Off to Canada to Explore New Terrain & Wear a Bug Jacket

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As I watched the map on the miniature TV screen in front of me and saw the plane flying over Washington State, I thought to myself
how little experience I had with the America’s Pacific Northwest. I drove across country when I moved to California and went the northern route, so took in Idaho, Oregon and Washington State on the way, yet it still feels like I barely know this part of the world.

When I lived in Boston, it seemed like my ex-husband and I took off nearly every weekend to explore some New England town we hadn’t yet seen. Sometimes, we’d close our eyes while pointing to our car map and see where our fingers landed. “Cool,” we’d say in unison, “we haven’t been there, let’s go,” and he’d put the key in the ignition as I began to map out our route. (no iPad, no laptop, no cell phone – just a paper map in a 10 year old Chevy stationwagon I bought from my grandfather for $500).

On the screen in front of me, the digital plane moved further north and over the Washington state board. I had this curious moment as I realized I was heading to three places I had never seen in Canada within a two week period. Given how often I return to destinations I know well over and over again, visiting new cities and towns always bring me wow moments, something I never tire of.

Calgary is the first stop, a Canadian city I first heard of in the 9th grade. Although I grew up in upstate New York, my family spent time living in Arizona and my best friend at the time was from Calgary. When you’re that young and meet a fabulous somebody, you immediately think the place they’re from must be a fabulous somewhere.

I had a choice of how I could fly to Winnipeg, stop 2 on this jaunt, and Calgary was one of them. It just so happens that the layover was much shorter going through Calgary than Minneapolis, Chicago or anywhere else, but my first thought was, “Ahhh, finally I’m going to Dawne’s childhood city,” even though she hasn’t lived there in umpteen years and is probably more Californian
now than she is Canadian. It’s 20+ years later and the memories of her stories flooded back as I watched the plane cross the Canadian border.

It was more than her childhood memories that went through my mind as I reflected….it wasn’t just about Calgary. She was really my first introduction to “Canadians” as odd as that may sound. Dawne was one of the most down-to-earth and funny people I had ever met at the time and she still is. Wouldn’t it be reasonable at 14 to assume every Canadian must be down-to-earth and funny?

I’ve met, known, dated (okay, never dated), and worked with dozens of Canadians since then and most of them are in fact…down-to-earth. As my grandfather used to say when I sat in front of the floor heaters on nearly every cold winter’s night because it was the only place in the house where I could warm my bones, “there’s something about growing up with snow and cold temperatures
that makes you more durable and fleixble than people who don’t.” No doubt, there’s some truth to that.  

Cold climate is a kind of endurement that builds strength, character and everything in between. Growing up on a fixed income in a working class neighborhood is another. Growing up with extreme discipline and having to work for everything you own is yet another. Our family subscribed to all three. I assumed ALL Canadians did too because her family’s views seemed to align with my grandfather’s views of the world when “that view” seemed so foreign to so many kids in my Mexican-border town high school.

And so, I grew up with the notion that all Canadians were cool and that people from Calgary were cooler than other parts of Canada thanks to Dawne, who will probably laugh histerically when she reads this.

One of the reasons I haven’t spent more time in Canada given how ‘cool’ I think Canadians are is the weather. It’s no secret that I’m a warm weather gal and despite that fact, its amazing how many places I visit which are not all that warm. In the last few years, I’ve frozen my tail off in Dublin, Munich, Paris, London, Colorado, New York, Boston, Maine, Seattle, Montreal and Vancouver. But this year, I also soaked up the heat in Qatar, Hawaii and southern California and frankly, it’s time to add a few more ‘hot’ destinations to the agenda.

That said, when I received an invitation to visit the center of Canada to hang out with polar bears, I thought, “wouldn’t that be incredible? Who would NOT want to spend time going to see polar bears regardless of where they were?” Besides, its August and it must be warm in Canada in late summer, right?

I’m not at my final destination yet, so I can’t confirm the temperatures. I also didn’t have time to read the suggested things to pack list until 11 pm the night before my flight. It included things like long underwear, sweatshirts, fleece, wooley socks, ankle-high hiking boots, gloves (yes gloves) and a bug jacket. What on earth is a bug jacket I thought as I read this, not sure that I REALLY wanted to know despite my growing curiosity.

All I knew is that I didn’t own one and certainly didn’t want to spend the time searching for one or the money buying one. And so, I packed a windbreaker instead, a ridged turtleneck (the only one I now own) and wooley socks from childhood that haven’t been worn in donkey’s years. Why I wait until 11 pm the night before a flight to pack is beyond me and beyond my ex who could never
understand this last minute thing either. If he only realized just how stupid I thought the idea was too but just didn’t have the discipline to change the pattern, maybe I could have gotten some ‘packing training’ which would have reduced pre-trip stress tremendously.

For people who don’t travel frequently, they assume I never stress about a trip which is so not the case. The truth is that I worry about logistical things more than the place itself. I can pretty much assimilate in any culture, so I never worry about what it will look like, feel like or sound like. I don’t worry about what the food will taste like or how I’ll communicate with people. I worry about stupid shit like “what if I forget my adapter, my charger, my trusty super duper lens or I can’t get connected.” Yes, really. I was never this much of a geek until I moved to Silicon Valley but once a blogger, always a blogger and sharing in real time has never been more powerful.

My mind went back to the bug jacket as I searched my house for others things on the list I didn’t have. I didn’t worry all that much since I figured if I picked up some garlic at a farmers market in Winnipeg before I headed north to the Wilderness, then coated my skin it while sipping garlic tea, what bug would go near me? I may not make any human friends on this adventure either but at least the bugs will stay clear of me and I won’t need to invest in a bug jacket. Something tells me I’ll be wearing one regardless and it will all just be okay.

Bug jacket, fleece and wooley socks in August (or not), I’m excited about exploring new parts of Canada I’ve never set foot on and am thrilled to be doing it in summer when I don’t also need ear muffs, scarves and furry boots in my luggage.

A new Canadian travel chapter for this travel addict is about to begin. And, I have a big smile on my face thinking about it.

Photo credit: IbackpackCanada website and CanadaBubble site.

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