Banff

Imagine this: you get an invitation from a friend of yours to go Banff, Alberta. You impulsively say yes because it’s been on your bucket list of places to visit for quite some time now. But, here’s the catch, you have to spend nearly forty hours in a car with two other people and drive a little over two thousand miles to get there. To top it off, you have only met these two people once through a mutual friend. Would you still go?

It’s still an absolute yes for me. Perhaps it was because I haven’t yet thought of the finer details of the trip, like budgeting or making an itinerary (as if that really mattered to me anyway)? All I could think of was seeing Lake Louise, possibly seeing the northern lights, and getting to snowboard again. So, duh, I’m going.

I’m not going to take you through the entire drive up there, because it was long, but I’ll give you a quick glimpse. Throughout the drive, there were different types of landscapes, from the concrete jungles to the mountains in the country; different weather conditions, from rain in the south to the snow in the north. Regarding music, we listened to many different genres considering the length of the drive. Our music was all over the place, from opera to EDM and everything in between.

Eventually, we grew tired of the music (it started to make us fall asleep), so we switched from Spotify to Audible and listened to some of the classic murder mysteries of Agatha Christie. Oh, and one other thing to add is the massive dent in the side of the car from a deer jumping out in front of us. S*** happens, right? Anyway, an easy two thousand miles later and we finally arrived at our cabin.

The log cabin was one single room with a kitchen immediately to the left as you walked in and a sliding door that led to the bathroom adjacent to it. On the side wall, next to the kitchen, there was a furnace filled with wood, ready to be put to use. In the back, the enormous bed lay with more fuzzy blankets than you can imagine, all with a red flannel

Along the walls, you found black bear hides and elk antlers to compliment the rest of the cabin. Everything in the room was working in unison to give you a warm and pleasant feeling, as if you were living inside of a Christmas card.

What’s a better way to celebrate the end of a two thousand mile car ride other than drinking? Nothing. So cheers to that, ladies and gentlemen! We all drank a good bit and talked our heads off for hours on end, mostly reminiscing on our long trek north. I can’t say I remember what time we all fell asleep. I do remember, however, waking up early the next morning with the last bit of a pink sunrise peering through the windows, telling us to get out of bed. We kicked the first day off with a hefty breakfast that would last us a few hours and then flew out the door to start the adventuring.

For the first part of the day, we walked around town to check out the area and visit the shops. After an hour or so, we decided to ditch the short window shopping spree and head to the woods to go hiking. We chose a cross country skiing trail and hiked for about three or four miles to Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise. As we walked around the chateau and through the many tourists taking pictures, we find the world famous Lake Louise. A glacier-fed lake ringed by high peaks frozen solid, with nearly a hundred people ice skating and even some playing hockey.

Closer to the hotel, there were ice sculptures along the walkway to go inside. They even sculpted a walk-through castle! The view was incredible and the feeling was surreal, but we didn’t want to just sit back and watch everyone have all the fun. What’s the point in that? After taking our fair share of pictures to post on Instagram, we all rushed over to the rental center and each grabbed a pair of ice skates. It was my first time ever ice skating and you could clearly tell, but I didn’t fall once (though I came very close many times), so kudos to me! As the day started to come to an end, we hung up the skates to start the four mile trek back to the car just before night fell upon us. The hike was much easier this time since it was all downhill and boy, did I wish I had a sled! My inner child was begging to make another fun memory to tell everyone. Oh, well. I’ll be prepared next time!

The first night ended with some hot pizza, a few cold beers, and The Lord of the Rings. The food coma combined with the exhausting day made us pass out far before the movie ended. No alarms were set, but we once again woke up with the last bit of the morning sunrise, still gleaming pink and purple. Now, it’s time to hit the slopes in the Canadian Rockies.

Three ski passes and three ski rentals later and we found ourselves on the lift, heading to our first run. As we climbed the mountainside, you could see everyone below. You could see the beginners learning the how to keep their balance and the experts casually doing some trick that I can’t even begin to explain! One other view that I must bring up is the one from the top of the mountain as you hop off the ski lift. One word: Breathtaking. Absolutely breathtaking.

It could just be me, but I always coast down a few runs to get a feel for the terrain before I try to speed things up . With the first few runs out of the way, just cruising and enjoying the view, I decided to go up higher on the mountain towards the black diamonds. I had absolutely zero intention to actually go down a black diamond, considering how inexperienced I was, but I somehow made a wrong turn. How does that happen? I don’t know. But sure enough, I found myself on a black diamond filled with moguls and a very steep decline that I probably should’ve avoided. Oops. My first instinct was to pull out the GoPro, because this is going to get interesting.

The moguls were the first come and I had a nice face plant to come with it. I came in way too fast, especially for someone who has never seen moguls and has only boarded once before. I toppled over and slid a good fifty feet before finally stopping, but luckily, it was mostly powder that I initially hit. I didn’t get that on video because my camera froze unfortunately. I shook the snow out of my clothes and continued onward. There was a massive drop, nearly resembling a funnel, that came right after the moguls, but it was nothing that I couldn’t manage. I was gliding down the steep decline, weaving through the trees. That paired with the snow-capped mountains in the background sent a feeling of peace through me. It was all euphoric. Everything.

On our third and final day, we actually slept in! We took our time getting up and getting ready, but still got out the door at a reasonable time. We did some more hiking and snapped some incredible shots of the landscape. Now it’s time to head to the hot springs!

Prior to showing up, we visited the website for the hot springs. We saw that everyone was wearing their traditional bathing suit in the pictures so, naturally, we just assumed that is what you have to wear. As it turns out, we were wrong. We were very, very wrong. The “traditional” bathing suit was a leotard that fit two sizes too small on all three of us. The worst part was the fact that we walked out into the springs to see that we were the only people wearing them in a crowd of about sixty people. I really do think we had every single eyeball directed to us and our skin-tight one-pieces.

Within the first hour, we had an elderly lady ask to take a picture (which we gladly allowed). Another thirty minutes or so pass by and, to our astonishment, we see a couple walk in wearing the leotards! It was like a tag team wrestle match and once they walked in, we tagged out and they took on the intense gaze from everyone. Finally, a sense of ease. A simple nod of the head and a huge grin from us to them and we resumed our conversation in peace.

To end the day, we went to a fine diner we had scoped out for the past two days and enjoyed ourselves with delicious food and even better wine. It was the perfect way to end an amazing trip. We left the diner at around eight so we could get back to the cabin before the predicted snowstorm hits. The drive would take right around an hour, assuming normal speed, but the storm crept up on us and prolonged the drive to the cabin.

We didn’t have snow tires or chains so, needless to say, it was an interesting ride back. We could not see a single bit of the road! The only thing keeping us from driving off the road were the rumble strips and our relaxed driver. I’m still very thankful my friend was driving. He knew to stay calm when the car starts to slide. I, on the other hand, freaked the f*** out when I felt the smallest bit of movement in the back tires. I did learn a very important lesson here and that is vodka helps with anxiety. 🙂

On the day that we left, the high for the day was two degrees Fahrenheit (negative seventeen degrees Celsius). We just heard news that the border was soon going to be shutting down, so we took a different route home. We drove to Billings, Montana to stay the night then made our way to South Dakota. We made a stop at the Badlands National Park to explore and take pictures, then continued on our way to Sioux City to stay the night.

After a full day of driving, we wound up in Saint Louis, Missouri to stay with one of our group member’s courteous relatives for the night. We were out of the house early the next morning and drove through downtown to see The Gateway Arch and then finally back home to Alabama. When we arrived, the temperature was close to eighty degrees Fahrenheit (twenty-seven degrees Celsius)!

One thing I’ve never been good at are conclusions, so I’ll keep it short and simple. My trip to Canada will always be one of my favorite trips. Great adventures with great people calls for a lifelong memory. Maybe next time we will see the northern lights. 😀

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