Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Places Life Takes You

I always wanted to visit the Academy in Regina, Saskachawan where young Canadians are formed into Royal Canadian Mounted Police. My curiosity might have stemmed from the Sgt. Preston TV series of the 50s. I wasn’t disappointed. Our visit, in 1981, reminded me of my own days in Marine Corps boot camp. Lots of yelling and screaming broke the silence of the campus grounds. I don’t understand psychology but there must be a boost to the learning curve when big, loud, mean people are yelling in your face.

That evening at our campground we noticed a young woman trying to open a door marked, "Danger High Voltage." After speaking with her we discovered she was from Germany and was looking for the womens’ bathroom and mistakenly tried this door. If she would have been able to open the door it would have been the shock of her life.

Later, she and her husband stopped by at our site to talk to our cats who were on leashes outside our trailer. We struck up a short conversation but it was difficult to communicate because of the language barrier. Little did we know this would be an acquaintance that would last a lifetime.

They had rented a motorhome in Toronto and were headed for the West Coast. For days we kept running into them. When we arrived in Banff we stayed in a campground with 800 sites and we were assigned the camping site right next to Uwe Ahlers and Marina Bude. What are the chances of that?

We were headed for Alaska and anxious to begin our journey up the Alcan Highway. But the Banff/Jasper area was beautiful and the spring weather seemed to be cooperating very well. So we lingered at both ends of the Calendar Highway in British Columbia, and hiked every day. Had we not run into our German friends again, we would not have become so close. We seemed to have plenty to say to each other just trying to figure out what we were trying to say to each other.

We decided to hike together around Mt. Edith Cavell. It was a beautiful mountain with an angel hanging from one side. It was a glacier, of course, but a unique glacier with wings. Uwe could not get over our old ‘66 suburban. As we drove around he would pound on the dashboard and say, "Metal! Metal!" His Russian-made car was mostly plastic from what I could gather.

Our last evening with them we sat in their motorhome and discussed visiting them in Germany and hiking along the Austrian border. It sounded like another great adventure, but dawn would light our way further along the adventure at hand.

We thought it would be a few years until we saw our new found friends, but not far up the road we crossed paths again at the Mt. Robson information center. We joked that we would probably see them when we arrived in Alaska, but they assured us that this was the end of the line for them and that they must start working their way back east.

Life is a labyrinth of unknown connections that change the course of history both individually and collectively. Uwe and Marina have enriched our lives over the years. Even though language has been a barrier, it was language that brought us together.

Since that time they have come to visit us many times. A couple of visits that stand out in my mind is the time Uwe stayed with us the summer Gaila was pregnant and helped her paint the nursery. Another year they visited and borrowed my backpacking gear for their trip further west. One night Uwe called inquiring about how to ship us a rifle.
Traveling through Colorado they stopped to help some stranded motorists. The people had no money so Uwe and Marina took them to the nearest town and bought them the parts they needed to fix their truck. As a thank you the people gave Uwe a rifle. Marina said that Uwe’s new hobby was "plinging" cans and now he was wondering how to ship it to us before they flew back to Germany.
With language still a barrier we were trying to instruct Uwe not to go into a post office and hold up his new rifle asking a lot of questions in broken English. That would make people very nervous. I assumed he had a .22 caliber target rifle, and even that probably made people nervous if he was plinging cans in campgrounds.
Several weeks later the UPS man showed up at my door with a large package with no return address. Gaila made me open it outside as it was during the time the Unibomber was still on the loose. In the package I discovered my backpacking gear and not a .22 but a 20 gauge shotgun.
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

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