Trip Start Aug 01, 2003
16Trip End Jan 27, 2004
Next day it's back in the bus for a 470 mile drive over the border to Canada. And here we are now, in Dawson City, a gold rush town which looks like a film set. It's unreal. No tarmac on the roads or sidewalks. Dusty street with raised wooden walkways. The only thing missing is the tumbleweeds. Our camp site is a real hippy commune type place which is gorgeous. Shower consists of a wood burning stove and two drums full of water (one hot, one cold). Just mix until you get the desired temperature, fill a bucket up and pour it over your head. How simple! We cross the river on a ferry which runs 24 hours to get to Dawson City. Tonight we go to watch can can girls in the only legal casino in Canada. Surreal.
Last night was a big night, in more ways than one
So, we're ordering beers and generally stalling for time whilst Captain Dick gets his jars out of his case and lines the toes up on the table and I take the opportunity to pick up email in the lobby. Hoorah, fantastic news, ickle George has arrived so I go back to the table to celebrate. They gang all pitch in and buy a bottle of champagne and a cigar for me. The champagne took an hour to arrive because they have never actually sold a bottle of champagne it's such a hickey town. Everyone is wetting the baby's head and generally enjoying having something to celebrate (they're all relieved too cos now I can stop going on about the expectant little fella)
Then Kevin the crazy American decides that I am going to be first to suck the toe! He lines me up a shot of Yukon Jack (we're in the Yukon at the moment) and I sit nervously in front of Captain Jack while he reads me my ceremony speech. The 15 year old toe drops in to the shot glass with a thud, I pick up the glass, close my eyes and throw back the shot. The Yukon Jack goes in to my mouth but the toe gets wedged in the bottom of the glass so I have to tap it to make it drop. It does! It hits my mouth and my arm reacts so quickly that the shot glass is slammed down so fast you didn't even see it happen. I'm shaking, everyone cheers, it's done and I'm 'Captain Dick's World Famous Sourtoe Cocktail Club' member number 13, 876! Fantastic!
And I did it all for George! So when I'm old and grey I can say to him... "I can remember exactly what I was doing the day you were born!"
The nights goes on and turns into the Motley Crew sitting on the beach to watch the sun rise. At 6am we catch the ferry back across to town and go to the Midnight Sun Hotel for breakfast. We quietly wind our way back to camp and go to bed in the forest.
Having a day off today and have just spent two and a half hours writing this so I hope you all enjoy it. Some things coming up are sky diving in Vegas and PADI diving course in Nicaragua (I think).
Week one under our belts, 24 more to go, it's unreal and hasn't yet sunk in although I do know that I wouldn't want to be doing anything else right now (other than giving my little nephews a big hug)
Hope you're all well.
Peace and love
It's been a while since my first email but I have been holding off until we finished travelling through Canada. Tomorrow we catch a ferry across the water from Vancouver Island and cross the border into the States. It's bye bye Alaska and bye bye Canada. It's been swell!
What can I tell you about life on the road? We have been travelling for 3 weeks so now so the holiday feeling is well and truly over and it does indeed feel like this is going to last a mighty long time. I would like to say I am surprised at how quickly I have fallen into the comfortableness of being a traveller but I would be lying. I have always known that I would be able to embrace the feeling and would not feel intimidated or frightened about any aspect. So, as I have said before, this feels so right. Another 22 glorious weeks of things unknown. Bring it on!
What has surprised me however, is how much I enjoy camping
We set up in a new camp almost every day, apart from every few days we stop somewhere for two nights, so a morning where we can get out of our tents and walk away from them for the day without packing everything up is heaven. Usually we leave a site at 8am, so the hour before is a mad rush of showers, breakfast, packing, taking down tents, packing away the food and the stove and putting it all on top of the bus. It was all a bit of a fuss to start with as no one had settled in to their roles but now we go about our business in our own ways without colliding or doubling up on jobs. Mama Toast always makes sure we have tea and toast on the go so at any time you can rush in and grab a bite and a cuppa to wolf down whilst trying to stuff your sleeping bag in to your stuff sack...
On most days we drive anything between 5 and 8 hours to make progress. You can sit, sleep, talk, read, listen to music in any position you want on the bus... along as it is upright!! We have covered about 4,000 miles which is about a quarter of the total trip mileage. We have deduced therefore that this means we will have more days to bum around on beaches when we get down to places like Mexico and Baja. This is great as far as I am concerned as I am more at home with the sea. I was having a conversation with Rob the other day, who is big on mountains and mountaineering, and he found it interesting that I felt claustrophobic in the mountains but as soon as we got to the sea I was overwhelmed by a feeling of freedom. Like I could breathe again. We are all different. We stop every couple of days for a day of which usually involves an activity of some sort but these are starting to calm down and become less.
I have been a bit restless in that I have been in search of some spiritualness and have found that my mind has now stepped into another gear, which I was hoping it would, so that I could begin to open up my inner contentment that has always been difficult to tap in to at home as there are so many interruptions from everyday life. You can actually train yourself to switch yourself off from the group when you need to and allow yourself some freedom within your own mind to wander. If that makes sense?
Because of this I am now a lot happier and settled within the group and feel that I am beginning to gain from this experience. This will become much stronger once we start to come venture into the lands of the native Indians. It is the cultural and spiritual side of this experience that I am looking forward to most and it will soon be with us. I am still looking forward to Peru more than any other aspect of the trip. Being with a new group of people and trying to make the right impression and ensure that you hit it off with everyone means that you struggle to remember who you are. But I'm back!
Things must have been getting bad as I went to see a spiritualist today for a reading and found that it helped to put me back in touch with who I am. She said that my career path is event promotions and management.... for those of you who know how much I enjoyed Goodwood you will be thinking that rings true! She also inspired me to go and buy a book called 'Sophie's World' which is a 'novel about the history of philosophy'. She gave me her email address too and said if ever I need a nudge drop her a line and she'll put me back on track. She also helped me to identify my angel who I am going to try and get in touch with - well you have to try everything once! I can hear some of you giggling! Chas!
So, back to what we have been seeing and doing! Where did I leave you? ..... Oh yes, Dawson City, about two weeks ago. New nephew, Sourtoe Cocktails, mostly Alaska.
We pick up again around about the 10th of August. We left Dawson City and drove along the Alcan Highway where we stopped at a place called Watson Lake. This has been made famous by the 'Watson Lake Sign Forest'. In the middle of a town are thousands and thousands of signs nailed to posts. People from all over the world stop off here and either make their own sign on site of bring their own. Some either nail their number plates. It is the strangest of places. The posts are all lined up really close and you can meander through them like a maze. As you do so it is almost like walking through a cemetery as you read the names and dates on the signs and start to get a look into people lives.
The colours of all of the different signs present a multi-coloured spectacle before you. Most of the signs have peoples names, their home town, where they are travelling to and when they were at the sign forest. There were signs from the States, Athens, places all over Europe and even some from the UK. Some of them are so creative and you could spend hours there. Adam, who is a bit of a closet artist, painted us a sign to put up. He drew the bus, which was superb, painted a US flag to represent Kevin and a GB one for us and put all of our names on it and the date. It looks great and we had a putting up ceremony where Bob hammered it in to a post and we ask a lady to take a picture of us all.
For our next stop we popped back in to Alaska for the night to Hyder. After setting up camp Kevin took us up 'Fish Creek' to spot some bears catching Salmon. The bears obviously use this spot to fish so for that reason alone we were there to see a huge amount of salmon. But I had not expected to see a river full of DEAD salmon. Because, as I have now learnt, salmon swim upstream in order to find a spot to spawn, and once they do they die. The bend in the river where we stopped to wait for the bears to come and feed was awash with dead salmon. The smell wasn't too pleasant and the sight itself was eerie. But all part of nature. There certainly is no better way to learn about these things than to see it for yourself. It registers that much more.
It was dusk and as we waited patiently we suddenly saw a black bear ambling along slowly through the river up towards the salmon. Bounding along behind her with her two tiny cubs. She looked after them so well. Even while she was catching the salmon in her mouth she would constantly look round to see where the cubs were. She passed them a fish and they played with it not really knowing what to do with it as it was still flapping around but they were sort of copying mum and practicing their fishing skills. They came very close and didn't seem too bothered by us. It was magical and again you can't beat observing animals having the freedom to behave the way they should in their natural environment.
We had a drink in the bar that evening which is 191% proof alcohol. The term they use once you have drunk it is that you have been 'hyderized'. Yes, well no one was too impressed. Seven of us stood in a circle and knocked one back. Then there was silence as we all stared at each other hesitantly waiting for the liquid to make its way down in to our bellies... where it sort of burnt your insides! You should have seen the discomfort on our faces. Well, it certainly shut us all up for a while. Hmmmm....
Next morning myself, Sally, Sonia, Adam and Kevin drove up to the 'Salmon Glacier'. We were high above it so we could look down on to it. The glacier runs down between two mountains and then splits into two and runs off either side. It was so big you could not comprehend. Some people were camping on it but they were so small that I had to look through my binoculars at them. We walked through an old mining shaft where we 'could see light at the end of the tunnel' - literally. But we gave up after about 20 minutes because it wasn't getting any closer.
On 12th August we camped in a site in Vanderhoof, back in Canada, by a lake and Sally, Andrew, Kevin and I sat on a jetty watching a pink sunset disappear behind silhouetted mountains mirrored on a dark lake - glass on wine in hand. Big sigh! We stayed there until about 1 in the morning. This is what it's all about.
The following day it was back on the road driving the Rockies. Stopped for lunch at the foot of the biggest mountain in the Rockies - Mount Robson, 13,000 feet. The top was in the clouds. We're all becoming complacent about the scenery by now as we are just living amongst the biggest of mountains and everywhere you turn they roll on into the distance for miles and miles. And Canada is so clean and vast. And the mountains are unspoilt as there are no electricity pylons or telephone lines because on the whole most of Canada is not occupied by humans.
We then set up camp in Jasper National Park (in the winter skiing is big here, as in Banff) and you can see why. It was a nice change to see a ski resort in the summer. The cable cars and gondolas are still there and you can imagine where the runs would be when the snow falls. I have always tried to imagine what ski resort mountains would look like when the snow has gone.
Myself, Jo, Glenda and Andrew hired mountain bikes for the day in Jasper. The morning was spent leisurely riding around lakes such a bright shade of aqua that you can't believe it is a natural colour and through cool forests. We had lunch in Jasper and decided to challenge ourselves a little and took some advice to take a bus up to Maligne Lake, about 40+miles up into the mountains, where we would find a bike trail that would be a real off-road trail and would only take an hour and a quarter to get back down. After some arguments with the bus driver we persuade him to take us up and find a park ranger to point us in the right direction. Guess what? No bike trail! And guess what too? Only way down is back down the 40miles of road! And guess what as well? No more buses!
So, guess what we did? We cycled all the way down and 4 hours and about 50 miles later we dragged our asses back into town - very pink, very hot and very tired. And then guess what we did? We went and sat on wooden benches for 2 hours watching a Rodeo! Actually, the Rodeo was brilliant. Bucking horses, calf steering (cowboy on a horse lassoes a calf and then jumps off his horse on to it), acrobatic cowgirls in all sorts of unmentionable positions on their charging horses (very impressive), strapping young 'n tough cowboys riding psychopathic bulls and trying not to get thrown off, even little kids doing it! The champions from all over Canada were there riding so we really got to see the best. It was very impressive and I am glad we cycled all that way just to see it!
Blimey, it's taken me 2 hours just to get this far in my email - maybe I should send them more regularly.
On the road again, to Banff. A great place, with a lot of life. However, completely shrouded in fire smoke and ash. The smell was over powering to start with but we got used to it after a while. There were uncontrollable fires up to 20 miles away and this is where the smoke was drifting over from. We did see some controlled fires (flames and all) through the trees near to where we were camping which was a little unsettling but we were in no danger. The helicopters flew backwards and forwards all night trying to put them out. And the trains, some of them a mile long, thundered through town at least 5 times in the night.
Went out to a club one night and everyone let their hair down - got to wear my one and only going out top and put make-up on for the first time in two weeks. We looked gorgeous and we danced our little asses off till the early hours! Sally and I met two gorgeous French Canadians who were in Banff for a wedding so we went back to their motel apartment for an after-club party!!! No more detail I'm afraid! Canadians drifting in and out of American and french sounded quite alien and almost romantic. In particular hearing french with no french accent! They were from Montreal so we all exchanged questions about our countries. They love the English! Day off the next day to do laundry and sit and drink coffee all afternoon.
The following day we went White Water Rafting on the Kicking Horse River. This was great fun. We got to dress up in wet suites, booties, spray jackets AND life jackets and all looked like we'd put on lbs in the process. Rafting goes up to a grade 5 and we were on a grade 4 river so it was quite exhilarating. Some of the waves we bounced over were more than 10ft high and at these points 'David O' our guide shouted 'Dig in, dig in!'. So we all tried to paddle like crazy while gripping on to the sides of the raft with our thighs so as not to fall out. At the end we were allowed to jump out of the raft and float a little way down the river. Oh how nice, I hear you say, but bear in mind that we are on rapids whilst we were doing this.... it was awesome, the speed we got dragged down through the water was frightening and it was freezing but I am glad that I jumped out and had a go.
We have had fantastic weather all the way down as we are following the end of summer all the way down. Some nights get cold but we are slowly getting tans from being outside all the time and the weather is gorgeous most of the time.
The next day we drove on a little into the Yoho National Park and stopped at Lake Louise. Here we were able to push ourselves a little and take a hike up the mountain. We walked a very steep gradient, a total of about 9.5kms uphill. It was a real struggle and very hot but a lovely walk up a windy forest path that zig zagged up the side of the mountain to a tea hut half way up. We stopped for fresh berry tea and filled our water bottles with the cool glacier water from the later then continued our accent. An hour later we arrived at a viewpoint called 'Little Beehive' - huffing and puffing we took in the panoramic view of even higher glacier-topped mountains, bright green lakes and spruce forests that run on for miles. It is hard to imagine that all of this used to be under water when the sea came up to that level so technically you are standing on what was once the sea bed. Not only that but the glaciers have entirely changed the landscape and carved out the valleys between the mountains. In this respect the Rockies in Canada are astonishing. This is what Canada is about, it's absolutely beautiful and I will carry this view in my mind forever.
And then, for a real contrast we arrived in our first city - Vancouver. I think that this threw us all. We were country folk used to camping suddenly thrown into a major city teeming with traffic and skyscraper skylines. For the first time we had beds to stay in and spent two nights in a backpacking hostel. They smell! It wasn't all bad. We were staying right next to the crack heads who roam the streets trying to offer you any kind of drug you desire but once you walk on a bit the city itself is stunning. In places, a bit like London. There is a part in particular that is just like being in the City in London and Vancouver has a beautiful Marina, with some gorgeous boats in it, and Stanley Park which is a sticky out bit around which we cycled.
Sally, Andrew, Rob and I hired mountain bikes again (we're really keen to ride a lot). This is the best way to see somewhere as you can cover more ground that walking and you can freewheel when you like to take in the views and sites. I love the feeling of freedom you get on a bike. So, we spent the afternoon riding around the bays and beaches, marinas, over suspension bridges, saw dust mills and up and down streets. It was a great day. We then met the others in English Bay and watched the sunset. I think I am, like many others before me, going to write a book about my favourite sunsets. Have a feeling there are many more to come on this trip.
Got completely over excited when some of us decided to treat ourselves and have a posh meal - in a seafood restaurant!!! How sweet life is! White table cloths, chilled Pinot Grigio in tall stemmed wine glasses (not plastic camping mugs), homemade bread with pesto butter, seafood chowder, northwest seafood pasta, lemon cheescake, espresso. For those of you who are aware of my food fetish there is no need to describe my feelings to you. For those of you who are not aware then it's too complicated and embarrassing to describe so we'll leave it at that.
So, Vancouver back-packers hostel by night! 3am and there is a crashing noise outside and glass smashing. I wake Jo, Sally and Glenda up and we all lean on the windowsill in our undies watching the sites outside and giggling away at the sheer unbelievable ness of it. We're next door to a club which is banging loud music out, a drunken guy is trying to remove himself from the window of a taxi in the middle of the street, a CD shop opposite has just had one of it's windows smashed and a crack head is trying to pick up pieces of glass, two prostitutes are on the corner having an argument with some guys and then the police arrive with a dustpan and brush! Honestly, you had to be there to believe it. It was hysterical and we all giggled for ages about it. Needless to say we were all quite relieved to leave in the morning and have the peace and quite of a campsite.
Our next stop was a ferry over to Vancouver Island (which is where we are now) and is our last leg of Canada. We drove to Tofino which is a cool little surfing village. We like it there. Our campsite was on the beach which was heavenly and it is here that I started to feel human again. Sat on the beach on my own and watched the sunset. You can't beat the sound of waves lapping slowly and mesmerisingly onto a sandy beach. The peacefulness of it!
The next day we jumped into all in one inflatable suits that turn into life jackets when you need them to, I'm sure there is a name for them, and took a Zodiac RIB out to do some whale watching. It was great fun bouncing and crashing onto the waves out to sea. Like being on a roller coaster. We went out for about two hours until we came across two hump backed whales that were metres away from. This was special. Every now and again they would come to the surface and spout water about 20ft in the air. Then they would disappear down for food. We also drifted past some Steller Sea Lions who I thought were really cute. Most of them were just rolling around on their backs in the sun with their flippers/arms in air. The males were more wary of us and flexed their muscle and stretched their heads up into the sky as if to say, 'Oi, bugger off'! They were gorgeous.
We stopped half way through the day at some natural hot springs. They are on an island and the only way you can get to them is through a rain forest. You walk for half an hour on a manmade wooden boardwalk which meanders through the forest. It is a long way because they touched or moved a single tree to make way for the path so it winds all over the place, steps up, steps down. The spring pools were boiling hot and it was like soaking in bath.
On the way back we came across some Gray Whales which was another treat and we watched three of them scooping through the kelp on the shore for plankton. They lie on their sides and swim through the mud flats scooping up everything as they go, they then filter the bit that they don't want out and are left with the goodies. Dead clever! What is also interesting is that these same whales will be migrating to Mexico and Baja later in the year so technically they are following us down the coast! Isn't that cool?
The following morning we had a lie in and then had eggy bread and bacon for breakfast! Hmmm, mmm. I haven't had bacon since I left home so that was another gastronomic hit I had been missing. We sat on the beach for the morning and flew kites and threw the frisby around. We're all in to frisby in a big way. Whether it be on a beach, in a traffic jam or in the campsites. It bonds everyone!
We drove on for a while to somewhere completely unpronounceable... Winnanaska or something. A cute little sandy beach bay where people have built tiny little houses out of driftwood for the small folk. We're on the Pacific Rim now so it is quite stunning and after watching an educational film in the amphitheatre I am quite impressed with the Pacific Rim. We sat in a restaurant having lunch overlooking the beach and watched a handful of surfers catching the waves. Idyllic!
We have now moved on to Victoria, the capital of Vancouver Island, which is another city but is a lot more posh than Vancouver. It's great here and it also has quite a heavy English influence, funnily enough. And here we are, up to date with the emails.
I think this one is quite long as it's taken me three hours so I will try and spread them out a bit. Anyone who wants to reply feel free as I really look forward to picking up email even if it is about nothing in particular. What's happening in the UK? Anything newsworthy?
So, into the States tomorrow to Seattle. We going to watch a live baseball game which I can't wait for - Kevin is crazy over baseball.
Hope everyone is well and enjoying the heat wave that you guys are having.
Until the next time. Peace and love
Ps. Things to do when I get home!
1) get a mountain bike
2) get a tent
3) get a frisby
3) move closer to the sea again