Friday, October 31, 2014

Tried and tested – Top 5 Vancouver Island Mtn. Bike Trail Systems

Over the past year, mountain biking has dominated our outdoor adventures as a family.  Vancouver Island, BC has no shortage of world class mountain biking trails to shred.  Even with a mixed level of riding ability between the four of us, we are still able to hit the trails as a family.  I have put together an overview of five of our favorite Vancouver Island trail systems, tried and tested by the entire OTBP crew.  Each area lists a travel or adventure experience for riders of all ages and levels of expertise, the types of trails and features, location, trail maps, local mtn. biking resources, and some unique features of each trail system.

Cobble Hill  – located west off of the Trans-Canada Highway on to Cobble Hill Road.  Quarry Nature Park and Cleasby Bike Park are on the right at Hutchinson Rd. Map to CobbleHill trailhead  A great place to start mountain biking together for beginners or as a family.  This place is chock full of amenities for mountain bikers.  A family can easily spend a whole day here.  Washrooms, picnic area, a beautiful bike park complete with dirt jumps, pump track and a bike washing station to get your bike sparkling clean again.  

If you can tear yourself away from the bike park, the trails up Cobble Hill are smooth, not a lot of rocks and roots, so Liv, our 7 year old mountain biker, could easily ride up and down most trails with a 24” wheel.  The entire trail system has good signage throughout complete with distances and difficult rating.   

Trails are cross country single and double track which are shared with hikers and horseback riders.  Great summit views to catch your breath before racing back down.

For more info: Cobble Hill CVRD & South Island Mountain Bike Society

Hornby Island - an extension of Vancouver Island and accessible by ferry service at Fanny Bay to Denman Island and then Hornby Island.  A bike friendly island, Hornby Island has a variety of trails to suit every type of mountain bike rider.  Map location of Hornby Island The vibe of Hornby Island is laid back with an eclectic mix of people, art, and food. Being able to bike to the trails from anywhere adds to the experience.  There is a pump track, built by the Hornby Island Mountain Bike Association, for those wishing to practice their riding skills before heading to Mt. Geoffrey Park.  The network of single track cross country trails on Mt. Geoffrey Nature Park offer a variety of fast and flowy trails that will have you screaming like a school girl, even grown men. (I know, I heard him!)

Trails have plenty of signage, maps available online or at the local bike shop and are complete with description of trails, rating and features. We were able to find trails that suited all of our abilities and still ride up and down a variety of trails. The peak of Mount Geoffrey and Summit Trail is hands down the best place for an enscarfment - food break at edge of cliff. 

Best enscarfment location, smart ass optional
No ride on Hornby is complete without visiting Tribune Bay, one of BC’s most beautiful beaches.  Grab some local grub and head to the beach for a west coast picnic/swim before heading home.  Even better, make it a weekend and camp or stay at one of the many cottages or B&B’s for multiple days of pure riding bliss with family and friends.  
More trail info on Comox Valley Mountain Bike's website.
Mt. Tzouhalem (Mt. Zoo) – located at the end of Kaspa Road in Duncan, BC.  Map to Mt. Tzouhalem trailhead Definitely the place to go for hours of uninterrupted riding, rarely hitting the same trail twice! Mt. Zoo has a wide variety of trails; logging road, double track, slow technical single track and flowy fast swoopy trails.  Ben, my 9 year old fearless rider, can carve trails like "Double D" like no one’s business.  

A bit of a grunt from the parking lot to the top, or to access other trails, but after the first few times, you get the hang of it.  That’s why we have granny gears.  If hitting jumps more your style, there are built jumps and ramps to test your limits.  Mt. Zoo is busy so, unlike other trail networks, be prepared to see other riders.

With no creeks or large bodies of water on the mountain, riding conditions throughout the winter are appealing with less mud and wet terrain to deal with.  With winter though, comes less daylight.  No problem, keep your mtn. biking skills sharp with some night riding.  Strap on some lights and ride the trails after work, school, or supper. 
Most trails are marked, rated and maps available online.  What is unique about Mt. Zoo is a cool app available called the Mt. Zoo GeoMap.  This app lets you see where you are on the map/mountain in real time, using your SmartPhones’ built in GPS.  A helpful tool to keep you oriented on the mountain which is handy for night riding. For a comprehensive list of routes, maps, videos, the geoapp and any trail maintenance information, go to Heavy J's Official Mt. Zoo Website.  

Doumont Located in Nanaimo, BC west off of the Trans Canada highway on Jingle Pot Rd (the one between Northfield and Aulds) then right on Biggs Road (which will turn into Weigles Road) and follow past motor cross track.  Park and get out and ride.  Map to Doumont There is an extensive network of trails in Nanaimo that wind and weave around Westwood, Mt. Benson and south into Cinnabar Valley, but for now, I am only speaking of Doumont.  Here is where you can find downhill and freeride type trails with some pretty crazy and high jumps, ramps, and log rides.   

Still plenty of cross country and we found most trails suited an intermediate rider, even though we all managed to make it down.  Signage in Doumont not as good as other areas but online maps, such as Phil’s maps, is decent.  To avoid wasting time or for a better first time experience, ride the trails with someone who knows the area and can string together some runs. 
The newest trail to hit Doumont, Fine China, is the 1st provincially approved mountain bike trail built by the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club.  The 1200 m trail is described as a pump track or flow track, and let me tell you, it is a few minutes of pure fun! Well worth the grinder to get to the start of the trail.  If my kids had their way, we would ride Doumont every day, as would many of my adult friends.  Just be forewarned, in and around the Doumont trail network, biosolids are applied to VIU's woodlot under the Forest Fertilization Program, so be sure to keep your mouth closed when riding.

Cumberland – Located in the Comox Valley, Cumberland is a small village west of Courtenay and Comox.  When you hit the village, you pretty much have reached the trail head. Map marking trailhead of Cumberland Trails Cumberland has an outdoor enthusiast feel to it and is my favorite place to ride.  You could call it the epicentre to all things mt. biking. No matter where you are, someone is riding or the empty bike rack on the vehicle tells you they are still out riding.  People here are passionate about their outdoors.  Everything from trail building, purchasing land to add to the Cumberland Forest, and supporting local business, the people of Cumberland make it special. 

To really get a feel for the place, spend a weekend riding the trails.  Stay at the Riding Fool Hostel, grab a trail map from Dodge City Cycles, and get to know the local riders at the Waverley Pub.  Start or end your day by stopping in at one of the many, many fabulous eateries in the village (too many to mention)  Oh yeah, and ride some trails.  Cumberland has a little bit of everything.

From the village you can ride along the streets, on flat walking trails, or climb on up the main logging road surrounding the community forest for some light technical and downhill riding.  Cumberland is a popular riding destination but unlike Mt. Zoo, you can pedal for hours without meeting another rider.  A short ride up and you are able to get away from your busy schedule, responsibilities and surround yourself in a lush second growth temperate rain forest.  The trail builders of Cumberland, known to locals as the River Rats, create trails like nothing you have ever seen and the craftsmanship of the ramps, berms, jumps and yes, even a teeter totter, are works of art.  Among other artistic things.

Most of the trails have signage and the phone friendly or print out map will not fail you.  Riding Cumberland can easily be done as a day trip offering all levels of riders a great day on the trails or as a weekend adventure, shredding as much trail as possible.

Whether your new to mtn. biking, looking to ride on Vancouver Island, or an Island rider already, these five trail systems have everything you are looking for.  What I love best is that these are only a snippet of what is out there for mountain bike riders on Vancouver Island.  I can’t wait to get the OTBP crew out again and tear up more trails. 
Happy riding.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Corn Maze Chronicles

The sky was grey and dull but despite the rain, it was warm for late October.  A few times I had considered cancelling the outdoor activity I had planned but kept telling myself a self-respecting west coast mom would never do such a thing.  Plus, I had already promised four children, in addition to my own, an afternoon of corn maze fun.  I figured we would be fine for an hour or so plus we were armed with rubber boats and rain coats.  Not my first time trampling through a corn maze on the west coast of BC.  I was experienced.
As I drove out of the school parking lot, the energy inside the vehicle was picking up.  Liv and Emma were sitting in the back.  Middle row had Ben, Carter and Addison, and co-piloting beside me was Emilie.  Six kids between the ages of 5 - 12.  The noise was so loud, I didn't hear myself tell myself I was turning the wrong way.   Now I had to listen to the chatter a few minutes longer, heading to the corn maze the long way.

Corn maze nightmares
All seven passengers in the car had been to a corn maze before.  That sparked a lively discussion on being up to your eyeballs in mud, becoming disorientated in the maze and corn maze nightmares. 

“I used to be scared of being eaten by those corn maze monsters”, says Emilie (12).  I tried to think back to old horror movies where man eating corn maze machines were prevalent but came up empty handed.  Frank, from the Disney movie Cars, maybe?
The vehicle, for the first time, was now silent and all ears were listening to Emilie and me.  “There are no corn maze monsters” I said, knowing the audience included two young girls, sisters, who were probably going to be very concerned and scared by this story.  I was not about to have crying and terrified kids on my watch.  Must diffuse the situation immediately. 
“Not real monsters, just the machines that cut the corn.  They look like giant green monsters with sharp pointy teeth coming at you.  I would never want to be trapped in a corn maze while they were harvesting the corn.” Replies Emilie, nonchalantly.  Her comment is not helping and I quickly replied, “Not to worry, this corn maze is for people to enjoy and they will not be cutting the corn for months.  Oh look, we are here!” I exclaim, hoping to bring the loud chatter back. 
Welcome to the Corn Maze

I had a diverse group of kids with me.  Two energetic 10 yr old boys, a caring and attentive 12 year old girl, a five year old girl who was clinging to the 12 year old and two 8 year old girls who could give the boys a run for their money or hang out with me.  As soon as we hit the corn maze entrance, it was like a flock of birds taking flight in every direction. 
“WAIT, Wait!” I shouted.  Like homing pigeons, they came back.  I explained that we could not all go off running in different directions.  How was I going to keep track of the younger ones, knowing if they were all of a sudden alone in the corn maze, there would be tears?  Immediately, all six children agreed to play Mantracker, a tag/hide and go seek type of game.  In a quick chaotic moment, Ben and Carter were a team, Emilie and Addison were a team, Liv and Emma were a team and I was going solo.
The rules of the game are: Teams run through the corn maze trying to find other teams.  Once two teams find each other, they continue on together searching for the next team and so on. Then, without any warning, teams dispersed in completely different groupings than what was discussed and there I was, left all alone in the middle of the corn maze.  Pretty sure there were tears.
The first victim

I made it very clear that we were not to run in the slippery gooey mud and we had to be respectful of other people in the maze.  Of course there were no other people at the maze, with the rain and all, but that was not the point.  I quickly began to power walk and even at that I was slipping all over the path.
No sooner did I wonder when the first mud victim would appear, Team Ben, Carter and Emma come flying around the corner, Emma in tears.  “She fell in the mud.” says Ben, passing her to off me.  He and Carter disappear around another corner.  10 minutes into the maze and here I am standing beside poor Emma, sobbing softly, a few tears rolling down her cheek, and covered in mud from her waist down.  Her arms were muddy, her hands were muddy and even her hair was muddy.  I console her, tell her it is ok, it is just mud and ask her how it happened. 
I am hoping I can distract her enough so she will start having fun again.  I ask her if wiping her hands and bum off would help, the muddiest parts to her.  She nods.  I look around and all I see is mud, corn stalks, and mud.  Now what? “Remember when your mom and dad raced in Tough Mudder?” I ask.  Emma nods.  “Well, they looked just like you do right now.”  This brings a smile to her face and I know that she will be fine but I have to get her cleaned off a bit.  Normally I would have her wipe her hands off on my pants but for some reason, I decided to wear my new jeans today.  And here I thought I was an experienced corn maze goer. 
I decide to try and come up with another way  to clean her hands off before resorting to that.  Then I notice a few grassy spots between the mud path and corn field.  “How about we wipe your hands off on the grass, it is sort of like a cloth.” I tell her.  Thank goodness she agrees.  Perfect.  Now I get her to squat down and rub her butt on the grass so we can get at least one layer of mud off her.  Surprisingly, she agrees and both of us are smiling and laughing.  Quickly we become Team Emma and Jill.  Then we hear muddy footsteps coming and the two off us start running, me holding her hand to avoid another spill, giggling to find a spot to hide and regroup.  Game on.   
The man eating corn maze monster
Catching our breath and back near the corn maze entrance, Emma and I take a moment to regroup and focus.  The other teams are in there somewhere, hunting for us, but I am pretty confident that they will not head towards the entrance.  We listen quietly and can make out some voices and laughter coming from the other end of the maze.  “Well, that was pretty fun.”  I say to Emma.  She is right back into the swing of things and being covered in mud is a distance memory.  “I wonder how long it will take for them to find us.”  We listen again and this time a different sound can be heard.  Emma and I look at each other and she no longer has a smile on her face, more of a concerned look.  It sounds like a motor or a quad.  I recognize it but can’t quite figure out what it is.  One thing is for sure, it is getting louder. 

Suddenly the sky goes black.  There is background music, the kind you hear in horror films right before the scary villain jumps out.  The rumbling gets louder still but now it sounds like it is coming from our left, then right.  Emma and I are running through the corn field, fearing for our lives.  What is it we ask each other?  Too scared to stop, we keep running.  It could only be one thing.  The man eating corn maze monster has come alive and is heading straight for us! RUN!
photo courtesy of  www.deere.com
The sky returns to its dull grey hue.  Still standing in the same spot, I realize that the sound is the corn maze tractor coming around the outside of the maze.  A familiar sound because it was the same tractor and hay ride we took to the pumpkin patch before heading into the corn maze.  How I managed to think for a moment that the corn fields were being harvested is ridiculous.  Yet somehow, the story Emilie told earlier became so vivid.  A horror scene comes to life, or so I imagined.  I laugh to myself and then look down and see Emma’s white face.  She was thinking the exact same thing as me.  “Did you think that was the man eating corn maze monster too?” I asked her.  “Yes.” She replies.  Then we both laugh as the tractor continues to putt past us, around the corner and back up the hill towards the parking lot. 

Not sure I could accurately account for what actually happened during our time in the maze.  A quick synopsis: Team Emma and me were super sneaky and were never found.  Team Ben and Carter were running around, split up which was not part of the rules, and using the tower as a lookout to find Team Emilie, Liv and Addison and then make a run towards them.  Then, Addison got scared when the girls were hiding in the corn, thinking they were lost, so I took Addison on my team for a while.  Liv had a turn up on the tower and guided Emilie towards Ben and Carter, who were still running around crazy.  Often the two boys would be running towards me so I had both Emma and Addison jump into the corn stalks to avoid being seen.  They rocked it.  There was laughter, comradery, and pure enjoyment.  Not sure I will ever visit a corn maze on a clear, warm beautiful day again.  This muddy Mantracker game in a corn maze is pretty fun.

Post Corn Maze
At the end of our corn maze craziness, we all walked out with big smiles on our faces, completely soaked from the rain and mud up one side and down the other.  I had shut mom mode off a while ago, having fun and all, but suddenly it was turned back on.  And the first task ahead of me was how to get all six children into the vehicle with the least amount of mud spread throughout.  No towels.  No blankets.  Nothing.  And here I thought I was an experienced corn maze goer. 
Note: No KEEN's were harmed or covered in mud for this story. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Leaves not the only thing changing in autumn. So are B.C. Salmon

Canada’s beauty is abundant in autumn.  Everywhere you look there are splashes of color and changing landscapes.  The Western Larches in the Canadian Rockies begin their amazing transformation from light green to bright yellow in the fall. Changing leaves of red leaf maple, sugar leaf maple, white birch, aspen and red oak in Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park cover the landscape in orange, red and yellow.  Up North, where daylight hours diminish, aurora borealis viewing returns and the white and blue lights once again dance across the sky.  Here on the BC coast, we too have a splash of color and if you get too close, you will likely get wet.

Annual BC salmon run

Every year, mainly in the fall, thousands of salmon return to the stream they were born to reproduce and die.  Their 4- 5 year life cycle and migration is remarkable and so are the conservation efforts to keep the salmon running for years to come.  I never get tired of learning about the salmon run.  This year, our attention was on the shape and color changes salmon undergo as they run up the stream. 

Most of the rivers on Vancouver Island have Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, and Steelhead but there are sockeye runs too.  The Sockeye Salmon have the most dramatic color change, from silver blue to deep red and places like the Fraser River and Adams River are the best places to check out the sockeye run.  The river we explored was the Little Qualicum River near Qualicum Beach, BC on Vancouver Island and the salmon were well on their way up river.  There were probably chinook, chum and steelhead swimming around but I am still learning how to recognize the difference.  What is neat about Little Qualicum River is there is a Department of Fisheries fish hatchery alongside the river and spawning channels that were created to ensure suitable water levels, flow, gravel river bottoms, and fish ladders that aid in salmon reproduction.  

Fish ladder in the spawning channel at Little Qualicum Fish Hatchery

There was not much color change happening with the leaves but the salmon were definitely changing and not just in color.  Color changes from the silver blue to darker colored patches, white spots, dark red and greenish yellow are to attract a spawning mate.  Standing above the spawning channels, the color change was noticeable as was their shape.  When salmon return to freshwater, they no longer eat and their stomach disintegrates leaving more room for eggs and sperm. Instead they live off of stored fat in tissue.  Could be one reason why the salmon look bloated but that is mainly due to taking in fresh water rather than sea water.  Salmon have a salt gland to extract salt to prevent dehydration.  Another characteristic change visible is males developing a hooked snout, or kype.  It is used to show off their dominance.  Some male salmon species also develop a hump on their back. 

After walking for over an hour around the spawning channel, I began to see the small color changes in each salmon.  Some were a dark grey solid color.  Some had patchy white spots.  A few even had shiny purple and yellow areas on their body.   

The changes were subtle but by no means does that dismiss the power and energy the salmon require to get here.  They are amazing creatures.

The transformations that occur in Mother Nature are truly spectacular and autumn is a great time to see it happen.  Spending a beautiful fall day exploring a new river and witnessing salmon fight their way up stream is a must do fall family outdoor activity on the west coast.  There are countless rivers on Vancouver Island where volunteer ran hatcheries exist and 15 fish hatcheries operated by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  Little Qualicum Fish Hatchery and Spawning Channels located at 1380 Claymore Road in Qualicum Beach, BC.

More B.C. Salmon blog posts:
Snorkel with the Salmon                A Salmon's Journey

With a KEEN eye, I patiently wait for fish to jump the ladder.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Adventure Chat with Kids - Reaching the Summit

Standing on the highest point of anything else around you is an amazing feeling.  The air has a distinct feel to it, the sounds are different and the view is breathtaking.  This is the reward for a hard hike or climb up to the top of a mountain.  As a family, we began reaching summits last summer when Ben and Liv were 8 and 6 years old.  Hiking and backpacking were established pursuits so the natural progression was to start going up.

There has been one peak on Vancouver Island, BC that has been on our adventure list of things to do for many years.  Mt. Arrowsmith.  Locals are familiar with the Mt. Arrowsmith's Massif being it is visible just north of Nanaimo, all the way to Port Alberni and north past Qualicum Beach.  The peak stands tall, made up of mostly basalt, a common extrusive igneous (volcanic) rock.  It is the tallest peak on Southern Vancouver Island, measuring 1819 m or 5968 feet tall, keeping in mind Vancouver Island is at ocean level. 

Weeks before we hiked to the summit of Mt. Arrowsmith as a family, I sat down with Liv, my 7 year old adventure girl, and talked about what it is like to summit a mountain. She had a lot to say about being a 7 year old who hikes to the top of mountains and even tried her hand at interviewing me.

Mom - Let's talk about Mt. Arrowsmith.

Liv - high squeal and smile on her face NO, no!

Mom - Why no?

Liv - Because it is going to be hard!

Taking in the route ahead.  Never said it would be easy.

Mom - It is?

Liv - Yes, it is the highest mountain.

Mom - It is the highest peak on Southern Vancouver Island, there are much higher mountains here and around the world. Is it hard because you are 7 years old?

Liv- Because I am the youngest, my little Livvy legs get tired and I don't have as much energy.

Almost there adventure girl, you can do it!

Mom - What do we do to get more energy for you while we hike?

Liv - Take breaks, eat food.  I like the apples and treats we bring.  And drink lots of water.

Mom - Tell me what you feel when you reach the summit?

Liv - Shouldn't you be asking me this when we climb to the top of a mountain so I know what it feels like?

Mom - Probably. But we have hiked to mountain tops before.  Close your eyes and remember what it feels like. 

Liv - pauses with eyes closed OK. I am tired. I feel big because I am high up.  There is wind and I am cold.

She was right, it was windy.

Mom - What do you enjoy most about being on the top of the mountain.

Liv - I enjoy getting to the top.  It's pretty and beautiful. 

Adventure girl taking in the view from the top of Mt. Arrowsmith

Mom - Are you looking forward to hiking to the top of Mt. Arrowsmith?

Liv - Kind of. I am going to like it when I am at the top but it is going to be hard to get there.  Can I ask you some questions?

Mom - Sure.

Liv - Are you excited and looking forward to hiking up Mt. Arrowsmith?

Mom - I am! It has been on the list of things to do for about 5 years.  We attempted it once, when you were 2, but never made it all the way up.

Liv - Is it going to be hard for you?

Mom - Some parts are going to be hard but not the hardest thing I have ever done.


Liv - What do you enjoy most once at the top?

Mom - Same as you, feeling of being big only thing I feel small.

Liv - Why?

Mom - When standing on top of a mountain, I look around and the trees, the ocean, the mountains far off in the distance look smaller than they look from the road or when I am beside these things.  So then I feel like a tiny speck of dust in this huge place we call earth.  And I am so happy to have a micro dust, point at Liv, standing beside me because together we are big.

Liv - Aren't you super duper happy that you have more than just one speck of dust beside you?

Mom - Are you referring to you, Ben and Dad?

Liv - Shakes head yes

Mom - You bet! Together we are a giant speck of dust and there is no other dust I would rather be with.

4 specks of dust, jumping for joy

KEEN gear used:

Ben wore his Chandler CNX hiking shoes
Joel wore the Marshall hiking shoe.
First time worn, Jill had on her Gypsum hiking shoe.
And Liv was wearing the Chandler CNX.  It is lightweight, has breathable lining, and great traction for the terrain we hiked on. 

She's only 7 years old but she has big shoes to fill. #followyourfeet KEEN Canada

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Enhance your child's learning with Outdoor Education

British Columbia is in the midst of a full scale teacher strike that began June 17, 2014.  This meant an abrupt end to school in June and no back to school yet for kids in BC Public schools.  So many parents, me included, are coping with the situation and are doing our best to offer some education to our children as we wait for a settlement to be reached.  Having children at the primary school age makes it a bit more manageable for me.  No provincial exams to worry about, no concern over credits earned, and no calculus to teach.  I will leave that to the professionals.  What I am able to offer my children is a “classroom” style learning I know well. Outdoor Education. 

Outdoor education by definition is learning that takes place outdoors.  I have said numerous times and is a favorite quote of mine, “Nature is the largest classroom you or your child will ever experience.”  So many times I have seen Ben and Liv learn and grow through our outdoor experiences, and not just physically.  The outdoors offer a wealth of education; science, social studies, english and math. The best part is, the learning is fun and exciting! 

Any outdoor experience has the ability to offer education. It could be a hike in a forest, a weekend camping trip, or a stroll through your local park.  My story involves biking on an island that is a marine provincial park but the location and activity can easily be replaced with your activity of choice in an area close to you.  Every place has history.  Seeing new images ignites imagination and creativity.  The ground we walk on is science; natural or man-made.  And you say you're not a math person? Chances are you had to obey speed limits, purchase something or check the time during said outdoor adventure.  Basic math at work. 

Outdoor Education - Newcastle Island

Newcastle Island, located in the Nanaimo Harbour, is accessible by foot passenger ferry or by your own watercraft of choice.  Once on Newcastle Island, a marine provincial park, visitors have over 22 km of trails to explore by foot or bike, beaches around every corner, campsites, picnic areas and endless nature.  We chose to bike on Newcastle Island and it was easy to transport the bikes onboard the Nanaimo Harbour Ferry.  

All Aboard!

Clearly physical education was going to play a large role throughout the day but we were here to learn! (Actually, having fun was the goal.)

Social Studies: Before European discovery, the Snuneymuxw First Nation inhabited the island, primarily from January to April, to easily access the herring that spawned in the area.  In August, they would return to the island and catch salmon and shellfish.  

The island was named after a mining town in England, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by the British once coal was discovered in 1849 on the island and around Nanaimo.  The coal discovery alone holds many historical stories, one being a gas explosion that claimed the lives of three miners and the tunnels that connect Newcastle to Protection Island and Gabriola Island.  In 1869, sandstone and pulp stone quarries replaced coal mining. The sandstone was a highly sought after building material.  

Then in 1920, herring salteries were the main activity on Newcastle, until four of them burnt down.  In 1931, the island was purchased and used by Canadian Pacific Steamship Co. as a pleasure resort until WWII created a decline in ships available and a decline in the islands popularity resulted.  Quite the variety of historical moments on an island that is 306 hectares in size.  The most interesting story, and one the kids seemed to be most interested in was the story of Peter Kakua.  

The past has some interesting stories.

Science: We already learned that Newcastle Island has plenty of sandstone, which crosses over nicely from social studies to science.  So many natural resources, rock and fish, on one little island.  There is a wide range of diverse habitats on Newcastle Island.  Ocean, forest and lakes all come into play on Newcastle.  Having the fresh water from Mallard Lake is what allowed so many different people to inhabit the island.  The lake provided a source of water.  Today it is a wildlife sanctuary and it is beautiful.  

In the few hours we were on Newcastle Island we saw racoons, a pileated woodpecker, shorebirds, and waterfowl.  Beach-combing added many more species to the list.  Crabs, seagulls, jellyfish, barnacles, and sculpins just to name a few.

Hands on learning with the jellyfish

English: Being a provincial park, Newcastle has plenty of interpretive signs, information notices, trail signs and maps throughout.  It starts with the welcome to Newcastle Island sign.  (Kids noted “Is” on the sign, short for Island.) 

Our visit to Newcastle Island was with friends and between the two families, several of us had been to the island before.  Memories of past visits were sparked with familiar sights which was followed by storytelling.  New stories were developing. 

Math: The ferry boat holds 12 passengers.  There were seven in our group.  How many more passengers could hop on-board? Seven bikes plus seven people equals? Pretty easy to work math into any situation.  Trail maps are great opportunities to use math skills.  

Adding up the total distance between two points or a cumulative distance total of trails used was a neat interactive way to engage the kids.  Perfect for primary aged kids. 

The learning aspect of the day was subtle. A little bit of information here and there in amongst the sunshine, the trail riding, and taking in the beautiful views.  After writing down everything, I was surprised with what we all learned.  It certainly does not replace the education that kids receive in school but it does enhance their learning opportunities.  And because of that, I will never leave the outdoor classroom!

Riding the bus back home

Shots of the Day

For more photos of Newcastle Island, please view the entire photo album on Facebook - Newcastle Island, BC

Monday, September 8, 2014

Raptor, River, Hike, and Paddle – a personalized Vancouver Island 3 day tour

When you live on an island that is known for its adventure, natural beauty and tourism, you learn to become a tour guide when friends and family visit.  I am always more than happy to accommodate my local “tour” based on what my guests are interested in.  I was beyond excited when a special guest, returning for the second time, emailed me about her summer plans to visit Canada, specifically the Vancouver area and Vancouver Island.  This meant I could create a personalized tour of our favorite places to adventure knowing the special guest would fit in perfectly. 

My family and I first met Anna (name changed for reading ease) in January 2013.  Anna, 14 years old at the time, who is from Germany, was on a 3 month student exchange program in Vancouver, BC.  She is also a distant cousin on my husband’s side and thanks to my mother in law and Anna’s grandmother for keeping in touch over the years, we were volunteered to have Anna spend a weekend with us.  We agreed.  I will admit I had no idea what to expect from a 14 year old German girl, who we knew nothing about.  What I can say about her now is she blew us all away with her maturity, intelligence, innocence, and bravery.  In the few short days that we spent with Anna back in 2013, we experienced wonderful adventures together that allowed us to break down the language and country barriers.  I felt my passion for places already explored reignite just by watching Anna’s face light up as she stood on the edge of the North American continent and looked out on the open Pacific Ocean for the first time.   

We took her deep down into a cave and Ben and Liv had a chance to show Anna the nooks and crannies they love so much.  The best was watching Anna’s expressions and complete disbelief that Joel was making soup with our backpacking stove as we sat in an ancient giant forest.  I know exactly what it is like to experience these feelings all for the first time and it is every bit as powerful watching someone else experience it as well.

Anna is now a 16 year old young lady.  She is very much like the last time we visited but much more outgoing and confident.  I still am in awe at her knowledge of history, politics and culture and am pretty sure I learned more from her visit than she did.  One thing is for sure, we had great adventures!  This time I wanted to show Anna how diverse nature and the natural spaces are on Vancouver Island, aside from the usual coastal scenery and orca watching.  The three day "personalized" tour for Anna, "Raptor, River, Hike and Paddle", involved swimming in all three different sources of water on Vancouver Island, up-close encounters with raptors and other flying creatures, an alpine hike with a mountain view to finish, and another first time experience for her – kayaking. 
First up was Raptors.  Many raptors call Vancouver Island home and there is a great facility near Duncan, BC called the The Pacific Northwest Raptor Centre, a birds of prey attraction that educates and allows visitors to discover eagles, hawks, owls, falcons, and vultures through flight demonstrations, personal interaction, and educational courses.  I have visited the Raptor Centre before, with Ben and Liv, and have been itching to take someone there.  Anna was the obvious choice and to make it even more special, we did a Hawk Walk and had an opportunity to get real close to Anakin, a Harris Hawk.  I highly recommend visiting the Raptor Centre, if ever the chance.  

Part of our regular summer schedule on Vancouver Island is beating the heat with water while avoiding the crowded beaches.  For us, the Nanaimo River is the place to go.  Unless you’re a local, not many know about the different spots along the river that are perfect for those lazy days of summer.  The scenery is spectacular, water cool, crisp, and fresh, and often are quiet places to escape to.  After our morning with the raptors, we headed to our favorite swimming hole on the Nanaimo River for a late afternoon/supper swim.  She and the kids had fun swimming, catching crayfish, and floating down the mini rapids.  For Anna, this was special.  There are no rivers in Germany for her to swim in and the lakes are so cold that it usually is a quick in and out swim.

Originally I had wanted to take Anna on a backpack trip.  Unfortunately the timing did not work out (next time). Instead, I took her hiking in Strathcona Park, to Lake Helen McKenzie, where she could see what some of our back-country camp sites look like.  This short loop is a great day hike and offers guests with plenty of flora, fauna, and vistas.  It offers a bit of everything if time is not on your side.  A day hike here gave Anna another swimming experience, in Battleship Lake, an alpine hike with types of trees she had not seen before and some more encounters of the friendly flying kind.  Bonus was a helicopter encounter, a quick chairlift ride up Mt. Washington, and an opportunity to build an Inuksuk.  Does not get any more Canadian than that!

On Anna's last visit, we took her caving, which was a first for her.  This time I wanted to give her that same experience and was happy to hear that she had never kayaked before.  As if routine, Anna, Ben, Liv and I packed up for the day and headed to Ladysmith Harbour and went to see my friends at Sealegs Kayaking.  The Ladysmith Harbour is a great place to take first time kayakers.  The water is usually calm and there is plenty of ocean to explore.   

Anna was a pro in the kayak and again I got to watch her face light up as she enjoyed the beautiful setting we were in.  Together we all marveled at the ocean's bottom when it came into sight, we paddled towards cormorants, came across a huge jelly fish, and on shore we flipped rocks over in search of shorecrabs.  We ended our ocean adventure with a quick swim marking Anna’s first ocean swim! 

I know Anna had an amazing outdoor experience with us.  The truth is, I did too! I love showing off Vancouver Island and taking people to unique locations outside of the regular tourist hotspots.  Places that are routine for me to explore become new again and like I mentioned before, watching someone fall in love with Vancouver Island is every bit as special as falling in love with it myself. Next year the roles will be reversed when we visit Anna in Germany.  I can’t wait to fall in love with Germany!
ps - When I grow up, I want to be an outdoor adventure tour guide.