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               The book is two stories woven together. 

The chapters flip back and forth in time from the late 20th century   to the early 21st 

Here we go......... 


Teenager on the loose

I was almost 18 and it was my first solo trip across the country. In early summer, I mooched my first ride in the back of a green ‘62 Econoline van with the guys in a rock and roll band that my cousin knew. The band was off to Edmonton. I had $86 in cash, a sleeping bag, a packsack, and a bit of a hangover.

In truth, the hangover was almost gone by the time we left New Westminster, but getting the hangover was how I hooked up with the band. I had spent most of the day before wearing dark sunglasses, drinking cola, and making few sudden moves. That was because the night before, my cousin Bob and I had fallen victim to the siren seductions of a beverage known as Double Jack.

For those of you not from that time and place, Double Jack was a kind of apple wine that was both strong and cheap. It had a lovely urine sort of colour and a bouquet like the breath of a wino eating a toffee apple. I had recently become a Double Jack user when I was introduced to the stuff by a girl who claimed it could induce a nirvana-like state when drunk in large quantities while listening to really loud Led Zeppelin music. I didn’t know much about nirvana, not the band of the ‘80s, but rather the eastern concept of liberation, or moksha, which refers to release from a state of suffering after an often lengthy period of committed spiritual practice. Her theory was that Double Jack was a short cut that ruled out the need for years of spiritual practice. Sounded good to me. As is the case with many teenaged boys, the combination of rock music, alcohol, and a teenage girl was irresistible. Double Jack was number one with me.

Bob’s place was on the mainland and the jumping off point for my hitchhiking journey. I had called him and wangled an invitation to stay over on my way to the east coast. I took the afternoon ferry and thumbed into the city. Cousin Bob had made us a spaghetti dinner and I provided the wine- a small jug of the aforementioned Double Jack. As we drank it with our meal, I could tell Bob was beginning to give in to the dark side, saying, “This stuff is really not all that bad,” and, “You know, this stuff is OK,” and, “I don’t think it will make you go blind.”

The after-dinner entertainment began when we realized we had run out of Double Jack. So there we were, laughing and racing each other downhill from his apartment to the liquor store at the bottom of the street. When you are a little drunk and two of you decide to race down a steep street, the odds are that one of you will trip and get scuffed-up on the sidewalk. Well, we beat the odds. Both of us were sporting bleeding scrapes and torn clothing as we burst into the liquor store, raucously calling for a gallon jug of the stuff. The clerk looked at us a little apprehensively, then looked around, perhaps hoping for a passing cop. Not seeing any police nearby, he shrugged and reached under the counter (seeing where they kept the stuff was somewhat telling) and pulled out a gallon jug of the golden elixir. We had the decency to get out the door before the top spun off and sailed away like a mini Frisbee into the gutter.We each took a healthy snort and headed back up the street.

Most parts of the evening that followed are a bit foggy, but I do recall that we decided to phone my brother to say hi. Trouble was, he was somewhere in Australia and neither of us knew exactly where, although the name Lightning Ridge seemed about right. So, telling the overseas operator it was a matter of life and death (Bob’s hamster had, in fact, died), we ended up talking to an Aussie constable who took my name and promised to sind Kivin aout weth thi missij.

Satisfied with our efforts, we happily called it a night. I pretty much forgot all about the phone call. I suppose Bob was roughly reminded when his phone bill came. My reminder came sometime later when I learned that the call elicited a few anxious telegrams from New South Wales starting with: INFORMED OF RALPH’S DEATH STOP PLEASE SEND DETAILS STOP, which may have created a few anxious moments for my dear old mum, too. Perhaps it was just as well I was a few thousand miles away, somewhere back east, until long after the smoke had cleared.

During our hung-over repose, my cousin told me he knew the members of a band who were headed to Edmonton. He made a call that Sunday afternoon and found they had room for me. Early Monday morning, Bob and I stopped off on the way to his work and, after quick introductions, I grabbed my pack from the back of his pickup and threw it in the back of the van. I was on my way.

On the Road Again - 45 years later

May 1st was Blast-Off Day. We set out from our home on Vancouver Island early that morning. Where we live on the Island the mainland is about 50 km away. We  drove about an hour to the ferry terminal in Nanaimo and arrived the prescribed half hour before sailing. After our two hour crossing we had about 6000km of Canada to cross to get to the Atlantic. A couple of hours east at the narrow end of the Fraser Valley we pulled into Hope.

After overnighting in  Hope, we left the TransCanada and headed into the mountains. There are currently three highways to choose from and all follow river valleys. We set out on Highway 3, the Crowsnest, travelling east through Manning Provincial Park towards the town of Princeton. The highway climbs steadily out of Hope. It wasn’t long before we could see some snow off in the bush along the sides of the road. The highway winds alongside rushing rivers in the mountain valleys and on the corners you might see a grey slope of gravel and rock from the shoulder of the road right down to the frothing water and exposed  rocks. Sometimes the river is only 10 or 15 feet below the highway, but sometimes it is a scary long way down; doubly so in a top-heavy walrus of a campervan.

We were definitely in the mountains now, with the manicured flat fields of the Fraser Valley far behind. The thick evergreen trees form an enormous shag carpet on the hillsides. At times, we could see ahead through the steep-sided valleys, but in some of the winding parts of the road, we couldn’t even see the end of the curve. At one point, the road opened through to a clear patch in a little valley and I spotted deer tiptoeing in the drifts beside a creek that we could see below the roadway.

When I looked upward from the creek I spied a GIANT MARMOT. “Look,” I cried, “a GIANT MARMOT!” Immediately, Donna pulled over, stopped engines, and dropped anchor. There it was! A GIANT MARMOT, or rather a wooden statue of the mascot of Manning Provincial Park, which rises beside the highway at the park entrance like, well, a giant rodent.

Here’s a little background to explain my excitement about the marmot. You see, we generally give a pet name to our vehicles, like The Red Racer, which was a sporty little import; The Green Hornet, a little green pickup whose muffler buzzed; or, to acknowledge the embarrassment of my teenage daughters who were deeply ashamed to be seen in our boxy 4-door sedan with plaid upholstery, The Nerdmobile. So when we bought our present camper van a few months back, we wanted a suitable name. The van is kind of an ugly brown colour, and although we did come up with a couple unflattering names of ugly brown things, we settled on the much more flattering, “The Marmot.” Marmots are brown and there are some, but not many, marmots indigenous to Vancouver Island—in fact, the Vancouver Island marmot is notably considered to be one of Canada’s most endangered species.

After hearing of our name for the van, a good friend gave us a little plush toy marmot to be a kind of mascot. These little guys were sold as a fundraising item in support of a program to help this endangered Vancouver Island species. Which, I am happy to say are beginning to prosper.

 He is a great mascot. Now we had a name for the van but we still needed a name for our little marmot. My wife was complaining that the names I came up with were all either kind of cheesy or smarmy. And being a little hard of hearing, I thought she said “By Jesus, let’s call him Smarmy.”

So now you can understand why we absolutely had to stop for the photo opportunity with Smarmy, our marmot, and the GIANT MARMOT. I held Smarmy close to the camera so he would look really big beside the marmot statue. Then I climbed up and put him on the big marmot’s head and had fun for a few minutes setting up poses. It was an auspicious event.

Little did I know the Shit Fairy saw us enjoying ourselves.