Reporter's notebook from Fort McMurray:

Posted: Sunday, February 29, 2004

I've been told to approach my visit to the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alberta, as an adventure. Apparently, I had no idea just what an adventure it would be.

Though we're in unfamiliar territory and had a bit of a mishap in the travel aspect of the trip, the assignment in Fort McMurray didn't present its first real escapade until Friday afternoon.

Since this story is sure to come home with the nearly 40 delegates from the Kenai Peninsula, I'd prefer to tell it in my own terms first.

Photographer Scott Moon and I had set out from the hotel Friday to explore the many venues for Games activities prior to the start of the festivities. Our first stop was the Fish and Game Club, about six miles south of our hotel. We traveled down the highway and turned into the gated driveway, just in time to encounter another vehicle leaving the facility. We spent about five minutes driving around the gun club, checking out the trails and ranges where the ski and snowshoe biathlons will be held later this week.

Then, we turned around to return to the highway, only to find the gate now closed and locked.

Our first question: "How did that happen?"

The next, "What are we going to do now?"

Fortunately, a white van was approaching from the highway side of the gate. My first assumption was that the person we had passed on the way in had realized what he or she had done and returned to let us out.

No such luck.

However, it turned out the approaching van was carrying two Kenai Peninsula residents, Bill Holt and Tom Seggerman. They had stopped at the gate hoping our car contained someone who could let them in.

After a good chuckle and several photos of Scott and I behind bars they kindly lent us a cell phone (neither Scott nor I are carrying), and I proceeded to call a woman I had interviewed Thursday from the gun club. About four calls (and laughs and mocking photographs) later, I finally reached her, and she returned to the gun club, laughing that she was the one who had inadvertently locked us in.

Needless to say, for the rest of the day and likely the rest of the trip every time we encounter a gate, we are carefully parking on the outside. Lesson learned.

Among the other learning experiences thus far:

Carry quarters! Grocery stores here in Alberta require a 25 cent deposit for shopping carts. A checker explained that the carts tend to "wander off" and end up all over town without the deposit. It's an interesting idea, though not so convenient for those of us without quarters in our pockets.

Respect Canadian politeness, but make decisions. Canadian citizens are stereotyped as overtly polite, and while one should know better than to trust a stereotype, in some cases this is true. Four-way-stop intersections have become a bit of an ordeal, as drivers tend to throw out the "the person who got their first, or the person on the right goes first" driving rule and ever-so-politely wait for everyone else to accelerate. Fortunately, we pushy American journalists have been able to take action, fulfilling yet another stereotype and decisively moving forward at the intersections-turned-parking lots.

Try new things. Restaurants have had some interesting options, and the grocery store only added to the selection. The most interesting item: a jar of pickles in mustard. Said Scott: "Add some ketchup and you'd have a ready-made hot dog."

Today's language lesson: Do the French call French toast, toast? I don't know. But in Canada, Canadian bacon is "peameal bacon." Also, petrol (short for petroleum) makes a lot more sense than the American word, "gas."

Today's math lesson: There are 2.6 liters in a U.S. gallon and the Canadians are paying 72.9 cents for every liter of "petrol," so in Canadian "loonies," they are paying $1.90 per gallon (2.6 x .729 = 1.8954). However, their dollar is only worth 76 U.S. cents, so we need $1.44 American cash for a gallon of gas (1.8954 x .76 = $1.44). A note to area high-schoolers: This would be a great math question for the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam. Sad to say, it took Scott and I about 10 minutes to figure out with a calculator.

Jenni Dillon

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