Ride in the back of the van with Ben Leo Davis and his partner as they skate the open roads on four wheels across British Columbia.
Ben Leo Davis | AUSTRALIA
In late October 2017, my partner and I decided to book last minute flights to Canada. Travelling by RV we wanted to hit the road with no real plan in mind but to explore the raw beauty of British Columbia and Alberta over six weeks. Although we’ve travelled many times through various cold climates this journey was anything but smooth. Along the way, we encountered some unexpected surprises which would later make for amazing memories. We were also fortunate enough to meet friendly locals who soon became lifelong friends in our homeland down-under. Having travelled to New Zealand and Tasmania many times I’d convinced myself that there would be many similarities.
I felt confidently prepared when boarding our flight to Canada. However, nothing could’ve prepared me for the sheer scale and diversity Canada had in-store for us.
We arrived in Vancouver and felt the change in climate hit us instantly. Coming from Summer on the South-East coast of Australia to Winter in B.C was much like throwing your body into one giant esky! Being a fiend for the cold environment I was in my element, I couldn’t be more excited and was ready for the adventure ahead. We collected our RV, left the busy city heading straight for open roads. Our first destination would be Capilano Suspension Bridge. We were encouraged to arrive at blue hour before the shuttle buses. The lights were spectacular, illuminating the fog that rolled in, enveloping us in a misty wake. The park; made up of hundreds of thousands of lights really makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale. We decided to explore Cascade falls and Cypress Bowls next.
Onward via Sea to Sky highway, we spent the night in Squamish. The weather was underwhelming and the drive towards Whistler became an absolute nightmare with minimal lighting, blinding blizzard winds and black ice. I remember feeling so nervous as we approached any incline having almost slid down the road twice already with no clearing to safely pull over. We were told to wait a few hours for the storm to pass and by some miracle made it to Whistler without having a serious accident. We did, however, get bogged in town and as a result received our first parking infringement, from that point on we were pretty much locals!
The whole drive through Sea to Sky highway was hazardous so we took it slow, the harsh weather conditions made it hard to explore as a lot of attractions were closed for safety. Joffre Lake was a must-see on our list but the risk of losing the walking track under four feet of fresh white pow on a three-hour hike was far too high. At this point we felt very limited, most campsites had closed during the winter and having had our RV winterised meant that we were unable to use any of our bathroom facilities.
Complications aside we still woke up early, cooked maple bacon and eggs and made a habit of catching a beautiful sunrise and sunset in a different location each day no matter what the weather.
It felt amazing to just stop and take it all in together, whether it be nature in a storming uproar of rage or a still morning with golden light, the elements seemed to align perfectly giving us something new to appreciate every day.
As we passed Lillooet we stopped overnight to admire reflections on surrounding lakes, snow-capped Alps and winding train tunnels perfectly nestled around every turn. Arriving in Kamloops we were so exhausted, however, the following day brought spectacular weather would you believe? Not one cloud in sight! A pit stop at Wendy’s and we are back on the road ready to explore the small town of Clearwater, visit a wild Bison farm and chase waterfalls in Wells Gray Provincial Park
Wells Gray Provincial Park was unforgettably beautiful, Helmcken Falls, in particular, took our breath away. When we arrived the falls were covered in blankets of fog and flowing like crazy, the energy and structural strength formed by lava and glacial flooding gives the falls a punch bowl appearance.
Being able to sit and watch fog dive into the falls then roll out the other side was incredible and a highlight of our trip.
During our time in Canada we met up with some fellow photographer friends from Sunshine Coast, Australia. Together we convoyed towards the boarder-line of Alberta sharing stories of our current travels and future destinations. Better known as @thewildervan, the travelling duo moved to Canada, bought an 80’s Dodge camper and now live life on the road photographing their travels. Our nights were spent by the campfire listening to music, dancing, drinking beer and losing countless games of scrabble. It’s the most humbled I’d felt in a while, being there together with like-minded people who share so much expression, passion and raw love for what they do.
Our next few days were spent relaxing and recharging in Lussier’s natural hot springs. Soaking in the raw minerals, enjoying the simple pleasures and some much-needed warmth before the days to come. We were so lucky to have the place to ourselves but were later joined by friendly locals who shared stories of their own Canadian expeditions and key locations in the area.
One of our final stops before entering Alberta was Lake Louise. A place where I learnt the importance of listening to your girlfriend and not standing at the edge of a frozen lake.
We arrived at Lake Louise in the early morning to catch the sunrise, the first thing I noticed was the birds and how amazingly comfortable they were flying straight towards you with no fear whatsoever. The Lake itself was so visually pleasing and the sun peaking over surrounding mountains made photography almost too easy. I set up my camera and asked my partner to stand at the edge of a thin layer of ice on top of the lake so that I can capture her reflection on the water. She declined and I’m now forced to do it myself. We switch places and I confidently “showed her how it’s done” before falling into the freezing cold lake as the ice cracks beneath my feet. The people around me point, stare and were in a fit of laughter my partner included who didn’t look one bit sorry for me!
A half-hour later, a few boiling jugs of water and I had defrosted my shoes, pants, socks and learnt a valuable lesson!
It’s intriguing to see quaint little towns along the way that live so simply and are still full of happiness. It really gives you a new sense of perspective. A similar experience occurred the moment we caught our first glimpse of the Canadian Rockies. The van went completely silent, we’d never seen mountains of that scale and perfection. Every detail was truly mesmerising as though it had been carefully painted. There’s something truly wonderful about being somewhere so remote and secluded on the open road. Allowing yourself to be consumed by an overwhelming amount of freedom, awareness and appreciation of your surroundings in such a pure moment. As we approached Emerald Lake we noticed how picturesque the area was and how it resembled a scene out of a winter Christmas movie. We canoed along the water for a while and noticed that the air had gotten so crisp and cool. The sun began to set, while tiny lights began brightening up the lodge across the water making it look and feel so warm and wonderful.
As we made our way into Banff we didn’t expect such a nice town, it was busy but still very enjoyable. Surrounded by gorgeous fields full of wildlife and frozen lakes we were spoilt for choice and spent our afternoon tobogganing and attempting to ice-skate in our Timberlands!
Banff NP reminded me a lot of New Zealand, the sky was so clear however it was a great deal colder than British Columbia.
As we were leaving, my partner had a bad fall on ice which put her out of action for a good two days. We decided to take it easy and spend time going through our photos and enjoying Banff together with our friends. During this time we drove up a mountain where I misjudged a corner, clipped a rocky embankment and punctured a back tyre. We waited a few hours for someone to come and change our tyre and had locals constantly pulling over to ask if we needed help, food or even water. The people were so kind and lifted our spirit a lot in that moment. In the end, we were quite sad to leave Banff as it had fast become our favourite major town.
Another favourite destination would have to be Icefields Parkway. The entire drive is so wonderfully windy and every corner would open up to a new layer of snowy mountains. We stopped many times to shoot the beautiful scenery and explore lookout points before deciding to hike to Peyto Lake. I remember the hike back after discovering the Lake was frozen solid. Our fingers, toes, lips and noses were bright red and felt like they had frostbite.
It was so painfully cold and unbearable at the time, however, nothing could’ve prepared us for Jasper.
A peculiar thing about winter in Canada is that the days only hold seven hours of light on average, making them feel extremely short. We walked a 3km elevated track to Johnston Canyon on hard, slippery ice, this hike was near impossible at times and felt like it took the entire day. When returning we would then cook dinner and be in bed by 6 pm before noticing how early it still was! We spent three nights in Jasper and on the first night decided to sleep in our RV. This was a big mistake as the thermostat decided to stop working while the temperature dropped to -15’C overnight. We were freezing and our bodies felt every bit of the almost unbearable pain.
When we woke our mattress had icicles coming off the side, the walls had a thin layer of frost that you could scrape off with your fingernails; our food supply was frozen solid and I had frost in my hair.
We decided accommodation might be best from that night onward! Although the cold weather was challenging there was so much to love about Jasper. One thing is the amount of wildlife in the area as well as catching a glimpse of the Aurora. We were very lucky to spot two wolves, bison and photograph plenty of curious moose who often approached our RV. That night we headed to Jasper Lake in hopes of seeing the Aurora. Only for a moment we watched as the green lights danced in the night sky, they were momentary, magical and no sooner had they came, they were gone.
We spent our last 24 hours in Jasper drinking Canadian Whiskey, exploring the town and wishing our friends a safe farewell on their Journey. On our way back into British Columbia, we discovered the beautiful Cascade falls. We arrived just as rays of sunlight began to break through the trees creating the most amazing natural light. We were so excited and fortunate to capture something so raw and unexpected.
As we trekked through the forest in search of log cabins and ski huts we noticed that they were like tiny homes each built with so much attention to detail, diversity and character.
In the midst of a snowball fight, I remember thinking how incredible it was that certain people choose to live simply and off the grid in those cosy little log cabins.
Our adventure then took us to Brandywine falls where we decided to hike for an hour to the bottom losing the track more times than we can remember. This waterfall was so intense and a lot larger than we anticipated. We sat on our rug for hours doing what we do best, taking photos and just getting lost in the moment together.
As our journey was nearing its end we visited the Squamish Suspension Bridge. The afternoon light was low and a storm was fast approaching, safe to say we were definitely back in British Columbia! We had a limited amount of time so we raced to shoot the bridge and just as we arrived a beautiful thick layer of fog covered the area creating an incredible and unique atmosphere. On our last night, we returned our beloved home on wheels and headed to Downtown Vancouver for a night in the city. It was almost humorous having gone from laundromats and public showers to a luxury hotel and 5-star revolving restaurant! We felt very out of place but figured it was time to indulge for our final night in Canada. Vancouver is a beautiful city with endless amounts of culture and energy. The nightlife is full of crazy and unique places to explore, delicious street food and beautiful night markets.
Our past month has been filled with so many memorable experiences coupled with never-ending laughter and has given us a greater sense of adventure than we ever could’ve imagined.
It’s never easy saying goodbye and we can’t wait to return.
‘Til next time.
Growing up in South East Queensland, Ben was fortunate to be constantly immersed in an array of spectacular, natural scenery fostering an overwhelming desire to experience and capture our planet.
The diversity, freedom and feeling of solitude he finds while shooting is generously conveyed to the viewer allowing the imaginative character of each destination to shine.
Ben photographs using Urth lens filters.