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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.

Loaded

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…

Oh, he was hot. He arrived in our small suburban high school at the beginning of grade 11 and I think every girl in my class had an instant crush.

He was, objectively speaking, very good looking, and yet was cool, not conceited. Part of the boy’s mass appeal stemmed from being the first new, exciting male to arrive in a long time. In a school where nearly everyone had literally gone to preschool together and many had dated and dissected one another (not literally) to death, here was fresh boy meat.

Even I temporarily abandoned my longtime impossible crush to fixate on this tall, handsome stranger. The girls all did, I think, speaking his name in breathy whispers. One day after school, I and two of my best girlfriends were heading out downtown on the bus when we saw that he was on our bus. At the bus exchange, we invented a reason to hop on the bus he was taking, casually struck up some conversation from the seat behind (“Oh, hi! Where are you going?”), and then rode the bus until just one stop after he had gotten off. We promptly caught the bus going back the other direction, giggling about the whole adventure. Well, actually, I think we considered trying to follow him home to see where he lived, but stopped short of becoming complete stalkers.

And yet, this guy seemed to have no idea. Maybe, objectively, the lot of us girls weren’t particularly hot ourselves. You might think after a couple years of hanging around, he would have picked himself out a girl. His yearbook quote even included the question, “Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?” (I now know, thanks to the Google magic, that this was a quote from The Mummy. A hot high school boy with a love of film? Who was this person?)

A few years later, by chance I worked with a girl who was a roommate of the boy during this time. She shocked me with tales of how bitterly he complained about not having a girlfriend and of girls not liking him at school, etc. Wow, I thought, was he not only hot but also deaf and blind?

And now he has all but disappeared. There seems to be a lesson in all this about not believing too much of what you think you think about yourself.

In Japan, they have a saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” The message is that those who don’t conform, for the good of society, are a threat to harmony and must be brought down. On this side of the ocean, I’ve noticed that there is a similar societal pressure to be likeable and have a pleasing personality. No matter your other talents, it’s important to have a high “emotional intelligence” if you want to have success. It’s important to be popular, otherwise you’re a big fat loser, right?

The funny thing is, I’ve noticed that a lot of assholes are popular. It ain‘t scientific, but two individuals from my past who I consider to be absolutely piss-poor human beings for being selfish, vengeful, manipulative and just plain mean, each have over 200 friends on Facebook. Maybe they work at large companies with lots of co-workers on FB, but I suspect it’s just because they’re assholes who happen to be likeable assholes. In other words, they are good politicians.

This is not to say that everyone who is likeable is an asshole, oh no. I know many people who just seem to have that gift for easy rapport with anyone who they meet. My sister’s friends especially, seem to have the knack of making you feel remembered and important each time you see them. They remember what you talked about the last time you saw them, they ask how such-and-such is going, they share freely of wine and cigarettes and other little social lubricants. There is no agenda; they’re not just waiting for you to finish your thought so they can jump in with theirs.

I always wanted to be more like that, to get on easily with whoever life throws in my path, and have that sort of easiness with people. But I’ve never quite mastered it. I never remember anyone I don’t already know when a mutual friend brings them up in the conversation. Like someone I met at a party. Who? What did they look like? Oh sure I remember now… (no idea) I don’t remember birthdays. I’m told I put up walls when first meeting someone, or that I can appear rather cold and silent. I mostly just feel shy and awkward when meeting another person for the first time, and beyond that impatient and/or infuriated. Sometimes I can’t wait to just get home and get away from people.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been any good at hiding my feelings, and I’m an awful liar. So whatever I’m feeling seems to leak out and someone always seems to take it upon themselves to call me on it. That part always bewilders me, especially when it takes the form of advice, like “You should be nicer to me!” or insults, like my favourite: “You’re a cold-hearted bitch!” I mostly try to stay uninvolved, and I’ve never tried deliberately to hurt anyone, so it always takes me by surprise when others try to attack me for … being imperfect, unlikeable me. Bloody well mind your own business, is my usual reaction followed lots of imagined snappy comebacks.

Going back to my original point, it makes people angry to deal with someone who just doesn’t care what others think of them. Ah, now I remember where that came from, the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. In the story, Toru constantly compares himself to Nagasawa, the future politician who shows him how to get laid without caring so much about it. He does have some lingering angst about it, and Midori, the independent love interest, tells him that not really caring about what others think is what sets him apart from society. I guess that’s me too.

I know myself pretty well, and I know I havewalls and defenses. I like to think I’m generous to friends (and I cannot stand cheapness in others!) but once you cross me, there’s pretty much no going back. It doesn’t even have to be a huge fight. I’ve had disagreements, passive-aggressive bitch fights, and although I’ll obsess for awhile over the conflict, I won’t make the effort to right things unless the other person and I are really close. Generally, I choose flight over fight.

Despite it all, though, people generally know where they stand with me, and I don’t much care about pretending to like someone I don’t, or sucking up for political reasons. You can like me if you want. I like to be liked.

I’m really not sure why I am this way, but I guess I had to get it off my chest.

In honour of that heartwarmingly unofficial holiday, National Delurking Month, I have decided to reveal my secret superpower: an amazing ability to stop conversations wherever I go.

I first discovered my secret superpower at the tender age of 18. I had an office job at a engineering consulting firm, and my job was to copy and bind reports. Most of the time, I was in the copy room, where many people throughout the day would stop in, make copies, chat to one another and sometimes me, and leave. (I was hardly Rob Schneider, if that’s what you’re thinking.) One day, the sales manager was in the copy room chatting to my supervisor about a trip he was taking to Japan. I had been to Japan on an exchange the previous summer and loved it, so I piped up with a comment like, “Japan is great. You’ll love Tokyo.” The sales guy looked at me, fell silent, and left the room. Kachunka chunka went the copier. That’s when I knew.

I’ve tried to chalk up this incident to being sort of a greenhorn, to not having learned the fine points of office small talk yet (see: Whisper Hello). But there seems to be more to it than that. I can stop group email conversations in their tracks with a mere click of the “Reply All” button. I can join a group conversation at a party, and without saying very much at all, find myself sitting alone 5 minutes later. At that point, if I’m lucky, some wag will wander over and ask “Why are you sitting here by yourself?” I’m tempted to answer something random like “Purple Monkey Dishwasher!” to hide the pain of having the secret superpower to stop all talking.

The very worst permutation of my superpower is the ability to part the conversation like Moses parting the Red Sea. In this case, I join a group conversation and soon create two conversations, one on either side. At that point, I cloak the shame by trying to look like a part of one of them. Nodding the head, making agreeable noises. Hmmm. If I gets really bored with that act, I can always make a comment like “Yeah line dancing is hard,” to stop the conversation altogether, or at least drive my unwitting victims off to the buffet table.

Like any superpower worth having, mine is sometimes put to the test. It sometimes fails against those who are absolutely determined to tell you their life story. My superpower appears to have little effect on those with the power of uninterrupted speech; I can nod and grunt and ask “How about that?’ all I want without stopping the conversation. Depending on the power I’m up against, saying something random or even offensive, might just pause them.

In the spirit of delurking, I challenge all comers to overcome my mighty superpower. Your comments are proof of my defeat.

I will never set foot in Metrotown again. The crowds, the habitrail maze of overpriced stores, the noisy food courts, and the worst part of all, the tribes of HipHop Johnnys and their Hoochie brides. No part of Metrotown is free of these deficiencies. Yes, yes, every mall is annoying, but Metrotown seems to be in the running for some special award for being a Loser Magnet of Epic Proportions.
Perhaps I should explain the reason for my healthy, well-informed decision-making. Last month, my classmates celebrated the end of the term with some well-deserved Tim Horton’s, Nando’s and book shopping at said Crap Palace. It was never my favourite place, but the consensus compass pointed the way. We had some coffee, walked around; it was really kind of pleasant. Crowded and full of annoying persons as described above, but pleasant.
The next day, I realized I couldn’t find my beloved cell phone. I looked through pockets, purses, under newspapers, bah. I thought perhaps I had left it in Biscuit’s car. Not there either. The battery had been low when I last saw it, and when I tried to call my number, it went straight to voice mail. Probably lost and dead, I thought. Finally, I called to report the thing officially gone.
Flash forward to this week: I’ve got a new phone, all colourful, programmed with my numbers and ringtones. I receive my cell phone bill; there’s a long-distance charge for $7.98. Must be a mistake, I think; flippng to the call detail page. A 39 minute call was made to Grand Prairie, Alberta at 05:29 on Saturday April 8. Wait, when did I lose the phone? Friday, April 7. When did realize it was missing? About 10 am on Saturday. You bastard!
I look closer. There was a call made to Live Links (hi Ryan) and to some phone sex line called 1-800 Cal. Those calls weren’t charged to my phone, but ewwwww. They were also made apparently right after the phone must have been found. I feel so violated – little punk loser finds the phone and right away starts calling Dial-A-Ho and whoever the hell is in Grand Prairie, Alberta.
A bunch of calls were made to one particular number, so while still mad, I called it and demanded to know who had called them from my number. But it seemed I had gotten ahold of somebody’s grandma, who offered to ask her granddaughter (the punk’s girlfriend?) about it, but I was too steamed to talk rationally. I felt so bad about being a psycho to somebody’s grandma that I called back and aplogized to their answering machine. Guess I don’t have much stomach for vengeance.

So, what have I learned?

  1. Avoid Metrotown.
  2. If you lose your cell phone, call the company and have it blocked right away even if you think you know where it is.
  3. The stupid-looking losers probably are stupid-acting losers. And I thank my lucky stars that they’re probably small-timers. (The Fido guy commented I was lucky the punk didn’t make any international calls.)
  4. Karma is still on my side. The other day, I dropped a cheque for $200 on the SkyTrain and a nice man gave it right back to me. I also have a new cell phone with a better calling plan than I did before.

I’m sure Metrotown can get along without me. The loser shortage isn’t going to become a crisis anytime soon.

April 13, 2000
Last weekend, we went to do
hanami – cherry blossom viewing – in Ueno Park. Ueno Park (in Tokyo) was very crowded, but not in the way I expected. The cherry blossoms themselves were beautiful – a canopy of blooming trees. When the wind came up the petals would spray everywhere adding to the blinding sight of all those pale-pink flowered branches.
The crowds moved along down the middle, and on either side people were having their parties. I thought that we could sit anywhere there was a space – it turned out that people had their party spaces “occupied” and informally “reserved”. When we first tried to sit down, we were shooed away by a Japanese guy saying “This is our space.” Amy huffed that they can speak English when they want you to go away. (Never mind that they weren’t using the space in question, it was just marked.) There went my idea that seats under the trees could be had in some anarchic fashion.
Walking along a little further, we spied an area that was open, but occupied by a group of young guys who didn’t seem to be doing a whole lot in there. Rather than make the mistake of just sitting down again, we asked them if we could sit in their space. They said that they had a party starting around six, but why should they turn down us pretty foreign girls (plus Canadian Robin) until then?
Without too much effort then, we scored a prime spot to sit. We were right under the trees, and right next to the crowd. We had a little table, onto which we quickly emptied our pile of wine, beer
, sake, and food.
It was a good party we were having. People walking by stopped, or slowed, to stare at us. They took pictures and video of us. I think we were a bit of a spectacle, what with Stacy and Amy lobbing chip balls at Robin, who caught them in his mouth.
The only problem was having to go to the bathroom. The first time I visited the Porta-Potti, it was covered in poo, even on the back (?!) of the squatter. This being Japan, there was no paper. It was so small that I didn’t want to reach for my pockets, lest some part of my clothing touch the surface of that thing.
And once you start to pee while drinking, it seems you have to go so often. The worst part was the lines. I don’t know why, but people take so long in public toilets. I knwo they are pleasant environments to hang out in, but come on! Anyway, the guy at the front of the line went in – and just about never came out. Maybe he passed out, maybe he suddenly needed to take a long, leisurely shit on the squat. Perhaps that Porta-Potti was some kind of portal, time machine or black hole. He may have been sucked into a vortex, but remembered to lock the door.
I was drunk, easily provoked. The guy in front of me turned half-around to shrug “What can you do?” I took the bait a little too much, gave in to my impulses, went up there, and banged on the door. Wake up! “
Isoide! Hayaku!” I yelled. (Translation: Hurry up!) Of course, everyone stared – one delicately dressed cherry blossom viewer gave me a very strange look.
I was a little embarassed at my display – but the guy never did come out that I could see.
Most of the time, I think I’m pretty responsible about my “cultural ambassador” role, but this was one time I let the inner “Ugly
gaijin” (foreigner) take over. What the hell. Maybe they thought I was an American. Teehee.

I always wanted to take a poll where the question would be: “Am I annoying?”
The Johari window seems to be the bloggy thing of the week, so here’s mine. Go on, tell me what you think of me.
Between moving, adopting a new doggy (yay, Petfinder!) and the pay-to-get-in, pray-to-get-out funhouse that is Print Futures, I’m having trouble finding the time to just write. It’ll come to me.
(By the way, the handsome boy to the left is Levi.)

I’m tired of the names for my comment links. I can’t think of any clever new names, so I’m asking for help and I’m willing to award a prize for the best suggestion. Here’s the deal:
1) Come up with three names, one for “no comments”, one for “one comment”, and one for “multiple comments”. Hint: I like themes.
2) Email your suggestions to me by hitting the “Fire Away” button in the sidebar. Don’t forget to change the email address. Please include your contact info in your entry.
3) If I like your suggestion and use it to rename my comment links, you shall win a fabulous prize! I will personally make you a handknitted item of my choice. Could be a hat, could be a cellphone cozy, could be ? (Please note prizes may take time to make.)
I’m a writer and I like deadlines. They give structure to aimless lives full of procrastination and trashy magazines. Your deadline is Friday, February 10, 2006.
Thanks and good luck!

I’ve gotten too used to running back and forth between school and work for this hanging around the house snacking on whatever chips happen to be open business. Yeah, there is actual work to do – it’s written down in the agenda book – but so far today I only did some half-assed stabs at research before running off to watch Degrassi Junior High.
I have too much energy today. If only the kayak shop was open, or if I were organized enough to get in some snowboarding. As it is, I’ve been playing with Google Earth far too long for my own good. Circling various mountains and making the program draw paths from say, Douglas College to Duffin’s Donuts, is just too much fun.
Certain people may think I spend all my time practicing copyediting and writing annotated bibliographies, but it just ain’t the case. Delete and close up?

This Seven Things list came to me via Breadchick, who I have only become acquainted with via the parallel universe that is blogging. The Blogiverse. The Blearth. And similar takes on combining blog and words denoting some sort of terrain, landscape or life-supporting bubble. On with it, then:

Seven Things To Do Before I Die

1. See Paris. And ride Vespas through Rome. Your basic Continent-with-steamer-trunks fantasy.

2. Drive the Alaska Highway.
3. Get a Masters Degree In either Creative Writing or World Literature.
4. Convince the world to stop needing so much Stuff.
5. Save the glaciers.
6. Make someone happy.
7. Buy a Showtime Rotisserie, Ronco Food Dehydrator, Magic Bullet, and whichever Abercizer strikes my fancy at 2 am in the morning.

Seven Things I Can’t Do
1. Play dumb.
2. Shop for clothes.
3. Tolerate engineers of any stripe. We are different species, the engineers and I.
4. Sit next to persons who are chewing gum without smacking them.
5. Paint.
6. Play musical instruments.
7. Wait.

Seven Things That Attract Me To Blogging
1. Me. Me. Me. I fascinate you, don’t I?
2. The chance to imitate my brilliant friend who showed me the way of the blog.
3. Keeping up with friends, both the ones I can’t get away from and the ones I’ve never met.
4. The way it forces me to write even when I don’t want to, just to keep up appearances.
5. Looking all cool and techno-savvy.
6. Writing and stuff.
7. Sharing my interests and obsessions and discovering new ones along the way.

Seven Things I Say Most Often
1. Where are my keys?
2. Sugar! (as in Shit!)
3. Anal (Car Name)
4. Sh’up.
5. Am I rambling?
6. Never put off til tomorrow what you can put off forever.
7. I can’t sleep. / I’m hungry.

Seven Books That I Love
1. The Great Gatsby
2. Pride and Prejudice
3. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
4. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean (the basis for the movie Adaptation)
5. Morning, Noon and Night by Sidney Sheldon
6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
7. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Seven Movies I Watch Again and Again
1. Office Space
2. Sixteen Candles/Pretty in Pink/The Breakfast Club
3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s
4. Election
5. Grease/Saturday Night Fever
6. Little Shop of Horrors
7. Goodfellas

Seven People I Want To Join In Too
I guess this is where I do my little shout-out that makes you feel all special and glowy inside. Fine.
1. Maktaaq
2. Biscuit Whore
3. Vulture
4. Meladuck
5. Imogene
6. Leanne
7. Oh yeah, and you too, James.

Flickr Photos