I Met an Ice Road Trucker…and a Former Defense Policy Advisor to the Minister of Ottawa

The trucker’s name was Wally, and the policy advisor/consultant’s name was Richard. (Hi, gentlemen…I hope you get to read this.) These two are among a number of people I’ve met on the road in the past couple of weeks. Interestingly, most of the people I talked with long enough to find out their story…are men.

Say hello to a man and you learn his life’s story. Say hello to a woman and she looks at you suspiciously and wants to know what you want.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but I couldn’t resist. Sorry guys, but you know there’s some truth to it! Sorry to the women I’ve met, too. You are just as important as the men. It’s just that I’m learning I have to make more of an effort. I need to be the one to ask you questions.

For example, I spent the afternoon at the laundromat the other day in Crowsnest Pass, AB. The woman who owns the store was very gracious to me. She changed a bunch of money to Canadian currency, she allowed me to camp out for a few hours using an upside-down tub in a laundry cart as a desk. And she made the most amazing wonton soup and egg roll. (They are different from the ones back home, by the way…bigger, smoother batter…really, really good!) Her young daughter “worked” with me at a little desk in the laundry room. But I know very little else about her.

The clerk at the store was a lifesaver…she explained some things about Canadian money. She introduced me to candy bars that were spelled almost like my name. I know she has a daughter. She seems very smart. She smokes. And that’s about all I know.

Wally, on the other hand, told me about his work on the big fire they recently had in the area. He drives a bulldozer, and he joined a fleet of dozers tasked with building earthen barricades against the fire. He told me the stories behind the TWO record antelope bucks he had bagged, about his years on the ice road, and about the time he almost lost the whole truck through the ice. I know he has two daughters, he recently sold his pickup and really regrets it, and he’s divorced.

It was Wally who told me about an 82-year-old woman he had met who traveled up the entire line of the Rockies from Arizona…with three horses and a dog. One horse was for her, the second was her pack horse, and the third had a box lashed to it for the dog. I think he said she had been traveling for four years when he and the crew at the logging camp met her. They took her in for a few days and fed her in return for hearing her story.

I was curious why she was doing it, and he said he didn’t really know. He supposed just because she wanted to, and she could. So she did. Sounds familiar, actually. I guess that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing up here in Canada.

I met Richard in a bar and grill in Banff named Magpie & Stump. It was margarita night, and the waitress warned me when she brought me my Guiness that I might want to choose a different table to work at, because it was liable to get very loud and boisterous…that’s the way margarita night gets every time, she said.

Right after I sat down, an older gentleman stopped to say hello on his way out the door. We started talking and I discovered he had been a policy advisor to the minister of Ottawa. It’s a small world…I was an aide to the governor of Nebraska. I was not near as smart as the governor’s policy advisors, but my experience was similar enough that we had a lot to talk about. I ended up meeting him for dinner the next night to continue the conversation. I learned all about this work, his opinions of Americans and his son who is a fusion-Asian chef in Ottawa.

Today, I met a woman who defies the “what do you want” attitude I get from a lot of women. She wanted to know MY story. I told her I was in Lake Louise because it was my grandma’s favorite place in the whole world, and I had heard about it my whole life. She said I’m on a pilgrimage, and I guess I didn’t realize it, but I kind of am. She took me to the rock box–you know where they sell rocks for almost nothing as souvenirs for kids—and asked me to pick out three rocks. She said I should write a message to my grandma on two of the rocks along with the date and my name, then take them up to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake and leave them in a special place. The third, she said should be a special souvenir for me, and a connection to my Grandma Opal. Well, I don’t mind saying, she brought tears to my eyes. She found a permanent marker for me and wanted to read what I wrote.

So I guess the moral of the story is that no one really fits a mold. Or maybe it’s just that when you go traveling on a pilgrimage, you’ll meet all kinds if wonderful people with amazing stories. Either way, I’m pretty content doing what I’m doing just because I can. I learned a little bit from each person, and I’m the richer for it.


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