Canadian Conclusions

After weeks of blogging daily, not to mention a few months of hectic travelling adventures, i have finally managed to conclude my blog entries for my Canadian trip. You may have to skip back a few posts to find out where i was up to…

23rd June 2011, and year three on my attempt to “spend my birthday in a different country every year” continued with success, although it may be difficult to follow next year. The day itself, though, was less so. You’re probably getting a little tired of this sort of report, but it began with a difficult walk before i quickly decided to hail a taxi and get a lift to the airport. Thankfully i wasn’t there that long, before boarding a plane to Edmonton, coincidentally the hometown of my host in Vancouver. However, my lay over in Edmonton was a mere two hours; far too short to head in to town and explore, but plenty long enough to allow me to sit outside the airport and get well fed up, feeling sorry for myself for being alone and bored on my birthday. I killed a bit of time making a phone call: collect call to Thunder Bay, to my Uncle and Aunt. Thing is, i’d never met my Aunty Helen, or their three children, Leejah, Paul and Ian, and even my Uncle Andy had only been introduced to me twice before when my Grandma was sadly ill the previous September. As such, i was a touch trepidatious as i finally landed in Thunder Bay, my birthday having been spent entirely either on the way to airports, in airports or on a plane, and i walked out to be greeted by five smiling faces. Such trepidation was short lived, as the family i was meeting for the first time turned out to be typically Canadian: friendly, approachable and generally lovely.

The lads helped me with my bags and we headed back to the house a mere five minute drive away, where we stayed up for a good few hours, chewing the fat and me explaining about my incredibly long birthday (as birthday messages started coming in at 4pm on the 22nd and it was now 2am on the 24th). This wasn’t a climbing trip, it was a family visit so activities to be planned were a bit different to usual but i thought it would be nice to sample some of the things that North America is famous for. The first day was simply some sight-seeing with my Uncle Andy and Leejah, where we went a few miles up the road to nearby Kakabeka and it’s famous falls, although me being me, i couldn’t help but marvel at how good it would be from a climbers point of view when frozen… We grabbed some ice cream, some fries and spent the day ambling aimlessly around the city before the evening, when i was taken (very willingly) to a family party. Andy had made every effort to try and get me worried about some of the food about to be served, only for me to throw myself at it with gusto. After all, new types of meat weren’t going to weird me out when barbequed, and the deer sausages in particular were delicious! My birthday cake was also really nice, and my sixth or seventh beer was just as nice as my first one…

Despite having been drunk on two of the previous three nights, i awoke fairly perky, and was taken out firstly in Andy’s truck (a GMC Sierra SLT) and then in the Ford Mustang, both of which were stunning to drive, although again typically me, i think i preferred the truck! We took a quick spin up the road, Andy showing me the power of the Mustang which really was phenomenal and a joy to feel. We headed back, and i met up with Paul and his friend, where we headed out in to the bush. We had with us some firearms, a shotgun and a .22 rifle (along with the relevant permits and paperwork of course, as checked by a road block and half a dozen cops) and i got to do some shooting that back in the UK would’ve been nigh on impossible. We started with skeet shooting with the shotgun, but our accuracy with the rifle was substantially better, especially once we tried both kneeling and lying shoots. God it was fun. The evening started at a party for Leejah at her house, but when Paul left to go home, Ian invited me to another party on the far side of town. It was “on the reservation” but still they were as friendly and accommodating as anyone else in the country i had met.

Throughout the whole of Canada there is a mild underlying resentment to the indigenous people there, due to errors made by the government over the last few decades, although on a personal level, they were as pleasant as anyone else i met, and seemed the most impressed by my accent, despite not having to try at all. While two out of three nights didn’t have too much derogatory effect, three out of four meant the first thing said to me on the Sunday morning was “Man, you look rough!” which made me feel even better. We all went for breakfast, the family all together again which was always nice throughout my stay. More local food went down, and the hangover slowly subsided before Ian and Paul took me up “the mountain”. The quote marks aren’t there for derision, but from the fact that there was some mild debate over whether it was a hill or a mountain, but as an expert in such matters, it was over 1000ft and thus, definitely a mountain. It is fairly straightforward to drive near the top, but the walk was still nice, the weather stunning and the view breathtaking. It was on the summit that my hangover finally went.

We headed back down to town, bound for a local skate park to watch Leejah’s boyfriend, Frank, compete in a BMX competition and try not to injure himself. Success at one task often takes it’s toll on another and while he managed to win the first event, he also managed to break his ankle on the third, although he did become the first man i know to draft in first-aiders from abroad… In truth, the treatment wasn’t that tricky, but the constant heckling of people claiming it was “definitely broken” probably wasn’t ideal. Anyway, Frank was lifted into Leejah’s truck, his bike thrust in the back, and i jumped on the running boards on the side to get a lift back to Ian’s truck. Leejah left us to take Frank to the hospital and we headed off to camp, roughing it as Andy was keen to point out. However, i think we both underestimated what the other meant, as while i was a bit shocked at the size of the trailer, i think he was more than a little surprised when i rigged up the tarp to have a play, having it about 9″ from the ground…

Still, the trailer was enormous, akin to that owned by Steve and MC, with TV, DVD player, gas hob built in and at least two sofas, not to mention the double bed and porcelain toilet! We sat around, chewing more fat, watching the fire do it’s thing late into the night, before turning in to watch a film and go to sleep. Next day was spent on the lake, being pulled along the water by the small speedboat, “tubing” and generally getting very wet. It was my last day in Canada, and the constant activity of the last two-and-a-half weeks had become a bit much to bear, leaving me exhausted and grateful to be going home, yet not wanting to leave my new-found friends and loving relatives. We dried off, cleared up, and drove home, spending a relaxing day with barbeque and general chilling out. We went out for one last beer that evening, it feeling like i’d been there for weeks, much as it felt like i’d been in Vancouver for months. I’ll be completely honest, there was a huge part of me that did not want to come back (and not just due to the crippling travel arrangements i had in store…), almost to the extent that i was trying to find ways to stay. Still, my life here is often quite incredible, and while i will always look back on this as one of the bet trips ever, it did feel nice to get home.

I must leave you with a note of thanks to Uncle Andy and Aunty Helen: you were warm, loving and welcoming, letting me into your home like an old family friend. I will always be grateful for the help you gave me this summer, and one day will hopefully be able to make it up to you. Thank you again, and hopefully see you soon.

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