Archive for June, 2013

Food Safe

As a Wet Belly I have a hard time justifying my boss’s need to send me to school for a day. However, she wanted me to have my basic food safe certificate, the restaurant would pay for the one-day 8-hour course for food handling and serving as well as bribing me out of a precious day off by paying me for the day as well. So I walked into the conference room reserved for the course with the kitchen I work at out of sight and sound on the other side of the wall. Only the occasional quiet moment did I hear a distant clatter of dishes. There I was, reluctantly and without a cup of coffee, back in school if only for one day. Anywhere else would have been preferable even on that rainy day in June.

Over the years I have toyed on occasion to sit once more in a classroom but I would refuse to take anything useful that would send me hurtling down the path of a quote, career. Why start now after all, I did get a degree in Fine and Visual Arts with an emphasis on art history way back in the 80’s when all my graphic design homework was done by hand, with a pen or brush and not with a point of a mouse. If I were to wander wayward back into a classroom it would be to take such wayward rewarding and real-day useless subjects like comparative religion studies, or folklore of ancient Celtics, or English.

Alas, there I sat in a stuffy, close humid room with strangers save the young woman who serves at the restaurant and another person I know from the island. I sat in the back  row with the bad kids talking in class and asking, nay debating the course at every turn if only the aid in staying awake. Did I mention the humidity? The close heavy room and a full meal at the short lunch break had the entire room near snoring levels by 2pm. The circa 1970’s era styled tutorial videos supplied on VHS no less didn’t help matters in the staying alert department. Then around 4pm with our heads filled with kill temperatures and too much information about pathogens and micro-organisms that live on us and all over everything on the plate we had the exam. I fared pretty well, only dropping the ball on a couple of the multiple choice questions. Perhaps I should have just chosen C because if in doubt that is usually a best guess.

I walked out and met my wife waiting for me in the restaurant and I ordered my staff beer. I needed it. It was the carrot on the stick (which I am sure is not food safe) to get me through the last hours of boredom. She asked about the day and I had to say, proudly so that I was one of the few not completely ‘grossed out’ after the first hours of information about flies vomiting on lettuce and how fast microbes multiply on a hamburger bun at room temperature. In fact, the course only had me dreaming of dangerous foods. As Anthony Bourdain would describe as the Nasty Bits. I wanted something that may or may not live forever in my lower intestine. I wanted to eat from a street vendor in Vietnam. Drink the snake blood poured into moonshine. Anything to purge the constant dripping from the instructor that food is risky stuff. I agree, but I did get there to the class in a car. I survived my childhood without wearing a helmet and I eat for pleasure and with no fear. If I pay later on with an uncomfortable night on the can, so be it.


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Yukon Bound!

It is Yukon River Quest time again,

Tandem Canoeists taking a face-full in Five Finger Rapids, YRQ 2011. Photo by Dave Barnes

Tandem Canoeists taking a face-full in Five Finger Rapids, YRQ 2011.
Photo by Dave Barnes

and Salt Spring Island once again has a strong contendor on the river marathon starting next Wednesday in Whitehorse and ending a few thousand paddle-strokes later in Dawson City. For those of you who are not in the know, this is a bout 444 miles or about 700kms of amazing wilderness paddling. Kayakers and canoeists from all over the world will start to filter into the campgrounds over the weekend including my good buddy and endurance paddler Gus. Check out his Facebook page and LIKE it to get updates, and the Yukon River Quest website ‘Race Tracker’ to follow him up the long winding river under the midnight sun.!/pages/Dharma-Bum-Kayaking/187783154593261

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Wet Bellies.

My name is Dave, and I am a wet belly. On a blog about kayaking one might assume this term may refer to the soggy mess accumulating behind your seat as the contact point of your spray skirt and the seat back wick sea water drip by chilling annoying drip down your lower back and into your seat eventually building up in a sloshing puddle. One might also consider a wet belly as a kayaker who wears his neoprene spray skirt next to the skin. Something that I will never ever do as I react to wet neoprene in a flesh-sluffing malaise as discovered while wearing booties of the offending material. However, a wet belly, or dish, or the not-so appealing Dish Pig is a term referring directly to my latest addition to the long list of need to pay the rent and eat jobs to my self-unemployable messy lifestyle of writer and craftsperson. Gotta pay the rent on an island where the 2008 crash has only just caught up. Needless to say, to find work on the island, any work is a gold-medal success. After a long stressful year and a half without any steady or marginally steady income and my amazing wife picking up the slack, which was most of the line, I found work in a local hotel kitchen. An ad on the local online classified was answered by me, and responded by sous chef within an hour. I was hired. I am not sure my resume was ever actually purveyed or considered, the fact I had a pulse and would show up on the date specified for training was.

Taken at the Royal Vic Museum featuring an example of a hotel dishpit around 1900. Not much has changed.

Taken at the Royal Vic Museum featuring an example of a hotel dishpit around 1900. Not much has changed.

In the weeks to come I would understand the reasons behind my hasty hiring as this job is not for everyone. Swinging at a high pace between shovelling piles of cooked on, dried on, and refused left overs into a washing machine and slicing potatoes into french fries, then cleaning mussels and clams while aware of the ever-shortening time stress I have to pre-fry fries before the line cooks demand use of the deep fryer for the lunch rush, and then there may or may not be anywhere from 2 to 4 hotel trays of red potatoes stacked in the walk in fridge awaiting my knife to turn them into rustic cut hash browns for the next morning breakfast crowd. It is an  eight-hour non-stop no-break (lucky if I can sneak a pee break) day of dishpit duties while performing a juggling act of attending to a half-dozen other people’s immediate or the world will come to an end needs. My feet are burning by the eighth and hour of my shift and the final act of signing out at the front desk and a happy hard right hand turn into the ‘front of house’ where we kitchen folk are forbidden (considering my appearance by mid-day I understand this rule) while on shift to slurp down my free staff pint.


With what I hope to be the worst behind me and a steady, consistent day time shift in my pocket and no more dinner shifts ending in the wee hours of the morning my hands now going numb each morning from inflammation at the elbows and my belly wet at the height of the dishpit sink from where the overhead power sprayer mists my midriff daily I muddle on. It may not be a glamorous location the dish pit, and the money may not be grand and my status at the tender age of 48 as someone at the bottom of the kitchen pecking order might not be ideal, but I have work, for now. There are rumours of custom-made balls and chain, and shackles on order to keep me at my post as I seem to have once again proven to be invaluable, reliable and responsibly. A set of personality traits I have spent a lifetime trying to out run.

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Madness Under a Midnight Sun

What would Robert Service make of the wild goings on that will happen in the Yukon in just a couple of weeks?

Painted on the wall opposite Klondike Kate's cafe in Dawson City, Yukon Photo by Dave Barnes

Painted on the wall opposite Klondike Kate’s cafe in Dawson City, Yukon
Photo by Dave Barnes

Two years ago my wife and I were support crew for a couple of paddling friends attempting to complete the 700 + km Yukon River Quest, and though our race ended at the midway point in a place called Carmacks the experience of living under the midnight sun for a week was hardly diminished. In two weeks my friend and paddling mate Gus will return for the third time to the mighty Yukon River. Last year he took on the challenge as a solo kayaker and placed well, meeting his goal of 50 hours. What this year’s race will hold is anyone’s guess, strange thing are done under the midnight sun and what the river, wilderness paddling over such a vast distance, and the toils that will fall upon the paddler’s bodies will tell the final tale. Perhaps it will be told in rhyme.

For my part, I envy the chance to go back up to that wild and untouched landscape. Bears, Moose, Fox and the stunted forests cut by a huge river and the northern spirit that draws paddlers from all points of the world for the opportunity to suffer greatly as they kayak and canoe through the non-night hours. The spell was indeed cast upon me during that not-so-relaxing trip to the north. The events and dramas unfolding in our camp was under the shadows of something that has seen so many more larger scale events and dramas unfold under the weird light of a day that does not see a sunset.

Old grave sites on the hillside above Dawson City, Yukon.  Photo by Dave Barnes

Old grave sites on the hillside above Dawson City, Yukon.
Photo by Dave Barnes

The case can be made that our experiences on that trip two years ago are nothing more than human folly, ego and our will to be seen doing something unusual, compelling and to a degree rather dangerous. What put if in perspective for me was a mosquito infested wandering through the graveyards in Dawson City as we awaited the last paddlers to find the finish line.

What were we really about? As one of our paddlers reached too far with a stranger he convinced to finish the last leg of the river in our tandem kayak, pushing the limits, the rest of our group strolled through hillside grave yards witnessing a deathly history of the northern people and the ego, the greed and most often empty promises of gold. The finish line for them reached. A story of a miner who was gone for six months working a claim for a financier who stayed in comfort in a local hotel. The miner returned home knowing his toils would be rewarded with the arrival of a son he had never met, born while he was away in the wilds. He returned to his cabin to find neither wife nor child. Still born was the boy and she passed in childbirth. Two markers on a bramble-covered hillside was all he found.

We discovered too many such tiny graves and after a pair of hours it was too much to bear. We left, lumpy throated and clear that our own desires of the Yukon were dictated to us not by our own fates or destiny, but by the place itself.

Our paddler arrived somewhat intact, exhausted and sick, but he made it. Awards were handed out the following morning to all those who met the river on their own terms, and survived to tell the tale another day. With luck, this year will provide new stories, a good adventure on the river and maybe even beating a personal best. But remember Gus, the river bats last! I expect that would the advice that Robert might give to those endeavouring to challenge themselves on the wilds of the Yukon River.

Anyone can follow the racers during the Yukon River Quest simply by following the links on the river quest website using the race tracker. The one to watch is Dharma Bum. To all the paddlers heading up there this year, good luck and have a pint of the Yukon Gold as Bombay Peggy’s in Dawson.

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Salt Spring Kayaker

It has been quite a month, and sadly a month away from my blog. Not by choice but by lack of energy at the end of the day. The month of May was a mess around the world of paddlingboy and his wife, who rolled her car and escaped unharmed but with a slight concussion the same week I started a new job which had my working random shifts morning and nights, and then there was the whirl-wind trip to Northern California with paddling buddy Gus for the inaugural running of the Cali 100 paddling race. That will be for another post, but needless to say it was a grand time in Cal! Finally, in the second week of June things have settled down. Jen is feeling better, I wiggled and whined myself into a more sensible set of weekly shifts at work and if all goes well, I might catch up on two things, my sleep and my blog.

But to restart things here in grand style I get some bragging rights. A few days before all hell broke loose I was interviewed by the editor of a Canadian kayaking magazine called Coast & Kayak. Today I walked up to the mailbox to see if the cool new watch strap I bought on ebay had arrive. It did not but the latest issue of the mag was there, featuring moi! A great way to end my days off, reading about myself.

The article in question is all about geocaching by kayak, inspired somewhat by my blog and video about the same.




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