“The idea of a girl cloaked in red weaving her way through the woods, being watched carefully by a big bad wolf, seemed far from fantasy.”
Reading Week in February positively leaped out at us from the dark corner it had been lurking behind, providing a terrifying reminder of the inevitability of time itself, and thrust upon us a welcome opportunity for adventure. After drawing up a lengthy plan (perusing and pointing at spots on Google Maps) and a challenging game of tetris involving the car boot and our suitcases, we took to the road.
We would cover almost 30 hours of driving over 5 days, heading ultimately for Vancouver but fraternising with both Jasper and Whistler. An early brief flirtation with a frozen Lake Louise provided a wonderful photo opportunity, especially against the backdrop of an ice-palace sculpture perfectly framed against the mountains; once we had batted off a persistent swarm of photo-happy tourists we assembled the ‘squad’ and snapped up a picture that could make the cover of the Fairmont’s (100% non-fictional) budget youth holiday catalog. Alternatively, it could also depict us as an alternative manifestation of the seven dwarves as we relatively were compared to the dramatic mountain range which loomed above.
Back aboard our locomotive metal box (no point trying to romanticise a bulky Dodge minivan), we whiled away the hours with a killer music shuffle which we sat and endured even when it broke out bangers like the Biebs’ ‘Eenie Meenie’, and trundled along the, aptly named, icy yet renownedly beautiful Icefields Parkway towards our promised land: Jasper.
My perspective of this tiny town, which is cozily cradled within its parent National Park, is one tinted with fond memories of the summer when my family and I stumbled onto the station platform, disoriented and comparable to newly hatched baby dinosaurs clambering out of their eggs, having been transported via The Canadian train from Vancouver over 20 hours. This experience was akin to being contained in a capsule where time, global issues, and reality were almost irrelevant – only sensory and visual stimuli were pertinent to the present. Through driving, at least, we had more freedom to spontaneously delve into proclaimed curiosities about our surroundings.
With a limited time window to explore (realistically four daylight hours) we opted for a highly cultural investigation of the local cuisine, happily whiling away the afternoon in an elevated restaurant from which we became acquainted with the skyline of Jasper. A smattering of snow adorned some rooftops but most of the town, being in the lower recesses of the valley, was startlingly bare. Still I remain truly fond of Jasper and am enchanted by its simplistic and forested landscape; it inspires thoughts of mythological stories set amongst the trees.
Revisiting what had been my favourite viewpoint overlooking the valley from my trip in August I was reminded of a night spent by a campfire there where we were told stories of the land, the animals, and fed smores; somehow the idea of a girl cloaked in red weaving her way through the woods, being watched carefully by a big bad wolf, seemed far from fantasy.
Spotting the recent footprints of a mystery animal carved into the snow inspired a spontaneous but hilarious reenactment of a scene from Lord of the Rings (you know the one), and spying some Elk brought out the deer whisperer in one of my friends who bounded after them over some slippery ground like a long-lost family member (not unlike Bambi on ice).
“The bright bohemian lights of Granville Street, with the word ‘VOGUE’ unapologetically illuminated in the distance, served as a distinct reminder that we were no longer in cowboy town.”
Our mere 24 hours in Jasper had teased us and we were left longing for more as we set off the next day for Vancouver. I felt a little like a princess in an identity crisis after an uncomfortable nights sleep on a sofa which undoubtedly had more than a pea lurking beneath its cushions. Service station coffee was my chosen elixir on this hefty drive, though during the daylight hours a certain saving grace were the incredible panoramas of the Rockies which were a treat best enjoyed from the driver’s seat. We crossed the bridge into Vancouver at nearly midnight and as the miles on the GPS drew closer to zero the sense of accomplishment was tangible.
The bright bohemian lights of Granville Street welcomed us to the city, with the word ‘VOGUE‘ unapologetically illuminated in the distance a distinct reminder that we were no longer in cowboy town. The street itself is a gem, hidden in plain sight in a city which seems so often preoccupied with maintaining its self-fulfilled hipster image. It exists as an authentic remnant of a flourishing 20th century culture of pornography and drunken debauchery, characterised by neon signs and establishments such as ‘The Speakeasy‘ holding on despite obvious and inevitable gentrification. The romantic notions of the epic drive we had just completed were only accentuated by it being Valentine’s Day and upon discovering that I’d been delivered flowers to our hostel, I was sent off to sleep far more content than any fairytale princess.
“Mountain mesmerised youths flock there to work a season or three in order to pause reality and revel in snow like Hansel and Gretal to a house of gingerbread.”
Even by name, Whistler commands an enviable reputation. The mountain is famed as a popular ski destination for the rich, European, and even the famous (rumour had it that our ever favourite Biebs had come to join us that very day). Yet, the town’s image is one carved by the carefree, fun-seeking, and mountain mesmerised youths who flock there to work a season or three in order to pause reality and revel in snow like Hansel and Gretal to a house of gingerbread. Here they remain until fully gorged, then stumbling exhausted but wisened back to far flung corners of the globe where worried parents accept them with open arms and a bucket full of multivitamins.
An hour and a half north-east of Vancouver, it is highly accessible for city dwellers too. It is truly a magnetic and multicultural hub of skiing, summer sports, and socialising. Comparing it to my regular snowboarding haunts like Louise and Sunshine, it seems like Whistler is the birth-child of when Canadian sensibilities of style and moderate drinking collide with the Aussie ‘beer and beach’ culture and the European, often corporate, attitude towards technical and professional skiing.
I found it impossible not to love its infectious atmosphere and to be enticed by its charms which were enhanced by a powdery afternoon and a bustle of people who projected an aurora of happiness, as if we were all contaminated with an encompassing feeling of privilege. For one day we felt part of an exclusive bunch who had been lucky enough to be let in on an exquisite secret. Never mind the $120 price-tag.
Here I took the chance to reunite with a friend from my days of Collingwood rowing, who had escaped the expectations of finding a grad-job by joining the escapees in this town of paradisiacal purgatory, though he expressed his detachment with the ‘ski-bum’ culture which implies a dissociation of a skiing lifestyle with responsibility. Undoubtedly my personal highlight of the week was the Sea to Sky Highway which wound its way up and around the mountains into Whistler. I’d never been so captivated by a view as I was that morning, where even a carefully positioned McDonalds resembled a palace against the glorious back drop of a calm, island speckled sea, uninterrupted deep blue sky, and majestic, icing dusted peaks. However, it was a dark and stormy night and battling our way back home through the mist and driving snow, sleet, and rain only added another dimension to a day steeped in visual and sensory texture.
“If Aeolus had appeared and handed me a bag of winds to blow us back to Calgary the next day I’d have ripped it open like an eager child on Christmas, for the twelve hour drive homeward was gruelling and disorienting”
The remaining day of the trip consisted of some rather weary meandering around the city. With a plan to make no plans, we unintentionally visited some unique and memorable locations such as the underbelly of Canada Place – an underground labyrinth of black and grey with a cacophony of noises and the not entirely subtle smell of petrol and disappointment. Reminiscent of Odysseus’ decent to the underworld it was a long and dark detour, though thankfully lacking in sacrificial activity (none of the group took one for the team by offering themselves up), blood consumption and ghosts of heroic greek figures.
If Aeolus had appeared and handed me a bag of winds to blow us back to Calgary the next day I’d have ripped it open like an eager child on Christmas, for the twelve hour drive homeward was gruelling and disorienting with Alex and I similarly delirious after a hefty few days and nights squeezing the maximum amount of fun out of Vancouver. Truly, I even sampled the ‘best cheesecake in Vancouver!’ (we clapped to congratulate them in the style of Buddy the Elf with the ‘worlds best coffee’), and watched Granville Street in full swing as we gorged on delicious sushi at a bar perfectly positioned for people-watching.
Having spent a fair amount of time in this vibrant city, I can say that I have cultivated an opinion of it as being wonderfully diverse with a tangible and historic culture, yet I don’t necessarily prefer it to Calgary. My fondness for Calgary is cemented in a deep appreciation for its constant sun, ease of access around the city and to the mountains, and conversely for its relative youth and thus still emerging cultural climate which seems to grow stronger each day.
To take ‘Reading Week’ in its literal sense would be to severely misunderstand its purpose. Thus, we returned home not having read a thing aside from far too many road signs and restaurant menus. Like a fairytale, the trip seems to have drifted into the realms of my subconscious, aspects of it seem fantastical, and the memory is safely tucked away in a discreet yet accessible part of my brain which I can delve into whenever it might need to be conjured up. If a fairytale requires a happy conclusion then this may only partially classify, as we were left with the exhausted contentment that comes with completing a long journey, yet with a yearning for more adventure in lands far far away, and far far far more sleep.