Trans Canada Highway

When I first moved from Montana to California to attend Stanford University, I had many questions posed to me. One was, “Have you ever been to Canada?” I guess Montana being so far north, the uninitiated students thought I grew up only a stone’s throw from the border. Now having lived in Minnesota for a lifetime, we get the same attitude—many think Minnesota is either a part of Canada, or vice versa.

But I didn’t think about that at the time, I only thought that really, we were quite close to Canada, and I wanted to cross the border just to say I had been there. It was seven hours to the Canadian border from Hardin, MT, and another hour to Lethbridge, Canada. A mere “stone’s throw.”

I was working at the Purple Cow Pancake house for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college and one weekend that I had off, I talked my parents into driving to Canada. We drove up to the Hi-Line of Montana—Highway 2—and made a detour to Glacier Park’s Going to the Sun Highway, another place I had never before been. We then drove the east side of the park, crossed the border with a flash of our driver’s licenses, and continued to Lethbridge.

Since that time, I have been to a few other places in Canada. I flew into Montreal in the 70s to ski Lake Placid and Stowe. I had business in Toronto a couple of times. And I had a wonderful business trip to Newfoundland to promote an anti-corrosive highway deicer for Cargill and lost all my luggage on the return flight. And while I wasn’t on the ground, I had a surrealistic view of the Canadian Shield flying over to Ireland in the wee hours with a full moon glinting midnight blue off the granite and water pools of that massive land formation.

But never had I driven the Canadian countryside. Solo Ski Sojourn 2 is beginning first in Canada. Unlike the previous Sojourn, I couldn’t go from my home in Montana to Whitefish to Banff as I originally intended. I had to begin the Sojourn in Minneapolis. It added 850 miles to the journey. But it was worth it.

The first leg of the trip was mostly familiar. For forty years I have driven I-94 from Minneapolis to Hardin Montana at least twice a year to visit family. This trip started similarly, but veered north from Jamestown to Minot to Portal on the border. This began the unfamiliar terrain.

Highway 52 follows the Souris River for a long way into Canada. The port was uneventful except that now a passport is necessary.  The evening sun was setting as I entered Canada and stayed in Estevan. Estevan seemed a misplaced name in the area—its roots seem Spanish—so many towns had Irish sounding names—Killarney, Glenbain, Shamrock, Wayburn, McTaggart.

We were having a bitter cold snap—but with the crossing at the border, we moved from Fahrenheit to Celsius. So everything seemed colder! -31, -40, and wicked wind chills. But I am a Minnesotan. And while even in Minnesota we close down ski hills in the -40 wind chills, we do sometimes get these cold spells.

Perhaps it is only a farmer’s daughter that can appreciate the long straight roads, the prosperous looking farmsteads, the grain elevators, the granaries, the flat land. The cold frozen landscape looked barren and bereft, but I could feel the green of spring waiting beneath the crust of snow.

Wind breaks protecting farmhouses often were the only trees. This was rich prairie.

For hours and hours, the land stretched on. I was listening to a 32-hour audio book. Perfect for the long prairie drive.

But the reward at the end of the drive was awesome. Calgary was a welcomed sight after Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat–all smallish towns. It is a city, with glass and steel office buildings downtown. There’s a respectable Chinatown, and a smallish Japanese Cultural Senior Center. I was anxious to get to the mountains, and reminiscent of Denver, the Canadian Rockies lie to the West of the large city. But the foothills leading up to the mountains spread further east, so traversing the gradual growing foothills lasts longer before the range rises to the sky.

These mountains aren’t like the Colorado Front Range. They are massive, glacial, granite peaks jutting into the sky. They look as though a chisel chipped off facets to make the mountain tops. It was a glorious drive.

My reservation to stay the week in Canmore was at the Worldmark off Three Sister’s Parkway.  This Sojourn 2 has many Worldmark stays. I have alternated between blessing and cursing the Worldmark points that I inherited when Scot died. But the points are allowing me to do the travel that Scot had wanted to do. And this property has a spectacular view of the mountains and the crags next to the Three Sisters peaks.

Canada, Calgary, Canmore, Banff. New horizons, new territory to explore. I ski tomorrow! Mt. Norquay.

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