Paddleboarding! Recommended, and quick to learn…

…especially on almost mirror-flat water, where you can see the bottom! A short post here on our first SUP adventure.

If you’re tempted to try stand up paddleboarding, I honestly can’t think of a better place than on the inlet side of Tofino. Calm waters, stunning scenery, and a patient instructor, Michelle, who was quick to figure out our (un)fitness level very quickly – I was only pretending to take frequent breathers, because I was really taking in the panoramic views. That’s almost true.

We arranged to meet Michelle at 9am. While we waited for the mist to burn off, she was going to run through the basics, make sure I’d put on my wetsuit the right way round, and by then the tidal mud flats would be covered in water deep enough to paddle across. Starting out in water that shallow, I’d come to no harm…

 They didn’t have a wetsuit in a plaid…

It was a beautiful day, barely a breath of wind to ripple the surface. We are both able to snowboard, and I’d assumed, ignorantly as it turned out, that paddleboard balance would be similar. It was completely different! The sideways stance of a snowboarder is not the forward facing stance of a paddleboarder, and it did feel uncomfortable at first. I really wanted to stand sideways. But I also really wanted to not fall off, so soon got used to the new stance.

 Almost clear enough and deep enough! (Was this the rescue boat?)

I found the first twenty minutes quite difficult; in addition to being uncomfortable with the stance, my thighs were quite trembly as I tried to keep the board steady instead of going with the slight roll. Once I realized I was unlikely to tip the board, particularly in such calm conditions, I relaxed, had less wobbly legs, and really began to enjoy myself.

 Mrs PlaidCamper was way ahead of me!

It does feel unusual to be upright so close to the surface of the water, but I felt more free than sitting in a canoe, and far more controlled compared to the couple of times I’ve tried surfing – self propelled on a board rather than thrashing around in the surf. To be fair, surfing and paddleboarding shouldn’t be compared as each has merits, and they are so different. Paddleboarding was easier (for me) to learn!
 That tiny dot? OldPlaidCamper paddling his little heart out!

On the circuit Michelle guided for us, the water was so shallow that the wonderful aquatic plant life was visible just below the surface – and it was beautiful! We were on the water for a couple of hours, paddling passages between and around the little islands dotting the inlet.

 Quite relaxed for a novice (the water was shallow)

If you ever have the opportunity to try paddleboarding – especially on Tofino’s inlet waters – I highly recommend you take it. It is a marvellous way to explore a shoreline – peaceful, pretty relaxed, and yet can still be a workout if you want – you decide!

How did we celebrate enjoying this new adventure later that day? It had to be as follows:
 Tuff session ale, straight from the source!

The photos of us on the paddleboards were taken by our excellent instructor Michelle. Michelle and her partner Alan are wonderful advocates of healthy living and life in Tofino. We rented (and will be returning to) their delightful little waterside cabin located on the inlet. You can find out more here about all they have to offer.
I’ll leave you with the header picture once again – it really is this lovely:

  
Have you tried paddleboarding? Please feel free to share a story or leave a comment. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Bug spray and bear spray – stories of scuttling and fluttering  creatures…

Our last visit to Joshua Tree was almost my last wilderness visit ever. Actually, that’s not strictly true. My first visit to a cabin in the woodlands of West Virginia many years ago was almost my first, last and only North American outdoor adventure. A little OldPlaidCamper family history might help to explain things here. (I’ll throw in a few more Joshua Tree photos to break up the tedium…)

Hundreds of Joshua Trees!

Growing up in the United Kingdom, early camping adventures for me were limited to an overnight tent stay with the Cub Scouts (very little memory about that, maybe hypnotherapy could bring it all back, but some things are best left buried), and the occasional week in a caravan with my family. Those static caravan sites were in North Wales – pretty but rainy – or on the Norfolk coast – windy, pretty but less rainy – near my grandparents. I’ve got happy memories of those holidays, although I don’t know how my parents survived with four young boys sardined into a tin can when the weather was really wet. I seem to recall a lot of bottles in the recycling. 

One year I got sick, and because a small boy throwing up in a small caravan is unpleasant for the other occupants, my grandparents came and took me back to their house to recover. I much preferred their house to the cramped caravan, and my “recovery” was timed to when we were about to go home. A naughty and unpleasant small boy, but one who didn’t like tiny accommodations – at least, not crowded.

Anyway, these early experiences were formative, in that, watching Jeremiah Johnson aside, I didn’t really see myself as the outdoors type, at least not as far as camping or caravaning goes. Then there was the wildlife. 

 Not the outdoorsy type? He is now!

My mother, Ma PlaidCamper, successfully passed on to us her fear of spiders, at least when we were younger. There were times when we heard screams of fear, and ran indoors from the back yard, expecting scenes of carnage – had our youngest brother finally jumped down all the stairs, believing (as he did) he could fly? Was the dog savaging an intruder? No. There was a spider in the bath tub. I can’t give Ma PlaidCamper all the credit, because my father, Pa PlaidCamper, had an irrational fear of moths. Spiders? I can see that. But moths?! So, scuttling and fluttering creatures were the enemy growing up.

 Good food, good coffee, and no bugs

Just to be clear, moths and spiders don’t grow to any extreme sizes in middle England, and they aren’t dangerous. Although there was one time when Ma PlaidCamper screamed and we all came running in from the garden to confront (there is no other word) the largest house spider I’ve ever seen. Normally, one of Ma PlaidCamper’s brave little soldiers would rescue the spider by placing a jam jar over it, sliding a piece of paper under, and taking it outside to freedom (where it would plan the next arachnid assault on the PlaidCamper house). This spider, Gigantica Grossa, to give it the improper Latin name, could not be captured inside a jar. Or a soup bowl. Not even under an overturned dinner plate. It was so large that Charlie, our bold Basset hound, wasn’t prepared to do what he normally did, and snack on the spider. Pa PlaidCamper ended the face off with the heel of his shoe. My stomach still lurches to this day…

 Anything scuttling in here?

This fascinating and lengthy insight is all a prelude to saying that the very first time we got to our little cabin in West Virginia, I was not emotionally or psychologically prepared for bugs. Bugs! They were everywhere! Bugs you could see. Bugs you couldn’t see. Bugs so ugly you didn’t want to see. They were noisy, numerous, and quick. I think I might have used up several (or more) containers of bug spray the first night in the cabin. I drew a chemical line in the sand around the bed and up the wall. If you had stocks and shares in DEET producers back then and made any money, it was thanks to me. Mrs PlaidCamper saved the day – and a small fortune – by pointing out that we had two weeks in the woods, the bugs had me outnumbered, weren’t likely to move out, and what kind of role model was I being to PlaidCamper Jr? I manned up (but I wish I’d had a heads up on lightning bugs – I thought I was hallucinating. You don’t know what you don’t know…)

 Relax, unwind…

Ever since then, this city boy has slowly and steadily grown up and accepted all aspects of outdoor life. Bugs don’t  bother me now – although I always pack bug spray before bear spray. Everything has been fine. Until our arrival at Joshua Tree.

 Tree after tree…

The welcome booklet/binder at our vacation home was full of all the useful need to know items about the house and surrounding area. Wonderful! It also had a lengthy page or three about spiders, scorpions, and snakes, listing where they hid around the house, and what to do in the event of being bitten, stung, eaten or laughed at by said creatures. Not so wonderful. Maybe I was tired from the drive, or maybe it was the heat, but I regressed back to prePlaidCamper days. I know you sometimes do need to know what you don’t know, but just then I didn’t need to know there were tarantulas nesting under the deck. Or black widows lurking in corners. Trap door and wolf spiders? Spare me!

 Spare me! And bring me a beer!

I’m pleased to write that this time it was me who gave myself a stern talking to, and I climbed down from the chair, put my feet on the floor (after checking inside shoes carefully), and proceeded to have a thoroughly enjoyable time in the desert. With a container of bug spray readily available in my backpack. We didn’t see any spiders, snakes, scorpions – or moths. It was too hot for them, and they quite sensibly stayed out of the heat and out of my sight. Thank you wildlife!

 Get off the chair (and check under the deck)

Do you have an irrational (or perfectly reasonable) dislike of certain wilderness creatures? Please feel free to share – I’ll feel less foolish. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

 This was the biggest bug I saw down there. Sorry.

The desert is beckoning and we just can’t resist…

I’m generally an undemonstrative OldPlaidCamper – I say that I’m smiling on the inside – but I will confess to being and even appearing rather excited this week. Why? We have arranged to visit Joshua Tree this coming summer! I love this place! We met up with old friends there a couple of summers ago, and will be meeting them again in August. Why do I love this particular desert so much? Is it because the scenery is amazing?

We’d seen Joshua trees in pictures (and on album covers…) but those images did not prepare us for how strangely unique they are. Each one is so very different; they have an almost alien beauty. They grow in a desert full of rocky outcrops and sandy stretches, with mountains in the far distance – these are landscapes you just don’t see every day.

 Quite remarkable…

I will confess that we weren’t camping on our last stay. We’d been on the road for about a month, a trip from Alberta, zigzagging down to Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and over to Joshua Tree, mixing up a few nights in a tent with a few nights in a cabin. A campground owner took pity on us in Needles, renting us a cabin that had a hardworking air conditioning unit. If you’ve ever been through Needles, CA in the summer, you’ll forgive us the air con unit…hottest place I’ve never camped! Anyway, no tent for us in Joshua Tree, rather this lovely little house perched on a rise above the town and overlooking the desert:

 Mrs PlaidCamper always finds great vacation rentals!

 Lovely vacation home!

Our jobs mean we take our vacations in the summer, a time of year that is off-season down in the desert. The high temperatures were fine provided we stayed in the shade, kept hydrated, moved slowly, and used sunblock. The National Park and town were pretty quiet in terms of other visitors, and when we headed up into the park, either early in the morning or towards dusk, there were few people about. I’m not an artist or photographer, but these times of day were really special in terms of the quality of light, and it was easy to see why the area attracts artists. Scenery plus light equals spectacular!Pretty shades

Intense shades

I am so excited to be returning here. Maybe it was the heat, but we really slowed down and relaxed thoroughly, soaking up this amazing place. At night, the lack of light pollution afforded us tremendous views of the Milky Way – this August, maybe I’ll try taking a photo…

Next time, I’ll write a little more about our trip to Joshua Tree, and how it was almost a wilderness too far upon our arrival. (Don’t wait up, it’s not as exciting as it sounds). I know, it’s the header picture again. But this place, love it, love it, love it!

 It isn’t on fire or smouldering, just looks that way!

Have you visited Joshua Tree? Where’s the hottest place you almost camped? (I’m such a boy!) Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A new Kananaskis campground (well, it was already there, just new to me)

Sometimes, undiscovered and new outdoor places can almost be in your own backyard! This was the case just last weekend for us. We stayed at a new – to me – campground, and it was a wonderful discovery.

Our short stay at the Tunnel Mountain campground just outside Banff a couple of weeks ago was enjoyable enough for the views and to try the new tent, but it maybe wasn’t the most peaceful of places. When I mentioned this to a colleague, she recommended Beaver Flat campground on the Elbow River in Kananaskis country. I’ll admit to being a bit doubtful, thinking that a site barely an hour from the city couldn’t possibly be tranquil. 

  The Elbow River – a little bit tranquil?

As is often the case with outdoor related items, I was wrong. Once again. The campground and surrounding area was absolutely delightful, and relatively uncrowded for a warm and sunny weekend. I got the impression that the folks we saw out and about – cyclists, campers, hikers, twitchers, photographers and all – were there for the quiet, and because there isn’t a Banff or a Canmore nearby. I love those mountain towns, but they can fill up fast…

  A quiet stretch of the Elbow

Our weekend patch of the Elbow valley was people quiet but teeming with wildlife – although we didn’t see anything much larger than this little guy: He was busy enough, so we backed away!

Being unfamiliar with the area, we didn’t wander too far, yet uncovered plenty of natural delights. A short ramble from the tent, we saw where beaver activity had created a series of small ponds with dams that provided lovely views:

  Industrious beavers nearby…

  A babbling brook

Several times, a pair of geese flew directly over our tent, heading for the pond pictured below – we saw this single goose bank in and land on the water, an impressive sight! The goose in this photo seemed quite despondent, calling frequently. We wondered, had it lost a mate, was it one of the pair we kept seeing?  A lonesome goose?

 Maybe…

There was plenty to indicate the presence of beavers:  

Didn’t see any beavers, but we did spy a small amphibian:  It was tiny!

Quite honestly, walking around and investigating the immediate surroundings, we didn’t get more than an hour from the tent yet really enjoyed our explorations. It was a welcome short break from the city, and a chance to recharge before the final few weeks of a busy school year.

  Come the evening, is there a better way to unwind?!

I’m so happy to have had the recommendation about where to camp out in Kananaskis, as it was such a pleasant place to spend a weekend. It’s early in the camping season here, and K-country does get busier as the weather warms up, so I’m passing on the recommendation: if you get the chance, head out to the Elbow valley and stay in one of the campgrounds sooner rather than later – you won’t regret it! You don’t have the enormously epic mountain scenery of the nearby national parks, instead it is gentler, yet still rugged, scenery.

 Old and plaid, and enjoying K-country!
I’m hoping the weather remains fine and we manage to return in the next week or two – there were some enticing trails to be explored…

Do you have a favourite camping spot, or a campground recommendation? Thanks for reading, please feel free to share or make a comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

A new camping season and a new tent challenge – or is it just me?

Don’t you just love the first camping trip of the new season? 

Especially when you are trying out a new tent! Ah, a new tent, carefully shopped for and chosen wisely. Right weight and size? Check. Within budget? Check. Positive reviews? Check. Easy to put up and pack away? Well…let’s just say for me, in the past, this last part has involved a certain amount of blood, sweat, toil and tears. Being a grown man of a particular age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Just ask Mrs PlaidCamper. She’d tell you about that time in Scotland…  The new tent looks secure from a distance…

The Scotland story? OK. We arrived at a campground just as it was getting dark and starting to rain. PlaidCamper Jr. was not quite ten months old, a happy camper in the making, but not at that precise moment. It might have been Junior’s tears, or my tears (and rather choice language) as I wrestled with a new tent in the increasingly blustery gloom, but rain or no rain, we drew a sizeable Scottish crowd there. By the end I think the Highland bush telegraph was really buzzing, and they were pouring in from the hillsides to watch the hapless Englishman. It was a bit like a scene from Braveheart, but more grisly. They all wanted to help I’m sure, but I think they realized there are times when it is best to leave well alone. Probably not my finest moment. The trip did get better, and Scotland (in the dry) is a beautiful place to be a camper. He watched the tent antics last week, but didn’t help… 

Back to last weekend and our new tent. With many more years of experience – I’m an older and wiser PlaidCamper than I was on our Scottish adventure, and tents are much more user friendly these days – it was shaping up to be a fun first excursion of the new camping season. 

 This one kept a beady eye on us

It’s worth repeating, I’m a grown man of a certain age, I don’t need to read instructions because I can figure things out with my innate logical reasoning abilities. Hmm. Who needs instructions? Where did I put the instructions? Why didn’t I read the instructions? There are times when learning by doing is great. It’s time to admit it: there are also times when a set of instructions should be read carefully before doing. Don’t tell anyone I said that. In the end, the new tent went up beautifully (or more accurately, was beautiful once up), there was less of a crowd than on that Scottish trip – all done before nightfall, and it was neither windy or rainy.  Looks good close up – now get those guy ropes secured!

It was chilly once the sun dropped behind the mountains, but we were prepared and kept warm as follows: 

Blue Buck, Phillips Brewing, Victoria BC

  Kept warm (I did use one match, sorry Ray!)

Another one of my beer geek asides here: Blue Buck is one of my all time favourite beers (although that’s quite a long list), perfect as a campfire accompaniment, even to those who normally prefer lager beers, so go out and find some. And save one for me! I’ve never tried a Phillips beer and not enjoyed it. Wonderful brewery!

Back to the camping. The following morning was lovely, warming up quickly once the sun rose above the mountains. The view from the new tent made everything seem just right with our little corner of the world:

 Mount Rundle, AB

Overall it was a pleasant overnight excursion, with the new tent a great success. This old PlaidCamper is hoping the tent will be a long lasting one, that way I won’t have to worry for a while about following instructions or another public display of campground ineptitude.

Have you experienced new tent frustration? Or is it just me? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment, and keep your guy ropes secure.

All time favourite wilderness movies (#1 in an occasional series)

This is can be a fun campfire discussion to have – what are your all time favourite movies? Top twenty? Top ten? So hard to decide. But it’s easier if you go for genres and sub-genres…like all time favourite wilderness movies!  Across Albertan foothills to the Rockies (you could film wilderness adventures here…)

A movie that has stuck with me forever is Jeremiah Johnson (dir.Sidney Pollack, Warner Bros.1972) with Robert Redford playing the title role. Set in the mid 1800s, Jeremiah is a war veteran heading away from his past, looking for a quiet life, to be self sufficient, alone, and in his own cabin. No spoilers, but this being a movie, what he wishes for and what happens are two different creatures…

My first viewing I was about 10 years old, and it knocked me out. I’m not sure I was quite mature enough to be watching, but my mother, Ma PlaidCamper, had a bit of a crush on Robert Redford, so I sat quietly when the movie started and hoped she wouldn’t notice I hadn’t gone to bed. She didn’t, and I hadn’t, which means I can thank Hollywood superstar Robert Redford for helping me become the PlaidCamper I am today. (If you’re reading this, thanks Robert). 

                 Pretty and wild – Jeremiah would have liked the Athabasca River, AB

Back to the movie. I’d never seen anything like it before. To my tender eyes, it was tough, bloody, full of action, and Jeremiah wore really great buckskins and had an epic beard. His adventures seemed realistic, and took place in landscapes I didn’t know and thought were impossibly beautiful – not that my 10 year old self would ever have admitted that last part. But the settings – the movie was shot in Utah – and trappings (no pun intended) did appeal to me all those years ago. I lived in a suburb of Reading, a medium sized town just to the west of London UK, so log cabins built beneath snow capped peaks that towered over mighty forests seemed unreachable, exciting, and exotic to that young man. To be fair, living where we did, a small hill, or a field with a few cows often seemed pretty wild.  

Snow capped peaks – Castle Mountain, Bow Valley AB

I was clearly impressionable and susceptible to the myth making wiles of Redford and Pollack, and that seems to me to be no bad thing for a young boy. By today’s standards, some might find the movie to be slow paced. I prefer to think that it unfolds comfortably, giving the story and characters room to breathe. There are wordless sequences like visual tone poems, and scenes full of natural beauty that establish the different moods of the movie.

On the surface, the movie plays as a simple adventure and revenge tale, but it is more complex than that. I appreciate that the depiction of culture clashes and the predominant perspective of the movie may seem outdated or questionable to today’s sensibilities. However, as I sit writing this and think about the movie and the impact it had on a prepubescent PlaidCamper, I can say it planted a few seeds about respecting environments, the value of natural resources, disappearing cultures, and how to better resolve conflict when competing for valuable shared resources. Not that 10 year old me was thinking about any of that as he watched the movie for the very first time. To be honest, I was waiting for the next cool fight. 

  Tall trees and fresh air…

I’m very happy to report that snow capped peaks, log cabins, and mighty forests are still exciting to my aging self many years later. I’ve not worn buckskin – PlaidCamper, remember – but I have grown a couple of decent beards when the mood has taken me, and my inner 10 year old never lets me forget Jeremiah and the sense of wonder his story sparked. Or is that a sense of wander?

Have you seen Jeremiah Johnson? Do you have a favourite wilderness movie recommendation? Please feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

The great state of Oregon – should we keep it a secret? 

If you’ve been reading even just a little of what I post, you’ll know I simply adore North America, particularly for all the enormous outdoor beauty. I’ve travelled through a lot of the continent – by no means all (I should have started those travels a few lifetimes ago. Never mind, I’ll do what I can in the time I have…) – and one state I really enjoy visiting is Oregon. 

  Oregon forests – lush and leafy!

You might be wondering, why write about Oregon now? Well, firstly, it’s because I was reading an excellent couple of posts on Leanne Cole’s WordPress blog. She takes amazing photos, and these recent articles featured coastline near Melbourne, Australia. (LeanneColePhotography). As I was looking at her photographs, in particular of waves crashing on rocks, they reminded me of our visits to the Oregon coast. Then pretty much in the same week Leanne posted her coastal pictures, Mrs PlaidCamper passed me a Globe and Mail article about Oregon. (Globe and Mail). So I dug out a few photos from our trips, and here we are. I know, a fascinatingly dreary look into the mind of a blogging PlaidCamper. Let’s move on!
  Cape Perpetua, Oregon – it is so alive!

Oregon is often overlooked by people who are on the road south to California. There’s nothing wrong with California, it has much to commend it, but really, don’t race through Oregon. Make that part of your journey more of a destination. To rush on to possibly warmer and sunnier climes without taking some time out would be a tremendous pity – as Oregon is beautiful!
  Siuslaw River, Florence, Oregon

There are long, (sometimes) windswept and rugged beaches, with hills and mountains swathed in lush rainforest greenery rising up behind. You’ll discover plenty of coastal towns and villages, full of indoorsy and outdoorsy people, from climbers and kayakers to painters and poets. The book stores, coffee shops, cafes, restaurants and sidewalks of these little towns are a delight to explore.
  The old town of Florence, Oregon

Now admittedly, even in summer, the sun doesn’t always shine on the shore, but when it does, my goodness! 
  Fog clearing, sun coming through…

And when it doesn’t, rolling banks of fog, and waves of rain add even more character to locations that are steeped in atmosphere. Wear something water and windproof and all will be well.
DSCF2914It doesn’t have to be sunny to be beautiful at the beach…

  …is the fog clearing or incoming?!

Maybe it’s because the average summer temperature doesn’t really encourage lounging around on the beach, but almost without exception, no matter the time of day, every Oregon beach we’ve visited has been empty of other people. You can hike great stretches and it’s you, the gulls, and (one lucky afternoon) whales breaching just offshore.

 Humid and healthy Cape Perpetua!

So, if you’re looking for space, peace, and a little time out in beautiful locations that are relatively uncrowded, the Oregon coast could be the place for you! (Interior Oregon also has many beautiful places – but that’s for another time, this post has focused on the coast. Don’t tell anyone though, let’s keep it our secret). Just looking at the photos of the humid forests has my Alberta-parched skin rehydrating…

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