When holidays stop being fun
I first encountered those grey shadow men when entered the world of work, men for whom holidays were not fun but duty or ordeal. I looked into their hollow eyes and knew that I could never become one of them. Years later, having assumed many of their characteristics; the receding hairline, the non-iron clothes, the absence of social life, I can begin understand what made them that way. Glimpsing the possibility makes me all the more determined to resist its pull.
Back in 2005 I visited the Canadian Rockies. From Calgary we went to Banff and Jasper. Most of our time was spent in the backcountry. At the end of the trip we crossed from Alberta into British Columbia, and hiked the Berg Lake trail below Mt Robson. I vowed to return to see more of BC. Ten years slipped past, and I realised that if I didn’t do it soon I might never get around to it. Much has changed in the intervening decade. We were a carefree young couple, now we are harassed parents of daughters aged 3 and 7. This made the trip very different from the last one. We stayed at an AirBnB in Vancouver at the start and finished in a hotel in Whistler. For the 14 nights in between we camped on Vancouver Island and in the Parks of the Lower Mainland.
The trip was peppered with occasional weak moments, with two children screaming or moaning at me, when I did wonder why was doing it. I will even admit it that in the darkest of these moments I looked back onto my workaday routine and coveted those moments of peaceful pleasure that it contains, cycling to work listening to podcasts, eating lunch outdoors discussing philosophy and cosmology. The juxtaposition of present pain and distant pleasure made the familiar routine seem superior to the much anticipated holiday.
But it was all an illusion. Each time that I felt the weight of the remaining days pressing on me, wondering how they might be filled other than with irritation, balance was soon restored. Watching a child catch their first fish, a bird landing on a child’s outstretched hand, swimming in the warm green waters of a glacier-fed lake; the trip contained a thousand unforgettable moments that would not have existed had we remained in our workaday rut.
A fortnight in the toilet equivalent of a blackout
Nowhere is the contrast between luxurious consumerism and rugged outdoorsmanship more apparent than in the area of shitting. The toilets in our suite in Whistler had been designed with inspection in mind. Not to the same extent as the Dutch numbers with the dry platform, which allows one to savour the unquenched bouquet as well as the aesthetics. They had an expansive but shallow bowl, with a drop so short that my helmet risked a dunking. One of my turds was concertina-ed, folded back on itself like a stack of fireman’s hose. I’d never seen anything like it. As I studied it I realised that I’d been in the toilet equivalent of a blackout for the previous two weeks of camping.
In the campground outhouses I despatched my tolies to a dark and anonymous end, slamming them into a mound of paper and stool. Or more worryingly, where people were putting their grey water in the traps, to a splashdown. I can only imagine how disagreeable it would be to feel some of that foul melange splashing onto cheek or, even worse, into a partially open sphincter, like a forced fecal transplant. So I went from zero inspection to full feedback, and amazingly my bowels responded by reverting to their usual daily frequency, having been on alternate days while camping. It wasn’t that I had been deliberately holding it back, just that, as on a bothy trip, the urge was less frequent, taking two days to build to an irresistible intensity. I have always felt that increased oatmeal consumption is responsible for bunging up my passages on camp and bothy trips, but this wasn’t the case in Canada, where car camping allowed me to maintain a pretty standard diet. Perhaps the fresh air is a factor.
But enough of this turd talk. Here are some of the highlights of the trip.