Nick (not his real name) was an early-30s Aussie possessing a face that looked like it had been repeatedly bashed in by a shovel and a surplus of cash saved up through a decade and a half of blue collar employment. Steve (not his real name) was a prematurely greying but not un-kissed by handsomeness late-30s Yank with a PhD in some kind of science field, who’d worked and lived in Vancouver over the previous three months – during which time he’d nurtured a growing hatred for it. He felt as I did about its physical appearance: stunning, surrounded immediately by crystalline waters and in the distance by leafy, well-moneyed neighbourhoods and snow-capped mountains. I would meet a Canadian much later who explained the problem with the city: too many cashed-up foreigners moving in and driving the property prices up, and the locals away. Steve, perhaps by virtue of his education or the fact he was more sober than Nick by about 10 drinks, also felt as I did about Vancouver’s culture: pretentious. I’d met this original odd-couple in the Irish pub across the road from my hostel, while the Dragon languished in an overpriced garage not far off. The misfit trio I’d unwittingly created went to a very fancy strip of restaurant-bars where Nick, in a doomed display, proceeded to chat up every single woman in the place while Steve and I watched with amusement. After playing pool with a couple of locals we ditched my working class countryman and ended up at a strip joint he’d mentioned. Where he later turned up at. You couldn’t touch the strippers at all during lap dances; the drinks were expensive; Steve described it as the “worst strip club he’d ever seen”; I agreed; we successfully ditched Nick; and went back to the original bar where the American tried to locate a credit card he’d just realised he lost. This was where I unceremoniously parted ways with the miserable bastard, when he emerged angrily and credit card-less before vanishing into the night. Although wandering the city during the day had been enjoyable, it was a terrible Saturday night. But at least it finished the way it started: with me sitting alone at the Irish pub being occasionally entranced by its bottle-redheaded barmaid.
A giddy feeling overtook me while driving the Glacier Point road straddling the Yosemite Valley’s south. Snow, which I’d never seen before, began surrounding the asphalt about halfway up. I stood at the summit and thought to myself, “Yep, pretty impressive”, of the valley below. A man named John Muir who’d basically discovered the place about a hundred and fifty years back described it as something like the greatest “shrine” to nature he’d ever seen. I was in total agreement, and this almost had me forgetting about the impending court case. It was a simple yet enjoyable few days of hiking and anxious anticipation of a probable future setback to my finances, mobility and chances of ever gaining a US work visa. In fact it seemed a bizarre cross between a Disney and Quentin Tarantino film: sitting and walking below crisp blue skies, sullied only by jet streams, seen from under imposing pine trees as cute furry tailed creatures scurried hither and thither; while drinking Southern Comfort and water in order to defeat the cold and awaiting punishment for misdemeanour offences. I’d already let my best mate and Joseph Goebbels (marketing manager) of Wicked Campers, Mr Dudgeon, know that I’d disgraced myself and the worst case scenario was I’d have my licence torn up and a tow truck would be needed to drag the Dragon the few hours back to Sacramento. He said he would have done the same thing. Which was almost certainly true.
I had a good Middle-American experience at the park’s version of a cut-price hotel, the Yosemite Lodge. I was just there to use their WiFi. A couple was checking in there, where they’d married, on their first wedding anniversary, which I overheard during their conversation with a receptionist. The attractive wife looked over his shoulder to me and joked “It’s like a marathon”. Another overweight woman was asking a million questions loudly of the staff. Then she started boasting of her skiing endeavours, but got no response. Somewhere in her tiny brain she finally realised she was being ignored, and left. Another guy was having his photo taken by his partner in front of a tree, when he asked the classy question: “Pants on or off?” Later on, when paying for my campsite for the night, I was given a bear safety flyer by a guy who said to put it on my dashboard “so the bears will know to move on to the next site”. Glad I at least managed a smile in feigned appreciation of the poor old bastard’s well-worn joke. I returned to the scene of the crime (the Ahwahnee) for three scotch and Cokes on the Sunday night, but walked this time. The full moon hanging over my shoulder, dark pines shifting with the wind and small, star-like lights of climbers actually camping upon the sheer cliffs surrounding me, created dreamlike imagery. I shouted “Coooooeeeee” into the night on the way back, and hoped it wouldn’t come up in court. Suddenly it was Monday night, and D-Day would follow at 9am the next morning. I remember putting $4 in the Yosemite Visitors Center (sic) donation box for karma. I drank a half-empty (I was feeling pessimistic) bottle of Southern Comfort and slept badly.
Seeing a man wearing a life jacket and carrying a paddle through downtown Vancouver was about the most interesting thing I experienced there. After driving through the city’s ridiculously opulent north shore on Monday, Horseshoe Bay on its north-west opened up to reveal enormous misty mountains defining the coast further north. The typical but by no means ordinary Canada I’d expected to see had finally arrived. The aptly named Sea-to-Sky Highway took the Dragon across the ankles of these rock behemoths, within view of their siblings across the water. At the tip of this waterway lay the small but picturesquely located town of Squamish, whose river continued due north. When I left the Sea-to-Sky and turned on to the north-west bearing Squamish Valley Road, on the advice of a local information centre staff member, civilisation abruptly disappeared. Recent snows beside the road gave me doomed hope I would see a fall that night and well-founded fear the Dragon would career off the road into a tree. I’d bought snow chains and passed many ‘chain-up’ road signs, but assumed unless there was actually snow on the road that chains would simply make the icy tarmac more slick. There was only one other person occupying the large campground I eventually found. She was in her late 20s, rented a cabin next to the owner’s house and was clearly lonely based on her invitation for me to visit her “if there was anything I needed”. But I unfortunately found her unattractive so left her to the company of her three dogs. I drove the Dragon through muddy tracks surrounded by lifeless trees until I came to the river, and all but slammed on the brakes.