I had never travelled alone or outside of Europe before prior to 2018, and I went to Canada with the intention of hiking the Great Divide Trail. It was a backup plan of mine and if I’m honest, I saw it as second best compared to America–how foolish. I feel this is almost an insult to Canada, so I apologise (Canada has rubbed off on me; I’m apologising already, eh?) I wanted the sun, snakes, accents, etc. that America has to offer. The irony here is that Canada was actually incredibly hot most of the time (similar accents, haha). Things worked out extremely well–not perfectly but no life story would be perfect without imperfections. I’d love to return and work there but sadly by the time I had finished faffing around with two American visa denials, I am just shy of the 18-30 international experience Canada programme! I digress…
After about four years of wanting to do a long distance hike, inspired by the movie “Wild” (a story about Cheryl Strayed), plenty of planning, and research, I booked a flight in a haphazard way. I wasn’t really sure what I’d do when I got on the plane because I was terrified. Not of flying, but going to somewhere, on my own, not really knowing how I’d make this work. Would my little knife be rejected at the airport? Would my camera get smashed by some airport security guy? These are the stupid things I worried about mostly because of the hostile experience I faced at the US Embassy. I had plans but what if my foot broke or something? In the end, I just stopped worrying. The plane flight went well, except the little child kicking me in the back every five minutes. The food was nice (does that make me sound mentally ill? I’d always heard flight food was bad). Gatwick Airport was cute… This is how cute… Nothing there really makes sense, it’s like some kind of weird maze, and I think that’s so you don’t find the food shops. Because if you do find them, you will probably die of a heart attack. For the price of a little bar of Cadburys chocolate, a packet of crisps and a bottle of water, I believe you can buy a small island in Thailand. This is not surprising I guess because it is the last decent bar of Cadbury’s chocolate you will find until you return home; Canadian Cadbury’s chocolate is truly awful.
After several hours of driving to London, a long plane flight, and a further wait at Calgary airport I was exhausted. When I arrived at Calgary airport, I immediately noticed a few weird things. Everything was cheaper, the bathroom doors all had about an inch between the door and the wall. Luckily I had played tetris as a kid, so I stacked my luggage against the wall like a professional, and it was my first time! It was such a proud moment until I realised I had left my phone charger in one of the lower items on the stack–that problem doesn’t happen with tetris.
I looked like a bit of a zombie from all the travelling, but I met this nice lady who gave me various maps and pieces of paper. She was really helpful and commented on how cheap it was to travel. It was so cheap that I thought I’d have to buy two tickets, one for the train and one for the coach. This is not the case! To get to downtown Calgary, you only need to purchase the one 90 minute ticket and it allows you on either bus or train–it was about $3.50. This is such an amazing system, and it took me until the end of the trip to realise I didn’t have to buy two separate tickets, lol.
I should have booked a hotel in Calgary but instead I waited at the greyhound coach station. It’s the worst part of Canada I saw with shady looking people and it’s not well kept. I don’t want the writing here to be too negative, but someone wanted to steal from me and let’s just say, as my first time in the country, I thought to myself “I thought Canadians were meant to be friendly?” That’s just that particular area, so don’t be put off by it!! 99.99% of the people I met were super nice.
I then got on the coach, arrived in “Pincher Creek” at about 3AM and I felt a bit disorientated. It was dark and everywhere seemed so huge. Despite the map saying the motel was nearby, I couldn’t really find it. I just happened to find a lady who called a taxi for me :).
I went to sleep and wasn’t sure where to go because Waterton had closures, and I stayed there for a few days. Everywhere was really flat, and I thought “where’s the mountains?” The food was good, the pizzas were cheap, and Leo’s bar and grill had nice food! So I was okay after a bit. When I first arrived, I was miserable because of jet lag and feeling weird. The flat land really made me confused and if I did this trip again, I’d have definitely stayed in Calgary longer.
Due to the closures which caused my plans to change upon arrival (I was given late notice), I used the Motel WiFi and connected with a few helpful Canadians. I was driven to Castle Mountain Ski Resort (after buying food at Walmart) where I was meant to be hiking with an American Couple. I asked one of them to hold my camera bag while I put my backpack in the SUV–he grabbed my hiking poles but didn’t want to touch the smaller bag, so I did it myself but it was an awkward detail I remember. I saw a coyote on the way there, and thought it looked cute! We arrived and they didn’t want to go in the same direction as me, so I went on my own towards the mountain. I was kind of pleased because I could go at my own pace, but at the same time I was terrified, haha.
I met this guy who was filming humming birds. He had about 982 cameras all in a circle, all on tripods. It was a fancy idea, haha. I asked where he was from and he said “England”, I said “whereabouts?” he said “Eastern England” (I’m from Eastern England) and the conversation continued… He lived about half an hour away from me, haha. It was really funny :D. He also explained his camera setup–he was recording humming birds in a circle, so he could get footage from all angles.
I then began to make my way further up the road and just felt how vast everything was. This photograph doesn’t do it justice, but everywhere is so big!!
I made my way to the start of what looked like a track (I should have taken more photographs) and began hiking up the mountain. It wasn’t what I was expecting as visibility wasn’t ideal and I began to get lost, hahaha. I reached a point which was hard to walk in because it was quite overgrown, so I decided to go up the river instead. I think I was a bit stupid to do that because it had quite a strong current :’). When I say go up the river, I literally mean hike in 1.5+ feet deep 5c water surrounding my body.
I then went back and met a German couple, and hiked with them. They were doing the same hike! We went up the mountain together and I’d already hiked a bit, I hadn’t eaten/drunk enough and was having a hard time keeping up with them, haha. They were really, really helpful and kind about it but I was slowing them up considerably! We hiked for a while and then had a campfire, ate dinner, chatted for a while and went to sleep :).
I woke up at roughly 1:00am, it was about -8c and I woke up screaming I think. The tent had fallen on my head because something had snapped the tent peg!! I’m really not sure how that happened, lol. I was partially rolling down a little decline (you can’t see it in the photograph but towards the tree on the left). Also this photograph is deceiving because it looks like vehicle tracks, but they’re not vehicle tracks. I then got outside, put the tent back up and went to sleep.
Due to the weather conditions, we decided to go back down the mountain but I went down it earlier on my own. Walking down the mountain, around corners and such, being an English person I didn’t know what to say. So I just said I am now coming around the corner. It was a bit embarrassing if anyone was to find me. A bear promptly roared at me and I asked it if it would not kill me today. Bear, please don’t kill me today. I wasn’t sure what to say, and that was as good as anything. Maybe I was imagining it, but my backpack felt like it weighed 0 pounds. I just assumed that was adrenaline and such.
I then got lost for a while, walked around in circles for a few hours and met with the German couple again. We got lost together for a short period and then found our way to the ski resort area.
I slept there, went back to Pincher creek to get my stuff, stayed there for a bit and then went to Waterton! I think because of the getting lost, the bears, the tent falling on me in the night, etc. I was already quite hardened to fear and I felt way, way more confident. I wasn’t panicking over things that I didn’t need to panic about. It was a great feeling and although that was just my first little adventure of many, it had the biggest change on me. I think it was partly because I had been waiting so long to actually leave the country. Money is more a factor now but I will definitely go back to that area as soon as I can and take better photographs.Affiliate information.