How much can you write about one country? I’ve been cataloguing, blogging, Instagram-ing, Facebook-ing and Tweeting all things Canada for nearly 5 months now and instead of wracking my brains for what to talk about, I find myself stumbling over which ‘ultimate Canadian road trip’ experience to share next, which 1 of 15,000 pictures I should post or which of the countless untold stories I should tell.
It seems the answer is… my own.
Travelling a country by car or van was something I had wanted to do for a very long time. A few years back, amidst a full time job, a new relationship and an awkward attempt to settle in one place for longer than 3 months I bought a van. Although I was $3000 lighter, my dreams were bigger than ever with plans to drive it across Australia and skirt the entire west coast. But like many van owners know, upon purchase you not only acquire a shaggin’ wagon but a fickle personality. Our little moody Toyota was so moody in fact that it drained another $3000 from us, left us stranded in countless country towns and then decisively refused to budge; Our dreams of making it across Australia were obliterated there and then. As we reversed out of the scrap metal yard barely 600km up the road from where we had started, egos too purple to hide the bruises, we swore that we would never again buy a used vehicle.
“C’est la vie.”
A few years of travelling passed from behind a bus, train, plane, taxi, tuk tuk, Jeepney and Bemo window but never our own. We had little tasters in Iceland and Spain where we hired a van or car for a couple of weeks, the freedom and independence was exhilarating and we eventually came to realise that we had to pursue this method of travel one day. Our travels are always pushing us towards deeper exploration of a country and so when the word Canada appeared, that little, irksome, menacing idea popped back into our heads. We should buy a car and road trip Canada.
Fast forward 6 months of googling car dealerships, asking advice from anyone who knew remotely anything about cars or buying cars, reading reviews on models, years and makes and assuring ourselves that this time we would do it properly, we found ourselves in Winnipeg with a ‘tangy olive’ 2002 Ford Explorer called Moose.
Spoiler alert: Moose doesn’t break down once.
In fact our dream of cruising for hours on end behind the wheel, drifting any way the road tilted became a reality in Canada. With a neat little kitchen set up in the back, clothes storage in the back seats, a 60 second pop-up tent and delectable queen size mattress I’d say we were living as close as we could to the ‘dream’ we had imagined. Every day, once we’d washed our dishes in the nearest river we folded our tent away and got back on the endless road, I would be on watch for something lurking on the side and usually there was. Through the front windscreen we spotted deers, grizzlies, black bears, moose, porcupines, coyotes, a lynx, golden eagles, falcons, rattlesnakes, mountain goats and elk… it was never boring, not for a single second.
The more time I spent in Canada, the more the place meant to me and in the end was that down to the car and our unrestricted ability to travel or the country itself… both! Having the car meant more access into the remoteness of nature and allowed me to open up my eyes in ways I didn’t expect.
I’ve never really been a hiker but I found myself waking up, browsing through Parks Canada pamphlets and picking a hike to get started on after breakfast. I suddenly became an addict, and started to push my own boundaries. I knew I could achieve a 20km mountainous hike in 7 hours, or a 12km hike after lunch, or I could put a tent on my back and hike for days. As I’m sure you know, Canada is spectacularly beautiful but it’s not only the sights I became infatuated by, I began to pay attention to the noises of the forest. The monotonous step after step allowed my focus to drift towards the rustling grasses, creaking Aspens, whistling crevices and any crunch or crackle until slowly I started to see more of what was around me than just the obvious. Those noises I heard were often shy squirrels, marmots or chipmunks scurrying away to hide and watch on from safety as I passed by. Maybe this is rather naive but I didn’t expect to see the amount and variety of wildlife in Canada as I did. In the 4 months we were there we saw 76 new species of animals that I’d never seen and some, I’d never even heard of! At first I didn’t know the difference between a chipmunk and a squirrel, never mind a ground squirrel, gopher or marmot. Bewildered at first, I started reading up on the critters I saw, keenly absorbing more and more about them, about where I was walking and what I was seeing; Canada is a perfect backyard for learning. By the time I left I knew why a beaver slaps it’s tail in the water, what the smallest falcon is, what a bear has been eating based on it’s poo (and how close it might be) and which animals have antlers rather than horns.
As a kid, I was that little rascal dressed in her knickers and playing outside, collecting silk worms, squishing mulberries on my body and pretending to have been shot and climbing trees until, for apparent safety reasons, my Dad felt it necessary to chop down several of the branches. Canada became a playground for my adult self to indulge in all those childhood curiosities I so cherish. Having watched some ladies in Alaska picking watermelon berries nearby our tent, I became incessantly curious about which berries I could actually eat. On any hike proceeding that event I’d take pictures of berries and their leaves to study later on. I accumulated a berry book and noted ever edible berry, tasty or otherwise, in the region. Becks would hate it when I’d pick a berry, tell her what is was, eat it and then persistently push one toward her until she tried it. Her premonitions of berry poisoning were incessant but would eventually fade as she became accustomed to me stopping, shoving a berry in my mouth and telling her again that it’s a tasty high-bush cranberry or a Saskatoon berry. One of my favourite memories in Canada was discovering our tent was perfectly positioned in the middle of a blueberry patch. You can imagine our delight, two girls who have never seen a wild blueberry before, rushing back to the car for a saucepan and happily picking as many as we could. Sure enough blueberry porridge, blueberry salads and blue berry snacks was our diet for the proceeding days.
I couldn’t say how many mountains we climbed, lakes we visited or berries I tried, all I have is one overwhelming memory of interacting with wilderness day after day. This adventure started out as a dream involving a car and a tent but in reality it became more than that. I connected with nature in ways I’d never intended to, found a love of hiking and pushed myself in ways I never thought I would. Without the car I couldn’t have done it but without Canada I know this trip would never have been possible.
Who’d have thought that reality could outlive a dream.