Cailin and I first drove into Banff at 11 p.m. on a dark and stormy night. The rain was coming down in buckets and we were afraid of hitting wildlife, or each other. Our 10-hour drive from Regina didn’t allow us many stops, and we simply couldn’t race the sunset. I was hoping to drive into mountains with my mouth dangling open, but instead we were closed in on all sides by the night. I had never seen snow-capped mountains before.
Our rooms at Fox Hotel & Suites made up for it. Two levels, a full kitchen and living space, and big beds. Cailin wanted me to wait until she showed up at my door in the morning so she could film my reaction, but I leapt out of bed at 6:30 a.m. like a kid at Christmas and threw open the curtains. I kinda felt like I had been dropped into the middle of a movie set. Where the hell was McCauley Caulkin?
We were picked up for our Brewster tour at 8 a.m. sharp, and greeted by our bus driver with the most Canadian accent I’ve ever heard. We drove to Bow Falls, where the river had swelled to terrifying heights, visited the Hoodoos, and then took a gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mountain.
I nearly shit my pants. I’m not kidding. The last place I have ever wanted to be was in a tiny metal box dangling from a steel wire thousands of feet in midair. I nearly collapsed on the floor of the gondola, squeezing my eyes shut against tears, while Cailin happily recorded my freak out. “I’M GOING TO DIEEEEEEEEE!” I screamed. The cute Australian who greeted us at the top laughed at me while I hurled myself out of the pod.
Then I snapped back into the present to realize “Oh hey, I’m standing on a mountain summit!” The view was obscured by fog and clouds, but it kinda just made the experience more surreal. Mountain. Summit. Plus there was a goat.
And then I cried all the way back to the bottom.
Boats, however, I can handle. I like boats. I feel like if my boat were sinking, I could probably swim. If my gondola crashed, however, I’d probably die.
Anyway, Cailin and I then went on a happy cruise around Lake Minnewanka, “Lake of the Water Spirits.” I hadn’t even heard of this place until Pam McNaughtan set us up on the tour, but it’s the only lake in Banff National Park you can cruise with a motor boat. We made our way through the mountains and forests framing the lake, where Trembling Aspen all act as one big living organism with interconnected roots. The water, like most other bodies of water in Banff, all have that special blue quality because of rock dust and sunlight. Plus deep beneath the surface is a flooded town called Bankhead, a place where divers still go to snap self-portraits sitting on deserted toilets.
I had actually planned to write about Banff all in one shot, but you know what? I could probably stretch this material for miles. DECADES. FOR YEARS. Or at least three parts. Next up: Banff as a community and why everyone there rocks (and not just because they’re all Australian).