When we fucked off up island I had it in mind that I hadn’t been on a vacation in well over a decade. If I was travelling, it was for work, or I’d no choice but to bring work along with me. The last time The Missus and I went anywhere together was back to Ontario in 2008 for my father’s funeral. We didn’t take a lot of photographs for that one. So, dragging our carcasses out of bed at the crack of eight, we packed the car and made for the Malahat, knowing that it’d turn into highway 19 and a small measure of freedom.
The first leg of the trip north would be by land: a seven-hour haul to the hamlet of Port Hardy: a boil on the bag of the island that, if seen in the right light, could pass for pretty.
The weather played us for fools, providing just enough sun to get our hopes up before pissing down the sky on us in a fit of proper Vancouver Island September. The sunglasses came off as quickly as they went on, and then back on again. We stopped for breakfast in Duncan. The weather held long enough for us to sit outside with a coffee and english muffin. Folks up island don’t see health the way we do. Aside from Scotland and Cape Breton it may well be the last place on earth where cigarettes, grease and carbs are still thought to be good for you. We second-hand smoked a half pack of fags courtesy of the pair of old ones sitting next to us before hitting the road once more.
In a town called Coombs, we stopped to use a gas station bathroom, where I discovered a bog that had more crap nested squarely on the seat than in the bowl. Some hopeful bastard laid seven squares of one-ply across it before giving up in favour of a good clench to the next stop down the road a ways.
The Missus recalled that Coombs had once been famed for a herd of goats that lived on the roof of the town’s local market. She was right: five minutes down the road, we found the market, which was busy, and the goats, which weren’t. Aside from another pair of travellers, we were the only ones paying them any mind. The roof was covered with long, green grass, which the beasts gnawed with something like mild enthusiasm. Eating was the only alternative they had to sleeping, screwing or shitting, trapped on a roof as they were. I couldn’t help but feel sad for the poor bastards. The only thing I can imagine that’d be worse than a cage is one without any bars. It’s mocking, monsterous shame.
So we got our picture taken in front of it and moved on.
As the miles unwound behind us, so too did the stress from our daily grinds. We became kinder to one another with every kilometre conquered.
We came across a second gas station with a comparatively gentle bathroom that I thanked Crom for. The place was a mashup of a Petro-Canada, liquor store and a Subway Restaurant: everything you’d need to ruin a life. We partook in the latter, found that our forearms stuck to the tables so we finished eating and moved on, stopping only momentarily to buy a bottle of Purell.
By hour five, we were in need of a beverage, and stopped off in a logging community called Woss, which we later learned from The Missus’ father to be famed for its logging camp knife fights. The Woss General Store provided a cream soda, a cup of tea and a steaming loaf of disdain for outsiders that took me off guard. It wasn’t until I was back in the car that I realised the store clerk had been frosty with me because my shirt tail was sticking out of my fly after my last trip to the bathroom.
Still, shirt tail or no, I’m pretty sure Woss would rather keep itself to itself.
We hit the only road out of town, and bore down as the gravel turned into the back top of Highway 19 once more, following it north to Port Hardy.