Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job… More Tales from West Africa

Three Hundred Cups of Tea and the Toughest Job by Asifa Kanji and David Drury

 

Peggy, who is President of Friends of the Ruch Library, came home from a Jackson County Library meeting this summer and told me that two Returned Peace Corps Volunteers had just given a program at the Ashland Library on a book they’d written about their experience in Mali, West Africa. She also had their names, David Drury and Asifa Kanji, and contact information.

Given the book I’d written about my Peace Corps adventures in Liberia, it caught my attention.  I called immediately and reached David. Asifa was off in Hawaii attending to business. Within a few minutes we had a picnic set up for Lithia Park in Ashland. We’d bring the wine. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ashland, it’s the first town you come to when following I-5 north from California into Oregon. The community is renowned for its Shakespeare Festival.)

By the end of lunch, we were on our way to becoming friends and had exchanged books. Asifa and David’s books, Three Hundred Cups of Tea and The Toughest Job, are combined under one cover. My book is The Bush Devil Ate Sam. 

I immediately took their books home and begin reading them. I was fascinated. Both are good writers, have a great sense of humor, and have interesting stories to tell.

I joined the Peace Corps when I was 22, right after I graduated from UC Berkeley in 1965. David and Asifa joined almost 50 years later in 2012 when David was 60 and Asifa 57. They had to have vastly different experiences from mine, I thought. And yes, there were differences. I certainly didn’t have a cell phone or access to the Internet. They still weren’t invented. And David worked in a cybercafe! In 1965, I would have been running to the dictionary for a definition— and not finding it.

But in the end, I was more impressed by the similarities of our experiences than the differences. Working in an impoverished third world country while struggling to accomplish something in a totally different culture is slow arduous work, and often unsuccessful. Both of their book titles reflected this. Asifa’s 300 cups of tea was the number of cups you had to drink with someone to get their attention. Patience and, I might add, a strong bladder were called for. David’s book got right to the point; it was the toughest job he had ever had.

If you want a good tale that will transport you into another world with both compassion and humor, I recommend David and Asifa’s book. It’s available here on Amazon.

The Bush Devil Ate Sam, Tree Hundred Cups of Tea, and the Toughest Job: Books on Peace Corps Experiences in West Africa

If you are among my blog followers in Southern Oregon, Asifa, David and I will be doing a program featuring tales from West Africa on this coming Saturday, January 20 at the Ruch Library from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. You are invited! The address for the library is 7919 Highway 238 (one block past the Upper Applegate River intersection if you are coming in from Jacksonville on 238).

Boston: A Cradle of Liberty Where Freedom Still Rings Out

Boston's Old State House has been a symbol of American liberty for over 300 years.

The Declaration of Independence was first read to Bostonians in 1776 from the balcony of the Old State House (shown at night above). John Adam’s bright and articulate wife, Abigail, wrote to her husband that as soon as the Declaration was read… “three cheers rended the air.” She went on to report, “Thus ends the royal authority in this state.”

A fierce desire for independence and freedom has existed in Boston dating back to its very beginning in 1630 when the city was granted a charter to self-govern. Britain’s decision to limit the city’s freedom and tax its citizens starting in the 1760s led to protests that ended in the Revolutionary War and American independence. Beginning in the early 1800s, a strong abolitionist movement opposing slavery grew up in the Boston that would play a key role in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. When Peggy and I visited the city in December, we were able to visit a number of sites that reflected Boston’s historical contributions to liberty in America, but we also found ample evidence that the call to freedom still rings out in the city.

My experience in Boston combined with the fact that Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President this week led me to ponder some the most powerful statements that underlie our nation’s commitment to freedom and equality. Here are my favorites:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —US Declaration of Independence

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. —Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. —The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Slightly different but reflecting America’s original openness to immigration, and I might note, recognizing that we are a nation built by and with immigrants…

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! —Quote on America’s Statue of Liberty

These are words of wisdom from the folks who “made America great,” and have inspired generations of people in the U.S. and around the world. It is my hope that our new president will take these words to heart  in his efforts to “make America great again.”

 

Neither Peggy nor I had been to Boston before, which is a bit surprising considering the importance of Boston to the nation’s history— and to my own. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth on my mother’s side arrived there in early 1630s from England, when the city was founded. Ultimately, we are all immigrants.

Boston Commons plaque that commemorates the founding of Boston, Massachusetts in 1630.

This plaque located on Boston Commons commemorates the founding of Boston in 1630. My Great Grandfather to the umpteenth is helping pull the boat in. (Just kidding.)

It was ‘love at first sight’ when we arrived. I had managed to find us an affordable hotel in the center of the city. Most of Revolutionary Boston was within walking distance and I am a big fan of Revolutionary War history. The red brick Freedom Trail was a short 10 minutes away. “Just follow the yellow brick road” was bouncing around in my mind. Instead of skipping off to Oz on yellow bricks with encouragement from Munchkins, however, the red bricks of the Freedom Trail connected us with many historical sites central to America’s struggles for freedom and equality.

Today, I want to share some of the things we saw in Boston that seem particularly relevant to this week in American history. Next Monday, I’ll be more focused on Boston’s Revolutionary history.

The Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts.

I photographed the Tremont Temple because I thought it was a unique building…

Tremont Baptist Church was the first integrated church in America.

Not having a clue that it was a Baptist Church, or that it was the first integrated church in the U.S. It is a fitting photo to commemorate the week of Martin Luther King’s birthday.

I normally wouldn't take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to locate in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was published, which was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

I normally wouldn’t take a photo of a Chipotle Restaurant, but this one happens to be located in the Old North Bookstore Building where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was published. The book was both a classic of the Abolition Movement and a key factor in leading to the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves.

Historic Faneuil Hall located in Boston, Massachusetts

Faneuil Hall is located just across the street from the Old State House. It was from this building that the fateful words were uttered, “No Taxation without representation.”  Maybe today’s declaration would be focused on the ultra-wealthy and declare “No representation without paying your fair share of taxes.” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, it's inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons that the size of armies could be reduced and that deaths due to combat and disease could be reduced as well. History has taught us a much different lesson, one that should be considered in any discussion of renewing the nuclear arms race.

We found this Gatling Gun in the military museum on the third floor of Faneuil Hall. While it may seem strange to include it here, the inventor, Richard Gatling, believed that by employing increasingly deadly weapons, the size of armies could be reduced and deaths due to combat and disease could be lowered. He also believed it would show us the futility of war. History has taught us a much different lesson. Millions upon millions have died because of the ever-increasing sophistication of weapons. And now our new president is talking about renewing the nuclear arms race…

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it is the oldest public school house in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attend the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, his new Secretary of Education, who will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose motivation is either profit or the promotion of a particular belief system,.

This plaque on School Street notes where the Latin School stood. Founded on April 23, 1635, it was the first public school in America. People such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock attended the school. Public education in America may become a thing of the past under Betsy DeVos, Trump’s new Secretary of Education, who’s proposed voucher system will gut public schools in favor of private schools whose primary motivation is profit or promoting a particular belief system. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were when we were on our walk. The we come on the plaque featured below.

Peggy and I wondered what the significance of theses rocks were we found on our walk. Then we came upon the plaque featured below.

The Boston Peace Garden.

The Boston Peace Garden.

Peggy and I walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

We walked over to Newbury Street where the New England Genealogical Society is located. Along the way we came across the very impressive First Church of the Covenant that has long been a leader in promoting social justice.

This banner was stretched above its door...

This banner was stretched above its door…

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston's Old State House where freedom still rings.

Peggy and I found these T-shirts featured in Boston’s Old State House.We decided that they would serve as an appropriate conclusion to this blog.

NEXT BLOG: Back to the Sierra Trek

 

 

 

Wandering through Time and Place in 2017… And Some Thoughts on Planning

Curtis Mekemson hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail behind Squaw Valley.

It’s time to start planning and dreaming about 2017. One of my goals is a seven week, 500-mile backpack trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here I am in the Granite Chief Wilderness behind Squaw Valley, California. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

It’s the first day of the New Year. It’s the time to make resolutions and plans— a time to dream.

There was a time in my life when I was obsessive about the planning process. I would lay out goals and objectives. And then I would move into YAPs, QUAPs, MAPs, WAPs and DAPs, or, to spell it out: yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily action plans based on my goals and objectives. I set priorities, created time lines, made to-do lists, checked things off, kept records, and made plan revisions. Things that didn’t work were modified or dropped. New opportunities were taken advantage of. I did it for my personal as well as professional life. It was how I accomplished things I wanted to do, and how I kept some control over my often chaotic life.

Early on I had learned if I didn’t plan out what I wanted to do with my time, someone else was more than willing to do it for me. And I had also learned that there is power in planning, in knowing what you want to do, and in determining what is important, what has the greatest impact.

I am not as obsessive as I once was, but old habits die hard. And, even though I am “retired,” it is still important to have an idea of where I want to go, of what I want to do, and of what is important to me. Of course I don’t exist in a vacuum. Ask Peggy. (grin) Most of what we do is jointly decided.

So given all of this, what are my writing and travel plans for 2017?

Kpelle footbridge near Gbarnga, Liberia circa 1965.

I hope to revise and republish “The Bush Devil Ate Sam,” a memoir about my Peace Corps experience in West Africa. Here, a much younger Curt makes his way across a river on a native bridge in the heart of the African jungle.

Under writing objectives, I plan to finish my next book, tentatively titled Tales of an Incorrigible Wanderer. My 10,000-mile bike trip plus other outdoor adventures will be included. (I am sure you will want to buy a copy. Grin.) I also plan to revise and republish The Bush Devil Ate Sam. I will continue to blog two to three times a week on current travels/adventures as well as past adventures. I am thinking in terms of doing one blog each week on current travels, one blog on past adventures, and one blog as a photographic essay. But we’ll see. I have to reduce the time I spend on blogging so I have more time for other goals, like play, for example.

Our travels this coming year will likely go in three directions. One, Peggy would like us to do a more thorough job of exploring the Pacific Northwest. I might add California down to Big Sur simply to expand my Pacific Coast blogging series. (And I really like Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey.) I expect we will also spend more time exploring the East Coast now that our two kids and their families are living there. Finally, I am hoping we can plan a trip to Ireland and possibly England where I would like to continue my genealogical research.

Photo of Scottish pony taken by Curtis Mekemson.

I photographed this pony in Kirkcolm, Scotland when I was doing research on my Scots-Irish ancestors a few years ago. I promised myself at the time that I would return for more research in Ireland and England.

I am also hoping we can make it back to Burning Man. It is one of my most popular blog topics and I would like to write a book in 2018 on my 14 years of experience with the event. We will know in February if we can get tickets for this year.

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man in 2015 is caught by the morning sun.

Morning sun catches the copper face of the Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2015.

Finally, it is time for another grand adventure. I celebrated my 60s by doing a six-week 360-mile backpack trip down the Sierra Nevada Mountain range from Lake Tahoe to Mt. Whitney. It seems only appropriate that I celebrate my 70s by doing a seven-week, 70-miles per week, 490-mile backpack trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. But I’ll have to see whether my 74-year old body is willing to cooperate. Maybe it will be a one-week 70-mile trip, or a one-day 7-mile hike, or a .7-mile hike to the mailbox. Laughing.

Whatever… I am sure there will be many adventures to share!

Wandering through Time and Place… The 2016 Year in Review: Part II

America and Canada are crammed with beautiful sights that range from mountains to deserts to oceans, to plains, to rivers... and well the list just goes on and on. This is a waterfall from Old Stone Fort State Park in Tennessee.

America and Canada are crammed with beautiful sights that range from mountains to deserts to oceans, to plains, to rivers… and well the list just goes on and on. This is a waterfall from Old Stone Fort State Park in Tennessee.

Continuing on with our 2016 journeys, Peggy and I left Oregon in March to retrace my 1989, 10,000 mile bike journey around North America. We were on the road until mid-June, and I just wrapped up my posts on the trip. It took me longer to write about it than it did to bike it!  The truth of this is that I can’t begin to capture the experience in ten photos. It was a challenge to me to capture it in 54 posts and 1000 photos. None-the-less, here are a few random shots:

I started my journey in the foothills of California in the spring. In a couple of months the green grass here would be brown, or golden as they call it in California.

I started my journey in the foothills of California in the spring. In a couple of months the green grass here would be brown, or golden as they call it in California.

One of the more challenging parts of my ride was through Death Valley. Twenty Mule Canyon was on my way out of the National Park on my way into Nevada.

One of the more challenging parts of my ride was through Death Valley. Twenty Mule Canyon was on my way out of the National Park on my way into Nevada.

I found a touch of outer space when I rode by the Very Large Array of radio telescopes as I rode down the easter side of the rocky Mountains in New Mexico.

I found a touch of outer space when I rode by the Very Large Array of radio telescopes as I rode down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains in New Mexico.

Literally dozens of roadside sculptures entertained me on my bike trip and then Peggy and me as we re-drove the route. Peggy and I found this 25 foot high Longhorn in West Texas, where you would expect to find it.

Literally dozens of roadside sculptures entertained me on my bike trip and then Peggy and me as we re-drove the route. Peggy and I found this 25 foot high longhorn in West Texas, where you would expect to find it.

Louisiana is bayou country, the place where you expect to see water moccasins slithering through the water, or get good reflection shots.

Louisiana is bayou country, the place where you expect to see water moccasins slithering through the water, or get good reflection shots.

The Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Highway are both beautiful. It's the Trace here. An added advantage of both National Park highways is that no commercial traffic is allowed. Translate: I wasn't dodging 18-wheelers.

The Natchez Trace and the Blue Ridge Highway are both beautiful. It’s the Trace here. An added advantage of both National Park highways is that no commercial traffic is allowed. Translate: I wasn’t dodging 18-wheelers.

I found this small waterfall beside the road in the Great Smokey Mountains. Dozens, maybe of hundreds of such falls graced my trip.

I found this small waterfall beside the road in the Great Smokey Mountains. Dozens, maybe of hundreds of such falls graced my trip.

The Atlantic Ocean greeted me along this rocky shoreline of the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotiia. This was my fattest point east. After this it was time to turn around and ride 5,000 miles west.

The Atlantic Ocean greeted me along this rocky shoreline of the Cape Breton Highlands in Nova Scotia. This was my fastest point east. After this it was time to turn around and ride 5,000 miles west.

A stream along the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario. My rivers ranged from the mighty Mississippi to mere trickles.

A stream along the Trans-Canada Highway in Ontario. My rivers ranged from the mighty Mississippi to mere trickles.

I crossed several mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies twice. Tis is a photo of the rockies in Montana.

I crossed several mountain ranges including the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies twice. It is a photo of the Rockies in Montana.

One thing I learned over and over is that beauty comes in all shapes and forms, such as this lonely tree in North Dakota.

One thing I learned over and over is that beauty comes in all shapes and forms, such as this lonely tree in North Dakota.

Whoops. I just counted my photos. There are 12. I’ll call it a bakers 10.

 

PRESENTING: Petros the Magnificent… A Pelican Of Mykonos

I really like this shot of Petros.

I laugh every time I see this shot of Petros. Somehow I think ghost, or maybe preacher. “Shall we gather at the beach, brothers and sisters?” What do you think?

It’s time for another blog quickie! In fact there will be several short posts over the next few weeks. Peggy and I are heading back East to visit with our children and grandchildren in Connecticut and North Carolina for Christmas. I doubt that our five grandsons will allow much time for blogging. 🙂 Besides, you can probably use a break from my thousand word essays!

I blogged about Petros once when I was out wandering around the Mediterranean and met him on the Greek Island of Mykonos. You can go here for the full story. But the bird is so magnificent that he deserves a second post. If you’ve ever been to the island, the odds are he may have hit you up for a fish. Or ignored you. He sees lots of tourists.

Actually this is Petros II. Number one showed up in the 50s in really bad shape. The good folks of Mykonos nursed him back to health. Rather than fly away and work for a living, he decided to hang around and live the good life. Jackie Kennedy even found him a mate. Unfortunately, Petros I met his demise under a truck.

Speaking of the good life, he even has his own little fountain to hang out in.

Speaking of the good life, Petros even has his own little fountain to hang out in.

The bird was quickly replaced. Not only was he well-loved, he was a great tourist draw. One time another island even stole him, hoping to cash in on his popularity. There was almost a war.

That’s it for today… As you read this, Peggy and I are winging our way to Boston.

The look. Aren't I pretty!

The look. “I’m so pretty.” Or, “What are you looking at?”

My favorite.

My favorite. Petros looking pensive.

NEXT BLOG: The picturesque town of Mendocino on California’s rugged northern coast.

Home and a Surprise… The Ten Thousand Mile Bike Trek— End of Series

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

When I arrived at Lake Tahoe, I returned to what I considered my home territory. Half of the beauty of the area is found in the Lake, the other half is in the surrounding backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

I had planned my six month, solo bike journey around North America as a great circular route, starting and ending in the small, rural town of Diamond Springs, which is nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range east of Sacramento. I grew up there, and the connection was important to me.

I had seen my journey as twofold. My primary purpose was to explore much of the US and Canada in a way few other people had. But I also wanted to use the opportunity to undertake an inward voyage, going back in time to explore my childhood and learn more about myself. Thus the Diamond Springs tie in.

The three-month trip Peggy and I made this spring allowed me to retrace my route and relive my 1989 experience. It also allowed me to share the journey with you, which I have done with 54 posts that included approximately 50,000 words and 1,000 photos: in even more words, that’s a lot! In the end, my North America bike trek had turned out to be everything that I hoped for, and much more. I had seen great beauty, met good people, and had numerous adventures— enough even for me.

Someday, I may share the inward journey. Suffice it to say here, I learned a lot about myself along the way. I achieved a balance and inner peace that have lasted up until today. I haven’t found myself teetering on the edge since 1989. I could run off and play in the woods for reasons other than to put Curt back together again.

But for now, let’s finish up the bike journey and discover the surprise at the end.

I left Carson City, Nevada following Highway 50 up and over Spooner Pass and then dropped into Lake Tahoe, arguably one of the world’s most beautiful lakes. Memories came flooding back. I had spent three college summers driving a laundry truck between Placerville and Lake Tahoe six days a week. The work was easy, the scenery beautiful and the money… well, it was enough to pay for my UC Berkeley education. (I only had to cover my living expenses, books and student fees. Those were the days when tuition at UC was still free, back in the days when government still believed that an investment in public education was one of the best investments it could make, back before it decided that making banks wealthy–er was more important.)

In 1974, I came up with the crazy idea that the organization I was Executive Director of in Sacramento could raise funds off of 9-day hundred mile backpack trips. Actually, I just wanted to go backpacking. The first one I led was from Squaw Valley, just northwest of Tahoe, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to Auburn. I took 63 people aged 11-70 and learned a lot. (I’ll tell you the story some time.) Fortunately the Trekkers let me live, and the event made money. Later I would add 9-day, 500 mile Bike Treks. Several included Lake Tahoe. I even organized a 7-day winter cross-country ski and camping trek through the Desolation Wilderness west of the lake. That was an experience!

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra's on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home there than I ever have in any city.

I feel a deep attachment to the Sierra’s on the west side of Lake Tahoe, having backpacked up and down and across them many, many times over the years. I feel more at home in these mountains than I ever have in any city.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

This impressive rock greeted me as I biked down to the Lake from Sooner Pass.

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow!

The Casinos started a quarter of a mile beyond this lovely meadow! Nevada has done a much better job of controlling growth than California.

My bike trip took me along the east shore of the lake to Stateline where I biked past more casinos and entered California and El Dorado County, the county of my youth. Highway 50 wound through South Lake Tahoe and then over to Myers where I climbed my second 7000-foot pass of the day. I felt like I could have done it blind-folded. I was on my laundry route. Every curve, every sight was an old friend. Passing over Echo Summit, I had a wonderfully long downhill ride to Riverton and then climbed up once more to Pollock Pines, where I left Highway 50 and detoured through Camino. I found a small barbershop there and got my first haircut since Nova Scotia. I was a bit on the bushy side. There was a chance that they wouldn’t recognize me in Sacramento, especially if you threw in the fact that I had lost 40 pounds and now had big, bulging muscles.

The Sierra's are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

The Sierras are world renown for their granite. This view is from the southern portion of the Tahoe basin just before you begin to climb out of it toward Echo Summit.

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville!

Because of my laundry days, I knew every curve (and straight-stretch) between Lake Tahoe and Placerville! Just beyond the small hill on the left is a major drop into a deep canyon.

Horse Tail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountains. I once crossed the river when it was roaring like this on a narrow log. It was raining and I was by myself. I got down and crawled.

Horsetail Falls is one of many scenic views I appreciated on my laundry trips and on my bike ride down the mountain. I once crossed the river up near the top on a narrow log when it was roaring like this. It was raining, I was by myself, and I was wearing a 50 pound pack. I got down on my knees and crawled.

Sugarloaf Mountain located next to Kyburz Resort on Highway 50 in El Dorado County, CA.

This wonderful chunk of granite is known as Sugarloaf and is another favorite view along Highway 50. It’s quite popular among rock climbers, which is another sport (like jumping off bridges), I see no reason to pursue.

A short five miles brought me to Placerville, where I lingered, not wanting my journey to end. I had gone to high school here and spent my teenage years in the town learning about life, love, sex, and books, not necessarily in that order. Eventually, I climbed back on my bike, picked up Highway 49, and biked 3 miles into Diamond. I jumped off my bike, dropped it, and did a jig with great enthusiasm. People must have thought I was extremely odd. And I was. My 10,000-mile North America Bike Trek was over.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of it's heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

The town of Placerville where I went to high school was once known as Hangtown and is quite proud of its heritage. A large oak tree in the center of the town was used for hanging bad guys (and probably a few innocents) during the Gold Rush Era.

Hangman's Tree location in Placerville, CA.

The tree was cut down long ago but this rather ghoulish fellow (or his look-alike) has been hanging at the site where the tree was as far back as my memory takes me.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured here and wanted to know whether I preferred to go to my graduation from high school that night or go to jail.

Speaking of evil-doers, you might want to check here to find out why the Placerville Police of Chief was driving me around in his squad car behind the courthouse featured above, wanting to know whether I preferred  to spend my night graduating from high school or going to jail.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

And finally, after riding my bike for 10,000 miles, I returned to Diamond.

But my trip wasn’t quite over; I still had to bike into Sacramento.

I spent the night in Diamond and then rode along Highway 49 through the town, past the cemetery, past my old house, and on to Eldorado, following the same route I had six-months earlier. It felt like decades. In El Dorado, I left my route and followed back roads into Sacramento. I had a Trek-planning meeting that night at the Lung Association. My friend Jane Hagedorn, the Executive Director, had lured me back into town with the promise of Treks. I wheeled my bike into the office at 909 12th street and was greeted royally by Raquel, Jane’s executive secretary, a woman I had hired in 1974.

“Where’s Jane?” I asked, eager to see my friend. “She’s on an important phone conference call,” Raquel answered. The door to her office was closed. I had turned around, a bit disappointed, when a woman I didn’t know came bursting out of one of the offices. Wow, I thought, she’s gorgeous. She gave me a lovely smile that warmed me from my head to my toes, and everywhere in between.

“Hi,” she greeted me, grabbing my hand. “I am Peggy, Jane’s sister. You have to be Curtis! I’ve been hearing stories about you for years.” I swear— I fell in love— then and there.

A new journey had begun.

Last week, Peggy and I celebrated 24 years of marriage and 26 years of happily wandering the world together.

A 1993 photo of Peggy one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

A 1993 photo of Peggy at 43 one year after we had married. Always up for an adventure, she had just finished a 150 mile backpack trip down the John Muir Trail I had led to celebrate my 50th birthday. More to the point she had just finished hiking a 16 mile day with a 40 pound pack up and over Mt. Whitney that had included 9000 feet of elevation gain and loss. And she was still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still smiling!

Peggy celebrating the end of re-tracing my bike route at the Diamond Springs Hotel. She had driven our RV the whole way so I could take photos and notes. Still up for an adventure, still smiling and still gorgeous at 65!

NEXT BLOG: Meet Petros, the world’s most famous pelican. A blog quickie!

 

From Flying Saucers to a Monster Moose: Bicycling across Ontario… The 10,000 Mike Bike Trek

Large moose culture found in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Large sculptures are often found in Canadian towns. They serve as tourist attractions but also give the town a unique character. We found this large moose that Peggy is snuggling up to in Hearst, Ontario.

Quebec and Ontario shared a unique status on my Bike Trek: They were huge— two to three times the size of Texas. Each took over a week to bicycle across and each had a lot of no-where miles, long distances between towns. Northern Quebec won the prize, however, for being the most remote. As I bicycled south and picked up Quebec Route 117, larger towns reappeared at more frequent intervals. Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda were close to being small cities.

Crossing into Ontario, smaller communities were the rule. Ten thousand people constituted a major metropolis. Larder Lake, the first community I biked through in Ontario, had a population of around 1000 in 1989. It had dropped to 700 when Peggy and I drove through in May. I was reminded of West Texas, where most of the towns seemed to be losing population. Once upon a time, Larder Lake was considered to have a golden future. A mining investment company ran an ad in the 1907 Ottawa Citizen claiming:

“The Larder Lake district is believed to be the richest gold country ever known, and it is just now being opened up. Soon will commence the most tremendous outpouring of gold known to civilization.”

If you could get past the English, how could you not invest? The person who wrote the ad copy likely had a great future as a time-share salesman. Eventually a little gold was found, but it was more like a trickle than a “tremendous outpouring.” Today, the town is better known for fish. Peggy and I found a large one beside the road. It was leaping out of the ‘water.’

Lake Trout Sculpture in Larder Lake, Ontario Canada.

A large Lake Trout leaping out of the water served to let travelers know that Larder Lake was a great place to go fishing, and, I might add, enjoy the outdoors in general.

I am in love with the large, often outlandish sculptures, that so many Canadian towns adopt to encourage tourism, or maybe because the residents have a warped sense of humor. Peggy and I first became aware of the phenomena when we were driving into British Columbia in 1999 on Highway 97 out of Washington and came upon the “World’s Largest Golf Ball” and the “World’s Largest Beehive.” Here are some that we found as we made our way across Ontario on Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Flying saucer sculpture in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

If your town is named Moonbeam, why not have a flying saucer sculpture in front of the Information Center? Quivera, our van, can be seen peeking out from behind the saucer.

Aliens peak out window of flying saucer in front of information center in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

Curious aliens were staring out the windows of the flying saucer.

Alien points out brochures in Information Bureau in Moonbeam, Ontario Canada.

A helpful alien points out brochures inside of Moonbeam’s Information Center.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

This young woman staffed the Information Center. She spoke fluent English but confessed her first love was French. She also told us there were great hiking trails in the region but that she avoided them because of bears.

Large black bear sculpture found in Kapuskasing, Ontario Canada

Shortly afterwards we found this huge black bear statue at Kapuskasing. I’d be staying off the trails, too.

Giant moose and wolf sculptures in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

Here is another shot of the moose I featured at the top of the post— not looking so friendly as he stares down a pair of wolves.

Wolf sculpture in Hearst, Ontario Canada.

A view of the wolf looking like he might belong in the movie, Twilight. “Jacob, is that you in there?”

The 'World's Largest Snowman' in Beardmore, Ontario Canada.

Beardmore proudly boasts the World’s Largest Snowman as its claim to fame.

My bicycle trip across Ontario in 1989 was something of a blur. One thing I do remember was a gradual change from French to English. It wasn’t like I arrived at the border and the language changed. Local loyalties seemed to depend on culture rather than the provincial boundary. I was reminded of my experience in West Africa where loyalty was to the family first, the tribe second, and the country third. Peggy and I still noticed remnants of these emotions in Ontario 26 years later. A house might be painted in tri-color French, warning off potential Anglophiles. Or British lions would be proudly displayed as lawn ornaments, prepared to pounce on someone who spoke French.

Towns became more frequent, which meant there were more excuses to stop. I could start with breakfast and eat my way through the day. I had given up on cooking for myself by now, unless I was desperate. There was mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack and dinner to look forward to, not to mention coffee breaks. My hundred-mile a day bicycling body demanded constant fueling. Plus I liked the companionship. Bicycling by myself for 8-10 hours was lonely business. On occasion, I would even stay at a motel, just so I could turn the TV on and hear people talk. The downside of this was that I ran through my trip budget more quickly than I had planned. When I arrived in Thunder Bay, I called my brother-in-law and had him transfer some money he owed me into my account so I could finish off my journey in the style I had become accustomed to!

The terrain in Ontario wasn’t much different that I had been peddling over in Quebec, more or less flat with rolling hills. I worked my way through forests and farmlands, continuing to pass by numerous lakes and occasional rivers. As I neared Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, however, more mountainous country came into view, and with that more serious uphills and downhills. Following are several photos that Peggy and I took of the countryside.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight.

Trans-Canada Highway 11 works its way across Ontario— in this particular instance forested, flat and straight. Can’t say much for the gravelly shoulder.

Bear Lake in Ontario Canada along Trans-Canada Highway 11.

Many lakes are found along the highway in Ontario. Bear Lake was one of the first I came across. In line with its name, bear-proof trash containers were provided at the wayside. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing.

The Kapuskasing River provides hydro-electric power for the town of Kapuskasing. Peggy and I also saw extensive use of solar power along Highway 11.

This abandoned church caught my attention...

This abandoned church caught my attention…

It's feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

It’s feeling of ages past led me to render it in black and white.

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views...

Wild Goose Campground near Long Lake provided some scenic views…

Reedy lake at Wild Goose Campground in Ontario.

Plus this one of reeds.

As I approached Thunder Bay, Mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

As I approached Thunder Bay, mountains provided both beauty and a more challenging ride.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

Peggy and I stopped to photograph this cliff.

And its small waterfall.

And its small waterfall.

Nipigon River Bridge in Ontario Canada

This bridge across the Nipigon River near Thunder Bay has only been opened for a short while. It was closed briefly in January this year because it became detached from the approach. Given that it provides the only way across the river for Canada’s major East-West highways, you can imagine the resources that were devoted to fixing it! Peggy and I headed across the bridge, stopped in Thunder Bay for lunch, and then drove into Minnesota — returning to the US as I had on my bike.

NEXT BLOG: I cross Minnesota, throw a rock across the Mississippi River, and visit with a babe (as in Babe the Blue Ox).

The Case of the Disappearing Woman… and other Scary Halloween Tales: Part III

The ghostly grave of John Brown the Martyr on a lonely Scottish moor.

The ghostly grave of John Brown the Martyr on a lonely Scottish moor.

I mentioned the Scottish Presbyterian Martyr, John Brown, in a recent post I wrote about the Scottish presence on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. My connection to Brown goes back to my Great, Great, Great Grand Father, James Mekemson, who had married Mary Brown Laughhead Findlay. John Brown was her Great Grandfather.

The story of John Brown’s murder verges on legend. He was, as the saying goes, a Covenanter’s Covenanter, a very devout man. The Scottish Covenanters received their name from signing a Covenant that only Christ could be King, which eliminated the King of England from being God’s representative on earth. The King was not happy. So he set out to eliminate Covenanters.

Reverend Alexander Peden, one of the top leaders of the Covenanter Movement, described Brown as “a clear shining light, the greatest Christian I ever conversed with.” High praise indeed; the type you reserve for a man who is killed for your cause.

They say that Brown would have been a great preacher, except he stuttered. Leading Covenanters visited his home and secret church services were held there. Important meetings took place. Alexander Peden stayed at his house the night before Brown earned his martyrdom and warned of dark times. Peden was something of a prophet when it came to predicting dire events. This time he was right.

Brown was out gathering peat with his nephew the next morning when soldiers led by John Graham of Claverhouse appeared out of the mist and captured him. The date was May 2, 1685. Claverhouse, or Bloody Clavers as the early Presbyterians identified him, was the King’s go-to man when it came to doing away with Covenanters. He was not noted for his compassion.

He took Brown back to his home and demanded that he swear an oath to the King in front of his wife and children. Brown started praying instead. The legend states that Claverhouse ordered his soldiers to kill Brown but they refused. So he took out his own pistol and shot him in the head in front of his family. The story then goes on to describe how Brown’s wife, Isabel Weir, went about the yard collecting pieces of her husband’s brain. (I don’t mean to treat this lightly, but somehow I can’t help thinking about a TV episode of Bones.)

An early sketch of John Brown the Martyr of Priesthill Scotland being shot down by Bloody Clavers.

An early sketch of John Brown the Martyr of Priesthill Scotland being shot down by Bloody Clavers.

Three years ago, Peggy and I made a trip to Scotland where I went on a search for ancestors. In looking for John Brown’s grave, we had stayed at a wonderful Bed and Breakfast known as the Old Church B&B in the village of Muirkirk. The owners had provided us with directions on how to find the site. It wasn’t obvious. Old and older roads led to a farmhouse where we were to park our car and then hike down a barely visible trail a mile or so to the grave.

The Old Church B&B in Muirkirk Scotland where we stayed when searching for John Brown's grave.

The Old Church B&B in Muirkirk Scotland where we stayed when searching for John Brown’s grave.

Finally the old farmhouse came into sight. A woman was standing on a porch enclosed by a three-foot high rock wall. She was wearing clothes that my great-grandmother times five might have found fashionable. Since we would be walking through her property in search of John Brown’s grave, I got out to talk with her.

But she did something strange. She disappeared. Now this was strange in two ways. Obviously she didn’t want to talk with us. She turned her back and walked rapidly toward the door.  Okay, I could live with that even though we had found most Scots to be friendly and helpful. Possibly she was shy.

What bothered me more was she sank. It was like she was traveling down an escalator or open elevator. Her head disappeared beneath the stonewall before she reached the door. I did not see her go inside.

“Maybe there are steps down to an underground cellar,” I thought to myself. Or maybe she merely bent over to work on a flower garden. Curiosity got the better of me. I walked over. There was no woman; there were no flowers; there were no stairs. As far as I could see the floor of the porch was solid stone.

I asked Peggy, “Did you see that woman disappear?”

“She went inside,” my logical wife explained.

“Ah,” I said and put the matter out of my mind as we wandered out the indistinct trail across the vacant moors to John Brown’s lonely grave. But the thought, unlike the woman, wouldn’t conveniently disappear; it kept nibbling away at me. Later I asked Peggy if she had seen the woman sink into the porch.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Did you actually see her go in the house?”

“No.”

So there you have it. Had we actually seen a ghost? Was this some ancient ancestor? I will wrap up my Halloween tales at this point but how about you? Do you have any ghostly tales you would like to share on this scary 2016.

Peggy stands near where John Brown was shot on the likely remains of his house. Mist covers the distance as it would have on the day he was captured.

Peggy stands on the site where Isabel Weir may have once gone about her ghastly chore of gathering up John Brown’s brains. Mist covers the distance as it would have on the day he was captured.

NEXT POST: I will be back to bicycling across the province of Ontario, Canada.

The Road Less Traveled: Into the Far North of Quebec… The 10,000-Mile Bike Trek

When you choose to depart from familiar well-known roads, whether you are on an external or internal journey, it helps to have some idea of what you might be facing, and be prepared. I loved this 'fill in the blank' sign I found in Northern Quebec.

When you choose to depart from familiar well-known roads, it helps to have some idea of what you might be facing, and be prepared. I loved this ‘fill in the blank’ sign I found in Northern Quebec.

Peggy and I stopped at the Information Center in Saguenay with a specific purpose in mind. We wanted to find out about the road conditions for our trip into Northern Quebec following Route 167. Was there still snow? Would the dirt sections of the highway be knee-deep in mud? What services existed along the road?

“The road is fine,” the young woman at the Information Center assured us, looking at me like I was a nervous-Nellie city slicker who rarely made it beyond the confines of his city and would freak out if he couldn’t find a ‘ within ten miles.

A sign not usually seen by your everyday city dweller in the US. It is the third watch out for moose sign I've shown. The first featured a moose, the second a moose and a car. This one in northern Quebec was a bit more graphic.

A sign not usually seen by your everyday city dweller in the US. It is the third ‘watch out for moose’ sign I’ve shown in this series. The first featured a moose, the second a moose and a car. This one on Route 167 in northern Quebec was a bit more graphic.

“My boyfriend lives in Chibougamau (the farthest north we would travel) and drives down to see me every week.” As if that was supposed to convince me. Love does strange things to us. Something in my look must have caught her attention. She changed her tack.

“Well the road may be much rougher than you are used to in the US,” she said solicitously in her best Information Center voice. She didn’t want a couple of grumpy tourists complaining that they had been misled. I laughed. It was a ploy I had used many times on the nine-day, 100-mile backpack treks I had led. Inexperienced backpackers invariably wanted to know how tough their day was going to be. It was always best to error on the side of difficulty. Otherwise, they blamed me if their day was harder than expected.

So maybe the road was paved, but how often do you see SOS signs along paved roads. 167 had several pointing to lone phone booths. I don't remember any when I bike the road.

So maybe the road was paved, but how often do you see SOS signs along paved roads. Peggy and I saw several on 167 pointing toward lone phone booths. I don’t remember any when I biked the road.

An SOS phone booth along Route 167 in Northern Quebec.

An S.O.S. phone booth along the road.

But Peggy and I understood rough roads. We had already been over some rough roads in Canada, and rougher ones in the States. Plus Peggy and I had driven Quivera the Van and her predecessor Xanadu for over 200,000 miles on back roads in North America, including two trips to Alaska. It was unlikely that we were going to find something more difficult that we had already experienced.

We eventually got the information we wanted. There would be no deep mud; the whole road was paved. No snowstorms were predicted. Services were limited the first 100 miles (160 k), but after that, more frequent. Our only precaution: We should start with a full tank of gas.

The bottom line: It was not the road I remembered from 1989. Improvements had been made.

I left Lac Saint Jean with more concern than I normally felt. I had been over lonely roads, some with extremely limited services. But they were roads I knew something about. Naturally I had asked locals about what to expect on Quebec Routes 167 and 113. People had told me the area was isolated with few services. I should carry extra food and be prepared to handle any bike problems on my own. Bad weather was expected. The road was not skinny-tire friendly; portions were unpaved. And, oh, by the way, there were lots of logging trucks, really big logging trucks!

This sign along Route 167 suggested that the logging trucks were big. It was small in comparison to what I would experience.

This sign along Route 167 suggested that the logging trucks were big. It was small in comparison to what I would experience.

I pictured myself riding through a horrendous rainstorm over a dirt road as logging trucks blasted by me at 100 kilometers per hour, burying me in mud.

None of the above happened on my first day. There was extreme isolation, yes. I rode miles without seeing a car, and the dark green forest of skinny trees went on and on. But the road was paved and there wasn’t any rain. The day was actually hot. Sweat kept trickling into my eyes. Thirst drove me to stop at slow streams twice to refill my water bottles. I was careful to use my water filter. Nasty things like giardia might be lurking in the dark water. The heat took its toll. After 90 miles, I called it a day and disappeared into the forest to set up camp. Why I didn’t select a creek or lake to camp next to, who knows. There were plenty about. But I chose a dry camp and that meant my water had to be rationed.

There were numerous lakes and streams along the road. Had I camped next to them, my bath would have been much more thorough.

There were numerous lakes and streams along the road I could have camped next to.

That wasn’t a problem; I had two liters, which were plenty to cook with and drink. My challenge was I also wanted a bath. I had skipped one the night before at Lac Saint Jean and then biked through 90 miles of heat. I really didn’t want to sleep with me. Careful calculations suggested I had two cups of water for bathing: one for washing and one for rinsing. So that’s what I did. It was sponge on and then sponge off, quickly, trying to cover all 3, 168 square inches of my body with 16 ounces. Blood sucking mosquitoes guaranteed speed. Whether I smelled better and was cleaner really didn’t matter, I went to bed happier.

I found the rain, dirt roads, and speeding logging trucks the next day. But first I had found a service station and had done a happy dance. After a hundred miles of nothing, four gas pumps and a squat building seemed like the Taj Mahal. I’m pretty sure it was Nirvana, but it didn’t last. Shortly after leaving the gas station, the rain and the dirt road arrived as a one-two punch— a sort of karma for celebrating too much. Bicycling through 2-3 inches of mud on skinny tires in a deluge isn’t much fun.

But it’s more fun that bicycling through mud and rain with speeding logging trucks. I heard something humongous coming up behind me, fast. My head whipped around like Linda Blair’s. It was an ‘Oh shit!’ moment. I didn’t see your normal everyday large logging truck; I saw a freight train, a monster pulling three trailers barreling down on me. And the driver didn’t slow down. He blasted by me with all 30 tires throwing up mud. I became an instant mud man. Totally blind, I applied wet brakes to wet tires and stumbled off my bike. Standing there, cursing, wiping off mud from my glasses and face, I had fond thoughts of my office in Sacramento.

Sometimes I am a slow learner, or make that stubborn. Not this time. When I heard a logging truck coming, I would jump off my bike and make a mad dash through the mud for the side of the road. Then I would happily wave at the logger as he went by. I doubt they ever noticed my slightly extended middle finger. I only waved it at the guys doing at least a 100 kph.

Of course the section of dirt road ended. It couldn’t have been more than 20 or 30 miles long. And the majority of truck drivers slowed down, probably because they were amazed to see a bike tourist on their road. Anyway, you can see why I wanted a clear view of what Peggy and I might expect on my second trip over the road. The following photos relate our experience.

The road through the wilderness went on and on, for some 300 miles.

The road through the wilderness went on and on, for some 300 miles. The first hundred miles was as empty as this photo suggests, but Peggy and I did find the SOS phone booths and an emergency medical station that hadn’t been there during my trip.

Numerous lakes, streams and rivers are found along the road. The first half seemed heavier on lakes, the second half on rivers.

Numerous lakes, streams and rivers are found along the road. The first half seemed to have more lakes, the second half more rivers.

I took full advantage to capture reflection shots. This one seemed dark and brooding.

I took full advantage to capture reflection shots. This one seemed dark and foreboding.

And this one more cheerful.

And this one more cheerful.

The small lake next to the emergency station provided this shot.

The small lake next to the emergency station provided this shot.

Quebec Route 167 ends its northern journey at Chibougamau, 8 miles from where Route 113 heads south. I skipped the extra 16 miles and cut south, but Peggy and I stayed at the town's hotel.

Quebec Route 167 ends its northern journey at Chibougamau, 8 miles from where Route 113 heads south. I skipped the extra 16 mile round trip and cut south, but Peggy and I stayed at the town’s hotel. Today, a motel is found at the cutoff. I can almost guarantee I would have been there taking a real shower instead of bathing in two cups of water had it been there in 1989!

may have been at the end of the road, but it had a McDs...

Chibougamau may have been at the end of the road, but it had a McDs. And, judging from the size of the truck, they drank a lot of Budweiser.

The logging trucks apparently weren't out and about yet. At least Peggy and I didn't see any. But this pile of logs suggests the amount of timber harvesting in the area. Large swaths had been clear cut, leaving ugly scars.

The logging trucks apparently weren’t out and about yet. At least Peggy and I didn’t see any. But this pile of logs suggests the amount of timber harvesting done in the area. Large swaths had been clear-cut, leaving ugly scars.

We watched a huge claw pick up dozens of the skinny logs at a time.

We watched a huge claw pick up dozens of the skinny logs at a time. The logs that come out of the forests near our house in Southern Oregon are easily 3-4 times bigger in diameter.

Rivers captured our admiration as we drove south on Route 113.

Rivers captured our admiration as we drove south on Route 113.

And they reminded us how much Quebec depends upon hydro-electric power. We crossed under high power lines several times coming down from the north several times.

And they reminded us how much Quebec depends upon hydro-electric power. We crossed under high power lines several times.

Another example.

Another example.

Rapids suggested this river might be fun to raft.

Rapids suggested this river might be fun to raft.

A close up of the same river.

A close up of the same river. Looking at how shallow the water appears to be. I had second thoughts about rafting.

A lone bike tourist made his way south on Route 113. He was the only one we saw on the route. Apparently biking into Northern Quebec has yet to take off and become popular!

A lone bike tourist made his way south on Route 113. He was the only one we saw on the route. Apparently biking into northern Quebec has yet to take off and become popular!

Rain reminded me of my bike trip.

A storm was waiting for him and reminded me of my own adventure. (Railroad tracks can be seen crossing the road mid-photo.)

NEXT BLOG: I return to civilization and bicycle across Ontario on my way to Minnesota.

Quebec Independence plus a Dark and Stormy Night… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

As I climbed out of toward beautiful rivers such as the kept me company.

As I climbed out of Sainte-Simeon toward Lac Saint-Jean, beautiful rivers such the Little Saguenay kept me company.

I had ridden 110 miles when I arrived at Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon on Lac Saint-Jean in Quebec. The rain was coming down in buckets and I was exhausted. It was a perfect night for hypothermia and all I could think of was setting up my tent and crawling into my warm goose-down sleeping bag. I was pounding in my last tent stake when a woman came over and asked if I would like something hot to eat. I almost fell in love.

I’ve long since lost and forgotten her name, but what I remember was that she was a PhD candidate doing her thesis on some type of plant growing in the region. We’d had a brief conversation when I arrived with water dripping off my nose. She had wanted to know where I had biked from. “California,” had been my reply. Apparently my answer had impressed her, or maybe she was just nice person concerned about a guy who didn’t have enough sense to get out of the rain.

In addition to hot food, she had a large, dry van. I wasn’t the only one lusting after it. Three 20-something men from Montreal who were car camping soon joined us with a case of Labatt Beer, a Canadian brew out of Ontario. All I had to contribute to the party were tales of the open road, but apparently they were enough. I felt a bit like a troubadour who was singing for his dinner and drink.

It was another dark and stormy night on the road— but cozy. As the rain pounded down on the roof, our conversation had ranged far and wide. And, I might add, long, since it was close to 1:00 a.m. when we downed the last beer, wished each other good night, and stumbled off in the rain.

The topic that had interested me the most was the issue of Quebec independence from the rest of Canada. It turned out that the three young men were separatists and believed that Quebec would be better off going it alone. The dispute over independence was buried deep in past. Quebec, of course, was predominantly French in culture, while the rest of Canada was primarily English. French Canadians had long worried that their culture and language would be buried under an avalanche of English language and customs. In the late 60s and early 70s this concern had turned to violence. In 1980 a referendum had been held to determine whether Quebec should pursue independence. Sixty percent had voted no, but nine-years later the issue was still simmering.

Given that our group was made up of three French Canadians, one British Canadian, and one American, our discussion on Quebec independence had been quite animated, but surprisingly amicable.  It’s amazing what a rainy night, a dry van, and a case of beer can accomplish for international relations. We laughed a lot and as parted friends.

My photos today trace my journey from the St. Lawrence River ferry at Sainte-Simeon to Lac Saint-Jean. I followed Quebec Routes 170 and 372 up to Saguenay and then Routes 172 and 169 to Parc national de la Pointe-Taillon on the north side of the lake. (Peggy and I followed 170 up to 169 and went around the south side of the lake.) The ride included substantial climbs, rugged terrain, beautiful rivers and small to mid-sized communities. As I/we approached Lac Saint-Jean and climbed onto the Laurentian Plateau, the land flattened out considerably.

Landing at the ferry dock at St. Simeon.

Landing at the ferry dock at St. Simeon. The ship was maneuvering around to drop its ramp on the exit way.

This one time lighthouse at St. Simeon had become a souvenir shop and ticket booth.

This one time lighthouse at St. Simeon had become a souvenir shop and ticket booth.

Quebec 170 out of St. Simeon had proven to be quite a climb.

Quebec Route 170 out of St. Simeon had proven to be quite a climb.

There was a lot of up and over...

There was a lot of up and over…

The Palisades on top were impressive. The signs suggested I make a left turn.

The Palisades on top were impressive. The signs suggested I make a left turn.

A close up...

A close up…

Small towns along the way were neat and orderly. I think this is Sagard.

Small towns along the way were neat and orderly. I think this is Sagard.

A river ran through it...

A river ran through it…

Spring time flows guaranteed rapids when Peggy and I re-drove the route.

Spring time flows guaranteed rapids when Peggy and I re-drove the route.

Jesus welcomed Peggy and I with open arms— not surprising in Quebec.

Jesus welcomed Peggy and me with open arms— not surprising in the Catholic province of Quebec.

The land flattened out as we neared Lac Saint Jean, providing scenes kill this one.

The land flattened out as we neared Lac Saint Jean, providing scenes like this one.

The gentler terrain supported large farms...

The gentler terrain supported large farms…

And wide open country.

With wide open country.

I took this photo with its tell-tale Catholic Church next to Lac Saint Jean.

I took this photo with its tell-tale Catholic Church next to Lac Saint Jean. The clouds were gorgeous.

Looking out toward Lac Saint Jean.

Looking out toward the large Lac Saint Jean. The campground where I spent my rainy night is on the opposite shore.

NEXT BLOG: I continue my journey into the far north riding over muddy dirt roads, dodging three trailer logging trucks, and taking a bath with eight ounces of water.