I’ve been to hell. Hell is not a state of mind, nor is it a divine punishment. Hell is not ruled over by the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of Lies, Lucifer the Morning Star, or whatever name you would choose to give he who rules below. Hell is a place on Earth, a place named Tofino, and it is the most westerly point in Canada.
Tofino has been called a haven for surfers and a prime tourist locale. I say it’s a cesspool of debauchery and listlessness where the days melt into weeks while surfer-bros “chill out.” I hate Tofino with an intensity that the average observer would deem parody if I didn’t compulsively vomit venom at the slightest utterance of it’s cursed name.
But perhaps it’s not Tofino’s fault. Perhaps my hatred of it is a projection, a. A misplaced resentment utilized as a coping mechanism so as to not harbour a grudge against someone I love. It’s much easier to live your life with an undying hatred towards a shithole of a village that’s further away in kilometers than it has residents living within it .
I must digress, lest the poison lacing my words drive you as mad as I.
My pilgrimage to this hated place began when I was only 14 years old. Growing up with my parents, we were not exactly well off. We didn’t struggle to survive, don’t take this as the introduction to a tragic memoir, but things like cross-country trips or vacations to tropical islands were a strangers to our home. As well , I was a child blessed by the absence of wanderlust and never longed for the chance to visit such places. I was content within the confines of my room, secure with my video games and books.
One day an opportunity emerged. My mother entered my room, and after a brief exchange of formalities she asked me a question., “Nick, how would you like to go on a week- long trip to British Columbia? Four days in Victoria and three in Vancouver.”
I spun my black faux-leather desk chair to face her and raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know how I would like that, honestly, but I suppose I’m game. When were we thinking of going?”
“In three days.” She responded flatly.
“I see,” I paused for a spell while my brain computed this information, “Wait, seriously? Next week is a school week.”
“That’s true, but we can’t exactly leave you here. G-Dawg got free plane tickets through work and is being put up in a two-bedroom suite at a five-star hotel. So, are you in?”
(Two important notes before we continue, my mother and I lived with my grandmother at the time, and yes, through my teenage years I called her G-Dawg. It began as a form of sarcastic teenage rebellion but it went over her head and she found it endearing, “Oh! Like Snoop-Dogg,” she would say, “I like him.” The name stuck and to this day both her and I occasionally still use the name.)
As a high school student, the opportunity to miss a week was certainly not something that I would pass up willingly, so I jumped at the chance, literally, out of my seat. I hurt my ankle and couldn’t bike to school the next day. My friends laughed at me because I was completely honest about the source of the injury, but I didn’t care. I was going on a vacation!
The days passed quickly, and the flight was uneventful. Finally, we arrived and stood in awe of the Fairmont Empress, our upscale hotel that to this day, at least according to Google, is the most expensive hotel in Victoria. We gallivanted about for the first two days, while I delighted in seeing the sights of this strange, foreign city. Although, in hindsight, I would describe Victoria as, “if Ottawa were an island and had even more old people.”
Finally, that fated day came. My mother approached me with a map and slowly called out my name, a surefire sign that she wants to do something that I’ll likely object to. However, I had decided to stow my teenage angst in favor of embracing a whimsical vacation attitude. I believe my thoughts at the time were akin to, “How bad could it be?”
She said to me, “Nick, I want to go on a day trip to this town called Tofino.” Okay, immediately, small towns skeeve me out, I can’t explain it, it’s one of those weird irrational fears. But I was trying to be accommodating and asked why.
“Well, you see, it’s this really nice little surfing town on the water surrounded by mountains. It looks super cute and a friend recommended we visit it.” My mother’s explanation had not instilled the confidence in me that I’m sure she had been trying for.
“Are you taking your camera?” I asked my professional photographer mother who had regularly waterboarded me as a child by pulling over our car for 45 minutes to an hour to take a picture of a pretty flower, the sunset, or some other drivel. An occurrence that was all together more common when ever we would embarked on road trips to anywhere with even passable excuses for vegetation.
“Maybe…” My fears confirmed, I begin commencing escape maneuvers.
I cross my arms. “Absolutely denied.” Just as deer have evolved their senses to detect the approach of predators, so to have I towards my mother’s treachery.
“Hold on,” she spoke, “There will be bears.” My ears perked up. “Tofino is famous for having friendly wild bears. I only want to shoot those.” The bait was too good, and I was too weak to resist it.
I was awoken the next morning at seven. The sunlight burnt my tired eyes. I’d been up until three playing video games on the hotel’s WiFi that I’d discovered at the worst possible moment. I turned to my mother while we waited on the valet to fetch us a rental car.
“You said it would take two hours to get there?”
“Yup, we’ll get breakfast on the way, don’t worry.”
Why would I be worried? I was on vacation. And I was promised bears. Even if this trip took three hours and we only saw one bear, I’d consider that to be a successful adventure.
We drove down the highway at laughably dangerous speeds. I had agreed to navigate. I’ve never considered myself to be a particularly gifted navigator, but I’m by no means incompetent. Something just didn’t seem to add up, though. We’d been driving straight down the highway for an hour and a half but for some reason we couldn’t recognize any of the turns. I was, quite frankly, too tired for this shit and made the executive decision to declare as such. I handed my mother the map, and told her to wake me up when we arrived.
When I awoke, I was in a daze. We were parked at a shopping mall and my mother was looking at the map. I checked the time. It was almost noon. I’d been out for two hours. We weren’t in the mountains and it had been over four hours. This trip should have been almost over. I attempted to use logic to comprehend our situation.
“Did you get lost and are trying to figure out our way back?” I snickered, perhaps at my own cleverness or at my mother’s failure of an adventure.
“Good morning. Actually, no. I’m figuring out where our next turn off is.” It had dawned on me. I’d been horribly deceived.
“But, it’s been like, four hours. That’s impossible, are we almost there? Where are the mountains?”
“Well…” My mother chuckled and put her finger on the map. “We started here…” She dragged her finger along it and stopped. “And now we’re here.”
“Where are we going?”
“Pass me that other map.” The implications of a simple request have never hurt so badly.
“Will it be another two hours?” I pleaded whilst reaching for the map, hoping my voice would reach any god willing to bestow mercy upon me.
“We aren’t even half way.”
Boom. The words hit like a punch in the throat. We had left Victoria at seven in the morning and wouldn’t reach Tofino until five, if we were lucky.
The journey couldn’t end there. To quote my mother at the time, “we’re already this far.”
We reached Tofino at 5:30 to discover a ghost town. The town full of pot-smoking-surfing-hippies apparently closes up for the day at three in the afternoon. The convenience store was open, but no one was working behind the counter. They had a sign on the door that read, I’m stepping out, don’t be a dick and steal anything. What planet is this? Take me back to earth, please.
We left the convenience store baffled and were met by a man pushing a hot dog cart. “Hey dudes, what’s up?”
He was likely in his twenties. He wore surf trunks, an unbuttoned flowery shirt with nothing underneath and had long, messy blonde hair.
“Name’s Seamus.” There was an awkward pause while we stood baffled. “You dudes want a hot dog?” At this point, I think my rage had just broken. If I were to describe my mind as a glass of water, something about Seamus had been a spontaneous sledgehammer shattering me. I’d become null, I no longer had the capacity to care anymore.
We didn’t make it back to the hotel until three the next morning.
I’ve been to hell. Hell is a place on Earth called Tofino; it’s a vacant hippy town with no bears. The ferryman offering safe passage to lost souls is named Seamus, his eyes are red and he only accepts coinage. If you value your sanity, gaze not into the abyss, for Seamus will look back, and he’ll likely call you a dude before trying to sell you overpriced hot dogs.
Nicholas Wrixon-Wood was born, raised, and is still living in Ottawa, Ontario. Nicholas is a fledgling writer with a primary interest in fantasy and science fiction, though he can appreciate a well-written story of any flavour. Currently studying at Algonquin College, he has an interest in exploring the different options that exist within the professional writing world.