[Leg #10 is a long one, covering the three weeks Robyn Scott and I traveled together from Chicago to Vancouver, so I’ve split it up into more manageable sections. This is the last one. Click on any image to see closer. – kf]

Forest fire smoke over Kamloops, B.C. late July 2016

Forest fire smoke over Kamloops, B.C. August 2016

Day 20 (8/3/15) Kamloops to Vancouver, British Columbia:

Our hotel rooms in Kamloops, British Columbia looked out over the smokey dusk last night toward Kamloops Lake. Fires near here. The drought isn’t helping. As I was sitting by the open porch door enjoying the hazy evening I spied the room’s phone book and on a whim looked in it to see if there were any folk with my last name. I think those murals in Vernon earlier showing the cultural backgrounds of their inhabitants made me wonder about the 5 brothers my great-grandfather was supposed to have sailed with from Alsace-Lorraine. That’s the last of the family lore tells us of them so I sometimes wonder what happened. There weren’t any in the phone book but around where it should be I noticed a “Furher, D.” Was this a joke?? Dee Furher? Some parents really don’t think through the consequences of their kids names.

West of Kamloops

West of Kamloops

Semi arid but beautiful

Semi arid but beautiful

We had a choice of routes down to Vancouver today as our alter egos, Clark and Lewis, and our search for the Pacific (again). We picked the longer one, keeping to the TransCanada Highway, or TC1. There are rivers through here making their way to the sea from the glacial lands we’ve left behind, but the land is very dry and these are desert mountains. The haze weakens and strengthens as wind bring us evidence of fires or sweep it away. The road is quieter with less trucks and there aren’t many people living out here either. Not as much for the tourists to do so the economy seems low.

Smoke haze increasing again.

Smoke haze increasing again.

Can smell the smoke now and barely see close mountains

Can smell the smoke now and barely see close mountains

Can see the fires now across the river.

Can see the fires now, but they are across the river which is out of sight below. Hope embers don’t jump the water.

Finally we got nearer the coastal ranges and the terrain became prettier and more wooded. We hit the smokiest part of our journey so far and even saw the fires smoldering on the hillside across a river at one point. We passed a large base camp filled with tents for the fire fighters, and a field with about four helicopters and water trucks to supply them. Later we passed a truck siphoning water up from the river to supply the base.

Fire fighters are heroes

Fire fighters are heroes

 

Upwind of fires now.

Upwind of fires now.

Closer to Vancouver environs the commerce picks up and we began to see signs for those crazy Canadian hybrid restaurants. I had told Robyn about them at the beginning of our Canadian foray but she didn’t believe me because they were scarce until now. All at once we encountered plenty: “Chinese Food & Canadian Cuisine”. “Pizza & Tandoori”. “Fish and Chips & Sushi”. You can not make this stuff up. What the heck is Canadian cuisine? Even the state signs got a bit loopy. “Food Rest Area”. What? Let your food stretch it’s legs a bit or take a quick nap I guess. The traffic got very slow so we pulled over somewhere and lucked upon a Greek restaurant that also succumbed to the same mish mash of cuisines. After basically Greek food we ordered some Polish stuffed cabbage and pirogies to go for leftovers.

Past the Breakfast all day and the authentic Greek food, what the heck...let's throw in a few other ethic cuisines!

Past the Breakfast all day and the authentic Greek food, what the heck…let’s throw in a few other ethic cuisines!

Finally Clark & Lewis emerged out of the woods and mountains and found the Pacific! No more trading trinkets for information, we needed to save up to buy real estate. But no, the Chinese fleeing Hong Kong before the English lease was up and it reverted to Communist China have snapped it all up. Darn. Instead, we did the next best thing and rented an Airbnb apartment in downtown, diving right into the deep end of high-density, urban living. We are ending Leg #10, the International Portion of the North American Odyssey Tour, in grand style on the 32nd floor. I am transfixed by the view. Surprisingly quiet too. If this were NYC it would be deafening. From amongst the skyscrapers we could see the bay, Fraser River and mountains beyond. Sweet! The quiet and glimpses of greenery will help us transition from our time in the wilderness.

Urban living in gorgeous Vancouver

Urban living in gorgeous Vancouver

It was sunset by the time we got our gear in and stepped onto the little porch to soak it all in. Lovely, balmy night. The apartment was warm but there was a nice breeze outside. We could look down to our high-rise’s fire pits, water features, and shrubbery in the plaza below, and the tall buildings arcing around us as their lights came on. What a difference from the past two weeks! And completely enchanting.

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Day 21 (8/4/15) Vancouver, British Columbia:

The heat had built up yesterday in our southwest facing, 32nd-floor apartment. At arrival yesterday we had opened all the windows and I slept with mine open because there was no air conditioning or possibility of cross breezes. I got used to the night noises, so different from the past days in the mountains and plains. But earplugs and an eye mask are my friends.

Groggy, I sat on the cool porch and soaked up early morning downtown living. I loved being this high up. I watched seagulls wheel from above and below and around the skyscrapers, waiting for them to appear on the other side, high above the traffic. I wonder what birds think of our cars. We follow each other on roadways, so do they think we are a flock following one another on a set route of our own internal compasses? They wouldn’t be far off. Our peopled sidewalks must look like trails of determined ants to them from above. Is that what we are somewhat? We are just as industrious. I just learned we share another trait with ants as being the only species to enslave others. Weird, but true. Ants use aphids for their own ends. What a world. Musings over, it was time to get down to street level.

View of downtown from Stanley Park

View of downtown from Stanley Park

Got on my scooter, downstairs and across the block before realizing I’d forgotten to charge the battery. Rats! I was a bit worried about the brain drop outs. Made it back to the apartment. Plan B. Got my walker and we took the van to Stanley Park. Robbie drove and I was the navigator. Cruised downtown a bit, amazed at all the high rise apartment buildings that have gone up since I was here 15 years ago. I heard back then that the outpouring of immigrants from Hong Kong when it reverted to China created a demand and drove property values higher. But maybe these high rises aren’t just due to those Chinese. Traditionally, many Canadians yearn for “Van City”. The milder climate, the cosmopolitan hipness, the surrounding scenery and outdoor sport are all big draws to land-locked and frozen Canadians.

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Stanley Park sits like a solitaire diamond in a setting just off of the downtown sprawl. It’s almost an island connected by a causeway to downtown, and a bridge comes off it’s north side and goes over the bay to the mountainous lands that give the city its lovely, tall backdrop and provide a rugged outdoor playground. We did a spin through the vehicle-accessible, eastern part of the 1,001 acre park, eating up the views of the harbor and city, the bay and mountains and the luxurious forested peace of the park itself. It’s bigger than the 843 acre Central Park in NYC, and just 16 acres smaller than Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, but what sets it apart is that it’s barely been changed by landscape architects or planners, looking much as it has to the human inhabitants for thousands of years, give or take the vagaries of nature. Three windstorms in the past 100 years have spoken to that. Although there’s been some urban development like an aquarium, miniature train, sports oval, outdoor theater, a rose garden and other features, there is also half a million trees, some quite tall, reaching 250′. People are proud of the seawall with it’s walkway. A masonry feat taking many decades because they could only work at low tide, it is 22 kilometers in length, making it the longest waterfront walkway. Runners heaven, and there were lots. Better than a treadmill at a gym.

AAA trolley rides

AAA trolley rides

Robyn with the horseys

Robyn with the horseys

Robyn had spotted draft-horse-drawn trolleys offering tours and we opted for that. It was a leisurely pace, clopping through the woods and along the shoreline, past the indigenous totem poles, hearing Vancouver’s history and a breakdown of the day to day lives of the humanely treated horses, watching the float planes take off on the bay. I sat next to Chinese speaking tourists with their young daughter. The father was impressed I knew how to say hello, “Ni hao,” and thank you, “xiĂ© xiĂ©”. Now I need to learn “good bye”. Slowing down to see more of a place and interacting with people is the way to go, as well as letting chance sometimes rule the day. I’m glad I didn’t have a rigid agenda on my travels besides a few basics. It has meant that there’s no flow to go against and it all unfolds as it will, like this trolley ride. Spur of the moment whims abound and there’s no stress to make a plan happen or disappointment if it doesn’t.

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Looking north from Stanley Park.

Looking north from Stanley Park.

"Girl in a Wetsuit"

“Girl in a Wetsuit”

Hungry now, we patted the horses goodbye and reentered the fray, dodging downtown rush hour to get to Gastown. This is old town Vancouver, and is the hip cultural epicenter. Fashion, art, music, bars, restaurants, and urban living space keep revitalizing this area. Robyn had Yelped us a highly rated dinner spot, TUC Kraft Kitchen on W. Cordova between Abbott and Casall. It was either that or La Brasserie, but we ended up here. While waiting for Robyn to park the van after dropping me off out front, I had a conversation with Kayla the hostess who was going for the first time to Europe for 80 days. She picked that length, in part, to build in lots of whimsy time which I think is a perfect way to travel.

The restaurant filled with hipsters and we had good hard ciders, a “crackling” that got me drooling for my English aunt’s crunchy version but was really just fried pork belly, not true skin crackling at all, but still nice, with a delicious dipping sauce. Braised beef cheeks, potatoes au gratin that really was just potatoes with cheese sprinkled on top (misnomers seem to be a theme here) and flavorful wilted spinach. Robyn had the pork loin which looked more like a butt (following the theme) but good. Tasty galette for dessert. The restaurant provided a great last supper together even if the actual dishes took poetic license with their definitions. Robbie is off home to Australia tomorrow.

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On the way back to our high-rise Airbnb we noticed and liked all the downtown greenery tucked in here and there on sidewalks, roofs and terraces of the buildings. Once on our own porch we watched the sunset, dusk, twilight and night descend over skyscrapers, mountains and bay. We were close to other buildings but not hemmed in, so the views were stunning. It has been so fun for me to “live” in such an urban setting for a couple days, before making the final push down through the Pacific Northwest back home to California.

Day 22 (8/5/15) Last Day of Leg #10 and Interim before Leg #11. Vancouver, British Columbia to Seattle, WA, USA:

Lay in bed listening to the sounds that wafted up to my 32nd floor bedroom. Mostly the rising thrum and fading attenuation of the electric train pulling in and out of the Chinatown/Stadium stop below. There’s a steady but low roar of traffic, pierced occasionally by faint back-up warning beeps, emergency services sirens, the rare horn or souped up engine. Seagulls called and cruise ships bellowed their harbor presence. Sudden laughter or muffled bits of conversations from neighboring balconies seem close as we are amongst living space as well as commercial office space. 49,000 people in one square mile! But I think that statistic is closer to the tip of the peninsula nearer to Stanley park where I saw all the new high rise apartments. At our southern end near the stadium it’s a tad more spaced, which gives us great views.

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Wrote up some of my notes on this lazy, cloudy morning. It was to be a big day ahead, dropping off Robyn at the airport and me going to Seattle and then all the way home soon so I’m resting. I can’t believe I’m less than a week from finishing this Odyssey and going home. Wow.

We didn’t have to be out of the Airbnb until 3pm so I took advantage of the hot tub in the adjoining amenities building. Nice and hot. I am a total knucklehead though because I wore my bathing attire down there with a fleece vest to counteract the cool temps on the terrace I had to cross, then forgot to take the vest off in the tub! Oh dear. I’m afraid this trip has really eaten into my brainpower.

After packing up, Robyn wrestled the gear for the last time into the van and we wound our way out of the underground parking labyrinth. I’m still learning the tricks of Garmin the GPS so we were stymied in locating the Airport because it needed a street address and since fascist AT&T want to charge me international rates of $16 per MB (usually accounting for just one page of Internet) I’ll be damned if I’ll pay that to look up the numerical address of the bloody airport.

So we resorted to a real map. After getting lost, because street signs rarely help the traveler looking for a road that’s seems to have another name on the map or some other confusion, I pulled over and devoted some one-on-one, touchy-feely time with Garmin who suddenly was quite happy to tell us where the airport was after I told it to look for Points of Interest. *sigh* We had inadvertently pulled over in old Chinatown which cleared up my wonderment as to why our Airbnb area called itself Chinatown when it simply wasn’t. I’ve lived in L.A. and know San Francisco’s Chinatown and it didn’t have any characteristics of a Chinatown. Maybe it used to be that but they moved out to the suburbs. But our lost meandering had found the red-pagoda-lamp-post, turned-up-roof-edge, Chinese-language-signs, cultural and commercial buildings area I was more used to.

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So, an hour and a half after we left the building…and we pulled up to the airport’s swanky Fairmont Hotel, Robyn’s final splurge so she could just roll out of bed and practically into the plane at 6am. On the way we had a hilarious conversation pretending to be one of the wealthiest, upper crust, old money families of Vancouver, lamenting over the changes we’d seen in our lifetime. Had to be there. Suffice to say we have similar humor and bounce of each other quite easily and crack ourselves up a lot. Which is why it’s so hard to say goodbye. Promises of future trips helps. We’ve already plotted a couple scenarios. Now to save up! First things first though and I must try to curb my use of exclamation points.

I left Vancouver at rush hour. Brilliant bit of planning there. Darn you Garmin. Actually, heading south wasn’t too bad. It was the border into the U.S. that was snarled. Waited maybe half an hour but then got through. I noticed increased security, lots of cameras looking at you, the car, license plate, god knows what else, probably X-ray. Gave me a chance to eat a hard-boiled egg, some crackers and dive into my 2nd to last bag of salted, roasted pecans from Chillicothe, Texas. Yum. My car dining poncho is so handy to keep me clean as I am a total grot and the BiPAP makes food sail out of my mouth at times. Ha!

Pulled over for a hot cider half way to Seattle at a surprisingly late open coffee drive-thru hut. It was called Foxy Lady or something which I didn’t really pay to much attention to until I pulled up to the window and was greeted by a pretty blond with lots of tattoos and in a tiny bikini. I wasn’t sure what to make of that so I asked her if she owned the place. She said no but she managed it, and was planning on opening one of her own. Did they make her wear the bikini? I asked. Well, yes, she said, it was weird at first but everyone was nice and if someone was disrespectful she refused them service. She was used to it after six years. She was gutsy because she’s off aways from anything open and the gas station next door has trees obscuring her so I don’t think I’d feel safe. I gave her a good tip.

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Started to rain outside Seattle but the last dusk peeked in spots and downtown looked cool all lit up. I’d missed rush hour so although it was city busy it wasn’t slow. Rain made it a bit hard but Garmin got me to George’s over in West Seattle. All in all, I am so grateful Susan Heine gave me this GPS thingy. It was good to see George and collapse at his pad after some catching up. Sweetie gave up his bedroom for me and gave me a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker. It’s good to land at a friend’s house!

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