Monday, November 29, 2010


An overstuffed Subaru Forester with four adults and only one set of skis attached to the roof rack pulled up to the tiny border crossing in Roosville, Montana. The Canadian border guard stepped into the single-digit cold, collected three American passports and a Swiss passport, and boredly rambled through his routine.

"Where are you from?"

"Um, we're from Kalispell, she's from Missoula, and he's from the Bay area," said Ted, the driver.

"And were are you going?"


"And what is your purpose in Canada?"

"We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving." (Long pause.) "Um, American Thanksgiving."

It sounded suspicious, even to us. We smiled and held our collective breath. The border guard returned our passports and without another question, said, "Welcome to Canada."

And thus began our holiday in Canada that our Canadian friends dubbed "Yanksgiving," because in the Great White North, the harvest holiday is celebrated in October, not the frigid end of November. That didn't stop them from inviting Danni, Ted, Beat and me up for a four-day weekend full of hiking, running, tons of food, running, candy, more food, running, huge 70s-theme disco extravaganza party, food, and plenty of sunshine.

We woke up early Thursday to a daunting blizzard of a Thanksgiving storm. The trip required a 120-mile drive from Missoula to Kalispell in my 1996 Geo Prism with its summer tires and general lack of stamina. Early in the morning, the snow on the road was so thick I couldn't tell pavement from fields from sky. Everything was a monotone gray in the pre-dawn darkness. My abs hurt from being clenched so tight during the four-hour drive, and more than once we came seconds away from just turning around and giving up on the entire weekend. But we kept at the slow crawl north, trading Geo for the Subaru in Kalispell, and by the time we crossed into British Columbia, bright light began to shine through patches of blue sky.

What can I say? Canada loves me. I've been back to this country enough times now that the weather hasn't been fantastic every time, but my ratio of sunshine and nice temperatures is still well above average. Beat had never been to Canada before, so we made a point to stop at Tim Horton's for Thanksgiving "dinner." It was just a regular day at the donut shop in Invermere, with nothing containing turkey on the menu. We made up for it by eating turkey jerky in the car, then headed for a night hike up Sulphur Mountain almost immediately after arriving in Banff.

On Friday morning, Leslie, Beat and I went for a run on the Spray River trail. The Spray River trailhead is the beginning of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and the parking lot is the starting line of the Tour Divide. For all the times I've been to Banff, I actually haven't been back to the Spray River trail since June 2009. It was fun to return to the familiar scenery, now drenched in snow and winter light.

The Spray River trail itself was quite soft, which made for a surprisingly strenuous 11K run, on top of another 6K or so we did in town and around the nearby woods. (Note to skiers: Yes, this is a multi-use trail.) I felt like I was working harder for less speed than the night before, when we gained 2,500 feet in 5 kilometers, also on snow. It was a revealing run — both that winter training should emphasize time on feet, not mileage, and that trail conditions will actually have to be pretty good for me to have a chance of finishing the Su100 on foot.

Keith ("my TransRockies partner"), Beat, Leslie and I went for a tour of downtown, including a trip to a specialty wine store where Beat and I disinterestedly paced around the periphery, and an international candy shop where we greedily purchased at least 20,000 calories of sugar.

On Friday night, the Canadians came over for Yanksgiving dinner, which Leslie graciously cooked in its near entirety: An whole turkey, yams, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts, rainbow vegetables, corn, cranberry sauce, and fruit crumble.

On Saturday we got outside for a big effort, and Banff handed us a perfect bluebird day. First stop was Sulphur Mountain.

Looking out over Banff and the Bow River Valley. That little mound in the center of the picture was to be our next stop — Tunnel Mountain.

Beautiful country in the summer and winter. I figured out I've visited Banff a surprising seven times since my first stop in June 2009. I often visit the same trails, and I still can't get enough of them.

Leslie and her friend Iris stand on top of Sulphur, trying to stay warm. I felt like a bit of an impostor among all of the real runners.

Here is a view of the Bow River Valley from the top of Tunnel Mountain. I'm not sure about the total distance we did, but it was about 4,000 feet of climbing and descending, mostly on packed snow trails, in just over four hours (with some tourist sightseeing on top of Sulphur.) The temperatures all weekend were seasonable, with highs near -8C and lows around -17C. My left foot hurt afterward, probably from running with an ankle brace, but it was my longest run yet and I think it went well.

Saturday night offered the overall purpose of the journey, which was not, in fact, to celebrate an American holiday, but to celebrate several milestones (a 40th birthday, 20th anniversary, and nursing school graduation) with our friends Dave and Brenda. They threw a huge '70s-themed party up at a ski resort. I didn't bring a costume and so I had to cobble together something that ended up being more of an '80s ski bunny look. What you can't see in the photo are my white moon boots, which were the best part of the costume by far. We ate cupcakes and danced into the night, and my ski bunny outfit was perfect for walking the mile-plus home from the bus stop. Fun weekend. I'm always thankful to visit my "home" in Banff.


  1. And we are ALWAYS happy to have you come 'home' to Banff! Your room will be ready anytime!

  2. Couldn't have spent the holiday with better peeps!

  3. Thanks Keith! I'm trying to convince Google to open a branch in Banff, but we have to figure out something that Google does for the park I guess? Maybe we can sell Google skis or so on the side.

    And for the record, despite her doubts Jill has excellent chances to finish Su, I firmly believe in that. If the conditions are the same as on the Spray River trail all the way, the finisher rate would be like 5% ...

    Good times!!!

  4. Aaaawesome weekend. So glad you both could make it up for all the fun!! Good times-good times. As long as you can get to the start line injury free, I think you're going to do just fine at the Su as well. One foot in front of the other, right?

  5. What a wonderful it looks like! You've made yourself a wonderful family of friends to complement your "birth family". And "real runners"?'re there.

  6. Jill,
    Now I know who leaves postholes on the ski tracks!

    Scandinavian etiquette would have walkers (and runners) keep to the outside of the ski tracks, and only step on the central skating lane to cross perpendicularly. It would be great to see similar consideration spread in North America, where ski grooming is done and paid for largely by groups of skiers.

    Thanks for reading (and thinking).

  7. Par, running outside the ski tracks would have left us postholing up to our thighs. The trail essentially ended on each side of the parallel tracks. In the case of this public trail, and many others in the U.S. (and presumably Canada) grooming was performed by tax-supported municipalities. Where ski clubs perform the grooming tasks, uses besides skiing are often banned outright. Multi-use trails are exactly that - multi-use. Skiers must expect variable conditions on such trails, even if they are groomed.

    More and more winter users, such as runners and winter cyclists, are demanding equal access to public trails. This has generated animosity between skiers and others. I know of at least one case where a large group in Anchorage spent all day on snowshoes stamping out some singletrack loops for their snow bikes, then were yelled at the next day by skiers on those same trails. I'd like to see all user groups happy, but I also fall in the camp who believes there should be more diverse trail access, not less. If ski clubs pay to groom the trails, I will happily stay away from them (there is one such trail system here in Missoula.) However, I'd prefer to have equal access to the rest of the public trails, especially the ones I work to "groom" myself (just did a run today through fresh powder.).

  8. Looks like your Thanksgiving was a success. This year was my first one away from home... a little bit weird...but thankful I found a family to adopt me for the day:) We need to chat soon sister!

  9. Looks like an awesome weekend was had! And as an 80s ski bunny, you should have been playing pond hockey with us in Whitehorse.

    Your running training is sounding very impressive Jill. Keep it up!

  10. Tim Horton's! Wow, I sure miss those places... good times! Thanks for reminding me!

  11. Looks waay more fun than Iowa.


  12. Ditto your comment above re: ski grooming. Don't forget that most trails are on public land and we all have the right to access it, regardless of who pays for what. If we start letting user groups get territorial over trails, we can look forward to essentially "buying" public lands for ourselves. Hm, actually, that sounds pretty good. Maybe the skiers are on to something. Think the open spaces will last long if such a thing comes to pass?

  13. Very cool, Jill. Maybe someday I'll meet up with you at Leslie and Keith's place. That would be sweet!

  14. Hi Jill-

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I didn't stop to think you were on a multi-use trail.


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