Archive for June, 2010

June 25, 2010

Smuggler’s Diarrhea: Sailor Jerry [47%] goes to Newfoundland

On a Tuesday night Johno and I are in the garage and we’re packing frantically. Wheels are removed, handlebars twisted, axles taken out and taped to the top tubes. Sailor Jerry [47%] sits in the corner till I remember him.
“What do you think?” I ask Johno.
“Well… Yeah, that too I guess.”
There’s only one way to find out. Sailor Jerry leaves his labelled home and finds himself in a water bottle which sits on the bike frame.
At the airport they check your oversized luggage. We came way earlier than we had to, which was both unnecessary and very surprising but a damn good start to the enterprise.
“Liquid?” The lady asks. She’s ripping open the bike box and wading through the storm of old newspapers.
“No,” I say, “Of course not.”
The lady’s from Tanzania.
“I just read Green Hills of Africa,” I say, and she gives me a blank look.
The bikes go through and vanish on a conveyor belt.
“And that’s the last we see of them,” I tell Johno. Maybe Sailor Jerry will keep them safe.
The saddle bags have to go in as well. I brought the army duffel and Johno had two of his bags taped to make them one, but that didn’t fly with the staff so we had to cram one into the carry-all that had already been weighed. When I went to pick it up I knew right away that it was overweight, and that’s the wild yarn of how Johno and I went head over heels to screw West-Jet out of money. Take that Luggage Specifications! Don’t mess with cyclists!
Two sets of parents, a sister or two and one girlfriend [Tammy, who belongs to Johno – watch it, she’s a cop] are waiting to say goodbye. There’s that usual small awkwardness and a few pictures quickly become mandatory. I hug everyone and dad does the brushing-of-the-beard-against-my-face-thing, which maybe he doesn’t even notice but I always do.
At 2200 I go through security and Tammy and Johno whisper secret things to teach other.
Now we’re on our own. The plane leaves for T-dot at 2300.

The bike trip had become solid theory by December 2009. Before that there had always been the light-bulb in the back of my mind that one day i would bike across Canada. I hadn’t been thinking about it. It was just something I knew would happen.
Johno and I, buddies that we are, had been making emails back and forth a bit about the daily life in our respective environments. Most of the typing I did was done on thirty second time limits from a sea-container with internet at the Forward Operating Base.
One day I smashed out an impulse I’d had about heading off at the end of tour to properly see Europe. In the second paragraph I said something about girls and spreading our seed in twenty-six countries [I didn’t know how many countries Europe has, it was completely random]. The idea just came out and obviously Johno’s Tammy got a hold of this and put her foot down about overseas being a no-go unless she was coming too. So Europe was off, at least if Johno had anything to do with it.

For a few days I walked around and chewed on ideas, not always easy when you’re also whatching where your feet are going so they don’t get blown off. What about a bike trip? That sounded excellent and sometime after midnight the email was drafted.
Approval showed up shortly. Apparently Tammy, I mean Johno, thought it was a great idea.
That was all it took. From then on our emails revolved around the trip. Johno got his arse in gear and did some notable research, looked at maps, and trawled forums and blogs for ideas. He kept sending me links about the next best thing, which I never checked cause our connection was so damn slow.
In April the bike was bought. I simply gave approval and then transferred the money. I’d even been shopping around a bit for those bikes you peddle with your arms, just in case I got a leg blown off. It was a strange and character building internet-window-shopping experience.

We waited in Toronto, then Halifax and landed in St John’ s at 1330. It took three hours to get the bikes together and get some food down the pipes. After that we zipped down to Memorial University in three minutes flat.
The slow-eyed stoner chick behind the desk at Hatcher House, Kayla, was the same from last August when Natty and I were here, and she gave us a bangin’ deal on a room where we could lock up our stuff, then go sniff around town a bit, hit a grocery store fro dinner and make some plans for tomorrow.
That was an early crash night.
The plan had been to hit George St. and paint the town red but it never came out that way. We just weren’t on the ball enough and had been awake for too long in a sloth-like state to do anything worth the mention. Gotta love plane rides.
I tried to write in the journal a bit since I was 20 days behind and according to it, still on the North Coast Trail [key words and numbers scribbled in a Rite-In-The-Rain keep my memory up when days turn into nights turn into days and the writing shuts down for a bit] but I kept sagging on the desk and the pen would run off and leave endless lines of charming scribble. I never sleep long enough, but that was eleven excellent hours that I’ll never forget not remembering.

June 24, 2010

Japan to Van to Paris, possibly

A week after you’re home you’re walking in the lime-green rain forest with Natty, the ex. This is northern

Vancouver Island. When you’re not waking up to the rain on the tent fly, it’s brown and yellow light from

the sun, and the sound of the sea on the white beach which is totally empty. Not a damn soul walking their dog. Fiddle with the VHF you rented and all you get from civvy-side is a grainy weather report.


This backpack your hiking with for a week is lighter than the basic chest-rig that you carried overseas. And that was just water and ammo and night-vision.

You hike hard for six days, Cape Scott to Shushartie Bay which means sore knees and bear scat, the smell of fire, and a blackened pot that you wash in the waves. You see fo

ur or five groups and that’s it. The West Coast Trail is remembered as a tourist trap.

one of our cloudless evenings on the trail

At the second last camp you find an old Japanese buoy. This thing is made entirely of glass and it came all the way across the Pacific and ended up here still intact. That night you camp with some boys out of Calgary which is good since the waters around Natty are getting a bit choppy. Its been a while since you guys were alone like this for so long.

One of the Calgary boys, an autobody-man of maybe forty-five, looks at this Japanese buoy and claims that a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-cousin told him these can be worth ten grand or so, and all you can do is laugh when he burns food and clothing to get it into his 80-litre MEC pack. The best part is, a week later Natty sends you a link to E-bay where this junk is selling for 24.99.

At least the Calgary boy got himself a good garden ornament.

When the trail’s done the water taxi drops you in Port Hardy and the two of you hitchhike home past the sign that says, ‘ no hitchhiking, pickup is illegal,’ and the roofer, then the Indian guy that scoops you up in Courtney [as we were running to cross the intersection and before the thumbs even came out] both shrug and laugh quietly to themselves as if it’s all a big crime.

Now you party for a bit. To the bars, to downtown, to the beach. You and AJ hit Lolla’s and the Roxy and maybe the Penthouse. Twice in two hours you get this close to knocking some heads but explanations are found, drinks bought, and everything is good.

One time, two or three hours past midnight, your best buddy James hits the floor after way to many. Wham, just like that. That was right after it came out that you’ve sometimes maybe had eyes for his sister. You’d started the night with a litre each of Howe Sound brew over a chess game which he won, then moved on to the Dunbar and the Cheshire Cheese, tame places both, but good for conversation. At the Chesh there’s a cutie called Natalie [and you winced the first time you got her name] who runs the bar, and she was gracious to let the boys stay after they closed. She even remembered you from right before you left in Sept,when your hair was freshly cut short, and she asks how it went. You just say it was hot, which is true.

In the morning you phone James. There had been a brilliant idea to have a greasy breakfast at the Cozy Inn and it was totally unsurprising when he turned out to be a no-show.

“He’s not as hardened as you Max,” his mom says in gentle reproach, and you say “Yeah right, he’s in uni, he should be good at this.” and laugh, and then make your excuses and hang-up. At least you got the poor guy home alive.

You meet one chick, then another. One name starts with A, then another with C and the third one that week is an I. Dancing ensues. So far so good.

Time is going by way too fast. Johno is ready and waiting to leave and all you’re doing is running around having a good time [not a long time], not even thinking about this trip yet,’cause why should we think of the future when all we really have is the now’. Phone calls and emails. A meeting with a journalist to talk about a story, and beers with another who you met overseas. It was fun to just talk with someone who’d been there instead of answering all the same old questions [ did you kill anyone?]. By the way, the gal tending bar at Dentry’s is named Sarah, and she makes the place a damn good spot to meet up.

Later you paddle with mom in Indian Arm to the house of an eccentric old lady who weaves rugs out of cat hair. Her name is Katarina. That was right after the day Phil phoned. Phil is at UBC and has talked himself into a wicked part-time job taking a bunch of Indian engineering students out and showing them what ‘Canadian’ means. That Saturday you bring them out in the canoes down at Jericho and out of thirty, only seven get saturated. On Wednesday to Thursday after endless trips to MEC and a lot of clever scheming, you and Johno finally get together and do a hard push to Whistler and back on the brand new touring bikes [Surly Long-Haul Truckers]. Stealth camp behind the community centre, budget-on-a-budget style. Next weekend is a random road trip to Gibsons with Natty and a savage game of pick-up soccer happens on Locarno the night of your return. An episode involving police also occurs, but a bit of distance is necessary before getting into it.

Close to the end, which is just another beginning, you hang out with a nice girl who you’ve known about for years but really just met for the first time. Its a windless day, kayaks are rented at the sailing centre, and before you know it you’ve paddled out to an anchored freighter. The dinosaur is so close you can touch it with your paddle and feel the vibrations of its heart, and the water around it trembles.

From the high deck an Asian guy waves at the two of you while his buddies behind him are working on something and the ship is so tall that his face is barely visible. For a little while afterwards you and Gip [girl-identity-protected] float gently on the agreeable incoming tide and talk about water, how weird it is to be on the surface of something so deep, how you don’t know what’s under you. It’s not just a physical thing, like maybe there’s something spiritual to it, or at least in our minds when we think about it. You don’t come to any conclusions, but together decide that whatever this is you’re are talking about, you’re both thinking the same thing even if it’s hard to express.

Dinner is Nachos on an old wooden balcony that overlooks English Bay and that night this same duo is sitting on Wreck Beach by a fire, and the dark sky is quiet and perfect. You and Gip talk about everything and nothing, which would be corny to say if it wasn’t just plain true. It has to do with her cute, curling accent. You don’t want it to stop, so you keep her talking.

This accent, it makes you think of life in other places. It’s not a French accent, but she talks to you about one time when she went there, and your mind goes to cobble-stones and fireworks and sidewalk cafes, and foreign crowds pressed together, long porte-cigarrettes, frock coats, and the Eiffel tower in silhouette.

The air is warm. There’s only one more party down here and you don’t even think about them. You sit on the blanket and drink the spiced rum and look at the black sky, and all you can see are the blinking eyes of satellites and the stock-still stars.

June 24, 2010

Desert to the Med, then home to Van

  • West of Kandahar

    This is how it goes: One day you’re walking in the desert with a machine gun. You pass through villages and fields and cute kids with bad teeth smile and yell “Kalam! Kalam!”, or “Biscor!”.

“Nezda biscor!” you say to them, and maybe an older boy picks up a rock and you throw one back at him. The kids here throw rocks way better that any of you army guys, but its all a game anyway, usually. One or two kids even remember your name. Whenever the column stops the kids crowd around you and you talk to them, maybe kick a rock with them since they’re so damn poor they don;t even have balls. Even kids in Africa all have soccer balls, but not these Afghan ones.
Sometimes these kids catch a glimpse of blonde arm hairs between the black gloves and cuff of your OTW shirt. They pull at the blonde hairs with their fingers and talk quietly together in Pashto. One or two of the boys, maybe four and five years old, don’t care about you arm hairs. They’re looking at the gun. Your talking to all these kids, watching your arcs as well, kicking the rock, and keeping your hand well over the trigger-mec and safety. They run their fingers along the barrel and try to turn the flashlight on, and maybe they tap the Pac-4 and say ‘lazer’, one of the only English words they know.
“Yeah it’s a lazer,” You say. Then one of them sees your watch and goes crazy, wants to trade something, and you’d give it to him in a second but it’s your watch and you need it, and where would you get another one?
One time you trade your seven dollar imitation Spyder-Co for a crappy bone handled jack-knife a million years old, just to encourage the kid.
In an alley you meet a motorbike and the guy stops and you get him to turn the engine off. His wife is on the back and all you see of her is the square of mesh in front of the eyes and the long blue burkha that hangs all the way past her ankles. You haven’t seen a girl your own age in four months, except through a spotting scope perhaps, when they’re walking along with their kids four hundred meters away and don’t know that you’re watching them. When they’re walking alone like that, away from men, they fold the burkhas back and let hem hang like a cape.
“Hey, that one’s alright,” Razz would mutter, and you’d shove him and say “Let me look!”
The guy on the motorbike gets off and walks towards you and you stretch your arms demonstratively out like a cross, the gun hanging from your neck on its rope-lengthened sling.
Everyone knows the drill around here and you search him quickly and all he has is a cellphone and a tin of the green granular chew and some prayer beads in the pocket of his vest. The 2IC, Ropert, has your back, so it’s safe to walk past this guy now. It probably would be anyway, but you never know. The girl is still on the motorbike and you feel like a total ass-hole when you can’t even look her in the face and you simply make a motion with your hand that she should get off the bike for a sec. You don’t say a word to her. Truth is, for all you know it could be a guy hiding under that burkha. Custom and culture can be excellent shields.
She moves to the side of the road about five meters back and stands motionless.
The bike seat is covered in lamb-skin and on the back there’s an old yellow vegetable-oil jug full of milk. Good to go.
You motion to the man and say “Mananah,” and on the second kick the Honda fires up and the couple drives past you.
Ropert already passed it on that there’s a motorbike coming up the line and they’ve been searched. At the front they’ve finished talking to an elder and the patrol carries on.
You walk again, through villages, and pass long mud walls into adjacent fields where opium poppies catch in the weapon’s bi-pod and are torn off at their stems to hang stoically. Families are working in the field and they look at you and some of them wave, and the boys your age give you a hard look and maybe laugh and talk loudly with each other in Pashto, or run their fingers along their throats just like you would do if soldiers came to your country. Some of the old men smile and stop to talk.
“Salam-alay-cum,” you say, or sometimes you just look them in the eyes and nod.
Those are the good days: When nothing is found and nothing explodes.

Now. Fast forward.
Take a Globemaster out of Kandahar at 0300. Land in UAE and transfer to Ryan Air. Arrive Cyprus. Wake up on the fourth story hotel balcony. You’re sitting in a wicker chair and on your lips there’s the black and white memory of a nice Russian chick, blonde obviously. Sambuca and absinthe is stagnating in your mouth and a song from last night is still playing softly in your head. At the free breakfast downstairs you’ll still be humming it and shortly after that, somewhere between here and the small pebbly beach it’ll be totally forgotten.
The soft breeze from the med sweeps the skin on your shoulders and behind you the curtain rises on tippy-toes and tries to inch away. On the three balconies below you a mess of sword-fish [not yours] that we ate by the harbour lies splattered. Woody was passed out naked in the bathroom and you tripped on him when you came in after sneaking past the security cameras via an unlocked fire escape. On the manicured lawn there’s a long strip of white toilet paper, just like that tail that latches on to your shoe if you don’t watch out.

UNESCO World Heritage Site, Paphos, Cyprus. A glimpse of daylight between swordfish, sambuca and karaoke

Four days vanish and then another plane ride. Forty minutes to re-fuel in Toulouse, France. They could only get away with keeping us on here because we’re soldiers. I’m not an expert, but re-fuelling an air-plane full of people must violate some kind of law somewhere, must it not? Whatever. No biggy.
Want to hear a funny story? My buddy Cash was on his way home from his first tour two years ago, and suddenly, mid-air the plane lost power. All the lights went out and they began to sink and a few people panicked. How shitty would it be to crash on the way home? Out of the sandbox and into the Atlantic.
Turns out they got struck by lightning, apparently a common thing on aircraft. The power turned back on and an announcement was made and that was it.

Thirty hours later you land in Trenton, then Ottawa, then Edmonton. In Ed, before you disembark they announce that a guy still overseas just got killed. You recognize the name and know that you had a conversation with him once, about two month ago, when the convoy came by a base one night to drop off some American Seabees. These things happen.
Now that you’re almost there, spend some hours in Ed doing paperwork that could’ve been finished before you even got there.
And then, finally, home to Van.
You walk through the terminal in your desert uniform and families are there to greet you. That night, BBQ on the beach and swim in the cold Pacific. That’s when you can really let out your breath. Anything that kills you now had nothing to do with the last seven month. A bit like T.E. Lawrence biting it on a motorcycle after blowing up his trains.

June 15, 2010

If you don’t dance, don’t criticize

Life is too short for TV

First of all, you’ll never get the whole story. If you really wanted it you could always try looking up the ex girlfriend[s], but the truth is, none of them have it either. So if you want an explanation, your not going to get one. This is all you get. This blog called No Safety Net. If you find something you really dislike, consider it fiction [particularly if we’re related somehow]. Otherwise, enjoy my life.

At this point I could leave you hanging, but you caught me on a good night, so here we go, I’ll spill a few beans.

I was born in Vancouver BC. My favourite colour is green. One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting kicked out of high-school. I graduated of course, on time and everything, but i spent a good year or two unconfined to the classroom and wonderfully exposed to real life. Another good thing that happened was when all my worldly goods got stolen during an enterprise in the States. But i wont go into that either.

right now I’m 22. At this exact moment [15/06/10 at 20:06.37, Tuesday] I’m stranded by bad weather in a tiny town called Badger in NL. That’s right outside of Grand Falls-Windsor.

We’re all part of a big picture, am I right? We don’t always see it, but we are.

My 22 years have been fairly full. I’m actually a bit surprised that I’ve made it this far, but there you go.

A few of life’s tricks on or at me have included hunger, homelessness, escape, rebellion, broken bones, exposure to death, vehicle roll-over, falling through ice, world travel, fist-fighting, scotch and water, hunting, power outages, helicopters, canoeing and war. I was even in love once [her name is Ashley] but the relationship had a seizure and died, and later we resurrected it as a friendship.

Social life and harmless [usually] romance also has a big part. There are many beautiful things in life and on of those is looking into the eyes of a girl you’ve just met and feeling as though you’ve known her for a long time.

Here are some key ideas you can know about me. This is not the be all and end all. But you get a picture [not ‘the’ but ‘a’].

Jobs have included but are not limited to:

Soldiering, ski patrolling, line-cooking, bouncing, furniture-moving, landscaping, exterminating, renovating, roofing, framing, siding, dish-washing and demolition.

What else? When I was 16-18 some cops knew me by name, but a list of crimes on a blog might be one of those dumb internet gags that people read about and laugh, kind of like those guys who shot ducks out of season in Saskatchewan and put it on YouTube.

Travel includes excursions in Asia, Europe and N. America. I tend to measure the spread of my wings by bodies of water that I’ve swam in [Gulf of Oman, Baltic, The Med, The Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific [South Japan and the West Coast], The strait of Belle Isle and Lake Louise, to name a few. Also some ice-covered tarns and several vicious rivers.

Various adventurous times have been had on the North and West Coast trails and the Chilcoot Pass, the Yukon river, the Fraser, and roads like the Dempster [which leads to Innuvik] and Top Of The World and Alaska Highways. I’ve slept on the beach in San Diego and tented by the shore at Blanc-Sablon in Northern Quebec. America has been hitchhiked and Japan has been seen from the bullet train. In the gray, pre-dawn light I’ve gone boots-on-the-ground beneath chopper rotors in southern Afghanistan, and during road trips to Tofino I’ve fallen asleep against the cold passenger-side window.

Pet peeves are:

-people who are afraid of everything [sunburns, bugs, cold, change, etc]

-people who walk around with their backpacks wide open.

-gutless non-dancers who criticize those who suck but do it anyways.

I believe:

The clock is ticking. Live your life while you still have it. Too many people out there are completely unaware of their own mortality. They know, but don’t know at the same time, that one day they will die. And as soon as you figure that one out, priorities clarify.

If you want something, like an internet blog for instance, go get it, or make it, whatever.

I like [lots of things]: Wool, adrenaline, dancing, wind

Dislike: Delicate zippers, complainers, Presta valves on bicycle inner-tubes, idealists.

Anyway. I started this blog because I’m on a bike trip across Canada. One adventure ended and another began. But the blog probably wont end with the bike trip.