(Memoir Excerpt #3)
I felt like french explorer, Jacques Cartier, stumbling across one hill at a time. Sketching out the lay of unchartered land in my journal and deciding where to stake my sword. After a few days on the road I was learning more about geography than any class in school ever taught me.
We had been gone almost a week by the time we arrived in Banff, Alberta. Even though it was pitch black by the time we rolled in I could feel the hugeness of the mountains surrounding us. We pulled up in front of the YWCA.
“You stay here” Chuck jumped out of the passenger seat and I kept the car running for the heat.
Chuck looked tired, and not the kind of tired a few hours of sleep in the car could fix.
He came back quickly. “They don’t have any beds”
We drove down the street to check out the main drag. It was a perfect small town that looked like it belonged on the backlot of a wholesome movie set. We only had enough money for one of us to eat, we had to start rationing. I went into the Second Nature Coffee Shop and ordered a small hot chocolate, no whip cream. That would be my dinner.
After a few hours walking around in the dark we admitted to ourselves that there was nowhere here to sleep, we’d have to rally our senses and get back on the highway.
Very quickly we landed on a dark two-lane road that wound sharply through the massive mountains hovering over us on either side. There were no streetlights on this highway and lots of sharp turns that seemed to pop up last minute. Chuck had insisted on driving and now it was too late to switch. That’s when the rain started. Immediately we could barely see through the windshield wipers. This is the kind of rain I would normally pull over in, but there was no pulling over on this road. I perked up, pulled my seatbelt tight and sat up as straight as I could. Chuck was hunched over, both hands gripping the wheel, eyes stressed and glued to the road in front of him. From my toes to my jaw, my entire body was clenched tight. I was prepared to grab the wheel at any moment.
As we slowly wound around a big turn, the bright moon cut through the rain and lit up the mountain to my side. Almost like a spotlight, on a ledge, about 40 feet up, I saw a mountain lion. Tall, and wet. He was all alone, sitting perfectly still, the rain pouring down on him. His eyes glowed as I swear he looked right into me.
I stared up at him through the closed window. Holy shit! I thought. If I get into a car accident right now is that mountain lion going to come and eat us?
Suddenly something inside me took over. Peacefulness washed over me. My clenched body relaxed. A memory of my grandfather immediately came into my mind. He was somehow there to protect me. Was this mountain lion him, looking down on me from heaven? My Nonno died when I was in grade 8 but he had loved me more than anyone ever had. He had always made me feel safe with him. “Bella” he called me.
As we drove passed the mountain lion, our eyes locked and then the moonlight disappeared and everything was dark again. We drove all night. I don’t know when I fell asleep in the car but I woke up the next morning in the parking lot of Peaks Lodge Restaurant.
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