The day with the least ride time was to allow exploration but the weather becomes its own adventure as we make our way from Banff through mountain passes to Radium.
A clever aspect of traveling in Canada over Labor Day is that it’s not a holiday here.
Except it is. In fact, it may be a bigger camping holiday here than in the U.S., as we’ve learned from Canadians we’ve met in the shared shelter and elsewhere. That explains the unexpected traffic and crowding.
“Did you hear all the yelling last night?” I ask the others when finally we emerge reluctantly from our warm cocoons. They did. Happily, I still slept enough that I’m feeling better than yesterday. Unhappily, it’s still raining.
The sky is all clouds, low and dark. We can’t rely on drying out. The first time the rain slows to a sprinkle, we quickly pack the best we can and make our exit. Rain is already heavy again by the time we leave the campground.
Breakfast in the town of Banff, just a couple miles away, was always the day’s plan. Far from being a podunk mountain town with a single diner, as we generally prefer, we find a major tourist draw with high-end accoutrements. It’s a bit crazy.
We join a procession of vehicles threading between lines of umbrella-covered pedestrians, block after block. I’m not sure we’ll find a place to park, let alone eat. Following random openings in traffic leads us off the main streets until I see an empty bit of curb — no time to think twice about it.
Thus we find ourselves at Melissa’s Missteak for breakfast. We’re warned of a long wait but it goes faster than predicted. And even while waiting, it’s nice just to be out of the rain.
“You guys are edgy,” our waitress says once we’re finally seated and she sees our wet motorcycle gear.
“Her tip just went up,” Jeremy responds.
After hearty breakfasts and for me a couple cold remedy coffees with Baileys, we find gas then the nearest Banff exit.
The day’s excursion plans are hampered equally by weather and crowding. We leave the Trans-Canada Highway for the sightseeing Bow Valley Parkway with access to places like Johnston Canyon. But not only are trailhead parking lots full but roadsides a mile before and after are packed with vehicles.
We choose to pass them by, continuing our route to Radium where we hope out-of-the-mountains will mean out-of-the-rain.
Weather got worse before it better. We faced pelting rain and sleet over mountain passes but finally it’s drying out as we get nearer to Radium. It’s a nice feeling. Brenna and I both extend our arms into the wind as we ride, letting the air fill our jackets.
The hot springs are busy. With a little cajoling from Jeremy, we decide, having come all this way, we’d best have a look. After buying a few groceries down the road, we find a place to squeeze our bikes into the overflowing hot springs parking lot and make our way in.
Joel opts to guard our gear and his dignity at one of the covered tables outside the facility entrance while the rest of us enter the cattle chute past swim trunk rental, downstairs to locker rooms and showers and out to the cosmopolitan mix of ethnicities and languages bobbing in rain dappled waters.
Jeremy and I think it’s rather nice but Brenna is not impressed. This differs in every way that matters from her Idaho hot springs visits. And with Joel waiting, we have reasons to keep our soak short.
Having endured almost 24 hours of rain, and needing still to dry our camping gear, I promised Brenna we wouldn’t set up camp in the rain. At the time, skies above Radium were clear and it seemed a commitment unlikely to come due. But now rain has caught up to us.
I am torn but I can’t renege on that promise so with great reluctance I tell Jeremy and Joel that Brenna and I are going to look for a hotel room for the night. I hope they’ll consider the same, so we can spend the evening together, but they’re understandably committed to camping.
I hand them the printed sheet with our campsite reservation, about a thirty minute ride away, and we part ways.
I expect the rain will have caused some to cancel their plans and with so many motels in town, I believe we’ll quickly find a room. But I’m wrong. Daylight fades and we’re pelted by rain while making our way all over town, checking at one front desk after another (almost none have outdoor “vacancy” signs).
Lightning cracks the dark sky all across the valley spread before us as we head south out of town in a final effort to see if there’s a motel this way we’ve overlooked.
“I don’t like this,” Brenna announces in the intercom.
“I’m sorry,” I tell Brenna.
“It’s okay,” she says.
We are out of options except to turn around and make haste for the campsite.
My brothers are set up with a fire going when we arrive. It’s still raining so Brenna and I decide to visit the nearby campground shelter before trying to set up ourselves. Inside we find a hot stove tended by a thirty-something Canadian couple. Our gear has kept us dry but it’s still nice to peel it off and feel the radiant heat.
The Canadians have had dinner and are now using a pie iron to cook “apple toasties” in the embers — apple pie filling between two butterd slices of white bread. The lady is eager to make Brenna comfortable, offering her one toasty after another and an oversized sweatshirt to keep.
“Canada: cold winters, warm hearts,” the lady explains with a smile.
It is so nice by the crackling fire out of the rain that, once the couple have left, I bring all our gear, not just what we were wearing, in to dry. Brenna has the idea to actually set up the tent with sleeping bag and everything inside it then carry it out to our site. She’s a genius.
The tent poles flex just enough to fit out the door, her on one end, me on the other, carrying our pre-set-up tent out into the dark and rain.
The Canadian couple said last night that they come here every year and have never seen as much rain as yesterday. Happily, we awake to a day still cloudy but dry.
Having labored by headlamp inside the shelter last night to get our things dry and debris-free, I try to wipe away all the pine needles and moss bits the night rains delivered before packing. Brenna is very supportive.
We aren’t sure what weather the day will bring so we gear up and get on the road as soon as we can.
Skies are kind to us today and we cruise uninhibited around lakes and through quaint Canadian towns.
It is harder to get back into the U.S. than to leave it. We have to remove our helmets this time and Brenna is asked about her relationship to me. I half expect (and almost hope for) a smart-aleck answer.
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time¹
The last couple hours of our ride retrace the way we came days ago. It is warmer and sunnier by the mile. Joel invites us to rinse away our rain sorrows in the creek that runs across his property. After sitting a while in the sun it’s almost hard to remember the deluge of a day ago.
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
Joel demonstrates where we might leap into the water from a rock which begins a small contest for the most inelegant (it seems) jump. Brenna is amused to watch her dad and uncles but declines to participate.
We planned an extra overnight at Joel’s house both coming and going so we spend the evening in Sandpoint, first at MickDuff’s Brewing Company then walking around Beach Park.
I am glad Brenna is able to enjoy a final day without rain. It has been great to share this experience with her for the first time even as I’m concerned to make it a happy one.
We cap the night with a few of the new Netflix episodes of the Dark Crystal prequel, a movie of our youth.
Riding is a way of being closer to the truth of things, exposed to the world as it really is, it’s full dynamic range. It isn’t always pleasant but I find sweet against sour more broadly satisfying.
So ends another year in the unbroken chain of adventure and misadventure with my brothers. It’s time to drive home. Thank you for hosting us Joel and Bethany!