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.

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.