It’s the last two hours of 2013. I can hear the rest of the family chatting at the other end of the house. I’m in my bedroom/loft/penthouse. We lit a huge bonfire earlier, made of pallets, and heard professional fireworks coming from somewhere nearby. I stared at the fire, thinking about everything and nothing.
Mount Washington is the major skiing resort on Vancouver Island. We stayed there for three days over Christmas. I wore my cowboy boots every day. My boots and I have come a long way.
There’s wasn’t enough snowfall for the skiing runs to open, but the empty lot next to our chalet was perfect for sledding. The neighbours had even set up a track. I spent most of my time outside in the snow. Whenever I was inside, I was usually reading a novel I found in the kids bookshelf. It was an academic thriller: The Rule of Four. It’s about Princeton students solving the complex puzzles in and of an ancient text. Whenever I’m on holiday, I always manage to find a book and finish it in two or three days.
Christmas was great. Had the usual celebrations of presents and food. Even though I was the only one between ten and thirty, I still had fun and enjoyed the company of the family we don’t get to see very often. It didn’t really snow on the day, but I still count it as a white Christmas.
One night they put on fireworks. I went out on my own to catch them. As I’m walking through the snow towards the lodge, the fireworks started. So I cut through the trees, over a creek and between chalets. The bright red, green, yellow, and blue lit up the fog in the sky. The sound echoed out over the mountain side. Then silence for a moment, before the next one. I came up to the lodge and joined the crowd.
Afterwards, I made my way back, taking the long way around. I wandered through the village of mostly empty chalets. On one of the walking trails, there was a family sized snowball fight in progress. They stopped to let me pass, even though I insisted they wouldn’t hit me. As soon as I returned to the chalet, I wrote everything down in my diary immediately.
Today we’re headed down to Victoria to see the other cousins. It’s not long now before I make my way to Seattle!
Note: My cousin works in the Canadian Coastguard here on Vancouver Island. He told me this story. I have embellished it a little. Fair warning, it’s a gruesome tale.
Vancouver Island is situated on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. Between the Island and the mainland, known locally as ‘the interior’, lies the Strait of Georgia. The weather and storms of the North West Pacific ocean lash against the west coast of the Island. The Strait can also be fairly rough sea to navigate. The Canadian Coastguard perform Search and Rescue operations in Canadian waters, and also maintain lighthouses along the coast.
At the northern end of B.C., exposed to the turbulence of the ocean, lies Triple Island Lightstation. The lighthouse barely fits on the rock it’s built on. It is the only manned lightstation with a 28 day roster, because the conditions prevent a longer stay. Waves actually strike the sides of the buildings during storms, causing the lighthouse to shudder violently. You’d have to be pretty tough, and dedicated to work there.
Back in the day, the lightstations were manned by a lighthouse keeper, and his assistant. Typically the keeper’s wife would be his assistant. As conditions were often too perilous for ships to sail, resupply only ever came when they could. Sometimes it would be over two months before supply ships could dock safely. Families were known to be starving to death when the resupply finally arrived. Especially in the case of a station like Triple Island.
In the early days, mercury was used to hold the lights at the top of the lighthouse. The huge and heavy lights could float and be spun easily on the mercury. Mercury, we’ve learned, is especially toxic when the fumes are inhaled. Mercury poisoning is also known as The Mad Hatter’s Disease.
There’s a story of a lighthouse keeper, his wife, and two children who were manning Triple Island lightstation. Storms and rain plagued the station for sixty days straight. The family were also starving. One day, driven mad by exposure to mercury vapour, and the relentlessly horrible conditions, the keeper’s wife finally snapped. She murdered the children, and seriously wounded her husband. The supply ship finally arrived, and found the keeper bleeding out on the dock.
The supply ship’s captain and first mate searched the station for the keeper’s wife. They found the bodies of the children. One had been visibly gnawed on. There was no sign of the lady. The crew figured she’d cast herself into the ocean, and cleaned and resupplied the station. The replacement keeper was understandably worried, and borrowed the first mate’s pistol, mostly for his peace of mind. He used it on himself forty days later. His final letter read: ‘She’s lonely. I must join her.’
This morning I woke up to a clear blue sky. So I geared up and headed off on the motorbike to go for a ride on my own. Headed south down the highway, against serious glare. Rode through some sweet forest, and alongside a big lake. I stopped off at a small town A&W for a bite. They make delicious sweet potato fries!
Vancouver Island has some pretty awesome scenery, even near the built up areas. I was going to make a big loop through logging back roads, but instead turned back at the end of the sealed road. The first time I go riding off road, it’ll be with someone who has experience. I came back into Nanaimo and took the long way around, on the quiet road along the bay. I love riding alone, especially out in the elements. The forests and mountains here make a very picturesque background to ride through.
I have to pack my suitcase tonight. We’re going up to Mount Washington for Christmas. After that I’m heading down to Victoria for New Year’s. Then I’m headed straight to Seattle. That’s when the holiday ends, and the big American adventure begins.
Yesterday we had Italian at a local place. For some reason, I often challenge myself to eat an entire pizza by myself and in one go. Last night was no exception. One piece was shared, and only one piece left for lunch today. I guess I set myself ambitious goals to achieve, even it’s just eating pizza.
We visited two of my cousins who live about 2 hours south of where I’m staying. They’ve got a house on two acres, which is agricultural. Jo has graciously lent me his motorcycle (a Suzuki DR650 dual sport) and some gear. I went for a little test spin around the block. It’s got serious torque and sits taller than I’m used to, but after a few minutes I was comfortable.
I couldn’t say no. There was the option of borrowing one of their kick around cars, but the motorcycle was irresistible. I rode it up the fairly scenic Trans-Canada Highway back to Nanaimo. It’s a little bit alpine, with a dusting of snow, mountains nearby, and forest lining the roadside. The temperature was only two degrees (minus ten with windchill), but I had a heated vest, and plenty of layers. I’m really starting to enjoy the cold.
Today I had my first driving on the right experience. There’s a curious rule where you can turn right anytime as long as it is clear and safe to do so. Even at a red light. It feels wrong going through an intersection against a red light. I’m sure I’ll get used to it after a while! The more practice the better, before I jump on a motorcycle later this week.
Tonight I went to a local boxing gym and joined in a two hour circuit. It was tough, especially the cardio towards the end. Sprinting up and down with medicine balls was gruelling. It was just what I needed. I’ve been in a bit of a bad mood lately. The training session cheered me up immensely. Boxing does have a bit of an unnatural stance: both feet inline, at least a metre apart lengthways, and angled. It’s so you only present half a target. The trainers were good: pushing everyone to their limit, and beyond, making sure the energy was right up there. I’m on holidays right now, but all the more reason to do all three sessions that are on this week.
It’s 4 am and I am wide awake. Trying my best to make a quick adjustment to local time. The temperature is in the single digits, and everyone is talking about how cold it is. I’m not complaining, this is near enough to where I’ve chosen to live, so I better get used to it. I actually like it this cold, and I can’t wait to see some snow.
I’m chilling with the family for now. Mum, Dad and I are in a big house on the east coast of Vancouver Island. On a clear day you can see across the strait to mainland Canada (or the Interior). I stayed in this house as a kid. There’s a jumble of memories here, and mixed with jet lag, it’s all a bit surreal.
There’s a ravine next to the property, and you can walk down it to get to the beach. Last year, in summer, I went down and checked it out. Looking out over the water, I had an introspective moment, the kind where regular thoughts feel more significant. Then a few others followed me down. I think at by that point in the trip, all I wanted was a bit of independence.
This time it’s different. I’ve changed a lot in the last twelve days, not to mention in the last twelve months. I don’t feel like a new person, but I feel more alive. I’ve definitely taken charge of my life recently. I feel like I’ve really started to own it.