Saturday, June 09, 2007

Alberta Reports - Number One

“And So It Begins….”

June 15, 1998:

I didn’t make a pilgrimage to the ocean yesterday. I drove by it, briefly, through Beacon Hill Park and along Ross Bay, absorbing the salty ocean scent and the sharp freshness of a late Spring shower. After I get off the ferry in two hours in Vancouver (hopefully – it’s busy this morning and I may have to wait for the eight o’clock instead of the seven), I won’t see the ocean for ten weeks. I’ve never been away that long.

My trip is off to an inauspicious start. I left most of my film and my two disposable cameras on my kitchen counter. I was bound to forget something I guess. Good thing it wasn’t anything important like money. Or underwear.

The plan is to stop around Banff or Golden tonight and camp out in the back of the truck. There’s not as much room as I’d like back there. At the last minute I decided to pack my bike and that’s using up more space than I thought it would. Still, I should get some sleep even if I’m curled up in a tight, fetal ball. But it makes me more anxious to arrive in Alberta. Haven’t slept well the last few nights, and in reality I expect to get little sleep tonight. I’ve crammed my life into ten boxes and four of them are my computer.

Currently, I’m stuck midway down row five at the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. And I’ve felt stuck midway down row five for years.

We’re boarding now. Will I make it, or miss the boat? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)


Mine was, literally, the last vehicle loaded on board.

In no hurry to join the huge breakfast line-up that snaked through the passenger compartments of the ferry, I was able to snag a good seat near the bow at the windows.

I’ve often thought about living on one of the Gulf Islands. It appeals to me because they are isolated and still reasonably close to the big cities. Living and working in Sooke for six years has made me appreciate the mellow, laid back approach to life, not that I haven’t been a laid back, mellow kind of guy anyway. Can you really imagine me getting any mellower?

Hunger finally breaks me down. $7.97 for three pancakes, a glass of milk, and a cookie I’ll save for later. I wonder how much it would have cost me for warm pancakes.

God bless BC Ferries – no one else will.


I stand at the back of the ship, staring as Vancouver Island, my home, disappears. The ocean is a brilliant blue, like a pair of haunting eyes. The clouds have broken and scattered; the storm that was expected to sit over the coast for a couple of days went through overnight and is moving inland. I’m going to catch up to it. Now, there’s only small white cotton puffs over the receding green forests of the Gulf Islands.


A number of times as I drive through the suburbs of Vancouver as I angle my way up to Highway 1, I feel like bursting into tears. I’m saying goodbye to a lot of things. I’m just not sure what they are yet.


I caught up to the rain west of Abbotsford. A real downpour, great gouts of water washing across the sky and highway. Visibility sucks – cars only metres ahead vanish into clouds of spray. Gray sky hangs low like the depression of a lover scorned. The clouds are so low that they block the tops of the mountains, but not the vast subdivisions of identical houses scarring their sides.


The rain lifted somewhat after Hope (yes, I am beyond Hope), but the clouds and rain returned as I climbed the Coquihalla. Here, as I lunch in beautiful downtown Merritt, the sky is battleship gray, and the sky is crying. I can tell I’m in a different world now: The Paul Harvey News is on the local radio station.

Nice country though. I’ve always loved BC’s topography, especially the coastal rainforest I call home. But I also love the mountains. And the changes in the land as you move through the wide fields of the Fraser Valley into the rolling hills and finally the mountains of the Coast Range has always impressed me.


Today I drove through the towns of Lickman and Popkum. What great place names this country has. And did you ever notice that Come By Chance is right beside Conception Bay? Think about it….


The rain continued even after I hit the big mountains. I am not impressed.

Steady, heavy rain, low clouds, fog. Crappy visibility. I hope it clears tomorrow for my drive up to Jasper. I finish this entry in the back of my truck in a campsite at Lake Louise. It’s pouring rain and there’s no shelter outside, so I’ve climbed into the back and I’m lying on my side using my bicycle wheel for a desk.


June 16

It’s five o’clock in the morning. I’m tired, freezing, cramped up and miserable. At least I’m not wet.

I spent most of the night sleeping like this: L. Sometimes I slept like this: W. Occasionally I was shaped like this: @ or like this: &. In fact, I got no sleep. So I’m saying, “Screw it,” and now I’m heading down the road to Jasper.

My plan was to take a slow drive through the mountains between Banff and Jasper on the second day, but nature is not cooperating. The rain continues to fall, and the mountains are completely socked in. Only briefly can their majesty be glimpsed through the foggy shroud that covers them.

But some of those glimpses are breathtaking. Sharp, angled peaks suddenly slice through the fog ahead of you and tower over you, thousands of feet over you, as you drive your puny little car through the tiniest of mountain passes. One mountain ahead is awesome: its face a sheer study of sedimentary layers. At the edge of the face, the layers are parallel to the ground but as you follow the layers inward toward the centre, they begin turning. In fact, they turn ninety degrees and proceed upwards to the mountain’s peak in a smooth quarter circle. These layers are hundreds of metres thick, thousands and thousands of years old, weigh millions of tonnes, and at some point in the very recent geological past were seemingly twisted as easily as taffy.

But the weather is still not cooperating with my plans. I’m approaching the Columbia Ice Fields, possibly the most scenic point on the whole trip, and the rain returns again. And changes to snow. Wet snow, non-sticking to the ground snow, but snow. And at the Ice Field summit, the fog descends again, denying me a view of the majestic spectacle. Worse yet, as I climb, the fog descends lower and lower until visibility is next to nil and I can’t see more than twenty feet ahead of me. Then I realize it’s not fog – I’ve driven up into the clouds.

Finally, the road starts descending and at last I leave the clouds and the bad weather behind me. I see a moose, and then a herd of deer – big deer, way bigger than Vancouver Island deer. Soon I am past Jasper, out of the mountains, and roaring across the Great Plains.

Towns blur into each other as the long straight flat road stretches on ahead for mile after dull mile. Suddenly I see way off in the distance the skyscrapers of downtown Edmonton. You can see them from miles away across the smooth, even prairie. I dig out Paula’s instructions. And just after lunch, I arrive at Double Joy Farms.

I’m here.

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