“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 work, and it was not long before I was shouting at my clumsiness and searching desperately in the grass for dropped washers and hex nuts. There was a lesson in that, and I now spread a piece of bedsheet or some such material under the bank when working on it. Cardboard could be seen as good for that job, but a nut or washer can roll a long way on cardboard, and the sheet is easily folded into a small bundle. The job's difficulty was increased because I had no means of raising the bike further off the ground than the kickstand allowed, and because the kickstand’s foundation was not the best I had to be careful not to knock the bike over. The work was at first extremely frustrating at first .. quickly promoting itself to aggravating, and finally pure maddening. To aggravate that condition to unbearable proportions was my stubborn pride which is probably my worst fault, and which would not allow me to give in to the thought of pitching camp and putting the monster within out of commission through proper rest. I’m glad you, dear reader, were not within earshot when this Peacenik turned to the violence of cursing .. and then to shouting. Oh .. such cursing .. at such a loud volume. And the unnecessary skinned knuckles. And the dropping and misplacing of parts and tools in the long grass, and the falling over of the bike, and the misplacing of parts and tools, and the sore back and pinched blood vessels of my 60 year old legs bent at youthful angles. While examining my entire life I only remember yelling in anger at the top of my lungs once before, and I won’t shame myself with those details. Sufficient to say that when I, beneath that tree beside the highway, realized release from tension in my hollering and cursing I hollered all the louder, and for such a long period of time that along with the sense of relief came the worry that if anyone was listening they would certainly call authorities and a paddy wagon would be on its way. That gave me such a feeling of abnormal satisfaction that I knew I had finally become the wild man alien to all the world that I had long envisioned myself as, and haboured an attitude of ‘bring on that Paddy Wagon and jail cell (because I need a good rest and a few days of free meals). The repair was made before the arrival of the men in white and blue, though, the flat having been caused by a construction type staple. The tire was undamaged, the tube was too hastily patched, and after much manipulation and deflating and re inflating and over inflating and by using the technique I had learned at the motorcycle shop in Kamloops of pounding the inflated tire on pavement I finally got the tire on round.
The experience of being stuck in isolation on the side of a congested and furious four lane highway, while allowing me to release the animal within, had once more taught me that byways are better than highways; and opportunity to exit the four lane onto a byway presented itself as a bridge across the Fraser River and an Oh So pleasant ride into the town of Mission where I saw a garage open and at which I stopped, asking if the mechanic could find a way to press my mirror’s ball fastener back into the socket. The mechanic failed at the first two attempts, but then took the ball to a grinding machine and ground off a thin strip at the ball’s equator. The ball then pressed firmly into the socket and has been fine ever since.
“No charge,” the mechanic said .. and I say, “Thanks” again.
Not far out of Mission, though, I had a second rear flat. This was still the first day of my trip, don’t forget. This time I had the sense to set up camp beside a railroad track where some old farm wagons were being stored. I don’t know if the track was still in use, but there were houses available, and I had visited one house and asked for permission to tent near the wagons, and permission was given.
A discarded railroad tie made an elevated platform for my kickstand and bike, and the bed of a farm wagon made a handy workbench. I had decided not to make the full repair that day, but only to patch the tube, and finish the job the next morning .. using the extra time to cook a good meal, which I needed after my earlier ordeal. This flat was the fault of my first repair. I had not washed the tube properly and remnants of the Baby Powder prevented the patch from sticking permanently. I had also not allowed the glue to dry sufficiently. I had done nothing right, really, including not using my new, spare tube because I wanted to save it in case I had a flat which destroyed the tube I was riding on. This experience changed my attitude about reserving tubes, though, because perhaps if I had allowed the improperly patched tube a few days of curing it may not have been as quick to separate from the tube. I made all subsequent flat repairs by inserting my spare tube in the tire, and carefully rolling the repaired tube in a tight bundle for curing. I also now carry two spare tubes, a practice begun in Saskatchewan and which I will relate to you at the proper time.
While I was camped beside the tracks a motorcyclist drove past me and rode up a narrow road around the backside of a hill. The next morning I needed drinking water, and I walked up the road and knocked on the door of a house. I was greeted by a young couple who were in the process of packing their car in preparation for a trip to the Okanagan Valley for camping. I told them I was headed there also as I wanted to take a different route than the one leading me to Vancouver, and intending to take Highway Three from Hope to Princeton and then into the Okanagan. These kind people told me that anything they could do for me they would do .. and even asked if I wanted to use their shower. I guess my stress from the ordeal of the day before must have been in the air. Really I was astounded by their generosity, and I did want a shower, but I told them that there was no sense in showering before I finished my bike repairs as I was bound to get greasy again, and they agreed. They provided me with water and a sandwich, and I returned to finalize my repairs, and they to their packing. I think I had just started my moped’s engine for a short run to test the roundness of the tire when the young couple drove up and told me “See you in the Okanagan”. I caught up to them in Hope, I think because they had spent a night there with friends, and I may have seen them again in Penticton, but wasn’t sure if it was them, and my social phobias prevented me from approaching the young couple who were smiling at me in that town and asking if they were the same people. Have I told you I suffered two concussions in my preteens which affected my capacity for facial recognition? It’s a genuine handicap which has remained hidden under a mantle of ‘oddness’ .. that mantle I have tried discarding many times, sometimes with success and openness, pushing away my pride and saying, “I think know you .. are you who I think you are …?” or some other clumsy attempt at admitting I’m handicapped. Just today in downtown Peterborough a fellow called “Hello Bob”, and I walked to him, not recognizing him as anyone I have ever seen before, but probably someone who I’ve been at the same church with, or something like that. I was able to stay cheerful while admitting I did not know who the stranger was, and he was somewhat taken aback, and said “I thought you were someone else.” I said, “But you did say Hello Bob .. and my name is Bob.” We both laughed about it and he got into his car, but perhaps his memory is as good as mine, and I really was the Bob he thought I was, but my reaction planted enough doubt in his mind as for him not to embarrass himself with his faulty memory. Such are the tides of the sea of faces that is thepopulation of this world.
My tire change by the railroad track had been a success, and I was on the road again. The Old Trans Canada is a pleasant road through pretty country containing pretty villages and small tourist operations. At one quaint lodge motel I stopped for a tea, and engaged in conversation with a pretty blond woman who was a couple decades younger than myself, but somewhat stressed looking, and I thought almost from the first hello that she was a professional Dancer as they are now called, and possibly a higher priced hooker from the big city. She was from Vancouver, and sparks seemed to ignite a chemical reaction between us, to the extent that I thought she as much as invited me to Vancouver with her. Of course I could have been mistaking simple friendship for something more, and in any case I ended up motoring on, while she was in the process of preparing for a return to the city. Regardless of her intention and profession she was a lovely lass with a fine personality who seemed to fan warm air onto my nearly-extinguished desires to ‘be with’ a woman of shared interests and passions.
The lovely lady’s memory stayed with me on the easy ride through the Coast Mountains to the town of Hope which, you may recall, is the southern terminus for the Coquihalla Toll Expressway to Kamloops. As I was entering Hope I came nigh unto serious trouble by riding at top speed into a deeply recessed drain cover near the edge of the road. My front wheel slammed with an exceptional jolt into the hole, but my riding skills and instincts honed during the previous 3,000 miles were sufficient that I did not come close to spilling. I was really worried, though, that my machine had been damaged, and I stopped to examine the bike but no problem seem to have resulted, and as I finished the ride into Hope I felt nothing untoward in. I may have told you already that Slovenians, who build Tomos, which is my moped’s brand name, are regarded as the finest craftsmen in Europe, and their products of all kinds, whether manufactured, agricultural, or whatever, are seen as the best. My bike’s model, by the way, is Targa LX; and there are large differences in moped models, some with kick start, some with pedal start, some with single gear, mine with two speed automatic transmission. I would not recommend any model other than a two speed transmission as it delivers more pep for city driving. So .. my bike was undamaged .. and despite the Slovenian’s eputation for workmanship I must heed a lesson from the Frank Slide which I will relate shortly and give glory for the safety of myself and moped to He who rules heaven and earth and is the true Creator of all things.
The town of Hope is yet another of the many clean, orderly, beautiful, scenic and welcoming western towns each of which have far more individual identity than most towns in Ontario. I think the main difference is that franchises like Tim Horton’s and McDonald's which make their profit through serving concentrated populations are not nearly as prominent in the more sparsely populated west. I searched out a restaurant and Laundromat, and while my washing was agitating the Laundromat washroom served to clean my person. While on the road I take advantage of rivers, lakes and creeks when possible to stay clean, but washrooms in Laundromats, gas stations, tourist centres and restaurants also come in handy. I also replenish groceries, water, and other supplies whenever I enter a village or town, and I did that at Hope, and also purchased another roll of film for my camera. I had not intended on taking many photographs, but the scenery on this trip was stimulated by the freshness of spring, and then by the beauty of summer, and I still have over one dozen unprocessed rolls.
While my laundry was drying in the Laundromat (I normally hang my laundry indoors or out to dry, but that is not often possible on the road .. although it is normal while I caoe) I had a meal in a restaurant where I fell into conversation with four people at the neighbouring table who told me that the Similkaleen River which I would come to as I rode Highway Three through the Cascade Mountains was a good stream to try panning for gold and platinum, and my new friends gave me a brief introduction to the appearance of platinum. I had no proper ‘pan’ but my frying pan would do for a small search.
My visit to Hope was so pleasant that it was too soon that I was on the road again, and what an interesting road it is. The highway east quickly becomes a long, long, long and steep ascent which my moped climbed in low gear at maximum throttle. I think this was one of the slowest ascents of my trip. I pitied the weary bicycle tourists who struggled uphill behind me. Near the top of this first ascent is a turnoff with parking lot and plaques for viewing and reading about the devastation of the rock slide of historical proportion which had buried a river and parts of this highway. In that parking lot I spoke with a few motorcyclists, including one fellow on a Harley who had begun his trip in northern British Columbia and who was to pick up a lady friend and continue to the southern end of South America. This traveler gave me a card printed with a website URL, and I looked up that website but he seemed to either have abandoned his trip or abandoned the website in the midst of the trip. I think there were four other bikers in that parking lot, and they were all impressed with my small machine’s capabilities. While I was speaking with the bikers I was approached by a young couple who greeted me as if they knew me, and yes, this was the couple who had offered me the shower at Mission. I had caught up to them because, I think I remember them saying, they had spent the night with friends in Hope.
The landslide here was, I suppose, significant; but in my mind it was a pale shadow of the incredibly heaped up, house-sized blocks of rock which were the instruments of destruction of the truly awesome Frank Slide which I had seen 20 years earlier with Jeani and Adam. That slide had occurred about 100 years earlier, and an entire town had been buried when the mountain caved in due to improper mine tunneling. The mine and mining town, apparently, had been much like the Titanic in being a boastful expression of mankind’s cutting edge technology and abilities, those capabilities causing men to think things like ‘We don’t need God .. the Titanic will never sink’, or ‘we truly are masters of the world and of our own lives.’ I don’t know how many people died in that slide, but a story is told that atop one of the huge blocks of stone sat a baby’s cradle, with the baby safe inside. Through most of my moped journey I had a distinct feeling that God was keeping me as safe as that baby, and I rode through the Cascade Mountains with great pleasure, rushing streams everywhere, and little traffic on the highway.
Manning Provincial Park sits partway through these Cascade Mountains, and the luxury and apparent prosperity of the Park’s Lodge sitting near the quiet highway is a direct contradiction to the rust coloured devastation caused by Pine Beetles of the Pine forests the Lodge sits within, and which are clearly visible at close range on the mountainside across the highway from the lodge. I had seen dead areas of Pine earlier, but these trees were up close and personal, and for me, this dead forest was really the beginning of awareness of how great the destruction of these great forests are. The destruction is also, seemingly, another lesson in man’s glorification of himself, as Manning Park is named after a renowned forester who was imported from Ontario to manage B.C.s timber. This example sharply increased my awareness that I come the foremost knowledge of man is nothing beside the incomprehensible intelligence and power of God. Even though the Manning example was so up close and personal, it took the miles-long vistas along the highway approaching Banff, Alberta, that the reality really sank into my consciousness. The mountains there are completely devastated, and I became easily convinced that within a few short years there will be left no significant stands of Pine in British Columbia and Alberta. The magnitude of destruction in those provinces could be developed as a tourist attraction in its own right, much like the Frank Slide, the Titanic, and the buried but partly unearthed city of Babylon. On my part, I have come to know there is nothing to do but accept the decrees, and to view the destruction as judgment, but I also know God’s judgments are merciful, and in the end beneficial to our souls and planet. I have great consolation in knowing that instead of eternal death coming to the forests of B.C. and Alberta, change will come, with new species of trees and animals and flowers and fruit .. and the lessons we have learned from the regrowth of the mountainsides of Mount St. Helen's following that apparent catastrophe means that change will come rapidly .. all kinds of change, and we must prepare ourselves for both good and bad changes whether we survive until the arrival of Christ the Messiah .. or whether we are victims of our own participation in the work of our modern society’s hellbent machinery.
Between Manning Park and the Okanagan runs the Similkameen River, fantastically free flowing in its gravel bed and apparent purity. The highway is never far from this river, and I stopped for about two hours in a particularly beautiful place to ‘pan’ in the rushing waters for gold and platinum, not finding either, but I really enjoyed the beauty and experience of that spot. I wanted to camp there, but to tell you the truth, and this might surprise you, the wildness and solitude of this part of the Cascades frightened me. I was okay with leaving the highway and walking along the river in daylight, but when late afternoon promised the arrival of dusk and then darkness I continued on into the village of Keremeos, which is gained after an extraordinarily long descent which I was able to enjoy only because I braked often enough to prevent myself from attaining uncontrollable speeds. Coming into the village I saw a tourists’ Visitor Centre, and with night falling fast, I cooked my meal on a picnic table set up in near the building. The landscape of the Centre was bordered on one side by the Similkaleen River, that river continuing south into the United States and joining The Okanagan River which has its origins in the beautiful and huge Okanagan Valley of B.C. There is a town on the Okanagan River in the U.S. named Okanogan, spelled with an ‘o’, while British Columbia has towns or villages named Okanagan Centre, Okanagan Landing, Okanagan Falls, Okanagan Mission, Olalla and Ochitree .. among other ‘Os’ .. and while mentioning ‘Os’ I shall skip ahead to mournful ‘Ohs’ which some of you may utter when I relate how I was told either in Keremeos or in Penticton that within a year not one living Pine Tree will be standing in the entire Okanagan, which will be true loss, as I personally rank Penticton as Number One for overall quality of life in Canada, situated as it is at the north end of relatively small but beautiful Skaha Lake, which almost joins the bottom end of the large, long and narrow and fantastically beautiful Okanagan Lake. I just realized I’m using the ‘F’ word a lot in this chapter .. ‘Fantastic’ .. but British Columbia is just that in its beauty.
With night falling at the Visitor Centre I wanted to set up camp so I could listen to the watery symphony at the riverside, but the buzzing and stinging of numerous mosquitoes discouraged me, and as the Visitor Centre was closed for the day I retreated to the Centre’s porch which was set up high above the grass, and therefore not targeted by many mosquitoes. I had been tempted to simply lay my sleeping bag beside my moped which I had locked to the picnic table, but had I done so I would have been awakened in the night by the noise and soaking of an automatic lawn sprinkling system. Lucky Me .. rather, humble me in availing myself of the luxury of a free roof over my head. I don’t know what the attitude of Visitor Centre employees would have been to my presence on the porch, but one month later I was told at a similar small town’s Visitor Centre in Northern Ontario that I was welcomed to camp for free in the park at that site, and as the people of British Columbia are generally warmly welcoming to tourists, pilgrims and strangers I probably would have been welcomed at the Keremeos centre also. The Centre’s parking that night was used by the drivers of two or three vehicles to camp out, sleeping in their cars, with one or two of those campers taking evening strolls, which I found comforting as it eased the sense of my being alone. Was I lonely? Yes, I think I was. I had got used to the companionship of brother Ron, my Port Renfrew friends, and strangers at Sombrio .. and to feel part of the human family just because a stranger walked across a parking lot in the night shows how much we humans really do need each other.
Early morning at the Centre was interesting because of a near loss of a valued piece of equipment, and I’ll relate the experience to you as it could help you find a lost something someday. I had rolled up my sleeping bag, eaten breakfast, packed up my gear, and had actually started my moped’s engine to leave when during the last check and pat down of self I do to ensure I am not leaving anything behind I noticed my pocket watch was missing from the end of its chain. Actually the watch was a wrist watch which I converted to a pocket watch. I shut down the moped and searched twice every inch of ground which I had stepped on. I unpacked my sleeping gear and searched inside of it. I searched all around the porch of the Visitor’s Centre because I had walked around it, and I searched under the bench on that porch because I had both sat on it and had slept on it. It’s funny how the back of a park bench or the backrest of a sofa can feel like someone’s body .. a warm and breathing body I mean .. companionship for those the body snatchers have victimized. Not finding the watch I searched again the ground, and searched again the porch, and searched again under the bench. At that point I sat on the bench and began the psychological process of accepting my loss, which would take some acceptance as the watch cost me $100 and shows day, date, month, time, and has stopwatch, etc. I also offered up a prayer of acceptance, acknowledging that all things work for our ultimate good, and probably also said a word for the watch to be found by someone and put to good use … and then something caused me to look between the wooden slats of the bench’s seat, those slats spaced close together, and there was my watch, jammed in the slot between two slats. It had fallen out of my pocket somehow, and dropped through a widening of the slot, and then, when I stood up, had been pulled into a narrowing, and of course the chain broke with my standing. The watch had seen me through my two canoe voyages, even though I had had to dry it out more than once because of the force of rushing water as I pulled my canoe through rapids, and stayed with me through my moped trip; but a week ago it stopped and I replaced the battery, but it has stopped again, and I suspect the water damage has finally caused the watch’s demise. I’ll probably get a Scuba Diver’s watch next, and convert it to a pocket watch, as I’ve already performed a search and can find no Scuba pocket watches.
So, my watch was replaced on its chain and carefully stowed in my pocket, and I was on my moped, and away to a restaurant for a breakfast. A very pretty town is Keremeos. One of the reasons I wanted to tour the Okanagan was because that time of year was Cherry harvest, and I thought I could make some cash as well as filling up on all the beautiful, ripe cherries I could handle. I had failed in an attempt at finding work in the Cherry harvest of 30 years before, having hitchhiked from the Free Camp at Jasper only to be told the bulk of the Cherries had gone rotten because of too much rain. I had, though, worked in the Okanagan Grape harvest with Jeani and Adam. What a wonderful experience. The honeybees which pollinate the Okanagan’s crops were thick everywhere, and scores of gentle, beautiful, harmless bees would land on your arms and hands as you worked. I can’t remember them bothering my face, although they probably bothered Jeani’s face because her appearance was so flower like. (Gee .. I guess I’m still in love, eh?)
However, on this trip through the Okanogan, no matter how well I searched, or on how many beautiful back country dirt roads I traveled, I could not find work picking Cherries. I was either one day two late at an orchard, or a a few days too early, or, ‘come back in week’. My schedule would not allow me to sit around waiting for a few days, and right until my search ended at the last enquiry before leaving the Okanagan I kept moving north through the valley hoping to find the Golden Orchard. I did experience a Cherry experience in Cherryville, in the Sushwap area though .. but I’ll relate that later.
Godward and Northward and Southward
So, there I was, slowly motoring up and around the Okanagan in a curvy hilly touristy vista-and-climate-enjoying way on Highway 97 and quaint back roads and taking plenty of time for a swim at and a nap at Penticton’s beautiful beach and then motoring on until I found a great free camping spot beside Okanogan Lake again and then the next Sunday morning motoring on northward until I approached the village of Peachland when I decided I would attend the first church I came to, which was thankfully a United Church, I say thankfully as because I had sort of promised God in a small way that I would attend the first church, and because of some incidents in my life I won’t attend a Roman Catholic church, even though I have met lovely Roman Catholic people, and I harbour that organization no ill will, but if the first church I came to had been R.C. I would almost certainly have broken my small promise, and probably to my hurt in not finding God’s blessings among the R.C.s. Anyway, the United service was wonderful, with a lot of old fashioned hymn singing, and as the congregation was small, with a layperson standing in for the regular preacher who was said to be in some kind of wrestling match involving his faith, and with no one appointed that morning to preach a long message, invitation was made for attendees to testify to some movement of The Spirit of God in their life. Despite my wild and ‘windblown’ appearance as was told me, I had been made to feel relaxed and welcomed by the members of the congregation, particularly because of a unique incident in the church ball before the service began. A musical couple were singing and playing the piano, and I stood beside them silent until the tune was ‘What A Wonderful World’ by Louie Armstrong, and that being my favourite non-specifically religious song I joined in using my imitation Sachmo voice which I sing that song with at Karaokes. I don’t mean to brag, but I can at times when moved by the good spirits do a fair job with Satchmo’s voice, and I had not sung many words when the piano player stopped playing and turned to look.
“I thought Satchmo had come back from the grave!” she said.
At this time I really should give credit to good old Mom and Dad for my voice, he has told me that if his life had a choice of career he would have chosen Opera singer, and I remember him singing very well indeed. Mom was a professional singer when she was a knockout looker, singing on stages entertaining the troops during the second world war. It’s no wonder I can, at times, sing well, as can my 1 year old grandaughter Sage, with whom I dwell at this time, and who I have heard sounding like the best opera singer when not tinkling out pop songs.
Of Satchmo I simply said, “I love that man,” and we all in that church hall agreed that there was a lot in Satchmo to love, and we agreed the his daughter and he sang beautifully together on their digitally mixed songs, and then we continued in the song.
During the service the layperson conducting the service made mention of my singing in the hall, and everyone gave me such a warm welcome that I could not pass up the general invitation to give a testimony. I gave a brief description of my trip, and of how God had protected and provided for me all along the way, and then I sat down. As I sat, though, the gentleman ahead of me turned and looked at my face and smiled. He was accompanied by two children who I had already made the acquaintance of through their natural affection and curiosity. After the service the gentleman, whose name was, believe it or not .. and it will be easy to believe when you read that he invited me to spend the night at his hom, Roadhouse, Brian Roadhouse, asked me if there was anything I needed. I told him I would like to find a few hours work, but that I’m having no luck with Cherry orchards. Brian invites me to supper at his home in the village of Summerland, which I had ridden through a few miles before Peachland. In fact, when I did get to Brian’s home I realized I had ridden right past his lane way where I had seen the biggest snake I have ever seen, about seven feet long and as thick as three garden hoses. When I had passed the snake I thought instantly of trying to kill it by running it over, but I was on a steep incline and was barely making headway, and I knew that I would be disadvantaged in a snake-moped duel, so I rode past it hoping it would not come after me, and it didn’t, just slithered into the roadside vegetation. I told Brian about the snake, but was worried for the children for a week until I learned in Saskatchewan that the snake was a Bull Snake, and harmless to humans unless it can scare us to death with its size.
Regarding Brian’s invitation, I am normally as afraid of first invitations into the intimacy of people’s homes as I was of that snake, those fears haunted by both youthful and latter day encounters of the nasty kind with strangers; so with Brian I don’t hesitate in making the excuse that I’m headed north, and would have to retrace my path southerly. Brian meets that excuse with proper rebuke voiced in just the right measures of intelligent understanding and contempt .. his expressions coming from a genuinely warm human heart with such a measure of natural humanity that I was immediately persuaded to accept. Before we headed home though we had a little luncheon to attend in the church hall, and there I met two people who, had I been seeking a female for a love life and a home could have provided both. Brian and I sat opposite each other at the table, and on either side of me were women. On my left was a blonde German woman who I will call ‘Jill’ to go with my ‘Jacks’. Jill was somewhat younger than myself and had had immigrated to the Okanagan a few years before. The second woman was probably in her 70s. I felt both physical and spiritual attraction to Jill, and our conversation and friendship came easily, which was a rare occurrence as being a coward by nature I’m normally intimated by a physically attractive woman. Conversation and friendship had also come easily on my right hand, and our lunch had come to an end when the senior lady told me she and her husband lived on a hobby farm, could use some help with chores, and would provide free housing in the form of a small cottage on the property. It was a kind and generous offer, and I was tempted .. oh the temptation that came with Jill was was especially tempting .. but if there was a possibility of a relationship in Bitish Columbia it would mean separation from my children and grandchildren as well as giving up my income from the government of Ontario; and I did not even consider taking the lady away from the healthy environment of British Columbia and moving her into the unhealthy environment of the greater part of Ontario. As well, at my age and with my limited physical strength I don’t have confidence in either being able to earn a living or to ensure blondes, especially blondes, or redheads, receive satisfactory consideration. I might do okay with brunettes but never with blondes or redheads. Yet another factor was that there were animals on the hobby farm, and while one of the attractive parts of the offer was that the air in the Okanagan was wonderfully clean and would benefit my asthma, my allergies would not have permitted me to work in the barns or sheds. It was with regret I could not accept.
Soon it was time to begin the trip to Summerland, I thought, but first I had to meet Brian’s wife Eva, who was attending a booth at the craft fair in the park on the lake across the street from the church. I was not surprised to see that Eva was a native of a tropical country, as their children were both dark, and they had not gotten their skin colour from Brian; but I was wonderfully surprised at Eva’s genuine reaction when Brian told her I was coming for supper. Eva is Fifiian, and I have come to understand that showing hospitality is not just a custom of Fijiians, it is an unavoidable part of their heritage. We packed up the canopy and tables into the family van and Brian drew me a map to their home, telling me to show up at four o’clock. I had an hour before needing to begin the ride which would take less than ½ hour, and I spent that hour lying in the warm sun, and swimming. The water was fine, but the gravel beach and lake bottom were probably the most unpleasant have experience, probably because a lack of large waves meant the gravel did not get sharp edges worn down. In this park I met my usual contingent of motorcyclists, and we had our normal conversations. It may have been here also, or later in Kelowna, that I met an old friend, Jacob. You may have seen him anywhere in Canada dressed in his normal red-dyed potato sackcloth, and either riding a bicycle or having it parked and using it to prop up ‘Jesus Saves’ signs. My goodness .. I just remembered that Jacob, after crossing and crisscrossing Canada countless times over two decades on his bicycle, had at this latest meeting traded his two-wheeled transportation in on a small car. I had met Jacob almost 30 years before, in a time when I myself stood on street corners with large signs preaching Jesus; and for the first two decades Jacob had always seemed completely right on about his bible beliefs, and he was certainly impressive in his faith, living in complete health on whatever God sent his way each day, never asking for handouts and never taking any Social Assistance; but eight or nine years ago I met Jacob in Ottawa,and his physical and emotional health was suffering, a result partly, I suspect, of his having given up on the King James Bible to work on his own translation, but mostly coming from spending far too much time either alone. At our meeting in the Okanagan Jacob professed that God was Satan, but that Jesus was still Salvation. I told him that he was mistaken about God being Satan (although scriptures say that Satan is the god worshipped by most of earth’s population, including, I will add, many of us at least part of the time who hope we are true Christians, Muslims, Jews or otherwise. I did not enter into contention with Jacob, but saw the simplest way of helping him was to exhort him to hang onto his faith in Jesus. I asked him if he was okay for money, and he said he had no problems that way, and at that point it was time for me to ride to Brian and Eva’s, and I did so, discounting immediately a thought to introduce Jacob to Brian, recognizing that Jacob’s frame of mind would not work for peace, but only serious discord with any who had faith in God the Creator of the Universe.
My swim made the moped ride to Brian's home all the more enjoyable. Supper was pleasant, the company was beautiful, all of us including the children falling in love with each other, and I had in spirit been invited to spend the night while still in the church, and the spirit became word, and we dwelt in that home for three nights, having a basement bed. The intimacy was more than welcome as I had been missing my brother Ron since leaving Victoria, and had been living in rooming house rooms for far too long. Brian, it turns out, is an ordained minister, but had been defrocked by his denomination, which I won’t name, because of his marriage to Eva. Brian is my age, Eva much younger. They had met in Fiji when Brian was still married to his first wife, but after his wife had left him. What had taken Brian to Fiji was his responsibility of organizing a Habitat for Humanity building project. I have two other close friends who are with Habitat, Don and Mary in Ottawa, so Brian and Eva and I had an easy topic of conversation which, however, quickly turned into a discussion of scripture. Brian is not only a minister ordained by a temporal organization, he has a true believer’s love of scripture and prophecy. Our conversations centred almost exclusively on the bible, and particularly the New Testament. Surprisingly, we agreed on almost every point, although I was slightly stronger in my belief that Christ’s teachings call us away from all participation in any war, regardless of whether that war is seen as ‘Just’ by anyone involved in it. (Can you see a war fought if both sides don’t present their their military enlistment speeches as expounding a ‘Just’ cause?) Brian also saw the King James translation as flawed in places, where I see potential flaws as mysteries which will be revealed in time. Despite our not seeing perfectly eye-to-eye (and scripture seems to indicate that perfection is possible only in heaven) Brian was the first person in a very long time I could enjoy a discussion of scripture with, as I am firm in my views and won’t relent to pressures to join the opposition which generally expounds what I have come to view as doctrines of man set up for the benefit of temporal organizations including war profiteers, but which I have also come to see as including natural borders for the pursuit of peace among bodies of people with differing needs .. those borders unfortunately oftentimes walled high with pride which builds self righteousness. For instance, some Baptists have an absolute need not to use alcohol internally .. rubbing alcohol being approved externally of course. Other Baptists see no harm in a small amount of alcohol taken internally. So there are natural borders between those groups which serve the cause of peace so long as force of conversion is not seen as an instrument of good which could leading to the enhanced peace of the poor, unfortunate soul who believes differently from the other soul. For that reason I have never formally joined a group or denomination or even a non- denominational church, the non-denominations generally turning into their own denomination but with the name non-denominational. My position as a believer unto solely my own understanding of the scriptures of course sets me up for the temptation of self-righteousness which is almost as large as fault with me as is my stubborn pride. I’m not overly concerned with those faults, though, because as 'those' posters say scripture agreeing) “God ain’t done with me yet.”
Okay .. so I’m enjoying Brian and Eva’s and their children’s welcome and affection and joy at having another believer in their home. The children call me Uncle . and so I feel I am. The jewelery Eva is to me right from our meeting a sister and friend, and a special spirit of creativity between us becomes manifest when we discuss art and poetry. Eva is chief designer of the genuinely exceptional jewelery they sell, seashells and feathers and stones, elements of Eva’s natural heritage, being the main components. Part of Brian’s income comes from doing odd jobs, and one of those jobs is a wooden door for a house, that door lying on carpenter’s workhorses in the garage. The door needs to be stripped of paint and varnish, sanded, and stained. Brian has back problems which have been preventing him from doing the door, so it’s obvious to both of us that our meeting is fortuitous for this purpose. I have experience with wood, and do the stripping and sanding. .. and I do. Brian does the finishing. I don’t want to accept payment for my work, but Brian rightly insists, and I humble myself in my need. As a Bible believer, Brian’s main work is believing; and he is believing for a brand new church to be built in Penticton. Brian and his family and I drive to see to the proposed site, and while my faith is not great for the project (Brian and Eva are making a living, but where are the building funds going to come from?) Brian’s faith is a shared spirit, and before long I begin to believe, and finally say yes, if God is willing, it can be done. Personally, though, I see more need for a living church which goes into the streets and parks and onto sidewalks and into publishing houses and print shops than for another shelter which is open only one or two days a week .. but hey, Brian has his vision, and I mine.
Tuesday afternoon we all go to a beach in Summerland, and then return ‘home’ (yes, their home feels like home to me). Brian and Eva are scheduled to attend a large market on Wednesday, and I should be moving along. Brian and I walk to the beer/liquor store and he takes beer home while I buy a bottle of wine for Eva. It’s a great walk. I’ve lost a few close friends in my life due to their moving on to the next world, and moving away to different localities, and certainly Brian has also. Our friendship, even though it’s only three days old, is real, and it is the same between Eva and I. Sometime during our visit I of course have said that I would love to go to Fiji; and Brian tells me that when he organizes another Habitat project in Fiji he’ll give me a call, and of course I tell him I could never afford plane fare, and he of course says, ‘no problem, we have faith don’t we?’ So of course I am looking forward to helping build houses in Fiji where I will meet my relatives, and I do have relatives there, because I am Uncle to Brian and Eva’s children, and brother to them.
Wednesday morning breaks our togetherness, and the children of course are sad to see me go. Us adults are more accepting .. perhaps unfortunately. It would do any adult good to be able to part from friends with tears. We do stay in touch with telephone and email, and come to think of it .. I should phone them right now . . and I did phone them, and Brian answered and told me they were in the middle of preparing supper, and I understood how busy they are as I know they have children, and as supper can burn, etc., and Brian said he would phone back, and he hasn’t yet, but a family man is a busy man, and I’m sure he will call back, and if he does not call, I will (if God permits, as scripture says).
Northward and Eastward
I had made a few dollars with Brian, but I still wanted the enjoyment and feasting and cash which would come with Cherry picking, so I searched the Okanagan by stopping at orchards and fruit stands, make lovely detours on quaint dirt roads which take me to quaint places and lovely orchards, and meet a quaint and lovely lady living in a quaint and lovely shack in a lovely cherry orchard, and we have a lovely hello and goodbye, and I almost give up on lovely Cherries, but make a lovely decision to take 97 Highway on the east side of Okanagan Lake which takes me onto more quaint dirt roads into more orchards but all without finding work as I arrive one day too late or a few days too early, and then at Vernon when I am sure there can be no more Cherry orchards on the road ahead I see on my map to the east of Vernon the town of Cherryville, and beyond Cherryville I see the Arrow Lakes which I have wanted to visit for three decades, so of course I plan my route to take me there. First things first, though, and because I am in Vernon where my Dad was stationed for part of World War Two when he was probably the youngest sergeant in the Canadian Army, I decide to tour the Army Camp there, which I do in the company of the camp’s official photographer. I will not be allowed to roam free. Seeing the young cadets reminds me of how brainwashed I was at the age of 16 years when I had joined the Canadian Army Militia .. and that’s all I’ll say about that, letting Buffy Saint Marie’s song ‘The Universal Soldier’ take it from here. What I take are a couple of photographs of old Barracks for Dad’s sake, shake hands, and give a genuine thanks for the Photographer’s guidance, salute the sentries as I ride past the Camp’s guardhouse, and head east east on quaint Highway Number 6 .. little traveled and solitary Number 6 .. ranch country .. a touring bicyclist’s dream .. and then I come into Cherryville which I find is almost a hillbilly community of small homes and trailers and shacks and an artists co-op of sorts and a pretty café in which is a tall and beautiful young woman waitress who gives a Cherry-eyed smile (that’s virginal but not unknowing smile) as her only answer when I ask, “… but if there are no Cherries here why do they call it Cherryville?”
Yes, why indeed! No Cherry Trees but there is a perfect and free place to camp on the wonderful rushing Shushwap River .. for this is the Shushwap Country and home of The Cherryville News, an environmentally friendly little paper, and I phone the publisher and ask if he wants to do a story on my environmental moped trip with its 125 miles per gallon, and he says sure, come on out .. and I do, getting lost on dirt back roads first, but finally finding his refuge, and giving my story, meeting the family and friends, and being given a Medicine Bag by the publisher who is part aboriginal and part African, his ancestors having escaped from slavery in the U.S. to come to Canada. He and his wife are buying the hobby farm/guest house lodge they are operating, and enjoying being out of the big city. Yes indeed .. enjoying life in the mountains. Tea time over, I take the publisher’s advice and take a different route back to camp, along dirt roads of course, with the intention of finding the local swimming hole, the one with the rope hanging from the tree over the river where everyone swims naked while drinking beer. I’m not interested in naked bodies of course, I just want to see the sights .. sites. It’s an interesting place where no one is swimming naked, but where a huge log which has been carried downriver by the spring flood is high and dry proving the power of the Springtime floods that rage through that neck of the wild Shushwap River woods. I have a good chat with a fellow who has been swimming and fishing with his lady friend, but I can never feel quite comfortable with people who are almost certainly marijuanna smokers because since I quit I've been mistaken for a Narcotics officer too many times, so I don't attempt to hang out with the smokers, so I ride back to my camp attempting to rescue small butterflies which are sunning themselves on the unbusy road .. unbusy but the butterflies manage to become auto-invalids anyway, and I rescue a couple but find too many of them. Maybe they've just lived out their short lives and are dying natural deaths, and wanting to die on the warmth of the road instead of the dark coolness of the woods.
My campsite is a fifteen minute walk from Cherryville's Main Street, which is the very unbusy highway, with my tent pitched 10 feet from the rushing Shushwap River. This camp is so beautiful I spend three days here, building a small, unnailed seat out of wood scraps and using that seat every evening to enjoy a campfire. I bathe in the river, cook, sleep, drink wine, do laundry in the river but without polluting with soap of course, and chat with folks who drop in for a hello, the first chat being with a Rock and Roll Band which is driving through on the way to a gig somewheres westward, but who stop for a swim in the rapids. I am also visited by a fellow whose transportation from his upriver home to the Cherryville Beer Store is a three mile swim down the rapids. Need I say ‘What a guy?’ He was raised in that neck of the woods, and had moved away for a couple of decades, but had returned to stay. I could not appreciate his taste in alcohol after his icy swim because if I had done the swim I would have needed firewater and definitely not a cold beer. I have met this new friend on the last afternoon of my stay on the Shushwasp, and because I plan on heading east early in the morning, before the gas station opens, I need to fill my gas tank; so I begin to accompany my new friend part way to the corner store/gas station/beer and liquor store where most of the village’s business transactions occur, but the slow and relaxed togetherness of our walk goes only as far as meeting up with a gang of mosquitoes which makes walking unbearable and he breaks into a sprint while I start my machine and ride. We part company in the beer store, he just kind of disappears out a side door or something, and I do my business, have a coffee at the café, return to camp, have a great sleep, ride away from Cherryville before sunrise the next morning, which is a cold morning; and here I am six months later with my rock and roll songwriter soul telling me “Get Back .. Get Back .. Get Back to the Mountain Cherry eyes of Cherryville you Jo Jo Moped Man!”
Knowing where to terminate one chapter and start another is one of the most difficult chores for me as a book writer, and I’m just leaving an open space to indicate that a change is occurring, for while I was staying on the same highway leaving Cherryville the road was changing .. becoming much more rural and isolated, narrower, much more mountainous .. the Midway Mountain Range .. truly a motorcyclist's dream with almost total lack of highway traffic excepting a few logging trucks and with its curves and valleys and descents and steep ascents which require me to slow down and really enjoy the scenery and solitude by walking beside my bike as I throttle it .. and with the biggest deer I have ever seen, huge deer, habituating a lovely little piece of world which might survive a nuclear holocaust which contains in one pretty spot two houses and a waterwheel generating electricity from a waterfall, Paradise Falls I believe their roadsign said, then more steep ascents and descents and lovely horizons and always the trees .. and finally a sudden stop .. yes .. at the end of a long descent a very sudden stop at a dead end on a lake .. a huge and beautiful Lower Arrow Lake which is the Columbia River dammed .. a real beauty spot for scenery .. a lonely, lonely dead end which used to be a village before the dam flooded it. Fortunately this dead end held a ferry terminal, just a dock, no gatehouse or tool booth because the Arrow Lake ferries are free to use by everyone, and it was the 'free' factor which had finally decided my route would come this way instead of turning north before reaching the (?) dead end of Needles on the west coast of Lower Arrow Lake and Fauquier on the east side. I understand these ex villages were prosperous places before the dams were built flooding the Columbia River, and possibly there is some housing I didn’t see. I wish I had explored the west shore a bit before ferrying over, but I did not. The dams which created Upper and Lower Arrow Lake had fairly quickly destroyed most of the Salmon run. I am told that Salmon in the millions used to run this river, and there are now a few fish in the lakes, but not many. An experiment in seeding the lakes with nutrients of some kind is done from the ferries, I am told, but there seems little hope of restoring the fish population. However, the lakes are fantastic in scenic beauty, these are the mountains after all, Lower Arrow being about 100 kilometres long according to my map, and perhaps three kilometres wide if my memory serves correctly. Memory recalls another example of mankind’s lack of intelligent forethought concerning the Arrow Lakes, and that is a news item from 20 years ago which told of a business at one end or other of one of the lakes using the lake, believe it or not, as a dump for automobile batteries. We are a fine species, we humans.
There is a hint of civilization on the eastern lakeshore where a cafe serves travellers; and I had another near encounter of the feminine kind at the Fauquier Café, a hippy type woman traveling alone in her car, and each of us wanting to say hello, where are you headed, who are you, why are you traveling, it would be nice to get to know you, etc., but not doing so. Where she was probably headed to was the village of Nakusp on the eastern shore of Upper Arrow Lake. This village was holding a music festival, if my memory serves correctly a Folk Festival, and I was passing through just in time, hopefully, to possibly get some work connected with the festival, and I asked around Nakusp until tired of failing, and when thus wearied I decided I had heard enough loud music and been in enough crowd at Sombrio, so instead of resting and trying further to find work I just enjoyed a burger and then a swim and nap at the beautiful sandy beach .. the I motored on .. motored on but not far because I found one of the highway rest stops B.C. is famous for, a park with picnic tables and a tall and wide and beautiful waterfall cascading as if a veil down the face of multi-coloured rock .. and there I spent the night, sleeping on the bench directly in front of the falls .. and having my shoelaces stolen in the night by some critter .. yes, took my laces right out to build a nest with, arodent of some kind probably .. Marmot perhaps?
In the morning I substituted shoe laces with yellow, plastic twine I carried in my packs, and looked quite the cool hippy then; but before leaving the camp I saw a challenge I could not refuse .. a climb up a steep trail to the top of the falls. Very nice. Oh yes, I almost forgot, a young couple had stopped by to see the falls when I was cooking supper the previous evening and told me I could experience bathing in a hot spring ‘just around the corner’ of the highway .. 'up the trail', etc. I looked for the spring and found a crude sign saying ‘private property spring closed’, and looked further, wandering around on old logging trails, and not finding the spring but having a nice walk, and experiencing in a new way the mountain wild lands, always being alert for bears and things which could trip me and cause me to fall and break a leg or ankle .. I don't advise trapsing the wildwoods alone, but haven't found anyone to trapse wth me; and then riding on north instead of east because at Nakusp the road splits, with Highway 6 taking a long detour south to Highway 3 and Three east to where it become Three and 95 and then north as 93 and 95 to Highway One at Golden and then east through Lake Louise and Banff continuing on west to Calgary .. and I wanted to go through Banff to Calgary but my time would not allow a detour, and my rear tire might not last with the extra mountain miles, and besides that, and this might surprise you, I had seen enough mountains and fishless lakes despite the great beauty and wonderful swimming, and I wanted to get on the prairies .. to Saskatchewan, the home province of my Dad’s mother .. I just felt the ancestral draw. I also wanted to visit Rick and Sandy in Saskatoon again. So what I did was to take the much shorter route to Banff by turning north onto 23 at Nakusp and continued on along the eastern shore of Upper Arrow. There are hot springs along this highway, and one has been converted into a high priced tourist stop. On this road I found a cardboard box .. rectangular .. sealed with tape .. lightweight .. and addressed to a Nakusp address. The box was labeled as containing gaskets for heavy equipment parts. I fastened the box behind me and took it to Revelstoke, where I dropped into a Tourist Centre office and where an employee phoned the company and arranged to have it sent back to Kakusp. The Visitor Centre’s employee suggested the Heavy Equipment Company might want to send me a reward, so I wrote my name and address on the carton but nothing came to my address. Had I known how valuable the gaskets were I would have turned my bike around and rode the gaskets to Kakusp, that way it would have been harder for the company to ignore doing some thankful thing.
The highway north to Revelstoke runs along the east side of Lower Arrow, then, part way up Upper Arrow the highway meets another free ferry at Galena, which I seem to recall as having some sort of tiny population; but the western side is vacant of anything except a continuation of the highway at SHelter Bay, the highway running higher up the mountainside through very wild land, virtually uninhabited except for rare habitations on the shore. There is one memorable bridge over a deep canyon and I stopped just off the bridge and walked back to take the view. That highway remains mostly barren of humanity until it gets up close and personal with the modest sized, and pretty town of Revelstoke where the highway ties in with Number One Trans Canada. The dam at Revelstoke is huge and worth a short hop to see and to tour; and at the dam the highway continues north for what I remember as being about 160 miles without one gas stop. I considered doing that run, but as I wrote earlier, the mountains were getting tiresome to me, and I yearned for the Big Sky of the praire. Before I left that area I learned that the Revelstoke dam was another lesson in man’s ingenuity not being so ingenious, with fluctuating water levels converting huge flat areas of the river valley into dust storm breaders in summer. I think I recall someone telling me the storms were so intense Revelstoke came close to being evacuated, but that the situation was brought under control by planting special vegetation. I also heard Revelstoke, like Kamloops, came close to evacuation through forest fires as well. I certainly don’t know what British Columbia and Alberta are going to do when the millions of billions of Pine Beetle killed and well dried Pine Trees catch fire .. those fires undoubtedly spreading to the rest of the forests. The future for forests in those provinces is, I believe, dark.
Anyway .. after once again visiting a Laundromat in Revelstoke I was eastward ho on Trans Caada Number One through the Selkirk Mountains, and the Purcell Mountains which cradle the beautiful village of Golden, and into the awe inspiring Rocky Mountains … oh my gosh I thought I had seen mountains on my trip but then I rode through those Rockies. I had been through them before of course, a few times, 30 years before hitchhiking out of Banff at 40 Below F. one time; but I guess I had forgotten how majestic the Rockies are .. maybe that’s why prizefighters name themselves Rocky .. or perhaps it’s because of what their head feels like after awhile .. sort of like what it feels to do too much hitchhiking. Anyway, soon I was through Kicking Horse Pass .. well you should see the scenery .. and oh yes .. before the Kicking Horse, in Golden, I met up with a gentleman ex biker who invited me home to meet his big blue and yellow tropical bird .. and we had a couple of beers and a barbecue, and another friend dropped in, and I was invited to spend the night but I was allergic to the house because of the bird, but my friends told me where an excellent camping spot was, outside of town on a creek which runs into the Columbia River, and it was an excellent spot, too, as beautiful as a mountain stream can be, with only a short hike to the Columbia, which has its origins in Canoe Reach, a long, narrow lake I measure on my map at more than 200 kilometres long. Whether the lake is natural or backed up by a dam I don’t know .. but I do know the mosquitoes drove me right out of that beautiful campsite the next morning .. and I was moving in a big hurry too. Mosquitoes love moving water for breeding you know .. lots of oxygen generated by the turbulence. But that Canoe Reach, that would be a place to spend a season canoing around.
Canoe Reach will have to wait, though, because I'm on my way from Golden to beautiful Lake Louise in Banff National Park. There was a lot of fantastic scenery to talk about between Golden and Lake Louise, but next thing on this book’s agenda is the Lake Louise parking lot fees which are exorbitant, and fraudulent as well as the prices are not hinted at before people make the steep, steep, steep, steep, climb up the mountain to the parking lot where Parking Attendants confiscate almost everything in your wallet, and where I casually attempted to park in a construction area but where I got caught and moved on without giving the parking enforcer much complaint because I had already seen the Lake and Lodge anyway 25 years ago when hitchhiking through. In fact I had almost not paid for something that time, being so struck with the lake’s beauty and colour that when I had finished my tea I got to the Lodge’s door before the waitress reminded me I had not paid. (Really .. it was not intentional). On this trip I commented to the parking officer how Babylon had conquered the Rocky Mountains, and then rode down the steep, steep, steep hill and was lucky enough to find the back country road into Banff and highly recommend it .. yes, highly, it’s a quaint road little traveled with lots of scenery and informational stops. Finally I rode into Banff where I saw a bridge which was adequate for camping under, but instead of setting up my tent I searched out the casual labour office because I had heard that in Banff they needed labourers badly even if there were no Cherries to be picked. I found the labour office, and the young man managing the place recommended I motor on to Canmore because if I camped under the Banff bridge I would probably be fined .. a stiff fine, too, but Canmore was more friendly, and there was lots of work there, too .., in fact he lived there and normally worked at the Canmore branch of the same labour office. So, after I visited a coffee shop and was given a free coffee by a lovely young lady who sympathized with my complaint that prices in Banff were astronomical I rode on into Canmore .. a village walled in by rugged mountains of the up close and personal kind .. and I found a competing casual labour office before I found the office I was looking for, and I was told if I was there first thing in the morning I would be guaranteed work. I also found a fellow who had worked that day but had not returned to the labour office in time to get paid, and so had no coffee money, and so I gave him $5.00 I believe it was, and perhaps it was him who told me about the municipal camp ground which had tent spaces with showers for only $10 a night, and I went there and camped for three nights, worked two days at construction labour, earned $200 cash for two, eight hour days, made some good friends while working, ate three inexpensive but great Canmore Hotel meals, survived a frightening hail storm which I thought was going to turn into a tornado and blow the campground to the top of the mountains, but which I should not have worried about (it seems) because (or so I was told the next day) tornadoes don’t visit the mountains. The campground, I wish I could think of its quaint name, was almost like the Jasper Free Camp had been in Hippy spirit, except not so wild and free, so that even in the midst of the thunderstorm no one took off their clothes and ran naked .. although one young woman was out in her wet, white t-shirt and shorts, but the showers were coed. Bob Dylan said a while back that ‘the times they are a changing’ and yes they did change .. because where marijuana had been the drug of choice in the Jasper Free Camp alcohol was the excitement at Wapiti .. yes, that’s it, Wapiti Campground, and I have come to believe that moderate alcohol use is better than moderate marijuana use, overdosing on anything is not recommended, and I know for sure pot was available at the camp because I was fortunate enough to be able to say ‘No Thanks’ to the invitation.
At Wapiti I met many wonderful folks, including a woman from one of the South American countries who had become a Canadian and who was camping with he adult son. Romance could have blossomed but I was off romance, thanks. Her son found a good friend though in a mountain climbing partner, and the four of us spent a few hours together, even making a trip to McDonald's for a burger.
I enjoyed Canmore and being employed so much that had my drywall-dust sweeping job not been health-destroying I would have stayed longer, but by the middle of the second afternoon my asthmatic lungs were burning and my throat was raw. Time to move on. I was riding out of town when I saw an obviously seriously distressed and relatively young aboriginal woman, and I stopped and gave her a kind word and $5.00 even though she was almost incoherent from alcohol mixed with distress. She was Blackfoot, she said, from west of Calgary, and had come looking for her boyfriend who was in Canmore with another woman .. her kids were back home .. her boyfriend had beaten her up in Canmore and told her she should sell herself and give him the money .. I told her to go home .. go home .. go home to your kids .. but could not bring myself to buy her a bus ticket .. making all kinds of excuses, probably logical excuses .. like she would cash it in and buy alcohol, like if I saw her off on the bus she would probably get off part way to Calgary and come back to the abuse .. etc. If I had a car I would have given her a ride .. etc .. but God . . the terrible things that people are going through. Strange, but in Canmore I had seen the most effective poster I had ever seen in the window of a storefront office dedicated to assisting women .. I made a note of the wording but of course have lost most of my notes. Help the unfortunate ..
.. the next day I was riding just east of Calgary through Blackfoot Country in which the Alberta government had spent millions on a Blackfoot Cultural Heritage Centre. Blackfoot people were to be hired for the site .. their heritage was to be elevated. I didn’t have enough time or money for the long ride off the highway or to pay to visit the Centre .. I suppose most Canadians hope the Natives are helped back up to where they were before Caucasians came alongand gave them easy opportunities to sink into the material lusts and depredations of European societies. The natives were not guiltless in their demise. Without their aid, for instance,the Beaver could not have come to extinction in many parts of North America. I have read that native tribes who did not engage in regular trade and military partnerships with the early Europeans were spared the near extinction of those tribes which, for instance, used opportunities which came with partnering with Caucasian allies to destroy traditional enemies.
By the way, the new model of history being promoted concerning Natives is that North American ‘pioneers’ had an easy time of settling because the North American Aboriginal had been brought to near extinction by way of diseases which spread rapidly after the first European explorers arrived. Had this been true, the British, Americans and French would not have been able to enlist aboriginal tribes as allies in inter-Caucasian wars, and the U.S. army would not have had to spread typhoid or some other plague by way of blankets sent to Canada after the wars had ended and the aboriginals north of the U.S. border had returned to their homes. I believe it was the Huron who lived on the north shore of Lake Huron who were decimated in that way. Still .. the aboriginals of most tribes were no different from European nations in living by the sword .. and as Jesus Christ warned, “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword”. Europe had experienced a share of massacre because of their lusts against neighbouring nations, with far worse to come.
Anyway .. the future is in the future (although not far in the future) and I am writing of the past, of how I motored through the north side of Calgary and from a high hill gained a wide view of the city before regaining the Trans Canada Number One and by it entering Strathmore where that evening I was entertained in the municipal park by a wonderful band of musicians playing what I would call a mellow but exciting kind of experimental rock .. and who in turn I entertained with my harmonica, leaving them somewhat impressed, but I don’t think as impressed as I was with their exceedingly impressive lead guitar player who I told, “Man, I love Jimmy Hendrix, and I love you.” I also made a little speech to them, telling them how much I admired them for facing the manifest and progressing calamities of our age with the agelessly beautiful spiritual strength evident in their music. When dusk had progressed nearly to night we said our goodbyes as if we were in a regular love-in, with hugs and handshakes all around. When my new friends departed a swarm of mosquitoes arrived, or perhaps they had been around during our discussion, but had concentrated their attack on me when everyone else left, and those bugs effectively put an end to my thoughts of unrolling my sleeping bag on the park bench. A pair of municipal employees had come around to help the band unplug their equipment and to tidy the park, and I asked them if I could pitch my tent beside the creek I had sat beside all through the concert.
‘No .. but there’s another park across the road with public toilets, you can pitch in the bushes in there, but do it quietly, and don’t make a fire.’
These two municipal employees spoke with the same new spirit of hospitality and generosity I found throughout my trip; a spirit born not from hope for tourist dollars, but from the knowledge that earth’s present era is coming to an end, that our affluent and relatively safe societies will be facing unimaginable upheavals .. a possible end of life for most species on earth .. or at least an end of life as we have know it.
With quietness and prayer of thanks I pitched in darkness, in the centre of encircling bushes. When my tent was up I made a walk to the toilets and garbage can, and then back, and I stood in the entrance to the bushes for a few minutes and listened to a young woman singing softly as she crossed the park in complete darkness. I did not disturb her with a hello. An aging couple seated on their porch on the far side of a fence had watched as I had entered the park and the bushes, but I was not disturbed by anyone through the night, so the couple had obviously not phoned the police about a dangerous intruder. Morning came and I packed up and breakfasted in a restaurant, then sought out a clothing store because I needed a couple of new short sleeve shirts. The first store I tried could not accommodate me, and I was directed to a Wal Mart. As I rode towards the Wal Mart I made a wrong turn and ended up crossing a huge excavated area with wide, mud paths, a soon-to-be housing subdivision. Machinery and trucks were rolling and I was viewed by one driver as an interruption in his progress even though I was nowhere near him. The driver leaned out his window and hollered something at me, probably what he said was ‘Didn’t you see the No Vehicles Allowed’ sign but his voice was out roared by his machine and by my moped’s engine; and of course I had seen the sign but what else could I as a lost pilgrim do but cut through.
When I got to Wal Mart I went crazy with my credit card and bought two good quality cotton shirts, a package of new undershorts, and a package of new socks. I have come to understand from travelers that Wal Mart, for all the bad publicity it receives, welcomes travelers in motor homes to overnight in their parking lots. I have even met travellers who told me they camped at Wal Marts. My parking lot camping was restricted to one night in Ontario on the way home, but not at a Wal Mart, at a motot equipment supply store which I had stopped at when needing a new tube. I can’t say if Wal Mart would welcome a tenter. I suppose all one could do would be to ask.
So .. rolling eastward onwards on the Trans Canada I come to the town of Bassano where Number One jogs and jigs and where after the jigjog Porche drivers have a beginning for what is basically a straight, high speed run of a thousand miles if they want it; but I continue straight east on a lesser road so much lesser that it carries no number on my highway map .. but it leads into Countess, then Rosemary .. these places as monumental as the Rocky Mountains in their non-existence .. not that they don’t exist, they do . . but they were flesh and blood back when the prairies held tens of thousands of family farms, but now they are ghostly and mostly still .. old signs and faded buildings .. and dusty romance with Duchess .. and the lure of Millicent and Patricia. Near Patricia I found three modern young women setting up a roadside Lemonade stand or some such touristy thing, and they directed me to the road leading into Dinosaur Provincial Park .. a World Heritage Site or something like that .. arid and canyoned Badlands as they call them, carved by the Red Deer River which begins its eastward flow not far from Lake Louise, and which winds through what used to be Cottonwood-covered bottom lands, but according to a sign at Dinosaur Provincial Park 80 or 90 percent (I’ve forgotten which) of those Cottonwoods have been cut down throughout the prairies.
Twenty five years ago I camped for almost two weeks on a little sand bar which was attached to the riverbank of that same river about 60 miles upstream from Dinosaur Provincial Park. I gained the sandbar by wading across the river as it ran through the Drumheller dinosaur Badlands .. and believe it or not I found two dinosaur bones sticking right out of the riverbank .. I just pulled them out of the damp earth about head hight at the western end of the sandbar .. and those bones could have made me famous by having a Bobosaurus or Mosurinjohadactyl or something named after me had I obeyed the law and turned the bones into the Dinosaur Museum I had visited and then walked from straight down to the river. People spend decades searching for what I found by chance. I’m not famous though, because I stuffed the bones into my backpack and gave them to my daughters when I returned to Ontario, but after awhile my daughters’ mother threw the bones out, thinking they were just old cow bones. Well, I suppose they could have been mammal bones, but they were definitely petrified, and because they were further down in geological history than the dinosaur bones which were being uncovered in higher stratas, they probably were dinosaur bones. Of course, recent discoveries tell us that dinosaurs and mammals lived on the earth together … although the limited knowledge I have picked up about mammals in that age informs me they were tiny creatures, so the large bones I found, at least as long as a human leg bores, probably were from a dinosaur. Shortly after I returned to Ontario with the bones, a scientist (I’ll call him Jack) heard about my bones because I did a lot of bragging about those dinosaur bones, and Peterborough is a small town, and a university town. Jack asked me to return to the sandbar with him and show him exactly where the bones were found .. but I was weary from traveling, and though once we got to the spot I would become so involved in exploration that I would remain there, and I wanted to spend the rest of that summer with my daughters, who I had been separated from for a few years. I told Jack exactly where the bones were found, and he must must have been to those Badlands and down to the river because he said he knew the sandbar.
Another interesting thing which happened to me when camped out on the sandbar was one night when I was inside my tent some wild animal, almost certainly a Coyote, must have gotten my scent very suddenly and probably at the same time a breeze flapped the wall of my tent and that Coyote did a lot of savage snarling and snapping and hissing and posturing in the darkness before he moved on, leaving me thankful he hadn’t ripped my tent to shreds, and that I had not had to defend myself with violence to either Coyote or myself. My defence lay in being very, very quietly prepared.
Other strange things happened to me in that camp, too. I had gone there to attempt a fast of 40 days and 40 nights .. a Biblical spirit quest .. and I probably brought the trouble onto myself by not being willing to turn the dinosaur bones over to the proper authorities, but the trouble was the weather turned cold and rain started. The Badlands are normally fairly dry at that time of year .. last two weeks of June I think it was .. but it rained cold rain for about a week .. and when the clouds moved on and the sun finally came out I was so cold from the air and from not eating that I took my sleeping bag and climbed a little gully up to a level area, but not up to the prairie itself, and there was a huge boulder there, about the size of a house, and the sun was shining onto the boulder, and I knew the boulder would retain a lot of heat, and I laid close to the rock in the ‘cleft of the rock’ on the ground at the base of the boulder and warmed up as much as I could, which was considerable, and I stayed there all night. Now .. there are Rattlesnakes in the valley of the Red River, and I knew about them, and I had bought a snakebite kit, and I was aware that snakes seek out sunny and warm places, and I was prepared to do the snake bite treatment by slicing the bite and using the little rubber cup to suck the poison out if necessary, but I was not going to move from the warmth of that rock. No snake bit. In fact I did not see a Rattlesnake until I got to Buffalo .. but more of that later. First I’ll tell you that according to what I have read recently the latest lore about snakebites is that the slice and suck treatment never was any good .. and in fact did more harm than good by sometimes or often causing infection .. with the proper treatment if you’re isolated being to tie off the limb above the bite, lay down and lower your heart beat as much as possible to slow the spread of the poison .. keeping in mind to loosen the tourniquet once in a while. I also learned somewhere in Saskatchewan that the rattlesnakes at the latitude of the Red River either never or normally does not kill adult humans because the cold weather lowers their metabolism enough that they can’t manufacture poison quickly enough to spare shooting one load per tooth into the victim .. so they only inject one tooth ful and they person only gets sick. However .. I wonder how global warming is affecting those snakes. I wonder also how children will be affected by a one-tooth injection, and that wonder was became flesh and blood possibility after I had left Dinosaur Provincial Park on my moped trip.
During my dinosaur days of 25 years ago I missed another opportunity of sorts by not swimming after (was it two or three canoes) each occupied by lovely young women who were merrily merrily drifting downriver .. and of those the last young woman in the last canoe could not take her eyes off me and I could not take mine off her .. but of course I did not swim after her and I have never knowingly seen her since. I did see, however, at the end of my 10 day fast, and because of the much rain and then three or four days of hot sun, many brand new and exquisite fully bloomed Cactus Flowers, as well as Wild Roses. The sights and scents were a wonderful blessing, especially because I had stumbled and fallen hands first onto those pre-bloom cacti earlier in my fast when I climbed to the gulley’s top to the expanse of prairie. There was a farmhouse far off in the distance, but I did not go to it.One of my favourite scriptures is “the wilderness and solitary places shall be glad for them; the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the Rose.” (Isaiah?) Was the desert glad for me? Or for the young women in the canoe? Or for us all together .. including you readers who God knew would be reading this? God knows.
Another interesting event on the sandbar was playing my harmonica while accompanied by a bird. I had been playing, and a bird flew to a small tree near me and began singing along. It was obvious to me that the bird was singing with my music, but I tested it just to be sure. I stopped playing, and the bird stopped singing. I began playing, and the bird began singing. I stopped playing again, and the bird stopped. I began again, and so did the bird. The two of us made a wonderful orchestra for many minutes before the bird flew off.
I was so weak with hunger during the fast that during a short walk/climb up a gulley to the prairie topside I stumbled and fell, my hand lading on a small cactus. I did gain the topside, though, and saw a farm off in the distance, but I merely took a looksee around and made my way back to camp. Shortly after the spiny cactus incident I decided my fast was done even though like most of the rest of my life I fell short of my goal and made only 20 days. I packed up, waded back across the now swollen river which had risen from my waist to just below my neck, carrying my pack above my head just as if I were an explorer in a movie, ignored fame and the laws of the land by not turning in the dinosaur bones, and hitchhiked back to Ontario and to my three daughters.
On my moped though, I rode away from the canyons of Dinosaur Provincial Park, turning at Patricia onto Numberless Highway, passing through Jenner and Atlee, whether they were ghost towns or not I can’t recall, and then, becoming concerned that I still had a long way to go before finding a gas station, and seeing on my map at an intersection ahead a town named Buffalo I hoped for gas at that place. Reaching the intersection I saw no sign saying ‘Buffalo’ and no town or village. My map shows the sideroad running north and crossing the Red Deer River. River crossings often have businesses close by, and I rode north, thinking perhaps that Buffalo had migrated to the river. At the river I found a bridge, which was a small surprise to me as this was definitely Boonie country and I thought the river crossing might be a ford, but no, it was a large bridge, a structure made beautiful by its antiquity. I believe I remember that bridge having a wooden deck instead of asphalt. On the south side of the bridge, at the edge of the river, I saw a tanker truck, with a gentleman filling the truck with river water. I rode down to him and asked about Buffalo. Of course he was as surprised to see me as I was grateful to see him, (there were no habitations that I could see anywhere.) He told me Buffalo was long gone .. a few old buildings remaining just a few hundred feet east of the intersection. These towns were abandoned when highways replaced railroads .. far in advance of our age's Latter Day townsite abandonments in which family farms are replaced by The Humungus & Beastly Agricultural Corporation That Swallowed The Planet.
No town of Buffalo, I thought, meant no obvious gas (and I say obvious gas for a reason which will make itself clear a few lines down from here) in that neighbourhood until I got to Empress, off Highway 41 which was still 40 miles east. I was fairly sure my gas would last to Empress (weren’t the early settlers romantic? Duchess, Countess, Empress? Probably attempting relief from their bleak life. Or perhaps the railroad companies, in attempting to lure settlers, had named those stops .. or perhaps the Railroad Maintenance Gangs had chosen the names for those stops, because I believe that they were Maintenance Section stops. In any case, who wouldn’t face a bleak prairie winter better with a Duchess at his or her side?)
There is still plenty of romance in the Prairies, though; and the river was wide and the bridge was as beautiful to me in its antiquity as .. as a romantic journey across it into the unknown, for the map shows so many miles and miles and miles of nothing on the other side that I could picture this bridge being unused for weeks at a time .. if ever. the bridge was so romantic that I walked upon it before riding across it .. and while doing both, viewing the Red Deer River from above it, I saw a river of such beauty even in its polluted condition today that I can’t imagine the beauty of it when it ran clear and drinkable and full of fish and bordered bountifully by Cottonwoods. This stretch of river had adequate trees remaining.
At the far side of the bridge I saw a track leading from the west side of the road into the bush .. for there are still Cottonwoods on the Red Deer. I took the track and to my great surprise discovered an antique playground .. with child’s swings and I believe I remember a teeter totter .. with outhouses, and an antique sign saying the playground was for use by the children of workers of some kind .. perhaps the Railroad workers .. for a school had been at Buffalo .. and the camp was such a beautiful spot that I thought of pitching my tent for the night .. but the day was only half grown and I also wanted to explore the road away from the river .. and the playground in its apparent abandonment was making me feel isolated and lonely .. and sad that the swings and teeter totters were no longer used (although I was fooled in that) .. and I also felt an unease of an unexplained kind. I moved on, and in riding along the road away from the bridge I discovered a small house set in a clearing, near which were two small, yellow school buses, and I saw two fuel tanks of the kind farmers have. This little habitation did not surprise me in the least, for if any place on our planet was deserving of human occupation it was that beautiful place.
I rode into the yard, tooting my horn and calling out so that I would not surprise anyone by an unexpected knock on their door, and when I did knock a woman and young girl answered, the young girl almost hiding behind her mother, but not quite that shy. I immediately became as gentle and nonthreatening in my manner as I possibly could, considering my scruffy appearance, and for the same reason of not being seen as a question mark or a threat I did away with my usual shy hemming and hauling and got straight to the point, explaining that I would like to purchase some gasoline to make sure I got as far as Empress, and the woman smiled a quiet but sincere smile and told me she did not imagine my bike would take very much so to help myself from the proper tank, the red one I believe it was, the other being diesel. I thanked her, and rode to the tanks which were apart from the house, and I took about one half gallon, thinking I would give her $5.00, and I knocked again on the door to ask how much I owed her, and she replied “nothing.” Praise God for his providence. I wanted to ask the woman about her life, how long she had lived there, did she have neighbours, the story of the playground, etc., and I was hoping I would be invited in for a tea or coffee to ask those questions, but I was not, and I did not want to suggest a visit because of the solitude, and that she might feel threatened, and her daughter might feel threatened, so I thanked her and rode back to the road, and north for a short distance until I saw a large farm in the distance, and thought of taking that way to Empress but not certain how far the reasonable road conditions would last (I seem to think the road had changed to dirt at the bridge) so I turned around, road across the bridge, and began to climb the river valley’s gentle slope. I had not gotten far, though, when I saw the snake which was a pale but verdant green colour sunning itself on the pavement about one third of the way to the side of the road. This was my first Rattlesnake in the wilds .. and my first instinct was to kill it for the young girl’s sake.
I had gained a good description of Rattlers from a fellow at Dinosaur Provincial Park, and this one at first estimation was about three feet long, but we all know how dangerous creatures as well as netted and released fish become bigger with the telling, but I don’t think three feet is an exaggeration. In fact, I now remember I did a careful assessment of the Rattler to assess the length of the Bull Snake in Summerland, and the Bull was certainly seven feet long, as measured by the three feet of this Rattler. My instincts to kill the snake were almost instantly mellowed by the remembrance of the hand made signs I had seen in that country, ‘Save Our Snakes’. If local inhabitants saw enough value in Rattlers to save them from extinction then I should respect their wishes. Still .. my instinct were strong, and I put the moped up on its stand and searched for an instrument of destruction like a big, heavy stick. I found something and began approaching the snake, and was surprised that it showed no fear whatsoever. This at first slowed me down, then I thought that if the snake were not afraid of me, how much aggression might it show a child. I determined to be all the more careful and began my approach with strong intent, which it seemed to sense, and slithered purposely and quickly off the road and into the grass and shrubs. That was as far as my courage took me. A snake on the road is one thing .. but a snake in the grass where I couldn’t see it was too much for me to contemplate pursuing especially as I was alone.
Rattlesnakes in that country are said to be almost harmless to an adult human because their matabolism is slowed by the cold weather, and slow matabolism means they can’t replenish their poison quickly, so they normally only inject one fang full during an attack on a human, just enough to sicken the victim. However, I had been motivated to kill the snake because one fang full might be enough to kill a child. My motivation, I have to admit, was also that I would be able to swagger and brag humbly when I returned to my family and poet friends in Ontario, “Yes, there was this big Rattler and me facing off, and I just killed it, that’s all.”
But I did not kill it, I simply rode back to Numberless Highway, where on the far side I saw a curiously shaped hill which I thought might be an ancient aboriginal camp or some such thing, perhaps a ‘Buffalo Jump’ where the natives stampeded the Buffalo to their doom, and because the side road continued south, even though the map does not show the continuation, I rode to the hill to find it was a municipal site, with a gentleman in a pickup truck just exiting who told me it was a garbage dump. I mentioned the playground, and the Rattlesnake, and that a woman and child were living across the bridge, and he seemed surprised that someone was living there, and concerned also, saying ‘that park is full of Rattlers,’ which made me glad I did not camp there, and I’m sure I read on the stranger’s face (I’ll call him Jack) his intent to drive straight down there and warn the woman, if she did not know the situation already, and I was not surprised at his sudden goodbye and departure.
I returned to the highway and rode the few hundred feet to a small road which looked more like a lane way exiting south from the highway and then forking somewhat, with a farm implement track running far down the valley towards the river, and Buffalo’s town road running left through the remnants of Buffalo .. a couple of houses, one of which looked as if it might be habituated part of the year, a store/post office, the school .. all the buildings tugging at my heart as the missing Buffalo herds had been tugging .. and the Aboriginals missing their villages and camps .. and the missing fish in the river .. and the old folks missing their old homes at Buffalo .. and the missing purity of life which had conspired to make a potential poisonous snake in the grass of a stranger knocking on a door.
Popular history tells us that at one time a stranger who was out of work and hungry could knock on almost any door in this nation and be invited in for a meal .. or at least fed in the barn. Those certainly must have been warm hearted and fearless days.
After I had reached ‘the suburbs’ of Western Buffalo I turned my bike around, and as I made my departing tour past the lost heritage I was thinking that if anyone wished to experience the solitude, expanse, weather, quietness, nature and history of the prairie, someone like myself for instance, that Buffalo would be exactly the right place.
I wrote the above chapter last night, and this morning on the ‘History’ television channel I chanced upon the tail end (no pun intended but entirely appropriate) of a documentary concerning Prairie Rattlesnakes in the area I went through. The snake is considered an endangered species, and efforts are being made to save it. Efforts are also being made to extinguish the species. I am caught in between, knowing every part of nature is beneficial to some other part of nature, but also knowing man’s basic instinct is to kill snakes because of very real dangers which come with some species.
About 40 kilometres east of extinct Buffalo Numberless Highway connects with Highway 41 which runs north and south. Somewhere in that 40 miles I must have camped for the night, as the run from my camp in Strathmore to Buffalo is 200 kilometres as the crow flies, and my route included many turns and meanderings. Where I camped I can’t recall, but it could easily have been at anabandoned family farmsteads which front long prairie vistas that fall and rise in immensely long and gentle undulations in every direction, with solitude and sunsets and rustlings and mournful sounds like winds and spirits of familiy reminiscences. Perhaps, though, prairie farm life was not and is not as pleasant as we who have not experienced it imagine it to be, because it would be very lonely at times; and the many small cafés I stopped at through the prairies were always occupied pleasantly by people my age or older, people who had somewhere learned the necessity of companionship, conversation, and hospitality to strangers which can sometimes only come through having suffered isolation. Somewhere along the road I grew comfortable with walking right up to and sitting down with those welcoming faces almost as they were long lost family .. and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba I made sure I made the point that I was family. So how do my thoughts switch from welcoming faces in cafes to Pronghorn Antelopes? Their faces, I suppose. I may have seen my first Pronghorns along this stretch of road, and of them I remember their white streaked faces, and their stiff-legged, four legged springing slowly away which even now almost makes me laugh. This also might have been the area in which I also saw an animal which startled me because I swear it was the biggest rabbit I ever saw .. probably 25 pounds .. although of course animal experts will tell me it was probably a coyote .. but I raised rabbits for food and I do know a dog from a rabbit. I’m really not even sure if though if it was here I saw that creature, or in a lusher area in Saskatchewan in which were many sloughs. I sure wish my notes hadn’t been destroyed.
Wherever I camped that night I proceeded the next morning hoping to find a restaurant in Empress, which I thought was on Highway 41; but Empress was five miles east of 41 on a road that on my map dead ends a few feet short of the Saskatchewan border .. an invitation to seclusion if I ever saw one .. and I debated that invitation as I stopped at the intersection. Five miles ‘out of my way’ and five miles return does not sound like much, but my deadline of August 1 at the Ontario border was a factor, and I thought if the dead end of Empress was as hauntingly beautiful as I thought it might be I would want to spend a day or two. While I was occupied debating with myself a pickup truck came from Empress’s direction and I could have asked if the driver if there was a café open, but I was suddenly gripped in a resentment of some sort against the pickup’s driver .. he had been to Empress, after all, and seemed to carry a supreme sense of confidence, while I was just a vacillating coward uncertain as to whether I should take a five mile detour. I certainly should have taken that detour, because I see by my map that Empress is situated on the South Saskatchewan River a few miles from where that River connects with the Red Deer. Empress would be an exceptionally quiet hamlet on a broad river running through a deep and exceptionally wide and quiet valley .. a rare and beautiful place.
I did not see Empress, though, because while I was kicking myself in the mental rear end for not questioning the driver of the pickup truck a Senior Citizen couple driving to Saskatoon stopped to ask if I was broken down or in need of water. They told me I could get a coffee at the town of Acadia Valley, about 30 miles north, and they also gave me directions for my run to Saskatoon, turning at Alsask, named for it’s location on the Alberta-Saskatchewan border about 20 miles northeast-east-as-the-crow-flies from Acadia Valley.
Before I traveled on, though I spent an hour or two in the small town of Acadia Valley, which, as its name suggests, is located in a wide and tranquil valley, a valley which has no river at its bottom, but which hosted, I suspect, a large river in ancient times. The town itself is strikingly orderly and relatively prosperous, and is situated off the highway to the east, a highway which I suspect is quiet even at the peak of tourist season. Acadia Valley boasts a large, well maintained grain elevator which serves as museum and tourist attraction. While not many grain elevators operate on the prairies now enough elevators have been left standing to give an air of recent history, and their form is of course beautiful in its signification of the bounty of the great Provider. I would have visited the elevator museum but it was closed, so I did some shopping and visited a restaurant where I was told about a back roads shortcut into Alsask, but the road was terribly rough, they said, and I decided not to take it. I did take a shortcut further up 41, though, avoiding a long curve to the west which would have added about 30 miles to my day, by turning due east at the ‘This way to Saskatchewan’ sign and rolling along on a well paved road with increasing wonderment that in a few minutes I would be crossing into my Grandmother’s birth province. I did not have that sense of matriarchal history on my trip into Saskatoon from the east, as my heart then was set on my sister-in-law’s health, and when I stopped at the Manitoba homestead I was touching my great grandparent’s history on Dad’s side, and time was restricted .. but now I was free to pursue finer roots of heritage .. and I felt those roots as deeply as the roots of the original prairie grasses which had grown up to 60 feet long. It’s only now that I realize that if the exact location of grandmother’s birthplace is known, I might have visited what was probably a homestead similar to my great grandparents .. isolated far beyond this present age’s experience .. so isolated that even though Grandmother was born in Canada she spoke no English, that lack scope continuing until Dad went to school. .. is known. I find it strange, now, that I did not make her birthplace a quest, having always been content for some reason or other I had always thought only of ‘Saskatchewan’ when thinking of her birthplace .. and in a sense my Saskatchewan experience has more than satisfied my quest .. but if I ever moped around that province again I’ll try to find her family home.
The paved road ran straight for several straight miles until it jogged sharply twice and then resumed its straight run east .. (ah, was it here I saw the 40 pound Rabbit?) I can’t remember if there was a sign at the Saskatchewan border, but I knew without doubt when I crossed it because the pavement ended sharply and wasreplaced by dirt .. in that way demonstrating the imbalance in prosperity between Alberta and Saskatchewan. The dirt road led quickly to a north-south road which must have been the shortcut from Acadia Valley, and which had once been paved at least on the northern stretch, but was now in the roughest condition, and was only a little more than one lane wide, providing a memorably pleasant experience not only of the roughness, but of being ‘out in the boonies’, of being passed head on by a pickup truck in which were some young men and women, and of coming into the town of Alsask ‘the back way’, that town presenting itself in that way far more placidly it would have had I come in on the main road, with the main road presentation placid enough, for Alsask was another of the prairie towns which are facing abandonment because of conversion of family farm into mega corporations. The Mega Monsters could be in serious trouble, though, as one of their main crops is Canola, and I was told while in the west that a disease has begun ravaging the fields, working its way southeastwards from the Edmonton area. With so many disasters facing the environment in our age it’s easy for me to picture the entire prairie going the way of Alsask, which was hit with an almost total loss of economy when the military radar base closed. I toured Alsask in a few minutes, and to the best of my knowledge it has one surviving business, a gas stop/restaurant on Highway 7 which after 250 eastward kilometres took me into Saskatoon. Many or most of the small towns throughout the prairies are nearly ghost towns, their hotels and schools closed, small businesses open part time if at all, but I discovered their quietness can make them happy places for children to roam much more safely on bicycles than in perilous times when the speed of business was the rule of law as it is today on the streets of most cities, towns and villages.
My stop at Alsask was exceptionally pleasant, as it had been in Acadia Valley, and for the same reasons, the tranquil good nature of inhabitants. The hospitality of the owners/operators of the Alsask business became even more valued when, after enjoying a coffee and conversation, I motored away only to have yet another rear tire flat. I considered camping at a little park close by the business, but made the repair at the business instead. I think their hospitality persuaded me to want to spend more time with them. While making the repair I learned that a town a few miles west of Alsask was trying to improve their economy with a ‘Strip Club’, and sure enough, an especially attractive-for-her-age blonde (yes, another blonde) came walking from the direction of a motor home, walking with a not overtly but definitely seductive style across the parking lot as I worked, she and I exchanging smiles which bordered on invitation to an introduction which could have led to something interesting if we were both inclined that way, but age has a way of saying, “Caution is no longer needed, Common Sense is no longer needed, fear of S.T.D.s is no longer needed, and exceptional entertainment is no longer needed because just finding enough energy for normal entertainment is entertainment in itself. I find it relaxing to discover my sexual impulses are being converted more and more to genuine affection for the opposite sex, that process in turn encouraging more natural affection for my own gender, with the result being friendships arise more easily now than when I was Rammy. That increase in natural affection demonstrated itself just tonight at a fund raising poetry/musical event for women and Aboriginal youth (at which I read and recited poetry to the pleasure of all except a woman a few years older than myself who did not appreciate my calling Shakespeare a madman for killing Romeo and Juliet when he could have given the play a happy ending) I was able to share a genuine, parting hug with the lovely young woman (not a blonde) who had sat beside me for two hours. Still .. that blonde in the parking lot sure had a shiny and attractive trailer .. which she and I could have made a great Gypsy home out of.
I think perhaps I did end up camping at the little park acrossfrom the gas station at Alsask, moving on early the next morning, the two day ride to Saskatoon memorable for my Laundromat stop at Kindersley, and especially memorable because just past Kindersley I saw a ‘Campground’ sign indicating the village of Brock, just a short run south of the highway, and I felt like company that night, so turned off, and found a tiny hamlet where a Dad directed his young son to help me find the campground. His son was riding his bicycle with two of his friends on their cycles and we had a merry time racing here and there in the hamlet and asking an uncle and then a neighbour but not finding a campground, only an empty field where the campground was rumoured to have been, or was possibly still there in disguise as a vacant field labeled in a government file as a provincial grant .. but I saw no outhouse or other convenience, and the only bushes for that privilege being in town and on people’s properties I said goodbye to my cheerful cycling companions and road out of town towards the highway where I had seen some small, circular, galvanized steel sheds with pointed roofs of the kind common on the prairie .. used for what I don’t know, and among those sheds and bushes I pitched my tent.
The next day took me to Rosetown, a large and prosperous centre of commerce which was memorable for the intense and disquieting debate I had with myself about whether to visit a Hutterite colony a few miles out of town which I had visited twenty five years before when as someone new to the Bible I had wanted to question the Hutterites about some of their doctrines. I ended the debate with the decision to place family affection ahead of religious interest bound with affection for people I had met only once, easing my conscience about not visiting the colony’s inhabitants who had treated me so well with the knowledge that as Christians the Hutterites would want me to have peace of mind rather than stressing myself for their sake. Darn that border deadline!
My first (and only) visit to that colony was during a visit to Rick and Sandy’s. I had hitchhiked to the colony where the first folks I encountered where women and children. Unlike the coldness and suspicion I encountered from Mennonite women and children during a similar visit my first meeting with the Hutterites was warm and welcoming, these women relaxed and speaking freely, the children displaying curiosity instead of fear. I explained to the women why I had come, and they directed me to the Preacher’s home, where I did find a chilly initial reception (“What do you want!?” which changed quickly to a genuine warming when the Preacher, who I will call Jack, accepted my word that my desire was to discuss biblical doctrine, an acceptance assisted, I think, by the size of my large print bible which I carried as well as my sincerity.
Preacher Jack and I discussed a few things, including the meaning of the Mosaic commandment which tells not to make graven images, I at that time not being in favour of using a camera, and the Preacher, who also served as Colony Headman, said yes, they also used no cameras and allowed no photographs .. and yet on the wall of his living room was a large calendar with a huge photograph of a farm implement, I think it was a Combine. I said nothing about the image or the potential idolatry it suggested, but moved on to the doctrine of non-participation in wars, which we agreed totally on, and one or two other things, and then the doctrine of a woman’s head covering, which I believe the bible says is her hair, with women’s long being a glory, while the Preacher Jack said Hutterite women wore caps except for sleeping. Jack gave me a brief description of their worship services, which at that time were conducted in German, and possibly still are, and I was invited to attend if I wanted to return on a Sunday. I asked what a fellow would have to do to become part of the Hutterite community, and was told that initiates were employed in a tie factory in New York State, and then sent out to farms if they were found suitable. About that time the Preacher’s wife came downstairs (a strikingly tall and beautiful blonde (couldn’t you have guessed?) in her head covering) and Jack announced it was time for their communal lunch, and would I please join them. The men ate in a body before the women, with the women serving, and I regarded that custom not as anything other than convenience, because the men work in the fields and the barns, and are of course a bit grubby, and if everyone ate together the women’s clothing would become soiled, and as it was a communal meal some order had to be set .. although I would prefer a buffet rather than being served, so that everyone could eat together, with sufficient space between diners allowing the women’s clothing not to become soiled. The members of the commune seemed genuinely happy, in fact they were the happiest ‘group’ of people I have seen, all with sincere natural affection, only one of them, the mechanic, seeming to be somewhat grumpy, and they were all sincerely welcoming to me, I sitting in their midst and discussing with them and feeling genuinely appreciated for my interest in their scripture based lives, and I also felt unusually comfortable .. almost ‘at home’. I debated with myself for months after as to whether I should attempt to spend time at the New York tie factory, but I had given up any liking for the ties years before (I have not owned a suit or sport coat for 30 years) and decided against the tie factory.
After lunch I said goodbye to many of them, and still remember their smiling, kind and affectionate faces, and was halfway to the ‘outside’ when a pickup truck with three of the men stopped beside me for an additional goodbye, and although only one of them asked me, “What’s it like out there?” I saw by the other two faces that they were equally interested.
‘It’s terrible,” I said, “countless children and men and women with broken hearts because of broken homes, crime, violence, alcohol addiction and drug addiction, churches which say they believe in Jesus Christ but encourage their young people to participate in war, old people isolated away from family in institutions, doctors who don’t have any idea how to heal except with drugs, friends who are too busy chasing more money to find time for friends .. it’s a cold and lonely society.” I told them I was considering a life at the tie factory. They all nodded appreciatively, then were on their way to the fields.
Despite the terrible nature of our society, there are good people in it, and many of them, and when I was mopeding through returning to Rick and Sandy’s home one of the good people, and a motorcyclist at that, came along beside me at a stop sign.
‘You’ve been travelling far,’ he said, looking appreciately at my bike's load. ‘Where are you headed?
‘I'm returning to Ontario, but first I'm to visit my brother’s home here in Saskatoon, but this detour (there was road work going on) has gotten me lost.’
‘Which address?’ I told him, and he said, ‘Follow me.’
Follow him I did, and for all the debating I had done with myself about going here or stopping there the timing worked out perfectly (spiritual timing is far more accurate than atomic clocks) with me and my new friend pulling up to Rick and Sandy’s front gate at the exact time Sandy returned from the neighbourhood swimming pool with my niece, Sherry Lee, and Sherry’s young son Duncan. I had not seen Sherry for almost 20 years (sad, yes, sad, very sad, how families grow apart) but we had always been close in our hearts, and she gave me a tremendous smile and called “Uncle Bob!” Sandy, however, looked at me with sharply unveiled suspicion and told Sherry in a commanding voice to take Duncan into the house. I realized instantly that Sandy’s suspicion arose from my motorcycle guide’s slim build and helmeted head which disguised his gender. Sandy had remembered a similar incident 25 years previous, when I had brought a strange woman ‘home’. I can’t blame Sandy for her hasty conclusion, because here I was roaming the wildwoods on a moped as if I had not passed through my hippy phase during which Sandy and Rick had returned home from work to find me and the young lady using their kitchen to cook hippy lentils or some other exotic dish. How could Sandy know that in the last three years I had almost gained the physical and emotional status of eunuch? Touring the wildwoods was one thing, but involvement with strange women was another. I did not spell out details to Sandy on this occasion, but said only, “Hey .. that was 25 years ago. I’ve grown up a bit.” I explained to my escort what Sandy was thinking, and he obliged by removing his helmet so Sandy could see for herself. Sandy said ‘thanks for guiding him here,’ and passed walked to her door. I told Jack that if I was going to be around for awhile I would like to spend some time with him, but that I would only be with Rick and Sandy for a short time before heading east to meet my border deadline, and after I thanked him again for his help he wished me a ‘Happy Trails’ and was off.
Happy Trails it was, too, with Duncan and I making a quick and solid friendship, and with Rick having time off work, and Sandy retired, and with the weather beautiful, and the municipal swimming pool only a short walk, and by gosh we had a great swim and a great time. I think it was Sandy’s birthday, or close to it, and I had picked up in a solitary prairie tea room a bottle of relatively expensive ointment for Sandy’s dry skin problem, and that gift balmed the fright my motorcycle guide had given her. When visiting their home I shared a room in the basement with Rick, and that of course brought back memories of Rick and I sharing a room as boys .. and lots of other happy memories were gained, and that Duncan sure was a great lad, and when it came time for me to leave he did not want to say goodbye, and I told him I understood perfectly, because I loved him and did not want to say goodbye to him either. After a few minutes our shared emotions allowed him a goodbye hug. Relatives sure can be wonderful things until they grow up and ignore relatives.
Another Saskatoon sorrow was finding out that Prince Albert National Park, about 120 miles north of Saskatoon, where Grey Owl and Annahereo raised Beavers, was out of the question for a visit due to price. As things worked out with my border deadline I would not have had time to visit the park anyway, but my heart was heavy for not seeing the cabin Grey Owl wrote his wonderful books in.
My multiplied sorrows affecting my mental faculties and combined with a brand new route out of town got me lost and detoured leaving Saskatoon, but a solitary and lovely young woman in a cotton dress taking lunch on the sunny lawn of her employer pointed the way south to Highway 219 and 100 mile long Lake Diefenbaker … ohhh if I had been that young hippy of 25 years before riding a slightly larger motorbike who knows what lovely interludes could be alluded to .. but I was no longer that hippy .. what I was, after only about ½ hour traveling time, was fixing yet another flat rear tire, this time near some highway reconstruction, but I was blessed by a broad shoulder of grass in which to do my repair. The road construction made for interesting riding, and indeed the old highway itself was interesting in a wonderful way, running first through Flatland, yes, there is an official sign on the road saying ‘Flatland’ .. whether Flatland is a village or signifies the area I don’t know .. but flatland it is .. so flat it defies the curvature of the earth .. so flat it’s as if God used a carpenter’s level scores of miles long to lay out this stretch of what by definition is the only true flatland I saw on the prairie. Perhaps the undulations of the water which created flatland .. for the prairies are, it is said, the bottom of a lake, perhaps the tidal undulations caused this sifting of silt into this perfect flatness .. I don’t know .. but I saw the same perfect grain by grain deposition of sand or clay or whatever in the hills around Lake Diefenbaker .. as if God took one grain at time and placed it to perfection .. but this was not hills, this was Flatland .. and it really should be promoted as a tourist destination for its uniqueness .. whether it will or will not be promotes Flatland was the first flat prairie I had seen since leaving Winnipeg six weeks before, although the flat prairie around Winnipeg is mountainous compared to Flatland. Highway 219 appears to be little used in this day and age, with the modern, intercity Number 11 connecting Saskatoon with Regina. As far as I discovered on my little trip the only centres of commerce between Saskatoon and the Gardiner Dam on Diefenbaker Lake are small tourist camps on small lakes and on the river. The road runs rough at times, and takes a traveler through woodlands of a large Aboriginal Reserve which appears mostly unfarmed. The Gardiner Dam on the South Saskatchewan River is a worth a slight detour. This dam is basically a big dyke of earth .. but of a size to back up the river for 100 miles, creating long and narrow Lake Diefenbaker. At the dam is a visitor centre and cafeteria, and a provincial park which I motored through thinking I might spend the night if I could find a reasonable price .. but I motored on, 219 becoming 19 and then 42, roads which are vastly interesting because they run through country so financially restricted that the highway is poor pavement one moment and then dirt the next .. and then poor pavement and then dirt .. very curious and beautiful .. and barely traveled. I believe it was outside of the first village, Elbow, where after tramping down tall grass in a well treed spot I pitched my tent on an abandoned family farm, or it may have been outside of Eyebrow. Perhaps Elbow was the name of the small tourist village on Lake Diefenbaker which was quietly prosperous and comfortably secluded with a golf course, inexpensive Chinese restaurant, marina, a few stores, and a genuine sod house museum which is a marvel of construction, built low with thick walls which would make it easy to warm in winter and which would help cool it in summer. Do I remember the roof being sod as well? I believe so .. I have some photographs but financial restrictions prohibit film development.
Between Elbow and Eyebrow you will find if you: drive slowly; search carefully; and don’t mistake the dam for a flat stretch of natural prairie soil .. the Qu’Appelle dam on the south western stretch of Lake Diefenbaker out of which flows the tiny Qu’Appelle River. The river begins as barely a stream, not gaining much flow as it wanders through the exceptionally beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley with its quiet and lakes bordered by the most gentle and beautifully sculpted of any of earth’s hills which I have seen .. although I havenot seen Calvary .. but of all the places on the prairies I would recommend for scenic beauty it is the Qu’Appelle Valley, which I will tell you more of shortly. I have read somewhere that before the Qu’Appelle dam was built the river was known as the reversing river because it could flow in either direction according to where rain fell heaviest.
If nearly abandoned villages are the main calling for your prairie quest then then the 25 miles of Highway 42 between Eyebrow and Highway Two would be a good road to run .. with beautiful villages of Brownlee, Keeler and Marquis lying peacefully near-empty. On examining my map though I see 100 miles south lies the Grasslands National Park on the Frenchman River, on the Montana-Saskatchewan border, and that island of natural prairie should also be a must-see .. and one I should return to the prairie for especially because my map signifies a ‘Prairie Dog Colony’ .. those Colonies being not only huge, but critical to the wellbeing of natural prairie, with their countless burrows allowing rainwater to soak into the earth instead of running off through gullies, causing flooding. Dad tells me that as a boy he earned money through the Prairie Dog Bounty program .. coming to see the harm he was doing too late .. and I believe Prairie Dog bounties still exist in the west. Oh the ignorance of humankind.
Ignorance of scope and scale on Highway 42 got me lost and turned around and running north on the same road I had come south on. To easterners or mountain folk the prairie can look the same from any direction, one grain elevator looking nearly the same as the next, although a prairie eye would see minute differences (‘Nope, that little fleck of paint wasn’t blown off there last year) and on this cloudy day I had gotten turned around at a small detour which I had taken to explore an elevator which sat at a three corner intersection of highways and road, at Marquis I believe it was, and with the clouds hiding my sun compass I realized my mistake only when I saw a sign telling me I was approaching the abandoned village I had visited an hour before Keeler I believe it was .. which called me back in for another tour.
Somewhere on this narrow road, while on one of its sections, I met up with a large farm truck, one of the really big ones the size of transports with double trailers, traveling at a good speed in the opposite direction to me. I thought I was pretty well ‘road seasoned’ now though and not concerned about a little gust from trucks .. I don’t think I even slowed .. and the truck driver didn’t slow either .. and the blast of air almost stopped me in my track. It didn’t come close to knocking me over though .. I guess I had gotten the ‘hang’ of balance. I would be more careful next time meeting a truck like that though.
In this stretch of day and road I stopped at a highway gas stop to see if I could get a coffee, which I didn’t get because the place was, not surprisingly, closed. Folk from nearby Regina don’t need to drive to Lake Diefenbaker for recreation as they have their own 60 mile long Last Mountain Lake handy, so there is very little reason for anyone to run Highway 42 unless you’re a nostalgia buff, farmer, businessman, Road Runner or Coyote. The closed gas stop did have an outdoor soft drink vending machine which I gambled on and won, and as I took my ease on a bench fronting the business a pair of young men in a pickup truck pulled up thinking they could get gasoline and stayed for a cold pop and a chat. One of the young men’s parents owned 10,000 acres to the northwest somewhere, up around Edmonton I believe it was, and they had just finished ‘spraying’ the whole thing and were taking a small drive .. a short break .. a little tour .. wondering about taking a larger tour some day .. to see Mexico. ‘Good luck,’ I said, I’ve never been; but Hawaii is nice.’ Our chat was nice. They’re polite young men, these westerners, gentlemen, respectful, not much fear of anything, but no false machoism either. From these two I learned about the Canola disease which is spreading from the Edmonton area to southeast, and which could destroy the industry. Too much concentration on one crop .. little or no crop rotation .. little or no fallow time .. too much chemical fertilizer and not enough organic matter .. diseases mutating to overcome fungicides .. it all adds up quickly in factory farming.
Far too soon my run down the middle of nowhere come to its end. My brother Rick had told me to that to get into the Qu’Appelle Valley I should turn north at Tuxford onto Highway 2 and this I did, running into Sun Valley, and crossing a bridge-causeway crossing beautiful Buffalo Pound Lake where I stopped to chat with fishermen. Not many fish were being caught .. but the scenery displayed the craftsmanship of the Creator’s hand. Life in the fast lane caught up with me at Chamberlain, where Highway Two catches Highway 11, and at a picnic table setting outside a French Fry-coffee-gasoline stop at that intersection I chatted with a transport-trucker and his wife who had been running the highways between Southern Ontario and B.C. for decades. Contrary to what some people might think about mopeds mingling with transports Truckers were some of my best road buddies .. and lot of truckers blew a friendly horn my way, especially in the west. Perhaps I forgot to tell you of the trucker in the Okanogan Valley who told me he had seen me in Northern Ontario .. “You really get around on that thing!” he had said with some admiration. Yes .. to be admired for road worthiness by a Trucker is a compliment indeed. But with the friendship comes potential for sorrow. A month or two after my trip ended I heard through the news media that a western Trucker and his lady partner were sent to The Eternal Truckstop in the Sky in a head on collision with another truck .. and if it was that pair of new friends I can take comfort in saying they were ready to go .. with no lesson of hospitality remaining to be learned.
Western hospitality is not just a figment of a Tourism Office Manager’s imagination. I had my first experience 30 years before, when I had hitchhiked into the town of Morden, south of Winnipeg, hoping to find one of my Dad’s sisters .. Aunt Midge and her family. My stop was made on a whim, and I didn’t have their family name or address, and I was in a state of emotional and intellectual shock from my marriage breakdown. A Morden police officer stopped his cruiser beside me and said in a friendly way, “you look lost.” I told him the situation, and he asked for my family name and where I was from. After he had spoken into his radio a short time he said, “Get in, I’ll take you there.” Right to the door .. where I was welcomed as long lost family. It was Midge’s husband who presented me with a shirt-pocket format new testament which I carried in that pocket for years afterwards, and which led me like a shepherd dependant sheep to the small measure of sanity I hang onto in this crazed world.
Western Hospitality again made itself known 30 miles south of Chamberlain, about 20 miles north of Regina, when, yes, I was repairing another rear flat tire. A motorcycle rider stopped to say that he was on his way into Regina, and would return the same way immediately, and ‘did I have need of anything?’ I said I did not know how well my tube repair would hold, and if he passed a bike shop which stocked my size I would be grateful if he picked one up. He motored off as I completed my repair, which was successful by the way, taking me a few hundred miles, but I had not gone far when the motorcycle rider (I’ll call him Prairie Rider Jack) returned with not one, but two new tubes. When I asked him how much I owed him he replied, “No charge .. Regina Hospitality”. Thanks, Rider Jack. The comfort of having those two tubes was so great that I have packed a pair ever since.
Rider Jack also told me the best way to avoid the traffic of Regina as I progressed towards my desired destination of Fort Qu’Appelle would be to turn north at Lumsden onto Highway 20, and this I did, but first touring ‘the upper end’ of Saskatchewan’s economy in the pretty and prosperous Qu’Appelle Valley village of Lumsden, where I saw building lots on sale for $120,000, and where I also saw a newspaper office, and stopping there, told the story of Jack and the two tubes, saying that as a former newspaper reporter I thought Jack’s kindness was worthy of publication .. and with the newspaper staff in agreement, Jack is now a famous man in the west .. and my moped and me also, as we were all featured together.
I returned to little traveled roads when I left the busy Number 11 at Lumsden, these roads for the most part well paved, but it may have been at Craven, just out of Lumsden, that I was advised by local folk to take a shortcut, a wonderful dirt road running alongside the Qu’Appelle River for 20 miles .. a beautiful ride during which I encountered only one or two vehicles. At the end of that ride I took to pavement on Highway 6 north to 22 east into Fort Qu’Appelle which is located on what is shown on my map as The Fishing Lakes. I made a tour of Fort Qu’Appelle’s short main street and saw it as a tourist destination with a majority of the population being native. I also got a glimpse here of what I see as the tragedy of the Qu’Appelle waters .. they being turned by farm chemicals into liquid more fit to run through Ontario’s industrial heartlands then through the beauty of the Qu’Appelle. The waters were so discouraging that my stay in Fort Qu’Appelle was short .. and perhaps I am wrong, but I sensed some resentment towards my presence from a group of natives, and if so I can’t blame them, as farmers and cottagers are mostly to blame for the destruction of the west’s natural water quality, and that destruction of course makes a natural, aboriginal way of life impossible.
Highway 22 took me upland away from the lakes and river to what seemed like a somewhat prosperous, small town of Balcares, where I found a gas station/restaurant at which the owner attempted to operate a small camping site .. with hookups for mobile homes. The owner, who I will call Hospitality Jack, gifted me with one corner of the unoccupied trailer park to tent in, from which I left the next morning with knowledge of a Country Fair being held that same day in Abernethy, only a few miles away and on my route. Abernethy is situated slightly off the highway and I passed by the road leading to the village, and had to retrace my path. I arrived as the parade was forming .. yes a parade .. a fine, long parade of antique farm implements, RCMP cruiser with officer in scarlet uniform, fire truck, floats, a tiny military presence, antique vehicles, an operating steam combine or thrasher if memory serves me correctly .. all decorated with balloons and ribbons, and to which, after I made my request as a Saskatchewan grandmother’s grandson, I was allowed to enter with my moped decorated with balloons and ribbons provided by the parade’s officers. What a grand parade we had .. with a tremendous welcome shown to the hairy stranger on the moped, and with a display of respectful gratitude shown to the eagle feather which rode my moped by a native elder seated in his doorway.
After the parade a sausage on a bun (or was it chili?) fulfilled the function of lunch, during which I watched some of the horse show, and then I toured the indoor exhibits in the company of the local newspaper reporter who was not reserved in wanting to do a story on my moped’s capacity for inexpensive and ecological travel. Such a fine day .. and a good crowd too, for such a small village so far off the main path of commerce.
I declined an invitation to camp on the fairgrounds .. “Spend the entire day, take a break from the road.” With some regret I said I had two aunts to visit in separate towns in Manitoba, and afterpresenting my moped’s decorative touches to a young boy coming in the gates with his mother I was on the road again. Just past Abernethy is a pioneer site so famous it is marked on my provincial highway map, the Motherwell Homestead National Historic Site. I decided not to visit that site, whatever its significance, partly because I had become acutely aware of the almost total lack of roadsign reminders of aboriginal history honouring the part the natives played in welcoming Caucasians to North America, and especially the part they played in Caucasian pioneer survival.
A few miles outside of Abernethy a farm laneway with a simple sign announcing a family name did call me though, and at the end of the lane I found one of the most beautifully secluded places I’ve seen, well blessed with a spirit of ‘organics’, an old and small farmhouse which was still inhabited if I read the signs correctly, a small pond, and outstanding in its significance an old barn around which and out of which and into which flew crowds of Swallows .. among the few birds I saw remaining on the prairies .. even the ducks in decline through their tougher and tougher battle against chemical onslaught. Attempts are being made to help the ducks from natural predators like foxes, with nesting boxes being built in the centre of sloughs, but man’s rapacious commerce is the creatures’ foremost enemy .. and until a return to nature’s ways are made I’m sure the ducks will remain in decline.
Not far past this stop I found a large transport farm truck stuck from having grounding itself during a tight turn. To my great surprise a person who I thought at first sight was a boy climbed down from the cab .. but as I watched this boy work I realized that despite a youthful face he was no boy, but a man fully mature in the world of work, although slightly inexperienced in big truck turns. I offered assistance, but could do no more than provide a pair of eyes for traffic and a hand if the trucker injured himself in his heavy work. I did wave down an approaching motorist, and we watched together as the young man successfully removed his truck from its predicament.
Moving on I finally found the full material manifestation of a spiritual calling I had held for 25 years. Qu’Appelle in the French language means either ‘someone is calling’ or ‘who is calling’, depending on which Englishman you speak to .. but the Valley is known by anyone who has been near it as having a calling spirit .. something in its nature just draws an obedient traveler into its great beauty. The Qu’Appelle had been calling to me since my prairie hitchhiking expedition 25 years ago. I was on my way back to Ontario, and a Good Samaritan had let me off at an intersection of country roads somewhere, I can’t recall where, but the only sign of civilization was a small and faded wooden road sign reading, ‘Qu’Appelle Valley’, and pointing down a gentle road which declined through a border of trees on both sides into an unseen valley. How and why I resisted that beautiful and strong call I don’t know .. but the memory stayed with me, and when I had returned to Ontario I explored the valley off and on over two decades on maps and in literature, and when my first sight of the river flowing below the Qu’Appelle Dam was a genuine thrill. Now I had come to what I view in my mind’s eye as being Qu’Appelle’s soul .. the last two Qu’Appelle Lakes, Crooked Lake, and Round. The road on the north side of these lakes runs partway up beautifully sculpted hills and vistas over the lakes are common. Frequent dirt roads run from the hills to tiny communities on the shores .. and the sadness of Qu’Appelle’s soul is that these lakes, despite their beauty, are almost ruined because of farm runoff mingled with he effluent from huge numbers of cottage septic systems. Cottage owners may be used to the smell of rotting algae, but I could not go in for a swim despite the people who were happily using the waters. The ruination, however, can’t dispel the scenic splendour which is accented by huge and bountiful roadside Chokecherry Trees.
Dusk was still a couple of hours away, and I thought to camp for the night at the eastern end of the easternmost lake, Round Lake, where a small dam spills the lake’s waters into the Qu’Appelle River, those waters then flowing east another 50 miles to the Assiniboine which winds its way to Winnipeg. I parked my bike and took a walk across the dam for a hike. I had not walked long when I found a native family having a picnic in a parklike setting. No signs told the park status but I believe this was Reserve land, and as I approached the family I wondered if I would be welcomed.
“Sit down .. eat!” I was commanded. Hamburgers and hotdogs were abundant.
I sat and ate. My hosts were three young men, a Senior woman, a man my age, a young woman. I was invited to share their liquid refreshment .. alcohol in a couple of forms .. soft drinks also. I think the only person at the picnic not affected by alcohol was Grandmother .. and there was an unidentifiable undercurrent of strong and unhappy emotion .. possibly economic hardship, I told myself.
Nevertheless the picnic also held an air of merriment. We talked about fishing. ‘Yes, there are fish left in the lake; but you have to know where to find them. Just along this south shore .. around those hills.’ I told the family the part their relatives played in saying the lives of my great grandfather and his family .. and we all agreed that the natives had been paid back very badly for their kindness .. and I made what apology I could for my race’s part in their demise.
An hour passed and I felt comfortable enough begin to think how I would phrase my question, what is the difficulty this family is facing. The man my age may have read my thoughts.
‘My son died a few days ago. His heart was bad. His last wish was that we should come to this place, it was his favourite place, we should come here and have a picnic to remember him. These are his brothers. His grandmother.’
The young woman said, “I am his sister’.
What could I do but put my hand on this man’s hand. “I’m so sorry.” I looked towards everyone. ‘I have no words to help your pain .. except that he is in a better place.’
‘Yes’, was the unanimous acceptance, and to my surprise it was not The Happy Hunting Ground mentioned, or The Great Spirit, but ‘Jesus has made a home for him.’ I think my surprise showed. “Yes, we all believe in him. He is the Creator. The Saviour.’
We were quieter after that .. and soon it was time for them to leave. I helped load their car and clean up the site. Someone had lost a jacket and we searched until we found it. We returned to their car, put our arms around each other .. our hands together. We said our goodbyes .. they to their homes .. me to my moped. Months later I found a name and address written on a piece of paper in my camping gear, and I phoned the number which was the grandmother's. We had a chat about tragedy, faith and funny turns in the road of life. I hope to see that family again.
Back at the small dam I was thinking of setting up camp, especially motivated by the thought that this would be my last day in the Qu'Apelle I had longed for so long; but mosquitoes were thick and hungry .. and the immediate surroundings were not scenic enough for my by now spoiled tastes, and I was discouraged by the water pollution .. and something kept telling me to move on. But before I did I had to investigate a better campsite just beyond the fence at the dam .. and I found what seemed to have been in an earlier decade a children’s and youths’ camp run by a philanthropic organization. The lawns were in good condition, but the wood frame buildings needed work, and I was thinking of pitching my tent on the grounds where the mosquitoes were not nearly as numerous when from behind a thick row of evergreens came the voices and laughter of young women, and possibly young men, teenagers or young adults, playing at a game I guessed to be volleyball. From the condition of the camp I estimated the players were not campers, but day visitors, but nevertheless I did not want to intrude on anyone’s privacy and I moved on.
Perhaps two or three miles from the dam I ran into Highway 9 where I found two bridges side by side crossing the Qu’Appelle River. One bridge was old and unused by traffic, the other was a replacement. I thought perhaps the old access road to the old bridge might be good to camp beside, and motored to the old bridge where I found a fisherman. We chatted awhile, and then I searched out a camping spot, but with some spiritual compulsion telling me not to camp there I close my eyes to reasonable spots and motored up the valley’s long slope. About halfway to the prairie plateau I saw a sign pointing to a spring in the woods. I walked to the spring with my water bottles, and the flow was good, but another sign at the spring warned the water was unfit. I motored another 20 kilometres to the land of chlorinated water which was loudly heralded by Trans Canada Highway Number One at the town of Whitewood. It was dusk now, and I thought to ask permission to camp on the lawn of a large Service Centre .. but I had a coffee and gassed up and motored on in what was rapidly falling darkness. The highway was busy and dark, a dangerous ride, and why I did it I don’t know .. but I rode with a feeling of discontentment . . the Qu’Appelle was ruined .. life stole family members .. springwater was unfit to drink .. the night grew black .. the headlights coming towards me grew became blinding in their glare. I absolutely could not continue, and I turned into a small town and found a back street, then I found a municipal right of way which in a few years would be a street if the town’s population grew, and there, beside a tall hedge of trees which served as the border of a homeowner’s property, and in sight of the other neighbour’s house I may have pitched my tent, or because mosquitoes were not bothersome I may have just unrolled my sleeping bag and put my space blanket over me.
Owl Significant and the Longest Day
I did not want to disturb my neighbours or municipal authorities the next morning, not that they would have minded my presence, but I did not want to take any chances, so I rose before dawn on a Saturday and rode about 40 kilometres to the Manitoba border. I had another reason for getting up early .. and that was I wanted to get to Modern, south of Winnipeg, to my Aunt Midge’s so we could attend church together on Sunday morning. I had phoned her from the Service Centre and she told me she had an appointment on Saturday north of Winnipeg in Beausejour, the same town I had visited on my second morning coming west through Manitoba; and she could not promise to be home Sunday morning but she would make the attempt. The distances were not great, about a two hour drive each way, but Aunt Midge did not drive and was relying on a friend for transportation so could not set the schedule. I told her that if I got to her home and she was not there I would wait for her return, but I also told Midge that with my my frequent flat tires I could not guarantee getting to her home in time for church. We agreed that what was to be would be.
Even without tire problems my ride to Morden would be long .. about 250 miles .. eight hours of steady riding at 30 miles per hour. However .. I had 24 hours to do that 8 hours in, daylight hours were long, and I knew that I could ride comfortably at night if I was not blinded by headlights.
At the Manitoba border I stopped at the Welcoming Centre and made breakfast, then motored on. A mile or two past the Centre I saw a dead owl .. a large one .. on the highway’s gravel shoulder. Normally I would show respect for the departed by stopping and moving the dead bird or animal off the gravel and into the roadside grass. This time, though, I rode past, continuing on to a truck stop about five miles further along where I had coffee. This particular stop seemed peculiar only because of the rough condition of the pavement leading to the business .. I had had a jolt which almost threw me .. the roughest of the trip. I found the extent of the jolt after coffee when I was making my exit onto the highway, when moving slower and using more caution, turning my head to check behind me instead of trusting my mirrors, I saw my lunch box was missing from its place on top of my pack pack. I returned to where I had parked but found nothing. I did not think of my jolting entry, and could only think I had left the lunchbox at the Visitor Centre, border, so I returned there, but the box was not there either. I had no option but to return to the truckstop, and did slow slowly, searching the shoulder and grass area, and finding nothing but the owl. I recognized by the circumstances that the faster I hurried the slower I would go, so I stopped for the owl to give it a better resting place .. a place in truth which would be more suited to the pickings of scavengers .. but at least in the grass the scavengers would not be threatened by traffic, and the process by which the owl’s physical presence would convert to organic nutrients for other living things would be more natural and pleasing than repeated flattening by vehicle wheels. I found the owl remarkably undamaged .. its eyes seemed as bright as if alive. I mounted the stiff owl on my moped’s handlebars and took its photo before laying it carefully in a grassy area.
My return ride to the truck stop was uneventful, but as I exited the highway I remembered the hard jolt, and thought perhaps the box had been shaken off there. I searched but found nothing, nothing until I pulled up in front of the gas cash window to ask if anyone had turned a purple box in, and to the truck stop I remembered the jolt, and Lo and Behold, there was my lunchbox outside the door. The attendant told me a driver had noticed it on the rough pavement. Nothing was damaged or missing. I motored on another few miles, reaching Highway 8A, which would take me to southern Manitoba, but did not want to arrive at Midge’s in my present situation of much dirty laundry, so I stopped at the highway entrance and checked my map and debated with myself about the odds of finding a laundromat on 8A, or should I detour a few miles east to Virden where I was confidant I would find a laundromat. I was still debating when a driver stopped and asked me if I needed help with directions. I asked if a Laundromat was available to the south, and he said, ‘Yes .. at your first left turn there is a White Owl gas station. There’s a Laundromat there.’
A white owl!! I was not surprised. It was a sign .. a message .. that though things look bad here on earth .. indeed things look terrible when viewed from many angles .. but there is a great power and intelligence in charge …things happen for reasons whether we see those reasons as being good or not .. and there is a far saner and cleaner world to come.
I cleaned up myself and my clothes at the White Owl, but I had some small problem with my bike which I had to fix .. I can’t remember what it was .. oh yes, friction against the rear wheel. I don’t know how I fixed it, but it was time consuming .. bringing me again to the realization that time was irrelevant on this leg of the trip .. and though I would do my best to get to Midge’s on time if I did it would be God’s will .. if not, Not. Another peculiar thing happened at the White Owl Laundromat. A woman my age was doing her laundry, and at first she seemed to judge me as being an undesirable element. I took special care to dissuade her of that opinion by cleaning any dirt I had brought in, by stashing my things out of the way under the table, even by cleaning other people’s trash. I impressed her so much that when a younger woman came in with her laundry I heard the woman my age say, “He’s not at all what he appears to be. He’s a gentleman.” My only thought was, ‘Okay .. she’s entitled to make mistakes while judging people's character.’
I had lost valuable time, I thought, and considered taking ashorter route to Morden than what I had planned .. but once I got rolling I decided I wanted to ride close to North Dakota .. Cowboy Country .. and stuck to my original route of straight south for 40 miles to Melita. Now this was an interesting ride. For one thing, a strong and unceasing hot wind was blowing south to north. I have told many people about this strange wind now .. as prairie winds almost always blow west to east. But I saw this wind as a definite agent working to fulfill biblical prophecies involving global warming .. with the wind moving hot air from the tropics to the arctic. The wind doubled the time it would normally take me to get to Melita, and also on the way I encountered a few dead creatures which needed removal from the highway. Two small deer, a few rabbits. This country was lush with life .. indeed, the whole ride to Morden was significant in that the farmers seemed to use less chemicals on their fields, seemingly proven by a few weeds here and there among the sunflowers and other crops, but also proven by the abundance of wildlife. Towards sunset that day I saw many Red Tail Hawks perched atop telephone and hydro poles, their red tails flashing brightly in the red sunset light.
Sunset, though, was a long ride in the distance. I finally gained Melita, which sits about 30 kilometres shy of the U.S. border, and stopped at a rustic café. Yes, I can easily and truthfully call that café rustic .. where a rustic table was hosting three rustic men and a rustic lady, all of them my age, and all of them wearing welcoming countenances. I should have pulled a chair up to their table but I chose the chair nearest theirs at the nearest table.
“If a person kills someone they call it murder ..” one of the men said to his friends, and to me also, “.. but if a General murders ten thousand people they call him a hero.” That was a good start to conversation, and a good introduction. We quickly found that we were all anti-war hippy types, these people who looked like farmers and myself, the lady being the waitress and possibly owner of the café, and our time together was comfortable and humorous .. with jokes flying and beer and coffee being enjoyed. I asked if their neck of the woods held any original prairie .. any land which remained in the condition it was in before Caucasians arrived.
“Yes .. just up the road .. past the graveyard.”
There followed some discussion as to if the acreage was genuinely untouched, as one or two local farmers harvested hay from it, but that’s all the damage which was done .. and that was not unreasonable as the natives, it is said, burned the grasses to enhance fertilization. I was not in a hurry to leave such good company, but my desire to see this small corner of the world called me away, and I found it, and there discovered some type of bush which was very common there, the berries of which were small but almost unbelievably bountiful, and red and orange and pink, tasting somewhat like Aspirin, which did not surprise me as the leaves of these bushes resembled Willow, from which the original Aspirin drug was made. Seeing the thickness of those berry bushes, and their fruitful bounty, I couldeasily picture something which had been impossible for me up until that time, and that was the means of feeding the billions of Passenger Pigeons which had made starvation impossible in the temperate regions of North America. Flocks so large and fat they broke huge Oak limbs when they roosted. Flocks which blackened the sky. Flocks which were so easily caught that pioneers fed the birds to their hogs .. and so there is no wonder in my mind what happened to the flocks. But the berries .. I forgot about the berry tree in Alberta .. in the town where the wonderful musicians were playing in the park bandshell. I don’t know what kind of tree it was, the locals could not identify it, but it was twice as tall as Melita’s Willow type bushes, and it was loaded with berries the size of cherries, but not like cherries in taste, and not like a Cranberry either, which I thought they might be because I have heard of high bush Cranberries .. but these berries were not sour in the least. The berries at Melita could not be identified by a gentleman I met at the site, even though he had eaten them as a boy. Ah well .. mysterious berries .. you tasted wonderful .. and I suspect you were strong medicine as well.
Saying goodbye to Melita’s berries I headed west on Highway three and after a short ride came to Medora, where a jog took me to Deloraine, and then past the Turtle Mountain horizon, and then to Killarney, where a jog took me to within three miles of North Dakota .. and all through this country was abundant wildlife and farms more reminiscent of family labour and togetherness than corporate mega profit; that pleasant interlude changing to our modern era at Clearwater and Crystal City, beach and bikini resort towns which made use of the Lakes Pelican, Rock, and Swan, all fed by the Pembina River into which mega pig farm managers (could not prevent their effluent from flowing) and which, I was told by a small group of bemoaning locals lads, could no longer be safely swum in, although that news was generally withheld from traveling strangers with lots of cash to spend on cottage rentals .. and I said yes, the same thing had happened for the same piggish reasons to the Lake Huron shoreline in Ontario.
Looking now at my roadmap I don’t know how I came so close to one of those lakes as to see the peculiar and fantastic colour of the red sunset found reflected only in Manitoba waters .. but there it was, even though I see the road does not touch the lakes .. roads and roadmaps are peculiar .. oh, now I remember .. there was a long sideroad going into and out of Crystal City. Dusk had fallen before I got to Crystal City, and I thought to camp for the night, but tenting prices were, to my class of thinking, exorbitant; and aftergassing up and a brief tour and chats with local folks I motored up the sideroad onto the highway in darkness .. but that particular darkness was beautiful and wonderful and brilliantly lit by a full and bright moon .. a cloudless night .. a cool night too I found .. but with almost no traffic either passing me or approaching me I felt like I could ride all night .. all the way to Aunt Midge in Morden .. even though I still had 50 miles to go .. what? Could this map be mistaken in scale? At the time I felt like I had another hundred miles to go .. I guess my long day, and the long day immediately before this long day, had tired me .. and besides, as I have said previously, one hour by automobile is normally three hours by moped .. but even with that, could my 60 years have been catching up to me? It had only been a 14 hour day, or possibly 16 hour day, by the time I got to Crystal City. Perhaps when all was considered it was not the least bit surprising to me when I found myself out on moonlit Number Three surrounded by huge and slowly moving ghostly forms which I navigated slowly, O So slowly through. How it happened was like this: a vehicle had come from behind and passed me; but about one mile up the road it had stopped, pulled off to the side, and then made a U turn and stopped on the other side of the road, positioning itself so that when I got close its headlights blinded me, fortunately in a way causing me to slow almost to a stop .. and so it was that without seeing the ghosts I entered their midst at a speed which was low enough that even had I run into one of them no harm would have occurred .. unless they stampeded .. for stampede potential they had, this herd of cattle .. cows or steers I don’t know which .. but huge and white and ghostly in the moonlight .. and walking past me on all sides. When the way was clear I motored over to the driver who had blinded me. He said, “I parked like this so you would see them.” I should have told him his headlights could have gotten me killed .. but I felt no resentment .. the experience had been too unearthly .. and no harm was done. The driver said he would drive to the nearest farm and tell them cows were on the highway. I motored on along that beautiful stretch of highway, examining dim vistas, fields ghostly white, contrasts of light and dark, examine many interesting places .. with the long day pushing the midnight hour back into the recesses of never. The tiny town of Manitou .. did I tour it late at night, or early in the morning? I can’t recall. I do recall realizing I could not drive any further that night because my legs were sore .. why my legs I don’t know .. but I felt like I had been walking all day instead of riding .. and I turned in at the first bed of grass I came to, and which turned out to be a ski-resort .. yes, a ski-resort on the prairie .. there are a few .. this one with A-frame chalets .. Rainbow Mountain? Magic Mountain? I can’t quite recall. I pitched my sleeping bag under a tree in the middle of the main traffic circle .. a dirt road circle of course, as ski hills on the prairies are not quite Rocky Mountain Whistlers .. and of course the prairie mountain resort traffic circle had no traffic at this time of year and this time of night .. but one of the chalets was occupied, a vehicle parked out front, a television set on .. the blue t.v. light flashing in the blackness of night .. a night cold enough that no mosquitoes bothered me. I slept well after that day of about 350 kilometres .. seven hours of riding at 50 kilometres per hour .. plus all the stops checking my map at intersections, touring villages, chatting, taking photos of large, rectangular haybales in a field, breaks for meals, coffee, tea, gasoline, taking in vistas .. but no flat tires.
I was up and away before dawn .. riding until I saw a big sign at a side road intersection advertising a Voyageur type music festival site .. and because I had three or four hours to play with before having to be at Midge’s in time for church, I rode a few miles down that side road to discover an intersection lost in the boonies .. and no festival site, so I stopped and searched for prairie Gooseberries with the normal result of finding none .. but as I was entering Morden I found a lakeside campground-trailer park with some of the cleanest water I have seen anywhere .. a dammed creek I think I remember being told, spring fed. I briefly debated going for a swim, but the morning was cool, so it was into downtown Morden, and to the only restaurant open, at a motel, for breakfast, where I asked at a table of men breakfasting before golf if anyone among them could direct me to Midge’s home (Morden is a small town, and Midge and her family were almost lifelong residents) and yes, they knew Midge well through church doings, and they, after assuring themselves that I was not going to do Midge harm, that I had her address anyway, they directed me, and I found her home, and waited outside, not wanting to ring her doorbell but to let her sleep, and in waiting I was approached by a gentleman, a neighbour, who did not have to ask why I was there because I told him straightaway to relieve his obvious concern, and he and I had a great chat for a long time, until Midge opened the door and asked why I hadn’t rung the bell, “because I didn’t want to disturb your sleep, Midge”. And so it was that Aunt Midge and I went to the same Lutheran church we had attended over 30 years before on my first visit, that visit made possible by the police officer who had found my aunt’s address and driven me to her home. On that first visit we had gone to church with her son, her daughters, and her husband. Now her son and husband were taken up to be with the Lord, and her daughters although still nearby, were absent from church that morning.
And so it was that Midge and I had a great time together .. and before my departure, which was that afternoon, because I had to visit Aunt Florence in Winnipeg before crossing the border, and that deadline was now only two days away, and I also had to pick up first thing Monday morning another new tire from the Great Canadian Motorcycle Shop in Winnipeg, a tire which I had phoned ahead from Saskatoon to obtain the promise of. And so it all worked out, with me tenting Sunday evening on the banks of the Red River as it passed through the village of St. Jean Baptiste,and then crossing the village’s bridge across the river to leave behind the busy Highway 75 for a much quieter country lane on the east side of the Red, that road taking me onto Main Street in Winnipeg, and thence to the motorcycle parts store, and then a relatively difficult time finding Aunt Florence’s .. and for a really thorough laundry for my clothing and myself, and a great evening with Florence and her husband Lawrence; and then while studying my map I saw that the road I had wanted to take to the prairie grasslands park in the southeastern corner of Manitoba was marked as a dirt road, which combined with a possible ‘refusal to permit entry’ by authorities at the U.S. border, decided my route into Ontario for me .. straight across to Kenora .. which I accomplished next morning but not before another rear tire flat .. and that a particularly peculiar and fortuitous flat peculiar as it happened during a gasoline stop, the air letting go for seemingly no reason, but when I examined the tire I found it had worn to the cords .. a potential blowout tragedy on the busy Trans Canada Highway. So my new tire came at exactly the right time .. and I crossed the border on exactly the right day.
Returned to Ontario
Yes .. to Ontario .. with the crazy maniac driver speeding along that hypnotic straight stretch of Trans Canada Highway 17, and coming up behind me at about 100 miles per hour, with the male driver noticing me at exactly the right time, which was the last second in which to swerve sharply to avoid hitting me and then swerve sharply again to regain control. I’ll bet he won’t fall asleep at the wheel at high speed again .. and I’ll bet he got an earful from his long haired girlfriend. It's funny the things you notice in those moments of high intensity when your life could have been removed from this planet before you even knew you'd ben hit.
At Kenora I visit the motorcycle shop people I had chatted with on my way west, then with dark clouds threatening rain I motored to the outskirts of town looking for a camping spot, almost pitching near a patch of abandoned highway which someone had converted to a final or semi-final resting place for a few old vehicles and an old boat .. but decided not to pitch there in case someone had purchased the property and objected to my tent; and I motored briefly on until I found a spot on a roadside hill on government of Ontario highway property not much further along.
About 10 miles east of Kenora is southward running Highway 71 – a true wilderness highway with lots of curves and lakes and hills and rivers and wild places with names like Rushing River, Sioux Narrows, Whitefish Bay, Nestor Falls and Caliper Lake .. and where I stopped at a float-plane base to satisfy my curiosity about prices for flying canoes into wild places, and where I conversed with the organizer/host of a U.S. based wild west wagon train experience. With rain still threatening I stopped at a provincial park and inquired about day rates for use of a picnic shelter to make a meal .. but the price was exorbitant. Further down the road I found a lovely fishing hole which had been trashed by someone .. I find fishermen among the worst litterers in the land. I passed the garbage dump by and found a beautiful lakeside spot for a few miles on .. lots of free camping for a small bike.
Now that I was in Ontario I had no time schedule so slowed down to a very easy pace .. and I had only gone about 50 miles before making camp at a public boat launch a small lake. There I chatted with several fisherpeople before their launch .. and with the U.S. border only a half hour away by auto I was not surprised that many of the fisherpeople were American. Across the highway from the boat launch was a deforested area which was part of a hydro corridor, which hosted thousands of raspberry bushes. The berries were small, but ripe and numerous, and I was to find these red raspberries along the roadside for the next several days.
Eighty miles south of Kenora as the crow flies you intersect Highway 11, which along with 17 shares the Trans Canada designation. There is a pretty native Reserve at the intersection, and I turned in for a tour, finding homes which were tidy and well maintained, three young children who gave me the most wonderful smiles, and I also found the Rainy River .. a truly beautiful river. I think the Reserve was called the Rainy River Reserve, and it is on par with most reserves I have been on, tidy, clean, well cared for. I know the natives have problems, serious problems, but News Media stereotyping of Reserves is in contradiction to my personal experiences across Canada. Young people everywhere are faced with enormous problems in our age, and I just read a news report of a small area in Wales which has seen many suicides of youth in the past short time. As well, the ‘choking game’ which is an oxygen deprivation ‘high’ is claiming many lives of middle class Caucasians.
A few miles east of the Reserve is the village of Emo, which the municipality’s welcoming sign designates as a United Nations designated place of health. I saw immediately why .. with little air pollution, with the fantastic and clean Rainy River .. with economic prosperity. I stopped at the Emo riverside park’s covered picnic tables for lunch .. and heard a sound so beautiful it’s hard to describe .. the sound of the wind against the relatively slow current of the river, resulting in gentle whitecaps .. a sound peculiar in all my experience to this one spot.
From Emo to Thunder Bay is about 160 miles as the crow flies .. with red Raspberries and small Blueberries along the way .. and a bicycler from a European nation who could not find time to pick the berries .. and who was riding with an infection behind his knee .. and who passed me three or four times as I picked berries .. and of course whom I passed the same number of times .. finally leaving him behind somewhere on the road which was dangerous at times because it was narrow and traveled by big trucks traveling fast. Somewhere along this route I think it was that I stopped at a picnic table site and found two women traveling in a small vehicle with several cats .. they all looked rough and I felt sorry for them.
Okay .. about the only outstanding memory of Thunder Bay was that on my way around the north of the city on a little traveled road was the beautiful barn with the blue roof .. and I can’t remember much from there until I got to Rossport .. a very pretty and tiny village with a small, quiet harbour on Lake Superior, where I was directed to a beautiful and free camping spot in a tiny park on the lakeshore with picnic tables and outhouses just outside of town. As I learned on my lengthy canoe voyages, a picnic table in the scenic and wild lands is a luxurious luxury indeed. I spent the next day at the park, having a brief swim in the cold Superior waters, and riding into the village in the afternoon to check out a small construction site which might need an extra man for a few days, but to no avail, and the next morning I rolled eastward on through wild territory made somewhat familiar by previous trips eastward and westward .. some driving .. some hitchhiking .. two by bus .. a few by rail .. one on my ten speed bicycle. This is wild country, and a young woman disappeared in a provincial park at the time I was camped in Rossport .. she had gone on a hike or a jog by herself, and simply vanished. Several possibilities could be unpleasantly imagined .. not the least of which is an encounter with a bear. Almost every wild animal attack I have heard of in the past few years involved a woman alone in the bush. Men should not go traipsing around the woods by themselves, but women subjected to their menstrual cycle are particular prey. I am familiar with the stories of four Polar Bear attacks, three of these involved women, and the fourth involved two Arctic explorers who found themselves being stalked as their strength and health failed from lack of nourishment. I should not take the risks I do, but until I find a suitable partner I have no choice but to continue alone.
A downpour of rain combined with unlimited hospitality welcomed me to the tiny railroad town of White River which is famous for being the original home of Winnipe the Poo, and I camped two days for free in park attached to the Tourist Information Centre, that park the site of a railroad display featuring an old, possibly antique, motorized Railcar previously used for transporting railroad gang maintenance crews, but now used as meeting place and Party Central and by the village’s polite, respectful, and warm hearted young people. White River is, unfortunately, an example of northern railroad towns on the brink of abandonment because they have outlived their profitable usefulness. Being far removed from Lake Superior’s shoreline, White River also has very little to draw tourism, besides the Winnie the Poo museum which is well done, and a wonderfully genuine hospitality towards pilgrims, which almost persuaded me to stretch my two day stay into a third day. However, my tent was not pitched far from the Railcar, and in the fading light of dusk of my second day camped I found myself the object of attention of a young woman, more properly a girl aged 13 to 15, who in the company of another girl her age, took to blowing me kisses and running away. I packed up next morning and was gone before first light.
Highway 17 curves sharply south at White River, carrying me to a pleasant stop at the prosperous town of Wawa on its beautiful lake. I mailed postcards picturing a Raccoon to my two youngest granddaughters and enjoyed a meal at a Chinese restaurant. A few miles further south 17 enters Lake Superior Provincial Park, and near the park boundary is a gas stop/restaurant set on a hill with the highway below, and perched on the hill were a few motorcyclists watching my ride, and I was feeling somewhat elated for some unknown reason, probably because of the good rest I had at White River and the meal at Wawa, so I had to clown, standing up on my pedals and hollering ‘Yahoooooooooo’ or something like that. They all laughed of course, and I turned in for coffee and conversation. The gas pump attendant remembered me from my stop on my way west and we had a great chat about the beauties of this part of Canada .. and I think we talked about the dangers, remembering the young woman who had disappeared in the woods. Before entering Lake Superior I attempted a short tour of Michipoten River, a wonderfully secluded spot, but the road was too rough for my liking, so I rode into the park and stopped at the fantastic beauty of Old Woman Cove, where I fell into conversation with several young Muslim men who were dressed in traditional robes and head coverings, and we chatted about God, and I told them I believed the scriptures to be true, and we agreed that there was only one God, and to worship him was life, and they said a man should pray several times a day, and I said the scriptures say we should pray without ceasing, and there was agreement between us, and they asked if I wanted to become a Muslim, and I said that I was already a Christian, but as their religion recognized Jesus Christ as they Messiah I saw no reason not to join them in their faith, and I asked what I must do to become a Muslim .. ‘Just repeat this prayer’ .. and the prayer was in Arabic but I attempted it, and was granted membership in their faith, and was given a new name .. ‘Bilul’ is as close to the pronunciation as I can come, the name signifying the person in the mosque who calls worshippers to prayer. The word Islam, I was told, means Peace, and by golly I did feel a fresh peace after we parted company and as I motored the 60 miles of the park. Oh yes, I almost forgot the young Catholic men at Rossport who were riding east on their bicycles on their way to becoming priests in Ottawa. Small world this one.
I really also must mention the miracle of technology combined with nature at Old Woman Cove. The Ontario government has here installed composting toilets .. no scent .. fertilizer as byproduct .. electric fans in the composting bins powered by solar converters .. simply marvelous.
At the south end of the park I snuck my moped onto an isolated hiking trail and found a huge, sand beach which I had almost totally to myself. Good weather had returned, and I swam, and when dusk fell I set up my tent, concealing everything the best I could from Park authorities .. for I was relying on grace here in not stopping at a camping area and paying money into Caucasian coffers for an eight foot by six foot piece of ground which had been stolen from the aboriginals.
I got away with my borrowed property that evening, and rode on through great beauty the next day, being hailed at an intersection in Sault Ste. Marie by the two would-be priests on bicycles.
East of the Sault I rode into a Motorcycle Rally .. a large gathering of the big wheels .. and because the money was going to go towards an aboriginal Reserve I was willing to pay for camping until I was told the price .. that in combination with the marijuanna leaves on the lenses of the sunglasses of the gatekeeper .. sorry .. but at the time I just did not feel the need to be in the centre of the drug culture even if I was made totally welcome because of my trip to the west and back on my moped. I probably missed a great opportunity though, to mingle with the two wheel motor culture, and am sorry I did not stay.
Just east of the rally I rode into another aboriginal campground, but the price of tenting persuaded me to move on after telling the operator “you’re as bad as the government.” Whatever happened to free love and 'The Land That They’ll Be Giving Away When We All Live Together?’ My tiny piece of that land for camp during that stretch of road was at the end of a bumpy ride up a dirt track, a municipal right of way between rough farms, a ride into hunting country, with tiny cabins set in the wild woods, and finally, a tiny square of reasonably flat ground where I pitched my tent across the track from a tiny housetrailer which was probably used as a lodge for a party of one or two hunters, or a trap line refuge, with absolutely nothing else around that neck of the woods that I could see .. no creek .. no river .. no lake .. justa lot of deer in the right season. I had to pitch my tent in the dark that night, and lost the handy little LED flashlight I had been presented with by a biker friend in Kamloops.
That ride along the North Channel of Georgian Bay was beautiful and uneventful; but after I turned south at Espanola (please correct me it's Spanish) towards Manitoulin I went through the most up close and personaly rugged rock cuts of the entire trip .. very impressive. I dawdled in the village of Little Current on Manitoulin Island before deciding to attempt to reach the ferry at South Baymouth that black and darkly black night, and when finally attempting the run I was blinded by oncoming headlights so badly I turned back to Little Current where I 'camped' without my tent near the Visitor Centre, being entertained by a live music festival across the bay, and sleeping under a picnic table's rain shelter roof .. sleeping on the picnic table.
The ride to South Baymouth next morning was interesting to say the least. It started out well after a restaurant breakfast in Little Current. Pastoral countyside traded scenes with lake vistas, and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenic beauty until the weather turned cool and the rain started .. and then the rain gained strength, and the wind blew hard against me. I had gotten into my rain gear though and felt only mild discomfort. The rain and wind increased and the temperature dropped though, and five miles shy of the ferry I turned into a roadside bed and breakfast and asked if I could have tea, but the proprietors looked at this drowned rat and said, ‘No, our breakfast is finished’. So I stood outside under a tree in the by then pouring rain .. getting so soaked that when the spirit of mercy came upon the bed and breakfast owner and he came out to invite me in I declined because of what my wet clothing would do to his premises. Rain gear is good for regular rains, but this rain was anti-regular .. it was hard and steady. The B&B man tried his best to persuade me, but I was firm in not wanting to damage his property, besides, despite having on my rain gear I was as wet and cold as I could get, I thought, the damage was done, I thought, and nature could do no more to harm me, I thought. Bad mistake. The rain did not slow .. and I figured I may as well head out .. and the cold wind increased against me. I think it took an hour to get the las five miles, counting a tiny detour to try to find a café a roadsign indicated was just around a corner but was not. The rain stopped about one half mile before I got to Baymouth, allowing most of the rainwater I was carrying to slough off, but the situation was so cold and wet and ridiculous and I was so glad of shelter when I finally got into Baymouth that I was in extremely high humour and walked into a little harbourside café like a rat who was half-drowned after jumping out of a sinking ship .. a laughing rat .. with some kind of loud and outrageous comment that made the small crowd laugh. A Laundromat .. yes, a Capital ‘L’ laundromat Praise God for them .. was attached to the café, and I laundered and dried my clothing .. and warmed up with coffee and a second breakfast .. and a great time it was. .. then it was time to line up for boarding the ferry .. and in line was a peculiar looking motorocycle with a sidecar .. it turned out to be Russian, and built like a tank, and shared centre of attention with bikers and four wheel drivers alike with one of the new Honda 125 CC motorcycles and myself. There were several bikes in the line and we chatted like old pals and gals. The Honda 125 was ridden by a young woman who was traveling with her boyfriend who was riding a much bigger bike. I was not surprised when this couple told the rest of us that the big bike could not leave the Honda behind in acceleration. That little Honda engine gets a lot of power out of a little gasoline .. it has to to get 90 miles per gallon, and it became sort of an object of desire with me, still desiring I am, but now that I've overcome some problems with my moped which developed a few sentences down I'm happy with my 130 mpg and slower pace .. for now.
The ferry ride between Manitoulin Island the the Bruce Peninsula was its normal GREAT, with wonderful scenery and the ferry’s comfort; and I arrived at the Tobermory harbour just as Captain Gary Hendry docked his Dive Boat Maime. Gary and I had met the summer before as I paddled my canoe into the Tobermory Habour on my Ottawa-North Bay-Manitoulin-Lake Huron paddle, and he had put me up for two nights aboard his boat. It was this Great Lake Captain’s regard for my solo canoe voyage which planted in me the seed of a sense of accomplishment for that trip, which up until then had seemed like a nice paddle. When that voyage’s two day stay in Tobermory came to their end his confident words, “You’re the captain of your canoe and you can do it” propelled me even though I faced winds, large waves, rocky shoreline, and rough paddling rounding Cape Hurd. It was a thrilling passage just off a hard rock shore which was snowed under with breaking waves and turbulence which caused me to paddle further out from shore .. another lesson reinforced .. and once around the Cape a Southerly propelled me several very fast miles to a little bay for a two day sanctuary from winds which had changed direction, as Gary had forecast, and risen to dangerous speeds .. an altogether pleasant camp at Purgatory Point., where I was pleasantly windbound for a couple of days, meeting a retired couple who gave me a lunch and allowed me to use their telephone. I'll call this couple Jack and Jill.
On this mopeding visit at Tobermory, though, Gary and I had a couple of beers each before he had to prepare for a drive to Toronto where he was scheduled the next day to pilot a ferry the next day .. that trip to Toronto being a coincidence because when I visited my friends Shoshannah and Roger in Lion’s Head about 30 miles south they were in the process of preparing for a trip to Toronto to care for their rental house. I’ve known Shoshannah and Roger for almost 30 years, and was invited to stay in their home until their return, and could have amused myself doing handyman stuff for them, but their home is pet friendly and cigarette smoke inhabited, and my allergies acted up soon after my arrival. I also could have stayed with a lady friend of theirs who was living in a cottage near them, but she too had pets. I did spend one night with Shoshannah and Roger, and visited the lady’s cottage, Linda I believe her name was, but my exposure to animals and cigarette smoke, and also to the lady friend’s cold germs did me great harm, and I suffered for weeks afterwards. One further coincidence in this stretch was that several days before my arrival Shoshannah and Linda had gotten in trouble while sailing, and they were rescued by a Captain Gary, but not the same Gary. Shoshannah I had met at a folk festival in Winnipeg 30 years ago during a stint of gospel sharing on Skid Row, and Shoshannah was also a very active Christian, and she and I became friends at first sight. Her home was Toronto at that time, and mine Peterborough, so we were in close touch for the first decade, but had rarely seen each other in the past 20 years .. the last time about five years ago. I did not even know if they lived in the same house .. and they were sure surprised to see me. It was on the way to Shoshannah's from Tobermory that my fuel problem began, a sluggish engine which I probably could have cured, if I knew then what I know now, by cleaning the carburetor and/or the carb's fuel filter .. the problem originating, I think, in my gas fillup at Tobermory. My son-in-law says gas older than 12 days in the tank begins to deteriorate; and a Millwright I met just today said gasoline is sometimes loaded with impurities. My son-in-law gave me a 500 ml container of gas stabilizer, and I have begun adding 15 ml to a gallon.
More on the fuel problem later; for now I look at this story and see where some people could picture me a wealthy man, with friends who captain Dive Boats, and other friends who own sailboats and live in summer resort villages; but I often meet friends in those times when I have stepped out in faith .. and faith is rich indeed.
But poor in speed I became on the ride from Lion's Head to my Dad's in Lucan. My top speed declined more the further I traveled, until by the time I got to my Dad’s in Lucan I was barely able to make headway against a wind. That portion of the trip in mileage was only about 150 miles, but took two full days. My camp in the Lake Huron village of Southhampton was on a waterfront park bench, but I had a private washroom all to myself that night because I used a wad of compressed paper to 'jimmie' open the public washroom’s automatic door lock. The last day to Lucan and Dad was long, long, long and slow .. sunrise to sunset .. slower and slower going all the time .. but at the end of that ride came a two week visit with Dad and my brother Jody and his family, during which I opened the engine and cleaned and polished, and had a terrible time getting the thing back together again because although Dad is well versed with engines he's 84 year old and his eyes aren’t as good as they used to be .. and I had taken the engine apart when he was not looking and I had forgotten to make diagrams of which parts fit where and what one part in particular did (the idle screw looked to him and also to me like an air mixture screw but I knew it was not an air mixture screw and he did not have that knowledge .. and Dad had preconceived notions of where some parts fit but I knew they didn’t fit there, etc.. but because of my Dad’s great experience with tools and engines I doubted my own certain knowledge .. and our friendship frayed and I finally had to go ahead without his looking in on things .. but I had found schematics on the internet and got the thing together .. but it still wasn’t working right .. and I took it apart again just to make sure everything was together correctly, etc .. and finally it seemed to be working not too bad. My canoe and paddling equipment is stored at Dad's and during a little break from the moped repair we took a little canoe trip which was Dad's second time in a canoe, and the first in 50 years.
I could not stay in Lucan forever because I had a date with a community fundraiser in Ottawa, and the bike ran well for the first 20 miles then slowed right down again, but this time I was certain a speck of dirt in the carburetor was the culprit and I raised the bike on its stand and ran the engine at full throttle for a minute or so .. and that cleared the dirt. But I had another rear flat at Kitchener, which I repaired but which I had no confidence in the repair, and now had no guaranteed spare tube, and so camped the night in my tent on the grass beside the picnic table which the motorsports store employees used for breaks .. and in the morning before I had time to introduce myself was told by the business’s owner to move on before his customers arrived (he was a kind soul, but a businessman) and I explained I had camped there because I needed to buy a tube .. and he provided one for $8 and I gave him a Ten and told him to keep the change, but he returned with $2 and, being a fine discerner of situations, said, “You might need this.”
Two Days To The Checkered Flag
The ride from Kitchener across the top of Toronto on busy Highway 7 was so frustratingly stop and go at red lights that I rehearsed a courtroom defence even as I deliberately motored through one red. Past Oshawa I gained the low traffic and pleasant countryside of Highway Two which runs a few miles from Lake Ontario, running also through the tiny village of Welcome which I detoured into to once again view what had been home for a year while I was still with my first wife and three daughters .. 30 years before .. our last home together.
In the Port Hope Legion parking lot I was taking off my helmet when my vintage friend Foxy who was now Legion Manager stepped out the front door for a break. When Fox’s shift ended we had a beer on the Legion patio where, just as if God had planned the timing of my entire trip and a few people's latter days, our pal Hollywood and one of the other golfers I had sat with at the Rice Lake Café three months before sat down beside us. The meeting was particularly serendipituous because Hollywood was not expected back in Port Hope for a day or two.
I could not stay the night in Port Hope as I had promised friends Chreryl and Vance in Ottawa that I would try my best to get to Ottawa in time to help them with the Hintonburg neighbourhood Fundraiser for children’s playground equipment and youth activities, so I set out very late in the afternoon and by riding a couple of hours in the dark I made the Highway 7 village of Havelock, where I slept the night on the platform of the village’s Railroad Caboose which is set up near the Visitor Centre.
The first hours of the last day of my trip went so well that I took a couple of hours to visit Liisa at her wilderness home in Maberly. I suppose if I had any romance left in my soul and if Liisa did not have dogs she and I could be a couple, as she’s an poetess, wilderness woman, and artist .. but my moped is my steed, and my canoe is my Lady now .. and Liisa and I contented ourselves with a tour of her property, visiting the Beaver ponds, and where the bears are, and where the other wild critters roam, and where Liisa composes:
“I wander in my thoughts on the forest paths on summer evening my heart swells with joy and I sing.
Over in the grove underneath the hill a while ago happened something strange, so tender, wonderful, underneath the green leaves.
I am the only man to know, only I and someone else, and loving golden warbler, and fragrant wild-cherry!
Now .. that word ‘man’ in her poem might suggest some weird stuff, but there’s nothing weird about Liisa .. she composes in her native Finn, and she translated ‘person’ into ‘man’. During our visit we watched the Sombrio video .. and had a tea of course .. then it was time to be on my way .. and God showed me that my stopin Maberly was favoured by giving me a good tail wind from that village all the way to Ottawa .. where I nearly met the Maker of the golden warblers and tailwinds just as I was entering the Ottawa City Limits, where Highway 7 became four lane, but not Controlled Access, so I would have been legally dead (although not dead but simply sent to heaven) and where an 18 wheel trucker-in-a-hurry on his way home and with tired eyes after a long trip on the road (at least that’s what the blast of wind told me as he barreled inches past me with horn blasting ‘Get The Hell Off My Highway You Idiot’ .. but no harm done .. and riding into Ottawa to home.
In Ottawa, my oldest daughter Kayren and I patched up a rough spot on our highway of togetherness, and of course I visited all my friends. The community fundraiser was fun and successful; but my time in Ottawa was brief, as my son-in-law and I had arranged for me to live for a year with him and my grandaughter in Peterborough. My poet friend Baird McNeil (I'll call him Jack of all Beers) and I moved most of my belongings to Peterborough in Baird's station wagon, and after returning with Baird to Ottawa I loaded my camping gear onto my moped and rode a lovely autumn ride through back roads and wilderness to Peterborough, going through Bancroft if you are following my trip on a map.
During the winter my son-in-law taught me how to change piston rings, and after the past three months of trial and error involving an incorrect spark plug gap, more dirty fuel filters, more dirty gas, more dirty fuel filters, cleaning the exhaust system properly, more dirty fuel filters, etc. .. the moped is finally running almost like new again. Power is slightly reduced because of wear in the cylinder, but not by much, and I'm hoping power will increase because depsite having about 100 miles on the new rings I suspect they new are not yet completely worn in, or 'seated' as mechanics talkit. This is a big improvement for me mentally as for a while I was afraid I would need a new engine, or a new cranshaft ($180 plus installation as custom tools are required for that job.) I had thought for a while I might be out of summer travel this year, a the moped was running terribly, but now I have great confidence in my bike and my abilities to repair. I am fairly confident now that if I had a breakdown on the road I could, after getting parts, fix almost anything on the bike. This is a big change from knowing next to nothing about the bike as I did when I set out on the trip. I also fixed a turn-signal obstruction problem by raising my backpack higher, and actually this is what led to building the box which is fastened securely to the rear carrier rack; and this led to my making a nice, yellow, lockable, plywood but lightweight and strong box for the rear of my moped, and into this box keep my tool kit including my tube repair kit and spare small parts, my tire iron, baby powder, and a few rags for cleanup after repair. I have switched to synthetic oil to reduce carbon buildup and oil plugging the exhaust .. but that's the only major change in operation since buying my bike three years ago. I have learned that you have to investigate long and hard sometimes to find problems, and that sometimes a person selling parts will have honest intentions but will be subconsciously swayed to recommend buying unnecessary parts. I have also learned that internet moped forums can, along with providing valuable information, provide wrong information and bad recommendations which stray from manufacturer's specifications. I am almost ready to buy a torque wrench because I have cracked a copper head gasket from too much pressure, and because I don't want to break or strip bolts or nuts or screws. My son-in-law recommends fuel stabilizer because gas deteriorates after 12 days in the tank .. not a problem on a trip, but it is when puttering around town. Did I mention fuel filters? My manufacturer says dirty exhaust is the number one cause of power loss, but I have come to believe dirty gas and dirty fuel filters is more of a problem, no to lesen the importance of cleaning exhaust systems and ports.
The future? I am hoping to moped to Lucan in July, Ottawa in July and August, and perhaps moped tour Canada's east coast late August/early autumn. My sister Rose in down east, and my mother's family were Newfoundlanders. I also hope to visit my brother in B.C. this summer, fall or winter, but without my moped.
I see nor reason why I should not hope that my Tomos Targa LX will be my motorized transportation for the balance of my life (10 to 20 years? - I am 61). I consider it a great investment, reliable transportation, a fun toy, and a great necessity for my low income, environmentally friendly, non rowdy lifestyle. I should write my moped into my Last Will and Testament as going to my grandaughter Jade because her Dad will be able to maintain it, whereas the rest of my family have insufficient mechanical skills. I should also write in my Last Will and Testament that Jesus Christ is Lord and Saviour and that Father, Son, Holy Spirit were all personaly involved in planning and carrying out safely my wonerful moped trip.
I suppose this is the end of my story to date.
Peterborough Public Library - Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. May 16, 2008 - at home - May 18, 2008.