57 YEAR OLD GRANDMA BACKPACKS ACROSS CANADA BY BUS
I had my own “Bucket List“ when I retired five years ago and backpacking across Canada was on it. To save money, I bravely booked nine nights in hostels and approximately four nights traveling by bus. The hostels were great! Planning four nights sleeping on a bus was a wee bit optimistic. Here is my story…
It started in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with a rickety old bus and a driver with a sense of humor (came in handy when door almost flew off while going 75 mph). I almost lost my lone pair of reading glasses in Fargo, North Dakota - when a young student from China, going to college in Winnipeg, helped me find them.
I reached Winnipeg - and set out on foot, in the dark, to find my hostel, which was supposedly within walking distance of the station. I had my backpack on wheels in one hand and my pepper spray clutched in the other, when I finally found it! Really tired now, I checked in, grabbed my key card and opened the door to my four bed dorm room and who do you think greeted me??? The Chinese student from the bus that helped me find my glasses! We were roomies - and we spent all the next day together seeing Winnipeg via the free shuttle buses! This was the first of many friendships I made along the way - and it filled me with surprise and joy! I learned that the love of adventure and travel has no boundaries between the young and the old…
I did okay traveling by night and even got some sleep - but couldn‘t figure out why I was dizzy every time I got off at a rest stop. I voiced my concern to a nice young girl sitting behind me and she just laughed. “It‘s the altitude“ she said, as we kept going up and up and up! We talked all the way into Banff. Turns out she worked for a rival hostel and tried to talk me into staying up on the mountain with them…
There aren’t enough adjectives to describe Banff, the majesty of the mountains, Lake Lorraine, Lake Loise, the Yo Ho Valley - and all of the wonderful people I met in the two days I stayed there. I will never forget a 65 year old woman from Switzerland named Beatrice, who traveled alone like me, with a backpack and another small suitcase - and had been doing it for three months. My time at the hostel was spent listening to her tell stories of her adventures. When I asked if she had any regrets from the trip, she looked at me and smiled and said “only that it ends soon - and there are still so many more places to see”…
As I said good bye to Banff - I also said good bye to all the new friends I had made. Like the aunt and niece who were tenting it around Jasper and wound up in our dorm room after freezing during a storm! Or the Scottish woman traveling with a disagreeable companion who whispered in my ear, as she hugged me good-bye, saying “Diane, you’ve got the right idea, luv, traveling by yourself! This friend of mine’s been a royal pain in the backside, if you know what I mean! Next trip, I‘m doing it like you!”
In riding a bus, a simple antidote for crying babies is a set of headphones and some good music! There is no antidote for fellow passengers who feel the need to bring you along on their quest to pass gas! A trick I learned from a Chinese business woman sitting across from me was to carry a small handkerchief with a large dose of perfume on it - which you press daintily to your nose at the appropriate times! As we rolled into Siccomous, the sunset was almost a religious experience, with azure blue, blood red, gold and shadow reflecting off of the mountains. I was speechless with awe…
I made it to Vancouver at 5:00AM in the morning and caught the bus to the ferryboat that would take me to Victoria and my next stop. Early morning crossing the harbor, mists and mountain peaks, quiet stillness except for the birds, almost spiritual…
Victoria! The hostel full of young kids that didn’t mind an old fart like me! I packed wrong and immediately went in search of flip flops and cooler clothes! Met my roomies at the hostel who made me feel right at home - one a Japanese student and the other a young backpacker traveling all over! Victoria Harbor became my favorite place to hang out, along with Willow Beach and just noodling around courtyards and alleyways, meeting people, listening to music and soaking it all up. I said goodbye to Victoria on the return ferry, gazing out through misty swirls hanging like shrouds over the mountains. The fog horn repeats its mournful call as we headed to the other side - to Vancouver!
I vowed before I took this trip that I would be adventurous and try to take advantage of the local transit systems in each city. Vancouver transit is something! Even a “metro-challenged” almost-60 year old woman like me could navigate it - and navigate it I did. The first person to greet me as I left the Via Station was a young man standing with outstretched arms in the park, singing at the top of his voice, saying “God bless this beautiful day!” And as I walked toward my hostel I noted a young blind man coming from the station with a guitar on his back and a smile on his face. His seeing eye dog and cane would get him anywhere he needed to go… what a glorious city!
My best memory of Vancouver was a night trip up to the top of Grouse Mountain to see the sunset. The little red trolley picked me up and brought me home. Kenneth, the conductor, and I became good friends and he made me his official assistant, as we herded our tour in and out of the trolley, the gondolas - and up and down the mountain! I think I will go back to Vancouver some day. Beautiful people in a beautiful city. Next - Seattle!
I think I’m getting the hang of traveling on that old Greyhound bus! You know, being able to doze off at the blink of an eye - or doing the “ bathroom sprint” so you can be first in line at the stops along the way! As we rolled into Seattle I was feeling cocky and excited!
My hostel in Seattle was named the “Green Tortoise” and came highly recommended. It was situated right next to Pike Street Marketplace on the water - and the location was perfect. I checked in, found my dorm room and made myself at home, introducing myself to another woman my age backpacking the country and another - yes - Japanese student! When the fourth roommate came through the door, I gave her a big hug and laughed with delight. She was one of the girls in my room at the hostel in Victoria!
The busses took me all over Seattle, to Pioneer Square, the historic district, full of old and beautiful architecture, to the waterfront, to the needle, and back again. Of course, I met many interesting people wherever I went! Like the lady from Montana who sat down beside me as I ate my lunch in a park. Or the young man on crutches who sat down when she left, introduced himself and telling me his life story, including how he came to be in the detention center across the street from where we sat! I strolled Pike Street Market, where I met a man playing beautiful music on a little miniature baby grand piano. (I bought his CD). Or Victoria, the 63 year old woman from Scotland who was traveling the world. We walked the city together as she told me of her life as a Mormon minister at age 15-½, University educated, degree in Anthropology, Masters in Theology, she joined the Navy Nursing Corp, went to Vietnam, buried her husband, a Medivac pilot, in the jungles there. As I walked and listened to her, it seemed she had lived three lifetimes in the space of one - and she was not done yet….what an amazing woman.
My supper that night consisted of a piece of fresh made cheese, fresh baked roll and a beautiful pear - all bought at the market place! Best dinner I ever had.
Seattle was full of music and strange looking people! Everywhere I went. And I, being a music SPONGE, I soaked it all in! Because of a misprint in a local paper, I got an orchestra seat for the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s opening concert! All I can say about that is WOW. I went to a PAN Festival at the museum and gorged on the Latin beat and the food! I made a pig out of myself. There was a blues band singing at the park in Pioneer Square - great sets! . The highlight of that being the homeless lady who grabbed the microphone from his hand and started singing away at the top of her voice! I laughed so hard I choked. The strangest person I saw was the really, really tall guy walking the street wheeling a cart behind him, dressed in a large, billowing black cape wearing a headband with a feather stuck in it!
I said goodbye to Seattle, walking to the bus station, wheeling my backpack behind me. What a wonderful city it was. Their bus station is not very appetizing (they are renovating) and the wait is long for the bus. I am losing energy now and will be glad to be back home in Minnesota so I can tell my parents all about the trip.
The road back through Utah, Montana and such was long and tiring. It was getting harder to ignore the screaming babies and obnoxious people that are sometimes traveling with you. Like the man traveling with his wife(?), baby and a couple of friends. His demeanor was course, his language profane - as he threatened the baby physically if she wasn’t quiet. My heart broke watching life being played out in the worst way. In Fargo, as they called for boarding of this man’s bus, the little girl stared at me and others in the terminal with such a look of hopelessness and despair - it took all I could do not to grab her from his arms and run…
I am home now with my parents, in Glenwood, Minnesota, where I have spent the summer. We sit in the kitchen and drink coffee as I tell them all about my latest wild adventure…and they nod and smile. They are used to my adventurous ways - I think it is the Norwegian bloodline! As I lay in my bed, that first night I am home, I relive the memories of that fifteen day journey across Canada and the northern US - and I start to dream and plan my next big adventure...
In looking back, it was an amazing adventure - one I will never forget. Would I change anything? Only limit the bus travel to daytime, so these old bones can get good sleep each night. Other than that, I think I did pretty well in my planning. I booked the hostels ahead of time so I would not arrive with no lodging available. I booked through Hostels International (HI) and Hostel world - of course doing research on each one.
I kept my food budget very low, as breakfast at the hostels was usually free, ranging from pancakes to full breakfasts. For lunch and dinner I did simple foods like local, home made soups, home made bread, cheese, fruit. I allowed a budget for some sightseeing - especially in Banff.
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57 YEAR OLD GRANDMA BACKPACKS ACROSS CANADA BY BUS
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