Well, it's been awhile since I've posted anything again, but there just really hasn't been much to talk about. Been sticking pretty close to home as per public health orders, which doesn't make for very interesting stories. Luckily, I'm living in a beautiful place where I can still go for hikes and enjoy the nature around me. The occasional ride thrown in for variety.
Tomorrow (February 14th) is the anniversary of Tracey's death rolling around again and I do miss my sister so much. I don't believe that will ever go away. And of course, whenever I think of her death, I think of my journey through Canada and the fun conversations we had planning it. So I haven't anything much exciting to say except a reminder to everyone to be well and take the time to enjoy life. "Sip the nectar and cast away the sting" as Anne Shirley would say. Life is too short to waste.
We don’t think about war very much in our day-to-day lives. Unless we have a family member or friend in the military, we don’t think about the military at all, since it is not visibly impacting our lives. Though they are always there for the crisis. There is likely only one degree, or maybe a maximum of 2 degrees, of separation between you and a soldier. Ask around – there’s a soldier beside you.
Having lived most of my life not really paying much attention to the idea, I eventually found myself living in Victoria, BC. Victoria has a naval base. The first person I met who had been in the Canadian Navy was Jason Nault, whom I worked with in Victoria. The next person I encountered was much closer to home.
Kelly McLaughlin was a classmate from high school. We reconnected through an adult recreational baseball league. Despite being much too good a player to be on a team I was on, he joined our team to fill out our roster and his wife Heather, appalled at our poor scorekeeping habits, turned out to games as well to keep us on the straight and narrow and sub in for our required “women count” when needed. Kelly was one of the team members instrumental in greatly improving my baseball skills! This reconnection was 30 years after high school and having lost touch, I had no idea that Kelly was part of Canada’s military.
It had been my intention to tell some of Kelly’s story in the post about Grandpa’s service, but in true form, I did not ask him for information in time to include it in yesterday’s post. But he graciously sent me some information and pictures last night so I could tell a bit of his story today.
Kelly enlisted in September of 1987 – just a year after high school. He began his military career in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia where he was sent for basic training. His No. 8 Platoon, the first to introduce women in the Navy, was composed of 8 women and 120 men. Upon completion of basic training, Kelly’s first post was to CFB Comox, aka 19 Wing Comox on Vancouver Island. This was the beginning of 25 years of service with Canada’s naval forces.
The ships that Kelly served with included HMCS McKenzie, HMCS Qu’Apelle, HMCS Saskatchewan, and the HMCS Yukon. Following those assignments, Kelly was posted to the HMCS Huron and did a coastal defence tour for Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War. Completing that tour, Kelly was stationed back to 19 Wing Comox for another 2 years before returning to CFB Esquimalt. The HMCS Huron was eventually retired, stripped of armaments and environmental contaminants and sunk in a live-fire military exercise off the coast of Vancouver Island - the first operational sinking of a Canadian warship in home waters.
At CFB Esquimalt, Kelly was posted to the ship HMCS Vancouver where they spent 14 straight months posted as coastal defence for the Gulf War.
The HMCS Regina was Kelly's last ship and he spent years training new recruits until his eventual retirement in Esquimalt. We have not talked a lot about his years in service, but enough for me to understand that he has lost friends to war, seen and done things that no human should have to, and has seen those around him struggle with PTSD after participating in conflicts that tore their souls apart. Not all are so fortunate to be surrounded by the support needed to weather the storms of PTSD that are always waiting in the wings to attack. We need to do a better job of providing our veterans with post-war and active service mental health support. While we have come a long way, there is still a very long way to go in acknowledging and truly understanding its impact.
War is never far from being very real and it is times like now, in a pandemic that creates uncertainty and economic instability, that give rise to autocratic leaders like Hitler. The charismatic leaders that appear to have a magic ability to unite a nation and use its military power to subjugate others.
SEE your neighbours - not for their politics, their race, their religion, their culture. See them for the human being that they are – just trying to do the best they can for their families. See them so that the soldier beside you is safe.
Thank you, Kelly, and all veterans and active service personnel, for your courage and commitment to our country. I'm proud to know you.
November 11th. Remembrance Day. Not a cause. Not a legend. Not even history, for some of those who fought in WWII are still with us, and over 2000 Canadian military personnel continue to be deployed on approximately 20 different missions worldwide. I’m going to tell you a story about my own grandfather in a bit, but first I’d like to share some insights that researching his service has brought to me.
The current health pandemic has brought with it a significant shift in our day-to-day actions and environments. We are all feeling the restrictions on our ability to socialize with friends or have family get-togethers. Some are frustrated with new rules put in place for the protection of those in compromised health situations. But maybe it’s time to take a different perspective. In 1943, Canadian troops spent Christmas Day fighting to capture the city of Ortona in Italy. Clearing houses of the enemy floor-by-floor, using a technique called “mouse-holing” – setting a charge on a wall to blast through it, then going in room-by-room to eliminate the enemy on their mission to clear the Nazis out of Italy. No prisoners to be taken. So I'm happy to accept the request to wear a mask to protect others and be grateful I'm not being required to wear a soldier's uniform and a gun.
Think about those in service now, that are unable to come home on a leave from their mission due to the pandemic. Think about our veterans who served in those two very long, terrible world wars. Thrown into battle in deplorable conditions where they could do nothing but fight down their fear and push on. Where they were forced to kill or be killed. Think about the families that said goodbye to their loved ones heading off to fight, and the anguish of every day not knowing if they were dead or alive, wounded or suffering. Letters were sporadic and a phone call was a non-existent opportunity. We can think about it, but most of us cannot even begin to imagine it. All so that we have the freedom to live this incredibly privileged life.
Here are some new things to remember this Remembrance Day. Remember that we have unprecedented technology to keep us connected to our loved ones. In real time, by video, by phone. Remember that we have unprecedented access to food, shelter, and health care. Remember that while those troops lived in fear and discomfort for years of war, we now have far more “stuff” than anyone needs. Most of us have someone we can go to that will help us if the bottom falls out of our world. Remember to be grateful. Remember those who served and continue to serve.
It was a documentary by Norm Christie called the Great War Tour that got me thinking about doing a motorcycle trip that followed the Canadian soldiers through Europe. I knew that my grandfather, Carl Curtis, had served in WWII in Sicily, but didn’t know much else. I began to ask questions of my Aunt Norma and my mom and learned a bit more. The idea of the journey became personal – to follow Grandpa. That led to emailing Norm Christie to ask if he could point me to any resources that could help me. He sent me links to other documentaries. Then I found a war diary online, written by a man in the same regiment!
I learned that Carl was shipped from Scotland to Tunisia and was part of the Italian Campaign that pushed the Nazis out of Italy and forced Mussolini to flee. I learned that a covert operation by British spies drew the Nazis’ attention (and some of their troops) away from Italy so the allied troops could land in Sicily. I learned that the allied troops then had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of terrain. How they travelled through routes designed to make them “fish in a barrel” because the Nazis held the high ground and took full advantage of it. I learned that they eventually broke the Gothic Line and Hitler Line, allowing the allies to capture Rome. I learned how they navigated terrain full of “shoe mines” – small wooden mines that a mine detector couldn’t detect, but with enough TNT to blow a foot off. I learned that they slipped through a crack in the Gothic line by timing machine-gun fire to cross the road into an anti-tank ditch to crawl under the machine gun fire.
I learned that the Canadian tank regiments that participated in the Italian campaign were pivotal to its success and Canadian troops were extremely highly regarded. We have reason to be proud of their ingenuity, perseverance, and courage. And I think of Carl, who survived, and all those who fell in that campaign. A campaign largely over-shadowed by the Normandy invasions, yet a campaign that was critical to ending WWII. I think of how he never spoke of the war and how I grew up largely ignorant of his time in it and the impact of it on his life and mental health.
So far, I believe I have traced their steps through Sicily and on to just shy of Rome, where, having broken the Hitler Line, the Canadian tank regiments were called to the next place of greater need. So, the research continues to figure out what happened next - between there and when they were assigned the important and deadly job of the liberating the Netherlands. Mom tells me that one of the things she does know is Carl spent time with a family in the Netherlands at the end of the war, waiting to be shipped out. She says he always spoke so highly of their kindness to him. I continue to dream of a future opportunity to travel it by motorbike and see the places for myself. If that should not come to pass, I have gained so much from this very personal experience of delving into this particular chapter of Canada’s past.
I realize how privileged we are to not spend every minute of every day thinking about war until Remembrance Day comes around. I didn’t know until a few years ago that Kelly McLaughlin, a classmate from high school, had a career in the Canadian military. But I think about it all now, and much more often than once a year. We live on the knife-edge of change and need to close our ears to media and remember to treat each other with respect and courtesy. Learn to listen, even when we don't agree. Strive to understand. It is the only way to move forward and not backward.
I’m sharing some of the links of Norm Christie’s videos, which focus on Canadian troops and their experiences. I also encourage you to check out The Memory Project – a video project where you can listen to stories of those that survived WWII. Search for your relatives who served, or others in their regiments that may be there. It’s eye-opening. It's personal. It's inspiring. And it's heartbreaking.
Keep their experiences alive by listening and learning. Lest we forget. For if we do, we are destined to repeat it.
The Memory Project - go to the Veteran Stories menu at the top.
It's been awhile since my last post. Work and a move to the Sunshine Coast has kept me busy. Rides have been occasional, but I've been out a few times to explore the new neighbourhood. "Riding season" isn't really a thing on the west coast, if you don't mind the cold. I would say I DO mind the cold, but am also geared up/equipped to deal with it. So the only real issues are morning frost on the roads and the occasional snow. I'm told that in this area, black ice is something to watch for in the winter when the temperatures hover around zero, but for the time being, Spectre remains licensed and we're taking advantage of every dry day above about 5 degrees. Rain can be done, of course - but only if I have to!
There are lots of opportunities for off-road riding in this area and I find myself once again considering my bike options. I still have Night Fury (the CTX 700), though she is currently not licensed. Spectre is suited for off-road with a change of tire style - indeed what she's built for - but getting off road can mean more challenging terrain and narrow tracks where a larger bike would be harder to manage, get turned around, etc. So, I expect I'll be spending some time again this winter thinking about keeping Night Fury for road trips and perhaps switching Spectre up for a smaller, lighter, off-road option. Pavement options are exhausted fairly quickly here and I'll find myself riding the same stretch of pavement over and over unless I want to take a ferry somewhere else, so it behooves me to consider the possibilities.
Here are a few pictures of our Sunshine Coast wanderings so far.
A work trip to Nelson presented the best opportunity for a bike trip that I’m likely to get this year. I lucked out with the weather being absolutely amazing! Heading out of Coquitlam this afternoon was chilly and I didn’t really feel like I was in the “riding” frame the way I like to be. But we cleared the city and picked up Hwy 3 just past Hope, and the skies cleared off a bit, taking the mental fog with it.
For those of you who may not know, Highway 3 is a well-maintained, curvy highway with beautiful scenery and when traffic is light, it is a joy for a rider. Today, it was freaking awesome. I put some tunes in, squeezed the tank with my knees, leaned in and let Spectre have her way with me. Curvy roads are always fun, but some days just have a little bit of magic and today was one of those days. Rider and bike just a single unit – neither going anywhere without the other’s soul - and we carved the hell out of those curves. It’s an exhilarating feeling and leaves you with a big grin.
Fuelled up in Princeton and continued our curvy adventure to Keremeos, drinking in the loveliness of the scenery. The old Hedley mine demanded a stop as the sun bathed the hillside in light. Even though the mine is no longer operational, that glow would make you believe there’s still gold in them thar hills. As the day continued to wane, the ever-changing light intensified the colours of river, fields, and trees, delivering awe-inspiring vistas over and over. Such peace can be found when one shoves away the “noise” of day-to-day life and remembers to be present in the moment.
Planning to overnight in Oliver, I missed the turn towards Penticton that would have dropped me north of Oliver and instead ended up descending into Osoyoos. This turned out to be a happy mistake. A huge moon was rising over the water and lights of Osoyoos as I came down the hill. My phone camera didn’t capture the huge moon, but it was a sight to behold. I didn’t take a lot of pictures today – just enjoyed the ride, but there’s a couple included below. Can you find the old mine building way up the side of the hill at Hedley?
Arrived in Oliver and am ensconced in the Maple Leaf Motel for the night. I’m tired and ready for sleep. The Maple Leaf Motel is worth the stay if you are looking for clean and economical. Really nice, basic little motel with a good bed and enough pillows to satisfy even me. 😊
Friday, June 26, 2020 marked the day that I have lived as many days as my sister. In honour of this milestone, Spectre and I went for a day ride to continue this adventure we call life. It gave me time to reflect how the definition of adventure has changed over my lifetime, and often without me really understanding those life events as an adventure. Perhaps it is only as we grow older that we appreciate those experiences fully.
Tracey was a vigorous “learner” and threw herself into many adventures designed to gain knowledge and understanding of her world and the world around her. I carry her crystal with me on my adventures as my talisman and my reminder to be open and clear.
My adventure has often been in experiencing “the present” and trying new things. Being able to travel and experience different people and cultures and history has become important to me. At some point in my journey through Canada after her death, I wrote: “The thing about losing someone you love is that the intensity of all of one’s emotions is enhanced. Everything that is beautiful is achingly beautiful; everything that is sad is grievously so; everything that is joyful is sheer delight”. I think it should be a life goal to experience it that way – to give ourselves up to feeling the joy and beauty and grief when they occur, in their turn. Take all of your strengths and talents and share them generously with the world. Give up regret, learn from your experiences and embrace failures for the opportunities they provide to do better. After all, failure is not a stumbling block – it’s a launchpad for the next adventure!
So I take this opportunity to share some photos from my adventures and look forward to creating new ones. 😊 And to my Tracey, thank you so, so very much for your faith in me, your tolerance for your crazy little sister who just jumps into shit with both feet, and your unending love.
First 2 photos courtesy of Greg Samborski.
Two years ago today I was on the Top of the World Highway in the Yukon with Night Fury - my CTX 700. It was a goal to be there on my sister's birthday, whom I lost in a car accident 3.5 months before I began a journey through Canada. The loss changed the journey from an adventure to a compulsion and I took ashes with me, leaving some in every province and territory as I rode. Many times I thought I knew where ashes would be left and be surprised that it didn't feel right. She always told me when it was the right place. So the photos here are the 13 locations and the blog links are the stories of those days. Perhaps the photos will inspire someone for their own meaningful journey.
British Columbia – Bear Glacier: http://www.exploremynation.ca/british-columbia/yukon-ho
Yukon – Top of the World Highway: http://www.exploremynation.ca/yukon/top-of-the-world-with-tracey
Northwest Territories – Great Slave Lake: http://www.exploremynation.ca/northwest-territories/waterfall-chasing
Alberta – Gregoire Lake: http://www.exploremynation.ca/alberta/last-day-in-alberta
Saskatchewan - Tisdale: http://www.exploremynation.ca/saskatchewan/and-where-you-are-meant-to-be-you-are
Manitoba – Sally’s Beach, Lake Athapapuskow: http://www.exploremynation.ca/manitoba/catching-up-and-getting-spoiled-in-the-land-of-100000-lakes
Nunavut – Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga Park, Rankin Inlet: http://www.exploremynation.ca/nunavut/travelling-the-rankin-inlet-superhighway
Ontario – Kakabeka Falls: http://www.exploremynation.ca/ontario/pretty-peaceful
Quebec – Quebec City: http://www.exploremynation.ca/quebec/a-day-of-history-and-exploration
New Brunswick – Miscou Island: http://www.exploremynation.ca/new-brunswick/miscou-macdonald-miramichi-moncton-a-whole-lotta-ms
Nova Scotia – Cape Breton: http://www.exploremynation.ca/nova-scotiacape-breton/andtheres-murphy
Newfoundland – Lobster Head Cove: http://www.exploremynation.ca/newfoundlandlabrador/road-to-rocky-harbour
Prince Edward Island – New London: http://www.exploremynation.ca/prince-edward-island/a-perfect-day
Last July, I participated in The Pilgrimage, a mindful, motorcycle ride on Vancouver Island organized by Chris Vautour. Chris outdid herself and the majority of people who ever attempt to organize anything by creating an unforgettable experience. The documentary below is the result of video footage and interviews done with participants on that ride. Directed and produced by Lori Lozinski, this short documentary perfectly captures the experience of all who participated in this event. Please click the link below take a few minutes to experience it with us.
So....I guess early March is a wee bit early for road tripping. Monday I made the trip to Kingston, WA to have Rich's Custom seats modify the seriously uncomfortable stock seat on Spectre. I realize as I write this, that I have not introduced Spectre to the followers of Explore My Nation. Spectre is a 2016 Honda Africa Twin, acquired in late November and parked until February 1st when the weather was still cold, but I couldn't stand it anymore and put a plate on her. I still have Night Fury too and am loathe to sell her, but will have to do so at some point, I suppose. :(
Anyway, had the appointment in Washington and the weather was looking like it should be OK, if not great. In actuality, it turned out to be a 5-hour trip in 3-5 degrees and pouring rain. Felt like a popsicle when I arrived at Rich's and was happy to see the apartment over the shop they let people use had a huge jetted tub! Spent 40 minutes in it and gratefully brought my body temperature up to something warmer than a reptile.
With the apartment being over the shop, I was able to work while they created my custom seat. Part of the process is to have you sit on the bike, then they mark the seat and shave it to shape, then have you sit on it again and tweak it. When they are satisfied with the ergonomics, they send you out for a 20-minute test ride, do any further tweaks and then cover it again. Not being sure how long all this would take (turned out to be about 4 hours), I had arranged to stay with a friend in Sequim. We went to Blondie's Plate for dinner and had a great visit. Worked in the morning, then headed for the Port Angeles ferry to Victoria the next afternoon and had a nice sunny day for the ride, and wished I had more time to do the peninsula. A gander in the tourist building on the wharf turned up a cool old little Yamaha bike that needed a picture taken.
A photo shoot had been arranged with Greg Samborski who is doing a "Bike and Rider" project for Thursday. We had decided on Chemainus as a location and of course, it was....you guessed it.....cold and rainy. Did I roll my eyes out loud? We did it anyway, of course, because when you are a rider, sometimes you just have to embrace the inevitable. I'm looking forward to the results of the shoot - at least anything with my helmet on. I'll look like a drowned rat in any with my helmet off and my hair plastered to my head with the rain! Spectre will be the star of the show anyway.
After working the morning, I headed for the ferry amid sunny skies and chilly temps. Had a great conversation with Laird (not sure about that spelling), who was the only other bike on the ferry with his Triumph Street 900 Scrambler. Gorgeous bike! Also got to chat with Shane on the ferry - he and his wife learned to ride a few years ago in Nova Scotia, but two young ones keep him busy now. He recently acquired a bike and is hoping to get out for a few spins before maybe selling it on. Rush hour traffic from the ferry terminal to Coquitlam provided plenty of slow-speed control practice with Spectre and I'm getting a better feel for her balance and performance. Looking forward to the next adventure.
Well, after lots of “should get over to Salt Spring Island sometime” conversations, it finally became a reality. The ferry from the mainland over to Salt Spring was a 3-hour milk-run route, with a stop at Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands before docking at Long Harbour in the late afternoon. After a quick poke around the little community of Ganges, it was time to check into the cabin at Cusheon Lake Resort.
The resort is a beautiful, peaceful location at the end of the road with several cabins and a couple of chalets on the shores of…..you guessed it!.....Cusheon Lake. 😊 Life is tough in the little one-bedroom cabin with a wood-burning fireplace and view of the lake through the patio doors. There’s a choice of canoes or paddle boards, or sitting out on the pier in a couple of well-placed chairs to enjoy the serenity of the lake. Took a canoe out for a short paddle over the lake and was reminded that canoes are tippy and I’m out of shape…..though managed not to fall overboard after all.
Salt Spring Island, or xʷənen̕əč, is the largest and best-known of the Gulf Islands between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Various Salishan peoples inhabited the island originally and it also became a refuge from racism for African Americans leaving California in the late 1850’s. Also in the late 1850’s Salt Spring Island was the first of the gulf islands to be settled as an agricultural settlement and was named Admiral Island. It had previously been known as Salt Spring due to the hot springs at the north end of the island, and so eventually was renamed back to Salt Spring in 1910.
After a a quiche, a coffee and a strudel at one of the local bakeries, it was time to head over to the Remembrance Day Ceremony at the local cenotaph. A very nice ceremony and very well attended for such a small town. After the ceremondy, a drive around the lower part of the island included some exploring at Ruckle Provincial Park. The park includes the protected historical site of a sheep farm established by Irishman Henry Ruckle in the 1800s. In 1972, the Ruckle family donated the land to BC Parks for the establishment of the provincial park. It is a gorgeous location right on the ocean, with plenty of trails and beautiful scenes. Well worth the visit.
The next stop was the Salt Spring Island Cheese Company, with its wide variety of in-house cheese selections. There’s a tasting counter to make sure you don’t get out the door without buying anything, once you’ve discovered how good they are. Add in some homemade olive tapenade and a quick stop at the grocery store for crackers, and you have the fixings of a fine mid-afternoon snack. Ask me how I know…. 😊
Leaving the cheese factory, we attempted to check out two wineries (which were closed), before fetching up at Salt Spring Island Ales to sample a flight of ales. To me, it all “tastes like beer”, of course, but I did buy a “beer” soap made with hops. Since the hop salve I got at Farmery Brewery in Manitoba has made a big difference to keeping the eczema on my face at bay, I have high hopes that this soap will be good for my dry winter skin.
Feeling like that was enough of a day, we made it back to the cabin to enjoy the spoils from the cheese factory and sit in front of the fire for the evening. I guess now it’s time to turn in to see what adventures can be found tomorrow.
Hi. My name is Alyson. In 2018, I started this blog as I completed a 27,000 km motorcycle trip through every province and territory of Canada.