War Zones to the Wilderness – Mar 06

March 31, 2006

It was an intimidating sight. A wall of snow on both sides with one tiny path down the middle – part ice, part mud. We squeezed our new pick-up truck with it’s trailer and the little Golf diesel Kristin was driving through the gap and inched our way towards the front door.
This was our new home. Grizzly Bear Ranch. 32 acres of unspoilt wilderness in the British Columbia Rockies. It had cost us everything we had and a lot more and we hoped it would be our home for years, even decades to come.
The whole adventure had begun two years before when, as Moscow correspondent for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, I had been sent to the Estonian capital Tallinn to write a story about how Brits were taking over the quaint little town, drinking too much and behaving badly.
I arrived, met Kristin, who was working as the local correspondent for Reuters, drank too much and behaved badly. She did too. Five months later, after long weekends together and short, stolen holidays in different European capitals, she moved to Moscow to be with me.
Typically, and to my shame, I wasn’t there when she arrived. Revolutionary fever – of a kind – had broken out in Ukraine and I was stuck with the orange marchers on Maidan, the miserably cold square in the middle of Kiev.
That winter Kristin and I lived quietly, taking long walks through the beautiful Moscow district we lived in and hung out with friends in our local bar – a terrible place with 1980s Soviet pop and almost naked girls dancing on the bar called Rok Vegas (without the “c”.)
When spring came we decided to move to Canada. For more than a decade I had been covering wars for the Daily Telegraph – first Bosnia, then Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Iraq. It had become a tiring, numbing business.
Although I still got a sense of satisfaction from bribing Russian soldiers to get me into Chechnya, drinking tea with Afghan warlords or surviving a brutal day in Iraq, my heart yearned for something wilder, more natural and more elemental.
I took a job with the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, covering the Canadian prairies and the dozens of northern Indian reserves where people still live in Third World conditions.
My hope was to be able to fly around central Canada in my own little plane (I’d got a commercial pilot’s license several years earlier) and write stories about how people lived. The paper, naturally, wanted more news, less travel and fewer expenses.
It would be easy to say that growing bored at the Globe propelled us into the wilderness. But things were not that chronologically neat. We actually saw Grizzly Bear Ranch for the first time while driving through British Columbia last summer.
It was coincidence really. I’d seen the ranch advertised on the internet while we were still in Russia and we’d dropped in on a whim. Richard and Joanne, who had run the ranch for a decade, were getting on and had decided to move away.
It really did seem to us the most beautiful place on earth that day. The sun was shining, the grass was green and the sound of the river bubbling along its stony course permeated our thoughts and still colours our memories of that day.
Anyway – so here we are. I can hear the river bubbling as I write these words which will go out into the ether on our new – far from perfect – satellite internet feed.
Our grand plan is to run the ranch as a destination for travelers and visitors who are looking for something a little different. The beauty. The seclusion. The incredible wildlife.
We want it to be a refuge for friends too – especially, but not only, for those colleagues who have spent years in war zones. A place where they can come to unwind, write, lay some of their demons to rest or just enjoy the serenity.
We’ve starting out by offering fishing tours (that will be guided by a veteran local fly-fisherman) and ATV quad tours which I will lead and which will take visitors up into the stunning Selkirk mountains.
At first we were a little reluctant to buy these noisy little machines but we were soon won over. They also simply so clever and versatile and get you to places you could only otherwise reach on foot. And it takes a couple of hours instead of several days.
We also want to show people the best of the wildlife. To do that we’ve bought a Zodiac inflatable boat we’re going to try and use on the river and for lake trips. And, of course, we’ll also use our four-wheel-drive truck.
As for Kristin, she’s already settling into her new kitchen. She’s got lots of gleaming new equipment, books crammed with ideas and recipes and, though she denies it, I know she can barely wait for the first full house.
So – if you’re still reading this – come and visit us in Grizzly Bear Ranch. It really is one of my beautiful spots I’ve ever been to and I’ve seen many wonderful places in my years on the road. Friends, visitors, friends-of-friends, travellers – you’re all welcome!