Wordcarpenter Books
 Road Sailors

7

  "Look at the means a man employs, observe the path he takes and examine where

 he feels at home. In what way is a man's true character hidden from view?" - Confucius

  Downtown Prince George, British Columbia

An old red brick railway station, desolate, weed-grown and potholed with abandoned rusty cars whispers of a past that has long been forgotten, like the faces of pioneers who once cut down the wall-to-wall forest that covered this land. Now, the pulp-and-paper smell in the air is stagnate and oppressive, like a severe case of municipal halitosis. It feels as if the city has been left to rot in the stink of poor urban planning, but these thoughts are only fleeting. My new dog is what has my attention as we drive back to the mechanic's garage. Remy has put Blue into his camper so my dog can sit in the front in peace. With her stitches still raw and with her drugged from the surgery, she is placid on my lap, heavy like a bag of soft lead. She weighs at least 80 pounds already at two years old.

"It's weird, every time I look at her I see Teetchema," says Remy. "It's like she has come back to me, which is highly sallassie." 

"It looks like it's healing," I say, referring to her eye. "The vet said her injury is consistent with falling out of a moving vehicle."

"Did the vet say how long she's been in the pound?"

"She was found as a stray two weeks ago with the fresh eye injury."

"And she's just had her reproductive piece tampered with, so just give her lots of TLC and it'll be groovy."

"Tampered reproductive piece, yes. Severely tampered with." We arrive back at the garage.

"Well, what do you think pilgrim? Are you going to snag it so we can drive up to Atlin or what? Uncle Pete's just doesn't seem to be up to par."

"Watch my doggie will ya," I say, enlivened by the task before me. Entering the garage I see the mechanic standing beside a smashed-up derby car with two other men. One is revving its massive V8 engine. It's deafening and exhaust spews throughout the garage. When the mechanic sees me his hand goes up in acknowledgement, and comes over to the door where I'm standing.

"Have you thought about it?"

"I have. I want to make another offer." The mechanic wipes his hands in a rag that he pulls from his pocket. "Is she still for sale?" I ask, toying with time before I play my card.

"She's still for sale."

"I'm willing to offer twenty-seven hundred cash right now. A quick, clean transaction." The mechanic looks back at his friends laughing beside the crashed-up car.

"Sorry dude, two-thousand eight-hundred. I told you before." I take out my wallet and pull out five 100-dollar bills.

"I don't know if I can afford that extra hundred. I'm really strapped." I count out the five hundred in my hand and then stop. The mechanic looks at the two guys talking beside the derby car revving the engine. I shrug my shoulders and begin putting the bills back into my wallet. "Hockey game on tonight?" I ask. He looks at me with his eyes a bit wider and nods.

"It's only pre-season but..." He glances at his friends again. "It's only the second Canucks game in over a year, you know, with last year's strike."

"The hockey strike last season, yes. A disgrace. Watching the game tonight with your friends?" There's a twinkle in his eye when our eyes meet, and then a grin crosses his face.

"Oh all right. Two thousand, seven hundred cash. It's a deal. The rig is yours." He puts out his hand and we shake. Taking out the papers from a drawer behind his desk, we both sign a contract and then I count out the money on the counter. When he signs over the ownership to me, I ask him where I can get insurance.

"Follow me in the truck and I'll show you," he says. So with the papers signed, I walk out to Remy's Dodge with the keys in my hand.

"I bought the rig." There is an expression on his face that registers with me, one that I have known since the earliest days of my childhood: the unmasked mien of mischief. It's an old truth: we are slaves to the thrill of adventure, junkies that love nothing more than the flutter and tingle of reckless undertakings.

"I need insurance and the mechanic needs to bring the plates to an insurance company a few blocks away to transfer ownership, so I said I would follow him. Is that cool? We might as well get it all done right now before the weekend." We both look at our watch. It's 4:30pm Friday.

"OK man, I‘ll follow you guys." I transfer the dog into my Ford and follow the mechanic to a local insurance broker. When we get there I give them my uncle's address as my home address so I can get insurance for three months. Outside the insurance broker's I thank the mechanic once again, climb into the driver's seat of my new truck and slip it into gear. I drive slowly over to Remy and stop beside him. He undoes his window.

"OK, all set," I say. "Plan W?" Let's get everything done while we have the chance.

"Yeah, let's go to the saloon we passed. It's a bit early but it's Friday and people will be getting there after work. Why don't we check it out? Maybe he's there already."

"I'll follow you." On the way there, Remy parks in front of a second-hand store. I quickly see the wisdom and logic of it. Inside there's everything one could think of for sale: clothing, old camping equipment, pieces of furniture and all sorts of odds and ends. Remy strolls down the racks of clothes and looks for that item he doesn't yet have. For me I see the things I know I already need. When I see a pair of wool-lined suede gloves I snatch them, and then a Shetland wool vest perfect to keep my torso warm during the oncoming cold. I pick up a Goretex jacket and a hat and wool socks, and Remy finds two fold-up metal chairs for two bucks apiece, perfect for lounging behind the campers. I find some of the camping gear I need: a knife, compass and some cutlery. We walk out of the store with bags of loot, dump it off in our campers and then drive to the saloon that is only two blocks away.

"Why don't we have a brew in my camper first?" he suggests when we're in the pub parking lot. "Cheaper and I'm low on my coin." In the parking lot we notice a video camera hanging on the back wall of the saloon, so I quickly step into his camper out of range from the electronic eye.

"Wherever I go in a city, there's always someone looking at me," he says. "I hate it. That's what I want to get away from."

"I hear you, man. Hong Kong was deadly in that respect. I'm sick and tired of prying eyes. I don't think I can live in a city anymore either. It's time to-"

"Sport a rural hit," he says, completing my sentence.

"Nice one." Remy first lights a candle and then passes me a beer and then takes one for himself.

"I can't believe that rig is now yours. Seriously man, we're completely mobile. Now we can go up to Atlin to find a place and get off the grid." Remy begins rolling up the last of his weed.

"So how much should we snag tonight - if we can find it?" I ask. "Always good policy to stock up when one can for an impending roadtrip."

"Should be a good supply, but again I don't have much money."

"Don't worry about that. I'll treat tonight. It's a sort of commission for finding me the rig."

"Celebrate your new road buggy."

"Yeah, something like that." I give Remy some money for the transaction since it's his friend, not mine. Remy takes out his map and spreads it out on his bearskin.

 "Now that you're mobile, we should think about heading west along Highway 16 towards Prince Rupert. That way we can take the Cassiar Mountain Highway north through the mountains all the way to the Yukon." He finishes rolling the joint and places it on the counter. It's amazing he can find any space among the clutter. Tins of tuna, pasta, honey, a loaf of bread, peanut butter, cans of soup, sage, a leather pouch for a pipe, eagle feathers, beer bottles, all sorts of books, MAG flashlight, his coffee mug and a full ashtray; it's a bachelor's countertop; a nomad's countertop.

"Why don't we take Highway 97 to Dawson Creek, and from there we can go west across northern BC to the Yukon and then Atlin?" The Cassiar Mountain Highway looks much more remote and meanders through the heart of the mountain range.

"Not cool with the boys," he replies. "Highway 97 is an easy road; point and shoot type of thing. But the Cassiar Mountain Highway is supposed to be pretty hardcore. It goes right through the epicentre of the mountains. There's nothing but wilderness and wildlife, waterfalls and deep bush - and of course black bears. It would be much more hairy-crack. Besides, I've never taken it before."

"Ahhh, there it is," I say. "New frontier pour vous, n'est-ce pas?"

"We want to get away from the big highways, right?"

"Right."

"So the Cassiar is the best route." The highway runs parallel with the Alaskan border beginning at the Misty Fiords National Park and stretching over 700km north past Skagway to the Yukon. It's the only road that goes up central British Columbia - a province the size of two United Kingdoms. Given a choice, always select the more challenging course.

We smoke the joint and leave the camper for the old Prince George Hotel. Inside, Remy goes to the bar and buys the happy hour special - a bucket of six Budweisers on ice - while I take a seat at a table in the corner. Dented wooden tables and posters on the walls stained with nicotine and cracks in the mirrors hanging on the walls. Men sitting at the bar look like they have been here every afternoon everyday for the last decade, smoking unfiltered Export A cigarettes and drinking Molson Canadian beer. Here to drink and cuss, none of them take much interest in the Vancouver Canucks hockey game on the television above the bar.

"My Indian friend Frank is here," he says when he places the bucket of beer on the table. Remy takes a couple of bottles from the bucket while still standing up, unscrews them and hands a cold Budweiser to me.

"To your new doggie and your new rig. The continent of Canada is ours to explore!" We clink bottles and drink. More communist propaganda swills through my head:

COMRADES! WE ARE THE BUILDERS OF A NEW LIFE!

Remy goes to the bar where he talks with Frank. He's huge - maybe six-foot four in height, thick-boned with a long ponytail and blousy face. Dressed all in black, he wears the same harvest moon jacket as Remy except his is black. Remy gives him some money and Frank puts a bag into his hand, all done facing the wall where there is only a small group of women in the corner. Remy shares a laugh with him and puts his hand on his shoulder. He's been here three days and he already has friends.

"Frank pulled through. Full snagglepussy action pass," says Remy coming back to the table.

"Full snagglepussy. Very Claudia." When excited, twins prefer their own language.

"Decent piece."

"Not too concerned about security matters here are they?"

"No, I think it's groovy. Everyone knows each other here. And he's jiggy with us. He's knows we're Métis." He waves his hand towards Frank and the women in a wide sweeping gesture.

"Well you look more Métis than I do with your neckwear ensemble and medicine bundle and whatnot." Remy looks proud of his Indian regalia, not at all self-conscious of the number of different coloured crystals and stones that hang around his neck and all the leather frillies dangling from his arms. Remy slides the baggy to me under the table. I look at it on my lap hidden from view by the table. I take out a large bud and give it to him.

"Here, this is for you." 

"Maestro! Green medicine!"

"Medicine, exactly."

"You know I have dreamt of weed, which means it's one of my medicines."

"What, you only have to dream about it and it's a medicine to you?"

"I've been taught that if a food, drug or animal appears in your dreams, then they are part of the medicines here on earth to protect you from negative energies."

"I'm pretty sure I've dreamt of smoking weed," I say, not sure if the statement is entirely accurate.

"Then it's a medicine of yours. I have dreamt of weed lots of times." I ask him what his other medicines are.

"Ginger root is one of my medicines. Ginger root is for any sore throat I get. It works - it's really amazing. And Aspirin is also one of my medicines, which makes sense because the Red Man has been using it for centuries as a medicine."

"Ground willow bark."

"Exactly." Remy adjusts the red bandana that holds his hair out of his eyes and then looks serious for a moment.

 "Listen Trapp," he says in a lower voice. "How's your eye?" For some reason I'm not self-conscious about it because of Remy's own bad eye. An eerie symmetry about it all. Entangled twin stuff.

"No double vision as the doctors had told me. But it's OK I think." The look of compassion on his face is enough to make my eyes water. It's something we now share - both of us with a bad eye. It's a sympathy I should've had 20 years ago. I reach for another beer from the Budweiser bucket. Remy reaches for another beer too. I note that he is at the same robust drinking speed as me. Once a twin, always a twin.

"Dart?" I ask.

"Merci." I give him a cigarette.

"The tobacco offering."

"Of course. So let me get this straight: after a day you now have your own fully-insured road buggy, your own fully-neutered doggie and a robust plan W supply."

"Yes. All that's correct, My Son."

"And uncle Pete's cabin?" I shake my head.

"Naw, the cabin's been overtaken by mould - it's unsalvageable. Couldn't operate a computer in there, even after trying to fix it up. Besides, there's the air issue."

"Pulp-Fiction-dry-tongue-el-grande."

"Exactly."

"Well why don't we gazelle west, to Smithers and then to Atlin?"

"That's a lot of driving but no biggie. I'm hoping maybe we can find a place in Smithers or Burn's Lake. Heard it's fairly crisp along there. Have you been?"

"One of the few places I haven't been - from here all the way down to the ocean along 16 is new turf pour moi."

"Sallassie."

"So if it's no dice on uncle Pete's piece, then why don't we merge west tomorrow?"

"No reason we shouldn't."

"OK, so let's do it. Too many nipples and crusties here in Prince George anyway." I've never heard of that one before.

"Right," I say. "Tomorrow we hit the road."

 


 

8

  "To be fond of something is better than merely to know it,

and to find joy in it is better than merely to be fond of it." - Confucius

  10km outside Prince George, British Columbia

Sunlight shines through a small window above my head between a gap in the curtains like a solar flare during an eclipse. Blinded, I squat trying to recognize where I am. A hostel in Cambodia? My apartment in Taipei? I hear a soft knocking sound so I look down to the floor where I see a large white wolf with a white eye looking up at me wagging its tail.

"Gooooood doggie," I say absently, immediately going to work on getting saliva to my tongue. I rub my temples, half cursing myself for spending money I had earmarked for fuel. This morning's dry tongue is a combination between the pulp and paper pollution in the air and Budweiser. I unzip my sleeping bag and shimmy over the futon to the edge of the loft where I ease myself to the floor and instantly feel the chill of the mountain air. Putting her ears back, the dog smells me and wags her tail harder. She's happy to see me, which makes me feel good. I put on my gloves and exit my camper to the dew-covered field. Remy is still asleep.

Walking out to the field, the dog runs ahead forging a path through knee-high grass to where she reaches the edge of the dark forest. Instead of feeling fear, I follow the path of my dog under the canopy of trees that tower above me and feel protected beneath the branches that stretch out to each other in a thousand different handshakes. Bolder with my bear protector, I find my way along a dried-up creek and reach the far boundary of the property at the foot of the mountain where the grass turns to moss that covers the ground like a carpet. Soft and spongy underfoot. Surrounded by the moist vegetation of the Rockies amid echoes of wildlife, I am now immune from the dehabilitating effects of fear. Hiking back to camp through the wet grass that grows fifteen feet high in some places. Only the dog makes it possible for me to find a path through it.

Back at my camper I get my coffee mug and go over to Remy's open door where he is reading maps and drinking his morning coffee. Blue appears from under his truck and begins playing with my white shepherd.

"'Morning."

"'Morning big guy," he replies. There are two walkie-talkies in his hand. He gives me one. "Here, this one is for you."

"Can we talk with these from our rigs?" I burst out laughing because they're so silly. They're toys but they're perfect.

"They're walkie-talkies and have a range of about 40 kilometres." He turns on his unit and we can both hear the crackling of the line. "Always keep it on channel one. To ring me, hit this button." Remy demonstrates on his unit by pressing the CALL button. My walkie-talkie rings once and then is quiet. It's pretty clear from his demeanour that he's in his element.

"And how do I answer? Like this?" I press the rubber button on the side and raise the unit to my mouth. "Remy?" My voice comes out loud and clear on his walkie-talkie.

"Roger that," he replies into his unit. "They work mon frere," he says, promptly turning it off and putting it away in his breast pocket. He tells me he bought them for five bucks at a yard sale somewhere in Manitoba. Only a guy who had learned everything there is to learn about road tripping would possess devices like these. He even has the re-charger. With his maps and books and bearskin and everything he owned in the world all in one vehicle, he is fully cocked to go wherever he wants in the western hemisphere. He had engineered his life to suit his character. Unburdened by convention, far away from deadlines and immersed in nature, Remy had all the right ingredients to make him a roving gypsy. And there was no one to judge him, his four-inch scar and his sensitive artistic nature. He had chosen not to participate in the society that had hurt him 20 years ago.

"How's your pulp fiction dry tongue this morning? Mine was bad." Remy shakes his head.

"Have you noticed that we're directly downwind from the three pulp mills? The spew literally falls right down here. Look!" He kneels down to his bumper and wipes off a thin film of whitish powder. "See this? That's from the pulp fiction." I wipe the powder from the bumper and rub it between my fingers. It's gritty.

"How can you be sure it's from the mills? It could be dust from the driving yesterday." Again I doubt him like the disciple Thomas.

"Ah! I'll show you." With his coffee in one hand, he leads me to a fence behind his camper where there is a beer bottle. "I would have normally picked up the bottle, right? But I left it there to test this very theory." I pick it up and examine it. The bottle isn't as bad as his bumper but there is undoubtedly a film of white powdery debris on it. I concede.

"The air quality here is worse than Hong Kong," I say, which I find quite ironic. That seems to satisfy Remy so we go back to his camper for more coffee.

"It's already kind of late but we could probably hit Vanderhoof by tonight," he says, studying the map on his knees.

"OK man, then let's gazelle. I'll follow you." With these words, we pack up and leave our uncle's property for Highway 16, going due west towards the Pacific Ocean. I follow him in my black Ford and gleaming white camper. Remy goes slowly past the pulp-and-paper mills for the last time, then we climb out of the plateau and move down the valley past Reid Lake and the Kalum Forest District towards Vanderhoof. The thrill of knowing a new adventure is in the act of unfolding makes me dizzy for a moment. The air rich with the scent of cedar and pine. Somewhere in my mind I know this is my indoctrination into the life Remy has been living since I left seven years ago.

It feels weird taking the wheel after so many years riding motorcycles in the Far East. The heedless steering gives the rig plenty of play in the wheel. Much smoother than a motorcycle, it's rugged suspension makes driving like sitting on a couch moving at 100 kilometres per hour. With the camper on the back, it feels like a sailboat with a loose rudder on wheels. The road is open and the cars are few in comparison to Asia, but still some trucks fly past Remy and me because he insists on going just below the speed limit. But it doesn't matter. To me speeding is like quaffing coffee, a belief we both share. Driving on four wheels and riding on two wheels are both arts that should be first mastered and then savoured.

Along both sides of the road the ancient grey rock, rugged and craggy, contrasts against the oranges and the reds of the trees, especially against the patches of white snow. Safe and secure with my transportation and accommodation, I relish the surrounding beauty. Unexplored and untouched vastness abound. Man has yet to leave his mark in these parts between the town along this corridor to the Pacific. The land so old and the settlements so new. In front of me Remy pulls over for gas at a Husky station where we both fill up and buy a Coke. We've already been on the road for four hours. With the late start and being girdled by mountains, the sun is already beginning to set ahead of us.

"All right chieftain, start to look for a nook or cranny somewhere so we can sleep for the night. If we can't find one then we can sleep at the Husky station in Vanderhoof. By the way, Husky gas stations are the only spots on the road that let truckers stay for free. It's like a safe zone for us while we're on the road - a highway campground for mobile campers."

Back on the road we drive towards the sun somewhere just beyond, out of reach, illusive yet powerful and alluring. Remy's camper looks small against the massive exposed rock engulfing us as we follow the valley road. Like a long snake shimmying along the deep gulch. But just as the sun begins to fall into the Pacific waters, Remy turns off the highway onto a side road where he drives down to a dead-end and parks. There is no one around so I park 30 feet behind him and get out.

"We can stay here for the night," he says. "We're far away enough from the main highway not to hear the truckers going by and spy satellites can't find us here. It doesn't look like there's anyone around." A secure enough place for a parked camper, I rustle out some cheese and crackers and dill pickles and go over to Remy's where he is heating some soup on a mobile propane stove. The aroma of hot soup fills the air. I didn't realize I was so hungry. He looks at me standing beside him. I'm about to ask about his satellite comment.

"Here, I have something for you." He returns from inside his camper with one of the small metal chairs he purchased in Prince George. "This is for you." He hands me the chair and then takes out his pack of cigarettes and hands me one. Another gift with the requisite tobacco offering.

"Thanks Remy." I sit in my new chair beside the propane stove and eat my food.

"Pretty handy piece this mobile propane jobby," he says. I nod casually. "Essential equipment. Hardware store, forty bucks. Propane tanks are six bucks apiece. Can buy ‘em anywhere. You're only as good as your tools, remember that. You have a decent flashlight?"

"No." He hands me a small MAG flashlight, small but heavy. I try it and the light comes on. It's one piece of equipment I need.

"Thanks. I'll give it back when I can find a decent one."

"I have a bigger MAG flashlight - the same as the cops use. So use it as long as you like."

I take a bite from the brick of cheese and then follow it with a dill pickle-and-cracker chaser. Remy takes the soup off the flame and pours about half into a bowl and hands it to me.

"Some soup?" I usually would have declined but coming from my brother I know the offer's sincere. Remy hands me a spoon and I salivate.

"Thanks bro." We eat in silence with the map barely visible in front of us. 

"This is a good nook-von-crannie," he says.

"It is a good nook-von-crannie," I concur, casually noting a new addition to our language. Having taken our language for granted for so long, the immediate understanding of newly coined words is something I've missed - like the comfort of hearing the cadence of his laughter.

"I seem to remember some of my fellow tree-planters telling me how they found magic mushrooms growing wild in central BC," he says. "And we're in central BC."

"Magic mushrooms in these parts?"

"Yes, I believe there are. Could be some in this very crannie." Remy keeps eating his soup but my interest is suddenly tweaked.

"Well, we should keep our eyes open for them then," I say, trying to keep the excitement hidden in my voice but I know Remy can hear it.

"There are more poisonous mushrooms out there than you may think." His voice is serious. "If you pick the wrong mushroom it could kill you. You have to really know what you're doing - and I certainly don't." I take his warning into consideration, but I can't help being enlivened by the chance of finding magic mushrooms growing wild. I scan the forest on both sides of the road but the night has come. My eyes notice the bright stars overhead.

"Why are you so concerned about spy satellites? I mean why do you think people are looking for you, or are you just joking around?" I can tell immediately that he is serious by the way he doesn't answer right away. Instead he pats Blue behind the ears, ponders the question and smokes. In the silence there are a thousand sounds that stir in the woods beside us.

"Remember when I was in Belgium at school?"

"Yeah." Remy had graduated with an MBA from university in Brussels about ten years ago.

"Remember I told you I fell in love with a German Countess?"

"I seem to recall you telling me that."

"Well, there's more to that story that I haven't told you. There was an American guy there - we'll call him Stuart - who used to party with me and the goalie from the school hockey team - my old pal Markus vander Meersch. Stuart confided in me that he worked for an American company ‘gathering information.' He said his status as a student was only a cover. The following year he became a consultant for a company in Brussels where he said he had been assigned. We took a trip together with his fiancé, who happened to be a Spanish princess, to Brazil where we stayed at her parents place beside the ocean."

"I remember."

"Anyway it was during that trip that Stuart asked me if I wanted to meet a friend of his who was also involved in gathering information. He said I was a chameleon with people and that I could be a good asset to his company. But man! Thinking about it for a few days down there it occurred to me that I couldn't give up what I valued most: my freedom. I like having time to myself that is mine. If I signed up with ‘the company,' I would never have that peace with my own time again. Think about it! I must say that I was tempted, especially sitting there by the beach house sipping cocktails and whatnot. And that was when he brought up the countess. In so many words he made it clear to me that she would be mine if I played ball."

"C'mon!"

"You know I can't lie to you Trapp." This statement of fact is followed by a brief silence. It is a truism that identical twins are simply incapable of lying to each other. "So there he is, marrying a Spanish princess and here I am faced with the decision whether or not to play ball. And if I did join the company I would end up being with a German countess in - no doubt - decent digs in some EU capital. But hey man, I'm just a prairie chicken at heart. Why would I play Faust and sell my soul to the devil? So I closed the door on the spy piece and I didn't get the countess, but the irony is that I really did love her. So I returned to Canada and have been grateful everyday since then that I didn't say yes to never having control of my life again. Not for me. Why not skip all that urban turbulence and stress el grande and jump right into the honey? Living the end is the means. Can't put off time ‘cause it's all you have. Use it now before you graduate to the spirit world."

Something - perhaps my ‘twin intuition' - tells me that there is a part in this story that has been left out; that something in his recollection was edited. It couldn't be classified as a lie, but rather as selective storytelling.

"So then you basically graduated with your MBA and then promptly retired to live in the woods."

"Yeah, you could say that. I went straight into retirement. It was time for a new game."

Extremism in all its forms can always be justified by a partial mind.

 
 

 

 

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