Sometime in March I made a random joke about an event being moved from February to June. The punchline was that I committed to a road trip to Calgary. Unmasking the Reality of Cancer Mardi Gras themed Gala had seemed fun at the time. At heart though I was so ready for a road trip. Price of gas soared but I decided I could make the budget work.
Someone on Twitter after I posted a picture of my 25 year old Volvo called it a classic but the Green Ghost was the perfect road trip car for the mountains. Designed for diplomatic transport in Europe, she took to the mountains like a native goat.
So Spotify tunes loaded. Camping gear mostly sorted. Clothes packed for weather extremes (and a gala event.) Then I wedged my bike into the back seat. I headed out on my first road trip in three years. What a trip it was.
There were some preliminary shenanigans. At one point (when gas prices went through the roof) I looked into flying from Kelowna to Calgary. $120 round trip was pretty attractive. However the only vehicle I could find - a moving van for $505 a day - wasn't so fun. So back to driving and I'm glad I did.
There was the mental struggle discovering that the Mardi Gras themed event "Unmasking the Reality of Lung Cancer" really was unmasked. It was Alberta after all. I decided that I would wear my mask, socially distance, and see my friends, and break out of my fear.
Digging my gear out of my storage unit was complicated after my friend gave me notice. He had a lot of my stuff in storage but I needed to have it out of his place by the end of June. That put a little pressure on me to get stuff I had sorted out of my apartment off to the dump or a thrift store. But it all happened. I even managed to get my tent set up to make sure the wee beasties hadn't found it.
I was on my way.
Monday June 6
Loaded by 10:00am I headed out, stopping at my old haunts in Hope for gas, pausing at various lookouts to gawk at the mountains and look at wild rhododendrons. I arrived at my campsite. Six feet from the rushing Similkimeen River. Eighteen inches about the water level I worried about flooding. But the ranger, when he confirmed my reservation, assured me I was good. The ranger also sold me a bundle of firewood for $12. I'm getting old. I remember paying $70 bucks a cord to heat my house in La Ronge.
A few folks stared as I did my 5K evening run by lapping the 1K loop in the campground five times. But the run felt so good. I can't believe those endorphins afterward. Brushes and my sketch pad, reading by the fire, and an outdoor meal made me wonder why it had taken me so long to get back out. The campfire warmth as the evening cooled off was wonderful and the s'mores were as good as I remembered. As difficult to clean out of my beard as ever too.
The ground was as soft as I remember it. My concession to comfort was my memory foam pillow. I had a yoga mat from a friend that I put under my three quarter thermo-rest mattress as well. The joys of car camping.
It's been three long years.
Tuesday June 7
Up at dawn to a chilly morning made me wish I had purchased two bundles of wood. But hot coffee, oatmeal, and layers of clothing chased off the cold. Breaking camp kept me warm until I was back on the road.
My first challenge of the morning was finding good cell reception for a zoom call at 10:00am. Cancer advocacy research waits for no one on vacation. I found a wonderful spot in a little nature reserve on the outskirts of Princeton. The views and the birds - my first meadowlark in years - were the envy of my co-researchers. Then I ran into data problems.
I thought it was my connection but it turned out to be a change in my cell plan to "in-zone" data. Since I was out-of-zone I chewed through my top-up funds in a hurry and my provider cut me off. I realized how dependent I was since I couldn't access my downloaded Spotify tunes let alone my Google Maps navigation. Fortunately my printed-out maps were enough to get me through to Kelowna.
Since I had no music and only intermittent radio, I resorted to my downloaded cancer classic book. Listening to the "Emperor of All Maladies," gave me an appreciation for the long history and mystery of cancer. A Twitter acquaintance told me of teaching a course based on the book. She brought various oncologists to talk about the diseases that book mentioned. The capstone was bringing the author himself in to address the class. Inspiring I can only imagine. Ironic listening as I contemplated the joy and freedom of the open road.
I rolled into Kelowna to my brother's home about 2:00pm and asked them to lead me to bed for a nap. The exertions of the trip had caught up to me. Some things are different when you are dealing with cancer. Fatigue and exhaustion creep up a lot quicker than they used to.
When I woke, in true Pratt fashion (with my blessing) he put me to work on a trip to the dump to get rid of waste materials from their kitchen renovation. I had a bed, a bathroom, and a shower but no kitchen in what is rapidly becoming known as the Kelowna Pratt BnB. A lovely meal, visit with his mother-in-law and and evening walk rounded out another busy day.
As we were walking I was arranging a visit with a lung cancer friend to receive a T-shirt she wanted me to have. I googled the location and then asked my brother where it was - half a block from where we walking. Coincidences like that still surprise me.
Wednesday June 8
Next morning after my morning oatmeal and journal routine I hopped on my bike and cycled into downtown Kelowna. Meeting this lovely lady, Shannon Gall, was a joy. She has been a bright light in lung cancer advocacy in British Columbia. Sitting in the sunshine sipping coffee and nibbling on a hibiscus blackberry muffin felt so ordinary. Reporting three hours of happy gab would make this letter so much longer than it already is going to be that I must resist.
A lovely lunch, nap, another evening meal with the family made quick work of the rest of the day. A bike ride to the beach was the entertainment of the evening. I loved the vibe of Kelowna. Well thought out bike lanes - many curbed to protect from traffic - made cycling very enjoyable. Dipping my toes into the lake reminded me of how much I miss the water. That is an itch I'm going to have figure out how to scratch.
Thursday June 9
I hung around until through the morning until I was able to do my afternoon exercise class. I took advantage of the high speed internet connection to catch up on webinars and email that needed attention.
After loading my portable kitchen from the deck, I headed off to Vernon to see my caregiver - Sandra. We hadn't seen much of each other through the pandemic lockdown. She had spent most of the winter in Saskatchewan caring for her sister. And we had so much to catch up on. We stayed up till midnight which made the early start the next morning a challenging thought.
Still a marvelous meal and the catch up time was so so good. Tears were shed and laughter was had.
Friday June 10
I hit the road with instructions to make sure that I didn't need to get gas in Revelstoke or Golden. I realized that I hadn't driven this road in many years. The cloud capped mountains, most still with snow on the peaks, the rich greens of the spring leafing out, the wildlife were all enchanting. I had Spotify going again. So country music seemed appropriate for a ride into Canada's cowtown, Calgary.
While it is a gorgeous drive, the traffic and construction made the drive interesting. In the construction zones, I did recognize a couple of pieces of equipment from my time working on the bridge. Tall cranes and a device that they used to pour concrete on overpasses. I thought about stopping to see if I could find Ironworkers or supervisors from my time there.
I got to Cochrane on a single tank of gas in a little over six hours. I was able to grab a quick nap before I had dressed in my fancy duds for the Gala. I had looked into a kilt rental but ended up just wearing an Angus tartan tie that I had inherited from my father. Oh and the infamous red hat. I hadn't even walked in the door when I heard "That must be Angus. I recognize the red hat." My dress wasn't exactly the theme of the evening.
There were more of those wonderful conversations with people that I had met only over Zoom. About a hundred people gathered to enjoy some fine speeches and a lot of fundraising activities. The great Creole food included jambalaya, several okra dishes, and deep fried jalapenos. I should have known better than to indulge in the fried and spicy food. I paid the price for my gastric enjoyment later in the evening with gastric upset. Well worth it.
Saturday June 11
The next morning a small group of lung cancer advocates from across Canada gathered at a downtown restaurant. We discussed matters of national importance. We realized how fragmented our efforts are and need focus. There are some ideas on how to address these challenges. Four hours of discussion were absolutely delightful and much better than zoom. And the Moxie's food was stellar. The food reminded of my late wife's favorite line "I'll take one of everything." It was that good.
Oh yeah and I lost my car in downtown Calgary. I parked thinking I knew where the restaurant was. I ended up using Google maps to find Moxies. But I forgot to drop a pin where I parked. So when I walked back looking for where I thought it was I wondered if the car had been towed. I was about three blocks away when I saw a landmark that I recognized. Backtracking I found the Green Ghost.
I was staying with my little sister, Sheila, in Cochrane. When we talked in the morning she mentioned that my oldest boy, Sandy, had flown back from Quebec City to Edmonton the night before. So I texted asking if he was open to my rerouting myself through Edmonton on my way back to be able to see him. I didn't hear back right away so I had a nap and then we went for a walk to see the neighbourhood fishing pond. I got a text that read "on my way" while we were walking. Typical cryptic Pratt. I wasn't sure what it meant.
But when we walked in the door and there were an extra pair of sandals in the doorway, tears welled up. He had driven down to spend time with the old man. Sheila unbeknownst to me had invited him to join us. And while three hours of driving might give me pause, for him it is a common trip.
We had a fabulous BBQ meal that the two of them collaborated on. And talked and talked and talked. So good to catch up with both of them. We laughed over the camping trip I had taken with him and Evan after my diagnosis but before my treatment started. We both thought that might be the last of those at the time. But it hasn't been the end and we wondered when the next one might be. These are the conversations that cancer patients have.
Sunday June 12
The next morning Sheila put us to work repairing the edge of the patio. They appointed me supervisor and I did a great job of mixing watery concrete. That shows why you should never let a super do any work. But it was fun to be working in the sun together.
Too quickly, I went off to my last adventure in Calgary and he headed back to Edmonton. A local group had been unable to coordinate doing the "Give a Breathe" 5K event the previous weekend. They gathered on the shores of the mighty Bow river to walk. Though we only walked for about 2K in an hour, the conversations lasted another four hours. Again I had the honor of meeting a whole group of people that I had only met on zoom.
One man in particular was the first patient that I connected with way back when we were both on afatinib. In Alberta he was successful in making the transition to osimertinib. While in BC I remain on afatinib. He has had a few setbacks but had competed in the Gran Fondo bike race in Jasper the weekend before. He had some back problems that limited what we were able to do together. It was so good to see him and get that hug he had long been promising.
Monday June 13
I rose the next morning when Sheila left for work and got an early start on the day's driving. My original plan had been to do some camping on the way back but reports of torrential rain discouraged me. I'm not adverse to camping in the rain but packing wet gear isn't my idea of fun. I arranged to spend the night in Kelowna again with a tentative plan to camp in Manning Park the following night.
The reverse drive was incredibly beautiful with much quieter traffic. Again I used a variety of lookouts and pullouts to enjoy the scenery. The weather was intermittent rain but the snow that I had seen on the morning weather radar didn't materialize.
Seven hours of driving with a few breaks got me to Kelowna in time for the afternoon nap and supper with the family. An evening walk and I called an early evening.
Tuesday June 14
I finished up some pending work and headed out in the late morning. Taking my time, I wound down through Penticton almost to the border in Ossoyos and then struck back west to Princeton and Manning Park. The pictures of snow and a prediction of snow on the Poulsen summit kept me moving. The low temperatures when I stopped to check availability in the Mule Deer Campground were a bit much. I decided to head for my own bed. Taking my time to enjoy the scenery, I snaked my way back through the high passes, scoping out spots to come back and camp later in the summer.
There was no snow but I still was glad to arrive safely home.
The psalmist reminds us in Psalm 34 that they care for us.
1 I bless God every chance I get;
my lungs expand with his praise.
2 I live and breathe God;
if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
3 Join me in spreading the news;
together let’s get the word out.
4 God met me more than halfway,
he freed me from my anxious fears.
My fears of covid exposure, of taking a trip with an old car, of meeting people I had only met electronically were all put to rest.
Thank you for your prayers for safe travel.