The Road to Vancouver Part 4: This is the End

Onwards and Upwards

The mountains are calling and I must go…

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Takkakaw Falls walk-in campgrounds, Yoho National Park, AB

We arrived in Medicine Hat, Alberta early on August 24th, 2015. We continued on to Calgary and decided to drive around the city for a while since I had never been there before. Jon took me to the rugby pitch he once played at, and we explored a bit of downtown. There’s something I find so calming about driving through a city’s downtown core. I feel as though it’s the window to the city’s soul, revealing beauty and chaos intertwined.

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Downtown Calgary, AB

A quick car tour of Calgary was sufficient, as our minds were focused on our next destination: Banff National Park.

Banff and Yoho National Parks

I’ve been struggling to find the words to describe our time in Banff and Yoho National Parks. Yoho is named after a Cree expression for “awe and wonder,” need I say more? The pictures I am sharing are only a glimpse into the displays of nature’s breathtaking beauty.

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Approaching Banff National Park, AB

Once we arrived at Banff National Park and paid for our day passes, we stopped at the shops near Lake Louise to stock up on food for the evening. If you’re planning a trip to Banff, I strongly suggest packing a cooler of food before entering the Park; the prices are nearly double what they would be in a regular grocery store. Our next order of business: find somewhere to camp. While Banff isn’t lacking in campgrounds, every site we found was at its capacity for the evening. Much to my dismay, the campgrounds nearest Lake Louise were full, too. Although I dreamed of camping by the stunning Lake Louise, we continued onwards toward Yoho National Park, and upwards into the mountains.

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Mountain Driving, Yoho National Park, AB

Although you can’t see over the edge, this drive was terrifying and awe-inspiring all at once. The lanes on these Rocky Mountain-roads were so tight, and if I am not mistaken, we drove upwards for about 20 minutes. Since our entire trip was impromptu, I don’t exactly know how high up we were or how long it took us to get there. We finally pulled over when we found a walk-in campground with vacancies. This campground was definitely designed for a more seasoned camper, and it was a fascinating experience. There was no office to ask questions or pay for your campsite, no showers and little guidance. We eventually figured out the protocol after talking to the other campers. Once you’ve picked an empty campsite, you fill out a card with your information and your campsite number, put the fees in an envelope, and drop it in the designated box. This trust-based system felt very Canadian.

Once we got settled in, we began exploring the area. I am forever grateful that we stumbled upon this particular campground, because it was right next to the glacier waterfall, Takkakaw Falls.

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Takkakaw Falls, Yoho National Park, AB

The sound of the falls washed away every thought, every worry, every struggle leading up to that point of our trip. The beauty of the icy-blue glacier stream was unparalleled by anything I had ever seen. Every doubt I had about moving across the country without a plan or a clue as to what was next on the horizon vanished at this moment. When you are surrounded by natural beauty of this scope, everything in life is put into perspective. These mountains have been here for millions of years. They preceded and will succeed my existence. It is truly a humbling experience that can hardly be put into words, and must be experienced to be understood.

Clueless Camping

Back to reality… It was getting cold as the day turned to evening, and we needed to build a fire. Simple enough task, right? Wrong. All of the kindling we were able to find was damp, and we were struggling to get this fire started for around an hour before a kind family next to us gave us some dry firewood. We continued to struggle because we needed some dry kindling to start the fire. Yet another family came by and provided us with some kindling. We were so amateur compared to the seasoned campers that surrounded us, but their generosity and neighbourly attitude saved us from having a cold, dark evening.

Once our fire was burning, we were joined by a fellow wandering soul. I don’t remember his name, but I will never forget his energy. He was on his own, and had been driving through the Rockies on his motorcycle for the summer, stopping to camp at various sites along the way. His story inspired me. He had found contentment and clarity in simplicity. He didn’t have a regular 9-5 lifestyle, and he wasn’t dragging around a plethora of useless stuff. It was him, his bike and the road. He did, however, share some delicious pastries with us in exchange for us sharing our fire with him. He was the true embodiment of that saying, those who wander are not lost.

As night fell, so did the temperature. I forgot to mention earlier that we decided not to pack sleeping bags, thinking a couple of blankets would suffice. I woke up in the middle of the night, my body completely stiff as we only had a blanket  between us, the tent and the ground, and I was freezing. Poor Marley was even shivering, which brought me to tears. The temperature must have been around 0°C or below. Jon in his brilliance decided to put the warmer blanket underneath us to create a warmer barrier between the cold, hard ground. we also brought Marley under the blanket and sandwiched him between us for more warmth. We made it through the night, but it was tough. Lesson learned: Do NOT sacrifice sleeping bags when camping in the mountains.

Final Destination: Vancouver

Although we wanted to stay in the National Parks and continue camping for a few days, we were too ill-prepared to survive sleeping in those conditions. We had one more stop before our final destination: Lake Louise.

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Marley and me, Lake Louise, AB

Before you comment on my outfit, let me explain. When we woke up that morning I was still freezing, and it was still cold outside. There was no way I was changing out of my pajamas. I was tired, bones still chilled, but euphoric nonetheless. Lake Louise’s beautiful blue and calm water with its mountainous backdrop was so incredibly picturesque it didn’t even seem real.

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Lake Louise, AB

There’s nothing more that is needed to be said about Lake Louise. If you ever have the chance to experience it, I urge you to. You won’t regret it.

The final stretch of our trip is when reality set in once more. This is it. Once we arrive, the vacation ends and we have to figure out our lives again. Although I was scared, I still didn’t have a single regret. The absolute worst case scenario was that it doesn’t work out and we go back home. Even if that were the case, I still wouldn’t have regretted this trip. In this case, it wasn’t the destination, but the journey that was the most defining part.

The drive to Vancouver was eight hours of driving through the mountains. My jaw was dropped in awe for its entirety.

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Somewhere between Alberta and British Columbia

Arriving in Vancouver was a huge feat. Although our trip had been shortened to half the time of our original plan of 10 days, it felt so good to reach our destination.

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Golden Ears Bridge, Metro Vancouver, BC

As we approached Vancouver, I booked a hotel room for the evening at the Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, BC using Hotwire, a website for getting last minute cheap hotel rates (special thanks to my sister, Kaitlin for recommending this site!). We got a room for around $67/night, which is unheard of in the Vancouver area. Much like our night in Thunder Bay, were thrilled to finally have a bed to sleep in and a shower to use. I think Marley was the most excited of the three of us.

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Marley at the Holiday Inn Express, Richmond, BC

Once we settled in at the hotel, and ordered a celebratory pizza (my favourite), we began apartment hunting on Craigslist. One ad stood out among the rest, and had only been posted a few hours previously. It was a small modern suite in our price range, and the best part was: it was dog friendly. We made an appointment to view the suite the next day, with very high hopes.

We can thank Marley for winning the hearts of the landlords, because after meeting with us three, they agreed to have us sign a lease on the suite, and they even let us move in the following day! Some may call it luck, but I call it fate. Or maybe it’s a bit of both. Jobs followed hastily and with ease. Although I miss my family and friends greatly, the transition into this new life has been surprisingly natural. Maybe it’s because we are two wandering souls hungry for adventure, maybe it’s because we forged the path ourselves. With sharing my story I hope to inspire anyone who may be on the verge of taking a leap of faith, whether it’s deciding to take a big trip, or making a big life-changing decision in general. Thank you for following my journey with me, I hope to have many more journeys and share them with my fellow bloggers and readers.

I will be writing a Part 5 of this series, it will be my final reflection piece on this trip. It will include more details about the signs preceding the trip that should have stopped us from going at all, what I would have done differently and more.

 

 

 

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The Road to Vancouver: Part 3

The Drive

Canada has always been there to help people who need it.

(August 20th, 2015)- We began our trip bright and early from my parents house in Lakefield, ON. The car was uncomfortably full, with my most treasured belongings at my feet, a cooler full of food on the arm rest and just enough space for Marley to lay down in the back seat. We barely made it out of Lakefield before we transferred the food to a cooler bag and ditched the bulky cooler in a McDonald’s parking lot. Freeing up the arm rest felt wonderful considering how crammed the car felt. The reality of everything only truly sank in once the trip began: We were modern day hippies with no income and no plan. It felt freeing and terrifying all at once.

Ontario

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Writings on the Wall: A bathroom stall somewhere between Peterborough and Wawa, ON.

Less than an hour on the road Jon and I had a scary experience that could have ended our trip or worse, our lives. We were driving along a 2-lane country highway and laughing about something I thought I saw(I mistook a haystack for a Buffalo). When our eyes returned to the road an 18-wheeler in the opposite lane was quickly drifting into our lane. We suspect the driver may have fallen asleep at the wheel, because at the last minute he swerved back into his lane, missing us by mere inches. My heart felt as though it fell into my gut. We sat in silence in the car for minutes after, blankly staring at the road. As much as we wanted to pull over and process what happened, we continued driving. From this point on, the sight of an 18-wheeler on the road would cause us great anxiety.

The first day of driving was definitely eventful. We stopped in Sudbury, ON so Marley could reunite with his breeders and birth mom. As we continued on our journey, we experienced the vast beauty of Lake Superior. At 11:30 PM after a twelve hour travel day, we decided to rest in Wawa, a small town a couple hours outside of Sault Sainte Marie. While we had planned on camping in Wawa, by the time we arrived the campsite’s office was closed, so we found the next best thing: a Tim Hortons parking lot. It wasn’t glamorous by any means, but at least we were able to get something to eat, take a sink-shower in the washroom, and get some sleep in the car. The car was so jam-packed that we couldn’t even put our seats back to sleep, but sleep we did.

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Inukshuk: Lake Superior, ON

We awoke around 5 AM absolutely exhausted, but ready to continue on our journey. Our next destination was Thunder Bay, ON, our last Ontario stop before we would officially leave our province and enter Manitoba. Thankfully Thunder Bay was only about five hours away from Wawa, so our second day involved much less driving. Furthermore, Jon’s friend’s mom was gracious enough to allow us to stay with her while visiting Thunder Bay, even though we had never met her before. This part of the trip was a pivotal point that I am forever grateful for. We hadn’t eaten a real meal since we had left, nor had we properly showered, and we were running on no energy. Hattie and Phillip were wonderful hosts, and true Canadians. They allowed two strangers and their dog to stay in their home, treated us to an amazing dinner, and took us site-seeing around their beautiful town. We were able to shower and sleep in a real bed, and even though we had only been gone for two days, we really needed this recharge. It’s hard to explain how amazing it feels to have your basic needs met when you are without those things. It felt as though we hit the reset button; we were refreshed and our trip began anew. After what felt like the greatest sleep of all time, Hattie and Phillip made us a wonderful breakfast before we hit the road again (seriously, thank you). Our goal was to reach a campsite in Brandon, Manitoba on day three, which was about a ten hour drive. We blew this goal out of the water.

Manitoba and Beyond

It took us a total of seventeen hours of driving time to defeat Ontario. Our goal for day three was to arrive in Brandon, MB and camp for the evening. As we passed through Manitoba the time zone changed, and we gained an hour of daylight. We knew that if we continued to Saskatchewan, we would gain yet another hour of daylight. We decided we would stop in Winnipeg to quickly experience the capital of Manitoba and stretch our legs. We aimlessly drove around the city until we found a nice park to stop at. It was a quick rest-stop, but in the time we were there we heard a voice yelling “SODA!” (Jon’s nickname). Much to our surprise Jon’s good friend from high school in Ottawa just so happened to be walking past that park. It was one of those funny coincidences that made Canada feel so small and so large all at once.

When we passed by Brandon we were feeling pretty tired as we had been traveling for nearly ten hours, but we really wanted to take advantage of the extra driving time we had gained. We fuelled ourselves with some 5-Hour Energy drinks and surpassed Manitoba altogether, continuing through to Saskatchewan. Saskatchewan’s beauty was something I had never experienced before. Ontario seemed to be defined by its lakes and green hills, while Saskatchewan was defined by its wheat fields and flatness. The night sky was lit up with stars, and we even got a shadowy glimpse of the Northern Lights. While they weren’t in their full illumination, it was still an astonishing thing to witness. After sixteen hours of driving we finally settled in yet another Tim Hortons parking lot. Something about Tim Hortons felt like the closest thing we had to home. It was inviting and safe.

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Beautiful Skies: Saskatchewan

This time around, sleeping in the car was much more unpleasant than the first night. We woke up cold, our bodies stiff and heads aching from shivering and clenching our jaws. We continued on, driving another couple of hours to Medicine Hat, Alberta. In four days we spanned four provinces. It was beautiful and difficult and tedious and profound. I felt as though the country was testing our ambition, our wills. We fought the terrain and we fought our own mental battles, and we made it to our final expanse of the journey.

The Road to Vancouver: Part 4 will cover my favourite part of the trip: Alberta, camping in Banff, and our arrival in Vancouver. This final part of our journey is the most defining part of the trip, something I will cherish forever.

 

 

 

The Road to Vancouver: Part 2

Preparing and Planning (Or Lack Thereof)

Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward.

(Summer, 2014) Stagnant- that is how my existence felt post-graduation in Ottawa, ON. I had pursued a university education solely to study topics I loved the most: world religion, literature, writing, philosophy, and of utmost importance, the human condition. I loved everything I studied, but as graduation approached, the reality of the matter began to set in: I hadn’t the slightest idea what was going to happen next. In June 2014 I graduated with a Bachelor of Humanities with a double minor in English and Religion. I had a 40,000 dollar piece of paper, absolutely no job prospects and zero direction.

Immediately following graduation I began working at a pub in Ottawa. At the time this job was a blessing. My entire university career was poverty level, balancing the stress of assignments with the nagging thought, how can I afford to eat this week? I was finally in a place where I could comfortably pay my bills, afford to fill the fridge with food, and with a little extra on the side. It was extremely rewarding to not worry about money. At least, for a while it was. On a daily basis customers would ask, what do you want to do? what did you get your degree in? And what do you plan to do with that? I hated these questions with a passion. They angered me. These were the questions I was suppressing, I didn’t want to think about them. When my family posed these same questions, I’d have the same reaction. My chest would tighten, I’d feel short of breath. My biggest fear at the time was that I wouldn’t amount to anything, I’d disappoint my family, and ultimately I’d disappoint myself. There is no amount of money that can heal those wounds.

(Summer 2015) It was during this time that Jon and I would talk about our dreams. Where we would travel, what we wanted to do with our lives. We talked about these things on a daily basis, yet we were so lethargic that I wondered if we would ever make it happen or if we would succumb to the reality of our lives in Ottawa, and give up on our wandering dreams. As I explained in Part 1, Vancouver had always been a dream destination for myself, and having lived there previously himself, Jon confirmed that it lived up to its reputation. My dream of a trip across Canada re-emerged. One evening Jon came into my work while I was bar-tending and asked me if I wanted to make our dreams a reality, drive across Canada and settle in Vancouver. Of course my answer was YES!! And so it was settled. Two impulsive 20-somethings were going to drive across the country and live in Vancouver.

The Art of Budgeting, Downsizing and Letting Go

We began half-heartedly planning what we would do once we actually arrived in Vancouver, focusing all of our energy on planning the trip itself. Our first order of business was to begin saving rather than spending. I had to kick my materialistic habits, so rather than spending my tips at Sephora, I’d put them into our Vancouver savings jar. Since neither of us had taken a trip of this capacity, it was difficult to really know how much money we would need. We came up with a rough estimate by drafting a budget. Our original plan was to leave around August 19th and spend 10 days on the road so we could take our time, enjoy various camp sites and explore our beautiful country. Our (approximate) budget was as follows:

  • Gas: ≈ $400
  • CAA (Canadian Automobile Association): $100
  • Food: ≈ $200
  • Rent (First month, security deposit, pet deposit): minimum $2000
  • Camping costs (Equipment, campsite costs): ≈ $400
  • Living costs upon arrival: ≈$2000
  • Total cost: ≈$5100

Since our job hunt would begin upon arrival, we needed to have as much extra money as possible to support ourselves until we began receiving an income. We only had a couple of months to save $5100, and with our combined income this goal was next to impossible. Furthermore, Jon’s Mazda 3 sedan was not going to fit us, our dog and all of our belongings, so the answer was clear: Anything we didn’t absolutely need was to be sold on Kijiji. We sold our electronics such as our TV and Playstation 3, any furniture that hadn’t been found on the side of the road, and the most heart-breaking, our hockey equipment. We rid ourselves of everything and anything that could help us reach our goal. We did in fact reach our goal, yet we still had way too much stuff to bring with us to Vancouver. The downsizing continued, this time with the one area of our apartment I had been avoiding: the closet.

I had 4 categories for my clothes and shoes:

  1. Clothes to bring for the trip
  2. Clothes to have shipped via Greyhound (1 box each cost around $50/box; we decided on 2)
  3. Clothes to leave at my parents house
  4. Clothes to throw away

Much to my surprise and disappointment, this part of the downsizing was by far the most difficult for me. It really confirmed how attached I was to material belongings, so much so that I had numerous emotional breakdowns while trying to decide which clothes I had to let go of. I remember sitting surrounded by piles of my clothes, crying my eyes out as I threw that little black dress that I loved (and wore once) into the “throw away” pile, while simultaneously yelling at myself for caring so much. We were finally taking that leap to make irreplaceable memories, yet I couldn’t let go of replaceable clothes? Once I began to look at the bigger picture, letting go of my material belongings became much easier, almost like a weight off my chest. I learned so much about myself simply in the process of preparing for the trip. I realized I had been buying happiness. I was trying to fill a void with stuff rather than experiences. Why spend $50 on a new eyeshadow palette when that money could be spent camping for two nights in Banff? Spending money on stuff brings instant gratification, but experiences are priceless. We packed and unpacked the car until we finally made everything fit, each time downsizing more and more. Eventually, everything we absolutely needed fit, and that felt like a huge feat.

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Lake Louise, Banff, AB.

The Plan

As our departure date approached, we still hadn’t the slightest clue where we were going to live or work upon arrival. Our attempts to solidify a living situation failed because most rentals in Vancouver aren’t pet-friendly, and those who were wanted to meet us and Marley prior to making any arrangements. We had however planned our route. We decided to take the Trans Canada Highway, the most direct and fool-proof route for first time road-trippers. rsz_1screen_shot_2016-04-10_at_110753_am

We would span 5 provinces (Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia). We used Google Maps to pinpoint campsites in each province that were also easily accessible via the Trans Canada Highway. While we could have planned an even more scenic trip by venturing off-track, we decided it would be best to play it safe and allow the Trans Canada to guide us.

And so, on August 20th, 2015, our adventure across Canada began, with only a destination in mind.

Part 3 and beyond will cover our experiences on our journey, from a sneak peak of the Northern Lights to breathtaking Banff and even a near death experience. Also, if there is interest, I want to conclude by writing a reflection on what I learned on this trip, and what I would have done differently.