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.

Awesome.

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.

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