Alberta turned into the most eventful piece of our cross-country odyssey as it started and ended with cold reminders that summer can end all too soon here.
We were totally unprepared for the early October blizzard which left us in a closed-down section of the TransCanada Highway.
Frigid test for Badass
Oh, there was some token snow on Badass as we exited out motel in Swift Current. A little harbinger of winter, we joked. Less than an hour later, we weren’t laughing.
Suddenly Badass was being assailed on it’s right flank by gusts of driving snow and sleet hitting 80 km/h.
I looked at Pam and said, “so we’re in a really old van with 425,000 kilometres on it and no snow tires. Was this a good idea?”
As the snow piled up and the roadway took on a feel of corrugated steel and tractor trailers around us either jackknifed or surrendered, Badass plugged on until it was just us and 4×4 trucks on the highway.
And there were no hotels along this stretch, just one gas station where we stopped to fill up, which took 45 minutes as we waited for the power to come back on. Stories of carnage ahead filled the gas-stop office.
What to do? Push on, of course. Badass was looking invincible to us now.We passed several tractor-trailers which had jackknifed and needed massive tow trucks to get out of ditches, but Badass plugged on. Pam Martin photo
In the course of sampling 19 bodies of water and covering more than 10,000 kilometres of road in 30 days on this trip, nothing approached this challenge.
The TransCanada to Calgary was closed once we got to Medicine Hat but we were gassed as it was. We needed a breather and when sunny skies returned the next day and we didn’t want to chance snowy conditions in Calgary, we plowed on to Canmore where we would lay up for three days.
That didn’t mean we could take a break from our plan of two paddles per province and when a striking setting almost 2,000 metres up in the Rockies was suggested, we took a breath and accepted the challenge.
The glacier at one end of Moraine Lake gushes out in a frigid stream, creating a body of water that changes from a steely green to a warm turquoise depending on how the sun plays on it. Pam Martin photo
A paddle in Alberta’s glacier-fed Moraine Lake was memorable for the majestic setting and the conditions. The air was -8C and water just 8C when Bearfoot Performance Paddling‘s recommended guide, Calgary’s Jodi Boyd, led us to the mountain scene from Canada’s $20 bill, a magnificent backdrop.
Are We Crazy, revisited
The ‘Are We Crazy?’ theme played in our heads again as we arrived early to beat the tourist rush, briskly stripped down and got into our gear in the parking lot, then lugged the boards to the water’s side, which was crusty with ice.
Jodi Boyd enjoys the quiet magnificence of the lake and the mountains which surround it. Pam Martin photo
Now, getting a bead on the horizon is useful while paddling, but in the mountains, none really existed. In the Valley of the Ten Peaks, where Moraine is located, looking up to appreciate the mountain majesty meant you were about to lose your balance and tumble into the frigid water.
Meantime, buses disgorging hundreds of Japanese and Chinese tourists circled through the parking lot. They became our fans, zipped tight in parkas and shouting “Crazy Canucks” and “courage” as we struggled to stay atop the boards.
We didn’t know it at first, but as we closed in on shore we saw hundreds of tourists were following our loop of the lake and sending images around the world of our tiny frigid figures set against the massive mountain backdrop. Pam Martin photo
The Cascadias had begun to ice over and we opted for prudence, dropping to our knees to avoid sliding into the compelling turquoise water.
Once ashore, John told a cluster of tourists he hoped we hadn’t got in the way of their photos. To the contrary, the three small figures on the lake was a great human point of reference in contrast to the magnificent mountains, many said.
Pizza and beer
Shivering, we changed back into street clothes and headed back to Banff and beer and thin-crust pizza at Bear Street Tavern, where we shared the Viva La Pizza and The Big Bird.
The first was a thin pie loaded with chorizo, roasted peppers, caramelized onions, basil, goat cheese and a chipotle barbecue sauce. And the Big Bird featured chicken, bacon with spinach, onions, goat cheese and pesto. Washed down with some local craft beers, the pizzas warmed our bodies and souls after the glacial conditions on Moraine Lake.
Even better was the pampering we signed on for at the Willow Stream Spa the Fairmont Banff Springs hotel. It turned into a four-hour bliss-fest thanks to the cornucopia of wellness facilities covering 38,000 square feet of space.
The European mineral pool is one of many facilities in the huge Willow Spa at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. You can spend an entire day checking out the various whirlpools, saunas and rest areas. Willow spa photo
We checked out much of it, save the treatment rooms and manicure and pedicure stations, alternating between three waterfall whirlpools, a European mineral pool and the saunas. In between we lounged on the spa terraces and noshed and napped in the Fireplace resting lounge in robes and slippers. The spa provides free fresh fruit, water, coffee and tea and there is a menu offering healthy snacks, salads and wines and champagne.
The Fairmont Banff Springs hotel enjoys a magnificent setting and is only a few minutes away from fine paddling on the Bow River. Willow Spa photo
Visits to the Willow Stream Spa range from $35 to $79 depending on day and time.
This bold fellow looked he would come into the water to challenge us as John executed a shaky-legged turn in front him on the Bow River. Pam Martin photo
The next day was the gently flowing Bow River which can be accessed right in Banff at the Banff Canoe Club, where tourists rent canoes or sign up for packages that include paddling and pedaling or horseback riding, paddling and a mountain gondola ride.
We were able to park close to the docks and this paddle, through startling clear water, provided the best wildlife encounter of our trip.
Visitors from England got a close-up view of these two elk as they lingered near the water just metres away. Pam Martin photo
Pam was further up river getting photo images when John heard an ominous clacking coming from shore. He paddled over and found combative elk bulls going antler-to-antler for mating territory.
A British couple in a canoe heard it, too, and were astonished, especially when John told them this was something most Canadians never witnessed.
The battle raged on a mere five metres from us until one bull prevailed, sending his adversary into the woods.
Pam glowed in the majesty of the mountain setting. John Kernaghan photo
It was a short walk from Badass to the Bow at the Banff Canoe Club, which is minutes from the town centre. Pam Martin photo
Following a third luxurious sleep after days of little driving, we faced a long but glorious trip through the mountains and into British Columbia and classic cowboy country in the Nicola Valley.
Badass was rested and ready to tame the rest of the Rockies as we departed Banff for B.C.’s Nicola Valley. Pam Martin photo
Feature photo: John and Pam celebrate the coldest test of our Canada 150 celebration. Jodi Boyd photo