A Travelling Tale… or, How I Finally Got to Whistler

It should have been a simple trip –

I was first going to spend a week in Nelson, taking a return flight to Castlegar (mid way between Calgary and Vancouver); then return to Vancouver where the Whistler Shuttle (who guarantee that from Vancouver Airport you’ll be on your way within the hour of landing), would not only take me to Whistler, but would drop me off at my accommodation door.

But… let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

1. In the Beginning – There was an Airplane

Travel journal entry about flying from Vancouver to Castlegar

My travel journal entry for my flight to Castlegar

 

 

 

“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.
Good thing I believe a sprinkling of serendipity is all part of travel, so embarked with anticipation.

Canadian Rockies

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… and we happily turned on cue 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 discovered during my stay 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 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 by nightfall.

A cab was called, and I raced to the Greyhound office purchasing a one-way ticket.

Moments later the bus from Calgary pulled in, bags were loaded into its undercarriage and 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 –
“Sorry.. but…”

The frayed fabric on the seats did not bode well if this was a reflection as to the state of the mechanics…

Worn out Greyhound bus in BC

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.

Broken down Grehound bus on the side of the road in the mist

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.”

“Oh.”
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 related how his wife was on her death bed so was desperate to get to her side, managed to muster another three passengers (prepared to fork out the additional $125 each to share a taxi) and so passed ‘Go’ and moved on to the next stop.

Greyhound bus broken down has a taxi come to rescue passengers

 

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.

Travel journalling en route

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.

Waling in the wilds of the Canadian Rockies

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 the greasiest noodles flecked with khaki coloured tinned peas and ochre coloured corn kernels, with a bottle of water.

Travel Journal of a broken down Greyhound bus

 

At 10 pm, just as we were supposed to be arriving at our destination, we were instead boarding our ‘connecting’ bus to 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 –
The driver stopped, and 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.

Another unexpected holdup

 

The motor once again droned.
Fleeting glimpses of lit up settlements flashed past.
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.

Vancouver city skline at first light
As the dawn began to break I hailed a yellow taxi cab and headed down town to a newly appointed shuttle-bus pick up point (as I wasn’t going to be at the airport as I’d said). 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 the comfort of a delicious drink and a palatable plate of food.

My Whistler Shuttle Bus pulled in on cue – appearing like a knight in shining armour the driver rescued me from my 24 hour ordeal.

Driving over Vancouver BridgeSkipping the early morning rush hour traffic we were out and over the bridge in a flash and heading up the Sea to Sky Highway 99.

The scenery of Howe Sound was positively dreamy – With tantalizing views across the water to distant snowy mountain tops – my destination.

Sea to Sky Highway views from the shuttle bus window

Photos of views taken from the shuttle bus (while on the move!)

 

 

We glided into Whistler and I was taken to my door…

Drawing of the Whistler Shuttle

The Whistler Shuttle took me to my door

 

Where… I collapsed into a soft cosy bed for a catch-up nap, ready for my wonderful week in Whistler 🙂

Click here, if you want to know What to do in Whistler if you Don’t Ski

Have you had a simple journey turn into a convoluted adventure?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

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43 thoughts on “A Travelling Tale… or, How I Finally Got to Whistler

  1. We have often pondered why Greyhound buses in the United States look like rolling trash dumps in comparison to those we’ve traveled in Mexico, Spain, France, Greece (you get the picture) — sparkling clean Mercedes vehicles. And the passengers. . .well, you’ve experienced them now and I can assure you we have much the same just an hour and a half south of that Canadian border. You have taken the approach I always tell myself to do and that is, “Oh well, it will make for a good blog post if nothing else!” Glad you saw some beautiful scenery and now understand why the Pacific Northwest is called “rugged” — it isn’t always the terrain!

    • What a wonderful comment Jackie – I do now indeed understand the term ‘rugged’! 🙂
      I have to confess it did feel a little like being rescued by a knight in shining armour when the Shuttle Bus pulled in to whisk me away to Whistler LOL

  2. OMG – all that AND the cold!! At least most of my more dramatic Aussie Adventures haven’t required my body weight in clothes!!! It’s been a long time since I travelled by bus – but the last time was a 6 hour trip after a car fail at tiny South Aussie town Glendambo. Wait! I suspect there’s a common theme here – we only think about catching the bus when the our preferred modes of transport fail??!!
    Red Nomad OZ recently posted..7 Wonderful Walks in Innes National ParkMy Profile

    • Opening sentence Annabel!! “A return flight to Castlegar to spend a week in Nelson
      I wanted to experience two very different winter sport hot spots in the Canadian Rockies:

      Nelson, which was a town and a community first from which their ski resort Whitewater has stemmed, and
      Whistler which is a resort first and foremost.
      Interestingly, despite their totally different personalities, they both have the same size permanent population of 10,000. 🙂

    • I’ve had to dash over to your site and read your tale! (Link for anyone else keen to read more about 10 hours stuck on a bullet train LOL
      At least we knew we were there for the long haul – Having to stand on a crowded bullet train not knowing when it was going to go – or not daring to leave in case it took off without you I think sounds even worse!

  3. Oh dear. But, as someone said, bad experiences make for good blog posts. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a travel day quite that bad (unless I’m blocking it from my mind to protect my psyche). My last 40 hour travel day was totally self-inflicted since I planned the itinerary myself—Philadelphia, PA, USA to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand in one 40 hour day. Then there’s the question of why you traded an Australian summer for a Canadian winter although I admit the virgin snow looked lovely—without the windchill. Silver lining: It’s better to have a sociopath on a bus where they can pull over and call the police than on a plane in the middle of an ocean at 38,000 feet.

    • Oh Suzanne – That’s a chilling thought – I may have to block that from my mind to protect my psyche if I’m ever to fly again!
      Posts of zip-lining, fat tire biking, snow-shoeing to come will more than demonstrate how and why the Canadian Rockies can win over hot humid Brisbane during our summer months LOL 😀

  4. That was certainly an experience Linda and one you wouldn’t want repeated! Did you ever check to see if the flight left that day? Whistler is such a beautiful place that I’m sure that, after a recovery day, you may not thought of that day again until it came to writing this blog post! I look forward to your stories on Whistler!

    • I couldn’t resist checking to see if that flight actually did go – As the thought of going through all of that to no avail would have griped a tad…
      NO!! It didn’t fly, so I certainly would have not been there any sooner! Phew!!
      But no matter what – both Nelson and Whistler more than compensated for any journey inconveniences 🙂

  5. Wow, what a nightmare. It’s usually looney tune passengers who’ve taken leave of their sense of appropriate behavior that will get me going. It sounds like folks were in no mood to indulge them. Glad you could pick bits of humor and serenity out of a very trying situation.

  6. Well you took the long way to Whistler but you made it! It makes for a good blog post at least. I bet you enjoyed your week in Whistler too!

    I was delayed in Montreal last summer. I spent a week in Ottawa, took the train to Montreal and enjoyed a marvelous night at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton Hotel (courtesy of my credit card sign up bonus points). Off to the airport the next day, flight was delayed for several hours and the connecting flight in Chicago was not likely due to weather. I opted to spend one more night in Montreal instead of getting stuck in Chicago. I called the airline to change the flight to the next day. I had to wait in line with the other stranded passengers in order to let them know I wasn’t flying and please let me out of the departure terminal. Security was summoned to let me out via the emergency exit. I called my go-to hostel in Montreal and booked a night in the 4-bed mixed dorm. I had a fabulous time as usual! I met so many people from other countries, had dinner and chatted until late in the night. Up at 5am for tasty croissants and coffee at the hostel and off to the airport. I wrote a blog post about the experience, of course 🙂
    Susan Moore recently posted..Montserrat Day Trip – Wildflowers Along the Hiking TrailsMy Profile

  7. Hilarious!! Obviously not for you at the time, but definitely for me reading it! To think that so many adventures could happen on one unintended bus trip (love the guy who wouldn’t move from sitting in the aisle until the police came!!). I too was keen to know if that plane had taken off so glad to see your answer that it hadn’t. So it was all worthwhile plus a great blog post to boot!

    • I have to say as each serendipitous turn twisted into another my face certainly did express increasing degrees of incredulity…
      And to think this 24 hour adventure all evolved from a 1 hour flight cancelled due to some sticky candy floss clouds refusing to budge! 😉

  8. Oh dear!!! But with a little tweaking this could really make a great Monty Python script. I particularly liked the SAS man’s nifty way of ridding your world of the loudmouth! He probably felt like taking him into the woods… just kidding!
    So glad you eventually made it to Whistler, and in a reasonably good mood!

  9. What an ordeal. I can imagine starting to feel like an episode of Lost. I’ve driven through Castlegar, but didn’t know it had such a challenging airport. I’m interested in knowing why you choose to make this trip in winter? For the skiing?

    • When you live in the sub-tropics, and are sitting mopping your brow from the heat – the thought of experiencing the feel of icy snow is a wondrous dream! LOL And it certainly was a thrill to walk in a winter wonderland where the trees are heavy with a fresh snowfall –
      In fact my aim was to see what you could do in a snowy environment if you didn’t ski… but I did relent on the last day 😉

  10. Wow! Now that’s a travel story. It’s so funny, I think as bloggers the minute something out of the ordinary happens in our travels we think, “Is this a blog post moment?” So glad you arrived safely!

    • Having a one hour flight turn into a 24 hour ordeal, I think has made it into a trip that will take some beating when it comes to convolutions!
      Hurrah for the Whistler Shuttle who simply changed my pick up point as the story unfolded 😀

  11. That sounds like one of the most harrowing journeys ever!
    Recently, our domestic flight in China was delayed five hours (I presume because of fog) but that sounds like nothing compared to your “adventure.”

    Sometimes. half the fun is getting there!

    • It was certainly one of those trips where one scenario flipped the events into another unexpected scenario until the single cancelled one hour flight spiraled out into a 24 hour journey!
      But when you’re a traveller, as you say, it’s all part of the adventure 🙂

  12. I’ve had some convoluted journeys, but wouldn’t dare to write them here after reading about yours — I think they pale in comparison. As entertaining as this was to read, I can imagine what a drag it was to experience it. But you made the best of it which made it possible for us to enjoy your photos, video, and wonderful jottings!

    • That’s good to hear Neno –
      It really would be a sad state of affairs if all bus trips on Greyhound in North America were as eventful as my trip! 😉

    • Thanks so much Talia ~
      My hope is that people (like you) will get inspired to pick up a pencil again, to express your experiences in doodles as well as words alone 🙂

    • I think a trip like this would have been far more frustrating if I were heading off on my annual holiday, where every moment lost not in relaxation mode would seriously go against the grain –
      But as someone who loves travelling – along with all the unexpected opportunities and meetings with people you’d never have otherwise crossed paths with – It really was simply all part of the journey! 😉

  13. What a journey. Sometimes, the best posts are the bad journeys. I have done few trips like that and still laugh when I recall them. I very much enjoyed reading your story.

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