And so it began!
(Our friends and family can probably skip to the 4th paragraph – don’t mean to bore you all with what you already know, but it’s nice for us to have all of this as a reminder!)
It was the end of 2012, and we were finally under way. Finally taking that first step on our trip of a lifetime. Our big trek around the world. We had talked about doing something like this for years, planned for months, dreamed about it for ever. And it was finally happening. Here we were, on our way to Canada to begin our 10 month long journey, from the Northern Hemisphere to the South. Following the snow, seeing the world, living it up while we can.
The first stop on our journey was Whistler-Blackcomb, a mountain resort in the town of Whistler, a couple of hours north of Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada. Host for the Alpine events for the 2010 Winter Olympics, WB is the biggest resort in North America, covering Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, with some of the longest descents, highest snowfall and best snow. When the opportunity presented itself to spend some time there we couldn’t refuse, and we decided that an extended stay there, living the resort life and improving our boarding, would be the perfect start to a trip like this.
We had left our jobs, moved out of the apartment we rented, contacted banks and service providers and insurance companies… packed up our lives. So as you can imagine we were very excited when we boarded the flight that would take us to Chicago, IL, on the first step of many that would take us around the globe. We hadn’t really been able to get too excited in the weeks leading up to our departure – we finished up in work at the start of December but between sorting out new tenants for the apartment we were living in, doctors visits and vaccinations, meetings with work (more on this another time), bank appointments and all the other little things one must do when leaving the country for a sustained period we had had little time to really get our heads around the fact we were actually leaving. Even now, two weeks in, it still doesn’t feel “real”. The fact we were vacating our apartment and packing everything up or throwing it away also added to this feeling – all our preparation felt like prep for moving rather than going travelling. It was only while packing our board bags, my favourite part of the prep for any boarding trip, that it felt like we were really going. And even then it was just as if we were heading away on holiday!
But once we set foot on that plane in Dublin Airport (after a prolonged panic over a lost laptop… which was in our seat the whole time!) it hit home. This was it! We flew first to Chicago, and after a short layover there and a bite to eat (the stereotype about American portion sizes is no exaggeration) we boarded a United Airlines flight, with wonderfully spacious seats and plenty of leg room, to Calgary. The more observant amongst you may have noticed a potential flaw in our route there – Calgary is in the province of Alberta, almost a thousand kilometres away from Whistler. For reasons that will become clear in the future it made more sense for us to fly in and out of Calgary rather than the considerably more convenient Vancouver.
But this did mean we had a long trip ahead of us. Flights from Calgary to Whistler were both prohibitively expensive and inconveniently timed, so we were left with a 20+ hour bus journey as our best option. We headed through Calgary city centre to the main Greyhound station and waited on our coach. When it arrived it was nothing special, basic though relatively comfortable, but we didn’t care – after a late night and stressful early morning departure (thank you so much once again to our families for helping us in that regard) followed by multiple flights, airports and time zones, we had lost all track of time and were just looking forward to putting our heads down. So we settled down for the long journey across Western Canada.
It may sound like a bit of an ordeal, but the truth is we loved it! It really made it feel like we were embarking on an adventure, rather than just a holiday. And the timing meant we didn’t suffer too badly – the initial leg of the journey, Calgary to Kelowna, was overnight so we slept for large periods. In between we enjoyed the view as we passed through the Canadian Rockies. Even in the dark the mountains were beautiful – glowing from the winter snow, we could still make out their scale and beauty and the sight was relaxing enough to send us back to sleep.
Morning saw us stop over in Kelowna, BC, for long enough to enjoy a quick breakfast. Then it was off again, on to Vancouver. We arrived in the city in the late afternoon with a few hours to kill before our connecting bus to Whistler, so spent that time chilling out in a corner of the Greyhound Station, feet up on our snowboard bags and munching a much deserved feed from the nearest Subways! Come sunset we boarded the half five bus and were, at last, on the way to Whistler. The route from Vancouver north to Whistler passes along the coast road, through mountains and forests, and lets one view all that makes BC great. We, however, saw none of the that! The night sky was pitch black and all that the passengers on this coach (filled with boarders and skiers looking to finish out the weekend on the slopes) could see was the road head. Still, we passed the time playing Connect 4 (thanks K!) and listening to music.
Two hours later, and 41 hours after we had left Dublin, we caught our first sight of our new home for the next two months… Whistler. The coach dropped us off in Creekside village, the old base for Whistler resort and a five minute drive from the main Village. Creekside is serviced by it’s own gondola up Whistler Mountain, and the west face trails finish up in the centre of Creekside. The village itself was much prettier than we had anticipated – very European in style, it is full of wooden buildings and façades, and at the end of year, with snow on the ground and rooftops and all the Christmas lights still on display, it’s very festive. Our landlord came down in his van to pick up our bags, and, because his brakes had failed(!) we then walked the few minutes to our new home.
Our accommodation was, as expected, small, but sufficient. The location is perfect – it’s literally a five minute walk to the gondola and village, and the bus stop to catch the bus to the main village (or back) is even closer. And we lucked out on house mates, sharing with four Japanese snowboarders. They are all lovely and full of help and advice (through broken English, still far better than our Japanese(!), or translated by one of the girls) about the town, the mountain, boarding, or life in Whistler in general. They are all much, much better boarders than us, all sponsored riders, so we’ll be picking their brains for more advice while we can!
The next morning we got a chance to settle in properly. We unpacked, explored Creekside a little and got our bearings. After lunch we picked up our season passes (which was very exciting to us – for the first time ever we have season passes to a resort! Not just a week’s pass, not just a holiday…) and headed up the mountain for a quick run across to the main Village. Cian headed up for one other short run down Whistler mountain while Lisa found her way around the village, and then we headed for some crêpes and a beer in, unsurprisingly, the Irish bar at the foot of the mountain (we haven’t been back there yet, but whether or not they’ll be showing the Six Nations and the Heineken Cup has already been checked!). Then, once we’d hoped on the local commuter bus for the short journey home, our first full day in Whistler had come to a close.
We hadn’t seen much of the mountain yet or done a whole lot of boarding, but after a long (long!) journey we were here. And the adventure had begun…