My First Trip to Tofino

My first trip to Tofino was horrible. It was traumatizing. I swore I would never go back. So much for that idea.

In August of 2007 – Colin and I had been dating just eight months – Colin’s dad asked him to come man his glass art shop in Tofino while he went for a two week vacation. I should explain here that Colin had been spending summer in Tofino for about nine years before he met me and decided he needed to spend a summer at home to “lock it down”. His words, not mine. He missed him summer home and surfing, so he said yes. And off he went, my boyfriend of eight months.

Of course, two weeks out of an eight month relationship feels like eternity when you’re eighteen. Being a recent high school graduate, I felt that I was both mature enough and responsible enough to take the bus over to Tofino for Colin’s last weekend there. So I told my mom I was going, booked the trip with her credit card and her begrudged permission. One week later, I was at the ferry terminal with my mom, ready to strike out on my own for the first time.

I remember the sunny day at the ferry terminal pretty clearly, because the day’s happenings cause me to carefully look back on everything I had done that morning. While at the ferry terminal I had to reassure my mom that I would be careful, phone when I got there, be safe, and not die. The one moment I remember the most happened just as I was about to enter the departures area to board the ferry. My mom, in all her motherly wisdom said to me “I have a bad feeling about this.”

At the time I brushed her off, telling her everything was going to be fine. Of course I did! I was eighteen and nothing bad was going to happen!

Of course, I didn’t tell my mom that the thought of getting on a ferry by myself, boarding a bus (which I had never done in my life – city bus or otherwise) and traveling across Vancouver Island to a town I’d never been and stay with people I’d never met before absolutely terrified me. When I sat down in my seat on that ferry, alone for the very first time, I was having my classic internal breakdown. I did not move once from my window seat on the ferry, barely able to focus on my book or the music on my mp3. I was so sure that somehow, if I moved, my mom was going to end up being right.

When the ferry docked in Nanaimo, I walked off with all of the other foot passengers. At the time, the Nanaimo ferry terminal was under construction and looked like a military barrack. Hallways made of plywood and tarps, no signs telling you where to go. I was so scared and confused that I didn’t even realize that I had not peed in about four hours. And by the time I found the bus stop for the Tofino Bus, I was not going to leave my spot on the off chance that I would somehow miss it. Who cared if I had a five hour bus ride ahead of me? Clearly I didn’t. So I settled in to wait for the bus.

So I waited.

And waited.

And waited a little longer. 45 minutes longer, to be exact.

Being someone who had never ridden a bus in her life, I assumed that buses were pretty punctual. In fact, I assumed that buses were somehow legally obligated to be on time. I don’t know how I got that high school diploma either.

Being already scared of my mind, the bus’s lateness was not helping my emotional state. I phoned Colin on my mom’s cell, which she had pressed into my hand in exchange for promises to call in case someone was trying to kill me, or something like that. Colin assured me that I had not missed the bus, and that late buses were actually pretty common, especially in Tofino. I, for one, was sure that the bus was long gone, because my mother said she had a bad feeling about my trip. I was sure she had jinxed it.

However, I was vindicated when the bus finally showed up. See mom? My trip was going just fine!

Again, having never ridden a bus or been to Tofino I hadn’t mentally prepared myself for the packed seats that I faced when I boarded the bus. As far as I could see, there was not a single seat available on that bus. It was a sardine can of hippies, tourists and smiling Germans.

I love Germans. Happy people.

When I spotted an open seat, I was relieved. I wouldn’t have to ask one of those selfish people who clearly didn’t want a seat buddy to move their surf magazines and accommodate my bum in the seat next to them. Yes, I was quite relieved until I politely asked the woman with the only open seat on the entire bus “Do you mind if I sit here?”.

Nothing. Not a glance, not a nod, not even a mumbled “yup”. What a peach. But my bum needed to sit down, so I sat it next to The Silent Lady. I finally relaxed a bit, since the portion of the trip that I was able to screw up was done. I was on the bus, the bus driver would take me to Tofino where Colin would pick me up and never leave my side ever again, damnit.

About an hour into the trip, I ventured a glance over at The Silent Lady. To this day I still wish I hadn’t. The entire time she had been quietly sketching in a small book. When I looked down at it out of the corner of my eye, I immediately concluded that this lady was disturbed. The page she was quietly sketching on was a collage of dead birds with a little boy in the middle, looking pretty….sad…. if you can derive a mood from an emo sketch. I’m not sure if she knew I was looking or not, but once I’d gotten a fairly good look at the picture she immediately stopped drawing and began to slowly flip through the book, which illustrated more dead birds of various sizes and more sad looking little boys.

I was clearly sitting next to an axe murderer.

I began constructing a pretty detailed picture of this lady, who I had become sure would try to kill me and/or glare at me severely at some point during the trip. I didn’t know much about Tofino, but it sounded like the kind of place an axe murderer might go. Remote, small, filled with kooky-looking hippies. If I were an axe murderer, I would go there. So, I concluded, that must be why she was going. To seek refuge from the fuzz in Seattle, where she had been tormented by the violent voices in her head and the constantly gloomy weather. But that didn’t really jive with Tofino, cause it’s waaay gloomier.Scarp that.

This is the cycle my brain went through for about another half hour, when we reached Port Alberni. By that time, I was pretty worked up. The lady next to me was an axe murderer and collector of body parts that were most certainly stuck in the bag she held firmly on her lap. Morgan Freeman was going to board the bus at any moment to arrest her, discovering that she had kidnapped a small child and was transporting him or her to Tofino in a bag stowed win the bus’s storage unit.

This is where my mind goes sometimes. I don’t know.

We left Port Alberni right on time. Only an hour and a half from there to Tofino, and despite my creepy as all get out bus buddy, I was pretty happy. Relaxed, even.

About a half an hour outside of Port Alberni, I was rocked by a huge bump. And then a loud “BANG!”

Morgan Freeman?


A big fat flat tire on the big fat bus. Mom’s foretelling had finally materialized in the form of a giant hole in the tire of the bus. After attempting to ‘raise up’ the bus with the air line, the bus driver told us that he would have to turn back to Port Alberni to get the bus fixed, a delay of likely two to three hours.

I don;t know how many of you have driven to Tofino, but the road there is skinny, twisty and usually hugs cliffs the way I hug my Le Creuset before bed. Turning around a Greyhound bus on one of those roads is no small task. I was sure, as the bus driver squeaked his way back and forth to turn the whale of a bus around, that this would finally be the moment when I would actually have to phone my mom and tell her I though I was going to die. I really, really didn’t want her to be right on that one.

It took a little longer to get back to Port Alberni, what with the giant tire flapping along underneath the bus. We were quite the attraction driving through town. Flapping tires are not quiet, let me tell you. When we got to the repair shop and all thirty-five of us unloaded from the bus, we were told to be back in three hours, at which time the tire and the damaged air line would be right as rain.

Stranded for three hours in Port Alberni? I had myself a little heart attack right there. Can’t go anywhere, might get lost! Can’t stay on the bus. Can’t sit on the sidewalk looking sad, someone might think I’m cute and take me home and love me forever.

Luckily, there was a Dairy Queen just around the corner. I plopped myself down in a booth with a large order of fries and a Reese’s Pieces Blizzard and hibernated for the next three hours. Thank god I had packed extra Nora Roberts books. Nothing like a little cheesy romance to pass your time in a Dairy Queen.

Unfortunately, I did have to call my mom and get the exasperated “I KNEW I shouldn’t have let you go!”. Secretly I agreed, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. I was a mature and responsible high school graduate with a reputation to uphold.I told her I was just fine, I would just be a little (LITTLE!?) late getting to Tofino, but Colin was still going to be there waiting for me. at the other end.

I was going to be fine!

Three hours and 2,000 calories later, I boarded the bus. Thankfully, the axe murderer chose to find another seat after the bus had emptied out a bit at previous stops. I was a little disappointed that Morgan Freeman wasn’t going to make an appearance, but since my day wasn’t exactly batting a thousand, I was taking all I could get.

An hour and a half after leaving Port Alberni (again), I was finally pulling into Tofino. The sun was just setting over the water and I was falling in love with the town already. I stepped down the bus steps, expecting to see my loving boyfriend waiting for me in the dying sunlight.

No dice.

No boyfriend either.

I waited, and waited, and waited a little while longer. I had told Colin that I would be exceptionally late, and even called him when we got to Ucluelet to let him know I was exactly 30 minutes away. So where was he? 25 minutes later, even the bus driver was feeling sympathy for me. He very sweetly offered me a ride, but seeing as how I didn’t even know where I was going, it was a sweet but useless gesture. He left with a wave and a smile.

I was almost in tears when Colin finally walked up the hill at last. The sun had set, the town was dark and I was terrified. I was ready to beat him with my LuluLemon yoga bag. I had braved ferries, buses and axe murderers on a godforsaken bus just to see this boy.

And all I got from it was  constant replay of my mother saying, in my head, “I told you so.”

Some mother-daughter lessons are taught, others are demonstrated through axe murderers and flat tires. My lesson to learn was that my mom’s intuition about bad things happening is sometimes right, and that a few days away from a boy won’t kill me. In fact, it’ll probably save me a ton of trouble.


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