Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ten - Over The Top

Aside from the seven foot tank sitting in the middle of the room, there was nothing remarkable about the bar at Invermere, nor the fish and chips they served (The chips that come with fish are chips, not like the chips that come with everything else, which are crisps). What was remarkable about the tank, was the lack of fish. (Fish tank, not Sherman!) The barmaid explained that they had a lot of fish, but they died mysteriously. They also have a “cannibal” fish which quietly munches the other fish when no-one’s looking. This seems to be a common problem, my friends Nat and Gem have a similar issue, though a more modest tank!
Anyhow, it was a quiet night so I was able to get an early start and head for highway 93. The Icefields Parkway was a road I’d been looking forward to since I started this crazy trip. For once I wasn’t disappointed.
Unlike in the Alps, were the roads climb dizzying hairpins to incredible mountaintop passes, in the Rockies the roads pass between the peaks. The scenery is simply stunning, and because you’re not busy lining up the next bend, straining your neck to see where the turn ends, you can appreciate the view more. So I found the perfect tunes with some help from Bruce Springsteen (The Rising) and John Fogerty (Revival) and lost myself in the mountains for a few hours.
The peaks were still white with snow, the clear mountain lakes bright blue. Wildlife ran freely, occasionally across the road. A black bear lolloped across the road a few yards in front of me, egged on by his mate. A deer darted to the side of the road, then reconsidered remodelling my Toyota. The road passed 2000 metres high, then swooped down and up, at one point swinging round almost 360 degrees – affectionately known by the locals as the toilet bowl.
I came back down to earth at Jasper. I didn’t want to pay tourist rates to stay by the parkway, but it was a long way to anywhere else. So I decided to compare my usual strategy with the hi-tech alternative. After a quick pootle round the small town I determined that the “Tonquin Inn” looked the best value. So I searched for a free, unencrypted wifi spot, but everyone required passwords. I found an internet cafĂ© in town and searched for hotels, to discover that the cheapest was the “Tonquin Inn”. So I booked online through a cheap deals site.
When I arrived at the hotel I asked what the rate was and she quoted me 13 dollars cheaper. D’oh!
Luckily she amended my booking to the cheaper rate and gave me a nice room with a balcony view of the mountains. She also pointed me in the direction of some good bars. In the first one I got talking to Andrew, a writer who was taking some time off to write a second novel. He came with me to the second bar which is why I don’t remember asking his surname or what his first book was!
He didn’t come to the nightclub, which was a wise move as the place was full of “kids” and made me feel old.
Still, it was a good night out and made me a bit slower heading off the next day. It was pretty much a transition day, getting out of the high mountains and heading towards the West coast and Vancouver. Speaking of Vancouver, the TV people said their hockey team were about to win the biggest prize in hockey, the Stanley Cup, so I tried to land somewhere I could watch the game.
Kamloops is a town built on the side of a hill, affording great views from even the cheap motels. They also have a great big sports bar so I happily marched in and asked for a seat at the bar.
“We don’t have seats at the bar”
What! I know this ain’t the US of A but its right next door! How can they not have a bar to sit at?! So I end up stuck in a corner on the only unreserved table while the place fills with people in oversized Vancouver Canucks shirts.
Fate has its revenge on the poor feng shui of the Canadians when the Boston Bruins tear the Canucks apart.
Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, and just like that it’s four nil. You can hear a pin drop. Well, actually you can hear a goalie shirt drop as one is thrown across the bar in disgust.
This means there’ll be a seventh and final game to decide the title in Vancouver on Wednesday 15th June. Which, coincidentally, is where I was heading on Tuesday 14th June.
I believe I mentioned before that cities and road trips don’t mix. I enjoy road trips for their singularity of purpose, just get up and go. Whereas to enjoy a city you need to know what to do, where to stay, how to get around, and even worse, to book ahead.
So it was with some trepidation I drove towards Vancouver. Sure enough, I went straight through the middle. I caught glimpses of the buildings from the brochures, of hookers and crackheads (oddly missing from the brochures) got stuck in a traffic jam, missed the park exit and crossed the bridge to West Vancouver. Here the city suddenly becomes more attractive. I can’t think of anything famous about Vancouver, but it is located on a beautiful bay beneath yet more incredible mountains.
So I rounded the coast a little further and stopped in a scenic little place called Squamish. The town beach and pier will be very nice when they’ve built them, but for now they have cliffs, waterfalls and mountains towering above. I check in to the “Inn on the Water” and am delighted to be able to walk round town for once.
Another bar, another “single serving friend”. Rich, from Utah works as a consultant from his laptop so is able to spend summers in British Colombia rolling down hills on a mountain bike.
So what now? I don't fancy the two thousand miles to Alaska, with few things to see or people to meet on the way. Let alone the two thousand miles back down the same road. So I'm heading South. I'm tempted to join the festivities in Vancouver, but it will be even busier, more expensive and difficult than usual.
...and last time they lost, they trashed the city.

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