"A craftsman who wishes to practice
his craft well
must first sharpen his
tools." - Confucius
north of Meziaden Junction, British Columbia
Back on the
road, half an hour from where we ate our banana bread, the road changes from a
single-lane paved surface to an unpaved dirt road full of ruts and potholes. A
terrible mess. Remy slows down to almost half his usual slow speed and gingerly
passes over the uneven road. Our one thousand pound campers sway side to side
above us making speed a danger for the first time. We don't see anything
resembling civilization for a long while until we pass through Bob Quinn Lake,
where there is a well maintained storage facility that also has an airplane
landing strip beside it. It looks out of place - likely a Canadian Forces base
since Alaska is directly across the mountains. It's well hidden with mature
timber stretching upwards to the sky with trunks 10-feet in diameter reaching
over 200 feet high. Rivers slash through steep forested mountainsides winding
through a thick carpet of ferns and spruce to lakebeds where moose and elk
We stop for a
break in a place called Tatogga where I go into the store to buy some more
candles and beef jerky. It is here where I find a book all about mushrooms.
Immediately I search for the yellow mushrooms I picked in Vanderhoof. To my
surprise I find them. It says these mushrooms were once ingested by Russian
explorers in these parts that caused them to go "berserk." But these mushrooms
also contain parasitic microorganisms and are considered mildly poisonous. I
blink in disbelief.
I tell Remy about the mushrooms but leave out the fact that they are mildly
poisonous so he's not upset about his dog. Telling him that they contain
parasitic microorganisms is bad news enough. He refrains from saying "I told
you so" because it isn't constructive to our purpose, but I must say I'm
tremendously bummed out that I have a sink full of the wrong mushroom.
Back in the
rig I steer gently over bumps and pass a big sign in the afternoon light that
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE ARCTIC WATERSHED
A wave of
energy hits me that makes me forget about the bumps on the road and the bad
news about the mushrooms. All rivers now flow not to the Pacific but to the
Arctic Ocean. I light a cigarette and squint through the smoke just as we reach
a small town called Dease Lake. I drive slowly past a Royal Canadian Mounted
Police station beside the local general store, which fortunately is still open.
After filling up with gas and parking, I go into the store with a violent
hunger and buy a lot of food. My hunger hits a crescendo and I can't stop
adding food to my basket. I keep my eye open for a propane stove for sale but
do not see one, so I pay for all the food (including more Dill pickles) and
then find Remy in the booze section of the store.
"Some Z?" he
asks, using the short form of plan Z. "I saw a pub across the street. I need to
unwind after that road turbulence."
"I hear ya. I feel like having some wine."
We go halves on the beer and wine. I buy red wine and Remy buys white wine. The
Native woman behind the counter looks at us curiously.
"I hope you
boys aren't driving anywheres tonight?"
not my thing," I say casually. She looks like she's in her forties and
attractive with her long dark hair and laugh lines around her eyes.
"We have our
campers right outside. No more driving tonight," Remy chimes in.
"I see. Just
wanted to check ‘cause the police are around. You probably saw them." She has a
pretty smile when she points to the RCMP station across the street.
"Yeah, we saw
"You two are
twins?" Remy nods. "Identical?" It's my turn to nod. "Which one is smarter?"
Such an inane question that we have been asked all our lives. Our IQ is within
one point of one another.
"He is," we
both say at the same time. We look at each other in surprise and laugh. It's
the first time we have ever answered that way. Remy is as surprised as I am.
Usually the answer is ‘I am.'
"Is the road
this bad all the way to the Alaska Highway?" Remy asks.
forty kilometres I would say." Remy looks winded at the thought of another 40
kilometres on this choppy terrain. Back in the parking lot, I dump most of my
food in my camper and then walk over to Remy's with a bag of goodies.
bearing gifts," I say outside his door after knocking. Always an important
point of twin etiquette to knock before entering, since we both value our
privacy to an almost irrational degree.
"Come in." I
close the door after me but it won't shut completely. I leave the door ajar for
fear of breaking something. It's another point of etiquette: never break or
tamper with your twin's stuff. Respecting privacy and possessions are the
pillars of our twin code of ethics. So Remy shuts the door, securing it in a
unique manner with a bungee cord. We drink our wine in our coffee mugs and I
eat Dill pickles and cottage cheese on crackers from my bag of food.
begin to tell you how much I have missed Dill pickles," I say. I know he's
looking at me devour the jar. "I couldn't find Dills like these over there for seven years. Think about that man! I
don't know, I think there's something wrong with me." We laugh and Remy begins
to roll a joint. Soon I focus on the big bag of popcorn I bought, shoving huge
handfuls into my mouth without being self-conscious at all. Popcorn lands on
the floor that Blue is happy to eat.
"Do you have
any other plan W on you?" he
asks. "The weed is good but I've been smoking it all day." It's the look in my
eyes that tells him I do. I pull out my wallet. "I thought you would! I've
taught you well."
"I have some
leftover technology from
Vancouver I forgot about." After leaving Alexa the night before I left
Vancouver, I met a drug dealer with the tattoo on his neck who approached me in
Gastown. He was selling a drug I had tried when I lived in the Philippines. I
knew Remy wouldn't have tried it so on reflex, and wanting to surprise Remy
with some plan W he hadn't tried, I snagged a small ten-dollar baggy of the new
big drug sweeping Asia.
"I have some ice," I say, but the mention of this
drug fails to stir his enthusiasm.
"Ice? Is this
something you learned in Hong Kong?"
say that. Philippines actually. It's an amphetamine. It's the new drug on the
street over there because it's so cheap. Have you ever done it?"
Chemicals. Made by man. Scares me. It's not a medicine of mine."
"Ah screw it.
The driving was rough today. I feel like having some after those potholes. If
you have some tin foil, I can rig something up." Remy places his half-rolled
joint on the counter and reaches into his cupboard for tin foil. I find it
unbelievable that he has some in his cupboards.
"If we do it
then we won't sleep, I'll tell you that much. And I don't know if I want to not
sleep tonight." I say this yet go ahead and rip off a piece of tin foil to
construct a long canoe-shaped ‘pipe.' Remy drinks his wine and tries to study
the map on the counter, but his curiosity of my engineering prowess distracts
him from his beloved maps.
shouldn't carry it around with you though. What's the point? All you need is a
brush with the law and the cops will find it and it's jail time. Not worth it,
man. I stick with my green medicine. It's practically legal here now anyway.
Since you've been away the cops have pretty much said that they won't bust
someone with anything under an ounce - unofficially."
heard that from a Canadian overseas. But listen, this is a very small amount,
enough for two peoples. But I'm only going to do it if you do." I hold the pipe
horizontal, packed with a small pile of tiny crystals waiting to be burnt with
know, man. Chemicals..." But I can tell he's coming around by the tone in his
voice. I put it down on the counter and eat some more popcorn. The long,
canoe-shaped aluminium pipe sits there beside his sage and cans of tuna.
"The high is
just like nose candy but it lasts longer," I say as the final enticement and
corrupting influence. As a twin, one is keenly aware of a specific combination
of words that will unravel even the strongest will in the other.
"OK man. I'll
do it with you." I had found the words.
"Nice one." I
take my lighter and place it under the crystals on the tin foil, demonstrating
to Remy the proper technique required to master such a fragile concoction.
"See you must
let it slide," I say like a Kung Fu Master going through a new step with
someone semi-accomplished in martial arts. The crystals begin to smoke until
they turn into a clear liquid and slowly fall down the foil towards the other
end. As they fall I suck the smoke from a rolled-up ten-dollar bill. I repeat
it again as further demonstration and then hand it over to Remy.
gently My Son," I say as he
takes it from me. "Keep it level so the tech
doesn't slide off the end." He gets the handling of the foil right but
doesn't hold the lighter close enough.
flame closer to the foil," I tell him. He sparks it closer, sucking the smoke
rolling down the tunnel of pipe as the liquid crystals slide and smoke to the
end. He squints, looking at me as he holds his breath. As he does this I can
see how his face suddenly becomes flushed. It's very, very strange how the drug
affects me. For the first time I see myself in my brother. It's startling. I
point at him.
what I look like when I do that. Same technique with the hands." People have
always asked me how strange it must be to see yourself when you look at your
identical twin, but this has never registered with me because every time I look
at Remy I never think he looks like me. He looks like Remy - nothing more. But
now, after the puff, I see exactly how much he looks like me. It's a very, very
"Yes, we have
a similar gait with the hands," he says as he smokes another one and then hands
it back to me. I can see the instant effect of the drug in his dilated pupils.
He then begins to laugh at my technique with the foil. "So that's what
my moustache looks like," he says as I take the foil again, still laughing. My
moustache is like a frozen waterfall now since I haven't trimmed it since
arriving from Hong Kong.
"I thought my beard was patchy around the
sides here." I run my fingers along the bald patches on my own jaw-line.
"We both have that bald spot." We laugh
again, looking at each other in a new light. "Am I that grey?" he asks looking
at my hair in the fading light.
"Am I that
grey?" I ask him back, looking at his hair. We laugh between sips of wine and
smoking from the makeshift pipe. It doesn't bother us that we're right across
the street from the Mounties. Like most twins, we can keep laughing until the
muscles in our stomachs are sore, and this is one of those times. In fact I
develop a pain around my ribs from laughing. I laugh at his laughter and he
laughs at my laughter until we both hold out our hands to stop the raucous. I
know my stomach muscles are going to be sore tomorrow.
We finish off
the joint and most of the ice and then drive our separate rigs across the
street past the police station where Remy parks beside the front door of a bar
called the Tandzilla Tavern. I park two spaces away from him. Inside we walk
directly to the poolroom where Remy inserts coins into the table. There is a
group of four men nursing beers at a table in the non-smoking section of the
bar that's quiet and dark.
holds a cue in his right hand.
in." Remy pushes the money in and the balls fall out.
room?" I take out my cigarettes.
"Oui mon frere...Ah here." The waitress
walks in with a big smile. She is short with yellow hair and a friendly face.
Canadians - bottles please," I say. She nods and leaves. I light my smoke and
Remy breaks. Two stripes fall and I can only sharpen my cue with chalk as Remy
sinks another stripe. A group of four women enter the poolroom and sit beside
us at the table. They smoke as we immerse ourselves in the pool game, laughing
at the twinspeak we use to communicate so the women won't understand.
over on the Louis," he says.
but no biggy. How's the tech?"
"Could be. One never knows. Soccer?" He
walks past me and surreptitiously glances at my nose.
sink a solid. "Looks like the Plan Ts are sporting some technique."
"I could be
in." And on it went, game after game.
Soon a few others show up and we are
challenged for the table. First a stout man with a moustache plays Remy and
loses and then a woman plays him and she loses too. I lose track after a while
because I begin speaking to one of the guys who happens to be a bush pilot. He
says he's working up here for the government. I remember what Remy said about
the magnetic force so I ask him about it.
I hear about magnetic force of the North Pole affecting electronics in planes?"
I ask him.
so," he replies. "The magnetic force is strong here so far north. We can't use
our navigation instruments because the magnetic force renders them useless, so
we use radio beacons to navigate. You can see them built up on top of high
sections in the mountains to receive and send signals. They're used as points
on the land to follow so we know where we're going. After we find one we look
for the next one and so on."
instruments really don't work?"
"No, not this
far north. That's why the pay is so good." He swigs from his bottle enthused
that there's someone who is taking an interest in what he does for a living.
"Are there a
lot of these beacons?"
or fifty miles I'd say all along the Alaska Highway. As a general rule, pilots
follow these beacons anywhere north of the 60th parallel. We're at
the 59th parallel here around Dease Lake. The force is weaker here
but it still wreaks havoc and makes our instruments unreliable."
a break in the conversation with the pilot, I look for Remy and find him
talking to the four women sitting at the table smoking. Remy is telling them
about his healing powers. They look intrigued. At least two of them are
Natives. I begin to speak to one of them - the same woman who served us the
beer today at the store - but Remy looks over at me and says: "Inge Hammerstrom." I raise my
eyebrows in understanding and notice that the woman is indeed interested in
Remy. But after sitting at the table for some time I notice that Remy's
technique with women is a bit rusty. I turn my attention to one of her friends,
who takes an immediate liking to me. We smoke some cigarettes and she tells me
about Dease Lake. From the looks of it, Dease Lake doesn't get a lot of through
traffic so with us being here, there is some cause for celebration. I suggest
to the woman that we should go outside and smoke a joint and she agrees. I tell
her that we could roll it up in my camper in the parking lot. She smiles and squeezes
my hand with a mischievous grin. I look for Remy and he's back at the pool
back to my rig with the plan T
and we're going to roll up some plan W
and perhaps some plan F." My
face is deadpan.
"Nice one." He
shakes his head in amazement. "That didn't take you long."
"So I'll see
you later pilgrim."
while later, after rolling around in my loft and each of us bumping our heads
on the low ceiling, the woman says she needs to get home because her children
will need her in the morning before school, so I drive her two blocks back to
her house and then return to the parking lot. Unable to sleep, I finish off the
amphetamine by candlelight myself. I rationalize that don't want to carry it
around in my wallet anymore because it's dangerous. I want to adhere to Remy's
philosophy of drugs: it should be natural and not man-made, and I need to dream
about it so it becomes a medicine for me. My eyes are wide open and sleep is
the furthest thing from my mind so I decide to drive to the Yukon.
I walk to
Remy's camper and knock lightly on the door.
Trapp. I'm going north tonight."
"Is that your
"Come in." I
enter and he is under his bear skin and Blue is beside him on the floor.
"I'm going to
gazelle to the Yukon tonight.
I'll meet you in Watson Lake at the most obvious camping spot or at the first
gas station. Use the talkie piece."
maniac. I'm going to stay here."
way I'll be able to sleep so I'm going to keep going." There is silence between
us. "I'll be parked in an obvious place."
"Careful padre. It's black outside and there are
animals on the road."
I'm able to find you."
me." I jump out of his camper, somehow negotiate the bungee cord and get to my
pick-up truck. I drive slowly past the RCMP station and gun it north for
Junction 37 with Inge in the front seat beside me for conversation.
bridge just out of town, I hit the unpaved road but instead of going gingerly
over the potholes I accelerate fast enough to skim overtop. At eighty I can
surf above the ruts as long as I don't hit a big pothole dead on. I drive like
I've never driven before, like a crazed racecar driver poised high off the
road. I speed through the darkness without any concern for wildlife on the road
with the only light being my high beams. Long stretches of gravel road have
grades as steep as seven degrees, but I only hear the scream of music over the
sound of the shock absorbers absorbing the bumps. I know I'm wired but feel in
complete control skimming above the imperfections in the road, some corners so
sharp that several times I almost pull a Jimmy Dean. The Ford rambles north as
the sun begins to rise with me singing the same Bruce Springsteen songs over
and over from the cassette the mechanic left in the rig. Reaching the Yukon is
not only reaching one of two Canadian territories, it's the end of the Rocky
Mountains and that claustrophobic, pine-tree-walled-in feeling. In the emerging
light I can see the drastic change of landscape: the land loses its mountainous
flavour and becomes a collage of bright colours of fresh yellows to the
carpet-like moss as if the forests had suddenly become polite. Lakes that reflect the morning sky have mossy shores two
inches above the water. Even the shoreline is neat without a branch out of
place. When I reach Junction 37 after three hours of mad driving without seeing
one vehicle on the road, I pull into the gas station on the corner of the
Alaska Highway where I take Inge for a walk before fatigue finally gets to me,
directing me to my loft. I soon fall off into oblivion with a thousand new
images still racing through my mind.