Thursday, June 27, 2019

12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost every day sold out, be it winter or summer. The manager, who hailed from Sri Lanka, told me that when the previous day had started there were plenty of rooms yet to be booked. However, by late evening they were sold out. I was witness to the snaking queues at the check-in counter yesterday even as I was checking in. In winter large groups descend into Whistler for skiing. The groups are block booked into hotels by tour agencies. The advantage with such groups is that they stay for a minimum of 7 days. In keeping with the requirement of such arrivals the room is furnished amply with arrangements for cooking and serving. Besides, the hotel has laundry facilities for inmates. I was surprised to see a jaccuzi in the bedroom apart from the en suite complements. The balcony of the room is meant for those who want to appreciate the quiet of the city and spent some time in contemplation.

I had an afternoon sailing from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay for the transit from Victoria to Vancouver. Therefore, I did not initially plan to leave before 10 am. However, when I went through the ferry schedule I noticed that there is an earlier sailing at 11 am. Since I had nothing left to do at that hour in the city I left the hotel, after breakfast, by 8.30 am. Driving leisurely on the Sky to Sea route from the scenic Whistler mountain premise through Squamish and Howe Sound with breath-taking views of the mountains on one side and islands and seas on the other, I reached what I thought was the BC ferries terminal in Horseshoe Bay. However, the premises looked different from where I had been last month. At a ferry counter a gentleman handed me a pre-printed sheet showing directions for vehicles to the loading terminal and cautioned me not to follow the GPS directions! The pre-printed slip spoke out loudly that every now and then people land up in the wrong place, guided by their GPS! I had landed in Horseshoe Village, which was the terminal meant for foot passengers to report to.

Even after taking the rather long detour to the vehicle terminal I reached just after 10 am. The warden at the head of the queue told me that the 11 am ferry had been delayed due to a medical emergency on board and that I would be able to take the delayed sailing past noon. That was surely a stroke of good luck – the delayed sailing and slot availability – which I have experienced all through the expedition. The chance to sail early from Horseshoe Bay implied that I could be at the final destination a couple of hours before the originally scheduled time. The behemoth of a ferry loaded more than 300 vehicles and sailed at a half hour past noon and deposited me in Departure Bay almost at the stroke of 2 pm.
It was the culmination of a dream. I arrived at the Mile Zero Monument at 1602 hours signifying the successful completion of the second leg of the TCE from Mile One Center, St. John's, Newfoundland to Mile Zero Monument, Victoria, British Columbia in 466 hours and 45 minutes. The round trip between Victoria and St. John's was completed in 942 hours. Possibly, a never before done trip and certainly not by an Indian. A proud moment and time to thank the Almighty, family, friends and well-wishers for support, guidance and appreciation.

There was a lot of construction activity near the Monument site and I was doubtful if I would find parking in the vicinity to complete the photo formalities. As luck would have it, I found a space beside the Terry Fox monument. A mother and son on a stroll in the area obliged me with photographs and shared a few moments with me before I left the Monument with a great sense of achievement. The thirteenth expedition of Record Drive had been successfully completed. There had not been any glitches in the planning and scheduling of the expedition that had led to major deviations. Yes, there had been a couple of times when I had to think on my feet and make alternate arrangements. That was minor as compared to show stopper incidents.

To deal with any eventuality I invariably carry a tent and sleeping bag, so that a wayside or the car could become a decent overnight halt. But, over the past six international expeditions I have never had an occasion to use them. Therefore, to put them to use I had reserved a campground for the night halt in Victoria. I did not have any prior experience using a campground and therefore, I did not know what to expect. The tent slot, almost behind the Butchart Gardens, was in the Gardenside Acres Tent and Breakfast Campground property of Janet and Scott, a most delightful couple. Janet, who checked me in told me the options I could choose from. I chose a slot in front of the house, which was closer to the toilet and shower facilities, both makeshift ones. The campground operated only between mid-May and September, after which it would get too cold to tenting.

What does one do with an abandoned limestone quarry and a defunct cement factory? Turn it into one of the most amazing gardens in the world that has been in bloom for more than 100 years, as was the vision and perseverance of a couple of individuals and continued by successive generations. Jennie Butchart started a tradition in 1904 that continues to this day. She turned all challenges to beautify the worked-out quarry into unique garden features with the help of professional advice and personal assistance. The garden was started with collection of Robert and Jennie Butchart from their travels around the world and got gradually extended to the world famous Garden that it is today. More than a million visitors experience the lovely blooms annually, which became a National Historic Site of Canada upon turning a 100 years in 2004.

The deep Sunken Garden Lake was developed to breed trout that used to respond to Mr Butchart's handclaps, it is said. The Ross Fountain, whose water rises to over 70 feet, was installed by a third generation successor with the help of his plumber and electrician to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Garden in 1964. The vast manicured garden, where everything has a place and everything is in its place, has a Concert Lawn, a fireworks display area, the Ross Carousal, a magnificent Dragon Fountain, the Fountain of Three Sturgeons from where one gets a magnificent view of the erstwhile Butchart Residence and a superb gift and souvenir shop.

The 22 hectare Gardens within a 55 hectare estate comprise many segments and cannot be covered in less than two hours, even for a very casual visit. The Star Pond was originally meant for the ornamental ducks of Jennie Butchart. A frog fountain is at the centre of the pond. From there one can access the Italian garden, one of the most formal in the grounds, which is located in the erstwhile tennis court of the Butcharts. The Rose garden had varieties from mostly North America and Europe, but the gorgeous colours and smells were divine. When I visit such awesome blooms I wish common digital camera technology had incorporate the touch and smell features too. While visuals features can be at least approximated through a photo the experience of smell is completely lost. The Mediterranean and Japanese gardens are other showpieces in the Garden. The boat landing area and the cove are exceptional view points in the setting sun.

When the lights come on the Garden takes on a different feel. Flowers, shrubs and trees turn into highlights. The apt place to complete the Garden experience is the Seed and Gift Store. The many pieces are absolute beauties and there are so many to choose from and the staff helped me let go of my purse, forget loosening their strings! All in all, a most awesome experience and a great tribute to the vision of a very unique human being that graced this planet.


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12 June - Whistler to Victoria - Day 39 of TCE

The room in the Pinnacle Hotel had been extremely comfortable. Last evening I was told that the 84 rooms that the property has are almost...