Thursday, July 23, 2015

Learning how to dwell

I have always been frustrated with how easily my stakes bend when planting them in hard ground. This time I finally realized: maybe they bend because on rough ground it really is better to peg your tent to a pair of tree trunks or other fixed objects. So I took my knife and shaved the bottom branches off a tree. In the middle of the clearing, there was a root sticking out on which to tie the other end.

I had modified my small environment in other ways: built a fire pit with rocks from the road, dragged deadfall for use as fuel and sacrificed a birch sapling for a staff as protection from wild animals. This is the only way humans can survive, really. It was quite a revelation really, wandering through that big woods. Why did I always have this impetus, this urge to wander into empty places, to seek the unknown, to find the most remote wilderness I can? Yet here I was and it was not what I expected.

The canopy closed in on me and while the terrain was steep, I was never afforded a view. Peering into the dense brush, I realized that were it not for the narrow trail on which I was walking and cycling, I wouldn't last three days, couldn't make it more than maybe ten kilometers in a day. There was nothing out here: just trees and bugs and about a thousand different ways to die. It was intensely claustrophobic. The wilderness deserves respect.

Travel, whether to remote wilderness areas or large cities, is so often cited as a means of opening the mind: to learn about new cultures, to explore different landscapes. I still remember, two years on during my second stay, walking around taking photos in the Bremen downtown. I felt that I was finally appreciating the full beauty of this city.

What if we travel, not to see new places, but to return to where we started and see it for the first time ever? What if we travel, not to learn how to move, but to learn how to dwell?

I also remember hanging my coat on the door in my room at a zero star hotel. The proprietor seemed nervous: this was Quebec and I had seen a lot of bikers--not the self-powered kind like me, but the one's with motors. The act seemed somehow symbolic: a gesture of both protection and trust. Here in this lonely clearing all I could do was arrange the fire, my staff and my tent in the shape of a triangle. Somehow that got me through the night.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


In that tiny clearing in the woods I lay in my tent. Had I push myself outside and stood up, as was my impulse, or even just poked my head out, I would have seen the vast expanse of stars. Now only visible, of course, in empty places like these. Instead, I just tossed and turned and listened to the wind.

I did not contemplate what brought me to the edge of this giant forest, now shaved and pockmarked by the clear-cutters. Those thoughts were passed, now supplanted by worries of attacks by bears or wolves as I always worried when sleeping alone in a tent in the middle of the woods. And the wind blew and blew and blew. A restless, wayward spirit. The scientist in me knows that it is simply the result of differential heating during the day, now being equalized through the motions of the air. But I cannot help, especially at times like these, hearing the work of spirits in the shifting winds rolling over the hills.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seeking the Source

It was a slightly boggy clearing, one where dear had gathered perhaps to drink or to feed.  Being late in September, it was almost silent of bird song and the bugs were few.  I rolled out my jacket with half an intention to eat, but really only one purpose in mind.

It was potent stuff.  The dope I'd scored, just by chance from a pair of youths.  One was walking towards me on the highway and stopped to ask if I'd recently passed a town or even just a dwelling.  They couldn't have picked a worse place to break down as I'd just cycled through the most remote stretch of highway yet.  The other was stationed by the car.  I had stopped to greet him and tell him the bad news then cycled on to discover a small group of houses less than a kilometre from the car.  So I had turned around.  The kid was baked.
An ATV trail ran up from the clearing into the hills.  I strolled up it while inhaling the acrid smoke.

Silence.  It was delicious.  After the constant din along the highway even more so.  It wasn't just the traffic noise that missing, but the sound of lawn implements, construction noises and the omni-present jet plane.  Was that the only reason that I had come here?  I concluded that it was.

I soon grew anxious.  I dared not stray too far from the bike as my saddle bags were loaded down with food and there might be wild animals about.  The thought would prove prophetic. IMGP1252

Friday, March 14, 2014

The First Thread

Sometimes you just have to walk.  And sometimes, what you find on you sojourn isn't pretty.  In this case, a giant, industrial-looking dam(n) dominating the river.  I don't remember seeing it the last three times I'd been here.  Perhaps this was the reason for the tears.  The ones I'd been choking back the last three night and now, lying in my tent.

Tears aren't my normal response to seeing such a monstrosity: disgust, nausea, even.  But in retrospect, tears are most appropriate.  I don't linger long; there is, after all, a journey to feed.  I just wish I had brought my camera to record the crime.

I take refuge from the early morning fog in a Tim Horton's where I feast on a fat- and salt-laden breakfast and watch a spider crawl up the other side of the booth from my jacket.  Was this the same spider I caught spinning in my campsite?  Quite a ride for a spider: like me travelling to the Antarctic.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Friday, July 20, 2012

Vive le Quebec!

It's been a few weeks since I finished the tour, but I still think it's worth sharing some of my experiences.  One thing about the tour that stands out a lot is how beautiful the province of Quebec is.  I think it's also under-appreciated by the rest of Canada because they're afraid to immerse themselves in French language and French culture and/or they are biased against the Quebecois.  I'm OK with that--it means I can keep it as my own little secret, as I am content to struggle along in my broken, highschool French.

Yeah, Quebec is almost like its own little country, with its casse croutes, dairy bars and insanely fast drivers.  Some of the backroads were pretty badly surfaced and there were a lot of really steep hills.  But that just added to the charm... (also, those flies... !)

For more beautiful pictures from La Belle Provence, check out my Flickr page:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Life's a Beach

I found this secluded beach on the N. shore of the St. Laurent. Looks idyllic, eh?  If you don't mind walking the rest of the day with cement overshoes...

Lets give this another try.  Here's a pretty beach.

Here's a nice place to make a fire.  Wonder why no one else has discovered this place yet?  Maybe if I play some guitar I can attract some others.  It'll be just like Wreck Beach in Van!

Nighttime.  Time to settle down in my tent and listen to the sounds of the sea.

Ahhhh...  the sounds of the sea.  Errrr, the sounds of the sea.  Perhaps a bit too close...
(It's hard to see in the photo, but the water is only about two feet from the tent.)

1:00 AM, the tides moving out again, I can stop pulling my tent back.  I'll just pin it between these three rocks and settle down for a nice sleep.  At least until 6:00 AM when the tide's back out again...

At least I get to see the sun rise!