Saturday, January 16, 2010

Today's Morning Coffee and Nordic Lessons 2 (TMCNL 2)

Grab your morning coffee and come sip with me. Ok, if you’re a morning coffee drinker like me, it’s already too late for your morning coffee. Let’s call it elevenzies.

Do you copy when I say ‘the greyhound demographic’? Let me rephrase that. If I were to talk about the types of people you might find skulking around busses and depots, you would capische, right?

A couple of weeks ago I became an honorary member of the bus riding demographic. Because it is approximately 650$ less to take the bus to Edmonton than it is to fly. Believe it or not, to get from Hay River to Edmonton, which is exactly 1000km, 2 hours by plane, 10ish hours by car, or 16 hours by grayhound…it costs anywhere from $800 to $1400 to fly. Unless you are a lucky duck that gets wind of a rare seat sale (which to my knowledge, has not ever occurred other than in Nordic mythology). Or unless you work for the government, who will buy your ticket for you, at approximately 11 times the cost, without batting their territorial eye.

Now that we’re on the subject of travel costs, let’s move on to the educational segment of this post. Allow me to enlighten you with all of the recent discoveries I have made regarding northern travel, both endo and exo.

1. Hay River has a small airport that flies to only 2 places: Yellowknife (40 min flight) or Edmonton (3hr flight), the closest major airports. There is no such thing as a package deal out of this place – you buy your flight to one of the 2 major-ish airports, and then make all further travel arrangements separately. All my life I have lived near major airports. I never knew what a luxury that was. I wonder what percentage of Canadians DON’T live near a major airport? I have sympathy now for the extra financial burden (not to mention major inconvenience) it imposes.

2. Flight costs out of Hay River are as follows:
                 to Yellowknife: Buffalo, $330 round trip.
                                      First Air, $400-$500 round trip.
                                   (let’s guess which one the government uses?)
                 to Edmonton: Northern Airlines, $1340

3. To get to Edmonton from Hay River, you then have two flight path options:  the cheapest, indirect through Yellowknife which costs approximately $800 ($330 with buffalo, then the other leg with another airline); the more expensive, direct to Edmonton, at $1340. Let’s take another guess at the sole user of that airline….

3. If you take the cheaper, indirect route through Yellowknife, you will always have a 4 hour layover in an abbotsford-sized airport. Always. Apparently, all flights arrive sometime around 9am, and all flights depart sometime around 1pm.

4. Say you want to go somewhere OTHER than Yellowknife or Edmonton (which if you’re a government employee is unlikely…except maybe if you’re French, in which case you go to Winnipeg). Then you basically HAVE to get to Edmonton to get anywhere else*. You’ve already got your $800-$1400 ticket and 9 wasted hours to get you to Edmonton…now add your final destination to the total. You’re looking at a minimum of $1000 to get anywhere…plus an entire day of traveling, IF your connections work out nicely. For a town that only takes 10 hours to drive to from Edmonton, you’d swear we’re in Iceland.

footnote*not entirely true. I found a loophole. Continue reading for further enlightenment.

5. When you live far from a major airport, and you want to visit your best friend on the same continent who also (though not as dramatically) does not live near a major airport, it costs about as much as flying to Madagascar.

6. To prove point #5, I will give you a supporting example. I was recently trying to book a trip to Colorado to visit Karla. Simple enough. I’ve been before, it cost me around  $250 to get there and back. Ahhhh…but from Seattle. Domestic flights within the states are pretty dang cheap. So I arrive at complication number one: I am about as far as I can get from the US border. Not an option. Must take an international flight – now my cost doubles. Ok, fine. OK, international flight to Colorado. No problem. I’ll book it from Edmonton. Oh wait, it costs minimum $800 to get there, then it’s about $600 to Denver….. $1400 for a one week vacation within north America. Okay, there must be another way. I’d drive to Edmonton, but I don’t have winter tires on my car, I don’t trust my little civic in this cold, and what if there’s a storm or I hit the ditch and can’t get to my flight in time? Ahhh….full circle back to grayhound. Very affordable option – $160 return if I book three weeks in advance. But 16 hours each way. I know the route well, considering I did it just a couple of weeks ago. Ok, a 16 hour bus ride, I can do it again. Let’s check the connections – leave Hay River at 8am, arrive Edmonton at midnight…no flight out to the states until 6:40am. Flights out at that time to Denver all have stops in other cities, so I would arrive in Denver at 4pm. Okay, one and a half full travel days to get to Denver – gross and long, but at least I can afford it. Wait, Karla doesn’t live near Denver. I have to get to Colorado Springs, which is about a 2 hour drive away – or more with rush hour…which is when I’d be arriving. Ok, how do I get to Colorado springs? Bus? 70 bucks each way. Plane from Edmonton? Tack on another 200 bucks, since you really just connect through Denver anyway. Not to mention that we’re also adding time here. So I would finally arrive at Colorado springs, either having spent 1 million dollars flying all the way ( I think it works out to $1600) and a full day traveling..or bussing a total of 18 hours and flying 5 hours each direction, and spending $900.  Great options, eh? I love you Karla, but I could be going to Europe.

7. There are loopholes, such as Westjet seat sales from Yellowknife direct to Vancouver for a little over a hundred bucks each way. Hmmmmm…..Vancouver….that’s close to Seattle! Just get  a ride across the border and all of a sudden….direct flights to COLORADO SPRINGS (not even Denver!) for another hundred bucks each way. Yellowknife to Colorado Springs for 500 bucks. Ok, now we’re talking. The ridiculous thing is that my 40 minute flight north (the wrong direction) across great slave lake to Yellowknife from Hay River costs me twice as much as the others. Oh well….suck it up, princess.

So I am sadly not going to become one with the depot demographic this time around – I suppose I have risen above. Which is too bad, because when I had the experience of a few weeks ago I found a lot of fodder for creativity. I scribbled furiously on a big notepad for hours, about skittish Eugene and his meager plastic bag and the corrections officer that left him at the depot… about Bill the bus driver who told me of how left Hong Kong to give his boys freedom and enjoyment in education…about the old aboriginal man with tourettes freezing on the side of the road waiting for the bus in middle-of-nowhere Meander River…about the homeless couple that camps out the Edmonton depot, always walking purposefully about from one end to the other with blakets around their necks and with a single duffel bag filled everything they own, tagged with official greyhound tags as they masquerade as travelers for dignity’s sake….about the frenzied Chinese man that spent 15 stressful minutes trying to get the arm of his chair to lift, then another 10 trying to get his seat back to recline again after having not having noticed that he had accidentally triggered it to pop upright, thinking it was the button for the arm…about me, listening to Jupiter Winter by Sufjan Stevens, clicking my teeth and blinking my eyes to the beat of each passing pole, pretending I’m in some independent film about a girl discovering some great truth (as inspired and suggested by the epic tune playing in her gigantic headphones) traveling alone towards some great destination on Christmas eve.  Amazing, the kinds of characters you find lurking around bus depots and hiding out in their busses. The kinds of people who can’t afford to fly. Is it any wonder? I guess I’m one of them…

…well, not anymore.


  1. There's one thing your loophole is missing: You don't get to see me...

  2. I once took a busride from Watson Lake, Yukon to Edmonton. 23 hours. It would inspire your creative thoughts too, I would think. You would meet some "grayhound" type personalities for sure. At least the scenery is nicer than the drive from Edmonton to Hay River!

  3. Excellent post.Thank you.............