Tuesday, November 4, 2014

We made it!!

We got up to a leisurely breakfast with pleasant conversation and cheery moods. The sky was cloudy, but holding back on the rain - a foreshadowing of what was to come as we cross the final mountain range to the coast.

The climb began immediately outside of Penticton as we made our way toward the highway 3 turnoff. The slow pace of the Westfalia was a welcome addition to our progress since it meant we had plenty of time to enjoy the long vista of Skaha Lake and the Okanagan hills.
Nestled among the pines, sagebrush, and rock of the hills we passed the occasional vineyard - often associated with a mansion and pool to signal the wealth of this type of farmer.
Orchards became more frequent around Keremeos - reminding me of the times my father would stop for a flat of peaches, nectarines, or cherries on our family trips to this region. It was a delight to see them in their fall colours - quite unlike the greens I remember from my youth.
The old mine faces and dilapidated wheel houses on the hills above Hedley and Princeton reminded us of the silver, copper, and gold deposits in these hills.
We stopped briefly at Bromley campsite to recall the hours spent in the cool water of the Similkameen River. In the summer, it was a favorite place for cooling off from the heat and watching young people jump from the rock into the pool below. Both Fran and I grew up with our families independently creating legacies of Bromley rock.

Once past Princeton we began the long and sometimes winding road to Sunday summit (1282 metres). While the elevation changed, so did the vegetation as pine was gradually replaced by fir and spruce and grass by scrub brush and ferns.
We dropped down from Sunday summit and entered Manning Park in good spirits. The park was another of the spots with plenty of memories - my most enduring, the time when I spent a weekend ski trip with my high school friends in the chalets of the Manning Park Lodge. Fran and I had also spent time exploring the Lightning Lakes with our very young daughter in the early 70s.

This time we were greeted by a raven and his mate - checking us out for snacks. He had to rely on others, however, since we were busy with our own.

One more major summit to go. As we began the climb to Alison Pass, the weather turned wet - just like the rain shadow textbook predicted. The trees were larger, fir and hemlock began to dominate the hills, and moss appeared as a green coating on the rocks and olive beards on the trees. We descended the west side of the mountains into full rain.

Once past Hope, the road leveled out and followed the cliffs on the left and the Fraser River on the right.
Each time I reach this point I find my stress level drop. Like the Fraser beside us, its long travel to the north to get south has been completed, the clear water of the Thompson has been diluted, and the turmoil of Hell's Gate is past. This is the beginning of the delta - where the flow of life slows down, the canyons recede, and the glide to the ocean becomes smooth and tranquil.

Farms reappear as the land flattens - and this time they show the rich diversity of fertile land: raspberries, cranberries, vegetables, alfalfa, and beans. The hills recede, the delta widens, and the highway fills up with commuters and commercial transports.
The stress of mountain turns, windy weather, and the Westy engine is quickly replaced by the stress of city traffic. This evening it is exacerbated by the long, slow crawl of a traffic jam just before the exit to our final destination. Even after we get off the freeway we are given a final blow as the traffic slows down to get around an accident.

After 12 days on the road, we finally pull up to JP & Lies' house in Langley - tired of the long days of driving but full of the new memories, discoveries, and satisfaction of an adventure well spent. What could be better than a greeting from our children and grandchildren!

Sicamous to Penticton

We had beautiful weather for our trip from the rain shadow of the Columbia Mountains to the arid grasslands of the Okanagan. This time we headed more south than west through the lake country of Mara lake and the small farms and industries of the Enderby and Armstrong region.

By the time we reached Armstrong, the craigs had disappeared from the hills and the thick fir and cedar forests of the Sicamous region had turned to scattered pine, hardy grasses, and occasional sagebrush. By Vernon we saw signs of the other major change that has transformed the Okanagan region: population growth. The last time I traveled through this region (over 30 years ago), Enderby, Armstrong, Vernon, and even Kelowna were clearly resource communities, weathered with the legacy of pioneers, and tentatively exploring the possibility of tourism. This time, from Vernon south, they are overwhelmingly residential - with housing developments and mansions expanding up the hills around Vernon, Kelowna, Summerland, and Penticton.

The hills themselves are remarkably different from those through which we traveled a few hours ago. The lack of moisture has transformed the natural vegetation and reconfigured agricultural production. Irrigation equipment appeared – in most cases the single waterpipe slung on a series of wheels that slowly moved it across the field. Hay fields turned to orchards and the first indications of the vineyards that supply the Okanagan wines for which this region has become famous.
As we approached Kelowna the signs of urbanization were all around. Unfortunately the expansion of the city has taken the form of strip development: the "uglification" of the natural beauty of the region and the institutionalization of automobile dependence. Looking over the shopping malls one can see the hills of the Okanagan back country but for the most part the views of the lake and its green fringe are left to the imagination.

We pulled in to Fernbrae Manor just before our appointed time for a visit with Pete and Jacquie. We spent an hour or so getting caught up and reminiscing about our childhood. For me, Pete is a storehouse of memories from my earliest years since he is two years older than I and therefore able to turn the ghosts in my recollections to specific people, events, and places. My earliest memories of skating, for example, were formed, it turns out, on a frozen pond just off Victoria Drive at 11th Avenue; and the comings and goings of neighbours were a result of bootlegging activities taking place next door.

The Manor is a spacious building, with all the accoutrements typically found in assisted living facilities. It is bright, pleasantly decorated, and busy with the comings and goings of lunch. We discovered, however, that it is missing one of the essential facilities for Pete: a workshop. All of the fixers and problem-solvers like him were left without the tools and space to make their contributions. There are plenty of activities for those who like to socialize - from cards and tours to yoga and crafts - but none for those whose lives were defined by working with wood, metal, machines, and tools. It is unclear to me whether this is an example of sexism at work, the heavy hand of insurance agencies, or an institutional oversight, but the consequences are devastating for the quality of life among a relatively large cohort of the elderly, I expect.

By the time we had a quick bite to eat and continued on our way to Penticton, the sun was already low in the sky and delighting us with a colour show over the malls of Peachland, Summerland, and Penticton. I was pleased to see the remnants of the campgrounds and parks along the shore road that had been part of my childhood travels and enjoyed trying to spot the lights of Naramata across the lake - from where Ernie and I had launched our rowboat so many years ago. This story is one of the many I have shared with Samantha in our letter-exchanges over the years (http://billreimer.ca/workshop/personal/documents/samletters/Naramata01.pdf).
We arrived at Jenn and Harrison's house just before supper and had a chance for a brief visit and tour before contacting Jim, Jean, and Will to arrange where we should meet. The choice was a Chinese food buffet. There was plenty of catching-up to do so we didn't get out of there until 7 pm - but still in time to visit the senior's dance that is a mainstay of Jim and Jean's routine.

It was a wonderful choice. After days of sitting in the van (or waiting for it to get fixed) a little dancing to stretch out our joints was a perfect antidote. It also gave us a chance to meet some of Jim and Jean's friends and get a taste of seniors' living in Penticton. From the sound of the activities they organized it seems very active and diverse: from language lessons to hikes and birdwatching.

We were ready for bed - but only after a lovely bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Rain forests and rain shadows

The prevailing westerly winds hit the BC coast laden with moist air from the Pacific Ocean. When they hit the Insular and Coast Mountain ranges they are forced upwards, cool, and are no longer able to carry as much moisture. The result is rain, mist, and snow on the west side of the mountains, along with the rich vegetation of the northern pacific rain forest.

The east side of the mountain range looks considerably different since the winds are now devoid of moisture. As they drop down the east slopes they draw up the water from the land - producing conditions for the pine forests, dry grasses, sagebrush hills, and deserts of the Cariboo and Okanagan regions in BC's Interior Plateau.
(from: http://www.islandnet.com/~see/weather/almanac/arc2004/alm04nov.htm)

By the time they are forced up once again by the Columbia and Rocky mountain ranges they are ready to soak the western slopes before moving on the the western plains.

Sicamous rests at the juncture between the central highlands of BC and the rain shadow of the Columbia Mountains. It also sits on the shore of Mara and Shuswap Lakes - the latter a large H-shaped lake boasting an idyllic location for boating, fishing, hiking, and all forms of outdoor adventure. This is the region of the Adams River salmon run - where millions of sockeye salmon complete their 4-year cycle, returning to their birthplace to spawn and die.

The long line of houseboat rental businesses along its shores reinforces the claim that it is the houseboat capital of North America. They are all tied up for the winter and the merchants are taking a "shoulder season" reprieve in anticipation of the winter-sport enthusiasts soon to arrive - or, like Wilma and Gary, have headed to warmer climates before the snow starts to fall.

Sicamous is also the junction for highway 97A that will take us away from our 12-day love affair with highway 1.We are planning to visit my brother and niece in Kelowna then Fran's brother and another niece in Penticton before heading on to Vancouver.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Golden and beyond

Golden is a lovely little city nestled in the 25 km-wide fold of the Rocky Mountain Trench. The trench divides the Rocky Mountains on the east from the Columbia Mountains on the west and in the process creates a valley with spectacular mountain peaks on both sides and aqua-blue river winding its way way from one end to the other.

We pulled up to Jita's Cafe for our lunch meeting with Jane - a family friend who lives in Golden. The menu and innovative style of the cafe fit well with the stories she told about the townspeople: supportive, inventive, and environmentally concerned. I can understand how the environment itself attracts those who love the outdoors.

After our lunch and chat we made our way up the valley, following the river to the point where the road crosses the trench and begins the long climb up to Roger's Pass - one of the most interesting of the three major passes across the Rockies and related chains that line the Alberta-BC border. The sun followed us up the pass.
...and down the other side.

After a lovely drive through the Eagle Valley, we settled in to a motel at Sicamous - in time for a walk in the fall colours of the valley.

There are no mountains in Alberta (but they are spectacular in BC)!

Today we crossed another of the major geological milestones in our road trip. Last evening we caught a glimpse of it as we were driving through the Alberta ranchland: the white peaks of the Rockies. We turned in to Calgary for the night to a hot tub (Fran) and Vietnamese cuisine.

Saturday morning we woke up to the news of a snow warning for Canmore and vicinity. Fran had organized a meeting with her RA for breakfast so we packed up ready to leave as soon as her meeting was finished. It was a lovely meeting in spite of my anxiety about what we were likely to find along the way. We gassed up and headed west to one of the most awe-inspiring parts of the trip - with a little apprehension about the threat of snow.

As we passed the outskirts of Calgary we could see the results of urban sprawl which is such a key part of this automobile-dependent city.

Unlike our other approaches to the Rockies this time they were nowhere to be seen. The low clouds obscured everything on the horizon, leaving us to focus on the landscape nearby the road. Even so, it was clear that things were changing. Within an hour from Calgary, the rolling prairie had become rolling hills, the valleys had deepened, and evergreens were taking over from the grass and poplars. I find it moving to know that this transformation provides the first hints of the 250 million-year-old collision between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates. As we continue west we will be traveling through land that foretells the shape of what this area will become.

But now that future is hidden by the low-lying clouds and occasional mists of the eastern foothills. Instead of seeing the show-capped peaks in the background, it is only grey clouds we see - even as we enter the deep valleys of the Canmore region.

We were charmed by the many animal bridges that cross the highway as we traveled through the national park.

Even by the time we passed the Banff and Lake Lousie turnoffs we had not seen the Rockies' peaks. If we hadn't driven this section before, we might have concluded they were only a rumour.

It wasn't until after we crossed the BC border that the clouds cleared and thrilled us with the brilliant whites, towering peaks, and sweeping slopes that line the highway. We had clearly arrived.

Friday, October 31, 2014

To Medicine Hat and beyond

The landscape from Swift Current to Medicine Hat is an example of the transformation from dryland grain farming to ranch country. Two good indicators are the appearance of sagebrush among the grass and the small herds of sheep and cattle in the distance.

Scattered throughout the fields and ranges are collections of slow-dipping oil pumps and associated storage tanks. We also passed many small reed filled lakes and the occasional alkali slough, although the latter were typically so full of water that the telltale white rings around their shoreline were thin at best.

Approaching Medicine Hat we could see the storied Cypress Hills on the southern horizon. It was here that Sitting Bull sought refuge for his people as they fled from the US cavalry. It was in these hills that Fort Walsh was established to 'tame' the region on behalf of the British crown, and it was on these plains that thousands of buffalo roamed before being decimated for agriculture and sport.

Once past Medicine Hat the rolling hills turned flat and cultivated. The occasional pumping station marks the line of pipeline buried beneath the fields to carry the petroleum and natural gas for which the region is famous. The highway takes the form of a study in perspective as the road, fenceposts, and powerlines aim for the same point directly ahead.

Just after we passed the turnoff to Hussar (one of our NRE sites) we saw the first signs of irrigation - in the form of the long lines of pipes on wheels that create the huge circles that look like flying saucer landing sites from the air.

On the road again!

Hooray! We're back on the road.

It's a sunny but windy day. Instead of gusts from around the rocks and lakes like in Northern Ontario, however, these are gusts from the horizon - across grasslands unbroken except for power lines and the occasional grove of trees surrounding a farmhouse or barn. It feels great to be underway and full to be traversing this expansive terrain.

Most of the fields are just stubble from the recent harvest, but the occasional stands of prairie grass are rippling from the wind. We passed a small herd of antelope off to our right and watch the flocks of geese cross our path on their southern journey. We feel a certain kinship with them on our own trek.

Dwayne and his brother at BOJO Moters gave us excellent treatment in the face of our dilemma. He not only diagnosed the issue with the coil but followed up the subsequent problem in a competent and effective fashion. It turned out that the fuel injectors were creating problems - with at least one of them flooding the engine with gas. Now that they are cleaned and calibrated They seem to be purring along nicely.

Waiting for the repair - and related updates - we basically hibernated in our motel. We had an opportunity to try out all the restaurants within walking distance, however. We got reasonably competent crossing 8 lanes of traffic and 3 highway ditches in the process since some of the destinations were across the 2 highway thoroughfares and their associated service roads.