Monday, August 24: Banff
This is getting really frustrating. It is like clockwork. At 5am I'm awake, and then I can almost but not quite fall asleep until 6:20 when the alarm goes off. I have no idea what is causing it. I can't blame it on the time zone shift. I certainly can't blame it on being too well rested (we went to bed around 11 last night). It is not that I'm lying in bed worrying about things.
Actually, that last sentence is not quite true. It is getting to the point where I'll wake up, and then lie there worrying that I won't be able to fall asleep again.
So far, we've had pretty good weather. Our arrival day was cold and rainy. Then Saturday was clear. It started out cold but then warmed up. Sunday was sunny and pleasantly cool to warm. Today is supposed to be a bit warmer and partly sunny, with the same for tomorrow.
The tentative plan for today is to take a bit of a slower day, and to take a break from hiking. Maybe we'll rent bikes. Probably hang out in the Banff area more. In theory, the whole area should be less crowded now that the weekend is over. I guess a lot of people from Calgary come up here for the weekend.
We were saying that the haze from the wild fires reminded us of the Tetons. However, we were wrong. It is actually much worse. The mountains just above the town are almost invisible. It is really bad, and they are warning people about being outside for extended periods.
We wanted to have a quieter day, so we decided to drive to Kananaskis and bike around there. This proved to be more of an adventure than we expected.
We didn't have a great map to guide us, and we ended up exiting the highway one exit early. The problem was that due to paving, we could not re-enter the highway and continue. So we drove to a parallel road, and ended up passing our exit by some distance before we could reconnect with the highway. Then we had to drive back and get the right exit.
The scenery would have been really nice, except that the mountains were just dim vague shapes in the gloom. We stopped at an information center, where we found out about two different bike rental/bike routes we could take.
We stopped at the first one and got some lunch. They had a big stuffed bear for sale there. The only problem was that it was more than $100 and as big as my suitcase. Interestingly, some number of years ago, they apparently hosted a meeting of the G8 at that location.
We continued south a number of miles and rented bikes at the second place. The trails there were described as “family friendly” and fairly level. Amy was expecting/hoping for something vaguely like a rail trail, but while it didn't gain or lose appreciable altitude, it did have lots of ups and downs. Amy had to really work at it. It didn't help that her bike wasn't the greatest (it didn't shift very well).
Along the way, we found a Spruce Grouse, which required a picture stop.
The trail basically ran about 9km to the visitor's center. By the time we got there, Amy was spent. We decided that Mike and I would bike back while Amy stayed at the visitor's center. Then I would drive to the center and ride Amy's bike back. This ended up being the correct thing to do because on the way back there were some significant hills that had to be climbed.
I was surprised with how well Mike did. I expected that I would have to slow down to not outpace Mike, but for most of the path he was keeping up or ahead of me.
After returning the last bike, we got an ice cream to celebrate being still alive. It wasn't clear whether Amy was having problems more due to the altitude or due to the smoke/haze (or more likely both).
For the next part of the adventure, we decided to return to Canmore via the direct route, which was recommended to us by the guy at the information center. It was shorter and slightly faster. The downside was that it was dirt/gravel. We hoped to see some wildlife along the way, but we saw none. There were some impressive mountains looming over us (with some signs saying “avalanche danger, don't stop”), but with the haze the views were not great.
We drove along a long lake that was formed by damming a river. A bit further we saw some more lakes. Just before Canmore things got really interesting. There was a final lake behind a dam, and then the road dropped steeply. Looking out over the side of the car, there were some places where you could look what seemed (to me) to be almost straight down to the valley floor a long way beneath.
It was here that we saw our first (and so far only) large wildlife. There was a family of bighorn sheep grazing on the side of the road. So of course we stopped and took some pictures, but then we had to drive on as another car was coming behind us.
We were very happy when we eventually reached paved roads again.
We filled up the gas tank and brought our stuff up to the room. We got cleaned up a bit, and then we went out for dinner. We wandered around Canmore looking for a place to eat. Then we pulled up the GPS, and looked for restaurants there. Eventually we settled on an Italian place in the center of town.
The service was a bit slow, so it gave me the chance to type the above while we waited.
Dinner was good. The food was good. Amy's was very hot. It was interesting to watch. Hers was in pesto, and there was a little pool of oil at the top. This was apparently boiling, as it was bubbling for several minutes after it was served.
The only real downsides to the restaurant was that the service was a bit slow, and they didn't give us any bread to eat while we were waiting.
After we got back to the hotel, I packed some of my stuff in my carry-on for the trip to Jasper. That way I could leave my big suitcase behind, and there would be more space in the car.
It was still fairly early (~8:00?), and I didn't have much to do, so I took a short walk. I wanted to explore a little boardwalk we had seen driving back from dinner.
It was interesting to look at the haze. Right next to the hotel there is a mountain. The only indication that I could see of it was a slight darkening for part of one shoulder of it. Across the valley, where we had marveled at the mountains when we first arrived, there was not the slightest indication that we were not on a flat plain.
The boardwalk was OK, but not earth shattering. It would have probably been more interesting if I was meandering along it with Amy rather than by myself. There were no mosquitoes, but there were occasional patches of small gnat-like insects, which were slightly annoying.
The hotel has a policy that you can request your room not be made up, and you get a $5 voucher for the restaurant. We are going to be gone for 3 days, so I told them that and collected three vouchers.
The plan is to get up early tomorrow, load up the car, grab a quick breakfast at McD's or something, and then head out for Jasper.