the interior of british colombia is rolling and green. it is wetter and more mountainous than the coastal states to the south, but still filled with broad valleys full of agriculture. it would be great for a drive in a tiny sports car.
I headed straight east, just north of the US border. I could probably have made it to banff in one day, but I'd gotten a late start to the day and in any case I wanted to visit my namesake, Oliver BC. no, I didn't buy any wine.
in the morning, I turned north and drove into mt. revelstoke park and then east to banff. it rained much of the way, but every now and then it would lighten up and I could see the amazing blue water of the rivers I crossed, or glimpse the giants surrounding me as I climbed.
as the sun set, the rain stopped completely and I figured that the system had probably blown past. my car was full of ‘emergency’ camping equipment, and the surrounding hotels were resort-price, even in this off season: I decided to rough it in a car-camping lot.
I was cozy! I had a futon, a down sleeping bag, real pillows, a down comforter, pajamas, a laptop with music and movies on it, a lantern and books to read. needless to say, though, the weather system had not blown through. after my tent was set up, it began to rain lightly, and then snow. it was the coldest night I have ever spent, even fully clothed: if there was any gap whatsoever between the futon and the comforter if felt like a window opened directly to my bones. I did not sleep, but I didn't move out of the covers, either. I used my powerbook as a tummy warmer. towards dawn the snow turned back to rain, and large piles of snow began to fall off the trees onto the tent. the tent was soaked.
as soon as there was enough light to see, I put all the wet stuff back into the car (it wasn't likely to mildew in the cold air). luckily, there was a warm restaurant nearby, which opened early. in addition to steaks and other mountain-man food, I was surprised to discover that it served a variety of korean food. I drank spicy soup and coffee until a hole had been burnt in my stomach lining and I was finally warm.
my early start was worth it, for the amount of daylight hours it gave me that day. I started with a drive up to lake louise, above the snow line. then I turned back west and south, driving along the scenic route and staying in BC rather than descending to the plains near calgary. even though I was driving on major roads, the traffic was light and I was able to stop frequently for photos. the transition at the snow line was dramatic.
at around this point in my trip, I learned that the heater in my car didn't work. at slow speeds it seemed to put out a small amount of heat, but at anything over 60 kph it couldn't keep up with the wind coming in from outside. (the onboard computer is stuck in metric units. much as I hate to admit it, I can not figure out how to change it back to imperial units.) luckily, I passed by the hot springs in radium, and soaked for about an hour. it felt great. then I put on a long shirt, sweater, jacket, hat, and gloves, and continued on my way.
near the US border I turned back east and drove over the crows nest. it was snowing again, but very light flurries which didn't seem to be sticking to the road. when I stopped at some chain hotel in small-town alberta, I asked for (and recieved) a better deal than the quoted rate on the board. the woman was upset when I took out my credit card: “you're american? but canada is so cheap already!” no place is cheap for the unemployed traveller.
the next morning was october first, my birthday, thirty-one years. the snow had blown through and the day was gloriously clear. I drove south along the plains, by snow-covered farms with the moutains leaping up just behind them. I stopped and went for a brief hike in waterton national park, the canadian side of glacier. it was still too cold to be outside for more than about an hour, though, so mostly I drove through the park and chatted with japanese tourists. what kind of tour group schedules october tours?
around noon I crossed the border back into the US. I had to drive pretty far east: the border crossing in the park had closed for the season. in retrospect, I should not have answered the question “where do you work” with “I don't,” but after a bit of hassle and a trunk-search they let me back in.
unfortunately, the snowstorm which had blown through had deposited enough snow to close the route through glacier. I drove into the park and up to the pass anyway, since I didn't want to miss the park entirely. in my brief experience of each, the canadian park was more tourist-friendly and easier to see; but the us park was more spectacular and natural. it was still cold--there were patches of ice on the road--but I bundled up and took a few short hikes. the route around the park was going to cost me a couple of hours, so I made the best of the time I had out of the car.
driving south and west, I slipped under some clouds: maybe the last remnants of the previous day's storm. it rained lightly, and then started to hail very small pellets, like the little silver balls that go on top of cupcakes. in two days I felt I had run the gamut of precipitation. eventually the hail spent itself, though, and the sun peeked through over flathead lake.
that night, I stayed with an almost total stranger in the very small town of charlo, montana. kevin is my college buddy's wife's sister's husband. he was an excellent host: he fed me, and when he learned it was my birthday we went out to a local bar for a few drinks. the clouds had cleared over the evening, and someone came into the bar and mentioned that the northern lights were visible. they filled a third of the sky, albeit very faintly. we drove home to where there was almost no light pollution, and I stayed outside until I was stiff with cold. the northern sky looked like a huge linen sheet that was being shaken out. there were more persistent 'structures' near the horizon, like pillars of cloud. it was more faint by far than the normal reflection of city lights off the san francisco fog, and I was unable to get photos which showed anything: but it was the best birthday present I could have asked for.