Death, Taxes, and Ohio State beating Michigan


There's 3 certainaties in life

Death, taxes and Ohio State beating Michigan. Michigan is Charlie Brown and Ohio State is Lucy Van Pelt. It became a running gag, because no matter what Michigan did, they could never beat their arch rival. When Harbaugh was a hired, many thought he would be the head coach to stop the beatings. So far the Kakhi Jesus is 0-3. 

But this year, it looked like Michigan was finally going to end their long drought and beat the Buckeyes. Ohio State this season was a hot mess. The suspension of Urban Meyer at the beginning of the season laid the foundation of a season littered with chaos. They lose star defensive player Nick Bosa for the season. Nearly every week the defense was carved up by weaker opponents. They couldn't pound the rock. As the season progressed the Buckeyes kept spinning their wheels until they went up against Purdue and the wheels came flying off. They got thrashed by a team that was unranked. Many in Buckeye nation thought it was the end of Urban Meyer. He lost control of his staff and players. It continued to get worse as they barely beat Nebraska and almost lost to Maryland as they couldn't win on a two point conversion in overtime. Even though they were 10-1, they were the worst one loss team in college football. 

The Wolverines were the opposite. After losing to Notre Dame in the season opener, Michigan steam rolled their opponents. The players on the team dubbed their season as the "Revenge Tour" On the schedule where the teams that beat them last season - Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State, all of them humilated Michigan. 

Michigan ended up crushing all of them. The final date was in Columbus and they were licking their chops. Why wouldn't they? Ohio State was mediocre and ready to be taken to the woodshed. Michigan running back Karon Higdon even went out and guaranteed a victory. Many Buckeyes fans didn't have a problem with that, because they felt he was right. I thought they would get runned off the field and I couldn't fathom the thought of watching the "Game".

Yes, I'm a lousy fan, I'll admit it. 

I was in Boston for Thanksgiving and Saturday afternoon we toured the downtown. I held true to my promise that I wouldn't watch it or even acknowledge it. My girlfriend thought it was amusing as she said 

"It's just a game silly"

Just a game! How dare she mock the "Game" as just a game. But I'm very superstitious. In the past when I think Ohio State won't win and I didn't watch it, guess what? I'm 8-2. 

As we toured the city, I resisted to look at the score. It wasn't breaking into a cold sweat. I was cool and kept myself distracted. It was late afternoon and we're in Mike's Pastry waiting to order cannolis. There was a TV with a game on and I wouldn't look at it. We got our cannolis and outside my girlfriend's uncle said

"I saw the score of the Ohio State game"

and I said

"How are they doing?"

He raised his eyebrows and smirked. Was he playing me? Were they get smoked or were they blowing them out? I look at the time and it's almost 4:00 PM, the game should be over soon. The suspense was too much. I pull my phone out and check the score

62 - 39

Holy shit. I was stunned as I nearly walked into some people. On the train ride back, I checked the game stats and it was an epic beat down. Haskins torched Michigan's vaunted defense for 396 yards and six touchdowns. The 62 points given up was the most in Michigan's history. The Revenge Tour came to a screeching halt. 

Buckeyes wideout Parris Campbell said earlier in the week, they were lying in the weeds, as the critics and pundits give them no shot at winning. Boy was he right. They took the Wolverines to the woodshed and many Buckeyes fans were wondering why didn't this team play like this all season.  

This is what a rivalry does. But it hasn't been a rivalry since 2000, as Ohio State has beaten Michigan 16 times. It's been a lopsided affair with a mix of close games and blowouts. When Harbaugh was hired, many thought he would be the coach to stop the losing. After all he took the Niners to the Super Bowl and won three conference titles. He was the highest paid coach in college football and he's now 0-4 against Ohio State, no coach in Michigan history has ever done that.

Uncle Urbie on the other hand is 7-0 and is clearly in Michigan's head. Him and his staff came up with a brilliant game plan exploiting Michigan's biggest weakness, their lack of speed in the secondary and man coverage. Crossing routes and Ohio State's speedy wideouts killed them. Haskins carved them up like the turkey I eat a couple days ago. It was a thing of beauty.

Poison Sumac

There's plenty of hazards when fishing. Slipping on rocks and twisting an ankle, getting a hook in your hand, getting shot at during deer hunting season or getting a nasty case of poison sumac. Every decade or so, I get some bout of poison ivy. The last time was in Salmon River, New York back in 2005. I'm surprised that I don't get it more often as I recklessly charge through the woods. Leaves of three, leave them be? Good luck spotting that in the dark. Now add posion sumac to the list.
blisters

Innocent looking, nothing to worry about right? Just a few blisters, it should go away eventually.

rash

Uh oh, this is getting worse. I had to go to the drugstore to stock up on calamine lotion, cotton balls, Benadryl and gauze wrapping. It started to itch like a mother.

rash

Holy shit, this is getting nasty. Now I'm googling for remedies and any ideas on how to stop it from spreading. Luckily I had some apple cider vinegar in the cupboard. My bedroom reeks of it. The vinegar does the trick in relieving the itching and drying out the blisters. As for the rash only time will heal it.

rash

You would think that I poured acid on my skin. This is just my forearm. I also had it on my chest as I didn't wash after fishing and napped when I got home. I probably tucked my forearm under my chest. I was lucky that it was a rash and not a festering mess of blisters. Then throw in my histamine attack and right side of my chest is blotchy red. My poor girlfriend won't touch me.
poison sumac bush

Here's my antagonist - Toxicodendron vernix. This rotten plant that gave me over two weeks of lousy sleep, endless applications of apple cider vinegar, nightly doses of Benadryl, and the nastiest blisters that I've ever had. Three week later my wrist is almost back to normal as there a small hint of red. My chest is getting better as the blotches are barely noticeable. Just this past weekend I was on Conneaut Creek and was shocked see that it grows all along it. For years I've walked right through it, thinking it was just sumac. While not everyone is allergic as I am, just be careful out there. 

The Wait for Autumn


The cool winds come across Lake Erie and the days start to get shorter. Flocks of bird stop along the lake to feed and rest as they continue to head to their southern destination. The air in the morning has a hint of crispness and the grass is wet from the dew. The maples and ashes start to turn orange and red. That all should be happening as it's early October, but it isn't. The winds instead are hot and sweltering. The birds are wondering if they should return to Canada. The morning air is thick with humidity and the trees haven't dropped a leaf. Where's autumn as people are asking that?

But steelhead have been sneaking into the rivers since mid September. I caught fish at the lower end of the Rocky on September 13th, probably the earliest in recent memory. The river was off color from a recent rain and the water temperature was creeping into the upper 60s. The fights were fast and done quickly. There wasn't any hot dogging or quick pictures. They were released quickly and there was a tinge of guilt that I shouldn't be fishing for them because they were at the threshold of dying from a prolonged battle. It was a good evening as I caught seven bright silver bullets. However the weather for the upcoming weekend was going to be hotter. The heat never left for the remainder of the month. The water temps went over the 70 degree mark and I hoped that those fish retreated back into the cooler depths of the lake. I would return to the sidelines and wait it out. There was no rush to get back on the water.

Autumn is a special time for me. After a long hiatus, I welcome the change. But I start to grow impatient. The heat refuses to leave, but others are enjoying the late summer and many want it to continue as long as possible. I long for the cool nights and the changing of the leaves. My fondest memories are hiking along the rivers and seeing the vibrant colors of the trees against the shale cliffs. In the lake, steelhead start to head towards the mouths of the rivers and creeks. They also patiently wait for the right conditions. Some are more eager than others and move into the lower reaches of the streams. When the water rises they start their journey.

This morning I cross over the interbelt bridge going into Cleveland and lighting flashes across the city landscape. The wipers move the specks of rain and I'm listening to my music. I head east and the darkness is interupted by more lighting. The air is ripe with humidity as I'm running the air conditioner. Summer stubbornly refuses to yield. The rain starts to intensify and I hear the odd rumble of thunder. I quietly sip my coffee and I'm memorized by the lighting. I finally reach my destination, Conneaut Creek. There's a couple cars park along the road. I get out and I hear the rumbles of thunder over the lake. The air is thick and I see mist coming off the creek. I dress and start to walk down to the creek. All of the tress are still green and I hear the chorus of tree frogs in the surrounding woods. I enter the water and touch it, it feels warm. The water is off color and I wonder how many fish have moved up. Conneaut Creek is unique because it starts in Pennsylvania and flows into Ohio. Both states stock it and the creek is very popular with early season steelheaders as Pennsylvania stocks a fall run strain of steelhead.

The morning turns into a grind as I slowly get into fish. Not a lot, but enough that I start to explore further up. With the threat of rain, I have to wear to my jacket and I start to become uncomfortable because I'm sweating and starting to get hot. As with every fall, the streams have changed in appearance. The large willow now hangs over the tail end of the pool. Fishing it becomes impossible. The other pool upstream has straighten out and there's a large tree in the middle. Rocks, sand, and gravel are moved about creating different flows and bottoms. It's a constant relearning of the rivers as I bemoan the lost of another favorite spot, only to find another. I fish the riffles, runs, and pools. I get further up and the number of fish caught drops dramatically. It becomes evident that there's not a lot of fish. The sun starts to come out and I decide to head another stream farther west. I crank the air conditioner and crack open a bottle of water that I guzzle the contents entirely.

I arrive at the Grand and the lot is empty. I down to a dozen sacs so I this will be the only spot I'll fish. I change from a long sleeved shirt to tee shirt. The walk to the river is short and it's surprisingly low and clear which is usual for the Grand. The wind is hot as I stand on the rocks and cast out. With the warm water temperature, the fish will be in the faster oxygen rich waters. Just like with Conneaut, the Grand also doesn't have a lot of fish. I catch 3 steelhead out of the same small run. I have 3 sacs left and I unceremoniously dump them into the water. Look across the river, everything so green that feels more like July than early October. I disassembled the rod and head back to the car. I pull out on the road and I see people walking in shorts or riding their bikes. Autumn seems so far away.

Eventually it will come. The days are getting shorter and shorter. The heat will give way to the cooler weather from Canada. The leaves will eventually turn and gradually the entire Alley with be a rich collage of reds, oranges, and yellows. Until then, I'll patiently wait for that time.


Steelhead Alley

Steelhead Alley

Steelhead Alley or the Alley is located along the southern shore of Lake Erie stretching from Vermilion, Ohio all the way to Buffalo, New York. This fishery is unique in the fact that Lake Erie is the most heavily stocked Great Lake in regards to steelhead. The Alley's streams boast more steelhead per mile than any other watershed in the lower 48 states and Alaska included. The reason for the high numbers of fish is the aggressive stocking programs done by the three states of Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio. Streams along Steelhead Alley can range in size from New York’s mighty Cattaraugus Creek and Ohio’s Grand River to the many small creeks that run into Lake Erie. All of the tributaries are characterized that they run over shale bedrock and are usually shallow. Nearly all of them have little or no groundwater sources and rely on runoff from rain and snow melt. The surrounding terrain and access greatly varies. Some flow through rural areas and others flow through large urban areas such as Greater Cleveland, Ohio. 


Steelhead Alley

The Alley is the southernmost range for steelhead in North America and they’ve adapted well to Lake Erie. The fertile waters provide them with ample food and the warmer water temperatures fuel their growth. A couple years in the lake and they return as 3 to 4 pound fish. The three states Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York combined stock over a million smolts into their respective tributaries. There has been cases of natural reproduction, but the numbers are too low to sustain a fishery. Once the smolts are enter the lake, they run the gauntlet of predators and many of them fall prey to them. Those that survive will enter the streams either in the fall or spring. For fall run fish, some will enter the lower sections of the streams in September and October. Spring run fish will come up in the months of March and April. The best times to fish are in the months of October thorough to December. The months of January and February can be hit or miss as in some years the winters are severe enough to freeze over the streams. Once spring arrives, many of the fish hit the gravel to spawn which is usually done in late March into April. Once spawning is done, steelhead start to head back to the lake. By late April into early May, there’s a few stragglers hanging around. By then the streams are far too warm for them. On average Lake Erie steelhead run about 4 to 6 pounds and any fish over 10 pounds is considered a trophy.


Steelhead Alley

Steelhead Alley’s streams are unique. They normally flow low and clear, and after receiving precipitation or melt off from snow most with the exception of the Cattaraugus and Grand have a very fast run off rate. All of them run over shale bedrock mixed in mud, gravel, rock, and sand areas. The angler can expect a wide variety as the streams will flow along high shale cliffs, clay banks and through riverine forests. Stream flow during post run off events consist of shallow runs, riffles, pools and pocket water. Pools of great depth and length are very rare and average 2 to 4 feet deep. Run off rates vary widely, depending on the size of each tributary watershed. The Grand River in Ohio and Cattaraugus Creek in New York both have the largest drainage area of the Lake Erie streams. It’s not usually for these streams take 2 to 3 weeks to become fishable after run off. On average after run off most streams along the Alley will take 3 to 5 days to come down and the smallest of creeks it can be less than 24 hours.


Steelhead Alley

Due to the clearer conditions, Steelhead Alley anglers often use very long rods and light lines. The standard length rod can range from 9’ all the way to 15’. The longer rod allow for better line control. Longer rods absorb more energy when fighting fish with light lines as many anglers use 8 or 6 pound test. The majority of anglers will use fluorocarbon line as their main line and tippet. Presentations vary according to flow rates and clarity. When streams are running off color, many anglers will use spawn sacs that consist of salmon or trout eggs. Eggs have an advantage as fish can smell them without having to see them. As the water clears presentations are scaled back in size. Some anglers will go to single eggs or use small jigs. As for fly fishermen, they also employ long rods and leaders. In recent years, some fly fishermen have started using spey or switch rods. During high water, they'll use large colorful streamers. As the water clears, they'll downsize and use either egg patterns or nymphs. 


Steelhead Alley

Most of the streams have easy access as many urban and rural roads cross or run along them. However, many do flow through private property especially in Pennsylvania and New York. Anglers must get permission from landowners, however that’s become a problem in recent years as the popularity of the fishery has attracted many anglers. The majority of Ohio’s streams have public access as they flow through metro parks in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lake, and Ashtabula Counties. 


Steelhead Alley

The fishery has endured growing pains especially with access and the number of anglers. Over the years, the popularity has lead to an increase in anglers and some have routinely ignored landowner requests to stop fishing on their property. The result of that is more and more property has become posted. As public areas decrease that has lead to overcrowded conditions mostly in Pennsylvania. State agencies are buying or leasing property to help ease the congestion. Finding peace and quiet can be difficult, but the for the adventurous angler there can still be places that afford the solitude. Before there were steelhead, many anglers often stopped fishing in the late fall as the lake was too rough and cold to fish. Many of them were content to wait until spring. With the stocking of steelhead, the angler today has a fishery to fill that void. There's not to many places in the world where an angler can catch close to 50 fish in an outing inside an metropolitan area that has over 2 million people. The Alley is truly a remarkable place. 

What's In Your Pack?

It's September and steelhead season is right around the corner. This is the time of the year when I dig in the closet and take inventory of my gear and what I need to order. I usually make a huge online purchase, because of the convenience as the local tackle shop often runs out of stuff I need. For the novice steelheader, this is what you should have in your vest or pack.

Sheffield Pocket Tackle Box


steelhead tackle box

This little box holds all of my hooks, sinkers, float caps, beads, bead pegs, glo tube jigs and swivels. The box is made of durable plastic and measures 4"x4 3/8" when it's folded. It comes with 12 compartments that can be adjusted for size. It will fit in nearly every type of vest or pack or even a jacket pocket.

Hooks

steelhead hooks

I pretty well use size 8 and 6 hooks. I prefer to use larger hooks as they're more durable. If the water is clear, I'll go to a #10. The best hooks to use are wide gap ones with a thin profile. Good quality ones are Kamasan B983 or Owners SSW.

Sinkers/Swivels


Sure shot sinkers

I've always like Sure Shot and I carry shots in size AB, BB, 4, 6, and 8. AB is the largest and 8 the smallest. The larger shots are used higher up to balance the float and use smaller ones towards the swivel. As for swivels, I use the micro ones made by Blackbird. The purpose of the swivel is to prevent the line from twisting.

Tube for Floats/Floats

caddy for floats

Known as tube caddies, one of the local tackle stores I go to sells them. Originally for walleye anglers to store their body bait lures, they come in handy for storing floats. At 7" long, they can hold up to 6 five gram FM floats. The only floats I use are Raven because they all have the same stem size. Unlike Drennan floats, you don't have to cut the line and swap out caps. I pretty well only use the FM model because they're so versatile. I generally use 4.2 and 5 gram floats.

Jigs


I have a Fishpond Waterdance pack and it comes with zip down fly bench. I use the bench to hold a variety of jigs. Jigs are very effective on steelhead, especially when shiners come upstream in the fall or spring. If the fish aren't hitting sacs, I throw out a jig.

Hemostats


Nothing worse than having to stick your fingers in a steelhead's mouth to pull out a hook. They have needle sharp teeth and they can butcher your fingers quick. I have a large sturdy one that can yank out the deepest hookset with relative ease.

Line Nipper/Retractor


They come in handy when clipping off line tags or pulling an old sac from a hook. I attach my nips to retractor.


Leathermen Tool


A must have for every steelheader. The pliers come in handy for removing the nut on my reel. There's times when I had to remove it because of ice or grit getting inside. Other useful tool include the knife and screwdriver.

Paste



I carry a container of Loon's to coat the guides during the winter. The paste prevents ice from forming. I dab will do ya.

Leader/Tippets


I carry spools of fluorocarbon ranging from 10# for the leader and 8# and 6# for the tippet. Fluorocarbon is more abrasion resistance and thinner than standard mono.

So there you have it. You really don't need a lot of stuff for a day on the river. But I do have a small tackle box stowed in the back storage compartment of my SUV filled with floats, sinkers, hooks, tippets, and swivels as a backup, because there's times I didn't check how line was left in the spool or spilled all of my sinkers and hooks in the water.

British Columbia

Kal Lake, British Columbia

Sunday morning I peer out of the hotel window and I'm frowning. The weather outside isn't so great as it's raining. Most of the mountains are covered in clouds and there are puddles of water in the courtyard. I check my phone and the weather report today is rain in both Alberta and British Columbia. I sit on the bed and my girlfriend asks me what's wrong. I tell her it's raining and driving on the Bow Valley Parkway is not going to happen. Perfect weather can be hard to come by when on vacation, especially in the mountains. We head down for breakfast and I stuff my face with eggs, bacon and home fries to feed my depressed state. To wash down the misery, I have about 4 cups of coffee. Because today, we're heading to BC to see my mom and sister. We'll be there for four days and then return to Alberta to spend the rest of the time in Banff before flying back to Ohio Saturday. After breakfast, we wake the kids and tell them we're hitting the road.


Rattlesnakes at Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park

We check out and head out towards the Trans Canada highway. Before heading out, the kids want coffee. I take them Tim Horton's which I tell them is the Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts. Tim Hortons is practically in every town somewhere in Canada. Canadians do love their coffee as they consume more than any other nation. I verse them by telling them if you want double cream and double sugar, you say "double double" and the person behind the counter will understand what you want. When I moved to the states twenty years ago, I really missed my morning cups of Timmy. Whenever I went to Ontario, I would bring back bags of it as I was never really into Starbucks or Dunkins. To add to the junk food collection in the back, we get some donuts. We buckle in and I punch in my mom's address. It's 230 miles and will take 5 hours without stopping. We hit the Trans Canada highway and the rain is coming down and the skies are grey. I joked that we brought Cleveland weather with us. To add insult to injury the weather back home is currently sunny and hot.


Sparkling Hills Resort

Traffic is light for a Sunday morning. Alberta has built a beautiful highway that can handle traffic at high speeds through the mountain passes. Along the highway, there's a fence that prevents wildlife from being killed by traffic. I couldn't imagine the number of animals dying before the fences were erected. They go for quite a distance and there's a couple of bridges that the animals can use to cross over. From what I read, it's been a success as many species of animals have utilized it. The kids are in the back watching movies or playing games. I told them that cell service will probably be nonexistent so they needed to download it the night before. The drive for the most part through Banff is uneventful. The Bow River, however, looks beautiful as the deep blue-green hues of the water stand out. The divided highway comes to an end that means we're at the border of Alberta and BC. We leave Banff and enter Yoho National Park. Yoho in Cree means "in awe and wonder". If it wasn't for the low clouds we would probably be in awe of the scenery.


mount revelstoke national park

Yoho National Park is the smallest of four contiguous national parks. Yoho along with Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and three provincial park form the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site. The parks encompass an area about 2,299,104 ha in size. These parks have a long history as most were established well over a 100 years ago. Due to time constraints, Yoho would only be viewed from the car. If the weather was better, I wanted to stop off at the spirals as Kim's son would enjoy watching a train go into the bottom of the mountain and come out at the top of it, while the back end of it was still going through. I mentioned it to him if the weather was better, we would stop on the way back.


cedar grove in mount revelstoke national park

The rain continues as we leave Yoho and head towards the city of Golden. There's one stretch of the Trans Canada highway that gets a bad reputation and that's the section of highway leading into the Kicking Horse Canyon. The highway hugs along the mountains and has hairpins and tight curves. I see the brake check ahead that is for truckers. The rain has stopped for the time being and we can see the tops of the mountains. We enter what the locals call "ten mile hill" because you're going downhill for ten miles. As we pass the brake check, we enter see two huge rock columns on both sides of the highway announcing your entering the canyon. That section of the mountain was blasted away so engineers could erect a bridge across the Kicking Horse River. So why the name Kicking Horse? It isn't named after an Indian chief, but after an incident that happened in 1858 when James Hector, a surgeon, and geologist to the Passiler Expedition. According to his journals, one of his pack horses fell into the river and panicked. When he tried to grab the horse, it kicked him in the chest, almost killing him.


mountain off the highway

After the bridge, the road straightens out until the divided highway ends. I pass a large truck just before the road goes to a single lane. The road is tight when I hit the first curve as I grunt turning the steering wheel. There are large cement blocks along the road that prevent mudslides from crashing onto the highway. Farther up, there's are a series of rock curtains. The curtains protect motorists from falling debris. The road is really tight and there's no margin for error. I can't imagine doing this in the winter or driving a large truck through this. I watch a couple tour buses go by and there's not much room to spare. I remember my mom telling me once a mudslide happened and the highway was shut down for five hours. During the summer months, traffic through here will often back up as large trucks, RVs and vehicles hauling campers struggle to make their way up and down. No wonder my mother prefers to fly to Calgary instead of making this drive. We make it through the last curve and the highway divides all the way into Golden where we fill up for gas and stretch our legs.

Another coffee, more donuts and we continue on. The Rockies are far behind and as we enter Glacier National Park. The mountains here are named the Selkirks and are part of the Columbian range. Glacier is the 2nd oldest national park in Canada as it was created in 1886. The park is 521 sq mile in size, slightly larger than Yoho. Clouds obscure the mountains, but we see the large swaths of openings between the stands of trees. Glacier gets an abundance of snow and the area is prone to avalanches. That's evident when we enter Roger's Pass. This section of Glacier gets about 32 feet of snow during the winter. Several mountains are practically next to the highway and due to their steep nature, there are a series of snow sheds to protect motorists.


cedar grove description

We see the sign for the Rogers Pass Discovery Center as we need to use the bathroom. We pull in and when I open the door, I immediately feel the cold. I could swear, that I even saw a couple snowflakes. Makes sense as we're about 4,360 ft above sea level. We all go in and when I leave the bathroom, I walk around as I'm waiting for the others. The center has several exhibits about the pass and the fauna of the park. There are several mounts of animals on display. At the center of the floor is a caribou mount. The description tells of their plight. Caribou populations in the Selkirks have dropped drastically over the past few decades. Today, they're barely hanging on and wildlife biologists have determined they'll become extinct very soon. Logging is the biggest culprit as caribou need old growth forest to survive. Younger forests attract moose and deer and that in turn attracts wolves. I remember seeing caribou along the Alaska highway north of Fort St. John 20 years ago when I lived in Northern Alberta. However, I've learned that population is also in trouble.


Selkirk mountains

I look at the GPS and we're a couple hours away from Vernon. Unfortunately, we're stuck behind a large camper as cars and trucks start piling up behind us. Add a pounding headache from all of the sugar I had, I start to become annoyed as we're stuck behind him. Compared to Alberta's section of the Trans Canada highway, BC's is terribly outdated. Nearly all of it is single lane with a few divided sections thrown in. We finally hit a divided section and I floor it. I look over and it's an elderly couple and he looks stressed. I can't blame him as hauling a 25' camper and I'm sure driving down the Kicking Horse raised his heart level.


Vernon BC

We stop outside of Revelstoke for another bathroom break. I lay off the coffee because I'll be using the bathroom every 45 minutes. The GPS tells me that in a few miles, we'll be getting off the Trans Canada highway and onto to highway 94A. We enter the town of Sicamous as I hear the kids snicker in the background as their mother announces the name of the town as sick-a-moose. We see the sign and it proclaims itself as the houseboat capital of Canada. The highway hugged along the shores of Shuswap Lake. As expected we see a lot of houseboats docked at several marinas. Gradually the mountains turned into foothills. It felt like an eternity as we've been on the road for hours. The kids are starting to get hungry and I tell them we're 30 minutes away. But, that doesn't fly as they want to eat now. Along the highway, we see signs for the Log Barn. Every few miles we would see another sign. It was almost like they were trying to entice us to stop in. We figured it was a restaurant. We see it and pull in, I start to chuckle because it's something I've never seen before. The place bordered on the absurd. We pull in and it's the most cheesy place I've ever seen. Silly dinosaur sculptures, goats playing on metal structures and statues. Thinking there was a restaurant inside, there wasn't one. It was a country store that sold meats and other products. I quickly went the bathroom and got everyone back in the car. The kids were really hungry and Armstrong didn't have a lot of options so we settled on McDonalds. The burgers and fries hit the spot and it was back on the road.


Sparkling Hills resort

The final leg of the trip as I see the outskirts of Vernon. We cross over town and turn onto my mom's street. However, I only have the address of the park and not her unit. I call which happens right in front of her unit and I see my mother in the window waving. The long journey is finally over as I get out. My girlfriend Kim, meet her last year in Ontario when we spread my father's ashes. She introduces her children to her as I'm unloading the car. Her home is tiny but inviting. I'm expecting my hear my father bellowing deep from his man cave, but the house is silent. I feel a sense of sadness as my father passed away a little more than a year ago. The last time I saw him was in Niagara Falls in 2015. I made a lot of excuses not to come out because I was uncomfortable flying by myself. I still remember the day when they told me they were moving out west. I would have never imagined them ever moving, as their roots were so deep. But, they wanted to be near their grandchildren. That happened 12 years ago. His death made me realize that time is so precious and I was using my fear of flying as a reason not to go, in the hopes that they would come out and see me. I felt a sense of pride that I pushed my irrational fears aside and made the journey.


Yoho BC

My mother's home is located right across the road from Okanagan Lake. Due to snowmelt from the surrounding mountains, there's hardly a beach as several willow trees are partly submerged about 100 yards into the lake. The hills along the lake are sparsely vegetated. The weather is cool, which is uncommon for this region of the province as temperatures routinely get into the upper 90s and even into the 100s.


broad walk in the grove

Vernon is located in the Okanagan region of the province. The city is located at the north end of the lake. When we drove in, the first thing I noticed about the city was the lack of zoning laws. There were mobile parks right next to multi-million dollar homes or businesses right next to homes. The region attracts a lot of wealthy people from the west as it's a very popular destination for the summer as the lake provides plenty of room for boating and weather is often very hot and sunny. Due to the climate, the region has a thriving winery is often referred to as the Napa Valley of Canada. There's also plenty of orchards along the lake. The other thing that was noticeable was the number of homeless people. At several busy intersections, there were several erected structures that housed them. From what I told, Vernon has a huge homeless problem, considering it's not a big city.

It's Monday morning and we're heading to Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park where my mom and her friends do their morning walks. The park is small when I look at the placard describing the features of it. One placard does draw my attention as it mentions rattlesnakes are numerous here. Fortunately, the weather is cool enough that we won't see any. We make the hike as the trail hugs along the lake and then gradually goes up. The park preserves one the last remaining shrub grasslands that once stretched from Vernon all the way down the U.S border. We stand on top of a cliff and view the lake and surrounding hills. The lake is peaceful which in another month will be full of boats and jet skis. The hike isn't very difficult and pretty short in duration. We head over to Davidson's orchards for lunch and the evening is spent with my sister's family going to the movies. During that time, I'm trying to figure out what to do for the kids. There isn't much to do in Vernon and I wrack my brain over it.


Kal Lake

The weather isn't helping as temperatures barely make it into the 60s. It's far too cold for the kids to paddle board or swimming. Tuesday we go shopping in Lake Country and then head over to the Sparkling Hills resort. The resort is a world-renowned health and wellness retreat. My first impression of it was it bared a striking resemblance to a villain's headquarters seen a James Bond movie. Inside the place is decked out in crystals as the owner of the place is Gernot Langes-Swarovski, the Austrian crystal baron. The resort offers a lot of packages for people who have chronic ailments. My girlfriend who has a chronic illness is well versed in natural treatments is intrigued by some of them. We step out to the back and we get a great view of the lake. The three days there were spent mostly with family. We didn't get the opportunity to go to Kelowna or the surrounding area. I was hard pressed to find any activities for the kids to do.

Time goes by very fast and it's Thursday morning as we're packing to head to Alberta. My mother was happy that we made the trip out and wished us a safe trip back. The weather heading out is deary and grey. The weather outlook for Banff isn't great either as they're calling for rain every day. But something happens when we reach Revelstoke as the clouds part and the sun comes out. I remember my brother-in-law mentioning that we should stop at the Giant Cedar grove off the highway in Mount Revelstoke National Park. We see the sign and pull off to stretch our legs and get some fresh air. We park and I hear the sounds of chainsaws in the distance. I see there's a manned park kiosk and walk over. The staff member tells they're doing work and we can still access the grove. Since we're in a national park, I can get a park pass for the days when we're at Banff. Park passes bought can be used in any national park in the country. The grove is located 30 km east of Revelstoke. The trail is a boardwalk and access is very easy. Part of the trail was closed off because of maintenance, but the scenery was amazing. Some of the trees in the grove are over 500 years old. Hard to believe that the grove is right off the highway because you stepped back in time, when much of this area was once virgin forest. I look at one tree and ask Kim to take a picture of me to show the true size of it. I stretch my arms out and they don't even touch the sides of it. Even though we couldn't do the entire boardwalk, I thought it was a hidden treasure to see such magnificent trees.


spiral tunnel

Heading back on the road and we're entering Glacier National Park once again. This time the clouds have parted and catch a glimpse of one the mountains next to the highway pass the park center. For the first time we could see the tops of them and they were stunning. They were so steep, almost cathedral-like in stature. Several people pulled off to take pictures. The tops of several mountains were completely covered in snow. If only we had time to explore this wonderful park, but we could stay for a few minutes. Back in the car and we enter the snow sheds, but construction was in full force as we had to stop several times. One treat was a couple mountain goats on the side of the road right next to one of the snow sheds. We continue on and we enter Golden and make our way through the Kicking Horse Canyon onto Yoho.

As I promised Kim's son, we stopped at the train spirals. The spirals are located right off the highway. The walk isn't far and there were several placards telling the history of the tunnels. The tunnels are an engineering feat. How the tunnels work is when an eastbound train leaving the town of Field climbs a moderate hill, goes through two short, straight tunnels on Mt. Stephen, under the Trans-Canada Highway, across the Kicking Horse River and into the Lower Spiral Tunnel in Mt. Ogden. It spirals to the left up inside the mountain for 891 meters and emerges 15 meters higher. The train then crosses back over the Kicking Horse River, under the highway a second time and into the 991 meter tunnel in Cathedral Mountain. The train spirals to the right, emerging 17 meters higher and continues to the top of Kicking Horse Pass. Unfortunately, there wasn't a train as we saw a maintenance crew driving along the tracks. I was told at least 25 trains make their way through here daily. It was already past 3:00 PM and haven't reached Alberta yet, so we afford time to linger around in the hopes a train comes by.

We see the welcome to Alberta sign and our adventure to Banff begins.

Banff

Valley of the Ten Peaks at Moraine Lake

Before I moved the U.S from Canada, I lived in Grande Prairie, Alberta in 1997. I remember spending a long weekend in Jasper National Park with my future wife. We were completely awestruck at the natural beauty of it. Even though we were there for three days, I kept telling myself that I had to make the trip back and spend even more time there exploring the riches that the place had to offer. The following year, we had the opportunity to move to the states. As expected marriage, busy careers, and a costly divorce put my plans of going back on hold. At times, I wondered if I would ever go at all.


Rocky mountains in Canmore Alberta

Some twenty years later me, my girlfriend, and her two kids are leaving Calgary International Airport heading for Canmore - the gateway to the Canadian Rockies. For her and the kids, it would be their first time seeing mountains. Even though it's early afternoon, I'm wiped out. The combination of trying to sleep on a cheap air mattress, being at the airport at 5:00 AM and the stress of flying, I try my best not to be irritable. We head across the prairies and halfway to Canmore, the mountains appear in the distance. I still remember the first time I caught glimpse of the Rockies and I was in awe at the size of them. The sight of them brings a smile to my face and that irritability starts to go away. My girlfriend's kids are teenagers and as expected, there's no ooh's or ahh's. They look up and go back to their phones. My girlfriend comments how impressive they are. The transition from prairies to the boreal forest is pretty abrupt and the hills are covered in deep green and the mountains get bigger and bigger as we approach them. 


3 sisters, Canmore

The Trans Canada highway hugs along the mountains and it goes through the valley and along Lac des Arcs. Some of the mountains are practically right next to the highway. We all strain to look up at and see the tops covered in snow. We arrive in Canmore and pull up to the inn where we're staying for the night. Our trip is being split in two, as tomorrow we're leaving for Vernon BC to see my mother and sister for four days and then heading back to Banff on Thursday morning and fly back Saturday afternoon. Time is limited and I'm notorious for trying to cram everything into the less amount of time possible, I would be the nazi tour guide from hell. A place this huge, the sense of time can be quickly lost. Proir to the trip I've been trying to plan on what to do and how much can I possibly squeeze in without the kids having a meltdown. Also, I have to be mindful that my girlfriend suffers from a chronic illness. We haven't even unpacked and I'm starting to get antsy.


Rocky Mountains, Canmore, Alberta

Canmore

The town is located 50 miles west of Calgary along the Trans Canada highway. It's southeast of Banff National Park and is part of the Kananaskis Country. The population of the town around 13,000 and was once known for coal mining, but mining operations ceased in 1979 and the community converted itself to a tourism-based economy after the success of the 1988 Winter Olympics. Since then the town has tripled in size and has become a popular tourist destination during the summer and winter months. The area is also a very important wildlife corridor as many species move through the community and into and from the park. 


Trans Canada highway

We pull into the Windtower Inn and it has a Swiss village feeling to it. Canmore has become a popular place because lodging is cheaper as in most cases, half of what you would spend in Banff. During the summer months, Canmore is the only option when Banff's hotels are booked to the max. We booked our suite for $150.00 for a night way back in January. The suite was small but cozy. There was a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and a pull out bed. This would have been the perfect base to explore the park if we had stayed the entire week. The drive to the Banff isn't far, only 20 minutes and there were several provincial parks close by. We unpacked and I looked for a place to eat as we hadn't had anything since we landed in Minneapolis earlier in the morning.


Icefields Parkway

I found a Greek restaurant named Patrinos close by. Since the weather was nice, we elected to sit out on the patio. The patio was located right next to the railroad and over the tracks, there's a strip mall. In the distance, there were the 3 sisters as the locals call them. The mall did ruin the ambiance of the mountains when I tried to take pictures. In recent years, Canmore has struggled with growth, while trying to preserve the natural beauty of the area. Some people feel eventually it will suffer the same fate as Banff, a place jammed packed with hordes of tourists, tour buses and lack of space. Dinner comes quickly and I wolfed my down quickly. There's a schedule to keep and we skip dessert. Even though it's only 5:30 PM and it doesn't get dark until 10:00 PM, there's a lot I want to get done. The plan was to do the Minnewanka Lake Loop, Vermillion Lakes and then head over the Upper Hot Springs for a much needed soak. 

We get in the car and head for Banff. Prior to the trip I paid for a park pass and printed it out, as I didn't want to wait in line. However, there wasn't much of a line when we drove by. The Minnewanka Lake loop is one of the best places in the park to see wildlife. Ideally, I would have liked to do the Bow Valley Parkway, but the park shuts it down after 8:00 PM to allow wildlife to move around as most of them are still moving to spring and summer haunts. If we had gone later in the month, the nightly road closure would have been lifted. 


Two Jack Lake, Banff

Minnewanka Loop / Vermilion Lakes

The Minnewanka Lake loop is about 13km in distance. The loop offers a wide variety of activities for the tourist such as hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, and camping. It's also very close to the town of Banff. We get off the exit to Banff Ave and head north and follow the signs to the loop. The loop goes along the Two Jack Lake and western end of Lake Minnewanka and loops back to Banff Ave. Immediately, in the distance I see an elk out on the meadow, unfortunately, I can't pull over and it's too far away for pictures. The road is narrow and winding as I try my best to keep an eye out for wildlife and on the road. We see absolutely nothing. We pull off at Two Jack Lake for a photo op. Even though it's the weekend, we're the only people there. To the south, the clouds are covering the top of Mount Rundle. The wind coming off the lake is chilly. I take the opportunity to take a picture of Kim and the kids. The shots are great as I have the snow-covered peaks and the forest in the background is deep green against the rocky background. The mountain air is refreshing as I just stand there and take in the view. We get back on the road and head towards Lake Minnewanka. As I'm driving, I see something in the distance walking up the road. I quickly recognize it as a bighorn sheep. Sheep are one of the most common mammals in the park. They often frequent the sides of the roads feeding on the lush growth before heading up into the mountains in mid-summer. The sheep is completely comfortable with the car stopping right next to it. Across the road are two others feeding on the hill. We take some pictures and continue on the loop. We come up to Lake Minnewanka which in Natoka means "Waters of the Spirits".  We drive over the dam and see some boats out on the lake. The lake is very popular with boaters and scuba divers. The first thing that pops into my head is how good is the fishing? It's a shame that I won't have any time to wet a line. Farther up and around the road we see a couple cars stopped along the side. I glance over and there are two elk feeding. It's hard to see them because they're down in the bushes. We can't pull over, but the kids get a glimpse of them. Hopefully tomorrow, we might see more of them when we head up the Bow Valley Parkway on our way to BC.


Vermillion Lakes, Banff

Before heading into Banff, I turn on to Vermillion Lakes road. Along the road, there are a series of small lakes. The main attraction of the lakes is the stunning view of Mount Rundle. I slow down to scan around the lakes to see if there are any animals. I don't see any, but I do see evidence as there are several trails in the reed beds were either made by elk or deer. I park the car and we get out to take some pictures. I take several photos of Mount Rundle and Sulphur Mountain. I also take some shots of the lakes and the surrounding forest. They look peaceful and serene despite hearing all the traffic as the Trans Canada highway runs right behind us. The lakes are popular for canoeing and paddle boarding, but nobody is out this evening. The only animal we see is a muskrat leisurely swimming along. We see several people with large cameras on tripods. What are they waiting for? I have no idea, but I hope they have a lot of mosquito repellent as it will getting dark in a couple hours. We leave them behind and head into Banff. 


Mount Rundle


Upper Hot Springs/Banff

When it comes to the town of Banff, opinions about it vary widely. You either love it or hate it. I'm in the hate it camp because it's become so commercialized much to the detriment of the town. During the "shoulder" season, the number of people can be staggering as is the traffic. The downtown core is a wide collection of cheesy gift shops, restaurants, hotels, outfitters, high-end stores, and cafes. I have no intentions of shopping and shelling over money as the entire town is a tourist trap. As a foodie, I'm intrigued to see what's there to offer, but that will have to wait later in the week. 


Banff National Park

When we turn off from Vermillion Lakes road, we see the huge Banff sign. As expected there's plenty of tourists vying for spots to get their pictures taken in front of it. Banff Avenue is the main street that takes you in the downtown core. Along the stretch, there is one hotel after another and they all share one thing in common - no vacancies. The sidewalks are packed with people and every parking spot is taken up. I would expect that for a Saturday evening and I can't imagine what it will be like July and August, which is considered prime tourist season. The hot springs are located outside of the town. We cross over the Bow River and follow the signs to Sulphur Mountain and the Upper Springs. One of the main attractions in Banff is the gondola ride up the mountain. At the top are an observation platform, two restaurants, and a gift shop. Both I and Kim discussed taking the kids up it. But, the $220.00 price for the four of us to ride eight minutes up was a little ( no pun intended ) too steep for me. I didn't want to pay in advance because the weather here can be unpredictable as tickets are non-refundable. When we arrived, the temperature was dropping and higher up it was probably even colder. The gondola is clearly one of those tourist traps that the locals warn everyone about.


Lake Agnes Teahouse

The Upper Hot Springs are one of nine different naturally occurring hot springs in the Banff area. The hot spring water flows naturally through the Sulphur Mountain fault. According to the park, each hot spring has its own unique blend of minerals. The Upper Hot Springs is the hottest of these springs. The top five minerals found in the springs are:

Sulfate 572 ppm
Calcium 205 ppm
Bicarbonate 134 ppm
Magnesium 42 ppm
Sodium 6.6 ppm

We head into the hot springs and I pay $30.00 for four and four towels. We get changed and I and Kim's son head out to the pool. There's a sign telling people that the pool's current temperature is 39C. The pool is packed with people and I get a somewhat queasy feeling as I don't like getting into pools with a large number of people for obvious reasons. The water is hot but refreshing as I get in and there are Kim and her daughter. In the pool, I hear a large collection of accents and languages spoken. You can tell who's European, especially the men when they get out and they're in a tiny speedo and their gut is hanging over it. After a long day of flying and driving, my aching muscles and body need it. I just sit at the edge, soak and people watch. After an hour, my body starts to prune as does everyone else. It's starting to get dark and I'm tired as we've been up since 4:00 A.M Eastern time. Back home it would be almost midnight. As we walk back to the car, I look up and the skies are getting ominous. I hope the weather is good tomorrow morning. We get back to the inn and I hit the pillow hard. Much to the chagrin of others, I'm snoring within minutes.


Crowfoot Mountain and Bow Lake, Banff

I wake up early and peek outside, the clouds are low and it's raining. The tops of the mountains are cloaked in them, giving them a mystical appearance. I know the drive up Bow Valley Parkway would be a waste of time as wildlife generally don't move about when it's wet. Both me and Kim head down for breakfast and let the kids sleep in. The plan is to get them up and hit the road for BC because the weather isn't great for anything. Once the kids are up, I pack up the car and we're on our way. Unfortunately, most of the mountains are obscured by the clouds we go through Yoho and Glacier National parks. The weather is miserable pretty well all the way to Vernon, so much for sightseeing. 


Bow Lake, Banff

Thursday morning we leave Vernon early and the weather there the entire time was cool and cloudy, with the odd break of sunshine. I look at the weather report for Banff and it's not as great as they're calling for rain for the remainder of the week. But the weather in the Rockies can turn at a moment's notice. The drive is deary and uneventful until we get to Revelstoke. The clouds start to break and the sun comes out. We catch a glimpse of the higher peaks as past through Glacier and Yoho. Sensing that the weather will be to our advantage, I make the decision to go straight to the icefields.

Columbia Icefields and Parkway

On the way to Alberta, the traffic on the opposite direction of the Trans Canada highway is awful. Cars and trucks are backed up for miles as construction season is in full force. The government of BC is committed to twinning the highway. That's a huge task considering the terrain. If the traffic was bad on a Thursday, I can't imagine what it would be like tomorrow. We cross into Alberta and see the exit for the Icefields Parkway. There are several places that I want to see such as Peyto Lake, Bow Lake, any wildlife along the road and the big one is the Athabasca glacier. The first stop is Bow Lake which happens to be right off the parkway. We pull off and there are a few people mingling about taking in the scenery or snapping pictures. Bow Lake is about 30-minute drive north of Lake Louise. It's one of the largest lakes in Banff National Park and sits at an elevation of 6,300 feet. The lake is fed by meltwater from the Bow Glacier. The centerpiece of the lake is Crowfoot Mountain as the some of the clouds touch the top of it and swirled about. The snow glistened from the sun and the water had that beautiful turquoise blue. I gather Kim and kids and get a great shot of them and the lake and the mountain behind them. 


North Saskatchewan River, Banff

We continue our drive north and we see another small lake along the parkway. We decide to stop there on our way back. The Icefields Parkway stretches 144 miles through the heart of the Banff into Jasper National Park. The journey offers easy access to a vast wilderness of broad valleys, lush forests, glaciers and pristine alpine lakes. The parkway is very smooth and wide shoulders to allow motorists to pull over and take pictures or view wildlife. With all of the beautiful scenery, one can lose time trying to get everything done in one day, which I had to be mindful of. The other thing that I wasn't mindful of was the amount of fuel I had left in the car. I filled up in Vernon and I checked to see that I was under a quarter tank left. That was enough to make me break into a cold sweat because there's no cell phone service and there's only one gas station at the Saskatchewan crossing. The gas station is full service and when I see how much its per liter, my jaw drops as it's $1.99 per liter. I convert it to U.S gallons that pretty well $8.00 per gallon. I wisely tell the kid to fill it halfway. But since it's the only gas station between Lake Louise and Jasper, they can charge whatever they want. I look over at the RV next to me and I can't imagine what he's going to pay. I ask the kid how far is it to the Athabasca glacier and he tells me about 50km. 


Athabasca Glacier

The next stop is a beautiful lookout of the North Saskatchewan River. This is the headwaters of the river as goes from here and flows nearly 800 miles across the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. From the viewpoint, the water looks stunning. I look at the river and wished I could wet a line. There's plenty of lakes, rivers, and streams for the avid angler to fish. We don't stay long, just enough time to take some pictures. We continue north and along the valley and I can see the parkway make a long hairpin curve and up along the side of a mountain. The car revs as I climb up along it and there are a couple pull-offs that offer a spectacular view of the valley below. The parkway continues up the mountain and we're very close to the glacier. Ahead we see the Columbia Icefield Visitor Center and pull in as the kids need to use the bathroom. We get out and walk to the center and the first thing I notice is the terrible stench of diesel from the countless number of tour buses idling in the parking lot below. Inside it's a bustling place as people are heading out the skywalk or buying tickets for the ice bus. Once again, I see it as another tourist trap and I have no desire to shell out a lot of money to walk out a glass bottom walkway or drive on to a glacier for a couple hundred dollars. The kids come out and we drive out to the glacier. 


Athabasca Glacier

The Athabasca glacier is most accessible and visited glacier in North America. We park at the closest lot to the glacier. Despite being June we bundle up as the wind coming off the snow and ice is cold. I do chuckle at the sight of Kim's daughter wearing her Crocs as she walks effortlessly over the rocks. The surrounding area looks like a moonscape as there are rocks scattered about. I look down and see the grooves where the glacier over thousands of years has worn down the rocks. We finally make to the edge of the glacier and it's truly impressive. The park has roped off access to it for a good reason as several people have died when they walked out and fell into crevices. We all stand there and take in the sight of it. I couldn't imagine the looks on the faces of the first explorers when they view it. Back then in the 1800s, it was more impressive looking. I look at the sides of the two mountains and I can make out where it once was. The park has erected placards on the location of the glacier over the decades. The glacier is currently receding at a rate of about 16 feet per year and lost over half of its volume in the past 125 years. The recession of it is staggering considering 125 years in geological time is a nanosecond. The placard from the 1800s is located off the highway and is quite a distance from the glacier's current location. I tell the kids that its possible it could disappear in their lifetime. 


Rocky Mountains, Banff

I notice the time about 6:00 PM, we've been on the road since 9:00 AM and the kids are probably getting tired of being dragged around. We get back and start heading back to Banff. Along the way, I want to stop at that little lake which I found out is named Waterfowl Lake and the last stop will be Peyto Lake. Before heading down the mountain, we stop at that pull off and take pictures of the valley. We stop at Waterfowl Lake and I get some great shots of the sun hitting off the sides of the mountains. On the way down the parkway, we get a special surprise as a lynx crosses over. Unlike other animals, the lynx doesn't stop for a photo op and quickly heads into the forest. Lynx is a rare sight, considering they're secretive in nature. As we drive south, we're looking for Peyto Lake. On the way up we didn't see any signs posted along the highway. We had a map and it showed the location. But we can't find any signs on the way back. The kids are getting crabby and we decide that they've had enough of the Rocky Mountain tour for one day. I'm disappointed, but I understand that kids don't have the threshold that I have. 


Waterfowl Lake, Banff

We make into Banff and check into the hotel. The place we're staying at is the Inns of Banff. When we're looking for lodging we picked this place, because it was inexpensive. However, $250CDN I would expect something more appealing and maintained. Unlike the last place we stayed at, we enter our suite and I'm not impressed. The room is very outdated and the carpet resembles something you see used at a mini putt. The floor squeaked with every step. The furniture had scratches and didn't match the room. Inspection of the bathroom revealed worn grout and the tub looked old. When one of the kids took a shower they complained that the tub was too slow in draining. The walls were paper thin as we can hear everything in the hallways and the room next to us. At least the beds are comfy and I'm dead tired. I'm out before Kim tells me good night. 


Bow Lake, Banff

Friday morning comes and it's our last day in Banff. We have a lot to do today. I get everybody up and we head out for breakfast. I picked a place named Tooloulou's because they have a massive breakfast menu. Tooloulou's is a Creole/Cajun themed-restaurant located on Cariboo street. We walk in and immediately get a table. I look at the menu and I know what I want, a meal packed with carbs and protein for a day of adventure. I get the New Orleans Breakfast skillet. The skillet is bursting with 2 eggs, 2 sausages, back bacon, home fries, grilled tomato, 1 pancake and a buttermilk biscuit. Kim and the kids get much smaller dishes and after eating my entire skillet, I start scavenging the kid's pancakes and home fries. With an almost bursting stomach, we start our adventure. 


Banff National Park

Bow Valley Parkway/Lake Louise

We take a drive up the Bow Valley Parkway in hopes of seeing some wildlife. Before entering, Parks Canada has a spot check to see if motorists have a park pass. We get the thumbs up and head north. The weather is decent, but I do wish it was earlier. It's a little past nine in the morning. I specifically look for areas that have meadows or clearings. Since it's early summer, many of the herbivores are trying to pack on the weight they lost during the winter. We drive by a prescribed burn and there's nothing. I purposely pull over to allow other cars to go by. The only thing we see are five mule deer. Back in Ohio, we have plenty of  deer so the kids aren't thrilled. We continue to drive and I slow down around meadows only to see nothing. The same can be said at Moose meadows, but I recently read that moose are pretty well absent from the Bow Valley. I'm getting frustrated because I everyone to see a bear. However, there will be none this morning as we get off the parkway and head towards Lake Louise. 


Lake Agnes teahouse

Driving along I noticed a large sign along the side of the road says Moraine Lake is open and immediately pull on to the road. I remember reading that parking at the lake is very limited and once the parking lot is full, the road can be closed for extended periods of time. If that's the case, people have to take a shuttle from Lake Louise. Wanting to take advantage of that, I tell everyone we're heading there first. The drive is 11km and the road twists and turns. At one section we see the effects of avalanches as the road to the lake is closed during the winter months. As we get closer the road runs precariously close to a cliff and we see the valley below. Finally, we see our destination, Moraine Lake. The parking lot is indeed small. Probably lucky to fit 50 cars and the rest of the spaces are RVs and buses. We have to drive around three times before finding a spot. We walk to the lake, I see the Moraine Lake Lodge, which I happened to look at but was put off by the $800 per night price. 


Lake Agnes teahouse

At the end of the lake, there was a huge rock pile and I encouraged the kids to cross over the logs jammed in the stream. There were several kids climbing on the rocks high above. My balance isn't the best so I elected to walk around the back and left Kim watching her kids. I climb up the steps, up towards the observation area. When I reached the top, I was completely awestruck at the scenery, the Valley of the Ten Peaks. The lake is a glacially fed and does not reach its crest until mid to late June. When it is full, it reflects a distinctive shade of blue. The color is due to the refraction of light off the water from the glacial flour being deposited in the lake from the meltwater. Usually, the lake doesn't get that color until July and August, but due a warmer spring, the snow melted quicker and despite being early June, the color was magnificent. Then add in the Ten Peaks and the photo opportunities were priceless. The peaks were majestic in stature and color. The image of the peaks and the lake are iconic in Canadian culture as they were on the backs of the 1969 and 1979 twenty dollar bills. The clouds roll above some of the peaks and I'm taking a lot of pictures. I head back to get Kim and when I get there I see the kids start heading down the rock pile. We all head up and I take a group picture of them. All of them are impressed with the view. Personally, I think Lake Moraine is one of the most scenic places in Banff. Before heading out, we enter the gift shop and the place is full of clothing and trinkets. Usually, I resist buying stuff from places like that because I think it's way overpriced. The kids have money from their grandparents and Kim and her kids all buy the same red Canada hoodies. I chuckle at the cheesy notion of seeing all of them wearing the same outfits. They egg me on to buy one and I dryly reply "We're not the Griswolds".


Icefields Parkway, Banff

We're off to Lake Louise and the teahouse. It's not a far drive once we get off Moraine Lake road, taking only a few minutes. By the time we get there, it's early afternoon. The parking lots are full as we have to park on the upper level. We head down and I see the Fairmount Chateau, the iconic filthy expensive hotel on the shores of the lake. Here you can be shelling out well over a $1000 per night for certain rooms. The shoreline in front of the hotel is a bustling place of people taking pictures. A lady is nice enough to take our pictures and I return the favor for her and her family. We immediately head towards the trail that leads up to the teahouse. The trial was full of people when we started. It was a perfect weather for hiking as it was cool and partly cloudy. The distance from the shores of Lake Louise to the teahouse is roughly 2.2 miles. According to the park, the trail rated moderate and should take depending on your fitness level 1 to 2 hours. The elevation gain is 1,312 feet. The trail was narrow but dry and well maintained. As you climb the trail has a series of switch-backs. 


Lake Louise, Banff

My concern was my girlfriend as she has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome also known as POTS and this would be a test for her. She wanted to do it and pacing was the key as was carrying a lot of water. Prior to heading to Banff, she got a saline infusion that would help elevate the symptoms, especially in an area of high altitude. We took our time as Kim had to stop a couple of times to rest as her heart rate went up. Even with the cooler temperatures, I was working up a sweat. I was the pack horse as I had a backpack full of water, food and some clothes. There was more traffic heading down as it was it getting close to mid-afternoon. The trail continued to switch back and forth and I wondered if we would ever get there. Finally, I could see the big beehive and there was a sign for Mirror Lake. We stopped at the lake, to catch our breath. The lake is very small and clear, I smirked at the no fishing sign posted in front of the lake. Above the lake was the big beehive, the rock formation did have a resemblance to a beehive. There's a trail leading from the teahouse that gets you to the top of it. With Kim's condition and two teenagers, which one of them dislikes hiking, beyond the teahouse, would be pushing past their limits. We climb the last stretch and see the stairs. Right next to the stairs is a small waterfall that spills down into the valley below. We make it up the stairs and there's the teahouse. The house was constructed back 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway as a refuge for hikers. 

Hike to Lake Agnes teahouse

We find a table outside and the weather is getting colder as clouds roll in and showers begin. We look at the menu and the tea list is extensive. There's also sandwiches, soups, and bread. Hot tea and soup would hit the spot. The waitress comes out and takes our order. Unfortunately, the soup of the day is sold out. We order a kettle of maple blueberry tea, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, banana bread, and a turkey sandwich. The teahouse is cash only and I had $40.00U.S which I thought would be enough. I was short by $5.00 and Kim had enough to cover the rest. Prices are expensive because everything is either hiked up or flown in by helicopter. As expected the food and tea hit the spot. After eating, we hang out at the lake and take some pictures. In the distance, I hear the loud high pitch calls which I thought might be pikas. The calls are coming from the rockpile where pikas prefer to live. I venture over to investigate and found out the calls are actually ground squirrels. Far across the lake, I see some several people hiking up to the top of the beehive or the Plain of the Six Glaciers, where there's another teahouse. I wished we had more time, but it's getting late. The hike down is easier and the scenery is breathtaking. I take pictures of Kim standing on a rock with the mountains in the background. She triumphantly holds her arms up and flexes them as a sign of victory that she made up to the teahouse. Many people with POTS wouldn't have been able to do that hike. We finally make it down and both Kim and her daughter race for the bathroom. I stand around and look at the lake. Tomorrow we head back and I feel a sense of sadness that our time has come to an end. There's so much more I wanted to do. 


Lake Louise, Alberta

The evening is spent packing and the kids are exhausted. They went through a lot, being in the backseat for hours and going from one place to the next with no breaks. I could have been harder on them, but Kim cautioned that it would be too much. A part of me wished we could have stayed another day and headed back Sunday. But the kids had to be at summer camp that day. Saturday morning we check out and head back to Tooloulou's for breakfast. The weather is gloomy as the clouds are low and it's raining. I do find it amusing that they're all wearing the same outfits they bought from the gift shop at Moraine Lake. The kids are looking forward to summer camp to be with their friends. I, on the other hand, get one day to rest and its back to the grind.


Lake Louise, Banff

We hit the road and say farewell to Banff as we head for Calgary. The mountains eventually give way to the prairies and we see the Calgary skyline in the distance. The vacation was a success, even though the weather wasn't ideal. We did a lot in the little time we had there. As we wait for our flight, I look at the pictures I have taken. I have a surprise for Kim when we return as she'll be moving into her new home later in the week. I pick out several pictures of her and the kids and I'm going to have them developed and framed as a house warming gift. I thought of it several days ago, when I took pictures of them at Bow Lake. I have no idea if either of the kids will ever have the opportunity to come back. But I want them to cherish the time with their mother, who has had a rough past couple of years with her chronic illness and a difficult divorce. 


Athabasca Glacier

Our plane takes off and I see the last images of Calgary as we head for Minneapolis. We land two hours later and there's a two and half hour layover. I'm bored sitting around and anxious to get home. I'm happy that the trip when well and the kids didn't rebel and or have a meltdown. We get the call that our flight is boarding and we takes off around 8:45 PM. The return flight is quick as I don't get to finish watching my movie. Our flight lands in Cleveland around 11:20 PM and we're all dead tired. We stand around waiting for luggage and I ask the kids if they enjoyed their time in Canada, both of them said yes. The air is humid when we get out of the airport as I was getting to use to the cool crisp mountain air. It's a 30 minute drive back to Kim's house and we arrive and it's after midnight. The dogs are barking and are excited to see us. As expected her mom has stayed up and greets us. The kids immediately head to bed as they have to be up early in the morning. We settle in bed me and Kim start discussing our next adventure.