Friday, August 26, 2011

The Final Reckoning

Well, it's all over now. I'm back in NZ trying to adjust back to normality (whatever that's supposed to be) and shake off the melancholy that always seems to follow these big trips away. I say 'always', I've only done this twice, but I can sense a pattern forming...

It was a funny last week. I connected with a new friend in a way I hadn't expected and then, just as things were getting interesting, I had to leave. As it happens, she was due to be leaving Canada too about a week later, for a 6 month job in Tanzania, so we were always going to be up against it, but I will be watching with even more interest than any of you to see what developments may occur.

All this meant was that I had one more reason to be reluctant about leaving, to add to the plethora of others I had been gathering up over the previous 4 months or so. I suspect I will be returning to Canada sooner rather than later, if I can wrangle something through work. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I guess I should record some facts and figures, for my own sake if you're not that interested, in an attempt to freak me out. I have already guessed that I could have saved a small fortune had I flown about the place and rented cars for less time in different places, but we live and learn.

So, what do you want to know - or rather, what do I want to remember?? Let's try this:

Time in Canada

104 days

Time on the road

69 days

Total distance covered, inc local trips

21, 672 km (13466.4 miles)

Distance covered on long haul (approx)

20, 672 km (12845 miles)

Furthest east travelled

Tofino on Vancouver Island

Furthest west travelled

Cape Spear, Newfoundland

Furthest north travelled

Edmonton and the road between there and Jasper

Furthest south travelled

Chicago and then a bit further round the bottom of Lake Michigan

Rental cost for 3 mths, 3 wks, 2 days

About $6500

Number of fuel stops

37

Cost of fuel

$2573

Number of punctures

1 – a giant bolt in the tyre!

Number of breakdowns

0 – but I did have to stop to let the brakes cool down one time

Dents added to the car

0

Different places stayed

54

Times camped out

18 – 10 in the car, 6 canoeing, 2 on a ferry

Hitchhikers picked up

6

Hitchhikers murdered and dumped in the bushes

0

Longest day behind the wheel

13 hours

Largest distance covered in a day (approx)

700 miles (1126.5 km)

Number of moose seen

3

Bears

About a dozen, including 1 grizzly.

Beavers

0

Lynx

1

Buffalo

Hundreds!

New friends made

Lots

Old friends reunited

Even more

Hospitality debts collected

All of them, with unasked-for interest

Hospitality debts now owed

Far too many. I will pay you all back.

And that's about it. If I think of any more interesting stats I will add them in, but I reckon that ought to do it for now (I just thought of another: number of speeding tickets: 0 - and that's despite blatantly disregarding most of the speed limits in north America. Yup, I'm a right rebelly one, me).

Up coming attractions for future entries could include a return to Canada, South America or even Africa, so watch this space. Thanks once again for your company. I feel like its not been quite as exciting for everyone concerned as the South American version, but I hope it brightened your day now and again. If you feel the urge to continue travelling, you could do worse than check out my brother's blog (see the link on my page) Riding in the Tracks of Giants. He is now heading south through the US of A, aiming for Central America. Lucky bugger. Hasta luego, amigos.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Canoe-dling in Temagami

So, Canoe tripping in the wilderness, eh? I have to say I had been looking forward to this for the whole of my time out here, but I'm not going to lie to you - as the start date drew closer, I was getting a little apprehensive. It was to be an 8 day camping trip with 9 people, some of whom I didn't really know, doing things that my - once again - increasingly fragile back was not going to be too happy about (lifting boats, carrying packs, paddling). I didn't want to be the one slacking off, but I also didn't want to get air-lifted out if I
blew my disc out again, so I was nervous about that. And, even though I knew most of the people on the trip, I was aware that there were a lot of enthusiastic, energetic personalities, and that might become a bit too full on for me for that length of time.

As it happened, I shouldn't have worried about any of that stuff. The group dynamic was as good as you could hope to get it with 9 people, I worked my way into the paddling and carrying in a gradual way that let me judge how much I could get away with, and even though I was uncomfortable with my back for the whole week, it didn't get any worse than it had been before we set off, so I was able to relax about that too. But what about all the energetic folk?

Well, it was girl heavy group, with Mike and I being the only guys. Most of them knew each other well enough to know that they all liked some quiet time, and with so many people it was easy to fade into the background for a bit and not be missed, and then fade back in when you felt like it. Also, I made the effort to be up first everyday (not difficult as I've never been a solid sleeper in a tent, and my back wasn't helping), so I had an hour or two at daybreak every day to just potter about the camp, put tea on to boil, read a book or just enjoy the loons calling to each other over the misty lake. Add to that the fact that everyone was able to drop any 'real world' pretensions and just be themselves, and the banter and conversations rapidly became hilarious
Normally, quantities of booze or pot are needed to get to this level of openness, but we managed it just due to the bonding nature of the experience. I have to say, I had no idea girls could be so rude! I had been brought up to believe they only had pure thoughts and smelled like roses, but my eyes were truly opened last week!

So what was it all about then? Well, we went north from North Bay to an area called Temagami, which is basically a patchwork of lakes and connecting rivers in the middle of nowhere, where we put 4 canoes to work, paddling about 110km over the 8 days and hiking all the gear, including the canoes, about 8km through the woods when there was no connecting river to get us to the next lake we wanted to be on. These portages, as they are called, varied in length from about 100m to about 2km, and everyone had to take a pack, a canoe or an arm-load of paddles to get the gear from one landing point to another. Its hard graft, and I was amazed at one or two of our group who would take, on occasion, 2 packs AND a canoe to get it all across in one trip. As the week went on, the bags got lighter as food got eaten, but it was still a mission and a half.

Speaking of food, I have never been on a camping trip with such a luxurious menu! Each
day was a surprise, anything from salmon fillets cooked over the fire to pad thai curry to quinoa salads to fajitas to chocolate fondues and fresh made brownies was on offer. Mike and Janelle, who organised the food, are incredible in their forethought and planning - especially as each meal had to have both vegetarian and gluten free options! There were snacks during the day, and food organised so we could have fresh veggies early in the week and fresh beet and carrot salads later on. they had dehydrated salsas and hummus and more fresh fruit and veggies so we had a seemingly never ending supply of fresh, tasty food. It was incredible!

The paddling was good too. It's kind of like running a distance race, as your shoulders ache after a bit, but if you keep going you find a place where you could paddle all day and not get tired. The steering, done from the stern of the canoe, was harder, but I found that not only was it not too taxing on my back, but I was something of a natural, with good strength, rhythm and stamina, and I managed to pick up the various sculling strokes for manoevering the canoes just by watching the others. Very satisfying.

Every day provided opportunities to swim, and the lakes were shallow enough that the water
was fantastically warm and welcoming, even first thing in the morning and after dark. We had camp fires every night to create a bit of smoke to keep the mozzies at bay (sort of) and keep us warm and to cook on, and it was just one of those wonderful, peaceful experiences that you hope one day to recreate. It was probably the first bit of real "holiday" that I've had over here, as I was able to relax properly and enjoy the company of my friends and the place I was in without having to think about where I was going the next day or how many hours of driving it was going to take to get there!

There are a bunch of photos on the flickr link, and even more on my facebook page for those that are my 'friends'. Enjoy. I did.

And now, I have about 3 1/2 days left to pack, rest up, unkink my back a bit if possible, make some work exchange contacts and say goodbye to people. So I best be getting on. I'll be doing a facts and figures entry before long, but that may well be the last one for a while. Keep your ear to the ground for that one. Happy paddling!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Just for Laughs

So, Montreal, eh? Hot. that's the first thing I remember about it. And Humid. Hot and humid. Nice, too, though. I got there about 4pm on the Wednesday which gave me enough time to unpack, grab a shower and dinner and get to my first Just for Laughs stand up show of the visit. I have been a fan of the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival for as long as I can remember, way back when all I ever got to see of it was a half hour compilation on late night TV. To be in the city itself and able to get to some shows was pretty exciting for me.

Jimmy Carr was my first pick. Not a bad show, but he is basically a one-liner wonder, kind of like Bob Monkhouse but ruder. And less orange. He was funny, but after a while I was hoping for something more interesting. He said himself that his show was something like 300 gags in and hour and a bit. Frankly that's too much for me. When you walk out the door, its hard to remember even one of the jokes he told, even though your face hurts a bit from laughing.

Thursday was spent wandering about the new part of the city, checking out the day-time bits and pieces of the festival and trying to sort some extra tickets so some friends of mine who were also in town would be able to join me for Louis CK that night. Sadly, it was sold out, but they got tickets to another, earlier, show, and we had time for a 10 minute catch up as we crossed over at the venue. Plans were made to make plans for Friday.

Louis CK was pretty funny. He was going to be getting the award for Best in Show, I believe, so no wonder he was sold out. His was a more usual, rambling monologue style, telling a short story over a long period of time, due to the tangents he'd go off on. I'd not seen much of his stuff before, but Ricky Gervais thinks he's great, and I still, for the moment, put at least some stock in Ricky's comedic tastes. If his own stand up continues to get worse, however, that may not last, but perhaps he can salvage some respect with his latest sit com that is nearly ready.

Friday came and I headed to the Old city down by the port. Lots of cobbled streets and tacky souvenir shops, but the buildings themselves were pretty cool. I was even able to get my camera cleaned so it no longer puts blobs in the same places in all the photos I take. My friends, it turned out, had tickets to the Cirque du Soleil show 'Totem' at 4pm, so I gate crashed their afternoon and got myself one, and bloody glad I did too.

Cirque du Soleil are based in Montreal (something I didn't know until that day), and I'd seen tasters of what they offered on TV shows and even at the Buskers Festival in Christchurch, where many of the acrobatic performers have history with C d S. The show was unbelievable. A mixture of skillful balancing, amazing acrobatics and pure strength and control, it left us all reeling afterwards. I didn't have long to reflect on it, however as I had to get back up town to see Danny Bhoy, my third show of choice.

I'd seen Danny Bhoy before in NZ, and he is hilarious. Half Indian-Scots he was influenced predictably enough by Billy Connolly, and it shows. He had his prepared material that he was able to add to and stray from at will, and his show was by far the funniest of the 3 I saw. If this guy doesn't become one of the best in the game, something is wrong with the world. If you get the chance, go see him.

I took an extra day on Saturday to just hang out and do laundry etc, then drove back all the way to Waterloo on the Sunday - the last leg of my mammoth journey. I'm glad I've done it, but by god, am I glad it's over, too! Frankly, it was too much driving to cram in to so short a time, but it is a tick on the bucket list, and something I won't have to do again in a hurry.

I spent most of this week relaxing, unwinding, swimming in local lakes and gearing up for the big canoe trip. I gave Flash Harriette back yesterday with an impressive 21,672km notched up for the 2 months, 3 weeks and 2 days that I'd had her for, and it hit somewhat hard in the pocket. Ah well, them's the breaks. You can't take it with you, etc. I'd rather have had some left to spend on next year's project, but there you go. At least I haven't gone over what I brought with me...yet. Still time I guess. At least the next week will be fairly cheap, out in the bush. Hopefully there will be tales to tell and photos to upload from that little caper, and then it'll be all over and back to the grindstone.

I have looked back on some of these blogs and, somewhat understandably, compared them to those of my brother on his motorbike trip. I think its fair to say he has won on interest and originality. I guess it is the nature of the trip. Not so much of the new and unusual for me this time around, I'm afraid.

Ah well, quit your whining and be grateful for what you're given. Keep 'em peeled for the final instalment sometime in about 10 days. All aboard...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Go West, Young Man. Again.

More photos, by the way. Of the out east part of the trip. May be more to come as well. I'll let you know...

From Fogo we headed south-east some more, to St John's, the largest town in the Newfie province. We spent a night with our friend Mike's sister and family, just outside the city proper, where we were fed the largest spare ribs meal of my life, and bloody good it was too! They certainly know how to put on a spread in Newfoundland, that's for sure!

From there, it was short drive to the main city, and a few nights with Andy and Lori Delaney and family. Andy is Rosemary (from Salt Spring
Island)'s son (and so my cousin-in-law), and they were, simply, awesome. Such a nice family, with 3 lads all about teenage status, and none of the sulky or belligerent or any of the other normal things you'd expect from 3 teenage lads. They were all at the top of whatever chosen pursuits they had (soccer, running and chess), and the home environment created by Andy and Lori was one of the most comfortable, friendly and welcoming I have ever encountered.

While in St John's we went out to Cape Spear, the eastern most point in North America, thus concluding my east-west challenge. OK, so I didn't get to the westerly most point of North America, but Tofino was a pretty good effort. Canada doesn't go much wester than that.

At Cape Spear, we watched from the cliff tops as numerous whales spouted, gannets dived, porpoises dodged, and puffins wheezed out at sea. Then the fog rolled in and hid everything.

It's an interesting place, though, St John's. It has burned down twice in its history, most recently in the late 1800's, and there are only a few original buildings left in a city that was first settled in the early 1700's. Luckily, one of these is now a micro brewery that runs out of a pub called Yellow Bellys and produces fantastic lagers, reds and stouts. Trust me, I did some research.

By this stage in the trip, I was over most stuff, so a trip out on a boat to see whales and puffins - which I had done already else where - was not doing it for me. Neither was walking around the streets for hours at a time. In fact a second brewery tour at the Quidi Vidi brewery was about all I cared to do, and that too was worth the time. I met the Newfie equivalent of a mate from work - Ollie Olsen - giving the tour, with the same exact mannerisms and cheeky patter that Ollie uses on his cruise ship tours. I would have given anything to see Ollie and and his Newfie doppleganger come face to face. Alas, it was not to be. I had another beer instead.

On the Friday morning I dropped Smitch off at the airport, and was sad to see her go. I had enjoyed her company a lot, even allowing for my growing grumpiness at having been on the road so long, and my dwindling energy levels, and I hope she realises how grateful I was for her company and organisation of this leg of the trip.

Without her now, I am high-tailing it to Montreal. So far I have stopped in Moncton to catch up on the Bay of Fundy and the highest tides in the world. It was an interesting place to visit - you have to go twice to see both high and
low tides - but I felt slightly misled by what I had read about the place. I had been expecting the flowerpot rock formations to get nearly drowned in the tide, leaving just the vegetative tops of the rock pillars on view, like a series of small islands, their rocky stalks being revealed at low tide. Instead, they were permanently on display, but sometimes had water around the bottom of them. No matter, it was a nice enough place anyway.

From there, I took the long way, via Fundy National Park, to Fredericton (don't bother, its not worth it), and today ended up back in Quebec for the night, in the middle of a thunder storm. Tomorrow I get to Montreal, where I have 3 nights of comedy shows to occupy me, and who knows what during the days. Sleep most likely. I should be back in Waterloo by Sunday at the latest, and will then have week or so to recover before my 8 day canoe trip. Bit nervous about that - I've never been on an 8 day camping trip before, let alone one that includes carrying boats when the water runs out. I feel a dodgy back coming on again.....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Fogo Island Ate My Kite


The Ferry to Newfoundland was an over-nighter, boarding at about 11.30 and departing at 1am. The staff on board got very fussy about us trying to stretch out on the floor of the lounge to sleep, so it was not a restful night. Next morning was a fast dash up the coast to the Gros Morne National Park and a little fishing village called Rocky Harbour. It was to prove typical of the many coastal villages on Newfie, and very pleasant it was too. Friendly locals (just as we’d been told

there would be), fishing boats, and lots of scenery. We went on the Western Brook Pond boat trip that took us up a pond formed by the closing off of a fjiord millions of years ago, the fjiord having been formed by glacial excavation even more millions of years ago and rocks that are apparently some of the oldest on the planet. The water in the pond is so pure and ion free that it doesn’t conduct electricity, and it has taken several million years of draining out the sea water and replacing it with glacier melt and rain water to get to that state. It is a truly impressive landscape, and I’d recommend the trip to anyone thinking of coming out this way.

Apparently the land that makes up Newfoundland is actually part of the same bit of land that makes up Scotland, hence the remarkable similarity between the two places. When the original tectonic plates started drifting apart all those years ago, the two bits broke apart, Scotland drifted east and crashed into the rest of what makes up Britain now and the two fused together, and Newfoundland drifted west and settled off the coast of Canada. Not sure who you’d call the winner in that little scenario, but there’s not much we can do about it now.

After a couple of days in Gros Morne, consisting of the boat trip and a couple of extra mini-hikes, making a good 15km day of strange scenery and lookouts, we headed out early on the Sunday to get the short ferry over to Fogo Island.

I agree, it’s not somewhere I’d heard of either, but it was at the top of Smitch’s list of places she wanted to visit, so I guess I owed it to her to tag along. The name Fogo comes from the Portuguese word ‘fuego’, meaning fire. The Portuguese were the first visitors in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s, on account of the good fishing, before the French settled in the 1720’s and the English took over in the 1750’s. Its other main claim to fame is that the Flat Earth Society (who believe the world is indeed flat and the only reason governments don’t agree is because it would bring down society and education as we know them. Go figure….) recognise Brimstone Head in the town of Fogo as one of the four corners of the Earth (the others being…anyone…? The Bermuda Triangle, somewhere in Papua New Guinea and the Greek island of Hydra, of course). It is also the place where some massively rich woman decided to build a number of artist retreat studios for arty types to “get away from it all” and gain inspiration by working in the purpose built, stark and remote studios she built in a few locations on the island. These were another thing Smitch wanted to see, but I couldn’t really see why. The villages closest to where the studios were built were far nicer, and there was nothing to see other than the exterior of the buildings when you got there, but we went and looked nonetheless. In the end, Smitch and I agreed that, though an interesting idea, it was really just encouraging what was already a fairly pretentious group of people to be even more so, by giving them somewhere special to be pretentious. Like buying a drink for an alcoholic I suppose...

I have used the time on the island to try and get some artsy-fartsy photos of fishing boats and coastlines, but I’m not too sure how successful I’ve been. At least they are digital and easily delete-able!

As for the title of the blog…well, I took my kite

out today on a beach on Fogo, and it was AMAZING!! The wind was strong enough that I was forced to lean back into it to avoid being pulled over, and was still dragged along the beach by the pull of the kite, which was, itself, on dynamite form with its swoops and dives. I was holding it together pretty well, getting a workout into the bargain and decided to let Smitch have ago. Sure enough she crashed it (and she wonders why I don’t let her behind the wheel of the car) – although, fair dos, it was her first time flying this beast, and in extreme conditions to boot. I got her air-born again, and before I could cover the 30m sprint to where she was standing, she nearly took my head off with the strings, as she scythed it across the beach and crashed it again. A lesser man, or indeed a child, would have been neatly sliced in to 3 pieces by the cheese-wire effect. I, however, was left with only a couple of nice friction burns across my right cheek and forehead, which have been getting me some peculiar looks over the last few days as they have scabbed up rather more dramatically than the picture shows. I just hope they don’t leave a more permanent mark! I soldiered on, took back control, and 5 minutes later one of the strings broke, pin-wheeling the kite into the sand for the last time that day. Beaten by the wind and eaten by the beach!! I have now fixed the kite, however, and will be back for more somewhere else. Down, but not out. It’s back to the mainland of Newfie tomorrow, then down to St. John’s, so until next time, lets ALL go fly a kite.

New Scotland...a bit like the old one

Time has passed. It does that, so I’m told, but on this occasion more time has passed than I intended between blog entries. When last we met, I was still up on Gaspé Peninusla, hoping for a good night’s sleep, which I got. It took two more days of driving to get to Halifax, one along the last part of the peninsula, the second done almost entirely in the rain, causing us to bypass the Bay of Fundy (largest tides in the world) and head straight to Halifax and Smitch’s family cottage. I figured I could pop back up and do Fundy during one of the days we would be in Nova Scotia, or failing that, on my way back West from Newfoundland.

Smitch’s ‘cottage’ then…not so much a cottage as a mansion, with 5 bedrooms, several bathrooms, huge decks and lakeside views. It is actually her dad’s retirement home…or rather the second home he will move to when he retires and wants to get away from the rat race of Waterloo. Very nice it is too, and afforded us a few days off driving and just relaxing. There was other members of Smitch’s family to visit (a brother and aunt) nearby, where free meals and beer were on offer, as well as good company, and I took a day to try and get back to Fundy. It was looking to be about a 3-hour-each-way kind of trip though, so I stopped at a tourist info shop after an hour or so and asked if the impressive rock formations for which Fundy is most famous could be found elsewhere – or something similar, at least. I was directed to a small town called Kingsport, much closer and therefore more appealing, and away I went.

Alas, when I got there, the promised rock formations, about which I had been most specific in my request, were sadly missing, and only a red clay tidal bed was visible. Very disappointing, so I left and stopped in a small town called Wolfsville for lunch. A nice quiet lunch, I thought but, within moments of sitting down to eat, I was unexpectedly joined by a lady with fairly severe learning disabilities – meet Terry. She just sat herself down at my table with a big smile, a vacant stare and line of drool, and her carer politely apologised for the intrusion and tried to encourage her to go inside instead. She was having none of it, however, so after about 5 minutes of slightly awkward small talk between me and the carer (Caitlin), I did the chivalrous thing and invited her to join us, and we had lunch together. It went without a hitch, although I had to make sure I was looking anywhere other than at Terry, who had a massive appetite but not a lot of coordination when it came to targeting, or indeed much retention when it came to keeping the food in the required location for swallowing. She put away a double helping nonetheless, and there was far less collateral wastage than I had expected to see. Some how, her system turned out to be pretty efficient.

I got back to the cottage after another 8 hour day in the car, which was the last thing I’d wanted, and I hadn’t even got to see the Fundy rocks for my trouble, so that went to the return-leg list. The rest of the time at the cottage was far more restful, and by the time we set off for Cape Breton, I was feeling a bit more motivated once again.

Aaah, motivation and the lack thereof…The problem I was facing, it transpired, was that everyone who had suggested that so much driving in such a relatively short space of time would be bloody hard had been right, and I (who maintained it would be a breeze, I’d done South America after all, which was much bigger) had been wrong. My blasé attitude to the distances I would have to cover and the time in the car it would take to do so was wearing thin, and I was starting to hate being in the car. I was, however, too close to my goal of getting out to both coasts to be able to stop now, or even share the driving. How could I say I had driven from Tofino to St John’s if someone else had helped out? The outcome of this reality hitting home was that when I was faced with the choice of the long scenic way or the shorter more direct way, I was opting for the shorter way. It didn’t help that I’d used up the last of my free kilometres while in Halifax, so was now paying an additional 12c per kilometre, with about 5000km to go. It also meant that I was pretty exhausted at the end of each day and less willing, therefore, to go out and about and do things. When Smitch threw up the next idea of where we could go and explore, she was getting more and more sullen responses from me, until I eventually explained that I was rapidly “getting over it”. Luckily, Smitch had enthusiasm enough for two, and was usually able to get me out of the hostel and to a bar with a bit of gentle coaxing. I think her energy levels were enhanced by the naps she was able to take in the car, which I always missed out on, but I realised she had put a lot of work into picking places to go, and it would have been churlish of me to just say no and stay grumpily in whatever hostel we ended up in.

Cape Breton was great. We stopped in a tiny French town called Cheticamp and found a super-cheap lobster dinner deal that I tucked into, accompanied by a local fiddle/guitar duo and a dancing waitress getting in on the Irish vibe that is prevalent in these here parts. The restaurant had looked decidedly cheap and dodgy when we’d gone in, on the recommendation of our B&B hostess, but the food was great and it turned into a great evening.

Forgoing the full Cape Trail, we cut back to North Sydney (people – mostly Americans- have actually been to Sydney in Nova Scotia thinking it was the one in Oz. True story.) in time to take the 6 hour ferry to Newfoundland. Which I will talk about in the next entry, as other wise this one will become too long!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On the road again…after a brief interlude.

First order of business: photos uploaded to flicker, see the link on this page.

So, a week of R & R in Waterloo, catching gigs, going on a date (Ooooooo), celebrating Hana’s birthday, getting enormous bolts removed from tyres and subsequent punctures fixed, trying to not drive too much, celebrating my first Canada Day, the normal kind of stuff, I suppose.

Also, spent some time doing some very minor preparation for the next leg of my trip – Waterloo, Ontario to St. John’s, Newfoundland and back. Luckily, Smitch (Sarah Mitchell to her parents...actually just ‘Sarah’ to her parents, but they gave her the surname too, I imagine), my travelling companion-to-be, had made plans to (and I’m quoting her here) “tour-guide the shit” out the east of Canada on my behalf, and had a lists of places to visit, including friends and family with whom we could stay, thus saving money and hopefully having proper food cooked for us.

In return for this planning, all I had to do was transport an entire Dodge Caravan load of furniture out to Halifax, via the long way round, ready for Smitch’s move there later in August. Oh, and take a bunch of Dani’s stuff too. Suddenly my cavernous vehicle didn’t seem quite so cavernous. Poor Flash Harriette has never had so much shoved in her back door before. There was, in fact, barely room for my small day pack, which was all I could fit in of my own belongings. The suitcase I had been living out of to date had to stay behind. No matter though, no matter.

The first day of the trip was Sunday 3rd July, getting to Ottawa and Smitch’s sister and brother-in-law’s house by about 5pm. We had a lovely BBQ that evening, then I spent the next day exploring Ottawa, while Smitch caught up with her sister and twin nephews. Seemed like fair exchange to me.

From Ottawa we went north to Quebec, by-passing Montreal to leave it for when I come back later in the month, on my own, to catch some comedy shows at the Just For Laughs Festival.

Quebec is a really cool city. It has a modern CBD somewhere I guess (it must do, surely), but I never saw it. We stayed in a small hostel in the old part of town, which was all narrow streets, tall houses and market places. Very touristy, but in actually quite a tasteful way. Heaps of places to eat and drink, loads to see and watch, and basically a very pleasant place. The only snag was that now we atre in Quebec, everything is in French, and the further away from the border with Ontario you get, the less English is spoken. This required all my high school French to be dredged up from where I had buried it 2 years ago while trying to learn Spanish. I never thought I’d find myself having to take a stepping stone through Spanish to get to a French translation, but I found my default foreign language was Spanish every time!

French is slowly coming back to me by day 3, and its actually quite rewarding remembering some of this stuff, but it will continue to be a struggle, and I’ll be relieved when we finally get back to the English-speaking part of Canada.

The hostel in Quebec was quirky and quaint, the only drawback – and it turned out to be a massive drawback- was that we were sharing our dorm room with 3 elderly (80 years or so old) tourists from France. They seemed nice enough, and even tried to chat in French with us, not having any English between them, but as Smitch and I headed in to town to look around, I joked that they would be trouble later, as I predicted that all of them would snore and the old lady would be the worse of the lot. Little did I know that I was to be right on the money. It was the noisiest night on record, sleep was nigh impossible and, what broken rest we could get, was made more difficult still by the oppressive heat wave we had stumbled upon.

The next morning was a sluggish one, and the drive out to Ste Anne des Monts was all the more difficult for it. Still, Ste Anne was on the Gaspé Peninsula and our next hostel was on the beach and all rustic and palm-frondy. This was more like it. Our accommodation was a yurt, the other guests seemed friendly, what could go wrong here?

Unfortuntely, the ‘what’ that went wrong was the earlier in the evening, conveniently located beachside bar. After about 11pm it turned into a noisy, rowdy beachside bar and stayed that way, just outside our non-sound-proofed, canvas-sided yurt, until about 4.30am. So, that was nice. Strike two for a good night’s sleep.

Today, we continued our drive around the Gaspé, getting as far as Anse-aux-Os, a small villagey type place with, hopefully, a much quieter hostel. Although, I think it would take a small explosion to keep me awake tonight. Not only am I two nights of sleep down, followed by two days driving, but also we went walking along cliffs today and saw maybe half a dozen hump-backed whales between 100m and 300m off shore. It was pretty cool actually, and the extra excitement wore me out just a little bit more.

Gaspé is definitely a nice place. It was sold to us pretty hard before we came here, and maybe that was over-hype, a little bit, but only because I have been all around South America and live in NZ, so have seen more than my share of outstanding natural beauty. This is certainly getting up there, but it’s not going to be taking the belt home just yet. There is still tomorrow, though, so who can say what might happen then?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Stage 1 Complete

So, Mount Rushmore is a bit of a con. If you were clued in, you’d stop for sure in one of the wee lay-by/passing places on the way up the road and snap a photo from there, because if you go on up the hill further, you get filtered into a u-bend which reveals (a) no way back to the road and (b) a sign saying that the monument is free, but parking is $11. I’d have turned round there, except see point (a). Nothing for it but to get your parking ticket, which if you can believe it is valid for your vehicle for a year. Well that’s useful. I could go back every day if I wanted. But why would you, even if you were staying ne

ar by? There’s only a mountain to photograph and a kind of museum about how it was made, when you’ve seen it once, that should be enough.

Ah well, tourist photo op number-I-don’t-know-how-many accounted for. Maybe I was just too tired to appreciate it. Having spent 4 nights sleeping fitfully in the car by then, waking up about 6am, and having actually hit the road at 5.30 am that morning and driving for about 12 hours to get to Rushmore, I was a bit run down, I’ll be honest. I then spent that night in a truck stop an hour or two further up the road, and then did the same thing the next day – up before 6am, on the road, drive until about 7pm, slept in a Rest Stop area, up again at 5.30 and drove til about 6pm. All to get across the Dakota plains (which were actually very scenic, just never ending) and into Chicago by Saturday.

It almost worked, too, except I’d forgotten to book ahead for accommodation on a Saturday night, so I was left looking for camp sites that the internet swore were there, but when I arrived they weren’t. Except the first one which was full. So once again, sleeping in the car in a suburban street hoping not to get a ticket! Which I didn’t, and I was up early again and in to Chicago for Sunday morning, and a day of walking about, taking photos and enjoying the sunshine

in the Windy City.

Chicago seemed really nice, actually, and its

somewhere I’d go back to for a

better look, given the chance. The CBD buildings are all skyscrapers but still pretty cool architecture, and there is a good park setup by the lake and heaps of places I could have gone to if I’d had more time. As it was, I just walked about enjoying the Taste of Chicago food fair that was on, and revelling in not being stuck in the car for another 12 hours!

I had my first night’s sleep in a bed in a week on Sunday night, but still had to get up early to get back to Waterloo – only 8 hours driving according to Google Maps, but there was a customs stop too, which could add who knew how much extra time. As it turned out it was pretty quick process – just queuing time in the car really, but I got so focused on being in the correct lane that I missed the turning to the duty free area and therefore my chance to buy cheap single malt for my friends. The customs officer seemed quite smug when I said I had nothing to declare, but was hoping to get some duty free on the way out. She pointed out with a satisfied smirk that I had missed my chance. Worse than parking wardens, I tell you.

Anyway, back to Waterloo successfully, and it was good to catch up with Smitch, who is to be my travel buddy for July when I go out east. I now have until Sunday (its Tuesday to day) to go over plans, rest up and get my back attended to some more. It’s behaving itself but I don’t want to ignore the fact that I have been sitting down far too much lately. Oh, and the distance-ometer so far is 12000km or there abouts, which leaves me with about 3,900 free km on my rental agreement. Which won't be enough, I can tell you now!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Smaaaaaarter than the average American


Just FYI, I added a whole extra photo to the last post, so go take a look before you read on. If you want to of course.

Yah. It rained in Glacier Park. Or at least, it rained all night, and in the morning it looked like it was going to rain again, the reports were
that many of the trails were still snow-blocked, and to get to the hiking trails I was going to have to drive further north, when I needed to be going south, so I decided to flag Glacier National Park. No big loss. I had been hearing good things since I got over here, but I’d never heard of it before arriving, so I didn’t exactly have it on my wish list. Or even have a wish list at all for that matter. But still.

So, south I went, all the way to Yellowstone National Park, home of Yogi and Boo Boo of course, and anther hefty day of driving. I stopped in a roadside camp ground on arrival, just outside the national park, then headed in the next day. This worked ou

t perfectly, as it was mid-summer’s day and President Obama had declared that all National Parks would be free entry. And of course, once you’re in, you’re in, and don’t have to pay the entry fee however long you stay! So, at least 2 nights then. Just the camp site fees to cover, and frankly they are far better than the Canadian Parks fees – only $14 for a night.

Yellowstone is like a big amusement park without any proper rides, and you have to drive everywhere to get to the next interesting thing. They have a road network inside that is pretty much like a digital figure 8, with info buildings at each junction, and each 'segment' of the eight is about 25miles long. Basically, you decide which of the attractions you’d like to visit (waterfalls, geothermal bits and bobs, Old Faithful, of course) and where you’d like to walk etc. As long as you are early enough to the camp sites to get a spot, you are on ea

sy street. I got the last spot in my campground at about 11.30am, so that was lucky. I spent the rest of the day driving and pulling in to see things, much like everyone else. There’s a speed limit of 45mph everywhere, and signs to watch for wildlife, so people displayed mammoth amounts of patience, waiting while folks just stopped in the middle of the road to take photos or watch bison. Or were they buffalo. I think they are the same thing actually…no, hang on…a bison is what you wash your fice in (I heard this on a Saturday morning kids show about 25 years ago and have been just waiting for the perfect time to steal it!)….anyway, they were everywhere.

Of course, you don’t know that when you start out, so the first tiny bison specks in the distance are photographed to the max, in case you don’t see another.

Not long after you’ll find yourself in a walking pace traffic queue because the ranger is escorting one up the road; later you pop in to a parking lot to see a view of a water meadow and get surrounded by them as they wander about the car park getting from grazing area A to grazing area B. Before long you are sick of bison and swear you will never take another photo of one again…unless it does something interesting…like move about….or was that just me?

There were also Elk, many ground squirrels, a mangy old coyote, a few bears (I ticked off yet more Black bears and my first Grizzly on my second day), and views that are really quite spectacular – though not of the grizzly. That was quite a distance away, and even the zoom lens on my camera failed to make more of it than a brown

lump slightly different to the other brown lumps it was mooching about in. That’s how you can tell it’s a bear. Trust me. Heaps of mountains, forests, rivers and thermal stuff too, with geysers and blowholes and colourful springs everywhere. If I were a stirrer, I’d say it’s so much better than New Zealand, as it’s all in one place…but without a coastline….so much more convenient…but I’m no stirrer. To be fair, what Rotorua squeezes into one smallish town, Yellowstone multiplies it and spreads it out to spread out the tourists. The driving could be considered a bit of a nuisance, but it is so picturesque, it’s not a problem. As for the tourists, there are so many of them everywhere, but you only really notice it in the car parks. Of course, if I’d been into some major multi-day hikes, I’d have left everyone behind and got into the back country. I was a total tourist though and stuck to the mainstream bits. Sorry, Rich, I let you down, played the sheep, followed the crowds…elbowed them out the way to get the best photos mind you…

I have one more night here tonight, then I’m off east at full speed. I think I should get to Mount Rushmore tomorrow, but not sure where I’ll stay the night. Not far from there I imagine. Then it’ll be another big day towards Chicago. If I can roll in there on Saturday, I’d be happy. Til then, mind your backs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Vancouver Island Rocks...and Trees!

Before I forget, just a little aside to the Whistler entry. It amused me greatly when I realised that the English bloke I hung out with that evening was in fact the youthful reincarnation of a Fast Show character. For those in the know, think of the old bloke who used to sit in his arm chair by the fire and ramble on incoherently, with all sorts of random phrases and noises, concluding each monologue with the phrase “But of course, I was very, very drunk!” Now picture that character as a young man and you have my Whistler buddy. Same slightly bulbous nose (he was much younger remember) which seemed

primed and ready to transform into an alcoholics strawberry nose, even sounded like him a bit. I was unable to take anything he had to say seriously after I noticed it, and he did have a lot to say, so I had to resort to hiding my smirks behind swigs of beer and handfuls of chips. Ah well, you probably had to be there. Little thingplease little minds, as they say.

Anyhow, it’s been a while since I last put finger to keypad, so I guess that means either I’ve been busy or lazy. I think mostly the former, enjoying what tiny Tofino had to offer in the way of wildlife trips and diving outings. The wildlife was a tad sporadic, but my deal to swap a Friday morning dive for a Saturday morning dive paid off in a rather unexpected way, the details of which I will keep deliberately sketchy in a bid to avoid jinxing anything. The dive itself, however, was m

y first cold water experience, and it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. I actually put on the safety sheet I had to fill in that I had “some” cold water diving experience, specifying 14˚C in Wellington, which made the dive master laugh and mock, with comments along the lines of “that’s damn near tropical compared to what we have today!” Not particularly reassuring.

It actually turned out to be 7˚C for both our dives that morning, which is actually more that twice as cold 14˚C, despite what the numbers might suggest. We dressed up warm (figuratively speaking) in a 7mm wetsuit and hood, with an extra 7mm shortie over the top for added core warmth. Still seeming ominous…

We also had 7mm gloves and boots to complete the ensemble, and once in the gear it was hard to tell anyone apart from anyone else, except the dive guides who were wearing drysuits…but I guess as they were looking after my safety, I’d rather they didn’t succumb to hypothermia along with me, if that was to be the direction the day was to take.

The dives themselves were a little murky…actually close to being very murky – visibility only about 6m - but that was due to a combination of excessive melt water running do

wn the rivers bringing extra silt with it and a minimal rise in surface temperature sparking a slightly later than normal algal growth. Nonetheless, there were plenty of fish, many crabs and a positive abundance of giant starfish nearly a metre across and outsized anemones, which were the star attractions. A totally different dive experience, even to the Galapagos, and thoroughly enjoyable in its own way. After the first, 40 minute dive, things were pretty chilly, but with half an hour or so to warm up a bit, we embarked on the second, 30 minute, one. Somewhat mysteriously, this was not as cold as the first one, which was nice. I was told I should come back in winter when the visibility is 20m or so and the water temperature at depth exactly the same, but it is a long way to go for that, so probably not going to happen.

I made an interesting new friend on the dive trip (this is the deliberately hazy part) who I reluctantly had to leave behind as I was off to Ladysmith that afternoon, but future plans were made and what becomes of them remains to be seen. As for Ladysmith, I was to go and stay with the cousin of the father of Mike from North Bay, so having made the plans it would have been awkward to change them at such short notice.

Over I went, and met a very welcoming family who took me in, fed me, entertained me and invited me back (Mum, you should be proud!), but sadly my pencilled in plans for a few days time were cancelled as I found extra ferries – I’ll explain later.

From Ladysmith I went down to Victoria and explored that city for the afternoon, before heading over to Port Renfrew further down the west coast to Tofino. It actually classifies as

rainforest, so the hazy drizzle that met me on my arrival was more expected than the dry day that greeted me after a night sleeping in the car. The tracks round the coast were gorgeous, and the beaches strewn with drift wood and sickeningly picturesque, but sadly I only had the one night to look around. Anymore would have necessitated attacking the west ccast hiking trail, which was a 3-dayer at minimum, so was never really on the card in any case.

Back across the middle of the island I went to Crofton on the East coast and the small local ferry to Salt Spring Island, to stay with my aunt-in-law (i.e. my brother-in-law’s aunt, if you hadn’t worked it out). Salt Spring Island (SSI) used to be a bit of a hippy commune type set up and is still very popular with arty types who like the quiet, community pace of life and produce some amazing works of art, be they sculptures, jewellery or paintings. It’s not a big place but has some great places to eat, some lovely gentle walks and some historic, First Nation monuments, all of which Rosemary and her house mate Bob, did a first rate job of showing me. I felt thoroughly settled by the end of the first bottle of wine I shared with Rosemary on the afternoon I arrived, and it was a shame to leave on the third day. This is where Ladysmith part two fell apart. I hadn’t realised there was a second ferry to the island that went direct to Victoria on Vancouver Island, thereby saving me a 4 hour drive back down from Crofton, where I’d come across from. Much easier, and it sped up my plans to get to the US quite nicely.

With only 10 days left to get back to Toronto, given that I wanted to be back early enough to rest up before heading out east and also to allow time to follow up on those plans I mentioned before, I opted to drive straight from Port Angeles to Seattle on the day I arrived. Customs was easy – half of the US bits were done on the Canadian side before even getting on the ferry, the other half done as I disembarked, and I was off, arriving by about 6pm. The Saturday was spent with a cousin of Rosemary’s that she had only become aware of a couple of years earlier when he was doing some family tree research and found out that their grandmothers had been sisters. For those who don’t know and are interested, Rosemary’s family was from Glasgow, and she had moved to Canada some 30 or 40 years ago. Her new relative was born and raised in Germany, and moved to the States a similar time ago. He was a very friendly chap called Bernd and, despite a very painful back condition he is waiting to have operated on in July, he took me on a tour of a damp and misty Seattle for the day, for which I am very grateful.

And that brings me up to today, which has been a mammoth day of driving, leaving Seattle at about 6.30am and driving about 900km in 12 hours (OK, it was 11, but I lost an hour as I passed a time zone) to arrive on the outskirts of Glacier National Park. If the weather is good tomorrow I will find a day hike, if not I’ll head straight south to Yellowstone National Park and have an extra day there. Watch this space. Its Sunday evening now, and I’m aiming to be back in Waterloo by Tuesday the 28th, so I have 9 days to play with. Chicago is on the cards, and I will pass Mount Rushmore (I may even stop for a photo if they aren’t charging body parts to take a look), but mostly it will be driving. With a bit of luck I may be able to fit in a chiropractic appointment. I really know how to live, huh?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Time to Chill

The Chief, eh? It pretty much lived up to its name. Its a large, abrupt rocky outcrop, with volcanic origins, in the small town of Squamish, about half way between Whistler and Vancouver. There are actually 3 peaks, accesible from a track that splits 3 ways about half way up. They all climb very steeply, and involve re-bar ladders and chain hand rails to help climb/pull your way up various stages of the ascents. the rock itself is about 350m high, so its a fairly substantial scramble. After checking the whereabouts of the trailhead in the information office, I was recommended to give the 2nd peak a bash as it had the best view. This I did, reaching the top in about an hour (1/2 hour faster than the info person suggested, and about an hour quicker than the marker at the bottom), sweated for a bit at the top, and headed down as far as the split in order to go up the first peak as well. Why not? I thought. I'm only here once. I toyed with the idea of doing the 3rd peak as well, but meeting a rather cute local girl at the top and chatting to her seemed more fun, so I invited myself along when she finally headed back down. No harm, no foul as they say.

I carried on to Vancouver and found a rather crowded hostel in the downtown area. I found a pub to watch the 3rd round of the hockey play-offs (the next best thing to the world cup over here) and kept my head down when Vancouver lost 8-1 to American opposition. The next day I went a-walkin' round town, visiting the Musuem of Biodiversity, the Granville Island Market and the Aquarium, by way of large parts of the water front, going mostly by foot but for one long stretch to the museum by bus, and therefore got to see a fair amount of the downtown city. Its a nice place, I think, and located on the doorstep of some amazing mountians and outdoor recreation. Nice.

Wednesday saw me off to the early ferry to Vancouver Island, and involved a little more Satnav horn-locking. The machine was convinced the ferry terminal was a 2 1/2 hour, 34km journey away, and I hoped fervantly that it was wrong, as I'd only allowed an hour to do what I believed to be a 25km journey. Once again, I was right and I arrived with plenty of time. I am losing faith in my guidance system.

Once on Vancouver Island I decided to get an oil change for Flash Harriette, and to get her brakes checked out after the thermal disaster that was narrowly averted. The guy at the garage seemed to think the brakes would do, but conceded that something had got very hot and become bent (hence the shuddering when decelerating from 100km/h or so), but it was going to cost about $450 to fix and wasn't essential, so I left it well enough alone. That's one perk of having a rental I guess - ultimately it's not my problem.., as long as it holds up while I have it. Three hours, one hitch hiker and 2 bears later and I was in Tofino, where I will stay and be a tourist for a few days.

Today I went out early on a nature cruise round the islands of Tofino to see various wild things, and checked off bald eagles, osprey, puffins and sea otters, among others, for the trip. I have a dive planned for Saturday, and will make a decision about going out looking for whales later on. I figure I won't see them as well as I did off Peninsula Valdez, so what's the point? Maybe I'll go fishing instead. Lots of salmon hereabouts, and some halibut too, by all accounts. And hikes, of course. Lots of hikes. It'll be a surprise for us both :-)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Smoke? No Thanks, I'm Trying to Quit...

So, Jasper was nice. Actually it was pretty spectacular with its snowy mountains and steep sided hills and rivers and whatnot. unfortunately I didn't stay as long as I'd thought I would, as I struggled through a planning meeting in reverse (i.e. I worked backwards from being on Salt Spring Island for the 14th June, fitted in everything I wanted to do on Vancouver Island, tracked back to where I was) and discovered that if I wanted to fit it all in, I'd have to leave after the second night. I also found out that all the camp sites I had picked out in Glacier National Park were still closed due to snow, so the best place to stop between Jasper and Whistler was going to be a tiny town called Field, which was about 200km closer to Jasper than I would have liked - nothing personal, it just meant I was going to have a mammoth day to get from there to Whistler. Still, one thing at a tiime.

I drove out to a couple of places local to Jasper and did a couple fo day hikes - real pathetic stuff, really, but several in a day wasn't bad exercise. I was done in by about 5pm thanks to too much driving, bad sleep thanks to snorers in the dorm, and the remnants of the cold which I can't shake, so I took it easy in the evening.

An early start with a couple of hostellers who wanted a lift to the Columbus Ice Field saw the first part of the days drive done in comapny. We stopped at a couple of waterfalls on the way too, which broke the 2 hour journey up. I took a look round the ice centre, but opted out of an hour long trip on to the bottom edge of the glacier due to cost and the fact I could see the glacier out of the centre window, so didn't feel the need to see it closer up. I continued on and stopped a few more times, before getting to Lake Louise, where I went on a 5km hike up the shore line. Again, nothing challenging in it at all, apart from the new shoes I had bought not half an hour earlier and wanted to break in a bit. After that, it was on to Field.

Talk about tiny towns: Field was it! About 3 streets, but many lodges and the tidiest hostel I'd ever stayed at. Couple that to the Truffle Pig - a restaurant that deserved several stars if it didn't already have them - and it turned out to be a top spot. It was in Yoho Natiuonal Park, and the next day I put in 3 shortish hikes, ranging from 3ish to 7ish km in length, for a total of about 15km along and 1.5km of climbing. Much more strenuous, and my shoes rubbed a doozy of a blister on my left foot. Perfect for what I have in store of the trip between Whistler and Vancouver. Bugger. Anyhow, lots of good wildlife, lots of sweating and a feeling of actually enjoying being somewhere for a bit, later and it was another cold beer in the Truffle Pig. Things were looking up.

Today, I have just arrived in Whistler after a mammoth 10hour drive covering about 780km. It was spectacular country, adn half of it was off the main highway - somehting Is hould have been doing more of, but the satnav tends to take me the fastest routes and I don't ahve the maps to argue - apart from this time, when it got in a bother again when I took things into my own hands, and eventually had to re-programme it again to avoid being sent via Vancouver. I had a great time on the winding mountian roads - perhaps too much of a good time, as I found the brakes doiing funny things after a bit. I wondered if I should pull over and see if somethign was wrong (in which case I'd have to stop and try and get help) or just pretend I hadn't noticed and hope I could limp into town and sort it there. I opted for plan A after deciding that if I ignored it and the brakes crapped out altogether, I'd most likely be tipped into a ravine several hundred meters deep. It was a good call. Even to my untrained eye, I couldspot two problems almost immedieatley that I stepped out of the car. The first was the moke pouring out of the front left wheel. The second was the smoke pouring out of the front right wheel. It seems that my enthusiastic (but actually extrememly safe) driving had pushed the brakes past their heat threshold, and they weren't too happy. Still, half an hour later and they had cooled down to the point that the warning light on the dash had gone out again, and I continued on, more sedately this time. the light came on once more on the last part of the down hill, but after that it was level enough to not need the brakes, so they cooled down properlyin the chill mountain air.

So here I sit, in the evening sun, on the balcony of the YHA hostel in Whistler, that not so long ago was built as athlete accommodation for the 2010 Winter Olympics, so you can perhaps imagine the tidy condition of the place. Very nice it is, too.

I shall relax a bit tonight, and hope my raw heel comes a bit righter by tomorrow when I have a trail to hike that sounds very similar to the one I did in Marumbi Park in Brazil, with rocks and ladders and chains to assist in the ascents. Sounds good to me. So, until after then, keep on smiling. I have been.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Rockies and Bullwinkle

Look what I saw the other day! In one of the road side clearings that I had been scrutinising, more to the point,
so that paid off at least. Its a moose, by the way, for the hard of seeing.

So anyway, I worked out the daylight thing...I think... I have decided it must be to do with the time zones I am crossing that I don't realise I am crossing because they creep up on me over two or three days. As I get closer to the new zone, the days are that much longer, and then I cross into the new zone, lose and hour and everything goes back to normal for a few days. Both times so far I have been caught out in my new location, and have wandered around having dinner far too early or wondering why shops are still open when they should have closed by now. Only one more zone to go, and then I start doing it in reverse. Should be interesting.
The driving has become tedious, I'll be honest. I think I am doing too much of it and not having enough time to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak. It doesn't help that I keep underestimating how far I have to go each day. I've notched up about 4000km so far. Not that there have been that many 'flowers' on the plains, it has mostly been just dull, but I have reached the Rockies now so things should become more interesting, for a while at least.

Also, driving cross-country in a car is not nearly as satisfying as on a bike, and I am the first to be surprised to hear myself say that. At least on the bike you feel like you are doing something with your day, but in the car it is just a surprisingly draining slog to get from A to B. It was draining on the bike too, of course, but there was a reason for that. Also, on the bike, there was a wealth of humourous experiences everyday as I struggled to master my machine - and sometimes even succeeded. And if no humourousness presented itself courtesy of the bike, then there were interesting, 'cultural differences' scenarios to entertain me (and, in the telling of them, you, perhaps). On the bike, as well, you are much more out in the open and part of the
landscape in a way that you never are in the tin box environment of a car. I'd always trotted out this line in the past, but I am fully believing it for the first time. Canada is nice and all, but the people are just 'more of the same' as you'd get in NZ, the UK or any other westernised, wealthy country. Nothing to write home about, in other words.

Still, there is always the SatNav. Now, I am not particularly techno-savvy, but even I thought I'd worked out the budget beast I picked up in Toronto, and it has mostly been invaluable, particularly in and out of cities. However, the other day in Winnipeg, we had words. More accurately, I had words, the SatNav remained calm and irritatingly rational - and, for the record,confused!

I'd performed a clever, round the block U-turn (due to a one-way system) to get on the road it was telling me to be on at the start of a day trip to Oakhammer Marsh, and somehow it got confused and put me on a parallel road to the one I was actually on. I thought this was the case, but followed its instructions anyway, and got rapidly lost as it told me to take lefts and rights that weren't there or were called different things to what it was saying. Somewhat surprisingly, I got a bit sweary at it, and it didn't help itself by steadfastly sticking to its story. Eventually, I was forced to pull over, wipe its route memory and re-program it. Cheered me up though, as you can imagine. That sort of thing hardly bothers me at all. if only other aspects of life could be resolved in the same way...

The other day, on my way to Edmonton, I stopped in at the Ukranian Cultural Experience of Canada. Its exactly where I'd expect to find a Ukranian Cultural experience, naturally, so I wasn't surprised either. Lots of traditional farming techniques and cabbage dishes to try. That evening I checked on Ed's progress and saw that he'd been in Uzbekistan. Alright for some. I was excited at the time - right up to the point of writing this, in fact - as I thought he'd been in the Ukraine on the same day I'd been experiencing their culture. But no, Uzbekistan. Not quite as
funny. Nuts.

Got some hikes coming up in the next couple of days, and I should be on Vancouver Island by
Wednesday next week. So many things I want to fit in and the only way is to keep going. I know I can't do it all, but its hard to pass up the stuff
right in front of you for stuff up the road, so I will continue to drive big distances and hope I am not too wiped to make the most of the places I get to. With scenes like this, can you blame me? More later. Time for dinner.










Friday, May 27, 2011

Heavy on the Seasoning...

Oh, and by the way, what is up with these seasons? When I got to the UK I had 2 weeks of unbroken, late spring, mostly warm; then I got to Toronto and it was sunny again (mostly) and warm too, but the trees seemed to have stepped back about a month in how leafy they were – late spring, they told me. Then, up in North Bay it was sunny to start with, then cold and wet, still no spring in the leaves. Now, in Thunder Bay, it is light at 10pm, like I’d expect it to be in Summer, the sun has been shining all day (like Summer – it is nearly June after all) but it never got over 7˚C and the trees are still barely out of Winter. I mean I wouldn't mind, except that its like driving about in a greenhouse and then I get out of the car and need to put on Winter clothing. I am confused!!

Water, Water Everywhere

Did I say fun? I meant hard labour. What was I thinking? I somehow imagined that the kindness and generosity I’d shown Mike and Janelle in Wellington would be repaid when I got to their manor, squire, but instead I was put to work in their new house – a real fixer-upper – within moments of my arrival on Thursday afternoon. OK, so Janelle fed me first, but then she got out her whip and jackboots, and not in a good way!

With a kitchen installation looming on Friday morning, we were on a tight schedule to get a whole, freshly plastered kitchen to undercoat and double top-coat before then. With 4 hours of drying time between coats, we used a fan heater to speed things along but, even still it was quarter to one in the morning before we were done. And then the installation was delayed to Tuesday anyway. Never mind, I thought, it’s the least I could do to earn my keep for a couple of days…and then the landscaping started.

In the end, I spent four days with them, shifting dirt, clearing brush, digging vegetable beds, planting seeds, and having a great time. Their new house is right on the lake side in North Bay, Mike’s parents, grandparents, niece and nephew came up to help and were great, and in a way I see it as earning my whole trip. In South America I did voluntary work with kids and animals to feel like I earned the ride, and this time…well, this time I guess it’s much the same…just not quite for as long…but then neither is the trip.

The worst thing about spending the first two weeks of my trip with friends is that I was sorely tempted to ditch the whole cross country drive thing and just hang out and re-paint Mike and Janelle’s house for three months. Still, that would be cop out, so enough of that kind of talk.

Anyhoo, work done, back still in one piece, just about, and it was time to hit the road properly – at last! I plotted a vague course for a few days and got cracking, aiming on the first day, not for the touristy town of Sault Ste. Marie, but to the Lake Superior Provincial Park a bit further north, for some camping out and an attempt to get into the spirit of the trip.

It was a good call. The road itself was interesting enough…for a while. Then, however picturesque the mixed pines and silver birches were, decoratively interspersed with reflective lakes and creeks as they were, they got a bit samey after a while. Even trying to check each clearing for a glimpse of a bear or moose that might have been wandering past, lost its excitement factor after about 6 hours with not a sniff. Still, thinks I, it won’t last for long…except it did. It lasted for hours…days, in fact as it turned out, as it was still the same at the end of the third day of driving, I was beginning to get an idea of just how large Canada is.

Case in point: I have so far driven along the shores of three of the Great Lakes – Ontario, Huron and Superior – and while they are definitely beautiful to see, they are so unbelievably large that it’s hard to tell them apart from the ocean for a lot of the time. It’s a bit like looking at the pixels that make up a picture, close up. They lose any kind of meaning until you take a step back and they merge into an image. The lakes are like this. You’d need to be able to look at them from a great distance to get any sense that they were, indeed, lakes rather than oceans, and even then it’s not that clear.

There were plenty of spots to pull in and stretch the old legs of course – and more importantly the even older-feeling back – but, rather disappointingly, if they were in a Provincial Park (of which there are many to drive through) the spots all required a hefty parking fee, in cash - of which I didn’t have any. So, I chanced it, parking up and rushing to whatever cliff edge or waterfall this particular stopping point was promoting, taking some quick photos and skidaddling. A bit dishonest, but I tell myself (and you, too, you judgers) that I was quite willing to pay if they’d had a better system in place that took plastic or notes rather than exact change.

The same thing happened at Lake Superior Provincial Park, which was closed up when I arrived at 6pm and still closed when I left conveniently early at 8am, once again being unable to pay the ridiculously high camping fee (C$35 a night!! That’s more than a hostel charges!) . Still, I grabbed myself a spot along the deserted lake front, with a view of the setting sun, where I was able to organise the back of Flash Harriette and cook my first evening meal. No hiccups there…except that the fuel bottle of my Whisperlite stove decided to leak like a geriatrics bladder instead of carefully channelling the fuel to the burner. Luckily, it did this before ignition, but trying to fix fiddly little metal bits with very cold hands indeed was not easy. I was equal to the task however and got it plugged and fired up safely. Dinner was a snap, the sun set over the horizon (not sure where else I’d have expected it to set), and the back of Harriette was fixed up for sleeping. Nice. This was what it was all about!

Next day it was further on round Lake Superior, all the way to Thunder Bay – no, really, that’s its name. A bit ‘Hollywood B-movie’ for my tastes, but a nice enough little town. On the way there, I pulled in to check out another impressive vista, and as I pulled in to the car park I got my first taste of real live bears! A mother and her cub were scavenging around the bins, and my car startled them. The cub scrambled up the nearest tree (so fast that I instantly dropped “climbing a tree” from my list of bear evasion strategies) while the mother stood and stared down Flash Harriette. I got a quick photo before they shuffled off into the bushes, but it was a better sighting than I’d expected to get outside of a rubbish dump. Definitely a highlight of my two days so far. Still, I gotta say that I miss my bike. Its not as challenging, somehow…