January 17, 2011: Banff, AB

     We woke in Edmonton, AB the morning of January 17th and took our time getting on the road.  Our host, Dave Swede had gone to work early and unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to visit.    Bummer.  We left him a thank you note and some canned red salmon from Seward, AK. 
We did have a chance to visit with another “couch surfer” staying with Dave. Jim was from Germany and had traveled to Edmonton in an effort to learn about organic farming through a program called WWOFF = World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  He explained that he had apprenticed for a year on an organic farm somewhere in Alberta where he traded sweat equity for the training as well as room and board.  At present Jim was looking to make some money and get a job in the northern oilfields.
After loading our belongings in to the Jeep, we had some trouble keeping the Jeep at idle. Shit. Each time we started the Jeep, it would sputter for a moment and then die. We figured it was related to the fact that the gas tank was near empty the night before. Rather than fill the tank before going to bed, we elected to wait until the next day.  We solved the problem by driving around a gas station in circles until the engine warmed up. After circling the local "gas bar" the engine was able to idle on its own.  The temperatures were -7F outside and it was about 11 am when we left Edmonton, AB.  Although we did not get to explore the city, from what we saw- Edmonton seemed cosmopolitan and vibrant.

     After leaving Edmonton, AB we made arrangements to spend the night in Coeur d’Alene, ID that is about an hour south of the Canadian border with one of Dominick’s friends from Seward, AK.  It would be approximately 800 miles from Edmonton to Coeur d’Alene, ID.  The weather was absolutely beautiful with blue skies and dry roads.  Interestingly,  we noticed Edmonton, AB is about an 1.5 hour drive from Banff, the largest town in Banff National Forest and a world class ski destination in the Canadian Rockies.  Dominick is an avid skier and went into a semi-trance every time he said the word . . . Banff.  He explained the mountains and cross-country trails were pulling him to the ski destination like a super-cooled magnet.  We made a game time decision to bypass Calgary and visit the skiing paradise before crossing into the US. Shatomi piloted the Jeep along the major interstate toward the Canadian Rockies.  The sky was crisp with light blue and a big Canadian sun to guide the way.

As we approached Banf and began climbing the Canadian Rocky mountains- it starts to rain.  The town of Banff, AB is surrounded by a large number of jagged mountains and is the second highest community (4,800 feet) in Canada.  Another popular destination that locals talk about is the nearby Lake Louise- just 58km west of Banff.  We elected to check out Sunshine Village, one of the ski resorts located close to the town of Banff, AB with hopes that Dom could do some nordic skiing.

    Although it was 4pm and raining, Sunshine Village resort was buzzing with skiers and snowboarders of all ages.  Apparently Canadians work hard and play harder.  Dom changed into his Nordic gear during the drive and while he explored the Sunshine Village lodge, Shatomi elected to hang out with our salt and mud-splattered Jeep. We filled the Jeep with the spare fuel we had been carrying in the 3 bright red gas cans that were strapped to the rear cargo platform.  The yellow Alaska plates attracted attention from most of the passers by.  We haven’t shaved in days and feel (look) like the Klondike mountain men described in Robert Services poems.  
     After scoping out the Sunshine Village lodge, Dom reported that the nordic ski trails were actually located at an adjacent resort called Canmore Nordic Centre.  Given the time it would take to drive to the nordic ski trails, we decided to sacrifice an opportunity to ski Banff in exchange for making it to Idaho at a decent time to spend time with John Hamilton and his family.  Cour d’Alene, ID was 350 miles from our current location and the snow was predicted to move in soon an possible close the roads.  We briefly cruised through the town of Banff and enjoyed a beverage before getting back on the road. Banff seemed like a fun place to spend some time although maybe a bit expen$ive.  Dom declares that he will be back!

     The evening of January 17th we crossed the back into the USA around midnight near the tip of Idaho.  
We were both surprised at how rigorous the border check was although neither of us had much experience with US homeland security.  As you pull up to the actual US check point, several cameras take pictures of your vehicle and custom agents wave you up to a booth.  They are less than friendly and very suspicious.  At least three agents investigated the Jeep which included jumping up and down on the rear bumper, banging on the roof, and kicking the tires in an effort to discover hidden items. When we explained why we were traveling through Canada and our ultimate destination, the customs agents exchanged incredulous looks and seemed unimpressed.  Without reason to detain us, we entered the US grateful and tired. 

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