Having been dumped in the town of Golden, the closest settlement with adequate mechanical offerings with which to fix our broken automobile, we set up camp on the road outside Fountain Tire and began to explore the town.
Golden, as it happened, wasn’t a bad place to be stuck in. The downtown area had a nice feel about it, small and cheery with some pleasant shops and restaurants and the river running along nearby. We had an excellent large breakfast at Big Bend Café, “hand-made” Invermere ice cream from the local candy store (turns out Earl Grey ice cream is quite tasty), and hot drinks at a rather horrendous diner on the main drag (the horrendousness was redeemed by the fact that they allowed us to sit there and use wifi and charge our devices for a couple of hours). Our stomachs satisfied and our electronic requirements temporarily fulfilled, we took a stroll around town, checking out the art gallery (some cool artwork and leatherwork), farmers market (wild huckleberries = freakin delicious!!), and trails along the river. Aside from being a pleasant enough place to spend some time, our forced encampment in Golden actually provided a welcome break from the constant rushing to and from tourist destinations, and imposed a surprising sense of relaxation that we hadn’t experienced (believe it or not) since the start of our trip.
Eventually, Fountain Tire was able to attend to our broken vehicle, and a quick starter and solenoid replacement saw us back on the road with only a medium-sized chunk taken from our wallets. We treated ourselves to full hookups (electricity, sewage, and water) at the Golden Municipal Campground, and picked up where we left off on our voyage south towards the U.S.
Next stop was Kootenay National Park, sitting on the western border of Banff NP. Our chosen campground that night was Redstreak, sitting high above the village of Radium. The campground was pretty darn cool, as it offered panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, and came complete with herds of the famous Bighorn Sheep which are native to the Rockies and who wandered casually through the campsites, serenely ignoring the silly tourists with their ridiculously long camera lenses.
That evening, in an attempt to escape the herds of screaming children adjacent to our campsite, we decided to take a 1 hour stroll to Radium Hot Springs. The walk from the campground up the valley was pleasant enough, and at the end of it we got to enjoy a pleasant soak in the springs. While the location and experience were cool, there were admittedly a lot of people there, even at 9pm, and the water was a little too chlorinated for our liking.
The walk home after the hot springs was a little unnerving, on account of the fact that it was completely dark, there was no-one of the mountain trail, and there were large signs at the start of the trail heralding the fact that the area was a known Cougar haunt. However, after a moderately stressful hour, we arrived safely back to our campsite, with all appendages gladly intact.
Next day, we forced the poor old Hunk o Junk to chug up yet another mountain in order for us to enjoy some of Kootenay NP’s natural delights. We settled on what was meant to be a pleasant walk through a forest, but which ended up being yet another stressful walk through an area which was clearly being used on a regular basis by bears (complete with fresh bear poo and fur all over the plants adjacent to the trail). After seeing one poo too many, we pivoted 180 degrees and briskly walked back to the safety of civilization.
Continuing our cruise southwards, we stopped off for tacos and ice cream (an excellent combination) and later for an enjoyable swim in Columbia Lake. Arriving in Cranbrook, we hunted around for a free spot to spend the night (the Walmart there rather uncharitably not allowing RV overnight camping) and eventually settled on SaveOn supermarket, the manager of which informed us that it was “probably fine” for us to spend the night in their parking lot.
The following morning, we edged closer to the U.S. border, mentally and physically preparing ourselves for what we assumed would be an unpleasant passage through customs (what with a Breaking Bad-esque RV packed with strange foods and other paraphernalia, a Canadian, and a Kiwi who was effectively an illegal overstayer). We spent the next few hours parked up in a small patch of green beside the Kootenay River, swimming, fishing (where I FINALLY caught my first fish in many weeks), preparing a monstrously large list of foods to be declared at the border, and baking the world’s largest frittata containing all the fresh ingredients which the U.S. government websites informed us were illegal to bring across the border.
Pulling up to the border crossing, we couldn’t help but feel unjustifiably nervous, and ran through what we were going to say when we talked to the US officials. Of course, as soon as the official started asking questions, our pre-prepared statements went out the door. Notably, when the official asked where we lived, it took me a little off-guard, and I blurted “ah, I don’t really have a home at the moment”, which isn’t really the thing to say to the douchey American border-control sort. Having eventually established that I was a former Canadian resident travelling around the US and then moving to New Zealand at the end of it, we then moved on to the topic of what was contained within our 24-foot packmule. At this point, I flourished our comprehensive list of declarables and began counting them off. This was an excellent move on our part, and the official quickly looked panicked and told us to head into the office for processing. 20 minutes talking to yet another douchey border official and paying yet more money for my ESTA (which I had already purchased online, but there’s no arguing with these guys), and we were on our merry way without having to go through a detailed RV inspection. Success!
Feeling rather pleased with ourselves on account of the smooth crossing, we trundled into Montana and uncharted waters.