Rolling with the Dude

One of the joys of travel is that you can go to another location and become some one that “no body knows your name”. You can casually walk aroung in a store, ever so calm and happy and folks say “ Heh, I like your style” or youthful clerk may come up to you and ask to take a photo of you and your t shirt and thank you and then exclaim, “When I grow up, I want to be exactly like you!. Which was nice but I am not sure that I have actually grown up! Take something good from within and throw it out onto the canvas of your world and the day becomes a passage of time to “abide”.

Now one convenient way to travel is to do a road trip. The fleet vehicle of Ataboy Endeavours is a pre 2000 Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer. It is in a constant state of restoration but it allows me to play a huge library of tape cassettes and amuse the passers by in parking lots. For example, one of the sticker on the back window says “Life is like a corn dog, do not ask me why”. So I don’t but folks with cell phones are prone to smile and ask me if they can take a photo.

Another favourite talisman is this t-shirt.
dude t shirt twoI love this t-shirt and it’s humorous intent.

I bought it on a magical “dude abides” trip to San Francisco. For several days, I was lucky enough to share some truly great quality time with an amazing woman who honestly appreciated “the dude”. Now a year later and a different time and space, I take a break to ponder three constants: paradox, change and humour. While there is always the challenge and the delicate dance of one’s own “transformation”. When I put on this t shirt there is the potential to create a private and public joy. I bet I could even make the stoic Leonardo Da Vinci radiate a tiny and cryptic Mona Lisa grin!

Jimmy has said “that there is a fine line between Saturday evening and Sunday morning“, and my fitful Saturday night of dreams had left me staring at the ceiling. My pal Chuck had said, “each morning pick something to do and do that thing right”. What I really wanted to do right was to regain my happy state of mind. Now Ataboy” is a four by four and built for rocky roads, so while I mindfully defused some mental land minds, the big shocks can take the edge off some of life’s speed bumps and the tape cassette can play tunes that took me back into times when I truly ruled the world from a pay phone. So on the spur of the moment I polished off breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, put the key in the ignition and headed south to end my day with some nonlinear events. I did have a “plan” yet I could easily be influenced by the sighting of masts or nearby trails to go off on an uncharted adventure.

Yes, it is a challenge but you can initiate change. You can cut you hair, shave your beard and lose thirty-five pounds and change your pant size by five inches in two months but the busy work of “transformation” is no walk in the park. It takes more than a t-shirt, a bumper sticker and yes, even a complete new style to transform you true self into some one that you can be authentically be happy with. You have to reach deep inside and throw out a lot of junk from within. Mother Teresa said “I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. While I can wax poetic about the influences of love on my life, there is one thing that I truly to love and it is having my hands on a wheel and my world in motion.

My recent walks in the woods had convinced me that the muddy Nikes needed to be replaced with a more conventional hiking boot. Fortunately, there was a sale at REI and a thorough and zealous phone clerk name Tracy actually found my card number. The winds of change were in my favour and so I launched out of Vancouver with intents of finding three things, a pair of boots, a trail to hike on and a great deal on a wet suit for paddling boarding. I loaded up several tapes, a favored “man bag” and forgot several items that I would need later…including a flashlight.

Waiting at the border was spent listening to a recorded studio set of Jimmy Buffet in Sausalito. With the tape cassette engaged I went back into time when I “used to rule my world from a pay phone” and I lived by another name. I will keep that incognito to protect those who used to ramble in my world. Happiness was just thirty-five minutes away to the border crossing and I was loving the music. I was singing along with Jimmy Buffet’s song, the Wino and I know and slowly getting to the American border.
“And the Wino and I know the joys of the ocean,
like a boy knows the joys of his milk shake in motion.
It’s a strange situation, a wild occupation, living my life like a song.”

One of the bonuses of solo travel is that you can pick your own music and sing as loud and as off key as you want to. You can creatively fill your own time with odd efforts that some folks would call a waste of time, like waiting in customs lines. I looked at my watch and gave a nod to Einstein. Yes, time was relative. There was no way I was going to speed up this line, so me and my truck would slowly just move on and so would life. By three pm, I was heading south and it was time to change the cassette!

By the time I reached REI, I had listened to a mysterious tape cassette twice and on both sides. I was wondering what hands of fate had allowed it to fall into my cassette bag. Judging by the lyrics, there was no end of trouble that could occur when a man meets a woman and then that woman has let him go. From Nashville to Alabama, from Texas to Tennessee, it seems that even Darwin would be in awe of the multitude of mutations that could be permeated within the lyrics of country love song. Tear ducts could finally run dry and father time can became the only family you could have. With a happy honky tonk ditty, twanging lyrics told the tales of men having their hearts slowly being ripped from their chests. Now I am not stranger to pain nor am I immune to tales of things gone bad. In fact my whole life in the last few months had done more flip-flops than the whole inventory at REI and they were on sale! By the time I locked the doors and smiled at a few dogs in a nearby car, I had all the vital motivation and mental ingredients to attempt a weeklong drunk, buy a Collin Archer double ender sailboat in Bellingham and sail off the little latitudes. Don’t laugh, the seed of a private dream was already making roots in some quiet place in my brain. That ol honky tonk mirrored my own situation in way to many ways. So I turned to my truck, let another person take a photo of the bumper sticker and privately saluted the “she was the one” dialog in my head. I was thankfully I was drinking water instead of Margaritas. Going a rapid ninety clicks down memory lane, I had a shit-eating grin that could fool any hopeless romantic. “She” wasn’t going to leave my head soon. Nope, her smile of approval at my “dude shirt” was not going to be uprooted by other smile. The dudette abides. While life had throw in a few too many gutter balls, I was striking a few pins and my weight and mental heaviness was disappearing each day. If I was flying by the seat of my pants, at least my pant size was shrinking.

I have learned that if you throw out a fun and caring attitude to the world, the world does abide. You see things other would not, like the kid checking his runners on the rock testing stand or the elderly couple that has been together so long that they float in a separate world of their own, complete with knowing smiles and compassionate remarks. “Oh yes dear, that hat does look good on you”, but then you see her turn her head and smile. The charge card come out and Daddy can buy new stuff even though he thinks his feet are too small. Thankfully the t-shirt was working it’s magic. I was a renaissance man in REI. I walked alone with the calm of the dude. I waited in line and watched the couples interact. I listened to conversations and watched body language. I practiced the art of the seer and let my breath take control. I attempted to let go of my judgments and smiled. Sure the couple in front of me amused me for some odd reasons. He was trying hard to please her and her head was on a swivel seeing who was admiring her as she quietly kept tabs on him. That judgment went poof as I noticed a liquid version of some nutrient bar. Thankfully the ADD was keeping me sane.

Finding my way to kite and board store  took me through the shoreline of Bellingham. Each time I asked direction, I praised the fact that I had no GPS. Folks were just naturally friendly here. I met a young couple intending to live on a boat in Victoria. I offered sage advice “yup with anything nautical, it is slow to get into trouble and slow to get out”. I interrupted a  paint stained Mom scrubbing the hull of a boat with her child, and she gave me a play by play mental map including strategic building along the way. No North or South, but a visual map that made me grin. Then there was the lovely jogger who had a smile that could light up even the cloudiest days. At 6:30 I made it to the board store where I met a DJ who was just in the process of opening the door. The store was supposed to close at 7! Again, with a smile and a positive message on the t-shirt, I was able to get more gear for my budding interest in paddle boarding. By seven I was misplaced some where south of Fairview, a town I had never know existed. I asked direction from a fellow cutting the culvert with a weed whacker. “You go to the lights, the only set of lights, then go left, no matter what..keep going left”. I had to remind my self that marijuana was now legal in Washington and if any off the replies seemed a little left of center, well then they were. Yup the dude did abide.

I am not sure what squirrelly behavior inspires a municipality to name a road “Chuckanut drive” but by the time I got to the Larrabee State Park ranger station, I was tempting the Gods when it came to admiring a sunset. Yet I was inspired and urge to commune with thoughts and footstep on dirt was pulling me into the undergrowth. I wanted to watch the sunset and take in a little hike. With the advent of my daily exercise. I was becoming an endorphin junky. I needed to move. I parked at the ranger station and got some quick direction from yet another mellow couple. The lovely lady madly dashed off to the toilet but came back yelling at me “.you better hussle, the sun is going down. Take the road up the hill. You have at least three mile to cover and it is all up hill. The first step is always the hardest. Hadn’t I heard that in that country western tape. “I have cried my last tear drop for you” yet by the time I reached the 2.1 mile post, I was drenched with sweat. To motivate my pace, I attempted to calculate the number of my footstep as being equal to the probability of me relighting a past love. My ratio of was about a million to one and the odds of me catching a sunset were rapidly quickly fading.

The shadows were getting longer when I noticed a woman looking for a geocaching box in a nearby tree. I asked her which way could I go to see a sunset. She point down the hill and said “there is a look out down there”. I launched down the hill at a rate that surprised me. This woman, who started to ask me if I know about geocaching, quickly followed me. I had heard the term but she also mentioned some thing about her brain. Perhaps it was dehydration but I was having a hard time linking brain ailments with geological terms. My first thought was crystals, which made be me start to wonder about pixies and other forest animals. The woman then mentioned cougars and the possibility of meeting one. I wondered if this was a pun and set off for the outlook. To the right, I noticed a new trailhead and a total of .2 miles to race for a picture. My geocaching hiker continued down the trail as I scooted into the woods.

I made it for a view!

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Yet the real new discovery was my geocaching hiker who I discovered was named Sue. I was coming off the mountain at a slow rate. I could see Sue’s flashlight and she was still tromping through the woods looking for yellow boxes. Armed with a GPS and a no hold bared attitude, she crawled up to trees above the actual trail. In the short time that I shared with Sue, I got to know a hero worthy of mention. While I was pumped about losing weight and managing to navigate the waters of post romantic bliss. Sue was pulling off a fantastic healing process that had taken her from being a high-level white water guide to an invalid in an electric chair and now she was climbing through the bush looking for little yellow boxes. As I shared the dome of light from her flashlight, she quietly told me her tales of once been a rafting guide, a microbiologist and was now off to work on charter boats in San Francisco. The amazing thing was, not too long ago, a virus had taken up house in her brain and put her into a spirally downward loop of pills and doctors. She had healed her self with a will to navigate white water and the scientific openness to explore alternate curse.

By the time I reached the border in was now past midnight. I told the customs lady about my random urge to hike and she shared her own story about doing an adjacent trail called the Oyster Dome.

Now you may ask why tell this tale and I can easily answer. Dreamers like me and Sue scare folks. We have the will and the desire to question what is the norm. While folks may say that there is not a “hope in hell”, there is the choice to question what put most folks into their own private hell. Perhaps letting go of expectations and assumptions set one free to accept a random urge to spontaneously hit the highway and spend an anonymous day of abiding. After panting up a hill, there are those few deep breaths to celebrate a spark of hope. I can sift through my memories and find joy. I can live my life like any song I want to and I am not afraid to sing along. I can even dig down into my own soul and find whims and ways that have a probability of a million to one of occurring.

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Semper Doggy

mia and marc dog mt

I am a “Dogfather”. It is a common error with folks with dyslexia.  My charge is a noble black beast named after fierce competitor Mia Hamm. It seems that Mia does not play well with others. Like her namesake, she keeps her mind on the mission. Then again, how many of us put on our better self all the time. Who is to say what is the better self any way? There seems to be expectations put upon dogs that some dogs just do not want to buy into. For example, Mia is fiercely loyal. I appreciated that trait. If Mia were a member of the armed forces, she would be a Marine. Standing by my side, I feared no evil for I had Uncle Sam’s misguided canine.

So in an effort for some mutual attitude adjustment, I took Mia out for a hike on a trail that runs out from Mt Seymour in North Vancouver. The trail is called “Dog Mountain”. Mia and I arrived at Mt Seymour with little hope of seeing anything. A fog had capped the summit and tourist were disappointed that Mother Nature had once again pulled some form of moisture from her bag of trick. After finding the parking lot and applauding crazed cyclist that were pedaling up to this ski resort, I started asking folks which way the trail was and was thankfully given direction by a great guy who had inherited two rescue dogs. He had referred to his hound as “Mutts” but I looked at the two pups and said, “These are not mutts. They are universal dogs. This is what you would get from a great combination of most of the dogs on the planet!” One hound amazed his owner and licked my hand. A dog knows when it is appreciated even though it has been labeled as shy and abused. The man’s wife, who was distinctly pregnant, seemed to like that. No longer “Mutts” but an elite hybrid..the universal dog. Gold and shorthaired, with strong legs and a lean body of a cross between a grey hound and a golden Labrador , with happy floppy ears and a curled up tail, yes these dogs were the product and a fast and frisky mating. As heart warming as this little interaction was, Mia was not going to be part of this love feast. She looked out the window of my truck and startled to snarl.

So with leash, walking stick (possibly to fend off that one crazed Doberman) the mission was a foot. In local hiking guidebooks and a North shore website, the Dog Mountain trail is rated as an “easy” trail. There are some side comments about the possible challenges of mud on exposed roots. With this in mind, Mia and I marched into the woods, our shoes and paws crunching gravel with a solid cadence and a simple intent to set off and test our social skills.

Prior to this hike, I only wanted to rediscover a joy of my own youth. As a moody thirteen-year-old New England, I was lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a scoutmaster who had just returned from Viet Nam. He was a Marine and some how the whole Kumbaya scout lore and merit badges got prioritized to focus on survival and a simple code of honour, courage and commitment. At the time, colour TVs were telecasting fresh footage from the rice patties and all my scout master wanted to do was make sure we would not become a statistic. So we hiked. Actually, we marched. We spent several weeks on the Appalachian Trail doing a fifty-mile hike that evolved into many more miles just for the sake of doing patrols. We learned to survive on dehydrated food and the stray bullfrogs that ended up on spears we made. For an imaginative and fit teenager, I thrived with the intense training. I also found the woods as a place of solitude to get away from the madness of being a teen.

My other mentors were my own hound “Mike” and a Irish setter, who we named “Red”. I was later to find out his name was Lancelot, which seemed gallant and Arthurian but the name did not match his goofy ways. Like Mia, my dog “Mike” was a natural fighter and loyal. Hiking with a hound in those days was less demanding. The dog bag was not yet invented and the leash was something you had just in case a pack of joggers or bicycles went by. Let’s be honest here, what dog can ignore a mass flock of moving objects? Be it a bunch of geese or a flock of sheep, the primal urges kick in. Dogs like to chase things, just like kids like to play. It is a way to create joy and it does not need to be muzzled nor drugged into stoic silence. So it was, that a mindful Marine and malicious mutts oddly fostered my joy of hiking.

Well, Mia’s primal urges to protect instilled a new role for me. Gone were my previous intended meditative reflections, I was loud and proud, “oorah!”. I was like a knight’s errant shouting into the crowd. “Behold the brave knight Mia, please put your dogs on a leash!”. “Move aside maggots”, there is no time for mental hamburger, remember “Heartbreak Ridge” and get your arses up this mountain. At one point in our journey, a German Sheppard made a lunge on Mia. Instincts kicked in and I fell to the mud to cover Mia from the attack as if a hand grenade had just come rolling down the hill. Covered in mud, I wrestled with Mia to protect her from locking jaws with this beast. Notes to self, this was a breed to remember. There was definitely no happy wagging of tails nor polite sniffing of hindquarters. Marines have a selective memory and so do dogs.

I must confess that Mia was quite patient with me. We went over narrow logs and she just looked at me and jumped off and traveled through the mud. Like I said, she is a Marine. We scrambled up inclines of vines after I announced to the woods that any stay dog should be on a leash. Several hounds passed by. Owners looked at me like I was crazed. Some applauded my intents to domesticate an obviously aggressive dog. There were several hesitant looks and smug stares that seemed to say “How dare you bring that uncivilized hound into our humble environs”. I began to understand Mia’s reluctance to become that calm dog on the leash.

I wondered what would happen to these folks if some stray bear or cougar came wandering down the hill. Then what? I could hear Jack in my head..”you want the truth! You cannot handle the truth! Secretly you want us on this trail. You want us because we can guard you against those wild thing you fear? Yes.. you.. in your luluman yoga pants and fricking Birkenstocks. Where the hell did you think you were going this morning? Thought you were off for a quick latte and a pop into the mall? Half awake and buried deep down in your designer clothes filled, custom made, Cherry wood multilevel Bauhaus closets, you hide and cower each morning at the fear of being uncoordinated and not politically correct. Truth, you cannot handle the truth!”. With a paw to the left and a walking stick to the right, Mia and I quietly (with an occasional snarl) pasted the oddly adorned “hikers” and soldiered on through the now thicken mud and slippery vines.

So Mia and I were both now on a mission to “improvise, adapt, and over come” this whole North Shore hiking thing with a happy tune in our heads. With each meeting of muzzle to muzzle encounters, I looked at Mia and said..”you are getting better” and like wise as I manage to quicken up my pace and climb up woody inclines, Mia looked at me like a Drill Instructor and gave my a modicum of hope that I would actually get out of these woods without teeth marks in my arms or a broken ankle.

Together, man and hound, we traveled along the contours to a final point where an amazing view of Vancouver was promised and then we humped back to the truck. There wasn’t one dogfight and Mia managed not to snarl at three dogs. Due to the fog, we saw less than more. What we did see were many dogs and owners out on the trail enjoying a day away from the city. I learned that I could head off onto any trail no matter the level and that I always had a back up if there were reports of cougars or bears. I was gaining more confidence and the simple act of walking in the woods was now a source of physical and mental challenges. Though I questioned my own intents and many folks empathized and supported my training of Mia’s “aggressive behavior”. I just grinned and realized that I would rather walk four miles in a Marine’s paws than listen to some hipster’s meaning of life conversations. I was here to let go..to “improvise, adapt and overcome” all the excuses I had used for too long. Oddly enough, I was on a jarhead path toward finding peace within the stillness of these fog coated woods.

lake one dog mt.

Kind of tippy..

It was my sixth time on an introductory board and I was feeling confident. I had not fallen into the water yet! I asked the folks at Ecomarine if I should up the bar and try a new board. “Well you are thinking of getting a Red Paddle Explorer”..said Peter..”why not try a twelve foot touring board”. “What is the difference” I asked and Peter looked me in the eye and with an Irish smirk said..”well it it is a thinner board so it is kind of tippy”.

My initial instructor Dave took me down to the dock and noticed that I was wearing less insulated gear. “So do you want to stand on the board and see how it feels first?” he asked as we both went down to the dock. I got the PFD, leash and paddle and David took the board off the rack. The board was narrow..eight inches narrower and as it went into the water, I considered how cold the water might be today.

I jumped..who am I kidding..I cautiously climbed on and did a few side to side bear dance moves. “Hmm..yup..less stable.”..I said to David as he gave me my paddle and said..”try it out”..I did three paddles. “You ok?” I heard Dave ask and with a feeble “yup” and with a wobbly drunken sailor stance, I navigated around the end of the dock with all of the confidence of well lubricated New Year’s eve party goer!

For a novice paddler, False Creek has three key obstacles to test a newbie paddler. The first is the wind, which seems to magically increase just several minutes after you have made the choice to go down the creek and see if you can make the nearby bridge. The second obstacle is the numerous water taxis, who..I believe..get a secret joy in sneaking up on SUP Paddlers from behind and sending a wake their way. The final obstacle is the resident cormorant population, who seem to surface at the oddest of times and just in front of your board or paddle. Being that this was my six time, I had adopted a few strategies. I signaled to the water taxis with my paddle. I started my paddle down wind and…I honestly enjoyed the antics of the local bird population.

I had made the Cambie Street bridge much faster than I thought I would. It was true that the board was much faster. Yet I was feeling as stable as a person with a full bladder doing a pee dance in a block long portapotty line at a concert. Each ferry produced a wake and I turned to go into it. “Ha, I dare you to tease me!” I quietly taunted the ferries. I successfully navigated the shallow low tide water at the bridge, enjoyed the voices of kids playing on the shore and played hide and go seek with four more ferries.

By now the wind was up and I decided to cut a diagonal across the creek and then work in what I hoped would be a wind shadow created by the Island’s cement factory. I was calming smiling at runners and stray tourist on shore. I was free on the water and muscling my way into the wind. I did not see the ferry pass behind me. Paddle boards are meant to surf and with just a small wave, I was now suddenly rocketing forward into the wind. Without even having the time to go “Cowabunga”, I noticed that my feet and board leash were going skyward.

Now in theory, to get back onto the board, there are several strategies. Having paddled canoes and kayaks, the first instinct kicked in. Stay calm. Float and point your board into the wind. Hold onto your board and your paddle. Ignore the fact that a lovely matronly woman is now on deck wondering if you are going to drown. Ignore the six monohull canoeist and some brawny hawaiin big kahuna in his outrigger. “You ok?”..”Oh yeah..just got too hot..wanted to cool down…!”. Bull shit..your board is heading for the nearby dock and the grand mum is now offering you the steps on the back of their boat..and you are actually thinking about it.

Happily, in my private lesson Dave and I had discussed this situation and in hindsight, I should have just jumped in a done a trial run. I was about three feet from the dock when I finally stood up and started to paddle to windward again. A kayaker looked over his shoulder and gave me this long look of discust… “Silly frickin Paddle boarder”..or so I thought. To show my confidence, I launched into some strong strokes. I was soaked. My legs were shaking not from cold but from exhaustion and I was yet to get to Granville Island.

When you shut off you thoughts and just paddle, the world seems to make more sense. It is just one stroke after the other. The fear of falling in was now over and with that there was also the private joy of getting back up and paddling to windward without showing any sign of being scared. How often do we actually challenge gravity in life? How often do we put our selves in situations that may be a little tippy? I wasn’t pondering these thoughts but a grin stayed on my face till I made the dock about twenty minutes later.

I changed and walked into the Granville Island market with a new swagger. I indulged and bought a monster lemon aid and went outside to see the dock I had just paddled by. Two guitarist were playing Pacabel’s Cannon and I looked over to the railing where three years ago I had met the woman who had inspired today’s antics. While she had moved, I could still see her first smile at me. The music was mixed with the cry’s of gulls and more ferry traffic. Either due to exhaustion or a poetic moment, I sat down and soaked it all in. Time and memories lyrically followed the melody of one of my favorite songs. Contently, I listened to the music as my legs  continued to vibrate. After the song, I slowly got up and went inside and got a Thai Chicken Special. The wise elderly lady behind the counter must have read my eyes and sun burned face and gave me a discount on another lemon aid.

So this is why I paddle. There is always going to be the daily challenge. There is always going to be the challenge of the unexpected. Yet the reward for my soggy time on water was this beatific state of mind of wandering around Granville Island full of life, alone and yet not alone. There is the knowing that while you may become overcomed with the life outside of you there is is also peace of mind inside of you. Life is good today; even though it is kind of tippy.