Wow. Two months and 30,000 words later, my Canadian journey has come to an end. Sleeping inside again after camping leaves me wondering, how many amazing sunrises and sunsets are happening right now around the world with nobody there to photograph them? I think I’m going to keep biking to continue the journey. This trip has given me so many new experiences and so much wisdom. If anyone reading this has ever wanted something but has been too afraid to do it, I urge you to stop making excuses and just do it. You won’t regret it.
So, that being said, what did I learn from this experience? Being my first bike tour, I now realize that I brought too much stuff with me. Next time, I won’t bring a lot of things.
– Water filter (unless I’m really in the backwoods roughing it, and then I’ll minimize the weight by not bringing all the unnecessary accessories that come with the filter)
– Full first aid kit (I only needed the bandaids, which could go in a zip-lock bag instead of a red fabric zippered pouch)
– Paper notebooks (I only used them a few times for writing. The rest of the time I wrote on my laptop because it was going straight to my blog anyhow. However, if I don’t bring a laptop, I would bring one notebook)
– Laptop with protective casing (next time, just a netbook should suffice for blogging and editing photos)
I might change this next time:
– Using a hammock (With an ultralight tarp suspended over me, it’s much lighter than a tent)
– Getting a compact, lightweight down sleeping bag (my synthetic bag is big and heavy)
– Bringing an ultralight tarp rather than buying a heavy one on the road (to drape over the bike on rainy nights. I learned this after getting a rusty chain)
I caught the ferry to Anacortes at 4:15PM, and didn’t arrive at my destination until about 5:45. I didn’t have much time to get to my next camp site, so I was going to try to hurry. I was headed to Rosario Bay, where there would be camping. It was about 10 miles from the ferry terminal, and there were also lots of hills like San Juan island. At several points along the ride, I was treated to nice views of a brilliant sunset. I didn’t think Anacortes was going to be that scenic, but it definitely was.
About 2/3rds of the way there, I started feeling weak because of hunger. I had to stop and make a peanut butter banana sandwich, even though it was getting dark in the trees that I was riding through. Riding in the dark makes me nervous because I don’t trust cars when I don’t have much of a shoulder to ride on. At a few points on the ride, there wasn’t but 6 inches of space for me to ride on.
By the time I approached the turnoff to the bay, it was dark and I could barely read the signs. The last stretch involved me riding on a very dark road in the forest with no shoulder and lots of blind curves. I cursed to myself for not getting there faster, worried that a car would come speeding around the corner to hit me, I pedaled as fast as I could up the last hill. Finally, I saw a turnoff that looked like the right one for Rosario Bay. I was off the main road and sighed in sweaty relief. I cruised down the hill and when I got to the bay, I was awestruck by the last few minutes of the dusk sunset. I took many photos without the aid of a tripod, hoping to get at least one that wasn’t blurry. I did get one, and it turned out gorgeous. Definitely one of my favorite photos yet.
After my little photo shoot, I decided to get my headlamp on and start looking for a place to pitch a tent. I saw a trail that led uphill that looked promising, so I parked my bike and ventured up the hill. To my surprise, the trail opened up to a panoramic view of the ocean. it was beautiful, and I immediately knew I wanted to camp here. So I ran back down the hill to get my bike. I knew it was going to be tough to push my load back up that steep trail, but it would be worth it to camp on another lookout point. I pitched my tent and got to making a pot of quinoa and beans for dinner. After dinner, I was too eager to look at my recently acquired photos, so I took out my laptop and pulled them off the memory card. One nice thing about carrying the laptop with me on this trip is being able to sort and edit photos along the way, rather than having to buy a bunch of memory cards and save all the editing for when I got home. That would seem like a lot of work, but bit by bit, it’s a lot of fun.
The next morning, I woke up at 7:30. I got out of my tent and was awestruck at yet another beautiful series of sunrise vistas. Sorry if the sunrise/sunset photos get old, they never do for me, so take a look at these:
After taking photos, I followed my usual routine of oatmeal and coffee. By 10am I was packed up and ready to go. I rolled my bike down the trail, down the hill I came up the night before. I took one last look at the scenery and headed out. My next destination was to Port Townsend, where I would camp at Old Fort Townsend state park. After a few miles of climbing, I was at the Deception Pass bridge, which is a huge bridge without much of a shoulder or bike path on it. The scenery from on top of the bridge is pretty gorgeous, but the photos I took didn’t turn out all that amazing.
My first instinct for getting across was to take the pedestrian path on the side. A minute later, I realized it was almost too narrow, but I didn’t have room to turn around, so I kept going, trying not to tear holes in my panniers from the concrete walls. Halfway across, there was a couple who were taking photos. I asked if I could scoot by them. They barely could squeeze in between my bike and the wall. Another few minutes of careful riding and I was back on the road. The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful, just a good amount of climbing as per usual. It passed through Oak Harbor, where I stopped to pick up lunch and more peanut butter. There wasn’t a whole lot of choices for lunch, and the hot food at Safeway looked good because I was hungry. I got fried chicken wing and a chimichanga. Later I would regret eating that, because it sapped my energy, and I just didn’t feel very good. When I got to the Keystone ferry, I was happy to rest and wait in the sunshine by the sea. Twenty minutes passed, and the ferry arrived. On deck, I decided I needed to true my back wheel because it was getting wobbly again. It seemed that the rest of the trip would require constant attention to my back wheel ever since I broke a spoke back in Victoria. Every 30 miles or so, it would go back out of true and I’d have to fix it again. I hoped I would be able to make it to Portland without the wheel completely breaking on me.
Once I got to Port Townsend, I headed out of my way towards Fort Worden state park because they had hot showers, which was really tempting. I hadn’t had a shower in days and was sure I needed it badly. For a dollar, I got about 4 minutes in the shower. I was able to wash my shirt and underwear, which I would strap to the back of my luggage to dry for the rest of the day. Back on track, I headed to my final destination. After several wrong detours (I blame trying to follow google maps for shortcuts), I finally got to the park after a long downhill descent. When I arrived, I saw a sign that said: “Park Closed”. Damn. I was too tired to try to camp anywhere else for the night, so I decided to camp there anyway. I hoped the water was still turned on, because I was out of water and needed some to cook dinner. Luckily, everything was still functional, including water, toilets, and electricity. I found a covered picnic table shelter and set all my stuff down. It began to rain, and I was thankful to have the shelter with a light and a place to recharge my GPS and phone. I called Shannon from skype with my phone and we talked for hours. It was nice to catch up with her after few days of talking to only myself. I told her I was a little apprehensive about my next day’s trip, it was 64 miles and lots of big hills, including a pass over Mt. Walker. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it because I had only biked 30 miles that day, and was completely exhausted. I think the crappy lunch might have had something to do with that, though.
As night fell, I decided that I wanted to get an early start the next day, so I skipped setting up my tent. I just put my air mattress on the picnic table and slept under that shelter for the night. I was happy that no forest ranger came and told me to leave the whole time. I don’t think anybody even knew I was there.
The next day, I left my camp site at about 9 AM. I was in for a big ride that day, but I was prepared for it.
I had a hearty breakfast with some coffee and started my ascent back up Old Fort Townsend road to highway 20 south. After several miles of pedaling alongside cars, which I didn’t really enjoy that much, the highway joined with highway 101. After an hour of biking, I realized that my front derailleur needed adjusting: I couldn’t switch into my lowest gear, which I would need for that day of climbing up Mt. Walker. I pulled into a gravel lot to attempt to adjust it, even though I had never done that before. I whipped out my phone, and opened up this app called “Bike Doctor”, which gave step-by-step directions on how to perform many essential bike repairs. Then I learned how to adjust the height and angle of the front derailleur, as well as turning the limit screws to adjust the limits of how far the derailleur could go. For some reason, I couldn’t get it adjusted right, and spent an hour and a half trying to get it right. Realizing I was wasting precious time, I decided to call it quits and just deal with not being able to shift into my lowest gear.
After passing the small town of Quilcene, the real climb began. Luckily, I was able to manually push the derailleur far enough to the left to shift into the low gear. I would just have to keep it in a low gear the whole climb. It ended up taking about 45 minutes to ascend, which wasn’t that bad. I had my headphones playing some music to keep me going. The descent was the best part: miles of downhill, not much pedaling necessary. It was a good break and the wind felt great after the sweaty climb.
The rest of the day, I navigated winding shoulderless roads, which passed by a few scenic areas. I stopped for misc. supplies at little grocery stores, and mostly enjoyed the rest of the ride.
About 10 miles before my destination, I had already pedaled 54 miles. Suddenly my butt began to hurt, because I made the mistake of wearing underwear with my bike shorts. I had an epic wedgie and the friction was hurting. I kept going anyway, determined to make it the 60 miles. I pedaled through the pain, and just kept going and going. It seemed never ending. But finally, somehow, I made it to Potlatch state park. I wasn’t too exhausted to walk around the park a little and take some photos, however.
I was happy to find that the campground had hot showers, and gladly payed the dollar for a hot shower to wash my shirt again and feel clean and fresh.
After my shower, I checked the weather on my phone and realized it was going to be raining for the next 3-4 days, at least. Realizing that my wheel was on the verge of breaking more spokes with a bad wobble, I decided I would ride another 39 miles to Olympia and take the train to Portland from there.
The next day, it was raining buckets, and I decided to stay in the tent for a few hours and wait it out. I actually considered taking the day off, but got bored after a while and decided to leave. The rain stopped for a little while before I left, and I quickly shed all my rain gear because it was getting hot underneath it all. I realized I much prefer just a pair of bike shorts getting wet rather than pants with rain pants over them. That just gets too sweaty.
15 miles later, I arrived in Shelton. Because I was still a little sore from the previous day, and my train didn’t leave until the next day, I decided to treat myself to a hotel room at the Shelton Super 8. It ended up being way more than I would have liked to pay (keep in mind, my being accustomed to hostel prices or free camping), but I said, what the hell, and just dried out all my gear, and enjoyed having two queen beds and a desk to work at all night.
For dinner, I had been craving mexican food, so I went to this place called El Sarape, which was overpriced, but decent enough. I got a chimichanga and lots of chips ‘n salsa. I went to bed satisfied, and woke up first thing in the morning. I got their free continental breakfast (english muffins with butter…. oh how I missed butter…. a few bananas and hard boiled eggs) then began my ride. After 6 miles over a few steep hills, I got a call from the hotel. I had left my daypack with my flute in it. “Goddamnit” I thought to myself. I had to turn back and get it. That tacked on 12 miles I hadn’t planned on for the day. So the total would be 42 miles for the day rather than 30. Oh well, that was totally doable. I just always go back to thinking “I’ll be in better shape for it” when I think about the work it takes to haul 70 pounds up those hills. When I was about halfway to Olympia, my wobbly wheel started rubbing against the brake pad, and it was seriously slowing me down. I decided to stop at one of the exits off the highway to do a quick truing. To my chagrin, another two spokes had broken. Not wanting to break even more and set off a chain reaction of broken spokes while I was flying down a hill at 30 miles per hour, I decided it would probably be safer to hitch a ride the rest of the way to the train station. It was worth a shot, anyway. The first big truck I saw, I asked if they were going to Olympia. Of course they weren’t, they weren’t going onto the onramp headed east. The next time, I waited until I saw a truck headed in that direction. There was one guy about my age driving a huge truck all by himself, with plenty of room in the back. I asked if he was headed to Olympia. Sure enough, he was, he said “hop on in”. My first hitchhiking experience of the whole trip turned out pretty well. I thanked him and loaded my bike up onto the truck bed. During the 20 minutes of driving through pouring rain, we chatted about random little things. I asked where he grew up, he said Steamboat island, where there were 50 houses all packed together really closely. I remarked about how he probably knew his neighbors pretty well. He chuckled. His name was Eli, he was the son of a wood mill operator. I joked about how awful the paper mills smelled. He said the worst one he has ever smelled was in Camas. I tried to give him some gas money and he refused, saying he was going to be in the area anyway. I was thankful for the ride. Since I arrived at the train station much earlier than expected, I was able to get the 1PM train instead of the 7PM train. That saved me many boring hours waiting at this teeny Amtrak station. On the way back on the train, I watched a movie, “127 hours,” which I had avoided watching until then because I couldn’t bear the thought of watching some guy cut his own arm off. As I expected, that scene was almost unbearable to watch. I’m sure people across from me were wondering why I was cringing and putting my hands up to my face in gestures of pain. Overall though, the movie reminded me of how we should always live like we might die tomorrow. Things like remembering to tell your family and loved ones how much you really appreciate them, or going out and doing the things you always wished you had the time to do. If we really lived like today was our last day on earth, how would our actions differ from our normal, habituated life?
Arriving back in Portland was a little surreal. I walked my bike from the train station to my friends Chris and Natalie’s apartment, which is conveniently close downtown. I passed by my old office at Jama, reliving the memories of biking to work up Hoyt street every day. I had gotten to know this part of town really well that year, so it was kind of a trip back down memory lane. Everything still seemed the same as before I had left. Not much changed. Arriving at the apartment, I knocked on the door and was happy to see Natalie again. I thanked her profusely for letting me borrow her Canon D70 camera for 2 months. It was so important for me to be able to share the remarkable beauty of the landscapes I had visited with a nice camera. I can’t believe I actually considered not taking a camera because I could just my iPhone’s poor quality camera.
I must have been talking a mile a minute about all the stories from the past two months, I had so much to share. When Chris got home a few hours later, I gave them a photo slideshow. They told me how awesome the photos were, and how they wanted to use them for desktop wallpapers for their computers. That gave me an idea. What if I put up a collection of full-resolution images for people to download? And what if I asked for a pay-what-you-want donation to fund the purchase of my own digital SLR camera so I can continue taking photos of beautiful landscapes? Realizing that I have a really nice selection of wallpapers on my hands now, I have yet to decide what to do with them. I think I might just do the donation-based download of photos. Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.
After I left Shannon’s apartment complex, I caught the sky train to the bus that would take me to the ferry terminal. I was originally planning to go from Victoria to Port Angeles. But, after purchasing “Bicycling the Pacific Coast” on my kindle and reading through it a bit, I realized that it would probably be wise to follow the directions from the book. Their recommended route was from Sidney to San Juan and Orcas island, to Anacortes, WA. At first, I had thought that I had seen a few of the islands in BC, so I had seen them all. But, then I was thinking, well, I haven’t seen any of the islands on the American side, so I’ll check out San Juan island. After all, most people I know in Portland have been there, so I figured I should check it out while I was in the area. When I got to Sidney, I realized that I had already missed the one ferry of the day, so I’d have to wait till the next day. Luckily there was a camp site nearby, so I decided I would stay there that night. The rest of the day I spent taking photos, hanging out at a coffee shop, and catching up with people online.
One of the interesting things about Sidney is all the statues of people around the city. They were built by artist Nathan Scott. I really liked the one on the bench by the ocean.
I was glad I wasn’t in a rush. After the sun set, I biked back to the camp site and pitched my tent in the dark. I cooked up an easy dinner of instant corn chowder that I bought in Vancouver, and read for the rest of the night. Sleep was easy, and before I knew it, the sun was streaming through the woods into my tent. It was 7AM. I wanted to get an early start on the day, so I jumped out of my tent and made some oatmeal. Making breakfast, cleaning dishes, and packing up my camp site took about 1.25 hours. By 8:30, I was out and headed to the beach to enjoy the increasingly rare sunshine for a bit. I got some great photos of a heron.
About 10 minutes before the ferry departed, I biked to the terminal and entered the small customs building. They asked the usual border-crossing questions, I showed them my passport and boarded the ferry. Instantly, I felt like there was a big difference between BC ferries and the Washington government-run ferries. For one, it felt just like our government — aging towards obsolescence. They must have built this ferry in the 70’s. It had ugly flourescent lights, the chairs and benches seemed like they were straight out of an old high school.
A few things about the ferry put me at unease. Maybe it was the fluorescent lights or all the vending machines. The informational displays in the ferry were about the military history and influence on the ferry. There were signs everywhere saying “Assaults on washington state employees will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law”. I counted at least 5 of these signs. Why did they feel they needed to remind us about law and punishment so frequently? The vending machines had stickers on them saying something like “Healthy choices: All food meets the following nutritional requirements….” Then proceeded to list number of calories, grams of carbohydrates, etc. Of course, the food was all junk. But the fact that they were saying it was healthy was just false advertising. In Canada, I felt like they were more truthful in their public notices and displays, for example, in the sky train terminal, they had posters warning not to overuse antibiotics. Just little things like that made me realize I like certain things about Canada more than the states.
When the ferry pulled into Friday Harbor, I rolled my bike onto land, to be intercepted by a border guard in a uniform that looked made him look like a police officer. He asked me where I was from, how long I’d been in Canada, why I was in Canada, and if I purchased anything. The usual customs procedure. It was actually less of a hassle than I’ve experienced in the past with customs. He let me pass, and I started riding up the hill. This was my first opportunity to follow the directions in “Bicycling the Pacific Coast,” which was on my Kindle. I’m actually really pleased with using the kindle as a cue sheet for cycling, with point-by-point directions from the book. I just put the kindle in my transparent, rain-proof map case on the handlebar bag along with my GPS and I’m able to press the “next page” button through the plastic as I pass each waypoint. The only thing I wasn’t too pleased with was most of the mile marker numbers in the book are incorrect (which, I knew about in advance from the Amazon.com reviews of the book). No matter, I was still able to navigate successfully around the island without using the mile markers. I did end up using a map I got from the info center by the ferry.
Like many of the gulf islands, San Juan island is pretty hilly at times. The total length of the tour around the island was 31.3 miles, which isn’t too bad, but requires a considerable amount of effort once you factor in all the climbs.
One of the first things I saw was so random… A camel. Who keeps camels in the Pacific Northwest? I saw this camel off in the distance and stopped at the fence to take some photos. Before I knew it, the camel was curious and came right up to me.
Turns out, there is a story behind the camel. I googled “San Juan Island camel” and found this story. Her name is “moanie” because she would make a moaning sound whenever her owner left her side. From the article, it says: “Camels bond very strong with whoever raises them. They’re very tender animals; she loves to kiss”
After the random camel, I stopped at various bays and viewpoints. For a snack, I stopped at a viewpoint of Roche Bay, overlooking a harbor filled with yachts and sailboats. I saw some blackberry bushes all around. They weren’t at their peak ripeness, but there were still some good ones left, alongside a lot of moldy ones. I decided to collect as many good ones as I could find and save them for oatmeal the next morning (my new favorite camp breakfast was peanut butter oatmeal with blackberries in it) Afterwards, I decided to head to San Juan county park to set up camp for the evening. I only had a few hours of sunlight left, so I figured I would do the rest of the loop the next day. On the way, I stopped at English Camp, which is a historical site where there was a dispute between the English and the Americans that almost erupted into war.
The dispute was over the killing of a pig, which ended in a territorial fight ending in the British ceding. The restored buildings were rather plain, rectangular whitewashed wooden structures. It made me think about how the utilitarian style of architecture characterized by western civilization is often so boring and… square. Thinking back to what interested me much more, I remembered the geodesic dome houses on Denman Island. I wanted to learn how to build like that. Forget making square houses.
When I arrived at San Juan county park, I was greeted by a park ranger. I said hello back to him and just rested for a bit on a picnic table, soaking in the view of the bay. The park had good western exposure along the coastline, so I was going to watch the sun set that evening. All of the camp sites were in boring spots, and of course you had to pay for them. I eyed a trail up to an elevated ridge with a coastal bluff viewpoint. Hiking up to the top, I quickly decided I wanted to camp on the edge of the cliff that overlooked the ocean below, as that was my favorite kind of camping spot. I’m not sure if I was supposed to camp there, but I figured it would be alright since I’m a leave-no-trace kind of camper.
The site was beautiful, and I was just so pleased that I had a sunset to watch as I prepared my dinner. Soon after I set up my tent, I heard a crash in the bushes. Slightly startled, I looked over my shoulder. It was a young deer eating his dinner of grass. I hid behind a tree so he wouldn’t see me. Slowly, I took my camera out of my bag and decided to stalk the deer to get some good sunset deer photos. I needed to move to a better spot, so that I could get a silhouette shot rather than a dark blurry image of the deer in the woods. Slowly, I crept to a better viewpoint. Whenever the deer looked up at me, I froze until he went back to munching grass. Eventually, I was at a good spot for taking photos.
Oh well, it was still a pretty good photo. The second photo I got was when I moved to a different viewpoint, and the deer poked his head above a ridge just in time for me to snap one more photo.
Then I tried to get closer, and he ran away. I ended up getting two decent photos that I was very happy with. After that, I snapped some more photos of the beauty of the coastal sunset.
The next day, I awoke to a bit of rain and clouds, so I slept in. I didn’t think anybody would be out on the path early in the morning on a rainy day, so I wasn’t in a rush to pack up my camp site. I ate my blackberry peanut butter oatmeal, thinking to myself that it wasn’t quite as sweet and juicy as last time. Blackberry season was mostly over. It was still good though. The rest of the ride back to Friday Harbor was pretty uneventful. Just lots more big hills to climb, this time I was more sore than the day before. Oddly enough, the most sore part of me were my pectoral muscles from tensing them while I pulled on the handlebars.
Back at the harbor, I got some coffee and wifi to catch up on e-mails and write a little bit while I waited for the ferry that would take me on to my next destination, Anacortes.
On Thursday the 22nd of September, I arrived at an average-looking apartment building in south Vancouver. The sky was overcast, the nearby city streets were busy with the frenetic buzz of rush hour traffic. The change of pace from Tofino to a big city was slightly jarring. Earlier that morning, I had woken at 6AM, packed my bike up, and caught the Tofino bus to Nanaimo, where I would ride the ferry to Horseshoe bay, just north of Vancouver. The journey totaled about five hours, which had passed quicker than I expected. I was caught up reading Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums on the bus, which was more relevant to me after experiencing buddhism first-hand at my second retreat. For example, in the book, Kerouac mentions the compassionate Avalokitesvara, I recognized the name from the teachings I received at the Hermitage. This gave the story much more depth than it would have held for me before.
I wasn’t sure which apartment building was the right one, because the format of addresses in Canada is different from the states, which confused me — they put the apartment number first, before a dash, and then the street number of the building. I had tried to use some pay phones to call Shannon, but they were all broken, which frustrated me to no end. I began to notice how the loud sounds and the hectic pace of the city were augmenting my stress level. I just needed time to adjust.
When I finally found the right apartment building, the manager of the building seemed to notice that I looked a little lost, and asked if I was looking for Shannon. I wondered how he knew. I guess Shannon had told him she was expecting a friend via bicycle. While I waited at the entryway to the apartment, I reflected on what brought me here.
I liked Shannon because she was intelligent, direct, and creative. Her poetry was raw, sexy, and confident. She was a bit older than me, but I liked that; she had 11 years on me. After my last several relationships with people my own age, I had wondered what it might be like to be with someone who had more life experience and maturity. I’ve always thought I was more mature than my age suggested, so it would be fitting for me to relate to someone who could meet me at the same level.
Moments later, Shannon came downstairs and we hugged. It felt good after several weeks of thinking about seeing her again. Here I was, back in Vancouver. I had no intention of coming back before we met, but I figured it would be good to meet in person before we decided on where to travel together. I like planning things together, face to face; e-mails and chats just didn’t cut it for me when making big decisions.
As I entered the apartment building’s lobby, the first thing I noticed was the musty smell of stale cigarette smoke on the walls and carpet, which brought up memories of my grandmother’s house in Florida. I told Shannon this and she said she couldn’t smell it. I guess when you live somewhere long enough you don’t notice the smells anymore.
After taking the creaky old elevator up to the second floor, I stepped into her one bedroom apartment. She admitted that she had lived alone for many years, which I could relate to. I lived alone for a few years in college. But unlike Shannon, I liked having roommates to bond with. I like creating community, and living alone just felt too isolated after a while. She didn’t want to give in to the compromise that it sometimes takes to live with others. I told her that, for me, the benefits of roommates outweighed the drawbacks. Of course, you have to like your roommates for it to be an enjoyable experience, and I could see how a few negative experiences could taint your perceptions of what it’s like to share a living space in a communal living situation. To each their own, I suppose.
That evening, Shannon gave me a little tour of her plot at the community garden, which she had finally gotten after three years of waiting. She was a first-time gardner, and a rather successful one at that. She had a ton of kale, chard, green onions, and other miscellaneous veggies growing. So, it was fitting that our first meal together was a tasty homemade potato soup with lots of kale in it.
After much discussion about potential places to go on our bikes, we finally decided on the Lochside Regional trail and the Galloping Goose trail near Victoria. I had wanted to check out Victoria on my bike, because I had heard that it was a very bike-friendly city, and I read about the Galloping Goose trail online: it used to be a railway, and after its abandonment, it was converted to a multi-use path. Measuring at 60km (37 miles), it passed through forests, farmland, and urban settings. There wasn’t much elevation gain, which was perfect for Shannon as it was her first bike camping trip. There’s lots of deciduous trees on the pathway, so it would be a beautiful fall ride. It seemed like a no-brainer, so we decided that we would catch the bus to the Tsawassen ferry terminal the next morning. The ferry would take us to Swartz Bay, which was located at the top of the Saanich Peninsula. We would take the Lochside trail down to Victoria, then try to go from Victoria to Sooke. We weren’t quite sure how far we would go, because Shannon really wanted to go see some of her friends perform at nude poetry reading event in Victoria called Poetry in the Raw. The event was on Monday night, which meant that once we got to Victoria, we would stay for a day before seeing the show. That sounded fine to me; I had never been to a poetry reading, especially not a nude poetry reading. Apparently, audience participation was encouraged, meaning, you could strip down to your birthday suit during the performances. I figured, why not?
The next morning, we cooked up some eggs and toast for breakfast, then packed all of our gear onto our bikes. I remarked at how organized Shannon was. She had organized all of her clothes and our food into tidy piles of ziplock bags, all ready to be packed away. I ended up carrying the bulk of the load, because she only had two rear panniers, whereas I had front and rears as well as a handlebar bag. I carried our water and our tent, which added a good amount of weight to my bike. I didn’t weigh everything, but it seemed about the same as when I left Portland, which was about 70 pounds.
As we finally left the apartment building, I was excited to be back on my bike. Something about feeling weighed down with all the gear you could need for living out in the woods for weeks is empowering. The bike becomes your mobile home — a kind of extension of your own body that provides for you and cares for you. There is definitely a sense of attachment to your bike when it takes you wherever you want to go with your own body’s power.
The ferry ride was uneventful. I had become quite the ferry traveler. It was one of my favorite ways to travel. Kind of like a little cruise ship that offered plenty of room to roam, to read, and to eat. Not that the food was amazing, but it was still nice to have the option to get a meal while you waited the 2 or so hours it took to get to your destination.
At around 3PM, the ferry pulled into Swartz Bay. Anticipating the ride ahead, I impatiently waited for the ferry operator to open the gate and let the foot passengers and cyclists off. After a few minutes, we finally were able to roll the bikes off the deck and onto the road. Soon after, the cars followed, racing past us with a roar and a cloud of tasty diesel particulates. I was so looking forward to getting onto the Lochside trail, so I wouldn’t have to choke on car fumes. When we finally did get onto the trail, I was pleased to see tall grasses and lakes again. It was good to be out of the big city and onto the path.
After we got off the road, we pulled into a rest area to stretch and adjust our luggage. A few minutes later, we were ready to pedal for a few hours. On our way, we passed through lots of scenic farm land. I reveled in the fact that I was no longer biking on highways like when I went to Nanaimo. I knew this was my favorite bike path of my whole trip thus far. One of the highlights of our first day of biking was the colorful pumpkin patch in the golden autumn sunlight.
A few hours later, at around 5 PM, We stopped at a farm stand and asked for directions to the nearest camp site. They recommended an RV camp, which didn’t sound like a great option, but we tried anyway. About halfway there, a truck driver pulled alongside and told us that they didn’t allow tent camping there, so we turned around and headed back to another site, called Island View Beach. This ended up being better anyway, because this quiet beach was so peaceful and beautiful, and we were able to set up a tent without anybody bothering us. Not to mention the lack of camp fees!
Camping on the beach meant lots of sand in the tent, but I didn’t mind too much, because the soft pounding of the ocean waves on the beach was worth all the sand in the all the tents in the world. As the sun set that night, we cooked up some minestrone soup and then sipped it with the seagulls lulling us into a meditative enjoyment of the beach. As it grew colder, we decided a fire would be nice. It hadn’t rained in days, so all of the driftwood served as our firewood. After several frustrating tries at starting a fire, I got some embers going and added sticks to them until we had our own beach inferno to keep us warm. I meditated by the fire for a half hour before bed. At 3AM, I woke up to the wind whipping the tent with fury while the rain pelted our shelter. I realized we had left our bikes uncovered. Not wanting my chain to rust in the salty air and rain, I got out of the tent and covered our bikes with a tarp. The next morning, I awoke at around 8AM and saw the sun drying the rain fly on the tent. Always eager to capture the beauty of a good sunrise, I hopped out of the tent and started taking photos.
I was able to lure Shannon out of the tent with the promise of a gorgeous sunrise and hot coffee. I don’t think she was used to waking up this early. For the duration of the trip, we alternated randomly between getting up early and sleeping in late. That day, I wanted to get an early start. But soon after we made a breakfast of hot oatmeal, the rain began again. We decided to stay in the tent until the rain subsided. It ended up raining for several more hours. At that point, we decided we might as well start cycling, because it would likely be raining all day. So we packed up the tent and loaded up our bikes in the rain, thinking we were in for a very wet day.
As I prepared my bike for the day, I realized my wheels were coated in sand, which would eat away at my brake pads and mess with my gears. Luckily, a few quick wipes with an oily sock rag along the rims was enough to clear most of the sand off of my bike. As the minutes passed, the rain fell with more intensity, so we decided to stop at a picnic table shelter to have some lunch. We pulled out some tuna and crackers and munched until the rain subsided. All of a sudden, the sun came out, and the rain clouds were gone. The entire landscape was illuminated, and all the colors of the beach were all the more vivid. We were both amazed at how quickly the storm passed.
As we chugged up the hill to get back onto the Lochside trail, Shannon had to get off her bike and walk. I was beginning to realize that I would have to be patient on this trip. I had several speed advantages on her — thinner road tires, clipless pedals, and I had already been cycling for nearly four weeks. I just hoped she wouldn’t be offended if I didn’t always cycle at her pace.
We stopped at the farm stand again, this time, purchasing some veggies and refilling our water supply. Then it was back on the road. Our time alternated between chatting side-by-side and quiet time to ourselves as the only sounds we heard was the rustle of leaves and the crackle of tires on gravel. When we passed a few small farms, one particular farm caught our attention with a few gigantic pigs. I wondered out loud how many strips of bacon that would make.
I was beginning to really love the Lochside trail. My point of reference was highway 19A on the way to Hornby island, which was a gravel-laden highway shoulder alongside lots of car traffic. The Lochside trail was refreshingly car-free for most of the ride, and much more scenic.
By the time we got closer to Victoria, the trail forked. On the right was the path to Sooke, and on the left, to downtown. We weren’t really sure what there was to see in Sooke, but the Galloping Goose trail ended around there, so it made sense to keep riding to check it out. About an hour later, dark clouds rolled in, and we were only a quarter of the way there. A few minutes earlier, we had passed a sign for Thetis Lake. We decided we should probably find a camp site soon, so we decided to search for a site around the lake. After following signs to the park, we kept looking for the lake, but couldn’t find it. The park seemed rather small and surrounded by condos and apartments. Later I would find out that we were only in a small section of the park, and had to keep going north to get to the lakes. But without a map and the sunlight waning, we decided to just suck it up and pitch the tent in a visually obscured spot not too far from the housing developments. Concerned that people might see us, Shannon questioned the spot. I told her, “don’t worry, we’ll be out of here first thing in the morning, nobody will care.” The spot wasn’t ideal, it was sloped and bumpy, there were blackberry bushes threatening to puncture the tent or our rain gear, and it definitely wasn’t scenic. It felt more like a hobo camp than a camp site. Quite a difference from our previous night’s camp site. I didn’t care, I just wanted a place to cook a quick meal and hop into our combined sleeping bags for the night. We cooked up some broccoli we had purchased at the farm market in some soup and fell asleep quickly.
The next morning, the rain was coming down hard, and I was feeling less and less enthusiastic to keep going to Sooke. I wasn’t even sure what there was to do in Sooke, and I didn’t feel like cycling just for cycling’s sake with the nasty weather. Plus, there was that Poetry in the Raw event that Shannon wanted to go to that evening. So we decided to backtrack to the fork in the road and get a hostel to dry off in Victoria. This was my first real day of rainy riding, and it didn’t take long to realize that my rain pants weren’t that rain-proof, and neither was my cycling jersey. After an hour of fighting gusts and gales with sideways rain splattering my face, I was cold and wet, and ready to find shelter. We weren’t sure where we wanted to stay, so on our way into town, we stopped in a tunnel while Shannon called some friends asking for recommendations of places to stay. I had this idea that I wanted a place with hot tub access because all I could think about was getting warm. While I stood waiting in this windy tunnel, a chill set in and I started getting impatient and irritable. On the tunnel walls, I saw a bunch of racist white supremacy stickers plastered over a peace art mural, which angered me. While I waited, I figured I would do some public cleanup and tear off as many stickers as I could. 15 minutes went by and I was getting quite cold. Even though Shannon was being really thoughtful and helpful, I just wanted to keep riding, at least so I could warm up through exercise. So we set off again, and a few minutes later, we stopped at a hotel to use their internet connection to do a little more research and to warm up for a few minutes. There were several prospective hostels, including the Turtle Hostel and the Ocean Island hostel. We decided on trying those two once we got into town.
20 minutes later, we arrived to a more populated downtown area, but we took a wrong turn and I felt a bit lost without a detailed map of the city. This frustrated me even more, because I was soaked to the bone by this point. Shannon was remarkably calm and nonchalant when I told her we needed to turn back because I thought we had gone the wrong way. Luckily, we crossed a bridge and found ourselves in the middle of downtown before too long. We rode to the turtle hostel, and I was excited to dry off. We took one look at the tiny hostel, and I stepped inside. It smelled weird and seemed cramped. Shannon got the same impression as I did, and we quickly left. An asian woman came out after us, asking “are you staying at the hostel?” I hoped we wouldn’t have to face her. Shannon replied, “no, I don’t think so”. Akward! At least she didn’t ask, “why not?”
A few blocks of backtracking, and we arrived to the Ocean Island hostel. It was much nicer, roomier, and I thought to myself, “finally!” We paid the slightly pricey $38 each and received a room key and a towel. I marched upstairs, weighed down by my near-excessive baggage, and plopped my bags onto the floor of the tiny bedroom. This room was so small, the bed left only a few inches of room between it and the walls. “This is… cozy” I thought to myself. No matter, it would work. It was certainly roomier than the tent!
That night, we wondered what to eat for dinner. I wanted to check out some of Victoria’s restaurants, and we both really wanted to relax with a beer after several nights of roughin’ it. We found a cheap place called Pig that had cheap pulled pork sandwiches. Oh. My. God. I was in heaven with their barbecue sauce. It was delicious. We split a sandwich and their interesting BBQ spaghetti. I was surprised, it was pretty good. I got an IPA and Shannon got a ginger beer. Both were tasty and refreshing. We were lightweights together, and tipsily walked out, headed off to the poetry reading. The show was unique, to say the least. It opened up with a curvy dreadlocked girl walking out onto the stage, obscured only by her accordion. She nervously and bravely sang a song and played, and afterwards, everybody snapped their fingers. My first poetry reading and I realized the cliché of snapping your fingers instead of clapping was true. The rest of the show was hit and miss. A few of the pieces I really enjoyed, including one that involved a metaphor of the human body and its skin as a “time machine” that allows us to travel in time. It was oddball and thought provoking all at once. The nudity wasn’t really erotic, at all. It just made you realize how vulnerable we are when we shed all the layers of protection.
After the show, some of Shannon’s friends came to our table and we talked and laughed for a little while before the event center closed up shop and we had to take it outside. I was tired, and we headed back to the hostel for a good night’s rest.
The next morning, we went to this restaurant called Cabin 12 and had some delicious Eggs Benedict, or “Bennys” as they called them. The potatoes had just the right amount of crunch. I savored every bite. Afterwards, we decided to ride around the Seaside Touring route, which curved along the coast, and was quite scenic. Before we left, though, we had a minor dispute about what to do. Shannon was feeling nauseous and wasn’t sure if she wanted to ride. I wanted to go fast, and I mentioned that I typically wanted to ride faster than she did. I suggested maybe she should rest up and I could do the ride on my own. In the end, she came with me, and I ended up glad that she came. Soon after, her stomach was feeling better, and we ended up putting in a good day of riding. On the way back, the sunset was beautiful, and I saw a trail that led up to a viewpoint on top of Gonzales Hill. We climbed up a steep, narrow staircase up to the top of a big rocky outcropping. We arrived just in time for a glorious sunset view of Victoria.
After our long(ish) ride that day, I was pretty hungry. Being the predictable eater that I am, I got the pulled pork sandwich again. When I get something that I like, I will get it again, and again, and again. Some might find that boring, but I’m not always a risk-taker when it comes to trying new restaurants. I’ve just been burned too many times in the past ordering something new and having it turn out boring or downright unpalatable. I was pleasantly not surprised that my sandwich was just as delectable as the day before.
The next day, we decided we’d gotten our fill of Victoria and wanted to head to Mayne island, where we could immerse ourselves in natural beauty and the slower pace of island life. We woke up and made some instant coffee as we had every day prior, and checked the ferry schedule. We had plenty of time to ride all the way back up the Saanich peninsula before the ferry departed at 4, so I decided to do something touristy — I went to Miniature World, a campy museum full of the most detailed models documenting historical artifacts of Canada and beyond. My curiosity begged me to see what it was all about. Shannon didn’t seem too into it, so I went by myself. It wasn’t as awesome as I thought it might be, but it was still kind of cute.
Afterwards, I went back to the hostel, and we packed up and prepared for our longest ride yet, which covered about 50km. We followed the Lochside trail back north, until we missed a turnoff and went the wrong way. Instead of turning back to find where we went wrong, I decided we should keep heading east to the coastline and take the Seaside touring route North (the part of the route that we didn’t ride the day before) Along the way, we began to wonder if we would be able to make it to the ferry in time. I told Shannon that we might not be able to make it, and this put a damper on the mood of the day. I said we could camp another night on the Saanich peninsula if we didn’t make it — no big deal. Still, Shannon was eager to get to Mayne. The Seaside touring route turned out to be a lot hillier than the Lochside route, and about halfway up a hill, Shannon’s fender caught on her tire. Luckily, I had to my tools handy and I removed the fender for her. We continued on, thankful to finally reach the Lochside route again after all those hills. Another hour or so, and we were back at the ferry, with a half hour to spare! We made excellent time, and celebrated with a chocolate ice cream bar. On the loudspeaker, we heard an announcement to start boarding. I figured we could wait for the cars to go, so we weren’t in a rush. By the time we started riding towards the ferry, my tire was flat. I began to freak out a little, because I had all this weight on the rear end of the bike, and I didn’t want to bend the rim. I told Shannon to go ahead without me while I filled the tire with some air to prevent damage to the wheel. It was a good thing I sent her ahead, because the ferry had already closed the loading gate. Apparently, she had to convince one of the ferry workers that I was on my way, and to wait just another minute. Unknowingly, I kept fiddling with my tire. By the time I arrived to the gate, the ferry operators were visibly irritated that I was holding the whole ferry up. “Sorry about that, I got a flat tire on my way down here,” I said, sheepishly. The air I pumped in didn’t last a minute, and I was rolling the bike on a flat again, luckily, not too far.
I was a surprised that I had gone this far without a flat. At first, I was disappointed, I thought Schwalbe tires were supposed to last for thousands of miles without any problems. Turns out, the tire was fine. It was a tear in the rubber of the inner tube at the base of the metal air valve that was the culprit. Luckily, I had purchased a few spare tubes in Vancouver a month prior. I had 50 minutes to change the flat before we arrived at Mayne. I crossed my fingers, because I have only changed a flat one time before, and never on this particular bike. I turned the bike upside down, took the wheel off, and got to work. An older man got out of his huge Ford truck, came up to me, and handed me some paper towels and rubber gloves. He said, “Here, take these. I like my bike too.” Pleasantly surprised, I told him “Oh, thanks, I was just looking for some gloves”. Bike grease doesn’t come off easily, so I was glad to have the gloves while I worked. I pried off the tire, pulled out the broken tube, and started to replace it. It took me way too long to change this tire. Every time I tried to squeeze the tire back into the rim on one side, the other side came out, or the tube fell out of position. I knew there had to be a technique that I hadn’t yet remembered. I ended up needing help from Shannon to get the tire on. We got it on just in time, as the ferry pulled into the harbor. It was then that I realized the wheel had a broken spoke and a serious wobble. I cursed and decided I could probably ride it for a little bit without doing much further damage. I would try to true the wheel later with my spoke wrench, but in the meantime, I had to get off the ferry and get to our campsite before sunset.
We hauled our bikes up the steepest hill, and stopped in at the nearby realty office for a map of the island. It was a rather small island, so there wasn’t a whole lot of complication in finding the camp site. 15 minutes later, we found our camp site and paid the $12 per person to pitch a tent. I wasn’t used to paying for a camp site, but it was certainly cheaper than the $28 for the hostel. Not to mention, much more scenic. The campsite was on the water’s edge and filled with all sorts of wildlife. Having no natural predators, there were deer all around the camp site. We found a nice spot and pitched the tent. By then, the sun was setting, and we cooked up some dinner and enjoyed the sound of waves on the shore, frogs and crickets chirping, and the occasional splash of seals and otters. It was refreshing to be back in nature and out of the noisy city.
Our next day was spent exploring the island. We checked out the village center, where they had a couple restaurants, cafés, and grocery stores. I refilled on some supplies and remarked how the island seemed like a retirement home with so many old people. “This is where I want to go when I’m old,” Shannon told me. I could see why. You could enjoy the company of other older folks and enjoy the quietness and solitude that the island offered.
After eating a lunch of tuna and crackers (this was a fairly common lunch on our trip), we rode to the lighthouse. I admired the picturesque qualities of the park, as well as the interesting sandstone formations on the coastline.
I snacked on some dried apricots and then meditated for a bit at one of the picnic tables. I wanted to keep up the practice after my retreats, but was finding it a little more difficult to get myself to meditate daily than when I was on the retreats. But that day I did get a good half hour in.
We did a little more exploring and hiking. At one point, Shannon really wanted to hike, but I wanted to keep biking down the trail. So, we compromised. I would ride ahead to the end of the trail on my bike while she walked the trail, and I would ride back and report to her what was at the end of the trail. I had fun feeling like I was mountain biking, even though my bike wasn’t really suited to the task. I sped along the narrow pathway, whipping around bushes, through trees, dodging boulders and roots. It made me realize how much fun mountain biking can be, and made me want to get a mountain bike when I got back home. For dinner that night, we ate at a restaurant on the water’s edge. I got a beer and a burger. Expensive, but satisfying. Sometimes I just love splurging at restaurants because I can’t make that kind of food when I’m roughing it in the woods. We split a berry pie and a cheesecake for desert.
By the third day of our stay, we decided to forego the tent and sleeping bag situation and try out of the lodge on the bay — it was only $40 a night, or $20 each. We checked out the room. It had a nice view of one of the bay, and the bed was quite springy. Before sunset, I wanted to hike up the Mt. Parke ridge, but Shannon wanted to write back at the room. After a short, steep hike, I got in some solitude on my hike and meditated at the top. It was refreshing.
Back at the room, Shannon was waiting for me with a bottle of wine. I was really enjoying our time together, having a new lover with me on my journey made it so much less lonely. We ate at the restaurant again, because Shannon really wanted to try the burger instead of her previous dinner of fish. It was romantic, with candles and all. We took one of the candles up to the room.
The next day, we decided to head back to Vancouver. After a week of travel, we were open to traveling more, but the weather took a turn for the worse and we decided it wasn’t much fun to hang out in the rain all day, so back to Vancouver we went.
Back in the city, we were at Shannon’s apartment, and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next. I had gotten quite comfortable with her, so I decided to stay a few nights while I figured out what to do next. At one point, she said she didn’t like watching me plan my trip and be on the computer working while I was at her place. I felt bad about this, but assured her that we could spend time together and that I would stop talking about my eventual bittersweet departure. The highlight of being back in Vancouver with her was a day trip to Lighthouse point. We ended up riding 45km total, with a lot of steep hills. Two thirds of the way there, I asked, “where did the bike trail go?” A concerned mother with her child chimed in, saying “there is no more bike path. You’ll have to go down Marine drive. But there’s no shoulder and it’s rush hour, it’s dangerous.” She kept putting her hand on her heart, she seemed really concerned. “Have you been down that road before?” I told her I had gone that way to Horseshoe bay a month prior. “Does she know what you’re getting her into?” She asked. I thought she was just overreacting. I knew we would be fine.
On the way to the lighthouse, there was a huge traffic jam. As we passed all the cars on our bikes, I couldn’t help myself and I said out loud, “Haha, suckers in cars!” Some woman overheard me through her open car window, and yelled out sarcastically, “Nice.” Oops… I didn’t mean for anybody to hear that. I looked back and grinned at Shannon. She blurted, “well, it’s true!”. I laughed and said “I’m glad I said that out loud, actually”. I knew I was probably just pissing off drivers and deteriorating the driver/cyclist relationship, but decided to not care. Maybe all these traffic jams and holdups would make drivers think twice about their choice of transportation. Several times, stalled drivers made comments out their windows like, “I’ll trade you vehicles!”, or “Can I get a ride with you?”. We laughed and kept riding past the trapped drivers.
We finally arrived to Lighthouse park after 35km of hills. It was a nice forest, but the lighthouse itself was a bit underwhelming. Oh well. I was glad to be back in nature, not too far from Vancouver. There were lots of ferns, moss, and old growth trees.
Shannon was tired. I think I wore her out. We decided to take the bus home, but not until we passed the police blockade that held up all the buses. After riding in the rain back another 15km or so, we stopped for some sushi appetizers. The hot miso soup and green tea we ordered was SO satisfying after a wet day biking and hiking. I savored every drop. We boarded a bus back to the city, and decided to head to a nearby Ethiopian restaurant for our main course. The dinner was delicious, all served up on a huge platter with injeri. Nom nom nom. We were stuffed afterwards and had to lay down for a while. We tried not to talk too much about the fact that the next day, I would be leaving. It was bittersweet. I wanted to be back on the road and heading back south with all this bad weather headed our way, but I didn’t want to leave the loveliness and comfort of staying with Shannon. She told me I should leave before we saw each others’ “dark sides”. I supposed it was for the better that I would be leaving shortly after, even though I wasn’t afraid of helping each other face the less-than-pretty sides of our personalities.
The next day, I packed up my bike. We had a delicious farewell breakfast of vanilla greek yogurt with fruit and fluffy pancakes with banana syrup. It was all delicious. We tried to enjoy the last hour before my departure. We tried not to be sad. I was a mixture of sadness and happiness. As we took the elevator down to the ground floor, we both knew the end of our time was minutes away, and tried not to focus on it. She told me she wasn’t going to cry, but tears came anyway. I said, “You’ll come and visit me in Portland, right?” I didn’t know if she would. I told her it wouldn’t be the last time we saw each other. We kissed one last time, and I pedaled away without looking back. I hoped she would be alright. I knew I would miss her, but I would be OK. I left her with a messy apartment, to do our breakfast dishes alone with the lingering silence in my wake. It was a love-filled two weeks; saying goodbye wasn’t easy. I found myself in solitude again, brimming with possibilities for the rest of my trip.
After leaving the Hermitage and hitting the road again, I rode my bike to the ferry and arrived just as it was pulling into bay. As I stepped onboard, a woman of about 40 years with her own touring bike asked me where I was headed.
“Tofino”, I told her.
“Oh, nice. Tofino is beautiful.” So everyone says.
“What about you, where are you headed?” I asked.
“Back to Vancouver. I’ve been staying at a lodge on Hornby for the last week.”
“Great. Yeah, I did that as well, stayed at Hornby for a week before I came to the hermitage here on Denman.”
As the ferry pulled back to the mainland, I asked her which route she was taking. There weren’t many options. Highway 19A was the route along the coast that we would both be taking. I told her about how I got to Hornby, and how I met a cyclist around my age on the way, and how we rode together for a while before we reached the ferry.
“Do you want to ride with me?” I asked. I always enjoyed the company on long rides.
“Sure! I just have to use the washroom then I’ll be right with you.”
After riding back onto mainland off the ferry, I filled up my water bottle and waited for Sarah, my new cycling partner for the day. After a few minutes, she came walking up the hill with her bike and we began riding.
“Just a forewarning, I’m not very fast, so feel free to go ahead of me,” she said.
“Somehow I doubt you’ll be going much slower than I am with all of this luggage. My bags weigh about 70 pounds,” I told her.
“Wow. That’s quite the load,” she responded.
“I know. I have some heavy equipment like this SLR camera and my laptop.”
It was true, the load was pretty heavy. That just meant that my legs would be stronger than ever after this trip was over, so I was alright with it. So we began pedaling south. The weather had cleared, it was perfect. Not too hot, not too cold, just a bit cloudy and no rain. I was excited that I wouldn’t have to ride in the rain for the day. As we continued riding, we talked about life and inspiration and what we were both up to. I told her about the retreat I had just come from. She herself had been to a few retreats and we exchanged stories about them. She was reading a book that had inspired her to live a more fulfilling life doing things she loved. She really didn’t like driving in cars all that much, and had recently purchased an awesome touring bike. I told her how I would like some of the features she had on her bike, like disc brakes for quick stopping in rain, and a thick frame tube so the bike wouldn’t wobble like mine did. As we rolled up and down hills, we tried not to push each other off into the gravelly shoulder, and we stopped halfway there so she could use some of my chain lube. She gave me an energy bar and offered to give me as much water as I needed. She was a really kind person, and I was glad to share the ride. A few hours later, we reached the road where I would turn off to head to Uclulet. She thanked me for the company, and I wished her well on the rest of her ride. Another 45 minutes, and I was in Coombs.
I found the army surplus store and began my hours-long wait for Nayte and company to show up. I was really hoping he didn’t forget about me, because I was so excited to do this DJ gig at this outdoor party. I checked out the store and found a really cool fork/knife/spoon combo and decided to get it (my wooden spoon was getting kind of gross when I didn’t have extra water to wash it) A few hours later, Nayte showed up with his buddies in a huge Dodge Ram 2500 truck. There was more than enough space to throw my bike up there. We picked a few blackberries and headed out. On the way to Uclulet, we passed through the most beautiful rolling tree-blanketed hills and winding emerald green rivers. The hills here were so impressive. The fog was passing through these enormous rolling hills, creating such beautiful scenery. I kind of wished I was on my bike so I could stop to take photos. But I was still thankful for the ride.
We drove to Nayte’s dad’s place in Uclulet to run an errand. There was some sort of family gathering going on. They had fired up the deep fryers and were making fried fish sandwiches. Nayte’s dad insisted I must have one, even though we had already stopped at a pub for some food. I couldn’t resist, it smelled so good. I bit into the crunchy fresh fish and loved it. Afterwards, Nayte gave me a few CD-R’s for me to put together my set for the party. I burned all my music onto a few discs and crashed on a bed in this empty room while he ran errands for an hour or so. I was so exhausted, I needed that little nap. And then at around 10PM, we drove off into the dark woods to set up camp at the party. We arrived after 45 minutes of driving on pothole-laden gravel roads, and I found my way through a soaking wet rainforest along a slippery boardwalk to a nice place to pitch my tent. It was uneven, but soft due to the years of tree litter all piled up. I went down to the beach of this huge lake, where the party was happening. Ambling through the forest, I heard blips and wah-wahs and pounding bass filtered through the old growth trees. Onto the beach I stumbled, and was greeted by crowds of young people gathered around a big fire and underneath a huge tarp set up in front of the DJ booth. I walked down to the lake, and the wind was whipping, the rain was falling, and the surf was like an ocean. I hoped to myself that it wouldn’t rain the whole time, but at the same time, I soaked in the beauty of the rainforest and was glad for the moisture. Still exhausted, I didn’t stay up too much longer. Back to my tent I went and fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of the music still playing. I was eager to check out the lake in the morning sunlight. What I saw was a gorgeous morning sunrise, a placid lake and fog rolling through the old growth forests along the water’s edge.
I got some great photos and continued to tour the forest. It was nice to finally see the beauty of the place. What a perfect spot for a party. I wandered around the beach, weaving in between sandy shores and the dance floor by the forest’s edge. Some of the music was good, most of it was ok, and some of it was just terrible. It was almost all electronic music though. There was just a lot of bad dubstep. Luckily, there was a lot of woods to explore, so most of the time I wasn’t even at the dance area.
Nayte introduced me to a friend of his from high school, her name was Tsimka. She was a beautiful girl from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations people. Her hair was almost down to her shoulders, jet black, she had deep brown eyes, a few freckles on her cheeks, and an unmistakable smile. Tsimka was born and raised in Tofino, which I took note of, because that was my next destination. I asked her if she could show me around to some of her favorite “locals only” spots in Tofino, to which she agreed. I’ve made it a habit to network with locals because they take me beyond what most tourists will see.
Later that evening, I was wandering back to my camp site when I noticed that the guy who camped next to me had all his cooking gear out. Paul was his name. I asked if he was going to be using it that night, and if he wanted to collaborate on a meal. Tsimka was there too. We all decided to pitch in for dinner, which I thought was a brilliant idea because all I had was beans, lentils, and quinoa. Paul had a ton of home-grown lettuces and tomatoes, broccoli, and zucchinis. Tsimka had raviolis and pesto sauce. So, around nightfall, we met up at Paul’s tent, laid out all our ingredients on the boardwalk, and set up some stumps to sit on. We all pulled out our stoves and got to chopping and cooking. Paul lit some candles; we were having a gourmet dinner in the woods.
“I’m all about collaboration,” I told Paul after suggesting cooking together.
“I like to do things myself,” he replied.
“Well, you can’t do everything yourself. Some things you just need other people for.”
He must have realized I was right, because he told me to come visit him at his little farm on in Lund; he needed the help with all the work that was to be done. He would give me three meals a day in exchange for some help. I told him I just might take him up on the offer. He also said he could give me a ride to Cortes island on his boat. That would be pretty sweet!
That night, I decided to stay up a little later than I had usually been staying up, so I could see if there was any good music going on. It began to rain pretty hard, and the wind was whipping. The shore of the lake almost seemed like the ocean because waves were pounding in. There was a good sized crowd underneath the tarp in front of the DJ booth. Everybody seemed to be having a pretty good time. I danced for an hour or so, then decided I had gotten my fill of the party vibe, and headed back to my tent.
The next day, I slept in because it had been raining all night and didn’t stop until 10:30 AM or so. I was glad to get the extra sleep. A few hours later, Nayte told me I should get ready to DJ because I was up next. Finally, my chance to shine! I got my laptop, some CD’s, and headed to the DJ booth. I opened up with Cave Dweller, which is one of my most unique songs. The people who were already at the dancefloor seemed pleasantly surprised. One of the girls came up and asked who I was. Modcam, I told her. I also mentioned that it was all original tunes I was going to be playing, unlike everybody else. I was feeling quite pleased with the reactions I got. After that song, I started with my dancier tracks, and soon there was a small crowd dancing and smiling at me. This is what I missed about DJ’ing. I just love that feeling. Midway through my set, this guy named Aaron comes up with a necklace that he made with his girlfriend. It had some sort of crazy seed pod that looked like a falcon head on it. I was really happy to receive it.
After my set, I heard cheers erupt from off in the distance. People who weren’t on the dance floor were still listening to everything. Later, several people told me how they loved my set. All in all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. I was thankful that Nayte contacted me to come play this party, because I never would have seen this beautiful lake (I wouldn’t have gone in that far past that long gravel road with my skinny road bike tires)
Later, as I was packing up my tent, one of the women who was dancing during my set saw my bike and told me that several years back, she rode her bike from Vancouver to Tofino, back before it was all touristy. We started talking, and she helped me with a few things while I was packing up. She asked if I had been inside the huge old growth tree along the board walk. I hadn’t, so we walked over there and stepped inside. This thing was massive. I hadn’t seen trees like this since my trip to Northern California. It could easily be as old as Jesus.
She told me that any time I was going through Courtenay, I should give her a call and she would have a place for me to stay. I thanked her, and then left the party with Nayte to get a ride closer to Tofino. He and his friends were headed back to Uclulet, so they dropped me off on the road closest to Tofino. It was another two hours of riding, which I was happy to undertake, because I hadn’t gotten a whole lot of exercise the past few days. I unloaded my bike off the truck, said my goodbyes, and was on the road again.
On the way, I was feeling a bit weak, so I filled up on some peanut butter sandwiches, then started riding again. It wasn’t too long before nightfall, so I sped up. Luckily the rain had stopped for the day, and I was able to ride all the way to Tofino without getting wet. My gear was still pretty wet, but I was thinking about going to a hostel for the night to dry stuff off, take a shower, and catch up on e-mails and writing. Back at the hermitage, Shannon had told me to check out Whalers hostel, so I headed in that direction once I entered Tofino. As I pulled into the hostel, there was a gorgeous sunset on the placid ocean. All these little tree-covered islands made Tofino really amazingly beautiful. I got some great photos.
That night, I slept in a real bed for the first time in a while. It smelled like Febreze or some sort of smelly chemical perfume. I realized then how much I prefer the smell of dirt and trees over fake industrially produced smells.
I awoke at 7AM and made a big pot of my favorite breakfast, peanut butter oatmeal. Sipping a hot cup of tea, I sat by the large windows that overlooked the bay. My favorite part about Whalers hostel was the lodge-style dining and socializing area with a lot of natural light streaming through all the windows.
As I pondered what to do for the day, I checked over my list of things to do given to me by Shannon from Vancouver. I decided that I would check out Tonquin beach first. The thought crossed my mind that it would be great to do some kayaking, since there are so many little islands to explore in the sound. After biking down to the beach and back, I inquired about how much it would cost to go. It was going to be $70 for about 5 hours of kayaking. The trip would stop at Meares island, which had a lot of old-growth Sitka Spruce and Coastal Red Cedar trees. This sounded right up my alley, and I thought to myself, “if I don’t do some kayaking here, I might regret it later.” So, I decided to go ahead and sign up for the 2:30 trip. Whenever I start worrying about budgeting, I just think… Would I rather spend money on things or experiences? And, to that, I always think, experiences are the best way to spend money! Though, it would be even nicer if I had a friend who would take me kayaking for free!
Around 2:30, I showed up at the office of Tofino Sea Kayaking, prepared for a mini-adventure. They gave us a brief instructional talk, and we went over the basics. I was eager to just jump in.
When we put on the life jackets and spray skirts, we got in and learned the controls. Inside the kayak were two foot pedals for controlling the rudder in the back. I’ve only been canoeing before, so this seemed really fancy. I finally slid my kayak into the glassy water and got in. I was loving every minute of it. It made me wonder how much it would cost to get into kayaking, I could do this every day. The group of us began paddling out to Meares island on this remarkably sunny day (which is a rarity for this time of year in Tofino).
After I took a few photos, the battery on the camera died. I had gotten used to not having to charge the battery because it lasted so long. I had gone almost two weeks without charging it. I was kind of bummed because I would miss out on some really sweet sunset photos on the way back into the bay. Oh well, such is life. At least I got one decent photo from on the water.
During the Kayaking tour, I chatted with a German girl named Catherine. She was taking a month off of her job as a pharmacist. I told her I was a web designer, hoping to work and travel at the same time. After we pulled back into the bay, I asked where she was staying. She was camping at Long Beach, which was pretty empty due to a recent cougar attack. She wasn’t afraid, though.
Catherine needed to check her e-mail, so I brought her back to the hostel for the wi-fi connection. We were both hungry, so I asked if she wanted to go get a burger at the Weigh West, which was one of the things on my checklist of things to do. It was burger monday. For $6 you could get a plain burger and fries. That was pretty damn cheap considering the cost of corn puffs at the grocery store was $13! We happily munched our dinner while looking out the windows to the bay. I tried a local Tofino beer, it was pretty good. She didn’t like it that much, she liked lagers better.
It was kind of a fun challenge talking with her. Her English was sometimes a little broken, and it was like playing charades when she couldn’t remember the right words. She would tell me the German word she was trying to say in English, which I of course had no idea what it meant, and she would try to draw it in the air or describe it. I thought it was cute. I thought at that moment that I was being so much more forgiving for lack of English skills than the French would be for my lacking French skills. It’s too bad not everybody is very forgiving when communicating across a language barrier.
After dinner, we walked back to her car and said goodbye. I was happy to have had someone to socialize with for the night. I told her if the cougar came around, she should consider spending a night or two at Whalers hostel. I walked back the rest of the way under the cool, crisp air and shining stars, and headed back to bed for a good night’s rest.
After a few blissfully sunny days here on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the real, rainy Tofino has finally reared its wet head. It is, after all, the end of tourist season. I consider myself lucky to have seen the of the gorgeous weather of the year in one of the most awe-inspiring landscapes on the island. Now, the gray skies are keeping most people indoors, as buckets of rain are dumped on the city.
On Tuesday, I got an e-mail from Tsimka, who I met at the Lake Party. She was available in the afternoon to go bike riding with me. I was curious and excited for what she had in store. I had a few hours to explore Tofino some more before then, so I hopped on my bike (sans luggage) and rode around. After a half hour of aimless cycling, a car pulls up alongside me. Guess who it was? Catherine, from the kayak tour and dinner the previous day. We never planned to meet up again, but here she was again. I signaled for her to pull into the nearest parking lot so we could chat and not hold up traffic. So she did, and I gave her a big hug and told her I was glad she didn’t get eaten by that cougar that recently attacked someone near her camp site. We laughed. She had gone whale watching earlier and saw breeching orcas. I was the tiniest bit envious, I wanted to photograph some whales. But I didn’t really want to pay however much it cost to go on that tour. I told her we should go check out Tonquin beach. So I biked as fast as I could to lead her car down to the beach. We walked down the boardwalk and talked about how beautiful BC was. On the beach, we took our shoes off and splashed in the ocean. We walked barefoot on barnacle-carpeted boulders and admired the multi-colored starfish and neon-green sea anemones. She asked if I could do a handstand, and we both did various gymnastic feats on the sand. Soon, I realized it was almost 1:30, and I told her I had to get going to meet up with another friend. I had the idea to ask for her contact information, but I decided to accept the transitory nature of friendships on the road, and didn’t even bother. If I tried to keep in touch with everybody I met on the road, I would constantly be e-mailing people that I would probably never see again.e
So, off I rode back to the hostel to meet Tsimka. With impeccable timing, we both arrived at our meetup spot at exactly 1:30. She came down the hill with a red mountain bike. It looked like it could handle any trail on the whole island. I told her we probably wouldn’t want to do any crazy off-roading because my bike wasn’t made for that. I realized as I was looking over my bike that the chain had accumulated a bit of rust from leaving it in the rain for three days at the Lake Party. I rubbed it down with some chain lube, filled my tires, and she told me we were going to go pick chanterelles. I thought this was a great idea, because it was a pastime of mine, and I had a family recipe for delicious mushroom gravy to use for dinner. Off we went riding. On the way there, we stopped at her mom’s house by the beach, and they invited me in for a hot cup of tea. The weather was getting colder, so a hot cup of tea sounded like the perfect recharge as the wind was picking up and the clouds were taking over the sky. The house overlooked a bay with a small tree-covered island. Tsimka’s mom lived alone, but she used the house as a B & B for travelers. I could see why, it was a really nice place. After lounging on plush leather couches sipping hot honey-mint tea, I said we should probably get going if we were to have much light left in the forest. Tsimka’s mom told us we should take this big stick with us to scare off the cougar. Tsimka laughed and told her mom not to worry — she had a pocket knife with her.
After about an hour of biking, we found the spot. We hopped off the bikes and left them in the bushes off the side of the road. Ambling down the path through thick foliage, it grew darker. Before too long, we were in the middle of a chanterelle jackpot. There were tons of them, which we quickly collected, exclaiming how perfect they were. I told her it was great that we were getting them before the heavy rains came, otherwise they might go to waste. I asked if she wanted to cook them for dinner with me, and she said sure. She was feeling anemic, and said she really wanted to eat them with a grilled steak. That sounded good to me. I don’t eat steak too often, but I do enjoy it from time to time. After we collected all that we could find, we headed back. One of the First Nations reserves was coming up on our left, and Tsimka told me she wanted to give some of the mushrooms to one of her friends. As we pulled into the street, I noticed many empty lots. Seemed like they were going to be building houses, but the funding wasn’t there, so there was just a lot of treeless lots waiting to be built upon. We got to her friend’s house, and we all chatted for a bit. I was feeling privileged to spend time with people who lived in Tofino rather than people who were just passing through like myself.
On the way back to the hostel, I stopped at the grocery store and got the steak, potatoes, broccoli, and corn. Tsimka brought the soy sauce, flour, and salad fixings. Back at the hostel, we met up again, and began to cook in the hectic kitchen. There were at least 6 people trying to prepare dinners all at once in the kitchen. I was weaving in between people, dodging hot pans and dull knives as people were rushing all around the kitchen. I laughed to myself about how certain people I know would be freaking out if they had to cook in such a busy, crowded kitchen. I utilized my zen focus to prepare mashed potatoes and chanterelle gravy amongst the chaos. Finally, everything was finished cooking, and we ate out on the patio with the cool night gracing our skins. After dinner, Tsimka found some playing cards and taught me how to play speed. We had fun slapping cards down as quickly as possible and laughing when the other person made a mistake. After three games, suddenly all the lights in the city shut off. The power had gone out, and everybody pulled out their phones for light. I asked if anybody had a candle, to which everybody responded, “no”. I joked, saying out loud, “quick, everybody get out your candle app!” The pitch black left us with not much to do in the dark, so Tsimka decided to head home. I was glad to have had a full day of company. We hugged goodbye.
The next day, the rain continued to pour all day long. It was because of the rain that I decided I was ready to move on. I also had been talking with Shannon about spending some time together. She wanted to try out bicycle touring, and we talked about renting a cabin with a wood stove on one of the southern gulf islands. I was looking forward to seeing her sweet smile again, so I booked a bus for Vancouver the next day. Due to the lack of disc brakes, the heavy rain, and the treacherous road, I decided that a bus would probably be the best way to get back east. Who knows what’s in store for me next?
Tuesday night after the Yoga Nidra retreat, I was in the kitchen socializing with everybody before dinner. Nicholas, Nadine, Mari, John, Patrice, and Susan were all there. Patrice had told me that Ulysses, one of the older long-term volunteers who does construction work, was going to Cortes island in a few days, and could give me a ride. The idea of staying at the hermitage few more days sounded good to me, because I was really enjoying the peaceful setting of the hermitage, the amazing food, the friendly people, and the huge maple tree that had several mossy beds that you could lay back on.
When I first met Ulysses, I asked him what kind of construction work he did around the Hermitage, and how long had he been there. He built several huts for people to stay in with Mike over the last year. Ulysses had wild white hair, a heavy brow and a big wrinkly smile. One of the first things we talked about was how biking through BC was great, and how biking through the states over the next year would be going right through the vortex. He insisted that there’s change coming in the next year, saying that the end of the Mayan calendar is the end of violence, and the end of money.
The exercise we have been doing in this workshop is to generate love in the heart. To do this, we were supposed to think of somebody we love and who loves us as well. I kept going back to sitting on the dock with Michelle by the pond when she put her hand on my heart and told me I had a good soul, and when she told me what she wrote about me in her journal. It gave me that warm feeling. I also thought about good friends, about family, and giving people hugs. The idea was to get that feeling started, then focus on the feeling itself rather than the cause of the feeling. This allowed it to grow in presence.
During this silent retreat, a lot of people went through a lot of heavy emotions. A lot of tears were shed, and a lot of issues were worked through. There’s something about a week of silent meditation that forces you to deal with all the clutter and emotional baggage that you’ve shoved into the attic of your mind. When you’ve entered into an internal journey, you begin to confront any inner demons that you’ve resisted facing for so long. As for me, I felt like I went through the whole experience rather unscathed; I never had any breakthroughs or breakdowns. I had some insights and little personal revelations over the last two weeks, but I didn’t experience the gamut of emotional issues that many people went through here. Maybe it was a sign that I wasn’t doing the meditation right and that I need to keep at it. I told this to the soup chef of the retreat, John, and he placed his hand on my shoulder, saying “Don’t worry. You’re only 26.” I’m just thankful that I had good parents, never had any physical or mental abuse, and never had my heart broken so bad that I couldn’t get over it.
As you may or may not know, we have seven main energy centers, or chakras, in the body that run along the spine. The chakra that is located near your heart and is the center of your being. It has been said that the heart is the sun of your body’s solar system — All the other chakras are the planets. So, when dealing with the heart chakra, you can expect a lot of powerful emotions. It is the center for feelings of love, grief, anger, jealousy, fears of betrayal or loneliness, etc. Yet, I didn’t really feel any of these issues coming up. I felt more love at the first (non-silent) retreat than I did at the silent retreat. I think I still have some lingering issues to confront, but I’m in no rush. I will meet those challenges on my own time. I know one thing, though: I’m definitely going to be continuing my meditation practice now that I’ve gotten into a more consistent practice.
You might be asking me, isn’t meditation just some new age mumbo jumbo that doesn’t really apply to our modern life? And I challenge you with this response. Do you ever listen to your inner body? Do you get bored or restless, fidgety or anxious when you are stuck with yourself during down time? I used to get bored, and would surf the web endlessly, or find movies or TV shows to watch, or work on web sites or making music. Boredom, which is a phenomenon of modern societies, seems to arise when there is a lack of distractions and we are forced to be with ourselves, which, most people find unbearable. Meditation forces us to face whatever is slowly driving us crazy, and many people are scared by this. When I tell people I spent a week in silent meditation, they say something like “wow I could never do that,” saying it’s boring or it would make them restless or whatever excuse they have. I think that most people are unsatisfied and there’s a lingering feeling that something isn’t quite right, but they can’t put their finger on it, so they put their finger on the remote control to their TV instead, or maybe to whatever other hobby they might have.
There is as much to explore inside the inner body as there is out there in space. The deepest states of bliss are available to you with the simple technique of focusing your mind on one thing unwaveringly; the lake of your mind will begin to clear, and you will be able to see down into the depths of your inner body. But meditating in modern life can often be difficult. There are often too many distractions… You might live in an apartment complex with a noisy neighbor, or yappy dog. You might be juggling three jobs just to pay the bills and can’t find any free time. The way I think of it, if you spend 20 minutes each day in meditation, the rest of your day will be much more productive, and you will save more than 20 minutes in the amount of time it takes to accomplish your tasks. Or we can just set our alarm clocks to 20 minutes earlier than usual in the morning. It’s a perfect way to start the day: calm, collected, and centered, ready to handle whatever life can dish at us. Certainly, it helps to go to a silent retreat, because everyone is meditating constantly, so naturally, following along with the rest of the group becomes easier.
On Sunday, I got deeper in meditation than I think I ever have. I felt like I was the watcher of my ego rather than my ego itself… It was like stepping back out of in-body consciousness to something much broader and more widely encompassing. I just felt like a big ball of radiating energy shining brightly… Breathing slowly and deeply was the most satisfying thing at that point. I didn’t even run for dinner when the bell rang because I was so deep in it. When you keep meditating, it just keeps getting better. I’m glad I had all day to meditate, because it does take time to develop. At times it was slightly exhausting, knowing that I didn’t succeed in opening my heart chakra. Yet I kept trying and trying some more. I was finding it difficult to generate love on demand. But I was definitely getting proficient at quickly stopping my thoughts and calming my mind. So I was encouraged by that. During the silence, sometimes, I just wanted to talk to other people. Everyone felt like strangers, sometimes we would acknowledge each other with little smiles, but it was still an isolated journey. We did get time to talk with the teacher, however brief it was. He told me to keep at it, to not give up. To pray to my higher consciousness to let me feel love and to let it radiate.
I told this girl, Jessie, that the smile on her face made me so happy. I could feel her love radiating out, and it resonated my heart and caused me to feel joy. She told me thank you for telling her that. I broke the silence just to say it. I could no longer hold in all the feelings I was having. I’ve had this little thought experiment that I’ve been using to generate love… It involves me walking around to people in the silent meditation and just going up and giving them big hugs. Sometimes, it can get really serious around here with everyone keeping to themselves. The teaching for the day was about manifesting love into action, and I just feel like we all need to express love for each other, and not be so isolated in our own minds.
One thing that has been on my mind lately is the shift that is happening in this world as we approach the infamous end of the mayan calendar. A new paradigm seems to be coming. The old paradigm, in my opinion, is all about miserable comfort. People put up with work to afford their mortgage and their hot tub and their fancy car and plasma TV. Well, are they any happier with all that material comfort? I’d rather have less material comfort and more freedom than a lot of comfort at home and hardly any free time. The global economy is running on fumes, and most people have their heads buried in the sand as they chug along, living lives without meaning as their life-giving natural environment is being destroyed. It’s time to find our true callings, to start asking ourselves in meditation, what is my purpose in this life? How can we be the initiators of the new way?
These are exciting times we are living in, and who’s to say we didn’t choose to be born into these times for a reason? It’s up to us to take a stand, to say enough distractions, enough dysfunctional relationships, enough meaningless work. Time to live up to our fullest potential. We need to learn the old ways and bring our lives out of the insanity of “modern life” and back into harmony with the way of nature, and with each other. Take a risk. If you feel like you may regret not doing something in the future, then do it. If it doesn’t work, then at least you tried. And you can always keep trying. Nobody ever accomplished anything great without taking risks. We not only have to hold the vision of the future we want to see in our mind’s eye — we have to bring it down into the gut and convert that vision into action. Every action begins with a thought.
We must realize that everything has divine nature, but not everything is self aware. As humans, we have the profound ability and the choice to go beyond the ordinary nature of things, and to realize that we are consciousness experiencing itself. Why aren’t we teaching children from a young age about their true potential? Think about how the world could change in just one generation if we encouraged the growth of the pure spiritual beings that children really are! If I had been working on this stuff since I was little, I would already be enlightened.
The maple leaves are turning color, and fall is setting changes into motion. The day’s theme, provoked by the clouds and rain, was death and decay. What I want to know, is, is there love in death and decay? If love is the force of the universe, is death just a manifestation of that? Today, Lama Rodney talked about the horrors he saw in India of the poverty and sickness that is rampant. He said we have to meditate on the ugly as well as the beautiful. He said it’s not all heaven and peace and love. We have to accept and embrace the totality in order to open our consciousness. New-agers have left out the “10 stages of death & decay” meditation that has long been a tradition of Tibetan buddhism. The new-age spirituality is completely sanitized and all focused on The Light, love, and happiness. It denies that death and ugliness are part of life.
I hope not, but the thought has entered my mind: will meditating on death, loss, disease, and grief make me depressed? My thought was, no, it won’t, because when we totally surrender to the greater forces of the universe, we have a serene acceptance and surrender of all that is, including the ugly and dark. But it’s so much easier to say that when I’m dry and warm and comfortable, isn’t it? One of the stories Rodney told us was of a beautiful Indian woman coming through the crowd, looking straight at him. This was unusual in Indian society at that time. He soon realized why: she had leprosy, and was coming to beg for money to pay for her own cremation. She had lost all her fingers and held out two stumps to pocket the change with. There is so much suffering in the world — and we want to know — why? I would have a hard time accepting everything if I was dying of leprosy. I know that much. Is it possible to dis-identify from the body so that you are detached from suffering that the world always seems to inflict upon us? Or is that impossible; is that the reason why buddhists want to escape the cycle of birth and death that keeps us suffering? So many things to think about on this subject.
On Friday morning, I awoke to a cloudy sky punctuated by gaps in the clouds where the sun would burst through. This was my last morning at the hermitage. I soaked in the peacefulness of the wavy fields of tall grasses in the early morning light, and began walking through the shady dew-soaked forest to the kitchen for my last meal with all of the volunteers. I was eager to check my e-mail to see if Nayte had gotten in touch. I had never met him, though I could tell that this was just another step in the sequence of events that would lead me synchronistically along my journey. Out of the blue, I was contacted by Nayte because of my blog. He had downloaded my album, Six Minute City, on the free electronic music web site Ektoplazm. For the past several years, he had been involved in the organizing of a party outside of Tofino & Uclulet on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He visited my blog and saw that I was on the island, so naturally, when he was scouting for DJ’s to play, he got in touch with me. This was perfect, because I had been wanting to go to Tofino. Almost every local I had asked where to go next, they said Tofino, because it is so beautiful, and there’s a lot of enormous old growth trees there. However, they would add, they didn’t recommend biking there, because the road that weaved through mountainous passes on the way was treacherous for cyclists. So, naturally, when Nayte told me he could give me a ride, I enthusiastically agreed.
When I entered the kitchen around 8am, Patrice was chopping fruit and making a crepe mixture for breakfast. I said hello, and checked my e-mail to see if Nayte had replied with a location to meet at. Sure enough, there was an e-mail from him waiting for me. He said we could meet in Coombs, a touristy little town featuring oddities such as the “goats on the roof” restaurant and market. We were supposed to meet at the military surplus store at 1PM, which was a mere 5 hours away, and I hadn’t even packed up my tent. So, I ran back to my tent, quickly packed everything back onto my bike, and happily ate the first few crepes in the batch. They were so delicious. I was going to miss the food here. We told patrice he should open a crepe shop on Denman island. It was something I had never tried; vanilla crepes filled with chopped apples, bananas, clementines, sprinkled with granola and topped with hot ginger plum sauce. It was pretty deluxe. I said thank you for the breakfast, then said my farewells to everyone. Back onto my bike, back on the road. I was happy to feel the weight of my loaded bike and the wind on my face again.
Several months ago, a group of cyclists called “The Cultural Recyclists” were passing through Portland, and when I was living at the Eggplant House in Northeast, they stayed at our house for a week. I particularly enjoyed this one guy, Kevin, I believe was his name, who is a really gifted lyricist. Recently, I was reflecting on this awesome spoken word performance given to a group of us at the house, and wanted to share this because of how inspirational it was to me. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.
Transition Town Floetry – By Phil Osophical (video)
Do you have the drive to create a world that is vibrantly alive? A place where all species can thrive? Well this here is a gathering of the tribe.
Is the 9-5 shift grippin’ your soul? Tired of drifting with the flow of the status quo? Then paradigm shifting is the way to go. Come take a glimpse down the rabbit hole.
See we live within an invisible fence — Everybody’s walking around feelin’ all tense. Conditioned by our own parents to focus only on future events.
But then we miss what’s right here — On this big blue beautiful sphere. Gaia’s got a message for us to hear. Do you have headphones in your ear?
The message that earth is givin’ me is that we must use our abilities within our own vicinities. Allow our creativities to abolish negativities. Nature’s sayin’ mimic me and rejoin the symphony.
And if we use permaculture techniques, we’ll be havin’ a fresh feast within the next couple weeks. And you may think I sound outlandish, but I don’t want our species to vanish. Already billions are famished, ecosystems consistently damaged.
But if you take a step back like Hubble, amidst all of the serious struggle, people are steppin’ out of their bubbles. Comin’ together formin’ big huddles. Comin’ up with solutions to our troubles. So many brain storms it’s creatin’ puddles.
There’s a change comin’ soon, can you feel that we’re near it? — a revolution of mind, body, and spirit.
A coalescence of our heads, hands, and hearts — with you and I is where the change starts.
So if you feel caged by an isolated feeling, sacred plants may initiate the healing. Layers of separation will begin peeling.
Oh, and did I mention, that if you use the power of intention, then your life becomes your own invention.
And if you take the time to reclaim your mind, then you just might find that all of life is intertwined, like an Ayahuasca vine or the Kundalini in your spine.
And so I’m here to validate, motivate, and co-create, ’cause every day on earth is a day to celebrate.
And when we all meditate, we let blissfulness radiate, and demonstrate what can happen when we all collaborate.
I want to start off this post with a powerful poem that I was introduced to during my meditation retreat. It really sums up the feelings I’ve been having on this trip about love and relationships.
A Full Moon in Each Eye – by Hafiz
Everyone you see,
You say to them, “love me.”
Of course, you do not do this out loud;
Otherwise someone would call the police.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us to connect.
Why not become the one who lives
With a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon language,
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to hear?
Isn’t that something? What everyone is dying to hear, I think, is that they are loved. I’ve recently been thinking a lot about love and its relationship to the spiritual path to enlightenment.
I often remark how one thing leads right to another, and I find that when I acknowledge this fact, I notice it happening even more. The last five days, I’ve found myself back on Denman island, returning to the Hermitage that I passed on my way to Hornby Island. The week was a whirlwind of meeting many new people, and I found so many loving, heart-centered people to connect with here. The experience has left me glowing with a renewed dedication to the art of being present in every moment. Let’s see if I can summarize everything that happened over the last week.
My sleep wednesday night was long and dreamy. I slept in until 10 or so (usually I’ve been waking at 7 or 8). Sometimes, your sleeping bag and air mattress can be so comfortable, you just don’t want to get out of it. That is how you know you’re doing the whole camping thing correctly. Good gear makes all the difference.
After a breakfast of oatmeal, I whisked out of my camp site to go write for a bit. To my usual hangout, Jan’s Café. I was becoming quite the regular, going in for my coffee and wi-fi. Perhaps I was getting too comfortable here when I should have been seeing new places every day. But something about Hornby drew me in like the song of the sirens, and kept me there longer than I planned to stay. I knew I would leave soon, though. In the back of my mind was this idea that maybe I should do a retreat at the buddhist hermitage on Denman island. I had wanted to do a meditation retreat before my trip, but that didn’t happen because I figured the cycling trip would be a kind of silent retreat anyhow. But I had seen this hermitage on Denman before I came to Hornby, and I thought it would be a great way to spend a few days. I looked it up online, and as it turned out, three days from then, they were hosting a 5-day Yoga Nidra (Yoga of Sleep) retreat. On their site, they said it is a donation-based retreat, because “spirituality cannot be bought or sold”. I really respect that. So that had become fixed in my mind as the one thing that would get me back on my way. After all, summer was waning and I had more places I wanted to visit before the cold hit. By the time the rains came and decided to stay, I wanted to be southbound.
Hanging out in the pavilion of the community hub, I start chatting with a local who tells me about jazz at Ford’s Cove that evening. That sounded tempting. I also wanted to camp out at the Helliwell bluffs that night, so I could sleep under the stars and take some sunrise photos in the morning. No matter, I could do both. It just meant I would have to do a lot of biking with my camping gear (by this point, I had gotten used to leaving my gear in my tent and biking around light as a feather). That was fine though, and I was looking forward to both.
So, as the sun began to recede from the sky, I headed out to Ford’s cove. I stopped to eat the most delicious, plump blackberries on the top of the hill. It made the climb worth it.
Then down I went this hill that dropped like a four story water slide. Slightly nerve-wracking, but mostly awesome. Into the cove I pulled, and the first thing I notice was the jazz music had begun. Then I noticed a pile of dog poo with a little toothpick flag on it. It said something like “This is art because I say it is”. Kind of hilarious. After I looked up, though, I saw. I quickly grabbed the camera and started snapping away.
As the sun finally waned, I had taken hundreds of photos in hopes of getting a few really good ones. I was going to have to spend some time sorting through my photos. I realized I was really hungry and decided to get a burger because there was this little restaurant there.
The total for a burger and fries (including tax) was 17.5O CAD. Ouch. I could have just made my own camp food. I guess sometimes I’m a sucker for quick meals I can’t make easily on the road. After I shelled out that money I was thinking, this better be the best damn burger I ever had. Of course, it was just OK. The bun was one of those white bread cheap buns that melts as soon as it gets wet, into a white paste. Gross. I couldn’t help but think that’s what it was doing in my stomach. I’ve been spoiled by Portland’s food scene. I only want to eat lightly toasted Brioche buns with my burgers now.
As soon as I finished my burger, I wandered down to talk to this guy who seemed like he was worth talking to. He had long frizzy hair, and seemed like he had no particular place to be. He was on island time too. As it turned out, he had lived on the island a long time. Robert was his name. We talked about a lot of things, but what stuck with me was how he said island community sustainability was mostly an illusion. At least on Hornby, anyway. Any sort of sustainability efforts on the island are too little, too late. I did see a few bio-farms selling their produce at the Wed./Sat. market, but I don’t think that it’s enough food to produce for the whole island. Like most areas of the world, the island was very much running on money and fossil fuels. As far as permaculture goes, there’s more happening in Portland than all of the gulf islands, to my knowledge. The conversation ended on a slightly melancholy note, which was that yeah, the world is screwed if we don’t act quickly to manifest a new vision. But I try not to focus on that too much, I just want to enjoy the beauty of nature while I still have it available to me. That’s part of why I’m on this trip. Things are changing so fast, something’s gotta give. I want to live each moment as if it were my last.
Off I went again, it was 9 PM and dark. I hugged the hillside and arrived at Helliwell park about 40 minutes later. I rode my bike out to the bluffs, and lay down in a field of tall wheat grass. Looking up at the night sky, I began to notice shooting stars and the milky way. It was indescribably beautiful. Then, I noticed something very strange, and my heart raced.
It was a dot, the size of a star, but rather bright for a star. At first I just thought that’s what it was. But then it started moving sporadically. It would wander to the left, then to the right, then back and forth, like an aimless gnat. Then it would stand still for another minute. I said to myself, what kind of plane could that be? That couldn’t be a plane, because it could hover in place. It was so high up in the sky, it didn’t seem like it could be a helicopter; it was completely silent. I began to suspect that it might be a UFO. Well, I sure as hell couldn’t identify it, so technically it was an Unidentified Flying Object. I watched it for a good 30 or 40 minutes, and it just kept wandering around the sky. So weird. I wish I knew what it was.
Laying on my back in that field, listening to the sounds of the ocean spray against the rocky bluffs, I was too tired to see what else this moving star would do. So I was lulled into a misty sleep in my dewed sleeping bag.
At 6am sharp, I awoke to a less-than-spectacular sunrise. There were clouds on the horizon, and I figured I probably wouldn’t get any really amazing photos. I stayed in my bag 20 minutes longer, then decided I should probably get up before the morning joggers began their daily runs. I packed up my things and rolled along, hoping that maybe if I walked along the shoreline around to the easternmost cliff, I could get a better view of the sunrise once it poked its shining face out from the clouds.
I arrived east and still there was no sunshine, so I sat down at a bench nearby and started to cook up some breakfast. I love using my stove on a brisk morning to make a hot breakfast. It takes the edge off the cold. There’s nothing like warming up with a hot bowl of creamy peanut butter oatmeal while watching the sunrise. It does wonders for the soul.
Once the sun decided to show its face, the bluffs burst into a golden wonderland of exceeding beauty. I had to run around to all the best vantage points to capture these warm morning hues before they became the hot white mid-day light. I did end up with some really decent sunrise photos after all. I was so glad that I decided to leave the comfort of my hidden hobo camp and spend a night at the most beautiful part of the island.
When I headed back to camp, I realized I was thirsty and out of water, because I’d used it all on my morning oatmeal. So, I went back to a paid campsite near the co-op, where Bobcat had told me I could refill my water bottle. I wandered into the camp site, looking for the water spigot, and I noticed this cute blonde girl packing up her bright orange one-person tent into her touring bike’s panniers. I immediately wanted to talk to her about touring. But first I needed water.
“Do you know where to refill my water bottle around here?” I asked.
“Oh, yes, it’s right over there by that sign that says water,” she replied in her German accent.
I felt like an idiot. “Oh, thanks” I say dumbly.
I refilled my water bottle, and then, “I see you’re doing a bike tour. Me too!”
“Oh yeah?” she asks.
“Yeah, I started in Vancouver and biked here. I really haven’t gone that far yet, but I plan on biking back to Portland.”
The conversation continued like most chit-chat between cyclists. I tell her she has a nice bike, and I inquire as to where she’s from, where she’s been, and why she was in BC. She tells me she came from Victoria a few weeks prior, but has been in Canada for over a year now, working and traveling on and off. Her touring bike was a kind of spur of the moment purchase, and she just decided she was going to do a solo bike trip. I was impressed with her confidence to just get out there on her own and bike. She’d logged 1000km already. But then she remarked about how expensive this camp site at Hornby island was.
“30 dollars for a camp site. For one night. I told the lady, you said thirteen, right? She says, no, I said thirty. And then she says showers are a few dollars extra. I thought she was joking.”
I tell her I would be hard pressed to pay that much to pitch a tent for a night.
“You know, there’s places to camp for free around here, you just have to know where to look,” I say to her with a coy smile.
“Really?” she asked with eyes all lit up. “Please, show me! I was just going to leave because I was frustrated with how much camping costs here.”
I pulled out my map of the island and pointed to the location.
“I’ve been camping here the last 4 days, nobody has come back there once. It’s really peaceful. I can show you, but I wanted to go to this farmer’s market first. Want to go with me?”
“Yes, that sounds nice. Let me pack up my gear first,” she said.
“And then we can go check out the bluffs, you have to see that before you leave the island,” I added.
I told her we could get some food from the market to cook for dinner that night. She pitched her tent next to mine, and I showed her Helliwell park. She told me she was glad that I showed her a free place to camp so she could stay longer. We rolled along those hills back to the tents and made camp chili with a 25 cent zucchini from the market. It was such a change of pace from cooking and eating alone. I now had someone to joke with about silly things that didn’t matter.
I found her carefree personality fun to be around, and when I told her we need 5 hugs every day, she said she hadn’t gotten any that day. I said, “then we need to hug!”. We talked about the differences between a regular “socially acceptable” hug and a real, deep, honest-to-god embrace that feels like a communion and commingling of hearts. When you can feel the intersection of the magnetic field emitted from your hearts, you can feel the depth of their soul. I got to thinking about how I missed human touch. All I wanted right then was to wrap my arms around her and cry. It might have been that I was facing my own discomfort with being completely honest with everyone. I wanted to tell her how I wanted to just embrace her. I didn’t cry. But I did notice the wall I have built around my heart.
I told her about the wall we all are trained to put up. I wanted to break it down. I started by telling her that I think we all need touch, in every day life. Not just “sensual” touch, but pats on the back, shoulder rubs, hugs, hand holding, and gentle touches on the arm when conversing. I wanted to tell her how I just wish everybody was already on the same page, that I wish we were all were totally comfortable with touch. It would just be such a more loving world, wouldn’t it? Or is that just a hippie pipe dream? Maybe I’m just a dreamer like Lennon. But alas, we’re not the only ones. I got this idea from a workshop at the Breitenbush hot springs summer solstice retreat. They called it Vitamin T. Everybody needs touch, and without it, we can become depressed, angry, and alienated. I heard that If a baby isn’t held and touched for the first year of its life, it can actually die. I think that the proponents of vitamin T might be onto something.
Nadine and I were content to just talk about life and love and everything in between until the stars came out. After brushing our teeth, we said goodnight, and I did give her that real hug. It was long and deeply satisfying to hold someone close. I looked her in the eyes. I had this overwhelming urge to kiss her right then. But I didn’t, because earlier in the day, she told me she’s not interested in being with anybody right now, or something like that.
The next day, she made strong coffee and I got the jitters. We were packing up, and I didn’t even say anything, I just went over to her and wrapped my arms around her for a long hug.
We decide to bike down to the nearest pay phone so she could check to see if her plans were going to work out. She was going to go to see the Fiddler on the Roof with a good friend, and wanted to see if it was sold out. She asked what I was doing next, and I told her I was going to this Yoga Nidra retreat. She says that it sounded really interesting, and if this play didn’t work out, she might be interested. Turns out, that play was sold out. After a few minutes of saying “Well now I’m not sure what to do,” she decided to come to the retreat. I told her, sometimes, life just opens a new door with a new opportunity that you never saw coming.
We biked to the ferry, I said goodbye and farewell to Hornby, and after another hour of biking, we arrived at the hermitage as the sun was setting. The meandering country road into the property was beautiful.
Some of the buildings at the hermitage are shingled domes interspersed by trees, it made me happy to see a place where creativity was emphasized over functionality. So this was the birth place of Greenpeace; I learned that they acquired the land and built all of these amazing dome buildings in the 60’s. Now the property was managed by residents of Denman island, and was kept alive by generous donations.
Nadine and I met a few other early attendees, and we cooked a dinner of pesto pasta with a fresh zucchini that one of the others brought, along with a loaf of french bread and an avocado. We all pitched in for ingredients, and shared a meal with the five of us. It was perfect. But in the back of my mind, I was struggling with the fact that I was attracted to my new German friend. I wanted to be distracted by a pretty girl, but found myself questioning my motives — I came to the retreat to practice meditation, I didn’t want to let myself become distracted in relationships for the wrong reasons. I would be willing to go down that path if it felt right and there was no pursuing involved; the goal of my spiritual practice is to learn how to acknowledge and release the impulses of attachment and aversion. By attaching to the idea that I could be with this girl, I was setting myself up for eventual disappointment in some form or another. Maybe this was supposed to happen, so that I could learn this lesson firsthand.
Friday morning, I awoke late. Breakfast was being served at 7, I didn’t come into the communal kitchen and dining area until 8 or so, after Nadine kindly woke me up at my tent. I had stayed up writing late into the night and had slept in. There was still an omelette, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit, and oatmeal. Not to mention a nice selection of teas. I was already beginning to feel spoiled.
At 8:30, the workshop began with an introduction to what Yoga Nidra was. We were going to be studying a program developed by Billy Ledford, named “iRest” (short for Integrative Restoration). Apparently, to make it more appealing to the military (for PTSD), Billy had to drop the “Yoga” from the name. Anyway, the core of the program is dis-identifying with the six bodies. The bodies are: physical earth body, breath/energy body, emotional body, intellectual body, joy/bliss/love body, and the “ego” body. I found the teachings to incorporate techniques I’ve read about before that are used to go into a kind of trance state (body asleep, mind awake). I really enjoyed the first day, the format was open, and anybody could ask questions, no matter how big or mysterious.
The schedule was fairly consistent. Mornings, we had Q & A sessions, guided meditations, eye-gazing and partner breathing exercises. During the day, we would go swimming at Graham lake, which was the favorite local swimming hole. The water was so beautiful. My time outside made the time spent indoors — in the yurt — a lot more enjoyable. This was my first retreat, so I didn’t have anything to compare it to, but some people were hoping that it would have been more structured and strict, with less free time for superficial conversations. For me, it was a nice change of pace to be connecting with people again, even though I wasn’t getting in as much spiritual practice as I needed.
I really loved our hands-on activities with partners. It was then that I felt I really got to connect with people. In the eye-gazing exercises, we set up in pairs and looked each other in the eyes for 5 to 10 minutes. I noticed that after a while, people’s faces would begin to blur or shift shapes to look like other people I know. It was as if the mask of separateness was trying to remove itself for me, so I could realize how we are not as separate as we think we are. One session, my partner told me that he could see me in the forest, but not separate from the forest. Another partner told me that she could see compassion in my eyes. I felt nothing but love from everyone.
The weekend sped by in a blur. I got to know some really friendly people, who decided that I’m more Canadian than I am American. I felt so open and honest with several people at the retreat. I had an especially powerful eye-gazing session with my new friend Michelle, and we talked into the evening as bats flitted around our heads, snatching up mosquitos with supersonic clicks followed by the crunch of insects being devoured. She understood me, and I understood her. We saw our own beauty in each other.
“Is it weird to say that I love you?” I asked her.
“No! I wrote the same thing in my journal. I said that I had a new friend Cameron and he’s beautiful and I love him.” It was heartwarming to hear, and we both just felt unconditional love for each other.
She placed her hand on my heart and told me I had a good soul. It was amazing to have such a deep connection with someone so quickly. We talked about how nature is full of tiny miracles, and how sometimes, we look someone in the eye and feel a welling of emotion, feeling the pull to embrace them right then and there. We read that poem about a full moon in each eye over and over, because it just described our yearning for love so truthfully.
On our last night, six of us carried blankets and pillows out into the grassy field and watched shooting stars all night. I was feeling like embodied bliss, laying under the stars with beautiful people. I cuddled with them until we decided it was getting too cold and moist.
Michelle went to bed, but Shannon and I kept the connection, holding each other that night. The 7AM alarm for breakfast awoke us abruptly, and after breakfast, we held each other some more. Seven minutes before our last workshop started, we kissed for the first time, and I felt the electric tingles of excitement dance through my body. “Only seven minutes left, and now I kiss you,” she said, with a tinge of sadness in her voice. She was going back to Vancouver after the workshop was over. It was bittersweet, having to leave after an amazing night of connections and cuddling and love. I wanted to talk to our teacher.
One of the questions that I asked him was, how do we reconcile the fact that the happiness and fulfillment we so desire is already inside us, with the fact that people need communion with others? I had been pondering this a week earlier when I was alone at Chickadee lake, wanting to experience it with others. If it’s true that we already have everything we could possibly need or want, then why would we feel like we need other people there with us to be happy? The answer given to me was that if you’re searching for fulfillment through others, out of a sense of incompleteness, then you will never feel whole or complete. If you realize that you are already perfect and complete, then other people will gravitate to you. So maybe I’m doing it in the wrong order. I’ve been looking for a fulfillment through love with women. My flawed thinking is that, in order to be fulfilled, I need to be loved by someone; but that thinking is flawed. The old saying, “you need to love yourself before you can love others” comes to mind. I need to find love within myself, and from that place I can have a healthy sharing of love with another. Better yet, I just need to meditate on experiencing “being” love, and I won’t have to experience the pangs of loneliness that I sometimes experience at all.
The first time I meditated on “being love” at the hermitage, it brought tears to my eyes. My body was filled with a flowing up of energy, and it felt like I was completely accepted and loved exactly for who I am. This kind of love is not conditional, it has no boundaries and it is the most powerfully fulfilling and joyful experience. It wasn’t long before the experience faded back to normal. I was sad that I couldn’t prolong the feeling, but it gave me a peek behind the veil of duality, and affirmed that there is more where that came from, if I just kept practicing.
George suggested I find a teacher at home. I found myself wanting to know how do I know who the right teacher is for me? I said I needed to increase my awareness of my intuition so that I would know in my gut. I wanted to know, do enlightened individuals get angry? He said yes, that everyone has their buttons that you can push. It’s just a matter of how quickly can we recognize the pull of emotion and let it go. How quickly are we aiming to be able to observe and dis-identify from arising emotions? In the beginning, it will be impossible to dis-identify from emotions. But as we become more present & aware, the more we will be able to quickly release emotions.
Another question I wanted to ask him related to big-picture questions. In wanting to discover the answers to questions like, “is there life elsewhere in the universe?” or “why are we here?”, should we surrender to the mystery and just live here and now? Or, is it that the external world is an illusion constructed by the mind, and that the universe is accessible within? In response to my question, he told me about the Taoist saying:
“That the self advances and confirms the ten thousand things is called delusion;
That the ten thousand things advance and confirm the self is called enlightenment.”
In other words, ultimately, seeking knowledge out in the world is what the mind wants to do, but to reach enlightenment, we will realize that the knowledge of the world is already contained within, and that we don’t need to go anywhere or do anything, we just need to realize and be present to that truth.
Another topic that came up was that some traditions aim to transcend the wheel of Samsara, or the cycle of life and death that keeps on turning, keeping us stuck in an endless cycle. If enlightenment is the total acceptance of the here and now, then there should be no desire to be anywhere else but where you currently are. If Samsara was somehow inherently bad, then why would we be here to experience it? Somehow I think that we don’t suffer without a purpose.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned at this retreat is to not to repress any negative feelings, but to observe them, and say something along the lines of, “oh, that’s interesting. my ego is telling me it’s angry.”, etc… It is the acceptance and acknowledgement of the feeling that allows it to fall away before it can have much of an effect on us. By welcoming the feeling, it loses its power, and we can then let it go.
It was nearing the end of the workshop, and I decided to take some time to myself during the day’s downtime to walk around the park. The sun was setting and I captured some nice images.
The workshop was over, and many of us felt sad to have to leave and go back to our day-to-day lives. I was thankful that I had no job to go back to, just more adventure and self-discovery. I asked Susan, the workshop manager, if I could stay another night so I could get a full day of riding in the next day. She said that would be fine if I did a few extra chores. I was happy to help, and to remain at this peaceful place. Where I would go next, I didn’t know, but I trusted that if I listened to my intuition, it would lead me to the exact place I needed to be.
Have you ever noticed something that had gone long unnoticed? This morning, I was looking over my bike to check for loose screws, and suddenly, this image popped out at me, which I haven’t noticed in these several weeks I’ve had this bike.
It’s funny how often we overlook the little details in life. It is moments like these, when something pushes you out of your normal, everyday consciousness, when you are reminded to be more present. If we were truly present all the time, we would always notice everything about our surroundings. Have you ever tried to focus on all of your bodily sensations all at once? It’s kind of mind-expanding. Think of how many things you can focus on… the feeling of air passing through your nostrils into your lungs, the tiniest sounds around you, the feeling of your lips touching each other, your tongue on the roof of your mouth, or the pressure of your eyelids on your eyes. There are so many sensations available to feel, but most of our waking life is spent wrapped up in bygone memories or future possibilities, we often forget to truly experience the present, which is the only real moment we have.
Most of my Monday was spent biking around to the parts of the island I hadn’t seen yet. A 4km ride east brought my trusty steed and I to Helliwell Provincial Park. I was truly impressed.
The combination of lush green Doug-Fir forest and open, grassy meadows was inspiring. The bluffs overlook a sheer drop down to the ocean.
It’s hard to capture the immensity of place without being fully immersed in it. A photo comes close; a panoramic photo gives a slightly enhanced view. Photography is by nature a subtractive medium; it can only capture a small piece of the full experience.
After Helliwell Park, I climbed a few hills and checked out Ford Cove, where the smell of battered fish and greasy fried potatoes mingles with the salty air of the ocean. The cove rests in its own neck of the island, untouched by high traffic roads, it felt like I stepped into a different part of town, where crusty sea-faring types would totter into ramshackle pubs and slam down mugs of grog over aged oak barrels.
After my day of pedaling to two separate corners of the island, I pulled back into the community hub, and I decided, what the hell. I’m getting some chocolate ice cream. Life’s too short to worry about “dental care,” anyway. I’m joking. I love my teeth, but I love cold ice cream on a hot summer day too. Everything in moderation!
I spent the rest of the evening hours reading Jack Kerouac, because I still have a lot of classics to catch up on, and “On the Road” is one of them (thanks, Tom, for reminding me that it would be a good book to read on my trip…) Once the sunlight had all but disappeared behind the grove of trees surrounding what I’ve come to know as my little hobo camp, my stomach began to rumble, and I remembered that I had a can of tomato paste and some bow-tie pasta in my panniers.
Sometimes when I know something needs to be done, such as making dinner for myself, I will end up thinking about what I need to do, instead of actually doing it. More and more, I’ve caught myself paralyzed in thought and have decided to replace the useless thinking with an emptying of the mind and letting the action flow seamlessly without thought. It’s like in the passage from the Tao Te Ching that sagely reminds us that “the Tao (the way) takes no action, and yet it leaves nothing undone.” Instead of remaining in the state of trying to do something, we should allow ourselves to become conduits for the actions that need to be taken. As our crinkly friend Yoda put it, “do or do not, there is no try.”
And so, the pasta was cooked and no water was wasted, for instead of straining the water, the tomato paste was added to it, and grated parmesan and pepper were sprinkled in. Dinner flowed effortlessly, and when it came time to scrape the pot, I did it without thinking, instead of dreading over how I don’t like doing dishes.
As I packed up my cooking supplies, I remembered that I had told Bobcat I would come in to the radio station for his Monday night show. It was dark already and I had put on my headlamp to finish cleaning up my camp site, and I didn’t remember exactly where on Central road the station was located. I heard a saxophone filtering through the trees, and wanted to know where it was coming from. I found myself biking out past the wrecked cars, past the gate and the deer carcass that marked the entry to my hideaway. A few meters up the road and I found the sound emanating from the ballpark. Curiously, I pedaled down the dark pathway and heard the music grow louder. It sounded kind of jazzy. I wanted to walk in and start playing, but I hadn’t brought my flute and wasn’t sure if the musicians wanted any flute accompaniment anyway. As it turns out, the ballpark is right next to the radio station, and I knew this because I heard a song playing on the radio, and coming from the adjacent building, I heard the same song playing but with a half-second delay. I realized that it was the delay of the broadcast and I was standing right next to station building. Peeking into the illuminated windows from the dark night, I saw Bobcat’s distinctive, nearly dreadlocked, white beard and balding head. He was leaning back in the chair, sorting through stacks of CD’s and talking into the microphone. One of the first things I saw as I stepped into the open door was this sign, advising to make sure the brain is in gear before engaging the mouth. Ha!
I waved and said hello, and without batting an eye, Bobcat turned in his chair and quietly acknowledged my presence. His calm demeanor suggested to me that he, like many of the people who choose to call the gulf islands their home, was living on “island time,” the phrase coined to capture the slower pace of life typically found in beach towns and islands across the world. Island time, to my understanding, is a protest against the frenetic pace of the mainland; it rejects the notion that everything must be done as quickly as possible. In a go-go-go world, island time says, “Hey, why not stop for a minute and try some of these delicious roadside blackberries while we chat about this year’s harvest?”
At one point in our history, we humans decided that we would have more leisure time if we delegated all the manual labor to a machine. What ended up happening was that we quickly found ways to occupy the time saved by the machines. So, in our modern world where everything is faster and more efficient, we find ourselves busier than ever, filling our days with multitasking, speed-reading, and then power-napping when we don’t have enough time to get a good night’s rest. Island time was seeping into my dreams and into my life as the summer waned and I learned to truly savor the simple pleasures of life on Hornby Island. A broadcast interrupted my stream of thought —
“This is Bobcat, coming to you on your FM dial from Community Hornby Friendly Radio.” Bobcat adjusted the faders on the aging audio equipment and transitioned to a James Brown song from a “60’s Soul Classics” disc. I began to see the slower pace of life manifest in the way his words meandered and paused reflexively, letting long silent gaps punctuate his narration.
The radio station was small — just a small room filled with radio transmitters and receivers, and a separate broadcast booth filled to the brim with old CD’s, tapes, and records. I sat down in the office chair next to Bobcat, leaned back and gazed up at the wall of music towering above me. I didn’t recognize most of the CD’s, but a few classic selections caught my eye. I pulled out Van Morrison’s “Moondance” album from off the shelf, remarking that I’ve been listening to that album since I was just a little kid; I used to wake up on Sunday mornings to my dad listening to music like Bob Marley, Van Morrison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, or John Hiatt.
“What’s your favorite track off that album?” He asks me.
I scan the track list. “And it stoned me”, “Moondance”, “Crazy Love”, “Caravan”, and “Into the Mystic”. That was the one.
“That’s my favorite Van Morrison tune,” I declared.
“Oh hell yes, that’s a classic.”
A few minutes later, he announces to his listeners that, coming up, is a tune by Van Morrison, by request. The intro piano begins, and I reel in the memories that this song conjures.
“Damn that sax player on this album is great,” I comment.
“That’s Van Morrison himself, he plays Sax, Piano, Guitar, and Harp.”
“Really? Wow, the guy was quite the jack of all trades.”
I kind of see myself like that. Jack of all trades, master of none. Though I’m shooting for master of one. I can’t decide what I want to play. So far, I’ve spent considerable amounts of time learning drums, piano, guitar, flute, and most recently, the xaphoon. Right now I have my flute with me, but only because I’m pretty decent on it, and most importantly, it’s portable. I often fantasize about my next living situation, how it will be a completely musical house. A baby grand piano to play on, and a household full of roommates whose idea of fun is to have rollicking jam sessions late into the night.
Suddenly, someone from the jam session nextdoor pops in.
“Hey Bobcat…” he begins, “and guest”, he adds as he sees me flipping through dusty records. “You want a beer?”
“Sure, pour it in here,” Bobcat responds as he hands him an empty cup.
I ask this guy what’s his name, and he tells me it’s Ron.
“What a coincidence. That’s my dad’s name.”
“Hey, you were that guy playing flute at the bakery last night,” he says.
“Yeah, that’s me.” I find it kind of nice how small the island is. On any given night, there might be one event, where most people who like to go out evenings end up congregating. It’s a small world, and a much, much smaller island.
“I don’t know how much longer we’re going to be playing, but you should bring your flute and come jam with us for a bit”
Isn’t that how life works? One thing just leads straight to another. I find this to be true in many areas of my life. So I went back to my camp site, grabbed my flute, and stopped in to jam for a bit. The dimly lit room was the headquarters of the ballpark, where there was a big open room, still somewhat under construction, a decently sized kitchen and shower facilities. I liked the hand-built feel to the building. It had character.
After five songs or so, and we ended the night on a good note. Everyone told me thanks for playing. It was a great way to end the night, I found myself buzzing with that unmistakable musical afterglow. I was glad to have been able to connect with more musicians without even trying.
As I returned to my camp, I was not surprised as my headlamp shone onto two white beads looking back at me; the deer in the headlight stared back for as long as I shone light on him. I continued mozying back to my tent and let the night fold over me as I slipped effortlessly into my cozy cocoon and fell into a deep sleep.
Later on that sunny Sunday, I sat on the co-op porch, soaking in the atmosphere of the community hub. It wasn’t before too long that the old man who gave me directions to the gravel pit wandered by. William, or “Bobcat”, as he called himself, was an ex-pat with a matted white beard and weathered, smokey hands. He had a weekly radio program on the once pirate, now legitimate local radio station (that only broadcasts far enough for one side of the island to tune in.) The station was built by volunteers, out of spare parts they had sitting in their garages. Curious to see what this local radio station was like, I asked if he minded me sitting in with him during his broadcast.
“Sure, any time. Come on in tomorrow night.”
“I just may do that,” I replied.
As he pulled out his leather tobacco pouch and rolled another cigarette, we got to talking about music. He’s a blues harp player, originally picked it up because it was the most portable instrument he could take with him on the road. I asked him where he was from, and he responded with his aged crackling voice, “the road”.
I mean, where are you really from? I asked.
“Originally? From the states. In the 70’s, I received a ticket to a jungle in the far east, complete with a free uniform and a license to kill. I said, hell, Canada is closer and I won’t be gettin’ shot at! After that, I never returned.”
I told him I was tempted to do the same with the way things were going inside our own borders.
“How is it possible for you to become a citizen if you ran away from your own country?” I asked. “Didn’t they come looking for you?”
“It took me 6 years. From ’70 to ’76 I dealt with the Canadian government to get my resident status. Finally, I was offered citizenship.”
I didn’t probe much further on how exactly he managed to get his resident status, but part of me was skeptical that the Canadian government would be that lenient with refugees nowadays.
“You see all the farms around here?” He asks me with an inquisitive expression.
“Farmers always need a hand. All you gotta do is tell them you’re there to help. They don’t care where you’re comin’ from or where you’re goin’. They’ll put you to work and you’ll be able to stay here.”
Part of me lit up with the wild idea that maybe I could do something like that. The idea of having dual citizenship really appeals to me, especially considering that in Canada, if I’m hit by a truck on the side of a road while I’m biking across the islands, my medical bills would be paid for, regardless of my employment status. I told Bobcat about my friend who is $20,000 in debt because he had appendicitis. What a raw deal. Get sick, go into debt. Great job, America.
“You see, here, we pay higher taxes, but we’re taken care of. You just don’t need to worry about medical expenses.”
He’s not kidding about the higher taxes. Here, they have recently shoved through legislation that combines two taxes into one super tax, called the Harmonized Sales Tax, or HST for short. Through the combined taxes, you will pay nearly 25% tax on all your purchases, including services such as hair cuts. Ouch. As I write this, citizens are fighting to repeal the increase on taxes.
“You know, tomorrow morning, the Hope Kitchen will be giving out free food. You should stop by”
I asked whether this was like Food Not Bombs.
“Sure, it’s similar to that. We make pickups from local farmers, and give out excess food to people who need it.”
“That’s awesome. Back in Portland, I was helping out with Food Not Bombs, helping cook and make pickups by bike trailer. We would go to the farmers markets and get loads of perfectly good food. It’s amazing how much food there is that otherwise goes to waste.”
Once when my dad called me, I was helping out in the kitchen, I told him about Food Not Bombs, he said it was “God’s Work” that I was doing. I just think everyone deserves to not go hungry when there is clearly enough food to go around.
“Well,” I began, “I’m going to go bike around some more. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Don’t forget, there’s music tonight at the bakery,” he added.
I wouldn’t forget. I brought my flute with me all this way, and i was going to see to it that I would play it alongside other musicians. Hopping onto my bike, I rolled on down a long gravel hill until I reached the ocean bay.
After exploring the beach some more, I decided to head back to camp to make sure my stuff was all still there and to get my flute ready for playing. It was always a gamble, sometimes I may find a way onto the stage to play, other times not, but I figured I would give it a shot.
A long bumpy ride up the hill, and I arrived at the cardboard house pizza shop and bakery, where there was a sitar player strumming hypnotically in front of a grassy hill full of people of all ages. Children were chasing each other underneath the apple and pear trees, while young parents chatted over piping-hot pizza. There were all sorts of interesting people, including a few older folks who were dressed like it was 1969. I was liking this place more by the minute. The first thing I did was assemble my flute, because I immediately knew what to play. I sat down nearby the stage and began to play, to see if the performing sitarist would notice. He seemed to acknowledge me, but I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to play. I walked up to the stage and asked him if he wanted me to play. He was kind of busy playing, so only had the time to utter something to the effect of, “Talk to me later…” So, I got a few slices of pizza and started chatting with the locals. I talked with a woman whose family goes back several generations on the island. She said her last name was Depape, which I thought was interesting, because that was the last name of my first girlfriend. She was amazed at such a coincidence. I’m not sure they were really related, though.
During the interlude, the sitar player told me he might be able to let me play at the end of the set.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I have a really good ear for music and should be able to jump right in.”
“We’ll see. It’s a gamble, but I’ll give you a chance.”
Not that I want any ego gratification out of performing, but I love proving myself if there’s any shadow of a doubt that I’m capable. I don’t need to rehearse before performing with a new group, unless it’s something with many quick key changes like modern jazz. But this was slow, relaxing music that would be easy to improvise on top of.
Patiently, I awaited my turn to step onto the stage. After the next 10 minute song, the sitar player nodded and asked if I wanted to come up.
“Sure!” I gleefully responded.
I got up on stage with my flute, and the music began softly, and I had to wait a minute before it seemed like a good time to drop in. Once the beat started, I chimed in with a few melodies, adding another layer of harmonies. We played for 15 minutes or so, and I thanked the guys and packed up my instrument. I was offered free pizza and a lemon tart, which I couldn’t say no to. And to my surprise, the sitar player dug a 20 dollar bill out of the tip jar and gave it to me.
“I can’t take that…” I said, knowing that he was soon to have a wedding with the mother of his 7 month old child.
“No, really, take it. You’re not even from this country!”
I didn’t know what being from the states had to do with accepting payment for playing flute for a few minutes, but I replied, “You’re very generous, thank you,” and I took the bill. It was a nice surprise to be initially met with skepticism and then rewarded with a little food and cash once I delivered a solid performance.
The more I decide to stop thinking and start acting, the more I realize I can never know what life will offer me — until I ask. As night creeped further upon us, the air grew chillier and I said farewell to the musicians. I rode my bike back light as a feather, without all the luggage, it felt like a speed racer. The cool summer evening air blew back my hair and I looked up at the moonless sky, the stars penetrated the atmosphere brighter than I’ve seen in a long time. Life was looking up, and I was beginning to fall in love with the island.