20-years-ago today, I finished my day in Keremeos, a little town of 1500 people in the Similkameen valley in the southern interior of British Columbia.
Before leaving Penticton where we marked New Years, Bevin Palmateer drove me back to Kelowna to do an interview on a stand-alone country radio station that has a clear signal that carries from the United States border, well up into the B.C. interior. It really reminded me of my first days in radio at CKOX in Woodstock in the mid-sixties. I suppose you have to be a broadcaster to understand this, but at this radio station, the plastic commercial cartridges which are about the size of a small paper-back book and contain the sponsors recorded message, were still inserted by hand into the equipment that would play those messages over the air. A far cry from the digital world of today.
The good thing is the station programming format consisted of live announcers 24 hours a day. Again, a far cry from today.
Coming from a radio news background, I really liked the sign on the wall in the studio I was sitting in. It said, “All the technology in world won’t help if the people you are putting on the air aren’t skilled communicators. At the end of the day, news is still storytelling and writing.”
Back on the road that morning it was grey and raining, with a lot of low-hanging clouds, as we wound our way up and down the narrow and twisting mountain roads using our walkie-talkies and playing the cat-and-mouse game with the follow van and the RCMP to keep things safe. (You can read how the cat-and-mouse game works in blog posting #22 from September 12, 2018)
There are signs at the tops of these very steep hills to remind transport truck drivers to check their breaks and snow chains before beginning their decent. The picture below is a bit fuzzy, but we were being funny when I had my picture taken checking the bottom of my running shoes for good traction before starting one of those steep downhill sections.
The other thing we see a lot of along this stretch of road are the ‘run-away lanes’ on the downhill stretches. If you aren’t familiar with the run-away lanes, draw a picture in your mind of an Olympic ski jump. The run-away lane is at the bottom a hill and veers off the side of the road. If a driver has lost his breaks, he can steer the truck into the run-away lane which is about a hundred yards in length and cut out of the woods. This is a dirt road that is built up sharply to bring the truck to a halt. It’s a bit like the end of the ski jump except the very end faces skyword and its much steeper. I’m glad we didn’t have to see how this works in real time.
These are the kinds of things I had never seen back home in Ontario. The other things I had never seen before were the snow sheds in the mountains. They are a bit like a giant car port. The Tran-Canada Highway is protected overhead by the snow sheds which carry any avalanche snow over the highway and down into the next valley. The Department of Transport would not allow me to walk through the snow sheds as we would pose a hazard for motorists. I totally understood their reasoning.
The other thing I had never seen before involved the military. Canons were parked in giant cut-outs at the side of the road. When these guns were fired, the sound waves would cause a small avalanche rather than waiting for the snow build up to be so huge that it posed a serious threat if an avalanche occurred.
When we reached the snow sheds, these are the times when I would have to go back and repeat distance on the highway to make up for the snow sheds and keep our numbers true. We had done the same thing all across Canada whenever we encountered construction. In walking across Canada, I made sure I walked across all of Canada.
(Editors note: One thing I have not done in these postings is to transcribe anything from the pages of my journal exactly as I wrote it at the time. Today, let me share just one day on the road, exactly as I wrote it. The parts in brackets are there to help identify people.)
Day 271 – Monday January 4 – Princeton, B.C.
I was up at 4:45 this morning to do an interview with Liz Rigney on “Breakfast Television in Halifax. Later in the day I talked to Jane Morrison (volunteer in Halifax) and she said it had been a great interview. Then I did my morning interview with Steve Garrison (London morning host) on CJBK. Steve was asking what I want to do when I come home. I have just in the past few days started to think about that. Outside I had to deal with freezing rain, and it looked like we were in for a tough morning. The first three sessions were very tough as the footing was difficult, especially on the banked curves and I was really sweating because I had my rain gear on, and my leather boots as well seemed to make everything seem very heavy. I think we could be up against the same kind of weather for the rest of the week. A few people stopped to make donations in the morning, and it seemed like they all wanted to shake my hand. At lunch Ed made chilli which was nice on a rather dull wet day with a lot of low hanging clouds on the mountains. In the afternoon we made our final stop at a place that sold model trains. Ted Eadinger (volunteer road manager) and I laughed because the place was closed. We felt like we had been cheated!! When it was getting dark on the highway we came across an accident where a van had slid off the road and was upside down at the bottom of a cliff, the tow-truck guys asked if I was the guy walking across Canada. When I said yes they shook my hand and made a donation. The older guy said, “Keep her going pal—you’re doing a good job.” I asked if anybody had been killed in the accident and they said no but the driver was in hospital. A little further down the road a young girl asked for my autograph. She didn’t even ask who I was. She apparently already knew. After we reached the end of our day—we checked into the Best Western in Penticton, B.C. Ed and I had supper on board the motor home (pork chops, shrimp and butter tarts), I called Peter and Ann (great friends and volunteers) before supper just to find out what they had been doing. I also called Jane Morrison back in Halifax just to have a chat that was long overdue. Ed did my legs and I watch Russia beat the Czechs 3-2. Canada earlier beat Sweden 6-1. Tomorrow it’s the gold medal game for Russia and Canada. For me it’s another day on the road. 14 road days left to go.
As the finish line was drawing nearer and nearer, I found myself thinking more and more about why I was out here. (See the picture at top for the answer to that question)
And so it went on Day 271.
Stay tuned. The Journey continues…..