Heading west from Edmonton, Julie and I got our first views of the Canadian Rockies while in Dennis's semi-truck. Dramatically-far-off triangles sprung above the highway's rural horizon.
We entered Jasper National Park, where the altitude slowly climbed up beside our road. Mountains abounded, all dwarfed by one snow-white wedge that stuck up from a crowded cliff peak. Smoke leaked from slope-clinging forests subdued by fire, and helicopters motored overhead towing bladders of water. There were flat patches where wide, shallow rivers fed jasper trees and spruces, and Dennis was surprised we didn't see any elk.
Julie and I found Johnny and Adam on the quaint, tourist-targeted streets of the town of Jasper. Those two had been driven into town by Nathalie, a confident girl our age whose hair was a nice, light shade of blond. Nathalie nicely let all of us sleep in her house the next three nights - although, most of us only slept there twice.
Nathalie nicely drove us to hiking paths during the daytime, too. We hiked the Valley of Five Lakes one day. The path led through tall jasper forest, along the barren sides of steep hills, and atop a mountain crag that looked down upon a pine maze below.
The first lake was a clear, minty green, so mind-enliveningly transparent that the fish seemed to be flying in light-green air and that the liquid mountains in lake reflections seemed real and concrete. From there, we passed a yellow lake littered with full-size logs, a long, true blue lake hidden behind old-growth forest, a listerine-green lake, and a final one colored mustard-yellow.
The following day, we braved Jasper National Park's forest-fire smoke to hike at Maligne Canyon. Here, rock walls, some wet from dripping streams, led way, way down a narrow gorge to flushing crystal blue water. Some hardy pine trees grew out of the gorge walls. The canyon tumbled down to a rapids-filled river, where some of us jumped in for an exhilirating-cold plunge.
This was also the spot where our group of hungry hikers all gasped in one single stomach-rumble for sustenance. As per usual, we only had with us supplies for pb&j's (peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches). Now, we'd all earned on this trip, through our displays of skills, various job designations which were essential for the proper functioning of our group. Johnny was the dish-washer. Adam was the chef, driver, and map-reader. Julie started our campfires. And I made the pb&j's.
Johnny, Adam, Julie, and French-Canadian Francis - who was hiking with us - voiced their sandwich requests. The pressure was on. We five hikers needed to be fed quick. There could be no dropping the knife in the dirt now.
I deftfully manufactured all five pb&j's at once, lining the bread slices out all over my belly and windpants. A lot of pb&j-makers mistakenly make one sandwich then the next, but I utilize an assembly-line-like production method. My brain processed the orders: two slices with creamy peanut butter; three slices with strawberry jelly; three slices with crunchy peanut butter; one no-jelly for Francis; and one slice of lemon-orange-and-pineapple marmelade for me, because I'd bought a whole litre of it due to its low price in Saskatchewan and now I was stuck eating the whole thing because nobody could tolerate it but me. I put the slices together and cut the sandwiches: one no-cut for Francis; three cuts-down-the-middle; and one diagonal cut for me.
Mm, mm, the sandwiches were tasty. My pb&j-making skills, acquired over a whole summer of cross-Canada low-budget dieting, shone as bright as the glacial green that rushed through the river beside us. The energy consumed carried us on through forest to a big lake, whose fringes were a bright light blue and whose center became normal blue. Mm, mm, beautiful.
On the hike back to town we saw elk - tall, strong-bodied creatures with long, black rods for antlers.
The town of Jasper was as fun by night as the town's surroundings were beautiful by day. We Canada-trekkers went out every night to a bar for young people, named Pete's.
Our second night in Jasper, the rodeo was in town. Many guys in cowboy hats entered the bar. I grew excited, fondly recalling a dream I had of some day working as a rodeo clown. Francis, the French guy, and I went around to the guys in cowboy hats - we had obviously drunk a bit - seeing if anyone knew how we could get jobs as clowns in the next day's rodeo.
"We are ... aspiring ... to be clowns," said Francis.
I asked one clown, "Do you need an apprentice?"
Ultimately, we got pointed to Kelly, the head bull-fighter. I told him, "I've studied with the Crocodile Hunter."
Kelly was a small cowboy. He was humble and serious and rectangle-headed and very nice. He was interested in our group's cross-Canada trek. He couldn't get me a job as a rodeo clown, but he did say he could get me into the rodeo (I, again, had almost no money) if I showed up the next day.
Meanstwhile, in other goings-on, it was Hip-Hop Night at Pete's. My friends, Adam and Johnny, lived near downtown Baltimore and were great hip-hop dancers. They had met two short blond girls, and they were bumping and grinding quite happily on the dance-floor. Party-boy Adam put his leg up in the air as he bounced with his girl. Things were going well.
Off the dance-floor, Julie and Francis were putting their arms around one another and getting pretty close. It had only been two days since I scored our summer's first kiss, and now all of us were getting into it. Woohoo for Johnny, Adam, and Julie! Go Jasper!
I returned to Nathalie's house all by myself that night, wondering what my friends were up to. I was lonely, yeah, but I was happy to be going to the rodeo the next evening.
Kelly came through on his offer to get me in for free. I was grateful; it was an awesome spectacle. Cowboys competed on bucking broncos, getting tossed around as they tried to steady the crazy horses. In other events, cowboys tried lasso-ing and tying steers (baby cows) or fell off their horses and tried wrestling steers by their horns to the ground. Rodeo steers have the worst job ever.
There were also trick-riders. A fifteen-year-old brunette girl, wearing neon orange, directed her speeding horse around the dirt floor, and she stuck her standing body way in the air or hung upside-down. The other woman, a blond in her late fifties or sixties, wearing neon green, hung around backwards from her speeding horse from one foot and touched the soil with her other foot.
The final event was bull-riding. The huge, wildly-bucking beasts ping-ponged the riders between their backs and their necks. The cowboys, in their stirrups and hats, looked tough, but most didn't last eight seconds on the sand-brown tanks.
Kelly, the bull-fighter, was right on the soil for this event. He looked so small in a blue-jean shirt, a cowboy hat, and a loose diaper-like cloth. It was his job to protect the fallen riders and get between them and the twirling bulls. Some times, the bulls chased him up the corral. Other times, he had no choice but to jump in front of the pissed-off bulls' faces. His look was serious, his actions deliberate. He was ready to grab the bulls' horns to avoid them if things got really dangerous.
Kelly's act was my favorite of the show. I regretted I'd told him I could do his heroic job.
I was happy to see him again that night at Pete's.
A beautiful girl in tight red was all over him, but he was calm as usual. He excused himself from the girl to talk to me for a second.
"I was really glad you got in there. I was really glad you made it," he said. I commended him on his bull-fighting. He said he'd come to know and understand a lot about animals' habits.
"Oh, I wanted to put on a good show for you." He was sad that the bull-riding event had only lasted a couple minutes.
He was a really nice, simple guy. You could tell he came from an honest, hard-working life-style more natural than ours. He seemed to regard every person and every word he said as something serious, that really made this world great. Talking with him wasn't like talking with most people.
Maybe Francis and I really should aspire to be rodeo clowns, or bull-fighters. We definitely shouldn't aspire to be rodeo steers.
More from the Canadian Rockies up next. - Modern Oddyseus
with Johnny, Adam, and Julie
Thanks to Nathan; and Dennis for the rides!
Much thanks to Nathalie & Matt for the place to stay!
NOTEABLE WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS: elk