“I’ll take you to Walmart now.” This is how a stranger-man greeted Andrew and me in Campbell River’s airport.
Campbell River as in our do-not-believe-we-made-it-to-Canada final destination following our travel hell — and let me say if you haven’t read that post yet you’ll learn when we say ‘travel hell’, we truly mean it.
“Are you with Spirit of the West?” Andy and I asked the man in unison.
Spirit of the West was, after all, the entire reason we were even in Canada. Through this company, we booked a wilderness tour called the Johnstone Strait Expedition. That journey entailed paddling in kayaks with whales during the day and wild camping in tents at night. It was a continuously moving weeklong expedition, which meant we would never camp in the same place more than once, so that by the end — we would have kayaked several miles and camped around and on British Columbia’s archipelago.
The company was more than adventure though — We were already very aware of the kind people behind the scenes. Due to our nightmare travel, this incredible company gave us a free pass on not arriving to the pre-trip meeting the night before our expedition. It also promised to hold up our entire kayaking-and-camping group to ensure we could make the trip hours behind schedule. Even more — When I messaged the company to see if we should turn around for home after cancelled flights to stand-by flights to delayed flights, someone encouraged us to keep going — messaging us mid-travel to say another person would pick Andrew and me up from the airport the moment we exited our plane . . .
That plane, by the way, was the smallest plane Andrew had ever been on . . .
“Welcome on board!” a smiling red-haired man said laughing. “There are no drinks or food because we aren’t on here long enough but even so, I’m the co-pilot so I’ll be a bit busy helping fly the plane.” More jovial chuckles which made the few people on the plane smile and giggle too. “But if you need me, just shout at me because I’m right there and there’s no door between us!” and he pointed to the cockpit before bouncing off and into the seat.
Before we knew it, we were in the clouds after flying over cities . . .Then over water before coming to the home of evergreens . . .It was our first quick and painless flight since we left home a day earlier; and as I peered out at British Columbia’s breathtaking landscape, I could not wait to get out and explore.
The only problem was that once Andrew and I got off of our plane, we had no idea who we were meeting and apparently a different idea of where we were going because the only person who appeared to pick us up wanted to take us to . . . Walmart.
That man — who was shorter than me but I gathered quite strong due to the tug-of-war we were having over my luggage — had greeted us by name before immediately working to remove my suitcase from my gasp.
“Spirit of the West?” the man asked, repeating the question we had for him. Refusing to answer though, he re-asked us his own: “You are Andrew and L, no?”
“I mean, we are — or well, I am L and that was Andrew,” I said with a pointing finger following my disappearing fiancé who — suddenly confident all would work out — left for the loo. Go figure.
“Good, good! Let’s go!” the stranger-man announced and briskly took off with one final tug to successfully free my luggage.
“But Walmart?” I questioned the man, refusing to move as he left the airport. “I’m sorry — I thought you said ‘Walmart’?”
What I also should explain here is due to our flight fiasco, I was a multitude of emotions — I was anxious, excited, fearful, ready but most of all I was exhausted. In fact, I was past the point of exhaustion. I felt I was in the act of falling over. Or I had already fallen over so maybe I was walking and talking in my sleep. And in that case, this had to be some type of fever-dream because why else would a man I did not know approach me, steal my luggage, and rather forcefully work to whisk Andrew and me to Walmart? The only clear thought I could gather was that ‘Walmart’ was code for another place and he was going to kidnap me when my male companion was not looking. But nooo, sir! I was smarter than that!
“Yes, Walmart — Come, come!” Stranger-man was now waving at me, almost frantic, standing in the airport entryway doors.
Come on, Andrew! I silently pleaded as I waited and waited without a glimpse of Andy.
“Come, come!” he said again to me as he seemed to be jumping and waving.
Damn it, I thought and made a silent vow to give Andrew hell no matter how important his business in loo. Taking on another vow to get my luggage back — or at least see where it was going — I hurried after Stranger-man who had disappeared outside. Evidently, he was either in a hurry or had no patience.
“I’m sorry — ,” my introductions to this man consisted solely of apologizes, ” — but who are you, what company are you with, and who are you supposed to be picking up again?”
He chose to only answer my last question. “Andy? And you? You are L!” The way he said this sounded more as if he was telling me “How do not know your fiancé’s name is Andy? Why do you not remember your own name? You are L!”
“Yes, yes,” I told him. “I am L but who sent you for us?”
I wish I could say I gathered some type of answer as Andrew came outside but all the man kept saying was something about a bumblebee and how he did not know what Spirit of the West was and how we needed to go with him because we were already late. I mean we had been late this entire time so yeah, we were very aware of that.
“Spirit of the West is a company that was supposed to send someone to pick us up from the airport. Were you told to get us from Spirit of the — No what? Nevermind.” I hopped into the stranger’s car and closed the door as Andrew followed me. It no longer mattered who this man was or where he claimed to take us. We had made it this far on pure luck. We would see where luck continued to take us.
“So where are we going?” Andrew asked. Dear friends, let this be proof for how much Andrew missed in his loo break.
“Walmart!” the man shouted with energy as he zipped down the road with equal gusto.
“Walmart?!” Andrew exclaimed. His look to me was both full of alarm while also blaming me. “WHY DID WE GET INTO A VEHICLE WITH A MAN TAKING US TO WALMART?!” he asked silently.
“Andrew,” I sighed, answering aloud. “I don’t know. You were gone and he was here and my luggage was there and I don’t know . . . ” I was going to stop there but continued. “The only thing I can gather is that I must have told Spirit of the West about our lost bags and they thought to have someone take us to Walmart to get clothing and supplies because they think we still do not have any of luggage.” This seemed to appease him because it was true that we almost missed reclaiming our bags, which meant we almost went on an outdoor adventure without any clothing or gear. Again, this trip epitomized ‘us.’
“How long until we get to Walmart?!” Andy now asked the man as I realized this was a very valid question. It essentially meant “How long do we have to plot our next plan in case we are in fact kidnapped and taken somewhere unexpected?”
“About ten minutes,” the man said as he radioed people and they radioed him. “They are expecting you.”
Winding through British Columbia roads, my concerns of who was expecting us were ignored as I got a glimpse of Canada’s beauty — evergreen after evergreen lined the highway without skyscrapers insight. All was green, green, and more green . . .
“Alright, we are here. Who you are meeting?”
This was comforting — We had control back. “Spirit of the West,” we said in unison. Then: “We think.” That made three of us.
The miraculous news is that between Stranger-man driving in and out of each Walmart parking lot aisle and the three of us looking for who knows what — a flag with Spirit of the West? People we have not yet met or seen? — Andrew and I finally saw a van with the logo “Spirit of the West” on the side.
Stopping behind the van, Stranger-man jumped out to remove our luggage while Andrew and I paused still inside to take a deep breath.
“This is it,” he said to me. “A moment of truth” and I knew what he meant. The moment we had been waiting for was here. Not only were we now faced with a kayaking trip we had recklessly booked when we essentially never kayaked before (Read about our first kayaking flat-water paddle here), but we were seconds from meeting our kayaking group — You know, the group we did not meet earlier when we were supposed. The group that we alone were now stealing precious hours from their trip. I hoped they didn’t think we breathed entitlement because hell, we were anything but that. Still how to make a good impression? I could not remember a time I had felt this nervous to meet someone. Or — even better — a group of someones.
“Let’s just hope they do not hate us already because this is going to be one long, hell-of-a-week . . . ” and so, with another deep breath, Andrew and I stepped out of the van to meet our kayaking group.
Turns out, everyone was super welcoming. Almost alarmingly so.
There were our two guides: Mike and Estelle, both young and vibrant. Mike was organized and had a sense of control to him. He did not hesitating in greeting us by handshake while also apologizing for our rough journey. Estelle was right behind him. All charisma, she immediately gave us a genuine hug before exclaiming, “Crazy flights, eh?! Can’t believe you made it!” A sense of calm washed over me as more people came out of the van to introduce themselves . . .
Slowly we met the other eight people in our kayak group — Crispin and his wife Sally, along with their daughter Jane and son Rhys; Dave and his wife Sheri; Liza; and Amy. Everyone already seemed so kind and it was here I honestly took my first sigh of relief since we left.
With an apology that we already needed to go and the recommendation to load back inside the van, one by one our kayak group disappeared. Each person was allotted a certain amount of dry sacks, which Andy and I made swift movements to stuff. Incredibly this was the first time we felt prepared as we had previously sorted our belongings into our own camping dry sacks, finding that we were under our individual allotment. Another sigh of relief.
Loading into the van, Andrew and I squeezed all the way into the back and here is where I was reminded that poor Andrew could have anyone in the world to adventure and travel with . . . and yet he was stuck with me.
“Are you going to be okay back here?” he asked, highly concerned.
Let me be direct: Andrew was concerned for me, yes, but he was also concerned for himself. What he was basically asking was, “Are you going to spew vomit all over the back of this van due to car sickness when we just met our new weeklong kayaking group?” And that basically translated to him begging me, “Can you please not ruin my chance to be cool around new people?” . . . which, let’s be honest, I do uncontrollably ruin this for him on a regular basis . . . like when I beat the Guinness Book of World Records for “Person that throws up the most consistently” in Galapagos, which was around a new scuba diving group each time . . . but know what? That’s a story for a different day.
“No, no, shhh — Please, please do not say anything,” I whispered to him, terrified he would announce my uncool factor. I, too, was well aware of how my seat not going to fair well but damned if I was going to ask these people if I could sit at the very front! These people — who had personally gone out of their way to pick us up after waiting past the time they should have waited to go on their vacation! Hell no. That oozed ‘privilege’ and in my vast experience, I’ve learned it is better to showcase my sickness — in all its glory — then ask for forgiveness . . . instead of requesting special needs immediately by explaining what would happen before it did. Yep, I was staying put.
“How long will it be until we arrive to Telegraph Cove?” one of the kayakers asked. Telegraph Cove — The location we, our belongings, and kayaks would load onto a small boat to be transported out for Day One of our water adventure.
“About two — eh, two and a half hours,” our guides said. Great — multiple hours.
Andrew sighed at my horrible decision to not say anything before I noticed his act to move as far from me as possible, though I could not blame him. The man had learned preparation when it came to traveling with me and here, the longer the journey only proved the more likely I would be sick.
“So did you get everything you needed in Walmart?” our group asked and it was here we learned Spirit of the West had requested we be taken to Walmart to get kayak and camping belongings after thinking our bags were lost. This now explained why the taxi service — named Bee Line Taxi — had a driver that kept talking about some bumblebee when he radioed, and it also explained our driver’s firm decision to take us to Walmart.
Explaining we ended up finding our bags so it was not needed left us in several moments of silence.
Then one of the kayakers: “So what exactly happened to make you late?”
How do we possibly start? How do we possibly explain?
Here, I leaned back and closed my eyes — focused on maintaining calmness and not nausea — as Andrew tried very hard to shorten our travel story . . .
At some point in our drive, Mike had pulled over for us to have a loo break and chance to eat a quick snack then we were off again.
Being aware I had not gotten sick yet, I decided to brave all and take in my surroundings.
As we drove, the blue mountains appeared in the far distance — the area, wild and expansive — and I could already feel butterflies in my stomach. Was I falling in love with Canada this soon?
On the drive, laughter and conversation came easy between our guides and our kayaking group. We learned more about everyone — There was a freshman and senior high school student; there was an elementary school teacher and a lawyer; and there was a dietician, occupational therapist, physician assistant, and traveling nurse. I refrained from telling the traveling nurse I would openly stalk her, that I wanted to sleep in her tent instead of with Andrew, and that I would do anything to be her best friend because — because if you haven’t guessed already — I am accident-prone so having a nurse on the trip was my form of a dream come true.
Hours dwindled to minutes and then we were there: The unbelievably gorgeous Telegraph Cove.
“I cannot believe we made it,” Andrew and I kept saying, verging on tears and hugging each other.
“We are going to come back to this same spot so you will have more time to walk around Telegraph Cove when we return,” our guides said and so we were instructed to begin unloading our kayaks and dry sacks onto a boat, which happened to be the same boat a different Spirit of the West kayaking group was leaving.
Moving from our van to let this new group in, we watched as the team — who had spent who knows how much time on their water journey together — seemed at ease with one another. They formed a well-oiled ‘train’ as they tossed belongings from the boat, up the dock, and to the van.
“Look! That will be us after our trip!” we joked as we walked by, novice at how to carry our kayaks on the dock, unexperienced at where Bruce the boat owner wanted us to place our gear.
“OH NO!” I heard a shout while at the same time saw a sack topple into the water.
“I think it’s Amy’s!” someone said and sure enough — Amy’s unprotected-by-a-dry-sack sleeping bag went tumbling into wetness. I next heard a gasp as I saw her move to retrieve it only to then watch — too far to help — the toe of her sandal get caught in a raised portion of dock wood. She then stumbled a few feet only to regain composure before lifting her sleeping bag from the water.
“I mean . . . It’s okay! It’s only a sleeping bag. It will dry!” Her voice was light and I could see positivity radiate from her as she did not hesitate in continuing to work alongside everyone else.
Meanwhile, Andrew and I made a massive effort to work the hardest due to our constant desire to mend our late start.
Soon all belongings were in the boat as Captain Bruce dictated the rules for boarding his vessel. Motor starting, he lead the boat away from the cove and us to our incredible destination . . .
For more on where we were headed and our first kayak paddle, seek The Charming Floating Lodge: Paddlers Inn, British Columbia.
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Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.