The Long, Long Road Back

I was officially on my way home. I couldn’t believe that my trip was coming to an end, but it was starting to get cold even in Vancouver now, and I couldn’t risk getting stranded on this side of the country for the winter so I drove out on a beautiful morning from Vancouver. But I figured I’d still take the long way back!

Rose had told me to go hike The Chief, up in Squamish, which is on the way to famous Whistler, a haven for skiers and snowboarders in the winter. It’s so strange how empty The Chief was 5 years ago – I had it all to myself that day. But now, Squamish and the Chief have become so popular since my first visit. They’ve even built a gondola up to an even higher point now!

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The hike itself was really fun, where the last few meters require you to pull yourself up using a metal chain. And obviously there was a nice view of Howe Sound from the top.

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I made it to Whistler later that night, but it was the shoulder season now, so there wasn’t much going on. I decided to get an early sleep, because tomorrow would be my first major driving day.

It was really chilly but I set off early in the morning from Whistler, and went up through Lilooet and back inland to Kamloops. Then, Kamloops to Salmon Arm, and from there, retracing my steps – Mt. Revelstoke, Golden, Yoho, then back up the Icefields Parkway to Jasper. This was all Day 1. There was definitely more snow on the mountains now than there was when I had been there more than a month previously. Still stunning though. Colder too, as I’d learn spending the night in the parking lot near the railway stop.

I decided I wanted to try and see the Northern Lights one more time on this trip, because that first time was so magical. So, the next day I actually high-tailed it to Edmonton, and then drove up to Fort McMurray where I spent two nights bumming around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the aurora again. But I’d also started developing a pretty nasty cold, and Fort McMurray was a pretty depressing and barren place to be so after two nights of barely seeing anything, I came back down to Edmonton defeated, and resigned, finally, to my trip being at it’s end. After a night in Elk Island National Park, I started east again.

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It was a strange feeling to be covering so much ground, so quickly. Before I knew it, I was passing the Alberta-Saskatchewan border at Lloydminster, then a quick food break in Saskatoon. Continued on Highway 16, I was soon back in Manitoba at Riding Mountain National Park again. Then the outskirts of Winnipeg. It was dark and cold there as I filled up on gas and debated whether to keep going.

I eventually decided to push on, and drove through the dark back into Ontario, stopping at a roadside rest stop just outside of Kenora. This was what I considered Day 2.

Day 3. Got up early again, and started for Thunder Bay. It started snowing. Passed by Terry Fox’s monument again. On the way to Sault Ste. Marie, the snow quickly cleared up. It felt like I was flying, racing and outpacing even the clouds. Soon I was there, then Sudbury, then Barrie. It was dark again by that point, and I could see the glow of Toronto off in the horizon. And I noticed the stars disappearing behind that blanket of man-made light.

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It was an emotional 3 days. There is a feeling that anyone who’s traveled will know when their journey finally comes to an end — a heartbreak, and yet an incredible joy. I’ve heard it said that it’s a simultaneous appreciation of the person you’ve become, and a farewell to the person you once were. That it’s a knowing of how much you’re going to miss a moment while you’re still living it.

I pulled into the driveway sick and weary and sad and so elated. In disbelief, to be honest, that I was back and it had been so long, and yet no time had passed at all, and all these things had happened, and I had driven so far!, and seen so much, and as I walked inside and gave my mom the biggest hug, I knew that I couldn’t see the stars anymore, but that they would still be out there, hanging in the sky, waiting.

 

******

 

The next morning my mom helped me unpack, and while she took some photos to document the sorry state of both the car and myself, she said that I looked happier than she’d seen in a long time. And it was true.

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