It should have been a simple trip -
A return flight to Castlegar to spend a week in Nelson (mid way between Calgary and Vancouver); returning to Vancouver to be whisked away on the Whistler Shuttle who guaranteed I’d be on my way within the hour of landing, and dropped off at my door.
But… let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
1. In the Beginning – There was an Airplane
“Calling all passengers on flight AC8248 to Castlegar.
We are now boarding through Gate 4.
However, please be aware there is a 50:50 chance that due to poor visibility we will not be able to land, in which case we will be returning here to Vancouver.”
It’s not often you hear a flight called where the destination is potentially going to be the same as its departure.
But I love a sprinkling of serendipity in my travels, so embarked on my Canadian Rockies adventure with anticipation.
In fact, the flight was smooth and beautiful, and fruitful.
We floated over snow capped mountains and deep deep valleys where those rogue clouds looked like sticky candy floss.
But as we approached Castlegar – which due to the mountainous terrain is considered to have one of the most challenging approaches of any North American commercial airport with ‘no possibility of a straight-in approach’ – the candy floss clouds dissolved and we made our final descent down the narrow valley where you could virtually touch the passing tree tops that hugged the vertical sides… before turning to miss the mountain range perpendicularly ahead of us.
2. In the Middle – There was a Greyhound
After a superb week in Nelson (blog posts of fat tire biking and snow-shoeing at Whitewater to follow) I was ready to leave Castlegar, which I had since discovered is colloquially referred to as ‘Cancelgar’.
I arrived at the small airport at 9am to the announcement that not only was my flight cancelled, but flights from the previous two days had also been cancelled due to poor visibility; while there was another flight due at 1pm, with the previous two days’ record, was it really that promising?
The alternatives were limited –
There was a single daily Greyhound bus that (miraculously?) left in less than an hour but would take 12 hours, compared to the flip of a coin possibility that the lunchtime plane, scheduled to take just an hour may (or may not) jet in.
I vied for the “certainty” of the Greyhound – at least that way… so I thought… I’d be at my destination that night.
A cab was called, and I was raced down-town to the Greyhound office where I purchased a one-way ticket.
Moments later the bus from Calgary pulled in and bags were loaded into its undercarriage as I clambered aboard eyeing either side of the aisle for a place to sit –
At the very back (by the toilet) there was a girl spread across two seats dozing –
The frayed fabric on the seats did not bode well if this was a reflection as to the state of the mechanics…
And two hours into the 12-hour trip it lived up to its appearance.
Making our way up a mountainous pass the bus ground to a halt on a steep single lane incline.
After a few intermittent bunny hop efforts of cranking her up, and letting her cool down, we reached a safer spot to pull off the Highway and assess the situation – Which was that we weren’t going to be going anywhere soon – And, we were out of cell phone range.
The driver donned his regulation fluoro yellow safety vest and disembarked to flag down a vehicle to take our carrier pigeon message back to the previous base where, a short while before, standing in the queue for the only loo at the small office, the driver had hassled us to abandon our mission with:
“All aboard – We’ll be at the next stop in no time”
A while later a reconnaissance party from the last base appeared through the fog to do a first hand reconnoiter.
The driver repeated the message given to our carrier pigeon that
“We’ve broken down and require a replacement coach to take the stranded passengers to the next stop.”
The reconnaissance team got back into their cosy 4WD and returned to base with the update.
It was beginning to feel a little like an episode from “Lost”.
A group of unrelated unconnected people suddenly finding themselves connected by a common event.
A man who’s wife was on her death bed and desperate to get to her side, managed to muster another three prepared to fork out the additional $125 each to share a taxi, passing ‘Go’ and moving on to the next stop.
A loud mouth from the middle section of the bus who repeatedly shouted profanities at the driver for the inconvenience and refused to shut it despite repeated requests from fellow passengers that there were children on board was cajoled out by (it evolved) an ex SAS man – He enticed the ‘sh*t head’ to go with him to hitch a lift, escorting the disturbance out of the bus and up the highway, where when a car stopped, he said:
“You take it – I’ll follow in the next one”.
He returned to the bus alone.
A mother with two children, rugged them up against the cold and got off for some playtime in the snow.
A couple of young women asked the driver how long we’d be here?
On the assumption the replacement bus would come from a base further up the track (after the reconnaissance team relayed the request from the base further down the track) he estimated “at least a few hours”.
They descended the steps and headed off into the woodland to explore the snowy forest footpaths.
I updated my travel journal.
Then, rather than stay cooped up, I too took to the woods following the snowy footprints of other destitute passengers who had gone before.
It was otherwise a silent, uninhabited landscape.
It felt a little ominous.
There was a low lying murky mist – the sticky candy floss clouds seen from a different perspective – wafting through the dark conifers blocking the sun from fully penetrating.
But as the path rose higher, I emerged out into a sparkling fresh white landscape a world away from the gloomy reality sealed in below.
Three hours later, the summoned replacement vehicle appeared over the horizon, and after five hours marooned on the side of the highway, the journey continued on to Kelowna.
Where, as a consolation for the endured inconvenience we were offered a plate of greasy noodles flecked with khaki coloured tinned peas and ochre coloured corn kernels, with a bottle of water.
At 10 pm, just as we were supposed to be arriving at our destination, we were instead boarding a ‘connecting’ bus that would take us through the night to Vancouver.
But half an hour hour into this segment there was yet another hold up –
A man who had decided to use the toilet as his seat, with the door open, was reported to the driver –
We stopped, and the driver came back to inspect the problem.
The man agreed to move himself further up the bus, but then took to sitting in the middle of the aisle.
The driver donned his regulation fluoro yellow safety vest and called the Police.
We waited (and waited) for them to respond.
Still protesting his innocence, the Police cordially escorted the perpetrator off the bus.
The motor once again droned.
Fleeting glimpses of lit up settlements flashed past.
And I whiled away the wee hours of the night with occasional head nodding and much leg twitching as my feet ferreted around under the seat in front trying to find an illusive horizontal position that all diurnal creatures crave when forced to sit bolt upright past midnight.
3. In the End – There was a Shining Shuttle Bus
It was still dark when we finally pulled into the Greyhound station at Vancouver.
As the dawn began to break I hailed a yellow taxi cab and headed down town to the shuttle-bus pick up point. In the hotel foyer, a Starbucks was serving aromatic cups of coffee to the early morning city slickers; some rushing to their office, some holding breakfast meetings and some donned in tight fitting running gear with white ear plugs draped around their necks grabbing a caffeine boost as part of their latest health kick.
I sunk into a plush low level sofa and relished a comforting delicious drink and a palatable plate of food.
My Whistler Shuttle Bus pulled in on cue – rescuing me from my 24 hour ordeal!
The scenery of Howe Sound was positively dreamy – With tantalizing views across the water to distant snowy mountain tops – my destination.
We glided into Whistler and the driver took me to my door…
Where… once inside… I collapsed into a soft cosy bed for a catch-up nap, ready for my wonderful week in Whistler
[Post on what to do in Whistler in the Winter if you’re not into snow sports coming soon!]
Have you had a simple journey turn into a convoluted adventure?
I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!