Since we know we’re headed the furthest north either of us have ever been, my girlfriend and I begin our road trip by driving the full expanse of California, starting south of Los Angeles, stopping for the delicious Temple Coffee in Sacramento, and staying overnight in the undesirable town of Redding, the only benefit being the view of Mt. Shasta you get from the road.
The next day is a shorter drive to Eugene, Oregon. Since we’ve been to Eugene before and we’re tired from the long drives, we simply eat some Italian food and buy Voodoo Donuts for breakfast in the morning and resign to our modest hotel room.
Third day of only driving and we’re ready for some delicious fun. We’re meeting my girlfriends’ Aunt and her kids at Pike’s Place Market. We love Seattle–last time we came we went hiking and eating with the same family–and have been to Pike’s before. But now we love the idea of not having to pay for the numerous snacks, samples, and drinks we have the pleasure of exploring with out palates. Turns out, Pike’s is much better when you have a disposal income. We get empanadas, artisan cheese and mac n’ cheese, bread, French pastries including eclairs, freshly brewed espresso, and probably ten other things I am forgetting. In her eclectic energy, my girlfriends’ aunt Jill guides us around the market with vigor to find where the good stuff is.
Eager for the Great White North, we don’t even spend the night in Seattle. Passing through, we make it to the border in no time. The line at the crossing, however, is long. Really long. Still, we make it into Vancouver at a decent time and hit a swanky bar we see on the street where our welcoming hostel is located. We get drunk, walk through sex shops, and stumble across downtown Vancouver taking in the multi-cultural city we both come to love for the first time.
A fresh morning and we are going to the Capilano suspension bridge. With first coffee then admiring the nature on the walk up to the bridge, we are at peace. We enjoy our sanguine mood by moving slowly, taking in everything as we begin our hike on the other side of the bridge. Hiking down to where we see a swimming hole, there are two small families enjoying themselves. No one is swimming, but I can’t shake the waters allure. I jump into the ambiguously deep yet narrow pool, and my bones nearly jump out of my skin. The water is freezing, and I don’t last very long, but first I have to swim under the natural bridge that separates the hole from more water on the other side. It’s beauty fills me with contentment.
We hike back, myself wet and my girlfriend dry, and head back to the hotel for dinner. We eat Japanese, and savor every slurp of udon and every bite of sushi.
The next day we’re taking the ferry to Vancouver Island on a whim. Without planning it, we decide to go over to the island and explore as much as we can before taking the boat back. It turns out to be a hindrance on your adventure, but we make the most of the languid sea and the vibrant clear air. The best part is the ferry ride, which provides sweeping views of the land and fresh wind blowing through our long hair.
Before we know it, the day is over. We didn’t get to do much on Vancouver Island save for exploring the beaches in the small towns near where got off the ferry, but still we enjoy the snap decision to make it over while we could. We will surely return.
But there are mountains calling and nature to immerse ourselves. The next day we drive to Jasper National Park in neighboring Alberta. Not before, of course, seeing if the maple syrup is actually better in Canada. We choose none other than the indigenous cuisine of the local area: the International House of Pancakes. We don’t know if its in our head or if it really does taste better, but the maple leaf in the IHOP logo convinces us the syrup is local. We know the whole thing is stupid, especially not catching local breakfast, but we’re on the road and it is hilarious that what convinced us to eat at the diner was a maple leaf interjected into the familiar logo. We’re idiots, happy happy idiots.
We drive through Alberta on the way to Jasper and see a black bear in the street. Despite that it would easily and mercilessly rip our faces off if we got in its way, the fuzzy creature is adorable and we enjoy watching it safely from the car.
We set up our tent at the campsite and go out for a drive around the National Park. It seems around every bend there is a gorgeous, expansive turquoise-blue lake to get lost in. Specifically, we pass Medicine Lake, which has receded in the hot summer but remains wholly enticing. It still manages to be vast and healing. We hang out with some goats, and kayak on the narrowly elusive Maligne Lake. The long shape of the lake makes it so you can’t see past every mountain that obstructs your vision of it, and we kayak through the lake in awe around every corner. The landscape provides bliss, the water is magical.
We head back to the campsite for some dinner before we’re off again that night to observe the full moon with a telescope we brought along. What ensues is an entrancing night in the moon-dominated luminescence and the nocturnal throb of wildlife. We head to Pyramid Lake. We walk to a viewpoint. Setting up our telescope under the powerfully bright moon, we hear the rib-bit of frogs before, out of the blue, a pack of wolves howl ominously at the full moon. We are paralyzed. Who knew such a disarming, intimidating, and powerful cliche could be experienced so randomly, like the pieces of a puzzle falling into place, or the spheres in the Universe rotating perfectly in their orbits.
We gaze at the craters and shape of the moon, and ruminate with introspection and are immersed into the scene. It is one of the most magical moments of my life. On the way back to the campsite, we see a fox running around and a family of gargantuan elk. We go to the bed with the wonder of the natural world still swirling in our heads.
It was hard to top that day, but still we try. We are on the way to Banff National Park, another one of the quintuplet of protected areas in Northern Alberta. On the way there we view the Columbia Ice-fields, which are melting in the hot summers of climate change and yet still remain intact on this particularly hot day in Alberta, Canada. The ice is relentlessly reflective and perfectly iridescent. Nevertheless, we wear sunglasses.
We also take in the surrounding area from the Glacier Skywalk, which gives the vast majority of people a hilarious and unsettling vertigo. I love the feeling because I know nothing will happen, and we relax on the glass and take in the circumambient landscape.
Not far away is Lake Louise. We don’t take too much time to hike around the lake, although it is gorgeous and has a strange cyan-green color that almost looks like it so full of chemical properties that it may be harmful for your skin. In fact, nobody really swims. Instead, the numerous tourists kayak and ride on other modes of floating transportation.
Deciding to leave Lake Louise for Moraine Lake, we are glad that there are less tourists at the latter. Still, there are people jumping off the tall rock edifice into the freezing water, but we don’t mind that. Moraine Lake was the sight I saw online that made me want to come to Canada the most, it was the place I knew I needed to go, it was the setting the had me decide to plan this trip. Now that I’m here I finally appease the traveler’s anxiety of fulfillment and ponder how fantastic the trip has been so far.
I try to swim, but the water is much too freezing for me. Even colder than the swimming hole in Vancouver. We opt for an ice cream on a bench near the lake and let the serenity of the setting fill us up with joy.
Another night of camping and we’re leaving nature for a short stay in Calgary. We get to the small metropolitan city, eat some overpriced Thai food, and buy wine to enjoy in the deep jacuzzi tub in the Hilton we splurged on after staying in hostels and camping. We relax like no other night on the trip.
Just like that, we’re leaving Canada after about a week in the country. We leave the Great White North with an enduring fondness, but we’re not melancholy because we are going to Yellowstone on our way back down to California. Neither of us have been and we’re unbelievably stoked.
Stopping through Helena for dinner and a night’s stay, we eat at a bar/grill and get some deliciously local red meat. And holy shit, that is some good steak. The culture here is unforgiving Americana and we like the change from the usual coastal intellectual elite. The people here are very friendly and enjoy their country music from the live band with impassioned dances. Beers, meat, and music, we feel like we’re taking in the local culture even though we’re back in our own country.
Not to mention the overwhelming beauty of Montana. The low boulders and trees provide the Big Sky Country that they are known for. The amethyst and deep purples found in the rocks are simply lovely. The air is clean, the spaces wide, and the sky gigantic.
Though we’re close to Glacier National Park we choose to skip it to spend more time in Yellowstone. We get to the vast National Park and begin with seeing some of the most famous sights. We go to the geyser field where Old Faithful erupts perfectly on time and in rhythm with the pulsating geothermal volcano below the Earth.
I have some bison chili for lunch at the oddly tasty cafe and we are off to see some boiling pools of toxic thermal hot springs. We walk along the trail to the Grand Prismatic Spring and the other springs that surround it. Famously, a person recently jumped into the Grand Spring, and dissolved into the pool in a painful holocaust of melting human flesh.
Hiking up above the Grand Spring is the only way to get a decent view of the rainbow of iridescent colors and visible heat radiating off the thermal pool. The colors seem unreal. They are so vibrant they’re like paint dripping off the Earth’s canvas. We spend the rest of our time driving around the park, taking in all the vistas and erratic, moody weather, and feel the sheer power of nature more in Yellowstone than just about any place we’ve ever been.
We don’t nearly explore enough of Yellowstone, but we want to see Grand Teton National Park before we head to Jackson Hole for some awesome Japanese food, and we will surely be back to America’s first National Park.
When we get to the Grand Tetons, a herd of bison graze across the grass and make the hilariously gruff sound bison make. We take picture and hang out around them for a while, taking in the sight of these iconic beasts in front of these equally iconic mountains that slash their sky with their extremely sharp peaks.
It is beautiful here, and we head to the famous Jackson Hole full of love for the area of intersection between Montana and Wyoming. At a fairly authentic Japanese restaurant we eat yakisoba, yakitori, and sushi.
The day isn’t over yet, however. We need to get to our resort on the top of the mountain near Idaho Falls. It is off season so the resort is cheap. The only trouble is getting through this mountain with the Sun setting and the locals in huge trucks speeding by like there is no tomorrow. We sing along to Paul Baribeau to ease the nerves and are at our destination high up for a soak in the jacuzzi and some good rest.
And that is all she wrote. We pass through Vegas on our way home and talk gleefully about our trip. It was full of the immense natural world, relaxation, good food and drink, and the best company I could ask for.