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When we first moved to Pender Island my wife and I wondered how we would get around as nothing was within walking distance. Our worries were soon allayed by two factors. First, Car Stops, and second, the overwhelming friendliness of islanders.

Car Stops are strategically located spots, marked by signs, where people who need rides wait for willing drivers. They seldom wait long and no money changes hands.Car stop sign with bus stop sign, Pender Island BCI quickly found Car Stops are terrific and now I use them frequently. I seldom wait more than three cars, and saving gas, reducing road congestion and limiting green-house-gas emissions makes me feel good.

And Car Stops are a wonderful way to meet people. I’ve hitched rides with construction workers, lawyers, artists and young and old. Their vehicles have ranged from a luxurious Mercedes SUV to jalopies held together by duct tape.

Car stop and bus stop signs with bench, Pender Island BCThe driver and I chat about the approaching fall fair, water shortages and, of course, we gossip. I rode with a local politician and vented about an irksome zoning by-law. Another time, I hung on for dear life as a teenager careened around corners with tires squealing. He was, however, kind and drove out of his way to drop me at the library.

Car Stops began on Pender Island in 2008, and since then 46 Car Stops have been installed by volunteers. Retiree Barry Matthias, the driving force, says, “The stops not only provide a valuable service, but also build community spirit.”Barry Mathias at car stop sign, Pender Island BC

The green Car Stop signs lay out the rules:

Drivers don’t have to take the first in line.

You’re not obliged to accept a ride, that’s fine.

You accept a ride at your own risk.

But the ride is free so consider it a gift.

Similar systems soon followed on Mayne Island, which now has 22 stops, and on Saturna Island, which has about 10 stops. Galiano Island has none at present.

Car stop at Heart Trail, Pender Island BCA similar mode of travel is hitchhiking, which is highly encouraged on the Gulf Islands. Paul Brent, Island Trustee for Saturna, summed it up well, “You can’t go for a walk without people stopping their cars, wanting to give you a lift.”

All the islands also provide bus services, they only run on some days or need to be booked in advance. On Pender, virtually all the Car Stops have recently also become Bus Stops. Please Google for details.

To move around the islands reliably, to help the environment and to meet interesting people, nothing beats using Car Stops or sticking out your thumb. Give it a try, it works and it’s fun.

 

Kayaking in the Gulf Islands archipelago with the wind and tide at your back is like being in heaven. I love to view the gentle Salish Sea from wave level, feel the warm sun on my back and savour the silent solitude. It’s a spiritual experience.

I often paddle from Pender to Saturna Island with one stroke rhythmically, almost hypnotically, following another as my kayak slowly crosses Plumper Sound. Occasionally a snort sounds and a smooth seal’s head pops out of the waterTwo kayaks on a midden cove, Pender Island BC, a curious companion monitoring my progress. At Taylor Point I beach the kayak and explore the ruins of the old Taylor home and the remains of the quarry that supplied stone for many buildings in Victoria a century ago.

Because the Java Islets, on the southeast side of Saturna, are uninhabited and part of the Gulf Islands National Park they are like a wildlife refuge. Drifting silently with the current I see dozens of seals watching me with sad liquid eyes, cormorants stretching their black wings like preachers blessing their flock and great blue herons with their beaks poised to spear a fish.

At Portland, a trail leads around the island, passing coves lined with bleached driftwood logs and meadows dotted with purple wildflowers. An old apple orchard is a reminder that Portland was settled in the 1880s by Kanaka (Hawaiian) immigrants. Best is a dazzling white beach formed by broken clam shells, the remains of millennia of habitation by Coast Salish First Nations.

The solitude of kayaking, Gulf Islands BC

Once a year I paddle to Rum Island, aka Isle de Lis, and camp overnight. There’s an edgy feeling for I’m like Crusoe, alone, an entire island to myself. At dusk, fading light shimmers on the water as seals frolic in the darkening bay. A little later, a million stars twinkle in the sky.

When paddling, I know the ocean below the kayak teems with life, yet it remains bafflingly invisible. And the currents are ever-changing for the islands and tides interact in complex ways. Sometimes the water is dead still. Other times the current is fast with little whirlpools dotting the water. And sometimes on calm water, a train of seven or eight huge waves will suddenly roll past.

There are so many delicious kayak destinations including Mayne Island and the Japanese Garden; Salt Spring Island and Ruckle Provincial Park; and Prevost Island with its long, narrow inlets like mini-fiords.

Kayaking on the tranquil Salish Sea, Gulf Islands BCPaddling on the Salish Sea brings peace to the soul.