Our Northwest Adventure Part 3 – Vancouver Island, BC

While we still believed the trail was moderate.

One of the many, stunning views.

Taking a break looking across the Juan del Fuca Strait at the Olympic Mountains.

You can see my family ahead of me who are tiny in this pic – the scale was huge.

The first place we started having to rock climb.

Another very steep section where I took a picture looking down on my way up – I’m only about a third of the way up this section.

Another beautiful bald eagle.

Rinnah walking on the edge – we never got pictures of the really scary stuff because we were trying not to die, but again, you can see the scale of this.

A beautiful little cove we stumbled onto about halfway to the halfway where we turned back – the kids played here for a while and found their first beach glass ever which turned into a major hunt.

One of the seals we saw playing in the water at Cabin Point.

The sunken garden at Butchart Gardens, built to disguise an old quarry.

The Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens.

A hidden glimpse through the trees to the water at Butchart Gardens.

The stunning view from our porch – best part of the house and I could look at it all day.

The tiny totem at the turn to our street – we loved this!

Anna showing her haul at Glass Beach.

Rinnah and Rachel walking into Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s Chinatown.

At 23 1/2 Fan Tan Alley. There are many half addresses in Chinatown as they were trying to squeeze in more immigrants and keep them from the notice of the government.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown.

One of the totem displays at the Royal BC Museum. We loved looking at the totems all over Alaska and BC on this trip.

The boys REALLY enjoying traditional food from Yunnan.

Driving up through Washington was beautiful, the border crossing was pretty easy (always a concern when you have an unusual looking family), and we made it to our ferry with literally 2 minutes to spare, but we made it! This was a very impressive operation – a huge ferry with hundreds of cars. The kids were so impressed watching the 8 lanes going on in order and how they loaded it for the weight, etc. The scenery during the ride was stunning too – we were going through and around all of the islands in the Strait of Georgia and the Canadian counterpoint to the San Juan Islands. It’s about an hour and a half long trip.

One exciting/interesting/scary thing happened on the way over – a ship was in trouble. We were the closest vessel and so had to execute a rescue. We aren’t really sure what happened since they deployed a rescue boat from the ferry (the ferry was way too large to do it), but we could see a stranded boat. It took an extra probably 30 minutes, and the captain kept updating us, finally just telling us it had “all come right in the end,” and the rescue boat was back so we could continue.

We rented a house on Vancouver Island very close to the ferry. We just wanted a landing spot for the week – somewhere we could have some downtime and use as a home base for hiking and maybe another day in Victoria. This house was perfect for that. It wasn’t really near anything, but also was not far away from any of the things we wanted to see, and it did have a beautiful view of the water – we even saw otters from our deck a few times!

Our first day, we just had a “recovery” day – it had been so busy getting off the ship and seeing Seattle and getting ourselves up to Vancouver Island, we just wanted no plans. We explored our neighborhood, picked up groceries, played board games and just generally chilled out.

Our second day we decided to take our biggest hiking adventure. We picked this day because it was the coolest. The weather was great all week, and mostly cool, but we wanted the coolest day we could get for a big hike because Noah’s heart does so much better when it’s not hot. The high predicted was only about 65, so we thought he’d be a lot more comfortable and able to do it.

I had read a lot about this hike, and we were already a little nervous about whether our Littles could do it. It was called in several places the “best day hike in Canada” which seemed pretty awesome, and it sounded amazing! You hike right on the edge of the Juan del Fuca straight with ancient pine forests on one side, and the water on the other, looking out across the water at the Olympic mountains – just gorgeous. All the guides called it a “moderate” hike (a term that has now become infamous in our family!) saying there was some moderately vigorous climbing, but it was doable by a family, and we just thought we’d take it slow and take a lot of breaks. Our main concern was that it was 10 kilometers long (about 6.5 miles) and we weren’t sure if Noah could make it that far. But there was one turn back about halfway along, so we figured we could cut our losses if he wasn’t doing well. We packed food for the entire day thinking we could take all the time needed and play on the beaches, etc, and boy, were we glad we did!

Because, um, this was no moderate trail. Sure, it started moderate. It was stunning too, and exactly what we were hoping for – interesting trail winding in an out of an ancient forest and then along beautiful cliffs with waves crashing below, all on a completely recognizable and safe TRAIL. But that changed as we went on. Pretty much as soon as it was too far to turn around, we started getting some concerning trails – things where we were walking up rocks that sloped toward the cliffs and made us nervous, or very extreme elevation changes, basically like rock climbing, stuff like that. We started joking about “Canadian moderate” maybe being a different definition.

Then we hit a few really unsafe spots. Like, actually terrifying, especially when hiking with kids who have never hiked before. And then we got to a spot that was maybe 8-10 feet across, but was actually scooting along a cliff face on a 3” toe-hold about 80 feet above the jagged rocks and waves below, and by the time I got there, 3 kids had already gone across and there was no way back. When we got past it, I actually started to cry – it was just terrifying that I had my kids up there. And the trail blazes were literally screwed into the side of the cliff as though to say, “no really, you’re not wrong, this is actually the trail, this 3 inch wide toe-hold on the side of a cliff. Welcome to Canadian moderate hiking.” We were all looking at each other like, “what in the world would they define as difficult?!?!” We had heard that the second half of the trail was actually HARDER, so we decided if we were still alive by the halfway mark, we’d definitely turn back then. When we got there, it was beautiful, and we actually saw several seals playing in the water below. It took us 6.5 hours to get to the halfway point! The turn back went back through the woods essentially completing a circle back to our car, and even though we climbed and then descended a pretty intense mountain in the middle of the woods, getting back only took an hour and fifteen minutes because it was so much easier. It was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen, but frankly, it made me mad – we would never have gone if ANYONE had mentioned how dangerous it was!

It kind of freaked me out for hiking on the rest of the trip which was a real bummer because several people in our family love hiking, but we don’t think it’s worth dying for, just FYI. So there was that.

Our third day we decided to be more refined. And also not risk death. So after a night of nightmares thinking of all the what-could-have-beens, we took the morning off for game playing, reading, coffee on the deck, and general lazing around, and then headed to the world famous Butchart Gardens. This was someone’s house once (!!!) and they spent, oh, about a hundred bajillion dollars on their gardens basically to disguise a rock quarry they mined out to make the hundred bajillion dollars in the first place. It was stunning, and also super hot, so not the best for Noah. We kept dumping water on his head and keeping him in the shade, but we had to keep this visit shorter.

Our fourth day we had another easy morning and then decided we should do something. There is a little aquarium called the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, and how could we pass that up?! We asked if they would perhaps give Shaws free admission, but they didn’t go for it. However, it was super fun! Not large at all, but so interesting, and pretty empty so we had sort of a private guide for a lot of it, and the kids just had a great time learning all about the creatures inhabiting the waters right outside the door. Afterward, we went outside and found Glass Beach which is very small but literally covered with beach glass – the Littles were amazed, and spent a lot of time looking for the most interesting colors and shapes and bringing the very best home. They’d never seen beach glass before, and I’ve certainly never seen so much in one place ever! Makes you wonder about the water current patterns there, and also maybe the throwing-bottles-over-the-sides-of-ships patterns of the locals.

The fifth day some of us decided we needed to hike again (some others of us may have been overruled). We headed to a state park we’d heard had great hiking, and tried hard to make sure there were, you know, trails and stuff. We hiked way, way down (the whole way down this incredibly steep path, one cannot help thinking, “oh goodie, we get to hike back up all this!”) to a very beautiful loch at low tide, so we were able to look in the tidal pools and also discover literally thousands of little crabs racing all over the place. At this point, we split up a bit, and Rinnah and I stayed and played with Noah, Ethan, and Anna a bit longer and then hiked back while Nathan, Toby, and Rachel went on a longer hike to the mountain summit. Nathan knew I was nervous, and whenever he got a signal, he sent me a text that he was still alive which I did appreciate. That night we headed into the little town we were staying in for a street fair they have every Thursday all summer, and that was cute and fun.

Our sixth day was our last. We packed out of the house and headed down to Victoria again. Our goal today was to see Chinatown and hopefully get some real Chinese food, and to see the Royal BC Museum before we had to head back to catch our ferry to Vancouver. This is the first Chinatown in Canada, and also has the smallest street in all of Canada, Fan Tan Alley, which was very like stepping into a Harry Potter movie. This Chinatown is tiny, so we didn’t need a lot of time, but we were so glad we saw it.
We went there first while it wasn’t busy and then headed to the museum thinking we would spend a couple of hours there and then come back for a late lunch before heading out.

Well, the Royal BC museum was absolutely amazing, and my main regret of this trip was that we didn’t come here on a day with more time! My family spends more time in museums than most seem to, but we seriously could have been here the entire day. They had so much – a full floor of First Nation artifacts including a chief’s entire house and full-sized totems, a huge traveling display of Mayan history and culture, a whole section of natural history, a fascinating exhibit on First Nation languages, and then this totally amazing historical recreation walk-though of the history of British Columbia. You could walk through a Victorian era home, old Chinatown, a canning company, a logging camp, mine for gold, it just went on and on! The kids loved it, and we had to almost run through. Then we got outside and realized they had a whole historical village section too! I don’t know when we’ll get back to Victoria, but if we do, I’m going there again – it was amazing.

Speaking of amazing, we headed back for lunch in Chinatown. We practically ran back hoping to get food before we had to get back on the road for our ferry. Many of the restaurants that have been there a long time have kind of mixed reviews, but I’d read about one called Little Yunnan (a province in China) that was really authentic. It was fantastic! Very different even from what our Chinese kiddos were used to (none of them are from Yunnan) but they loved, loved, loved it. We got several small plates of things to share and then these soups that came with about 15 small bowls of things you could add or not and basically make your own flavor profile. Ethan made his spicy enough to take a normal person’s head off which made him super happy. And we just had an awesome time together! It’s so hard to get real Chinese food in the Americas, so this was very fun.

Then we raced out of there to make our ferry – we had really pushed the time because we were loving the museum so much, but again, we made it with about a minute to spare. We were so glad we did too! There was a medical emergency of some kind on the ferry crossing ours and they had to turn back which messed up the entire schedule for the rest of the day – if we hadn’t made our boat, we wouldn’t have gotten back that night, and we would probably have missed our flights!!

We had a crazy long time at the border this time and tons of traffic in Seattle, so we got to our hotel so late. We had to be up at 5 am for our flights home, so this was not the most relaxing end to our trip. Then a flight to Kansas City, then to Indy. We thought our landing was really bumpy and then realized there was actually a tornado happening! When we landed at the Indy airport, all the flights were canceled and there were people everywhere. We were frantically checking the storm, trying to figure out if it was safe to drive home to Columbus, or if we needed to sleep in the airport. What a mess! In the end, we decided to try it, and we drove 3 more hours in driving rain, but fortunately, no hail and no tornadoes. What a wild end! But it was an incredible trip, and made such amazing memories. So blessed to get to experience it with our family!

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