Saturday, November 30, 2013

Long Drive to Winnipeg, MB

I stay in the Lincoln Hotel. Snug in the parking lot across from the gig. There's no passenger service here in Moose Jaw, but the trains are banging and moaning all night long. I'm tired of waking up and going back to sleep, so I look for a Tim's in the pre-dawn darkness, cafinate, and get out on the slippery, fog covered highway.

Everything, including the car, is covered in a layer of frost. The longer I drive, the thicker it gets. I stop at Whitewood, SK, to scrape some off, and wait out the fog. I've already had four or five hours of it, so I'm ready to keep drinking coffee for a while.

Friendly Manitoba. I'm cutting through the back roads to tonight's destination.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Calgary, Alberta to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

This young guy can't say Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, yet- but he's my biggest fan on this trip to Calgary. Hi Nox! Here's your picture!

Calgary is a good sized city now, but it still doesn't take long to get over the Trail roads and back on the open highway. My visit was too short- plenty of folks I was not able to see. The Ironwood is one of Canada's very best small concert stages, and I'm hoping to return to it in August. Yup, a little summer tour in the west Canada region, and a few festivals to tie it all down.

The days are pretty short now at this latitude. Dusk seems to start in mid-afternoon, and there is not much light at eight in the morning, either. At least these roads are free of snow and ice as I point the big Lincoln towards Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. I'll be passing the spot where I had my wreck last year, and I do feel a little uneasy that the light is already fading...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Over the Hump- I Say Farewell to the Rockies

I don't know if I've ever been in a mountain town with more hustle than Banff, AB. It's just on the edge of ski season, and the kids from Oz are crowded into the coffee joints, earnestly interviewing for jobs that will get them close to the slopes, close to the party. Downtown shows have rarely been fun here. Well, not fun to play- the fun just never stops for the money. The labour is largely imported and musicians- like servers, drivers, clerks and cooks- have their place.

Time to get out of town. It is a little disconcerting to note that "RCMP Surveillance Van 4" continues to figure prominently in my computer's little wifi scanner. I'm looking for free wifi to send my email, and these guys are still out playing cowboys. I hope they like the Blog, and hope that I get out of town without being stopped. Of course there is a chance that they are monitoring the communications of the ex-diplomat at whose home I've been staying. But that's another story for another time and place.

Rolling east out of Banff, through Dead Man's Flat, and soon the mountains are shrinking in the rear view mirror. Calgary casts up a little haze in the distance. Oil town. Cow town. It's a whole lot friendlier than one might think. This place has grown so fast that it is filled with people from other territories. Folks talk to each other. Compare notes. Exchange numbers. Great music scene. Several great venues. Big summer festivals...

I always look forward to playing southwest Alberta. The back end of this tour is not as tight as I'd like- there are some gaps this year, some places that just didn't get tied in early enough. It's been almost a year since my car crash, and the ratty end on this Tour is pretty much directly related to the time lost in that wreck. Yet, not a day goes by when I'm not reminded of how lucky I am to be out here doing this. I hope to stay lucky for the next couple weeks as I nurse this Tour in an eastward direction. Friends up and down the line help make my life possible! Maybe I'll get some extra shows in the badlands during good weather. I am coming back to western Canada in the summer to perform at some festivals- Salmon Arm Roots and Blues is now confirmed, others to follow.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Winter Roads: Yellowhead to Jasper: Icefield Parkway to Banff, AB

The continuing story of my winter road terrors! I had thought I was pretty much over my accident, but I'm realizing that I've lost a lot of my nerve for the snowy mountain roads. I wouldn't have blinked at these roads before. Now I'm up at night checking the weather, looking at road reports, worrying about the drive. So, here I go- out of Prince George, BC. I'm rolling along the Yellowhead Highway headed for Jasper, AB. I've got two down days ahead of me, so I'm going to stay with friends in Banff, AB. But first I need to get to Jasper!

The sky brightens up, but the road is ice streaked, slippery. Very few vehicles out here, so it's no problem for me to continue at a fairly slow rate of speed. At least it's not snowing now! Overnight, there has been snow in some of the higher elevations- and here it has been packed down, partially melted, and re-frozen. An hour into the ride, I'm moving slowly. No sand or salt on this section.

It's a pretty day out here. I'm just moving slow and steady, looking at the mountains and wondering about the elevation ahead.

Approaching Jasper, AB- I've crossed the time line and the roads are now clearer, even dry in sections.

After a fuel stop in Jasper, AB, I leave the Yellowhead Highway. It's getting later in the day, but I've got hours ahead of me yet. Now I'm heading south, on the legendary Icefield Parkway. The sun is setting, and there is no traffic on this road!

Glooming mountains in the distance as dark settles in. The road will soon start to twist, rise, slip and slide into a black night. In four hours I make it to Route 1, and a short run to Banff. Scotch is in order now! Made it!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Snowy Prince George, BC

It wasn't all as smooth as this. In fact, the last couple hours were pretty crazy. But I made Prince George in about eight hours. Just in time to set up for my first show. Two shows here tonight at different locations. It's snowing. The roads are a mess. It's that kind of night. Again, I'm surprised by the number of local blues people who took the trouble to come out. I've been playing this town for quite a few years now, and it's always very friendly. It would be nice to do a fly in here, or visit in the good weather!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Wheels Pointed East

A break in the rain. It always seems to rain in Prince Rupert. I've never been here in good weather- I'm usually here in November or December. Fall storms rolling in. Rain. More rain. Snow. More rain. Wet feet. Why do my boots always leak here? Why do I park in puddles? I've been up since early. My room overlooks the Cow Bay Harbour. It's a mix of fishing boats, pleasure craft, water taxis. Beyond, the shadows of the ocean freighters form a long line. This is a growing international port- a sort of northwest passage for containers- but still has a small town feel.

Phone boxes like these are vanishing. I've been checking the road reports- there was quite a bit of snow over the last couple of days. I'm expecting flurries today, and slush covered roads. The good news is that the mountain passes are fairly low elevation. Still, I worry all the time now, and I'm heading out for an early start on what may be a long drive to today's show in New Hazelton, BC.

I bid good-bye to my hosts at the Eagle Bluff B&B. I've stayed here a few times now. Hands down the best place to stay in Prince Rupert. It's all about boats and the water here, so you might as well be in the heart of it. Cow Bay. The gig last night was pretty good- new faces and old. I met the local Cal Tire manager, and he invited me by the shop this morning to talk tires and snow. Apparently my tires are really good- not the greatest for very cold weather, but top notch for what I usually drive. We decide that chains would be a good idea, but nobody has my odd tire size in stock. My heart sinks. I do not want to head into the mountains again without chains. But off I go.

It's a little slippy, but there is not much traffic on Hwy 16, The Yellowhead, The Highway of Tears. There are some covered sections, but mostly it's better than anticipated. I take my time. In Terrace, I stop at a Canadian Tire, and find the tire chains I'm looking for. Tim's for coffee, and I'm back on the road.

Just dark when I reach New Hazelton. It's a house concert here. The woodstoves are fired up. Soup's on the stove. I have time for a little snooze before showtime.

A small crowd here tonight, but I have a very good time. I know I played well. We start early, end early, drink red wine. Again, life is good. I bring the Blues to Your Town. In the morning, I'll check the road reports again. I've got a long mountain drive to Prince George.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Northern Expedition: In Which I Set to Sea

Billed out, I'm bound to go. I've got a travel day ahead of me. I'll drive the length of Vancouver Island, and catch a ship up the Inland Passage- bound for Prince Rupert. The day is looking good, but it is going to be about six hours of driving to make it to Port Hardy, BC in time.

My quarters! It will be dark soon, and without cell or internet I'll settle in to read Faulkner. This ship is big enough to carry several hundred passengers, but today there are perhaps twenty. A quiet ride. I have a drink on the deck as we leave port in the fading light. I don't mind having the night off. I'll leave the driving to the Captain, and hope the seas are calm.