Photography by Louise Christie
Southwestern B.C. sits at a crossroads of natural convergences. The Cascade Mountains, which run between California and Washington State, line one side of the Fraser Valley while from the other the Coast Mountains lead north to Alaska. Offshore, the interface of the southern end of the Alaskan marine species range and the northern end of the California varieties accounts for a staggering abundance of biodiversity. To top things off, three sweeping straits - Georgia, Haro, and Juan de Fuca - meet up in the waters that separate the Lower Mainland and Victoria.
Looking for a thrill? Get out on the water and witness these forces at play for yourself. One of the best places to do that is aboard the M.V. Coho, pride of the Black Ball Ferry Line.
Based in Port Angeles, Washington, on the shores of the Olympic Peninsula, the Coho and its crew have been making daily traverses across Juan de Fuca Strait to Victoria for the past half century. When reached on the bridge of the Coho as it was about to make its 50th birthday voyage, Captain Elmer Grasser admitted that he viewed the anniversary as quite an accomplishment. "It's a humbling feeling," he said.
"When I think of all the crews that came before us, we can be very proud of what's been accomplished. The community support, both in Port Angeles and Victoria, is outstanding. This celebration is about keeping the link between our two countries going, especially given the ups-and-downs of international travel lately. It's something to be very thankful of."
Out on deck, two travellers who would heartily agree with the captain's assessment were preparing to cycle to Baja California in Mexico. Maxime Bruneau of France and Craig Jones of New Zealand, having just wrapped up winter in Whistler, were now intent on experiencing some warm-water surfing. The two were kitted out for camping. This was long-haired Bruneau's first experience entering the U.S.
"The American customs officer was quite pleasant," he admitted with astonishment. "She said we needed to put an address of where we'd be staying on our entry form. When we told her we planned to bike the coast, she put down Olympic National Park and wished us well."
Port Angeles lies at the foot of the Olympic Mountains' Hurricane Ridge, a towering landmark. One reason to take a vehicle across on the Coho is to drive a 27-kilometre route up the slopes behind the mill town to a viewpoint of the wall of snowy peaks as well as a panoramic look back across the strait to both Victoria and Vancouver's North Shore mountains.