Deep Relationship Trouble

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Want to strengthen a relationship? Get into trouble, deep trouble. Not the “invite a third person into the sack variety”, but the “our survival is on the line” type. If you want to work on communications and know a relationship is strong, danger is pure partnership magic.

Kevin, my partner and photographer, and I are in trouble. Again.

Three weeks earlier, we’d scouted this route to Fish Lake in BC’s Chilcotin, in preparation for a travel and adventure article covering its destruction by Taseko’s Prosperity Mine. We’d found a fine quick ride of BC back roads. Now, as we skirt the ominously named Poison Mountain, that’s no longer the case.

A few hundred metres up the hill we encounter another deadfall that we push and heave the motorcycles over. Another few hundred metres another.

Here’s the problem, we’re more than halfway to our evening’s accommodations, the Elkin Creek Guest Ranch. Even if we turn back now, we won’t reach our destination before morning. If we press on, the conditions might improve.

Wrong.

Thousands of pine, most in the last stages of death by mountain pine beetle, have been fallen. Torn from their moorings with prehensile roots still clinging to clots of earth like fragile lifeless hands. Others, bereft of flexibility, didn’t sway, they snapped. Comparatively Stanley Park’s December 2006 decimation is a minor inconvenience, by loose calculation the storm hit over 1000 square kilometers of the interior.

We ride, then push, pull, and lift the motorcycles over and through 40 clusters of deadfall before Kevin stops counting. As a couple’s effort this is built on communication, sweat, cursing, mutual dependence and increasingly desperation.

Expecting an easy ride, we only brought two liters of water apiece, we have 250ml remaining.

At a T-junction with the Swartz Lake-Poison Mountain Road, our route north to the Chilcotin, we’re confronted with nature’s middle finger; thrown across the gouge of a road is an impassible log flanked by hundreds of metres of unrideable deadfall.

We have covered 8 kilometers of “road” in the past 5 hours and we’re a very remote feeling 125km from help. It’s 5:00PM now and with sunset due in less than 2 hours, we’re facing the very real possibility of having to overnight under our emergency blankets at over 5,000 feet elevation. The tingle of apprehension plays worries threads from the corners of our minds.

Swallowing our rider’s pride, lower the bikes onto their sides and working as a team drag them under the downed tree. We debate our options.

A left turn descends to the Mud Lakes, and from there connects to main logging roads for the four-hour ride back to Lillooet. A right, heads us north into new territory and toward the Chilcotins. There is no guarantee the roads are passable in either direction.

We opt for Lillooet, there’s fewer trees blocking our way, but heavy rains mean the water crossings are deeper, faster and trickier than our last ride. Boiling into the first of three streams, a wall of water arcs up and over me. I’m now soaked and cold.

Looking back at the cold clear water I debate drinking from the stream once the churn from our tires settles. Kevin, grounds me, pointing out that water born giardia could see me cramping and gushing at both ends for weeks. Slogging onwards, quads cramping and head aching from dehydration, I kick myself for not buying a water treatment kit along with our emergency blankets.

Here’s the perverse bit, things are going wrong, challenges are colliding with exhaustion, we’re making mistakes, but on a fundamental and psychologically unbalanced level we’re enjoying ourselves.

Be it the breakneck ride for help though mud and freezing summer rain, when the rear tire on Kevin’s bike was slashed by shale 140km north of the Arctic Circle. Only to arrive in Inuvik so near hypothermia I could hardly dial BMW roadside assistance for a tow-truck from the shaking, and the hotel staff wouldn’t let me ride back to keep Kevin company during the wait. Or, stranded halfway between Mike’s Sky Ranch and the junction with Highway 3, the nowhere midway point between two nowheres in Mexico’s Baja, working to bash a bent rim back into shape with increasingly large rocks. These moments that define our relationship more than any gay cruise vacation or night on the town. The hint of mortal danger strips away the irrelevance and reveals the core of our relationship in a way no couples therapy ever could, we can rely on each other.

And, our next big adventure? Regardless of where, Kevin is part of the team, and if we know one thing about our partnership, it’s that when a situation goes a bit wrong we’ve got each other’s backs. A bit of trouble, can be a great thing for a relationship.

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