|Mount Sir Donald (r), in the Selkirk Range of British Columbia.|
To be honest, our time-travelling was quite unintentional. In the beginning, our plan had simply been to make a quick road trip out to Alberta, to visit family. Little did we know, that our High Mobility Kayak Transport Vehicle (HMKTV) was also a capable "Time Machine". (Strangely, it maintained its appearance as a "Subaru".) So, securing the narrow boats in the house for a brief rest, with the promise that we wouldn't leave them for long, we lightly loaded the HMKTV with a few essentials, strapped ourselves in, turned the ignition key, and left the present...for the past.
|Sir Donald's peak, as if exhaling a "puff" of breath into the high mountain air.|
Forty-one years ago, a railroad survey engineer braved four long months with a small crew of long-haired, bearded, frequently unruly, university students - at least one of which was sent to this remote place to do some "growing up". (That was me.) In the darkening hours of the late evening, on those regular occasions when the transcontinental passenger train, the Canadian, was briefly stopped in the siding to wait for a priority coal train, passengers must surely have wondered at the extraordinary sight before them. Some of us took great delight in sneaking up to the observation dome and dining / bar cars and standing motionless while increasing numbers of curious passengers gathered to stare back in wonderment from behind the plexiglass. Who were these mountain "creatures", dishevelled and grinning broadly. We were, after all, in the middle of an uninhabited wilderness.
There was a little growing up there although, happily, that process is still incomplete. (And long may it remain so!) It was, however, in the remarkable isolation of Rogers Pass that I had to confront the daily fear of leaving the relative safety of our work camp, to go out into the mountains for the long 12-hour-day.
It was all about the bears.
Another crew member and I did "cross sections" along the survey route. Our job was to measure the steep upslope and downslope angles with handheld devices called inclinometers. We'd claw uphill and often tumble downhill, every 100 feet to get readings. There were times when all we wanted to do was throw those instruments as far as we could! The work was great for the quadriceps but it was physically exhausting and we were alone...the rest of the crew, with their chainsaws, well out of earshot. Rogers Pass was (and is) a grizzly stronghold. I was certain I'd be eaten before the summer was out. I wanted nothing more than to be fired and sent back to Toronto where I could surely find a safer summer job - maybe in a library, shelving books. Alas, my job was so simple, there was little I could do to screw it up. And then there was the matter of pride and public face. None of the other guys seemed to be overly worried about their safety.
Fears can be debilitating but sometimes when there's no easy way out, you're forced to face them. I was deathly afraid of the grizzlies, but there was no easy way out. I remember thinking long and hard and finally realizing that it was my "fear" of what might happen that was causing the distress. It was not the actual likelihood of an encounter with the massive ursus horribilis. It was all about the fear itself.
Last week, when our capable HMKTV took us down the dusty, rough, switchback access to the railway line, I could feel the time compress. Leaving our vehicle, to find the site where our survey camp was located, I could feel all the old fears surface. It was as if I was back in the summer of 1971. I half expected a massive grizzly to rush angrily out of the woods and charge us as we stood vulnerable and far from the relative safety of our vehicle. It was a strangely familiar feeling, after all these years. I could feel the old emotional response rising. But I ignored it.
|Deep in the valley, HMKTV...and paddling partner.|
Forty-one years ago, I came to the realization that it was my super-sized fear that was the problem - not the bears. Here I was in, arguably, one of the most beautiful mountain landscapes in the world, getting stronger and fitter every day - and the railroad even paid us! I could retreat home to the city and look for a job in a "library"...or spend the better part of four months wallowing in fear...or, I could come to the understanding that it was fear, not bears, that was the problem. Of course, we had to be responsible out in the woods, but putting a cap on the fears was the first step to achieving freedom and liberation from the torment. Realizing the source of my distress, I put the "lid" on the fears - and it was a great summer.
|My tree and me - together again, after 41 years.|
Travelling back in "time" last week was a rather extraordinary experience and a reminder of lessons learned, long ago, in a remote siding amidst majestic soaring peaks. Since that time, those lessons have freed us to experience many wonderful adventures together.
Remember the proverb. Wherever you want to go or whatever you yearn to experience in life, don't ever let the "wolf" (or the bear) get any bigger than it really is. It'll make all the difference.