Archive for July, 2011

Lake Agnes Teahouse

July 29th, 2011 1 comment

The Irish Breakfast tea would have been good anywhere, there was no doubt about that, but what made it exceptional that sunny June day was the environment in which it was being consumed.  Was it the log construction of the building? The nearby ice-dotted lake?  The green expanse of pines falling away endlessly to the valley below? All were essential tones in the symphony of the moment.

I took another sip.  Delicious.

I was at the Lake Agnes teahouse in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.  There was only one way to get to the teahouse: a 2.5 mile hike up 1200 vertical feet from azure Lake Louise.

Canoes on Lake Louise

It wasn’t a particularly humbling ascent — many old people, overweight people, and old overweight people made it — but the measure of difficulty added immensely to the teahouse experience.  The tea became more than a beverage.  It transformed into a reward, a celebration of a climb conquered.

The Lake Agnes teahouse has been around in one form or another for about a century.  All of the supplies for the surprisingly extensive menu are hiked up by the staff or provisioned by an occasional helicopter drop.

Lake Agnes Teahouse

I picked up my cup and strolled inside the building. There, I found a kitchen and a small seating area. The sweet aroma of fresh cookies filled the interior; baking was done on-site.  The chipper staff of twentysomethings gave everything a lively air, and they were more than happy to dispense good hiking advice in addition to good eats.

Inside the Lake Agnes teahouse

It was a delightful change of pace from the resort environment of Lake Louise.

I returned outside to my table on the porch, the better to enjoy the view and the pleasant weather.  It was still early in the morning and the breeze slightly cool, making the warm rays of the sun welcome teammates to my hot beverage.

Tea and cookie at the Lake Agnes teahouse

The hordes of late-sleeping tourists had yet to attempt their ascents of the trail.  Just a dozen customers were leisurely soaking in the experience with me.  Smiles and relaxation ruled.

Ice-dotted Lake Agnes; a splendid alpine companion

As I munched on an oatmeal-raisin cookie and sipped on my tea (brewed from full-leaf loose leaves), I noticed my table neighbors paying with US currency, something then allowed by the teahouse at the generous rate of par.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“Minnesota” they said.

The couple turned out to be Erik Aus and his wife Sue.  Erik was the successful recently retired head coach of the Centennial High School boys hockey team, a tenure that included a state championship in the mid-aughts.  They hailed from Lino Lakes, just a few miles from Fridley, where I had begun my journey.

I chuckled at my luck of running into other Minnesotans in a remote part of Canada.  Another sip of tea was in order.  Delicious tea.


July 28th, 2011 Comments off

To see these places, to feel them, to know on a personal level that — my god! — they actually exist; that is something that is irreplaceable, something that cannot be conveyed by words or photos.

Sometimes when I am driving, alone with my thoughts, I find my eyes tearing up with emotion at the beauty of it all.  Of the cities.  Of the trees.  Of the mountains.  Of the people.

How lucky I am to have the experience.

Full disclosure: This photo is from my 2007 trip to Isle Royale, but it fit the mood of this post.


My FiveFingers

July 27th, 2011 3 comments

A few weeks before the trip started, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, the “barefoot” shoes with the individual toe pockets.  I’m not a runner, so my purchase was driven primarily by novelty.  Yeah, I was that guy.

My FiveFingers on my feet. Kind of like gloves, eh?

Happily, I’ve found my brown leather KSO Treks to be quite comfortable and functional as traveling shoes.  They have been great for driving — over 7000 miles so far — largely because of the excellent pedal feel they provide.  I haven’t brought them backpacking, since I like a bit more protection on the trail, but I have been using them while walking around town.

I have had to adjust my walking gait slightly while wearing the FiveFingers. The strong heel strike in my normal walking gait made my knees a bit sore after more than a few miles of walking on concrete in cities, so I experimented a bit and found a solution.  It’s simple enough: I just focus on performing a more uniform foot strike rather than a hard heel-first strike.  Kind of like the change necessary for running in them.

While in Denali, I tried using them for a very small bit of trail running, less than a mile, the day before we started our backcountry trek.  That led to some sore calves later during the backpacking, but the actual running felt fantastic.  It was like I was bouncing down the trail on springs.  Perhaps I’ll have to give them some more running use.

In short, they’ve been functionally satisfying.  That alone would have been enough, but they’ve also managed another useful trick: they’re great icebreakers.

FiveFingers have been on the market for a couple of years now, but it seems that many people are still unaware of their existence.  That has led to numerous situations where people have struck up conversations with me to ask about about my shoes.  “What are those?” and “Where did you get them?” have been the two most common questions.  One lady even took a photo of my feet (awkward!).

I suspect that my experience with the FiveFingers drawing attention has not been unique.  Tyler also had a pair with him in Alaska, and he was wearing them around Denali NP after we got done backpacking (I was wearing sandals at the time).  He, too, had a stranger come up to him and ask him about his shoes.

Now if only they could somehow get me more inbound links…

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First month notes

July 24th, 2011 6 comments

Last night was the 34th of the trip, so I thought it would be good to put together a few notes on the trip so far:


  • Total miles driven: 6900
  • Most expensive gas: CDN$1.439 per liter in the Yukon (US$5.74 per gallon)
  • Most beautiful drive: Highway 99 between Cache Creek, BC and Whistler, BC
  • Most beautiful drive runner-up: Highway 37A into Stewart, BC
  • Animals observed along the road: Moose, bison, elk, caribou, marmots, black bears (many, many black bears), deer (or were they more elk?), big-horned sheep, and mountain goats
  • Number of major chips in Sam’s windshield: 2 (grrr…)


  • Nights spent in hotels and AirBnB: 17
  • Nights spent camping: 10
  • Nights spent in hostels: 7
  • Cheapest hotel: Bayview Hotel in Stewart, BC ($55/night)


  • Times skated: 5
  • Time skates sharpened: 2
  • Save percentage: Bad?


  • Cinnamon rolls sampled: 10
  • Cinnamon rolls that were so bad I couldn’t finish them: 2
  • Most expensive grocery-store medium banana: CDN$0.55 (at a little store about halfway between Watson Lake, YT and Stewart, BC)
  • Times eaten fast food: 2 (Once at Taco Bell for the sake of getting hot sauce packets, and once at McDonalds [just a large fries] for the sake of using their internet)
  • Cups of coffee consumed: Excluding the time in Denali, probably at least a few a day
  • Worst coffee: the gas station at the intersection of the Cassiar Highway and the Alaska Highway in the Yukon.  (At least it was free!)
  • Worst chain coffee: Tim Hortons.  Why is it so popular? The coffee is bad, the donuts are bad, the atmosphere is cheap.  What’s the appeal?


  • Amount over budget: Surprisingly, I’m about on budget, owing mostly to my use of hostels and infrequent meals at restaurants
  • Amount earned from the trip: $0.  I’d love to change this; maybe I should commit to writing an ebook and put a pre-sale link up?  I have a bunch of content that I haven’t bothered to write up on the ol’ blog…

Yukon hockey: done

July 24th, 2011 2 comments

A few days ago, I played the most low-key hockey of the trip so far: a stick-and-puck session at the arena in Whitehorse, Yukon.  The Yukon is technically a territory, so it doesn’t really count in my “every state and every province” goal, but I figured I might as well bag it anyway.

The session was during lunchtime on a weekday, which meant that (yet again) there were mostly kids there.  However, as it was a “family” stick-and-puck, there were a couple of parents, too.

I was the only goalie on the ice.  One of the kids, maybe 10 years old, actually thanked me for showing up, because “It’s a lot more fun to have a goalie to shoot on.”  Glad I could help, kid!

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