Thursday, April 10, 2014

Building a trail, one story at a time. The Spine Trail - A 700 km long trail on Vancouver Island

What does it take to build a trail?  Ask the good folks over at the Vancouver Island Spine Trail Association (VISTA) and they will tell you years of dedication, persistence, hard work, community support, trail stories to inspire, and a dream that never dies.  Some quick background info on VISTA: Proposing to build a trail from Victoria in the south to Cape Scott at the northern tip of the Island.  

"The route is an inland path that passes near many communities, yet retains its wilderness character, follows historic routes and uses some existing trails.  Approximately 700km long, the “Spine” is an adventure opportunity that will provide a recreational route for residents and tourists through the beautiful back country of Vancouver Island. Although it is primarily a hiking trail, some sections of the Spine are suitable for other non-motorized use, e.g. mountain bikes, horses, and skis. The route traces mountain ridges, passes through forests and alongside lakes, and is similar to other successful long-distance routes in North America.”  www.vispine.ca

The proposed route of Vancouver Island's Spine Trail

The goal is to have the entire trail built/connected for 2017 and things over at VISTA have been vamping up lately.  In May, VISTA is hosting a VI Trails Network Conference that addresses the hurdles left to jump and the people/communities that will make it happen.  Last summer there was work done to create and connect some trails in the Port Alberni area.  Most recently, VISTA has asked the Island (and beyond) outdoor community to join them on this journey to build the largest trail building community this province (BC) has ever seen by sharing #alegacyofstories through one of their social media channels (@vanisletrails @vispinetrail on Twitter, or vanisletrail on Instagram).  No convincing required on my part!

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the OTBP crew is excited about the trail, specifically the new trails that have been built.  My family and I have some big adventure plans for the Spine Trail but am not quite ready to announce the details just yet. (Don’t you love surprises?) What I will share is our story of a trail reconnaissance mission that is directly related to the big adventure mentioned.  The newest trail on the proposed Spine route is called the Tuck Lake Trail, an important puzzle piece in connecting the west side of Cowichan Lake to Port Alberni.  My understanding of the Spine Trail between Lake Cowichan and Port Alberni is it will use the existing historic Canadian Northern Pacific Railway grade trails that run along the Alberni inlet, the Runners Trail that was built in 2010 and connects the inlet to Francis Lake. (aprox. 20km) and the newly routed and marked “trail” from Tuck Lake (roughly 4 km from the west end of Cowichan Lake) to Francis Lake.  Aprox. trail distance between Cowichan and Port Alberni - 50km.

Our mission was to locate the Tuck Lake trail head for some first hand knowledge on the trails condition.  Because there is so little information online about what the trail is like i.e. distance, terrain, elevation gain, apron hiking time, potential obstacles, and overall shape the trail is in, it was extremely important we check it out for ourselves to make sure the trail fits in with our summer plans.  From what we saw, it fits in perfectly!

I will admit, we set off in search of the Tuck Lake trail head with a vague idea of its whereabouts. We knew through Google Earth plots, reports read via email and website updates on the trail building progress where the proposed trail was.  But no where in there did we get an exact logging road name or pin dropped on a map indicating the trail head near Cowichan Lake.  I thought the adventure would be finding the trail but those good folks over at VISTA are clever.  Nailed to a tree with an orange trail marker was the VI Spine trail sign on an access road off of Nitinat River Road…I think.  Or it could have been another logging road.  See the confusion? From then on it was pretty simple.  Follow the orange markers to the trail head.  

[Funny story. We can find a trail in the middle of Vancouver Island wild with nary a map but finding Nitinat River Falls Provincial Park with a map and endless online resources such as the BC Parks website is where we fail?  Seriously, how the hell do you get into Nitinat River Prov. Park?  Let’s just say there is some unfinished business from the reconnaissance mission.]

Finding the trail head without any trouble meant more time for hiking. Perfect! By all accounts, the beginning section of the trail stays true to the wilderness feel VISTA was looking for.  Old growth Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Cedar dominate the forest with old man’s beard (a type of lichen) a close second.  So many shades of green in one space; ferns, moss, boughs, lichen.  Beautiful. I wonder if VISTA knows the trail is being used daily? Elk and deer do not adhere to the leave no trace rule.  Plenty of signs…droppings…confirmed their presence.  They are doing their part though.  Slowly beating down a path that soon many others will follow.  

For two straight summers, VISTA has been working hard at developing this trail, routing its course, and marking it with appropriate trail markings.  To be honest, had it not been for the orange triangles, I would not have been able to follow the trail.  At times, there was a faint path  guiding us and then suddenly it was swallowed by lush sword ferns.  Other times the path was obvious and had actual dirt rather than moss as a base but again, disappears.  Each time the trail faded a quick glance up and ahead for that orange triangle nailed to a tree never failed us.  I know in time the trail will become just that, a trail.  Yet for some reason, right now, I kind of liked the wild feel of roaming thru the forest in search of our own path.  

Since the focus of our adventure to the Tuck Lake Trail was to gather knowledge and work out logistics for a future adventure, hiking the trail was quite a bit scaled back compared to our normal jaunts thru the forest.  Hiking distance was only about 2km because in order to continue on the trail, crossing the Nitinat River is required.  Crossing the river will be less of an issue during the summer, when water levels recede.  It was good to get a visual of what to expect but the visual was not enough, for some of us.  Joel and Ben took the opportunity to test out their footwear and technical pants in water while getting some river crossing experience under their belts.  Liv went along for the ride.  I opted to sit back and watch these fools get cold and wet.  And take photos and videos of course!  Seems the water level in April is a tad too high!  

After it was determined that the shoes and pants passed the test, we spend a few hours just hanging out by the river, explored the banks, skipped rocks, watched the eagles soar high above us, and had epic mock light saber battles.  Dad Vader vs Luc Benwalker.  

I stood along the river (avoiding the lightsabers) taking in the spectacular views and sounds thinking, what a beautiful spot VISTA has created.  I see this trail being used as an introductory trail for families to use.  From anywhere in the Central Vancouver island area, it is a perfect day trip destination.  The trail is short, has very little elevation gain, and offers a great beach for swimming in the river and hanging out on those hot summer days.  Families can take it one step further and use this section of the trail as an introduction to backpacking or back country camping.  I see seasoned hikers using the trail for thru hiking. I see mountain bikers and trail runners.  I see us, a family, passing through this very trail, crossing this river, and writing our own chapter this summer to add to the legacy of stories the Spine Trail will tell. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Beijing, China - Our Cultural Experience

Having cultural experiences and learning about Chinese history played a huge role in our trip to Shangahi, Beijing, and Yangshou, China.  It was extremely important that we, as a family, embrace ourselves in as much culture as possible during our time there.  A culture is a way of life for a group of people and includes the behaviours, values, beliefs, and symbols that are accepted without thinking about them.  They are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.  As much as I feared stepping into the unknown, part of me craved jumping in with both feet.  To experience this cultural adventure with my children, Ben and Liv, was equally important as it was exciting.

Me and my sidekicks heading to the train that will take us from Shanghai to Beijing

Beijing, the capital of the People’s Republic of China, is the cultural heart of the country.  It’s history dates back 3 millennia, which is incredible considering Canada has only been inhabited for 1 millennia.  It's no surprise then, that Beijing is where we experienced the greatest amount of historical and political culture.  It was also where we experienced how friendly and inviting the Chinese people are.  Everyday in Beijing we were treated with respect, welcomed to China, and posed for group photos with total strangers who were so excited to meet someone from Canada.  We did not need to speak the same language to understand this warm hospitality and the pride Chinese people have for their country. It was also in Beijing where we explored Chinese culture through art, music, and everyday life.  

Chinese Guardian Lions at Forbidden City

Forbidden City - Built between 1406 - 1420, it was home to 2 dynasties of imperial rule, 24 Emperors between 1420-1911, is the world’s largest palace complex with 9,999 buildings surrounded by a 10 foot wall and 52 m wide moat.  The sheer size of the palace was remarkable.  Once inside the Winter Palace, we learned how the Emperor exercised his power through tradition.  The palace had certain gates that only certain people could pass through.  The numerous halls, each used for a specific purpose, were grand, beautiful, and maintained the symbols of imperial power.  Surprisingly, the buildings were made of wood and bricks lined the ground seven layers thick! Emperors feared being killed even under heavy guard.

View of Forbidden City (Winter Palace) from the pavilion on top of the peak of Jingshan Park

Tiananmen Square - 3rd largest city square in the world and has great cultural significance as it was the site of many important events in China.  In 1989, pro democracy movements that were student led took place here and several hundred or possibly thousands of people lost their lives in a call for greater freedom of speech and democracy.  Not sure what it was I expected to see but was blown away with its size and spirit.  It is pretty much a huge concrete square with monuments, a ton of people milling about and a heavy police presence.  

Tiananmen Square
Given the amount of people that were around it was surprisingly quiet and I felt a wave of emotions come over me.  Flashes of soldiers, tanks and students clashing on the very ground we were standing sent goosebumps down my spine.  Ben and Liv had many questions and Joel, as always, explained the event to them so they too could understand the importance of why so many people come here.  Standing where the story took place definitely made it more real for Ben and Liv.  Ben wanted to pay his respect to the Chinese students who lost their lives and together we said a prayer. I do not wish to express any opinions on the event itself but will say the experience enriched my perspective on life, freedom, and am proud to be a Canadian.  

Saying a prayer for those who lost their lives.

Bell and Drum Towers -These two impressive towers, located across a small square from each other, was where we explored time thousands of years ago.  Telling the time with bells and drums played an important role in helping the Chinese people live and work regularly when there was no other means to keep track of the time. Over time (haha) they became public architectures and were widely constructed in almost every city throughout the country since the Han Dynasty.  The original bell was a gigantic copper bell that weighed almost 4,000 pounds and was hung inside the tower and rung every morning for 400 years.  It is displayed at a museum and a smaller replica hangs in its place.  

The drum tower has 24 ancient drums which represent the Twenty-four Solar Terms. The Twenty-four Solar Terms is a special Chinese calendar of twenty four periods, used to predict the position of the sun and, in turn, guide crop production. Both towers are now tourist attractions complete with a live drum performances.  From atop the towers was an amazing view of downtown and the famous Hutong district, which is what we called home during our time in Beijing.

The Great Wall - The facts: one of the greatest wonders of the world, stretches approximately 8,850 kilometers (5,500 miles) from east to west of China, has a history of more than 2000 years, and is a must see if ever in Beijing! An incredible amount of manpower went into the construction of the wall which speaks to the wisdom and tenacity of the Chinese people. Today still, Chinese mythology and symbolism includes the Great Wall and is shared through storytelling.  

We had grand plans for our time spent at the Great Wall, but one cannot expect to travel without a few bumps along the way.  Our bump was being taken to the wrong part of the wall.  In fact, it was the one part of the wall we did not want to visit! Disappointing yes, but we were still at the Great Wall and great it was.  We arrived early, 9am, and the morning light gave the hills and wall a golden glow.  It was brisk but beautiful.  Once on the wall we did what comes natural - took some cool photos jumping off the wall and had multiple wall races.


Music - The National Centre for the Performing Arts building is art itself.  Taking 5 years to construct, it resembles a giant egg with little ancient traditional Chinese architecture.  Three halls are housed in the giant egg; The Opera House, The Concert Hall, and the Theatre.  The large public space includes an exhibition gallery, a lounge, and souvenir shops and cafes.  The building alone is amazing as was the symphony performance we attended.  Ben and Liv marveled at all the different instruments.  The harps and variety of drums were a hit with them.

Chinese refer to the National Centre for Performing Arts as the Alien Egg

Art - A must for us on any trip is to bring back art of some sort.  The alley in the Hutong District showcased a wide variety of art and it was here we came across Chinese paper-cut art.  Today, paper cut art is buried with the dead and burned at funerals for religious and ceremonial purposes or displayed as artwork. Tucked away in a back alley, we stumbled upon the home of paper cut artist Master Zhang Yong Hong. Mr. Zhang has brittle bone disease and is wheel chair bound. He supports himself, his 5-year old daughter, who also has brittle bone disease, and his parents on his artwork sales.  What an amazing experience it was, standing in his home and browsing through the hundreds of paper cuts.  He and his wife spoke no English, we spoke no Mandarin but still we could communicate with each other.  Similar experience in another artists home.  This time he did speak English and treated us like friends who came over for a visit.  He told us stories of travelling to Canada, offered Ben and Liv oranges while we browsed, and painted a calligraphy poster for us with all our names and Merry Christmas!  

Paper cut artist Master Zhang Yong Hong's amazing work

Everyday Life - Our hostel in Beijing was located in the heart of downtown and in close proximity to all the attractions I have already mentioned.  This meant we could walk everywhere.  By doing so, we were able to see what everyday life is like in Beijing.  Not all that different from life in Canada.  Work, school, family, and free time.  Forms of travel, bikes and scooters, may be different but it is still travel.  The music may be different but it is still music to dance to.  Services like fire and cable (something we know very well) are still provided, albeit in a different form. 

Sure hope this was just a storage area for fire extinguishers and not the actual fire department

What was not at all different was the use of smartphones.  Everyone had one!  The best though, was how friendly the Chinese people were to us.  They loved the kids.  Always, people were respectful of them, asked Joel or I if they could take pictures of them, and were quick to express their happiness for us in having such beautiful children.  

The cultural experiences we had in Beijing is only a fraction of what is available but it was our experience and was worth every minute.  That what make travel so great - it is your experience! Check out the complete Beijing photo gallery.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

One "slightly crazy" family's unique approach to backcountry skiing

As an adventurous family, backcountry is no stranger to us.  We explore the backcountry regularly in the spring, summer and fall.  To explore wild spaces using one's own energy is where our passion for outdoor adventure is fuelled.  Time has come to add winter to our backcountry list of adventure things to do.  Enter backcountry skiing.

Getting ready to ski down the hill we snowshoed up marking our first backcountry ski experience.

Backcountry refers to where the skiing is being done, while terms like ski touring or ski mountaineering describe what type of skiing is being done.  For us, as a family, backcountry skiing will not be pursued as a thrill seeking activity nor will we put ourselves in dangerous situations.  That would be foolish, especially on our first attempt.  What we are looking for is the ability to move through our natural surroundings using our own energy, finding wild solitude in winter landscapes, and appreciate the experiences we create together. 

As responsible parents and adventurers, starting a new outdoor pursuit must be done safely and within our capabilities; both physical and in knowledge.  There are three areas on Vancouver Island, where we currently go to snowshoe, that would serve as great beginner backcountry skiing slopes.  Not too steep, easily accessible, and low risk of avalanches yet provides some learning opportunities on avalanche awareness.  Physically I knew the family was ready.  Earlier this winter I witnessed Ben and Liv climb up a snowy hill and ride toboggans back down. (Sometimes they strapped on the boots and skis) They enjoyed this for hours with nary a complaint.  Without even knowing it, they were developing the strength, strategies, and confidence required to get themselves up a slope so they could reward themselves with a fun ride down.  They were mimicking backcountry skiing. 

It seemed logical then, for our next outdoor adventure, to combine the kids ability to climb, use the current gear we own, take all the necessary safety precautions and try something new.  It was a bit unorthodox, but it was a plan. I use the term backcountry skiing loosely. What we had in mind was backcountry Shoeski.  Snowshoe up the hill and ski back down.

This idea turned into more than just an adventure.  It was an experience that pushed our limits, built teamwork, gave us a sense of accomplishment, provided some great outdoor learning opportunities, gave us time to be together, and had us laughing so hard it hurt. Really, who in their right mind decides that towing +80 pounds of downhill ski gear in a sled up a crusty snow packed hill in snowshoes is the perfect way to spend the day? 

Packing up the gear in a highly sophisticated manner
We did and Wood Mountain Ski Park, an abandoned ski hill referred to by locals as the Old Forbidden Plateau Ski area just outside of Courtenay, B.C. was the perfect location for this crazy adventure! A beautiful setting; overlooking Comox, Courtenay, the Salish Sea, and the Coast Mountains.  Even the character of the once thriving ski hill is present with motionless chairlifts and rundown ski chalets decorating the hills.  Upon our arrival we quickly got busy with the gear.  Being our first backcountry ski experience (can I call it that?), we did not race out and purchase touring skis, boots, and skins for the four of us.  We used the gear we already had.  Snowshoes, downhill ski equipment, backpacks, and a sled.  The laughs started as we loaded up the sled with all the ski gear and proceeded to tie it down with the measly string we had. (forgot the tie straps).  More laughter came when the sled’s rope broke 10 minutes into our snowshoe climb and I had to willingly jump in front of what seemed to be a missile coming straight at me.  

Would you step in front of this if it was barreling down at you?
A few bruises were the result but I saved the gear.  The real laughter, the gut busting laughter, with the whole sled/gear combination comes later.  First, I will share with you the story of pulling the sled, loaded down with about +80 pounds of ski gear, up a significant hill. And by we, I mean Joel. This is where pushing our limits and teamwork enters the adventure. 

Normal folks would choose a less steep hill to snowshoe up.  In fact, everyone who snowshoes here does!  Yet, we choose to go the steep way and I’m not sure why.  What happens next was beautiful.  I knew the hill was going to be tough for the kids so I set out making switchback tracks up the hill.  No way was I going to be behind the sled again and risk more bruises.  Liv dutifully followed and slowly, about an hour and a half later, we made our way up the abandoned ski run.  Ben took a more direct route, which was effective, getting him up the hill first.  That leaves Joel.  Poor, Joel. Pulling the sled up was not an easy feat but he kept at it.  Just before reaching the top I looked back at Joel and thought how in the world is he going to get the sled up the last section.  The pitch of the slope increased significantly.  Before I even finished yelling down at him, inquiring what the plan was, Ben jumped up and shouted to Joel “Dad, I’m coming down to help.” Joel’s reply was, “Sure thing dude.”  There I stood at the the top of the hill, watching Joel give Ben instructions on how to body belay the sled.  Together they dragged the sled up the hill in a choreographed fashion; Ben pulled the slack rope up and held the sled, using the body belay technique, while Joel climbed up to where Ben was and used his arm strength to pull the sled up.  This was repeated several times until the top was finally reached. 


At the top of the hill with huge smiles and high fives, I saw my little boy grow right before my eyes.  At almost 9 years old, he is capable of knowing when help is needed, can assess situations, knows his own limits, and is one hell of kid.  I will never forget standing at the top of the hill sharing stories, praise, and laughter on the adventure so far with my three adventure partners.  There was a real sense of pride and accomplishment at that moment, as the four of us stood at the top of the hill, surrounded with more snow gear than at a MEC garage sale, laughing at our ridiculous effort, all in the name of outdoor adventure. The line between parent and child was temporarily erased and was replaced with pure friendship and respect between us all.  Until the cookies were brought out.  Then it was every man for themselves.  

After the cookie dust settled it was time to continue on with a little snowshoe adventure.  We left the ski gear here because the terrain from this point on was not going to offer any skiing opportunities.  Now it was time to play and that means keep a watchful eye out for incoming snowballs.  We were blessed with a beautiful March day.  Clear skis, warm sun, and mild temps.  It was easy to keep the kids moving and we made decent tracks.

An important factor to consider with any type of backcountry skiing is avalanche awareness and knowledge. Spending time in snow gave us a reason to talk about avalanches.  Before we even would consider expanding our backcountry skiing as a family, avalanche skills training courses would be required.  These courses provide basic knowledge on recognizing avalanche terrain, skills to initiate and manage a self rescue, understand basics of how weather contributes to avalanche hazards, and how to read and understand avalanche bulletins and hazard scales.  The conversations we had about avalanches along the trail were very basic.  We talked about snowpack, melting, and the landscapes where risk of avalanches would be high.  During our snowshoe trek, we happened upon a solo snowshoer and his dog.  Both were loaded down with gear that indicated they had camped overnight.  

We chatted with the young man, from Netherlands, and learned that he had intentions of camping but had hit snow that was knee deep, even with snowshoes on.  He assessed the terrain, avalanche risk, his abilities, his dogs ability and decided best to head back.  He was honest with himself regarding his avalanche knowledge and experience which reinforced everything we had talked about with Ben and Liv.  Safety must always be first and foremost with any outdoor adventure. A cool part of our time with the Netherlands outdoorsman was checking out the 5 foot snow pit he dug near the base of the hill.  It was more for curiosity, given it was a flat area, and to apply some basic knowledge on snow stability. Still, it was a cool visual for us and the kids to really see how deep the snow pack was and identify the different layers in the snow.

Checking out the snow pit to see if layers within the snow can be identified
Two of the three stages of our first backcountry ski experience were in the books; get up the mountain and snowshoe.  The only stage left to do was ski.  We made like Clark Kent and changed from snowshoers to skiers in a flash. But we were hardly super heroes.  In fact, Superman himself should have saved us from the embarrassment we were about to bestow upon ourselves.  But he didn’t show up so on we went and what happens next still has me laughing so hard the tears start to roll.  First off, the snow conditions were brutal.  The snow was hard and compact with overgrown trees covering most of the hill.  This means we had to try and keep our skis within the snowshoe trail.  Now, I don’t ski hills with my skis pointing straight down.  I need space to make beautiful S turns and snowplow.  I was very aware of what was about to happen next.  I executed a perfect arms flailing, legs going in opposite direction, out of control style of ski that sent my three adventure partners into a laughing craze.  Thanks team!  

One of these ski styles is not like the other!
But I got my chance to laugh too.  Ben and Liv both had similar styles, although they managed to stay on course.  The best though, was Joel.  Remember the sled we used to get all our ski gear up the hill with?  Well, now it was packed with our snowshoes and what comes up must come down.  So there is Joel, skiing down the snowshoe track, in an uncontrolled way but still maintaining speed, with the sled in hot pursuit.  At one point the sled hits a rut, is tossed in the air and begins to spin.  Now the snowshoes are being flung out like baseballs coming out of a pitching machine.  Yip, that’s how you do it folks! That’s how you start backcountry skiing as a family!

Sadly, no photos of Joel skiing down the hill were taken.  I was too busy trying to avoid trees...and busting a gut laughing so hard was not helping.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

See it, Do it, Live it. The Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show - Vancouver

For the past few weeks I have been sharing Facebook posts, tweeting updated news about the event, and even promoted the Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show in Vancouver via ticket giveaways.  Now that my family and I have experienced the show, there is a whole lot more to share! First of all, the show is held in the Vancouver Convention Centre so needless to say the setting is spectacular; waterfront in downtown Vancouver, BC and surrounded by mountains. Beautiful. 

The OAS (Outdoor Adventure Show) was presented by g adventures with the Vancouver Bike Show all underneath one roof.  Aside from the countless exhibitors of outdoor travel companies, tourism agencies, and the companies who sell the gear that make it happen, the show also offered 2 demo areas, 2 stages, and 2 adventure theaters that showcased a wide range of topics throughout the two day event.  Photography tips, bike maintenance, live SUP clinics in the demo pool, and survival basics just to name a few.  A crowd pleasing and highly entertaining show was the bike trial demonstration.  For the $12.00 adult ticket price, we certainly got bang for our buck.

Any outdoor enthusiast would love to spend the day at OAS and check out the possible outdoor adventure and travel to be had in BC.  We went as an enthusiastic adventure family and some may think that the show would be boring for children.  That was not the case here.  As soon as we entered the show, Ben and Liv were handed their Jr. Outdoor Adventure Passports and given the task of finding bear prints scattered amongst the participating exhibitors where they could collect stamps.  Well, when they found a bear print it was pretty exciting because each exhibitors program was designed for kids and families.  It made Ben and Liv feel like they were part of the experience.  They got to lie on a skeleton sled, spin the wheel for a prize, and compete in an adventure challenge: harness up in 60 seconds or less! Bonus was free yogurt from Liberte. Yummy!

As an outdoor enthusiast myself, I am always looking for new places to travel to, explore, and learn about.  I walked away from the OAS with a new found appreciation for two areas of BC not on our radar for adventures.  The first is the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.  Of course I know this area to be rugged, full of wildlife and beautiful but now that I have some literature to peruse over and have spoken to the fine folks who call it home, it’s time to See it, Do it, Live it.  Adventure that caught my eye here is the 150km of interconnected trails for hiking and biking in the Spruce Lake Protected Area.  The other destination that we overlook is Hope, BC.  Most people traveling through the Fraser Valley drive right on by Hope, guilty as charged.  Again, conversation with a local opened our eyes to the outdoor adventure in and around Hope.  So close to Manning Park and the +290 km of back country trails and the heritage HBC (Hudson Bay Company) trail that just screams bike packing trips, something I am constantly looking for.  These plus the stacks of brochures, pamphlets, and tourism magazines will spark new adventures for us thanks to the OAS.

Travel is a new form of adventure for us.  With China under our belt (Dec 2013), seeking our next family travel destination has been added to our adventure planning.  In just a few hours, the OAS took us around the world and opened up destinations we had not considered.  Sitting on our kitchen table is literature on Ecuador, the Philippines, and Tanzania.  Hello?? Mt. Kilimanjaro!!  Half the fun of traveling is dreaming of the next destination.
Normally, I am not one to get excited about gear.  That job is left up to Joel.  He is the one who researches everything and anything we use and ultimately decides whether we purchase it or not.  The OAS had a wide variety of gear to check out.  Everything from tents, bikes, fire starters and shoes.  There were two outdoor gadgets that Joel found interesting and did in fact purchase.  Both are practical, both are lightweight which will serve us well backpacking, and both had me ask what the h#!! is it?  A LifeStraw (portable water filter) and a luminAid (solar powered inflatable light).  Both were from the Spiritus Training booth.  They specialize in Red Cross Training and Wilderness First Aid.   

The LifeStraw is a lightweight portable water filter that filters up to 1000 litres of water and removes up to 99.99999% of waterborne bacteria.  This will be a great addition to our gear stash as a backup water treatment for multi day backpacking trips or for high endurance day trips where lightweight is crucial.
I will admit that the luminAid looked a tad gimmicky and the packaging stated an 8hr LED performance on low and 16hr LED performance on high.  It’s waterproof, rechargeable, lightweight, and charges in 7 hours of direct light.  My doubts were quickly tossed out the door after witnessing the powerful light it actually gives.  The kids have them inflated in their rooms and turn them on when they go to bed.  To my surprise, they are still glowing in the morning.   

I can’t wait to use these backpacking.  No more lights beamed directly into our eyes from Ben and Liv’s headlamps while in the tent.  I am also looking forward to taking some pretty cool night shots of our tents.
Our first Outdoor Adventure Show experience was a complete success and will plan on making it to next year’s show for sure.  We highly recommend you do as well.  Walking away with adventure destinations, different ideas, and new gear fuels our passion for the outdoors.  See it, Do it, Live it!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Today is ZOOM Day - A story about a boy and his balance bike

Today the Outdoor Family Blogger Community is joining forces to help spread the word about a Kickstarter project.  A book written by one of our own  to honor the memory of Axel, her son, an exuberant two year old with a talent and passion for riding his balance bike.

Today is ZOOM DAY.  

I do not know Jennifer Charrette personally but I consider her to be one of my online friends.  I met Jen, aka @velomomjen, about 6 months ago via an online Outdoor Family Blogger Community group.  You may be asking yourself how an online group could be a community and I assure you it is a community and so much more!

I am guessing that most of us in the group have never met yet we provide unconditional support to each other with advice, share content, provide tips, coordinate link up parties or twitter chats, re-tweet, share personal success stories, inspire each other and enter into the odd venting session.  We have grown into a community of almost 50 outdoor bloggers, men and women, from all across North America. 

Like all communities, we share each others achievements and sadly, grieve together during times of loss.  Based on what I have read, Jen started to blog in 2010 as a way to document her families life on bikes and passion for cycling.  (her family being mom, dad and two beautiful boys)  In 2013 tragedy struck and Jen's youngest son, Axel (2), passed away.

Since then, Jen and her family have created The Axel Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the fundamental principle that a productive, happy life begins with bikes.  More recently, Jen has written a book to honor Axel's memory.  

"Zoom! is a picture book that will inspire young adventurers and their families to discover the joy of bicycling. Zoom!'s story of courage, adventure, and the power of family goes well beyond the book. The story and its central character are in honor of Axel Charrette, an exuberant two year old with a talent and passion for riding his balance bike."

If you have some time, please check out Jen's website, visit the Axel Project or go to Kickstarter and back the project Zoom!

to document our life on bikes and our passion for cycling. - See more at: http://velomom.com/about/#sthash.OPBijeFe.dpuf
to document our life on bikes and our passion for cycling. - See more at: http://velomom.com/about/#sthash.OPBij
to document our life on bikes and our passion for cycling. - See more at: http://velomom.com/about/#sthash.OPBijeFe.dpuf
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Monday, March 3, 2014

9 ways to connect with nature on the West Coast of Canada

When I sat down to put this blog post together, my intention was to write about my families outdoor adventures over the past two months.  During the writing process and editing of photos I came across a Facebook link from two of my fellow Vancouver Island adventure friends.  The link was a report from the Canadian Parks Council that was reported on by the Calgary Herald.  The headline was Parks Ministers urging Canadians to "go play outside"! and the report is titled Connecting Canadians with Nature.  Two alarming statistics are in this report.
The amount of time it is estimated that we spend indoors

Decline in the radius of play for a nine year old since the 1970's 

When did that happen?  In Canada no less??  As Canadians, we live in one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world.  Canada has abundant lakes and rivers, vast forests and prairie fields, majestic mountains, and deep oceans.  That is only the tip of the iceberg (we have those too).  Time and activities spent outdoors in each of these settings is endless! 
Quickly I modified my original blog post, deciding to take the outdoor adventures we as a family have enjoyed over the last 60 days and use them to demonstrate how creative, diverse, and fun it is to spend time outdoors and connect with nature. 

When you read the list of nine outdoor activities, keep in mind that we are just a regular Canadian family.  Joel and I both work, Joel full time and me part time from home.  Ben and Liv play soccer or swim (pending the season) and take music or art classes regularly throughout the year.  We socialize with friends, navigate our way through the busy school calendar and life along with supporting our local fire department via Joel's commitment as a volunteer fire fighter.  This includes countless hours and weekends of training, responding to calls and connecting with the community and fellow fire families.  Through it all, we still make time for outdoor adventure.

Nine ways to connect with nature on the West Coast of Canada!

1. Mountain Biking.  No shortage of trails on Vancouver Island, we are known for them! There are trails that are suitable for all riding levels and is a great way to explore a forest. 

2. Day hikes.  A walk through the forest can rejuvenate your energy, mood, productivity, and creativity.  I love how our local trails change from season to season and re-connects us to nature.

3. Night Hiking.  Everyone has busy lives and sometimes we can't get out for a hike during the day.  Night hiking offers a completely different look to the nature we are used to and gives us the chance to get a little closer to nocturnal creatures.

4. Group Hiking.  How many times have you heard someone say, "We should get together some time?" Amazing what a spontaneous phone call or text inviting friends to join in on a hike can create.  We all left the hike a whole lot happier than when we arrived. Even more amazing was the ice wall!

5. Training.  It is common for someone in our house to be training for some race.  No matter who or what it is, we train as a family and our preference is to train outside.  For example, if Dad goes for a long run, the rest of us run a shorter loop.  Sometimes we just go for a trail run together.  Ever race the tide?

6. Animal tracking.  As much as I love our local forest, walking the same trails can get tedious.  We add a bit of adventure by following animal trails and discover the forest holds more creatures than we had thought.  Our forests are full of life and discovering them connects us to our environment.

7. Snowshoe.  My favorite snow activity is snowshoeing.  Stomping though the snow is a great way to get exercise, breath in fresh air, and find happiness.

8. Surfing.  Being tossed around in the waves is proof that being in nature is hands on! Natural spaces are dynamic, changing, complex, and disorderly.  This describes surfing the west coast of Vancouver Island perfectly! Look what washed up on shore!

9. Downhill ski.  Sometimes we just connect with nature for the pure fun of it. 

In the Canadian Parks Council report, it states that Canadians are craving a renewed relationship with nature. That is great to hear! If I can offer my humbled opinion - one way is to make contact with nature a regular part of day to day life. My family, and so many other families and individuals are proof that it is possible.  There is a powerful sentence towards the end of the report that I would like to share with and hope it reignites a spark within you.

"We can make contact with nature second nature." 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Adventure Food of the Day in China

Food and accommodations can make or break a travel experience, especially with children.  Joel and I are fortunate that Ben (8) and Liv (6) are great travelers, which is largely due to their adventurous upbringing.  They adapt well to a variety of settings they are faced with and eat whatever is offered.  I knew traveling across China and staying at hostels would work well for us, and it did.  What I did not know was how Chinese cuisine and local foods were going to play out, not only for the kids, but for Joel and I as well. 

With this in mind, we made a deal ahead of time.  The deal was we would try "new to us" food each day.  It did not have to be wild and crazy but it had to be local or traditional food of China. We called it adventurous eating and everyone had a chance to pick the adventure food of the day. 

This ‘deal’ allowed us to dive into the culture and experience a wide variety of foods.  Could we have been more adventurous with the food?  Absolutely.  But, with our days focused on how to get where we wanted to go, how to navigate the metro, calculating the cost of everything, taking in the sights, walking miles everyday, and engaging in multi-language conversations… the last thing we needed was to be hungry.  To avoid this we filled the day pack with snacks that everyone would eat (fruit, nuts, and granola bars) and always started the day off with a good hearty breakfast. 

Some of our favorite Chinese cuisine was definitely on the sweet side.  Our favorite adventure food of the day (that we enjoyed multiple times) in Beijing was Churro’s, a Spanish fried-dough pastry similar to a doughnut but in a stick shape.  OK, this one would not be considered traditional Chinese cuisine but for these we made an exception.  

In Shanghai we raided a pastry street market vendor and devoured cream puffs, crispy wafer square of some sort, and a Mandarin Shanghai pancake stuffed with red bean and lotus seed paste for breakfast.

Often we drank our adventure food.  In Shanghai, we enjoyed white pomegranate juice freshly squeezed from an alleyway vendor.  In Yangshuo, we drank freshly squeezed sugar cane juice and Liv enjoyed gnawing on a large stick of sugar cane.  Tea was the adventure drink of the day a couple of times.  In Beijing we shared a ginger honey tea that was amazing and perched high up in the mountains just outside of Yangshuo was the Seven Star Tea Plantation.  Here we experienced a variety of local tea during a tea tasting.  Green, Black and our favorite, Oolong tea.

The adventure food I enjoyed most, other than the churro’s, was the fresh fruit.  Around every corner there were farms, markets, stores and street vendors offering a variety of fresh fruit.  We ate pomelos, mandarins, and kumquats that we could pick fresh at farms or buy almost as fresh from the markets.  Street market after street market offered dried persimmons, brown asian pears, grapes, apples and strawberries.  Never were we short of fresh fruit.

Sometimes purchasing the adventure food of the day was the adventure.  In Beijing, we headed out to explore the popular Hutong Alley district, famous for its history, culture and variety of food. As we walked we noticed a few booths had long lines and decided to join in.  We had no idea what we were going to buy or how much it was going to cost.  The alley was dark and busy with people milling about and we decided we would go with the flow and do what everyone else was doing.  

The first line up was how we discover the churro’s.  The next line up found us enjoying some yummy crispy chicken wings. Perfect 2 for 2.  We are on a roll! The 3rd line up however, defeated us but was the best cultural food moment we experienced. 

Just off the main alleyway Joel spotted another lineup.  I mentioned it was dark, making it difficult to see what everyone was actually eating.  There were a few tables set up on the alley and around it were 4 - 6 people slumped over eating what appeared to be noodle soup.  Perfect! It wasn’t until we got up front, paid, and saw a man scoop was was NOT noodles out of a large barrel.  What was scooped out was thrown on a cutting board and he proceeded to cut up three different types of “noodles” and tossed them into a bowl.  He added broth from the barrel and handed it over to us with a big smile on his face.  Pretty sure we were not smiling at this point, but caught myself and proceeded to smile and say thank you.  Quickly we realized we had just stumbled upon local cuisine.  What makes this experience was how wonderful we were treated.  Our friendly noodle man was quick to rush out to us and set up a little table and chairs on the alley for us.  He delivered four sets of chopsticks and smiled adoringly at Ben and Liv.  It was clear this man was very proud of his soup and very thankful we were going to eat it.  So we did.  Joel tried all three “noodles” and the look on his face, half smile not to insult the man and half disgust was not helping me.  

Ben was having nothing to do with it and pretended to have trouble with his chair or shoes.  Can’t remember.  Liv, who I have no doubt would have dived in had she not had trouble using her chopsticks.  She ended up dropping them and the kind man was quick to get her a new set.  I, who now felt compelled to try the soup because this kind friendly man was still smiling proudly at me, ate what I thought to be the least terrible “noodle”.  It was as expected, terrible and I had the classic food challenge moment of Survivor.  Gag, almost puke, swallow, smile, and OMG all in a single moment.  Thank god it was just after this moment that a car was coming down the alley so we had to pickup our table, chairs, soup, chopsticks and get out of the way.  We took this moment to say our goodbye's, smile, wave and walked around the corner and down the alley with the soup bowl in hand.  Joel discretely tossed it in a trash bin two blocks later.  A few days later we found out we had eaten pig organ soup, a local delicacy.  Odd as it may sound, I would not trade our experience for nothing.  (sorry, no pictures)

We enjoyed a variety of traditional Chinese cuisine during a cooking class in Yangshou.  Part of the class was touring the local market to learn about the local flavors.  Here we saw a wide variety of produce, chicken, birds, pig, and fish.  The market also had types of food unusual to us. There were wolf berries, Chinese red dates, eels, frog, rat and dog.  

The latter were not part of the cooking class, thankfully.  In the class we cooked 5 traditional Chinese dishes of Yangshou.  Duck egg wrapped dumplings, Stir fried pork and vegetables, Chinese greens and garlic, steamed chicken with mushroom, wolf berries, and Chinese red dates, and Egg plant Yangshou style.  

Another staple dish of Yangshou is spring rolls and we were able to sample some traditional ones at a countryside cafe we stumbled upon while riding our bikes thru the countryside. In Shanghai, it is a must to try dumplings.  So we did, for breakfast! 

In Yangshou we found a food vendor that was recommended by an Australian guy we chatted with at a coffee shop.  All I know it as is a Chinese stuffed pancake with hot sauce.  It was delicious and we made a point of going back to it several times.  

The last traditional Chinese cuisine we enjoyed was at the Dragon Backbone Rice Terrace.  This was by far the most remote area we had been to, some 80km outside of Guilin and high up in the mountains.  Here a local rice farmer convinced us to come into his home for a meal.  He could not speak English and the Mandarin we spoke was not understood (each region has their own dialect).  So we really had no idea what we were going to get.  Liv, our amazing travel girl, followed the man into his kitchen and reported back to us that we were having noodles. (not to be confused with “noodles”)  And that is what we had. Egg noodles with a fried egg and Chinese greens in a bowl.  Add hot sauce for flavor.  It was another wonderful cultural moment that I will never forget.

What fun it was to find and enjoy our adventure food of the day while traveling thru China.  

View the complete photo gallery of adventurous eating on Facebook.
The full blog series on our China Adventure:
The full blog series on our China Adventure:
The full blog series on our China Adventure: