Journeys

This past Friday, May 16, Jennifer and I returned from a vacation out West. This was a great time. We got to see my parents in Thunder Bay (along with the cats and Kakabeka), and then my siblings and niece in Calgary. Many adventures were had, but we only have a bit of time here, so let me tell you one story . . .

Our Adventure in Banff

We started camping on Sunday, May 11, having headed out to Bow Valley Provincial Park after a barbecue at Jonathan’s place with some relatives. Sunday evening went well, setting up the tent before supper (which is to say, before dark) and with no rain. Monday was Jennifer’s birthday, and it was a happy day of presents, sunshine, hiking and pancakes. Tuesday had been set aside as the day to visit Banff National Park, with a culmination at The Old Spaghetti Factory for a special birthday dinner for Jennifer.

The wind that day was mighty; we were glad we’d miss it, being in a car and elsewhere. It blew right off the Bow River, through the gap in the trees beside our campsite that afforded a view of the Rockies, and across our picnic table, heading straight into our tent, turning the door into something like a ship’s sail. It also liked to blow out our magic camping matches — when they agreed to light — and our camping stove, so I warmed up lunch (Chef Boyardee) behind the tent so the wind wouldn’t ruin everything.

After lunch, we made sure that nothing besides our air mattress, sleeping bags, and dirty laundry were left in the tent, just in case one of the ten other campsites decided that theft was a good idea. Then we laid hands on the tent and prayed that it would be safe while we were away, that it would not blow away, get pulled out of the ground, or rip. Then we hopped into the car and set off for beautiful Banff.

Oh yes, the car. We were borrowing a car from Jonathan and Cindy; Jennifer had noticed when we left Calgary that the front driver’s side tire was low. Thus, as we drove further into the Rocky Mountains, the joy of seeing so much astounding beauty was diminished slightly by worry about this low tire; the wind occasionally buffeting us was also a minor worry, but it never knocked me off course. Nevertheless, it was decided that we would stop in at Canmore and add air to the tire.

Right. So here’s the thing about Canmore. The TransCanada Highway cuts it in half. So if you get off on the wrong side and don’t know it, next thing you know you’re stuck driving around amidst houses on ridges with pretty views, wondering where on earth the Esso is. Eventually, we figured it had to be on the other side of the highway; I, myself, had vague memories of an A & W over there.

Having found the Esso on the other side of the TransCanada, I checked the tire. It was at 28 psi; the others were at 41; the max was 44. So I managed to fill the low tire up to 41 itself.

The rest of our journey was blissful. We drove through the mountains, headed for the National Park, every turn of the way presenting more majestic might and beauty and glory. We passed through the gate into Banff National Park without incident. A drive through the mountains is hard to describe. They were big. There was snow on them. They were rocky and grey where the snow didn’t cover them. These really don’t express either Jennifer’s excitement at them all or the overawing strength and beauty of these massive piles of rock, jutting out of the earth right there before you, beside you, behind you. And at the foot of these mountains, running down from them into the valleys were evergreens, pines, spruce, balsam fir, like a green shag carpet spread out before your eyes. So many trees.

Our destination was Lake Louise. If I could have, I’d have gone all the way to the Columbia Icefields. The distance was too great, though, so we headed for Lake Louise. Having successfully followed directions, we parked Jonathan’s car and went to the bathroom. Here I was delighted to wash my hands with soap, rather than Purelling them! It was a delight.

Once we’d relieved ourselves, we set out across the parking lot and past the Chateau Lake Louise to see the lake, this thing of beauty, renowned the world over for its blue-green turquoise water.

And it was frozen.

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised, since it was still kind of cold, and we’d parked in front of a snow bank. But, still, it was a little disappointing, especially for Jennifer who’d never seen the lake before. We got some photos, some other tourists (who greeted us with “Do you speak English?”) taking one of us, and we one of them. We walked along the lake for a bit, noting that the path to the tea house was covered in snow. But the path along the lake itself was muddy, and we weren’t really in the mood for mud. So after a couple more photos, we went into the hotel to buy postcards and inquire about the Bow Valley Parkway.

We bought two postcards, one of the lake as we didn’t see it, the other of the lake as we almost saw it, only, despite the snow, it wasn’t frozen (making it a summer photo). We also bought a most magnificent reproduction of an old CPR poster advertising the Canadian Rockies. Whilst purchasing these, we had a pleasant conversation with the shopkeeper, who told us that the lake is frozen from November 1 to June 1. As well, most of the trees are coniferous, and the only ones that turn colour are the larches along the treeline. Their needles turn yellow and they lose them for the winter. He also informed us that to get to the town of Banff (which was on our way back to Bow Valley Provincial Park), the Bow Valley Parkway takes about an hour.

We had an hour, so we hopped in the car and left Lake Louise in all its frozen glory behind us. Then, having deciphered the signs, we got onto the Bow Valley Parkway and set off for Banff and the Old Spaghetti Factory.

The Bow Valley Parkway is magnificent!  It’s the old TransCanada, and it has a slower speed than the big twinned highway, but it goes up higher and hugs more curves and gives more spectacular views.  Along the way are places to pull of for the view and read an interpretive sign or two.  We took advantage of a few of these.  Furthermore, we saw two adult elk, got photos of them, and then a while later a family of four (but no photos).

After this glorious drive through trees and mountains, we arrived in Banff.  Visitor information being nowhere to be found, we quickly discovered the library, and a helpful, ready librarian directed us to the Old Spaghetti Factory, giving us a map of the town.

The Old Spaghetti Factory was tasty.  As always.

Then we we went back to the car.  As I went to get in, Jennifer reminded me to check the tire.

It was flat.

I told her as much, and she sat in silence for a bit.

Neither of us had ever been taught how to change a tire.  Thus, we ended up paying a tow-truck driver $110 to put the spare on.  Now, by this point it was nearing 8:00, and all the garages were closed.  We couldn’t drive back to Calgary on the spare, and to go to our campsite and then to the next outpost of civilisation was almost the equivalent of going to Calgary.

So we were forced (burden of burdens!) to spend the night in Banff.  This wasn’t too much of a problem, since generous people had passed along money to us when they learned that we were going on this journey.  Jennifer got in touch with a hotel, and we had to take their only room, so for $113 we, out of necessity, stayed in a room with a king-size bed, a fireplace, a big-screen TV, a leather couch, a balcony with a view of the mountains, heated tiles, two sinks (neither in the washroom), a microwave, a fridge, a bathtub with jets, and a shower that doubled as a steam room.  It was truly a hardship to stay there.

That night we watched cable TV.  We don’t own a TV and are happy with this state of affairs, but it’s a treat to watch TV every once in a while.   The next day as I checked out, I was informed that after the Victoria Day weekend, the price of that room would have gone up to $233.

Go to Banff in the off-season.  Seriously.

We went to a garage and got the tire repaired.  Tow trucks are a big rip off, because this guy did everything the tow truck guy did and patched the tire for $45!!

Sadly, the Dr. Pepper slurpees tasted weird, and Tunnel Mountain Road had a house being moved on it, so we missed “Surprise Corner” which, SURPRISE!, gives you a view of the Banff Springs Hotel and a specific mountain.

Then we went back to our campsite and the endless wind to discover that our tent was still there.  We stopped at A & W in Canmore along the way.  And so ended our adventure in Banff National Park.  The day following that we returned to Calgary, our camping expedition concluded yet a smashing success!

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