Sudbury, ON - Vancouver, BC
I fell asleep for most of my flight from Vancouver and woke up in a daze, slobbering on myself as we were circling in for landing in Toronto. I grasped that the flight was 7 hours, but I never really stopped to think how long it would take to drive to Vancouver, especially in a 1977 Volkswagen Van with a top speed of 80km/hr. It's always been on my bucket list to travel across Canada, I tend to stick around BC or the Western USA because it's convenient, and well it's where the mountains live however, experiencing the flatlands of the prairies and the giant lakes of Ontario and everything in between gave me an interesting perspective about Canada, and amazed me just how big of a country it really is.
As you venture further away from big cities, the towns begin to get smaller and smaller and seem to be stuck in time, but a good time or at least a simpler time. There are less chain stores and malls and more local shops and community places. It had me questioning how we ended up with such corporate culture influencing our communities, how people have moved away from the family owned businesses and started to support the walmarts and home depots... I guess it's hard to compete with a well-funded corporation, but I was always excited to experience the local flavours of the small towns.
After a long day of driving, sometimes the only thing that you can think about is sleep... And if you are like us, you'd rather find a side road or free campsite than staying in a motel or provincial campground... luckily along the way we were fortunate to find some "free camping." These are generally dead end side roads near a lake or river or in certain areas you can find free designated camping along the highways.
We stopped mostly for gas, snacks and to take photos of unique places, but the best places we stopped were the truck stops, diners and shops in the middle of nowhere. We rolled into a small mining town in Manitoba to grab a drink at the local bar. It was a dark bar, with a shuffleboard table, some slot machines, Coors Light on tap and 8 locals. We mingled a bit and met a character named Doug who brought his own fly-swatter from home to the bar ( the bugs are bad in the prairies. ) Another guy had also brought a fly swatter from home... I couldn't remember his name. We didn't stick around long, but enough time to get a feel for the town and back on the road we went.
Growing up in BC, i've been fortunate to have the mountains around me, and never really understood why the Rockies were so much different. I had skipped over them a few times heading to Calgary in a plane, but when we drove into Banff, I couldn't believe how incredible the Rockies really are. We only had one night in Banff, so I made sure to battle a hangover and get up for sunrise.
The drive from Banff to Jasper is filled with glacier lakes, intense peaks and winding roads... it's easy to get distracted while you are driving by the sights. There are signs for wildlife everywhere but when you see a row of cars pulled off the side of the road, you know there is a bear or elk or moose... we got lucky and had a group of elk cross the highway right in front of us near Jasper.
We posted up near Jasper for a couple of nights, exploring around, camping and canoeing on Maligne Lake. We caught the canoe rental spot just after they closed but sweet talked our way into letting them rent us a canoe overnight. We were trying to make it to Spirit Island, about halfway across the lake, but after about 3 hours of paddling we made it as far as we could for sunset, enjoyed some sandwiches from the gift shop and then paddled 3 hours back to the parking lot with only the stars and some headlamps to light the way. There was complete silence on the lake as we drifted along the silky water, so quiet that my ears were slightly ringing... This was the highlight of the trip for me.
For every mountain is a desert, and British Columbia is no exception to that. The border of Alberta and BC lies in the Rockies, it was a familiar feeling when we entered back into BC as the first road sign had a sticker that read : "I <3 BC Bud." The further that we got from the mountains, the closer we got to desert land. We arrived into Kamploops around sunset and stocked up on a few things, ventured west towards Cache Creek and found a provincial campground... equipped with hot showers running water and electricity... a real camping experience, but it seemed to be the only place we could camp for the night so we popped the top and called it a night. In the morning we continued west and ended up in the middle of the desert. It was still mountainous but it reminded me of Arizona. We stopped briefly at a 'ghost town museum' which looked interesting from the road, but as we parked out front a man approached us, he was the owner of this weird establishment, told us that there were no dogs allowed and there was a sign out front that said no photography... a real inviting museum. He allowed us to take 1 photograph and warned us about the rattlesnakes.
Last stop, Lillooet. This would be our final night on the road... We could have made it to Vancouver that day, but taking our time on the last leg at a slow pace was nice. We camped at a free BC Hydro campground on Seton Lake, drank a bottle of bourbon with a nice french couple who were travelling in their van and had a friend from town come to join us for a drink. It was a beautiful part of BC that I had never been to, and a great way to cap off the trip.