It’s a smokey dawn in Bozeman and the anticipation is thick in the Eckhardt house. This dawn brings with it the promise of adventure and the beginning of our migration north! Canada beckons and we are all too happy to comply.
So much has happened and so much has changed since our last trip, but our intention to go back has remained a constant beacon for us as the winds of change have whirled around us. Poor West hasn’t taken a trip away from his job in 365 days and the mental toll is beginning to show. This is a long overdue bout of R&R and we are finally there!
Both our jobs have been crazy busy and finding time to plan and prep for the trip has been a challenge. On top of that, we have house guests coming to stay while we are away. So not only are we scrambling to get ourselves ready, we’re also getting everything at the house ready! However, thanks to six years together learning to be teammates and the motivation of a vacation away from the daily grind, we crush it and get everything pulled together just in time.
We shut down the house and get out on the open road for the first leg of our journey. Once our giddiness to be underway wears off, we settle into our road trip routine taking turns playing DJ and talking over our travel plans.
We will be returning to Banff National Park again this year with several minor detours on either side of the border. With West having dedicated most of his outdoor recreation energy into rock climbing this year, we will be focusing on real rock lead climbing around the Banff/Canmore area.
Our drive is pleasant enough for most of the way until we turn down the road leading us past Seeley Lake. We turn a corner and see it – a wall of smoke streaming upward from the mountains and foothills visible from the road. The fire camp is hopping, crawling with firefighters and support personnel. No flames are noticeable and the fire line facing us seems to be holding with most of what we are seeing simply being the few patches yet left to be extinguished. However, the remaining 90% of the wildfire is still on the move and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The air quality is so poor that many local residents have left following the recent urging by those overseeing the Rice Ridge Fire, leaving the city a near ghost town. The 539 personnel located here to fight the close to 15,000 acre blaze are cheered on via roadside signs posted by the locals thanking them for their efforts. Many of the houses in the area have large, portable water reservoirs filled to the brim in their front yards just in case. Once past the fire zone, we cruise onwards, heading further north and towards our first stop of the trip.
I can feel the difference in the air first. There’s a cool moisture drifting through the towering lodgepole pines; water is near. I begin to see fleeting shimmers through the tree line and smell a sweet, clean scent that mingles with the woody perfume of the ponderosa and alders lining our passage. We round the bend and there lies the twinkling alpine waters of Holland Lake.
Our fingers are crossed for this leg of the trip as the campground sites are all reserved except for a handful ofwalk up sites and we are about a half an hour late to the checkout/check in time. Thankfully, there are two slots open and we beeline for the first one we see.
Setup is easy enough. We are only here one night so we don’t stress too much over getting everything perfect on this first run. Our new Marmot six man tent is heavenly and a complete luxury for us as it allows for us each to have our own cot, REI camp bed, square sleeping bags, and our plush memory foam pillows from home! I am completely aware that this is ultra glamping status at its very peak, and hate if you want, but man does it make a difference when you’re able to sleep just as well and just as soundly at camp as you do in your own bed!
Once we finish our setup, we jaunt down the winding, time worn path through the forest to the shore of the lake which has been lapping in my ear since we arrived. Being the fish-out-of-water Alaskan islander that I am, I cannot contain the silly grin stretching across my face as I gleefully wriggle my bare toes in the lazily undulating swell. West promptly begins to inflate our paddleboard and within 5 minutes between the two of us, we have it in the water and ready to rumble!
I spend hours in the water. There’s an inner peace that washes over me whenever I am able to be near any body of water, and the element of my childhood and my ancestry that ebbs and flows in my veins is a place of the purest happiness I think I shall ever know in this life.
Thankfully I have a very patient husband who is content to sunbathe on the paddleboard as I happily splash around him. I am the siren and he my prey as I playfully hum the jaws theme as I circle the board. Later, resting with him on the beach, I realize that we are both named for the things we are drawn to and that together we are the embodiment of the a landscape around us. Even our characters lend themselves to this picture. The grandeur of the western ranges with their solid, steady, unchanging nature meets the ever shifting, vibrant, unruly chaos of water. Together we balance and tame one another and our partnership is the better for it.
Dinner is a bleak affair of noodles bowls as we did not want to pack anything fresh which could be problematic when crossing the Canadian border later. Bedtime is fast approaching and I can feel my lids drifting lower by the minute, the exhaustion of my long afternoon in the lake finally catching up with me. Nightfall comes, I rest my head, and drift off into a deep and dreamless slumber.
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