Category Archives: Stories

Sailing On. Mark Hamill 1950-2015

Today would have been Mark’s birthday.  He passed away in December of 2015.  Here is the tribute I wrote for him at that time. I know I am not the only one that misses him
Mark was always working on one boat or another.

Mark and his newest boat.

Good bye Mark Hamill. You are the first of my friends to die. I have had aunts and uncles and cousins die. And once, long ago, a person who I thought was destined to be good friend, die too young.

But you, you are the first of my chosen circle to go.
I lost track of time, but when I count back the years, I realize you were my friend for over half the time I have been alive.

I remember the first time I didn’t meet Mark. Now if you knew him, you know that sentence actually makes sense.

In British Columbia, I had been an interpreter with the provincial park system. After moving to Alberta I decided to get back into it. By now I was married and had a couple of more kids. So after setting up the interview at Fish Creek Provincial Park near Calgary, and finding babysitting for my three young children, and making sure I had the family’s only set of wheels (a 1971 Volkswagen bus), I got into my business clothes and drove across the city to my official meeting with the head of the department.
When I got there, Mark hadn’t arrived. He had called in sick. Although there was administration staff, they didn’t have access to his daytimer so no-one had been able to call me to cancel.
Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed.
Bankside sign
When he called to reschedule a day or two later, I said I could come, but that I wouldn’t have sitting for all three children and that I would be bringing one of them with me.
We had a walking meeting through the Bankside area with my six month old baby, also named Mark, in a snuggly strapped to my chest. We took turns carrying him as we worked our way over the paths and along the river.
At the end of our walk, Mark asked if I could lead the nature walk through that area in a few days’ time as the person scheduled to do it was no longer available.
I wasn’t on payroll and didn’t have a uniform yet, but we found an official jacket that sort of fit me-and thus began my three years with the Alberta park service.
Given my upside down beginning, the fact that I had been a solo interpreter for a couple of seasons elsewhere and had been running my own wilderness leadership company for a few years already-it should not have been a surprise that I had a rather independent outlook regarding my job. So, while I was a good worker, I was probably not always the best employee. Mark and I butted heads on more than one occasion.

We were always able to sort it out though and to leave work at work, so went on to become good friends.

He was always someone I could play with. Whether it was testing the marketing claims of the Pyrex kitchenware company by skipping a casserole dish across the kitchen floor over and over, or lighting Sambuca shots from a bbq when no-one at the party had a lighter, or trying to outdo each other with outrageous stories, we spent a lot of time laughing. And better yet, he spent a lot of time making other people laugh. Mark could get a giggle out of anybody, or more commonly, a belly laugh. Even if you were mad at him, he could make you laugh!

In the early 90’s, the Alberta government starting slashing jobs and it was obvious that I would no longer be employed at Fish Creek, or anywhere else in the parks division for that matter, as interpreters were considered expendable. My dreams of becoming a “lifer” were dashed and it was time to rebuild my career path.

I moved on by buying my own campground (don’t tell me I can’t do something!), which co-incidentally was 20 minutes from Mark’s home in the small town of Carseland. In country terms, that made us just about neighbours. He had bought the original store, complete with false front. It was right next to the infamous Blue Saloon. Eventually he finished converting it into a home. Or at least his style of home, complete with an eight person hot tub in the living room instead of furniture.

His parties there were epic. They often started in the house then would spill over into the catamaran he was rebuilding. The boat was in the driveway making it easy to access. From the living room to the kitchen, through the side door, up a ladder, and into a hull or if the deck wasn’t littered with the components of the next stage of the project, hang out there. It was more comfortable than it sounds as the whole thing was surrounded by a giant (often flapping) tarp.

While the catamaran stayed with Mark in Carseland, a couple of his smaller boats made their way up to my campground for storage. The green freighter canoe lived here for many years. It almost made it out of dry dock when he was asked to lead a trip with it on Great Slave Lake. He asked me to co-lead with him. It would be us, a couple of boats and a handful of guests. Planning began in earnest but before we got to do our recon trip, the plug was pulled by the company who was contracting it.
Our friendship continued over the years, with visits back and forth. It wasn’t always lightness and laughter though. When my marriage ended, it was Mark’s shoulder that I leaned on. I showed up one night distraught. He did the perfect thing. Nothing. He simply held me. In silence. For hours. He created a safe place for me to let go of the past and get ready to regroup.
Finally his catamaran was seaworthy, he sold up and moved to Steveston on the British Columbian coast to live in and sail his beloved boat.
In the days before widespread use of the internet it was harder to stay in touch, and for a while we didn’t communicate. It wasn’t long though before our paths crossed again, this time via my best friend. She ran the Richmond Nature Park. Mark volunteered there for a while and donated a lot of his books to the nature house. Kris picked out the ones that were relevant for the park’s use, then when she noticed some were on prairie ecology she saved them for me. When I received them, I cracked them open to have a look, then I had to laugh, across from the frontispiece, “Property of Mark Hamill”. We caught up with each other through her, then on one of my frequent trips out to see my family in Vancouver, got together for a yabber. We each had a few free days, so off we went to the Gulf Islands on a sailing trip.
Navigation Table in Mark's Boat
Mark had a newfangled navigational tool-a GPS-so off we went-confident in our ability to get where we were going. It wasn’t long though before we realized that the person he had previously lent it to had returned it in a non-functioning condition.
By now it was foggy and we
didn’t know where we were. It was a bit of a mad scramble, but with the aid of navigational charts and some foghorns and more than a bit of luck, we stayed out of the main shipping channel and found some good weather a few miles out.
Oh we laughed on that trip. We were just a couple of big, goofy kids playing on a boat. One night we laid on the deck, taking turns pulling up the crab trap. Pull it up, drop it down. Pull it up, drop it down. Up, down-watching the phosphorescence dance on the edge of the trap and the chain as it moved through the water.
Another day we crashed through some rough water with me standing on the bowsprit, holding on for dear life while laughing like a maniac when the water actually washed over my boots, coming up to my knees.
We moored in quiet coves and hiked through abandoned homesteads; laid under trees and waited for ghosts.

One thing that was funny after the fact was when we pulled up to a dock and he jumped off to secure the boat. Once he was on the wharf he had me throw him the rope. As he stood there, with the rope, both ends loose and the catamaran drifting away, we realized the rope wasn’t actually tied to anything! He took a running jump, landed on the deck, tied off the rope and we maneuvered back in for another try. It took us less than a beer to find the humour in that.

After that trip life got busy and we spent less time talking. I was building a business that was growing in leaps and bounds, as well as raising a houseful of teenagers. He was settling into his new life on the coast, working as a bus driver and then eventually moving up to Courtenay on Vancouver Island with his wife Pauline and his boats.

Our hellos became less frequent but we stayed abreast of things on Facebook, sharing some funnies and the occasional bit of news.

The last time I saw Mark was a few years ago when my friend Kris and I went for an unscripted holiday on the island. We tooled about, slept in pods, chased waves in Tofino, hugged giant cedars, ate lunch with my cousin in Courtenay, then met up with Mark and his dogs. As always his daughters were important to him, and we had to wait for a bit while he skyped with one. His new sailboat was already put away for the winter, so we had a walking visit.

Time flies when you are a grown-up. Responsibility and duty, difficulty and dark days, settle over us. The list is longer than the day and we spend less time with our friends than we would like. We forget how important it is to just hangout and laugh and talk and play with our friends. I was thinking of doing another island trip in the fall of 2016. In the back of my mind, there was more time. There was going to be more walks and more tea. Maybe I could convince him that sailing to Haida Gwaii was a good idea.

My son Mark in Japan.

My last walk with Mark was six years ago, that sailing trip was almost 20 years ago. Our time working at Fish Creek was more than 25 years ago. My baby, that six month old Mark in the snuggly, he is 6’2” now. He lives in Japan and is 27 years old. He is older now than I was on that first walk.

It was a lifetime ago and just yesterday those memories were made. Friendship is truly everlasting but we are not.

Two days ago, I got an email from Mark’s daughter. He had passed away. I didn’t even know he was sick. This teddy bear man that was my friend, but that I hadn’t paid much attention to lately, that I thought I would see “next time”, is gone. I don’t know, I guess, I guess I just thought he would always be there.

So Mark, wherever you are sailing now, when a wisp of a cloud brushes against your cheek, or a sunbeam breaks through and lights up your deck, that’s me. Dancing and laughing and saying thank you for being my friend all those years. I loved you.
Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill.

Please note that none of these photos were taken by me.

Spurred On By Necessity.

Where:  San Borja, Baja California, Mexico

When:  February 01 2014

Who: Trudi Angell, Leslie Pringle, Nacho Chiapas, Mathilde and Andrea Murillo, Tomas Murillo

Strathmore Alberta Canada is in the heart of Canadian cowboy country. Ranches and farms abound and many of my neighbours make their living from livestock.  Some even still do things the old-fashioned way by saddling up and riding out to check their cows.  Not everyone can be a cowboy though, so some have regular jobs and get to ride horses in the evenings and weekends. My friend Kevin Kemps is one of those. As a horseman with more than 30 years of experience in the saddle, he is keen on all things equine and as a kind soul he likes to help folks out. He rides for fun and informally teaches those who are interested in finding out if riding is for them.  On top of regular horse-riding activities, he and his horse participate in the Sam Steele Re-enactment Troop, riding in buckskin clothing and bringing parts of Canada’s western history alive.  When he heard that I was going to ride a mule for a thousand miles along the length of the Baja peninsula in Mexico he was very excited.

He would have loved to come along on part of the ride, but it just wasn’t possible for him.  So he did the next best thing.  He sent his spurs along for an adventure.  Now these aren’t regular spurs at all.  These are Liberty Spurs.  The rowels (the pokey things for the non-cowboy folk out there) are made from US Liberty quarters (25-cent pieces).  They already had a history, having belonged to an older rider who had passed away some years before.  When he died, he left them to Kevin so that the spurs could continue to have adventures.  Kevin lent them to me to make sure his promise to his friend was kept.

I was touched that he would do such a thing, so I wore them with pride.  It is safe to say however, that I did not wear them with much grace the first few days.  I put them on upside down a time or two, some days I did them up so loosely that they flopped around or so tightly that my feet would tingle.  Finally, I began to consistently get them on right the first time. It did take a little bit longer to learn to walk with them on though and not trip.  If you were going to be doing a lot of walking, then yes, you would take a minute or two to take them off and strap them securely to something on you or your mule so that you could access them easily when it was time to put them back on.  Sometimes though you would just be hopping off to help your mount through something extraordinarily steep or tight.  Othertimes it may be because you had to “water the desert”.  Trust me, if you ever want to build up your quad muscles, then squatting to pee several times a day over the course of a few months will do it.  Of course, if you are a “low-squatter”, you will learn rather quickly that you need a higher position when you are wearing spurs.  Nothing quite like a pointed reminder that cowgirls can’t squat too low when they are wearing spurs.  Well, they can.  But they shouldn’t.  You only need to do that once or twice to remember to adjust your position.

The other thing you need to learn how to manage when you are wearing spurs is simple walking.  It really shouldn’t be that hard to learn how to walk with them on.  After all, your feet are more side-by-side than exactly behind or in front.  How often do you actually put one foot right behind the other?  Apparently, more often than you think.  I managed to step on the spurs a number of times before I realized there is more than one reason cowboys walk bowlegged.

After the first three or four days, I pretty much had the walking with spurs on down to an art.  So imagine my surprise when on November 11, after a week of riding I stepped on the left spur while walking from where I tied my mule in the shade a few feet to where we were stopping for a very brief break.   I just about went arse-over-teakettle.  I managed to catch myself mid-fall, hoping no one else had noticed.  Of course they noticed.  So, after we all laughed, we had a little snack, then mounted back up to carry on down the trail.

We were headed north, having left the lovely town of Todos Santos.  We were back to camping after a two night pit stop to get more supplies and to organize ourselves for the next leg.  The days, and the nights, were still hot and humid, so moving slowly and deliberately was the order of the day.  Some days we were able to take a siesta, and enjoy a couple of hours in a shady place along the side of the trail.

In anticipation of a longer rest, when I dismounted for that day’s siesta, I stooped to remove my spurs.  Imagine my dismay when I realized that one of the rowels was missing.  Instead of having a silver quarter jingling in the shanks, I had….nothing. Just the two bars that it normally would have sat between.

Uh-oh. I broke my friend's special spurs.

Uh-oh. I broke my friend’s special spurs.

Nothing there.  These weren’t my spurs. They were Kevin’s special spurs.  I ruined them.  And it was only one week into a four and a half month trip.  What was I going to do?  After standing there for a few minutes imagining all the different things that would be said to me, imagining losing a friend, having someone mad at me, I took a deep breath.  I did, after all, have a few months to figure out how to fix this.  I did check around where I had dismounted, just in case the rowel had fallen off right there, but no such luck.

I sat down, ate some lunch, drank some water, then laid back in the dappled shade and drifted off into a heat-induced nap.

After that, every day that we rode, I looked at these spurs.  How was I going to fix this?  I didn’t have an answer, I didn’t know where I could find a Liberty quarter replacement rowel.  I didn’t know how Kevin was going to react.

Time and miles passed.  It was now February and we were almost 500 miles further north.

On some parts of our ride, we would hire guides who knew, or at least knew how to find out, where the old trails were.  In this case, we were riding along the same trails as the Meling Expedition of 1963/64 and we had the grandsons of the guide who led the team members of  50 years ago as our trailfinders.  Mathilde Murillo, and his brother Tomas, had brought us around the mountain Cerro La Sandia. It was definitely the roughest country we had ridden to date.  We were now at San Borja, an old mission from the days of when the missionary padres walked the trail 250 years before.

Although we chose to keep our desert mules unshod, Don Nacho preferred his mules to have shoes so that meant every once in a while they would have to be reshod.  He had brought along some muleshoes, smaller versions of horseshoes, but he needed someone who could shape and apply them.

Our guides were from a large ranching family, so they knew how to shoe the mules.  This was their last day with us, so before heading off back towards their home ranches, they tied the mules to a tree, slipped a leather band over each one’s eyes and worked together, as they had so many other times before, to file down the mule’s hoof, and attach a new shoe.

As they did this, I slipped my hand into my pockets and began to play with a lone two-peso coin.  I wasn’t sure why it was there, on the trail you learn quickly that carrying things in your front pockets is uncomfortable. It wasn’t like there was a store here that I could have spent money at, and even if there was, two pesos (about 15 cents Canadian) wasn’t going to buy me much.  There was no reason for me to even be carrying around this coin.

As I jiggled the coin, I thought of the quarter that was the rowel in my borrowed spurs.  I pulled out my Mexican coin, looked at it.  Then I looked at my spurs.  Then at the peso coin. Then at the spurs. Then again at the coin.  Slowly I lifted the spur to eye level, then I brought the peso coin up and held it next to the still intact spur. My eyes moved from the 25c piece to the peso and back.  Yes, they were just about the same size.  I cocked my head, then smiled and nodded to myself. This could work.

Mathilde Murillo making a hole in the peso coin the old fashioned way, with a nail and hammer.

A challenge, an idea, a solution.

Kevin said he wanted his spurs to have an adventure.  Well, when you travel, don’t you bring home a souvenir?  Maybe his spurs could bring a souvenir back to him.  Not something you see and say thanks for then put it in a drawer with all the other things you don’t know what to do with, but can’t throw away.  A functional souvenir, that hopefully, will make you smile each time you see it.

Earlier in the day I had been admiring the Murillo brother’s ability to be creative in how they got things done. I decided to run my idea by Mathilde. He nodded. Si, possiblemente.  Yes, possibly.

The Castro Gaxiola family looks after the mission now and as all ranchers and farmers do, have a stockpile of things that might come in handy someday. We headed over to the stockpile of surplus bits and bobs.  We found an old nail, made sure it was the correct diameter to fit just right through the hole in the shank of the spurs, then he used a hammer to straighten it.  Mathilde then used the nail to punch a hole through the peso coin.  He threaded the nail through the first shank hole, the peso coin, then the second hole.  There were still a couple of inches of nail left, so he used his pincers to worry it back and forth until it broke.  But as it was smaller than the hole, the entire repair was in danger of falling apart.  He then held the spur, head side of the nail down against one of the unused shoes and carefully hammered the head until the tail end of the nail had flattened and widened so that it was wide enough to hold the entire repair in place.

Kevin’s spurs were now fixed, and had their own story to tell.  This jury-rigged job held up for the next 500 miles of riding through the Mexican desert and is still in place today.

A two peso coin fit perfectly. Problem solved!

Where there’s a peso, there’s a way!

What I thought about:  We came up with this creative solution because we were in a remote area.  There were no stores to buy a replacement piece.  Would I simply have bought a replacement piece or even a replacement set of spurs if I had of had that chance?  How many times in first world affluent cultures do we just go buy something new because we have lost the ability and the interest in creatively fixing something?  Are we losing our ability to problem solve? 

Plein air bathing!

A Warm Welcome.

Destination. A ranch we call Timi’s Huerta, outside of San Isidro, near La Purisima, Baja California Sur Mexico.

Date. December 10, 2013

Who’s there? La Mula Mil: (Trudi Angell, Teddi Montes and myself)

Humans are truly adaptable. I live in a condo in Canmore, Alberta Canada. My home has a shower with a powerful flow of endless hot water. The second bathroom has a deep soaker tub with more than enough shelf room for any amount of bubble bath, specialty soap, scented soaking salts, candles, incense and a glass (or two) of wine. In the downstairs of the building, next to the fitness room, is a steam room. And just a few steps outside you have your choice of not one, not two, but three, yes three, hot tubs with jets and coloured lights. Nothing says luxury quite like an array of bathing choices.
That definition changes of course, when you have been riding a mule all week, cooking over a fire, and sleeping under the stars. Each night you need to find a place to camp, somewhere with feed and water for the animals, and hopefully some flat space, not too spiny, to throw down your sleeping bag. These places aren’t marked on a map. You can surmise where might be a good choice, but really, much of the information you gather is simply from talking to local people. Often the folks in one area will recommend the next place to camp.
So this night, we ride into a yard on the outskirts of a town of about 200 people and ask for directions to our recommended camp space at “the delegado’s” (mayor’s) ranch. Luckily, it turns out that the ranch we are looking for backs onto the very property we are on right now. Today’s ride is almost over, so we smile and wave and say adiós then head off to tonight’s campemento. (campsite)
The delagado’s ranch has a place for the tents and for us to cook, but most importantly, pasture and a corral for the mules. There is no running water but they do have a well we can draw from. Life is good for all concerned.
Our guest riders of the last six days or so headed out to various points in Baja California this morning. Now it is quiet here, especially if you have learnt to tune out the 4:30 a.m. cock-a-doodle-do alarm. It will be a couple of rest days for us “long-riders”, the ones heading north for another three months or so to Tecate. But it will not be all rest, we need to do some prep for the next leg of the trip. Trudi, Teddi and I will work on our various areas of responsibility. Trudi will reorganize our kitchen and prepare an order of supplies for Olivia, (our absent La Mula Mil member) to bring up from Loreto when she rejoins us after having been away for the last week. Teddi will look after the mules, making sure they are tied out in new places in the pasture during the day, then moved into the corral and fed some hay overnight. I will catch up on the group’s trip notes, sort photographs and do any sewing or patching the group gear may need. In between, we will take a bit of a breather, maybe hitch a ride into town to pick up whatever we can to make our evening meal or if our luck runs strong, we’ll time it right and get to go to the small and only-sometimes-and-rather-randomly-open “restaurante” for supper. Tortillas and frijoles (beans) are always better when someone else makes them.
While we are enjoying taking our time getting moving, the woman from the neighbouring ranch, the one we got directions from last night, comes to join us next to the tree under which we have our kitchen. In conversation with us, she mentions that her place is a little more modern than this ranch. Hers, she states with genuine modesty, has electricity and running water. We are able to plug in our electronics to recharge and even better, she kindly offers us unknown visitors a shower. She says that whenever we are ready, just let her know and she’ll flip the breaker to run the hot water heater, then 20 minutes later, we can have bathe. In an honest-to-goodness stand up shower in a house! With running hot water! Baja California Sur is in a cold snap right now, in fact, it is long john cold, so a hot shower will be especially welcome. Of course we say yes!

Such luxury!

Look! A real shower. Not a bucket of water behind a blanket!

Somehow, I get to be the first in line! I take my little micro-fiber towel and my biodegradable, all-purpose camp suds. I follow the path between the houses, sidestep the chicken coop, cross my fingers that the barking dog really is all bark and no bite, call out “hola, buenas dias!” to the gentlemen sipping coffee under the palapa and stand there awkwardly until the lady of the house leads me inside. She points proudly to her indoor plumbing. I smile, she leaves, then I strip down quickly. The house is unheated and to add to the chill, the bathroom window is open in lieu of a fan, cool air ready to whisk away the steam of my much-anticipated shower.
I step in, crank the hot water tap all the way open and step in under a drizzle of warm water. I have to dance a little jig to get all of me wet. I shampoo my long hair, wash all of my “bits” then quickly scrub the rest of me. I rinse myself off at about the four-minute mark, just as the water moves from tepid to cool. As I sluice the water from my skin, I smile to myself thinking of the kindness of this woman, freely offering her home and her precious resources to travelers she doesn’t even know. I am touched. I am warm. And I am clean. Best. Shower. EVER.

A New Hope for Remembrance Day.

As we approach the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, let us take a moment to remember the dead, the injured, the survivors of all the wars. Let us take a moment to contemplate a world filled with peace and love instead of violence and fear. Let us consider the ways we can be instruments of change. I appreciate all that the vets and their families have sacrificed for us. I live in hope that my children will never have to go to war. I live in hope that we will put our considerable talents into find ways to love-monger. If only we could find ways to sell shares in the collective heart of humanity instead of into the munition factories owned by politicians. If only, when only…. I say when. Not if. Anything is possible. This is possible.

La Mula Mil-part 2: Between a Mule and a Hard Place. January 16, 2014

This mule gives me the stink eye as I angle in for just the right shot.

This mule gives me the stink eye as I angle in for just the right shot.

Prospero Nuevo Ano  readers, I hope this finds you all healthy and hale. Our 1000 mile mule ride, La Mula Mil, is at the half-way mark now both in terms of time and distance. We have had some interesting challenges along with some amazing and heart-affirming experiences. The actual telling of the day-to-day journey can be found on our Facebook page, Twitter account, Olivia’s bilingual blog and in a more esoteric way, on my own wrrldgrrl blog. We will be producing a book sometime in 2015 as well. The articles I write for for this magazine are geared towards a business perspective, so I encourage you to read our other material as well to enjoy the rest of our journey. 

In our first article-Building A Team of Leaders, November 2013 we talked about how we had structured our leadership team to meet our four goals of: 

successfully recreating the Meling Expedition of 1963/64 as a 50th anniversary tribute

producing a coffee-table book of photography and stories that overlay the two expeditions

celebrating the people and the pueblos of Baja California and thereby promoting tourism in Baja California Mexico

raising awareness of and funds for our three favourite non-profit associations. Coins for Classrooms, Living Roots Baja and Mujeres del Golfo 

As of then we had ridden from San Jose del Cabo to Todos Santos and most of the way to La Paz.

On November 14, the entire La Mula Mil team of Trudi Angell, Olivia Angell and myself, ended up driving in to La Paz and spending two full days and nights there. Not only were we behind where we needed to be with the mules, but we were already behind with our writing and social media deadlines. We also had a meet and greet evening set up due to public request. As well we needed to get supplies for the next leg of the ride. It was a hectic two days, but we did catch up with what needed to be done in the city. Our time in La Paz though nearly came with a heavy price. 

I had less-than-willingly agreed to taking on these other obligations . My vision of the trip was more of a quiet journey, with just two or three of us; hiring a guide when we needed to, but doing everything else on our own. However, in order to meet the needs of the rest of the team, and quite honestly, to help fund it, we needed to run it with paying guests. 

This need to meet outside obligations, put me in a very difficult place. I had made a personal commitment to ride the Baja peninsula, to me that meant riding every mile. But I had also reluctantly and in some cases, after the fact, agreed to the other obligations in order to help make the trip work. And I take my commitments very seriously. Once I have put my mind to it, that’s it, there is no dissuading me. But now both of these obligations needed to be met and only one could be. I could either get off my mule and go into La Paz, meet the writing and publicity goals or I could stay on my mule and ride all the miles. There was no way of doing both. 

So, how does one decide between personal and team goals? As businesswomen, this is a choice many of us make on a daily basis. 

My own sense of personal integrity drives me to do what I said I would do. But I couldn’t do both. It was physically impossible. In the end, I chose to support the team goals because if I didn’t, I would be letting down more people than just myself.

This was a very difficult decision for me, especially as it was not my original concept of how it would be done. I was frustrated at having to let go of my dream of riding every mile, frustrated that I hadn’t stood firm on wanting to do it without external obligations, frustrated that having agreed to different terms, the technology required to do so, had failed us along the trail. And frustrated that I had to get out of my “trip head” and into a “city head” something I had not wanted to do. I had wanted to be one with the land I was walking, riding, sleeping on. I wanted time to reconnect with myself. I wanted to travel with these women that I thought I could get to know deeply and intimately. But once again I had agreed to do things a different way, a way that took care of more people than myself. So mainly, I was frustrated with myself: I hadn’t stood firm on what was important to me. 


In the meantime, one of long-term riding guests, Teddi Montes, our cowboy Chema Arce, our invitado (invited guest who may or may not have prescribed duties) Don Nacho Chiapa, and a short-term guide Neechee, had continued to ride. They moved the mules and our gear another 50 miles north over two long days of riding. Our usual pace had us covering about 8-12, sometimes 15 miles a day, not 25. They were running short on food, we were unable to communicate with each other and to top it off, Don Nacho’s two mules had run off and only one had returned. 

We all had a general idea of where we were meeting up so once they got there, they found a ranch with a corral and water for the mules. The owner wasn’t there, but hospitality is never refused to those in need, so Teddi and the vaqueros set up camp and waited for us to arrive. 

Late in the evening of November 16, Olivia, Trudi and I arrived. Trudi’s assistant, Drew was with us as he was picking up the hired help and driving them out to join other jobs or to have a break. Trudi still had to run her locally-operated tourist company while she was on the trail and this was prime season. 

When we got there, Trudi went straight to Teddi’s tent to see how she was holding up. As expected, and understandably so, Teddi was very upset. She was ready to leave the trip. This would not only leave us short of funding but leave us short of Teddi. Although I had met her on previous trips, I hadn’t gotten to know her well. But in these first ten days, I had really come to appreciate her and her passion for the area, and in particular her drive to drive to map the DNA of the original Spanish settlers and trace their descendants. And to top it off, she is a great horsewoman, skilled at working with the animals and teaching others to do the same.

We all gathered at Teddi’s tent and just listened. Thank goodness we had agreed on active listening skills just the week before, so we were able to actually hear Teddi and to let her speak until she was done. She was upset that she had been left out of the loop, and shared with us her secret wish to actually BE part of La Mula Mil. She couldn’t ride the entire length, she needed to miss the month of January, so she hadn’t shared this with us before. All it took was for Trudi, Olivia and I to look at each other and nod. Until Teddi had said something, we hadn’t articulated it, but for us, she already was part of the team, we just hadn’t really known it fully yet. 

We were able to end with a smile and hugs all round, our team was back together and ready to ride again. In our next Monday meeting, we officially welcomed Teddi to the team and after talking amongst us, it was decided that Teddi’s job was to be the wrangler and camp assistant when we didn’t have hired help. She took on the role of saddling and unsaddling animals, helping load pack animals and assisting with tents and other assorted odd jobs that cropped up over the course of a day. Teddi’s contribution was going to lighten the load for all of us, now it would be a little bit easier for each of us to work on our own areas of responsibility.


If this article triggers something for you, please do comment or share your experiences of balancing personal and business goals. We’d also be interested in hearing about whether you think our way of handling this challenge was uniquely female or simply human.  


La Mula Mil: Parallels Between an Expedition and a Business.

I and three other women are currently on a four month expedition in Baja California in Mexico. We are riding mules the entire length of the peninsula. That’s about 1000 miles of riding!  Before we even got onto a mule I was asked if I would write a monthly column for a women’s business e-zine.  That magazine has unfortunately folded, but as I am already half-way through the series, I thought I would continue the writing.  I’ll create a separate section here on the blog for it. At the end of each article I ask a question or two. Please do comment, either on the questions or share your own thoughts.  Thanks in advance for your participation. Image

Feed the Birds, Feed the Soul.


Today I made a hummingbird feeder.

I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of days now, so yesterday I shelled out a few pesos to google “homemade hummingbird feeders”. I got lots of websites, but they all required purchasing some special components then essentially assembling the feeder. When you live in a place that has ready access to such supplies, and when you have a bit of extra cash, it doesn’t even occur to you there are other options. But I am still recovering from the flu, so instead of continuing to ride north on the 1000 mile mule ride I am on, (La Mula Mil) I am staying at Trudi’s, my friend’s house in small town San Ignacio in Baja California Sur on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico and I am watching my pesos and my energy. And even if I wasn’t, there wouldn’t be anywhere for me to buy a “hummingbird feed tube attachment as illustrated.”. 

So, I kept looking. I knew there had to be away to make one from stuff I could find laying around. Once upon a time I could have figured the whole thing out myself, but in the busyness of life, I seemed to have shut off the creative side of my brain sometime in the last few years.

Sure enough I finally found a website. It had a hand-sketched plan for making a hummingbird feeder from found items. It did call for the use of a power drill, which I definitely didn’t have access to, but that’s ok, it was only for going through plastic, I knew I could hack that myself.

So, I rooted through a pile of bottles in the yard until I found a couple that had an indented ring near the bottom, (which will be the top really) so that it would be easier to securely hang it with string. I then found some string in a basket near the plates in the kitchen. (Isn’t that where everyone keeps their string?) I had previously stumbled across Trudi’s stash of plastic ware in the unused oven that serves as a support for the two burner propane stovetop (remember, this is small town Mexico-everything gets re-purposed here!) so I had a small clear plastic container with a tight fitting lid.

I was a bit stuck on the red required to attract hummingbirds. I didn’t have any food colouring, which shouldn’t ever be put in the nectar anyways, it’s bad for the birds. I didn’t have a red felt marker to draw designs, which is just as well as I do girly-girl drawings like flowers and hearts about as well as Charlie Brown flies a kite and is likely the real reason I didn’t become a teacher. Well, that and I didn’t go to university.

Then I remembered that I had a red plastic bag from goodness knows what purchase in what airport, but I figured I could cut it into strips with the little tiny thread scissors I have in my sewing kit.

Now all that was left to do was to come up with a drill substitute. No worries, I was working with plastic, so instead of using a keyhole spade to cut a hole in the container lid wide enough to accept the mouth of the drink bottle, I drew a circle the exact size of said mouth and used my knife to cut an X inside of it so I could work the mouth through then trim off the excess plastic. As you can see from the picture, I didn’t get it in the exact centre, so those of you who know me are already laughing at how barmy it is driving me that it is not perfectly balanced.

Now that I had the hardest part done I moved into the kitchen and heated up the awl on my pocket knife. Well, it’s not really an awl, but it is a Phillips screwdriver head, so close enough for this project. I stuck it in the flame of the propane stove then pushed it through from the top of the lid to the bottom. I wiggled it as it went to make the hole a little bigger. The awl gets really hot, you should avoid touching it with your thumb knuckle. As per usual, I learnt that the hard way, but luckily I was right next to the sink so I could stick my thumb under the cold water.

I made four holes in the container lid for the hummingbirds to sip through, that’s why I wanted the pointy bits pointing into the container so they couldn’t get caught up in them. Then I flipped the whole contraption upside down, so that I could make a hole in the drink lid for the nectar to get through to the clear container. You have to heat the awl even hotter to get through the heavy plastic of the drink lid. Make sure you are still near the sink so that when you accidentally put your finger on the awl you can quickly put it under the cold water to cool it down. Just saying… then again, you are likely not as clumsy as me and either didn’t repeat the earlier mistake or burn yourself the first time even.

Once all the melting of plastic (and burning of flesh) was done, I poured in half the nectar I made yesterday, screwed the drink lid on tight and poured the other half of the nectar in the clear container. Next was the trickiest part, flipping the bottle over so that the nectar would drip into the clear container and pressing the lid of the container on firmly so that when it is hung up it all stays together. I almost did it the other way, yep, almost picked up the container of nectar and turned it over to push it onto the feeder. Luckily I caught myself in time and avoided a “d’oh” moment and a big sugary, ant-attracting mess. I had considered putting all the nectar into the bottle then squeezing it into the container part when it was all assembled but thought that I had a pretty good chance of squeezing too hard and somehow blowing the lid off and making (say it with me!) a big, sugary, ant-attracting mess.

So, then all that was needed was to tie the hanging string around the bottle, add some red ribbons and voila! Hummingbird feeder!

I found a nail already in a beam in the palapa outside the kitchen and managed to hang it up without falling off the chair. Around the area I also added some “flowers” I made from the red bag to further increase my chances of attracting some beautiful flying jewels. 

Then I sat back and enjoyed the rest of my coffee. As I sat there, I ruminated on how much I have always enjoyed making crafty kinda things, and how little of it I have done in the last decade or so. Somehow the fun stuff in life slipped away, replaced by work stuff. Today I rediscovered that joy. Is my feeder “pretty”? No, not really, but I made it myself, it cost me an hour of time and a half cup of sugar. And it will give me hours and hours of pleasure while helping out my feathered friends.




My Father’s Daughter.


I grew up mainly in Vancouver, British Columbia Canada. I am the oldest, so the first couple of years my mother and I followed my dad’s work in the backwoods of BC. He was a miner and a driller, my mom would sometimes cook for the camp or just take care of me. 

As my siblings came along we settled in Vancouver where my mom had grown up. Dad still worked out of town so we saw him for a couple of weeks every three months or so. Him being on the road was just part of our life. 

When you would ask him how the trip back was, his reply was simply stated as a number of hours. As in, how long it took him. “Hey dad-how was the drive down from Prince George?” His reply-”13 hours”. If he could shave some time off the trip, it was considered to have been a better trip, or so I assumed anyways. 

As the years went by and I got old enough to do my own travelling as a teenager, I too felt the compulsion to get places quickly. “Gotta get there, gotta get there” said the voice in my head. I knew there were things to see but I liked being out front and getting there. 

On bike tours I enjoyed swooping down the hill as fast as possible, although I did learn that if you are towing a bike trailer, that really needs to be a slower speed or you go sideways through the intersection. 

On hikes I enjoyed pushing myself to see how long I could go without a break. Sometimes I barely stopped at the summit to enjoy the view. “Gotta get there, gotta get there”. I often hiked alone and on those days I motored through viewpoints and lunchstops so that I could shave a bit of time off my previous best. “How was the hike Les?” “13 hours!” Ok, well, maybe it was five or eight or even two hours but you get my point I am sure. 

I had friends who hiked quickly, but my two best friends tended to be slower hikers, so I had to learn to move at their pace if I wanted to enjoy my time with them. But in my head I heard that voice, “gotta get there, gotta get there”. 

As I moved into young adulthood I took up photography. There is no way you can move quickly and do photography. You can take snapshots, but you can’t craft great photographs if you are in a hurry. Sometimes you need to get to a certain place by a certain time to get the shot you want, in those cases the “gotta get there” voice comes in handy, but for the most part you just can’t be in a hurry if you want to get the pictures you are aiming for. 

When I was raising my kids, there was always something else demanding my attention; work or later my own business, or my daughter’s therapy appointments or changing laundry loads or something. Still that voice, “gotta get there, gotta get there”. Always a drive to produce, to have things right. There were so many things I was chasing that I didn’t have a perfect house, I wasn’t wonder mom, I was just always chasing those ever-elusive next things on my list.

I knew that I was missing moments, but when I “got there”, when I had enough done, when enough projects were completed, when the paperwork was finished, when the Christmas baking was done, then there would be more time to enjoy the moments.

So many things I missed. The worst part was, even then, I knew that I was missing moments. But I could not stop moving. 

When I began to travel overseas and spend time in third world countries, I couldn’t help but notice, that once you left the cities, people had time to say hello. It didn’t matter if it was Mexico or Nepal or Tanzania, they had time to enjoy the view. I knew then and I know now that their lives are difficult, I hold no romantic notion that poverty allows for a generosity of spirit. But somehow there did seem to be time for at least a hello and a smile. 

I have travelled to Mexico many times. Not to all-inclusives, but to small towns mainly or rural areas. I don’t speak Spanish really, just enough to stumble along if the listener is able to glean intent from my mangling of grammar and pronunciation. I looked around me and saw that even when there were dirt floors and less than solid walls most houses were very clean. Most of the food was made from scratch. It was a lot of work to live like this. Many people back home would comment that “if they worked off the ranch, or harder, or more hours or something” that the folks in rural Mexico would be able to buy more, to have more stuff. Maybe, maybe not. I think that other people who aren’t as bogged down with stuff, look at us, and think that if we weren’t always working to pay for stuff we didn’t need, we would have time to say hello to each other and even enjoy a cup of tea. 

I think my whole culture is caught up with “gotta get there” thinking. The thing is though, we don’t know where “there” is. 

I for one, am learning to enjoy a cup of tea. 🙂