A week in the life of old PlaidCamper (and how I’m feeling my age)

Don’t panic, this isn’t turning into FaceBook or anything – but do find something else to do if you read the title and thought “No, he wouldn’t!” because yes, I would.

Not a strong narrative thread, simply how the past week went and why I’m so tired – in a good way.

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Aiming high – top of the world

Thursday evening and Friday morning: parent/student/teacher interviews! Time well spent, and often invaluable for students and parents, but listening to myself speak for eight hours on educational matters is hard – did I really mean to say that? Was I too honest? What was I saying at the start of this sentence? Are they asleep?

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To the mountains!

Once the Friday interviews wrapped up, it was into the car and out to the mountains for some snowshoeing and snowboarding. A cosy cabin in Field, about twenty minutes from the ski hill, meant an easy early start Saturday for the best of the first turns. Except that only happens if I remember to set the alarm. Old and tired without an alarm means an unexpected lie in. Oh well, must have needed it, and we took a short woodland hike instead through pretty woods above the cabin. Lots of creaking; I think it was the trees.

Sunday, alarm set, and a good early start to Louise! The lift lineups were nonexistent all day, and conditions were pretty pleasant on the slopes given poor snowfall the previous few days and strangely warm weather. Grey and overcast, with the mountains looming and slightly menacing without strong sunlight, but striking anyway. We searched for patches of blue, and found one at the top of the world. It didn’t last, but we weren’t blue with so much mountain to play in.

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A patch of blue

Back to Calgary Sunday night, and packing hurriedly for two days in Kananaskis country with a group of students. An outdoor challenge camp designed to develop collaborative skills and boost esteem, as well as encourage a love for the mountain environment. And if they have a laugh or two at their teacher failing to keep pace, then all the better…for them at least. Hiking, climbing, clambering, and singing (not me, not the last one, that would be cruel…)

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Try and keep up…

Tuesday evening, hand over the camp students to a colleague, and back to the city and hurriedly unpack and find clean(ish) clothing for three days of learning to ski/snowboard with grade 5/6 students at Canada Olympic Park. So you’ve had hardly any sleep the previous couple days – those bunks at camp aren’t luxurious or quite full size – but you said you really wanted to go to Kananaskis and be part of the learn to ski program, so stop your whining old boy.

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I can help here

Have you ever tried to “assist” with teaching snowboarding to forty enthusiastic children? You will laugh, you might cry, you will be nimble and in fear for your life, and you will discover you aren’t as young as you once were. When your most gullible student asks “are you sure you’re 29 years old, Mr. Plaidcamper?”, the game is almost up.

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Kananaskis! Not much snow, or sun, but we can learn out here…

What a week! I complained (to myself), I laughed (a lot), I pulled new muscles (still have some), I wobbled (in many different ways), and I had a blast. To observe how students love to be outside, love to be challenged, and often don’t even have a (formal?) sense that they’re in a learning environment when it is outdoors, is wonderful. The perseverance and problem solving skills they develop are transferable to other life settings, sometimes explicitly, but often implicitly, and they’ll have an enormous reserve to draw on when faced with necessary adversity later in their learning. It was an exhausting week, (and I couldn’t do it every week), but tired as I am, I suspect it keeps me young at heart. Why, I feel 29(ish)!

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A small reward at the end of the week – this evening!

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Snowshoe shuffle

It’s the latest dance craze, kids…

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Fresh snow

No, it’s not. Last time out in the mountains, there was so much fresh snow we decided to put on our snowshoes and take a little wander.

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Inviting

If I’d bothered to check the overnight temperatures, I wouldn’t have left the snowshoes in the car. But I hadn’t, so I did. Great. It was so much fun trying to strap unforgivingly stiff fasteners and clips over my clumpy boots with numb fingers. Trying to look balanced, leaning nonchalantly against a tree and reaching down and behind to fix and tighten the back strap. Of course I intended to hop left, left, left, and then right, right, right back to the tree. It’s a method. Cursing? No, that was singing, you misheard me – they were the words to go with the snowshoe shuffle.

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Funky footwear

Early season deep snow and raring to go! Raring? Might have had to stretch out a cramp or two, ease the legs back into it, and then off we go, relearning the wider stance and slightly exaggerated strides, over the railway tracks and down into the woods. (Every time we cross the tracks in snowshoes, I can’t help remembering the scene from “Stand By Me” where the boys are crossing a wooden bridge and a train comes around the corner. Not helpful…)

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Find the river…

The woods were silent, snow hushed and pristine; white sheets marked with tracks left by snowshoe hares, and a few bird prints, although we didn’t see or hear either. The air was still, but every now and then clumps of snow would fall from tree limbs where there was just enough sun heat to prompt the drop. As we shuffled through the trees, the faint sounds of the creek and river rushing, splashing, and attempting to outrun winter could be heard.

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Early winter

We emerged at the confluence, enjoying the bumps, lumps and humps of a landscape putting on the first layers of seasonal finery. Fresh, textured and intriguing, almost impossible-looking in places. An early winter wonderland, enough to cause a little jig, and maybe I fell, but the landing was soft and powdery, and you could only laugh at it all.

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Taking a break (or maybe I fell)

The Bow doesn’t always freeze over, but Baker Creek will. Too early yet, but the signs were there. We saw the beginnings of a frosty, blue-white waterfall where the waters meet; icy, beautiful and brief, soon to be frozen over and buried under snow. It was something to see, and strange to think that when we return in a week or two, we’ll be able to snowshoe over the top of the creek, and closer to, if not over and above the banks of the Bow as winter takes hold.

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Winter is taking hold

Our snowshoe shuffle was brief, but an exciting and enticing reminder of the outdoor delights in store for the next few months. Now, if only I can remember to defrost the snowshoes before putting them on next time…

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Blue-white

Thanks for taking the time to read this. As ever, please feel free to share a story or leave a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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Pretty

PS As I was writing this, the song “Bad Boy Boogie” by AC/DC came into my head, only my brain changed it to “Snowshoe Shuffle” – showing my age, questionable musical tastes, odd neural pathways, and now I’m off to find the CD. Mrs PlaidCamper will be pleased.

The Moose Meadow Moose! (Animal magic…)

“Why is it called Moose Meadow? We never see a moose in Moose Meadow!” whines a pouty PlaidCamper every time we head to and from Louise along the Bow Valley Parkway. That PlaidCamper, always asking silly questions. Just because he never sees a moose…

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There is a moose in the middle!

I saw a moose in Moose Meadow! I believe it may be the moose of Moose Meadow. Last Sunday, a little before noon, a splendid sunny day, crisp and clear, and there he was! A safe distance from the road, right in the middle of the meadow, chewing contentedly, and far enough away that we weren’t bothering him by stopping and watching for a few minutes. It made our day.

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Moose Meadow on a crisp and clear day

I snapped a few grainy shots, and these are the clearest – the most moose-like of the bunch.

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A marvellous moose

It really is quite obvious why this place is called Moose Meadow – who would question that? It’s a beautiful patch. In fact, if you ever get the chance to travel along the Bow Valley Parkway, take it. Running parallel to the Trans-Canada, it is the slower and quieter (off season) way to connect Banff and Lake Louise. You might even see a moose!

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The Bow Valley Parkway – a pleasant route…

A very brief post this week – I mostly wanted to share this little highlight from last weekend. Before finishing, and as we’re on an animal magic trip, I’ll go back to last week. The picture of the wolf or coyote that ended the previous post prompted a couple of questions, so here’s the story…

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Coyote? Wolf?

We were heading down a quiet run at Louise, our first turns of the day. I dropped left into a steep slope and stopped as fast as I could, digging in my heel edge and using my backside as a brake (pretty effective anchor there), because a large coyote (wolf?) was trotting across the slope, right to left. As I sat down, and Mrs PlaidCamper joined me, the wolf (coyote?) halted and stared up at us. Hmm. Now what?

DSCN2498Fortunately, he decided we weren’t very interesting, and turned away and headed towards the wooded fringe of the run. Quite sensibly, Mrs PlaidCamper proceeded down the hill, and I started to follow but couldn’t resist peeking into the trees as I passed the spot the coyote had disappeared. He was still there! Not very sensibly, I drifted past and below as slowly as possible, toe edge in, reaching for my phone and taking the indistinct pictures you see here. Not at all the right thing to do, but Snowboard PlaidCamper isn’t the smartest fellow…

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Proceed down the hill

Animal magic – you never can tell what you might see or when, and the surprises are always a delight!

Thanks for reading, and, as ever, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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One more time

Snow pictures – happiness and equilibrium

For many of us this past week, our determination to view the world positively has been tested, but perhaps a solution to this problem can be found outdoors.

An outdoor remedy
An outdoor remedy
I’m aiming to be in a happy place mentally and geographically this weekend (do you find the two are inextricably linked, or is that just me?) We will be snowboarding at Louise, our first outing of the new season, and I’ve only been looking forward to this for about six months. The snow pictures this week come from the previous season or two.

Looking for Louise
Looking for Louise (other way – it’s behind you)
I’m likely getting on a bit to be so excited about stepping onto a plank of wood and launching myself down steep snowy slopes, but what can I say? I love it! Don’t go thinking I’m some sort of daredevil riding a snowboard (only in my head), it’s more like a slower version of Driving Miss Daisy, where Miss Daisy is shaking a fist and yelling at me to move over. I get down the mountain…

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Happy
It’s definitely not the adrenaline rush. I find that when I’m on the board, being on the board is all I’m thinking about, if thinking is the right word here. Everything else has to drop away, and there’s the balance, the movement – leaning one way then the other – and all the little adjustments made on the fly as you navigate the terrain. Finding equilibrium. If you’re lucky enough to be first out on a powder day, and the sky is blue and the scenery is sparkling, then so much the better.

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I smile on a snowboard – it may look like a grimace, but honestly, that is a smile. I love how fellow riders and skiers all appear to be happy. Faces are lit up, stories are shared in lift lineups, and the mood of the day is upbeat. I know there are risks and accidents, and some can be severe, but life is about risk and exploring boundaries (without trampling over your fellows along the way), so enjoy it as best you can while you can. If that means being an elderly(ish) snowboarder, well, off you go!

A bit of a selfish post here, so I’ll keep it brief. A weekend in the mountains riding my board at Louise – fresh air, good company, a cabin at the end of the day – definitely a happy place!

 

Some sort of a daredevil?!
Thanks for reading! Do you find happiness and equilibrium on a snowboard? Maybe somewhere elsewhere? Please feel free to make a comment or share a story, have a happy weekend, and keep your guy ropes secure.

We were both surprised...
We were both surprised…

My Montreal morning…merveilleux!

Quebec! La belle province! Montreal! Don’t worry, this won’t be written in French, or my butchered version of French, that would be too cruel for lovers of language. This week, I’m writing an urban piece, but it has a flavour of the outdoors about it. So bear with me, and we’ll take a trip…on y va!

Leafy Montreal
Outdoor flavour
We were lucky enough to visit Montreal last week. Mrs. PlaidCamper was presenting at a conference, someone had to carry her bags, and I secured that prestigious gig (just to be clear, Dr. PlaidCamper is more than capable of carrying her bags, but I’ll do anything to visit somewhere new…) I had never been to Quebec, never mind Montreal, and was curious to explore a new (to me) corner of Canada.

A healthy start...
A healthy start…
While Dr. PlaidCamper was making her contribution to global health, I started the day by making a contribution to my expanding waistline. Although I do believe a cup of great coffee and a flaky croissant is a health food if consumed without a cigarette. Obviously, Mrs. PlaidCamper is the expert on the health front, but I want to help, and this next bit is for the smokers of Montreal – stop it! There are far too many of you doing this, and you are too pleasant a bunch of people to want to self harm in this way. I think I passive smoked my way through at least a pack and a half…

Beautiful buildings
Beautiful buildings
When the smoke cleared – to be fair, the smoking is all outside (but it is hard to walk down a street without passing through clouds of exhaled smoke near the entrances of many buildings) – I set off for Mont Royal. I knew this to be a delightful park overlooking the city. It’s a place where urban dwellers get their outdoor fix, so I decided to head there to get my first real impression of Montreal, geographically speaking. The route I chose was delightful; mature trees shedding leaves in front of buildings far older and more architecturally interesting than I’d expected.

Looking for Mont Royal
Looking for Mont Royal
It is easy to find the park, looming over the city as it does. You catch glimpses at the far end of streets that rise toward the heavily forested hillside, with the huge cross and communications towers perched on top. Earlier, I had smiled to myself at the description of the hill as a mountain in some guidebooks. That seemed too grand a description. By the time I’d slogged my way to the top, via winding paths and seemingly endless wooden staircases, I was very happy to concede the title of mountain. It is steep enough, and an excellent workout if you’re so inclined, which I wasn’t, but it was an unexpected personal mini-triumph.

Clean air and falling leaves
Clean air and falling leaves
The air was clean, and heavily scented with leaf decay – far richer and earthier than alpine Alberta. It seemed to me a more familiar autumnal tang, reminding me of London and the parks I played in as a boy. Aroma driven nostalgia…autumn does that.

To the city
To the city
The views back down to the city and the St. Laurent river were wonderful. As autumn had hung on a little longer here, the leafy trees provided enticing and beguiling natural frames for taking photos of Montreal. I spent a while at the top, wandering wherever, and really enjoying the feeling of being in an almost wilderness – the green heart of a great metropolis. How wonderful for the people of Montreal to have this pleasant place, a beautiful space in the middle of their city. It was such a marvellous and colourful Montreal morning!

Marvellous Montreal
Marvellous Montreal
We are always grateful for the opportunities we get to travel and experience new places – it is energizing and rewarding to be able to do so. Thanks for reading. As ever, please feel free to share a story – maybe you have visited Montreal? – or make a comment, as they are always enjoyed and welcome, and keep your guy ropes secure.

At the foot of the hill
At the foot of the hill

At the top of the hill
At the top of the hill

Montreal
Montreal!