The Works of Thomas Haapapuro

On an idle evening in the cold, couch bound grip of February, I began dreaming of an adventure. That evening, I was sitting on my couch watching a nature documentary. It had the expected stunning footage of amazing ants, migrating birds, and mischievious monkeys. One part in particular caught my attention. A lone seal was perched atop a broken piece of ice in some frozen antartic sea. Unreachable by the pack or Orca’s, it thought itself safe. But the Orca’s had a trick. They would join shoulder to shoulder and swim in a rush toward the seal on his iceburg. This resulted in a tsunami of a wave that washed the little seal off the iceburg, into the sea and the waiting jaws of these clever whales. I was amazed, but more, I was inspired. “Erin” I called to my wife in the next room. “This year I want to go paddling with Orca’s!”


What amazing creatures. I know at the outset it seams foolish to be inspired to take a trip after watching a documentary about how cunning and dangerous these mammals are. But I was hooked. What a resourceful and merciless creature. I could not help but be awed by this cleverness and ruthlessness. I had to go see such a creature in its natural element.


So where and in what manner to go see these animals in their natural habitat? Quick research showed that they are present in many parts of the world, some places more easily accessible than others. But I noted that they have an Orca Preservation Area in the bays of British Columbia, Canada. I doubt that the Orca’s are aware of this designation to a small bit of bay, but it is a good chance that humans wouldn’t establish an orca sactuary in a place that doesn’t have orcas. So British Columbia it would be. This appealed to me further as it is a place I have been to several times before and I am fully smitten with. To quote Woody Guthrie, “the pacific northwest is one of the prettiest places…


I have spent a fair amount of my life backpacking, especially in my younger years when knees and back are more reslient. I have trekked the mountain passes of Glacier National Park, scaled the wind tortured rocks in Zion, followed the turbulent rivers the Appalachians, dug for water in the frozen lakes New Yorks Adirondacks, and twice hiked the seashore along Vancouver Island on the West Coast Trail. So I am familiar with the trials and rewards of an outdoor adventure. So it would not be from a cruise ship or a speeding xxx boat that I wanted to see my whales. I wanted it to be personal and slow.


I have spent a fair amount of time in boats over the years as well. I have canoed every river in Ohio I could get to, some pretty and to the shame of that state, some very polluted and abused. I have been on canoe trips in Ontario Canada in the pristine lakes, where portage is a difficulty no matter how you pronounce it. Several years ago when I moved to North Carolina, I bought a 17’ sea kayak and have paddled the surf and swell of many of the states shores.


What my time in a canoe has taught me though is that for a person of my temperment, a kayak is best. I am not a team player. So a kayak trip to British Columbia to see the Orca’s it would be.


I am a fairly solitary person. No friend would be willing or able to join me on my trip. So this would be a trip I would embark upon alone. I am happy to hike by myself, and quite prefer it. But a trip to a foreign country in a foreign sea with animals I am unfamiliar with, it would be foolhardy to simply rent a kayak and set out by myself. So loathe as I was to do so, I would need a guided trip.


I say loathe as I am the type of person who likes the challenge and reward of doing a thing soley by myself. Self reliant and determined, I prefer the challenge of accomplishing a thing by my own merit and determination. But it would be foolish to undertake this task by myself, so I acquiesced and sought to find a guide for this trip.


As it turns out, there are many guides on Vancouver Island who specialize in wilderness kayak trips with whales as the main course. Reviewing them, I found one that offered the longest trip that would go the deepest into the wilderness, North Island Kayak. I read their trip agendas, reviewed their trip photograpshs, and studied their maps. This looked like a good fit, so I booked the trip. All set up, I sat back on the couch and watched another nature documentary, and waited for winter break.


The trip I booked was set for mid-August. I would fly to Vancouver airport. I like exploring City’s almost as much as I enjoy wilderness excursions, so I allowed myself a few days to explore the City. I would then board a bus, which would take me to a ferry, which would take me to another bus, which would take me to a town where I could hopefully find a taxi to take me to Telegraph Cove where my trip would depart. It would be quite a journey, and would take the best part of a day to get there.


The flight from Charlotte was non-eventful. I flew to Toronto international. I was a bit concerned about this leg of the journey based on my last trip into Canada.


A few years before, my wife and I were going to Europe by way of Canada on our honeymoon. We flew into Quebec with a short time for our connection to Belgium. We scurried off the plane into a large room with miles of rat maze corrals as we went through custums. With an anxious eye on the time, we wound our way through slow moving lines to the customs agent. At long last, we approach. My wife goes first. Her passport is reviewed, stamped, and she is clear and free to go. I hand my passport over. Pause. The agent looks at me, at my passport, at me. Entry not permitted” he says. “Uhhh, what?”

“There is an issue with your passport. You cannot proceed”

“What issue”

“I cannot say”

“you cannot say?”


“well, what am I supposed to do”

“security is coming. Go with them”


“wait here”

He then turns to my wife

“you can go”

to which she responds “I cannot. He is my husband and I am not going on my honeymoon without him.” This seems reasonable to me.

So my wife and I wait. Note that in some other part of this airport, my plane has begun boarding. This is not how I envisioned my honeymoon. Soon security comes and takes us to a glass walled customs office. I hand over my passport to the people at the desk. They say, “well, your name has been black listed. But your photo does not match the photo of the person with that name that is black listed. We just needed to confirm your identity and make sure you are not the same person who we are not allowing to fly. You are clear to go back through customs.”


They released me back into the hall with all the rat mazes and lines. If I had to wait in those lines again, I would certainly not make my plane. Luckily, and airport employee had been helping with this whole situation and ushered me to the front of the line. I ended up back with the same un-helpful and dismissive customs agent who had turned me away half an hour before. He smiled (I thnk a bit cruely). He said “see why I couldn’t let you through?”

“not really, the whole situation is clear as mud, but thank you ever so much for all your help and consideration (sarcastically, of course”

He stamped my passport and we ran to catch our flight.


I suspect this kind of thing happens from time to time in airports. But here is the thing. My name was flagged, but my photograph did not match the photograph of the other person with my name that was black listed. I can see how this could, and probably does, happen to John Smith all the time. But Thomas Haapapuro is not a common name. I have never met another, save my father who is a Sr., with that name. So unless my father has been sneaking into Canada and breaking laws and terrifying the citizenry, I cannot imagine another with the same name.


This was all on my mind as the flight approached Toronto. I had called customs after that trip to see if I could get to the bottom of the issue. I don’t know if you have ever tried calling customs to get help, but let me save you a few hours of frustration. They neither can nor will help you. If you get to the end of the audible phone maze, you will find a person who can only answer in no’s. You wont get any help. You just take your chances. Which is where I was when on this trip, I handed my passport over to the customs agent. Waiting for the whole trip to go spiraling into chaos, I watched the customs agent. He paused, looked at me, looked at my passport.


Then he stamped it.


Free! I smiled, grabbed my passport, and quickly skipped away. The trip was a go and I was on my way.


I stepped outside. Airport entrances are largely ugly places. They are designed from a utilitarian point of view, with a passing nod at aesthetics. This is the dilemma that the designers of such places struggle with. An airport is the showpiece of the city it serves. It needs to be unique, memorable, and give the visitor the first impression about what this city is all about, what makes it special. But it also must be functional to a fault. Aesthetics are all well and good, but a flood of cars will be jockeying for position at the front door, releasing departing passengers, picking up passengers, taxi’s, uber drivers, traffic cops, busses and shuttles to hotels. It is a chaotic place full of motion and emotion, whistles and horns. So it needs to also do its level best to corrall and direct this flow of angry and pushy vehicles. Serving this master means that the front of an airport often looks like an off-ramp to a busy highway: 5 or more lanes of oil soaked concrete, traffic cones, signs of every shape, color, and imperative, walkways, fly-overs and sidewalks.


A good and diligent airport serves the needs of the cars while still creating a positive and enjoyable impression to visitors. The worst I have ever seen? Laguardia in NYC. No question. The best? Hard to say. Perhaps Maui. But I will say, Toronto is not a terrible front door experience. It has the requisite highways. That cannot be avoided it seems. But it also has a nice pedestrian plaza with plenty of places for people to sit, relax, and take a look around at this place they just landed. Better still? There are installed in this plaza in a raised planter a series of figures called XXXX. These are human-like figures made of stone that were historically created by the native tribes. What a great thing to put at an airport. It says, “this is what is special and unique about this place you have just landed, this is what makes us different from the place you left.” Well, that is, unless you left from somewhere else in Canada, but it is an international airport, so there is a good chance you don’t have xxxx in your City.


I sat by the xxxx for a while. I watched a boy of 5ish years as he scaled the stones of these statues. I thought about his distracted parents nearby, who let little Timmy run free as they did whatever. I suspect in the traditional construction of these figures, they are just carefully stacked. If these were traditional, little Timmy would have knocked a pile of stones onto himself as he climbed them. That would be the end of little Timmy, and perhaps his parents would be a little more determined to teach his siblings not to climb on public art. “Your older brother climbed a statue and was crushed. You don’t want that to happen to you do you?”. I was thinking of this, and then thought of the artists and insurance agents responsible for these sculptures. They had anticipated the little Timmy’s of the world and had carefully welded the stones together, preventing lawsuits and unfortunately, a good life lesson for the little Timmy’s of the world.


I went back into the airport to catch my next flight.