The Newest Tallest, Fastest, and Longest

Designers are constantly pushing the envelope of roller coaster construction, so that pretty much every year there’s the announcement of a new “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster.  This year, the honor goes to the Canada Wonderland theme park in Ontario, where the Yukon Striker coaster will be opening.  (Given the weather this winter, it’s probably going to be a few months before the grand opening, so coaster fanatics have got time to make their travel plans.)

maxresdefaultThe description of the Yukon Striker ride in the attached article sounds, well, pretty intense.  For one thing, it’s 3 minutes and 25 second long and covers more than a half mile of track.  The ride will reach top speeds of 80 miles per hour, has one drop of 245 feet — that’s more than two-thirds of a football field — and an underground tunnel that, according to the photo, opens in an amusement park lake.  The article states, somewhat breathlessly:  “At the top of the drop, you’ll be held for three seconds over the 90-degree drop before you drop down into the underwater tunnel, and there’ll even be a complete 360-degree loop for an extra adrenaline rush.”  (Like that will be needed!)

Oh yeah — the ride also has four different “inversions,” where riders are turned upside down before being turned right-side up.

The Yukon Striker won’t achieve the fastest speeds of any roller coaster in the world, an honor that’s currently held by a coaster in Abu Dhabi, but it will be the fastest “dive” coaster, “where there’s a straight vertical drop which sees riders facing down.”

I like roller coasters, and it’s interesting to read about the newest advances in coasters, but I really wonder whether we’re reaching the point where coasters are eclipsing normal human tolerances.  A more than three minute ride that jets you along at speeds faster than the speed limit on most highways, puts you through 360-degree loops, plunges you straight down into an amusement park lake, and then flips you over and back four times sounds like a lot more than my psyche — and stomach — can stand.  I also think that, in their zeal to be the highest, fastest, and longest, roller coaster designers are ignoring other creative design elements that make coasters exciting and interesting without torturing riders and exploring the limits of human endurance.

I’m sure there will always be thrill-seekers who want to ride the newest “tallest, fastest, and longest” coaster, but it will be interesting to see whether, after a ride or two, most visitors at the Canada Wonderland park pass on the Yukon Striker and try to find their amusement park fun somewhere else.

The Santa Claus Killer

North of border, a grisly story of mass murder is unfolding.  In Toronto, police and shaken residents are dealing with an apparent serial killer who roamed in their midst, an apparently pleasant gardener, landscaper, and flower arranger by day and a violent, allegedly homicidal sadist by night.

15267796_10154189330693528_3900810531768579684_n-e1516319633635The accused, Bruce McArthur, has been charged with the murders of five men.  Police are investigating properties where McArthur evidently buried the dismembered remains of his victims in the planters, lawns, and gardens he tended for unsuspecting clients — a story line that is similar to the plot of Stephen King’s short story The Lawnmower Man.  Police believe that McArthur roamed the gay district in Toronto, looking for submissive men who would help him act out violent sexual fantasies — fantasies that apparently sometimes ended in grisly death.  There is growing concern, too, that the investigation will uncover many more victims.

And by the way, McArthur also once served as the Santa Claus at a Toronto-area mall.  I wonder if the parents who learn of that creepy fact will ever put their kids on the lap of a mall Santa again?

As seems to so often be the case, his neighbors and his clients describe McArthur as a jovial, helpful person who liked to bake and design flower arrangements.  They didn’t suspect his apparent double life or dark side.  It really makes you wonder how many murderous people are out there in the world, acting out their disturbed impulses — and also makes you feel lucky that you haven’t encountered them at the wrong time on a darkened street.

 

Not Third World

I disagree with Donald Trump about pretty much everything, but I think he’s right about one thing, at least:  many American airports are pretty crappy.  Describing them as “Third World” in quality may be unfairly insulting to our friends in the Third World.

You realize this when you leave the States.  Consider the Calgary airport, for example.  The E concourse looks newly built, and is spotlessly clean and spacious.  Compare it to, say, some of the cramped, beat-up, and overcrowded terminals at, say, LaGuardia, and you get the President’s point.  It’s sn embarrassing comparison.  We should be able to match our neighbors to the north in the airport department.

Maple Syrup, Anyone?

The duty-free shop at the Calgary International Airport features booze and the other items you awaits find in a duty-free shop . . . and maple syrup.  Lots of maple syrup.  Shelves full, and in decorative maple leaf bottles, too.  So much maple syrup, in fact, that they’re actually running a buy 3, get 1 free promotion.

So if you need four decorative bottles of maple syrup, perhaps because you want to clebrate Canada’s 150th birthday as you eat your pancakes, and don’t want to pay any duty on it, I know where you can go.

Or, you can pick up some Mrs. Butterworth’s in your local supermarket.

Fairmont Banff Springs

We’ve spent the last few days at the Fairmont Banff Springs, a colossal old-line hotel that sits on a bluff above the Bow River.  

It’s one of those sprawling complexes that is a bit of a maze — and at the same time full of surprises as you wander around trying to get your bearings. One day I was trying to figure out my route to the conference center for a meeting when I ended up in a room where a woman in medieval garb plucked away at a full-sized harp while two guys played pool.  When I apparently looked quite lost, she stopped her playing and helped to get me back on track.  And there appear to be different restaurants, shops and bars on every level, as well as meetings rooms galore.

We’ve enjoyed our stay in this beautiful part of the world.  How could you not like a hotel with a patio that offers a jaw-dropping view like the one below?

Around Lake Louise

Yesterday we drove to Lake Louise, which is about an hour away from Banff via Canada highway 1, the Trans-Canada highway.  It’s a pleasant ride through more of the towering peaks of the Canadian Rockies.

One of the locals told us that Lake Louise is the most photographed place in Canada.  If that bit of local lore is true, it’s not hard to see why.  The water in the lake is a brilliant turquoise color, like you might find in the Caribbean, and the lake is surrounded by craggy mountains with glaciers at the far end.  It’s a fantastic, beautiful place.


We followed a walking path from the grounds of the Fairmont, which anchors one end of the lake, down toward the glaciers.  The trail runs for about a mile and a half along the rim of the lake.  We shared the path with lots of other gawkers and some trail riders.  


There is still snow melt running into the lake, and the water is icy cold.  At the far end, there is a beach and then the lake becomes a kind of marsh, with the glaciers hovering on the mountaintops far overhead.


I’m not ashamed to say that I took my share of pictures of this wondrous place.  I’ve helped to add even more credibility to that bit of local lore about Canada’s most photographed spot.

Over The Rockies

Yesterday we crossed the Canadian Rockies on the second day of our two-day excursion on the Rocky Mountaineer.  It was a day of rugged landscape, plunging gorges, swiftly tumbling rivers, and a mountain goat or two.  And, for those of us who appreciate deft feats of engineering, a bridge far above a river, shown below, and a cool set of tunnels that spiral the train upward through the interior of the mountains at a gentle grade and bring you out so you can see where you started.


On the Rocky Mountaineer you can sit in you seat and watch the scenery through a bubble window that allows you to see everything from waist level to directly overhead, or by standing out on a platform to get a more immediate sense for the countryside.  I preferred the latter option, the better to gulp down lungfuls of the brisk, pine-scented air and feel the breeze on your face.  It’s an exhilarating experience to be out among so many trees pumping out so much oxygen.


By the time we rolled into the station at Banff, the weather had turned foul, but the rain couldn’t dim the experience.  The Rocky Mountaineer is a bucket list item worth doing.

New Mexico Up North

When I think of Canada, I don’t typically think of desert — but that’s exactly what the terrain turns into as you head east on the Rocky Mountaineer toward Kamloops, the town that is the destination after day one of the trip.  The locals call the climate “semi-arid,” but it sure seems to be full “arid” to me.  The area looks and feels like New Mexico or Arizona or other parts of the American southwest.  It’s hotter, and a lot drier, with brown-hued topography and scattered plants that resemble sagebrush.

It’s a pretty abrupt change from the farmland and piney forest views we saw during the first part of the trip.  According to our waiter — who seemed a lot more knowledgeable than your average waiter, by the way — it’s because the high Cascade mountains to the west and the equally high Rockies to the east create a climate condition called a “rain shadow,” in which lower, rain-carrying clouds can’t move past the mountain ranges.  Only high-altitude cirrus clouds that aren’t laden with moisture can scrape by.

Tomorrow we’ll move out of this hot zone and up and over the Rockies, but I’ll always remember this amazing taste of New Mexico in the Great White North.  Canada is full of surprises!

Wood And Water

As the Rocky Mountaineer heads north into British Columbia, you see prime logging territory — plenty of towering trees that can provide logs to spare, and vast rivers ready to deliver them to the sawmills downstream.  The whole country seems geared for a successful timber industry, and that remains true even today.  As you look out the window at the landscape rolling by, it’s not unusual to see log delivery rafts floating  downstream, ready to be collected.

Once you move away from the American border, though, the rivers become less placid and civilized and more . . .  desperate.  We go from placid logging rivers to whitewater, such as the brutal Hell’s Gate run, shown below.  No wonder it earned that name.

And then . . . everything changes, in a weird and unexpected way.  More on that tomorrow morning.

All Aboard The Rocky Mountaineer!

We’re in Vancouver, getting ready to board the Rocky Mountaineer train on the Canadian rail system.  It runs over the Canadian Rockies to Banff and points west.


The Rocky Mountaineer does things with a nice touch of class.  We were greeting by a guy playing Beatles music on a baby grand when we entered the terminal, got complimentary coffee and juice, and were piped aboard the train by a bagpiper in full Scottish regalia.  Now we’ve been given a “sunrise toast” with orange juice and bubbly to start our journey.

We’re in the top floor of a two-story train with more window glass than you can possibly imagine — the better to gawk as the landscape rolls by.  The scenery is supposed to be spectacular, and we’re eager for our trip to begin.

Overly Mapled

I’m on the road today, heading to meetings in the Great White North.  Even if I didn’t know I was in Canada, though, I’d still be able to make a pretty good educated guess about my location based on this shelf in the airport convenience store.

Notice a theme here?  It’s all things maple — but does anybody really want maple-flavored caramels?

The Views From Our Balcony

IMG_20160703_081813We’re spending a few days at the Prince of Wales hotel in Watertown Lakes Park.  It’s the park on the Canadian side of the border, across from Glacier National Park on the U.S. side.  Together, the two parks make one of the largest contiguous wilderness preserves in the world.  Bears and elk and other critters don’t pay much attention to national boundaries.

The Prince of Wales is an old Canadian railroad hotel — which means, by definition, that it’s a fabulous, almost whimsical structure.  More on that later, but the setting is even more fabulous than the hotel structure itself.

The Prince of Wales is found on the side of the deepest lake in the Canadian Rockies, with the towering peaks of the mountains just across the lake.  It’s got to be one of the most beautiful settings in the world.  And since our hotel room has a balcony located at just the right spot, I got to revel in these views when I woke up this morning.  It’s not a bad way to wake up.

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Crossing The Border


Yesterday we crossed the world’s longest unguarded border — that is, the one between the U.S and Canada — at the Chief Mountain border station in western Montana, next Glacier National Park.  It may be the smallest border crossing, too — there’s only one guard hut, staffed by a very friendly Canadian.  But on the Alberta side it does have a nice little peace park sign, complete with the American and Canadian flags.

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When The King Goes To Canada

Burger King has announced that it is buying Tim Horton’s, a Canadian doughnut and coffee chain, and moving its headquarters to Canada as part of the move.  From the frenzied reaction to the decision, you’d think the head guys at Burger King had set fire to the American flag and then used the remains to mop the floor by the deep frying machine.

Ohio’s Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, seems to be the one who has gone the deepest off the deep end; he’s urging a boycott of Burger King in favor of American burger outlets like Wendy’s and White Castle.  In an email he sent out yesterday, Brown calls what Burger King is doing “abandoning your country” and says it is part of a “growing trend in which companies get rich in the United States, then move to a foreign tax haven with the stroke of a pen.”  Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont, says the move shows “contempt” for the “average American.”  Dick Durbin, the Democratic Senator from Illinois, also has ripped Burger King for being un-American.

It’s not entirely clear that Burger King’s motive in pursuing the Tim Horton’s deal is to avoid taxes.  The company says they are making the move not to dodge taxes, but because they want to buy Tim Horton’s and think the move will be more palatable to Canadian regulators if the combined company’s headquarters is in Canada.  It seems undeniable, however, that the move to Canada will change how the new company pays taxes — companies that are headquartered in the U.S., under U.S. tax laws, pay the steep 35 percent corporate income tax on all income earned anywhere in the world (even in countries that have no corporate income tax), whereas companies headquartered in Canada (and many other countries) pay the different corporate tax rates in the countries in which the income is earned.

The overreaction to the Burger King move seems like pretty obvious, and silly, political posturing.  So Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north with whom we share a peaceful common border that is thousands of miles long, is now a despicable “tax haven” like, say, the Cayman Islands?  So corporations that see a better deal and pursue it are now unpatriotic if that deal reduces the taxes they pay in the U.S.?

As a reminder to our Senators, corporations don’t exist to funnel as much money as possible to the U.S. government.  Instead, corporations are principally answerable to their stockholders and, in most instances, have the primary goal of making money, not shelling it out unnecessarily.  Burger King isn’t breaking any laws by buying Tim Horton’s and moving its headquarters, and if doing so will help it save on unnecessary tax payments and realize better shareholder value, what’s wrong with that?  If American tax policy is out of step with that of Canada and other countries, maybe America needs to revisit its policy rather than blaming companies for making entirely rational economic decisions.

One other point on this:  there’s a Burger King near my house.  I’m not sure how many people it employs, all told — 50, perhaps? — but how do you think those people would be affected if Sherrod Brown’s call for a boycott were successful?  If Burger King moves to Canada its restaurants will continue to employ thousands of Americans, and it will continue to pay taxes on the money it earns here.  That seems fair to me.