Travels With A Donkey Slashed Out Moped
“As I walked through the wilderness of this world...”
- -John Bunyan
A winding, hilly, semi-wilderness track running through 160 miles (270 Kilometers) of rock-hard, rugged, creek and river terraced, Blueberry and Evergreen emboldened landscape inhabited and ranged by Black Bear, Coyote, (wolf? Cougar?) Wild Turkey, hermits, hillbillies, fishers, hunters, summer cottagers, water gypsies travelling the Trent-Severn and Rideau Canal systems, tourist operators, road gypsies, truckers, artists, sellers of genuine and imitation handicrafts, and those most fortunate of human beings known as Tree Huggers and Nature Freaks' is a reasonable description of Highway 7 connecting the city of Ottawa, which is part of Canada’s Capital Region, with a lesser city of Peterborough, Ontario. While this Number 7 wildland was not nearly as wild as Grizzly Bear lands that I would moped in before my trip was done, this land can be as dangerous as some of the world’s savage, large cities, so the short, siren call of the Ontario Provincial Police Cruiser coming from behind me, and obviously signaling me to stop my slow-moving moped on the highway’s gravel shoulder came as no surprise. The O.P.P. patrols here are concerned as much with the non-traffic related safety of individuals as they are with enforcing traffic laws, and I have heard from hitchikers of being picked up along wild stretches by the O.P.P. and driven into one of the small, isolated communities where the hitchhiker could ‘thumb’ in more security. When planning my moped-camping expedition a concern rated above traffic competition was roadside encounters with bears who could view my small, low profile and quiet progress as a young moose or fawn, in which case my slow acceleration and 30 m.p.h. top speed would provide little security as bears can run equally fast. During the trip’s 7,500 miles of road running, much of that on rural roads, I learned that my quietly moving, slow motion moped and I were great curiosities to animals either wild or tamed, and I did have four dangerously intimate encounters with bears on my trip, as well as equally thrilling encounters with other animals wild and tame, such as the stallion with his mare who answered my high spirited ‘whinny’ with a race across prairie. I also unintentionally stampeded herds of cattle and horses; and during a midnight run beneath a full moon on an almost vacant prairie highway in southern Manitoba I found myself carefully, slowly, maneuvering my way between huge, ghostly forms of cattle which had wandered their way onto the pavement.
On Number 7 Highway, though, on this first day of my trip in late May, I had corralled an O.P.P. officer’s attention because my heavily-laden, low-powered moped and me had for many minutes been blocking the progress of a gargantuan motor home driven by a modern pioneer pilgrim explorer who had insufficient experience piloting his or her behemoth to allow me the necessary room to reduce my already slow speed sufficiently to make a safe exit from the paved portion onto the dangerously soft, sand and gravel shoulder. When I say this motor home was a giant, I can add that in my opinion as a professionally trained driver the motor home was wide enough to have rated a police escort on this narrow highway. My driver’s education is not minimal, with its professional leg coming during my pre-Peacenik stint with the Canadian Armed Forces during which I drove troop-carrying trucks towing artillery pieces. Blast this motor home! It took the entire width of the lane, and he was following me so closely that I thought he must be trying to improve his gasoline miles-per-gallon performance by sucking any unburned hydrocarbons from my little exhaust pipe directly into his voracious carburetor. His gain would have been small, because despite my heavy load of camping and cooking gear, water, spare gasoline and two-cycle oil, tool kit and spare inner tube, food and clothing for two seasons, my 1.9 horsepower engine propelled me at 120 to 130 miles per gallon, leaving practically nothing in its exhaust of value for anyone, but also, by the way, harming nothing either, because modern 2 cycle (also called two-stroke) engines use precision pumps to inject minute amounts of upgraded oil into the gasoline just ahead of the combustion chamber, and most of the unburned oil condenses in the muffled exhaust pipe instead of being emitted as oily smoke like the old style, gas-oil premix engines. Environmentalism as well as economy makes my moped my only choice of personal, motorized transportation. Of course a bicycle would be even more environmentally friendly, and for the past two decades, until purchasing my moped, had been my only wheels. Three decades ago I toured 1500 miles on a 10-speed bicycle, but now my 60 year old, slightly damaged knees would not allow a return to long distance travel by bicycle.
So then, here I was, almost being devoured by a wheeled monster, its driver sitting so high above me, and so unprofessional in attitude, that had I slowed to a speed sufficient to allow my narrow tires (2 ½ inches) a safe exit onto an extremely narrow, very soft shoulder, he or she probably would have run me right over, me becoming a soft bump not unlike the pavement’s frost heaves. To make matters worse, this stretch of particularly twisting and hilly highway prevented the motor home from passing. To the driver’s credit he or she did not once lean on his or her horn in aggravation; and relief for motor home and I eventually came in the form of a long, steep incline, the grade of which gradually slowed not only my moped but also the monster. Coming at the right time was a widening and firming of the shoulder, and I, with my moped long ago having automatically downshifted to first gear, and now speeding along a about seven miles per hour, very thankfully pulled off, the motor home rumbling slowly past. I then activated my turn-signal indicator light to prepare for a return to the pave-ment, and at that same time came the O.P.P.’s brief siren. I stopped, dismounted, set my bike up on its ‘ upside down Y’ type kickstand, and removed my helmet. I was not worried about legalities because I had all necessary licensing and insurance, and I knew that mopeds are legal on all highways in most provinces except on multi-lane restricted access roads like 401, 417, etc. Manitoba does have some archaic laws concerning mopeds, which before I learned they are no longer generally enforced, led to a wonderful detour through rugged country on a road which made Highway 7 look like an expressway. My small worries about this O.P.P. officer concerned my hairy-faced, hippy appearance strumming a discord in the officer’s heart, especially if he or she thought I might have drugs in my baggage. I no longer use recreational drugs, but a search would mean unloading and reloading all my equipment. I had purposely avoided possible ‘dangerous weapons’ charges by leaving with my canoe expedition equipment my long-bladed hunting knife which I wear while in the woods for wild animal protection. I felt somewhat naked in the Moped Forests without that knife, a situation I can avoid if I do another wheeled voyage because my spiritual minded brother Ron Christmas-gifted me this year with the only necessity I lacked for another wheeled, wilderness adventure, that being a hunting knife equally strong and sharp as my long-bladed version, but with a slightly shorter blade; and please don’t think I am a ‘bit off’ by thinking a knife is defense against bears. One recent demonstration of wilderness self-defense occurred on an Arctic island, where four canoe-campers were attacked by a Polar Bear, one of the men saving the lives of his male friend and two females by repeatedly stabbing the bear as it was mauling his friend. The mauled victim was seriously hurt, but fortune prevailed in the four finding fast transportation to an arctic hospital. Another example told me by an Armed Forces medic who spent tours of duty in the Arctic was of a modern Inuit woman of senior citizen age single-handedly killing a Polar Bear with her knife after the bear had slashed its way into her tent. According to the medic the large hump on the rear of the Polar Bear’s neck is brain. My personal experience, and I don’t brag or say I was brave when I relate this, came 30 years ago when I possibly saved myself and a young woman companion from a Black Bear on a narrow trail in the Rocky Mountains outside of Jasper, Alberta by instantly attacking with my hunting knife honed with my loud yell when the bear made a close and surprise appearance coming out of thick brush. The woman screamed and jumped behind me, attracting the bear’s curiosity, and unleashing instantly in me what can only be described as the most primal instinct. In the same flash of insight that told me with the woman behind me I stood no chance of outrunning the bear .. well, the ‘thought’ that I should attack did not occur to me, my attack initiating itself without advantage of intellect, that power coming into play only when I found myself running towards the bear with my hunting knife held high over my head, knowing I stood only one chance, and that was a thrust through the bear’s eye into its brain. The bear’s primal instinct of self preservation showed clearly on its face, and faced with fight or flight, it ran off. My lack of courage after my adrenalin response persuaded me to not continue on the trail, and we returned to the main area of camp, where I commenced to trembling, and not from cold. Of course, a large bear’s favourite method of killing large game is to sneak up quietly and with one swipe of a paw decapitate its target, this applying equally to deer, small moose, and humans, so the first defense against bears has to be awareness of how to keep them away. Fear of humans prevents bears from thinking of us as normal prey, but cases of mistaken identity do occur, such as the young geologist in Northern Ontario who was killed in that manner while squatted or bending down examining rock samples, therefore Khaki is, in my opinion, a poor colour choice for woodland clothing. I almost always wear bright coloured clothing in the woods, especially the shirt or jacket and hat, not only to assist bears in identifying me as human, but to assist searchers in finding me or my remains if I get lost or eaten, and to assist hunters in identifying me as a non-animal. On a moped, bright clothing also assists drivers in avoiding running you over.
Here on Highway 7, my danger was that I might be faced with a Police Officer who may have gotten out of bed on the wrong side that morning, or who was tired and grumpy after a long shift, or who may professionally view my considerable load as unsafe, and I could be ordered off the road. The rear of my vehicle carried a saddlebag on each side, with an aluminum-framed backpack standing upright on the luggage carrier. All was very safely properly and safely secured; but my tent and sleeping bag I had fastened in one bundle across the front fender, below the headlight. This bundle did not interfere with turning capacity, and was doubly secured by strap and bungee cord on each side, and triply secured with a strap around its centre. However, I had no idea what the officer might think of this arrangement, which was, really, not much different from some touring bicyclists’ loadings, but mine was a motor vehicle, not a bicycle. I was also a little concerned that this officer might not have full knowledge of my legal position. During consideration of purchasing my moped I had phoned the Ottawa City Police Department and had asked if mopeds were legal on highways, and had been given a negative answer. I doubted the accuracy of that officer’s knowledge, and secured a second opinion from the Ontario Government website, where I learned the legalities, including licensing and insurance, and the requirement to travel as far to the right of the travelled portion as possible.
This officer was a gentleman, in a reasonable mood, and I was respectful of his duties and person. He listened respectfully as I explained my desire to ‘make way’ for the motor home, but how dangerously close I had been followed, and told the condition of the shoulder, and the narrowness of my tires, etc., with all being well received, and I thought all was well with me in the officer’s mind. It was then he said, “Kind of overloaded aren’t you?”
This being my first few hours of this trip I had no experience as to how my heavy load would affect my moped’s durability, but my only concious concern was how well my tires would bear the weight, so I responsed in an offhanded, hopeful way, “Not too bad.” The officer smiled. He didn’t bother asking me for my driver’s license, as my vehicle was properly license plated, and he said something like, ‘I guess you’re okay.’ Many police officers are also motorcyclists, and among motorcyclists, I learned on my trip, anything roadworthy with two wheels and a motor was honoured with inclusion in the fraternity. I did not ask if the officer was a motorcyclist, but we shook hands and he turned to return to his cruiser. He partially turned back, though, to ask, “how far are you going?”
My hoped-for destination by moped was Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, about 2,000 miles. I planned on going on to my brother at Victoria, but possibly by hitchhiking or Greyhound Bus as I thought I might be fatigued at Saskatoon, or that the moped just wouldn’t make it through the Rocky Mountains. I did not elaborate that to the officer, though, and my answer of ‘Saskatoon’ brought a slightly disbelieving shake of the head along with a small, tight lipped smile. He then returned to his cruiser and drove off. I mounted up and continued thankfully on, this officer becoming the first of many people met on this trip who would bring to flesh and blood the statement of Robert Louis Stevenson’s which he included in his dedication to his book, ‘Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes’, “… and the best that we find in our travels is an honest friend.” Stevenson’s donkey became such a friend in their 12 days of travel that he wept after he had sold her - Modestine being her name. My moped has no name other than moped, but that name is especially respectful to me now, having carried me through 7,500 miles on some of Canada’s roughest terrain available to a conventional wheeled motor vehicle, including twice through the Rocky Mountains and other mountain ranges of Alberta and British Columbia.
Stevenson’s walk was through 120 miles, while my moped’s equivalency miles, calculating a 300 horsepower car against my 1.9 horsepower engine, factoring in my heavy load, comes to roughly 1.5 million miles - and that without mechanical breakdown. In case of breakdown, though, I had an honest friend in Baird McNeil of Russel, Ontario, one of those poetic types who had told me before I started out, “If you get in trouble, call me.” Baird’s simple and heartfelt offer brought me great comfort, because, unlike Stevenson, I had no great financial backing, my small, guaranteed income’s spendable portion after payment of room rent was $500 per month, with no savings in the bank, and no property to sell. With this small amount I must, for three months, pay all expenses and overcome all adversities on a trip which was to last three months. Faith had to be put to the test here, because if I were to pay for camping each day of the month that amount would easily be $600. As it was I paid only four night of camping, three of those being in Canmore, Alberta, where I found employment at construction labour at $I00 a day, and where each night at the Wapiti tent site run by the town cost me only $10, and which included showers and wonderful companionship with summer travelers and modern hippies. My finances along the way were also boosted by surprises from strangers as well as from another poet friend from Ottawa. In case of dire emergency I carried a credit card with a ‘0’ balance, but had no employment waiting for me in Ottawa with which to pay off debt. Besides the financial advantage, Stevenson also had it up on me because while he was 28 years old when he did his journey, while I was 60. I was, however, one up on Stevenson because while we both had serious respiratory health problems, his battle against those problems which he came close to overcoming inspired me to carry on through my own life of physical affliction. While not wanting to make more of myself than I already have, I think it completely fair to say that Stevenson, with his great sense of humanithy and strong sense of adventure, would have enjoyed meeting me during my trip; and needless to say I would have enjoyed meeting one of the writers whose books and lives had contributed to my unescapable sense of adventure and acceptance which has carried me at times penniless through my last three wilderness decades. Especially I would have enjoyed meeting Robert Louis Stevenson on his trek with his Modestine, who he grew so fond of that when in the company of men following his sale of her, he wept openly. I feel some affection for my moped, as well as for my canoe, with which I had two long, solo adventures. However, unlike some people who give affectionate names to their automobiles, ‘Mabel’ being an example for that faithful family car; and to their canoes, ‘Spirit of Firewater’ for a canoe fierce enough to brave the boiling, foaming waters which rise to the Happy Hunting Ground as smoke .. mist .. spray .. and it is for those reasons I avoid whitwater when possibe. My canoe, and my moped, I have not given names beyond ‘canoe’, with a small, affectionate ‘c’, and ‘the moped’. However, I do feel some kinship with both, being one of those people who think that even inanimate objects like rocks may be blessed by or with spirit .. and while I do get careless, my maintenance of canoe and moped is careful, especially as they have served me so well, and seemingly with such intimate faithfulness, on such intense adventures. On my bicycle adventure 30 years ago I did name my 10-speed ‘Blue’ .. which suited it reasonably well because of its colour. I could not think of naming my moped after its colour, as Yellow signifies cowardice, and my brave moped proved from my first ride to be anything but cowardly. I suppose I could have named it ‘Sunbeam’ but then the kitchen appliance manufacturer of that name might have ridden after me with dark intent.
First Day of Trip
“Home is the hunter, home from the hill…”
- -On Robert Louis Stevenson’s headstone in the Pacific Islands
On Thursday, May 17, 2007 I was ‘at home’ in Ottawa, a city I had returned to from travels often in the previous decade because it had become the home of two daughters and two granddaughters .. but this day is departure day .. the hunter for adventure about to hunt again. My destination for this day is Peterborough, where my 10 year old grandaughter Jade lives with her Dad Ralph, and while this stretch of highway is worthy of a month’s exploration for someone not familiar with its curves, hills and secret places, I am familiar enough with the terrain and people, having hitchhiked, driven, been driven by family and friends, and Greyhound Bussed the route countless times, and I hope to make it to Jade’s home before dark.
This first day will be a test of my vehicle and load, to see if I really should continue on towards Saskatoon; but this first day also tests the comfort of my homebuilt seat, a seat which is a necessity because although I am feeling reasonably healthy after recovering from an initial debilitating onset of prostate cancer I still have the disease, and it sometimes discomforts me. My seat consists of seven inches of sculpted and waterproofed foam rubber securely taped to a toilet seat .. yes, a toilet seat, a white one, which the seat’s hinged lid still attached and equipped to add support to the backpack. I conceived of the toilet seat idea ‘[during a moment of comfortable meditation’, one might say, an invention of necessity, as for me at my age and in my state of health the standard moped seat was impossibly hard and narrow for a journey of longer than half an hour at a time. By using an electric drill to make pilot holes through the seat’s hinge, and by undoing some thumb-type screws which I screwed into the holes, I can separate the lid from seat, which is necessary because my new seat sits atop the original, hinged moped seat, and the two seats have to lift together on the original, seat’s hinges to give access to the two cycle oil reservoir, which I had to top up at intervals of about 400 to 500 miles. Among motorcyclists met along the way the seat gained me much comical but respectful notoriety .. and the arrangement, all secured by Canadian Television personality Red Green’s favourite tool duct tape, and further constrained with bungee cords, worked so excellently that although I made part of my progress on the first three days by alternately sitting and then standing on my pedals as I rode, by the fourth day I felt no rear end discomfort whatsoever, excepting the normal slight swelling of the prostate which comes with fatigue.
On this first day I rise at 4 a.m. The previous evening’s sunset was a yellow band on the western horizon .. as sure a foretelling of strong winds the next day as the ‘red sky at night – sailors’ delight’ prophecy holds true for good weather. The forecast for winds also holds true, and temperatures are near freezing, with thick, black clouds threatening rain. I consider postponing as I load my gear, but will watch the sky for weather signs. I really can’t afford to postpone, because my medical disability income is dependent on my not being absent from my home province of Ontario for longer than 30 days at a time, except by way of permission granted. I have been given an additional 30 days out of province for the sake of my sister-in-law’s cancer, and also because I have a note signed by my doctor stating my mental health will benefit through family visits. Yes, my years-long state of continual near poverty with its accompanying inability to lead anywhere near a ‘normal’ life has led to serious depression. In attempting to counter the depression without drug therapy I waited six months for a psychiatric appointment, only to be told by the psychiatrist that she would not work with anyone unwilling to undergo drug therapy. It was a brief interview.
My time table calls me to be crossing the Ontario-Mabitoba border by June 1, which will allow me one month to get to Victoria, and one month back to the border. Mileage from Ottawa to the fishing resort/lumbering/mining village of Kenora, Ontario, near the Manitoba border, is about 2000 kilometers. This works out to 40 hours of straight riding. However, through day trips around Ottawa I have learned that 40 hours of straight riding translates without flat tire, mechanical or other problems to 120 hours of time, and as daylight hours are still short, and as I want to visit in Peterborough for two or three days, and possibly ride down a short hop south to Port Hope before heading due west, I don’t have a lot of time to postpone with.
While I vacillate on this planned departure morning, my upstairs neighbour Alexander rises and comes outside. It is from Alexander I learned the forecast for wind. We chat. Alex had been very encouraging at another departure, last year’s three month solo canoe voyage. His sense of adventure is strong, he having kayaked many of his homeland Russia’s major rivers .. but his adventure now is his financial poverty which, despite complete professionalism and early success as artist and art teacher, fails to surrender to his three art degrees from St. Petersburg, where Alex spent a lot of time at The Hermitage, Russia’s premier art gallery. Alex is also hindred financially by refusing to give into what is in his view ‘commercialism’ in art. Ordinarily, financial boundaries related to ‘class structure’ separate people who have achieved outstanding accomplishments, but in certain situations ‘class’ distinction is eliminated, and while I don’t consider myself as having any outstanding accomplishments, many of the people I have met in my life of near poverty seem to have been transported from fantasy; and Alex is a fine example, his utilization of space (and that is not a pun for what will come) in artistic vision had been utilized by the Soviet Union’s Space Program in Alex’s assistance in designing the interiors of space capsules .. as documented by a photo of a younger, smiling Alex inside one of the capsules. In fact, I am remembering that it was visions of art which introduced Alex and I to each other in a fantastic way, he having had completed and exhibited a series of paintings called Canadian Visual Symphony not long before I, with my just completed novel Symphony for the End of the World, moved into our rooming house. I also share with Alex a lifelong interest in extra terrestialities .. and so we had plenty to talk about after we met in our common kitchen. Besides our common interests and near poverty, we also share serious health problems which have come with advancing age, failed marriages, etc. He and I, provided sufficient cash, could possibly have played the leading men in the recently released movie ‘The Bucket List’ about two senior citizens with terminal diagnoses who go on wonderful ‘last adventures’ . I say could possibly have played those parts, because my own sense of artistry would not permit me to participate in the movie unless one or more of the adventures was giving a large share of resources to places like soup kitchens and food banks, which in my experience are much more than absolute necessities for the underprivileged, they are also probably absolute necessities for anyone of financial privilege who wants to experience value in their lives. For Alex and I, commonalitieswhich have joined us in a strong sense of companionship did not result in our sharing a great deal of time together .. ( in our modern, narcistic age does anyone besides true saints, married couples who have been together past 30 years, and romantic couples new to each other share their time?) Nonetheless, Alexander and I are heartfelt friends, and he briefly considered coming with me on last year’s voyage .. a cue I was too slow and possibly narcistic to pick up on .. although to be fair to myself my 16’ canoe was really too small for two large men with gear necessary for an extended voyage.
Joining Alex and I this morning is our other large friend Les, short for Leslie. We are all near the same age, all single, and we would be called ‘exceptionally physically strong’ men, in our younger years. Les alone has hung onto the bulk of his power, partly because he is slightly younger, and partly because he earns his income as a furniture mover. Labbatt’s Blue is Les’s exclusive brand of beer, and besides standard ‘Blue’ T-shirts he has a T-shirt which proclaims “The Man” on the shirt’s upper chest portion with an arrow pointing upward to Les’s face, as opposed to “The Legend” with that lower wording accompanied by an arrow pointing downward to, you know, towards the manhood. Like Alex and I, Les has survived the trauma’s of marriage failure and separation from children, and these experiences have gentled him, as it does with most intelligent men, and despite Les’s huge arms, barrel chest, and ham-sized fist (okay, I exaggerate the fists, a little) he is, because of his ham-sized heart and laugh, (I do not exaggerate) one of the few people who can wave his hands two or three inches from my face without causing me to flinch, even after he has had a few beers. The three of us have lived as close neighbours in our apartment building/rooming house for about three years, along with our friend Abdul, our building’s custodian/security man/and chief of security for a major television station, who joins us that morning, or does he .. I can’t remember clearly, but I seem to recall Abdul saying a brief hello and goodbye as he departed for his full time employment. During the month prior to my moped departure Abdul returned to his native Uganda to remarry. I had taken over his building duties, and had earned an extra $100 to accompany my departure. I envy Abdul his hoped for marriage happiness, but after failing that institution twice, have little desire to cause another lady’s suffering. Besides, I have come to know myself now, and what woman would I have anything in common with .. sleeping under the stars whenever possible .. being content with a canoe and moped instead of a motel, houseboat or motorhome. Yes, marriage or even a permanent companion seems an impossibility, but I would greatly have loved to be at Abdul’s wedding.
Les, meanwhile, having long ago heard of my moped plans, has also long ago decided that I would make it to B.C. … “Bell’s Corners” he has said many times in his Quebecois accent with his mighty laugh, and he repeats his evaluation and laugh that morning. Bell’s Corners is a hamlet on the road to Saskatoon, but within Ottawa. In the week prior to departure I have come to wonder if Les, who is one of the gentlest souls I have ever met, is also part prophet, as my moped has developed a serious tendency to enter phases of sputtering, major loss of power, and then recovery. I had encountered similar sputtering in the first, cold weather week of operating the brand new moped two years before, but had eliminated a carburetor freezing problem by insulating both the gas line and the carburetort cover. Now, the moped has only 2,000 miles on it, so I don’t suspect a major problem, but without sufficient mechanical knowledge, and not enough budget to afford a mechanic, I can only clean the spark plug and make sure the gas line from the tank is clear, and pray.
Another friend and neighbour in the building, Dennis, gave me a spiritual sendoff which carries a promise of success the evening before, and now the strength and warmth of Les’s and Alex’s hearts, and Abdul’s also, if he was or wasn’t there that morning, push the black clouds to one side, and a bit of blue appears in the east. The blue grows slightly larger, and I decide to leave, with my first horizon line being Les’s B.C. I barely make Bell’s Corners, with the engine developing its sputtering, sputtering, sputtering. I sputter miserably into Les’s B.C. and consider turning back, but make the decision to motor on, and the engine clears. I have since learned that the dirt in the carburetor cleared and was blown out the exhaust pipe, and I never had another mechanical problem, other than tires going flat, until coming near London, Ontario on my return, when the carburetor’s fuel filter suddenly became nearly blocked. Dirty gas, I guess.
The clearing of dirt in the carburetor is accompanied by a clearing of the sky, and for the first week of the trip I am blessed with good weather, sunshine and warm days. Leaving Bell’s Corners that first day though, I was frigidly cold. Wind chill is a serious factor in motor biking, and despite cold, wet weather in my second week, the easy onset of hypothermia was a lesson I only learned effectively when nearly going into convulsions as I rode into Jasper, Alberta after a couple of days of cold, wet weather, and in particular the increasing cold and wetness as I gained altitude in the mountains proper.
Jasper was a long way from Bell’s Corners, though, and shortly after I had passed through B.C. I spent an hour inside a Tim Horton’s (for any non-Canadians who might be reading this, Tim Horton’s is a huge franchise operation of coffee shops which used to be a national icon before selling itself to an American owner. When I rode warmly away from Tim Horton’s I was wearing goggles meant for operators of steel grinding machines over my spectacles. I took the goggles ‘just in case’, and found that they keep half my face warm .. with my hair covering the other half. Now I have a nice pair of skiers goggles .. even warmer and more comfortable, and tinted for bright sun. I picked up the ski goggles for a couple of dollars at a charity shop and just today was amazed to see an identical pair selling for $100 in an Outdoor’s Shop. I ride my moped most days in the winter now, by the way, not having significant problems with ice or snow.
Soon the city of Ottawa is behind, and I am on Number 7Highway, stopping for coffee at Perth, then continue to the hamlet of Maberly, where artist-friend Liisa Rissanen lives in her isolated dwelling surrounded by Beaver ponds. I had met Liisa at a literary reading series at a time when Alexander was deeply involved with his own painting, so it was Liisa who assisted me with my cover design for my novel, the story and writing of which has been called ‘beautiful’ by many people .. “I couldn’t put it down,” etc. I had 50 copies self published by my own ‘House’, ‘Shelff-Publishted Preschh’ whose logo is a hand-cranked printing press supporting a large bottle of what is either wine or printer’s ink, depending on your taste.
“How…” you may ask, “… could anyone impoverished afford to have 50 copies of a book printed?”
Answer: I had received an inheritance of a few thousand dollars, and thought I might receive a return on literary investment, so I had the copies printed to send to publishers and movie producers, but most of the copies went to family and friends, and daughter Kayren tells me I did not make a great enough marketing effort .. so it is this frustrated novelist who, after making enquiries as to Liisa’s address around Maberly, am welcomed to her acreage by a wonder-fully friendly pet dog, and then unwelcomed by another snarling,barking, threatening guard dog who despite my gentle entreaties, does not befriend me. Nevertheless, the toothy threat is not great enough to deter me from fastening a note of ‘Howdy from The Moped Poet On Tour’ (yes .. that’s me, novelist and poet) to her door. I leave the homestead at nearly full throttle down Liisa’s declining, packed-earth laneway, thrilling quietly to myself as the friendly dog runs alongside, accompanying me until well after we have turned onto minor pavement, the pet veering off as I round the 90 degree downwards curve leading to the larger pavement of Highway 7.
For someone in a car or truck, Maberly is about an hour west of Ottawa. For me, as I have explained earlier, one automobile hour means about three moped hours, and this approximated the pace throughout the trip, except when I wanted to make quick time, ‘coming into Saskatoon’ to my elder brother Rick and his wife Sandy, or running south on the Rocky Mountain’s Thompson Highway towards Vancouver to try to make that day’s last ferry to Victoria, where my youngest brother lives alone. Those two long, more steadily motoring days were propelled by the immense family instinct which may have been primary motivation for the trip. My sister-in-law’s cancer diagnoses absolutely compelled me to visit this woman who I had loved like a sister from our first meeting. While planning the trip I realized I might also be able to renew old friendships with people I had not seen in almost 20 years. The priority of ‘touring’ was not unimportant, but I had gone back and forth across Canada several times, and when planning this trip came to think that the travel might actually be monotonous. However, because of my inability to pay for camping places in regular campgrounds, I knew I would be spending intimate nights in secret, free camping places within ‘mother nature’s land’, and have always been moved to a higher spiritual plane by such close contact. This contact had become as much a necessity for me as a psychiatrist who could work without drugs, because my trip was also the ancient quest undertaken by many .. a quest to reafirm my faith in the Creator of the universe, that Almighty and wonderful spirit known by some as God. My faith had been crushed by deteriorated relationships with my daughters; for while my family affection and relationships with brothers, sister, Mom, Dad, aunts and uncles had strengthened as I approached Senior Citizen years, my relationships with my daughters and grandchildren had become almost non-existant. Through many conversations with men and women my age I have come to realize that most adult children of the ages of late twenties through the fourties are simply too involved with their own important and frivolous priorities to have their minds and hearts engaged in their parents lives, except perhaps on a mandatory ‘welfare case’ basis. The affection between my daughters and I had always been so strong that it served as a foundation for my faith in a loving Creator, so when I came to the slow and painful realization that I was no longer a part of their conscious mental processes, and could find no way to involved myself in their consciousness, my faith in God suffered a crushing blow. At the same time, like most adults who spend time reading newspapers, the details of ruthless wars and mass murders committed by I.B.C. (International Babylon Corporation) had shocked me into an almost catatonic state. Contributing to my condition were the almost daily reports of individual acts of violence by normal people gone over the edge. Add onto those things the uncertain future our planet holds as it is battered by the results of Babylon’s State of Lust, and, like many people who might be reading this, I had become so troubled that normal conversation could not find voice. I know that animals, both wild and tame, when shocked by traumatic injury, can find mental relief by retreat into the protection of bushes, perhaps that’s why I was often glad, almost transcended, to escape conversation no matter how pleasant, and motor once again onto the wilderness of the highway, attempting to remember the words of Christ telling, ‘the kingdom of God is within you.’
About two hours after leaving Liisa’s I stop at the hamlet of Kaladar for a restaurant lunch. My moped carries groceries and cooking equipment but as I want to make Peterbrorough before nightfall I don’t want to take time to cook. I also need a short break from riding. At Kaladar’s truck stop I chat with a trio of motor-cyclists, the first of countless such chats with are both entertaining and informative. During this chat I learn that Highway 7 is blocked by a motor vehicle accident about one hour’s ride ahead. I must take a detour on Highway 37 South, a few miles past Kaladar, knowing this will change my goal for the day’s ride from Peterborough to the town of Port Hope on Lake Ontario, where I have lived several times, and where after 35 years of having first moved there still have close friends. It is between Kaladar and Highway 37 where I have the motor home-police officer incident. Highway 37 South runs through the pretty, lakeside village of Tweed, which for many years boasted on its welcoming sign “Tweed .. If it’s good enough for Elvis, it’s good enough for you.” Elvis may finally have exited the building, or simply moved, for the sign is now absent. I stop at the village’s beach for another chat with a motorcyclist, and to assess Tweed as a possible place to live.I have respiratory allergies and asthma, and the motor vehicle generated air pollution of Ottawa is necessitating a change. Tweed is also reported to have the highest ratio of single women to men in Canada .. either single women were gullible enough to have believed the welcoming sign, or I am disbelieving enough to disbelieve it.
Leaving Tweed, I run through beautiful, farmland of rolling hills, then turn at a crossroads known as Roblin onto quaint and very quiet roads. These take me into Frankford on the Trent Canal, a village I visited fourty years ago with my Dad and his wife Lorraine. Lorraine, who was one of the few genuinely stable and encouraging influences in my life, has passed on, leaving a huge void for everyone. At that time of the visit with Dad and Lorraine my Aunt Florence had lived in Frankford, and when I reach that village I stop at a coin-operated telephone (I took no cell phone on my trip) and call Dad for the sake of old time memories. Florence lives in Winnipeg now, and I hope to see her as I pass through Manitoba.
Quaint roads take me to Lake Ontario’s town of Trenton, wherea wrong turn takes me down a hill so steep, and where my judgement fails me so miserably, that I am unable to stop at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. By the grace of non-presence of police I am saved from marring my 40 year, infraction-free driver’s license record. A turnaround and assistance from a pedestrian sets me on the right road, and this is the first of hundreds of times I receive assistance with direction, for despite having good highway maps, and a strong sense of direction in an environment with open vistas, I become quickly disoriented when in even smaller urban settings.
Along Highway 2 now, is the village of Colborne, where as teenagers living in Cobourg, my brother Jody and I struck out on a hunt for girls. I meet some friendly women now, though, and their friendly male friends, and I enjoy conversation and a tea. Even though it is approaching dusk when I leave Colborne, I cannot pass by the Cobourg beach without putting my feet on its sand. This beach was teenage playground for a couple of years. Port Hope is six miles away, and I get there at dusk, stopping first at the Ganaraska Hotel to see if my friends Fox and/or Hollywood are having a beer in their normal watering hole. ‘Fox’ is Gary Fox, most famous for having been one half of the ‘Foxy and Roxy’ (Roxanne) hippy lovebird couple of the early 70s. Both Foxy and Roxy moved along in our society’s normal, but sad pattern, to parenthood with someone else. Fox has two grandchildren now,but still resembles the generally stone lad barely a man who with me who was also often stoned but now both of us in a canoe borrowed from the canoe manufacturer Fibrestrong at which we worked together, ran without the least benefit of whitewater education the foaming Ganaraska River’s mad spring whitewater rage one successful time, skimming the concrete underside of the main bridge in town with the tops of our heads, a bridge which shortly afterwards in a flood not much stronger than we ventured, was destroyed much like the borrowed canoe when Fox and I attempted a second attempt, swamping early, and then watching the canoe bend itself bow to stern before flushing downriver as we scrambled to shore. I don’t think we were even wearing lifejackets.
Hollywood .. yes .. a movie should be made .. Hollywood’s real name is, believe it or not, not known to me after having known him for 30 years. This genuine gentleman gets his name from his tall, dark, handsome, muscular appearance .. he really should have been a leading man in the movies, but instead works in an auto assembly plant in Oshawa, while Foxy has been promoted to Manager of the Port Hope Legion. The spirits of friendship between The Fox, Hollywood and I are so kind that on my unannounced return from the west three months later, when I am taking off my helmet in the Legion’s parking lot, Fox steps out the front door for a breath of air. That moment also happens to be very close to Fox’s quitting time, and we are enjoying a draft beer on the Legion’s patio when Hollywood makes a surprise appearance, he having had plans to be away from Port Hope for a few more days. Also showing up unexpectedly is a friend close to Fox and Hollywood, and known to me, this friend making up a golfing partnership I will tell you about shortly.
On this departure day, though, Fox and Hollywood aren’t at ‘The Ganny’, and a couple of fellows at the bar tell me Fox is not at work either. Port Hope is a small town, and Fox is known by most residents. I phone Fox’s telephone and get no answer, but leave a message that I’ll try his phone and door in the morning, and ride to Port Hope’s West Beach where I plan on tenting in the shadow of Canada’s uranium refinery, once known as Eldorado, and famous for its radioactive contamination of several sites in Port Hope. As a young and foolish man I attempted growing marijuana on Eldorado’s dumpsite outside of town, but thankfully the crop failed, thankfully because I might have been tempted to market it under a brand name like ‘Radiant High’, and probably would have been busted, and spent considerable time in jail. Yes .. thankfully the crop failed, and I came to see that while the herb appears to have medicinal value as a tea, it is not a substance to be played with, or illegally merchandised.
There is no natural, radiant glow in the sky when I get to the beach, night having fully fallen, and moped and me have to ford a shallow creek to get to the isolated stretch which served as home for me many times, one duration lasting from early May to November 4. During that sojourn my brother Ron and his wife separated and he moved in with me, and then I met a woman who was living in hercar in the parking lot of the beach. The woman moved into our tent as my lady friend. That two-man pup tent was cozy, with my small, white, German Shepherd-Samoyed mix taking the last vacancy. The four of us, during the last two weeks of tent home life, would wake up to frost an inch thick on the inside tent walls, and it’s still one of Ron’s favourite reminiscences to tell how Timberline would come into the tent after a successful, nighttime frog hunt in the swamp and lay on our feet while crunching his meal. In the last week of tent togetherness I made another of my continual blunders and told my lady friend I did not want to continue our relationship,and she and I went separate ways. Ron and I had made a trip into Peterborough in the last week of October, and I had arranged for a small apartment near my daughters’ home. During that visit to Peterborough I noticed that a very cute young woman in a pet shopappeared very lonely, and I pointed her out to Ron. This was Paula, who Ron was quick to ask out, and ended up marrying. Alas, Ron and I were not great husbands, each failing in each of our marriages. In that summer of living in the tent I had visited Peterborough regularly to see my daughters, and Paula liked to relate that when I visited the pet shop I taught the shop’s large parrot to curse. I suspect she mixed me up with another mixed up hippy as I wasn’t particularly fond of cursing in those days, having discovered that in the person of Jesus Christ was wonderful example as to how to live a life while living as a hippy on a beach with a lady.
Back on that beach on this first night of my latter days’ moped trip the uranium refinery’s electric lights are blocked by tall bushes surrounding the area I choose to pitch camp in, so it is in near total darkness I set up camp. That sleep comes easily after I pour about two ounces of brandy and sip it slowly, and my sleep lasts comfortably until 4 a.m., when I awakened shiveringly cold. I set large flake rolled oatmeal (the precooked crap just doesn’t make a genuine, strengthening breakfast) and apple pieces cooking on my camp stove, and then using my flashlight look for firewood, which I am surprised to find a good pile of close beside me. I assumed this wood had been prepared for a beach party planned for that long weekend, but I felt no guilt using half of it to build a warming blaze. After I had eaten my oatmeal and was well warmed the first faint light of dawn encouraged a small walkabout for old memory’s sake, and it was by that small dawn light combined with the light from the still blazing fire that I discovered the other tent camp partially hidden in some bushes about 75 feet behind my own. I realized instinctively that the firewood I was burning belonged with that tent, and I could only hope the tent’s occupant was the forgiving type. I returned to standing by the fire. Shortly afterwards I heard a rustling from behind me, and I knew it was the tent’s occupant coming towards me. I did not turn around, not wanting to make any appearance of ‘self defense’, and was joined side by side at the fire by the dark figure of a tall male. I didn’t turn to face the stranger, and he, too seemed content to simply stare into the fire. Not too much time had passed, though, before he said in a non-threatening way, “You’re burning my firewood.”
“I was cold,” I replied, knowing that this obvious outdoorsman would appreciate how thankful I was for the firewood. “I set up camp in the dark and didn’t see your tent.”
He waited a few moments before saying, “Nice fire,” with warm appreciation.
“Yes,” I agreed. Then, after a short pause, “my name’s Bob Mosurinjohn. I lived on this beach a few times .. a few years ago.”
The stranger turned to look at my face, which I turned towards his. He looked searchingly at me, then, after a momentary pause, he said as to a long-lost friend, “Bob!!”
While it was obvious that this fellow knew me I couldn’t remember him. My gypsy existence had camped me in too many places, meeting far too many people for quick remembrance. As well, a brain concussion in my early teens hinders my ability for facial recognition, a factor which contributed to the unsuccess of career attempts. By the way, my gypsy existence comes naturally, and despite genuine efforts to settle down to normalcy, unceasingly. I have Rom blood, my great grandfather having been Gypsy from Bukovina, a small area which is now part of Romania.
“I’m sorry, I said, but I don’t know who you are.”
“Paul!” he said, “Paul Workman.”
Of course. While Paul had not been one of my closest friends, we had been friends, having met on this same beach, he having tented here many times, living on the beach actually, enabled to do so by income gained from his own slight handicap resulting from an accident. I supppose Paul and I would be called hoboes by some people .. hippies by others .. bums by a few; but we thought of ourselves as Freaks of Nature .. people who loved the outdoors so much life meant little without that enjoyment. Living on a rough,unused beach which was closely bordered by swamp, small trees, and a high embankment which supported twin railroad tracks which were the source of clickity clack music and long, locomotive horn blasts seemed as natural for us as planting a uranium refinery here had been by the Canadian Government. It was here, alsonaturally, that I had discovered glow-in-the-dark fungus which makes midnight finding of dead, dry firewood as easy as breaking branches off dead trees. It was also here that I saw the once bountiful Redwing Blackbird population decimated by emissions from, no, not the uranium refinery, but from a plastics factory which was established in more recent years. Those emissions had made the beach undesireable as a home, even if the rent was free, and I hadn’t lived there for almost two decades, although I had tented briefly. The beach held incredibly strong memories for me, not the least of which was camping with my wife and children before our family breakdown, and with my three daughters following the breakdown. My adult daughters treasure those memories also, and we have returned with the third generation for brief visits.
On this same beach in the early dawn of my trip’s second day Paul Workman returns to his tent to sleep after thoroughly warming himself, and I break camp and load my moped. I’m concerned about beach sand getting on the chain and sprocket, and after I get to the road I clean what I can. With my stomach full of oatmeal restaurant coffee alone is sufficient to take me to 7:30 a.m., when I ride to Fox’s apartment. Serendipitousness as always is strong between Fox and I, he coming out his apartmentbuilding’s front door as I ride up. He, with Hollywood and friends, have a golf day planned, and again serendipitously, they plan on stopping at a restaurant in the fishing resort village of Bewdley on Rice Lake, on the route to Peterborough, before golfing on the other side of the lake. We agree to meet at the restaurant, where I take directions to the golf course. My granddaughter Jade won’t be home from school until after 3 that day, so I could spend a few hours with Fox and crew at the golf course. The road around the lake is longer than I think, with long, steep hills which slow my speed, and when 1/4 around I change direction for Peterborough where I can spend a few hours in quiet rest. In Peterborough I purchase a steak and green pepper to go with my cooking onions, and set up a kitchen on a concrete pier on Little Lake. A woman is sunning herself on the pier and we chat .. with sparks of attraction obvious .. but I’m not interested in possible complications at this time of life, so I douse the sparks within me and turn up my naptha stove’s cooking flame, finish my chef’s job, and enjoy my meal.
I ride up to Jade’s house just as she rides up on her bicycle. She and I have a relationship based on strong family affection and love for the outdoors, she being a fisher and camper. I had lived in her home for the spring and summer months five years before, when my daughter Kathi was still residing there, and Jade and I went-a-fishing, and also went a-canoeing on Little Lake. A framed photo of the two of us in the canoe has been propped on a shelf in their living room since then. I’m writing this in the same room I lived in then, having moved in again two months ago. On my moped trip stopover Jade’s Dad Ralph and I and Jade spent a couple of days together, and I went for coffee with Kathi and her new partner.
When I lived here the first time Kathi and I and Jade would go shopping malling often, but I’ve been living here for three months this time and have only seen Kathi when she comes to pick up Jade for visitations even though she and I almost always share a warm and genuine hug when she comes for Jade. I think she and I are both at a loss for words with each other.
Trip’s End So Soon?
Despite the bone marrow renewing warmth of a grandaughter’s love, my shivering cold night on Port Hope’s beach has persuaded me that before I leave Peterborough I must make an addition to my sleeping gear, which consisted of a too-lighweight sleeping bag and cotton bedsheet safety pinned inside and serving as a liner. At the Canadian Tire store I purchase an inexpensively flimsy, emergency ‘space blanket’ of plasticized aluminum, and at a charity store purchase a second cotton bedsheet. I use double sided tape to stick the space blanket and bedsheet together, and will spread this over my sleeping bag, with the cotton side down for clinginess, and also for absorbing moisture vented by my bag. This proves to be a great improvement in warmth, relatively durable, and easily folded, but the space blanket was too flimsy, and I replaced it after one month with a more expensive, sturdier model pinned to the bed sheet with large safety pins. That arrangement is lasting wonderfully.
I ride away from Peterborough along Highway 7 West, with the trip going so well I start to flash hippy ‘Peace’ signs with my left hand (my right hand gripping the throttle) towards people who view me and my loaded moped as a curiosity. I think it is at Oakwood, a tiny village, that I get unpeaced. I had stopped for a stop sign or red light, having had pulled to the right to allow any vehicle which might come up behind me to make proceed unhindered by my slow acceleration. When I proceed, it is at full throttle, and I am doing about 20 miles per hour and still to the right when the pavement turns to firmly packed gravel shoulder. Just after I have checked my mirror for traffic behind me, and have turned my handlebars towards the pavement, my rear tire goes almost instantly flat. It’s not a blowout .. there is no ‘bang’, which surprises me because the air deflates the tire almost instantly, resulting in a wild swaying and sliding on gravel of the heavy back end, necessitating a desperate kicking and bracing with both my feet on each side as needed, and equally desperate manipulation of the handlebars to counter the sway and slide. Even though the tire didn’t ‘bang’ by heart is banging as I come to a safe stop. This situation had been aggravated by the weight of me and my load. I weighed 195 lbs when setting out, with about 100 pounds of load. Most of that weight is over the rear wheel. I have learned since that with motorcycles, the front tire almost never goes flat, but it is nearly always the rear tire, and such was my experience throughout the trip, with a dozen rear flats, but not one front flat. I did meet a rider who told me of having had his front tire blow at 170 Kilometers an hour, and who, because he was at that time young and strong with intense reflexes, managed to keep his bike upright. I wasn’t a young man now though, and my flat, even though it resulted in no apparent harm or damage, but coming on only the second day of my trip, was very frightening, especially when I considered what might happen at 30 miles per hour in heavy traffic, and especially if the front tire blew. Once I had come to a safe stop my lack of courage, as with the bear, showed clearly in thoughts of turning back to Peterborough, and then to spend the summer on the beach in Port Hope. As my heartbeat subsided I looked around for an out of the way place to fix my flat, and chose a closed building suply storefront across the highway which had a small parking lot lined with railroad ties. I pushed the bike across the highway, set it up on its kickstand, and went for a walk to a corner store as much to relax myself as for a cold drink. Returning to the bike, I sat and drank my orange juice, relaxing further, and still questioning whether to turn my trip around. First things first, though, and I went at the repair. A moped’s rear wheel is not much different than a bicycle, and I was fortunate that the tube repair kit in my toolkit contained two, plastic, ‘tire irons’ for bicycles which were strong enough to last through a few changes of my moped tire. Before the trip was over, though, I purchased a genuine tire iron from a motorcycle parts store. These genuine irons I recommend as making changes much easier, especially recommended when you are fixing a flat on the side of a busy highway with cars whizzing past when you need all the ease you can get.
I had never changed my moped tire, and recommend that anyone with a moped give themselves that experience before necessity makes for a difficult learning experience. I made my chore easier by setting the moped on its kickstand atop one of the railroad ties, this raising my work about 12 inches. I had the tube out and had established that the flat was not the result of a puncture, and it was then that a pedestrian passerby, and a motorcyclist, came along and told me that friction of the tube against the tire had caused my problem. He also told me Baby Powder rubbed onto the tube and into the tire would reduce friction, and I have found his advice to be true, riding from Winnipeg to London on my return trip without having one flat, and when I had a flat at Kitchener it was from a puncture. Baby powder, though, makes roadside repair of a used tube impossible unless there is an abundance of water to wash the tube with, and also an abndance of dry, warm air to evaporate all moisture from the tube, moisture acting like baby powder to prevent glue and patch from adhering. I now carry two spare tubes, a practice begun north of Regina on my return trip when a biker stopped to offer assistance during another tire change, he running into Regina and back, and despite my successful repair, presenting me with two new tubes, charged only to Regina hospitality. Oh the comfort those two tubes brought. Tire wear is critically important to monitor, I learned on my return trip, when a puncture caused a change during which when I examined my tire I discovered an area had worn down to the cords. This could easily have resulted in a blowout on the busy Trans Canada Highway, although a blowout anywhere is to be avoided at all costs. I now carry a spare tire, a good recommendation whenever you ride, because while spare moped sized tubes can be had at many motorcycle shops, moped tire sources are rare, a bike shop in Victoria having to order one for me from Quebec. I personally know only two tire sources, Mr. Moped in Toronto, and the Great Canadian Motorcycle part store on Main Street in Winnipeg where I purchased a tire on the way west and again on the way east. There in Oakwood I discovered no serious abrasion damage had been done to my tire during its back and forth slide over gravel, and thanks to small, my bicycle tire air pump I was soon enough back on the highway, and not heading back to Peterborough, but determined by my lack of serious consequences of the flat, and equipped with the new knowledge of Baby Powder, to roll westward on.
This is where the writing becomes more difficult, because I had abandoned my goal of being a published writer, and wanted to be free of hindrances to enjoyment on this trip, so made no notes of my progress through Ontario. I even forget the exact route east of Lake Simcoe. I think it was up Highway 46 to Bolsover, 33 and 6 to Dalrymple, up to Washago; and I do remember 13 to Torrance, 20 miles as the crow flies but probably double that because of its twisting, hump-roaded nature through what becomes a dry plateau infested with Tent Worm Caterpillars if I remember correctly, a huge infestation, with almost every small tree being destroyed, and the plateau being so dry that not many large trees were present, probably all having been cut a hundred years ago. This road, 13, has no villages or crossroads marked on the provincial map, and except for cottages and a few homes, and possibly an isolated school which could have been there or on another isolated road I rode upon, is not much more than a made-for maximum moped throttle thrills country lane through beautiful Muskoka land. I took 13 because Highway 11 was marked as controlled access on my map, but even though I learned from locals that bicycles ride 11 all the time, the lesson of getting off the highway onto the byway paid big dividends throughout the trip, I seeing far more countryside in its beautiful state in a safer and more leisurely manner than I would have by staying on major routes. On this lonely road, at an intersection with a railroad track, I met a woman walking .. to me it was obvious she was single, and lonely, and receptive (of course 'stalkers' have the same impressions of their romantic interests) .. and we chatted, and I thought briefly of asking to accompany her to her home or cottage .. briefly .. only briefly .. then onward.
Trans Canada 400 into Parry Sound is also marked Controlled Access on maps, and I paralleled it on 69, that highway being the old Trans Canada, and continuing as 69 Trans Canada past Parry Sound where 400 ends, at Parry Sound. Names on the map on the stretches leading to Parry Sound include Rosseau, Glen Orchard, Horseshoe Lake, Gordon Bay, Fool’s Bay, Cala. I can’t remember exactly where I camped, but tried to stay near water .. a good spot can often be had on the riverside at a bridge, where construction crews had to have flat space for their equipment, and often there is an easy track leading to the water. The roadside being public property the private owners can’t kick a camper off, but they can phone officials, and in some areas in Northern Ontario where camping tourists are important to the local economy you will find 'No Overnight Camping’ signs posted by the roadway borders of fantastic lakes and rivers. Presumably the local campground operators are also municipal authorities. There are sill lots of free sites available, though, like the one atop a rock cut as dusk dropped around me. A track for wheeled vehicles carrying hydro pole maintenance crews led off the highway up the slope to the top of the cut, and where I though I would spend an uneventful camp turned out to be one of the best of the trip, with a wonderful, level, grassy area for my tent, and a lake two minutes by hike down a wooded slope. Sharing this campsite was a large turtle laying her eggs where the sun would warm them right at the edge of the cut. If the hatchlings went the wrong way they would drop off the edge almost onto the highway, but of course they would not make that mistake, their instincts taking them down the wooded slope to the lake. It would be a rough trip for them, tiny things probably as big as a dime or a quarter, stumbling over sharp rock and debris from the trees .. but obviously enough of them would probaboly make it to create another generation.
The route from Parry Sound to Sudbury is simple enough, stay on 69 until 17 .. but getting around Sudbury without going onto the busy Controlled Access section required careful navigation, although here again the effort was well worth the result, the road 55 less travelled taking me into a wonderland of waterfalls, lakes, and old railroad trestles.
Ahhh .. Suddenly I know. I have just come from a break fromwriting .. I was watching the movie of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina on television .. I recognized in those passions the reason why I cannot remember details of the trip to Saskatoon beyond thechange of tire at Oakwood .. except the turtle in the cycle of birth .. the worms in the cycle of death .. the forbidding of the the beauty and freedom of life of free camping in places of grandeur that comes with the love of money being the root of all evil .. it all came to me suddenly that my mind was encompassed by a fire of passion .. a far higher vision than anything I passed through .. and that goal was the well being of my sister in law Sandy. I was armed with prayer .. I am armed with prayer .. not that I am Peter or Paul, John or James, Stephen or any of the apostles, but like Jesus Christ they taught me to pray .. and to believe .. and with Saskatoon as my goal as I rode the roads small or great, and camped in beautiful places or meager, my passion and prayer was for my sister in law’s health .. that was the vision and the passion and goal. Yes .. and having been reminded of passion, I won’t delay to share the passion of joy with you who are reading this .. the joy that as I rode up Saskatchewan’s Yellowhead Highway about 100 miles from Saskatoon, I suddenly knew that my sister in law would be well .. and so it was that when I telephoned, before arriving, I was told that the cancer was not in the lymph under the arm after all, but was restricted to the breast, and that treatment was expected to be effective .. and so far, seven months later, that has held true .. and the prognosis for the future is excellent. But are we, that is, is the world, out of the woods yet, as the saying goes, now that we are on the prairie, so to speak? No when you become intimate with the prairie you will find there are plenty of woods on those prairies .. you will see if you go there .. and we are never completely out of the woods until we reach eternal heaven. By the way, I lost a good deal of respect for Leo Tolstoy for his ending of Anna Karenina’s life. Hecould have had Anna’s husband, who depicted himself as a Christian, pray and have the love of his wife restored him .. but I have read a little of Tolstoy’s life, and I see in Anna’s death Tolstoy’s own vengeance on all women who have injured him and those he loved .. in efect his hatred murdered, along with Anna, every beautiful young woman in the world. Shakespeare had different motives for killing Romeo and Juliet .. passionless motives .. he knew full well stage and scene of bloody marketplace, and knew golden curtains rise and set on blood and tragedy. Shakespeare’s goal was simply money .. but of course he caused the deaths of countless young people who imitated Romeo and Juliet by killing themselves. Those authors’ sins are great.
Okay I’m back in the memory groove after having phoned sister-in-law Sandra in Saskatoon and having her good health reconfirmed .. well, I’m in a partial memory groove .. I can’t remember details like names, and right now I sure wish I had been making notes, because while at Blind River and stopped for a cup of tea, sitting at a bar in a licensed restaurant/motel and chatting with the bartender/owner, a friend of his offered to share his twin-beded motel room with me. Actually, the spare bed in Jack’s room was taken by a friend of his also working strike security, but on opposite shifts. It was a generous offer, especially as a thunderstorm had been forecast; but I’m wary of strange men, having been molested both as a boy and as a young man. Even though I now have friends who are bisexual my relationship with them is clear in that I am straight and will not welcome advances. I don’t have that advantage with strangers, so I was honest and told the gentleman I don’t completely trust situations as he was offering, and that I would think over his offer as I gassed up. He told me he understood my hesitation told me to take all the time I needed. While gassing the moped I observed certain signs of bad weather moving in, and while that didn’t threaten my comfort or security I did not want to pack a wet tent in the morning. I returned to thegentleman’s table, whose name I really wish I could remember, and accepted his offer. I’ll call him Jack, and that very well might have been his name.
Jack was a retired railroad engineer having spent his career in the north, now working security for the railroad during a strike. There was little danger in the strike, pretty much gone are the days of rail tampering and potentially violent face offs between railroad bosses and union men. A strong fraternity holds things together on the rails, each knowing the other faces grave hazards in his work, and each respectful of the other’s position. I had worked on several railroad track maintenance gangs swinging a spike-driving hammer, and had hopped freights while travelling both for pleasure and on my way back and forth to work, so as Jack and I lay abed after a shower drinking beer a common thread of discussion spun out of steel rail, fast freights, cabooses, beautifully isolated northern rail camps, the distant and melodious sound of a railroad engine’s long-wailing horn awhistle and echoing off tens of miles of hard rock and evergreen trees, and of course huge fish and Black Flies. Besides working at odd jobs to stay busy, Jack volunteered at a children’s cancer camp, and it was after we had discussed cancer for a while that I told him I was on my way to Saskatoon because of cancer in the family, and also confided my own affliction. Jack then was honest about his heart problems and diabetes. Ohhh .. the long calling horn of advancing age. That new movie The Bucket List again comes to mind.
Sleep came .. the awesome storm came .. morning came .. the shift change came. I was up and out of bed of course and at breakfast before my bed’s owner returned. We had a short chat, but he was soon off to bed, and I was on my way, riding a dry moped which had weathered the storm under the motel roof’s wide overhang. Such an unthankful fellow am I that I don’t think I took Jack’s address .. oh yes I did, Thunder Bay, but I didn’t look him up, with my mind focused on Saskatoon at the expense of almost everything else.
When I got to Sault Ste. Marie I detoured towards the shipping locks, but didn’t get to see them as they’re situated on the American side, and I didn’t want the hassle of border security. That very interesting test waited the return trip. On the way out of the Sault I stopped at the huge Canadian Tire store, where I exchanged the sleeping bag I had purchased at a Canadian Tire especially for this trip. The original bag gave out on the second night, really tearing apart at the seams. To be fair, it was a very cheap bag, $25, and one I never would have purchased except it rolled up into a small bundle suitable for my moped’s front fender. Even though I had no sales receipt the kind saleslady at Canadian Tire gave me $10 credit on a new bag, and I bought a reasonable quality Woods bag with a nice, cotton liner for $40.00. Although this bag was bulkier than I preferred it and my tent rolled together with the space blanket/cotton sheet fit under my headlight well enough for the light to illuminate the way ahead, and to keep me legal. I packed the sleeping bag bundle in to what was supposed to be a waterproof nylon dry bag for boaters, but the bag had lost its waterproof quality, and I wrapped the entire bundle into a heavy duty, bright orange garbage bag. This was waterproof, and enhanced my road security by making me more visible to motorists who might be careless in passing a vehicle and coming in my direction, in my lane. Of course real security could only come through providential potection, which I obviously had through the entire trip, but I had to do my part in maintaining utmost diligence.
So far most of the highways I had been riding had been through wild enough territory, but leaving the Sault I came into country truly wild, and also with its countless scenic vistas truly beautiful .. the north shore of Lake Superior. Not far beyond the Sault is a 60 miles stretch of highway without one commercial stop .. this is Lake Superior Provincial Park, with the beautiful Old Woman Bay at its western end. Before I got to the park though, I needed to stop for the night, and here is where a slow-moving moped has it all over a motorcycle or car. I saw a slight vehicle track running into and out of a steep, sandy ditch, with the lake unobstructed except for trees just beyond. I took the track, and discovered beautiful campsites. However, there was a chance the land might belong to an almost derelict motel on the far side of the highway, so I backtracked, and asked about the situation with the motel operator, a woman slightly older than myself, who operated the motel year round with her life partner. The motel office was cramped with boxes overflowing with used books for sale, the books obviously being a winter pastime for the operators. This lady said, yes, the campsites were free for the taking, being on highway property, with lots of people camping there. I thanked her, and looked over the books but could find nothing to buy, and returned to the lake where I chose a good spot and set up, with a miracle of God just waiting to happen. All that day, as I passed sand beaches along the highway, I was thinking that when I stopped for the night I would need a large, flat, metal something to put between the sand and my kickstand to prevent the kickstand from digging into the soft sand with one fork or the other and toppling the bike over in the night, especially if a wind came up. The bike was prey for a sideways blowing wind anyway, as the rear end packs acted almost as a sail. Being somewhat familiar with the providence of the Almighty Creator I was not entirely surprised to find, right beside a fire ring of stones, an old and battered, almost sufficiently thick aluminum frying pan of the right diameter to take the forks of my kickstand. That pan lasted through most of my trip, being replaced eventually with a thicker version which had lost its handle.Also obvious at the campsites was the ungratefulness of some humans, with a depression partially hidden by bushes and just off the most beautiful sand beach anyone could want almost completely filled with all sorts of garbage any of which could have been loaded back into the vehicle which it had been unloaded from, the garbage of course being empty food containers, empty cans, empty plastic bottles, etc. This garbage was as dangerous as it was unsightly as it could become a magnet for bears. Nevertheless, the spot was beautiful, and I had been on the road long enough to need a good break, which I took there, spending the next cloudly, partly drizzly day resting and cooking and eating and walking brief explorations, and talking around a driftwood fire with a family of two adults, a couple of young teens, and a younger child. The teen girl and her Dad were brave enough to get into the icy water for a swim, but I was not brave, but suffered even standing ankle or knee deep and washing myself. Superior is one COLD lake, being very deep, and containing, I have read in different sources, either one-tenth of one-fifth or one-third or one-half of the fresh water in the world . . I have also read Lake Baikal in Russia, which is much deeper, contains one-third of the world’s freshwater .. so who knows which source is correct. Anyway .. the lake’s latitude and depth make it cold, and for normal people generally unswimmable until July or August .. so this father and daughter are brave indeed. The family were the only visitors at that spot on that stop, but on the return in early August the place was packed with tenters.
When I packed up and rode westward on I was rested well,but the grey sky and low temperatures continued with drizzle off and on, and when I stopped at the Trading Post or whatever it’s called at the Western end of Lake Superior Provincial Park, my hands were so cold I could barely open them from around the bike’s steering grips. That day had not been a fun ride. At the Trading Post I bought a better pair of leather riding gloves which I waterproofed on the upper side with Arctic Dubbin. With the wet weather I felt wet enough enough to duck into Wawa to see the huge Goose before continuing on past White River, where I discovered Banks of Montreal are rare through the north, that rarity contributing to some fiancial worries. The weather turned colder and continued wet, and at Marathon I purchased a pair of rubber boots and a good pair of wood socks, and from then on rode in them through wet weather. and Terrace Bay. Somewhere in one of those towns I also purchased a lined pair of waterproof riding pants for warmth, and tossed my unlined ones, which I had purchased used for one or two dollars, and which were tattered, in the garbage. At Terrace Bay I shopped for food at a supermarket, coming out to a steady and heavy which lasted a long time, with me standing under the supermarket roof’s overhang talking with a native fellow who needed far more encouragement away from the abuse of alcohol and drugs as I could provide. I did encourage him, though, and we shared a lunch from my groceries. He gave me his address on a reserve, and I sure wish I had stopped to visit on my way back, but although that stop was on my mind, I somehow passed it by. I hadn’t wanted to spend the night in a town, but the rain would not let up, and close by the supermarket was what had, I believe, been roofed structure housing at one time a farmers’ market. At a fortunate time a municipal vehicle stopped close by my friend and I, and I approached it and asked if anyone would mind if I pitched under the roof that night. No one would mind, I was told, and I did pitch, and spent a dry night, moving on in a drier morning. If memory serves me correctly it is the stretch from Rossport to Lake Helen is where the lakeshore vistas are magnificent and almost unending, with the highway a steeply hilled, twisting, lake hugging pleasure. Along this stretch I came toa pair of hitchhikers, a young man and woman from Quebec, he on his way to the fruit harvests in the Okanagan, she on her way to work motels or restaurants catering to tourists. We had a brief chat, I not wanting to hinder chances for someone to pick them up, and I gave them a very thankfully received $20 bill .. or was that $10. I hope it was $20 .. and it should have been $50. She in turnhonoured me by taking my photograph .. so The Moped Poet is also known in La Belle Provence. At Thunder Bay I stopped to find a motorcycle shop to buy a tube, and here, the operator looked at my rear tire and expressed the opinion I should go no further without a new tire, which no one in Thunder Bay could provide. Seeing my obvious disappointment he said, “… well, maybe you’ll make it to Winnipeg. Yes, sure, you’ll make it to Winnipeg. I determined that I would, and reduced my tire’s burden by reducing weight by leaving some (spared but not spare food items like half my brown rice and lentils along with a clean bundle of (not spare, but spared anyway) clothing on a picnic table used by truckers, and also by slightly deflating my tire so the wear would be spread over a wider area. At Thunder Bay the tire wear and banking considerations persuaded me not to head due west which would involve an attempt to cross the U.S. border at Fort Frances, a route which I had planned because it would have led me to a part of southeastern Manitoba which is reserved as original prairie grassland, and which at that time of year would probably be wildly abloom with varieties of edible rooted flowers like the Orange Lilly which had been a staple of aboriginal diet, and which is practically non-existant on the prairies today. Being turned back at the U.S. border would have added a couple hundred miles wear to my tire, so leaving Thunder Bay I turned slightly northwest onto 17 Trans Canada.and rode towards Kenora, close by the Manitoba border, which I on gained on May 30, my first stop being a motorcycle shop on the edge of town, at which I enquired about moped tires, and was told I would probably find them only at Winnipeg. The bike shop owners were great to talk with though, and on my return trip I stopped again to say hello. My official welcome to Kenora was made prior to my downtown walkabout by the mayor himself in the parking lot I parked at, the mayor having taken an interest in my vehicle and journey. I did not, however, receive a key to the city. By the way, a moped is easily stolen because of its light weight, and I always try to secure mine to a parking meter, signpost or bicycle rack with a long-shackled, hardened steel, bicycle U-Lock.
My government income I receive by direct deposit into my bank account, and banking business included clearing the owed balance on my credit card which I had been living on for a few days. I also had lunch in a restaurant at which a young lady and her family were celebrating a newborn, and I gifted the mother with $10 or $20 to celebrate with. This I did partly out of gratitude for the mother’srace, for it was the aboriginals of the west who had saved my great grandfather and his family from certain starvation in their first winter homesteading in a Manitoba river valley, a site I would visit on spend two nights camped at on my way to Saskatoon, the original log home still standing. Kenora was also a reminder of my younger days when the desperate, drug and alcohol addicted plight of many in our society had, after my own escape from those afflictions through a miraculous rebirth which had held the knowledge of eternal salvation, I had crisscrossed most of Canada, stopping in Kenora more than once, handing out ‘Jesus Saves’ booklets and tracts and small copies of gospels and Revelation. Regardless of the fraudulent images broadcast on television and radio, being Born Again is not a Satanic origin, but according to scriptures simply means the beginning of genuine faith in Jesus Christ .. and I recognize Muslims as being in that faith, as while they do not hold Christ as the Son of God, they do recognize him as the Messiah who will return and destroy the anti-Christ empire now ruling this planet.
At Kenora I carefully folded and tucked a receipt for gasoline into a safe place in my wallet, that receipt providing proof for government officials that I had been in Ontario on that day, and the receipt for my tire purchased June 1 in Winnipeg as proof of when I had crossed the border. I did the same thing on my return trip, and the government was satisfied with that proof.
I clearly remember the beautiful, roadside, lakeside camp I had between Kenora and the Manitoba border .. a spot where I chatted with a wonderful retired gent whose home was just across the bridge. I also had a lovely walk in a lovely woods at that camp, the woods concealing an attempted home built out of an old 18 wheel trailer, but which had been long disused. I remember a good sleep .. and also the next morning’s pleasant ride to the border. What I remember most clearly, though, was standing at the large ‘Welcome To Manitoba’ sign pondering whether to obey the letter of Manitoba’s moped laws, which would have allowed me to go no further, as there were no dirt roads running west from the border at that point, or depending on the spirit and grace to into illegal territory as a fugitive. The plight of Kenora’s alcohol and drug addicted segment of population was a call to return, but my own spirit was no longer adequate for such a calling, and the calling of my own family’s necessities was equal. I decided I would run in the spirit of grace, and after a few miles of the Trans Canada Highway until I turned off onto 44. Now THAT was a good decision and turneven if the decision to get off the Trans Canada turned out to be unnecessary, as all the highways in Manitoba are used by slow moving bicyclists, and it would take a very mean-spirited policeofficer, or one dealing with a mean-spirited mopedist, to order a moped onto the dirt roads reserved for them. By choice I did end up on some of those dirt roads, and they were very pleasant experiences.
Highway 44 was indeed a wonderful ride. It runs through Whiteshell Provincial Park, which is gated at both ends, but no fee is required if a person is just passing through. My genuine intent was to pass through, and I was allowed to do so. The road is paved, but rough and narrow, winding and hilly, running through wild, forested, fishing and hunting country. The name of the park, Whiteshell, together with the village of Whitemouth which I went through west of the park, conflicted with Shellmouth, the village nearest my great grandfather’s homestead. Those names caused some confusion later in the trip when I attempted telling curious people farther west where I had been, and I eventually just crooked my thumb and said, “back there,” which generally brought a satisfied laugh.
Was it at Whitemouth where a gas station/fishing store operator told me of an off road camping spot not far past the village? That was where I spent the night, anyway, in a clear-cut off a dirt track within the vast boreal forest. The dirt track led seemingly endlessly north and called me to go exploring for a few miles, crossing a railroad track at right angles, and passing a late model vehicle parked somewhat in the bush. When I turned around I had become familiar enough with that vast, untamed, sandy country to easily understand how Canada became a huge exporter of marijuana to the United States. In fact, just before I turned into my tent for the night I made a walk down the slightly wet road to the pavement of Highway 44, where in that decidedly out of the way place two vehicles were stopped, and where two men and one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen were discussing something in quiet tones. Transplanting time? I became familiar with another of nature’s elements that night in my tent when I was plagued with the crawling annoyance of the Tick, something my time in the woods to that point in life had somehow avoided. The prairie river valleys, particularly the Assiniboine, is now overrun with Ticks, which despite their disease potential, don’t in reality seem much of a threat, seeming to carry the same threat as being stuck by lightning, but the tiny-legged crawling of which is certainly an annoyance when trying to sleep. A Tick looks like a tiny, flat bodied spider, and easy identification can be made in their resistance to being squeezed to death between thumb and forefinger, that task being almost impossible because of their armoured body. It’s easier to fling them out the tent door than to kill them, and that’s the best procedure anyway, because they are so abundant that killing enough of them to bring relief for sleep may cause their corpses to emit enough of an odour to attract carnivorous creatures. Another discomfort that night came with increasing air temperatures, which caused me to sleep the first part of the night outside my bag, but under my cotton sheet.
The next day I rode 44 to the town of Beausejour which is slightly north east of Winnipeg, where I spent a couple of hours fretting while trying to organize myself. Telephone calls into Winnipeg had failed to discover a moped tire, and I did not want to enter Winnipeg unnecessarily because the main roads in appeared as Controlled Access on maps. I thought I might do better in Saskatoon, mapping a run up Highway 6 on the east side of Lake Manitoba, then crossing the lake at 235, on to Dauphin, then on and on and on and on into Saskatoon. However .. I was told that wild Highway 6 is not a well travelled road, and not a good place for a tire blowout with no spare and my tire looking worse and worse. One Beausejour citizen offered to take me into Winnipeg to search for a tire, but I did not want to take that person’s time, and to tell the whole truth, I was also leery of leaving my moped unattended for a few hours, even though it was locked. My faith was not great despite the abundance of people west of the Manitoba border who introduced themselves to me with words like, “Hey man, do you know Jesus? Are you saved?” This unmistakable, western Canadian bible belt continues well into British Columbia.
I decided to continue straight west without going into Winnipeg,but turned north into Selkirk when I heard of a motorcycle shop there. The operator of that shop got on the telephone and located a tire for me at The Great Canadian Motorcycle parts store in Winnipeg. I turned my bike around for Winnipeg, finding the shop not far from where I had lived for six months at a Salvation Army hostel at Logan and Main during my era of evangelism. Oh how I wished I had some spare spirit as I rode past the destitute denizens of Main Street, but I saw that a large church was intimately available for them if they wanted to avail themselves, and I merely purchased my tire, asking the owner to please order more, as I was to return in two months. The shop owner has been in that location, I believe it was, 30 years, and it’s easy to imagine him being able to replace any part for any motorcycle ever built. It was at that shop I also purchased my genuine tire iron, but only on my return trip after having provided myself much unnecessary and frustrating labour. Tire changing should not be quite as frustrating as it was for me, but on one of my first springtime rides after having purchase the bike I had ridden into a deep pothole, denting my rear rim into a slight out of roundness which made difficult putting the tire on perfectly rounded. I eventually learned to Baby Powder the wheel’s rim as well as the tire’s bead, which allowed the rubber to slip against the metal without grabbing, andI also learned to mould the tire while under-pressurized onto the rim. I also learned that if the tire still failed to bead itself to the rim, over pressurization can cause the bead (the tire’s edge) to pop into roundness. In all of this, the tire iron would have saved me much sweat. Potholes, by the way, are a good reason not to buy motor scooters with their higher acceleration and smaller diameter wheels, the front wheel dropping into the pothole causing the scooter to flip. A rider in Ottawa had been injured exactly in that way shortly before I left on my trip, his bike becoming a total write-off.
Daytime air temperature in Winnipeg had soared, and I decided I would not try to change my tire in sweaty discomfort, but would pray for a safe trip to Saskatoon, where I could change it at my leisure. The new tire rode behind me where I attached it with a bungee cord to the backpack. My Dad’s sister Florence lives in Winnipeg, but I failed to get her on the phone, and left a message that I would try again on my return.
I intended to take the quaint Old Trans Canada 26 west from Winnipeg to stay off the busy multi lane Number One, but I had to take a multi-lane ring road as far as 26, and that was a ride made interesting because of the rubberlike squigglies which ran for miles along the shoulder. These were, I believe, evaporated drippings from a muncipal waste shipping truck which had a bad leak. whi.n interesting ride. Along here was also the roadside, inter-farm binder twine line which crosses and criss crosses Canada in every direction and allows farmers who have all tied into the line to speak into tin can telephones and bemoan the price of beef, corn, corn whiskey, the price of holidays in Arizona, etc. This line is evident on the surface in places in Northern Ontario, but there it often disappears as if the farmers have taken to airwave communication.
After a few miles of rubber turds I turned onto the wonderful blessing which is the Old Trans Canada, how quaint and rural it is in today’s modern age, that highway leading me to a verdant, well treed green space on the banks of the Assiniboine at which I knew I should make camp, but perhaps family desire had gotten ahold of me, and I talked myself into travelling past that spot about three miles before turning back to its comfort and beauty. A young family was fishing in the creek which ran into the Assinaboine, a father with a son and daughter. I could not identify the man’s accent, and he identified himself as a Hutterite who had left the Colony. I spent the following day resting, with my Hutterite friends coming again for fishing, and also with an invitation for me to go home for dinner. Theirs was a wonderful home life and the woman of the house’s cooking was of course wonderfully Hutteritish, and after supper I was taken on a back roads tour and introduced to Gumbo roads, they being mud roads made famous by the western Canadian country music band (sh’r ‘nuff wish I cud thinka th’r name y’all) which recorded ‘My Truck Got Stuck’ and in which several other trucks get stuck trying to pull out the stuck truck but the Hutterite truck in the song did not get stuck because the Hutterites in the song were too smart to venture into the Buffalo turd and fish exrement mixed with waterfowl white goo and silty clay and which when mixed well together is Gumbo and which was found on the bottom of the big lake which once covered much of the prairie and which I had an intimate experience with on my return trip. In the middle of the back road tour I was taken to a Hutterite Colony to meet the children’s grandparents. Unfortunately, our visit was as short as it was pleasant/unpleasant, for the headman of the Colony was in a dispute with the grandparents’ son, who was my host, and who according to that Headman’s precepts was not welcomed onto the Colony. I was able to ease my host’s anger by reminding him that God will repay justice if necessary to the Colony’s headman unless that man repented of his hard heart. I learned on my trip through the west that if a traveler meets fishermen who are enjoying a beer or something stronger while fishing, and those fisherpeople speak with an accent difficult to identify, they are almost certainly young Hutterite men who have left the colony to live and work in the ‘outer’ world. I fell in with such a group not long after the first family, and we had a great time, they happily sharing their beer and stronger drink, with two of the young men’s father having escaped his Colony for the day, and also enjoying more than one drink. These fishers did reasonably well that day, considering the pollution of most of the rivers and lakes east of Alberta. Catfish is a favourite haunter of the Assiniboine, and two normal sized cats were caught, and then a huge one which nearly pulled the strong young man off his feet and into the river. This fish easily weighed fourty pounds .. not a record catfish by any means, but cats are well muscled. I learned that the prairie rivers once ran clear as glass, with Sturgeon plentiful; but after decades of farmers plowing soil, with accompanying farm runoff, the rivers run as mud, and are of course loaded with chemicals and fertilizers. My own fishing gear consists of a telescoping pole and kit with lures but I had left it in Ottawa, unable to find enough space on the moped, or at least a place in which the pole would not have been threatened with breakage. I would not have been able to use my gear past the Ontario border anyway without purchasing expensive, non-resident licenses, and my trip involved enough natural stimulation that I really didn’t mind not fishing all that much. Shortly after I had departed Saskatoon I read a newspaper report of a 64 pound Rainbow Trout being caught in the huge, dam created Lake Diefenbaker. That is a big Trout.
The Old Path
Highway 26, the old trans Canada, parallels the new Trans Canada Number One as both highways come into Portage la Prairie.Number 26 ends by running into Number One just past Portage, and five miles beyond that Highway 16, the famously beautiful Yellowhead Highway begins. The Yellowhead runs from there through to Saskatoon, Edmonton, and Jasper, just beyond which it splits into Yellowhead west continuing on to British Columbia’s Pacific Ocean port of Prince Rupert way up there at the bottom of the Alaska Panhandle. The Yellowhead also turns south just past Jasper as the Thompson Highway Numebr 5, and runs almost to Vancouver. The Yellowhead is being promoted as The New Trans Canada because of tremendous shipping potential with goods from Asia entering Prince Rupert and run by rail and truck down the Yellowhead into the U.S. However, that potential may never be reached because global warming has opened up the Northwest Passage, and if that passage is ice free every year as it was this year, shipping will just naturally take that route. The Yellowhead is a highway in transformation, with widenings and shoulders being paved in anticipation of increased use, but despite it having been a major highway for many decades, Saskatchewan’s poverty relative to the rest of Canada has results in the highway being often narrow with gravel shoulders .. and those conditions, together with large numbers of transport trucks, make slow travel on the Yellowhead somewhat risky, although in truth the number of transports never approached what I had been told by locals to expect.
The Yellowhead proved interested for necessitating my first true, roadside camp, when shortly after I left Portage a storm approached, dropping a soft rain but threatening much more. Prairie Thunderstorms can be truly frightening events, and the shoulders of the Yellowhead offered no protection from high winds would sweep right off the prairie. I turned off onto a gravel farm access road, and found a high bank which was situated for protection. Here, only about four feet from the gravel edge, I pitched my tent. A farmhouse with buildings lay within one-eighth mile of me, and I was a bit worried that western hospitality which is a truce fact would nonetheless be strained by my setting up of camp. I wasn’t bothered by anyone though, and only three or four vehicles passed my spot in the 12 or 14 hours I was camped.
The next morning I rode on, first to the town of Russell whichserendiptuously my poet friend Baird McNeil had once lived, and which was to be a site for a family gathering for some of my own family in early July. From Russell I phoned Dad, getting further directions, and rode to the crossroads of Shellmouth which is almost on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border, where I roamed back roads asking people in vehicles for directions, until I finally stopped at a farm, where upon my enquiring, the entire family gave up what they were busy at and got out maps and made telephone calls, and where I made one more call to Dad, and, as dusk was near, finally the exact homestead location was located. Now the riding became very interesting indeed, as I had to get to the homestead before dark. First back to the paved road, then down another paved road which led down a long, steep hill to the river and a bridge. I missed by turn at the bridge and was somehow partly up the long, steep hill on the other side before realizing my mistake .. back down the hill and across the bridge to turn left turn onto a gravel road past a sometimes used campground, and then up a rising, twisting, gravel road past the goat farmer, then up and up twisting and downhill but mostly up, twisting and finally turning left onto a wagon track which made a long, gradual descent down past the spring which was told me by an Austrian in his pickup up who had just moved into the area, and not far past the spring a place where the roadside trees cleared briefly allowing entrance onto a grassy lane of sorts which had been kept mowed by farmers leasing the land over the last decades, and by foot now, out of true reverence, not wanting to disturb history with the sound of even my quiet motor, down the grass lane to where the trees opened onto the valley and .. the original, windowless, log house and barn. This was history as it should be, living history. I was deeply moved. The valley was the quietest place I have ever been in, with only a small river at its lowest elevation hidden by forest, and therefore emitting no sound of running water. There was also almost no wind blowing to create sound during my two days there.
The log house is still standing squarely and strong, with only two small openings in its wood shingle roof .. those shingles being almost paper thin. How well protected this valley was for the house to stand all these years. Great Grandfather Jorge with his wife Maria originally came from the city of Czernowitz, in the region of Bukovina, which is reported to be the most beautiful area of Europe, and which is famous for gospel scenes painted on the exteriors of its Orthodox monasteries. Mountainous Bukovina was once independent but has been overrun during many wars, and is now situated in Northwestern Romania. Great Grandfather Jorge, who I am sure was drafted into the Austrian army, had built his new home over a root cellar, and upon a strong stone foundation. This cellar, which provided ventilation so the floor and timbers supporting the walls did not rot upon their stones, was one of the reasons the house still stood. I am not a carpenter by any means, but I have made my living with tools, and I recognized in the entire house such careful craftsmanship as to be .. awesome. A shallow well lined with stones sat beside the house, and a log barn with sagging walls and collapsing wood shake roof sat on the other side of the grassy lane. Another building with tin roof and sawn lumber also occupied the property, it probably having been put up by a subsequent owner or leaser of the land, but everything was long unused. A gravel company had bought the entire property when the Shellmouth River dam was to be built, and still owns the property, but where the gravel was dug from I never discovered, having seen a few gravel quarries, and not being terribly interested in that part of the property’s history. I wanted to get to the river, though, from which Dad remembers his grandfather and father and other men returning in winter with a large wagon on skis loaded to capacity with frozen fish. I pitched my tent near the barn where I would get best benefit of morning sun, and after cooking a meal went to bed, unfortunately, with the Ticks .. the place just swarming with them, as is the entire valley of the Assiniboine with its tributaries. The infestation is a modern plague created by modern farming practices which resulted in the decimation of wildlife which would have controlled the tick’s population numbers.One of the reasons for the pure quietness of the Shell River Valley at the homestead’s location is, despite the abundance of woodlands and water, the rarity of birds. The aboriginals, I understand, burned the prairie in the spring as a method of fertilization and as weed control, this killing most of the Ticks, with this practice at first being practiced by settlers, and then abandoned.
The next day I went for a walking tour. A farmer had leased the land for planting, and I walked around the field to get to the woods on the other side. Had I walked straight across the field I would have come to the still visible wagon trail leading to the river, but I missed it, and got to the river by the method known as bushwhacking, making my way through very thick brush and woods. Almost any goal other than my ancestral river would not have been worth the effort and risk, and except that the valley walls in the woods were steep enough to easily determine up and down I could have easily gotten lost .. but I just kept going down .. down .. down through the brambles and past the trees and around the springs and marshy places and down finally to the river .. not much more than a large creek .. but a river, with a river’s music and air, and clean water, probably clean enough to drink, although I didn’t venture it. On the other side of the river, set halfway up the valley in a small clearing, was a farmhouse, with its laneway leading from up above. I walked along the river, first upriver, but quickly realizing instinctively that I was going the wrong way, and then down. Within minutes I came to a ford .. with clear, level areas on each side the ford. This was where the homesteaders crossed the river with wagons and horses. This was where they would have come to load up with fish. I walked to the centre of my side of the river’s clear area and turned to face uphill, and sure enough, there was the old path .. wide enough for a wagon, still clear enough for a wagon. Perhaps the local farmers sometimes run their tractors across the river at this place. I walked downriver a very short way, enjoyed the sound of the small rapids, and made my way back to the homestead up the wagon trail. Later that day I rode my moped around the sparsely populated neighbourhood’ .. finding beautiful Ukrainian and Romanian Orthodox churches almost next door to each other, and being preserved more as historical artifacts than operating churches, each church with their grave yard. My great grandfather and his wife Maria were almost certainly buried in St. Elias’s, but there was no trace of a Mofsurivzscean headstone, that being close to the spelling of Great Grandfather’s name on his Austrian Army discharge papers. The old wooden crosses in St. Elia’s yard had been burned years ago in a grass fire. An anglicized spelling appears on a historical plaque there, and I spoke with another graveyard visitor/local historian who told me that a pronunciation for our family name would probably have been Monsoronchon, but I doubted that pronunciation from the original spelling, and probably no one in North America knows the real pronunciation as Ukranians and Romanians, even though they intermingled closely, were prone to enmity, and each nationality would, if necessary, change the pronunciation of their names when finding themselves surrounded by neighbours from the other nation. Another factor in pronunciation was that a friend of mine who was born in Poland and lived much of his adult life in Eastern Europe has through family photographs identified my great grandparents Jorge and Maria as Rom Gypsies, so original pronunciation becomes even more clouded. My younger brother Jody, in a few of his pictures, could easily pass for a Rom just stepped down from his wagon home, and although my physical appearance totally denies the Gypsy race, leaning towards a cross between the English of my mother, and with my unibrow eyebrows which meet over my nose, the Turks who also occupied Bukovina for long periods of time) I have a Gypsy spirit which prevents me, despite great efforts, from settling down in one place for longer than three years, often moving after 18 months at one address .. and then there is the violin, which I have affinity for, having taught myself to play a few simple tunes. I put the violin to good use during my canoe voyage of three years ago when I met some picknickers originally from Bukovina but then living in Montreal, my violin and their homemade fruit vodka providing dance music, and there on the banks of the St. Lawrence Seaway’s Beauharnais Canal the dancing was wild and Gypsy like .. with all of us greatly moved to post dancing, quiet nostalgia. My Dad’s parents were an example of that intermingling, his Dad being Ukranian but speaking both languages, his mother Romanian and speaking only Romanian, that being the household language.
Today’s new settlers to the Shell River area are not Gypsies, Romanians or Ukranians, however, but Austrians .. and I attempted following directions from memory to the home of the Austrian who had assisted me in finding the homestead, and who had told me about the clear spring, but if I found his address he and his wife weren’t home. On that tour I discovered where a crossroads village had once been, but whose only reminders was one old building and some timbers. In all of my road running in that area I did not find one mention of the natives without whose assistance the first explorers, traders, and pioneers would never have survived. I visited the goat farmer, who confirmed that many Austrians were taking up residence on land the Romanians and Ukranians were vacatingHe had told me, and the goat farmer confirmed, that When I returned to the homestead a neighbour, I think the one leasing the land, had come to visit me, hearing of my presence from the family who had located the place on the map for me. This same gentleman had given my Dad and his brother a ride to the homestead a few years before, and of course remembered them.
Before I move on, I would like to demonstrate the isolation of the pioneers by the three mile walk to school my Dad, his brother and sister had; and by the example of Dad’s mother, who although born and raised in Saskatchewan, learned no English.
Yes .. beautiful isolation in some senses .. but what a terrible isolation it could have been for women alone with children and separated by miles from the nearest neighbours, with husbandswho must have been dead tired at the end of their days of exceptionally hard labour. Women from Czernowitz in Bukovina may especially have felt the isolation, having come from a highly artistic and social culture. Life was not all hard labour though, and and Dad remembers gatherings of music and dancing. While some families were fortunate in the pioneering, my own only became fortuante enough to have prospered a short time, building a second house when my grandfather and his wife married .. and of course that was where Dad and his siblings were born. I don’t know the order of difficulties, but their house burned, and of course the depression burned up what resources were left, and my grandfather left the farm for hard labour in Winnipeg, shoveling coal at an electricity generating plant, and working as a labourer on railroad maintenance gangs. It comes as no surprise to me that I spent time doing that same thing, without conscious knowledge of grandfather’s labours. He and I may have worked on the same stretch of track in far western Ontario. Dad, when he was fifteen years old, was working full time as a dump truck driver building the Trans Canada Highway in Northern Ontario, and then moved to Hamilton, where he began his career in Tool and Die. He has lived in Ontario ever since.
I would like to have one more day in the beauty, tranquility, and family roots of the homestead, with the pure spring providing rare and perfect water, and with much left to explore. The ticks, however, decided my moving on, as I was unable to walk anywhere in the long grasses or woods without picking up dozens of them. They were so pervasive that while sitting for coffee at a restaurant table a couple days later, I felt a tiny bump in my beard on my chin. Yes, it was a tick, partially buried. I pulled most or all of it out and crushed it underfoot.
Leaving the homestead was therefore not painful an experience, and I turned north on 83 to the small town of Roblin, where I had a pleasant conversation with a pickup truck driver at the gasoline pumps, telling him of my visit to the homestead. This gentleman finished his business first, I taking time to refill my oil reservoir, and when I went in to pay for my gas I was told it had already been paid for, by the pickup driver.
At Roblin lived a relative who had written our family history into a book, although it is only now, six months too late, that I became conscious of the fact that she lived in Roblin. Also at Roblin was the childhood home of my poet friend Baird’s wife Nylene. I had phoned that couple from Russell, but I was at Roblin too early in the morning to chance waking Baird and Nylene in Ottawa. From Roblin I turned west onto 5 and then 10, where along some part of those roads I found an old, parallel road bordering forest, the road now used by farm vehicles, and along this road I had a very nice encounter with a pair of deer. That road was so enjoyably free of traffic for the first few miles that I would have stayed on it for as long as it ran, but it’s surface changed too often from smooth, hard packed dirt to roughly broken pavement, and I finally surrendered to the thought of sharing a road with other traffic and returned to the highway.
I picked up The Yellowhead again at Yorkton, and rode into Saskatoon the day before my 60th birthday. Of course first day of my trip to this day I had been filled with prayer for my sister-in-law, and I believe it was on this final stretch into Saskatoon that I suddenly knew my sister-in-law was going to be okay. On arrival in their city I phoned Rick and Sandy, telling them I was there, and receiving joyous confirmation that Sandy’s cancer was not in the lymph after all. I told Sandy that before I came to their home I wanted to launder all of my clothing, she not seeing any point to that until I mentioned the Ticks, when she instantly changed her mind. Finding a Laundromat was a large chore, as I had arrived close to 8 p.m., an hour at which for one reason or other most Saskatoon Laundromats close. I phoned around until finally finding one which stayed open until 9, with the owners so kind as to delay closing their business an extra 20 minutes until my long process was complete, and I thanked them with an extra $10.
It was of course with great happiness that I arrived at Rick and Sandy’s home, where Sandy’s prognosis made all well and happy, and where my 60th birthday was celebrated the next day, June 7. Sandy is retired from hospital administration, and as a hobby generating enough cash to pay for that hobby she paints portraits of pets onto rocks, so one of our beautiful walks together was along railroad tracks looking for suitable stones. Sandy and Rick have been married over 40 years, and are one of the only truly happy, married couples I have ever known, their respect for each other, and their genuine affection for most people, being a huge reason for their success.
I can’t remember if I spent three or four days with Rick and Sandy, but during that time I helped them do yard work, and changed by moped’s tire, finding that the Almighty God’s mercy had carried me on the old tire despite some of the tire’s steel foundation wires sticking out of the bald rubber. I was never that deliberately careless again. It was a cool, drizzly morning when I left Saskatoon, and if time constraints weren’t a factor, I would have stayed another day, hoping the rain would stop. My brother Ron’s birthday was June 20, though, so I had to reach Victoria by then.
My trip to Edmonton was almost uneventful except for two things, the first being the fantastic vistas. West of Saskatoon The Yellowhead seems to sit atop a high elevation, with the mighty Saskatchewan River paralleling it first on the south, and then on the north, so that for many miles the view is enormous. Somewhere on this stretch, or did it occur in Alberta, with the highway four laned, that on the opposite side of the road was a tourist attraction of a Ukranian or Romanian pioneer village. I carefully checked my rear view mirrors, and far, far back on the prairie horizon I saw vehicle headlights. Their was no traffic coming towards me, and normally I would have had plenty of time to move across all four lanes, but I had just crossed the first lane when instinct caused me to hesitate long enough to check my mirrors again, that hesitation undoubtedly saving my life because that vehicle which should still have been halfway to the distant horizon when the car blew past me at what had to be at least 120 miles per hour .. double the speed limit. I would have been killed instantly of course, and not gotten to view that pioneer village. I hadn’t been frightened by the car, as it all happened to quickly for fright, but it did serve another lesson in defensive driving.
The view through the city of Edmonton though, was frightening, as all I could see was taillights and headlights on the Yellowhead which turns multilane and carries traffic stop and go and madly through the city, not peacefully around, and with that city in the midst of an economic super boom, traffic does not progress leisurely .. the only comparison I can make is to my experience on a narrow, two lane stretch of New York City expressway. The traffic was so dangerous and fast that upon my approach to an overpass I was forced in a last second decision onto the sidewalk, which was bordered by a railing, preventing me from returning to the pavement. I made the long, curving passage slowly and safely, with the absence of pedestrians making for no surprises.
Past Edmonton and on its way to the Rocky Mountains The Yellowhead gradually gains elevation through relatively dry and of course hilly country which I find difficult to describe, not nearly as prosperous as much of the west, with small villages, forestry, mines, lakes for cottages, and seemingly unprosperous farm. I had passed an old barn which was particularly photograph worthy but was separated from it and its parallel access road by about 200 feet of grassy hill, with the next highway intersection at least a quarter miles ahead. Being in ‘the west’ on my motorized pony for so had given me a tiny bit of attitude of the raw, cowboy; and that instinct overcame common sense in my desire for a photograph and the next thing I know there I am angling my moped up the grassy hill, which was a lot rougher than it looked, my bike bucking and kicking and it was all I could do to stay upright, but I kept my throttle full and my balance keen and I gained the barn. After taking the photo I rode the gravel road to where it intersected another gravel road, and at that intersection was surprised to see not far down the road an old Orthodox church outside of which a few people were moving about. I rode towards the church, andslowed to a stop near some vehicles. As I slowed I noticed a mechanical sounding clack-clack-clack-clack-clack which seemed to be in sync with my motor, and I was afraid my cowboying had caused serious damage. My arrival had attracted the attention of the churchgoers who walked towards me, and I to them, thinking to look at my bike after a chat. The people were descendants of original settlers, sons and grandsons of people buried in the churchyard. We did chat, and I gained a bit more knowledge of the Romanian Ukranian side of my heritage, and then, with people and vehicles which included a pickup truck departing, I examined my moped. Before I had departed from Ottawa I had securely fastened, in a relative sense, a short, telescoping style umbrella on the left side rear of my vehicle, between the wheel and the saddlebag. As I had cowboyed roughly up the hill this umbrella had jostled out of its fastenings, and had bounced into the wheel, where it was firmly stuck while bent at a right angle. If my wheel was of the wire spokes type it would not have survived, as the cast spokes were scored at least one-eighth inch deep close to the hub. I removed the umbrella, which was now trash, and motored thankfully on. Somewhere along this stretch I also found a small, old Anglican church at which I stopped for a photo and a rest. Behind this church’s graveyard was a large, open pit mine .. although what they were mining I don’t know.
In the final approach to Jasper Provincial Park there are two railroad towns, Hinton and Edson. On the western outskirts of one of these towns (I can’t remember for sure which one) and in the grass and scrub between the pavement and the forest, I saw what I at first thought were three black dogs stumbling awkwardly towards the highway. My first thought was that they were clumsy for dogs, but I didn’t take much more thought to them, proper thought coming quickly enough when I saw that they ran up to a Black bear which was lying on its side a few feet off the gravel shoulder. I knew right away that the bear had been struck by a vehicle, and I looked at the ‘dogs’ again and confirmed my suspicion that they were cubs. I slowed my moped, looking for signs of life in the bear, and after passing her by about 70 feet, parked my moped. The cubs were now nervously nuzzling their mother, and I picked up a stout stick and slowly approached. The cubs took notice of me and ran for the woods, staying just inside the trees. The bear was not moving, not breathing that I could tell, and blood was on the ground at her mouth. I was just about to prod her when a Ministry of Natural Resources or Provincial Park pickup pulled slowly off the pavement about 200 feet ahead and approached slowly, obviously searching for the bear. I signaled the Wardens and they drove up,the passenger side Warden asking me if the bear was dead. I answered that I wasn’t sure, and he got out of the pickup with his rifle, walked up to the bear, and prodded her with his rifle’s muzzle.
‘There are three cubs,’ I said, nodding towards the woods. They’re just inside the first trees. Can you guys do anything for them?’
‘Zoos won’t take them, so we have to shoot them. They’d starve to death otherwise.’
‘You have a tough job,’ I said.
The officer with the rifle said, ‘This won’t be pleasant. We’d like you to get on your bike and ride away.’
I saluted the officer and did as he preferred, after asking for and receiving permission to take a photograph.
The rest of my ride into the crown jewel of Canada’s Rocky Mountain, the village of Jasper, was relatively uneventful except I arrived in the village trembling from cold and almost in hypothermic convulsions. Much of my ride from Saskatoon had been in cool, wet weather, with temperatures dropping as I gained elevation, and with my speed dropping from increasing gradient. Before I had gained the village I had passed what appeared to be a turnoff into some sort of structure which possibly offering warmth I made a U turn in the highway without even checking carefully behind me to see if traffic was coming. The structure I had seen turned out to be a way station for, I believe, a gas or oil pipeline. An employee arrived at the locked gate at the same time as I did, but I wasn’t smart enough to ask if he would let me warm up inside. I was off the wind of the highway though, and when I thought I had warmed up sufficiently I took to the road again, coming finally into Jasper just as the sun broke through the clouds, and after a long and unpleasant ride made dangerous by my dropping internal body temperature. I found a Laundromat which also offered showers, and spent several dollars standing in a warm shower. It was only after I had warmed up that I started my laundry, and then went looking for a restaurant, forgetting for the moment my guideline of ‘reasonable prices’, and settling for the first hot meal I could find. I did have a credit card, after all.
I had to escape the boundaries of Jasper National Park or pay either hefty camping fees or a fine for illegal camping, so I did not do any tourist things in the village except visit the path to what 30 years ago had been a short duration but very pleasant home for me in the form of a free campground for hippies and employees in the tourist industy. This was the Jasper Free Camp .. a unique cultural experience where open door privies were the norm, and where walking naked was acceptable and commonplace. This was the camp at which I attacked the bear with my hunting knife. When I had been doing my laundry in Jasper the Laundromat’s owner and I engaged in conversation, and when he mentioned the need for affordable housing for employees of the tourist operators I suggested he set up another Free Camp, which led to him saying that his father, and the original owner of the laundromat, had been instrumental in setting up the Free Camp.
I had ridden west from Jasper many miles when I had the need to lean backwards against a tree .. this being my favourite way of relieving loads when privies are not available. Keeping your back to a tree, particularly a large tree, can be a small form of protection when you are thus engaged, much preferable to making yourselfvery small and vulnerable by squatting. The need for protection becomes evident with signs like the one I was leaning relatively close to, ‘Warning, Grizzly Bear, Black Bear, Cougar, Wolf Habitat’. However, before leaning against the tree, check upwards, as small bears sometimes climb trees, and on a Pacific Ocean beach later in my trip I came face to face with a bear, he eight feet above me, and hissingly angry that I was preventing him from descending. Thankfully I was not leaning on the tree at that time and was able to make my departure quickly. Oh yes, one more thing, despite examples to the contrary published by supposedly experienced campers .. never, ever, ever take anything resembling food or drink into your tent other than water .. and don’t wrap your sleeping bag around yourself while you’re eating breakfast, and when you’re cooking breakfast stay upwind from the cooking pot so you won’t smell like a bear’s breakfast, and if you do get food odours blown onto you wash your hair, and as another precaution which helps me relax at night when bears roam looking for food I always leave my day clothing which may have food smells in a plastic bag outside my tent’s sleeping compartment. Experts are divided about the advisibility of hanging food in packs on ropes from high tree branches, and I never do that, but make sure my food is stored in double sealed plastic systems like a bag and a Tupperware container, and stashed nowhere near my tent, and preferably not in the canoe if I am canoeing because a bear can trash a canoe quickly .. but we are mopeding on this trip, not canoeing, although a canoe would have been nice to have on the next part of my trip.
I can’t remember if the beautiful, boggy plateau from which the westward flowing Fraser River and the eastward flowing Athabasca seem to flow from (I’m not a geographer) is situated in Jasper Provincial Park or in eastward neighbouring Mount Robson Provincial Park, but it is indeed a beautiful plateau .. a spiritual experience equal to seeing the huge mountain peaks themselves.I had one of the most beautiful camps of the trip at Mount Robson, on the rushing headwaters of the Fraser River, a no cost campsite which required only a little searching.
From the plateau the descent is wonderful in its peaceful gradient and scenery, and leads to the village of Tete Jaune Cache where the Yellowhead splits to run northwest to the Pacific, and south, after a few miles picking up and following the North Thompson River. It is interesting that at Tete Jaune Cache the Fraser turns northwest for many miles before turning again towards the south, finally joining the combined water of the North and South Thompson at Lytton on the Trans Canada Number One. This is a truly awesome junction .. and for me, had I not been an avid geographical reader for much of my life, a hobby which gave me small introductions to rivers like The Amazon, the joining of the two mountain rivers would have been unbelievable in its scope until I saw it for myself, as in my days following the Thompson south and then west I had come to view that river as gargantuan in itself.
A couple of days before Lytton, though, I had another flat tire,this one causing me to camp for the night on the very side of the highway. Fortunately, British Columbia highways provide many stopping places for truckers to check their brakes and rest, and so I had a wide lane of pavement between me and the highway. I also had a guardrail separating my tent from the stopping lane. That flat was particularly troublesome, I not being able to get the tire round on the rim, and so it was after two false starts of bump, bump, bumping along that the third attempt, enhanced by my desperate move of taking a large rock and pounding the offending dent in the steel rim, was not perfect, but at least I was able to ride the few miles into the town of Kamloops, where I was hailed by a rider on a motorcycle who was also a freelance writer. So it was that the first part of my trip was published in an on line motorcycle mag. Before leaving Kamloops I stopped at a custom motorcycle shop to find the owners having an similar wheel problem but with a greater magnitude. The shop owners told me I was welcome to change my tire inside their shop, but the light outside was brighter and suited my tired old eyes, and that’s where I made my changeusing the shop’s tire iron, but only after finding a drug store and purchased Baby Powder, something I had forgotten to buy in Saskatoon, and with the aid of the powder making both tire and rim slippery, achieving a perfect roundness. While I was working on my repair biker who had been visiting the shop offered to drive me around to a few other bike shops to search for a new tire and tube, but none were available, and so I was again riding on faith when I departed Kamloops. Kamloops is interesting for its scenery and the mountain goats which inhabit surrounding hillsides, as well as the city’s climate which makes it a ‘sunshine town’ in winter with above average temperatures in summer. Kamloops is particularly interesting, though, for the length of the highway’s steep ascent westward out of town. The grade was so steep I had to walk beside my bike a long way as I used the throttle to power the rear wheel. This was the first time on the trip I was required to do so, but not the last.
From Kamloops there are two routes leading to Vancouver. The Coquihalla Highway is a recently built multi-lane express toll route running southwest at high elevation, and deducting, I am told, about six hours from the Kamloops-Vancouver run. I have never taken that highway, and everyone I talked to in Kamloops suggested the old Trans Canada Number One, both for scenic value and for safety, as the Coquihalla is used heavily by transport trucks. Transports were no problem to me until the last day of my trip as I rode into Ottawa, but I did not want to pay the toll, and I was told the old highway was a beautiful ride for motorbikes. Thus I headed slightly northwest along the Thompson River which had been joined at Kamloops by the South Thompson. Not far west of Kamloops lies long and narrow Kamloops Lake, with the highway running alongside, and through villages like Cherry Creek and Savona. This is sparsely populated, dry country, wildly beautiful, and the highway climbs and dips, climbs and dips. The views are spectacular. Shortly after leaving Kamloops Lake the mighty Thompson River curves sharply south, with the highway going on west for a short time before running into the beautiful small town of Cache Creek on the banks of the southward flowing Bonaparte River. Just beyond Cache Creek the Bonaparte and Thompson join, and soon after the highway is again running alongside this mightier Thompson. Fifty miles south of Cache Creek the Thompson somehow disappears into the mightier Fraser at Lytton, and this huge river makes it way south through the majestic Fraser Canyon, with the highway again alongside, and where at Hell’s Gate a tourist attraction has been developed with a cable car ride over the frightening turbulence of the river. River and highway continue south until coming to Hope, where the river and highway turn west, and where the Coquihalla ends, but where once again a traveller has a choice of highways, the old Number One, running north of the river, or the new multi lane Number One running on the river’s south side. For anyone wanting to view scenery and meet people I think the answer is generally the same in every country, stick to the slow roads, and I do so. Weather wise I was comfortable from Jasper to Hope, but as I turned due west nearing the Pacific temperatures dropped and rain began. I turned onto the dirt road of a native Reserve, and was welcomed to camp in a certain place where there was an abandoned building with solid roof still standing, but the structure was thickly surrounded by brush and difficult to get the bike through, and very wet besides, and I chose to go on. Where I spent that night I can’t remember, but the next day took me to Vancouver, and on the road to the ferry, which I hoped to catch before its last departure of the day. I abandoned that quest not far from my goal when I came to one of B.C.’s many, beautiful, government-established roadside stops equipped with outhouses and even washrooms, and frequented by truckers and tourists. Officially there is no overnight tenting allowed at these often park like settings even though truckers and tourists in motor vehicles overnight there, but I understand the rule is not often enforced unless the privilege is being abused in some way. To avoid any unpleasantness with authorities I searched this large and particularly park like place until I found a circle of the exceptionally large trees once common in British Columbia, but now rare, in the centre of which had been placed a picnic table. The rain had stopped, and the trees were closely spaced, and thickenough, that little rain had come through. Besides my moped’s advantage of high gasoline mileage its small size allows it to be easily hidden, and after cooking and eating a good meal on a picnic table in plain sight, and then having a good walkabout and chat with other travelers, and then a wash in the washroom which had hot running water, I secreted my bike in the grove, unrolled my sleeping bag, and laid myself down on top of the picnic table. My sleep was disturbed only by the beautifully soft sound of rain on the trees in the night .. with an occasional drop falling onto the waterproof thermal blanket over my sleeping bag.
In my first week of travel after departing Ottawa I had ensuredI breakfasted well, normally on oatmeal and apples, having learned that the breakfast practice provides enough real energy to minimize stress. During my second week of cool, wet weather I neglected breakfasts for the practice of getting underway early and stopping for a coffee .. and then breakfasting late in the morning. I found this was a great way of getting sick and short tempered, so I went back to breakfasting, relieving my own cooking with a restaurant breakfast of sausages and eggs if a restaurant was close by.
It was a good thing that I ate before setting out to catch the ferry to Vancouver Island, because British Columbia road signs are the most confusing of anywhere I have travelled, and this difficulty has been confirmed by other travelers. As I road down Number One now on the south side of the Fraser River I came to a large sign saying ‘Ferry to Victoria’ or something like that, ‘next left’. I turned left at the next left, and was taken far away from my destination. That was okay, as my brother in Victoria was working that day so we could not have visited anyway, but finding my way back to the road to the ferry was not easy. I had ridden a long way before determining I had probably taken the wrong road, and I did not enjoy the feeling of being lost for the first time on my trip, especially because I have learned that strangers genuinely want to be helpful but can’t always be relied on for directions. I was also low on gasoline. Of course my one litre metal container of gas for emergency was tucked away, but that was good for only 25 miles, and my wrong turn had taken me south almost to to the U.S. border, with no gas station on my side, and I had no desire to go through the border crossing process simply to buy $5.00 worth of gas.
Motorists, a pedestrians, and a member of a highway repair crew did not fail me with their directions, though, and after much turning and turning I rode a long, quiet, rural road back to the highway to the ferry. There are at least two ferry terminals to Vancouver Island, but it is the most southerly Tawassan ferrieswhich takes you to, no, not British Columbia’s capital city of Victoria which is a major port for tourist cruise ships and whale watching, but after a beautiful cruise threading through the Gulf Islands, you are unshipped at the lesser port and very pretty town of Sydney, from which Victoria is gained by Trans Canada Number One. The shipboard cruise I made in beautiful sunshine, because as I was boarding the ferry the sun broke through the clouds, and southern Vancouver Island was blessed, after many days of cold and rain, with a week of weather perfectly suited to tourists and mopedists coming to celebrate birthdays with brothers.
The 600 miles length of Vancouver Island is not strange to me except in its northernmost extremity as I had lived on the island a few times, and Victoria is fairly familiar, as my second wife Jeani and I lived outside of that city and worked frequently in it almost 20 years ago. Almost all the farmland on Vancouver Island lies between Sydney and Victoria, and this beautiful country and I became intimate through my post-marriage breakup employment as a herder of a dozen sheep which was part of a larger job as caretaker on a private estate. My intimacy with this farm country came not from a deep geographical knowledge, but from the experience I had one day while picking stones off a hillside on which the sheep were grazing. Just a few days before I had disentangled a ewe’s legs from hale bay binder twine left lying carelessly around by either the former caretaker or the owner or by someone but definitely not by me as one of my major concerns was for the sheep not finding twine which they might be tempted to chew on, having it get stuck in their throats or worse. In the process of disentangling this ewe who was huge with pregnancy I had to wrap both my armsaround her belly, and you might say we bonded, because when it came time for her to drop her lamb she left the flock and walked directly to me, stopping about 30 feet away, lying down, and delivering. I was moved. This was Eagle and Cougar country, and while it is well known what a Cougar would do to a lamb or a fawn, Eagles will also kill both, and this ewe had come to me for protection during her most defenseless moments. Yes .. that kind of intimacy is well remembered.
Other memories are more difficult. One reason I had not returned to the west since my marriage broke up in Victoria was the trauma of that separation. I had suffered a serious emotional breakdown, being zombie-like for many weeks, wandering the streets of Victoria with as much capability as a days-old lamb, but without the ability of skipping for joy. During my weeks of planning my trip I had actually experienced fear of what I might find in me when faced with old scenes, old scents, the sound of ocean waves .. the sight of the coastal mountains. I was surprised that I felt no pain as I rode through these memories, surprised because I still dream of Jeani, with one of my most recent dreams involving her and I being together again, and her giving birth to our child, yes, at our present ages. Crazy old me! Boy child or girl I can’t say .. but the happiness in the dream was so real that it stayed with me for days following, and perhaps it left only because I didn’t have the nerve to try to find Jeani’s phone number and call her, offering her a chance for the baby that she and I had not had when married, that absence for Jeani becoming more than she could bear, and in my mind at least causing her to leave and seek other options. Other options she tried, two more marriages providing only two more divorces. She and I both had nothing to lose by my phoning her .. but after almost a year I still have not made that call.
Leaving sorrows and cowardice and unbelief behind, we return to the present reality of what was happening seven months ago. My brother’s cabin cruiser’s home berth is at Oak Bay Marina. Oak Bay is a a wealthy Victoria neighbourhood where I had worked as a handyman before the position on the private estate. To get to Oak Bay I had to turn off Number One onto lesser roads, and I did so, but my memory was not sharp, and at a traffic light or stop sign I asked the driver beside me for directions.
“Follow me into the park up ahead,” he said, and I did. This was Douglas Park, a reserve of the huge trees native to Vancouver Island, and the setting was so peaceful that the stranger (I’ll call him Jack) and I fell into casual conversation, I finally asking him if he knew Sombrio Beach, which was for an automobile about one and one half hours northwest of Victoria, and where and I had lived more than once in a primitive, driftwood shack community of hippies and surfers. Jack said yes, he knew Sombrio, and I then asked if he knew Steve and Barb, the couple who had lived on the beach with their many children, Barbara giving birth to three of the children on the beach which had no electricity and no running water other than what came down the mountainside in waterfalls, creeks, and what is known as Sombrio River but which is not more than a creek.
“Their goat pissed on my leg,” Jack said, laughing.
I was able to balm Jack’s potentially hurt dignity by saying, “I ate that goat.” We both had a good laugh and I asked him if he knew if Steve and Barbara were still in the area. I already knew that the Sombrio community was destroyed, the shacks burned mostly by the government as the beach was being made part of the Juan de Fuca Trail which joins the larger West Coast trail at Port Renfrew. I say the government burned most of the shacks, but I have learned that Steve, Barb, and a friend of mine named Rivermouth Mike could not bear the pain of anyone but themselves burning what had been their homes for well over a decade, and so they dismantled and burned their own. By the way, there is a video available about Sombrio available by typing a word search on the Internet.
Of Steve and Barbara, Jack said he had no idea of wherethey might be as he had not been back to Sombrio for a few years because the beach’s peace and quiet had been destroyed by the crowds and boom box noise of partyers. My brother had already told me that situation with the beach, but I was determined to go there anyway, and to find Steve and Barb if possible, as I had first met them about 25 years ago on my first visit to Sombrio, and as we had become such close friends that two of their young children, Dawn and Jesse, would accompany me on walks ‘up the trail’ to the topside for berry picking. My wife Jeani and I, with her young son Adam, had lived on the beach in a shack I had built, Steve and Barbara’s children and Adam becoming close companions. At this time I will .. and I am hesitating here, unable to determine how to put this, wanting to spare you a genuine shock when you read in the next chapter about my return to Sombrio, how it held a terrible trauma. And please, I don’t want you to think I am using this warning as a literary device to hold your attention, as the loss was far too painful.
For now, though, it was time to get to Oak Bay, and Jack drove slowly enough to allow me to follow. I think it was at the university that he and I parted, he having told me in advance about the turn, and signaling me when it was time to make it. His directions were sure, and I rolled into a village which is so genteel and civilized as to have drivers who actually stop at crosswalks for elderly pedestrians .. like a different world, really. My first destination was a Starbucks Coffee Shop my brother Ron had told me about, and I then set out on an unsuccessful attempt to find a coin operated telephone to let Ron, who would be off work at that time, know I had arrived. A bookstore not only provided the telephone, but also a stunning serendipitousness which came with an almost blinding light after I explained to the saleswoman that I had just come from Ottawa by moped, leading up to the brilliance with her asking, “What neighbourhood are you from in Ottawa?”
Recognizing in her voice a certain familiarity with Ottawa I responded, “Mechanicsville.”
To which she responded, “Oh my gosh! I’m from there! My Dad was born there.”
Do you think Ripley’s Believe it or Not would be interested?
If I had a heart for romance at that introduction I don’t know what this chance meeting could have led to, but my heart, I had come to realize, was still involved in a 25 year romance which had survived several other failed relationships since my marriage ended, so I finally find it relatively easy to put aside any thoughts of potentialities as far as lovely ladies are concerned. The woman was near my age and we both marveled at ‘coincidences’, but I suspected her state of mind was similar to my own as far as romance went, and neither of us progressed to flirting, I making my call and thanking her for her assistance, and still marveling at the power which leads to ‘coincidences’, walked to Starbucks to await my brother … and that’s all the story for tonight as even though I find it easy to discount romance I’m tired and somewhat lonely and need to go to bed.
After coffee Ron returned to his boat while I did laundry at aLaundromat, and then joined Ron at the marina. We spent the rest of the day on the boat drinking beer and whiskey, and the next daywe motored onto the Pacific while celebrating his 56th birthday. Both Ron and I are moderate drinkers, having learned many times not to overdo alcohol, so operating the boat under the influence of one birthday beer was neither sin nor crime. I have forgotten the sequence of events, whether it was that first series of days and nights with Ron, or the second series when I had returned from Sombrio Beach, but on one boat outing when we were accompanied by a friend of Ron’s we attempted setting a crab trap, but something went amiss, and I think the amiss was perhaps our advancing age reducing our ear’s hearing capabilities, because Skipper Ron commanded his pal or me to the wheel while he went to loose the trap, to which was tied a long rope with a marker buoy on its end. Ron had instructed us to call out a required depth as registered by the electronic sounder, and Ron’s pal and I both loudly called the depth to Ron, I expecting my brother to immediately drop the trap, but he delayed for several yards with the bottom dropping rapidly. The trap’s marker float almost disappeared under water, and we should have immediately picked the trap up again and reset it at a shallower depth, but we did not, as Ron said the tide was at its ebb, and the marker was visible enough to warn boaters. The next day Ron and I went in search of the trap at low tide, but the trap was gone, almost certainly carried out to sea or worse, the tide may have still been on the rise somewhat and could have completely covered the marker buoy, and the rope could have come in close proximity with a boater’s propeller, which may or may not have been big trouble for that boat.
Besides losing the crab trap during our visit(s) Ron and I also sea-motored to the main harbour of Victoria where he had lived happily on board his boat for quite some time, until huge houseboats hemmed him in on every side. By a quirky twist of fate this is the same harbour Ron’s ex-brother in law Kent had lived on board his own boat. I had met Kent during my breakdown 20 years before, but I was too ‘out of it’ to make friendships, and I only visited with Kent a couple of times. On this trip to Victoria’s harbour I greatly desired friendship with a beautiful mermaid with long red hair who was playing her accordion for money, busking it’s called, and the desire was mutual to the point of her giving me a smile of respect for the elderly.
The ocean around Victoria, with its islands and bays and mountainous horizons, is perfect for boating, perfect that is for educated and/or experienced boaters; but the inexperienced can get themselves in big trouble very easily, and even the experienced have their troubles. On one circumnavigation of an island Ron and I could barely make headway against a tidal current even at full throttle, and on another sunny afternoon in an effort to save fuel we were running parallel with large waves which resulted in my making prayer that Ron knew his boat well enough that we wouldn’t be capsized. Ron told me he had experienced worse waves than those on a previous trip with his pal and was totally confidant in his boat’s abilities. Nevertheless he finally plotted what I considered the better course because it decreased rocking dramatically, running out to sea for a considerable distance at an angle to the waves and then running in again also at an angle. This increased the distance traveled which resulted in higher fuel costs, but it also eliminated the small chance that a rogue wave would tip the boat. Rogue waves are real events even if they are extremely rare. I had had a frightening experience on these same waters with Jeani and her son Adam in our canoe at Race Rocks, just northwest of Victoria. The ‘rocks’ are tiny islands, and tidal currents through the rocks are said to be the strongest in the world. We had been fishing at ebb tide when currents were not running, but the tide changed without my noticing, and I had to use all my skill to get us to safety by rock hopping, going with the current and ducking into the back eddies behind the islands, planning our next move from there, etc., etc. The ocean’s tides have been the doom of many boaters, and in particular I remember the story of the canoeists on Hudson’s Bay who had successfully navigated down the northern rivers, and were paddling down the coast when they were stranded by a receding tide far out on a mud flat, and then drowned when the tide came in again, their canoe not being able to loose itself from the mud’s grip.
My time on the ocean with my brother was wonderful though, especially as we could celebrate the part of our recently uncovered family history which tied us by our mother’s blood with both Newfoundland’s seafarers as well as Portuguese seafarers, the two people being joined in Portugal Cove in Newfoundland. Ron and I had really never wondered why both of us held a lifelong love of being on water, and my eldest daughter’s internet search discovery of our heritage was no real surprise, merely confirming what we already knew, that we were big water people .. the small lakes of Algonquin Park holding no lure for me, but a trip down the Ottawa River to Montreal and then up the St. Lawrence Seaway seemed as natural as taking a shower. Special things seemed to happen when Ron and I were together near water, such as the unforgettable sunset on the last day of our tent home on the Port Hope Beach, for instance, and the weather in Victoria being so perfect and the sky so clear that Ron saw distant mountains for the first time, and that after almost 10 years in Victoria. I can only thank the Almighty God.
Ron had added an extra day to his normal three day ‘weekend’in celebration of his birthday, but even with that too soon it was that Ron had to return to work, while it was time for me to head for Sombrio Beach; but before I left Victoria I stopped at a motorcycle shop whose operators ordered a moped tire which would be waiting when I returned from Sombrio. I don’t know why I didn’t just phone the Great Canadian Motorcycle shop in Winnipeg, except perhaps I thought the local shop could get a price which didn’t include shipping the tire from Winnipeg. As it turned out I paid three times the price I had in Winnipeg, but the tire was four ply instead of two, and took me many miles more than the cheaper tire before giving out just past Winnipeg. I put on a lot of extra miles returning from the west because I took time to tour and adventure rather than coming straight through .. but the stories resulting from that trip were undreamed of as I motored towards Sombrio.
Sombrio is reached from Victoria by driving west to the village of Sooke. Sooke is famous for its Sooke Harbour House restaurant which pleases expensive tastes, and Jeani and Adam and I, immediately before our breakup, were offered the rental of a house near the Harbour House, our house having a solidly fenced yard with lots of green grass which would have seemed relatively close to heaven for the rabbits we raised for food. We easily could have let the rabbits loose from their cages as grass was so abundant they had no reason to go to the trouble of digging under the fence to seek greener pastures. Jeani and I could probably have supplemented our property maintenance business’s income by selling rabbits to the Harbour House. But Jean had firmly decided to end our marriage, , and I saw no point in renting a house for myself when I had a lovely one ton truck to live in. Our marriage had been stressful for reasons I won’t go into, and while I had not reached an end to my faith that God could save the marriage if that was the plan, I had come to an end of my strength. So .. we did not rent the house. I returned to Sombrio for a time, but too many changes in my life and at Sombrio had occurred, and I found it impossible to stay.
This moped trip was different. I knew conditions at the beach were no longer suited to a life there, but I had to see the scenery which had several times been home to my Gypsy soul, I had to smell the waterfalls, and I had to hear the BOOM of Canon Rock. Canon Rock is a house-sized boulder which lies offshore at the division between east Sombrio and West .. East and West because even though the coast runs northwest, the beaches are situated east and west. Canon Rock is famous for its BOOM because when tides, currents, and waves are right, the waves strike the front of the rock with such force that a BOOM is heard for miles.
Canon Rock, though, was yet ahead when I stopped at Sookeand ‘asked around’ for Steve and Barb. One of the persons I asked said he had heard that Steve had died. Of course I simply would not allow myself to believe that to be true. Steve was a strong, strong man .. a surfer .. a survivor.
At Sooke I also sought out a tailor, as my hooded yellow rain jacket’s zipper had broken, and that jacket was one of my most important survival items. The tailor lived and worked on the far western end of the village, and when I drove into her yard I was greeted by a small herd of the small deer common on Vancouver Island .. deer which were almost pets to the owner, but are not tame enough to allow people to pet them. After discussing the deer, and again asking about Steve and Barb, I was given the price of having a zipper installed, and decided a new rain jacket would be more cost effective; but fortunately a sewing shop was close by and I purchased a strong zipper, strong thread of a good quality, and needles with eyes sufficiently large enough to allow my eyes to put the thread through the needle. These I packed into my gear. I also purchased groceries and wine.
Where did I acquire news of the tragedy .. with the seamstress?Or at River Jordan? I can’t recall. But I knew it for sure at River Jordan, which is a tiny village on the ocean halfway between Sombrio and Sooke. There is no sense delaying it, not all the beauty riding the mountainside and oceanside West Coast Road with its hills and sharp curves and dips and Rainforest and roadside waterfalls and rock and ocean shoreline and sounds and scents and fruitfulness of nature can .. I was going to say not even all those beauties can ease the pain .. but they can .. and to say otherwise would be a disservice to the loss of those people whose whose flesh and blood and spirits grew from the intimacy of living their entire lives close to nature. Nature is goodness .. even in its wildness and sometimes seeming cruelty nature is layered and woven with gentleness, stitched and flowered and embossed with kindness, lies itself down willingly in peace and rest, and rises up majestically with meaning and intelligence and purpose. Again I will say there is no sense in delaying it. Steve had ridden his last wave due to cancer, and not only Steve was gone, although his spirit will be with me forever, but Dawn and Jesse had, as adults, .. had what? Had departed this earth? I can’t say they died .. my faith in life eternal is too strong to use the word death. Even trees don’t die .. they simply change and assume new identities, their decomposition a gradual change from one existence to another .. as part of another tree, or flower, or berry bush, such as the ones Dawn and Jesse and I harvested fruit from, or if they are sawn into lumber before decomposition, as structures or firewood or boats or fences or frames around paintings. My wonderful friends Dawn and Jesse too had changed, some would say they left their earthly bodies behind, and their spirits had ascended, like Christ, to heaven. Others will say they are asleep awaiting resurrection. I don’t know. God knows. I do know their souls have not simply become part of a tree or berry, though .. souls are part of nature but not bound by nature’s rules of transition of matter and energy. Dawn and Jesse both ended their physical activity on earth through single vehicle accidents. Dawn drove off the West Coast Road after a happy visit with her mother. Jesse had been working at the Port Renfrew hotel a few miles northwest of Sombrio and after work drove some friends to the ocean at about 2 a.m., to the Port Renfrew harbour, where black ice had formed on the black wood of the pier. Their vehicle slid off the end of the pier. Jesse probably drowned saving his friends, all of who were saved. All of this is terrible enough. But the tragedy doesn’t end there. Jesse and Dawn’s older brother, Clearlight, yes that is his birth name, also died, in separate single vehicle accident. I had not spent time with Clearlight when I was living on the beach as he had been living elsewhere, But I met him in Victoria during my emotional breakdown in Victoria, and also at at time he was living at Sombrio, and with his heart full of compassion and affection he told me, ‘Come to Sombrio and live near us.’ I did not.
Such deep tragedy that my emotions seem shallow .. certainly unable to cope with the loss in any way except a huge shedding of tears or grief, and that I have been unable to do because I am the same as most people in our industrialized western society who have had genuine life stripped from the heart and replaced with insular material values and strivings. For me those processes began early, in the days and nights of fighting and bickering and shouting and small violences between my Mom and Dad which led to my mother leaving my ‘blue collar’ Dad with five children to care for as a single parent. Emotional health? Sorry, my familiarity with it is brief. But we have to survive .. and there is also an overwhelming goodness which carries us on. I think I may avail myself of that goodness right now, and put aside the writing of this story until I recover yet again from the sorrow of losing such good friends,and from the memories of childhood. You may want to take a break also, for the same reasons.
When I first ‘discovered’ Sombrio twenty five years ago it could be reached only by the sea, or by two hiking trails .. or if a person wants to be all inclusive by helicopter, float plane, or parachute.My first descent to Sombrio was made by the hour-long, northern or westernmost trail, depending on how you want to view the map. This mountainside trail started at the West Coast Road, which, by the way, was built only in the 1950s, signifying the wildness of the land. The hike threaded through what is called ‘Virgin’ Rainforest, past and around two main species of giant trees, the first being giant Cedars which are really, according to the Government of Ontario hardcover book Native Trees of Canada really not Cedars at all, but Arbor Vitae, that term meaning ‘the tree of life’, and being used, some would say unfortunately, by Native North Americans to save from scurvy the lives of the first European explorers. The second Sombrio species is Hemlock. Not being a tree expert I don’t know if there was an odd Fir or Pine in that magnificent forest. According to Native Trees of Canada true Cedar is not native to Canada, with even the Eastern White Cedar being Arbor Vitae. True Cedar does grow in Lebanon though, or at least it did in the time of King Solomon who used it to build Jerusalem’s temple of God.
The West Beach trail parallels a cascading stream which was then and still is identified as the Sombrio River. The stream was probably named a river because its mouth is wide, and that is the part the Spaniards would have seen first. As you walk upriver, though, the stream narrows rapidly to creek status, but what a beautiful creek, full of the music of waterfalls falling into pools. In the old days the water music drifted through the giant trees, but now it falls mostly onto a many-potholed, dirt and gravel logging road. The river was exploited for gold a hundred years ago, and traces can almost certainly still be found today.
The climax of my first hike down that trail are still clear in my memory. I pushed aside thick Salal brush and stepped into .. what I knew instinctively was home. A broad, curving, sand and gravel beach .. the mouth of the river .. a house sized black rock sitting joined to the beach by a causeway, the mountains of Washington State across 25 kilometers of Juan de Fuca Straight, at the western end of those mountains the open Pacific, and here and there up and down the beach adult men and women and children. As I stepped onto the beach I could see half hidden among the forest half a dozen rough shacks built obviously of driftwood, and from first glance obviously more than shacks, these were homes.
The first people I met were Steve and Barbara and the children,and I met them by simply walking up to their home and saying hello. I remember thinking Steve, a tall, blond, muscular Viking-like man, was the most gentle soul I had ever met. Barbara was plainly welcoming, telling me about the community. We were friends from those first moments. I told them I was there hoping to escape the horrors of civilization for awhile, and Barbara pointed to a shack up towards the river mouth, and told me it had been vacant for a few weeks, and that I could move into it if I wanted.
Over the next few weeks I met all the beach dwellers and came to know that despite inhabitants making full use of available resources, including eating the delicious and tender pink flesh of Gooseneck Barnacles, as well as seaweed, this culture was not attempting a return to the stone age. There was no electricity in any form, but one fellow was was at that time my age at this time and who had ‘retired’ to Sombrio brought a battery-powered radio to listen for Tsunami warnings. I knew his fears were based on reality, but I estimated as almost negligible the chances of having the radio attended to during the brief time of effectiveness of a warning. Most of the dwellers had brought some type of wood-burning stove to the beach, and most of the shacks including my own were constructed with the assistance of plastic .. heavy poly film. I think I recall Steve having a chain saw, and he also had brought a fibreglass canoe to the beach and then outfitted it onboth sides with outriggers which were a marvelous combination of natural wood struts and dense, construction plastic foam. To make Barbara’s life as a mother easier Steve had installed Sombrio’s only example of modern plumbing in their home, using plastic pipe and gravity to run hillside creek water into a stainless steel sink. I think I even recall a faucet. One plumning experiment I attempted in the home I built for Jeani, Adam and I was to run a pipe out of our sink into a sump pit outside the house. I designed everything with ecology in mind, but after a few days such a stink arose from the sink’s drain that I pulled the pipe out of the ground and ran the dirty water onto bushes where the food particles would take advantage of air and light to compost naturally, becoming healthy nutrients for the bushes instead of converting to poison buried underground, and of course that is why septic systems succeed only in destroying soil and watercourses.
Jeani, Adam and I lived at Sombrio a few years after I took up habitation the first time though, and during my first stay I was surprised to learn that even though the inhabitants could easily have been hired to portray stoned hippy dopers in any Hollywood movie of that era the Sombrio culture was not drug based. Certainly marijuanna was at the beach, because surfers came to the beach, and because the permanent residents did use the weed, but it was not anywhere approaching the basis of this community, which was a community, but not a commune. I believe I only smelled pot twice in my first weeks. What was the basis for Sombrio was the knowledge that living close to nature held value which was both unknowable and unspeakable. Being removed from normal society held hope for long term sanity. That has changed now that the logging road allows easy access, dope is everywhere among the partyers, and on a party weekend the beach becomes a ghetto with battery-powered apparatus blasting the tranquility with what passes for music, and some of the noise is good music I must say, but the volume need not be loud enough to sand blast to a brilliant shine what had been fire blackened pots and pans. Still, I came to recognize that even the worst of the party offenders would leave the vistas of Sombrio having been changed in basic ways for the better. What is sad though, It is doubtful, though, is that not many of Sombrio’s new visitors will ever hear the fizzing music of millions of tiny, conical sea shells which blanket the flattened penninsula leading to Canon Rock .. that penninsula bared to sun and air at low tides. Those shells make their music, I suspect, during rituals involved with mating, the minuscule denizens beneath the shells lifting and then dropping their shells suddenly to emit their tiny sound which when orchestrated fully sounds like champagne after popping the cork. It is fully appropriate of course if the champagne music does celebrate seashells’ mating.
There are still no electrical wires running to Sombrio, and no running water other than the old ocean currents, waterfalls, creeks and the river; but modern mindless destroyer-exploiters have clear cut the mountain’s trees, leaving a thin edge of forest along the shore. I don’t think anyone who has ever viewed the destruction of clear cut logging can express the … unspeakable horror. But I am also overwhelmed at nature’s power of renewal when assisted by the intelligence of man .. how quickly the forest grows back after replanting .. with some trees which must be 20 feet high .. and thick enough to properly be called a forest.
The logging road which must be driven with extreme caution leads to a dirt parking lot which boasts a locked, steel box into which campers and day users are supposed to insert money, and which signifies Sombrio as part of a Parks system, although, like Steve said, “If they were going to make it a park, why didn’t they leave the trees?” The cash box is at the head of the remnants of the old trail which leads both to the beach, and also to a new suspension footbridge spanning the Sombrio River, and serving the Juan de Fuca hiking trail which joins the West Coast Trail at Port Renfrew. I paid for one night, registering as Ontario Moped, but stayed for 10 nights, feeling guiltless because of the overall destruction of what had once been simply .. unspeakable beauty.
The footpath to the beach crosses a footbridge over a creek which runs into the Sombrio River. This creek is pure drinking water, and served my needs in years gone by and on this trip. Over that creek near the bridge swings a child’s rope swing with a wooden seat I,assisted with a friend named Mike, I do believe, hung for Adam and the other children to play on when days were hot on the beach. I walked the moped down the trail, and although I did not realize it at first, set up camp almost in the exact spot my home with Jeani and Adam had been. Few people were on Sombrio when I arrived, as it was a weekday, and most visitors come on weekends; but on the second day I was approached by a gentleman a few years younger than myself. This fellow would be called strange by some, but I did not think him strange until he initiated a conflict with a large bear, that story coming shortly. In this person I immediately recognized a wild man of the ocean and forest, but I did not recognize him as an old friend, which was what he was, that recognition made by this wild man during our conversation .. and talk about a happy reunion when memories were refreshed. This was Mike, Rivermouth Mike being his Sombrio name, gained from the old location of his home at the mouth of the Sombrio River not far from my camp. It was Mike who had given me the Sombrio nickname Preacher Bob from my habit of carrying a bible wherever I went, a habit I have unfortunately abandoned because I no longer carry anywhere near the same measures of peace and love and strength and faith which I was blessed with in those days. Mike’s memories were so clear that he even remembered a plaid dress Jeani wore often on the beach. Through his memories mine slowly returned to me. Mike was a surfer, a draft dodger from the United States, as Steve had been. He had spent about 15 years living on the beach, arriving after my second time spent living there, but he had been there a few years when Jeani and I and Adam moved in, being partially supported by his parents, and also supporting himself with his considerable musical talents, busking in Victoria, and also trading favours on the beach with other surfers: for instance, he repaired a dentist’s surfboard in exchange for dental repair. It was Mike who told me that Barbara was living in Port Renfrew, where he himself had moved when the community was destroyed. Mike returned to Sombrio often, cleaning up garbage left by others, and maintaining artifacts like the small, memorial plaque to Jesse, and the life sized wooden carving of a beach bum surfer which Steve had carved.
And now for the bear story. During one of Mike’s visits, when we were standing together talking, he had suddenly looked towards where his home had stood, and walked rapidly off calling “You leave that tree alone.” I looked to see what had taken Mike’s attention, and a large Black Bear was not only not far away, but had begun to move slowly but aggressively in Mike’s direction. Mike is not a large man, and the bear may have sensed a snack. I was absolutely overcome with the need to rescue Mike, and hurried after him, catching up to him quickly, but separating myself slightly so that the bear would not miss the fact that there were now two of us, and seeing both of us walking aggressively and directly towards him, decided on escape as being safer than confrontation. I really didn’t know what I was going to use as a weapon against the bear, as the knife I carried on my belt was a folding lock blade knife with a faulty lock better suited for slicing apples, but by gosh that bear wasn’t going to eat my friend Mike. Of course, it’s extremely rare when ‘using anything’ against a bear is necessary, as they most often run away from a human presence; but according to Ontario Government Parks literature two kinds of Black Bears have been identified, the runners and the aggressive kind. With the aggressive bears, literature reads, the only hope is to fight, as laying down and playing dead might work with a Grizzly, but not often with a Black. What had gotten Mike upset was that the bear was thinking of eating the blossoms or young fruit from a Crabapple Tree, that tree dear to Mike’s heart, possibly having provided shade for his shack home. I had another encounter with a bear at Sombrio, this time when I was alone, and searching for ‘the old trails’ which had led from home to home, and to the drinking water creek, etc., and some of which had become overgrown. I was standing on a fallen tree, about four feet off the ground, and surrounded by thick brush. I was also standing at one of the large upright trees, and I think I was using the tree to maintain my balance, putting my hand to the trunk. Suddenly I heard a loud sound like an angry hissing .. but not like a snake .. this hissing seemed to come from a mammalian throat, and I could not immediately identify the direction from which the sound came. Sombrio is Cougar country as well as bear country, so I was of course alarmed, and looked around, but saw nothing. Something within me, however, moved me a few feet away from the tree, towards the the beach, but I was still standing on the fallen tree when something caused me to look up .. and there, eight feet above me, staring me in the face, and again making his warning hissing snarl, was a young Black Bear. The bear was angry because I was preventing its descent, and there was no bravery in me with this bear overhead, and I hurried along the log and onto the beach as fast as I could go. I watched from a distance as the bear wandered placidly into the shallow river, turning over rocks hunting for some kind of food. After that encounter I fashioned as excellently as I could from a smooth, stout shaft of aged wood a spear as a weapon of defence, and carried it regularly. After a week on the beach having eaten no red meat, and having been exposed to all the wild effects of a mostly solitary life in the wild effects of nature, I thought I might use the spear to procure a bear steak, but I had no difficulty talking myself out of the plan. On the day I left the beach I placed the spear with the wooden surfer, having written on spear’s shaft, ‘Bear Spear .. do not burn.’ This identification was necessary because while at the time of the Sombrio community driftwood was plentiful and wisely use, the partyers who drove down the logging road burned any piece of wood they could find, which lead to my introduction to the use of dried kelp as fuel, that introduction made by two young campers from Spain, who you will meet before I leave Sombrio. Thinking back on things, it’s a miracle that one piece of aged tree limb had been available, but it certainly would have been burned up by the barbarian hordes who invaded Sombrio during the long weekend of July 1.
Two or three days after setting up camp at Sombrio I had ridden into Port Renfrew, where Mike told me Barbara was living in a house with the younger sisters of Dawn, Jesse and Clearlight. I stopped at a Community Centre to ask directions to her home, and, after asking for directions to Barbara’s house (she insists onbeing called Barbara, and not Barb) was introduced to a boy who was using a computer. This was Tobias, Barbara’s grandson. Now, if you have never believed in miracles, calling those occurrences ‘coincidences’, this could be your time of conversion to faith in divine intervention; for no coincidences could have set up Barbara’s grandson and my grandson having the same name. I have only known one other Tobias, and he was a cat, my eldest daughter’s cat, in fact, and so I’m one of planet earth’s fortunate few who have a grandson named after a cat. I’m sure it was my daughter Kimi who loved her sisters Toby cat who named her son. I suppose this is as good a place as any to boast of my prophesying which gender Kimi’s baby would be. Kimi had gone to see a Vietnamese fortune teller, who read tea leaves or something, and had been told the baby would be a girl. Kimi told me that news on the telephone, and my spirit seemed to be stirred by something, the spirit of truth I think it was, and I said ‘you can tell your fortune teller she’s wrong. You’re going to have a boy.’ I thought it was about time .. after three daughters and three granddaughters, to have a boy, not that I had had any preference whatsoever until that moment, always being perfectly happy with the gender God chose. I suppose it was that way this time also, as it was not anger which moved me to reject the fortune teller’s word .. but simply the spirit of what was going to be. I also had an unidentifiable feeling of sorts which told me that because I had three daughters and three granddaughters, a boy in the family would be welcome. Kimi’s husband, Elia, is an Arab Israeli who speaks both languages, Arab and Hebrew, but it was only after he and Kimi had decided on Tobias as a name that they discovered the meaning of the name, that being “God’s Will”. So yes, believe, believe in miracles for goodness sake, for when all is said and done, goodness is what will remains.
I knew a little bit about what I believed, when I rode towards Barbara’s home, but I did not know how to feel, how to act, what to say. I think it’s only now that I realize my grief was as much for myself, for my loss of friends, as it was for Barbara’s loss. Or was it? I really don’t know. The whole thing is still traumatic. Barbara was, I think I recall, being outside the front door of her home when I rode up, and she of course did not recognize me after 20 years .. but I recognized her, and called to her, “Hello Barb.”
Her face towards me held her normal natural affection for all people, as well as mild curiosity as to who I was, but she was also indifferent as to who I was in the sense that to Barbara, people are people, with no special status awarded any. “It’s Barbara,” she said so convincingly that it left no question mark as to whether she preferred to be called Barb or Barbara. Twenty years is a long time to remember details, and I could not remember if this name preference had always been with her, or was something new .. but her personality had always been so stable I think she must always have preferred Barbara.
I walked towards her, and eased her curiosity by saying, ‘I’m Preacher Bob, from Sombrio.’
Barbara searched my face only a short time before saying, “Yes. How have you been?”
‘I’ve been okay, well .. I was okay .. until I heard about .. I’m so sorry about Steve and the kids, Barbara. Just so sorry.’
The loss had occurred a several years before, and Barbara had recovered from the initial trauma. “I guess they had someplace else to go,” she said with a bright and genuine smile.
“Yes,” was all I could say. Words like, ‘gone to a better place,’ would bring no additional comfort or recognition that they had gone or would be gone to a better place. Barbara seemed to have always held an outlook of level-headed acceptance of things they were they were. I don’t remember her getting ‘excited’, but I also don’t recall her becoming depressed. The happiest I think I saw her was when I and a visitor to Sombrio had returned safely to shore after having taken the canoe out fishing for several hours on a day when the waves gradually built to thundering breakers when hitting shore.During those hours in which our canoe was a tiny dot on the horizon we hauled in 40 beautiful Ling Cod and Red Snapper, and when something huge and dark began to surface about one eighth mile ahead of us I became petrified with fright .. literally turned to living stone. My partner in the bow had turned to face me while fishing, and he had no idea of what was happening behind him until the whale blew. I had never seen a whale before, although from shore I had heard the beautiful music of their blow holes, and when this one blew my fright completely disappeared. Another experience of that trip were the walls of water on either side of uswhen the waves had built very high, with us in the trough. The hight of those waves gave me a warning of our difficulty ahead, and when we paddled in we could hear the thunder of the breakers, as well as see them breaking angrily against Canon Rock. I supposethe whole series of events would have been even more perfect if Canon Rock had been BOOMING, but the waves were not from the perfect angle .. or the tide was not at the perfect height. However, we had paddled into a position parallel to Canon Rock, and Steve and Barb and Jeani and a few other people hurried to where Steve wanted us to land, a fact he established by facing us while holding both arms upright .. the goal. I knew we could not just paddle through the waves and hope not to be carried back out with the waves’ fierce backwash, so I established a plan: we would catch the seventh wave in the waves’ natural sequence, that wave being the largest one, and so we did, first experiencing waves to find the largest, and then waiting through a series for that seventh. When the seventh began to lift us we dug in as hard as we could with the paddles, and the wave caught us like a surfboard and carried us at speed to shore. The plan went perfectly right up to about the last 30 feet, when water started pouring into the bow. My bows man jumped overboard, either to lighten the load and lift the canoe, or because he thought the depth was shallow enough that he would find his feet on the bottom, and would be able to haul the canoe the final distance. His head disappeared in the foam, but his hand held the gunwale. We shot ahead until water again started pouring in, and I knew if I did not also go overboard the canoe would fill, and probably be carried back out into the thundering surf with the waves’ backwash and become destroyed through the battering .. so I jumped overboard also while hanging onto the gunwhale. The water was still deep enough that I went completely under .. but the wave carried us all the way in, and Steve and Barb grabbed the bow and hauled us ashore. Barb’s smile towards me was brighter that time than at any other, and similar to the smile she wore when she said her children ‘had someplace else to go’. Life was saved .. life is eternal .. and perhaps a mother can know that in a special way.
Barbara had remarried, and I met/re-met three of her surviving daughters during my visit. Their knowledge of surfing is being passed on to all to youngsters from Port Renfrew and also from the neighbouring Aboriginal Reserve. Barbara’s daughter Leah is working at the same hotel her brother Jesse had worked at, and in the documentary video ‘Sombrio’, which can be located on the Internet, Leah makes a comment that, when mingled with the grief I feel for the loss of my friends, together with the grief I feel for the destruction of the Sombrio environment and community, moves me to tears each time I watch the video. Leah, as a teenager about 16 years old, says, “I like to come back to Sombrio and visit the trees I used to hang out with.’”
For some people trees are board feet or tonnage of wood chips. For others, trees are friends.
I made two visits to Port Renfrew, hanging out with Barbara and Tobias at a playground, and hanging out with Mike at his house-trailer home and at the hotel when Leah was working behind the bar. Did I say that Leah was an exceptionally beautiful woman in every way? And a redhead? There, I've said it. I shared my visit at Mike’s home with one of the oddest characters who had lived at Sombrio, or anywhere on earth for that matter. This person’s name I’ve forgotten at this moment, but he is unforgettable in his complete boldness in telling people that he was God. He is also memorable for his frustration that built to anger when told by others that he was not God. Mike is a compassionate man, giving food to this fellow, and driving him to his home which was a rough camp in the bush off the highway between Sombrio and Port Renfrew, but Mike told me he had to eject him from his home on more than once occasion because 'God' became aggresive when visitors said he was not God. When I lived at Sombrio with Jeani and Adam the fellow tried to face me down on my assertion that he was not God, but my non-resistance to his anger and threats persuaded him that while I might be a fool, I was not worthy of punishment.
During my visit to Mike’s home he presented me with my copy of the Sombrio video, which I do not appear in because I was living in Ontario when the video was made. Mike made two subsequent visits to Sombrio to visit me, on one of those visits bringing with him a fellow who had also lived at Sombrio, but who I did not remember. There were many people who lived at Sombrio before and after my times there .. and the video introduces you to only a few .. but an interesting few they are .. and well worth knowing. When Rivermouth Mike and I said our goodbyes for the last time on my visit it was with sadness, but we stay in touch by email, Mike spending part of this winter in Georgia with his aging parents. Mike's bear I encountered again on my return to Sombrio after my last trip into Port Renfrew when I came within 100 feet of it, but Glory to the true God, ran from me that time also.
My time on the beach was spent enjoying the music of the waves, listening for the whales, which unfortunately I did not hear, collecting and cooking mussels and seaweed and barnacles, chatting with hikers and campers, and ducking hummingbird attacks, which were attacks only because their buzz came upon me so suddenly and at such close range. You can find yourself looking towards a buzzing sound and find a Ruby Throat six inches from your face, looking you right in the eyes, and not immediately flying off when you return their gaze.
Many exceptionally transcendental minutes I spent with my meager knife clearing the old trail which ran from the beach through the thick Salal to the creek where the child’s swing is still hanging; and then guiding to that swing two young couples who had come to camp, also telling them the history of the beach. Those young people and I also spent a couple of rainy hours by their fire under their tarpaulin which was stretched over a fallen tree trunk. One of the young women and I had risen early, meeting on the beach, and she accompanying me to Canon Rock and to the secret place of the giant Mussels, which I shall not reveal in this story because if too many people know the place the Mussels will be stripped in the same way as the driftwood firewood was. Suffice it to say it’s a tough climb, and I was surprised that at my age I could do it, and was also surprised that this tender young woman did it with me. I shouldn’t be surprised at what young women are capable of, though, because I’ve seen them featured in rock climbing documentaries in which they’ve been hanging by ropes hundreds of feet up on the face of sheer rock. The harvesting of the mussels and the walk back to our camps, though, was forever placed in my memory by the young lady showing me a tiny pink pearl which she found in one of her mussels, and by our finding a giant eagle feather which has adorned my moped ever since. The eagle had been hanging around the beach the day before, and obviously dropped a feather just for me because it knew it was something I long ago had decided I must have before I depart our planet.
I also made hikes, in particular a hike to the tall waterfall on the south (or east) beach, and beyond it, with the waves rushing into narrowing channels and sending fountains of water skyward, to where a large Sea Lion colony used to be, but of course is no longer. The remnants of that colony, perhaps the last remnant, made a long swim close to shore past both beaches, from east to west, barking plaintively all the way, and well past the beaches. It was obviously searching for something, and I took it by the sound of its voice to be a male, and my instincts told me it was searching for its mate, and my instincts also told me its search would be fruitless. I was not surprised the next day, only saddened that all hope was gone for the Sea Lion, when its smaller mate washed up on shore, killed by something, perhaps a collision with one of the many huge ocean freighters which race through the Juan de Fuca straight on their pursuit of profit; or perhaps it had eaten something poisoned by pollution, or a piece of floating garbage. The ocean was obviously polluted now, whereas the water off Sombrio had been healthy during my previous stays during which I had not hesitated eating the seaweeds, the Green and Red Nouris, and the Kelp; but on this visit I thought it obvious that the pollution had made the seaweeds unattractive for eating, except for one patch of particularly healthy Nouri from which I harvested, and cooked with barnacles and Mussels. If you try Nouri, the Red turns green when cooked, so don’t think the colour change is the sign of unhealthiness.
On my walk to the tall waterfall, that water falling with great beauty directly into the ocean, I met a man of 70 years who had hiked the Juan de Fuca trail from its start. This was remarkable to me, as the older man had only begun hiking in his 50s. I’ve never enjoyed long hikes, especially because they often involve walking in squishy shoes or boots for many hours, and can be dangerous because of slippery rocks, but possibly also because I've spent a great deal of time alone throughout my life and would rather be sitting in a cafe` listening to people's voices than walking by myself .. but also consider the dangers .. the Coast Guard rescue helicopter made almost daily flights past Sombrio during my 10 days there, rescuing people from both the Juan de Fuca Trail and the longer West Coast Trail. So while I admired the 70 year old hiker and made him an example of what can be accomplished, I will probably never try to emulate him.
It rained quite a bit during my 10 days at Sombrio .. not hard rain, but drizzle .. and I made use of several rainy hours one day to sew the new zipper into my yellow rain jacket. Before I started that job I had envisioned a small pair of scissors as being preferable over my clumsy knife for the frequent thread cutting the sewing would involve. The extra difficulty of not having the proper tool made me delay the job for a short walk to the Parks-built outhouse, a facility I rarely used as I had a huge and partially hollowed tree standing near my tent which I had dug a pit in. Something, however, caused me to go for that walk, and in the outhouse I found a small, woman’s makeup kit which contained a folding mirror and a pair of tiny, folding scissors .. from San Francisco. the Great Spirit and Provider had been at work again with His limitless power .. (and I identify his gender as 'His' because that is how God is presented in Scripture. I borrowed the scissors for my successful sewing, returning the scissors to the kit in the outhouse later. On the evening before I left Sombrio I returned to the outhouse to find the kit still there, and as it had been a week since I found it the first time, was confident that the owner had probably returned to San Francisco or at least was far from Sombrio, so I emptied the makeup into the privy and took the rest of the kit home with me as a practical souvenir. Makeup is not a good thing to wear in the woods or to have inside a tent, says some literature, as its sweet smell could be a wild animal attractant. Speaking of sewing, if you are unfamiliar with this simple task, one of the prime requirements is good thread, not only for strength, but also so you won't be forever untangling kinks and knots as you draw the thread through the fabric. I find cotton with good strength the best suited for all purposes, substituting fishing line if I run out of thread.
In the last couple of days before the July 1 weekend more and more campers came to the beach, many of them carrying cases of beer and bottles of wine and liquor. This was when Mike made his last visit to the beach when I was there, and he was quick to tell several people that they were thoughtless in attempting to set up a party place for a pig roast in the midst of an already crowded area in which were a few families with young children camping. The pig roast was going to be a noisy affair, with lots and lots and lots of alcohol and with boom box and with chain saw for cutting logs for firewood … and Mike’s word instilled in them enough consideration to move further south to a vacant area. I had bought a bottle of wine at Port Renfrew, and had offered it to share it with Mike, but he declined, saying he was driving, and yes, the roads are dangerous. I fully intended to share the wine with someone .. anyone really; but perhaps the salt air and seafood had made me particularly thirsty, and after dusk had fallen on the first evening of the weekend when parties were beginning I took a sip, and it was so beautifully sweet I drank all of it .. rather quickly .. moved perhaps by the emotional trauma I was going through concerning the loss of my friends .. of course the quick consumption impaired my judgment, and when I was invited by two young men to join them at their fire near my tent an hour later my judgment became even more impaired as they freely shared their alcohol .. and so when it came time for them to offer me a smoke of their joint I at first declined, but on the second offer could find no reason to refuse, and so joined them in smoking that one, and the next .. and I can’t recall if there were any others .. but there was more alcohol .. and it was these two young Spaniards who introduced me to using dried bull kelp as fuel for a fire, and this fuel burns with a remarkably lean and bluish flame, and throws beautiful warmth, and the ight was so calm and beautiful, even though cool and slightly drizzly as it had been for a few days, but the water droplets in the air seemed cloud like in surrounding and falling upon us .. and with the sea and the sand and the small fires at the various camps .. and the conversation was so pleasant .. and I noticed some neighbours had run out of firewood and I called to them that I would get them some kelp to burn, and my Spaniards told me I should not, because then everyone on the beach would burn up all the kelp, and besides .. they said .. besides .. “Bob, do you know you are almost falling over?” I had stood up by then, a relatively easy accomplishment considering what came shortly thereafter, and was attempting to walk, which was not accomplished easily but I blamed the loose sand and grave my feet were on .. but even with the blamelaying my impulse was to sit back down, but I refused safety and comfort, and remembering my adventurous time on the ocean in Steve’s canoe, and setting that as a golden example of accomplishment, said “I’m okay .. I’ll get my land legs yet” But my friends, using their considerable intelligence and concern, repeated “Bob, Don’t Go.” But with lightheartedly staggering confidence I went .. and stumbled and staggered my way through the darkness and mist and over the rough ground and up and down inclines and declines as if I were a young man almost, and I met up with some partyers at a fire and shared their alcohol and companionship and then and finally I found myself down or up or across the beach eastward a fair way and high up on the edge of the beach I found great piles of dried kelp which even seemed to resemble sticks of dry wood even though the air was drizzly, and with some great difficulty gathered a great armload .. two armloads together of the kelp, and began carrying it back to the people for whom it was intended, and got at least part ways there, and fell down, and could not get up.
I knew I had fallen down only because I was suddenly laying on my back looking up .. I think the stars had come out .. perhaps not .. perhaps I saw stars from a blow to the head; but in any case I had fallen close beside a driftwood tree trunk, laying parallel to the tree, and was in some kind of hollowed place, hollowed by wave action during winter storms I thought. “This is no problem, I’ll just get up.” But I found I could not in fact barely begin to get up. I did make some kind of severely restricted roly poly motions with my body, first one way, and then the other, but "I have never experienced this degree of drunken and stoned helplessness before" I said to myself wonderingly, "or is it just that I'm an Old Timer now?" I said to myself once again, “I’ll just get up, that’s all, and carry on,” but I could not get up .. and I don’t know how long it was before I realized I was in a situation I had never been in before, and could not get up, and thought that the situation probably occurred because I was not a young man anymore, even though I have heard from young men that they have been in similar situations, in fact I’ve seen young men wearing T-shirts printed with “Help – I’ve fallen down and can’t get up” .. but I had never been in that T-shirt or situation, so one more try and I would be able to get up .. but I could not .. and I had actually started to enjoy the experience of being totally helpless and at the mercy of The Almighty .. and hoped He wouldn’t shower a heavy cold rain down on me to teach me a good lesson .. and I worried slightly about high tide covering me, possibly, but thought that unlikely as I was up fairly high on the slope, but you never know at times like this .. or a bear or a Cougar or Sea Monster might come along for a midnight snack of me .. but I also took great comfort in acknowledging my helplessness and His Almightiness, and so I estimated that he would be merciful towards me, and then I just thought, “well, I may as well just pass out for the night,” and I did pass out, wishing before I did for that T-shirt to put over me because I knew the night would be cold .. and I did feel cool at least when I woke up however much later it was when I woke up .. and now I simply had to stand up and get walking to get warmed up because at my age I did not want to lie on the open beach all night and get pneumonia .. and after a couple of false starts in which I fell back down I did stand up, and gathered up some dried kelp because I still wanted to be a hero .. and besides, I wanted to contribute to someone’s fire, anyone’s fire . . and I tried to carry the kelp, but gave up because I couldn’t keep my balance with the kelp in my arms, almost falling back down a couple of times and coming close to hurting myself, so I threw down the kelp and staggered on and on and on, until I realized I was lost .. yes, lost on this beach which was my home, and which I knew like the back of my hand (I looked for the back of my hand in the night's darkness, and couldn't find it) but even though I was lost I knew I could find myself if I could find the river .. and for some strange reason I knew which direction the river was, and walked towards it, and found it .. but could not remember what side of the river I was on, but by examining myself I knew I had not crossed the river, that was plainly understood, because I was not soaking wet, even though the air was a bit drizzly, so I turned southerly-eastward, which was the opposite direction from which I had come, and began staggering back, but did not want to stagger all night because I might end up near Canon Rock which I knew I was not camped near, so I swallowed my pride and staggered up to a fire where three young men were sitting, and I staggered up to them and asked, “Could you guys help me find my tent? I’m lost. I passed out on the beach. I’m the guy with the moped.”
I knew almost certainly that my moped would identify me as it was the only yellow moped on the beach .. the only vehicle for that matter .. not even a bicycle, so my yellow moped could not be mistaken for anyone's BMW or bicycle .. that realization came to me with some satisfaction, even though I knew that some of the beachcomber-partyers had looked at my moped as if it were a sacrilege, as motor vehicles definitely are not organically at home on this sacred wilder-ness beach at which was so much alcohol and dope and boom boxes and chain saws had banished quietness .. and I was hoping these guys would not be among those who saw me as a blasphemer, and if they did they helped me anyway .. all three of them accompanying me back in the direction of Canon Rock, with me calling towards people at fires, “Can you tell me where my tent is? I’m the guy with the moped.” And there was some sympathetic laughing .. and a couple of people said .. you’re almost there,” and finally someone pointed in a direction and said, “Your tent is up there,” and yes, mercifully I recognized my camp, and then I bragged to the three men that my moped had brought me all the way from Ottawa, and that I had not been stoned for many, many years, and they were properly impressed, and asked me if I had any weed on me, and I said “No .. and I won’t ever touch that crap again!” Even though it had not been crap, so to speak, but extremely high-THC content weed, and herb, and as the bible says herbs are for healing I should never have called it crap, but overdosing is not healing, and I thanked my guides and told them they had maybe saved my life, and crawled my way into my tent, and I laid down, and soon enough my stomach rose up, but I fought it down, and it rose up, and I fought it down, repeatedly, until finally I knew I could sleep, and was extremely thankful for the warmth of my sleeping bag, and for being dry and not passed out all night in the cold drizzle, and I fell asleep.
I slept late into the morning, and didn’t feel too bad, considering, and if I had a sore head it was not from hitting it when I fell, or was it, maybe that's where that tender lump came from; and when I got up and walking around I met the three guys who had guided me, and they all said they had been in similar conditions, and I thought how terrible for them at their young age .. and felt kind of self righteous that it had taken me 60 years to get that way .. at the same time wishing I had experienced that genuine helpless when I was at their tender age so that I would have grown up humble .. humble like this younger generation who know they are totally helpless in the face of such great adversity as the environmental disasters and wars and plagues and everything else which makes us all unable to help ourselves. My generation was faced with the same helpless, but it made us generally crazy. This younger generation is humble in such a genuine way .. even though one or two out of 100,000 of them have gone over the edge .. completely over the edge .. whereas almost all of my generation went over the edge, just not completely over .. only over far enough to puff us up with pride of being survivors. “Yes .. I’m a survivor of our generations adversity!” we boast .. and think sometimes we survived of our own accord. Yes .. I love this younger generation for their humility .. and for their kindness and undeserved respect towards us crazy self righteous old people. I should add that even though I enjoyed that feeling of total physical helplessness at a time when I didn’t even have my bear spear with me and when a bear or Cougar could have snacked away on poor, helpless me, or a Terrible Sea Monster could have come crawling up and dragged me into the depths I don’t want ever to be in that position again .. flat on my back in a hole like some sheep which has gone astray from its shepherd. I should also tell any of you people in Spain who might be reading this “Keep your kids at home and away from Canada’s Senior Citizens!” My two Spanish friends had packed up their camp and left before I got out of my tent, for a quieter beach someone said, but if they are happening to be reading this I’ll just say this, “Haven’t you got enough crazy old guys at home in Spain you can get stoned and leave laying around on midnight beaches in the drizzle without coming over here? It’s no wonder our navy fired a shot across the bow of one of your fishing boats … But thanks for teaching me about Bull Kelp as campfire fuel.”
Recovery and Return to Ron
The next day was Saturday, and I spent the morning after recovering from the party, and then spent the afternoon after the morning after preparing to leave Sombrio .. preparing equipment-wise and psychologically. I had many reasons to go: the beach was far too crowded and noisy (I had several tents within 50 feet of me .. one large tent within 10 feet); my brother’s three or four day period off work would begin Monday; the Sea Lion losing his mate saddened me with their symbolization of the whole range of environmental catastrophes our planet is going through .. and you can see them clearly from a moped seat by the way, and smell them .. and I was leaving also because all the firewood on Sombrio had been burned up; I was tired of the cool, drizzly, foggy weather and hoped the sun might be out in Victoria which is blessed with more sunshine days than Sombrio; I was out of alcohol and anyway did not want to risk getting involved in another party with its head-rearranging aftereffects; my food was running low; and last but not least those dangerous Spaniard secret spies who came to check out our west coast Sombrio fishery might come back with a fresh bag of Superweed.
Before darkness fell that evening I had chatted with many people, including one young woman doctor who was hiking the Juan de Fuca Trail solo, and who planned on carrying on the length of the West Coast Trail. I had shown a few campers and hikers the swing over the creek and told its story. I picked some trash off the beach and bagged it, then escorted my four friends with the pink pearl up the trail to the parking lot, carrying some of their gear for them, and they in return taking out the trash for me. I escorted another small group up the trail to the parking lot, these were two young couples with children who had been camped close to me, and we had grown fond of each other. I took one last walk to the waterfall on the east beach. Lastly I placed the bear spear I had made in the capable hands of the wooden surfer who I’m sure had been carved by Steve.
Before darkness fell I packed onto the moped everything I did not need for that night’s sleep, and when darkness fell I was inside my sleeping bag where I slept on and off, waking up to the same two women talking in loud voices until the first light of dusk. They must have fallen asleep before I rose and broke my camp, and I sure fell like starting my moped up outside their tent door and for those women’s benefit revving the engine at top speed and making as pitifuly little noise as the moped engine makes for a good long time, but instead of that I pushed the bike along the minor footpaths which ran through the forest to the main trail leading to the parking lot before starting it, and then walked beside it, throttling the engine because so much rain had fallen while I was camped that the ground was so spongy with water, and I actually had to detour off a trail around a large puddle. This surprised me because there had been limited sunshine in the 10 days I was there which allowed me to dry clothing after washing it in the river; and I had not really noticed the rain except it caused me to stay warmly dressed and to get into my rain gear on occasion. Life outdoors, unbroken by the comforts of a regular structure, acclimatizes a person.
When I reached the main trail I mounted up and rode until the ascent to the parking lot became too steep, and then walked while throttling the engine. On my way up I passed a young couple who were on their way down, and who told me they had spent the night in their car. Immediately after reaching the parking lot I encountered a grubby, slinky, mean-spirited looking fellow who I am sure was planning on breaking into cars and stealing whatever was available, but he had been disturbed by the people who had slept in their vehicle who I met on their way down the trail, and then I disturbed him again. I have two hopes regarding that fellow, that after being disturbed twice so early in the morning he lost his nerve, and I also hope that if he did break into cars that I would not be blamed.
The ride up the logging road was was bouncy from its abundance of potholes, but otherwise uneventful, and the ride towards River Jordan and Sooke was exhilarating for the scenery, for the thought that I would be seeing my brother again soon, and also because the sun was promising to break through the clouds, which it finally did, transforming a cool, grey, damp day into a much more wonderful experience. I took advantage of the sunshine to stop often at Salmonberry patches. Salmonberries are similar to raspberries but over sized, and with a nice orange colour when ripe. At Sooke I stopped at a hippie café for a leisurely breakfast, chatting with several people, gassed up, and motored on into Victoria’s neighbourhood of Esquimalt which harbours Canada’s western naval base, and where without much difficulty I located the motorcycle shop which was holding my new tire for pickup. Employees of that shop told me of a motorcycle repair shop where I might someone who would take a link out of my stretched chain which is used to drive the rear wheel. A stretched chain causes loss of power to the rear wheel. I located that shop with great difficulty, somehow ending up in the boonies of northeastern Victoria far from the shop’s location; and when I did find the shop I was told they would not take a link out, and advised my getting a new chain, which they did not stock. I thought the chain adjustment mechanism had reached its maximum adjustment, but while putting the new tire on later I found enough adjustment to convince myself the old chain would last to Ontario.
The rest of my drive to downtown Victoria was uneventful, and I did my banking, and stopped at the Public Library to send emails;and then, because the afternoon was beautifully warm and sunny with no clouds, I camped out at a downtown pedestrian bench, spreading my damp bedding out to dry. My brother would be unavailable until the next day, because at the end of his workweek he insisted on going to bed early and sleeping late the next day. I had another motive for camping out downtown, and that was to see if I could earn money busking my poetry. I had brought on my trip a few simple, 4” x 5” ‘Moped Poet On Tour’ posters, and although I had no copies of my ‘Collected Poetical Works’ to sell I did bring a collection of poetry to read. It had been my intention to busk as I crossed the provinces, but opportunity did not present itself. While I was already in the mood to busk, that mood was elevated to stratospheric heights when a young girl, about 10 year of age, walking hand in hand past me with her mother, looked first towards me and then to her mother’s face and said, “Look Mom, a Hippy!” Well bless my soul! I had finally become what I had always dreamed of being .. as one of my poems says, “the song that I was singing, was the song that I became.” Accomplishment is wonderful!
So far, so good. Police had not looked askance at me. Rough looking characters had only been kind to me. Pedestrians walked politely past without making rude comments. I posted two posters near my bedding, and began handing others to people I judged might have poetically charitable natures. All the people I handed posters to where walking in the same direction, so I was surprised when a gentleman, whose name I shall call East Coast Jack, walked up to me from that direction with a poster in hand. someone had handed it to him, he said, and he was interested in hearing a poem. I read one of my antiwar poems, and he was pleased. Jack was from Nova Scotia where he had worked for several years as head of maintenance for a large shipping company. That employment, though, had been headed by a nasty spirited individual, and Jack had finally had enough, and quit before he himself became nasty. He was in Victoria for a holiday, but he had intention of eventually seeking work there. We had a nice chat, and then Jack opened his wallet and handed me a $10 bill, was I expressed genuine thanks for. Jack paused, then said, ‘give me that bill back’. A that I wondered if my gratitude had been expressed insufficiently, but handed him the bill. He then handed me a $20 .. and said, “that $10 was too small’. I began thanking him again, when he took a Fifty from his wallet and handed me that also, saying, “keep the $20 too.” Well .. I was flabbergasted now .. scarce able to believe both my good fortune and Jack’s good nature .. my thanks was awestruck. “I know I’ll get it back someday,” Jack said, “Pressed down and running over.” This was a scripture I knew from the gospels, and said, “Glory to God”.
Jack said his goodbyes to me, and I said mine to him, and he was off. I was still flabbergasted by Jack's generosity when a young woman came to me and asked for a poem, which I read to her, and she handed me a Loonie .. one Canadian Dollar. I received that with thankfulness also, recognizing that she, like the widow in the gospel, was giving of her necessity and not out of abundance.
I decided at that point that I had busked enough .. that I should not be greedy. Besides, I had given out all but two of my posters. I think I left bedding and moped (which I had locked to the bench) and bought a takeout coffee, which I enjoyed while my bedding was drying, and when the bedding was dry rolled it up and bundled it onto the moped. Rivermouth Mike at Sombrio had given me the Victoria address of another fellow who had lived at Sombrio. While not naturally trusting of others I left my bike and gear where it was locked and walked to the address. This fellow, who I shall call Sombrio Jack, was home, and through the intercom invited me to come up for coffee. He, however, had pets, and I explained my allergies and said I’d rather go out for coffee, which we did. This fellow had a drinking problem, small or large I don’t know, but most of his conversation was about getting beer, and said he wanted to spend his last $5 on beer, etc., and that we should go for a beer. I did not want to spend money in a hotel, and did not want to get into drinking with this fellow anyway, so I persuaded him towards a coffee by offering to buy. Jack and I talked of Sombrio, of Steve and Barbara and their children, of Mike, etc., and of this Jack’s plans to return to Sombrio and plant some weed, and I said that anything stronger than a tea made of that medicinal herb was overdosing, and should (?) he risk getting caught and put in jail, etc. Our visit came to an end after this Jack invited me to spend the night at his place, with me declining because of my allergies, and because I did not want to be separated from my bike and gear overnight in downtown Victoria because that was a good way of becoming separated from it forever. I did not quite trust this fellow because of his seeming addiction for alcohol and smoke, and when he asked me where I was to spend the night I said out of the city, when I intended to spend it in a park on the waterfront, which I did, being part of a small group which conversed with a photographer who had set his large camera on a tripod at the edge of the quiet waterfront in order to shoot the full moon rising over the ocean and islands. Venus or Jupiter was in the sky that night as well .. really a night that is hard to describe for its beauty, especially with the lights and sounds of ocean freighters coming and going. There were fireworks that night .. a few .. this was, I believe, the July 1 Victoria Day weekend. There were also ‘no overnight camping’ signs everywhere, and so I waited until most of the visitors had left the park, well after midnight I believe it was, and then went in search of a spot to camp, finding it in the centre of a field of tall flowers and scented weeds, much of the growth being Chamomile, where I did not pitch my tent, but laid down my sleeping bag covered by the waterproof space blanket. One couple on a lovers’ stroll noticed my camp, and a person walking their dog also looked my way. I hoped the dog would not begin barking at me, and it did not. One police car did a tour of the circular drive around the large field, but I had positioned my moped so that car lights would not hit reflectors. Had I been asked to move on I would have done so, finding a spot someplace .. after all, I had traveled six weeks and had not done without a place to lie my head.
The sky was bright with stars that night, and my sleep was sound. I was up at dawn and rode around until I found an early-opening restaurant .. a hippy restaurant of course, this being Victoria hippyness is everywhere. The waitress perhaps thought I was a homeless vagrant and wrote a light bill, and I rewarded her with a $2 tip. I then rode to Oak Bay, to the Gas Bar/Laundromat which I had used on my arrival to Victoria, and there I did a laundry, changing my moped’s tire as the laundry machines worked away. This tire was built with four plies instead of two, and was stiffer, difficult to get round on the rim .. but with patience and by using the electric air pump to over inflate the tire I was finally successful. If you use the over inflation technique you have to be careful not to explode the tire, so generally it is safer to over inflate using a hand pump. During my time at the Laundromat I had hung my dewy sleeping bag out to dry in the sun, laundering my inner and outer cotton bedsheets and drying them in the machines. Soon enough it was time for coffee with Ron at Starbucks, and then a shower for me at the Marina, and four nights sleeping on the boat, two nights spent on the top deck under the stars, and one inside the boat not only because rain threatened, but because I wanted the intimacy with Ron.
Even with the evening threats of rain the days were summer-perfect, and when Ron and I were not at sea we spent a lot of time sitting on the upper deck, Ron with a beer, me with a whiskey. During this time I read the book I had bought Ron for his birthday, rather, I should say I reread it. Ten years before I had read Captain Joshua Slocum’s tale of his solo sail around the world .. the first solo circumnavigation, and one of those trips which, like Thor Hyerdhal’s Kon Tiki raft trip across the Pacific, experts of every kind said could not be done. I beieve Kon Tiki took three months to drift from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, and Spray took three years for its trip. Perhaps there is a circumnavigation in store for Ron and I .. certainly my son-in-law Ralph, who I am living with during the time I’m writing this book, hopes to be able to sail around the world in another ten or fifteen years .. and if he goes, I’m sure my granddaughter Jade will be going along. I plan of gifting Jade with a book on sailing soon.
When I had first arrived in Victoria I was not sure how much time I would spend before starting my return trip. A family reunion of sorts was scheduled in Winnipeg for the July 1 Weekend. Dad and my brother Jody with his wife Donna were driving from their homes north of London, and would be met in Winnipeg by Dad’s brother, two sisters, Rick and Sandra from Saskatoon, and a few others. A trip to the homestead was planned, with the general sentiment being that this would be Dad’s generation’s last trip to the homestead. Before I had begun my journey I had told Dad that I might try to be at the homestead for the reunion, and I had been hoping that Ron might be interested in going; but Ron was unable to attempt the trip, and as I had been on the homestead and hoped to see my aunts on my return trip, and as I did not know when Ron and I would be able to see each other again, I decided to stay in his neighbourhood .. and Ron and I were both very happy that I had made that decision. As it was it was far too soon that I had to head back east because of my income obligations. I suppose I could have stayed another week, giving Ron and I three series of days together, but that would mean a hasty trip back to the Ontario border for August 1. I also wanted to visit Saskatoon again, and visits to both aunts would require visiting Winnipeg as well as the town of Morden, which is south of Winnipeg. Another factor was that I wanted the return trip through the prairies to be leisurely .. to have time to explore the province of Saskatchewan which was Dad’s mother’s birthplace. I also hoped to visit Prince Albert National Park, which was where the internationally famous conservationist Grey Owl (Archie Belaney) wrote the books which some people believe were responsible for saving the Beaver from extinction in North America, and for starting modern conservationist thinking. Of course, it was Annahereo, Archie’s aboriginal wife, who really deserves the credit, as she motivated him not only to stop trapping Beavers for a living, but to write and publish his books. I was greatly privileged to have visited Annahereo’s birthplace, Mattawa on the Ottawa River, by canoe. While most of fame’s spotlight shone on Grey Owl, Annahereo was acclaimed in her own right, devoting her entire life to conservation after Grey Owl ceased to physically exist on earth, and becoming the second person to receive an award for conservation which was first awarded to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. Annahereo is honoured with Annahereo Days in Mattawa, and her book, the title of which was, I believe, corrupted at the Editor’s or Publisher’s insistence for the sake of sales promotion, that title being ‘Devil in Deerskin .. My Life With Grey Owl’, is every bit as well written as Grey Owl’s ‘Tales From An Empty Cabin’ and ‘The Beaver People’. If you have never heard of Grey Owl it is because even though he and Annahereo were two of the most internationally famous people of their day, they were relegated ‘to the unknown backwoods’ in Canada after Grey Owl confessed to not being an aboriginal by blood, but an Englishman who had become an aboriginal by spirit. That spirit is brought to life in the beautiful movie ‘Grey Owl’, which stars Pierce Brosnan as Grey Owl along with a lovely young Canadian aboriginal actress whose name escapes me but who portrays Annahereo. Any person interested in conservation, history, accomplishment, or film as art would do well to view this movie. One interesting event during my visit to Mattawa, to a bar in Mattawa which was only a few days after my visit almost destroyed by a windstorm, was when I asked if Grey Owl was around, and was reponded to by the crowd in the bar with, "Who's Grey Owl?" Well, these jokers sure kept a straight face, and I considered their feigned ignorance to be the common and genuine lack of knowledge among Canadians about our most worthwhile people. Eventually though I realized I was being razzed, and then it was their turn to think I was razzing them about how I had canoed into Mattawa from Ottawa. One fellow even accompanied me to the marina to see my canoe before believing me. But Mattawa was backwards along the curve of time .. and I needed to go forward.
Eastward and Northward and Godward
To the best of my limited knowledge Grey Owl never mounted up on a horse; but my yellow iron donkey was ready to go, and Ron and I, after a last coffee together at Starbucks, said farewell, he off to work at his computer doing a job so secretive he won’t share details with me, and me off to the east, planning on taking the southern route as far as the Okanagan Valley and then up towards Calgary. That plan was somewhat altered near the top end of the Okanagan, but those details will come later.
I followed the ocean as far as I could, first passing Oak Bay Beach, the spot where an aboriginal village had prospered in peace and plenty for at least the last 2,000 years before Caucasians arrived. I was surprised to learn that Elk was the main staple of those natives’ diet, and also was surprised that a quirk of the ocean shore allowed the aboriginal children a clear view of the bright Morning Star Venus when it rose in the east in its season; but I saw no Elk on my way to the ferry at Sydney .. what I did was several of the small and almost tame deer which inhabit southern Vancouver Island even in populated areas. Deer are not the only wildlife here, and or at least 20 years ago, in the year before Jeani and I moved into our seaside cottage outside of Victoria a Cougar had strolled the paved road which fronted several homes inhabited year-round. I saw no Cougars on my moped though, but I did see a few rabbits, perhaps descended from those Jeani, Adam and I had turned loose when we went our separate way.
The road along the shoreline takes so many twists and turns that I became unsure of my path at one intersection, and set my bike up on its kickstand; but the above average intake of alcohol over my last two weeks made me careless, and I did not beware the wind and angle of lean caused by the graded of the road, and my iron donke blew over. No damage was done, but in lifting the bikeand attempting to raise it on its kickstand I dropped it again. I was ‘off my game’ as the saying goes, because of the moderate but steady alcohol intake of the past two weeks. When the bike hit the ground the second time the right side mirror hit the pavement and the mirror, which was fastened with a ball and socket assembly, popped free of its holder. I could not reinsert the ball into the socket. The frustrations foreshadowed troubles to come .. and while my alcohol consumption was mostly to blame, I realized at the time that because I was already genuinely missing my brother my emotions were as unsteady as my sense of balance and had undoubtedly played a part in my misjudgments. I wrapped the mirror in a rag to help avoid breakage, and stowed it in the saddlebag with my tools, then proceeded to Sydney, where used time to spare before boarding the ferry to search unsuccessfully for a colourful ‘Victoria’ or ‘Sydney’ sticker to boastfully decorate my moped, notifying residents of Ontario of my Odyssian voyage. My Ontario License Plates had served that purpose for western eyes.
The ferry ride through the Gulf Islands was of course beautiful; and the trip was made even more interesting by conversation with three or four motorcyclists about road experiences. At Tawassan I briefly considered riding into Vancouver to find the home of some friends/relatives .. my first wife’s sisters adult children who were also adventurers as genuine rodeo stars. One of them was marrying, and I had been as close as a brother to their parents for several years, spending considerable time around their little homestead splitting firewood to help my brother in law whose back was at times not up to hard labour. The boys learned through family history that I had introduced Wally and Betty Jo to each other by inviting Wally to my home when I was still married to and living with Betty Jo’s sister Arlene, and had come to regard me as a favourite uncle. Even so, the thought of venturing into the Vancouver’s traffic frightened me, partly because the moped was loaded and balanced for highway travel and not for making unending right angle turns in congested traffic through a city maze in which road-enraged drivers were pedal-to-the-metaling it while talking on cellphones and watching television and studying electronic dashboard maps while drinking coffee and Budweiser while smoking B.C. Bud through bongs while trying to avoid a slow moving moped. Call me chicken if you want, in the month prior to leaving Ottawa I was almost run down twice while walking on a ‘walk’ signal across a street in the middle of sunny afternoons. Both criminal drivers were making turns in my direction. Their intention may as well have been plain murder, and had I not been Saved by Grace both times I could easily have been killed. The fortunate result of those incidents for me was that transport truck traffic on major highways seemed a picnic. Cities were to be visited only if necessary. I passed Vancouver by.
I didn’t pass by very far though. I had barely gotten through the suburbs and was on the busy four lane Trans Canada Highway Number One when I got a flat .. another rear flat. The air let go relatively slowly in a non-frightening way and I was able to come to an easy stop; but I did not want to make the repair on the gravel shoulder with traffic whizzing past a few feet away, so took a walk to see if a better spot was available. About one-eight mile ahead was an intersection and an expanse of grass and trees. I walked the bike there, hoping the gravel would not damage the flat tire, and was so discouraged at the bad start this day had been that when I reached the pleasant spot I thought that I should pitch camp beneath the spreading tree, go to sleep, and to do the work the next day. I had a serious feeling that changing this tire was not going to be fun. The sun was hot .. the traffic was noisy even though I was removed from the road .. and there was a ‘no camping’ sign protecting the area from dangerous pilgrims and wandering saints who may need a place to lay their head after the tiring work of healing the sick and raising the dead. Perhaps the posters of the sign felt if saints are healing the sick and raising the dead they should be well paid and therefore could afford a $100 per night motel room .. that thinking forgetting that Saints often work for free.
Fixing my rear tire flat could, if all went well, take as little as half an hour; but I felt an absence of good fortune and so I examined the path the sun was taking and chose a workplace which would remain shaded by the tree for the next three or four hours. The ground was grass-covered and even though the grass was dry the soil had been softened by many days of wet weather, and I knew my kickstand forks would sink into the ground on one side or the other, causing the bike to fall over, or sink into the ground enough to make removing the rear wheel impossible, as even when raised on the kickstand on pavement the wheel’s clearance was barely sufficient to allow removal. In Victoria I had discarded my relatively frail and badly beaten up piece of aluminum plate which had served as kickstand support, intending on finding or buying something ideal. I had forgotten to procure that item though, and here on the side of the road British Columbia’s effective anti-littering laws which promised a $1,000 fine worked against me in finding junk. After leaning the bike against the trunk of the shade tree I searched far and wide until I found several aluminum beer and soft drink cans, and fashioned those in layers into two separate plates which did not at first or second try serve the purpose, but when strengthened with an additional can each they proved generally effective, although I knew I would have to take care not to knock the bike over.
The alcohol which had put me ‘off my game’ had either put me out of my normal mild temperament, or brought to the surface my normal abnormal anger and frustration which result from the continuing long term unfortunate aspects of my life but which are normally deeply hidden beneath my facade of politeness. By the time I got the bike standing securely I was short tempered, and again considered pitching my tent. I compromised with a brief but blissful nap.
Upon waking I set about