Why Taking A Bus Across Canada Should Be A Mandatory Rite of Passage

Words and photo by Haley Cullingham
Growing up, my family was all about the roadtrip. By the time I was thirteen, I’d been from one end of the country to the other, in a car covered with Mad Libs when we were little, then Seventeen magazine cutouts when we were older. Now, I try to keep the grand tradition alive, and this summer, I found myself blearily searching for a cab on Cambie at 6 in the morning, ready to enact a real life version of ‘This Land Is Your Land’ and take the Greyhound from Vancouver back home to Toronto.

I arrived at the station half an hour before the bus was scheduled to leave, but 5 minutes before Greyhound decided it should leave. I ran through the terminal, and waited, panting, with my bags. The bus driver ambled up, clutching a giant Tim Horton’s coffee. “Is this the bus that gets into Toronto on Saturday?” I asked her, while she examined my ticket. “You’re late,” she said. “You don’t get to ask questions.”

I blinked at her several times. I do not function well before dawn. “Sorry, but my ticket runs out by Saturday, and I want to make sure I’m on the right schedule.”
“Nope. No questions. Get on the bus.”
Seriously? I shoved my way on, threw my bag by my feet, and proceeded to pass out for several hours, stretched across two seats and curled underneath a plaid shirt.

When I woke up, we were in the foothills of Kamloops, which under a stormy sky looks much to someone from Ontario like a hobbit village. I walked into the bus station to attempt to figure out where the hell the bus was taking me. The two young girls working at the terminal had perfectly glossy hair, more makeup and shellac then most drag queens, a pink Ipod plugged into a pink set of speakers, and one of them had ‘Feelings’ tattooed on the inside of her wrist. They were extremely nice, and had no idea where I was going.

We wound our way through the Shuswap valley, past logging machines, flowing rivers, and forest. We pulled in for a five minute rest in the houseboat capital of Canada. The tiny highways were empty, and the wilderness was breathtaking. By the time we pulled into Golden, BC, I was craning my head at mountains stretching higher than I’ve ever seen-the bus was cutting a path through monstrous peaks, with hawks flying overhead. The streams slowly turned from clear blue to sea-glass green and glacier-cold as we climbed higher into the mountains.

The light wasn’t waning one bit as we pulled towards Alberta. Our bus driver slowed to a crawl and came over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look to your left, you’ll see a rather large grizzly bear making his way along the train tracks.” I peered out the window to see the giant bear, ambling along beside a scrubby hill. Next, we saw two lady moose nudging each other beside a small stand of trees.

The sun was shining on the river as we passed a blonde guy in rolled up jeans and a plaid shirt wading off the shore. As we pulled away, on the other side of a small island, we saw a giant moose.

As we pulled into Banff, our bus driver announced that we were running ahead of schedule, so he pulled into the Banff Springs Hotel so we could see some of the scenery.

The mountains faded behind us and Calgary rose above in the distance, and the sunset seemed to last until 11 at night. At the Calgary bus station, they searched our bags for the first time, and people in line were mumbling about the murder a few years ago in Winnipeg-first time I’d heard it mentioned since I started my trip.

The rest of the journey is something of a blur, the prairies rolling by, keeping my eyes on the horizon in hopes of seeing a great white buffalo. The fields were bare, apparently it was too muddy to plant many of the crops this year. Munching on Tim Hortons and almonds, I received friendly wishes from travellers as they departed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. By the time I arrived home, I had bisected the country, and all of its phenomenal geographical stereotypes. It’s so easy to forget how much of Canada there is to see, and how truly diverse it is. The only way to do it? Jump in your land vehicle of choice, and traverse the beast on your own. Whether you do it in three days or three months-you’ll be astounded by what you discover.

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