|Our '13 Subaru WRX in Glacier National Park en route to Canada.|
A couple of years ago, my mother and uncle did an amazing road trip from Minnesota, up through Canada, and over to Portland, Oregon and back. They told us tales of Montana's gorgeous Going to the Sun Road through Glacier National Park, the amazing waters and surroundings of Lake Louise in Alberta Canada, and the incredibly breathtaking Icefields Parkway from Lake Louise to Japser. Mercedes and I decided that we would take part of this trip for our 10th wedding anniversary, and it was a fantastic adventure full of amazing scenery, fantastic food, a bit of disappointment, and memories that we'll never forget.
Leg 1: Portland to Glacier Under Canvas (Coram, MT)
Our first leg would be one of our longer days. It was from Portland, Oregon to Coram, MT, which is right outside of Glacier National Park. This would take us through the scenic Columbia River Gorge up through Spokane, WA. We decided to take a more scenic off-the-beaten-path route, so we went north up past Coeur d'Alene on US 95 to US 2 which included places such as Libby, which we've been through on Amtrak. It is a very pretty area of the U.S., although despite the speed limit being 70 MPH, people routinely drove 55. Thankfully, the WRX makes short work of passing slow vehicles.
|Some of the tepees at Glacier Under Canvas.|
We met several other travelers from places as far away as New Mexico, Florida, and even London while around the nightly campfire that night. And despite the 90-degree daytime temperatures, the night cooled off into the low 50s. Of note: The best morning coffee we had on the trip.
Day 2: Coram, MT to Invermere, BC
Our second day on the road took us through Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road to Invermere, British Columbia. Glacier is truly a national treasure.
|Amazing scenery along the Going to the Sun Road.|
|A bridge on the Going to the Sun Road|
I will tell you that the $25 entry fee into Glacier for the Going to the Sun Road is worth every penny and then some. Our photos do no justice; everyone should have the chance to visit Glacier at some point in their lives. We're very fortunate to have done so.
|Boat on Saint Mary Lake in Glacier National Park.|
Along this leg, we'd encounter historic places, such as the location of the Frank Slide, which was Canada's deadliest landslide. The slide, which happened in the early 20th century, killed between 70 and 90 residents as 90 million tons of earth fell from the mountainside. We stopped at Columbia Lake—the source of the Columbia River, which runs through Portland and empties at Astoria, Oregon.
|Panorama of Windermere Lake in Invermere, BC|
Leg 3: Invermere to an Unexpected Destination
Day three was our most anticipated day. We'd head through Banff, Lake Louise, and up the world-renowned Icefields Parkway en route to Jasper, Alberta. We got up early and drove through Kootenay National Park, which is also incredible. Again, the farther north we went, the more postcard-like the areas became. There were tons of signs for elk, moose, bear, and mountain goat (of which we saw none). Many locals had said Banff, while beautiful, had become very commercial. However, we figured we should stop anyhow.
Banff was beautiful, and we stopped at Bow Falls outside of the historic Banff Springs Hotel. It was brimming with tourists, but was still very neat. The hotel there is, as my mother puts it, "an amazing pile of rocks." And I'd have to agree. But since we had a lot of things we wanted to see on our way to Jasper, we really didn't spend much time here.
|The clear blue waters of Moraine Lake.|
|We spied this 2014 Nissan Micra in the parking lot at Moraine Lake.|
|An unaltered photo of the water at Moraine Lake. Yes, it's that blue.|
|The Chateau at Lake Louise is a grandiose building!|
This is where things went wrong.
|The "closed" sign at the beginning of the Icefields Parkway was a big disappointment.|
"Bonjour, hello," said the French-accented Québécois woman in the little hut as we pulled into the toll area. "Where are you headed?"
"Uh, well, we were headed to Jasper," I said already a bit miffed and slightly confused.
"Well, you will not make it there tonight," she said. "There is a large forest fire and it is very close to the road. The Icefields Parkway is closed down."
We looked at the laminated photo they'd posted on the tollbooth window. Yes, it was a huge fire and right by the Parkway. Damn it.
"OK. We have hotel reservations in Jasper tonight," I proclaimed. "Is there another way there?"
"Not really," she said. "There is a nine-hour detour around Calgary if you want to take that. Do you have any camping gear?"
Camping gear? No; we didn't bring any camping gear (this is where a rooftop tent would've come in handy), and it was already 5:00pm. She then proceeded to tell us that we'd best find accommodations, but it might be difficult due to the fact it was high season and the road was closed. Shit. Shit. Shit.
I'm not one that gets disappointed or deflated easily. However, I can't remember being more disappointed in recent times than I was with this road closure. This was really to be one of the highlights of the trip. But what were our options? The woman said they may possibly open the road for a brief period the next morning, but it is not guaranteed to happen. In fact, due to the size of the fire, it might be days or even weeks before the road is opened.
Well, I guess it's time for a plan B, which we needed to hastily formulate. Again, I'm not one that gets easily disappointed, but I must say, I felt pretty defeated. However, we had to do something; we needed a place to stay, and frankly, I'd rather get a move on than hang around here. Thankfully, we had phone and data service in Lake Louise, and were able to cancel our night in Jasper (thankfully, penalty-free), and make for hotel arrangements that night in a different city ... six hours away.
Day 3 Continued: Lake Louise to Kamloops, BC
That city would be Kamloops, a hot aird town in British Columbia. We were actually supposed to head to Kamloops in a couple of days as a stopover on the way to Kelowna. However, due to our predicament, we ended up heading to Kamloops early. According to our semi-trusty GPS, the drive should take about five hours. However, we forgot about the time zone change, so it was more like six hours. The good news was the drive was beautiful (see a theme here)?
The drive was also learning experience. Ignorant of Canada's infrastructure when it came to highways, I'd told Mercedes that the Trans-Canadian Highway to Kamloops would likely be a four-lane Interstate-style motorway all the way there. It should be fast and easy going.
Needless to say, I soon found out Canada does not have an Interstate system like the U.S., and while there were bits of the Trans-Canadian Highway that were four lanes, most were two, and a speed limit never exceeded 100 km/h (62 MPH). This is, as I'm told, due to a couple of things. Firstly, wildlife. Although we didn't see anything other than marmots and one deer, there is wildlife wanting to cross the road, and they cause many accidents. Secondly, since the speed limits do not change during poor weather (think snowy Canadian roads), they have to keep speeds fairly low all year.
|Snowshed tunnel on the Trans-Canadian Highway.|
Between Golden and Revelstoke, BC you really begin to think you're in the middle of nowhere (especially when you have less than a quarter tank of fuel). I kept expecting to see a sign saying that there was a gas station ahead, but it didn't happen. Somewhat amazingly, we—and seemingly everyone else—made the trip, although we all did gas up in Revelstoke. But it certainly was a bit uneasy thinking about running out of gas in the wilderness. We'd filled up at every opportunity throughout the trip. I don't know why I didn't bother here. Probably because I just wanted to get a move on.
We drove and drove and drove, finally arriving in Kamloops at 9:30pm PST (remember, we lost an hour) where it was still a balmy 32 degrees (90 F). However, since it was mid week, we ended up getting a super deal at the Shearaton. I know—roughing it.
We actually had a day to kill now that we were in Kamloops a day early. It was actually quite nice not to have to be on the move, and it gave us a chance to explore the city of about 86,000 people. We woke up late, which was wonderful, and went to lunch at The Nobile Pig where we had fantastic beers, great food, and outstanding service.
After we finished our beers and burgers, I asked our cheerful waitress what there was to do in Kamloops. She said there wasn't a ton to do unless you liked golfing. Yeah—not so much. Plus, it was nearly 40 degrees (104 F), so maybe we'd just take in a little local culture. And what a better way to do that then by experiencing the mall. Yes, we went to the mall. It was much like any mall in the U.S., except most of the stores had different names despite selling nearly identical wares. But hey—it was air conditioned. We did find a couple of sporting goods stores that were rather interesting. I hadn't seen that much hockey equipment since, well, living in Minnesota.
|A Suzuki Carry from the Great Canadian Oil Change shop.|
We did attend the city's Music in the Park that evening as things began to cool off. Every night of the week during the summer, the city hosts a new musical act. It was a great time to kick back, relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Day 5: Kamloops to Kelowna/Penticton
|The Ogopogo B&B: Posh and amazing!|
The next two nights would be spent at the Ogopogo Bed and Breakfast in Kelowna. This was our splurge. It was amazing, however. Posh room, amazing breakfasts, incredible hospitality—I can't recommend this place enough. We headed for Indian food that night at Dawett, which was equally amazing. Good stuff.
Day 6: Kelowna Area
This was our all-Kelowna area day. We bought a cooler at Canadian Tire to house the wine we were amassing and visited three wineries. At Tantalus Vineyards (our first stop), a guy pulled into the parking lot in a very bad-ass twin-turbo Lotus Esprit V8. Yes please.
|A twin-turbo Lotus Esprit V8 and our WRX pose at Tantalus Vineyards in Kelowna, BC.|
|Photo via MissionHillWinery.com.|
We had a great private tasting with their sommelier, Joey, who we found out also has a love for travel. In fact, she'd said she's been to 75 countries and she's only in her 30s. One of our favorite things about traveling is meeting new people and getting to know their story.
|Smith Creek Fire in West Kelowna|
The dark smoke was towering hundreds of meters in the air and making the sun a red-orange color. It was very eerie. We actually pulled over to snap some pictures, and as you can see, the fire was rapidly burning. At this point, the fire was about 2–6 hectares (5–15 acres) in size. (A few days after we got back to the U.S. the fire had grown to 280 hectares (692 acres) and was one of hundreds of fires burning in British Columbia alone.) It makes sense, since Canada had been experiencing record heat and was tinder-dry. If a thunderstorm came in, although it'd dump rain, it'd also have lightning that'd start another fire. We learned later that the big fire up near Jasper that closed the Icefields Parkway was set off by a lightning strike.
Despite all the crazy fires, we marked our 10th anniversary with a great meal. We went to a great little French bistro to celebrate with copious amounts of baked onion soup, a pot of the largest mussels I've ever eaten, steak, pear cognac, and all sorts of other edibles and libations. Life was good.
Day 7: Kelowna to Sunshine Valley
When we woke up on this morning, the air outside smelled like a campfire, which is never a good thing unless there's actually a campfire by your sleeping area. The forest fires had grown, and it was the talk of the Okanagan Valley both on TV and radio. As we left Kelowna, we saw four single-seat crop duster-like aircraft dumping water on the Smith Creek Fire. These little planes, which ended up being Air Tractor AT-802 fire-fighting planes, had floats so they could land on Lake Kelowna, scoop up water, and dump it over the raging inferno. I'd never actually witnessed this first-hand, and I must say these guys have nerves of steel and have to be very accurate, too. Our hats definitely go off to these people.
|An Air Tractor AT-802 releasing its payload over the Smith Creek Fire.|
|A CONAIR Air Tractor AT-802 coming in to refuel in Penticton, BC.|
That night We had a wonderful meal with friends and cracked open a few beers and bottles of wine. We talked about the fires, future travel adventures, Land Rover projects, and U.S. and Canadian politics. Again—life was good.
|Mercedes and me|
Rain. Finally. It was a cool damp morning, something we hadn't experienced in days, if not weeks. It was extremely refreshing. We just hoped and prayed Kelowna and other parts of Canada were getting some of the much needed moisture. And other than me experiencing my first real migraine, all was good. We bid our gracious hosts farewell and set out to Chilliwack to have the windshield repaired, which took no longer than 30 minutes. From there it was a short drive to the U.S./Canadian boarder, and we jetted home on Interstate 5.
After eight days on the road and logging 2,280 miles (3,669 km), heading home was bittersweet. We learned a lot on this trip. And although Mercedes and I are well versed in traveling together, we still learned a lot about each other, even after 10 years of marriage. We thought about the places we stayed, the cars we saw that you can't get in the States (old and new Nissan Micras, Mitsubishi Delicas, diesel-powered Smart ForTwos), the outstanding food and drink we'd had, and where and when our next trip would be. It would be back to our day jobs on Monday.
Road trips always have a way of making the both of us reexamine our lives and what we want out of them; where we want to be and what we want to do. Heck, Mercedes and I met on a road trip from Minneapolis to Chicago to go to a car show (remember Hot Import Nights?) in the summer of 2000. One thing we pledged to do was to get out more often; prioritize trips. We're best when we're on the road. It's how we met more than 14 years ago; it's what we did for our honeymoon 10 years ago; it's what we'll do more often in the future.
OUR ROUTE AND MORE PHOTOS
|Our approximate route: 2,280 miles (3,669 km).|
|The inside of our tepee on night one in Montana.|
|A "bikepacker" traveling with her dog through Glacier National Park.|
|Me driving through Glacier.|
|Sadly, the only real wildlife we saw were marmots, aka, ground squirrels.|
|One of the historic 1930s-era Glacier National Park buses|
|Vermillion Lakes outside of Banff, AB|
|The silvery ice on a glacier outside of Moraine Lake in Alberta Canada.|
|We spotted this drift car in Golden, BC.|
|Beer sampler at The Noble Pig in Kamloops, BC|
|Mercedes with a huge piece of naan (Indian bread) at Dawett in Kelowna.|
|Statue overlooking Mission Hills Winery in Kelowna, BC.|
|A fire-fighting helicopter taking off from the Penticton airport on its way to fight the Smith Creek fire.|