British Columbia

As some of you may remember, we took off for the May Long Weekend (aka Victoria Day Weekend) for British Columbia. Part of the holiday was spent at Rob’s mom’s place in Penticton, a curiously warm place that would blow away most American’s (not the intelligent or the well-traveled mind you, just everyone else) image of the Great White North as a semi-solid frozen version of northern Minnesota. 

We began the adventure in Jasper. We stayed overnight and ate breakfast Friday morning at the Soft Rock Cafe, which is the same place we ate breakfast on the day of our wedding almost a year ago. I enjoyed revisiting that place and those memories.

Friday was mainly spent on the road. Western Canada is vast. Holidaying by road involves hours and hours of driving. Getting to B.C. means traveling over the Canadian Rockies. I have been on two of the routes now. Over the Transcanada from Calgary and the Coquihalla from Kamloops. I prefer the latter. It is twined and a smoother ride but though it appears to be a safer drive too – mountain travel can be dangerous no matter the time of year. On our way back, we saw the remains of a mudslide that took the Transcanada out of commission for much of the weekend. By the time we hit the area, it was clear and traffic was flowing both ways but Rob didn’t want to tarry (not that you are allowed – mudslides are not photo ops people) because confidence was low that the highway would remain clear for long between the heavy snow melt and the rain.

Riding through the mountains is slowly becoming less of a bum-clenching experience. Canadians don’t do shoulders on their roads as a rule and the mountain highways are no exception though the Coquihalla is a bit better. Between the tight curves and the knee-high concrete jersey barriers to keep cars from tumbling off the road should they hit ice or simply take the corners too fast, it takes a while to get over the feeling that falling is imminent. Couple that with the, um, exuberant, driving of a substantial number of drivers and it would be easy to succumb to hysterical passenger seat driving. As it is, I merely adopt my zen face and phantom brake when the need arises.

Penticton is a retirement/summer tourist town sandwiched mainly between Skaha Lake and Lake Okanagan. The latter is the home of the legendary Ogopogo, a Loch Ness monster relative that I haven’t seen on either of my trips. My mother-in-law is a very sweet and wonderful person who talks more than my five year old and laments her lack of cycling opportunities and buddies. Motorcycling that is. On a Harley. She lives in a over 55 only block of two bedroom condos that is just a few blocks from the downtown. It’s really very nice. A person could walk everywhere and given the lack of anything that approaches a real winter, I could see myself living there easily. Which is what my MIL feverently hopes with every visit we make. She spends a lot of time talking Rob’s ear off about the “wonders” of Penticton.

It’s not paradise though. I did mention it was a tourist mecca in the summer? They swarm and menace like hornets. The town fills to the overflow parking lots and everything that is truly garish, lemming-like and benignly evil flourishes. We could only live there if we lived outside the boundaries and had a Costco membership, so we could supply ourselves to outlast the tourists and not have to venture away from our cozy acerage until school starts up again in September.

There were very few tourists this weekend. May Long Weekend is still a bit early for the hardcore flip-flip and swimsuit as daily wear crowd. But the casino was hopping (yes, casino – what is up with the need to build one of those on every body of water in North America?), and the homeless were everywhere.

On my first visit to Penticton I learned that warmer Canadian climates had large populations of homeless. Penticton is part of the norm in that respect. They are everywhere and honestly, I don’t feel all that safe walking alone through the downtown early morning or evening. Perhaps I should be more charitable but most homeless are so because of mental health issues or addictions and nice as they may be, these are not little things and people have to realize that care must be taken.

Between the casino, the few clubs and the homeless, the downtown smells like urine. More so now that it is warming up. All the more reason to take off one’s footwear when entering homes. The soles of our shoes are veritable toilets. 

Katy’s first beach visit was to Skaha Lake this weekend. She throughly enjoyed it. Ventured farther out into the water than I was comfortable and chafed herself good burying herself (with Rob’s help) in the sand.

“I am not going to bury myself again, Mama.”

Rob spent much of the visit hanging things and installing things and fixing computer issues. Number one son stuff and I have promised him that the most taxing thing he has to do when we visit my parents in June is hang out with my dad (and maybe help him sort through his menagerie of tools that have taken over the front of the garage since he fell ill almost three years ago now.

After Penticton, we headed up to Three Valley Gap near Revelstoke. It’s a family type resort of the non-stressing variety. There is a ghost town on site that boasts the largest roundhouse in North America with an accompanying assortment of decomissioned train cars including the infamous “finger car”. There is also quite the cool collection of mint condition cars dating from about 1903 to 1929. Fords mostly.

Nearby there is a place called the Enchanted Forest which was the brainchild of a woman who liked to create fanciful creatures and nursery rhytm characters out of concrete and place them in the wooded area around her home. Her husband bought the acreage area where they are set today and they created this fantasy land for children to wander about in, complete with tiny houses that my daughter delighted in to no end. There is a tree house that probably reaches a good three stories up and scenes from nearly every Mother Goose story I know. The only thing about the place that both Rob and I found odd was how surreal and creepy some of the creatures looked. Do you remember H.R. Puff n Stuff? Like that.

Aside from a bit of rain and mudslide alerts, the last leg of the holiday was good. However we all have sore bums and are glad to be home. (Oh yeah, and I smell like ass so I need to post this and hit the shower now with my apologies for not having all my links in yet. I will get them in the morning.) 

Yesterday’s Globe and Mail featured an article in its Life section on what it dubs “security moms” in the United States holding taser parties. At these festive suburban gatherings, women meet to try out and possibly purchase tasers (available in four designer colours). The company responsible for this scene out of a SNL skit is Taser International which began marketing its C2 model this last summer for a mere $299 and available in say, metallic pink or electric blue. Currently these parties are only being held in Arizona but should be available in all 36 states where tasers are legal for citizen purchase by the end of 2008. Wow. I don’t know about anyone else but I feel less safe already. Just when I thought that British Columbian RCMP were the only ones to be wary of receiving a possibly fatal dose of electric shock from, I now need to avoid the well-heeled women of Arizona.

There are have three deaths by taser in the last month here in Canada, all at the hands of the police, and Amnesty International claims that about 200 people have died in the United States since 2001 by taser, which is what I am sure prompted this little article. That and, of course, the somewhat disdainful attitude many Canadians have towards Americans and are inane ways of dealing with issues like personal safety (think guns). Personally the whole taser thing scares me more than a little. People who are most at risk from dying when tased are those with unidentified heart trouble or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias) which I happen to have. It’s harmless. Nothing I need worry about unless I am perhaps tasered, which is unlikely but the Polish man who died at a B.C. airport after being tasered was the victim of an unlikely scenario too.

It’s interesting to me to read about my homeland through the filter of another country’s cultural mindset. Canadians are not the mild-mannered U.S. wannabe’s that our culture makes them out to be. They are more like Europeans, in that they really think there is nothing about the lower 49 worth emulating save perhaps our mindless consumerism (which they don’t get at all judging from what I have seen – their malls actually close on weekend days by five or six o’clock).

Tupperware giving way to the Taser Lady is something that should disturb us all regardless.

Friday night after ballet, we drove down to Calgary to get a jump on the long drive to Penticton which is in the Okanagan in British Columbia. Rob’s younger sister and her family live just outside of Calgary and we spent the night there and left just before lunch for B.C. Rob’s mother relocated to Penticton recently.

Calgary is a big city. About one million and it’s probably the biggest city per square mile in North America. It took a while to drive through. Rob, Shelley and the girls lived there for about eight years. First while he was in engineering school and then when he was working at a refinery nearby. Rob’s younger sister, Sheila and her husband and their girls live here now and Rob’s younger brother and his family do as well. We had a nice time at Sheila and Kevin’s, but we didn’t see Ryan and his wife, Natalie.

The mountains can be seen from Calgary without any problem. They are about an hour from the city with nothing but prairie leading up to them. Once in the mountains, they rise and fall alongside, disappearing up into the clouds, falling down to disappear into tree thick valleys.

Our first stop after leaving Calgary was Canmore which is just outside the Jasper National Park. Rob told me to take a good look around. Canmore is an example of what happens to mountain towns that lie outside national park land. Overgrowth without restriction. Some would argue that it allows people an opportunity to live in beautiful areas like the Rockies and that government regulation hampers growth, but the truth is that towns that like Canmore are blights that are no different than the mountain pine beetle that is ravaging the old forest growth in B.C. There are some that go as far as to argue that man is an infestation on the planet and when you contrast the ugliness of a place like Canmore, you might be inclined to agree.

At the first high pass beyond Canmore, we encountered snow. Real snow. Heavy wet flakes driven at the speed of sound by the wind, they looked like giant moths caught in a wind tunnel.

White knuckle driving. I know this because Rob let go of my hand to take the steering wheel with both hands. He always holds my hand while driving, so when he lets go and takes the wheel, it’s bad.

As quickly as it came up, we were coming down and the skies began to clear.

We stopped again in Golden after crossing this bridge, but not before encountering wildlife.

Mountain settlements slow travel in addition to not being as picturesque as they lay claim to being. Sometime well after dark we finally reached Kelowna, and I am glad it was dark. As I told Rob, I wouldn’t want to be able to see the mountains around. The city is obscene enough in the dark. Spreading out and out like a retail Vegas with every chain name you can imagine. It wasn’t even pretending to be quaint and scenic.

Penticton has turned out to be a little nicer but still, a city is a city and there is a natural opposition between civilization and the wild with the former not bending much to accommodate.