In 2013 I visited Canada with my wife, the Textiliste and my children, the Broker (formerly known as the Lawyer) and the Vet. We’ve stayed in Banff and visited Lake Louise and the Six Glaciers. Today it’s…
Moraine Lake and the Ten Peaks. Maybe we’d been spoilt as our guide for Lake Louise was the cheeky charming Anika. Today we were collected by the oily lugubrious Derek whose personality ground my gears like an arthritic glacier. I’m not good with rules that have been designed to make the rule giver’s life easier especially when they are the first thing that’s shared with me.
Me: as I climb about his bus, a cheery ‘Morning!’
Derek: giving me a wary side eye, and nodding at my coffee cup, ‘You’re not thinking of drinking that on this bus?’
Me: momentarily flummoxed, ‘er…’
Derek, now standing and addressing the rest of the coach: ‘No food or drink on the coach. And don’t use the toilet. It’s for emergencies.’
Me: recovering somewhat, and beginning to move down the bus, ‘Thanks for letting me know.’
Derek, standing again, ‘Hey, I said no food or drink on this bus.’
Me: once more cheery, ‘Yep, got it!’
Derek: sounding more and more like Mr Gilbert my first Latin teacher and a man who could insert a piece of chalk into a pupil’s ear at fifteen paces, ‘So what’s with the cup?’
Me: knowing this won’t end well, ‘Just in case I need a non-emergency pee’ pause, rummaging in my back pack, ‘I’ve a Tupperware box somewhere in case I need an emergency number…’
Derek, for all his petty ways was a consummate professional. He rose about my pathetic flippancy, understood my children would control me far better than he and began to explain what we were going to see that day. He wasn’t wrong when he said it would be v good.
Lake Morraine is visually spectacular, one of those iconic back drops caused by some mother of all rock falls – a mountain collapsed, which must have moved even Derek’s vocal harmonics up a register or two. Visitors queue up to take the perfect piccy with that super turquoise water and pine woods as a back drop. Luckily, the threatened thunder, which briefly cheered Derek until it passed us to the south didn’t spoil our stroll around the paths.
I don’t really recall the Ten Peaks. Maybe Derek decided we didn’t deserve them. Instead we headed for the delightfully named Kicking Horse Pass, the continental divide. Apparently if we were rained on on the eastern side the water would eventually end up in the Atlantic, though I imagine it would pass through several Americans and Canadians via beer and coffee on its way, where as the precipitation on the western side would head off for the Pacific. That did seem a rather cool idea. It’s also the point where Alberta becomes British Colombia – I wonder why they retain the British prefix? Rather sweet and maybe the sort of thing no one wants to change in case the replacement turns out to be even worse.
Derek and me, it turned out were kindred spirits, hard though that was to swallow. ‘Next up, a treat,’ he intoned with what sounded like genuine enthusiasm. ‘The spiral tunnels.’
See, one reason why I wanted this holiday was the Rocky Mountaineer, the railway that travels from Jasper to Vancouver and which we could be catching in a couple of days. Railways are still a fundamental part of Canadian infrastructure taking all sorts of stuff – mostly grain- from the centre to the outer edges of the continent. When they were building the railway, back when Stove pipe hats and spats were the baseball caps and high tops of their day, they had a bit of a problem around here. The mountains. One of the things railway engineers soon learnt was that braking a train required help in terms of the incline of the braking train. Make that incline above 5 degrees and braking became something of an optional extra. Having lost too many trains to the recurrent if naive hope that this time the bloody thing would stop, the engineers decided the only answer was to create a spiral that never exceed the required 5 degrees. To do that the tunnels were blown into the mountain side and kept popping in and out. And because the trains were so long, you could watch the train as it weaved in and out on the way down or up.
I stood on the viewing platform with Derek, the rest of the party having decide to play I spy chipmunks while we waited in hope of a train.
Me: ‘How often do you see the train?’
Derek: ‘Been ten years…’
Give him his due, Derek kept the faith. I wouldn’t say we bonded but my ingrained love of all things railway-based that goes back to the delights of the Rev Audrey’s Thomas the Tank Engine books, gave him the excuse to wait a bit longer. I wonder if he’s seen one yet? Hope so.
We left to take in a waterfall – my recollection is of a spectacular sight and a river underneath that reminded me of a China clay sediment lake in Cornwall, with its vibrant white silt.
I did thank Derek when we departed his coach, and I showed him my cup. I’d hate him to think I left it for him to clear up. I’m sure he appreciated the gesture. It didn’t need words.
That evening we moved from Banff to The Lake Louise hotel. one of those not quite places. It tried to be charming and nailed pretentious. Maybe it was the bed, which left me looking like a pretezel. Or the food which comprised an elk burger and rhubarb tart that didn’t appear to have what we understood to be rhubarb in it. We’d moved so we could get an early start on our big drive along Highway 93, one of the top drives in the world. Whatever, that would be a novel experience. I’d be gobsmacked it there were any drives in the UK that had been nominated in the top 1000 drives.