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Scrounge up an inner tube, air mattress, inflatable boat, or anything else that floats. Blow it up if it’s flat, and patch it up if it leaks. Get beer; rig up a bag and rope so that you can float it behind the raft and keep it cold. Decide on a spot to put in, and ask someone (preferably with a truck) to pick you up in a while, at your destination.

Go where the river takes you.

There’s nothing like a good float down the river on a sunny summer afternoon. Especially if the weather holds out (it always seems to get cloudy, mid-float), and the river is deep enough to swim in, yet not so shallow that your floatie gets snagged and dragged on the rocks. A few rapids are nice; nothing that would remotely capsize you, just for a little excitement in an otherwise lazy progress.

Although a confirmed city kid, I was lucky enough to spend most of my childhood summers at my granny and grampa’s house in the country. Their house is right on the Kettle River, truly one of the best rivers around for summertime floating. Around midsummer, it is low enough and warm enough for swimming and there are plenty of accessible spots on the river banks to either go for a dip or put the rafts in. You can choose a long float, say from the Kettle River Recreation Area to the sandy beach locally known as “the Deep Hole.” Or perhaps a shorter ride, from the little beach just behind the Prospector Pub to… wherever you feel like. Some people take a float all the way down to Midway, where the Kettle crosses down into Washington State.

Here’s a little map I made in Google Earth:

A few of my favourite places on the Kettle

A few of my favourite places on the Kettle

These days, of course, I can’t take a whole summer off. So when I do go up there, I make sure that if the weather is good, we’ll spend an afternoon on the river. Even better if one or more of my cousins is in town and we can spend the time catching up and talking about old times while drinking some fine domestic beers (the Rock Creek store doesn’t cater to your city-folk microbrew fetishes) and cooling off by occasionally jumping in and swimming alongside the raft.

With very little industrialization, development or even damming upriver in the Kettle Valley/Christian Valley areas, the Kettle River remains very clean, at least for the moment. With more people moving into the Okanagan Valley, just over the mountains, however, I’m not sure how long it will stay its lovely self. All I know is that in the Kettle River, floating or swimming in the current, I feel perfectly happy in a way that I do in no other place.


Continued from Part One:

The next day, I was debating with myself about taking a planned circle tour of the island on my bike, mostly to see the ancient petroglyphs that are down at the other end. I fought with myself about it, I was tired, I could always see them next time. But I thought to myself, what would my new friend/hitchhiking buddy say if I wussed out?

According to the description on Car-Free BC, the petroglyphs are quite faded and eroded from years of exposure to people taking rubbings of them, weather, and worst, people just walking right on top of them. The best time to go see them is later in the day, when the sun is not directly overhead and shadows throw the shallow carvings into relief.

To keep traffic to the originals to a minimum, Gabriola’s museum has created a petroglyph park on its grounds with reproductions of the petroglyphs, so people can take rubbings and pictures. As a former student of archaeology, however, I wanted to see the real thing.

I kept looking at the map, measuring the distance. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to ride the hill out of the campground. But off I went, convincing myself it would be alright as long as the road generally sloped downhill (it didn’t). I rode on and on, past fields, houses, the golf course, with occasional glimpses of the sea. The site turned out to be 12 km away. Still, riding was a good way to see the island, and drivers on Gabriola are pretty good about giving cyclists room on the road.

By the time I found the site, which is located behind the United Church on South Road, I didn’t think I wanted to ride back. At all. A couple other tourists rode up in a SUV that looked like it might fit a tired girl and her bike. They avoided eye contact – maybe they knew what I was thinking.

I walked up the path, which leads into a field of dry grasses and flat outcroppings. I walked around the outcroppings, most of which appeared to be blank. I came all this way for this? I thought. But there was no rush – if I waited and looked long enough, the petroglyphs might begin to reveal themselves. Magically, they did.

Note: I have enhanced these images a little bit to make them easier to see.

Some were fairly visible to the naked eye:
Bird-head petroglyph

Head and beaked figure

Others were less obvious, and could really only be seen with the help of a bit of shadow. I found that sometimes looking through them through the camera helped pick them up:

Bird petroglyph


Still others seemed to be only partly visible, though after the fact, I could reasonably identify with the help of a catalogue put together by the museum and the local First Nations band:

Seal petroglyph?


After taking a few passes through the park, and feeling suitable outrage at the sight of a family tromping merrily over the rocks as they walked through the area, I had no choice but to get back on the bike. Rather than backtrack, I decided to cut up Peterson Road and return to the campsite via North Road. There are several pretty bays and such to visit on that end of the island, but I was feeling too tired to make the effort.

North Road cuts through a nature preserve and is a scenic ride with trees arching over the road. Lots of shade for a sweaty cyclist. But for the most part, it slightly inclines upwards, and I was feeling defeated by every hill. There were relatively small hills that I would go into first gear for, spinning my way up, before jumping off and pushing the bike, cursing. Trucks and vans passed me and I thought about hitching, but damn this sense of self-sufficiency that started me on the road in the first place. Mostly, I tried to think about the wine and cheese (Baby Bel!) I had waiting back at the campsite.

About halfway back, the road finally started to slope downwards again… whee! I went spinning down past farms and houses before FUUUCK! a huge hill. But at the top was the little town centre, and beyond that, the steep hill down to the ferry terminal and nearby, camp. I made it!

I was so tired, I didn’t even feel like going swimming. I rested, I ate cheese and crackers, drank that wine, and watched the sun go down from right out on the head of the bay. Perhaps three days of sunset-watching is overkill, but how often do you watch sunsets at home?


Speaking of home I was ready – for a hot bath, a hot meal, and a comfy bed. Note to self: stuffing clothing in a pillowcase may save space, but it doesn’t make for excellent sleep. In the morning, I again methodically packed up camp, ate up most of my leftover food, and strapped the load to the bike, which I still didn’t feel much like riding.

I again rode the pathway between ferry terminals, still clogged by the oldies and mamas with their broods, with a strong headwind for extra fun. This time, it was the thought of a hot cup of coffee on the ferry that kept my legs pumping.

Donovan met me at Horseshoe Bay, took my bike and removed the baggage. I was happy to see him again. I may soon be able to get back on the bike, too.

Gabriola sunset

Two things contributed to my plan of action: the climate change whatever cheque from the government, and a friend’s photos on Facebook of her own solo getaway. The $100 allowed me to buy a rack and a pair of good-sized panniers for my bike, and the photos got me thinking of a way to put them to use.

I spent some time noodling around on the Provincial Parks website, looking for a place that would be easy to get to on a bike, yet remote enough that I could enjoy it in relative solitude. As in, few chances of running into carfuls of rowdy stabbers and their hoochies breaching the peace on the beach.

I found my destination at Car-Free BC, a website/book that provides all the info you could possibly need about destinations and activities in Southwestern BC that can be reached by self-propelled or public transportation. Listed under both bicycle touring and weekend getaways, Gabriola Island sounded perfect. I had been scuba diving there years ago, although had never set foot on the island itself. It would be a new place, yet small enough to be manageable for my first cycle tour. Plus, the campground is less than a kilometre away from the ferry terminal, so I wouldn’t have to go far with my load.


To get there, you need to take two ferries – one from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, and a second from Nanaimo to Gabriola. Bike transportation currently adds a mere $2 on the Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay run, and costs nothing extra for Gabriola. Plus, ferry fares are return to Gabriola, meaning that if you spend all your cash, you’re not stranded there – though I could think of worse fates.

Escape route

The two ferry terminals in Nanaimo are separated by a nice little seaside path. However, the path is clogged by the most dazed, meandering senior citizens and tourists I’ve ever seen. Sideswiping one of these wanderers with my hobo-style load was tempting.

The scenic Nanaimo Seaway

My sister lent me a small tent, and advised me to make my stuff look a little “junky” to make it less of a target. So I strapped on a garbage bag over the load with bungee cords. It flapped in the wind nicely. But perhaps I need not have worried. There’s an unwritten code about travellers messing with one another’s bikes, and campsites too. On the ferries and on Gabriola, with nary a bike rack in sight (maybe one at the grocery store), I pretty much always left the bike, bags, and accessories unlocked, without incident.

Shelter and transportation

Once I arrived, the really nice thing I found about solo camping was the ability to go at my own pace. I had a borrowed tent with no instructions on how to put it up, but I just went about it, figuring it out from past experience. The campsite was at the wonderful Descanso Bay Regional Park, which has a lovely bay for swimming (at high tide, in the afternoon) and beachcombing (at low tide, in the morning).

Textures in the rocks

By wandering around on my own, I quickly scouted out a great spot for swimming, just on the side of the bay. It has sandstone shelves that you can just jump out from into the deep, cool ocean. (I only wished I had brought my snorkel and mask with me, the better to see all the varieties of seaweed, starfish, and fish.)

Clear waters

Gabriola was under a fire ban, meaning no campfires. I gambled on being able to roast weiners, and so did not bring my portable camp stove and propane. No matter – I could live on wine and cheese, and a couple of bakeries/cafes were not too far along the road for my morning caffeine needs. From my campsite, the cafe near Twin Beaches was the best, the other place being at the top of a wicked hill.

The first day, I had a lovely lazy beach day. The sun was out, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and you can walk along the shore for miles over amazing sandstone formations and check out all the little tidepools.

Malaspina Galleries

Beachcombing and sandstone formations

I checked out the Malaspina Galleries and then walked up to Gabriola Sands Park (locally known as Twin Beaches), where I spread out my stuff, and just laid in the sun, reading and eating. Perfect.

Day at the beach

The only drawback was that the tide was way out, so to go swimming, I would have to walk over plenty of mud and shells and rocks. I did eventually switch beaches when some idiot’s cell phone kept making the low battery sound (hey! you! turn it off!) and found the tide was in much further on the other side. But it was super-shallow, not much good for swimming. I waded carefully to not to step on the little scurrying crabs (my astrological sign, y’know). However, when I got back to the campground, conditions were just right for a swim.

One of the twin beaches at Gabriola Sands

Later that evening, I was sitting around at my picnic table, drinking wine, reading, and wondering what to do with myself until sundown. A girl happened by, another solo female camper as it turned out, and asked if I wanted to go hitchhike with her to the Surf Pub, have some drinks, and watch the sunset. A tremor of anxiety shot through me, but I said sure. We walked out to the road, stuck our thumbs out, and before long had a ride with a couple of Islanders, older guys we’d seen at the beach earlier. Turns out she’d had almost my exact same itinerary that day. Huh.

Her plans were much more ambitious than mine, as far as camping went. While I was just off on my own for a few days to get away from the pressures of home and just reflect, she was planning to be nomadic for summer, camping and going to festivals, before taking a TESL course and then travelling for a few years. As we sat and talked and nursed our drinks on the Surf Pub patio, I sincerely hoped that I wasn’t boring this girl to regret, or getting on her nerves with my barely concealable anxiety about drinking too much, getting a hangover, or not getting a ride back.

Sunset from the Surf Pub

The sun went down, the locals continued to gather, the band started up, and a weird guy who reminded me of my uncle asked to sit at our table. My new friend ordered us some margaritas. Oh, she was bad. But she seemed to tolerate me, so I tried to loosen up.

Beverages to help the sun go down

That’s one thing about travel… you have to relinquish a little control and squelch your fears. At the very least, I felt I could trust her “go where the wind blows” attitude and openness to find us a ride home (and she did). She had a wonderful energy – at one point she was talking to an older guy who was visiting from Calgary, and asking why wouldn’t he give up the rat race there to come to Gabriola full time and do what he enjoys? And just for a second, you could see him really thinking about that, imagining it.

She included us both as members of the solo female camper club, even though our ways and outlooks seem radically different. But thanks to her inspiration, I made this short trip more just a lazy beach holiday and really challenged myself.

Reading and writing

To be continued…

The Crowsnest is British Columbia’s Highway Three, starting at the junction with Highway 1 and Highway 5 just out of Hope, and snaking through the lower one-quarter of the province. The secion I’m most intimately familiar with is the road between Hope and Rock Creek, which takes you through Manning Park to Princeton, to Keremeos-fruit stand capital of Canada, maybe the world-and on through the Similkameen and Okanagan Valleys.
It’s a road I’ve probably gone over about a thousand times in my life – and that doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration. We drove it yet again last weekend to see the family for my Grandma’s 80th birthday dinner.
A lot of the landmarks haven’t changed, although we were sad to notice that the West Hedley Mall sign has been taken down although the junkpile it signposted remains. We were glad to see that Floydd is yes, still gay after all these years.

You are Now Entering Floydd is Gay

Maybe it was driving up one day and returning the next that alerted us to a lot of “repressed graffiti of Interior teens.” The “Team Slut” rock stands on, although strangely, “team” has been crossed out. Instead of a team of sluts serving the Keremeos area, now there’s just one. Or many, all working alone.
Perhaps the Elks Motel was trying to welcome their business (this is not Photoshopped):

Sheets changed daily

I like motels, although I wouldn’t stay at one that advertises itself as Cumfy. The Super 8 in Osoyoos was surprising spiffy. And they provided for guilty pleasures.

Smoking on the Porch of the Super 8

Roadtrips are fun.

It was good to get away, even just overnight. The ferry from Vancouver to Saltspring took about 3 hours, stopping off at Galiano, Mayne and Pender Island before reaching Long Harbour. But perhaps because that boat was full of people headed out to laid-back retreats, I didn’t get nearly as twitchy as on the big ferry that we took back today, full of competitive urbanites announcing their personal space entitlements with jackets and bags draped all over the prime seats next to the windows. Looking into people’s faces as we walked along the corridors, I saw only blank, stony expressions. One or two old women smiled at the sight of my knitting needles poking out of my bag.
My favourite part of ferry travel, however, is walking the decks. I especially love the sight of seagulls gliding in the wake of the ship; it always reminds me of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” – the ill-fated albatross in particular.
The weather was just a touch gloomy too – there was rain, fog, clouds, and sun all in the space of the 36 hours or so of being away from here. The entire day, I didn’t even think about grammar or grades or genre. I especially didn’t think about while polishing off big greedy glasses of wine sitting in the outdoor hot tub! A certain paper I’m dreading writing did seep through my sleepy subconscious… i hate that obsessive shit. Oooh, alliteration.
On to the analysis then. Eftsoons.

I’ll be getting out of town at least for a few days this week to a place where the internet is still dial-up and where an afternoon’s amusement involves inner tubes, a river, and a six-pack. Yes, I’m going to the country. It’s exactly what I need. They city is making me all grumpy and crusty and in need of drink.
I’m not even going to take my cell phone. What, I’m going to make important calls from a fruit stand?
Love, Maikopunk

This morning I was thinking about book publishers in BC, the regional guys, and why they stay so small and exclusive and difficult to work for. Even a big publisher/distributor like Raincoast never posts actual job openings. Their website forbids employment inquiries by email, and no contact name or department is given even if you did call them up. Before I worked for “W” Books, I remember calling up Raincoast to ask about available internship opportunities. They put me through to a mystified-sounding woman who seemed absolutely stunned when I said “I thought you may need extra help when that new Harry Potter book comes out.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Won’t you be having events, promotions, that sort of thing?” I said.
“Yes, well, you can send us your resume and we’ll keep it on file.”
“What’s the address?”
“Just send it to the general email and we’ll get it.”
It took a couple of personal connections just to get a part-time volunteer internship at “W”. I even went part-time at my job at the bookstore. A few months later, there was a personnel shake-up higher on the food chain, and I was hired as a publishing helper monkey/receptionist. Then a little more than a year later, I was laid-off. In between the two events, I witnessed some bizarre cost-and morale-cutting measures that included restricting access to basic office supplies, layoffs of coworkers hired even more recently than I was, demotions of longtime staff, a sudden switch to part-time hours for a 3-month period, and complete and total disdain by the owners. We called them their Highnesses.
When I was given the boot, I could see the two of them through the window, getting in the BMW to go play tennis at the country club. I also learned that He had to be talked out of laying me off while I was away on my honeymoon.
According to former co-workers, the madness has continued – the production/editorial group was ordered to stop having coffee together and everyone has been forbidden to write personal reference letters for others who have left or are leaving the company.
This is might be an extreme example, but then again, I don’t any other publishing companies cropping up on “Best Companies to Work For” lists in BC Business or Macleans. I think one reason for this is that a lot of these companies were started either by optimistic young salesmen or hippies/activists in the late sixties/early seventies era. Book publishing being kind of an archaic pursuit and not a big moneymaker, it attracts iconolastic personalities who either couldn’t or wouldn’t spend time and money on developing management and people skills. The cachet of the book business means they have always had a steady supply of new workers who will live for words first and cash second. I was definitely one of the latter, but haven’t got the energy to go through another internship and shaky employment situation just because I like to read.
The Book Publishers Association of BC doesn’t even post any job openings, and their advice on getting a job in publishing is hopelessly naïve. I’ve gone to the workshops, I’ve networked and interned, but if the jobs are so elusive and ill-paid and the companies managed like fiefdoms, why do I want to try so hard for them?
Working with creative people, putting out good writing, getting free books, and feeling like a part of a community are all wonderful intrinsic payoffs. But I’m not going to work for those baby boomer ass clowns again. I’m going back to school and I’m going to do it for myself.

Update: This post has been changed to remove proper names and direct links to the publishing company I worked for. It was inconsistent with the general policy on this blog to be naming names, but the intent of the post remains. It would be dishonest to delete it altogether. Thanks for reading.

Since posting the last message yesterday about Americans wanting to move to Canada, I spent a fair amount of time clicking through the local rants and raves and discussion forums at Craigslist. Lots of vitriol out there, Canadians and Americans calling each other Nazis, fighting viciously over our respective advantages. Recent columns of Savage Love have also gotten into the act of promoting Canada as this utopian wonderland of tolerance, gay marriage, pot, and health care.

Well, it may be true that in Vancouver at least, the cops turn a blind eye to people shooting up heroin in alleyways (though it depends on the neighbourhood), but they’ll haul you in for lighting up a ciggy in the wrong place, such as a licensed drinking establishment.

If any Americans are actually reading this, and considering a move to our special corner of the world – British Columbia may not be the place to go if you are looking to escape one-party rule and a one-trick-pony media that turns a blind eye to our business-lovin’ leader getting caught driving under the influence. In another country. And splashing his mugshot across the papers, then promptly forgetting about it. They also obediently refrained from asking any impolite questions the next year when the police raided the provincial house of government and took out boxes of evidence allegedly related to ministerial staff being involved in biker gangs and drug dealing on company time. But our courts sealed up the warrants so that we couldn’t find out why they went in or exactly what they got. The Premier couldn’t even be bothered to return from his vacation to comment, as I recall

The Men in Suits we allow to rise to the top in both countries are all running their domains very much like CEOs – they don’t respect us peons who elect (or don’t elect) them, and they don’t want any input or oversight into how things are gonna go (that point I must credit to a recent essay in Bitch magazine). The point being, we have arrogant pooheads running the show here in Canada too. We also fear a vote for an alternative party is going to throw the election to the guy we don’t want to win.

Maybe its all a bit rambly today – there are many things I love about Canada and lots I love about the US. Where would we be without Elvis, barbecue, The Great Gatsby, John Steinbeck, Hollywood movies, New York City, lightbulbs, Microsoft and The Simpsons? We could certainly do without Britney Spears, reality TV, the KKK, nuclear weapons, SUVs and guys who think “pimpin’ hos” is really cool, but guess what? You can see all the American TV shows here anyway.

By the way, if you want that free knee surgery, health care comes with a line-up. No place is perfect, but Canada is home to me. If you want to make it yours too (not just an escape route) Canada welcomes you.

Flickr Photos