Friday, August 15, 2014

Trails. Bike. Cumberland, BC . A KEEN Adventure.

I am proud and honored to become the newest KEEN Canada Ambassador and wanted to celebrate in a special way.  It had to include Vancouver Island’s stunning outdoor landscapes.  It had to involve exploring somewhere new and get a feel for the area.  Of course it had to incorporate an adventurous outdoor activity.  And last, but not least, it had to include the whole OTBP crew because, even though I bear the KEEN Ambassador hat, I am only a quarter of the pie.  It takes all four of us to create inspiring adventures and do what we do.  We are a KEEN Canada family.

Someone must have known we were coming.  Driftwood KEEN graffiti on beach.

If I had to describe Cumberland, BC to you in three words it would be: Mountain. Bike. Trails.  Don’t get me wrong, there is more to Cumberland than just mountain biking.  Cumberland is chalked full of coal mining history, dating back to 1888 that included workers from Europe, Japan, and China, it is tucked away and nestled in the foothills of the Beaufort Range which means plenty of hiking and trail running.  It is close proximity to Mt Washington and other snow-capped mountains making access to all your winter activities easy, and has a community of like-minded people who are passionate about outdoor recreation, preservation, and creating a vibrant community.  Still, mountain biking and the trails in Cumberland really make it a special and unique place to adventure and explore thanks in great part to the Cumberland Community Forest Society. Time for the OTBP crew to finally ride the trails together and celebrate the adventures we are so fortunate to have.  (Joel and I have had the pleasure (?) of riding select Cumberland trails while competing in the best adventure race out there, MOMAR.  Finally, I get to enjoy it!)

Before I get into telling about our story, you must read about the story of the fabulous trail builders that make Cumberland what it is.  Trail Blazers - River Rats  Pretty cool story and I had the pleasure of meeting Terry (a River Rat) a few months back at a Vancouver Island Trails Conference.  This guy loves what he does!

Our Cumberland mountain bike adventure began on a Monday morning which was perfect for us.  We enjoyed a leisurely morning breakfast, finished loading up the gear and bikes, then began the hour or so drive to Cumberland, BC, in the beautiful Comox Valley.   It was looking to be another hot and sunny day and chances are the trails would be less busy than the weekend.  Ride on!

First stop in Cumberland was Dodge City Cycles to pick up a map of the trails that the Comox Valley Mt. Bike club produces.  Of course, this quick stop lead to browsing the show floor and picking up a few last minute items.  Shopping locally and supporting the businesses in the area we adventure in has always been a priority for us.  With this in mind, I quickly ran across the street and checked out The Big Patch Store, a unique, vintage and retro clothing store.  Must go back!

You know this is a biking town when the village’s recreation centre parking lot is full of vehicles with empty bike racks.  We happily added our vehicle to the lot and headed up the main logging road past the community forest enroute to our trails of choice.  The trails we were riding were all intermediate trails, perfect for our group but for one member of the OTBP crew, this was monumental.  Riding on her new 24 inch wheels, Liv can finally pedal up the hills and navigate the downhill single track like a pro.  She loves the trigger shift.  Proof that mountain biking can be a family activity and I have no doubt there are families in Cumberland who do the same.

Liv riding on Missing Link

Cumberland trails treated us well this day.  Ben challenged some lengthy boardwalk structures beautifully.  Joel and Ben got to ride with some speed together, which was pretty special.  Liv, even in the extreme heat, kept going and rode more trail than expected, thanks to her new bike and even I went over some rocks that normally would have had me jump off and drag the bike over.  Our trails of choice were EnTrails, Shaker, Missing Link and Mama Bear. It was the perfect mix of trails for us.

Ben rode the entire log bridge like a pro

Time for some lunch! Normally, I would have a lunch and plenty of snack packed for a day of adventure but today we opted to experience Cumberland’s local food establishments and try one out.  Support local business. No lacking in choice of local eateries, I counted about 10 different places.  In past adventures, we have enjoyed yummy food from Tarbell’s Deli and Cumberland Village Bakery and this time we gave the Wandering Moose CafĂ© a try.  It did not disappoint.  Great service, beautiful historic building (1907 Post Office) and fresh homemade soups, salads and sandwiches.  It was the perfect place to cool off, fuel our bodies, and reminisce about the day’s ride.  Ben used the word “epic” quite a bit. 

Cheers! To an epic day of riding.
I knew that this day was gonna be a hot one.  For weeks Vancouver Island has been stuck at around the +27C mark.  No way were we going to ride all day and suffer without jumping into some body of water.  So I planned for just that.  After lunch, we did a quick gear swap at the vehicle.  Exchanged riding shoes for sandals, camel-back for day-packs, and shorts for swim suits. Comox Lake is a stone throws away from Cumberland, by road or trail, this is biking country after all.  Via Mama Bear and then the Collier Line (a possible route for the Spine Trail), we rode on trails to a semi quiet lake access spot and enjoyed the fruits of our labour with a cool and refreshing swim. Perfect end to a prefect KEEN family adventure.

Check out more photos on our flickr album - Trails. Bike. Cumberland, BC.

KEEN gear used:
Joel and I opted to swap footwear prior to riding to the lake.  Venice H2 & Clearwater CNX
Ben and Liv grabbed the KEEN Frisbee

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Misadventures of Judge's Route - Mt. Arrowsmith Vancouver Island, BC

Hard to believe that it has been almost 5 years since the last time we tried to summit Mt. Arrowsmith.  Ben would have been 4 years old and Liv was 2.  We have since hiked to many summits on Vancouver Island, waiting for the right time to go back and finish what we started on Mt. Arrowsmith.  In fact, plans were to get back to Mt. Arrowsmith, three days from now, only to find out that the forestry companies have restricted access to many backcountry playgrounds due to the high fire rating.  So, Mt. Arrowsmith will have to wait to meet us another time and I will find some other adventure to take its place.

I did write an article about our adventure to Mt. Arrowsmith, way back in 2009.  I went with a creative writing style to tell the story, very different from my normal writing.  So much has changed since 2009 but one thing has stayed the same.  Joel still is our pack mule.

 *** A BLAST FROM THE PAST *** Dec/Jan 2010 article published in Take 5 Magazine 

He stands tall over the landscape, the sun proudly displaying his golden stature and white covered tips.  He calls out to adventurers and invites them up to enjoy the view.  Mt Arrowsmith is his name and he called out to me one day.  I accepted the invitation, provided I could bring a few friends. 

Mr. A is well set up for visitors.  He boasts a height of 1817 m, covers 1300 sq hectares and yet, surprisingly, is easily accessible year round.  There are three approaches to Mr. A’s massif; Saddle Pass, Rosseau’s Route and Judge’s Route.  I had informed the kind man of the small friends joining me and he recommended the Judge’s Route.  “That way, you need not worry about ropes” he said.  “It’s worth the climb, but do take caution as it is a tad steep!”  I thanked him for his advice and began to prepare for our visit.  Always bring offerings of food when visiting friends my mother used to say. 

When we arrived at Judge’s Route, Mr. A’s choice of trails was a bit questionable.  Standing before the Judge required tilting my head completely back in order to see the path.  As we proceeded along, you could simply reach out and touch the ground at shoulder height.  My small friends managed quite easily, a crawling-type technique that I was soon attempting.   Resourceful little ones they are.  A bit of time passed and my bigger friends and I contemplated calling up to Mr. A to let him know that we may not make it after all.  Mr. A responded with an inspiring stretch of second growth forest and, with the warm sun beating down on us, we instantly voted to continue on.  Mr. A had done such a wonderful job displaying the hemlock and alpine zones, turning back would simply be rude.

We climbed steadily upward until the air suddenly changed. The sun was still rewarding us with its rays but the warmth was no longer felt.  The chill was an unwelcome distraction from the beauty that surrounded us.  The Wind gently descended upon us whispering that Mr. A had to leave unexpectedly.  His sister, Mt. Cokely, had started throwing snow upon Mr. A’s eastern slope and that nonsense needed to stop immediately.  “Please feel free to explore the neighborhood,” the wind whistled, “and do come back again real soon.  Mr. A would love you to visit and hear of your adventure to the peak.”

We thanked the wind and retreated back to explore the biosphere reserve surrounding Mt. Arrowsmith.  The views were amazing.  West to the Port Alberni inlet, McKenzie and Beaufort mountain ranges and east to the Strait of Georgia and the Coastal range.  Blend in Western and Mountain hemlock, Yellow and Red cedar with Douglas fir to create a picturesque scene with basalt rock as the canvas.  Very nice indeed.

I look forward to meeting Mr. A one day.  He treated us to a fine sunny afternoon and I must repay him with an offering of food, delivered to his doorstep of course.

How to get there

If you are traveling from the West Coast, drive through Port Alberni heading towards Parksville. Turn right at the turn-off to mt Arrowsmith Ski Hill.  From the East side of Vancouver Island, travel West along Highway 4# towards Port Alberni and turn left at the turn-off to Mt Arrowsmith. From here drive down a logging road for 3kms. At the T intersection turn left, drive for approx.10 kms, cross Cameron River and take the next main turn to your left. The road will now start heading up at good grade, with lots of wash board. Drive for about 3kms, or count the roads, you want the fifth road on your right and you should see some flagging tape of assort. colors.  This is the trailhead for Judge's Route. You can drive up the road and park on the left side.  If you own a 4X4, there is parking about 30 meters up the very rough road that marks the trailhead.   There are three trails up to the top or close to the top of Mt. Arrowsmith.  Judges Route, Saddle Pass, and Rosseau Route.  Do your research, go prepared and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Just getting to the trailhead was adventurous enough!

To start a family backpack adventure via a water taxi from Lund, BC to the start of the Sunshine Coast Trail, Sarah's Point, was a huge bonus as far as I was concerned.  It sounded so much more adventurous than just parking the truck and hike.  We keep talking of buying kayaks or a canoe (lord help the addition of more adventure gear) and paddling our way to the hundreds of places to explore along the waters of Vancouver Island BC.  For now, a 20 min water taxi ride will have to do. Yes, a 20 min ride north along the Sunshine Coast, thru Thulin Passage, past Copeland Island Marine Provincial Park towards Desolation Sound to set the stage for a four day three night family backpack adventure.  Pretty sweet. Unfortunately, I forgot that with stunning coastal views comes steep rocky bluffs and rough waters.  But there was no time to think about that with views like this.  Yip, this adventure was already a success and we haven't even started.  

We boarded the Lund Water Taxi around 4:30pm on a Friday evening.  A Friday evening of a long weekend, their busiest time of year as they provide daily transportation to neighboring islands.  We had no idea just how busy this place gets and were happy to get a boat ride at all!  So when the time came for us to board, we hopped on, no questions asked. 

The crew that was taking us to Sarah's Point were doing their last run of the day.  They were two young men (does that make me old?), quickly grabbing a bit to eat and chatting with us as we walked down the dock towards the boat with our backpacks in tow.  They asked the usual questions.  Where you hiking to? How long? Followed with a "pretty cool you are taking the kids."  We get that a lot.  

The captain suggested we sit on top and enjoy the ride.  He was right.  We enjoyed the ride but there was something bothering me.  Before climbing up the ladder to the roof, I asked if there was a dock at Sarah's Point.  The kind young man mentioned there was no dock but there were some rocks that are suitable for unloading.  I kept telling myself that this is not the first time he has delivered hikers to Sarah's Point.  In fact, he was training the other guy so obviously he had done this before.

Like all stories, things seem a whole lot more dramatic thinking back on it than they really were.  I will tell you though, the waves were 10 ft high, no joke! OK, maybe a foot but damn, it felt epic.  Hearing the waves crash on the rocks, the boat bob back and forth with the odd bang of metal against rock was not helping my perception of the waves.  I looked at the rocky bluff we were going to disembark on.  The rocky bluff these two young men were trying to get close to were rocky bluffs shooting straight up out of the water.  Ones that would be ideal to jump into the water from, on a hot calm day! Adrenaline sure starts flowing when you are jolted into the realization that this is gonna require some help on our part.  Thing is, I haven't a flying "you know what" I am suppose to do.  The captain quickly gives instructions to his trainee, he jumps out from the wheelhouse and is hanging over the edge of the boat as we slowly rock back and forth a few feet away from the rocks. 


OK, deep breath Jill.  I tell the kids that they need to listen to instructions.  I grab their packs and think, NO.  I am not gonna put them on the kids or let them hold their packs while moving from boat to rocks.  Are the rocks slippery? Visions of them slipping off the rocks and being crushed between the rocking boat and rocks enters my mind.  Forget that, now I am deciding what to do with the packs just as the captain retreats back to the wheel house and backs the boat away from the rocks.  

What is happening? Through all of this, I have no idea what Joel is doing or thinking.  I have no time to discuss our options because the captain approaches us and simply says, "We need to do this quicker." Quicker? Do what quicker? We just got here! He looks straight into my eyes and says one of us needs to jump over, then him and one of us help kids off and throw packs over.  I can only imagine what the poor captain was thinking as he stared straight at me as I stared straight back at him, jaw dropped open and glazed look in my eyes.  Then he returns to wheelhouse and we do it all over.  Take 2.  

In a matter of a minute, I am thinking no freaking way am I going to be able to lift Joel's pack and toss it on the rocks.  Now I have visions of our packs sinking into the ocean.  I wonder how many items have been lost here.  Focus Jill, focus.  Here we go.

Like second nature the boat nestles close to the rocks, a few bangs here and there.  First Mate jumps off and holds the boat.  Sure do hope he doesn't fall in.  Joel jumps off, can't recall if he took a pack with him or not.  Then I send Ben, holding his hand firmly.  Next is Liv.  She bounds over with ease.  Then I grab a kid pack and gently toss over.  Probably too high and now I fear it will roll down into the water.  But it doesn't.  Then I toss my pack and watch it land solid, without a roll. Nice.  I reach down, pick up Joel's pack and somehow, I find the strength to get that beast over the boat.  Or maybe the captain helped me.  Regardless, I did it.  Yahoo! Oh shit, wait. Now I gotta jump off this boat and get reunited with my crew!  Done.

Heart thumping, wind blowing we make are way up the steep rocks and are officially standing at the starting point of the Sunshine Coast Trail.  It is beautiful here.  As I gaze out on to the water, I see the Lund Water Taxi slowly disappearing off in the distance.  I am in complete awe at what we just did and in disbelief that we just paid $30 bucks each to be left out on a dry exposed rocky bluff.  I feel like Les Stroud of Survivorman, only the landscape is hospitable, we have plenty of food, several shelter options, and I am a girl.  Close enough. 

This was by far the most dramatic start to any adventure we have ever had.  So many emotions were wrapped up in a single moment.  All that was left was for us to do was hike back to Lund, taking in the scenes that the Sunshine Coast Trail has to offer.  The task ahead of us was not insurmountably, in fact, it was a task we have conquered many times before.  Only difference was we walked away from our vehicle, not thrown off of a boat. Not gonna lie, I felt like a badass.

Super thanks to the two young men who got us safely to Sarah's Point from Lund, BC.  Lund Water taxi was nothing short of amazing in their service and our safety was always their number one concern.  This experience was just one of the many wonderful experiences we had while backpacking as a family on the Sunshine Coast Trail. 
More stories from the Sunshine coast Trail:

The Sunshine Coast Trail - A trail worth celebrating

Monday, July 21, 2014

Behind the scenes look at what it takes to be the first family to travel the Spine Trail

We have officially begun our 4 year long journey to become the first family to travel the entire Vancouver Island Spine Trail, all 700 km of it.  It is an ambitious goal but one we hope will help bring awareness to the trail building efforts and inspire people to get out and enjoy parts of the trail that are already there.  Our plan is to tackle sections of the trail and travel by foot, bike, and canoe.  We may even horseback some of it but that requires horses, something we do not have. (No Liv, we are not getting a horse.)

A blog post/article about the trail and our intentions is set to be published Aug 1 so I will wait til then before I post it here. So instead, I thought I would share with you some photos from the first leg of our adventure.  So often, us outdoor bloggers get all caught up in showing off the highlights and amazing moments that happen while out on the trail.  Guilty as charged.  I am here to tell you that it is not all sunshine and lollipops, especially when adventuring as a family.  There are moments of fatigue, injuries, and the odd case of silliness.

I first want to mention that adventures do not always turn out the way they were planned.  This is part of the appeal of adventuring.  You have to be willing to expect the unexpected and this adventure was chalked full of them.  Our first adventure along the Spine Trail involved backpacking three trails that are now connected and part of the Spine Trail and trail run along one other.  

For those who wish to know what trails, they were the Tseshaht Runner's Trail, stage 3 of the Alberni Inlet Trail, the CNPR Historical Inlet Trail, and stage 1 of the Alberni Inlet Trail.  We traveled from Francis Lake to Port Alberni.

I knew the trails we were backpacking on were not as well used or maintained as the trails we were used to, which is part of the reason why we opted to tackle this lofty goal - To get more people aware of these trails and increase trail use.  Well folks, if  you want to check out these trails, now would be the time because we have cleared the path of overgrown bracken fern, salal, orange huckleberry and salmon berry bushes.  We now wear the term Trail Blazers proudly!

Now you see them, now you don't.

Joel clearing the trail with our measly 8 inch saw. We are now shopping for a machete.

Backpacking with kids requires a lot of effort from mom and dad to ensure the needs of the kids are taken care of.  We have learned to arm ourselves with plenty of food, proper gear, safety supplies, and trail activities to entertain them along the way.  Apparently our choice in trail clearing tools was not up to there standards. 

"Seriously? What am I going to do with this?" Liv asks.

They still managed to clear a few big trees out of the way with that nifty 8 inch saw.

Unlike any other adventure we have been on, this one resulted in the most scars, bug bites, and minor injuries.  We hope this will be as bad as it gets.  Knock on wood.  Regardless, we came out of it smiling and can joke about it all now.  It did however, open up the opportunity to talk to the kids about the what ifs.  What if dad had a more serious injury other than a sprained ankle?  What if he were unconscious? What would they do?  It was a great conversation and Ben and Liv learned some valuable outdoor skills on basic survival, rescue and first aid.

Darn thorns.  But we are thankful the trails were not overgrown with Himalayan blackberry bushes.

Repeated scratches makes for tender ankles. 

It takes grit and toughness to be the first family to travel the entire Spine Trail and our leader is fearless.  Sprained ankle has nothing on this guy. #followyourfeet #myKEENadventure

I would be lying if I said this adventure was a piece of cake.  Not only did we face miles of bushwhacking and minor injuries, but we also had to deal with scorching temperatures.  +30C everyday is not the type of weather we like for hiking.  That is when you go swimming in the river.  Hiking under the forest canopy kept us out of the hot sun but there were times when we had to hike around old cut blocks and on logging roads which meant no tree cover.  That drained our energy level fast.  

Taking a quick cat nap waiting for Dad to clear more trail.  Too tired to even swat away the mosquito's.
Don't worry, we still found time to swim in the +30C temps.  Francis Lake is amazing.

Let me be very clear.  This photo will lead to believe that Ben had an epic fall and the trail is dangerous.  I assure you that he did not get hurt, in fact, he is laughing during the whole stumble.  The kids like to play "mini man" when the trail gets steep. (Squat down and slide on two feet, bum slightly off ground, and gentle slide down the trail)  They never do this is there is a drop off or any other dangers on the trail.  Joel captured a series of photos of them sliding down the trail right when Ben's feet stopped sliding but his body kept going.  It was very slow motion and he decided it best to just fall forward and start mini man all over.  I will admit though, the photo looks very different.  This was followed with several re-enactments of the stumble. 

Mini man down!

There are a whole lot of skills, determination, toughness, and passion required to do what we do.  It takes effort to backpack as a family and is hard work.  We have to all be committed, trust each other and be willing to step into the unknown.  But the most important thing you need is silliness.  Silliness allows everyone to check out, take their mind off the heat, the tried legs, the endless walking and have some good old fashioned fun.

Trail side goofiness with some old cooking supplies from a log camp long gone.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

All weather adventures

As I write this post, it is a balmy +23C at 7:00 pm.  Typical summer weather for Vancouver Island, BC but that is not always the case.  In fact, just 4 days previous it was cloudy and rainy.  The temp was not terrible, hovering around +15C, but not the type of weather that has you jumping up and down as you head out the door for a hike. Yet here we were, heading out the door because the kids and I had arranged a group hike to Saddle Trail and Jewel Lake, a gorgeous hike that offers vistas of valleys, the Pacific Ocean, the Salish Sea, with Mt. Arrowsmith as a backdrop. (Highest Mountain on southern Vancouver Island) Sadly, I forgot to book the sunny weather.

Peek a boo view of the mountains surrounding Saddle Trail

Final approach to the saddle.

Adventuring in the rain is not new to us and now that I think about it, most of our summit hikes have been in the rain and offered no views.  You are probably asking yourself, then why go? I say, why not?  Hiking in the rain, without the views to distract you, make you see things you don't usually see.  Rain droplets on leaves, vibrant greens, shiny browns and stunning misty landscapes.  And how many times do you get the chance to play in the snow while it's raining? That alone is worth it. (Ben and Liv loved this)

There were 6 other hikers joining us on the hike this rainy day, and a few times it was asked why are we here? Obviously we all enjoy the outdoors and not one of us would have traded in the day for nothing else.  We all wanted to hike and share the experience with each other.  I mean, what else would we have done, clean the house? No thank you! 

Eat lunch over looking Jewel Lake (somewhere in there) or clean house?

I love our adventures in the rain.  When was the last time you stood out in the rain and just let yourself get wet?  I did, 4 days ago, and have many times in the past and will many times more.  Just a few weeks ago we got caught in a shower while biking.  Ben loved riding thru the puddles.  I quickly learned to keep my distance if I didn't want mud in my face.  Liv was not a fan of biking in the rain but hey, she didn't give it two thumbs down!

No matter the weather, if we have an adventure planned we go.  I call it All Weather Adventures.  And if you asked the state of my house, I will happily admit it is long overdue for a good cleaning and I am OK with that!

I leave you with a few parting shots of some of our other All Weather Adventures.

Rainy day summit of Mt. Benson
Visiting the fairy homes on Mt. Erskine (Salt Spring Island).  Gnome one home.
Misty landscape of Mt. Maxwell.

Trail info:

Other than the mentioned scenery, the great thing about this trail is the distance and level of difficulty.  3km will get you to the Saddle Pass and another 1/2 km or so will get you down to Jewel Lake.  Elevation change from trail head to saddle is about 450m with a few steep sections but nothing that would rank this more than moderate in difficulty. It is a great day hike that makes you feel like you have ventured deep into the wild. 

For more directions and a peek at the stunning scenery this hike offers, I recommend you visit Lorne Collicutt's blog.  Great photos and write up that will tempt you to go see it for yourself.  That's what happened to me!

Monday, June 30, 2014

8 reasons why Yangshuo, China felt like home

No matter where we go - day trip, weekend excursion, or month long trip to somewhere in the world - outdoor adventure, travel, and experiencing local life is always a part of the journey.  We are lucky to call Vancouver Island, BC, Canada home, arguably the best place in Canada to live when it comes to enjoying a wide range of outdoor pursuits with a diverse selection of landscapes and lifestyles.  It is because of where we live we are are able to incorporate our passion for outdoors, travel, and experiencing new things into our regular daily lives.

Travelling to China as a family was a first for us all.  I have written several blog posts about the experience but have been saving the best for last. The cultural experiences we encountered along the way were life changing and walking along the Great Wall of China, appreciating the history, was surreal.  Then there was big cities, the food, the reason why we chose to travel to China and how we prepared for the trip.  But it was our stay in Yangshuo, the northeast part of the Guangxi province, where we felt most at home. We found life here to to be very similar to our life way back in Canada.  Sure, there were differences but the fundamental connection to nature, outdoor recreation, and way of life was the same.  I felt at home and comfortable in Yangshuo.  

Here’s why:

1. Lifestyle - Vancouver Island is very laid-back.  Traffic jams are timed with ferry arrivals only, more likely to happen upon wildlife walking home than a person, and people are happy just doing what they love to do.  I found this to be true of Yangshuo locals.  No one rushed around.  Yes, there was traffic constantly, but it moved in one continuous speed.  Parks were full of elders playing cards, crochet or participating in aerobics.  Toddlers were running around playing happily.  Street vendors were busy setting up their produce to sell for the day, never missing to smile and say Ni Hoa to everyone that passed by. 

2. Quiet country roads - The island is not blessed with well paved roads and wide shoulders like Alberta, for example, but there are plenty of quiet roads that wind, weave, and climb through the landscape.  Yangshuo was similar.  The roads in town were busy with bumper to bumper traffic (always moving) but travel to a neighbouring village and we were pretty much the only motorized vehicle.  We chose to tour the countryside on scooters.  Never have I driven a scooter, let alone with a child on board.  Locals ride these things with babies strapped on their back, cargo hanging every which way, and sometimes with 4 people! Surely I could drive one! I did, but it was not quite as smooth or graceful.  Neither Ben nor Liv wanted to ride with me.  Maybe Dad should have taken them both! Just thinking of this now.  Darn. 

3. Agriculture - Local food is easy to come by on Vancouver Island.  Produce, fish, meat, poultry, cheese, wine… you name it, Vancouver Island grows, produces, or makes it! I can drive to work and just about do my grocery shopping at local farms.  Yangshuo takes this to a whole new level.  Aside from the produce growing on any patch of soil that is to be found, the area is a major producer of kumquats and mandarins. The countryside hills are completely covered with kumquat farms. Streets are lined with vendors selling a wide variety of produce. Diversity in the types of food present with the Li river and Yulong River providing fish. Complimenting the fish are chicken and pig farmers.  Highlight of our agricultural experience in Yangshuo was visiting the Seven Star Tea Plantation and the Dragon Backbone Rice Terraces in neighbouring Longsheng.  What we took away from visiting these areas was the stunning landscapes used to grow the tea and rice. 

4. Grocery Shopping - You may be asking how grocery shopping in China made me feel like I was home? The answer is that we did in fact grocery shop, just like we do at home.  Whether it is somewhere local or across the world, going about day to day tasks allows you become a part of the region you are exploring.  Liv and I took this to a whole new level by taking a cooking class in Yahgshuo.  We were able to grocery shop in local markets, buying our ingredients fresh, and then spent an afternoon learning how to cook authentic Yangshuo dishes.  So yummy, so fun!

 Check out a little video from our cooking day: Yangshuo Cooking School Video 

5. Cycle - With moderate temperatures thoughout the winter, cycling is a year round sport on Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, it's also is a year round activity but the focus is transportation, not recreation.  Now, we have not done much cycling as a family.  We own mt. bikes but do take a bike pack trip once a year that could be viewed as cycling. It usually involves riding quiet country roads on the small islands that surround Vancouver Island.  In Yangshuo, we did what the locals do.  Hopped on some bikes and rode through the city and countryside.  Riding the busy streets was a challenge but somehow it worked out.  We rode through a busy traffic circle, down busy freeways, and through crowded streets.  Once we hit the countryside, we considered ourselves pros.  Cycling through the countryside showed us how locals live.  They are hard working people, either farming or building, and live in modest multi dwelling structures.  The experience of cycling the countryside was a learning experience not only for me, but for Ben and Liv as well.  It’s one thing to read about how different living in another country is, but to see it with your own two eyes is powerful.  

6. Caving - Vancouver Island Vancouver Island is so rich in caves, with more than 1,000 recorded, that it is sometimes referred to as the "Island of Caves”.  A few years ago we began caving and are members of the VI Cave Exploration Group.  The caves here require you to be geared from head to toe in water and dirt proof clothing, rubber boots, gloves, helmets, and wear headlamps complete with back up batteries.  A spare light source is recommended and if venturing deep in to the darkness, it is a good idea to have ropes, harnesses, and training on how to ascend and descend.  Ben and Liv are huge fans of caving and were pretty excited to get the chance to explore a cave in Yangshuo.  Unfortunately, the cave experience was not what we thought.  Instead of crawling into darkness, we walked on paved sidewalks and admired the cave formations enhanced with multi coloured lights.  Music was playing and we even passed by a couple snack booths and a gift shop while in the cave! Not quite what we were looking for.  Ben and Liv were not impressed, to say the least.  We did however, see amazing cave formations and the sheer size of the cave was impressive. 

7. Mt. Biking - Vancouver Island is home to some of the worlds best single track bike trails.  Expectations of mt. biking in Yangshuo was not high but the fact Joel and Ben could rent some decent mt. bikes and ride some dirt trails in the hills was worth it.  Bike Asia set them all up for a day of riding.  The owner drew a map for them and shared his local knowledge on where to ride.  Through bamboo forests, over hills, and on farmers paths they rode.  After a long day of riding, they came back with huge smiles on their faces.  This is exactly how they return from a ride back home.  Some things never change no matter where you are. 

8. Rock Climbing - Climbing is our newest outdoor pursuit.  We have plenty of outdoor climbing under our belts and Ben and Liv are huge fans of climbing.  We knew ahead of time that we could rock climb in Yangshuo and that was one of the reasons why we chose to travel there while in China.  Thank god it turned out to be what we were expecting and not the cave experience we had.  It was true outdoor rock climbing on a spectacular rock face in a stunning location.  I learned here that language barriers quickly disappear when enjoying common outdoor pursuits.  Not a single word of English was spoken to us and our Mandarin was not understood but it made no difference.  We were able to communicated with our guides beautifully.  I truly felt at home.

Complete photo gallery: Yangshuo, China

Monday, June 16, 2014

Get your paddle on! Why I love to kayak.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, Vancouver Island is heaven.  The list of outdoor activities one can enjoy, anytime of the year, is endless.  It comes as no surprise that kayaking is one of those activities, being an island and all, with some of the best fresh water lakes in all of BC, numerous rivers and the ocean of course.  Kayaking is a sport that is sought out by many and in a wide variety of ways: Recreational, competitive, adventure, and leisure.  I would not consider us to be advanced kayakers but we are certainly not beginners.  Every summer for the past 7 years, we manage to squeeze in a few kayak adventures as a family.   Every time we do kayak, I ask myself why we don't make it a regular part of our outdoor adventures?  Reality is, the only thing holding us back from doing so is having our own kayaks.  So, until we make that commitment, renting or borrowing kayaks will have to do for now. (Thanks Sealegs Kayaking)

Kayaking is a great outdoor activity for so many reasons.  Great exercise, suitable for all ages and experience, is fun, and gets you out on the water.  All reasons we kayak as a family but there are three special reasons why we seek out kayak adventures.

Paddling any floating object involves rhythm and pattern.  I find paddling very therapeutic and calming.  The motion of the paddle moving through the water, the sounds of water splashing the hull of the kayak, and feeling yourself glide over the water releases all the stress that has built up.  Slowly the mind shifts from life's responsibilities to enjoying the people I am with and the gorgeous scenery around me.

One of the passions behind our outdoor adventures is enjoying the natural settings that are around us.  Ocean kayaking lets us get a bit closer to marine life, something land adventures can't offer us. Paddling allows us to move quietly in the water and often we can get close to seals and sea lions.  Eagles and blue heron are a bit more tolerant of our presence and allow us to watch them go about their daily life.  In shallow water we see shell fish, marine plants and small fish in their natural setting, not washed up on shore.  Kayaking always reconnects me with nature and the ocean.

The best thing about kayaking is seeing the landscapes we are familiar with in a unique and different way.  Usually we are standing on the shore looking out but in a kayak, you look back at the shore and see hills behind the shore, mountains behind the hills, and blue skies dotted with white clouds behind the mountains.  Little scattered islands begin to take shape.  Waves are not sparkles far off in the distance, they are rolling under you.  Suddenly I feel my presence and realize just how small I am and how big the earth is.

Those are my reasons why I love kayaking and I bet you have your reasons as well.  Whatever the reasons are, kayaking is fun, it is a great activity for the whole family, and it is a great workout.  If anyone has tips on how to deal with numb, jello, wobbly legs when exiting the kayak, I would love to hear them.  So far, stumbling around in ankle deep water and falling over is not quite working.  The price we all pay for being tall.

Photo gallery on Flickr