Friday, March 20, 2009



My father played tennis well into his 60's. Another activity, one that probably began when he was in his late 50's, was riding long distances on his bike. In addition,
throughout his life he enjoyed walking.

He and a friend, George Hamilton, had planned to take a canoe trip after their retirement, going all the way from the Great Lakes to one of the big western rivers, portaging wherever necessary. Unfortunately. his friend died suddenly of a heart attack. My father decided, as an alternative, to go on long walking and cycling trips.

Jean Gaspard III, my father's grandfather, had imported Waverley bicycles into Europe from the US where they were manufactured. This was in the late 19th Century, when bikes were all the rage in Europe. He advertised his bikes at an exhibit at the Brussels World Fair in 1897 and was visited there by King Leopold II of the Belgians. He also advertised his bicycles by going on an extended bike trip all over Europe. I have a copy of my aunt's English translation of the newspaper articles that covered his trip, which I hope to put on the Internet some day.

My father was inspired by his grandfather's trip to undertake something similar in Canada. He began by going on weekend camping trips while he was still working for the Department of Highways before his retirement.

His first major trip was to walk to Vancouver. He left on May 27, 1977. His method was to take his car with him, walk eight and a half miles, return to his car on foot, camp out for the night, drive to the furthest point of advance, and walk again the next day, repeating the process until Vancouver was reached.

When finished, he would have covered the distance from Edmonton to Vancouver twice for a total of about 1,600 miles. Prior to the trip, he drove over the route, logging the mileage and looking for places to camp. He decided to take the car, because he could use it to drive to restaurants and tennis courts or for shelter in bad storms.
His plan was to finish in 100 days. He reached Vancouver on September 1st, 97 days after leaving Edmonton.

His route was over the Rocky Mountains through the Howse Pass, discovered by David Thompson in 1807. The David Thompson Highway which connects Red Deer, Alberta with the Banff-Jasper Highway over the Howse Pass, had not yet been completed. A gap of about 21 miles through the Pass had to be covered on foot with no human habitation anywhere in the vicinity and a stream, Breaker Creek, to cross.

I remember vividly his story of the trip when he came home after its completion. He had carried a tin with a few stones in it which he would rattle continuously to warn away any bears.

On the Alberta side of the Pass, west of Rocky Mountain House, there was a trail to follow. Walking west, he was able to reach the summit without incident and make his way back to his car. He drove around to the western B. C. side of the pass and reached the end of the road. Leaving his car and beginning the ascent to the pass in an easterly direction, he discovered that, unlike the Alberta side, no trail had been broken. In order to make his way upward to the pass, it was necessary to break a trail through the underbrush and follow the line of the streams. He reached the top of the pass, a distance of about 10 miles, and began the return trip to his car.

When he reached Breaker Creek, which had not posed a problem on the way in, he found the creek had become a torrent due to spring run-off and hot weather. He managed to find a relatively peaceful spot and attempted to cross, but even with the aid of a long pole he was swept off his feet. Managing somehow to recover, he made his way across. By now it was dark, and he had no landmarks, having made the initial crossing of the creek at a different spot. Eventually, around 1:00 a.m., much to his relief, he found his car.

The trip was covered by the Salmon Arm Observer and the Edmonton Journal. A few excerpts are worth repeating.

From the Salmon Arm Observer:

" 'Being a retired engineer, I do everything very precisely,' Darimont said. He keeps a detailed log of his travels, keeping it up to date each evening. In this diary he records the distance traveled each day, and anything of interest he has seen or done, such as landmarks he has passed and pictures he has taken. (Unfortunately, this log seems to have disappeared.)

The log also makes it possible to compute how many miles he has traveled. By last Wednesday evening he had traveled 921.4 miles, from Edmonton to the A&W in Salmon Arm... His goal is to reach Vancouver in 100 walking days, and he calculates he has covered 57 per cent of the distance in 54 days.

He carries a small tin tied to a stick to frighten away prowling bears... Two black bears did come prowling around his camp one night, but 'I flashed the flashlight at them and told them to scram.' The bears beat a quick retreat."

From the Edmonton Journal:

"You sense in John Darimont, despite his reluctance to speak about it, a feeling that walking is a true and continuing pleasure, when the muscles move to a relaxing rhythm which frees the mind to muse or daydream or think deep thoughts, when the eyes take in birds and animals and kids playing by the side of the road: the kind of things you fail to see when the metal monster goes screaming down the freeway at 100 kilometres plus.

That's not conjecture. It's implicit in the daily log of his trip, typed up conscientiously each night at the end of a day's foot-slogging.

John Darimont is an observant man. When I first knocked at his door to talk about his journey, he stopped me. 'Look there's a squirrel quarreling with two waxwings over the berries,' he said, pointing to a tall tree.

His diary reflects that interest in all things great and small: of how he watched prairie dogs, and herons, Canada geese, deer, and the raven who tried to fly like a hawk, but kept wobbling instead of gliding. ...there are vignettes of friendly farmers who let him pitch his tent on their fields, a little child who drew his picture, a bunch of kids from King Edward school at a campsite, nurses from Red Deer, yarning with other travellers around a fire at night, tennis games, and, on occasion, the savoring of cold beer at the end of the hot and dusty daily tramp."

In the photos are:

1) The Salmon Arm Observer article.
2) My Dad in his back yard preparing for a weekend camping trip.
3) My Dad, his bike and his car.

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