August 1st was a special day – day 194 of our travels was my birthday and the start of our epic twenty one day, 5000 mile road trip from Vancouver on the Pacific Coast across to New York on the Atlantic.
We were up to early, which was to be a theme of the trip, in order to get to the car rental office at Vancouver Airport to sort some complications with the insurance and a dodgy SatNav. The downside of this unplanned stop was that it sent us south, ruling out a drive around the north of Vancouver and the scenic coastline.
After resolving our car hire issues we got under way. From Vancouver we headed east towards Alberta, passed Monday morning commuters heading into the city. Luckily the roads were relatively clear – despite almost continuous roadworks across Canada and the US.
As we hit the highway outside of Vancouver the horizon became increasingly hazy, and eventually covered in the smoke from forest fires that had been burning out of control for weeks. Thousands of hectares across British Columbia were ablaze and Justin Trudeau was due in town that day to see the extent of the disaster.
Our original plan for the day was to try and reach Kamloops or push on to Salmon Arms but the further we travelled the more we realised that there was very little to see – especially when covered in thick smoke.
Our first coffee break was in Merritt, a one horse town where even that one horse was looking to escape. While the forested countryside is pretty, the towns and villages really are not – the gap between wealthy cities and poorer rural communities is stark.
After six hours driving we stopped for a late lunch at Salmon Arms. After a short walk along the Lake front we found a cheap and cheerful pub for a burger and beer. With the town enveloped in smoke we decided to plough on towards Banff to give us a shorter drive into the Park the next day.
The landscape in central British Columbia consisted of highways cutting through small villages, rivers and mountains all covered in low clouds of smoke. As we entered Glacier National Park we saw the first of the forest fires – red flames engulfing a mountain of pines, with an emergency helicopter overhead dousing flames with a bucket load of water.
By late afternoon the smoke from the fires had apparently spread as far Vancouver and down into the USA.
With early evening setting in we reached the Heather Mountain Lodge on the outskirts of Golden. The traditional log cabin Lodge offered comfortable rooms and was smoke free!
After a quick shower, we changed into our best clothes for my birthday dinner at the Lodges restaurant. We celebrated sat out on the balcony in the cool evening air with a delicious meal and a couple of bottles of wine.
On the horizon the smoke billowed out over the hills, clouding out the setting sun and creating stunning colours over the valley.
After our three courses it was time for bed – tomorrow we’d be heading early to Banff and Lake Louise.