Hot Dogs, Cold Dog

It’s the 22nd of January which means that many winters since 2011 you’d have found us somewhere south of the Canada/US border by now, enjoying the sun and warmth of Arizona or California. We’ve departed Canada in November, in December, and in January, but never this late. Pretty sure that means we’re not going.

It’s the border closure, of course, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, that’s keeping us home this year. I’m mostly okay with the situation. I love home—my favourite beds, trips to the barn, exploring our prairie landscape, and I’m normally included in all outings to town or to the city.

City outings sometimes involve one of these magical places — the drive thru!

A few years ago, I wrote a post about loving snow, and I do. What I’m loving less as I get older is the cold. Logan used to talk about getting cold more easily as he aged and I thought I’d be different, but recent events have changed my mind.

If I’m moving, I am comfortable in almost any weather, even my paws don’t get cold. I stepped into a mountain stream to get a drink on Monday and continued along the trail as before, toes quite comfortable.

Cooling my tongue and my toes in Ribbon Creek.

But, when I stop moving, the chill creeps in quickly, I feel the cold seeping through my camp mat, and the frost crawling into my bones. That’s when I start to shiver, just a little at first, and then it takes over and is like someone hit my vibrate button and turned it to the highest setting.

On Monday, we went on our second “day camping” outing of this stay-at-home winter. I think these day trips are designed to keep us all from getting cabin fever and missing our desert time too much, but I’m not sure it’s working for me. I love the hiking part—there’s nothing quite like a new trail and Ribbon Creek was fantastic—but the picnic in the snow and cold, other than the food, not a huge fan.

Love the exploring part of our day-camping trips.

Evenings can get chilly in the desert at this time of year, and I sometimes need some blanket support, but out in Kananaskis on Monday, I had a woolly coat, was wrapped in a blanket, sitting next to a roaring fire, and still shaking like a leaf. Built for comfort not for cold.

A January late afternoon in Arizona.
A January late afternoon in Alberta.

T’s planning to bring a thicker bed for me on the next day camping adventure, to put more between me and the snow. I’m happy to hear it and hoping it will help, and yet I hate being such a wuss when it comes to cold. I like to think it’s the winters south, not age, that have softened me, but since this is our third winter in a row at home, I’m not sure this theory continues to hold water.

A thicker bed would be nice. And staying on it probably wouldn’t hurt either.

Despite the increasing chill as the sun dropped below the mountains, I did eventually fall asleep, once I’d had a beef chew, two turkey weiners, a few potato chips, and my dinner.

Can You Hear the Mountains Calling?

Wow. What more can a guy say about our Canadian Rockies. Just, wow.

I’ve been in the Rockies before–camping near the eastern slopes in Kananaskis Country, driving through to BC or along the Banff-Jasper Parkway–but this was my first time camping in our National mountain parks. We locals don’t often go to Banff in summer because of the crowds of tourists, and now I understand why there are crowds. What an incredible landscape. Even I, a dog with my nose on the ground most of the time, appreciated the—okay, I’m going to use a very human word here—grandeur of Banff National Park.

Morning at Two Jake Lake.

Because of the pandemic, Canada is mostly closed to international visitors, so it made the perfect summer to get in a stay in Banff. It’s not that we don’t like people…well, it kind of is…we tend to prefer camping in rather isolated places. But the main reason is that we don’t plan far enough ahead to score a booking in campgrounds that fill in January when they first open for reservations. T still had to book ahead but it wasn’t like eight months ahead.

First night festivities.

So, T and Nollind hadn’t been camping in Banff since they were first dating, way back in 1996. Wow, right? I don’t think my great grandpooches were even born then.

June of 1996.

According to their stories, crazy as it sounds, back in 1996 you just showed up and pitched your tent. No need for a reservation. In fact, T’s not sure if they even took reservations back then. But that sounds like one of those “when I was young” stories that have to be taken with a grain of salt.

We camped at a place called Two Jack Main. Two Jack is a beautiful blue-green lake with clear water that tastes delicious and reflects the surrounding mountains. Postcard perfect. We made the trek to the lake on the first morning when we hiked the lake trail and all around the Two Jack Lakeside campground, and returned two evenings for the sunset show.

Two Jack Lake at sunset.

That first day was like a dog’s ideal day: sleeping in, breakfast by the Little Red Campfire, a 2-hour walk, lunch (I don’t normally get lunch but I had salmon and carrots), an afternoon nap, another short walk, dinner, dozing under the trailer while T and Nollind polished off a bottle of wine by the fire, and one more stroll around the campground before bed. Aahh….hound heaven.

Nap time in Simon (the trailer).

On Tuesday, while I was napping in the trailer (yes, I do sleep a lot), the peeps went off for tea in Banff, to see how the little tourist town was fairing in the midst of a global pandemic. When they returned, I didn’t even notice the vehicle change until the next day when they loaded me in the back of an SUV for a trip to Banff, this time a trip that didn’t involve rerouting to the Canmore Dodge dealership for repairs. Yup, truck trouble.

Whose car is this and why am I way back here?

Despite the pandemic, Banff was crawling with people, at least by my off-season-camper, boondocking-in-the-desert standards. By Banff standards it was probably pretty quiet. We visited Bow Falls, took a walk along the river, lounged on the lawn by the Whyte Museum, and checked out the hoodoos up on Tunnel Mountain before returning to our quiet loop at Two Jack. Although the campground was fully booked, the national parks are only booking to fifty percent this year, so we always had a number of empty sites in our loop.

Being a tourist at Bow Falls.

Thursday was pick-up-Fred-in-Canmore day, so off we set that morning, wanting to get a hike in at Grassi Lakes before the allotted time. I’ve mentioned I’m eleven? Well, at my age, I tire more easily and can’t navigate the same difficult terrain I did as a younger dog. The trail to the lakes isn’t long, but it’s all uphill, even when you opt for what they refer to as the easy route. The more difficult route takes you down past a waterfall on these steep, stone steps that are really not designed for a short-legged, senior dog. But, you know what? I did it, with only one bit of assistance when the steps got weird and narrow and the peeps were worried I’d crash onto the rocks. And after all that walking uphill and climbing down I still had enough gas in the tank to trot along the wooded part of the trail. So proud.

Not quite the form of my younger days but, hey, I made it.

We waited in Canmore for a few hours, lounging at the Good Earth’s outdoor street café, hanging in the park, visiting the dog bakery (best thing in Canmore), but still Fred wasn’t fixed. Another part was needed. It meant an additional night in the campground which I didn’t mind one bit. The park staff were very understanding and helpful and did some juggling so that we could stay that fifth night.

Lounging while Nollind talks to the Dodge dealership.

We used the gift of that extra night to make one last visit to Two Jack’s beautiful shore. A few more photos for T, yet another group selfie, and one more chance for me to dip my toes in the cool, clean mountain water.

Happy campers by the lake.

Friday morning, while Nollind picked up the truck from the dealership in Canmore, T and I got in one last walk and discovered a trail to the base of Cascade Mountain we hadn’t known was there. There was no time for a long walk but … maybe next year?

Nollind returned with Fred, still not fixed, which meant a slow drive home in low gear. Logan would have loved it. He always felt that highway speeds were extremely dangerous.

A little campfire time.

We’ve been home now for a whole week, but I still see those majestic peaks when I close my eyes, and taste that mountain water. Now I know what T means when she says the mountains are calling her. I think I hear them too.