Julie and I stepped to the highway on-ramp at Lake Louise, in Banff National Park, early one morning. I trembled in the aggressively cold mountain air. My all-coldwater-shower policy had been like suicide this morning. But, I rested assured that, as soon as my hair dried and my body temperature recovered, I would reap the benefits of this policy and have the shiniest hair east of the Pacific Ocean's sea otters!
A guy named Aaron picked us up. Julie would later say he was the weirdest guy she rode with on the whole trip. She said she had nearly gotten out of the car. Aaron had short, white-blond hair, he was in his twenties, and he had a weird look to him. But, I didn't feel he was dangerous; he just seemed slow.
He was originally from Nelson, British Columbia, the town Julie and I were going to. When I asked him if there was any quick work I could do there, he told me he used to pull golf balls from a near golf course pond. He would go to the course when no one was there, pull out as many as five-hundred golf balls from the pond mud, and sell them back to the course at fifty cents apiece. I calculated the earnings of such a job at two-hundred-and-fifty dollars. The way I spend money, that would make me almost a millionaire!
I was with two dollars in my pocket later in the day. Julie and I had advanced much from Lake Louise and now rode with a canoe-tripping couple. In the back of their VW bus, I felt so hungry I nearly puked. Hungry and broke, I only carried remnants of a disgusting lemon-orange-and-pineapple marmelade that I'd bought in Saskatchewan and that no one would eat besides me. I opened its jar right then and began spooning it into my mouth. Oh my gosh, it was disgusting. I needed to make money ... soon!
Julie and I traveled through beautiful British Columbia all day. In this westernmost Canadian province, the mountains - known as the Kootenays - rose almost straight up from the highways and low trees. Our mountainside road was joined in its journey by a black river flowing through an unabrasive canyon below. We reached our destination, the unique town of Nelson.
Nelson was a place known for liberal values, for hippies, for drugs. It was an area where people loved nature and many people farmed. Canada's WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) program had begun there, and we came to WWOOF-volunteer.
Julie and I went to our host family's. The following day, I put in a three-quarters day of work with Julie for our hosts, but then I had to split. I had to heed the latest of my get-rich-quick schemes. I was going on a search-and-rescue mission for five-hundred golf balls, the near-one-million dollars I could sell them for, and my marmelade-soaked pride. I would pull all of them, including the latter, out of pond scum.
I had to take a ferry to reach the golf course, located in remote Crawford Bay. Tiny, rural Crawford Bay lied amongst tall mountains which were scaled 360 degrees over by herds of trees. Smoke poured from a high forest fire on one of these mountains.
At the golf course, I got to work/ate a half-gallon of Butterscotch Ripple ice cream (which Julie had lent me the money for) for energy. I began scouting for balls in a clear creek, because I thought balls might've flown down it from the course. None had. My first instincts were lousy. I took off my shirt, put on my snorkel mask, and waded the pointy, slippery creek bed toward the actual golf course.
A brilliant idea! Four bright balls appeared amongst the creek stones, and I scooped them up into my bag. I was going to be sooooo rich.
Just then, a family of six - kids and grandparents and everything - came bounding down a golf course hill. They carried no clubs. They were here to search the creek, as was I. I had competition.
What followed then was a horrible, horrible scene. The family promptly, showing experience, grabbed all the balls. They broke formation to cover more ground, and they pretty much cleaned out the creek. All this was made even more embarrassing when you consider that I was dressed in a snorkel mask and swimsuit, and I didn't mind plunging my whole self into the cold creek, in the name of ball retrievalry. How could my strategy have gone so wrong?
The family of bullies departed as quickly as they had stolen my spirits. I pressed stupidly on. I finished the search with four-hundred-and-eighty-two balls less than five-hundred.
I wandered around some in the twilight, but I couldn't find more than two golf holes. So, I called it a night. I set up a tent and threw my bags in a tree.
On the golf course, already, I'd observed some white-tailed deer and a beautiful fawn. Earlier, in the Nelson area, I watched a black bear duck into the woods. I was definitely in the western Canadian wilderness like never before. And I was all, defenselessly, alone.
It was very difficult to sleep that night. It was much easier to, say, imagine a grizzly bear or cougar emerging from the trees and squeezing me out of my tent like a candy bar. It was a scary setting for sleep.
Luckily, it seemed, bears don't golf.
I woke as soon as it was light, at a quarter to five. I wandered around, caught view of a menacing-looking coyote, and discovered the rest of the elusive golf course. I came eventually upon a black, muddy pond. I braved the early-morning cold and hopped in in my swimsuit.
Wow. I soon learned there had been an "X" on Captain Aaron's treasure map all along. This brown, mucky pond was the type of place businessmen dream of. I pulled out five, sometimes seven, even eleven golf balls at a time, and I lobbed them to land where each thumped to a stop beside my bags.
Barely - and let no credit be denied the revolutionary all-coldwater-shower policy - I staved off hypothermia. I was shivering as I went to the pro shop, cleaned off my booty - and my balls - and sold one-hundred-and-fifty of my mid-quality balls to the course for a quarter apiece. Woohoo! I had $37.50 and optimism that the other courses were buying.
The rest of the day was spent hitchhiking around the Nelson area, walking miles at a time to reach golf courses on back roads, and lugging fifty pounds of golf balls everywhere.
I ended up in the town of Castlegar. Like all the other courses on the day, Castlegar's wasn't buying. They couldn't even offer me a sandwich in their restaurant, because the owner wasn't in. Exasperated, I dumped my hundred-and-fifty low-quality balls with them and began the long walk to the highway. The town of Castlegar had a big, pillar-like rock in it that made it beautiful, but its feel was dry and desert-like. The sun was overhead; the heat was astronomical. Sweat poured, my head spun, and heatstroke couldn't have been far away.
On my way back to Julie and Johnny and Adam in Nelson, I stopped and swam in the black river meandering below the road. Curly, green plants reached for river's surface, and I twirled off my distress in the waters around. I went to shore to get my snorkel mask from my bag ...
... only to find I'd left it somewhere on the Crawford Bay course.
... Two days later, I went out selling again.
I sat where cars (many of them golfers) waited for the ferry to take them across the lake to Crawford Bay. My one-hundred high-quality balls were in a box, accompanied by the sign: "Shiny-Like-New Golf Balls: $5 a dozen." Golfers, however, obviously knew less about business than even I. Only one yuppy-looking guy bought the balls from me which would've cost them $2.25 each in the pro shop, and he gave me $10 for the dozen because he felt he was getting such a good deal.
Oh, boy. Life for the travelling golf ball salesman ain't what it used to be. I wanted to call one final golf course on the Crawford Bay side of the lake, but the call was long-distance and would cost me $2.25. Contrarily, if I were to take the ferry to the other side of the lake, it would cost me nothing and save me $1.75 on the call. See, I do know business.
The Riondale public golf course agreed to buy my final high-quality balls at thirty cents apiece. In all, I made $77.50 during my virgin stint as a travelling golf ball salesman. Not bad. Woohoo!
I proudly hitchhiked back to Nelson. There would be no more lemon-orange-and-pineapple marmelade for me! I'd be eating strawberry jam from now on.
Hitchhiking was a booming mode of transportation in the Nelson area. During my life as a travelling golf ball salesman, I got picked up by many interesting people.
I got picked up first by Jon Scott. Jon Scott was a WWOOF-program host, an expert in male development and a leader in seminars, and an experimenter in starting communes. He was the type of guy I could've learned a lot from. One of Jon Scott's former students had been Aaron - that golf-ball-finding legend - who used to live on his property. Jon Scott commented that Aaron was a good guy, and that one of the things he admired about Aaron was his entrepeneurial abilities.
I got picked up by Craig, a young husband and father of one. He spoke excitedly about the farm he was starting and the few animals he was acquiring. He dreamed of some day going to WWOOF-volunteer in Europe or New Zealand, even with his kid.
A bearded, countryside guy named Tim picked me up. He drove a brown, bulky 1956 Ford truck. I had to swing through his car window to get in. "Like Dukes of Hazard," he said. Though it was barely noon, he was well-drunk and drinking. He sometimes said, "Fucking," every other word. He carved magnificent animals out of wood, some of which I'd seen on the Crawford Bay golf course. He said Crawford Bay was the best place on earth.
Amanda and her "partner" (annoying British Columbia slang for boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse), small Masong from Palau, picked me up. Masong told me about the Shamba-La music festival that brings thousands of people to Nelson every year. The festival's tickets had shot up in price this year to $150. "You'd have to sell a lot of golf balls for that," I joked. He told later about a high-paying job he'd landed after college. "That sure beats selling golf balls," I said.
I got picked up last by Margaret Carole. She was, coincidentally, Jon Scott's "partner." She laughed when I told her my completed golf ball selling story. I told her she had to tell it the next time she saw Aaron.
I was laughing too. Ha, ha, ha.
All the way to the bank!
- Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie
Thanks to Aaron; Brian; Erica & Jess; John & Sheila; Mike; Jon Scott; Craig; Mick; Tim; Amanda & Masong; Claude; Berry; Wayne; Greg; Sarah; Bruce Furor; Stefan; Amanda; Gerald; Guillon & Judy; Matt; and Margaret Cole for the rides!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: black bear, white-tailed deer and fawn, coyote