Imagine you’re John Cabot. It’s the late 15 th century, and you’ve grown quite the beard for the occasion. You also kick it in some long and flowing robes, a style that makes you a pretty regal dude. Because you love trading so, you decide a more direct passage to Asia would be the bee’s knees, and you roll up to the King of England asking for money, ship parts and food to sustain your voyage across the Atlantic. Some merchants hook you up instead. Away you go.
When you get there, you plant a ripping good flag for the boys back home. But there are no cities to trade with — only small animal traps. And cod. There’s a lot of cod. You get the sense you could pull a Jesus on the backs of all those cod, and you write that in your diary. Then you head home, drum up support for a second trip, and vanish forever into the Atlantic fog shortly after departure.
Now imagine you’re Jacques Cartier. It’s the 16 th century, and you, too, have stylish dress and kingly connections. Away you go, across the Atlantic in search of gold, diamonds and a direct route to Asia. Instead, you misunderstand an Iroquois word and name the place Canada. So pumped are you on the whole deal that you come back two more times, then die of plague.
The lessons of Cabot and Cartier are simple: Odds are you won’t find the things you seek, but rather something else, which is often just as compelling — or, as Hans Blix might tell you, beguiling. What you do with whatever you find is up to you: You could set in motion a process that malignantly alters the course of continental history, or you could shrug and eat a sandwich amid some staggering scenery.
Richard Stephenson and I were looking for a wire-mesh tunnel spanning the Cheakamus. Richard came up to me and said something like this (dramatized for fun): “Okay, this guy told me about, like, a chicken mesh tunnel that hangs out over the Cheakamus. I have no idea where it is, but I think we should find it. We’ll bring rope and food. It could take days. We could get hurt. There could be rain, bears, drowning, even Kraken.”
Unlike Cabot and Cartier, we look in no way regal. Just the same, we approached the banks (to access our own funds, not some king’s) and loaded up on food and water. From there, we entered our ship, which is actually a jeep covered in dents and spray paint. We set steer down Paradise Valley Road, all the way to the end, where it gets rocky and dusty. Another friend commandeered the vessel back to Squamish, leaving us alone in the wilderness.