Hitting the Road: A Trip to Thompson, Manitoba

I wrote Nowhere Wild, in part, because I loved the stories about living and surviving in Canada’s North. I could have set it in Alaska, or the mountains of Idaho or Montana. But ever since I read Farley Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens as a kid, I wanted to travel to the North to follow the paths taken by the voyageurs who explored Canada by canoe. As I got older, I knew that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Last week however, my brother-in-law Eric, and I set out on a different kind of trip… a road trip that would take us some 3600 km from Edmonton, Alberta to Thompson, Manitoba and back to Calgary, Alberta. It was one of those once in a lifetime trips I doubt I’ll ever be able to do again, but one we both enjoyed tremendously.

Below is the rough map of the route we followed. We added a significant number of kilometers on side trips, especially around Thompson, but this is core of the route. We overnighted in Edmonton, Prince Albert, Thompson (3 nights), Yorkton and Calgary (2 nights).

I’m not going to go into a day by day log (I took lots of notes for my own use), but a few highlights:

– It rained a lot last week. Apparently Eric and I had a knack for pulling clouds across the country. It was raining when we left Seattle on Friday night, started raining when we landed in Edmonton, and we spent much of our drive east in the rain. The weather cleared up for our time in Thompson, but the weather up there changes fast and frequently. We took rain jackets with us everywhere we went.

– Northern Alberta is gorgeous. Rolling, green hills, grand views and picturesque valleys everywhere you look.

– The little town of Smeaton, Saskatchewan, is where the boreal forest really begins. One minute, you’re in a land of farm fields, old granaries and wetlands, the next, you’re surrounded by a forest that stretches on for hundreds of kilometers. It’s that quick, and that thick.

– We had a great time in Thompson itself. The people were so nice, and so excited to hear about Nowhere Wild. Especially helpful was Tanna Teneycke (pictured below) at the Heritage North Museum in Thompson. She showed us around the museum and answered all of our questions. What a great ambassador for the North!

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– While in Thompson, we treated ourselves to a float plane trip up to Gauer Lake on Wings over Kississing. Cyp, our pilot, gave us a great tour of where much of the action of Nowhere Wild takes place. It’s fascinating to actually see the places I’ve built in my mind over the last seven years in reality. You truly don’t get a good feel for how big the North is, until you fly over it.

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A view from the south end of Gauer Lake looking north. This lake is huge!DSC_0138

– We spent two days in Thompson. then started the long drive back to Calgary, this time heading the southern route across the plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some people might think that would be a dull trip, but I loved it. I grew up on a small farm in Southern Ontario, and I’ve always wanted to see the really big operations on the plains. We were lucky enough to be coming through during the wheat harvest, and the combines were out in the field. For a farm kid, there’s no better time than that.

– On our last day in Calgary, we had planned to swing up to Banff and Lake Louise, but the weather was so bad (snow / sleet in August!), we decided to hang out and check out the local bookstores. At the Chapters Books on Dalhousie, I was actually able to sign 6 copies of Nowhere Wild which had arrived early. Whoever buys those on Tuesday will get a special treat!

Overall, we had an amazing time. I learned a lot, and will use much of what I picked up in my next book. Sure, I wish I had been able to do this trip last year (it would have helped me to avoid some embarrassing mistakes in Nowhere Wild), but it wasn’t possible then, and I’ll just have to use creative license as my defense when people call me on the issues. Hopefully the mistakes don’t detract from the reader’s enjoyment of the story.

If you love the outdoors, I highly recommend taking this trip (or one like it). Bring a great travel partner, and vehicle with good shocks, as many of the roads are quite rough. But if you do go, make sure you get out of the vehicle and talk to the people there. They’re as much a part of the north as the lakes and the weather. And a whole lot warmer.

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