The summer of ’99: a Jeep, Ricky Martin, movies and drive-in theatres

Let’s hit rewind on my life.

We’re going all the way back to 1999.

My best friend’s name was Jacqui. She had a navy blue Jeep and we bounced around Kamloops with Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca blasting from the stereo.

We were young, heading for our 30s and making sure we sucked the marrow dry on every last day of our 20s.

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Hiking is no longer my forte

There was a time when no hiking trail was a challenge.

Shep and I have been to the top of the Castle Mountain Lookout in Banff National Park.

We’ve done the Barrier Dam hike in Kananaskis.

No height was too dizzying. No switchback too windy.

Today, that seemed like light years ago.

I needed an escape. And the sky looked as true blue as it could ever, punctuated by big fluffy clouds. Shep needed to soak in some water.

We headed for Paul Lake, a provincial park that has a beach dedicated for dog use. This is a rarity, folks. A lot of provincial parks don’t allow dogs anywhere near the beach. Thus, we are grateful that Paul Lake is less than 25 kilometres from our house in Kamloops.

And since it was a weekday, we had the beach all to ourselves.

maremma sheepdog in lake

Now see that rocky hill in the upper right background? That’s Gibraltar Rock. And there’s a trail that takes hikers up one kilometre (plus 1/3 km of switchbacks) to the top of that rock.

I’ve read there’s a spectacular view of the lake from there.

I may never know. Our hiking days fell behind us when Shep injured his back a few years ago. He was assessed with Stage 2/3 arthritis about a month ago, and the meds he’s on now have him acting like a puppy.

He pulled on his leash, wanting to march forward. The few maternal instincts I have kicked in and I kept telling him, “Go easy, old man.” But he doesn’t listen.

With each charge up the hill (hikers climb 900 metres on this trail), my quads screamed at me. “You don’t do this anymore,” they were yelling. And my hamstrings chimed in: “You biked 15 km yesterday, you jerk!”

I took breaks. After all, there were wildflowers on either side of the path.

Like Indian paintbrush:

red alpine wildflower

And arrow-leaved balsamroot:

Yellow alpine wildflower

The beautiful wildrose (I miss you, Alberta):

pink alpine wildflowerI think I lasted about 20 minutes before I finally gave up. I figure I was halfway to the top and the hill that appeared ahead of me made me want to go home and nap.

I turned around. And Shep was not impressed.

maremma sheepdog on a hiking trail

Ah, but no. There was no time for sleep.

There was more to see.

We jumped back in the truck and kept going up the road to Pinantan. We crested a hill and came upon a breathtaking view of the valley. I couldn’t let this pass without snapping a panorama on my HTC One X:

panorama of valleyStunning, no?

We expect to see more gorgeous scenery as we keep exploring the backroads of Kamloops.


The stories behind the buildings of Tranquille

I love a good story.

Tim McLeod, development manager of Tranquille Farm Fresh, tells one. Or two.

As a pickup truck pulled our wagon around the old streets of the Tranquille settlement, McLeod took the scattered threads of the area’s history and wove them into a colourful quilt.

There’s the one about how Tranquille got its name. (Fur traders gave Shuswap Chief Pacamoos the nickname for his tranquil nature.)

And the one about Lady Jane, wife of homesteader William Fortune, beating up the fellows who dared piss her off as she tended to the Tranquille Farm.

Or the Fortunes and the Cooneys taking in tuberculosis patients, well before the provincial Board of Health funded the construction of a sanatorium in 1909.

The buildings of the old tuberculosis sanatorium are boarded up — protected from curious eyes and spray-paint carrying graffiti artists — and some falling in their disrepair.

Like the doctor’s house, a beautiful century-old home that sticks out among the surrounding bungalows.

abandoned house

The whispers of the souls who passed their lives here ring loud in McLeod’s stories.

Like the single men who lived in this dormitory:

abandoned tuberculosis residence

The sanatorium administration separated the dorm from the single women’s residence by a field to prevent any shenanigans. But that didn’t stop anyone as many a young adult was seen traipsing through the field for some late-night lovin’.

Once Tranquille Farm Fresh community market opened last summer, the stories have been coming out of the woodwork. People approach Tim all the time with their stories of the Tranquille Farm and Medical Training Institution.

Like former residents, nurses and the women who drove the laundry and food carts in the tunnels below the city.

He’s enlisted the help of the Kamloops Heritage Society to record these stories.

And he wonders how to preserve and respect the rich history of the land as Tranquille Farm Fresh redevelops the property that once was the primary supplier of food to 1,000 people and many others off site.

He wonders how to rebuild and revive the activity at the farm’s piggery, cannery, abattoir, dairy, gardens, orchards and beef testing station, all silent since the government closed the farm in 1985.

There’s a vision to recreate the farm, the working waterfront and a sustainable community, centring the downtown around the old fire hall.

Old fire hall

And Tim and his staff are forging strong relationships with community groups to bring the area back to life. Like the local vintage car club, which rents storage space and has found a home for the original and restored Tranquille Farm pump truck.

old fire truck

He’s working with McElhanney engineers to determine which buildings can be saved. For instance, the Main’s middle section can be preserved but the wings will likely have to be reconstructed.

But the piece de resistance, the Greaves, built in 1927, is too far gone. When the A-Team movie filmed there a few years ago, the crew had to build an alternate roof for the helicopter-landing scenes.

“We’re thinking through what we can and can’t do to protect the history,” Tim says.

The underlying question he always asks is ‘how do you take history and built on it and respect it.

And that’s why the stories of the past are so important to Tim and the rest of the crew at Tranquille Farm Fresh.

“Kamloops owns this property emotionally,” he says. “We need to tap into what the people want and build on it.”

If you’re interested in learning more, Tranquille Farm Fresh offers guided tours throughout the summer on Saturdays, Sundays and long weekend Mondays.

A Heritage Tour
Unpack 6,000 years of fascinating history

Wildlife Watching Tours
Two hours of observing and photographing the birds and wildlife of Tranquille

Walking Photography Tour
A two-hour journey around mountain vistas, Kamloops Lake, heritage buildings and architectural elements

Eco Tour
Two hours of hiking through the Tranquille landscape

Gold Panning Tour
Seach for gold in the waters of the Tranquille River

You can reserve your spot on the tours by emailing cindy@tranquillefarmfresh.ca or calling 250-434-9690.

And don’t forget to visit the weekend market on Saturdays and Sundays to pick up fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables. The six-acre corn maze celebrates its grand opening on Aug. 3.

See more pictures on our Facebook page. (And like us there, too!)


A walk along the river

It was time to get out of the house.

Entrepreneurship can bring with it a serious case of cabin fever. Sure, I got out of the house on Wednesday for coffee with a friend.

But nothing compares to a walk in the fresh air with my best pal, Shep.

We jumped in the truck and made a beeline for the river. There’s a little parking spot along Schubert Drive, with a gazebo and a dedication plaque to Catherine O’Hare Schubert, the only woman among the Overlanders of 1862. The Overlanders were 150 Ontario settlers who trekked across Western Canada for new homes and the lure of gold.

An Irish lass by birth, Catherine took her three children with her and gave birth to her fourth, a baby girl, only hours after arriving in Kamloops.

Cedar totems at park in Kamloops

The little park is also home to the above cedar poles. A work from Great Britain’s Giles Kent, they’re “Carved Cedar Poles” and they come from the Okanagan Thompson Sculpture Symposium of 2008.

We walked along the Rivers Trail, soaking in the view of Mount Paul and Moutn Peter on the other side of the South Thompson River.

And the Dome Hills:

Bench overlooking South Thompson River

I wanted to get the train tracks next to the Halston Bridge near Batchelor Heights. I’ve ridden through there on my bike several times and thought, “Man, I bet that would look good on my DSLR.” But it seemed a little far for old man Shep to walk, so we hopped back in the truck and went a little farther down the road.

The river was calm on the surface, a perfect opportunity to capture the bridge with a reflection in the water. I would have only been happier if a train had gone through.

Train bridge over South Thompson River

And just when I thought it was time to go home, I saw just up ahead the surest sign of spring you can get in Kamloops. In Calgary, it’s the Prairie crocus. In these parts, it’s the cherry blossom:

Cherry blossoms

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s a cherry tree. I’m no botanist. If I’m wrong, let me know!

Until our next escape …


Etched in my memory

There’s a spot on the road I’ve never forgotten.

I didn’t give scenery much time when I lived in Kamloops from 1996 to 2003. I had grown up in what I thought was the most beautiful place in the world.

And I missed it.

Who wouldn’t?

You get to see stuff like this:

fishing boats on the water

lobster traps piled up on a wharf

Those were taken last summer when my two beloveds and I drove across the continent so Shep and My American could meet my family in Nova Scotia.

Four months later, I learned I was moving back to Kamloops, after almost 10 years in Calgary.

I thought of that one spot.

I had been in Savona or Cache Creek or somewhere on assignment. Just south of Savona, the Trans-Canada Highway winds its way up a hill over looking Kamloops Lake.

While I was speeding along in my gutsy little Ford Mustang, I noted how beautiful that one piece of scenery was.

Maybe it was the blue of the water, channelling thoughts of my Atlantic Ocean.

Or maybe it was the wide-open freedom I felt that day.

But I remembered that spot clear as the water and I pledged to go back and take a picture that I thought did it justice.

Kamloops Lake at Six Mile HIll near Savona

On Saturday, I learned it’s a spot called Six Mile Hill. The grasslands below and on the other side of the highway are protected by BC Parks.

A sign tells a story of steamboats: “stately paddlewheelers, helping exploration and settlement of the Interior.”

The boats carried gold-seekers for the Big Bend rush of 1865-65 as well as grain from the Okanagan.

“They were vital in building the CPR and doomed by the railway they helped to build.”

I stood with Shep’s leash and a mapbook in one hand, my camera in the other. I took in as much as I could, soaking in the sight and knowing I would remember this day as well as the time I sped past.


No destination, part 2

I fancy myself a fairly fearless person.

Walk into a room of strangers? No problem.

Move to a different city and start all over again? OK.

Life’s an adventure and there’s always a new challenge waiting with every sunrise.

But as I get older and (insert grumble here) more responsible, I find there are moments in time that stop me, obstacles I can’t push past.

Like last weekend’s muddy spring breakup.

And then there was yesterday.

Look, I learned how to ghost town in Alberta. It’s flat. Everything is designed on a grid system. The township roads run east to west and the range roads, north to south. I could set the truck on cruise control, hold onto the steering wheel in one spot and swivel my head from left to right, looking for abandoned barns and farmhouses or 1950s cars sitting in a field.

If I missed a slight curve in the road, the worst that could happen would be driving out of the wheat field and right back onto the road.

OK, it isn’t always that easy.

But it sure isn’t like British Columbia.

The roads are twisty and turny. On one side of the road is the side of a mountain. On the other side, that mountain keeps going with a drop into a canyon or valley.

I spent Friday afternoon looking for a destination. I found a gold mine of old or ghost towns northwest of Lillooet. Settled by men in search of gold, places like Brexton, Bralorne and Pioneer Mine dot the area around Gold Bridge.

They’re all recreation areas now, but some buildings remain standing.

And so, Shep and I set forth. My trusty co-pilot was satiated with an A&W Momma Burger in Cache Creek and the odd roadside stop to smell the air and take pictures.


Lillooet 028

We drove through Lillooet, and Shep nodded when I mentioned how cool it might be to spend a weekend camping in the summer time.

The left turn to Gold Bridge is at the other other end of the town of Lillooet. On a warm, sunny March Saturday, we drove past dog walkers, picknickers and hockey players, hopeful of winning the Tier 4 midget triple-A provincial championships.

The sign at the bottom of the road said “Gold Bridge 101.”

101 kilometres? Man, I can do that with my eyes closed, I thought.

The scenery, like so many other spots in this amazing country, is incomparable.

Lillooet 049

But oh wait … if you look closely enough, you can see where the road to Gold Bridge travels.

Here, let me help:

Lillooet 049 marked

Right? After about 15 clicks from that base point, the road stopped being pavement. And it kept going uphill, with the plunge on the other side of the road getting deeper and steeper.

My stomach tossed a bit and I found myself clenching the steering wheel just a little bit harder than I ever had. I knew if my old ghost-town partner, Jack, was driving, nothing would have stopped us.

But these trips aren’t supposed to be stressful and fear-inducing. They’re supposed to be about relaxation and freedom.

And so, I found the widest point I could, pulled a tight-as-hell three-point turn and headed back, my shoulders sagging just a tiny bit.

Of course, I don’t take failure and fear easily.

On a day when I can set out earlier and spend the night, dear Gold Bridge, I’ll be back.


Sagebrush: a multi-use tool

The people of Kamloops are no strangers to big-horn sheep.

They dot the hills, sometimes by the dozens, along Ord Road and the Yellowhead.

And they attract any number of lookie-loos, admiring the sight of the wildlife grazing on the sagebrush.

Jealous of my friend Hules’ amazing talent for shooting animals in their habitat, I gave it my best shot.

Among the crowd was this guy, using one of the bushes to … well … scratch an itch.

On his ass.

big horn sheep

Let me tell you, he was just giving it to that bush, too.

Then, after what seemed like a good 10 minutes, he must have hit the right spot and lied down for a munch on the grass.


big horn sheep


No destination

Dog on the beach of a lake

We haven’t been very good explorers.

The snow laid heavy on our plans throughout the winter, knowing many back roads in our new area are unnavigable during the colder months.

With warmer temperatures in our recent past and the sun gleaming out of the great blue sky yesterday, we set out in search of adventure. Our friend, Beth, had told me about abandoned houses in the deep woods past Tranquille Valley.

Head down Red Lake Road, she said.

Easy peasy, I thought.

First, however, I must keep Shep happy. That meant a stop at Cooney Bay and a dip in Kamloops Lake.

The beach was alive with activity … two older women sat on their beach chairs working on watercolour sketches of the beauty they saw before them.

Children laughed, dogs splashed and adults wandered.

I sat on the beach while Shep laid in the cool water and drank. I reminded him to leave some for the fish.

And then it was time to set forth.

The road into the mountains is steep and winding. Occasionally, I glanced to my right and cringed, knowing there was a massive drop just on the other side of that bank.

mountain valley

I took a deep breath and forged on.

With no network reception, we were GPS-less. All we had was a Backroad Mapbook of the Thompson-Okanagan. I was left guessing whether the turn I just took was that one on the black line or the next one.

I crept along at a moderate speed, unfamiliar with the road and remembering how My American prefers me to drive with some care and precaution. After all, it may help me avoid the occasional misadventure.

We passed through the small community of Tranquille Valley, waving at the friendly residents out walking their dogs while off-roaders sped past as if they were on the Coquihalla.

Onward and upward, the next section of the route was a steep uphill.

I figured we were only a few kilometres off the turn onto Red Lake Road but then the wheels of the truck started to spin. The road, saturated by the spring breakup, was thick with mud.

The backend fishtailed and I started to think our adventure had to end for the day. I nodded my head to the power of Mother Nature, pulled a careful three-point turn on a straight stretch, dropped the truck into first gear and made our way back down the hill.

And then I spied it: a glint of sunshine off the snow sitting on the hood.

old truck sitting in the woods

The old truck sat lonely and abandoned amid the trees.

an old truck sitting in the woods

The old Chevy was left behind by someone who didn’t need it anymore.

For me, it was a gift, after a long day with no destination.

Red Lake will be saved for another day.


Up to my knees in snow

It’s covered in inches and inches and inches of fluffy white stuff.

And that makes exploring tough.

But it didn’t deter Shep, my trusty co-pilot, and I from jumping in the truck and seeing what Paul Lake Road had to offer my lens.

I recall an ill-prepared camping trip to Paul Lake some time in the late ’90s. I wasn’t a good camper and none of the three girls knew how to build a fire. I’m not even sure if we had an actual tent, it was that long ago. I know I didn’t own a sleeping bag until 2007, so there’s that.

The campground is a provincial park and it’s closed for the winter season, but it appears you can hike in.

While Shep would have gladly leaped through the snow up to his armpits, I was poorly dressed for the occasion. (Note to self: get better hiking boots and gaiters.)

As it was, my feet got soaked anyway.

We drove for a while, looking for any chance to stop and take pictures. But the road is so windy and twisty that there really isn’t a safe place to pull over.

We got to Hyas Lake Road and I spied this little gem sitting in a field:

I was already standing knee-deep in snow, wishing the barbed-wire fence in front of me wasn’t there.

I let it stop me.

But not when I saw this baby on the way back into Kamloops:

I swung my leg over some barbed wire, hoping and praying I didn’t tear a hole in my favourite ‘weekend’ jeans.

When I got closer to the Plymouth, I didn’t care … even as the snow soaked into the denim, my boots and my socks.

And while I love the effect of two feet of snow on the hood, I can’t wait for that stuff to disappear.

I want to go back.

I have to go back.

To get closer.

To this car. And that car. And the little abandoned homes and farms deep into snow-covered lanes that I won’t attempt to drive when I have no reception.

They’ll still be there in the spring.

Then again, you never know.

In the meantime, where’s a good place to go shopping for hiking gear, Kamloops?

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A meeting by chance

Moyie Lake and Frank 039

Phillip is a kindly, somewhat nutty old fella.

He ambles out of his little home in Moyie Lake, B.C., his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim overalls.

His fluffy white beard conjures thoughts of Santa Claus, while the ink art travelling up his arms gives hints to a rougher life spent on the union trail or on a motorcyle.

“Can I meet your dog?”

His voice is gruff and gravelly, evidence of a life spent smoking.

Sure can, I say.

We hopped out of the truck at Moyie Lake, curious about the little town we’d passed by a few other times, not even blinking in a quest to just get home.

As we stood in the shadow of the little Victorian style church, Phillip approached us.

He keeps his pockets full of Milkbones so he can treat the neighbourhood dogs on his daily walks through the little community.

He ruffles Shep’s ears and Shep gives Phillip his stamp of approval, letting me know it’s OK to trust the somewhat odd but friendly fellow.

Phillip tells us of the deer who visit his backyard, because he leaves apples and nuts for them on his picnic tables.

He tells us of his plan to shave his beard off in the spring, a chance to raise money for cancer research.

He tells us of his fight against cancer, surviving six months of chemotherapy, as he takes another long haul of his cigarette.

And he tells us that’s as much as he remembers of his life since a motorcycle accident and a severe bump on the head took away his memory.

But for some reason, he feels it’s important to tell us of his life before moving to Moyie Lake in 1976.

He was a travelling steamfitter/pipefitter.

He pulls out his wallet and hands me his identification card from the Syncrude project in Fort McMurray, Alta.

My hands shake a little as I hold his ID.

I look up at him and say, ‘My father was on that project.’

And the memories flood back.

The memories of his quiet, solitary life, spent on the road with brief vacations home to see his family.

The memories of his tortured soul.

Of his own battle with cancer.

And his death.

Phillip asks for his name and I tell him but his memory is blank.

We chat for a little while longer, learning a little more about Moyie Lake on a personal account from Phillip.

Shep, his belly full of Milkbones, and I hop back in the truck and continue our journey back to Calgary.

I can’t help but feel something greater was at work that day, something greater than just a quick stop at Moyie Lake to pound out an Exploring post for my site.

Even if it was just a distant, shot-in-the-dark connection to a father who was never really connected.