The next day Sophia and I were joined for a walk up Mount Hays by a Dutch woman, Eva, who I'd met at the hostel I stayed at in Denali National Park. It was a beautiful wooded path up the mountain, although we couldn’t see any sign of the summit - after a couple of hours climbing we kept saying “it must be round the next corner,” but each time the path would keep rising. Still, the path was extremely pretty and the higher we climbed the more we began to see evidence of the rain forest, with small waterfalls, broad leaved plants and summer flowers.
Gradually a mist descended until we could barely see anything ahead, but at last we reached what appeared to be the summit. I decided that Sophia the Fearless had led us towards Valhalla, or perhaps some kind of Viking Hell, as all I could see was a strange cross surrounded by mist and dead trees! There was a battered old caravan at the top that added to the surreal atmosphere.
None of us felt like a 4 hour walk all the way back down in the foggy drizzle, so when we saw a white forestry truck coming towards us, Sophia shouted “Run”, and we sprinted to the road and stuck out our thumbs. The Viking Gods were obviously looking upon us favourably as the truck stopped and offered us a lift. We were jolted around in the back all the way down, but I think we ached more from laughter than anything else by the time we reached the bottom!
We had a relaxed night back at the hostel, cooking some food and watching a couple of episodes of ‘FatherTed’ on Sophia's laptop. The next night I had my first Canadian gig at a coffee shop called Cowpuccino’s. I played to a really good crowd, including a group of people from the hostel that Sophia had managed to round up. We finished the night back at the hostel watching some videos that a guy called Cory had filmed. He lived alone on Princess Royal Island, where he was paid to be the caretaker of a disused cannery. The island was extremely beautiful, with huge waterfalls and rare Kermode bears, and Cory had plenty of time there to pursue his photography as well as doing some amazing carvings, and it was really interesting to learn about his life.
Sophia and I were the last ones up, and it was finally time to say goodbye - she was catching a bus to Banff in the Rockies the next day, and then going back to Sweden via New York. We’d spent probably only about 10 days together but it felt a lot longer (in the best possible sense), and I knew I would miss her friendship immensely. We hugged each other, and I hoped that we would stay in touch.
To Vancouver Island
I was up at 5am the next morning to get a taxi to the ferry terminal, where my ferry for Port Hardy at the top of Vancouver Island was due to depart. The journey would take me through the famous Inside Passage, reportedly one of the most spectacular ferry journeys in the world, but unfortunately the mist had descended again, and the glimpses of forested mountains towering around the boat were all but hidden from view .
Just before I left the ferry at Port Hardy, a woman came up to me and asked if I needed a lift from the ferry terminal into town. It turned out that Suzanna was also a couch-surfer on holiday, who was heading to Victoria the following day and said she could give me a lift. I had a strange night at the hostel, which was huge but empty, and Suzanna slept in the car park because she had a dog that wasn't allowed in. After a quick wander around Port Hardy the next morning we set off on the long journey to Victoria.
We struck up a leisurely pace, stopping at lovely little towns on the way like Telegraph Cove and Chemainus, a town that is covered in wall murals. I enjoyed getting to know Suzanna, who lives in LA and works as a school counsellor. It was interesting to learn more about life in the ‘hood’, where Suzanna deals with kids from some really tough backgrounds, and does an admirable job guiding pupils through school towards a brighter future.
We arrived in Victoria by about 7pm and after a quick look round decided to set up camp for the night in a place called Goldstream, just outside of the town. Most campsites in Canada have a fire pit on each camping section, and for $5 you can buy all the wood you need to cook and keep warm with. We were both tired from a long day, so I stoked the fire up while Suzanna prepared some food and afterwards I played a few songs before we called it a night.
It was a beautiful sunny morning the next day, and I woke up to see a deer grazing next to my tent. After making some breakfast we struck camp and headed back to Victoria. Suzanna had to catch a ferry later that afternoon back to the US, and I was booked into a backpacker’s hostel. I wasn’t able to check-in until 3pm, so after saying goodbye to Suzanna I wandered around the harbour area, where an international Busker’s Festival was taking place. There were lots of street musicians as well as jugglers, contortionists and acrobats. I spoke to the organisers and managed to secure myself a busking spot the following day where I would be following a fiddle-playing Darth Vader!
When I checked into the hostel I felt immediately out of place. Having just spent the last 6 weeks in the outbacks of Alaska the party atmosphere at the backpackers was too much for me. It was a huge hostel, with a bar and lots of young adults gearing up to hit the town for the weekend, and I found myself sitting in a corner hiding behind a book and feeling really old!
Victoria is a relatively small city, and really quite beautiful. It’s surrounded by mountains, and has a lovely harbour and pretty streets. But I missed the tranquillity of the small towns and expanses of wilderness I’d become used to in Alaska.
I did some busking the next day and had a gig to play later that evening in a venue just of town, but my heart wasn't really in it and I just wanted to get of town. I cheered myself up the next day by going for a walk up Mount Doug, which had amazing views across Victoria to Vancouver. I didn’t want to leave Vancouver Island without exploring it further, so I booked a week's stay with a WWOOF Host (Worldwide Workers On Organic Farms) in Port Renfrew, a remote village on the southwest of the island.
Whoever said musicians don't do early mornings was wrong! I was up at 5am to catch my bus an hour later to Port Renfrew. As soon as we left the city we were into long stretches of mountain forest, with the sea down below to one side, and pretty cabins peeking out from trees on the other. It was only a two hour journey, so it was still early by the time I arrived at Trailhead Resort, where I would be staying and working for the next week. WWOOF is a really good scheme that allows you to stay at an organic farm in return for about 4-6 hours work for the day. Trailhead Resort was a holiday destination with an organic garden, providing fishing trips and wooden cabins in a lovely spot just yards from the sea.
After being offered some breakfast I was put immediately to work with a couple of other WWoofers cleaning the cabins. We were finished by early afternoon, and after lunch I settled into the small lodge I'd been given for the week. It was nice to have my own space again, and I was able to get down to some proper song-writing for the first time on my trip so far. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the harbour area and getting to know some of the locals. Port Renfrew has a population of about 200, and when I asked what people do in their spare time, the standard answer seemed to be “Drink!”
The next day I was on gardening duties, and it felt really good to get my hands in the soil again. The morning was taken up with sorting out a small allotment area, dead-heading flowers and doing some watering. After lunch I went down to the quay with Ben, a young lad from Ontario who was working there for the summer. We had to wait for the fishing boats to come in, when our job was to clean the boats out and to help unload and clean the fish. In the end we waited almost an hour, and it was nice just looking out at the mountains and watching the wildlife, with seals swimming close to us as well as an otter on the shore that had been there for several days malting.
The boats eventually arrived with huge catches of fish, mainly halibut and salmon, and an extremely weird looking red snapper. It was evening by the time we’d finished, and after a good scrub (I stank of fish!), we had fresh halibut and chips.Wednesday day time was spent mainly working around the lodges - doing cleaning again in the morning and some gardening in the afternoon. I was keen to find out more about the internal politics of the place, as it seemed most of the staff were afraid of the owner. Two of the workers had told me “never disagree with Peter.” Apparently one German Wwoofer disagreed when criticised by him, and he yelled at her “Never f*ing disagree with me,” and threatened to kick her out.
I’d booked a gig on Saturday night in a restaurant over the road that he’d been banned from for fighting, and I was interested to see what would happen, as there was an 'unofficial' rule that Peter wouldn't let the WWoofers go in there anymore. I spent the next couple of days gardening and exploring the area, and had a jamming session with the cook, Clint, who lived down by the harbour. A couple of guests were celebrating their 37th wedding anniversary and I offered to play for them while they had their evening meal, which they said had made it really special for them.
On Saturday morning I was graced with the presence of a hummingbird as I sat outside eating my breakfast, and it turned out to be a good omen. My gig that night went really well, with several of the WWoofers turning up, and the next morning Peter sheepishly asked how I’d got on. It was my last day in Port Renfrew, and Ben and I took a packed lunch and cycled to a place called Botanical Beach. If you catch the tide at the right time, the retreating sea reveals a secret world of rock-pools and unusual cliff formations. We spent a couple of hours exploring, gazing into the many shapes, and I felt that I was time-travelling back to prehistory as the mist furled around the forest bordering the shoreline. It was a great end to my stay in this special place.
I thought I was going to be stuck for the day, but eventually a guy in a van stopped and said he could take us all about 30 miles down the road.Two of the hikers said they were going back to Victoria once they reached their car, and offered to drop me right outside my hostel. It was only an overnight stop in Victoria - I was due to go to Vancouver the following day, where I’d be staying a couple of nights with a couch-surfing host, Becky, and playing a house concert for her friends.
It was strange arriving in the first really big city of my tour so far. Vancouver is a sea of shimmering skyscrapers, but also one of the greenest cities I’ve seen. My bus drove into the centre through miles of leafy suburbs, with pretty wooden houses displaying hanging baskets and the outskirts, at least, had more of a town than a city feel. I’d arranged to drop my bags on arrival at Beck’s workplace, which luckily was just round the corner from one of the bus drop-off points. I liked Beck immediately, a very friendly Australian who had fallen in love with Canada whilst travelling the world, and now worked in an English Language Centre.
I had a few hours to spare until Beck finished work, so I walked down to the harbour and sat watching watching the big liners go past. Beck lived only a few blocks away from her workplace, and we were soon back out into leafy suburbs. I was surprised how easily we'd escaped the hustle of the city, if it was London we'd have had to walk for miles. Vancouver has been voted one of the best cities in the world to live, and I was starting to see why. We had a nice relaxed evening at Beck’s apartment talking about our travels and future plans, and there was a lovely sunset across the bay towards the mountains.
Beck was working again the next day, so I hired a bike and spent the day cycling round Stanley Park, which follows a sea wall around the harbour in a 9 km circular route. Later, I was sitting in the city having a coke when a man came up to me and shook my hand and said he’d really enjoyed watching me play music the previous Saturday night in Port Renfrew, which made my day! There was more music lined up later that night, with some of Beck’s friends coming round for a potluck, and me providing the live entertainment. We also had fireworks to look forward to, with an international competition taking place in which each week a different country would give a firework dispaly.
There was an international flavour to the evening, with Beck’s friends coming from all over the world - Australia, England, Germany, Spain, New Zealand - oh, and someone from Canada! We shared food and I played some songs before another beautiful sunset followed by the fireworks, which we were able to watch from Beck’s balcony. It was late by the time everyone left, but Beck and I sat up talking for a while. I was due to be catching a bus the next morning to Kelowna where I had a gig booked, and it was a shame that I was leaving so soon having made yet another good friend on my journey.
Beck walked to the bus station with me, where I caught a Greyhound bus early the next day for Kelowna in central British Columbia. Canada is such a huge place it's hard to comprehend some times. It would take all day to get half way across the width of the state, and when you consider that BC is a lot longer than it is wide, you begin to realise the magnitude of the place. The Okanagan (the area around Kelowna) is officially classed as a dessert, and stepping off the bus I soon understood why. The heat was noticeably dry and fierce, such an extreme opposite from the damp climate I had become used to in Alaska.
After checking into my hostel I went for a walk along the waterfront to cool off in the evening breeze. Kelowna is a large tourist town, and although the waterfront was pretty it was full of shops with over-priced goods. This was bad news for me because when I packed I'd come prepared for the weather in Alaska, and now I needed a whole new set of clothes. I was horrified when I tried to buy a pair of flip-flops to find a price tag of $50.
My dorm room had been empty when I went for my walk, so it was a surprise when l returned to find two half naked women in my room! After making a hasty retreat to bed with my book, I'd just got off to sleep when another mystery guest arrived and took the bunk above mine. Not only was he a snorer, but the bed creaked horribly, and this combined with the heat meant I had a terrible night's sleep.
Everyone was very friendly in the hostel, but I felt old and out of place wearing my hiking boots with a thick pair of socks, so as soon as I could I ducked out of the hostel the next day and went in search of some flip-flops. Returning a few hours later with a bag full of summer clothes from an out of town supermarket I felt ready to mingle with the younger generation again, and celebrated with a nice cup of tea and a piece of cake!
I had a couple of days to spare until my next gig, and decided to make the most of the sunshine and just relax at the hostel with a book or two. Each night the mystery snorer returned late, and was gone by early morning. Who was this man? What were his motives? Was he following me from hostel to hostel? When a young Korean lad checked into my hostel room, and I warned him about the mystery snorer he appeared not to understand a word I'd said, and looked at me as if I was slightly crazy when I started miming actions. Perhaps I'd been travelling alone for too long, but I began to wonder if the heat was getting to me!
It didn’t look very promising when I arrived at my gig on Saturday night at the Bicycle Shop Cafe - there was no one in there, and when I asked the owner if he thought it would be busy that night he replied:
“It’s difficult to say,” before cheerfully adding “It might turn out to be a rehearsal for you.”
It's often said that if you only reach one person in a performance then it was worth it, which turned out to be pretty much true on that night, as I played to an audience of just two people! The warm weather had kept people out of the town and on the beach, and I commiserated back at the hostel with a cup of mint tea, whilst around me the twenty-somethings partied like there was no tomorrow. I have to say I felt like packing my bags and checking out but I still had a gig to play on the Monday night. All was not lost, however. Miraculously that night the mystery snorer failed to materialise.
“I think the snorer’s gone,” I said to the Korean the next day, who smiled politely back as if tolerating a slightly dotty elderly aunt.
After two good night’s sleep I felt refreshed and was looking forward to performing again that evening at the Minstrel Cafe. I had to be there at 5pm for a sound-check, and arriving early had to time to go for a swim at a nearby beach. It was so hot that night that I performed in my bare feet, but there was a really good crowd, and I enjoyed trying out a new song that I’d written the week before in Port Renfrew. It was midnight by the time I got back to the hostel, and it was a beautiful warm night, with a big moon, and I stood outside for a while gazing at the stars. This was my last night in Kelowna and I was glad that it had ended on a high.
I didn't have any gigs booked in town, and just planned to spend a few days relaxing before the last leg of my journey through the Rockies to Calgary. I found a lovely hostel right in the centre of Nelson, and quickly made friends with a woman called Kim from England who had been on the same bus as me. I spent the next day exploring the town - from the centre the houses spread out up a steep wooded valley, with spectacular views across Kootenay Lake and the mountains that surround it. I'd also made friends with some Canadian girls staying at the hostel who were driving out to some hot-springs the following day. As it would be my birthday they took pity on me and said I could go with them!
We went out to the hot-springs early before the crowds arrived, and it was a perfect day. The warm waters soothed away my many aches and pains from lugging all my music gear round for the last few months, and the Canadian girls were a lot of fun to be around. Later on, Kimberley and I went out for an Indian meal in Nelson, and when we got back to the hostel I set up all my music gear in the garden and played for everyone for an hour or so. The Canadian girls convinced Kimberley and I to go along to a dub night at a local club, and a girl whose birthday it also was (but 20 years younger!) dragged me onto the dance-floor to the amusement of the rest of the gang.
The next morning I was up early to do a phone interview back in England with Radio Norfolk, and I also had a telephone interview with the Calgary Herald who were really interested in my journey and wanted to do a feature ahead of my final gig in Calagary. It turned out to be a good day for promotion as later I also did an hour long session with Nelson’s radio station, Kootenay Co-op Radio, playing five songs for them. I was into the final two weeks of my journey, but still had probably the most spectacular part to come - the Rockies.
I’d arranged two separate couch-surfing stays for my time in Calgary; the first with a musician called Chance Robinson who lived near the venue I’d be playing at the following day, and the second with a house full of creative types who lived at the other end of town near the university. I was dropped by the Ukranians at a train station on the outskirts of Calgary, which has a really efficient tram-like system. .
I was feeling a little lost in the big city after being out in the mountains for the last week, but Chance made me feel very welcome, and we shot a music video of me playing a song with his daughter, Hope. On Friday morning I was woken at 8am with a phone call from Calgary City TV wanting to do an interview with me. They asked if I could be downtown in an hour. “Yeah sure” I replied in my drowsy slumber. I managed a quick shower and a few mouthfuls of breakfast before heading out to catch a train into the city centre. We’d arranged to meet at a small park close to the Calgary City TV offices, and I arrived just in time.
The interview went well, although I was slightly stumped when the interviewer asked me about the 'bear incident'. 'What bear incident?' I thought. Ben from the PR company I'd hired before the trip had organised the interview, and I suddenly realised that he must have spiced up the story of my journey to get the TV company interested! The interviewer looked quite impressed when she asked me if I'd been scared and I vaguely replied 'Not really. I had my guitar with me!'
Afterwards I went for a wander round the city and then headed back to Chance’s to prepare for the final gig of my tour at Café Crema. It was really nice to see Anika and Jennie at the show, who I’d met at the hostel in Nelson and who lived in Calgary. They also brought their mums along to watch, and another guy Vince who was staying at Chance’s turned up with his girlfriend. There was a very receptive crowd at Café Crema, and it was a nice way to end my tour.
On Saturday I packed all my gear up again and headed to the other end of the city where I’d be staying until I flew home the following Wednesday. Kye, Michael, Daniel and David, were young writers and artists who lived together to help cut the costs of living in Calgary, which like most big cities isn’t cheap. We spent the night chatting over a meal, and I felt immediately comfortable in their company.
The remaining days of my trip seemed to fly by - I had to organise selling some of the music gear that I'd bought at the start of my journey, and I did some more exploring of the city while Kye and crew were at work. I was in a park on my final day when I saw an engraving of the olympic motto, about how the real triumph in life is in taking part, and the struggles that go with that.
It had been a long journey, from the original idea to making all the bookings for my tour and travelling alone across over 5,000 miles with my guitar, a load of music gear and a rucksack. At times it had been soul-destroying, playing to just a handful of people and feeling alone and unsupported miles from home, but it seemed that whenever things got rough there was always something good waiting just around the corner to restore my faith in what I was doing.
The CD I'd completed before the tour was called 'A Leap of Faith', and my journey had certainly been that. It was a lovely feeling arriving back in England and seeing my family and friends again, and it took a while for many of the experiences of the trip to sink in. I'm so glad that I kept a blog of my journey, because it has allowed me some time before re-visiting the places I went and people I met, and to remember the kindness they showed me. If there's one thing I learnt, it's that if you take the leap someone will be there to catch you when you fall.
“Put the knife down. Now.”
I could hear struggling, and then another voice shouting “Help…help…sanctuary.”
Someone from my dorm room ran out, and came back moments later saying that the police were there. Some guests had unknowingly let a man in earlier that morning who wasn’t staying at the hostel, and when asked to leave by the receptionist he'd produced a knife. It took the police almost half an hour to get the man out of the hostel, who kept shouting over and over again “Sanctuary…rape…sanctuary…rape,” and was writhing around the floor in a frenzy.
I think all of us felt a little shaken by the incident, and after such a nice time in Nelson it was sad to be leaving like this. But I needed to get back on the road as I had to hitch to Silverton, a small mountain town about 50 miles away for a gig later that night. I got my first lift without even putting my thumb out, to a more suitable spot a couple of miles out of town. Within five minutes I’d got my next lift, to the turn-off for Silverton. Luck stayed with me for the remainder of the journey, with two more lifts in quick succession taking me all the way to Silverton along the lovely Slocan Lake. On arrival I was immediately welcomed by Matthew, the owner of the Cup and Saucer Café where I would be performing, and I was given a big bowl of soup and fresh bread to celebrate.
I’d arranged to stay the night with Matthew, but his wife had her family visiting, so had fixed things up for me to stay with a neighbour who lived across the road. Jim was living in his campervan while he did some renovations on his house, and I felt slightly guilty that I was given the main bedroom! After getting settled in I went for a swim in a nearby lake, and it felt amazing watching the mountains reflected in the clear water.
Silverton only has a population of about 200 people, and I wasn’t sure how many people would turn up for my gig as apparently there was an annual party going on that all the locals would be attending. Jim had some friends staying in his garden who said they’d come along, however, and I got chatting at the lake to some holidaymakers who also turned up, so by the time some locals arrived as well it was still worthwhile playing. After the gig I went down to the lake and sat watching the moon over the water for half an hour or so, and felt lucky to be in such a beautiful place.
On Sunday morning I went kayaking with one of Jim’s friends, Greg, while his wife Kathy made us some breakfast. It was a lovely way to start the day, and I played a bit of guitar with Jim before saying my goodbyes. It was another really hot day, and I stood in the sun for a while trying to hitch a ride to Revelstoke, the next big town on the way to the Rockies. Eventually I got chatting to a man who was cleaning his car, and he kindly offered me a lift to the next village where he was going to visit his son.
Another car stopped within ten minutes that took me 50 miles further along the road, and shortly afterwards a lady stopped who was going all the way to Revelstoke. The front of the van was full of camping gear so I had to sit on an air-mattress in the back, which was really comfortable! To reach Revelstoke we caught a ferry across a large river, and it was quite choppy as the weather had started to change. I arrived in Revelstoke wearing sandals and a T-shirt in the middle of a downpour, but luckily the hostel was only a short walk from where I’d been dropped.
I soon got chatting to a guy called Steve from New Zealand who said he was driving to Banff the following day, which was also my planned destination. I offered to share the petrol money, and Steve agreed to giving me a lift. We ran into each other a bit later in town, and it turned out that Steve was also a musician, so we had a lot in common. We left early the next day, and made a few stopping points on the way to Banff, visiting a town called Golden, and going for a walk through an ancient hemlock forest. We were in Banff by mid-afternoon, and after checking the town out settled into our hostel for the night.
A reggae band were playing in the hostel bar that night, and Steve knew one or two of the members as they’d played in Revelstoke a few nights earlier. I enjoyed listening to the music and chatting to the band members afterwards. Before leaving Banff the next day we caught the Gondola (cable-car) to the top of the mountain just outside the town, and it was a truly spectacular view. We made the most of the day by walking around nearby Lake Minnewanka, and also climbing a spectacular gorge called Johnston Canyon, before driving the final distance to Lake Louise where we were booked into a hostel for two nights. We also saw a black bear on the way, quite a young one that had attracted the attention of several cars that blocked the roadway as we approached it. The bear seemed completely un-phased by all the people taking its photograph!
The only drawback to hanging around with Steve was that coming from New Zealand he was used to climbing a mountain or two before breakfast just to work up an appetite, and I had a really hard time keeping up with him! We left early the next morning to go walking up Lake Louise before the coach-loads of tourists would arrive. The lake is perfectly framed on either side by two mountains that form a V-shape at the far end. It’s a photographer’s paradise, with its pristine waters perfectly reflecting the mountains, and it must look stunning in the winter when snow covers the area.
There were two tea houses to aim for on our route, and after reaching the first one, we opted to take a harder trail up a steep canyon to get away from the crowds. Our efforts were rewarded at the top with a stunning panoramic view of the Rockies. They have a truly distinctive shape, unlike any other mountains I’ve seen before, and as I sat resting I felt I could have stayed there forever just watching.
We still had quite a way to go to the next tea house, which had a spectacular view of six glaciers. As we walked every now and then we‘d hear the rumble of snow breaking off the ice in the distance - it was surprisingly loud even from so far away, and sounds a bit like a plane breaking the sound barrier. By the time we reached the second tea house Steve and I were already pretty exhausted, and after drinking some tea we convinced ourselves to make the trek back along the shores of Lake Louise. Each step felt painful for the final two miles, but I felt really pleased that I’d kept up with Steve’s pace, which seemed to have increased as the day went on!