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The End of the Road
Unplugging at the Wickaninish Inn, Tofino
First a confession, then a mission that takes place far, far away. I admit being addicted to technology because my world is too busy to actually communicate in person.
My husband Michael came to the rescue and decided to take me to a distant place called the Wickaninish Inn, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Tofino, for my birthday so my wish to disconnect with technology and reconnect to life could hopefully come true.
Wickaninish, pronounced wik-ə-NIN-ish, is a Native America word that means having “no one in front of him in a canoe.”
My birthday month is October so we were told to expect warm sunny days with cooler evenings and some small surf, but our adventure began in the rain that was a relief after a yearlong drought in our homeland California.
After the urge to grab my cell phone and take a photo of this mysterious destination and share it with my friends on Facebook, I surrendered the device to the bottom of a carry-on bag to keep my laptop company while I stepped into another world.
we entered our room my first observation after being delighted with the majestic ocean view was the absence of a TV. I was relieved and a bit panicked about being completely cut off from civilization forcing me to really unplug. To our surprise, this rustic elegant inn had James Bond technology if you wanted it. A remote next to the bed was our bridge to the world, when you pressed the up arrow the TV electronically grew out of the dresser.
The room was complete with a fireplace, bright yellow raingear and matching rubber boots (the front desk arranges to have your correct size delivered), a family-sized umbrella, hot cocoa, a backpack, CD’s of Canada’s famous recording artist like K.D. Lang, slippers, beach towels, and blankets so you can keep warm on the private balcony enjoying the ever-changing movement of the ocean. You could spend your entire trip living in the everything-you-need room, which explained why it had earned the honor of being a Relais & Chateaux rated hotel with a quest to introduce guests “to a deeper, truer understanding of the Art of Living” -- the perfect prescription to my technology addiction.
Michael had prearranged for chilled martinis and fresh salmon appetizers followed by dark chocolate dipped strawberries to properly begin our vacation. I was in heaven, but an even bigger surprise awaited me when I discovered a soaker tub so large a flock of ducks could retire in comfort for the winter. The bad news for the ducks is I had no intention of sharing that tub overlooking the ocean’s crashing waves with anyone else but my hubby.
The Wick Inn, as locals call it, has two buildings totaling 63 rooms and 12 suites, all with ocean or beach views. We selected the original Pointe Building with the rugged ocean side, but you could enjoy the newer Beach Building on the white sandy Chesterman Beach.
After a nap to recover from our day of travel flying from LAX to Vancouver then a twin-engine 9-seater flight via Orca Airlines to Tofino, we dressed for a gourmet meal at The Pointe Restaurant famous for their sea-to-land meals made from scratch with forged fresh ingredients by Chef Barr.
We met the owner of the Wick Inn, Charles McDiarmid, while enjoying Pacific Sole with brioche, leek puree, cauliflower risotto, scape, and truffles and Michael choose the Crisp Pork Belly, with seared scallop mousse, roasted Sunchoke, raising, ‘Venturi Schylz” Verjus mustard presented like a reflection of the landscape surrounding the inn. The meal was so beautiful I did not want to disturb the artful presentation with my fork and knife, but the smell of a scrumptious meal trumped beauty and we ravaged our dinner trying to look elegant in the process. Michael discovered his love of the traditional Old Fashioned cocktail, and I was loyal to a shaken not stirred vodka martini…007 style.
Charles’ father, who was the town’s doctor, purchased this extraordinary slice of wilderness decades earlier to connect with nature. He and his brother, both born in Tofino, personally cleared the trees to build the Wick Inn so it did not disturb the fairy tale forest for their future guests.
A note to all the eco-friendly readers, the Wick Inn is sustainable and officially a “green” hotel before being “green” was media friendly. It’s the real deal being built with local red cedar using reclaimed wood from Victoria to support their sustainable philosophy.
After Charles left Tofino, home to less than 2,000 permanent residents, to pursue a career in hotel hospitality he returned after a persistent vision of creating a classy inn where people could escape the stresses of life and reconnect with Mother Nature in luxury on the land his father had purchased. Charles calls his vision of the WickInn, “rustic elegance on natures’ edge.”
My cell phone is still hanging out with my computer as I start disconnecting from the real world in the wonderland of Wick Inn. We flopped out in bed with the balcony door opened so we could hear the lullaby of the waves rhythmic melody in the most comfortable bed that felt like a nest. That nest can be adjusted from soft to firm – NICE! As I drift off into dreamland I confess I start wondering about our real world in Los Angeles and if a search party has been gathered to find me on Facebook.
DAY ONE: Tofino, the end of the roadTuff Session Ale (brewed in Tofino) battered, with celeriac remoulade, tartar sauce and hand-cut fries. This meal was filling but you did not feel “full,” so we ordered homemade truffles for dessert with a treadmill request on the side.
Finally we get our car rental to explore Tofino, the “town at the end of the road” as Charles calls it.
Tofino is less than a 15-minute drive and there was a stream of locals walking on the side of the road to get to or from the town or beach area. After living in the Los Angeles area most of my adult life spending a quarter of my time in a car ruled by the best time and routes to avoid traffic, it was refreshing to see the locals using leg-power to get around. These people don’t go to the gym, they are moving all day getting from point A to point B.
We discovered from the Wick Inn staff that Tofino is a surfer’s paradise and almost every one of all ages in Tofino surfs. The pathway was also shared with surfers wearing wetsuits riding their bikes with boards strapped to the side. Almost everyone we met lives in Tofino to surf year round – the Canadian Hawaii. These surfers are hardcore flinging themselves daily into 51 degree water, and this surf is no place for sissies.
There are surf schools for every level, and the locals are welcoming to newcomers in their wave territory. A visiting surfer dude shared his story about not being able to get back into shore because the “ocean changed quickly,” as it does in Tofino, and a local surfer rounded him up and said, “follow me, I know the way back in.” Note to surfers and stand up paddle boarders, you will love Tofino and may never return home.
Tofino is also a small fishing town turned world-class tourist destination with three main streets. We immediately went to the local grocery store (Co-op) to stock up on snacks and cocktail fixings for the room. Then we scouted out a few restaurants to visit during our stay.
Tofino is a foodies destination and some of the restaurants have won awards. Michael, being a photographer, was soaking in the delicious harbor views through his lens, but Chesterman Beach was calling us to return to paradise so we would not miss a magnificent sunset followed by a bright full moon lighting up the wind swell surf.
DAY TWO: Pampering
My dreams were interrupted by the urge to check emails, so I did – it was my birthday today and I did not want to miss any of my electronic messages. I love celebrating birthdays, and Mother Nature delivered my favorite cooler, cloudy weather so we could “storm watch” through triple-glazed windows. Thanks to Michael, this day was dedicated to all the things I love starting with pampering time at the Wick Inn Ancient Cedar Spa.
The cave steam room was a highlight – even though I had a surprising moment staring at some guy’s hairy legs after navigating the dense steam to find a place to sit -- oh that was my husband, it’s a co-ed steam room! That explains the mandatory “being covered with a towel or swimsuit.” NOTE to our shy readers, pack a swimsuit and treat yourself to this cave steam it’s a great way to unwind and relax.
a long steam we were escorted to lounge chairs outside overlooking the coastline and then wrapped in warm blankets. Stylish sunglasses were available for each guest to enjoy the ocean view reflecting the bright afternoon sun, as our feet soaked in warm salt water with pebbles.
The masseuse arrived with a tray of organic aromatherapy oils made by Tofino Soap Company, and we were asked to sniff each vial. Michael and I each selected our favorite scent then we were transported to our aromatic massage journey. The Ancient Cedar Spa has a private couple’s massage 2-person hut overlooking the ocean, but we opted to enjoy solitude in separate massage rooms.
After returning to the room like limp noodles wrapped in oversized fluffy robes, it was time to enjoy the soaking tub. How can one girl enjoy non-stop indulgence? I didn’t, I had to share it with my hubby too. Soaking for two by candlelight serenaded by the wave-dashed rocks outside -- a perfect birthday – oh, I think I forgot my cell phone.
DAY THREE: Adventure
Before our departure Michael dashed out to the beach to photograph the surfers on long rolling waves at the crack of dawn. I know he secretly wanted to grab a board and catch a wave, but today we had to catch a boat.
We arrive at Ocean Outfitters on Main Street who provides the tour via a boat trip to the natural geo thermal Hot Springs Cove that is 26 nautical miles up the coast from Tofino at Maquinna Provincial Park. Their shop is fully stocked with flannel, wool, and fleece clothing products so weather is never an issue. It was in the 50s during our stay. Tofino is defined as a temperate climate that supports exotic palm trees in the area, no wonder the surfers love Tofino.
Oren Lawson was our 25-year old skipper who is also a local. He grew up on the water and knows the area like I know the 405 and 101 freeway in Los Angeles. Our bumblebee yellow 30-foot boat named Miss Chief was the vessel carrying our new global mini-family from Germany, Canada and we were the only Yank’s onboard. There were 12-foot roller coaster swells that kept the adventure an “E” ticket (for you Millennials reading, that is a Disneyland rating of “it doesn’t get better than this”).
Oren, who was literally born on the beach and raised on Wickaninnish Island, navigated these waters saying, “This is calm for this area.” Really? It was like going to Six Flags for an exhilarating ride with everyone laughing and praying at the same time.
The pristine coastline was battered from the constant pounding Pacific Ocean, and the forest was dense to the shore. We saw three grazing gray whales, Bald Eagles and sea otters, but Oren said, “sometimes they see black bears catching fish for lunch.”
After an hour and a half boat adventure in exquisite wilderness, we arrived to Hot Springs Cove. The next part of the journey began with an easy 30-minute walk on the meandering historic cedar boardwalk in an enchanted rain forest. I was surprised we did not see elves or fairies swinging from the ancient moss covered trees or lounging on massive mushrooms. The tranquil trek through the forest felt like a journey through the Amazon, the real one not the Amazon online. The hot springs were bubbling 120 degree F water from the earth at the end of the trail.
Everyone stripped down to swimsuits in the changing cabin, and the few who did not come prepared proudly enjoyed the hot springs their tightie whities. It was a very tribal experience and everyone was connected to the earth finding the perfect temperature to soak.
Enormous full-breasted blue birds peered out of the trees at all the semi-naked humans acting like children slipping and sliding on the rocks to get to the hot spring. One squirrel-like critter that could have been the inspiration of a gremlin had trouble-making eyes and entertained the tourist with their shenanigans to charm people out of their lunches – which was strictly forbidden. I suspect there have been weak souls who sacrificed some goodies to these gremlins, because they were not shy.
I highly recommend bringing reef shoes so you reduce your risk of slipping on the wet lava rocks. The Wick Inn provides them to their guests.
We opted to return to Tofino via Atleo River Air Service in a floatplane after our hot springs experience because all we wanted to do was get back to our room and take a nap, so the plane was an excellent option. It was my first time in a floatplane, and taking off and landing on pontoons is pretty awesome!
Our pilot who was gaining airtime to become a commercial pilot, Kyle Tiedden, gave us an exhilarating coastal tour with book-perfect steep turns and we saw more whales from the air than the boat. You don’t realized how big these creatures are until you see their ship-sized enormity from the plane.
This adventure burned some serious calories and it was time to replenish our strength at the Wolf in the Fog award-winning restaurant started by Chef Nicholas Nutting from the Wick Inn. It had a warm inviting vibe with more gourmet food served on non-matching plates that made it very homey honoring Chef Nutting’s motto, “create the kind of dishes that you’d proudly want to share with friends.” We immediately noticed the warm-sounding music from the old vinyl albums coming to life again on their vintage turntable. I devoured the fresh halibut with homemade to-die-for gnocchi that was the perfect balance of gourmet with comfort food. Michael inhaled the Tuna Check with Bok Choy. If it was possible to top these two dishes, the Butterscotch Brulee with raspberry ice cream sent us to heaven and back.
DAY FOUR: Spirituality
A long time ago a woodcarving artist, Henry Nolla, lived in a humble cabin on the edge of the forest on Chesterman Beach steps from the Wick Inn. Many knew of him because he loved to create and carve in the nude. He always had a group of women sunbathing topless near his shack, and many traveled from afar to quench their spirituality thirst on Henry’s simple life-style.
One of his soul-searching visitors looking for inspiration, George Yearsley a carver and artist from Crescent Beach B.C., confessed to Henry that he was shy about approaching the now-famous wood carver. Henry calmly replied, “don’t be shy, I am no greater or less than any one else. It is always best to live in the here and now, and let Mother Nature show you the way to a calmer life.” George moved to Tofino and never left.
He absorbed the simple way of life following Henry’s lead. On nature hikes George told me, “I would have an intuitional feeling about a voice telling me I was about to find an eagle feather. Every time I got this feeling, I found an eagle feather.”
He began carving eagle feathers out of salvaged red and yellow cedar with his Swiss army knife to honor wilderness and the old growth cedar forests. Each feather carving was born out of lessons from Henry, “let go of expectations, don’t be attached to the outcome.” George stopped thinking about the end result of his art and let each creation be “born out of the wood.”
After Henry passed away George continues the carving tradition in Henry’s shack using some of his hand-made tools. Today he is known as “Feather George” and people from around the world have ventured to that old shack to purchase his finely carved, delicate feathers.
We talked about his mentor Henry and how his calm life was a reflection of the landscape he called home. I confessed about my technology addiction and was on a recovery mission while visiting the Wick Inn. George calmly responded, “ It is always best to live in the now and let Mother Nature show you the way to a calmer life.”
I understand now why the Wick Inn named a cedar infused rye whiskey cocktail after Feather George, as Michael and I soaked in our last sunset…Mother Nature, not my cell phone, had the answer I was searching for at the Wick Inn.
It’s been a week since we returned from “the end of the road,” but it was just a beginning. You will no longer find me on Facebook every hour, and when I am dining my cell phone ringer is off so I can be present with those sitting in front of me. I am connected to the movement of the planet not technology, so I can navigate my life fueled by daydreams not battery life.
Disclaimer: If you see me on a cell phone, remind me of my lessons from “the end of the road at Tofino” -- addiction is a tricky thing.