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Across the Rockies by horseback

Local woman looks back on a unique trip from the 1940s in her new book
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The three friends - including Lillian, at centre, on their trip. On the left is co-author Thelma Jo Dobson.

A life-changing 10-day trip over the Albertan Rocky Mountains back in 1947 was the inspiration behind a co-written book, A Ride to Remember, between two old friends.

An 86-year-old New Westminster resident, Lillian Caton Major, was only 22 when she went on a horseback riding adventure with two girlfriends, her then-boyfriend's aunt and uncle, a wrangler, and 10 other horses from Jasper back to the small town of Nordegg, near Rocky Mountain House.

She kept a diary of the trip, which laid the groundwork for the 90-page, 13-chapter book co-authored by her friend (who was also on the trip), Thelma Jo Dobson in Alberta.

"I kept a diary, and then finally they took the diary and made the book," Lillian said in the kitchen of her early 1900-built home, surrounded by black and white photos from the past, and her daughter, Connie Smith, and husband, Don Major. "A lot of these quotes in (there), I have in my diary or had in my head, and I wrote it down."

The trip transpired in July, and Lillian, at the time, was a bank teller.

"We were planning to get married, Lillian and I," Don added, who's been married to Lillian for the past 63 years. "We built a house, a two-room shack, and we had plans to get married and she planned to go out on this trip. I was worried sick."

Lillian's travels are documented in her book by black and white photos she mostly took herself.

"It was quite a perilous journey they went on," Connie said. "They went 2,000 feet (600m) up over a mountain, it was like going up 200 stairs 200 times. It was really steep, they didn't go around the mountains. They went over the mountains."

"She always downplays it."

Lillian's lifelong dedication to taking notes in her diaries did not change, despite travelling about 80 miles through the wilderness and reaching the highest point of up to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft.).

"It was just me to do it," Lillian said, as to why she kept diligent notes. "To keep track of every day. To keep track of what I was doing. I've always kept track of what I was doing

all my life. If I was doing something I wrote notes about it. Even having the kids, I wrote notes about them and talked about them."

Lillian still has her journals that document her life to the day, some are secured around the house to keep away from prying eyes.

"I had to keep a few things tucked away so the kids wouldn't pick it up," she added.

Besides writing in her journal, the trip itself was filled with bears, fishing, sightseeing and delicious food either plucked from the nearby bushes, packed in the boxes, or caught from the stream.

"We laid on the ground at times, but no, we had tents," Lillian explained. "We had spruce boughs to put underneath us. And then the next day, as the book here says, we spread our spruce boughs back out into the bush so that it didn't look like somebody had been there."

The travellers were disciplined in keeping the wilderness wild by not leaving any evidence of themselves behind -except for the tent poles.

"You don't cut your tent poles up, you leave them, because somebody else might come by who needs them," Lillian said.

"At the next camp you'll find them because there was already somebody else."

No one gave any food to the animals either, and they never had an incident with a bear because they kept their food locked up.

"We weren't allowed to even leave crumbs on the ground and leave it," she explained. "If you didn't eat all your sandwich you put it in a bag and took it back home with you."

"The book says, 'We didn't a leave a crumb. We ate every bit of it.'"

The trip was a result of three American doctors who decided to see the Rockies by doing a trip on horseback.

They drove from Iowa to Nordegg but couldn't make the trip back.

Don's uncle took them to Jasper, where his wife met them with their car so they could drive back to America, leaving the outfitters with three horses that needed to go back home.

"So when they got back, what's to do with the horses?," she added. "Don's aunt and uncle were left with three horses with nobody to ride them."

That's where Lillian, Thelma and their friend Terry (who passed away in 1971) came in.

Lillian and Don moved to B.C. in 1950.

They first lived in Port Moody before finally settling down in Sapperton for the past 52 years in the same home, raising five children.

"She was always telling us, reading her book to us," Connie said, adding that in the 1960s the family recounted Lillian's 1947 journey in a car.

"We had an old station wagon, packed with five kids, two parents and a dog," she said. "We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies."

What once served as a story before bedtime for her five children, Lillian's book can now be read by anyone who picks up a copy from a local bookstore.

"It was the vacation of a lifetime," Lillian said.

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