A Tour in My Wilderness
by Harrison Kim
I’m the driver of a charter bus, my hat on tight, hands assertive to the wheel. I pick up the tourists at the Hotel. The mostly senior folks are British and German, by their accents. This Rocky Mountain experience is on their bucket list.
They say, “Oh, a different driver today,” and I tell them, “Yes, Mac’s got a day off.”
“The mountains look superb in the early light,” says a youngish blonde lady introducing herself as Emily and I say, “Indeed, you seem so wild too, like a mountain cat lady.”
She rolls her eyes and I roll the bus up the highway, then onto the winding gravel road where I’ve planned the day’s activities.
“Is it far to the hot springs?” asks Emily, because that’s what’s on the official agenda today.
I reply, “Certainly, it is a bit of a drive along this route.”
“Wow, we are really in the wilderness!” exclaims an older man with a band-aid on his forehead.
“Yes!” I say. “Hey, there’s an elk!”
I point to a highish hill, everyone looks. I know there’s no elk there, but saying there is gives them a bit of a rush. They reach for their cameras.
“I thought the hot springs were to the northwest of Lake Louise,” says Emily. “My phone says we’re heading northeast.”
“You have to go northeast before you can go northwest in these parts,” I tell her.
“There’s no cellular service now,” she continues.
“Indeed, there isn’t in this vast uninhabited area,” I tell her, “and there wasn’t when I was a kid, either!”
I laugh at my own joke. I turn off a side road. There’s a wriggly kind of track through to the hot springs from here; whenever the bus should make it.
“I wanted you to experience the real Canadian backwoods,” I tell the passengers, and as if on cue there’s a brown bear and two cubs sitting up on an embankment. I slow the vehicle down. “A photo opportunity, folks,” and Emily gets a pic through the front window before the animals tear off into the trees.
“I want to give something back to the world,” I tell the passengers. “What are we but merely the sum of our experiences?”
“The scenery is astounding,” says an elderly man with a German accent.
He stands up, clicking photos of the river far below. A group of ladies at the side gape together at the rugged cliffs that soar above us to the snow line. I negotiate some potholed curves. The bus sways from side to side and splashes through.
“Are you sure this is the right route?” asks Emily.
“Oh yes, I’m sure,” I tell her. “You have to be a hundred per cent sure of anything. When I woke up this morning, I was one hundred per cent sure I was alive.”
The engine strains as we begin the grade up to the pass.
An older lady with a big red lipsticked mouth staggers forward up the aisle and shouts in my ear, “I think I hear some banging under the bus.”
“I heard something yelling a while back too,” says Emily. “I wasn’t sure if it came from inside or outside.”
“There’s a lot of mysterious things going on in these hills,” I tell them. “Ghost towns and mad trappers. I came up here when I was a teen, made campfires. One midnight, I got jumped, bitten, and my shoulders scratched all to ribbons by a mysterious half-cat half-woman creature.” I look at Emily. “I’m not sure if she wanted to kill me or mate with me. Do you want to see my back?”
“No,” Emily says, pale face regarding me. “I’m fine.”
“Skeptics say it was all in my imagination,” I tell her. “Hard to say what’s real and what isn’t sometimes.”
I round the last hill and curve, and we emerge on the top of the pass. We peek at the summit, at the exquisite, round and turquoise tarn lake. “That was some cool switchback driving, eh?” I say.
I look back and a few old folks are retching into the supplied paper bags. I turn off the engine and pocket the keys.
“This was where I was born again,” I point outward, “by this jewel of creation where I experienced the scratches of the female cat beast. Everyone off, it’s photo time!”
I step from the bus and several tourists shuffle into the day.
Emily won’t take my steadying hand. “There’s that yelling again,” she says, and everyone can hear it now.
“Seems to be coming from the baggage compartment,” I admit. “Let’s open up and find out.”
I unlock and lift up the baggage door and of course, everyone sees there’s a man in there, bruised and wriggling around. His arms and legs are tied and he’s wearing a gag. He must’ve regained consciousness a while back.
“It’s the driver, Mac!” yells a red-lipsticked woman.
I grab my huge packsack out of the side compartment.
“You’re not the real driver!” The man with the band-aid on his head quavers at me.
“I knew you were strange,” said Emily. “I should have known.” She gazes around her. “Such a beautiful place! How could you?”
“Because I could,” I say. “Explore, my friends. Explore.”
I turn, take off with my packsack bouncing, I lope across the alpine on my long skinny legs, and down into a group of black spruce trees. I will challenge myself against the mountains, and the cat creature. I have brought her some human gifts, so she may be better disposed this time.
She may pick off some of them, but I will remain and fight or mate with her for dominance of this territory. Most of these tourists will struggle their way out. Sure, I’ve kept the bus keys but, in exchange, the tourists have the experience of my wilderness.
Copyright © 2021 by Harrison Kim