01 Aug An Extended Canadian Holiday
Post by Hobart staff member, Keegan. Welcome home!
The Canadian gap year (I use this term loosely, a gap from what exactly I don’t know). Its almost a rite of passage for a young Australian, its not hard to see why. Canada has some of the worlds most majestic scenery, amazing wildlife and it’s northerly latitude, weather systems and mountain ranges combine to produce insanely good skiing and snowboarding. On top of all that, close political ties allow us Aussies the opportunity to be granted a 2 year working holiday visa, an easy, yet time consuming process consisting of paperwork, patience and then more paperwork. My girlfriend Angie and I had both been interested in the idea for some time, and when the subject arose in passing, neither of us hesitated in committing. We were set for a September departure, which would allow us 3 months of Fall (Autumn) before we’d need to bunker down for winter. Our rough plan; fly to Vancouver, buy a camper van and explore the country as much as possible before finding a home and jobs in a small ski-town, and spend the following 6 months back in the van through the east of Canada and the USA.
Our first few days in Vancouver came with the realisation that finding a van would be harder than we initially thought. We spent 10 days scouring the classifieds, and just as we started to rethink our plans, we met Gandalf, a 1982 GMC van, large enough for two to be comfortable. It was such a relief to find our dream vehicle/home, and its hard to describe the euphoria and freedom we felt as we (finally) left the city, bound for the laid-back lifestyle of life on the road.
We’d spent almost 2 months in Gandalf, spending most of our time around Vancouver Island, Whistler, Banff and everywhere in between, but the northern hemisphere winter was approaching. It quickly became too cold to sleep comfortably in the van. I remember one particular night in Lake Louise, it was snowing outside and bitterly cold. Despite layering up tenfold and wrapping ourselves up in the usually cosy bed, the -10C temperatures permeated the van, making for a long and cold night – It was only October! Time to find a house for winter. We’d heard of a little town with a great vibe and even better ski terrain called Fernie, B.C. – a historic mining town with around 5000 permanent residents, mostly outdoor enthusiasts, located on the southern end of the Canadian Rockies. We fell in love with the place, despite the daily downpour of autumn rain! Finding work was no challenge, joining around 100 other seasonal employees working for Fernie Alpine Resort, and rented an apartment 5 minutes from the mountain. Thanks to an exceptionally cold (think -30C) winter we were blessed with 11 metres of snow, which has been toted as one of the best winters in recent years. We fully immersed ourselves in the experience, snowboarding every possible moment, whilst making some great friends. But winter doesn’t last forever, and we soon hit the road again, this time heading south into the USA.
It would be far too self-indulgent and boring for you readers to provide a place-by-place recap of our adventures in Gandalf, so I’ll stick to a few highlights. Vancouver, Seattle and Portland provided the best metropolitan adventures, Portland particularly appealing to our “inner-foody,” with boutique breweries, eateries and food trucks galore. The culture and music of Memphis and New Orleans was incredible, as was the sobering history of pro-slave states Georgia and South Carolina. The Arizonan desert and canyons of Utah, and the forests, lakes and mountains of Canada were the mother nature’s pinnacle sights. On the surf front, Canada has some great waves; Tofino, on Vancouver Island is the nucleus of Canadian surfing, but we were rewarded for exploring elsewhere, finding some better waves along the southern parts of Vancouver Island. We saw an incredible amount of wildlife; Chipmunks, Elk, Deer, Coyotes, a Lynx and a Moose just to name a few. Whilst hiking on Vancouver Island we came across a mother Black Bear and her two cubs, they were eating a freshly caught salmon and although they were aware of our nearby presence, they took little notice and we were able to observe them for quite some time. It was an incredibly humbling experience to be so close to such an unique and amazing animal.
After travelling for around ten months, some developing mechanical issues with our van, an ever dwindling bank balance and my growing anxiety to be near the ocean again signaled a slightly early return home. So here we are, once again in familiar surrounds back in Hobart. It is difficult to condense what was almost a full year into a few short paragraphs, and I’ve definitely written more than the 2 or 3 paragraph brief I was given (sorry Laura!). I must also note, regrettably, I have portrayed our trip as if everything worked out exactly as planned, but it was definitely not so. There’s no doubt we had our fair share of ups and downs, compromises and failures but learning to have realistic plans and expectations is, I have learnt, an important aspect of travelling. So in order to keep this brief I have admittedly omitted a great deal.
As our holiday was drawing to a close, I dreaded the thought of returning home. Back to the reality, normality, routine and the ultimate question, ‘what do you want to do with your life?’ To this, I can never find the right answer, and my go to response, ‘dunno, I’ll work it out though’ seems vague and often disappointing. Well you know what, I might just escape again!