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Week two was when I really got my shit together. Any niggling worries I might have had previously about not being able to afford Whistler have now all but dissolved. I now have a stable, full-time job which should easily cover the rent, with some left over for necessary luxuries like ski gear, a lift pass and beer. I'm really, really happy with how things have turned out.


On Sunday I met up with Nicole, an Australian I met in Portland three weeks ago. Nicole flies back to Brisbane later this week having spent three years abroad, including two seasons at Whistler and four months cycling across the full length of Canada. Canada as in the second largest country in the word, cycling as in propelling yourself forward using a metal frame with wheels attached to it. To clarify, Nicole is a trooper. She showed me around some of her favourite spots in Whistler, including Lost Lake (pictured) where people are said to gather every full moon to skinnydip.


My housemate Jun was delighted to have returned from her mushroom hunt with two pine mushrooms, a rare variety she estimated as being worth $50! The fool went on to cook and eat them that same evening.


You'll probably remember Vancouver hosting the Winter Olympics a couple of years ago. All the alpine skiing events took place in Whistler and the village is still littered with Olympics stuff they obviously forgot to clear away.


I was awoken on Wednesday to the sound of excitable Japanese voices. I stepped out of my room to see what all the fuss was about. "Simon! Look! 雪! 雪!". I didn't know what 雪 meant, so I followed their pointing gestures toward the window. Sure enough, outside there was 雪! Everything was covered by a thin layer of glorious, white 雪! The first 雪 of the season!


I caught the bus into town on Thursday morning with the dreary intention of chasing a few jobs I'd applied for unsuccessfully the previous week. On the way to my first victim - the local cinema - I toyed with the idea of giving the grocery store another go. Last time they'd been pretty clear about not having any vacancies until the middle of November at the earliest, so the idea seemed pretty futile. "Fuck it," I thought "I need some mayonnaise anyway, might as well." I bought a tub of the cheapest mayonnaise available and arrived once again at the customer service desk. There I met the store manager who, after asking me a couple of extremely basic questions like "are you a vegetarian?", knocked me for six by offering me a full-time job, right there, on the spot. No résumé, no interview, no nothing. I won't bore you with the details but I'll be working at the deli counter and my hours couldn't be much more perfect in terms of balancing maximum ski time and maximum earnings. Chuffed to pieces.


It snowed again on Friday. Snow has the wonderful capacity to make ugly things (like Dunkirk, Nottingham) pretty, and pretty things (like Whistler) even prettier.


I'll conclude this week with news of something genuinely sad. Jeanie, one of Whistler's most famous and loved black bears, has been destroyed. I never got a chance to meet you Jeanie, but on behalf of all humans, I'm sorry we invaded your habitat, let you eat our food, got nervous when you started relying on our food, and shot you in the head. RIP Jeanie.

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I've only been in Whistler for nine days but already it feels like something resembling home, albeit an eerily quiet home. October is sandwiched awkwardly between the busy summer and winter seasons and is officially the slowest month of the year, known locally as "shoulder season". The tourists, snow and jobs really start appearing in mid-November, so until then there's going to be a lot of sitting on my hands and working the occasional McShift just to pay the rent. That's not to say I'm ungrateful: a break between busy periods is exactly what I need right now.


Whistler Village Gondola, one of two used to transport skiers up the mountain. (9/2/12) Actually, this is Fitzsimmons Express, not Whistler Village Gondola. You can also just about make out Whistler Bike Park which has since been flattened by bulldozers in preparation for the ski season.


Given the number of logging trucks I've witnessed since arriving, I'm surprised there is any forest left at all. Unless it's just one truck continuously parading around the area in a huge loop, stopping only to refuel. Either way, the environment loses.


The complete network of gondolas and ski lifts, all currently illuminated red to signify their closure. The resort services two mountains: Whistler and Blackcomb. Both are colossal in their own right and together they form the largest ski resort in North America. You'll notice there's a gondola called "Peak 2 Peak" connecting the two, an incredible feat of engineering that boasts a handful of world records including "longest free span between ropeway towers" - over three kilometres! I can't wait to ride that bad boy.


Yes, I work at McDonald's. Shall we get the jokes over with now? I applied on Sunday, was interviewed on Tuesday, had my orientation on Wednesday and worked my first shift on Thursday. Fast food, fast recruitment. As a job, I actually really enjoy it. Everything is very similar to Burger King where I worked for two years as a sixth former.


I get this bus into town every day. It definitely trumps the Superoute 66 for scenery. A cheeky Ipswich reference there.


Alright Simon, we get the idea, Whistler has chairlifts.


While scanning Pique and The Question - Whistler's two local papers - for jobs, I came across several fantastic news stories. I definitely recommend reading them all. I particularly enjoyed the one about a bear casually strolling into Fat Tony's Pizza (a place I've applied to work!) and "bluff-charging" the staff. There's a video here. I think it's brilliant this story only warrants a paragraph or two at the bottom of another story on page 15 of a small local paper. If a bear "bluff-charged" anyone in England, it would surely make the front page of every national paper, accompanied by headlines like "DOMINOS BEAR HORROR".

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I found myself waking up from five tumultuous weeks of travel as one might expect to wake up after a night of heavy drinking: alone, disorientated, and unsure about how my wallet got so empty. My first week in Whistler -- home for the next six months -- was pretty intense. Adapting to life in a completely foreign town without any contacts or any job whilst trying desperately to spend as little money as possible was a challenge, but a challenge I secretly relished. Aside from all the rejection, there's something very fulfilling about trying to establish yourself in a town where literally no one knows your name. I got good at approaching random people and extracting little nuggets of local knowledge that ultimately led to me being interviewed for two different jobs within the week, one of which I actually got.

Anyway, now the immediate threat of homelessness has passed, it's probably safe to start wasting my free time blogging again. Seattle already seems like ancient history but here goes:


Seattle

My hostel was just opposite Pike Street Market, a great place to stroll around aimlessly and pick up hundreds of free food samples. I almost got an amazing picture of these two men throwing a massive fish to one another, barely skimming the heads of the bewildered tourists standing between them, but they stopped doing it just as I reached for my camera. You’ll have to make do with this realistic mock-up instead.



Seattle

Seattle didn’t really live up to its rainy reputation and Monday was especially nice. Not sure what the deal is with the balloons, but it made for a cool photo.


Seattle

I spent my last night in the United States in a tiny underground cabaret club called Can Can, drinking $2.50 cans of Busch, listening to this guy, and staring into the middle-distance reflecting on what an amazing four months (to the day, weirdly enough) it had been. America, you’re brilliant and I love you. As Arnold Schwarzenegger once famously said: "I intend to return at some point."


Seattle, USA → Vancouver, Canada

There were a few terrifying minutes at the border when the Canadian immigration officials nearly didn't let me into their country. I'd forgotten a certain document I only realised I needed while on the bus. Thankfully they took pity and issued me with the visa anyway. Phew.

Pictured is Vancouver, a very cool city I'm slightly gutted I only got to spend one night in.


Vancouver → Whistler

The "Sea to Sky Highway" between Vancouver and Whistler is meant to be one of the best drives in the world. Unaware of this fact at the time, I booked the evening bus so forfeited most of the scenery.


Whistler

Daylight provided me with the first proper glimpse of my new home. It's in Alpine Meadows, a suburb of Whistler Village that takes about 15 minutes to reach on the bus. I share it with a friendly Japanese family and three other tenants, all Japanese. It's a really nice place. Slightly weird being the only person who eats with a knife and fork though.


Whistler

Whistler is beautiful. Expect plenty more of this sort of thing over the coming months.

Brief interlude

I have no job, almost no money and am living in one of the most expensive towns in the world. I can't really justify spending any time writing about my life right now. Blogging will continue when someone employs me.

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Photos from my last full week of travel until April!


San Francisco

Sunday was the final day of "Hardly Strictly Bluegrass", a free music festival held annually in Golden Gate Park. It used to just be called "Strictly Bluegrass" before they started inviting non-bluegrass acts like Elbow, whose inclusion on this year's lineup got me very excited. I went along with Jarod, a surfer-turned-journalist from San Diego I met at breakfast, and we both had an awesome time. The great thing about seeing Elbow in America is that no one has the faintest idea who or what they are, so getting to the front of the crowd was like stealing candy from a baby. A blind, quadruple amputee baby.


San Francisco → ???

On my last day in San Francisco I met up with some friends I'd worked with two months previous in Long Lake. They own a wonderful restaurant where they insisted on feeding me expensive food and expensive beer for free. Eventually I had to excuse myself to catch my 9:45pm train to Portland, a train I would have missed if it wasn't for the heroic taxi driver who drove at least six times the speed limit to get me to the station in time.


??? → Portland

My first ever rail experience in America was a positive one. The whole journey took nearly twenty hours but it felt much shorter. I sat next to a Mexican guy named Danny, an alcoholic on his way to rehab in Washington state. He turned out to be one of the most inspirational people I've ever met and we chatted into the night about his life and his reasons for wanting to clean himself up. He also let me play Angry Birds on his phone for ages. A great guy. This photo shows the scenery I woke up to. (a couple more)


Portland

To remind you, I arrive in Canada next week where I'm planning to live and work for the next five months. Except I don't currently have anywhere to live or anywhere to work. This has been bugging me for weeks but instead of doing anything constructive about it, I've just swept it all under the rug. By Wednesday, the rug was bulging and almost impossible to walk on, so I finally resolved to sort myself out. I spent the whole day inside, hunting for jobs and rooms online. I applied for jobs as varied as ski lift tester, dishwasher, sandwich artist and newspaper intern. Nothing back yet.

UPDATE: I FOUND A HOUSE!!!


Portland

Occupy Portland (part of the wider Occupy Wall Street) is a anti-capitalist protest currently going on in Portland. It kicked off on Thursday, when I joined thousands of angry, placard-wielding types in marching from the waterfront to Pioneer Courthouse Square, pictured. While I agree mostly with the sentiment of the protest, I was only really there to take awesome photos.


Portland

Steve Jobs died on Thursday. I mentioned it in passing to the guy sleeping across from me who turned out to be Fredric Alan Maxwell, an author who once emailed Mr Jobs with a controversial essay he'd written about Jobs's biological father. Steve Jobs replied simply (and famously) with "Are you a nut case?" After relaying this story and singing me the first verse of a song he'd written about the incident, Maxwell accused me of stealing his manuscripts. I think Steve Jobs might have been right.


Portland → Seattle

A second train journey transported me further up the coast to Seattle where I met Tatiana, a German exchange student visiting for the weekend. We wandered around the city together and visited the obligatory Space Needle, actually really impressive.

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It's been an awesome week. Here are the photos. I’m aware the captions are getting longer and longer and I apologise for this. You can just stare at the pictures if you like, I won't be offended.


Los Angeles

On Sunday I rented a car with three guys from the hostel (a German, an Austrian, and a Swiss) and drove to Six Flags Magic Mountain. Magic Mountain is just outside Los Angeles and holds the world record for the most roller coasters in a single amusement park, an exciting prospect for a coaster fanboy like me. There are eighteen of them in total, eleven of which we had time to ride. My favourite was called “Tatsu”, which was a bit like "Air" at Alton Towers, except completely different and much better.


Los Angeles

We had intended to cycle down the promenade from Santa Monica to Venice on Monday before the guy at the bike rental place scored a dramatic own goal by admitting Venice was only a mile away. We walked it instead. Venice has a reputation for harbouring the unashamedly stoned and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The boardwalk was lined with “shops” (often nothing more than a passed-out man laying in front of something he’d drawn on a piece of corrugated cardboard just before slipping into a coma) selling art, music and smoking paraphernalia. It also has a reputation for its beautiful beach and vibrant skateboarding scene (remember the level on THPS2?), both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. Pictured is me and Will, whose last day it was in America. We’ve agreed to meet up in his native Shanghai when I pass through next May.


Los Angeles

Tuesday was a day of two halves. The first half was Hollywood, a box I felt compelled to tick while in LA despite not being particularly interested in what it had to offer. I shouldn’t have bothered. Hollywood has sold its soul to tourism and by visiting, I just became part of the problem. Hollywood is hundreds and hundreds of gift shops with names like “Souvenir’s of Hollywood” (seriously), all crammed with the same cheap, mass-produced tack that tourists (like me) so love to throw money at. Hollywood is being harassed at every street corner by men holding clipboards asking if you’d like to buy a $49 open-top-bus tour. Hollywood is gawping at someone’s name on the pavement you vaguely recognise and taking a picture with your iPhone just to be on the safe side. There is nothing genuine about Hollywood. Hollywood is awful. Don’t go to Hollywood.

The second half was another outing to Venice followed by an all-you-can-eat pasta and garlic bread feast at the hostel, clearly an improvement on the first half. I was once again amazed by the skaters. Incidentally, this photo is the 10,000th photo I’ve ever taken using my current camera! How about that?


Los Angeles → San Francisco

Wednesday was almost entirely consumed by a single, nine-hour bus ride up the west coast. When I finally arrived in San Francisco I did my usual disorganised routine of refusing to pay for a taxi and getting really lost trying to find the hostel. It was a particularly nice city to get really lost in, I thought. Eventually I located the hostel, checked in, met some Germans and went dancing in a local blues bar until 2am. A perfect introduction to my favourite American city so far!


San Francisco

I spent Thursday walking around the beautiful but outrageously hilly San Francisco with a couple of BBC employees I'd met the previous night, Pete and James. We managed to cover most of the touristy stuff: Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Lombard Street, the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, Union Square, and so on. All that walking up and down steep inclines left me very fatigued. An evening of free beer and crab racing was the perfect remedy. Crab racing is something the hostel organises every Thursday night, and is exactly as brilliant as it sounds. Live hermit crabs with small national flags attached to their shells are released simultaneously from the centre of a specially built crab racing arena, and the first crab to reach either the perimeter of the arena, or a special coloured zone within the arena (depending on the round. did I mention there were several rounds?) is crowned the winner. Hostel guests are divided randomly into national teams and the overall winning team gets a bottle of wine. A sample of phrases literally screamed from the audience: "YES AUSTRALIA!" "WAKE UP NETHERLANDS!" "YOU'RE ALMOST THERE IRELAND!" "NETHERLANDS HAS GOT OFF TO A VERY POOR START!"


San Francisco

Friday night was the most wonderful, surreal, ridiculous experience of my entire trip so far. Critical Mass is a mass bike ride attended by hundreds of San Franciscans on the last Friday of every month. It has no central organisation and the route taken is spontaneous and different every month. Its aim is to raise awareness of cyclists ("a demonstration to show that the city belongs to people and not machines") and it has been going for almost twenty years. I rented a bike and showed up at the publicised meeting place, not really knowing what to expect. Neither words nor pictures can get close to conveying how epic this three-hour adventure was. Cyclists flooded the streets. Some dressed up, some dressed down (NSFW), some attached huge speakers to their bikes, others lasers and bubble machines. It was so much fun. Part of me felt slightly awkward about blatantly ignoring so many traffic laws, but at the same time another part of me felt OH MY GOD THIS IS INSANE.


San Francisco

I visited the infamous Alkatraz prison on Saturday. In the ferry queue I got talking to Glen and Jennifer, two very nice "intactivists" (think about it, the shirts are a clue) from Vancouver who I ended up spending the whole afternoon with. Alkatraz was pretty good. Very prisony.