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
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.
I remember the first time I didn’t meet Mark. Now if you knew him, you know that sentence actually makes sense.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Please note that none of these photos were taken by me.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.