9. Brighter Was the World

7. North to Alaska: Chapter 8 and Chapter 9 Life Out Here

Would you rather pay one million dollars or spend one year in prison? 

Briefed on the details, and gifted with graphic leaflets on when and how to contact Health Canada, we were mandated to mobile quarantine.

Mobile quarantine means you must be masked whenever out of your vehicle, and you must never be out of your vehicle unless gassing up, checking into a hotel room, or, if absolutely necessary, buying groceries.

“Would you rather pay the one million dollar fine or spend one year in prison?” Zach and I mused over this question sometimes when it came time to mask up and blend into the Canadian tourist scene.

We stopped at the A&W in Cranbrook, borrowed their WiFi to download the map to our motel in Radium, and ate our burgers on the steps of the truck. I could never decide if our Alabama plates or the twenty-six foot long UHaul made a couple of purse-lipped women stare at us as they hurried by. Maybe it was both.

“Why don’t people wear masks here?”

Zach surmised it must be that things hadn’t been too bad for them, that the Canadian COVID response had worked.

Somewhere between Cranbrook and Canal Flats Zach and I had the same thought while in separate vehicles. The road now ran perpendicular to a wide-open valley cradled by mountains casting cool shadows on summer fields.

“I could live here,” I thought. He had felt the same way.

The long valley morphed into boxy condominiums and high hotels spaced only by glass-ponded golf courses. Updated commercialism devolved into old cafes and tourist shops and, finally, the main drag of Radium.

Motels of orange and white and blue and green flanked Kootenay Highway. They were nestled in the treetops, stacked atop each other like cake layers. I saw the brown and white Crescent motel, once owned by folks my grandparents had befriended after staying so many times. A coppery chalet high upon the mountainside hovered like some wise, watchful mission bell.

“That must be it,” I thought.

I drove the incline alone to scout the parking set-up, and a curve in the road led me to believe parking might be a problem.

The chalet counter was veiled by a plastic curtain and unmanned. A small wicker basket held the room keys for those with reservations. I thumbed through the envelopes. Twice. I picked up the phone and found I was in the wrong place. Our motel was the one next door.

The new manager of the Rocky Mountain Springs Lodge spoke with a Hungarian accent and gave me our room key. I asked about parking a UHaul and he said, “yes, just park on the street.”

“So it’s a twenty-six foot long moving truck,” I said. “Will we be able to turn around?”

“Yes, just park right there,” he said and pointed towards the welcome sign.

I departed to retrieve Zach, unsure of the situation, knowing we had to try. As I led him to the Lodge, I wondered what it would look like to watch a UHaul reverse downhill.

Breathing deeply and resolving to be a practical and non-hysterical assistant, I walked to the back of the UHaul and signaled I was ready to spot. Thus began the three-point turn of doom.

The bumper kissed the mountainside and I yelled for Zach to stop. The truck lurched forward to the edge of the rock walled entrance. He reversed again until metal scraped dirt. It went on like this until the grill was mere inches from a green dumpster. Zach finally asked me to ask if the guy with small black car could please park somewhere else.

“Then I can pull in far enough to turn around all the way,” he said.

He was stuck, blocking both the road and the motel entrance. A couple smoking cigarettes on their balcony at the chalet next door watched us.

How would I find the owner of the small black car? The manager knew, and with reluctance, he knocked on a top floor door and explained to a balding man in a white undershirt and black slacks why he should to move his car. I watched, mortified, as he motioned to our UHaul which looked like it might crush the small black car at any moment. By then, an older couple had opened their door to lean on the top floor rail. The old woman waved back at me.

“He said he’s got to dress and then he’ll move his car,” the manager told me.

A gaggle of white-haired tourists approached the spectacle. They were dressed for golf and one of the women said, “looks like you’ve got yourselves in a pickle.”

Then, the man-of-the-hour graciously and without saying much of anything quickly moved his car to the far end of the parking lot and retreated back to his darkened room. At last, Zach parked facing downhill. The resting engine ticked and popped from all the commotion. The crowds dispersed.

The manager wanted cash, and, in the end, we probably paid more than we should have for one night for cowboy art, and polyester bedding that might have been the guest set of some way-back grandmother on either side of the family.

The room was all sunshine and a sliding door led to a balcony as high as the pines. I smelled the cigarette smoke of the chalet couple.

I photographed the Rockies where the sun would set much later.

I looked for the Neowise comet, which I had spotted in Spirit Lake.

Over the sun-soaked valley of Radium I saw it one last time, for brighter was the world the further north we trekked.

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