Category Archives: Travel

Preparing for the TMB


Mt. Blanc from the Col de Balme

Back in May when my son asked me to go with him to hike the TMB I immediately agreed. I had no idea how difficult it would be, but I had a pretty good idea this might be the best shot I’d ever get at doing such a trip. Once I said yes it was too late to back out, something I knew would be a great disappointment to the both of us.


Italy somewhere

As soon as I read about it I knew that I would have to train hard. Luckily there are some trails right outside my door – one that goes around the lake, and another that goes up over a small hill. One go round is about 5.5 kms, and involves about 100 meters of climbing. The other hikes I had at my disposal were a slightly higher hill of about 200 meters, and another lake walk with a few minor hills, totaling about 5.8 kms.


alpine tarn and Mt. Blanc

First I needed boots. With extra wide feet, there aren’t many boots I find comfortable, but I discovered New Balance made boots in 4E, so I bought a pair of those, model 978. Although they were a little light for the very rocky bits, they worked well and I didn’t have any serious complaints, or any blisters, despite the fact that I defied convention by wearing thin socks.


a refuge or auberge

As for a pack, I checked out all the well known brands and found them very expensive. By chance I found a shop with some old stock of internal frame Kelty packs on sale at half the cost of most other packs. I bought a Redwing 50, and it performed beautifully. I liked the fact that this pack had lots of zippers and pockets to keep gear handy when needed. My son’s bag was merely one large sack that he had to dig into every time he needed something from within. The Kelty has one single curved back stay that carries the load down to the excellent waist belt, which cinches very tightly due to compound leverage.


on the trail

Once I got my essential gear in order, with new boots and a new pack, I set out on regular walks with weight in the pack. To start I had 10 pounds, then I increased it to 20 once I gathered my gear and determined I’d have about 18 – 20 lbs. With my pack and boots I began training as often as I could. The first problem was the heat, which this past summer hit 28C fairly often. This is very hot for these parts, and although it’s not so bad for normal living, 28 is a mite warm for strenuous exercise.  Nevertheless, it had to be done, so I was out in the heat hiking away the miles, and sweating profusely. This also proved a problem for me feet mostly, which were very hot. That is why in the end I settled on thin socks.


making friends with a cow

I also began a journal of my daily training hikes, using a Strathmore notebook with heavy cotton paper pages suitable for watercolours. For practice I did a few, but mostly I recorded my mileage and observations of how I felt. There were many entries about how tired my legs were, and how wet my shirt was. Some days I had to keep myself soaked down with a wet kerchief to keep from overheating. I became quite attached to my boonie hat too, a US army surplus item that fulfilled every requirement for a warm weather sun hat admirably. Tested in Vietnam, so no surprise it works well in heat. The brim is just the right size, and it can be flipped down or up to suit the sun. I should perhaps have been more patriotic and worn a Canadian Tilley hat, but I feel they make me look like an old fogey, and besides which they aren’t any better than the boonie, and somewhat heavier and harder to stow when not in use.


misty evening

After the whole thing was over I tabulated my training and found that I had walked for 86 hours and 274 kms. That’s 1.6 times the length of the TMB, not exactly a lot, but in my case certainly better than nothing, as I am now convinced that without that I would have been done in after the first day or two. On the other hand, my son who is 36 and super strong, did zero preparation and of course was way out in front of me when he wasn’t behind, ready to catch me when I tripped. What 30 years can do to you, it’s terrible! No complaints however, as I got through it on my own steam and no worse for wear.


a bridge in Switzerland

As for my best intentions of watercolour sketches, all I have to show are some pre-trip sketches, one solitary sketch from the hike, and a few done before and after. Fortunately I did keep a daily journal, so I have that and a lot of photographs as a record. Now that it’s over I wish I had it to do again! No matter how much you can recall from writing or pictures, nothing can compare to the joy of walking through a beautiful landscape, no matter how difficult it feels at the time.


one step at a time; 20,000+ a day

Some watercolours from France and Germany:

And some from my pre-trip journal:



Filed under Great Hikes, Photography, Sketching, Travel

The Lonesome Organ Grinder

“The guilty undertaker sighs
The lonesome organ grinder cries”

“I Want You”, by Bob Dylan


Orgel Bernd I presume?

As I noted here a month or two past, I spent an inordinate amount of time in deciding what sort of sketching media to take with me to Europe and the TMB hike. Once on the trail I soon discovered that there was no time for sketching.  You hit the trail just after 8 o’clock, hike for an hour or three and then eat lunch in pleasant exhaustion while recovering for the afternoon. Maybe you eat a 2nd lunch at 2 p.m. No matter, it’s highly unlikely you are lunching and have energy or inspiration to pull out the sketchbook and paint box. At the end of the day when you get to the next refuge, you dump your stuff and if lucky, you get to sleep for an hour before dinner. Then you talk to folks, and write in the journal.


one tick on the coaster for every glass you drink

However, I did do some sketching before and after the hike, when I had plenty of time to sit and observe. My first stop was Dusseldorf, a beautiful city on the Rhine River. Among the attractions is the alt-stadt, where the streets are full of people, not cars. How ridiculous! Also there are some lovely beer gardens that dispense alt-beer, a dark and flavourful brew which, unlike most German beer, is top fermented. Unfortunately most German brew-masters who emigrated to North America brought with them lager beer, which in my opinion isn’t half as tasty. But you can still get alt-beer in Dusseldorf,  a drink I enjoyed while sitting at a bar in the alt-stadt with sketchbook at hand.


the old Fuschschen Brauerei, Dusseldorf

While lolling on my stool I discerned a faint sound coming from down the street. Soon I realized I was hearing a hand cranked miniature pipe organ, from which pipes came a sweet folksy tune. Shortly, before my eyes appeared a real live organ grinder. He parked his organ beside me and took a seat at a table; then proceeded to smoke a full pipe, after which he shut his eyes and had a snooze. Refreshed, he got up after a half hour and returned the way he came, grinding out a new tune.

03-Dusseldorf 007

looking down the street, Alt-stadt, Dusseldorf

Stealthily, I managed to capture him on camera and in my sketchbook. Maybe this is so commonplace in Europe that organ grinders are taken for granted, but to me it was a magic moment. As for the question of whether or not he was lonesome; if you spent all day pushing an organ around, who could you talk to?

07-Dusseldorf 013

organ grinding is a lonesome job


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Filed under Beer, Philosophy, Photography, Sketching, Street photography, Travel

Typewriter Hunting in Washington

As I have repeated here, perhaps too frequently, due to my last novel I became enamoured of the Royal 10. I did get one after some hunting, but I thought that they were hard to find – until last week. We spent a week as we often do this time of year in Washington, camping and of course scouring the many antique shops. So what did I find? Yes – many Royal 10’s!

how about a sign saying”type please”

Sadly I couldn’t own them all; the one I have is perfect for me, but if I didn’t already own one… well that might be different. One in particular was in beautiful condition, and it was the least costly. Go figure. It was a rebuild, too, as noted on one shift key – by Regal, on Varick Street, NYC.

rebuilt model

80 bucks, and broken!

All were post 1923 with single glass sides, some with the gauge on the right side, which I don’t know the purpose of. I’m sure someone reading this will educate us on that! It was ironic that so many typewriters in the wild have little signs forbidding typing – I’d like to see signs that say “type away”. Do these sellers think that a Royal 10 that has lasted for 80 years can be broken? How absurd!

note the various decimal tabs

There were other interesting oldies too:

1928 Underwood Universal

expensive broken folding Corona

The Corona folder was exciting to see, but it was not in working order and well over $100! Had it been working… maybe. One other new to me phenomenon in these old junk stores is the proliferation of the Erie iron pans, Griswold being the next big thing. Some shops had huge collections of these, priced into the hundreds! Imagine paying $100 for a frying pan when you could buy a Royal 10 for less. More absurdity!

We got as far as Portland and just happened to park one block from Powell’s Books, the largest bookstore I’ve ever been in – it’s like a department store – think a Walmart dedicated solely to books. One thing struck us; the foul language we heard coming from the mouths of people just talking on the street. I suppose all the books with swear words are simply indicative of the general debasement of language skills these days. But what’s with all the f*cking asterisks? Just spell it if you plan to use it. Only one author among many seemed to feel thus, which is commendable, although not admirable.

Portland reminded me of Seattle, except it’s flat. Aside from the cool bookstore I can’t say it was impressive. Lots of canyon streets that feel oppressively dark, and of course the usual sad cases of homelessness. No one pays attention any more. Not that this is uncommon here either, just that it emphasizes how our society in general has failed so many people.

The thing is, when it comes to all the pseudo-wisdom spouted in the endless river of self-help books, there is no solution to the real problems. It’s all focused on the self. The age of ME. F*ck off, self help authors!


Filed under Books, Philosophy, Thrift shop finds, Travel, Typewriters, Uncategorized

Camping With Typewriter

We had 5 days out camping around Southern Vancouver Island. On day 1, before we got to out first destination we stopped for lunch then went to a thrift store nearby, where I bought a typewriter for $10. I hadn’t thought to bring one along with me, but this seemed like an omen. If it wasn’t for that I would not have written these two poems. I present their edited versions, and some pictures. We had a variety of geography on this voyage, from the ocean to a lake to the alpine zone. Lucky for us to live so close to all this!

Underwood 378 – $10 cheap!

First stop was an ocean-side camp at a rocky beach called French Beach. We camped in the forest of tall trees, and rode our bikes down the road to the beach where we swam in the frigid water in wet-suits. This was on the Juan de Fuca Strait, looking across at Washington and the Olympic Mountains.

French Beach

Ocean Beach Summer Night

Briefly a rush of truck tires from the road nearby
Then a softer sigh, we look to the sky
A raven so black whooshes through the air
Voyaging from perch to perch in treetop bare
Campers pass soundlessly with dogs
None barking, quiet like beach logs
Tiny flies flit there and here
End up dead in our beer
We pick them out and drink up
We have no fear

Next to us the water tap and garbage bins
Two outhouses, one women’s, one men’s
Through the trees waves endlessly pound rocks
Where earlier we stood without socks
Watched them rolling thunderously, splash
Sometimes offset, sometimes one great crash

A zipper dumping energy like a long liquid spear
Which makes its mark and instantly disappears
To reappear in the following frame
Tag for the ocean is a favorite game
Any hour may bring change
Fast, unpredictable as a sneeze
But tonight there is a warm breeze
And the happy waves play without fights
Like children do on summer nights

August 28 2017
French Beach, BC

Up the road a ways we camped on another coast, beside the air force. Jets and big choppers were flying around. We were on the inland waters, looking eastward into the endless mountain ranges of British Columbia. Some of the most inaccessible territory on the planet, yet so close by. There are no roads north from there, no “civilization” for hundred of miles, only countless square miles of forest and mountains.

Kin Beach

The Force Is With Us

Roaring jets remind us how
Beside this camp an air force lurks
Ever ready to strike if called
Who or what we don’t ask
Sitting in this field of grass

Writing, reading as the sun sets
another long day in the car
another camping meal enjoyed
chirping crickets and songs of birds
announce the end of their day
chirping and hunting for prey

the road gets longer year by year
how long it seemed to get here
travelling is not so easily done
a short trip is as hard as a long one
or are we weary from the sun?

still, we do enjoy these camps
discovering new places like tramps
later we remember them again
forgetting how we endured pain
remembering sunshine forgetting rain

fondly recalling pleasures from simple things
reading by lantern light and optical illusions
playing cards against a chain link fence
warm nights and stars, noises from cars
snuggling into a narrow bed, banging your head

tired and dirty we are now
in a day or two we’ll have forgotten how
we walked across a field before bed
felt the cold descending, instead
sitting inside on comfortable chairs
do the wash, arrange socks in pairs
go upstairs to bed, turn on a light
lie inside the covers, say goodnight
set the alarm, close our eyes
sleep to be awoken by surprise

August 30 2017
Kin Beach, Comox, BC

From here we made a day trip to hike in alpine meadows. Driving from the beach we looked ahead across the valley to a huge glacier on top of the mountain. Once in the alpine we walked through a pristine wilderness of forests, lakes and meadows full of berries and flowers. Then a rescue helicopter arrived to help an older lady who was backing up to take a picture and fell off the boardwalk, breaking something in her shoulder. A strange sight to see a chopper setting down between tall trees into a tiny clearing.

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Filed under Great Hikes, Photography, Poetry, Thrift shop finds, Travel, Typewriters, Wildlife

On Tour Sketchbook

We just did the fairly annual week of the Juan de Fuca Festival in Port Angeles, followed by a few days off camping.

Leroy Bell

Leroy Bell

The festival was great this year; we saw many amazing acts, like Leroy Bell here, an amazing songwriter and singer.

wide beaches here

wide beaches

Then we headed off to the wild Pacific coast to camp.

did I mention you can drive on this beach?

did I mention you can drive on this beach?

June is never particularly warm around here, but we lucked out for a few days with lots of sunshine. I swam in Lake Quinault, which was freezing cold, but after a while I just went numb to it and it was wonderful.

Lake Quinalt

Lake Quinault

There weren’t any good typewriters in the few antique shops I found, but there was an interesting old LC Smith on display in Olympic Stationers in P.A.

LC Smith with right hand return lever

LC Smith with right hand return lever

When it isn’t raining the beaches are wonderful.

famous weird tree

famous weird tree at Kalaloch

interesting heap of debris

interesting heap of debris



We always love to see restored vintage camp trailers like this one, an old Shasta.

Shasta trailer

Shasta trailer

Saw a lovely butterfly, too.


I regret not doing more sketching, but with driving, cooking & eating, sleeping late and general laziness I only had time for a few watercolours.

village scene

village scene

windmills from the beach

windmills from the beach

closed but rumoured to be going to open again this year

closed but rumoured to be going to open again this year

Coho ferry arrives to bring us home

Coho ferry arrives to bring us home

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Filed under Painting, Photography, Sketching, Travel, Typewriters, VW Vans, Wildlife

New Olympic Event – Speed Touring

from the sketchbook

from the sketchbook

Before the Olympic Games came the Olympic Mountains. The latter occupy a large peninsula up in the top northwest corner of the USA, aka the bottom southwest corner of Canada. A simple twist of history and the Canada US border might now be the Columbia River, and the State of Washington – the Province of Olympia, or something. But nevertheless, we love the place, even though it costs $81 just to get there. Lat weekend, plus a few vacation days, we did a quick circle tour of the Salish Sea. That name has been given to the great inland waters that divide and unite us up here/down here as the case may be. On and surrounding that sea can be found the great cities of Vancouver and Seattle, as well as many smaller ones, and innumerable towns and villages.

Victoria to Langley, Washington - the long way

Victoria to Langley, Washington – the long way

We began our tour by being refused room on the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, this on a Thursday. Where did all those tourists come from? So we toured clockwise, leaving via the BC Ferries route over to the US Border crossing on the mainland. When we arrived we saw that all Canada bound traffic was being turned back. Had the refugee/illegal immigrant/future brother-in-law crisis reached the great north/south west? No, it seems there was a gas leak.

Langley - county fairgrounds

Langley – county fairgrounds

First stop in the US was Langley, Whidbey Island – where the annual Djangofest was getting underway. We love this town, it is hip but unpretentious, has cheap and pleasant camping available, a lively arts scene, great food, numerous coffee shops (and no *bucks), and world class pizza, not mention world class NW microbrew. We are in the golden age of beer, thank Dog I lived to drink it.

We had breakfast here:

cafe in Langley

cafe in Langley

One night there, complete with concert and fifteen minutes of jamming, then across Puget Sound by ferry (love these boats) to Port Townsend – yet another great little town full of history. They were having film festival – outdoors! A giant inflatable screen and hay bales occupied one block of the downtown core.

outdoor cinema

outdoor cinema

Washington State ferry boat - Salish

Washington State ferry boat – Salish

Whidbey-Pt Townsend ferry

Whidbey-Pt Townsend ferry

On the street, Port Townsend:

a pay phone - how civilized

a pay phone – how civilized

How can I resist this one?

Corona folding typewriter in stationary shop - Pt Townsend

Corona folding typewriter in stationary shop – Pt Townsend

Not for sale..but I did buy an old Eversharp fountain pen, with 14k gold nib, at a consignment/antique/art/clothing/furniture/jewelry/carpet shop.

old Eversharp pen

old Eversharp pen – filled with ‘Herbin Larmes de Cassis’  ink it writes like a hot damn

Next stop Port Angeles, where they were having a beer festival. I know this just sounds too fantastic to be true, but it is true. However, we had our own mini beer festival courtesy of Safeway, and retired to the National Park to camp. With only five days we had to keep moving.

Langley to Kalaloch Campground on the coast

Langley to Kalaloch Campground on the coast

doggy in shop window - Pt Angeles

doggy in shop window – Pt Angeles

Next scheduled stop was to be the Olympic Hot Springs, up the Elwha River valley, but alas the road was closed for repairs. So we went to the Sol Duc Hot Springs instead. These are your tourist type hot baths, basically concrete tubs full of bored looking folks and always some Russians. (Russians – what’s the story?) Not that we mind them, we just prefer to hike two miles and bath privately naked in the wilderness (or at Harbin – see previous post). Warmed and relaxed to the point of narcolepsy, we had to return to the highway (US101) to camp, since the campground at Sol Duc was full – of course! But in this way we turned adversity to opportunity and discovered yet another gem in the way of Fairholme Campground on Lake Crescent.

dock - Lake Crescent

dock – Lake Crescent

There we watched the super moon rise over Lake Crescent, an awesome site indeed.

super moon over Lake Crescent

super moon over Lake Crescent

Next day we went west and south out to the big wet called the Pacific Ocean, where we camped on the shore and listened to the lullaby of thundering surf. All this time we were enjoying blue skies and sunshine, incredibly.

fellow VW bus on the road Hwy 101

fellow VW bus on the road: Hwy 101. Honest pollution!

Then the sea, the endless sea.

Pacific beach logs

Pacific beach logs

cliffs at Kalaloch

cliffs at Kalaloch

The trip ended the next day but not before we had a great breakfast in Forks (Vampireville, USA) at one of those perfect little restaurants which we pray for constantly when hungry. Why is it so difficult to cook one egg perfectly? Who knows, but one cook in Forks sure can do. Then we were back in Port Angeles and on the Coho ferry home to Victoria.

crazy tree on ocean cliff

crazy tree on ocean cliff

Stellar's Jay - camp robber

Stellar’s Jay – camp robber


for typerati only..seen on safari:

1-IMGP3141 2-IMGP3103 3-IMGP3101 4-IMGP3100


Filed under Photography, Sketching, Thrift shop finds, Travel, Typewriters, VW Vans

No Going Back

Gathering my sketching gear for our upcoming fall camping trip I had to search the house for a certain watercolour notebook to stuff into my sketching bag, along with the paint box, the folding stool, and a few brushes. After discovering the book under a pile of junk I opened it to find a panoramic sketch I made while traveling in California last October. We were on our way home from a trip to Napa Valley (for the beer) when we diverted to Harbin Hot Springs for one night. Considering Harbin was a clothing optional hot spring, no pictures were allowed. Fair enough, I satisfied my artistic impulses with a sketch. Sorry, it’s merely the interior of the reading room, but it reminds me of the calm and peaceful atmosphere of the place. Sadly, Harbin Hot Springs is no more, having been totally destroyed last week by a raging forest fire. This upcoming trip will take us into the Olympic Mountains, where we’ll hike in to a series of hot springs high in the hills of the National Park. No pool, no showers, no admission but the effort to hike two miles there and back. I’m so grateful we live next to a rain forest.

Harbin Hot Springs - Reading Room 2014

Harbin Hot Springs – Reading Room 2014

Another sketch from the same book reminded me of drinking some very fine wine in Napa, and some excellent sketches that hang on the walls of the Sterling Winery, including this version of a Picasso (my sketch). In case you’re wondering, Harbin Hot Springs was not like this.

picasso by me

picasso by me

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Filed under Sketching, Travel, VW Vans