Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where in the world is Banff???

I had never heard of Banff.

I even had trouble saying it. "Banff". Doesn't come naturally to me. I keep wanting to say Bamff with an "m". In case you don't know, Banff is a National Park in Alberta, Canada, which includes a small town of about 7,000 and the famous Banff Springs Hotel. It's situated in the Bow River Valley in the Canadian Rockies, between Calgary and Lake Louise.

As far as I know, nothing rhymes with Banff. As a result, despite Banff being recognized as one of the most beautiful spots in the world, there are no songs or poems about the place. There are, however, many songs and poems about the surrounding Canadian Rockies. I have yet to write a song about either geographical location.
So how does a guy like me wind up in a place called Banff? Friendship of course! My good friend Shamus, who I had earlier visited in Montana and made this movie, had been living with his family in Alaska for about a year and was now road-tripping back to the states through the Yukon, Alberta and BC. He proposed I meet him along the way and suggested Banff, which his wife had pointed out to him as a spot not to be missed. She, and their child, were not with Shamus, as a road trip from Alaska to Pennsylvania is not advisable for sane people. So Shamus was looking for some company and I was happy to oblige. I bought a plane ticket and was heading out there within the week.
Since Shamus' brakes had failed and his wheel was coming off, he was a bit delayed meeting me. So I took a bus from the airport straight to the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel. This place looks like a castle in the mountains of eastern Europe. I sat down to an incredible view, drinking a beer and eating french onion soup while waiting for my friend. When Shamus finally arrived it was starting to get dark so we immediately headed to the nearest campground and set up our tent. We found an axe lying on the ground so I started chopping up some firewood while Shamus prepared the food. I had never used an axe before, and it was on the smallish side, so it took a while to liberate the felled wood (I didn't cut down live trees, only cut up the ones lying on the ground). We got a good fire going and enjoyed our chicken and beans.
The next day was spent exploring Lake Louise, which is about an hour west of Banff. It was raining and cold when we got there but it soon cleared up and was well worth the trip. Lake Louise is a glacial lake and was just thawing out from the winter's snow. We hiked around the entire lake and talked about the life changing decisions that one makes in those pivotal years from about 18-25. Afterwards we headed back to Banff and climbed Tunnel Mountain. Now, Tunnel Mountain doesn't actually have a tunnel running through it. When building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the engineers initial idea was to bore a tunnel right through the mountain, when later realizing it would be a lot easier to simply go around the mountain and follow the Bow River. Still, the mountain was named after the aborted stupid idea. At the top of the mountain we talked about the craziest things that ever happened to us during our world travels. My story occurred in a karaoke bar in Shanghai while Shamus' involved a dentist in the Ural Mountains.
The next day we road-tripped it back to the US, waiting through hour-long traffic at the border, getting a sandwich at Eureka, Montana and driving past Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. Missoula, our destination, was raining so we spent the evening eating chili and making home movies about the motel's hair dryer. I took a flight home the next day after a great trip with a good friend in a beautiful setting.