Money is tight and so at first I said no, I’d sure like to, but I can’t possibly. Then I looked at my Alaska account and realized I had enough miles to cover the flight. Maybe, I thought. Turned out lodging would cost far less than I’d imagined, and with finances no longer an absolute reason to decline joining my friend’s birthday trek to Tofino, I said yes, I’m in.

Sleep eluded me for days leading up. The usual reasons – my phone alerting me to my son’s low blood sugar, my brain caught up in various worries – made worse by the fact I was about to take off during the last week of the state legislative session; many of my colleagues would be working the halls of the Capitol in an effort to get good bills passed while I cavorted in Canada. Also I was leaving my coworker with the brunt of what was sure to be an intense, lengthy Coastal Commission meeting. In short, work guilt.

This inability to disconnect continued into the first few days of vacation. Not only did I have wifi, but my Verizon plan allows me to use my phone in Mexico and Canada the same as in the U.S., which might sound great and sure, it is great if your goal is to be able to check your email, and receive texts and calls during the time you’re supposed to be checked out.

But no matter – even my sleep-deprived, work-overloaded brain couldn’t help noticing what an amazing situation I’d found myself in. As the ferry that would take us to Nanaimo launched from Vancouver, marking the start of our trip, a rainbow shimmered into the sky. Minutes later, a minke whale spouted just off the ship’s starboard side. I’d been stuck in the customs line for an hour back at the airport, then finally made it through to discover Alaska had left my surfboard back in Seattle. This wasn’t exactly helping to create a happy vacation vibe. But rainbows and whales? Happiness insisted frustration make room.

The next couple days unfolded in Ucluelet, a small town about 40 km south of Tofino. We stayed in a gorgeous, airy home with the kind of view that reminds you how lucky you are to be alive in this place at this moment – a theme that would recur twice more on the trip as I shifted locations, first to Tofino with the crew, then onward to Victoria/Jordan River where I met up with Gillian, our Surfrider Vancouver Island staff person who helped make the trip happen.

I fell for Vancouver Island for the same reasons Humboldt captured my heart: it’s wild and remote, lush with forests and dramatic coasts, home to rugged people who live connected to the nature that surrounds them. (I am less rugged, but full of admiration.)

Of course, both have been logged mercilessly – but where there is environmental destruction, there are often environmental activists. Kayaking to Meares Island (home to Opitsat, the main village of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations) proved a highlight of the trip – the island holds some of the last old-growth remaining in British Columbia, thanks to the Nuu-chah-nulth. From Wikipedia:

In 1984, the Nuu-chah-nulth began protesting forestry giant MacMillan Bloedel’s potential harvesting activities. The Nuu-chah-nulth, with significant cooperation from environmental groups, eventually erected a blockade, preventing MacMillan Bloedel from logging the island. Both sides pursued legal action, and the court ruled that since the Nuu-chah-nulth had claimed that this was part of their traditional territory, until that claim was resolved, no development could occur on the whole of Meares Island. This essentially granted an injunction in favour of the Nuu-chah-nulth, which was the first time in British Columbia’s history that the province had been overruled on a land claims issue.

Sometimes, with work, with life, my determination to check off the tasks on my to-do list causes me to forget what all those tasks are connected to. Completing all the promises to funders, to family, crafting talking points and building presentations, fighting for causes and paying the bills – all these threaten to require more of me than I have to give. Sometimes when I enthuse about how I love my job, my life, that long to-do list comes to mind, weariness takes hold and I wonder if I truly do.

And of course the answer rarely comes from answering emails, sitting on conference calls or checking out via Netflix. The reassurance happens while standing in an old-growth forest inhaling that mix of creation and decay, rain and earth – I swear the air is magic! The affirmation arrives while sitting on my surfboard in the ocean, marveling at the way the beach curves around to rocky points, how the trees hold fast nearly to water’s edge, the taste of saltwater on my lips. Hope springs from laughing with friends, missing my family, being reminded that not all weight is mine to bear.

When I began this trip, I believed that all I carried was a suitcase, backpack, purse and surfboard, but in truth I’d brought other luggage with me: fear, anxiety, frustration, insecurity. Eventually my missing surfboard arrived and all that unnecessary baggage evaporated – or at least I was able to tuck it away in a closet where the less necessary items are stored.

I don’t know how to reconcile the world’s horrors with its beauty. I do know to stand awash in love and nature’s beauty is – unfairly – a privilege. I acknowledge that and I wish for everyone the chance to breathe pure air in natural places, to be filled with peace for a moment here and there, to stand on a beach or mountaintop or in a river and feel belonging. These should be treasured experiences, but not exceptional ones. My job is to make that so.

Of course, I love my job, my life. Adventure? Yes, I’m in.

And now for some practical suggestions and recommendations if traveling to Vancouver Island (h/t to friends who provided some of these) …