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72 Hours: Calgary

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I’m Alive is a series about traveling to 14 cities to film a two-and-a-half minute YouTube video. We spent 72 hours in each city. Calgary was our fourth stop. With a helicopter tour of Three Sisters and Olympic bobsledding, it was easily a favorite.

It was pretty late at night when we arrived in Calgary. We didn’t really know what to expect and, frankly, didn’t have big expectations. The airport seemed really far away from the city — well, it was either really far away or we were really tired. The clock read 12AM as we drove into the city, and we felt a weird energy about the place. It looked and felt exactly like any generic American town: fast food restaurants, coin laundry, and discount stores, but we later found Calgary to be pretty amazing.

Some friends of Nic were generous enough to take us in for a few nights. It was a house with a bunch of rowdy, fun British guys. In Calgary, instead of the ‘eh?’, it was all jokes on Americans and tea. They were hilarious and made the stay there a blast… I slept on a floor.

The next morning brought about our day-long plans of getting out and exploring the surrounding areas. We had heard of Banff, Alberta (this place is an incredible 1.8 square mile mountain paradise) before because of the massive Banff Mountain Film Festival, which tours globally. The plan was simply for us to just drive up, take some video and photos, and head back after a few hours. We ended up spending the entire day there going on outrageous adventures.

As we were entering the mountains, a big mess of unpredictable, stormy, dangerous weather was hanging out above us. There was hard rain, dark skies, low visibility, and huge mountains. We weren’t sure how well the Car2Go would hold up actually. Just before arriving at Banff, a little town by the name of Canmore caught our attention. We exited to discover a heliport and instantly knew we had some inquiry to do. After explaining the story of our adventure, the manager told us we could go up and tour the Three Sisters mountains later in the afternoon should weather permit. Meanwhile, we drove our Smart Car up an unpaved, outrageously steep, Canadian mountainside and captured some of the most incredible time-lapses of clouds racing in over valleys, shots of hazel-colored lakes, and jaw-dropping mountain scenes featuring big-horned sheep.

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After several hours of off the grid exploring through the most unfathomably beautiful back-country, we headed back to Canmore to grab some lunch. We were welcomed by a surprise-mega-hail-storm shortly after parking. It wouldn’t be life without one of those, now would it? The wind was insane, there was hail everywhere, and people were running in every direction. We ducked into a quiet spot to take a break. Within the span of fifteen minutes, the clouds cleared up, the sun came out, and the temperature warmed up. Next stop = heliport. Pumped for our Three Sisters’ flying tour, Nic and I headed into a 5-seat helicopter accompanied by a bride (still in her wedding dress) and groom who would later dance silently with us in front of said helicopter. The scene was great and ended up making the final cut of the video.

After finally making it to Banff, we checked out the town, Bow Falls, The Fairmont Hotel, and a gas station.

The drive back was humbling. We chatted about how unexpected the journey had been so far and how lucky we were to have experienced all this in under two weeks — all just days before we were singing with Wanz and skim boarding at Wreck Beach. The adventure really was something beautiful, and, more importantly, we were doing it.

After a solid night’s rest, we set out to explore the city of Calgary itself. One of our favorite stops was the Calgary Tower, where you stand on glass about 630 feet above the ground. Another favorite was the Peace Bridge, where we filmed a local play some great music and tried to figure out what everyone in Calgary does for a living. It’s one of those towns where you just wonder how people make a living because  it’s cold as shit and snowing most of the time.

We had also put in a couple of phone calls to the Canada Olympic Park (home of the 1988 Winter Olympics) to setup a bobsleigh ride. It is the same famous track from the movie Cool RunningsWith mixed information coming from the folks on the phone and no luck with them returning our calls, we decided to just show up on our last morning before heading to the airport. This turned out to be a great idea because they were incredibly willing to set us up on a private ride with an Olympic coach. Seriously, Calgary couldn’t get any better. We signed some waivers and got a ride to the top of the track where we setup GoPro’s and asked a bunch of questions about bobsledding. Nic even thought he could “hold the GoPro while going down the track”. There is no such thing. A quick safety meeting ensued. The abridged version was basically, “if this thing flips, duck your head in.” Everyone there talks like it happens all the time. Great. After rehearsing the chant from Cool Runnings with our Olympic coach, we ran as fast as we possibly could to lunge this thing down the track. Flying down an adult-sized slide in a cart with three other grown men led to one thing… speed. It was one of the most exhilarating adrenaline rushes I had ever experienced. It was one hell of a thing. Oh, and the GoPro flew off just after the last turn! It miraculously survived the carnage, but the footage of the crash was pretty much unrecognizable. (A couple of cuts from the GoPro made it into the final piece as it was probably the most unique activity we did.)

We thanked the staff for everything and had to jet out to make it to the airport in time for our next flight.

Places we stopped:

Needless to say, Calgary and the surrounding areas completely surprised us and culminated in one of the most action packed 72 hours of our entire trip. We had no idea where we would go or what we would do when we rolled in late on that first day, but with a lot of motivation and very little time, we made it happen.

Our next stop was all the way across the country in Toronto.

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