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Driver Down!

An excursion across Vancouver Island gets dangerous, but not in the way you’d think

Author Jacqueline Detwiler

roadtrip_map

Map by Jeff Quinn

Luckily, the nav system displays the terrain that we can’t see as we hurtle over and by it. Seven inches of ground clearance and xenon headlights keep us clear of obstacles that would otherwise make our ride go bump in the night. We spend surprisingly little time fearing for our lives, though there are more than a few gasps and white-knuckled wheel twists as our headlights illuminate a precarious edge over a lake or another car barrelling toward us.

Eventually we descend through heavy cedar woods and emerge in front of the glowing hand-adzed portico of the Wickaninnish Inn. The front desk attendant informs us that our room, a rustic affair with driftwood furniture, picture window and roaring fireplace, is ready, but that the only food to be had around these parts is at a “late-night” spot several miles up the beach, and it will only be open for another hour or so.

We hustle back to the car and lead-foot it to a trendy pan-Asian seafood joint on a onetime logging road. When we reach it, just an hour before midnight, the tiki torches are still lit, so we order a couple of veggie and rice bowls with wild salmon, and then play a few rounds of hangman with the bartender before returning to the inn for the night.

At dawn, Wickaninnish’s appeal becomes even more apparent. Through our enormous window is a desolate and windswept beach dotted in driftwood and battered by frothy gray waves. These waves are consistent and much loved, but nearly always cold. We load into the Allroad in wetsuits and follow a guide from Surf Sister down an unpaved road to Long Beach. There is a brief period of carrying surfboards through the forest before we come upon the waves, which break sleek and regular on a spun-out stretch of sand. We catch a few and splash around, excited to be surfing among pines.

Of course, as these things go, it’s at this point that our luck finally fails. Our guide had warned us that the waves here, though consistent and easy to catch, break straight ahead, often pitching surfboards straight into heads. As I’d been so worried about the pass that I’d spent exactly none of my time thinking about the menace of surfing, I wipe out and my board hits me square in the face, giving me a black eye.

We find refuge in the heated seats of the Allroad, and soon warm up enough to use the car’s Wi-Fi hotspot and Linda’s iPhone to locate a store where we can buy Band-Aids and Advil. These cures pale in comparison to the bottle of Canadian pinot noir we happily procure at The Pointe Restaurant back at the inn.

As we sit at the bar, sipping and taking pictures of my ridiculous face, the staff and the other guests stop by, excited to hear our tale of vacation gone ever so slightly wrong. They share their own stories—and everyone seems to have one, including a guest who once had to abandon a car in a desert.

Don’t worry, he tells us, it wasn’t anything as nice as what you’re driving.

Hemispheres senior editor JACQUELINE DETWILER told so many pirate stories about her black eye that there may still be Canadian children searching for her cache of gold.

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