It’s just after five-thirty in the morning and the sun is creating strips of light on the mainland mountains. There’s ocean between here and there, and I am always a little thankful for the distance. Vancouver Island is so beautiful. This is all I can think. Countless beaches and waterfalls and lakes to swim in. Rainforests. Marmot Crossing signs and mountains. I’ve lived here for a few months now, but I can’t picture ever fully getting used to it.
As we make our way from the Old Island Highway to the logging roads that lead to Bamfield, I remember what my boyfriend told me while we made coffee that morning: “Mile marker 37 has a different font than all the others.”
I’ve been joking since yesterday about it being “Take Your Girlfriend to Work Day”, and he’s very good at indulging my cravings for small details. I’ve been on a few trips in the work truck with him—mostly to collect recycling bins in close-by towns—but never on the trip to Bamfield.
At Port Alberni, we follow signs for the community of 155 people. When his bright yellow single-axle roll-off truck starts to jostle us along 76 miles of logging roads, I remind myself to look for the marker. Immediately, I notice squiggly lines drawn in the dirt roads. Their shape reminds me of the ripples I saw in the carpeting of the library where I worked when an earthquake struck Washington. It was a routine Tuesday afternoon in 2011, my second day of teaching for the year, and I was already tired of routine. I had been crying in my office and, at first, thought it was something I mistook through blurry eyes: the carpet moving in waves.
I learn that the lines are from trucks trying to get traction. It only happens on hills or downhills from braking or accelerating, but as soon as one truck does it, everyone who comes after will contribute. It’s natural to logging roads—these designs in the road. I imagine all of the wheels working underneath us, grabbing for dirt. They call it washboarding.
Sometimes I forget the mountains, but today my eyes search for them through the Lorax-like clearings of trees ripped away by logging companies. Everything is a muted, dusty brown. The trees and ferns that line the roads are covered in layers of it. There is no sign of the island’s many mountains. What I think is lingering mist in the air, I soon realize, is also dust. The windows are closed, but it comes in through the vents and builds up thick and chalky in my throat. It smells like the garage of a man who used to fix our family vehicles. His name was Randy and I don’t recall ever seeing his face, just his legs sticking out from under whatever he was working on.
I was warned about the dust. Told to wear clothing I did not care about. When I inquire about the “HAZARD Overhead Lines” signs I see every few kilometers, I’m told that the off-road logging trucks sometimes take down the wires with their loads. The power lines look to be at least fifty feet above me.
Every bridge we cross is one lane and we have to take turns with the trucks on the other side at each of the dozen or so we cross. I keep waiting for something to happen—a crossing herd of elk, a bear, a run-in with one of the off-road logging roads.
Instead, it is mostly eventless. I spend a lot of the time watching my boyfriend switch gears and push buttons, focus on the road and casually reach for my hand across the truck bed. I eventually lean the insides of my knees against the bucket full of chains between my legs and become used to the steady rumble that has tuned out the radio and our attempts at shouting conversation. I am happy with the simplicity of the day. No wildlife, no massive trucks, no earthquakes.
Around the 45 km sign we pass a lake with a single cloud hovering in the middle. It looks fake, ethereal even. Floating clean and white in a carved out area of almost-black water, untouched by the dust. We’re both turned and looking, and we squeeze hands.
When we approach the next bridge, yielding to a white truck with remnants of its color around the edges of the hood, I realize that I missed the 37-mile marker. When we make it to the small town and collect the items at the depot, I hop out to take a photo of the welcome sign. It’s quiet all around us. I don’t need anything more.
Amanda Oliver lives in America, most of the time. She also tweets.