A Birthday Bash, Jasper Style

Another delayed post from my week in the Canadian Rockies….

Today the town of Jasper, Alberta threw a birthday party for me.

Okay, it was really their annual Winterstruck! festival out at Pyramid Lake, a part of their month-long Jasper in January. But for me, it was a day of firsts amidst a dramatic setting of a frozen lake tucked into the wide valley beneath the aptly-named Pyramid Mountain.

I jumped the free shuttle from town for the 15 minute drive out to the lake. Locals swarmed over the snow with mountain bike-worthy strollers and cross-country skis. Young couples strolled through ankle-deep snow covering the lake like a fluffy blanket, sipping steaming mugs of cocoa and cider. Laughing teenagers raced in snowshoes as a Davy Crocket look-alike cheered them on to a soundtrack of mountain men folk songs. Families tried their hand at winter bocce, sliding huge hunks of wood across a cleared section of ice.

I bypassed all of this for the chance to try dog-sledding. Across the lake, three yapping teams of huskies pulled the adventurous on a brief circuit out across the snowy lake. Determined not to pass up the chance of free dog-sledding, I waited my hour in line as my toes lost feeling beneath the double-layer of socks and I jumped from foot to foot to keep warm.

Finally I took my place behind a sled.

The driver stood on one sled runner, I stood on the other, the brake pedal between us in the middle. After a brief tussle of the lead dogs (one decided he was done ferrying tourists around in endless circles and was unclipped for a break), we took off, flying towards Pyramid Mountain. The wind instantly burned my cheeks, but I didn’t mind. The sensation was pure exhilaration. The jingling dog harnesses, the smooth sailing of the sled, the realization if I let go I would fly off, the mountains looming above – I felt small, but not insignificant. I like the world from a dogsled.

My next birthday “first” involved skates. My figure skates far behind in Wisconsin, I rented a pair of hockey skates, the only kind available in true Canadian fashion. Lack of toe pick aside, hockey skates are liberating. I quickly regained my confidence as I followed the long serpentine course plowed across the lake for meandering circuits of gliding. Of course, I fell a few times. This was a mountain lake, not a Zamboni smooth ice rink. I’m not sure what I imagined, but it wasn’t this. Strange lumps and ridges, snow-encrusted chunks. Areas that confounded my best attempts to be graceful as five-year-olds streaked past me. I braved three laps in one hour before admitting exhausted defeat.

My final “first” came with the encouragement of a friendly transplant from Quebec. Her moans of delight as she nibbled at a chewy wad of something on a stick caught my attention. “We had this every winter growing up. It’s heaven on a stick.” No need to tell me twice. I handed over my toonie and watched as a bearded mountain man ladled boiling maple syrup from a steaming vat, then poured it out in a strip on fresh snow. After a few seconds, I wrapped the gooey mess around a popsicle stick. The Quebecois was right. Heaven on a stick.

With treats like these, who needs a birthday cake?

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About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
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