By Alison Bate
There is snickering when I announce I’m off to Victoria in search of a tent pole.
“Long way to go”, “Bit expensive, eh?” and “Surely you can get it online?” are typical responses.
But it makes perfect sense to me. I’ve trotted over to the Vancouver outdoor stores near me, waited patiently in line outside, mask on, two metres apart, only to discover the nearest tent repair kit is an eight hour’s drive away in New Denver.
I originally bought my tent in Seattle and yes, I could order a replacement pole online from the States, but there’d be horrible border taxes and duties and then maybe the pole wouldn’t even fit. Besides, where’s the fun in that?
Covid is making me stir-crazy and it seems much more enjoyable to go for an hour’s drive, followed by a 95-minute ferry ride and, finally, a 33-kilometre bike ride to downtown Victoria.
This outfit in Victoria, Sports Rent, sounds like they know what they’re doing. “Bring the broken tent pole with you,” they advise.
Campsites have just opened after after Covid
Last month, I’m camping in the mountains with my friend Kim. It’s only four nights but we still manage to break two tents and the coffee pot.
After flattening the Covid curve in B.C., campsites have just opened up. But it’s still an uneasy summer and I need to get out of town. Kim needs a break from recording YouTube videos on how to make a SpongeBob SquarePants cartoon.
We’re travelling semi-Covid: in the same car, but with individual sanitizer and taking separate tents. We’ve brought everything with us, so only stop for gas and wood on the way.
The coffee pot is the first to go. We’re at one of the remote rec. sites between Pemberton and Lillouet and so far everything has gone perfectly. Kim’s aging Buick is noisy but has A/C and gets us up the mountain roads without a hitch.
We settle into a great spot by the river and raise the tents. The sun is shining, the mountains are shining, the pit toilet has toilet paper and we’ve escaped from the city after three months of a light lockdown. Life is good. Definitely time for coffee.
Kim has brought her No. 1 camping item: a Turkish-style coffee maker that makes one perfect cup at a time. She makes cups of dark roast and I take mine over to the river. Little songbirds chirp in the hemlock trees and the river roars downstream over shallow falls. A back eddy pushes pieces of bark over dappled water. A solo camper saw a bobcat earlier that day and it all adds to the joy of being in the wilderness.
Later that day – or possibly the next – it seems ridiculous I don’t know how to make the coffee. I stand over the two-burner stove while Kim relays instructions and wait until it boils. Whoops! Somehow, I twist the handle so hard, it breaks off in my hand. Pouring the coffee afterwards is messy, but hey, at least the mud, grass and pine needles soak up any spills.
After a couple of nights we pack up and drive to our second campsite, a small provincial campground between Lillouet and Cache Creek. It’s June and the pine trees and sage brush are surrounded by flowering daisies, Indian paintbrush and blue lupines.
I’ve camped at Marble Canyon with two friends when it was virtually empty. This time it is already half-full and filling up fast. I start assembling my tent at a prime spot by the lake but about the same time, three young guys charge down the path and splash noisily into the water, their female friends close behind.
“How many spots are you taking?” I ask.
“Three,” one of the guys replies.
I see Kim’s grim expression. This group is ready to party, likely stay up until all hours. It’s not going to work. She goes off to find a quieter place, and I dismantle my tent.
We end up at a quieter site near the top, but with no view, and begin raising our tents. I look over and see Kim struggling with her family’s big dome tent, a veteran maroon affair with worn-out elastic that is tricky to assemble at the best of times. Now, a pointy bit is sticking out at the top of the tent where it should be round and Kim is wrestling with the broken tent pole. She looks exhausted.
“I’m going for a swim and then I’ll help,” I say, overheated and grumpy. Fortunately, Kim has asked me to bring duct tape on the trip and I’ve thrown in spare cord. After my swim, we manage to jury-rig her tent with duct tape and cord and it looks like it might stay up for a while.
The next morning, the park operator tells us she had to stand over the lake party about 2 a.m. to get them to douse their fire, stop drinking and go to bed. Kim glances at me, and I know she’s thinking: “See, I made the right decision!”
I move my tent to a newly vacated spot nearer the lake, but there’s no way we’re moving Kim’s in its perilous state.
We have a lovely lazy day and the next morning I’m dismantling my tent, something I’ve done hundreds of times before, when one of the poles suddenly snaps. It’s so bizarre that both tents, different makes and sizes, decide to break on the same weekend. They must be designed to spontaneously wear out around the 20-year mark.
Lost my Visa card
So now it’s 6 a.m. and I’m off to Victoria to buy tent poles for both our tents. But I can’t find my Visa card and have a nasty feeling the ferry car park only takes credit cards.
Unfortunately, I’m right. At Tsawwassen ferry terminal, I cross my fingers and hope the car will still be there when I return.
I put my mask on and walk the bike onto the ferry anyway. It’s full of trucks and cars but very few walk-ons. Upstairs, the coffee bar is open – the first time since Covid – and I happily buy a coffee and muffin. Half an hour in, I step onto the outside deck as we sail through Active Pass and enjoy the light breeze, filtered sunshine and swirling currents off Galiano Island.
At Swartz Bay, I bike off before the cars and fiddle around before finding the Lochside Trail to downtown Victoria. The first 10 km or so are noisy, close to the Pat Bay highway, but then the trail morphs onto pretty farm roads through an agricultural area. It’s fairly flat but a headwind makes it more tiring than I expected.
Close to downtown, Lochside joins the more popular Galloping Goose Trail and I cross the Johnson Street bridge and bike up to Government Street.
I’ve checked beforehand that Sports Rent will be open. They are on shortened hours due to Covid, and shut at 1pm, but I’m well in time and am met at the entrance with sanitizer and to state what I want. They let me in.
Amazingly, they have tent poles with different diametres for both tents! I get two cut to length for each tent, plus a longer spare, and also buy spare cord for Kim’s tent.
My friend David has driven down from Nanaimo to meet me for lunch and arrives as we’re finishing up. Triumphant, we have a pleasant meal nearby and he drops me off at Swartz Bay terminal after a beach break.
The evening ferry ride is lovely again but I walk off at Tsawwassen remembering I haven’t paid for my car parking. It’s likely been towed. I walk over to the long-term parking lot and see in the distance that my car is still there. My shoulders slump in relief. Now it’s just a question of how much my parking ticket will be.
I can’t believe it. The windscreen is clear, no nasty little envelope on front. I walk round the car in case there are nasty chalk marks or even wheel clamps. Nothing.
Not only have I got the tent poles, but I dodged a bullet on parking fines. A few hiccups along the way, but that’s what makes it a perfect trip.