A loud thud outside the tent. I jerk bolt upright my hand staying to my bear spray. My heart churns in my ears as I take short shallow breaths and the hairs prickle all over my body. I’ve opted out of eating earplugs tonight as our site is isolated from the other campers. The dull earthy thuds continue. The soft, almost spongy ground outside our tent is tremoring with every muffled explosion.
As suddenly as it starts, it ends leaving me slick with sweat, clutching my mace. I settle down for a few more moments and then move to the fly of the tent and poke my head out. Stepping out I see the strangest sights I have ever encountered.
Mushrooms, white and gleaming in the moonlight have cropped up all around the tent and spreading out into the woods as far as my headlamp will show. I stare, dumbfounded and slack jawed. The mushrooms appear to have burst out of the ground like some grotesque zombie horde, chunks of the forest floor having cracked and given way as the little fungi army rocketed skyward.
I stamp the ground right next to our gravel pad, and discover that it feels almost mattress like. It is firm on top but like there is a huge foam or sponge underneath the outer layer of compacted leaves, pine needles and loose earth. The whole thing gives me goosebumps, as though some this was the work of some Fey being. My inner child’s imagination goes wild as I crawl back into my sleeping bag and drift off into slumber.
Breaking down camp the next morning is a breeze. We’ve got our system down and are on the road in no time. The drive is gorgeous as one would expect going from one national park in the Rockies to another park across the border in the heart of the Rockies. The drive is uneventful and relaxed, but there’s also an unspoken undercurrent of excitement as we draw ever closer to the Canadian border and our main goal on this national parks tour: Banff National Park.
We’ve been reading about it, hearing about it, looking at photos of it, and most notably, we’ve been going to the Banff Mountain Film Festival World Tour for years now. It’s our elusive white whale, the obsession for years and now about to be a reality.
Our border crossing goes without a hitch, the blonde woman there greeting us in both English and French, a reminder that many if not most here are bilingual and that we, like most Americans, fall woefully short in that department.
We drive on Hwy 95 until we reach Invermere and pass into Kootenay National Park. Just past the check in station, we enter a narrow canyon which open up into one of the most breathtaking drives I’ve seen in a while. Even Glacier doesn’t touch the scale of some of these ranges and ridges. The weather has taken a turn for the worse, lending an ethereal gloom to the drive. Fog banks hang low, connected from peak to peak like some enormous arachnid web designed to snare your imagination.
The mist and rain hem us in on all sides and cloaking the mountains from sight. Little patches will lift occasionally and give us just a taste of what we are driving through. Anywhere else the cloud cover would be well over the ranges below, but here, where the even the alpine forests cannot reach to the tops, the peaks are lost to us stuck as we move along under the blanket of mist.
Soon enough we pass from Kootenay into Banff National Park. We were told when planning the trip that we ought to do Glacier and then Banff. We now understand why. Say what you want about national pride, but in this moment, I don’t care what country houses the park, I want to live there. If Glacier is Mt. McKinley and Kootenay is Mt. Aconcagua, then Banff is Mt. Everest. The White Whale has been slain, the dream realized, the mountains are calling and we have arrived.