Category Archives: USA

Trek America part II – the bear! And other stuff…

Day two with Trek America began the same way all our mornings did: with Thomas and Tristan knocking on our tents to wake us up, and shouting “breakfast!” As became the usual routine, Julia and I stayed in bed just long enough that the boys would have the tea brewed by the time we emerged.

They’d also already undertaken the group’s least favourite task – unloading all the food an cooking equipment from the trailer and setting up the table. We had to keep everything in the trailer, from our food supplies to all our toiletries, because apparently bears like lip balm and toothpaste. I then took up my regular spot at the stove making batches of porridge or everyone. They told me I had to do it because I made the best porridge. In hindsight, this was a very cunning and clever move on their part, and being a sucker for flattery on mine…

After breakfast we bundled into the van to drive to the start of a trek. And five minutes in, what did I spot hiding in the bushes right next to the road? This fella! The elusive bear that tour leader Charlie stresses about for the duration of every trip he leads because all anyone wants is to see a bear, and Charlie when will we see a bear? Charlie where are the bears? Charlie will we see a bear today?? He sidled over to me at dinner the next night (Charlie, not the bear) and said: “You’re a really nice person and all, but the best thing about you is that you spotted that bear. I can now sleep at night. I’m serious. I lose sleep over this.” I felt pretty chuffed. And the gang was happy. Except Tristan, who said, “Yeah it was great seeing a bear and all, but that was just one bear. I want to see lots of bears. I want to see grizzlies and entire families of them.” I’ll see what I can do…

After that, we went to the Kicking Horse River, where we went white-water rafting. I was terrified. Almost pooping my pants. I’m not good with water. There were two options – the tough rapids and the death-defying rapids. I decided there was no way I was doing the second part of the rapids – the deathy one. No way.

I did both. And the worst thing that happened was that Tristan whacked me across the face with his paddle as we went over a rapid.

The rest of the day was spent buying food for dinner and playing with the campground cat, as you do.

The next day, we went for a 12km hike from Emerald Lake (below) to Yoho Pass. It rained and it was all uphill, but I was carrying bear spray, so not only was I the most popular person to walk with, but I also felt super cool and hard. I didn’t look so super cool and hard as I puffed up the hill, but I felt it. I felt it.

Here’s a pic of me with bear spray sticking out the side of my bag. Next to a banana. Don’t get those two mixed up.

We got to the end of the trek and the rain started to seriously come down. This was the point when we realised Charlie (and more importantly, the warm, dry van), wasn’t where he should be. He eventually rolled up, laughing at us, and somehow Tristan was already in the van, dry and laughing even more than Charlie at our unfortunate state.

And so, wet and tired, we travelled to our next campground, in Banff. And had a little group nap on the way…

When we arrived it was still chucking down with rain, and a few people wimped out and got a room in a hostel. The rest of us put up our tents in the rain – then were told they were in the wrong section of the campground and had to re- put up the tents in the rain. Fun.

We cheered ourselves up with a night out on the town. This is a ski-resort town, so it was weird to be there when there was no snow and no tourists. It was all fancy and resorty, and had restaurants with names like Wild Bills. And that’s where we went for dinner…

The next day was a free day, which meant we could go out and enjoy everything that beautiful Banff had to offer. We could hike, we could bike, we could shop, eat, sunbathe. What did we do? Laundry.

Here’s a photo incase you don’t believe me. We finally got out of the laudromat at lunchtime, and followed our noses to a pizza place where you dip the pizza into a mixture of honey and chilli oil. They also had wifi, so we all spent the first half hour furiously emailing people to tell them we were alive, checking Facebook and Googling all the things we’d said “we must google that when we have internet!” about.

Then the gang went our separate ways – Erin and I decided to do the uber-touristy gondola up Sulphur Mountain. It was just as tacky as I’d imagined, and the Japanese tourists were in full force with their cameras at the top. But we got photos of views that my friends later said looked photoshopped, which is always a sign of a good view. I think. (Ok, ok it’s Instagrammed. I admit it.)

We had to rush to get back to the campsite in time for dinner (I was on the cooking crew), and when we got back we saw that Tristan had bought a new T-shirt, which said “same shirt, different day”. We found this funny simply because our tour leader, Charlie, literally wore the same shirt every day. Just as I was having a good giggle at his expense, Charlie pipes up, “Laugh it up, cos your mom called to say she was worried about you because she hasn’t heard from you.” The group erupted into laughter, and the jokes kept on coming, thick and fast, for the remainder of the two weeks. Stuff like, “I don’t know, ask your mum” and mature things like that. Thanks mum. (When I got home I quizzed her about it and she said that wasn’t why she called at all, and that Trek America had taken it upon themselves to contact all the tour leaders.) Still embarrassing. The other group heard about it and asked me later: “Did you hear about that person whose mum called?” Yeah, that was me…

That night we went to the hot springs, which were unfortunately not natural – but they did rent out 1920s bathers. This did not help anyone forget about the mum thing. Anyway, here I am in a woolly bather and being held up by the guys. I know it looks like it, but that dude was not holding my boob. I swear.

We discovered that night, in a haze of steamy gossip, something terrible, something that would prevent us from ever having a good night’s sleep in the tents again: the other Trek America group had pillows and blow-up mattresses. We had yoga mats. Old yoga mats. And nothing else. Then I discovered that Erin and Kathryn from our group were both using three sleeping bags each – four of which were from Trek America. We’d been freezing our butts off with just one! I was waking up every night at 3am shivering! Julia and I couldn’t believe it, and nabbed two bags from them. It was bliss. Everything was right with the world again. Three sleeping bags, I don’t know. Tsh.

The next morning, warm and well-slept, we were up bright and early for a trek at Lake Louise. I’d always wanted to go there, but was disappointed at the amount of tourists. But all we had to do was outwalk all the Americans, as they started dropping off and heading back to the start trembling with hunger. The other tourists didn’t make it further than the perimeter of the lake. So many posed photos to be taken, so little time.

Talking of posed photos, here’s ours… I walked with Grant and Thomas, and we stopped for a well-earned apple pie at the teahouse halfway. Then we carried on up to a glacier and a constantly avalanching mountain. Here it is, in fact!

After Lake Louise came a trip to Lake Moraine, Lake Louise’s even more stunning sister. The idea was to go there and get some pictures and all that, then jump in the icy cold water. In the warmth of the van I found it very easy to be all macho and say I was up for it. When it came to it (and when I discovered the water was now only 2ft deep and I’d have to make a concerted effort to submerge myself) I regretted my decision bitterly. I tried to pretend I’d never agreed to it, but I’d boasted about my braveness so much that no one was going to let me get away with it. I tried to get away with just dipping my feet in, but they were having none of it. Then this happened (pic below):

He dunked me. I breathed in the ice-cold water. A boob fell out. Everyone got pictures.

(No one has noticed the boob pictures yet. They will now I’ve written this. But it can’t get more embarrassing than having your mum call the tour leaders, so do your worst…)

The next day it was on to Jasper. The drive included 100km along the Icefields Parkway, said to be the most scenic drive in the world. But it was Erin’s turn in charge of the music, and she has pretty bad music. I thoroughly enjoyed teasing her for it, as she justified every song to me. “Come on, Garbage are classic!” “But the Black Eyed Peas are awesome.” “Oh but Justin Timberlake is such a great singer.” These aren’t the exact things she said, but in my memory it’s close enough. I found it most amusing. But since this was a beautiful drive, everyone agreed to rip into Erin until she gave in and let Charlie choose some more fitting music. He chose Old Crow Medicine Show. The song Wagon Wheel became our most played, and the theme tune of the whole trip.  I recommend you listen to this song. But never in a city. It would be like knitting with a drug dealer. Or your grandpa using an iPhone. They just don’t go together.

Anyway, the Icefield Parkway was all the superlatives you can think of. It even had a chipmunk. He’s so cute I could eat him. Here he is.

That night, we had homemade burgers and lots more marshmallows. Plus what became the regular gossip session around the campfire. After several ‘my friend once…’ stories, we went to bed to the sound of screaming elk looking for lady elks with whom to spend the night. It sounded like children being murdered. Sleep well!

Mountain biking in Jasper National Park was the plan for the next day. We had two options: the hard trail or the really hard trail. Thomas, Sabrine and I went for the hard trail. It was hard. Near the end, we came across some elk on our trail. Now we had a decision to make: go back a few miles and detour along the highway, or get past the elk. We’d been told every day not to go near them as they’re in mating season and are very dangerous. So what did we do? We went past them. Singing. Apparently this was so they didn’t think we were trying to creep up on them. Later that day we saw a massive male elk wandering around the campsite screaming for a girlfriend. I was just worried that I’d walk right into him on my way to the bathroom at night. Face full of elk. It could happen.

That night turned out to be pretty amazing. Why? Because I learned how to make Baileys shot glasses out of toasted marshmallows. Two of the greatest things known to man. Together. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy, and swigging from the bottle before munching a marshmallow soon became the preferred method of getting them in my belly. But one thing did disturb me about the whole thing: I didn’t get IDd for the Baileys. How old do I look?? Don’t answer that.



Team Trek America hit the Rockies

I just came back from a two-week tour around the Western Canadian Rockies. It is 5am and I am still awake. Jet lag is a bitch.

So what do I do? I write. I write every detail of the trip (well, not every detail….). Some of it you might find interesting. Some of it you might find boring. But I’ll cut the boring bits out in the morning.

Anyway, my story begins in Seattle. I arrived three days before the Trek America tour started, and had arranged to stay at a local’s house, via

Matt, my couchsurfing host, Matt, was brilliant – he lent me his bike, let me walk his dog (below), and even gave me a lift to the airport at 6.30am for the Trek America pick-up. And I only got myself into trouble a couple of times. Once when I lost Matt’s spare keys and blamed it on the dog and then when I chased a bus down the freeway on the bike because it was better than being murdered by a sketchy character on the dark streets of downtown.

Anyway, after a few days of biking round the city, eating deep-fried peanut butter and jam sandwiches and rocking out at Bumbershoot Festival, the morning of the Trek America tour came, and I met all 19 of the other people on the tour. Standing in the dated, musty lobby of the Clarion hotel, we were split into two groups by Charlie and Adam – the tour leaders “not tour guides. We don’t guide. We lead“.

In my group there was a fellow Brit, Grant, who is a car designer living in Milton Keynes; Thomas the Dutch web developer who likes checked shirts and looks like Bambi when he rollerskates; Erin and Kathryn, chalk-and-cheese Aussie sisters who bickered all the time, which I found most entertaining; Tristan, one of my favourite people in the world, a Welsh farm boy who had an amusing eight-year-old persona that only showed up in restaurants; Aisling, an Irish girl who valiantly got by on a two-week trek with no luggage; Sabrine and Kenneth, a Danish couple – she had such gorgeous hair I just wanted to stroke it all the time (and did) and he was very shy except when drunk, when he danced with all the girls; and Julia, a German nurse and my awesome tent-mate. Oh and I can’t forget Charlie, our Trek America tour leader. He also liked checked shirts, but the same one. Every day. We liked Charlie a lot.

So back in the hotel lobby, Charlie talked us through what to expect on the trip. “Um so we’re in two groups cos there are so many of us and we’ll be doing everything in parallel. But you’re my group. And um, yeah, so we’re gonna be camping every night apart from Vancouver, when we’ll stay in a hostel, cos, like, there aren’t really campgrounds in the city. What else? So we’ll be cooking at the campsites and getting our food every couple of days from a local supermarket. You’ll be in three teams: cooking, cleaning, and erm, other cleaning. Um, that’s about it.”

So we piled into our van, cranked up the music and hit the road. A quick stop for the customs limit of cheap booze just before the border, and we were soon in Canada, home of maple syrup, moose and expensive booze. Here we are, all very excited. Well, Thomas is. (See, I wasn’t lying about the checked shirts.)

We finally arrived at our first campsite, in the nothing town of Kamloops, just in time to take a dip in the arctic lake, have a beer and cook a Thai curry before the sun went down.

Yep, here I am cooking Thai curry. So anyway, we went to bed, and it was my second night to ever sleep in a tent. I loved it. On the first morning I got up super early and photographed the sunrise (I actually got up to pee but don’t tell the others that). I told everyone proudly that I’d be getting up to see the sunrise every morning. I didn’t. Not once.

That day, we drove into Yoho National Park, where we were told we’d be staying at the most scenic campground of the whole trip, Beaverfoot Lodge, in Golden BC. It was gorgeous, but being told “this is as good as it’s gonna get” doesn’t really get you all excited about the next place, does it? We were eaten alive by mozzies there too, and that doesn’t sound all that great, does it? It was beautiful, to be fair. In fact, here’s a photo:


That night, four Trek America groups on different tours happened to be staying at the same place. Three of the groups partied and played beer pong. We were all way too mature for all that, so ate our bodyweights in toasted marshmallows. Like adults.

We also ate like flipping kings. The cooking group made lasagne and moussaka – all on the barbecue. Oh, and sweet potatoes. Charlie kept stressing out about us overspending the food kitty ($10 each per day) because we were buying SO much. In the end, after 14 days, we had $6 left in the kitty. Not too bad…

So that’s the first couple of days – pretty exciting stuff, I know. Don’t worry, it gets better than: we stood in a hotel/we drove in a van/I woke up in the morning. I promise.

And you say he’s just a friend

About a month ago, my dream scenario became a reality: I had no job, no rent to pay and some money in the bank. I realised this would never happen to me again, so I booked a month-long trip to Canada. Of course.

I decided, having done the solo backpacking thing last year (and written a book about it, which is currently gathering dust in my macbook docs folder), that I wanted something more organised and more social. As well as something active. After trudging through several yoga retreat websites, hiking holidays and travelling meetup groups, I decided to go with Trek America. The itinerary was perfect: two weeks of hiking, biking, canoeing, swimming and most importantly, toasting marshmallows over a campfire.

I booked the trip two weeks before it was due to start, and almost puked with excitement. This was my dream trip. Canada, the Rockies, campfires, marshmallows. I’d also planned a week after the trip to drive down the coast from Seattle to San Francisco, cos I knew I wouldn’t want to go home straight away.

I’m a very impatient person, so thankfully there wasn’t long to wait before I was hurtling towards Seattle at 35,000ft.

I changed planes in San Francisco, and had to go through the dreaded customs routine. I was ready for anything they could throw at me, passport clamped in sweaty palms. I stepped up to the customs guy:

“What are you coming to the USA for?”

“Holiday. Just a holiday.”

“Ok and how long will you be staying?”

“Three weeks. Three and a half weeks. Well, 24 days.”

“And where will you be staying?”

“I’m staying with a friend in Seattle.”

“What’s your friend’s name?”

Gulp. “Matt. Matt Aldman.”

“And ya’ll are just friends, he’s not a boyfriend? Or maybe he will be?”

“Nope, just friends.”

Sings: “You say he’s just a friend, and you say he’s just a friend…” (Hands me my passport and says “you can go through”)

Continues singing even louder, “Oh baby you! You got what I nee-eed! And you say he’s just a friend…”

I walk off to catch my next flight, chuckling to myself. A good start!