It was 7 in the morning, and Shelly and I settled in for a long bus ride that would take us to our final destination in Lac la Hache, eight hours from where we currently were. It was going to be quite a long ride, but all you can do is read a book, take a nap, and accept it.
We kept having to make stops for passengers to get on or off at some dumpy little towns along the way. You’ve seen them before… shanty houses with peeling paint, lots of youths hanging around probably causing trouble, and one random antique store that you wonder why it exists in the first place. Honestly we were surprised at how crappy most of the towns were along the way. The stops usually didn’t last more than five minutes, allowing passengers to leave, hoodlums to have a smoke, and new passengers to board. At one of these stops, our bus was parked in a gravel parking lot next to a tiny, dirty gas station. We would have a twenty minute break so that there could be a driver switch, and it would give us time to grab something to eat from inside. It was a cold, drizzly day, and all of the dirt had turned to a thick mud outside. There was a small deli inside with an unfriendly man behind the counter, and Shelly ordered a turkey sandwich. I just bought a Dr. Pepper and we sat down. Shelly wasn’t too impressed by the sandwich, and so with a few minutes left we decided to go ahead and board the bus again. We walked down the aisle towards our seats, and were confronted by a small, older woman settling in to our seats with her handbag on the seat.
“Excuse me, these are our seats,” Shelly said. She said it in a friendly tone, expecting a friendly apologetic response.
She stared at us for a second.
“Ugh!” she said in disgust.
“I mean we’ve got our stuff here already… our water bottles are in the cupholders,” Shelly responded, starting to get angry. It was fairly obvious that the seats were occupied… my iPad was even in the elastic holder in the seat in front of me.
She gave us another loud, audible “ugh!” and got up to move. “You’re supposed to put something in the seat so people know!”
I don’t get mad very often, or very easily for that matter, but something about how rude she was set me off inside.
“Yes MA’AM!” I said in my most sarcastic, stern voice. She looked up at me disapprovingly.
“You can take this seat next to me?” A young man behind us offered his seat to her, who didn’t appear to be scary or anything by Greyhound standards.
“NO,” she responded even more rudely, and she walked up two rows. The young man gave us an incredulous “what the hell?” look, and we instantly shared in the hatred for this she-devil.
“Can I sit next to you?” She asked a woman as sweetly as possible. Are you kidding me right now? Is she bipolar or something?
I glared at the back of her head, daring her to say something about us. She didn’t look at us for the rest of the ride until she got off at a place several stops down. Don’t mess with me.
Besides that little episode, the ride was fairly uneventful. The beauty of the Canadian mountains was something to marvel at with its ragged, tall peaks soaring into the skies. We couldn’t help but imagine what the ranch would look like, and just how awesome and cowboy-like we’d appear as we rode our trusty steeds through the mountainside.
Finally, after more than eight hours of riding the Greyhound (approximately eight hours longer than should be allowed), we’d arrived into Lac la Hache. It looked like many of the other little towns we’d driven through so far, with only one road in and out. It had one gas station/convenience store/liquor store, a couple of restaurants, and what appeared to be two roads that went off into the mountains to the east. To the west right next to the road was the actual lake, which is apparently one of the longest in the area, stretching for a few miles alongside the road. We were about thirty minutes late, and were hoping our contact, Doug, would still be waiting for us there.
We quickly exited the bus and a thick man in a dark cowboy hat greeted us as we picked up our packs.
“Hi, I’m Doug,” he said as we shook his big, powerful hands.
Doug had a thick, red-tinted mustache, light red hair peaking beneath his cowboy hat, and kind, intelligent eyes. It was sort of an awkward introduction at first. Hello, thanks for letting us stay at your place for a month. Got anything to eat? Besides that though, he was literally a stranger to us. Are we sure about what we’ve just gotten ourselves into? I mean if you think about it, we were blindly trusting in him as we stayed in their cabin in the middle of the woods, in the middle of British Columbia. He would be blindly trusting us just as much though, especially considering we hadn’t built up any rapport with previous reviews or experience whatsoever on the WorkAway website. He was choosing a couple who’d only started a profile a few months prior. Also if you’re not familiar with what Workaway is, it’s a website we’d stumbled upon where people from across the world post ads looking for volunteers to help with work on their property. It covers a huge variety of work, but for the most part it is working with garden maintenance, childcare or home refinishing. In exchange for a few hours per day, you’d be given a place to stay and three meals a day. Really, it is extremely beneficial for both parties and a great way to meet people from around the globe while not spending any money.
We tossed our bags into the back of Doug’s enormous ranch truck, and hopped into the cab. We chatted about the bus ride, the weather, and other random small-talk conversations on the ten minute drive to their property. The conversation quickly turned heavy though as he told us that only a few days ago, his dad who lived with them had fallen ill and was in the hospital. They were unsure of what would be happening in the coming weeks, but just wanted to make sure that we were aware of it. Doug and his wife, Pat, would actually need to be out at the hospital all day the next day, so they would show us what they’d like done while they were gone.
The truck turned onto a gravel road with a large sign stating that we were entering the Witt’s End Guest Ranch. Essentially, Doug and his wife Pat were turning their 160-acre property into a “bed and bale,” meaning they’d have the three cabins for rent, and you could bring your horses to come ride in the mountains on their property. Another mile or so down that gravel road, and we were greeted by a large house with a green roof on the hilltop. The road split and to the left was the main house with horse corrals, and to the right was the three cabins, one of which would be ours. Doug took us to our cabin, appropriately named Cabin 2, to show us around and so that we could settle in a bit and unpack.
Our first impression of the log cabin was man, this is rustic. It was like so many of the hunting cabins that I’d gone to over the years with my dad. We walked up the front steps, opened the screen door, and entered the main room. To the left was a couch and chair, and to the right was a dining table plus wood stove to heat the cabin. The room on the left side was the bedroom, and so we entered to drop the packs. It was a simple room with bed, old dresser, two different night stands, and a closet. Shelly was nervous, and I could tell. She was definitely someone who enjoyed the outdoors and all it offers, but when it comes to living simply and near nature, that’s a different story.
“You’ll want to keep both front doors closed, we’ve been having some bug and rodent problems here,” Doug mentioned nonchalantly.
Shelly shot me a terrified “what-the-hell-have-we-gotten-ourselves-into” look. She has an intense fear of bugs, and it was something she’d have to deal with for the entire time we stayed there.
“We’ve got these rodents called pack rats around here. They’re about this big-” he said as he stretched his hands about a foot apart, “-but they’re actually pretty cute with their furry tails, and they don’t bite or anything. They actually purr like cats.”
We walked out and into the other half of the cabin where the small kitchen and bathroom were. The kitchen had your usual stove, refrigerator, sink and cupboards with dishes and silverware. The bathroom had a toilet, sink with mirror, and tiny shower. Doug left and asked us to come up to the main house when we were ready. We unpacked for a few minutes and explored the cabin a little bit.
“You ready to head up to the main house?” I asked Shelly.
She nodded and offered a quiet yes.
We walked outside and towards the main house, dodging mud puddles along the way. As we climbed the hill up to their house, two dogs came running to greet us. Duke, a border collie with boundless supplies of acrobatic energy, and Princess, a fluffy Samoyed whose only mission in life was to not be white, would be our entertainment for the next few weeks.
To the left were the horse corrals, a small shack with horse gear and tools, two large shipping containers for storage and what appeared to be a tiny church about the size of a child’s play set.
To the right was the house with a large fenced-in vegetable garden behind it. We entered the house, and were pleasantly surprised by its beauty. We met Doug’s wife, Pat, at the front door.
“Hello, nice to meet you!” Pat is a short, brown-haired woman with a quick laugh, who worked as a nurse in the surrounding towns.
All of the introductions were made, and before long we were helping prepare dinner.
“Ok Jimmie, you’re going to be making the toasted almonds,” Pat said. I had no idea what it was for. “Shelly, why don’t you cut up some of these strawberries?”
We were put immediately to work, but we didn’t mind. Doug was grilling some porkchops outside as we talked and finished up our duties, discovering that we were putting together ingredients for a salad.
“…and for dessert we’ve got rhubarb pie. Do you like pie?” Pat asked. Do we like pie? Of course we do, we’re from Texas!
The dinner that night was to be a good measuring stick for what the rest of the meals there would be like. Every single one of them was fantastic, and throughout the next three and a half weeks we’d discover or would be taught how to make something new. This was one of the reasons that we’d wanted to do a trip like this for in the first place. Learning new things and acquiring new skills is timeless and something you can bring with you for the rest of your life, whether it’s learning to bake homemade bread from scratch, hill potatoes in your vegetable garden, or mend a broken fence.
That evening we were given instructions on what we would be doing the next day while everyone was away at the hospital. Doug asked if I’d ever used a weed eater before. I could’ve responded by saying that I’ve used one since I was about 11, but instead said “I sure have. Is it gas or electric?” I think I asked the correct question, because he answered “gasoline,” and gave me an approving look. I don’t think he was expecting a Workaway to know how to use one. Pat taught us how to hill potatoes, which is essentially gathering dirt around the potato plant into a mound. She showed us a few tools to aid in pulling weeds, where the mower and weed eater was located and where the gas cans were. We had a full day ahead of us.
After that, we walked over to the horse corrals to meet their seven horses. Shelly’s mother owns a horse, and Shelly had grown up learning to ride by taking lessons and attending summer horse camps, however quit when she was around 16. Her past experience showed when we’d finally saddle up later and go for rides with Doug and Pat. I’d grown up loving the thought of riding horses, however the extent of my experience was limited to riding old horses in the mountains of Colorado as a tourist attraction once when I was 12. Reading Louis L’Amour westerns growing up, I’d adored the idea of the Wild West, and at the age of 26 I was finally getting the chance to learn to ride like a real cowboy. When Doug’s father, Jack, would finally come back from the hospital a few days later, he’d made the always funny remark that he’d never met a Texan who didn’t know how to ride a horse. Stereotypes are alive and well, my friends.
The next few weeks would go by quickly, but they were filled with all kinds of activities, which we’ll get into in our next post. This would prove to be one heck of an experience for both of us, and by the time we’d left Witt’s End Guest Ranch, it felt like we’d made some lifelong friends.
The next post discusses a canoe trip, horseback riding through the Canadian wilderness, and all of the crazy jobs we’d performed over the three weeks we were there!
Tell us about fulfilling one of your childhood dreams in the comments below!
Jimmie and Shelly