Soundlessly, my kayak glides into the satin water of Fanny Bay, a boot-shaped hideout from the Strait of Georgia currents between Vancouver Island and the British Columbia mainland. It's a perfect morning, the air and water so calm it's as if the day has not yet drawn a breath. Fog droops into the draws in the Beaufort Range to the west. A bald eagle stares from a tree near the water's edge. A troupe of harbor seals, curious but wary, shadows my boat, diving for cover if I stop paddling and stare too intently at them.
This is the Vancouver Island that U.S. tourists neglect, inexplicably: quiet, slow-paced, occasionally quirky but seldom self-conscious ― no Olde England affectations once you pass Victoria's city limits ― and intimately connected to nature. You don't need a kayak (though it helps), but an adventurous spirit is essential.