Sunday, August 22, 2010

Smoke

I arrived in D'arcy late last night, just around midnight. The dogs, Hapi and Hiro gave me a wonderful greeting, I think they might actually remember me from last winter's visit. It was good to see Hiro healthy again. They were so excited that they had to go off and play together for a bit to burn off some of that energy.

As usual the trip was interesting. I left Toronto Sunday evening to drive the short distance to Barrie where my brother lives. I had a late supper there and a short visit. The next day I set out for northern Ontario. It was so hot in Toronto when I left that I wasn't really thinking about the possibility that it might not be hot anywhere else. In fact I packed my cold weather clothes in a suitcase that I put in the very back of the truck, figuring I wouldn't need it for awhile. Hah!

My second night was spent in a campground just west of the infamous Wawa. It's a place I've stayed before and very peaceful and quiet, by a small northern lake with loons. I almost said I woke to hear them calling, but actually I awoke in the middle of the night, freezing. I had to get up and dig out my warmer sleeping bag. And later in the morning I had to tear my careful packing of the truck apart to get at the warm clothes. The Toronto heat and humidity was a thing of the past.

I spent another night in Ontario, in another campground that was even colder than the first one, but this time I was prepared. It was 10C when I woke up that morning, but I was snugly warm in my sleeping bag.

The third day, I guess I am not really counting my Sunday drive to Barrie as a full day, I arrived in Winnipeg where I had arranged to stay with my niece Tara and her family. My brother had warned me about Tara's futon, and Tara quickly told me that I would not be subjected to that, I could sleep on either couch instead. She asked me if there was anything in Winnipeg I would like to see, and I had to confess that no, there wasn't. Then I asked her, if she was giving a tour of the city, where would she take a visitor. She had a list! She told me of four or five places she would take a visitor, in order of importance and depending on how much time they had. So I told her I had a couple of hours in the morning, where could we go.

Tara first drove me along the route I would need to take to get out of the city, and then we backtracked to the parliament buildings (the Golden Boy) and The Forks. The latter is a market situated at the fork of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in downtown Winnipeg. We went for a little stroll along the river with William her one-year-old, and then through the market, window shopping various craft shops.

Mostly though, we talked. I was happily surprised at how much we could talk about, it was a most interesting visit. I didn't leave her place until 1.00pm on Wednesday. In checking email I had a reply from a friend who had moved to Calgary that he looked forward to my arrival there, but he tended to work late so I thought I could arrive there late and did not have to rush away from Tara's. Nevertheless I did drive all day to make it to Buffalo Pound Lake provincial park in Saskatchewan, more or less halfway between Calgary and Winnipeg. Saskatchewan seemed smoggy, I was wondering how Saskatchewan could have smog, it being a mostly agricultural province. The sunset was an eerie red and grey affair.

My experience of Saskatchewan campgrounds is that in Saskatchewan they like to camp cheek by jowl out in the open. Granted, Saskatchewan does not have a lot of trees at the best of times, but still, you'd think they'd try to grow a shrub or two in a campground. I arrived in this particular campground fairly late, just before dark, so I just camped where the woman at the entrance booth suggested. However, the next day I drove around the park a bit, it was really quite large, and found an empty group camping area that would have been perfect if I had known of its existence the night before.

The smog was worse the next day, and after arriving in Alberta I could start to smell it. It wasn't smog, it was smoke. Wood smoke. From the forest fires in British Columbia. On the radio they were issuing public health warnings for the major cities of Alberta: people with compromised systems should stay indoors with the windows closed, healthy people should avoid exertion. The closer I got to Calgary the worse it got. My eyes burned.

My friend Jerome welcomed me to Calgary. The last time I saw him, a couple of years ago, he was living in Vancouver and then I found out via Facebook that he had moved to Calgary but I never got the details of why. He did not seem to me like someone who would move away from Vancouver, ever. Over a great seafood dinner at a local restaurant, Jerome told me the story of why he was in Calgary.

Briefly it involved job layoffs for him and his partner, union rules allowing a laid off person to "bump" another union member from their job, then further complications that resulted in one of them remaining in Vancouver while the other was forced to sit out almost two years in Calgary. Jerome was the one in Calgary. They had bought a town house and furnished it quite nicely with second hand and borrowed furniture, but no beds.

Jerome told me that I was his first guest since he moved to Calgary over a year ago and he decided not to tell me there was no bed until after I arrived, for fear that I might change my mind and not come. But a foamy on the floor is still more comfortable than a two-foot wide bench in the back of a truck, he had no worries there.

I left Calgary around 10.00am the next morning. I had decided I would head to Sam's place in D'arcy rather than Vancouver, since I was more assured of a place to stay there and it looked on the map to be about the same distance from Calgary. So that meant driving through Banff and Kamloops and Lillooet. The smoke got thicker as I approached the mountains, in fact I did not actually see any mountains until I was at the very foot of one, the visibility was so bad. Quite suddenly there was this grey shape looming out of the fog.

I stopped in Canmore for gas, since I was reasonably sure it would be more expensive in BC than in Alberta. The gas station I stopped at was full serve, the fellow who came to fill up my truck asked me where I was going to/coming from. I told him I was coming from Nova Scotia and he immediately told me he was from Cape Breton. He said BC was nice but if he won the lottery he'd be back in CB in a flash. But no jobs there. I commiserated, told him Cape Breton was beautiful and I certainly understood his sentiment. Asked him what part, he said Sydney, I said I had friends in Margaree Harbour. Then another gas jockey walked by and grinned and said I'm from Nova Scotia too, what part are you from. I told him The Valley and he nodded and said Antigonish. Ah. Saint FX (Antigonish) and Acadia (Wolfville) are college football rivals. He said, Welcome, there's a lot of us here.

That was kind of neat. I had a good feeling about the place already.

The famous scenery of Banff National Park was lost in the smoke. Arriving in BC was kind of anticlimactic, no mountains. The few that I saw were ghostly in the foggy smoke, surreal. The smoke got thicker as I headed westward. It just was not fun or pretty or anything. By dusk I was past Kamloops and Cache Creek, headed toward Lillooet. The moon rose red in the smoke. But very soon the smoke cleared and the moon turned white. I could breathe the cool clean air again.

By Lillooet I was tired. I still had another 150 km to go. I was going to call Sam to say that I thought I'd camp out tonight and arrive in the morning, but he didn't answer so I kept going. The Duffy Lake road was awful. It is up and down, switchback after switchback, never a straight level stretch at all for a hundred kilometers. I was between two other cars, I couldn't put on my highbeams and I had the headlights of the car behind me in my sidemirrors. At one point I pulled off and let them get ahead of me so I could drive in the dark. That was OK for awhile, but I eventually caught up with them again. Then there were cows on the road. The car ahead of me honked to make them move off the road faster, but they seemed in no rush. As if there was really nowhere else to go, they were happy to just stay in the road. They stared at us balefully.

Finally I arrived in D'arcy. It was midnight and Sam had a campfire going with his dogs. I got an enthusiastic doggy greeting from a couple of giant malemutes, they nearly knocked me over.

Good to be arrived.

2 comments:

Rain said...

Your road trip was interesting to me-- as well as informative. As usual with being in the States, I had not heard about the bad fires in BC. Maybe I would have if I'd had a regular newspaper but I get my news off online sources. I wonder if they are also impacting Montana where I had been hoping to go all summer and might yet make in September. I was in Montana a couple of times with bad fire conditions and once had to leave Missoula and not even stay because of the air quality being so miserable. I'll have to do some research. We have had some fires down here too but so far nothing to that level.

Barbara Anne said...

What an interesting story! As I've said before, you're an excellent storyteller!

I'm sorry to hear that BC has fires and I hope there's a good rain to put them completely out and soon. It was a surprise to me that Saskatchewan has few trees.

How marvelous that you could connect with family, friends, and NS ex-pats en route east to west. What a perfect welcome to D'Arcy awaited your arrival!

Enjoy yourself!

Hugs!