East across the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), from Vancouver to Lake Louise.  Under rainy skies, with my car heavily weighed down with my supplies and an impromptu-purchased “La Pavoni Bar T” commercial espresso machine and commercial grinder, I began the long journey home.  The route I mapped out would take me over the coastal range and across the fertile B.C. agricultural belt to the windward side of the Canadian Rockies.  The approach to Rogers Pass was intriguingly shrouded in clouds and mist, however, the majesty of the Canadian Rockies was ubiquitous, if translucent.

Rogers Pass marked the centre of the Canadian Rockies, and the transition to the drier leeward side of the mountains.

As I approached Lake Louise, the skies parted briefly to permit a clearer view of the surroundingmountains.

I spent night 1 of the return drive in the Hosteling International- Alpine Centre at Lake Louise, located in Banff National Park (Canada’s oldest national park).

Lake Louise was formed by the retreat of the glacier seen in its background.  The glaciers carved out the valley and their runoff filled the void with glowing turquoise water, bitter cold to the touch.  Alpinists from all over the world have ventured into these mountains and conquered the glaciers embedded within.  I hope to one day return to climb some of these glaciers, particularly after gaining my first experience on Mt. Rainier.

I was fortunate to get a room to myself at the hostel and so I awoke early on Day 2 (Thursday, Aug. 21) fresh and revived.  This day’s drive would have me traverse the spine of the Canadian Rockies, through Kootenay National Park, and Radium Hot Springs.  It took approximately 3-4 hours to travel south and through the hinterland of B.C. to the U.S. Border in Roosville, Montana.  The border crossing was particularly loathsome, as the agents welcomed me with suspicion and doubt.  They singled me out for a full vehicular inspection, and demanded that I remain inside the lobby of the office.  I was prevented from using the restroom facilities for over one hour while the agents needlessly searched through every nook and cranny of my car.  Perhaps the commercial-sized espresso machine threw them off.

Once through customs, it was lunchtime and I stopped in the first inviting place I passed, Whitefish, Montana.  I digress: it is incredibly difficult to eat healthy outside of major cities in this country.  A salad often consists of iceberg lettuce and week-old cabbage and maybe a tomato slice.  I was heartened to see healthy and abundant salad offerings at Loula’s Cafe in Whitefish.  The waitstaff was incredibly pleasant, friendly, which helped to offset the misery of the border crossing experience.

Following this brief pit-stop, it was time to refuel and head into Glacier National Park, to drive the final traverse of the great Rocky Mountains, over “Going to the Sun” highway.  The sky opened up and the rain poured down torrentially.  The windy paved road gave way to a muddy dirt path up into the mountains.  There is heavy construction going on to re-buttress the road carved into the side of the mountains.  This made for several long delays, but gave me time to appreciate my last moments in the mountains.  Atop Logan Pass (approx. 6,600′), the wind was howling and the storm was moving quickly.  On the eastward side of the pass, the precipitation was falling as snow at the higher elevations.

I stopped for the night in East Glacier Park, a small train depot town at the eastern flank of the park.  There is a general store, a small cafe, a Mexican restaurant, a couple of motels, and a backpackers’ inn- my cup of tea.  A bed was $12 a night and there was a single bathroom to be shared among the men and women’s bunk.  My bunk mates included a guy seemingly in his mid-late thirties who has been traveling around the country by hitchiking and trains for the last 2 years, and a British mate who is traversing the U.S. by bike.

I woke up at 5.30a intending to take an early morning run, but cut it short after some angry canines chased me back into town.  I hit the road by about 6.30 and witnessed one of the most spectacular sunrises I saw all summer (perhaps the only sunrise, actually).

Montana is a massive state.  I crossed into the state from Canada in the northwestern portion, and by lunchtime on Friday (Aug. 22), I was only in the centre of the state.  It wasn’t until approximately 6pm that I entered North Dakota (and at some point thereafter, entered Central Standard Time).

North Dakota has an understated beauty, secreted by its remoteness and stigma for blustery and snowy winters.  The Badlands in western ND are majestic and reminiscent of Bryce National Park in Utah.

I soldiered on, to make it to a Super 8 motel (only about my 6th motel night of the trip) in Bismarck, where I would call it a night.  I was so fatigued that I scarfed down a subway sandwich at 11p and watched the pre-Obama VP announcement before falling asleep into a daze of highways and lane changes.  I was so tired apparently, that Obama’s 3am text message, announcing his pick for VP, didn’t wake me until my alarm went off at 5:30am.  Again, in military fashion, I was packed, fed, and on the road at 6:30am.

The terrain changed from Badlands to bronze, rolling agricultural hills, where the horizon forever appears as the end of the earth (not to worry, I know the earth is not flat).  These hills seemed more vibrant and natural than those in Iowa and Nebraska (only a couple of hundred miles south on I-80, my westward route earlier in the summer).  I imagined the land more than 100 years ago, where buffalo roamed and foraged and Native Americans occupied the vast spaces.  I passed through Fargo without stopping, for fear that Steve Buscemi would jump out and feed me to a wood chipper (oh wait, that was a movie…believe me, one becomes delerious after 2 and a half straight days driving alone).  Fargo, a town on the border between N. Dakota and Minnesota, seemed nice enough, though today (Saturday, Aug. 23) was my long haul…950 miles from Bismarck, ND to Kalamazoo, MI.  I was also determined to make it to St. Paul by lunchtime to eat in one of the authentic Ethiopian restaurants there.  I found a great one right off of the interstate and enjoyed eating a great stew of vegetables with my hands (one of few remaininer situations when doing so is appropriate).

Back on the highway, it was 2.30 and I limited myself to only petrol and bathroom breaks between St. Paul, MN and Kalamazoo, MI (still 8 hours ahead).  In Minnesota the terrain transformed from brown rolling hills to more verdant pastures of green grass and taller trees.  The prairie-land were giving way to the Midwestern plains.  Then into Wisconsin, where I was first impressed and, alternatively frightened back in June.  I saw the glacial bluffs that first brought me awe, but was happy to not encounter Bobcat after my June run-in.  I whizzed through Wisconsin and entered Illinois to its characteristic traffic and more aggressive drivers (I could feel the transformation to east-coast culture approaching at this point).  My bleary eyes convinced me to stop at a rest stop near O’Hare airport.  Another subway sandwich in my belly fueled me for the last leg of my long haul.  I could feel the humidity start to creep up and the remnants of a late afternoon thunder shower welcomed me to Indiana.  A brief re-fuel and I was within ear-shot of my destination, Kalamazoo.  Fortunately, I was to stay with a friend I met out in Seattle.  I knew I would have a comfortable place to sleep and good company. I took a rest day on Sunday, Aug. 24 after having driven 4 days and 2,550 miles straight through.  We went for a jog around Kalamazoo, where K showed me K college and Western Michigan (her alma mater).  The town is a lovely mid-sized city in western Michigan, somewhat sheltered from the economic woes of the east.  The downtown is more vibrant than I had expected and the people were friendly and down to earth.  We headed to the beach on Lake Michigan for the day, where the winds were whipping up impressive 10′ waves.  The water was also a refreshing 80+ degrees.  After some local micro-brew and grub, it was time for an early night sleep, so I could remain conscious for the last leg of my drive.

I awoke at 6:30 and hit I-94 eastbound under cloudless skies to complete the last 730 miles of my drive to NY.  The drive through Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and on into NY was rather uneventful, except for the trip’s cheapest petrol ($3.89 for premium in Ohio…the simplest pleasures make for big news after a journey like this).  I backed down my driveway at about 7.30pm on Monday, August 25, only 5 days after leaving Vancouver, B.C.  I could hardly believe I traversed North America, 4 time zones and 3 mountain ranges and capped off a 3 month solo journey.

***

I’ve only been home a couple of days now, and as I adjust to being home and getting ready to go back to work, I am already beginning to feel the transformative effects of my experience.  Several reflective conclusions have already become clear.  After all, I had over 60 hours alone to reflect on what I had seen, who I had met, where I had been, and what I had learned.

– Community is the most powerful inclusive force in our lives.  The most sustainable and friendly places I visited rooted the energy of its residents in the community and for the benefit of the community.  It seemed that individual success was born by the health and vibrance of community support, not necessarily the other way around.

– The kindness of strangers, albeit cliche, moved me and inspired me.  People in nearly ever city, town, community I visited offered their hospitality in ways I never imagined.  This made for an uplifting experience. I hope to return the favour to all who supported me and opened their homes and communities to me.

– The power of presentness is overwhelming.  That is, for all of the benefits of the electronic age, and in all the ways that digital communication has connected us, there is something tangibly powerful about being present in a place.  Presentness uniquely connects us to its people, avails us of new experiences, generates dialogue and ideas, and perpetuates community.

– Solitude is a self-hazing experience.  Traveling alone has taught me what is truly required to survive.  I learned how arduous and fragile existence can be.  Mundane tasks, that we often divide between partners, family, coworkers, etc., borne alone, magnify in effort and time when performed alone.  In this way, I feel more connected to the essence of sustenance…this experienced was humanizing and humbling.

– Individual example is more effective and inspirational than top-down approaches.  There are times and places where top-down mandates are required and thus beneficial; however, in terms of promoting environmental sustainability and green collar jobs, the power comes from the individuals.  Grassroots efforts are underway around the country to conserve resources and energy, to implement and utilize renewable sources of energy, and to live simpler, more sustainable lifestyles.  The determination of the folks I met along my journey inspired me not by the ideology they espoused, but by the example they set.  Ken and Katherine’s sustainable farm on Lopez Island is an example of local and communal food production that is taking hold across the country, as an alternative to anonymous, industrial food production.  I met so many people throughout my journey, with whom I connected over the common value of seeking to experience natural beauty.  We each felt mutually inspired by the simple ways in which we connected to nature, and tried to minimize our impact on the environment.  I forged new friendships and networks over my research on community-based environmental sustainability initiatives.  All the while, these friends and contacts raised my awareness and inspired my sense of purpose.  This energy, in turn, inspired other friends and contacts in ways I never previously conceived.

***

Things to come.  Among the many changes I intend to make in my life, I have undertaken several auspicious projects that I want to share here.  First, I plan to write a book based on my experience over the last three months.  The book will be based on this blog, as well as the substance of the many hours of meeting recordings I compiled.  The story will be a blend of adventure travel, humorous misadventure, eco-philosophy (with an edge-rounding sense of self-deprecation), substantive lessons and concepts of environmental sustainability, principled discussion of green collar jobs, light-hearted anecdotes and tales of self-awareness.

Second, I am in the process of co-authoring a scholarly article on eco density, and rights of reverter in sustainable urban planning and development.

Third, I will continue to work with the NYCELLI (New York City Environmental Law Leadership Institute; nycelli.org) group on our green collar jobs initiative.  We are researching, partnering, and leading the charge for green collar jobs legislation in the State of New York.  Our goal is to institutionalize the concept of green collar jobs with the imprimatur of government, and to study the workforce, educational, vocational, environmental justice, and sustainability components of the movement.  We want New York State to establish a task force to collect and analyze data pertaining to green collar jobs and become a clearinghouse for monies that will be disseminated to training programs, community development programs.  We are in the process of drafting the legislation and hope to unveil a draft publicly in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for further details and information.

For those of you who are still reading, I will close with a call to action.  September 27, 2008 is a National Call to Action day.  Individuals and groups alike will be out on the streets to demand more political attention to the groundswell of support for green collar jobs.  We are ready for national leadership to take us into the era of a clean energy economy with American labour.  This is our chance to put the voice of marginalized communities front and centre in the national conversation about green collar jobs.  As David Brower put it: “Think globally and act locally.”  On September 27, 2008, we should all stand up and demand leadership on green collar jobs.

For more information, please visit Green for All at greenforall.org.

***

My Route:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

Day 4:

Day 5:

(For a live map of my return journey, see:https://share.findmespot.com/shared/gogl.jsp?glId=1joD6QrKhUEs12nKHrsKW7OK5mMUrKuMe)

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