Banff-ward Bound - Day 5
The hotel boasts an impressive outdoor pool, which is heated and encircled partially by large trees. After a day of driving and hiking I was eager to take a soak in a light rain and wind that had developed.
It was during my time in the outdoor pool that I was able to reflect more fully on Banff. This was not necessarily the appropriate territory for a young man to go on a solo-trip / hiking venture. This was a place of outdoor romance. Nowhere did I encounter other lone-wolfs like myself. The outdoor pool was flush with couples straddling in erotic embraces all around me. I made mental note not to return solo, but to file this place away under “romantic retreats.”
I returned to my room with plans to rise early to get one more chance at seeing some wildlife. Though, after brushing my teeth I began to lose my early morning ambitions, and just decided to wake up when I wake up.
I woke up at 5 a.m. I tried to go back to sleep, but after 15 minutes I realized I was wide awake, and particularly refreshed in body and mind. It was still pitch black outside, but I recognized that fate had won, and I would go on my early morning safari.
My intention was to take the 1A highway that traveled north to Lake Louise, and was much less traveled than the main highway that also went in the same direction. I hit the road at 6 a.m., the sky was still dark, but I figured it would be getting brighter by the time I had been on the road for a few miles.
Wrong. I drove, and drove on the 1A, until my gas meter suggested I stopped. I hadn’t seen any wildlife yet due to the fact that I couldn’t see beyond the shoulder of the road. I pulled into the Johnston Creek Falls parking lot at around 6:45. Still dark. 34 degrees. I let my engine run as long as I deemed possible to let the cabin fill with heat. Waiting, waiting, waiting.
Around 7:20 I couldn’t take it anymore. The sky was taking on a more of a blackish-blue, and I made the decision I could start hiking the Johnston Falls trail. I paced and paced around the trailhead, trying to talk myself both into hiking and out of hiking.
“It’s not worth it. There’s no one here, it’s too early, bears are probably out and bloodthirsty for a fresh kill.”
“Just do it, you’ll be fine. This isn’t a movie, you’ll be fine.”
“Alright, I’ll do it.”
As I began the hike the sun was soon to follow me, administering much needed light and security to my hike; my fears melted away. I was once again treated to spectacular views of a set of falls viewable through a manmade cave. No wildlife, besides a few chipmunks.
I tried not to be dejected about my lack of wildlife sightings. I had seen a roadside elk, after taking a wrong turn and nearly ran over a moose who decided to try and out-sprint me across an Alberta highway. I reflected that the spontaneous, unexpected sightings were more valuable. During those moments, I had no expectations of sightings, and the added surprise of seeing them in a distracted state was full of frisson. Had I experienced a sighting on this jaunt, I probably would have just took a few pictures and nodded. This is what I was intending to see, and I saw it. Whereas before, during a nice drive, it became the icing on an already pleasurable cake.
On my drive out of Banff I had relinquished my search for wild animals, but heading South I did receive an unexpected treat.
Several cars were shouldered and the drivers were peering into the yonder woods with zoom lenses and binoculars. I knew what this meant. I quickly pulled off to the side. Two French-Canadians, a husband and wife couple, were looking through a pair of binoculars. I looked where they were peering and could see nothing.
“Is there something back there?”
“Yes,” the woman said. “A moose.”
She pointed in the general direction and I tried to squint and follow her finger, but could not see any moose.
“Do you see?” she asked.
“No,” I responded.
The man handed me his binoculars.
“Maybe you can see with these.”
With the assistance of the binoculars I could see the moose’s rear-end, but it’s front, and head was blocked by a thick tree trunk.
I handed back the binoculars. “Has anyone gone back there to see it?”
“No,” they responded.
“Well, I’m going.”
They gave me a look of puzzlement as I stepped down into a ditch that was heavily waterlogged, creating a swampy moat dividing the road and forest.
I could see a bark-less log floating in the water. I couldn’t gauge the depth of the water due to the murkiness, so I had to wonder if I stepped on the log to propel myself to the other side if I wouldn’t fall in up to my knees. I decided to take the plunge.
Luckily the log didn’t sink at all, so the water was not deep at all. After carefully walking through some thick mud I made it into the forest and faced the moose.
I was about 20-yards away. I stepped as close as I could while keeping the moose semi-comfortable. As I got closer I could see it getting more and more nervous so I finally stopped and took a few pictures. After I had taken some satisfactory pictures I treaded a little further and the moose freaked and galloped away. It was so frightened that it urinated as it ran.
I felt dirty after my voyeuristic stalking-observation of the moose with my camera. I tried to imagine what might be going through her mind as she was trying to graze amongst the grass. I guess the equivalent would be if an alien stood outside my apartment window taking holographic photos of me. I got the shot, but I felt like I had intruded upon the moose’s sanctuary. It would have been a matter entirely different if I had just stumbled upon the moose and had a silent understanding between the two, that yes, I might snap off one quick photo, but to give chase like I did feels wrong in hindsight. Though, I felt like the hunter with my camera in hand, and with that mentality I felt I needed to come out with the requisite photos of big game to feel accomplished.
The return drive home had me feeling languorous. At first the scenery had been so inspiring, but after thirty-plus roadside pull-overs to admire I just felt the need to get home.
Overall the trip had a major flaw. It was too much driving in too short of a time. The process of driving was leaving me drained. I am so edgy when it comes to police intervention that I am constantly in a state of near-panic while driving. I had been warned before departing about the insatiable appetites of Canadian police for writing tickets, and this left me, to the chagrin of my other road-mates, driving at a sluggish (legal speed) pace.
If I had been allowed more time to lazily move about the Banff National Park, and Calgary at my own pace it would have been a more fruitful experience. Though I had been warned to skip Calgary I still wanted to saunter through it’s neighborhoods and business districts to soak in the local color and decide for myself whether or not it is a nice city to spend a weekend in—though my itinerary just didn’t allow for any drawn-out tours of either Calgary or Banff.
I am proud of the enterprise. As in my earlier statement I am glad to have traveled than been perturbed by my limited time and not endeavored at all. For even though it was brief I was allowed a brief respite from my routine, the hubbub of the city and all other associated stresses I was experiencing. The trip allowed me some much needed perspective, and it was for that brief period of time over those five days that I was thankful to have the opportunity to go and see a beautiful slice of nature and forget about my job and other responsibilities; for, I think it is a must for people to travel. Those who are homebound too often will lack a much needed worldliness in our global environment. An experience through Banff has to inspire even the must stubborn to rethink their relationship with nature, and the need to preserve it. I know I veer off the simple topic of leisure-travel, but it is an important note to make.
The trip may have cost me my opportunity the buy the next Ipad, or smartphone, but I don’t mind. I am adding another notch in my small belt of travel. I can now close my eyes and imagine the deep forested woods, the might pinnacles of rock, and turquoise waters of Banff in my most troubling times, whereas before I could not. It was indeed a trip of silent reflection, on the world around me and myself—and I like to think I might be slightly wiser for it.