Sunday morning I caught a bus to the west of Winnipeg to meet a couchsurfer who had contacted me asking if I wanted to hitchhike with her to Calgary. Originally I had planned on just getting the train from Winnipeg to Vancouver, which was actually cheaper than getting it from Edmonton, but having always wanted to hitchhike, and not really being able to say no to opportunities, I felt I ought to go for it. Not stopping along the way across Russia is also something I regret, so I wanted to make up for that and see as much of Canada as I possibly could.
I had to wait for a while at the rendezvous, pretty much a truckers stop where they eat, shower and refuel. Immediately I had one person asking me if I was ok; if I was tired or hungry and that he would be happy to provide me with a home cooked meal. I could tell that he was being honest and sincere, and I felt truly touched. If I had not been about to leave, I would’ve taken him up on the offer. Some truckers asked where I was heading and said they would be heading to Calgary in the evening and would take me if I was still waiting. On the other hand, some were incredibly concerned and protective, and wanted to hang around to check that I would accept a ride from someone trustworthy. The couchsurfer arrived, brought by her Uncle who was also extremely worried and kept begging us to take the bus. He was very generous and paid for my lunch. When we finally got to the road it was drizzling, we stuck our thumbs out and smiled at all the passersby. Within 10 minutes a car with a trailer pulled over, saying that he was going to Calgary, we couldn’t believe our luck. In the trailer were two motorbikes; the driver is a bit of a fanatic with 5 motorcycles in total. The two in tow turned out to be a Harley and an Indian and he had just won a ginormous trophy at a show in Kansas. He’s been all over the world, either playing the bagpipes or doing biking stuff. He paid for dinner, as well as a hotel room in Moose Jaw. The only downside was that he was an early riser, and we had to get up at 5am.
I am undeniably in awe of the capabilities of others to be so giving. People can only be so selfless when you give them the opportunity to do so. I can appreciate how difficult it can be to accept the generosity of others, especially being British, however I have learnt to accept pretty much anything that anyone wants to give me, because I know how much of a pleasure it is to be able to give. I cherish in being able to give to others when they are in need.
We arrived in South Calgary at around one in the afternoon and caught the CTrain into Calgary. The cities here are so huge and sprawling it can take more than an hour to travel from one side of the city to the other. Despite resenting cities for lacking creativity and having numbers instead of street names, it is thanks to this fact that I could make my way around in a completely foreign city with no map or GPS to guide me, and find the couchsurfer I would be staying with. We soon became good friends, especially with similar tastes in music and an undying love of food. I had the best ice cream I have ever tasted; a scoop of cardamom and a scoop of salted caramel. Cardamom ice cream is to. die. for. We also went to a diner for brunch and I was really chuffed with myself because I finished my plate, which often his guests have never been able to do. I wasn’t even done yet, there was milkshake to be had.
I was fortunate to receive the best advice that a traveller could ever ask for. Go to Canmore, and not to Banff which is crazy touristy. I have fallen utterly in love with Canmore. I met a super awesome guy from Ecuador on the bus and we chatted the whole time, as the mountains in the distance grew more and more spectacular at every moment. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. The last time I saw land that wasn’t flat was in Pittsburgh, what feels like an age ago. I arrived at 9am, full of wonder of where I would go and explore. The sun was shining and the mountains were calling to me. One mountain in particular, with the name of Ha Ling, was challenging me to climb it. In all honesty, I am a bit of a lazy sloth; I really don’t exercise as much as I should but when I have the opportunity to dance until 5am or scale a ridiculously massive mountain I am as eager as can be to tackle it. Despite having to pause for breath constantly, my heart beating so fast I thought it might leave my chest, I kept on going, I just had to get to the top. I think I felt close to what Frodo must have felt like.
I’m guessing I made it to the top in a little over 2 hours, it was so exposed, incredibly windy and I was all alone with no phone signal, the last hiker to reach the top for that day. My legs felt like jelly as I tried to climb back down, and it was somewhat terrifying. Did I mention the gale force winds, being all alone, oh and I had no phone signal? However, my legs did not fail me and I made it back down in about an hour. Adamantly, I told myself that I would walk along the road on the way back, but at the last minute I thought nah, I’ll scramble down through the Grassi Lakes instead and suffer through the pain. So glad I did, it was a beautiful trail, passing right by a waterfall. I had to walk and walk and walk to the other side of the town to get to where I was staying. There was a restaurant nearby and I wolfed down an incredible meatloaf made of out more meats than I can remember, whilst staring at the mountain I had defeated. I stumbled back and passed out on the couch without being able to stay awake to say hello to my hosts. All in all it was about a 10 hour hike.
The next day I had an epic breakfast in an epic cafe and decided to explore the Grotto trails, managing about a 4 hour hike. The weather was miserable, spitting on and off all day. You know in movies when they walk for ages in one direction but they then end up back where they started? Well, that happened to me. And it is the freakiest thing ever. I was 100% certain I had been heading west the entire time, trying to find my way out, but somehow I ended up going in a circle. I imagined that I may never get out, lost forever, or a bear would find and eat me before I escaped. When I did eventually find my way, and was later back in Calgary, my legs had obviously decided that they were not in enough pain and wanted to go in completely the wrong direction back to the couchsurfers place, a walk that took me 2 hours instead of 20 mins. Maybe the whole number street naming isn’t so great after all and I was far too stubborn to contact him for help, wanting to figure it out for myself. There was clearly something wrong with my sense of direction that day.
On Thursday I went to Edmonton and got shown around the biggest mall in North America. It is mind boggling: there is a swimming pool, a casino, a hotel, an ice rink, a theme park, a cinema, a bowling alley, as well as a multitude of shops… I saw yet another Scottish Tourist shop, however this one was actually run by a lovely Scottish lady, I was ecstatic to hear a Scottish accent, the first I’ve heard since last August. She talked and talked and talked, from her adventures of meeting and hanging out with Jake Bugg to how she first arrived in North America 33 years ago and was much too cheeky in customs. We in fact met another Scottish lady who also could not stop talking, and told us all about the history and culture of the area and how she ended up in Edmonton. There was also this dodgy Israeli guy who was trying to sell me Dead Sea products. All in all, the random conversations made going to a mall far more interesting that usual, since I generally avoid malls like the plague.
The early mornings seem to be never ending; I was up at 6am to catch the train Friday morning. I did have quite high expectations for this part of my journey unfortunately, especially since Canmore was so wonderful I thought that spending a day travelling through the Rockies would be even more incredible. Ever since my journey across Canada began I have always arrived in sunshine, and left amidst the rain. Sadly the rain caught up with me and I haven’t been able to see much. The mountains haven’t seemed as impressive, it’s been mostly like travelling through endless forest. Every now and then we will pass by a vast and magnificent river, my favourite parts of the trip. I also happened to glimpse upon some deer, and even a moose with big antlers. Now all that’s left to see is a bear. The train is also strangely spacious, a lovely luxury indeed, with special viewing decks dotted along it to get a view from higher up.
I arrived in Vancouver Saturday morning, was finally reunited with some internet and managed to arrange to meet my cousin (on her honeymoon) for breakfast. Amazing that we happened to both be passing through Vancouver on the same day. They then told me to go and check out Granville Market and gave me a coupon for the ferry. I marched through the market, hopped on the ferry, and then walked up along the beach to Stanley Park. I got collected by a couchsurfer going to the Sunshine Coast, which involves a 40 minute ferry ride and is wonderfully spectacular. One thing that suddenly struck me, the smell of salt water, an old, friendly, familiar smell. Currently chilling in Davis Bay, the first time I’ve not be running around doing this and that since I left the earthship a week ago. Saw a majestic sunset last night.