Travelling Takeaways

Sleeping in a tent, at least for me, is over for another year. I’m not really the wilderness explorer type anyway. In fact, this summer when we took my grandson Kayden on a brief trip to the Rocky Mountains, we stayed in a motel. It wasn’t a luxurious place by any stretch of the imagination, since I am the budget-seeker type. This is as close to roughing it as I get. 

Upon arriving in Canmore, we pulled up to the rather ratty-looking establishment I’d chosen, and parked under a sign that proclaimed in bold lettering, “Fifteen Minute Parking Strictly Enforced”. Bearing this in mind, I hurried to the door. It was locked. Yet another sign scrawled on a sheet of loose-leaf and stuck to the window with masking tape, announced, “Back in twenty”. 

Okay, so how does that work? Were the parking police lurking around the corner, ready to slap on cuffs as minute sixteen rolled around? Were they consulting their watches at this very moment, waiting to thrust a hefty ticket into my hand?

After a toe-tapping thirty minutes, an irritable old woman in bedroom slippers shuffled to the door, snapped it open, and without enthusiasm took our particulars. Wordlessly, she handed me a key and with her thumb, gestured to a weathered flight of steps outside before she turned to pick up a dog-eared novel and seat herself behind the desk.

We let ourselves into the room. It was okay. I mean, the carpet had seen many moons (and spills, as evidenced by the blackened stains at our feet) and the bathroom fan sounded like a 747 preparing for takeoff, but the beds seemed clean and neat. There was only one power outlet, found beneath a desk, bolted to the floor (never a good indication) which meant we had to crawl on hands and knees to plug anything in. However, no one had to sleep on the ground.

Back when I did sleep in a tent, it always seemed as though the air mattress would leak air in the night and I’d wake up on a tree stump, or we’d hear reports of bear in the vicinity and I’d lie awake clutching a cast-iron frying pan and listening for sounds of snuffling near the children’s heads. 

One night, when the kids were toddlers, my husband and I pulled into a campsite somewhere beside Shuswap Lake in BC. It was the wee hours of the morning and we were exhausted. Not wanting to disturb other campers, we constructed our flimsy tent in complete darkness. Not sure how. Then, we spread sleeping bags over the extremely lumpy ground, put a child in each one, and went to sleep. 

An hour later we heard the train. 

It began as a low whistle far in the distance, and I rolled over uncomfortably, trying to block it out. Then, the ground beneath us began to shudder, and the low rumble of several hundred loaded railcars got louder. I sat up and clutched my husband’s shoulder. We lunged to our feet as the high beam light of the train’s engine pierced the fabric of our tent.

Yikes! Had we built our bloody tent across the railway tracks? Ripping at the nylon flap, we leapt outside, ready to drag children to safety, and watched in horror as the monstrous train chugged inexorably toward us, missing our tent by only a few feet.

And so, the takeaways are as follows: keep an open mind and carry a flashlight.

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