Tag Archives: adventure

Canada 150 – Coast to Boundless Coast

I know patriot comes loaded with whatever hero narrative your country or culture loves and/or hates. For me, it’s somewhat of a slander. It comes with the kind of fanaticism that tears apart populations and upholds borders for the sake of a population’s “purity”.

But I guess in some vague definitions, I am a patriot. Don’t hold it against me. It doesn’t singularly define me—it just happens that I enjoy the expanse of land within the boundaries which enclose my country.

2017-03-18 NWT (2)
Inukshuk stands on guard for thee (Northwest Territories)

The entire planet is equally beautiful (obv).  But the way humans have overlapped a political net over the globe, access to that entire planet isn’t always easy and is definitely never free. But for me, within Canada, it’s far easier and accessible (besides airfare, which everyone knows is the country’s biggest scam).

2017-03-18 AB MT
A little less accessible part of Canada (Alberta Rockies)

It took a calendar and some serious pencil-and-eraser sketching to help me realize that over the two months straddling Canada’s 150th anniversary (July 1), a series of happenstances and conveniences will give me the opportunity to take in five provinces.

It’s so Canadian, you may call it a simple plan (I channeled Steve Patterson for that pun) (I’m also sorry). Two months split amongst British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and (the one I’ve yet to visit) Newfoundland.

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Newfoundland Police File Photo (Credit TV Tropes)

The itinerary isn’t sequential, of course. It’s haphazard enough to keep the suspense tuned to exhilaration. I live and work in two of the provinces regularly, so there is some mediocrity within the timeframe, but I’m on the road enough I can consider any week a trip.

2017-03-18 - Central Alberta
I can see right through Alberta to Saskatchewan

Winter is the hardest and most unreliable time to get around Canada, so it always makes sense that summers crush in a lot of regional tourist time. If I had my way, I would criss-cross the country in those two months behind the wheel. What’s ¬18,000 km between friends?

2017-03-18 - Sask
Land of living daydreams (Saskatchewan)

I don’t have my way, which is probably a good thing in this case. Whether I get to see it kilometer by kilometer or not, I still value the freedom I have to travel so vastly, so freely. I know many people do not have that freedom. Some people reading this may not be able to escape beyond what you can search on the internet.

And those traps come from so many different fall-outs of that political netting, and some come from the fall-out of being human. Some people can’t leave their bedrooms because of what is happening within their own skull. Some people can’t leave their home because otherwise they would step into an urban warzone.

2017-03-18-Vancouver Island
Why leave your bedroom if you had a view like this? (Vancouver Island, B.C.)

With all this talk about boundaries in the news, I can appreciate why so many people cherish boundaries. It is the most practical way to conduct international relations in such a diverse planet. More than that, without the boundaries of the body or the mind, life in its most general sense likely would not persist.

Although I agree with Alan Watt’s aphorism that “Nature is always undifferentiated unity, not unified differences”, humanity’s perception tends towards the latter easier than the former. And that is where boundaries become so potent in the political sense. There is such emotion, such fear, because even if your skin becomes breached, you could be dead.

But being able to travel so widely and so freely—to be able to take in so many different cultures under the guise of one flag—belittles the notion of nationalist protectionism, for me. Many regions or provinces within Canada, as many other countries, have threatened to rise up and succeed, and rightfully so in certain cases. In the end, squabbles are put aside because anyone who experiences the value in being able to rove a mari usque ad mare (from the sea to sea) eventually figures out that fence lines are technicalities more than realities.

 

2017-03-18 - Edradour Path
Moss covered stone fence on the Eradour Path (Scotland)

 

I think the Scottish have a good sense of this. From what locals proudly told me, tramping across the countryside is perfectly legit as long as you’re respectful.

Which is perfectly respectable. Contrary to popular American myth, there are not droves of gypsies strung out across fields and city parks, waiting to steal jobs or blow up buildings, whichever comes faster.

The nefarious aside, I think all of us strives to break boundaries. Yogi and mystic Sadhguru often speaks about humanity’s calling to break boundaries—and how that possibility can so often become a pitfall.

The mystic in me agrees with Sadhguru. I prefer the boundless. I say, drop all the political, cultural, and personal boundaries. Then we might have the proper perspective to construct and manage these limitations.

2017-03-18 - Where I Lay My Head
I lay my head alongside your rocky spine

Anyway, I am just super-appreciative that I get to roam from the Atlantic to the Arctic to the Pacific seas. There are enough thresholds to cross already—time zones, jurisdictional boundaries, cultural regions, language barriers, climate zones. But at least there are no walls in my way.

I want to know: Do you have the opportunity to experience your region, country, continent, planet? Is it important for you to be able to move freely?

What I want to know even more: What boundaries do you enjoy breaking? What boundaries do you cherish?

Break the boundary of space & time and comment below!

 

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Somewhere Up Meander River Way

For the past couple weeks, in my part of the world, there has been a disheartening deep freeze. That damn “polar vortex”. Or for those whose memories stretch past this decade’s latest fad, or don’t care about feigning a peripheral knowledge of meteorology, it’s more cozily known as a “Canadian winter”.

Nationalities aside, we are talking about temperatures that are unfriendly to a hairless ape. At -25⁰C (-13⁰F) to -40⁰C (-40⁰F), the outside becomes intolerable very quickly. At the bottom of the range, the inside of your nostrils freeze, your eyelids feel cold, and your fingers become utterly useless unless they are bound in mitts or gloves.

The coldest wind chill I personally experienced was just below -50⁰C. But you don’t need to get to those extremes to empathize. The experiential difference between -25⁰C and -50⁰C is often negligible. It’s the difference of a few minutes of toleration. It’s fucking cold.

So when I am out, unable to feel my face, I often wonder what the hell all those pioneers were thinking. Who thought Europeanized “civilization” belonged in a place where the air hurts your skin?

And I think even more fundamentally about all the people who called the northernmost reaches of Turtle Island home for millennia.

For many First Nations, centuries of oppression and white-washing have rendered them not all that different than the paler naked apes who have flung their shit all over the place. Biologically speaking, it is difficult to discern whether aboriginal peoples are better equipped than any other human from any other continent to manage the cold. With that said, I am sure there are some epigenetic triggers from living in the northern environment generation after generation.

But I will assume we are all equitable, from the perspective of the overall energy system we consider an individual human being. I assume there is biological adaptation, but no super-human difference (I am open to compelling evidence otherwise). No difference, particularly after any cultural techniques to bear the cold were forcefully rubbed out by residential schools. Particularly after the environment that influenced those genetics for so long changed so quickly.

But where Wasichu have high-efficiency natural gas furnaces and pink insulation, First Nations often have woodstoves and plywood walls.

segó͔łį gots’ę jo͔ deneilé

“I lived here since I was born”

So my mind, detached from my frostbitten senses, goes to a Dene Tha’ community in northern Alberta, where earlier this year I was wandering around with hurt in my heart and a chill in my bones (my cold tolerance was lower then, the freezing point felt brutal).

I had Meander River, AB specifically marked as a stop on our road trip to the Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. If you are travelling through Alberta, there are two ways into the Territories. The more travelled route is Highway 35. Also known as the Mackenzie Highway, it heads north from High Level, AB (once poised as the new capital city of Canada II), until it turns into Highway 1 at the Territorial border but maintains its moniker until Fort Simpson, NWT.

Even Wikipedia notes Meander River, AB is a highway service centre on that route. Otherwise, there is a stretch of ~175 km (109 mi) between the gas stations in High Level and the gas station at Indian Cabins, which is the last stop for gas before Enterprise, ~100 km (62 mi) north.

If we could gas up in Meander River, we could get to our campsite in the NWT for the night, and gas up in nearby Enterprise the next morning. It was all set.

Dark was a few hours away, but it had been dim all day and had rained steady the day before. We woke to more of the same. As we crossed degrees of latitude the air became chillier and some of the rain became sleet. I fueled up in Fort Vermilion, AB and passed clean through bustling High Level.

It started raining again when we detoured off the highway around bridge construction, off the asphalt and onto the red clay that lay underneath the dense forest we were starting to see more regularly. I knew I had 151 km (94 mi) to Meander River. Right around the sign that said 1 km Up Ahead I prepared myself.

And then I saw the 1 km Up Ahead sign again, in my sideview mirror. We passed no gas station, no highway service centre. I pulled over on an approach, rocking our 1973 Boler as I cranked us around to head south. I drove slower this time, and passed both signs for Meander River again without seeing so much as another vehicle on the highway.

I made another U-turn and decided to take the first unmarked road after the sign. There was another unmarked road further north. These were the only access points to the town. I took us on a loop, trying to keep my bearings and hoping I didn’t run into any dead ends–turning the Boler around was a pain in the ass.

Behind an outcrop of trees we started seeing houses. They were large and spaced out. They weren’t surveyed on proper streets, it seemed, but their placements seemed to work. There were outcroppings of the town, undulating westwards to the Meander River.

This reserve was not unlike other reserves I have been on. It appeared neglected, with a noticeable need for up-keep. Siding was missing, windows were busted, shingles peeled, cars rusted, garbage clumped in tall grasses. There were cars at almost all the houses, but it felt like a ghost town.

The road I took looped us back to the Mackenzie Highway. At this northern access, there was the service centre. But where there would have been pavement or gravel or something to drive on, there was grass and weeds. The pumps stood in the middle of the clearing, white and shiny.

I parked on the road and took a walk around the abandoned gas station. The door to the store was locked. The windows were covered with plywood, except one. The interior was gutted. I checked the pumps. Their Measurement Canada inspection was still valid. The pumps looked hardly used.

The cold was making me paranoid. This was no place to spend the night, mostly because it would be below zero that night and we would feel it inside the un-insulated Boler. We would later find out from a woman in Hay River that they didn’t ever want to end up stranded on the Mackenzie Highway. Too many anecdotes of sexual assaults on that long, lonesome highway [Note: I wasn’t able to find anything to link, though].

No gas at Meander River made this leg of the journey ~250 km (155 mi). That doesn’t sound so bad, but on a loaded crossover’s 55 L tank hauling a 1000 lb Boler with headwinds on the western jogs, it was cutting it a little closer than I liked. If there were troubles at Indian Cabins getting gas, we would have another ~100 km (62 mi) to Enterprise which we probably would not make.

Cell coverage was spotty. I could load a map, but not do much with it. I have done most of my travelling without the crutch of everything a Google search away, so it didn’t bother me. I was in a town and there was bound to be someone around that could help me.

So I left the car parked and went for a walk into Meander River. I could go north and check out some houses, but there were some on the same road I was on. So I started for the first house. There were four vehicles parked in front of the house. There was no noise from inside but I knocked anyway. When no one came to the door, I started to the next house.

On my way a black pick-up truck was coming down the road. I made eye contact with the driver and waved to him. He took a corner and disappeared.

Before I reached the next house, I could hear people. That was promising. There were no windows on the top floor, so I could track down the voices to a corner room. There must have been about a half dozen people. They were shouting at each other. Screaming, and it didn’t sound like anyone was listening. The television played infomercials on full blast, filling in the space of what sounded like a party.

There was a thin bed sheet that looked like it was meant to cover the window, but it did nothing. Half of it hung out the window, the rest of it barely attached to the rod. The icy rain blew into the room, and still they all shouted like it was just another Saturday afternoon in Meander River.

I tried to outdo their roar. I shouted Hello! and Yo! and Can I get some help? and Anyone there?

That last question seemed stupid. No one was there. At least not for me.

I eventually found someone on a bicycle, who felt safest shouting at me across a patch of tall grass that was too wet for either of us to cross. She was perfectly fine with me not getting any closer. She was already on her bicycle and heading away before she finished explaining that I couldn’t get gas until Indian Cabins.

On my way back to the vehicle, I passed the house with no windows. They were no quieter. I tried to get their attention again. I wanted to ask them about the windows. If they were planning on replacing them. It was only fall, things would get colder. What would they do in January? What happened to all the snow that came in through the windows? Were they okay? Was there anything I could do?

That last question seemed stupid. Of course they were not okay. And there was nothing I could do.

Things became colder, of course. Like, 40⁰C colder. In that cold, when each icy breath rasps the back of my throat, and my hands became bricks, and frost starts to build on my eyelashes, I think back to that house with no windows in Meander River.

The memory doesn’t stop the cold. Doesn’t help my sunless mood, either. Whether I shunt reality or try to embrace it, I have to live through it all the same. And maybe that was what they were doing in that house that afternoon. They were living through it, all the same. Heat-trapping windows be damned.