Tripping Outside of My Comfort Zone on a Spectacular Trip to Banff

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Columbia Icefield
Where I am from, we do not walk on water, so driving on it is a foreign concept, as we did at the Columbia Icefield. The guide did not have to remind me to stay within the confines of the cones.

I once watched footage of scuba divers who finned their way a mile into an underwater cave through some openings so narrow they had to take off their tanks to squeeze through them. I about hyperventilated myself right off my family room couch.

I am no adrenaline junkie. Avoiding road-ragers on the highways in Atlanta, trying to outbid opponents on eBay auctions and meeting multiple deadlines every week provide all the heartbeat-raising excitement I need.

So you won’t find me hanging by my fingernails from a cliff in Yosemite. But when I venture to a new destination, I seek the opportunity to test the confines of my comfort zone, which fall somewhere between that of wing suited free fallers and comedian Larry David, who declares his is a ½” wide.

horses, Lake Louise
A view of the trail ahead of me while riding Little Boy. To the left is a steep drop-off down to Lake Louise, just one of the amazing views during our four-hour ride.

During a trip to Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada in late summer, those opportunities came from riding in a monster truck on an icefield, getting too-close-for-comfort to a grizzly bear, blowing in the wind in a helicopter over towering cliffs and conquering a childhood fear.

One of the most foreign adventures for me was the Columbia Icefield Glacier Experience. Ice in my native South is generally in the form of cubes, tossed in frosty glasses of achingly sweet iced tea, carefully spooned into a cocktail, or shoveled into large coolers of beer or freshly caught shrimp from warm coastal waters. As for walking on it – I’m from the Bible Belt, where only Jesus does that.

Moraine Lake
Taking a break during our hike around Moraine Lake, prior to the grizzly bear sighting. The water really is that beautiful shade of deep turquoise.

We arrived on the Icefield and the guide let us out, free to roam as we wished within the confines of the orange cones, plastic neon-colored manifestations of our collective comfort zone where we were safe from falling into the crevasses that form as the ice shifts.

I took a deep breath of the frigid air, admiring the beauty of the vast expanse of ice surrounded by partially snow-capped peaks, confident I could now get through an entire episode of “Ice Road Truckers” without a panic attack. I marveled that there was enough ice within sight to fill the drinks at tailgate parties for the SEC and ACC football conferences for decades.

My next opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone came during a hike from Moraine Lake up to Eiffel Lake in Banff National Park when another group of hikers warned us that a grizzly bear had been sighted on the path just ahead of us. Our guide, Joel, felt fairly confident it was the friendly-to-people Bear #72, but as one member of our group helpfully pointed out, “Yeah, but sometimes people’s own dogs turn on them and eat their faces off.”

While there was a part of me that longed for that envy-inspiring selfie with a grizzly, I wasn’t too upset that Joel decided we should turn around and leave Bear #72 alone. Or to chew the faces off of other hikers. The limits of my comfort zone ended several feet from the reach of her giant paws.

Back-seat view from our helicopter ride with Kefield Helicopter tours.
Back-seat view from our helicopter ride with Kefield Helicopter tours.

My next animal encounter was with a domesticated species. I’ve always been a little scared of horses and the last time I’d been on one I was wearing stirrup pants, Farrah Fawcett waved hair and humming “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”

Expecting a few words of encouragement, or at least some instruction, I told our guide, Kevin, that I hadn’t ridden a horse since the 1980s. He grinned at me beneath the brim of his cowboy hat. “Horses hadn’t changed,” he said briskly.

Left to my own devices, I thought back on any riding lessons I could derive from episodes of “Bonanza.” But I got distracted thinking how suspicious it was that all three of Ben Cartwright’s wives had died and there wasn’t a woman within miles of the Ponderosa.

But my horse, Little Boy, knew what to do. Our small group set out slowly, walking single file through the wooded, sloped and rocky terrain, and I settled more comfortably in the saddle with each sure step he took between large rocks, up and down steep inclines. I realized although I was outside my comfort zone, he was firmly within the confines of his.

After our four-hour ride through the towering pines down to the banks of the impossibly turquoise-colored Lake Louise, I dismounted and congratulated myself that while I’ll never be hanging a pair of chaps in my closet, I had overcome a childhood fear.

After a windy ride up there, our helicopter landed on the side of a cliff.
After a windy ride up there, our helicopter landed on the side of a cliff.

It was Mother Nature that tossed me out of my comfort zone during our helicopter ride with Icefield Heli Tours. We were delayed due to high winds that had the windsock on the airfield at a constantly erect position. When we finally took off, the strong winds blew us about and I felt like a bee being swatted by an extremely pissed-off bear. I considered my fellow passengers and wondered if we crashed into the forest not to be found for months, which one of us would be eaten first.

Fortunately, we soon landed in a small grassy flat area at the top of a peak and joined the others in our group. They had arrived before us in separate copters and were huddled against the chilly winds just a few feet from the cliff’s edge.

A toast to Life in the Banff Lane
A toast to Life in the Banff Lane

I went to the edge of that cliff and peering below, marveled at free fallers whose idea of fun was to don a funny-looking suit and throw themselves off a cliff, fearlessly defying the forces of gravity. For me, just standing a pebble’s toss from the cliff’s edge to have my photo taken was thrill enough. I cherish that photo, with a view of the jagged mountain peaks and the clear blue lake far below, and gave it this caption:  “The View From Outside My Comfort Zone.”


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