Lackaday: I am falling so far behind with these compositions of consciousness that each fleeting thought of writing a new entry triggers a minor anxiety attack. If I succeed in formulating a swift, succinct impression of Nelson, a place that captured my heart and captivated me, then by the end of this piece I shall finally have left British Columbia; at long last, I shall be ready to embark upon a new province and reminiscing upon matters beyond a simple Christmas holiday - I shall be one province closer to the east and only three provinces behind reality! Ah, what more motivation does one need? A paper bag perhaps, but that would merely waste valuable writing time.
I left Kelowna in something of a hurry. Cyrus and Ginette had already vacated the apartment, heading to Delta, Vancouver for the bike-race and leaving me with the prospect of a weekend alone in their pad. Tempting as this option was, sincere as my friends were in assuring me that I was free to remain for as long as I wished, the open road was calling to me and I had a strong desire to reach Canmore, Alberta before much longer, so as to allow myself ample time to visit Aja before Kelsey arrived to whisk me off camping in Kananaskis National Park (but, oh joy, these are future entries). I trawled the internet from the luxury of Cyrus and Ginette's living room and found an advert from 'Jer' for a ride east to Nelson that afternoon. A hasty telephone conversation established that Jer still had space and that I was welcome to join him, but that he was unwilling to battle through Kelowna's rush-hour early evening traffic to come and pick me up… I would have to make my own way to a rendezvous in the north of the city, in a park of which I had become aware through Google maps some ten minutes previously.
The same early evening saw me wandering down the street in the baking sun, hauling my worldly travel possessions behind me, seeking out a bus-stop. This first bus would convey me to a central station, from whence I could catch a second bus out to the suburb and the park from which Jer would collect me. I gave myself an hour for the whole little exodus. Of course, I took some time finding the first bus-stop, sweating - and cursing - profusely. A bus arrived in admirably quick fashion, driven by a friendly, informative chap. From thereonin my journey was straightforward, allowing me chance to sit back, relax and gaze out at the scenes whirring past beyond my window, my thoughts carried away to wander distractedly over the events of the previous days and my hopes for the coming adventures, the as-yet obscured experiences of tomorrow and the next day. I hopped off the bus at the park, ahead of schedule, carried my bags across the road and slumped down upon the luscious, verdant grass. I stretched flat out on my back and stared off into an azure sky, hovering overhead. A light breeze ruffled my hair and the sounds of the city dimmed as my mind erred further from the present. I contemplated my happy existence, grateful once more to be able to pause and reflect upon the rich nature of my travels: the ample time in which to see and do incredible things; the wonderful friends and acquaintances to be met along the way; the over-riding sense that somewhere there must have been a mistake committed that I should enjoy such liberties, in such a prolonged fashion, whilst others toil and strive virtuously to establish careers, families, homes. If I am unable presently to conclude such whimsical journeying, I can at least appreciate in some flawed, humane vein just how fortunate I am leading this unburdened lifestyle. Jer found me in such a melancholic reverie, honouring our agreement, reinforcing my trust in the kindness of strangers and we hit the road, Nelson-bound.
The ride east towards Nelson was picturesque and pretty: stately pines crowded in on the sides of the route, stretching out for miles across distant hills, dipping out of sight into obscured valleys. I telephoned ahead as we enjoyed a rare moment of mobile signal in a typically isolated, quiet road-side town, nourished by the cycle of travellers and commuters passing through, day after day, year upon year. A straightforward call confirmed my stay at a hostel that looked particularly appealing on its website and we entered the city as the sun was setting over the neighbouring peaks, rising up from the banks of a restful lake. I carried my gear inside, thanking Jer as I went, and acquainted myself with the hospitable chap manning the front-desk. I soon settled in and headed back out into the twilight, keen to see something of my new surroundings. I was unable to rendezvous with Jer in a local bar, as tentatively suggested during our car-ride, so I took to the streets and conducted a slow, thoughtful meander along the principal through-fares dissecting the small centre of town. Light spilled out onto cobbled walkways from crowded, boisterous bars, accompanied by music, shouting and laughter. Sprightly trees measured the pavements, conjuring a familiar, homely impression against a backdrop of reassuringly small, seemingly unique shops and stores. Street-lamps, quaintly antiquated in appearance, lit the way, until I turned off onto a quiet side-route and headed back towards "home". At this point the moon shone forth with mystic beauty, lightly illuminating my path, etching shrouded outlines of gate-posts and parked cars, shimmering up from the waters of the lake, seemingly for my benefit alone. I quit this magical, otherworldly scene and returned to my temporary lodgings, to a warm bed and a rejuvenating repose.
I planned to remain only one night in Nelson. If I rose early the following morning and ate sparingly then I would be able to walk swiftly through the central area of town in the contrasting light of day, before exploring something of the lake-side and boarding a ride further east, towards the border with Alberta, later that same evening. This plan melted away in the face of a steady, tranquil onslaught delivered from the shores of the lake to the peaks of the surrounding hills: Nelson gathered me into its glorious embrace and I became contented to remain there, transfixed by restful indolence. I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, when I befriended a family of good-natured Australians holidaying in the local area. Aaron was a particularly warm-hearted individual, whose insightful comments saved the impending disaster that was the worst attempt I have ever made at frying pancakes - cast-iron skillets take some time to heat up and there is nothing worse than trying to cook pancakes in only a lukewarm pan (see Mum; still learning each and every day - and details regarding such important matters too). We shot the breeze for a time, appreciating the ponderous relaxation that so punctuates a holiday atmosphere, before heading our separate ways for the day; Aaron joined his family for a slow stroll around the lake-side, whilst I set my sights on exploring first the lake-side and then a hill-bound lookout, the terminus of a short, steep and very popular local hike.
The Pulpit Hike was scenic, whilst offering a welcome energetic challenge after a morning of dubious-tasting pancakes: arriving atop the summit I was met with lovely views out over the lake, Nelson lying immediately beyond. A smattering of rain swept along the ridge, leaden clouds gathered above and the ominous rumble of thunder crept into the valley from over distant hills. Despite such threats, the scene remained clear enough and dry enough for me to sit appreciatively for some time, befriending other hikers scattered among the rocks that served as rudimentary seats for those resting their legs whilst enjoying the vista before them. It was in the company of one such acquaintance that I descended back to the head of the trail and then caught a ride with back into town. I walked up to the hostel front-desk, a rueful smile upon my face, and asked my friend JF if I could possibly extend my stay another night or two. Of course, JF responded with a knowing smile in return and acquiesced with the easiness instilled in everyone who resides within Nelson for any period of time.
As if I needed any reassurance concerning my decision to tarry awhile in this delightful little place, I had barely returned from checking the internet for rides east out of Nelson (there was nothing for the next few days) to learn that there was to be a pot-luck meal very shortly on the front deck of the hostel and I was warmly invited, of course. I ran to the local supermarket and picked up some suitably decadent ice-cream for dessert. The food was delicious and the company warm and interesting: I reminisced with fellow travellers over everything from past and present itineraries to the beauty of Nelson and by the end of the evening, I was chatting affably with my new friends - Nacho, Ben and Becky - over a glass (or two…) of red wine. We sat in rustic wooden deck-chairs, looking out from the shadows of the porch onto a still road, bathed in the orange glow of tired streetlights. The night closed around us, but it was not cold; rather, the darkness brought with it the pungent floral scents amplified by the earlier rain and the thrill of sitting up late, adventuring into the quiet stillness afforded when the majority of a population has retired to bed.
The following day I rose late and perfected the creation of scrumptious pancakes in a cast-iron skillet. I then hurried out of the hostel and down the street to a local bar, where I joined my friend Nacho from Valencia in watching the World Cup final between Spain and Holland. I am sure that the vast majority of my vast (I can but dream) readership not only saw the game, but also formed their own strong impressions of the match: for what it may be worth, my own opinion is that the right team won. Spain played less persuasively than I had hoped throughout the entire tournament and I was bitterly disappointed when Germany - in my mind the most exciting outfit - succumbed to their more experienced, less entertaining rivals. Nonetheless, Spain did at least look like they wanted to win the final on merit, rather than simply hack away at the legs (and various other body-parts) of their opponents until there remained no more opponents standing. I was mightily impressed with the English match officials - they were much more worthy of praise than our footballers at least - who endured a particularly difficult game. Whilst tied only tentatively at best to Spain (and hardly at all to Holland, sorry Seb), it was a pleasure at least to be able to celebrate such a momentous occasion for the nation with a true Spaniard: Nacho was not perhaps the most overtly enthusiastic of his countrymen that day, but we enjoyed ourselves all the same.
We returned to the hostel via the supermarket for celebratory snacks and the liquor-store for necessary drinks, to commemorate Spain's triumph long into the night, accompanied once more by Ben and Becky. I checked the internet to find a last-minute ride from Nelson olland - sorry Sebto Calgary posted, departing the following day: perfect! I telephoned Stefan and, of course, there was still space to hop on board. I rejoined my friends with my mind, as well as my next road-trip, determined. Becky would also leave the following day and so our celebrations took on a slightly melancholic, more whimsical edge. We passed the evening in happy company, before trooping off to our beds. The following morning dawned bright and cheery. I enjoyed one further modest success at the stove flipping pancakes and then bid adieu to a place that established a real connection in my soul. With no previous experience of Nelson, I was left pleasantly surprised by the beauty and tranquility of the place during my visit: I would dearly like to return one day, for a longer visit. In the mean time, the road calls once more and I answer, my hesitancy by this stage easily quelled: onward to Alberta!
Best wishes to all!