Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Seattle WA, USA to Calgary AB, Canada, Day 129-137, 8 August-16 August 2008

Seattle WA, USA to Calgary AB, Canada

Day 129-137, 8 August-16 August 2008


‘Star Spangled Banner’ – Jimi Hendrix

‘Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle’ – Nirvana

‘Lights Out’ (“Are we there yet/Are we there yet?”) – The Posies

‘Go’ – Pearl Jam

‘Wheels’ – Hüsker Dü

‘Louie Louie’ – The Kingsmen

‘Bow River’ – Cold Chisel


DB: From Portland, Oregon, we headed to Seattle, Washington, and spent a day exploring. On the way, we stopped at the Tacoma Visitor Information Centre for help with accommodation. We were helped by a great young woman who searched high and low for us, and managed to find us something self contained in a nearby town.   

For us, Seattle is synonymous with rain and mid 1990s rock – the time and place that is often considered the saviour of rock and roll. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, Ben Harper, The Posies, the Screaming Trees, Alice in Chains, the Melvins, the Foo Fighters and of course Nirvana, and previously, Hendrix, Hüsker Dü and the Kingsmen, who made the most covered song of all time, ‘Louie Louie’, famous. Oh, and Queensryche. Ahem. This led us to the most magnificent Experience Music Project museum – a celebration of the electric guitar, Seattle bands and all out RAWK! The exhibition on the life and times, and genius, of Jimi Hendrix was inspiring and affecting. If only he survived. If only he was still creating today. If only…

(Pic: Guitar sculpture at the Experience Music Project, Seattle)

We spent some time at the famous Pike Place Market and caught a glimpse of their famous fish throwing schtick – fishmongers throwing large fish to workers staffing the scales and back again. Nowadays it’s all vaudeville, with fish being unexpectedly thrown to unsuspecting passers-by – only for them to realise that the real fish had been substituted for a toy stuffed variety.

We got out of the chill and had lunch at a cosy Cajun joint that served great gumbo. We won’t make it to the south this trip, but it was a good opportunity to reflect on the impact of the southern American migration to the north during hard times.

Again, Seattle came across as eminently liveable – cosmopolitan, complex, edgy, productive, cynical, involved. A sure sign of a lively community spirit is a city’s local street newspapers. I have enjoyed plying through Melbourne’s street press for years, but Seattle’s – like Portland, San Francisco and many we would discover in Canada – provides a rich resource of local politics, arts, music and literature that makes my home town’s efforts pale into insignificance. Seattle, for example, has a much smaller population than Melbourne, yet can sustain a free weekly that is comprehensive and compulsive reading, and not just about big-name bands rolling into town, and at the same time supported admirably by local business and government. Brilliant. Again, I could live here…

(Pic: Farmers Market, Seattle)

SK: Then we were off north to the border – we were all thrilled at the notion of crossing into another country, and keen to get on with the trip. We drove past the Peace Arch and out of the States without really noticing – the friendly relationship between the two countries means that generally one enters the other country without going through an exit process first. 

DB: We have been listening to the C. S. Lewis series of Narnia novels in the truck on long drives, and have become quite enamoured with the cheer of “To Narnia and the North!” It didn’t take long for us to refer to Canada as our Narnia.

SK: Canadian customs welcomed us, examined our Carnet, scratched their heads, conferred, then sent us for a pleasant walk back to the States to have the carnet stamped for exit (quicker to walk back under the Peace Arch than to drive back and line up with the dozens of other vehicles). On a beautiful sunny day, it was quite enjoyable to walk from Canada to the USA and back again. The genial customs agents on the US side stamped our Carnet, and then sent us back to their charming northern colleagues, who completed their paperwork and sent us on our way. It was the most relaxed way of crossing a border that we had encountered so far – and we can proudly claim that we walked to the US AND Canada all in one day. And again, nobody seemed the slightest bit interested in what we had stored in and on the truck. Maybe we just look as honest as we are.

(Pic: Walking through the Peace Arch on the border)

And then we were there! O, Canada. Miles were back to kilometres, gallons to litres, the letter ‘u’ thankfully reappeared in appropriate words, and things made a bit more sense. We headed north to Vancouver, and stopped for lunch at a small town called Ladner, where a local market was in full swing. We bought local corn for dinner and somehow the children convinced us that we just had to have some of the fudge on offer.

DB: We also withdrew some cash from an ATM and immediately felt an affinity with it. The antithesis of the renowned American green-back, Canadian cash is of different sizes and colours, and acknowledges real people of note (ahem), including HRH Lizzy.

SK: Crossing the border felt like a huge weight had been lifted. Significantly we were masters of our own destiny again, in control of our trip, no longer held back by the vagaries of others. We were in a new country, and could leave the anxiety of the last few weeks well behind. Despite all this, we were reflective, and recognised that the delay and issues with the shipping companies, in the scheme of things, were not the end of the world. Though at present we exist in a microcosm of our own creation, we are able to have a sense of the world outside and to know that there is a whole lot going on without us.

An hour later we were in Vancouver, erstwhile previous home of our Melbourne friends Margie, Tom, Molly and Caitlin, and our Darwin friends Justine and Johnnie (Jack and Zeph, you weren’t born yet), all of whom plied us with great info on what to see, do and eat.

(Pic: Vancouver by the water – spectacular)

We stayed at a cool 1950s motel that had been built originally as temporary accommodation for military families being relocated to Vancouver. A small estate of little bungalows, each with its own laminex kitchen, tiled bathroom and original features amidst a landscaped garden. We didn’t want to leave.

As we were finding our way around the city, Maddy picked up a spare map and began navigating. She did a great job, and soon we will have not just a GPS, but a GPM (Global Positioning Maddy).  

Vancouver has not been voted the world’s most liveable city for nothing. We spent just over a day there, and understood why various friends of ours had made it their home. It is a diverse city – geographically, socially, architecturally, culturally – you name it, it’s there. And it is home to one of the most amazing ice cream shops in the world. Where else can you have balsamic vinegar, garlic, durian and jackfruit flavours, beautifully executed, alongside the more traditional? (DB: Mine included a basil and Pernod concoction – whoda thunkit?) The place is also generous with their tasting opportunities, which led Maddy to decide that her favourite combo was curry and rice. Yes, ice-cream.

(Pic: When too much ice-cream is barely enough, Vancouver)

At the 2400 Motel we met up with another family, from Calgary. Their kids instantly befriended ours, and the lot of them took over the motel car-park with their games. Parents Joe and Erin told us about their friends and colleague in Calgary, also from Melbourne, and Joe promptly put Danny on the phone to John, who we were instructed to look up when we were there in a few days. 

DB: “Um, hi! Yes, you’re Australian, and so am I! Wow – we have so much in common! Erm…”

It was one of those archetypal traveller stories where a number of chance happenings leads to something great. I chatted briefly to John who said he and his wife Jen were keen to catch up with us when we were in town, and to just give them a call.

We began to make our way east and through forests and towns towards the Canadian Rockies. We had chosen Salmon Arm as a rest stop and dropped into the Visitor’s Centre to scout for accommodation options. It was still cold at night and it was getting late, and we had opted for a cabin at the Viewpoint campground run by ex-pat Swiss. Made perfect sense. (Maddy noted that the Canadian and Swiss flags are quite similar).

At the Visitor’s Centre we met Nancy, who told us all about the local area and presented us with Canadian flag pins. She was so interested in our trip she insisted on coming out to the truck to see what it was all about. By the time we decamped to our little cabin and fired up Donna, the laptop (West Wing influenced), Nancy had sent us a comment to our website. We had the feeling that Canadians were, and are, a special breed.

To our surprise, Raffy immediately befriended a few youngsters who were also staying at the campground. This was quite a turn-up, as Raff has usually been shy and very reluctant to engage with strangers until he sussed them out. Now, he was off in a flash, charging around the lawns of the campsite with other kids he’d known for five minutes. As the sun went down we had to almost drag him away so he could have dinner with us. He was back out in a flash after he had finished eating and had made plans to play again in the morning.

And he was most disappointed when his new playmates were either still asleep or off on other adventures when Raffy rose in the morning in search of them. Some of them reappeared later, but not all, and he was terribly upset that he couldn’t say good-bye properly. We gave their parents our email and website details and hope that Raff’s newfound buddies will drop him a line soon.

After breakfast and packing the truck we tootled down to a local car museum. We often spy classic American cars, trucks and hot-rods, and one of us will cry “Whoa – check that out!” In little Salmon Arm a museum of cool cars in various states of grandeur and disrepair are on display, as well as rows of vintage and veteran car radios, emblems, badges and, to my delight, hubcaps. (Yes, I still have my collection, and yes it will be displayed yet again.)

(Pic: Classic metal, Salmon Arm)

After swooning at various Cadillacs, Thunderbirds and sundry Chryslers, Pontiacs and Chevys, we again headed east along Shuswap Lake and generally uphill into the Banff National Park.

This is one of the most magical and majestic places we have been. Gorges, escarpments, forests, brilliant winding roads and ice-capped mountains. Every turn provided variously an “Ooh” or, not to be outdone, an “Aah”. Maddy would often trump us with a “Whoa”, it was that good.

SK: We lunched at the Hemlock Boardwalk in the Glacier National Park. It was an eerie forest walk that immediately took us from the highway and the 21st century into a cool, dark, prehistoric world of trees, undergrowth and hidden forest life. It was only a fifteen minute stroll, but we came out, blinking in the sunshine, feeling that we’d travelled through time and space. 

DB: We crossed from British Columbia into Alberta and into the Banff National Park. After passing some of the pretend campers – the ones who opt for designer cabins with nouveau Canadian cuisine in the restaurant – we found a great campsite at Castle Mountain and settled in for the evening. The simple things: good food, nice bottle of plonk, open fire, marshmallows, under the stars.

(Pic: Lake Louise)

We initially hadn’t intended on staying in the area, as we were keen to make up on time we had lost in LA, but the famed Canadian Icefields were ninety minutes north, so we decided on a detour and to stay an extra night. And so glad were we that we did.

The drive along what is touted as one of the most spectacular roads in the world, the Icefields parkway lived up to its press release. Icefields Parkway put alpine Canada on show in all its glittering glory, and led us to the Athabasca glacier. A real, living, ancient glacier was within arm’s reach, and its impact was nothing short of profound. The daytime weather was warm – sometimes hot – and we parked the truck hoping for a quick jaunt up the track to the bottom of one of the glacier’s ‘toes’. A walk of about ten or fifteen minutes also took us up about fifty metres or so in elevation, and in the presence and downwind of the glacier we all duly froze. This was true wind-chill factor, and the enormity and grandeur of the glacier had us spellbound. The length, width, depth, volume and longevity of this juggernaught was too much to comprehend. This thing predates most living things, and here it was – very much alive, though in peril. Signs up the track indicating where the glacier once ended in days gone by were a chilling reminder of the impact of global warming. (Sorry about that.) We didn’t touch the glacier itself as it is notoriously dangerous, but someone had collected some ice and left it at the top of the track. I picked up a piece and held it tightly. This ice – this water – could be millions of years old. And as it dripped from my hand I wondered how long the rest of the ice would last.

(Pic: Sandy at the Athabasca glacier)

SK: Experiencing the glacier was confronting: We went from being hot to freezing cold, conscious of the posted warnings about hypothermia; the scale of the glacier (about two hundred square kilometres) was massive and made us feel diminutive; and the environmental consequences of it shrinking were frightening. Visiting the glacier, and then the visitors centre with great interpretation of the site and its history and geography, led to discussions with the kids about global warming.

That night we met one of our neighbouring campers. Petra and her fellow Czechs had spent the last few days hiking up to 40 kms a day around the Rockies, and she was pleased to join us around our fire and to share a cup of tea. We shared stories of travel and life, and hope to meet up with her in a few months.

DB: Another idyllic evening in the Canadian woods ensued and got us planning the next few days. Tomorrow would be Calgary, and perhaps meeting up with Aussies John and Jen. So, I gave John a call and mentioned we were blowing in the next day. We promised to catch up for a drink, and then I asked if he could recommend anywhere for us to stay.

There was a brief silence on the other end of the phone. And then he suggested:

“Well, why don’t you stay with us?”

I really hadn’t expected total strangers to open their home to us, but that’s exactly what happened. John gave me the address and we headed off in the morning.

SK: Raffy had been requesting a splash in hot springs, so we stopped in Banff on our way east out of the park. A post card pretty town in the shadow of more magnificent white-topped mountains. We wandered around town, decided we could have given it a miss, and then after a quick lunch we headed to the springs. By then the air temperature was about 30 degrees, and the water 40 degrees. We all decided that it was too hot to get into the hotter water. We took the scenic route out of town, with a last glace at the Rockies before we hit the prairies.   

DB: During the drive Sandy and I discussed the whys and wherefores, the ifs, buts and maybes of lobbing up to complete strangers and staying in their home. We only had two things in common: one, we were all citizens of Australia, and two, we were connected to Joe, who worked with John, and who we went way back with to two days ago in a car-park in Vancouver. We agreed that this could go anywhere: John and Jen could be wonderfully warm, generous and friendly people, or could be axe-wielding homicidal maniacs with a penchant for devil worship and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Who knew? They may have been wondering the same about us.

Thankfully, given we’ve lived to tell the tale, it turned out to be the former. Originally from Mordialloc, in Melbourne, John and Jen’s two eldest children were studying at universities in Melbourne and Brisbane, while their youngest was finishing school in Calgary, but had just gone away for the week. We talked travel, politics, footy, and potential connections, including one of Jen’s brothers attending the same high school as me. They opened their beautiful large home to us and gave us the run of the place. They were as trusting as we were grateful. We went for walks along the Elbow River, which joined up with the Bow River, ate and drank well, watched chipmunks leap from a tree to the roof, and chatted into the late hours. They even had the courtesy to not comment on our state of personal hygiene when we arrived, given we hadn’t washed for three days while camping, and my jeans seemed to walk by themselves.

(Pic: Raffy and Harry in the Elbow River, Calgary)

And we got a chance to do ‘home’ things. We washed our sizeable dirty laundry stash and caught up on emails and phone calls, and, importantly, stayed still for a while. Sandy mentioned that it felt nice to be ‘looked after’ by others. We were temporarily away from the highways and new experiences of forests, coast-lines, towns and cities, and instead we could just sit, and be still.

Maddy continued to bury her head in the gospel according to Harry Potter, but Raffy didn’t sit still for long at all. He had become best friends with another Harry – a schnauzer belonging to our hosts. Raff has been hassling us for months, if not years, about getting a dog – something I have not been supportive of, to say the least – but Raffy and Harry were inseparable. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night Raffy wanted to walk, talk, rumble and just hang out with Harry. So, over the next few days, we started making a list of potential names for the dog we get when we get home. Maybe.

When we packed and left John and Jen’s place we were all noticeably a bit gloomy. Expats can live a somewhat lonely existence, and travellers often long for stability and familiarity. We all promised to catch up again in Melbourne when we return.

(Pic: Jen and John, Calgary)

It spoke volumes to me about not only the chance of meeting great people who were open and generous, but that this was a running theme of our journey, and something of an hypothesis I had hoped to prove over the year: that the vast bulk of human beings on this planet are much more similar in their general outlook on life and the way in which they conduct themselves than we are lead to believe. It may be a naive impression, but then again, we have been conditioned to believe that, well, people just aren’t nice people. The world, we are oft told, is full of shysters, thieves, rip-off artists and terrorists. And, at least for the moment, we just proved that little furphy wrong.

SK: We managed not to see anything of Calgary, other than the few blocks around us, despite our plans to explore, see museums, and get a feel for the place as we usually try to do. And I didn’t mind at all. It may not have been fair to the city, to totally ignore all that it has to offer the tourist, but it was so delightful and restful not to do anything much. Jen and Raffy planned a picnic lunch by the river, to which we all agreed was more pleasant than racing around from historic to contemporary site. We’ll be tourists again next time.

(Pic: Maddy and Raffy help each other down from the cold glacier)



  Susan Kishner wrote @

I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  auntiefranny wrote @

Hi all,
so happy to read of your new adventures, they sound wonderful. Maddy and Raffy, so good to see the photos and read about the fun times you’re having….do you miss school??? (only joking!) Everyone o.k here in very cold Melbourne. At least the skiers are happy this year.
Hope you continue to have fun…miss you heaps xxx Fran and family

  Wally & Eleanor wrote @

HI D S M R JUst read your recent Blog or whatever you call it. LOve it Been watching the Olympics quite spectacular. Johnnie will be in melb for work Sorry missed you on skype the other day.Every is fine in Melb .Just the usuallroad carnage a few bashing at the night clubs 1 or 2 murders otherwise every thing is Normal. You didnt answer about the classic cars that you saw on the docks when you picked up your truck. Keep on treking Wally.

  Hilary wrote @

i guess barring nz canada would have to be the closest thing to oz – comes as a relief. i have a best friend in toronto if you lack for aunties, who is a savvy traveller. let me know.
still savouring the vicarious journey.

  michele wright wrote @

We miss you all. We can’t recognise DB with the beard!! Loving the soundtrack, I was bellowing Bow river in the shower just the other day.

  Margie cohen wrote @

Glad you’re enjoying Canada so much.. Canada is an easy place to fall in love with. Watch out for Danny saying “I could live here.” You know what happened to us – a one year working holiday turned into ten years! Molly recognized the location of the Vancouver photo as Granville Island. I read you sampled some fudge, and isn’t the corn spectacular, but what about the pumpkin pies we know Danny is so fond of? Has he sampled a few?
Molly loved the post card from Maddy, and Caitlin was very excited to receive the little moose from Raffy in the mail.
Looking forward to the next chapter on your great adventure.
love, Margie

  David Taylor wrote @

Hi guys, it’s Sun arvo, 3pm. Just read you latest blog. Great read as usual. Really good to chat to you on skype this morning. What a wonderful invention it is. Canada sounds wonderful, and connecting with those people along the way, I’m sure is making this experience all the more valuable. Are you doing something different with your photos? This last lot, I can’t click on to enlarge them like I used to with the other blogs. Anyway, maybe it’s me, I can get a little confused. (no smart comments).
Stay safe & Happy,
Luv, David.

  Dahlia Schwartz wrote @

that is a great thing

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