For those of you who don’t know us, my son, Spencer, bought his 1969 Westfalia Camper when he was 9 years old with his own savings from gifts and money he had banked as a child. The plan was to have it restored to a decent state by the time he turned 16. I suddenly found myself on a steep learning curve and have since developed a wild passion for all things VW. On his 14th birthday in 2015, I insured “Buster” for three months. He went to a Toy Run in Surrey/Langley in November, to Dubs in the Barn in the spring, and this was his debut on Vancouver Island. This is our story of the trip. – Sara Gilbert
I had been home since Sunday, July 3rd from a ten day road trip through five states and driving over 4,000 to pick up a Meyers Manx dunebuggy and do some sightseeing with my 14 year old son. I was pretty tired, but knew I had to get Spencer’s 1969 Westy home from the autobody shop where the nose and roof had been painted so we could put a replacement fibreglass poptop on. I had four days to sand, prep, refinish and install it and no time to install the replacement canvas. Oh well, doing things bass ackwards as usual and definitely the hard way. The bumpers were supposed to be repaired, sandblasted and powdercoated, but there was no time, so I grabbed a can of spray paint and prettied them up a little.
Somehow by Thursday night it was together, but not without some choice vocabulary and some major sweating and panicking. I loaded as much as I could that evening, knowing we’d be pulling out midday Friday, to get to our campsite in Goldstream Provincial Park. It took some careful Tetris-type moves to squeeze the items in for camping and for stacking the roof (had I known the extremes people would go to, I wouldn’t have bothered because there was NO way we were going to win that award).
We were ready to go mid-morning, and I knew it would take extra time for us to get to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal as we were in Spencer’s bus. It was exciting to finally be taking it to the Island. Had the brakes repaired and the throttle adjusted, and suddenly Buster was proving to be a lot gutsier than I had ever thought he could be. He still burned oil, but I figured given his age and general condition, that was acceptable for the time being. We aimed for the 3:00 ferry and were disappointed to be told we might have a two sailing wait.
I really should know better, I’ve crossed enough times, particularly in the last few years, and never failed to reserve a spot on the weekends. Fortunately, we only had a one sailing wait and were thrilled to be on our way, once we got through the stress of being stuck on the uphill incline of the loading ramp with a car right on our back bumper.
The trip passed uneventfully, and it was quiet, given that the rest of the LGK gang wasn’t heading over until the next day. There were no other VW’s on our ship…we checked.
Corey and Cindy Strickler were scheduled to join us that evening, taking a later ferry to join us in our campsite. We were pretty stoked to have camp buddies and pretty excited about actually getting to use Buster for his intended purpose for the first time since Spencer acquired him five years ago. As we neared Swartz Bay in Sidney, we passed a Gulf Islands ferry, and my spidey-senses were tingling. Indeed, on board the open vehicle deck we spied a bay bus. I quickly hopped out of Buster and snapped a shot and then got another one as we were docking. We wondered if we would see it at any of the events that weekend.
A Gulf Islands Ferry bringing a Westy to Swartz Bay
It was delightful to start Buster up and drive down the Pat Bay Highway. I’m pretty sure I was grinning ear-to-ear. I was torn between going to the campsite and setting up everything before Corey and Cindy arrived or cruising through town to see if we would be spotted or spot anyone. We opted for the campsite as we has no idea how long it would take to set up everything.
We cut across the bottom of the Island at McKenzie and got onto the Island Highway. It was busy and the going was slow for a bit. Suddenly, Taylor Clark’s white splittie roared passed, with Jake Rozell hanging out of the passenger window yelling something unintelligible at us. Cool! One of the only buses we knew very well–and Spencer’s personal fave–from the Victoria VW Club. They left us in the dust, almost before we could even snap a photo.
We then made a quick pit stop in Langford for gas, groceries and libations for me. En route back to the highway, we passed a middle school on Spencer Road (which I knew existed, but I didn’t know about the middle school). We stopped, as quickly as possible with drum brakes–good thing we can’t drive too fast, and headed in for the best photo op ever.
Spencer Middle School in Langford. What a great photo op!
After driving the long winding road to our particular campsite at Goldstream Provincial Park, we backed in, ensuring there was enough room in the small site for Corey and Cindy to pull in and leaving enough room for my pup tent. A sense of accomplishment welled up in us as we pulled things out and set them up, wanting the give the site a “lived-in” look by the time the Stricklers showed up.
I brought a small trunk full of fire wood (had to do a lot of double-duty type preps to cover both the camping and the stacking contest aspects of this trip. Hammock up, web chairs out, fire blazing, vintage water cooler filled. Yup. All set. I set up my Dad’s old nylon pup tent (too close of quarters in the bus to be in there with my teenaged son), discovering to my dismay, that there was nary a tent peg to be found. I MacGyver-ed it to a bunch of bushes with rope and thought if it collapsed it would be worth a good story. Then we walked down the road and spotted a blue bus and red bug a couple of sites away.Nobody looked up as we walked by, but it was nice to see another group there as well.
When I posted that we had arrived, an orange bus posted in Site 14 that they were there as too. We never made it that far, as in the distance, we heard the unmistakable sound of a VW engine growing nearer. We peered down the road into the darkness and saw three lights. Two headlights and a foglamp. Our guests had arrived. They quickly got to work and soon had their bus all ready for sleeping. I have to admit, it looked really cozy with it’s red vinyl, and checked red curtains. I think a lot of people in tents would have sighed enviously at the sight, had they seen it. Neither bus had canvas installed, so it looked like a couple of tintops were parked there.
We spent an hour or so around the fire. I celebrated with a Caesar and we all chatted for a while. This was to be the initial use for both the buses as campers. I found it rather amusing that Corey used Spencer’s original shell top for his own bus, which he got from the Froses after they replaced the much worse one that we started with. Both buses were a conglomeration of vehicles. I had often referred to Spencer’s as Vankenstein, and I think Corey had mentioned someone calling his Frankenbus at one point in its restoration process.
It was time to hit the rack, and everybody turned in for the night. I was a little leery of the noises in the bushes, but decided someone would rescue me if a) the tent collapsed or b) they domestic cat wandering around the site earlier was feral and attacked me. Everyone settled in, and I wormed my way into the ridiculously small pup tent. I was asleep in no time, and when I woke up it was still standing. I don’t know if any critters ever visited. It had been a long day, and the next day was filled with fun events.
Saturday, July 9th dawned overcast. It had rained heavily overnight, waking up the camper-dwellers with the sound of the rain on the roofs. I had a tarp over the tent and it would have been noisy if the libations hadn’t worked so well at sending me off to dreamland.
I brewed a quick batch of camp coffee in the aluminum percolator and took care of morning ablutions. We threw as much as we could into my pup tent, and Corey and Cindy packed everything up. We were on the road in short order. After a quick stop to fuel up the vehicles and grab a drink at Timmies, we were off to the pancake breakfast at Victoria Volkswagen. I had intended to go and meet the crew coming from the mainland at 8:30, but my sleeping bag on a narrow dollar store air mattress in my half-collapsed pup tent was just too comfy and I didn’t get up on time.
Initially I parked in the wrong spot (near the pancakes of course) and was moved over to the far lot in front of Island Outfitters. The owner of that store took exception as it was Saturday, and the lot was apparently soon to fill up with cars, trucks and boats. We all then transferred our vehicles to the grass strip between the sidewalk and Douglas Street. It was nice there, maybe not so much for the gentleman flying through on his mobility scooter with his tunes blasting, but it was nice there. I set up the little VW tent to finish the line-up where we spent a pleasant couple of hours (not in the tent, rather parked along the grass strip). Connie Brown suggested I might find the VW tent more comfortable and certainly more stable that evening. I tried it out and seriously considered that option.
A quick environmentally-friendly tagging (using Squeeze Cheese in a can) of the nearest hydro pole produced some hijinx by Connie that had everyone laughing for quite a while.
Sometime during the event, a green doka pulled in from Oregon. I had spoken to the gentleman at the cruise last year. He was quite an elderly fellow that did a lot of travelling and came to the show hoping to see more of his type of vehicle. The odd thing Spencer and I noticed the year before is that his wife never left the vehicle. I found the gentleman quite chatty and pleasant and said hello to his wife, but she didn’t say much in return. We watched and the same thing occurred again. There was some speculation about her level of comfort sitting in a vehicle all day. Fortunately, it wasn’t too hot. Several people were still chuckling about Connie’s antics when Johnnie Balfour came up with his custom-made pancakes. When he cut into the left side of it, there were several squeamish responses, and a multitude of remarks.
The event came to a close around lunchtime and we decided that it was time to get some lunch before the cruise, since the others couldn’t get into their hotel rooms yet. Most opted to go to the Sticky Wicket, a delightful pub in downtown Victoria, where Don Gifford must have heard the surf was up. I might have joined them, but felt that Spencer would probably prefer the “must” stop at the Beacon Drive-In. Most of the gang had left by then, and so I told whoever remained that I was going to the Drive-In and would see them at the cruise. Before I knew it, I was leading the way for Corey and Cindy, Ken and Nadine, and Braun and Johnnie–two Westies, a Rabbit, and a Bug.We sat on the patio and ate lunch (I can’t believe I actually forgot to get some of their famous soft serve for desert) and had a discussion about pronunciation of such things as tomatoes, bananas and Jaguars. The Brits and Aussie lost to the five of us who clearly spoke betterer.
After lunch, we took a trip up to Signal Hill in Beacon Hill park where we surveyed Clover Point, the location of the beginning of the cruise. It was a beautiful view across the Juan de Fuca Strait to Port Angeles and the Olympic Mountains.By that time, the weather had cleared nicely and the temperature was balmy.
There were some modifications made to the Rabbit’s number–37 temporarily became 317 and everyone had to test out its driver’s seat because Braun Gunson was having “issues” with it when he sat in it. But it was only Braun, the rest of us had no problems. We all looked under its bonnet (for you Aussies and Brits) and discussed the door-handle stick shift knob.
Then, while that discussion continued, I thought I had better test out Braun’s car. I was beginning to feel like Goldilocks testing out chairs. But we only had one bear. I generously shared my previous year’s research with the group regarding how to get peacocks to raise their tailfeathers into the beautiful fan shape, and told them that with a brightly-coloured shirt and the proper movements, it could be achieved. Nobody could be enticed to try it, despite my encouragement.
There was a little time left so Connie and Jim, and Braun and Johnnie went to check into their hotel. Corey and Cindy and us needed a few items we had forgotten to bring camping, so with the time remaining, we opted to find the nearest shopping center and pick up a few sundries. We went off to James Bay and picked up our items and took in a local market where the discussions revolved around whatever it was Corey was drinking. Then Corey rescued me from my feeble attempts to get the VW tent back in its bag (when I tried later on at home it took me multiple attempts and three days to accomplish the feat).
After that, it was getting close to cruise time. Parking is always a bit of a problem at Clover Point, so we headed in that direction. I led the Stricklers on the scenic route along Dallas Road–the old yellow dot route. Along the way, we saw the rest of the gang “having a moment” at one of the parking pullouts near Ogden Pier. We gallantly waved as we drove by–which, by the way, we heard endless commentary about later on when they joined us at the cruise start location.
There was plenty of time to enjoy the beach while waiting for the others to arrive. Much ado was made about who would bring Shane Constantinescu the largest piece of driftwood. I’m pretty sure that the girls totally rocked it.
Cindy Gifford carried a log up and put an end any competition there might have been. Meanwhile, I found a nice long piece of semi-dried bull kelp and did a little skipping with it; then I tested it for “whippability”. Don Gifford thought it was a real whip from where he was standing and made some remark indicating his surprise. I couldn’t get close enough to Shane and Corey to have any fun, so I dropped it, and carried on with other “things”. I left our mark in Squeeze Cheese, which I’m sure the seagulls would enjoy once they got their mouths unstuck from trying to eat the glommy stuff.
Amanda gazed out at the water and walked among the tidepools taking in the beautiful scenery and looking very peaceful. It’s good to have someone that’s sane and can take care of us in the midst of our shennanigans. I certainly felt reassured, particularly when Shane mentioned something about his new Vans runners being so light and that he had given everybody the opportunity on the ferry to feel the weight of them.
Finally, all the vehicles had arrived, and it was time to start the cruise. The weather was “iffy” at best, and a few raindrops had started to fall as we pulled out from Clover Point. It was an amazing sight. It didn’t take long before we were several mini-cruises, because there were so many of us. We drove through Oak Bay, through the Uplands and through Cadboro Bay.
We pulled into a parking lot in Mount Douglas Park, so that everyone could regroup and have a little break (by then it was raining and the roads were slick), then carried on through Cordova Bay, across the Pat Bay Highway and at that point, I lost the people in front of me. I turned the bus around and, not having taken a map because I thought it was the same route as the year prior, opted to take the Pat Bay Highway back to Victoria. I now knew the final destination was on Burnside Road East, so headed off at McKenzie, and then down Interurban. Little did I know that I had met up with the intended route. I pulled into a parking spot on the road near Progressive Auto where the barbeque was taking place and found our group. There was some talk about cheating, but I wasn’t having any of that. I was so familiar with the town–“my town” that I made my own route. These were my old stomping grounds. Ah, the misspent days of my youth.
There was a lot of noise and it was very busy at the barbeque, and I was tired from the long cruise. I asked Spencer if he wanted to go to the Gorge, have some great pizza at the Lantern House and go to the house I grew up in–the guy there has a bunch of Wedges and I thought he might enjoy a visit. We snuck out quietly to do our own thing and just as we were fuelling up got a text to meet at an address out in the sticks. Well, it used to be out in the sticks. When I was growing up the area around Francis King Park was where we went to ride our dirt bikes.
I cast aside plans for the house and the pizza and off we went. As we passed the Nature House in Francis King part, I told Spencer the story of how my Mom made me deliver a massive two-foot diameter wasp nest there in a box, when I was 16. She had cut it out of a cherry tree, and put it in the back of my Gremlin. Stopped at the Helmcken Road traffic light at the Island Highway (there was no overpass then), I wondered why my car sounded so strange. I turned down the tunes and was horrified to hear a constant hum. I booted it the heck up to the Nature Centre (listening carefully as the decibels of the humming increased and not so pleased at having a hatchback and no trunk) and dumped that box on the steps there. I don’t know what I was thinking–actually I wasn’t thinking. It still creeps me out to this day and I still feel bad that I didn’t just turf the box in the bushes. Ah, regrets.
But I digress. The wilderness opened up to a wonderful property with a beautiful house, amazing garages and outbuildings and a fantastic barbeque. I felt a little like an interloper as we didn’t know anyone there except Shane and Amanda, but as time passed more people we knew arrived and I relaxed a bit. I particularly enjoyed getting a close look at some of my favourite vehicles that I had seen in past shows and seeing some of the new ones (we had parked Buster at the end of the drive as I wanted to leave room to get out and Buster’s story might be interesting but he’s not on par with any of the vehicles we were seeing). Spencer loved it when Taylor showed up in his double door panel, remarking that all he would do to change it would be to add a ladder. I kept my eyes on the splittie from Colorado, a personal fave.
The evening wore on and I enjoyed the conversations that I was listening to, but I knew we’d have a super-early start and I had been yawning a lot. It was time to head back to the campground and tuck in for the night. We drove back and arrived early enough to have a short time around the campfire and recap the day with a glass of wine. We had additional guests as Andy and Gianna and their daughter Zoe needed a place to camp. Having experienced a rough day with some alternator problems (and consequently the way that people in the VW family come to the rescue), they were relieved to be done for the day. It was time to hit the hay. Or in my case, the uncomfortable lumpy, narrow air mattress. I had repeatedly spied a raccoon wandering around in the area, and no sooner had I zipped up the sleeping bag than I heard it on the other side of the nylon of the pup tent “chirring”. I decided I didn’t need it rummaging around or getting into the coolers so had a little conversation with it and asked it to go away. Then I realized they might be able to hear me in the buses and thought how crazy I must sound. Then I started laughing–I swear I heard doors being locked. Eventually I fell asleep.
The morning dawned way too early for me. Once again I had survived the night. We literally threw everything in the bus and got on the road. Grabbed fuel and a coffee at Timmies, and were on our way. As we drove out of sight of the campground, I said a quiet thank you in my head that I had not dropped my phone in the pit toilet by some freakish chance. It’s the way I think–deal with it. I tend to overthink, I think. I was in a hurry to get to Cadboro-Gyro Park and get a dash plaque. It would be Spencer’s first.
We arrived too early to register so went to a spot to set up, where I promptly started stacking the roof and pulling apart the hastily tossed in gear in the bus. When it was basically all lying on the ground, we were asked to move to a better location as we were being surrounded by the watercooled vehicles and the buses were setting up in a different area. It was muggy out, and had begun to warm up–or maybe it was me in my state of hurriedness. The others walked the 10×20 easy-up shelter over to the new location while I tossed everything back in the bus. We quickly registered and moved to our new location, where I began the procedure to set up anew.
It became blatantly obvious within a very short period of time who was going to win the stacked contest, and rightfully so.
I cursed myself for bringing all the gear to stow on top of the bus and vowed never to do both camping and bring stacking items again. Some performed double duty, like the water cooler and the trunk filled with firewood and a couple of suitcases, so that was okay. I will admit that during rolling up sleeping bags and stowing the camping gear and trying to tidy up the bus, a few stressful moments occurred. It was turning out to be a beautiful day and I was uncomfortably hot and may have dropped a few stress-induced words.
For the rest of the gang that had showed up and set up, it was time to relax. I finally finished and had gone to get a desperately needed Starbucks while Spencer stayed behind to guard the valve-cover racers from Shane’s curiosity (the unveiling was to take place at the actual event). When I came back, we started to wander, the caffeine was kicking in and I was happy. And then the best part the day occurred.
I had met a Canadian Coast Guard Cutter captain’s daughter through posts on Facebook. Her father had passed away shortly before mine did and we had become exceedingly good friends. We shared so many similarities and had such a strong connection, that we became more like sisters, but while I was on the Island when my Mom was sick, I never had the chance to visit. And then, there she and her family were. It’s still hard for me to go to the Island because my Mom’s passing is so fresh, but seeing Susan immediately had me crying tears of joy. There I stood in the middle of the field, tears streaming down my face, thinking “Great, these people are going to think I’m totally bonkers”. They brought me a wonderful Coast Guard hoodie and we talked as long as I could before I noticed Spencer chomping at the bit to go view the vehicles in depth. When I said goodbye, my heart was full, knowing that I still had “family” on the Island–my town.
I opted to change into shorts before checking everything out in detail. As I was leaving the change rooms, a man came up to me and said “Sara!” as if he knew me. I attempted to respond with enthusiasm and as if I had a clue as to who he was. He told me I wasn’t crazy. I was relieved. I had never met him. It turns out Bruce works with my husband, and had heard all about our VWs and sought me out. Poor Spencer, we talked at length while he stood there, waiting, not wanting to wander by himself. We had a nice long chat, but I finally begged off to go and explore. It was awesome.
The rest of the gang went off to a local pub for brunch, introducing Ken Baker to the delight of the Caesar, but a few of us opted to remain behind. I cashed in on the free hot dog, and Spencer had the chips and pop. I ran into a couple of guys I had met from the mid-Island a month or so ago, and had a nice chat with Rob and then found Don and talked with him for a while too. I was so glad to see his shortened single cab there with it’s amazing story. I told Rob to convey to Reagh that it was his fault I now owned a Manx. A ride from Coombs into Parksville to fetch Starbucks from the drive through and then along the road near the beach with Brent Petrie completely sold me on the buggy. I never had the opportunity to find Russ, who was apparently somewhere about. What a great group of guys, I’m so grateful to have met them and heard their stories.
The moment had arrived. I felt like a kid when they announced the valve-cover racing was about to begin. I had absolutely no idea how Spencer’s and mine would compare, but they seemed half-decent. I stood a chance. Going on a wing and a prayer. I seriously didn’t think I’d beat Jim Brown’s racer, but I had a bit of hope that I could pull it off against Shane’s. I was fully prepared to eat humble pie, but oh, how I wanted to win. I won’t bore you with the details, but I did win. My delight was probably apparent, I don’t have much of a poker face if I don’t make an effort to conceal my emotions (which is why I don’t play poker often) I not only beat Shane, but a few others as well. Then Spencer went on to race and he did equally well. You can rest assured they will be tweaked, painted and prepped for the GCVWS. That was truly a highlight of the day for me. Not so much the winning but the fun we had with the running commentary/trash talk. I really felt like a part of the group and it was amazing to be surrounded by such awesome people. I tucked that moment away–not the winning, but the the acceptance and love of the people around me–in my heart.
The day wore on, and it was just pleasant and wonderful and an all-around amazing time. When it came time, the first group left for the ferries. They had made reservations for the
four o’clock sailing. Spencer and I had managed to get a reservation for the five, and the others were reserved for the six o’clock sailing. The dismantling and packing up went a little better than the setup, thank goodness. But still I was hot and tired and feeling a little deflated.We followed Alp and Bruce along the Pat Bay Highway. It was ironic, as we had met Alp wandering the car decks on the ferry the previous year, returning from Volksfest.
We had a bite to eat and wandered the car decks to see who else was on board. We were both exhilarated and exhausted. The weekend had been a total success. We learned a few things (although it took me almost three days and multiple tries to get the little VW bus tent back in its carrying case). And we had so much fun.
As we were leaving, I heard Corey Strickler remarking to Cindy that this is what it was all about. So many different interests, air-cooled, water-cooled, stock, slammed–you name it, they were all there. And they were all appreciated. I think Connie Brown made the same observation at the Classic. Spencer and I also discussed how Volkswagens encompass every interest as well.
For me, it’s the family. It’s really a family. I love that.We have so many amazing photos of the days and so many great memories. The only one I saw of Buster was one that Spencer took. He’s just not photogenic, poor guy. But he has a beautiful soul and a wonderful story and a lot of people took the time to take a look and read his story, including Spencer’s middle school Vice Principal, Matthew Brooks. I am so thankful that Spencer bought Buster. It’s what started all of this. I am awestruck at the world it has opened up for us and the dear friends I’ve made–we’ve made.