Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Clash of Cultures

I suspect we all feel a touch of disquietude from time-to-time.  Something doesn't feel quite right.  Even before any specific issue is identified, an unease is felt.  For us, as we travel, it happens sometimes when we pull into a littered campground or stop for lunch at a park with dirty restrooms.  Other times it is just driving through a town with an unpleasant smell or vacant rundown buildings.  Perhaps it is being thrust unwittingly into a city's homelessness issues.  The question that we must always ask ourself is this:  is it snobbery or legitimate concern or something else?  

Naturally, hunches like this need to be treated with great care because they can be caused by racial or class biases that we have carefully tucked away out of sight, but that can raise their ugly heads if we’re not alert.  Other times we must pay attention because our senses are warning us of a real danger.  Often we will never know if we were right in our retreat, other times we’re delighted we overcame a nervous hunch.  

Last night we camped along the beautiful Carbon River, just outside the NW entrance of Rainier National Park, in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and the dead-end of Highway 165.  It is both beautiful and a tragedy of human bad behavior.  Each camp is littered with beer and pop cans, bottles and lids, flip tabs and cigarette butts.  Pieces of flotsam hiding in the fire pits and on the ground are everywhere, castoff by campers who do not understand the "Pack It In; Pack It Out" rule of mountaineering.  Yessi and I begin to pick up trash as Brad and Ed set up the vehicles for the night’s camp.  Tomorrow we will explore further up the road for the Green Trails  Maps hiking route Brad and Yessi will map in two weeks.

Thistle always provides a safe, clean, dry home

It is just beginning to rain.  The dog is nuts with happiness and keeps trying to get one or the other of us to throw sticks into the river.

He‘s also interested in a little corner of shrubs near our camp.  When we investigate we’re sickened.    PWFs (puffy white flowers) are everywhere — the tell-tale signs of an area being used as a restroom.

A disgusting collection of PWFs

Lots of people are camping and recreating along this road.  We would prefer a less crowded situation, but with rain settling in along with night, this is where we must stay.  With some disgust and much disappointment in my fellow human beings I am filled with sadness and a bit of trepidation    When I turn away from the mess, without taking a step, here is my view in the opposite direction — an open pit toilet and a river side-by-side.

The river and flood plain

Earlier in the day we investigated a forest service road for a camp site, but gave up.  The entire area was being used for ATV’s and target practice.  I’m not, in a broad sense, opposed to either, done with sensitivity, but sensitivity was no where in sight, although piles of litter were.   Each of the shooting range areas was totally trashed with the accumulation of years and years of empty shells, cans, car parts, old targets, bits of plastic and PWFs.  Each of the parking areas for the ATVs was the same.  Without much comment, we drove on, and then out of this sullied area.   

This morning we continue across the river and up into subalpine forest.  It is beautiful.  More shooting ranges, equally trashed, but we pass by quickly as the semi-automatics blast away, putting miles between them and us as fast as we can on this washboard road.  Toward the top we find the trailhead for Summit Lake and the beginning of a 30 mile loop Brad and Yessi will hike and record in two weeks.  We also found a beautiful campsite, and with a little litter removal we left it pristine.  Our conclusion for this site being in better condition is the location of a National Forest Toilet and garbage cans nearby.   The price we pay for not paying the price for maintaining our public lands is huge.  

Coplay Lake

Benton loving stick chasing in Coplay Lake

Brad and Benton exploring the lake's edge

Fran, Benton, Ed & Brad
Somehow Yessi was always our photographer

Sometimes, finding ourselves ill at ease with those around us is the push needed to regroup, reeducate, and readjust our thinking.  Clearly, all of us working harder to bridge economic and cultural chasms is worth striving for.  


"Snobbery management is as difficult and necessary as anger management."

~  Michael Foley
 Embracing the Ordinary:  Lessons from the Champions of Everyday Life

Sunday, September 3, 2017


The strength of travel is in observing new things, with these new things leading to increased knowledge and the expansion of one's world view.  This expansion can be of how other people live, talk and eat or it can be observations about politics, flora and fauna, or geography.  We find it all fascinating and we thrive in newly discovered ideas as well as terrain.

On our recent trip to British Columbia I was particularly observant to how it felt crossing the border into another country, especially after the recent broadening of border security.  We've crossed the border into Canada many, many times over the years, rarely finding it completely stress free.  These days that stressful feeling is ramped up.  Our nation's days of discontent increase and our border crossings feel more threatening.  They are tense.  

Ed was born in Saskatchewan, so he often gets questioned by border patrol in more detail than I, especially by U.S. Customs.  Two years ago, Canadian Customs  pulled us over so they could run a background check on me.  Other times we just breeze through both U.S. and Canadian Customs.   Sometimes we must dispose of food or answer a barrage of seemingly strange questions.  We always try to be prepared with passports and Benton's vaccination documents ready; we carry no liquor; limit food on board; and have receipts for new purchases.  But still, we wonder, "what this time?"  We feel a touch of angst as we wait in the long line approaching the booth.

Coming home, back into the U.S. on this most recent trip, a passenger, about three cars in front of us, was pulled out, cuffed and led off, to who knows where.  It's difficult to completely relax in any situation where the officials have such a high degree of control, and the citizens must comply both physically and in attitude, or risk their escalation of power.

Generally speaking, though, the back and forth between the U.S. and Canada is not too difficult or stress generating, and if you pass through customs at the Peace Arch, it is an inviting and beautifully welcoming park in both directions.  Flags from both countries wave together in camaraderie and peace.

Our southern border with Mexico is quite a different experience, and has been for as far back as I can remember when my family and I visited relatives in the Imperial Valley, close to the Mexican border.  Although we have not crossed into Mexico for a few years, we have passed through check points often in our close-to-the-border travels.  And we are familiar with the past stress of entering and exiting Mexico.  Both Canada and Mexico are our neighbors, but equal treatment is no where in sight and it makes me sad.  This inequality is due to many reasons, but I suspect largely three -- economics, skin color and language.  The differences are staggering.

Along the U.S.-Mexican border, friendship arches and dual-country flags flying to show the camaraderie between our two countries are non-existent.  There are miles of fences and walls, expanses of cement, barbed wire, trash and filth everywhere.   And U.S. southern Border Patrol is tough.

Walking between countries is prison-like…

And then there are the ecological disaster walls impeding wildlife…

Humans are impeded too, by land and by sea…

Ed and I are left wanting to reach out.  To apologize.  We want to show we're friendly.   We want to  honor our neighbors to the south, as well as to the north.  Our encounters with the Spanish people have always been wonderful, both here in the U.S. and in Mexico and other Spanish-speaking nations, like when we spent a month in Ecuador.  Friendly people with easy smiles, who dance and sing and welcome us with delight.  People who love their families above all.  Religious people.   And the food couldn't be better!!  Just try, I dare you, to find a fish taco in the U.S. that tastes as good as a fish taco in Baja.

In Trump's call for wall designs, this one was submitted.   How healing and respectful and loving would this be?  It's still a wall, like at the Peace Arch going into Canada, but it's also a park and a place to join hands and be neighbors…   

Besides, if one is desperate to join loving family or in need of money, there is always a way…


"Borders are scratched across the hearts of men, by strangers with a calm, judicial pen, and when the
borders bleed we watch with dread the lines of ink along the map turn red."

~ Marya Mannes 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Vancouver Island Wrap-up

Sometimes the timing is off or the expectations are too unrealistic or our own quirks become too quirky. When this happens, to write about all things vacation being perfect is dishonest or at the very least, pretty darn Pollyannaish. Traveling is wonderful, but not always. Out of synch happens. Take our most recent sojourn on Vancouver Island.

The first scapegoat for any traveling discomfort is the weather. Ed and I always play with it a bit, and delight in heading to higher or lower elevations or going south or north, to find "ideal". On this trip we simply have not been able to get it quite right, moving from sweltering to shivering throughout most days. We'd head up off the coast to escape the cold seashore fog, and bake. We'd go back down to the beach to escape the heat, and freeze. We've turned into crazy yo-yos of discontent.

Add mosquitoes to the equation and the complexity intensifies. In the woods the mosquitoes fiercely attack, leaving red welts on top of red welts. During the night I turn into a crazy whirling maniac with fits of itching. To avoid more bites we hide out in Thistle, but that is confining and hot, plus the mosquitoes still sneak in. Sleeping with even one mosquito in Thistle is challenging and hearing the telltale buzzing, I dive under the blanket. Waking up hot and sweaty, I throw off the blanket to cool off, but soon I am chilled, so seek cover again. Throughout, the mosquitoes feast. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

And then, what were we thinking? The crowds of August vacationers caught us off guard. We have done so much traveling in the off season, we had somehow misplaced our recollection of summer vacationers. People are as thick as the mosquito bites on my body, overflowing the beaches, highways, ferries, coffee shops, and campgrounds. The people we've encountered are quite lovely, there are just way too many for my spoiled country ways. I avoid Langley in the summer, and definitely stay away from Seattle, why did I think Vancouver Island would be different?

And finally, change has unexpectedly caught me in its grip. I anticipated finding the small, quaint towns I remembered from 30 plus years ago changed but not too changed. Ha. Take Sooke. This tiny town I stopped at when cycling the Galloping Goose all those many years ago is no longer tiny. Sooke has sprawled every which way and is plagued with bumper to bumper traffic. I am critical of people's resistance to change in the political world, yet here I am trapped in my own mindset of "what it was" in the physical world.

We have seen many wonderful parts of Vancouver Island and greatly enjoyed many of our destinations, but as vacations go I was caught off guard enough to examine my ideal. I was forced into self reflection. Our dear friend, Greg's words rang in my ears: "No expectations, no disappointments."

And, a final word for travel on Vancouver Island -- take a boat!

Any boat…


It's the rugged shorelines and small off shore islands and abundant wildlife and hundreds of lovely little lakes that are the drop dead wonders of this place. A boat enhances the experience, as I know from previous trips, but failed to fully appreciate until I found myself without a boat.


“Everything that looks too perfect is too perfect to be perfect.”

~ Dejan Stojanovic

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Malcolm Island

On our way to Malcolm Island…

Bere Point Campground on Malcolm Island becomes our home for two nights. The only town on the island, Sointula, sports the oldest coop in BC plus lots of art, funk, characters and charm. The dogs and cats have right-of-way on the streets. The island's setting, off the Queen Charlotte Strait, is stunning, and only a 20 minute ferry ride from Port McNeill.

Hiking the Beautiful Bay Trail we stop at the whale viewing platform, but no whales this day. The hike is a pleasant woodland path, often with salal way over our heads, giving way to beautiful peekaboo water views from time-to-time. We cross over rickety little bridges that wave and bend and sag in most interesting ways.

no whales today

great snags

4 feet help on these rickety old bridges

salal well over our heads

Later in the day, we walk the streets of Sointula, along with other walkers and bikers and dogs, and even at one point a free-roaming cow happily munching in a patch of daisies. We discover the library, complete with the sit-outside-when-they-are-closed Internet. In the marina parking lot we cooked dinner in Thistle as we watched the fishing fleet rushing home just ahead of the bank of fog rolling in. We shopped the coop and sampled two cafes -- Upper Crust Bakery for lunch and Coho Joe Cafe.

creative pea patch trellis

beautiful, but sad, old skeleton boat house still housing

We pretty much sampled the whole island, with the exception of driving the full length of the only east-west road. After driving to the light house at the west end we simply didn't have the stamina to go in the other direction. Our tolerance for dusty washboard roads had come to an end so further explorations ended with the pavement.

Goodbye Malcolm Island. We enjoyed our stay!


"The longer the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder."

~ Ralph Washington Sockman

Port Alice

Port Alice is a sweet little town accessible from a curvy, scenic road (paved even!!) headed south midway between Port Hardy and Port McNeill, off Highway 19. It is situated beautifully at Rumble Beach and charmed our socks off. Once a pulp mill town, now without an obvious means of jobs, except logging, fishing and tourism. Nestled between Neroutsos Inlet and Alice Lake, Port Aliceis perfectly situated for surround-beauty.

Shortly after arriving we pulled into a sleepy little RV Park for the night. $11 with a stunning view of the Inlet. We tucked the camping fee under the door because, after calling the owners at a number provided, we were told they were home eating dinner. The next morning, we strolled the 3 km Sea Walk, off leash for Benton, because there wasn't a car or another person in sight. By almost noon, when we departed, we still had not seen our hosts.

Seeing the For Sale sign on the RV park/restaurant we stayed at got me to thinking about Port Alice as a home. Quiet in the summer; beyond quiet in the winter. Serenity year-around! An appealing idea in these days of Trump.


"My incentive? Making a peaceful spirit second nature. And that is so worth the effort."

~ Carlos Wallace

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Back to the Pacific Ocean

Aside from Victoria, B.C. trips, all previous trips to Vancouver Island have been to drive as fast as we could to a put-in and then explore by kayak. In the past, I have paddled Barkley Sound, Desolation Sound and Kyuquot Sound -- all wonderfully beautiful. Exploring the island in a car is a new adventure, and so far I'd say not as rewarding as paddling, but worth doing nevertheless.

Both Ed and I were missing the past adventures of water and remote ocean travels so from Port Hardy we head to the Pacific, destination Cape Palmerston and Raft Cove Provincial Park. Logging roads the entire route, some 40 miles, or so, made for a teeth chattering experience. Attesting to the good springs in Thistle, we still have our teeth. We also have a mountain of dust in every nook and cranny. Perhaps it's the dust holding our teeth in place???

between dust flying and a dirty windshield the view failed to impress

fires slowed down much of the  forest work, but it was still happening

Along the way we stop at Holberg for an ice-cream bar at a funny little grocery store in a town of perhaps 12 homes.

The beauty of the ocean with its beaches, rocky shores and calming waves is a wonderful juxtaposition to the washboard roads that battered us mile after mile getting here. And Benton, seemingly finished with rough roads with his hang face, was more than happy to exit Thistle for some beach-running freedom.

Hiking out to Raft Cove was on a rooted, challenging trail through a beautiful but tangled forest, an hour in length. Mosquitoes, of course, chewed on us relentlessly, but breaking out on the beach made every bump, step, and bite, worth the effort and itch.

trail of roots

some lovely trail building but it petered out
not too far along

we loved the directional arrow to the right

To our surprise there were lots of campers, kayakers, surfboarders and paddle boarders stretched out along the length of the beach. There were also ample camps tucked away in the woods, almost hidden from sight, and outhouses amply placed, so that the beach felt quite pristine. Unlike other places we've been the folks seemed well trained in the "pack it in, pack it out" philosophy of good camping etiquette. It also turns out Raft Cove can be reached via a raft down Macjack River making it far more accessible than we ever imagined.

some sun, lots of fog but sometimes, like here, off in
the distance

Access to Cape Palmerston was only a five minute hike through the woods from the parking lot. The beach was gravel, not sand, much shorter than Raft Cove and with many fewer people. Except for two semi-permanent summer tents the only other people we saw were day visitors, like us. The occupants of the tents were living off the sea for the summer. The one man we spoke with was very interesting, probably in his late 60's, who had immigrated to Canada from Kenya, directly after finishing University in England. He speaks seven languages, including Chinese, as he worked with his brother-in-law in China for a spell. I always find it delightful to find all manner of people wherever we go, no matter how remote or unexpected.

Hiking down the beach a bit, we come across this wonderful emergency shelter, complete with loft sleeping accommodations, kitchen sink and drain board, outhouse up a little trail called Taj Mahole, fire pit with benches, and a sweet little deck for viewing the ocean. A guestbook recorded many visitors who had simply dropped by or stayed for a spell. We added our names.

Our trip has generated two bear sightings and a third almost-bear-sighting. The third was at Cape Palmerston where there was a dead seal on the beach and accordingly to the man we spoke with, a bear came several times a day to graze. The eagles were showing a great deal of interest too. Also the area has wolves and cougars but we heard of no reports that they were participants at this feast and we saw no signs of either.


"Always there has been an adventure just around the corner--and the world is still full of corners."

~ Roy Chapman Andrews