Well, I’ve somehow managed to make it to 50 years of age. I’m pretty sure teenaged me is mildly shocked. (50 year old me kind of is.) I’m not where I thought I’d be, even as little as a decade ago, but then life does tend to throw you curveballs and you really do need to decide what you want to do with them.
And frankly, since I suck at sports, there’s a lot of swing-and-misses in there.
I wanted my 50th to be a lot more fun than most of my previous birthdays, so I did put a bit of effort into doing things that would be more celebratory than merely “hey, look, another birthday”. But as it turned out, Alex had a few ideas of her own.
First up was camping. And to be clear, this wasn’t “birthday camping” (though we have done that before), this was “camping that happens to end on a birthday”. It was more about the availability of time to go camping rather than trying to meet any particular date.
In Alberta, you have to plan your camping events at least 90 days in advance. There’s no way to avoid this reality, there are just too many people who want to get away from the cities. Ever since Alberta Parks went to online reservation a decade or so ago, it’s become difficult to get space; they switched to a rolling 90-day window to make it a bit more fair, but with some campgrounds you need to be there at midnight of the 90 days to get a spot. And camping within Banff – Parks Canada’s territory – is even worse.
We lucked out with Kinbrook Island, a small park on the eastern shores of Lake Newall, a man made reservoir about 15 minutes south of Brooks. But to merely camp there wasn’t an option, though we have all the equipment. Years of (literal) backbreaking work and age have done Alex in, and if there’s not a trailer or RV involved, Alex is a bit of no-go. Fortunately, she found an option.
The Boler trailer is a Canadian invention, hailing from Winnipeg. Though long out of production, they’re seeing a major renaissance as a lightweight, simple trailer that can be towed behind nearly anything. And given that Honda CR-Vs are little more than a Civic masquerading as an SUV, having something light is crucial.
The kids and I picked up “Fern” on the 10th in North Calgary. Fern’s owners have been fixing up Bolers and renting them through RVezy, which is where Alex found Fern. We got the tour – where everything was, how to stabilize the trailer when we got to where we were going, how to operate the fridge, and some helpful tips, before we hooked it up to the back of the CR-V and towed it away.
It was the first time I’d towed a trailer since about 1999. I barely remember the last time and that was less than a couple of kilometres on a (then) quiet Kelowna street. Going through Calgary was a bit more stressful. Fortunately, towing Fern empty was a good experience to help me remember what it’s like to tow a trailer.
It was slightly more awkward fully-loaded, which we were the following day, heading out from Calgary to our campsite. Not wanting to endure (too much) of the Trans Canada, we took Hwy 22 through the Siksika Nation to about 75 km west of Brooks. It was a good opportunity to getting used to towing a heavier load.
Stopping only Brooks for Slurpees (it was 7-11 Day, after all), we arrived in Kinbrook in the late afternoon. Backing into our spot wasn’t too hard – I took it extra slowly, to be safe – and soon everything was set up. It was a decent site, next to (but far enough from) the toilets to avoid tripping on anything in the middle of the night (though with the large full moon, it was almost possible to read in the middle of the night). We had dinner, watched the sunset, ate s’mores, enjoyed the evening.
Sleeping got interesting. The Boler’s bed is barely a twin. And about 7" of the mattress is unsupported (honestly, that’s a basic design flaw, right there). I slept on the forward “bunk” to give Alex space in the main bed. It was surprisingly comfortable, though we were up in the night to close the windows after it cooled off substantially.
The next day was a beach day. Which really amounted to us sitting in the shade away from the bulk of the beach users. Choo Choo, for whatever reason, opted to not go in the water, though I admit I couldn’t fault her entirely for that – despite being a shallow lake, the water is much cooler than one would expect.
After dinner, Alex suggested we go for a hike through the adjoining marshlands to find a pair of geocaches stashed there. To zero surprise, the kids opted to stay behind, so it was just Alex and I and the mosquitoes. And two coyotes, a pair of hawks (one of which was being attacked by a red-winged blackbird), and a whole lot of prairie dogs. It was a beautiful walk, albeit long and hot. We were quite happy to return to the site nearly 90 minutes later.
Deciding to explore a bit further, the Wednesday took us to Dinosaur Provincial Park, of which I knew precious little, beyond it being the source for many of the fossils in the Royal Tyrrell Museum (which itself has a field site office/museum within the Park).
Dinosaur PP is about 45 minutes from Brooks, in a very non-linear route from the highway. We stopped at the edge of the park (a few hundred meters past the border, roughly where Google proudly stated “You have arrived at your destination” despite being in the middle of a field). We found a lookout not far from there that overlooked much of the Red Deer River valley and the terrain that has made Dinosaur PP so famous.
We stopped for lunch at the cafeteria, which was unsurprisingly uninspiring, then went to the field station for a look. I’d argue it’s about the best $2 museum anywhere in the country.
Afterwards, we drove the one way loop around most of the park’s most interesting feature, the near-hoodoos that fill much of the park’s interior. Along the way, there’s two sites with fossil finds protected under concrete and glass structures, so you can see what it was like when they were found (though I suspect the finds have been whisked away and replaced with mock-ups). This included a particularly bug-filled walk to the riverside to find one of Alex’s caches, complete with an encounter with a somewhat emaciated deer.
On Thursday, we left Kinbrook. Although booked in until Friday, we opted to leave a day early so we could join Lisa and the DI Weekend crew in Glenwood. It was about a 2.5 hour drive that took nearly six, accounting for a few detours (geocaching, of course), and lunch in Lethbridge (and getting through Lethbridge). Sarah and family arrived not long afterwards, reuniting the A-Team for the first time in a long while. We would follow Glenwood habits and get ice cream before dinner.
Friday was hot. I had to buy more ice for our dwindling supply in the cooler (our cooler definitely lives up to it’s name, and only just). We went down to the river and spent several hours (as we often do) relaxing in the cool water. For whatever reason, Monkey was the opt-out for water this time.
A larger number of the DI Crew, including Alayne and Tobey and Karen, would arrive later, and we all marveled at Alayne’s new camper van. We were up well into the night, but not so late that we couldn’t tolerate a 9:00 departure the following morning.
Well, more like 9:30. But it was close enough.
We had to get back to Calgary to prepare for the Main Event, my birthday party! Monkey had been at me all week: “Are you excited for your party?” Had I known what was planned, I might have said ‘yes’, but they kept me firmly in the dark.
The first order of business was to get the car unhooked from Fern. We needed it to deal with errands. As I was in the midst of unhooking all the bits and bobs, Monkey came out: “Daddy, we need you inside right now! It’s urgent!!” I was a bit perturbed, as I was trying to focus on the task at hand. “What’s the problem? Something break? Water flooding? Something on fire?” The answer was negative, but nonetheless urgent. Now annoyed, I went in expecting a problem. But the problem failed to reveal itself, and I was handed a pile of mail. Hardly a priority. This was clearly meant to have me direct my attention elsewhere, but my attention was still on getting Fern unhooked. Finally: “You should look outside.”
The backyard was filled with 50 pink flamingos, courtesy of my sister. I cannot recall which of my parents had been flamingo-bombed so many years ago (I think it was dad?), and I recall Cathy threatening to do the same to me when I turned 50. Despite her self-professed, less-than-ideal memory, the flamingos arrived all the time.
To continue my distraction, I was sent on errands once Fern was set aside, notably to get some veggie trays, fruit trays, multiple bags of ice, and to ferry Monkey for her two tasks: the cake (from Glamorgan, of course) and a “surprise” pickup, which I quickly figured out was balloons. The errands were hurried, mostly for time, but also because the longer the balloons sat in a hot car, the more likely they were to burst.
By the time I got back, Alex and Choo Choo had spread little numbers all over the house. I had no idea what the heck they were for. I instead moved on to showering, setting out the drinks in coolers and bins, and getting ready for the attendees.
Duane was the first to arrive, largely as he had part of the dinner: brisket and pulled pork. He came attired in a very 80s-styled t-shirt. Which was the first spoiler that things were going to be interesting. This was confirmed when Erin showed up with a white t-shirt with the message: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” (If you know, you know.)
Thus the first surprise was released: the 80s theme. Yes, I was born in 1972, but I am a child of the 80s. That’s the decade I remember best from my youth, it’s when I met most of my formative friends, discovered more of who the heck I am. I certainly had no objection to that.
Slowly, the others arrived. David and Alaine came as “the audience”, with popcorn. Pam and Muck dressed their family as the cast from Magnum PI (Muck as Higgins), complete with utterly delightful and cheeseball mustaches. Darren was John McClane from the aforehinted ‘if you know’ movie. Robin came looking like Elliot, complete with a set of handlebars and a cardboard ET in a basket. Truly inspired, that one. Jeremy and his family was one of the last to arrive, explaining that for the first time in his BBQ career, the chicken had stalled.
The numbers were soon revealed as one person asked me what a copper-coloured object was next to our stereo. Baffled, myself, I had to agree it looked like an urn, and what the heck movie was that supposed to be? Quickly, I understood that the numbers had been placed on a variety of objects around the house, each object referring to items in a movie. And Alex had gone above and beyond to find some truly amazing references, for example:
- A painting of a sailing ship represented The Goonies
- The aforementioned “urn” was a Cocktail shaker
- A pair of aviator sunglasses (c’mon, do I really need to spell that one out?)
- A baby doll sitting in a corner…?
- The tray of green Jell-o with gummy hot dogs (hint: Slimer)
No-one got every item correct, though Robin (to little surprise) got the most. I’m not sure that, had I participated, that I would have gotten them all.
We all ate too much highly-delicious meats. The cake was, of course, delicious. The salads were tasty. The conversation, amazing.
Slowly, the guests whittled away until only Erin, Robin, and Duane remained, the four of us sitting on the deck playing a movie trivia game. (This time, I won.)
Bed was late but I have not had such a wonderful sleep in a long, long time. It had been a great evening.
The next day was, as is always the case, cleaning day. Things had to be put away, food more carefully packed up, cake eaten (hey, it’s gotta be done), and Fern returned to its owners. Then we went to the Stampede.
Alex had found out some weeks ago that the Grandstand Show featured Dean Brody, one of her favourite country singers. Tickets include access to the grounds, so it seemed like a perfect reason to go mid-afternoon and try to enjoy some of the last day.
Emphasis is on “try”. I haven’t seen that many people at Stampede in all the years I’ve gone. It was truly insane. And it’s possible that there were more in the food and games areas mostly because most of the BMO Centre is currently missing, in the midst of a major expansion, meaning there’s no indoor fare to wander amongst. We skipped the farm areas (Alex’s allergies tend to get the best of her), though we did make an effort to see the River Community.
The tickets were for 19:30, so we entered in easy time to see … chuckwagon races. I had utterly forgotten that the “Grandstand Show” tickets include the races. Which no-one else in the family particularly liked (I admit that I find them interesting). Dean didn’t take to the stage until 21:30. And it was a tightly timed show, he had only so much time for songs. He didn’t play “Friday”, which I think is one of his best. Well, most fun. It was a simple show, no duelling chainsaws (which Alex and Monkey witnessed when they saw him in concert a few of years ago).
And then he was gone. It was a short break before the Young Canadians took to the stage with their show, which was … largely about the 80s. I couldn’t help but snicker. But it was a good show, as it usually is, although the show planners had wedged a significant portion of the fireworks into the last 10 minutes of the show, which meant it was really hard to not only hear the show, but pay any reasonable attention to the show at all.
Still, a good show. And good fireworks.
Getting home was a challenge, as half the very-packed Stampede seemed to try to leave all at the same time. Fortunately, we got on the first train to downtown, then the first train to 69th St. It was nearly 01:00 before we all fell into bed.
Best. Birthday week. Ever.