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The Alberta Story: Welcome to Calgary!

Who knew it was so wildly hot in western Canada?

I did not—because I only know this place in winter, when the snow falls deeper than the deep end at the swimming pool and the wind warrants a scarf and long underwear. But now, in August, Alberta is nothing but wide blue skies and semicolon clouds, punctuating a hot, dry landscape, stitched with endless roads.

Alberta feels big—bigger than anywhere else I’ve been in Canada. Everything out here is so tremendously large: the buildings, the roads, the cars, the trains, the trees, the massive square fields, and the mountains. It’s like they work on a different scale out in the West and supersizing everyday stuff is the norm.

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Downtown Calgary from my balcony at Hotel Arts. (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)

Biking through the silent Sunday streets of downtown Calgary made me feel like a flea, and after my cross-continental flight over the great North American prairie, I was surprised by this non-sequitur citadel right in the middle of a fairly empty part of Earth.

I am told again and again that “oil made this town!” or wheat, or the railroad, or the immigrants from back East, and I do not contest any of those explanations—but good explorers never accept the first story they hear. We keep traveling and we keep listening to every place we land in, painting another leaf to our own little tree of knowledge.

Today I added “hot” to my list of adjectives used to describe Canada (a first for me) because Alberta in August is a whole new feeling. Sweating my way around the city of Calgary made me realize (once again) that this country is so amazingly large, yet still mostly undiscovered.

Large and undiscovered has my name written all over it, so I have answered the call of the wild, wild, West and set off to explore awesome Alberta. I can already tell you now that it’s ridiculously huge (as big as Texas) and practically empty (with a population less than Washington, DC, where I live), which means that my journey will be more of a taster’s menu of a province whose motto is Fortis et Liber (“Strong and Free”).

Also, I’m breaking with my own tradition of traveling solo and have acquired a sidekick to share in the adventure. I met Josh aboard the National Geographic Explorer and recognized him as a kindred traveler. Josh is from New Zealand, and for his 19th birthday, his parents gave him a rather unconventional birthday present: a one-way ticket to England.

“Find your own way back,” was his parents’ only instruction, and so he did. Today, Josh travels the world making beautiful films and I am fortunate enough to have him with me here in Alberta, showing you what actually happens on the road, behind-the-tweet, so to speak. We aim to post a short video recap (almost) every day, along the way, and when our journey is finished, to post an entire online show about my adventures in Alberta.

Thus begins my Alberta story, on a very hot Sunday in a rather large city on the flattest plain in the West, with a Kiwi in my car and the hint of sharp grey mountains, calling out at me, as if whispering, “This way.”

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