The Great American Road Trip II - 9 - The Great Canadian Road Trip
We got on the road before 10:00 and headed west on Trans-Canadian Highway 1. The first stop of the day was Medicine Hat, which, aside from its strange and awesome name, is the first major city after crossing into Alberta. We saw a donut-shaped cloud and large eastbound trucks - probably the most traffic we've seen on Highway 1 since we got on it in Brandon. We continued the pattern of gaining altitude and plateauing. This became much more pronounced today; we were most definitely in the foothills of the Rockies.
We saw groups of cows angled in the same direction as we drove past - we're not sure if it was in salute of my dad or of Yoder the duck. We passed a great many lakes - we're not sure if all of them have names. There are so many up here it'd only be useful to name the larger ones. Flags, few and far between as they were, flapped every which way but east. The clouds kept rolling around ominously as we headed into the impending onslaught of rain.
Then the rains began. It was not much at first but it continued to increase steadily as the day wore on.
Before 11:30 we were in Alberta and stopped at the visitor's center for information. Alberta is the only province where they sell you their maps instead of saying "eh" a few times and giving them to you. We skipped buying this in favor of a possibly lethal combination of our '96 road atlas and our homicidal GPS we've christened "Hal." Fortunately for us the road did not differ from our expectations.
It wasn't raining when we got out of the visitor's center but within a few minutes back on Highway 1 we got back into steady rain. The rain stopped briefly before we rolled into Medicine Hat for a late brunch at Subway. (The tomatoes may not have been fresh but the pickles were excellent.) We saw something that touts itself as the "world's largest teepee" but is little more than a gigantic steel frame with Indian shields all around as decoration.
After brief road work on the Medicine Hat outskirts it began raining again. After a gas - sorry, petrol - stop, we headed towards Calgary as I played appropriate music on the iPod.
(Side note: Alberta is the first province we've gotten to that has counties. While all states have either counties or county equivalents as a level of government, few provinces have them. The population is so sparse, apparently, that it's not worth setting up an extra level of government and most things are controlled at the provincial level. Alberta, however, has counties, and I think British Columbia does too. We'll see if that's true in a few days.)
The temperature began a steady decline as we rolled towards Calgary. Around this time we saw a wolf dart along the road and various canals to help irrigate the many vast farms along the highway. We saw even more cows standing in our direction as we went past, so we decided on the name "Yoder Salute." I waved the little duck at them as we passed, to which the cows seemed happy enough.
(The only other explanation for this action would be if the cows were about to do a gigantic Harlem Shake, but that's something one would expect more in a Far Side cartoon.)
A little after 3:00 we were in Strathmore and within the half-hour we'd made it to the Calgary city limit.
Three things happened in Calgary that were unexpected. The first was the rain. It absolutely burst as we made our way through the province's largest city. The second was the sheer amount of stoplights, the equivalent of running an Interstate through a city and putting stoplights on it. The third was the traffic, which backed up through multiple intersections. Drivers weaved in and out and no one used their signals. Cars squeezed through nearly nonexistent gaps and ran red lights with nonchalance. Combined with the intensity of the rain we were lucky to not have witnessed or been involved in an accident.
At 4:00 we were towards the other side of Calgary and saw Olympic Park as the rain kept up and the temperature kept falling. It was 5 degrees C (41F) at 4:00 and dropped to 3 (37) by 4:08. The trees and evergreens we saw along the sides of the road were reminiscent of the Sierra Nevada range.
And then it got scary.
We had climbed up far enough for some of the lower clouds to be below us in valleys. The temperature hovered at 1 (34) as half the rain became slushy and the other half was snow. Around this time we began to catch glimpses of the awesome Canadian Rockies jutting up around us, sheer rock faces that began in the shrouded valleys and went all the way up to an equally shrouded sky. Snow was visible not just near the tops of mountains, but weighing down the evergreens and whitening up the sides of the road.
Our concern was that the temperature would drop to 0 and we would lose traction on what would be an icy road, especially around a section with many bridges. Fortunately this did not happen, as the precipitation slowed to a more moderate pace and the temperature warmed to a balmy 2 degrees as we passed Lac Des Arcs.
It was nearly five o'clock as we rolled towards Canmore, the last town before Banff itself. A little before the entrance to Banff National Park it dropped back down to 1 as the rains increased slightly. After paying to get into the park we got to Banff within short order - but not before seeing two herds of majestic elk and a good number of mule deer. A little after 5:00 we got to our hotel.
After lounging in our hotel room for about an hour and a half, we decided it was time to head out and satisfy our ravenous hunger with some famous Alberta beef. Research was attempted but limited, as everywhere we looked seemed absolutely delicious. All we knew when we walked out is that we wanted some Alberta beef.
We could not find the place we were looking for. Bundled up in our parkas, we still got cold after a while and ducked into a small mall where we asked two ladies at a clothing store where the place was. The next thing we know, one of them was drawing fervently on our town map and rapidly described all kinds of restaurants, half of which she said that she'd worked at. (Apparently there's a Greek place somewhere around here whose owner speaks in a thick accent and was described as a "real-life Soup Nazi.")
We thanked them profusely before ducking back out into the cold. After almost getting turned around we found the steak place. I came very close to ordering escargot but ended up getting a steak. (I now know what all the fuss is about when it comes to Alberta beef - as well as why we heard it described as "Canada's Texas." Continuing from that analogy, I suppose that the Yukon is "Canada's Idaho.") Aside from the steaks, the salads and bread both had enough garlic to be delicious and make us stink for a good while to come.
They also had delicious sweet iced tea which had a hint of some sort of strawberry or something? I don't know what it was but I sucked down two glasses and it was good.
It was then that the next adventure began: the search for something to drink. The coffee machines in the lobby were out of coffee so we opted for getting some water at the vending machine near our room. But the vending machine, for some inexplicable reason, spewed out a disgusting drink called a Five Alive which tastes like old, watered-down, carbonated orange juice - except somehow worse. Eventually waters were retrieved from the car which is in a tiny parking garage underneath the building. (Seriously, this thing is so small a bicyclist would have trouble navigating. Getting out is going to take some serious work.)
Tomorrow: We explore Banff more. It's expected to snow tomorrow, actually - hope it doesn't block any views.