Haida Gwaii :: SEP -- OCT 2002

Subject: Queen of the North
Date: Thursday, September 19, 2002 10:40 AM

6:58 Queen of the North; Port Hardy, BC :: SUN 15 SEP 02

Half an hour before departure. Finally. Three days of hard riding from Comox to Port Hardy.

I'm on board the Queen of the North, the BC ferry which traverses the Inside Passage between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert during the summer season. Today m'lady is carrying a whole boatload of retired Germans, it seems, judging from the language, though some of it could be Dutch and Italian is being spoken in the row behind.

Woke at 5AM to cycle the 3 kilometers from the campground to the ferry terminal in the darkling hours before dawn. We've been loading for 20 minutes or so, filling up with European, Canadian and American travellers. The loading area was chock-full of rental RV vans.

Now, as the morning fog begins to rise and the rock and scrabbly vegetation rise out of it, I begin to feel that the 'getting there' part of this journey has come to a close.

And, ahh, now peace. The German tour group which had descended on my section, surrounding me with chatter, laughter and cheap perfume, has wandered off, presumably in search of breakfast.

Welcome morning. Welcome northern morning light.

8:26 Queen of the North; Prince Rupert bound, BC :: SUN 15 SEP 02

Intermittent fog-horn blasts ring out into a shroud of grey. The ocean, white-tipped undulating slate, diminshes to a uniformity of light grey. A rocky outcrop appears, well below an imagined horizon, a blemish in a seamless transition to formlessnes. Now, a line, a horizon, and beyond, a hint of coalescing form.

How appropriate that this journey begins in a fog. That featureless form characterises the visible world. That I wait for substance to emerge. Emerge from what? I don't know. I sail on, waiting for the fog to lift.

What came before this, the scramble in Vancouver to provision, gear-up, and close-down. The cycle up the Sunshine Coast, not journey but training, testing, final preparation. Then three days ride from Comox, hardening, positioning for a Port Hardy boarding.

There need be no more detail than that, for the journey itself begins here, in the greyness of possibility. The hints of fog lifting were a tease. The atmosphere closes in, back to slate and ash. But this is only a shroud. The world lies beyond and within. Waiting. Awaiting discovery.

We pass out of the Broughton Strait and into open ocean. I know this, not visually, but because the ship begins to ride ocean swells.

As much as I love the ocean, this is the cue for a seaman with a landman's stomach to head above deck.

10:28 Queen of the North; Prince Rupert bound, BC :: SUN 15 SEP 02

For a time the sun breeched, glinting, specular off the starboard side. Rays streaked through open cloud, creating highlight and shadow. Colourless but for a hint of blue in broken sky, the view is rich with depth and form. Layers of illumined cloud above and amidst rows of mountains beyond the distant shore.

Now we plunge back into slate and ash. Grey hulks loom, unformed Islands, peninsulas and bays. Passing close reveals a ragged edge, sawtoothed with trees. And there, suddenly, the white outbuildings with their red roofs. A fishing trawler flashes by, near. White, with royal blue transom and pilot house. I can almost read her name. But now they are gone, we draw away from land, and but for the sea-green churn in our wake, all is grey, shape without form.

I am in the Prince of Wales lounge where twin 30" screens play a 'short subject,' this one called British Columbia by Air. Sweeping images feature scenes in powder blues and azure, kelly green and bleached whites. Hardly a cloud to interrupt the sun's warmth and illumination.

Speaking with a fellow from Victoria on deck, we chuckled a little at the many tourists disappointed in the weather. They come to Tofino, the Inside Passage, and are aggravated by the grey wet. We are amused because this is the natural state of the land, a rainforest extending from Northern California to Alaska. I am bound for Prince Rupert, to which the sun is an infrequent visitor. And therein lies the beauty.

As I write this, the land coquettishly pulls aside another veil. Mist in tendrils and whisps, cling to the rounded hills with their ragged outlines. Conifers individualised by hue, vertical brushstrokes of greens emerging from the watercolourist's grey wash, while we pass a powder blue tug towing a construction barge across the calm seas of the Inside Passage.

18:29 Queen of the North; Prince Rupert bound, BC :: SUN 15 SEP 02

Thirteen hours into the sailing and the passengers have quieted, grown weary. Even the Germans, whose animated conversations powered a constant din, nap or dine.

Meanwhile, the constant rain feeds waterfalls which sluice down steep, rocky walls into the ocean below. In the narrow straight, the trees themselves feature intriguing forms, some spindly and narrow, others bushy and wide, some seem to be spruce, and others fir. Some long dead and weathered goliaths stand out like church spires in a New England town. On the odd branch or limb, moss clings like a sunlit highlight. And the puffy mist flows over bough, hillock and valley

Rock, the shoreline is always rock, which crops the trees along a uniform line a fathom or so above the high tide line. Where the mountain plunges down steeply, the solid rock appears in horizontal bands, the upper charcoal grey and the lower is the grey-brown of bleached rock and marine life.

I have never seen trees cling so tenaciously to such forbidding terrain. Only the steepest and smoothest of precipices shakes them off, revealing the grey granite mountain heart. Any cranny or ledgewill support the roots of some precarious trunk.

It is a marvel.

We enter the Grenville Straight, 45 kilometers of natural channel which closes to 1400 foot width. On either side, the mountains rise like a chute, a corral. It is the most intimate contact with the land yet. Yes, that is a spruce, and that a cedar. There is a stand of fir, and I believe there is a rare cottonwood.

I wonder that in all this long ride I have seen only one clearcut, off in a side channel. Cycling from Comox to Port Hardy I had been promised a beautiful ride, but most valleys had been all but denuded. I wonder when this land that I'm seeing now was last cut, when it will be cut again. I wonder how it is so uniformly flush with full, bushy trees.

Trees, rock and water. That is all there is here. A village, here and there, some abandoned. A lighthouse station, some unmanned. No tell-tale cuts a road would leave. Nowharves or jetties.

6:36 Campground; Prince Rupert, BC :: MON 16 SEP 02

In the middle of this vast rain forest, heavy precipitation is the natural order. Everything is as it should be here. In addition to breathtaking, magnificent and compelling, I think it's absolutely gorgeous. It's a shame the tourism brochures and videos do not embrace it We'll see what I think after spending 10 days touring the Charlottes in this weather.while camping no less.

As the veil of night closed about the Queen of the North and the land became, once more, obscured, I wondered what personal veils this place may draw aside. Will my own fog lift? Will I take this opportunity to gaze upon myself, to seek beauty and perfection within. Can self-discovery come so simply as the realisation that a grey, wet day is a beautiful day in a rainforest? Or is it rather that a grey, wet day is a beautiful day, any day.