Canada Day, Eh?
Vancouver Island is no small place. There are cities, towns and villages from top to bottom and side to side. Surrounding the island to the east and north are a variety of smaller islands, almost all accessible by ferry. We visited a few of the islands: Salt Spring and Cortes Islands most notably. Each of these islands and towns have their own flavor and character.
Take the village of Cumberland, for example. Tiff, Pelé and I stopped in Cumberland after leaving Cortes, and were fortunate enough to be able to make a visit to my pal Sally's daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter, Chelsea, Nigel and Freya. These delightful people (who fed us breakfast and let us take showers) took us on a quick hike around the edge of town.
Cumberland self-identifies as a mountain biking town. The murals reflect this. The items on the menus of local restaurants, the names of the restaurants, the names of the trails around the town upon which one can fly crazily downhill on a mountain bike reflect this. Everything short of the names of the streets themselves has some sort of connection to hiking, mountain biking, or some sort of outdoor, healthy pursuit.
The town immediately next door, Courtenay, wore an entirely different set of loafers. Courtenay is situated on a river and has a lovely airport for small craft, a couple of charming bridges, a waterfront bike/pedestrian path, and a quaint downtown. We spent a few hours at a bike shop/cafe in Courtenay, working on the podcast, and continued to marvel at the politeness and gentile attitude of Canadians in general.
So, two towns who are divided by nothing more than an imaginary line, both on an island, could not be more different from one another. Cumberland, the tough, hale and hardy outdoorsy town of fit Canadians; Courtenay, carrying a mix between a retirement community and hip shopping mall.
We took advantage of the fairly accessible nature of Courtenay and did laundry, got groceries and took a nice bike ride along the river while we had the van serviced one last time before heading out for either more expensive destinations or more rugged terrain. We liked both towns, but as much as we would have preferred to hang out in Cumberland, necessity drew us away and placed us squarely in a town that, aside from the number of eagles flying around and the beauty of the mountains in the background, could have been located somewhere in the mid-west.
From Courtenay, we caught the ferry to the Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast, true to its name, was sunny and warm. We camped for three days and two nights outside of a town called Lund, at a place called Dinner Rock. It was one of those amazing, free campgrounds. This one is managed by First Nations folks and was spectacular. We camped just above a beautiful beach and had a lovely view.
We spent two days hiking around the beach, climbing rocks, having coitus al fresco, and playing around. In the evenings, we built a fire with wood brought over by an incredibly generous and kind local who just wanted to share. We gave him some of the sloppy handful of pot given to us by a hitchhiker on Cortes as a thank you.
From there, we decided to make our way to Vancouver, where we had an interview lined-up with the singer/musician, Frazey (pronounced like crazy) Ford. On the way down the coast, we were stopped in an improbable traffic jam. On these small coastal towns, there is often only one road connecting the little towns between them. On this one, on Father's day, there was a terrible accident, involving two motorcycles, and an SUV. This is the second potentially deadly motorcycle crash we have witnessed on our journey so far. The first one we saw on the first day of the trip. This one was awful.
The SUV was completely totaled, with an enormous crater in the front, shaped just like a motorcycle. The two bikes were completely ripped apart. We were certain that there had been fatalities, given the condition of the vehicles. When we would later check the news papers, we discovered that, mercifully, there were no fatal injuries. One of the cyclists was air-lifted to a hospital in Vancouver, but was expected to survive. The other two involved had no major injuries.
Seeing something that horrible puts me in a somber mood, and my mind was lost in a sea of thoughts about death.
I tend to think about death quite a bit anyway. I wonder about those last moments, what the sensations are like, the quality of light, the intensity of pain, etc... I also think about what happens to consciousness. Does it really just switch off, like it does in anesthesia? Is there an afterlife, with some sort of cooky heaven or hell scenario? Does your individual consciousness toss the ego driver out the window like a motorcyclist thrown over the handlebars, and merge once again with general consciousness? Is reincarnation something I should think about? Do you wake up at your babysitter’s house only to be told you were just having a bad dream? Clearly, I don't know what happens, but I can't help but be a little envious of the dead when I think of them. Sort of the same way I get a little envious of people who are so much more intelligent than I am. I feel like I've missed out on some crucial bits of knowledge, and I don't know how I'll ever catch up.
In any case, I did my best to steer my thoughts in a more up-beat direction, and thought instead about the one aspect of our journey which typically does not make me think about death; FOOD!
We were heading to Vancouver, which is an excellent place to get great food. Being on a fairly restricted budget, we are not visiting great restaurants. We do, however, get the opportunity to go bananas when we are near grocery stores, and I knew Vancouver would have good ones...particularly, Asian markets, wherein we could find exotic ingredients, cheap produce, dried mushrooms and a variety of spices.
We landed on a gem, the T&T market! T&T is an incredible experience for a guy like me. I am almost always a little hungry. When you walk into the T&T market, you are immediately walking into a fairly large buffet. There was seafood, roasted duck, pork, chicken, a wide variety of steamed veggies, and a whole deep hotel pan, full of Singapore style noodles. I was in heaven. We loaded up on groceries and ate our fill.
Before this delightful encounter, we had other things to do though. First, we had to conduct an interview with Frazey Ford. Frazey is a well known Canadian musician, mostly from founding a band called, “The Be Good Tanyas”. Frazey has been doing solo work for many years now and was kind enough to sit with us in our van, outside of a small park in her neighborhood. She was super sweet, patient, and generous with her time. Her episode will be released on July, 17th.
From there, Tiffany had an appointment for a haircut, and man did she make the most of it. Tiffany had about 4” cut off of her hair, and looks great!
After walking around with Pelé in the city, getting Tiff's hair done, and getting food at the T&T, we worked our way over to Stanley Park to watch the sunset. We decided that we would stay another few days in Vancouver, and would spend the following day, riding our bikes around Stanley Park.
We were fortunate to be able to park in a spot, where we definitely should not have been parked overnight, for three nights in a row without incident. The spot was perfect. It was in a small park, on the water, with clean bathrooms, picnic tables, a place to do pullups, a lovely path for Tiff to take a run, plenty of grass to toss the ball with Pelé, and only 5 minutes from a community center where we were able to take free showers.
I'd like to say a thing or two about the community centers in Canada. So far, we have visited several, and they all have been quite nice. I don't know what the community center in your town is like, but I have had limited experience with them before this trip. So far, my time in community centers has been taking odd-ball classes in low ceilinged rooms, adjacent to either a gymnasium or some drab commons area. If that is what you are picturing when I say community center, forget it.
Take the West Vancouver Community Center, as an example. You will not find one square foot of linoleum, none of the ceilings are low, and there is nothing drab or florescent anywhere on the grounds. Picture instead, high ceilings, natural light wherever possible, exposed wooden beams, slate floors, and public art. Instead of a drab gymnasium, several well-appointed work-out facilities, an acrobatic center, an aquatic center, classrooms for yoga, pilates, art, and dance are at your disposal. The foyer of the building is faced with a long, glass wall that completely opens up, accordion-style, to let in the outside air. There are commissioned works of local art hanging on walls and from the ceilings, and the seating is well distributed, comfortable and inviting. At every turn, you will see happy children, energetic elderly folks, relieved parents, or fit young people. The building does its job and brings together the full range of the community.
We can not say enough good things about the community center programs we have encountered in Canada. The U.S.A. Could learn something from these places.
On the last evening of our stay in Vancouver, we knew it was too good to be true. Before we went to sleep, there were 5 vehicles in the parking lot. When we woke up in the morning, there were 8. Too many people were parked in the small lot. To make matters worse, our gigantic red van, and a huge cab-over truck (which had been driven from Brazil, and had the stickers and Brazilian occupants to prove it) were two of the eight vehicles present. A neighbor, justifiably, complained and the authorities showed up in the morning to, with deference and congenial politeness, ask us to fuck off and never come back. I really do love Canadians.
We did manage to spend a whole day on the bikes, riding laps around Stanley Park, stopping to sit on the beach, toss the stick with Pelé, and eat lunch. We stayed at the park all day and watched our last Vancouver sunset from the shores of that beautiful park.
That evening, we drove away, and landed just north of a town called Squamish. We camped in an area which had been technically closed due to high grizzly activity. To be honest, it feels wrong to not capitalize the word grizzly, so Grizzly it will be from here on out.
The next morning, we met some new camp neighbors who were coming in as we were finishing up our breakfast. It was clearly a father and son team who were taking off for a long weekend in their camper-truck to go play around with their crazy 4wheel drive off-road vehicle which they had towed behind them. The pair approached us shortly after parking their vehicle.
The father, Darrel, and his son, Brandon approached us with one confident and friendly grin, and one incredibly shy, but kind smile. Darrel introduced himself and was keen to chat. He introduced us to his son. The boy was about 14 or 15, tallish, lanky, with curly blonde hair and bony knees. Darrel was about fifty, hearty and fit. There was something about Brandon which caught my attention, he had extreme difficulty making eye contact, and was wearing hearing aids. You could tell, in spite of his shyness, that he was incredibly kind and sweet. I can't quite explain why I noticed this, but on the rare occasion when his eyes did manage to meet mine, I could see it. I'm not sure what troubled young Brandon, but some sort of developmental issue was present.
At one point, when Darrel and I were discussing the motorcycle accident I witnessed on the road along the Sunshine Coast (where Darrel and Brandon were from), Darrel very sweetly reached out and took hold of Brandon's wrist. He lifted his arm and held Brandon's hand, gently pressing his thumb into the palm. He then politely changed the subject. I hadn't noticed at first, but the discussion of the violence of the car crash was upsetting the young man, and his father picked up on it without a word, and comforted the boy right away.
I was touched, and felt a sort of sweet sorrow. Like that feeling you get when you see a stray dog, or an orphaned wild animal. I couldn't shake the idea that one day, like my father, Darrel would be gone, and Brandon would have to sort out the world for himself. For me, I didn't ever really feel protected by or close to my father, so losing him was more abstract and did not leave me feeling bereft of a protector. When Darrel passes, it seemed to me from the briefest of interactions, Brandon would be without a man who knew him so well, that he knew when to take his hand and change the subject. It was a powerful moment for me to witness.
I remember having feelings of being something of an odd-man-out when I watched my class mates or friends interact with their fathers. I would watch them kid around, riff on an inside joke, or casually hug while laughing. To be sure, I knew my father. He was a nice enough man. I could see him any time I wanted, and he was obligated to see me every other weekend, but never did I feel like he was the kind of guy with whom I could joke around, or casually hug. He and I only ever had one actual conversation, and I was 21 or 22 at the time. We were not close, and we did not interact easily, ever.
When I watched the tenderness and care that Darrel had for his fairly vulnerable son, I felt the loss of my own father again. Not the loss of his passing, 15 years ago, but rather, I felt the loss of him as a man in my life who made me feel loved or looked after. I felt that same sensation I had as a boy, watching my friends and their dads act like pals. I felt the odd-man-out. I'm certain my father loved me, but I'm also certain he never knew how to let me know that. If you are reading this, and have a son or a father near by, feel free to reach out to that person and make sure they know how you feel about them...don't wait.
We spent that day, climbing the steep hills and stairs of “The Chief” in Squamish. We only made it to the 1st peak, as my knee is STILL not completely healed. The views were stunning, and the hike was not exactly easy. We hiked down the mountain, and made our way to a Mexican restaurant which advertised fried chicken...it was ok, but not great.
From Squamish, we made our way to a small town called Pemberton. We did a small hike to Narin Falls, did laundry, got supplies, showered, and prepared ourselves for a bit of a drive through some winding and twisting mountain roads on our way to a town called Lillooet.
There is a free campground outside of Lillooet, which is managed by the BC Hydro company. I'm not exactly sure what sort of sins the BC Hydro company is trying to atone for, but it must be something horrendous, as they are doing a bang-up job of it with their parks. We decided to stay at this campground for three days.
On our first night, we stood near a roaring creek and watched the tumult of the water as it rushed crazily by. It was hard not to be just a little bit afraid of it when standing so close. A man approached, also named Darell, as it turns out, and struck up a very friendly, if slightly inebriated conversation with us. He told us stories of Grizzly bear encounters, and local sights to see. In particular, he told us about a hike we absolutely had to do in the morning. We agreed and meandered back to our campsite.
On our way back, we met two gentlemen who were walking from their campsite to go throw away a few empty beer cans; Bernie and Mike. At first, I thought Bernie was Mike's son, but that turned out to be far from the case. Bernie was in his late fifties, and Mike looks to be in his late sixties or possibly early seventies. As it happens, Mike is actually 79 years old, and spry as hell.
We didn't get to spend much time talking with Bernie, as he seemed to have other things on his mind, but Mike was quite keen to chat. We told him what we were up to (the trip aspect of it, not the podcast), and he wanted to see our van. Mike and Bernie came over, and Mike was immediately taken with our little home.
“The Honeymoon Suite!” He would call it. “You could sell this for $100K (Canadian), and buy another one, or rent it out for $1,000 (Canadian) per week. You should get three of them and go into business!”
Mike is the kind of guy that I immediately want to be friends with. If I look back on the folks with whom I have made friends over the years, they have had a few things in common. For one, they are generally at least 20 years older than I am. Secondly, they typically have either a ton of enthusiasm for life or a hilariously cynical view on the whole enterprise of being. Thirdly, they are typically a bit eccentric.
Mike is all of those, wrapped up in one guy. He is almost 80, has an abundance of enthusiasm for life (in-spite of about a million reasons to be cynically twisted against everything), and he is fantastically eccentric. He is German/Canadian and has been in Canada since 1958. He is the first draft dodger I've met, and his story is dramatic, to say the least.
The first evening we met, we talked about his career, past, and present. Mike is a retired cabinet maker, but his most recent project came to me as a bit of a surprise; he is developing an app for travelers called Smart Stops smartstops.ca. His app was being developed by a team in India, they have recently been fired for, “incompetence”. I hope he gets the app done soon, his website is helpful in Canada, for sure!
He and his pal Bernie were as tired as Tiffany and I were, so they left us, but Mike and I talked about hanging out the following day.
That next morning, Tiff, Pelé and I took the recommended hike and saw an incredible site. We hiked along the banks of the raging creek we had watched the night before. We made our way through Douglas Fir, and a variety of trees, one of which was fruiting with these little berries we were told are called Saskatoons (before leaving the park we picked about half a gallon, and ate about half a gallon – that is about 4 liters, Canadian friends). The hike had a hard terminus, we were told. A dam from which the entirety of the crazy spring was rushing forth. As we approached the dam, Tiffany spotted two wild mountain goats just above us. As they tired of our presence, they took off up the mountain, causing a small rock slide which made us more than just a little nervous about continuing down the trail. The views were too great not to continue, and the promise of being able to watch as this crazy volume of water rushed through a crack not much bigger than the two of us side by side, was quite tempting.
We made our way past the rock slide area and climbed up some craggy rocks to a moss-covered outcropping. From there we could see the spillway, and the wild crashing creek fell about 30 feet into a smooth stone cauldron of whirlpools and eddies. There were some red paintings on the other side of the creek, covered from the elements by stone. They were too far away to determine if they were painted by native peoples in the distant past or a more recent addition. Either way, they looked real to us.
The view from the top of the outcropping was amazing...the attached picture will fail completely to convey just how powerful the scene truly was.
That evening, as I was lounging in the hammock, and Tiff and Pelé were drinking wine and chewing on sticks, our new pal Mike ambled by. He was wearing shorts, old white sneakers, a short-sleeved button-down shirt, and orange-tinted sunglasses. He was also carrying a boiled egg. He approached casually as if he were right on time for a meeting we had planned months in advance. We invited him to stay for wine and a campfire. He sat down and we started chatting.
Another neighbor came by and asked if we had been to see the lake. When we said we had not, she invited us to join her and her husband for a sunset walk. Mike agreed and came with us.
The path leading up to the lake is quite steep, and not an easy stroll for anyone, much less, as you might expect, a man in his very late seventies. The neighbor who invited us was trying to casually dissuade Mike from attempting the climb. I could tell he knew what she was doing, and his response was perfect, “Oh, I climbed Everest last year, I think I'll be OK.”
He most certainly did not climb Everest at any point in his life, but I can tell you this, he had absolutely zero problems climbing that hill to watch the sunset. The only thing which slowed him down was his tenancy to stop moving his feet when he was talking...and we did a lot of talking.
Tiffany and our other neighbors left us behind, and Mike and I got to have a full-blown conversation. We talked about history, his life, his travels, Elvis, Richard Reese (Reese's Pieces), geography, art, music, shoe stores, Canada, and unrepentantly tragic events. I was eager to ask him if he would be a guest on the podcast and share some of his tale with our audience.
Once an appropriate point in our conversation was reached, I brought it up. He wasn't interested. That was that. One of the most interesting guys I had met so far, just flat out not interested in being on the show. I get it, and can't say that I would do things much differently if I were him. I'm mostly just bummed out because I know our audience would really appreciate him.
We spent the evening chatting with Mike, and didn't get to bed until 1 AM! That is incredibly late for camping.
The next day we spent by the lake we had walked to for the sunset. There was yet another neighbor across from us who was traveling with her husband and her brother; Tyla (pronounced Tie-Luh), Darwin and Dale. They are Canadians from Saskatchewan and were some of the most friendly people we've ever met. They had been camping there about as long as Mike had been (over a month) and quite liked Mike.
Tyla asked if I would be willing to do massage on her husband, Darwin. I was feeling lazy and would have rather lounged in my hammock, but I need to keep up the practice, and Darwin really needed the work, so I agreed. I'm very glad I did. While I worked on him, Tiffany and Tyla collected berries, and Dale and Mike chatted and threw a stick to Pelé. I honestly felt like I was with people I had known for years, not hours. Such is the magic of travel.
As I write this, I am sitting in our van, which is parked in deep woods, underneath a glacier, surrounded by at least 5 different waterfalls. We are outside of a small town called Smithers, BC. We've only got another two or three days left in Canada. I must say, although I have little interest in ever spending much time here in the winter, this fantastic country is exactly the sort of place where I would like to spend my summers.
I'm now putting the finishing touches on this journal entry, and am doing so on the banks of the Yukon River. The sun is setting at 10:30 PM, and there is a guy fly fishing outside our window. The river has a slow rhythm, and the fly reel makes a bit of a high pitch hum, although not as high as the crazy whine of the 10 zillion mosquitoes who are outside, baying for blood.
Our drive up to Yukon was a bit of a marathon. Tiff and I are eager to get to Alaska and decided to put some miles behind us. Fortunately, you can not go more than 100 KPH (about 60MPH), so wildlife viewing is no problem. We saw bears, a fox, a couple of moose, badgers, and a variety of birds. I'm sad to report the first animal tragedy of the trip, though. I was unable to keep from driving over at least two small ducklings who were standing in the road, crossing behind their mother.
I often try to imagine how animals perceive the world around them. I wonder if spiders can sense what type of creature a frightened grandmother is, or whether or not a squirrel is ever “glad” when she makes it back to her home, having survived another day. This time, however, I did not want to picture what sort of horrible anguish was in the mind of the surviving ducklings, or their mother. I can not even begin to get my head around the horror of our terrible red machine, carelessly destroying the innocent and unfortunate little creatures who were so near the end of their own day.
I will do my best to take this moment of having dealt out an unintentional tragedy as a lesson; a prayer, perhaps is appropriate here.
Oh great goon in my mind
Wondrous creator of innocence and evil
Let me not stray into a violent path,
nor the violent path of another stray onto me
Let me not carelessly step upon the vulnerable,
and protect me, as I am vulnerable
Let me not mindlessly drive over the cute and cuddly,
and protect my ugliness so that I may not be a target
and most importantly,
let my prayers to fictional deities
not be offensive to any that happen to actually exist