My Backpacking Memoirs

Hints and Recommendations; my backpacking stories; travel photos; etc...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Head West Young Man (Part One)

June 21-26, 2008

I'm off, and the journey begins. Left the house, sold the car, gave almost everything I had to relatives, and extra used clothing to charity. With a pack on my shoulders consisting of a weeks worth of clothes, a tent and sleeping bag, some rice, a can of chili, a bottle of mustard, and some toiletries, I hit the road. Day one. I jumped on that big white bus with the grey dog painted on it and set off for London. A quick visit to my sister's place, then a connecting bus in Toronto bound for Comox, Vancouver Island, BC with stops along the way.

Thunder Bay. Ahhh. Four days of camping (two of which were rainy days), I had plenty of bonfires, got a box of beers stolen by some kids which I recovered, and met some facinating people. Searches for employment came up empty.

Time to go. I packed up my tent and walked from the campground towards Highway 1, the Terry Fox Courage Highway. I noticed a 'no pedestrian' sign and sighed. Figured I could bypass the route on a secondary road until I got out of the Thunder Bay city limits. The rain started again and so did my luck. I met a woman camping 4 days previous who was getting company from her sister and brother in-law. Her brotherin-law stopped and asked where I was going. I simply told him "West, Kenora or Winnipeg maybe". He told me to hop in and drove me back to the campground where he told me, he and his wife were leaving for Winnipeg in the morning, and he was happy to give me a lift. Shawn a fellow camper, his brother and I, chopped some wood for campers in the days previous. Since I had just packed my gear they allowed me to stay on his site for the night until I left in the morning. We had a few beers with neighbouring campers and called it an early night.

Bright and early, I woke before Fred and his wife. I ate some leftover sausage and potatoes for breakfast. By 6 a.m we were back on the Courage Highway headed for Winnipeg. We stopped in for a late breakfast/early lunch at a very busy Husky truck stop. I honoured my friends with the breakfast I had promised for the lift and in no time we were back on the road telling stories, watching for moose, and looking for those cyclists travelling across the country. Fred had a GPS in his late 90's Windstar and when we crossed in Manitoba I looked at the was as though there were a straight line clear to Calgary. I laughed to myself in the backseat and his wife had asked "what are you laughing at?" I told her that their GPS looked like the easy level on one of those racing video games! He then zoomed it out, and I swear the next town after Winnipeg was Calgary!

Somewhere after the Manitoba/Ontario border and before Winnipeg, was the halfway marker between the two coasts. I knew I had a long ways to go yet. Fred dropped me off at the VIA station and we said our goodbyes. I thanked them for putting up with me, and I walked up the road to the bus station.

Next stop, Calgary!

June 27th-1st, 2008

I chose the bus option to get to Calgary, and still had a few hours before the night bus left. I got a sub for dinner and some snacks. My companion on the bus was Robyn, a University of Calgary student going back to Calgary for work. We got on well and she offered to help me get some accommodations near the hotel district, but not at their rates. I got a dorm room for $54.99 per night but as the Calgary Stampede neared, the prices started to rise. I phoned Ed, a former coworker of mine living in Okotoks, and planned for a few drinks on Canada Day.

I decided to take a day trip to Banff, not before knocking on many doors and appling to several jobs. If I got contacted I'd return to Calgary. I ended up staying 2 days admiring the views and sitting on a plateau with fellow backpackers, talking about our travels. Then I was back to Calgary.

Okotoks is only 10 minutes down the road, says one person. 20 minutes down the highway says another. There was only a bus late at night heading south and I didn't find a place to hire a bike, so I hoofed it. Three hours later during rain showers, I got to a supermarket in Okotoks. I phoned Ed to get directions but he wasn't done work until later that afternoon. He offered to send his wife to pick me up but I told him that I'd already walked that far, what's a few more blocks? Catching up over some beers with Ed and seeing how he was doing since moving to Alberta was what I needed, and I'm sure a familiar face was good for him too.

Back to Calgary.

Where's the next bus headed? Kamloops? Let's go!

July 2-9, 2008

I couldn't wait to camp again and Kamloops was just the place. Hometown to Mark Recchi, quiet streets, and friend people. I set up camp on a First Nations reserve on the shores of the Thompson River. I had great views and a beach that all the locals came to for a swim. The community employment office in town helped me with a job search and my resume. I decided to sleep in the park. Don't tell anyone but it was a great night. The sunset, the musicians on stage during a music festival being held in the park, the people during the day. Most were interested how far I had travelled to get there, where I was going, or where I was from. It was relaxing for a couple of days.

One night I was leaning against my pack, staring off into the sunset, when I remembered a question a backpacker from Australia had asked me back in July of 2001. "Where would you recommend I visit in Canada?" Shamefully, I couldn't answer. I hadn't been anywhere in Canada other than the cities between Windsor and Toronto.

While I haven't visited as much of Canada as I would have liked, I can say now there are a few places apart apart from the obvious, I would visit again, 'Loops being one of them.

July 10-August 10ish.

I picked up my gear off the grass at the park and said goodbye to the beautiful sunrises and sunsets over the Thompson River before catching a night bus to Vancouver, then onward to Nanaimo. Perfect. A night to catch up on some much needed sleep.

Morning came and I was Comoxbound. I didn't arrive until mid afternoon and I had no idea where my uncle had moved to. I went to the post office with a Timmies coffee in hand hoping my Aunt Jean was there...and she wasn't. Sigh. Then she was! Jean had worked at the post office and Laundromat in Courtenay, a sister town to Comox, but wasn't in that day. The woman on staff called her up and there she was, surprised to see me.

The region has great opportunities to cycle, walk, row, canoe, kayak, sail, hike, ski, and snow board. In summer, Courtenay hosts a farmers' market and is steps away from the Pacific.

That night she put me to work for her and my uncle's cleaning company. I intended just to work for a few days so my uncle could get a few days rest, but a few days turned into more than a month. I got a beat up canoe, and fixed her so she'd float, made some friends, did some work, drank some Island beer, swam with the seals, had some cookouts on an inlet of the Pacific ocean, and I suppose had fun and laughs with my relatives.

During a conversation with my aunt and uncle one evening, I brought up the fact that I had watched a documentary on CBC about a man who had travelled around the world under his own power. I told them they wouldn't believe the story, they started to laugh, not at the story, the fact that they knew him. Not only did they know him, he lived in that very town. Colin Angus, National Geographic's 2006 Adventurer of the Year and wife Julie, also 2006 Adventurer of the Year for being the first woman to row across the Atlantic, lived in right here in Comox. My aunt told me she'd find out if he was in town, but he was off on another adventure, dubbed 'Rowed Trip', from Scotland to Syria.
I read Colin's book 'Beyond the Horizon', in two or three days I just couldn't put it down.

For more information on Colin Angus and his wife Julie visit:
and for Mt Washington, visit:

stay tuned for more....

*this was part of a travel journal compiled in the summer of 2008, written by Steven Tiessen


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