Canadian Rockies

Oh, Canada!

4,500 miles driven, 15 days, 7 National Parks. Whew!

We did so much during our 2-week trip to the Canadian Rockies that I know I will begin to forget details like the places we saw and our timeline, so I wanted to make sure to chronicle it here while it’s still fresh in my mind.

We tried to take this trip 5 years ago but our plans changed drastically. Two days before leaving, I suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that sidelined us for a long time. We cancelled the trip and thankfully got most of our money back from all the reservations we had made. I still thank God for the timing, for not allowing that tragedy to happen while we were deep in the wilderness. So. This was a re-do trip. Except this go-round we had more time and a little more money, which is always a win!

We started in Glacier National Park in Montana. Montana has been hit hard by forest fires this year and we were so sad to see just how much of the park had been devastated by fire, not only this one but from years past. We saw thousands of acres that had been scorched by fire. Some areas burned in 1967 and some burned just a few years back. The haze and smoke was so thick that it was pretty difficult to see the mountains on our first day there.

Lake McDonald with lots of smoky haze

 

On our 2nd day in Glacier, we hiked the famous Highline Trail to the Granite Park Chalet, which is a cool stone backcountry lodge where you can stay if you make reservations like 18 month in advance. We got an early start because this is the most popular trail in the park and we really wanted to avoid crowds. We spent almost the entire time hiking in the fog and clouds which was so cool!

 

After another day in Glacier, we headed on towards Waterton National Park in Canada. What a remarkable place! We stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel, which sits perched atop a hill looking over the Park and town of Waterton. We really only had enough time in Waterton to eat dinner, stroll through town, get a good night’s sleep and drive around in the morning. Of all the places we visited, this is the one where I wish we had more time to explore and appreciate.After Waterton we made a quick stop at a Canadian healthcare clinic because David got the Shingles. We were super impressed with how fast, easy and cheap the whole process way! After a stop at the pharmacy, we headed towards Banff. To be totally honest, I didn’t love the actual town of Banff. It was overly crowded, commercialized and it had a vibe like it was just catering to the rich tourists that were in town. Meh. Not a huge fan of all that. I did love the mountains surrounding Banff however – beautiful! We stayed in Banff long enough to talk with the Rangers about out backcountry trip, buy a topo map and set up camp while we prepped for our multi-day backpacking trip into the Assiniboine Provincial Park the next day.

This backpacking trip almost didn’t happen. Wildfires had forced the closure of Assiniboine and nearby areas for almost a month and we didn’t think that it wouldn’t open up in time for us. As luck would have it, it opened the day before we had planned to hike in. We did 10 miles on our first day and camped out at Marvel Lake. Bear activity was high and we saw…umm, evidence, of bears everywhere but we never actually encountered one thankfully.

 

Our goal on the second day was Lake Magog  which sits at the base of Mount Assiniboine (also known as the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rockies) and it has a campground that we were originally planning to stay at. But upon arrival we learned that the campground was actually not scenic at all. 20 miles in to this beautiful area and the camp sites were all tucked away in dense pine forests with no views at all. I was sooo frustrated!

Thankfully, the Assiniboine Lodge is also at the base of Mount Assiniboine. This is a luxury lodge and the only way to it is to either hike in or take a helicopter and they usually book out 12-18 months in advance. Rooms go for $650/night, cabins are $800/night and then they have cute little backcountry huts as well. We hit another streak of luck, the Lodge had so many cancellations due to the fire evacuations that they had several backcountry huts available for $20/night. Yes please! We took them up on that offer without hesitation.

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Lake Magog at the base of Mnt. Assiniboine

We spent several days hiking around the Assiniboine wilderness, reading on lakeshores and sleeping soundly in our little primitive backcountry hut.

Next came the highlight of our backpacking trip….the helicopter ride! We decided long ago that if we were going to hike 20 miles in to this place, we were going to enjoy a wonderful ride out and get an aerial view of the terrain we hiked. It was AMAZING!!! I loved not having to carry all our gear back out after hiking a combined 40 miles in the area, we were ready for someone else to do the work in getting us out haha!

We stayed the night in Canmore with enough time to do a load of laundry and grab a burger and beer before heading north. Our next stop was Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and the Icefields Parkway on our way up to Jasper.

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Lake Louise
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What some of these amazing places are actually like….bleh. so. crowded.

Jasper was the place we stayed the longest and it was probably my favorite. It’s absolutely huge and the opportunities to see and do amazing things are endless. It was also much less crowded, it seemed like most people just didn’t want to venture up that far north. We did so much in Jasper! Boat cruises, mountain biking, hiking, fishing. It was awesome! I was really sad to leave this amazing place because I knew that it meant our trip was coming to a close.

We headed back south and made our way over to YOHO National Park, Glacier National Park of Canada and Revelstoke National Park. These 3 parks are on the smaller side but they were all beautiful and I’m glad we had a chance to explore them! Glacier was the only one that felt relatively inaccessible. In order to see a lot of Glacier, you had to embark on a 10-12 mile hike which we just didn’t have the time for.

My overall impression is that the Canadian Rockies are incredible! We saw so many jaw-dropping sights, I lost count. The mountains are rugged, jagged and steep. The glaciers are thick, the water is silty blue and the people are kind.

I could have done without so many tourists at a few of the places we went to, but that’s what you get when you only hit the National Parks. I frequently got overwhelmed by the crowds and had to leave certain sites.

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On The Road

The first half of 2016 was not terribly kind to us. David got seriously sick with 2 pulmonary embolisms in his lungs and almost died, I was still trying to fully recover from brain surgery, we lost a house we were trying to buy, a crazy lady surfaced at David’s work and took him to mediation (if you know my husband at all, you know how craaazy that sounds. He is maybe the kindest, quietest and most caring person in the world), we became basement dwellers in my in-law’s house as we waded through the hopeless housing market, I felt depression begin to resurface after a 10 year hiatus. Everything was looking pretty dismal.

We’ve had some crazy nights during these last few months. Nights where we bought cold beer and drove out of town to sit under the stars and have conversations I never thought we’d have. Nights where the tears wouldn’t stop. Nights where I worried about David. Nights where he worried about me. We took walks in the dark of night. We clung to each other for dear life before falling asleep. 7 years of trials had finally caught up with us.

We had many nights where we tossed out crazy ideas and discussed “what ifs.” Like, what if we just got the hell outta here? What if we just left? Like, leave it all behind. What if we took the equity from our house, bought an RV and just left town. Didn’t tell anyone. Just left. We could kiss our attempts to live a “normal” life with the rest of society goodbye and just do our own thing.

We were ridiculously close to doing it. Still are at times, if I’m being honest.

Ultimately, God intervened with a house. We bought a precious little bungalow and decided maybe we’d stay in town a little while after-all. If it weren’t for that house, we’d be long gone by now.

When we were on our trip to Utah, we encountered many people living the life that we almost lived. We’d pass a VW van barreling down the highway with the windows rolled down and sun-tanned faces smiling in the wind. We’d walk by a camper that was stocked with food from the latest grocery store, 80 miles away. We’d smile at a single woman and her dog as they walked back “home” which was a campervan with a doormat laying on the wet pavement. We’d catch a glimpse of a solar panel powering someone’s laptop in their RV as they answered emails and got a little business done.

It made me realize that there is a whole other world out there. A community of people who are perpetually on the road (and I’m not talking about retirees who are strategically vacationing in their motorhomes). These wanderers are not homeless. They are very much at home. Home is the road. They work from their RVs and Airstreams. They make a steady income. They live simply, in no more than 400 sq. feet of space. They see new things and meet new people with each week that goes by.

For whatever reason, these folks feel that life on the road is better than life at home, wherever home may have been at one time. Some of them are surely running away from their problems, like David and I would have been. But some of them seem utterly content to maintain a nomadic lifestyle, they aren’t running from anything or to anything. They simply enjoy life in the moment, wherever that may be. Call it perpetual wanderlust.

Instagram is a fascinating way to look at the lives of this wandering sub-community. Hashtags like #vanlife #airstreamdreams #sheroams #homeiswhereyouparkit bring up images of hundreds of people who are living in this countercultural way. They’ve given up their mortgages and desks for camp stoves and folding chairs.

Honestly, there is an entire community of landscape photographers that do this full-time. One of my photographic inspirations, Sarah Marino, lives in her Airstream with her husband and travels throughout the US taking photos to sustain her business. Photography is a beautiful way to sustain this way of life.

Since being home, our conversations about buying a camper, RV, Airstream or some other type of mobile housing have continued. We talk about early retirement, living on the road full-time vs. part-time. We talk about the benefits of having a “home base” here in Colorado. We talk about passive and active revenue streams. We are not talking in what-ifs anymore. What-ifs have morphed into strategic vision and meaningful plans for creating a different kind of life. It stopped being about running away. It started being about cultivating a life that we both feel drawn to, and have been for many years.

I read a book for class the other week called Searching For Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls by Craig Barnes (great book if you’re interested). It’s all about how we wander through life in search of meaning and a destination. Some literally wander in their VW van, across state lines and through National Parks. Others wander through relationships, jobs, churches, friendships, the newest technology. They get married because they think it will make them happy. They have children because they think they will finally feel fulfilled. They switch jobs. They move states, thinking that a change of scene will bring happiness (I literally see this in Colorado every day. People flock here in droves looking for a better life.).

Everyone wanders at some level. But it is possible to wander with a purpose. If you know where our true Destination lies, you’re never just adrift. There’s a difference between wandering aimlessly through life and being a pilgrim with your eyes set on your Heavenly Home as you journey along. As my professor said, “In Christ, home is within us.”

Heck, Jesus was a nomad. He wandered from town to town. Paul roamed an entire region, as did most of the apostles. The Desert Fathers intentionally removed themselves from society in order to seek God in the wilderness. Who says the only way to live a godly life is by following American society’s standards of living in a stationary house with a lifelong career, freshly mowed lawn and 2 weeks of vacation each year? Couldn’t you live an equally obedient, prayerful, God-pleasing life while traveling? Ministering to your RV neighbors and campground hosts? Helping a fellow traveler who has broken down on the side of the road? Volunteering to do trail maintenance and picking up trash in the parks? Reading the Bible and praying while taking a walk through the forest? Is that life any less honoring to God?

The whole point to life with God is to receive His love, love Him back and love others in the process. I believe this is possible whether you are living on the road, at home or somewhere in between. If we do this thing, we want to do it well. I want to live a life that deeply fulfilling and also glorifying to God. I think we can cultivate a life on the road that has purpose and is full of meaning, focus, beauty, simplicity, community, friendship, formative growth and intentionality.

I’m pretty sure this will happen. One of these days we’ll have our mortgage paid off, we’ll rent our house out and buy something to travel in. Maybe it will be in 6 months, maybe it will be in 10 years. We’ll just listen for God to whisper now is the time, go. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s to never count on your own plans. “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail”(Prov 19:21). But holding your plans loosely doesn’t mean you can’t keep a dream in the forefront of your mind while you continue to refine a vision that might become a reality.Photo May 15, 6 44 55 PM (2)