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.

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