This blog recently auto-renewed itself. Had I been thinking ahead I might have returned the blog to a free state. Now I feel as though I need to make use of my inadvertent purchase. Like a new year’s resolution I move forward with naive determination. I’ve found myself ruminating on youthful experiences lately. The following is one of those. As I nag my children to get outside, to be adventurous, to put down their devices I’m drawn to my own childhood. Those were days of the Sega and Nintendo but we couldn’t download games from the cloud. We collected enough pop-bottles to cash in at the store for the deposit money. We walked clear across town to the video store and rented games that we played for as long as the rental allowed. I am left with a sense of nostalgia and longing for the 90s. Will my children tell stories like these?
I should have known something was wrong when I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything. I skipped breakfast and I knew that was a mistake. Adventures like these require fuel for the body, a steady supply, and I was starting out on the wrong foot. Brenton pulled up to my place a little after 7am and we loaded up our sleds for the 3 hour ride to the Bowron Lake Chain. The sleds contained everything we’d need for the 5-6 day round trip of this chain of lakes and rivers nestled in the Cariboo mountains. When we made this trip 2 years ago we had a third man, Greg, and our sleds averaged about 80 pounds a piece. This year it would just be the two of us and our sleds both came in at about 70 pounds. We wondered aloud what we might have forgotten. Nothing really, experience tends to lighten the burden of any adventure.
It was a little after 10am when we pulled into Bear River Mercantile. We stopped and chatted with the always friendly proprietor, Sandy. Last time we staged our adventure from here. We spent the night in one of their rustic cabins before heading out on the chain early the next morning. This time we’d go straight at it. We knew this would bring us into the distant, 24 kilometres distance to be exact, Moxley Creek trapper’s cabin a little after dark but we know the terrain well enough that the dark is easily cured by headlamps. Besides, the moon would be a waning full and reflecting off the untouched white canvas lakes. The dark wouldn’t be a problem.
We parked the truck at Bear River Mercantile having dropped our gear a few hundred meters up the road where the provincial park begins and the snowplows end. Giddy with excitement for the adventure ahead we pulled on our snow shoes and clipped into our sleds. 120 kilometres of lakes, rivers, and trails lay ahead of us filled with the familiar and the unknown. Sunsets that fill a man with awe, starry skies that roll out across the heavens as if a painter brushed them into existence, pounding waterfalls that throw clouds of freezing mist hundreds of feet into the air, and misty mornings filled with stillness awaited us. All we needed to do was walk into it.
We begin with a 2.4 kilometre portage trail with a gradual climb that ends with a slight drop into Kibee lake. The trees, heavy with snow, groan under the pressure of their loads and create a tunnel of sorts beneath their bows. Brenton easily outpaced me. “I should not have skipped breakfast” I thought. Yet, the thought of food made me a little queasy. As we pulled up to Kibee lake I forced myself to eat a little cheese. No matter how I felt I would need the fuel to push through the next 22 kilometres.
Kibee lake is also 2.4 kilometres long and begins with a few hundred meters of reedy wet land. In the spring and summer this area is a good place to spot a moose as you snake your way through the reeds in a canoe. That is, if you arrive early enough. The stream of campers making their way onto the chain tends to push them away from this place. Today it is just us though and a heavy blanket of snow that brings a pronounced calmness with it. Kicking off our snowshoes and sliding into skis is a welcome change. The snow is thick but someone has been out this far on the chain before us and a faint track has already been laid out, slightly easing the burden of blazing a fresh trail.
We stopped in at the trappers cabin at campsite number 1 on the north shore of Kibee lake. The dozen or so times I’ve been through here and I had no idea there was a cabin there. I thought I had memorized the park maps but clearly I’d overlooked the cabin marker on this lake every time. How could I pass by this place so many times and never notice this little gem? It is less than 5 kilometres from the trail head and would be a perfect winter get away with the kids or my wife. For some reason they tend to bulk when I suggest winter retreats with 10-12 kilometres of hiking or up mountains.
The 2 kilometre portage from Kibee to Indianpoint was another winter wonderland. This trail begins with a long climb away from Kibee and then a quick drop to Indianpoint Lake. Again I felt a little lethargic and was unable to keep pace with Brenton. I forced down some almonds. I was in a fuel deficit and I knew I was not eating enough to climb out of it but I figured I could have a heavy meal that night and a good night’s rest.
Indianpoint Lake was excellent skiing. A couple years back the lake was a solid sheet of ice with a thin layer of snow on top. Those conditions meant a very speedy crossing. This year there was several feet of snow and we were breaking trail. Still good skiing conditions but requiring substantially more effort with our sleds in tow. This lake is 6.8 kilometres long with a trapper’s cabin sitting on a knoll over looking the lake on the north shore at about kilometre 6. Brenton stopped in at the cabin to find it was well stocked with firewood. if you’ve been keeping track we’ve come about 12-13 kilometres but our goal lay at twice that distance.
We decided to push on from Indianpoint. Like the beginning of Kibee the end of Indianpoint is a reedy marsh land and the sanctuary of waterfowl and ungulates. These are my favourite places in canoes. On skis or snowshoes they tend to be choked with willows and other brush that seem to wilfully reach out to snare your feet or hook up your sled. Nonetheless we made a quick passage through the area and the start of the Indianpoint portage trail over to Isaac Lake. This portage is a quick mile but still as stunning as the others. As much as I love to slip on the skis after each stint in the snowshoes I am equally as happy to slip on the snowshoes after a few hours of skiing. Change really is as good as a rest.
About this time I began to notice that my heart rate was tracking a little higher than usual. I was also completely out of water. At the start of this portage the water is generally accessible. There must be a small spring here feeding the lake and keeping the ice at bay. the area is muddy and the ice thin but I could get close enough to the edge to reach out and scoop up enough fresh water I could treat with iodine tablets. At least that was the plan. I wedged my feet into the snow pack at the edge and reached out only to have both feet kick forward and onto the thin crust of ice at the water edge. Both feet easily punched through the ice and drove down into thick cold mud. I threw myself backward but it was too late the water rushed up over my boots and seeped in at the seams. The suction of the mud held me fast as I struggled to inch my way free. Curse words in this lovely spot reverberate like immorality in the walls of a church. The trees don’t get angry but there is a sense of offence floating in the air.
I managed to get my water but I paid a heavy price. Brenton suggested a possible retreat to Indianpoint’s cabin but I knew once we got moving my feet would warm the water around them and all would be well.
Issac Lake is formidable at the best of times. Its north western arm is about 6 kilometres long when it makes a sharp southern bend and runs an additional 32 kilometres. Moxley Creek and its accompanying trappers’ cabin is on the eastern shore of that southern arm about 9 kilometres from the end of the portage trail connecting Isaac and Indianpoint. By the time I hit Isaac Lake I was feeling the edges of a runner’s wall ahead. This is nothing new to me. I understand how to scale these types of walls. It wasn’t surprising either given how I had fuelled throughout the day. Though, there was an added element I was not used to, a heart rate that seemed unusually high. I’d been taking short video clips all along the route and as I review them now I can spot my decline but am also impressed with the clear joy I am experiencing right up to the end.
3 kilometers onto Isaac Lake the sun was rapidly sinking and casting an intense glow over everything. I record a video here trying to capture what I am seeing but the camera is unable to do it justice. This is a sunset without the typical reds and purples that compel the most amateur photographers to stop and snap a thousand photos. Anyplace else this would be an unremarkable sunset but here. Here, I was skiing through a celestial hue incapable of being captured by a photo or a thousand words.
My skis passed through an area of slush on the lake that instantly froze to their waxed bottoms. That ice gathered snow and soon I was walking my skis across the lake all glide gone. I pounded and shook and stomped to break them free but to no avail. Finally I stopped and pulled the skis free of my feet. I broke the ice away and applied some glide wax. Soon all would be right again. I carried on for another kilometre or so when again my skis became unusable as they passed through slush. The ice built up on my sled too and suddenly it felt as though it weighed two hundred pounds. I was hitting that wall I could feel the edges of earlier and hitting it hard. I sat down on my sled and pulled off my skis. There was no sense in cleaning them again the conditions were no longer ideal for the skis. The water in my boots was beginning to freeze and with it my feet.
I decided it was time for a change of footwear. Large chunks of ice had formed around my pant legs where I’d soaked them in the lake and the velcro straps holding on my boots were frozen solid. With bare hands I worked the material to rid it of ice and extricate my feet. I could not get the straps all the way open but, I thought, maybe just enough. Ski boots zip up. Those zippers were frozen solid too. I used the tip of my ski pole back and forth across the zipper until I could zip them about half way down. I was locked in these boots. With some serious effort I pried my feet free.
I am sure I chuckled a little to myself. Dry socks and warm boots. Heaven. Brenton had noticed my plight and was back tracking to give me some aid. I was feeling that wall again but there were just 4 kilometres to go. I didn’t bother with snowshoes, the track Brenton was creating was stable enough to make them unnecessary, I thought. I clipped back into my sled and soldiered on. My heart rate shot way up and my sled was an anchor at my waist. It’s just a wall, a wall I’d overcome countless times before. It’s just a wall. That wall broke but unlike anything I’d experienced in this type of situation before. The wall did not move aside to hidden stores of energy and clarity of thought it broke like a damn and expelled everything I had in a torrent of unmitigated disaster. The point of Issac Lake where the western arm turns sharply south was a kilometre off. I could see it in gloomy shadow at the outer edge of Wolverine Bay nestled beneath the snowy peak of Wolverine Mountain. In the bay, 3 kilometres on, was a shelter and an unoccupied ranger’s cabin and 4 kilometres away Moxley Creek Cabin but I had nothing left.
I was sweating profusely and my heart rate was uncontrollable. The world swam around me as I unclipped from my sled and stumbled forward. Brenton had turned around for me again. I was on my knees, broken and sick. “Brenton, I am dizzy” I said. “I think I am sick.” To his immeasurable credit Brenton did not hesitate. He did not try to bolster me with useless words. He did not prod me to get up, to shake it off, to just try harder. He saw my need and changed into his snowshoes. He clipped my sled to his and we reasoned we must press on to shelter. 140 pounds was the combined weight of our two sleds and Brenton pulled both. Surely there was ice built up beneath those sleds exacerbating the challenge but he pulled on and I followed shakily in their wake. We continued like that for a kilometre to that point of land connecting the western and souther arms of the Isaac where we stopped to counsel together, though I could not have been in my right mind.
Brenton ventured out around the point untethered from the sleds to assess the conditions on that long southern arm. The fog was rolling in and the wind was biting. It was clear that this would be as far as I could go. I have vague memories of helping to erect the tent. I pulled off my wet and sweaty clothes and climbed into dry replacements and my sleeping bag. I was floating in and out of consciousness. Brenton wrapped my sleeping bag in light tarps to help retain whatever heat I could generate. I could here the roar of the Whisper Light stove. Brenton handed me chicken soup and I drank it. Next came a mug of Neo Citron taken from my essentials bag. Then he handed me my water bottle full of heated water. I slipped it into my sleeping bag and felt the warmth spread through me. I lost consciousness, swallowed by peaceful oblivion.
The next day Brenton and I made the 3 kilometres to Moxley Creek’s cabin. Brenton broke trail the whole way. A few times along the route I contemplated abandoning my sled but I persevered. 3 kilometres. The little wood stoves in these cabins are perfect. Brenton got a fire going and headed out to find more wood. I took in as much fluid as I dared and fell asleep. I slept off and on the rest of the day. Brenton kept busy gathering wood and pondering his poor life choices. He is a good man. He made the most of being cooped up with an invalid while our plans of making our way around the chain drifted away. We should have been at Moxley Cabin the night before. That day we should have been pushing through a gruelling 28-29 kilometres of Isaac Lake and then down the Isaac River with a final hurdle over the mountain to McCleary lake and the trappers cabin on its shore.
McCleary Lake, pinned in by the Isaac River and Isaac Falls to its north and towering snow capped mountains to its south in whose shadow it pours its contents into the sweeping Cariboo River is my favourite place on the chain. It doesn’t get more remote than little McCleary lake. I wouldn’t sit on the porch of that cabin and watch the moon as it burst over the mountains. The next day, weary though we’d be, we would beat our way down the Cariboo River hugging as close as we could to the toe of the northern mountains. It would be gruelling pulling the sleds over and under logs and passing through stretches of deep snow. There would be frightening moments where our snowshoes would break through some weak part in the marsh land and we’d have to scramble to avoid soaking feet. There would be moments of anxiety as we raced against the setting sun to break away from the river and out onto Lanezi Lake. In the dark we’d likely trudge down Lanezi to the shelter at Turner Creek transfixed by a night sky completely free of the light pollution of our homes.
Turner Creek’s enclosed shelter can be difficult to heat but we’d make do. The trek across Lanezi would blend into Sandy Lake where we’d hug the short side of its kidney bean shape. From Sandy the Cariboo River picks up again and we’d follow it to the ranger’s cabin on its small tributary, Babcock Creek. Babcock marks the end of the southern arm of the Circuit where we’d take the last remaining portage trails through to Babcock Lake and then small Skoi Lake to emerge on the shallow and sandy Spectacle Lake. It would be evening there on our 4th day and the sun would now be falling in front of us. Perhaps like our last trip there’d be an inch of water over the icy lake creating a mirror effect so startling that you’d swear you were skiing across a brilliant pink and purple sunset.
The division between Spectacle Lake and Swan Lake is amorphous. There is a long sandbar stretching out into a bay. There you’ll find a little cabin at a place called Pat’s Point. That sandbar would be invisible under the ice and snow but in summer it is a favourite place to swim. With one group of young men we played a game of tackle soccer there. The water of the lake barely covered the ten foot wide sandy surface beneath our feet stretching a couple hundred meters into the bay. From a distance it might appear as if we played the game on top of the lake.
Pat’s Point would be our last stop before heading the final 18 kilometres across Swan Lake to the meandering Bowron River and on to Bowron Lake. These places have a softer beauty than the hard mountainous lines of the Chain’s eastern arm. We’d drink in the cool air and haul our sleds through the marshy Bowron water ways glad to be done with the journey but happy with the experience, weary in body but invigorated in mind. Each time I complete the circuit I look forward to these final kilometres. There is a deep sense of gratitude and peace that I can’t quite explain.
These were my thoughts as we left Moxley Cabin the next day back in the direction we’d just come. The distances and the stress of our planned adventure was too risky in my condition. What if Brenton fell ill? What if I could not physically handle the hardships or my sickness grew worse? We headed back toward the cabin at Indianpoint 12 kilometres away. I started strong that day but 12 kilometres was about all I could handle. No sooner was the fire lit and I changed into dry clothes did I lie down on the plywood shelf with my head on a drysack of winter gear and fell asleep.
When we arrived, the snow was falling thick and heavy and a bitter wind gave the air a bite. The scene was idyllic from the comfort of a small warm cabin. The temperature rose and the snow turned to rain. That night it rained hard. Rain on a tin roof is supposed to be soothing but the drumming was relentless. The rain turned the snow in the tall spruce surrounding the cabin into large ice balls which fell from the trees like ordinance from a bomber, bang! bang! they went against the roof. Best to stay inside. A little after midnight the rain seemed to stop and I could sleep. At 4:30am we were up to prepare for an early departure. I opened the cabin door to find that the rain had turned to snow and the temperature in just 4 hours had dropped to 10 below. The wind chill made it feel much cooler.
The wind and snow completely obliterated our previous path. We set out from the cabin a little after 6am in the dark. I followed Brenton, my headlamp illuminating just a few feet in front of me. The snow, driven by the wind, obscured our vision and froze to our faces. The darkness pressed in on us like a shroud mourning the loss of our adventure. We pushed on. Over dressed for the strenuous work we stopped to shed a layer or two in spite of the wind. I put down the head lamp to pull off my fleece and the glow of a near full moon pressed through a thinning overcast. The shoreline began to take shape.
We skied the 6 kilometres across Indianpoint in great conditions. We pressed through some slush but arrived largely unscathed at the portage trail. We’d complete the remainder of the journey on snowshoes. Kibee Lake was a ruin of slush that turned to large balls of ice under our feet and weighed us down severely but we were in good spirits. The sun was shining and the snow reflecting the light of a beautiful winter day.
Looking at a map of the Bowron Chain you might be inclined to believe there was an intelligence behind its making. Did God smile when he carved it out of the mountains? I like to think so. In spite of my evident mortality it sure felt like God was smiling when we drove away from the Bowron that day. It wasn’t the adventure we’d planned but what adventure goes to plan?
A few related stories from my adventure on the Bowron Chain:
It has been a few event filled weeks since I last wrote. They have included a couple trips out to a local Wadi and the dedication of the first purpose built LDS chapel in the Middle East. I want to begin my post with a few words about that dedication and the visit of Elder Jeffery R. Holland. To do that I need to start with a little background.
Twice a year the LDS church has a worldwide conference broadcast from Salt Lake City. The first weekend in April and the first weekend in October are the dates for these conferences. Strangely, they are some of my favourite weekends every year. The LDS people have, in part because of these conferences which have been happening for just shy of 200 years, developed an interesting love of the spoken word and beautiful music. As I write this I am listening to a long running LDS program called, well… “Music and The Spoken Word.” This program features the iconic Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square. Check out their youtube channel. This is what I’m listening to right now:
So, at each of these conferences we generally hear from each of the members of the quorum of the twelve apostles and the first presidency of the church, among others. Members of the quorum of the twelve apostles and the first presidency serve from the time they are called until their death. The longest serving member of the quorum becomes the president of the church. It is actually a fascinating form of ecclesiastical government. What I am getting at here is that we hear from these men quite a bit. Some of them have been serving as apostles longer than I have been alive! I’ve heard them all speak many times. My favourite among them is Jeffrey R. Holland. The content of his speeches and his delivery consistently combine to inspire me and to draw me in.
I was more than elated to find out that Elder Holland would come to dedicate the chapel in Abu Dahbi. Not only did we get to hear from him during the dedication but that evening he was the main speaker at a small devotional in Dubai. A rare opportunity to hear from him twice in one day and in such an informal setting. He did not disappoint. More than any words he could have uttered though was the sermon of his actions. Elder Holland is one of the younger members of the quorum at 72 but I expect he only arrived in Dubai the night before (that is a long flight). He not only spoke at length in the morning he returned to speak at length in our intimate devotional. We packed as many as we could into that little villa in Dubai. He spoke and then hung around to shake the hands of every member.
I debated whether to get in line to shake his hand. You could tell he was tired. Personally I’d have blown off that meeting and gone to the hotel for a nap if I was him. Eventually I decided I’d better go shake his hand. I may never have the opportunity to stand face to face with an apostle again. I was shocked at the power in his grip. He was still shaking hands when we left around 10pm. His schedule for the next two weeks will take him to a different country in Europe every day. I’m sure he will stick around to greet the humblest of members at every meeting. I’m struck by the love he has for the saviour. I think of Peter when Christ asked “Peter, lovest thou me?” and then counselled him to feed His sheep. I could not help but think that Elder Holland is doing what the saviour would have him do.
I should pause here to say that every one that spoke that day did an incredible job. The dedication of the Abu Dhabi chapel will rest in my memory as one of the most spiritually poignant experiences of my life thus far. This chapel represents answers to many prayers. I could not help but feel that God was pleased and smiling upon these people. May it ever remain so.
So what was it that Elder Holland said in the two sermons he gave? A good deal. I’ve mulled over his words these last couple weeks. In the devotional he recalled a conversation he’d had with Hugh Nibley at Brigham Young University many years ago. Brother Nibley suggested that all we really need to do in life is repent and forgive (slightly different than pay taxes and die). Elder Holland expanded on that sentiment, his first reactions to it and his growing understanding of it over time. I thought it a fitting message in an Islamic country – though I’m not sure that he planned it that way. The word Islam means submission to the will of God. From dictionary.com we learn that Islam comes from the “…root of aslama “he resigned, he surrendered, he submitted,” causative conjunction of salima “he was safe,” and related to salam ‘peace.'” So with our Islamic friends we wish to utterly submit to the will of God or repent and forgive. There is simplicity and power in this approach to life.
Elder Holland expounded on many beautiful doctrines that day. In the end I came away with the message to repent, forgive and enjoy. Though he did not say those words exactly, much of his message, I think, is summed up in that phrase. Should we endeavour to live the first principles we should have the privilege of enjoying all of life. This does not mean that life will be without upset, difficulty or long stretches of darkness. Yet, through submission there is at least peace.
So on to the joy of life. I played a game with the kids the other day and now they beg me to play it every night. Indeed we’ve played it nearly every night for the last few weeks. We call it Mission Impossible. Before bed the kids arrange the furniture in the dinning room and living room and then shut out all the lights. I take my place with a flashlight on the back of the couch at one end of the room and the kids begin after the count of 3 on the other end of the room. They try to sneak through the room to a pillow resting at my feet. If they can touch the pillow they win the game but if they are caught in my flashlight’s inner beam they are out. When I shine the flashlight I can’t move it around the room and the kids have to freeze while it is on. When I turn it off again I have to count to 3 slowly and out loud before I can turn it on again. The kids let me know if I’m counting too fast. Of course, the idea is to move from hiding place to hiding place during those 3 seconds. Then when you are in reach make a dash for the pillow.
The kids love this game and like to argue over who gets to deign the “course.” If you play this with your kids be warned that they are moving about in the dark rather quickly. We’ve had our fair share of banged heads and stubbed toes. Lilli got a bloody nose yesterday. They insist on playing despite the injuries. We’ve also found that it is no fun to be caught out too quick. The kids get at least a couple chances. If I catch them they have to spell a word properly before they get a do over. Well, the spelling test has actually given way to singing and dancing… they love that! Indeed, Lilli would probably be bored with this game by now if the singing and dancing in the flashlight’s glow hadn’t begun. She is probably the least successful at reaching the pillow.
We spent the night out at Wadi Shawka last weekend. It was spectacular. A great fire with good friends. Joe brought his Ukelele and we sung late into the night around the camp fire. We had a big group out again for this camping trip. Watching a near full moon break over the horizon to dim the view of a starry sky was as usual breathtaking. The next day we hiked into the Wadi and spent hours swimming in the biggest pool and bouldering the rock faces around it. Jaron and I went exploring a ways up the river bed and then made the brave or possibly foolish move of taking an alternate route back to the pools. Jaron insisted that we climb up the mountain and follow the thin goat track along the cliff face inches from sudden death. I naturally can’t refuse my children anything. That little experience has demonstrated that Jaron is as reckless as his old man. He has the same “whats on the other side of that hill” fascination. I couldn’t help but think “is this what my friends have put up with all these years?” How many times have I led people into difficult situations because of my insistence that that mountain could be climbed, or that ravine ought to be explored…? I can only hope that it works out as well for my son as it has for me. Geez it is kind of annoying though – sorry guys.
Lisa took all the pictures and she is in Abu Dhabi tonight as a leader at the church youth conference. Hopefully, she’ll write a little more about the wadi and post the pictures and videos she took. We wish we could share all the great times we are having with friends and family at home. You are all missed.
Yesterday after church about 25 men and a few young men rode off into the desert for a guys night of desert camping. What happens when you send a bunch of men into the wilderness who are eager to recapture some of their youth and a few boys eager to be men? Well, potentially a good deal. Thankfully, Our night was relatively uneventful but satisfying. It was an interesting cultural experience too. A Canadian, two Americans an Ozzy and a large group of Filipinos go camping in the desert… what’s the punch line?
I’m not sure where they got it but the night featured a 15kilo suckling pig roasted
methodically on a spit over a bed of coals. They filled the belly with garlic and herbs and sewed it up for the roasting. I’m going to have to do this myself sometime in Canada. It was delicious.
There were a few scorpions but no stings. A stuck 4×4 but no permanent damage. A gorgeous evening sky with shooting stars and satellites ( the occasional 747 too). A brilliant crescent moon descending beneath the horizon prompted a run to the top of a large sand dune in pursuit and then an hour swapping stories with the Ozzy as we watched the glow of the campfire below.
The sweet but mournful ukelele was lovely to listen too. It was later supplanted by the rhythmic experienced strum of a guitar. Classic soft rock from the 70s, 80s and 90s brought back some excellent memories and certainly created a great new one. Our Filipino friends knew the lyrics to every song. Turns out karaoke is extremely popular in the Philippines.
I realized as I crawled into my sleeping bag that this was the first night I’ve been away from the family since arriving in the UAE. It is now Saturday afternoon and I am alone in the house. Lisa got on a bus with the kids this morning going to Abu Dhabi. The bus will take them to a well know mosque for a tour and then on to the other big cultural experience in the UAE, a mall. They should be back around 4pm and I can hardly wait to hear all about it. I expect Lisa will post something about the experience.
I miss the pines and spruce, the clear streams and green hillsides of my home. Yet, I’m learning to love the desert.
It is always fun to see camels meandering along the road. This may be because they
are still so foreign looking to us. Seeing a moose or bear in Canada was always novel (just because the experience is relatively rare) but a horse or cow is simply part of the landscape. Camels are ultimately a part of the landscape here but they are still, after only 4 months, a novelty. We haven’t had the chance to ride one yet but rest assured I won’t be leaving the Middle East without a camel ride. Why am I talking about camels? Well our adventures of late have included quite a few camel sightings.
With our intrepid friends the Palmers we ventured out into the desert last Saturday to play with the kids in the sand dunes. We did a little driving in the sand which stresses me out to no end. If I had a vehicle that was meant for that kind of driving I think I would enjoy it but with the constant threat of getting stuck in the desert with a car full of kids hanging over me like a guillotine my cortisol levels are way too high to truly enjoy the ride. Nonetheless we found some excellent sand dunes to play in.
As a kid my scout troop would raise money every year by filling and selling sand bags. I have great memories of running all over the giant piles of sand we used to fill the bags. The dunes here are much larger and a great deal of fun. So we resolved to come back at the end of the week to do some camping.
On our way home we ran across some locals with their dogs at a camel race track. The dogs were Salukis, which are one of the oldest known domesticated dog breeds. They look built to run and these locals looked like they were getting set to make them do just that. The men had rigged a long metal beam to the top of their jeep and from the end tied a dead rabbit. Surprisingly, Lilli didn’t put up much of a stink about the poor rabbit. She wants a rabbit. Mainly, I think, because she’d like to name it Arnab (which is Arabic for rabbit). Anyway, with the rabbit dangling from the metal pole they would drive down the outside of the track with the metal beam and its rabbit sticking out over the track and the dogs in hot pursuit. I suggested to the kids that we should let Bonnie and Clyde race but for some reason they didn’t think that was a good idea – one of the other dogs might mistake them for a rabbit. Bridget captured a video of the dogs sprinting down the track – if you look carefully you can see the rabbit skipping along in front.
Generally when we go camping on a weekend we invite tons of people. More often than not one or maybe two families actually join us. This long weekend we had 8 besides ourselves. Of course, this made for quite the enjoyable occasion. After work on Wednesday I came straight home to pack the vehicle and lead the way. The Palmers were off work before us and led another family out to the place we’d found on Saturday. So it was up to Lisa and I to lead the rest. With a bit of a false start getting away from the gas station we all made it out to the desert. One family only had a two wheel drive rental vehicle but managed to get through the sand to the… “campground,” random spot in the desert, the place we decided to pitch our tents.
That two wheel drive made it out no problem but we spent a couple hours the next morning digging them out. After several attempts at pulling them out a local came by with a beat up old truck and managed to get them to solid ground. Of course, he snapped one of the two tow ropes we had in the process. Being that it wasn’t my vehicle stuck in the sand it was all pretty exciting. I did feel bad for Paul during the ordeal with his three kids, one just a baby. In the end we were all safe and sound just super dirty. This was Paul and Michelle’s first camping trip in the UAE… perhaps one of their first camping trips ever. Michelle had a roasted marshmallow for the first time! Maybe they don’t have marshmallows in Ireland? 🙂 Getting their vehicle stuck in the sand was a great introduction to camping… they won’t soon forget the experience. Now if we can get them to practice a little cognitive dissonance they may join us again. They were fun to have along so I hope they do.
I’ve been looking to spot a Camel Spider since we got here and felt optimistic about our
chances on this trip. Alas no Camel Spiders but I did catch a gecko and even better a fairly nice sized scorpion. Jaron and his friend had a great time with the scorpion – they tortured… I mean played with it for at least an hour. They even built it a little “house,” hiding place out of sticks for it.
We discovered that a body board makes a great sand dune sled. My skim board wasn’t much fun, to my disappointment. The next time we’ll leave the skim board at home and bring the body board. It gets cold at night in the desert but we were comfortably warm in our new sleeping bags and on our new two-inch backpacking sleeping mats. Well kirsten was a little cold… we’ll have to find her a fleece liner for her sleeping bag.
We are fairly confident that we have the majority of the camping gear we need for our European camping trip this summer. Just a few more small things and we should be all set. Anyone want to join us for a backpacking trip through Italy and France in June?
Happy Birthday to the United Arab Emirates – affectionately known as the UAE. The UAE is a federation of emirates or small kingdoms each headed by their own Emir (a hereditary position like a king). The Emir of each emirate is an absolute monarch and the constitution that binds the seven emirates together really just spells out the relationship between the 7 participating emirates. There is a president of the country, who is chosen from among and by the seven rulers. I actually do not know quite as much about the politics of the country as I ought to – living here and all. i have learned a remarkable amount over the holiday though, for instance:
- The UAE turned 41 on December 2nd.
- The colours of the flag: red, green, white and black
- The rulers faces looks strangely good plastered on the side of a white SUV – and they were on a ton of SUVs
- You may not be able to drink here but that doesn’t stop anyone from driving recklessly
- Driving and getting stuck on the beach is a national past-time
See how educated I am now.
We decided to spend National Day camping on the beach with our good friends the Andersons. We returned to Sandy Beach and Snoopy Island. We had such a good time on the Islamic new year we thought we just had to give camping there a try. We should have realized it was going to be chaos.
The first glimpses of the Gulf of Oman are always exciting. As we came around a bend
in the road though and looked down on the “family campsite” that hugs the coast for several miles before one gets to Sandy Beach our excitement turned to: fear, wonder, apprehension, ashes in our mouth? None of those work really. I suppose one could describe it as the feeling you get when you are about to embark on something adventurous where the outcome will be almost assuredly unpleasant but also strangely captivating and memorable. The beach was absolutely packed with campers. It looked just like what one might imagine a refugee camp to look like.
There were an odd assortment of tents, trailers, and other contraptions. Residents erected fences of mesh or tarp to block out their neighbours. There was even a fifth wheel with a tent trailer on its roof. The neighbour to our left ran a generator all night to power his fluorescent lights. The neighbour to the right had a trailer (not a camp trailer but a steel box trailer) with a railed sitting area on the roof. At one point (around 11pm) he began grinding metal for something and spent several hours doing it. We had a few arabic gentlemen that could not get enough of driving their 4x4s on the beach. ATVs and dune buggies also made their way up and down the chaos.
There was an assortment of music. The Arabic and Hindi melded together at strange points. Occasionally claps and shouts could be heard as people attempted to dance to the music. Fires flickered up and down the beach as a massive orange moon rose out of the gulf to light the party. It was, a fascinating… cultural experience.
So we spent a strange night of intermittent sleep on the beach. In the morning as we climbed from our tents we watched the sun burst from the ocean. I don’t suppose that I could ever get tired of that scene. A good number of people left in the night or early
hours of the morning. Why they needed tents if they never intended to use them for sleeping I can only guess. Those guesses lead to no good ends though so I’ll pretend they simply had to be to work early in the morning. They, of course, left all their trash on the beach. It wasn’t long though before workers, from the neighbouring resort I presume, were there to pick up the larger pieces of litter. I watched as one of those workers carefully set aside items he could reuse: a half a bottle of instant coffee, a decorative box that probably once held cigars and an assortment of other treasures. He saw me watching him though and asked if I wanted any of these things he was setting aside.
The kids were in the water as soon as they were out of the tent. It wasn’t long before they were pulling strange things out of the water: a starfish, a Heineken bottle…
I bought the kids a skim board and a boogie board the other day. Kirsten wiped out pretty good on the skim board. She is still complaining of being soar. I took a few stellar falls myself. As I drug myself out of bed this morning I realized that I’m older than I used to be…
Lisa and I swam out to Snoopy Island with Jeremy Palmer (his family joined us in the morning – a wiser family than ours). This time I had a pair of fins and a proper snorkel. I tried the snorkelling mask but my nose being plugged really messed with my head. So Lisa used the mask. We encountered as many as half a dozen turtles each about a foot to two feet across. You could swim right up to them. I was tempted to grab a hold of them and see if they’d pull me along under the water. Turtles can bite I’m sure so I thought twice about that and let them be. It was fun just to swim with and watch them.
There were tons of Jellyfish in the water. We swam through several… schools, swarms, what the heck do you call a clump of Jellyfish? Well, according to Dictionary.com they are called a: smack, brood, smuth, smuck or fluther of Jellyfish. So we swam through many a fluther of Jellyfish and took quite a few stings. I was stung in the armpits, along my arms, my back and oddly enough even around my mouth. Apparently you should not kiss a Jellyfish. After 6 or 7 hours in the water the waves pushed these fluthers of Jellyfish into shore and we were forced to abandon our water adventures for the day. I should say that the stings, while leaving the occasional mark, were not much worse than a prickle and the majority of them were about the size of a fingernail. I did encounter quite a few bigger than my hand too. Jaron got stung in the leg but clearly it wasn’t too painful; he absolutely refused to let me pee on him.
Lisa drove for the first time in the UAE. I was very grateful too sleep the last hour of the trip home. She obviously did a fine job driving because I did indeed sleep. I think I woke up for nearly every traffic circle though just in time to have a small heart attack before returning to sleep.
Today we found a text message on our cell phone from the Emir of Sharjah wishing us a happy National Day. You know, it was a happy National Day. Thanks for being such an awesome country UAE and thanks to the rulers for continuing to provide a land of peace and prosperity, Insha’Allah.