“Don’t you ever just read a Grisham?” comments one of my friends. It’s been a busy summer, making up for summers past as travel returns to its pre-pandemic boom. After Tahiti and Sudbury, I dropped my bags, picked up my six-year-old son Galileo, and hopped over the Rockies to see what Calgary is up to these days. In a city accustomed to booms and busts, the boom is back. We’d spend a few days researching the urban and regional attractions that met my ‘bucket list’ criteria, chasing columns and new chapters for the upcoming second edition of The Great Western Canadian Bucket List. There would be time for bedtime stories, but that’s about it. .
We kick off with the Yamnuska Wolf Dog Sanctuary outside of Cochrane, a facility that rescues and shelters hybrid animals that belong in neither a domestic or wilderness environment. That doesn’t stop idiots breeding wolf-dogs, for idiots who think it would be cool to own a wolf. What they get are shy yet aggressive animals that make terrible pets, with untamed instincts requiring constant attention and secure zoo-like enclosures. Breeding wolf dogs is, inexplicably, legal in Alberta. The sanctuary does a fantastic job educating the public, looking after the animals they rescue, and advocating for both wolves, canines and hybrids. Next we drive into the foothills of the Rockies to spend the night with Tracey and Tim at Painted Warriors, a hands-on Indigenous cultural and wilderness experience that invited conversation around the campfire, archery in the forest, star-gazing, and nature walks. Among many other things, I learn I’ve been aiming with the wrong eye all my life (no wonder I always miss), how aspen makes natural sunblock powder, and that a professional archer can hit the top of a golf tee from fifty yards. Above all else, I learn yet again that meeting good people always results in a good time.
We drive back to the city, pick up outrageously good smoked meat sandwiches and ice-cream at the Calgary Farmers Market, and head across the highway for Downhill Karting. It’s the same luge contraption I discovered many years ago in New Zealand outside of Rotorua, and it’s fun to share the experience with my delighted kid. It’s the first time we’ve done a trip just the two of us together, and while Gali doesn’t have gunpowder energy of his Tahiti-toting sister, he’s observant, measured, and willing to give everything a go.
We’re here for a good time, not a long time, so it’s off to Lazy Day Rafting Rentals to float down the Bow River and experience one of Calgary’s more iconic summer activities. Gali super-soaked ducks and geese as the river gently floated us from our entry point to the Bow River Pathway Bridge. Drop off the boat, check-into the Residence Inn, and stroll over to The Mash, which upcycles grain from a microbrewery into delicious pizza dough. My pizza had everything on it, Gali ordered plain cheese. One day he will order toppings, add Tabasco, and say: “So this is why you order pizza with everything on it.” I look forward to that day.
We’re heading out the city again, but before we do, we pop into the National Music Centre to see Randy Bachman’s insane guitar collection, learn about Canada’s outsized role in the history of popular music, mix some beats, and gawk at the 64-foot one-man orchestra known as the Kimball Theatre Organ. We pop into the Hangar Flight Museum by the airport, and hit the road for the Good Knights Medieval Encampment for an evening of medieval glamping. This is an actual thing, and as you can read in my column for Canadian Geographic, it’s a very fine thing indeed! We dressed up, threw fake axes, jousted with real swords, and watched lords and ladies dance under the big prairie sky. We’d immersed ourselves in a fun, family-friendly world that is one-part history and one-part Lord of the Rings / Game of Thrones / Dungeons and Dragons fantasy. The things you can do in Canada never cease to amaze me.
A few days later, we’re out the country so I can take my kids to a place I swore I’d never take them to. You can read all about it here, with an honest column that I hope captures the parent’s experience of Disneyland. I’m not a theme park kinda guy, but visiting Disneyland was never going to be about me: it’s all about the kids, and the kids had a great time. We stayed the Grand California over the 4th of July weekend, when the park was heaving with visitors. The Genie + pass was essential to avoid the line-ups, but we probably should have eased Gali into the rides before kicking things off with a dark rollercoaster of Space Mountain. I don’t think he’ll ever forgive me. His sister, meanwhile, gravitated to the fastest, loudest, scariest rides. It’s remarkable these kids came from the same womb. I turned a shade of lime after the rollercoaster and falling elevator rides in Disney Adventure Park. In truth, the ride I was looking forward to most was a Harley Davidson Road King waiting for me back in Vancouver.
Last year I researched a story about renting a Harley from EagleRider Rentals in Vancouver, joining a bike crew on a road trip up Vancouver Island, ferrying to Bella Coola, and back through the BC interior. A year later, I join most of the same group (which happen to include the excellent Daniel Cook Band), and we roar off for a four-day loop of Vancouver to Osoyoos to Nelson to Lillooet to Vancouver. Once we got out of the congested city and past the summer construction, our bikes could blitz through the sweltering, rolling countryside. Motorcycles were out in full force, giving the eponymous biker wave when passing each other. Daniel and his band busted out their instruments in the evenings, which added a wonderful dimension to the trip, and delighted large groups of bikers with an impromptu roof top party at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson. We swam in the warm waters of Christina Lake, did a long, knee-cramping day in the saddle, played obligatory games of cribbage and did a memorable sidewalk jam in Lillooet. The diverse landscape and excellent roads of British Columbia delivered the goods. I’ve joined EagleRider’s membership program, and look forward to making this an annual tradition.
A weekend in Birch Bay, Washington (or as I like to call it, Canada in the USA), back across the Rocks for a wonderful wedding at the River Café in Calgary, and we’re up to date! I’m leaving early tomorrow morning to hike the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. July has been one for the books, but it’s going to get really busy in August. Reading a Grisham can wait.
The travel industry loves trends, and one of the better ones is the idea of a Mancation, aka Bromance. Resorts, hotels and tour agencies are now reaching out to men with the idea that true bonding can only take place if wives and girlfriends are left at home, no doubt enjoying their own vacation from the hairy beast they share a bed with. I'm currently in Whistler-Blackcomb, North America's best ski resort, on a Bromance. I'll be snowboarding and pub crawling, snowmobiling, bob-sleighing and boozing with six other male journalists I have yet to meet. Bromances are one of a series of deals and packages offered by the resort, great for bachelor parties and corporate getaways - because every woman knows that inside every man there is a little boy who loves to play with his toys. I discuss the rules of a Mancation in this fun clip below, in which my brothers, Dad and I hired an RV and went off to explore the Rockies. We drive, we drink beer, we wear leather chaps, we channel our manliness...while off camera pining like little girls for the lovely ladies who make us the men we are. Time to man up!
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.