Road Trip – Kootenays

An alternate title for this post could be, “Putting enough mileage on your car in a week to drive 3/4 of the way across Canada.”

Steve and I had a wedding to attend in the Shuswap in late June, a gorgeous region about halfway between Vancouver and Calgary. So, as we typically do, we opted to embark on an epic week-long road trip through the Kootenay region and meander our way up to the wedding. A little camping, a little wine sampling, it was the perfect way to enjoy the warm summer temperatures.

Speaking of temperatures, it was hot. Like, toasty.

We opted to start our journey in Fernie, and revisited some of our favourite spots from our last pass through town. Fernie in the summertime is adorable – a sleepy little mountainside spot with surprisingly good restaurants (sushi, of course) and even better breakfast (Big Bang Bagels, you’ll always hold a special place in my heart – and by heart I mean stomach). We popped into Le Grand Fromage, which I insist you visit if you enjoy cheese. If you don’t, I hope you’re vegan or lactose intolerant, otherwise I am questioning your life choices. We picked up a soft brie, some mild pecorino and a pungent cheddar with caramelized onions and set out for the day’s drive with picnic items in tow.

We followed the winding Crowsnest Trail past mountains, rivers and small lakes, totally absorbed in the scenery and how breathtaking the drive was. Until a large truck passed and lobbed a rock grenade in its wake, which landed in the top right corner of our windshield with a thud. Initially we thought it had missed, until we noticed the perfect bullseye that had formed. But it was small, and didn’t seem to have caused too much damage, so we continued onwards to Creston for gas.

This is where things took a turn. The scorching temperatures meant that the windshield was burning hot, so the bullet wound the rock had left behind began to fork once the cooler temperatures inside the car nudged it awake. It became a not-so-fun game, guessing if/when the next fork would branch out on its own. It put a slight damper on the rest of the drive to Nelson.

picnic gazeboUntil we had this delightful picnic at a small marina near the Kootenay Bay ferry. When your roadside stops look like this, you know you live in a beautiful place.

We camped at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, just outside of Nelson. It was the
perfect place to rest our heads –  the park was pretty empty save for a few sites, which meant we had the beach to ourselves most days and were able to enjoy a book and a little vino in peace and quiet. Thankfully no bears crashed our party. And, thankfully we figured out how to build a fire with log-sized pieces of wood (sans an ax) and very effective fire starters eventually.

The next day, we wandered Nelson. This place was my kind of town – blissed-out artists and hippies, tourists, retirees, all mingling in coffee shops and amazing bookstores. We ate tacos, because obviously. We drank wine. We watched the sunset over the lake at Ainsworth Hot Springs. Before you curse me and declare this post to be nothing but me bragging about this super-awesome trip, the next day I developed an allergy to my sunscreen which is just ridiculous enough to happen to me. It was like 11th-grade chicken pox all over again, except in summertime when it’s hot. With no oven mitts to duct tape to my hands. And, because it was so sunny and stinkin’ hot, I had no choice but to keep slathering the stuff on which made things worse.

We ended the trip with a brief stop in Kelowna for some wine tasting at Quail’s Gate before heading up to the Shuswap for the wedding. Shoutout to the kind pharmacist who took one look at my arms and said “Wow, you are really allergic, eh?” before loading me up with drugs. Shoutout to Steve for putting up with my Benadryl-induced hallucinations which kept cropping up throughout the night and rest of the drive. And shoutout to Shuswap Lake for being so darn pretty to look at.

shuswap lake

Since returning from this trip, a number of wildfires have been burning in this region as well as many other spots in Western Canada. Sending positive vibes and support to those who have been forced to leave or have lost their homes, as well as the amazing fire crews who have been battling these fires. It’s a magical place. I hope you can explore it.

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Mildly Tipsy Hiking, or, A Salt Spring Island Weekend

If I had to summarize Salt Spring Island in a word or two, I’d use “delightfully kooky.” We were greeted at the Fulford ferry by our B&B host with a warm smile, and as we dragged our suitcases towards a dusty van she hollered, “I hope you don’t mind the back – I didn’t bother to put the seats back in.” What was in the van instead was about eight pounds of dirt and stone remnants, plus Steve, always the good sport.

Our host was kind and shared recommendations as we drove of places we should visit during our weekend stay on the island. We had planned to rent bikes and toodle around, but upon arrival at the B&B she insisted we take her van instead as we pleased. Being from Toronto and generally the type to insist on locking absolutely everything immediately, I was skeptical enough when she hopped out of the van and left the keys in the ignition. To hand over her only mode of transportation to two strangers she’d just met seemed ludicrous. But this was Salt Spring, home to some of the most laid-back and generous people I’ve met in my travels. So off we went in the van, after Steve dusted himself off and moved up front.

It was a warm Saturday and we had a hankering for wine. Once in Ganges we wandered the market and picked up picnic supplies – cheese, bread and apples. It was tasty and the views of the harbour with mountains nestled in the distance made for the perfect backdrop. But armed with a car and a limited window of time, we knew we had to get moving. Our first stop was Mistaken Identity Vineyards.

Glasses of wine on picnic table

After we sampled three red wines, we opted for a full bodied merlot and cracked it open on a picnic bench in the vineyard. In the warm sun I nursed a generous pour, savouring the flavours on my tongue as I soaked in the surroundings. I probably could have laid down on the bench and napped, but I’m sure the vineyard owners would have raised a few eyebrows and ushered me off the premises. Instead, we opted to drive over to the trailhead for Mount Erskine, which was standing guard over the vineyard and surrounding fields. Our host had recommended climbing the trail to the summit. “I think it’s a short climb,” she had said. Uh huh. I reluctantly left the bottle of merlot in the cup holder and off we went.

Never one to shy away from a mountain climb, Steve soldiered ahead like a machine as I huffed and puffed along. Three thoughts crossed my mind during those initial few minutes:

  1. “Damn girl, you’re out of shape. There’s hardly an incline here!”
  2. “Wait, this is at a higher altitude. Maybe you’re just winded from that.”
  3. “Maybe don’t knock back such a large glass of vino before hiking a mountain next time, champ.”

I’d like to say things got better, but damn that hike was long. And that mountain was actually high, who knew. It’s about a 400 m elevation game and a really steep climb. A pair of hikers making their descent gave us false hope with the ol’ “You’re almost there! Just a few more minutes!” Liars. By now I was concerned that I should have just brought the wine with me, for the van was very hot and the wine was probably uncomfortable. Then I remembered that the wine was not people and likely didn’t have feelings, and perhaps I should focus more on where my feet were moving.

Somehow I made it to the top. The views were well worth the effort:

Back of girl at top of mountain

Views from summit

Anxious to return the van, we hoofed it back down the mountain and I reunited with the merlot and promised to never leave it in a hot car again.

The rest of the weekend was spent being nice and lazy with books in the park, and eating more good food at the Tree House Café and El Loco Taco, a tasty Mexican food cart located right next to the Ganges marina. Time moves slowly on Salt Spring, and it’s well worth the visit to recharge your batteries.

Also the wine is excellent.

And the food.

A Valentine for My Favourite Place

I’m getting a jump start on my spring de-cluttering (due to the aforementioned chilly temperatures that are still lingering) and while going through my computer came across some gems from my trip to BC last summer.

Victoria waterfront

One of my dear friends put up with my kookiness for 10 days, as we roamed around Vancouver Island and the mainland soaking up sunshine, fresh air, great food and lots of laughs. We stopped in Victoria, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, Tofino and Cathedral Grove before meeting up with another dear friend in Vancouver.

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Given that yesterday was Valentine’s Day, it seemed timely to reflect on the love that I have for not only my favourite place, but also some of my favourite people! I’m thankful for the love that I have in my life, and that I also have friends who don’t bat an eye when I opt for banana bread French toast and eggs benny for breakfast. In one sitting.

Return to Sender – Planning Repeat Visits When Travelling

Tofino

Given the near-infinite number of places one could visit, and the relatively limited time we all have to visit them, should you travel to the same place twice? Or in my case, multiple times?

I write this sitting in a cafe in LA. I have been to LA…nine times. NINE TIMES. And yet I keep coming back, sometimes with friends, sometimes solo. I generally rent an apartment within the same area (or in this case, the exact same place I rented last year), I eat at my favourite restaurants, I follow a similar routine. I crave the familiarity of it, which based on conversations I’ve had with other travellers, is often reason number one why they wouldn’t plan return visits to a place. Fair enough.

But here’s the thing – you can generally never replicate an experience no matter how hard you try. Nor might you want to. The first time I visited Tofino I went solo. It was a weird sort of pilgrimage, taken at a point when I was feeling rather unfocussed. I sat on Chesterman Beach with a bottle of wine (discreetly, of course) and spent several hours staring at the changes in the tide, alternating between moments of tears and apathy, as I searched desperately for clues as to what I should do next. Those answers didn’t come, and I left the beach swearing. I also lost my camera’s memory card there, inexplicably, losing all of the photos I’d taken on my trip. Cue more swearing.

At any rate, I loved Tofino but wasn’t particularly convinced I would return any time soon. Until I found myself there two summers later with my parents, and then this summer with a friend. Despite visiting many of the same locations each trip was different, both in terms of physically what we did (wild hikes aside) but also my general mental state. And I value each visit for distinct reasons, as they mark different chapters in my life. The more you visit a place, the more you really know it – but I also think you discover a little more about yourself. And in my opinion, that makes return visits worthwhile.

What do you think – is there value in returning to a place you’ve already visited, or should you focus your time on working through your bucket list?

Off the Beaten Path – Tofino Plane Crash Hike

“It might be a little muddy,” our server said enthusiastically, “But you can get around it!”

That would turn out to be the understatement of the year, as my friend and I would discover several exhausting hours into our hike the next day. But at the time, it solidified our plans. Armed with directions and a vote of confidence from a local with experience on the trail, we were determined to find the crash site of a downed World War II Canso plane near Tofino. The bomber had apparently crashed in 1945 during a terrible winter storm, with the crew surviving (I would not have agreed had there been potential for angry ghost vibes). The trail promised views of not only the crashed plane, but also a large pond next to it, created by bombs that were detonated shortly before impact.

While unmarked, the trailhead was supposed to be easy to find. A simple walk from Radar Hill parking lot about a kilometre south, with a marked pole signalling the entrance to a decommissioned road which was now the trail. Easy!

Not easy. We drove up and down the highway trying to spot that stupid entrance, with no luck. Finally, we settled upon parking at Schooner Cove with the intent of finding the trailhead on foot, thinking it would be more visible. Walking along a busy highway was a challenge. Spotting a path that may have once been a road was a bit of a gong show. We finally came to a clearing that looked promising and Kevin forged ahead to investigate, before I heard a loud holler. He came crashing back out of the bush in a mad dash – not only was this not the trail, but he had also unfortunately stepped on a half-dead critter, and suspected that its attempted killer was waiting in the bush ready to pounce. We moved on quickly.

After almost six kilometres with no trail in sight, I finally admitted defeat and pulled out my phone to Google better directions (sidenote: bring a phone, or GPS for this trail) and discovered that the telephone poles had recently been replaced along this stretch of road, which explained our wandering with no avail. The trailhead now has a small airplane drawn on it for reference, and is about 15 poles from the Radar Hill parking lot.

Trail Marker

I almost cried when I saw the plane, for two reasons:

1. We were already exhausted and hadn’t started the trail
2. I was convinced we were going to get attacked by a bear, and that it would laugh at my whistle before absolutely owning me

Kevin, on the other hand, was like a kid on Christmas morning and pumped to do the trail! So off we went.

The initial track was well-marked and easy to follow. Once the sounds of the highway had faded off into the distance our minds simultaneously began to wonder about what (or who) might live in the forest (hello bears!!), and we spent the next few minutes stomping loudly and yelling “LOUD NOISES!” to scare off any would-be predators. Thankfully (and perhaps eerily), we encountered nothing. Not even a bird. Just dead silence apart from our winded selves and aforementioned shoes kicking rocks and dirt.

After about 20 minutes, we came across the first indications that we were on the right track – a sign from Parks Canada informing that this wasn’t a maintained trail, and this:

Trail ho!Then the real fun started. The open space disappeared and we began pushing ourselves through low-hanging branches, vines and down steep hills. Then we hit the swamp. “A little muddy” was in reality knee-deep mud and sludge (perhaps more) that went on and on. Someone had been kind enough to string up a rope which we clung to as we inched along tree roots and fallen limbs. Navigating became next to impossible as every direction looked the same – impassible.

And that was when we came to the sad realization that we were stuck. Kevin, bless him, tried to find alternative routes around the massive sink hole of mud surrounding us but it was no use. The trees we had climbed along had gotten higher and harder to access, and the recent rain had left everything moist and extra slippery.

At this point, I realized my legs were itchy and glanced down to notice that I was wearing pants made of mosquitos. Like a cool carnival dude with a beard made of bees, except this wasn’t badass at all. This was INSANELY ITCHY, and involved balancing on fallen tree limbs whilst trying not to focus on the fact that my legs were on fire. As I wobbled along, dropping a lot of curse words, my legs covered in all of the mosquitos in the Pacific Northwest, I wanted out. And we sadly realized we had to abandon the hike so close to the end.

The trek back along the highway to the car was a true walk of shame, with our limbs and spirits utterly crushed. I had to stop every few steps to madly scratch my legs – passing cars no doubt thought I’d rolled through the poison ivy I’d spied in the ditch. Kevin narrowly avoided death thanks to a van that hugged the curve of the highway a wee bit too close – once our heart rates had returned to normal we quickened our pace back to the car, so kudos to that driver for that unexpected shot of energy. When we finally stumbled into the parking lot I had never been so happy to see our junky Corolla rental waiting just where we’d left her, and we went and ate tacos to turn the day back around.

Takeaways from the experience:

  1. The importance of getting directions from a second person to compare – obviously our server had not done the trail recently, and wouldn’t have known the markers had changed.
  2. Bring bug spray. Dear God. Or maybe just wear a beekeeper’s suit.
  3. Along the same lines, hip waders probably wouldn’t have been the worst things in the world!

Have you attempted this hike?

In the City – Food Cart Fest

Food Cart Fest

What: A weekly food cart bonanza 
Where
:
Downtown Vancouver, overlooking False Creek. About a 10 minute walk from the Canada Line Olympic Village station, or a short Aquabus trip.
When
: Every Sunday until September 23 from 12 – 6 p.m. 
Good Stuff to Know: New this year, there’s a $2 entry fee unless you bank with Vancity. If you’re not a local, prepare to pony up a toonie. Kids under 13 get in free. Also, get there early! We arrived just after 1 p.m. and the lines weren’t bad, but by the time we’d made our decisions it was packed.

The Scene: Oh man. Over 15 glorious food trucks and carts cooking up freshly prepared grilled cheese, juice, Indian food and more. I checked out the first edition of the newly located food fest and was not disappointed. In town for a conference, my colleagues and I wandered in a daze as the air  filled with scents both spicy and sweet; it was like Christmas for grown-ups in terms of the levels of excitement. Despite my original plans to try something new, I ended up going to an old favourite, Tacofino. The 20-minute wait in the rain was worth it – I inhaled a black bean soft taco and half the diablo cookie I snagged for dessert before I rejoined my colleagues at Soho Road.

Tacofino

I was still hungry, but by this point all of the lines were insane. I overheard someone mention they had waited almost 50 minutes for Holy Perogy – dude! – and the line for Reel Mac N’ Cheese almost went back out of the parking lot. So I settled for the shortest line, Johnny’s Pops, and grabbed a strawberry rhubarb popsicle which was all sorts of amazing!

Strawberry rhubarb popsicle

Seriously, look at that bad boy!

Due to conference commitments we had to leave fairly quickly after eating, so I didn’t get a chance to check out the craft vendors that were also on hand. The Food Cart Fest is running throughout the summer and is a fun way to try a new food or two (or three) – check it out if you’re in Vancouver on a Sunday! Come hungry!

Adventures in Surfing in BC

When people go on vacation, they pay for relaxing experiences. I paid to waterboard myself.

There’s no sugar coating it here. My clumsiness in life (I recently sliced my finger open on a plastic yogurt lid, which punctuates this point nicely) means that I will never be a pro surfer. It means that I should likely refrain from going into the ocean, period. I’ve pushed the idea out of my head for years, instead opting to wistfully gaze at happy surfers in Hawaii, California, Australia and British Columbia.

I went to BC again last month, playing tour guide for my parents, and for some reason the nagging “You should do this for REAL” wouldn’t stop pestering me. And so, before I could change my mind, I marched into Surf Sister in Tofino and handed over my credit card.

And so there I was one crisp sunny morning, squeezing myself into a rather unforgiving wetsuit, a wetsuit filled with scratchy sand and still quite waterlogged from the previous occupant. It wasn’t a good sign when I was exhausted from just putting on the gear. Once my soggy exfoliation was over and I was zipped in, we hoisted our boards under each arm and overhead and convoyed down to Cox Bay Beach. After what felt like an eternity, we reached the beach and huddled to go over our lesson and practice pop-ups.

As a fairly regular yoga participant, I thought pop-ups would be a piece of cake. Wrong. I actually stumbled off the surfboard I had drawn into the sand. No waves or too much momentum could be blamed, just my clumsiness. This was going to be rough.

My group consisted of about 10 people – two men, two youngsters, a gal my age and one a bit older – and two lovely Aussie instructors. We trudged into waist-deep water and turned our backs against the waves. One by one, each of us clambered onto the boards as the instructors yelled “PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE! UP UP UP!”, and one by one, each of us popped up and rode a wave.

Each of us except for me, of course.

My first attempt was close. I think I got one leg straight before the other one kicked out, Broadway-style, and I toppled off. The subsequent tries got worse each time, and it looked like I was trying to summersault or barrel roll off the board rather than stand on it.

Near the end of the lesson, fatigue was really setting in. I’d spent more time under water, smacking my head off the hard board and tripping myself over the leash when I attempted to set myself up for a wave. The two guys and young girls were flying past on their boards, and one of the instructors saw the dejected look on my face. “Hey, it’s a lot easier for them,” she said smiling. “They don’t have boobs or a bum to worry about!” I laughed, and went for a few more attempts before it happened. It wasn’t the cleanest ride of the day, but I got both feet flat and arms out. I managed to stand just before beaching myself on the shore, but I SURFED, damnit.

Three hours after we started, we dragged ourselves out of the water and slowly walked back to the parking lot.  As I wearily pulled off the heavy wetsuit and wrung out my hair, I felt so happy to have accomplished something I’d put off for so long.

Thank you for not drowning me, Pacific Ocean.

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