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                   As the subtitle suggests,  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......... 

 

Beyond Hope

 

I am not yet beyond hope; I am writing this in a campground in Hope, B.C., a place I have always considered to be the edge of the known world. To a westcoaster like me, Hope is the gateway to the rest of Canada.. Tomorrow morning my wife and I will be off on our adventure across Canada. We will be definitely beyond Hope.

The first time I went across Canada was many years ago, in 1970, when I hitchhiked alone.I remember when I decided to go to the east coast. It was because of a hat. I made my decision during a great weekend spent on the west coast of Vancouver Island (the “Island”) at Long Beach near Tofino.

In those days you could drive on the beach. It was all kinds of fun. There were lots and lots of young people on the beach driving lots and lots of cars, so it should not come as a big surprise to learn that some of them were drinking beer while they drove. A lot of beer. Enough beer to make a nuisance of themselves and to encourage the local constabulary to bring their police car onto the beach and put an end to the drunk driving.

Now, most of those young people’s cars were not expensive. In fact, it was a wonder that some of them even managed to make the drive to the west coast. The one that the police were particularly interested in had no muffler because that bit was probably somewhere on the nasty gravel road from Port Alberni. That car also boasted lots of rust, a missing tail light, dents and scratches, and rough body repairs, resulting in a net value that was probably less than the beer it carried. Quite an audience gathered to watch as the police herded those hooligans to our end of the beach where large rocks blocked any further progress. When the occupants of the car saw that there was no escape those gangsters turned their car in the direction of China. Shouting, “You’ll never take this car alive, Coppers!” they drove it straight into the sea until the water was halfway up the doors. They climbed out of the windows and sat on the roof laughing and finishing the last of their beers.

After we enjoyed the car chase and the antics of the gangsters, things quieted down so my friends and I hiked out onto the rocks to seek further amusement. To our delight we discovered a keyhole-shaped niche in the rocks that had a sandy bottom and a fairly long channel to the sea that allowed waves to rush in and fill the round part of the keyhole with knee deep frothing water. Almost immediately the water would retreat, exposing the flat, sandy bottom. In no time we were taking death-defying, or at least wet-defying,leaps down onto the  sand and scrabbling back out before the next wave would fill the basin again. To make it more of a challenge, someone had the bright idea of jumping down and writing their name in the sand before they were swamped by the incoming cold seawater.

On my turn, I had jumped down and written my name, but on the way out I dropped my hat into a puddle at the side of the keyhole floor. I loved that hat and had no intention of sending it to China.

A hat is a special bit of apparel which can serve various purposes: you can show respect by tipping or removing your hat; a hat can protect your head from the sun and rain; a hat can also be a fashion statement. Some hats identify members of a certain profession. My hat qualified for all of the above. It was one of those striped caps favoured by railroad engineers and I cherished it.

I had little time before the next wave came in and frothed away with my hat,so down I leapt again, grabbed my wet hat, and scrambled up chased all the way by the Pacific Ocean. Luckily my friend John lent a hand to haul me up. He said it was lucky that my hat hadn’t gone out to sea, maybe on its way to Japan. While I stood there with a little of the Pacific Ocean dripping down onto my face and neck I was imagining the possible travels of my hat. That’s when I came up with the idea that since I had dipped my hat in the Pacific that perhaps I should dip it in the Atlanticas well. In retrospect, it wasn’t much of a reason to travel across the country, but like a lot of teenage decisions, it seemed a good idea at the time.

On the Road Again

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.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia

 

This part is about searching for the best route through rural Nova Scotia.

We stopped at a gas station to fuel up and, after the tank was full, asked the attendant which road to Truro was in the best shape, having discovered that some of the roads in Nova Scotia, like those we had travelled in other provinces, suffered from the dreaded pothole disease.

We proceeded indoors. I paid for the fuel and then spread my roadmap on the counter and began the interrogation of the attendant and his coveralls-wearing assistant who got up from an old chrome chair with a half bottle of cola in one grease-stained hand and a rollie in the other. As if planning a military operation, they traced the various routes with their fingers and studied the map intently, seeking confirmation from each other about each of the possible routes. After a couple of minutes of listening to recollections as to whose cousins lived “up dat way” and where Pete’s truck had broke down last month, I became a little impatient and pushed them towards actually considering which road was the better bet. I could see by the strain on their faces that they were searching hard for just the right answer to this most perplexing of quandaries. I think the sidekick had given up the struggle because he just bent his head and stared down at the map. The attendant did the same for a while then lifted his gaze and a smile lit up his face. I could see that he had solved the conundrum. His sidekick noticed, figured he was off the hook, and looked appreciatively at his colleague, awaiting the answer.

“Well-sir it really don’t matter which road youse take,” the attendant pronounced, “youse’ll get there just the same.”

A congratulatory grin blossomed on the face of his pal and looking at the happy relief on both of their countenances, I could see that I had been given the only answer I was going to get.

“Right you are,” I said, and thanked them very much and hopped into the Marmot van none the wiser.

“What did he say?” asked Donna.

With a big smile, I passed on the answer: “It don’t matter which road youse take, youse’ll get there just the same.”

 

A Dip In The Atlantic

Before we leave Atlantic Canada I should include how I spectacularly dipped my hat in the ocean in 1970.  If you recall I was not at all well as I hitched east from Montreal and spent one of the most miserable nights of my life shivering in the shelter of an underpass near Riviere du Loup.

The next day was not much better.  Still sick and cold and wet I decided I better get someplace to dry off and try to get warm. Having misspent some time in coin laundries before, I trudged into town in search of such a facility. Luck was with me. I suppose the gas station attendant I asked for directions could see I needed a dryer and was happy to tell me there was one close by.

A coin laundry generally does not present as welcoming. I stepped inside and there were the usual washers and dryers lined up in rows and a soap dispenser stuck to a wall. Here and there were a few plastic chairs and in a cleared space a folding table with parts of newspapers strewn across it. The floors were some sort of inexpensive greyish tiles and for entertainment an there was an overstuffed bulletin board. And because it was 1970 half full ashtrays were all over the place. The smell of detergent and bleach was strong enough to make an impression even on my clogged nasal passages. It was heaven!

I wasn’t home and dry but I was certainly better off than outside in the lingering drizzle. I slung my pack on the table and pulled off my damp jacket and hat. I rummaged down in my pack and dug out a somewhat dry t-shirt and pulled off the one I was wearing which was cold and damp against my shoulders and back. With a dry t-shirt on I hunted for some dry trousers. I only had two pairs so the ones out of the pack qualified as drier. Looking around I nipped in behind a row if machines kicked off my boots and did a quick change. My socks were not too bad. I emptied the pockets of my wet gear, loaded up a drier, and fed in a couple of dimes. I pulled out my towel and dried off my hair as best I could and felt a little better. The buns and cheese in my pack were in plastic so I pulled out some for breakfast.  There was a coin coffee/chocolate machine near the soap machine so I got a cup of hot chocolate and sat down to a bit of breakfast. When the dryer was done the first load, I exchanged the now dry clothes for one more load of my wet stuff which included my sleeping bag. In a while all my stuff was good to go.

 Good to go, but where?  I needed some sleep and maybe some medicine. I found a pharmacy and bought some aspirin and a little menthol inhaler to clear my nose. Now where? I looked around and spotted a church. A church? I gave it a shot.

I entered a Catholic church and was feeling pretty lost as to what to do. I had not been in a church much for a number of years and had not been in a Catholic church more than a couple of times ever. A voice asked a question in french and its meaning didn’t register for a moment as I looked around for the speaker. I spotted him and gave him a puzzled look and then declared, “I need to sleep. I am sick.”

 He walked over to me and put his hand on my forehead.  “You have a fever” he said.” Come with me.”

He ushered me downstairs to the church basement and said I could sleep there. He produced a folding cot and explained that sometimes the basement was used as a shelter. There was a kitchen and he said that I should drink lots of water. I drank a glassful and took a couple of aspirin. Then I drank another glassful. He said he would check on me later on. I told him I was not a Catholic but he smiled and said “We are all God’s creatures.” I slept all day.

 When I woke I found my benefactor had left me a sandwich and an orange. I had the orange for supper, then more water and aspirin and back to my cot. The next morning I felt ok.  The fever must have passed and I was hungry. I wolfed down the sandwich. My benefactor came along and made some coffee for us.

I told him I felt much better. I told him I had little money left but asked if I could pay something. He just laughed and said the service here was free.  After some talk about where I was from and where I was going I said I should be on my way. He queried if I thought I was well enough and I said yes I was certainly better. I gathered up my stuff and he packed up the cot and we went upstairs and outside. I thanked him again and said he had been a great help to me. He said, “Helping is my line of work.” We shook hands and I was on my way.

The weather had cleared and it was a fine summer day as I headed for New Brunswick. I still was not one hundred percent but felt pretty chipper. I caught a ride and after an hour or so I was in Edmunston. By late afternoon I managed to get to Campbelton. I told the fella who dropped me off I wanted to see the Atlantic and he told me I was in luck because there was a nice beach and park just where he could let me off.

 I got out of the car, went past the park sign, and hiked down to a lighthouse which stood there looking out over the Atlantic.  Well a little of the Atlantic at least.

 So this was it!  Here I was. The other side of the continent! Sadly I didn’t see any people to witness my amazing accomplishment. The area was set up with picnic tables and grassy areas, but nobody else seemed to be enjoying the shore. There was nothing else for it but to step down to the water and dip my hat. I put down my pack and crept up to the water till I found a spot where my feet wouldn’t get too wet and ceremoniously touched my hat in the salt chuck. I pretended to pose holding up my dripping hat and then bowing this way and that for an imaginary cheering crowd. But in reality the only other person around was a girl who came walking along the shore behind me. She strolled over and asked what I was up to. I realised my performance must have made me look like a dip.

The Twilight Zone

By the time I had finished my reminiscence of fun times in Brandon, we were back on the Trans-Canada heading west. Driving on prairie highways again was not particularly exciting. The highway just goes straight to the horizon which keeps receding like the end of the rainbow We were usually able to see when stormswereapproaching  so we were very surprised when suddenly it was darker and the rain began.

Early in our journey, our camping guide said that we might find convenient camping at municipal parks in small towns in many places in Canada. So far, that had proven to be true. So in the middle of a thunderstorm in Saskatchewan, we pulled off the highway into a small town. We soon saw a sign that directed us to their park. The thunder and lightning and the heavy rain had forced us off the highway and, unbeknownst to us, forced us to cross over into the Twilight Zone.

We were relieved to find the park because we were quite ready to stop driving for the day. There wasn’t really much to recommend the place though, other than the fact that you could stop there and they had washrooms. It was pretty much a small field with a lane that went up one side, circled around at the end and went down the other side, with a few feeble trees here and there. Through the rain-streaked windshield, I read the sign near the entrance with the usual proclamation welcoming campers, the camp regulations, and advising that campers might choose to put their camping fees into an envelope and deposit it in the drop box once they had chosen a site that they liked. I decided to jump out of the van and make a run for it to the dropbox to collect an envelope and, when the rain had passed, come back and drop my fee into the dropbox. However, the envelopes were kept in a container that was cleverly made so that the lid was stiff enough to stay open during rainstorms. The envelopes were a sodden mess. Not wanting to spend any more time in the rain than necessary, I decided to deal with the fees later.

We eased along to choose a site, which was pretty easy to do because the place was almost deserted. There was only a rundown trailer in a corner of the park. It looked as if someone was living there full time; perhaps an itinerant worker who moved his trailer from job to job. Evidently the owner had quite a taste for beer because there was a rather large pile of empties underneath the small awning with duct tape patches attached to the side of the trailer. There were a few other odds and ends, including a spare wheel, a rickety looking barbecue, and a few jumbled storage tubs.

Not wanting to crowd the only other occupant of the park, we drove partway around the circular lane and wheeled into a spot that seemed level enough and parked. While we waited for the rain to ease off and the sky to lighten a bit, we had a cup of tea and a cookie and settled in to do a little reading. The park was surrounded by the residential streets of the town.

I had a peculiar feeling of being watched and when I looked up from my book I could see through the gloom a woman with grey hair staring out from what appeared to be her kitchen window. Because of the privacy film on the van windows, she could not see me. Still, it was a little bit unnerving. It got even more weird when she slipped out of her back door and entered the park through a gate at the back of her property. She glanced furtively from under the hood of her coatspying on our vehicle as she slinked across the far side of the park. She appeared to be going to the building that housed the washrooms and that had the camping fee envelopes and dropbox fixed to the outside wall. I suppose she must have checked the fees box while she carried out her surveillance. A moment later, she scurried back to her house, checking on us like a weasel watching a henhouse all the while.

I mentioned to Donna that we were the objects of quite a bit of interest from the old lady living beside the park. Donna speculated that by the looks of things, probably not much happened around here and so we were probably a bit of a novelty. I went back to my book, but I wondered about the vigil-aunty eyeing us and inspecting the fee box. It’s now my belief that she was an informer because soon after she returned to her surveillance post we were visited by the park warden. The warden was not wearing a Gestapo uniform, but it really would have suited her. She raced in to the campground and parked on the other side of the lane from our spot. Quickly she strode across in the rain and pounded on our side door.

Donna opened the door and was greeted by, “You did not pay the camping fee. Didn’t you read the sign?”

I joined Donna at the door and explained that when I had checked the envelope container I couldn’t find a suitable envelope. I further explained that the combination of paper, glue, and water was excellent for making a papier-mâché object—perhaps a snowball or a miniature iceberg—but the envelopes were quite unsuitable for the intended purpose of collecting fees for the dropbox. Then I asked to be reminded how much the fee would be.

“You will have to pay for two nights because you were observed staying here last night and did not pay the fee.” she accused.

I explained that there must be some mistake because we were in Manitoba last night. Donna went to fetch the receipt from the Neepawa campground.

“Oh yes, that old story. We were somewhere else. This brown van was seen here last night and seen leaving early in the morning without paying.”

Donna handed her the receipt that contained the name of the Neepawa campground, which was dated the day before.

“This could be a made up receipt,” the warden snapped, as she studied it as if it might have been a forgery. Eventually she shoved the rain spattered paper back at Donna.

“Well, I still have to collect the fee due for today so there is no chance of you sneaking out without paying.”

Donna said that we would not be sneaking out at all; rather, we would be leaving immediately. I took the hint and slipped into the driver’s seat. As I fired up the engine, I couldn’t quite hear what Donna said next, but I believe it had something to do with where the warden could shove her fees and her wet envelopes.

As I drove around the circular lane, I glanced up and there was the vigil-aunty staring at us from her surveillance post. I imagined I could hear Rod Serling’s voice as we made our way out of the park and back onto the highway:

And so our hapless travellers caught in a thunderstorm have unwittingly made a detour through

The Twilight Zone.

 

Evil Clowns

 

I had been stuck on the highway near  Brandon for days so I decided to get to get a bus ticket out of town. But I was flat broke, so I wired home for a bit of the money that I had left in my bank account for just such an occurrence.

It was July 15, the 100th anniversary of Manitoba joining Canada.  I was completely unaware of the scope of the festivities, but soon found myself part of a crowd on the parade route. It turned out to be problematic when I realized that the office where I was to collect my cash was on one side of the parade route and the bus depot was on the other side a few blocks over. I was on the same side as the bus depot, so I had to cross twice to get the money and get the bus and the parade was already underway.

So I stood and watched as a couple of the parade participants marched past and decided that it shouldn’t be too difficult to casually slip across the street in the space between some of the celebrants.

It was made even easier when one of the floats gave me the perfect opportunity. The people on the float were tossing candies to the children along the route. So lots of children and a few adults were darting out into the street to collect the goodies. It wasn’t too difficult for me to dart out on one side and slip across to the other side before the next group of marching participants came along. So far so good.

It was only a matter of minutes and I was into the office, did the paperwork, and had a bit of cash in my pocket. I eased my way through the crowd up to the street and was preparing to make another dash across and be on my way. And it would’ve worked out fine if it hadn’t been for the clowns. Did I mention that I hate clowns? Let me tell you why.

These clowns were on bicycles. There was a pack of them. They were slipping along the edge of the parade like wolves just waiting for one of the herd to drop out. Clowns are opportunists. They test their prey, sensing any weakness or vulnerability. Clowns are ambush predators that rely on the element of surprise and a short and intense burst of energy to secure their prey. They spot their prey, and single one out to make fun of them. When I stepped out into the street, I was quickly surrounded. There was a great deal of laughter as the clowns had me surrounded. Each time I tried to politely slip across the street, they blocked my way. They honked their horns and made their exaggerated gestures like traffic cops and blew their whistles, much to the delight of the crowd. I was not so delighted. In fact, I really wasn’t enjoying the performance at all. They would not listen to my polite requests to get across the street. I didn’t really see a way out of it other than going back where I had come from but they wouldn’t let me do that either and I began to feel a little panicky. The more I was discomfited, the happier the clowns and the crowd were.

But then, in a flash of inspiration, I remembered a lesson I had learned from my high school PE teacher. It really wasn’t part of the curriculum, but it was a lesson that had proved very useful for this particular situation. My PE teacher had been a city policeman in England before he had come to Canada. One day he was telling us about having to deal with an unruly gang. He and his fellow coppers would have been very happy to have packed off one or two of the ringleaders to jail, but they really had no visible reason for doing so. However, if one of the gang members had accosted one of the police, they would have had ample reason to haul them off. It was then that he explained to us that if you have a good heavy pair of boots and you tread, unnoticed, down the ankle of someone, it is quite painful. If you do that while being face-to-face with a gang member, the odds are they will react violently and then you have free reign to whack them a couple of times and haul them away.

Well, I had a good sturdy pair of boots on. I found that a pair of solid work boots with thick leather soles was a great asset for life on the road. Putting into practice that wonderful lesson from my high school teacher, I found myself very close to the ankle of one of the clowns who had parked right in front of me with his near foot resting on the pavement and his away foot on the pedal of his bicycle. I stepped close and my boot grated down his ankle causing him to yelp and try to jump away. Being on a bicycle, jumping away was difficult, but tipping over on the bicycle and crashing to the asphalt was easy. The crowd loved it. With one clown down and the others coming to help him up, the focus had shifted away from me and I managed to back out of the situation and ease away to the sidewalk that I wanted. As I glanced back, I saw that my victim was explaining to his pals what had happened and the faces of the malevolent clowns were now searching the crowd for me. One of them spotted me and I smiled and saluted him as I left them to their fun. The old one finger salute!

It was a few blocks to the bus depot and by the time I got there I had just enough time to purchase my ticket, and grab a snack. I stowed my pack in the luggage area underneath and climbed aboard the bus. Adios Brandon. Adios evil clowns!