I grew up road-tripping around British Columbia. For my family, summers meant lush green mountains scrolling past bug-smeared windows, bobbing of sleepy heads as the sun worked its somnolent magic on the back seat, the tinny blast of music from a 90s car stereo, and a constant stream of questions that included the classics: “How much farther?” and “Do you need to go before we go?”
Embarking on a road trip as an adult, especially a solo road trip, is an entirely different experience altogether, but no less enduring.
The first thing you realize is that BC is big. Really, really big. You can drive east for 8 straight hours and still have only crossed three quarters of the province. Gives you a lot of space to think, I guess. As I traced the route to Kaslo with my cursor, pixels dancing across the snaking route and rippling terrain, I remember thinking of the distance as a challenge. Something to be proud of, a notch in the proverbial belt. I’d only ever been responsible for four hours of driving at a time before, and the thought of expanding my “range” was seductively liberating. A great big middle finger to everyone and everything that had ever told me “you can’t.”
Like many things, though, the beginning of the trip didn’t exactly go according to plan. A work meeting ran late, the trains were jammed, and a flurry of small but necessary chores awaited me on my return home. By the time I was packed and ready to hit the road, the sun had already descended into obscurity, and dark blue clouds were heralding the fast-approaching night. The car’s fuel tank being full, I stopped at a local Starbucks to top mine up. “Extra shot, please.” I’d made a hotel reservation for that evening at the halfway point, and was determined to cover as much ground as possible.
Spurred by novelty, or perhaps just that extra espresso shot coursing through my veins, I found a certain sense of romanticism in the first couple of hours. It was just me, the highway, the coffee, and the night. This, this is what freedom was about. I savoured a sense of poignant longing, let the chill of being alone shudder its way down my spine, and poured that emotion into a one-person concert.
After that, something changed. The distance between the loose band of vehicles I’d been travelling in had stretched to breaking point. I was really, truly alone. Not a spark of starlight or ray of moonlight played across the hood of my car, thanks to a thick blanket of cloud that happened to be sluggishly scudding across the region. The darkness, palpable with unusual substance, curved overhead. Only the hum of the engine indicated that I was continuing to chase self-generated pools of light through an endless tunnel. Almost imperceptibly, a sense of unreality crept in. Moving the steering wheel to reflect changes in the road merely produced pressure in different parts of the seat. The painted lines sinuously waved across my field of vision, corresponding to the areas of pressure. Every curve pushed me further from the orientation of stolid reality.
By the next town, I’d had enough. This wasn’t romantic, it was downright dangerous. And I needed sleep, hotel reservation be damned. Admitting the sharp air at my window, I crept from lodging to lodging, only to be met with “no vacancy” in a variety of different fonts. The sun had long since receded, drawing all warmth with it, so sleeping in the car was unrealistic. I was still 130 kilometres away from my destination, and entering the final hour of the day.
My options were running thin. After several quick laps around the parking lot to restore blood flow, I got back on the highway. Often, I’m amazed at the universe’s capacity to give you exactly what you need. Before the lights of the town had faded behind me, I caught up with a battle-scarred box truck, squeaking and chugging its way along the road. The peeling white paint, dents, dings, and geographical-looking spots of rust may not have been the most attractive scenery, but it was something real. Something to hold on to, an object for concentration. We travelled in tandem for more than an hour, until the abrupt angle of a cross-road caused our paths to diverge. But by then, I could see the dull glow clinging to the horizon, signifying that my destination was near.
Everything was going to be OK.
The next day dawned broad and clear, ripe with anticipation. As I trudged through the parking lot shouldering the weight of my bags, an exhilarating wind seemed to skip down from the mountains and give me an impatient little nudge. What else could I do but obey? Days like this were made for exploring. They scour your soul, leaving it fresh and new, and ready to really absorb the new experiences ahead. Bags in the back, tank topped up, I pointed my car towards the mountains, stepped on the gas pedal, and released the tension I’d been holding in for months as a peal of slightly maniacal laughter.
The other thing you’ll realize when driving through BC is that no two places are exactly the same. Overnight, I’d gone from the salt-tinted mist of a coastal temperate rainforest to the tangled scrub and sage-scented wind of arid desert. On the road to Kaslo that day, there was no shortage of incredible terrain. I made my way across rolling peaks smoothed out by the slow march of time. They were covered in a thin layer of sun-baked grass, which provided an ideal surface for the clouds to draw clear outlines of themselves. I passed through towns which still retained a distinct flavour of the “Old West” about them, with sweeping fields of livestock and brick facades standing shoulder to shoulder, keeping watch over the narrow street that’s now known as a highway.
Leaving the slightly parched landscape in the rear-view mirror, green mountains heaved themselves up next to the highway, bolstered by frowning rock. Here and there, clutches of aspen, maple, and other deciduous trees clung together, red and yellow hues blazing defiantly among the mossy shadows. I felt a kind of kinship with the arboreal artistic display. As I struggle to define the life I wish to lead, cognizant of the fact that there are some unorthodox aspects to it, the scene provided comfort. It seemed to underscore the bravery and beauty of simply being, accepting existence as it comes, and shining for all you’re worth.
The embrace of friends, excellent coffee, incredible food, and a sense of peace provided a grand welcome.
I had arrived.
The village of Kaslo is hemmed in by towering peaks, skimmed by the icy glow of winter. Impossibly clear glacier-fed streams spiderweb their way downward, finally emptying into the vast expanse of the lake. A well-maintained network of trails provides plenty of vantage points to take it all in. To let the quiet whisper of nature seep, unobstructed, into your soul. Or maybe just to think.
Like any memorable trip, this one was over too soon. Early in the morning, I settled into the car and prepared to make the 8-hour straight shot towards home. My face still retained a trace of soreness from the night before, when we’d laughed ourselves hoarse over the kind of unrepeatable, wine-fueled puns that lend a warm glow to memory. A sense of strength coursed along my legs, brought forth by a beautiful meander along the trails. The scene, the mood, everything was imbued with the sweet sadness that comes with saying goodbye, if only for a while. But it was time to go.
On the beach in Kaslo, I found the perfect skipping stone. Completely flat, almost symmetrically round, just the right size, and a good amount of heft. But I didn’t throw it. It wasn’t the right time. I wasn’t ready. A stone like that deserves a throw that will do it justice. One day, I will send that stone rippling across a sun-drenched body of water. The spray of tiny droplets will attach itself to the dull surface, catching and refracting the light. And it will shine for all it’s worth.