1973 – Heading for Kaslo B.C.
In April 1973 another new epoch of my life was starting. I had reunited with my family in England for three weeks, caught up with friends, satisfied myself that home was still the same, and jumped on an aeroplane back to Calgary.
I felt very free. I had no job and no relationship to tie me down, the horizon was open and
the world was my oyster. I was twenty-five years old.
I had a mind to head for the Yukon, to Whitehorse, it was supposed top be beautiful up there, rugged and wild, although I was also harbouring thoughts of Mexico. But first I wanted to go to Kaslo and catch up with my old buddy Joyce who I had met in Calgary the previous year. She had quit her job at the riding stables and was living near her brother in Kaslo in the West Kootenays. I intended to head west out of Calgary along the trans Canada highway and turn south at a place called Revelstoke. In 1969, before I left England I had ogled greedily the pictures on some brochures of this section of the Trans Canada route as it wound through the Rockies. From the first moment I had seen it one of my dreams was to be standing on the side of that road with my thumb out. I felt so excited that I was about to do it.
First I had to get rid of my suitcase. I couldn’t feel really free and ‘on the road’ dragging a suitcase along with me so I paid a visit to my old landlord in Calgary who was the type of person that never threw anything away. Sure enough, stuffed at the very back of his garage under various boxes and golf clubs and other bric-a-brac was an old army-type rucksack. It had a wire frame and was made of a heavy green canvas, and had pockets. It was great. He happily traded it for my good suitcase.
Next I needed a sleeping bag. I figured you just never know where you’ll end up when you’re on the road. There was a small problem. I only had fifteen dollars in my pocket. But I did have a Hudson Bay charge card. So I purchased said sleeping bag – down-filled, and tied it to the top of my rucksack. Now I was ready.
Looking back I’m quite amazed at the pure optimism that I must have possessed to arrive back in Canada with no job and only fifteen dollars. I think the optimism was partly due to the expectation of a tax refund, but it still seems a bit brave now. Back then however I just never had a problem getting a job: maybe because I was willing to turn my hand to just about anything.
I stayed a couple of nights in Calgary with an old acquaintance called Shary McNeil and then one bright April morning I headed out. It was one more of those moments (on my long list of moments) that I’ll never forget. I guess it’s not often in life that one feels so utterly unfettered. I hadn’t a commitment in the world. No one to answer to. Joyce was expecting me to turn up in Kaslo but even then I had made no promises.
I stood on the side of the trans Canada highway, the main route from Calgary to Vancouver, eight hundred miles away. I could see the Rockies eighty miles in the distance; a blue-grey skyline of jagged peaks capped with white. I could almost hear them calling. I started walking, thumb out, peering behind me once in a while to see what cars were coming. I’d hardly been walking ten minutes when I heard a truck slowing down behind me. It pulled up with a squeal of brakes and blew on me with its hot engine breath. The driver pushed open the passenger door. He was black and had a big smile.
‘I’m heading for Revelstoke,’ I shouted over the noise of the engine.
‘Hop in!’ he called.
I shoved my rucksack up ahead of me and he grabbed it and bundled it into the sleeping compartment, then I clambered up into the cab. With much growling and gear changing we were off.
A few hours later we stopped in Golden for a bite to eat. By now the landscape was utterly different. We had left Alberta and its gently rolling cattle country far behind and were now in the heart of the Rockies, surrounded by famous national parks like Banff, Jasper and Glacier. It was breathtaking. I stared in wonder at the magnificent spectacle of snow-capped mountains and endless evergreens. Such grandeur, such splendour! It was so exciting to be here at last drinking in this cool clean B.C air.
We had about another hundred miles to go to Revelstoke where I needed to leave the trans-Canada and turn south. In the meantime I still had a feast of fantastic scenery before me. Fifty miles ahead was the Rogers Pass: four and a half thousand feet at its highest point and one of the great mountain crossings in B.C. Reputed to be the trans Canada highway’s crowning glory. My friendly truck driver told me that the pass was first used by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885, and then the highway was completed in 1962. Apparently a lot of rail road workers had been killed by snow avalanches during the first thirty years, but now there were five tunnels to help protect traffic. I was very glad to hear that as we rolled on through the wild mountain wilderness and got closer and closer to the pass.
Eventually we arrived in Revelstoke, set on the massive Columbia river and nestling between the Selkirk and Monashee mountains. Here I had to thank my lovely friendly trucker for the lift. Looking down at me from his cab, as I pulled on my rucksack he grinned.
‘Sure you don’t wanna come to Vancouver?’
I laughed and thanked him for the offer but said I had a friend to meet. You somehow never forget little kindnesses. That lift through the Rockies was thirty-four years ago!