Monday, June 1, 2009

Adventure 07: Crofton

This was definitely different. Bioluminescence, glowing plankton... anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The beginning of the story goes like this:

I was at a Counselor Training Seminar at Camp Qwanoes. Yeah, you must think I'm out of my mind if I want to spend my summer in a cabin with 10 Junior High kids. Well, it's just for a week and I'm actually pretty excited about it. Qwanoes is a Christian adventure camp in Crofton, BC.

Lots of cool things happened this past weekend at Qwanoes, but I want to tell you about Saturday night. I guess it was time to sleep because it had been dark for a while and at this time of the year the sun is setting at around 10 pm. One of the head counselors told us about the glowing things in the water at night, so we (three of the guys) followed him down a path in the forest through a trail that led to the beach. 

"I hope there is no high tide," he said. 

No kidding.

All we had was one head lamp to make it through the dark, sensing our way in the chack-chack-chack of our shoes against the gravel. Down a steep slope we got to the beach--just a couple of meters of rocky ground from the end of the forest to the edge of the water. 

One only has to stir the ocean a little to see green glowing dots begin to dance around like stars in a space movie. I didn't have my camera with me (and a good thing because it wouldn't have survived), so this picture is from another site.

We started walking to where the dock is. Two of the guys walked directly on the water, but Matt and I stayed on dry ground, or should I say on obstacle ground? Yes, the tide was high. All the way. We balanced ourselves over fallen logs, ducked below low-hanging branches and climbed around boulders. Until Matt slipped. Until there was no more beach.

So I took my shoes off and into the water. I ended up losing a sock and damping my pants almost up to my waist. Each stride created a strip of flaky bioluminescence. We turned off the lamp to see them better. It was an awesome thing. 

I'm not a bare-feet kind of guy, so I felt every rock and layer of slime hurt my feet, while I balanced my shoes on one hand and my sweater in the other.

Here's a picture of the beach where we were walking:

The gorgeous night, the glowing plankton, and the good humor of my friends, made this a great adventure. We ended up wet and muddy, but we won't forget that night easily.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Adventure Previews

I had the chance of a cool adventure this weekend but ended up not taking it. We were at Horne Lake, where you can do caving, kayaking and canoeing, but we decided to simply hike and leave the caving for some other time, when my buddy Andrew (who's a cave tour guide at the park) is free to take us there and not busy in training.

Anyway, we had a chance to walk around the Lake and take some amazing pictures. We love it here so much that my wife and I have started a company to do outdoor events and team building activities on Vancouver Island. The company is called BU Group, and you can check out the Web site here.  

We are partnering with several awesome venues on VI to take groups of people and do cool outdoor stuff. Horne Lake is one of those places, so I'll give you a preview of that with some pictures below. 

Another place is Wild Play Element Parks, where you can do Bungy Jumping, and some amazing things in their Tree Course. You'll feel like Tarzan (or Jane!)

So in the future, I'll have something to tell about my adventures in those places, but for now, this is just a preview of what's coming. Hey, and if you are planning to come to Vancouver Island just let us know and we'll take you in some wild outdoor adventure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Adventure 06: Mount Benson

We didn’t really know what we had signed up for.

Our friends Jason and Charity, the ultimate outdoor couple, wanted us to come along for their Victoria Day outing. A hike to the top of Mount Benson? Sure, why not? That sounds like fun.

I thought about it, placed in my mind the picture of the green mountain that serves as Nanaimo’s backdrop (Mt Benson is the one in the center of this blog's header). It looks tall but if there are trails…

“And what about our kids?” I asked Jason.

“Bring them. There are some parts where you have to use a rope,” he said, “but we can find a way around them.”

I guess that in part because I feel obligated now to post something adventurous to this blog, and in part because this outdoor stuff is getting addictive, I said yes.

Here we are at the beginning of our hike at Westwood Lake, fresh like baby powder…

The weather forecast called for a rainy day, but we set out optimistic anyway, under a gray sky.

You know how it goes, the backpacks full of water and snacks, the heart full of hope, and the legs full of energy. 

We walked a few hundred meters on the lake trail and then veered out through a logging road, eating apples, thankful for the lack of rain, a bunch of happy campers. As we departed from the trail, we got immersed into a deep forest of Douglas firs, oh the nature in Vancouver Island ever so beautiful. 

We passed over a brook and made a quick stop for a picture. Then the road began to ascend until the trail met with the first steep slope of the climb--and the first rope.

Jason, ever so honest, quickly noted that this was an easy one. Worst would come. Well, we made it and had no need to worry about our little ones. The fact is, my youngest son was usually the first to climb the slopes and had to wait for the rest of us...

An hour or so into the mountain I felt like asking my wife to carry the backpack, but we macho gentlemen don't do that, right? So I kept it, even though my sedentary legs were starting to tingle. Ignore the whining muscles and keep going, I said to myself, and so I did...

And I mean, my kids were doing great, I couldn't complain. We were warming up for the hours of climbing ahead, for the breathtaking views that awaited above. So let me show you more...

The hardest rope.

The logging road.

Nanaimo from above.

1 km from the top, a bit of snow surviving its way through the spring.

The last part of my ascent felt glorious; the moment of truth that would be written in history (or at least in my blog) stating that I did it, that I climbed to the top of Mt. Benson, even if it took me 6 hours and one agonizing calf. I felt like Rocky Balboa!

The magnificent view of the coast and of the city of Nanaimo was only rivaled by a view I had never seen before, the other side of the mountain: a range of undeveloped mountains with pine trees as numerous as Abraham's descendants, the beautiful monotonous green of the pine trees only smothered by brown clearings where the loggers made their circles.  We felt so great, resting at the top...

But it all soon vanished.

Clouds and more clouds. Rain clouds surrounded us as we boggled the tea and the crackers we had managed to improvise from our bags.

Whoever said the way down was the easier one was so wrong, so wrong. The boys were exhausted. The energetic toddler who climbed up happy wanted to be held all the way down. Now the pain in my feet followed the strained legs in a tortuous parade that could end up in a nasty cramp at any given moment. Every single pebble in the road felt like a sting in my soles and I could only try to distract myself with friendly conversation, while gravity pulled me down the slopes.

But we made it. I've been sore for some days afterwards, but it was worth it. The sense of accomplishment is there. And so are the photos and the videos and this long post, that may be tiring you as much as the hike tired me, so I'll just go to sleep...

Thanks for reading!  

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Between Adventures

I didn't go on an adventure this past weekend, other than taking our kids to a birthday party. I did learn a lesson about buying mountain bikes, though. We had bought a bike at a general retail store (Canadian Tire) instead of going to a specialty bike shop because they had some good brand bikes at 50% off.

The bike, however, broke down within a week. We took it back, they couldn't fix it, so they gave us a new one. This one broke too. Since I'm not a bike expert, I asked my friend Andrew to take a look at it. Apparently, whoever assembled the bike at the store did a pretty poor job with the gears and the chain, and that was causing the problem. We ended up returning the bike. Next time, I'll go to a real bicycle shop and take Andrew with me.

Although there was not an adventure this week, I still want to share a bit of beautiful Vancouver Island with you. Here are some pictures that my wife took during a recent business trip to Victoria.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Adventure 05: Qualicum Beach

A friend told me that I had to go to the Fire & Ice Street Festival in Qualicum Beach. 

"Fire and ice? What is that? A circus?" I said.

"No," my friend said. "They have ice sculptures and a chili cook-off."

Ice carving sounded kind of cultural and cool-ish. But chili cook-off sounded more like my old Texas thing. I mean, chili in Vancouver Island? I had to see it; I had to try it!

So, I huddled my family into the mini-van on a rainy day and drove up to Qualicum Beach.

For a mere $3, you could buy a chili cup and then go from stand to stand trying all sorts of chili. 

One had to keep track of the number of the stands to vote for the best. 

I guess my years of Tex-Mex food prepared me well for this event, because my taste buds didn't burn and my stomach didn't complain afterwards. 

My favorites were those that gave you chips and other goodies, not just the brownish soup. One came with cheese, sour cream, and chips. Very nice, eh?

Oh, yeah, and the ice sculptures. Look at this guy, who turned this...

Into this...

Okay, so here's the real shock. Remember the horror movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I saw the old one as a kid and never forgot about it. Nasty thing. Now, there are these guys with chainsaws at the festival, using them as chisels!

I've always been proud of the ice cubes I can make, but these carvers are at another level. Check these out:

Very cold, I mean, cool. But what is a street festival without some senior tap dancing? We enjoyed this and I bet you will too...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Adventure 04: Cathedral Grove

This was my birthday adventure... 

An ancient forest in the heart of Vancouver Island, inhabited by giant sleepers covered in green moss: some fallen, some still standing, some blackened and hollowed by centuries-old fires, some indented by loggers, some carved by Canada's First Nations, and all admired by the dwarf tourists.

Welcome to Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. It may be a cliche to say that I felt like I was in a scene of Lord of the Rings, but that was my first thought. And, of course, my son is as tall as a hobbit, so there you go...

Douglas-fir trees, red cedars and some other trees whose names I can't recall, but that are as wide as a car. They say the largest tree in the park is about 800 years-old. One can tell the age of a tree by counting the rings (you see, Lord of the Rings!) from the center of the tree and out.  For example, this fallen tree was 433 years-old when it died:
From left to right: Tree, 433; Diego 31.

We spent about an hour hiking around the forest, taking pictures inside hollow cedars and learning a lot about these gorgeous trees. You'll see that I finally bought the weatherproof hiking boots that I didn't have on my trips to Mount Washington...

Inside the hollow tree.

Of course, I had to work out a little bit...

After walking around the park and getting to know the forest, you just got to love those trees:

Tree hugger!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Adventure 03: Drumberg Park

This adventure didn't require much adrenaline or special skills. This was smooth and easy. Just a walk in a beautiful provincial park in Gabriola Island.

Here, it's more about watching than it is about doing. I actually spotted a couple of eagles, two snakes and some other sea creatures. Here are some pictures of the scenery:

Something I found interesting about this park is that it lacks the big parking lot and the paved entrance with flashing signs of most parks in the US. The entrance was actually marked by a sign carved in wood by a road that looked more like a hiking trail than the motor vehicle entry--a narrow mud road lined by a forest of majestic trees. It was cool.

Once you get to the beach, there are all sorts of things to explore...

I think I'll explore some other parks in Vancouver Island in the future. My buddy Andrew is a guide at Horne Lake, and he can take us into the caves.... sounds cool, eh?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Adventure 02: Skiing

The ibuprofen is kicking in, helping these sore muscles recover from my first ever ski lesson. 

In a couple of weeks, Mount Washington--the preferred destination in Vancouver Island for winter sports--is closing for the winter season, because the snow will melt, the skis will be packed and the mountain bikes will roll... so that meant we had to go back there if I was to try something more exciting than snow tubing.

We were actually thinking about going to the renown Whistler, north of Vancouver, but we would have spent three times what we paid at Mt. Washington and for the same activities. A friend actually told me that many people from Vancouver fly over to the Comox airport in Vancouver Island and go up to ski in Mt Washington because it is cheaper. For instance, I paid about CA$70 for a 2-hour private lesson, boots, skies and helmet included (and I could keep the equipment for the rest of the day). At Whistler, a private ski lesson (3 hours) is about $345 plus the cost of the equipment and the lift. Another good reason to love Vancouver Island Outdoors.

I must say that skiing is "kinda cool." I'm still a beginner but at least got some basic techniques today (and a few falls, by the way).  

Keith, my instructor, was nice and patient with me, even though my brain and my body were not cooperating this morning. I knew what I had to do to turn right or left, but my legs did something different and downhill I went...

I once tripped on my pole and once the lift went on without me, leaving me splayed on the snow (not the lift on the video below, but a different one that picks you up from the legs). But I just stood again and kept trying.

According to Keith, the secret to ski, is very simple. Are you ready? Here we go, the secret for skiing revealed: stick your butt out. Yeap, that's it. Just bend your knees and keep the painful squatting position so the weight is on the front of the skis and not on the back. That will keep you going. Of course, there is more to ski than showing your attributes, but this little secret will solve most of your problems when you are going downhill. 

I don't have any videos going down this time, but only one one returning to the top for another try.

I'm very proud of my wife and son who did great on their first try snowboarding. Mount Washington is such a neat place, that you just can't skip it if you come to Vancouver Island.  Here's another short video of the scenery there...

Ah, and did I mention that I went snow tubing again? 

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Adventure 01: Mount Washington

My second post was supposed to be about getting the right outdoor gear but I was ill this past week and didn't get a chance to go shopping before my first scheduled outdoor adventure.

Some friends invited us to Mount Washington, here in Vancouver Island, so we drove up north to the Comox Valley. 

The scenery is beautiful on the road, with pine trees, snow-covered mountains in 
the distance, and ocean views in some stretches. 

I could tell this was not Texas anymore just by the road signs, like the one that said "Elk, Next 20km." 

They seem to have a lot of elk around here but not so many gas stations. We almost ran out of gas! My gas light was blinking for 30km before I could find a place to pump. Thank God we made it.

Anyway, once we got to Mount Washington, we could see hundreds of people skiing and snowboarding. They have some affordable lessons for beginners but we got there to late in the day to sign up for them (and we had brought the kids along).

So, for my first outdoor adventure, I started at a very basic level: snow tubing

You sit on a tube and slide down a slope, turning around, feeling the roller-coaster-type knot in your stomach, and the wind on your face before hitting the hay.  It was actually quite fun, eh?

Here's how they get you to the top of the slope (very relaxing, according to my son):

I should have gotten my gear first, because without snow boots or at least waterproof boots, your sneakers can get wet really fast. Here I am, snow tubing:

The cool thing is that you can go down in groups--you just hang on to your mate's tube and scream your face off. My friend's family and mine got together, so we had eight people in one fun ride:

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Journey Begins...

I don’t really like the term “couch potato” (or as I once said to a friend in a tongue slip, “that guy is a potato couch”). I prefer sedentary.

(of a person) tending to spend much time seated;
somewhat inactive.

Yeah, that’s what I became during my five years working as a science writer in Texas. I had my week-long going-to-the-gym spells every now and then, but mostly my life went by in front of a computer screen.

But things change and God had a different plan for me, so I ended up here in the stunningly beautiful Vancouver Island. Soon after arriving, I discovered that people here are not really interested in science writing. Not a surprise, eh?

Everybody I met had a weird hobby that I knew nothing about: Andrew is an expert rock climber, Mark kayaks between different gulf islands, Gary goes hiking in the mountains… then there’s this other guy who surfs in Tofino and snowboards in Mount Washington, and the gal who does canoeing in the river and mountain biking in the summer. I feel tired just thinking about all this.

But you know what? It sounds exciting, so I said, wha-da-heck, let’s try it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do all those outdoor sports and more. Maybe one day I’ll be the ultimate outdoor guy. I’ll just have to find time to write my adventures in this blog.

If you are not into outdoor sports, I hope this blog will inspire you to try them. And if you are, please share some tips and encouragement.