Thursday, April 16, 2015

Westbound to Spring

Texas Lincoln on the side of a long, Canadian road. Out on the Trans Canada Highway- a thin strip of pavement that's somehow supposed to connect the hearts, minds and finances of a great nation. Baking hot in the summer sun. Hot enough to blow tires off a truck. Hot enough that the moose come down to the road to get some relief from the bugs. Winter hides this road with ice, snow, with blue fear. Semi trucks own the whole damn thing. They've got lots of weight and lots of wheels on the ground. Push, push, push. Blind and ditch those little cars. Sometimes they ride this strip at night, like great metal insects, tires moaning, eyes shining strange. In packs, tight like a train until one slides and dumps the bunch in a burning pyre of ditch rubble. Plenty of little crosses on the side of this trail. Plenty of time to think about it. About hitting the rock wall. About the tight ice curve at the bottom of another hill. But this day is early spring. Easter weekend. This is my road. My memories. I stop on the shoulder and there is no other traffic. Quiet. Dead quiet. After five minutes I get back in and drive. I've got a few hundred more miles to Thunder Bay, ON.

First taste of spring or last gasp of winter. The ice huts are doing their last day. Cold water fish, pulled up by the smell of Canadian Club. There is still ice along Lake Superior, but it feels like spring. It is good to be mobile. I feel best when I'm on my way to somewhere. This journey. Over the Hump. This thin strand of road stretched over the north shore of the Great Lakes.

The road to Beyond the Giant, outside of Pass Lake, ON, near Thunder Bay. I've played here- off grid-  many times now. Always beautiful. The shores of Lake Superior, always wild. A vast, inland sea. Red dirt the car will wear until it reaches the Pacific Ocean in a couple of weeks time. When the evening is over, I curl up in my cabin and fire up the woodstove. Sleep comes quickly in the gentle glow.

This is supposed to be about a music Tour, remember? Well, on this 10th year of all ten Canadian provinces, it's about many things. Many things that make the music, that make the artist, that color my songs and stories, that drive the whole adventure- and have done so for such a long time. Outside Thunder Bay, ON, I stop at the Terry Fox monument. Terry was a runner who fought cancer for all of us. A true Canadian hero. A Canadian story. He reminds me that we can all do more to change the world.

Into Thunder Bay to play at the Apollo. Sheila and Alex and Tina are "my people." I love playing this room. This is a stop on the highway a musician needs to make on the Trans Canada run. Places like this bond the culture together, allow it to happen. It would be wrong to say that there would be no Canadian artists without these stops, but certainly there would be fewer artists, fewer stories. Sheila has just fought cancer and come out of the darkness looking great and healthy. A winning story. So I thought of her when I visited with Terry, out on the windy hill. Big Bad Bobby opens for me, playing blues banjo and guitar. A great local scene. Players I always enjoy hearing and spending time with. I room upstairs in a battered band room. In the morning I'm off to Tim's to get a big coffee. Only eight hours drive ahead to Winnipeg, MB

The rock and trees of the Northern Shield melt away as you roll over the border into Manitoba. The roads get faster, too. A divided highway! Yeah! North western Ontario probably should of been part of Manitoba, or perhaps it's own territory. It is an orphan land, politically speaking, without the oil to inspire interest. Mines, mills, rail corridors... But here I am with the Lincoln cracked back up to a good clip, bound for Winnipeg.

Rough and ready street scene in Winnipeg, MB. Two pianos, no waiting...

I've got another eight hours to Saskatoon, SK, but no show on this Easter Monday. I sleep in the Lincoln at a truck stop and wake up to find the car cold, covered in snow... I thought I'd left that behind! I'll be back to pick up Saskatoon in late May. Three nights solo at Bud's on Broadway- a classic old, prairie blues bar.

Edmonton, AB, and I've driven into spring at last! Bare arms, no winter coats, leaves trying to escape their buds. I play a quiet, Tuesday night show with a great local band, and then take a down day to run the south part of the city, look after tour business, all that stuff.

The Lincoln outside Blues on Whyte, Edmonton, AB. One of North America's last six night blues gigs. A great, history filled room, with digs upstairs...

Busting out onto the high prairie, an easterly backtrack for my show in Lloydminster, SK. It's an oil town I've come to like over the past few years of stops. I play a little joint called the Root and always meet nice folks. This visit is no exception, but quieter than I'd like it. First big, hot day here- and people are hanging out on their own porches.

In Lloydminster, SK, my car was noticed by many...

Well into spring now, I drift south on the back roads towards Red Deer, AB for my next show. On the way I explore some small, high prairie towns... Viking has an interesting old church.

Big sky, of course.

 Jacket winner in Red Deer, AB! Genuine satin, white stripe tour jackets!

A great ride out of Red Deer, AB. I'm bound for Jasper, AB, so I'll be driving from the badlands into the mountains. I take the small highway into Rocky Mountain House, and then branch to take the Icefield Parkway north into Jasper. I give myself plenty of time. It's a world class drive, and at this time of year I've got the road pretty much to myself...

As a little snow squall sneaks in, I find the road blocked several times by wildlife. At one point, a pair of big horn sheep banged heads beside the road. I could hear the crack and bang inside my car with the windows still up... A great, sold out show in Jasper. Some new friends offer hospitality, and I take my down day in near perfect weather.

I try and run as many of the places I visit as I can. I like running, and it helps keep me alive as I live out of my car for months on end. Jasper National Park has got a substantial trail system, and I have been planning to run in these mountains for some time. I stop and pick up maps, and I'm on my way to one of the trailheads near town.

Can't beat the view. My maps were not easy to read, and at about 10 km, six miles, I realize that I'm about that same distance from where I had thought I was! My 10 km loop had become closer to 20 km of mountain trail. I've tripped on a root, and knocked myself silly. I lie on my back for a while. Fingers and arms are fine! Nobody but myself out here. A few squalls of snow passing between bursts of sunshine. It's been a while since I've run so far- so I get down to it. I want to get back to my car before a missing person alert goes in. And I want to get back, period. Thank goodness I've brought water and warm clothes. I'm leaning into the wind, wondering about spring bears, thinking about cougars. Like getting hit by lightning, really. I suppose. And what's to prevent these marginal maps from tricking me again? My GPS has died, too. But I make it back, hurting, to the trailhead I started from. Thankfully, there is no show tonight- but I will drink wine with my friends, eat, talk, and feel glad to be alive.

Roads through these mountains are often close to the rails. Up here it's Canadian National Rail. A familiar sight. You could race these trains across the flats...

No photoshop here. Just youth colors. Northern colors. There's not always a good supply of paint in northern British Columbia- or perhaps there just isn't a lot of time spent spreading it around. This building in Prince George sure lights up the view... I have a nice night in a newer venue, Nancy O's. I've played this mill town for nearly a decade now. I'm always surprised by the degree of support I get from the blues and folk communities in this region. In the morning, I'll begin my journey south on Hwy 97.

My view from the driver's seat during sound check in Quesnel, BC. Nice new room called the Occidental. These folks went out on a limb to book me for a Tuesday night show. It's ranch country in these parts. Several people had to leave at half time to go and help with calfing. I hope I said that properly. In the morning, I run 7 km around the town before catching the road to Williams Lake.