Road Trip – Chapter 4

 

Yesterday was a day of rest for me. Felicity painted two pictures. I went for a five minute walk after lunch then slept through the afternoon. 

Snow is forecast for Banff so, since we don’t know how the RV will handle that and we wouldn’t be able to see the Rockies, anyway, we’ll go to Drumheller, which Cousin Alison recommended. It features a gigantic dinosaur replica whose head you can climb into, a coal mine tour and other tourist attractions. It’s unlikely there will be many tourists there now. It looks like everything shuts down at the end of this month. 

Henry overshadowed by the dinosaur.

I woke this morning from a dream where bells were ringing all around. The people I was with didn’t know why. It was the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1 when my body was minus-26 years old. 

My thought as I got up was “oh no, not breakfast again”. That’s the downside of no longer feeling hungry. Meals become a chore instead of a pleasure. I felt ok about it almost immediately, though. It’s a blessing to be alive, just a concept that some activities are chores. 

We drive to Drumheller, stopping at a wool shop on a farm that has been in the family for four generations. I’ve been thinking it must be very lonely out here where the houses are far apart, one per giant farm, and there appear to be no gathering places. The lady who spins and knits and operates the store says her kids and the in-laws often stop by. The winters are long but it’s okay. 

First stop in Drumheller is the doctors office because I will soon need more ALS medicine. We have to get a prescription because the one from my neurologist won’t work in Canada. 

Everyone is so friendly, helpful and cheerful. The Indian doctor carries the baby of the patient ahead of us so the mom can rest and he tells her older daughter that despite his appearance he is actually Harry Potter and can prove it. Would she like him to do that?  She would. I wish I could see what he does. She sounds convinced. 

The pharmacist we go to calls all the other pharmacists in town to see if they have my meds in stock so he can send us to them if they do. They don’t and he can’t get them until Monday so we’ll be here for three nights. 

The campsite Felicity likes the look of turns out to be closed for the season but others are still open. We don’t want to go to the Rockies yet, anyway. 

Next day – An inch or two of snow fell overnight. We turned on the propane central heating and hope it will also keep the plumbing from freezing. The electricity was off for a while but it’s back by breakfast time. 

A small child of indeterminate gender under big warm clothes is making a snowman on the picnic table across the road. This will be another day of rest for us. 

Felicity knits a tea cosy with wool from the wool shop. I read. Felicity got lovely knitted slippers at the wool shop. I considered getting slippers at the supermarket yesterday but decided I didn’t really need them. The RV floor is cold, though. Felicity tells me learning to be kind to others is not enough: I should also learn to be kind to myself. I’m not entirely persuaded but since we’re almost out of beer, anyway, we go out and I get some. 

Perhaps the smoked fish I had for lunch motivated me. Undoubtedly the coffee provided energy. And now that I have beer, why not have one?  Which brings me to a confession. I saw locally made beef sausages in the mini market we went to the other day and despite my sadness for the buffalo, I got some. I finished them for my evening meal today. 

Next day – We go to the dinosaur museum. Will the species that replaces us painstakingly assemble hominid museums?

The museum is excellent. There are lifelike recreations of dinosaurs in the habitat that was here then and there are real fossils, not plaster casts of them, The fossils are displayed with concise and clear explanations of how we know what came when and the scientific method.

Felicity goes on a guided walk to observe the different levels of ground. I climb to the overlook from which everything looks just as it does from below then come back to the RV to eat and rest. 

The sun may come out tomorrow. If my meds are at the pharmacy we’ll go on to Banff and then Jasper. 

Next Day – Today is brighter at times. We go to the Atlas Coal Museum. There are several guided tours but only one we have time for before heading for Banff, a train ride.

The locomotive is battery powered, less than three feet high and it has half a dozen low steel wagons that were used to haul coal from the coal face to the sorting and storage place above ground. We’re the only ones on this trip so we sit right at the front. It’s quite a short trip whose point is really the guide’s explanations and stories.  He does a great job as you can see from Felicity’s expression.

The seam here was an average of five feet four inches high, the same as the average man when it was established a century ago. Other seams were as low as 32 inches. Miners had to lie on their side at the coal face in those and chip with one hand. 

Working at the coal face was the premier job. It paid by the ton while other jobs were paid by the hour. Miners at the coal face worked in pairs. They had to be trustworthy so new hires were first put to work above ground where they could be observed. 

The trains that carried coal from the coal face to the sorting and storage area had a driver and a helper on the last wagon whose job was to open the doors placed where tunnels divided to direct air to wherever the men were working that day. 

In some other mines the helper did not ride on the train but was stationed at a door. He would be there for a ten hour shift with no light. Why would he need light?  He might wander off, though, so he would be tethered to a post. This job was done by boys as young as six. They’d be paid well, the same as an adult working on a farm. 

The tradition then was for the oldest son to inherit the family farm. Many younger sons who wanted to farm would work as miners to save enough to buy a farm. 

An enormous amount of coal was mined around here and miners came from all over to work. Twenty five different languages were spoken in this mine. 

Next we stop off to see hoo doos. I kept seeing guys wearing caps that said HOODOO when we first got to this area. What could it mean?  Was it an acronym like MAGA?  Turns out they are eroded rocks. A plate of hard rock sits on top of a column of softer rock that is narrower. 

Erosion is a big deal here. It’s why so many dinosaur bones are discovered. The soft rock around them erodes leaving many of them intact. The valley with its hillocks that look like slag heaps was formed by a sudden tremendous flood when the ice field to the north melted at the end of the last ice age around 14,000 years ago. 

Now Felicity calls the pharmacy. Did my meds come?  They did!  We go to pick them up then start for Banff. 

The land almost all the way to the outskirts of Calgary is giant crop fields. The average price per acre last year was $2,500 and the average farm size was over 1,000 acres so the days when a coal miner could save enough to buy a farm are long gone. Mining here ended a bit over half a century ago. 

On the outskirts of Calgary densely packed agglomerations of identical houses are surrounded by as yet undeveloped land. It looks as though developers buy farms and cram onto them as many houses as possible. 

As we drive north the land changes to pine forests that are overtaking grassland. White birches at their edges whose leaves are now bright yellow make a beautiful contrast. 

And now we’re among the mountains. So beautiful and so different from the ones I’m used to in the Himalayas. Civilized in a way because they rise out of the pines, white birches and meadows. In the few places where the mountain sides make it possible pines climb toward the summits. 

I slow down to 45 mph as we climb the gently sloping valley to make it easier for Felicity to take pictures and me to look around. And now we arrive at the idyllic campsite. 

Next day – I wake before dawn with both nostrils totally blocked and unable to breathe through my mouth because of the mask. I throw off the mask and pant helplessly for a while. My nostrils finally clear after breakfast hours later. My oxygen level is 85% to 89% depending on which finger I test. 

Felicity asks if I want to read the guide book and see where we could go. I was never one for guidebooks preferring to stumble upon things and unconcerned that I’d miss other things. Now I don’t want to read them. I don’t have the energy any more to do what I used to love doing. I sure can’t hike in these mountains. 

But I do enjoy seeing things, and I very much enjoy Felicity’s delight. She thinks the weather is going to be better than the earlier forecasts so we’ll stay longer in the mountains, not rush to get over them to avoid snow.  On our way to Lake Louise we pass through Tunnel Mountain Village.  We will definitely stick around to see more like this!

Even though it’s almost the end of September, all the parking lots at Lake Louise are full. Luckily, the campground is not. It’s among the pines so the mountains are not visible.  It’s also next to a railroad we discover as a very long freight train rumbles by. 

We’re both surprisingly tired. Felicity sets up her bed after lunch. I’m distressed that it’s so blissful when I relax on my own bed. My oxygen level is now 89% on each finger I test.

Felicity feels revived by a long nap. I still feel about the same, good enough to drive to Lake Louise but probably not to do much walking. 

It’s thronged with people from many countries. They’re a great mixture. Some are staying in the chateau at the lakeside. It must be fiercely expensive. Many came in rented RVs. The glaciers at the top end of the lake are cloud covered but many, many pictures are being taken anyway. 

Felicity goes for a walk round the lake. I sit and watch the mountains and the people. I enjoy watching people now. I’m pretty sure I used not to. Felicity wishes they weren’t here. 

Note:  My friend, David, replied to this email: “Toward the end you wrote “I enjoy watching people now. I’m pretty sure I used not to.” This struck me as odd because it brought back a memory from our trekking together. It may have been our trip to Dhiren’s village, or perhaps Mustang. Anyway, you and I were in the same places at the same time and both of us took many pictures. Some time later I looked through many of your images and I was struck by the fact that most of yours centered on people, while many of mine didn’t even contain people. I remember thinking with some embarrassment that you must have been interested in the people and I in landscapes.”

Back at the campsite we dither about what to do next. Continuing up towards Jasper still feels best. 

Some good health news before I close. I haven’t had a coughing fit for several days. The trick is to keep my mouth closed as late in the day as possible. Felicity lent me an elastic head band which makes it much easier than using my hand. 

One comment on “Road Trip – Chapter 4

  1. Martin, I’m just loving your posts. I’m getting inspired to turn my annual PDF of family news, into a weekly blog, with only one photo and one thing that I find interesting about the previous week.

    Apart from your content, and mastery of facts, is your awareness of all you are experiencing. Its Buddhist philosophy in action, and it shines through your writing.

    Tell Felicity I love the pictures of her.

    Keep writing about your experiencing ….

    Alan

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