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2012 July — The Meaningful Traveler

July 2012

The allure of secrets: Train Wreck – Part 1

by Steve Brock on July 26, 2012

The hidden tree house, HemLoft, wasn’t the only secret place I found out about in Whistler, BC. Some of the locals also informed me of a site called Train Wreck. The mind reels at the possibilities of what could have led to such a name.

Alas, the moniker comes from the fact that a train wrecked at the site. Who would have guessed?

Apparently 50 or so years ago, a train derailed and six box cars crashed into the neighboring forest. I’m unclear as to the fate of the engine or any of the train’s crew. But, my sources informed me, you can still see the remains of the boxcars, hidden in the trees and covered in graffiti.

Some may hear this and think: rural junkyard. I heard and thought: Adventure!

Train Wreck isn’t all that secret. In fact, I found it listed on one of the maps showing mountain bike trails. But reaching Train Wreck, that is what makes it unusual and a bit challenging.

You have to park off the highway or in a neighboring industrial area and then hike for about 15-20 minutes down the railroad tracks. There seems to be no other way to get there.

My son and I weren’t too concerned about our railed path. Trains, after all, aren’t exactly mouse-like in their approach. We figured we’d hear anything before we were in any jeopardy of becoming the equivalent of a bug on a windshield.

But as we walked, the wind picked up making odd sounds and we found ourselves looking over our shoulders more than I anticipated. Furthermore, my stride and the spacing of the railroad ties align as well as your turn indicator timing does with that of the car’s in front of you. Thus, my concentration focused more on the means of journeying rather than on the surrounding scenery.

But then, at one point, the trees parted and we found a side trail. We thought that maybe we had found Train Wreck.

Instead, we found something unexpected. Instead of man-made wreckage, we found a waterfall and river of surprising beauty. The images here are of that river and part of the path through the forest that heads toward Train Wreck but doesn’t quite reach it. You have to return to the tracks for that.

But here’s what we discovered on our way to Train Wreck:

  • We went in search of a particular place but found that the journey there was as interesting as our destination.


  • As we walked the tracks, we kept looking forward (and behind us). The tracks, as the photo below shows, lead toward a curve. That curve represents more than the source of a potential oncoming train. Like a path that disappears into a forest, a road that crests a hill or a trail that gets swallowed in jungle shadow, there’s something almost mysterious that beckons to us from these points of vanishing perspective. They, like secrets, draw us forward to discover what lies beyond.


  • We thought we would encounter a secret place. However, as with HemLoft, we soon found that the whole area was covered with mountain bike trails, runs and boardwalks. Instead of detracting from the natural beauty, these actually added to it. We often pursue nature to get away from others, but as we were about to find out, in some cases, the human touch transforms the natural world in unexpected ways…

 To be continued…

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 3

by Steve Brock on July 17, 2012

I have “discovered” the secret tree house known as HemLoft near Whistler, BC, but now what? I go inside.

The interior is simple with a main downstairs area containing a bench, some shelves, a small deck that opens to the surrounding forest and a writing desk.

Up a set of spiral stairs built onto the tree that upholds HemLoft is a small upper area with little else than the triangular windows that provide light and a view.

I return back to the writing desk. On it sit two notebooks and a plastic storage bin filled with writing instruments. A few crayons lay scattered nearby. 

The notebooks are logs or, more accurately, guest books. I read a few of the most recent entries dated three days ago. I grab a crayon and add my own quick words of appreciation, initials and the date. I’ve made my mark on a place that has made its mark on me.

Though I’m concerned with getting back and not having my car towed, I linger long enough to peruse these books.

HemLoft may be a “secret” destination, but secrets have a way of getting out as evidenced by the dozens of comments creatively filling these guest books. As I read through them, I realize another small pleasure of travel and discovery.

All of us who sign the guest books of HemLoft are part of a community of sorts, an insider’s club. We may not know each other and will likely never meet. Yet we share a bond, a common experience realized by relatively few people.

To me, that’s one of the blessings of discovery. It’s highly personal: you may “discover” something that millions have seen before such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris. But that discovery is still real to you. It’s your first encounter with it and that’s what matters…to you.

At the same time, you’re part of a common experience of everyone who has made that same discovery. A single place such as HemLoft can touch many lives. In some ways, it’s like a statement I once heard about one’s faith: Your faith is very personal, but it isn’t private. We’re created for community. Even with personal discoveries, knowing you’re part of something bigger than yourself and connected to a group of other discoverers, all that adds to the meaning of the experience.

So ask yourself this: While it is still summer, what will you discover? What secrets will you uncover? What “insider’s club” will you become a part of? Now it the time to do something new and bold and inspiring.

Want more inspiration? Check out the story behind HemLoft. You can find it here: www.thehemloft.com.

But don’t just read about it. Go build your own secret tree house or do something equally amazing. You never know the lives you might touch in the process.

If you haven’t done so, you may want to read HemLoft Part 1 or Part 2

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 2

by Steve Brock on July 12, 2012

I am haunted – no, make that taunted – by the initial hints regarding HemLoft, the secret treehouse near Whistler, British Columbia. What started as a mere topic of idle conversation now becomes a quest.

When I worked as a professional magician in college, I often found that people wanted to know how a trick was done not because they cared about the illusion itself. Instead, they sought the secret simply because it was secret.

We don’t like not knowing.

I am no different. And so I begin asking the people at the place we’re staying what they know about HemLoft. Here’s what I learn:

  • They are, without exception, surprised that I’m aware of the place.
  • All of them have heard about it, but none of them have been there themselves. This is starting to have hints of urban legend.
  • It lies on public property near a wealthy new development.
  • The builder has made it open to anyone in an attempt to keep it from being discovered by authorities and torn down.
  • Many of the expensive homes built in Whistler undergo almost endless remodeling. So the builder of HemLoft used the discards – quality wood and components – to construct HemLoft.
  • Numerous people drive to the area looking for HemLoft but few find it.

Finally, I get a real tip: HemLoft lies near a particular switchback. He’s not sure exactly where, but I have enough to get me started.

So one morning while the rest of my family is still awakening, I head out. In many ways, I feel as if I’m geocaching (the hunt using a GPS and coordinates to find hidden boxes of “treasure” (simple toys or items that others have deposited there)). The only difference is that this time I have no GPS and the cache is much, much larger than a bread box.

I drive to the area but all I see is the street before me and miles of trees. If HemLoft is here, it certainly isn’t visible from the road. I continue slowly to the top where I find million dollar homes in various stages of construction. But no HemLoft.

I turn around and think through the logic of the place and where it could be. In so doing, I come across something I had missed before: what appears to be a very faint disturbance in the embankment off the road. I find a wide spot on the shoulder of road and park, ignoring the signs posted everywhere that you must have a pass or you will be towed. I figure I won’t be long enough for that to happen, or so I hope.

I clamber up the embankment and then, with a smile of delight and satisfaction, I discover a small trail at the top leading into the woods. Still, there is no sign of any treehouse or similar construction. Just trees and, up ahead, a wall of rocks.

I hike to the left of the rocks, following traces of foot prints. Up, up the hill I go, peering down for trail signs while periodically looking upward for hints of tree-based habitation. Nothing.

I wander around some more then figure this can’t be the place. I turn back but decide to do so following a different route. And that’s when I see it.

Not HemLoft or even a building. But a blue tarp. There in this forest is a blue tarp. As I approach it, it appears to be covering a length of 2X6 wood. The type you would use in construction…say, of a treehouse…

I pick up speed and as I come over a slight rise in the hill, I look up and there it is, as if it had been before me all along. On a lone tree surrounded by others sits a spherical structure.

I have found HemLoft.

I look around briefly on the outside but then, warily, I cross the elevated steps (a dicey proposition given that they are six or so feet off the ground and wet from recent rain) and come to the door. I knock, feeling a bit silly at the action given the isolated location, but still not sure about the rules of etiquette in secret forest treehouses.

There is no answer. I turn the knob, surprised by the sturdiness of the construction, and I enter HemLoft.

The outside of this remarkable treehouse is impressive, but what I find inside transforms this small structure from the object of a curious hunt into something much more…


To be continued

If you haven’t done so, check out Part 1 or Part 3

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The allure of secrets: HemLoft – Part 1

by Steve Brock July 4, 2012

Why do we love secret places so much? Find out as a trip to Whistler, BC turns into a quest for a secret treehouse known as The HemLoft.

Read the full article →