By Peter Dushenski
Almost a year ago to the day after the best road trip of my life, where I drove from Edmonton to Winnipeg via Saskatoon with my childhood friend Dave (review link), I tossed my skis and snow gear in the back of a slightly smaller GMC Sierra and headed southwest towards the Rocky Mountains. This trip would have twice as many people and cover only a quarter the distance, but since the difficulty of any travel increases with the square of the number of people, the two should be nearly identical in that regard. The destination in 2012: Banff.
Our chariot for this journey would not be quite as lavish as the Denali HD the year before, but the fire (engine) red GMC Sierra 1500 SLE Crew Cab still had leather seats, a back-up camera, and more than enough space for two couples to enjoy each other’s company.
As I went from house to house, picking up my travel companions from their respective abodes on a blue sky Friday afternoon, I noticed the respect this 1/4 scale model fire truck commanded on Edmonton’s roads. With a can’t-miss-colour and domineering mesh grille, the Sierra treaded confidently over the city’s streets. This truck makes a clear statement, and depending on where you live, the interpretation of that statement will vary, but around here, it says SUCCESS… even if you’re just borrowing the truck for a week because you happen to have a badass car blog, the message is the same.
After assembling the team, we grabbed a Starbucks, merged onto Highway 2 South, eventually slipped through Airdrie and Canmore before effortlessly gliding onto the picturesque 1A West, until we finally tumbled into Banff shortly before sundown. When we reached our humble accommodation for the weekend, the four-star Rimrock Resort Hotel, Jeff, perhaps the world’s most belligerent bellman, greeted our group with the warmth one usually reserves for terrorists and those assholes who use leaf blowers. He directed our fire truck back and forth along the Rimrock’s prominent front entrance like a hockey coach during a bag skate, never fully satisfied with its relation to his useless luggage cart, before giving up, unloading our bags, and delivering a stern warning to yours truly that trying to find a restaurant for dinner that evening, without the requisite reservations, was akin to walking into the Oval Office and demanding an audience with The President. This auspicious welcome was an unpleasant reminder that I’d promised myself never to stay at the Rimrock again after a decidedly average stay two years prior. If I was going to live the high life in Banff, I’d since decided, it was the Banff Springs or nothing. But I didn’t book this hotel, the other couple did. And Jeff’s mere existence on this earth was causing me to begrudge the two very pleasant and cheery individuals I’d just driven 450 kilometers with.
After the four of us checked-in, found our rooms, unpacked, exhausted ourselves in a game of squash in the Rimrock’s humidor of a court, and called the Keg Steakhouse to make reservations, we made our way back to the front foyer to grab a cab, only to be greeted by His Nastiness. We needed to talk to him because we needed a cab. There was no avoiding the confrontation to come. Expectedly, Jeff inquired which restaurant we’d chosen for dinner, we replied, and he proceeded to unleash of fury of unprecedented denigrations at both us and the Keg we’d chosen. There are apparently two Kegs in Banff, and we’d chosen the wrong one. The one we’d chosen was apparently manned by incompetent buffoons with less service pedigree than Cairo taxi drivers (but less than Jeff? It was unclear). Blessedly, a taxi appeared from nowhere and we practically tripped over each other to escape Jeff’s abhorrent presence.
In the taxi, we started to theorize that Jeff had either been fired from the particular Keg we’d chosen, or that underneath his repulsive bellman’s cape was a ring of thorny spikes that cut into his flesh like the bristly crown Jesus wore during his crucifixion, so that every time he moved or spoke, a searing pain jettisoned his humanity into another dimension. It was, we concluded, also possible that both were true.
When we arrived at the wrong Keg, we found the place half-empty. Good thing we made reservations, eh Jeff? Whatever. As we always do, we shrugged it off and made the best of the evening ahead. After an ample and satisfying meal filled with fine wines and thick steaks, we stumbled happily into another cab and made our way home for the evening. Blessedly, Jeff was off for the night when we returned.
From the time we left the Rimrock for dinner that Friday evening until the time we checked out on Sunday afternoon, our weekend was replete with entertainment and merriment. The weather was warm, the smiles seemed never-ending, and the Sierra proved as flawless a roadtripper as it did as a shuttle to the Sunshine Village Ski Resort, seen above.
As we checked out mid-day Sunday and loaded our gear into the patiently awaiting truck, Jeff was manning his usual imperious post. We successfully avoided eye contact with His Nastiness and were getting ready to head into town for brunch, before realizing that we didn’t actually know of any good brunch spots in town. I drew the short straw and so was tasked with opening the door, jumping off the chrome sidestep, and going up to Jeff, point-blank, and asking if he could recommend a suitable restaurant for us. Or at the very least providing us a list of places to avoid. He recommended a place on Bear Street called The Bison.
Believe it or not, we found it within our good graces to give Jeff a chance to redeem himself. This would make for an exceedingly negative story if The Bison turned out to be utter shit, so I’m glad to report that Jeff’s brunch recommendation served up the best French toast I’ve ever had. Between two fluffy slices of egg-soaked bread lay double smoked bacon and shredded sylvan star gouda, all of which was topped with apple slaw, fresh strawberries, and whipped crème fraîche. In a brazen move for someone raised in the Hebraic tradition, I didn’t order the dish without bacon. For the first time in 6 years I was about to eat the potentially delicious product of vile swine. With somber anticipation, I plucked a crispy end from between its cheesy white embrace. I raised it towards by eager but uncertain mouth. Then, like a tsunami, the salty strip of wrong hit my lips and tongue with an emotional swell that confirmed its rightness for all eternity. How had I denied myself this moment for so long?
At that moment, in my state of muted shock, I created the kind of flashbulb memory usually preserved only by photographs. That moment wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t given Jeff a second chance. I don’t know why I went back inside the Rimrock to ask Jeff about a brunch spot when we could’ve just as easily found one on our own, but I was truly thankful that I did. Maybe his thorny cape wasn’t so bad after all.
After brunch, we hopped back in our very civilized GMC and headed home. The fire truck red Sierra never made a fuss and its seats left us feeling remarkably fresh, just as its big diesel brother had a year earlier.
The next generation Sierra isn’t far away now, but GM has made a truly memorable generation out of the GMT900 platform. Aside from improving the cabin insulation and acoustic dampening to better facilitate highway speed conversation between both rows of passengers, it’s hard to think of areas for revolutionary improvement. We even saw a miserly 11.9L/100km on the way home.
The Ford F-150 may be the best-selling, and with EcoBoost arguably the best overall truck today, but after thousands effortless kilometers with the GMC Sierra, we wouldn’t pull a Jeff if you bought one. There are no wrong choices here.
Other than the Ram, of course.
And that’s the Philosophy of Driving for this week. See you next Monday morning!
[Photo credits: author using Instagram, except for the French toast, which is via The Bison]