermit who lives in  a rainforest, and I imagine the hike through the Hoh and along the Hall of Mosses Trail.

Priceless

Unforgettable moments for both generations: sun set at Lake Crescent. | Photo: Ingo Hübner
Unforgettable moments for both generations: sun set at Lake Crescent. | Photo: Ingo Hübner

The last rainforest runs along the foot of Mount Rainier on the way back to Seattle. High up at Paradise Inn, it already feels like snow is on the way at the beginning of September. Clouds cover the peaks, mist wafts across the path. Ruby wants to catch clouds and we walk ever further into the dense soupy fog – and arrive in sunny Seattle as if in a fairy tale. At least Ruby would say so.

And in Seattle, there are giant bears in a zoo you can pet. Really! A giant UFO which stands on stilts, and with an elevator you can travel with inside. Fish at the Pike Place Market. One of them opened its mouth and mumbled “Riiibbit!”. The giant shoes of the man with the world's biggest feet. And, also the shaman of the First Nations in Tillicum Village, but without a doctor’s case. Just priceless, such experiences! “And it was always so much fun”, says Ruby, interrupting my thoughts.

 

GM Info

Deep in the northwest

A few tips for your trip to the Pacific Northwest on the boarder of the USA to Canada.

The Canadian province of British Columbia and the US state of Washington are part of the so-called Pacific Northwest, a not particularly clearly marked region on the west coast of North America. The wealth and diversity of the forests and the mountain chains with mighty volcanoes are particularly special. Just as remarkable, is the First Nations culture which even today is still very present in the Pacific Northwest.

Getting there and around
Condor offers a good flight connection, also open jaw flights to Vancouver and Seattle, www.condor.de. A camper van can be rented with North American specialist Canusa, www.canusa.de. Cruise America owns the largest fleet with the most rental stations in North America, www.german.cruiseamerica.com.

Accommodation
The Listel Hotel is at a central location on Robson Street, Vancouver and in the style of a distinct Boutique Hotel, www.thelistelhotel.com. Same about the upscale Hotel 1000 in Seattle. You have a beautiful view from the higher floors across the bay to Brainbridge Island, www.hotel1000.com.

Ferries
You need to make a reservation for the ferry crossing between Bella Coola and Port Hardly (or the other way around), either at a travel agency or on www.bcferries.com. The Black Ball Ferry Line operates between Victoria and Port Angeles, www.cohoferry.com.

Activities

Travel information and literature
Plan your trip on www.hellobc.de (incl. an overview of campgrounds) and www.visitseattle.de. German travel guide book Canada – Der Westen, Alaska, DuMont Verlag (Globetrotter Bestellnummer 28.04.91, € 24,99) and Beadecker travel guide USA Nordwesten (24.63.25, € 24,99).

 

 
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