Canada: 5000 miles West to East

Vancouver – Tofino – Victoria – Jasper – Banff – Calgary – Edmonton – Toronto – Montreal – Quebec City – Ottawa

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When I spent a Spring afternoon booking a one-way flight to Vancouver (procrastinating instead of studying) I was completely unaware that I was yet to embark on the same journey that my own father had completed when he was my age. The months of June, July and August 2016 were spent hiking mountains, riding several day-long trains and socialising with strangers, many of whom are now life-long friends, as I ventured 5000 miles coast to coast.

Canada is one of few countries that you only hear positive experiences and feedback of. Fortunately, I am able to say that my 7 week solo backpacking adventure contributes to the reputation of the country – trust me when I say Canada is a beautiful country and the generous locals are an asset to this fact.

My journey starts in Vancouver with a familiar face, that of which is my Dad who never reached Vancouver Island when he backpacked the country 25 years prior. The contrast of islands home to 100ft tall trees, snow-capped mountains and a youthful city surrounded by a reflective ocean is what makes Vancouver the dynamic location for adventure-seekers. The luxury of living in British Colombia is that you are only a short journey away from a change of scenery. If Vancouver city proves too much, drive 60 miles north to Whistler Ski Resort and if you really have gone mad why not leap 160ft off a bridge? Ensuring you’re safely strapped up first is always a help…

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Vancouver Island offers an escape from tourist-crammed locations, which is probably why Tofino was a personal favourite. Waking up to the fresh breeze by Mackenzie Beach and spotting whales in their natural environment are some key memories with my Dad, not forgetting the teamwork achieved while assembling a tent… alone.

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After a relieving goodbye and a cheeky week in Hawaii (more about that another time), I continued on track through the Rocky Mountains by train and arrived in Jasper after a 24 hour-long replica of a Desperate Housewives episode. I guess it’s only natural for three mothers to be concerned for a white blue-eyed British female solo traveller.

My three-day stay in Jasper was spent accommodated at the HI-Hostel that was inconveniently situated 4km out of town and up a rather steep hill. Fortunately, I was able to hire a mountain bike from said hostel to ease my commute around the national park. One fond memory was hiking 2,500m up Whistler mountain by foot, instead of opting for the skytram up. On reaching the apex I was greeted with a not so warm welcome of snow, but a great sense of pride was celebrated righteously with a beer!

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Now for my favourite story to ever tell of my time in Canada.

Based on the fact that there is one highway 250km to Banff from Jasper, I tried to save $70 by hitch-hiking. Having been assured I would get a lift within 5 minutes, I was slightly concerned when a whole hour had passed and I was stood in the same place. That was until a tall bearded man approached from a truck parked to the side of the road; I honestly had no idea what to expect, but after an hours wait I anticipated social interaction.

“Hey, where are you heading to?”

“Banff…” *I don’t care if you’re a serial killer, please tell me you’re going there too*

“Ahh, I’m heading to the Ice-field Parkway…” – *Shit.*

“… let me ask my wife a second…”*He has a wife! He must be normal!*

And that is how I met two treasured friends, Meghan and Chris. If you’ve ever considered quitting your job, selling your house and travelling the world, this pair are living proof that it is possible. That is with the addition of their two military dogs. Conversations of Brexit and U.S. gun law were exchanged before arriving 150km towards Banff. Through pure generosity, Megan and Chris decided to drive me the whole 250km to Banff knowing they would have to do the return journey later to Jasper. Not only that, but they bought dinner and a flight of beers, further offering to pick me up on their way to Calgary in time for the Stampede.

It is acts of generosity like this that give me hope for the world and should encourage us all to momentarily consider what we have to offer through the simple act of kindness as strangers. Do not expect, but trust that when you are in need someone will be there to offer you help. I am forever indebted not only to Meghan and Chris, but to each and every friend, once stranger, for their help and hosting.

Initial plans of travelling Canada were not specifically timed around events, but on noticing the dates for Calgary Stampede I would have been a fool not to attend.

The annual event draws people in from all across the globe for days of horse-wagon racing, live music, grand parades and not forgetting the traditional dish of poutine. If you haven’t bought yourself a cowboy hat then you may want to reconsider #doyouevenCalgarybro?

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After a frightful radio warning of a tornado a few miles East while driving to Edmonton, I set off on a tiring three-day train journey to Toronto. What do you do on a train for three days? Well, I slept (a lot), read books, updated my travel journal and pondered as to how on Earth I got so lucky. Overall,  riding through the prairies was somewhat mundane, but it made me appreciate the change of scenery when a little red barn in the midst of wheat fields emerged.

Arriving in Toronto gave a true reflection of the urban and built-up city landscape that the East coast possesses in comparison to the West. If you are a fan of Camden then Kensington market is the place for you. Otherwise the cheapest maple syrup can be found in Montreal, military history tours are best in Quebec City and if you start to miss British culture like I did towards the end of my journey, head to Ottawa for a free tour of the parliament buildings.

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Canada is not far remote from British heritage given its history and though you may travel alone in a world deemed ever so large, you will be surprised when you find a familiar face from home sat just a few train seats away from you on the way to Niagara Falls.

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