Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whiz Easy

I bought one of those devices intended to allow women to pee more easily in the bush (ie. facilitating our ability to pee standing up). I had a few hiking friends write to say that they’d used a similar product and thought it was great. It only took a few days for it to arrive after I ordered it, and I couldn’t wait to check the thing out.

Alas, it was a busy day, and the device languished in my car as my boyfriend, Brent, and I went for breakfast, drove from Calgary to my dad’s summer place near Red Lodge, stopped at my sister’s place in Red Deer, finally landing in Edmonton where we had dinner plans with my mom. I can’t wait any longer – I bring my new "hiking gear" into the pub and finally pull it out of the packaging. It’s purple. We joke about that. We discuss its features as advertised, and Brent sticks it on the end of his nose (noting that he wouldn’t do that once it’s been used… thanks for that). Brent speculates that because the device is quite firm it will be difficult for me to use it to write my name in the snow. He of little faith.

After a pint-and-a-half, I excuse myself to use the washroom, and Mom and Brent both look at me, then look back to the device – both of them incredulous that I was leaving it behind. The gauntlet thrown, I grab the device (in its discrete packaging) and take it with me.

In the stall, I put the toilet seat up. Why not, right? I unzip and try to figure out exactly how far down I have to pull my pants to get the device into place, the obvious goal being to displace them as little as possible. It becomes clear that I’m not going to get the device snugly into place unless my pants are pulled at least to the bottom of my buttocks. Already I’m thinking, how on earth is this preferable to squatting in the woods? It takes some effort to convince my body to open up in a standing position – the training to not pee in our pants runs very deep. Finally, I get a trickle started, but oh my, what is that… the device is leaking from the back. My underwear takes most of the damage, but there is also a small trickle running down my leg. I realize how foolish, deeply foolish, it was to try this in public with only one set of clothing. I give up for the time, fearing further damage.

I return to the table with the device back in its discrete packaging (and my underwear riding shotgun). Mom and Brent try not to laugh when I share the inauspicious results. They simply agree that perhaps more practice is in order.

Later on, back at Brent’s, and with a bit of the pint-and-a-half left, I try again. This time, in the privacy of Brent’s bathroom, I take my pants right off and, pessimistically, push his bathroom rug out of harm’s way. This time, with the device firmly centered right in the middle of things, I successfully pee standing up.

Will I now be trying this in the bush? The answer lies somewhere between "when pigs fly" and " not on your bloody life". I’m not even sure if I’d try to use it for protection from the dirtier outhouses. By the time you’ve exposed yourself enough to position the device appropriately, your hiking pants are accumulating all manner of "dear lord no" on them. For the foreseeable future, I will stick with the reliable "Pop and Squat" manoever in the woods.

Surviving... NAY! Enjoying the Golden Triangle!

The Golden Triangle, or the "GT" for those "in the know" is a 3-day, 317km cycle trip in the Rocky Mountains. This May, I almost did the Golden Triangle. Actually, what I did was more like the musical instrument triangle like they have in symphonies and grade 9 band: a triangle with one section missing from it.

A few months earlier, my boyfriend, Brent, suggested that we do the Golden Triangle. My response, naturally, was, "hmmm… perhaps I should buy a bicycle and learn how to ride it". I am a hiker, not a cyclist, but I was willing to give Brent’s vile activity a chance since he seemed to like it so much (he SO owes me cross-country skiing!). As the date drew nearer and the weekends of lip service piled up, I started to get nervous about preparing for the trip, so in February I bought my first bicycle and on March 16th, I actually took the bike outside and rode for a whopping 18km. The next several weeks involved intensive training in which I fell over with my feet clipped in, rode distance, rode up hills, rode fast, rode on highways, rode when it was cold, rode when it was warm (depending on your definition of "warm"), rode the day after snow shoeing, and rode the day after riding.

Since Brent lives in Edmonton and is a member of the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC), we went with them instead of the Elbow Valley Cycle Club (EVCC) from Calgary. It had nothing to do with staying in hotels instead of tenting, and it had nothing to do with consistent reports from the experienced GT set that the EBTC direction (counter-clockwise) is easier than the EVCC direction (clockwise). Honest.

On Day 1 I felt ready! I had trained my you-know-what off and felt strong and confident. Skies were blue and the mountains were glorious. Being no dummy, I promptly made friends with Al, the support and snack van driver. We headed west from Castle Junction toward Golden, taking the Bow Valley Parkway, which is a very pleasant ride. Pulling in to Lake Louise 27km later, I raced to the snack van and grabbed a slice of orange, which turned out to be the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life! Next, I grabbed a homemade cookie, and lo, it was the best thing I’d ever eaten in my life! After the brief refuel stop, we got back on the road and continued to Golden. All 109km of it in one day, including climbing Kicking Horse Pass. Woo-hoo’ing down the other side of Kicking Horse Pass to Field I thanked goodness that I would not be faced with climbing that on the third day like our friends in the EVCC. The rest of the day was pretty much all downhill, including one steep sketchy stretch of chewed up shoulder not conducive to cycling at high speeds. Thankfully the drivers seemed generally happy and relaxed and we arrived in Golden unscathed.

Day 2, traveling from Golden to Radium, is on a smaller highway with far fewer transport trucks to scare the you-know-what out of you. Every advantage comes with a disadvantage, though, and the trade-off was the road condition: the shoulder was in poor shape and the road was a slow-going pebbly surface. We knew we would be crossing paths with the EVCC group and kept our eyes open to greet our friends. Amazingly, we spotted all of them in the 300+ EVCC riders that day.

Day 3 is the scary one: lots of climbing and an inauspicious weather forecast. I almost couldn’t sit back down on the bike seat in the morning, and as I tried to pedal out of the hotel parking lot, I wondered if I’d even make it as far as the base of Sinclair Pass. Somehow I got going, and when the incline came, I put on my "Grrr Face" and started climbing. Sinclair Pass out of Radium is a climb of 678m over 13.6km. I stopped to rest four times, but I had "mean" to spare and made it all the way! That morning, an experienced rider was warning everyone about the very last section – the Vermillion Pass descent. Brent had already told me about this– the shoulder is chewed up to the point that it is dangerous to try to cycle it and the recommendation is to take the lane on the highway and let the traffic wait behind you. I started to fret about that last section. I was almost out of "mean" by that point, "Grrr Face" nowhere to be seen, and was very tired and fatigued. Add to that the fact that, in spite of the training, I was still quite an inexperienced, green rider.

As we continued, I became more concerned, especially since the friendly, relaxed drivers of Saturday had become impatient, intolerant demons shooting "out of my way" daggers from their glowing red eyes. Some of them even made a point of trying to run us off the road, and at the very least, scare the beejeebers out of us. I mentioned my concern to Brent and he said that if I was nervous about doing the last section I should give it a miss. As I started to come to terms with ending my ride early… sissying out, as it were, I also started to bonk. I had come to the end of my "mean" reserve, which had been the only thing keeping me going that day. After about five kilometers of watching me drag my sorry butt up the gradual climb characterizing the middle of the day, Brent said the sweetest words I’ve ever heard: "I won’t be disappointed if you want to stop after the lunch break".

After lunch, we got in the van and rode the rest of the way, helping Al with the remaining rest/snack stop. As a nasty headwind chose that time to rear its soul-sucking head, and as I saw the downhill side of Vermillion Pass, I quickly got over my disappointment at quitting early and was just happy for the other cyclists who made it down safely.

Let's Do the Golden Triangle

"Hey, let's do the Golden Triangle next May!" Sounds like an innocent enough suggestion, right? Consider, though, that the suggestion is coming from my boyfriend who has not only ridden the Golden Triangle before, but has also ridden across the country, from Vancouver to St. John's, in the last two years.

I know all about the Golden Triangle. The three-day, 300+km road ride from Castle Junction to Radium to Golden and back to Castle Junction (premier event of the Elbow Valley Cycle Club). I have friends who have done it and loved it. I, on the other hand, have never ridden a road bike before. I have never ridden with clips. And, let's face it, I'm a bit of a sissy.

So, once the panic subsides, what do I do? Troop on down to Mountainbike City and get set up with a Kona Dew Deluxe. I have to get the clip pedals. I have weak lungs and strong legs - better take advantage of as much of the leg power as possible. Warren the Wonderful Sales Guy won't let me leave the store without practicing clipping in and out for a half hour. I buy a trainer. It is, after all, February, and I'm not quite ready to hit the snow-covered streets with my new toy (aka torture device). I set up the bike on the trainer in my living room and I practice "riding", and clipping in and out, every day, going as long as I can before boredom drives me elsewhere (usually about ten minutes).

The next milestone: ride the bike on the ground. With it actually MOVING (the bike, that is, not the ground). Due to Alberta’s unusually late spring, I have to cancel my first two planned rides due to sub-zero temperatures and a foot of snow on the ground. Finally on March 16th I get out with the Calgary Outdoor Club to do an "easy" after work ride. And the ride would have been easy if it weren’t -2C with enormous ice patches and half-frozen puddles on the path. One of the riders informs me that most people new to clips generally fall over in them an average of six times. I tell her that I’m going to beat the odds and then five minutes later fall over with my feet clipped to the bike.

I don’t quite make it all the way on that ride – I turn around near the end with another rider. We’re both having trouble shifting and braking because our bikes are freezing up. My shifter is completely encased in ice, with five inch icicles hanging from it. I am extremely proud and thankful to have survived the 20km that I did manage.

That weekend I get out for a pleasant 37km ride with the Calgary Outdoor Club. No clipped-in-falls, no ice-encased bicycle, and a fruit slushy at Angel’s afterwards. Maybe this cycling thing doesn’t completely bite after all.

The week of March 23rd I realize that the big event is looming with only six weeks of available training and conditioning left. In desperation, I insist on going out to ride regardless of conditions.

On March 28th I cycle 42km. On the highway. With actual cars on it. With temperatures stubbornly remaining below zero, my toes and heart freeze solid after about the first five kilometers. On March 29th I cycle 47km. On the highway, again. More cars. More frozen toes. That’s 89km over two days, and I am pumped! Now all I need is to be able to do… um… WAY more than that… and in the MOUNTAINS. Piece of cake!

Legendary Ed

If you’re a member of the Calgary Outdoor Club (COC), and even if you’re not, you’ve likely heard of Legendary Ed, COC’s 6’4"-tall, 87-year-old lean mean hiking machine.

Ed can hike circles around many of us half his age (and often does), and his mind is just as fit as his body. When he’s not out on the trail (which is several times a week, year-round), he maintains his daughter’s Gastroparesis and Dysmotilities Association web site ( and is a Director and Webmaster for the Calgary Outdoor Club.

I first met Ed when he was a mere pup of 84. He showed up for a hike carpool and proceeded to tease me mercilessly because the COC web site didn’t allow him to select his proper age – he’d had to list himself as 64 when he registered. I’ve fixed the web site, but the teasing hasn’t stopped, although Ed has broadened his repertoir of teasing topics.

Most of the first summer I knew Ed, I rarely saw him as he was usually registered for the moderate-paced hikes while I was relegated to my slowpoke hikes. I started to get to know him that winter, though, when he started snow shoeing with me. He came on one of the more challenging trips that I do – an unofficial route up the back side of Blueberry Hill in Kananaskis Country. On the way down, the slope was very steep and treacherous to try to descend with the snow shoes, so many of us were bumogganing down the hill. Ed was behind me. After one particularly speedy bumoggan section which required grabbing a tree half-way down to deflect/fling yourself through a 90-degree turn, Ed missed the turn, although he didn’t miss the tree. I looked back to see him, upside down and butt-backwards with one leg wrapped around the tree. My first thought was "oh, great… I’ve broken 84-year-old Ed" (this was before he’d earned his "Legendary" nickname).

Ed, of course, was ok, and those of us who hike regularly with him have come to realize that it’s just not a full day of hiking with Ed if he doesn’t have some kind of fall or accumulate some kind of boo-boo along the way. Maybe that’s got something to do with why I like him so much… he can make me look positively graceful in comparison. Over the past few years I have enjoyed many hiking adventures with Ed, including the West Coast Trail in 2007, and 140km of the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland in 2008. He is notorious for trying to choose a birthday hike that pushes his limits, but I always have to rein him in as his limits lie far beyond my own, and I wouldn’t want to miss out on the birthday cake (oy, the candles).

Legendary Ed is but one of the fantastically colorful characters you may meet out on a COC event, and contrary to popular assumption, he has not been a lifelong hiker (he took it up at around age 80). If you want a glimpse of what your future may hold (if you’re lucky), come on out for a hike with Ed, if you can get one of the coveted spots on the event. We slowpokes are grateful that he’s willing to slow himself down to hang out with us. We’re not sure why he does, but we’re not asking and Ed’s not telling. Maybe he enjoys the fantastically colorful characters he meets.

Yamnuska Scree Indulgence

In the Calgary Outdoor Club, we do this thing that we call a "Yamnuska Scree Indulgence". We hike up the side of Mount Yamnuska, hike around the front of the cliff, and run down the scree, indulging in the fun without bothering to do the much more challenging scramble to the summit via the back side of the mountain with the scary cable section.

If you’ve never run scree, I highly recommend it. It is truly the most fun you can have with your gaiters on. All you need is a sturdy set of hiking boots, gaiters (to stop little rocks from creeping into your boots), a set of poles and an appropriate scree slope. An appropriate scree slope must be accessible (you can hike up to get on it), safe (not a rock slide, or other hazard), and consist of a deep layer of consistently-sized (bigger than a marble, smaller than a golf ball) rocks. You might say that I like my scree slopes like I like my men. I’m not sure, exactly, what that’s supposed to mean, but it sounded funny in my head. Our favorite is the slope on Mount Yamnuska, which you can see from Highway 1 west of the turn-off for the Kananaskis Highway 40. For our Yamnuska Scree Indulgences, we also take rock climbing helmets which we wear as we hike across the bottom of the cliff because of rock fall hazards.

In August 2004, I experienced my first-ever Yamnuska Scree Indulgence. There were twelve of us COC members on the trip, including a regular named Stuart, whom we’d nicknamed "Pooh" because he carries a little plastic Winnie-The-Pooh in his pack with him. On this trip, Pooh brought out two friends with him, both of whom were named "Leor". Now, without getting too sidetracked, I would just like to ask, WHO THE HECK KNOWS TWO GUYS NAMED LEOR!!?? Well, I guess, now I do. Anyway, Pooh brought two Leors with him, but no Tiggers, Roos or Piglets. The fog was so thick that day that we never did know for sure if we were on Mount Yamnuska, or in Wal Mart. The greeter in the blue vest did nothing to calm our fears about the latter. So, perhaps it was the fog, but I would have to say that the views from Yamnuska are slightly overrated. One hiker said it looked way better if you closed your eyes and remembered what it looked like last time you were up, but that didn't really help me at all.

We hiked up the somewhat boring (even more so when the views are obscured) east side of the mountain and then began the hike across in front of the cliff. This section of the hike is not suitable for acrophobes (oops, that’s me). There is a steep and slippery clay section that lies quietly waiting to smell fear on a hiker and then, when they’re partway across it tries to fling them into the abyss. Perhaps I’m exaggerating slightly, but it’s my story and I’ll tell it how I want. One hiker, more comfortable on that type of terrain, trooped across it as though it was his living room carpet, while a more patient soul waited with me, talked me through the terror, and used his own hiking boots to provide footstep "anchors" for me to make it across safely.

Arriving at the top of the scree slope, we peered out into the fog at the few feet of slope we could see, wondering what we would find once we began our run down. To run scree, you point yourself downward, and begin "running", leaning back slightly, digging in your heels, and letting your weight and the rocks under your feet work together as a team to form shelves or soft temporary stairs under you. It is a most thrilling and unusual feeling, and you can gain momentum to where you feel like you’d be completely out of control if it were not for the magical rocks of the slope cushioning and supporting each step. All too soon it is over, and you consider hiking back up to do it again until reality sets in and you consider the amount of work that would be involved in doing so. I have returned twice since for more Yamnuska Scree Indulgence, and am proud to say that I have learned to navigate the scary bit of slope all on my own, without crying or depending on others help me across. I just have to make sure I look straight ahead and keep moving.

Too Clumsy for This

"Rhonda, you’re too clumsy to be doing this kind of thing."

"Yeah, Dad, I know."

"You need to start acting your age."

"Yeah, Dad, I know. What is my age again… 17?"

"No – 40!"


Perhaps my father is right… perhaps mountain biking is not the activity for me. I hope not, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Eight of us headed out for a quick mountain bike adventure at Jumpingpound Loop, west of Calgary in the Sibbald Flats area. I’m not much of a mountain biker. At the time I think I could still count on all my digits -- without taking my shoes off -- the number of times I’d been on a bicycle since I was 13 years old. And you know how they say, "It’s like riding a bike?" Well, riding a bike isn’t like riding a bike when you’ve barely done it in 25 years.

We all started out all riding together but it didn’t take long before the six guys decided Kelly and I were going to be left behind to form the "slow group". Before they left, my co-coordinator, gave me a challenge. Knowing that I was in competition with our pal Connie to see who could get the best scrapes and bruises, he jokingly added that he wanted to see blood on my legs by the end of the ride.

Jumpingpound Loop is a beginner/novice mountain bike trail. It is a short loop, shaped more like a figure eight than an actual "loop". The north section is a bit "technical" for a novice rider. I LOVE "technical". Navigating rocks, roots, turns… it’s all so much more interesting than boring old pavement. As I jostled and bumped my way along the trail, with its narrower track, steeper hills and sharper turns than I’d tackled before, I was having a great time, shrieking and laughing, my heart pounding, as Kelly patiently waited for me every few minutes.

Pedaling along the side of an easy hill, I slipped slightly off the trail onto the downhill slope… my ability to "colour between the lines" with a bike still needs some work. I toppled, slowly, off the side of the bike and went trippity-trippity-trip, down the hill, laughing as I went. There was a small tree to my left and which I grabbed to stop my momentum. I expected the bike to be lying above me on the hill in the grass. I felt something hit my right leg. I turned, and there was my right leg, wedged awkwardly in between the frame and handlebars of the bike. I grabbed hold of the bike and tried to pull my leg out, but as I pulled, I could feel resistance, and my leg stayed firmly wedged. I pulled again, thinking the bike was just caught on my pant leg, and then I could feel something poking out of my leg.

As it dawned on me that part of the bicycle had penetrated my leg and was now holding me to the bike, I called to Kelly for help. OK, so actually I freaked out and yelled incoherently to Kelly for help. Kelly, who’d proceeded on up the next hill to wait for me, came running back down. In revulsion, I grabbed the bike again, and pushed it forward to remove what turned out to be the ENTIRE brake lever from my right thigh.

Kelly didn’t want to leave me, but I insisted that it was more important that she go try to find the guys than to stay with me because I seemed to be, aside from a little impaled, doing all right.

Once Kelly left me I hobbled up to the top of the next little hill. When I got there I realized I had had the tremendous good fortune of having injured myself right at the intersection of the "loop" and that it was likely the guys would soon be crossing back through right by me. I mustered the courage, finally, to peel back my pant leg to see the open gash where the lever had penetrated, which you could look straight into and check out what cellulite looks like firsthand. There were flecks of what belongs on the inside of my leg now on the outside of my leg, and on my pant leg. It was fascinating in a horrific "I’m-sitting-out-on-a-biking-trail-with-a-large-open-wound" kind of way. I was pretty calm by the time the boys found me, and while my co-coordinator went to fetch his truck, a couple of the guys helped me walk out the short distance while the rest took photos of the scene and walked out my bike.

An important moral to this story: two people do not a "group" make. For safety, make sure you always have at least three people so that, if there’s an injury, one person can stay to provide care and first aid, and the other can go for help.

Heart Mountain Scramble

In April 2007, at some friends’ urging, I tried my first-ever scramble -- an "easy" scramble to Heart Mountain near Canmore. A scramble is a steep hike, on and off-trail, not quite mountain climbing, but more than hiking. Our day’s destination was the top of a mountain distinguished by a heart-shape close to its peak (or perhaps that’s a different – female - body part, which my mom was savvy enough to suggest when I once indicated the heart to her).

With an experienced co-coordinator and several other Calgary Outdoor Club members in tow for my maiden scramble (many of them also being first-timers), I set out with too much hope and too little fear of what the day held for me. Everyone else on the trip had a lovely time and couldn’t wait to do more scrambling. That, however, was not my experience. Instead, let me tell you the true story of what happens when an acrophobe goes on a scramble.

You see, I have an intense fear of heights. I was assured by a few people who've done Heart that I would be OK on it... no serious climbing, no serious exposure. Apparently these people do not have a proper appreciation for just exactly how intense my fear of heights is (and, you may rightly say, I did not have the proper respect for it myself when I undertook this adventure). Of the 10-kilometre total distance I was scared out of my ever-lovin' mind for approximately four of those kilometres and clinging to the frayed ends of my comfort limits for another approximately two kilometres. I cried on Heart Mountain that day. I even hyperventilated a little. To everyone who has told me that I should at least try scrambling before I write it off as an activity, I have met your requirement and proved to myself, and six lucky companions, why I should not scramble.

Shortly after you start the Heart Mountain trail, a sign warns you that the rest of the route is a scrambler’s route and to be sure you’re prepared. Sure I was prepared with gear and knowledge. Emotionally, well, not so much. As the climbing got steeper and steeper, I knew I had passed my opportunity to sissy out when I lost my ability to look behind at what I had just climbed which looked remarkably abyss-like from where I was clinging to the rocks. Rumors of me attempting to smash my encouraging friend’s head with a rock at the summit may or may not hold nuggets of truth.

At least I had completed the hard part for an asthmatic like myself, the climbing. Alas, the worst was yet to come. Those who also have an extreme fear of heights will appreciate some of the odder symptoms of that phobia. In general, I am not able to get closer than eight feet to any kind of drop-off, and am not able to watch someone else get within eight feet of one without getting uncomfortable. If I do happen to get within the eight-foot limit, I get dizzy. My feet tingle. The world wobbles back and forth. I get butterflies in my stomach and have vivid visions of flinging myself over the edge. Incidentally, a friend who is also afraid of heights says it's her butt cheeks that tingle rather than her feet.

The route down included a fair amount of time spent walking down a narrow ridge (nowhere near my requisite 8 feet… on each side) snaking away into the distance ahead, made narrower, and more treacherous, by the remaining slippery snow patches on top. This is where the crying and hyperventillating occurred. The only thing that kept me going was an even stronger fear of staying up there.

Completing this scramble burns approximately 2,000 calories. I burned about another 4,000 just from sheer terror.

Little Bridget

I have a new friend; her name is "Little Bridget". I’ve been taking her hiking with me a lot lately. I’m not really sure why she keeps insisting on coming, though. She doesn’t even seem to like it. She usually starts complaining about an hour into the hike and doesn’t shut up until well after it’s done.

"Little Bridget" is almost always around now. At first, I hardly even knew she was there. She kind of snuck up on me. I first noticed her hanging around about the time that I snow shoed with the Calgary Outdoor Club up the back side of Blueberry Hill. It was quite a remarkable and challenging trip, with steeps slopes and deep snow with an unfortunate rotten layer of old snow buried 2-3 feet beneath a bunch of wet heavy new snow. The conditions made our day very challenging, and also gave us the opportunity to experience first-hand how avalanches start and what it means to have a rotten layer of unstable snow underneath some heavier top layers. "Little Bridget" was pretty well behaved that day, but since then she’s become bolder.

I think "Little Bridget" might have issues. Have you heard of those people who are only happy when they’re being mistreated? I think "Little Bridget" might be like that. When I realized that she probably wasn’t going to go away on her own I decided that maybe I should try being nice to her, so I started paying her more attention, giving her nice long stretches and warming her with my heating pad. Funny thing, though, the nicer I am to her, the less she hangs around.

Sometimes I take "Little Bridget" down for a visit with Trent. Trent is my chiropractor and "Little Bridget" has kind of a love-hate relationship with him. I think it’s more "love", though, because as much as she complains during the visits, she’s pretty happy and quiet for a while after we go to see him.

"Little Bridget" didn’t actually have a name until I took her hiking in Arizona with my very good friend, Bridget (now known as "Big Bridget"). "Little Bridget" was so enthusiastic about hiking in Arizona – she wouldn’t leave me alone for a second. I’m pretty sure it was because she enjoyed Bridget’s company as much as I do, so I decided to honor my good friend Bridget by naming my new friend after her.

If you haven’t guessed by now, "Little Bridget" is not actually a person. She is the discomfort in my piriformis muscle… in other words, a pain in my butt. Not that I’ve bothered going to a doctor about it or anything, but since I’m such a brilliant self-diagnoser, I’ve decided that I don’t have classic sciatica because I’m able to control it with stretching and heat. Piriformis Syndrome is a not-yet-widely-acknowledged condition in which the piriformis muscle compresses or irritates the sciatic nerve, resulting in pain, tingling and/or numbness in the buttock, and radiating down the leg.

One of the best things about "Little Bridget" is that by giving her a name, actually giving her the name of my pal, has somehow made her more tolerable. She has taken on a life and a character all her own and I’ve learned that as long as I don’t take her for granted she isn’t too hard to put up with. She is my companion, and something to talk about when I have nothing else to talk about. Ultimately, though, I do look forward to the day when she decides to finally move on. That "Little Bridget" can be a real badass.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


My mom has called me “Grace” for as long as I can remember, and no, it’s not one of those nice nicknames. It’s one of the ironic ones. Despite taking dance classes since I was four years old, I still have more than my fair share of episodes of clumsiness and have always been more of a, shall we say, ‘bookish’ person than a natural athlete.

Which, I think you’ll agree, makes me an unlikely candidate to have been the founder of the wildly successful and popular Calgary Outdoor Club, which is now entering its sixth year with more than 4,000 members, over 100 volunteers, and averaging more than 150 events per month.

In the early 2000s, I had been lightly involved in the Atlanta Outdoor Club, which was started by a friend of mine, but truthfully, my main involvement was in programming their web site. I rarely participated in the activities up until just before I returned to Calgary after my brief time in Atlanta. As I settled back in to life in Calgary I realized that I missed the AOC, specifically some of the friends I’d made, and missed having an active social circle. I tried to find a club in Calgary that would fill that need in my life, but after a year and a half of searching (and complaining about not finding one), I finally bit the bullet and posted a new website for a “Calgary Outdoor Club” (a knock-off, of course, of the Atlanta club web site). Then I pressured a few of my friends to join my new club-of-one and posted a couple of easy events.

Hiking, though, never occurred to me. I was more interested in rollerblading, river tubing (which I’d enjoyed in Atlanta), and going to Race City Speedway (you can take the girl out of Red Deer, but you can’t take the Red Deer out of the girl). I was so na├»ve about the outdoor scene in Calgary that I had no idea that hiking was actually a ‘big thing’ here. The mountains were something I enjoyed, but like too many Calgarians, I enjoyed them through my windshield on my way to work or Vancouver. It was my friend, Bridget, who suggested offering a hike as an activity, and rather than risk being a stick-in-the-mud, I thought OK, I’ll try a hike.

I had no idea what a kilometre was or how many of them you could reasonably walk in an hour or a day. Was an eight-kilometre hike really challenging, or was it a sissy stroll? It sounded pretty hardcore to me.

My first hikes with the COC could be described as gong-show, what-not-to-do examples. The very first one, which included simply Bridget and I, was a May trip to Jumpingpound Loop west of Calgary in the Sibbald Flats area, with melting, boggy spring terrain and stream crossings for which we were ill-prepared. Does a hike with just you and your friend even constitute a club event? I don’t think so either, but there it is, still proudly standing on our May 2003 calendar.

The second club hike, to Grotto Canyon near Canmore, included another of my pre-club friends and (how exciting) another person who was one of the first legitimate club members. It turns out Grotto Canyon is not hikeable in spring. The trickling stream of summer was a raging torrent and as we tried, unsuccessfully, to find a passable route, I wondered why it had been recommended as an ‘easy’ hike.

The third hike, to a place called Fir Creek Point south of Black Diamond, rather than being an actual hike was more of a ‘wander’ -- up and down the parking lot, glancing wistfully across the raging river at the hiking trail on the other side and wondering how we were supposed to get over there. Finally we gave up and went to the bakery for coffee and Nanaimo bars in nearby Black Diamond instead.

Things slowly got better for me (and consequently, the COC) with hiking, but thank goodness we started getting a few more – ahem -- knowledgeable people to start coordinating some hikes. Not that the COC is a ‘hiking’ club. Thanks to the great volunteers we’ve accumulated, the club also offers scrambles, backpacking, mountain biking, canoeing, kayaking, rollerblading, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing… the list just goes on. But hiking is a COC staple, and amazingly it has become a passion for me as I go stumbling around the Rockies.