Day 5. Brooks, Alberta – Kamloops, British Columbia. 850 km.
I woke up really excited. I have been dreaming about Rocky Mountains for many years!
The morning reminded that Brooks is agricultural town. The smell of a farm in the air was really strong! And there was another surprise in the morning – the thermometer in my car was showing only +4° Celcius (39° Fahrenheit)! I did not expect that – when I was leaving Montreal it was about +24°! And the previous day it was in upper 10s. Prairies have very different climate indeed!
Just before Calgary, I decided that I need some fuel for both me and my car. Regular gas for her an Tim Horton’s coffee for me. I did not expect this routine stop to become one of the brightest moments of my journey. A senior man approached me and asked:
“Do you speak English at all” – obviously he have seen my Quebec number plates.
“Yes, sure. Why?” I replied
“Are you enjoying the trip? Traveling across Canada?” he asked me
“Yes, it is amazing” I replied, “I am moving to Vancouver”
The man had a huge smile on his face, he shook my hand and said:
“Welcome to the West!”
It was just as if I was struck by a lighting. And it was a great feeling, to be welcomed. This little moment, meeting this random man at random parking lot, not only made my day, but also helped to establish a positive mental momentum. After a rainbow from a previous day and a greeting that day, I felt that I was moving into right direction. Many good signs.
Driving through Alberta was very interesting. Now I fully understand why it tops the list of Canadian provinces by GDP per capita (second only to NWT). I have seen a wide variety of industries in Alberta. It felt that Albertans are ready to do any job that can be done, that can develop the province and bring money. I have seen oil and natural gas wells, animal farms, wheat fields, fruit gardens, factories and much more. No one sits and waits for government help. I really like Alberta.
Upon reaching Calgary, I decided to make the traditional trick for this journey – drive through big city to have a glimpse of it. My short drive through Calgary gave me a very good impression, it looks like a great modern city, very clean and friendly. I decided that I definitely want to come back for a few days and explore it properly. Should I go for a Calgary Stampede next year?
Leaving Calgary made my excitement jump through the roof. I was anticipating to see the Rocky Mountains. I felt that I was getting closer to it, there were clouds and mountain-like features on horizon even before reaching Calgary.
Then suddenly, after a turn on the road there was it. A grandiose view of colossal mountains on horizon. I was screaming like crazy – “F…, it is the Rocky Mountains”!!! I have completely lost my breath. The view of the mountains and excitement of getting closer and closer was truly incredible!
I have seen mountains in my life. Never Himalayas or something that big. But the Rockies are by far the most impressive mountains I have ever seen. They are immense. They are rugged. They are powerful. I really enjoyed driving though them. The surroundings are so diverse that you don’t have enough time to look around! Lakes, rivers, forests, lakes again. It is crazy. I was thinking what first explorers must have felt when they crossed them by foot.
The Trans Canada Highway goes through the Banff National Park, that has many of Canada’s most famous places. It is unlike everything I have seen before. It felt like a different planet.
I have planned a couple of stops in the park, but it was not possible to see everything. I started with the “must-go” place, the icon of Banff – Lake Louise. Most of people who are interested in Canada, have seen pictures of a lake with emerald color of water, surrounded by mountains. No wonder that many people want to see it! The parking lot was packed with cars from all over North America – I have seen California, Florida, Nova Scotia, Nebraska, Alaska number plates, and many others, including a camper from the Netherlands! I have lost over an hour trying to park my car. And it was a cold and rainy September Monday! I cannot imagine what happens there during weekends and summer peak months!
The lake itself is a definitely must-see. It is really impressive. The color of water is bright emerald and seems unrealistic. The lake is fed by the melt water from glaciers, and the color comes from microscopic particles of minerals that float in the water.
A few minutes after leaving Lake Louise and driving the highway, it crosses to British Columbia. The sixth and the final province of my journey. The destination. A place I hope to call home.
In British Columbia, the road goes higher in the mountains, where terrain is more difficult, and it becomes an undivided one lane road, first time since I crossed from Ontario to Manitoba.
The first point of interest in BC is the famous Big Hill. Is it the most difficult piece of railway track in Canadian Pacific Railway’s system. The track passes through very rugged terrain with lack of space, which resulted in a very steep railroad grade that was very hard and dangerous to pass even for short trains with powerful locomotives. As a result, the railroad was rebuild with two spiral tunnel – here the train goes in a loop, which means that locomotives are passing under a train that they are pulling! I read on the Internet that the average interval between trains is about 20 minutes at this area, but I waited for over 40 minutes and there was no train in sight. With over 300 km still to go on that day I decided to move on and show you some footage I have found online.
The road goes further through the mountains, over several mountain passes. The most famous, Roger’s Pass, has a summit at 1,330 m (4,360 ft). The road is narrow, hills are pretty steep and bends are sharp. Beware that there are a few stretches of road with no fuel or service! Keep your tank full! But for for many drivers all these challenges mean more fun!
After navigating treacherous mountains, the road descends to the Okanagan Valley. The road goes along beautiful lakes and small valleys with beautiful mountains in the background. The more I got into British Columbia, the more beautiful it looked!
Day 6. Kamloops – Vancouver. 350 km.
I spent a night at Kamloops, not having enough time to explore it properly. And besides, it was cold and rainy, so I decided to keep driving. This was the last day of my journey and I was only a few hours away from Vancouver!
One more pass to go over, then a very long descend. I counted over 20 km of going downhill! Watch your brakes and try to brake with the engine! After about an hour, the scenery changed completely, I was driving through wide green valley, surrounded by mountains from both sides. Then little by little I was getting into Vancouver! GPS guided me through city streets and I arrived to my apartment.
It was finish. The end of my epic journey across Canada. I had a very strange mix of feelings, being tired, excited and a bit scared at the same time. The only cure for that is to go out and explore!
Vancouver looked gorgeous that day. Sunny and clear. I headed straight to the waterfront, to see waters of the Pacific Ocean that have been calling me for so many years. I explored shore of the False Creek, admired beautiful skyscrapers and Vancouver skyline, and called it a day.
Now, after two weeks in Vancouver, I have extremely good feelings when I think about my journey. All I want is to do it again! I have crossed Canada, I have seen many of its natural beauties, met so many nice people. I have seen how incredibly diverse and big it is. From mountains and tiny towns of Quebec, I have driven through remote areas of Northern Ontario, across prairies and over Rocky Mountains until I finally arrived to Vancouver. Another my lifetime dream came true.
This year I have seen both coasts of Canada, Atlantic and Pacific. And I got everywhere with my car. And I became even more convinced, that the best way to see a country is to drive across it. I absolutely recommend it to everyone who want to truly feel and see it. And Canada has a lot to show. It is the best country in the world to travel by car.