Yellow canoe – emerald waters

The Red Wheelbarrow
by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white

I had a very good English professor at UBC way back in the dark ages, I think shortly after Shakespeare had packed it in and just before disco, whenever it was it was a long time ago. She had taught me many things but one thing she had told me was that the mark of a good poem, such as The Red Wheelbarrow, was that after reading it – would you ever be able to think of white chickens without the red wheelbarrow?

I think, had she not told me that, it would have been very easy for me to think of a white chicken without that damnable wheelbarrow but now I am forever linking the two.
So, good reader, I present my own experiment. After reading, the Yellow Canoe, and some ten years hence, let me know if you can ever come across the term yellow canoe without thinking about the emerald green waters.
The Yellow Canoe
by Frank Ritcey
so much piled
a yellow
top heavy
with beer
slicing through
emerald green
yellow canoe on Clearwater Lake

Secret Places

 the secret Burl forest
my daughter, the tree hugger!

I keep threatening to write a book called “Frank’s Secret Places.” The downside to such a book of course is then the secret is out – the upside is that you get to share something. Now the joy from sharing a secret place is one of the greatest feelings there is. I guess it would only be second to the joy of seeing your children born or winning a free coffee at Tim Horton’s.

Whenever I take someone to one of my “secret spots” I love to watch their face light up as the true grandeur of the place sinks in. I’ve shown friends: canyons, caves, waterfalls, twisted forests and moss covered alcoves that you won’t find in any guide book or tagged on GoogleEarth. The response is almost always the same: “You dragged me out here to see this?” The term “Philistines” I think most often comes to mind.

Truthfully though, most of my friends, at least the ones I drag any distance from civilization, are impressed with my secret little showcases. One such place is a small piece of spruce forest, perhaps two or three hectares in size, located on the east slopes of the Northern Rockies. Just a short distance from our base camp, I discovered it one winter day while snowshoeing about, in an unsuccessful attempt to wear off the half pig I had consumed for breakfast.

This forest is unique in that most of the trees display numerous burls. The burls are outgrowths that result from a fungal infection and give the forest a whimsical look. I took my daughter up there one summer afternoon and we just poked around, seeing what hidden shapes or stories we could get the trees to offer up. It was a special afternoon and that forest offered up treasures far greater than one could ever get through 3D glasses and seven viewings of the forests of Pandora.

I’m off early to the mountains tomorrow so probably won’t post until I’m out of the hospital. I’m woefully out of shape and figure it will be an hour or two on a defibrillator before I can type again.

Keep your cinch tight!

The Iditabike – The Idiotbike – The I did a hike

 me after 180 km. on a bike at -40

I was interviewed by one of the producers at CBC today and was asked what my proudest moment was. I had to think about it for awhile and it finally came back to me – the moment I lay my bike down at the finish line of the Iditabike. There by my lonesome at the Knik Lake Bar, I swaggered in and ordered my first beer. I had just finished 320 kilometers of quite possibly the hardest bike race in the world and I was going to celebrate.

I had given up beer – and any type of alcohol for that matter – the day I decided I was going to train for, enter and complete this ultra-endurance ride in the frozen wilderness of Alaska. Most of my reasons for entering were purely practical: my brothers said I couldn’t do it and as we had all been drinking heavily when the conversation came up I had to argue that I could and because one should never back down from an alcohol induced assertion I weaved into the house, retrieved the magazine with the entry form, dialed the number and signed up on the spot.

Since the entry fee was non-refundable I thought – What the heck – and started a rigorous training regime. That regime consisted mainly of reading books about people that had done really brave things and trying to avoid books that mentioned people freezing to death and/or being forced to eat their companions. I did actually buy a bike and rode it a few times but I knew that one did not wish to overtrain for an ultra-marathon as one should conserve his energy for the long journey ahead.

The race was quite an epic journey for I and the other seventy some souls that started. There were a few who did not finish, many who froze bits off, and some who laughed in the face of adversity (Those guys doing the laughing were also the ones who made use of Alaska’s then very liberal laws regarding the cultivation and possession of marijuana).

The 320 kilometre race followed a portion of the same trail used by the mushers in the famed Iditarod dog sled race which was to run a week after we finished. The race conditions were favourable, -40 and very little wind. The trail was good in most places but there was one 80 kilometre section where we had to push our bikes.

The first leg of the race took me 24 and a half hours to complete and I was a little cold, cranky and tired by the time I made it into the checkpoint for the mandatory medical check and 6 hour layover. I ate three cheeseburgers there, bought two more – storing one under each armpit – to keep them from freezing solid – and to ensure no-one asked for a bite of my burger on the trail – and then headed off into the brutal cold that was the long Alaskan night.

I had some grand adventures on that trip – many of which I am sure must have just been tricks of the mind – tricks of a mind fighting to stave off death by freezing. The one thing I do know for certain though, is when I crossed that finish line, some 54 hours after having set out, I was ready for a beer.

Thoughtfully the race organizers had placed the finish line next to the last outpost of humanity – the Knik Lake bar. Because racers were straggling in over a five day period the race organizers knew that they could stay warm and entertained in the bar and that eventually we would all end up there anyhow.

The barmaid was great. She was marginally taller than she was wide and she had just informed one poor mountain biker from California, who had mistakenly thought he wanted a cooler, that “We serve whiskey or beer” and emphasized the point by spit polishing the glass she was holding. I ordered a bottled beer. She opened it with a flick of her thumb which was impressive because it wasn’t a twist top.

I never got on a bike again for at least six months after that race. Any ride after that just seemed anticlimactic.