Thursday, August 26

Rockies Revisited

I've been back in Jasper for a few days now. I spent
a summer here back in 2001, and almost ended up
staying for the winter. This place really is
incredible, but at the same time, walking around town
now is a bit lonely. Almost all of the friends that I
had here have moved on. In fact, a lot of them are in
Montreal. Only two are still here, but even they're
moving soon. Still, I've said it before and I'll say
it again, Jasper is very special, and definitely worth
checking out. During the summer, the majority of the
population here is between 18 and 25, doing the same
thing that I did when I lived here - having a good
time. In the end, though, the combination of the lack
of opportunities for decent work (it's very rare to
make more than $12/hour at any job in the area, and
the cost of living is high) and the fact that not many
people stay here for more than a year makes long-term
stays less appealing. I've heard similar things about
Whistler, with the major difference being that high
season is in winter, compared with summer here.

I ended up staying in Edmonton for much longer than
I'd hoped or expected. After resting up for four
days, the area had rain for almost a week, and since I
expected to camp out while I was here, the prospect of
being in a tent on a rainy day didn't tempt me. So
after waiting for five more days (gawd, and a long
five days they were), I found a few Swiss-German guys
that were going to Jasper on the first sunny day as
well. And better still, they had a car. In the end,
I got a ride with them straight to here. And after I
got here and looked up my friend Jason - the other
friend that I have who's still here is his roommate -
I was offered a couch to sleep on for as long as I

Although I'll probably head south to Banff after I
leave here, my immediate plan is a mini-trip to Prince
George and back. A super-nice guy that I met on
Denman Island (one of the gulf islands off of
Vancouver) owns a tattoo shop there, and after talking
to him on the phone today, I offered to drop by to
catch up a bit. Plus, the guy is very talented, and
I'll likely get a second tattoo off him while I'm
there. He gave me my first (and thus far only) tattoo
while we were on Denman, after he and his friends picked me up while
I was hitch hiking across the island. They offered me
a place to stay for as long as I was there, and after
a few days of wicked partying (and watching him doing
some great work on his friends) I couldn't pass up the
opportunity to get a little souvenir for myself.

On a bit of a side note, one thing that I forgot to
mention about my trip up north was a family that I met
at the camp site there. They were extremely nice, and
offered to let me stay at their house if I was ever in
Peace River (a town about 5 hours northwest of
Edmonton). As a matter of coincidence, I ended up
getting dropped off in Peace River towards nightfall
on the hitch back to Edmonton, and sure enough, they
were only too happy to put me up for the night while I
was there. If I had to pick one thing as the
highlight of this or any of my trips, it's been the
people that I've met.

Wednesday, August 18

Northern Circles

I'm back in Edmonton, having completed the loop up to Yellowknife. It's been good to rest a bit, and also to have a bed, but it'll soon be time to hit the road again.

A few other things about Yellowknife that I didn't mention in the last post...

First, the nights were freakin' cold, alot more so than I'd expected. In the days leading up to my going there, I watched the forecast for the area, and it was usually a not-too-shabby 15C or so. All very true, at least when the sun was up. But for the four or so hours of darkness, the temperature would plummet, sometimes falling 6 degrees in one hour. This made camping less appealing than I'd expected, but after picking up a few blankets and some warmer clothes, nights were much more pleasant. Still, it got downright hot by about 7 am, so I'd have to strip off a few layers before going back to sleep.

Second, the town itself had a weird layout. The western half, or 'New Town', looked like any other small town, and was located a bit farther from the water than the other half, called, as you'd expect, 'Old Town'. The eastern part was much prettier, IMO, and felt alot more like what I was expecting. Being on the bay of Great Slave Lake, it felt like an old port town, complete with winding back streets and somewhat-run-down buildings (actually similar to the run-down fishing villages out east). This was the part of the city that retained most of the character of days gone by, and was where I spent alot of time wandering around. It wasn't very big, so exploring didn't take very long, but sitting and staring out at the water helped to pass a few quiet afternoons when my legs were tired of hiking around the back country.

I hitch hiked back, and one of the rides that I got after getting back to Alberta was a little... different. A very nice guy, very well spoken, but a little rough around the edges. The weirdest part of course was that he happened to be a full blown Hell's Angel, and very proud of it. He was driving a fairly new Dodge Ram, and I didn't see the patch on the back of his leather vest, so I didn't clue in until he started going on about the workings of the 'Angels', and went into detail about how to join the organization. Not that I asked, but apparently he was trying to make small talk. Apparently one never ever asks to join the organization. Instead you find some 'Angels', and hang out with them for a few years until they offer you probationary membership. Then, if the powers-that-be like you, after a few years you'll be given your full 'stripes', which means always wearing the vest with insignia on the back, and getting the tattoo on your arm, which he was very eager to show off. The conversation kept going back and forth between normal and downright unnerving, but again, the guy was very nice, and took me about 4 hours of the distance, almost to Edmonton. Still, I get the feeling that I'm becoming way too old for hitch hiking, and if that wasn't my last hitch, it was very close to it. Most of the places that I'll be headed for now are close together, so hitch hiking isn't even practical any more, even if I still felt like doing it. The main reason that I was hitching in the first place was that up until now, each stretch of the distance that I traveled was at least 600 km, if not more. Not only did the hitching save me alot of money, but in the end, I usually made better time than the bus, which would stop into every little armpit along the way. But once I hit B.C., the towns aren't nearly as spaced apart, so buses are much more appealing.

I've been asked about posting pictures, and though I'm not likely to get a camera (even if I did, finding a way to get the pictures scanned or uploaded to computers would be difficult at best), Yellowknife was very special. To get my experiences across, it would definitely help if I post some pictures. Now, unfortunately, because I'm at the library, I can't post pictures directly, as I'd have to save them to the hard drive, but there are some good ones at the following URL:

Check out the ones under 'Yellowknife - Old Town'.

Wednesday, August 11

The Final Frontier

Well, the final frontier in terms of roads, anyway. I've been in Yellowknife for almost a week, and this has been by far the highlight of my trip. I'm not sure how many have ever thought to take a close look at this place on a map, but it is at the end of the road, literally. Two roads go north from the boarder with Alberta - the first one ends about 80 clicks from where it starts in a town called Hay River, while the other goes north for about 500 km till it hits Yellowknife. This place easily has one of the deepest feelings of isolation that I've felt in Canada. Whereas the Yukon is a stopping point for people going to Alaska, there's no other reason to come here than for Yellowknife itself. And that's by no means a bad thing. But then again, I haven't made it to Nunavut. Well, not yet, anyway.

As for the getting here part, I somehow managed to make it all the way from Edmonton in just two days, covering 500 km the first day, and over 1000 on the second. The only reason I was able to make such good time was that the people who took me most of the way on day two drove (as I'm told) like true Northerners, doing about 170 km/hr the whole time. They were both extremely nice, a girl about my age and her mother-in-law. Besides offering me food the whole trip, they gave me their phone number, invited me to stay with them, and offered to show me around town the whole time I was there. Come to think of it, 'extremely nice' doesn't do them justice. Still, their house was already very crowded (3 people staying in a 1 1/2), so as not to take too much advantage of their hospitality, I opted to camp out instead. But I was over to their place for dinner last night, and after eating, they drove me farther north, up the rest of the 'highway' (actually just a dirt road), to see some very nice waterfalls and lakes.

I have a hard time describing how I feel about this place in and of itself. Unlike Whitehorse, it's very flat, but the geography has other fascinating features. The soil is extremely arid, more like a big layer of pebbles than anything else. Because of that, seeing trees growing out of it has a definite beauty of it's own. And of course there's the wildlife, most notably the Bison. I'd never seen anything nearly so impressive until now. On the drive up we must have passed 40 of them on the road. They're no taller than a moose (about 6 ft, 1.75m on average), but they're so incredibly massive! I have no idea what they weigh, but it must be around 2 tones. If I were to sit down, their heads would still be bigger than my whole body. Seeing them in motion was easily an experience in it's own right. And they have no fear of cars whatsoever, but then again, why should they? If they do get hit by a car, most of the damage will be on the car's end.

Something else that I have to mention is one of the local seafood restaurants. They're right on Great Slave Lake (about the same size as Lake Ontario), and they only serve what they catch that day, which would usually give you a choice of about three or four different kinds of fish. They cook them quite literally to perfection, and then give it a dose of some sort of garlic vinaigrette. It looked very good - but the taste was unbelievable! I got a hint as to why towards the end of the meal, when I poured some of the vinaigrette on what was left of my salad, and suddenly lettuce became surreal... I don't know what's in that sauce, but it must be spiked with a drug of one sort or another. Being in the restaurant felt in some ways like being back in frontier times, as the building itself was a log cabin, the kitchen was just behind the bar, and most of things being used were late 19th century style. And of course, the whole place was standing room only.

After I leave here, I'll probably head for Edmonton, as pretty much all roads out of the N.W.T. go in that direction. It'll be nice to get back to a city and get clean again, though I doubt that I'll stay there for more than a day or two. I've done the tent thing before (my record for living in a tent stands at 3 months straight), but still, I hadn't bargained for doing the outdoorsey thing for too long on this trip, and after a week a hot shower will feel very, very good. Still, my opinion of Edmonton is the same as before, so after a little while, I'll probably head towards Jasper.

Tuesday, August 3

Yee haw

I've been in Edmonton for a few days now. I've seen this place a few times before, while I was living in Jasper. Despite trying very hard to like this city, I just can't get comfortable here. Considering the size of the place (~ 800000), it's strange that everyone is in such a rush. Of course, coming here from Saskatchewan didn't help matters, with Sask. being one of the most laid back places around.

Way too many people here are sporting mullets, the all time champion being the one that I saw yesterday, short spike on top complete with a thin raggity layer going all the way down the kid's back. To top it all off, a lovely 40 inch waist, all pot belly. And he wasn't more than 15 years old.

And then there's the whole 'Cowboy Way' attitude of most of the locals. If it ain't country, it ain't music. Edmonton gets off a little easier then the smaller towns, but it's gonna take a little while before I get used to it again. A guy that I met on the way from Saskatoon kept telling me stories of his adventures in the rodeo. I don't even know what you call it, but apparently he was competing in the thing where you have to ride a very much pissed off horse, and see how long you can stay on. After he got thrown off, he flew ten feet into the air, before the horse gave him a double kick on the way down. One hoof up his ass, the other directly into his crotch. And to top it all off, he came down flat on his head. He even carried a picture of it, just in case people didn't believe him. How he could feel proud of this story is even weirder.

I've been reading the comments, and there were a few questions that people brought up. As far as money goes, it's amazing how far you can stretch your budget when you hitch hike, camp out, and live on a steady diet of pre-made macaroni salads from the grocery store. A whole meal for two dollars! I've been careful to budget myself up until now, saving any small spending sprees for the end of this trip. As for the length of these posts, it's true that they are a tinsy bit long, but I type fairly fast, and I've been trying to tell the stories in the same way that I would in a conversation. So sometimes I end up rambling on a bit. But considering that I only get around to posting about once a week, I try to more-or-less capture the essence of the high points, so depending on how much has happened, or how much I have on my mind, the length can vary accordingly. And a note to Davey, no problem on the birthday gift, hope you enjoyed Fahrenheit 9/11, I thought it was a bit over the top, but the main points were pretty good.