Banff + Beyond

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The experience in Canada can be summed up in one word: Clean. Everything is so pristine! The highways are spotless, the washrooms are immaculate, even the road construction we come to is far above the American standard for cleanliness. While we’re on roads, let me tell you about Canadian roads. These are some of the most well designed highways I’ve come across. Signage hangs rather than being planted in the ground, allowing for the snow plows to go about their business without knocking anything over, the lanes are generous and well kept up, and there are wildlife fences on either side of the major highways to prevent roadkill. There are even wildlife over and under passes! I am seriously impressed so far.

Getting to the campground check in station, we are informed that along with our site, we are supplied with complementary trash bags, as well as free pre-chopped firewood to be used as we like. There are also shower facilities onsite, and washrooms right behind our site. Once again, I am impressed. Canada has got its stuff together, it would seem. Setting up goes smoothly and we settle in for a four night stretch in one place – a small luxury when camping.

The rain hits as soon as we get the tent and tarp up. The site is massive, and could easily fit three more large tents like ours if need be. We get out our camp stove and reheat leftovers, brew some mint tea for the evening and get into our comfy PJs.

Bedtime comes early for us, but is more than welcome. We both knock out cold and don’t wake once that night. Waking up the next day we get going around 9 am and begin our morning routine. Brew tea, make oatmeal, visit the washrooms, and sit down to plan out the day. Today should be easy; Our plan is to drive the 25 km to the city of Banff and explore what it has to offer.

The weather is still misty and overcast, but thankfully the rain holds back as we make our way into town. We quickly get the vibe of the city, and it feels heavily tourist-oriented. Now don’t get me wrong, I fully embrace the fact that I myself am a tourist right now, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t rankle at the thought of it. Having been heavily involved in catering to tourists as a child, I have no interest in feeding it anymore than absolutely necessary. But at the same time, there’s also that tiny part of me that really likes the funny little shops, high end eateries, and swanky hotels.

Today is West’s birthday. I remember this fact somewhat guiltily, as we always seem to be traveling, busy, or doing something that means he doesn’t get a ‘normal birthday.’ I realize that I’ve never actually baked him a birthday cake. I’ll have to make up for that today. This will be the most fun travel birthday ever, I decide.

With that in mind, we set out on the town. The majority of the shops are of no interest to us, but we do stop at a coffee shop and West gets his usual, a breve latté, and I get my normal chai latté. We both have been without coffee since we left Bozeman, and the extra boost propels us back out onto the street and into the crush of humanity outside.

We walk the main drag, taking our time and enjoying a few shops along the way. As true Bozemanites, we make a beeline as soon as we spot a Patagonia store. As soon as we enter, we note the distinct lack of tourists inside. We are greeted by a sales associate who is happy to offer hiking advice, as well as local tips and tricks. The ‘bear and wolf problem’ around Banff appears to be really out of hand this year, she informs us. They’ve had to ‘destroy’ (put down) 8 wolves so far, simply because the tourists have been feeding them and the packs have been getting increasingly bold. Now they are wandering into camps at night to try and steal anything left out and training their cubs to do the same.

After getting the lowdown from the sales rep, we head back outside. We walk down to a bridge spanning the beautiful Bow River, which is an unbelievable blue color. The best description I have for it is a milky aquamarine. The only thing I can think of that would cause it to be that color is silt melting out from the ice.

Across the bridge is a huge stone building, which turned out to be the historical administrative center for the city of Banff, with gated gardens all round looking very much out of place in the mountain town. We walk up and into the gardens which have an amazing view back down the valley and Main Street into the mountains.

Getting back to the car around lunch time, we decide that trying to get a table anywhere in Banff would be suicide. It turned out there’s a brewery just one town over in Canmore that is supposed to be stellar. The short drive over to Canmore is as beautiful as every other drive thus far. Reaching the town, we quickly identify it as a miniature Bozeman, whereas Banff would be the Big Sky or Jackson Hole.

The shops are much more locally focused here and there are only a handful of rental cars from what we can see as we walk to the brewery. The Grizzly Paw Brewing Company is nestled in a quieter area and the atmosphere from the outside is already exciting.

I order a local hard cider and a juicy elk burger that makes my eyes roll back in my head. After eating ramshackle camp meals for the past few days, the burger is a feast! West gets a beef burger and a flight of the brewery’s beers that we share. It’s a very solid selection they offer and we particularly enjoy their huckleberry brew.

After some light shopping, we head back to camp early enough to use the showers before the crowds consume them. Oh heavenly rapture! Oh bliss! My crusty body and greasy hair melt under the streams of hot, nearly scalding water. It warms me to the bone. I completely loose track of time, and when I finally ooze out of the shower, I’m an unbelievably happy camper.

Cleanliness was not to last long, however, for tonight is campfire night. Almost everything else about traveling and camping is solidly in West’s domain, but fires – fires are my thing. There is something so incredibly satisfying about nurturing a spark from its smallest form into a roaring inferno. You’d never know I am a water sign by the time I’m done with the campfire.

After many s’mores and mint teas, we are ready to retire. Sleep claims us as we fall under the its spell to the sounds of fires crackling, people laughing in the distance, and the cool evening air of the Canadian Rockies.

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