When I was a kid in the 70’s, my uncle and aunt lived on Vancouver Island. Our first ferry trip was memorable, but not for the sights and the sounds, but for the wait, the worry, and the wondering.
We left Cache Creek at a respectable 3:00 p.m. on Thursday before Easter. So, a quick four hour trip and we should have been sailing across Georgia Strait. We were excited, to say the least. The biggest boat any of us had ever been on was Pepere’s four-seater power boat, back in Alberta. Before this, none of us had ever been further West than Chilliwack, where most of my mom’s family lived. Once we past it, the chorus from the back seat was relentless.
“How much farther?”
“When will we get there?”
“Are we almost there?”
“When will we see the ocean?”
In reality, we should have pulled into Horseshoe Bay Ferry terminal by around 7:00 p.m. As we drove through Vancouver, the excitement mounted, all eyes were glued to the fabulous lights of the big city. At that time of year, it was growing dark as we made our way through the old intersections, stopping at the lights, one by one.
This was a journey; an incredible trip past Chilliwack, to a ferry, and across the water to an island. None of us had ever been to an island, either. In fact, our lives consisted of Magrath, Alberta, with the odd trip to Lethbridge or Vauxhall. Then we moved to Penticton, then Kamloops, and finally landed in Cache Creek.
No, this was no ordinary trip to see the relatives. This was an epic journey. Our eyes gazed in wonderment at this foreign land of buildings, and streets, and traffic lights. Endless strings of traffic lights to impede our progress.
We slowed down again as someone with a sign pointed us to the side of the road. We couldn’t see the ocean but it must BE there. Surely, if this official sign person was telling us to pull over, we had arrived.
“You heading to the island,” the man asked as my dad rolled down the window.
“You bet. The kids can hardly wait.” We grinned foolishly from the back seat.
“Well, they’re gonna have to wait. Next ferry at 7:00 is full, the last one, at 9:00 is also full.”
Panic shadowed my mother’s face.
“But we’re surprising my sister in Comox for Easter.”
“Yes, Ma’am, I understand that. But so are a couple thousand other people. You’ll wait here until the line moves, then we’ll see what happens.”
He walked away. Just like that, the man walked away leaving us to ponder the question: If the last sailing is full, what happens to us?
“Daddy, are we going to have to sleep here?”
“I have to go pee.”
“Why aren’t we there yet?”
The next hour dragged by. My mom took out the egg salad sandwiches we were supposed to eat on the ferry. She had a jug of koolaid, too. We ate in near silence. Some of us cried because our disappointment knew no limit. Our epic journey had come to a shuddering halt on the side of the road.
Suddenly, cars ahead of us started their engines and began to move. Cheers erupted from the back seat as we slowly crept down the long hill. For nearly 20 minutes, we made the arduous, agonizingly slow stop and go coast down the hill. And then, we stopped again.
“Why are we stopping?”
“Why can’t we go on the ferry?”
“I really have to PEE now!”
Back in those days, there were no porta-potties by the road. Back in those days, no one let you know what was going on. Back in those days, we were cattle, or maybe even pioneers forging ahead without knowing what would lie ahead. Back in those days, I had to PEE.
“Just get out and go on the side of the road,” my mom said rather sternly. Like it was somehow my fault that we were stuck.
“But Mo-o-om, people will see me!”
“Would you rather people see you or sit in wet pants? Just get out and go by the side of the road. Debbie, take your sisters.”
Squatting on the side of the road, pants down, naked but open to the cool breeze, the three of us squatted, peeing what seemed to be an undending stream. And then we saw it; other kids were doing the same thing. In fact, lots of people were getting out and peeing because, after two hours in the car, plus more driving there, people had to pee.
We whined back into the car. It was crowded, it was too hot, it was too cold, it was stinky, it was . . . Another hour and we heard engines starting up ahead. My dad started the car and we began another tortuous grind down the hill. Coast a few feet, stop, coast, stop. We could hear our parents talking low, muttering about the stupidity and whose idea was this and what if we had to sleep over night in the parking lot.
We saw another sign man. He had a grin on his face. “Folks, it’s your lucky day. They are adding an 11:00 p.m. sailing. You will get to the island tonight.”
Our joy was tampered only by the fact that it was just 9:00 p.m. now. It felt like we had been in that lineup for a year. Five kids and two adults in one car was not a good demonstration of achieving world peace.
Endless minutes rolled by, we kept asking the time, how much longer, until a yell from the front seat told us to just go to sleep. We tried but who can sleep with an incredible boat ride ahead of us, to an island, like in Robinson Crusoe.
Somehow, I drifted off and woke as we drove up the ramp and onto the ferry at 11:00 p.m. I don’t recall what the ferry was like, only that it did not have beds. We saw nothing on our journey across the water, and when we finally disembarked in Nanaimo at 1:00 a.m. none of us could have cared less about this island, this journey, or this adventure.
At 3:00 a.m. we were pounding on an astonished aunt’s door. I never did figure out what happened to the exotic island, or what was so wonderful. It was a town, like any other, with regular roads and no palm trees.
The return trip was pretty much the same. We left early on Easter Monday, to see if we could beat the traffic. Everyone else left early, too. But, it was only about a 3-hour wait, this time, in some strange place with houses that looked like ours, and traffic lights and, well, it was just ordinary.
Twenty years later, I was transferred to Nanaimo by the bank where I worked. As I burst into tears, upon hearing the news, my only thought was, how long will the ferry line ups be?