First off, it’s been a long time that I’ve been this excited about a trip. I was packed literally a week before, which is SO NOT the norm for me. Usually, I’m packing mere hours before I leave. (In my defense, I was doing a bunch of laundry and my pack was already out.) I don’t know if it was the excitement about being able to bring my dogs, or going on a rare road trip, or getting to camp and hike, or just the knowledge of the amazing scenery that awaited me … I’ve been pretty fucking jazzed about this trip.
This adventure brings my friend Sarah Swindle, who I met a few years ago at a gym we used to work out at together. She’s a rad, adventurous chick and had never been to Canada, so I’m excited we were able to make the trip work! (I know a lot of Sarahs, so she’ll be referred to as Swindle on this trip.)
Roads. And more roads.
It took us about 20 (driving) hours to get to Calgary, which we split up into two days. Day one was 13 hours to Regina. (We shaved an hour off thanks to my lead foot!) We headed west on Interstate 94, taking a pit stop to stretch our legs in downtown Fargo. Just past Fargo we came to North Dakota Highway 52, which we took north through Minot (where we took another pit stop) before coming to the appropriately-named border town of Portal. After getting our passport stamped, Highway 52 turned into Canadian road 13 and brought us all the way to Regina. We literally went west, took a right to head North and stayed on the long, windy (not to be confused with wind – there were bends) before getting to Regina. Despite it being two-lane road, it was pretty empty and there was a speedy white minivan that I was able to keep pace with, so we flew, going 85 mph (130 kmph) most of the way. (At one point, I did get to 100, but only for about five seconds.)
We saw a lot of beautiful farmland filled with neon yellow canola fields. Set against the blue sky and complimented with more green, it made a long drive really enjoyable. Ariz Ansari’s audio book, Modern Love, kept us giggling and led to some great chats where we learned more things about one another. (We also got through the NPR podcast, “Missing Richard Simmons,” which was great.) While it took a little while for the dogs to figure things out and get situated, they’ve been pretty chill. It’s a wonderful feeling to feel their head occasionally pop between us, reminding us they’re there, asking for a quick pet, scratch, or kiss. Archie is a bit more … demanding with his affections, but it’s nothing short of heartwarming.
Regina does NOT rhyme with Gina
Or as a local DJ says, “It rhymes with fun.” We arrived to the capital city of Saskatchewan on July 1, which is Canada Day. This year Canada celebrates 150 years as a country. This also meant fireworks were happening … and probably some pretty epic ones. To sum up dogs and fireworks, know that (in the US), more dogs run away on July 4th than any other day of the year. It stresses dogs out. Big time. Luckily, we were too exhausted to make it to the 11pm start time, but we still had time to explore what Regina had to offer. Some nuggets:
- Saskatchewan Roughriders: The team of the Canada Football League has a huge following, boasting as the “Green Bay Packers” of Canada, likely due to the all out greenness of the team. The day we arrived was the first game of the season in their new stadium. The city literally shut down for the game.
- Wascana Lake: This absolutely lovely lake in the middle of the city is surrounded by the legislature building and museum … and a lot of geese. But seriously, it’s stunning, so you should go.
With 215,000 people Regina felt oddly small. But it was a great little down. Thankfully, they have a couple dog park, which we took advantage of before getting back in the car again for the long drive. I know my dogs were grateful.
Onward to Calgary
Seven hours on Trans-Canadian Highway 1 was terrific. Seriously. More rolling hills with vast canola fields of farmland. We eventually stumbled through the Canadian Badlands, which aren’t as breathtaking as the ones in the Dakotas, but it offered some much-needed visual variety at that point. Thanks to the speedy driver from New York, we were able to pace someone again, so we made good time to Calgary, flying 85 most of the way.
Quickly, the cardinal rule on pace driving … try to stay within a football field length at time. Getting closer makes it obvious you’re tailing (and can be annoying to the car being paced), and any farther negates any advantage you’ll get by pacing, mainly being the bird’s eye to any cops who are on the ready to give out speeding tickets. For the record, we saw just two cops in our 20 hours of driving.
Calgary is a really lovely city, and with 1.2 million people, it’s one of the biggest cities in Canada. Like my beloved Minneapolis, it’s a wonderful mixture of culture (a lot of Chinese influence – they even have an adorably small Chinatown) and nature.
Prince’s Island Park: This lovely park is getting renovated after the massive and destructive 2013 flood took it (and a lot of Calgary) out. It’s large, with many grassy knolls, walking and biking paths, bridges, and sculptures. It’s a lovely oasis in the middle of the city. We got lost here for a while, in the most wonderful of ways.
The Bow River: It flows through Calgary, and due to glacial silt, it has a lovely cloudy aqua green tint to it. The chilly river flows fast and clearly gets enjoyed. Many people were dropping in rafts (think whitewater but much more low-key) to float down the river.
The Big Cheese Poutinerie: Located in a super hipster part of town, it boasts 20ish options of the national dish of Canada: Poutine. The classic version is french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Swindle opted for sweet potato fries, which were awesome. I had a bunch of veggies added to mine (mushrooms, onions, peas, peppers). I wish I would have opted for sweet potato fries in mine. Oh, and a small portion will do you JUST fine.
Other culinary highlights:
- Sweet Tooth: If you’ve never tried rolled ice cream, I recommend it. We headed to Chinatown to find this very popular shop. Basically, they take your ingredients and put it on a cold stone. Then they add this liquid (what will soon be your ice cream), and mix it all together into teeny, tiny pieces. They then use this tool to roll the thin strips of ice cream into … rolls. It’s cold and tasty!
- Regrub Burger Bar: Regrub is just burger spelled backwards. What was going to bring us here were their insane milkshakes. If you’ve ever seen those colossal Bloody Mary bars where you can add pretty much anything you could think of as an accoutrement, that’s basically what this place does, just with the sweet variety. Alas, they close at 8pm on Sundays, so we didn’t get a chance to try it out.
One disappointing thing to learn about Calgary is that anti-dog laws were recently passed in Alberta, making it really hard to bring your dogs places … even restaurant patios. While we were able to bring them pretty much everywhere else, it was a bit of a bummer that we couldn’t sit and enjoy our poutine and beer at a restaurant with the pups. It’s a good thing we’ll be outdoors the next several days!
Onward to Banff
To say I’m over the moon excited to be outside camping and hiking these next four days is a massive understatement.