My first trip to Canada wasn’t until I was 20. Somehow, I just hadn’t made it up there. My parents were going in that direction over spring break. It included a visit with my grandfather, but we would go to Banff and see the Canadian Rockies. I offered to ride along. This trip had a variety of difficulties.
Our first trouble was between Mom, Dad, and the driving. Mom does the driving in our family, Dad navigates, and I keep to myself in the back. However, there seemed to be a breakdown in communication at some point. I’m usually under headphones and not paying attention to them. I was alerted to the problem when I heard them in the back.
My Mom drove a 2004 GMC Sierra 1/2 pickup truck. It was loud, so there was yelling involved. I took off my headphones to figure out what was wrong. My parents aren’t typically the yelling type. Apparently, some directions had gone wrong. Now you have to understand that often, while we are tourists, we try not to act like tourists, and my Mom does not countenance driving like a tourist. To quiet things down, I volunteered to navigate. We must have been in Montana, which required some advanced navigation. I did not do very well, and soon things broke down that way too.
This is when I discovered what the issue was about. Mom had been getting a little scared with the driving, and my poor Dad couldn’t take it anymore. So then, we switched these things up, and I drove with Dad on navigation and Mom in the back. Now, it’s important to note that my Mom did not teach me how to drive. She surrendered that honour to my Dad. Mom isn’t a fan of my driving. Even today, as I am writing this, I’m nearly 34, and she only recently admitted that I was good at driving. I’m 20 now, so I was a decade away from competence.
After two hours, she couldn’t take it anymore. I had only driven her truck a few times, and I’m not one to keep a lane. The “Lane departure signal” in my car gets a workout. The truck is bigger and broader than my van, so I’m doing my best, but not good enough for my Mom. So, we returned to our regular positions, confident that this experiment should never be tried again.
The next problem was at the Canadian border. Apparently, we had too much stuff for only 3 people. However, when driving, our family tends to travel like Victorians. We bring all our creature comforts, and I still do that to this day, when I drive.
When we arrived in Canada, we stayed in a pleasant enough hotel. It had a great view of the Canadian Rockies. However, when we first arrived, my parents left me sleeping in the back of the truck. When I woke up, they were gone, with no idea where they had gone. I had not changed my money into Canadian money, and I was hungry. So, I left, locked the truck behind me, and made my way toward the little gaggle of shops and restaurants we had parked near. For some reason, they saw no reason to wake me up. I wasn’t exactly dressed for the weather and couldn’t get to any of my better clothes. My first mission was to change money and then explore on my own. I will admit that I was very annoyed by the whole thing. Eventually, I caught up with my parents and ate in a restaurant.
As I recall, it was a local burger place, and it wasn’t bad. However, in my explorations, I found the best-used bookshop. The shopping center was mostly an indoor strip mall. You can tell it was built in the 1980s because everything was shades of brown, from the wood trim around the shops to the brown tile on the floor. This little bookshop was down in the second story of the little mall. Like a moth to a flame, I had to go inside. The owner was very intriguing, and we talked at length about books. I had only been writing for a few years and had no idea how I would turn my writing desire into writing reality. I bought a few books, took his card, and offered to stay in touch and help him find books in the United States. We never managed to do anything with that, but we exchanged email messages a few years after that. There wasn’t much left of that trip. We had managed to make our family visit my Granddad in Polson, and we had toured through a bit of Canada that he said was his favourite. We then hurried home, with our new story about the difficulties of crossing one of the world’s longest land borders.
My next trip to Canada happened just a few years ago, in 2019. I should note, that I made a video of this trip apart from my greater journey to the East Coast at the time. You can see it on my YouTube Channel. I decided to move from Seattle to West Virginia to start The Cameron Journal and lower my living costs. That trip is a separate story, so that I won’t recount it here. I applied and was able to do a residency with the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. So in the middle of moving to the East Coast, I took off to Canada. For this trip, I had my 2001 Audi A 6, a faithful car, and Quattro, which means I was well-equipped for the snow. It also wasn’t a light car, which was helpful for winter driving. I left most of my stuff at my parent’s house in Denver and dashed across the snowy front range through Wyoming. Wyoming along I-80 is busy, but I-25 stretches out over the plains of northern Wyoming and is relatively quiet. There are fewer trucks out there and practically no passenger cars. This is doubly so in Winter. I don’t mind the recent snow on the roads as long as it’s not snowing while driving. This was the case on this day.
During the summer, Wyoming is fairly brown and dry. It’s a desert with some green. In the rolling hills approaching Casper and Gillette, the plains become hills, flat but rolling. With snow, they become the little hobbit houses of now. The snow stays on the top, and you can see the brown soil poking out underneath. And as you’re whizzing by at 75 or 80 and sometimes even 85 miles (ca. 137 km) an hour, you get to pass these hills with their caps of white. They almost look cute. Of course, like I-80, there are snow fences aplenty. However, I-25 is closer to the mountains and is more protected than the open plain in the south of the state. I started my journey on the 25th of February, so it was well into winter, and while it was cold in Denver, the temperature began dropping in Cheyenne and continued to plummet all day until I reached Billings. I knew it would be a problem, so I had a plan.
I did not have a block warmer for my engine, so I resolved to sleep in two shifts. I would start the car before I went to bed and then get up at 5 AM, start the car, let it warm up, drive around a little, and then shut it down so that when I returned at 10 AM, it would be able to start. I had my first practice that night in Billings. I had a chance to warm up in the hotel's hot tub and made a new friend with the hotel front desk man. We connected the moment I checked in and started talking about life.
At that time, I was just about to publish my first novel and, as some will know, features a time in prison in part two. We started talking about his experience with incarceration. He had moved from Arizona to Billings several years before. Needless to say that being young, tall, white, and a party boy, he quickly managed to get himself into trouble. Fortunately, he got out and got a good job at the hotel. We talked at length about how few supports exist for those leaving the prison system, which only ends in recidivism. Luckily, a female guard gave him a little money and drove him to Walmart to get clothes and basic hygiene supplies. I think he tried to get to run some drugs for him, but I demurred on that point. I am many things, but drug runner is not one of them.
When I arrived at the Canadian border, I expected a fairly straightforward border crossing, but it was not meant to be. They pulled me inside to inspect my passport, ask if I had enough money for a month-long stay, and ensure that I wasn’t “working” in any official capacity. I showed him all my paperwork from the University, and that I was paying to do this, they weren’t paying me. After 30 minutes of sitting in a chair waiting for a nice man to copy all my paperwork and passport, I was released to enter Canada.
I made my way to Lethbridge before heading to Crow’s Nest Pass. I stayed at a little Econo Lodge. Ironically, their big selling point was their Bridal Suite. I’m unsure who gets married and wants to start their married life at the Econo Lodge, but the bridal suite is available there. This motel was awkward because there was no parking, and I saw no blushing brides nearby. So, I ended up parking on the street. No trouble there, but it became a bit of an issue when it came to making sure my car would start. I repeated my pattern of starting the car and letting it warm up before bed. This time, however, due to crossing Montana in a series of small towns with unplowed roads, my wheel wells were caked in ice. I took to breaking off all the ice and soon realized that -29 was no joke when my fingers began to fail. I seize on some gloves and continued my work. I drove around the block a few times to get the car nice and toasty and then put it back on the street across from the motel. I was up early to start it and let it warm as I got ready for the Crow’s Nest Pass drive. Somehow in all my planning, I didn’t realize that the writing residency was not in Lethbridge but nearly on the British Columbia border. I had 80 miles (ca. 129 km) of snowy, mountain driving ahead. I made my way out of Lethbridge and started into the mountains. After an hour and a half of driving, I finally arrived at the little house where I would stay for the next month.
This little place was unique as it started out life as a photographer’s studio. The studio and house were rented to artists separately. The photo studio had dramatic skylights (for obvious reasons) and was larger than my small cottage. The place was covered in snow, and I could hardly get the car into the rear parking space. I found my Wellington boot covers in the back of the car, but I slipped, fell, and completely ruined my computer monitor. Boot covers on, I found a snow shovel and dug myself a path. I had just finished this when a friendly, bearded, and I might say attractive, fellow arrived to finish the snow shovelling. That was fine with me; I let him do that. I managed to get all the luggage and stuff into the cottage and spoke with him about snow management. He cleared the space for my car so I could put it away.
My first day at the cottage was filled with arranging and unpacking. It was a simple four-square layout. The living room/office dominated the first area where you entered. The large bathroom was behind that. Next to that were the bedroom and the kitchen. The whole place wasn’t more than 800 square feet (0.74 a). The furnace and other maintenance equipment were held in a small basement area. I looked around for restaurants and found the pickings rather slim, but I got some food at a small café. They didn’t have much, but it was enough to get me through my first day, and I resolved to go grocery shopping the next day. I noticed that there was an independent grocery nearby. It was also near a liquor shop and a vape shop. I had all my needs met with those things in proximity.
After my grocery shopping trip, I set up my office and set about getting to work. My days there were pleasant. It was just me in my little cottage, the snow falling outside, and the train passing by every hour or so. The cottage was right near a rail line that had caused the town to exist in the first place. Unfortunately, freight in Canada is constantly moving, so the hours were punctuated by train whistles as yet another train passed. This happened day or night. The first few nights of sleeping were not easy with the train sounds, but I could block it out after a week.
As I said, I was making a travel film on this trip, so I wanted to get some film of the local sites. I did a complete tour of downtown and then visited the Frank Rock Slide. A tragedy occurred in the early 20th century, the mountain about 20 minutes (by car) south of town was unstable, and one night, without warning, an entire side of the mountain slipped off and slid into the valley below. Because it happened at night and with only seconds of warning, over a dozen people died in their beds, crushed by rocks the size of houses and cars. Frank's entire town disappeared, forcing the residents to move to the other mountain towns nearby. The train tracks disappeared under rocky rubble. Recovery efforts took weeks. The best part is that you can see the rocks that came down the mountain from the proper vantage point. Even though the railroad and highway traverse the rock field, you can see how the mountain just slid right off as a giant hand of a toddler swiped at it and caused it to occur. What is frightening is that the mountain is still incredibly unstable, and more rock slides are anticipated. I had an error in filming and ended up going twice. However, it was beneficial because I photographed the slide at a magic hour when the shadows were long. There is a certain air up there. From the visitor’s center, you can see the entire rock slide and feel the spirits of the people. There is a very odd vibe up there, especially when I was alone. Once I had fixed the camera, the footage came out beautifully.
I spent my time quietly, but I did have a nice time meeting the people in the town. I went to a local barber. The man was in his 90s but gave me the best 1950s-side part haircut he could ask for. I also got a great relationship going with the local pizza shop. They also sold nice bread and ran a brisk take-out business. The little town was practically dying as the mines that supported it had long gone under, but they still had someone to put sand down at all the road intersections. So, every few days, a man with a front loader full of sand would go around and put sand at every intersection, so that when you stopped, you could get going again. There wasn’t much to the town. There was one bar that I didn’t go into. It was in an old barn and looked cool, but with several lifted trucks outside, I didn’t think I would be exactly welcome there. It seemed to be a place dominated by hairy-arsed, working-class guys drinking a lot of beer, which was not exactly my scene. There was a delightful locomotive to commemorate the town’s railroad past. There was also a plaque about the town’s telephone system and how it had to be entirely rebuilt for two years following an earthquake. Imagine no phone service for two years while they restrung phone lines around the entire area.
I have to say that this is one of the few places where I felt genuinely happy. I had everything I needed. I had space to work and time to relax. I was able to enjoy myself. I met a very nice girl who we’ll call “Ellie.” We didn’t get much time to hang out as we were both busy working, but I made her dinner a few times (no strings attached, no hang-out needed, just food for the cause of art), and we stayed in touch over social media. She’s a brilliant guitarist and musician who travels all over. I enjoy seeing her on her journeys.
By late March, when I was ready to return to the U.S. and continue my east coast move, the snowy weather had passed, the snow had mostly melted, and the skies had opened up into a lovely shade of blue. The drive down from Crow’s Nest Pass was a vision of Rocky Mountain Majesty as the mountains faded away and gave way to southern Canada's plains and the United States' upper west. Grasses, wheat fields, and rolling hills hidden under snow were now visible, providing a different landscape view. This continued to the U.S. border, where I had more border drama.
The U.S. inspector wanted to know why my address was in Seattle this time, but I was crossing at I-15 and not I-5. I then had to explain that I was moving. Briefly, all my stuff was at my parent’s house, and I needed to go to Denver, not back to Seattle. The little window closed while he examined my passport. He then bade me to leave the post quickly. He nearly tossed my passport back into my car. I took the hint and pulled forward and back into the United States.
The speed limit in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming is 85 mph (ca. 137 km/h), and I took full advantage of that to get back to Denver. I’m unsure where I stopped to sleep, as I could not do the trip in one leg, but I returned to Denver. I have to say that the Gushul Writing Residency was one of my most memorable trips, and I would happily return to that little mountain town any time.
An unfinished coloring book (A Short Story Collection) by Cameron Cowan
an unfinished coloring book is a collection of short stories from Cameron Cowan. These short stories explore dramatic moments in the lives of everyday people. The collection also features the exclusive release of The RKO Killer: An I.G. Farben Mystery.
The collection includes:
What happens to the employees of a diner that are being torn down to make way for a new interstate? This is their last night in The Diner.
The Swedish Connection
Two artists, one relationship failing, and a really bad bottle of alcohol. Two men talk about their lives, their hurts, and their problems over one really bad bottle of vodka that they can't stop drinking.
The Kingdom of Nordstrom
The world has ended and the air had gone sour. One drifter finds a colony of people surviving in a derelict mall in Tacoma. Will he stay in this new kingdom or will he continue to wander the highways?
America Discount World
Set in the near future, America's cultural heritage is on sale to the highest bidder. Dale has made a life selling off America's cultural heritage and when a soon-to-be-divorced reporter comes to interview him about it; a new relationship just may form.
The Classy Drug Dealer
Andrej leads a quiet life running his dry cleaning and laundrette. However, it is only a front for his real business. When the consequences of his actions walk through the door one night, Andrej is forced to sacrifice everything, even his own life.
Set amid the California housing crisis, 4 tenants in an aging building try to figure out how to survive in a world that is trying to kill poor people and preventing them from surviving and living.
The cold war is on and America is building its nuclear arsenal. Set in the years at the end of Vietnam, one man gets a job making nuclear triggers at a Colorado plant. This is his story.
What is a teenager is a bland suburb supposed to do on the weekends? In this story, two boys find a great place to party and we learn about the secret and seedy underworld of the American suburb.
Topher has just a few hours to get to the lottery office in Olympia, WA to turn in a lottery ticket that will change his life. There's only one problem: he has no way to get there. Will he make it? Can he get the money in time?
The RKO Killer
In this collection exclusive, Isaac Farben is hired by KYW radio in Chicago during the roaring 1920s to find a criminal who is making headlines for an exclusive radio interview. Farben travels with his trusty assistants Mr. and Mrs. Rustin and Anna Fowler to southern Illinois to find this man and bring him back to the radio station.