Cold Summer Nights in Canadian Wilderness

One of the earliest things I learned when I left to live as a recluse in the Canadian wilderness was that nights out there are extremely cold even in Summer. I did my hermit experience over the warmest months of the year – June, July and August, but while it was nice and warm during the day, night time temperatures dropped below zero. And since I didn’t anticipate freezing temperatures, I neither had clothes, nor other equipment (sleeping bag, tent or stove) to keep me warm at night.

Photo: Just Before Sun Rise, When Temperature Was at Its Lowest, the Lake Started to Turn Into Vapor
Photo: Just Before Sun Rise, When Temperature Was at Its Lowest, the Lake Started to Turn Into Vapor

The lake I chose for my stay away from civilization was very remote, but – to a point – accessible by car. The nearest paved road to the lake was more than 100km away but invasive logging industry left a passage through the forest which I was able to use to get myself closer. Needless to say, this forestry equipment road was full of obstacles and rough terrain that’s normally only negotiable by heavy machinery with continuous tracks, but being a skilled driver and having been blessed with dry weather, I was able to safely traverse this incredibly challenging stretch of the road all the way to the lake.

The entire journey took me about 5 hours to complete, but I was only about 300 km north of Edmonton as the raven fly. I don’t know whether it was these extra 300 km north or the fact that there is no civilization anywhere near the lake, but as someone who spent countless Summer nights outside while living in Edmonton, I can tell you for sure that while it does get cold at night even in Summer, it doesn’t get below freezing. Not in Summer. But as I learned after my first night out in the wilderness (and each night thereafter), despite daytime temperatures reaching pleasant 29 °C, they were followed by night time drops to -3 °C.

5 hour long drive north of Edmonton and you’ll experience brief Winter every night even during Summer months. I personally think this had more to do with complete remoteness of the wilderness than its placement along the longitude. I have not done any scientific research on it, but high concentration of warm bloodied mammals who radiate body heat into the environment surely contributes to keeping the temperature in urban centers warmer than in the wilderness. And it’s not only body heat – you have heat generating car engines, thousands of computers, stoves used for cooking, machines used in factories, people bathing in hot water – so many things to keep the environment warmer… And on top of it all, you have pollution that keeps the heat trapped.

During my first month in the wilderness, it rained almost every afternoon. July was a little better and come August, there was hardly any rain. Sky was cloudless most of the days with sun baking down on me from wee morning hours until late night. Yet even in August, when daytime temperatures were in their 30’s, as soon as the sun was gone, the gauge started dropping rapidly and got to freezing just before the dawn.

Luckily, I had everything I needed to keep the fire going and there was plenty of dry firewood around, plus night only lasts a few hours a day this time of year so even though ill equipped, I kept myself warm-ish by utilizing natural resources. Regardless, it was a lesson I learned the hard way – remote Canadian wilderness can be very cold even in Summer months. Especially at night.

In order to survive, I had to swap night with the day. I got most of my sleep during the day when it was warm and I didn’t have to spend time feeding the fire and when the sun went down, I kept myself entertained by staring at the stars. It’s mind boggling how many of them there are and how clearly they can be seen when you’re away from city lights and pollution.

First night was hands down the worst but I got right down to building a primitive shelter that would tightly wrap around the bed of dry leaves the following day. I kept improving on my natural tent every day, but night time temperature drops were just so severe, I quickly realized that the only way to stay warm at night would be by building a shelter big enough to have a fire inside. If such shelter was well isolated, the fire would keep the interior warm even during freezing nights. One would still need to feed the fire, but pay back in feeling warm over night would be well worth it.

Flight from Edmonton to Vancouver

My first flight was by Air Canada from Edmonton to Vancouver. The rest of the flight was provided by Korean Air with stop in Seoul, South Korea. I wanted to check my luggage right away so I am rid off this burden and can hang out with Lisa and Britney (Lisa’s 17 year old friend). I got in Air Canada line (it doesn’t look like Korean Air has a booth in Edmonton, they probably don’t have this city in their destination schedule) and as I was checking in, I was told by the lady that my flight from Edmonton to Vancouver is delayed, but she can try to put me on an earlier flight. It made no sense to me whatsoever, but I wasn’t arguing. I was there already anyway, so I might as well try to get on an earlier flight. It would mean that I’d have to spend more time in Vancouver, but that sounded much better to me than spending more time in Edmonton.

It was 9.20am when I got a boarding pass for Air Canada flight that departs at 9.50am. I have no idea why that check in lady would tell me that my flight is delayed when it wasn’t scheduled to leave until 11.20am, but whatever.

I was very short on time so I just gave quick hugs to Lisa, gave Britney a wave, promised Lisa to stay in touch over email (I can do it, but she needs to send me her email first – she’s got mine, I’m still waiting for her to email me) and popped myself in line to undergo security check. Unfortunately for me, the line there was endless.

It took forever for me to get my turn and once I went through, the security decided that they need to closely examine my camera bag. I obliged (of course, the only other option is to turn around and leave) but have reminded the young man that my plane leaves in less than 10 minutes. Luckily for me, he understood.

Perhaps I was lucky in a fact that he was a photography enthusiast. He admired my full Canon gear and asked me about what I take pictures of, had brief look at everything and let me go fairly quickly even though I had my tiny bottle of oil of oregano with me. Fluids and gels of any kind are a big no no on aircrafts nowadays.

As he was going through my bag and doing chemical analysis of vapours to make sure I don’t have any hidden explosives there, my name was announced on the speaker system calling me to deliver my ass to the gate or miss the flight. I have reminded the man that I have got to go and luckily he let me.

He sort of cut his job short and took chances for not examining my bag thoroughly, but I’m no terrorist and they really were calling for me. To add insult to the injury, my name was being called repeatedly as I was running through the airport, prompting several people to shout at me – you must be Mark they’re calling. Embarrassing.

I have boarded the plane last minute, we took off without delay and got from Edmonton to Vancouver in about 1 hour and 14 minutes. The flight was relatively painless, except from excessively obnoxious and loud pair of girls sitting across the aisle one row back. They were literally yelling like they’re at the party. I felt tired because of no sleep last night and their shriek made it impossible to take a nap. Luckily it was a brief flight. And I got a complimentary plastic cup of tomato juice (my favourite in flight drink).

Soon enough I was in Vancouver and there was no turning back for me anymore, even if I wanted to. I would never want to. I longed for this moment for so long, going back was not an option. There are so many places to see, so many things to do, so many girls to f….. Sorry, couldn’t help :o)

A Night Before Departure

So finally it’s here. I’m done all the prep work and I’m only one night away from departing on my dream trip. As little kid would say – only one more sleep before vacation. I felt really excited. I’ve been waiting for this moment and now it’s here. I called Lisa to make sure I could still catch a ride with her to the airport. In order to have plan B in case Lisa doesn’t work out, I’ve looked up the schedule of Sky Shuttle service to Edmonton International Airport. The closest stop one of the shuttles has to my place was at Ramada Hotel on Kingsway Avenue in Edmonton. It’s the beginning of their University Route – one of three different routes Sky Shuttle covers in Edmonton. The cost was only $20 and they run once every 45 minutes starting in very early hours (only once per hour on Saturdays). This was a solid back up as taking a taxi cab from where I live in NW Edmonton all the way down to YEG (Edmonton International Airport) would be way too costly. It’s about an hour long drive.

After a few phone calls (Lisa is ridiculously difficult to get a hold of – she doesn’t have a cell phone, just a home line), Lisa picked up and assured me she’d be at my place at 7.30am (I beat her to ensuring she’s here). It was her day off so it worked out perfect. She also said on the phone that a friend of her would come along, but her friend was 17!

I went for a walk to Westmount Mall to get myself a couple of organic peaches (I only buy organic) and a chocolate bar as that would be the last food I’d eat in Edmonton. I got back and went on a computer to do one of the most important pre-departure steps – send email to my supervisor at work. Despite countless connection problems with my wireless internet, I got that email sent eventually and made an attempt to sleep. It was already after midnight but my body felt wide awake.

I lay in bed for about an hour and seeing that sleep is nowhere near, I turned the laptop back on. After spending another hour messing around on the internet, I made one more desperate attempt at sleeping which failed again so I got back on the computer for the third time. It was already after 4am when I eventually felt a bit of tiredness and crashed.

I don’t think it was the excitement of upcoming travel that kept me awake. I don’t know what exactly it was. I have never been big sleeper and I think it was the fear of not getting enough sleep prior to departure that made my mind believe it was going to happen so it did happen.

When my phone rang at 7am, I could not get myself to get up. I assumed that Lisa would not show up exactly at 7.30 anyway, so I spent another 15 minutes in bed trying to struggle through my losing battle of getting up. I eventually did, but was too slow getting going and then bang – Lisa knocked on my window. She in fact did make it to my place precisely at 7.30. Damn.

Apartment Inspection

After my bike was dropped off at Dave’s, I had but one last thing to take care of – apartment inspection. I left notice of leaving almost two months prior to intended departure and later left the notice with Matthew, on site manager notifying him that I would be leaving the country on August 31, 2009 early in the morning so the best time for me to do the inspection of the apartment would be in the evening the day prior (Sunday, August 30).

I briefly met Matthew after I left this notice with him, but he was just getting in a cab so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him about it. To make sure the inspection will be performed as expected, I phoned Matthew’s phone on Sunday noon, but got the answering machine. I left a message reminding him that I was leaving tomorrow and needed to get the inspection done tonight.

Luckily, shortly after I have returned from Dave’s dropping off my bike, Matthew called me to let me know that he got my message and will be back from work at about 6.30pm in the afternoon so we could do the inspection then.

That worked for me, I had a little bit of cleaning to do so I got right down to it so the apartment look presentable when Matthew returns from work. He knocked on my door at about 5pm, which was great cause I wanted to be done with it and have my mind focus on leaving for Cambodia tomorrow, but I did not have the apartment ready quite yet. I asked him to give me a bit more time and kicked into gear.

I was really, really disappointed to learn that he won’t be able to give me the check with my deposit right away so I could drop it off at my bank the following morning and have the funds there to pay off my credit card. This really messed up with all my plans, but because of tight schedule, I had no option but to go with it. Apparently because the apartment building is company run, the company will be delivered the inspection report and will issue a check by mailing it off to my address about 7 days later.

That was the most awful news ever. That would mean that I won’t be able to deposit the check into my account while I’m still in Canada. That would also mean that I would have to ask someone to do it for me, but most of all it would also mean that if the check is not issued for correct amount, I won’t be there to take care of it. This was truly awful news but I had no choice but to go with it.

BTW, if you live in Edmonton and stay in an apartment managed by Davies Management, you may want to look into it. They are happy to take the deposit as soon as you move in, but will not give it to you as soon as you move out. You will be forced to wait to get it back. If you decide to move to another apartment, you will need this deposit to leave the deposit at your new place. I don’t know how they can leave people hanging without their deposit for a week. I find this absolutely unacceptable. Remember the name – Davies Management. The worst experience ever.

After I had asked Matthew to give me a bit more time to finish the cleaning of the apartment, I quickly all common areas but didn’t bother with the carpet. One more awful news on top of the delayed deposit check was the fact that they will discount the cost of carpet deep cleaning from my check. I really didn’t feel like fighting this off in any way, so I took it as necessary evil, however I have responded in like. I did not vacuum nor otherwise clean the carpet. I left it the way it was, claiming that I will be charged for deep cleaning anyway, so why should I bother vacuuming.

I have asked how much deep cleaning normally costs and was told it would be about $45 one time fee. Given that I have left $850 as deposit when I moved in at the beginning of April, I should still get $800 back in a check which will get to my mailbox while I’m away.

I have passed this information on Lisa with whom I have made arrangements that she would check my mail every now and again and will deposit my checks that I would get for me at any TD Canada Trust location. She would be my remote hands for this type of thing and I paid her with lots of freebies I gave her from my possessions. Apartment inspection was done with and I had only about 13 hours left till departure from Edmonton. Yeee!

Bald Eagles at Big Lake Near Edmonton, Alberta

My blood was boiling with excitement and anticipation. I was mere two days away from my big departure and had almost everything necessary taken care of. There were only a few minor things to still do – things that would ultimately end the “pre-departure preparations” and set me ready to board a plane to Vancouver. I was still physically present in Edmonton, Alberta but my mind was already in Cambodia. Last weekend’s road trip through the Rocky Mountains put me in the right mind set of a dedicated traveller. And that mood kept growing exponentially.

My plane was leaving on Monday early in the morning. I was half way through my last weekend in Edmonton when I found out that Big Lake – large lake North West of Edmonton is home to many pairs of Bald Eagles that nest in tall trees on its west bank during summer months. I knew my life from this point on would be all about exploring amazing corners of this planet so I thought that while I’m still here, maybe I should sit on my bike and ride there with my camera to get some amazing shots of these majestic birds of prey just before I take off for South East Asia.

The premise of this idea seemed very tempting and I was determined to do my best not to pass on this opportunity. I have lived in Edmonton for so many years and I didn’t even know that Bald Eagles can be seen in their natural habitat only few kilometres from the city. It would have been amazing if I got a chance to photograph some of those birds.

The trick was the Big Lake is just as the name suggests – big. I no longer had a car, only my awesome bike. It looked like I would have to cover about 40 kilometres each way in order to get to the west side of the lake. That’s all merely because of the size of the lake. It’s south east corner starts right at the north west end of Edmonton, but the lake spreads on for quite a bit so in order to make it all the way to the west side on a bike, I’d be pedalling for more than two hours. And then I’d have at least two hours to pedal all the way back home so riding itself would eat up a better chunk of the day.

This part itself was making the Bald Eagle spotting adventure difficult to arrange. But the trickiest part was that even if I was able to get there swiftly, I didn’t know where exactly the nests of Bald Eagles were. In order to truly have a nice spotting of Bald Eagle adventure happening, I’d need to dedicate whole unrushed day to the exploration of the forest on the west bank of Big Lake. If I only had a couple of hours, I’d be under pressure, rushing it through the forest to quickly find a nesting place of Bald Eagles which would likely prove contra productive and bring no results.

But that was not it. Sunday was also my last day to ride my bike to Dave’s. I needed to keep my bike with me until the last minute because it was my sole means of transportation. Besides, I would never fit it in the Toyota Corolla I had rented so riding it all the way to Dave’s was the only option. That meant I had to be at home in the afternoon not to keep Dave up waiting for me needlessly. He was doing me hell of a favour already. As tempting as the idea of riding a bicycle to the Big Lake to photograph Bald Eagles seemed, it was just not realistically doable.

Instead, I did last minute shopping, made last minute arrangements with Matthew – apartment’s on site manager to come do an inspection in the evening and left to take my bike to Dave’s as it was an hour long ride across Edmonton. I needed to do some packing as well and find the best way to get to the airport the following so I don’t have to take expensive cabs (Edmonton International Airport is an hour drive away from Inglewoods in NW Edmonton where I lived – it would be a mighty charge if I were to take this route).

Donating Pet Supplies to Edmonton Humane Society

I knew that Edmonton Humane Society was a pet shelter that accepted stray animals in, but I wasn’t sure whether they would also accept donations in form of pet supplies. The only way to find out was to get in touch with them so I called and was told by surprised lady on the other end that they absolutely accepted merchandise donations but they never get anything because people automatically assume that all they accept are live animals. I was told that they would much appreciate any of the items I had mentioned because they were in dire need for fish tanks and always short of cat food.

I had most of my stuff stored at Dave’s and only had one more load to take on Thursday evening. I thought of combining it with a drop off of pet supplies since office of Edmonton Humane Society was on the way to Dave’s. Since I only had a few more items I needed take to Dave’s, most of my car was available for fish tanks and other pet supplies and I had no problem fitting it in. The only challenging thing was one of the fish tanks – it rather large and heavy so it was extremely difficult for one guy to move it out of the apartment and fit it in the car. Despite of all the difficulties, I’ve gone through the struggle and somehow got it all done without help the previous night. I was gonna drive in a car to work and take off immediately after so I get to the Edmonton Humane Society before they close at 5pm and then I’d have the rest of the evening to drop the rest of the stuff at Dave’s.

The day after my intended drop off was the day I had to return my rented car so I wouldn’t be able to get anything done. I had to be at work until 4pm and car had to be back at Hertz by 5pm otherwise I’d get charged for an extra day. Given crazy traffic that hits Edmonton at rush hour (4pm), not only would I not be able to do anything with my rented car on my last day, I would actually have to rush it to make sure I get all the way downtown by 5pm to avoid extra charges. It was gonna be tight, but I have previously done some overtimes so I had hoped my supervisor would let me leave 15 minutes early to get to Hertz before 5pm.

But this wasn’t until the day after. Today I still had one last drop off to do. First at Edmonton Humane Society where I was going to donate all of my pet supplies and then the rest of my items at Dave’s. I left work exactly at 4pm to make sure I get all the way to 50 Street and Yellowhead Trail where Edmonton Humane Society was located by 5pm so I don’t miss people at the shelter with whom I made arrangements anticipate me. I drove swiftly but roads were congested so it took a while. I got to 50 Street just minutes before 5pm and pulled over by the door only to find it shut locked with a sign on it that Edmonton Humane Society had moved.

Their new location was at the opposite end of town. It would take me an hour to get there from where I was. They must have moved just recently as I have been at their original location only a few months prior. I could not believe the lady I spoke with about donations on the phone has never hinted me that they were at a new location to make sure I don’t needlessly drive to the wrong spot which is too far away.

Needless to say, I would never make it to their new location from where I was before everybody is gone. Giving it a try never the less was making no sense especially since by the sound of it, it would take a while to find it (that area isn’t very easy to navigate through). Plus I had Dave expecting me with my last load and I really needed to get to him before it’s too late so I don’t needlessly keep him up.

I was in a pretty tight spot there. I struggled the night before to get all of the pet supplies, including that giant fish tank into the car all by myself. Now it looked like I was gonna have to get it out of the car all by myself because the following day I had to return the car right after work which wouldn’t give me enough time to drop the items off. I was definitely not happy that I wasn’t hinted about shelter’s new location. Afterall, I was doing them a favor – I was intending to donate, give them some of my possessions for free and cover the cost of driving to get it all to their location. Was it really that hard to let me know that they had just moved so I don’t drive to their old location which puts me at the opposite end of the city?

The premise of removing that massive fish tank from the car was not very appealing, but there was no chance I would make it to their new location from work and still make it to Hertz by 5pm. But I was having hard time simply dumping all the hassle I went through when I moved that fish tank into the car all by myself in the first place. Seeing how all that struggle would have been in vain if I gave up on donating was not an easy thing to accept. So I’ve decided to keep it in the car and see if I can pull off some magic.

I drove to work on Friday, my last day at work before the departure to Siem Reap with all of the pet supplies still in my car. It was a beautiful summer day. I spent my day at work committed to my duties but had asked my supervisor if he would dismiss me an hour early stating that I had an urgent matter to attend to. I have never asked for early dismissal before but have gladly stayed longer when we needed to catch up with things so I didn’t expect it to be an issue and in fact it wasn’t. I was allowed to leave early which gave me hope that I would eventually put my pet supplies to good use instead of just dumping them.

I phoned the Humane Society during the day explaining why they never saw me come the day before as I had promised and insisted that I was gonna give it one last try but they better be expecting me so unloading goes quickly because I had to rush from there through heavy traffic to get to Hertz downtown before 5pm. I was promised that someone would wait for me but as it goes with larger operations, it wasn’t the case.

I got to the new Edmonton Humane Society location, quickly walked in and told the receptionist who I was believing she would be aware of me and have staff ready to move the items from my car. She had no damn clue so I asked to point me at the office of a lady I spoke with over the phone but she wasn’t there. I started walking around aimlessly, desperately trying to find someone who would know what needs to be done but since there was no one and I was running out of time, I simply told the receptionist that I was gonna take the items I am meaning to donate and leave them right there on the street for them to pick up when they get a chance. When lady who spoke with me over the phone shows up, she can then take care of it but I needed to act.

This was overheard by an elderly gentleman who was sitting nearby. He followed me outside and offered a helping hand which was great because that big fish tank was a difficult task for one person to handle, but not a big deal for two. We moved everything out of the car and just as we were done, the lady I spoke with over the phone walked up to greet me. I told her I needed to go but all of the items I wished to donate were right there on the street so they could do whatever they wanted with it.

I sat in a car and only just about made it to Hertz in time. Luckily Hertz is a professional company that deals with their clients on a professional level so the return of my weekly rental went smoothly and without headache. This has concluded my necessary preparations for the big trip. I only needed to pack up and be ready to board a plane on Monday. However I still had my bicycle which was too big to fit in a Toyota Corolla but since days were beautiful (whole summer of 2009 was beautiful in Alberta), I had no fears. I knew I could easily ride to Dave’s on Saturday and catch a bus back home for my last two days in Edmonton.

Emergency Storage Solution

I was back from an absolutely fabulous road trip through the Rockies and still had four extra days with the car I’d rented for a week. I was less than a week away from my departure to Cambodia yet I still had a pile of things I needed to store while I’m traveling and could not afford to get rid of. I took a last resort option – asking my friend Dave if he was gonna be my emergency storage solution.

Despite my sincere dedication to find a paid self storage solution and have it taken care of without involvement of others, I wasn’t able to get this arranged. So I went to pay Dave a visit and asked him if I could shove the rest of my stuff in his basement. There wasn’t that much of it. I didn’t have any furniture or otherwise large items so it could easily fit under the staircase. I’ve explained to him that I’ve tried everything else and it just didn’t work out and he was my last resort given the time left.

Dave is a good buddy of mine. We occasionally have a cigar together. I stocked up on a bunch of quality ones during my trips to Cuba and the Dominican Republic and Dave hooked me up with a great humidor where they were stored so we can enjoy them when we felt like having one. Granted, I still had about a hundred of them in my rather large humidor, mostly Cohibas (Robustos and Esplendidos) and Monte Christos so I told Dave that the humidor would also need to be stored and he could smoke even all of them if he wanted to while I was gone.

Dave is a good guy and was open to the idea of helping me out as an emergency storage solution. I had a car for additional four days and was gonna use it over the period of the following three evenings. I had to go to work until the very last day so after work I’d head straight home, load the car up and head to Dave’s to unload it there. It went smoothly except from an incident with pet supplies.

Driving Through the Rockies

There’s nothing like Driving Through the Rockies. Sheer awesomeness of the mountains is unrivalled, magnificent scenery changes from breathtaking to eye-popping with each turn of the road and the traffic is light so you can fully savor each moment. I drove through the Rockies many a time and starting from Edmonton, I’ve always headed to Jasper first as it is the nearest and easiest to access point of the Canadian Rockies from my home town. This time around I’ve changed my plan and drove south to Red Deer where I took the turn to head towards the mountains through the Rocky Mountains House (that’s a name of a small town on the way to the Rockies). This access point offers new views of the mountains peaks that I have not seen before. It was spectacular.

Photo: Canadian Rocky Mountain Peaks Hazed in Early Morning Mist
Photo: Canadian Rocky Mountain Peaks Hazed in Early Morning Mist

This was my second driving through the Rockies adventure of the year and fourth in two years. I went all the way to Roger’s Pass in BC. Most of my previous visits to the Rocky Mountains consisted of exploring either Jasper or Banff National Parks, both of which are in Alberta. I once stayed at the Mount Robson Lodge which is located right at the foot of Mount Robson – the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies and is also on the BC side. But other than that I haven’t seen that much of the British Columbia’s Rocky Mountains.

Photo: Moraine Lake in Banff National Park
Photo: Moraine Lake in Banff National Park

Roger’s Pass is in the Glacier National Park and is surrounded by mountain peaks that are the most beautiful of all I’ve seen in the Rocky Mountains. Short hike took me on an excursion through the history of former Trans Atlantic Railway the remnants of which remind us of the immense power of area’s avalanches. I then drove back to Banff but first visited Takakkaw Falls and took a hike around Emerald Lake which wore me down well enough to be ready for a soak up in Banff’s Upper Hot Springs.

Photo: Upper Hot Springs in Banff at Night with Naturally Heated, Mineral Rich Water
Photo: Upper Hot Springs in Banff at Night with Naturally Heated, Mineral Rich Water

I stayed the night in Banff so I could visit The Cave and the Basin the following morning before heading off to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. This was awesome. I visited the area in May – only months prior to this road trip and Lake Louise was completely frozen which made it look like farmer’s field covered in Ice. This time around (August) it looked just like the picture perfect mountain lake it is. Moraine Lake was not even accessible in May but was in all of its beauty in August. The biggest difference was at Bow Summit – the highest point at the Canadian Rockies with paved road. When I got there in May, the upper car park was not accessible due to excessive snow so I had to leave my car far away and climb all the way up through waist deep snow. This time around the road was clear of snow so I was able to drive up to the upper parking lot and walk it easy to the lookout with magnificent views of Peyto Lake in the valley below.

Photo: The Cave and the Basin - Birthplace of Banff National Park
Photo: The Cave and the Basin - Birthplace of Banff National Park

I never get tired of Driving Through the Rockies. I’ve done it many times and will do it each time I get a chance in the future. During this three day road trip I’ve visited many great sites and took hundreds of stunning pictures. Unfortunately as soon as I have returned from this amazing trip, I had to take care of storage of items I still had in my possession and start getting ready for the big departure. I’ll try to get back to this Driving Through the Rockies trip at a later date and share all the stories and pictures as it’s without doubt worth it.

Photo: At the Platform on Top of Bow Summit Overlooking Peyton Lake
Photo: At the Platform on Top of Bow Summit Overlooking Peyton Lake

Travel Immunizations

I went to get my first essential travel immunization shots taken when I went to Cuba at the end of 2008. I made an appointment with the Travellers’ Health Clinic of Capital Health in Edmonton, Alberta and went to talk with the nurse about what shots I should get. I told her I was going to Cuba, she looked up what known health dangers existed in Cuba so she could suggest important immunization but Cuba is generally considered a safe country with no major epidemic risks. Regardless, the nurse suggested that I take at least Hepatitis A vaccination and a Tetanus booster as part of the essential protection just in case.

Photo: Alberta Travel Immunizations Card for Adults Contains Records of Your Vaccines
Photo: Alberta Travel Immunizations Card for Adults Contains Records of Your Vaccines

She asked me if I planned any future visits to foreign countries which could help her pinpoint what other shots I should take so I told her that I would like to go to Iceland sometimes within next year, but Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world with absolutely nothing a traveller needs to get immunized against.

Nurse asked me whether I wanted both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B to go along with the tetanus, but since Hep B is sexually transmitted disease and I was not planning to get sexually active in Cuba, I stuck with just Hep A, which transmits through food or water. A guy needs to eat and drink wherever he is, but I leave sexual encounters to reasonably safe countries with low incidence of HIV and AIDS.

There was also an option for me to take a Rabies shot, but just as it was with sexual encounters, I was not planning to play with random Cuban animals so I opted against it. Strangely enough, in order to get immunized against Rabies as a traveller from Canada, you need to pay for your vaccines, but if you get infected with Rabies, then the treatment is free. Rabies shot was one of the most expensive to take too, so I definitely decided against it. Why prevention costs so much money while treatment is free is beyond me! Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

I ended up going with Hepatitis A and Tetanus. I had to pay for the Hep shot, but Tetanus booster was free. I thought getting two shots at the same time was more than enough for my body so I didn’t want to consider any more injection bombs at this time. I was advised that I could come for a Twinrix booster shot in 6 months time which would then offer 20 years of protection against both Hep A and Hep B.

When time came to take off my shirt and have the syringes enter by shoulder muscles, the nurse asked me whether I was right-handed or left-handed. Since I am right-handed, she was gonna give me the Hep A shot in my right arm because the occurrence of adverse effects is very low with this shot, whereas the Tetanus vaccine is a tough one with more than 50% of patients experiencing severe discomfort, pain, nausea, vomiting or fever.

Photo: My Travel Immunizations Card With List of Vaccines I Took and How Long They Are Good For
Photo: My Travel Immunizations Card With List of Vaccines I Took and How Long They Are Good For

I took the shots and it was as expected. My right arm was only slightly sore for about an hour or two, but my left arm where I took the Tetanus shot got intensely painful to a point that I couldn’t move my arm, sleep on the left hand side or do anything with this part of my body. I suffered from severe fever for about 5 days and just as I was ready to go back to the clinic to tell them that the pain is not subsiding and the fever is still very bad, it started to get better. After one week of intense pain in my left shoulder I was able to ride a bicycle again however the pain has not dispersed entirely until more than two weeks later.

Immunization against Tetanus is truly painful. Luckily I did go to get my shots done more than a month prior to taking the trip to Cuba so I didn’t board a plane with sore arm, but damn, was the pain ever intense… Had I known it was gonna put me through whole week of inability to function properly and feel sick while I’m at it, I wouldn’t have taken it in the first place. Luckily, it’s all good now and I should be immunized against Tetanus for some 10 years.

Hepatitis A protection was also in place and from what the nurse told me, the Hep one starts to protect within hours, whereas the Tetanus one takes a couple of weeks to take full effect. By the time I was on a plane to Cuba, I was already well protected.

Iceland didn’t require any additional immunization but after I realized I was going to Cambodia, I went back to the Travellers’ Clinic to get additional shots done. First of all, I wanted the Twinrix shot for both Hep A and Hep B protection and I also got a Measles, Mumps and Rubella booster shot. None of these caused any adverse effects and come the following day, I didn’t even know I was just vaccinated.

Sadly, there is no shot to immunize travelers against Malaria which is endemic in Cambodia, or HIV which is equally bad. There are anti-malarial pills on the market, but are only recommended for short term use (one, max two weeks). Any long term use could be potentially more harmful than Malaria itself so if you are planning a long term stay in Malaria endemic areas, you’re better off getting malaria than taking anti-malarials for an extended period of time.

Self Storage Solutions

I had most of my possessions taken care of – majority went to the garbage bin while the rest was donated as a merchandise donation to One Child’s Village. However there were still some items I had left that I couldn’t get rid of. They were either legally important, or personally inseparable with. I had to find the way to store these while I was on the road so I started looking into self storage solutions in Edmonton. The items I could not get rid of included the following:

  • Bookkeeping – Revenue Canada can audit your books from up to 7 years back
  • Software – instead of just sticking with downloads, I used to buy boxed versions of each software… bad idea!
  • DVD Collection – it’s quite vast. I had some precious, hard to find titles there, especially the ones from Asian Extreme Cinema or old Italian horror movies
  • Photo Albums – I have a small collection of photos from the past, many irreplaceable, taken long before the age of digital cameras
  • Medieval Weaponry – I’m into all things medieval big time and my collection of swords and armor grew overtime. Could not find the strength to part with it
  • Photography Studio Equipment – I closed down the shop long time ago, but I still did a lot of studio photography as a hobbyist
  • Mountain Bike – my precious Specialized bike, the sole means of transport for over two years
  • Desktop Computer – I still had a whole pile of data on the 1TB hard drive on my desktop
  • Guitar – I have a custom made Ibanez JS Model – it’s a copy of Joe Satriani’s electric guitar in beautiful read made to fit in my hands. So awesome…

The only feasible solution to the storage problem I was facing seemed to be the self storage facilities located throughout the city. So I started my hunt for the best priced and best located one. I’ve done thorough web search for self storage solutions in Edmonton and also proceeded to search through the Yellow Pages and contacted the rest by phone. I’ve then personally paid the ones that were close to me a visit to see what was going on, yet none made me feel confident that this was the right path to take. The biggest deterrent was the price.

Self storage solutions are extremely expensive. Given the size of the room you get, the price per square meter is almost as high, or higher as for the room where you people live. This was simply way too much. There were rooms priced at under $100 a month, but these were so small I wouldn’t fit my mountain bike in there. The rest of the stuff I needed to store wasn’t that much. It was compacted in boxes so I could easily fit it in a miniature room, however my mountain bike required a room that’s at least 2 meters long or wide. Rooms like that typically run at more than $100 a month – crazy. You could get whole apartment for $500 with living room, kitchen, and bathroom.

Trouble with on line research was that you couldn’t get a sense of the price from their websites. They treat it like it’s a top secret. You have to go through painful process of enquiring via email or phone. I went though Sentinel Self Storage Edmonton, Instant Storage Edmonton, Storage King Edmonton, U Store It Edmonton, Affordable Storage Edmonton, Minerva Mini Storage Edmonton, etc – but they were all either very inconveniently located or way overpriced.

I went to the most conveniently located one in person. It was the Sentinel Self Storage one in NW Edmonton, but was strongly discouraged the moment I stepped my foot in. The woman who owns it smokes non stop so the office is full of cigarette smoke to the point that it’s beyond disgusting. When she starts talking to you, she sounds like the witch with burnt out vocal cords which is without doubt the result of her heavy smoking. She’s not very friendly either and just beat me off by saying that summer is a busy season for them and she doesn’t have time to talk to me unless I’m already ready to buy my self storage with them. The most conveniently located or not, this was no longer an option.

So I went to the second most conveniently located facility with which I made an appointment via phone, because they were not open during convenient hours. Someone was supposed to meet me there on a weekend day. Their facility is in one of the hangars at Edmonton City Airport not far from Kingsway Mall. I sat on my bike and rode all the way there. It was very tricky to find as those hangars are at oddly placed, unmarked streets, but I have eventually found it only to learn that their office was closed and there was nobody there. I waited around for 20 minutes but nobody showed up which was my cue to get the hell out of there and forget this facility.

Given high prices of self storage solutions in Edmonton, I didn’t see the point in checking out the facilities located at the opposite end of the city. It would take me an hour to drive there so what’s the point? Taking a few turns with a small car I’d be renting would end up being a pain. I was stuck with one last option I really didn’t want to consider, but as my last resort, I had to give it a try.