Best Story Ever | Ryan Paterson

Frontside 720, Whistler, BC. [o] Duncan Sadava

A Hard Quill to Swallow | By Ryan Paterson

It is 2016, the end of March, and Tamo Campos, Anthony Welgan, and myself have just returned from an epic week-long cabin trip in the Valhallas. Tamo is off to drive up to Alaska. He says that we should join, but we can’t commit. A week goes by, we see the clips on social media, and he’s getting it up there. “Fuck it, let’s go.” After three days in Anthony’s Rav 4 we arrive—too late. Rain to the top has refrozen, delivering the worst AK turns of my life.

Several days pass, waiting for weather, but nothing changes. Tamo says we can still make the most out of this trip, his grandpa has a cabin near Iskut on Ealue Lake, and we plan to stop there on our way south. 

Iskut is a special place for Tamo, he has spent a lot of time working in the community and as a protesting environmentalist against coal mining operations in the wilderness of the Spatsizi Plateau. After a few days of hanging around in the community, hiking, fishing, and waging an all-out war with an army of mice in the cabin, Tamo convinces us that we have to check out the “Sacred Headwaters”. It’s a 100-plus-kilometre journey on abandoned railway grade to get to the camp where Tamo and the Tahltan people of Iskut spent many weeks defending their land against industrial development. We load up into Tamo’s grease-powered 1980’s 4x4 Ford Ambulance, white with bright orange trim—a fine rig.

It is a bumpy, washed-out road, and a wildlife safari. We see a grizzly bear, moose, an eagle dripping with blood, and we are stalked by a pack of black wolves before we make it to camp. Anthony and I decided that maybe we should ditch the tents and share the floor inside the ambulance.

The following morning, we went splitboard on Klappan Mountain. The early hour made for hard snow, and the edge-on-crust sound echoed through the bowl. We re-group at the base and realize. Holy shit! We are standing above a bear den. Fresh bear tracks coming out of the den led down the path we had to take. We obviously spooked the bear on our descent. As the only one carrying bear mace, I get to ride first, lucky me. We make it back to the ambulance free of bear maulings. 

We start the slow journey back to the cabin. Emotionally and physically drained, hungry, and our food stocks are low. We continue to see porcupine, after porcupine. Tamo tells us how the elders taught him to de-quill and process porcupines. He convinces us that they are pretty good eating. Another one bumbles across the road and Tamo brings the ambulance to a hault. “Well, should we?”, Tamo says with a smirk. He’s not joking. Anthony and I look at each other. I stare at Anthony, begging him to say what I know we are both thinking. Instead, he mutters a drawn-out, “Suuuuure…?”. That is enough for Tamo, we jump out onto the road. Conveniently a wooden stake is lying on the ground, it read KM96, I will never forget it. Tamo swings the stake and it’s a clean kill. We take a moment and thank the creature for its sacrifice, and Anthony lets Tamo borrow his gloves to carry the porcupine into the ambulance. The gloves are pierced full of quills when he gets the rodent inside. We decided to stop at another camp along the river, halfway back to the cabin, to prepare our meal and stay the night. 

Anthony and I have no idea how the fuck to eat this spikey critter. Tamo takes charge, he lights a fire and demonstrates how to de-quill the porcupine. It is a horrendous affair. Laying the porcupine on the fire, then quickly pulling it off and scraping the quills with the back of a knife. Anthony and I take turns repeating this process for what feels like hours. It smells horrible, burning hair and flesh. The quills never seem to end. 

Eventually, all the quills are off in a massive pile next to the fire. Was that the easy part? Again Tamo takes control, making careful cuts to preserve the meat. He is a great teacher and we quickly get the guts out. But we are in bear country and need to get rid of them fast. Tamo scoops up the entrails, I hold my headlamp out for him as we make our way to the river. I wonder if he realizes the river bank drops away… Nope. Guts in hand, he walks straight into the glacial water and completely submerges. Fuck. I grab him and pull him out of the rushing water. He is freezing and goes straight into the ambulance to warm up. Now it’s up to Anthony and I to harvest the meat. Luckily, Anthony spent time working at a butcher, and I lean on him heavily to get the job done. Thanks, big dog. 

“It smells horrible, burning hair and flesh. The quills never seem to end.”

Tamo returned warmed up, and we started cooking the meat, which we decided to boil… for some reason. We chef up potatoes to go alongside the ‘pine, and it’s finally time to eat. We take the first bites of our bounty. It’s. It’s not good. I could have chewed on my leather belt with pepper for a similar experience. But, this creature gave its life, so I choked down what I could. The boys are having a similar experience, and I watch as Anthony takes the last of the potatoes. Bastard.  

The following day, it was time for Anthony and I to head home. We say our goodbyes to Tamo, and thank him and the Tahltan people for welcoming us onto their land. What an adventure. Tamo kept what was left of the meat to pass on to the elders of the community, who would find a use for it. The offer was greatly appreciated, and so was the laugh they had at our expense.


Back to blog