The Long Road Home

I still wish there were trains between Vancouver and Calgary. Passenger ones, like VIA, not the Rocky Mountaineer (which, admittedly, I would still love to take, but I tend to not have an extra $5,000 lying around). But we don’t have them, so driving is what we have.

I slept like crap. I tried moving to the blue couch, which I knew to be comfortable, but somehow it just wouldn’t let me rest. I ended back on concrete. I got at least a couple of hours of shuteye before my watch buzzed and it was time to get up, get the kids up, and get out the door.

Surprisingly, it took little effort to pry them out of their beds, though I did have to remind them to consider all possible meanings of “silent as the grave” as we headed out towards the car. Above all else, I wanted to avoid waking Allen. It’s not that we didn’t want to say goodbye, but his rest is important.

I made myself just enough coffee to fill my thermal mug. It was too weak for my lack of sleep, but it would have to do until I could get another.

Alex saw us out the door before she retreated to bed. The car was damp, the driveway was damp, the road was wet. It rained lightly as we left, it was fully raining before we’d crossed the Fraser River. It would rain almost until we got to Merritt.

There was a surprising amount of traffic between Ruskin and Hwy 1, at least for 03:30. Once we were heading east on Hwy 1, traffic dropped to near nothing, which was good because the rain periodically blocked my ability to see the highway, which is already a bit difficult to see due to the lack of streetlights. But we were passed by no-one, nor did we pass a soul, also until we were nearly at Merritt.

By the time we approached Hope, nearly an hour later, we could see the dim glow of dawn forcing its way through the precipitous clouds, exposing the outlines of the mountains we were about to enter. Road and pipeline construction, along with the washout repairs, had us regularly slowing and changing lanes, though there was no-one to notify, no crews on site to witness our passing. It was as if the apocalypse had left the three of us on some journey into the mountains, searching for safety and civilization.

Civilization, in the form of three cars easily surpassing 140 km/h (the limit is a ridiculous 120 km/h, given all the hills), shooting past us to presumably be early in line for the Timmy’s in Merritt. Or setting some record to Kamloops. They were in and out of our sight within moments.

We arrived in Kamloops just after 06:30. It was time to eat. I asked the question, knowing full well what the response would be. Thus we pulled into a Tim Horton’s on the east side of Kamloops, as Hwy 1 finishes its descent to the banks of the Thompson and runs flat to Chase. Timmy’s isn’t my favourite place to eat, but then it’s breakfast, so as long as I get something in my belly, and another coffee, we’d be fine until lunch.

We ran into a few folks who … well, needed to just get a move on. Passing lanes were helpful, but until the rest of the BC portion of the Trans Canada is four-laned (which I suspect might not be during my lifetime), you make do with what you have. Not having any specific needs, such as geocaching, to slow us down, we made good time on the road, finding ourselves entering Golden around 11:30 local time (Golden is in Mountain time, in case you’re doing the math).

But we weren’t quite ready for lunch, so we continued through Golden, into the Kicking Horse Canyon construction, and out towards Alberta. But I started mentally planning the remaining 200 kms of the journey and soon realized that we would be entering into places where it would be difficult to eat (Lake Louise, where there is so much traffic that getting into the townsite’s mall is a challenge), Banff (which although I love, would take a lot of time), then into Canmore and if you’re hitting Canmore, well, you might as well just go all the way.

Then I remembered Field. Most people don’t even think of Field beyond the Information Centre’s toilets. But there is Truffle Pigs, a little hotel with a restaurant at the south end of town, which I had been introduced to while on an excursion with Neil Zeller. I recalled it wasn’t the most variety for a meal, but it would at least be something.

Choo Choo and I split a pastrami sandwich and salad; Monkey devoured a burger on her own. But it was expeditious, if expensive, and soon we were back on the road heading east. We passed a tour bus – for the fourth time – which we determined was most likely for Edmonton electronic pop band Purity Ring, whom we’d been playing leapfrog with since roughly Kamloops. It would be the last time we’d exchange positions, though.

Up the Big Hill and into Alberta, we hit the four open lanes of boredom that whisked us out to Springbank, where we picked up Asia. She’d “had an incident” and required a bath; she was still a bit damp when we picked her up, but she was without doubt the cleanest and softest Asia in a very long time (she’s gotten very old an arthritic and doesn’t clean herself very well).

We were home by 15:30, 11 hours after leaving Ruskin (remember, we lose an hour coming east). Once the car was empty, I went for groceries, as we were out of everything. The girls retreated to their rooms. Asia sat on her bench and plotted revenge.

A lot of people wonder how on earth I can do this drive without problem. First, it’s gotta be on a low traffic day, which is another reason why driving early in the morning or doing a later run that divides into two days is better. But even a single shot drive doesn’t bother me much, because it’s going through the mountains. Eleven hours across the prairies, say, to Winnipeg? Shoot me. Eleven through the mountains? Much easier, and here’s why…

It’s about breaking the journey into parts:

It seems like a lot, but it’s really not, each is between 30 minutes and 90 minutes in length, each as their own unique flavours, and it’s like checking off a list as I go. So long as I get out of the car every now and then (damn near-50 year old body doesn’t handle sitting down as well as it used to), I can even go with minimal stops, drinks, and food (some of my passengers, not so much).

As much as I would say “that’s my last long trip for a while”, I’m due to go to Red Deer on Tuesday, another 300 km day. But even that’s not so bad.