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Published: April 25th 2016
Departing Whitefish I took US 93 north. Nice scenery, beautiful trees, gorgeous snow capped mountains in the distance, and rain, rain, rain, rain. Double ugh, with a yuk here and there. Normally I don't mind rain (as Kim knows) but all I can think about is the up-and-coming campsite where I have to setup in this soup. My only hope is to see if a few hundred miles will relieve some of this gloom (it didn't). Meanwhile I tried to enjoy the lack of glare (small yea - a Monty Python yea).
At the border, I meet the nice people of the Canadian Customs Service. Me being a terrorist AND a drug mule made for some nervous customs interaction let me tell you (that was tongue-in-cheek NSA). I wondered how I would hold up to the scrutiny? As family can attest to, I've had problems getting into Canada before, one time getting denied entry because I was a duffus and said I was there on business and another time being pulled aside for intensive grilling with non-smiling customs officials (the initial customs people are replicants with their false smiles and sincerity).
I actually wasn't too worried.
Kootenay National Park
I'm not sure when this forest fire broke out but it was huge. Mile after mile in the heart of the national park. Both sides of the road. I must have seen at least 10 mountains, mountains(!), completely burned. In its own way, this must have been a horribly spectacular site.
At this point in my trip it looks obvious that I am a man (big kid) on a road trip. I only had one wrinkle, my firearms entry/transport form I had filled out earlier. I figured it would single me out, and it did. They asked questions such as:
1. Do you have firearms? Uh, yea, look at the form.
2. Would you describe your guns as long arms? Yes.
3. Do you have any handguns? No.
4. Do you have any handguns with barrels less than 3.5" (or whatever the metric equivalent is)? "Really? Wouldn't that still be a handgun? I'm not being a smart-ass sir. Sorry. No."
5. Do you have any assault weapons? No.
6. Do you have any explosives? "Not that I know of. Ha Ha. Sorry. No"
7. Are your weapons loaded? No.
8. Do you have explosives? No. (yes they asked again)
9. Do you have pepper spray, mace spray or other prohibited items? "Uhhhhhh, nooooooo." I lied here. He caught me off guard to be honest and I said no. I have bear spray which I'm pretty sure comes under that rubric. What the hell am I supposed to do with bears? Harsh
language? I can't have my guns loaded in Canada or anywhere near ammunition. I can't have spray. So my second two lines of defense are taken away (the first line being my really annoying bear bell). Anyway, I just said no and started coming up with excuses if they searched my car. I settled on "I didn't know bear spray was a prohibited item." Lame, I know.
Following the friendly interrogation (he really was nice) he then instructed me to pull into a special lane which I did. In the next "special lane" over was an SUV that had everything taken out and the officials were going through all the luggage, equipment and even the engine compartment. The owner had a resigned look but he didn't seem too worried. I actually wouldn't mind them tearing apart my car. I seriously needed to reorganize the interior. It has gotten way out of control. If my kids saw that interior, they would forever point out my transgression whenever I get on them about keeping their (my) car clean (yes, I am talking to you Audrey).
Anyway, I parked and headed inside with my insurance, passport and gun form. There were couple
other good 'ole boys waiting who were quite friendly, eh. They called me up where I went through pretty much the same litany as outside. However, this official emphasized how I must keep the guns stowed, away from ammunition and to provide all the paperwork if I get pulled over by Canada's finest. That was it. No car search. I can say I was a little relieved since I got to keep my bear spray but a little disappointed that I didn't get my car reorganized.
After my foray at the border, I continued on PR (Province Road - I guess they call it that) 93 all the way north to Radium Hot Springs which is right at the entrance to Kootenay National Park which is a gateway into all the Rocky Mountain National Parks and Forests. Right at the entrance (still raining BTW), I talk to the a ranger about the best campground in the parks. She looks at me and deadpans "a hotel, eh. It's miserable". After some banter she says there is a campground right outside the city of Banff. So I get my park pass and head north on PR 93 for a bit where I
hit CN 1 (Canada Road?) and went towards Banff. Before I got there I noticed a sign for camping so I decided to take a shot and took the road. After about 30 minutes and one wolf encounter later, I get to the campground and find out it's closed. It wasn't that big of a surprise since the nice ranger lady told me that almost all camp grounds are closed for the season and/or budget cutbacks. Awesomely, the wolf encounter was a first for me. A wild wolf right in front of me. Wow. Of course, it was begging for food (I'm guessing) and it had a tracking collar. So maybe not too wild. Partially wild. Pseudo wild. Not that I was going to do anything stupid like pet him/her. I figure the further north I go, I'll come across more and more animals that haven't been acclimated to man. But still. Seeing that wolf was damn cool.
After seeing the wolf and being denied a room at the inn for the 3rd time, I went to Banff and the campground. I setup my camp in which, I swear, was in Quebec since everyone was talking French. The camp site was sodden. My camp gear was still wet from my previous outing and the actual site was a ways away from the car. All the choice spots near the parking lot were already taken. So I only stood up the tent and brought my sleeping accruements inside the tent, everything else I left in the car. After getting the tent up and hoping it would dry out a little on the inside, I went into Banff. Banff has a definite feel of a ski village. And it was crowded. The population could be divided into 2 groups: young adults/students & Asians. Lots and lots of both groups. Odd. I would not have taken Banff to be such a hopping city but according to a barista 😊 I was talking to, the weather has been so mild that the season has started early. Go figure. Park campgrounds are closed for the season but the vacationers don't know that. I had supper in my car where it was nice and warm and then headed back to camp. AND, I spied shower facilities! That's right. No more stink. It was gloriously warm and I felt so much better. I hit the sleeping bag and slept like a baby. My tent did surprisingly well. There was condensation on in the inside but as long as I didn't touch the walls I was good.
So here I am at this coffee shop which isn't a Starbucks and has no free wifi (what coffeeshop has no wifi?!) writing this blog. I am a little concerned about the campground situation as I go further north. So far, I haven't really done primitive camping (think body functions and a shovel) but I think the time is a coming. Today, I am going to try to drive the length of the Rocky Mountain Parks on PR 93 and end up somewhere by Prince George or beyond.
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