September 22, 2006

Visiting Calgary, Eh?

My mini-vacation to Calgary was amazing. There are pictures intermingled within text for my friends that don't like to read (or don't know how to), and for those that like torturous details, feel free to check out all of the many word looking things I've typed out below.

I decided I deserved a vacation after the first two weeks back at school, so went to visit Peter in Calgary. I got to the airport on Saturday morning and was greeted by a tiny old lady dressed in a cowgirl skirt and hat that welcomed everyone off the plane. This is quite a bit nicer than the sea of chaos and ambivalence one becomes accustomed to at O'Hare. Peter picked me up and we went to breakfast at the Galaxy diner, a tiny breakfast joint in the downtown part of the city. Throughout my entire trip I was calling the downtown part of Calgary the "city" and was constantly being corrected. I'm so used to Chicago as "the city" and everything else as the surrounding suburbs that "city" has become synonymous with "downtown". I wonder if this is an American, Midwest, or just a Parisa thing. We had a short wait before being seated at the counter, but there was a line out the door by the time we ordered. A cute little traveler from Brazil asked us for some menu translation for him and his friends. He said he heard it was the best breakfast place in the city, we helped him by describing what hash browns are, and he just smiled and returned to his friends at the back of the line. While eating, he tapped us on the back and thanked us profusely again for helping him. I can't remember the last time I met someone so happy to just be up and awake and eating fried potatoes, but bumping into people like that always leaves a smile on my face for the rest of the day. After breakfast, we went to Theo and Nadine's house, where Peter was house and cat sitting and I was taking shelter for the week.

On Sunday, Peter and I scrambled to the top of Gap Mountain. Before hitting rock, we had about an hour and a half of hiking up an avalanche gully of scree. We passed lots of pot holes where Grizzlies had attempted to dig out small animals for feeding. Most of the berry trees were bare from bear feeding as well (hello homophones!). The scramble wasn't very difficult, except for a small portion early on that had some pretty decent exposure. There were lots of big foot and hand holds, but I guess it's technical enough to rank the scramble as moderately difficult. We got to the top, signed the registry, and made it back to the car in a little over 4 hours. We finished the day with burgers and fries at Original Joes back in Calgary. Perhaps it's just the view of the streets from that restaurant, but Calgary is immaculate. The one small piece of paper garbage we saw on the street looked entirely out of place. It's hard to believe people actually live and work anywhere because everything is so clean and well kept. From my modest travels, Calgary now ranks highest among my list of favorite cities (beating out once favorites Seattle, San Francisco, and Vancouver).

On Monday, I did my own school thing and got help installing OpenBSD on my laptop. I had some trouble getting my network card even recognized with Linux a year ago, and after an admittedly pathetic attempt at trying other distros and drivers, accepted a Windows-only laptop. A driver in the 4.0 release supported my network card (supposedly a driver with support for my wireless card will come out soon), so now I have Unix mobility! Hoorah!

The weather for the rest of the week was looking bad, so we took advantage of the last day of sun and attempted the Joy Route on Mount Indefatigable. On the drive up, we saw a Grizzly bear on the side of the road. Peter put the truck into neutral to not scare it away, and it lazily crossed the street and then scurried into the forest. It was pretty awesome luck because Grizzly sightings are not that common, and while I wanted to see one, I didn't really want to make the sighting in person. It was older than a cub, but not as big as some can get. For the curious reader, you really have no chance of immediate escape if confronted with a Grizzly. Don't try to outrun the animal or climb into a tree. Grizzlies are usually afraid of humans and if you leave it alone or try to casually talk to it, you have the best chance of survival as it will probably just walk away. After parking and a 45 minute approach, we started the Joy Route, 10 pitches of 5.5 slab with a gorgeous view over Upper Kananaskis Lake. The climb would have been a bit more joyful if it had only been about 5 or 6 pitches, as it was just more of the same crack climbing with nothing very difficult to vary things up. At points, it seemed like we weren't making any progress at all, but after more than 5 hours of climbing, we peaked out, did a scramble to the summit ridge, and decided to skip the actual summit because our feet were hurting. We followed a rock gully down in search of the trail, and after some personal tumbles and bruises, eventually found the trail and got back to the car.

Wednesday and Thursday were filled with rain and cold weather, so we did normal things like bar hop, watch movies, and stay indoors. On Friday, Theo and Nadine came back early from Italy because of similarly bad weather, so Peter and I headed to Canmore to visit Dow and his wife Stacy. Canmore is the cutest little Mountain town I've been to. It's similar to Banff, but has managed to avoid catching the tourist plague. We went to the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Company for flatbread pizza and beer and then crashed at Dow's house before setting out in the morning.

On Saturday, I got a road tour of the Rockies because it was still too cold to do much outside. After stopping for some homemade granola and coffee, we drove up to Johnston Canyon and raced through the tourist hike. We continued through the Rockies and eventually stopped at a small pub behind a lodge to make our own buffalo burgers. Buffalo meat is supposedly leaner than beef, and in my opinion, a bit tastier, so I recommend it over cow if given the choice. We got to one end of our tour after hitting the Columbia Icefield just between Banff and Jasper. We walked up to the increasingly receeding glacier and watched as other tourists road off in huge trucks on the ice. The walkup is fenced off and divided by caution signs, and the glacier itself is blocked off to a 100m box with caution tape and orange cones. The signs described recent accidents where people fell into crevaces and couldn't get out, so they have made the attraction idiot proof (until another idiot falls in and safety dictates they hire human guidance). On the way back to Calgary, we made a final stop at Lake Louise. Gorgeous.

On Sunday, I got the tour of the University of Calgary. It had all of the normal things that Universities have, in addition to some distinguishing features. First, it has two bars in it's student union for early afternoon drinking. Second, all of the main campus buildings are connected, which is nice for getting between classes since it gets cold there in the winter and people don't have to walk outside. Third, people pay by the credit hour there. This is a pretty terrible model as it discourages people from taking classes they might be interested in but don't need due to financial disincentive. Also, there is much less urgency to finish your degree. But coolest of all, the University of Calgary Olympic Oval was the site for some filming of Cool Runnings, one of the finest examples of great cinema from the 20th century. After the tour, we went to Joyce on 4th for pistaccio lamb burgers with Theo and Nadine. Mmmm... more meat!

In the wee hours of Monday morning, Peter drove me to the airport. Ten climbing pitches, nine nights in Canada, eight Kalamata olives, seven hours total of transcontinental flying, six ditched days of school, five burgers, four avocados, three new Bulgarians, two Kananaskis mountains, and one Grizzly bear later, and I've found myself back in Champaign-Urbana starting the race to finish up the semester and my degree and get the hell out of flat Illinois.

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