Sometime last July, while sweltering in a traffic jam, I pulled off the road, drew a deep breath and vowed my 14-year-old son and I would get out of Calgary for a quick getaway.
It would be a first-time vacation for just the two of us, a bit of mother-son bonding without the rest of the family. My wish list was as short as my mid-summer patience. I wanted an expedition with no vehicles, no crowds and, seven-days-of-the-week administrative mom that I am, one I didn’t need to plan.
My son, Quinn, turned his thumbs down on a trek (“Big packs make hiking boring”) and canoeing (“I hate portages and dehydrated food”), though his ears pricked up at cycling (“Hmm…who will carry the food?”). Well, not me. Easy fix—we’d join Island Joy Rides, a Comox Valley/Campbell River, B.C.- based bike company noted for customizing multi-day cycle tours on Vancouver Island.
And so that’s how we find ourselves on Comox’s runway. We have just landed when my son asks if we can depart from the rear of the plane. But why, I wonder, when we were in the first row? He pleads. And so the week of indulgences begins.
We wait until all other passengers have deplaned and then we walk back 24 rows and amble down the stairs. That’s when I almost smash into Quinn, who has decided to stop mid-way down the steps. Slowly, deliberately, he looks both ways.
“It’s going to be a long week,” I think to myself, recalling other quirks from Quinn’s childhood.
“Wasn’t that great, mom?” he asks me, moments later, at the luggage carousal. “When you were coming down those stairs . . . didn’t you feel like you were the president of the United States? That’s what they always do . . . they walk down by themselves, stop and wave.”
Too many reruns of The West Wing, I think, but inwardly grin at the reminder that even 14-year-old boys can still be imaginative, even romantic, in a bizarro sort of way.
Then he is hungry. Of course, because this is how it goes with teenage boys. Food. More food. And then, extra food, with another helping of whatever you’ve got left there on your plate, Mom.
Perfect timing, as the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa, where our trip begins, is serving a brunch of more than 100 items: 12 salads, smoked trout in endives, steamed mussels, a salmon charcuterie, salmon served eight ways and Belgian waffles. “It’s so annoying when your stomach gets full, but you want to keep eating,” says Quinn, filling his bottomless belly as I try and keep my plate respectably healthy, even while 20 desserts scream to me.
But we’re here to cycle and explore the island, if not our relationship. So I urge a pre-trip spin to warm us up. We head along the coast for a few kilometres and slice inland to a funky little town called Cumberland. The streets are lined with three-storey clapboard houses painted ice cream-like colours, outdoor patios, good bike shops, coffee joints and one of the largest vintage stores, The Patch, I’ve seen in Western Canada.
When I ask Quinn, who loves shopping more than Lance Armstrong loves yellow jerseys, if he wants to buy anything, he shocks me with an enthusiastic, “Nope, I want to keep biking.” Progress, I think, as we pedal onward.
One of the great mysteries of family life is why kids, who often can’t bear a 10-minute cycle to school, still love a 20-km spin through challenging hills. The next morning, we meet Joy Rides owners/guides Kim Barry and Laurel Cronk at Old House Village Hotel & Spa, get outfitted with our hybrids and head off from Comox through a prime birding area along Dyke Road. Herons, bald eagles and loons sun themselves along the Courtenay River estuary while we zigzag along the coast, past an Arthur Erickson-designed home and through the Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park farmstead, where the August arts festival happens. We zip past manicured gardens, a charming teahouse and farm animals nibbling on grasses as if they’ve been plucked from a Beatrix Potter novel.
At the 58-km mark, we arrive at the funky wellness retreat centre, Ocean Resort, where 2,200 pieces of driftwood have been sawed down and cemented into a front-lawn labyrinth. I walk the course, pretending to meditate, while Quinn climbs onto a two-person swing and watches the ocean hiss and curl its endless teeth at us. Already time is doing its thing.
It unspools—time, that is. It lets a 14-year-old boy who’s on the road to becoming a man do nothing but swing and stare at the ocean, and wonder what life would be like if he could wave at the world from a private jet. It lets a busy mom enjoy the company of two interesting female guides who unburden her to arrange all the meals, routes, early morning yoga classes and firepit sing-alongs.
As I walk in never-ending circles, now that we’re away from home, I realize with a start that moms and sons can do more, far more, than go to soccer games and amusement parks—and I’m grateful. The island has shown Quinn and I that there is still time to unplug from our hurly burly lives, in a way that allows parents to be more than chauffeurs and spectators. Here, we find time enough to play.
Day two is a 45-km loopy stretch from Ocean Resort to the north end of Campbell River. If you stick to the Island Highway you could make it in an hour, but that’s not what a tour with Joy Rides is about. We take sleepy bike paths from Willow Point up to Beaver Lodge Forest Lands where we plunge into a forest of Hansel and Gretel proportions. Here, the ancient cedars moan messages to one another and everyone in our group leaves feeling very, very small.
Another gem from Quinn: “If I had stayed in that forest, I could have written a book. Anyone could.”
He hasn’t written it yet. Maybe he will. But, in the meantime, I’ve gained a new appreciation of him and of the Island, and what I’ve written here is at least a new beginning, of sorts, for both of us.
For more details, visit islandjoyrides.com.