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
Friday the 13th. The weather forecast shows the date and a thick grey cloud with heavy raindrops. That seems about right. At the moment however there is an attempt at a sun rise. A thin brassy light reflects from the neighbour’s windows and that damned insidious street cleaning machine is out there growling away again. It’s on a fourth pass now. The wind will blow everything back in short order. A day later the weather is the same with a cold rain in a gusting wind like only it can in November. By the following Tuesday when I finally post this, not a lot has changed.
There are two leaks in the camper which have eluded me despite all my attempts to find and cure them. All that was left to do was to remove the inside panelling and insulation. What the hell? There was some faulty wiring to trace as well. Between the inner skin and the outer I found some soggy insulation. I’ve removed it. The taking apart is done…I hope. It has rained sporadically for the past few days, the kind of cold rain that can leak into anything. I just checked; there is no sign of moisture! Grrr! I knew of course that this little old box would require some attentions but I had no intention for it to become a career. To keep things in perspective I know that there are plenty of people who’d love to have this one as a home, leaks and all.
I managed to strip out the final bit of forward interior in perfect co-ordination with a horrific rain storm which went on and on. The problem is now that the ambient humidity inside is so high that condensation forms instantly on the bare cold metal skin. Still I tracked down, or up, the source of ingressing water. In one corner just below the roof I found a mysterious cluster of tiny pinholes. I’ve concluded the cause is electrolysis, something I’m all too familiar with in boats. When dissimilar metals are placed in contact they begin to produce minute electrical currents known as a galvanic action. Add an electrolyte like water and an insidious corrosion occurs. Introduce an electrical current and things become really weird. What I found was that when the camper had been built small galvanized pieces of metal had been used to reinforce corners of the frame. So, combine thin aluminum, steel, zinc, 12 volt wiring, possibly lead-based paint, 40 years of time and copious rain. Bzzzt! Still learning after all these years!”
Just off the main street in Ladysmith sits an old building just behind our tiny museum which is a remnant from the town’s rustic past. It is flat-roofed and covered with a faux brick heavy tarred material which I recall was named ‘Insul-brick.’ It was an old store of some sort and for a long time displayed a faded sign that said ‘Food Bank.’ It has been boarded up for a very long time. On one corner of the building is a small porch built into the structure. A homeless person moved into that space and set up camp under a green tarp. They have been evicted and the empty porch is now caged in. A tent has been erected in the back of the soggy lot.
If I could wish myself into a larger fibreglass camper I would donate this one to someone who needs a shelter. In the meantime I’ll keep this old tin and stick box as a sort of earthquake plan. Isn’t that all we need now in winter on top of Covid?
I’ve just returned from a quick trip to a building supply store. As I drove out through the parking lot a character leapt in front of me oblivious to all except to be fumbling with their covid mask and text messaging in hand. I managed to stop in time; they never noticed. What’s that term? “Eyes wide shut.” We’ve even abandoned the primal self-preserving instinct of fear. “The Lemming Syndrome.” I’ll get back into my box.
“I’ve decided that a sign of aging is losing the ability to be amazed. That amazes me.”
I’m starting this with the rain drumming on the metal roof of the camper. It has slowed enough for the moment to allow me to hear individual drops. This morning I first awoke to hear the wind roaring in the tree tops hundreds of feet above me. The din was like a passing high-speed train. The trees are massive ancient Sitka Spruce, already venerable when the first of us Caucasians stumbled into these swamps hundreds of years ago. The rain now crashes down again in barrel-sized dollops. Our shelter shudders under the assault. I worried about a tree falling on us but realized they had withstood far worse weather in the hundreds of years they had grown here. Many of the bases are more than ten feet across. It will take more than my dark karma to bring one of these down. The notion of a crackling campfire is a mad fantasy.
We arrived the day before in pristine weather. I’d wanted to find a place called Palmerston Bay but on arrival discovered a simple ending of a logging road. The slippery scramble down and back from a rocky, surf-bashed shoreline would have been too much for old Jack and so we retreated back the way we had come. The described “recreation site” proved to merely be a wider spot in a muddy trail surrounded by old logging devastation, not a place to cheer my soul. Eventually we arrived at San Joseph Bay. I hadn’t been there for over thirty years and recall being able to drive almost to the beach. Could my memory be wrong? The developments since made by the Provincial Parks people are impressive. Their pathways are like narrow highways and meander through the rain forest in a circuitous route which is far longer than I recall. It is a beautiful walk and Jack bounded ahead, full of enthusiasm for what lay around each corner ahead. I thought I’d have to carry him back but how could I impose on his joy? He was exhausted on the return walk but soldiered along determined to stay on his own pins one staggering step at a time. What an amazing character! After a long sleep he seems none the worse for wear and is, as always, eager for the next adventure.
The next night we are well on our way toward home. The rain is incessant so again I sit with Jack in our little box. The winter weather has certainly made it seem much smaller when forced into confinement. Jack is cuddled against me as I sit on the edge of the bed and write. The blasting rain has revealed leaks which will, of course, be addressed once home. It is damp enough for the wallpaper to be separating for the inside panels. I curse myself for my restless nature and being up here in these conditions. Of course I look forward to going to drier country so these test runs are necessary to ensure there are no nasty surprises ahead. Tonight we sit fifty feet from the high water mark on Johnstone Strait. The wind and rain are increasing again but we are warm and dry with full tummies. Who could ask for more?
Driving southward, trees with leaves began to appear and now back in Ladysmith it seems we’ve regained a month. Only two and a half degrees of latitude on an island of rugged mountainous shorelines makes a huge difference. This massive rock angles out into the North Pacific and catches hell from a very long way off. Wintry wind and rain have followed us home but as soon as repairs are made to truck and the old man box, Jack and I will be off to some local remote nook. Covid may have us trapped here, but I know the Snowbird flocks have filled every possible private campground on the island. It’s clearly a great place to be, especially with a civil war looming just south of the border.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein