Saturday, September 1, 2018

No Such Thing as Bad Weather

Us outdoor enthusiasts like to say 'there’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing'.  

But what, exactly, constitutes good clothing for enjoying outdoor activities in winter?  My answer to that question is a little different from what I’ve seen/heard, so this blog entry is going to share my personal strategy for getting out in winter and LIKING it. 

Most of us already know that cotton is the “death fabric” in winter and we should avoid it at all costs.  But there are some surprising other fabrics that I’ve learned to avoid in winter as well, for example, polar fleece, and any “wonder” fabrics touted as being great “wicking” fabrics for avoiding having moisture held against your skin.  With both fleece and "wicking" fabrics, I have a problem with getting (and staying) chilled after I've finished an activity.  

Now that I’ve taken away fleece and all of those fancy “wicking” fabrics, what am I left with?!  WOOL!  See my 2012 blog, A Little Wool-vangelism.  Wool is practically the only fabric I wear in winter.  I stay warm during the activity.  More crucially, I do not get chilled to the bone AFTER the activity.  It takes a lot of time, and a lot of sweat for it to start stinking, which is why it’s also my fabric of choice for summer cycle touring – you’ll never see me in a fancy cycle jersey, as awesome as those are. 

I am one of those people who gets cold easily, stays cold, and HATES being cold, yet I love my outdoor winter activities.  Here’s my list of winter must-haves (and must-dos) for enjoying myself:

ItemNotesWhere to Get
Bra For winter activities, I skip wearing a bra altogether. I haven’t yet found one that does not contribute to my getting chilled, and since I’m “appropriately endowed” to go without, I do.
A buff is a great, versatile piece of gear. You can wear it on your head, around your neck, around your face, and even under your cycle helmet. In fact, I wear a buff under my helmet every single time I ride because it keeps me warm when I need warm, and protects me from sunburn on my forehead and neck when it’s sunny out. You can get merino buffs (yay for wool), and the “polar fleece” buffs are my exception to my “no polar fleece” rule because they’re great scarf substitutes and you can take them off before they contribute to getting chilled when you’re finished your activity.
I like PlanetBuff (now PlanetGear) for getting buffs but you can now get them at pretty much any outdoor store. Be mindful of the fabric you’re buying, though… there are a lot of knock-offs out there that won’t give you what you need.
Gloves Sometimes, during your activity (e.g., having lunch) you have to take your gloves off. Any time I take my gloves off, I stick them under my jacket into my arm pits. That keeps them nice and warm so when I put them back on, they give my hands a nice boost of warmth instead of keeping them sufferingly cold.
Merino Shirts
I own short-sleeved merinos, long-sleeved merinos, and turtle-necked marinos, and I layer them according to the weather. Merino wool is non-scratchy so you can wear it right against your skin, and as I’ve said (multiple times) before, they don’t pick up the stink that other fabrics do. Wool is the only fabric that I’ve discovered that I can wear in which I do NOT get overly chilled after I’m done my activity.
You can buy merino shirts at the outdoor stores, but they’re often over $100 for one shirt. Look for a source for them that is not quite so dear. I used to buy Segments brand merino shirts at Costco. You can still get some merino at Costco. You can also, apparently, buy Segments brand on Amazon.
Merino Longies If merino is good enough to wear against my torso, it’s certainly good enough to wear against my legs, and I do. All the same advantages. Ditto for the shirts above. I believe merino longies are still available at Costco.
Wool Sweaters I own a variety of wool sweaters – pull-overs, and cardigans. Since regular wool is NOT non-scratchy, I never wear it right against my skin – only merino for that. But you can add as many wool layers as you like/need over top of your merino to keep you warm. Don’t wear a heavy coat – one or two good wool sweaters under a shell jacket is perfect. My favorite wool sweaters came from thrift stores. You can get great deals on the wool layers you need. I also love my alpaca wool sweater that I ordered from South America, and my pretty Irish wool sweater that I bought… in Ireland.
Magical Pants by Lole For a lot of winter activities, especially cross-country skiing
and cycling, your thighs are a“leading edge” for cold air. If you have a problem with the fronts of your legs getting cold, I highly recommend “Magical Pants” by Lole, which have insulated panels down the front. If you buy the kind with bright colored panels, note that they wear very large (order at least one size smaller than usual), and if you buy the kind with the olive green-ish panels, note that they wear very small (order your usual size, or one size larger than usual).
Lole web site, Lole store, or e-Bay.
Bicycle Pogies
Pogies are covers that you attach to your bicycle handlebars that you can put your hands inside. When cycling in colder weather, your hands are another “leading edge” that can get extremely cold, and the right set of pogies will completely solve that problem.
Your favorite bike store.
Bicycle Overshoes Overshoes slip on over your cycle shoes (leaving a hole at the
bottom for your clips) to prevent your feet (another “leading edge”) from getting too cold. They work, and they’re really really worth it.
Your favorite bike store.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Bed Bug-Proof Your Bed

Stumbling around (everywhere) is great fun, but it does have its risks as well.  One modern-day risk is bed bugs.  EEEUUUUUUUUWWWWWWW!!!   Bed bugs can hitch a ride on you from hotels, libraries, theatres… all kinds of places.  They can also just make their own way into your home (especially if you live in a multi-family structure, which Brent and I do).

With our globe-trotting lifestyle, Brent and I have anticipated these horrifying visitors for a long time.  This summer our luck ran out and the visitors arrived.  In a panic, we did a tonne of research and took immediate action to begin the arduous task of ridding ourselves of them. 

Interestingly, before we got to the point of calling an exterminator, we realized that we’d contained the infestation all on our own (with good advice from a neighbor, the internet and some library books).  We’ve been bite-free for several weeks, and are pretty confident we prevented a worse infestation.  

But just because Brent and I got lucky and had an easy time of it AFTER infestation, that doesn’t mean YOU will.  Lots of folks have to go through a time- and effort-intensive, not to mention grossly expensive, process to rid themselves of the visitors.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned about bed bug-proofing your bed as an important aspect of PREVENTION.  Preventing an infestation being infinitely preferable to eradicating an infestation. 

There are two main things you can do with your bed to prevent an infestation:
  1. Make your bed impossible for the bugs to infiltrate
  2. Make your bed inhospitable for an infestation in case bugs do infiltrate

Make Your Bed an Island

Bed bugs cannot fly or jump, and they have trouble walking on slick surfaces (they CAN walk up walls).  This makes it super easy to turn your bed into an island unto itself:
  1. Move your bed far enough from walls and other furniture to ensure that your bedding does not touch anything (walls, other furniture, etc). 
  2. Ensure that your bedding does not touch the floor.  I use big safety pins to pin up the corners of our comforter so the corners can’t touch the floor.
  3. Make it impossible for the bugs to crawl up from the floor.  Make sure your box spring is raised up on legs.  If the legs are slick metal themselves, that may be all you need to do.  With wooden legs, or other surfaces that bed bugs can climb, you can add a level of separation by sitting the legs inside of slick metal containers.  You can add even another level of protection by putting oil (e.g., baby oil) inside the slick metal container so that if a bug makes it into the container, it drowns in the oil before it can journey up the bed leg.  If you don’t want your bed legs to come in contact with the oil, use two nested containers: an inner one for the legs to sit in, and a larger one to contain the oil which the inner one sits in. 
know doing these things really messes with your Martha Stewart Mojo, but trust me... it's worth it. 

Make Your Bed Inhospitable

In case a bed bug is able to reach your Island Bed, make sure you make it as hard as possible for her to set up camp.  
  1. You can buy bed bug proof mattress and box spring covers.  Buy them and use them.  For our box spring, instead of a commercial cover, Brent took a large sheet of plastic and encased the box spring in plastic, taped securely like a giant birthday present.  We use an off-the-shelf bed bug proof mattress cover (under our regular mattress cover). 
  2. If there’s any chance that you have a bug (or bugs) in your bed already, in addition to encasing your mattress and box spring, you should “process” your bedding by running everything through a hot dryer for an hour to kill any bugs.  You can run your mattress cover and bedding through the washer and hot dryer.  Run your pillows through the dryer as well.

Be safe out there, and seriously… don’t let the bed bugs bite!  Don’t even let ‘em get in bed with you.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Cycle Touring as a Weight-Loss Strategy

I am not a super-fit hard-core anything.  I know - shocker.  But I am an enthusiastic participant in outdoor activities, and have recently moved “cycle touring” up to the top of my favorite pastimes.

Now, one would think that piling 50lbs of gear onto one’s bicycle, and going out and riding about 50km per day with it, up and down hills, on gravel, cobblestones and “Edmonton surface” would be a pretty good way to shed a few pounds.  If one thought that, sadly, one would be (mostly) wrong.

Brent and his friend, Doug, rode across Canada two years before we met.  Brent is fond of saying that you gain weight for the first three weeks of a cycle tour, and then the weight starts coming off.  He did drop a bunch of weight on his big tour (after his initial three weeks of gain), but he also gained a shed-load of weight in the first year afterwards.

In the early days of our relationship, Brent decided he’d like to take me to do the Golden Triangle, which is a supported tour in the Canadian Rockies, of approximately 317km over three days.  “Woo-hoo,” thinks I, “this will give my metabolism a great kick in the arse and I’ll come back a lean, mean cycling machine”.  Wrong.  I trained some before the tour.  I did most of the tour (although I dropped out of the last section due to exhaustion and traffic dangers).  I came back about three pounds heavier than I’d left.  “What the pudge?!” thinks I.

A few years later, and a few more pounds in the upward direction, Brent suggests that we take a month off and cycle tour in Australia.  Taking off a full month from work was a pretty big deal to me at the time, but hey, when the love of your life wants to take you off to the other side of the world to see what that’s all about, you go.  And, “Woo-hoo,” thinks I, “three days may not have been enough to kick my metabolism in the arse, but a full month!?  That will for sure send me back a lean, mean cycling machine!”  Wrong.  I came back about three pounds heavier than when I left.  I blamed it on cycling less than we’d planned (scary scary roads in Tasmania), and eating more Australian licorice than I’d planned.

A few years later, and even more pounds in the upward direction, Brent and I were off for a six-month tour in Europe.  That’s right folks - SIX MONTHS.  “Woo-hoo,” thinks I, “if Brent is right about the three weeks thing, then a six month tour will surely send me back a lean, mean cycling machine!”  You can see where this is going.  Wrong.  I came back about the same weight as when I left, which was dreadfully high for my tiny frame.  I had even planned for appropriate weight management for the trip.  I would rein in my calories when we stopped riding, manage my caloric intake very carefully when we got back to Canada, and I would blog about it, which would keep me on the straight and narrow.  Unfortunately, we stopped cycling a full month before our trip was done, instead of cycling right to the end as planned, and no, I didn’t do a very good job of reining in my caloric intake for that last month.  When we got back, it was winter and I had crippling tennis elbow, so I was not active enough, and I didn’t do a very good job of reining in my caloric intake that winter either.  My weight increased more yet.

Two years later, we headed back for a month of touring in Germany.  I may not be a hard-core super-fit anything, but “stubborn” I can do.  I’m determined this time to get some weight loss out of this tour.  I joined a gym the November before, started diligent calorie tracking, and started training for the tour, which would be the following June.  By the time of the tour, my weight had come down and stabilized at about seven pounds lower than my highest.  I still had the pipe-dream about coming back lighter than when I left (yes, “stubborn” I can do).  True to Brent’s mantra, I seemed to have gained weight for the first three weeks of the tour, which, let’s be honest, was pretty much the whole trip (we didn’t ride for the last three days).  But, hey, I dialed back my calories for those three days, and have been tightly managing my calories since we got back two weeks ago.  I’m staying good and active (it’s summer this time), and my weight is drifting down slowly.  I came back at about the same weight as I left, but that includes some extra muscle (so, I guess, some fat gone), and the weight is drifting down.

Hope springs eternal.  And if it doesn’t work out this time, well, there’s always France in 2019.  You know, because the meals and portion sizes in France are healthier than in Germany…

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Cycle Touring Hardships

In 2015, Brent and I did a six-month cycle tour in Europe, and our friend, Laura, joined us for a month-long portion of that tour. She was bitten just as hard by the cycle-touring bug as I was, and she and I have spent the last couple of years scheming about all the tours we want to do. In June of 2017, the three of us went back to Germany to ride the Romantische Stra├če and the Mittelrhein, for the first of what we hope will be many return cycle touring trips.
The trip to Germany reminded me of how well Brent, Laura and I travel together. It’s also reminded me that a fourth travel companion in 2015 did not find our travel style, or the trip, a complete joy.
We’ve been working on talking a number of friends into joining our next tour in France in 2019. I thought it might be a good idea to warn those fine folks about some of the less-than-ideal circumstances they might encounter in 2019 so they can make a properly-informed decision about joining us.
Here are some of the “hardships” we anticipate for folks:
  1. Early Starts: No one is obligated to take early starts, but if you want to ride with Brent, Laura and me, you have to be prepared to have wheels rolling every day by 8AM at the absolute latest. This is not only our preference, but we also find there are a number of advantages to doing this. For example, you can get your daily riding done before the worst heat of the day (if the day is going to be hot); you can get your daily riding done before the afternoon rain showers (if there are going to be afternoon rain showers); you are less likely to encounter problems getting a spot in the campground because you’re some of the first ones to arrive. If you want to join us on a tour, but don't want the early starts, you can certainly set your own start times and ride by yourself, or you can try to rally some other late-starting folks to form a “second group” if you like. If you do, you must be prepared to make your own way during the day, stay in touch via text (if our technology is cooperating) to confirm where we’ve stopped for the night, and take your chances on getting a spot at the campground (no, we can’t reserve spots for you each day). In the case of a heat wave, we might even adjust to “wheels rolling” by 7:00 (instead of 8:00) to beat the heat.
  2. Campgrounds: A lot of us are used to the peace and serenity of backcountry campgrounds. That’s not what we’ll encounter on a cycle tour. We’ll be staying in side-of-the-road campgrounds with campers stacked one on top of the other. They can be extremely crowded and noisy (this is more of a problem in Germany than in France). Laura recommends "safety grade" earplugs and says the campgrounds can be "like Banff campgrounds on the May long weekend before the alcohol ban was put in". As far as we know, in France, you at least get your own assigned site. In Germany, tents don’t even get an assigned site in most places – you’re just sent to the “Zeltplatz” (tent place), which is a big open area, and you pitch wherever there’s an empty patch of grass. The disadvantage of assigned sites, of course, is that the campground might be full when you get there (see early starts).
  3. Camping… a LOT: Laura, Brent and I prefer camping. It is easier and more flexible (and easier on the budget). Given the choice, we will almost always choose camping. For example, on our 2017 tour, we checked into Penzions 4 times due to bad weather and/or lack of campgrounds, plus a BnB for the end of the trip to prepare for going home. Other than that, we camped. You are not obligated to camp as much as we do, but if you choose not to, you’ll be in charge of making your own arrangements. Since we will have a tentative destination for each day, but no guarantees, you should not make reservations more than a day in advance. In 2015, I would make reservations in the morning for that night through Besides complications with not finding a place at all, if you do manage to book into a place, it may be more expensive than you were hoping, it may be difficult to find in the town, and it may be straight up a freakin’ hill when you get there. When you get there, you have to unload your bike and carry EVERYTHING up to the top floor (yes, you’ll always end up on the top floor… just because). Camping is easier. I do recommend sticking with us on that.
  4. Coffee: We do not recommend bringing a stove nor cookware on the trip. We either eat cold food “off the bikes”, or in restaurants. It’s not worth it to haul the extra gear to prepare food (or coffee) in our opinion. If you decide to bring cookware and prepare coffee in the mornings that is absolutely fine, but remember the early starts – early starts don’t wait for coffee. If you don’t bring anything to prepare coffee, you must be prepared to wait for coffee. We stop for a short or long break every hour when riding, and we try to find coffee on the first stops, but we don’t always find a place. In 2017 we even had a day where we had to wait until the next day for “first coffee”!
  5. Food/Meals: Our tours are not “foodie” trips. We don’t spend a tonne of time and energy seeking the exact right meal for every meal – often we’re just fueling the machine. We buy groceries to carry with us (be sure to reserve some room in a pannier for groceries, or better yet, carry an insulated bag of some kind), and often have breakfast and/or lunch “off the bikes” (e.g., yogurt, rolls, volkenbrot, cheese, sandwich meat, fruit). When it’s dinner time we often have more choice, and sometimes we have a truly special experience, but often it’s “just a meal”. In France, restaurants don’t open for dinner until 7PM. By then, we’ve usually eaten off the bikes, or filled ourselves with pub food.
  6. Weight Gain: It is likely that you will GAIN (not lose) weight on a cycle tour. What else can I say about that? Don't get your hopes up about losing weight. If you did a longer tour than a month, that would likely happen, but as Brent always says, expect to gain weight for the first three weeks of a cycle tour. On a month-long tour, the last week isn't enough time to make a meaningful difference, especially when the last two or three days are reserved for chores and preparation to come home.  See my blog about this.
  7. Laundry and Hygiene: Cycle touring can be like extended backpacking. You have limited clothing with you, limited options for showers, and even more limited options for doing laundry. Europeans don’t have bathtubs like we’re used to. It is unlikely that you will be able to submerge your body into a tub of water on a cycle tour. We try to do a load of laundry every few days, but sometimes you go for longer than anticipated without being able to do some. Be prepared to stink. Be prepared to stink even when you’re on your way into a restaurant. Also, re: laundry… even when you get to do laundry, it’s not like doing laundry at home. A lot of European machines take (literally) three hours to do a load. You just may not get your turn at the machine. Be prepared to hang clothes instead of using a dryer (often a dryer isn’t even available). Be prepared to share laundry loads with others – we can’t all take our individual turn at a machine that takes three hours.
  8. Smokers: Unfortunately, EVERYONE in Europe smokes. Yes… EVERYONE. And they smoke in restaurants. EVERYONE smokes, and they smoke EVERYWHERE. It’s actually the one thing that makes me feel like I’m happy to come home after a trip – just to get away from the damned smoke.
  9. Accommodation: We have to be extremely flexible about accommodation. Often what we plan works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe we don’t make as many kms as we planned. Maybe we actually make more. We don’t make reservations ahead of time. We breeze into town hoping for the best. Sometimes we have to keep on breezing into the next town…
  10. Sight-Seeing: We’re not going to be able to see everything, or visit every point of interest along the way. For the 2019 trip, I will “survey” the folks who commit to coming about what they want to be sure to see, and we’ll do our best to see those things, but be prepared to leave some things “on the table” for your next trip to the area. I’ll be trying to organize our “rest days” around areas with lots to see so that folks can see as much as possible, but we’re just not going to see everything.
  11. Riding Expectations: We do our best ahead of time to know how far we’ll ride in a day, and how hilly it will be. But sometimes mistakes happen and we do extra in back-tracking to the route, and sometimes construction and detours happen. Try not to be too tied to your expectations of what the day will hold, because it may just hold more than you anticipated (and not always in a good way). Even on well-traveled, well-marked cycle routes HOUGs happen (that’s “Hills Of Unreasonable Grade”). One thing you can generally count on, though, is that we do take a break (short or long), pretty regularly, each hour.
  12. Road Surface: Often we have separated bike paths. Sometimes we’re on roads. Sometimes we’re on busier roads than we care for. Sometimes we’re on asphalt. Sometimes we’re on gravel. Sometimes we’re on dirt. Sometimes we’re on cobblestones (they’re the worst). Sometimes we’re on what I lovingly call “Edmonton Surface” (yeah, you know what that is).
  13. Accommodating: We intend to ride together. That means adjusting to the slowest-paced person. If someone is actually unable to do the trip, they’ll have to leave the trip (or do their own version of the trip). If someone just has a bad day, though, we’ll all have to adjust, slow down, and accommodate. If you’re the one having a bad day, and you don’t want to make everyone wait for you, there’s the option of “catching up” by train, but keep in mind that taking the train with your bike is NOT fun. We’re all “Outdoor Club” people. We know how to accommodate. Expect a lot of that.
  14. Your Rig: Freedom or Boat Anchor?: There will be times that your loaded bike will feel more like a boat anchor than anything else. You might have to push the whole thing up (and down) a set of stairs. You may have to load it on and off of trains. Everyone should help everyone else as much as possible, but be prepared to haul that rig around if/when necessary. Make sure you’ve chosen an appropriate bike. Brent, Laura and I can all help with that beforehand. Make sure your rig has been checked over and tuned up before the trip. If you’re likely to need new tires during the trip, consider getting them ahead of time rather than trying to buy and install them on the tour. If, during the tour, you experience a problem with your bike, deal with it ASAP and tell us about it. Don’t wait until you have a complete breakdown to do something. It’s easier to be proactive (i.e., when you’re actually in a town) than to deal with a breakdown out on the road. Note that we do not recommend EBikes. We don't know if you'll be able to get to a charging station frequently enough, and an EBike will be super-heavy to ride if it's not charged, and it will be SUPER-HEAVY to haul up and down stairs, onto trains, etc.
  15. Bailing Out: What if you take ill on the trip? What if you get injured? What if you get out there and you just can’t do it? What if you get out there and you just hate it? Think about how you’ll deal with that in case it happens. I will research some “bail out” points and strategies to help you out, but if you need to leave the trip early, you’ll need to be prepared to figure that out. A nice thing about the trip in 2019, is that there's a train that runs the length of our intended route (The Loire Valley), so bailing out by train will be logistically (if not technically... see "Your Rig") easy... relatively speaking.
  16. Other: We’ve done our best to anticipate what folks might perceive as hardships. But we’re not you, and there may be hardships awaiting you that we haven’t anticipated.

A work friend read this list of hardships and said it reads as though we don't really want other folks to come along with us. That could not be further from the truth. We absolutely want you to come along... we just want you to do that with your eyes open, and your expectations set for reality. Clearly we love these trips, and we want you to, too!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Easy Peasy Backpacking

A few weeks ago Brent and I participated in the Edmonton Outdoor Club's "Backpacking 101".

There were five of us volunteers participating and we had various stations set up including Jo demonstrating long-term point-to-point backpacking and winter backpacking, Brent demonstrating cycle touring, and Rob and Lynn demonstrating backpack cooking, safety, and so on.

My station, of course, was the "Easy Peasy Backpacking" station and I had two topics to share:
  1. Easy backpack food
  2. Easy backpack trips, including hub-and-spoke trips
Easy Backpack Food

A number of my friends are essentially backpack chefs.  On each trip they show up with all their little containers full of  fresh ingredients.  They prepare their fresh, aromatic meals, while sharing tips, secrets and recipes with other backpack chefs.

If Brent were into being a backpack chef, I'd be all over eating those fresh, aromatic backpack meals, but he isn't, and I definitely am not.  So, I've learned a few things over the years about taking the easy way out with regards to backpack food.  Here are some of my favorites:
  • Breakfast:
    • Quaker instant oatmeal
    • Starbuck's Instant Coffee packs
  • Lunch:
    • Tinned tuna salad (from the tinned fish section of the supermarket)
    • Left-Over Pizza.  Good for day one and maybe day two (if it's not too warm out)
  • Dinner:
    • Boil-in-bag meals from the Indian grocer.  Pair a Paneer meal with:
    • Homemade boil-in-bag rice: Prepare rice at home, store it in a Ziplock boil-friendly bag
    • Backpack meals from the store are acceptable in a pinch
  • Snacks:
    • Cheese.  It travels extremely well, even on multi-day trips.  Pre-wrapped pieces such as individual cheddars or BabyBels are great.  Take a few pieces for every day, even for trips of a week or longer
    • Indian snack mixes: Punjabi Mix, Navrattan Mix, Chevda... find these in the snack aisle of your local Indian grocer.  They're a great, tasty substitute for traditional trail mix
    • Raw almonds (from the baking aisle)
    • Run Rype dried fruit bars
    • Clif Bars
    • Sesame Snaps
    • Special K breakfast bars
    • Mini-Wheats in a tupperwear
    • Potato Chips
What are your favorite easy backpack foods?  Please share in the comments so I can learn some things!

Easy (Yet Wonderful) Backpack Trips - Hub and Spoke

I know people who talk about their backpack adventures, including 14-day back-country trips through Willmore Wilderness, backpacking in Iceland, and any number of things that I would assign any number of adjectives but "fun" and "enjoyable" would not be on the list.

But backpacking doesn't have to be back-breaking or soul-crushing.  If you just want to get out for a nice time with your friends, or family, consider a hub-and-spoke trip.

Hub-and-spoke means that you walk in to your camp site and set up camp.  For any number of days, you do day trips from your base camp.  On your last day, you pack up camp and walk back out.  No packing up and moving every single day.  You can even enjoy a day off if you want!

Some of my favorite hub-and-spoke backpack trips in the Canadian Rockies:
  • Tombstone: Hike in via Elbow Lake.  Day trips: Rae Lake, Sheep Lakes, Piper Pass.
  • The Forks: Hike in to The Forks campground.  Day trips: Turbine Canyon & Haig Glacier, Three Isle Lake & Kananaskis Pass.
  • Skoki: Hike in to Hidden Lake or Baker Lake.  Day trips: Deception Pass, Cotton Grass Pass.
  • Berg Lake: Helicopter in to Berg Lake.  Day trips: Snowbird Pass, Hargreaves Lake, Robson Pass.  Hike out.

I am a self-professed sissy.  In order to enjoy backpacking I have to make it as easy for myself as possible.  And I do.  Make it as easy for myself, AND enjoy it.  Even if you're a backpacking sissy, you can enjoy it too.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Set-Up Beer

The first time I took Brent backpacking with my Calgary pals was a trip to MacLeod Creek in August of 2009.

When backpacking, of course there is a lot of focus on bringing only what you truly need for the trip.  The essentials.  You're going to be carrying everything for your trip on your back, so size and weight are key considerations.  Every backpacker decides for themselves what "exceptions" they are willing to carry.  For some people it is a proper pillow.  Others may decide that a book is not optional, and carry along their favorite novel.  My friends have a long-standing tradition of bringing a "set-up beer" on our trips.  A "set-up beer" is pretty self-explanatory... it's a beer that you bring along to enjoy while you set up camp after lugging all your stuff in on your first day.

I like having someone to share gear with on a backpack trip.  I can comfortably carry 30lbs in a pack.  By the time I reach 33-35lbs, I'm getting uncomfortable, and carrying anything beyond 35lbs is virtually impossible for me.  Yeah, I'm just wimpy that way.  So, having someone to share the load with is awesome.

Brent and I prepared for our trip together and split up the essential gear - tent, tarp, first aid kit, food, water filter, pot and stove, and so on.  I didn't tell Brent about "set-up beer".  I snuck out and bought a couple of big cans of Molson Canadian and re-packed my pack, hiding them at the very bottom.

When the day of the trip came, we all hiked in together.  Honestly, MacLeod Creek is not a particularly interesting nor scenic trip, so as km turned into km and another km, we were all feeling very ready to reach our camp site.

Then... someone said they couldn't wait to have their "set-up beer".

Brent: "What?  What?  What is that?"

Friend: "Set-up beer!  We all bring a beer to enjoy while we set up camp!"

Brent looked absolutely stricken.  He looked at me with his heart clearly breaking, "You didn't tell me about 'set-up beer'!  I don't have a 'set-up beer'!"

I apologized to him and we kept hiking, Brent's bottom lip dragging on the ground from the pouting while my friends tormented him, expounding about the joy, and tradition, of the revered "set-up beer" (they were in on my prank).

When we got to camp, I couldn't wait to spring on him that I had, in fact, brought set-up beers for both of us.  Thankfully the relief and joy of experiencing his "set-up beer" overrode the trauma of the first practical joke that I played on him.  Yay for "set-up beer"!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"Miracle Gabi" Day

Brent's sister's friend, Gabi, who lives on Bequia but is originally from Germany, rode with us on our European Cycle Tour from Donaueschingen to Vienna.

"Miracle Gabi" and the Canadians
To say that Gabi is a "character" would be a gross understatement.  Traveling with Gabi was thrilling, vexing, and never boring.  Of all of our adventures with Gabi, one day stands out quite spectacularly.  I call it "Miracle Gabi" Day.

Our good friend, Laura, joined us for the same portion of our tour as Gabi.  The four of us had been cycling together across Germany for about one week.  We were enroute to Donauworth for the day, cycling mainly down little-used side roads.  It was overcast and threatening to rain.

We were on a particularly small and quiet side road when Laura's bike decided to blow a spoke.  We stopped to have a look at it and hoped that it could be repaired on the spot, but we came to realize that that was simply not to be.  We were in the middle of nowhere, about 8km from Donauworth and it was starting to drizzle.  Our map indicated two bike rental shops in town, but no bike store or mechanic, so I expected the next few days to involve a lengthy solution in order to get back on the road.

Starting to formulate a plan, we were angling towards having Brent and Gabi continue on to Donauworth, and I would walk with Laura the 8km to Donauworth.  None of us was happy with the plan but it was the best we (and when I say 'we', I mean, the three imagination-less Canadians) could come up with.

One of Gabi's happiest moments on the tour
Completely dissatisfied with our inferior plan, Gabi pronounced "Don't worry guys, I got this".  She blew a kiss to the sky and said something to the universe, and then, quite confidently stated "the next vehicle that comes along is for us".  Doubty Doubterson became my name at that moment.

We didn't even have time to convince Gabi that "Plan A" (logic, reason, and "sucking it up") was the way to go when down the road, traveling in our direction, appeared a small car towing a small horse trailer.  Gabi marched out into the middle of the road, stopped the car, and had a conversation with the driver.

The horse trailer was empty.

The driver was a man, heading to Donauworth, with his son.

They piled Laura and Gabi's bikes and gear into the horse trailer, tossed Laura and Gabi into the back of the car, and before Brent and I could say WTF, they were off down the road.

Brent and I rode the rest of the way to Donauworth.

The man dropped Laura and Gabi off right at the bike repair shop in Donauworth.

The bike repair shop had Laura's bike repaired before Brent and I even reached Donauworth.

I will never forget "Miracle Gabi" Day.