Most of our stay in The Rockies was in Golden, British Columbia. It is an unpretentious mill and railway town, and I would recommend it to anyone visiting the Rocky Mountains. It is much less touristy and expensive than Banff, but close to three national parks and three mountain ranges. At Kicking Horse, we took the gondola up and found about ten other people there. Climbing to the impressively named ‘Terminator II’ peak, with a wonderful view of the Rocky and Purcell mountain ranges and the Columbia Valley, we met four other hikers.
One of the pluses of our stay there was our hosts at the immaculately clean but somewhat dated Alpine Meadow Lodge, five kilometres down a dirt road outside of the town. Irv is a timber farmer and builder of the Lodge, put to work serving our orange juice and eggs in the morning before going off to his business. Each morning he got sidetracked with a local ‘show and tell”: an iron railing from the porch of the house bent out of shape by a bear’s teeth, horrible wounds he sustained planting trees, tales of three-day skiing trips across glaciers. Each morning his Spanish wife, Maria, came charging out of the kitchen and told Irv off. She took to MLH as a fellow Mediterranean-type and kept telling us she thought we would enjoy it more in Spain, or Latin America, or anywhere else but Golden, BC.
We were captivated in Golden, however, by watching the freight trains disappearing into Kicking Horse Canyon carrying coal, grain and chemicals East, as you can see in the photo. Doesn’t it look like a toy train? Further down the valley, we watched a similar train negotiating the spiral tunnels bored into the mountain to slow the trains down on a steep decent. The train spirals 280 degrees, like a rattlesnake coiling on itself, so that at one point you can see the head of the train appearing from the bottom tunnel, while the tail is still disappearing into the top one.
It was on our last day of hiking before heading back to Calgary that we had a near-bear encounter. We were only about ½ km in on a quiet forest trail, making noise as you are supposed to, as there were only two of us and no other hikers nearby. Nasty bear encounters usually result from surprising a bear who is busy foraging for food, so you want to make sure they realize you are there. We came upon a tree where the bark was newly ripped off. Bending down to examine the huge claw marks in and bite marks in the tree where the bear had presumably harvested bugs or sap, we heard the rustling of a large animal nearby. You never know how you are going to react in those situations. We retreated, and knowing we should make noise, I started singing. For some reason, the only song which came out was ‘The Animals Marched in Two by Two’ which I belted out while MLH whistled atonally over the top and I frantically pulled out the ‘Bears and People’ pamphlet the Parks Canada warden had given us, idiotically trying to swot up on the difference between a defensive and predatory bear posture. As soon as we reached the safety of the road, MLH declared that we should have taken a photo of the claw marks. I refused to go back.
This week included Canada Day and the 150th anniversary of Confederation. In Calgary the crowds were very relaxed, the cute children dressed in red and white promenaded between the multicultural shows with their families. In the evening, we watched the fireworks with a lightening storm dancing across the sky in the background. Nature and nation united in a noisy show.
Pondering the Canadian identity
Part of the reason for this journey is to ‘discover’ the country which has been our home for 30 years. Alberta is so different from the East Coast, and being here for July 1st prompted me to ponder what unites Canada? I’ve concluded that it is not the railway, not hockey, not the weather (anywhere you go in Canada the locals will say “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change” and they are right); it is RVs. Yes, the obsession with recreational vehicles goes from sea to sea to shining sea. They are everywhere and of every type: huge great buses, caravans, camper vans of innumerable sizes, shapes and conditions from shiny new to retro Westfalia Volkswagens. On them, attached to them, or pulled along behind them are canoes, kayaks, bicycles, trailers, motorbikes and cars. There are RVs which cost as much as a mid-sized house and have flat screen TVs embedded in the side, and little pop-ups which you crawl into. They have model names like ‘Weekend Warrior’ ‘Kodiak’ and ‘Sprinter’. In Quebec, every other house had a RV parked in the driveway, some of them bigger than the house next to them. We passed fields of stored RVs, RV dealerships, and supply shops. There is apparently a whole RV culture which we know nothing about because — as tempting as it is to rent one and follow the lure of the open road — we remember that they all have chemical toilets, and the temptation fades. So, if you want to know Canada, get in a RV, and wave to us as our car passes you on the highway.