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Climb Ev'ry Mountain,
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2009 Fay Jacobs

Fay Jacobs

I'm astounded. Bonnie and I just got back from the Canadian Rockies, where we canoed, white-water rafted and hiked. No, I am not kidding. We hiked way more times than we had cocktails, which is just wrong.

Before the trip I wouldn't have bet ten cents I could have managed all this physical activity - and truthfully, if Larry the vacation planner told us what he'd planned I might not have gone, which would have been criminal, since I had a ball.

On our first day in Banff, Canada, I got a clue. We rode a cable car up some gorgeous mountains - and from there hiked up to a second, higher observatory. Why did most people have hiking poles and sturdy shoes while I had a digital camera and sandals? At 4000 feet above sea level I gasped for oxygen and my legs burned with each step up. I could have used those hiking poles to poke Larry in the butt for leading the way. I would have bought poles, too, but I was sure this hike would be the only time I needed them. Hah!

The next day we went white-water rafting on a course advertised as fun for the whole family. Who, the Adams Family? Frankly, this was the most strenuous thing I've ever done. And that was just pulling the wet suit up over my ass.

They gave us all kinds of instructions about what to do if we fell out of the boat and I thought it was hilarious. I mean nobody would fall out, there were pre-teens along. Besides, the way we were costumed, with wet suit, splash jacket, helmet and life vest, none of us could move, much less fall out.

I perched on the side of the inflatable boat, paddling away, smiling and enjoying myself until we hit a five foot drop, the raft twisted and Larry fell out.

Holy crap. As our guide leaned over, grabbed him by the life vest and plunked him back in the boat I realized the severity of my situation.

From that moment on, my right hand clutched a rubber handle in the boat and my wet-suited butt clamped itself onto the inflatable. My behind was so clenched that when we finally got back to shore, I had a hamstring injury and couldn't lift my left leg to get back into the car.

Bonnie, however, unclenched, voluntarily jumped into the icy water for a swim. Opposites attract.

Next on the Olympic schedule came canoeing on a lake so azure blue it looked like a Home Depot paint chip. Now a canoe is an unstable little boat and I'm an unstable big person. Once I sat down in the front I was fine, but getting in was a bit of tippy-canoe and screaming too. Eventually we settled down to a delightfully quiet hour of paddling on a serene lake surrounded by glacier-covered mountains. Amazing.

Then, as told to me, Larry and his canoeing partner returned ahead of us. His buddy removed his life vest but Larry did not. "You're on land now, Larry, you can take off the life jacket."

"Oh no," he said, "I have to help Fay out of the boat and anything can happen." That's what friends are for.

After canoeing, we went to the Banff Hot Springs, soaking in a huge public 104-degree pool surrounded by mountains and Canadians. I asked several Canadians about their heath care system and they were all absolutely thrilled with their government-run option. And none of their elderly parents have been ordered killed by government bureaucrats.

In short order we trudged up to some magnificent waterfalls, traversing trails dotted with tree roots, ruts and rocks to be scaled, where once again I suffered hiking stick envy. I'd have climbed more comfortably if I was as thin as the air. Coming back we stopped on the roadside to see elk, horned sheep and mountain goats. Western Canada was having a record hot spell and the moose and bear population was cooling off out of sight. Drat, no photo ops.

From Banff we drove on the Icefield Parkway to the Columbia glaciers, where we rode in a mountain-climbing vehicle up onto the glacier, where, duh, it was slippery and cold. And impressive and beautiful, albeit disturbing to see the sign in the parking lot noting where the toe of the glacier had been in 1904. What global warming?

Then we were off to the little town of Jasper, and its record heat wave. Did we see any wildlife on the way? Only me when I discovered our cabin lacked air conditioning. That was one miserable night. And the sun doesn't set until 11pm, making it even harder to sleep.

But it was better by early morning when we rode the Jasper tramway up 7,000 feet to an observatory above town. From there, a bizarrely steep dirt path led to the very top of the mountain.

So far, we'd been hiking at angles far steeper than the ones I'd labeled sadistic on my treadmill. But this one took the cake. I noticed strategically placed boulders all along the path, probably to keep collapsing tourists from rolling all the way back down to Jasper. As Bonnie and I huffed and puffed, pulled each other up and rested periodically on the boulders, I was tempted to mug passing climbers for their expensive hiking poles.

Fortunately, Larry had reached the top and was on his way back down when he came upon us, draped over a boulder and gasping for air. We took congratulatory photos that looked like we'd reached the top and headed back down - no easy trick either - towards a Jasper watering hole and Yukon Draft Ale.

The next day we visited Maligne Canyon, and started at the top of the canyon, hiking down a mile or so to see gorgeous waterfalls on the way, The descent was strenuous enough, but seeing the hikers' faces as they struggled back up told a horror story all its own. I haven't seen so much pain and suffering since the premier of The World's Biggest Loser.

Luckily, when we reached bottom, physically and emotionally, there was a parking lot and Larry volunteered to hike back up alone to get the car. Bless him. But then again, he was spared watching his friends exit the park on gurneys, escorted by Royal Mounties.

Perhaps saving the best for last, we headed to Lake Louise, where 19th Century Canadian Pacific Railroad barons built a spectacular hotel with the most stunning glacier-covered mountain views. Our week-long fitness regimen paid off on our last long hike around the lake. Glorious.

Wow, I am so busy talking about outdoor activities I haven't mentioned food, which is really scary. We enjoyed fabulous salmon, trout, black cod and halibut plus delicious bison burgers in many a rustically-decorated restaurant. I did not have the courage for Elk stew.

By the way, we went through customs into Canada as family, as they honored our 2003 Vancouver wedding. Great feeling. Coming back to the U.S., not so much.

So here's the thing. I loved the trip. If a Jewish American Princess is hiking in the woods and there's nobody there to see her enjoy it, is she still a Jewish American Princess?

Next time, frickin' hiking poles.
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Fay Jacobs, a native New Yorker, spent 30 years in the Washington, DC area working in journalism, theater and public relations. She has contributed feature stories and columns to such publications as The Advocate, OUTtraveler, The Baltimore Sun, Chesapeake Bay Magazine, The Washington Blade, The Wilmington News Journal, Delaware Beach Life and more.

Since 1995 she has been a regular columnist for Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and won the national 1997 Vice Versa Award for excellence. Her columns are collected in the books, As I Lay Frying: a Rehoboth Beach Memoir and the newly published Fried & True - Tales of Rehoboth Beach.

Fay is Publisher and Managing Editor of A&M Books, the publisher of the 14 classic Sarah Aldridge novels.

She and Bonnie, her partner of 25 years, relocated to Rehoboth Beach, DE in 1999. They have two Miniature Schnauzers and a riding lawn mower.

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