Words and images by Quentin Randall

Experience Yourself

“You will never be able to experience everything. So please, do poetic justice to your soul and simply experience yourself.” – Albert Camus

Every second of the day, the world presents us with an infinite number of experiences. It is up to us to appreciate as much as we can, from the thrilling high of jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, to the letdown of realizing you don’t like Sichuan cooking after taking an Uber to a highly-rated out-of-the-way diner. Lack of planning and a mind for adventure are two ways to experience this world. It opens you up to everything. It’s freeing.

My two kids and I took that attitude into a two-night, three-day exploration of the small, dusty Southeast corner of Alberta. We reserved a lake-side cabin in the Alberta Cypress Hills, packed enough apples and granola bars to get us through breakfast and then we hit the road.

At the lake, my daughter – her mind sharpened through years of living in a male-dominated household with her older brother and I – rushed under my arm, which was still unlocking the cabin door and called “TOP BUNK!” If she’s not on top of things, she loses. So she goes for it all the damn time. You should see the race for shotgun every time we get in the car. You should really see the negotiation that goes on every time one of them jinxes the other. “Run around the car 10 times and I’ll say your name.”

Anyways, my daughter earned the best bed in the cabin. I took note of the smell of cedar, which lined the walls and ceiling of the entire cabin. We plugged in the electric heater to keep us warm through the night. Then we walked to the waterfront, just a few meters away from our cabin, skipped rocks across the lake, and picked a couple cattails from the shore.

The next morning, we got up early and sat on the front porch, eating apples and watching the sun rise over the lake in front of us. The air was thick with smoke from forest fires thousands of kilometers away, which made the sky around us light up with the richest oranges and reds. We didn’t talk much, and seemed to be as still as the water and air around us.

After renting a canoe from the park and heading out on Elkwater Lake, we stopped at Camp Cookhouse and General Store for breakfast. My son got a kick out of the Tower of Power, and couldn’t hold it together as he read the description.

“Pancake, sausage, pancake, sausage, pancake, sausage, 2 eggs. Tower. Of Power.”

Of course he got it, because it’s awesome! He also got a hot chocolate which came served with a fresh, home-made marshmallow.

In the general store, we found some great candy from my youth before we hit the road. Candy cigarettes, Big League Chew, Fun Dip, and Lotsa Fizz.

Our next stop was Midnight’s Trail, which offers trail rides through remote sections of the canyon-like South Saskatchewan River valley. We’re not horse people, so I was happy to have my girlfriend join us for this adventure, as she grew up with horses.

The owner of Midnight’s Trail, Jessica, greeted us with a huge smile on our face and told us that as soon as the horses were loaded into the trailer, we would be ready to go.

About a dozen horses were loaded into Jessica’s horse trailer by the ranch hands, who were all girls aged 11-17 years old. As they were being prepared for departure, a donkey with stiff hind legs came running along and tried to get into the trailer as well.

“Oh Casey never likes being left behind,” said Jessica. She told us that she found Casey at a horse auction a few years ago. He had a rough start to life which resulted in his hind legs not working properly. At Midnight’s Trail, he was the adopted son of mine and my girlfriend’s horse. He didn’t like being separated and despite his limited mobility, Casey was ready for our trail ride!

I have been on trail rides in Jamaica, Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Banff. All very nice, and somewhat sterile. Stay in line, don’t stray or fall behind. Midnight’s Trail was nothing like that. We were four guests, welcome to join what was essentially a Sunday afternoon family ride. Portions of the river valley didn’t even have trails. We rode through native prairie grass, around grizzled looking cottonwood trees and lead our horses to water. Along the way, Jessica showed us remains of a moonshiner’s shack from the early 1900s and told us about the time she found and reported an illegal cannabis grow-op along the river. It was a remote area, indeed.

One of her younger daughters stood up on the back of her horse, practicing her trick riding while others practiced riding while sitting backwards. I learned that one of the girls was working on the ranch for the summer before going into grade 10. When she wasn’t tending to horses, she was a national-calibre wrestler.

All the while, Casey the donkey ambled along with us, occasionally stopping to roll in the dust beside me or running ahead and showing no sign that he even knew his back legs didn’t completely work.

It was a real experience, and was so much more than I expected.

Following our ride, we drove back to Medicine Hat, hungry and excited to experience some of what the city has to offer.

Tino’s Drive-In is a long-standing Medicine Hat institution. The small exterior is decorated with red and white shiny brick to resemble a tiny castle. The four corners each have castle spires. The milkshake menu is extremely comprehensive, listing nearly 100 flavours so if you’ve ever wanted to try a pink lemonade or Rice Krispie flavoured milkshake, this is the place.

If you’re looking for recommendations though, the chili fries can’t be beat. A sweet chili is poured over Tinos fries and covered in shredded cheddar cheese. In an alternate universe, this is served instead of escargot at the finest dinners in the world. I’ve been given the tip that it’s best to order ahead as it can get pretty busy. Either way, it’s a Medicine Hat institution and well worth a stop.

When we started this little adventure, we had no idea what we were going to do. We only knew that we were going to enjoy each other and follow our noses. And because of that, we were treated to some of the most wonderful experiences in Southeast Alberta.

Quentin Randall has a decade in community promotion, related to tourism, art & culture, and economic development. He specializes in content marketing, specifically professional writing, photography and message distribution.