We wake up in Canada. Sleep came easily last night. We made it, it’s done. I don’t think we realize what we’ve accomplished just yet. But we are enjoying the moment and the fact that we are done hiking, for now. The weather is grey and wet and the outdoors doesn’t look inviting right now. We are glad to be inside and to be warm. And we are getting really excited about the fact that Kim Frost, my Canadian host mum is picking us up in a couple of hours. The next part of our journey is about to start.
We did laundry yesterday, went to the Spa and had dinner with our hiker friends. Now people are leaving and we have to say our goodbyes to Trooper, Badger, Captain etc. It feels weird. We cannot grasp what’s happening. Will we ever see these people again? We shared something so big, we will be bound by these last couple of days forever. But what does it all mean? Right now we are just looking forward to the immediate future, no place to dwelve in the past.
Kim arrives around noon and we don’t stop hugging for a long time. Wow, I have missed this lady so so much! She was the best host mum I could ask for when I lived in Canada at the age of 17, and she is still the same! Full of live, love, joy and laughter. How could I live without you for so long? On our drive to Vancouver she catches us up about all the things that have been going on in the Frost family. I am shocked, to say the least. So many changes, so many blows of fate they had to go through without me knowing about any of it. I feel bad about not having been there for them, about not asking, about not supporting. I will try to do better in the future. This family is my family too.
We reach the ferry in West Vancouver in the late afternoon, after a mandatory stop at a Tim Hortons restaurant. Of course. ;-) We arrive in Campbell River in the early evening, what a long day for Kim this must have been! Their house is lovely, homey. Gary is there. And so are Afton and her 3 year old son Sawyer, and cutest dog ever: Daisy. The reunion is unbelievable, I am so glad to be back here with this amazing family. Alexis, Afton’s twin sister, is missing as she lives in Edmonton now. It’s not very likely that I will get to see her on this trip. But hopefully some other time! Afton made a delicious Vietnamese Pho for dinner and we all sit down together. Dario has no trouble fitting in, he is instantly part of the family and finally understands what I’ve been talking about whenever I mentioned the Frosts.
The next days are wonderful, the sun is constantly shining. Gary takes all this time to show us around Campbell River. We go out for little hikes by the beach and in the rainforest. We get some body treatments (massages, pedicures and a facial) my awesome mum has sponsored, insisting that this is what we deserve after the last couple months. We eat delicious Indian food, make dinner for the family, spend quality time with Afton and Sawyer. We also want to spend some time updating our blog and spend hours sitting out on their terrace overlooking the town and the ocean. Campbell River is a fantastic place to live. But change is in the air. Kim and Gary have decided to move to Mexico and start a life down there. So right now they are doing garage sales and are in the process of selling their house. I am glad we got to see where they spent the last decade of their life. We both hope to be back on this island sometime in the future. And back in Mexico to visit Kim and Gary!
The days pass by really quickly - as always when you’re having fun and feeling comfortable - and then the day comes when we have to leave. Thank you so much to our Canadian family for making our first days off trail so memorable and relaxing, and for inviting us into your home once more. We love you!
Next we are off to Victoria, British Columbia’s capital and simply a beautiful city. I have been here before but it’s the first time for Dario. We will only spend a night here, but hope to see the city, have some delicious food and cherish the fact that we are beginning a new chapter of our trip. But we are also tired, spend a lot of time talking about what’s to come, planning our trip and catching up with friends.
The next day we take the ferry to Vancouver where Katherine Coburn is waiting to pick us up. This lady is absolutely amazing. She contributed immensely to my exchange year in Canada in 2004/05 and came to visit in Switzerland a couple of years ago. You can’t help but love this woman! She basically shows us as much of Vancouver as is possible in one day. We first have an awesome breakfast at the Stevenston waterfront, followed by Queen Elizabeth Park and Stanley Park. Then we drive up a road towards the Cypress Provincial Park to get a magnificent view of the whole city. The weather is simply perfect. Not Vancouver-like at all. ;-) Before she drops us off at our guesthouse we go for ice cream at La Casa Gelato. And this place is insane! It’s got hundreds of different flavors and it takes us about 30 minutes to choose ours. An all-you-can-eat sushi dinner together with her partner Gord rounds off this perfect day. The next day Katherine picks us up once more and drives us to the airport. Here we are picking up our rental car for our road trip to Northern B.C. and Alberta.
First stop is Prince George where I lived during my exchange year. It takes us roughly 9 hours to get there, including breaks. The drive up the Fraser Valley is so scenic and it feels so, so strange to be back here. It’s amazing how the landscape around us changes, becoming more and more the way I remembered it.
Being back in Prince George feels great. We are staying with Linda Peleskey, who was my Rotary counsellor. Her husband Elles and Linda are such fun and active people. They live in a beautiful house with a huge backyard, which is often visited by bears, moose, deer and other wildlife. The first night we spend with my friend Karl and his partner Rob. I used to go to Canadian high school with Karl and he once came to visit me in Switzerland with his dad. We haven’t been in touch in a long time though and now have all the time in the world to catch up. Which feels great. We spend a fun night in their lovely home and share many stories, drink wine and build our imaginary guesthouse in Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada. ;-)
The next day is spent driving around Prince George. We visit all the places that once meant so much to me. We drive by all my former host families’ houses, visit my highschool Duchess Park Secondary School, stop by the Pine Centre Mall and the University of Northern B.C., take walks in the Cottonwood Park and Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park and enjoy the beautiful weather. It feels very familiar, yet so strange to be back in this town, which I once used to call my home. I am beyond glad that I got to see it once again after all these years, and share it with Dario.
In the evening we have a delicious dinner with Linda, Elles and their grandson Justin and get up very early the next day to attend a Rotary Club meeting. The Nechako Rotary Club was the club who sponsored me as an Exchange student and I owe them so much! It felt important to me to come back and see some familiar faces and also meet their current exchange student from Brazil. I could totally see myself in her. And she is asking me so many questions. She can’t believe that I am 31 years old and coming back here where I spent a year of my life so many years ago.
We leave Prince George after the Rotary meeting in direction of Jasper in Alberta. After about one hour we stop at the Ancient Forest for a short hike. We do the circle in about one hour and enjoy being outside in the woods again. We’ve been off trail for 10 days now and it’s starting to feel really weird. So to be back in our hiking shoes and with our trekking poles in hand feels great! We reach Jasper after a very scenic drive in the afternoon. We even saw Mt Robson, the highest mountain the Canadian Rockies, in all its glory. This is the first time I get to see it as most of the time it’s hiding behind some clouds. Our first stop is a pizza place because we are starving. And then we drive straight to our home for the night, a room in a private house, which we found online. Jasper is very expensive and it was important to us to find an affordable accommodation. We are trying to keep our expenses as low as possible as we’re still in North America and traveling is obviously really expensive here.
We feel like we haven’t really had time to digest what’s been happening since we left the trail. In fact, we haven’t at all talked about leaving the trail because talking about it hurts. A special kind of homesickness for the trail is spreading within the both of us. What are we missing exactly? It’s hard to tell, especially since the last days on trail have been incredibly hard and also a little traumatizing with the extreme weather we’ve had. But it’s there. A special longing for this narrow path that was our home for a little over 5 months. And we are in a transitioning phase right now, having left the trail but not having started our backpacking life in South America. Surely, once we get over there, our longing for trail life will decrease and make room for this new way of life we both know and love so much.
We don’t see much of Jasper because we are not really in the mood to leave our room and spend money anywhere. We really look forward to tomorrow because we will drive to Banff via the Columbia Icefields, which is probably one of the most scenic routes in the world.
And it really is. We stop multiple times to do some sightseeing. First we climb up to the Athabasca glacier which turns out to be a walk in snow. But we are prepared, carry our warmest gear and trekking poles and reach the glacier after about a 30 minute hike. It’s really winter up here! Then we finally reach the Bow Summit trailhead from where we hike up to Peyto Lake. This is one of the places that has been on my bucket list for forever and I am really excited to see it. The fox-shaped lake is as beautiful as I imagined it to be and is completely surrounded by a snowy surface. It’s so picturesque!
Our last stop for the day is Lake Louise. I have been here before and it’s just as I’d remembered it. Beautiful, but full of tourists. Overcrowded and a bit overrated in my opinion. It is a pretty lake, don’t get me wrong, but there are thousands of lakes in this area that are less known to tourists and way more spectacular. We reach the town of Banff in the late afternoon and check into the King Edward Hotel. We immediately love it! It’s very modern, yet cozy, and has an unbeatable price-quality-ratio. We rest for some hours and then go out to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. We have a delicious three-course dinner including a bottle of red wine for 65 Canadian Dollars, which is pretty amazing.
The next day we decide to go hiking. It’s crazy how much we miss hiking and all that comes with it. First we “resupply” :-) in a supermarket and then drive out to the the trailhead for Healy Pass. It’s gonna be 11km each way, so 22km in total. Let’s see if we’ve still got it in us! ;-) The hike is simply beautiful. We hike in snow only and soon put on our microspikes which we’ve never used on the PCT but they turn out to be awesome! There are other hikers out and about and we end up telling one lady about our PCT adventure. She is completely stunned and doesn’t stop congratulating us. We reach the pass after about 2.5 hours around midday and have lunch on top. The view is pretty epic and could definitely rival some of the Washington views we’ve had the pleasure of coming across. The color of the trees ranges from orange to yellow to green and it looks so pretty with the snowwhite ground. We almost run down the valley on our way back. We are so fast with our microspikes! What an incredible hike! We’ll just have to keep hiking now. It makes us feels so good. It makes us feel connected to the PCT somehow. It makes us feel alive.
Back in Banff we meet with Matt, another Prince George friend of mine, whom I went to highschool with. Matt now lives in Calgary, is a doctor, and even though we haven’t been in touch in a couple of years it’s easy to pick up where we left off. He also came to visit me in Basel once a couple of years ago and catching up with him just feels great! Matt, we’re already looking forward to seeing you again when you come to visit! And say thanks again to your mum, dinner was fantastic!
The next day we leave Banff and head back to Vancouver. It’s a long drive, but the sun is out (as basically every day since we arrived in Canada!) and the natural beauty of this part of the world is omnipresent. We really enjoy the drive. Back in Vancouver we head straight over to our private room located in a residential area in Richmond. Unfortunately nobody appears to be home. After what feels like an eternity the door finally opens, but the Chinese lady doesn’t speak a word of English and obviously wasn’t expecting us. We communicate with Google translate and she finally understands and calls the landlord. Finally we are shown into our room, but then are at a little loss of what to do next. We are supposed to meet Katherine and Gord for dinner once more, but have no way to get in touch with them because we have no access to the wifi. The Chinese lady can’t help us and then explains that she will leave the house now to go shopping. When she’s left we hurry back down to the living room area and look for the wifi router. We are in luck! There is a number on the device which Dario (thank god he’s an IT nerd!) recognizes as the password, and it works. We contact Katherine and they come pick us up a couple of minutes later. After a delicious Fish & Chips dinner and Dairy Queen Sundaes we go to bed fairly early. Road trips are exhausting!
The next day Katherine and Gord pick us up and take us for a tasty breakfast on the way to the airport, where we have to drop off our rental car. Then they give us a ride downtown to the bus terminal from where we will take the bus to Seattle. Katherine and Gord, thank you for everything you’ve done for us, thank you for taking the time to show us around, thank you for great conversations. You are amazing and we are looking forward to some more quality time with you in the future!
The bus ride to Seattle isn’t spectacular, passes by quickly. From time to time we open our Halfmile App and check how far away we are from the PCT. The app shows your distance to the nearest point on the PCT. At times it’s less than 20 miles by crow! We then look up the PCT mile to find out what it looked like there. It stings a little, being so close to what we called home and yet in a different world now. I never thought we would miss it this much.
We arrive in Seattle in the late afternoon and check into our hotel in Capitol Hill. The hotel is called Roy Street Commons and is basically self-service. The check-in is automated with door codes, the room is very basic, yet stylish. The entire concept is really well thought through. We have sushi rolls and poké bowls for dinner and call it an early night.
The next day we spend exploring Seattle, namely the Pike Place Fish Market and the Space Needle and then meet up with Fabienne, a friend from SHL (Swiss Hotel Management School) who has been living in Seattle for a couple of years now. She is married to an American and they have a son called Elliott who is turning one year old soon. He is so adorable and it was great to see her again and catch up!
Then in the early evening it’s time to go to the airport. We are flying out of Seattle tonight and should already be in Cartagena, Colombia, tomorrow! That’s craaaazy! However, things don’t go according to plan, and the plane leaves with a 2.5 hours delay. This means we are basically scheduled to miss our connecting flight in New York. The flight passes by quickly and we reach New York just fine, but delayed as expected. The airline is called Jetblue and luckily we’ve booked both flights directly with this airline. In Seattle they refused to give us any kind of compensation or pay for a hotel in New York, but here in New York the help desk is, in fact, helping, and provides us with a hotel voucher without us even asking! We are checked in at the Radisson Airport Hotel at around noon and then get some much needed rest. We don’t leave the hotel room once until we have to get up at 3am to go back to the airport!
Well, and then, before we know it, we are on our way to South America. Almost 6 months in North America have come to an end. 6 months filled with big adventure, endless happiness, everlasting friendships, the most serene wilderness and real struggles. We are excited for the next chapter of our journey, but also a little nostalgic to leave this world and the magic we’ve encountered here, behind.