Lesson Learnt

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March 19th 2014
Published: March 29th 2014
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Maths used to be one of my strongest subjects in school so you would think that I'd be fairly adept at judging distance and time equations... unfortunately it appears that I might have misjudged a little this time.

Leaving Banff with a general idea (as per usual) of my travel plans, Leigh and I were on the highway heading east towards Calgary. I never actually realised how close Banff is to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and before long they were only a reminder of the good times in the rearview mirror. What really surprised me was the fact that I expected them to slowly get smaller as we descended onto the plains of Alberta, but in reality you could just about draw a line where the mountains end and the plain begins... no mountains to hills to gently rolling plains... just suddenly you're driving on flat ground.

Dropping Leigh off, I could see why this city is so famous for it's muster.... The Calgary Stampede. Surrounded by endless ranches, the actual site where the event occurs is insanely huge... and actually very close to the centre of town. Now days it's not just a way of trading livestock, but a general festival with parties and rodeos that last over a week in July, with the city's population swelling over capacity for weeks leading up to it.

Turning south from Calgary, my vague idea was to cross back into the USA in Montana somewhere near Glacier National Park (the US version) before turning west and trying to reach Spokane in the east of Washington State, but somewhere along the way, what with time zone changes and conversions from metric back to imperial, I might have slightly misjudged the journey.

Crossing the border posed no effort compared to the Canadian crossing and suddenly I was climbing back into mountains. The road through the centre of Glacier NP was unfortunately closed due to a recent snow storm but even driving around the edge of it provided stunning vistas before opening back up to the prairie.

I don't think we give animals enough credit when it comes to their intelligence... every time you enter a national park there is a sign saying "No Hunting"... and then you almost immediately start to see wildlife. In just one day I saw deer, elk and even two wolves running through the tall grass... not sure if I'm happy or disappointed that there's been no bear sightings yet though.

You know that feeling when you're almost at the end of a long day of driving? When the only thought in your head is to lie down on a bed a zone out for a while? Only to realise that you're not actually nearing the end at all and it's almost like all your hopes and dreams are crushed under the weight of the unjust?

Montana's flat prairie slowly faded, along with the sun, as I reached Idaho and more mountain passes... but by this time I was just trying to get a move on as the GPS was now saying that I'd reach Spokane at 9:40pm. Crossing into Washington meant going back to Pacific Time and suddenly I had an extra hour of driving still to do.

Hopes and dreams.... crushed! Lesson learnt... Bad maths equals sore bum.

By making it to Spokane, this meant that I had the opportunity to visit a couple of friends that I'd only ever talked to over the internet... but once again my brain had let me down. For some unknown reason, I let myself believe that John and Wendy lived on the east side of the mountains near Yakima... after trying to set up a meet for lunch, I suddenly realised they actually lived on the west side... and I'd passed by their city on the way up to Seattle. Thank goodness it was a Sunday and that John and Wen don't mind a drive so we managed in the end to finally meet face to face for lunch in Ellensburg, a beautiful example of a historic small town. Having been showered in local gifts (as well as a few potent home brews of Apple Jack from John), lunch was amazing in an old converted church where the kitchen was open in the refectory. Armed with some local knowledge, a wander around the main street looking at all the architecture was great, with a lot of the buildings built within a couple of years of each other due to a fire that decimated the town. It was a great place to meet and chat and the day left me with a few more places to visit in the area thanks to John and Wendy's guidance.

On one such recommendation, an hour north of Ellensburg is a small town called Leavenworth. What makes this town so special is that it looks, feels and even sounds like someone scooped it up from Bavaria in Germany and transplanted it into the US. From German names to Bavarian music, flower pots on balconies to bratwurst and sauerkraut, you almost expect to see lederhosen as it's that authentic (and their beers aren't bad either!).

Having managed to finally put faces to names, it was back east for me and back through Idaho, the Craters Of The Moon National Preserve (a huge volcanic area with lava fields as far as the eye can see) and past nuclear test sites from the 50's, heading towards Yellowstone National Park. Once again, the travel gods were fickle and with a heavy dump of snow the day before arriving at the World Heritage Site, I spent a day driving from the west entrance to the south entrance only to find them both closed. I guess it just means that I'll definitely have to come back.

Not to be deterred and waste a whole day, I entered Wyoming through Teton Pass and another flurry of snow, and found myself a slice of the Wild West. The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson is about as Wild West as it comes. With saddles as seats at the bar, not a tap beer in sight, stuffed mountain lions and bears, moose, deer, elk and buffalo horns wall mounted, and a competition to win an automatic rifle, this place was so over the top that I thought it was a tourist trap... right up until a real life cowboy walked in!! I nearly laughed at the feeling that I was in a western movie... but I wanted to leave with all my teeth.

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30th March 2014

Changing time zones will get you every time
I'm glad you are seeing some of the cute Washington towns and enjoying our National Parks.
1st April 2014

Straight off the prairie!!!

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