Rendezvous at The Rhino

In its first seven days the Voyager has ascended high mountain roads, camped next to glaciers, visited two national parks and crossed a provincial border. In week two the backdrop of The Rockies remain as the journey heads South, across the American border, into Montana for a meeting in Missoula.

Day 8 – Banff

Week two begins where week one ended, in a cold minivan eating a crisp sandwich. This morn, an industrial train horn was the wake up call of choice – unsurprising given that we are parked beside the only railway line connecting the North of Alberta with the South. Following a pointless wander around town, Shu and I made our way towards Sulphur Mountain – Banff’s answer to Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain – and followed a short forested trail around its base.

Banff

A few days past we heard the news that Aaron and Jess had a horrific time attempting to cross the American border on their way to Yellowstone. As a result, we spent most of the afternoon preparing documents to assist with our own crossing – including, rather depressingly, our flights home. Despite the fact that they are not for at least another three months, and we still have all of America to explore, it does feel a bit like the beginning of the end.

Day 9 – Banff to Calgary

Banff Hot Springs

With the rain pouring and temperature dropping there was only one option this morning – a shower, shave and soak at Banff’s hot springs. Nine days of car camping were washed away both mentally and physically in one single hour of unashamed hedonism. With the rain lashing down there was little more we could do in Banff and so we headed East on highway one through Canmore and onto our first city since Vancouver, Calgary.

We had heard rather worrying weather reports all the way from Jasper and on our way to Calgary we saw the evidence of those reports for the first time, crisp white snow. Heaps of the stuff. In August. The prospect of below-freezing night-time temperatures in the middle of Summer were temporarily forgotten when we arrived at the city gates.

We did not realise how much we missed city life, in particular Shu, until we drove through downtown Calgary in awe of Skytrains, busy roads and skyscrapers. Despite the change in province, and the change of colour from Vancouver blue to Calgary red, it felt like home.

Snow on the way to Calgary

Snow on the way to Calgary

Before the trip began I was adamant that sat nav was not necessary and that a good old fashioned road map was all that was required – in spite of the views of the other three group members. I now must eat my own weight in humble pie as our ‘road map’ has the whole of Calgary mapped in a neat one inch by one inch square. Safe to say finding our car camping location in one of Canada’s largest cities – of which I have absolutely no prior geographical knowledge of – took a lot of time, U-turns and, predominantly, swearing. A below freezing night await.

Day 10 – Calgary

Breakfast

It is almost easy to forget about how cold your bones are when you wake up to a cloudless sky and brilliant sunshine. That was the fact this morning, and indeed all day. It was time to explore Calgary, and what better way to do so than to dress in the regalia of bitter ice hockey rivals the Vancouver Canucks. It was absolutely worth the abuse we received from Calgary Flames’ supporters throughout the day.

Calgary

Calgary Tower

Following a visit to Calgary Tower, we walked nearly every street in downtown – which did not take us long. Apart from your average mass public yoga session taking place in the middle of Stephen Avenue, the centre of the city was much like any other North American city – apart from the fact it was eerily quiet for a Saturday. They have a nice park, that’s about it. We decided to cut our losses, make our first visit to the laundromat, and prepare to move South towards the border the following morn.

Calgary

Calgary

Day 11 – Calgary to Waterton Lakes (border between Canada and the United States of America)

Today, the journey heads South out of the not-so-bustling city and, thankfully, back into the wilderness. The two-hundred-and-fifty kilometre drive to the border with Montana was the flattest landscape we had seen on our trip so far. With the suns ever-growing influence, and the temperature slowly increasing, I am developing a world-class trucker tan on my left arm.

The road to the border

Apart from our first needless stopping by the police in which, as they were Canadian, they were almost apologetic about – the drive was highly unremarkable. That was until we saw the welcome sight of mountains on the horizon, we had reached Glacier National Park.

The park straddles the border between Canada and the United States and, with time on our side, we could not resist staying an extra night and watching one last beautiful Canadian sunset before the inevitable border control battle commences tomorrow morning. The line “no I am not smuggling Shu into your country” will probably be mentioned.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Day 12 – Waterton Lakes (border between Canada and the United States of America) to Polson, MT

With preparations as complete as they could be, it was time to make the crossing we had been dreading since news filtered through of Aaron and Jess’ interrogation almost a week earlier. We owe them several large beers as our own crossing, in no small part due to them, went as smoothly as it could have done. No more than ten minutes and we were questioned, stamped and positively waved into the country. A huge sigh of relief, and a celebratory holler, were let off once out of sight of the border. Many months since my last, finally I had reached state number three – Montana.

Welcome to Montana

Glacier National Park

Our first foray into the ‘Treasure State’ was on a road that I had been looking forward to driving since I started planning this journey – the Going-to-the-Sun Road. As the name implies the road climbs and snakes its way, at the right time of day of course, in what appears to be the direction of the sun. However, due to major ongoing forest fires in the park, the spectacular views normally offered were shrouded in smoke. Indeed, on our way South to Polson, it appeared that the whole state of Montana is blanketed by the same smog. We hear it may take days to clear.

Going-to-the-Sun road

Going-to-the-Sun road

Day 13 – Polson, MT to Spokane, WA

A new day dawned and a midday rendezvous at The Rhino beckoned. We made our way South to Missoula in what turned into a Top Gear style race with companions Aaron and Jess – whom we had been travelling without for ten days. However, once again, our lack of satellite navigation led to a forty-five minute search for the aforementioned publicly licensed meeting place. Within seconds of finding the pub, Aaron and Jess appeared from around the corner, the victors smiling from ear to ear. The group was reformed.

The Rhino

After an exchange of tales over lunch, in a diner that looked like a taxidermists front lounge, we headed West for the first time and back towards the Pacific coast. Montana, in all honesty, was a disappointment – although we did only see the work shop side of the state. Kalispell was an industrialised horror scene and Missoula was only marginally more pleasing on the eye. The fact the whole state was thick with smoke did not do it any favours.

Montana

So we crossed into state number three, Idaho, expecting more of the same and were pleasantly surprised. The road across the pan-handle was beautiful, meandering through scenic woodland and heavily forested mountains. The towns of Coeur d’Alene and Wallace – which also claims, without irony, to be the centre of the universe – were authentic time-capsules to a bygone era of dusty saloons and smoke-filled casinos. Our time in the state of ‘Famous Potatoes’ was short-lived as our camp for the night was across the border of our next state – Washington.

Wallace

Wallace

Day 14 – Spokane, WA to Portland, OR

Washington state felt decidedly familiar to Shu and I, having visited Seattle earlier in the year, whilst its proximity to British Columbia influences a subtle Canadian culture – which is good news. However, no sooner had we escaped the clutches of the godforsaken forest fire smog than we prayed for its godforsaken return, the sun now having no filter between itself and three pasty white Welsh people – the Mongolian-skinned Korean has no such issues.

The road to Portland

The road to Portland

Following a fly, wasp and mosquito infested lunch we crossed, and then followed, the substantially sized Columbia river all the way to our next stop – Portland, Oregon. The end of week two marked with an entry into state six.

I am currently supping on my first beer of the trip in recognition of a week which could have gone wrong but fortunately did not. We crossed the border – without being strip searched – we found Aaron and Jess in Montana – without modern technology… just – and we made our way back to the West coast in time for a Pabst Blue Ribbon and a game of who has the worst bowels.

Super size America

Next week we head South to see several rather large trees, some old red bridge and a prison on an island. All whilst trying to avoid catching the plague – yes the real black death. Wish us luck.

Total kilometres: 3,283

J

JOIN JACK ON THE ROAD
I agree to have my details stored at MailChimp (click here for info)
Join the subscribers already receiving updates on the latest blog posts from me, and some of my favourite travel writers on the web. No marketing, spam, or third-party sales. Just articles, guides, and plenty of tales!
Join my road-tripping community. Never . Any . Spam

Leave Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: