13. Fire Mountain

  1. 01. Minutes of the COCKUP
  2. 02. A Public Service
  3. 03. The 22% Solution
  4. 04. On The Campaign Trail
  5. 05. Athens of America
  6. 06. A Yankee’s Yankee
  7. 07. My Canadian Family
  8. 08. Edmonton? Why?
  9. 09. Prairie Singers
  10. 10. Deconstructing Calgary
  11. 11. My Kelowna
  12. 12. Wine Whine
  13. 13. Fire Mountain
  14. 14. A Stopover and a Popover
  15. 15. Inspiring Victoria
  16. 16. Planet Rosehip
  17. 17. Carry On Grunge
  18. 18. Street People
  19. 19. The Curse of Portland
  20. 20. Mean-Spirited, Powerful Justice
  21. 21. Amtrak’s Jewel
  22. 22. Managing Yosemite
  23. 23. Yumpin’ Yosemite
  24. 24. Parched
  25. 25. Brave New San Fran
  26. 26. Over The Hill
  27. 27. Greatest Again

I forgot to mention that in addition to visiting seven wineries and a cheese maker, the wine tour also included a stop to pick up some fruit. The Okanagan has been cranking out a lot of this fruit stuff for a long time.  In fact, the vineyards are the johnny-come-latelies.  Most of our crew raved about the peaches, which had come in early due to the unusually early, long and hot summer.

I’m something of an apple man – the fruit more so than the computer – so I was impressed by the apple orchards with trees “trained” to grow into perfect rectangles only as high as a person can reach, and in neat rows to boot. These tactics, developed by the Canadian government’s farm scientists, result in reducing the farmers harvesting costs considerably while increasing output substantially. All this with bits of string, wire, and pruning, producing a mind-boggling wide variety of apples, many of which I had never heard of.  Pretty cool.

In the morning I realized we were paying seventy-five dollars a day for a car that had done nothing but sit in the driveway since we had arrived from the airport.  I decided our last day would be spent doing something that required driving. After reviewing the options we agreed on hiking the Kettle Valley Railway Trail, high in the mountains above Kelowna. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

First, we stopped by the Kelowna Farmers’ and Crafters’ Market to pick up something for a picnic lunch. Generally, farmers’ and crafters’ markets bore me – if you’ve seen one pile of fruit and handi-crap, you’ve seen ‘em all. But they’ve got a lot of farmers around here, so there was an impressively vast array of things to poke and people to prod. Good fun, and we got some good food, too — actually worth the stop.

For our picnic lunch’s main course we bought some organic sandwiches wrapped to travel. I held out my American Express card, meekly squeaking “Do you accept AmEx?”

As always happens when confronted by an American Express card, the proprietor formed his face into a snarl, and snatched the card from my hand, grumbling “There goes my profit!” You see, while Visa and MasterCard generally retain, I think, from 1% to 3% of the purchase, I am led to believe that American Express starts at around 3%, topping out at the indentured servitude of the vendor’s firstborn.

Of course, I said “Hey, I didn’t decide to accept American Express! I’m not the idiot here!”

I can understand why a vendor with a lot of business clients – say, a hotel or a fancy restaurant — would accept AmEx. For the life of me I cannot fathom why, say, a butcher, or a bookstore, or, in this case, a sandwich slapper at a farmers’ market, would. I’ve never heard anybody say, “I won’t shop there, they don’t accept American Express.” I’ve never met anybody who carried an AmEx who doesn’t also carry a Visa or MasterCard. Personally I carry all three, especially when travelling. One never knows when some computer algorithm in Sweden is going to decide your card is likely to be used by a Russian cartel to purchase Chinese savings bonds from a Nigerian bank, and shuts the whole show down.

I use AmEx because I get twice the frequent flyer points. This very trip was financed by such points. The Kelowna sandwich farmer might not have even met me had not other idiots accepted AmEx before him.

Okay, no, I didn’t call him an idiot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to – but it is best not to piss off an idiot in the process of charging your credit card. I double-checked the receipt and walked away sheepishly, telling myself I would never shop there again – a truism if ever there was one. I mentally added him as yet another vendor in a long list I would avoid because they DID accept AmEx and made me feel guilty for their stupidity.

Our rented Ford Focus complained vehemently as we forded dry creek beds and climbed up to the rail trail trailhead. We disregarded our contractual obligation to drive only on paved roads. After each car passed in the opposite direction a hail of pebbles would sweep across our once-pristine vehicle. The gent at Hertz had assured me that any scratch less than an inch was not a concern, and I planned to hold him to that. Wish me luck.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARail trails –former railroad beds converted to biking and hiking trails — have the noteworthy advantage of being very flat, even in the hilliest places. Here we found ourselves in the mountains on a twelve kilometer trail which had no rise or fall much more than about a 2% grade, simply because that is all a loaded train could handle when it was built.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAKettle Valley Railway Trail boasts spectacular views from a series of 18 trestle bridges, some soaring from one mountain wall to the next, hundreds of feet high. Where the trail isn’t atop a trestle or inside a dark dank tunnel, it hugs the steep mountainside cliffs. Early on we got some splendid views of the West Kelowna wild fire which continued unabated for a third day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis trail was no place for those who suffer vertigo. As we approached the first trestle Daisy emitted a low, quavering groan. We had done some travelling with her before, and I now recalled she didn’t particularly enjoy heights. “Ah, I’m not sure I can do this…” she started, nervously.

As I regarded Daisy’s emotional state for a moment, out of the corner of my eye, , I saw one of two young men about a hundred meters on the trail ahead toss something into the woods.

IMG_2654“HEY!” Daisy suddenly blurted in anger. “Did I really just see that?!? Did you see that?!? He just threw a lit cigarette into the brush!!”

“Uh, I saw something, was it a cigarette? Come to think of it, one of them was smoking, and now he isn’t.”

We hastened to the spot, finding a filter-less butt, smoking in the dry brown grass. Now I was angry. I picked up the butt – it was a butt, not a roach — and stomped out the smoldering grass.  We had rushed forward, so the men were now only fifty meters ahead. “HEY!!” I shouted at the two men, holding the butt, smoke still streaming from it, above my head. “HEY!!” No response.

“HEY, MATE!” That got their attention, as well as Frank’s.

“Suddenly you’re an Australian?” he quipped.

I ignored him to continue on my righteous rant. “Are you out of your fucking minds? Are you trying to get us all killed?”

One of the guys put his hands on his head. “Oh, wow! I am SO sorry. Really. I wasn’t thinking. Sorry. So, so sorry.”

It sounded sincere. I had no interest in any further confrontation – my concern was that he not do it again. But they wandered slowly, bumping into each other, so in minutes we passed them. The culprit repeated his mea culpa at short range. “Hey, man, really sorry, that was really stupid, so sorry.”  I could see his eyes were dilated despite the bright sunshine, and detected a telltale drawl. Been there, I thought to myself — although I am reasonably certain I never set a forest on fire.

“We all do incredibly stupid things from time to time.” (When in doubt, I quote my father.)

My eleventh campaign pledge: Despite inevitable accusations of racial preference and nepotism, Smiling Kodiak will appoint his friend and colleague Smokey The Bear as Secretary of the Interior enabling his message regarding forest fire awareness to spread more effectively to, between and amongst (to the degree they are not one in the same) campers, potheads, and children.

Is it possible that a fit of anger can reduce the effects of vertigo? A cursory internet search suggested the opposite was true. Yet on this day Daisy’s indignation at the fire starters seemed to distract her, at least initially, from height horror. She got across the first trestle, then the second. With Frank in front and me behind, the railings were high enough to make each trestle bridge crossing a bearable, even pleasant, experience. I suggested to Daisy, a Quebecois, that prior to confronting such challenges she might find it helpful to listen to one of Stephen Harper’s more infuriating speeches.

GRILLED PEPPERCORN CRUSTED HERITAGE ANGUS FLAT IRONOur last dinner in Kelowna was at Waterfront Wines, which is an odd name for a restaurant that is neither waterfront nor a winery. Matt of Experience Wine Tours had enthusiastically recommended the place as the best in town, cautioning that it might more accurately be named Waterback Restaurant.  In any case, he assured us they did NOT serve Watered-down Wines. Matt hadn’t been wrong about anything else, so we had high hopes for a fine supper.

ROASTED YARROW MEADOWS DUCK BREAST WITH BLACK CURRANT GASTRIQUEIMG_0960We were not disappointed. It certainly was the best food I’d had on the trip. That was something of a relief, as many friends had raved about the restaurants Kelowna which otherwise I had found good, but not great.  Even overlooking a parking lot, I have to say both food and service were great. Five Yums-up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHeading home, I made my Kelowna debut at one of City Park’s pianos. Finding pianos on city streets is an increasingly common phenomenon, and one that I whole-heartedly support. To me, no place is complete without a piano. In this age of lightweight, high-quality electronic keyboards, real pianos are becoming rare beasts, and something of a burden to their owners. As a result, in most any second-hand store one can find one or more beat up yet playable pianos for under a hundred bucks. I say “Put ‘em on the streets!” Of course, they probably won’t last long out there – so soon enough, they will be a thing of the past. In the meantime, I plan to enjoy them in their urban pastures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur last morning, host Bambi outdid herself with an excellent pancake breakfast. She was excited to hear the rest our trip included stops in Victoria and Sacramento because “Capital cities are always the best places.” On further inspection it was revealed she had been to very few of them, and never lived in one.

I outdid myself by mis-remembering our flight time as 11:10 am when it was really 11:50 am. “No time for that!” I screamed, “Hurry up!”, “Move it!” “Go, go, go!”

Frank and Daisy were certain I had lost my mind when I suggested we pay the rental car price to fill the tank rather than fill it ourselves. Eventually the cause of my concern was uncovered, and we all relaxed for an uneventful flight to Vancouver.