Sunday April 4, 2021

Endless Epic Adventures

Throughout 2020 and 2021, I’d heard the call to “explore local” so many times that I sometimes dreamt about it. While friends who graduated from college before me enjoyed adventurous trips to faraway places like France, Japan or Hawaii, I had an online graduation from my creative writing program with little fanfare and certainly no travel plans.

And yet, at the start of August, travel plans somehow became the only thing I did have. I’d moved out of student accommodation, and my seasonal job was over a month away. My social media was packed with prompts to explore British Columbia. Then, my parents pressed my graduation present (a wad of cash) into my hand with one simple set of instructions: “Make some memories this summer.” It was time for an adventure.

That’s how my seven-day Spirit Loop circuit started. Covering Langford, Sooke, Port Renfrew and the Malahat, what started as a simple exploration quickly became one of the most rewarding and memorable summers of my life (so far!).

Langford

Let me preface my Spirit Loop circuit with this: after moving to Victoria from Surrey for school, I stuck embarrassingly close to campus. That’s why I chose to get more familiar with Langford first on my self-guided tour. I can’t believe it only took 20 minutes to drive, and I’d never been.

There is so much about it that I had no idea about. My dad is a big history buff, and I guess that rubbed off, as I made sure to visit all the historical plaques around town detailing its European settlement dates (which go back to 1851!), its short-lived gold rush in the now-established Goldstream Provincial Park and how it is now listed as one of the fastest-growing cities on Vancouver Island.

Langford was also where I decided to splurge on accommodation. (After all, why not kick off my circuit with a cushy overnight stay? All my friends got exotic vacations, so I figured the least I could indulge in was a memorable hotel!).

Although the Four Points by Sheraton Gateway Victoria almost won, I opted for the Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa. Packed with a seven-day mountain market selling fresh produce (incredible strawberries!) and local handmade goods, an in-resort hair salon, multiple golf courses, and biking, tennis and pub-style eatery options, I got way too sucked into the resort’s sprawling grounds and amenities. If I hadn’t already planned to be in Sooke on Day #3, I’d have joined some golf groups just to soak in all the greenery! The chance to enjoy the sun all day and then have my head hit the pillow in my exquisitely air-conditioned room felt more like a holiday than I could have dreamed of—yay!

Of all the things I enjoyed in Langford, the most surprising was the city’s brand-new sports entertainment center. Home to Langford Lanes Bowling, City Center Mini Golf, City Center Playzone, WildPlay Elements Park, and so much more, I even lucked out and stumbled across their ongoing Music in the Park series! I treated myself to a solo game of mini golf. I have to admit; I did much better than I’d expected. I was a little self-conscious at first, but it was a super fun time. The jungle, gold mine and other design features were pretty cool. As someone who’s not a big drinker, I’m always on the lookout for more outdoorsy activities, this sports entertainment center’s huge selection of affordable attractions has topped my “need to go back” list, especially the bowling with a few friends.

Sooke

Full disclosure: Sooke blew the bulk of my food budget. Little Vienna Bakery and Route 14 ended up being too delicious for just one menu selection.

Self-described as an “authentically European bakery”, Little Vienna was first on my list. As a celiac, I’m used to not indulging in the usual baked goods-smorgasbord, but Little Vienna was surprisingly forthcoming about gluten-free menu items and substitutions. Their daily soup, gluten-free baguettes, and gluten-free “take-and-bake” flour (which my mom later tried and agreed was delicious!) were combinations I would happily eat daily if that was possible. The bakery is also super quaint and homey.

Route 14, a pub-style restaurant on Sooke Road, also offered a blend of fresh food and ambiance that would be hard for anyone to turn down. Their island mussels, which are freshly caught and served alongside drool-worthy fennel sausage and gluten-free garlic bread, were so beautifully plated that I even took a picture of it to send to my friends before digging in… and I’m usually the first person to make fun of people snapping pictures of their food. I guess I get it now. I really had to take a photo. Plus, it was unforgettable.

A scenic half-hour drive from Langford, Sooke’s coastal breezes, long roadways and pockets of wooded areas made for one of the most tranquil rides of my life. When driving past the Sooke Reservoir, I even had to stomp on the brakes to let a black bear and its cubs amble across the road in front of me. Locals I chatted with at Route 14 said that cougars were an even more common sight, but I only caught what I think was the flick of a tail as I headed out to Port Renfrew.

Port Renfrew

Port Renfrew was my second-to-last stop. Being so close to the coast made me nostalgic for summers with my dad, so to honour him, I made sure to make McKenna Sportfishing one of my to-do items.

With the heat of August, being out on the water with McKenna’s pros was a literal breath of fresh air! We (well, mainly the McKenna team) reeled in five salmon, a halibut and two Dungeness crabs. Once back on the dock, Bill cleaned the catches for me, packed them in ice, and even gave me cooking tips. Even though I ended up selling my haul to the local market so that I didn’t have to figure out a way to cook them, I used his tips to cook up salmon for my mom once I got home… so you could say I owe the first time my mom has ever complimented my cooking to the McKenna Sportfishing pros!

Aside from trying my hand at fishing, I spent the majority of my time in Port Renfrew, soaking up the beauty of the coastline. I spent two days exploring the craggy coastline, serene rainforests and rocky beaches—with no clouds in the sky, the smell of sea salt thick in the air, and the sounds of families and fellow explorers gently breaking the silence, I ran out of my space on my phone from taking too many photos of the Botanical Beach Provincial Park. I even befriended an elderly camper there who told me how colonizers initially named Port Renfrew Port San Juan. They changed it to honour a man named Lord Renfrew who settled crofters there. I told him that my dad would have enjoyed the story as well, and he replied that he was always happy to share the history of his hometown. Oh, I nearly forgot. I stayed at West Coast Trail Lodge. It was super lovely, and the staff were so nice. I met a few people who just finished the famous West Coast Trail, and I’m so inspired. Maybe next year!

The Malahat

Last but certainly not least was the Malahat. The Moon Water Lodge was where I spent my final nights: overlooking the Saanich Inlet, Pacific Ocean, and forested hills; it felt like the perfect place of respite before going back to “the real world”.

To offset my relaxed state and make sure I was milking my summer memories for all they were worth, I explored two last attractions: the newly-opened Malahat Skywalk and the Malahat Adventure Skills Park. I read about the skywalk months ago, and had been looking forward to this one for a while!

The Malahat Skywalk was well worth the wait. It’s a 600-metre TreeWalk through an arbutus forest that leads to a spectacular gentle spiral ramp, guiding you up 32 metres to a sightseeing lookout above Finlayson Arm, Saanich Peninsula, Mount Baker, and the Coast Mountains. My favourite part, though? The slide! To reward you for the trek, you can then slide back down to the ground level. I’ll admit I had zero shame joining in on the many elementary schoolers who were enjoying the ride.

My last stop was the Malahat Adventure Skills Park. Brimming with biking trails, hands-on outdoors recreation, and expert guides, the final afternoon I spent out in the forests at Malahat Adventure Skills Park left me feeling refreshed and rounded out for the journey back home.

Happy graduation to me! Now when I hear or see ads encouraging British Columbians to “explore local”, I no longer feel like it’s a second-hand choice. In fact, I’ve already booked some time off this Fall to explore even further up the island!