"We can't help but think that our journey has led to a transformation within us. A craving for more real wilderness areas, and to continue to roam the nature-rich lands of our planet as responsibly as we can."
Earlier this summer, long-time friend of Passenger and marine scientist, Elyssa Quinton, headed out to western Canada on an epic trip that would see her and her crew film a docco about kelp harvesting and the impact of climate change on local ecosystems.
Along the way, they navigated the gnarly roads of the Rockies, spent nights under the stars sharing tales around the campfire and tried their luck hiking through bear country.
Grab a cup of the hot stuff, take a load off and read in Elyssa’s own words the adventures they encountered roaming Canada’s wilderness.
In the fast-paced world that we live in today, it’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind of responsibilities and lose touch with the things that truly matter like tight-knit bonds with everlasting friends and the true calling to explore the wilderness.
Earlier this summer, a group of friends and I decided to break away from our daily routines and embarked on an incredible journey through western Canada. With our trusty vehicle loaded up with the canoe, camping gear, and a few beers, we headed to the call of the wild.
Chapter 1: Vancouver – The Gateway To Adventure
The crew collided in Vancouver, a vibrant and modern city nestled between mountains and ocean. This was the perfect start to our trip, which gave us the perfect combination of city life and the adventure we craved to re-kindle with old friends and reminisce on old memories over a cerveza on the beach whilst planning our route ahead.
Amongst provisioning for the drive up North, we set out to explore the stunning landscapes and culture-rich cuisines. A few speakeasy bars were discovered whilst walking the boulevards to enjoy the sunset-soaked city vistas.
We also took bicycles through the ancient forests of Stanley Park and Pacific Spirit, and revelled in the solitude, whilst staring up in awe at the sheer determination that these giant pines have to force their way up into the light canopy.
Chapter 2: Vancouver Island - Culture-Rich Communities And Marine Life
We left the picturesque city behind and hopped on the ferry to Nanaimo and then drove up north to Port Hardy, a tranquil fishing town on Vancouver Island.
Our purpose was to immerse ourselves in the enigmatic kelp forests found here and work with the local kelp harvesters to form a narrative film to delve into their mysteries and unveil the stories of the communities that rely on this precious ecosystem.
Beneath the surface, we discovered an underwater playground, with giant stipes full of slippery kelp blades, which protect a tapestry of life. On the surface, sea otters exhibited the ultimate definition of chill, as they floated on the surface picking apart their dinner of sea urchins and other marine molluscs.
"Yet amid this wonderous world of exploration and play, the vulnerabilities of this underwater forest were evident, and the family of kelp harvesters we spent time with echoed the precarious state of the kelp ecosystem, and how productivity is being threatened by global warming."
Although the concerns were highlighted, our spirits remained high, and the final wrap day was celebrated with traditional champagne kelp bongs and a roaming black bear foraging the rocky shores.
After a week-long shoot and learning a great deal about kelp botany, science, and conservation, we said goodbye to our new kelp harvester friends and left with Kilmer jars of preserved kelp stipes - a local handmade delicacy that we all truly got addicted to!
Chapter 3: Tofino And The Mystery Of Those Powder Blue Waters
Our journey continued to Tofino, where the edgy coffee shops and a coastline littered with waves awaited us! However, the tempestuous peeling waves that we dreamed of were not there, yet we were met with serene, powder-blue glassy seas.
Though our surfing dreams were stilled by the calm sea, we explored the pine-doused cliffs by surfboard and managed to forage some giant mussels to cook up on the beach for supper.
Canada’s pristine waters have long been celebrated for their natural beauty and ecological significance. Yet, beneath this serene powder blue surface of the lakes and coastal regions, we discovered a growing threat lurks in the form of harmful algae blooms.
These are a sinister phenomenon, and once a rarity, have become increasingly common, raising concerns about their impact on aquatic ecosystems and human health.
In a disconcerting twist, a significant contributor to these harmful blooms has been identified as the waste, excess nutrients, and uneaten food leached from the local fish farms. Although this was another sobering overture of our journey, the days spent in Tofino were wonderous and onwards we went.
Chapter 4: Whistler - The Land Of Uncovered History
The road next led us to Whistler, a sanctuary nestled amidst towering peaks. Everywhere we turned there was an adventure to be had, and in the summer months mountain bikers take over the little town.
Here, we also delved into the history of the First Nations people, a chapter darkened by shadows of injustice. Their stories, like haunting refrains, echoed through the landscapes, reminding us of the importance of acknowledging the past as we tread the present.
Chapter 5: Alberta’s Icefields Parkway - The Rockies Are Calling!
Crossing into Alberta, we embarked on a drive through the Icefields Parkway, a stretch of Highway 93, winding through Alberta’s Jasper and Banff National Parks which display a symphony of ice-capped mountains, ancient glaciers, and crystalline lakes.
We embraced the wild spirit of the Rockies by camping in the heart of the wilderness, where the starry nights seemed to touch the mountain peaks that circled us. We shared stories by the campfire, and cooked questionable meals, whilst our laughter echoed through the silent forests. We were also lucky enough to canoe on the famous Moraine Lake, and take a horse ride along the Bow River.
Intrigued by the allure of hikers' huts, and rustic accommodations, we also spent nights in old mountain huts which once sheltered pioneers exploring these rugged lands. The creaking floorboards and the scent of aged wood added an extra layer of authenticity connecting us to those who had ventured here before us.
We met travellers from around the world, each sharing their own tales of wanderlust and adventure.
"In the embrace of these serendipitous encounters, we realised even more that the love of nature transcends borders and languages."
Chapter 6: Grizzly Country
As we ventured deeper into Grizzly Country, we hiked with caution although hoped for a special encounter. Our walks were guided by both awe and respect for their wild habitat, and its other formidable inhabitants. To our dismay, we didn’t lay eyes on a wild grizzly, however, we did witness a momma black bear and her little cub dart across a road.
Amidst this untamed beauty and seeing the impacts of where human infrastructure and the wild collide, we discovered other hidden treasures: natural thermal pools. Bathing in geothermal pools at breakfast time, whilst waiting for our coffee to percolate, we marvelled at the healing power of nature and how magic is unveiled for those who roam.
Chapter 7: Nelson - Seeing My Old Bohemian Mates
Our final destination was Nelson, where old friends awaited us to finally show us around their mountain nest of 6 years. Located in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, this charming little town with a bohemian flare is nestled in the Selkirk Mountains.
Here we found an artistic community, with a super laid-back atmosphere where we hiked and recouped to recover from the Rockies adventures. We even ended up in this charming Bulgarian restaurant, serving traditional dishes and washed down with Bulgarian red wine.
Final Chapter: Parting Thoughts
Our adventure through Canada was a whirlwind of quirky escapades, unpredictable weather, and eye-opening wild encounters.
"Throughout we witnessed the impacts of climate change and human activities and acknowledged the beautiful culture of the First Nations people."
As we returned home to England, with magical tales to tell and a renewed commitment to protect the environment and learn more about indigenous communities, we couldn’t help but think that our journey has led to a transformation within us all.
A craving for more and more real wilderness areas, and to continue to roam the nature-rich lands of our planet as responsibly and with as little impact as we can.