There are some unbelievable spots in Canada, many in fact. One that caught my attention early, as I took a greyhound bus from Toronto to Vancouver in 2000 (for 72-hrs @ 120$), was this little, high mountain village, Banff -it seemed so quaint, and calm and pretty.
Later, in 2001, I would drive back to my hometown -Sarnia, On- in a van over the course of a month, and pass through Banff, Jasper, Louise, and Yoho. These places were more than just breath-taking, they were a limitless stream of sunshine, from the eyes of Mother Nature.
It took me a few years to figure it out, but in 2004 I moved to Banff as a hopeful apprentice Chef, headed for the Banff Springs Hotel. The job fell through after I ‘failed’ their 100-question oral examination during the 2nd interview.
The village is surrounded by 4 primary mountain summits and then an endless sea of other mountains running in every direction west. Cascade, Rundle, Sulphur and the smallest Tunnel are the ‘Four Horsemen’ of this township. Not far there are the Big 3 snow fields for riding. Norquay is inside of the township, Sunshine Village is about 10 km away and Louise, the furthest within 40 minutes from the centre of Banff.The village was meant to be my stepping stone for a life of Chef-dome, but when ‘The Shining’ inspired, gigantic, eccelctic top of the tier hotel, Banff Springs Ex. Chef in charge of hiring shot me down, I soaked up my self-pity in other ways, meeting some amazing people along the way.
Though it was meant to be a snowboarding experience like no other, hard times hit my pockets as I worked in a little breakfast place, struggling to arrive on time. Once I finally got into a decent kitchen, making fresh pasta, and huge, stretched-to-order pizzas in a wood oven three months had passed; it was already coming into christmas, and the snowboard (and idea) I had on lay-away were long gone.
My skater background told me that it was going to be a bum rush of adrenaline, but the little, shiny pills of uppers and disassocatives seemed to call me a little more clearly this time around, and kept my mind occupied for something that seemed out of my reach. Instead of mulling over the whole thing, dive in with some substance abuse and see how that feels.
The snow falls like little cotton balls and mid-winter at -40 degrees, even though its freezing, every time you walk oustide, those 4 horsemen are there to smile upon your frosty eyelids. It’s hard to imagine depression, let alone succumb to it. They engulf you with love, like they are breathing it out, and straight into your mouth and pores. The only time I fell in love with winter time.
Johnson Canyon, is two stages, and has a long waterfall, that in the winter is frozen and at times, has a few crazies throwing pick-axes into it, climbing the turquoise sheet of ice, thick as a cargo ship. This was my first view of ‘climbers’. Again, something to a flat-land, small towner that was completely foreign.
There are lakes in every direction and as the weather gets nicer, the more spots open up to a hiker. Around these lakes are, of course, an abundance of wild-life, still being pretty well protected (it seems) by our dysfunctional government (Corporatized).The cariboo, and elk, and bears, and wolves. It is not exactly the safest place to go wandering blind drunk at night, but it’s friggin gorgeous. Especially, when you wake up to an Elk standing at your front door -and you have to go to work in fifteen minutes.
The highlight for me, like it or not, was of course a world of alpine spikes all around, but as well the endless party that hit those streets from the day I arrived, til the afternoon we rolled out in my homeboy’s caravan headed for Tofino after all the hugs and bows and tears, nine months later.
No matter what was happening, no matter the level of problems; no place to live? Job fell out? Arrested for selling extassy? Doesn’t matter, because there was a huge support system of cats there to harmonize and help forget about the scenario. It was certainly a white wonderland alright. And though I didn’t get to carve as much ‘Pow’ as I may have wanted to -in fact none- there was plenty of powder to cut through with a credit card or driver’s license. My boy had surgery on his collar bone –an accident from riding the year before- and while he was in a cast, I figured he could use a side-kick.
So, where there is an endless hustle of partying and lustful nights leaving society, politics, ill-fragrance and judgment behind, there is as well, a small orgy that takes place.
I can still remember sitting in a hot-tub during one of the many hotel parties and someone saying to me, or at least in my direction,
‘You know how many people I saw, having sex, in here?’
‘No idea, but thanks for lettin me know I’m sitting in a pool of sperm.’
You can imagine the uncomfortable grin on my face.
Less than a few hours later, three people ended up on the king size -while a long line of us sat in front of it, on a couple of couches, talking shit in the opposite direction- fucking under some very thin sheets.
The whole time, this whole experience, from early on, started as a wild underbelly of debauchery. And it felt something like, a rockstar’s lifestyle.
As the winter melted and easter kicked in, the warm weather brought so much excitement and fermented berries. Gin is called ‘panty remover’ back home, after all.
Summer time, of course, has to mean festivals. Though for me, I’ve never been drawn to them as much as I’ve been drawn to the road itself. There are plenty of options as the ice melts.
A family was formed, quite quickly I suppose; a group of people that in such a short time seemed to help me over many hurdles. These cats were there through the thick of it, and one of them kept me dusted while I looked at a jail term. Another dragged me out of the village after 9 months and a job in a gas station, because of this conviction. He dragged me into a caravan and started this journey I am on still. One that is worth more than just psychedelic escape, much more. A road trip I will never forget.
This place gathers people from every corner of the earth, and for someone that grew up in a city of 70 000, and tried to keep his life ‘rugged’ and tough and indie, meeting all these travelers showed me a different way of living this lifestyle. It brought the words of Kerouac and Burroughs into my hands; it brought the curiosity of world dialects and slang from the U.K, Japan, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.
And outside of Canada -if only I could clean up a bit.
I fell in love with mountains, with the energy they instill to your soul, to your body, to your overall, daily personality. Mountains, before this, were just something so far away, and distant and unknown. After a few months, these 4 horsemen became my brothers that I couldn’t wait to walk out to see as I looked up and dreamed with my head in the clouds.
Its been more than ten years now, that this time passed by, and so much has happened and so many things have taken place. There are a few of these cats I still keep in contact with here and there, and fact of the matter is: Legends Never Die.
The family that brought me a new kind of perspective, a new line of sight, inspiration to do more than end up in jail for some petty bullshit. The family that kicked it through cold nights in little condo-like flats and smoking hot mornings on roof tops with trusty bottles of Appleton Rum. The family that saw me for more than just a guy getting kicked around the village, for more than a case of bad luck. This place was a magical centre of greatness and I can’t express it enough. Whether you are an adrenaline junky, fired up for an endless night, or simply stuck on nature. It doesn’t matter what you are after, this region, Banff National Park and its surroundings areas from the Columbia Icefield to Lake Louise; from Canmore to Kananaskis to Golden, Invemere and as far as Revelstoke (the not-so-new-anymore hotspot), there is a lifestyle waiting for any nature junky or aspiring traveler.
Creativity pours from the glaciers, into Bow Lake and makes its way to the Bow River, past The Banff Springs Hotel and into the village, where if you’ve lived there, you have drunk the water, and know there is something oh, so very special about it.
Thanks for everything you gave me. For better or worse!