Summer Vacation ’99

Hey, there, everybody! At first I thought that last week’s column was kind of lame, but I’m glad to say I had a much more eventful week, leading to lots more to write about! But the problem is, where should I start? Well, as the old song says, “Let’s start at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” So, a long time ago, last Wednesday to be specific, in a town not to far away from yours, a great adventure was about to happen to a Scarecrow. . . .

Ever since I was three months old, my parents have been taking me out to the Rocky Mountains as part of my summer vacation. Well, except for the dry spell from years 1995-1997, when I had summer jobs to tend to. And, one of the great perks of being unemployed means that you are free to go to the Rockies! With your parents. And your uncle and aunt and two cousins ages 6 and 4. But I didn’t care! This was the Rockies, a boyhood place where dreams were made and adventures had. I was especially thrilled that we were heading to David Thompson Country. David Thompson Country is directly west of Red Deer on the David Thompson Highway (duh), and is not part of Jasper or Banff National Parks. Last time I was there, I was 10. A lot can happen in 12 years, and I was looking forward to re-living old adventures. The biggest thrill was that we would be staying a little campground called the David Thompson Resort. This resort stands out in my mind growing up because it has a kick-ass playground. The centerpiece of this playground is a 50-foot high rocket ship that you can climb on, and from it’s top is the steepest, fastest slide you could ever go on! I loved that playground. And going back to it with a six year old and a four year old is a great excuse for a 22-year old to go climbing on it.

So, on Wednesday morning, it was time to roll out! We got away late. Dad wanted to get away at 9, but we left at 10:30. The aunt and uncle we were going to meet in Rocky Mountain House at noon, so this meant that we would be late. But we didn’t care. They always ran late, so I was sure that even with our late start, we would beat them. Not much to say about the trip. It was a uneventful. Dad put in a tape of that old-time fiddle music that he likes, Mom read a book, and I gazed at the scenery. And gazed at the scenery. Eventually, we reached Rocky Mountain House at 12:30, to discover that our compatriots had beaten us by 15 minutes. I hate it when I’m wrong. Lunch at A & W, and then it was off to the David Thompson Resort! More driving. Dad switched things up by putting in a tape of German polkas. Seriously. My mother is full-blooded German, and the one element of the culture that my Dad has really taken to is the polkas. German polkas, when driving through the mountains, are strangely appropriate.

There’s one thing I always liked about driving to the mountains. There eventually comes a point where you look ahead on the road to the horizon, and you see the first peaks. It’s almost dreamlike. From that distance, the appear to be a darker shade of blue than the sky, like they are a part of the sky that somehow turned solid. The closer you get, they seem to separate from the sky. The little bits of cloud that stick to them begin to turn to snow. As they further separate from the sky, the blue color starts to fade, and they turn to a grey. Green bits start to appear, and the evolve into trees. The last bits of sky are cried out of the mountains, and their tears turn to the most brilliantly blue lakes you’ve ever seen. This is about as poetic as I get, so I’ll leave it here.

Staring in awe at the mountains around me, we soon arrived at our destination: the David Thompson Resort. My eyes immediately darted to that rocket ship. Yup, it was still there. My Mom and aunt went into the office to make sure our reservations were still in place, and the kids dragged me off to the playground. YES!! The huge red, white and blue rocket stood up, aimed for the stars. A whole gantry extended from the side of the rocket, so those who were scared to climb the ladders up to the slide could take a nice, easy ramp. It was just as I remembered, all be it a little more rusty. My six year old cousin, Christopher, wanted to go on the slide right away! My four year old cousin, Stephanie, was a little more daunted, and wanted to try out the swings first. So, Christopher went on ahead, and I pushed Stephanie on the swings. Oh, to be so close to the greatest slide ever built, but kept away! Damn the responsibilities of adulthood! Fortunately, four year olds have short attention spans, and soon Stephanie had worked up enough courage to try the slide. As long as I go with her. Maybe these adulthood responsibilities have their perks! So, climbing the ramp, I loved the fact that very little had changed about this experience. We got to the top, and there it was. Stephanie went first. Man, is that slide fast. Then, my turn. I sat down, gave myself a little nudge, and I was off! I was rocketing down that slide like greased lightening! I was 10 again! All my pressures, will I find a job, will I ever be kissed, will I ever get out of my parents’ basement, were whisked away in the wind! I reached the bottom, exhilarated. I was ready to go again! But Stephanie wanted to go tell her mom that she did it. So, she took my hand, and we began walking towards the office. She was pulling me under that nicely sloped gantry. Now, I had forgotten that between the ages of 10 and 22, I had grown a bit. My head hit the bottom of that gantry. It hit hard. How hard? If not for the small amount of cushioning provided by my Tilly hat, I would have drawn blood. I had a goose egg on my forehead for the rest of the vacation. When I bonked, I was brought back to Earth. The pains of growing up came crashing back to me. I was 22 years old, alone in the world, and playing on a playground. I need help. But, who cares about that? I was on vacation. My Dad drove by as we were walking back to the office, to tell me that our campsite was squared away. So, with my two little cousins in tow, we went off to our campsite.

Actually, we didn’t reach our campsite for about the next hour or so. Turned out there were already some campers in our site. So, my Mom and aunt went back to the office to sort things out. We were given two other camp sites. They too had occupants. My parents and aunt and uncle were pissed. I just had to laugh at the situation. Next time everyone around you is pissed off, just laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation. True, you’ll get funny looks, but it’ll keep you from getting pissed. And if everyone is pissed, you get nowhere.

So, when we finally got a campsite, and we finally got our camps set up, it was time to let the relaxation begin! But I couldn’t relax. It turned out my excursion with the little ones on the playground had made me the designated baby-sitter. Those kids were trying to drag me back to the playground, but I wanted to relax, and exist in a semi-conscious state. I deterred the kids requests for as long as I could. I’d like to say “I’m too old for this shit,” but I’m 22. I’m not supposed to be to old for this shit! The rest of the evening was uneventful. We had supper, checked out the resort’s pool and hot tub, and went to bed. Day one of my vacation was over, and I was set for more.

Day two, and time to see the local sites. I was primed! Well, as primed as you can get when you’ve only had an hour’s worth of sleep. I don’t know why, but I had great bouts of insomnia that night. I just wanted to sleep somewhere, but the kids were already trying to drag me off to the playground again. Thank god my parents stepped in! Where were my aunt and uncle in all this? On vacation. But, my parents and I piled into our truck, they piled into their car, and we were off to the first site: Crescent Falls, one of the loveliest little waterfalls you’ll ever see. After an uneventful drive, we got there. We piled out of the truck, and I let my dog, Buck, out of the back of the truck to stretch her legs. Oh, I forgot to mention we brought our dog. So, my dog, enjoying her freedom, takes off for the river, and almost does a header over the falls. I screamed out “BUCK!!” and she came back to me with that “Yeah what?” look on her face. Sometimes I think that dog is so smart, but most of the times I think she’s a moron. So we check out the falls. Nice falls. But not like Athabasca Falls. No trip to the mountains is complete unless you see Athabasca Falls. Back in the car, and off to the next site: the Big Hon Dam.

I always found dams frightening when I was a kid. Here, in the middle of nowhere, you find this great technological marvel. There’s this continuous hum in the air, that adds to the eeriness. It didn’t matter that there was an interpretive center out there. This place was just deserted. The interpretive center was unmanned. All self-guided. What always seemed weird about this interpretive center was that, for a hydroelectric dam, a lot of it was devoted to coal-burning power plants. I live just 15 minutes away from the largest coal-burning plant in Western Canada (or so the center said), and it had no interpretive center! I must write TransAlta Utilities a letter of complaint. We soon left the dam. Once again, all this technology, yet no human presence. Spooky. Now, to the Kootenay Plains!

The Kooteny Plains are simply amazing. It’s like, in middle of all these mountains, you suddenly come across a prairie. Dad said it’s made completely of glacial sands, which makes it quite fragile. At any point, I expected to see a T-Rex poke its head above the trees. Man, I shouldn’t have watched The Lost World: Jurassic Park before we left home. But, it just seemed to be the right setting for a Jurassic Park movie. Or a Star Wars film. I’ve got to write George Lucas a letter about filming Episode II here. Anyway, at the Kooteny Plains is hike to another waterfall. Since it was a long hike, we decided not to do it, but just hike back to a suspension bridge over the North Saskatchewan River. Now, did I mention that when I was 10 years old, suspension bridges scared the hell out of me? Something about being dangled by thin cables over a raging river frightened me. Returning to this bridge was like facing my fears of 12 years ago. Had I outgrown them? Was I prepared for the challenge? Let’s see. The bridge stood before me. I was going to take up the rear. I stepped on to it. It seemed OK. I seemed OK. Yeah, this was cool! I was doing it! No problem! Uh-oh, my uncle is one of these nuts who likes to make these bridges rock! I held on, and kept walking. No problem! I had faced my fears, and won! No fear! I was on the path to becoming a Jedi! We looked around on the other side of the bridge for a while, and then went back. Still no fear! Woo! From here, we were now off to some old cabin that my Dad wanted to see.

The cabin, like a lot of things out here, was in the middle of nowhere. We almost got lost trying to find it. But, we found it. What my Dad had failed to mention was at this cabin was an old graveyard. We were on vacation. Why did we have to visit a graveyard? Yeah, it was a nice cabin near by, but a graveyard? It didn’t help that Christopher, who has watched waaaaay too much X-Files for a six year old, started running around screaming that the dead were going to come back to life, kill us, and make us their slaves. Had his parents taught him no respect for the dead? I wanted to leave. Quickly. Graveyards just make me feel funny. I’m only 22, I don’t want to be facing my mortality just yet. When we finally left, I told my mother of my distaste for this vacation destination, but she said “I know, but you’re Dad likes it.” From here it was back to camp. At least we didn’t visit the Sundance trees.

When we were here when I was 10, we visited the Sundance trees, used by the local Indians as part of their ritual. The whole place just weirded me out. I felt, as though, something was watching us. As my memories started coming back, I started remembering what a spooky place this David Thompson Country was. Between graveyard, abandoned technology, suspension bridges, and Sundance trees, I must have been constantly freaked when I was 10. Maybe that’s why all my memories were off David Thompson Resort. Because of that rocket, it was my only safe zone in this area; my oasis in this haunted house. The next day, however, had things looking up for us: we were to attempt a whirlwind tour of Banff.

Day 3, and let me tell you, Banff should not be done in a day. Unless you like driving. We all piled in our respective truck and car and left at noon (we had no concept of doing things early and avoiding the rush). While we were filling up with gas at the David Thompson Resort’s gas station, I wandered over to a map on display to try and learn the names of the mountains we were in the shadow of. Directly to our north was Mt. Stelfox, and to our south was Sentinel Mountain. “Ooo,” I thought. “Sentinel Mountain, home to the X-Men’s greatest foe.” I then made a mental note to look out for more X-Men references on the trip. Back in the truck, and to quote Willie Nelson, “On the road again. . . .”

This is where the drive was really starting to get to me. My two little cousins insisted on riding with my parents and myself. I had to share my much-coveted back seat. With a very talkative four year old and a six year old who would much rather talk about Crash Bandicoot that stare in awe at the mountains. From the left I was getting “You know what, Scarecrow? My friend Janie went to the mountains too, only I’ve picked up much nicer rocks,” and from the right I was getting “In Crash Bandicoot Warped, all I have to do is defeat Ooga Booga to win!” I couldn’t take it. Only three days with my cousins, and they were starting to get on my nerves. A plan started forming, and we reached our first Banff destination: the Num-Ti-Ja lodge on the shores of Bow Lake.

I’ve raved about how blue the lakes are in the Rockies. Well, that’s because of all this glacial run-off. It hasn’t had much time to get all polluted yet. And with Bow Lake, which is fresh off the glacier (Bow Glacier looms on a mountain behind) it is really blue. And cold. But too beautiful for words. The waves gently swished against the shore, and a cool breeze swept in from the lake. Amazing. I loved it. As my vengeance on Christopher for being to chatty about Crash Bandicoot, I picked him up and threatened to throw him in the lake. But I didn’t do that. I couldn’t do that to the lake. We then turned up to the Num-Ti-Jah lodge, so little ones with their little bladders could use the bathroom. I perused the gift shop, and picked up a couple of postcards for my collection. A song lyric flashed through my head: “Even bought some postcards, ‘Greetings from the Twine Ball, Wish You Were Here,’ won’t the folks back home be jealous.” On our way back to the parking lot, my Dad (who knows quite a bit about the mountains because he’d been coming there long before I was born) shared the tale about how this lodge, and the land it sits on, is owned by some guy named Simpson because his grandfather was an outfitter and guide, and bought the whole quarter-section before Banff became a park in 1885. It’s in the Simpson family, and after all these years they still refuse to sell to the parks. Sweet. Also, he revealed that the name, Num-Ti-Jah, is the local Indian word for “Wolverine.” My second X-Men reference of the day! So, as we were all getting into our vehicles, I jumped in the car with my aunt and uncle, if only to enjoy some peace and quiet. We set course for the world-famous Lake Louise!

At Lake Louise, there was, naturally, no parking spots. We had to circle the lot for about half-an-hour before a spot opened up. Then, a brief walk, and we were at the lake. I didn’t remember ever being here before, but my Mom said we went when I was quite little. And let me just say, since this was essentially my first time, that Lake Louise is one of the most beautiful spots in the world! The emerald-green lake, the towering Mount Victoria in the background, my god, it was amazing. Words can’t describe it. Go see it for yourself. Or next time you come to my place, I’ll show you the postcard. But, there was a lot of people there. Some lovely Japanese couple gave me their camera, and requested that I take their picture. I gladly did. After some more gazing at the lake, I began to realize that there were an awful lot of canoeists out there. Their canoe rental place must be booming! Man, even more people. Then, when you quit looking at the lake and turn around, you realize you are in the shadow of the that world-class six-star hotel, the Chateau Lake Louise. I was instantly repulsed. It seems that whenever I go the mountains, I turn into an environmentalist. Why did they have to build a hotel here? Why couldn’t they have left it as it was? I can imagine what the people who built the hotel were thinking: “Wow. This place is beautiful. Let’s take advantage of this spot to prove our mastery over nature once and for all! We’ll build a hotel, and exploit it for tourist purposes! We’ll be rolling in it!” I was sickened. But then I remembered that I’m only an environmentalist when at the mountains. As soon as we leave the park, I’ll be tossing junk by the roadside, and encouraging more trees be cut down so I can have enough beef for my burgers. And now, at my mother’s urging, we were going to go into the hotel, because the lobby is just wonderful. Or so she said.

Well, the lobby is amazing. It reinforced in my mind that I’ll never be rich and famous enough to afford a place like this. As soon as you walk in, they have a harp player. And a one of those restaurants were Fraser Crane always eats. And here I was, Joe Slob from Entwistle. We wandered around for a bit, when Mom said that she needed to find an ATM. So, when she went off to do that, I wandered into a gift shop to get another postcard. I noticed that here, all the postcards were a nickel higher than at most other places. After this, a quick tour of the gift-shops-I’ll-never-be-able-to-afford in the basement. I wanted to go. Fast. I was wondering if Jack Dawson felt this way in Titanic. Unfortunately, I didn’t run into a Kate Winslet style babe to lure me into that world. I was ready to go. And so was our group. Back out to the parking lot for us. And now, to parts unknown.

We went driving down a road called the Bow Valley Parkway, but my Dad called it “the old highway.” The trip was fairly uneventful. We stopped at the odd viewpoint. We passed a picnic site called Storm Mountain, which was the third, and I’m sorry to say final, X-Men reference of the day. We arrived at a place called Johnston Canyon, where we stopped to grab lunch. It was getting on to be 4:30. So, sitting around in the little restaurant/gift shop, I was looking at the postcards, but decided not to get any so I didn’t come across like one of those yutzes who buys something at every gift shop he stops at. Waiting for lunch, I finally remembered that it was my Dad’s birthday. I wished him a happy birthday, and I’d better pick up a “Happy Belated Birthday” card sometime this week. Lunch came. More viewpoints. Eventually, we arrived at the town of Banff.

I hate the town of Banff. Of all the national parks in Canada, Banff is the sell-out. We did main street, and every store there is a gift shop. Nothing but gift shops. Tour buses drove by every three minutes. And wall-to-wall people. I couldn’t stand it. Every thing this park was founded on was being violated by this town. No preservation of the wild, just hawk some cheep souvenirs. And, it doesn’t help that I just naturally hate crowds. The environmentalist in me was starting to rear up again, so I did the only thing I could: I bought another postcard. I was tempted to get a smutty postcard, but my better taste prevailed. We wandered up and down main street, stopping in here and there. We stopped in front of this exquisite chocolate shop, and my mother and aunt were guilted into buying some of those super-fancy chocolates. Good stuff. Very good stuff. Perhaps rampant commercialism has its up side. My Mom bought these things called Bear Paws, which were kind of like Turtles, only with more nuts. My aunt bought the biggest chocolate covered caramels you ever saw. I could just feel that slight tingle that means your teeth are rotting off. So maybe Banff isn’t all bad. But it still has too many people. Too bad all we did was the main street. I did main street last time I was at Banff.

The last time I was at Banff was for my grade 9 farewell. We were doing this huge field trip, and we stopped in at Banff for the afternoon. As I walked up and down main street, I could remember every little point from my grade 9 trip. There was the pay phone where I called Mom to tell her I got here OK. There was the McDonald’s, where I embarrassed my friends by yelling out “Hey! There’s a McDonald’s!” and snapping its picture. There’s the gift shop where my friend Travis encouraged me to shoplift something, but I refused, because that’s the kind of guy I am. And way off in the distance was that gift shop that has a mermaid skeleton in the back room. Too bad we had to get going. I would have loved to have seen that skeleton again. I would have loved to check out the huge flower garden that Parks Canada has, but it was getting on to be 7 o’clock, and we had a two-hour drive back to our camp.

For the drive back, Christopher decided to join us in the car, so it was just him, my aunt, uncle and me. My beloved cousin started rambling on again about Crash Bandicoot. I just smiled and nodded. What I found confusing about the whole trip was where I fit in. This six-year old is my cousin. 16 years separate us, but I have more in common with him than with my aunt and uncle. We both have a love of Star Wars and assorted Saturday morning cartoons, but I have these things called hormones that chemically make me a grown-up. I always get confused on family trips like this. Am I an adult, or a kid? Should I be laying around the campsite, or playing on the playground. I remembered the bump on my forehead, and once again felt that I should be trying to be an adult. We got back to camp. The evening was uneventful. Next, a quick trip into the realm of Morpheus, and then off to Jasper!

I could hardly wait to get to Jasper. That’s the part of the mountains I always go to, and it felt kind of weird that I hadn’t been there yet. Here I was in all these mountains, yet none of them were familiar. I was thrilled to be getting back to “my” mountains. Plus, we were going to be stopping off at the Columbia Icefields, and I wanted to see this highly-touted (not to mention advertised) new building. So, dawn came on day four, and after a leisurely breakfast, we were off to Jasper.

More uneventful driving. In the truck this time. And I was glad to have the peace. Man, my cousins are talkative! We arrived at the Icefields, and, as always, I was struck by how much smaller the glacier had gotten. I know, it’s a glacier. They melt. Not as a consequence of global warming, but they just do. It’s almost saddening. Remember my obsession with time? It always becomes evident at this place. Life is like a glacier. It just keeps getting smaller and smaller, and before you know it, there is very little left. So, let’s check out the new building.

I hate the new building. You walk in the main entrance, and it’s like you’ve just entered an airport. There is a constant hustle and bustle of people, and there are these monitors hanging from the ceiling, telling you when the next Snow Coach tours are arriving and leaving. You can look down this pit, and see the interpretive center. I went into the bathroom, and there above the urinal, was a huge poster asking me if I had my Snow Coach tickets yet. I left the bathroom, and still didn’t like the place any better. And it was wall-to-wall people. It was as bad as Banff! Yup, it appears my beloved Jasper is selling out as well. I hated the crowds. I went down stairs to check out the interpretive center, but I couldn’t get into it, because the lobby/airport had left a bad taste in my mouth. More bad news. My Mom asked at the information desk, and discovered that on our list of the top five campgrounds we wanted to go to, the first four were full. So, we decided to leave the Icefields ASAP, and make a break for Honeymoon Lake campground. We left the building, and as I took one last look at it, I realized that one of my favorite features of the old building had remained: a really cool observation patio. My spirits lifted slightly about this building. I won’t write that angry letter to Brewster bus lines and Parks Canada just yet. I’ll come back when there are less tourists, and check it our some more. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for now. And now more driving!

We got to the campground, and were lucky enough to find two empty sites right next to each other. We quickly moved in and set up camp. We were lucky, as the campground filled up over the next hour. I thought I’d take some time to walk around this campground, and check out my new surroundings. I walked down to the lake. Yup, it was a lake. I still love that blue color of mountain lakes. As I walked some more, I was lucky enough to come across a huge rock! And by huge, I mean about 12′ long, 8′ across, and 6′ high. There’s only one thing you can do when confronted with a rock like this: climb it. So I did. I sat there at the top, and contemplated my surroundings. Big rocks are good for that. I looked at the gathering of people of similar age down by the beach. There were some pretty good-looking women in that crowd, and once again I obsessed over this fact that I’m a 22-year old virgin. Then I remembered how much my little cousins were getting on my nerves, and felt that there may be some perks to being a 22-year old virgin. I think this trip taught me that I’m not ready for kids. I just don’t have the patience for it yet. Every time I heard another story from Stephanie, or more about Crash Bandicoot from Christopher, I felt I was ready to snap at them. But, my cooler head prevailed, and I never did. Yup, big rocks are good for contemplating things. I climbed down, and headed back to camp.

A leisurely supper, and we decided that since Sunwapta Falls wasn’t too far from our camp, we would go check it out that evening. Sunwapta Falls are OK, but they still aren’t my Athabasca Falls. Had to see those Athabasca Falls. But, don’t get me wrong, Sunwapta Falls are still quite the site to see. At my Dad’s urging, we decided to take the 2-km hike to the lower falls. Walking through the bush with a six-year old talking about how either aliens or bears are going to get us is the perfect thing to get a four-year old worked up. But, I just brought up the rear, and plugged forward. It took about 15-minutes to reach the falls, and they’re pretty nice. There’s actually three falls down there, each one preceded by a little pool. Very nice, but still not Athabasca Falls. So, we started heading back. What was weird on the way back was we ran into this guy who was on his way back when we were heading down. Seems that his wife sent him down first to make sure there were no bears, then he went back to get her. Now that’s devotion! After the falls, we got back into our car and thought we’d stop at the gift shop. I didn’t buy any postcards at this gift shop for one simple reason. I’ve been coming to Jasper, as a postcard collector, for the last 12-years. I have postcards of every site in Jasper! Hell, my first postcard was from Jasper! Last year, I decided that enough was enough. No more postcards from Jasper, unless it’s a really good picture. Back to camp, and to bed. Day five was going to be our whirlwind trip of Jasper.

Dawn on day five. Things were looking up. We slept in, had breakfast, yadda yadda yadda. First stop: Athabasca Falls! These, are simply put, the most beautiful falls in the world. What always gets me is there is this one rock sticking out, right in the middle of the falls. It forces the waterfall into two falls. Of course, they rejoin shortly below the rock, but I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on that rock. Probably quite scary. And I’d panic and fall to my death. Good thing I can’t get out to that rock! We took the walk that takes you through channels cut be the waterfall several centuries ago, until you come down to the river itself. It is amazing how this river forces itself through this tiny little canyon, until it spreads out into one huge river! I tell you, no trip to Jasper is complete until you’ve been to Athabasca Falls. They are breathtaking. But enough of this travelog! Next site: Mount Edith Cavell.

Mount Edith Cavell is one of the most breathtaking sites in Jasper. It’s this beautiful peak, with this glacier called Angel Glacier hanging off of it, resulting in this lovely little lake below it all. I’ve always been upset that the lake has the unpoetic name of “the glacial melt pool.” You have to take this little windy mountain road to get to it. But, it is a treat when you get there. Or at least, it used to be. It was, you guessed it, wall-to-wall people! Normally the parking lot is only half-full, but this time it was overflowing! My Mom said that this was crowded because it was the peak tourist season, and that we usually beat the rush. I hoped that this was the reason. Normally, to get to the glacial melt pool, you have to take this 45-minute hike. Since we had the little ones with us today, we decided against it. Too bad. I love the hike. So, sadly, our trip at Edith Cavell was too brief. But now, off to Jasper town!

I’m glad to say that Jasper is still not wall-to-wall people. And again, we did the gift shops. OK, I said no more postcards of Jasper, but I bought one more on that day. And trust me, it was a good picture. Plus, I got this postcard book of scenes from all around the province of Alberta. They are some of the most breathtaking photos I have ever seen! No regrets on that purchase. From here, it was a quick lunch (it was nearing 5pm), and then we decided to hit the Jasper swimming pool.

Since I’m not a big swimmer, there were only two things I could do at the pool: sit in the hot tub, or ride the water slide. Sitting in the hot tub doesn’t have much appeal for me because of one reason. In these swimming pools, I remove my glasses, so I can’t see a darn thing. This means I can’t do the favorite past time of men in hot tubs: ogle the women in bikinis! So, I got bored with the hot tub after about five minutes, and then I hit the water-slide. For the next half-hour, all I did was ride that water-slide. I lost count of how many times I rode that slide, so let’s just say it was “countably infinite.” (For those who didn’t take Math 220, a countably infinite number is a number that is so large, for all intents and purposes it’s infinity.) After I’d been on it for quite some time, the life guard asked me if I was having fun. I responded with a cheery “Oh, yeah.” But, all good things must end. Soon, my mother was dragging me away, saying it was time to go. On my way out, I picked up a free newspaper called Wild Life, which is the closest a real-world newspaper can get to being Augustana’s beloved Dag. Only with less smut. It was back to camp, and a late supper.

I didn’t like that evening. Christopher had it in his head that we should be telling ghost stories. So, my uncle and mother told some. The ghost stories I could handle. It was when they had to start telling stories about aliens and UFO’s that started to freak me out. There was the one my mother told where she and my great-grandmother saw one take off from behind the barn when my mom was ten. There was the one about the great uncle in Saskatchewan who came across a downed UFO and two dying aliens on his back 40. I was getting freaked. I’m a believer in UFO’s and aliens, so when I here of these occurrences happening to family members, I get really scared. On a few occasions, these stories have given me nightmares. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I went into the trailer, and pretty much hid there until I went to bed. I know one thing’s for sure. I’m never living in Saskatchewan. That’s where all my relatives seem to see these things.

Day six. Time to head home. It was with a certain degree of sadness that we packed up. I always love these mountains, and hate to leave them. But, there was a certain elation to the fact that I’d be sleeping my own bed that night. When the trailer was hooked up, and the dog loaded, it was time to head off. We hit the road, back to Entwistle. Actually, that day was a great day for seeing wildlife. There was herd of mountain goats right near the campground. There were some huge bull elk grazing in a ditch. Some bighorn sheep frolicked by the Athabasca River. Even saw a big ol’ black bear lumbering around in the woods. Yup, the beauty and majesty of the Rocky Mountain animals. I felt like popping the Jurassic Park soundtrack in the tape player, but only two things were stopping me: Dad was busy playing his polka music, and I don’t own the Jurassic Park soundtrack. But, it is some of the most appropriate music to play in the mountains. That and German polkas. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t stop at the Miette Hot Springs. They are truly one of the things needed to make a trip to Jasper complete. But, that void was being filled with a growing urgency to get home. You can always tell when you leave Jasper National Park. There are no more mountains on the horizon. Just blue sky and open roads. The voyage home had begun.

A variety of songs began going through my head. Six Days on the Road by Sawyer Brown was the most appropriate, but I didn’t know all the words. So, I had to settle on Truck Drivin’ Song by Weird Al. Weird Al is a good artist for road trips. We weren’t in the mountains anymore, so I my tolerance for the German polkas was wearing down. My Dad put in his old time fiddle music. My God, I should have brought along one of my tapes. We soon arrived in Hinton, and the site of our first pit stop. We had lunch at Dairy Queen. Feeling different, I had a cheese dog and a root beer milkshake. As we headed back to the truck, I turned around and looked at the mountains one last time. I said a good-bye under my breath, and we headed out.

“I put in a Slim Whitman tape, my wife put on a brand new hairnet. . . .” Weird Al’s song The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota seems to describe a lot of my vacations. Dad was grooving to his old-time fiddle music, Mom was reading a book in a semi-conscious state, and I gazed out the window, constantly flitting between the back seat of the truck and Markworld. The drive is always uneventful. I looked at the scenery, wondered how much e-mail would be waiting for me, wondering when I should start writing this for my website, stuff like that. It didn’t seem like too long when it was announced we were stopping in Edson for gas.
When I went through Edson a year ago to go to Jasper, I had marveled at how much it had changed. It now has a McDonald’s. The restaurant attached to the Esso had been removed, a Wendy’s/Tim Horton’s built directly behind the Esso. It was a town in development. I’m always amazed at how I’ve never really been to Edson or Hinton. I must have driven through those towns a million times, but never actually stopped to see what they had to offer. All I could notice from my window was how much this town changes. Like a glacier. . . . At the gas station, I bought my usual Dr. Pepper and bad of Doritos. I didn’t win a free pop, and the Episode I card in my chips was Watto. I perked up a little. I didn’t have Watto yet. On the other side of Edson, we stopped to empty the sewage tanks in the trailer. Yes, the Edson Rest Stop is a place where we always stop. The last leg of the trip home had begun. Back in the truck, and now non-stop to Entwistle.
I always get a little excited when the familiar landmarks begin rolling by. First, through the town of Wildwood. Then, it’s the intersection into Evansburg, directly across from the Inland Highway Maintenance Yard (formerly the Alberta Transportation Yard). The popsicle stick lights of that intersection had been there for as long as I could remember. Then, it was just over the river, across the overpass, and home. My Mom opened the front door, and was greeted by our cat, who was starting to go nuts from being cooped up in the house for six days. How upset was my cat at being in the house for so long? He turned the guest room into his litter box. Yup, he was pissed. I grabbed the stack of newspapers and began catching up on the news, while my parents and aunt and uncle started going into “the final visit.” After I was caught up on the news, time to check my e-mail.

My only e-mail was from the mailing lists I had signed up to. Boy, I’m touched at how my friends deal with my absence. (Make sure you read that last sentence dripping with sarcasm.) I proceeded to catch up on the week’s worth of movie news, when it wasn’t long before Christopher and Stephanie found my room. I’m glad those little kids admire my toy collection. Christopher even marveled at my Darth Maul. I’m pleased that even though he’s so young, he’s aware of the scarcity of that figure. I rubbed my forehead, and realized that my goose egg was gone. I filled my cousins in on the wonders of old toys like G.I. Joe and Visionaries, and I realized that maybe I didn’t have to grow-up just yet. At that point, my aunt and uncle announced that it was time to go. I said my good-byes, unpacked my things, and began writing this. A perfect end to a perfect vacation.

The end. And that’s where I’ve been for the last few days! There’s one thing I’ve noticed about being on vacation: time moved slower. Just sitting here in the basement like I have for the majority of the summer, things have been breezing by. You want to live longer? Then live life to the fullest. Get off the couch and do something, even if it means going with parents, and aunt, and uncle, and cousins. Slow down time. And as for me? What’s my next big adventure? Well, I hope to be getting a haircut some time this week, so let’s see if I finally have the courage to get my head shaved. Peace!

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