Onto Hope To Work For Some Indians

The others came along about half an hour after us and after we discussed the experiences that the Mosquito Creek Trail gave us, we stowed our gear and drove west.

To the delight of us all, we suddenly came across a hostel in the bush, so we ate, took advantage of its showers and freshened up. The two Petes, Casey and I jumped in the car, and with no plans, continued further west. We left Alberta, driving into British Columbia, where we spent the night together camped in our tents at some camp ground, before waking early the next morning and hitting the road again.

We weren't too far into the province of British Columbia when one Pete said, "It's been nice to see you, but we're heading back to America. So what are your plans?"

At that point, we were by a river near a place called Clear Water so I said, "We'll get out here. Thanks, Pete."

He looked around, surprised and asked, "Are you sure?"

I told him that we'd be right and got them to drop us in a clearing by the river. We said goodbye to the two Petes for the last time ever and they headed off. Once they'd gone, I pitched the tent in a good spot, made a fire where I cooked our last meal for the day and we went to speak to some other people who were camped in the clearing. The people were from around that area and when I told them that we were hitching further west they said that we'd be lucky if we got a ride from Clear Water at all. One of the men explained that it was well known that a hitch- hiker had murdered the person who'd picked him up just a year earlier and everyone was still wary of Clear Water hitch- hikers.

This turned out to be true, for the next day we were out on the road early and even though there were plenty of cars going by, no one even looked like stopping for us. We spent the whole day trying to get a lift, but by the afternoon I'd had enough and we camped in the clearing for another night.

The next day, we were out on the road early again with the same result, but then to my delight, a car suddenly stopped for us. The driver was a pretty cool black American fella who was headed to Vancouver for a wedding. As we drove along he was drinking straight whisky out of the bottle and my mouth was watering.

That afternoon, we came to a place surrounded by beautiful big mountains and as we drove past a sign that said "Othello Tunnels," I asked him to drop us off. When he let us out I thanked him for the ride then we walked along the road a fair way, until we came to the Othello Tunnels campground. We paid for a night and pitched the tent. The sign at the office read that you could pay a dollar for your wood and have as much as you could carry in one arm. Once our camp was set up Casey and I walked to the office, paid our dollar and when I had loaded myself up as much as I could, I got her to put some more on for me.

The guy at the office marvelled at the pile of wood that I had in my arm and he exclaimed, "That's the most wood I have ever seen anyone carry at once."

The reason I'd taken so much was because that was the only wood in the area we were allowed to burn and once again, our money was getting low.

There was a stocked lake in the park, so we hired a rod with a spinner and although I had no luck, Casey caught a sixteen inch—or forty centimetre—rainbow trout, which we took back to

our camp and cooked up. The next day, we walked to explore the Othello Tunnels to see what they were about and they were quite amazing.

Back in the time before having any machinery to help him, a man named Othello devised a plan to get a train line into the extremely mountainous country, in order to cart gold ore out. As there was no way to go around the mountains, Othello decided to go through them instead, which in its day, was a marvellous engineering feat. We walked through the disused tunnels and after we'd finished exploring them, we spent our time wandering and looking around the surrounding countryside.

On the second day at the campground, we met a friendly older bloke, Reg, who I asked to give us a lift to the mountains just up the road. Our money was just about gone and I reckoned that we could live for free in the bush. Reg was happy to drive us to a trail which led to a place that was also called Fish Lakes. He dropped us off and from there we hiked to the Lakes. This trek was only twelve kilometres long and after the hundred and thirty four kilometre march that we'd just done in Alberta, it was pretty much a walk in the park. This was good, as we were only going there so we could save money while I decided what to do next.

We stayed at Fish Lakes for four days and while there I'd decided that I would have to get some work—but what sort of work was anyone's guess. We made our way back to the start of the trail and hitch-hiked into the nearest town, which was appropriately called Hope. I reckoned the best place to look for work would be at the pub so we went there and sat on a couple of drinks, but by the time that the pub closed its doors, I'd had no luck at all.

It was now late at night, so we walked to a campground that I'd seen on the way to the pub, pitched the tent, slept there and I figured that I would talk to the owners later and work out payment. I thought we'd be approached the next day by someone wanting some money from us, but they didn't, and it wasn't until two days later that I discovered that we were on an Indian Reservation.

I got talking to a group of Indians who were milling around the place, about getting some sort of work and they told me about the pine mushroom, that was about to sprout all throughout the mountains that surrounded the area. The pine mushroom, I was told, grew huge and was much sought after by the Japanese, who brought caravans into the area and would pay ninety dollars a pound for them.

Soon, I met the Indian chief—whose name was Fred—and who said that I could go mushrooming with him and his wife, as they knew some good spots. So I hooked up with them and we spent hours scouring the bush. Every day for about a week, we went hunting for the mushrooms but we couldn't find any. Here and there we came across other searchers, but no one could find any. Fred said that, now and then, they just didn't come up. I was disappointed to hear this, but another thing had started to happen while we were searching for the mushrooms, the salmon had begun to spawn.

I had seen documentaries on T.V. about how millions of salmon swim from the ocean and up rivers to their spawning grounds where they'd lay their eggs and die. When their eggs hatched, the water would be so full of nutrients from the dead fish that the baby fish would get a really good start to life, eating their parents and then they'd swim down the rivers and into the ocean.

When they became adult salmon, it was their turn to swim up the rivers to spawn and so the cycle would continue. A lot of the salmon would not make it to their spawning grounds because they were either too weak to make the treacherous journey, they'd be eaten by bears, or they were caught by fishermen. And that was where I came in.

Fred told me that they, the Indians, were allowed to net for salmon on one weekend of the month that the salmon were swimming upstream to spawn. However, they never knew which weekend it would be. Fred and I struck up a deal that I would poach salmon for him, every night of the season, using a dinghy and two nets, in return for food, tobacco and some money at the end of it.

When I agreed to do it, Fred took us out to a spot in the bush, at the base of some mountains on the bank of the Frazer River. We were now living in our tent on the Indian reservation, out where Fred reckoned that we shouldn't get caught. But I knew by the way that he put it, that it would be a risky business.

Fred supplied me with a dinghy, two nets, a chainsaw so I could get wood for a fire and the stuff that I'd need to make coffee. He bought me a five hundred gram tin of tobacco with some papers and he gave me a couple of new lighters. At the fish camp, there was a dodge van that had been put up on blocks with its wheels taken off, where Fred said we could sleep, but I preferred the tent. Fred and the other two Indians who had been with him, soon left me to my own devices, so I gathered some wood to use then and for later, made a coffee and looked around.

I was surprised to find that Casey and I were not the only ones at the fish camp. A very scruffy man, who'd been asleep when Fred had left us there, wandered out of a lean-to, looked at me and said with an English accent, "Hello. My name's Tony, who are you?"

We introduced ourselves and told him what was going on and over the next three or four weeks that I was at the Fish Camp, we got on pretty well together. Tony had been at the Fish Camp for a fair while, as the Indians had picked him up when he'd been hitch- hiking somewhere and he had spent all his money on them. Then, without any way of being able to look after himself, the Indians had dumped him at the Fish Camp where they brought him out food now and then.

Although I did feel a bit sorry for Tony as he was clearly stuck there, I had us to worry about, so I organised the camp a bit before deciding what to do about the fishing. After looking the scene over, I knew where I'd put the nets. I went to bed, and after a few hours of sleep, I got up again and went about poaching salmon. I reckoned that between midnight and four in the morning would be the best time to work, for what I was about to do, to say the least, would be frowned upon. I lit the fire using the wood that I'd gathered earlier that day and once the flames had caught, I boiled the billy and made a cup of coffee. I drank the coffee steadily, sitting on the ground and enjoying the silence of the bush. As I sipped, I planned my first night on the river.

When I was fully awake and ready, I put down the empty pannikin, threw my smoke butt into the fire and headed towards the water's edge. I took one end of the twenty metre net that sat in a plastic tub in the dinghy, lashed it to a rock on the bank, and after placing another largish rock in the small boat, I jumped in and fired up the outboard motor. I reversed quickly toward the small island that was in the middle of the fifty or sixty foot wide river. As soon as the slack of the net had been taken up, it fed itself out over the bow and when I was able to see the other end of it in the tub I killed the motor, secured the rock to the net's rope at that end, threw it into the water and it was set. The rope which was attached to the net at the deep end was long enough to reach the bottom of the river while not pulling down the net. The net had floats along the top and lead weights that ran the length of its bottom side keeping it upright. I checked it all one last time and was satisfied with it. So I grasped the net, pulled the dinghy and myself back to the shore and resecured the dinghy's bow rope around the rock. It was important not to make too much noise as I knew the consequences for my actions, if caught, would be severe.

I then clambered back over the rocks that made up the river's bank, lit a smoke and sat by the fire.

Every twenty minutes from then on until four in the morning, I pulled myself —in the dinghy —along the net to extract the fish, which consisted of coho, steel head, humpback and the much sought after, sockeye salmon. When the net was emptied, I made my way quietly back to the shore, carrying the heavy tub of fish to a large icebox supplied by the Indians.

When the fish were stowed, I went back to my fire to dry myself, have a smoke, get warm and wait twenty minutes before repeating the process. In the last of the night's darkness, the Indians came in a van, skilfully and rapidly cleaned all the fish I'd caught—which was about half a ton—and quickly whisked them away.

Over the next three or so weeks, during the day when I wasn't fishing, I entertained myself with a good book, explored the surrounding mountains and played with a tomahawk, teaching myself to throw it and stab it into a tree from one foot to about twenty- five feet away. I chain- sawed and chopped wood for the fire and when we needed drinking water I'd take the dinghy to the other side of the river and fill a container from a fresh water stream that ran down the mountain and into the river.

Each evening, I'd get up at around nine or ten at night and poach the salmon until, a few weeks after they'd begun their migration, when there were too few to bother with. When the salmon run had finished, Casey and I remained at the Fish Camp for a while and one night a bunch of Indians came out from town, celebrating a birthday. They came with a white guy named Tod, in his new pickup truck, which was his pride and joy and he reckoned it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Later that night, I rolled it off the mountain.

It was at about ten o'clock when the group ran out of grog and an Indian bloke and a really fat Pommy chick who'd married one of the Indians, tried to drive the vehicle into Hope to restock their drink supplies. They were well and truly on their way when they clambered into the Ute and took off, while Tod lay passed-out by the river bank. I'd had a couple, but not too many, so Tony said, "Hey, Steve. Do you want to wave them down and drive them into town before they hurt themselves?"

I said I'd try and took off with a torch up the dirt track that was the drive. At the end of it I found them already off the road at the first turn. I told them to move over, got in the driver's side and when we were all in, I took off for Hope. We soon ran into serious trouble.

Not far out of the Fish Camp there was a tight S bend in the road, with one side being the mountain and the other a two to three hundred foot drop down a sixty five degree angle, that stopped only when it met the river. We were approaching the S from the bottom and I was negotiating the tight turn when the woman started yelling, "I need a piss. I need a piss!"

As she was going on, she was grabbing the steering wheel, trying to steer the pick-up off the road on the mountain side. On the safe side of the road, however, there was about a three foot washaway and I yelled forcefully to her to stop as I tried to hold the Ute on the road, but it was too late. I don't really know what happened, but the front of the pick-up suddenly dropped downwards, hit hard into something, the lights went out, and we turned completely upside down and came to a stop. The left- hand driver's side was now facing the stars, so I climbed out onto the side board to have a look. What I saw astounded me. We had rolled off the mountain, but we'd been stopped by a tree that was right in the middle of the roof. I could make out in the moonlight that the tree was right in the centre of the Ute's pivot point, so as I helped the two others out, I was trying not to move around too much which might cause the pick-up to move and fall.

I managed to pull the Indian up onto the side board and helped him drop down onto the mountain's side, but helping the fat woman was not as easy. It took ages for me to get her out as she was so big and so drunk, but eventually she got up there, and holding onto the side board, I dropped down onto the mountain. She suddenly started yelling, "I can't get down. I can't get down!"

I positioned myself down the hill under her, below the upturned pick-up and called, "Just jump. I'll stop you."

She wailed again, "I can't get down. I can't get down!"

I yelled at her, "Stop moving, or the truck will fall off that tree."

The next thing I saw both worried and tickled me, for in the moonlight I saw the silhouette of

a fat leg stretch out and she jumped. Unfortunately, I was squarely underneath her and as she hit the mountain, she took me out at the same time. We went cascading downhill together, very quickly and violently. There was no foliage on the steep hill because of a rockslide, so all that I had to soften the many blows I got on the way down were rocks. I was holding onto the woman's shirt as we went, in a feeble attempt at stopping her, but all I succeeded in doing was keeping us together.

She rolled over my body—at one point my head was between her and a rock—and then, at the bottom of the mountain, we came to a stop. It took a couple of seconds to gather my wits and I realised I had her shirt and bra in my hand. She was sitting close to me, topless in the moonlight, so I threw her stuff at her and said gruffly, "Put some clothes on, you idiot!"

I crawled back up the side of the mountain, where I met the other bloke and together we waited for her to climb back up. As we did, we talked about how Tod was going to have a fit.

Once she was back at the road, we walked the six or seven kilometres into Hope where they tried to get some other Indians to tow the Ute back onto the road. But no one would help us, so they paid a taxi to take me back out to the reservation. When I got back there everyone at the party, including a very drunk Tod, jumped in the taxi and went back to Hope.

I knew I was going to be in strife.

Sure enough, as I was throwing the tomahawk at a tree the next morning, a taxi pulled up at the Fish Camp. Tod got out and said, "Come here."

I walked over, fully expecting a fight, because there were some Indians in the taxi watching, and I thought that he might want to prove himself. To my surprise he didn't want to fight me, but said, "Do you know how lucky you are to be alive?"

I told him that I'd been thinking about it and he put all of the blame for the accident straight on me. He went on about how his pickup was buggered because of all the fluid that had leaked throughout the engine while upside down, how he couldn't afford to fix it and he carried on for a fair while about my taking it. I didn't know what the Indians said to Tod and I didn't want to argue against them for risk of being thrown off the reservation, so instead I gave him five hundred dollars to put towards any damages.

There were two reasons for my giving Tod the money. The first was that I wasn't ready to leave yet. The second was because I put myself in his shoes and I knew that I'd want someone to pay towards it, if it was my Ute.

Just up the way from the Fish Camp, still on the reservation, a man named Cliff was living in a donger on an abandoned gold mine site. Opposite Cliff's donger, there was a one room, wood cabin that was full of rubbish that had been thrown in there over the years. I got to know Cliff and after the salmon run had finished, I asked him if he'd mind if Casey and I moved into the

cabin. He said that if I wanted to clean it out that I was more than welcome to live in it and the clean up began.

Not far from the cabin there was an old caravan, so after I'd cleaned the cabin out I threw all the rubbish in there and we moved in. The cabin had no electricity or running water, so I bought some candles and continued to take the dinghy across the river to fill my twenty litre drum with drinking water. I'd cart water from the river to wash in. I bought a packet of wicks, used the cardboard centre out of a toilet roll as a mould and reused the wax from the bought candles to make our own.

Cliff had a brother, Rex, living in Hope, who had the keys to a bulldozer on the site. One day, I asked Rex to push up some dirt for me so that I could sift through it and look for gold, which I did unsuccessfully. Casey and I became friends with Rex and his wife Sharon. They would often invite us to their house for dinner and we got to know the family well. This worked out to be a good thing, as our visas were about to expire and I didn't want to leave Canada yet.

Rex did some gold mining work in Dawson City, for the same man who owned the equipment on the reservation. He reckoned he could get me a job in Dawson City as well, but first we needed to extend our visas.

One day I had a talk to him about helping us to get them extended for another six months and he was happy to go with my plan, which we quickly put into action. We went to the bank where Rex bought two thousand dollars worth of traveller's cheques, which I took to an Immigration Department, located in a bigger town near Hope and pleaded my case to the officer there. I said I wanted to spend another six months travelling around, as I wanted to see more of Canada and this appeared to make the Immigration Officer happy.

He asked to see some proof that I could support myself and Casey, so I produced the cheques. He gave us another six months each, on the spot. When we'd completed our business we happily made our way back to Hope, went to the bank where I cashed the cheques in and gave the money back to Rex.

Not long after getting our visas extended, Cliff invited us on a trip to Vancouver for the day, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to catch up with Steve, Krista and Ted. When we'd parted company in Banff, Steve had given me his parents' phone number so that we could them again, so once we'd got to Vancouver, I tracked them down and we went for a visit.

It was great to see Steve Johnson and the others again. We had a good, long catch up and they were all jealous—especially Ted—of my Dawson City plans. During the course of the conversation, Steve enquired, "You know that guy you hit in Winnipeg?"

"Yeah?"

Steve went on, "You broke his nose and both his cheeks."

I responded, "Well, I was a bit worried about him when he stood up and I knew that if I didn't

really hurt him, I was gone!"

At this point I thought to myself, That explains the amount of blood on his shirt. When we

left our friends' place I knew I wouldn't see them again, so I wished them luck and Cliff, Casey and I went to play Bingo. Bingo was a really big scene in the area where the Indians sometimes took us. We went with Cliff a couple of times and once Rex and I went to play. Casey and I were broke now, so Rex paid twenty dollars for me to play and I was over the moon to win six hundred and eighty dollars. Even though that six hundred and eighty dollars was all we had in the world, I gave Rex half of it as he'd paid for me to go in. He wasn't too cashed up himself and I thought it the least I could do.

Soon autumn was nearly over and by the time winter came I had chain-sawed and split heaps of wood for the little tin pot belly stove that was in the corner of the cabin and also for Cliff to burn in his fire. I kept the wood at the back of the cabin in a shed that I'd built using pieces of timber, tin and nails that I'd found around the site and I made a shower out of the same stuff. I'd heat up a big pot of water on the fire and when it was warm enough I'd siphon it into a shower bag that I'd found, hang the bag in the shower and turn it on. Once we had washed, we'd run naked through the snow back into the cabin and dry off by the fire.

It was at about this time that I discovered Cliff was heavily into spiritualism and while having a wine with him in his donger one night, I asked him if I could read one of the many books he had on the subject. He had a bookcase that was laden with books, all to do with spiritualism, about which I became very curious. But Cliff forbade me from looking at them.

At about two in the morning he went outside for a leak and when he was gone, I grabbed a book, stuck it down the front of my jeans and under my jumper. Once I had the book I was eager to read it so I had a couple more wines with Cliff and got going. Casey was in Hope, babysitting Rex and Sharon's three kids for the night, so I was alone in the cabin, so I lit a candle, lay on the bed and said, "Please let this page be meant for me."

With that, I flicked the book onto the bed and let the pages fall open. The first thing that I saw was, "Ask for whatever you want. You will get it. But be very careful of what you ask for!"

I jumped off the bed and in the candlelight in the cabin, on the Indian reservation and at about three o'clock in the morning, I did as the words had instructed and made a few requests. I said, "I am sick of being so lean, so I want to put on weight. I am tired of having to work so hard. I want money coming in that I don't have to work for. And I want to give up smoking and drinking for a little while!"

It would be years before I thought about that again, but I'd just unwittingly done a deal.

Book Reviews

  • Steve, wow! What a great movie your book would make - absolutely riveting stuff! AND - the best investment I have made in years!

    Yvana
  • It's 4.55p.m. and I've just finished reading the book. Wow!!!!!That's what I'm feeling. Wow!!! Now that I've held the actual book in my hands and read it cover to cover, I can truly say this is a great book. Onya! Stevo!

    Meg
  • Monkey On The Wing, has been the most inspirational story I have ever read. Steve, your story is remarkable, reading your book bought me tears of sadness and happiness.

    Monique