Friday, December 5, 2014

68 hours of Hawai’i – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 2 Kohala & Kona Culture

I am 2 blog posts in to what will be a 5 post blog series showcasing Hawai’i, The Big Island.  Back story - I was fortunate to be one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros and with this privilege came the task of filming our story and experiences at one of Fairmont’s North American resorts for three days.  The first blog post unveiled the luxury Joel and I enjoyed at Hawaii’s very own Fairmont Orchid, not something we are accustomed to but certainly worth experiencing. Read - 68 Hours of Hawai'i Part 1 Fairmont Orchid  Next up - Culture and you need not look any further than along the western and northern shores of Hawai’i. (After this I promise to get to the outdoor adventures unique to Hawai’i)
From touch down to take off, our time spent on the Big Island was 68 hours.  11 of these hours consisted of Joel and me exploring the history, culture, agriculture and taking in the diverse landscapes along the Kohala and Kona Coasts.  Being an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, obviously there is a need for growing and producing its own food.  The Big Island has mastered the perfection of growing coffee and nuts and it just so happens I am nuts about coffee!

Kona Coffee, a market name for coffee cultivated on the Big Island, comes from coffee beans grown specifically on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai.  The coffee plant originates from Brazilian cuttings that were introduced to Hawaii in 1828.  The Kona Coast provides ideal growing conditions; morning sun, afternoon cloud, and rich volcanic soil.  Better than any other region within the Hawaiian Islands.  Since we are both coffee drinkers, the plan was to visit a coffee farm but it just so happened that our visit to the Big Island coincided with Kona’s 44th Annual Coffee Festival.  So we did what any self-respecting coffee connoisseur would do.  We checked out the festival and drank some coffee.  Damn! The coffee was good.  Smooth, clean, and no bitter after taste at all.  I could easily go back to the Kona Coffee and Tea Company and sip cup after cup of delicious 100% Kona Coffee.

Fully alert and packing a sweet coffee buzz, Joel and I continued our cultural adventure with a scenic drive along Painted Church Road, a narrow windy road in Captain Cook territory.  Nestled in between churches and a peace sanctuary we stumbled upon Joe’s Nuts.  I am not making this name up, I swear!  Joe’s Nuts, a macadamia farm, is an eclectic mix of agriculture and interesting characters.  We never met Joe, if there even is one, but we were greeted with a warm Aloha by the lady of the farm.  We learned all about her nut farm, the collecting and processing of macadamia nuts, her goats, mango trees, vanilla plants and history of ownership of the farm.  Of course, no visit is complete without sampling some of the many different flavors of macadamia nuts.  Needless to say, the 100% Kona coffee macadamia nuts were my favorite! Brewed with Bills’ best coffee, (Joe’s brother maybe?) kissed with sea salt, raw sugar and vanilla.  Mmmmm.

Prior to visiting Hawai’i, my knowledge about agriculture on the islands included the obvious; tropical fruits, coconuts, and coffee.  Never did I consider the Big Island to be home to one of the oldest, largest, and most historic ranches in the United States.  Driving along Kohala Mtn. Road took us right into the heart of Parker Ranch country.  Founded in 1897 by an eighteen year old John Parker, his job was to bring the thousands of wild cattle that multiplied from the first 5 cows that were delivered in 1788, by Captain George Vancouver, under control.  The grazing lands and pastures that make up Parker Ranch provide a beautiful landscape.  Rolling open grass fields, scenic views of the Pacific Ocean off in the distance and Kohala Volcano, the islands oldest volcano, as a backdrop.  Such a contrast from the lush tropical forest and dessert like terrain of the Kohala Coast that border Weimea and Parker Ranch country.  These are only a few of the diverse landscapes that Joel and I were able to explore in the 68 hours of being in Hawaii.  We need more time!

The part of travel that I love best is talking with locals and listening to stories they tell about their history, their land, and their culture.  Stories like the one that was told to us by one of our cab drivers who was born and raised on Hawai’i.  Joel and I, being the typical tourist, asked about what it was like growing up with active volcanoes and had he ever been affected by lava flows? Not directly affected was his response but he did tell us all about Pele, the volcano goddess of fire.  How she had the power to create and destroy through lightning, volcanos, lava flows, and fire. Those who are greedy or unkind were punished by having homes or crops destroyed by lava flows.  She was known for her temper.  I’ll say!  Legend has it that if lava flow threatened your home, you were to clean it and present her with a beautiful gift and she would spare you.

Another notable historical tidbit that was mentioned to Joel and me by numerous people was King Kamehameha.  Had we seen the statue? Did we know about their most beloved Hawaiian hero? Because so many people had mentioned the King, we had to learn more and stop to check out the statue.  King Kamehameha was born on Hawaii, in North Kohala near Kapaau, in 1758.  The year Hailey’s Comet passed over Hawaii.  After many years of conflict between the Hawaiian Islands, in 1810 King Kamehameha was able to unite the islands and maintain peace and tradition values.  He was a great warrior that is respected and known as the monarch who founded the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Kings, gods, curses… these all seem to be part of history on Hawai’i.  Joel and I are not ones to sit poolside or play beach bums for a day while on vacation and certainly not with only 68 hours of vacation time.  Stories we are told while exploring has always been a large part of our family adventures and so is learning more about these stories.  A great place to relive days when those who broke kapu (sacred laws), defeated warriors or non-combatants could go to find refuge is in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a National Historical Park on the south Kona Coast.  It was a place where blood could not be shed.  A place where kahuna pule (priests) performed a ceremony of absolution so offenders could return home safely.  For a few hours Joel and I walked through the self-guided grounds, snapping pictures of old religious sites and temples.  My favorite feature of Pu’uhonua was the Great Wall, built in 1550 and is 10 feet high and 17 feet thick of stacked stones so tightly stacked, no mortar was required.  A flood of memories from our time on the Great Wall of China came over me.  What is that travel quote? I want to make memories around the world.
We wrapped up our cultural experiences with a Hawaiian Luau, traditional Polynesian feast and Fairmont Orchid’s presentation of Gathering of the Kings, a performance that retells the settlement of the Pacific.  We were taken on a journey throughout Polynesia; Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and how each chief would be linked to a star that guided them.  An entertaining way to explore dance, costumes and traditions throughout Polynesia.  This also served to be one of the few times we could explore the Hawaiian culture through food, like Poi and Ahi Poke.  So many wonderful dishes and the Mai Tai’s were pretty tasty as well.
That is it.  11 hours of Hawaiian history, culture, agriculture and landscapes explored, experienced, and sandwiched in between our 68 hours of Hawai’i.  Coming up on Parts 3 – 5.  It’s time to adventure by land, ocean and air to see for ourselves what Hawaii is made of.  Are those beaches really what some refer to as paradise?  Does Hawai’i really grow rock? And can I out swim a fish?  The final 20 adventurous hours of our 68 Hours of Hawai’i coming soon!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

68 hours of Hawai’i – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 1 Fairmont Orchid

Over the next month or so, I will be writing a 5 post blog series showcasing The Big Island.  The culture, awaiting adventures, unforgettable tours, the diverse landscapes, wide range of activities and the luxury that can be enjoyed in 68 hours!  It may seem strange to explore and visit Hawai’i in 68 hours but we did and here is why.
I had the great pleasure of becoming one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros.  With this privilege came the task of filming our story and experiences at one of Fairmont’s North American resorts for three days.  I choose Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii and armed with a GroPro Hero4, our whirlwind adventure to Hawai’i and “My destination story” begins.  (Ariel shot of Fairmont Orchid) 
Unfortunately the trip could only accommodate two travellers and it was with great sadness we had to leave Ben and Liv home.  They would have had a blast adventuring alongside side us and I have no doubt we would have done just as much had they been with us. Good news though, we plan to return to the Big Island and finish what we started with them alongside us.
Out of the 68 hours spent on Hawai’i, 37 of those hours were enjoyed at the Fairmont Orchid.  I realize that my normal writing consists of outdoor adventuring in wild spaces on Vancouver Island and coping with accommodations that most people would find unacceptable.  Normally our travel accommodations involve either a tent or hostel, we are modest travellers.  But in the spirit of adventure and to fully appreciate the whole story; Fairmont Orchid needs to be a part of it.  I often say to Ben and Liv, embrace the adventure at hand and what comes with it.  I was willing to step out of my comfort zone and step straight into luxury.  And let me tell you, the Fairmont Orchid knows luxury.
Luxury began in our Executive Suite Ocean view room complete with a private bedroom off of living room, a gorgeous marble bathroom with tub and separate shower, two large closets that swallowed the items in our one piece luggage, and a half bath for our guests to use.  It was beyond more than what we needed but if Fairmont Orchid wants to make you feel special, their rooms certainly deliver.  Luxury did not end there.  The Fairmont Gold experience continues delivering hospitality with the 6th floor reserved for those wanting extra perks.  Here we found a private lounge, continental breakfast, afternoon tea, evening canapĂ©’s, and a dedicated Fairmont Gold Manager to take care of anything else.  Everyone should experience the 6th floor once in their lifetime.  We are grateful to have been treated with such a comfortable and elegant stay.  We will have fond memories of the 18 hours of blissful sleep had in room 2257. (View from suite balcony)
Being a Fairmont Destination GoPro Hero involved working with a team from Fairmont Orchid to assist with our pre-planning details.  If we are to film our story about Fairmont and Hawai’i, it is best let the people who know the island of Hawai’i provide us with their recommendations.  For weeks leading up to the trip my team and I did just that.  I provided them with an idea of who we are, what we like, and in turn they set out making sure our trip would be a memorable one.  I will write about those stories later.  The prompt and helpful service I received from “My Team” before arriving at Fairmont Orchid was amazing but the service and greeting we experienced while staying at the Fairmont Orchid was beyond amazing.  It was darn near magical. 
It was so good to finally meet a few members of our team for breakfast at the Fairmont’s Orchid Court, an outdoor garden patio style gathering place for either buffet or a la carte breakfast.  Jaisy (Director of Public Relations) and Darlene (Guest Services Manager) gave us a warm Aloha welcome and immediately we all hit it off as if we were friends catching up.   They were gracious hosts and went above and beyond what Joel and I expected.  The only thing that could have made meeting them more fabulous was having them join us on a few of the tours they hooked us up with.  To see them just as excited as us about what our three days of adventure was looking like was sincere and genuine.  Perhaps a reunion is in order, complete with a day of adventure together, because I love seeing excitement and passion for exploring in anyone who is willing.
These two beautiful ladies, along with the countless other Fairmont Orchid staff members, made us feel special and welcomed.  It seemed as though everyone knew what we needed before we did.  Fresh tropical fruit trays awaited us every day along with a personal note from my team.  Reservations were booked for us.  The bell desk knew our schedule and our vehicle was always ready waiting for us.  I thought perhaps we were getting more attention than usual, given our Fairmont Destination GoPro Hero status and VIP Concierge service, but some fellow travellers we met on a tour confirmed they too were treated special and were completely blown away with Fairmont Orchid.  They experienced two other resorts on two other Hawaiian Island’s prior to the Fairmont Orchid and had nothing but praise on how they too were treated.  Well Done Fairmont Orchid! (You had me at chocolate although the dragon fruit was a close second, and chocolate covered Kona coffee beans... ah heck.  I was smitten with it all.)
I will end our story of Fairmont Orchid luxury with two final highlights of our time at the resort.  Nothing is more romantic than dining at Brown’s Beach House, an AAA four diamond award winning restaurant.  The setting alone is award winning; just steps from the shores of Pauoa Bay, where one can watch Hui Holokai beach boys and beach girls light tiki torches throughout Fairmont Orchid as dusk settles and the sunset begins.  Beautiful.  Most of the sunsets we have experienced involve paddling a kayak or backpacking all day to camp along the coast of BC where we set up tents, cook our one pot meal, clean up and force ourselves to stay awake to witness the sunset.  Oh Fairmont Orchid, how I wish I could bring you and Brown’s Beach House with us on our wild adventures.  I can bring my own beach boy and beach girl, you can bring the rest. (Sunsets always on the menu)
The last highlight of Fairmont Orchid was one luxury that Joel and I know very little about and I am afraid the standard has now been set.  I have enjoyed a few spa experiences and Joel none so when an afternoon at the spa was recommended by my team, we figured we should take the opportunity and embrace the moments we are given.  Words cannot even begin to describe the Ocean Ali’i Experience at Fairmont Orchid’s Spa without Walls.  This is truly a spa experience like no other.  A Hawaiian lomilomi massage with a foot wrap followed with an absolutely amazing body compress of Hawaiian Herbs to encourage physical and mental relaxation called Awa, Earth and Fire.  So amazing! Then warm coconut oil and a cleansing herb poured over hair and scalp, called a Kahinu body treatment, which was beyond any relaxation I have ever experienced.  If that was not enough, a full scalp, neck, shoulder, foot, and hand massage using sandalwood, frankincense and myrrh essence.  Oh, and did I mention we were in an Oceanside hut?  No reason why we can’t incorporate some massages into our future adventures to remind us just how amazing this one was.  You never forget your first…massage. (Ocean side hale (huts) at Fairmont Orchid's Spa without Walls)
Darlene, Jaisy, Joan (who we finally met on our last day) and the entire staff of Fairmont Orchid have our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for everything we experienced in Hawai’i.  It was our pleasure to visit Hawai’i and Fairmont Orchid and will be hard at work putting together one hell of a video that will tell our story, a story that stays true to who Joel and I are.  Mahalo!
Want to know how we spent the other 31 hours on Hawai’i? It is a Big Island, all 4,028 sq. miles of it, and with it comes big adventure, diverse landscapes, a variety of climate zones, stunning beaches, active volcanoes and lava flows, an amazing undersea world, a rich history, and some of the friendliest people you will encounter during your travels.   There is one thing we know - islands and adventure.   And in Hawaii, the Big Island is the island for adventure.  Check back soon for Parts 2 – 5 of 68 Hours of Hawai’i.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

#tbt 2011 Discovering Haida Gwaii - Part 1

View of North Beach, our next adventure.
The view before me was nothing less than spectacular.  Located at the northern tip of Graham Island on Haida Gwaii sits North Beach.  A remote coastline where the only thing between the ocean and forest is sand.  It is met with East Beach which travels south for 90 km.  These two beaches are joined by Rose Spit, Canada’s longest sand spit formation, and separates Dixon Entrance from Hecate Strait.  As I stood on the viewing platform, halfway up Tow Hill, my heart began racing.  In less than 12 hrs, Joel, Ben (6), Liv (4) and I would begin the last adventure of our Haida Gwaii vacation.  We plan on hiking North Beach and hopefully making it to the end of Rose Spit.  Looking down at our final journey, the past 7 days started to flash before my eyes.

The journey began as a journey itself.  It takes 3 days to reach Haida Gwaii when travelling by ferry.  One day to ride the bus from Nanaimo to Port Hardy.  Another onboard BC Ferries Northern Expedition from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.  A 16 hour sail thru the spectacular Inside Passage, beautiful even in the pouring rain.  Then the final 6 hr sail from Prince Rupert to Skidegate marking the end of day three.  With long days of travel behind us, we could now begin our adventure on Haida Gwaii.  While researching our trip, I read numerous times that residents are friendly and helpful.  This was quickly noticed during our time spent in Sandspit.  Due to poor weather we opted to stay at Captain Ron's Guest Studio and reassess our travel plans.  Zane, owner of Captain Ron’s, rolled out the red carpet by treating us to a salmon and crab supper upon arrival.  He offered use of his bikes, car and anything we else we might need while staying in the guest studio.  Zane’s idea of a red carpet however is more of a rustic, battered old rug.  The bikes looked kind of ride able, but I was not about to find out. The car wobbled at speeds over 60km per hour and the studio was a work in progress.  First impressions had me thinking “run now” but the experience turned out to be wonderful.  

Enjoying the sunset in Sandspit.
“Come on Mom!” shouts Ben.  Reluctantly I turned my back to North Beach and followed the troops to the top of Tow Hill.  It seems I am always at the back of the line watching Ben, Liv and Joel hike ahead.  It was no different hiking the Pesuta Shipwreck Trail near Tlell. (46 km north of Queen Charlotte City on Graham Island.)  The 10 km trail lead us thru a moss covered forest to the pristine Tlell River, along the dunes of East Beach and arrived at what remains of the Pesuta. In 1928 the Pesuta, a log barge, breached on the sandy shores while crossing the Hecate Strait during a fierce storm.  As gale forced winds crashed waves against the remnant bow, it became quite evident how the barge had sealed it’s fate. 

Approaching the Pestua shipwreck at the tail end of a gale force wind storm.
The remaining bow of the Pestua.
We made our final approach to the top of Tow Hill, a 357 foot huge outcrop of basalt columns formed by volcanic rock 2 million years ago.  Thankfully today the wind was not as strong.  Part of our adventure was to learn as much of the Haida culture as possible.  An interpretive sign told the story of Tow Hill, a tale of two brothers (mountains) whose mother gave a dog fish to only one.  The brother without the fish became angry and left, searching for a new place to call home.  Along the way he dropped rocks until finally resting alongside the Hiellen River.  Reading this story to the children instantly took me back to K’uuna Llnagaay (Skedans) and our experience with the Haida culture.

On the northeast corner of Louise Island is Skedans, a Haida village that, at its height, had between 26 – 30 longhouses.  In the late 1800’s more than 50 monumental poles and figures were recorded.  Getting to the ancient village site requires using one of many tour guide companies.  Moresby Explorers offers a zodiac day tour to Skedans with stops at an abandoned logging camp, old settlements and a pleasant trip through Louise Narrows.  Emily Carr was famous for capturing images of Skedans through her paintings and I recall images of frontal poles towering above longhouses in her work.  At the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, several poles are on display revealing the artistic talent of the Haida.  So when the zodiac made its final approach into Skedans, I was shocked by what I saw.  There are only a few carved memorial and mortuary poles left standing.  Others have fallen and are slowly being taken over by the land.  The detail on the few poles left standing is so deteriorated that without our tour guide pointing out the features, I would never had deciphered the carvings.  During the tour the children were respectful and attentive but both agreed the best part was the bumpy boat ride.  Splashes and all.

The bumpy zodiac ride.

Liv sitting amongst the last totems.

Leaving the top of Tow Hill’s viewing platform I said, “I can’t wait to start hiking tomorrow.”
“Me too.” Replies Ben.
“Me too.” Replies Liv.
We headed down exactly how we arrived.  Joel, Ben and Liv out front and me following behind.  I relived the past 7 days while walking up Tow Hill but now focused on the adventure ahead of us.  We have never hiked great distances along a beach before.  Were we ready?  Hiking along North Beach requires us to pack all our own water and we will be exposed to the elements the entire time.  Will the weather cooperate?  I wish I could answer all these questions ahead of time.  Instead I trust our experience and preparedness to get us through it all. 
to be continued…
Tow Hill
Article was published in the Nov 2011 issue of Take 5 Magazine

#tbt 2011 Discovering Haida Gwaii – Part 2

Our first steps on North Beach marking the beginning of our two day adventure.

Our first six days on Haida Gwaii were spent travelling, hiking, visiting museums, enjoying zodiac tours, discovering spectacular beaches, and meeting new people. Combine that with constantly carrying backpacks full of gear, clothing, food and water and you have four very tired adventurers.  These long days were taking a toll on the children (6 & 4 yrs old) and to be honest, us as well.  It was, however, not enough to stop us from backpacking for two days along North Beach, with Rose Spit as our destination. 

The day before our last adventure was spent relaxing and preparing our packs.  We set aside unnecessary gear, namely the 20 lbs of rocks and shells collected so far, to make room for food and water.  Our online research had indicated the Agate Beach Campground had drinking water available.  Knowing this, we did not buy or fill up our containers prior to arriving at the campsite. It came as a surprise when Joel went to fetch water and found a “Boil Water Advisory” notice at the tap.  So much for relaxing.  Now we were faced with the tedious task of boiling 10 litres of water in two small camping pots over our campfire.  Joel went straight to work building a fire while the kids and I collected driftwood and something resembling tumbleweed from the beach.  I’m not sure what the tumbleweed thing was but it burned quickly and made an excellent fire starter.  It also had a unique smell to it that I can not even begin to describe.  In fact it took me weeks to get the smell out of my hair and our clothes.  Regardless of the smell, we burned it all and within a few hours had our water boiled, cooled and stored. 

North Beach seems to continue on and on.
According to a Haida legend, North Beach is the site of Creation.  It was here Raven first brought people into the world by coaxing them out of a clam shell.  I now understand why coaxing was required... North Beach is intimidating.  It stretches as far as the eye can see; seeming as though you are looking at the end of the Earth.  Relentless are the waves rolling and the wind blowing.  Yet somehow the hard packed sand, perfect for vehicles, ATV’s and bikes, invites you to continue on, and on, and on.  After hours of walking, the children began to slow their pace, generally a tell tale sign a rest is needed.  Seeking shelter in a driftwood hut left by previous explorers, I was digging snacks out of my pack when suddenly I heard “PTOOEY!” followed by swearing.  “What’s wrong?” I asked. “The water tastes terrible!” Joel said.  He is generally not one to complain nor would he casually spit precious water out.  Something was wrong.  I tried the water and instantly tasted the tumbleweed smell.  The water we had spent hours preparing tasted like campfire.  Water we had to consume for drinking and cooking for the next 2 days.  Water we could barely swallow.  Everything after this point began to unravel.  Rest stops became more frequent and Rose Spit wasn’t getting any closer.  Considerably short of our intended goal for the day, we stopped and set up camp.  We watched the sun set over the waters of Dixon Entrance, dining on lasagne (with a smoky aftertaste), coffee (with a smoky aftertaste) and hot chocolate (with a smoky aftertaste).  With bellies full, the day’s shortcomings were forgotten and we concentrated on replenishing our supply of rocks and shells.

Watching the sun set over the waters of the Dixon Entrance
Day 1 campsite

The next morning, eating scrambled eggs and coffee (with a smoky aftertaste); we realized we were not going to make it to the tip of Rose Spit.  I found beach hiking to be mentally draining.  The end and start of the hike are never out of sight, making it seem as though you are getting nowhere.  I also never expected the wind to be such as factor, blowing constantly, taking our energy with it.  The plan for the day was to pack up camp, stash our gear in the bush, and continue hiking as far as we could go.  Once we exhausted all efforts, we would turn around; retrieve our gear and hike off North Beach knowing we gave it our all.  I’m not going to lie, it was a gruelling walk.  The children were worn out and we began offering piggyback rides.  My guess is we made it ¾ of the way to the tip of Rose Spit before calling it quits.  Now we were faced with the challenge of turning around and doing it all over again.

Where we made it to.  A shot looking back at Tow Hill which marks the beginning of our hike.

What felt like hours were only minutes when piggybacking Liv.  I was beginning to tire of walking, waves crashing and endless sand.  Off in the distance I noticed a quad approaching.  The lady driving it stopped and asked where I was headed.  I told her Tow Hill (where North Beach begins) and she replied, “Not like that.  Hop on!”  For a brief moment I was reluctant to accept her offer, determined to finish what I started.  I finally had to tell myself to swallow my pride and get on the damn quad.  Doris and her family were on North Beach collecting agates (translucent, semi-precious stones) and she had been watching us for a while.  She felt compelled to save us from our misery.  Liv and I enjoyed the quad ride with Doris while she shared stories of her rare and exciting agate finds.  Today she was searching for a pink agate, the rarest of them all.  Doris sent her husband Ken to fetch Joel and Ben and they dropped us off where we had stashed our gear.  We thanked Doris and Ken for the ride, shouldered our packs and set out to finish our adventure.  From here on, Ben and Liv bounded ahead finding one rare agate after another and soon we found ourselves at Tow Hill, where our adventure began.  It was here I took great pleasure in washing our new found agates with our smoky tasting water.

Aerial shot of North Beach, Rose Spit and East Beach joining.

 This article was published in the Dec/Jan 2012 issue of Take 5 Magazine

#tbt 2012 Haida Gwaii - A year later

Sunset in Sandspit, BC

It’s been almost a year since our amazing journey to Haida Gwaii.  A year ago all I could think about was finally getting a chance to see the pristine wilderness Haida Gwaii is known for.  The beaches are spectacular and the sea life abundant.  It is rich in culture and history plus has one of the most rugged coastlines around.  Never did I expect a year later all this would be threatened.  There is a huge possibility the waters, land, and sea life that make up the “Islands of the People” (the Haida name for Haida Gwaii) could be destroyed if the proposed Enbridge pipeline becomes reality.  That threat is an oil spill but I do not wish to debate the pipeline. 

There is another threat to Haida Gwaii.  This time it is the debris from the Japan Tsunami that is washing up on the shores of Haida Gwaii.  Joel was watching the CBC National when a story about the debris was aired.  CBC - Tsunami debris in B.C.  From the other room he yelled for me to come quick and we both sat in silence as images familiar to us were shown completely different from the way we had saw them.   I have stood on the beaches the news journalist was standing on.  I have heard the wind blow and waves crash just as they are in the footage.  Only way to describe it is powerful and beautiful.  A year ago there were no signs of such debris.  

North Beach with Tow Hill in background
North beach from top of Tow Hill.
The terrain along East Beach (where the debris is hitting) is not going to make it easy for clean up crews to access.  The waters are dangerous at the best of times so not sure if boats can aid in the clean up.  There are no roads to East Beach and the footage clearly shows the risk when one does drive on the beaches of Haida Gwaii.  (which is common on North Beach to Rose Spit to East Beach for some reason.  I thought it was odd.)  If the east side of Haida Gwaii is hard to access then what will happen to the west side?  By the end of the news story I felt helpless and sad.  

The Pesuta Shipwreck on East Beach
East Beach at the tail end of a wind storm

The people of Haida Gwaii are strong and determined.  I have no doubt they will come up with a plan and bring the beaches back to the way they once were.  It will not be easy and the volume of debris coming is indescribable.  We are fortunate to have travelled to Haida Gwaii.  It really is an amazing place.  Highlight of our trip was hiking along the Tlell River towards the Pesuta shipwreck, visiting Skedans, and backpacking North Beach.  Ok, that was 3 highlights.  If you love outdoor adventure you will love Haida Gwaii.  We do!

The Tlell River is breathtaking, even in these conditions.

Morseby Explores getting us to Skedans.
Totems at Skedans.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering the crew of the Mt. Bolduc Plane Crash - A National War Memorial WWII

In December 1941, during WWII, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and later occupied the Aleutian Islands off Alaska.  This dramatically changed the role of the Canadian Armed Forces by switching priorities to then focus on Western Air Command.  RCAF 115 Squadron, based out of Tofino, BC, was formed, re-equipped, and employed on anti-submarine duty from then until the end of WWII.   On Tuesday, April 25, 1944, a Lockheed Ventura Coastal Patrol plane with a crew of 6 R.C.A.F. members left from Patricia Bay, BC destined for Tofino, BC.  It never reached its destination.  It took several days for R.C.A.F. personnel, BC Police, and Lake Logging Co employees to not only locate the crash site but to reach it as well.  There were no survivors and it was decided, due to the remoteness and difficulty in transporting the bodies off Mt. Bolduc, to bury them beneath a cairn at the mountain top.  May they forever rest in peace.

In the past, I have used outdoor adventure to express meaning or purpose to myself, my children, and to others through this very blog. This year I wanted to emphasize the meaning of Remembrance Day rather than just treating it like another day off school or work because it is far more than just that.  A while back I read about the fore mentioned plane crash site that is located in a remote area in Vancouver Island’s backcountry.  Visiting the crash site would fulfill so many reasons as to why we adventure.  Exploring new wild spaces, discovering unique stories, challenge in finding the remote crash site, be active together outdoors, and provide not only myself with some Canadian history but also my children.  I was careful in making sure the adventure would tie in the history of Canadian war, honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy today, and offer myself, my family, and close friends a memorable outdoor experience exploring the rugged beauty of Vancouver Island.

Getting to the vicinity of the plane crash site is not for the light hearted.  I have learned over the years that all logging roads lead up, are narrow, rough, have steep banks, and make my heart pound.  I have also learned that once you reach your destination, the vistas are worth it.  Getting to the summit of Mt. Bolduc requires both time and effort.   From Nanaimo, travel time to crash site, or thereabouts, is almost 2 hrs.  This adventure consisted of three components - the adventure of getting there, enjoying our time on Mt. Bolduc, and honoring the men who lost their lives on the fatal night on April 25, 1944.

Achieving the first two components of this adventure was as expected.  Finding the plane crash site and trailhead was a whole other story.  We set up base camp at what we thought to be a 2 km walk up a logging road where we would then find the trailhead that leads us 100m into the forest where the site was located.

Here is where the wild goose chase began and we were not the only ones playing the game.   We met up with four young at heart men on dual sport motorcycles, who for the second day now, had been searching for the crash site.  We shared out intel with them, they shared theirs and we determined that the information we had was the same but clearly we were in the wrong area.  We broke for lunch, discussed our options and decided it was worth a shot to explore the forest just down from where we parked.

Our efforts turned up nothing but all nine of us had fun bushwhacking through the forest, searching for any signs of debris.  Our spirits were lifted every time we stumbled across blue and white flagging tape only to be disappointed with no discovery.  With time not on our side and thankful for the adventure we had thus far, it was time to call it a day.
Piling back into the vehicles, we began our bumpy ride down the log road.  Joel, on one more last ditch effort, decided to take a right at what looked to be a fairly new logging road.  The description we used to where the crash site was located was from a blog that was written 3 years ago.  The challenge with traveling on logging roads is never knowing what has been logged since.  It seemed as though we were just pulling at straws and Joel finally admitted it was time to go and would turn around at the next opportunity.
Then, as if it was meant to be, there was a pullout and next to it some flagging tape and what appeared to be a well-defined trail.  Joel stops the truck, our friends following behind park and come running up to the truck holding a note that had been left on their windshield, only discovered when they turned on the wipers moments ago.  The note was from our fellow motorcyclists, they too had finally found the crash site and had kindly gone back to our vehicles, leaving us directions.  We all had heard a bike while we were tromping through the forest and never made the connection that it was them returning with news.  I wish we could have said Thank you.  

So here we were, standing at the trailhead that we had been searching for all day.  We were given our chance to pay respect to all the brave men and women who have lost their lives standing up for our country.   So many emotions were felt; excitement, sadness, gratefulness.  With utmost respect to those buried there, the nine of us, four children and five adults, entered the war grave.

Seeing the plane debris spread out among the forest floor was unbelievable and was obvious as to why there were no survivors.  Parts of the plane were identifiable; two of the engines, a seat, and pieces of the fuselage.  Broken glass and pieces of metal were behind every tree. 

The area is a National War Memorial and several years ago a plaque honoring the men who died was added to the site as was a sign with some historical information.

After half an hour of taking in the whole scene, all nine of us gathered around a tree that is decorated with poppies, near the memorial plaque.  We added our poppies to the tree, said a few words and then paid our respect with a moment of silence.  Far off in the distance the familiar sound of an aircraft flying high above was heard and I would like to think it was the crew of that ill-fated flight acknowledging our respect.  Lest We Forget.

The 2218 Crash Site Trail is located near the top of Mt. Bolduc on Vancouver Island, BC.  Access south off of South Shore Road (Cowichan Lake) via Gordon River Main logging road, Harris Creek Main (Truck rd 7) and Mt Bolduc Main.  4x4 vehicle required.  The area is a National War Memorial site.  All six crew men have been laid to rest at the site of the crash and removal of aircraft debris is strictly prohibited.  Take Nothing.  Leave Respect.

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.  Bike friendly 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 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 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 you 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. 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 keepyou orientated on the mountain which is handy for night riding.  For a comprehensive list of routes, maps, videos, the geoapp and any trail maintenance information, got to Heavy J's Offical 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, will do.  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 first provincially approved mountain bike trail, built by the Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club.  The 1200m 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 waywe would ride Doumont everyday, 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!