We’re looking for an abandoned mine. And bears. And blue skies. We haven’t found the first two yet, but the sun is out, so we pop the latches of our Jeep's roof and remove its hardtop.
“Is graffiti extreme?”
“Abandoned mines are extreme.”
“Bears are extreme.”
Jason, Aubree, Casey, and I are looking for an abandoned mine that is allegedly covered in graffiti...and the bears that are allegedly all around us...and, really, anything else that could be considered ~extreme~. We’ve got a lot of things on the itinerary, but this joyride isn’t one of them. Then again, spontaneity is extreme. Maybe. We don’t know exactly.
An hour later, we haven’t found the mine or the bears, but Jason is angling our Jeep up an unmarked trail while rocks spin out from the tires and skip down a cliff to our left. Turns out you can have a pretty extreme time in British Columbia without strapping on some boots. Here’s one way to do it:
Fly to Victoria, BC’s capital, and check into the Fairmont Empress hotel. The Empress, nestled against the Inner Harbour, is a good introduction to the city. It's regal and classic but has the kind of dizzying wallpaper that conjures creepy mental images of expressionless twins staring back at you from the other end of the hall (in the best way possible).
There's fantastic tea at The Empress, an afternoon tradition for more than a century (or so they say). Maybe you're not a tea drinker and aren't sure you'd even know the difference. It's okay; you're about to learn everything there is to know about tea.
Meet up with Jason and Charity who run Terroir Tea Merchant, another notable spot for great tea that's a short walk from the hotel. Terroir has an atmosphere that itself is as calming as sipping chamomile (that's the relaxing kind, right?). Jason and Charity's attitudes are so approachable that it nearly betrays the fact they're also both absolute geniuses about this stuff, pooling their collective knowledge to create a space that's equal parts educational and recreational — meaning, if there were ever a place to break your loyalty to coffee, this is it.
Admire the minimalist interior. An aroma bar features corked ceramic containers made by local artists filled with dried tea leaves and accompanied by placards describing tasting notes. While Charity (a Certified Tea Master) uses their high-tech Alpha Dominche brewing machine to whip up a customized flight of teas, Jason gives the rundown of each variety at the aroma bar. The selection covers a wide range of complexity and character, with backstories offering insight about the harvesting, brewing, and tasting processes.
Leave Terroir in a burst of energy, which is admittedly fueled in part by the caffeine, but also a testament to the residual enthusiasm of the Terroir experience.
Settle down at Spoons Diner, ease into a booth, and order beers that will offset the caffeine high. The diner is quirky and colorful, and there's a thing on the menu called the Prusa. Listen as the manager, Tania, explains that the Prusa essentially gives the chef permission to decide customers' meals based on two qualifying adjectives from a list of four (breakfast, lunch, sweet, and savory). Pick a combination or try the special, maybe a scramble of bacon, avocado, and chicken called "The Poultrygeist."
At check time, learn about another Spoons tradition: Customers who order the Prusa can flip a coin to determine the fate of their payment. It's double or nothing — winners eat for free. Call the waitress over and hold your breath while the toonie (you think) somersaults above puddles of syrup on otherwise empty plates. Then watch it land on heads as the diner gods rule in your favor...this time.
With full stomachs, visit Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada at only 3 feet wide. Despite its size, there are plenty of shops packed inside. Weave between tourists craning their necks to peer at the sliver of sky that stretches the length of the tall brick walls. Across from a record store is Kid Sister, a bright paletería with flavors like key lime pie, piña con chile, and blood orange creamsicle. They're all delicious.
At the alley's narrowest point, leverage your bodies between the walls and worm upward into a staggered arrangement of limbs while a more grounded friend takes photos for scale. It's not until later that the dark side of Fan Tan Alley will be revealed by John Adams.
Adams leads tours for Ghostly Walks, a spooky guide to Victoria's landmarks that highlights the city by taking people to sites where its more sinister history has occurred, including the seemingly harmless alley where people were licking paletas into oblivion only an hour earlier. This is perfect because, as great as The Empress is, it's not haunted at all. In fact, guests might only see, like, four ghosts the whole time staying there.
It's time to get spooky.
Adams is a masterful storyteller. Follow him from Wharf Street to Chinatown as he points out hot spots for paranormal activity and the wind off the water builds to a chilling crescendo. Flinch as John's hat nearly blows off when a gust punctuates the climax of his story, a jolting tale of an apparition appearing in one particular window.
Unfortunately, you have to leave town. Even more unfortunately, you're only a few days too early for the Insane Clown Posse concert. Now that would have been extreme.
Take a seaplane from Victoria to Whistler. The plane skims and lifts and banks until you float toward what looks like sunnier weather. The weather in British Columbia you realize can be slightly cool. It's comfortable. And it's refreshing if you've just left a city during a time of year when reflective buildings battle blacktop to earn the title of "Thing That Best Traps Unbearable Heat."
Brace yourself an hour later when the plane touches down on Green Lake. At the lake, there's a shuttle that picks you up for a short ride to the Four Seasons, where broad doors open into a lobby that smells strongly of cedar and slightly of eucalyptus.
Kill some time before your next adventure by dropping off bags and heading to the pool for a quick bite and some drinks. It's there you'll discover, among other things, a cocktail that comes in a gold pineapple. Order one. Or two.
Until it's time to eat again.
Make your way to the village. Pet a dog. Eat something you've never had. Eat a peaked pie from Peaked Pies. Try the one with kangaroo meat and wash it down with ginger beer. Fill up on mashed potato, mushy green peas, and gravy.
In the morning at the Scandinave Spa, take breaks from the hot tubs, saunas, and steam room to dunk in frigid pools as per the recommended guidelines. It's said this is good for the pores, which is helpful since yours will be sweating out pure Molson from the night before.
Leave with flushed faces and switch gears to fine art. Head to the Audain Art Museum where you take a visual journey through the history of art from coastal BC, where works from Canadian greats like Emily Carr line the walls alongside a collection of First Nations masks, depicting spirit creatures, animals, and myths in cedar carvings. Step through a lattice of shadow at the top of the stairwell and browse the second floor. Sunshine echoes off the clean hardwood floors through large windowpane walls on the far side of the gallery.
Go off plan and off road looking for the aforementioned bears and that mine. Miss them both, then realize how hungry you are. It's dinnertime. At Bearfoot Bistro, take a tour with your laid back sommelier, Luc, who leads you downstairs to the wine cellar. Above your heads there's a bobsled hanging from the ceiling, a gift from the German team who used it to train during winter 2010. Follow Luc's instructions about how to saber a bottle of champagne. Listen as he explains that the technique requires a cold bottle and a warm heart. Or something like that. Something about Napoleon or good luck before charging into war. Luc knows a lot, and it's hard to keep track, and you're holding a very sharp machete.
Slide the blade up the bottleneck along a seam the way Luc demonstrated and wince as the cork rockets toward a $26,000 bottle of wine on the rack just before losing steam and falling to the floor.
Three plates into your meal, accept an invitation into the Ketel One Ice Room, the world's coldest tasting room at -25F. "Just a moment of your time. I promise it'll make your main courses taste that much better," you're told. Put on a borrowed Canada Goose jacket and charge into the vodka library where ice shelves are lined with bottles of varying blue tints. Your puffs of breath pierce the pauses between shots, during which you receive short lessons about the vodka bases (potato, corn, grain, etc.).
Back in the dining room, the waitress wheels a cart toward your table. She parks it at the head of the table before lifting up a carton of cream and, wait, what? Liquid nitrogen? She adds and mixes and folds them together to make fresh scoops of ice cream for everyone.
Enjoy your dessert.
Drive to Vancouver. Check in at The Burrard and lean against an upper railing to survey the courtyard below. The hotel is built into the skeleton of a motor inn from the '50s. Much of the charm from the original remains, with modern touches and pops of brightness that amp up comfort and color for guests. Don't forget your early-morning appointment to attempt stand-up paddleboarding for the first time.
At Vancouver Water Adventures on Granville Island, meet your paddleboarding instructor, Ryan. Study the mechanics of paddleboarding, different turn styles, and techniques for accelerating. Your friends follow next to you in a kayak as you make your way along False Creek, framed between the skyline of Yaletown and the bike path on your right — er, starboard — side.
Drift past houseboats, showing off your new paddleboard moves. Absorb Ryan's insider tidbits about specific boats on the water as you navigate against the current toward Cambie Street Bridge. Offer smiles and waves to one hotel balcony where a man has stepped outside as naked as a harbor seal.
He doesn't wave back.
Ryan shepherds you safely back to shore where you decide to air-dry inside the Granville Island Market. The market is a sprawling, bustling bazaar of specialty vendors selling squid ink pasta, olives, Manchego wheels, chocolates, jewelry, jams, soaps, and the perfect crepes to hold you over until your next stop (where you've been advised to bring an appetite).
At Score on Davie, get what amounts to a meal for four served inside, hanging from, and on top of a single Bloody Caesar. We're talking a hamburger, onion rings, pulled pork slider, and, oh yeah...an entire chicken. The sun peaks and peeks over a nearby apartment building, unfolding a tablecloth of sunlight around your array of Bloody Caesars and local beers. The jugs of sangria look tempting, but you've got more booze in your forecast.
Stop at your final destination: a moody, apothecary-style spot in Chinatown called Keefer Bar where drinks are categorized by their defining characteristics ("strong," "tart," etc.). These appear on the menu with an additional alumni list of cocktails that are basically hall-of-fame picks plucked from the rotating seasonal selection.
Try a few.
There's the Life of a Salesman, the Dragonfly, and something wrapped in renminbi. Your bartender, Amber, gives you a rundown of, well, just about everything. You talk about bars, current events, spirits (of both the liquid and ghostly variety). You mention mezcal, and she immediately has a recommendation for a place in Brooklyn you haven't tried yet despite living there. Amber recently won a bartending contest in DC. You can tell.
Order one more to steel yourselves for the flight home.
Lug your suitcase to the terminal. Watch a man pretzel a pretzel even further until it fits into his mouth. Listen for "zone two." The airport is hot, and your mind wanders to the vodka room. Think about the mine you almost found and, even without seeing a bear, the pretty extreme time in British Columbia you had without going on a single hike.
But there's way more than just one way to do it. Keep Exploring with Destination Canada.
Photographs by Aubree Lennon / © BuzzFeed