Day Six: Bruges

Pil, my pheasant-feeding friend from two days ago, asked me if I’d like to visit Bruges, known as “The Venice of Belgium”. Of course I said yes. “Carpe diem” … Seize the day.

Our first stop was to visit Pil’s longtime friend in downtown Bruges. Lucas is an optician whom my dear amiga Lydia calls “crazy”. Crazy strange and perfectly wonderful.

We walked through the door of his shop and approached a grey-haired man dressed in black. Pil had alerted Lucas that a wayward Canadian was going to show up today. After an initial moment of eye contact, Lucas extended his hand and said:

“Jesus ____ Christ. You look just like Jesus.” I laughed. No one had ever seen that epitome of holiness in me before. This was a character all right, but then again so am I. On the way to Bruges, Pil told me a story about Lucas. Seems that he once entered a party and announced “Is anyone up for an orgasm?” After a beat of silence among the partygoers, he added “Even a little one?”

Lucas had to get back to work and his wife Ann offered us a coffee. Yum … very strong stuff. We were invited to check out their home a few blocks away, and it was a marvel. Part of a long string of ancient brick houses, inside it was a wonder of African art. One tapestry seemed to have animal teeth embedded in it and there were many statues of tribesmen. The place was somehow both fierce and serene.

The city was as advertised – brick buildings hundreds of years old, often with the fronts of rooves rising in a step pattern. There were two or three main canals with countless narrow ones branching off. Tiny grassed backyards gave right onto the water.

Cyclists were everywhere, even after a heavy rain. On one downhill stretch of cobblestones, I was astonished at the ease with which these folks navigated the slippery surface. A pair of riders would be looking to each other while deep in conversation, with cars squeezing by on the left. Truly a wow.

Pil wanted me to experience a genuine Belgian libation so he ushered me into a pub. He ordered a huge bottle of 12% Benedictus beer for us to share. A couple at a nearby table were staring at the bottle and Pil called out to them for a conversation, the same thing I’m known for doing. Kindred spirits, these Belgian and Canadian guys.

Back at Lucas’ shop, I told him “Lydia thinks you’re crazy … and she loves you.” Lucas grabbed me in a powerful hug, laughed like a fanatic, and said “Tell Lydia that I love her too.” An hour or two later, I did.

My new world is full of big personalities, and what a blessing that is. Together we drink deep from life, laugh from the bottom of our bellies, and smile a lot. Good for us.

Day One: Toronto Airport

I was supposed to show up here three hours before my flight time. As it turned out, four hours was the actual result. Late morning, I said goodbye to my friends at the Belmont Diner and headed down the freeway to Toronto. You might say I was flying high, listening to the sound track of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and belting out the tunes. My audience was simply me, and I was feeling my oats.

Am I really doing this? Belgium. Senegal. Human beings I’ve never met before. So cool. What wonders will reveal themselves in the next three weeks? Who will touch my heart? I sense that life will unfold as it should.

Nothing is fazing me today. Let’s have stuff go wrong. Who cares? First up on the problem list was the fact that KLM’s counter wasn’t open yet. Oh well. The next task was finding a place to sit. I roamed the concourse without success, and marvelled at the faces passing me by. Who are they, really? Where are they going … in life and airplanes?

I finally found a seat. I whipped out my phone to see how many folks had viewed my latest post on WordPress. I really shouldn’t concern myself with such things, but what the heck – I’m human. Some of me needs to be loved.

There were momentary things, such as not having my passport ready for the KLM attendant. She smiled. Not remembering how to go through customs with minimum strain. Moderate strain only cost me a few extra minutes. What’s that in the span of my life? Nothing at all.

Now I’m in a bar near Gate C31. Chicken wings and a beer basically cover all of Canada’s main food groups. I’m happy, even with the fellow two seats down continually swearing into his phone. The self-esteemed version of my identity is complaining that I should have spoken up. I suppose, but nothing is going to waver my well-being on this day.

TV sports are overhead. The highlight show on TSN shows the best of the best – impossible catches, miraculous saves and slow motion flying through the air. It’s better than blooper shows, where an athlete’s poor decision-making creates angst in the human breast.

On the other TV, jocks in suits are revving up their testosterone on a variety of topics. They’re not exactly yelling at each other but the venom curls their lips. No thanks. Give me the awesome pass any day.

My next experience is sitting in the departure lounge. Apart from the multitude of humans lined up, almost everyone else is staring at their electronics. (Wait a minute … so am I!) All around me are colours, shapes and ages. Lovely. I’d like to talk to them all but no one seems interested. That’s okay.

Once I’m on the plane, I expect that I won’t be able to send this post, so here’s Bruce signing off. Seven hours to Amsterdam and then a short hop to Brussels, and my friends Jo and Lydia. Yay! See you tomorrow.

Coffee Shop

I’m sitting in a Tim Hortons in London, gazing at the span of humanity before me. People-watching is so much fun.

Across the way, two guys and a girl, all seniors I’d guess, are having a grand old time. They’re probably setting a world’s record for laughs per minute. I can’t quite hear their topics of conversation but it seems like they’re not laughing at anyone. It’s more like they’re chuckling at life. Every so often they greet someone in line so these folks must be regulars.

Off to my right, another old guy sits alone. He’s wearing a grey plaid beret, plus a scowl. Wow, does he look unhappy. His arms are crossed and he’s looking down. Such a contrast to the laughers nearby. I ponder going over and talking to him, but leaving him alone and wishing him well feels like a better plan. So that’s what I do.

I look at the teenager who served me half an hour ago. Her face is pretty, when you think of Hollywood. It’s buried, however, under a white coat of makeup. And there’s a paleness about her spirit too. She filled my order with the contact of a robot. I felt like a “thing” in her eyes. Still, I also wish her well. May she discover what’s truly beautiful in our world.

Now a young guy sits down with the laughers. Green ball cap, camouflage jacket, heavy growth on his face. F-in this and F-in that. Complaining about someone or something almost continually. The smiling ones adjust and smile some more.

I switch seats to watch the parade of cars at the drive-thru. Faces waiting in line:

A young man at the wheel, passenger seat empty, an elderly woman in the back. What does that mean?

A 60-something woman wearing a bright red coat, surgical mask tucked under her chin. What could this story be?

A blue Dodge Ram truck looming above me, with two bearded fellows talking loudly to each other.

A teenaged girl driving her mom, I suppose -the young one gesturing in the air and the old one smiling.

A black SUV climbs the curb. Inside, there’s a grey-haired fellow with a black coat and sunglasses. I look to see if there’s an earpiece.

And beyond the drive-thru lane is the traffic on Wellington Road. The flow of human beings, slowed only by red lights. I’m in the midst of us and it’s a pleasure to be here. Home is not alone. Home is with you.


I listened to Stan Rogers last night.  His spirit and songs poured from the mouths of his loved ones.

Stan was a Canadian singer-songwriter who died on the tarmac of the Cincinnati Airport in 1983, of smoke inhalation.  He lives on.

Stan’s daughter Beth sang 45 Years to us.  It was a love song to his wife Ariel.  As Beth’s voice soared, I cast a few glances to Ariel, who seemed lost in love.  At the end, she told us that their 45th anniversary was a month or two ago.  Oh my.

Where the earth shows its bones of wind-broken stone
And the sea and the sky are one
I’m caught out of time, my blood sings with wine
And I’m running naked in the sun
There’s God in the trees, I’m weak in the knees
And the sky is a painful blue
I’d like to look around, but honey, all I see is you

The summer city lights will soften the night
Till you’d think that the air is clear
And I’m sitting with friends, where forty-five cents
Will buy another glass of beer
He’s got something to say, but I’m so far away
That I don’t know who I’m talking to
‘Cause you just walked in the door, and honey, all I see is you

Stan walked into the shoes of ordinary Canadians, feeling their pains and joys.  The poet helped all of us know …

1.  The Alberta Ranch Wife  (Lies)

Then she shakes off the bitter web she wove
And turns to set the mirror, gently face down by the stove
She gathers up her apron in her hand
Pours a cup of coffee, drips Carnation from the can
And thinks ahead to Friday, cause Friday will be fine
She’ll look up in that weathered face that loves hers line for line
To see that maiden shining in his eyes
And laugh at how her mirror tells her lies

2.  The Prairie Wheat Farmer  (The Field Behind the Plow)

Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight, dark rows
Feel the trickle in your clothes, blow the dust cake from your nose
Hear the tractor’s steady roar.  Oh you can’t stop now
There’s a quarter section more or less to go

And it figures that the rain keeps its own sweet time
You can watch it come for miles, but you guess you’ve got awhile
So ease the throttle out of air, every rod’s a gain
And there’s victory in every quarter mile

Poor old Kuzyk down the road
The heartache, hail and hoppers brought him down
He gave it up and went to town

And Emmett Pierce the other day
Took a heart attack and died at forty-two
You could see it coming on ’cause he worked as hard as you

3.  The Great Lakes Seaman and His Girlfriend  (White Squall) 

The kid was so damned eager.  It was all so big and new
You never had to tell him twice, or find him work to do
And evenings on the mess deck he was always first to sing
And show us pictures of the girl he’d wed in spring

But I told that kid a hundred times “Don’t take the lakes for granted
They go from calm to a hundred knots so fast they seem enchanted”
But tonight some red-eyed Wiarton girl lies staring at the wall
And her lover’s gone into a white squall

4.  The Nova Scotia Fisherman  (Make and Break Harbour)

Now it’s so hard to not think of before the big war
When the cod went so cheap, but so plenty
Foreign trawlers go by now with long seeking eyes
Taking all where we seldom take any
And the young folk don’t stay with the fishermen’s ways
Long ago they all moved to the cities
And the ones left behind, old and tired and blind
Won’t work for a pound, for a penny

In Make And Break Harbour the boats are so few
Too many are pulled up and rotten
Most houses stand empty, old nets hung to dry
Are blown away, lost and forgotten


Thank you, Stan
We hardly knew you
And now we know you

Day Four: Staying Put

It was my day to explore Port-aux-Basques. I started off in the dining room of St. Christopher’s Hotel, where I’m staying. The young woman serving me was emotionally flat. Rehearsed words seemed to be coming out of her mouth. I had to go looking for her to get a second cup of coffee. Negativity started bubbling up in me and then I took a step back. Here was a girl, maybe 20, no doubt dealing the same self-esteem issues that I faced back then. “Cut her some slack, Bruce.” So I did. Silently I wished her well as I left. It’s true that she was very different from the other newfies I’ve met … and that’s fine.

I walked down to the harbour and gazed past the tiny islands to the free water beyond. Such an immense feeling of space. Something caught my eye and I looked left. The huge ferry was leaving port. Way up on the promenade deck, where I had stood yesterday, about twenty-five souls stood looking towards the land. I waved madly and kept it up for probably a minute. Not a single person waved back, and I was sad. I so much yearn for true contact with other human beings, and in those moments it was not to be.

Off I strolled to the often steep streets of Port-aux-Basques. How do they get cars up some of those driveways? At the high points, I had other views of the ocean. I enjoyed the vistas. Still, it’s people who move me the most, not nature or architecture.

I saw little fishing boats. My favourite was “Eastern Comfort”. Marine Drive was an empty little road by the water, lined with industrial buildings and the occasional house. It was such a contrast to Marine Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia – a busy and speedy thoroughfare between lush greenery and opulent homes. But contrast is everywhere in life, I’d say.

My ankles had puffed up with the walking and I was sore. A tiger waffle cone at a convenience store helped immeasurably and so did my conversation with a young girl, about ten years old. She liked her summer adventures but was absolutely thrilled to be returning to school and being with some friends who were absent from her life for the past eight weeks. She talked to me as if I was a local. Cool.

I came upon a gaggle of teens in front of a grocery store. There was a yellow cylindrical cement post, about four feet tall, to keep cars from smashing into the building. A young man was standing on top of it. I couldn’t resist – the opportunity was too sweet. Crossing the street, I called out “Does everybody put you on a pedestal?” He smiled and replied “Pretty much.”

His friends seemed to be looking at me in wonder so I kept going: “I hope you’re not looking down on these fine folks!” Smiles all around. We talked for another couple of minutes and then I was off. They waved goodbye.

As the afternoon waned, I headed to the cluster of tiny pastel buildings which were near the music stage. It was time to sample Geraldine’s food. She gabbed gaily with me while her friend or sister was off to the side, peeling PEI potatoes for the fries. I succumbed to a cheeseburger and natural fries, and when Geraldine told me she’d gone home last night after the singing and baked chocolate chip cookies, I succumbed again.

At one point, I looked over to the orange kiosk across the way. It had a sign saying “Intuitive Tarot Readings”. I spied the young woman inside and asked Geraldine loudly “I wonder where I could get a Tarot card reading.” And there was a small smile from inside the orange place.

I went over to meet Justine, who kindly gave me the only chair in the place. She’d overheard my chattering over at Geraldine’s and concluded that I was “a happy person”. I am.

Her Tarot reading pointed to the image of an arrow flying off to a target. Wow! That’s so true. I experience myself as being launched towards an unknown future, one of beauty and contribution.

Justine and I talked of the spiritual life. She was slow in her soul and it felt like home. I told her of the book I wrote about my wife Jody and her eyes brightened some more. I’ll send her a copy when I get home.

I like people.

Day Two: UBC and Beyond

I’m sitting in the sun on the University of British Columbia campus, waiting for the Bike Kitchen to open. Check that … I just moved to the shade, since I couldn’t see the darned screen. Made seven spelling mistakes in one sentence, which tends to diminish people’s confidence in my intelligence.

I’m about to impart words of wisdom from my bike mechanic to theirs. So I’m a conduit with very little bike tech knowledge. That’s okay. Surround myself with good people and life works.

I slept nine hours last night – just what my body needed. Headed for the shower to find out that hot water was in short supply. I jumped up and down a lot, probably good practice for the wide variety of campgrounds we’ll face.

I really feel that some mysterious force is drawing me towards my future summer. For instance, in checking my luggage this morning, I saw that I forgot my tiny daypack, which I was going to use for roaming on rest days. But then I realized that the Camelbak water carrier that I’ll wear on riding days will do just fine as a backpack. As for the daypack, I didn’t need it. Then I opened another sports bag to find that the hard plastic glass I was going to use for taking meds was smashed. (Sigh) Seconds later, the words “water bottle” burbled up. As for the glass, I didn’t need it.

After showering, I put my yoga mat under arm and scoured through the residence for somewhere to lay it down. And voilà … a lounge appeared. Eight large windows brought in the sun. At the base of one, a large flying bug was trying to get home. Way up top, a transom window winked at me. As I reached for the handle, Mr. or Mrs. Wide Wings climbed the bottom pane and met me at the opening. And away …

On the road to downtown Vancouver, I boarded a packed bus. Not a square inch available for another human. I said hi to a woman who was dressed in a melody of colours. She smiled widely in response and told me she recruits Asian students for UBC, spending most of the year in India. She’s had marvelous conversations with young people throughout Asia and seemed thoroughly happy with her life. She also thought my bike trip was an awesome way to spend the summer. I so agree. And then I was moving toward the door for my stop. “Goodbye,” we echoed.

Another bus, another woman. Ana and I were both moved when a handicapped passenger implored the driver to make room for a patron in a wheelchair, so she wouldn’t have to wait anymore on the sidewalk. The driver responded. I applauded the courageous woman.

Ana and I talked on the street later as we strolled to our destinations. She’s a coach for Israeli women and loves being a mentor. My story got her thinking how much she loves the bicycle and how she misses being on it. Ana committed to me that she’d ride again soon. And she wants to follow my cycling blog. I responded by offering to send her a copy of the book I wrote about Jody. She accepted.

Ah … the fine folks of the planet.

Day Twenty-Five … Stops Along The Way To Red Deer

After leaving Ray and Joy’s place on Friday, I meandered north towards Jody’s cousin Holly in Red Deer, Alberta.  There were people to touch en route.

My first meeting didn’t happen in a face-to-face way.  I was dropping a letter off for Michelle, a welcomer at the visitor centre of the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge.  On my way through a couple of weeks ago,  Michelle and I had a great talk about life.  And we hugged.  I seem to be hugging a lot of people on my road trip whom I’ve never met before.  I like it.

I told Michelle that I was coming back through Lethbridge on August 13 and 14 and that I’d love to visit her again.  She said that she was off on the 14th but worked until 5:00 on the 13th.  So my goal on Thursday was to get to her in time.  Sadly, a delay in Kimberley, BC, another one at the border, and me forgetting about the time zone change between BC and Alberta nixed that idea.  I was sad.  No hug.  And I had told Michelle that I’d be there.  I hate not keeping my word.  Let it go, Bruce.

Next up for me was seeing Gordon, my sister-in-law Nona’s father.  He’s in a nursing home in Lethbridge.  Gordon has always struck me as being a quiet person, but he and I have had some good conversations.  On Friday, I showed up at Gordon’s bedroom door.  He was sitting in a chair.  As I approached, he looked up and smiled.  He recognized me!  I sat down opposite and we talked about many things – Nona, how he misses his home in Milk River, and the laughter of many staff members at his care facility.  It was clear to me that I needed to pause after my comments so that Gordon could process what I said.  And of course that was fine.

As I was about leave, I stood in front of Gordon to shake his hand and say goodbye.  He was clearly determined to stand.  I wondered if I should move his walker closer to him but Gordon stood quickly, moved forward to the walker and went fully upright.  He was happy to shake my hand.  And even happier to walk me to the front entrance, approximately at the speed of light.  Nona and Lance call him “Flash Gordon”.  Absolutely.

I decided to explore another planet on my way to Red Deer.  Vulcan, Alberta is basically Spockland, from the original Star Trek.  I dropped into the visitor centre to buy some T-shirts.  A young woman greeted me, clearly in the throes of a bad cold.  Even as stuffed up as she was, kindness came my way.  She patiently explained Star Trek references of which I was unfamiliar.  Such as the Green Girl, a seductive young lady who was rescued from certain doom by a certain William Shatner.  Sadly, no green girl approached to sell me a water bottle.

On I went, certain of my route to Red Deer.  I thought there was a “Stony Plain Road” that headed directly north to my destination.  Slight miscalculation.   Stony Road was actually a ring route around Calgary.  I knew something was wrong when the mountains appeared directly in front of me instead of to my left.  Oh well … being on time is highly overrated.

Holly welcomed me to her palace in Red Deer.  Okay, it wasn’t that big but it was a lovely space.  She took me out to a cool restaurant called Chopped Leaf and I had a decadent salad full of shrimp, served in a tilty white bowl.  We just yapped and yapped, both there and back at her palace over a glass of wine.  Holly remembered Jody as a teenager, walking her beloved dog Dutch in downtown Coaldale, Alberta.  Dutch was a sausage dog – a dachshund.  Then Holly told me that she got close to Jody only in the last few years, as they rediscovered each other via Skype and Facebook.  They had planned to get together face-to-face.  (Sigh)

Holly wants to bring all 16 of the Doram first cousins together for a reunion and hopefully a genealogy trip to England to meet some ancient Dorams.  Make it so, Holly.

“Let the journey carry on.”  A quote from my 14-year-old nephew Jaxon.