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: