Monday, June 29, 2015

The perils of trespassing

In Rhone, a tiny hamlet where once stood a station, I come across a cyclists' rest stop next to a restored caboose that has "Kettle Valley Railway" emblazoned on the side. There are picnic tables, pit toilets, and a hammock suspended under a roof. This will be tonight's campsite.

I remember cabooses from my childhood. I grew up near a railway and was intrigued by the turreted and chimneyed living quarters that sailed by, tailing the train. Lamentably, they were decommissioned on all trains years ago, so it's a nostalgic treat to find one. Through its windows I can see it is clean and well-kept, and judging by the pamphlets and guest book on the benchtop it's being used as a tourist office of sorts. There is also a stove of cast iron and three bunks. I try the door handle but it's locked, so I can't fulfil my childhood dream of sleeping in a caboose, even one that isn't going anywhere. Instead I set up a makeshift tent over the hammock with my tent fly to keep the warmth in overnight. I go to look for water.

The railway bed follows the Kettle River. Through Rhone today, however, it runs through farming country with long stretches on private land. I find myself separated from the river by barbed wire fencing surrounding a no-man's-land studded with "No Trespassing" signs. I need water to cook, or it will be dry oatmeal and hard pasta. Walking half a mile up and down the road looking for some way of access, I finally spot a rickety cedar fencepost hidden by bushes below the level of the road and attempt to scale the metre-high wire.

When I step on the fence, the wires squeal in the old wood like a pig having its teeth pulled. With one leg over, straddling the wire with a barb in my groin, I hear: "woof!" Through the roadside vegetation I see what appears to be a black and tan rottweiler set on the road, fixed on my location in the bushes. Then another big black dog joins it, staring straight at me. "WOOF!" The trespass guards have arrived.

Dogs would be through the fence in a second, so I quickly opt to return to the side from which I came—"see? I am un-trespassing!"—even though this is the side the dogs are on. At least I would have an open avenue of escape for a few seconds before they run me down. I try to slow my panicked scrambling, while still moving like a greased cat at bath time, and unfasten the accumulating barbs in the crotch of my pants lest the dogs set upon my legs before I unmount this fence. All this haste demonstrates the simple genius of barbed wire: it entangles the hasty.

Mercifully, the dogs remain on the road. As I disentangle my tackle packet and emerge from the sunken hedge onto the road myself, I see first that the black-and-tan is nothing but a scruffy mongrel and his mate a fat, grizzled old labrador. Following twenty metres behind is an elderly couple on bicycles. I thank the gods that today is not the day I am savaged by guard dogs atop barbed wire.

"We thought you might have been a bear," they call out. "We were just out for our evening ride." I explain sheepishly that I'm camped at the rest stop and was looking for water, and they kindly offer me the use of the garden hose at their house, right across the road from my campsite. As much as I need, they say. It makes me feel foolish for not simply knocking on the door and asking in the first place.

That night, fed and snug in my sleeping bag in the hammock next to the caboose, I have everything for a comfortable sleep. But I keep thinking about what they said: there are bears.

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