Saturday, September 8, 2012

Part One: My Epic Road Trip So Far

So far the road trip has been pretty epic – as eventful as I could have hoped.  Let me tell you about it.
I’m writing this from my hostel in Vancouver, which in itself is pretty epic – both the hostel and Vancouver.  When thinking about this road trip seeing the west coast, specifically Vancouver, was a major reason I decided to do it.  So finally making it here is pretty cool.  The hostel I’m in is right on the beach, Jericho beach to be specific, and I’ve already gotten some good sunset pictures. Yesterday I went for a long walk from my hostel in Jericho Beach to Stanley Park, then down through downtown, and back to the hostel.  By my calculations I walked over 30 kilometres in all!  Pretty good eh?  My feet hurt, but it was worth it.  Stanley Park is definitely the coolest city park I know of.  It’s just one big jungley forest with big awesome trees surrounded by a beautiful coastline.  And I can see why everyone talks so highly about Vancouver.  There are parks and beaches all over, it’s right on the ocean, and it’s surrounded by mountains.  If it’s a competition, I’d say Vancouver has Toronto beat pretty handily. One similarity between these two cities, though, is their multiculturalism.  I knew that there were a lot of Koreans, Asians in general, in Vancouver, and there are, I saw quite a few, but what surprised me was how much French I heard on my walk.  Almost every other person seemed to be speaking French.
One thing that stuck out to me about the people of Vancouver is that they are incredibly physically active.  All day long, it seems like half the city is outside either biking, running, or walking somewhere.  And this is another difference between Vancouver and Toronto: Vancouver is a much more bicycle friendly city.  There are bike lanes on a lot of the roads and beside every walking path here.
So, yup, I’m glad I made it out here to Vancouver.  It’s a cool place to be.
But let me go back to the beginning and tell you about how the trip has gone so far.  The first place I visited was a familiar one – Grand Rapids.  I stayed with Andrea and Ruth Ippel, an awesome and influential couple who I lived with my fifth year at Calvin.  It was great to catch up with them and reminisce about the good ol’ days.  The whole time I was in Grand Rapids memories of my time there constantly flooded back.  I walked around Calvin’s campus the second day and then drove just north of the city where I found a good campground to stay the night at.
On day three I drove north over the Mackinaw bridge, through the Upper Peninsula, through Sault St. Marie and partway around the north coast of Lake Superior to White Lake Provincial Park.  I’m pretty sure my family had driven this stretch of road earlier on our way to a family reunion in Manitoba, but I surely didn’t remember how beautiful this part of Ontario is.  In Sault St. Marie, I picked up a hitchhiker.  He was a younger guy with a dog and he was travelling from Montreal to where he lived in Saskatchewan.   He told me that typically he travels by climbing on cargo trains.  He said he had gone across Canada a couple of times that way and that’s how he had gotten to Sault St. Marie.  He was hitchhiking to the next train stop because the train he was going to get on had been rained out.  So that was pretty interesting.
The next day I continued along the beautiful Superior coast to my next big stop, Thunder Bay.  My good friend from Korea, Sarah King, grew up there and was home for just the right time before she headed off to teach in Kuwait.  I had a lot of fun visiting her and meeting her family.  We went to Old Fort William, a replica of a fort of the North West Trading Company that was once in that area.  I’ve always liked historical places like that.  Then some of Sarah’s family came to their house in the evening and her mom and dad made a massive feast for the event.
On day six I drove into the prairies to Winnipeg where I stayed in my first hostel.  The hostel was mostly full except for a really small room in the basement which I thought was pretty cozy.  I woke up early the next day eager to see as much of the city as I could.  I saw quite a bit of it in fact, walking the whole way.  I found out that Winnipeg has a French part of town called St. Boniface which has a real French Canadian feel to it.  I also enjoyed walking around The Forks – the area where the Assiniboin and Red rivers come together.  Historically, it was a meeting place for Native peoples before the western settlers arrived.  There’s a cool international market there where I had some good pizza for supper.  I really got a good feeling from Winnipeg.  It seems like a cool place to be – at least during the day time.  I went for a walk later in the evening and the mood seemed to have changed somewhat.  There were quite a few police around and most businesses had closed already.
On day eight I continued west on Highway 1 into Saskatchewan and stopped in Regina.  I didn’t stay for more than one night, but I had enough time to go into town, find a cool park along Wascana Lake, and watch the third Batman movie at an I-max theatre.  The movie was good and, like Winnipeg, I thought Regina felt like it would be a pretty cool place to live.
The next day was the longest drive of the trip so far, from Regina to Calgary.  It was only about an hour longer than some of the other drives but it felt longer probably because it was through the flat prairies.  I thought the prairies were cool to see and beautiful in their own way, but it’s true that they’re boring to drive through.
As I walked around Calgary on day ten, I noticed a difference between it and other Canadian cities I’d been to: it’s growing.  There were lots of construction projects around and apartments going up.  And though this would seem to be a good thing for the city, I didn’t get the welcoming vibe from Calgary as I did from Winnipeg and Regina.  It seems to be changing too much to be comfortable.
The planned next step of my trip was to go north to Edmonton and after that to visit the Rockies.  But then my Edmonton friends – Eugene, Dawn, and Manny Perry, friends from when we lived in Hagersville – told me that they were camping in near Lake Louise that weekend and had space on their campsite for me.  So I continued west and saw the mountains earlier than I had expected to – which I had no problem with.  Camping with the Perrys was super.  It was great to see them again, remember the good ol’ days, and renew our friendships.  We saw Lake Louise of course, drove to Radium and relaxed in the hot springs there, walked around Banff, and had some good evening campfire conversations.  As it was when I remember our family visits to Jasper when we were younger, being in the mountains is always a Godly experience.
On Monday, day 13, I drove to my aunt Geraldine and cousin Kimberson’s place near Edson, Alberta, between Jasper and Edmonton.  So I said goodbye to Manny who took his truck and their camper and drove the faster way to Edmonton, through Calgary.  And Eugene, Dawn and I took the slow way, going up the Icefield Parkway.  Along the way we stopped at Bow Lake, Peyto Lake, the Columbia Glacier, and the Athabaska Waterfall – all incredibly places.
So when I arrived at my Aunt Geraldine’s place I was planning to stay a couple days, visit with my uncle who lives in Edmonton and with my cousins, and then get going again.  But then Aunt Geraldine told me it wouldn’t work to see my uncle or cousin Carolina until the weekend, which was ok with them because they wanted me to stay as long as possible anyway.  And I thought, ok it’s worth it to me to stay longer so I can see my uncle and cousin, and I don’t really have a time schedule to stick to anyway.  So I stayed a whole week!  And I’m glad I did.  I really got to see how my aunt and cousin live.  They live out in the woods, grow a lot of their own vegetables, and raise chickens.  I wanted to help out with the work while I was there, but Aunt Geraldine wouldn’t let me do much.  She insisted that I shouldn’t be working or paying for anything while I was on vacation.  So I ended up playing a lot of video games with Kimberson, which he probably enjoyed a little more than me, but I had fun too.  We also played outside with his somewhat crazy neighbour, played card games, went on walks, and even did some work for a church friend of theirs for some pocket money.  I got to see my cousins Ben and Jason a couple times, we went to Edmonton to visit my uncle, and then Carolina and her husband visited us on Sunday.  It had been a really long time since I had seen all of them, so I’m really glad I got to on this trip.  It reminded me of how important your family is even if they live across the country and don’t see them very often.
Then on Tuesday, day 22, after a late start due to me needing to buy a new battery, I drove back through the mountains, into British Columbia, and arrived in Kamloops after dark.  I stayed for just one night and continued on my way to Vancouver the next morning.  I had been told earlier on that Kamloops and the area south of it was unique because of its desert-like landscape.  I didn’t see this driving in but in the morning I did. It was almost like driving though New Mexico – not many trees or grass but lots of dirt and low bushes.
From Kamloops I took Highway 1 west to Cache Creek, where it then goes south along the Thompson and Fraser Rivers.  And, let me tell you, this was the most beautiful road I’ve ever been on.  The road hangs on the steep cliffs of the canyon amidst big coniferous trees as it follows the rushing Fraser River down below.   I couldn’t help but stop and take pictures every few kilometres.  Then the road turned west into the plain and became more of a highway as it approached Vancouver.  And that’s where I am now, in Vancouver, on day 25.

Thanks for reading.  To see pictures of my trip, visit my facebook page.