Canada 5: Montréal to New York

Racing resumed midway through the next morning with the team setting out on foot for the Montréal bus station. There they boarded the Megabus for a 546km journey south west to Toronto.  The bus ride was unremarkable but had the advantage of free wifi, which meant the team was able to conduct some research into upcoming destinations.

Arriving in Toronto, the team located some miniature accommodation (ceilings were about 6.5 feet high) and then set of on a ‘short walk’ around the neighbourhood.  This walk of course turned into a giant loop of Toronto, with the team covering an estimated 12 km over the evening. Both Simon and Ang wished they had more time in Toronto, but with the Clearway in effect they would only be in Toronto for a few short hours.

Toronto’s smallest room CN tower by night
Hire this guy! Toronto street posters

Returning to their accommodation in the early hours of the next morning, they booked the next leg of travel on the Megabus and went to sleep for a few hours.  Waking soon after 6am they set off on foot back to the bus station and boarded a bus to the town of Niagara Falls, Canada.

Their task for this leg was to spend approximately 6 hours walking the entire length of the scenic promenade on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls from the bus station to the falls themselves.  They completed this challenge with ease, photographing the impressive water feature from most angles.   Both Simon and Ang were in awe of the tackiness of the development around the spectacular falls. They then received the second part of the challenge.

Falls panorama

The team now had to “Journey behind the Falls” to discover the colour of the lights in the portals. However hours of operation were limited, so the team had an hour long wait before they could descend.  They chose to spend this time eating ice cream until they were allowed to enter the passages.

View towards the observation platform

The Journey began with a long wait in the line to be given a poncho before they queued to ride the elevators to the base of the falls.  Once they arrived there, they made their way through the underground madness of hundreds of people wearing identical poncho marauding through the tunnels. Moments later they reached the first portal.

Ang successfully journeyed behind the falls Ang completing a hotdog eating road block

The portals themselves are two viewing windows located at the end of a long tunnel under the falls.  In their fancy yellow rain protection, the team checked each portal.  Their lights were both green.  They then received their next clue on the observation patio in front of the falls – go to New York and rendezvous with a frequent flyer!

More of the falls

With the Clearway still in effect, the team had to arrive in New York by the 5th of September to rendezvous with a ‘frequent flyer’ or they might be eliminated.  So they raced up the elevators, back to the bus station to collect their backs then to the Rainbow Bridge.  There they paid their 50c Canadian toll, gave away the last Canadian quarter and walked into the US.

Halfway between Canada and the US in no-mans land

Entering the town of Niagara Falls again (this time the US version), the team made their way to where they thought the bus to Buffalo would leave from.  However, as this was the Labor Day long weekend for the US and Canada, the hideous amount of traffic heading back over the border had clogged the bus route. This meant the team was forced to first walk back to the bridgehead with their backpacks, then wait for 90 minutes while the bus worked its way slowly through the traffic.

This costly delay meant that despite an improved bus connection at Buffalo, the team would arrive at the airport hotel only 5 hours before their flight would depart.  Ang remarked “if we’d known, we could have just saved on accommodation and gone to the airport”.  Despite only having a few hours in the room, the team showered and continue looking for accommodation in New York.  They snatched a few short hours of sleep on the comfortable bed.

Soon the early morning wakeup call had the team up and at the airport and on the flight to La Guardia, New York.  Due to the lack of sleep over the last 48 hours, the team was hopeful that the pitstop for this leg of the race would be soon.  But this was not to be, as the team arriving at the New York Sheraton for the rendezvous with the frequent flyer was told they were still racing and was given their next clue.

…to be continued


Canada 4: Montréal

After the optional rest period, the team set out to explore the city. Once again, the team’s preference for walking meant that a lot of kilometres were covered.  Their route included the happiest area of all of Montréal, downtown and the waterfront.

Rusty – Ang likes this Waterfront towards old Montréal
Towards the day spa near the rusty building
Lock and rusty building Old town street

The racers were challenged to prepare two home cooked meals.  The first was a fantastic lamb curry and the second, a little later, was Ang’s thyme, chicken, fetta, tomato and olive dish.  Merryl loved both dishes and presented the team with their next challenge.

Merryl asked the team to help her locate the base of the giant cross whilst completing a walking tour of Parc Royale.  This wild park in the centre of Montréal afforded the team a chance to reconnect with nature whilst observing native Montréalites going about their recreation.  The team successfully located the base of the giant metal cross on top of the highest peak in the park and received their next clue.

Racers and Merryl in Parc Royale

The next challenge was to sample some magnificent ice cream and dos Colombian empanadas.  This was followed by a Cuban salsa concert and of course, more empanadas.  Simon liked Montréal, calling it ‘a really cool city’.

Little ice cream shop in the park Cuban salsa night

Enjoying Montréal and time with Merryl, the team had planned to stay a little longer however they received a Clearway. A team that receives a Clearway must leave their current location as soon as possible.  A Clearway has hours of effect, that usually requires the team to complete their original tasks in a greatly reduced timeframe. The team had to be a little creative in how they would complete their planned tasks within the required timeframe.

Transportation was rapidly booked and the team packed, ready for departure the next morning.


Canada 3: Rocky Mountains – South from Jasper

Waking early, the team drove south back along the Icefield Parkway.  On the earlier north bound journey, in the race to get accommodation in Jasper, a number of points of interest were strategically skipped.  These were visited on the return trip and included:

  • Mount Edith Cavell (the team met an Australian retired couple who had driven more than 10k km in their hire car that they picked up in Vegas.  Inspired!)
  • Athabasca Falls
  • Mistaya Canyon
  • Parker’s Ridge
Icebergs at Mount Edith Cavell Athabasca Falls
Glacier behind Parker’s ridge

Just before the Columbia Icefield, Ang, had gone from not wanting to come across a bear to being disappointed with the numbers seen thus far.  She said to Simon ‘I really want to see some bears , keep looking into the forest as we drive as we don’t have much time left’.  Banff and Jasper National parks were soon to deliver.

Standard Canadian flood plain
Yet another Standard Canadian lake

The first animal the team came across was a Caribou.  It had run into the middle of a freezing stream to avoid being eaten by a wolf.  The Caribou jam it caused had the usual assortment of high powered camera and lens assemblies.  One ‘imager’ was kind enough to let the team have a look through her scope.  The Caribou didn’t seem too happy and the wolf was nowhere to be seen.  An earlier photograph taken by the ‘imager’ allowed the team to see the wolf. After seeing the picture, Simon remarked that “the Caribou seems to have the right idea”.

Swim buddy!

About 2 km further down the road, the team spotted the next jam.  This one was for a juvenile grizzly bear that was feeding on berries.  The bear attracted about 30-40 cars and twice as many people.  The team observed the bear for a good 40 minutes as it came progressively closer to the road.  At one point the safer option was the back of a nearby pickup truck when the bear came within 30m of the road (recommended distance is 100m plus).  The team stayed amongst the crowd until the bear decided it was time to go eat a salmon, or that thing bears do in the woods.

Large bear jam
Close enough to see the whites of the grizzly’s eyes Right on, maul that bush

Back in the car, the team stopped briefly at the Athabasca glacier, then soon after spotted the next bear jam up ahead.  This time, there were two black bears, munching on the roadside berries.  The advantage for the team was little time was lost as the convenient roadside location allowed photos to be taken from the car.  Fading light meant the team was soon driving again. The Icefields Parkway came to an end and the team arrived at Banff.  There they slept before the short drive the next day back to Calgary.

Bears want berries eh? Black bear random berry walk

Racing into Calgary, the team attempted to complete an ongoing challenge of the exclusive race – find and purchase unique cowgirl boots for Ang.  By the time they had arrived in the city centre and checked the location of western shops, less than 2 hours remained to return the hire car to the airport.  Racing through the city streets, shop after shop was checked by the team, but with no success.

Back to the car and then out of the city and on to the airport they went.  At this point heavy rain made driving conditions difficult, but the team managed to navigate their way to the hire car drop off.  Then it was onto the red eye flight to Montreal, some 3028 kms to the east.

Arriving in the middle of the night, the team took a crazy taxi ride through countless construction sites to Merryl’s place, checking into the pitstop for this leg of the race.


Canada 2: Rocky Mountains – North from Calgary

Previously on the Amazing Exclusive Race, one team of two flew over 700km from Vancouver to Calgary. There they picked up a hire car, and after a brief monster nachos lunch at Loco Lulu’s, they commenced the drive to the Canadian Rocky Mountains.

Their first stop was Banff. There they hiked around the town, check out the hot Springs and looked for bears. Simon mused at the sheer number of Australians living in the town. Ang remarked that she liked the town for its picturesque setting and that it was not overly touristy, even though it is a resort town. Later, a brief side trip was taken to Johnston Canyon and on to the Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon falls

The hike to the Ink Pots, while more remote, was still on a well travelled path. Heels were cooled in the mountain stream before the team, in typical Exclusive Race fashion, took an alternative, less trodden track back to the car. This soon led to concerns about bears, particularly due to the team being without a map, the lack of signage on the trails and the many tasty berry bushes in the moose meadows. After a tense solitary hour long walk, the team returned to their car, successfully avoiding any potentially nearby bears.

Next, the racers departed for Lake Louise. The lake is a stunning body of water set below a mountain range and is fed from glacier melt water. The team’s task at this destination was to complete a hike around the area. This hike included Lake Louise, Lake Agnes and the Plain of Six Glaciers. Racing up the 400m elevation the team sampled some of the treats at the Lake Agnes teahouse, climbed the Big Beehive and witnessed the sanitation helicopter in action. The team then continued along and up to the Plain of Six Glaciers and its associated teahouse.

Lake Louise through the trees Ang contemplates the Lake
Even more of the Lake
Plain of the Six Glaciers

The last hot weather of summer was causing significant melting (and avalanches), so the team did not progress all the way to the top of the trail. They returned to Lake Louise, having completed the 15 km hike with no bear sightings. The night was spent at Lake Louise.

Second day Lake Louise

Leaving Lake Louise town the next morning, the racers headed briefly to Moraine Lake for some log walking. The next clue sent the team to Emerald Lake before they headed north to the Icefields Parkway, one of the most spectacular drives in the world. Their route took them past a variety of aqua lakes, precariously perched glaciers and vaulted peaks.

Emerald Lake, might as well go ahead and jump! Emerald Lake complete with Canadian paddelling a Canadian
Natural Bridge
Moraine Lake Noice lumperjack

Visited attractions on the drive north included:

  • Crowfoot Glacier
  • Bow Lake and Bow Glacier
  • Waterfowl Lakes
  • Mistaya Canyon
Driving the parkway Dramatic random mountain range

With accommodation not yet sourced and the sun beginning to set, the racers pushed north to Jasper. Both Ang and Simon briefly considered sleeping in the car, but with the high probability of Grizzly bears coming to investigate, they had to find proper digs. Right on dark they were able to find beds in a large dorm room (40+ persons) just below the Whistlers.

The town of Jasper, while not as pretty as Banff, seemed to be more true to the Canadian Rocky experience. Receiving a challenge from a friendly shop assistant, the team planned their next couple of days.

The first activity was to visit Maligne Lake.  There they saw deer and looked out over the 25km long lake. On the drive back to Jasper, they came across a Bear Jam, with traffic stopped in both directions, watching a lone brown bear eat berries. Then it was on to Miette hot springs, an area surrounded by Cougar warnings. Not wanting to squeeze into a pool that was dangerously overloaded, the team set off to find the source of the hot springs. These were located soon after, with the team deciding not to swim in the smelly water and that bears are probably more friendly than cougars. A retreat to the car was quickly completed.

A deer with no fear Mmm tasty pavement
Bighorn sheep Ang says hello to Mr Sheep
Lake Jasper, away from Mr Sheep Mmm tasty salty road

Back the team headed to Jasper and sampled some great gluten free pizza, then drove out of the town, out of Alberta and on Mt Robson. The mountain is the highest in the Canadian Rocky Mountains and was the northern most point the team travelled to in North America.  The team spent the night at a ranch that overlooks Mt Robson. Their host at the Ranch was an eccentric Japanese man called Rocky, who apparently had an ‘understanding’ with a local black bear.

Mt Robson on dusk Mt Robson sunset drinks (Winelands plastic ‘glasses’in hand)

The core challenge provided by the shop assistant was to hike to Emperor Falls in a day. Knowing that by accepting this challenge it would take most of the day, the team set off on the 32 km hike at a cracking pace. Lots of multiday back country campers were quickly passed by as the racers had the luxury of carrying much less gear. The team was also sans bear bangers (bear mace that is 6x stronger than human mace) and bear bells. This helped keep the per kilometre average high.

Standard Canadian lake

The track led the racers past aqua marine coloured lakes, through forests and up scree slopes. The valley of a Thousand Waterfalls was for Simon a highlight, although it would be much more impressive in early spring. Climbing the steepest portion of the track, the team arrived at Emperor Falls. There they received their next clue – make their way to Montreal by the fastest means possible.

Mt Robson and Emperor falls
Simon has an audience The Emperor and Ang

Then it was back 16 km to the car, passing the same groups with their Nordic walking poles and huge backpacks. The team was passed by a runner who had continued to Berg Lake (a ~42km round trip that seemed to be taking everyone else multiple days). No bears were sighted on the return journey.

Rest stop Another rest stop where the marathon trail runner caught up to us
Another standard Canadian lake Rapids!

The day’s racing continued with the team driving back to Jasper to spend the night in the mega dorm. Just before entering Jasper, a random posing elk stag was spotted.

Ang found a bear! Mr Elk

… to be continued


Canada 1: Vancouver

The Vancouver leg of the race commenced with the team hiring bikes and proceeding, along with Alissa, to circumnavigate Stanley Park. Once this had been completed, the team headed in to the internal forest where they came across a racoon. After this sighting, the team climbed to the summit of the highest point in the park where they received their next clue – “survive the annual shuffling migration”.  Zombies!

Vancouver skyline The Beach
Tour de Stanley Park Surprisingly not glued
Racoon! Three dogs!

Knowing zombies prefer commercial centres, in particular flat shopping streets, they proceeded back towards the centre of the city.  There they rendezvoused with an advanced party of zombie hunters that were running ahead of the horde.  Soon, the team was engulfed in the thousands of undead.  Simon remarked that “you could smell the fake blood long before you actually saw the fake horror” and commenced taking photos.  The team battled their way through and survived.  They received their next clue and were soon on their way.

Zombie rights

Collecting a hire car early on the Sunday morning, the team, along with Nathan, Sarah and Alissa, drove north toward the Chef.  There they were joined by Shelly.  The challenge was to climb the Chef and eat cherries once on top.  The climb was at times steep, but relatively easy, until they had to make use of chains.  Soon, the team, along with the other Australian types, had reached the top.  Both Simon and Ang were impressed with the scene, with Ang equating to Norway.  Many cherries were sampled.

Racers on the Chef with Shelly Racers on the Chef with Alissa
Ang getting ready to go back down

Completing the hike, the team dropped the festival goers at Live at Squamish and continued to Whistler.  There the team spent the afternoon experiencing the resort town vibe by first spying a brown bear, then eating lupper (lunch and supper) before watching Barenaked Ladies perform.  As the Whistler challenge was now complete, the team headed to a conveniently located fast food car park and waited for the festival goers to emerge from the woods.  This wait was accompanied by the sounds of Major Lazer, last heard in San Fran.

Waiting for the Barenakeds to start Olympic seating
Cow hugger!

Back to Vancouver they headed and the team enjoyed a rest day.  The race recommenced the next day with the team boarding a flight to Calgary.

After 10pm late night op shopping

… to be continued.