Planning a cross-Canada road trip

I’m baaaack! If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve just returned from a very excellent honeymoon; 24 days spent travelling across Canada – and a few days in New York for good measure. Can I call it a road trip if I spent part of it on a boat and a train? Well, I’m gunna!

I feel like I have so much to tell you, but it’s been almost four weeks and I just don’t know where to start. So rather than bombard you in one long painful post, I thought I’d do a series of blogs over the next few weeks telling you a bit about Canada and a bit more about how to travel with a busy schedule, high expectations, and a chronic pain condition.

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Me and him being all honeymooney at Lake Patricia

First off, I’m no travel blogger, but I feel like you need to know where we went and how we got around for this to make any sense at all. Plus, if you’re going to do a similar trip (do it do it do it) then this may even be useful one day. So, here goes…

Our itinerary was Vancouver (1 day), Vancouver Island (4 days), drive to The Rockies (1 day), Banff (4 days), Jasper (1 day), train to Toronto (3 days), Toronto (3 days), Montreal (3 days), New York (4 days).

We flew from London to Vancouver and spent a day and a night in the city before hiring a car and driving to Vancouver Island. We crossed over to the island at Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, and spent four days on the Island based in Jordan River near Port Renfrew. It was a beautiful, quiet area surrounded by temperate rainforest and beaches, and it was a great way to introduce us to the wild Canada landscape. We stayed in this cabin in the forest, an excellent airbnb which I would highly recommend.

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Our cabin in the woods

We woke up on what felt the first ‘proper’ day of our official honeymoon in the cabin and felt like the only two people in the world. R made bacon and eggs (because that’s how all excellent days start) and then we donned our walking clothes and went for a hike. I’m not even using that term loosely. Walking along the Juan de Fuca trail to Mystic Beach was nothing short of breathtaking – partly because of the spectacular scenery but partly because it was freakin’ exhausting.

There was very little smooth terrain, the tree roots in the ground meant that every footstep took concentration and effort, and my legs struggled about 10 minutes in. The walk was about 2.5km but on ground like this, it feels far longer.

Survival tip #1: Take frequent breaks and sit the hell down. There are worse places to sit and do nothing than the middle of a forest so may as well sit and enjoy it. Just make sure you know your bear safety rules. (I’m not kidding.)

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Jordan River to Mystic Beach via the Juan de Fuca Trail
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I didn’t carve the heart, honest. But I did think it was quite apt.

We walked through the trees following the Juan de Fuca trail all the way, and eventually reached a clearing. There was a short boardwalk and some wooden steps which led down to Mystic Beach – pure white sand, a giant waterfall, and the sight of America across the ocean.

We cracked open a couple of beers, played on the rope swing, lay on the wet sand and as I thought, “how damn lucky am I right now?” I also wondered how on earth I was going to walk back to our cabin.

Chronic pain is such a weird thing. After eight years I am well aware of what I can and can’t cope with, I know what’s manageable and what will ruin me for the following day, and yet I still choose to do these things that I know I have no hope of surviving. As I lay on the beach I went through all the possible ways I could – or couldn’t – get home; I couldn’t walk, there wasn’t vehicular access to the beach and so it appeared my options were helicopter (unlikely and somewhat dramatic) or be carried (unfair and somewhat unmanageable).

Instead we just sat on the beach, waited until I admitted the only real option was to walk back again and off we went – somewhat slower than the time before.

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Mystic Beach
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Never too old for a rope swing

In the afternoon we did a second walk because, yes, I’m an idiot. We went to Sandcut Beach, also five minutes drive from the cabin but also only accessible through the rainforest. Although not far from Mystic Beach, the shoreline was very different and so it was lovely to sit and just take it all in. [Note: Sooke is the largest nearby town and the Stickleback West Coast Eatery do an amazing four cheese burger. From now on all my cheese burgers will have four cheeses.]

The day was wonderful but absolutely exhausting, and we had dinner in the cabin that night. The following morning I was unable to walk (or move in any way that wasn’t reminiscent of a geriatric woman) so had to bale out of the second day’s hike. Luckily we’ve had many a day like this in the last eight years; R is very good at looking after me but equally good at making sure he doesn’t miss out on things he wants to do. And, as much as a part of me is always a bit sad I can’t go and join in with him, I’m getting pretty good at finding joy in less physical activities.

I spent breakfast heavily Googling activities in the area that didn’t require walking, toast hanging out of my mouth whilst I confidently promised him that I would be able to find something for us to do together. Know how many activities I found? Zero. Not one. None of the beaches are accessible by car and I can’t help but wonder how people cope if they live with physical disabilities in the Port Renfrew area. I contacted four local tourist groups that morning asking for suggestions of things to do; they were all lovely but all confirmed there was nothing they could recommend other than sitting in the one cafe in Jordan River or the one pub in Port Renfrew. That’s right, I went to the pub. I may have curbed my drinking but a waterfront pub with a log fire is still possible with a hot chocolate, so me and my book were perfectly content until it was time to collect R from his third hike of the holiday.

Survival tips #2 and #3 are: take a book or your music or whatever form of entertainment you desire, and don’t be afraid to admit defeat. If you suffer from chronic illness you will already know that you can’t do it all. It can be disheartening and frustrating at times, but there is something good about being alone and taking in your new surroundings so try to see the opportunity in giving your body a break rather than seeing it as a punishment.

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The Vancouver Island ferry

Below are some quick travel tips and recommendations for those interested in doing something similar (did I tell you I suggest you do something similar?) and I’ll be back on the blog soon to share some pictures, tips and pain management tips from The Rockies. But, just before I go…

WE SAW A BEAR!! If I had photographic evidence of this there would have been an entire blog post about this single moment. We were in the car driving through the forest roads on the way to drop R at the start of his hike before I drove on to the pub. We turned a corner and a black bear strolled out of the forest, stopped, looked at us, then carried on strolling across the road. It was everything. It was no more than ten metres away from us and for the 60 seconds that it was on the road it was like all three of us were holding our breath, sussing out the moment. (R and I were mainly thinking ‘ohmygod this is amazing’ but I highly doubt the bear was having the same thought.)


Travel tips for Vancouver Island:

  • Get to the ferry terminal at least 2 hours before your scheduled departure time – we went on a bank holiday weekend (somewhat foolishly) and queued for 4 hours;
  • Take food and drink in the car with you because 4 hours is long;
  • Take a day trip to Victoria – it’s pretty and you get to shop in a town that has mountains;
  • Make sure you research bear safety so you know what you’re doing;
  • If you stay in the Jordan River area, the main walks/beaches to visit are: Mystic Beach, China Beach, French Beach, Sandcut Beach, Avatar Grove and Botanical Beach. Enjoy!

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