Ride the Moose

Let’s play a little game. How many of these terms are you familiar with?

  • Hoodapus
  • Pacific
  • Mustang
  • Big West
  • Wapiti
  • Island Explorer
  • Sea to Sky
  • Lumberjack
  • Tomahawk
  • Coho
  • Grizz

My first guess is many of you scored 11 and here’s why: according to my blog stats from the past month, of the 1,300 some Canadian visitors to this blog (not counting those who read from smartphones, RSS readers, Facbook or anything else), 90% of them are from western Canada. Alberta and British Columbia in particular.

And, believe it or not, all these terms are are of scenic adventure tours available throughout western Canada on the Moose Travel Network.

No kidding.

But wait a minute…did you really recognize them all? Because I’ve lived in western Canada nearly my entire life and I only know about half of the names as things I could do, types of animals I could see/eat, or places I’ve been around here.

It is true that we’re rarely tourists in our own backyards. But we should be, and here’s why:

Peyto Lake

This is just one of the many lunch stops on the Moose Travel Network.

“Not a bad view to enjoy a fine PBJ if you ask me!!!” Said sales and marketing representative Eric Rupert of Moose Travel Network West. He sent me this photo after we chatted about Ride the Moose and all the Moose Travel Network has to offer to the backpacker, independent traveller, or otherwise.

So, what is the Moose Network? I’m glad you asked.

Well, departing from Vancouver daily when in season, the Moose Network is a hop on hop off network of mini buses (complete with tour guide/bus drivers) who will take adventure-seeking sightseers to places they couldn’t and/or wouldn’t find by any other, shall we say, more conventional ways to travel.

For example.

Let’s say I’ve got some time on my hands and I feel like taking a little trip to Banff. Well, normally I’d hop in my car and do a weekend roadie taking the #1 for about 10 hours, or for about 1.5 hours if I’ve decided to fly to Calgary first. Then I’d walk around for a while, maybe check out the hot springs, shop a little, and go out for dinner. Then I’d go home. At least, that’s what I did last time I went to Banff.

Now let’s moose it up (did you see what I did there? I think I should patent it). If I decided to purchase the Hoodapus pass, it would take me from Vancouver to Banff, and then through the Columbia ice fields through the Rocky Mountains to Jasper and back again. Now, I normally skip this since it costs, like, 15 bucks to drive on the ice fields highway. But let’s say I sucked it up and decided to go all out.

  1. First, I’d look at what I get to do with this “Hoodapus pass” (whatever that means), which will take me through 2,300 kilometres of mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, as well as give me adventures like wilderness camping, moose-spotting, and of course discounts on additional activities and attractions like white water rafting and sky diving.
  2. Second, I’d figure out when and for how long I want to be gone for. I already know this trip includes seven days with the Moose Network, but since it’s hop on hop off, I can take as long as I want to use those seven days so long as it’s in between March and November.
  3. Third, I’d have to get over the fact that I didn’t know about this really interesting travel network before I decided to Greyhound it across the country. That might take some time. I’m still getting over seat sores from that trip…two years ago. OK, 18 months. But still!

Of course this trip takes a lot longer and costs a bit more, but probably the Moose t-shirt you get when you go on a tour makes up for it.

Oh, plus you can, like, get off the bus in between Kamloops and Edmonton. I remember I couldn’t do that when I bussed cross country, AND they confiscated my knitting needles. And, bonus, you don’t have to go to Edmonton. No offense. But I still can’t find anything to do there.

Not that I’m scarred for life or anything.

I have a lot more to say about Moose Travel Network and Eric, the sales guy, had tons of fun stuff to say about riding the moose and insight into which tours you should do if you’re Canadian (or in Canada) and looking for something a bit random to do this summer.

Stay tuned (not like the Tale of the Devil’s Antlers kind of stay tuned, where I pretend I know something about native mythology and then I never talk about it again. I really have more to say about this). It’s going to get crazy. Moose crazy.

Ride the Moose!

Other Moose Network posts:

Photos from the craziest Greyhound trip across Canada ever uploaded for your entertainment

Tonight I put up 180 photos from my Greyhound bus trip from BC to Quebec and down to New York. You can view the album here, even if you’re not my FB friend (I think, let me know if it doesn’t work). Actually, you don’t even need to have a Facebook account to view this album. Sweet.

It was kind of fun to look at the photos again, and relive the good times I had on my wild and crazy bus adventure across my home and native land.

Except it reminded me how many more I still have to go through. I shot the whole trip in RAW format, which I’m happy about, except for the HOURS it takes to actually look at every photo, load them into Photoshop, choose between different versions of the shots, and endure PS crashes every so often.

I have about 600 more photos to go through before I’m finished but this 180 is a very good sample of what I did and who I saw. Plus, you know, my two months of blogs would also give you a clear indication of my general goings on for that time and the adventures I endured/instigated.

Anyway, they’re a lot of fun and I hope you enjoy seeing Canada and New York from my point of view.

Oh, you live in Winnipeg? No bus for you!

Last week, Talking Heads everywhere announced Greyhound would service even less of Canada.

Keep in mind, they’ve already stopped servicing Montreal and eastward. Now, they’re talking about the cutting out the prairies.

The route specifically mentioned: Saskatoon to Toronto.

On the bus it’s 48-hours one way. Trust me, I’ve done it. This is no small haul and since there are only two buses a day doing the trip, it’s a full haul.

Greyhound Canada (owned by Scottish company, FirstGroup, bought from US company Laidlaw, and operated out of Dallas, Texas under Greyhound Inc.) is threatening to cut this route unless Manitoba and Ontario governments fork over millions of dollars.

Canadians are obviously acknowledging this as shameless bullying (the Toronto Star quoted it as a taxpayer shakedown) but what if it becomes actually impossible to travel from Saskatchewan to Ontario by bus?

And forget about Manitoba (although, who really goes there anyway), they’re cut out completely.

From my own bus-perience this summer I can attest to the lack of available routes on the “Leave the driving to us” bus line. The only reason I left the driving to them is because I had a month to spare and a flexible schedule. If I had needed to be somewhere on a specific date, I would’ve been in real trouble if I Go Greyhounded it.

My point is, this news only confirms what I already suspected: Greyhound is only going to show up in major cities and someone else is going to have to pick up the slack. And if we’re being honest, let’s just draw attention to the fact Canada really only has a few major cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon (arguable), Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal.

Since 80 per cent of Canadians live in these urban areas, maybe the threat of less bus routes isn’t a big deal. But think of it this way: there are 33,000,000-ish people living in Canada. If the Greyhound no longer services rural areas, then 6,600,000 people will literally be stranded unless they have their own vehicle.

If you’ve never lived in a rural area without a car then you have no idea how depressing it is to be stuck at home for days or weeks at a time.

Probably this is a scare tactic meant to inspire the masses to give their public money to the international businessman. Our first response should be the finger (as they’d say in Action City, bullying is NOT cool) but after the road rage wears off, perhaps a second response should be to step up and protect our remote communities. Kids who live in many of these places are deemed “youth at risk,” simply because of where they live. The thought of cutting them off even more makes me sick to my stomach.

If I hear one more company blame “this economic downturn,” for their cash flow problems I might have to get sarcastic.

Packing List for Canada (the real deal)

I’m terrible at packing, so I make packing lists. Here’s my packing list for taking the bus across CANADA!

Packing list for Canada

If there were a failblog for packing, I’d be first on the list.

However, I am nothing if I am not persistent. I want to travel and have accepted I must, therefore, pack well in order to enjoy my travels to the fullest.

Things I usually mess up

  1. Pack at the last minute
  2. Neglect to check the weather
  3. Overpack
  4. Randomly throw clothes in
  5. Bring too much random stuff

Keeping in mind the awkward times I’ve had with my packing lists, I decided to make a list of my packing victories.

Golden Rules of Roste travel

  1. Always write a packing list. Then share with Celia because she’ll remind you to pack underwear
  2. Write an events list and what kinds of outfits you’ll need
  3. Leave enough time to pack three times. First pack whimsically, vaguely attending to The Packing List. Second compare to the events list and pilfer items out. Third repeat again, this time making sure items packed are versatile and can be combined more than one way
  4. If you’re on a long bus/train trip, avoid shirts with sleeves. You won’t be able to change/shower and you will smell. It is unavoidable. However, your stench will be seriously lessened if you have no sleeves
  5. Don’t bring a sleeping bag, blanket or pillow unless you have a car. Just bring one warm coat/fleece and one sheet—bring your Quillow instead of a sheet if it’s not summer
  6. Divide your toiletries into sections: Stuff you’ll need while travelling, stuff you’ll need overnight and stuff you’ll only need periodically
  7. Always use a backpack unless you’re staying in hotels. You will never regret this
  8. Only bring books you’re willing to ditch when finished reading. If you meet cool people you can trade books

Since I was taking the bus and travelling upwards of four/five weeks, and spanning the country of The Great White North in the summer, I knew I would probably meet nearly every type of weather system at some point. Maybe not snow, but I wasn’t ruling it out. I didn’t pack a toque or anything (don’t be silly) but I had a backup plan: I would just knit one.

I also knew I could only bring one bag. This was because Greyhounds only allow one checked bag (under the bus) and one carry on. Of course you can get around this, but I wanted to have lots of room at the beginning so I wouldn’t have problems fitting everything in.

The backpack I went with is an old Outbound pack I bought on my first trip to Europe in 1997. It zips open all the way, which is handy. As well, it has a convertible day pack, which zips on and off simply. I love this bag because it converts from backpack to suitcase with a zip. Also I get an extra bag without much effort, which has paid for itself 100 times over for that feature alone.

The process was simple: I packed the larger pack with clothes, shoes and extras. The smaller pack held extra books, pens, paper and toiletries. I also decided to bring a computer bag with my laptop, camera, iPod and other electronics. Of course I had a purse to boot. I did question whether to bring the electronics—I mean, I was going to be in pretty crazy conditions for most of the trip, and asleep for much of my travelling. What if something got stolen?

However, I decided I would regret not bringing the equipment, plus I had some room to spare in my big pack, so I brought it.

My big plan was to knit something for everyone I stayed with, so I also had to plan out a knitting list. This was actually harder than actually packing. I had no idea what I’d feel like making or what colours I’d require. So, I estimated and brought what I thought I needed. I packed several patterns, which would work with all the yarns I packed, as well as a small choice of needles.

Knitting stuff took up a large section of my bag, but I knew as I travelled the space would open up. I figured this was important in case I needed to downsize my bags for any reason, such as if the bus was too full to have a purse and a laptop bag or if I was nervous I’d get ripped off and wanted to hide some of my bling. I had a lock for my large pack, so it gave me the semblance of peace of mind.

Two months after my trip I don’t have my lists any longer, but I am pleased with the results of my packing attempt.

Not only did I wear all the clothes I packed, but they were, for the most part, appropriate. This was a great victory for me since I spent the trip:

  1. On more than 20 busses
  2. At a business luncheon
  3. Camping
  4. Watching baseball
  5. In weather ranging from 10-35 degrees
  6. On a variety of boats
  7. Playing tennis
  8. IN NEW YORK (dress to impress)
  9. Networking with other journalists/writers
  10. On an airplane

Therefore, this packing challenge was a worthy adversary and I look forward to our next meeting.

And, nothing got lost, broken or stolen except for my left contact lens (lost, broken and stolen?). But I had an extra left contact, so no big deal.

NO MORE BUS!

Heading south from Pembroke (clearly I was heading south west but at the time I believed I was heading south so we’ll stick with it), the bus was meant to take a couple hours. Ish.

No one seemed sure exactly what time I would arrive (including the Internet, although at one point it did say 4 p.m.) so Chris went golfing in the morning and kept his afternoon free so he could retrieve me from town once I arrived.

I was going to try to call before I arrived but since I’ve never been north of town before, I wasn’t sure what to look for. Maybe a sign. Or… a water tower. For some reason EVERY town in Ontario has one of those. Don’t they just dredge the water from Lake Ontario and recycle it all around?

In general, my mood was content. The bus wasn’t a happy place any longer but since it was so empty, it was completely bearable. The people on this bus were particularly kindly as well, which was nice.

The ride was mostly spent looking out the window. I was so paranoid I was going to end up missing my stop and having to get off in Barrie or somewhere else I didn’t want to be. No offence to Barrie, I’m sure it’s lovely. I just didn’t want to go there.

Since my South Africa journal was so revealing, I packed along a journal for this trip as well.

This time, however, it was a fail journal.

One of my two dismal entries took place on this bus. The rest of the book is filled with bus schedules, friend’s schedules and phone numbers.

I would like to share my ramblings from that day:

July 7 or 8, 2009

Quebec City was pretty cool. I ended up seeing an extra friend there, which was pretty cool. So, three friends in Quebec City. C’est cool.

I did not sleep in Montreal (1-5 a.m.). This is because the bus terminal is dodgy. However, I did sleep QC-Montreal and Montreal-Ottawa. I wonder how much that’s going to mess me up.

In Montreal I read, knit, played the Sims, talked to mom on the phone and spoke French in my head (Jen said I have Franxiousness).

So, this “journal” is total crap. I haven’t written any real memories. It’s too bad, but I always want to do something else. Even now I’m just blah about it. There is so much on my mind logistically. I’m glad I was able to fit a re-visit to Chris (hope it’s good) and a quickie with Scott.

Oh. I really have to figure out how to get home… really really.

Tomorrow. OK. Whining and logistics on hold.

In Ottawa I saw sign behind Starbucks: Don’t even think about parking here. And I thought, fair enough. I’m outta here.

It reminds me of the sign in the bathroom at New York bus station: Don’t even think about changing in here, bus people.

That’s probably not a direct quote.

In Montreal and Ottawa, the bathroom stalls in the bus station close INWARDS! I can’t get in/out with my bus stuff!

Tagging luggage is so different from place to place. Van-TO they’ll transfer it for you, but it has to be meticulously tagged. Out east you’re on your own.

“Tag it if you want, we don’t care. Use the wrong province code, no big deal. Leave your bag unattended, what-EV-er. Gotta do what you gotta do to keep your place in line.”

Reminds me of the Canadians from Nova Scotia we met on the Subway in New York. The time when I didn’t tell them I was also Canadian and they went on and on about how much nicer Eastern Canadians are than Western Canadians. I’m sorry, has anyone EVER heard something like this? I was kind of shocked, and I would normally blame Alberta for opinions like that but the couple clearly depicted Vancouverites as the problem.

But that wasn’t even the weird part. When they drew a “map of Canada,” for us (my friends suddenly had no idea where Canada was or what could possibly be the difference between the east and the west…) it looked like this:

You cannot convince me I am not a nice person after all the restraint I showed to those very, very, very, very, nice Canadians who drew such a helpful map for my friends and explained all about Canada.

As we left the train someone from the group (not me) shouted, “Oh, I should probably mention Robyn’s from Vancouver.”

I didn’t look back.

In hindsight, this may have been the moment when I stopped caring about making it all the way east. Maybe Montreal isn’t to blame. Maybe it’s Nova Scotia.

Everyone out here thinks BC has a superiority complex. Even the Globe&Mail printed a study on the subject. I think they’re just jealous because we’re the best.

After a few stops the bus pulled into this lonely strip mall, with a few sad-looking stores and 10 people standing on the sidewalk with suitcases.

Oh, look! Another Greyhound station!

Looking at my clock, I saw it was four-ish so I thought I would ask the driver how much longer I had to go.

“Sir, when should I be getting off for Bancroft?”

“You can get off here if you like.”

“Oh.”

“Well, where do you want to go?”

“Bancroft.”

“Well, you can get off here if you like.”

“Oh, OK. Is this the stop or is there another stop closer to town?”

“Where do you want to get off in town?”

“Um…”

“The Post Office?”

“Yeah, the Post Office.”

Confused, I re-boarded and proceeded to sit on the edge of my seat. I called Chris and asked him to fetch me from the Post Office.

“Are you serious?”

“Yeah, I think I am.”

“OK, I’ll see you there. How far away are you?”

“Um… do you know the abandoned strip mall north of town?”

“No.”

“I’m most likely 20 minutes away.”

Pulled that number out of thin air.

But, about 20 minutes later the bus stopped again. We were in another empty parking lot. I knew it was mine, because I recognized all the outcrop from the Bancroft mountains. Good thing I wasn’t looking for a Post Office because I certainly didn’t see one.

Chris was there, though, so clearly it’s where I was.

As I debused he leaned against his car, smirking.

His smile turned into laughter as I had to pull on the driver’s shirt to help me find my luggage. And I’m pretty sure he took pictures as I climbed under the bus to find my bag.

No one else got off the bus. In fact, there were more than a couple curious stares. It did dawn on me at this point that Bancroft was not actually a stop and I pulled the old, “Hey can you drop me off at the side of the road in this teeny grid-type settlement so I don’t have to hitchhike home?”

What a way to end my bus trip. Switching my plans and making up my stops. I was so happy to be where I wanted I barely even noticed when Chris said:

“Hey, so what do you think about driving down to my parent’s place tonight and heading on to Whitby tomorrow?”

“Yeah, yeah, fine. Whitby.”

Oh goodie, a road trip.