GUE Tech 2-Chapter 2: Nanaimo

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I desperately needed to sleep.  I tried my best to turn my brain off but it just wasn’t happening.  I tossed and turned and got more annoyed as realized I had to be up in only a few hours.  At one point might have gotten an hour of actual sleep, but the rest was just dozing.  I was too hopped up on caffeine from the chaos of traveling and finding the hotel; coupled with excitement and anxiety about what the next several days would be like. 

The alarm on my phone went off at 4am as planned and every fiber of my being wanted to stay in bed. I couldn’t snooze. I needed to be at the Horse Shoe Bay Ferry terminal for a 6am sailing and I didn’t want to miss that.  Missing the ferry would mean I miss the dive that was planned at China Creek.  It might have been my only opportunity to get dialed in before class and this was more important.  So I pried my body up and out of the warm comfort of the bed and fumbled with my phone while it blared the most annoying alarm tone possible. I  angerly hit the “stop” button to turn off the alarm.   I quickly got dressed went downstairs to get the bag trolley.   All my dive gear was by the door ready to go and I loaded it onto the trolley and proceeded to ride the elevator down to the bowels of the hotel basement where I had left the rental. 

I loaded all the gear back into the rental, programmed the Horse Shoe Bay Ferry Terminal into the GPS, tripled checked that I hadn’t forgotten anything, and off I went. I meandered my way up and out of the basement parking garage, and into the dark sleepy city of Vancouver.   The city streets were empty and it was still raining.  It wasn’t a heavy rain, just a light mist that was more annoying because it wasn’t enough to have the windshield wipers on the lowest setting and it was too much to have them off. So every few minutes I had to manually activate the wipers.  I followed my GPS north and quickly made my way out of Vancouver, where the road began to wind up very steep mountain.  Of course the views probably would have been amazing if it wasn’t 4:30 am. 

I came down the other side of the pass and saw signs for the BC Ferry terminal. It was completely unclear what lane or exit I should be in, and my GPS was no help at all.  The signs pointed one way and my GPS told me to go another.  I could see what looked like a row of toll booths in the distance and there were a few cars and trucks waiting.  I continued driving but soon found that I was in a lane that had a concrete barrier, and I couldn’t get over to get in the area where the booths were.  I assumed this is where I needed to be, but for the life of me couldn’t figure out how to do it. It was still raining and of course very dark; which made finding where I needed to be infinitely more difficult.  I ended up driving past the booth onto some service road with my GPS screaming at me to do U-turns and take various non existent roads.  I found a way to turn around and ended up having to go nearly the entire way back up the mountain before I found an exit and a roundabout to get back to head back towards the terminal.  I cautiously drove towards the terminal searching for where I went wrong.  This time I managed to get in the right area and arrived at the terminal booths.  I was really early fortunately but this also meant that none of the booths were open.  There were a few cars that appeared to have people sleeping in them but I was still really unsure if I was in the right area.  I waited and got more anxious and began to really doubt if I was where I needed to be.  I noticed a lot of commercial trucks and I didn’t see any signs for Nanaimo. I expected a huge line of cars because it was getting to be about 5am by this time.  I was definitely not where I needed to be, I thought.  

I waited another 10 minutes and still nobody was around. So I put the car in reverse and backed up onto the service road I had taken previously.  I did another trip back up the mountain to turn around.   This time I came back down the mountain and began to see cars lining up in the same spot I was, which reassured me that I was indeed where I needed to be.  I also noticed the sign for Nanaimo and got in line behind the Nanaimo booths.  It wasn’t long before the cars in front of me began to move through the booths until it was my turn.  I showed the nice lady my QR code ticket on my phone and she directed me to get into line behind one of the numbered lanes.  The boarding went smoothly and within a few minutes I found myself safely loaded onto the Ferry on one of the bottom levels.  The Ferry was huge.  I have ridden a Ferry from Cape Hatteras North Carolina to Ocracoke many times but that ship was just a single deck, open to the elements. On the contrary; this ship was a massive multi story vessel that probably could hold thousands of people and hundreds of cars.   There was a buzz activity as passengers got out of their cars and made their way to the upper decks. The smell of diesel and exhaust fumes filled the air and the sounds of car doors closing and people clamoring echoed off the steel walls of the ship.   The PA system announced breakfast specials in the cafeteria and various safety precautions in a friendly Canadian voice.  Breakfast suddenly became the priority since I was very tired and still hadn’t eaten since the day before on the plane. 

I went up the stairs to find the cafeteria and was still very much enthralled by the size of the ship.  There is just something so romantic and very nostalgic about traveling aboard a ship that big.  I can imagine how exciting it must have been for those that traveled across the Atlantic aboard a steam ship.  We take for granted how easy it is to travel by plane but I think if there is an opportunity to slow down and take the long way, life can seem a little bit slower.   I could smell the coffee and breakfast which made me even more hungry.  I assumed it was just a little café to get a snack, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a full menu of fresh breakfast to be had.  I grabbed a tray, grabbed some orange juice, coffee, and ordered eggs benedict.   It was fucking delicious. It’s possible that it all tasted better because I was starving; but this meal was exactly what I needed.  I inhaled my breakfast and sat satisfied, drinking my coffee.  The excitement seemed to quell my exhaustion for the time being.  

The ferry ride was going to be a few hours so I took my coffee and began to explore the ship.  I went out on the top deck and I could see the lights of Vancouver behind us.  It was dark, foggy, and extremely windy;  but the upper deck was the only place that the passengers could be without a mask.  I walked around the upper deck and snapped a few pictures.  I had my gore-tex jacked zipped up tight to keep the cold and rain out. I leaned against the rail, smelling the sweet ocean air as I watched the inky black waves roll past the hull. Just looking at the water seemed to sap my heat. I thought about how I must be crazy to be diving that same water in just a few hours.   The cold wind stung my face, and low rumble of the big diesel engines vibrated everything. There was a light glow far off in the east as the sun began to rise.  I texted Larissa to give her an update on my travel and took a few obligatory selfies. 

I continued to explore the top deck of the ship until I got bored and cold.  I still had an hour or so left of the trip so I went back inside and found a nice comfortable bench seat to sit at and listen to music. I had no cell service so I just relaxed until they announced that everyone should return to the vehicles; at which point I made my way back down stairs.  The crew opened the large steel doors on the bow of the boat to prepare for us to disembarked. A small crowd of people with bikes and backpacks gathered as they waited for the boat to come into port.  I joined them and watched the small fishing town of Nanaimo rise out of the water as we got closer and closer. I could see from a distance that the maple trees were in peak fall colors.  A mixture of conifers and golden topped maple trees were scattered about the town. 

Soon I could see others returning to their cars and I followed their lead. The crew made short work of getting us safely tied up and then directed us off the boat .  I drove off the ship and into the small streets of Nanaimo.  The town was really neat and I wish I had more time to explore it; but I needed to make my way to the dive site.  I did manage to stop for a few minutes and take some photos.  Within moments of leaving the ferry I was out of the town and following my GPS to China Creek camp ground, the dive site where I was to meet the GUE BC people. I texted the group chat with Liz and Jason to let them know I’d be at the dive site shortly and they gave me some additional directions.  I began to drive up a mountain pass and the fall colors from old growth forests were absolutely stunning.  This place was breathtaking. 

China Creek was about an hour and a half from Nanaimo.  The views were spectacular as I made my way through the mountains, which made the time pass pretty quickly.  I followed the directions from the group chat down a bumpy logging road to China Creek.  At first I didn’t see anyone so I drove around a bit until I noticed a group of obvious dive vehicles parked a long a small gravel road off to the side of the marina.  I pulled up to the group and found a place to park.  I introduced myself to everyone and began to tell them about my exciting trip just getting to the island. I was jokingly ribbed a few times about making the classic mistake of thinking there was a bridge. I deserved it and we all got a good laugh at my expense. 

The dive site was really cool. It’s a salt water bay with a was a gently sloping beach covered hundreds of cut timbers laying about.  The beach was smooth gravely pebbles.  Across the water were sloping mountains that rose abruptly out of the water.  The air was chilly and damp but it wasn’t raining.  Clouds hung low in the sky.  According to the GUE BC crew, this was a fairly deep fjord of sorts with multiple good wall dives all the way down to the tech 2 level and way beyond. The site we’d be diving was actually a wreck. “The Migrant Ship” as it’s known is a large steel hull vessel that rests in the recreational depth range. The ship once carried illegal Chinese Immigrants to the Island. It was seized then scuttled sometime in 2001 to become an artificial reef.   I was given the site brief and began to assemble my gear.  Jason had some tanks for me as well as some V weights. I began to convert  the Rav 4 into a dive vehicle as I assembled my kit. I was excited and nervous to dive. Guy was there and I was just hoping I didn’t make a complete fool of myself in front of the entirety of GUE BC.  I guesstimated on the amount of V weight I needed to sink the heavy undergarments’ I’d be wearing.  I figured I’d start with 15 pounds with a steel plate and HP130’s.

I got my gear assembled, climbed into my drysuit. Most of the teams were already in the water. Liz and another person, whom for the life of me I can’t remember his name, waited for me at the surface.  I entered the water expecting to feel a stinging cold but it wasn’t that bad.  I dunked my maskless face in the water and it was definitely cold but doable for at least an hour or so.  I was also pretty happy that my dry gloves weren’t leaking.   I clicked my heated vest on low to keep me from getting chilled.  Our plan was to do a casual swim around the wreck; nothing too crazy. We did our GUE EDGE and away we went.  I followed my two buddies down the gravel slope until it turned to a silty mud.  I was fairly comfortable manipulating my gear in dry gloves which was a relief.  I played with bolt snaps and practiced unclipping my SPG.  I also got the go-pro out and filmed some.  The water was green but not like the algae green we get in the springs of Florida. It was more like an emerald color but it also absorbed a lot of light. 60ft deep felt like 150 since very little ambient light made it through.   We arrived at the wreck after a few short minutes of swimming and there was a lot of wild looking sea life on it. Urchins, cloud sponges, and all kinds of different spikey critters slowly moved around in the cold water.  It was really neat and definitely vastly different than anything I’d seen before.  Most the GUE BC crew were around the wreck at this point. Some had scooters and were zooming about, and some were taking photos.  I was really quite comfortable; and this pleased me greatly since my biggest worry was the cold.   We swam a few laps around the Migrant Ship and then proceeded to another small wreck which looked like a fishing boat.  From there we swam along a wall for a bit until it was time to thumb the dive.  We made our way back up the slope to just about where we started.  I exited the water feeling pretty good after being in the water for about an hour. I was a little cold which concerned me a bit since I’d have to be doing two hour dives pretty soon.  At least I could do a recreational dive. My face and lips were pretty numb and articulating my satisfaction for the dive seemed difficult until they thawed. 

As everyone dekitted and got gear loaded back into the vehicles, we made plans for lunch. However one of the GUE BC guys got a flat on the way down the logging road and had to leave his Tacoma parked up on the hill.  This needed to be resolved before we could eat of course.  I organized my gear as neatly as I could in the RAV and everyone was ready to leave at this point.  I followed the line of cars up the hill to find the Tacoma.  Ten or so of us stood around like a state roads crew watching and making fun,  while a few tried to help pump up the tire enough to drive it, but nothing seemed to worked.  All this gas and no way to get it in the tire. With all the efforts exhausted the final decision was made to remove the tire and take it to the garage to fix.  So with the tire removed, and on it’s way to the repair shop, the rest of us decided to go to Alberni Brewing company for some food. 

 I sat at a large table listening to everyone chatting away about the dive and various other diving and life related topics. I was starting to crash but it was nice to relax. I ordered a burger and a beer and chatted with the team as everyone wondered how the Tacoma repair was going.  Liz and some others made plans for scooter dive the following day and asked if I was interested in joining. Of course I was and scootering sounded awesome. I still needed to drive a few hours south to Duncan to Guys’ BnB but the realization hit me that I had almost made it; and relatively unscathed.  I started to settle in and the anxiety about traveling subsided which meant I could focus on being anxious about just tech 2.   After lunch we said our goodbyes and everyone wished me good luck in the course.  I hopped in the Rav and found a petrol station to top off my tanks and grab some coffee before hitting the road.  The sun had come out by this time which was nice since I was just a little tired of driving in the rain.  

The drive to Duncan was fairly easy but I was feeling really tired so I took my time.  I arrived at Guy’s place just before dark.  The BnB is this super cute navy 3.5 bedroom blue with white trim house on the property.  John, SJ, Kelvin,  and the MWUE guys, (Chris Hart, John Knoepfle, Ricki Orford) were there having just wrapped up a tech 1 class.  I chatted with everyone and took my bags to the room I’d call home for the next week.  Once I was settled in the room, I unloaded the wet gear from the rav and hung the drysuit and undergarments in the garage. Guy has a fantastic operation and an extremely well organized garage/dive gear locker/fill station that would make even the most particular tech diver envious.   I put my light and heater pack on charge, and chatted with Guy a bit. I was truly running on empty by this point and it was getting towards 8pm so I wondered over to my room to crash.  I face timed Larissa before getting a shower and crashing.  Once I laid down in bed I thought to myself:  “I made it.”  just before falling asleep.