Wearing a cardigan and other style choices in Fort McMurray

If there’s one thing that apparently stands out in the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray, it’s a navy blue cardigan. The old man/woman looking type. Something that’s not sold in the Mark’s Work Warehouse or any of the shops in Peter Pond Mall like Volcom or Supreme Apparel. In a sea of tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle, this type of pullover (no, it’s a cardigan) seems to stick out like someone getting their car washed every week during winter.

Before the folks that haven’t even been to McMurray judge or perhaps reassure their preconceived notions about it here, let me say that the Mac can be a happening place when it comes to fashion. I’m serious. Take yourself to East Village Pub in Eagle Ridge any Saturday night and you will see the absolute best tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle you have ever seen. Ever. Joking aside, Fort McMurray is a diverse place and the diversity of clothing is no exception. The only thing that crosses the line is the navy cardigan. Like driving slow in the fast lane or not having your shit together by the time you get to the front of the Hortons line.

Someone asked me a couple weeks ago if wearing said cardigan was an Ontario thing since the previous owner of this beaut (I inherited it) and another transplant from back east used to sport this type of gear. I think it’s a stretch to stereotype only Ontario folks for having the gall to wear this kind of sweater in such a place as this. I’ve seen similar “hipster” style clothing strutting down Franklin Avenue. I know because I was probably the asshole strutting. I will admit, however, that climbing into a souped up 4×4 while your 100 per cent wool navy flutters in the wind isn’t ideal round these parts, but there’s a lot that can surprise you about Fort McMurray.

Driving into town I think there should be a billboard that says “I don’t want to be a product of my environment – I wan’t my environment to be a product of me.” Put it right next to the “safe, resilient, together” sign and the one advertising Boomtown Casino as the best boom in town, whatever the hell that means. If you haven’t gotten the quote I’d suggest you shut your laptop after reading this and watch The Departed. I don’t care how late it is. Stay up and watch it. Anyway, I couldn’t pick a better quote to describe the MO of the folks that live here or have made this place home. Many are from other cities, provinces and countries, but there’s a growing contingent of born and breds that are reshaping what Fort McMurray is.

My story coming here is probably the same as a lot of folks: work. I took a job and moved to a small city where I didn’t know anybody, in northern Alberta, in January. Most people probably do things like this because they have to, be it for financial reasons or maybe a lack of work experience. And then there’s those that like a challenge, and the people that stick around here long-term fall into that category. The surviving bitter cold mornings, afternoons and nights where the sky is black all the time is tough. The being ostracized by people that have probably never driven a kilometre north of St. Albert is annoying from time to time. But the real test is being away from friends and family. Also, the less attention paid to the short-sighted or narrowed-minded the better off we’ll all be. Even the short-sighted folks will get bored and move on to ripping someplace else instead. Like Moncton. Although I have been there too and thought it was alright.

What I’m saying with all this is that there’s way more to Fort McMurray than just tight t-shirts, plaid button-downs and anything East Coast Lifestyle. It’s changing everyday. It’s been through booms, media blitzes and one of the scariest looking fires anyone has ever seen. And it’s done it all with confidence. A sort attitude that reminds everyone here to hold their heads high and keep their shoulders back. Smack away criticism like it’s a god damn tar sand beetle.

It’s true, you won’t get the selection of stores, restaurants, concerts, sports games or navy cardigans as you would in other cities. And the 4×4’s, the no bullshit hard work ethic and the hold the door open for the next person reputation that’s made this place home might never change. As much as we try to dress something up, even in a navy blue cardigan, some things don’t change overnight and for the better. The only change I can promise is your impression of this place when you actually take the time to see it, live it and feel it. Best grab your cardigan when you do. It gets chilly.

Name your books – your future self

What the hell ever happened to writing your name in a book you’ve just purchased or inherited? That was such a neat thing to see when, usually with a used book, someone put their name and maybe the date inside the front cover. People still buy books. I’ve seen them do it. Coles, Chapters, Audreys books (shout out Edmonton) and used books stores are still in business. The advent of smartphones, tablets and e-readers hasn’t rubbed these places out yet and if it was going to happen it should have happened by now. HMV bit the dust not that long ago, but they had it coming, let’s be honest. If anything, the removal of that chain is probably a good thing.

Call me old fashioned, and many do, but seeing a name on a used book you’ve just found buried under a stack of copies of The Alchemist at your favourite used store is like discovering someone’s story. As if by fate, or maybe coincidence, you are now in possession of this piece. What’s mine is yours type deal. I’m not suggesting this will lead to peace treaties or a greater tolerance for what’s different, but it’s a start.

Much like how we’ve gone back to listening to records, since they sound better and allow more room for cover art, jotting down your name and date of when you picked up a book, for whatever reason, could be an enlightening experience. I’m sure your future self will appreciate it when you dig through those old copies of The Alchemist in your private library to find The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*** by Mark Manson and see the date for when you decided to stop giving a fuzz about things that aren’t important.

I’ve always thought that the pieces of art we own and collect become part of our story. There’s a time and a place and a feeling and a circumstance that brought this piece into our life and that, my friends, has all the fixings for a story. Looking back it can be refreshing to experience those moments. What you felt like the first time you heard Paranoid Android by Radiohead. Better yet, the first time you watched the video for Paranoid Android by Radiohead and said to yourself what the hell was that. On the literature front it, picking up a book that was passed along to you is just as effective, like the first time you met Holden Caulfield and started shooting the old bull with people.

Books aren’t going away for the time being so let’s all collectively hat tip the past, or in this case, hat tip the future by giving our cranky old selves a reminder of the who and when. The what, the where, the how and the why are for our own stories to tell. This is just the catalyst.


ACL surgery and life with a perennially swollen knee

I heard a crack when I landed on my left leg. A few seconds went by and then the pain kicked in. I struggled like when you’re about to run out of air underwater. It was bad. This had never happened before. Injuries were sustained in the past, but never like this. A type that no amount of Advil before a match could cure (believe me, I tried). A nervousness that’s difficult to explain. A truly, “holy god damn shit” moment. Tearing your Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is a big deal.

Here’s the basics, and I really mean basics because they stuff people in the medical field do, especially with such confidence, is unreal. Anyway, the knee cap is where the three main bones in your knee meet to form your knee joint. These joints are connected by ligaments that act as strong ropes that hold everything together and keep the knee stable. So if you cut one of the ropes, such as the ACL, most of it falls down, and so do you. Like a big sack of holy god damn shit potatoes.

Pain wise, the act is vicious and to this day the smell of the turf on an indoor soccer pitch still gives me chills. Close to a year later I found myself sitting in a bed in the pre-operating room calling the anesthesiologist “buddy” as he inserted the IV into my left knuckle while I tried to stay calm. That lasted about 30 seconds as I was rolled through the halls and into the operating room. It felt like you could see your breath it was so cold and the bright lights reminded me of being trapped in a Walmart checkout line. You get the idea.

The whole experience of being in an operating room gives you an uneasy feeling that has your gut screaming at you to get out. I liken it to being trapped in a room with an ex-girlfriend, her mom and her friends that unfriended you on Facebook a week after you split up. Yeesh. I used to say that haunted houses were the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Move aside clown, five people in scrubs and surgical masks staring at you and asking your birth details as if you were a spy behind enemy lines takes the prize from here on out.

Waking up after surgery, I tried to act cool as if it wasn’t a big deal, even giving the guy who just had shoulder surgery across the room a thumbs up. He returned the gesture. Barely. Good lad. Do you want morphine or Percocet they asked. I enjoyed that part. There was no god damn way they were sticking me with another needle so I took the percs like it wasn’t my first rodeo. Not really – I had to ask for more water (I’m not a cowboy). I passed out after that only to be awoken by a nurse asking if I wanted something to drink. Now, the details are a little fuzzy, maybe because of the percs or the anesthetics, but instead of answering yes to the orange juice she offered, I asked her name. She didn’t bother answering – just smiled (I hope) and shook her head.

The afters are no cake either, although I was hobbling around with one crutch the day after. The initial rehab involves at least a week of it taking 10 minutes to get the ice pack from the freezer and your hamstring feeling like it’s been ripped to shreds. In most ACL surgeries, they cut the hamstring tendon out of the affected leg and use that to recreate the cruciate ligament. In some cases your hamstring tendon might not be the right size and the surgeon will use a donor tissue. Again, the things they can do. In my case they used my hammy tendy and a piece of the donor to shore things up. There’s a great video on YouTube that walks through the whole procedure, but viewer discretion is advised. Seriously. Viewer freaking discretion is advised. It took me 20 minutes to watch this seven and change video.

It might sound trite, but the best way to learn about anything is through experience, not from a book or sitting in a lecture hall. Blowing out my knee and not being able to do things I was accustomed to since I could walk basically (I was known for running at an early age) was absolutely heartbreaking. But that’s the way she goes sometimes. And by golly she went. Tore the rope like it was someone after a twizzler when they haven’t eaten in months. You recover though. You learn to move the way you used to and with some perseverance (and a ton of squats, box jumps and hamstring curls), you can get back to where you were before. You also get a great story out of it too! As much as people point out about how weak we as humans all are, our bodies tend to differ.

Go to Yellowknife, find your soul

For a place that’s so close to Edmonton (hour and 45 plane ride), it’s strange how few have visited the city of Yellowknife in our Northwest Territories, the place to find your soul.

The Background

I was told this might happen before I left by a buddeh and therefore needed little encouragement. A good dose of finding your soul seemed like just the ticket. Let’s take a trip to the real great white north. The territory with the polar bears on the licence plates that say Spectacular Northwest Territories. It was nothing short of that.

Bread and butter

Flying north out of Edmonton feels like flying over a piece of land that does not end. The fact metropolitan Edmonton is the most northern city of over a million folks in North America is unbelievable, considering how much untouched ground there is north of it. That ground starts to break up as you approach Yellowknife. Lakes, rivers, hills and the mighty Canadian Shield (a favourite for locals), are now your bread and butter.

Cameron Falls, Yellowknife, NWT
Cameron Falls, Yellowknife, NWT

Don’t run out of gas in Yellowknife

This actually didn’t happen, but there was the potential of it happening and if it wasn’t for the wait in line during road construction, it could have easily happened. The van we borrowed (what else in Yellowknife?) from the landlady has been up and down a few hills in its day and there was no way we were coastin’ into town on fumes like cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation.

The Van
The Van

No underground parking

This was easily my most city slicker moment during the whole trip and thank you to my party for not absolutely roasting me for it. Yes I asked. It was a newer looking building I swear. So yes, underground parking is not ideal in a place like this. What’s worse: not becoming wiser with age or becoming starchy?

The runner up for most city slicker moment was asking for a window seat at the Yellowknife airport for the return trip. The two airline reps paused for a second after I asked and slowly looked at one another and then back at me, wide smiled. There were only four of us on the flight. I laughed out loud when I walked on. Two thumbs up for Canadian North airline in case anybody is considering. The cookies were great.

Camping in September and rookie mistakes

At least I can share the blame with several of the circumstances we put ourselves in once we unpacked our supplies and understood, rather quickly, the rookie mistake we had made. We camped at a site next to Reid Lake, roughly an hour drive outside Yellowknife along the Ingraham Trail, which didn’t have but a few guests that seemed impressed with our willingness to camp with a tent – it was cold. We packed essentials like marshmallows, snacks, food for supper, coffee for the next morning, but fell light on the suds. It didn’t take long to polish off a couple cold ones while setting up and getting a fire going (another task that didn’t cooperate as planned). We didn’t run out of beverages completely, but the ol’ Baileys for coffee the next morning took an awful hit.

Old town and downtown 

One of the highlights of visiting Yellowknife is seeing Old Town, which is a short jaunt from downtown. The houses are small and bunched together and you are surrounded by water on all sides minus the route you came in on. House boats hug the shoreline and every once in a while you stumble upon public art or a neat spot to grab lunch like the seasonal Wildcat Cafe. Beer and french fries – is there anything better? You can also scamper up Pilots Monument to get a great view of the town, the water and, off in the distance, the city’s downtown.

Pilots Monument, Yellowknife, NWT
Pilots Monument, Yellowknife, NWT

Those visiting the Knife for the first time expecting the downtown core to be on the smaller side with a rough and tumble attitude will not be disappointed. Strolling through on a Sunday might make you think everyone’s packed up and moved south to Alberta. Not the case. The just shy of 20,000 folks that call this city home have great pride in where they live and for good reason. Most are transplants that have picked up and gambled on living in one of Canada’s remote cities where a new restaurant or beer joint, such as the hip Woodyard that boasts itself as being the only brewery in the territory, is like Christmas morning when you’ve been good all year round.

Old Town, Yellowknife, NWT
Old Town, Yellowknife, NWT

Find you soul

I’ve heard folks talk about taking trips to get away and find something they’ve been missing in their daily nine to five, 11 to seven or 10 to six (I mention these other hours because people work them all the time and it’s tough as hell). Does getting away really make that much of a difference or do our minds believe, for a short period of time, things have changed until the inevitable routine kicks back in and we’re springing for the nighty night herbal tea blend at 9:30 p.m. on a Tuesday night? (whatever, at least I admit it).

I think we all get something different out of trips and it’s not so much what we experience in a different surrounding as it is how we let ourselves experience it. Letting go of where we can from or the place we call home and embracing the here and now no matter how difficult or unsettling it might feel to not check in on social media or think about work or what your friends are doing that Saturday.

Yellowknife is the perfect place to do this. For one, there’s little cell phone reception in the bush, which is basically the whole god damn territory, so there’s no point in even taking your phone out of your pocket to do anything besides snap photos. The second is something I alluded to earlier about how much untouched ground there is in the northern part of Canada. It’s encouraging to experience this because despite how connected and small the world can feel from time to time, actually seeing these far off places on the ground brings us to the realization that, individually, there’s so much for us to discover.

Travelling more is a easy argument to become a better person, but there has to be a commitment to being present in those sometimes strange, out of your element situations. It’s worth it and in the end you realize it makes an impact on probably the only pure part of who you are.

Only an hour and change from Edmonton. Go to Yellowknife: find your soul.


Just breathe, and get the hell back in the water

JAWS is one of the most terrifying horror movies in history and what makes it so scary, besides changing the way humans view sharks and, I like to think, sharks view humans, is that for the majority of the film you don’t see the shark. The first attacks reveal little about the supposedly ruthless fish besides the god awful sound of a person screaming underwater as she or he is devoured by a 20, or was it 25, foot Great White Shark.

As I stepped down the ladder into the shark cage a few weeks ago, this was the only thing on my mind. I had no idea what was below me in the ocean nor did I have any clue what would happen next. All I knew was this god damn wetsuit was too tight and the videos of white shark cage diving off the coast of Port Lincoln, South Australia were incredible.

“All you have to do is breathe through your mouth,” the skipper instructed during my training on the regulator that was quicker than a jackrabbit on a date. It seemed simple enough. Put the regulator in your mouth, pull the mask over your eyes, go down in the water and let gravity plus the 10 pound weights strapped to your waist do the rest. For someone whose never gone scuba diving and just barely made it through maroon badge level at Mrs. Bennett’s backyard swim class in Whitby, Ontario, this was kind of a big deal.

I was the last of five to get in the cage. The previous four brave souls had gone down without a peep and as I lowered my head into the water for the first time and breathed, I panicked. I remembered that scene in JAWS where Hooper enters the “anti-shark cage” and is lowered into the water by Quint and Brody in an attempt to pump 20 cc of strychnine nitrate into the massive three tonne fish before the boat sinks. “I got no spit,” Hooper said as he tried to clean his mask before going under. Immediately I sprang from the water and removed the regulator from my mouth, still hanging onto the ladder with one hand and gasping to the skipper that I was nervous. I must have thought the skipper weighed three tonnes himself and was 25 feet tall because the not an ounce of sympathy look he gave me said it all. “Ok, I’ll just go back down then,” I finished my sentence. I’d rather face off with a white shark than this bloke. Besides, how dangerous could getting in the water surrounded by rocks full of baby fur seals and two tuna heads as bait be?

We didn’t see any white sharks that day, only a Bronze Whaler Shark that was attracted by the bait, but quickly split. I learned white sharks eat bronzy’s and therefore understood its skittishness. This was prime hunting territory for one of nature’s greatest predators. A nomadic animal that can see as good as us and can detect our heartbeat. Mine felt like it had just been pumped with 45 cc of strychnine as I bobbed about, waiting for a massive fish that could easily smash the cage like a one-year-old eating their first birthday cake.

Before we boarded the ship in the early hours of the morning – which felt like we were marching off to war, single file, after the staff had crossed off our names on the clip board and we were told to have our cameras ready in case somebody fell in the water (he was joking) – the skipper told us we weren’t guaranteed to see white sharks. Like I mentioned, they’re nomads, but there’s always a chance one will be attracted by the chum (bait) in the water, or the rapid heartbeat of one of their biggest fans.

Nobody could forget an experience like this. From watching the sun come up in the middle of the ocean to the moment the boat finally hit rocky water and people lunged for the vomit bags (no joke, it was really bad). It was like watching my recorded from tv version of JAWS for the first time on a VHS tape. Disappointing not seeing the real jaws up close. It would have clocked my heart rate at over 200, easy. And after so much thought about doing this with other jaws heads, I’m confident it will be something I do again. Sort of feels like I went to call on a friend at their house and this time they weren’t home. I won’t forget the address. Trust me.

Where were you when you were s***?

I should get chided for doing this at such an opportune time as two of the professional sports teams I support are in the negatives. Regardless, the last few months, which have been difficult to bear, reminded me of what is commonly shouted, not chanted, at Chelsea Football Club supporters by opposing fans: “Where were you when you were shit?”

The question the opposing fans so eloquently put it is why all of a sudden does a club like Chelsea have so many backers when they used to be, well, “shit” (prior to the mid-nineties Chelsea was a mediocre team with some success during the 1960’s and early 1970’s). Now, a lot of this vitriol can be explained by the excessive number of people who don’t like Chelsea or other big clubs. Most teams aren’t as good as Chelsea and never will be. That’s pretty straightforward. (yeah, that’s right – never be scared to throw a punch when your back is against the wall).

These same insults can be flung at other teams that have accumulated a large fan base in recent years. The New England Patriots and Kansas City Royals come to mind. I’m aware of the blatantly obvious example of the Toronto Blue Jays of late, but I’m a Jays fan and have been since I was old enough to understand baseball so I don’t mind Toronto folks getting wired up for a playoff run that lasted as long as it did. Why the team celebrated like they did after winning one series is still beyond me.

People will offer as much effort in supporting a club, in whichever sport, as they feel and there’s no disputing that. However, the people that don’t participate at all, do the bare minimum at best, or totally hop on the Blue Jays bandwagon are missing out on days, nights, weeks, months, years of pain, excitement and, if you’re lucky, happiness. There are trade-offs around every god damn corner. These emotions ain’t no joke. When Chelsea beat your team from two goals down, away, you’ll certainly feel it. Anyway, what I’ve just mentioned is actually part of the contract you sign when you order your first kit from the UK or jersey from the United States. If you’re serious, this will be one of the most important purchases of your life. Only thing missing is your finger dipped in blood.

Too often people lose interest when their team can’t put the ball in the end zone or has their starting number one chased after two innings, or who can’t win a game in overtime, ever. Well the team sucks so I don’t care anymore. It’s so easy to do and on an emotional level it seems like the appropriate option. Why let some team that never wins bring you down or ruin your day. Well strap on your skates Gordie because I’ll tell you why.

There’s more to saying you’ll support a team. There’s a level of commitment that takes time to develop. If you throw on a Manchester United kit and they lose at home the next Saturday morning to Aston Villa over a dodgy pen you can’t take off the jersey and start cheering for Chelsea instead. You take the loss on the chin. It can be brutal. For instance, the final whistle after a Chelsea home defeat ignites a chorus of messages from friends and loved ones who decided to hit send on the text they’ve been planning for the last 45 minutes. I respond. Eventually. And I always will.

Warning. This level of support gets emotional at times, and there is a very real chance you will end up supporting a team that starts to lose. Penalties, cards, power plays, runners on the corners, these things suddenly matter a lot more. As difficult as it might be to pull for a team that’s in the dump and proudly show off your scarf, don’t quit. I’ve read that our habits show our character and dedicating yourself to supporting a team and not selling the farm after a bad stretch says a lot about someone. However, if you do decide to drop off your United or Liverpool jacket at Value Village and buy some Chelsea gear I won’t hold it against you … at first.

As of today, six different individuals have sent me their “condolences” over the past month. It’s been an educational experience since Chelsea has been so good for so long. I know it’s temporary and I’ve kept up my confidence (as you can see). We are constantly tasked with things that test our resolve. Relationships can fall apart and we move on. People change careers or tire from doing daily habits. If you do it right, the support you have for your team may be the only thing that lasts your entire life. Think about it and keep your phone close by. I’ll be in touch.

The greatest to come out of Scotland since Glasgow Celtic

Bad news. Carey Lander, the keyboardist of one of my favourite bands, Camera Obscura, died last month from bone cancer. The band cancelled its last tour and there is no word whether it will continue. We may have lost one of the greatest things to come out of Scotland since Glasgow Celtic.

Before she died Carey set up a donation page through JustGiving with the goal of raising £50,000 (roughly $101,000 Canadian) to go towards researching Osteosarcoma, the cancer that was present in her leg. Terry Fox had it. The Canadian Cancer Society says this type of cancer most commonly occurs in children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 30. Treatment options are surgery, chemotherapy and possible amputation. Right now over 73,000 (and counting) quid has been raised.

Listening to the band’s music while researching and writing accentuates what a bummer this is. And I’m not talking about the possibility of no more Camera Obscura. It’s that something a person had no control over made them stop doing what they love, and based on what Carey wrote on her fundraising page, recording and playing shows with Camera Obscura was something she loved. That’s life. I get it. But it doesn’t mean you have to like it.

If the band decides to part ways the music they’ve created will sound different and make me wonder what other gems this Scottish quintet would have come up with. Not everyone knows them. You’ve probably heard snippets of songs from soundtracks and such. Their music is delightful. Truly. With each album they seemed to tweak what they built the last time and the results were always refreshing. That’s something you hope new music feels like. Camera Obscura could be soft, stringy, lo-fi loud and give you an appreciation for the trumpet you thought you never had. Whether for good or bad reasons, it excited me to hear them reference Toronto (see “Forests and Sands”) in the second last LP My Maudlin Career.

For newcomers I suggest starting with their third album, Let’s Get Out of This Country. It was my first brush and a good starting point to hear their sound. Both earlier and later recordings, especially their latest – Desire Lines, sound different and you can be the judge of which version you prefer.

On the JustGiving page Carey wrote that it was probably too late for her to beat the cancer and the funding would go towards helping kids deal with this experience. From reading the obits about the keyboardist and the descriptions of her from those that knew her, I think Camera Obscura’s sound is emblematic of who Carey was. In one of the obits, the band’s lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell said Carey would wear Chanel No. 5 with an arsenic-coloured cardigan and drink cheap fizz or gin and tonic. “She was a bright, beautiful and a courageous bookworm,” Campbell said. “She was sharp, extremely witty, super-sarcastic and at all times dignified.”

Carey’s efforts through her campaign and her music will have a trickle down. The music itself has made a difference for me, as well as a few folks I’ve introduced it to.

I’ve read interviews with people talking about the first time they heard the Ramones and how they ended up staring at the cover of their debut album for hours. The band looked how they sounded. I think the same can be said of Camera Obscura, especially Carey. Here’s my favourite pic of them. They’re not four punks from Queens, but the photo is just as memorable.

The QE2 Code

To be on the safe side, I googled the QE2 Code, the Queen Elizabeth Highway 2 Code and the Alberta Highway 2 Code and didn’t find anything so I hope I’m not stepping on somebody’s toes with this.

Sometimes referred to as the QE2, Alberta’s Highway 2 stretches from north of Edmonton to south of Calgary and then onto Lethbridge. It’s the longest highway in the province, and based on my experience driving it, I feel there’s an understanding between users. There’s a code. A knowing. Like if you asked someone from here they would say “you bet.”

It’s best if I just describe it to you.

Heading south on QE2 out of Edmonton there is construction, which means a lower speed limit to the maximum 110 kilometres and a warning that fines double when workers are present. Once the construction zone hits, everybody slows down and the jockeying begins (change lanes, make sure you’re doing 80, speed up, pass the car you’ve been sitting behind since South Common). It’s all done smoothly and, barring some meathead still doing the 110 maximum, the pre-race has started. Eventually the construction dissipates, cars speed up and then it looks as if there’s a person standing at the “end of construction zone” sign vigorously waving a green flag. Suddenly 110 isn’t the maximum anymore. It’s barely the minimum.

In my mind there’s only one way to drive in the prairies: fast. I don’t think I’m alone with this one. On the QE2 you have to drive fast. There are secondary highways so it’s not as if there are no other options. And those secondary ones, such as the Cowboy Trail (Highway 22), show off the beauty of driving in Alberta (Seriously. Drive to Longview). Admire the sites on secondary, take the cue from the metaphorical NASCAR green flag bearer on the QE2 and put your god damn foot down hey. You think you may be going fast when you take a peek at the odometer and it says 140 until someone blows by you in the passing lane. It’s not a surprise and at times you might be that person ripping by.

This is all a good thing, of course. Driving fast out of town does more than just get you to where you want to go quickly. I’ve always thought music in the car sounds a lot different than music in your headphones. Also, taking off gives you that appreciation for where you are and knowing there’s way more to see. Our fast travel ticket to the mountains, the badlands, a saloon with good steak in Longview, or the United States of America (I hear Whitefish is lovely), is available year round and people should use it more often. 

Every time I put my god damn foot down hey when getting out of the construction zone on the QE2 I appreciate it a little bit more. It doesn’t feel like a boring drive and based on how fast you’re going it won’t take long to get there anyway. People fly between Edmonton and Calgary all day, every day and there’s even been talk of putting a rail line between the two cities. We don’t have the population, yet, for a train between Edmonton and Calgary so we can at least put that idea to bed in the short term. Besides, there’s no better place to let your wheels do the talking.

If you asked the average Albertan have they made it from Edmonton to Calgary in less than two hours you’ll be surprised at how many say you bet. That’s the QE2 Code. Everyone drives fast and it’s OK if you want to drive faster. 

Last thoughts on Jim Harbaugh

It wasn’t my intention to write this after week 4, but I wanted to get a full picture of the situation before putting final thoughts to paper, so to speak. This is the situation: One man has changed the San Francisco 49ers from a playoff contending team with a solid defence and an exciting offence to a team with an offence and a defence. That’s the nicest I can say thus far. Here are three things former head coach Jim Harbaugh (one man) did before leaving/being let go from the 49ers, in no specific order.

Examining the art of possibility

I remember seeing a clip of Harbaugh at the opening press conference he gave after being hired by the 49ers General Manager. He talked about the possibility of winning a Lombardi trophy and having what he called “unshakable confidence.” It’s one thing to say this out loud to a bunch of reporters when you’ve just inherited a team that’s gone through coaches, offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators (and the like) as if they were cans of Miller Lite. There’s plenty more where that came from they probably said (FYI, a lot of people drink Miller Lite at football games). It’s another thing to say it’s possible to win a Lombardi trophy with “unshakable confidence” and Alex Smith as your quarterback. Looking back I have a suspicion Harbaugh knew Smith was going to be the starting QB at the time. Harbaugh knew it was possible. The fans didn’t and neither did the press. I have another suspicion Smith didn’t know either. San Francisco’s record that year: 13 wins and three losses. The previous year: six wins and 10 losses.

Getting fired up

Harbaugh wore cleats on the sidelines, probably showered with his hat on and would absolutely lose it when a dubious call would not go the 49ers way. His reaction after losing challenge calls (asking the refs to take a look at a replay to see if they made the right call), which I doubt he won any, was particularly memorable. That gets a team fired up. The players didn’t have to look for story lines in the press to get fired up for each game. Their coach did it for them. And for awhile it worked. San Francisco dominated teams with a ground and pound run game and a defence that would fight for every play. I mentioned Alex Smith earlier, and that topic itself warrants its own piece, but at the time Harbaugh started coaching the 49ers, Alex Smith was unanimously dismissed as a flop. San Fran drafted Smith with the first overall pick in 2005 and after six seasons the 49ers didn’t make the playoffs once. Something changed in the seventh season. Enter Harbaugh.

Unshakable confidence

He really wasn’t kidding at the first presser. Unshakable. During Harbaugh’s four years as head coach the entirety of the Bay Area had confidence in their team. The 49ers were talented, sure, but when a team is confident it almost doesn’t matter the caliber of players. That confidence is felt by opposing players and there’s a level of respect that’s afforded to those confident teams. It’s a confidence so strong you can even feel it watching a game on TV. There’s this feeling a team can always come back no matter what the deficit is. It doesn’t last forever and during the final season Harbaugh was in charge the 49ers struggled. Other teams got confident too and now the situation is, like I mentioned above, an offence and a defence. Some folks might say the 49ers aren’t as good anymore because they lost several key players and veterans. At that point it didn’t matter. Harbaugh was already gone and with him the spirit of the team. No Lombardi trophy, but they were damn close.

Sinkhole repair in Three Sisters gets approval

Canmore Town council has added a new capital project for this year that will permanently remediate a nearly five metre deep sinkhole in Three Sisters Mountain Village.

Late last year, Mayor John Borrowman announced the Town had received a $600,000 grant from the Province to fix the hole, located along a municipal pathway near Dyrgas Gate that formed in May 2010.

At its regular meeting on Tuesday (May 21), members of council voted unanimously to proceed with a capital project to fix the sinkhole, which was the result of an airshaft from Seam No. 4 in the No. 4 mine. The mine was closed in the 1940s.

In a presentation to council, Town manager of engineering services Andy Esarte indicated a significant amount of discussion had taken place regarding liability for potential sinkholes created from developing on undermined lands.

Read the full story at the Rocky Mountain Outlook.