In the grand scheme of things, Jackie’s Tofino vacation was going pretty well. As a wife, mother of two, and full time family bread-winner the simple fact that she had successfully managed to plan, pack for, travel to, and ultimately arrive safely in Tofino for a family vacation was no small miracle. Navigating the modern family through the planning and travel stages of a summer vacation isn’t easy. Jackie didn’t so much as herd cats all the way from Boise, Idaho to Tofino, it’s more like she juggled them.
Four days into their holiday, Jackie’s family had exhausted themselves with a string of adventures, mostly tailored to keep their two pre-teen kids occupied, challenged, and happy. They’d wiggled into wetsuits and braved the cool, foreign waves of the Pacific to the squealing delight of the kids. They’d wandered through the forest, hugged giant trees, and searched for shells and treasures along the beaches.
The kids had smeared ice cream and chocolate all over themselves and the rental car, and Dad had even managed to squeeze in a round of golf one afternoon while Jackie and the kids shopped the Saturday market in the village green. The vacation, thus far, had proven both delightful and fun. Four days of pleasant, almost predictable, enjoyment. But all that was about to change.
By late Sunday afternoon the family found themselves strolling down Main Street. They were enjoying the waterfront views and visiting the shops along the way. They chatted with other tourists and locals, and eventually walked down to the marina at the Shore Building to watch the seaplanes take off and the tour boats return from their adventures that day.
They overheard passengers jubilantly recount sightings of whales and sea lions, and watched fish guides fillet big catches for grinning anglers taking pictures of salmon and halibut nearby. Jackie thought about the fact that they didn’t have many whales or sea lions in Idaho, while Dad stared awe-struck at the sheer size of the fish lining the docks. They had time for one last impromptu adventure this week, and decided to book a day on the water with one of the local charter companies next to the wharf.
The winds of fate blew Jackie and her family into our offices at Ocean Outfitters where I had just returned from another fantastic day on the water. I was chatting with a few of our other clients in the lounge and noticed them walk in. It was hard to miss their entrance as the kids immediately began yelling and pointing at the images of jumping whales and huge fish cycling through our big screen TV’s. As usual, the kids were setting the bar in terms of excitement and enthusiasm.
I wandered over and introduced myself as chief captain and pirate, forming my right hand into a hook, squinting one eye, and giving the kids a friendly “Argh be arrrrgh” for full effect. Everyone laughed except for the daughter, who obviously had a problem with pirates and promptly kicked me in the shin. The parents were embarrassed but I laughed it off, knocked on my knee, told them it was a wooden leg anyway, and then hobbled over to the counter. I didn’t have to embellish the limp, the little girl kicked surprisingly hard.
Dropping the pirate routine in fear of further lashings I asked the kids if they’d ever been swallowed by a whale, caught a sea monster, or watched as a boat captain wrestled a sea lion. I’m not sure what kind of sheltered existence they had been living in Idaho but they both shook their heads “no”. HA!, I told them, it was high time they went to sea with Ol’ Captain Ahab and learn just what kind of adventures are awaiting offshore.
It’s anyone’s guess what Jackie and her husband were thinking at this point, but I must have seemed competent enough because they ended up booking one of our Ultimate Adventure trips for the next morning. The plan was to depart Tofino and run up to the hot springs for an early soak, then head out for some salmon and halibut fishing, fill up the fish boxes, and then enjoy a wildlife safari on the way home. The kids asked if we would see whales, pointing to another picture of a breaching humpback on the office TV. I told them they’d better get a good nights sleep because not only would we see whales but if they behaved themselves I just might let them ride one. Both of their jaws dropped and their eyes widened. They looked to their parents for confirmation and luckily Jackie played along. She gave me a wink and told them “Listen guys, Captain Josh doesn’t call it the Ultimate Adventure for nothing.”
The next day was filled with the kind of wild, unpredictable adventure that can’t be anticipatedin advance. No amount of prior planning can prepare you for the thrill of setting off on a clear, pristine morning and feeling the sweet kiss of the Salish Sea breeze on your face. The boat begins to plane, the adrenaline courses through your body, and your heart skips a beat as the quaint harbour disappears in your wake.
The kids, safely strapped into their life-jackets, listened with big smiles and incredulous looks on their faces as I regaled them with tall tales of harrowing battles with big fish and close encounters with all manner of local creature. By the time we reached the hot springs they were ready to defend their parents against any wolves, bears, or cougars that might try to devour them on their way to the springs. They jumped off the boat judo-chopping the air around them, and took off down the boardwalk ready to face the thrill of adventure along the way.
When they returned, red faced and steaming, they swore to me they’d heard a bear close by at one point but thankfully they’d been successful in scaring it off. Good work kids, I told them, you’re learning.
We roared off to the fishing grounds next, the kids taking turns driving with a little help from the Captain nearby. One by one all manner of salmon and denizen of the deep hit the deck. Jackie’s husband tapped into his inner Santiago and became the hero of his own version of Old Man and the Sea when he landed a truly massive salmon. He held the fish aloft and chased the kids around the deck, Jackie and I laughed at their screaming.
With fish boxes brimming we stowed the tackle and made off for a mystical bay where whales gather to feed. Sea otters floated near kelp paddies, while sea lions barked and frolicked over the waves. True to it’s legend, the bay was full of grey and humpback whales and the entire family marveled at the bounty that surrounded them. We watched as whales dove and surfaced, getting lucky enough to feel the spray as a grey whale swam unexpectedly close to the boat and soaked us with it’s fish scented breath. “Get the saddle!” I screamed to the delight of the kids.
On the way home I had one final act before the curtain came down. I stopped at a favourite sandy beach where a family of eagles lives in the tree line. I pulled a small cod from the fish hold and held it aloft, waving it in the air and whistling loud in the direction of the trees. A large, fully grown eagle took to the air, spreading it’s massive wings as it flew towards us. I threw the cod in an arc, landing it with a splash close by. The kids screamed in delight as the eagle spun directly above us, turned on a dime and then dove, snatching the fish with it’s talons right next to the boat. It flew back towards the beach with great beats of it’s wings, carrying dinner back to it’s nest. Jackie turned to me and shook her head in disbelief. I took a long, deep bow because it seemed like the right thing to do.
Days like this, despite diligent planning, are hard to anticipate in advance from places like Boise. Certain experiences deserve to be spontaneously adopted, enabling the full scope of the magic to perform to it’s greatest effect.
Your family will be forever grateful for all of your hard work and planning Jackie. It was such a pleasure to share some of the magic of Clayoquot Sound with you that I’ll even forget about that judo kick to the shin. Wink wink.
– Captain Josh Temple