Pushing on from Glacier I drove through the unincorporated town of Babb, MT, which sits aside the northeast entrance to the park. The best time to travel America has to be September when the days are still long, the weather is bright, families with children have gone back to their school year routine, and the roads through national parks and their surrounds are dotted with locals mostly — or animals soaking up the asphalt’s heat when the sun cools quickly. There are a lot of grey hairs on the roads during this time period, so the driving doesn’t get any faster, just more sparse.
Driving in October though you miss the opportunity to eat at places like the Two Sisters Cafe which close in September for the season or stay at some of the historic park lodges like Many Glacier Hotel. Many Glacier closes down in late September and hires a seasonal caretaker ala The Shining, who watches over the buildings until spring thaw. Nowadays, the keepers tend to blog to keep their sanity and stay in touch with the outside world. You can check out last season’s keeper here.
Glacier National Park is connected to Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada. In 1932, the US and Canada joined the two to create the world’s first international peace park — The Waterton–Glacier International Peace Park — which works to protect the water, plants, and animals in the region and stands as a testament to the longstanding goodwill between the two countries.
Arriving at the Canadian border, I was hoping for a little of that goodwill to spill over into this ill-equipped American’s car window. It wasn’t clear to me where to go, so I stopped in the first parking lot near a flat, square admin building and approached three gentlemen gathered at a teller-like drive through window. You’d have thought the sight of a relatively little lady would have been mildly interesting given we were the only humans in sight, but instead they eyed me suspiciously. When I asked where I was suppose to go to pass through the border, one man’s stare hardened and he pointed to the “other” border crossing up ahead – which of course I would have seen if I kept going, but I didn’t — BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW.
Not dampened by the frostiness from the American side, Buffy, Sniglet, and I sidled up to the Canadian Border take-out window full of cheer. There sitting straight up in his swivel-stool, displaying the most perfect posture ever, was the embodiment of every Canadian Mountie picture I had ever seen since I was a little girl — minus the hat – and with a bald head (which no doubt explains the hats).
Chris, the Canadian Mountie/Border Patrol agent (I named him in my head instantly), asked for identification. I imperceptibly offered him my hand in marriage with invisible love hearts sprinkled around my passport. He inquired where I was going. I heard in my head, “Wherever you are…”, but “Calgary” come out of my mouth.
“Why?” he asked.
The marketer in me interrupted this poorly constructed one-sided love monologue to make a note that Canadian border guards are also ambassadors of tourism and no one entering the country should be asked “Why” they are going anywhere. It sounds like “Why in God’s name would you choose to go there?”, not “What is the purpose of your visit?” which is what I’m sure the handsome Mountie intended. He just needs a little more polishing….
I realized I was thinking too long and he was staring sternly at me.
“Uhm, I don’t know really. Just to visit and see what it’s like?” It seemed a slightly more plausible explanation than “It begins with the letter C.”
He gave me the same look the American border guard gave me.
“How long are you planning on being in the country?”
“A few days.”
He then asked the sort of questions you get asked at airport security and customs clearance. “Do you have any fireworks or explosives in the car.” “No.” Do you have any merchandise you intend to sell while in Canada?” “No.” “Are you transporting any weapons – guns, rifles, — registered or otherwise?” “No.” “Are you carrying any mace, pepper spray, or any other self-defence materials in the car?” “Why? Should I have?”
My flawless Canadian Mountie shot me a look that only the most disciplined British Beefeaters are capable of communicating without moving a muscle – an eviscerating cross between “The things I do for God and Country” and “You are the stupidest example of humanity I’ve come across today.” I knew our romance was over.
What I didn’t know then was that had I brought mace and pepper spray with me on the trip, I not only would have been held up at the border for being stupid, but more seriously, for carrying a prohibited weapon. So as it turns out, I was better off not having the mace/pepper spray in the car despite the “I told you so voices” I wrestled with in Montana.
Chris, the Canadian Mountie/Border Patrol agent, tired of grilling me while I gaped at his handsomeness, released my passport and license gently. He looked across to Sniglet in the passenger seat and then looked at the suitcase and blankets in the back of my car and I swear I saw a semblance of chivalry flash across his face. It was the look of a man who knew more about the area than I did and it read sadly like “Who would let a lone woman like you out here on your own.”
I reached for Sniglet and gave him a group wave from us. He bowed his head and moved us on. As we crossed the border, I stopped for a picture at the sign welcoming us to Alberta and looked at the quiet road ahead. Yeah, Chris’ eyes were probably right. There are roads I probably shouldn’t be driving on my own, but that’s what the adventure is about and it is not without its modern amenities. There must have been women so much braver than I for the hundreds of years it took to settle these areas – women who started out this way and then lost their husbands or family to the terrain or to bandits or to unfriendly natives. None of them had cell phones or the Internet or border patrols or the Little Prius That Could. Those were the really brave women – women who had nothing but hope and a will to survive. We forget sometimes what being brave is really about…