A Reunion in Jasper Despite Angry Fates

A long-awaited reunion of two families (and life-long friends) finally happened at the campsite beside us at Jasper–one mother-daughter pair from as far as New Zealand—and against every obstacle the universe could throw at them.

Let’s see, the absurd events that seemed to conspire against this reunion include: Lightning struck Ruth’s house the day after her daughter and granddaughter, Jacqui and Hazel (foreground, l-r), arrived to visit. There was at least one case of the flu, causing Covid panic. Throw in Jess’s truck breaking down (Jess and Nicole in back of the pic), when she’s the one who was to bring nearly all their camping gear and food, including the trailer and truck tent. There were more unexpected obstacles, but it’s all a blur now because they made it here!

Why the Long Trip?

Jacqui and Jess grew up together in Edmonton and have been close friends ever since, even after Jacqui moved to New Zealand. I met Jacqui on a Lord of the Rings message board (because that’s what you do) about 25 years ago, then I met Jess online by association. They’ve visited each other in person often over the years (several times at Jasper), but—and we’re all amazed at this—I’ve met Jacqui twice and Jess only once, about 20 years ago when they came to my house in West Virginia ro visit.

It goes to show: if you keep in touch through all possible means online (a group text thread, long emails, a shared photo album) during all types of times (giving birth to and raising children, working our jobs, the occasional family and personal traumatic events), you don’t even notice that you haven’t been seeing each other in the real world every day.

Camping Together

Jess (the resident Edmontoner) and Tracy and I navigated all the info about Jasper campgrounds and managed to get two campsites next to each other, ours for 11 nights and Jess and Nicole’s for 6. Tracy and I arrived first and explored as newbies, and then the friends’ contingentn arrived.

Jess brought an entire grocery store plus part of an RV lot with her (it seems like), and we’ve had fires each night with lots of homemade bread, New Zealand cheeses and chocolate, and tons of casual hanging out. (Except for that mystery man standing in the last campsite shot above: he walked over from another campsite and kind of wouldn’t go away. Not a big deal after lightning, truck brakes, the flu.)

Cowboy Up!

Months ago as we planned camping, Jacqui suggested a guided trail ride, which everyone was excited for. Um, except for heated debate on which trail ride we’d pick.

Of the three women and two daughters ready for an adventure, everyone had ridden horses to be various extents. Oddly, it was the one with the most hours in the saddle (me) who objected to the rigorous-sounding trail option: Cowboy Up!—a two-hour ride with steep inclines and declines. In the end, I got peer-pressured by my very friends, so Cowboy Up! it was.

And look how much fun we had! We rode along the Athabasca River, through Aspen groves, and along meadows speckled with pines that hadn’t been infected by the pine bark beetles at lower elevations. Ruth (Jacqui’s mom) is a botanist, so we pointed out wildflowers everywhere our horses went.

One section we had to ourselves because of frequent bear sightings; apparently these bear will hassle hikers and bikers but will leave horses alone. I’m so relieved we didn’t have to put that to the test.

I had my hands full as it was with the trickiest horse in the line-up. When we were being paired with our horses, my very friends (whom I trusted!) pointed to me and Hazel as the most-experienced riders. Hazel is a natural and took the lead horse, Chico; I was given Willow who was referred to as both bitchy and a favorite by different guides. I would say that she’s definitely got a mind of her own.

Willow is in love with the guide’s horse, Storm, and spent the first 15 minutes trying to pass Hazel’s Chico and throwing her head up angrily when I reigned her in. Once she gave up on that effort, she decided to piss off Blue, behind me (Jess’ horse), by slowing way down so Blue would run up on her rump, which would give Willow the excuse to lay her ears back and kick at him. I started out trying to assure her with pats and soft words that Blue wasn’t bothering her, but she’d turn at me with a furious look at my petty attempts and threaten to bite me.

Finally, instead of softly stroking her neck I resorted to slapping her right behind my leg when she was about to kick. This all lasted for 1 hour 50 minutes of the 2 hour ride, which is when our guide thought to tell me that Willow doesn’t follow through with her threats, that she’s all bad temper but no real kick or bite. Willow, I hear you. However, I really was afraid she was going to kick Jess, so wish I’d known this at least an hour earlier!

Everyone had fun though. Jess’ daughter Nicole was perfectly matched with a gelding named Shaker, who slowly and carefully picked his way down the rocky slopes at the rear of the line, and Jacqui’s gelding, Ace, was calm enough that Jacqui captured most of these photos and several videos. Hazel and I had the chance up front to compare Western riding with English riding – when Willow wasn’t rebelling against her place in line.

Every time I’ve seen hired trail rides at parks, I’ve wondered why in the world someone would spend all that money to sit there on a bored horse and walk in a line. Now I know how much fun it is to share this experience with friends, when it becomes a focal point for a special vacation, with memorable views, conversations, and horses with big characters.

The day after the ride, Jacqui and her mom and daughter headed back to Edmonton because her daughter was still feeling ill, but before they left, we spent an afternoon walking around downtown, Jasper—Jacqui, and Jess reminiscing about their visits there as kids (and later), and all of us eating a huge lunch including real poutine. Of course, we also walked along the Athabasca several times.

Jess and I will catch up with them in Edmonton in a few days; meanwhile the adventures continue without them (wahhh!).

3 thoughts to “A Reunion in Jasper Despite Angry Fates”

  1. This is definitely my favorite blog yet!! Made me laugh and love all the content! How I wish I’d been there 💚

    1. Being in such a beautiful place with friends makes it even more special, for sure! Thanks for commenting. 😀