Dinners by driftwood: A week on the storm tossed shores of northern Vancouver Island
A BioLite Special Feature by Evan Mitsui
It’s late afternoon and the rain is blowing sideways through the kitchen tarp. It’s the first real downpour our crew has weathered since arriving to unseasonably clear skies three days earlier. Our campfire hisses, struggling to stay alight. The grilled cheese and bacon-salmon sandwiches, however, are toasting nicely. Phil flips the lid on the BioLite and feeds a few more cedar chunks into its white-hot interior. The stove’s fan whirs and flames lick the underside of the grill causing yesterday’s grease to sizzle and spit. There are seven hungry mouths to feed but despite the turn in the weather spirits are high. The surf was good and dinner is almost ready -- precious calories spent in cold Pacific waves are about to be replenished.
Sterling cracks a beer while Andrew splits another driftwood round with his hatchet: necessities for another day on the wild B.C. coast.
Raft Cove is a crescent of wind-whipped sand book-ended by rocky headlands where the meandering Mackjack River meets the sea. A wilderness recreation area offering scant amenities (pit toilets and a couple very necessary bear caches), the provincial park is rich with rugged beauty and, as luck would have it, a rivermouth teeming with salmon and a bay alive with rolling surf.
Our homebase is a collection of tents and tarps strung up under towering cedars and firs. There is no cell service and the nearest town is some two-and-a-half hours away by logging road. Vancouver feels a world away, some six hours to the south by car and ferry. In camp, everything we need -- including a quiver of handmade surf boards, food, beer and a wood-fired hot tub -- gets in on our backs down a muddy, overgrown trail. Fresh water, welling up from a spring on the other side of the river, is paddled back to camp in dry bags perched on the deck of our boards.
The setting is staggeringly beautiful. Both vast and insulated, our world and routines are reduced to the daily tasks of camp life: preparing food, chopping wood, fishing and pulling wetsuits on and off. Sleep. Repeat. The schedule is dictated by the ebb and flow of the tide. Colours are more vibrant. Even the grey mist rising off the warming sand in the morning appears to glow. Bear tracks wend their way through piles of kelp washed ashore in a storm. The smell of wood smoke seeps into our sweaters and pores. Food tastes better.
Andrew fires up the chainsaw (a pain on the trail but a blessing when it came to reducing driftwood to dry kindling) and I switch on the stove, light a match and drop it in. Flames lick upward and, after a few minutes, steam rises from the kettle. My iPhone chimes to life in response to a fresh surge of juice, excess energy diverted by the stove. Tomorrow we break camp and emails surely await.
Today though the sky is clearing and an offshore breeze is adding texture to waves that come ashore unridden. A shout from the shore, Phil has hooked another coho. The waves will have to wait a little longer. We’re the only surfers for miles and, for now, the only rush is to the river to see our lunch get landed.
Evan Mitsui is a photographer, adventurer, and all around awesome guy. You can see his work at evanmitsui.com or follow his instagram at @evanmitsui