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.

48 Hours in: Jasper

I celebrated my recent birthday with a quick jaunt to Jasper, Alberta. Thinking about going to the laid-back town? Read on for some tips on spending a long weekend, including some hikes, good food and an efficient big-horned car wash.

The Drive

Mountains near jasperYou’ve likely heard that the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic in the world. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical; yes there’d be mountains but it would probably just be like the drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, no? No. It was stunning, a put-down-the-chips-because-your-mouth-won’t-stay-closed kind of stunning. By the end of the drive I had a crick in my neck from swivelling back and forth, and a delirious grin plastered across my face. We lucked out that it was an unseasonably warm weekend and the roads were relatively ice-free; if you’re thinking about doing the drive in winter, check conditions before you depart. If you’re going in summer – head out early to beat the traffic.

Stretching Your Legs
Do you enjoy spending all waking hours on the move? Good news! Jasper is for you. Perhaps you’d rather stretch your legs while doing some low-impact sitting on a bench with a mug of coffee – good news! Jasper is also for you. There are a number of great trails and activities for all seasons. Due to the unseasonably warm winter conditions we had to pass on our plans for snowshoeing (for there was more grass than snow in many spots) but we found more than enough in the way of hiking trails and stunning views to satisfy our outdoor itch.

Our first stop was Maligne Lake, frequently identified as one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies. There are a number of trails that start at or near the lake, so we started down the winding road. As we rounded a corner, we slowed to a stop as a friendly female bighorn sheep trotted towards us and was drawn to the side of the car like a magnet. “This is amazing!” I thought, until we noticed two more of these sneaky buggers had appeared out of nowhere and were now methodically licking the side of the door. Okay. Not a huge problem. Just a couple of small lady sheep getting their salt fix.

A car pulled up behind us and we turned to wave at them when suddenly a GIANT SET OF HORNS appeared in the back window. It was Jurassic Park, sheep-style. We froze and wondered what to do. We couldn’t move without fear of bumping the sheep off the side of the road. So we did what anyone would do when surrounded by wild animals – we got out of the car and took pictures.

Sheep surrounding car

Sheep licking car

Eventually we became concerned about the imminent salt dehydration they’d experience, so we gingerly pulled away and watched as tongues were slowly dragged along the side like an iceberg. They did an impressive job cleaning parts of the car.

Marks on car from sheep

We opted just to do a hike around the perimeter of the frozen lake as it was such a crisp, clear day. I am so happy I brought my camera for a variety of reasons this day (big-horned car wash included) because people don’t lie. This place is BEAUTIFUL. Our plans to explore Maligne Canyon were shelved because it was exceptionally icy, and had become a slip n’ slide of epic proportions. Steve didn’t feel like re-injuring his knee which was a wise call.

Refuelling Your Tank
While food is more expensive than, say, Calgary, there are delicious options available. We grabbed breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery and Coco’s Cafe, and enjoyed my birthday dinner at Olive Bistro. Rest assured, for anyone who knows Steve – we also ate sushi.

Resting Your Head

We stayed at the Pyramid Lake Resort which had stunning views. Apart from the lack of in-room wifi and our tendency to leave the fireplace on just a tad too long, it was comfortable. There was a hot tub, but we never had a chance to check it out. In the winter there are horse-drawn sleigh rides around the lake. I opted just to make friends with the horses instead. One of them was a bit of a jerk.

Good to Know

  • Gas – There is a gas station in Saskatchewan River Crossing but it’s only open in the summer months between June and September. While the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is only about 230 km, it’s definitely not the time to test out the gas mileage of your car.
  • Seasonal Operations – speaking of only open in the summer months, some of the bigger attractions in Jasper aren’t open in winter. If you’d like to check out the Columbia Icefield or Jasper Gondola, winter is not the time to go. However, if you’d like a hiking trail pretty much to yourself, layer up and head out.
  •  Price – it’s a hard-to-access town, so things are going to be priced accordingly (except gas, still far cheaper than Ontario – whomp whomp).

Have you been to Jasper? What was your favourite highlight? Leave a comment below!

Hiking to Consolation Lakes

Trail sign at beginning

I really love mountains. I get squirrely, excited, jazzed about life when I see them. So it made sense that when crafting my 31-for-31 list this year, hiking in the Rockies would be on there because in addition to mountains, I also really enjoy hiking. There’s something about walking through peace and quiet in nature that restores your soul. Or at least mine. Until I inevitably trip.

It seemed, however, like this goal wouldn’t happen – valid reasons kept cropping up to keep me away from setting out on a hike, and I began to think I’d have to put this on the back-burner. Until it seemed almost possible for the end of July. Timing was good, Steve was recovering from knee surgery at a super-human rate, the weather would be perfect. Wildfires almost derailed plans, but thankfully they shifted and air quality was breathable. Rockies hike, ahoy!

We picked Consolation Lakes because reviews listed it as short, flat and totally manageable for small children. We do not have small children, but between my clumsiness and Steve’s recovery, we needed something that would require less effort and provide killer views. This fit the bill, so with a lunch packed we set out to the trail.

Consolation Lakes is one of the trails that starts off of Moraine Lake, so you begin the hike with that gorgeous backdrop and all the tourists you could ever dream of. Many of them were on the path when we started which made me nervous because none were wearing appropriate footwear (or anything appropriate, really. Please, please leave heels at home. They do not belong anywhere in this vicinity). They quickly veered off to a vantage point (again heels! What is wrong with people?) and we set off on the smooth, flat trail.

Except it wasn’t all that flat.

Rocks on trail

Steve was beyond a trooper for the first 15 minutes or so. The rocks, for the most part, are large enough to support weight without wobbling, and a dirt trail with a slow incline greets you at the end. While the trail only has a small elevation gain (about 215 ft), hiking at the higher altitude really knocked me out. Also, I was simultaneously stuffing a peanut butter and banana sandwich into my face which likely didn’t help. I’m all class.

As you proceed along the trail and get used to the thinner air, you’ll be treated to the sounds of quietly murmuring Babel Creek to your left and the smells and sounds of a thick forest all around you. For the last half kilometre the trail opens up and you walk through a beautiful meadow lush with wildflowers during the summer months, until you’re greeted with this:

Consolation LakesConsolation Lakes

Sparkling lake, a glacier and killer views. Totally worth the wobbly rocks at the beginning!

All in, the hike was about six kilometres round-trip and took us less than two hours. As a head’s up, read the signs at the beginning instead of just casually glancing at them – there are currently regulations in place that require a group size of four people or more on the trail due to grizzlies (there is a hefty fine if you’re caught in a smaller group, oops). You’ll no doubt encounter many hikers (in our case, about eight Germans) who will be disappointed if you haven’t spotted any. Pro tip: you don’t want to spot a grizzly. It may not end well. Just enjoy the hike for its beauty!

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.

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 – Tam-Tams

Tam-Tams

What: A weekly gathering of drummers, dancers and curious onlookers jamming away in a park
Where: By the George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Mount Royal Park, Montreal
When: Every Sunday from noon to sunset, May 5 to September 29
Good Stuff to Know: It’s free! Also fairly accessible by transit – from Mont-Royal Metro hop on the 11  bus west until Parc and Rachel. Then, follow your ears – you can’t miss the drumming.

The Scene: Pack your Birks and check your worries at the door – the vibe here is relaaaaxed, yo. Started in 1978 and now one of the most popular activities in the city, the Tam-Tams are not to be missed. On a warm August afternoon I watched hundreds of sweaty and happy people – some young, some old, some friends and some strangers – all groove away to the rhythmic beats of bongos and various percussion instruments. Families sprawl out on blankets with picnics, friends socialize over cold beers and wine, vendors display various crafts – there’s a little something for everyone. Pack some sunscreen and water and whatever else floats your boat, and enjoy.