We took a trip to Canada recently. It was pretty great. Of all the things that could have gone wrong in three weeks away (and there were many) nothing actually did. We had a proper family holiday together, and it felt like a bit of an adventure.
I wouldn’t say it was easy getting there. There was a lot of convincing and planning to be done in the lead up. Much of it was covert (in order to make it look much easier than it actually was) and done in a hurry.
It started with friends from Vancouver suggesting that we come over to visit them. I dismissed it initially as a non-option, but the idea kept creeping back. So after a while of sitting with it (a couple of days) and after running it past a few people, I had fully justified the entire adventure to myself. Jonathan did not stand a chance.
In summary I reasoned…
That we only had a small window of opportunity before we would be unable to take frankie on an aeroplane;
The importance of travelling with Evie at an age when she still had some respect left for us, before she turned;
That it wouldn’t be a family holiday without Frankie.
It may have required my biggest and most sustained persuasive effort yet, there were a lot of reasons not to do it.
However, there was a direct flight from Brisbane to Vancouver which took 14 hours, and that didn’t feel completely impossible.
We did have Frankie’s health to consider, but he had been seizure free for 2 years now, and we knew if he remained stable he would be a champion traveller. There was a fair bit of paperwork to get through. We had to get the all clear from his Neurologist and the Air Canada medical clearance team, who in order to get the final go ahead wanted his fitness to travel assessed by his GP a few weeks prior to leaving. We could do that.
We did need to take a lot of stuff. As well as our own luggage we would need to take 6 boxes of Frankie’s nutricia feed, feed pump, giving sets, syringes and medicine. We had to make sure we remembered all the friggin chargers.
Frankie’s mobility and equipment needs had to be worked through. Logistics of getting around were not too bad, given that we can still carry and transfer him ourselves. This was the main motivation for taking the trip so soon, as we could get him set up relatively easily and without the need for a hoist or a modified vehicle.
His Thule stroller/bike trailer that TADQ had adapted, and an airline approved car seat rented from kidsafe, would do to transport him on the plane and in the car.
We had a foam wedge made by the rehab engineers at RBH, which was moulded to his shape and upholstered for him to sleep and hang out in. We also purchased at the last minute some brilliant sleep n rest postural support cushions which supplemented this as a portable sleep system.
We had a base in Vancouver. So with great friends to hang out with, a bit of local knowledge and a place to store some of our gear if we needed to, it was all sounding like a pretty good idea. Jonathan could drink lots of beer with Pauly. It was perfect.
We had our reservations about whether we should spend money we didn’t really have on a holiday. Rightly or wrongly, that didn’t serve as enough of a deterrant, and I reasoned that we could pay it off later like everyone else. When we broke it all down, with some good insurance cover, it felt kind of manageable and we knew we wouldn’t regret it.
In the end there were more reasons to do it, than not.
The flight over with Frankie was a breeze. He had to be completely upright for take-off and landing, and he was pretty snug in his car seat with his knees almost touching the seat in front of him. But apart from a couple of stretch out breaks across our laps we didn’t hear a peep from him. He just listened intently and dozed on and off, appearing to enjoy having us all in such close proximity.
The only real problem for Frankie was when we arrived, and working out that he was in a different time zone. So for the first week he pretty much stayed awake at night, and asleep during the day. We spent the first 5 days hanging out in New Westminster and downtown Vancouver with Pauly, Dana and Syd. We were pretty jet-lagged and happy to take it easy with him, staying close to home for a while. Besides, it was surprisingly hot, and we were spending most of our time catching up and getting pretty well acquainted with Dana’s tomato plants on their back deck. Syd was hanging out with Evie, and bonding with Frankie in the sweetest way. Jonathan and Pauly were drinking lots of beer and ranting.
We were learning about the Canadian way and feeling very comfortable. On the whole we found Canadians to be pretty relaxed and unassuming. Friendly, but not in your face. We also established early on that good coffee was hard to find and that Starbucks was our only option most of the time. So we tried not to be too painful about it.
We were a bit fixated with the wildlife and so Dana patiently answered our stupid questions and filled us in on the local fauna, including the resident skunk. Evie spotted a hummingbird on the deck. We tasted some awesome salmon and had a lot of fun.
By the time we boarded the flight to Calgary, Frankie had pretty much woken up and was with the program. We picked up the rental car at the airport. Fortunately the online booking turned out to be affiliated with a legitimate company after all, and so we were on the road. Frankie was doing well and looking comfortable in his new set-up, no one was picking fights yet, and things were kind of working out. We were on our way to check out some Rocky Mountains.
Banff was our first stop. The scenery was pretty spectacular and there was a lot of talk about critters. Thankfully our theory that Evie was at a good age for this trip proved to be true. She was at her best on the road – enthusiastic, up for anything and easily impressed which is how we like her.
The not so fancy hotel rooms were really nice, breakfast buffet awesome, rental van with electric doors, critter spotting, tv in front of her bed in hotel rooms etc…all awesome. Not everything obviously, there were moments to come when we wanted to throttle each other but overall she was a lot of fun. We knew how much a wingeing kid could ruin a road trip, and with so much ground to cover we felt grateful for that.
Banff was full of tourists but it was surrounded by beautiful mountains, with plenty of good eating options and a friendly kind of vibe. We bought ourselves some bear spray for $50 (last resort apparently) and checked out the surrounding area. Evie and I did some kayaking on the Bow river at dusk which was pretty special. There was quite a lot of haze with smoke from the wildfires in BC drifting over which provided an eerie backdrop. I went a bit crazy taking photos of lakes as the water was so green and still.
We hit the road to Jasper the next day taking a full day to take in the scenery along the Icefields Parkway, which was spectacular as far as drives go.
We spotted our first black bear, which had come down to eat some berries by the side of the highway, and was being chased on foot by the tourist paparazzi. We visited the Athabaska glacier taking Frankie off-road in his stroller which was fun.
Jasper was a quiet little town in a beautiful national park, surrounded by tranquil lakes. There were no tourist buses, and it was incredibly quiet around the lakes so we spent some time hanging around them. It was a bit hard to relax when you’re thinking about bears though, and the stillness got a bit unnerving. It felt a bit like swimming outside the flags at home. Your odds of being eaten felt greater without anyone else around. I took more photos of the lake.
There was a bit of action at the lakes though. We dared evie to jump in (freezing cold) Lake Edith and sit on the log for $10, which she did of course and made $20. Also, the paparazzi alerted us to a herd of elk on our way back from Pyramid Lake which was pretty cool. We let Evie get out and join them, so she got plenty of photos.
Lake Maligne was isolated and beautiful, and we took the boat trip to Spirit Island. Frankie seemed to enjoy the wind and spray on the boat. We copped a bit of haze again which was a shame, as the view on a clear day would have been even more spectacular. But it was still beautiful and eerie and so the camera came out again. By now I was starting to annoy everyone with my photos and no one would be in them. So the backs of heads and feet feature predominantly from then on. But it was seriously picturesque so I kept at it.
We drove back through Banff to Canmore and spent some more time in the Banff National Park. We hung out in town eating, and checked out some galleries and shops in Canmore. Saw another black bear in a parking lot (no paparazzi this time). Evie liked that there were always rabbits on the grass outside our hotel in Canmore and so spent a bit of time with them.
We had booked a 3 night stay at a buffalo ranch outside Golden on airbnb. Arriving at night (having gotten lost), tired and hungry, it was all pretty crappy. Thankfully there was not too much back-seat driving and everyone managed to keep it together (just) until we finally found the place. It was a rough start, but our stay on the ranch with Leo was a definite highlight.
Learning from Leo about his herd of bison, conservation and spiritual journey, survival skills and all round awesomeness had Evie completely hooked. She was happy just hanging around the property, which was in a beautiful valley and it was a welcome break from being on the road. We enjoyed cooking our own food for a change after all the fast food too.
Leo would light the woodfired hot-tub for us in the afternoons so that we could take Frankie for a soak in the evenings. He was particularly nice to Frankie, so we thought he was great. We even got invited to a party with Leo and his friends on the last night (Evie made us go) and it turned out to be a lot of fun. Frankie and I didn’t last too long but Evie and Jonathan kicked on with them until late. We drove away the next day with a signed copy of Leo’s memoir and CD, and full of good vibes for the Buffalo Ranch.
Evie was keen to do a trail ride and Leo had told us about Bear Corner, which was a property about 10 minutes drive away in the same valley that did them. So Evie and I spent a couple of hours, on very well behaved horses, riding through the valley and across the river with Linda and her rescue dogs. There were eight of them, hilarious dogs (even a wolf) of all shapes and sizes, who were having the time of their lives swimming across rivers and chasing deer while managing to keep up with us the whole time. We came eye to eye with a woodpecker. It was massive. So the trail ride was another highlight for Evie and I.
To break up our drive back to Vancouver we decided to spend a couple of nights in Revelstoke. Dana had told us it was a proper Rocky Mountain town and it felt very different to anywhere else that we had been in the rockies. It was still high in the Mountains and surrounded by national parks. It was a ski resort in winter, and a mountain biking destination in summer so it had a great outdoors vibe. It was beautiful and felt like a thriving little community with pretty streets and enough to do. We found our favourite cafe with the best coffee and went for a bike ride around town. Saw a black bear on our ride back into town. We loved it.
It was a full 8 hour drive back to Vancouver via the Okanagan Lakes, but we made it back to New Westminster late on the friday pretty easily.
We were booked on a ferry to Vancouver Island the next morning and so headed over with the gang to a cabin that Dana had booked for the weekend in Bowser.
Vancouver Island was beautiful. We copped a bit of rain. There was more beer and ranting in the little Bowser cabin which overlooked the water. The kids had a great time holed up in the cabin, and in each others pockets.
We left the crew and headed to the capital Victoria for a night. We liked the old buildings, ice cream shop and charm of Victoria. Jonathan and Evie saw orcas kill a seal from a boat, which was exciting.
We headed back to Vancouver. The last couple of days we spent in Vancouver trying to fit in as much sightseeing as we could.
We did a day trip to Grouse Mountain, taking the cable car to the top of the mountain, which provided us with amazing views back over Vancouver. Evie and I went zip-lining. Frankie and Jonathan went to visit the resident grizzly bears and watch the wood-chopping show…
We had visited Stanley Park and Granville Island so we headed to Commercial Drive in East Van and Downtown again on our last day. Jonathan and Evie were completely intolerant of any time spent shopping and so I gave up. I only just made it to the gift shop of the Art Gallery, missing out on the Monet Exhibition because of their bad attitudes. We tried to cram as much in as possible but we were starting to hit the wall.
Frankie had attracted a bit of attention at times, with curiosity around his feeds and beeps, and having to be carted around everywhere with his long legs sticking out. We probably did stand out a bit. But we never felt uncomfortable, or like it was all too hard or a bad idea to take him anywhere. If anything this trip has shown us that we can actually take him most places.
He was everybody’s favorite family member on the road, and tolerated all the demands we placed on him in his usual sweet way, and without complaint. Although, having said that, we all agreed that he looked pretty happy to be home when we finally got there.
So massive thanks to Pauly, Danes AND SYD for making us feel so welcome, for being so awesome to us and helping us to fit so much in. Goes without saying that we all loved Canada.