Another delayed post from my week in the Canadian Rockies….
Today the town of Jasper, Alberta threw a birthday party for me.
Okay, it was really their annual Winterstruck! festival out at Pyramid Lake, a part of their month-long Jasper in January. But for me, it was a day of firsts amidst a dramatic setting of a frozen lake tucked into the wide valley beneath the aptly-named Pyramid Mountain.
I jumped the free shuttle from town for the 15 minute drive out to the lake. Locals swarmed over the snow with mountain bike-worthy strollers and cross-country skis. Young couples strolled through ankle-deep snow covering the lake like a fluffy blanket, sipping steaming mugs of cocoa and cider. Laughing teenagers raced in snowshoes as a Davy Crocket look-alike cheered them on to a soundtrack of mountain men folk songs. Families tried their hand at winter bocce, sliding huge hunks of wood across a cleared section of ice.
I bypassed all of this for the chance to try dog-sledding. Across the lake, three yapping teams of huskies pulled the adventurous on a brief circuit out across the snowy lake. Determined not to pass up the chance of free dog-sledding, I waited my hour in line as my toes lost feeling beneath the double-layer of socks and I jumped from foot to foot to keep warm.
Finally I took my place behind a sled.
The driver stood on one sled runner, I stood on the other, the brake pedal between us in the middle. After a brief tussle of the lead dogs (one decided he was done ferrying tourists around in endless circles and was unclipped for a break), we took off, flying towards Pyramid Mountain. The wind instantly burned my cheeks, but I didn’t mind. The sensation was pure exhilaration. The jingling dog harnesses, the smooth sailing of the sled, the realization if I let go I would fly off, the mountains looming above – I felt small, but not insignificant. I like the world from a dogsled.
My next birthday “first” involved skates. My figure skates far behind in Wisconsin, I rented a pair of hockey skates, the only kind available in true Canadian fashion. Lack of toe pick aside, hockey skates are liberating. I quickly regained my confidence as I followed the long serpentine course plowed across the lake for meandering circuits of gliding. Of course, I fell a few times. This was a mountain lake, not a Zamboni smooth ice rink. I’m not sure what I imagined, but it wasn’t this. Strange lumps and ridges, snow-encrusted chunks. Areas that confounded my best attempts to be graceful as five-year-olds streaked past me. I braved three laps in one hour before admitting exhausted defeat.
My final “first” came with the encouragement of a friendly transplant from Quebec. Her moans of delight as she nibbled at a chewy wad of something on a stick caught my attention. “We had this every winter growing up. It’s heaven on a stick.” No need to tell me twice. I handed over my toonie and watched as a bearded mountain man ladled boiling maple syrup from a steaming vat, then poured it out in a strip on fresh snow. After a few seconds, I wrapped the gooey mess around a popsicle stick. The Quebecois was right. Heaven on a stick.
With treats like these, who needs a birthday cake?