Mostly on the road; Toronto to Vancouver

Introduction

To be honest, the main reason I wrote this is because we crashed the 30 foot long rented van that we were travelling in. While the driver of the vehicle was suffering from a concussion, I took it upon myself to try and learn about our insurance plan. While the van was nestled in a Walmart parking lot, I hitchhiked into the centre of a town called Edson, Alberta. There’s not much in this town, except for trucks. I found a pub that would let me plug in my laptop and use their Wi-Fi in exchange for the purchase of their cheapest pint of beer. 

Fresh to the insurance game, I learned that the company required a description of the crash. As I was typing the description, I rediscovered a spark for writing that I had lost while I was living in Toronto. It took me around 10 minutes to close the tab and open up a new word document. I began writing about how surreal everything seemed, it was a stressful time and I was eager to bring some levity to my situation. I wrote about all the denim jackets and moustaches that were wondering what a pasty looking British backpacker was doing in their local pub. I began ordering more pints, after sinking several, I leaned back on my stool, put my hands behind my head and smiled at the page of writing with a gradual increase of red underline. By the time it hit 2 o’clock in the morning, the bar maid was waiting for me to leave. I had to figure out how to get back to the van, I had no money and no phone battery. What I did have was a stomach full of pot noodle and cheap beer, and in my backpack I had the rambling foundations of the story that I was going to write.

It was a weird situation and the silver lining was that nobody had been hurt too badly, looking at it from a glass half full perspective, it gave us a new found appreciation and respect for the journey. The rest of the inspiration for this writing has come from these two men. 

The man on the right is a writer named Jack Kerouac, the founder of the Beatnik generation. Kerouac rose to fame after the release of his book On the Road which journals the seven years he lived as a vagabond travelling through America in the 1950s. While the content for the book took seven years to harvest, it took him just three weeks to write and complete the 320-page novel. It became an overnight sensation and Kerouac’s work became an integral part of a generational back drop which emphasized jazz, poetry, drug use and the free spirit.

The man on the left is the late, great Hunter S Thompson. The creator of Gonzo Journalism, who truly and undoubtedly lived life on his own terms and proved to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the story of a drug fuelled rampage across the states in the 1960s and it shaped not only my view on journalism, but also my view on the way life should be lived.

While my inspiration comes from writers who lived extraordinary lives full of unbelievable adventures, this piece does not offer even a fraction of the vehement wildness that these two writers experienced. If anything, this piece is a testament to how a white, male student from a relatively privileged background failed to find a true sense of wanderlust during the millennial era. For example, the first failure of my trip was when I staggered into New York City and tried to sleep overnight in JFK Airport hoping to catch my early flight to Toronto. Turns out, airports in New York close at 3 am in order to deter the homeless. I indeed looked like a homeless person. I ended up getting kicked out and having to call my dad to book me a hotel room for the night.

When I well and truly ran out of money near the end of my travels in Vancouver, I didn’t sleep in a barn or a field or bunk up with pretty little local girl I met in bar. I called my dad and he sent me some money. I stayed at a three-star hotel called ‘The Best Western Inn’ located in a quaint little corner of the city. From my bedroom I could see two vegan coffee shops, a vintage clothing store and a bar advertising craft beer. It was far from my roughest night’s sleep.

However, at the very least, I did ensure that I went into this trip with the right intentions. I didn’t post a picture on Instagram with the caption #vanlife and #nomad, or make a cringey YouTube video that highlighted the best parts of the trip to the sound of Kygo or David Guetta. In the spirit of these great writers I intended to make sure I learned something new from everything I experienced. I did this trip because I wanted to at least get a taste of what it feels like to stumble around a country with no real plan. I knew that no matter what happened or where I ended up, I would take something away from it that would help me grow and learn as a person, and if that didn’t teach me a lesson about life then I didn’t know what would. 

So, I packed the van with 112 cans of beer, 5 bottles of rum, an ounce of marijuana, and a can-do attitude. 

I remember jumping into the passenger seat and looking at my friend Dan who had both hands on the wheel and was staring out the windscreen with the same blank expression that I had. It daunted on me that we really had no idea what we were doing or where were going. 

Now that I have outlined the embarrassing reasoning why this piece of writing exists, I ought to move to the reason why four hapless students from London thought they could travel across Canada without leaving a mark. 

Myself and my friend, Dan, decided to go on a student exchange to Toronto in early 2018. We both needed money, we shared a one-bedroom studio in Swiss Cottage, North London and worked around 30 hours a week on top of our journalism course. I worked at an ice-skating rink in Chelsea and delivered newspapers in Camden. Dan worked at a card shop in Kentish Town. We also had savings from working in the summer, I had worked in a bar in Edinburgh and Dan had worked on his family farm. Between us we had enough money to buy cheap plane tickets and a four month stay in a hostel in Downtown Toronto.

Toronto was an experience in itself. I almost got engaged to my room-mate and Dan became known for throwing some of the best parties in the hostel. Once we graduated our second year, we had to start thinking about how we were going to organise the road trip. We had two friends coming to join us on the day that our rent ended. Ed was a childhood friend of Dans who was on a gap year. Neal was a friend of Dan and I whom we had met from our Swiss Cottage days. The few times we did go out during those months was to drink rum and coke at the local pub called ‘Ye Olde Swiss Cottage’ and talk endless amounts of garbage. On one of the drunken nights we invited him to join us on our delusional plan to travel across Canada, he said yes. Dan gave him a time and an address, lo and behold four months later we received a knock at the door to find a scruffy bloke with a cheesy grin and a familiar London accent.

Chapter 1

Walmart

We left the hostel just after midday with all our luggage and no hope of getting our deposit back. We picked up the van in Brampton and set off at 3 pm. Ten minutes into driving on the freeway on our way out of the city, a man in a pickup truck started honking his horn at us. He pulled up beside the van, he had wild hair and an enormous white moustache. He rolled down his window with a determined look on his face and we did the same. Before our window was fully down the man with the moustache screamed, “Hey!” All four of us looked at him through the driver’s window. “Welcome to Canada buddy!” Which was complemented with two thumbs up before he drove off in a plume of smoke. At that moment I felt like I knew that was the image I would hold dearest when looking back at my road trip across Canada.

What we hadn’t realised was that there was a speaker on the outside of our van playing at full volume. We had been blasting out Willy Nelsons ‘On the road again’ as well as other road trip classics to 4pm rush hour traffic.

Our first stop was a town called Sudbury and we planned to stay in the Walmart parking lot. We arrived at 8pm and bought some essentials for our trip. Water, spare batteries, tinned food, insect repellent, cleaning products, a football, a frisbee, four inflatable dinghies, a 24 pack of beer and a bottle of Vodka. We spent the rest of the night getting blind drunk, smoking joints and trying to kick the football into stray shopping carts like Wayne Rooney. We had some killer weed strains with us, that night we smoked ‘Tangerine Dream’ and ‘Trainwreck’, my head related more to the latter.

At 10am the next morning we left Walmart, refuelled, and headed for our first camp ground which was called Blueberry Hill. Dan drove for another six hours while I navigated in the passenger seat with a map (adamantly not using google maps). Neal lounged on the Sofa smoking cigarettes out the back window and Ed spent a lot of time sleeping in the bed and staring out the window. We arrived at the camp at 4pm and set ourselves up. 

We loved Blueberry Hill. We walked to a spot where we could stare at a meandering river from a cliff and got high. We then walked back to the camp and jumped into the indoor swimming pool in our boxers, chucking the frisbee around like a bunch of eight-year olds. After this we went back to our camp, lit a campfire and chatted to the owners of the camp. Ernie and Diane gave us a clear route for our trip and outlined some of the do’s and don’ts for living in a van. In hindsight we probably should have listened rather than completely ‘winging it’ the whole way.

The next morning, we woke up with sore heads but again, we set off at 10:30am. We didn’t arrive at our next destination until 8pm. Again, we stayed in a Walmart parking lot, this time in a town called Thunder Bay which sits on the Western side of Lake Superior. We had driven 865 miles in three days. Toronto was a one hour and forty-minute plane ride away. 

While we were in Thunder Bay we restocked and played frisbee in the parking lot and had yet another night of drinking. The next day, we left Thunder bay on a sleepy Friday morning and got pulled over by the police for speeding. As we were pulled over, I went to open my passenger door but stopped myself when I noticed an empty beer can between the seat and the door, just waiting to fall onto the side of the road. Instead I stayed in the van put my foot over the can as the police officer walked towards us. She said, “I can smell a lot of alcohol and marijuana coming from inside this van”. Dan was then asked a series of questions: What are we doing in Thunder Bay? Where are we going? How long are we in Canada for? Not one of us had an answer to any of these questions and Dan was asked to go to the police car to be breathalysed. 

He was wearing a sort of cowboy hat, black vest and green sweatpants and was sporting a moustache and sideburns he had shaved a few nights ago, you know, to look the part. Despite our chances looking very slim from the passing drivers, Dans farmer genes saved the day and he scored zero percent. I was still drunk from the night before. The officer dumped Dan back in the van and he received a hero’s welcome while the officer mentioned something along the lines of a verbal warning. We were back on our way to a campground called Wabigoon lake in a town called Dryden.

Wabigoon Lake was good fun. This was another RV camp run by an elderly couple, the man with a grey walrus moustache and the woman with a cheery smile and permed hair. We managed to sneak into the old man’s garage and check out his sky-blue ford mustang, he had a fantastic mechanical collection. 

We got some use out of the inflatable dinghies we bought from Walmart. We took them out on the lake with a six pack of beer, a speaker and big joint and floated around for a few hours. The best part about that place was the night time though. There seemed to be more white sparkle in the sky than there was blackness. We sat on a bench at the end of a long pier and smoked another joint, watching the otters bob up and down and spying on us from the water’s edge.

The magic of that moment seemed to end fairly quickly when we had to go back to the van. Almost definitely fuelled by the paranoia of the weed, the possibility of a bear attack suddenly became incredibly more viable in our foggy minds. We were stood on the end of a pier, surrounded by water, and the only way out was to walk back from where we came from and into the woods.

We formulated a plan. I can’t exactly remember what that plan was but I remember all of us stood at the end of the pier running through escape routes. Someone would distract the bear while the others jumped in the water or something stupid like that. If there had been a bear, we would’ve had no chance. After about an hour of talking nonsense we made our way back to the van stumbling over each other like the mystery gang from Scooby Doo with our flashlights on full beam. Although we didn’t see a bear, we did see a deer sprint across the woods with its baby.

When we got back to the van, we enjoyed a few glasses of rum and managed to annoy the man with the walrus moustache for playing our music too loudly. We decided to take off early and we left Wabigoon lake at 9:00am on the 5th of May and embarked on a 16-hour drive across three different provinces.

A lot of people told me that the Prairies were the most boring part of Canada. The Prairies are a 2,000 km stretch of flat land that lies between Ontario and British Columbia. There is almost nothing there except a few giant wheat farms and petroleum refineries. At one point we didn’t see another vehicle or sign of human life for what felt like forever, and we were travelling along the highway at 100km/h. 

When I embarked on this trip I kind of sought out a bit of chaos and drama, I wanted to be like Kerouac and Thompson. While I was on the journey, I constantly looked for opportunities and experiences of things that would make for a good story for when I went back home. In a way, it kind of stopped me from enjoying the trip as much as I could have. 

Looking back, my favourite moment from the whole experience was driving along the prairie at sunset. As we were travelling so fast and for so long in a westerly direction, against the rotation of the Earth, we were effectively making the day last longer. We travelled across three time zones that day.

This meant that the sunset was spectacular, and it lasted for ages too. We were completely surrounded by flat land and there wasn’t another soul in sight as far as the eye could see. From the very top of the sky to the edge of the horizon, we watched as the sky became full with various shades of blue, orange, purple and eventually black. We had the windows open and the music blaring and at one point a group of Canadian geese whizzed past our van and into the sunset.

Without a doubt my most vivid and cherished memory of the trip.

After bypassing Winnipeg and Saskatoon we arrived in a town called Lloydminster at 3:00 am. Being incredibly weary and tired we were happy to be reunited with our familiar friend, the Walmart parking lot. 

Chapter 2

The crash

After a big sleep we decided to head out of Lloydminster, we were all eager to get to the Rocky Mountains and see some nature at the National Parks. In hindsight we should have had a day’s rest after driving over 1,400 kilometres.

The first thing we had to do was stock up from a nearby Walmart. We filled the van with petrol and set off from the station. Before an intersection Google maps told us to turn left, we checked both ways and began the turn…

BANG!

My head snapped back into the space between the headrest and the passenger window and in a split second all I saw in front of me was a huge man with a goatee and red baseball cap shouting at me from inside his pickup truck.

I turned to look at Dan and saw the side of the driver’s door mangled. I’d heard what sounded like a human head hitting laminated glass but from a glance it looked like the driver’s window had dealt most of the damage rather than Dans skull. I knew my neck was sore and that Dan had hit his head but we both checked each other to make sure we didn’t have any other injuries we weren’t immediately aware of. I made sure there was no immediate danger such as a fire or the possibility of another accident. Then I turned around to check on the other two guys.

Neal and Ed looked like they had been rudely woken up from a nap. Neal yawned scratched his belly and looked curiously out the window while Ed walked towards the front of the van with a look on his face as if to say, “Did you guys hear that?”

If the van had been a dartboard and Dans head had been the bullseye, that pickup driver would have pretty much nailed the 50 pointer on his first try. Almost all the impact of the collision was at the front of the van which is why it was hardly felt by Ed and Neal at the back.

The crash was partly due to tiredness and the fact the car came from a blind spot, but it was made somewhat justifiably explainable by a police officer who later said, “Yep it’s a weird intersection, it catches quite a few people out.’ The police officer who was already present seemed strangely unperturbed by the incident, as if it happened every week. We had been on the road turning left with two lanes and had assumed the lane next to us was for oncoming traffic. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case on this stretch of road and the pick-up truck came from right behind us and knocked us back into our lane. The driver of the other vehicle also left the scene completely unscathed.

We spent the next couple of hours getting the paperwork and insurance figured out at the police station. Then we took Dan to a nearby hospital just to get him checked up. It was actually a very nice quiet hospital with dears roaming around the courtyard. The relaxing environment helped ease the stress of phoning family members and loved ones to tell them we had crashed a van in the middle of outback Canada. 

Dan got the all clear and was given some pain relief to help with the concussion. To our surprise the Van was still okay to drive, the generator had suffered some damage, but the vehicle was still roadworthy. We parked her up in the Walmart parking lot and that’s where I guess the story comes full circle. The crash for me was kind of pivotal point in the trip as a reality check had shifted my perspective. The trip no more became about creating exciting stories and ensuring I was living up to the standard of the make-believe nihilistic rebellious writer version of myself that I had created. I’d had enough of that for today at least. I felt like I needed to get back to the present moment and make sense of how I had ended up at this point.

After hitchhiking to the bar and getting drunk I wrote the following;

DRUNK IN EDSON

I’m sitting in the only bar of a town called Edson in Alberta, Canada. As I walk through the front door a silence ushers across the bar. I’m very different from everyone here. A sea of moustaches, denim and unkept greasy hair have their conversations interrupted at the sight of a weedy looking 20-year-old backpacker. The only female in the bar is the barmaid. She’s also the only person under the age of 45, apart from me. She’s a pretty blonde with a kind face and her haircut and clothes would have been really fashionable 15 years ago. I ask her for the cheapest pint on tap, she asks me to repeat myself, not because she doesn’t hear it, but because she has to process my accent. She pores my drink and looks at her friend or boyfriend or uncle from across the bar. I can see her mouthing something to him, she’s really bad at being discreet.

I take a seat and watch the hockey highlights. I wasn’t really watching it though; I was just staring at the screen while I thought and processed other things on my mind. I thought about a lot of things. I thought about the people I had met in Toronto and hoped they were okay. I thought about my friend who had just suffered a concussion from a car crash and hoped he was okay. I thought about my niece and how much she has grown up since I last saw her, I hope she’s okay. Instead of doing anything about it I drank my disgusting beer and pretended to be a hockey fan so I could somewhat blend into the crowd and hopefully disappear.

A group of people walk in and sit right next to my table. Six men and one woman, the woman was the wife of one of the men. Every single one of the men are wearing baseball caps and dirty hoodies. The woman has purple hair, has a weathered face and is covered in tattoos, she is weirdly attractive in her own way. While the men drink beer the colour of mud, she orders a local white wine, I think the bottle says it’s a Pinot Grigio. These men have spent far too much time together. They sit around the table and tell really boring and unrehearsed stories, mostly about drinking. When one of them finishes a story, nobody around the table can be bothered to react or even offer an insight that will add to the conversation. Instead, there’s a minute of silence while everyone takes a swig of their beer and they move on to the next person. The group kept looking over at me wondering what I was doing there and waiting to talk about me when I leave. 

Theres quite a lot of animals pinned up to the side of the walls here. I have to laugh, a van drives by with a massive flag flying over it saying, WE LOVE OIL. Where the fuck am I?

(By this point I was very drunk, all grammar and spelling was out the window)

The beer isn’t actually so bad. I find myself just kind of chilling here staring out the window and watching the hockey highlights in the reflection. Theres a fair amount of people in the bar now who look pretty drunk which is kind of comforting aswel. I got up to go to the bathroom and stumbled down the stairs a bit and some guy did the same thing. The group of people I was observing earlier are definitely more merry. I can see why they tell so many stories about drinking now, they are all laughing and havin a helluva time after that tray of tequilas.

Ive had a few more pints now, sent some messages to the family and friends. I’m deifinitley being a twat about this whole ‘near death experience’ thing. I’ve got no idea how the rest of this trip is going to go but it seems like the best thing to do is just ride along and finish this trip at a nice steady pace, probbabyl slow donw a little bit. Metaphorical shit, in the story about the roadtrip this is definitely an kind of turning point. Took a big Canadian in a pickup truck to practically T bone into the side of us to snao me back into realising im no Jack Kerouac or Hunter. We mau as well just enjoy the rest of this trip and make the most of where we are.

I stumbled back quite late at night and asked the guys what the plan was. We were going to head to the National Parks, after all we had only been 3 hours away from Jasper. We decided we were going to take a slow route to a place called Wapiti Camp. Then we had almost two weeks to spend some time in nature before handing back the van to the rental company in Vancouver.

Chapter 3

The Nature

I remember when we first saw the Rocky Mountains. We came out of an intersection, turned left and there they were. From there on it was pretty much a straight road from Edson to Jasper so we all just sat up against the windscreen watching the mountain range get bigger as we moved closer. The suspense was immense. After so much trouble we knew that we could park the van up and relax in one of the most incredible environments on the planet. 

When I remember driving into Jasper for the first time, for some reason or another Luciano Pavrotti is there in the back of the van, and he’s singing Nessun Dorma. He’s been building up to it for about an hour as the environment slowly becomes more scenic with streams and waterfalls cascading above the road.

When we arrived at the ticket office we realised the drivers window didn’t roll down. There was an awkward moment where I had to climb out the vehicle and walk around the car as the officer observed the damaged vehicle. Fortunately he simply chuckled and gave us the go ahead. That’s when Pavrotti pulls out the handkerchief, dabs his forehead and belts out the famous VINCERO!

The opening of Jasper National park really is amazing. There are crystal blue lakes on either side of the road with giant elk roaming around right next you. At 3 o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at the Wapiti campsite.

Just below the campsite there was access to the Athabasca river which gets its water from the Columbia icefield. The basin is full of rocks and boulders that sit on the bottom of the river bed when its flowing at peak capacity. Because of the time of year, the water was low and we could sit on an island of rocks in the middle of the river.

This was a great place to pull up some camping chairs and have a few beers and a smoke. The scenery was stunning. After a few beers had been sunk we descended into a game of throwing rocks at a larger, protruding rock in the water.

This game went on for ages and we couldn’t hit the rock, my shoulder was sore from throwing. After about half an hour I said, “This is it”, I picked up a rock the size of a small fist and lobbed it into the air as high and far as I could. We all stopped and stared with our mouth open as the rock flew through the air, Dans rock fell out of his hand and onto the ground, and then… Crack! The rock landed flush on the other rock and bounced into the river. We screamed and jumped, high fives all around and I was hoisted into the air like I’d scored the winner in a world cup final. A family of hikers looked down from the river bank and saw four men in their early twenties jumping around inside of a river as if they were at a music festival and retreated back into the woods.

After all the excitement we headed back to our chairs and had a few more beers. I can’t remember who it was but at some point, somebody said we needed to swim through the glacier water and sit on the rock. And that’s what we did. 

The rest of the night we spent drinking and playing frisbee.

Then at 1pm we decided to hike the valley of five lakes. This was a pretty incredible hike that lasted for hours. The lakes were bright blue and some of the scenery was amazing. We walked and talked shit most of the way and Ferris would screech out animal calls while we were going through animal corridor to freak us out. Dan and Neal both stripped and jumped into the freezing blue water, something me and Ed weren’t too fussed about. There were loads of random elk and deer just wondering about, even in the city it’s not uncommon to see one crossing the road.

As usual our timing had been completely off so we didn’t return back to camp until 11pm at night. We got back to the van and completely crashed, exhausted after the hike.

The next day was a Friday and we decided to head to Wabasso campground for the weekend, it was only an hour’s drive away. We spent the rest of the day throwing the frisbee and hanging out in the sun. The weather had been really good considering it was the middle of spring but this weekend in was particularly sunny.

On the 11th of May we decided to drive to Athabasca falls, an impressive waterfall that was near our camp. On the drive there we finally got to see a bear. We actually saw two bears, a mama bear and a cub. It definitely ticked a box. If I had driven almost the entire length of Canada during the Springtime and not seen a bear, I would have been pissed.

Athabasca falls was a cool place to hang out for the afternoon, you can follow the waterfall all the way to the bottom of the lake by climbing down some stairs.

We spent the rest of the weekend chilling, playing frisbee and hanging out, we had a fair few drunken nights before we decided to head to Lake Louise. This is a place famous for its nature and crystal clear water, there is also a very expensive Fairmont hotel that looks out across the entire lake.

We ended up getting stuck in some deep snow on our trek to the lake, so it took about five hours to get there. The lake was also still frozen when we arrived, so we decided to take shelter inside the luxury hotel. This was a very fancy chateau. At that time, we were actually running low on supplies and needed a few things to keep up our late-night events. I remember Ed going up to one of the receptionists. She was immaculately dressed and Ed was far far from looking presentable. He approached the shiny gold desk and in his well-spoken English accent asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know where I could find some long skin papers by any chance?” She looked at him with a blank expression. “You know for umm smoking” and then he made a gesture that signified rolling one up and smoking. “No sorry we don’t sell any here”.

After swanning about the hotel and stealing snacks from meeting rooms we decided to trollop through the hordes of tourists and head back to camp.

On the 15th we decided we were heading to Banff. I was surprised by how urban the town was. There was large schools, big libraries and cinemas, it was also slightly more touristy than Jasper was. We decided to take advantage of the urban edge that Banff presented and go on a night out. We started off playing pool and having a few beers and then switched to rum and coke once a live music band started playing. We were having a good time and I was feeling pretty merry until I found myself being escorted out of the bar by security. I’m not sure why but I think the bouncer had spotted me bending down to put something in my backpack and assumed I was being sick or something.

The bouncer was a big Australian guy and easily threw me down the stairs of the venue and into full view of the queue of people lined up outside. I picked myself up off the pavement and shouted up the stairs, “HEY! Go Fuck yourself!” The boys came down and joined me and we headed to the bar next door were the bouncer stopped us. “Orange T shirt, English accent, sorry mate not tonight”. It seemed the bouncer from the first place had radioed the security teams of the surrounding venues. I had been barred from every bar in Banff.

We wondered back to the camp and carried on drinking until the early hours of the morning. When me and Ed woke up, we decided to walk back into town for breakfast. We walked along a trail with big hangovers staring at the ground when I heard a strange noise. I looked up and there I saw a herd of elk looking directly at us. There was about 8 of them and there was one about 4 meters away from us just staring. We looked down at the road and saw a group of tourists with their cars parked taking photos with their jaws wide. We slowly backed away from the trail and joined the tourists from the safety of the road and carried on our journey down to the town.

After almost walking headfirst into a pair of antlers we got some pancakes and decided to have another day in the nature before heading down to Whistler.

The next day we drove 9 hours to Whistler. There was some great scenery along the way but in the evening, it started pelting down with rain and there was a very steep descent near the Kamloops area. We had to keep stopping because we could smell the brake pads burning up. It was a sketchy ride through the night and at one point we weren’t convinced that we were going to make it.

We planned to park the van in the parking lot of a friend’s apartment. However, once we arrived there was an array of signs warning drivers that their vehicles will be towed away. We decided to park up the van in an illegal spot and I had a very uneasy sleep inside the van.

We realised we had arrived on the opening weekend for the mountain biking season. The resort is full of young workers visiting to make some money. We spent the day messing around in the forest playing frisbee next to the Cheakamus river. We then went out to the nightclubs in Whistler village and got horrendously drunk.

We repeated our day of frisbee and drunken shenanigans for a second day before deciding that we should head back to Vancouver on the 20th of May. Apart from a quick pitstop in Squamish we drove the full stretch.

As I mentioned in the beginning of the story my search for a sense of wanderlust and discovery had some hygienic and financial limitations. My clothes stunk of river water, sweat and marijuana and my mind and body were sore from the long journey. I had already run out of money and I was now relying on my Dad to make sure I made it back in one piece. He booked me a hotel for two nights before my flight back to London.

I said my goodbyes to the rest of the guys and left the campsite in Vancouver to give myself a proper shower and bed for the first time in a month.

I had one last mission. I wanted to touch the ocean before I left. It meant that I would be able to say I travelled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean in one go, but as I began walking to the Ocean, I came across Hastings Street.

Downton East Hastings is Canadas version of Skid row in LA. The street is full of homeless people. It is estimated that there are roughly 3000 rough sleepers in Vancouver. In Toronto I had become accustomed to the opioid crisis, there was a rehabilitation centre next door to the university where I used to drink coffee in the morning. But even that had done nothing to my idyllic view of Canada. I was only ten minutes away from the ocean and perhaps if I had taken a different route or stayed in my hotel room I would still have the same perception.

I had been so focussed on my journey and having a good time I didn’t let myself really open my eyes to what I was seeing. Which was the whole point of Thompson and Kerouac, you buy the ticket and take the ride, its about the journey itself and reporting the unembellished truth. I guess you have to point the mirror in your direction once in a while before you plan to hold it up to society.

Don’t get me wrong I still believe Canada is one of the most amazing countries in the world. However, as I write this the Covid pandemic is at its most deadly during these cold winter months, I can’t help but think of the thousands of people that society has deemed too freaky or too worthless to take care of. From the perspective of a guy who just had the road trip of his life, I couldn’t help but allow myself to accept a strong sense of humility. It humbled my ego even more than getting T-boned by a pickup truck. It eventually became a part of my journey that I felt I shouldn’t keep out. For those who read this, I hope you look up Downtown East Hastings and keep it in perspective when considering the many brilliant aspects of Canada.

And so, I sat by the waters edge, looked up at the mountains and counted my lucky stars for being able to experience one hell of a ride. 

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