Why did I come here, exactly?

Why did I come here, exactly?

Hitchhiking rant originally blogged on the Media Co-Op,
July 18, 2009
me at the Naeech'egah (Liard) River.
me at the Naeech’egah (Liard) River.
Josh tries to figure what to do with his truck
Josh tries to figure what to do with his truck


Why did I come here, exactly?
July 18, 2009
from Tr’ondek Hwech’in territory.

Well, I’ve been on the road– with week long stops in Edmonton twice, and one overnighter– basically since the middle of March. Too many stories and stories within stories to even begin to go there, but it’s odd that as I’m feeling like the hockey player who is afraid of what may come after retirement that despite my newly graying hair I am now traveling on the road more than ever in my life. And to me that’s really saying something.

Here it is, mid July and I’m back in one of the basic places that always draws me in the summer it seems, Dawson City, Yukon. I’m not here to work this time, nor am I simply exploring in the manner that drew me in the past. For now, I am simply here as a stopping point on the way to Old Crow– one of only two communities in all of so-called Canada that has nothing but air and river access the entire year round. Old Crow is also the only isolated community in Yukon, a traditional Gwitch’in (Dene) community and one on the migration route of the Porcupine Caribou herd– in fact the village is on the Porcupine River.

Concerns, of course, can be raised about any of the following: The Alaska Highway gas pipeline (the Palin project), the Mackenzie Gas Project, possible development within ANWR (in Alaska) as well as the devastation wrought by climate change itself in this homeland above the Arctic Circle. It will be my privilege to visit such a place. In the meantime, after months of darting here and there across Turtle Island (places I’ve slept since April include: Cranbrook, Nelson, Vancouver, Blue River, Regina, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Toronto, Montreal, Riviere Du Loup, Saint John, Digby, Yarmouth, Portland, on the bus somewhere between Boston and Albany, Belleville, Brockville, Jasper, Gillies Bay, 100 Mile House, Dawson Creek, Muncho Lake Provincial Park, Watson Lake and now Dawson City) I left to come north and return my spirit to its calling.

I left on a Sunday afternoon from Vancouver decided to take the Highway 99 north through Lillooet and onto Prince George where I would go west along Highway 16 and then north through Highway 37. Such was the plan, anyhow, but the road can tell you she has different plans for you than you thought.

From Horseshoe Bay the destruction of the Eagleridge Bluffs has also led to the destruction of an easy place to try and get your ride right from where the bus lets you off. I began to walk on the former highway-now-access point to the Bay and realized I was to be stuck here for quite awhile. I kept walking, and a road gift occurred early– an employee of the highway system picked me up and drove to Squamish, telling me the whole way how I was never getting a ride where I was. I chuckled to myself over this, as I always do, as people do this almost daily on a good roadtrip– tell you you were never going to get a ride when they pick you up. If drivers knew how common a response to being given a ride that phrase was, they would wisely stop uttering it.

From Squamish, other than grabbing a veggie burger at a fast food joint, I just stuck to the road. I was picked up in mere minutes.This ride was a man who was in his latter forties, went to raves all the time, had a job in the athletes village and spoke constantly about the need for understanding that we are all one spirit and when humans hurt humans they really hurt themselves. He was pleasant, smoked my weed with graciousness and dropped me on the other side of Pemberton. I was picked up, again, before I could count to one-hundred. This time it was four young men from Germany in a rented RV. They seemed cool but they also had no idea how to drive on a BC mountain road and it humored me a little bit. They briefly over-heated the van going up the first steep section after Pemberton. They eventually stopped about halfway to Lillooet to camp, and I kept on the road– hoping to get at least to Lillooet before dark. A man who owned an organic farm and who was driving back to his home with a Woofer he had just plucked out of Whistler got me here. He hated Monsanto, talked a lot about his food and got me going on the tar sands– always something I am happy to oblige if it is a ride that doesn’t seem hostile to the survival of the planet and the life contained within.

This ride dropped me right where I’d want to be, in Lillooet and after I quickly had pizza I was back on the road, across the bridge north and expecting to try and put up my tent soon. Well, even after I plotted where the tent would go something got in the way– a man named Paul gave me a ride to 100 Mile House– probably just under a three hour ride. What was particularly awesome was that he was an eighties music geek and cranked Billie Jean, Thriller, some Duran Duran and more. I was grinning ear to ear, rocking out in his passenger seat all the way to his place. He offered to let me tent in his backyard and I happily did so.

In the morn I left pretty quickly, skipping the self-made coffee I so normally cherish. I walked out Paul’s driveway– his car was gone, so I didn’t bother to say goodbye– and saw a small city bus immediately. I stuck out my thumb and the driver gave me a free ride to the north side of town. Coffee, tokes, big smiles and deep breaths later I was back on the road. Not long after I was given a ride to 150– but there I was stuck in road construction. After walking, looking around, walking further, getting almost annoyed (and reminding myself to laugh) I eventually got a ride to Williams Lake– about ten minutes down the road. It was great, too– this guy insisted on buying me lunch and I didn’t need to get off the road to enjoy the much delighted snacking experience. When I got to my new place I was there maybe two minutes– when a friends niece gave me a lift. Another chance to talk about the state of the world and I was starting to really feel the road caress my spirit. She was coming from Bella Coola and was headed to Yellowknife. We smoked a lot of weed and I got downright giggly– after teasing her uncle via text that his niece was picking up weird hitchhikers. My job was to go through her CD’s and pick music constantly, as well as roll large joints every so often. Happy to oblige, I set myself to work. We stopped here and there, but mostly just kept to the road. Once I realized that she would easily get to Dawson Creek that night, I asked if I could go with her there. It meant that a seven hour ride would leave me awakening to the Alaska Highway.

I got out and started walking along the highway just outside of Dawson Creek about 11pm. I had to walk a good distance but eventually found a spot where I could put up my tent on the edge of a canola field. It was such a good sleep– as soon as I felt how soft and level it was, I couldn’t wait to jump “into ground” as I melted into REM extremely quickly.

Waking up on a canola field that you have not seen in the light of day is a great way to start a day. It was beautiful, I was very relaxed, on the Alaska Highway and making my coffee and oatmeal slowly, smoking bowls and watching the wind make the field dance. I think if my grin had been much larger it would have caused my cheeks to ache.

After the ritualistic and pleasant packing up of the camp I wandered onto the highway. Today, it seemed, would be a trying day in terms of wait time. It was at least two hours before I got a ride through Taylor and dropping me on the wrong side of Fort St John, the town years back that inspired my “across town” sign that is now a staple almost as much as cowboy coffee. I found immediate cardboard and went to improve on the crappy sign I had, but a ride stopped before I could! Certainly a surprise since I was in a simply terrible spot. He didn’t even tell me that I was in a bad spot, or that I would never get a ride from there. He simply picked me up to do it, and made me laugh as he talked to his toddler son. He told his son that Elmo had jumped out of the vehicle and that’s why he hadn’t been seen in days. It was both a little evil and a lot funny, his delivery took the edge off.

Now I am at the Charlie Lake cutoff– the Chetwynd side road joins the Alaska Highway here. I thought this spot would be a fast ride, but nope– I was here something like 3 hours. Felt longer in the beating heat– I was now getting a severe burn (something I kind of just wanted to get over with). My ride finally came, another good guy who took me about an hour. Then after he dropped me, only 30 minutes or so and another ride showed up. Now I was heading into Fort Nelson, what had been my goal for the day. When this ride ended– a man who had been telling me all about the local natural gas companies, forestry, etc– I wasn’t even really on the road when Josh grabbed me.

Josh is from Langley, a really easy going guy that relaxes a ride off the bat. A little into the ride and I realized we could basically talk unguarded– and had realized he was going to the exact same place as I– 17-18 hours of driving on to Dawson City for the music festival. It became apparent this would be a very good ride when it showed up we both had the same idea of travel– stopping at little spots worth the time, being the total tourist and taking a million pictures and eventually just camping down some side road for the night.

Very quickly I felt different, as if the general state of alienation from the surrounding I am in was subsiding, instead the very lifeforce in everything I saw about me was enveloping my spirit. Fences were gone from my view, and the power of life itself and the north was washing over me. I am not one for cities in so far as what they represent. I cannot fathom the idea of conquest of the world. I am not a believer in the power of the world humans have built up– it really rots so much of what I am; I felt all of the world’s great pain wash away, with nothing but my own understanding and feeling of connection to everything. There really aren’t words for this, but where life is still in command my heart feels not cut off, not betrayed nor hardened but released. Everything within me began to relax. My spirit and my heart grew and warmth set in. Home, on the road.

Really content & just plain enjoying myself, by the time we got to Muncho Lake Park it was dark and Josh’s original goal of traveling to Liard Hot Springs was in trouble. I suggested a strange looking gravel road and we found an abandoned trailer spot, on a lake, lovely view and totally awesome to camp. We chatted at the fire when he suddenly dropped a bunch of questions to me about John Graham, his trial, one of his former lawyers, etc– and that went into a general discussion about colonialism in Canada– a very engaging conversation I certainly was not expecting at all. He had a beer and I went to sleep in my tent.

Waking up to a good coffee, Josh and I headed on to Liard fairly quickly where Josh tried his hand– eventually, successfully– at putting a rock on the pile of rocks near the source spring in the Hot Springs. Back on the road we went. We got to what is labeled out front as the “Liard Canyon” a place where I have hiked before and we both went down to the rapids here. Relaxed, we continued on– stopping at other such places along the way. Did I mention that I had the luxury of being able to smoke grass as often as I wanted? That’s an important part of this ride. Watson Lake and we did the trite tourist thing, playing in the sign post forest for about 45 minutes, ate, etc. It seemed hard to get out of the town, but it would get worse.

We drove about an hour when suddenly Josh said “I’ve got nothing,” and then spoke of how the engine was gone. He tried a bunch of things and we eventually came to the conclusion something was wrong with his fuel pump. We were closer to Watson than anywhere else– and now he had to hitchhike back to that town to deal with the screwed up truck. I have a rule: If someone goes out of their way to involve you in their ride, when they have car/engine/whatever trouble, you don’t leave them. So now I was staring at being with a broken down truck on the highway– when I wanted to be in Dawson for the music fest the next night. Crap.

I stayed with the car. Aside from being visited by a moose (a young male, to be exact– about the 30th I’d seen– along with over a dozen bears, close to the same caribou, deer, elk, porcupines…) nothing but really strange sleep at bizarre angles was happening here. 3 hours later we were being towed back to Watson, to be dropped in a mechanics garage drive way.

We had both been tallying the animals that had crossed our paths since we started traveling together, but on the way into Watson a fox crossed our path. My animal spirit has long been the fox, and from that second I knew we would get out nearly unscathed from Watson. I knew something profound and wondrous would also take place for me. What that was, I did not know.

I found an awesome trail to sleep on later, right near the garage. Josh and I went for a walk and he decided to speak of his understanding of the Universe. I don’t believe in telling other peoples stories, but I must share this much as it became my story. Aside from believing in a higher power, a creator of a sort, we spoke of some various ways that the universe communicates. Eventually, he put it down to his belief in an “interacting creator”– a creator that has not stopped finding ways to talk with us.

I thought on things of this nature, and thought of the fox and thought of the many stories that had already unfolded within my head and upon this short part of a long trip. I think of seemingly inexplicable events for myself and realize what they are. I have long maintained that every single ride you ever receive on the road has a lesson, a chance to give you one more piece of your own puzzle– if you are open to it. The timing of where else this was headed in the psychological manner was evident and needed. I continued to think of the very freedom I was feeling, and what it all meant when I saw the lessons that were being passed through me.

I realized that, for me– I am always slightly on the edge of the world, and always holding it away from me, lest it swallow me with its shallow pretensions. I also feared– not so much any longer, but still– that it would corrupt me, make my heart turn off to suffering, pain and all that which tortures existence and that our lives must be spent resisting. The spirit is NOT a place to retreat from struggle– it is the highest point at which to arrive within it. However– to know freedom, you must know travel. To know travel, you must know the road. To know the road, you must let it know you– and you must know yourself. Forever peripheral, but internally centred. These were my thoughts after Josh went to his truck and I went to my tent.

I woke up about three minutes before Josh was outside my tent the following morning.
“Hey Macdonald, we are outta here!” he said. I distinctly heard a smug sound to his voice.
“Trucks okay?” I asked. Josh chuckled and said “Yeah, there’s this hidden button that shuts off the fuel line, in case of a crash. We must have hit a bump and it was pressed.” I started to laugh, and so did Josh. “I thought it might end up being something silly like that,” I stated bemusedly. I thought about the fox to myself and we got the heck outta there and headed on to Whitehorse.

Before we had gone more than 15 minutes we were talking about Robert Service poetry, and he had a full collection. I read him what I thought was my favourite Service poem from his book. He asked me to read Rolling Stone. I read the following out loud, and realized I was learning and growing with every line:

There’s sunshine in the heart of me,
My blood sings in the breeze;
The mountains are a part of me,
I’m fellow to the trees.
My golden youth I’m squandering,
Sun-libertine am I;
A-wandering, a-wandering,
Until the day I die.

There’s a lot more to this magnificent poem, but that should be enough to let you know why it mattered so much.

We met Josh’s cousin, decided to go on that same night and got here– to Dawson City– about 1am on the Thursday before the Festival. I would see my friend Ivan on Friday night, it would turn out. But the other thing, sadly but also not at all sad, was the realization that Dawson is beautiful, and a wonderful place to get elsewhere– Alaska, Old Crow, the Joe Henry (Dempster) highway– but the basic all alcohol, all the time vibe of the place is just old and cranky like some of the patrons. The lesson in that, too, is illuminating.

Mostly I think back on the less than a week it took me to get to where I am this night– and all of the immense power it has shown me, and the lessons– all important but not all pleasant by any means– it has contained. I seek new horizons of the fight for a planet and world worth living in, and the strateges to guard my own spirit in continuity with the permanence of this same fight. I think of the road, and the majesty of awakening near ravens playing in the water– waters that head onto the rivers, that feed the ocean. All trickles of water head to the ocean. All paths taken may be of least resistance, but never are they merely the easy way. Water nor life is like that. We endlessly meander this way and that, in the ultimate aim of getting to the ocean. The ocean is a whole body, holding all the rest together. It feels as if the ocean has no limits. There we head, knowing only of opportunity. And togetherness.

I do not know but I continue to seek freedom. For me, there is no other way.

Love from near Denendeh,