I’m sitting here scrolling through photos, reliving my summer snapshot by snapshot, trying to decide how to best tell the story that has been my life for the last six weeks… A freeze frame misses the euphoric tears that welled in my eyes and the hurt in my smiling cheeks as both teams took the field for the Packers-Seahawks game. A scrapbook of jagged mountainscapes has the power to bore viewers to sleep like only a grandfather’s slide carousel can. A paragraph could never break hard enough to make way for the next chapter of my cousin’s life as a gorgeous newlywed. And words, these silly little things, they seem drab in comparison to Diablo Lake Green and Lake Louise Blue. Therein, lies the dilemma. Maybe I should just keep scrolling.
Or maybe I should do what most normal people would do… practice a little chronology. The beginning is an easy place to start, even though I also like the idea of jumping right
on to Aaron Rodgers. I digress. Anyway. I hate the word “escape”—at least in regards to travel: summer’s hottest escapes, 10 best weekend escapes, and the like. It implies there is something from which to flee, like Egypt, or Alcatraz, or an arranged marriage. Is every day life so terrible that we require an escape for every season and every other Saturday? I really hope not, but sometimes a respite from routine is good for the soul. By now, I’ve made it known that when I want headspace, I drive. Backroads and blue highways always take me where I want to be. So a handful of Fridays ago, I escaped westward on Highway 20.
Through Kettle Falls and over Sherman Pass, with a short stop at the White Mountain Fire Lookout, I was in a hurry to set up camp before dark. The idea of camping alone for the first time was ominous enough, but I’m also an adult who is terrified of the dark, and all the monsters my childish imagination fears are lurking in wilderness shadows. A carnation haze dulled into a grey drizzle and then into a downpour of black as I rolled into the Swan Lake campground, south of Republic. Dark, rainy, and in the middle of nowhere. It was too late to tent, so I resigned to the backseat, just me, my headlamp, a book, and a giant Coors Light. Although, in retrospect, I realize drinking a PBR would have been more authentic for a night of camping in a Lexus sedan.
Read. Chug. Snooze. Wake up to knocking on the window above my feet—my worst nightmare now a reality. I’m not sure how I didn’t scream, or cry, or puke, or wet myself, all at once for that matter, as an old man from the forest shined his flashlight into the back of my eyes. With only calm in my bones, I crawled to the front seat to open the driver’s side door. The man, who was not from the forest, but the rusted “CAMP HOST” motorhome near the entrance, slipped me questions through his missing teeth about my stay, “How many nights are you staying?”, “Isn’t it uncomfortable sleeping back there?” as if his presence was nothing to be startled by. He apologized that he was gone when I arrived (he was busy rescuing a fawn that had been hit by a car) and told me it would be ten dollars to resume my night at the campground. Anything you want!! Ten dollars to leave me alone and postpone this episode of Real Stories of the Highway Patrol seemed like a real bargain. Feeling less safe in my backseat cocoon after my encounter, the good kind of sleep was impossible to find.
Up with the sun, fog blanketed the lake, depriving me of a clear view on my way out of camp. Mist swirled up from the evergreens, like in all movies about the Pacific Northwest. It was eerie, but it felt like home, too. I drove further west with two things in mind: securing food and a campsite. Based on what might be the best recommendation in all of history, I stopped at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery for a treat of the same name: the Cinnamon Twisp, at which point I took a selfie worth sharing.
A quick word about sharing… my love for donuts was established at a young age, probably at birth if you consider my heritage. Either way, trips to Winchell’s were a weekly tradition with my dad. He would order a coffee and a cinnamon roll and I’d order the cherry cake donut and devour it immediately so I could wait for my dad to eat his. Now, everyone knows you eat a cinnamon roll layer by layer, from the outside in because the middle is the best bite—even 4 year olds are aware of this. My dad, familiar with my antics, would try to offer me bites from the outer layers, bites I refused, feigning indifference. But when he got to the center, I would make my move, “Daaaaaad, can I have a bite?” Albeit, it was the very last, very best bite—a true test of fatherly love: my sweet daughter or my sweet donut? I know which way I would have gone, but my dad’s a good man. The cinnamon roll core goes to the girl with the roundest cheeks (a contest I still win every time)! My point is, the Cinnamon Twisp, is like a whole pastry of cinnamon roll centers, every bite as gooey and delicious as the next, no brain games or manipulation required, although I’m still not sure I’d recommend sharing. Hi, I’m an only child.
Now properly fueled, I could focus on finding a place to sleep for the night. Into the North Cascades I sped. Naturally, I was distracted by Liberty Bell. Wary of that coveted campsite, I only stopped to wander for a few minutes, in awe of the massive rock structure; Philadelphia ain’t got nothing on us.
Onward toward Diablo Lake. And let me tell you, I must have done something right somewhere along the way because my camping karma is through the roof. Colonial Creek Campground, located on the Thunder Arm of Diablo Lake, has about 160 campsites, and it looked to be at capacity. I circled around at least five times panicking, plotting a lame Plan B: getting rained on in New Halem or making it all the way to the coast and staying in my mom’s spare bedroom. But Zut alors! I had missed one. I sprinted to the pay station to stake my claim like a greedy pioneer. I definitely got thee. last. campsite. I set up camp in the section north of the highway and 50 yards from the water. I got settled and then hiked, gloating all the way to the top of the Thunder Knob trail where the view of the lake forced an even wider grin.
With 160 full campsites, there were people everywhere, and the anxiety of going solo was remedied completely. That afternoon, I read on the lakeshore, sharing a few beers with friendly strangers, throwing rocks, and swimming. Yes, swimming. The weather was utopian, and that magical, jade water would have Ponce de Leon rolling over in his grave. The day ended with an after dark Ranger Talk about glaciers in the Cascade Range… so fascinating. I definitely missed my calling as an earth scientist. It was the perfect bedtime story. Site #2 was calling my name. I curled up in my sleeping bag, not alone, but surrounded by nature and an entire family of her admirers.
I may or may not have stopped for another Cinnamon Twisp on Sunday’s drive home. Anyway, with just one Monday between me and Labor Day Weekend, I didn’t bother to unpack my camping gear. I just rode my desk chair waiting for the next big wave of adventure: Canada. Banff National Park has been on my to-do list since torrential downpours ruined my only other visit to the area over a decade ago. By pure happenstance, I found out one of my childhood friends was going to be up there for the week, so it was my time for redemption.
I was the first one out of the building on Friday. (Sorry, boss, my passport is overeager and demanding.) The drive—we know I love the drive, but seven hours seemed unbearable. I made it without getting felt up at the border or plowing through any wild animals. Time to drop in to the weekend.
We hiked every day… Saturday to Rock Isle Lake, part of Sunshine Village which transforms into a world-class ski area in the winter. The Banff trail guide lists this hike as an easy one but fails to mention that it requires either a $30 dollar round trip bus ride to the trailhead or an hour long glute-burning hike up a summer service road. My friend and I are the epitome of frugal Dutch penny pinchers, so we marched up the mountainside. The weather in Banff is unpredictable, four seasons in one day if not one hour, and when the hail started pelting our hoods, we cursed our heritage and nearly turned around. Luckily, being Dutch also means being stubborn, which always pays off. Well, at least this time it did. Who knew there was an island on the Continental Divide?
Sunday we attempted to get a peek of Lake Louise: gridlock. They actually closed off the entrance because the parking lot was over capacity, and we were told to come back in an hour and try again. We took a nine hour detour to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway instead; lakes bluer and less crowded than Louise, massive glaciers shrinking back into the mountains, man-eating icefields, elusive waterfalls, and the Athabasca River whose waters run north to the Arctic Ocean. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around that one—I dipped my fingers in a frigid current that eventually empties into the Arctic!
I accidentally said “wow” a thousand times. You couldn’t design a nature theme park better than this. The only thing missing was a pettable baby bear. At one point, we got out to admire Bridal Veil Falls and decided on an impromptu hike to get a closer look because 1.1 kilometers is cake. Panther Falls snuck up on us as we descended on the roadside trail. Completely invisible from the turnout, only those who venture outside their cars are lucky enough to see the water pour through a giant hole in the rock facade. We stood awestruck in the mist. I’m so glad Lake Louise played hard to get.
Monday morning we tried our luck with Louise again, and this time she let us in. Sometimes I feel like travel has evolved into a contest of constant one-upping—people jetting from spot to spot just to capture the best photo for their insta account, without pausing to actually create a memorable experience. There were hundreds of people crowded around the rocky shores, posing awkwardly and making stupid selfie faces. And for most, that’s as far as they ever get with Lake Louise, like a celebrity sighting. They get their picture, check a box on a travel list, and go home.
I saw one woman take her shoes off and put her feet in the water, and it made me smile. It was a simple act, but she’s going to remember how cold the water felt between her toes. That’s why we travel isn’t it? For the real stuff. I wiggled my fingers in this freezing water, too. Lake Louise is easy; we were going to earn the next photo. Above her, are several other lakes and two tea houses that serve as fueling stations for hikers.
We dodged raindrops and road apples as we climbed toward the first alpine attraction, Mirror Lake. Big Beehive towers over the shallow, emerald pool and overwhelms those staring skyward. A glacial stream pours into Mirror Lake from above, so we followed the sound of moving water. A gushing waterfall and a wooden staircase welcomed us to the Lake Agnes Tea House—my version of heaven. People bustled about on the cabin deck, hoping for a seat at any table at which to enjoy a hot drink and a homemade sandwich. But the overflow seating was tolerable, too; lakeside benches with a front row view of Lake Agnes as she showed off her version of blue and green, even in the rain.
Like Lake Louise, many tourists make it this far, sneak their photos, and begin the descent to their cars. We basked in the beauty of Lake Agnes for a few minutes, but this wasn’t the end of the road for us. We had two options: Big Beehive or Little Beehive. Go big or go home, right? The trail to Big Beehive curls around the lake, and then zigzags up the southern bank. The steep switchbacks dissuade hikers from continuing. Fatigue typically leads to defeat, and retreat. Those inclined to press on reap an enviable reward, a birdseye view of Lake Louise and all her surroundings. I stood on the ledge of the beehive, looking for my reflection in Mirror Lake, heart completely full at the precipice. Have I mentioned that I like to stand on the edge of tall things? That’s the moment I was chasing.
I was reluctant to leave my cliffside perch. I could let my feet dangle and peer into every corner of the panorama for an eternity, but the reins of the real world were tugging. Of course, there was no way we were skipping the tea house experience on the way down. This is Teacups and B Cups after all. We scored a table on the railing and watched as greedy birds swooped in to steal entire pieces of bread and fat chipmunks scurried around collecting crumbs. A server took our order, so we waited patiently still reveling in the moment. He soon returned with the warming agents—curried lentil soup, a basket of wheat bread, and a small teapot of the house special: Masala Chai. I swirled in the cream and sugar, hypnotized. And then I sipped my perfect cup of tea in the mountains of Alberta. Now, now I could check the Lake Louise box.
The very next day, I found myself in Seattle to kickoff a week of wedding festivities for my cousin. But really, she’s more like my sister. We’re on the same weird wavelength. We speak our own language. I feel bad for the outsiders trying to make sense of our gibberish, but the best part is, her now husband is right there with us. It was five straight days of endless laughter, capped off with a gorgeous zoo wedding and, of course, awkward dancing. I am in love with their love.
And finally! The part where I get to talk about Aaron Rodgers. In the midst of wedding duties, I was able to sneak away for the NFL season opener between the Seahawks and the Packers, my two favorite teams (I’m a girl, so that’s allowed). The Packers lost, but that game was something special: the Emerald City gleaming, Pharrell Williams performing “Happy” as I entered the north gate of the stadium, the revealing of the Super Bowl banner, and Seahawk hall-of-famers raising the 12th Man Flag. As infuriating as the 12th Man is, the energy in CenturyLink is electric, and it just surges through you. Then, Aaron Rodgers took the field (beat it, Olivia Munn). I could have left then. Anyway, like I said, I almost cried, and when Ariana Grande belted the “Star-Spangled Banner” I couldn’t shake the goosebumps from my arms. A night to remember.
But not just a night, an entire summer… of first times, last times, and only times, with a few snapshots I can’t stop scrolling through.