Guarded by Giants

Welcome to my journal. What you are about to read is the factual goings-on of four people, three from Wales and one from South Korea, driving two elderly minivans with an entire continent to break-down around. It is a tale of the best feeling in the world, a travellers freedom.

Day 1 – Vancouver to Whistler

And we’re off. A journey of over twenty-five-thousand kilometres across forty-eight US states and four Canadian provinces. It will take us nearly four months to complete our journey, a journey through high mountain passes, arid deserts, great plains and metropolitan cities. There will be a high likelihood of manoeuvring around forest fires, hurricane paths, avalanches and maybe even the odd polar vortex or two for good measure.

The journey begins

Our journey begins as all journeys do, by saying goodbye to those we leave behind. All four of us have met some incredible people in Vancouver, all of whom we will miss and who I, hope upon hope, bump into on a voyage in the future. Having said our emotional farewells, the first leg of the trip was one in which we were all familiar with. Our path took us North through Squamish and up a climb – along with the help of some Buddhist monks – to the top of The Chief, a mountain which overlooks and dominates the backdrop of the town.

The Chief in Squamish

The Chief in Squamish

Having completed our first meal out on the open road, pasta with green pesto to be precise, Shu and I lead the way from our luncheon location when we noticed a large dark flash in our rear-view mirror. Aaron and Jess, in the cumbersome Pontiac Montana behind, pulled an astonishing three-point-turn Lewis Hamilton would have been proud of in order to look for, without success, what we had seen – a black bear. Having been minutes away from it eating my pasta with green pesto, and quite possibly ourselves, we stocked up on bear spray and became a lot more careful at meal times.

Our first day ended where Shu and I had started the year, at Whistler Ski Resort, although now utterly transformed for the Summer into a haven for BMX and motocross. We found a secluded part of town, made-up our foam beds, did one final check for grizzlies and settled down for our first night sleeping in the minivans.

Day 2 – Whistler to Kamloops

A new day dawned with absolutely zero bear attacks and every limb intact. We decided to take advantage of the countless promotional stalls in Whistler village in order to pilfer as many freebies as we could carry, regardless of how useless they were.

The group

The road to Lillooet

We then embarked on a hairpin-laden journey through some rugged and at times quite depressing landscapes epitomised by the bizarre town of Lillooet. I can’t quite put my finger on why I was so saddened by this place but it did feel a bit like the setting of every horror movie ever made.

We hit a storm on our final push to Kamloops which slowed down our progress and meant a search in the darkness for a suitable sleeping spot. After learning another valuable lesson – the boot of the car does not provide sufficient rain cover for the use of a stove underneath – we turned in for the night.

Day 3 – Kamloops to Tête Jaune Cache

The morning of day three meant the splitting of the two cars for the first time. Due to visa issues, Aaron and Jess have to leave Canada a week before Shu and I are allowed into America. The result meant a rendezvous was created at The Rhino Bar in Missoula, Montana in ten days time. If we both manage to arrive at said location at the same time without the use of our now defunct mobile phones it would be some achievement.

The road to Jasper

The road to Jasper

So the Voyager headed North towards some of Canada’s wildest and most revered National Parks whilst the Pontiac headed South towards America’s own, Yellowstone. The five-hundred kilometre journey North brought higher altitudes, a drop in temperature and a new river or water fall around every corner. Having reached the border of Jasper National Park by dusk, we parked in the breathtaking twilight shadow of the near four-thousand metre tall giant, Robson Mountain.

Day 4 – Tête Jaune Cache to Jasper

Robson Mountain

My heart did skip a beat or two when I woke up in the morning and remembered where we were. The isolation of the location, combined with the real threat of aggressive wild bears, meant a rather hurried breakfast and a race towards the provincial border with Alberta. Having been a British Columbian citizen for almost a year it was quite a sad moment to be leaving the ‘beautiful’ province for the last time.

Robson Mountain

The Alberta border

We arrived at Jasper town, the beating heart of the National Park and our headquarters for the next three days, in desperate need of showers and insect repellent. A hikers paradise, Jasper appeared to have more lakes and trails on its doorstep than people. Thus a pub-based reconnaissance session was called for in order to decide which of these we would like to undertake over the next couple of days.

Day 5 – Jasper National Park

On the way to our first hike at the park we came across a large number of cars parked by the side of the road – which usually indicates that a moose, caribou or mountain goat is within camera range. We decided to follow suit and join a few of the park rangers that were perched on a mound overlooking a treeless area next to the road.

Wild grizzly bear

A hungry grizzly bear, no more than one hundred metres away, was gorging himself on red berries for all to see. I had seen bears a couple of times before but never without a fence between you and it. According to a ranger, nine different bears had been spotted in the same area in the past week. It served as a reminder of whose back yard we were living in and, due to a lack of bear spray/bells, we deemed it wise to cut short our hike through the nearby woodland later on.

Lunch

Day 6 – Jasper to somewhere in the Rockies (Highway 93)

On the short leg between Jasper and Banff National Parks we thought it was high time we attempted to use our ‘sophisticated’ portable shower. The water we used was glacial – literally – which made washing a rather tricky and hurried affair. Our next stop was at the mighty Athabasca Glacier located right on the border between the two parks.

Forest shower

Athabasca Glacier

The glacier, despite its drastic recession over the last few years, is still a spectacular sight. It is just one of many glaciers connected to an enormous icefield that stretches as far as the eye can see. That is if you are willing to traverse up and over the glacier in order to see it – a video presentation was sufficient in this instance.

Lunch at the Athabasca Glacier

Athabasca Glacier

Our day ended somewhere between the glacier and Banff town at a rather eerie abandoned camp site. Row upon row of empty picnic benches surrounded an utterly lifeless lake and one solitary long-drop. Countless three-thousand metre plus mountains guarded over us under the star-filled night sky.

The road to Banff

The road to Banff

Day 7 – Somewhere in the Rockies (Highway 93) to Banff

The road to Banff

The night was clear and cold, very cold. By morning the windows had frozen and so had Shu. We decided to leave early simply to warm up over the car heaters. By the time we had made it to our next destination, Lake Louise, the sun was beaming and we could enjoy a warm walk around the famous lake.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

We arrived at Banff town exactly one week after we had set off, and only slightly more haggard. As I write to you now a mixture of sustained excitement combined with daunting inhabits us both, having completed just 5% of the total distance of our journey. For some perspective I worked out it is slightly shorter for me to drive from my house in Wales to Shu’s house in South Korea and back again than the trip we are attempting, that is if Kim Jong Un let me drive through Pyongyang in a minivan.

Next week we leave our Canadian comfort zone and start our journey proper through the sparse state of Montana to rendezvous with Aaron and Jess in a Missoulan bar, that is if we make it over the border…

Total kilometres: 1,336

J

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