"You's guys needing something, eh?"
The customs agent looked us over with that characteristically Canadian attitude of friendly suspicion.
Or maybe it was guarded alertness. Bordering on vigilant complacency? Hard to pinpoint precisely.
We answered quite matter of factly, "No, thanks, just wanted to snap a photo here."
Well, that certainly raised a red flag! With a red maple leaf emblazoned upon it? Not to mention bumping the international threat level up to high alert.
But was it our fault that the immaculately manicured lawn stretching out so invitingly compelled such reckless abandon? Unencumbered by rules of diplomatic protocol or any obstacle that dared restrain us (in this case, it was a border of bloomin' petunias), we barely felt the chill of early morning dew drops soaking through our sneakers so intent were we on picking out a path which avoided stepping on muddy, aerating sod plugs laying in wait deceptively on the ground. We must have looked like clods. But if ever there was a grass-is-always-greener-on-the-other-side moment, this was ours!
We explained to him that every year we take a 1st day of school picture, complete with signature flag waving. Simply to prove that, although we are homeschoolers, we can wave flags & pledge our allegiance right along with the best of 'em. Yet we'd arrived unprepared for this symbolic monument to sibling arch rivalry. So M&K improvised & grabbed the homemade flags we just happened to have on display in our car's rear view window, even though they'd - the flags, I mean - become faded after months of spreading subversive messages & infiltrating the minds of gullible people throughout the west coast. (Irrefutably influencing the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, plus exerting enormous pressure on China's Tibet policy. Golly, and in such callous disregard of how it might hurt China's feelings?)
Dutifully satisfied with his inspection of our dubious intent, the shrewd investigator shook his head at such a pathetically fabricated borderlie & then methodically retraced his steps to the command control center (immigration booth), glancing back occasionally lest we make any sudden moves. Like, say, hopping back and forth across the imaginary borderline dividing our two superpower nations? Well, how else are we globeschoolers gonna claim to have visited Canada over 40 times, huh?
It must have been a slow day there on the border. But, then again, ya can't really blame him for wanting in on a peace of the action, can ya?
Instead, we wanted to spend the time exploring the gold rush era "Wild Horse Trail" on the touted International Selkirk Loop, which runs through Washington state & Idaho before winding along Canada's Kootenay Bay. And then camp in the more pristine Pacific Northwest rainforest of British Columbia's interior. (Hey, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a good 40 miles north of the border. That counts!) Indeed, we found the wilds there, but in the form of very large groups of twenty-something campers sharing one tent (& several bottles), blaring American rock music & setting off fireworks over the bay until 4 in the morning.
In anticipation of this 2008 venture to British Columbia, Mikaela & I studied Margaret Craven's novel I Heard the Owl Call My Name. But once there, as much as we'd hoped to see Keetah & Mark's hangouts in the remote setting of Vancouver Island, we decided to skip the pricey ferry fare + an expensive three day stay in the touristy capital city of Victoria, where visiting artist Emily Carr's house was the only nerdily worthwhile attraction. Ok, ok, so it's also because we're cheapskates -- but that fits with the winter sports theme, does it not? (Actually, and here I go bragging again, I'm a world-class short track cheapskating champ.)
So the majority of our time was spent
On the other side, a short hike to Twin Falls awaited, though the Canadians' love of chain link fences -- which we discovered well before all those 2010 Olympic cauldron viewers -- obscured much of its scenic appeal. (Ya know, the Olympic torch elected to do the very same thing a couple of years after us & made a pass above troubled budgeting waters by routing through Lynn Canyon, and not Capilano. Miserly flame!)
Stanley Park was also fun, with hiking trails throughout its 1,000 acres of firs, cedars & spruces, plus great cityscape views from the Pacific seawall path. We watched float planes taking off & landing at Canada Place and proudly boasted that Houston's "Little India" trumps Vancouver's, at least in terms of that all-important veggie samosa test. (Though the vegan cooks at Richmond's Buddhist Temple all-you-can-eat lunch buffet might silently disagree.)
However, at the edge of UBC, our college campus touring streak was sadly broken. Due to the girls' fears of inadvertently spying a streaker, fresh off the university's own nude beach, flashing past. And Chinatown wasn't exactly the enriching experience we'd hoped for either, although the kiddos did get to gawk out the car windows and get quite a good look at an authentic Chinese apothecary shop as we circled the block 3 times. It was more like drive-by cultural immersion. We wanted to stop, but - despite some exposure to Seattle and downtown Portland's homeless problems - Gastown's overflowing & vocal presence filled all available parking spaces caddy corner to Chinatown and caused that proverbial putting of pedal to the metal.
Which led to our favorite trip in all of British Columbia -- a drive along the Sea to Sky Highway. As Katrianna noted in her travel log, there were "Lovely views of the Coast range meeting the sea. It has waterfalls, lakes & hills meeting the ocean all together in one." Due to the ongoing road construction in preparation for Olympian traffic jams, stopping at the overlooks wasn't allowed but its views of Howe Sound's fjord were as pretty as the travel reviewers promised.
So we arrived at our final Sea to Sky destination whistlering a happy tune. Whistler, site of the 2010 Olympic skiing events, was at that time a sleepy little village. Really sleepy. Apparently it was nap time for all the frustrated snowboarding teenagers who lounged on bus stop benches or atop decorative flagstone walls while anxiously awaiting the season's first snowfall. Occasionally, they'd rouse themselves to perform skateboarding tricks across stairway railings & attempt death-defying jumps over strategically placed Adirondack chairs borrowed from hotel cafes. All before settling back down under a tastefully trimmed hedgerow to catch some z's. Well, truthfully, that's when demonstrations of their even more elaborate smokin' skills began. And, dude, before we realized it, it was 4:20 - imagine that - and certainly high time for us to cut out.
As soon as we walked into Whistler's 2010 Olympic visitor center, we could tell that their welcome committee, in the form of a solitary greeter, was indeed prepped in the spirit of the winter games. Normally it's sorta part of the job-volunteer description that these folks are extra friendly. But this fellow was, appropriately, the polar opposite: he was an arctic blast of icy cold Freezie. We could have wisely let it go. But it was either find my entertainment with him or go back out to the snowboarders, so he got another try. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he'd simply mistaken us for naïve skiing novices (when the truth of it is that we're actually freestyling know-nothing moguls), I faked it. I mentioned some pertinent Whistler Mountain trivia that I'd read just the night before and then merely alluged to the fact that we might like to visit the nearby Sliding Centre venue to see the progress they were making on the sledding track. Ha, lured him in alright! And then spent the next 25 minutes nodding, concurring and listening intently to the intricacies of bobsled strategy & track construction. It was all downhill after that. But at least I showed him not to judge American tourists quite so hastily, didn't I?
Not that we globeschoolers weren't glad for these experiences. Whenever a Whistler-related news story appeared afterwards, we got to reflect and think 'Skookum, and we were there!" But, luckily, not on the very day that gondola tower fell smack-dab in the middle of the Village. Thank goodness, nothing was smashed. Well, except maybe for some potted plants...
But I blame the US. And the American invasion of British Columbia during the Vietnam War. When all of their tiny towns' populations swelled with our very own homegrown conscientious objectors. Of course, that was a long time ago, during the throes of the peace movement and amidst a recognized moral quagmire, so we really can't judge them for their (in)actions then... But is it really okay that they're still there conscientiously objecting to this day? For, in this, the new millennium, it seems their primary objection is to moving beyond 1968. And that goes for their cars, too.
Or at least conscientiously removing their rusted out automobile frames from the driveways. Or front yards. Or streets. Or green public open spaces. It's kinda like Woodstock meets Carhenge, only with ancient school buses, VW campers & a stray Pontiac Bonneville or two.
Yet this gross generalization is perhaps unfair. And overlooks many of their second & third generation blond-dreadlocked progeny boldly practicing civil disobedient defiance at the local Walmart. No, these youngsters, as they roam barefooted down the aisles munching on Cheezies & looking to replenish their tie-dye supplies, are not protesting against a corporation's renowned socially unconscious stance. It strikes much further than that, to the very core of liberty & freedom of individual expression: they rage against The Man's "No Shirts, No Shoes, No Service" dictate. Yep, the fight the power vibe in Squamish is not for the squeamish.
Lastly, to provide a completely unbiased view of our journey, we prepared a little audiovisual montage. What follows is an exacting duplication, a verifiably authentic recreation of the sounds & sights one encounters when traveling into the depths of British Columbia. So please imagine, if you will, that you've just crossed the US-Canadian border. And there you are, at first hearing the familiar crackle of radio static & then desperately rotating that dial to discover:
OK, to be fair, that video is not really representative of Canadian radio.* Cuz not once did we hear their native singers Paul Anka, Neil Young or kd lang... in fact, there was one dire point when Bryan Adams might even have been welcome. Instead, suffice it to say that something downright magical happens as soon as you reach within 100 yards of the Canuck border -- all AM/FM frequencies disappear. And you're left with 3 options: Depression period folk fiddling, counting down the top 40 evangelical sermons of 1957 with Casey 'Billy Graham' Kasem, or Hindi music.
Of course, the choice is obvious. An unexpected opportunity to practice my jammin' Bollywood dance moves with side-shaking head bobs & open-palmed quarter turns?! That's right, a highly recommended way to pass the time while waiting in endless border customs queues, we had our own lil' Holi right there in the car. Frankly, I don't think anyone would've blamed them if they had waved us straight on through, but they didn't. (Bet they felt sari afterwards, eh?) Eventually, it got to the point we looked forward to forays into Canada solely for its superb stereophonic selection of big Indian musical numbers.
*Yeah, yeah, it's not nice to insult our Canadian neighbors' music. Or totally ignore that Los Angeles' 1984 Closing Ceremonies headlined Lionel Richie singing All Night Long in a sequin & polyester pant ensemble. Which then led to his infamous Dancing on the Ceiling debacle in '86 -- where he disregarded the gravity of a consequent fall from R&B soulful grace. Now, as far as I'm concerned, The Commodores & their horn section could do no wrong, but what was Lionel thinking going solow like that? Sure, Peter Ueberroth, you were the first commissioner in modern times to turn a profit on the Olympic Games, but, honestly, at what cost?