I never got sick, lost, hurt or robbed during my 1976 cross-country trip. That isn't to say I didn't make any mistakes. When you're backpacking, you meet tons of travelers doing the same thing you are. So it's common to compare experiences. When you compare places you both have visited it's almost impossible to NOT find out you missed out on something. For instance, I remember telling someone how I liked walking over a bridge into Juarez Mexico when I got to El Paso Texas. They felt short changed because they went the other way to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico...which made me jealous.
This phenomena happened to me just after the halfway point of my trip, Vancouver British Columbia. I had fallen in love with this great contemporary city on Canada's Pacific coast and even fantasized about relocating there. But I needed to begin working my way back to New York and get ready for my senior year at Brooklyn College.
I hitchhiked east along the Trans Canadian Highway (Highway 1), into the Canadian Rockies. I got a decent ride and was dropped off outside the town of Kamloops B. C. I was waiting for my next hitch in front of a filling station when another backpacker was dropped off. This blond, bearded fellow was going my way. He observed the proper hitchhiker protocol by positioning himself well behind me.
Several minutes later, he came up behind me. He cautiously tapped my shoulder and said in a strange, heavy accent, "Look at this." I followed him back where he was standing and he pointed to the alley along side the gas station. There was nothing to see until he said, "Look. In forest." I could see a rustling of the foliage and an outline of something humongous. To my surprise, a moose took a step forward. At first, I only saw its huge head and antler rack, (when you see this Goliath in the wild, you understand how they earned their name). Then Bullwinkle took another step forward and stood, majestic and proud three-quarters of the way out of the woods. By the time I readied my camera, this inspiring Kodak moment was lost.
I got acquainted with this man and learned he was the same age as me (21), from Denmark and named Bengt, (the "g" is silent). We were headed to the same places and decided to travel together.
We caught a ride and crossed into Alberta. Our first major stop was Jasper National Park.KNOWN FOR ITS GLACIERS, THIS STOCK PHOTO, IS ONE OF JASPER'S BIGGEST ICE FIELDS.
In the same neighborhood, Lake Louise was next on our itinerary. Unbelievably like heaven on earth, this stunning lakeside hamlet is surrounded by huge snow capped Mount Whyte, Mount Niblick and Mount Temple. (STOCK PHOTO), IN 1976, LAKE LOUISE HAD A YEAR-ROUND POPULATION OF UNDER A THOUSAND. IT'S SUBARCTIC CLIMATE IN SUMMER, PROVIDED US WITH A FROSTY MORNING AND A COOL, CRISP AFTERNOON...BUT SNOW CAN OCCUR IN ANY MONTH.
Still in Alberta, the last stop together with Bengt was Banff.
(STOCK PHOTO) WHILE IN BANFF, I DECLARED IT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE I EVER SAW...I STILL FEEL THAT WAY, EVEN AFTER BEING IN ATCO NEW JERSEY.
Established in 1885, Banff is Canada's oldest national park. Today, it attracts over five million visitors a year. The town put in a bid to host the 1964 winter Olympics but came in second to Grenoble France.
BANFF IN EARLY AUGUST. I FROZE BECAUSE JEANS, A SWEATSHIRT AND A LIGHT JACKET WAS ALL I HAD.
The highlight of my time there was the gondola ride up to Sulphur Mountain.
THE EIGHT-MINUTE RIDE TO SULPHUR MOUNTAIN'S SUMMIT BOASTS A VIEW OF SIX MOUNTAIN RANGES.
Bengt had spent time in the Swiss Alps but said, "The last few days were more spectacular." He was probably referring to the Canadian Rockies but he might have meant hanging with me.
I TAKE FEW LANDSCAPE PICTURES BUT FROM HIGH ATOP BANFF, I MADE SEVERAL EXCEPTIONS.
At the top of the mountain there was a heated Alpine chateau that served as a visitor center. We ran outside to snap photos but it was too cold to stay out for long. On the other side of the lodge there was an observation deck. We saw people buying nuts from a gumball machine to feed a mountain goat.
STUPIDLY, I TOOK THIS PICTURE OF BENGT WITH MY CAMERA. THAT MEANS THAT THE ONE HE TOOK OF ME FEEDING THIS BUGGER WENT BACK TO COPENHAGEN. THIRTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, I WONDER IF HE CHERISHES THE MEMORY THE WAY I DO.
Bengt and I were really getting along. He was a perfect, easy-going companion. Back on the ground we did a walking tour of Banff. I remember thinking I had a friend for life.
THIS IS THE SAME RIVER IN THE LANDSCAPE SHOT I TOOK FROM SULPHUR'S PEAK.
When we had enough of Banff, Bengt told me wanted to backtrack to a town called Vernon British Columbia. I said, "Why do you want to go backward?" Apparently, before he and I met, there was a waitress, yaddy, yadda and he wanted to ask her out. When I balked, he said she had a friend. I didn't want to go and he became pushy. We soon exchanged harsh words and I ended my argument by saying, "Get bent!" I can still picture the perplexed look on his face.
This might have been a mistake but soon, I compounded the error. Not because I didn't gamble on the sight-unseen long shot of the waitress' friend, (who may have not even existed) but that I decided to continue trekking east.
My first stop on my own was Calgary. Calgary stood on the dividing line between the end of the Rockies and the beginning of the Canadian prairie. I still don't know why but I persevered east...ouch, yawn, tedium to the max !
In retrospect, I should have pushed my pioneer spirit north to Alaska. To this day, I regret missing what looks like my once in a lifetime opportunity. But I could have at least gone south to Yellowstone...but I didn't do that either. The result was, my easterly adventures for the next 750 miles, in the God forsaken lands above North Dakota, were few and far between. Thus, the only monotony breaker to the endless fields of wheat were the remote outposts of; Medicine Hat Alberta, Swift Current, Moose Jaw and Regina Saskatchewan and Winnipeg Manitoba.
THE KEY TO THIS STOCK PHOTO IS THE VAST EMPTINESS OF THE CANADIAN PRAIRIE IN THE BACKGROUND.
Medicine Hat's one highlight...and it wasn't much, was Hotel Healey. During the one afternoon I was there, at the height of exhaustion, I got the idea to go into an old-fashioned hotel downtown and ask if I could take a nap on the floor of one of their rooms. The front desk lady recognized my plight and was so kind. She gave me a key, insisted I sleep on the bed, take a shower, use the towels, the TV etc. I still slept on the floor and didn't use anything. Props to her in absentia because while researching this blog, I couldn't find any Hotel Healey information on the Internet.
The further east I went, the land became flatter and more boring. In Swift Current, the only blotches on the rural horizon were distant grain silos. At least, the cute little town of Moose Jaw was a slight upgrade. They actually had a hill on the outskirts of town which served as a museum. I was short on time so I passed on it. My big excitement there was strolling down the main drag and passing someone in a tee-shirt with an animated moose head with a prominent jaw. The caption simply read; "MOOSE JAW SASKATCHEWAN."
My quest became, buying one just like it. I walked into dozens of tee-shirt shops, souvenir stands and novelty stores...and came up empty. No one ever heard of such a thing. However, one proprietor conceited that it was a good idea. Maybe in the same vein as Forrest Gump, I made him a fortune?
After yawning through the megalopolis of Regina, my last stop on my journey to nowhere was the city of Winnipeg Manitoba. Their claim to fame was the fastest one-hour temperature drop, (30 above to 30 below). While there, I met a South African backpacker of Pakistani decent who called himself Daddie. There was no way I was calling him that so I dubbed him Eddie.
On a terribly humid, ninety degree day, Eddie and I walked through the business district. On nearly every corner, a folding table was set-up to sell $10.00 lottery tickets. The grand prize was a million dollars. I had never heard of lotteries so I was fascinated by the concept, (by today's standards their manual system was out of the Stone Age because each sequential ticket was stored like index cards in a shoebox).
Eddie was tempted to buy one but he said he'd rather spend the same money to see Olivia Newton-John in concert. Then he talked me into joining him. It's funny because that night, the Winnipeg Arena was a sauna. It was so antiquated (it opened in 1955), and set-up for cold weather that there was no air-conditioning or ice makers for the hot sodas.
THE HEAT WAS SO STIFLING DURING THE CONCERT THAT ALL I RECALL WAS WARM PEPSI AND MISS JOHN DEMONSTRATING THE AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL WIND INSTRUMENT, THE DIDGERIDOO.
While searching for a rest room to splash cold water on my face, I found on the main concourse, one small corner of the venue dedicated to the hockey team, the Winnipeg Jets.
THE ARENA, LOCATED AT 1430 MAROONS ROAD, WAS THE HOME OF THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE'S WINNIPEG JETS. BEFORE THEY JOINED THE NHL, THE JETS (1972-1979), WERE STILL IN THE RIVAL WORLD HOCKEY ASSOCIATION (WHA). IN 1996, THE FRANCHISE MOVED AND BECAME THE PHOENIX COYOTES. THE BUILDING WAS DEMOLISHED IN 2004.
The ex-wife of one of my readers proved why Winnipeg is the ideal place to live. She said when she lived there...and her son was young, he walked home from school in 49 degrees below zero, (not including the wind chill factor). He kept his house key on a lanyard, attached to his parka's zipper. A gust of wind caused the key to flip up into his face. It then attached itself to his cheek.I PITCHED MY TENT IN WINNIPEG'S MOST SCENIC PUBLIC PARK, A.K.A. THE CAPITAL OF DULLSVILLE. WITH THIS HIGH LEVEL OF ENTERTAINMENT UNDER MY BELT, I HAD ENOUGH OF THE GREAT WHITE NORTH AND WENT BACK DOWN TO THE GOOD OLD U.S. OF A.
If I had that mistake to do over, but I had to do both the Canadian Rockies and the prairie or neither...despite missing Alaska and Yellowstone, I would still do them both. Besides, if I went to Yellowstone, I probably would have crossed the American Great Plains and I'm positive going through Nebraska or Kansas wouldn't have been a laugh-fest either.
The bottom line is, no matter what we do...we'll never do it all. We can only put ourselves out there and keep filling our cup...even after it hath runneth over.
As for Bengt. Maybe his mission in life was to decipher what I meant by, "Get bent!" Now that the computer age is upon us, hopefully he'll finally rest assured when he discovers the Urban Dictionary...assuming of course that it's translated into Danish.