• Mack James

Somewhere Over Your Back Fence

From Edmonton, the trip to Jasper is a tank of gas and four hours. From Tokyo, It is a month’s wages and two days.

Jasper is without doubt a world-class destination, but is it any more world class if you flew from Tokyo, or any less world class if you drove from Edmonton? Is Jasper more attractive if it is in a different country, or less attractive if it only cost you a hundred bucks to get there? Why are we all so obsessed with faraway places?

Studies show that rich people never ask dumb questions like that. Or if they do, they are sipping on a Corona in Hawaii and talking to the bartender. Only poor philosophers talk like that, and other studies show that poor philosophers can’t afford plane tickets. Resentment drives them to ask dumb questions.

Fortunately, thinking sometimes produces answers, so here are three answers to explain why everybody wants to travel. I got them from a poor guy.

1. Boasting rights. You can put pictures of palm trees on facebook and make your friends jealous.

2. Boredom. You have no life of your own, but dumb luck has given you enough cash that you can go see other people living their lives somewhere else. It confers a vague sense of purpose for about a week or so, before and after the trip.

3. Blindness. The world’s wonders are right in front of you every day at home, but you can’t see them. Realizing this, the advertisers have convinced you that an expensive ten hour plane ride will give you new vision, and they are right for a few days. But after the novelty wears off, it all looks the same. You just want to sleep in your own bed.

Sour grapes, you might say, but let’s assume that this guy is at least partly right. What are we supposed to do then? Stay at home? Live a reasonable life while our neighbors incessantly tweet from other continents of their joyous hedonism?

After years of contemplation, I have come up with the perfect answer: haul chips from Chetwynd. You are going to need a point by point explanation for this one.

First: boasting rights. In all likelihood, you have never been to Chetwynd. You probably don’t even know where it is. I do. If I had a Facebook account, I would fill it with Chetwynd pictures, properly edited of course, and you would be purple with envy.

Not only that, have you ever driven a B-train chip hauler? Or loaded your own in a deserted mill yard on a Sunday morning? Or crawled into a Kenworth bunk underneath the northern lights? Can overseas tourist traps provide you with travel experiences like that? No, no, and no. Eat your heart out.

Second: boredom, also known as lack of purpose. There is no lack of purpose in hauling chips. You do it because you need to stay alive and feed your babies, like those mother lions you see on the National Geographic channel. It is exciting stuff, and gratifying too.

Contrast that with endless check-in lines, sardine-packed airplanes, bug-infested hotels, all for what? So you can take yet another palm tree picture for Facebook? Where is there any purpose in that? Boring

Besides that, all you really do on tourist junkets is look at stuff and drink too much, whereas hauling chips has more thrills than an African safari. Do you know what it’s like to spin out in the mountains in winter? Or drive a 30-wheel behemoth on ice? Or elevate the whole thing to an 80 degree angle so 45 tons of chips can come thundering out? Not boring, folks, especially when compared to sitting in an airport for hours, or looking out the window of yet another stuffy tour bus.

And third: blindness. How comical is it that busloads of Japanese folks drive right past Mt. Fuji so they can fly to Alberta’s Rockies, and busloads of Albertan's ignore the Rockies on their way to see Mount Fuji? Does a plane ride make mountains look better? And why doesn’t everybody go to Chetwynd? Is it too close?

On second thought, maybe it’s good that they don’t. If everybody went to Chetwynd, it would get all crowded and Banff-ish. You would probably fly in and miss everything; the moose and bears and wolverines, the mountains, the rivers, the changing seasons. You wouldn’t be able to smell the sawmill, and Mae’s kitchen wouldn’t be there. You’d probably need a park pass.

But as it is, Chetwynd is an ever-changing, perpetual feast for the senses. If it were in Switzerland the tourist industry would make a killing from it, but 60 miles west of Dawson Creek? Not so much. It’s remote and rustic and unbelievably beautiful, but there’s nobody yodeling and it doesn’t cost much to get there. Why bother?

Unless you go there to haul chips. Constant excitement. Abundant wildlife. World class scenery. Good cafes (well, one anyway). Best of all, you get paid to travel instead of the other way around. Put that on Facebook.

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