The plan was simple enough, or so we thought. We would rendezvous at the beach house a friend had managed to finagle for one night, free, and then unload the gear, kayaks and all sundry paraphernalia before Mike and I took the vehicles into Tofino where we would secure parking for the duration of the paddle trip. Then we would hire a cab to take us back to the beach in time to pack up our kayaks and hit the Pacific Ocean for a ten-day paddling vacation in Clayoquot Sound. How hard could that be?
In the early twilight of morning I woke in the living room of th beach house. All was quiet except for the rumble of surf rocking the southern end of Chesterman Beach, a noted high quality surfers beach. It was a lovely backyard that we entertained ourselves with on after dinner strolls and smoking out Hobbit pipes on logs while the sun went down. It was a so far so good condition to be in. As the light of day began to highlight the sands others rose and the pre-paddle excitement manifested itself. Time was no going to be our friend as the tide was going out and none of us wanted to play the chase the water game later that morning with fully loaded boats.
We had done some preparations during the party the night before, packing up perishables and enjoying left over beer and wine from the family friends that had rented the house before we arrived. The house itself contributed to the festivities as it was our good luck to have it and not start this trip like so many before it, tired from the long drive only to have to paddle for hours to a suitable camping spot, sometimes racing the dark to do so.
Rolling carefully off the chaise lounge that had been my bed for the night and feeling the effects of dehydration, or was it wine hydration of the previous evening I nursed myself up and caught sight of a wave blowing up explosively on the sand then in a death, rushed up the beach. Out on the beach, early birds were already taking morning walks. Who could get up that early? I young guy with surf board under his arm walked out into the water as thumps came from the bedrooms above me. Though my head was rather foggy and full of flies I still watched the ocean with the fascination of a child. I envisioned our departure through throngs of surfers confused and scattering to make way for four lunatics in sea kayaks attempting to leave the beach like hung over sea turtles.
Our happy tribe has the unfortunate habit of slow starts. This results in us meeting up with troubles, long days, or losing sight of where to camp. And it always opens up the doors and windows that allow Mother Nature, cruel parent that she is to beat the crap out of us. This happens when we are leaving the sometimes uncomfortable camps so you can imagine the underlying reluctance to rush of and away from a luxury waterfront home. Knowing this and how our group dynamic works gave Mike and I plenty of time to relocate the cars and get back again.
Taking coffee orders before we left Mike and I headed into town. Parking in Tofino was easy and we found a lot that where we could abandon our vehicles for days near the RCMP Detachment office. We felt confident about security when we locked up the cars and walked up the road to a well-known local establishment, The Common Loaf. On the way the background of Tofino Harbour could not be ignored. It is a frenetic place even in late September. A mosaic of marine signals, buoys and speeding water taxis and noisy float planes. The boats and planes taking tourists to the Hot Springs a few hours away up the sound so they can dip their toes in the hot sulphuric waters pouring out of the ground. We think of these folk as taking the easy way out. The last time we set foot in the springs we had already paddled for a few days and earned the reward, we were also the only ones to get there by kayak.
The harbour was warming its engines for another busy day as we rounded the corner and up a hill from the Government dock to the cathedral of coffee and sticky buns, The Common Loaf. Our timing was just off, the last drops of the last pot of coffee ended up in the cup of the person ahead of me. No doubt he was killing time before his plane to the springs was set to take off. These people had it way too easy, but we could remain smug knowing that we had the advantage of spending less to see more. That is what always amazed me about these trips. The low-cost other than the ferry, gas, food and well, the kayak, the gear, and the new gear I just had to have for this trip. Once you get beyond the initial investment a trip to the sound was on the cheap so a cup at the Loaf was certainly in the budget while we waited for our ride.
We had to wait while the overworked girl behind the counter finished preparing several special coffee drinks before she could brew a fresh pot of the ordinary stuff. I waited with cups in hand for the miracle of coffee to come and Mike found the payphone to call us a cab. The coffee brewed and in hand Mike and I sat outside at a concrete table sipping and watching the routines of the locals. discerning who was home and who was tourist was not difficult. Tourists spoke with heavy German accents.
The morning sky remained overcast and grey though the forecast had called for full and glorious sunshine that was someplace else. Welcome to the west coast. We were on the outside and outed as tourists even though we spoke accent-free. Was it our manner, was it the way we leaned on the rock wall impatiently now, tired of waiting for the taxi to arrive that gave us away. This is what visitors to my island home on Salt Spring must endure as they sit outside our coffee shops and listen in on conversations that border precariously on the edges of eccentric.
Mike had this experience first hand on an inaugural day as an islander, over-hearing a discussion between a pair of new-age hippies on the subject of a worm. The question at hand was what happened to the worm if someone accidentally chops a poor worm in two? Which half of the worm does the soul belong too? Mike, then a chain-smoking coffee slurping hard ass of a guy from the big city ended up on the island to the events after a bad car accident. A refugee of the high stakes commuter traffic wars, still years away from being a kayaking yoga guy of today, he sat there hearing this with disbelieving ears. Life on the island changes you or you just have to leave. Ironically later on, a ban on Mike’s insistence of yogic chanting while paddling was enforced by the rest of the group.
The cab still had not arrived and we were becoming antsy. However, what had arrived on time were the local coffee gangs who show up limping, groggy, red-eyed and tired in search of a hit. A local youth still working on the results of the previous night’s escapades was clutching a half-finished worse for wear can of Lucky beer. The kid having a bit of the hair of the dog was told by the server and later on by a much larger male staff member to, “Lose the beer, or else!” The lad was fairly and near completely tattooed, straddled his chopper-styled bicycle and rode it back and forth stopping at each pass to chat up his apparently EX-girlfriend sitting with her apparently NEW boyfriend. As small town romances might go these two seemed to have an understanding between them and acted as cautious old friends who let a girl step between them. Although, I doubted for a moment that this bunch spent lots of time worrying about the souls of worms.
Twenty minutes later and a dozen beer guzzling bike passes later the ex-boyfriend was no closer to winning back his sweetheart and we were no closer to sitting in a taxi cab. My coffee gone and the coffees we bought for the others icy cold I went inside to use the phone to contact the cab dispatcher.
“Hi, I am at the Common Loaf and I called about a half hour ago, we are still waiting, what’s up?” I asked, giving the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was stuck in the mud?
“Where are you?” asked the woman at the other end of the line.
“The Common Loaf, you know the coffee place here in town.” I replied, suddenly feeling a blush of stupidity flooding over me. But then again, maybe they didn’t know where it was after all and that is why we were still sitting out in the cold.
“Yes, yes. The driver went there but didn’t see you. He left, he couldn’t find you.” the voice said in an accent mixed from eastern European and liar. I paused. He came, he looked around, and he left. Did he happen to call out “anyone call a cab?”, nope!
“Let me get this straight,” I started and already regretting where this would go.
“Uh huh…”muttered the voice.
“Your driver came to the coffee shop, The Common Loaf, right?”
“Yes, and you were not there.” accused the voice.
“We were there the entire time!” I said, feeling smug. “Did your driver ask anyone here if someone called a cab?”
There was another long uncomfortable pause, long. Wind blew in the distance, leaves rustled and tumbleweeds did that tumbleweed thing, and all to the sounds of eastern European breathing. The thought then occurred to the voice. Maybe they had a very shy cabbie on their hands?
“Um, hello?” I asked.
“Yes…” said the voice.
“We are still here, sitting outside the coffee shop and would still appreciate a ride. Any idea when or if that will happen?
“He has left on another call to the airport right now, twenty minutes.” said the voice in a way that I felt as though suddenly it was I that was inconveniencing them.
“Terrific then. We will meet him outside by the rock wall.”
I stood watching the scrolling digital instructions on the payphone and replaced the receiver. Mike’s reaction was about what I had expected but we had little choice but to sit back and wait. Twenty minutes grew, by no surprise into yet another twenty and another coffee and the coldness of the morning was now eating away at our patience. It was Mike’s turn to call the cab, but as he got up to do so a mini-van rounded the corner, Tofino Taxi at your service! He silently spun the van around once we were inside and silently, so odd to have a mute cabbie. He must have been conserving his voice and he took us back to the beach house in a mere five minutes.
The instant we caught sight of the sand and surf and lovely grey/green ocean that would be our home for the rest of the week our moods returned to the first of the morning. “So, what took so long?”
“Shut up! Here’s your coffees, they are cold, sorry!” I said and looked to the pile of debris that somehow must all be crammed into the confines of my kayak’s hatches.
“Couldn’t get a cab,” said Mike, who now gave his own pile a similar questioning look.
I have told this story many times in the years since and by the response I find that I was not the only person to see the tragic side-effects of driving a cab, that being the sudden loss of voice. Now, I do not want to play the blame game here as it is not my way and I put my intolerance for the cab company as just part of my usual paddle-day jitters and the lingering head aches of my own doing. It really was as much my fault as theirs. You see we who call small town cabs should just relax, lean back and wait our turn and roll with the local customs and eccentricities. We should have made ourselves more visible, stand out, stand on our heads or perhaps just wore signs saying, OVER HERE!
In the end, if blame must be mine and I take full responsibility for thinking that a plan was simple. A plan is never simple, not matter how simple.