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Because we got a late start from Seattle, missed our ferry, reached Nanaimo during thick afternoon traffic, and took an hour longer than planned crossing the snowy mountain pass to the west side of Vancouver Island, my first impression of the coast is of inky evergreens flanking a dark and lonely highway.

My second impression is of the welcoming smile of Charles McDiarmid, manager of the Wickaninnish Inn. Taking our bags, he leads us through a pair of yellow cedar doors - carved with the images of eagles - into the warmth and beauty of the lodge. A fire in the stone fireplace, the hand-adzed cedar posts, and the Northwest art make us feel like maybe the day's trek has been worth it.

The inn's 46 rooms are gorgeous too (each has a fireplace, balcony, and ocean view). With the balcony door open, we can hear the slap and whoosh of the ocean as it races into a channel of black volcanic rock to the north.

Before breakfast the next morning, we don the yellow slickers hanging in our closet and head to the water. Waves tumble straight in, carving patterns into the buff of sand of Chesterman Beach, a beautiful, wide swath running more than a mile south.

The day is leisurely spent, and by evening, as we dessert on double-chocolate mashed-potato brioche and a glass of raspberry wine, we feel at least a week away from our arrival less than 24 hours ago. So much for first impressions.

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