Snow cannons and craft mead, hahaha! (huh?)

I think it is time for a suitably seasonal travel tale. How about a mighty mountain road adventure? All that follows is (mostly) true. If it helps, I hear the voice of Brian Blessed in the parts where there is a weather god laughing. I hope you know what I mean, there. Where is this going? Where were we going? Read on, if you have the time. We certainly had an interesting time as we travelled across Western Canada earlier this week.

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A snowy Calgary? Nope. Another Chinook arch? Yup. Let’s pack the car, head to somewhere else!
If you’ve read one or two of the more recent posts, there’s a chance you have spotted a recurring theme. Theme is too strong a word – it is more realistic to describe it as a repetitive sulk – where I might have mentioned a distinct lack of snow the past six weeks? So of course the day we decided to leave a little earlier than planned (due to the lack of snow, why stick around any longer?) and head to the coast, was the day the snow gods decided to heed one man’s whining:

“Is that another snow prayer from the plaid clad little man? We cannot and should not put up with his incessant complaining any longer – it’s headache inducing, and I already have a slight hangover and blurred vision. That new mead with the lavender honey is quite delicious, and rather potent too. Just look at all this snow we’ve made, it needs using. We can’t keep it in the house, erm, I mean the great hall, any longer, there’s no room for our new barrels of craft mead. That checked-shirted irritant drives a black Jeep. He was packing the car last night, so when he leaves later, let’s point the snow cannon at his vehicle. He wants snow? Then snow he shall have, hahahaha!”

You have to love the snow gods, they’ve got a great sense of humour. Snow gods do exist, don’t they? Not too sure about all the craft mead – and adding honey/drinking from a cup in the shape of a horn doesn’t make for a better beer. Still, I guess if you’re a weather god, you get to drink what you like from any cup you choose. Lavender, though? Shudder…

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Canmore had snow
Our trip got off to a great start! Approaching the mountains on Highway 1, we could see there had been snowfall. When we passed through Canmore, there was fresh snow! Yes, we did stop at Le Fournil to top up our coffee and buy a pastry for later…

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Field had snow
When we paused to pee in Field – my goodness it was cold there – they had received fresh snow. It looked properly wintry.

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This wall in Revelstoke had snow (what a terrible photograph!)
On we went to Revelstoke, stopping to gas up the car, and refill the travel mugs – Tim’s dark roast – and the first few real flurries of the day were starting to fall. Clearly the snow gods were recovering from their hangovers, and their blurred vision was clearing – the aim on our car was much better.

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“Target this Jeep, hahahaha!”
By Salmon Arm the flakes were really quite impressive, and along the valley towards Kamloops, the weather gods let loose with their celestial snow cannons! Big flakes in what we are more used to seeing as summertime high desert country.

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“Hahahaha, he asked for it, hahahaha…”
At Kamloops, the overhead traffic signs warned that the highway ahead was closed beyond Merritt due to heavy snow. Thanks, Drive BC, that was good to know. (There was no mention of annoyed snow gods targeting the route – essential information, but there isn’t enough room on the signs to include all the details or hahahas…) What to do? Stay in Kamloops or push on? We decided to press on – our motel room in Merritt was booked, and if the route beyond was closed, we could worry about that the next day.

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“Snow, hahahaha!”
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Next time we’ll stop in Kamloops! Poking the sleeping – drinking? – snow gods is not a good idea. The Coquihalla Highway between Kamloops and Hope is a high mountain road that can get snow any time of year. On a clear day, the drive from Kamloops to Merritt is less than an hour. If the weather gods have you in their snow sights, it’ll take well over two hours, and it won’t be fun. I like driving, and I like snow, but sometimes it turns out you don’t want both. What kind of fool would offer up a prayer for snow?

The light was fading – it hadn’t exactly been bright all afternoon – and the snow was very heavy. Yikes, that part of the journey was a white-knuckle whiteout! I am forever grateful to the driver of the white pickup just in front of us. S/he had their hazard lights flashing, and from time to time, if they hadn’t been on, I’m not sure I’d have picked out the road quite as well in the snow and dark. We were stopping in Merritt anyway, but even if the road had been open further ahead, there was no way I’d have continued. It was a scary ride, and not helped by the occasional brain dead driver hurtling past in the unploughed lane. Hey, you brain dead drivers? Thanks for throwing up the extra snow, because honestly, it wasn’t challenging enough already. Do you have sight that allows you to see through a snowstorm at night? You do? Oh, my apologies, and what a gift…

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A fine SN winter ale. It’s not mead.
Anyway, we made it to Merritt, and after checking in and eating that pastry from earlier, I popped into a beer store and bought a horn of craft mead. Isn’t that something, mead by the horn in Merritt – who knew? Stepping outside into the cold and snowy night air, I raised it to the skies, and gave thanks for our safe arrival. I also put in an apology for all those pesky snow prayers, and made a request for clear skies the next day. No harm in asking. Then I hurried back to the motel. People were staring…

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The Coquihalla Highway, the following day
What do you know, dawn revealed clear skies and an open road all the way to the coast. Thank you snow gods, and gods of weather and travel in general – I knew you were real, and you’re the best!

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Lots of highway snow, and doesn’t it look lovely?
“Hahahaha, that little fellow in the patterned shirts won’t be bothering us for quite a while, hahahaha! Ooh, the lavender honey really works in a horn of mead, doesn’t it? Fragrant! Is there any more?”

Thanks for reading, and if you celebrate Christmas, enjoy the coming weekend and beyond. Perhaps you’ll drink a horn of mead, hahahaha?

A Trans Canada hold up

Yes, I got held up on a return to Calgary recently. Now that sounds exciting – a highway robbery? Stand and deliver! You’d best stop reading now if that’s your hope for this piece. This is about a different sort of hold up.

The highway was closed due to a rock fall and wasn’t scheduled to reopen for a few hours. Fortunately, if fortune is a feature of travel delay, I was in Revelstoke, BC, and that’s never a bad thing. I love the situation of this little town, nestled along the Columbia River with towering mountains all around. We’ve enjoyed camping nearby, exploring the beautiful area around and about. In the small downtown there are stores catering to all season outdoor activities, a few coffee shops and eating houses, and a realtor or two reminding us we can’t really afford small town mountain living.

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Above the Columbia
Anyway, here was an unexpected opportunity to spend a few hours in a favourite place. But did I venture into the little downtown to while away my waiting time in an independent coffee shop? Take the opportunity to browse the gear and flannel shirts in those outdoor stores? Enjoy a short rainy hike along the picturesque river banks? I did not! Having filled up the car for the last leg back to Calgary, and resigned to a wait of uncertain length, I used my bonus Revelstoke time by sitting in Tim Hortons drinking their dark roast coffee.

You did what, PlaidCamper? Tim Hortons?! Aren’t you a staunch defender of independent coffee shops, a bean hound willing to take lengthy detours – “I’m sure there’ll be an espresso shack just up here” – and a slightly annoying coffee snob? 

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Walked 45 minutes across Victoria (passing two Tim’s) to find this place 
Coffee snob? That doesn’t sound like me! Well, there was that time when we (I) went a little way off route (somewhere in one of the Dakotas, I think) to find the Cowboy Coffee Cabin, but it was well worth it. Mighty fine coffee. When you have all day, what’s another hour or so? I liked that place, and if it was a Dakota coffee franchise, places on the prairies are so far apart that by the time you reach the next one, you honestly can’t remember if you’ve been to one before. “Hey, this looks new!” Could this explain the Tim Hortons success in Canada?

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Be prepared
I know, I know, Tim’s isn’t exactly the definition of small town, small batch, artisanal coffee roasting, but big doesn’t have to be bad, does it? Have you had their dark roast? What can I say? I love it, quite dark and aromatic, a decent caffeine hit, and with an odd hint of cardboard flavour that is strangely delicious. Tim’s is a Canadian institution, and it isn’t a road trip unless there’s a sticky box of Timbits keeping driver and passengers full of unnecessary calories. All the Timbit flavours are fine, except old fashioned glazed – they taste like pork scratchings, the type sold in an English pub in the early 1980s. Not yum. (The part about Timbit calories? Not true. I’m pretty sure there are studies proving that if you eat Timbits in a car, you don’t put on weight. That’s right, car Timbits are free of calories. Amazing! I can’t seem to find a link to the scientific evidence, but you can take my word for it…)

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Storm’s coming. Best stop, wait it out somewhere with a coffee!
You’d think the Tim Hortons in Revelstoke that day would have been full of miserable customers, all irritated they were held up. Yet the truck drivers (usual order, a double double), pensioners (double double), parents of preschool children (double double), students missing classes (large mocha, a Boston creme, please don’t tell my parents I’m skipping) and the coach load of Koreans (long order, the bus driver stepped in to help) couldn’t have seemed happier. Is this the power of TH doughnuts – that aren’t, let’s be honest, all that good – or is the strange cardboard flavour really an active happiness agent?

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Mrs PC loves a cappuccino
When we first came to Canada, I didn’t really get the national affection for Tim’s, although now it seems perfectly obvious a coffee and doughnut joint started by a hockey player would become a fixture of the Canadian coffee landscape. If I remember rightly, it took less than six months and another waist size up for me to fall under the Timbit spell. I thought it was a mandatory part of citizenship preparation, and I studied hard.

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Jasper coffee stop – and fine baked goods (I’m told…)
So, I didn’t go for a hike, or buy a plaid shirt. Instead, I read a bit, wrote parts of this post, drank a medium dark roast, got another for the road, and headed happily on my way once the highway reopened. Oh, and maybe there was a small box of Timbits in the centre console. It was empty long before reaching Calgary (except for the solitary old fashioned glazed I so thoughtfully saved for Mrs PC…)

Enough of these caffeine-fuelled ramblings. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful weekend!

Canada!

Canada celebrates 150 years of Confederation tomorrow – the sesquicentennial!DSCF4923We’ll be on the road, passing through small towns and stopping for cups of coffee and smiles as each place celebrates Canada. It’ll be all Canadian artists on the radio and the mix tape – but no Nickelback (sorry!) – and we’ll be wearing red and white.DSCF2514We feel incredibly fortunate to live in this fine land. As relatively recent immigrants, and freshly minted Canadians, every day is Canada day…a bit much I know, but we love it here. So please pardon the patriotism, and I hope you enjoy the selected photographs.DSCF4141If you are Canadian, would like to be Canadian, know some Canadians, or find yourself a little bit Canadian at heart, then happy Canada Day to you, and have a wonderful time marking the 150 this weekend! (And yes, we’re having road trip Timbits for breakfast – yum!)IMG_20170312_174544

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Taking a very deep breath…

…and then another, and another. What a world we’ve made for ourselves.

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Tempted to hide? I know, but…

What a week! Our little roadtrip to Jasper seems way back in the rear view mirror. Seeking shelter from the vitriol, looking for a quiet space away from shouting the loudest to make a point, or repeating lies to establish legitimacy, a speedy Jasper run seemed a great idea. Tune out? Turn down the volume? Take a self imposed time out? Yes please! dscf3958Steady driving on near empty roads through breathtaking scenery, with sunshine and snow, rivers and lakes, and mountains and valleys helped to restore a sense of balance with each passing kilometre. We appreciated it then, and, with hindsight, appreciate it even more now…

dscf3970Was it so very quiet, though? To be fair, when we took a short hike around Lac Beauvert, the honking of hundreds of geese could hardly be described as quiet – far from it – but it was soothing to see and hear something real rather than fabricated. It made sense. So did the industry and purpose we saw from a dipper busily splashing and feeding along the banks of a small stream. The beating and rushing of wings as geese flew in organized Vs straight over our heads was a wonderful sound.

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It was chilly up here!

The roar of the wind blasting in our faces straight off a glacier at 8,000 feet was quite the noise. Elemental, in your face, but in a good way. Not quiet, but this was noise free from nastiness and negativity.

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Keep it purposeful

We had space to think, room to breathe, and the chance to tune into a different set of sounds. Sounds that heal, promote calm, and encourage a positive mindset. Perhaps we’ll need quite a bit of this in the coming weeks…

dscf3994Might I suggest you get outside this weekend? Turn off the intrusive soundtrack of recent days? Hug a tree, jump a stream, climb a hill, skim some stones, hike in the woods? Remember, there is a reality beyond our political constructs – this reality needs our help – and it sustains our conceited constructs. Go on, go out there, appreciate what we’ve got and hope we still have it in the years to come.

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Jump a stream

When you get home, smile and wave at your neighbors, even if you’re not too sure about their ballot box leanings. Take a very deep breath, then another and another. What a world we’ve made for ourselves. Here’s hoping we’ll figure out how to make it better.

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Smile at your neighbours

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a peaceful Remembrance Day and weekend.

Loose connections

I’ve always had a few of those…

I was sat on the C train this morning, the lazy part of my route to work where, for seven minutes between the walk each end – yup, I’ve timed it – I stare out the window and sometimes come up with a plan for what to write about. Sometimes inspiration strikes, and sometimes the mind wanders.

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Made in Dusseldorf

I like the old trains better than the new trains that are being phased in, even though the new carriages are shiny, and rattle and squeak free. The old ones were made in Dusseldorf, and for a onetime European there’s something satisfying about the low-tech solidity of the old school cars. Being busy not getting any younger, I find myself liking old stuff more and more. And sometimes my mind wanders.

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Old movie house – what’s playing?

Standing at the urinal in an old movie house last week (this is all true, and it is ok to read on, honest) I was entertained by all the movie posters plastered onto the walls. Interesting wallpaper. One that particularly caught my eye (it was straight ahead and at eye level – good etiquette suggests you shouldn’t let your eyes wander too far in this situation) was for Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven. I have to confess that I’ve never seen this movie but always wanted to. I have seen Malick’s Badlands, and it is one of my favourites.

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From a car

A somewhat grisly heartland road trip, featuring two young criminals/serial killers on the run, Badlands is a haunting/disturbing tone poem. Made in 1973, it is, despite the description I’ve just offered, a quite beautiful film. And what a cast! Sissy Spacek, Martin Sheen, and Warren Oates. (Warren Oates! His face, and his world weary persona, they are made to be seen on the big screen. Etched and interesting. Have you seen Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia? Yikes. Weird isn’t even close, but Warren Oates inhabits his role!) Sometimes, I miss the 1970s.

Getting back to Badlands, I first saw it on TV back when I was an impressionable thirteen year old. I don’t think I should have been watching it, but Ma PlaidCamper was a bit of a Martin Sheen fan, and so transfixed that she didn’t notice me sat there. I was mesmerized by the nature of the movie – in an environmental sense, and in how it was made. An American road trip movie with cool cars, crime, lots of fields, small towns, roadside billboards, and a nihilistic Sheen in a jean jacket smoking a cigarette. Well, how could that impressionable boy resist? Maybe I’ll watch a double feature this coming weekend – Days of Heaven and Badlands

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Cool (I like old stuff – not that this is that old)

We weren’t at the old movie house to watch an old movie. A friend was playing with her band Magnolia Buckskin – that’s a cool name, huh? It was a benefit gig to raise money to support a village in Nepal, a place rebuilding and picking up the pieces after the earthquake in 2015. As usual, Kathy and her musician buddies put on a great show. One of their songs, Edge of the Waterappeals because aside from the wonderful playing and vocal harmonies, they sing about how being at the foot of the mountain or edge of the water is to “be a part of something bigger than me…” Hard to argue with that – we are fortunate to lead the lives we do.

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At the edge of the water

I think we might have to put the double feature on hold. Weather permitting, and highways being open, we’re planning a short road trip up to Jasper, and an escape from election fever. Or is it election fatigue? (I’m mystified that there is even a doubt in this particular race. One candidate is a misogynist and xenophobe, and that information there is enough to make a sensible decision…but I’ll stop, because although the result does have an impact on our lives, it’s not our election. Back to the road trip!)

The route is one of our favourites by car, full of scenery that’ll make you feel small yet part of something bigger than ourselves. Some Magnolia Buckskin for the soundtrack, no cigarettes, won’t carry a gun, we’re not on the run, and nihilism doesn’t appeal, but I wonder?  Can I still squeeze into that old jean jacket? Might be a few loose buttons to go with these loose connections. I’m losing the thread. What was I saying? Imagine if my train journey was longer than seven minutes…

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At the foot of the mountain

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to share a story, or a movie or soundtrack recommendation, and have a wonderful weekend!image-1

Route 89 and 89A – north from Flagstaff, AZ to somewhere in Utah

Other than an ocean view, this route pretty much has it all. Mountains, hills, forests, rivers, grasslands, deserts, canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and all in a few hours of driving time. If we’d stopped as often as we wanted to, why we might still be on 89 now. Let’s view it as a swift reconnaissance for future visits…this is a timeless place, and it’ll wait for our return. Here are a few grainy photographs (taken on the move and through a bug splattered windshield) and a few impressions here.

 

It has it all!

 

With all the variety, the weather was changeable – although mostly variations on hot. No complaints though; it’ll be a long winter soon enough above the 49th. The day we travelled, it was pleasantly cool in the early Arizona morning, warmed up across Navajo lands, got rather warm in the open desert, cooled off again on the high plateau, rained on us during and just after our descent, then the heat increased all the way on from there.

 

Blue skies, red cliffs

 

This road is such a colourful route! Sandstone hoodoos and clay soil, cliffs of pink and red strata, coral sands, dark green ponderosa forests, golden hay bales in enormous straw fields, and sluggish muddy rivers at the bottom of deep canyons. The vast skies also played their part in the colour palette. A huge reach from light to deep blue, high trailing wisps of cloud in the upper atmosphere, billowing white puffs gathering over the heights, and ominous heavy greys and hazy purples rushing in from and blotting out distant horizons.

Ominous…

 

Every now and then a few drops would spatter the windshield and you’d look about and up into the blue, wondering where the offending cloud might be. Other times you could see the veils of rain sweeping towards you, almost in touching distance, yet not a drop through the window. There was one mighty downpour that reduced visibility and speed for about five minutes, then bright sunshine soon after. What a joy to be traveling through high country where you can see weather coming – and going.

 

Wonderful setting

 

We had plans, so we couldn’t stop this time and see it all. I had to wrestle with that. Here’s what it sounded like in my head:

Ponderosas! Like them, they’re big.

Mmm, sagebrush.

I wonder what it’s like to be a cliff dweller?

Vermilion. Vermilion. A bit red.

That’s a long way down.

Roadside stalls selling Navajo rugs and jewelry (whisper that to Mrs PlaidCamper – but don’t wake her. Phew, close one!)

Do we have time for Bryce Canyon today? Don’t be silly. Next time.

Is the North Rim higher than the South?

Oh no, we’re in Utah on Sunday – can I get coffee?

Crap! It’s the  I-15 already! Left to Vegas, right to Salt Lake City. There has to be a better way.

No wonder Mrs PlaidCamper has her travel naps…

 

Fresh!

 

Ponderosa pine at 8000 feet smells like, well, ponderosa pine at 8000 feet. Exceptionally good! Deeply refreshing, clean, and as far from those old car air fresheners as can be. Roll down your windows! Sagebrush after the rain is real aromatherapy, and no New Age music, kaftans or essential price tags. The only cost is your time, with a willingness to take the long way round. (I know, gas is expensive, and cars are bad, but don’t be a curmudgeon – I can rain guilt on my own parade later).

It wasn’t open anyway…

 

So if you happen to find yourself in Flagstaff early one morning in summer, and you simply must go for a spin in your lovingly (but not overly) restored vintage pickup, head north on 89, then take 89A towards Vermilion Cliffs. Cross the desert and climb up the winding road to the Kaibab plateau. Carry on into Utah and you could stop off at Bryce Canyon. You won’t be disappointed, and you won’t have enough time to do it all in only a day. But that’s alright; do what we intend to do and make plans for a longer future stay! It’s not going anywhere, and this is a timeless place.

 

Find the time…

 

Who can resist the open road? Have you traveled on 89 and 89A up from Flagstaff? As ever, please feel free to comment or share a story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 

Just add an old pickup truck – maybe one day