Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A little Christmas message two years out of date in the summer time

The Christmas greeting is a bit late this year. Well there has been much to do and much to think about. Isn't there always.
The last two years, I haven't spent Christmas with my family. That's to say that we haven't all been together in the UK, getting in each other's faces and pretending we don't care. Or wearing a tea-cosy and wading through our emotions as we try to recount how to get to know each other again. That's what I do. Time, distance and finances have once again proved to great a barrier for me. So this year, I miss my friend Sam and my families in London, Ottawa and Bristol. Indeed I have missed and am missing my families in Montreal and Vancouver. I am in Vancouver. (For those of you who didn't know.)

This next bit surrounds an adventure I had by bike and sheer will, starting from Vancouver at noon on Boxing Day. I headed out to Horseshoe bay, caught a ferry to Gibson's on the sunshine coast and in the dark, rode two hours to Sechelt on the sunshine coast. I pitched my tent in a field, had some dinner and went to sleep....

I woke up in a tent. I fell asleep in a tent before I woke up in a tent. I woke up in a tent in almost complete darkness. I got up to pee (the third time that night) and I can tell you that at 3 degrees in my underwear and a t-shirt, it was goddam cold. I got up to pee, but I was awoken twenty minutes before by the howling of coyotes, loud and long into the night. It might have been a dog, but I heard other dogs barking against the howling. After about two minutes of this I began to seriously believe that my tent was going to surrounded by coyotes seriously soon. I began to have images of me stabbing and killing coyotes as they lunged at my tent or me, and I wondered how do I kill a coyote. I have never done it before. It's not like stepping on a worm or telling a car driver to piss off, this is an ugly dog shaped thing with teeth and malice. While all these images of violence and fear were flashing through my head, I discovered that I still needed to pee, rather urgently. Crap, crap, crap. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Okay, okay. I'm gonna go. I'm gonna go pee now. This is me getting out of the tent aggressively and powerfully in my jockey shorts and tee-shirt that says 'More Cowbells'.
Watch out.
There was no one out there. No coyotes. No people. No cars. No bears (phew). I could still hear the coyotes. Whatever. There are probably more afraid of you than you are of them. Blah, blah, blah.
A thought struck me about territory. Aha. That's what I'll do. Judging a 20 yard radius, I peed in certain locations around my campsite. I shivered my way back to my tent. By the time I got back into my sleeping bag, I felt frozen. I wondered about that theory about staying warm by removing clothes and getting naked into the sleeping bag, which was roughly what I had been doing before. This is clearly bunk. I put on my long underwear, my flannel shirt, my cycling tights, my hoodie and my hat. I was still cold, but sod it, I am tired and the coyotes can smell my pee and bugger off. I did actually fall asleep, I don't recall when exactly, but at 6:30am I woke up and looked at the illuminated dial on my watch and saw the time. I fell back asleep. But briefly.
Kally, come here. No here. Kally! Kally! Kaaalleeee! No. Here. Kalleeee! Come Here. Kalleee c'mere! Kallee! KALLY! COME HERE!
Yah, that doesn't bother me. Yah, I can totally sleep through someone disciplining their dog outside my tent at 7am. Uh-huh. Get out of bed Vaughan. No.
Get out of bed. No, I wanna sleep.
You can't sleep. But I want to.
You can't.
Shut up.
(in a sing-song, gloating voice) You can't sleep.
Okay. God I have to pee. Christ, not you as well. How many Vaughans are there? Jesus!
There's just one and it's you Vaughan and you are alone in a tent mentally ranting to yourself.
I lay there for another ten minutes and ranted some more. I did get up and squared my things away and surveyed the day and the rain which had begun falling at about five, to replace the blissfull silence left by the wearied coyotes.
I can deal with rain. I'm okay man. I know what rain is. I live on the west coast for God's sake.
I put up the tarp my friend Daragh had loaned me and sat under it and made a breakfast of ramen noodles with tomato soup and left-over turkey which Siobhan had given me on Boxing Day morning at around 2 am. Thank you Siobhan. It may not sound good here, but when I was cold and tired, damp and slightly annoyed by my bout with non-existent coyotes, it was soooo goooooood. Tea in the morning?
Tea can go hang. I'm going to have soup and turkey. I sat under the tarp, outside my tent and ate in silence. I cooked in silence, I ate in silence. I slept (if I can call it sleeping) in somewhat silence. It was amazing actually. It was empowering. Not eating soup and turkey in the damp pitter-patter of the rain. But observing the simple things around me. There's not a lot to take up space in my mind when I'm camping. At home, I'm surrounded by things that need straightening, bills that need to be paid, cards that need to be sent, careers that need to be furthered, people who need to be called. Whatever it is, it's all there. Outside a tent with a bicycle, panniers, clothes, food, there's not much I can do to address the mental ranting, so I don't think about it. I concentrate on things I can actually do. Make breakfast. Eat.
I placed the small camping stove on the ground and watched with satisfaction as the three partitions of the burner slowly lit up. With my last remaining water, I made the soup. The only sound was from the propane being released through the burner. I watched and I listened and I idly wondered if my brother's house had burned down. Just one of those things that pops into my head when everything else is said and done. Not because I had left the stove on or not unplugged the fan or the toaster. I recalled that everything had been moved away from the radiators. I had not done anything to facilitate such a prospect, but the thought trundled across my brain, like an ant carrying a piece of wood roughly the length of its own body, slowly and wearily across a footprint.

After much deliberation, I decided to head home. I was deliberating because of the time factor, the lack of people factor and the rain and cold factor. Most of all though, I discovered that I didn't neet to be out here deliberating. I could be back in Vancouver deliberating where there's heat and less effort. The trip was more of an adventure and I wondered whether I would like to be in a tent, possibly quite tired and possibly quite wet at the end of the day. The answer was no. I was happy to turn back. I was happy to take the time to stop and take pictures along the snowy road. I was happy to make a decision and feel good about it. Someone once said something to me when I was in Germany and I was thinking about coming home, but I didn't want to give up...She asked me why what other people thought of me, mattered to me so much. It was a good question. It took about five years, but I got the answer. It doesn't matter. I'm going back.

The ride back to Gibson's was comparatively relaxing. It was daylight. I knew the road. I had the whole day. The hills were pretty tough I tell you. HOLY CATS!
I stopped at a bike shop in Gibsons and talked to the kindly proprietor. I bought some more water and cycled down the hill and it began to dawn on me why it didn't look familiar. It wasn't. I turned around and cycled up the hill. Oops. That was dumb. Yes, these panniers are heavy. Yes I saw you shovelling your driveway a moment ago, when I thought I knew where I was going. It is now abundantly clear that I didn't know where I was going and that's why I feel foolish and have begun talking to myself to prove it. Oh, these panniers are heavy. Who cares. Who cares. I don't care. If anyone cares, it's not me. I don't care.

Okay, we're on the right road now. It's snowing. Oh, it's a bit slippery. Wow that's a big truck. Goddam that was close. That's a big hill. There are people at the bus stop, you're going past them at the same pace it takes to walk. Just smile and say hi and try not to talk to yourself too much. I am in the mountains and my God it's beautiful.
It's amazing. Take some pictures. Okay, that's a steep hill. Taking pictures versus getting down the hill before the snow sticks to the ground. Uhh. Bye.

I got to the bottom of the hill in time to see the ferry exit the harbour and head out to sea. I was in time. I was in time to spend some time. I parked my bike, took out my portable stove and made some Tetley tea. I went inside the waiting room area, took off my waterproofs and placed them on the radiator and ate Cocoa Camino chocolate. I ate Jelly Belly Christmas present Jelly beans from Montreal. I listened to other people complain about the two hours we had to wait for the next ferry. I barely noticed the time go by. I was happy to sit down again. I was happy to do nothing. I was happy to have no deadlines to meet.

I did arrive in Vancouver some hours later replete with fatigue and extreme hunger. I inhaled a large bowl of granola and sat down to assess my state of mind, but I was too tired...So I put on a movie I had seen many times before and made up my bed and passed out and woke up at midnight. I wasn't in a tent. I wasn't cold. There were no coyotes. I peed in the bathroom wearing underwear and a tee-shirt. I came back to bed and turned on the TV, set it to the fireplace channel which broadcasts a fire burning in a fireplace over and over again. I peeled oranges and decided that I wasn't going to sleep. I listened to the silence. There were no deadlines to meet.

Three days after Christmas 2007 in Jen and Noel's flat with the sounds of Sigur Ros and the help of a gray laptop, I write to you. To all of you who know me. I write to you all because you are all my family, some by blood, some by choice, some by both. It is a seasoned greeting. Seasoned by your influence, seasoned by your support, seasoned by your love, seasoned by your friendship. I always try to iterate how affected I am by your friendships. Know that across the distance and time that separate us, you are always in my heart.

Lots of love,
December 28th 2007.


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