In the summer of 1984 my stepfather, John, took me on his version of an Outward Bound trip to Northern British Columbia. I had spent a great deal of my young life to that point being outdoors and camping and going without creature comforts. But this was going to be roughing it on a different level.
At 20 years old, I still had plenty of destructive piss and vinegar in me. So the purpose of the trip was a little kick in the ass by him to make sure my head was screwed on straight going forward.
A couple days after I graduated from high school I moved to Reno. I was born and raised in Lodi and to be honest it was more a matter of my father sending me to Reno. I would live with my aunt and uncle for about 6 weeks and then I managed to alienate myself in that home too. So, I moved out on my own, with my aunt’s loving insistence, into a studio apartment working as a dishwasher at John Ascuaga’s Nugget.
I’m going to skip a very important two years time here because it contains multiple stories that I will post another day.
This Outward Bound trip a couple of years later after that had brought me back to Stockton (just a few miles south of Lodi) for a redux closer to home. Only this time I would be temporarily living with my mother and step father to reset my goals for going back to college. Thank you to my step father, John, that he was able to dig up a couple of photos from 30 years ago and Google Images for filling in the visual blanks.
We packed his yellow early 80’s Volkswagen Diesel pickup truck for the big adventure. Though it was small he had it all set up for comfort while we were driving. There was a camper shell on the back that had a nice mattress, blankets and a pillow so that the other person could take a very comfortable nap any time they wished to. He had a cooler full of our favorite snacks and sodas, including my Squirt. I still love that and Fresca to this day in my list here. We had music along with books which we often read to each other (yes, as the passenger).
California’s Central Valley grew smaller in the rear view mirror as we were pointed north on Interstate 5 headed to our final destination Tezzeron Lake, British Columbia. The road and the miles flew by as we chatted up a storm. I had always been very close and comfortable with John through all of his mentoring and guidance in my young life. And I still love him dearly to this day as my own. He was always there when I almost sent my own beloved father, Don, to the brink of homicide. As in mine. Father lions will eat their young but human father’s sent over the edge by a horrendously rebellious son will not put that much time and effort into it. All tongue in cheek here folks. Breathe.
Next was Oregon and the landscape became a vibrant green with an intoxicating moisture in the air. My dried out sinuses erupted with pleasure to be able to breathe with ease. As we cruised through Portland I made a note that I definitely wanted to come back and visit. Then on up into Washington where magic occurred. The beautiful, intoxicating city of Seattle. There was a vibration and energy unlike anything I had ever experienced in a geographic location with the exception of Point Reyes just north of San Francisco. We only stopped to get gas before moving on to Canada but I knew there was a calling that would bring me back to Seattle for a longer stay.
We drove over to Highway 9 to cross the border at the City of Sumas. This was an exhilarating first time experience for me to be driving into another country. I was kidding around with John, who is Canadian born, telling him I wondered if armed men with drug sniffing dogs would be giving our vehicle the once over. He scowled at me and pointed a bit ahead. There was an entire 50 foot Mayflower moving truck being unloaded and checked by the border patrol. So, I zipped my mouth from any further remarks as we were waved through without any difficulties.
We connected up with the Trans-Canadian Highway and drove east for a bit until we stopped in the town of Hope. Oh my gawd talk about an amazing town with the most majestic mountains around it. Remember the first Rambo movie with Sylvester Stallone ? It was filmed almost entirely in and around Hope.
It then became a game of checking off each town on the map as we headed further north. Cache Creek, Williams Lake, Kamloops, Williams Lake, Prince George and Fort St James. Then if was off-road, and wow was it off road for that little VW truck, on a gravel road for some 40 miles. When we finally arrived at Tezzeron Lake we had traveled over 1,600 miles and were now at the same latitude as the southern tip of Alaska. Here it is when we pulled up that afternoon.
Lake Tezzeron was so beautiful and we would often see moose swimming across the lake, which was 9 miles long and 3 miles wide. Bears and moose regularly swam across rather than take the trek all the way around.
It was so gorgeous but then the reality of the cabin in front of us was my first of many reality checks. This was our’s and the cabins were built by JK on land he leased from the Canadian government for a period of 100 years. It wasn’t that this was tough it’s that it was going to be for a long time and isolated from the outside world. Really think about that in your world today.
The cabins had only an oil burning stove, a table with chairs, and two beds. There were no showers and the lake was freezing, so people took turns taking sponge baths by heating water on the oil stove. Yep, you really had to pump your own water. Wow, this really had become my Outward Bound Trip to Northern British Columbia.
We had to use an outhouse which was a short path up from the cabin. We were warned sternly to be on the lookout for Timberwolves and Grizzly bears as they came into camp at night looking for food. Wow, I never took my modern home bathroom for granted ever again.
I can recall JK’s mother (in her 80’s) getting her big spoon and a kettle to go out beating on it to scare the bears away. The bears were no match for the wrath of that dynamic little woman.
There were only a couple of other cabins and the owner, JK himself, would fly in from Fort St James. Gawd, I wanted to go for a flight with him so bad but he couldn’t allow it because of insurance reasons.
The only phone was a radio-telephone from which you could make calls for a very high fee per minute. You also had to make sure you said “over” when you were done speaking. This was the key to the other person that they could begin speaking. So the communication was not duplex, only one person could speak at a time. But it worked just fine.
I thought John was kidding when he told me we would have to fish for our meals each day. When I woke up the first morning and there was literally no breakfast I immediately panicked. So out to the boat we went. We fished twice a day and had the best talks ever.
Lunchtime arrived and we still hadn’t caught a fish and I was starting to consider how tasty my stepfather himself might look roasting on a spit. He was alarmed at the look in my eye then laughed as he pulled out a couple of items he had hidden in the cooler behind him on the boat. You might say “ewww” but when you have not eaten in 16 hours, trust me you would quickly reconsider. These food items became my best friend the entire week and it’s all relevant to how starving hungry you are.
We did catch fish each day and roasted them over an open fire. I have never tasted anything so good in my life. Of course I was constantly wishing for eyes in the back of my head to be on the lookout for the bears and wolves. This would be the start of my lifelong love of wolves just through the stories and looking at pictures. We never did see any on our trip but we absolutely heard them howling. And I would see a great many of them in the future.
John and I talked and talked for hours on end about life and he inquired as to my life dreams. He told me he would do whatever he could within his power to make those dreams come true. We were headed back home and I will never forget this awesome dinner we had at this nice restaurant in Prince George. We had a view that overlooked the Fraser River and the sun was setting. And there was just something about the talk that made me realize I had to do something.
We got back to Stockton and I had already enrolled in Delta College (where both my step father and mother taught at the time) before the trip with the plan to either transfer to the University of Pacific or a California State school or University. While I had spent a tremendous amount of my first 18 years visiting Reno I had only moved there a couple years prior. And now in Stockton I had never been so home sick. For my new home in Reno that I had made. I worked my ass off to make that happen on my very own and I wanted it back. I packed my bags and was back in Reno the next morning.
The most ironic thing of that entire brief move home. My mom had been out of town and I had moved into and out of her home without her even seeing me.
When I think of the talks John and I had I often remember this picture above of the Northern Lights. You can’t get that in the theaters, on cable tv or a dvd. This was my own Outward Bound Trip To Northern British Columbia I wanted to know when we could do it again. If you can ever explore British Columbia I highly recommended it.
I dedicate this post to you John and thank you for giving a great life “adjustment” that summer. My step father is enjoying his retirement in Mexico. I love you so much!
Have you ever had a life changing travel experience? I would love for you to share it.
This post is part of the Endless Summer blog share on the Travel Writer Rants and Raves website.