Oh Canada!

When I decided to take a 10-day road trip through Alberta, a lot of people had  the same reaction: Why?

I have my reasons, which I’m happy to explain. But it’s probably easier just to show you.

For whatever reason, Canada is overlooked, if not outright ignored, as a vacation destination. And not just by Americans, either. I met a girl in Scotland and when she heard I was wasting my precious PTO on a place called Banff, her only response was to ask if I had ever been to Thailand.

“That’s where I’d go if I were you,” she said. But she’s not me and thank God for that because then I would have missed this:

And this:

And this:

 

But enough with the pictures. When I left you last week, I mentioned that the weather forecast in Alberta called for significant snowfall during the first half of my trip. I wasn’t totally confident about driving through “a wintry mix,” but I decided to at least give it a try. I’m happy to report that my SUV made it up the mountain just fine, which led me to believe that I could too – if given the proper footwear.

I’ve learned many important things during my year of travel, not the least of which being that no one can underestimate my hiking abilities quite like the guy behind the rental counter at a ski shop. Unlike those clerks in Thredbo who were legitimately concerned that I was going to die on mountain, this one just seemed jealous of the fact that I hadn’t broken my knee four months ago.

“Snowboarding accident,” he complained, showing me his heavily bandaged leg. “Right at the beginning of the season.”

Then, because nobody asked, a second clerk pointed out that wasn’t exactly true. “That was the first time,” he announced. “He actually broke it twice.” Judging from the way the first guy then cast aside his crutches and hopped over a ski rack to retrieve a pair of boots, he seemed to be welcoming a third. And yet, he still had the nerve to question me.

“Where are you going to be hiking anyway?” he asked. “Because a lot of the trails are pretty snowed in.”

“I’m just walking around town,” I lied, not wanting to get into another back and forth about whether or not I was fit to walk up a hill. “Mostly sidewalks.”

He didn’t seem to believe me, especially when I also insisted on renting a pair of crampons. As I later explained to Ice Bath, those are metal cleats that can be strapped to the sole of a boot for added traction on icy trails.

“I know what those are,” Johann interrupted. “Elderly people wear them in Helsinki when it snows.”

“No, these are for hiking,” I insisted. “On mountains. They’re like metal spikes –”

“Yes, I know,” he answered. “Same thing.”

“No, they’re different!” I argued. “These are outdoor equipment. That I got from a shop on Bear Street. So they’re, like, serious, OK?”

“OK,” he agreed. “Just be careful.”

“I don’t think you understand!” I yelled. “People wear these on Mount Everest!”

“I understand perfectly,” he replied. “Old people wear those on the street here. And you’re not on Mount Everest.”

It was true. I was at a rest stop between Banff and Jasper where I was waiting on a double latte and making fun of people who were, for some reason, taking full sized suitcases into the restroom. Johann knew all that because I had just finished giving him a virtual tour from the parking lot courtesy of Skype video chat. It takes real talent to stand out among four busloads of tourists, but I managed.

Right after that, I also managed to walk across a glacier. And I’ll have you know I did it like a real lady. A lady who shops on Bear Street.

 

Speaking of bears, you’re probably wondering: Did I see any? Why yes I did. In fact, I saw three. I was riding a mountain bike at the time, which was not ideal.

Luckily, my father had lectured me and my brother extensively about this exact scenario when we were growing up in northeast Pennsylvania. According to him, you should do two things when you see a bear: 1. Stand perfectly still; and 2. Hope that the bear goes away. There’s plenty wrong with that advice, which is probably why my father never followed it himself, opting instead to chase the bears through the backyard while banging two metal garbage can lids like giant cymbals. Evidently, they go away faster that way.

Be that as it may, I didn’t have any trashcans available to me in Waterton National Park. So I just stood around and hoped for the best, which is probably the safer approach, albeit one that does not result in any good stories or even a decent picture. Just as well. Not five minutes later I rode through a flock of bighorn sheep that didn’t intimidate me in the slightest.

Get ready for your close up:

#1 question: Did you see any bears in Canada? Why yes I did. In fact, I saw three. I was on a mountain bike at the time, which was not ideal. Luckily for me, my father lectured me extensively on this very topic when I was growing up in Pennsylvania. "You see a bear while you're riding your bike or out the woods, you just stop right where you are and hope it goes away." Looking back on it, there are a lot of problems with my dad's advice, which is probably why he never followed it. Turns out, bears go away a lot faster when there's a man chasing them through the backyard while banging together two metal garbage can lids like giant cymbals. Sadly, I didn't have access to garbage cans in Waterton Lakes National Park, so I had to settle for waiting just out of iPhone camera range. Luckily I ran into these guys not long after. #canada #waterton #mountains #mountainbike #wildlife #wilderness #view #animals #bighornsheep #outdoors #travel #travelblog #travelgram #blog #blogger #travelblogger #vacation

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That’s pretty much how I spent my ten days in Alberta: hike, bike, drive, repeat. It’s a routine I don’t think I’d ever get bored of.

For a little extra excitement, on the last day of my vacation, I attempted to visit Lake Cameron, the so-called “Jewel of Waterton.” Sounds beautiful, right? Well I’ll never know because when I arrived, the road leading to the lake was barricaded and under the guard of the Canadian Park Service.

“Are there any other hikes in the area I could do instead?” I asked the ranger. It was the sort of straightforward question that I thought called for a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, it prompted a ten-minute conversation, during which I was given a demonstration of how to use bear spray and learned the circumstances under which this man’s stepson came to be a mass murderer.

“Hm,” I sighed, when the ranger paused to catch his breath. “So about that hike…”

“OH YOU WANT TO GO ON A HIKE?!” he yelled. “SORRY! I’M HARD OF HEARING.”

I’m not sure what question he could have possibly thought I asked that would lead to talk of school shootings and bear attacks, but it didn’t seem worth getting into. Instead, I just let him point me to another nearby lake and accepted his can of bear spray as a parting gift – as much for the wildlife as the potential murderers, I guess. About a mile in, I found a Swiss Army knife half-buried in the snow. Between those two things, a pair rented crampons, four-wheel drive and the use of both knees, I left Canada feeling ready for pretty much anything.

How do you like me now, Mr. Ski Shop?

In case you need one more reason to go to Canada there’s this: for the rest of the year, entry to all of Canada’s national parks are free. It’s part of their 150th anniversary celebration.

Happy Birthday, Canada. Great party.

As readers of this blog well know, I’ve gotten around a lot this past year. And while I enjoyed my time in the vast majority of the places I’ve visited, Alberta is among the few that I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who enjoys fresh air and pretty things. It’s also one of about three places that I would seriously consider living when I finally decide to settle down.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still committed to the nomad life, but every now and then I have a day when I miss having a home and all the stability and familiarity goes along with it. More often than not, that day coincides with one in which I read Farm Girl, which, as the name implies, is a blog about a girl who lives on a farm. No, seriously. Her name is Miriam, she lives in British Columbia and she gives new meaning to the saying “you always want what you don’t have.” Let the record show that if and when I do put down roots, this is pretty much what I want my life to consist of: an impeccably decorated farm house, a closet full of wow!, crash-free handstands, and a Corgi that always seems to find the light. Check it and her Instagram too!

Until next time… xx

13 Comments
  1. We live a good days drive east of Banff in the Canadian Prairies. Leaving in three days to drive out and spend several days in Banff and area and I can hardly wait. Even though we are this close, it is so hard to get away and enjoy some time there. So glad you loved your time in Alberta!! If you are ever in Saskatchewan I would love to show you some of our sites.

    • oh awesome! banff was so great… i hope you have an awesome time there. Sadly Lake Louise will still be frozen :( that’s my biggest regret – not being able to see it in its full glory. but – next time! and if i ever find myself driving through Saskatchewan, i will definitely drop you a line!!

  2. Such high praise, I’m honored! Thank you very much! And I’m beyond happy (but smugly unsurprised) that Canada treated you so well. We even made it into your top 3! Another high praise, considering you have seen so many beautiful places. I’m curious: What are your other 2?

    • You’re very deserving of high praise :) Canada is definitely a must-visit in my book. As for where I’d live, my top choice is still New Zealand – anywhere in the South Island, pretty much. And the other is Amsterdam… which is sort of an outlier in that it doesn’t have much in the way of outdoor activities or natural beauty. But I had a great time there and I don’t know… just felt like it was a place I’d like to live.

      • I’m going to Amsterdam in June, for the first time since I was 14. I liked it then, but I can’t wait to see it through grown-up eyes now.
        I have never been to New Zealand – that goes on my list right now.

  3. Oh my Nova, how envious I am of your adventures! Alberta is absolutely beautiful and I pray to someday get there, my husband says he would love to go there as well. Oh to be young and daring…..Enjoy each minute as I enjoy the pictures and reading about your travels. Take care.
    Love ya!
    Voula

    • Aw – thanks Voula! I’m so glad you’re having fun following along! You would love Alberta :) Definitely put it on the list… Greece is still on mine!

  4. these are stunning, color me green with envy and blue with imagined cold.

    What I do like about the photos is that you insert yourself into the pictures now and then (and not always), as a kind of record that yes, you were there, and yes, it looked just like that.

    I truly can’t see you settling down until you have to, and that’s the way it should be. You havin’ too much fun, lady.

    • well i have to say, the views are even more stunning in person. no picture can do them justice. I don’t have plans to settle down… but I won’t say no to settling UP :) until then, you’re right… I’m having way more fun than I probably should have

  5. First, thank you for visiting our lovely country! Next, as a born-and-raised Albertan (born on Canada Day, no less), I know the answer to this question: “For whatever reason, Canada is overlooked, if not outright ignored, as a vacation destination.” It’s because it’s *cold* here. ;) Your pictures don’t lie! This is why we have so many snowbirds escaping the long, dark winters … because “you always want what you don’t have” … wise words, and great stories! Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by! Well Canada might be cold, but it’s the most beautiful, breathtaking cold ever! Since I visited, I’ve been on a personal campaign to get people to go as well. By far one of my favorite destinations to date! Thanks for reading! xx

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