Hello family and friends!
When I last wrote, we were leaving Vancouver Island after a long run of bad weather and smoke. Thankfully the smoke has cleared, and we’ve actually had a string of beautiful sunny days. We even went swimming a few days ago! But I think that was our last swim in Canada. The aspen trees are bright yellow, the geese are flying off in V-formation, and crunchy leaves are starting to fall. I saw some frost in some grass untouched by the sun yesterday – a clear sign that we need to chase the sun south.
Our first stop off the ferry to the mainland was Richmond, to see my cousin Sam. We visited a historic cannery, which sounds boring but it was actually really neat to see the (still functional) canning line and photos of underpaid Chinese labourers standing knee-deep in ocean-cold salmon. So strong was our craving for salmon after the tour that we actually went to the grocery store to buy a few cans. We enjoyed walking around the historic village in Richmond and driving through the surrounding farm country. I’ve never seen so many rain-stained McMansions sitting in empty fields along the highway, without any trees or fences or landscaping to shield them from the road.
We left the greater Vancouver area and drove to Kelowna, which has the same sort of golden rolling hills and dry scrubland as Kamloops. Driving into town, we passed fat cattle on toothpick legs that kept meandering onto the roads, and stared with disinterest as we tried to shoo them away from the front of our van. I love the colour palette of this area. It’s very autumnal: burnished red and gold grasses, the frosted green of sagebrush, and the deep reddish brown of red pine trunks. It’s the kind of landscape that makes you crave a hot toddy or apple cider or mulled wine. We did some hiking outside Kelowna in Sacred Canyon Provincial Park and revelled in some of that great sagebrush smell. While walking at the bottom of the canyon we discovered a creek running with pink salmon on the verge of exhaustion, totally spent by their long journey to their spawning grounds.
We drove from Kelowna through the Okanagan valley towards the very southern band of British Colombia. This area is incredibly fertile. There are orchards upon orchards of heavily laden apple trees, with a tempting array of fallen fruit scattered across the grass. The roads are lined with U-pick farms and farm stands advertising every type of produce under the sun. There are so many wineries in this part of the province that the choice is overwhelming. Since neither of us knows anything about wine, we skipped the wine tasting and just admired the orderly rows of vines from the van.
The next leg of our journey took us to the Creston valley, a lush valley ringed by mountains that turn purple in sunset. It’s prairie country, cattle country, and horse country, with hitching posts in the parking lots and advertisements for cattle auctioneers on telephone poles and Texas gates across every road. The town of Creston has turned two historic grain elevators into an art gallery, which are about the highest structures for a hundred kilometers in each direction. This hidden part of the province is blessed with free recreation sites that have fire pits and picnic tables and crude pit toilets. We had a string of lovely free nights, with one exception. We did have to flee one site deep in the forest because our neighbour was blasting EDM music for hours from their scary semi-permanent encampment. Visions of meth labs filled our heads, so we drove away only long enough to find a pull-off where the beat of the music couldn’t reach us. Other than that, our biggest anxiety has been around keeping warm. It’s now around 0 degrees Celsius during the night, and we are continually adding new blankets and layers of clothing to keep warm. We need to get south!
While we were hanging out in the Creston Valley, we decided to try and cross the US border into Idaho, despite the fact that the border is still closed between the two countries. No surprise: the border guard was not enthused to see me, and didn’t allow us to cross. The next best option is a more expensive and, to my mind, more dangerous one: I am flying from Calgary to Denver to Spokane, while Eric drives across the border and meets me at the airport. Seems like a weird loophole, to allow Canadians to keep flying into the USA. Now I’ll be exposed to all sorts of people on a plane, which I’ll admit I’m a bit anxious about. (Don’t worry, family: I bought travel insurance that covers Covid). Nevertheless, I am thankful; most Canadian vanlifers and RV-dwelling snowbirds don’t have this option, because they didn’t have the brilliant foresight to marry an American who can still drive across the border. I’m assuming everyone else will be rushing out to Vancouver Island for the winter, where it rarely snows and the temperatures don’t dip too far below zero.
Due to the change of plans, we had to drive through the Rocky Mountains to Calgary. This has been an unexpected treat, as we were able to soak in the Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park and spend a few days playing around in Lake Louise and Banff. The last time we were here, in 2018, the smoke was so thick we couldn’t even see the turquoise waters of Lake Louise from the shore on which we stood. We also came in high summer, with busloads of tourists crowding every inch of Banff. It’s been a treat to come late in the season when there’s ample parking and the picture-perfect views aren’t spoiled by the selfie-stick-wielding hordes. We hiked up to the Lake Agnes teahouse, an iconic establishment that sits about 350 metres above Lake Louise, and summited the Big Beehive, a rock formation that really does look like a beehive! And yesterday we had a lovely hike in the Kananaskis mountains with some of my Calgary-based family, where we watched mountain bikers seemingly commit suicide-by-bike as they plunged down the steep sides of the peak.
Now I am sitting in the Calgary airport international departure lounge, which is almost entirely empty because there are only two flights going to the US today. It’s a ghost town in here: most of the stores and restaurants are shuttered, and it’s got a bit of a horror movie feel. Fortunately, I passed through preclearance without being detained by ICE, so that is a good sign! Eric is on the road right now, driving over 7 hours to get to the airport in Spokane where we hopefully will converge around the same time. I hope it all works out!