THE WEST IS WACK, EVIDENCE # 2 - A girl named Jill kicked Johnny and I out of her car. She left us standing on a hill in the hot desert, and she drove off, heading the remaining five hours to our common destination: Vancouver.
Jill had been a hippy girl, working on the legalization of pot. She asked us to get out, understandably, when her small car couldn't make it up a hill.
A young, blond girl rescued us from the midst of nowhere. The girl was French-Canadian Eve, who hailed from a horse farm in-between Montreal and Quebec City. She had a cute, playful accent. Whenever Johnny would make a joke, she really laughed Frenchily, and I had to laugh. She was fruit-picking for the summer on farms around the Okanagan Valley, and she helped land a job for Johnny and me.
So, we spent a fun night with other fruit-pickers in an apple farmer's garage. The apple farmer, himself, was from India, and the name he went by was "Cool Dip."
In the morning, we picked. We moved ladders around and put apples in buckets that hung from us like aprons. Some apples fell and hit us in our noses. Once, an apple hit my head, bounced, and came down on my head again. We filled three big bins with Eve's help. Cool Dip only had enough trees for us to pick until noon. Johnny and I made $20 apiece.
We hitched on. Theo and Ann, an older couple in a station wagon, lifted us after seeing us play catch. Theo instructed me to include two things from his ride in my "book."
The first was cool Spotted Lake, where white pockets of salt created enormous spots in the lake. In addition to Spotted Lake, we passed a country home rung by fence made of tires. Theo wanted that I include his joke: "That guy is making his walls out of tire, but he needs more. He's about to retire there."
Theo dropped us off, but he returned moments later to say, "You forgot something." He handed us a bag in which he'd generously placed seven tomatoes and some nectarines. The Okanagan Valley produced some delicious fresh fruit. Mmm.
It was a tough place to catch a ride, however. Johnny and I spent that night in a free, forestry-service campsite - there was nothing there but some trees, our tent, and a river. In the morning, we got our ride to Vancouver.
Thirty-something Brian, in his VW bus, stopped for a lot of hitchhikers. But, he couldn't believe it when I said I sometimes adhered to an all-ice-cream-diet. He said, "I've heard a lot of people talking about some crazy shit, man, but that takes the cake. That is fuc*ed up, man." He went on and on, shaking his head. "That is fu@ked up."
Brian dropped us, still disgusted by the all-ice-cream-diet, in Vancouver. Johnny and I rushed happily to downtown to meet Adam ...
who was sans Julie.
Adam gave Johnny and I the news. Julie had left Nelson with him, but she was home in St. Louis now. She had been hitchhiking in a car when she got the message on her cell phone that her grandfather had died. He'd been very sick for several months. Poor Julie.
Wow. We were all in shock to have lost the most female member of our group. We were all going to miss Julie's laughter, her sweatshirts, and her cute efforts to defend herself against our teasing. Poor Julie had wanted to reach Vancouver and visit Vancouver Island. But, now she was home ...
We had to regroup. We had to pull ourselves together. We had to move on.
As it would turn out, Julie really didn't miss out on too much.
THE WEST IS WACK, EVIDENCE # 3 - The people we were staying with in Vancouver booted Johnny, Adam, and I out prematurely. We'd wanted to stay three nights, but they asked us to leave after two.
We'd been staying with Zari and her lesbian girlfriend. They lived in a warehouse on East Hastings Street - reputed to be the worst and dirtiest street in all of Canada. Many who walked the street were prostitutes or drug addicts or both. Perhaps that's why I didn't find Vancouver to be as special as many people say it is. But, then again, it's rare that I like a city.
Zari had been a good friend of mine since we met four years ago in Australia, but she turned totally apathetic during our stay. So, we moved on in search of the "out West" everyone said we'd love, an "out West" that wanted us Canada-trekkers.
We moved on to Vancouver Island, and we invited an honorary Julie fill-in to join us for this final Canadian adventure.
This young man's name was Sean. We'd met him at Family Camp in Manitoba, where he'd worked as a counselor. He had shoulder-length, curly, brown hair, and his passion was coaching and playing the new sport, ultimate frisbee. He was a bit younger than us, and he was about to begin studying creative writing in Vancouver.
We took a boat across to Vancouver Island. We only had time to drink our celebratory "we made it to Vancouver" beers, toast to Julie, and sleep in a school field. It seemed like most of our time on Vancouver Island was spent looking for places to sleep.
We went next to a place across the island named Tofino. Our first night there, town authorities kicked us out of a beach adjacent to Tofino named Tonquin Park. A park warden carrying a lighthouse-bright flashlight harrassed campers to enforce a law - unique to Tofino, pop. 1000 and some - that said no one could sleep on the dozens of miles of surrounding beach. I was very angry.
The next day, other campers gave us advice on where to hide out in Tonquin Park. We found a hidden spot just perfect for camping.
On a cliff above a beach teemed a moist rainforest dynamic with life. The light-brown earth was spongy and springy and largely unencumbered, like a playground. Sean and Johnny were excited by the scene and declared we had to "run everywhere," like elves. Huge, fallen trees congested our paths, and there were vines and smaller logs we had to duck under. It was like the Swiss Family Robinson's fun get-away.
Rotting, huge scags - dead trees - dominated smaller rain trees up above. Green, rainforest leaves created a bit of a roof. We pitched our tents near the cliff's edge, and the dark Pacific Ocean rolled below.
Donning my $10 used snorkel mask bought in Vancouver, I braved the cooold sea for a look-around. The ocean here was rich with life, too. Gluttonous purple starfish, biscuit-like, lime-green sea anemones, green weeds, and brown kelp clung to stair levels of rock. My head ached, frozen like wild Alaska, when I dove down, but it was so neat I kept doing it.
Tonquin Park's beach was mainly empty of people. The cash-toting tourists making weekend pilgrimages to Tofino didn't visit this beach much. Spread out through the forest and beach, however, were a dozen young campers like us. Most were French-Canadian, but others came from Newfoundland or France. Everyone was so friendly and wanted to meet and talk with everyone. It was a little paradise.
Sure enough, the Tofino cops came. They searched for us and told us we had to leave. The only reasons they ever could give for making us move were that they didn't want people littering or "urinating" in the park. Instead of paying people to hunt down non-littering campers, couldn't Tofino just as easily have paid these people to clean up the bits of litter that did get left?
THE WEST IS WACK, EVIDENCE # 4 - Tofino - to put it simply - sucks.
I was so angry that I ran down the cliff to argue with the cop, and I rolled my ankle bad. This night, we didn't even get to watch the sun shoots its pink rays at us as it dipped below the liquid horizon.
We walked/hitchhiked to the McKenzie Beach campground. I felt like we'd been kicked out of our home. I felt like we were sub-human. I felt oppressed. I'd wanted to stay at Tonquin Park and make the cops carry me out.
There'd been a rumor going around amongst the displaced campers that a McKenzie Beach campsite cost $5. In actuality, it cost $45. $45! And, it was the cheapest campground in the area. Gee, I wonder why the Tofino cops didn't want us camping for free. You think Tofino likes money? You think Tofino likes squeezing every penny of profit out of every person who comes its way?
The population of Tofino was pretty messed-up, too. In two days there, we witnessed many alcohol-problem Tofinonians stumbling, wasted, around at night. One native-Canadian fourteen-year-old girl was so high on something she kept falling on her head. The Tofinonians tried starting fights with us if we looked at them, they swore lots, and they loudly complained. It seemed like a common rich community whose happiness couldn't keep up with its in-flow of money.
We turned around from McKenzie Beach to walk the two miles back to Tofino. It was nighttime now, and we were beaten and tired. My ankle hurt, so I took off a shoe and limped. Johnny suggested I wear his ankle brace, but I figured my ankle would heal stronger if it remained free of supports that could create a dependence.
We sat down in the shared parking lot of a crap-hole motel that cost $80 a night and a restaurant. We fixed ourselves some peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.
"You guys aren't squatting on me, are you?" said the owner of the crap-hole motel, half-joking. His mouth moved liberally about his face, like he couldn't control it or he was some scary fictional character. He was evidently high on something. He hunched over and held a plate of corn. He asked if we wanted some corn, then said he'd trade it for a pb&j.
He left into a room, microwaved the corn, sat at a table, and tore the corn off four cobs in a gnarly eating display that was gross to watch. We waited ten minutes for him to come out with two puny knuckles of corn. And we had grape jelly!
I was unimpressed - above all, by the fact that he was so wasted. "There are four of us, man. You need to sweeten the deal."
He then said he'd show us "a nice place to camp ... Do you got $10?"
"That's extortion," I said. But, he pointed out that it was on his private property. I probably told him to screw off; we could find camping for free. I mentioned his crappy corn-pb&j trade, too.
He lost it, and the trade was off. He began yelling like a headless lunatic - assuming something without a head can yell. He said, "Get off my property! You're trespassing! You now have five minutes to get off my property! I'm calling the cops. It's 9:50 right now. You have until 9:55. You're trespassing! You can blame your friend!"
Johnny and Sean were unhappy with the situation, and they encouraged me not to say more. I wasn't really listening to them, though. I was more interested in telling this guy off. "Lay off the alcohol, buddy!" I said. "You're insane!" "Get a hold of yourself!" "Handle your alcohol better!"
He called us punks.
I said, "Your hotel's a shit-hole!"
He said, "My wife has asked you to leave. Get off my property!" Then, he called us punks again.
I said, "You're the one acting immature. You're a punk."
This hit a wire, because he screamed at the top of his lungs, a scream that progressively got louder, like a siren, and he erupted into a direction-less sprint. First, I thought he was going to run at me to fight. But, he went to a shed behind his house.
We quickly grabbed and put on our bags. Sean said, "That was so not funny," to me, and someone sarcastically told me, "Thanks, Johnny." We thought he might've been going to get a gun. But, then again, as Sean would say, "This is Canada."
We returned to a spot in the Tofino woods that we'd scouted out earlier. Johnny revealed that he couldn't find the good spot he'd earlier found. Adam, for the first time on the whole trip, was totally unhappy. We were all fairly miserable.
We slept in a bowl-like depression, so small that we couldn't put up our tents and we all kind of rolled on top of each other. Rain-drops dripped from the trees on our faces all night long.
This was our last night in Canada. In case you couldn't tell, Tofino wasn't my favorite place.
- Modern O.
with Johnny, Adam, Sean, and Julie (in spirit)
Thanks to Jake & Avery; Mike; Jill; Eve; Theo & Ann; Brad; Brian; Matu; Bob Hudson; Lisa; and Brian & Rebecca for the rides!
Much thanks - any ways - to Zari and Gabe for the place to stay!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: starfish, anemones