An open road stretching north far over the horizon under the vast prairie sky. Moving pictures flicker pass sight. A farmer tilling land, the dirt and dust stirring in a whirlwind behind his wake. Flat earth, green grass, golden wheat, barns with red paint peeling off its sides. Animals roam across fields, grazing on pastures with no end. Three days of touring. This is the Schulich Alberta Tour.
I arrived early in the morning, groggy from my lack of sleep but well awake to notice that I was the first at the shop. The night before, I was briefed as to the situation about the tour. Apparently over the course of the week, we have gone from eleven volunteers to just the three full time participants to this said event, and four others who would lend a hand at certain days. Adel, Nick, and I were the lucky three that would tour the Alberta for the duration of the three days. For the first day of the tour, we were joined by Renard and Morgan, who was also celebrating his 20th birthday.
Our first stop was at Morgan’s hometown at Carstairs, specifically at Hugh Sutherland School. Just before the presentation, the whole school sang Happy Birthday to Morgan which was quite a touching moment. And with gusto, we presented to an audience of hundreds of eager starry-eyed students.
After the presentation, we all headed outside and showed off Schulich Delta to the crowd. Morgan’s family also stopped by, their faces filled with joy and excitement as they got to see the car that he helped build up close.
As much as it was fun to be at Carstairs, we had to say our farewells to the students and to Morgan, who had a prior engagement to attend, so that we could get to our second stop, the quaint village of Cremona. We were welcomed warmly as we were ushered inside the school to give our presentation and show off the car. The crowd was not as big as the previous stop, but the students were just as eager to learn all about renewable energy and solar cars.
After the visit to Cremona, we parted ways with Renard, as we made for Edmonton. We are grateful for his help, as well as Morgan’s aid during the first day.
After what seemed like a journey through the labyrinth that was Edmonton’s roads, we arrived at the University of Alberta to meet with the EcoCar team. We were welcomed by Balasz and Chris, two of the team’s members and before heading to their workshop, Adel and Nick showed them our car.
After a brief showcase of the car, we were lead down a stairway and to an underground parkade, and underneath the dim flickering fluorescent lights was their workshop tucked onto a corner and lovingly called “The Cage.” Past the chain-link fences was their humble little workshop which they also share with the University of Alberta Formula SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). We were given the tour of the shop and introduced to their pride and joy, Alice the EcoCar. Nick and Adel went on to talk shop with the other EcoCar team members like Adnan, and Alex. Much later, we also got to meet their team leader, Nick. We spent quite a bit of time learning about their team, how they built their car, and their own experiences but alas as much as the engineers want to talk shop all day, we were all exhausted from our school visits and so we decided to say our goodbyes and headed to our hotel. We had a long day ahead of us.
(For more information about the UofA EcoCar Team go to ualberta–ecocar.ca)
A night of Mexican food and games of Cheat! gave way to the early morning sun that rose over Strathcona County. After checking out of the hotel, we made our way to our fourth stop for the 2016 SDAT, Holy Spirit School in Sherwood Park, AB. Luckily, we didn’t really have to go out our way for the school visits on this day as all of the schools were in the town of Sherwood Park. We rendezvous with Ryan, Josh, and Julian at this school, who were crazy enough to wake up at an ungodly hour to drive the three hours north of Calgary. I appreciate their enthusiasm and dedication, and we surely would not have been able to present at all three schools without their support. Holy Spirit gave us a warm welcome to start our day and we gave our spiel and car demonstration without a hitch.
After our pleasant visit to Holy Spirit School, we made our way towards Madonna Catholic School where we were greeted by an earnest audience of children and this visit was just as pleasant as the last.
Finally, we made for our fifth stop for the tour, St. Theresa Catholic School, which was actually just a stone’s throw away from the hotel we stayed in. We were met by a packed audience at their drama theatre. The students were quite keen on asking questions during the presentation and the viewing of the car and we were, of course, more than happy to oblige.
After three consecutive school visits, all of us decided to get lunch and enjoy the rest of our day at West Edmonton Mall. Now you the reader may wonder if I have any photos for this event. I am telling you this right now that I do not have any. For you see that at this point, I was too focused on scoring par in our 16 holes of minigolf. After mishaps involving bodies of water and not paying attention, we all lost too Julian and his incredible golfing skills (nee luck) and leave it at that. Adel, Nick, and I said goodbye to Ryan, Josh, and Julian as they made the drive back to Calgary, and we headed to our campsite to rest.
I have question for your my dear readers. Imagine for a moment, and I ask that you indulge my inquiry, that you are at Blackfalds, a nice small town just some odd dozen miles or so near Lacombe. Now in Blackfalds imagine that you are specifically in a Tim Hortons. The aroma of Arabica coffee wafting through the air, the sound of timers beeping to remind you that yes you are awake and you are still five places behind the guy who cannot decide between a honey cruller and a maple glazed. You get that? Good. Now look to your right and see the old couple that has lived in this town all their life and have come to this specific Tim Hortons every morning for the past thirty years. Two bagels, one double double, and one earl grey tea with a bit of cream and no sugar. The same familiar faces, and the same familiar breakfasts. Now look over to your left and you see three college kids with the same black jackets and shirts with a shield in front. You wonder if they are the ones that own the truck and trailer that took over most of the parking space for the regulars come by every morning. Now you ask yourself this question, ‘What would make them come here at six in the morning to your Tim Hortons?”
Give it some thought.
Nothing comes to mind huh?
Well rewind back for half an hour back and you will find the sorry state we were in at the campsite. You see the night before was quite chilly, just around the range of 10°C or 5°C with the windchill. It was quite bearable but we would have preferred something a bit warmer to be honest. Now when I woke up, I felt the sudden pangs of numbness as I suddenly realized that I was quite cold. Adel and Nick were still asleep when I woke up. The moment I opened my tent, a swift blast air slapped my face sending a chill the likes of which I have not felt in years. I hurriedly put my boots on as I tried to regain my sense. At this point they woke up much to their dismay in finding this beautiful spring landscape afflicted in the wake of a snow witch‘s revelry. We unanimously agreed to pack up camp and get out of Dodge.
Which now brings us back to the story of why we were in a Tims at six in the morning. We spent a good three hours there, passing the time by trying to get warm and playing as many card games as we could remember, before we headed out to our sixth stop Lacombe Composite High School. Now this was a quite unique school visit since it was the only high school we have ever visited for the 2016 SDAT. All the other schools were either elementary or a combination of elementary and junior high schools. As such the crowd was noticeably different and as such we had to make sure that our presentations were catered to them. But we already had a lot of experience in doing school visits so it was no problem at all. The students were very interested in the presentation and in the car during the viewing, but being the teenagers that they were, they had to at least make sure that they looked like they were not too interested.
I even got to take quite an amazing photo of Schulich Delta with the school behind it.
After the visit, we spent a bit of time at the school and ate lunch with the teachers and even played cards with Mike, who was the teacher who introduced us to the students before the presentation. We enjoyed their hospitality but we of course had to make hay while the sun was still up. Parting with a Lacombe swag bag gifted to us, we went to our last stop, Glendale Science and Technology School. Given their science and technology focus, the students were more than happy to learn all about the solar car and the team. When they went out to view the vehicle, there was even a teacher that was tweeting out the event in real time. And the students were always asking questions which we were more than happy to answer.
Ask me what I thought of the tour and I would reply that it was an amazing experience all throughout. Sure it could have been better in some regard such as planning for accommodations or getting more people to help out. But the people we met and the places we visited made the tour very memorable for us that we would be more than happy to do it again.
And to end this post we would like to thank all the students and teachers of the schools we visited. You welcomed us with open arms and showed us how worthwhile it is to be part of the team. I would also like to thank our sponsors who provided us with the funds that made this trip possible. Thank you to all the members of the team who helped in planning our this event and especially to Renard, Morgan, Ryan, Josh, and Julian. Although you may not have been able to stay with us for the entire duration of the tour, you helped us the best you can and have gone beyond what is needed and more for us. And finally I would like to thank Adel and Nick. I accompanied you two throughout the trip and sometimes annoyed you with my incessant need to photograph everything. Thank you for putting up with me and you have made the experience quite memorable. This is Gabriel Gana signing off. May you all be successful in your future endeavors and face every day with the sun shining upon you.
-Gabriel Gana, Communications Team Member