It was quite unremarkable, really, sitting like a lump of decaying wood along the icy road about 200m away. But, then, it’s totally remarkable because it’s my first bear and it blows my mind that one minute I could be standing in the boss’s office mouthing off about paper cuts and, two minutes later, I’m looking at a wild bear. Once again, welcome to Canada.
Over the past two months, whitewashed snow has become the norm. I have a clearer memory of my own birth than I do of the long stretches of red dirt that I used to call home. Any sort of knowledge that the sun actually emits heat and my tan are long gone. It’s been fascinating to see how the environment affects everyday life, on a completely different end of the spectrum to the extreme heat we had in Australia. When we arrived they were warning us about frost bite. The guys working in the field had to utilise a buddy system to avoid frost bite. Red spots on the face are not a good sign, apparently.
Then we went fishing with one of the best looking older guys I’ve ever met. We raced along on our snow sleds, brushing past fences, across lakes and down the road on the ultimate all-terrain vehicle to find a spot on the ice This took trust to entirely new heights, before we drilled a large hole in the ice, our only protection from the pit of hypothermia below us. We sipped whiskey for warmth and waited for the fish to jump on the end of our tiny fishing lines. In an interesting twist, you could see right into the hole when sitting inside the igloo tent that was only marginally warmer than the blizzard outside. Despite the pond entertainment, we couldn’t wait as long here as you would in Australia because, once again, frost bite is a real thing. I’d always just thought it was something that happened when you left meat too long in the freezer. In case you were wondering, we didn’t catch any fish but both our companions showed us the ropes – one even stuck his shoe in the hole to kick the pickerel on to the ice. I think the fish had begun to understand the intentions of the crew in the igloo and wanted to take his chances in the freezer of water below the ice.
Aside from frostbite, driving on slick icy roads can be more perilous than people who refuse to vaccinate their children. We found the highway could also create tension between driver and passenger with the icy verges. Our intuition to drive on the left side of the road also posed some serious hazards. I don’t think Ben or I have ever been honked at so many times. Please note, driving the wrong way down the street or off exit ramps is unacceptable in Canada. Maybe we would have been more comfortable in India.
Back at work, we started to hear murmurs of the snow melting and f the hardware stores were flooded with requests for rubber boots. The great thaw, so far, has been everything it’s been talked about. Underfoot it’s boggier than the Blues Festival after a thunderstorm. But this mud is booby trapped with the added bonus of icy puddles underneath. These mini-skate-rinks are just waiting to send you on a graceless slip. It makes a pile of banana skins look benevolent. Just walking around outside gives you the sort of ominous sensation you get walking around on slimy concrete at the bottom of a boat ramp, but without any visual aid. As my Dad would say, it’s slippery as a butcher’s dick. So, we have the sunny days and the snow melts, then it’s icy, then that ice melts and it’s muddier than a pigsty after a flood and then, of course, there are other days when it won’t stop snowing. Like today. Ben’s crew had their bus freeze to the ground overnight and the lads had to push it out. Never a dull moment.
All of the extreme weather can lead one to think about what benefits the thaw could bring, aside from sneaky thoughts about exposing your skin to outside air and possibly even the sun’s rays. And that’s how we get to gold panning. Obviously when all that snow melts in the mountains, we’re going to have some serious gold sediments washing downstream. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity last break and headed out into a valley in the Rockies, just over the border in British Columbia. We borrowed a sluice, stocked up on snacks and hit the mountains. Of course, we were over-eager and perhaps a month too early for all the streams were still covered in snow and the banks were thick enough to support our weight, but thin enough to leave cheeky cheating-death looks on our faces. Not much trust on this ice. We found some bear tracks on the river bank and became more paranoid than a stoner driving past a cop car, but resolved that if the bear could walk on the ice, so could we!
So this next break we have big plans, the gold will be ours and because the climate is just so versatile, we’ll probably also go skiing, and then, the break after that, we might just bust in a trip down to Central America, to see if the sun still does that thing where it makes you warm.