Update 6

In a valley set high in the midst of snow-capped peaks, where bears bumbled around and mountain goats held tight to wind-blown cliffs, there was, I’ll tell you now, a town. Banff, perhaps? Nope… Jasper, then? For the second time; wrong. The bull’s-eye I shoot for upon this occasion… Canmore.

British Columbia, this means, had been finished. Folded neatly, packed in the bottom of the bag. So turn the page, put the pen to an untouched sheet; embark upon a brand-new province.

The border marker gone and forgotten, we crawled higher and higher. Mountains grew like broken molars. The air became thinner, the light gained a little silver; the thermometer plugged its nose and took a dive. We crossed a milky river, turned a sharp left, and had arrived.

Fortuitous, our appearance quickly proved. The summer staff of the hotel restaurant had gone home, winter staff not yet arrived, and an autumn flu reducing the remnants. Into this mess, walks… us. Picking up trays, pouring pints of beer, running for napkins and forks… as the hordes streamed in. Long, unending lines of tour groups, businessmen, conferences, families; packing the restaurant until the doors burst from their hinges. We remained, however, perfectly calm. Like diplomats. Buddhist sages, even. Quiet, I declare, and composed.

“I can’t handle it!” Brad yelled, eyes wide and rolling, hands waving in the air. “People keep asking me things! How am I supposed to know the answers, I only just got here! Oh God, here come some more! When is this going to end?” Okay, I’ll admit. Our salads were, perhaps, a little tossed.

The morning found us at a trailer park. Handing muffins, coffee, flowers, bananas… But a snag to the plan. Nobody, with the early hour and a dismal rain that hid the peaks behind a veil of misted clouds, was up.
“Hello…?” Chris poked his head through an open front window. “Anybody home?” A few hits, there were; early risers, opened doors. But not enough to warrant our staying. So we pulled the plug, packed the show and drove away. Destination, downtown. The whole three blocks of it.

“Bananas!” Erik shouted across the storefronts and streets. “Muffins! Dog biscuits! They’re pretty good, taste kinda like meaty crackers, had a couple myself for breakfast! So come and get ‘em!” And, this time, with the shoppers and walkers and, most importantly, the fact that the rain had run elsewhere, better success was had.

Chinaman’s Peak hung high over the town, a great barren bluff with a backside of switchbacks and hairpins and a front-side that dropped straight from its rocky peak into the pale-blue river three thousand feet below. Its name, you ask? From where? Railroad-building times, I answer, when sad-faced Chinese builders, having lost a loved one to the tracks, would make the climb, and take one last step. Apologies, I say, for the morbid, the sad. Onward, then. And upward.

We took our first steps on the springy black soil, and entered the forest. The trail wound back and forth, over rocks and logs. It crossed a stream, here and there, all the while aiming its nose persistently up the mountain, sniffing for that jagged peak.

Each step upward, and a little colder it became. We pulled on sweaters, dug jackets from backpacks; zipped from waist from chin. The trees fell away and there was lead in the lungs, ache in the legs. Then, the green was gone; only sharp-edged rocks, instead. We scrambled, on hands and knees, buffeted by a bone-chilling wind, and, all of a sudden, found that there were no more steps to be climbed.

Far below and tiny, lay the town. All around were spiky peaks, poking high into the icicle air, topped with snow like vanilla frosting. To the west, we knew, lay only mountains until water. Ground that had already been covered. To the east, though, where these mountains would slump and falter and become prairies, but right before they did… Calgary. Where next we had to travel.

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