Sat. Sept. 5, 2020:
Lake Louise, AB to Jasper, AB
I was sleeping so well, I slept in a bit later than usual. We packed up the car and headed down to Lake Louise for one last look. The in-room coffee was horrible, nothing can replace milk in my coffee. I even tried adding sugar to counteract the powdered CoffeeMate. I had a few sips to tide me over and dumped the rest in the ditch. There was no social distancing whatsoever and it was busier than the previous day. We had a quick look and got out of there. The lower parking lot was full and it wasn’t even 8am. Driving out of the area it was insane. There was a traffic jam going both ways, of people trying to go to Lake Moraine and then instead to Lake Louise (which is further down the road) but then having to turn back because it is full. We were stuck in the jam of people who had been turned away from Lake Louise and we slowly snaked along. Our lane was slow because people kept stopping at the entrance to Lake Moraine to ask about getting in. It was a good thing we had gotten everything done the previous day.
We had a three-hour drive to Jasper but it was along the Ice Field Parkway so no complaints here. We stopped at a scenic overlook to gawk at the Crowfoot Glacier, it was so awesome- I had not expected to see glaciers this trip. We ate two mini bags of chips and somehow, I was hungrier than when we had started. We stopped at Bow Glacier but it was no good for photos because there were cars at the lodge on the horizon. It was crazy to see on the info panel just how much the glacier had receded since the reference picture from 1918. Our third stop was at Mistaya Canyon. We had to go down a hill and I was already regretting the climb back up. This was supposed to be a roadside pitstop not a mini hike! It was worth it and my complaining was negated by the beautiful canyon views. You could see the rushing river down below between the open spaces in the rocks. Walking back to the car we heard a weird whooshing sound, looking up there was a crow flying close by overhead. He was so close we could hear his wings flapping.
We were keeping our eyes opened, this road was known for having mountain goats in view. Every once in a while, one of us would see a solitary white speck on a mountain side but it was impossible to tell if it was anything. We stopped at an overlook where it looked like the mountain was cradling the glacier like a baby, it was very pretty (the scribble in my notebook did not do it justice). The Athabasca Glacier was awesome, we could hike up to it for a closer view. Down below we could see a parking lot that would allow us to get even closer to the Columbia Ice Field (the next glacier over). Back to the car! We were racing another couple who had also spotted it. On the way I saw a weather station but neither of us had our phones with us to make a The Simpsons joke. The GPS kept yelling “proceed to the route, proceed to the route” and Brent pushed the volume button to quiet it down for a moment except that somehow translated to it staying quiet, no matter how many settings I changed or how high I cranked the volume. Even the trusted, unplug it and plug it back in, didn’t work.
The Columbia Ice Field was incredible. I really had not been expecting to see it, having only heard about it in science news. I was a little giddy about it. They had set up markers to show how much the glacier had receded, especially in the last couple of decades. Seeing it visualized like that really hit it home and bummed me out. Because of the receding we could see what fresh land looked like that had been covered over so at least that part was kind of cool. It was impossible to imagine the glacier at peak coverage, the signs said it stretched all the way back and across the highway. I did not enjoy the hilly climb to get up close. I was huffing and puffing, people were passing me while I crept along at a snail’s pace. It did not help that my hip felt a bit tweaked. Still, I was eager to get closer and have a good look at it. There was a crisp cold wind whipping down the glacier valley. It was refreshing but also, I worried about more windburn. On the way back we passed some serious hikers/climbers who were heading up. They had spiky shoes, pickaxes and a dog with little booties, a helmet and his own backpack (complete with a handle in case he needed to be lifted). It was too cute.
We stopped at Goats & Glaciers lookout. Surely there would be goats here, it was in the name! Womp womp, no goats. No glaciers either. I briefly wondered if maybe we were at the wrong lookout? Nope. I was so tired and achy but we hadn’t even done any of the hiking we had planned for the day yet! My hunger was not helping. I was verging on hangry.
The plan was to have lunch in Jasper. We drove by the Timmies that the GPS led us to but it was on the main street and there were no empty parking spots. It seemed it would be that way for all of our lunch options in town, so we parked a few blocks away and walked. The pumpkin spiced iced capp was the perfect transition drink between summer and autumn. And I finally got my pumpkin spice Timbits! The turkey cheese melt really hit the spot and revived me. Brent went into the liquor store across the street, apparently, they had a great selection so I noted it for a possible return trip later. Jasper was the first place we had been that seemed serious about masks. They were not just mandatory indoors, but outside as well. It was spray painted on every corner sidewalk.
Some dummies tried to go the wrong way on a very clearly marked one-way street and we just stared in disbelief. We drove to Patricia Lake but it was a lake on a private campground and there weren’t any clear signs for public access or a trail we could even take. Off to the next destination! Maligne Lake had been featured on the front page of Reddit the previous day, that combined with the fact that it was the Saturday of a long weekend made me a bit anxious. On the drive I fidgeted some more with the settings and finally got the (lovely, we missed her!!) GPS voice back. Inexplicably the car settings had set it to silent volume- neither of us had touched a single car button. Brent had just turned down the volume on his phone.
We passed warning signs about bears, elk and caribou- and we saw none of them. As soon as we entered the park, we saw a sign that said if you see a moose stay 100m away. I guffawed, yeah right, like we would see a moose. I was about to make a joke about when did we switch from caribou signs to moose signs. Brent tapped me on the shoulder and said look! I couldn’t see, there were people blocking my view. I shifted over and proceeded to curse quietly to myself. Right smack in front of us in the water (at a safe distance) was a young (read: antler-less) moose. I was gobsmacked. He was so chill, dipping his head in the water and munching grass. He was clearly not going anywhere, we got our fill and headed on the trail around the left side of the lake. We walked only park of the trail until we reached a nice lookout point. Along the way we saw a cute little songbird with a white neck and a grey belly. Then we saw a bunch more and suddenly it wasn’t as special. It was too far to try and circle, plus the trail had veered away from the lake so we headed back.
The moose had moved and now I had an even better vantage points for photos: mountains in the background, a rustic boathouse with the name of the lake, it was perfect! You would never know that there were 30-40 people milling around near me getting almost the same (but not as good??) photos. We started walking to the trail that went around the lake in the other direction and then we stopped dead in our tracks. There was ANOTHER moose up ahead of us! He was standing on the shore, eyeballing the first moose. We were in shock. For so long we had seen barely any wildlife (let alone “Canadian” wildlife) and here we were seeing two! We stood and watched, judging the idiots on the beach who were way too close to the moose. He may not have had antlers but he was still damn big. He also did not give a damn about the people and was not afraid. He saw the other moose eating a bounty and he wanted in. humans blocking his way be damned, he started heading right in their direction i.e.: our direction. It was a mad scramble as we all backed away and started heading up a hill- cameras out snapping away the whole time. I don’t regret it, I got an amazing photo that looks like a moose out in the wilderness. My heart was pounding the whole time. Moose #2 approached #1 and it looked like they were spoiling for a fight. Instead he just intimidated #1, who took off, proverbial tail between his legs), into the forest and towards the hill where we were all hiding. The park staff were yelling at us to back up and to go the parking lot. Except then the moose seemed to be heading for the parking lot. Lots of dumb people, lots of excitement and I almost reached the heart rate I would have if we’d been hiking a steep hill.
Now that our path was clear we could continue on our way. Except the trail didn’t really lead anywhere, it took us to a bridge overlooking the river that ran into the lake (making it a prime habitat for wildlife- no kidding). A bug landed on my glasses and refused to let go, which was not as exciting as the moose encounter. That was tops.
We were staying at the Tonquin Inn and there was a giant line-up of people waiting to check in. We googled the best pizza in Jasper and ordered from the Jasper Pizza Place online. Brent would wait to check-in, I would go get pizza. On the walk I met a super cute and friendly cat. At first, he sat down in the middle of the street but when he saw me crouch down and hold out my hand he walked over. He was rubbing against me and purring and I would have stayed there all day if I wasn’t so hungry. My purse wasn’t big enough to stash him so I had to continue on. I walked by a different liquor store on my way to yet another one (that few blocks radius in Jasper had a surprising amount of liquor stores), I had time to kill before the pizza was ready. I had forgotten to consult with Brent and see which ciders he had gotten me. In a panic I sent him a photo of the fridge, there were quite a few I had never seen before but most of them were in multipacks so that narrowed my choices. I also found a gin that was made with northern Ontario ingredients. I still had a few more minutes before my pizza was ready so I walked up the street beside the pizza place. I saw a bakery called Bear Paw and I had to go in, how could I ignore such a great name. For dessert I got a peanut butter cookie and a nanaimo bar. I also got a lemonade, because surprise! – I was super dehydrated (who would have seen that one coming?). That did not use up enough time. I was going to check the other liquor store but I had not grabbed a receipt at the first one. As luck would have it there was a candy store next door, who could say no to that? I hit a veritable candy bonanza: birthday cake, mint + dark chocolate and apple pie Kit Kats, chewy Gobstoppers (large) and a Reese’s Fastbreak.
Brent met me on the way back and grabbed some of my bags, I was laden at this point. I had barely settled in and already was devouring the garlic bread. The pizza had two different cured meats and basil, it was perfect and it had really good slightly spicy garlic dip on the side. The Rock Creek strawberry rhubarb cider that Brent got for me that morning had a really weird pop-top, leaving the whole top of the can open. It was nice to sit in the room and just relax with ciders (BC Tree Fruits Cider Co was so good, as was the Rekorderlig passionfruit- both of which Brent had gotten earlier). There was a new episode of Say Yes to The Dress on which made it all the more perfect. During commercials we watched yet another terrible episode of The Simpsons. Brent googled one of the birds we had seen earlier and it turned out we had seen a Canada Jay, but how was that possible?! It had such a beautiful song, so not squawky like all of the others jays we had ever heard!
Sat. Sept. 5, 2020:
Fri. Sept. 4, 2020
Johnston Canyon, AB to Lake Louise, AB (Banff)
There was a skittering noise in the night that woke me up three separate times. In my delirious half-asleep state, I was convinced there was an animal in the room, but when I went to look with my phone flash light, I saw nothing. My back and my legs had ached all night and I woke up very congested. I was falling apart. We drove slowly down the road because apparently there was more wildlife around thanks to the road being closed to the public. All we saw was one deer, alas no bears. The morning light was beautiful and the moon was still out, I wanted to take pictures of the mountains but we were on a mission: to visit Moraine Lake, which apparently fills up fast, some people get there at sunrise. We saw signs saying that there was limited parking available, that did not bode well for our plans. As we pulled up, there was a huge line of cars waiting to get in. Pass. Instead we parked at our hotel and walked over to Lake Louise. It was also very busy and uncomfortably crowded. Apparently, safety precautions go out the window when it comes to beautiful views. Everyone was crowded around the one vantage point, even though further along you basically got the same view just way less crowded. The lake was a beautiful emerald blue-green and we still had the remnants of the early morning light. As we walked around the lake the crowds thinned out. Apparently, they only cared about that one view. We could hear the thunderous roar of avalanches off in the distance but we couldn’t see anything. There was a trail that started at the far end of the lake but we didn’t have the backpack and we already had other hikes planned for the day so we turned around. There was a cute dog standing in the lake drinking water.
The yogurt parfait had seemed like a good idea in theory, but in practice it was a mess. The granola had gotten all soggy because it wasn’t packaged separately. I mostly just ate the fruits. The bathroom at Lake Louise was closed, so we stopped in at our hotel before heading out on the road. We were headed to Yoho National Park to see Takakkaw Waterfall.
BRITISH COLUMBIA!! YAY! We stopped at the Spiral Tunnels overlook, the track took a spiral figure-eight through the Rockies and it was a total mind-f*ck. Even though we saw a train going through, and even with a 3D model of the tracks, I still had trouble understanding it. We would just have to take the scenic train one day so I could see it for myself. We were driving through a valley with a river running alongside us, it was all very pretty. There were some tight switchbacks but thankfully there were only three, it always makes me so nervous. As we approached the parking lot, we could already see the waterfall, turns out it was more of a nice walk than a hike. The surprise of seeing the falls after a walk was kind of ruined but it also made you realize how big the waterfall was. The waterfall was fed by a melting glacier on top of the cliff but we couldn’t see it from down below. We got to walk almost up to the base of the falls- at a safe distance. Unlike the dummies who ventured forward, climbing on the wet rocks. The view looking down the river was also beautiful with mountains in the distance. We could not confirm it we saw glaciers on the other mountains or it was just snow.
Driving to Emerald Lake, the parking lot was so busy. We parked in the ditch off the side of the road, there were enough other cars there to make it OK. It added about 10 minutes walking. (Or at least it felt that way). A lady went into the bathroom and came right back out saying she wasn’t sure it was a bathroom. I had just been in there, it was nothing fancy but it got the job done.
The lake was beautiful and lived up to its name. We learned that the colour was from glacier deposits. It was funny how many people there were at the start of the trail, near the parking lot, picnic benches, bathrooms and canoe rentals. As we went on, there were fewer and fewer people. In the side of the mountain we could see a path that had been carved by the glacier’s yearly avalanches. It was bare of trees unlike the rest of the mountain. At the other end of the lake (aka the halfway point) we could see that the lake is shrinking and there were new trees growing. The second half of the hike was completely different. This side of the lake was in the shadow of the mountain and it was more like a wet forest, it was wildly different. We could barely see the Burgess shale, I had no idea it was way up on a mountain. It was just a grey square. We tried to look at it via the mounted binoculars but it was hard to see because of glasses. Our hike around the lake was 6km, thankfully most of the time it was just a leisurely walk. On our way back we saw a scrub jay who would not cooperate in posing for photos.
On the way to Emerald Lake we passed a road sign for Natural Bridge. We still had time and nothing else planned for the day so we stopped in. It was cool to see Kicking Horse River and its strong rapids and then just a pile of rocks making a pseudo-bridge. People LOVED taking selfies here. It was infuriating trying to get nice pristine nature photos without bozos in them. We stopped at a lookout on the BC/Alberta border and stood between the two welcome signs, we were between provinces! No mans land!
We could see glaciers on the mountain tops and this time we were certain they were glaciers because you could the path, they had carved down the mountain as they slid in the past. We stopped at a Lake Louise liquor store, the selection wasn’t great but I got a Big Rock peach apple cider. I wondered if this was the no-named peach cider listed at the cafe the previous day? It had just said peach cider on the menu, no indication of anything else.
Driving by Moraine Lake the parking lot was still full. No worries, we were staying nearby and we could try later that evening and then again, the following morning. We tried looking up the hotel by the lake but it was closed because of COVID, so much for geniusing our way in again. There was no TV in our room, maybe I would get more reading done? Or would I just end up playing Mario Odyssey until I had to rage quit? It was a good mix of both.
We tried to get lunch to go from the lodge restaurant but because we were ordering off the happy hour menu the guy said we had to eat in. We weren’t even getting drinks which was the happy hour deal, we just wanted the food. He did offer that we could have the bison pepperoni flatbread for the price of the tomato flatbread from the lunch menu which was just weird. We stood there with a paper lunch menu, happy hour menu and dinner menu (we would be dining here again tonight) and debated. The lunch menu overlapped with the dinner one quite a bit. The happy hour menu had elk ribs, something wacky and new. Eventually we grudgingly settled on dining on the patio. Elk ribs and a flatbread with bison pepperoni were just too good to pass up. It was just the right amount of food for lunch. I got to try the Banff maple rye I had been eyeballing every time we went to the store. The maple old-fashioned made me feel a little better but it was still a tense lunch.
We settled back in the room, the plan was to head out around 6pm. Because of COVID we had to call the front desk and “order” coffee and ice for our room, it was a bit odd. I played a little ACNH and then we watched Top Chef on Brent’s laptop. Driving to the lake we were bot still anxious, could it still be super busy this late in the day? It was impossible to guess. Thankfully they waved us in and there were plenty of spaces. As soon as we entered I could see why fore all the fuss. It was stunning, a green-blue pristine lake surrounded by mountains and so serene. By the edge of the lake there was a giant pile of rocks that people just loved climbing all over and taking selfies. It was unbelievable how busy the park still was based on the earlier traffic. So many people! I guess it made sense given the park had only recently reopened and we were heading into the long weekend- but still!
We started out with the aptly named Rockpile Trail. Looking at it I was wary. I was supposed to get to the top? Of that rock pile?? I just assumed people had scaled it, I was relieved to see that there was a path and even stairs at some point. (What a rare moment: me being relieved to see stairs). I was still huffing and puffing but I much preferred it to scaling the pile of rocks. I was also getting irrationally mad at the dummies going off the marked trail. We saw a pika sitting on a rock and it was so freaking cute, I wish I could have scooped it up and taken it home. We also saw a golden-mantled ground squirrel, it was definitely not a chipmunk. We walked the lake trail. I tried to take a picture at the first scenic stop but there was a couple with their daughter at the next point over, ruining my view. They were taking forever, taking every possible iteration of a photo with varying combinations of family members, all using their own phones. It was a circus. I wanted to shout for them to move for one second so I could take one photo then they could go back for as long as they wanted. Brent made a comment about it and the people standing behind us (also waiting for a photo op) laughed. At the end of the trail there was a river feeding into the lake from the mountains. It looked really pretty because it was meandering among the trees. We also had gorgeous views looking back towards where we had started. There was a lady sitting and reading on a rock and I kept wanting to shush every person who talked (it was just us and a German couple, but still, the reading lady looked so peaceful).
We got back to the hotel about two hours later, tired and so hungry. We placed a to-go order with no problem (it was a different guy so maybe that’s why). Brent finally got his bison burger fix and I had the salmon with lemon potatoes. It was so good not to be eating fast food, I devoured and savoured every bite, it was a nice change of scenery food-wise. We watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations but I was so sleepy. Somehow my face was slightly sunburnt again. HOW?!
Thurs. Sept. 3, 2020:
Brooks, AB to Banff, AB
I woke up at 6:30am and didn’t feel tired at all, maybe mornings aren’t so bad after all? I brewed coffee to add to the instant latte just in case, nothing wrong with a little extra caffeine. We were heading out early to get to the Johnston Canyon trail which apparently gets really busy really fast. It was killing me, we couldn’t stop and the light was that perfect morning golden light. All of the pull-offs were also taken over by trucks (I assume the drivers were still sleeping). Some of the other scenic viewpoints were ruined with industrial buildings. I finally saw the perfect highway turnout, the field had a haybale in it and the morning light… except so far they had all sucked and I didn’t think to ask for a stop until it was too late. Later on, we passed a curious baby cow sniffing a crow on a post, it was just too cute and added to my “I wish I could photograph this” list. As we drove, we could see mountain ranges up ahead, but we hadn’t even passed through Calgary yet.
The road to Johnston Canyon was closed so we backtracked to the other end of the road but that was also closed. Brent called the Johnston Canyon Lodge to see if they had availability and booked us a room. Now we could pass the blockade and we saved some driving time (our original hotel would have been 45 minutes back the way we came). Our 3.5-hour drive was already longer thanks to all the back & forth because now we had to drive back to the other end of the road again to show them proof of our hotel stay. Apparently, they had closed the road to the trail because it was too popular an attraction to safely open during the COVID-times. As hotel guests, we had access, the trailhead was right behind our lodgings. The other upside was that now we just about had the trail to ourselves (save for a few other groups). I could see why they had to restrict it (you could still walk or bike from the closures but it was longer than the trail itself). It was both very scenic and very narrow. Even the few people we did see were stopping for selfies and we had to wait to pass. It was so beautiful, canyon walls and waterfall after waterfall. The trail info said that people were not impressed with the inkpots past the final waterfall but that it was worth it to see the meadow. We had nothing else planned for the day and I wanted to see these underwhelming inkpots (which I kept calling flower pots, expecting something like the balancing rocks at Tobermory) for myself.
We passed by warning signs about bears, apparently it was berry (bear-y?) season. I was not afraid until Brent pointed out that it would be grizzly bears, not black bears. That got my attention. We started to wonder what we would do if we encountered a bear. My plan was to throw a full packet of Pop Tarts (preferably at the nose). The plan was threefold: the crinkly, noisy wrapper, the shininess of it and thirdly the smell of the delicious Pop Tarts inside. While the bear figured out what it was, I’d be long gone. Or passed out from fear. We saw a giant poop and I immediately thought it was a bear poop (we determined on the way back that it was actually horse poop). What if there was one just watching us from the trees? How close had we been to a bear?
We also learned on this hike that some of the chipmunks we had seen may have been gold-coated ground squirrels. Except now we weren’t sure and we were determined to see one to confirm. They look so similar, its understandable. One of the scenic overlooks on the trail was an alternate view of a waterfall, except we had squeeze through a small rock crevice, which was wet from all the waterfall spray. I was not happy about this. At least there was only one person who was just leaving, I imagine normally it would be an Instagram-fueled nightmare, selfie sticks everywhere. Later on the trail was a boardwalk along the canyon wall, I did not enjoy that some of the cement steps were a bit loose. As if that weren’t enough for those of us who were wobbly-legged, there was a steel-grate walkway out over the river for a better look at a waterfall, it was so far away from the supports that it was shaky. Which made me shaky. I walked out, had a quick look, snapped a photo and almost ran back. We had incredibly scenic views of the canyon and the crystal blue water of the river, you could see right to the bottom.
The uphill parts of the trail were rough. We continued past the higher falls to the meadow and the inkpots. I assumed we would go up in elevation and then the meadow and inkpots would be there at the top. I was wrong, instead we went up and then back down the other side. Crap, I was so looking forward to the way back being easy. Now I would also have uphills on my way back?! That wasn’t part of the deal! The people were wrong, the inkpots were so cool. It was worth it enough for the meadow views, with the river running through and mountains on all sides. But the inkpots were little ponds where you could see water bubbling up through the sand. It was a peaceful and serene place. The half-way point Pop Tart was so satisfying. We saw some chipmunks/ground squirrels. They move so fast it was hard to tell, we would have to check my photos later.
The way back was still much easier, despite the few uphills. We passed a couple we had seen heading back a while ago. They were struggling bad. Thankfully we did not see any bears on the trail. Although my heart rate according to the FitBit would have you thinking otherwise.
While Brent checked in, I went to the café and got a much-needed hot chocolate. I enjoyed it in a wooden Muskoka chair outside of our tiny half-cabin, overlooking the restaurant & café roof. Our cabin was tiny, yet it had two fireplaces. We had a small TV (but no cable) in the corner and a tiny bathroom. We could see the other cabins which had couches and kitchens, but for one night we didn’t need that much.
We went down to the restaurant to place a to-go order for lunch/dinner. We were starving, having not really eaten all day. We got drinks to go and had them in the chairs outside of our cabin. There wasn’t much description of the ciders, so I went with the one from Kelowna, BC. As soon as she handed me the bottle, I recognized it as one I had back in the room. She laughed because it was a 500mL bottle, kind of absurdly large. Brent’s chair had been stolen by a bug, so he stood while we debated what kind of bug it was. I said it was a citrus long-horned beetle (clearly, I had been playing too much ACNH). Google said it was a white spotted spruce sawyer. We also confirmed that the birds of prey we had seen sitting on all those poles were not in fact kestrels (another cross-out in my book) but in fact Swainson’s hawks.
The steak sandwich was supposed to be on a baguette but instead it was on white bread and it was just a slab of steak instead of strips. I had upgraded my fries to poutine, it was heavy and dense but so good. My sandwich came with a side salad, which normally I would be averse to it but this one had arugula, lettuce, cucumbers, walnuts and cranberries. After I picked out the offending cherry tomatoes it was the perfect salad, almost exactly what I would make at home! I devoured it. It was the first fresh produce I had eaten in almost a week and I relished every bite. I stole a bite of Brent’s burger, I was not impressed. It was supposed to be bison but it was clearly just the regular burger. Brent had to throw out the garbage in a giant bear-proof bin outside. We had initially planned to get food again later on, but the meal had been so heavy and filling that the plan was off the table. Our late lunch would suffice for dinner as well.
I realized that because we were leaving so early the following morning, I would have to get my breakfast before the café closed. I went down in my pyjamas to get a yogurt and granola parfait and I got some gummies and cookies to snack on (we had eaten all the snacks I got earlier with my hot chocolate). The walk down the stairs was kind of sort of brutal. Even with stretching after the hike, my legs were not happy. It may have been our longest hike ever? The FitBit said around 13km round trip. I did get a record number of equivalent flights of stairs which earned me a new badge. Probably the most painful one I have ever gotten? I played Super Mario Galaxy for a while but it was making me mad so I had to switch to reading. I was distracted by my screaming legs.
Wed. Sept. 2, 2020:
Moose Jaw, SK to Brooks, AB
Sleeping with a pillow under my knees greatly helped with my low back + butt + thighs pain (it had gotten so unbearable in the car that I legit was holding back tears and the previous night couldn’t sleep because no matter how I lay it hurt like hell). I woke up at 6:35am which just messed me up even more, it seemed so early but really to my body it was regular time. I shrugged and got up, more vacation time is always welcome. The room just reeked of the KFC bites. I was having flashbacks to the European cheese but not as bad.
The landscape was starting to get hillier as we drove towards Alberta, it had previously been unimaginably flat with literally nothing on the horizon. I was starting to see why it would be referred to as “big sky country” because that is literally all there was. a flat strip of land and then a straight line and sky forever. We passed a cow that had escaped its pasture and was grazing on highway ditch grass (is it really better?). Another was licking a telephone pole. I really wish we hadn’t been speeding along a highway, that instead we had been on a small country road where we could pull off and I could photograph the cows and the big sky.
Driving through Chaplin we passed by alkali flats and Lake Chaplin (the 2nd most saline rich inland body of water- thanks Google! Travelling with data is so great). We passed what I thought was a peregrine falcon sitting on a post. Once we passed a bunch more, I googled it. They were not peregrine falcons, they were kestrels. In my notebook it’s been written and crossed out like four times before I finally just looked up what it was instead of guessing.
We stopped at a Tim Horton’s but the bathrooms were being inexplicably painted during business hours?! They are just off the Trans-Canada Highway. The coffee is secondary, everyone is there for the toilet. At the gas station next door, the bathrooms were out of order. I had gotten Brent a sugar loop donut, they are so rare but apparently with good reason: he was meh on it, calling it a lame donut. How was I to know? Driving through the wind and dust storm my eyes were getting really watery and burning. It didn’t make much sense, the windows were closed but here I was crying. Out of nowhere visibility dropped as we were engulfed in white swirling clouds of alkali dust. There were no road signs warning of this. No one talks about this when they talk about the cross-Canada road trip. What gives. It was a scary but thankfully brief moment.
As we drove the kestrels on poles and posts became more common- but still cool to look at, just sitting there on their perch observing. Brent saw a giant bird of prey (golden eagle? Harris hawk?) sitting on the grass in the highway median.
ALBERTA!! Another new province for me! Not for Brent! We stopped in Medicine Hat for lunch. We were torn between McDonald’s and Wendy’s but the latter won out, it was much rarer than the former. Only after I had ordered did I see that they have small size poutines on the menu, dammit all.
Driving up to Dinosaur Provincial Park was so cool because suddenly you could see a hint of the gorges. Before the main entrance there was a parking lot to a scenic overlook of the Badlands from above. It was unbelievable what we were looking at, I had no idea this was in Canada. I was expecting to learn about fossils maybe see some rocky landscape but this felt like a mini version of the Grand Canyon. They really undersell it. It was a bit vertigo inducing as there were no guardrails, nothing stopping you from climbing (read: falling) down.
Our first stop was the visitors centre for a map and a souvenir magnet for Camilla. Brent had looked up one of the trails we could hike but there was one right next to the visitors centre and we had plenty of time so why not. The trial took us to the top of the rocks, there were brief unsettling moments that I did not enjoy. It was on this hike that I learned that there are scorpions and cacti in Canada. It hurt my brain just a little, I kept shouting what is going on where am I??? The views from the top were beautiful and my only regret was not wearing my hiking shoes, especially as we made our way back and followed some lost people who had missed the trail and were walking along the edge of the rocks. It was a well-trodden path so we weren’t breaking rules, it was just not that great in my fake Keds.
It was so windy in the park, my hair was just whipping around everywhere, my camera strap kept flying into my shots. The next trail we did was the Badlands trail, it was much easier but it still afforded awesome views. From there we drove the scenic loop road and stopped at all of the pull-offs. We took a mini trail to a historic quarry and saw an example of an archaeological dig, it showed what it looked like when an Albertosaurus was discovered and how the process of digging it up worked. This was what I had been expecting when I chose to visit here! Finally! At the second point-of-interest they had another display like this. Good thing we hadn’t paid admission to the museum, which seemed more geared towards children anyways. The weather had held up nicely, no rain, but I could feel my sun- and windburnt face. Back in the car I devoured the carrot muffin I had smartly grabbed from the hotel breakfast that morning. The final trail of the park was an easy walk near a river/in the former river bed. We saw some young deer eating tall grass, warily watching us but not ready to give up their spot just yet. We wondered if the whole time there may have been a kestrel or a bobcat hiding out just watching us.
I was falling apart. My nose was so dry and achy and yet I was also really congested, it was the worst. Once again, our hotel was just off the highway. Before checking in we headed out to Shoppers Drug Mart, I was in need of remedies. My Advil was running low (I did not expect near daily headaches) and I desperately needed relief for my poor face. I was so happy to find Burt’s Bees after sun care. I also grabbed Icy Hot patches for my poor body, which had finally stopped hurting but I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t start up again. In the same plaza I had seen a sign for Ace Liquors but it had shut down. Across the street there was a Safeway liquor store. They had a great selection of BC ciders and I found a Calgary cider too. I also got a strawberry & lemon gin drink because it was from BC.
Our dinner options had been very limited, it was either McDonald’s or pizza or Wendy’s. We drove to McDonald’s for dinner. Except it was in a Walmart, thankfully there was another one on the next street over. On the way we passed by a baseball diamond completely overtaken by seagulls, it was their park now. I risked getting a hot fudge sundae but it was necessary. It really hit the spot and I ended up finishing it in the car before our dinner. Brent got the scotch bonnet McChicken because the ghost pepper one wasn’t available yet. It was surprisingly spicy. I had the habanero dipping sauce for my nuggets. We watched Frasier as we ate, turns out it’s actually a good show. The Uncommon Haskip cider was perfect, even though it had some BC apples mixed in it still counted as an Alberta drink. The lemon strawberry gin cocktail was the perfect summer drink. King of the Hill was yet another rerun we had just watched (a pattern was emerging). Frasier was a rerun of an episode we had watched an hour ago. All we had left were bad, new-ish episodes of The Simpsons.
Tues. Sept. 1, 2020:
Winnipeg, MB to Moose Jaw, SK
I woke up just after 7am and couldn’t sleep any longer (back home I had been starting to wake up at 8am so it made sense, I just didn’t like looking at the clock, it made me feel tired).
On the road we had 552km to our destination, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Meaning we had another chance to snap a pic of 420km left. We missed it last time. We passed by a Tim Hortons inconveniently located on the other side of the road. I only fell asleep once on the road through Manitoba.
SASKATCHEWAN!!! We stopped for lunch in Moosomin, SK and I could not believe how windy it was. I tried to take a video but I was juggling my French capp and a box of Timbits (possibly the most Canadian thing I’ve ever said?). I also had an Oreo blondie in my purse for later. We stopped at KFC and ordered the new plant-based popcorn bites, I also had a twister menu wrap. Turns out that tomatoes in a small quantity, chopped small and hidden are not that bad. That’s not saying I like or will tolerate them going forward. I was just really hungry. The price should have been a clue, we ended up getting a giant bucket of the bites. They were good, if no one had told me I would have assumed they were just chicken. I just wish we had gotten a better dipping sauce than honey mustard. We also stopped in at SaskLiquor (the name makes me thing Sasquatch). At first, I felt like the selection was paltry- until I remembered that we were driving and I wouldn’t have to chug everything on our last day. I could stockpile!! I went back and grabbed three 6-packs of Okanagan cider: cherry, peach and Saskatoon berry (what better place to enjoy it). Only later in the car did I reazlie that the guy at Timmie’s didn’t give me any pumpkin spice timbits, having lumped them in with plain which I passed on.
Our car shook as we drove, the wind was incredibly strong. Off in the distance there were giant storm clouds but only over a small part of the sky, the rest was white clouds and bright sky. There was a torrential downpour except we could see blue sky ahead. The Regina by-pass was exactly what it said it was, we went around the town. Our hotel in Moose Jaw was literally just off the highway. There was a Tim Hortons and a McDonald’s across the parking lot, I would be all set for my morning coffee.
The Smirnoff berries drink was actually, dare I say, good! It also reminded me of popsicles. My face was so sunburnt and on top of that I think I had minor windburn as well. It was so red and tight and all I could think was HOW?! Through the car window?! I did have a brief momentary panic that it was a fever but it was so clearly a sunburn. Jeopardy! was on and ~somehow~ it was a rerun we had just watched. Not a good start. The KFC bites had gotten a bit soggy but I was too tired and lazy to find other food and I just kept going back and eating them. Of the three Okanagan ciders the Saskatoon berry was the clear winner (and not just because we were in Saskatchewan), the peach was second and the cherry a distant fake-flavoured last. For some reason fake peach is acceptable but fake cherry isn’t? I blame nostalgia for Spice Girls lollipops. By now in vacation mode I had adopted a good system: read during muted commercials. The 2008 episode of The Simpsons was borderline ok. Thankfully Chopped was on after that. We were waiting for 8pm when King of the Hill was on. At this point I was kind of losing track of time because going into Saskatchewan we had jumped forward another time zone. My brain was fried. At least I had new bugs to catch in ACNH.
Mon. Aug. 31, 2020:
Thunder Bay, ON to Winnipeg, MB
The pillow was too high for me and I had to sleep on my side all night, I was not happy when I woke up. Breakfast in the hotel was only being offered in the restaurant, hard pass. I figured if Starbucks was on UberEats it must be nearby! Nope, it was 7km away. Thankfully I had grabbed some Nescafe instant lattes before leaving home, plus we still had leftover pizza. It was a genius move to order pizza.
The backs of my legs and my butt were hurting so bad, I was in desperate need of the heated seat in the car. We drove to Kakabeka Falls which thankfully were not a hike away. I did however have to climb down stairs and it was torture but worth it for the beautiful waterfall. It was raining so I just snapped photos with my phone. The waterfall had beautiful jagged rocks and ledges and when you looked at the other side, the source there was a giant beautiful gorge.
We drove by billboards advertising a hotel that was off the highway, just 3 hours away! We could not wait to see this famed hotel. That’s how we knew we were truly in the middle of nowhere. We eventually passed a point where every river past the sign drained into the Arctic Ocean. We were far, far away from home. Soon we passed a time zone plaque: wait what?! Ontario isn’t all one time zone?! I was so confused. But my phone confirmed it as I took a photo, we had just gained an hour. Just as I was dozing off, Brent startled me awake. A bald eagle was flying by clutching a fish in its talons, it was so cool but I was still groggy and a tad confused. I did not fully grasp what I was looking at in those first few seconds. Even the adrenaline of being startled awake was nothing for me, I was so sleepy and the road and the rain were just lulling me to sleep. Not helping matters was that I was getting another headache (the fourth day in a row- damn you body!). We stopped in Ignace at a gas station for snacks but they didn’t have a bathroom. They did have a sign saying that there was a bathroom two blocks down at the visitor’s centre. I guess they got tired of the same question over and over. The visitor centre had a sign advertising the adjoining library and the need for reading material on vacation. This was a campaign I could get behind.
It was still raining but the forecast for Kenora, our next pit stop, said the rain should clear. In the Starbucks app I tried to see if there was a Starbucks in Kenora, instead I found a point of interest called Husky the Muskie. Google showed that it was a giant fish statue. I had to see it, all of my RDR2-playing called out for it: a legendary fish!!! As we drove, I swear I could smell the pine trees even though the windows were rolled up. We pulled over at a historical marker for the last spike in the railroad. Except it was across a small lake and obscured by trees. It also did not feel like the halfway point across Canada. When I later looked at the photos, I had no idea what I was looking at: some unnamed lake?? We drove past the Seine River and I made a joke about how we got to see the “other” Seine River, our original vacation plans were almost coming true!
The GPS route actually took us up and over Kenora, the accurately named bypass. The giant fish would just have to be added to the “on the way back” list. Lunch got bumped to late dinner, unless we passed something on the road (which seemed unlikely).
MANITOBA!! Yay! A new province! It was cute that they had a polar bear on the sign. I was getting the mid-afternoon munchies and I devoured all of the Swedish fish we had gotten earlier at the gas station. At 4pm we passed through the exact longitudinal center of Canada. That felt more accurate than the railroad spike, clearly one side had been working harder than the other. Everything was just so flat and we were passing nothing, just empty flat. Soon we got to the suburbs of Winnipeg and I was surprised at how built out it was, full of cookie-cutter townhouses. Closer to our hotel we got stuck in rush hour traffic.
Of the three Dead Horse ciders: cherry, dry and citrus-hopped, I started with the latter as it seemed least appealing to me. I was correct but it was still good. I was starting to get hangry, all I had eaten were snacks, and my mood was exasperated by my aches and pains. We looked up the top restaurants in Winnipeg and checked what was available on UberEats. We ordered two pizzas from Za Pizzeria because of the 50 restaurants listed it was one of the few actually available. The meat lovers pizza was so good! The BBQ chicken was pretty good, better than I had expected but I was not a huge fan, the sauce was a bit sweet. The cherry cider was much better and between that and the pizza I was feeling much better. I was waiting until 10pm (because that was 11pm back home) for one last chance at catching the elusive ACNH bugs, I had so little time left! It was only 9pm but in my brain I had gone ahead two time zones and it was really messing me up. It was a rough night trying to fall asleep as everything hurt, no matter which way I lay down.
Sun. Aug. 30, 2020:
Sault Ste Marie, ON to Thunder Bay, ON
It was a two-hour drive (get used to the driving times interspersed with the story) to our first hike of the trip: Nokomis Trail, overlooking Old Woman Bay. Little did I know the hike would leave me feeling like an old woman. Brent said the lake the bay was on was named after me. We kept passing weird billboards for Minnow Trap 2, a very indie-looking movie that was somehow on Amazon, was it made by a Northern Ontarian and all the towns rallied behind it? We never did look it up.
A few tips of trees were starting to turn red but it was still summer to me, I was not ready to let go. We stopped at a scenic overlook except it was had to see anything. Further along the road there was a much better view, I was mad at whoever had designed this, they were clearly sleeping on the job. Driving through Lake Superior Provincial Park we had beautiful views all around us of the lake and also, we had been passing through the Canadian shield. There was a hawk just sitting on a wire. A loon sitting on the lake. Meanwhile I gawked at all the views while munching on Froot Loops I had grabbed from the hotel before leaving. There was a dead moose on the side of the road, my first time seeing a moose and it was dead. The precedent for the trip had been set: I needed to see a live moose.
Before setting off the on the trail we walked down to the beach to look at the bay. I didn’t see it, I couldn’t see the old lady anywhere, it didn’t seem to be in the hills overlooking the bay. There was nothing old-ladyish about it. On the trail we saw a tiny little fluffy rodent (a vole?) munching on lichen, he was hidden enough by the brush and branches that he wasn’t even afraid of us. It was a relief to see him, our first wildlife spotting of the hike was a dead bunny right smack in the middle of the path, needless to say I yelped. We also saw a woodpecker and a squirrel that was just screaming at us. I was so glad I had bought proper hiking shoes just days before our trip. They had good tread and were waterproof, you would think that would make me more confident as a hiker-nope. I was really struggling on this hike. I did not enjoy climbing over the stones that were once a creek bed. I had my FitBit on so I could 1): track how far we had left and 2): see how truly out of shape I was, my heartrate was through the roof, comically so. We were also nearing the halfway point (according to my watch which showed half the km total roundtrip- either my watch was off or the trail map was) and had to yet to get any scenic views of Old Lady Bay. Yes, we did get a view of a valley of dense trees with just a tiny line cut through (it was the highway) but I was getting antsy: was this trail longer than 5 (quite difficult) kilometres?! With no promised views to boot?! My legs were screaming. Eventually the trail started to turn around and we were heading back. Surely, we would get our promised views now? I did feel better after eating my double-chocolate Pop Tart (at this point it is tradition, if I make it to the halfway point of a hike, I get a Pop Tart).
Our efforts were finally rewarded with beautiful views (even if the skies were a bit too clear, I needed some clouds for interest!). We saw a yellow-bellied bird with brown wings and made note of it to look it up later. As you can see, we have yet to do that. Some energetic kids ran past us, they were doing the trail counter-clockwise. I was shocked, they were so close to the peak, how were they running?! They were really excited to tell us that there were nice views down that way and we told them that they were near the peak. The parents lagged behind and I could feel for them but even they seemed less tired than me. The way back down was steep and slick and I did not enjoy the parts where I had to step down from a (giant to me) rock ledge. I slowly inched my way down, my legs burning and a headache slowly forming.
The initial 7-hour drive to Thunder Bay was now a mere 5 hours thanks to our hiking pit stop. We stopped at A&W for lunch. Only after ordering my momma burger did I see that there was an option to add cheese, the cashier had missed out on an easy upsell. I would have loved some cheese! We ate in the car, the idea of sitting down in the restaurant and eating was just too weird. We finally had a proper scenic lookout with beautiful views of the Canadian Shield and Lake Superior. We listened to the most recent episode of Stuff You Should Know about how blacksmiths work, it seemed fitting given the surrounding landscape.
We passed a sign for the smallest Canadian Tire in Nippigon but it wasn’t off the main road, so we added it to the ever-growing “on the way back” list. We also missed a cool looking scenic overlook on the other side of the road. It had a staircase you could climb to get a better view. It was cool to drive between sheer cliff faces, it was clear that the rock had been blown up to make way for the road. It was not until this leg of the trip that I found the seat warming button. It was a game-changer, especially for my increasingly achy legs and backside.
We were staying in Thunder Bay and it was weird to see road signs stating the distance to Duluth, MN- both because even if we wanted to, we couldn’t cross the border but also my sense of geography was so thrown off. Somehow the two just didn’t line up over top of each other. The Mike’s Hard Lemonade blue freeze which I grabbed on a whim in Sault Ste Marie (partly because the selection was lacking) was actually really good, it tasted like a popsicle. It was time for another round of ACNH, I caught one new bug: a rainbow stag beetle, but it wasn’t without its frustrations and repeat bugs.
The one TV channel I had wanted to watch was unavailable, I was waiting until 8pm when Spongebob was on. In a rare turn of events, SYTTD wasn’t on! I still held out hope that it might be on later. I called the restaurant across the street to place an order for pickup. The options on UberEats were abysmal to say the least. Under Italian restaurants they listed Starbucks. From Neeblings Roadhouse we got: shrimps au gratin, cheese curds and a deluxe pizza. The pizza was genius, if we couldn’t finish it we’d have breakfast. It was awkward having to jaywalk the highway, especially given there were ditches on both sides I had to go around. I stood in the parking lot for a while, waiting, had they forgotten? I had just spoken to them not 5-minutes ago. I watched as one guy tried to go in without a mask on and he almost immediately came right back out. Holding your shirt over your nose is not a mask. After 10 minutes I gave up and went inside. The girl I had spoken to was nowhere to be seen, the guy working there handed me my order. Back at the hotel there was still nothing on TV. We resorted to watching new-ish episodes of The Simpsons. It was awful, we flipped between that and the MTV music awards which were just as bad. In the end we settled on reading with sports on mute.
Sat. Aug. 29, 2020:
Collingwood to Sault Ste Marie, ON
This vacation was unusual in many respects. For one thing, our plans for the visiting the south of France kind of sort of fell through thanks to the world-wide pandemic. Thankfully I had scheduled my vacation late enough in the summer that things were starting back up again, so we could at least travel through Canada and so was born the idea to drive to Alberta (maybe even pop over into BC?) and do the classic cross-Canada roadtrip.
We had driven up to Collingwood the previous night after I finished work. From there we were off to Sault Ste. Marie. The only thing planned for the day was moving forward to our ultimate further destinations. It was a driving day. It was a 6.5-hour drive but somehow it did not seem that long- even without all the Stuff You Should Know episodes I had been saving up all week long. We drove through torrential downpours that would suddenly clear without a sky in the cloud, it was a bit bizarre. We didn’t pass through Sudbury proper, so we missed the giant nickel, I made note of it to get it on the way back. The great thing about a vacation that is mostly driving is that pit-stops like this are a godsend. We passed a sign advertising a town that had a giant loonie, on the way-back list it went! We drove through Iron Bridge and stopped to get a selfie out front of the “famed” recreation centre from our friends’ lore.
Next to our hotel was an LCBO so we stocked up before checking in. As Brent checked in, I placed a pickup order from Wacky Wings next door. Gone were the days of a nice sit-down dinner and drinks. Now, ease of ordering and picking up were what we looked for. I had the bourbon honey BBQ wings and Brent had spicy Thai Mine were listed as being saucy but deargod, they were in a small lake of sauce. We also split Idaho nachos, which at first went right over my head why they had waffle fries. I couldn’t resist an order of crab dippers (I kept singing “crab people” from South Park).
As is vacation tradition, I kicked it off with an episode of Say Yes to The Dress (because it’s almost always on! – I now have to say almost because the streak is broken). It took me a while to get into vacation mode. The pandemic situation was really throwing me off and I was still really tired from the work week. The two combined had really messed with my head for months, I usually had barely any idea what day of the week it was, let alone if I was supposed to be at work or not.
I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Switch but I didn’t catch any of the new bugs I needed before month’s end. Day one of vacation and I am frustrated with a video game. I went back to watching SYTTD, this was vacation time after all! I had to switch over to Love It or List It because after a while they were repeating earlier episodes of SYTTD and the Jays game was over. During commercials I would read my book about pathogens and resistance, not exactly the most relaxing read. The headache wasn’t helping, but the Brickworks lime cider spritzer sure was. The Muskoka vodka blueberry spritzer was just awful, better than White Claw but still awful. It just tasted like tonic water. Blech.
Blondie’s: (Instagram) we came home from a long weekend away and all we wanted was just some pizza. Alas Maker Pizza was closed. Brent remembered that there was a pizza place on my fooding list and thankfully Blondie’s was open. The pepperoni, jalapeno and honey pizza really hit the spot. And the bright pink box with big white polka dots was just so damn cute it made me like them even more. The honey really did add just that little bit of extra to the pizza, it’s a game-changer. The cheddar jalapeno dip was the best we’ve ever had. I could see this pizza being in our regular rotation alongside Maker Pizza.
Lai Wah Heen was known for their peking duck, taht was a family affair- aka a giant sized dinner for many. I did not have the fridge or freezer space and so we had to go sans-signature dish. Surely the pork belly and the fish soup would still be delicious? It had not been our first choice, we had wanted a light lunch and when our pick didn’t open at 3pm as promised, we scrambled to find a replacement. I wish we had just skipped lunch. The pork belly was alright, if you cut off the too-big fatty piece and ate just the pork. The fish soup was more like flaky stringy fish bits suspended in water. I added some Maggi seasoning and that helped me eat it. For dinner we had Maker Pizza, I wanted more Bodega sandwich and pizza is always good. The sandwich was disappointing, it was not nearly as good as the first time. It had sat around for a while and the bottom was soggy and fell apart. Sad sandwich, sad tummy.
Beach Hill Smoke House was listed on a Toronto Life list of gourmet delivery. We did not get the giant dinner, we opted for a-la carte instead. The beef ribs, the piece de resistance and what they’re known for, were unavailable. The burnt ends were only sold in pounds, not fractions of pounds. In order of best to worst we had: peach cobbler, sausage, pork ribs, coleslaw, smoked turkey, brisket. The brisket is dead last because- oh horror!- I had to actually sprinkle some salt on it. The crackling on the edge was good, the rest not so much. The peach cobbler stole the show. The coleslaw had poblanos, a game changer.
LarbShack– I saw a photo on the BlogTO Instagram of a popular new pop-up, made more popular by a visit from a politician. I’d never even heard of larb but of course Brent knew exactly what it was. We had a small debate over dinner whether the green leaves were cabbage or just really tough, thick lettuce given to us to make wraps. I swear it was lettuce! I grew up eating cabbage rolls, I know what cabbage looks like and feels like. The mild dish was not mild at all, it had these little hot red peppers and oh man was it spicy. But not as spicy as the spicy dish. Overall, it was alright, worth a try especially given it’s a pop-up and won’t be around forever.
Aunty Lucy’s Burgers– another pop-up! This one instead offered In N Out style basic burgers. I was all for it, having seen the delicious-looking pictures all over Instagram and BlogTO. Their original location was out of our delivery range, but when there was a dispute with the landlord and they had to find a new home, they popped-up closer to us! I really liked the burger, but not as much as the one from Rasa. That is still the best burger of the year (for now). The fries were really good too.
Colibri– Toronto Life Top 100. We are making our way down the list, and it is sad to see how many places have closed. Colibri was not one of them. Our original dinner plans were not available, so Brent had to wing it and order without me. He winged it well, ordering chips & guac along with 5 tacos: shrimp, beef, fish, pork, chicken. That is also my order of preference. The shrimp was actually really good. The others not so much. The beef was too salty but still it won second. The fish was alright. The pork was too fatty and the chicken too bland and it just drowned in the taco and I tasted no chicken. The chips & guac were alright, but way too many chips for the amount of guac provided.
**going back to work kind of put a dent in both fooding and my kitchen adventures