Yes, as depressing as it is, summer appears to be over. I know it technically goes for another few weeks, but for us summer mentally ends whenever we board a plane for alternate destinations. Of course, that wasn’t the case last year (COVID and all) so the other day when we finally completed all the extra steps (stocked up on surgical masks that meet Air France requirements, printed full vaccination records, filled out an online passenger locator form, got a panicked rapid COVID test just before our flight after Italy suddenly changed the rules at the last second) and boarded an actual plane it marked the first time we would be leaving the country in almost a year and a half. Definitely the longest consecutive amount of time spent in Canada since sometime in the early 90’s, as far as I can remember. Probably back when a weekend of being able to drink legally in Lloydminster seemed like a big trip.
Anyway, before I get caught up in all things Europe as we spend the next 3 months checking out several new areas of old favourites, I should wrap up “Summer 2021 – Canada” as it is known among my photo folders.
Even though we were only returning from BC and not some exotic foreign destination, it was still nice to make it back to friends, family and our own place at the beginning of May. Even better, no jet lag (although even that 1-hour time change seems to mess with our internal clock as we get older). From there it was an enjoyable mix of all our usual summer favourites, very few of which were affected by COVID in any significant way. Walks along the Meewasin Trail, occasional family gatherings, golfing in the strong spring winds of Dakota Dunes, Moon Lake and Willows, even a short season of weirdly altered soccer.
COVID rules: in order to promote social distancing and increase player safety, teams were reduced from 11 players per team on a full field to 7 players per team on half the field. While the math doesn’t work out particularly well, at least it meant a smaller league bubble. And no throw-ins, although without a specific rule against licking the ball there were still hurdles to overcome. The early season was “young guy” soccer – lower level, younger, faster, crappier opponents – and for the July/August season I returned to “old guy” soccer – higher level, older, slower but better opponents. Both went fine, I suppose.
Most of you probably noticed the unusually hot summer, especially July, which, for lack of a better description, was hot as fresh rat shit. Or at least that’s how it felt in our non-air-conditioned condo, which, in order to be kept at a somewhat bearable temperature, required a highly specific and surprisingly scientific pattern of behaviour and precautions involving very early morning screen door manipulation, intense mid-day battening of hatches, creative cross-breezes and, of course, never, ever using the stove.
Hot summers at the lake, however, are an entirely different proposition. There’s nothing like the close proximity of a beach, some fairly frigid water and an entire mini-fridge full of cold beer to drastically change one’s opinion on “too hot”. Not to mention fully functioning air-conditioning in the cabin. So, yes, Waskesiu was a pretty great place to be in July during the warmest of the warm weather, hiding under beach umbrellas, actually swimming in Waskesiu Lake voluntarily (without even the pressure of a dare, and each time describing it in shocked tones as “really not that bad this year”), cruising on friends’ boats and rented pontoons, and even enjoying beach drinks until well after 9 pm on occasion. Of course, the surprising part about that last one is that it was still hot enough to be sitting on the beach dressed for the tropics well into the evening. Less surprising was the fairly obvious idea that we might get carried away with our day drinking and let it spill over into the darkness (or as I like to call it, the hangover zone).
Most of the time, though, we stuck closer to our usual lake pattern – short hikes, Blue Jay games on TV, afternoon deck drinks at various locations, the occasional night of cards (Kaiser, Wizard, Asshole, Pass the Ace) and, of course, outdoor ping pong… once. Oh yeah, and golf. Where we saw a couple bears and even one wolf this summer. Plus, one impressive eagle on Elk Ridge (see what I did there, Danny?).
It wasn’t all just rehashing old routines, however, we did wander off a couple times to explore new spots. In June, we spent a few days camping in beautiful Cypress Hills Provincial Park, stopping off on the way for a first glimpse of the rather bizarre Great Sandhills Ecological Reserve near Sceptre. Like a little bit of the Sahara somehow transported to southern Saskatchewan (or maybe dumped out of a giant shoe). Then we continued over to Grasslands National Park, the only other national park in Saskatchewan along with Prince Albert National Park (which includes Waskesiu, of course), and probably my second-favourite place in the province (once again, after Waskesiu). Or maybe third, if I include the Roxy Theatre on any random Wednesday when I have the entire place to myself during yet another bizarre, underappreciated but occasionally pretentious arthouse movie.
The classic prairie landscapes, extensive wildlife (everything from wild bison to fidgety prairie dogs), rugged coulees and surprising badlands terrain of Grasslands National Park is something every Saskatchewanian should experience as a rite of provincial passage at some point. One of the three classic Saskatchewan rites of passage, actually, along with facing a life or death battle against swarms of mosquitoes while camping in the northern forests and getting blackout drunk at Roughrider game.
Another big highlight was a visit to amazing Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park. This gorgeous collection of peaks, lakes and trails is considered one of the top hiking destinations in Canada and is almost impossible to gain access to. When, after hours of failing miserably, I suddenly shocked myself by actually reserving a Lake O’Hara campsite online, Laynni magically appeared showing newfound interest in what is normally a solo summer mountain adventure. It turned out to be a great mid-summer break, heading off for a quick visit with friends in Calgary, a new-to-us Kananaskis area hike with some other friends, then a packed 24 hours in Lake O’Hara that fully lived up to the hype (despite the first hints of the smoke that would plague the area for the rest of the summer), some good, old-fashioned Banff-time and a productive visit to Drumheller on the way home (there are apparently a lot of things to do in Drumheller that I had no idea about during all my previous stops).
I say productive because, as many of you probably noticed, our blog has become much more extensive and detailed over the past year (and maybe less frivolous, or fun, depending on your perspective). During COVID we set ourselves to improving Routinely Nomadic, making it actually useful and functional rather than merely a platform for my unfiltered ramblings and strange fascination with public urination jokes. And, lo and behold, it turns out that putting actual work into it (like, every day, almost like a real job, just without as many office birthday parties) – researching topics, implementing SEO and drastically improving website structure and performance actually works. Who knew? Besides all those talented bloggers who’ve been making a living at it for years, I mean. Anyway, it took more than a year to get the site to where we needed it to be but as of July it is now officially a useful source of income for us, one that hopefully we can continue to grow to the point it can fully support our current and future travels. More importantly, potentially help us keep up with our never ending need for new hiking shoes and slight variations in backpacks. And big thanks to all of you for helping us get there.
Despite our sometimes obsessive focus on our blog (Laynni mainly, as I have never been accused of being “unable to relax”), we still found time in the Summer of 2021 to check out the occasional nephew’s sporting event, enjoy an annual round of mini-golf, participate in an ongoing 50 things to do by 50 list for a close relative and, on an unrelated note, learn of a previously innocent CN railcar being newly decorated with a very large pink penis. You just never know.
And that’s about all that comes to mind for now. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important occasion or drunken hilarity but this seems like a sufficient amount of info to both inform and bore in equal measure so we’ll call it good.
Now I find myself writing this in a comfortable apartment in the centre of famous Venice, one of our all-time favourite cities. Yes, it is crowded. Yes, it is touristy. Yes, we get just as tired as everyone else hearing about all the other “Venice of _______” scattered around the world (which rarely share much of anything in common with the real thing other than an unusual amount of water). But Venice is also beautiful, fascinating and impossible to navigate without getting lost at least a couple times per day, which usually end up leading you to the coolest, emptiest areas. As you can probably tell, we’re very excited to be back.
Not to mention, this visit just happened to coincide with the world-renowned Venice International Film Festival. It is always a big deal but is even more hyped this year after all the festivals were either cancelled or significantly altered over the past year and some, so apparently Venice is currently flooded with famous movie stars, brilliant filmmakers and glamorous celebrities. And Jesse Plemons. Just kidding, I love Jesse Plemons. Is that weird? I’m not even sure anymore. Anyway, it just so happens that I managed to get my grubby little hands on 2 tickets to the 6 pm showing of The Card Counter yesterday (by Paul Schrader and starring Oscar Isaac, Willem Defoe and Tiffany Haddish), one of 20 films in competition for the coveted Golden Lion. I decided to wear the only shirt I have with buttons and Laynni actually wore something resembling dress shoes. Unfortunately, nobody commented on either one, nor did we see a single celebrity, other than a guy who looked kind of similar to the second Masterchef judge. Or is it Top Chef? Either way, I don’t think he spoke English, so it was probably just a coincidence. The movie was great, though. And if the world could just go ahead and mandate “using every second seat” in movie theatres for all time, I wouldn’t be upset (at least until movie prices doubled).
Finally, a quick fall preview to whet your travel appetite (or at least reassure you that not every post will be as personal, pointless and rambling as this one):
After a couple more days in Venice we’ll be heading north to the Dolomites, where we’ll spend 10 days hiking the Alta Via 1 trek. Can’t wait. Then we’re off to southern Spain to take a second shot at exploring Andalusia, a journey we were on the cusp of last spring before COVID came along and threw a wrench into our (and everyone’s) plans and led to a surprisingly long stay in Portugal. That month will likely be followed by some more quality time on a Greek island (Crete this time) where we hope to once again cross paths with those wild and crazy Aikdrews. Then we will finish off our 3.5 months in _________. Cyprus? Egypt? Turkey? Israel? All we know is that the good folks that run the European Union assure us that because we will have reached our 90-day limit, wherever it is will need to fall outside of the confusing but rather strict Schengen Area.
And, just in case you hadn’t noticed a pattern here yet, we definitely will keep you posted on all of that as it happens. Probably in much greater detail than you ever imagined or hoped for. You’re welcome.