This is the 2nd post on the Adventure Canada Series. If you haven’t read the other parts of the blog series yet, you can read them here:
Adventure Canada: Failure to Launch
Adventure Canada: The Gravel Strip & Beauty
Adventure Canada: How to Go Crazy
“I grew up on the edge of a national park in Canada – timberwolves, creeks, snow drifts.” – Dan Aykroyd
As we drove off of the plains of Alberta and into the rocky mountains, we joined a caravan of large white RVs. The odd feature of this unplanned caravan is that most of the RVs appeared to be rentals. We debated many possibilities for this phenomena. Eventually, we settled on the obvious answer. At the time we visited Canada, it was innondated with tourists from other continents who had no choice but to rent (this seemed to be the case).
Since my summer was consumed with building teardrop trailers, my wife (Senior Management), planned our camping trip. She did a great job! The locations were great and the travel schedule was relaxed.
To our mutual disappointment, our first camp site was one of those pull through places. You know the ones. It is a gravel strip with a picnic table. Just enough room to park your large RV. Each lot has a token 10 blades of grass and a bark-less immature tree. The assumption, of course, is that you’ll sit in your large RV and do what you’d do at home (ie watch Television or something…). However, for the tear droppers like us, it is a bummer because we love to be outside when we camp. To make it worse, the gravel strip we were assigned was to be shared with another RV. They parked about 8 feet away on the same pad of rock.
With no privacy & little immediate nature, we were not impressed. It simply wasn’t a good fit for us. However, we made the best of it by doing what we normally do; mock our situation. We never thought that we’d genuinely grow to enjoy our barren site.
Our enjoyment started when the neighbors drove into their side of our gravel strip. The driver was visibly uncomfortable driving such a large rental RV. It took them several passes to get it lined up properly. When they were parked, about 10 people came out for fresh air. Our daughter (Assistant to the Senior Manager) possesses a personality type that is contrary to that of her parents…she’s outgoing. She stood up, waved, and yelled “hi” to each member of the neighbor group. They were kind and responded with waves and soft spoken “Hello”s of their own. From their dress, accent, and demeanor, it was obvious that they, like us, are not Canadian. Eventually, the matriarch popped over for a visit. Upon meeting her, we found that our neighbors were a Dutch family on holiday.
This family had heard of the beauty of Canada’s Rocky Mountain ranges. They’d even seen photos in guidebooks but that still didn’t prepare them for the raw beauty of the Canandian Rocky Mountains. They were dumfounded by the size of those blades of stone jutting out of the ground. The contrasts of color in vegetation, rock, glaciers, water, and wild life stirred up quite a lot of chatter within the family.
Since their English skills were rudementary and our Dutch language skills are non-existant, we did a lot of reinterpretations of what we thought the other party was communicating. We used bits of 3-4 common languages & gestures for emphasis. Eventually, the grand daughter in their family came to sit with our little daughter. They shared some food together.
Call me old fashioned but eating together is a tremendous bonding experience. There is something about camp food shared by a group of strangers that instantly bonds them as fast friends. The smell of freshly brewed tea & baked goods traveled on the wind as we crawled into bed that night. Our girl had made a friend. Her parents were proud of her.
The following morning, we set out to explore Banff National Park. The first stop simply had to be Lake Louise. Lake Louise is THE spot that every tourist visits when in Banff. It is a lot more commercial than when I was a child BUT, thankfully, the Canadians have exercised some restraint concerning the tourist trade. I don’t think Americans would be able to exercise such control. We’d probably put in a Starbucks, McDonalds, and a roller coaster with plans for an Apple store to be built in the near future.
Among my earliest memories of Lake Louise are images of an old german woman, with the obligatory old-lady-white-afro-hair, shaking her arthritic finger in my face as she told me to go see Lake Louise for her. This was my great Grandmother. Incidentally, her name was Louise -but they didn’t name the lake after her. Since the formation of that memory, I’ve always thought of my great grandmother when visiting Lake Louise.
It is ironic that I would do so since Lake Louise is such a peaceful place with cold glacier water and tremendous hiking. My great grandmother would be more easily compared with one of those volcanoes that local people would toss virgins into to keep an angry deity from burning their villages to the ground. Still the memory persists -as does the Lake’s beauty.
We soaked in the beauty for a few hours. However, because of the number of tourists at Lake Louise, we chose to move on after spending a bit of time there. Without a structured plan, we simply drove to neighboring lakes, hiked a few trails (my wife is amazing to have done that while 7 months pregnant), sat at lookouts on rocks and just watched the beauty playing out before us. Honestly, it was the closest think to peace on earth I can imagine -aside from all of the posted signs warning of potential death and dismemberment by grizzly bear. At least they post signs that warn you that you’re about to die. Ah…Peace, tranquility, and the sound of hikers running for their lives. That’s the joy of being outdoors!
Our little girl loves being outside and she was a great sport for all of her parent’s explorations. The only time she demanded to be held was when she saw a ground squirrel. Her unrefined instincts told her that the ground squirrel is the most vicious of all the animals in the land. Maybe the park should invest in posting some more warning signs!
Our few days in Banff were wonderful. On our last morning at camp in Banff, we greeted our Dutch neighbors for the last time. It was at that time that the driver of the family managed to corner me and ask for a tour of the teardrop trailer. This is a common request for teardrop campers and I was happy to oblige. He had very few English words to share with me but he did say “fantastic” over and over again. Honestly, I’m just shallow enough that his one word was plenty to make me happy.
After touring the jPod teardrop, some other family ventured over to our side of the gravel lot. They began asking a ton of questions about the mountains that they found so overwhelming. If you’ve never been to the Netherlands, it may be helpful to know that the Netherlands is a very flat region. For someone accustomed to such little elevation variation, mountains on the scale of the Rockies would be mind blowing. We discussed this and other topics for a while.
Their last question concerned grizzly bears. The questions of how big they were, when they would attack, why they would attack, what to do when they attack, were all asked. I could tell they were nervous and tried to reassure them that if they traveled in groups and made lots of noise that the bears would leave them alone. One man repeatedly asked if grizzly bears would eat people. I told him that he shouldn’t worry about being eaten but rather worry about being mauled. Chances are that one would be unconscious or dead by the time the bear began eating (if it were that hungry).
I’m not sure if they believed that the bears are pretty harmless as long as one respects their territory. They seemed a bit traumatized by the whole situation. I suppose living in the Rockies imparts a certain indifference to bears with paws as large as a human torso. Seeing that they are not from the Rockies, I suspect they saw Banff from inside a large rental RV.
As we drove out of camp towards Kootenai National Forest, we waved good bye to each other and exchanged good wishes. Our little girls waved out the windows. Friends for life but probably never to see each other again in this life. I really hope that family got to go hiking and make some tremendous memories. I also hope they got to see a grizzly bear while respecting its space.
In retrospect, I’m glad we camped on that nature deprived strip of land.
Read the next blog in this series here: Adventure Canada: How to Go Insane