"Looks like everyone and their dog is here." ~ Stewart Hutchings
I grew up with a distaste for crowds. I learned this from my father, who intentionally avoided places he considered tourist traps. Many of my friends got to visit the Flinstones theme park in Kelowna, B.C. The Hutchings family drove right past places like this without slowing down. Dad would gladly stop at a place that had historical or cultural significance. Initially, I was led to believe that these were more worthwhile places to visit. In hindsight, it is entirely possible that we actually stopped at these places because they were far less crowded??? We would go out of our way to find campsites that did not have power hookups and showers. When it came time to visit Klondike Days in Edmonton, we went with mom and our grandparents. For the most part, I still dislike crowds. Like the narrator of Robert Frost's famous poem, I prefer the road less taken.
On the May long weekend, we decided to go for a hike on a very popular trail. The Kootenay Plains are a remarkable place to visit and the most traveled path in the area goes to Siffleur Falls. It really is a beautiful spot. The trail is wide, well developed and flat. It is a very easy, accessible, family friendly hike. It is not as busy as a place like Johnston Canyon or Bow Summit, but on the day we hiked it, there was no solitude.
We passed groups of every imaginable composition. Families with three or more generations. Church youth groups. Mountain bikers. Buxom young ladies in bikini tops. Solo trekkers. Shirtless dudes with potbellies toting a Coors Light in one hand and a lit Export A in the other. Young couples. Asian, German, First Nations, Redneck, Quebecois. Aside from the trail we chose to spend our Saturday enjoying, the one thing that most of the groups had in common was a canine companion. When we pulled into the nearly full parking lot, I couldn't help imagine what my father's reaction would be. I honestly think we would have circled the parking lot and left. It was that busy.
While I have many of my dad's quirks when it comes to spending time outdoors, I happen to be a dog owner. One of the first things my wife and I bought together was a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. We named her Bailey (after the character in WKRP, not the Irish Creme) and she was a huge part of our life. She passed away when our boys were fairly young and we were poochless for about three years. In September 2008, we got an e-mail about a litter of seventeen Chesapeake puppies. The pictures were incredibly cute and you can guess the rest of the tale. We have another Retriever in our lives and she keeps us on our toes. She is very true to her breed, though she is quite small. What she lacks in size, she makes up for in speed, agility and stubbornness. Maggie is, shall we say, a spirited creature. She needs to run, swim and retrieve things. She digs, barks, jumps up and listens when it suits her. I am concerned that she could die of gastric misadventure.
In spite of her overall goofiness, we love her to bits and I think the feeling is mutual. She spends most of her nights in the bedroom of one of our family members. If we are not home, she plunks herself between the boys' bedrooms at night. She really is at her best when we are hiking, biking or near a body of water. Needless to say, she was in her glory on the hike to Siffleur Falls. Not only did she get to swim, run and explore, she got to sniff the rear end of dozens of new pooches. Talk about doggy heaven!
I know that this journey would have made dad's skin crawl. It was a bit much for me, but when I really thought about it, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. All of the people we encountered were there for the same reason - to enjoy the outdoors on a beautiful spring day. The dogs we encountered were very well behaved and the hikers were generally well-behaved. My kids had a great trip and I'm pretty sure that, given the opportunity, they will bring their kids to hike this trail.
It is true that I am more willing to visit a crowded place than my father. I have endured the wildlife-induced traffic jams of Yellowstone Park and elbowed for a view of Old Faithful. On our family journey to Los Angeles, we made a bee-line for Hollywood and Disneyland. I love visiting big cities like Toronto and Chicago. Somehow, I don't mind Las Vegas in spite of the incredible excess and waste it represents. Last fall, we spent the night in a Motel 6 in Niagara Falls, ate at the Rainforest Cafe, went on the Skywheel and took a cruise on the Maid of the Mist. Talk about full-bore, crowded, cheesy tourist traps!
Given the choice, I still prefer to have a stretch of river or trail to myself. I don't mind sharing with wildlife. When I fish, I like to go with partner, mainly because my favorite fishing spots tend to be pretty secluded (see my post The Places I Love to Fish).
If I must share the outdoors, I prefer to share with my family. And my dog. After all, I can endure any crowd when I'm surrounded by those I care for the most.