The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Canada: it's a woppa

3 mph is slow. Really slow. In fact we were recently told it is about the same as a swift walk. Before we left I remember people saying it is going to be hard getting used to that pace. However, we seem to have coped pretty well and barely noticed slowing down to our sometimes glacial progress westwards. But with the arrival of Holly's dad Andrew and sister Lucy we were strapped back into the normal holiday speed and have needed a week to recover from the whirlwind.

One or two week holidays are often a case of cramming in as much as you can in a short amount of space. The process is akin to starving yourself for months before unleashing on an eat all you can chinese buffet, rather than our trip which is more like picking a few blackberries on a woodland stroll after a nice light lunch. Don't get me wrong the eat all you can chinese buffet is up there with the film Big Trouble in Little China and the revolving Japanese loo seat as some of my favourite things to come out of the East, but all three can be a shock to the system. That said, our trip to Vancouver Island and then into the Rockies was spectacular, epic, colossal and countless other words to explain the sheer scale of the Canadian wilderness.

First stop was Tofino on the West coast of Vancouver Island. Without question this is one of the most beautiful places we have been on the whole trip. It is a land of untouched, desolate beaches, deeply wooded tidal inlets and crystal clear water alive with seals, orcas, grey whales, kelp forests and starfish. It is also home to the majority of the world's remaining old growth forests; called ancient woodland in England. Giant red cedar trees up to 1,600 years old tower 100 feet into the canopy while whole ecosystems of moss, ferns, and even whole other trees take root and grow up from their trunks. The sense of age in these wooded groves on the edge of the Pacific is overwhelming and details such as the fact these trees are stood in just 1 foot of soil confound your understanding as you crane your neck upwards to see the Ospreys and bald eagles nesting in their tops. We left after just a few days sensing we had seen somewhere unforgettable and totally different from anywhere else we had been in the world.

From here we turned the wagon East and headed back into the mountains. First stop was Whistler where we strolled through alpine meadows filled with wild flowers and watched downhill mountain bikers leap and bounce 20 feet in the air as they plummeted down the mountain. Then it was back into the car for a trip through the Okanagan desert to Wells Gray National Park and it's famous waterfalls before we really got stuck into the famous Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks of Jasper and Banff. I have to confess a nervousness of going to visit such famous tourist destinations at peak season. But I had foolishly conjured an image of a seething mass on Brighton beach and a choked A3 during summer bank holiday. The Canadian Rockies just swallow giant RVs, campers and coach tours whole without batting an eyelid. They are colossal. It is true they are not as high as the Colorado Rockies, but the effect of ancient glaciers has been to carve valleys so sweepingly broad that the road ahead just dwindles into a thread and you can drive for miles along the primary routes without seeing more than a handful of other vehicles. In the main resorts there was chat of numbers being 40% down this year but they could be 1040% up and I imagine it to feel the same.

We climbed mountains, we kayaked electric blue lakes, we weaved our way between grazing elk and our chins barely left our laps as we gaped constantly at the vistas unrolling in front of us. By the time we pulled into our final destination in Calgary we were spent. We were crammed full. We had driven through a coffee table book of the Canadian Rockies and couldn't take any more. It was an amazing couple of weeks. The scenery was astounding and the chance to spend time with both Andrew and Luce after 10 months away was worth as much as the scenery again. Stories were recounted over hand picked local wines, I witnessed the bizarre spectacle of Luce and Hol beginning their intensive lunge and squat routine and I got to properly know my future father and sister in law. Great! (That isn't even kissing ass, it really was great - which is a relief).

Since then we have spent a week in Kelowna staying at a friend Scott's house. Scott is a guy I rowed with at Oxford who then went onto win an Olympic Silver medal in Beijing, his mum is preparing to climb Cerro Aconcagua (elevation 22,826') this year, and also staying were Tracy who also got a bronze rowing in Beijing, and Mike who was a family relation in town for a reunion who is a committed Vegan and 'raw food' advocate. A pretty impressive group. It has been a great week hanging out making new friends. There have been stories of respective travels, Olympic tales and we have also learned not to throw away apricot stones as there is a kernel in the middle high in proteins and essential oils. Another highlight was being in town for the Center of Gravity festival. This was down on the shore of the lake and was a mix of pro beach volleyball, slam- dunk contests, music, wakeboarding, dirtbiking and bikini modelling. The new zoom on the camera got put to good use from both Hol and I and it seems only fair to put in a couple of shots to make sure we don't get any sympathy on our travels. Sometimes it really is easy.

We're now heading back to Vancouver, dodging the forest fires that are blackening the skies North of Kelowna, and will be back on the tandem to fill the time before we get aboard the freighter on the 19th. We are now over half way through the trip and it really feels like once we cross the Pacific we are heading home. It's still a long way to go and it will seem strange leaving the comfort of English speaking lands for Asia, but we are fired up and ready for Part 2: South Korea, Japan, China, Nepal, India, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, Romania and the rest... Holy Jeez.

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