Hitching Home

July 22, 2009
Maybe if I didnt have such weirdly proportioned legs, Id get picked up.

Maybe if I didn't have such weirdly proportioned legs, I'd get picked up.

They left me on the side of the highway near Cranbrook, BC. I wasn’t ‘abandoned’, as my decision to part ways was self- volitional. But watching the blue Jeep roar off to the North prompted a spinal reflex that tensed the muscles of my sentimental thoracic cavity emotively.

Instantaneous nostalgia for my cramped middle seat blossomed in my breast. I was moments ago couched uncomfortably between two dependable ‘Oaks’ (def: ‘good dudes’ ; plural; colloquial; South African origin;) amidst a bursting sea of bags, books and loose footwear. We hadn’t spoken much on the winding drive from Nelson to Cranbrook, per se. But there was effusive symbolism in the silence.  Luke’s temple had rested on my left shoulder, eyes closed, swollen and masked by ovaloid sunglasses. His mouth had hung slightly open amidst a panoply of reddish whiskers. But the reticence of his sleep was superficial. His snores were conversational – their rhythmic heaving droned a panegyric to humanity. Undulating upwards, a proud fortissimo, they told the bawdy tale of our last week in Nelson, a tale of inebriated flirtations with giggly women, Mother Nature, and the municipal police force. His somnolent rumblings would then de-crescendo to a silence – the smiling mask of the Muse morphed into a horrified frown – that spoke of the converse shame of partying hard enough to capitulate control of one’s bodily functions.

A rich,  human-all-too-human story. A proud lump form in my throat as the car disappeared around a rocky curve.

Shirtless, Billy had set to my left. A scattering of beef samosa flakes adorned the hair of his sunburnt chest while his shoulders slumped with the weight of his fatigue. His silence had told its own version of our story – a crystalline sedition shone from the tireless blue of his eyes. His eyes reminded me of just how awake, how alive we had felt during the last few epicurean nights. Especially when the three of us had sung with unrestrained passion well into the dawn.

But the feeling of ‘togetherness’, along with the ‘happiness’ and ‘ecstasy’ and even perhaps the elusive sensation of our own humanity, are things experienced with the brevity of lightning. They exist as momentary electric, brilliant white light, bursting out of the grey, overcast rain of the everyday.

Jumping ship was an attempt to capture this energy in the sparks of memory, before the stimulating potential dispersed. Plus, they were going North, whereas my home lay to the East. And I had decided to hitchhike the lonely stretch of Canadian highway between Cranbrook and my home in Medicine Hat.

Deserted – not left in a figurative desert void of intimacy, but rather trudging through a literal one. My parched throat and growing sweat coefficient definitely drew me to this word choice.

Motorbikes and Recreational Vehicles roared across the Highway 3A overpass above me. I crawled up the embankment and twenty minutes later I was zipping along towards Sparwood, BC with my first hitching-hiking host, Clint. I accompanied him on his triumphant and tipsy return from his Mother’s birthday in Cranbrook. He regaled me with anecdotes of his pestering but adored ‘woman’, flowery descriptions (seesawing from guilt to pride) of his ostentatious and recently purchased RV, and a philosophical backstory of his choice to settle in the mountains. Every once in a while, a gap toothed smile would interrupt his storytelling, perforating his pinkish lips.

Clint lived a life of comfort and steady employment. The fact that his mother was a lottery winner may have contributed to the ease with which he lived.

Of more pertitent interest, Clint was not your everyday coal miner. He was an albino coal. Now, if the juxtapositional image of his pinkish-white pallor covered with a patina of anthracitic dust doesn’t tickle the rods and cones of your mind’s eye, pinch your neuro-brachial equivalent.

Clint surprised me when he started waxing mythological. He spun a socio-historical yarn of the town of Fernie. Pointing to a nearby penumbra draped over a mountain slope, he pointed out the shape of a horse-backed Indian looming ominously above the town. The founder of the town had spurned an ancient Indian chief, strategically married one of his daughters and perpetuated a period of audacious expansion into native territory. The town was subsequently (and predictably) cursed by the chief. With biblical ease, the town was razed again and again by floods and fire. And, fear being the mother of all superstition, the townspeople turned apologetically to the peace pipe to help lift the curse.

Apparently the shadowy horsemen has lost his wahoo. I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t be troubled by the unfettered expansion of skiing condos and strip malls currently sweeping the town. Or perhaps the curse of capitalism is more devastating…

A  100 pages of sporadic novel reading and thumb waving passed before I caught my first ride with a trucker. Eric was younger than I, with short blond hair and an intelligent smile. He preferred to discuss the agonies and ecstasies of raising a young family, how it balanced this with life on the road, and how the ball-n-chain of alimony from his first child continued to pester him.

The ninth child from a Mormon family (I guessed it!), he had eschewed the Latter Day Saint’s values one by one. But despite being sympathetic to cigarettes and beer, he had obviously struggled to break free from the Mormon tradition of rabbit-like reproduction. After three kids by the age of 21, he took drastic measure.

Eric is the youngest man I have ever met to be vasectomized.

As the calm of night settled on the sparkling waters and the craggy magnificence of the Rocky Mountains settled into prairie, Eric revealed his conspiratorial and socialist political leanings to me.

Funny that even an uneducated Mormon trucker from the backwoods can grow convinced that 9/11 was a government plot. I guess it’s not so much of a belief as a foil for a deep distrust concerning the Powers that Be. His reflections evolved into rants about the horrific, pointless logging of BC forests which grew to a vociferous, proclamational climax that condemned Obama as merely another corrupt stoolie for corporate hegemony.

Driven to appreciative silence as much for his generosity as for his vehemence, I climbed down the metal grate stairs of his truck, I waved in thanks, and I found myself on the shoulder of an Albertan highway. The iodine of night diffused into the last few pockets of sunlight. I strode on.

Perhaps this is a premature conclusion, but it seems that hitch hiking is easier in the afternoon and evening. The mundanities of their days behind them, their moods reflective and receptive, quite a few vehicles were willing to pull over despite the disappearing day. A shy but warm native couple drove me part of the way. They picked me up despite the necessity of me sharing the back seat with their toddler daughter, a gorgeous, hair-braided sleeping beauty.

Still buoyant in mood despite the hours sinking past midnight, three teenagers picked me up. Their expressions were initially apprehensive but compassionate. Two brown haired twins and their muscly chauffeur friend slowly opened up to me as it became apparent I wasn’t as sketchy as I appeared crouched and hooded on the side of the road. Apparently, my languid presentation of a thick novel under the streetlamp had played in my favor. With the open, innocent thoughtfulness of youth, they had actually circled back to pick me up. I congratulated them for allowing youthful sympathy to trump the imagined protestations of their mothers.

Recent high school graduates, they were on the intimidating but exhilarating cusp of real life. One of the twins was heading off to India, while the other longed for New York and Broadway musicals. At the ripe age of 18, the two of them had only spent 7 days apart in their entire lives.

My twin sister was venturing off towards Vancouver, which gave me the expertise to reflect on the pros and cons of ‘cutting the cord’ or whatever the operative (Punny?) word is for severing the Siamese sentiments of twins.

All of these faces came back to me as I lay down in the long, sparse grass of a South Albertan ditch. A short distance away, the rhythmic clunking of an oil well accompanied my reflections. My first sensation was essentially a humbling of my pretensions about being fully human. About being more human than others. In such a short time, I had exposure to such a menagerie of world views that it rained a cats and dogs of comparisons and contrasts that flooded the poor infrastructure of my mental streets.

Sunrise. Accomplishing an ashphalt accompanied all-niter.

Sunrise. Accomplishing an ashphalt accompanied all-niter.

There was Clint’s blue collar comfort (although the sun was never so kind to his complexion) that seemed to rival the nirvana of the world’s most committed ascetics. Eric’s anti-establishmentarianism was couched in such visceral, real-world experience, that his words rang truer than the empty, tin voices of pompous intellectuals. The quiet words of Desmond and Gene seemed to close some of the sterile space that seems to separate Canadians from their indigenous country-men.

And the innocence of youthful smiles was a reminder that, despite my adventurous and rebelliously intellectual approach to life, I still have a ‘boatload’ (one of my favorite Billy-isms) of cynicism to grow out of.

The second great impression, amplified as the sun rose and a steady stream of big Alberta truckers with big Alberta guts roared past me the following morning was the contrived, incredible distance that separates modern individuals. Only three feet plus inches of glass and metal separates us from the bedraggled souls on the side of the road. Our mothers urge us to fear them. Society plants fear in the hearts of drivers and hitchers alike, with its archetypal horror stories.

To hitchhike is to transcend this taboo. There is tragic beauty in it, breath-caught-in-your-lungs epiphany. It is a simple revelation, a necessary reminder that most people are disposed to goodness, or at least decency. And small acts of compassion are the glue that keeps the cracked mirror of our own humanity intact.

10 hours outside Taber was enough to make me hate everyone again, especially the fat, private property obsessed, ignorant, gluttonous truckers that smiled with sickly arrogance while passing me on the side of road. Perhaps with a little sleep, I will regain my composure. Perhaps I will even learn to embrace even them. Deep down, I bet they care about hugs more than their shiny trucks. Well, maybe not hugs from dudes, but we can always hope.

A 1000 word ode to Alberta.

A 1000 word ode to Alberta.

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Mount Loki

July 18, 2009

Epic tales to come…

Loki - Norse God of Fire and Mischief

Loki - Norse God of Fire and Mischief

Click on the Photo to Access the Album…


New Kids (Planting) on the Block.

July 9, 2009
1000 tree bag up. Stuff of legend.

1000 tree bag up. Stuff of legend.

Some words on Treeplanting to follow. I just need to recover from the shock of a real job first.

Some pictures for now.

Buds forgot his weed. And his shovel.

Buds forgot his weed. And his shovel.

The Fearless Foreman

The Fearless Foreman

Beaver Skull

Beaver Skull

http://picasaweb.google.ca/athorogood/TreeplantingAndFirefightingFitnessTest?feat=directlink

More Pics Here.


Hitching and Hot Springs

July 9, 2009

The Slocan Valley is peppered with small bodies of water heated by small burps of volcanic activity. Many of the best spots aren’t signed and are predominantly frequented by locals.

On the spur of the moment, we planned to tear out of town for an evening hot springs expedition. Unfortunately, just before we left, the power in Nelson went out. We desperately tried to cook our big pre-trip meal, chili accompanied by nachos and cheese, on outdoor cooking apparatuses. The high winds had apparently knocked out a power line, so I was forced to temper leaping flames and my sister’s vicious micromanaging to get the nachos cooked. I pulled them off a barbeque awkwardly, but grilled to petroleum-infused perfection.

We rode into the sunset in two cars, in true Lochinvar style. We seemed to keep up with the sun-set. We were transfixed by the misty blues and greys that swirled around the rocky silhouettes of mountains, we gawked at the sun’s artful touch on rocky walls and shimmering waters.

Blurry Blue Pit Stop

Blurry Blue Pit Stop

Drowsy from the long drive, and the wearing off of a couple of road pops, we pulled into the pitch-black dark of a logging road. I piled out in short-sighted flip-flops, camera swinging wildly around my chest, a poorly packed hiking bag tipping me side to side. Our humans to headlights ratio was troublingly low so the steep climb down merited a steady stream of curses from my grimacing, tightly pursed lips.

After a series of downhill flips, followed be a series of flops, we arrived at the quaint, candle-lit hot springs. It was very nice to find a site so well-maintained but still public and only inhabited by a handful of people. We changed into bathing suits, lined gin bottles and pineapple stuffed tupperware on the rocks, and slipped into the soothing, sulphurous heat of the rocky pools. My feet relaxed greedily in the water and thanked me profusely for the sudden drastic change in how I was treating them.

Do you like Pineapple? How do you like them Pineapples?

Do you like Pineapple? How do you like them Pineapples?

I tried to snap a couple of photos, but the flash was strobing and the lens couldn’t focus in the dark. Eventually a voice piped up from admidst my friends, “hey! Cut it out with the flash!” Indignant and passive-aggressive, I continued my attempt to capture the steamy enjoyment of the moment. “Dude!” the voice emerged again, “at least wait until the locals have finished changing!”

Whoops.

Women in the Mist

Women in the Mist

So we stayed submersed long into the night, long past the 20 minutes of hot-tubbing reccomended by pedantic health authorities. We had a grand time, but as the hours creeped by a few of us grew anxious to leave. Perhaps the gin was inspiring the beginnings of belligerence, perhaps I hadn’t fully recovered from the stressful descent, but I wasn’t having it. I wasn’t leaving in a hurry. I was staying for the night. Especially after humping that bag down.

I was staying alone, apparently. I am an aspiring grizzly man, am I not? Slightly inebriated, I collected some meagre stores from my friends: 25 plump cherries, some chips, and a chrushed up hemp cookie. We wished eachother luck. I  shook my head at them to express my opinion on the insanity of their imminent, winding, mid-morning drive through the mountains. They shook their heads at me in question of my bold decision to stay alone, without a vehicle to travel the 200 or so kilometers back to Nelson.

I awoke to a steady rain which prompted me to stay in the relative comfort of my lopsided tent until late morning. Having set up my tent with the fragile shine of a tea-light and an Ipod, it was a pleasure to stumble out into glistening sunlight. I cleaned up in the river, packed up and headed up the cliff.

It took me five rides, three episodes of the Q with Jian Gomeshi, and 8 kilometers of flipflop hiking to get back to Nelson. It was a blast. I caught my first ride off the logging roads from a logger named Jessie and his three loudspeaker children. The most rebelllious of them, Teagen, kept climbing out of his booster seat and into the trunk of the landcruiser where I sat. He would then proceed to pile heavy objects on top of me, so there was room for him to imitate my cramped car-trunk posture. But once the dad warmed up to me a bit, I got to move up the front seat and zip over rolling hills all the way to the quaint town of Nakusp.

Zoom Zoom.

Zoom Zoom.

A Czech massuese was the next to risk letting my wet and smelly figure into her car. The rain has started to pick up, but it wasn’t unpleasant. She seemed to be feeling the pressure of the recession keenly, but also looked on the worst case scenario with a wan sort of optimism. “You can always get by in this area. You can always grow things.”

An autism therapist drove me the majority of the way, as she searched for her husband. He had been rained out on a motorbike trip, and had called her for a rescue. We had a delightful chat that rolled seamlessly from South American politics, to Malcolm X, journalism, social change, and lobbying the Alberta goverment for grant money. The truck rolled with a similar seamless rhythm, hydroplaning on the odd highway puddle.

Just getting home, it took me a day. Just getting home, it was an adventure. Just gettting home, it kept me smiling on the shoulder of the rainy highway, my thumb curved imploringly into the splash of sporadic mid-day traffic.


Be Fit. Have Fun. Make Money.

July 9, 2009
Porno looking dangerous with a Polaski

Porno looking dangerous with a Polaski

How doth I test thy fitness? Let me count the ways:
I will push you to the depth and breadth and height,
Thy body can reach. Tests of endurance and might,
That will leave you crawling, leave you falling on your face.

Getting on with the premier contracting fire fighting service in the Kootenays was no small feat. A gruelling fitness test has to be passed before you could even try on a baggy Nomex fire suit. A 5km timed run, push-ups, sit-ups and a 3.6km pack test are par for the course. The pack test is a strange variation on speed-walking. It involves a backpack loaded down with rocks, a strange, gyrating, heel-toe power stride, and enduring the searing pain of lactic-acid saturation.

Fortunately, the contracter with the highest fitness standard, also has the highest pay rate in the area. And high pay really adds up in firefighting, where weekly hours tend to drift into time and a half, and then double time on the fire line.

It wasn’t all that hard, and myself and some fellow ex-treeplanting friends made a day of it. Competitive waddling and un-necessary wipe-outs became staples that nourished us through the tougher moments of the test.

Amys flawlessly aerodynamic running style

Amy's flawlessly aerodynamic running style

We all passed, except for Billy. Not that Billy isn’t fit. Well, Billy wasn’t fit on the day of the test. He was far from it. But it wasn’t for want of effort or cardiovascular fitness level that he ended up collapsing part way through the run. You see, Billy had thoughtlessly pushed the limits of his endurance the night before. He is the type of individual, the type of drinker, whose heart bursts with sentimentality. Its hard to call it alcoholism, because he comes up with such convincing reasons to celebrate life. To the death of a legendary pop star! Salud! To our last day of planting! Banzai! To our first night in Nelson! Chukbae! To the anniversary of the death of an obscure swedish Christian existentialist thinker of the early twentieth century! Bottoms up!

Billly came around the corner on the boss’s bike five minutes after the time limit had evaporated. A shameless grin of self-deprecation cut through the puffy red of his cheeks, his eyes sparkled conspiratorially for the shade of their sunken foxholes. His posture spoke of that paradoxical pride of a man who failed so spectacularily, he somehow succeeded.

Billy the Kid

Billy the Kid

He stumbled off the bike and took a swashbuckling swig of water before speaking. “Well,” he chuckled, “I guess my day is over.” Then he went on to describe the series of unfortunate events that unfolded during his 5k: un gros gueule de bois, extreme cramping and dehydration, and a desperate, unfortunately timed mid-run bowel movement.

He gladly took over the vacant position of group photographer and vowed to live to fight again, sober, another day.

During the pack-test, Branden and I butted our competitive heads. We powered up the final hill, each with our peculiar style of power walking, each neck and neck. He preferred a loose, flailing stride, a distant cousin of the belly dance, that suited his lanky frame. I leaned into the hill, and through my arms and my everything into a compact power stride. We were both howling in manic agony as we approached the finish line driveway. As I started to pull ahead Branden half-tripped, half-dove across the imaginary finish line. It was a feat so accidental, so sacrificial, so brave and stupid that I slowed to a complete halt. He rolled over on the concrete, his forearms bleeding, his legs trembling with weakness. He blinked twice, as if in shock and then smiled gloatingly up at me as if to say: “I win.”

Big Bad Branden Beatty

Big Bad Branden Beatty

I am almost ready to strut out, Polaski hung arrogantly over my shoulder, to the fireline. All the paperwork has been pushed through the hungry, bureaucratic machine. Now, I wait, with that strange anticipation that perhaps a small town doctor feels: an innocent desire to put one’s training and enthusiasm to the test that creaks on the hinges necessarily on disaster. Is it wrong for the young surgeon to pray for severe injuries, the firefighter to secretly pray for lightning storms and arson?

I suppose my complicity depends on the power of my prayers.

And whether or not, I’m holding the arson’s lighter…

The Kentucky Pack-test Shuffle

The Kentucky Pack-test Shuffle


Burning Rubber in Water

July 8, 2009

Tubing may seem like a strange undertaking to the uninitiated eye. It generally begins in the frantic, late moments of morning. Flustered youths wriggle into bathing suits, lather on the sunscreen and pile eagerly into a convoy of automobiles. Next, they descend on an unsuspecting gas station. After pillaging it for food, they gather ceremoniously around the Air Pump. Its mechanic exhalations bring hulking monstrosities of thick rubber and neon-colored plastic to life. As the sun passes its zenith, our giddy protagonists hurriedly close valves, lasso bulky air mattresses to the roofs of diminutive hatchbacks, and roar off up river.

Comfy ride.

Comfy ride.

Joel, self-appointed team leader for Operation Bobbing Plastic, instructs the others with zealous assured-ness. “There is only one way to do a car drop,” he begins, “you fill cars to maximum capacity and then you add a vehicle to drop at the bottom of the river. Sure, I’ll listen to your suggestion… Look. I’ve done this before and there is only one efficient way of doing a car drop… No, if we do it like that, then we will have to run loads of people back and forth. Whats the point of that?”

Minds are eventually bent to one purpose and the gaggle reaches the embarkation point. Final adjustments are made to the menagerie of old tire tubes, rainbow-colored floating thrones, blue dingy boats, unruly bikini bottoms and jam-packed drink coolers. A ritualistic offer of psychedelic mushrooms and other natural intoxicants is made. Not only does this superimpose a ‘sparkle’ on the already picturesque, bobbing landscape, it also supports the primary industry of the SloCan valley…

Take off is accompanied by hoots of ecstatic glory and squeals at the glacial shock of the water. Then, through an indomitable process of trial and error, body position is adjusted to catch enough sunlight and the faster currents. The more gregarious tubers flocculate into hulking macromolecular structures while members of a more pensive species float off on their own – in search of profundity and hermetic relaxation.

Riding in Style

Riding in Style

It is at this juncture that the cynical land-lubber may furrow his brow and profess his disdain for the twirls of the river-borne adventurers. What are they achieving? To what end does ostentatious neon, exposed skin and languid posture lead? Why tarnish natures symmetry and modest color scheme with your belligerent bellows and garish attire?

But there is a perspective to which only the tuber has access. He is inundated with wet dichotomies and refreshing paradoxes. He is subdued by Nature’s grandeur, buoyed by a sense of flowing freedom and grinning companionship. He embraces the towering metaphor of the river. He senses the intimate spooning of his freedom with his fate. He is rushed downstream elegantly, inevitably. Yet he retains a certain power to choose his course, to avoid potential snares and overhangs, to angle his way to the sunny side of the river. He directs the current of his thoughts. He is free to think.

He is comforted by technologies made possible by centuries of human innovation. An understanding of displacement, the weaving of plastic polymers that keeps him afloat and molds around his shoulders. Reflective metals are rubbed into his skin and stand guard against pernicious solar rays. Carbonated, fermented beverages cool his tongue, his mind eddies.

The tuber is not distressed by his confrontation with transience. He knows he will never step into the same river twice. but he is also aware the timelessness of the verdant horizon. His attention turns to the aching silence of the trees, the enveloping rays of the sun.

Old school tube.

Old school tube.

Look there! Do you see! The looming trees, like the red javelins of the Gods, thrown with sporting precision into the river bank? Witness their bare, fibrous roots – curling out of the ground like the scar tissue of the earth. How straight and colorful and gigantic!

Quickly! Look to the bridge! Yes! Two howling boys are leaping from its metallic girders! Thwap! Thwap! The slapping sound of irreverent daredevils breaking the water’s surface.

Quiet now, drift towards these creaking trees. A tangle of roots, like protective arms, hold each other back against the shore. Look how the sun filters auspiciously through the leaves! Look at the strange angle of these trunks, reaching out greedily into the stream for a photosynthetic feast.

There are no words to describe the phenomenon we worship, we humble disciples of the river.

They are beasts! Their heads swirls with the contagion of drugs. Their bellies swell with greedy handfuls of Old Dutch Potato chips, trail mix and pert, purple grapes. See that one there, crashing loudly through the bush, portaging his dingy. Hear his bellows of helpless irritation as shoreline mosquitoes feast on his soft underbelly.

An Australian girl shrieks from the shore. A mischievous garter snake slithers away from her into the bushes.

A bearded Nelson boy kneels prostrate on a sandy embankment. His hands hold a dripping plastic bag. Water sloshes back and forth amidst sodden clumps of marijuana. His trembling fingers struggle to pick a dilapidated joint out of the green muck. Although his brow is furrowed under the weight of his tragedy, his eyes burn with desperate hope.

The journey draws to an end. They crawl ashore entranced. Their toes – exhausted and content – squeeze on the white sand. A peaceful parade of zombies, they wander inland to deflated their steeds.

Tuber curtsey.

Tuber curtsey.

The cynic expires through tight lips, a judgemental Hrrrmph! He is not impressed with the lofty metaphors. His eyes roll at the loquacity of the Tuber’s pretentious musings.

Hrrrmph!

He tries to glare at the Tubers. Their eyes turn to meet his naked skepticism head on. Eyes set like glimmering crystals above deeply bronzed cheeks. Eyes that grin, that brim with rich secrets.

He gasps, grappling with a realization. He fumbles with his own metaphor to comprehend it:

Being naked doesn’t mean you’re sexy. Being a cynic doesn’t mean you’re cool.