This is the travel journal I kept on a road trip Steph and I took for her birthday in August 2015. I had posted it before on the old version of this blog, under the title, "We Forgot the Ketchup," but I've decided to bring it back because it makes me laugh and it's a way for me to mourn the summer. I'm usually affected by the change of seasons, but something about last winter was different. It was a smooth transition and I don't even remember hating the cold that much. This year is a much different story, I'm terrified to lose the sunshine. The frost on the gravel in the mornings fills me with dread and sends me running to the bottle of vitamin D. Huge changes are afoot and I'm worried about maintaining control over my personality, so I remind myself that hard times always lay behind great times.
The story untold in this journal is the fight we had. When we got to the hotel, we started shouting. I, like usual, was being unreasonable and negative, and Steph had finally had enough. It was a dark day, a much darker one that made it into the pages. For every story told, there's ten unheard and typically one between the lines.
Yesterday we went from Edmonton to Banff, stopping in Rocky Mountain House for gas. It’s moments like this where we become less of a couple and more of a team. Late last night—I say late only on account of the recently set sun—we pulled into the Two Jack Lake campground looking for any sort of space for the night. We had seen the “full” sign outside Johnson Lake and made two loops around Castle Mountain before realizing there was no space to be had. Two Jack Late had another full sign posted at the gates, but I was desperate and sick of driving in the dark, so I approached the cabin.
I then explained to the doppelgänger of my best friend’s brother that he was the third campground we had tried and now with the sun gone, we just needed to be somewhere. I asked if he knew any campgrounds nearby that had available space, but instead, he granted us a “One Night Only” pass. For $28 we spent one night and were gone by eleven a.m. He gave us the paperwork and off we went, setting up camp under the cover of dark. We wore dickheads (headlamps) and had the tent up in less than fifteen minutes, flashing each other in the eyes when we spoke. The dickhead is named exactly for this phenomenon. “Hey, Dickhead!”
Our bodies were sore, our dog was tired and unbeknownst to us, the weather overhead was quickly turning. The cigarette smoke hung in the warm air of the tent and Steph and I huddled under three sleeping bags with the basset between us. In a moment of reckless abandon, I strip to my underwear proclaiming, “Ah shit, it’s fuckin’ nice out here!”
We slept on the ground, clutching each other for warmth—the dog leeching it from my back. From the time we closed our eyes to an hour before we woke, the weather we had run from and through earlier in the day poured down on us, soaking the sneakers kicked off in the night.
I’m at the picnic table, Steph lays with the dog in the tent. Behind the trees, a tired little boy is determined to finish his book. His dad cradles him on his lap, helping him through the words. Mom comes out to wrangle his younger brother and my wife’s voice catches my attention. We hungry.
The kids make me think back to my childhood and the summers spent in a camper. Every year, whether it be with cousins, family friends, or as a solitary unit, we’d head to the Shuswap area of British Columbia to boat, camp and baste for no less then ten days.
The most vivid memory I have is of a place I simply know as George’s. It was a loop campground with cabins for rent in an area on the hill overlooking the loop and a teepee theatre that played kids movies at night. The beach that was flooded one year and low the next. The lake fed a small channel that could take a speed boat up next to the campsites, when high enough, and my dad would do exactly that. The ultimate in convenience. It was here that my family, along with Hannah’s family—the Coderres—began the Griswold Summer Vacation Awards.
Our first time at George’s, we ran amok. Not by choice, mind you, but by the numbers. With six children, two moms that get batty around each other and two encouraging fathers, the odds are high for a series of hilarious disasters. Logs and trees were fallen from, flaming marshmallows eaten unknowingly and pieces of flesh left were in the Shuswap. For years our families watched each other like hawks, waiting for the next hot dog loaded with too many banana peppers, waiting for the next motorhome breakdown. It became a trophy and then a reason to get together again at the end of the summer. It bonded us with something thicker than blood: misadventure.
Golden is a town I’ve badly misremembered. I thought it was carved into the side of a mountain, a giant wooden Petro-Can welcoming you through with a massive lacquered statue of a bear poised to strike. In reality, it’s a highway town, split with an ugly median of concrete barriers. The Petro-Can is there, but it’s the regular old thing and one giant bear statue is actually two regular-size bear statues placed directly under the sign that lets you know you’re going to have to self-amputate to fill your tank. Regardless of the disappointing reveal of Golden, the majesty that was Radium has stuck with me.
It was two p.m. yesterday when we pulled into Cedar Lake. We set up camp in the broad day light and settled into relaxation; the afternoon was mainly spent trying out different ways of biting into Infinite Jest. The best way I’ve found is carefully, typically one word at a time. You know, the usual way to read a book. There’s no secret to this pop-culture tome, it just sits there waiting for you, keeping the table/shelf/garbage can from floating into space.
It’s ten a.m. and Steph sleeps away. I may have made coffee a little prematurely—I’ve had to turn on the stove twice now to keep the heat alive. I keep thinking about the stars last night and the conversation that shone through along with them. I respect Steph’s mind and am eternally grateful for her perspective. She uses it like a wedge to open my mind and show me the other side of things. I just have to remember to listen and be receptive. It’s her birthday today.
We forgot the ketchup. How could we forget the most sacred of condiments? We forgot the ketchup along with the wash bin, the paper towel and the ice. We were low on water as well as cream, coffee and cigarettes. Back to Golden we went, the Kicking Horse Trail seeming half the length it did yesterday. The search for potable water turned out to be fruitless. Maybe we weren’t looking in the right places, but there were no public taps to be found. It seems to me a small measure of hippie proofing—No, not regular hippies of the protest variety, no, their grandchildren: the shitty hippies, the over-the-counter-culture version. The hippie proofing is done by cities on the way to Nelson in preparation for the vagrant and festival season. No pets, no loitering. No talking to locals, seemingly.
It’s the yearly western mass migration of our generation to lose our minds which turns my Alberta licence plate into a glaring red badge of shame. The quiet people of small towns along a route have become soured towards us as travellers. We’re no more than moving shit factories to them, we’re traffic hazards—flying down their highways as if our tax money pays for the clean up when we lose control. We’re tourists in the worst sense of the word. We’re terrorists in the lightest sense of the word, destroying both our provinces through sheer ignorance, both willed and unwitting, of things like parasites and insects. Of course, …exceptions to the rule… not everyone, yadda yadda yadda, etc. etc…
There’s a massive fire-ban in effect for almost the entire southern part of the province, so I’m sitting at the picnic table, surrounded by blackness, pages illuminated by the red light of my Energizer flashlight, currently powered by Duracell. Fight the power. The stars above me appear in layers and the litre of coffee I drank tells me that I’m going to be up long enough to see them all, or whatever my tree-shaped peep-hole will allow.
The bushes shake and freak the shit out of me and the sky starts to chirp with feeding bats. It’s at this point I remember the site woman mentioning a bear in the area and hope deeply that he doesn’t have a hankering for coffee and Bailey’s.
When I was between the six and seventh grades, my family loaded up our trusty motorhome and instead of heading west, our usual destination, our wheels turned east. Thus began the two-and-a-half week road trip to Prince Edward Island, my mom’s home province.
I discovered a fair amount of pop music between borders. The landmarks are faint—a Dairy Queen in Manitoba, rude French people in Quebec, rock walls in Ontario, but it’s the music—however shameful, that stays with me.
In this motorhome there were three Discmans (Discmen?), one for each of the children. My albums were (in order from favorite to least favorite):
• Hanson- Middle of Nowhere
• Big Shiny Tunes 5
• Millennium- Backstreet Boys
My sisters had Avril Lavigne’s first album, O-Town’s debut, Much Dance 2000 and random other pop schmatterings like Aquarium by Aqua and that one album by Jimmy Ray. These, my sister’s shame-filled CDs, became my soundtracks.
Somewhere between “I said see ya l8r boi” and O-Town’s nocturnal emissions, we made it just over half way there. We were in Parry Sound, Ontario, home of one Wayne Kenney, my grandpa through marriage. And a little sister, I guess. His home backed onto a small lake with a small island in the centre. The house itself was a gorgeous naturally lit cabin-esque thing in the side of a hill sloping down to the beach.
Cast Away with Tom Hanks had recently come onto DVD and upon seeing the small island, my sisters and I christened it Wilson Island, and it became our destination.
Grandpa Wayne owned a small blue paddle boat that took two peddlers. At the time Amorette, the youngest of us, was still small enough to ride on the back, just above the rudder. So, once outfitted in our parentally-mandated life jackets, our rag-tag crew of three set sail with push from our grandfather.
The island came quickly enough, the water was like glass and we glided onto the banks of our new kingdom. A jagged rock knocked us from below as we bounced off the boulders guarding our treasure. We pedaled frantically but the rudder was cocked and neither Cass nor I were thinking about anything other than our youngest sister floating away helplessly.
Our rescue attempt ended with all three of us in the water, capsized trying to pull Amorette aboard. We swam to the island and climbed the slimy rocks, saw our kingdom was overrun with bugs, righted the boat and paddled back to mom, little sister safely on board. The mission was a failure, but it was a spectacular one.
Its midnight now. The air temperature was pulled away by the reset of the clock. All the layers of stars shine down at me, reminding me that all I really have to do in this life is wonder and wait. I can hear my wife stir in the tent nest to the dog and I dread waking them to get warm, but I need them. More than they’ll ever really know.
Ten hours later, we find ourselves in Banff, holed up in the Voyager Hotel. I’m freshly showered and out on the balcony to avoid the noise of T.V. We had found the most secluded campsite at roughly five tonight, off the beaten path at a small site called Marble Canyon. We set up camp, arranged the dog and jumped in the car to register for the two days we wanted. There was no fire ban in these parts and we were going to spend two days around a fire, reading and playing cards.
Steph’s one for ominous feelings in her gut, and I usually heed them. Having been a witness to my own ominous gut feelings, I tend to just give people the benefit of the doubt when these feelings surface. She felt like we had just wandered into bear country with a small meal leashed to a platter in the form of a long-eared hound dog. We listened to her gut, pulled down camp with the clouds rolling in overhead and headed down the highway to Lake Louise, finding yet another full campsite.
It was now past eight and a half hours since our measly breakfast of a single grilled cheese sandwich. Steph said to me later, mouth full of immaculate cheese burger, “You have the worst hanger of anyone I’ve known, and the way your mother talks about it makes me think that it was way worse when you were younger.” She wasn’t wrong.
Head throbbing and patience stretched short, I googled and called around looking for any sort of food that we could put in us quick, but to no avail. Steph silently smoked her cigarette beside me, in fear of unleashing the HungerBeast. Finally, after a wasted trip up the hill and down again, my wife-to-be puts her foot down and tells me to stop at the “mountain view—or whatever it’s called,” for take-out burgers.
The nutrients flooded my eyes, muscles and blood infused with newfound joy as I explained my worry of not finding camping again, we talk for a while as the weather turned and turned and found ourselves in the Banff Voyager. Now, I’m wedged between the lobby of the hotel and the pool, the mountain air freshly distilled by the concrete and chlorinated water. My head still hurts.
I fell asleep to the sounds of fashionista television and awoke the next morning to frigid rain. Our short trip had met its end, chased away by the coming snow. Mountains can be dicks. We drove through the downpour and ended up in Calgary, our home’s twin city. For two hours we lost ourselves in the soaking concrete and grey hills, looking at houses and neighborhoods, filling our head with ideas for the future, day dreaming as we delayed our return as long as we could.
Writer, performer, producer and musician from Alberta.