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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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To be continued…
The Rock Creek Fall Fair is a tradition that has been going on in the tiny town of Rock Creek for just over 60 years – which is coincidentally the number of years my Granny and Grampa have been married and living in that little town. My mom was Fall Fair Queen in the 1962, when they still did that sort of thing. (We have the home movies documenting her reign, which involved lots of cape-wearing and float-riding.) My grandparents are life members of the fair, which saves them the cost of admission – a reasonable $9 per person.
Since I was last at the fair, over 10 years ago, it has gotten a lot bigger. The basics are still there – the early morning “Cowboy” Pancake Breakfast, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the 4H kids strutting their meticulously groomed farm animals in the show ring, and the big local boys gunning the chainsaws and throwing axes in the logger sports show – and they didn’t feel terribly obscured by the rows of ubiquitous vendors of cheap jewelry, fake tattoos, and hippie wear. There was also a great display of tractors and dirt bikes.
My cousin won a third-place ribbon for his steer in the show ring. He graduated from high school last year and he plays a mean classic rock guitar, but he still goes to 4H and raises a beef steer. A second cousin also won a prize for their lamb at the exact same time, while her mother who runs the local general store explained to me what the judges are looking for when they are squeezing a lamb’s rump – a certain shape means better meat.
I have a pretty big extended family, and most of them live in that area, so I ran into a lot of my cousins, second cousins, and aunts and uncles in the course of the day. I hadn’t seen many of my cousins in such a long time that I kept mistaking their babies in baby carriages for their first children, who are now just old enough to run around. How strange that all my cousins who now have children all have two. My sister just had her second baby last week.
After eating some roast chicken for lunch – complete with coleslaw and bun – Donovan and I decided to wash down the food with some beer. You know you’re in the country when the beer garden serves only cans of Bud or Kokanee. We had to drink it in this enclosure which quickly began to seem like a redneck holding pen.
Unfortunately, it had to be a quick trip. I needed to come back in time to be thoroughly confused by Language Studies class. But at least, there was a little time away to enjoy small things such as petting goats, sighing at bunnies, and checking out all that prize-winning jam.
Oh yes, and a couple notes on the road trip itself: Floydd is no longer gay! The sign has been cleaned! In Hedley, a pub’s road sign advertised the draft as follows: “Best Head in Town $3.” We didn’t get a picture. BY the time we drove back, the unintentional offer of cheap sex was gone, replaced by crude messages from the local kids.
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?
We didn’t plan to do it that way, but we flew to London right after September 11. Our flight was booked for September 12, 2001 and we were delayed three days, but we went shaken. The bumpy ride didn’t end by stepping off of that horrid Canada 3000 flight to Gatwick at 10 pm London time. No, there was to be some sleep wherever we could find a decent patch of carpet in the Heathrow departures area until our flight to Oslo, Norway left in the morning. (The hotels surrounding the airports had all jacked up their prices to commemorate the terrorist attacks.) But everyone we encountered – the shuttle bus driver, the airport staff, and the bobbies – were cheerful and sympathetic to our predicament.
When we returned to Britain after touring Scandinavia, we were greeted with tea and sympathy from our British friends. We stayed in Cheltenham with Amy, who now works in London (Amy, Zamiha, hope you guys are okay). Her Mom left on a trip to Paris via the Chunnel shortly after we arrived, but the trip was delayed at Victoria station because of a terrorist scare. I was alarmed, sheltered Canadian that I am, but Amy assured me this sort of thing was not terribly unusual. When her Mom returned from the trip, she talked about rubbish bins being removed from Tube Stations because they were potential hiding places for IRA bombs. And you had better believe that unattended cars or baggage are swiftly and unapologetically removed from airports and stations, and destroyed.
And as I’ve read like fifteen times this morning in articles on the attack, the British lived through the Blitz and Hitler and WW2, IRA attacks for 30 years or more, and still commemorate the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Parliament Buildings with bonfires and gunpowder. I love their spirit. I love that so many Londoners converged on the pubs at 11 am to commiserate in the wake of the attacks, rather than trudging home in fear. I love that those who had to walk out of the subway tunnels lit the way with their mobile phones, and used their videophones to document what they were experiencing. I love the invocation to keep a “stiff upper lip” and vowing not to interrupt the usual routines because of the bombings.
I hate those who spout off from a comfortable distance about how Bush and Blair are responsible for these terrible bombings happening, how we need to go forth and kill, and smirk about “payback” for the Iraqi occupation. People dying are people dying are people dying.
I send my love to those of you living right there, living through the nightmares in my newspaper. I hope you are okay and safe.
Impressions of Ireland (in no particular order):
The Guinness Factory
The hostel in Temple Bar where we had 8 bunkbeds in the room, the bars all within stumbling distance, and a big taco dinner prepared in the miraculously clean kitchen
The granny coach tour of the Dingle Penninsula
“Where’s my fucking cheesecake?”
The Cliffs of Mohr and the silly people peering over the slippery-looking ledge into a drop of 100s of feet
The murals and quiet Sunday streets of Derry/Londonderry
Fighting on the ferry across the Shannon
Our driver getting all busy with the Kiwi girl on the tour and the rest of us laughing at them
Car games on the bus
My first Guinness ever, drunk in a Dublin pub
Yahoos kicking over a homeless guy’s change cup
Kayaking past a house where Jonathan Swift wrote
“Oliver the Bastard” and the ruins he left behind
Potato Famine stories
and pubs, pubs and more pubs. We did not dress for discos.
I like St. Patrick’s Day because its a holiday that doesn’t really require you to do anything – no gifts, no cards, no big dinner – except go have a pint and a laugh. Why people go to British pubs to celebrate is beyond me, though.