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The Adventure Journals

Into British Columbia: Moving to Squamish

The bank manager asked me what my ambitions were, it would help him help me with a financial plan. So I told him: run a little production company, own a car, move to Canada. It didn’t seem like too much to go after.  He sat back and told me it’s good to have pipe dreams before offering me a credit card I had to pay for every month. Well, it was a gold one.

One by one I ticked those suckers off that list of mine, plus a husband, dog and a pick -up truck, my 5th car thank you Mr Bank Manager.

The last thing on the list was the move. After five or six years of talking about it, we culled our belongings one, two, three times and packed up what was left. It’s a funny thing dismantling all that you’ve gathered. 100 cubic feet of our lives packed into boxes, most of it discarded. Even our dog was loaded into the belly of a plane.

We arrived at the tail end of summer, smoke from that year’s forest fires lingering in the air, the worst BC had seen in years. Squamish, a place I’ve escaped to at several points in my life, often when no escape was necessary, sometimes when it was. I can’t help but compare my current self to past-selves when I come to BC, an unsettling wrestle I go through re-adjusting to a place I’m determined to belong to, I was born here after all. 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 9, 2011, 2016 and today. Sixteen years of myself smattered over this landscape; routes, boulders, trails, roads and lakes. Ew.

But I’ve been here before, in this headspace – last year after illness and a big loss of confidence I felt lots of the same things as I wandered the campground, an old familiar friend. I’m not who I was, she’d be so disappointed. In the supermarket this time round I wonder what the climbing bums perusing the bulk aisle think of me, if they even look. In 2009 I was one of them with Al – tanned and dirty from head to toe, living in a tiny van (car number 1) with faded orange trousers on and matted hair. I was deeply content, poor, and obsessed with climbing. Most of all, I felt like I got something most of the world did not – that this was how to live. But can they see that in me now, or can they tell that I’m gently tying myself to bank accounts, rent payments, phone bills, deadlines, a slowly thickening waist... I want them to know I was one of them – having nothing, needing nothing, rejecting the lot.

We had 6 weeks of doing our best to settle in, of organizing our finances and home and lives, and after a bit of climbing and a lot of swims and our first job on Canadian soil, suddenly we felt the need to step away for a moment and forget what we’d done. Let’s explore the province we’re not part of yet, but will be, maybe. A 2000km road trip – because if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s drive.

Squeezing through Vancouver traffic, we creep up on the mountains on the southern, wriggling road into the Rockies where fall is fading and winter creeping in, though we don’t know it yet. We stop in Hope first, where Rambo was filmed – yes we watched it in preparation. There's something comforting about the quiet interior settlements, you can feel the slower pace of things and the permanence of them, the edge of town just inches from the forest that goes for miles and miles and miles then forever.

Heading to Nakusp, the road disappears into water and a ferry on a string bridges the gap. I'm reminded of our last home in Scotland, 90 miles from a city, stars that made you dizzy, mountains that tumbled into the sea, and a strange mixture of homesickness and wanderlust floods my brain. Some internal call to retreat to what you know and step into what’s new – a land with animals that can eat you, with trees you can drive through.

Waiting for the ferry, a local man in sunglasses, clearly proud of where he comes from, suggests we check out some natural hot springs nearby and of course we do, how Canadian. We drive 10 kilometers on impossibly bumpy gravel, our truck knocking as she rolls from side to side and make it to the trail. This one leads us down and down through the trees to a riverbed, where some-one at some point built walls around the trickling hot springs and made them into pools, slowing their path into the freezing river a little further on. We're alone and it's 1 degree out - we quickly peel off our layers and creep into the water. Even Crux seems glad of the warmth. We test every pool, quietly smug as we make our way back to the car to see that four or five parties have wandered down since we arrived. Those places aren’t made for sharing if you ask me. Or maybe they absolutely are, and I’d be less lonely since moving if I believed that.

Onwards to Revelstoke where, despite having just relocated, I imagine living. Cheaper rent than Squamish and some good shops. I buy a classic Canadian winter jacket, green and fleece lined and down to my knees, almost stiff with its heaviness, and instantly feel more like a local.  We don’t talk much as we drive, we listen to music or podcasts, launching into deep conversation about work and the future from time to time. Rogers’ Pass is on fire that evening, literally – controlled burns release plumes of smoke into the sunset and everything is glowing pink. I know I’ve done this drive before, with my Dad in 01, with my university friend on the Moose Bus in 03, with a boyfriend I should have ditched long before in 04. But I don’t remember it quite like this. Tonight I feel like I’ll never forget it, and as the snow glints with pinky orange light I make sure I remember what this place is called so it comes to mind when we’re planning an adventure on skis.

The next day, winter hits. It really hits, heavy snow, wind and all, and our plans to climb at Lake Louise are scuppered. But that’s ok, we don’t need climbing like we used to. Al might be terrified of waking a grizzly (are they even asleep yet?) but I feign confidence and lead us into the white woods to a frozen lake in Yoho National park. There isn’t a soul around. We throw rocks onto the ice and the sound ripples through it like sonar. Trudging back to the car through the drifts, we keep Crux close in case that bear is sleeping nearby, and as we close the doors on the storm I feel like we’re on a bigger trip again, safe in the truck which doesn’t fret about snow or ice or money or careers or the future or past or what it left behind or is heading towards. Is Crux considering big life questions as he curls up in the back? Probably not – maybe I shouldn’t either. I won’t for a while.

But maybe the most absorbing part of our drive, the Icefield Parkway – 300km between Banff and Jasper, is what I’ll remember most from this outing. I’ve been here before too and I do remember it – walking on a glacier with dad before my last year of high school - but it wasn’t quite winter then. This time everything is white, even long sections of the road, and there are so few cars or people around it’s as though we’re discovering these valleys as we go. We have to come back here, try and climb that peak and that one, look at this country it’s so BIG and frozen and empty! When can we come back and what will we do first and maybe we should move to Alberta and quit everything and be climbers again - no, skiers! Let’s buy a little cabin and…

It takes a week to get tired of diner food and motels. A week to forget that we live here now, that we aren’t driving to the airport at the end of our loop, we're parking outside our home. We can drive back to those peaks any time or get to know the ones just up the road. Winter tickled Squamish while we were away and we ski Paul's Ridge on our route back, which is fitting in a way – another new angle to look at this place we thought we knew from. Eating peanut butter sandwiches in Red Heather hut it dawns on me slowly - we have moved to a place I love, have been in love with for years - we moved here. I’ve been so stressed by it all, by the leaving in order to arrive, by the expense of transplanting ourselves from one continent to another that I couldn’t see this move for what it is. I think of that bank manager as we get out of the truck, gathering our garbage and Crux and his bed and our debris from the drive, and think of my list of pipe dreams, legs stiff, cheeks tingling pink. Being here is an achievement, plain and simple. Our families are so very far away and that stings, but things will calm and we will get better at calling and be climbing bums with a shower to enjoy, with a shelter when it rains, ski bums with a bath to thaw in, with jobs that run alongside. Maybe the frightening part is knowing all that’s left to do here now is settle and enjoy, the hard part is done.

We climb the stairs to our little front door and kick snow from the landing. Crux goes straight to his blanket and we collapse on the couch, our pictures on the walls, our crap scattered on every surface there is. Here we are, we did it.

Explore more of Jen and Alex's work on their website.