All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)

Ah, back to this campfire game. (Actually, I wish I was arguing about movies around a campfire, instead of spending this week moving apartments – such fun…)  Anyway, amongst friends and family, the choice this time has divided opinions. I really like it (it’s on your all time favourite list PlaidCamper – of course you like it), but I don’t know that this is strictly a wilderness movie, it’s perhaps more of an action survival flick, or even an eco-horror parable. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and I think it works at a number of levels. The movie? Oh yeah, (this is like a teaser trailer), the movie is The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2012). 

 Is something hiding in there?

Never mind all that stuff about it working at a number of levels, The Grey stands out for me because of the winter settings, and a fine performance from Liam Neeson. Much of the movie was shot near Smithers, BC, and, as in any good wilderness movie, the settings and weather behave like additional characters, providing greater drive to the narrative. Liam Neeson is suitably grizzled and gruff, entirely believable as a person who has reached the end of his emotional tether, not angry but exhausted, yet girding himself for a final effort to help his coworkers survive their predicament.

I mentioned above that the story could be read as an eco-horror tale. There was plenty of criticism aimed at the film makers for their depiction of wolves. Having survived a terrifying plane crash in a frozen wilderness, the characters are preyed on by a pack of enormous wolves who pick off survivors one by one in a series of gruesome attacks, hunting the humans as they look for a means of escape and a return to civilization. This is a familiar formula to horror/action movie fans, along the lines of the crew being preyed on in the original Alien movie, or the National Guard soldiers lost in the bayou in Southern Comfort. 

 Very grey…

The wolf depiction is unrealistic, particularly the sheer size of the creatures. Really they are designed to represent all that scares many city dwellers when they think about wilderness – wolves as the other or unknown. The movie makers have exaggerated the wolves to heighten audience fears; they’re not making a realistic documentary style statement about wolves. Treat the movie as humans vs. nature, in the tradition of Jaws or Grizzly (you can’t take that one too seriously!) and others in that vein, and you’ll be suitably entertained. Are the wolves simply nature taking revenge on resource greedy humanity? (The characters are oil riggers heading off for some down time away from the drill site). There are many deaths in the movie, and some are as a result of the environment – not all are down to the wolves – is this nature fighting back?

 Nature always wins…

I’ve always enjoyed stories with wolves, or about the mythology of wolves. As an impressionable teenager, I saw Neil Jordan’s movie The Company of Wolves. He was inspired by Angela Carter’s revisionist version of Little Red Riding Hood in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber: “Beware men whose eyebrows meet!” Mine do, although I don’t howl at the moon (often, unless having dealings with lawyers or mortgage brokers – I know, I know, I should let it go). The same impressionable teenager enjoyed The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and reading Silver Bullet by Stephen King. Wild creatures lurking in dark places. I was a sensitive boy. So perhaps there is a very loose thread running from those earlier stories I enjoyed through to The Grey, which may explain why I am drawn to it beyond the wintry settings.

I also think that, for an out and out action and entertainment survival film, The Grey has a surprisingly philosophical thread; what does it mean to die, and is the manner of your death and how you accept it a reflection of your life? Is there a time to fight and a time to concede, and can that be graceful? In between the action and horror, there are moments of stillness, where the characters contemplate their mortality and chances of survival. The relatively thoughtful approach raises the movie above cliche and stereotype. 

 Be graceful

Yes, it’s possibly preposterous, macho, unrealistic, and somewhat formulaic – it’s all there for a fan of action: chases, escapes, tough dialogue, a plane crash, fights and confrontations aplenty, and yet…with the added dimensions of beautiful scenery, Neeson’s excellent performance, and an above average script with some depth, I think this is a little better than the usual fare.

I’ve yet to see a wolf in the wild. I’d dearly love to one day, from a respectful distance and with a better understanding of what they are as magnificent creatures in their proper context – and without my teenage impressions! 

So, there you have it – a fairly recent movie, unlike my previous choice (and I don’t think my mother has a crush on Liam Neeson – I’m not asking her – read the post about Jeremiah Johnson), but it’s in my list of favourites because I keep going back to it.

 Beautiful scenery

Have you seen The Grey? Is it as good as I think it is, or is it just another action movie? And what about the wolf depiction? Is it okay to get that wrong in the interests of telling a story? Do your eyebrows meet in the middle?

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

The Long Beach challenge!

Less of a challenge when you approach it using the PlaidCamper method – although we did double the distance and likely set a new record time… 

 

This beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline is located midway between Ucluelet and Tofino, on the Pacific Rim Highway of Vancouver Island. It’s worth the trek to make the trek.

Worth the trek

From either the Long Beach parking lot, or the Kwisitis visitor centre near Florencia Bay, a willing hiker can walk almost 10km uninterrupted along the Pacific coast. The views up and down the shore are wonderful, and once you have gone further than 20 minutes, you are likely to have the beach almost entirely to yourself. For non human company, there’ll be bald eagles, gulls, ravens, and numerous other shorebirds.

 Keeping an eye on those hikers

Wolves, cougars and black bears are a possibility, as well as potential sightings of whales out in the ocean. We saw the birds, but no mammals. Not too sorry to avoid those encounters, better for all concerned.

Long views
Shore birds! (Marbled Godwits? Not sure…)

On one side you have tussocks of grass and low sand dunes fronting the fringe of rainforest. Huge logs washed up and tossed far onto the shore by the powerful storms that pound the coast later in the year are scattered everywhere. The views change constantly as you walk; the perspective of each bay, in front or behind, the mists and fog drifting in changing the light, concealing then revealing, and then concealing again. In the two days we hiked, the weather was sunny, then misty, then rainy, then sunny again, and often all in the same hour. 

Storm tossed logs

 Misty long views

Underfoot, depending how close you want to walk to the waves crashing ashore, the sand is hard packed and easy to walk on. There are thousands of tiny shells, middling shells and larger shells, all colourful. Pretty rocks and pebbles, shiny and speckled, mottled or plain, and many like little stone eggs, are uncovered as the ocean retreats. Huge lengths of bull kelp glisten in the light, and the occasional jelly fish is strewn across the sand, causing one to jump over and around at the last second as you catch sight of them. 

 Easy walking!

The Long Beach challenge is set up as a time trial for those who wish to try. If we were being timed, we definitely set some kind of record. The number of times we stopped to breathe in all that was surrounding us, the water breaks, the lunch stop perched on a log – yup, certainly a new time record! I can’t imagine wanting to complete the journey as quickly as possible, but that’s because I am OldPlaidCamper, not young PlaidCamper. As far as jogging goes, if you made me, I’d rather jog on Long Beach than do repeated circuits in a city park. 

More shore birds (the most cute least sandpipers? Maybe…)

From our campground near the beach, we were situated about a third of the distance from the Long Beach starting point. So we set off one day heading north to do a there and back again section, and the following day we turned south to go there and back for that section. The Long Beach challenge twice in two days, including lunch picnic stops – not so much of a challenge, it was more like two really delightful days of easy hiking in a wonderful setting. That’s a challenge I’m always up for! (The real challenge was having to leave).

I’m ready for this…

Do you have a favourite hike – or favourite beach? Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Chlorophyll camping in the rain at Green Point…

Summertime camping in a rainforest on the coast of the Canadian Pacific Northwest sounds exactly what it is – simply delightful – but what this old PlaidCamper really didn’t think about when reserving the campground many months ago, was the rain part of rainforest. Green Point campground, situated beautifully on a steep rise overlooking the Pacific, is also nestled in the fringes of a lush green forest – rainforest! 

It’s a rainforest!  

In recent years, most of our summertime camping has been in the deserts of SW USA, and our spring and fall camping at sites on the eastern side of the Rockies in Alberta. Generally, these locations are dry, often hot, and in the case of the Rockies, only an hour or two from home if heavy rain threatens to wash away the tent. (We did once abandon the campground at Lake Louise in early September, when the promised light rain showers became hours and hours of torrential deluge – small rivers were flowing past the tent, and if the grizzlies are paddling two by two, you know it’s time to go home). 

Don’t go home…

When we were approaching Green Point and the first few drops spattered the windshield, we weren’t too concerned. Our stay in the area had been dry and warm up to that point, and a little drizzle wasn’t going to be a problem…(we should have paid attention to the information at the botanical gardens, something along the lines of “autumn is wet, winter very wet, springtime it rains, and summers aren’t dry.” Annually, Tofino gets over three meters of rain! On some measures, two meters annually qualifies for rainforest, so Clayoquot has a super rainforest!) 

Moisture

We weren’t really that unprepared for camping in the rain, it’s just usually rain is a cue for us to not go camping. So the rain that started as we put up the tent, continued as we rigged up a tarp shelter, and did not stop that afternoon when we hiked along the beach, was outside our usual comfort zone. Still, with the tarp, decent waterproof gear in the backpack and a natty new toque, we managed just fine. Although wet, being summer it was not too cold, especially when hiking. 

Overlooking the Pacific (honest)

The trees collect the mist that drifts over from the beach, and all the moisture slowly drips and drops to the forest floor. Your camping soundtrack of rain pattering on the tarp and tent roof is soothing – and it sounds far wetter than it really is, with the dripping continuing long after any actual rainfall. Stepping out from under the tarp, we were surprised again and again by it not raining – or barely raining – when we thought it was! 

Greenery

All the moisture contributes to the creation of absolutely beautiful forests. The shades of green are numerous, and even the humid air seems to have a greenish tint. The air tastes and smells a verdant green, if that doesn’t sound too strange. Chlorophyll! Moss cloaks and hangs from the trees, and lichens cling to trunks. Small bushes, broad leaved plants and fern fronds crowd the forest floor, which itself is a rich decaying mulch, satisfyingly springy underfoot. Water, water, water, and growth, growth, growth in a delicate and unique ecosystem. 

Delicate and intricate

I’ve had to rethink my general dislike of rain, at least in settings as spectacular as the Clayoquot biosphere. At the information level of thinking, it is easy to understand that rain is important, but experiencing the natural wonder, by camping in a rainforest for a few days, has made me appreciate this precious resource in a far more vivid and tangible way. Knowing something is not the same as experiencing and then knowing it a little better. Funny how I sometimes forget the obvious from the comfort and distance of my modern life. Maybe we should all have a rainforest experience – go so far as to insist it is a mandatory part of a child’s education – then serious and real conservation efforts might be mainstream rather than marginal…Enough of that, school’s out and I’m on vacation.

Did I already say “green”?

It didn’t rain the entire time we were camping, and in fact our final day was a beauty – blue skies and an empty beach to wander along just a few minutes from the tent. 

Overlooking the Pacific!

I probably still wouldn’t go camping locally if the forecast calls for rain, but I would certainly camp in a NW rainforest again! 

Rainforest cooled…

Are you a happy camper in the rain – or would it take a rainforest to entice you?! Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story, and keep your guy ropes secure.

Time out in Tofino, and realizing Thoreau probably had it right…

This post might seem a little off topic, but bear with me! I’ve been reading Walden and I think that I may, like many people, have been born in the wrong age…

We’ve been downsizing as far as we can recently, not because we are jumping on a particular bandwagon or vogue for small living, (although this is a good idea), but simply because the timing is right. Junior is about ready to forge her own path, heading out to be independent, and we don’t want to be living in a space that was designed to accommodate four or five people comfortably. Our empty nest can be smaller than that! We sold our family house, and we are renting a little apartment until our new little apartment has been built. 

This would be fine (cedar shack in Tofino botanical gardens)

This all seems simple and straightforward enough; a linear sell one, rent one, and then buy one. Couldn’t be easier. All you need is a small mortgage from a bank, a helpful legal person to do the necessary lawyer type things, and a builder. These three can then communicate with each other, working tirelessly and seamlessly on our behalf so we can secure the tiny apartment of our dreams. And they can collect well earned fees from us… 

Kerbside appeal without the kerb

I honestly cannot go into the complications experienced in trying to get these three parties all on the same page. If I had three more lifetimes ahead of me blogging to explain how frustrating the past couple weeks have been, I wouldn’t have enough time. I’d lose the will to live three times over. I’d rather have an operation than buy somewhere to live ever again. 

Maybe we’ll abandon the house, just hit the road instead

Thoreau had it right! I’m going to borrow an axe and start on my own place hewn by my own hands. (I will have to borrow an axe – I do have a little hatchet, but that’s not going to cut it. I’d be lucky to build a doll house or a birdhouse, never mind a tiny house. And I’d need those three lifetimes from above). Now, as an almost outdoorsman, I’d probably chop off my own limbs instead of a tree limb, and the finished article might not look like the finished article. But still, if you’d been in my shoes, you’d understand the attraction, trust me. 

Tofino bird house (with lawyer perched on the roof)

I’m lucky enough to be sitting on a deck, staying in a small cabin overlooking the inlet just outside Tofino. That means I get to calm down. This is a good thing for many obvious reasons. The less obvious reason is the one where you don’t get to hear a news story about some old guy wearing plaid running around downtown Calgary wielding a hatchet and cursing the modern home buying process:

“And the police gently disarmed the apparently harmless, yet clearly confused plaid-clad old man, leading him away from bewildered bystanders and committing him to a secure institution where further tests will be carried out to determine if he is fit to have his little hatchet back. And now the weather.” 

View from the dock – just breathe, PlaidCamper, just breathe…

Just to be clear, and before anyone calls the authorities, I’m not actually going to run amok anywhere wielding any sort of hatchet – that would be silly.

All complaining aside, I do know that with a little perspective, this is simply just another invisible Western problem; I should let it go, and accept it as one of the complicated processes that make up life for the privileged few in the modern world today. An irritating downside to accompany the many upsides? I don’t know. I could stand to live in another age – when life wasn’t easier, that’s for sure, but perhaps simpler? I still say Thoreau had it right… 

Head over the next mountain, just a little further…

Have you ever wanted to build your own little home, be a little more apart from the modern world? Please feel free to share a story or make a comment. Thanks for reading – I feel better now – and keep your guy ropes secure.

Is this Canada? Yes it is!

Happy Canada Day! As it is Canada Day, I’m posting a few photos of the True North, and hoping to both break and encourage fond stereotypes of this wonderful country.

This is because sometimes, when I share pictures with friends and family back in Europe, they’ll ask if we are still in Canada? They never doubt pictures of snow covered mountains or mighty forests as being Canadian, but the following one prompted a few questions:

 Is this Canada?

I think it was the hammock, the lovely blue skies, and lush greenery that made some think we were staying on a tropical island! Hawaii was suggested, and I don’t know that I convinced the doubters when I said Tofino, Vancouver Island. If you don’t know Tofino, it’s maybe not what most think of when asked to picture Canada.

I followed up with the following photographs to help my European friends:

 

The Tofino minibus finally convinced them I was being truthful, and still in Canada!

Another reason we’re celebrating Canada Day with even more joy than usual, is because we’ve just been given our notice to appear and swear our oath to become Canadian citizens. Before the end of July, our lengthy journey  to be full participants in our new homeland will be complete! We are so very happy about that. We love where we come from, and enjoyed all the places we’ve called home, and are now really excited to be fully committed to where we currently live and intend to stay. That calls for a more obviously Canadian picture, eh?

  This is Canada (so Canadian!)
  Did someone say citizenship? 

I’ll leave you with a few more photos of our small corner of Canada, and wish you a great day wherever you are!

  This is Canada!
  And this is!

  So is this!

  A little Plaid…

  A big moose… 

 Essence of Canada!

  Canada Day breakfast

I hope you enjoyed this Canada-fest. Please feel free to comment or share a Canada story. Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

  

Road trips – love them! (Didn’t always)

When we were four small boys crammed into the back of a Ford Cortina, I didn’t much like road trips. On the plus side, if you live in the UK, distances aren’t far. On the minus side, traffic congestion, especially during peak vacation time, is terrible. It’s always been terrible. It still is. Short distances, but long travel times. Now for some time travel, back to the early 1970s: 

Road trips and vinyl car seats are bad…

Imagine the lovely feeling of clambering into the back of an old Cortina, wearing short trousers and sitting on sun scorched vinyl seats. You are one of four brothers trying to fight without parents noticing. (They knew, but what are you going to do? Not visit friends and relatives? Although, on reflection, friends and relatives might not have been too upset if we hadn’t arrived, all pleasantly sweaty and odorous…) 

Oh dear. Uncomfortable isn’t even close. It was territorial war. Pushing and shoving, fighting for an extra millimetre or two of buttock space. Are we there yet? Silent wrestling, forming alliances, then breaking alliances, leaning extra hard on corners, real or imaginary. How did we not fall out, bursting open back doors and bouncing down the road? Astonishing, and a testament to sturdy 1970s build quality and car construction. Now add the dog who was carsick most of the time. Four little boys and a farting dog? Well, the dog got the blame. No air conditioning and we weren’t always allowed to open the rear windows. Inhumane, but something to do with the drivers behind us complaining about half eaten food items hitting their windshield. Are we there yet? It’s a wonder that any of us made it to adulthood. All credit to our parents, and hats off for their patience. There must have been times when they wanted to…

Somewhere in New Mexico – timeless

Fast forward to the present:

These days, I love road trips! We travel in the summer, our trips are usually in Canada and the US, we use routes that are generally pretty quiet – especially compared to UK roads in summer – and we stay in campgrounds and the occasional hotel/motel. Our time is our own, and we allow for frequent coffee stops, aiming to turn off the highway and venture into unknown (to us) little towns that almost always seem to have an independent coffee shop. Are we there yet? Seems like it.

 Follow that truck!

There is a rhythm to life on the road. An early start, a stop for coffee, a couple more hours, a stop for lunch, a couple more hours, then a campground arrival. Stay a night, stay two, then on we go. Repeat as necessary, and it’s necessary! Don’t much care if we are there yet, the fun is in the trip.

Music on the trip is important. Might be a local country radio station, or it might be a CD or two from our dubious collection. Tastes can vary in the music department. Won’t be me singing, because that’s not fair to fellow travellers. At other times, it’s the windows wound down, the rush of air, and our own thoughts. Non drivers will snooze, there’ll be snatches of conversation, but it’s all pretty laid back, and a far cry from those childhood days of burning bare legs on leatherette seats. Don’t want to be there just yet.

 Somewhere out West – don’t need to be “there” yet!

I appreciate some would find the idea of a road trip the height of tedium and monotony, but I enjoy the trees flashing past, or mountains in the distance, or dusty desert vistas, or the shimmering haze of sweltering blacktop. The exit signs of promising sounding towns – we might need a stop, we might not, and if we miss it, there’s always next time or another town. I don’t think any two roads, or two towns are ever quite alike. I’ve lost count of the shaded bandstands in small parks where we’ve sheltered from the sun and enjoyed a picnic. 

Once you surrender to life on the road, it is contradictory; you are travelling quickly (but well within posted limits), yet life seems to slow down, and there are few hassles. Not even road construction delays. We once drove from Calgary to Berkeley Springs, WV and back, and only got caught in construction delays twice. Amazing!

  Somewhere in WV

School is almost out, and it’s been a very pleasant academic year, but now my mind has turned to the road. Instead of writing report cards, I’ve found myself planning a couple of road trips for this summer (my report card would say I’m easily distracted). Time to unfold and flatten well used road maps, top up the car fluids (and hide Mrs PlaidCamper’s CDs) before we set off – can’t wait!

 Let’s go! Needles, CA

Do you have a favourite road trip? Any rituals for the road? Please feel free to share! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.

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.