2009-07-05 49 -125
Side of Inland Island Hwy, between Courtenay and Cumberland.
(More on the Talkpage)
Entirely subject to what the driver feels is most convenient for them. And Elbie will pay gas.
- 9:00 - pick up whoever is coming at seabus north terminal (8:45 departure from downtown)
- 10:40 - ferry to Departure Bay - plan to arrive at ticket booth ~9:30
- 12:20 - drive from Nanaimo to hashpoint
- 13:30 - arrive at hashpoint, celebrate leisurely
- 15:30 - drive back to Nanaimo
- 17:20 - ferry to Horseshoe Bay - plan to arrive at ticket booth ~16:30  (note this is expected to be busy - there may be a sailing wait)
- ? - drive back to Vancouver, (maybe) get home for dinner
Success! Report pending
Rhonda, Xore, and Elbie met at the seabus north terminal at 9AM, where Elbie's bike was loaded onto the bike rack of Rhonda's car, everything else was thrown in a pile in the back, and all three set off to try and reach the Horseshoe Bay ferry ticket booths an hour before sailing. That should be enough time.
Only a year ago, this involved getting on Highway 1 westbound, and driving along it until it ended directly at the ferry toll booths. The ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo is actually part of Highway 1, which continues on the island and goes from Nanaimo to Victoria. Now, due to highway construction for the upcoming winter olympics, staying on the highway means that you will end up heading for Whistler on highway 99.
Fortunately the ferry turnoff was well-signed, with a couple of notices starting a few kilometers back that ferry traffic should stay in the right lane. Past the exit, we were back on the old Highway 1 road, which goes steeply downhill, widens dramatically at the bottom, and ends in a dozen lanes, each with a toll booth at the bottom of the hill. (At the top of the hill is a place for trucks to stop and check their brakes, fortunately for the people in the toll booths...)
We got our ticket and into the lineup without incident, and went to check out the "Good Karma Cafe", which appeared to be the only food option in the parking area and was also a vegetarian-organic-hippie sort of place. Horseshoe Bay Village is in easy walking distance and has lots of restaurants, but is just out of earshot of the garbled announcements that tell you to get back into your cars. With less than an hour before boarding was likely to start, leaving the area is not a good idea.
Rhonda got excited when she saw a sign indicating that they sold cinnamon buns baked by Grounds for Coffee and shared one with Xore, while Elbie opted for the "Hippie Roll" because it had a funny name and avocado in it. It can't be bad if it has avocado in it.
On the ferry, we commandeered a table in the cafeteria despite not buying any food, and set up a game of The Downfall of Pompeii, in which Xore somehow got about five omen cards in a row and sacrificed almost all of Elbie and Rhonda's early population to the volcano, something they punished him for mightily when the lava started to flow.
The second game was more evenly matched, partly due to the players having more experience with the game and partly because people other than Xore actually got omen cards.
Although we had carefully looked up the turns we would need to take in order to get on the correct highway (19) going in the correct direction (north), we turned out to not need this information, as each turn we wanted was well signed and had dual turn bays. Almost as if the city planners had anticipated several hundred people, unfamiliar with the area, all wanting to take exactly the same initial route, all at the same time.
It took very little time before we were heading north (north-west, actually) on the highway. Courtenay is a small enough place that its name didn't start appearing on signs until we were fairly close. A few kilometres out, Xore and Elbie turned on their GPSs and started giving position reports.
Unfortunately, the highway exit signage doesn't say the name of the road, only its destinations (Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland) and that there were two exits for Courtenay; fortunately both Xore and Elbie reported that it had to be exit 117 because the hash point was within 2km and the exit was less than 1km away. Actually, the google maps said it was exit 117 --Xore 21:32, 7 July 2009 (UTC)
As we drove down the road, we wondered what the big bare patch with a few terraces and access roads might be.
Then we saw a sign for a gravel pit, with a big gate across the driveway. Hmmm, not promising. However, the point was actually in the trees between the open space and the highway. If there was no access from this side, we could try from the side of the highway.
A little further down the road, we saw a sign for a Lafarge cement plant, with a big gate and a small building for site security to watch the gate from. This was also a little worrisome. But our plan had us going to the end of a dead end residential street which went a good ways toward the hash point and possibly well behind the active industrial area claimed by the two companies.
It was still a shorter overall direct route to park on the side of the highway, but from the residential street it was a shorter distance under the trees, so we continued.
The street names and turns appeared almost exactly as predicted, excepting a few short stubs of streets that were probably added recently, and we approached the end of the very narrow residential street. It was that variety of street where you dropped one wheel on the dirt shoulder to pass opposing traffic.
At the very end of the road was a long gravel driveway, which had a "private property" sign about two car lengths in from the road. And a spot wide and flat enough to fit two cars on the outside of the private property sign, without blocking the driveway.
 At the hash point
Xore got a phone call as we were getting out of the car. It turns out that his sister, who he had invited to join us geohashing, had just missed the exit and was wondering where to meet us. He gave directions, and then we climbed up a hill (isn't it always?) which actually turned out to be a very short hill, and then stepped onto the big open area shown in google maps. That's exactly what it was. Flat, and dirt/gravel/rock mix, with no green growing things. There were no fences visible, and there were some donut-shaped skid marks in a few places along the way.
We walked all the way across and past some random industrial equipment that had been discarded, and into the forest. Xore decided to return to the car to fetch a couple of things we had forgotten (like the picnic blanket) and wait for his sister, since she didn't have a GPS. Elbie and Rhonda continued into the forest and attempted to locate the spot. Unfortunately, under the trees the GPS had very poor reception, and the best they could do was within 15m with a 21m accuracy. When Elbie stood still, the GPS "distance remaining" kept changing. So, they selected a decent picnic spot in the general vicinity of where the GPS thought the hashpoint might be. Then Elbie decided to go back for something she forgot in the car as well, and Rhonda opted to sit on a moss-covered fallen tree, swat at mosquitos, and wait for the others.
Xore's sister and her husband found us and parked, and all four walked back across the gravel field to the hashpoint. Xore promptly disappeared into the woods to try and get a lower number on the GPS while the rest started setting up the picnic at the spot Elbie's GPS had approved and started taunting Xore with announcements that he was missing out on the food. Everybody contributed something to the pile and we feasted on spanakopita, beef jerky, trail mix, fudge, carrots, buns, and babybel "cheese" in both red and yellow flavours.
After packing up from the picnic and making sure we hadn't left any litter behind, we walked back out the to gravel field, briefly entertained ourselves looking at the discarded equipment including a pump, a silo tipped over on its side, and a few storage tanks, then headed back to the cars for the return trip.
 Return to Nanaimo
The return drive was mostly uneventful, with Xore alternately sleeping and complaining about the distinct lack of elk on the road, despite the signs informing of their presence.
A bathroom break was called for just south of Parksville, where the most absurdly oversized garden gnome was located. The gnome claimed to be world famous, and after some discussion we realized that any tourist from outside Canada who told their friends back home about this absurdly oversized garden gnome was making it known around the world. So, we took a picture of it for the wiki to add to its fame.
<danly> oh look, you found the gnome <danly> Xore: that used to be the mascot for a killer go-kart track
Several kilometres north of Nanaimo, a sign announced that the 4:30 sailing was full (it was nearly 4:30), the 5:30 sailing was full (oh well, we expected a sailing wait), and the 7:30 sailing was 75% full. Rhonda made a half-hearted attempt to pass a few people, since ferry traffic is one of the situations where how many cars you get in line ahead of can actually make a difference to which ferry you're on.
Rhonda got distracted by the signs for highway 1 southbound, having not driven this stretch of road before and not realizing until that moment that highway 1 (normally east/west) had a segment on Vancouver Island, and almost missed the turn for the ferries. Elbie saved the day by telling her to turn with just enough space to slam on the brakes and get in the left turn lane behind the last car in the lane without hitting anything. Somebody behind us honked at the manoeuvre. Oops.
Signs pointed to the ferry, and off we went, wondering how long it would take to fill the last 25% of the 7:30 sailing.
 Ferry lineup
About half a block back from the intersection leading to the ferry toll booths, ferry employees in reflective vests were stopping cars to ask where they were going.
"Do you have a reservation?"
"No." For an additional half the cost of the regular fare, you can reserve a spot on the ferry. There are limits; they won't fill the ferry up with reservations. Also, you have to be at the toll booth a half hour before sailing, minimum. But the main reason we didn't have a reservation is because for a busy holiday weekend, you can't book a reservation the same day because they were all booked at least a week in advance.
The ferry worker put a blue slip of paper under the windshield wiper, directed us to turn on the car's hazard lights and turn right at the intersection. Away from the ferries.
Another ferry worker at the intersection saw our flashing lights and waved us to the right lane, and as we turned the corner we saw the two centre lanes of a four-lane road had been converted to a parking lot, with one lane in each direction remaining. This was the lineup for the ticket booths.
We drove alongside the lineup for a few blocks, and the road turned a corner. More lineup. We continued driving along, each turn in the road revealing more lineup. Had we known it was this long of a lineup, Rhonda would have noted the odometer reading back where we were told to turn right, to measure how many kilometres long it was. Finally, after several minutes of increasing levels of amazement at the wait we were about to have, we saw the end of the line. More ferry workers saw our hazard lights and directed us into a U-turn in the middle of the road and back into the left parking lane, which was (when not a parking lot) a lane on the left side of the centre line and thus going the wrong way. We pulled up behind a small pickup truck, turned off the hazard lights, and parked. At this point we were pretty sure we weren't getting on the 7:30 ferry. It was 5:15PM.
We chatted. We played cards. Rhonda started the car and moved it forward a few car lengths at a time, as the line moved. Elbie spotted a sign for free samples of kettle popcorn and got out of the car to get some. We played more cards. A guy came walking down between the two lanes of parked cars, offering to sell cans of pilsner for $5 each, and the man in the truck next to us bought one. We laughed. Elbie suggested going for a walk to find the liquor store instead. We played more cards. A ferry worker walking down the road called out in reply to somebody else's question, "maybe the 8:00 ferry" and we cheered because it wasn't the 9:00 ferry. The guy in the truck next to us gave us a dirty look for cheering about a two sailing wait. We ate trail mix and fudge. We played a different card game. Elbie spotted the liquor store and went to investigate, but returned empty-handed reporting that it was closed with a "back in..." sign. The entrepreneur selling pil for $5/can was probably the liquor store staff. The road sloped downward and Rhonda didn't bother turning the car on to move forward anymore, until the residual power in the power brake system was lost and it took an actual hard push on the pedal to stop the car.
When the ferry ticket booths were finally in sight, we saw why the lineup had been moving as it was: a ferry worker was batching cars into the toll booth lineup, so the cars behind would be able to sit still long enough to make it worth shutting off their engines while waiting.
At the ticket booth, we were told maybe the 9:05 sailing, maybe the 9:35 sailing. We parked in our assigned lane, very close to the food station, and got out to see what there was available to eat. It was 6:50PM.
The food options were extremely limited in the "Nanaimo Quay" shopping centre in the ferry waiting area. After studying the options (hot dogs or $5/slice pizza) we decided to eat more trail mix and spanakopita and have a proper meal on the ferry at 9PM, since ferry food was better and more reasonably priced.
The vehicle ahead of us and one lane over was throwing a party, with folding chairs arranged in a circle around a hookah.
One of the picnic tables was half occupied by a group of people playing Settlers of Catan, and we asked if we could set up Killer Bunnies on the other half of the table, which they agreed to. Xore told the other group that he loved Settlers of Catan because it's the only game where you can say to someone you have wood for their sheep.
We settled in and played Killer Bunnies until the 9:00 ferry started unloading, at which point we declared the game over early and drew the winning carrot.
We waited, and waited, and waited. The lanes next to us emptied out. The counter on the ramp to the upper deck approached 160 (typical full load for this class of ferry), then we saw a ferry worker direct a single car to the upper deck. They're pretty good at estimating how many cars will fit, so if they ask for one only, that's all that would fit.
Our lane started moving, then stopped. Then moved again, and stopped again. We were now the second vehicle in the line. We craned our necks to see the ferry; would they ask for a few more cars? The ferry worker's radio crackled: "five more". We cheered and headed for the ramp, taking the very last spot in one of the central lanes. The other cars squeezed in beside us, and they started closing the doors. We made the 9:05 ferry - barely.
After eating dinner in the ferry cafeteria, we set up Pandemic and Xore and Elbie taught Rhonda how to play, albeit with some discussion about "Math Club rules" and other alternate rule sets. We cheated and made sure that the two most advantageous roles (medic and operations) were in play before starting.
We were finally off the ferry and heading back to Vancouver at about 11PM. Due to the late hour, Rhonda volunteered to drive Elbie to UBC instead of making her ride the hour or more from North Vancouver, and in return Elbie gave her more spanakopita. Which was also delicious and only lasted a couple of days because of the great effort required to not eat it all at once.
 Elbie's spanakopita
Was super delicious and
she promised to share the recipe with Rhonda! the recipe is now on Rhonda's talkpage!
|We all earned the Virgin Graticule Achievement|
| Xore earned the Drag-along achievement