Recently, I went on a trip to Banff that has been the unluckiest travels I’ve yet to have. Everything about the planning for the trip was jank. A couple friends and I planned to go exactly one week before our departure date. At that point, it was already July, reaching two-thirds of the year, and I hadn’t had a chance to take a vacation day yet. Granted, working from home can seem like a vacation at times, but there’s still the obligation of needing to work. We discussed the idea on Saturday, almost on a whim, planning on Sunday, and did the bookings and trip planning over the week.
During the entire planning process, my dad was on DEFCON 5. I really want to know what type of news he’s getting from China, since he literally thought that we were going to die. He even messaged one of my friend’s dad as an attempt to dissuade her from coming. As I’m writing this, I can confirm that I’m very much alive. We looked as the cases that were reported at Banff, and it seemed to be still very minimal. Since we’d be mostly outside of the city, my assumption was that we would be not be interacting with a lot of people. Nevertheless, he wanted us to quarantine for two weeks before interacting with others.
Day 0 (The Night Before)
We gathered at my place in Whiterock before departing. Our initial group of three (Freya, Rita, and myself) rapidly grew to 6 (Lucas, Terry, Sundy) in total. In the end, one of my friends couldn’t take the day off so he left on Monday with my friend who invited him. The first night was mostly icebreakers and doing some last minute planning. I accidentally assumed that we were borrowing my parent’s car since we mentioned it before but there was no confirmation. In the end, I felt a little bad since it was rather sudden for my step-mom. I lent her my car for the time being. That evening, I ended up sharing a bed with my friend’s friend, Sundy. Ultimately, Sundy would be my bed companion for the next few days.
Rising bright and early at 6:30, I felt that energy you get before doing something big. Luckily, I slept pretty well. After making sure we had everything we needed, it was time to hit the road. That night, Lucas was staying at Freya’s while the rest of us stayed at my place. When we met up, it was off to the races. We went to fill up on gas before departing.
Not even an hour after leaving the city, the bad luck that would follow us throughout the entire trip manifested itself: I got rear-ended on the highway. While it wasn’t particularly terrible (luckily, nobody got hurt), it was still shocking. I was driving my dad’s car, and the night before my step-mom had already contact the insurance broker to ensure that the vehicle would be insured even when I was the driver. We stepped out off the side of the highway to exchange contact information and driver’s license information with the person who rear-ended us. Afterwards, we looked around for a body shop that could take a look at our vehicle to see if we could continue. A part of the bumper was literally jutting out the side of the car for half the trip to Banff. I could literally feel the drag from that loose piece as I was driving. In the end, we stopped by a McDonalds along the way and one of my friends ended up literally reattaching the piece by whacking it into place. With our vehicle “fixed”, we continued on our merry way. There’s not much else to say about the first day. Initially, I intended on trading driver shifts with one of my passengers, but she was (understandably) somewhat hesitant to drive after the previous ordeal.
We ended up arriving in Banff at around 21:00. By the time we arrived, the other vehicle had already been there for a couple of hours. During the car ride, we only stopped a few times for gas and food. By the time we arrived, the only thing that most of us had eaten that day was McDonalds. The one thing I wish I knew prior to heading to Banff is that every restaurant closes super early. Looking around, every restaurant was either already full or closed. There was one restaurant that we managed to squeeze into called the Maple Leaf. Hunger really is the best spice; the food wasn’t anything spectacular and yet it really was what I needed at that time.
What we ended up bringing the most of on the trip was most likely alcohol. The first night started off well with some good ol’ binge drinking. To my surprise, there’s actually a Chinese version of King’s Cup that’s, needless to say, very Chinese. One interesting rule that’s different compared to the game that I’m accustomed to is what the two card does. In the English version, the two simply orders someone to take a drink. On the other hand, the Chinese version sets it up so the person who draws the two must accompany every drink. Pretty brutal.
The revelry continued until 02:00. At a certain point, everyone likely decided that we should probably just go to bed to be prepared for the activities the day after. The drinking didn’t actually turn out to be too heavy, truth be told. None of us had hangovers, vomited, or passed out drunk. I crawled into bed with my friend, and slept like a stone.
On the second day, we ended up waking up at around 10:00. While everyone was sleeping, I tried to prepare some plans for what we wanted to do. There was a list of sightseeing spots that we were interested in visiting already, it was simply a matter of organizing them into a schedule. The very first location was The Bison for brunch. After a day of driving and a night of drinking, brunch-y food tastes much better. Once breakfast was over, it was back to the road. The plan for the day was to stop by Lake Louise and the Columbus Icefield Skywalk. Little did we know, it would be yet another day of being stuck on the road.
When we turned off the highway towards Lake Louise, there was a huge queue of cars that were waiting to get into the lake area. As I haven’t been before, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. After about 45 minutes of waiting, we get a call from our friends who arrived before us. Apparently, the parking at Lake Louise was completely full and the traffic was not really going anywhere. The traffic police ended up redirecting their car back onto the highway and they were letting us know that they would be going ahead. After we received the information, a prompt u-turn led us to exit onto a route towards the highway.
The exit that we took turned out to be a scenic route named the Bow Valley Parkway. The drive itself was quite nice, however it led us on a half-hour detour which extended the distance between our vehicle and our friends’ significantly. We diligently drove towards the Icefield Skywalk, but by the time we arrived, the last bus out had already departed. Instead, we hung around the surrounding area to take a few pictures. The area really was beautiful. Imagine a still glacier lake encapsulated by mountains in every direction. Due to our friends arriving before us, they were able to reserve a spot on the bus to actually see the Skywalk. We waited for them for a bit, and drove home together. Despite leaving at least 15 minutes before them, they still somehow ended up passing us. Maybe I’m just a bad driver. We stopped by a beautiful lake where we took cringe pictures.
Dinner that night was Chinese food. The restaurant we went to was probably the most gouge-y restaurant I’ve ever been to. $0.35 for hot water. $1.25 for a lemon slice. $3.50 for a bowl of rice. That’s what you get at a tourist resort town. The nice thing about the restaurant, though, was that the food itself was relatively inexpensive. In the end, each person probably paid around $32.00; not quite an unreasonable price.
To finish the night, we continued trying to diminish our liquor supply. We also smoked some weed.
The plan was to wake up earlier to try and actually get into Lake Louise. Too bad we ended up waking up at 11:00 again. Our friends in the other vehicle were leaving today, so we wanted to do some lightweight activities. The day started off with breakfast at a Korean restaurant. The food was actually pretty good. Lunch on the last day was likely the most worth meal we had during the entire trip.
After lunch, I wanted to check out a lookout point that was mentioned on some government site as a simple hike. Unfortunate for us, halfway up rain and thunder came crashing down on us so we descended before reaching the top. Like Landslide, we climbed a mountain but turned around. After reaching the bottom, we bid our friends farewell and explored a few places around town. One was the Vermillion Lake drive. There were other some spots in town that we visited, such as the lake within the town. In the park beside the lake, we ended up playing some ninja and some other random Chinese game. Afterwards, it was time for dinner.
Luckily, we didn’t have issues finding a restaurant during the last night. There was a steakhouse called Chuck’s Steakhouse. My friend and I shared a dry-aged steak that costed over $100. While we ordered it medium rare, we ended up getting it a little over-cooked. I didn’t have the balls to actually complain, but my friend ended up asking for a new plate and they actually made it for us. It was a little embarrassing, especially because we had already finished three-quarters of the first plate. Oh well, it actually was over-cooked, it just wasn’t as apparent until we began eating the thinner pieces.
After dinner, we originally wanted to go bowling but scrapped it instead to chill in the hot tub at the hotel. Monday was the last day of the long weekend so there was finally an opportunity to go soak without a ton of people there. I originally wanted to wear a face mask into the pool but decided against it. I didn’t want to look super out of place and it would have been extremely uncomfortable. The hot tub was pretty nice in the end.
The last thing we wanted to do is take a look at the stars. This was probably the most unplanned part of the trip. I literally just drove out onto the highway and found an exit that looked somewhat nice. The full moon was out during that time. Pretty good luck on our part. After taking a few pictures and getting devoured by mosquitoes, we began searching for another spot that we could stay at for a while. The first place we rtied ended up being blocked off because it was too late. Eventually, we stumbled upon a lookout point by a campsite close to the town. There were some people there, but we did end up finding a place to set up shop. Honestly, it was really nice. I didn’t end up drinking anything, but I laid down on the blanket that we brought and stared off into space. There’s something about stargazing that really is captivating. Growing up in Vancouver, you really do seldom see the stars. But when you’re out in the middle of nowhere looking up at them, it’s crazy to think that there are so many of them and that they’re always there, hanging out in space, even when we can’t see them.
After staying around for an hour or so, we packed up and headed back to the hotel for our last night. The drinking was definitely subdued compared to the nights before. After all, we had just been drinking every night beforehand and with only the fourof us left, it was an early (relative to the nights before) conclusion to our day.
The last day was definitely the least memorable day. It was both the least memorable and most relaxing day. The plan was to see if we could hit Lake Louise and the Columbus Icefield Skywalk before making our way back home. The first stop was a bust. We made more progress than we made the first time trying to check out Lake Louise, but full parking lots everywhere meant that we had no choice but to leave. Luckily, the Skywalk ended up being easy to reserve. I don’t think it’s worth checking out. When we were buying tickets for the park, the attendant said that the park is beautiful enough as-is. She was definitely right. The drive up to Jasper was one of the most scenic routes I’ve yet to see. Driving back home from Jasper was also really beautiful. It’s easy to forgot how large British Columbia really is. All it took was 30+ hours of driving for me to realize it.
After some trees and mountains, we reached Kamloops as the sun was close to setting. Most of the road from Kamloops to Vancouver was navigated through darkness. That was probably the most difficult part of the trip for me to do. Luckily, my diligent DJ stayed up and made sure that the tunes remained bumping. After returning to the city, we grabbed dinner at a hotpot restaurant by King Edward Station called Landmark. The food was pricey but it was a well-received meal. The only thing we ate prior to hotpot was some fast food at the Icefield centre and beef jerky we picked up at gas stations along the way. After the meal, I dropped one guy who lived nearby off and the rest of us headed back to my friend’s home.
I’m still staying at my friend’s place as I write this update. Like I mentioned earlier, my dad is fairly paranoid about this whole COVID-19 situation. Even though we didn’t leave the country, there’s still some risk associated with going to Banff. So here is our self-imposed quarantine.
The trip was truly a series of unfortunate events. At the same time, though, there were moments that I won’t forget and new experiences that, for better or worse, I got to experience. The last few weeks have really taken me out of my comfort zone. Through various circumstances, I just got back from a trip to Banff with a group of people that I’ve only recently got to know – even the person whose place I’m staying at right now is someone I’ve only known for a little over two months.
The people I went with ended up being pretty fun to be around. I hope that I can continue hanging out with them in the future.