Sunday, August 17, 2003

Jenn is my co-pilot part 4
I’ve got to credit the Golden town planners for putting the Chevron and the McDonald’s next door to each other. It made our morning extra convenient as we got ready to hit the road in earnest on Thursday. After we gassed up and ate we drove to the first destination on our final day of exploration—Rogers Pass.

Rogers Pass is dead historic. We walked into the visitors’ centre only to find out that you needed a park pass to gain access to the exhibits. I was about to fork out when the belter remembered she had our pass from Banff the day before. In we went.

Lots of taxidermy throughout (all animals, the signs stressed, died of natural causes or in road accidents) depicted the region’s wildlife, and some elaborate dioramas laid out miniature landscapes and key historic events—avalanches, mostly. The 12-year-old model builder in me was pretty riveted by it all.

We found that the best story in the visitors’ centre was the story of Glacier House, a grand hotel that serviced the old railway line (which ran close to the present-day highway) around the turn of the century. When the Connaught Tunnel was built to reduce the grade of the track, the trains bypassed the hotel. Glacier House quickly went out of business and was demolished. Burned to the ground, in fact.

All the visitors’ centre had were some old photographs and a glass case containing a hotel restaurant place setting—some silverware, a cup and goblet reconstructed from shattered fragments, and a menu (main entrees for 65–70 cents!). The belter and I were a little creeped out by the derelict elegance of it.

After a couple gift shops and some photos of the local wildlife (SQUIRREL!) we drove over to the official Trans-Canada highway monument with the twin arches bridging a grand mosaic of our nation. Just to the side of the parking lot we found a trail that followed the 1890 railway line that went past Glacier House. Not wanting to miss out on a cool abandoned thing, we walked along it for a bit, thrilling at the indentations in the ground left behind by the old railway ties. I climbed up the bank that paralleled the trail and found another abandoned roadbed on the other side.

Having been completely spooked by Roger’s Pass, we drove to Kamloops, where we stayed on Highway 1 to Cache Creek. It was hotter than a docker’s armpit in the car and the poor belter suffered from my stinginess with the AC (it made the Altima gutless on the uphills). We stopped somewhere in the desert for peaches and suspiciously Kool-Aid-like cherry cider, then started the long and winding road alongside the Fraser Canyon, surrounded by hell-bent-for-leather semi-trailers. I felt a bit like Dennis Weaver in Duel.

Since there we couldn’t find any rest areas along the highway, we stopped at Hell’s Gate Airtram to use the facilities, only to find (predictably) that they were on the other side of the river—an admission price and a gondola ride away. The nice lady at the gift shop told us that the next rest stop was just down the highway near Alexandra Bridge, and that while we were there we should take the short hike down to the river and see the old bridge. Good advice, it turned out.

We checked out the gondola ride from the parking lot. Somewhere down on the other side of those rapids were the restrooms we wanted. I had to laugh at what else was there for the tourists when they disembarked…a Fudge Factory. Perhaps this housed the toilets. My heart swelled with provincial pride and the sense of history come alive. Simon Fraser himself, upon passing through these diabolical narrows, must have written in his journal: “Never before have I traversed so hostile a passage, and never before have I so desired some fudge. Och.” He evidently had a real sweet tooth, old Simon.

Flustered and fudgeless, we carried on to Alexandra Bridge. There the belter enjoyed the fullest outhouse in BC while I found the trail down to the old bridge. Even though I felt like getting back in the car and pushing for home, we kept walking until we came to an old road, part of the old canyon “highway” from 1926. The road was about 10 feet wide, overgrown, and surfaced with pale, brittle asphalt. You know me and abandoned roads. This was good. We kept walking down to the river. The road turned left and we came out into the sunshine to face…the bridge!

I thought we’d seen some spooky things that day, but the bridge surpassed them all. It was a slim little suspension bridge, almost like a scale model, with crumbling abutments and a rusty metal roadbed. We walked out on it, but we were too freaked out to go all the way across. I especially didn’t like looking down and seeing the river underneath me. The belter made it halfway across, then we retreated to solid ground. While we spent a couple minutes daring each other to go all the way across, a party of older folks arrived and began strolling across the bridge. Emboldened (ahem) by their casual approach, we followed them. As long as I didn’t look down, I was fine.

It was too bad I hadn’t been expecting much and left my camera in the car. Oh well, I’ll just stir the experience into the bouillabaisse of my memories (or whatever fancylady said) and be happy with that.

That side trip gave me a second wind for the drive home. We continued in good spirits, disappointed only with missing the Hope Slide and with the standard of Vancouver drivers during our final hours in the car. I saw more assholery in the last 20 kilometres to our place than I’d seen in the previous 2,000.

Thanks to the belter for giving me fig newtons and juice while driving, to Nissan for the fine Altima, to Clive and Sally for the use of the fine Nissan Altima, to Mel and Adam for minding the place back home, to Elise and Rob in Calgary, and the entire Pohl-Deneka family in Edmonton. Yay for summer holidays.

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