In the Midst of an Incomprehensible Wild Beauty

An army of cars filled with vacationers carrying summer toys such as mountain bikes and leisure crafts tied atop their roofs hurried north on the Sea-to-Sky highway towards the recreational town of Whistler. As for us, we drove south on the empty lane heading to a secluded island. Boat tied up behind the truck, trunk glutted of camping gear, food and drinks and off we were to the ocean on a beautiful Saturday morning.

The gleaming and opaque turquoise waters of the fjord of Howe Sound screamed attention when we arrived at the boat launch. The clouds amassed around the mountains aground and a blue sky slowly appeared above the water, behind strings of white veils. The south breeze brought a moist and salty feeling to my skin. We cruised west on the ocean, reaching the beautiful islands of the coast. A white seagull glided above. My dogs, ears flapping in the wind, held tight in the front bow as we cut through the surf.

The islet was a pure treasure: a rocky landform erecting from the ocean, away from traffic, everyday chaos, buzzing cars, duties and responsibilities, home to only birds and bees, wildflowers and trees.

I stood on the edge of the sun-warmed rock, facing the waves crashing below. Two dark birds with orange beaks chirped at me, possibly guarding a nest of eggs nearby. A couple of curious sea lions fishing for Spring salmon spied in my direction while circling the island, dark black eyes and shiny noses above water, whiskers tickling the air. Sometimes they roared at each other, playfully leaping and porpoising through the water.

It was so quiet and peaceful. I could only hear the melody of the ocean breeze through the trees, the waves passing by, the birds chirping and the sea lions splashing. It’s almost as if I could hear the clouds whispering. I closed my eyes and raised my snout to the sky. I inhaled the incoming tide and took deep breaths of fresh salty air. I felt my respiratory tracks opening, my lungs expanding. I sensed the ocean water slicking my face, humidifying my hair. I tasted the aroma of the sea deposited on my lips. The seaweed and small shells under my feet felt gooey and sharp, but as soon as I dipped my toes in the ocean water, I was relieved of all pain and worries.

I felt that I was right where I was supposed to be. In the midst of an incomprehensible wild beauty, amongst mountains and sea. It was like a perfect dream, the one you never want to wake from. But it was my reality, happening right at that moment, and I fell deeply in love with it. It was raw, it was pure, it was terrifyingly beautiful.

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The Road to Home

As soon as flight AA1746 from Grand Cayman landed its wheels on the wet tarmac of Vancouver’s International airport, a double spiral of anxiety and excitement swirled inside my guts. Delicate sleet danced softly toward the ground. I disembarked the craft and followed a crowd of Asian-Canadian passengers. The scents of Tim Horton’s fresh coffee and sugar donuts was an enticing welcome.

The walk towards the exit seemed for ever long. I was so excited to see him, and the snow, and the mountains. He stood motionless in the middle of a time-lapsed crowd, holding a bouquet of  honeysuckles. I knew nothing would have really changed, even after nearly two years of my being away on an island but still, the beard on his face made me feel like I had been forever gone.

“The city never snows. Only for you”, he said.

We drove through the city, entering the pumping heart of downtown. The workers in the food stalls on Granville St. were hustling to keep up with the hungry mass and the smells of smokey hot-dogs grilling on charcoals and sweet crepes being poured on hot rocks made me salivate on my car seat. And as the evening crowd started to assemble on the outdoor heated patios of Robson St., the consumers struggled on the sidewalk overburdened with shopping bags. The homeless were curled up at each corners with a collection of decrepit winter supplies.

When we arrived at the entrance of Lions Gate Bridge, I looked through the fogged windshield and glimpsed at the two lions sculptures standing strong and tall. Their 2010 Olympic red scarfs floated in the cold wind. Behind, the porch lights of the houses of the North Shore started to glimmer against the dark mountains. Below, the cargo boats slowly pursued their path.

We drove north on winding Highway 99 into the steep and rugged Coast mountains. The snow stopped, revealing the rays of a late autumn sunset reflecting on the Pacific ocean. We made our way through the Sea-to-Sky corridor, driving by past ancient volcanoes, dramatic valleys, snowcapped mountains and gleaming ocean. Sailboats caught the last beam of light on the turquoise waters of the fjord of Howe Sound. A scenic journey through picturesque landscape of familiar grounds.

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As we passed the port town of Squamish, a cloud covered the sky, sending glittering snow and leaving a delicate white veil on the asphalt. Soon enough we were in a magical tunnel of snowflakes climbing into paradise.

It was a dark night when we arrived, however the village was a shimmer of colourful lights. Children wearing oversized Canucks jerseys were having a snowball fight in the public square. Honeymooners strolled through the village, holding hands and licking chocolate chip ice cream cones from Cow’s. An extensive family from Mexico was sitting on a bench by Zog’s sipping hot chocolates and savouring delicious BeaverTail sweet delicatessens.

He held my hand and, as the snow continued to glitter the little resort town of Whistler, he looked into my eyes and said: “Welcome home”.

Whistler Exposed

Whistler is a four-season resort destination located in the Southern Pacific Ranges of The Coast Mountains, and only a short drive from one of Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver. Its two adjacent mountains surrounded by ancient glaciers offer the greatest vertical rise and best terrain variety for skiing and snowboarding in all of North America. This young century-old town is a not only ‘a place of scenic wonders’,but also a region with a rich history and cultural background.

Originally known as London Mountain, Whistler was found by British explorers in the 1880’s. Its convenient location became a trading route attracting trappers and prospectors, such as John Millar and Henry ‘Harry’ Horstman. In the early 20th century, during a trip to the city to sell fur, Millar influenced Alex Philips to come experience fishing up north. With his wife Myrtle, the Phillips made the three-day trip to the valley. Inspired by their surroundings, they fell in love with the place and decided it would be the perfect location to realize their dream: To open a fishing lodge. They bought 10 acres of land and started to build cabins. With the help of the Tapley’s family, the Rainbow Lodge was completed in 1914. The Pacific Great Easter Railway also reached Alta Lake that year, making the area more accessible, with only one day travelling time from the city. With easier access, renowned hospitality, perfect setting, andexcellent fishing, the Rainbow Lodge became the most popular tourist resort of the 1920’s. Their work inspired others and new lodges opened throughout the valley in the 1950’s.

In 1965, Whistler officially found its name from the sound of Hoary Marmots. The village of Creekside was built that same year with a narrow gravel road and a few hydro lines. Then came the first lifts. In 1966, a new era in Canadian skiing was born in with the opening of Whistler Mountain.

An emerging ski-bum culture arose throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s attracting youthful, fun-seekers and free-spirited individuals. With nowhere else to stay, ski bums occupied empty buildings, or squatted on crown land.

The iconic picture of Toad Hall reminds us of this era, showing bare-bummed Whistler skiers posing outside the squat from which they were getting evicted. toad-hall Whistler Village became a municipality in 1976 when the garbage dump was changed into a tourist village. And when Intrawest bought and merged Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, also operating a mountain bike park during the summer, the resort of Whistler/Blackcomb became a year-round global attraction. mtb In 2003, when the resort won the bid of hosting the 2010 Olympic Games, a 50 year dream was realized.

The construction of the remarkable Peak to Peak gondola connecting both mountains peaks followed in 2008. adv-gondola1 In just a few decades, Whistler has grown from a little sleepy fishing village to a word-class, year-round resort destination attracting over 2 millions visitors each year. Nowadays, many establishments, mountain runs, and parks hold the names of the dreamers that built the town. Places such as the Horstman Hut, Tapley’s Pub, Millar’s Creek, and the Phillips cabins at Rainbow Lake commemorate the work and achievement of such visionary pioneers. The five Olympic rings standing,in the now called Ceremony Plaza in the village,remind us of another dream that came true. Once in a while, a bare-naked skier might be seen running through the cobble-stoned streets of the village, reminiscent of the town’s humble and free spirited beginnings. 59127_l For more information about the beginnings of Whistler, visit:

Note: This post was written for a researching assignment with MatadorU. Images were taken from the Internet.