September 21 2018
Destination: Elk Island National Park (Alberta)
So, we just may have had a bit too much to drink. We woke up pretty feeling rough. I don’t remember being hungover like that for a very long time. I think we were dehydrated and under-fed, and add to that the alcohol, we were a couple of absolute messes.
However, we must go on. We rolled out of our tents around 10am and didn’t get on the road until after 11am. Our latest morning yet. We drove in silence except to exchange complaints until we got to a town called Shellbrooke. It was small and had brutal construction that had us circling around side streets and neighbourhoods trying to obey the gps. We finally found a restaurant – I think it was called Arnie’s—where we ordered just an absolute fucktonne of food, way too much for our state. But I was introduced to the Slush Puppy, which was just the trick for my disposition, even though it made me freezing cold. I must have had four or more because you could refill them yourself. We were there for some time because the food made us even more wretched. Did I mention we were a mess? The food was tasty though, and gave our bodies something to think about other than the alcohol. We were noticing little cultural differences between the provinces, like in this spot, everyone said, ‘hello hello,’ and then the person being greeted would respond in the exact same way. It was adorable listening in to everyone exchanging that.
We got back on the road and eventually crossed the border to Alberta! This was exciting. We’d only spent three nights in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, so that felt short, but we’d be going through again so I looked forward to that. I really enjoyed driving through the prairies. It’s so different, and I could sort of mentally check out and just enjoy the experience. The only thing I didn’t like about these stretches was the sheer slaughter of bugs. When we would next look at the grill on the vehicle, we’d notice that you almost couldn’t read the licence plate due to the build-up. It was horrendous.
We stopped at the tourist info at the border to get an Alberta map and use the bathroom. We made it to Elk Island but the park office was closed. We drove on, knowing that many places have self-registry where you put your payment or credit card info on a slip of paper in an envelope and show a matching piece of paper in your car’s dash. It’s rather honour system-ish – only once in all the times we had to do this did someone actually show up to check.
However, there was a smaller kiosk inside the park which was still open only because the customer that was there already took so long to get sorted. So we were able to get set up! The woman there was really friendly. Parks staff are one of two types: disaffected young people enjoying a summer job, or super enthusiastic nature lovers. This woman was definitely the latter. She printed us a map with all the available site locations and we drove around to look. One of the campgrounds was nothing more than an actual parking lot (paved, unlike the grassy Riding Mountain) with water and electric hookup. I can’t imagine putting a tent there, but some people did, right next to a giant RV or trailer. Luckily there was one decent spot left in the campground that had trees and actual earth beneath us! We chose that one and got our tents set up. I love the routine of camp set-up and take down. There’s something so satisfying about it every time, seeing your little home come into existence, filled with your yoga mat, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, bag of clothes, important items like water bottle, headlap, book, writing stuff, and knife. And then every morning, the reverse order until the space is returned to nature again.
This was the day that we found out that our dad had behaved inappropriately toward a young family member and her friend. We were horrified to learn this and carried the weight of this information for our entire trip. I don’t think either of us knew how to react. I’d always vouched for my dad, knowing he’s an alcoholic and a bit of a misogynist but because he had my back, he always supported me and bought me books and encouraged my intellectual pursuits, I had a hard time seeing him as having done something so wrong. And as someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child from my mom’s boyfriend, which my dad knows about, I felt completely betrayed. I don’t know that we’ve to this day completely integrated this information. I know I would have wanted someone my age with my skills to say something to my abuser about what he did to me, so I needed to confront it. The whole issue sickens me. This entire day I remember so clearly because of that knowledge coming to the forefront.
After setting up camp and having something to eat, we headed to the beach. There was a lovely sandy area that obviously was very popular. The sunset was absolutely stunning, among the best we would see on our journey. There was an island in the middle of the lake, and the water was glittering gold on top, as the red sun sank beyond the horizon. Lots of photographers were set up to take photos, and we got some lovely ones ourselves.
The place was absolutely swamped with goose shit, and we had that moment, one that I’ve probably had too many times, where we saw a fake hawk meant to scare birds and we stared at it way too long trying to decide if it was real. We walked around a bit and headed back to the campsite. After doing dishes and tidying up, we decided to call it a night early. Between the hangover, the foodover, and the info about our dad, we were pretty much done with the entire world.