Sunday, November 18, 2007

Seven hours on the road

I'd love to complain about driving Erin to Calgary for violin lessons every month. I could come up with a lot of reasons to complain -- the time, the money, the environmental cost of all that gas, the white knuckle drives over the Rogers Pass at night in rain or snowstorms. The doughnut and coffee stops that leave us all feeling worse than we did before. The bare bones motel rooms with cinder block walls. The time I left my wallet behind and had to do a 4 and a half hour backtrack to get it, the stress that time I thought we'd missed the last ferry across Upper Arrow Lake.

But the truth is, the trip has a lot to commend it. A couple of days off cooking. Clean rooms and clean sheets, nothing to do before bed but read and watch motel TV. No laundry to be folded, no kitchen disaster zone that ought to be dealt with. When we arrive we are welcomed as if we're family at Erin's teacher's home. There are hugs all around for and from my normally unhuggable kids. There are meals and stories and jokes shared, things shown off and appreciated, and a wonderful sense of connection all around.

And the drive ... well, I think to myself "where else would I rather spend 7 hours driving?" Today we started on the prairie. Cattle, horses, haybales, gold on the ground and a huge blue sky.

As the first hour of the drive ends, this is our view: continental divide -- due west.

And then, before we know it, we're inside the mountains. We pass through Banff National Park, Yoho National Park, Glacier National Park and Mount Revelstoke National Park. In fact, we're inside these parks more than we're outside them on the way home, and the scenery outside them is really not any less spectacular. The highway varies from the tame four-lane valley-bottom driving through Banff NP to the wild and wooly two-lane Rogers Pass section with its avalanche-protection tunnels, claustrophobic gullies and sharp curves.

Today the weather was almost perfect for driving. Partly cloudy, with big snatches of blue sky. Several times we passed through the small clouds that were all that hung between us and the sun. The experience of being inside a small top-lit cloud on a mountain pass is far different from being trapped on a foggy highway somewhere else. The sky is was not overcast above the highway-hugging clouds today, so they were lit up bright, every molecule of water vapour acting like a potent sun-diffuser. Light was everywhere. It wasn't shining from somewhere, it was captured within the cloud, and we were positively drenched in it. Everywhere around us was such brightness that it was almost blinding.

We stopped at the hot springs an hour north of home and rolled in pretty late despite an early start, but what a drive! This was Erin's fourth set of lessons in as many months, and our third drive to Calgary. While I expect it'll all seem a trial before too long, it's not getting old yet.


  1. It certainly is a very beautiful drive. I'm glad it's going well. Will it get nasty on you during the winter months??

  2. It already has been nasty. You'll notice I didn't comment on the drive to Calgary other than a passing reference to white knuckles. It was nasty blizzard weather all the way over the Rogers, with road lines invisible, and trucks grinding along at 30-40 km/hr. Normally the descent section takes about 50 minutes, and we did the last third of it at a pretty normal speed, and the descent still took over 2 hours, so you can imagine how slow and tense the first two thirds were. We had planned to put on another 300 km that night but we bailed and fortunately the snow stopped overnight. Got up at 5 a.m. the next morning to make up the distance and manage to get to Calgary in time for lessons, just barely. And yes, it's going to get worse.

  3. Wow, that is quite a commitment for violin lessons. You certainly know how to look on the bright side!

    Cheers, from a NaBloPoMo visitor.

  4. Anonymous1:22 am

    Glad you've posted photos of your Calgary trip. We've been languishing here, wanting to see a bit more of Canada!


  5. What a beautiful adventure! I'm sorry the drive to was so stressful, but I get the feeling that you're all quite experienced with such things. It's so nice to see the mountains. Over here in Ontario-land we have our own Canadian beauty, but I can't help thinking that mountains would be just as lovely. I'm glad lessons and driving are still a happy adventure for you all!

  6. What a wonderfully spectacular drive! If you must do that kind of driving, at least you have some really great scenery to look at.

    Good luck in the winter. What is the elevation at the top or Rogers Pass?

  7. The pass isn't actually that high ... about 4500 ft. By comparison, my house is at 2500 ft., and we're just a 45 minute walk uphill from the bottom of the valley, so relatively speaking the Rogers isn't that high. Heck, there's a pass not 15 minutes from my house that's almost 4500 ft. But the Rogers is in a serious snow belt, with nasty storms and zillions of avalanches. It is also part of the TransCanada highway, so it gets tons of truck traffic.

  8. Wow, i'm glad i didn't come...


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