What should a perfect community include? (This is an excuse to show more pictures from Tofino – I’ll admit it!)

What should a perfect community include? This was a question students were attempting to answer this week at school. Discussions and sharing about where they had or hadn’t spent their summer vacation prompted the question. It turned out that a couple of families had visited Tofino over the break. Well, that got the talk moving on…and they couldn’t get me to be quiet. (Let the students get a word in edgeways, OldPlaidcamper!) Anyway, one student shared that her family would love to move to Tofino. Other students asked what was so special about the place? What ought to be special about anywhere they might choose to live? Essentially, I was prompted to write this post after a lesson at school – don’t worry, there won’t be any homework, and I’ll never write a post inspired by a math lesson – I like math, but that’s not for here!

What makes a place special?
What makes a place special?
Students decided they’d love to live somewhere that had beautiful scenery. After a little research online, they agreed that Tofino has a wonderful location. In fact, a field trip to Vancouver Island was suggested. All that enthusiasm. I didn’t have the heart to talk about school budgets…

A beautiful location
A beautiful location
Students felt it was important to be able to connect with nature – see wildlife for real, not just on TV or in books. They were thrilled at the thought of seeing a bear in the wild. Many of the students in this class are new to Canada, with seventeen different home countries represented. Even though they live an hour from the Rockies, not all yet have the material resources to visit and spend time out there. Part of my work is to encourage them to embrace the outdoors in their adopted home.

A West Coast bear
A West Coast bear, healthy and happy near Tofino
The opportunity to be active was considered important. They felt that they would want to live somewhere where being active was part of where they were. Hiking wasn’t a popular notion, but going fishing, paddle boarding, kayaking, cycling and surfing definitely caught their interest.

Sea kayaking appealed
Sea kayaking appealed
Taking a boat out to fish caught their imagination
Taking a fishing trip caught their imagination
Some map work soon taught the students where Tofino and Vancouver Island can be found. The thought of driving from Calgary wasn’t very welcome, but a flight, especially if the last leg was by floatplane? Well…

An exciting way to travel!
An exciting way to travel!
Becoming more thoughtful, students talked about what work they might be able to find, and the skills they’d need to learn. Some wanted to fish, and take others fishing for a living. Several thought that being a pilot would be great. Training to become a chef was suggested, as was owning a hotel. One wanted to work for the Parks Service, and look after the bears. Not one wanted to work in an office, or behind a desk. Fingers crossed they are lucky in life with that.

Maybe they will fish for a living?
Maybe they will fish for a living?
I’m not suggesting for one moment that Tofino offers everything that a person might require. Yet it was interesting to see through the eyes of our next generation, consider what they think is important in and around a community. They did talk about the need for friendly people, schools, a hospital, dentists, and shops and stores. Emergency services got a mention, but nothing about lawyers. You can find some or most of these almost anywhere.

This isn't any old place, too special for that
This isn’t any old place, too special for that
To my mind, it was the outdoors and location that really fired up this group of young people. The need to be in a positive and healthy environment, and connected to nature. Here’s hoping they grow up that way. These were fun discussions, and they had me thinking about the West Coast – plus it provided a gratuitous excuse to trot out some more photos of Tofino from earlier in the summer here. That’s never a bad thing!

Better than a desk?
Better than a desk?
The perfect community? I’m not sure such a place exists, but I’m confident Tofino is pretty close to it, especially for the young, and young at heart!

Someone has to do this work...
Someone has to do this work…
There were two essentials that were missed, so I’ll add them here:

You have to have coffee shops with great coffee...
You have to have coffee shops with great coffee…
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
…and a microbrewery with great beer!
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to share a story or make a comment, 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.

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.

  

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.

Whitewater – what a thrill!

I usually prefer the quieter and more contemplative outdoor pursuits – honestly, there’s really no need for me to sing around the campfire or anything, that’s just cruel and unusual punishment for all the woodland creatures – but when friends suggested a morning of whitewater rafting we couldn’t say no.

  Maligne River, Jasper National Park, AB. Quiet and contemplative…

Rivers have cropped up in much of what we’ve been doing the past few weeks. We recently attended a National Geographic presentation, Chasing Rivers by photographer Pete McBride, where he discussed the importance of the Ganges and Colorado rivers. Using these mighty waterways as case studies, he spoke about how the health of a river is an excellent barometer of our environmental responsibility. The treatment a river gets from the humans relying on it for drinking water, agriculture, industry, or as a leisure resource can be quite astonishing. Rivers are such vital parts of our ecosystems, yet rarely get much attention or thought as we merrily extract millions of gallons to sprinkle our lawns, wash our vehicles or forgetfully leave taps running. Perhaps the best point McBride made was that we all live upstream of someone else. Thought provoking given that many rivers are running dry…

  Athabasca River, AB. We all live upstream or downstream to someone else – makes you think…

As well as the presentation, around the same time, and quite by coincidence, I read Peter Heller’s marvellous book Hell or High Water. Heller accompanied a group of kayakers on their expedition to Tibet, where they attempted the first successful descent of the Tsangpo Gorge through white waters that almost defy description in how dangerously wild they are. 
  Read this, it is an amazing true story!

If you enjoy reading first class writing about faraway places and grand (foolhardy?) adventures, then this is the book for you. I was mesmerized by Heller’s telling of the story. He captures the wonder of the locations as well as all the ego, bravado, bravery and dangerous politics of the expedition. He also provides astonishing background stories and histories of some earlier characters who attempted to uncover/discover the Gorge. It is a joy to read – even the very place names are a form of poetry:

Senchen La, Kondrasong La, Namcha Barwa, Gyala Peri, Sinji-Chogyal, Pemakochung. Just delightful sounding!

All this got me thinking back to last summer and our own little whitewater adventure. It was hardly riding Class V or VI rapids, but perfectly exciting Class III and IV water – more than enough for this novice. To put my nerves and fearlessness into perspective, when I say you couldn’t pay me to go on a rollercoaster, I’m being truthful. As I get older, the fear centre in my brain seems to increase in size. I shudder to recall the tree climbing and zip lining “exploits” of years gone by. What was I thinking?

  This seems exciting enough – snapped on my walk to work last week – is this his commute?! 

So I was just a little apprehensive during the excellent and comprehensive safety talk our guide gave us before launch. It was detailed enough on the whole being thrown out of the raft mid rapids explanation that I was having serious second – and third – thoughts. But you can’t lose face in front of friends and family, and anyway, I appeared to be firmly stuck into the wetsuit. Good look for an old PlaidCamper. The best part was when our guide asked for two volunteers to take the front positions in the raft – allegedly the high responsibility places on board. We were all glancing at each other, shuffling a bit and hoping someone else volunteered. What happened was our fellow passengers all shuffled back a pace, making it look like my friend and I had stepped up. My pulse might have quickened…

 Fun, fun, fun!

It was such fun! Being sat at the front was tremendous. The first hole we plunged into left me feeling exhilarated – no time for nerves, you had to paddle as directed by our guide. I’m smiling now as I recall the sheer excitement of those rapids. I really hadn’t anticipated how thrilling our trip down the river would be. I’d go again tomorrow if friends suggested it (or when the rivers are ready, which is the next week or two). Sign me up!

 Still fun!

The pictures of our little group you see on this post were supplied by the excellent outfitters who ran our expedition. I won’t advertise, but I have left a link to their site below if you are interested.

Anyway, there you have it. Something about how rivers have been on my mind recently, and a recollection of an exciting whitewater adventure from last July. Horseshoe Canyon on the Bow River isn’t the Tsango Po Gorge (thank goodness) but it did provide a great introduction to an exciting outdoor activity. I love being by rivers, and this was a new way to enjoy one. However, I’d have been equally as happy hiking, camping or sitting on the riverbank (and I did get as great a thrill the first time I tried fly fishing – but that’s for telling another day!) I’ll finish with a calming picture, soothing after the adrenaline rush:

 A peaceful stream, Sedona AZ

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

Click for more information about photographer Pete McBride!

Click to see Peter Heller’s Tsangpo expedition photos!

Click for information about rafting the Horseshoe Canyon!

Yoho in colour, a Dickens of a fish – and who was Dolly Varden?

Dolly Varden – what a name! But who was she? Or, who is she? A mystery, or mysterious unknown person, at least to me. For a naturalist, it must be great to be qualified and knowledgeable enough to be able to identify and name a new species. How does that happen?

A sunny spring hike in Yoho National Park a couple of weeks ago had me pondering this as I came across a name I’d never heard before. Naming a new species? Maybe you have to be the first person there. Or the first person to tell someone else. How are the actual new names chosen? Do you name it for yourself, or for a nearest and dearest? (Best be careful here, a loved one might not appreciate their name being used for a new species of insect or mollusc – just saying). The place it resides? Or whatever comes to mind? I’m pretty sure there is a sound scientific method these days. Dolly Varden…

We’d intended to go snowshoeing as snow had fallen later in the day and overnight after we’d taken our monochrome Field pictures (A Field Day). Instead, the Rockies played their usual weather tricks, and freezing winter one day gave way to an almost summer like sunny day the next, with temperatures reaching double digits in the high teens.

On the way to Emerald Lake we stopped and took in the views up and down the Kicking Horse River as it kicked on in the early thaw.

  Beautiful looking upstream…

  …and beautiful looking downstream!

When we arrived at Emerald Lake, you could see the remaining snow on hiking paths was packed and easy to walk on without snowshoes. Of course, with spring temperature fluctuations, it was now avalanche season in Yoho, and this determined where we could hike safely. 

  Couldn’t miss – or ignore – the warning!

Jackets had to be removed, and no need for hat and gloves. It was so warm that butterflies were out! Best of all, you could breathe in pine fragranced air and hear almost total quiet – hushed enough to enjoy the occasional knocking of a woodpecker, the call of distant songbirds and the rush of wings as ravens flew overhead. Aah, spring. The path wound through trees and descended to the edge of the lake.

  Tantalizing views through the trees close to the lakeshore!

  Across Emerald Lake

It was actually pleasant to be in the cool of the shade from time to time, although really it was even more pleasant to feel warm sun on your face!

  Easy hiking on packed snow

Is it time to get back to the question at the heading of this piece? Yes it is, PlaidCamper! 

At intervals along the edge of the frozen lakeshore there were wooden signs providing information about the geology, flora and fauna around Emerald Lake. The rock flour or silt that is found in the water provides the beautiful summertime colour the lake is named for. Silt prevents much light penetrating the water and consequently there is relatively little aquatic life. However, according to the information, one of the larger fish species found is the (drum roll) Dolly Varden char. 

I was so intrigued by what seemed a strange name for a fish that I looked it up later. It comes from a Dickens character in Barnaby Rudge, who wore muslin over petticoats – a fashion in the late 1800s –  and the fish colouring and patterning is reminiscent of this. So, Dolly is a fashionable and literary fish! Probably better than naming it after a potential future ex…

It was such a delightful hike around the lake. We’d hoped for a blast of winter and were rewarded instead with a beautiful spring day. That, and making Dolly Varden’s acquaintance, made for a different mountain adventure. 

  Get it down, make it watertight, and go fish for a Dolly…

Now, I wouldn’t mind betting there’s a great recipe out there for Dolly – I’m thinking lemon, rosemary, and a hint of garlic. Any ideas?! Thanks for reading, and keep your guy ropes secure.