A FISH TALE
I suppose you’ve heard the saying, “Not all liars are fishermen, but all fishermen are liars”. As a young boy, whenever I would hear someone boast of the giant fish they had caught or the enormous bounty they had managed to haul in, I assumed they were full of shit and simply piling on extra evidence to support the theory that all fishermen tend to engage in the art of deception. Where I grew up, there was neither a vast quantity of fish nor was there anything close to a remarkable variety that any local piscator could try to lure into the boat. This was due largely to the unfortunate existence of a fertilizer/explosives factory about a kilometre upstream from where we used to paddle our boats and go swimming in the summertime heat, which dumped hundreds of gallons of the most vile toxic waste imaginable into the gently flowing Richelieu River. What few fish that survived this onslaught of poisonous contagions clung precariously to life by the smallest of margins and rarely lived long enough to possess the physical stature of anything worthy of a proper fish tale. We caught sunfish, perch, small-mouth bass, the odd carp, and more than a few catfish, the latter being more punishment than trophy, none of which were impressive enough to mount on the wall or big enough to eat (not that we would have anyway given the amount of nitro glycerine they undoubtedly contained). Frankly, these fish commanded more pity than reverence and it seemed more like they were committing suicide rather than offering any real challenge to the angler. I once heard my grandfather say, “Every hour you spend fishing adds an hour to your life”, which, based on what I had gleaned about how dull and devoid of challenge the activity was, had me thinking that the extra few hours of life earned through the act of fishing were certainly not worth the effort.
All of that changed one summer in the late 1970s when my family and I took a trip to Kitimat, British Columbia to visit my cousins. Being a stone’s throw from the Alaskan border, the landscape in the area was dangerously and fabulously wild. Everything seemed to be huge and untouched by human hands and all of it was just begging to be discovered and explored. In every direction existed something that was utterly different from my little Hamlet on the South Shore of Montreal, where everything around seemed so manufactured, organized, and preordained. Never was there a situation in my hometown whereby bear spray was required simply to go for a bike ride, because the most terrifying creature we ever encountered was a rogue skunk sifting through a garbage can at the end of the driveway in search of a half-eaten pork chop on a muggy summer evening. Kitimat, by contrast, was a magical place where severe physical and natural obstacles existed in abundance, making me feel as though I was in the centre of a Jack London novel, fortunate to merely survive the daily rigors of the harsh landscape. By this I mean that we actually had to be careful…like for real. It wasn’t just a term that parents would say, by default, as children went outside to play back home. In Kitimat, if kids weren’t ‘careful’, they could meet their demise by any number of ‘natural’ means and not simply by being hit by the ice cream truck. People in this place had guns, not because they ‘wanted’ them or because it was a tacit constitutional requirement, but because they actually needed them to fend off potentially dangerous predators. I am not talking about deer, or rabbit, or possum, or the ever-elusive, deadly Canada Goose, but things like bears. Big ones. Big ‘fuck off’ grizzly and black bears and cougars, coyotes, wolves, and giant moose…not the kind that look like a cow drawn by a four-year-old, but the huge variety that will run you down and stomp on your ribcage. Trees were bigger, bugs were bigger, even the birds were scary-enormous, and because of all of this, when my uncle Mark mentioned we were going fishing, for the first time in my life I didn’t fake an injury to get out of it. From the moment my uncle landed the boat on a remote island (which disappeared later-on that day due to high tide causing quite the mad scramble to gather all the stuff that floated), I knew this was going to be a special day. We were the only humans for miles, and it felt as though we had been dropped into the centre of the wildest paradise imaginable. I half expected David Suzuki to pop out of the brush and give us a lesson on the fate of the migratory birds indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Everything in sight was absolutely pristine, the air was crisp and loaded with life-giving oxygen, and the only sounds that could be heard were those coming from the natural world. The entire area was completely calm, that is until it was broken by my cousin Michael shouting from the edge of a swiftly-moving stream, “SALMON. FUCKING SALMON. THOUSANDS OF THE BASTARDS!!!!!”.
You wouldn’t believe the sheer volume of fish crowding the rushing stream, leaping over one another against the tide, or their size. The smallest was longer than my leg at the time and there were some that could have eaten me for supper. They were obviously spawning, but that didn’t stop us from catching dozens of them. I was too young to know better, and my uncle seemed to encourage the practice so we did what we could to land as many as possible. It was the easiest thing ever. At first, we would simply submerge a net in the water, and it would fill up in seconds. Unfortunately, we had to abandon that method because each fish must have weighed over 15 pounds and none of us could lift the net out of the water. Eventually all we needed to do was lower a line with a baitless hook on the end and yank upwards, snagging most by the tail. While we busied ourselves hauling in an absurdly illegal volume of Cohoe salmon, my father was busy snapping photo after photo on his Nikon 35mm camera so he could document this momentous day. He was so careful to get the best shots because he knew no one would believe the story without photographic evidence of the event. Without the pictures, he felt, this would be nothing but another ‘fish tale’. Most of his photos were taken from shore, but he decided to get a little more artistic and braver, eventually stepping out carefully onto a rock outcropping in the middle of the raging torrent of water. There were fish leaping all around him in their desperate attempt to find a safe place to lay their eggs. One fish leaped so high it caused him to lose his balance and throw his hands in the air jettisoning the can of Pepsi from his left hand, the Montreal Expos baseball cap from his head, and, tragically, the camera from his right hand. In a split-second all evidence of this magical day was destroyed. One moment we were experiencing something very few people would believe, and the next, due to that slip, it was guaranteed we were having an experience no one would believe. Without the proof that rested inside my father’s long-gone 35mm camera, the day may as well never have happened. I have been telling that story for 40 years now and I am yet to have a single person believe a word of it.
About a month ago, I bought a Wahoo Element Bolt from my local bike shop, and I was so excited to start using it. Previously, I had been using my watch to gather all the speed and distance data from my rides (as I did with all my runs), but the battery only lasts about five hours with the GPS function working. When I brought the unit home, I downloaded the app and followed all the instructions to the letter (lame, I know, but I really wanted this thing to work perfectly). Once I got it charged and mounted to my bike, I got myself all kitted up for a nice, long ride, made my way to the driveway and fired it up. Initially, everything seemed great, that is until I clipped in and was about to stomp down on my first pedal stroke. The Wahoo made a funny sound causing me to take notice of a giant message alerting me to a thermal warning and telling me that the unit needed to shut down. After shouting “FUCK’ loud enough to get the attention of the neighbour across the street, scaring her back inside her house, I assumed that the error was mine, so I shut it all down and started afresh. This time it worked, and the I did a 100km ride without any further issues. For the next four or five rides, the Bolt worked as promised and it recorded all my data, uploading it directly to Strava for the world to see (or at least both people who follow me). On the sixth ride, I planned to go reasonably long; I wanted to complete my first Imperial century of the summer (that’s 160km for us metric people). Everything was going very smoothly, and I was having a great workout, averaging a little over 30km/hr when I decided to stop at a Depanneur (convenience store) to ingest a little extra sugar. When I stopped my bike and dismounted, I heard the little beeps of the Wahoo telling me it was going to auto-pause the ride (which I have it set to do for 60 minutes after which it will shut down) and went inside to purchase my grape-flavoured Mountain Dew Kick-Start (best mid-ride beverage ever, by the way). When I returned to my bike after about three minutes inside, I took a peek at the head unit and noticed that it was off. Thinking this was a little strange, I tried, with success, turning it back on again whereby it asked me if I wanted to resume my ride. I did, but once it restarted the session, it only lasted for about 30 seconds before giving me the thermal heat warning again and turning off. Again, I restarted the unit and this time it worked normally, only it had subtracted exactly an hour and 33km from the ride. The next time out, all of this happened again, only this time after 20km. The time after that it only made it 7km before I received the warning after which it would not continue working for more than a minute at a time. After each of these rides, all of which were over 85km and averaging a minimum of 30km/hr, I would check Strava to see if, by some miracle, the proper session had been recorded. Of course, none of it had, so I found myself manually entering the data with notes stating that the Wahoo wasn’t recording properly. Under normal circumstances, I rarely get people commenting on my Strava feed (it isn’t exactly that impressive), but for these ‘dropped’ rides I received a flurry of negative feedback with the least offensive coming from my brother who simply messaged, “Yeah, sure you did”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do feel a little douchey justifying what I’ve done, and I understand that there is a strong narcissistic element to it all, but if you’re going to be on Strava, it would be nice for people to get a look at how hard you’re training (even if it isn’t exactly the kind of work Sam Long puts in). When the information doesn’t get uploaded, for whatever reason, what you end up with is just another ‘fish tale’. I am not George Berkeley so I have no idea if a falling tree makes noise whether or not there is anyone around to hear it, but I can certainly say that, like the salmon run in Kitimat all those years ago, the rides I went on the past couple of weeks did actually happen…I swear.
So, what is the moral of this little post? I think it’s pretty obvious: Strava should have a section for fishing.
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Apart from the fish, this was the vacation from hell. Remember Chris falling off the dock into ice cold water, marooned on the island that wasn’t an island when we first landed but became one as the tide rose, fleeing to dry land amidst bear sounds and giant eagles swooping to pluck the smallest of our group, losing the camera, speedboating home in the dark amidst deadhead logs, then next morning awaking to peasoup fog, nothing flying and a looming Air Canada strike and prospect of a 4 day train ride home in coach and, worst of all, the loss of Poppa to cancer on arrival. Yes, holiday hell.