Monday, October 15, 2012

A Vacation Log II

It is time to speak more of the Canadian Vacation.

I had intended to post each imposition, each mounting level of irritation visited upon me daily from the scene of the crime, but the truth is (and I can barely bring myself to say it) that the entire vacation was annoyingly free of annoyance in general and I was far too busy waiting for the shoe to drop1 to write about it.

I was in a constant state of heightened awareness and observation which, naturally, was very tiring and required me to take power naps for my own good lest I fall prey to hallucinations due to sleep deprivation.

One of the non-nap-related activities that The Steviesis and BiL-the-Canadian3 had planned for us was a trip to Pipestone Creek, a few Kilometers (which are Canadian Miles and are shorter than American Miles unless you are walking) from Grande Prairie, home of the Stevieparents, where so many dinosaurs had been dug up that they were trying to fund a real museum to compliment the Big Shed O' Bones that serves the purpose today.

There were, they said, tours around the proposed site where if stories cold be believed dead macrofauna leered from the ground at every turn. Why every footstep could unearth a rare and never-before-seen genus of dinosauria, it was said, and one would be foolish not to go take a gander before it was all covered in buildings and archeologists with paintbrushes and pointing trowels.

In vain I pled for the sweet embrace of a sofa from which to observe the perfidious universe as it tried some nefarious ambush on my poor battered body and Mrs Stevie put her foot down (on a particularly tender part of my body) and ordered me into the Truck of Merriment for one (1) trip to Pipestone Creek.

"I've seen it already!" I whined, clutching the sofa desperately.

"Idiot! That was twenty years ago, just before The Canoe Trip4..." her voice trailed off and a look of pure horror crossed her face at the memory of that other Canadian Expedition taken in our youth

"Argh!" I screamed reflexively.

"There won't be any canoes. We'll be inland and off-river the entire time." Her words did not carry the conviction they normally do though. With a shake, she rallied. "I'm going to get some clean underwear and when I come back you'd better be ready to go and see some Dinosaurs in-situ".

"Oh alright then!" I snarled and went to get clean underwear of my own.

We all piled into BiL-the-Candian's monstroso truck, a Ford F-something-or-other, an apposite vehicle for seeking the remains of animals so large they fire the imagination of everyone who sees them. As indeed they fired the engine of the truck itself. I gave myself a headache thinking about the recursive nature of our trip, but at least it took my mind away from thoughts of that other trip so very long ago, yet so close it only takes a word to bring back every detail in terrible, er, detail5.

BiL-the-Candian got lost, but got us found again in a maddeningly short time and thus it was that in a trice we were in front of the well-remembered Big Shed O' Bones.

Canadians are so laid back in general that they actually made a small museum of the local finds and put it all in an unattended wooden building open to the unattended public. Somehow this doesn't feel wrong. In America it would be the height of naive stupidity to do such a thing. Within five minutes the exhibits would be stolen or smashed and the shed a smoking ruin, but not in Canada. Maybe it's the threat of the legendary Royal Canadian Mounted Police6, maybe it's just too much effort to come all the way out here just to screw around with the infrastructure, maybe Canadian Yoof has enough to do without pointless vandalism. I dunno. The rioting in Edmonton would suggest otherwise, but even so.

We clambered out of the truck and into the Big Shed O' Bones, and it was exactly how it was ten years before. Big herbivore skull: Check. Small herbivore parts: Check. Mrs Stevie glaring and tapping her foot: Check.

We decided on not much evidence at all that The Trail That Led To Dinosaur Bluffs7 must be that way and so we descended precipitous drops and navigated thorn bushes and poisoned ivy patches until we emerged on the boulder-strewn floodplain of Pipestone Creek, a place of notable stark beauty and even more turned ankles.

"Hey look!" said BiL-the-Candian. "Someone made an Inukshuk!"

"That's not an Inukshuk" I opined. "An Innukshuck needs to be at least nominally man-shaped8. That is more accurately described as a pile of rocks."

BiL-the-Candian decided to go look for Dinosaurs and while The Stevieling and Mrs Stevie hunted in the boulder field for whatever women look for in such plains of random white dots9 I spoke with the Steviesis of our parents, kids, spouses and other annoyances.

The Steviesis is also Kung-Fu expert I should add, having mastered many forms of the martial art with names like Crane-Style, Dragon-Style, Punch-Up-The-Throat style and so on. So it was understandable that I interpreted her sudden leaps, pirouettes, vigorous swatting motions and squeaks as an impromptu demonstration of her skills. I was on the point of applauding when I realized she was trying to avoid the attentions of a brightly coloured but otherwise harmless flying insect about the size of a small World War I aeroplane.

"Harharhar!" I commiserated, then had to duck as she executed a near-perfect spin-swivel kick to the windpipe which would have connected if not for the WW I insect which chose that moment to perform an Immelman turn into the path of her attack, causing her to convert the energy into an impressive back somersault into a patch of stickburs. Then I was treated to a truly impressive display of Canadian Kung-Fu invective.

At that point BiL-The-Canadian re-entered theater and announced he'd found out where the dinosaur trail really was, and led us from the river, back through the poison ivy, thornapple bushes and hornet nests to the truck.

"The Ranger says we have to drive about three hundred meters up the road and then we have to walk about three kilometers" he said. At least, I assume it was he. His voice was actually coming from a dense cloud of mosquitoes that obscured his head entirely, though years in the Canadian Outdoors have tanned his hide to the point that I doubt any of the bugs were getting a decent meal.

So we drove what turned out to be fifty meters (Canadian yards) to a gate and started walking.


I hate starting a hike with a downhill section because that means that later, when my legs feel like sandbags filled with lead shot, I'll be walking uphill. But was this the spirit that made Britain great? I dunno, but after all this messing around plus having to dodge my own sister's homicidal attack I was getting bloody-minded about it and so we set off down the trail for the promised three Kilometer walk. Which was about three quarters of a kilometer.

On the way we passed a sign "[This way to the] River of Death", which seemed a tad insipid to me, and in my humble opinion would have been improved immeasurably by the addition of the word "Certain" between "of" and "Death". We also passed a group of kids on their way back who assured us that the trip to this watery hazard to life and limb would be worthwhile.

Little bastards.

When we finally arrived at the watercourse, gasping and wheezing and begging for the mercy of a bullet10 it turned out that the River of Death where so much herbivorous megafauna had met a watery demise people were spending money trying to get a museum built around it was now The Wadi of Disappointment and Recrimination.

There was a small frame surrounding what had been a display of bones in situ, but it had been vandalized and boarded up in the name of Archeological Peace-of-Mind. So that was that then.

BiL-the-Canadian was disappointed and showed us a fine display of stoic sarcasm at the quality of the display, wondering what the once-a-week tour revealed when it was running, and postulating that all the fossils were over a really big hill, which made the Steviesis swear at him. We held a council of war and resolved that a) all kids were lying gits 2) Dinosaurs were boring, especially dinosaurs so stupid they drowned in that joke of a river and þ) We should immediately abandon this foolish quest for dinosaur viewing and instead instigate a new plan involving going swimming in the new Health Multiplex.

Now those readers who have ascertained a certain lassitude in my stance on life at this time might wonder at my eager agreement to this watery plan, especially as it was in this very town that, during a trip to a swimming pool, I contracted the most virulent and treatment-resistant strain of athlete's foot that occasionally flares up ten years and more later. Well, this wasn't so much a swimming pool as an indoor water park, and I have experience of such things in Canada that have convinced me that water parks are something one should always try in the Land o' Beavers11. The one in the West Edmonton Mall has the most violent and determined wave pool I've ever personally been pounded almost into insensibility in.

The Health Multiplex water complex was, to put it mildly, impressive. Here in a town of about 60,000 people they've build a complex better than anything available in Metropolitan New York. Maybe Americans should shift their focus from Socialized Medicine12 to Socialized Wellness. All the taxpayers who helped build this one were feeling no pain, except possibly for the people who fell too hard while riding a wave on the indoor surfing machine. Contrast with the glum gloominess of the American Taxpayers, who usually get a poke in the eye for paying their taxes.

They had two tube slides, one for riding rubber tubes down, one for shooting down on your skin. They had three pools. They had the surfing machine. And - Yes! They had a lazy river! Only the best water ride ever invented!

While the others dithered I ripped off my clothes, donned trunks and raced through the shower, bound for a rubber tube which was calling to me siren-like.

I probably should have waited until we had finished buying the day-passes and had entered the changing rooms, but the security guards accepted my excuses of being driven mad by the happy splashing sounds and let me off with a stern warning. Then I rode a rubber tube down the slide three times before the other slugs showed up, which meant I had driven the course enough to have memorized the turns.

The Steviesis foolishly demanded we ride down the slide in a two-seater tube, apparently unaware that I like to enjoy waterslide tube rides "to the hilt", and she found my enhancing of the twisting turns by rocking from side to side to be perhaps a little too much to judge by her cries of "Stop that you bleeping idiot!" and "I'm gonna kill you when we get off this bleeping tube!"

I naturally took this for use of irony to urge me on to greater efforts and put my back into it.

When we crashed out of the end of the slide and were catapulted off the tube in a welter of water and truly impressive swear words that served to clear the area of kids the Steviesis pretended to attempt to strangle me but the whole thing fell flat when BiL-the-Canadian came ploughing out of the slide on a single-occupancy tube, crashed into our little tableau and scattered us like ninepins.

We decided to repair to the Lazy River, where I found that the daft Canadians had nerfed it by designing it for kids and only supplying flotation devices sized for them. A lazy river can only be properly experienced while floating on an adult-sized tube that doesn't capsize and dump you off every time a miniscule wavelet hits you.

As it was I was forced to use a noodle - a five-foot long, three-inch thick length of closed-cell foam - which was fine as far as it went. I particularly enjoyed the little oxbow lake they had made off to one side with a respectable whirlpool vortex in it. In one section there were the expected overhead shower heads, and in another there was a quite strong wave effect that would have been more enjoyable had I been on a large tube13. I would have ridden the lazy river for the rest of the day but on the third pass through the wave section I got seasick and had to get out and sit in one of the Jacuzzi to recover. I put down this uncharacteristic lack of manliness in the face of watery entertainments to jet lag, altitude sickness, undiagnosed bitter disappointment over the dinosaur fiasco and the fact I needed a power nap.

The Stevieling rode the surf machine and had great fun, though I was most unhappy about the numbers of young men willing to risk life and limb to "help" her. I would have said something but Mrs Stevie told me to shut up and stop making whining noises.

After this we all went to lunch where I had too much Strongbow Cider to drink and spoke knowledgeably and at length on several subjects about which I had little actual first-hand experience, after which I was returned to my folk's house so I could renew my vigilance from one of their sofas in peace.


  1. Or, as Mrs Stevie would have it, lying around like a slug on any unoccupied chair or sofa snoring fit to wake the dead2
  2. As if that vile harridan would allow me to sleep unmolested once her stumps were stirred into activity if there only hadn't been witnesses to her perfidy in every room
  3. Second husband, genuine nice chap, Ole-time Canadian Outdoorsman, Teacher and Black-Belt-with-Tassles Kung-Fu expert
  4. I'm still not ready to speak of The Canoe Trip in these pages
  5. Still not ready to talk about it though
  6. Who always get their man
  7. Not the real name of the site
  8. I was, of course, dead wrong about this, but I said it with conviction
  9. Several times that day I found myself inadvertently crossing my eyes in an attempt to resolve hidden 3D pictures from the field of rocks that occupied at least a third of my field of vision, which convinced the Steviesis I was having a stroke and made Mrs Stevie do the thin-lipped thing she does when she Doesn't Approve
  10. Well, I was begging etc. Mrs Stevie, The Steviesis and BiL-the-Canadian were pretending that they were having a good time
  11. Hur hur
  12. Urgh. Bad. Grunt.
  13. I was quite disappointed about the tube situation. I would have thought that a Lazy River in Canada would feature not only adult-sized tubes but each tube would come with a small cooler with a six-pack of beer in it. The country is definitely going to the dogs, and the problem is that these are daft ornamental dogs, not ragged-assed Canadian mutts that look like they just went three rounds with a bear and won the fight on a decision

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