Our fifth day in Canada was our last day in Banff, and the only driving day of the trip–we were headed to Whistler, BC next to go bungee jumping.
We were on the road by 9 a.m., which should have been plenty of time to get to Whistler in the daylight, except we are all chronically distractible and couldn’t resist the urge to stop at one more glassy turquoise lake. The one we chose was the jewel of many a Pinterest page–Emerald Lake.
Unlike Lake Louise, Emerald Lake was not frozen and was a brilliant, opaque blue. Lacy pine trees bent over the water, and people paddled across the sunlit water in striking red canoes. A trail let up past a group of lodges on the water, and we followed it until the trees thinned and the water stretched out before us against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. Everything felt so clear and beautiful.
The trail began to get muddy, and Eileen’s birkenstocks were not suited for the trail (we had not expected to hike today). I wanted one more picture, so I pushed ahead in my muddy Chacos and waded into the water. Evelyn followed a few steps behind me, and Eileen waited on the trail.
At least, we thought she did. After I snapped my shot I turned back and we walked to where we had left Eileen, but she was nowhere to be seen. Not on the trail, not on the fallen log we had sat on earlier, and not at the viewpoint looking at the water.
“We’ll definitely find her if we walk the trail back to the car,” I said. “Maybe she’s just sitting in there eating a snack.”
We walked the three quarters of a mile back to the car. She wasn’t there.
“Maybe we missed her along the trail,” said Evelyn.
We walked back up into the woods and back to the place we had stopped. No sign of Eileen. It had been 45 minutes since we had seen her.
By now, we were starting to get panicky. Eileen wouldn’t just leave us. Something must have happened. We walked the trail again. The weather mirrored our feelings. If I hadn’t been hysterical with worry about Eileen, I might have laughed at how unexpected thunder cracked and grumbled as we searched, as if the weather had watched too many movies and was trying its best to provide the ambiance. We walked the trail again, calling her name, telling each other it would be fine and that we were definitely over-reacting. In my own head, it seemed like I was under-reacting, if anything. Should we call the police? Search the woods on either side?
When we finally found her, it was anticlimactic. She was in the car eating a snack. Apparently she had gone to a vantage point from which she assumed she would be able to see us when we came back down the trail. She was not able to see us, and therefore assumed that we had been walking without her for over an hour. We were glad to see her, and finally get on the road to Whistler.
I don’t know if you saw that meme of a Canadian mowing his lawn with a huge tornado behind him, saying “I’m keeping an eye on it,” (here it is), but I think that’s probably the same philosophy with which they approach their roads. The drive from Emerald Lake to Whistler had us all on the edges of our seats from start to finish. The first few hours in daylight were not too bad, but excessively curvy.
As the sun sank behind the mist-covered mountains, darkness fell like a suffocating blanket over the road. We drove between looming peaks, around hairpin turns, and past still, black lakes like mirrors. The road wound higher and higher into the mountains, ceased to be paved, and at 2 a.m. we realized that none of us had seen another car in at least two hours. If we rolled down the window we could hear the rush of water to our right, but we couldn’t see the river, the darkness was so complete. Tiny animals skittered across the road, and deer watched with blank, glowing stares from the sides. At times, the road sloped and eroded down slopes, and I could see Evelyn’s knuckles growing white as she clutched the steering wheel.
When we finally pulled into our hostel in Whistler, it was 4:30 a.m. and we were all wondering whether it would have been better to just forego the hostel and sleep in our car, rather than deal with the too-cool-for-us night-shift check-in guy with long hair and an exclusively-Beatles playlist on blast in the lobby. We finally finished check-in and staggered to the elevator as the first pale rays of light flickered at the horizon and “Here Comes the Sun” played in the background.
The next morning, we crawled out of bed at 11, and spent way too long deciding which t-shirts to wear bungee jumping to optimize the videos we would take of each other shrieking as we fell 50 meters over the rushing Cheakamus river.
“Will green blend in too much with the trees?”
“Yeah. Wear grey.”
“What if the water is grey?”
It was embarrassingly girly, to be honest.
Our shirt color turned out to be completely irrelevant when we arrived, because it was pouring and we all wore our rain jackets. We parked the car by the river and climbed onto a black metal bridge. It climbed through the thick pine and cedar forest and arched over the river, which rushed below us, green and foamy and furious. I looked down at my feet on the metal bridge, and saw the eddying, foaming rapids through the gaps.
The nonchalant bungee crew harnessed us up and rushed us through the liability paperwork in under 10 minutes, and before I knew it I found myself standing on the edge of the bridge, my back to the river below.
“Three, two, one, jump!”
With a shriek, I flung myself off the bridge and tumbled down toward the water.