Dispatch from the wild west

On July 8, a group of friendly Kosovans from Allied Moving company came and put all our stuff into a shipping container and drove away.  Then we took off to the Alps and hiked for twelve days. Luc and I barely had time to recover from that before we packed our bags, loaded a very unhappy Minnie the cat into a cat carrier and headed for our new digs here in the wild west, AKA Vancouver.

As I’m sitting in my new, albeit unfurnished, home and getting to know my new city, the mental clarity is slowly returning, like coffee grinds to the bottom of the cup. The itch to write once again needs scratching. What precipitated this post? you’re probably wondering.  Am I going to tell you the sordid details of my Canadian immigration experience? The wonders of shopping on Sunday? The exhilaration of running in a midlatitude rainforest?

Maybe later.

No, what happened was I almost fell asleep at the wheel.

Saturday I had volunteered to help with a trail race up in the Whistler ski area, which is a two-hour drive away from Vancouver. I signed up to do the “course sweep” — I would head out on the course (10.6 km) once the last runner had passed the final checkpoint and collect all the little flags that had been planted to mark the course. I thought it would be a good way to run the course without the pressure of racing it, and maybe meet some fun people.

I left the house at 6:20 and drove north on the seemingly abandoned highway, duly noting the “do not feed the bears” signs. Whistler was cold and threatening rain. I took two chairlifts high up the mountain and joined the other volunteers, checking participants’ bags and slicing bagels into quarters. At 12:15 the organizer told me I could go ahead and do the sweep.  I met a lovely young woman named Erin and convinced her to do it with me. (I didn’t want to run into a bear all alone.) We took turns holding the walkie-talkie and plucking out the flags while trying to keep up a relatively steady jog. The trail was indeed beautiful; single-track with lots of rocky areas, some big hills, very tough. I was glad I hadn’t raced it. You can see some pictures from the race in this Facebook gallery.

Afterwards, tired, I wandered around Whistler, in search of coffee and food. It reminded me a lot of Aspen back in the 1980s — Upscale North American Resort. It has three Starbucks.

At about 4:30 I started home. But after about a half an hour, I was feeling really, really sleepy. Marc wasn’t there to take the wheel like he usually does after I have exerted myself. I turned on the radio. I cranked the air. I popped some gum into my mouth. I took a swig of water. Nothing doing. Did I mention we have a new car?

I decided I needed to stop and take a break. I turned off just after Squamish, down a road that promised a “railroad museum.” On a whim, I turned right, over a bridge where I saw people fishing in the river below, and parked the car. There was a steep trail heading down over some rocks to the river, but it was dark and stinky and I don’t like being underneath bridges. So I crossed over to the other side and started down a trail that was heading into a forest.

Pretty soon there was a little creek between me and the river. Maybe 10 feet across, nothing major. I kept walking along it, thinking I could go over it, or maybe wade through it, to get to the gravelly river shore I could see through the trees on the other side. The river was big, milky from the glaciers up in the mountains. It was in the sunshine, and that gravel looked like an inviting place for a little nap.

I went down to the banks of the creek, thinking I would wade across, and that’s when I noticed the salmon.

There were loads of them in that creek, their bodies so big that their top fins were out of the water. They would swim up a ways, drift back, then in a spurt of energy, flash upstream again. They didn’t seem to be making all that much progress. The bigger ones butted the littler ones out of the way. Some of them seemed to be drafting in the wake of their neighbors. The creek was alive with writhing, flashing salmon. I could probably have reached my hands in and just plucked one out of the water.  I was witnessing one of North America’s natural wonders, and totally by accident.

I stood there, marveling at the instinct that led this particular group of fish to find this particular little creek, to expend god knows how much energy battling the current and each other to get upstream to the specific spot where they will lay their eggs and start the whole cycle over again. The biological imperative is a powerful thing.

I drove home, wide awake, full of wonder. Now that’s something I can blog about, I thought.

3 thoughts on “Dispatch from the wild west

  1. So you wouldn’t sweep the race course by yourself due to bears, which certainly weren’t anywhere near because of the dozens of runners who’d just gone by, but you would take a trail into a forest at the bottom of a steep ravine to a river teaming with salmon (and tempting the bears I’m sure) all alone!

    • LOL Carol – actually the thought did occur to me as I was looking at them… but the spot wasn’t remote at all, it was near a residential area. The big river wasn’t really in a ravine, I didn’t describe it that well – it was just steep under the bridge. There were plenty of people on the banks of the big river fishing. Or maybe I was just too sleepy to think straight!!

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