adventures with Henk the Buell

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Celebrating people, ideas & things that make the world a better place. Kitchen Chemistry, Social Alchemy, Adventure Activism.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

I've turned into one of those dirty little fraggles I used to make fun of when I had my restaurant in Banff. They'd come in from a campground in the clothes that they'd slept in and their hair in knots and rave about the smells and have a bowl of soup and always-always-ask for more homemade bread. Yup. I've been sleeping in and living in the same clothes since I got to Whitehorse. My underwear is hanging to dry from the loops in my tent and the rest of my stuff is strewn about like my messy nieces' bedroom.

I've left Henk behind at the campground and walked into town the last couple of days for a couple of reasons. It's a really pretty walk into town along the Yukon River, which I found out yesterday flows at a steady 12 nauts, faster than the Queen of Chilliwack from Port Hardy to Bella Coola (I do love saying that), so if you want to "canoe" down the river to Dawson Creek, you need only sit and pretend to paddle. Some people actually tie their canoes together and play cards while the current carries them. Apparently there are some fantastic campgrounds along the way but you have to know when to anticipate them so that you can grab a tree and pull out, otherwise the current carries you downstream too quickly away from your dream site... hmm... isn't life just like that?

Henk also serves as a good watch horse. It looks as though I'm "home" when he's parked beside my tent. Two nights ago a young German lad three tents over had his knapsack stolen from his picnic table. He'd just been chatting with me about Henk, Germany, his hitchiking adventure across Canada. When he went back to his tent
around midnight, it was gone. Poor guy is hitchiking all the way to Inuvik and now has to get new cooking equipment. I'd been leaving my laptop in my tent-I wanted so badly to leave my cynicism behind-but now it comes with me everywhere, along with my passport, wallet, and motorbike key.

I receive a lot less attention when I travel without Henk. I'm able to blend in and go about my business relatively invisibly. I like that. I've been trying to shake off an annoying Brit who can't decide what he's doing and keeps trying to suck me into his decision-making. The Brits really have us beat, don't they, when it comes to being general sourpusses. I don't know what it is. He's really a very nice fellow and is trying very hard to be positive, but I actually think it's beyond him. He can't help being disappointed, disgusted, disgruntled. He's British. Just like I can't help wanting everyone to like me. I'm Canadian.

I woke up this morning (really) to an overcast sky and a cold nose. The nip in the air here gives me a bit of anxiety over impending winter. A local today told me that if the Yukon doesn't get a great June, which they didn't this year, then summer never really catches up. Nothing warms up enough to penetrate deeply and fall comes quicker.

I often wonder if my mood matches the weather or if it's the other way around. Perhaps we really do create our own weather. It's Saturday today and at "home" in Toronto on a Saturday of a long weekend, I'd be in bed with a big fat organic soy latte and a whole forest worth of trees in the form of two big fat environmentally-unfriendly Saturday papers spread out before me. Ron would be commenting on the state of the world and I'd be telling him to shut up so I could read in peace.

As it is, I have to wait until 3:30 when the plane gets in to get a copy of the Globe and Mail. It kindof loses its appeal by then, doesn't it? I understand how Yukoners live their lives at their own pace. "Yukon time," it's called. It's not appealing to me. The vast landscape is magnificent, yes. The colors at 11pm are magical, yes. The people (some of them) seem interesting. But today at Main and 4th, an Indian came bursting out of a bar spewing obscenities I hadn't ever heard and several others stumbled along with him, leading me to believe I haven't come so far. Queen and Bathurst, a block from where I lived in Toronto is exactly the same.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

I caught a two-woman play last night called "Matt and Ben" about the hilarious possible scenario of how it came to be that these two managed to pull off "Good Will Hunting."

After the play, I walked "home" to my campsite at Robert Service along the Yukon River. Midnight sun viewing has officially become my favorite Whitehorse activity. The river flows northwest and the weather seems to come from there, so a magical dynamic interplay between clouds and river creates an illusion of stillness. The Fireweed, the flower of the Yukon, grows everywhere alongside the river and its vibrant purple combined with the hazy purple of the midnight clouds on the darkened water makes for quite the poetry. I can see how Robert Service, among many others, was inspired...

Poor Henk's been sitting in the rain more than he's used to. He's starting to rust a little under the exhaust. So am I. You've got to be a hearty soul to live in a place like this. Damp and cold and rusty. I spoke to a couple of 60-something women this morning over coffee. One had arrived here 29 years ago, the other over 40. Both had come for a short visit, and neither had gone home. "You'll hear that story over and over here," one of them said, sipping her latte and smiling. They looked happy and hearty, like the people I met in Bella Coola, excited to share their little slice of paradise with an appreciative visitor.

I'm going to a yoga class tonight. Can't wait to stretch my bones after sleeping an inch from the cold ground night after night. Comfort is an ever-changing state, isn't it? Toronto had gotten too comfortable for me. I have to remember to keep that in mind.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

That elusive midnight sun finally showed himself last night in a magnificent display of fire orange reflected by the inky blue of the Yukon River and light grey clouds over the mountains. The evergreens between river and sky were backlit and somehow a vertical rainbow spewed out of a cloud behind it all. Of course the photos I took do it no justice.

Hmm. I'm finally here. The Yukon. "Canada's True North," they call it, or in French, "Le Nord avec un grand 'N.'" Feels good. There's a considerable amount of funk in Whitehorse, but I'm definitely picking up a redneck quotient. Last night while walking the waterfront path back to my campsite, I heard some whistling and cat-calling from the other side of the highway. I looked over and a van full of guys in a parking lot were cheering me on, probably bolstered by cheap beer. Oh brother. What do they expect me to do? Go over and party with them? I waved and carried on.

I've been sleeping like a baby in my tent. I'm getting used to all my worldly possessions being spread out in the tiny three by six foot area. It's simple, and despite having to admit to missing the comforts of home in Toronto--my cosy bed, three meals a day, a companion who never sits still, my kitty, lots of laughter, security, serenity, et al, I'm liking this.

The other day in some remote locale somewhere high on the Alaska Highway I was stopped for gas and chatting with someone I can't remember. A middle-aged man in an RV came over and asked me if I was travelling alone. When I said I was, he looked at me with the most quizzical expression and asked in a serious tone if I was having fun. When I told him I was having a blast, he just shook his head and walked away. Couldn't wrap his brain around how I could possibly be having any fun alone on the highway in the rain in the middle of nowhere.

I've been very selective about who I tell the whole truth to. In fact, I think Bret is the only one to have gotten an honest response, evasive as it was. Having a similar adventure of his own, I knew he could not only get it, but find a way to admire and relate to what I'm doing.

Still, my story to most people is I'm from Toronto, I'm riding until September or so, I've got a boyfriend and a cat waiting for me there, and I'm writing along the way. I understand that for most people the idea that I have no home to go to after all this, combined with the fact that I'm alone out here in the middle of nowhere, would just be too much.

A woman in the washroom this morning recognized my boot from the hot springs and said hello. Some gentlemen I met at Liard saw to it that my left boot with the ever-widening hole was duct taped closed. I'm now walking around with a famous pair of Roots Ruff-Tuffs--made tuffer by two layers of duct tape. We thought it would be too much of a fashion statement doing them both, so only the left one has the silver stripe to match Henk's gas tank.

This morning I caught a couple of street performances on Main St. A magician/comedian and two thirds of a jazz trio. I ran into Suat from the Alpine Bakery and we made casual plans to meet his family.

I have absolutely no idea if I'll be in Whitehorse for another day or a year. Maybe I'll be like Tommy G, the mayor elect of Bella Coola and run out of money before I get a chance to head "home." You'll come to Whitehorse and find me sitting at a round table in some cafe telling tales of how I ran out of cash having the adventure of a lifetime and got stuck in the Yukon for a long cold winter that lasted forty years...

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Riding the Alaska Highway in the rain is the most existential experience of my life. Great expanse of beautiful nothingness for hundreds of kilometres and cold wet weather coming in every possible crack. My helmet fogs up because I can't go fast enough to clear the air. It's a catch 22. Slow and steady and 0 visibility, or fast and reckless and maybe slightly more clearance in the visor. Once in awhile, the sides of the road open up like heavy velvet curtains before act 1 and the clouds lift high enough into the rafters to allow a long view of more highway ribbon cut into the dripping evergreens rolling over an ever-expanding and extremely remote Rocky Mountain valley.

I've felt this way once before, when I landed alone in Calcutta after selling my restaurant and separating from the man to whom I was married. I remember thinking "I am nothing... I have no home, I am nobody's wife, I am not the woman who runs that restaurant, I have no attachments with which I can identify..." As disconcerting as that may sound, it's actually the most freeing feeling...

For two days after leaving Dawson Creek, the clouds hung so low over the northern Rockies making me believe I was riding into late November rather than July's end. I took it slow, riding only 300 kilometres a day and pulling in to camp before getting too unbearably cold and soaked to the bone.

A road-weary old mountain man at the Motor Inn in Fort Nelson where I was finishing up breakfast before venturing out into the densely cloud-covered road looked me and Henk over skeptically. "You be very careful out there, darlin'," he warned. "I ride this highway once a week to Alaska and yesterday some idiot from Quebec passed me like I was going still. A few minutes later, he took a corner goin' too fast and ended up in the other lane. Hit a Harley rider head on. Dead instantly." Warning taken. Thank you.

A guy running a lone gas station somewhere in the middle of nowhere was surprised to see me. "It's a rare thing for me to see a woman riding alone on this highway," he said to me while helping me fill my tank with expensive and low grade gas. Oh, really? How rare? "In fact, so rare I've never seen a one," he marvelled. He went on to admire my bike. "Never seen one of these either." Well, I laughed, today you've had two firsts! "I like the first first best," he said. Yeah. He sold me a jerry can and helped me strap it on to my already loaded down hindside. I actually had to use it once so far when a remote gas station had run out of fuel. One station sold me "emergency gas" that they save only for people who are stuck. I wasn't, but I may have been. Gas here is well up over a dollar.

I met several hard-ass bikers along the way and continually met them over two or three days along the "Alcan" as it's called. Hilarious to see these guys all decked out in their Harley 'uniform' of bandanas, chaps, furry seats--one even had a logo embroidered on his leather vest--"meanass," and freezing their big American butts off (no predjudice intended, just so happened that they were all American and quite large). I don't know why, but it's nice to know I'm not the only one suffering out here.

I saw an enormous black bear eating berries on the side of the road when riding in to Fort Nelson the other night. Then closer to Liard Hot Springs, where I soaked for the last four days, herds of small caribou roamed the road, along with a herd of huge wild buffalo.

Liard Hot Springs is an idyllic little paradise I found difficult to leave. The tension in my left shoulder from riding in the cold rain melted away almost instantly upon soaking the first evening. Aaah. I met a sweet couple from northern Alberta who invited me over for coffee in their converted greyhound bus. Wilf is a heart attack survivor and found the springs to be very healing. His wife, Wendy, snuck the odd cigarette in the outhouse, I discovered. They fed me breakfast sausages, then invited me to dinner. "Hope you're not a vegetarian," Wilf stated. Hmm. Not anymore. We had barbecued chicken breast and a great bean salad. He called me a "great conversationalist" and showed me off to the rest of the RV'ers like a proud papa. Never before have I been called a "great conversationalist." In Toronto, I find it difficult to mine my brain for something relevant to contribute at a dinner party. Out here I'm full of tales and alive. For the first time in a long time I feel like I'm writing my own story...

The other day it rained at Liard, and the three homeless adventurers in the campground magically found each other. Bret had invited me to leave my laptop in his camper after my bikini had been stolen from the change room (yeah!) so I walked over in the rain and interrupted his camper shower. I teased him about all the comforts of home he was travelling with and he proceeded to show me an amazing slide show of his travels in Alaska over the last two months. A true adventurer, he sold his house in the mountains above Aspen when his two other neighbors began warring over well water, packed up his sweet Australian Shepherd, Ling Ling, his mountain bike, and a dirt bike into a trailer and hit the road for Alaska, no return date in sight. Halfway into the slideshow, which was actually an interrogation session with photos, each of us equally fascinated by each other's adventure, we were interrupted by Wayne, a 66-year-old wanderer/environmentalist/activist/pot smoker. We shared some sangria and a one-hit-wonder and somehow somewhere the rain stopped tapping on the tin roof and the midnight sun disappeared. We went for a midnight skinny dip in the dark. I'd been wanting to do that since arriving but would never think to go on my own. Having two men along to fight off the bears and the locals was reassuring.

There's nothing more attractive than a man who has found a balance between self-confidence and humility. These two, both, one 66, the other 43, are very much living in that zone. Juicy, vital, interested, interesting, passionate, articulate, and FUN. We had a blast. For the first time since leaving, I belly laughed.

There's always a slight pang of regret when I meet new friends and we have to part. I said to Bret it's probably a good thing we're going separate directions because it would have been too much fun and too easy to just meet up along the way and cook gourmet camp meals, ride bikes, play with Ling Ling, soak in hot springs. Yes, we would have been very compatible playmates. But yesterday when the sun broke through and I was able to pack up my dry tent, the three of us shared lunch, then hit the road, Wayne Vancouver-bound and Bret off to Bella Coola after hearing both of us rave.

The roads were nice and dry and Henk and I enjoyed the first bit of warmth since Bella Coola. I really like saying Bella Coola. We camped in Watson Lake and this morning while I was packing up, a nice young fellow, Mel, invited me over to his campsite for breakfast. His wife, Josie, a dental hygenist, welcomed me with hot chocolate and bagels and we traded road stories.

Henk and I made it to Whitehorse today in the sun and camped in the Robert Service campground on the Yukon River, a 15 minute walk to downtown. It looks like a nice little western, northern town with an attitude I have yet to discover. Before pulling in to camp, I took a ride around town. I discovered the Alpine Bakery, a large log cabin with amazing smells and a sign that said "socially conscious business" and went in for a fabulous French lentil soup with organic bread and a carrot/apple/ginger juice. The owner, Suat, out of nowhere invited me to camp at his house. "We have a large family," he said, "and they'd love to meet a courageous woman like yourself." I was very tempted because he seemed so sweet, but something tells me I'll have plenty of time here for meeting his family. I was just saying to myself that by saying "yes" to invitations along the way, my adventure is becoming richly textured. I told him I'd camp tonight at Robert Service, then see him tomorrow...

There's a "longest days festival" going on until the end of the month downtown. A tent has been set up in the major intersection of Main and 3rd and street performances apparently take place all day long. I'll look forward to some great Yukon culture.

I'm also waiting patiently to see some little old lady in a monolith RV somewhere along the way in a river or a hot spring wearing my orange and blue Nike bikini.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I survived 'The Hill!' Henk is a horse. I'm in Dawson Creek, mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, all packed up and ready to head north.

The Hill, at least going up, was much tamer than I had made it out to be in my mind. It's hilarious how freaked out you can get listening to others' accounts of their experience. Even the night before leaving I talked to a couple guys on Harleys who had just come in and they said "Wouldn't want to do that again anytime soon." They told me to keep an eye on the weather and not to go if it was raining. As it turned out, that was good advice. It was sunny all day, magnificent, actually, and the plateau was slick and slippery with oil but otherwise, the road had been hard packed dirt with minimal rocks and stones off to the side. You had to be careful, but in second gear, first around the corners, I was able to humm along at an average of 30 km/h. The Hill itself is 65 kilometres. Henk looked as though he'd dived into a bowl of chocolate brownie mix when we reached Anahim Lake at the plateau.

It was there that I stopped to celebrate with a veggie sandwich thinking I'd conquered the beast and that I had all kinds of time to reach Tatla Lake where I was meeting Mark Gabelmann, the gentleman grape farmer from Osoyoos, who had kindly offered to carry my laptop in his van to avoid all the bumping and shaking up of electronic parts. Being the gentleman that he is, he stayed in Bella Coola for a couple hours after I left, thinking if I had any trouble on 'The Hill' he would have my back. I must admit, it was a great feeling knowing someone was concerned.

I stopped in on the boys from The Cruzeros at their lodge before heading out and they were fifteen minutes behind me. They passed me at the summit after stopping to check that everything had gone ok. They're sweet guys. They'd thrown an impromptu concert for their hosts at the campground the night before. Word got out quickly, though, and half the town showed up. But not before the band and Mark and I feasted on drummer, Jay's fresh-caught salmon. He'd marinated it in soy sauce, brown sugar, whiskey, and lots of garlic for twenty-four hours, then seared it on a hot barbecue until the skin was burned and stuck to the grill. It tasted like candied smoked salmon and we couldn't get enough. The concert was held in the gazebo of the campground and apparently the harmonies attracted a new fan in the form of a grizzly, although I didn't see him. They also have a new fan in me.

Everything had gone wonderfully on my big ride to Anahim Lake until I ran into a Harley rider going the opposite way who complained of "all that gravel and sealcoating." We discussed road conditions for a few minutes, him saying "You think you've seen gravel, well, honey, you ain't seen anything yet!" Just then, Mark passed by, slowing down to see if I was stopped at the roadside restaurant. I jumped up and down in the window trying to get his attention and he didn't stop. I looked out and saw my bike was hidden behind a big truck with a boat attached.

I finished my sandwich quickly and headed back out into the sunshine thinking that
Harley rider had been trying to scare me. Half an hour down the road, though, was a sign: "for the next 54 kilometres, gravel and sealcoating." It was like riding on marbles. I was lucky there wasn't much traffic and I kept Henk putting along in second gear without any complaints. Mark had reached Tatla Lake and decided to backtrack and ask the flag girl if she'd seen me. I met him on the road and once again, he followed behind me. Just when my odometer indicated that the 54 kilometres of gravel would be coming to an end, another sign on the road read: "for the next 51 kilometres, gravel and sealcoating." Ugh!

Mark bought some beer at Tatla Lake and I looked forward to a cold one an hour or two down the road. We camped together at Bull Creek, a lovely provincial campground beside the Chilcoltin River. A gentleman, indeed. He made me a gourmet vegetarian Indian dish (boiled the water) for dinner and lit a fire.

We met in Williams Lake for breakfast, then parted ways, he heading south toward home, me, once again, striking out alone to the north. The day started out beautiful and sunny, but about 50 kilometres south of Prince George, I was riding through scattered thunderstorms. I rode in the wet and the cold all the way to Dawson Creek, then got a cheap room to have a hot shower and warm up.

Today is cloudy and sunny and it looks like I could be in for more rain. My mom used to make us wear plastic bread bags on our feet when we'd go out in the wet snow. Of course it was the most embarassing thing when you'd go over to a friend's house and take off your boots. But here I am, today, with a plastic bag on my left foot. Moms always know best, don't they?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The sun has shone now in Bella Coola for two solid days and I'm still here. It's one of those places you could end up stuck if you didn't have a plan to ride on. I met Tommy G today, an 85-year-old local who came here 49 years ago to log and got himself 500 bucks into a poker debt. He couldn't afford to go home that winter and he's been here ever since. "Well, the way I see it you have to be stuck somewhere," he says, flipping casually through his morning Province, "and I can think of much worse places to be stuck." No kidding. If you want to see some untouched wilderness and people who are welcoming and kind and wave at everyone who goes by, locals, tourists, natives, come to Bella Coola before the high end eco-tourism people stake their claim.

Arline, an artist in her sixties whom I met the other day says she tells people to come to Bella Coola for "all the great things we don't have." "We don't have McDonald's, we don't have a traffic light, we don't have a mall, we don't have cell phones..." and she went on. You could wax poetic for days about all the great things Bella Coola doesn't have, but let's talk about what it does have: protected pristine wilderness, a vibrant local community who love their valley, the freshest air I've ever breathed, a clean, glacier-fed river running right through town, mountains on all sides except one where the river spews out into the ocean, hot springs not far away, very colorful characters, over 200 magnificent bald eagles, wildlife such as grizzlies, black bears, cougars, red and black foxes, wolverines and deer, abundant salmon, cultural diversity, great hiking trails to gushing waterfalls, an international population who get dropped off twice a week by the ferry, and most importantly of all--CHEAP REAL ESTATE!

I attended the Discovery Coast Music Festival the last two evenings. Chilliwack was good, giving all of us who remember their latest versions of "California Girl" and hmm, I can't remember the other ones. They can't quite reach the high notes anymore and their harmonies were a little off-key (they definitely weren't lip-synching!) but they seemed to be enjoying themselves and put on a good show. Valdy was the best. He is the absolute consumate Canadian Performer. He was decked out in red kneesocks and had the crowd gobbling from the palms of his hands. It was a perfect performance for a festival in Bella Coola, B.C. where children dance and stars laugh.

I got to meet the guys from The Cruzeros, a country rock band out of Kelowna. They sing sweet melody and harmony and I stayed for three or four songs before heading back in the dark on Henk to my campground. Twice now I've hit the same damn pothole on that road coming back to town going 80 but Henk doesn't even blink and carries on as if nothing's happened.

Today I lucked into an awesome acoustic porchside jam session. Mark, the grape farmer from Osoyoos who is camping in the same campground and happens to be friends with the guys from The Cruzeros, invited me down to their cabin to hang out, which, of course, I did. They've decided to stay in Bella Coola for a couple more days between festivals they're playing in Prince George, Williams Lake, and Quesnel. "We could go to Prince George and wait til Wednesday," Barry the lead singer said, "or we could stay here." I looked around at the stunning mountain view from their cabin porch and sucked in some Bella Coola air and simply nodded the universal "I get it" nod. Their rhythm section went fishing today and came back with two enormous salmon. They invited me back tomorrow night for a feast that's guaranteed to be out of this world. I don't get too hung up on being a vegan when I travel. Nor do I get too hung up on hurrying on when there's sunshine and music and feasting to be had.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Maybe we have it all wrong. Maybe humans are not the highest form of life on the planet after all. I was watching a dozen bald eagles and their immatures this morning, thinking to myself what an amazing thing to come back as in a next life, given the choice. Then I thought I should be so lucky. These magnificent birds of Bella Coola have the universe by their claws. They live in as close a place to paradise as anyone's ever going to see short of crossing over, they perch in high trees on the protected banks of the clean and fast-flowing glacier-fed Bella Coola River screeching thier high-pitched calls to one other, preening and drying their feathers in the sun and riding the thermals up and down the river valley at whim. Food is never a concern, just a way of life. When they feel like it, they simply take a quick pass over the narrows and nab a little salmon sushi from the abundant flow.

I watched for hours, trying to capture a close-up photo, but ultimately becoming too swept up in the whoosh of their great expanse of wings and giant shadows above to care about photography. As I stared down one particularly beautiful bird high up in a giant pine tree, I wondered to myself: Who's observing who? Maybe she was watching me, thinking to herself: "That's right baby, you, too could become one of us if you learn your lessons well this time around."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Breathing in Bella Coola is like sipping fine champagne through the nose. The air is sweet and clean and full of effervescence and oxygen. I set up my tent in the dark and slept twelve hours through the rain by the river only waking when the ravens insisted.

The long and luxurious ferry ride here on The Queen of Chilliwack was more like a mini cruise up the central coast than a mode of transport from A to B. To my delight, they build an extra hour into its schedule to stop and watch humpback whales in Burke Sound. It's not a long trip in distance, but The Queen of Chilliwack takes 13 delicious hours to get from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, going a relaxing pace of 11 nauts. After whale watching and chatting with Derrick and Glen and Ryan and Nancy and Dave and the captain on the bridge, I sat in the lounge and read 'Ishmael' by Daniel Quinn, a book given to me by Helen about a man on a spiritual search who finds his guru in the form of a wisened mind-reading gorilla. A few chapters in, the rocking motion of the ship, in combination with the drone of the engines lulled me right to sleep despite several small German kids running around screeching like chimpanzees in a zoo.

The humpbacks were awesome, spouting and breeching and rolling around with open mouths catching fish. Bald eagles soared overhead and dove in for the catch. For awhile up the Nootka Sound, white-sided dolphins lept and played in our wake. It was incredible watching them speed toward the boat and follow happily along in the waves. I could almost hear them giggling.

I arrived in Bella Coola in time for a music festival, which I will attend this evening. The band Chilliwack, appropriately, is playing.

My ride from Nanaimo to Port Hardy two days ago was every biker's dream. The sun was shining and until north of a little blip on the road called 'Woss,' it was warm and pleasant. Woss is where the adventure really began. I filled up and payed for gas as quickly as possible feeling the eyes of three hunter-types in a camper trailer trained on me as though they were looking through the view-finders of their rifles. I'm sure they were harmless hicks and simply enjoying some guy time passing a leud comment or two back and forth, but all of a sudden I realized, perhaps for the first time since leaving Christina Lake, that I was alone from here on in.

Entirely by choice, I am carrying on down (up) the road solo, and as freeing as that sounds, women can surely understand that particular form of vulnerability that comes with venturing out into the world alone. No matter how many martial arts classes she has taken and no matter how sure of herself a woman is, there is a certain way that the world perceives a woman travelling alone. Still. And perhaps that's part of the adventure. A little vulnerability in balance with a few martial arts skills can make for an interesting way to turn your perception back on the world when it looks at you that way.

I camped at Telegraph Cove, a pretty little fishing village off the highway, down a 5 km stretch of gravel logging road. The campground was quiet and I spoke about bears with an older woman who had been coming for years. She said they pretty much keep to the other side of the creek. I asked her where I could get some drinking water and she showed up a few minutes later at my tent with two bottles.

I have a healthy fear of gravel and that little stretch into Telegraph Cove made me wary of what has become more mythical with every passing person I speak to about -- 'The Hill.'

If the sun is shining tomorrow, which, according to the people here is not likely, I will conquer 'The Hill' and head toward Williams Lake. If not, I will stick around for the festival asking more and more people just how difficult and frightening it might be on two wheels...

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I think today is Wednesday. Time is becoming entirely irrelevant. I spent two nights and a day in Vancouver with my bro eric the poet. We had some wonderful chats and I felt honored to be allowed a glimpse into his life after all this time. He's going to be a great catch for some strong and beautiful young woman out there.

I took the ferry to Nanaimo on Monday afternoon and was met by my friends Helen Duggan and her husband Dan who live just north of the city. I lived in Parksville for a few months a few years ago and studied yoga with Helen. She's 55 and looks 41 and teaches in the most remarkably nurturing and gentle way. I had the privilege of being invited to her class last night. It felt great to stretch after being on the bike and not making time for my daily yoga. At the end of the extremely luxurious class, she placed a blanket over me for final relaxation. That simple caring gesture moved me to tears. We'd done some great heart-opening poses and twists and I obviously haven't drained my water source yet.

Helen and Dan are two individuals in one of the most inspiring couples I've met. They welcomed me into their home for two nights and we shared meals, great chardonnay, and deep conversations. They're not big believers in religion and rail against the status quo. They have no television, read voraciously, and love to discuss philosophy and ideal ways of living. I see them as part of the solution rather than people who rant and rave against the system but do nothing about it. They're planning an intentional community where people share resources and cars and lawn mowers and leave as small a footprint on the planet as is physically possible.

I'm in the world's salmon capital, Campbell River, about halfway up the east coast of Vancouver Island. I took the 19A along the ocean and made a quick stop at the beach at Qualicum. I was looking for a pebble souvenir when Marty the gardener came over and started chatting. He's actually from Windsor and rides a Harley. He's been on the island just over a year and said he wished he wasn't working so he could ride me up the island. It's a great feeling knowing I'm inspiring people to get out there and ride. A young woman at yoga last night said she'd been inspired to take a motorbike riding course after talking to me. The girl at Starbucks this morning said she was 'so jealous.' I told her she could do it too.

I'm not sure which route I'll take from Port Hardy. The road from Bella Coola to Williams Lake contains a couple of 25-30 kilometre stretches of very steep and twisty gravel. It sounds daunting, but the girl at Tourism BC assured me motorbikes do it all the time. I met a couple on the ferry who had ridden bikes from Nova Scotia all the way out here. They asked me to email and let them know how that dreaded 'hill' is so they can plan their next year's ride. I guess this wouldn't be an adventure if I had no fear. I'm definitely scared. But for now, today, the roads are dry, the sun is shining, the views into the Queen Charlotte Strait are magnificent, and I just had a fabulous smoked salmon quesadilla in the salmon capital of the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

So much for dry pavement. Something quite bizarre happens inside my helmet when the skies open up and wail on me and Henk making rivers flow across the slippery mountain passes and blinding me but for six broken lines ahead of Henk's front tire: the soundtrack to a Himalayan epic emerges from deep within my throat and fills my little padded fiberglass capsule with fascinatingly strange and foreign music. I have tried Tuvan throat singing in the shower or walking down the street and can't ever quite get there, but on Henk, in biblical rain, somehow two and even sometimes three tones at once erupt in David Hykes-esque meditation to the delight of my ears. It serves the purpose of calming me down, easing me into the corners, and erasing fear.

Ron called exactly one minute before I headed out from Christina Lake. At the sound of his voice, my own broke, and I realised in an instant how much I miss him and our shared life. I haven't had a good belly laugh since before leaving Toronto when Ron, feigning sadness at my imminent departure and imitating our local Korean convenience store owners told me, "You so smaaahht. I stu-pit wi-out you. I no get crosswuur puzzo wi-out you." It's our own silly in-joke that started when he was shocked(and secretly pleased)to learn that my IQ was higher than his. He has the ability to have me doubled over at the waist in convulsive laughter like nobody else. We played well together.

The mountain pass from Princeton to Hope two days ago was shrouded in heavy cloud and rain and what would, on a dry and sunny day, be a spectacular twisty ride, became dark and dangerous. I'm not in any kind of a hurry to be heading into a corner too fast and I took my time, slowing to the posted speed limit, and for a stretch on the way into Hope where I entered the cloud cover and could see nothing but white mist, I crawled along, braking intermittently to alert anyone who may have been speeding up behind me.

When I finally arrived in Harrison Hot Springs, greatly anticipating the HOT SPRINGS to soothe my aching shoulders and warm my bones, I was disappointed to discover that their hot springs consist of a pathetic little indoor public pool in the center of town swarming with hyperactive kids and pot-bellied parents.

I rented a little motel room and had a hot shower. The owner was kind enough to let me into his laundry room to use his industrial dryer for all my clothes which were soaked through. I unfurled my tent and sleeping bag and everything else from my bags and cranked the heat in my room up to 90 degrees to dry out and warm up. So much for camping.

I had coffee in the morning in front of spectacular Harrison Lake where artisans were setting up their booths for the Harrison Art Festival. A white-bearded guy making copper bracelets with a pair of needle-nosed pliers asked about my bike. "He's a Buell," I told him. "Oh, kinda like a Triumph," he responded. "No, kinda like a Buell, with a Harley engine," I corrected, then asked him if he was getting ready for the festival. "No, I'm creating some healing energy for this young lady here," he replied, while both he and the young lady sucked on Player's Lights. "Um, do you think the smoking might have anything to do with her need for 'healing energy?'" I asked. Well, in my head, anyway.

All fuelled up and caffeined up, and the rain subsided, I hit the damp pavement for Vancouver. After I cleared the mountains, the ride through the valley was sunny, dry, and beautiful until I hit Mission and the black cloud looming ominous over Maple Ridge. It's just not fun riding in the rain. Water finds a way in everywhere, through collars, wrists, the hole in my left boot, and down Henk's seat through the seam in my crotch. I met a guy on a Harley at a red light. "You're about to get really wet," he yelled over at me. "Hmm, you think?" "I'm gonna throw on my chaps," he said, turning into a parking lot. I followed just because it was more interesting than riding straight into a wall of water. I parked under a tree and he invited me into the A&W for a coffee. His name was Jim and he told me some motorbike horror stories, including one where his wife was on the back of a bike that hit a deer and she went flying, braced the fall with her left hand and shattered both bones in her forearm. Just the kind of delightful road story I want to hear when stopped in a rainstorm. When the sky seemed to be lightening, we shook hands and went our separate ways.

The sun came out ten minutes down the road and I pulled into Trev Deely's Harley Davidson dealership in Vancouver thinking there might be a very slim chance they could give Henk a spur of the moment tune-up. They were having motorbike test runs and the parking lot was aroar with exploding V-twin engines, middle-aged Harley riders snarfing hamburgers and showing off their bikes, and biker wannabes lining up to test drive a 2005 model.

I watched a guy on a 2005 Buell X1 Lightning jump the curb and land on his back while attempting to turn onto the road with a group of test riders. The guy was about a foot from a big tree when he ditched. His lucky day, I suppose, although at first I thought he might have done some damage to his spine as he sprawled on the grass on his back for several minutes before moving. Turns out only his ego was bruised and the bike was quickly checked for damage, then put right back into the fleet of test rides.

I must have been a generous mechanic in a past life or something because they refused to charge me when Henk came out of the shop purring like my kitty. Perhaps Henk and I, all loaded up and road hungry, inspired a spark of adventure in the guys. I've been told many times by Harley technicians that Henk, with his over 65,000 kilometers on the odometer is an anomaly. A lot of Harley owners use their bikes to bar hop or cruise up and down a city strip or polish on Sunday afternoon in their driveway to impress the neighbors.

I met my brother at the bar where he serves drinks to hotel patrons and sea wall strollers. We had a couple of beers and stayed up past midnight catching up with each others lives. We'd seen each other only three weeks ago at a family reunion, but in the chaos of nieces and nephews and in-laws and siblings and parents, we'd hardly talked. He's a sweet and gentle soul with incredible proportions of brilliance and magic and the ability to change the world if he would just get out of the way for it to come through. The same can probably be said for everyone not quite living up to their potential. If I only knew my potential, maybe I'd see the road there more clearly... Instead, I try and follow the perfection of the road unmapped and hold fast to the truth that no matter where I am, I am here.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I find it so interesting that when it's time, you just know it. Everything has its time and nothing can be forced outside of it.

Tomorrow I'm heading out first thing in the morning. It's just time. I've been here eight days now soaking up the lake and the sunshine and lots of love from Kevin and Leah and Lauren and Colton my nephew and my wildest and most wonderful new friends Harmen and Dawn who built a magnificent concrete castle in the forest over a thirty year span and are happy and supportive and vibrant and wish they could come along but they've built themselves into a major commitment with their bed and breakfast they now run in their little slice of Eden... I'm feeling ready to spend the next few weeks in relative solitude. I'm hoping Henk knows where we're going, because I haven't got a clue. West, I imagine. Then north.

I spoke with the man to whom I was married this morning. He's in Vancouver and just turned 50. I'll try and see him in Whistler, perhaps, over the weekend.

The Kamloops Harley guys are booked solid and can't fit Henk in for a tune-up, so I'll have to go with just the oil change. Carolyn's pal Big Dan, the undercover cop who rides Harleys and looks as mean as any Hell's Angel I've ever seen from a safe distance looked over Henk this morning and told me I'd be fine. He sounds good. He's not leaking any fuel or oil, the tires are in good shape, brakes are ok and he's all nice and shiny from Kevin's doting over the winter. Henk's ready. I'm ready. Off I go! I'll be praying for dry pavement and sane drivers with whom I will share the road.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Somehow a week has passed here at the lake. It already feels like a month since I left Toronto and although it's spectacularly beautiful here and summer has arrived in full sunshine, I miss the city and Ron and Willow. I haven't had much time to think, though, and I'm ready to move on down the road.

I picked up Henk from a bike shop in Grand Forks today where a friend of Kevin's set me up with an oil change. I'll stop in Kamloops for a tune and be on my way westward.

It's been nice getting swooped into the meandering stream of the slow lives of Kevin and Leah and their darling three year old girl, Lauren. We went out on their boat last night and toured the lake admiring cottages and choosing our dream waterfront property. It's all very lovely but right now the pavement is calling... "maybe tomorrow, I'll wanna settle down..."

Friday, July 01, 2005

I lost count of all the bald eagles perching and hawks soaring en route through Radium and into southern B.C. on Wednesday. We arrived at Christina Lake to the big blue open skies of summer.

My sweet pal Kevin and his partner Leah have set up their 'spirit house' for me to come and go over the next few months as I like. It's cozy and I've had a couple of really deep, healing sleeps. Their property is nestled amongst tall pines and tropical ferns and I awake to the sound of crows and ravens conducting great noisy meetings in the treetops. I'm reunited with Henk and it feels like home. I can't wait to get on the open road with him.

Toronto and Ron and Willow feel weeks and weeks behind already, although I know it's only because of my great distractions over the past few days. When someone dies, the best therapy for the person left behind is for friends and family to gather around and distract, distract, distract. It's the same with a relationship. I've been listening to other people's problems for the last five days quite happily.

Yesterday, I painted a cabin of a friend of my sister's where my nephew is staying for a lakeside visit with his little pal. Painting is extremely therapeutic. The repetitive motion, the monotony, the silence, the instant reward for work completed... I'll stay here a few more days until my nephew goes back to Banff. He keeps calling me 'mom' and won't leave my side. We're having fireworks tonight on the beach and I can't wait to see the look on his face when those twisting, popping, booming, sparkling, spiralling blasts of light take to the night sky over the lake.