The setting sun cast lengthening shadows as we traveled into the land of Canada. Our rental vehicle, containing five people and their luggage, sped closer to our final destination. Overhead, road signs promised the oncoming Canadian border’s proximity. Cars continued to accumulate, as the border crossing came ever closer. Douglas firs, largely unknown to the Midwestern United States, were intermingled with pines along the roadside. Signs for the ferries presented themselves, revealing the remaining distances before we would travel by sea.
Multiple lanes of traffic slowed to a halt as we waited to enter into Canada. Security guards monitored traffic, and police cars had set up a checkpoint in order to catch a motorist they needed to interrogate. Looking to my right, I caught my first glimpse of Canadian waters. Looking directly ahead, I could see the Peace Arch. Erected in 1921, it has symbolized for over 90 years the peaceful, friendly relations between the United States of America and Canada. Driving further, a large bed of flowers arranged to picture the Canadian flag further announced our entrance into Canada. As we stopped at the border crossing booth, the crossing occurred quickly and without incident. We were now in the land of Canada—a nation I had not visited in over 8 years.
Remembering my time in Ontario in the early 2000s, I set about to quietly observe this new region of this nation. The topography was unlike I had previously seen. In my travels in the United States, I have seen many varied landscapes. From the flat plains of Indiana to the Appalachian mountains of Tennessee to the lakes and seaside villages of Maine, I had yet never seen mountains like these lining the roadways. While not much larger than the Catskill Mountains or the Appalachian mountains, it provided a new background to our travels.
Before long, we saw signs directing us to the Tsawwassen ferry port. Various ferries took passengers to different locations on Vancouver Island, and our destination was Duke Point. We drove further, until we came to the end of the highway. With the sun having set, the wind blowing gently, and the temperature moderate, we all got out of our vehicle and enjoyed the chance to walk and view more of the activity around the ferries. Lights glittered on a pier where giant cranes loaded box cars onto barges. People read newspapers, ate food, or talked on the phone at the tables outside the service center. A ferry pulled up into the dock next to the one we were waiting for. Having been the first in line in our lane, we would be among the first to board the Coastal Inspiration.
A short time later, we drove into the second vehicle deck of the Coastal Inspiration, and I was struck at the massive size of its interior. Semi-trucks, RVs, SUVs, vans, and cars all easily fit inside. Later, I would learn that the Inspiration’s carrying capacity was 370 vehicles, including 32 semis. Built in Germany in 2008, this ship boasted 21,448 horsepower and a maximum speed of 23 knots, with a displacement of 10,034 metric tons. We traversed our way up the decks until we reached Deck 6. After settling in, we then proceeded to rest (as we were able) during the ride from 10:45pm to 12:45am PST. I did not rest, as such efforts proved futile. Instead, I watched TSN around an hour, wryly noting that the majority of it consisted of American sports and highlights. Major league baseball highlights and scores took the majority of the screen time; however, the CFL highlights and stories also presented themselves. After seeing everything there, I then went out to the observation deck. Due to the darkness of the night, I determined which land masses were from the island and from the mainland by the number of lights on one side, and the pitch black silhouettes of land on the other. I was surprised by the force of the wind at the bow and stern of the vessel, as well.
Finally, we arrived on Vancouver Island—a rather surreal moment, as we had traveled many thousands of miles at this point to reach this destination. Now nearing 1 AM local, we had lost most sense of time, for it was rather late in a time zone far different from Eastern Standard Time. As we drove past the city of Nainamo, I was somewhat surprised that it was larger than I expected. While the city life of Grand Rapids spreads out much farther, Nanaimo was not the small town I had expected. While I did not know its location at the time, I would have enjoyed the opportunity to tour the Acklands-Grainger branch in this city; Acklands-Grainger being the Canadian arm of Grainger.
We pressed in in the dark and in the early morning hours, finally turning aside from the main road to the country roads leading to the Stroink’s residence. No street lights existed here, and most of the homes were enveloped in sleeping darkness. However, we found the address without difficulty, and we were greeted by the barking of the family dogs from inside their home. Finally coming to a halt, Mr. Stroink and Kaleigh stepped outside to greet us at long last. The rest of the family soon followed, as we all respectively exchanged handshakes and hugs 1:15 that Sunday morning. My family then piled in to the Stroink’s trailer, and I threw some blankets over me as I crawled into a tent.
I awoke a few hours later, and then prepared to get ready for church that morning. While some of the Strionks prepared breakfast, I improvised a few hymns on their upright piano. I have not formally practiced piano in over two years, but I still enjoy the opportunity to play when able. I also was interested to peruse their piano books, as well. I was also able to better see the layout of the Stroink’s home and property, being able to see it in daylight as opposed to the nighttime of early morning.
After breakfast, Mr. Stroink, my dad, and I all travelled in their Ford minivan, while the girls all travelled in their own van. Sitting in the back, I was able to listen and observe the following conversation and selection of topics between the fathers. Both of them described various experiences in their careers over the years, as well as the dynamics in leading and raising a family. I watched the scenery outside the van window, my thoughts keeping me occupied, as well as entering into the conversations when timely. When the conversation turned to the subject of church, I spoke of the importance of Acts 2:42 as a definitive text on the worship and purpose of a biblically-defined church.
When we arrived at Grace Baptist Church in the small town of Courtenay, I observed that it was nestled in with other buildings of the downtown area. Entering in, the church testified to the smallness of its size and the closeness of its fellowship. Our family was introduced to some of the church-goers there, and some of them came up to me and entered into conversation. Answering questions about CollegePlus and work, I was able to fellowship with some of the adults there. I was able to talk to one of the mothers of a past visitor to the International Christian Bible Fellowship, and one of the pastor’s sons introduced himself to me. Soon, the service started, and I sat back to observe and to learn from the Word of God being rightfully preached.
Singing hymns and psalms with the accompaniment of a piano, Grace Baptist Church was then blessed with special music on the part of some of the young people of the congregation. Paul Johnson, the pastor of the congregation, preached a message entitled Biblical Traditions from 1 Corinthians 11:2. This primarily served as preparation for future weeks of preaching this often controversial passage in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Drawing from different letters of Paul, as well as laying groundwork principles in understanding this chapter. After the church divided into different groups for Sunday School, he spoke on The Father’s Will—Your Resurrection.
Sunday afternoon was marked by conversations at lunch, before the majority of us piled back into vans to attend the evening service. After having an audience selection of hymns, Pastor Johnson spoke from 2nd Thessalonians on Withdrawing from Disorderly Brethren, part 2. Afterwards, some of the young people rehearsed for an upcoming church concert. The ride home consisted primarily of listening to continued conversations between the dads, where I was able to reflect on what was said.
Monday morning, our families went to Parksville Beach. The rocky shoreline reminded me very much of the coastline of Maine, with the exception that many islands here blocked a view of the horizon. Small crabs darted between the rocks, and many seashells could be found. I stood on an outcropping of rock, surveying the landscape and observing the people as they walked along the shoreline. The temperature was moderate, and the sun was shining. However, the wind—as expected—was strong enough to prove a challenge as we all began playing ultimate frisbee. After showing them the basic of playing the game, as well as going over the rules, I then broke the group up into two teams and created two endzones. The teams consisted of my dad, Kaleigh, Schuyler, and me on one; the other had Mr. Stroink, Hannah, Sarah, and Carrie-Grace. Our team won 5-4. I had four assists and Kaleigh had two goals.
Afterwards, our caravan split up as the two vehicles took separate routes to return to the Stroink’s home. The remainder of the day largely centered around activities at home. At night, I played ultimate frisbee with the Stroink girls and my sisters in their backyard. Curious to see who the best receiver would be, I ran an experiment while playing each game to 5. The first game I played with Sarah, and she and I beat Kaleigh, Schuyler, Hannah, and CG 5-2. Next, I played with Hannah, and our team won 5-2. Carrie-Grace was next, and we both won 5-3. Kaleigh was my final receiver, and we won with a score of 5-1. Afterwards, I played soccer with Hannah, Kaleigh, Sarah, and Carrie-Grace. Sarah and I beat Carrie-Grace, Hannah, and Kaleigh with a score of 7-5. We all ended the evening sitting around the fire, eating sausages, playing music, and being occupied by our own thoughts.
Tuesday was spent in Cathedral Grove and Englishman River Falls. Boasting some of the oldest Douglas firs and redwoods on the island, this spot is considered a rainforest. Affording many picture opportunities, we walked along the various trails that wound their way through the park. The evidence from straight line winds in 1997 still presented itself, as many fallen trees now lay on the forest floor. I still remember the straight line winds in Michigan around that same time, and the damage they did on some of the forests and trees here. Englishman River Falls reminded me of the waterfall we visited in Washington; various members of the party got more soaked than they had intended.
The evening was spent playing “Kingdoms”, also known as “the family game” and “empire”. This time, we played it with character qualities instead of inanimate objects. Later, we ended our time together playing “Have You Ever?”, which everyone enjoyed.
Wednesday, we all ate breakfast together before we said our final goodbyes. The majority of my time was spent thinking over the trip as we travelled back; we arrived at the ferry around 10:30 AM. In contrast to the first ferry ride, the sun shone brightly, illuminating the surrounding coastlines. We then drove from the ferry to the border, where the wait was somewhat longer than it had been entering Canada. We drove back to Bellingham, where we stopped for gas. We now had a two hour car ride ahead of us back to the Seattle airport.
Heavier and heavier traffic threatened to cause us to miss our flight out of Seattle, for we dropped the car off at the rental place late. We then waited for two taxis to take us to the airport, as we were not able to charter one in time to pick us up immediately at Enterprise. However, we did indeed arrive and check in at the airport just in time, and we then got in line to go through the TSA screening process. Our flight then left at 6:30pm from Seattle to Denver, Colorado.
As we neared Denver, I observed the city lights stretching out as far as the eye could see—in fact, we flew over the city lights for ten minutes before we landed. After finding our departure gate, we all ate supper at the airport McDonalds at 10:30 MST. Our next flight from Denver, Colorado would be a long one, for we would be flying all the way to New York City/Newark. Sleep was elusive, so I mostly sat and occupied myself with thoughts during the long night. Most people slept on the airplane, but a few worked on their laptops or tablets. Relatively little could be seen outside the windows due to the darkness, but lights from cities flew underneath us from time to time.
When we arrived in Newark, New Jersey, it was difficult to tell the sense of time. It was now Thursday morning at 6 AM, yet it still felt to be the same day as when we left the Stroinks around 8:30 PST. We took a shuttle to our terminal and departure gate, and then boarded the flight that would take us back to Grand Rapids. As we banked over the city of Newark, I could see New York City and the Statue of Liberty lying underneath us. The flight home was uneventful, and it occurred relatively quickly. We arrived back at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport around 9:20 AM EST—I had now travelled 22 hours non-stop from one side of the North American continent to the other and back to Michigan. By air, land, and sea, we had travelled several thousand miles in two different countries that day, and coming home felt as if we had never left it.
Overall, the trip proved to be a very interesting one. Highly anticipated and prayed about beforehand, it provided many new experiences and times of fellowship. I visited areas of the United States and Canada I had never seen before, and I was able to visit friends for the first time in person. Some of my favorite moments from the trip included the times travelling by airplane and playing ultimate frisbee in BC—and hopefully one day, our families will be able to meet again.