The Return Trip Was an Adventure Too

On Friday afternoon I was scheduled to fly out of Kelowna on Westjet flight 177 at 1:36 pm. At noon I was at the airport to drop off the rental car and get checked in for my flight. As I checked in the girl at the Westjet counter let me know the plane was running late and I should head through security around 2 pm. No worries, I’d brought plenty to read so I settled in for an hour of reading before heading towards security.

At 2 pm I was sitting in the departures area expecting to hear a boarding announcement when they announced the flight was going to be further delayed since it was coming out of Prince George. It wasn’t until 3:30 that we started boarding the plane, relieved that we were going to be underway that day; however, our hopes of being in Vancouver were dashed when the pilot came on to announce, “this flight’s not going to Vancouver. They’ve closed down the airport and we’re going to have to ask you all to get off, claim your luggage at the carousel, and then talk to the Westjet agents to re-book on another flight.”

We herded off the plane and I made a beeline to the rental car counter, which was going to close in 10 minutes, to secure a car for the night. By this time the girl at the rental counter was getting to know me and I explained that I got to spend another day in Vernon.

Relieved that I had a car, I phoned Westjet and got booked on their last Vancouver flight that evening. The girl at the Westjet call center said they’d already canceled over 200 flights in the last 2 weeks and that everyone in the call center had been working 10 hour shifts the whole time. “It’s great for my bank account” she said, “but I’m really looking forward to some time off!”

I had a few hours to kill so I decided to head back to Vernon and have a quick dinner with my Mom. What I didn’t realize is there was a heavy snow in Vernon and it would take me almost an hour to drive from the airport back to Vernon! Everyone was crawling along at 40-50 km/h and it was tough to see the road through all the snow blowing around. I managed to squeak behind an 18-wheeler and follow his taillights into town. When I got into Vernon I discovered the roads had been blanketed in thick snow and it was tough to drive up any of the uphill roads. I had to back down one hill because the car kept losing traction and spinning out. Eventually I made it to my Mom’s place, thankful the snowy, slippery drive was behind me.

En route I had realized that if the last flight was canceled then I’d be stranded in Kelowna for the night since I would have surrendered my rental car before going through security. Given that they’d canceled a number of flights to Vancouver that afternoon I decided to call Westjet again and book a flight on Sunday. Westjet was cool about that. The girl mentioned they usually charge a fee to switch reservations but since they were trying to move as many people as they could onto that evening’s flight she waived the fee for me.

I kept wondering if I’d made the right decision. If I’d have stayed at Kelowna I might have been back in Vancouver that night. At 9 pm my Mom and I looked up the departures from Kelowna. Turns out that last flight had been canceled as well! Good thing I’d come back to Vernon.

My flight on Sunday was uneventful. Once I got back I realized just how much snow Vancouver had received over the holidays. At the airport I had to shovel a huge pile of heavy, melted snow off my car and then, once I got home, it took me nearly half an hour to find a parking spot that wasn’t blocked by a barricade of snow thrown up by the snowplows that week. All day I’ve been listening to tires spin as people try and get their cars in and out of Vancouver’s West End.

Learning to Turn in Some of the Best Snow I’ve Ever Seen

On Christmas Eve afternoon I decided to go snowboarding at Silver Star. I was going to go the previous day but the temperature on the hill was hovering around a high of -18 C. Reilly game me some grief about skipping out but I’m glad I did since Christmas Eve was a more reasonable -12 and we also had an overnight snowfall on the hill.

When I showed up I found almost a foot of fluffy powder in the village. The temperature was warmer that it had been all week but still cold enough to keep the snow from getting heavy. My goal that day was to figure out how to make connecting turns which meant going from my toe edge to my heel edge and back without catching the wrong edge and faceplanting into the snow.

My first run down was a disaster! I fell repeatedly, caught many edges, and cursed the powder snow that kept throwing me off balance. By the end of the run I’d figured out how to stay upright most of the time but wondered if I had forgotten everything I’d learned at Cypress the week before.

Run number two was down a long winding green run called the Bergerstrasse and it took me almost 45 minutes to do the whole thing. Again there was much falling and swearing; however, by the end of the run I’d managed to connect a few turns and was feeling much more stable on my feet.

After going up the main chairlift again I decided to hit the Bergerstrasse once more to see if I could do it better this time. During this run I discovered I could comfortably link a number of turns and made it down the hill without too much tumbling around in the snow. It’s much easier in the powder because you don’t pick up as much speed while you’re turning.

Bergerstrasse left me on a high but I could feel my legs getting tired from all the crashing around so I decided to pack it in. It was already 3pm so I could’ve squeezed in only one more run but figured it was best to quit while I was feeling elated about my snowboarding experience.

I’m tentatively planning on hitting Cypress on Thursday to get some more turning practice in. The lesson plan I bought doesn’t let you go in for lessons between Dec 26 and Jan 2 so I’ll have to go up on the weekend to hook up the next one.

Out Of Kelowna By the Hair Of My Chinny Chin Chin

Sunday I had a 12:15 Westjet flight booked from Vancouver to Kelowna. That morning I discovered we had had a large snowfall and I nearly got stuck trying to get my car out of my parking spot on Harwood Street. It continued to snow throughout the day and I arrived at the airport to discover my flight had been delayed by an hour because of the snow in Prince George. No problem, I had a new book to read. At 1:30 I found myself seated in a full plane bound for Kelowna but instead of an immediate takeoff the captain came on and explained that there was only one runway open and they were using it to land a number of fuel critical airplanes that were circling. He expected to be de-iced and heading towards the runway at 3pm and also asked that we go easy on the crew since they’d been working the past four days straight and were a little tired. 

Our departure kept getting pushed back as the captain tried to get us slotted into the runway during one of the rare windows when the airport would let planes depart. You could feel everyone getting a little more anxious as each announcement was made. One of the stewardesses even mentioned they might close the airport altogether which got me thinking about planning an overnight trip on the Greyhound. Around 4:30 the plane was de-iced and the pilot rushed to the runway to catch the opening that air traffic control had given him. The cabin was filled with the cheering and clapping of grateful passengers as we roared into the sky and left Vancouver behind. 

In Kelowna the girl at the car rental kiosk was surprised to see someone from Vancouver arrive and when I asked what happened to the other Vancouver arrivals she pointed towards the flight monitors on the wall that were awash in yellow rows of flight cancellations. 

It looks as though I was damn lucky to make it on Sunday! The CBC news is reporting that Vancouver airport is just now returning to normal and clearing out the backlog of Sunday and Monday’s cancelled flights. I hope it’s not this crazy on Friday for my return trip.

Snowboarding ist fantastisch!

First time on a snowboard today and I’m hooked! Got into my lesson first thing which worked out really well because they took us through all the basics and I was standing up and doing my little shuffle down the hill at the end. Reilly appeared afterward and we took some runs down a nice long green run called Collins which gave my legs a good workout. Later on I met up with Charles, who I work with, for another spin down Collins.

I’m feeling pretty good on the board now and am looking forward to being able to turn (without catching an edge and faceplanting in the snow) instead of slipsliding down the green runs. My plan is to get a 1/2 day of boarding in Vernon and then hit up Cypress next Saturday for another lesson to get turning (while staying upright) figured out.

Legs are pretty sore now and I’m feeling bushed so I’m going to pack for my flight to Vernon tomorrow and then catch an early night.

-21 C?! Seriously?

I figured the lower mainland would be pretty warm for snowboarding. Looks like I was wrong. Cypress is reporting a temperature of -21 C which is past the comfort threshold of where I normally ski. But I have new snowpants and stuff so I’m all ready for it. I’m putting on every bit of polypro clothing that I own and will be out the door shortly to brave the elements and monkey around on the hill.

Did I mention I’ve never snowboarded before? This should be an interesting day…

What Has Billy Idol Been Smoking?

If anyone is looking for some truly bad Christmas music, I invite you to check out Billy Idol’s Christmas album. Here’s his interperatation of Jingle Bell Rock:

How anyone thought this was a good idea is beyond me.

When I first heard that Billy Idol had a Christmas album out I thought it had the potential to be funny in a cheezy way like William Shatner’s album Has Been, which was a great album! After Shatner’s album came out I heard people at shows talking about it for the whole next year. It looks like Billy Idol took his Christmas album seriously and it sucks as a result.

It’s as bad as The Hives new Christmas single with Cindy Lauper.

So please people, stop putting out these terrible Christmas songs!

Back in my world, this weekend’s been all about getting everything sorted out for Christmas and for snowboarding season. Most of my shopping is done, all my camping gear is put away, and the apartment is clean again. Well, sorta clean. It’s been good to get a weekend to take care of all this stuff and chill out a little.

Tonight we get to see our friend Shan rock out with her dance class. I’ve been curious about all this dancing she’s been doing and I’m excited to finally check it out.

35 Already

I turned 35 today, which is like a milestone since I’m at the end of the “18-35 year old” marketing bracket. Does this mean I should grow up and settle down or something? Doubtful!

Reflecting back I realize I love my life the way it is and although I’ve done some ridiculously silly things over the years I have few regrets. There have been many concerts, camping trips, and kayaking adventures and I expect heaps more in the coming years.

When I turned 30 I remember my Aunt Barb told me she thought your 30s are your best years because you’re still young but don’t have any of the self-consciousness that rules your 20s. I think she was bang on and with her wise words in the back of my mind, I’ve been thourougly enjoying my 30s.

To more years of fun!

118 Kilometers in a 12′ Folding Plastic Boat

We were two guys with a 12′ folding Porta-Bote and a 5hp Nissan 2 stroke outboard motor who traveled 118 km through the islands north of Tofino over the past four days. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever had in the outdoors.

We’d done our shopping and packing the night before so we were ready to go first thing. Dave and I hit up a local cafe for a hearty breakfast, dropped off our float plan at Dave’s work, and then launched the boat.

The first leg of our journey took us along the bottom of Meares Island and then up the east coast of Meares. It’s a sparsely populated area and the only boats we saw were commercial vessels servicing the few fish farms in the area.

Around 4 o’clock we started losing our light so Dave pointed the boat at Mosquito Harbour so we could take advantage of the small wilderness campsite just off the shore. Some hippie had built a small shack next door to the camp but had failed to maintain it over the years. What we found was a decrepit hut that had been the site of many summer parties (as evidenced by the Jack Daniels bottles lying inside) and had mostly been torn apart for firewood. The stove had collapsed into a rusty heap and the windows had had garbage bags stapled across for wind protection. By now the garbage bags had all torn open and fluttered when the wind whipped through.

The shack made a wonderful source for firewood and first thing I did was pull the two remaining planks from the “bed” in the shack, chop them up, and start a fire in the fire pit so we could warm up and dry out. Dave cut up a couple of branches and we were soon roasting smokies over the fire for supper.

We had decided to make the run over to Hot Springs Cove on Saturday and knowing that we would have a full day on the water to make it before night Dave and I broke camp and jumped in the boat first thing. Along the way we had a heap of wildlife sightings. A young eagle swooped overhead, seals popped up to see who was motoring by, and we even spotted a couple of sea otters close to the shoreline.

During the day we didn’t want to go to the trouble of pulling ashore to make a hot lunch so I set up the camp stove beside me on the boat’s middle bench and cooked up a big pot of noodles with veggies. The weather was quite calm at that point so we didn’t have any problems with the stove being tossed around by the waves.

That afternoon we approached Hot Springs Cove and it took all of Dave’s skill to get us through the rolling waves coming in from the Pacific Ocean. We knew this would be the toughest part of the trip but Dave’s been on those waters before and knows how to handle his boat. The trouble with that particular spot is the waves coming in from the ocean rebound off the rocky shore which creates a “confusing sea” where the waves hit you from all different angles. It can be tricky to navigate, especially in a small craft like ours.

After our little ocean adventure we were glad to pull up to the dock at Maquinna Marine Park and get camp set up. Dave and I wolfed down a huge pot of macaroni and cheese that we’d cooked up with another pile of vegetables and the remaining smokies. Then we took the long walk down the boardwalk that led to the hot springs. Hot Springs Cove is named for three small hot springs pools on the rocky shoreline. After our long day on the ocean it was pretty nice to get into some hot water and warm up again.

The great thing about traveling in the off season is there aren’t many other people around. There was only one other boat at the dock and they were leaving the hot springs as we were arriving. We got to spend the entire evening cooking and soaking without having to deal with anyone else. I was so happy to be out there that I was bouncing around like an excited dog all evening.

Finally, as we were packing up to head back to camp, I realized I’d left a couple of things down by the springs. Just as I was at the edge of the first spring I slipped on a wet rock and plunged in, soaking all my carefully dried clothes!

Dave had a great laugh when I came sloshing back up the beach and I had to change into my spare fleece clothes. We were both pretty wet from the day’s travels anyway so it didn’t matter too much. That night we hung everything in the tent and fired up a 3-wick survival candle to try and get some of the water out of our gear.

We slept in Sunday morning and woke up to find a beautiful sunny day outside. The weather report on the VHF said it’d be clear for the morning so we planned to pack up camp, grab breakfast, and head straight for Vargas Island.

The trip to Vargas was gorgeous!  We had sunshine the whole way and finished drying out that afternoon. The stretch in to Vargas is open to the Pacific Ocean again but the waves were considerably smaller than they were going into Hot Springs Cove. The exciting bit was landing on the beach in the surf.

Dave had warned me about the surf landing at Vargas and I’ve read about surf landings in kayaking books. When you get waves a couple of feet tall hitting the beach floor they break and crash into the back of your boat. If you don’t keep the boat pointed perpendicular to the wave then the wave will catch the boat, turn it sideways and then flip it over putting you in the water along with all of your gear.

When we went in Dave managed to keep the boat pointed towards shore and I jumped in and pulled us in with the bow line. Ocean water’s pretty cold when it’s up to your knees and my boots weren’t quite that high so I had water sloshing around my toes while we got the boat ashore and all the gear up above the high tide mark.

There wasn’t an obvious camp spot so we decided to head up to John Dowd’s house to say hello and inquire about a suitable spot to set up our tent. John Dowd is a legend in the sea kayaking world, having published the first (and still the best) proper book on the subject. His book is now in its fifth edition and lays out nearly everything you’d want to know about ocean kayaking. John and his wife have a lovely place just off the beach on Vargas with a wood shop, small guest cabin, and a wonderful main house. The house has the feel of being put together by people who live at sea. John and his wife, “B”, invited us in for spicy lingcod soup and ginger cake. We had a beer and John told us about his history running a tour company in South America and founding Ecomarine Kayak in Vancouver. They’re fascinating people with all kinds of stories from their travels around the world. They were also kind enough to invite us to sleep in their guest cabin and I curled up with Lolita, their large friendly dog, for the night.

The next morning we had breakfast with the Dowd’s, saw John off in his zodiac to go to town and get the week’s supplies, and then headed down the beach to launch our own boat. Our run through the surf was much smoother than the landing and we took a leisurely cruise back into Tofino to wrap up our trip.

Now I’m back in Vancouver, refreshed and ready to head into the whirlwind of city life tomorrow.

Into the Wild

10:00 am
At the Mad Bee Cafe in Parksville – no internet access so I’m writing locally on my laptop 

The ferry was a hair late so I showed up at the hostel shortly before 11pm only to find no-one wanted to answer the door or their phone! I’d arranged everything the day before and explained that the ferry was scheduled to arrive at 10:15 and they’d said that’d be alright. 

Oh well, no worries, I figured I’d drive as far as I could and then pull over and curl up in the car like I did all the way through Canada. Just before Parksville I passed Rathtrevor Park where I’ve spent many summers camping out. It’s open for the winter so I wheeled in, picked the first camp spot, and set up the tent for the night. 

My god it gets cold at night! Fortunately my spring sleeping bag and my silk liner kept me warm. I felt a little cold, but not too bad. In Tofino I’ll be putting on some fleece before going to bed and I should be fine. The last time Dave and I camped at Rathtrevor it was mid-February and there was frost all over the tent when we woke up. I had the same set of gear at the time so I know I can handle lower temperatures this trip.

Now I’m in Parksville at a neat cafe called the “Mad Bee” that’s run by an older couple. The guy’s hilarious and serves up a delicious peppermint spice tea. 

9:00 pm
Dave’s place in Tofino – prepping for our trip tomorrow

The drive to Tofino was nice and mellow. The weather was fantastic with loads of sunshine and not a spot of rain. I stopped in Port Alberni to get a look at the town and try “the best donuts on Vancouver Island.” I still favor Tim Horton donuts but I enjoyed the more authentic thing from Port Alberni.

I also had a great wander through Cathedral Grove which is full of mossy old growth forest. There’s one 800 year old Douglas Fir that stands higher than the leaning tower of Pisa! 

We’re pretty much packed up and ready to go now. All our stuff is in drybags, food has been prepped and packed, and we’re looking forward to getting out on the water in the morning.

Our destination is Sydney Inlet, just northeast of Hot Springs Cove but we’re going to take the scenic route and check out a few of the other inlets around the area. We’ll be inside protected waters so we won’t be facing the open ocean (thankfully!). I’m going to clear out my camera tonight and recharge my battery so we’re ready to go. It’s going to be awesome!