Saturday, August 31, 2013

Banff and Lake Louise

What a strange feeling to be pulling into site A38 in the Tunnel Mountain Village #2 campground in Banff months after having booked it through the excellent Parks Canada web reservation system. At the time, it was May and we were still in the Southwest, having been invited to join a caravan of Airstreams headed to Canada at the end of the summer but unsure what state of mind we’d be in after a couple months at home. We’d been sent a Google doc by trip organizer Leigh (Aluminarium) with a screen shot of the map on the reservation site and the names of each those who had already booked marked beside their spaces. Thinking there was a decent chance we’d end up cancelling the reservation anyway, we grabbed the closest available site on the next row over from the rest of the group. Now, two full months later and after a three week drive north through the Pacific Northwest, the printed parks permit on the dashboard of our Sequoia read A38 as we slid the Airstream into the space.

In truth, the Tunnel Mountain Village #2 campground is pretty bizarre. You can’t beat the location just up the hill from downtown Banff and sandwiched between jagged gray peaks that know just how to catch the sun, but the sites are basically arranged like parking spaces along a series of wide streets, testing the parallel parking skills of even the most confident backers. It also means that if you want your door facing inward toward your picnic table, you need a long electric cable to string under the trailer and around to the street side. #firstworldglampingproblems




The eight of us assumed our parking spaces right in line with a ninth Airstream occupied by Kyle (Where Is Kyle Now?). Kyle had been making his way west across Canada after coming north up the East Coast of the US from Florida over the past 8 months or so; A pretty epic trip. Unlike the standard issue 25’s and 27’s of most fulltimers, Kyle’s bachelor pad is one of the 23D’s we’d eyed a bit at the dealership in Seattle with some nice modifications including a desk/storage area in place of half of the lounge are that faces the kitchen, a space I’ve never really seen the usefulness of, and a height and position adjustable dinette to make working on a computer more comfortable.  Plus, he was towing it with a Volkswagen Touareg. A pretty nice combo.

Kyle’s route around the right and top of the US got us thinking a little. We’d love to explore the Candian Maritime Provinces before perfectly timing the seasons for a drive down the East Coast. Maybe come through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the way across the country? Hmm… Wait, don’t we own a Farmlet? The idea was floated of a homesteading time share…

The caravan was also joined by Nathan and Rene from Wand’rly along with their three kids and grandma in a late 70’s Airstream they started full-timing in last March. They run a really interesting web magazine with stories and info on life on the road, something they’re no strangers to after a year in a 1978 VW bus and short stays in houses all over the country.

With the group, now 10 Airstreams, complete, many of us chose to head to Lake Louise on our first full day there. Despite a little drizzle and some clouds (and the crowds at lake) it was as spectacular as we expected.





We’d been told not to miss the hike up to one of the teahouses by Ann’s sister-in-law who, while not a big hiker, informed us that the scones and jam make it all worth while. We broke out some raingear and got on the trail.


As we climbed, we were rewarded with views of the mountains, hanging glaciers and the vivid blue lake below.




Some in our hiking party were not impressed…


The tea house (barely visible beneath the peak in the center of the pic below) was nestled beside a waterfall that drained Lake Agnes and surrounded by the high peaks which easily refilled it. Ann, Wynne and I set up at a picnic table to enjoy the lunch we’d packed and took in the views.




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As others arrived, we moved onto the deck of the tea house where we drooled over the tuna and hummus sandwiches on fresh bread and curry soups everyone else had been wise enough to wait for instead of lugging PB&J up the trail.


While we didn’t get a scone and jam, a huge chocolate chip cookie was unavoidable.



Nerding out with Democratic John.



Riller and Bulliet on the lookout for crumbs.


While some of the group set off on the trail connecting to the second tea house and then looping down to the shore of Lake Louise, the darkening skies convinced us to think about heading down. Once again, there were different opinions in our group.


The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do on this blog is narrow this series of pictures down to the measly seven you are about to see. The casual mountain stroll with the hands in the pockets (her new favorite thing). So effin’ cute. I would recommend clicking the first one and then using your arrow key to flip through the rest.


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I think it just served as a reminder to me of how adaptable kids are (in our experience so far, anyway!) and that they don’t really care where they are as long as their needs are taken care of.  Exposure to different environments and learning to be flexible is definitely a good thing for them, and it reminds us as parents, that we don’t want to keep them) (or ourselves!) in a bubble.

On the way back, the sky opened up, huge drops of water thundering down as we descended the trail to the lake with John and Laura. Wynne’s only complaint was “Agua! Agua!” until we got her sufficiently covered. Shields up!

lake louise hazmat

Ann: “Oh, you really *did* bring a tarp?” Hell yeah, I brought a tarp. And this doesn’t *technically* contradict what I said earlier about not wanting to keep her in a bubble.


At the bottom, photographer John hopped up on a rock wall #myboyfriendthephotographer style and seemed to be flirting with the reluctant light over Lake Louise.

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But ultimately, I think she left him frustrated.



While waiting for Ann to check out the gift shop for just the right magnet to add to our collection on the fridge of the trailer, Wynne discovered the puddles left by the downpour. Note the hands *still* in the pockets.


We eventually had to leave ‘cause she was drawing paparazzi.


Content but with freezing little feet, we headed for the car.



On the drive home, the post-shower light on the mountains was striking.



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And we even got a bit of a rainbow over this jagged knife’s edge peak I never quite got the name of.




Again, not impressed.


That evening, we reserved one of the central shelters that had a wood burning stove. That’s all Josh and Dan needed to hear before sprinting to their trailers to get the full-sized axes they’d been telling their wives were essential to make room for.


We decided to give making a pizza on top of the stove a try. With our pizza stone nicely pre-heated, we let the dough rise and crisp a bit before adding the toppings and covering with an upside down cast iron pan to keep the heat in and cook from the top. Meanwhile, pyro Josh stoked the fire with the same fixation he seems to apply to most aspects of his life.



The result? A great looking pizza (sorry, eaten so quickly that iPhone camera couldn’t take the picture in time) and… a broken pizza stone. Totally worth it. And I don’t even blame Josh for heating the stove up to about 17,000 degrees. Although I was a little concerned when I noticed that the solar rock guards on our trailer parked 50 yards away were a little warm to the touch when we returned.


The next morning, Ann and I went down into the nice, upscale, European-feeling town of Banff to walk around a little and get connected. For a group of travelers that is used to being online pretty much 24/7, the steep data rates for Canada had disconnected most of us. While on the wi-fi at a coffee shop, we determined that contrary to what some of the others had told us, there were in fact campsites available in Jasper National Park about four hours north for the Sunday night when most people were planning on heading south. It turned out, everyone else had been searching using a filter for “Motorhomes and trailers 25’ and under” and we’d used “Motorhomes and trailers 21’ and under.” I should stop pointing out how many times it’s been convenient for us to have a 19’ vs 25/27’ trailer since we’ve been going through a bit of length-envy as of late. I read something recently that said that your trailer will feel one inch shorter for each day you spend in it. After just over a month on this trip, as of now, the three of us (and Gorilla) are living in a 16 footer… By the time we get home, it’ll be 13 feet.

At one point, we were sitting with John and Laura at the picnic table in front of their 34’ trailer when the wind picked up and the rain started to fall. They suggested we go inside. Once through the door, John and I sat on the couch playing guitars while referring to chords and lyrics on the 21 inch screen of his computer on the desk while Ann and Laura drank a civilized cup of tea at the dinette. The dogs were flopped out on the floor while Wynne ran up and down the long hallway between the kitchen and bedroom.


We’ve noticed that when you stop by to visit someone in a 25’ or longer trailer, you step inside and sit either at the dinette or on the lounge. When you stop by to visit us, you kinda hang from your arms in the doorway or squint inside from the bottom of the stairs.


Despite warnings about the crowds at one of the most popular destinations in Banff National Park, we made a last minute decision to check out Johnston Canyon. Remember, this was Labor Day weekend. And despite the beauty of the canyon carved by the glacial waters and the ambitious catwalk that clung to the walls, the crowds were just a bummer. People can suck sometimes. At one point, we were actually held up by a mother patiently waiting for her 10 year-old son to finish scratching his initials into the rock wall. Klassy.





It’s a nice thing to be able to say (and we realize it!) but, eh, we’ve seen prettier places, especially compared to the massive splendor of the mountains of Banff all around us.

We got back to the campground in time to show off Wynne’s new moose purse (it’s a “multi-use moose”) from town and to gather for a final group picture with members from all 10 Airstreams.



Aluminogan 2013 Group

The next morning, some would be heading south towards the US border and Glacier National Park. Some, like us, would be heading north towards Jasper along the Icefields Parkway. Some would be hanging out to take care of a few things before getting back on the road. Since we were able to get a reservation a day earlier than the others, we’d be traveling on our own for at least the next few days. While there was part of us looking forward to getting back our routines and rhythms, it’s been a unique experience to hang out with such a diverse group, all of whom have chosen to live this mobile lifestyle (and the same color trailers). We all said our goodbyes with the confidence that we knew how to find each other; The same way we’d found each other in the first place, a steady stream of engaging pictures and entertaining stories coming through our computer screens and phones. It’s just now, we can say we’re more than just “internet friends.”