It started with a whisper. A passing comment, a what if. What if you quit your job, we packed up our van, and started driving? Something so simple, yet seemingly so far away from my current reality was seductive and dangerous, and exactly what I wanted to hear. The idea mulled in my mind for weeks to follow. Slowly, and over the course of months, the idea, the seed, started to grow. Canada. Let’s drive to Canada and back, he said. Flirting with the notion of a wide open road and endless sky, we began to sift through the possibilities. There was the iconic Highway 1 up the coast of California into the foggy seaside towns of Oregon; the winding ascents of mountains and rocky back roads to the wet, lush forests of Washington, and the urban allure of Seattle and Vancouver with their promises of robust coffee and darker, cold-weather lifestyle.
Then, I quit my job. As we mapped out our wishlist of adventures, it became clear that all we really yearned for was time. To witness, feel, and absorb everything we hoped for, we needed the freedom and luxury of something so fleeting and intangible, but not impossible to manifest. And so we commenced on a three week road trip of the Pacific Northwest, armed with nothing but a loose plan. With schedules clear and friends and family warned of our absence, we wanted to fall off the grid.
We breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed the border into British Columbia on a Monday afternoon. It was the fresh air, liberal perspective and at last, the metric system. The suburbs of Vancouver instantly remind of the modest streets of Australia – small, post-war houses in leafy, tree-covered streets morph into the silver and grey palettes of the city. The sidewalks, speckled with hues of burnt orange and yellow signalling the tail end of fall are bustling with locals, asian grocery stores and small, hearty eateries. Downtown is a miniature metropolis with a heaving backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Modern apartment high rises skirt it’s different boroughs – the West End, Yaletown, Granville Island, and Gastown highlight each of the cities split personalities through design. Heading to Gastown, with its dark brick storefronts accentuated with New York-esque fire escapes nestled by the water, we discovered the warm fresh sourdough of Nelson and The Seagull, admired the designer threads of the high-end concept store Secret Location and drank hot cider at a cosy Six Acres. Taking bikes over the bridge to Granville Island and enjoying beers beside the farmers market, dinner was all about comfort at The Flying Pig, and departing town early the next day, we made one last stop at the rustic La Marche St George, a french inspired cafe and general store with feather-light crepes and croissants on lock.
That was the last taste of the city for a while. We needed to go further. Further north, further west until we were sleeping with the swells of the Pacific. Boarding the ferry from mainland Vancouver to Victoria, the wind; icy and wet, lash our face with our hair as we pass endless islands awash in a filter of blue-grey from the rain.
Disembarking on Vancouver Island, we woke up the next day in Goldstream Provincial Park. Surrounded by furry pine trees and a carpet of ferns we found a waterfall a short hike away; oversized maple leaves lay sodden across the path to a wall of moss and vine, and the falls lead to a pool nestled amongst overgrown jungle.
Pacific Rim Highway to Tofino
It was then we began on our journey further northwest. With our destination of Tofino circled on a paper map, we traced the road to match the pencil lines of our plan. The Pacific Rim Highway to the remote west coast twists through the island’s central sierras, each corner revealing a peak more awe inspiring than the last, like a series of curtains raising for each new audience. We sat with our jaws open as we drove, writhing forward in our seats to digest it all, even bursting out of the window when the roof obstructed the view overhead. Snow Creek was a memorable stop; the pop of the brightest aqua appeared like ribbons through the trees as it rushed over large white pebbles of the creek’s floor like glass.
Driving further, the fog at dusk hung low amongst the slick, black rocks of Kennedy River, set against a deep blue sky like some kind of gothic fairytale. We made our home on the shores of MacKenzie Beach that night, and built a fire on the sand to bid ourselves goodnight.
Hot Springs Cove
The next morning, we took a boat. We had heard of a cove on an island further north, not accessible by car or foot that might just be the ultimate escape. For two hours we cruised the the ocean from Tofino to Maquinna Provincial Park, the waterway dotted with native islands where only wolves and the wild reigned supreme. ‘Hike thirty minutes through the old growth jungle and you’ll find them’, were our only instructions from the captain, as he left us on the pier. The springs emerged from the forest amongst billowing clouds of steam and cascaded down into a succession of pools into the icy waves of the ocean. The baths warmed our toes and our bones from inside, out, and after soaking, we braved the cold and submerged our bodies in the salt of the ocean, like an initiation; welcome to the supernatural.
Sea To Sky Highway & Joffre Lakes
Taking the ferry back to the mainland and thirty minutes outside of the city, Vancouver’s natural beauty shines bright with the Sea to Sky Highway drive north. The scenic route to the popular destinations of Squamish and Whistler is a corridor of towering cliffs and lucid sea that hug the road to the left and right, alongside the picturesque Porteau Cove and many bays beyond. Fog hovers in mid air as the tide slowly creeps in to cover the pebbled shore and clutter of beached maple trunks.
Another 2 hours north, we’re almost above the clouds in elevation and we arrive at Joffre Lakes. Suspended in the valleys of the jagged Coast Mountain Range below a boundless backdrop of dusted white mountains, lie 3 pools of milky turquoise, each more saturated and sensational than the last. We hiked for 4 hours that day; the steep incline and treacherous trails made our legs weak but our excitement pushed us further. The color, caused by glacial silt suspended in the water reflecting green and blue wavelengths of sunlight, continued to glow as the sun sank lower and lower, stretching the day’s light. We were the last ones on the trail as we tried to memorize this moment in our minds for keeps.
Olympic Peninsula & Hoh Rain Forest
Romantically wild. It’s the wettest, the greenest, the most magical of the northwest. Re-entering the US and traversing through Seattle, we stopped to pick up supplies before starting on the loop of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.
By now our eyes felt sore from endless saw-toothed peaks and their vast, stretching mountain ranges, and our feet soggy from boundless trails of subalpine forests and the crunchy sands of the Pacific’s beaches. But with every inch we were enamored by mosaics of new colors and textures.
We lost ourselves in the Olympic ranges for 3 days. Flanked by rain, every road of the interior was lush and alive, its forest floors heaving with breath. The Hoh Rain Forest is a must-see stop at the centre of the Olympic National Park; a place enchanted with moss covered giants of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, and ferns that cover the ground like a velvet carpet of jade and emerald. Elk and female deer rest on beds of fallen autumn leaves and oily mushrooms sprout from the base of every log.
As we rounded each bend of the peninsula on the Highway 101 south, we spied proud bald eagles at Ruby Beach. A silver haze sprays the shore and peeks through the arches of stilted sea stacks, where many a ship had been wrecked.
Oregon’s Trail of Falls & Backroads Through The Western Cascades
There’s a stretch of road running through the gorges of Oregon that is home to a succession of sky-high waterfalls and rushing creeks, contoured by the historic ranges of the wild west. Multnomah was an astonishing introduction with its dramatic height, whimsical footbridge and sunken plunge pool funneling into the Columbia River Gorge sculpted by ancient lava and volcanic ash.
We crept up the sides of Mt Hood via the fruit orchards outside of Portland and traced seasonal roads for hours on end. A slow route through backcountry was not necessarily steady as we teetered on the edge of unmarked dirt roads and the sheer bluffs of Diamond Peak. We glided through canopies of soft, feathery forests with accents of gold that transformed the view from our windscreen into a moving Monet.
We drove until we could drive no more, and as we parked under willows for the night next to the byway, we counted on one hand how many other cars we had passed that day – one, two? Maybe three.
Terwilliger Hot Springs
I had one hand-drawn star left on our now crumpled paper map. Hidden within the other-worldly Willamette National Forest, Terwilliger Hot Springs was a slice of heaven after weeks of life on the road. A short hike through misty woods where flutters of the day’s last light filtered through the treetops, we stripped bare and bathed under a grey sky and droplets of cold rain.
We were almost home; a day or two before we crossed back into California and our adventure would come to a close. I was looking forward to my usual creature comforts of LA, although our van provided some of the best sleep I had had in months. I had loved closing my eyes under dark skies full of stars and awaking with the sun, breathing in the fresh botanicals of the air. Can’t we just stay out here forever? Because now my reality is, that we’re never not home.
Essential Pacific Northwest Roadtrip Playlist (thanks to Skullcandy)
Jaime XX – In Colour
Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color
The Budos Band – Burnt Offering
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
Toro Y Moi – What For?
Tame Impala – Currents