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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......... 


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.


Stealth Camping

Before we left home, I had been doing a little work on the Marmot van because I wasn’t happy with the interior layout. I wanted to install some kind of air conditioning. In 1981, when the van was built, dashboard-controlled air conditioning had not been installed. I priced out some options and an aftermarket installation was going to be more than half of the price we paid for the van. Even if I had gathered up a system from an auto wrecker and installed what I could, I still would have been obliged to have a licensed technician complete the installation and that amount of money and effort was not what I wanted.

The solution turned out to be a home air conditioner, an inverter, and some batteries. It was not really cheap, but the price was at least reasonable to me and the install was pretty straightforward. But before I took on the job, I did a little research on van conversions. That’s when I came across an article about stealth vans. Evidently these are vans that people in cities live in. The owners just move about finding unobtrusive places to park each night. With a stealth van, you don’t pay rent. Cool idea!

So having been paying $30 or more a night for camping spots that weren’t really even up and running, I suggested we “stealth it” and use the money to buy a meal. We agreed on the plan and it seemed a good one.

Actually, the plan was quickly modified to read: sleep in a box store parking lot. It turned out that some box stores had hatched the scheme of allowing RVs to park overnight. It actually works in the favour of the store because, instead of making a campfire, visiting with the other campers, or walking to see the river or lake or whatever, the hapless traveller sitting in the RV in the parking lot eventually succumbs to the lure of the hardware department and spends at least as much as a campsite would have cost.

So walking out of the store with our purchases, we were not particularly pleased to see that the parking lot was pretty much empty except for a couple frantic shoppers who ran in and ran out with a carton of cigarettes or a jug of milk and a couple of shady characters sitting in an old pimped-out Oldsmobile. It appeared they had a number of acquaintances who stopped in for a quick chat and perhaps were loaning our guys some money or perhaps were buying homemade jewellery. It eventually occurred to us that their transactions might have been of the unlawful kind. Seems a lot of money was changing hands and they were doing a pretty brisk trade. We decided it was not the place to be in the middle of the night. Okay. Plan B.

Plan B: Find a nice quiet residential street and park overnight. Seems simple enough. A little hitch was that we should have amended the plan to read “nice quiet level street.” We both agreed that having your feet way up or way down was not conducive to a good night’s sleep, nor was a sideways slant with everyone rolling to one side. Rolling was okay for the one who rolls toward the wall, but not for the one who either rolls out onto the floor or has to imitate a Star Trek character and become a Klingon. Unfortunately, the amended Plan B was just not well suited to the city of Nelson, which, we discovered after a thorough search, has no level streets at all. After half an hour of leaning this way and that, and rolling off the bunks, we formulated Plan C.

Plan C: In a flash of insight, I remembered a park from the tourist brochure I had perused earlier that day.

Lakeside Park lies at the edge of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake at the foot of the famous ‘Orange Bridge.’ Streetcar #23’s tracks lead through Lakeside Park to another loop at the East entrance of the Park.

Perfect! At Lakeside Park we found a level place and even washrooms at the streetcar station. In fact, we had eaten our supper at the other end of the park earlier in the evening so it was somewhat familiar. The parking area had been pretty well populated at supper time, but now it was pretty much empty. Great! We congratulated ourselves, closed up all the curtains, and bunked down. YES! Stealth Camping could work! And it did…until about midnight.

It turns out that on Friday night about midnight on a spring evening, the youth of Nelson frequent Lakeside Park. But not as you might suppose: to stroll quietly in the moonlight by the lake and whisper the intimacies of starstruck lovers. No, the youth of Nelson are given to running and shrieking and hollering and playing hide-and-seek. During their antics, they hide behind things like, well, our Stealth Van. And then they loudly carry on an argument with someone at least a hundred yards away:





But even teenagers eventually tire and move on, and after an hour or two of fun, all was quiet again and we got back to sleep.

Now I suppose we could be forgiven for not taking into account that some of the tracks near the park were not for Streetcar #23. Being used to our quiet little Vancouver Island E & N Railway “Dayliner” train, which had one car and used to run north through our neighbourhood one way to tell us to stop for lunch at 12:00 noon, and back south again at 2:30 to announce afternoon coffee time, we may be allowed to use that as an excuse for being naive about rail traffic. We actually liked to see our cute little train, with its two or three passengers, toot on by as it made its way up and down the Island.

So when the first hideous roaring and clanking of an enormous, berserker freight train not 20 feet away rattled us out of our sleep and nearly out of our bunks, we assumed that it must be a solitary, frantic train with its unfortunate crew hurrying home to loved ones after some unavoidable delay in their daylight journey. The poor guys; getting home so late. After about the fifth train, we realized that these bloody trains run all night and that some evil genius had contrived to route all the rail traffic in North America through Nelson between 1:00 and 5:00 am. As is often the case with those who choose to share life’s joys and calamities, some of us were not ready to jointly accept blame for a bad plan. There were even suggestions made that I, personally, should accept responsibility for “THIS STUPID STEALTH VAN IDEA.” Fortunately, the shaking of the van and the hideous squealing and banging of the steel wheels of the passing trains drowned out further discussion of culpability.

Like Voltaire’s cheerful Candide, whose motto was Everything turns out for the best in this best of all possible worlds, I optimistically pointed out the happy news that we were certainly up early enough to be sure to get a space on the first ferry from Balfour to Crawford Bay, which we did. Yes, we certainly arrived early enough, but some of us were not particularly bright and cheerful at the Crawford Bay landing.


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.



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!