Sonoma Day 30

A beautiful breakfast was prepared for us at ‘An Inn to Remember’. We ate with all the other guests and got to know them a little better. Jim, our driver for the day, picked us up at 10am. When in Sonoma, wine tasting is at the top of the things to do list, and so we could all enjoy the tastings, we decided that hiring a driver was the way to go. Jim was great. He came prepared with a list of wineries he’d selected for us based on our tastes. He drove Snowy and was every bit the gentleman, opening car doors for us ladies.

The first stop was Valley of the Moon where Lisa showed us around, and as we were early and there wasn’t anyone else there yet, she gave us VIP treatment, taking us out into the vineyard and snapping some photos for us as well. She was really chatty and informative, explaining the process for making the oak barrels the wine is stored in. She also taught us a trick for airing the wine by rolling the glass on its side. Sure, on your first glass of red this works well, but I can’t imagine it would work the same after a few, if you get my drift. Burgundy carpet anyone?

The winery was beautiful and we were once again blessed with stunning weather. The trees were spectacular, and we were all very pleased with our first tasting.

Sonoma

Sonoma

Sonoma

Sonoma

Sonoma

Sonoma

 

Valley-of-the-Moon

 

Valley-of-the-Moon3

 

Valley-of-the-Moon2

Next stop was B.R. Cohn winery where (another) Justin made us feel very welcome.

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

Our third winery was our favourite – Deerfield Winery. Not only did they have exceptional wine and an awesome underground cave-like tasting room, but our host Ben was an absolute blast. He’d obviously missed his calling as a comedian, but his hilarious sense of humour wasn’t lost on us, his new best friends. Ben treated us to a few extra tastings and regaled us with tails from his own travels. We all fell in love with the old vine Zinfandel so we bought a bottle (which was later broken in the back of the car, so I’m glad we got to taste it here at least).

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

 

Deerfield
W
e gave Ben a Koala. He really liked it.

By the time we reached the fourth winery, well, how should I put this… I don’t remember too much about the fourth winery. Alright, alright, I know I’m a light weight! The fourth winery was Ledson Winery, and the establishment was very impressive. We had lunch there outside at a picnic bench not far from the vineyard, underneath beautiful shady trees.

All in all, it was a really fun day and I got to learn a lot more about wine, the process and art behind it and how to appreciate a good glass.

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

 

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San Francisco and Sonoma Day 29

We took the Hop-on Hop-off (HoHo) to the Golden Gate Bridge this morning, seeing some historic sights and interesting neighbourhoods along the way. The weather was stunning so we walked across the bridge and back before getting the HoHo back to Union Square.

San Fran

 

San Fran

 

San Fran

 

San Fran

After lunch we picked up our next hire car, “Snowy”, a white Rav4, and made our way north to Sonoma, one of California’s main wine regions. We checked into our B’n’B, ‘An Inn to Remember’, where we were greeted by Kim and Les. They were a lovely couple and had plenty of suggestions for where we could wine and dine in the area. We ended up going for a stroll through the local market that was on that night before having dinner at a great local restaurant. I tried wild boar ribs and they were amazingly tasty!

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

 

Sonoma

San Francisco Day 27 and 28

Day 27

We said goodbye to Vancouver early in the morning and flew to San Francisco. The drive into the city was interesting, and we could tell right away that we weren’t in Canada anymore. Our hotel was in the heart of the tourist district of Union Square, a funky old place with bizarre lighting and no windows. While it was different, we really liked its quirkiness. A few other tourists were hanging around the lobby, muttering their disgruntlement about not being able to see Alcatraz due to the Government shutdown, which has been a concern for us since it was announced.

San Fran

San Fran

It was a hot afternoon in San Francisco- a kind of dry dirty heat. We ventured out and had a look around Union Square as the sun was setting behind the sky scrapers. This is truly a city of contrasts, with the poor and homeless begging for money outside of high-end luxury stores. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant close by and started considering how we were going to plan our trip from here on in with major parks and attractions closed.

San Fran

San Fran

San Fran

Day 28

Today began with a serious planning session and reconfiguration of our trip. As the government looks unlikely to open parks within the next few days, we rebooked accommodation outside of parks and made alternative plans.

Once that was out of the way and we all felt a little better about the situation, the real fun began!

We’d booked a tour of Alcatraz but had to cancel as it was shut, so we did a bay tour on a boat instead, taking us around Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Although we didn’t get to go inside Alcatraz, it was still really great to get up close on the boat and see the old buildings. I don’t know a lot about the prison, but it definitely had an eerie feel about it.

The tour included stories and history of the area so we got to learn a little about the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. I always wondered why a red bridge was called “Golden”, thinking that someone was obviously a bit colour blind, but it was actually named after the passage it spans – the Golden Gate Strait.

Golden Gate Bridge

San Fran - Alcatraz

San Fran

I spotted a Bumba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant at Pier 39, so we enjoyed some shrimp Forest Gump style for lunch. While the food was pretty average, the theming of the place was pretty cool.

San Fran

San Fran
Don explaining that life is like a box of chocolates…

We had the experience of a lifetime when we hired a couple of Go-Cars. Let me explain what a Go-Car is… it’s a small yellow 50cc 3-wheel go-cart-like deathtrap that is somehow legal to drive on San Fran’s busiest city streets. Driving this thing is the ultimate test of survival, one in which you deserve a medal of bravery for should you succeed in returning the car alive. So why would we hire one? Well, the website sold it really well as a fun way to explore San Francisco with a GPS guided tour. What the website should have said was this:

“Fret for your life as you buzz loudly through the city dodging cars, pedestrians, trams and tram lines at 20 kilometres per hour in the bike lane. Enjoy a GPS navigated tour that occasionally drops out completely leaving you putting around major intersections lost and clueless about American road rules while local residents point and laugh at you. But don’t worry, when the GPS does drop out, you can use the laminated map we provided you that’s the size of movie poster and flaps around in the wind like a sail, poking you in the eyeball. We didn’t bother to check the accuracy of the map either, so have fun turning down one-way streets. It’s a hoot!!”

Despite the fact that this was a life-threatening experience, we found it absolutely hilarious later… once we were far, far out of harm’s way. And in the end, we did get to see some great sights and drive down curvy Lombard Street, which was a lot of fun!

GoCar5

GoCar4

GoCar3
Where are we going!!??

GoCar1
This says it all… not happy Jan.

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L
ombard Street

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hank God it’s over.

Walking around Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 later that afternoon was great. We checked out a few shops and watched the sea lions relaxing by the water. We found a nice seafood restaurant for dinner that looked out over the wharf as the sun was setting. I tried a clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, an absolute must when visiting San Fran, and it was delicious! We popped into a beautiful chocolate shop after dinner to pick up some dessert as well.

San Fran

San Fran

Seals

Pier-Market

Chocolate

San Fran

San Fran

San Fran

San Fran

Another San Fran must is catching a cable car, so we decided to get one back to the hotel. It was interesting watching the guy stand in the centre of the car changing the huge levers as we went up and down hills and around corners. Flying down the steep hills passing funky Victorian homes was awesome. I can’t wait to get back to San Fran and do it again.

San Fran

Vancouver Day 25 and 26

Day 25

This time around in Vancouver, we stayed Downtown at a hotel called Rosedale on Robson. We checked in and went for a couple of beers in the pub downstairs. There was a major football game on at the arena nearby, so there was a flood of green and orange throughout the hotel, in the pub, and on the streets of Vancouver. The BC Lions were playing the Saskatchewan Roughriders, and after picking up a hostile vibe between the teams closely resembling that of a State of Origin night, we spoke to some locals who explained that the Saskatchewan people who relocate to BC for a better lifestyle continue to support the Roughriders instead of converting to support BC, therefore the Lions supporters have a chip on their shoulder. It all provided a bit of a laugh as each team’s supporters heckled each other. Don went on to dub the Saskatchewans the “Saskwatchians”, which seemed to stick from then on in. We just made sure he didn’t say it too loudly.

We met up with some friends of Don and Bron for dinner, Pete and his wife Steph. Pete had a hockey game on that night so we tagged along and got to see some local teams battle it out at the rink.

Petes Game Vancouver

Petes-Hockey-Game

Day 26

As we only had one full day in Vancouver, we tried to fit in as much as possible, starting with the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. It was a fascinating couple of hours walking through displays showing artefacts, statues, masks and clothing from all over the world. I was particularly interested in how much serpent symbolism there was, from two-headed serpent Gods in native American Indian mythology to the dragons in China. I could have stayed there all day wandering around and reading all of the stories and descriptions.

Vancouver Museum

Vancouver Museum

Vancouver Museum

Vancouver Museum

Vancouver Museum

Vancouver Museum

Trying to get back into town to drop off Sooty was absolutely, completely, ridiculously difficult. The one-way streets and roadworks meant it took 20 minutes just to “go around the block”. Once we’d all gone grey from trying to get to the drop-off point, Pete picked us up and we went for lunch at Granville Island Brewing. We had some pizza and, of course, some beer. Each of us got to select 3 beers to try and they were all super tasty (coming from someone who doesn’t usually like beer). We also had a look at the huge market.

Granville Island Brewing

They’re not all mine, I swear!

Granville Island Market

Colourful macaroon tower at the market.

After lunch Pete took us back up to Prospect Point, which is where we rode our bikes with Tom when we first arrived in Vancouver. As Don and Bron hadn’t seen some of the highlights, we retraced our steps a bit so they could share in the awesomeness of Vancouver as well. We made a few more stops, including Cyprus, then went back to the hotel to get some room service and watch the Canucks hockey game on TV.

Lake Louise, Moraine Lake and Banff Day 22-24

Lake Louise and Moraine Lake Day 22

A sea of sparkling aqua greeted us at Lake Louise. I’d seen photos of the lake online and on postcards, and knowing the tricks of the trade, had always assumed that those stunning images of bright blue-green lakes had been photoshopped. With my own eyes, I could see that the water is actually a magical mix of emerald and sapphire. Tree-covered mountains frame the lake on either side, and an incredible glacier hangs above at the very end, looming in the background shrouded in blankets of snow.

We took a short hike up to a lookout to get a better view of the lake. Grizzly bear warnings had been issued for the area as the bears move lower in the mountains as the cold sets in, so we walked in a tight bunch to the end of the trail, seeing only squirrels and birds, but wondering what we’d do if we did see a Grizzly! The view from the lookout was amazing and well worth the climb. It was interesting to watch the people down below in their canoes paddling on the lake. With the vivid aqua as a backdrop, the canoes almost looked like they were floating through a vast blue sky. The water was like glass. Absolutely incredible.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

We had lunch at the famous Fairmont Chateau, a huge hotel that stands guard over the lake. To be honest, I thought it was quite a boring and ugly building on the outside, a bit of a monstrosity in an otherwise breathtaking area, but the interior was gorgeous. The restaurant we ate at had huge arched windows looking out over the lake, and to top it off the food was great and well-priced for the exclusive location.

Lake Louise

Lake Louise

Lunch-at-Fairmont

Snow was falling as we left Lake Louise and headed for Moraine Lake. I had heard awesome things about Moraine Lake so I was pretty excited to see it. Rumour had it that it was better than Lake Louise and less crowded. When we arrived it was freezing cold, snowing and really windy. The lake looked terrible in these conditions, so I was pretty keen to just get back in the warm car and keep moving, which we did. I was pretty bummed about that as the photos I had seen of the lake on sunny days were beautiful, but you just can’t help the weather.

Jess-at-L-Louise

Excited to be going to Moraine Lake.

Snowing-at-Moraine-Lake

Giving up on Moraine Lake. Back to the car.

Banff was a short drive from Moraine Lake. Like Jasper, it was a quaint alpine town with cute shops and cozy restaurants, surrounded by glorious mountains. We stayed at a hotel called Caribou Lodge which was great. The lodge was a big wooden building with an amazing lobby where the decor was ranch-style meets ski-resort. Antlers adorned everything in our room from the towel racks to the light fittings. Even the carpet had an antler-inspired pattern. Dinner was in the steak-house downstairs which, again, had awesome decor. The food was fantastic and the creme brûlée dessert made my night.

Lake Louise to Banff

Lake Louise to Banff

Lake Louise to Banff

Banff Day 23

Today was a great day, with the gondola ride and mountain walk going down as a serious highlight of the trip so far. The view from the top of the lookout on Sulphur Mountain gave us a 360 degree panorama of the Rockies, with valleys and mountains trailing off into the distance as far as the eye can see. There was a boardwalk that lead to Sanson’s Peak, which is where a small hut stood where Norman Sanson would hike to every week for 30 years to read the weather and stay overnight.

Banff Gondola

Banff-Gondola-JJ

Banf-Gondola-BD

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

Banff

We saw “Fuzzy” AGAIN on the walk. Okay, so I haven’t mentioned Fuzzy until now so here’s a little background. We noticed this woman in Jasper and she stood out from the crowd because she had really fuzzy hair. Well, we saw this woman at EVERY stop we made from Jasper to Banff, so we named her Fuzzy. Convinced she was stalking us through Canada, we began to expect to see her wherever we went. Unfortunately, the photo below shows the last time we saw our dear friend, Fuzzy.

Fuzzy

Fuzzy

We had lunch at the cafe overlooking the mountains, then went on a boat tour on Lake Minnewanka. We learned about the area and some of its history including massive bush fires, pine beetle infestations and legends about a half-man, half-fish monster that lives in the lake. The tour guide was great and he passed around photos of local wildlife and artefacts from bears and cougars.

Lunch-at-Banff

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Lake Minnewanka

Don-Bear-Paw

Don’s hand VS the grizzly paw!

When we got back to the hotel, Bron and I checked into the Spa for some chocolate body wraps. After being out in the cold all morning, being wrapped up in chocolate in a warm room with candles and relaxing music was heaven. The Spa itself was impressive, with beautiful relaxation rooms and an indoor hot pool.

To top off an already amazing day, we headed to the Magpie and Stump for dinner, a local Mexican restaurant with a great vibe and amazing food.

Banff to Sicamous Day 24

The sun was shining this morning so we revisited Moraine Lake before driving to Sicamous. As it was quite early, most of the lake was in shadow so instead of seeing the aqua water I expected, the lake was a dark still mirror, stunning in its own right. After a while, the sun started to reach one end of the lake, setting off the bright aqua emeralds the lake is known for. It was so cold that the edges of the lake had frozen where it meets the rock. As the sun warmed the water, the ice began to crack, creating large sheets that we picked up and could look through like windows.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake

To break up what would otherwise have been a very long drive to Vancouver, we stayed in Sicamous for the night. Sicamous is a small town, and as we were all pretty tired, we ate in and had a lazy night.

The Icefields Parkway Day 21

The Icefields Parkway (the highway joining Jasper and Banff) is famously one of the most scenic drives in the world. It certainly lived up to it’s reputation. Huge rugged snow-capped mountains spanned for miles and miles, golden aspens lined the road, stoney rivers twisted through valleys, huge white glaciers towered overhead and milky aqua lakes shimmered peacefully. At every turn, we were made speechless by the awe-inspiring beauty of the Canadian Rockies.

Icefields Parkway

We covered a lot of ground today, stopping to see Pyramid Lake, Athabasca Falls, the Athabasca Glacier, Waterfowl Lake, Mistaya Canyon and Peyto Lake, to name a few. As our altitude increased, it started snowing and we found ourselves in a white wonderland not far from the Athabasca Glacier.

Athabasca Falls

 

Athabasca Falls

 

Athabasca Falls

 

Athabasca Falls

 

Athabasca Falls

 

Icefields Parkway

 

Icefields Parkway

 

Mistaya Canyon

 

Snow Flakes

 

Peyto Lake

 

Peyto Lake

 

A really interesting experience was actually going up onto the Athabasca Glacier itself. A special bus called the Ice Explorer drove us onto the ice and we could get out and walk around. It was absolutely freezing and super windy, making it less enjoyable than I’d hoped, but hey, we were on a glacier after all! The guide explained to us that in winter temperatures get down to -70 Celsius on the glacier, but it was a nice and warm 0 Celsius for us. After we got a few pictures, I semi-walked, semi-slid back to the bus to thaw out, watching the throngs of tourists battle it out against the wind and snow on the ice.

Athabasca Glacier

 

Athabasca Glacier

 

Athabasca Glacier

 

Athabasca Glacier

We stayed at Deer Lodge, a quaint old wooden building not far from Lake Louise. With its age came a lot of character. There weren’t any elevators so we had to carry our luggage up 3 floors, and the carpeted staircase and floor boards creaked loudly with every step. We assumed that they must smoke their own meats downstairs as the whole dining area had a strange cooked meaty smell, unless that was coming from the mounted buffalo head in the sitting area. Like I said… a lot of character.

Deer-Lodge3

 

Deer-Lodge1

 

Deer-Lodge2

Jasper Day 19 and 20

Day 19
One of the English people staying at the ranch told us that there isn’t really a lot to stop and look at on the way from Wells Grey to Jasper so we planned to drive straight there. We did stop to see Mount Robson, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies. The clouds were quite low and it had been drizzly all day so we couldn’t see the summit, but what we could see was beautiful.

Mt Robson

The landscape changes so dramatically from place to place. There appears to be more variety of trees on the mountains closer to Jasper so the sides of the hills look like they’ve been painted a hundred shades of green and gold and yellow.

Jasper is a small quaint town surrounded by gorgeous mountains. We are staying about 5 minutes out of town in a bungalow by Patricia Lake. Our cabin looks out toward the lake and a mountain. We had dinner at a local restaurant called “The Olive”, and on the way home we saw an elk by the side of the road. He was too quick to snap a photo of, but it was awesome to see.

Day 20
When we woke up this morning we noticed that the mountain across the lake was now snow-capped, whereas yesterday there wasn’t a snow flake in sight. Over a home cooked breakfast of omelette, english muffins and coffee, we laid our plans out for the day.

Jasper

Jasper

First up was a gondola, or “sky-tram”, ride up to the top of a nearby mountain. As there had been a fresh snow fall overnight around Jasper, we were hopeful of seeing some snow at the top of the mountain. As the gondola got closer to the top, we could see over the mountains for miles in almost all directions. The view was absolutely breathtaking. Then everything started to go white, which meant… snow!! As we stepped out of gondola we were hit by the cold, but were too excited at first to really notice. We walked around in it for a while, enjoying the crunching sound it made under our feet, but when my toes and fingers went numb and my nose felt like an ice cube, we headed into the cafe to grab a hot chocolate and some poutine. The cafe had 180 degree views of the surrounding mountains through large glass windows. We stayed there in the warmth enjoying the view before catching another gondola down to the bottom.

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

Jasper

 

Jasper

A short drive took us to Maligne Canyon, an amazing canyon with crystal clear water and interesting rock formations. The sound of the waterfalls was loud, but the place was very peaceful and special. I could have spent hours just watching the water slide and crash over the rocks. After Maligne Canyon, we drove to Medicine Lake and then onto Maligne Lake. While the lakes were beautiful, it was the soaring mountains, steep rocky cliffs and ruggedness of the area that was extraordinary. At every turn we met a new vista that was unimaginably amazing.

Jasper

 

Maligne Canyon

 

Maligne Canyon

 

Jasper

 

Maligne lake

 

Jasper

 

Bear

 

Jasper

The sun decided to show its face later in the day as the clouds parted and the skies turned blue. When we got back to the bungalow we took some wine and cheese and crackers down to the lake and sat by the dock. The sun went down over Patricia Lake as we reflected on another awesome day. To top it all off, while we were making dinner about half a dozen elk walked past our cabin. We followed them into the park as they chewed on grass and plants, not worried about our presence at all.

Jasper

 

Jasper

Wells Grey Provincial Park Day 17 and 18

There is something inexplicably extraordinary about Wells Grey. A subtle magic can be found in the simplicity and beauty of this place. This magic runs through the grass, through the horses, through the trees and rivers, through the clouds and the fields and the mountains and the light. It’s an energy that can be felt, a peaceful aliveness that cuts through the bitter cold setting in now that fall has arrived.

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Day 17
A long drive awaited us this morning so we hit the road early. It was Don’s first time driving, and while he almost attempted to turn into the left lane several times, a car full of people yelling “stay right! stay right!” averted disaster. The road trip from Whistler to Wells Grey Guest Ranch was amazing. We passed through mountain ranges, small towns and desert, taking in views of towering snow-capped mountains, sheer cliffs, rolling velvet hills, golden shimmering trees, railway tracks and mirror-like lakes. We only made a couple of stops due to the long drive, but Joffre Lake was an absolute highlight. The water was turquoise and still, looking more like a sea of molten gems than water. Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Cat Stephens and Phil Collins saw us through the rest of the journey to the ranch.

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Our Jeep, “Sooty”.

Wells Grey Joffre Lake

Joffre Lake.

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

We arrived just after 4pm, so the drive took roughly 6 hours. The guest houses at Wells Grey are small basic cabins overlooking a paddock. In our room, we have 3 single beds, a little table, fridge, small bathroom, and – my favourite – a heater. There’s no cell phone signal, and there’s no Wi-fi. It’s actually been great unplugging from the phone and internet for a couple of days. We pulled up chairs on the wide verandah, made some tea, talked, and watch the horses feed in the field while the sun went down. A little cat appeared and decided to hang out with us for a while as well. He particularly liked Justin.

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Wells Grey

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Wells Grey

We also met our neighbour. She is staying in the cabin between us and Don and Bron. She’s a tiny little Asian lady here for a moss and lichen foray in the park. Rather excited about the whole thing, she invited us along to a gathering in the community hall to learn more about it. After a wet winter back home, I’ve seen enough green stuff in our wardrobe to last a lifetime. We passed on the moss gathering and went to dinner instead.

A western-themed saloon adjoins the main building at Wells Grey Guest Ranch and this is where we had dinner. It is complete with a giant moose head and a huge buffalo head mounted on the wall, juke box and portraits of native indians. A couple of old guys, one being native indian, cooked a barbecue so we had some local fresh salmon with chips, beans, rice and veggies. It was delicious. We also met the owner of the Ranch, Mario. Mario, despite having an Italian sounding name, is actually an Austrian man who moved to Canada and took over his uncle’s ranch. He had quite a negative attitude in general at first, but slowly warmed up to us over the night. He shocked us with a few random F bombs here and there, but overall seems a genuine guy. After more discussion with him, it turns out that they are at the very tail end of a long tourist season and he’s just a bit over having guests around and is looking forward to his holiday. He regaled us with stories (in an Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent) of “dumb German tourists” and told us about winter in Wells Grey and how he likes to take snow dogs and sleds out. Bron asked him if tourists get to see his dogs and he said no, the dogs are way too shy, but he told us about their quirky personalities and after expressing his frustrations about how hard it is to keep them in line, dubbed them “complete assholes”. Mario has a strange sense of humour, but he grew on me after a while. He just calls it like it is for him and it was refreshing.

Saloon

Wells Grey Saloon

The real cowboys at the bar.

Wells grey Saloon

 

The city slickers at the bar.

Wells Gray

Day 18
A tough challenge lay ahead of us- It was freezing cold, rainy and we were booked in for a tour of Wells Grey Park, including a couple of hours on the water in canoes. All rugged up, Mario packed us into his truck and off we went. Mario was a great tour guide. He knew the park well and his unique sense of humour kept us laughing the whole way. He told us that there are around 20,000 bears in the park, 1 for each kilometre, but despite the high number, it was unlikely that we’d see one today. A bear, along with a few other animals, was on the top of our to-see list, so I was a bit disappointed that we probably wouldn’t see one, and then… not too far down the road, there he was. A nice big black bear strolled nonchalantly up the road toward our car. A few other vehicles had stopped as well, but we got a great view of him. We watched him for about 30 seconds before he disappeared into the forest, but we were super happy we got to watch him for a while.

Wells Grey Bear

The canoes were already at Clearwater Lake so we just had to put them in the water, strap on our life jackets and get in. It was 2 to a canoe, so Justin and I went in one, Don and Bron went in another, and Mario flew solo. Cruising across and then down the lake with the wind was great. The wind was on our backs and the small waves helped us along. It was cold, but we were having fun so it didn’t matter. The wind started to pick up however, and by the time we reached the shore area where we were to have lunch, it was about zero degrees. It was absolutely freezing. Mario had packed us lunch so we ate our sandwiches while shivering. My toes had gone completely numb so I wasn’t sure if they were still attached or not. Mario had brought a survival kit with him so he cut up some fire wood and started a fire. It was our saviour. We huddled around the flames and warmed up slightly, but had to start the journey back to the dock, against the wind and against the current. No one particularly wanted to leave the fire but we had to get back some time. The paddle back across the lake was the toughest part as we were completely exposed, but once we reached the shoreline on the other side, it was slightly easier. We paddled our little hearts out and eventually made it back, proud of our efforts, but oh so ready for a hot shower and a drink!

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

We made a couple of stops on the way back. One was Bailey’s Shoot, an extremely fast moving waterfall where we saw a few salmon attempt to jump up without any luck. We also stopped at Helmcken falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Canada. It was pretty spectacular.

Helmcken Falls

By now, Mario seemed super comfortable with us and he absolutely made my day by inviting us back to his private home to see his gorgeous Canadian Eskimo dogs. We got to watch them as he fed them and put out fresh water. Some were howling and most of them were running around with excitement. It was so special. They are beautiful creatures and I really wanted to cuddle one, but thought I’d better not. They certainly had a wild streak in them. Mario said he has 19 but we could only see about 12 dogs on the day. I just grinned from ear to ear the whole time we watched them. I’ll never forget that, and I was so grateful that Mario gave us that experience as it’s extremely rare that he lets guests see his precious pups.

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

Wells Grey

As soon as we got back to the ranch it was straight into a hot shower to thaw out. Our usual barbecue dinner with salad awaited us in the saloon. Another group had also shared the ranch with us while we were there- a large tour group of older English men and women. We had spent a small amount of time chatting with a couple of them, and as it turns out, they all desperately wanted to see a bear while they were there. When we told them that we’d seen one and showed them the photos to prove it, they didn’t believe us. The called us ‘the convicts’ and we think they had their pommy noses a little out of joint by our fortunate encounter!

Mario was thankful for our help with loading the canoes and paddles back onto his truck earlier that day so he shouted us a few drinks after dinner. We all had a Jaegermeister shot and chatted around the bar for hours with Mario and his staff, who seem more like family than employees. Mario shared stories of Austria and made jokes. It was an all-round fantastic day and I am so glad we got to spend this time at Wells Grey.

Wells Grey Saloon

Whistler Day 16

Whistler was only a short drive from our accommodation in Vancouver, with one sight-seeing stop at Brandywine falls. The falls themselves were pretty nice, but the surrounding area was also beautiful. We spotted a cheeky squirrel in a tree nearby, but still no sign of bears, which we are all hanging out to see.

Whistler Village is quite large, but very quaint, with cobble-stone walkways, tons of shops, ski-resort architecture and colourful flower boxes everywhere. We found a great place for lunch and sat outside under a heater, soaking in the sunshine on what was a perfect day. People of all types walked and rode by on their bikes. Being fall, mountain bike riding is super popular here as the ski season hasn’t kicked off yet. As the sun was shining and plenty of trails were around waiting to be explored, we all hired mountain bikes and hit the trails ourselves. We first took an easy ride around Lost Lake, a scenic and tranquil spot not far from Whistler Village. Lots of people were out, some on foot and some on bikes, some in groups and some with dogs. Once we’d finished that trail, we got ambitious and decided to give the Tin Pants trail a go. While not as steep or rocky as others around, this trail gradually made its way up a large hill and was so much fun to ride. I think I’ve found something I want to do a lot more of: mountain bike riding. It’s an awesome way to get active and see the sites all in one. A bike is on the top of my list of things to buy when I get back home.

Whistler

 

Whistler

 

Whistler

The ride had us all worn out after a couple of hours so we returned our bikes and checked into our hotel. Justin and I received a free upgrade to a stunning room with high ceilings, numerous glass doors with balconies looking out to forests, a spa bath and fire place. Not long after checking in we walked back into the Village and had dinner at a place called Earls. We were super impressed. All of our meals were excellent, our server was helpful and had some great tips on what to see in the area, and there was a great ski-village vibe. It was moderately busy, but we could easily imagine what it would be like on a winter’s night, packed with skiers and snow boarders looking to thaw out over a few beers. Booths lined the walls, and large tables in the centre of the restaurant had huge antler-adorned chandeliers hanging above them from high ceilings with exposed beams. Whistler was a very cool town, and I’d love to come back in the winter some day, maybe after a few ski lessons.

Whistler

 

Whistler

 

Whistler