Calgary started off nicely, with a moderately pleasant evening spent in the Red Deer Walmart Superstore, directly in front of a “no overnight parking” sign. Next morning, we elected to take the hunk o junk in to a reputable auto shop for a good health checkup and to fix a few loose parts which we suspected were contributing to the overwhelmingly strong fuel odors while driving. Whiling away the rainy day in shopping malls and such, I received an ominous call late morning…what had started out as a routine checkup was now looking to cost us upwards of $1800, with all sorts of bits and pieces needing attention – first and foremost being the exhaust manifolds, both of which were in a very bad state and were leaking fumes into the cabin and contributing to the excessive noise levels.
Feeling frustrated but resigned, we gave the go ahead and tried to enjoy a rain drenched Calgary. We were assured that the RV would be good to go by the next day, and that we would therefore still be able to make our campground reservation in Banff. Aside from a good LRT system and a nice river that ran through the city, Calgary was a bit “smeh”. An OK place, but nothing really to write home about. After an excellent dinner at a local upmarket Mexican restaurant (Salt and Pepper Restaurante Mexicano) and a night in one of the city’s less reputable hotels (the Shamrock, located above what we suspected to be a brothel), we were woken to yet another bombshell – the smarmy lady at the auto shop informed me over the phone that while attempting to remove the exhaust manifolds, the bolt heads had mostly all broken off and they had to remove the entire engine cylinder in order to drill out the old bolts and install new ones to secure the manifolds. This work would total a whopping $4400!!!! I nearly shat my pants.
After many stressful hours on the phone with the auto shop trying to bring the cost down and determining why they hadn’t consulted us of this potential risk BEFORE getting halfway through the job, we determined that our hands were tied and if we wanted to continue our trip we had to front up. Worse still, this would set us back a further 5 days, preventing us from making our Banff, Jasper and Yellowstone reservations and effectively rendering our westerly rush from Toronto a pointless one. Not to be outdone, we rented a nice car, bought some supplies, shoved our tiny tent and some cooking utensils into the hired vehicle and headed for the hills to make the most of our reservations.
I’m not gonna lie – driving a normal sized car was bloody fantastic! The thing zipped up hills, raced around corners, and effectively reignited my love of driving once again. We shot into the mountains, marveling at the grandeur of the Rockies as they rose up before us. We set up our rather sad looking camp at Tunnel Mountain Campground then immediately immersed ourselves in the mountains, attempting to forget the troubles we had left behind in Calgary. That afternoon, we completed the Bow Falls trail, which took us on a meandering hike through forested hills with views of the surrounding mountains and along the Bow River Valley to the falls themselves, which were overlooked by the famous Fairmont Banff Springs. Returning to our campsite depleted but satisfied, we made a late meal and retired for the night.
That night was a long, sleepless one, as it turned out that we had grossly overestimated the cushioning power of our crappy dollar store sleeping mats and massively underestimated the overnight drop in temperatures at such high elevations. Despite our resultant feeling of crappiness the next mornin, we had an excellent second day in the mountains, exploring the unfortunately named Minnewanka Lake, swimming in Johnson Lake, and heading to the Lake Louise area and exploring Moraine Lake and surrounds.
Lake Louise Campground, our accommodation for the next two nights, was a far cry from the light, airy, and well-facilitated Tunnel Mountain Campground back at Banff – our site was damp and dark and the washing/toilet facilities were in a sad state. Nonetheless, there was some novelty in the fact that the entire campground was surrounded by high voltage electric fencing to deter the local grizzlies from eating someone’s face off on the way down to the river.
Reflecting on our previous shit night’s sleep, we bundled up in many layers of clothes, attempted to pad the ground under our shoddy sleeping mats, and hunkered down for some shuteye. An even colder night and an even rockier ground prevented any such notions of sleep, and 4am saw us doing rounds of the campground in the car with the heaters on full blast to warm up, and the rest of the night spent sleeping on the seats.
Next day, we checked out the glory of Lake Louise (crawling with screaming tourists but nonetheless very picturesque). Lake Louise and the settlement has a pretty cool history, and we were determined to come back and do the walk up to the Tea House, high above the lake, when we had a bit more time on our hands. As it was, we were scheduled to head back to Calgary that day and fork out a small fortune for what would hopefully be an RV in stellar shape. On the way back, we travelled the Bow Valley Parkway, a slow meandering drive through the mountains and alongside the Bow River – a very nice drive, if you have the time to leave the speedy confines of the Trans Canada Highway. Also on the way back, we called into Johnston Canyon (apparently a very popular name in these parts), which took us on a very cool walk through narrow gorges, tunnels, and elevated boardwalks clinging to the rock walls. The walk to the Upper Falls was a long one, but well worth doing.
We arrived back in Calgary at 4.30 in the afternoon (after a long 2.5 hour drive back through the mountains), only to find that the RV was still being worked on. Luckily, the owner got on the case and managed to hand the keys over to us a little after 6pm, at which point we had to fill up the rental and return it to the airport, by this time very late. The RV, we were told, was in a lot better shape but they didn’t really get the chance to do a full service and checkup, and noticed that the timing was set 10 degrees off the optimum setting, thus we could expect to still struggle up hills and enjoy astronomically shit mileage. Oh well.
Once more stocked up and with the hunk o junk back in our possession, we set off for round two in the Canadian Rockies, this time headed through the grueling (well, for a shitty old RV anyway) Icefields Parkway to Jasper National Park.