An older man travels over sea and land in quest of new adventures
Author: Fred Bailey
Fred is a slightly-past middle age sailor /, writer / photographer with plenty of eclectic hands-on skills and experiences. Some would describe him as the old hippy who doesn't know the war is over. He is certainly reluctant to grow up and readily admits to being the eternal dreamer.
He has written several books including two novels, 'The Keeper' and 'Storm Ecstasy,' as well as 'The Water Rushing By', 'Sins Of The Fathers', 'The Magic Stick', as well as an extensive inventory of poetry, essays, short stories, anecdotes and photographs.
His first passion is the ocean, sailboats, voyaging and all those people who are similarly drawn to the sea. He lived aboard and extensively cruised the BC Coast on 'Seafire' the boat he refitted to go voyaging, to explore new horizons both inner and outer. This blog was about that journey and the preparations for it. Circumstances prevailed which forced the sale of his beloved vessel. Now on a different tack, the voyage continues. If you follow this blog your interest may provide some of the energy that helps fuel the journey.
Namaste Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With technical difficulties behind I’ll try posting another short blog and hope for the best. This is a tribute to all the motorheads out there. These are folks whose passions lay with vehicles and where their particular tastes may take them. I make my living twisting wrenches and care only about travelling safely from A to B. Other people see vehicles as an art form and turn the mundane into the beautiful. Enough said. These photos were taken within an hour on a very hot Saturday afternoon in the parking lot of the Jaffray Pub. So hot in fact that my mobile phone/camera refused to work, displaying a message about being overheated and refusing to take more photos. Really!
I’m writing in the cool of dawn before another work day. The air is smoky and dust-filled. It is choking me. Water bombers orbited above us yesterday tending to a blaze a few miles south. It was probably ignited during the previous night’s thunderstorms. There is a weary hush outside. A robin and then a raven call mournfully. The only other sound is the white noise of my neighbour’s incessant air conditioner. There’s another long day ahead.
“Sometimes you just have to jump in a mud puddle because it’s there. Never get so old that you forget about having fun.”
For some reason not all of my subscribers received the photographs posted with the last blog. I’ve checked it out with Word Press, everything is apparently fine. I cannot explain what gremlin in cyber space decided to interfere with my humble efforts.
Thank goodness we no longer have to wear face masks although the heat and dust remain oppressive. There was one photo I missed posting last blog so here it is and please, please let me know if it does not appear. Stay cool.
After a reluctant spring, summer descended like a squadron of dive bombers. We were obliterated. Even my young co-workers staggered about panting. Those working on the docks easily burned from the sun’s reflection on the mirror-calm lake surface as if they were in a micro wave. We were being nuked. Temperatures hovered around and above forty degrees Celsius. I found myself sitting in the emergency ward of the hospital in Cranbrook for seven hours when I thought I was exhibiting a few stroke-like symptoms. I waited that long because ambulances were arriving almost bumper to bumper with heart attack victims due to the heat. I was told, after a series of tests, that I was working too hard in the heat. I knew that. But there’s no fool like an old fool.
Tonight I’m sitting outside of my camper in a sultry wind blowing off the lake. Temperatures have plummeted down to the mid thirties. It feels chilly. The tree tops roar like surf and dust blows past in swirls. I’m loving it. There is always a patina of dust on everything and I remind myself that life in the desert is just like this. Repairs to the camper have stalled, I’ve been too exhausted to do much with my evenings except wait for the temperature to cool enough for sleep and consume every sort of fluid available. And so the summer passes at the moment, one weary day after another. Visitors I was looking forward to seeing are cancelling for various reasons and frankly I am feeling quite low about life in general. This too shall pass.
One of my bemusements here are the folks who come to enjoy the new water park. It opened on July 1st. My employer purchased an inflatable world from a Chinese (of course) manufacturer which was then held up in customs for almost two months. There was much puzzling and re-anchoring and inflating but it finally came together. Skeptical at first I am now amazed. From toddlers in diapers through amazingly obese human apparitions to geriatrics barely capable of walking on solid ground, these folks clamber, crawl, slither and roll along these inflatable floating obstacle courses. They squeal and scream and squeak in a cacophony of unbridled joy. Most are not confident swimmers so they are provided with life jackets. It is delightful to watch as even elderly folks become children again. The old adage about the best amusements being simple things proves itself true.
I can also see that a thriving future business will be tattoo removal. Good grief! Don’t folks realize that those beautifully crafted flowers, dragons, tigers and graphic fantasies will evolve as time goes by. When their skin sags, wattles and wrinkles those tattoos will slowly evolve into abstract patterns and more closely resemble street maps of places like Moscow. Then there are the thong-string bikinis which do nothing erotic or tantalizing fopr the wearer or the observer. Pockety alabaster mounds (both genders) balumping down the dock only confirm statistics about rising Canadian obesity. Clearly this old fart, who is in no way a prude, is missing something about contemporary physical appeals. “Shake it up baby.” What’s white and red and squeals when it gets near water? A Canadian.
By the end of the day some of these creatures have turned a vicious fluorescent pink. They plod up a very steep hill to a dusty yard where their cars are parked with blast furnace temperatures inside. They drive for at least an hour to get anywhere back out toward their world yet next day there are more folks squealing and pink. Word of mouth is an ultimate marketing tool and clearly folks are very happy. Meanwhile the fleet of rental houseboats comes and goes as ever more folks enjoy a unique vacation. I am amazed at how my employers saw this opportunity and have made it work so well. All things are possible.
“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.” – Hans Christian Andersen
On the exact day of my sixteenth birthday I took my driver’s exam. I failed. No one ever made it through their first attempt. As soon as possible I took the test again and passed. A friend of a friend loaned me their car, a shining three-year old 1965 cream-coloured Plymouth Belvedere. I remember it clearly. It was beautiful. I already had a car of my own, a 1957 Vauxhall Victor. It was a piece of crap the day it was built and it was a worn and rusted-out old junker when I bought it. I recall that the fenders were rusted through along the sides of the engine hood. The gaps had been filled with steel wool then slathered over with body filler. The whole car was patched like that but it was my first car and I doctored it with deep pride toward the day when I could drive it legally.
The day my driver’s license arrived, in the mail, I loaded the car with my friends and we went for a tour. We had only one bottle of beer between us so we had to pretend to be drunk. That night I wiped out ninety feet of chain link fence and destroyed the car. It was probably the best thing that happened to me. I never forgot the price of a moment’s stupidity. I paid for fence repairs which cost more than the ninety dollar price of the car. I then managed to find another Vauxhall for twenty-five dollars. I already had spare parts. Eventually I had owned a long line of tired old British cars. Most required pumping the brakes vigorously for every stop and often I carried a bucket of used motor oil in the trunk to top up the weary old motors. I worked in a service station so old oil and used tires were always available. To this day, the scent of an oil-burning engine instantly produces waves of nostalgia. But I haven’t had any serious accidents despite a life time driving long distances for business. That has a much to do with good luck as anything else but maybe I learned something that first night on the road.
My first American car was a Buick. It had power brakes. Set belts were still an option and I firmly planted more than one friend against the dashboard with my old habit of pumping the brake pedal. It was also the first vehicle I owned without a hole rusted through the floor. I traded that vehicle off for a 1952 Studebaker pickup truck which had been partially customized with a monster engine and big wheels. I regret ever parting with it and here I am, fifty years later, still buying rusty old trucks. My latest acquisition is a 1995 Ford F-350 diesel crew cab pickup. The thing has the size and smell of a small locomotive. It carries an old Bigfoot fiberglass camper which is the whole point of this endeavour. The vehicle requires a government safety inspection before it can be registered and so the camper needed to be removed. It is a very tight fit and once again there was a dilemma which required some help.
The jacks which lift the camper up for removal and installation need to have the bases rebuilt. The bases were clearly not intended for repeated use. Once again I have another old camper to refit with several projects ahead. The truck is mechanically sound but looks rough which, with the old camper, is perfect for travelling the back roads of the Southwest and Mexico. New trucks and campers are very nice but can easily cost up to two hundred thousand Canadian dollars and all that shininess screams come and rip me off. My rig will fit in with the folks I like to meet. If the camper proves sound enough I’d like to reinstall it on a new 4×4 industrial truck and deck. For the moment, I’m plenty happy to call this my summer home. I’m living in a very inviting piece of the world and I’ll want to do more than spend the whole summer tinkering after days at work tinkering. The lake is rising, the townies are arriving and personal free time is precious.
I’ve been working every day of the week and summer has arrived. It can be bloody hot here especially when there is no breath of wind. Working in the heat and vacationing in it are two different experiences. The temperature inside the camper is still in the mid-thirties at eight pm. I’ve installed some wonderful little fans and this country does cool off nicely once the sun goes down.
A few days further along and finally the old Ford truck is registered into my name and all the convoluted paper work is behind. After two weeks I have wheels again. Whohaa! Now I have to sort out all the new old truck repair issues which are not overwhelming. Hopefully in a few more days work will settle down to a steady dull roar and there will be some regular leisure days to explore in the surrounding woods and out on the lake. Local temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-thirties every day. I’ll have to learn to deal with sweat in my eyes with a background of happy holidayers and their squealing children. It always pisses me off to endure folks on vacation while I am at work but that is reality. I remind myself that the average Mexican, in example of many countries, does not even have the luxury of imagining a vacation. We are blessed in our corner of the world beyond our comprehension. We even have the option of living in a tent and sleeping on the ground all year round. Not all in our country have that choice. Without our ability to make choices, not much is fun.
“ I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.” -Bill Bryson
It is one of those mornings when I am nursing a last coffee and dawdling away the last few minutes before the day’s work begins. I’ve got four projects on the go right now and I have no enthusiasm for anything. It’s just one of those days. I do understand how blessed I am to be here. I certainly miss the ocean but this country is a bit of paradise. Despite the reluctant spring weather I can think of many other places I’d rather not be. I don’t ever watch the news out here so I miss all the graphic information about the miseries around the world. An ad on YouTube extolled the wonders of a “Better butter spreader.” Really? Then there was one about how to shave and deodorize your “Man Meat.” Geez Louise! Of course I could settle for a five thousand dollar surveillance drone for only $125. Yep, I’ll just stay content in my cocoon of ignorance. Yet I can’t seem to leap into this day singing “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I know in my heart that it has to do with getting older and I left my bunny slippers at home.
Meanwhile the lake is rising (21” yesterday) and everyone is working frantically toward the day when the houseboats are all launched and paying charter customers begin to arrive. Some are here already. One woman declared her entitlement to the washing machine because she “pays” to be here and I could “go over there”. Uhuh. Oh the answers that I choked back! Today’s temperatures are forecast to rise into the mid-thirties again and so late spring is upon us. The sun is merciless and when there is no wind even the young folk complain. As well as the dust we now have billows of thick yellow pine pollen to endure. I keep the vents on the camper closed but still there seems to be drifts of the insidious powder everywhere. When I returned after work today the butter had begun to turn to ghee. The temperature inside was in the mid thirties. A sailing friend once advised me to sail due south until the butter melted and turn left. Hmmm. Have I arrived?
I get away into the backwoods whenever I can. Spring is now in full bloom here. It is reluctant and subtle, quite unlike the boisterous explosion of colour which occurs on the coast many months earlier. The call of birds and open verdant meadows filled with fragile flowers offer a profound gentle beauty in what is a second spring for me this year. No complaints. The deer have suddenly disappeared although I see fresh tracks in the morning dust. I expect to soon see them with tiny spotted fawns close by their sides. One camera with a gawdumpous big lens sits waiting.
I’m without a vehicle at the moment. My old truck and camper sold to some very nice ladies and I’m now preparing my new old truck for the road ahead. It has to be inspected before it can be licensed so I have to build bits in order to extract it from beneath my new old camper. There are no dull moments in this peaceful country. Fatigue is a constant for this old fart but it’s all good. I’ll be tanned and acclimatized for a winter in Mexico. Mucho Gusto!
It has been over a month since I arrived and unloaded my tools. Already! I set up camp and named it Fredville, then moved another one hundred metres to a better site. That involved nearly losing my old camper. It had to be raised to move the truck back underneath. Extended to the top of their travel, the four spindly jacks began to bend as one leg gave way, probably because of the powdery silt everything sits on here. For a few minutes the wobbling apparition looked a bit like an odd dog trying to pee with one hind leg in the air. Fortunately all’s well that ends. With some quick and adroit help the camper survived unscathed. I was amazed that the corners had not torn out of the camper under the extreme abuse. A thorough inspection reveal only minor repairs were required. She’s one tough old box!
My move was also into a new (to me) old camper and truck, much bigger and with more conveniences, like a bathroom. Yep it’s fixity fix all over again. However, I can see this camper on a newer truck eventually and the old Ford diesel truck presently under it has some life in her yet. She’s also the perfect vehicle for Mexico, nothing sexy about it to scream “Shiny Uppity Gringo.” So life progresses and I don’t have to go outside to change my mind anymore. Of course I already need a little more space but a regular workaday life would have been nearly impossible in the smaller unit which is now for sale. Wonderfully there have been many happy moments crammed (I guess that’s a pun) into the short time I’ve had it.
Spring has finally arrived here. We haven’t had a frost for two weeks. The alder trees burst into leaf and then one day the Tamarack, otherwise known as Larch, have suddenly burst into a full rich chlorophyll green. No longer black in their winter nudity the next transformation will come in autumn when the needles will turn a wonderful golden colour. That is a time of year when the sky is a special deep blue, an incredible contrast above the larch needles and capped with the shivery sound of bugling bull elk. But now it is spring becoming summer here among the mountains. It’s best to pay attention because it all goes very quickly.
While working I lifted far too much weight in a moment of foolishness and blew out my old back. I could barely walk. Through a friend I was referred to a local man who describes himself as an Osteopathic Practitioner. I will only say that he fixed my back through an interesting process completely new to me and suggested ideas that other doctors have previously and abruptly dismissed. I am very cynical about many practitioners of various disciplines, especially Western medicine, but heartily recommend this man to anyone. He is tucked away in a quiet rural setting, is neither arrogant or ostentatious. He is known as a healer. People come from far and wide to see him. I’d be happy to give more information to anyone who is interested.
Life goes on here as we optimistically advance toward what is fully booked as a very busy season. We’ll see how the Covid Culture and policing evolves in the next few weeks. We may yet be unemployed for the summer. The workers and the business owner’s family all get along quiet well with mutual respect and tolerance. It is grand to feel this positive camaraderie, especially after some of the dark situations I’ve known previously. After renovating and organizing a small work shed it has been named the “Fredshed”. Folks are happy to be able to find hardware and tools. And meanwhile I’m enjoying a second spring this year after coming from the coast. I’m looking forward to discovering more local magic within a short radius. I’ll keep you in the picture.
“It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke
For the summer seasons this year I’m living and working for Sunshine Houseboat Rentals and Marina. It’s located on the West side of Lake Koocanusa at Gold Bay. We are located only a few kilometres north of the border with Montana. Although I desperately miss the ocean it is beautiful here. One of the things I enjoy is its remoteness. The two nearest communities where you can buy groceries and the things you need are Fernie and Cranbrook. They are each about an hour away on paved roads, longer if you choose to admire the scenery and also watch out for the copious herds of deer and elk.
If you meander northeasterly from here you come to Fernie. An hour and a few minutes to the west is Cranbrook. Both are nice friendly places with their own personalities. Cranbrook is the larger town with plenty of box stores and industrial suppliers. It has an airport regularly served with flights from both Vancouver and Calgary. (well, it used to in pre-covid times) The railway, mining, logging, ranching and tourism appear to be the mainstays of the local economy. The lakes and ski hills draw people year-round.
Here is a photo essay of the two communities (I don’t know whether to call them small cities or large towns) I used to worry about what I’d find to photograph but I doubt now there’ll seldom be a cold camera.
Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
The place on Lake Koocanusa where I now live and work is filled with those noises every morning and evening. There are over two dozen houseboats stored close together in the yard waiting for the return of summer’s high water levels on the lake. The sounds comes from the daily heating and cooling of the pontoons on these boats. As the air inside them expands and contracts, the sides of the huge aluminum containers flex according to the changing pressure. It’s a bit unnerving at first but after a couple of weeks I don’t even hear the daily percussive concert anymore. But I also do not hear sirens, traffic or any other urban din. At night there is complete silence except for the odd calling flock of migrating birds. It is bliss.
Needless to say when the occasional client arrives and cranks up their stereo I feel an instant fury. I don’t understand why folks come here to escape the impositions of their urban home environments and then impose themselves on their fellows. I understand I’ll have to endure this din all the summer long so I may as well learn to dance. Haar! Presently I awaken to the calls of redwing blackbirds, meadowlarks, the chatter of magpies and Stellar jays. Passing flocks of cranes and geese call day and night. Herds of deer graze within a few feet of my camper. My biggest joy has been to see a real mountain bluebird. Those fleeting moments of iridescent blue are indelible, what a fantastic sight. No, I did not have a camera handy.
The weather here is amazingly fickle. It can be warm and calm then raining with a blasting wind and back to the former state of spring all within a half-hour. Deceived by a balmy spring day I headed off to buy groceries in Fernie wearing shorts and sandals but arrived there to find myself in a sleet storm. My fluorescent white legs were brighter than the snow on the mountains and I felt like a complete idiot. I lay awake at night wondering how this old fool ended up here so very far from the sea.
I find the work pleasantly challenging and varied. I may be bent over a boat motor one hour, then doing carpentry work for a while and then perhaps consulting about a fibreglass project all in the same day. I awake in the morning to see if there is any frost then sit with the gentle burble of the coffee percolating and wonder what the hell I’m doing here. Is this the end of the line for me or is it a window to new beginnings? That, of course, is entirely up to me. I’ve just bought a new mobile phone which is an amazing camera as well as a task master of several other abilities. We use our phones as a communication system around the eight acres where we work. To more easily charge the “device” I’ve also purchased a charger which works simply by sitting my cell phone on top of it. No plugs or brackets. It’s magic! I asked the clerk in the phone store if they sold a charger big enough for me to sit on. Struth! I need one.
This anonymous quote was sent to me by a friend. Thank you to everyone for the tidbits you send me. They help.
“The single biggest thing I learned was from an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth, who reminded me of the difference between a Western settler mindset of “I have rights” and an indigenous mindset of “I have obligations.” Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.”
W. O. Mitchel’s classic novel of the above title was forced on generations of Canadian students as a rite of passage. Contemplating the days ahead living in my small tiny camper I recalled a character from that novel named Saint Sammy. He lived alone in a discarded piano crate out on the bald prairie. I managed to find a copy of the book in excellent condition which had come from an old Cowichan school library dated 1947. I paid five dollars. What a treasure! I soon realized that what is regarded by most as a dreary piece of reading is in fact a brilliant novel that should be reread by any adult who appreciates a good book and a wonderful story. Here are some windy images from the Old Man River area. I will go back there.
After my boat inspections were complete and truck repairs were finished I sallied forth hoping to take a day or too just for being and taking some photos. I love the foothill country of Alberta and actually concede to a growing affection for the wide open flat country and the big blue sky overhead. I also hold a delight for old buildings and there are still a few of those standing. Eventually I found a place to park for the night where I could see for miles in all directions. I hunkered down to watch the ever-changing light and the sun setting through an approaching storm. The next day I poked about in the Old Man River area. The weather flipped between snow squalls and exquisite warm sunny spells. It was an exquisite day. Here are some of my photos.