November through February is what people on the west coast of Vancouver Island define as "storm season." Winter storms of all sizes brush onto the shores of towns like Tofino, on the edge of the North Pacific. Due to the regularity of storms, the locals are used to watching constant changes in the weather, and now they're welcoming others to come and learn what "storm loving" is all about.
If you're anything like me, the idea of storm watching as a vacation attraction just doesn't fly. Going to watch storms? In the middle of January? On my vacation? To me storms were the reason for ending a vacation, not embarking on one.
But here I was on a small propeller plane, having left Vancouver just moments before, on an hour-long ride to the small town of Tofino.
I was still going through in my mind all the arguments for not going: How rainy it would be. How cold it would be. And how much fun could storm watching be?
Yet there I was on my way - with bag packed full of rain gear and galoshes.
Although my Vancouver-savvy friends had tried to assure me it wouldn't be cold, even in January, I worried about the temperature. But they hadn't been lying. It really was pretty warm. (On average you can expect high 40s to mid 50s in winter. One afternoon, the temperature climbed to the high 50s.)
When we arrived at the Tofino Airport - basically a runway with a small wooden shed - it was a little hazy and a bit rainy, but there was none of the frigidity I had anticipated.
Luggage piled into the vans, our touring group climbed into a shuttle and headed down the road to the Wickaninnish Inn, or "the Wick" as the locals call it.
It's not the only inn in Tofino, but it's pretty close to it, and running into a resident who hasn't heard of "the Wick" is about as hard as finding a snowman on a tropical island.
Arriving at the Wick is a bit like arriving at Jurrassic Park, or perhaps being shuttled to a Jungle Book ride at Disney World ... if they had one. The walkway to the Wick's entrance is surrounded by a variety of green plants, and rustic wooden poles border the path, leading up to an intricately carved wooden door.
My pessimism was beginning to wane, and that was before I saw what was on the other side of that front door.
Everyone in our group gasped and then walked, as though entranced, toward the massive window on the back side of the foyer. The entire back wall is a huge window, framing massive ocean waves that were building and breaking before us. It was high tide, and a storm was brewing, because the waves were putting on an acrobatic Cirque de Soleil all their own.
Charley, the owner of the inn, had a bit of trouble drawing our attention from the spectacle occurring beyond the glass. But after a few hoots and hollers, he led us into the inn's restaurant. We followed him a bit grudgingly, but then broke into more gasps of awe. The entire restaurant is surrounded by enormous windows, making it a wave observatory of sorts.
It reminded me of a fishbowl, only the water was on the outside, and we were the fish glubbing around within. I had to try and steady my sea legs as we went to where we were to spend the night.
My room, like the other 45 in the inn, had a sliding glass door leading to a balcony with an ocean view, and two chairs placed on it for the purpose of observing the ocean.
Just inside the clear door was a propane fireplace, should I decide to sit with the balcony door open to listen to the waves crashing on a slightly cool night.
Which I did.
Did I say I was against this storm-watching idea? Surely not. You must be mistaken. I pretty much chucked the whole anti-storm-watching attitude upon first spotting the ocean.
I used neither the television set nor the radio in my room during my stay. Instead, my favorite pastime was to sit on the balcony, in the comfort of the terry-cloth robe -courtesy of the inn - mug of creamy hot cocoa in hand, and listen to the ocean, watch the waves crash into shore, and look up at the stars.
It doesn't get much better than that.
Staying right on the water, you naturally find yourself waking up at dawn just to see what the ocean was doing. When it's time to go to bed, you struggled to hold your eyes open for just a little bit longer. You're fascinated, watching the water as it builds and calms and the tide comes in and goes out.
I was amazed by how different the ocean looked at various times of the day, with different lighting, birds, and, of course, storms.
The whole purpose of coming to Tofino seems to be to just take it all in. And there are more ways to do this than just experiencing big storms.
When storms are small or skies are clear, visitors can try a variety of activities. One of the best is kayaking in Clayoquet Sound on a calm day. Guided tours are available to take you out on the water and then stop off on nearby Meares Island for a romp through the rain forest. Oceanfront trails also provide plenty of hiking terrain, or, if you've seen enough of the outdoors, you can check out the local artists' shops in the nearby town of Ucluelet.
Wholehearted winter storm seekers can test their arm strength on the mega waves and currents of the island by renting surfing equipment and heading to the water's edge. I can testify that these are not wimpy waves, and you will get tired and cold, so be ready.
All of these activities begin to impress upon you all that nature has to offer. You begin to see the connection not only between the ocean and the rain forest, but you start to see what it's like to be close to every part of nature. You lose the city mentality. No malls, roller-coaster rides, or other glitzy attractions - just appreciating the amazing wonders of nature itself.
So I'm proof of the fact that a storm-watching vacation can truly be enjoyable. Even for one desperately seeking refuge from the winter cold.
For more information
Planning a trip: 1-800-HELLO-BC or www.HelloBC.com
The Wickaninnish Inn, (250) 725-3100 or www.wickinn.com
North Vancouver Air flies from Seattle and Vancouver to Tofino. 1-800-228-6608.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society