Which is funny, because just before se moved to Ontario in 1995, the two of us had camped out at Pocahontas in a tent on the exact same weekend. Mind you, it was even colder and the zipper actually froze shut on our tent, so I certainly can't blame her for being apprehensive about a return visit. The girls on the other hand, were excited at the opportunity.
Glory has a spare at the end of the day, so I was able to pick her up mid-afternoon. By the time Fenya arrived from work, we'd gassed up the Flex, loaded all our gear, hooked up the trailer and had it waiting out front. We hit the road at 5:30, grabbing burgers at the McDonald's in Edson for dinner. As it grew dark, we listened to two Lonely Island albums I had downloaded and which we wouldn't have bothered with if Audrey had made the trip.
We arrived at our site a little before 10:00, met by our friends Shari and Dave from Red Deer. I am still hopeless at backing up with the trailer, and Dave said, "Not to mow another man's lawn or anything, but I could do that if you liked..." I leapt at his offer, and within an hour we had the Bride all set up, and a small space heater deployed to take the chill off.
I had picked up a larger, warmer sleeping bag over the summer, as I normally use our existing one like a blanket during warmer weather. Now, I wouldn't call my apprehension at having my arms immobilized claustrophobia per se, but even writing this now, I feel obliged to roll my shoulders and inhale deeply. My sleep that night was troubled and fitful, but I did manage to nod off, and even with the bag zipped all the way up on a couple of occasions.
We all enjoyed a lie-in that morning and decided to forego the oatmeal breakfast we had planned in favour of getting out to the hot springs as soon as possible. Most of the vehicles we had seen the night before had vacated the Wapiti campground that morning which left things very quiet and peaceful. Having arrived in the dark, seeing the mountains that surrounded us in the light of day was very much a joyous discovery, even though the weather was still quite brisk.
It was probably only 8 or 9 degrees C when we entered the hot springs at Miette, but it was sunny and bright. The pools were fairly busy despite the brisk breezes that swept over us periodically, and we marvelled at the number of different languages we could hear around us - French, Chinese, Korean Romanian, Italian and more I'm sure. What a privilege to have such a place in such a setting within a three-hour drive!
Glory remarked at how puzzled she was as a child when she first visited the springs: it's like a pool, but there is no jumping, diving, splashing or even swimming, really. At 17 though, she is grateful for an opportunity to soak and relax, to give her more petite sister the opportunity to hold her in a way most impractical on dry land.
For my part, I reminded Fenya about how I used to swim about with her on my back, which prompted a reenactment that was a little awkward but still endearing.
It was hard to leave the warmth of the pools but after a couple of hours, we did and then made our way to Maligne Canyon. I hadn't been back since we brought Dad's ashes here in 2012, which was right around the same time of year.
It's a beautiful place no matter when you visit it, which is a big part of why it impacted Dad as much as it did. It's a simple downhill hike down to the fourth bridge (but a grueling ordeal on the return leg for someone who dresses out at over an eighth of a ton and should take more stairs), and before long we stood on the structure where we had bid farewell to my father's mortal components.
Seven years on, and while I don't miss him any less, I can at least recall him without pain most of the time. The bridge is significant, not as a resting place but more as the starting point of a journey that I hope never ends, and that one day I can join him on. Leaning across the edge of the bridge I was struck by what an amazing vista we had selected, but which I had failed to document at the time.
The small waterfall caused by a creek entering the Maligne River made it look as though the water was being generated by the roots of a tree tenaciously clinging onto the rocky ledge overhanging it.
We stood there for quite a while, not saying much, reassured by hand squeezes and arms across shoulders, not feeling that Dad was there, precisely, but definitely feeling he had been, and that was enough.
By the time we exited Maligne Canyon, the sun had begun to set, and it began to cool very quickly. We headed back to the campsite where Fenya and I used the propane firepit and our pie irons to try to put together a dinner of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches while Glory worked on her Biology project in the Bride. The first batch had a high carbon component, but the second batch was far more edible.
After supper, we joined Shari and Dave at their campfire where we shared s'mores, stories and a little whiskey. That night I slept far more soundly than I had the night before, even with more time spent zipped up. Whether this was due to some sense of contentment that had eluded me the night before or simply due to being exhausted, I cannot say.
We broke camp the next day without incident, each successive takedown of the Bride getting a bit smoother and more familiar. Shari and Dave graciously provided us with a big breakfast of Mexican eggs, and all too soon we found ourselves back at home.
Remembering Dave's observation about thinking of the trailer as a big wheelbarrow, I tried backing the trailer onto our lawn in preparation for its winter internment on the patio. In the past, we've had to lift and push it all the way from the alleyway, an exhausting and potentially dangerous maneuver that my brilliant daughters have never shied away from. This time though, I was able to get it all the way to the edge of the garage, leaving only a 90-degree turn and about 12 feet of pushing to do.
Some things stay the same while others grow and change, often in unexpected ways - this seems to be the enduring message of this late-season expedition to the mountains. I hope we can do it again next year.