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Crossing the Border

A trip to the great white North is a days ride away

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A mere 10 hours north of Boise by car lies the Canadian border, the gateway to that land of enchantment, filled with mounties, moose, hockey fans and beer. Who could pass up a chance to be spirited away to the Great White Way?

Actually, Canada is closer than it seems, and well worth the trip. A recent jaunt to Banff, Alberta, was a great introduction to travel in our neighbor to the north.

Highway 95 north takes you through Idaho and right up to the border. There, you can see a distinct line cut in the forested hills that serves as a physical boundary between the U.S and Canada. It is straight, steep, clear and decisive; a physical manifestation of the division between two nations.

Despite rumors otherwise, the actual crossing is uneventful. Much to our disappointment, the Border-crossing guy was not a mountie in full regalia, but merely a standard, uniformed guard: he could have been a cop or security guard anywhere. Our car was prepared, with current passports and driver's licenses for the humans, and proof of rabies shots and a letter of good health from the vet for the canines. The border patrolman ran through the standard border-crossing questions: Where were you born? What is the purpose of your visit? How much booze and/or tobacco products are you bringing in? Do you have any guns? Did you bring anything to leave or sell? Did anyone give you anything to bring into Canada? The agent was friendly enough, but just like at the airport, it is no place to crack jokes or speak too lightly. After a few minutes alone with our passports, the un-mountie returned our paperwork and welcomed us to Canada.

Once you cross the border, you see the slight changes that remind you you're not in the country of Kansas anymore. The driving symbols are different; distances and speeds are posted in kilometers; signs are posted in English and French. The snack foods are unfamiliar brands with different tastes: try some Old Dutch Buffalo Wings potato chips, or sample some of Hawkins' Cheesies. The roadside stops are decidedly not corporate-it is a refreshing change to take what is available and know that you are supporting local business when you shop there.

The road from the U.S.-Canadian border to Banff is wild and remote. There are campgrounds scattered along the way, and enough services to get by, but choose your stops wisely: There may not be diesel fuel for awhile, so get it while you can. Not every town has a bank where you can change your money into Canadian dollars, although ATMs are international and will give you the proper cash at a decent exchange rate. The Canadian Rockies are magnificent, rising to impressive heights all around.

Along the road are hot springs and golf courses that can be accessed in luxurious hotels in small towns, much like the Swiss and German spas that spot the Alps. Five hours from the border, on Highway 93, you enter the Canadian National Parks. Soon you arrive in Banff, nestled at the base of four impressive mountains. There's not a bad view in the area. The town's population is probably doubled by the tourists there: Bus tours converge and shopping abounds as the tourist's every need is catered to. Luckily, there's a lot of nature to escape to if town shopping isn't your thing. The stunning glacial lakes of Louise and Moraine are not to be missed.

It takes some time to get there, but once you arrive, you may not want to leave. That's usually the sign of a good destination at the end of the road.

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