I finally find myself safely, warmly and dryly ensconced back in my little home, with the ever attentive Mr P administering foot rubs, hot cups of tea and home cooked meals. For a bit, I’m quiet happy to let him have the reign of the kitchen while I slowly digest this last month of grand exploration, vast vista’s and living out of a car. It was, as they say, a journey of a lifetime and it would take another month here on Lick Your Own Bowl to explore it all with you again. I’ve driven over 12 000 kilometers of road, climbed mountains, walked on beaches extending as far as the eye could see, through rain forests dripping with moss and across lava fields running through magical mountain valleys. My lightbox is a-clutter with roll upon roll of film, the sorting and selecting of which is in itself a mountainous task.
I came back to Toronto via a road lined with Maple trees standing like soldiers in their finest uniforms of vermilion and red and flaming orange, seeing me safely into a new season filled with squash and yams and hot apple cider. I can’t wait to get stuck in there and let the aroma’s of autumnal cooking go wafting through the house. Watch this space!
The trip itself is something that will linger in my head for a long time, to be mulled over and sifted through and sorted into some sort of order sooner or later. There was something Grande and Forever about a month spent driving, alone and content to be so, across this vast country I find myself living in. South Africa, the place I grew up and the land that gave me my own personal idea of a land’s proportion and scale, seems easily conquered in the shadow of this silent, heavy, giant country that, in my mind now, stretches away in an infinity of trees and lakes and plains on either side of me. It took me 6 days of solid driving to go from the centre of Toronto to the middle of Victoria, Vancouver Island. I had no time, then, to stop and stand on the edge of a sea-sized lake or linger in the shadow of a mountain or stretch my face to the blue, endless skies of the prairies. I was on a deadline, of sorts. I was trying to catch a boat.
The Northern Adventure runs the length of the Inside Passage, an impressive passage of water stretching from Port Hardy on the northern shore of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, an old fishing town sitting snugly under the Southern point of Alaska. The ferry, which takes 15 hours to complete it’s journey, runs in daylight hours only until the end of September and if you’re not on it, well, the Northern Adventure waits for no man. Or woman and her dog. In the mean time I wanted to make sure I had time for unseen adventures on the Island before boarding the ferry. I spent some magical time on the Pacific Rim National Park and stopped in towns like Tofino and Ucluelet. The trees that grow in the temperate rain forests or the Pacific Rim National Park are, reportedly, of the Old Growth variety. These giant, almost godly Red Cedars and Hemlocks tower enormously above you as you walk slowly and meditatively through the damp, moss covered forests. It’s easy to see how magic and folk lore abound in these area’s. If you’re quick enough you can almost, very nearly catch a glimpse of an elf, a fairy, a gnome peeking it’s head out of a fern grove.
From Prince Rupert I began my slow, winding journey eastwards again, although, passing by a sign indicating Alaska to the North proved far too great a temptation for my adventurous frame of mind and so I spent a couple aimless hours, singing “Anchored down in Ancorage”, driving steadily north into the somewhat more remote wilderness of Northern BC. After a couple of hours, the only other traffic on the road being the odd, beat up old pick up truck with Hunting-Orange clad drivers and the occasional cargo of fresh moose on the back, I stopped the car in a dusty, down-trodden town of only a few dilapidated houses and a gas bar and an astounding collection of ancient totem poles, standing like sentinels to the gods, along the side of the road. The sudden and surreal appearance of these old symbols of a civilization almost gone and vastly changed from those glory days gave the day a somewhat somber atmosphere and I drove back south again, quiet and thoughtful, through the rolling, yellowed hills soaked with an unmentionable history.
The Yellowhead highway is a long, meandering, mostly single lane highway that carries you, in Northern BC, through some of the most beautiful, majestic, and sometimes unbelievable landscapes I’ve yet been allowed to see. There is so little of Man there, and yet so much of man’s history. Between the towns of Terrace, Hazelton and Prince George, the wilderness of hills and mountains, rivers and lakes fills in like a vast ocean lapping at the shores of little islands.
From Prince George the Yellowhead runs straight into the Rocky Mountains, where jutting, gesturing mountains cut north-south through the land with their lakes of almost unreal teals, blues and greens; their glaciers and ice fields; their low-slung, gurgling rivers and their moody, unpredictable weather. The Icefields Parkway runs only 230km, from Jaspertown to Banftown, but one could easily take 5 days to travel it if one were to explore it thoroughly. Unfortunately I was by now without the luxury of infinite time and had to limit myself to but a few hikes and ganders. And yet I was left, by the end of my couple days in the mountains, in a mood of wonder and awe.
After the mountains, which receded in my rear view mirror at 100km an hour, sitting like a fat, jagged ribbon on the horizon, and the previous days of close fitting wilderness, trees and lakes, the endless space and air of the grand prairies, stretching away on either side to a horizon line impossibly straight and far away, was like a new, clean thought in a muddle of confusion. I felt the weight of geographic tons of granite and ice lift off my shoulders and was left with a freedom, a lightness of being that made me want for nothing but to stand in the wind, spread my arms, lift my face to the sun and breath in the fresh air. The wind, almost always present, blows the prairie grass in an infinite and sensual dance across the plains. With names like Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat sitting side by side on the map, this sounded to me like the place adventures are made of. I would have loved to linger longer here. I would have loved to walk a bit and stand a bit and feel the wind in my hair a bit. I would have liked to sit on a clear night and see the stars, unimpeded by geography’s interruption, stretching away all around me to infinity and darkness.
Alas, that will have to wait for another day, another adventure. I’m back now, home again, showered and fed and rested. And ready to cook.