Month: September 2015

Descent into Epic Canmore

Not ones to miss out on an opportunity for greatness, the soundtrack we listened to as we wound off the exit and descended into Canmore was a mix of Skyrim themes,  Howard Shore, Misty Mountains, monk chanting, and other tunes that would make Peter Jackson proud.

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We drove into the city to the sound of trumpets as lightning flooded the sky, which receded grey and dark into the horizon.

This was the start of our adventure in the Canadian Rockies.

As with the start of any good quest, our first hours in Canmore were spent preparing our party.

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The van had gone over 6,000 kilometres since leaving home, and was in need of an oil change.

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Ah yes, the number of the beast. Time for a quick oil change to exorcise the engine demon.

While our van was around the corner at the shop, we stocked up on enough groceries at Safeway for a few days of camping. This included getting some mosquito coils and a tarp. A couple overlooked items we were lacking.

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Don’t mind me, just getting groceries in this unnaturally (naturally) beautiful vista.

We wandered around town and got some coffee and tea while waiting for the mechanics to finish with the van.

One beautiful thing about being on the road: Your caffeine tolerance seems to jump through the roof.

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Must be an adrenaline coping mechanism.

Check out this wall of tea at The Communitea Café:

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Canmore is gorgeous. You take photos of it and show it around to people like it’s your main squeeze in junior high.

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Less touristy than Jasper or Banff, it’s an extraordinary place to live if you have a few million dollars you’re itching to spend on a modern wood and glass home.

All the shop fronts are immaculately kitsch and a lot of shops are wearing flower crowns made of window planters.

A very good-looking place.

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Once the van was finished, we drove to the campground in town and set up our tarp and tent. I then promptly crashed inside and read for an hour.

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That’s some fine-looking tarp. Too bad we won’t need it with all this sudden sunshine…

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Wapiti Campground in Canmore is essentially nestled between two highways. It’s not at all secluded, and the woods are very thin. It’s only a few blocks away from downtown Canmore.

There’s this set of train tracks that runs along the highway, and a couple of times during the night I awoke to a shrill whistle and the sound of rails headed towards us that made it sound like we were about to be plowed down. If that’s you’re idea of a good time, then this campground’s the one for you. It’s also a great place if you love paying to use the shower. Just a heads up.

In the evening we went for a walk along the main street, looking for bunny rabbits.

A brief explanation on why bunny stalking is a thing here:

According to GoCanmore.com:

“In the mid 1980’s someone released about a dozen of their domestic rabbits into South Canmore and rather than becoming coyote snacks they survived, thrived and today are the most famous residents that Canmore has.”

So there you have it.

The town even has a Feral Rabbit Management Plan to keep up with the multiplying critters.

I could see some of the ‘nuisance’ on our walk. The ground and banks along the main stretches of rabbit activity were hollowed out like someone had taken a giant spoon to them. I could see the potential liability issues. (Boo, liability isn’t as much fun a rabbits!)

Our empirical evidence (based on two visits) would seem to suggest they’ve gotten their rabbits under control.

When my boyfriend visited in 2010 he saw 44 bunnies while walking home from the bar at night. By comparison, we only saw three! Still, bunnies are bunnies.

During our bunny stalk, we started to see flashes on the horizon.

Boom. Flash. Boom. Flash.

Humidity in the air.

As we had been walking east, a thunderstorm had been creeping up behind us, and now we had to walk back towards it to return to our campsite.

About a block from our tent, we encountered a wall of rain. It was a dark line on the pavement headed straight towards us and it hit without shuddering.

We ran to our tent, and threw off all our clothes to stash them under the tarp so they didn’t humidify our sleeping area any more.

Luckily, our tarp did a great job of keeping the rain off, so we could kick back in our sleeping bags and listen to the show going on without worrying about getting any wetter.

This is the sound of the rain from inside our tent:

 

There were also thunderclaps that came and went, sporadically.

Luckily, we were safe and warm inside.

Except for that occasional train.

Day 14 Costs:

  • Tim Horton’s: $8.98
  • Matching Dollar Store bandanas and drinks: $6.14
  • Mosquito Coils and Tarp @ Canadian Tire: $13.62
  • Gas in Canmore: $78.56
  • Oil Change at Lube & Muffler in Canmore: $70.30
  • Groceries at Safeway in Canmore: $43.58
  • Good Earth Café Coffee: $8.09
  • Night of camping at Wapiti: $27.00

Total: $239.20

Across North America, Day 13: The Road to Calgary

This would be our final day of high-tailing it across the large centre of the continent. We woke up early and made a beeline for the border.

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Here’s the great thing about the high elevation of White Sulphur Springs:

We put the van in neutral as we left town and coasted for 20.7 km down the mountain.

On a side note: We’ve decided we need to make some friends in the centre of the continent.

On both the American and Canadian sides, our choice of friends to see over the couple days to cross from approximately mid-Ontario/Minnesota to Saskatchewan/Montana was non-existent.

People of the central continent, let me befriend you!

We crossed over into Coutts, AB at the Sweetgrass border crossing. The town just north of the border is exactly what I romanticized the Albertan countryside to look like.

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We continued over into Calgary where Rob’s cousin lives. There was a small mishap where we drove into a Calgary suburb to get some Tim Horton’s, but then realized we were in Stephen Harper’s district and got out of there as quickly as possible.

Being back in Canadian territory where our currency wasn’t entirely useless felt good.

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Once making it to Rob’s cousin’s house in the suburbs, we spent the rest of the day doing laundry and responding to work emails that had piled up, and of course Rob wanted to catch up with his relatives so it was a pretty low-key day in all.

We ate some pizza, drank mojitos, and prepared for the next leg of the journey we had been waiting for: The Canadian Rockies.

Day 13 Costs:

  • Gas in Dutton, MT: $40.05 USD

Total: $40.05 USD (cheapest day yet!)

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 15 (The Return!)

It’s back!

After taking a summer hiatus while I finished a Data Journalism course and subsequent travels to Portland, San Francisco, and across the country, I’m ready to bring back the Sunday Sundries.

I’ve missed these – they’re where I get to give a little update on my life, as well as recommend some of the best of the best stuff I’ve enjoyed reading lately.

In terms of updates: Oh boy. There’s a lot!

I’m still in the process of uploading my daily road trip accounts. I’ve also got an amazing photoshoot from Toronto to finish editing, and I started my Masters in Journalism program on Labour Day in September (no rest for the wicked).

School has been pretty intense. Most days I’m on campus from 9am-5pm. And a couple days a week I stay until 8:30pm.

They give us assignment after assignment in order to get us whipped into shape. They call the first eight weeks ‘bootcamp’ (although ‘basic training’ would be more Canadian).

I’ve been practicing things like radio writing, copy editing, voiceover, lede writing, shooting streeters, etc. ad nauseum.

There’s a stack of books about three feet high I need to read. It’s sitting by my couch and is visible from nearly everywhere in the apartment, so I’m constantly reminded to go and read a few pages.

This goose video I made as a bit of a reprieve from serious work.

But do you know what? I think the onslaught is working. I actually feel like a better writer. Time will tell if this is just a placebo.

I also picked up a new job as Social Media Coordinator (caps not included) for King’s Journalism. I manage their Twitter and Facebook, and am also underway with preparing some new social media platforms for them, taking photos and covering live events.

So far I really enjoy it because it keep me in the loop with everything that’s happening on campus, and gives me some extra grocery money. It does make for a busy time though.

To top it off, this past week I caught a cold and was feeling pretty miserable for a few days. I also had to run to the dentist for a filling during the first week of class and sat through my night class wondering the whole time if I was drooling slightly from the left side of my frozen mouth.

Some new enlightenments: I’m really enjoying radio. The thought of telling stories through sound, being far away and yet being able to whisper intimately into someone’s ear gives me chills.

I also re-watched with satisfaction two of my favourite childhood films, ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service‘ and noticed the prevalence of radio in both. Yeah, I totally own this!

My professor in radio had some great writing advice:

Pick a person. Someone who is interested in what you have to say. Someone who you like talking to. Someone who likes listening to your stories. Write like you’re writing for them. Make sure it’s not a lover, because occasionally they piss us off, and you don’t want that to affect your writing. Make it a friend.

Brilliant.

This Friday the journalism gods must have heard my and my classmates’ prayers, because we had no classes. I’m taking the time to conquer assignments, get caught up with reading, finish editing a beautiful photoshoot I did in Toronto (see the head image for a teaser) and to give this blog some much-needed TLC.

So there you have it. That’s pretty much all caught up with my life, and without further ado, here are my Sunday reading recommendations:

Δ Fatal Distraction: This Pulitzer-Prize-winning piece for a feature about infant death from being left in cars is absolutely heartbreaking and sympathetic.

Δ The Zen of Joan Didion: I read this in preparation for a radio interview I did this week. Written by a Halifax journalist, any more insight into JD is always gold in my books.

Δ Munro’s Books: Founded in 1963 by Alice Munro (before she had been published) and her then-husband, Munro’s Books in Victoria, BC is a huge, independent book store.

Δ “I thought I would always shoot black-and-white film and be in my 20s”: A 25 year journey from amateur to pro photographer, in China. This is from the excellent National Geographic Proof online photo blog.

Δ Why Green Tea Doesn’t Come Cheap: A good read about tea economics.

Δ Teach Yourself Coding in Ten Years: American computer scientist and Google researcher Peter Norvig fights back against the idea that we can (or should) learn everything quickly.

Δ Photographing Human Trafficking in New York: From the excellent New York Times Lens Blog.

Δ  How Two 18th Century Lady Pirates Became BFFs on the High Seas: A fascinating and flukey history. I wish there was more writing on this!

Δ  Do you know the origin of the phrase, ‘Quiet Time‘?

Δ The Century of the Self is a four-part documentary series by English filmmaker Adam Curtis. It looks at how Freud’s theories influenced consumer culture and identity (teaser: part three has radical lesbian nuns). It was great and I’m going to check out more of his work!

March Was Made of Yarn: Reflections on the Japanese Tsunami Disaster and Nuclear Meltdown, Edited by Elmer Luke and David Karashima

On March 11, 2011 a tsunami triggered by a 9.0 megathrust earthquake off the pacific coast of the Tōhoku region in Japan rolled across the coastal towns in Iwate prefecture and Sendai area.

Some places were wiped completely off the map. Equipment failure as a result of the tsunami caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, which further threatened lives and caused widespread fear.

People stopped eating food and fish from the area.

Over 15,000 people were killed. Over 8,000 were left with injuries. Many disappeared into the ocean forever. In terms of psychological injury, I don’t think there was a single Japanese who went unaffected by the tragedy.

This collection of stories and essays reflecting on the March disaster is a one year retrospective. It comes from mostly Japanese authors, and a couple foreigners with strong ties to the land of the rising sun. It serves as a collection for them to express their feelings through works of fiction, non-fiction, and (of course) manga.

What’s nice about the anthology is the range of authors presented. In terms of demographics they’re male, female, old and young. The stories themselves span across genres. None of the stories are very long. You could probably read a couple on your morning commute, time depending.

Elmer Luke is an editor of fiction and non-fiction, and is known for his work editing translations of contemporary Japanese fiction. David Karashima also translates contemporary Japanese fiction into English and served as director of the first Tokyo International Literary Festival.

I came to Japan in March 2012, nearly exactly one year after the tsunami diasaster.

I flew into Tokyo and took the bullet train to Yamaguchi station, in Yamaguchi prefecture, in southern Japan, which is quite far away from the area directly hit by the tsunami.

Even though Yamaguchi is about 1,000km away from Tōhoku area, people in the city still spoke fervently about the tsunami. How their family or friends had lost a home, or how they had lost people. My server in a café had ‘3.11’ tattooed on his inner forearm. In a culture where tattooing is by no means mainstream. I asked him about it. “Do you know about the tsunami?” he said, “it’s so we don’t forget.”

There was no shortage of stories.

There was a shortage of power.

During the summer everyone was very conscious of their power use. Not just for moral reasons, but also because it was damn expensive. Sometimes my Chinese roommate who had been there longer than I had would remind me to turn off my A/C overnight, and just sweat the evenings out instead.

It was expensive because Japan had reduced its nuclear power creation in the wake of public outcry by running facilities at lower capacity or, in the case of a few, turned them off altogether.

This is known as a ‘phase-out’.

I sweated, and loved that the Japanese, whom so many associate with consent and mildness had taken such a strong political stance.

Later in the summer, I went to Tokyo and attended a rally in the Kasumigaseki political district in front of the National Diet (the diet is akin to parliament in Japan).

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After I left a new Prime Minister was voted into power in December 2012: Shinzō Abe. He has since restarted construction on nuclear sites, and has turned many of the nuclear power plants back on as a part of his new Abenomics policy.

There was a protest just last month in Kagoshima, as the power plant there was turned back on for the first time in years.

I loved reading this collection of stories. There’s a few that take a magic-surrealist approach to dealing with diasaster. Think Haruki Murakami, or Alice in Wonderland, with the sweet sauce of Japanese nostalgia thrown in.

Reading this brings to mind some of the vintage post-atom-bomb manga and cartoons that came out of Japan following the end of World War I. The Japanese have turned coping with trauma and defeat through stories, visual imagery and metaphor into an art form. They are also practiced and proficient at rising from the ashes. As anime teaches us, they love a good underdog.

The stories themself are short and sweet, translated to English by an assortment of authors. It was also nice in that it introduced me to some contemporary Japanese writers I wasn’t familiar with.

Hearing Japanese stories by Japanese authors is also important for outsiders to read, as it lets us hear their experiences with their own voices, rather than through the voices of western journalists.

Even though stories about post-tsunami Japan have faded from our newspapers in North America, there is still a lot of fear, stigma, anger, hurt and broken families.

It is hard to believed that the upcoming March in 2016 will be the five year anniversary of this tragedy.

Reading this continues to give me hope that the resilient people of Japan will continue to find hope in its many forms – planted in a rice field, found in a shoe, felt in a shrine, borne into a family, voted for, and yelled at political rallies. And that Japan will once again surprise us all with another phoenix-like flight from the ashes.

And read this book, it’s quite lovely.

All royalties from the book’s sale are donated to earthquake relief and radiation cleanup in Tōhoku.

 がんばって!

Across North America, Day 12: Prairie Dogs and Painted Canyons

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the radio silence!

No, we didn’t get eaten by prairie dogs.

I was having trouble balancing posting each day with enjoying the adventure at hand, wo I decided instead to wait until I got back to Halifax to finish posting (and here I am!).

This way, I spent more time on the trip having adventures, and less on the internet. A wise choice, I like to think.

Now, where were we?

Ah, yes.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park!

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We woke up like this.

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Driving in the night and setting up in the dark, we had no idea what our morning surroundings would look like. Turns out, they were pretty cool.

Waking up here feels kind of like waking up on an alien planet. Huge, barren sloughs of land lift up around you, and the climate is arid.

They call these ‘the badlands’ (ohhhh, scary name). But Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up of three geologically separate areas of badlands near the western town of Medora in North Dakota.

North_America_Day_12_Mel_Hattie-2We’re becoming pretty proficient with the little butane-powered cookstove that we’ve been using on this trip, at least to the point where scrambled eggs and beef-flavoured ramen noodles are no struggle.

I put myself on bison watch after we struck camp. Driving out of the park, I spotted one wee, tiny bison on a hill I knew it was a bison and not a rock because it flicked its tail and lifted its head.

Score. One bison.

We were headed to the nearby Painted Canyon, but were stalled by a gathering of Prairie Dogs on the way which we had to stop and document.

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Prairie dogs are so much smaller than I thought! They’re about the size of guinea pigs and move fast.

I was able to get pretty close by sitting on the ground and slowly scootching my butt closer to them. #prophotographertips

Our next stop in this part of the land was the Painted Canyon.

There was a cool interpretation center here where you can read all about Theodore Roosevelt and his history with the park. He’s known as one of America’s big nature-friendly presidents. On the wall of the interpretation center, there’s this quote:

“I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt

 

The Painted Canyon was really lovely, but there’s nothing much to do except stare at it. It’s not really accessible for walking about, but you wouldn’t really want to anyway. The packed earth makes it reflect heat like a mirror. I was sweating just standing there looking at it.

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Yes, I as extremely toasted here. And this is with VIGOROUS sunscreen application. You just can’t win.

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There were lots of trucks in the parking lot. Coffee was available and I got the impression that this was kind of a way station.

Gawks made, we headed onward to the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Shortly before arriving at our campsite we pulled into the small town of White Sulphur Springs (Population: 970) and spot a large sign outside the Truck Stop Café that says “PIE FIXES EVERYTHING”. For roaming internet children like myself, their super-fast is also a blessing in the middle of an internet dessert.

The owner of the TSC is a big-armed guy who laughs easily, makes a great BLT, and (as you may have guessed) is very serious about his pies.

We obviously can’t leave without trying some. We choose apple. “You want me to heat that pie up so that ice cream drips down the side?” he says as he clears our plates.

Ummm. Yes? Yes.

When the pie comes, it is so good that Rob uses two forks to finish it.
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The atmosphere is star-spangled. In the washroom, fabric sunflowers sit in an old German milk jug with WILKOMMEN painted across it. There’s a framed photo of some babies sitting amid various flowers on the wall. Yeah, it’s kitschy, but I like this place.

I felt so at home that I walked out with their mug after I finished my tea, then had to run back in and return it.

This is the kind of town the cashier at the grocery store says “Thanks for stopping by.” Really charming; really American.

The free campsite we headed to was the Richardson Campground  – about twenty minutes from town and off the highway. It was beside a river in the middle of nowhere and there was already firewood at the site.

It even came with a cow. How nice of the National Park Service to provide dinner for us.

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Kidding.

I made an awesome campfire, and we started to make a later dinner, all the while noticing the sky was growing more and more ominous.

Then the sky said, “Nope,” and it started to downpour.

Thanks sky.

We had no tarp, and the weather app told us to expect thundershowers all night, so we decided to flee back to White Sulphur Springs to splurge on a motel for the night. We could have stayed in the van, but both of us were feeling tired and having daydreams about real beds and showers.

Everything from the campsite got thrown haphazardly into the back of the van and we retreated. You win this time, nature.

Our motel had two double beds inside the room. Rob and I locked eyes, “I love you, but I’m taking a whole bed for myself.”

Ah. true love.

I’m not going to mention the motel here because it was a little bit sketchy. Let’s just say we’ll be watching one of our credit cards very closely. On the plus side, the toilet paper dispensers looked like bears, so it couldn’t be that bad… right?

Most places in the area had TripAdvisor reviews. I’d recommend checking them out (like we didn’t) before deciding on a place there.

We also finished our first American time-lapse, up to North Dakota!

Day 12 Costs:

  • Nat’l Park Fee: $20.00
  • Gas in Glendive, MT: $44.09
  • McDonald’s Coffee and Pop: $3.59
  • Groceries in White Sulphur Springs: $13.43
  • Lunch: $13.18
  • Motel: $74.90
  • Gas in White Sulphur Springs: $32.86

Total: $202.05