Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
Beware of Bears. They Throw a Wicked Snowball.
In 2007, I tried to live in Canada. My mom had met someone, online of all places, and we tried to make the whole fiasco work without work visas. The main reason I went was that I thought I’d finally found the graphic design job I’d wanted since college. We drove there, and things went south as soon as we hit customs on the Canadian border located on the outskirts of Montana. We had to leave the majority of our belongings in a storage facility there since customs views bringing a sewing machine into the country as a means for starting a new life. They weren’t wrong, but it still sucked. We were given 30-day permits, which we thought we’d eventually amend with work visas. While the graphic design job seemed great, I obviously couldn’t work there legally, and after just a short period of time, it became painfully obvious that things weren’t going to work out up there. Still, we were stranded until those 30 days passed. That was my only familiarization with Canada for nearly 11 years of my adult life.
How Did I Get Here?
I wrote for a site called Examiner.com for seven years. I was a top contributor in both Houston and for the entire site for the majority of my time there. In 2016, they decided to close up shop and become AXS. They let everyone go with very short notice. I had signed up for an account on HubPages in 2014, but I’d never posted since posting the same article in different places all over the web apparently jacks with your Google results. When Examiner gave me the boot, HubPages became my new authored home. It’s kind of funny since posting on both sites is a fairly similar process. I treat the articles on HubPages the same way I did on Examiner and yet I don’t get much traffic or make any money whatsoever. It’s a bit disheartening at times seeing an 800-1200 word review that you spent hours writing and promoting to only receive a few hundred page views at any given time but you press on. You didn’t become a writer to solely make money (although, that would be nice). You’re posting your writing to strengthen your craft and to let everyone know that this year’s biggest summer blockbuster is actually a dumpster fire that people shouldn’t be spending their hard earned money on.
At the beginning of 2018, Maven bought HubPages. Then in March, Maven, HubPages, and Say Media fused to become this brand new and profitable coalition for independent publishers. It was something that was announced on HubPages and something everyone was excited about since the potential was more than a little invigorating. Then in March, I received an email that a Maven Coalition Conference was being held in Whistler, BC from April 11-13 and that I was one of the select few who was invited to attend. It was surprising, exciting, and a little overwhelming at first since I didn’t have a passport and had no idea if I could get off from work. After expediting my passport application and securing the time off, the RSVP basically made itself and I was on my way.
On Wednesday, April 11th, my flight was at 7:30am. I hate driving to the airport because I’m terrible with directions, get lost easily, and I feel like I’d forget where I parked after a certain amount of days. I always pay the extra money to take Super Shuttle, but the problem is that since you have to be at the airport at least two hours before your flight Super Shuttle usually arrives around three hours prior so I had to wait outside at 4am. The driver I had was amazing though since he was listening to this old sounding jazz that seemed to be ripped directly from classic cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes shorts, or even the hand drawn run and gun video game Cuphead. The only good thing about sitting at the airport at 6am is that you get to see the sunrise through the immense glass waiting room you find yourself confined in.
The guy on the plane sitting next to me was wearing this really weird bracelet that could have been a watch, but looked to be made of gold colored tinfoil used to wrap chocolate. The guy sitting directly in front of him had his shoes off the whole flight and his nasty feet had every one of his toes fighting over which was longest. If your pinky toe is longer than your second toe then I cannot be judged for having the urge to adjust your freakish disfigurement with a pair of pruning shears. It’s not natural and you should not be allowed to blind people with your crazy finger-foot abomination. It didn’t help that Footface had a pair of Beats plastered to his head for most of the flight while mouthing words to a song only he could hear and a swiveling head that almost turned all the way around on more than one occasion. Maybe he made a bad first impression since he immediately got on the plane with two bags that were obviously too big to be carry-ons only to act like it was the plane’s fault for storage compartments getting smaller and smaller over the years.
Four hours later, I arrived in Calgary where it was an hour earlier than it was in Houston so it was actually only 10:30. There’s these weird crosswalks at this airport with vehicles passing by every now and then and some disembodied voice telling you not to cross until it’s clear. Maybe it was the color scheme of the airport, but the sleek design and fluorescent lighting made it feel like Total Recall to me. I’m also pretty sure I had to walk the entirety of the Calgary airport after I got off my plane just to get to customs. I had a three hour layover in Calgary and when I arrived in Vancouver at 12:46pm (which was actually another hour behind, now two hours behind central time in Houston) it was a two hour drive to Whistler; that’s nearly 12 hours of traveling and waiting around; or maybe it’s 14 hours with the time difference. The point is I don’t know if I’ve ever gone anywhere that was this far away or took this long to get there.
The drive to Whistler was amazing. I knew we’d be taking a Gondola ride at some point during the trip, but I didn’t really piece it together that we’d be staying in the mountains. The shuttle was full of a bunch of writers I had never met before also going to Maven and the snow tipped mountains kind of peered over the horizon the closer we got to Whistler. We were eventually driving through these meandering roads that took us right through the mountains. The walls were covered in rock that looked like the crusty great grandfather to the nougat center of a Snickers bar. Sometimes these rocks were covered in this spongy green moss or precautionary nets to prevent rock slides, but they were mostly awesomely weathered thanks to arching their tree covered back and staying in a crouched position for thousands of years.
It never stopped raining in Canada and if it did it started snowing. Water never seemed to collect or pool as it always seemed to run downhill. The sides of the roads had these trenches that looked almost like moats that consistently carried the water in one direction. The rock walls would sometimes break to reveal waterfalls that were picture perfect and postcard-worthy. The trees seemed to grab onto the clouds in the sky, pull them down, and never let go as fog always rested on top of the trees as if it was napping and using the treetops as this forest fueled hammock. I stayed at the Fairmont hotel while others stayed at the Four Seasons, which was within walking distance. Whistler is basically this little village with shops, hotels, and one of the most gorgeous mountain ranges you’ve ever witnessed. You can rent skiing equipment, snowmobiles, and go zip lining. There’s even a spa if you have the need to relax. I have never stayed at a hotel that nice or even witnessed anything that luxurious. It felt nice to be treated so well.
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There were signs about bears being in the area along with one for a cougar and a mountain lion was said to be lurking about. Bear signs are what I saw the most of and it’s just crazy to think that that sign is pointing out that, “Hey, bears mate and drop deuces here. Don’t try to feed them or else they’ll rip off your face.” Wednesday evening, there was a gathering in one of the ballrooms. When I first entered, there were only a handful of people there and all of the food looked fake; like someone made plastic replicas of a fancy meat and cheese counter. It wasn’t long before the room flooded with people and soon cocktail waitresses showed up with crazy food I would never eat at home like candied salmon and giant crunchy shrimp with what tasted like the fanciest of nacho cheese sauces. All of the meat, cheese, and bread were delicious as was the chicken pizza. The one sandwich I tried was my least favorite and the red wine tasted like rubbing alcohol. I think someone came and made a speech eventually, but I went back to my room at 8:30pm and ended up getting nine hours of sleep. I wanted to mingle and talk to people, but jet lag was setting in as was not getting much sleep over a 14-hour journey.
Thursday, April 12th also began with me partaking in strenuous activities I don’t normally do like willfully waking up at 5:30am and ironing before I put any pants on. The day began with breakfast at the Four Seasons and it seriously may have been the greatest breakfast I have ever engorged. They had similar stations set up all around the hotel, but there was coffee (regular, decaf, and hot water for tea which was also provided), yogurt, granola with so many spices that it practically tasted like potpourri (delicious, delicious potpourri), cinnamon rolls, miniature chocolate croissants, eggs with green stuff in it (cilantro, perhaps?), bacon, juice, and probably a ton of other stuff I’m forgetting. It was an absolutely glorious way to start the day.
Day two was filled with panels related to independent publishing and/or Maven. The panels were only 20 minutes long, but the day was pretty packed from 9am to 5:30pm. The panels were kind of like the panels I’ve attended at anime and comic conventions. They were filled with a ton of information regarding why individuals have joined Maven, how it will hopefully benefit them moving forward, and what their intentions are for the future. A big topic that kept coming up was how the algorithm changed regarding posting on Facebook and that followers don’t see nearly as much as they used to in their feed. Most of these individuals got to where they were because of Facebook and have had to close up shop because now they simply don’t have the audience they used to. Comedy writer Matt Klinman had some hilarious video vignettes and was just as funny and insightful in person. His analogies for what Facebook has evolved into are spot-on and uproariously funny. Net neutrality, attempting to distance yourself from Facebook, Google, and Youtube, and protecting free speech were also discussed.
For lunch, we rode the gondola and had a bag lunch with our choice of three different sandwiches; turkey ruben, chicken salad, and roast beef. I had the roast beef, which was good at first, then weird, and then bad. There were a ton of pickles on the sandwich and mustard to the extent that it almost tasted like potato salad. In the middle of the sandwich was suddenly this big chunk of mint that just ruined it. I also tried quinoa for the first time, which wasn’t bad but I also couldn’t shake what Peter Griffin said about it on Family Guy, “I won’t eat anything that sounds like a karate move.” Our dessert was a cookie that looked like Whole Foods threw up on it. It ended up being pretty good, but it looked kind of like some health nut scraped it off the bottom of their shoe.
The view on the way up the mountain was already memorable. You cram yourself into this tiny cube that can hold maybe six to eight people. Then you spend the next half hour looking out the windows at snow and people pretending to know how to ski. Snow falls through the cracks of the gondola ride and the gondola stops every now and then for no reason just to give you the opportunity to think that just maybe you’ll be stuck in the air forever and may have to eat your own hand if things get serious. This gondola led us to a larger gondola; the Peak 2 Peak Gondola which has two Guinness world records under its belt. This view was undeniably breathtaking with frosted trees as far as the eyes could see along with rivers and creeks that only made the surroundings more beautiful. Between the two rides though, we took a massive picture with everyone by some Olympic rings. I think the actual picture is floating around on Facebook and Twitter. We made our way back down the mountain, finished the remaining panels, and had a little time to ourselves before the evening festivities.
There were around 300 of us there, so we were each assigned a different restaurant for dinner. I went to Stonesedge, which was a little disappointing. The restaurant was located directly next door to Buffalo Bills, which was where the after party was located. It was also an incredibly long walk and while it was a beautiful walk it was also incredibly tiresome. When we arrived it was as if the restaurant had no idea we were coming because we had to wait another 30-40 minutes before they could seat us. We were given group menus, which was basically you either order this or that without many other options in between. I had the soup, which was odd since it tasted like somebody threw everything they could possibly imagine in a broth. I also had the beef, which was like a hunk of a beef roast on some of the creamiest mashed potatoes ever. There were these long, hard white strings that were apparently vegetables, but I didn’t eat them. For dessert, we had the choice of gelato or cheesecake. I had the cheesecake, which was peanut butter flavored with a dark chocolate cookie crumble crust. It wasn’t nearly as good as I hoped. Dinner ran long as the after party was scheduled for 10pm and we didn’t leave the restaurant until almost 11pm. I was exhausted, so I made the trek back to the hotel.
Friday, April 13th began like the previous day except I woke up at 6:30pm. We didn’t have a breakfast this time, but we did have a voucher for coffee or hot chocolate at one of the shops. I ended up getting a mocha, which was pretty good. I bought some local Canadian honey here as well as a gift for my girlfriend, but customs made me throw it away since it was over two ounces. I chose zip lining as my activity despite South Park warning everyone how boring it is. I’ll tell you right now zip lining is the furthest thing from a boring time. It’s this adrenaline rush that only gets more intense the longer you do it. I was on the slowest course, but I didn’t have any regrets since it was pretty perfect for first timers. You’re fairly terrified until you take that first step off the ledge and then you have this surge of simultaneous thoughts that include enjoying the wind and snow in your face, admiring the scenery as you whiz by, and panicking because you’re afraid one of your shoes will fall off or you’ll drop your phone. A woman in my group had her phone out filming while she was on the zip line. Some people went upside down or did crazy things while they zipped along. I was too much of a chicken to do any of that.
Our last day culminated with a meal at Black’s Pub, which was at the bottom of the mountain (probably not even half way to Stonesedge). I think the majority of us were going home this day with some leaving early that morning. My shuttle arrived at 2pm even though my flight wasn’t until 7:20pm. They recommended leaving five hours early since we’d likely run into rush hour traffic on top of the standard of being two hours early at the airport. I had a mountain burger at Black’s Pub, which was pretty good despite having coleslaw on it and what tasted like curry in the sauce on the bun. I made a few contacts before I left and watched the snow fall for a while before heading back. This time I was flying from Vancouver to Seattle and then Seattle to Houston. We were rangled onto a bus this time and I sat next to a filmmaker from New York who had some business meetings in Houston. The flight from Seattle to Houston was at 10:10pm and arrived at 4:25am. The cool thing was this flight wasn’t even close to being full. The unfortunate aspect of all this is that I’m 6’3” and being so tall makes it nearly impossible to sleep comfortably in public. I was freezing the entire flight and never found a decent position to rest properly. I was also wearing flip flops and my bag ripped in Vancouver. It was interesting that it happened to be raining in Vancouver, Seattle, and Houston upon arrival.
There were a few downsides to this trip with the main one being the multi-hour layovers I had both ways. Wednesday’s trip was a lot more intense in that aspect (Friday’s layover in Seattle went by very quickly). The food was a bit weird in Whistler and even though it sounds like I’m being picky I am happy I tried some new things while I was there. I doubt I’d ever be able to see a place like this if it wasn’t for my connection with HubPages, so I’m extremely thankful for that and the powers that be at Maven. I’m also terrible in big crowds like this and it is kind of paralyzing in a sense to me. I’m very shy and awkward around new people and having over 300 hurled in my direction all at once is a bit staggering at first. I am glad I got to experience all of this though and happy I met and talked to the few people I did. The gondola ride was extraordinary and zip lining is something I’d love to do again in the future. Whistler opened my eyes to how beautiful Canada can be and truly is and it ignited a fire in me that excited me to be a writer again. I was proud to be there and it made me feel good that my writing was held in such high regard to award this kind of opportunity. I just want my written work to be entertaining and worthwhile for everyone who stumbles across it. Visit Whistler, BC if you ever have the opportunity and be on the lookout for fantastic things from both HubPages and Maven in the near future.
© 2018 Chris Sawin