There is a mystery in this old van. Every once in a while I misplace something and joke about “Oldtimers” setting in. Well now, I have something going on that is downright weird. There is slide-out crockery locker in my little galley. In it, with the plates and bowels, I have stored three saucers. Occasionally, I absentmindedly put them in an adjacent drawer. Now they’ve disappeared. I cannot find them in the van, anywhere. Three saucers are no big deal, but where in the hell did I put them? Lurching and winding over the twisting California mountain passes could possibly have shifted them. But they are gone. Gone! Hopefully, I’ll be able to report where I found therm. They must be in the van somewhere…unless! Call a priest! California, by the way has some of the worst roads I’ve travelled, both here and in southern regions. Patches on patched patches, sloughing grades, 10 mph hairpin turns and, nobody’s fault, …more snow!
I am writing this at my little table in the van looking out the windows and watching the surf roll in and collide with the breakwater approximate 600 feet away. There is spume in the air and a steady thunder of breaking seas. It is a terrifying sound to the mariner in his boat but I am on the beach, safe, warm, dry. The wind and rain are horrific. I love it. I’m going to stay in the same spot for a while. A week ago I was looking for my night’s spot in that frozen gravel pit near Williams, Arizona. Next time, no more marathons. I’ll amble south until I am where I want to be and I’ll stay there, for days and days, maybe weeks. I’ll also have an RV far more suitable for back roads. I know now what I need. I’ve learned a lot this trip. When not at sea I want to be in the desert.
At the moment, the pelting rain and wind are outside. I’m in an oasis of warmth, with a spectacular view. On the stove are three massive chicken legs slowly sizzling with an aroma of Pollo Sazonado, 3.32 pounds for $3.29! I splurged and also bought a pre-packaged Caesar salad. Be still my gypsy heart! This is bliss.
A day later, I’m in the same place in my van. The weather does not break. Every time I try to go for a walk an even heavier blast arrives. I’ve been working on getting caught up with my blogs, but the internet here is behaving strangely and I cannot get photos to download correctly. I decided to finally get my bike out and oil it up for when the weather improves.. I haven’t ridden it during the entire trip. Way back on Oak Creek I found a place to pull over and get some good photos. I decided to back the van up to leave as much room as possible. During that manouver a family in a little car wheeled in behind me. I did not see her in my mirrors. Yep, bang! We were worried about damage to her car which was fine, and she drove off. It turns out that I’d rammed her trailer hitch with my buckboard. It was bent up and today I discovered the front wheel on the bike was too wonky to be used. More swear words. I’ve been inside this little van for days and certainly most of the past twenty-four hours. I’ve had no significant exercise for days. I am frustrated. I could have stayed home in the boat, warm and snug in this weather and at least have some room to stretch out a bit. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!!!
I’ve only made it to Florence, about 100 miles up the coast, but I’ve finally been able to shoot some footage of an Oregon Coast winter storm. I did not get blown off the cliff but all my old winter aches and pains are back. I’m almost home. As Canadians say, “No doubt about it!” In the morning there is a strange blue patch overhead. A brillant light beams down out of it. I think I’ll go check it out.
“A storm always ends, enjoy it while it lasts!” …meself
I left Baker in mid-morning after editing photos and posting a blog. It always feel good to be caught up. This trip has been a breathless rush of events, people and images which I feel are truly worth sharing. Reader’s comments confirm that. I began the day’s travels by visiting a local archaeological site. It was wonderful. I had it all to myself to speculate on the wonders of mud ruins, apparently seven-hundred years old. The wind was keen and shrill and cold. I wore no hat and soon had an ice-cream headache. My hands throbbed painfully. I am just not nineteen anymore!
Turning west onto Highway 50 (Called the loneliest highway in America) I again climbed and descended several mountain passes and traversed more wonderful valleys. I stopped to absorb the wonder of a huge wind farm in a place called Spring Valley. The wind was increasing and it was obvious that a storm was coming. I reckoned I could make it to Ely (Pronounced eely) and hunker down somewhere if the weather was indeed as serious as it seemed. The snow blew and thickened. When I finally arrived I passed an RV Park that looked so dismal in the deepening snow I could not bring myself to stop. I filled up with gas at a “Loves” truck stop and then decided that in consideration of the weather I should stuff up my own tank. The truck stop is adjoined to a sort-of casino and a Carl’s Jr. Fast burger joint. I know better. I still have a souvenir of that joint riding in my belly over a day later.
All the employees there, mostly chunky ladies who looked like the Michelin Sisters wore company T-shorts with “Beyond Meat” emblazoned on their chests. The irony did not escape me. Clearly the management has an all-you-can eat policy for its employees. There’s an old country song that says, “I love the way you fill out your skin-tight blue jeans.” Not! What rhymes with sweat pants? I suppose it may be cheaper than a retirement program, but pity the pallbearers! My ubiquitous gang of Asian tourists arrived, looking completely bewildered. Their patriarch, an aged, shuffling fellow was dressed incongruously in a Russian fur helmet, a pair of John Lennon sun glasses, camouflage trousers and open toe sandals with bright pink socks. And I thought I was a snappy dresser! While we snacked on our gristle burgers, a full blizzard descended with swirling fury.
I am a former great white north guy and reasoned that if I could make it to the other side of the mountains, conditions would ease and the storm could heap as much snow as it wanted…behind me. Hell, I’ve driven in everything. Fool! My photos attest to that. However, the most weirdly wonderful thing happened as I set out on that trek. I could smell coal smoke and put it down to an over-reaction to my lunch or perhaps my angst about the weather. Then I saw it! Had I also begun to hallucinate? I leapt out into the wintry blast with my mobile phone. (My serious cameras were not going to be taken out into the driving snow.) There, in that raging blizzard, was a steam locomotive backing an antique work train onto a siding. I could not have been more amazed had I been looking at the ‘Queen Mary’. I’ve reviewed my short video and photos repeatedly to confirm what I saw. It is still hard to believe. You can google up information on the railway museum in Ely) Go closer to spring. I drove on westward into that storm; sometimes my speed was down to fifteen mph. I had to stop repeatedly to clear the ice from my windshield and wipers.
I was right. The snow eased and visibility improved and I arrived in Eureka Nevada. It was winter-bound and the RV park I saw looked closed. After a short stretch and breathe and shoot- up with my camera, I drove on west into the now-brilliant sunset hoping to find a place to stop for the night in Austin. Everything there was wintered out as well. After almost colliding with a large herd of mule deer on the main street I drove on down the mountain into the darkness. I looked back and saw that Stokes Castle was cleverly lit with golden light. Every time I drive across Nevada, Austin is on my route. This time I closed a loop of my south-bound leg to San Carlos. I hate looking for a spot to spend the night in the dark when I’m not sure where I am. Eventually I found a safe turn-out which proved to be the former site of a Pony Express station called ‘Cold Spring.’
In the morning I took photos of the surrounds and also ruins of a former telegraph station. Later, in perfect light, I came upon an archaeological site with loads of ancient and beautiful pictographs near Grimes Point, looking down on the Fallon Naval Air Base. Yep, right there in the desert! Tonight, I discovered I’d done something wrong and have no images to download from the day. Swear words! My water pump had again frozen last night. Later in the day as it thawed, a hose came loose and the water tank under the bed emptied itself inside the van. Grit! You’ve gotta have grit!
It was fortunate that I made a decision to put my head down and just drive, ignoring some great images along the way, (which I would have lost as it turned out.) I drove through Reno (Eeeech) and then north, heading for Susanville California. Then I chose to head for low ground and put the last mountain passes behind me. Eventually I arrived in Red Bluff a few thousand feet ASL lower. In the wake of last year’s horrific wild fires, there is no space available in this area for the likes of me. Many of those displaced folks are living in RV Parks all over the interior of Northern California. So with no wifi again, no blogs will be posted tonight. I am in some very beautiful countryside, about one-hundred miles from the coast, parked on the side of the road once more. Think of the money I’m saving in fees. There is a gentle steady rain falling which, I know, is more snow in the mountains behind me.
Hard winter conditions have pursued me for the past week. I’m frustrated in not finding the rest and reboot I sought. I am in fact, exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, snow is piling up with more to come. Folks are emptying the grocery stores in anticipation of continuing harsh weather. I try not to feel guilty about being out here on the lam. Silly bugger!
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” … Scott Adams.
(No disrespect intended, it’s what some of us call Bella Bella. Bella Coola is Bunga Cunga)
On arrival at the YVR South Terminal I flopped my big old wheeled travel bag onto the weigh scale. The ticket agent raised an eyebrow at the readout. I looked down at the bag and said, “Don’t move around granny, you’re almost through.” The young lady raised her eyebrow again and asked with a posh English accent, “You are joking!?” I grinned.
“Well, we have to be sure!” I wasn’t actually feeling jovial, I was just trying to mask my dismay about returning to Shearwater. Lately it has not been the magical destination one could hope for; more of a ‘Club Dread.’ As I pocketed my boarding pass, I looked away over my shoulder and said, “Hi Jack.” Then I smiled to the ticket lady. “Nothing like a sense of humour to stir things up at the airport.”
“Rather!” But then she began to smile.
I’d ridden the float plane across from Nanaimo with two former neighbours. They were on their way to Varadero in Cuba, a five hour flight from Vancouver. As I edit today’s snowy photo’s back aboard ‘Seafire’ they’ll be sipping mojitos on the hotel patio and watching the sun set over the Carribbean. BUGGA! Some co-workers have quit and left during the week I’ve been away. Will I be next? One of those folks has since been in contact from Thailand. Good for him.
There was brilliant sunshine on the south coast today. We flew north over a broken overcast. Near Bella Bella we slid down through a hole in the cloud and began our final descent. I hope I didn’t curse aloud. More fresh snow! Bloody hell! Three hours earlier I’d been watching a woman blow huge soap bubbles for kids on the Nanaimo waterfront in the warm spring sunlight. Now back to this! What the hell? I throw my gear aboard ‘Seafire,’ slam the hatch, turn up the heater and hunker down for the long night ahead. The forecast for the week ahead calls for rain and snow flurries, just like last week. The next light on my horizon will be the Easter long weekend and I’m resolved to gloomy weather then.
The poor old boat is suffering mightily thanks to the weather. The finish on the exterior woodwork has been seriously damaged this winter. I cannot do anything about it or the other jobs waiting for a little warmth and dryness. The general spirit of the whole community seems diminished as we wait for signs of a reluctant spring. Yesterday morning, in Nanaimo, while walking Jack, a flock of wild swans flew low overhead. They weren’t heading north.
It will be a while until we see them flying over up here.
“Don’t let the same dog bite you twice.” Chuck Berry
My last few blogs have repeatedly mentioned the tenacious winter weather. Yesterday, March 8th, we awoke here in Shearwater to the beginnings of a mini blizzard. It snowed ferociously for about four hours. Here is a photo essay on yesterday’s weather. At 7 am this morning, the sky is cloudless.
Hold fast to dreams For when dreams go Life is a barren field Frozen with snow. Langston Hughes.
It is the last weekend of February. This is a time which is one of the pinnacles of my annual life cycle; the Fisher Poets Gathering is on in Astoria Oregon. Composed of a large contingent of Alaskan fisher-folk, the event draws men and women from around the world. Various performers offer samples of their writing and music. The depth of talent is stunning. Uplifting and affirming to mix with other blue collar creative souls there is also humility in realizing the tremendous creative energy among simple working people. The website is fisherpoets.org If you click on ‘performers’ then go to ‘in the tote’ you’ll be able to find some of my work to read and to listen to. There are plenty of other performers listed there whose work is spellbinding. I am honoured to find myself among them.
This weekend in Astoria has been, for me, a great way to shake the blahs and recharge wintered-down batteries. It is a fabulous town to visit in its own right. I go to participate every year. But this year I’m writing this aboard ‘Seafire’ while moored in Shearwater, a very long way north of Astoria and the Columbia River. Health issues are keeping me here. It is snowing outside and a severe brown-out is settling over me. I have to get out of here. Now! I slip my lines and idle out into the thick snow well aware I’m totally alone. This is no cure for cabin fever, the boat looks the same inside but I have a sense of being in control, able to go wherever I choose. Soon lost from sight in the slanting snow, only I know where I am. My sense of isolation increases slightly but I feel slightly better.
Two hours later I am at anchor just past Troup Narrows. I began to turn in to my intended anchorage but found a neighbour’s boat already anchored there. In respect for their deliberate solitude I moved on. It would have been rude to impose my presence when there are so many other snug places to anchor. Here I sit, alone in a wilderness night and the driving snow of the Great Bear Rainforest. Almost asleep with my fingers on the keyboard I sit here in a thick stupor with a whole night of long black hours ahead. Those hours pass with a long series of nasty dreams and general anxiety. It is probably just my state of mind but I note that this is an area heavily marked with ancient pictographs and petroglyphs of local indigenous peoples. It is probably just my imagination, but It has happened to me in similar places elsewhere and I wonder if there is a presence that effects some people. It is probably all bugga bugga but still; what if? The sky is clear, swept by a brisk Northeast wind. It has kept the boat taut on the end of its anchor chain all night. It pinged and grumbled but the Rocna anchor held firmly as it always does. I finish my second coffee as the aroma of a pork roast in the oven fills the cabin. I’ve impregnated it with several cloves of garlic. The oven helps warm the boat on this chilly morning and I’ll have meat cooked ahead for several meals.
Time to go. The anchor comes up encased in thick mud, the best material to hold a boat. I intend to amble along a circuitous back route looking for petroglyphs and paintings. The sun, by 9 o’clock, is finally high enough to cast enough light to see but then the light becomes too harsh with deep shadows and the wind howls too boldly for me to take the boat close to the rocky unfamiliar shoreline. I resolve to be content with the day as a simple outing with nothing accomplished or discovered. People do that I’m told. It was actually rather pleasant.
The last days of February are bitterly cold. An older power boat stored in the yard requires attention in its engine room. The vessel was built around the engines, which after several decades, are balls of grease and rust. After fighting with seized bolts in cramped quarters in numbing cold, I am yet again confronted with the ugly reality that this is work for a younger, flat-bellied person. My Rubenesque form is not contorting as it needs too, the knees don’t unbend and my attitude is hardening and it seems that my lament is constantly about health and weather. March 1st daylight creeps reluctantly beneath a thick, dripping blanket of cloud. It is calm. Yesterday’s slush clings on. By the end of the week nothing has changed. I’ve prepared yet another old yacht’s engine room for engine removal. It too will be a shoehorn endeavour. For some reason similar jobs often occur near the same time. I remind myself that nothing is forever and that soon I’ll find myself looking back on this misery from a happier place. The weather, and the forecast, continue with wind, rain and snow. I’m having difficulty finding something of interest to blog about and the motivation to care about anything. Some folks here live within a drug and alcohol- induced fog. I can almost understand that.
The first weekend of March arrives in a snow storm. I take some pictures and go back to bed, feeling as motivated as a hose. N old hose. My ambition for today is defrosting the boat’s fridge and I’m going to savour that wild craziness for a while yet. Two hours later, the bright, warm sun is hanging in a clearing blue sky. I shut off the heaters, throw open the hatches and savour dry fresh air. The sunlight reveals layers of grime. I scrub away, disheartened at my slovenly boat keeping. Admittedly, the boat has been closed up tight since sometime in October while I’ve cooked and lived within. Yeech! At least the recognition and resolve of my detritus is a sign of hope and ambition. Haar! Yet there be life.
On Saturday evening the community got together and put on a Greek food evening. This old recluse was reluctant at first but ended up being glad he went. The food was spectacular, kudos to all who cooked. There were even samples of venison and moose cooked with Mediterranean recipes and someone made Baklava that was exquisite. The folks were all amiable and I will confess to having had a very pleasant time. It was wonderful to have exotic food in such a backwater.
On Sunday I stowed away on a water taxi running up to Bella Coola to pick up an employee.
It was great to just be a passenger with no responsibilities. Outflow winds at first provided a back-jarring ride but conditions eased under a cloudless sky. The vastness of this country is stunning. Shearwater is well inland from the open Pacific and Bella Coola is about sixty miles further inland within a labyrinth of deep inlets with vicious winds and swirling currents. The forest changes from coastal cedar and becomes predominantly fir. The mountains rise higher and become more rugged. After hours of travel one feels well imbedded in the continent yet on the chart it is clear you’ve barely begun.
Today for the first time I briefly looked on Mackenzie Rock, an ambition I’ve long held This is the site several miles seaward of Bella Coola where Alexander Mackenzie ended his fantastic westward trek in1793 when Heiltsuk warriors turned his expedition back. It must have been a massive disappointment to have travelled on Pacific seawater yet be denied the sight of open ocean horizon. The man stoically turned around to canoe and walk all the way back to Toronto. He originally came from the Isle Of Lewis, when just making it to the mainland of Scotland was a personal achievement. Wee Alex went on to tramp across and up and down huge parts of Canada. Eventually representing the North West Company he made his way to the headwaters of what would become known as the Mackenzie River. Then he canoed the massive river’s length to the Arctic Ocean. I have always been amazed how intrepid it was to come from a small country and set to hoof and paddle across incomprehensible distances. A few years later he showed up in Bella Coola, after a trip back to Scotland. That dude got around! Apparently he missed a meeting there, by a few weeks, with the dauntless George Vancouver. Eventually, at the age of forty-eight, he made it home to Scotland once again where he married a fourteen-year old girl and fathered three children. Hagis Power! I’m left feeling dead wimpey.