We could tell we were in a strange, foreign land just from the roadside billboards:

“CORN (Coming Soon)”
“British Columbia Improvement Project; End of Project”
“WARNING: Killer Highway Ahead”
“Executive Realty, Call Us First” (and no phone number)
“Studies Show Guys Like Cold Beer (That Was A Waste of Money)”

As we wended our way east on the Transcanada Highway, following the deep blue-green water of the South Thompson River, we were passed by nearly endless freight trains (the boys counted: 118 and 132 cars were the two longest). The river slowly widened into the long, scraggly arm of Shuswap Lake hemmed by low, fir-clad mountains.

We went past the Blind Bay Visitors Center–which doubled as the River of Life Community Church (Stew: “Either way, they’ll show you the way”)–and stopped at Craigellachie to pay our bemused respects to the Last Spike (Canada’s version of the Golden Spike that finally linked their west and east coasts by rail on Nov. 7, 1885).

After many tantalizing billboards, we finally came upon the promised Enchanted Forest (“Climb…Explore…See & Do!”), which was described in guidebook as a “kitschy roadside attraction” involving “numerous fairies and other figures, including a craft pirate, scattered around a forest.”

It looked even hokier and chintzier than it sounded: rickety miniature plywood princess castles sloppily slapped with paint. But—and this was the unbelievable part–the parking lot was overflowing with cars and camper trailers. The place was simply packed out. I yelled out the van window at the idiots as we zipped past, pointing out that there were six major national parks just a few hours up the road.

Karis Goes Head over Heels for Revelstoke
Western Canada is justifiably famous for its national parks: Banff and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies of Alberta, Glacier in the heart of British Columbia.

Naturally, Troop 116 ignored those parks almost completely.

Instead, our first stop was unheralded Mt. Revelstoke National Park (www.parkscanada.ca/revelstoke), where we met Jeff Sorenson, a Canadian who’s not afraid to say “aboot.” In his thick BC accent, he told us about his family’s generations of lumberjacking and woodworking as he steered his truck up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway through the cedar and hemlock of the lower-altitude temperate rainforest to the balsams and spruce of the high snow forest as we crowned one of the park’s 6,600-foot peaks.

Jeff accompanied us for a walk around tiny Balsam Lake and along a short trail through alpine meadows sprinkled with purple daisies, Indian paintbrush, bluebells, and Queen Anne’s lace to a point overlooking the Columbia River hemmed in by the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains.

Jeff’s Arrow Adventure Tours (877-277-6965, www.arrowadventuretours.com) was providing us with both the ride up the mountain and a set of bikes so we could coast back down the impossibly switchbacked, 16-mile road for nearly 4,900 vertical feet. “You’ll probably get up some pretty good speed,” was all Jeff said.

I’d guess we were going about 40 mph when we hit that first hairpin turn. I slowed and turned my wheel, as you might expect someone who has ever ridden a bicycle before to do.

Right behind me, Andy Karis tried a different tack. Ignoring the handbrakes and refusing to steer, he decided to slam in the bushes lining the curve at full speed.

Karis flipped over his handlebars and disappeared into the dense foliage, immediately followed by his somersaulting mountain bike. For all we knew, there was a cliff just beyond, so as the rest of the troop came screeching to a halt, I went pelting back up the road yelling, “Andy!”

After a few seconds came the reply: “I’m OK…. Just someone get this bike off of me.”

A Golden Evening
After a dip in the “dangerously cold” waters in town, we cruised through the Salmon Arm and Columbia River valley, exchanging the lower, older, more rounded Columbia Mountains for the craggy peaks of the Rockies. The landscape truly began resembling a less developed version of the Italian lake district. It was glorious, it was gorgeous, and Stew and I divided our time between admiring it and trying to wake the boys up to force them to admire it, too.

We intended to camp in Glacier National Park, we truly did. But one thing Canadians are not good at, at least in BC, is signposting things. This is our explanation as to how we managed to drive into, through, and out the other side of Glacier NP–even pausing to take photographs of a particularly neat waterfall in the distance–without actually realizing it.

Rather than backtrack–never retreat, never surrender!–we continued on into the town of Golden (www.tourismgolden.com). Though the area surrounding the town was packed with hostels (charging a ridiculous US$19 to $24 per person), cabins (from $110), and campgrounds ($14 to $20, at least in the parks), we took our cue from the thick layer of mosquitoes that coated our legs every time we stepped out of the van and opted instead for Packers Place, a handful of cozy, simple rooms above a tavern in the heart of downtown (429 N 9th Ave., 250-344-5951, $46).

Stew and I had a beer in the bar while the boys jogged up the street to order up a passel of greasy pizzas from the inventively named “Canadian 2 for 1 Pizza,” which apparently stood for “2 hours of intense flatulence for each 1 slice you eat.” Most of us cozied up to the TV in one of the rooms to munch on the greasy pizzas and watch “My Boyfriend’s Back,” which we all agreed was the world’s funniest zombie movie ever, followed by a terribly disturbing episode of “Family Guy” (“Dear Diary: Jackpot!”).