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Three Weeks in British Columbia #9 – Storm-Chasing Heaven





January 10, 2018

I first read about this magical place in the September/October 2016 issue of The Saturday Evening Post; the article by Todd Pitock was titled “Storm-Chasing on Vancouver Island.” The subtitle is just as intriguing:

Between October and early March, 10 to 15 fierce tempests a month gather and roll across the Pacific, unimpeded by any landmass until they crash on the shores here. For some, this makes for perfect beach weather. 

Wickaninnish Inn

The rest of the first-person paragraph is, “Sailors know the coast as ‘The Graveyard of the Pacific,’ and chronicles of disasters and survivor stories fill volumes.”


Once Pitock reached Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, one of the porters informed him, “Oh, a storm is coming all right. But not to worry: the Lodge is built into a rocky promontory, whose floor to ceiling windows are tempered to withstand 100 mpg gusts so guests can look into the heart of the storm without flinching.”

As to what it’s like in a storm, Pitock obliges: “Rain pelts the windows and taps the roof, strong and steady, and then builds into a real torrent, billions of little beads dropping from the sky. The water’s surface whips into a creamy brown foam, and enormous swells heave and then roll in long seams into waves that explode on the boulders, sending bursts of spume a hundred feet into the air. The wind cuts the crest of the waves like a scythe and slings foam and water. Across from the beach are tiny islands with huge sitka spruce trees so strong that the wind can’t bend them. Everything begins to look like an impressionist painting up close. The susurrations [whispers, murmurs] of the water are amplified by a rumbling, a sound of thunder that comes from the sea itself, which we can hear even from within the cozy safety of the lodge, thanks to a pipe that carries the sound in from outside.”

Pitock goes on to some tourism stats: “Today, the 1,875 residents receive about a million visitors a year, though most of them come in season for the water sports and whale watching, not for the storms.”

But Pitock does not conclude without warning po’ folk like us that staying at the inn is not for pikers: “When the Wickaninnish Inn opened in 1996, its cedar-sided building, along with furnishings from recycled old-growth fir, western red cedar, and driftwood and natural stone tile floors covered by wood sisal carpets, all let the 75-room inn fit the setting. But the ‘Wick,’ as it’s called, was intended as an experience for people who take their rustic neat, without the rugged. Let’s call them (or us, as the case is) the Pampered Traveler–people who appreciate a good double-soaking tub, heated floors, private ocean-facing balconies, in-room fireplaces, and a four-star full-service spa. . . . Construction was no mean feat. Each massive post of the restaurant is mounted on a steel saddle connected to a concrete post that is anchored deep into the surrounding bedrock. Pairs of 5-foot-wide panes knit by narrow mullions give guests a 260 degree view of awe-inspiring weather in awesome digs.”

* * *

After I read and re-read that article, I sighed, Wouldn’t it be great if we could see this incredible place for ourselves. Even more–since I’m wishing for the moon–, to be actually privileged to stay there.

The seed had been planted, thus when ten months later we set up this three-week sojourn in British Columbia, a must-see had to do with the Tofino Coast and the legendary Wickaninnish [that extra “in” throws me every time] Inn.

View from the dining room

For, always, I have been a stormaholic. How well I remember a banana boat experience when I was about twelve. My missionary parents booked tickets on this 300-foot ship that shuttled bananas from Trujillo, Honduras to Tampa, Florida. It was cheap so my folks could afford it. Then there was the not-so-small-aspect of all but nonexistent weather forecasting back then. No sooner had we headed out into the Gulf than the wind began to blow, the rain to fall, the waves to grow higher and higher, and (not coincidentally) the ship to rock, roll, wallow, and all but sink; every sane person on board, even seasoned sailors, retreated to their bunks and clutched their bedsteads like they were life-rafts. Same for my parents, brother, and sister. I, however, decided it was high time to get a better view of the action–and my folks were too sick to care what I did. There were no equalizers back then. I staggered down the hallway to the stairs and up to the deck. No one was crazy enough to be there but me. Gradually, I pulled myself along the railing until I reached the bucking prow. And there, shades of the Titanic film’s protagonists, I rode the screeching maritime bronco as the prow reached far up towards the sky, then plunged down deep into another canyon. Never in all my life have I experienced higher highs or lower highs than during those hurricane-driven hours. Finally, as the storm passed, my folks and the irate captain discovered my whereabouts, I got the castigation of my life.

Another time, at the Eagle’s Nest on the rim of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, we were lucky enough to be visiting my brother Romayne (internationally known concert pianist) when a terrific storm blew in. It was no laughing matter as it was the only time in my life when a storm blew up at us from a mile below us! The storm blew up rather than down, through the louvered windows, into the studio onto the priceless nine-foot Steinway grand piano, and an equally valuable seven-foot grand. For hours we labored to save the pianos.

Another tremendous storm hit us in the Mediterranean on board the Stella Solaris. We were in the dining room when the storm hit, sweeping china, glassware, pots, pans, etc., off the serving decks and the guests’ tables, and catapulting them across the room and splintering on the walls.

And, more recently, returning on a cruise from Alaska, just north of Vancouver Island, in Queen Charlotte Sound, a doozy hit us. While Connie hugged the bed, I sallied out into the hallway and sashayed like a drunk toward a stairway. Occasionally I met other lunatics who reveled in storms like me; sometimes we passed without careening against each other, and sometimes not. It really got funny when I got to the stairway–sometimes the next step was higher than I calculated on, sometimes not there at all! Oh how we fellow inebriates laughed! Once I reached the prow of the ship, I joined a crowd of other passengers afflicted with the same malady as mine.

Oh, it was wonderful!

* * *

The dining room

But with that windy [pardon the pun] preamble, our foursome did make it to the Wickaninnish Inn. Not being flush enough to actually stay there, we did book breakfast in that already referred to iconic restaurant with 260 degree view windows. The service was all one would have expected and the food, in a word, “wonderful!” The view itself was worth the price of the trip.

Our waiter loved us! I’ve observed this, in other grand hotels, the waiters clearly tire of many of the so-called “beautiful people” who stay there, affluent couples and families who are bored of luxury the rest of us can only sigh for. Waiters who are used to being all but ignored, really come to life when they meet people like us who sacrifice just to have a meal in their famed dining rooms, people like us who take a personal interest in them, where they come from, how they got here, and how they relate to such five-star facilities. “The Wick” is sometimes referred to as a “Ten-Star.”

* * *

After we’d remained longer than we should have in that Shangri-la of a dining room, we explored the hotel, the grounds, and the rocky promontory storm-chasers revel in.

We vowed to return. Byron declared that he’d save up his sheckels so that he could bring Kim back here on a romantic anniversary. I’d like to do the same, but it’s a “fer-piece” from Colorado!