Monthly Archives: July 2011

25th Week in Review: Biking, Rafting, and more Biking!

Kootenay River runners raft on Kicking Horse River

Kootenay River runners raft on Kicking Horse River

After leaving Alberta last week we entered British Columbia through Yoho National Park.  We had the amazing opportunity to raft the Kicking Horse River.  On the recommendation of a visitor center employee, we turned south at Revelstoke and headed through the Western Kootenay region instead of going along the more popular Okanagan valley route.  This route twisted through mountains that turned out to be filled with amazing mountain bike trails.  Jay was in heaven, dropping down rock faces and traversing seven summits in a single day on an IMBA Epic.  I got into it as well, biking five days in a row on both Rail Trails and singletrack.

Jay on the inland ferry from Balfour to Kootenay Bay

Jay on the inland ferry from Balfour to Kootenay Bay

One of the unique features of the Kootenay Bay route is that there are three free ferries that are part of the highway system.  We rode one of the ferries on our way to Nelson.  It was a great opportunity to sight see in Balfour Bay.

Hours volunteered: 0 – we hoped to volunteer in another one of the National Parks in Canada, but Yoho, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke did not have any volunteer activities for us to get involved with.

States & Provinces: 2, British Columbia: Glacier National Park, Golden, Mount Revelstoke National Park, Revelstoke, Nelson, Rossland; Washington: Kettle Falls, Spokane

Budget: over 

People Visited: Mary Lynn & Frank Hutchinson

Nights under the stars: 6 – Kootenay River Runners camp, Glacier National Park, Nelson city campground, Rossland Lions campground

Best meal:  Burger and Panini at  Flying Steamshovel in Rossland

Best beer: Smelter’s Ash Imperial Stout from Northern Ales Brewery in Kettle Falls, Washington

Photo Review: British Columbia’s eastern National Parks

indian paintbrush at Emerald Lake

indian paintbrush at Emerald Lake


Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park


Wapta Falls at Yoho National Park

Wapta Falls at Yoho National Park


view from Skunk Cabbage Trail in Mount Revelstoke National Park

view from Skunk Cabbage Trail in Mount Revelstoke National Park


Cedar waxwings along the Skunk Cabbage Trail

Cedar waxwings along the Skunk Cabbage Trail


Meeting of the Waters, Glacier National Park

Meeting of the Waters, Glacier National Park


Beautiful flowers along the Meeting of the Waters trail

Beautiful flowers along the Meeting of the Waters trail

LONG OVERDUE: Whitefish Montana, Spencer Mountain – Free ride

Warning:  mountain biking jargon ahead, if you do not know that “free ride” is, then you might want to skip to the video since the rest won’t make sense.

Spencer Mountain in Whitefish Montana, has some huge gravity set type riding. There are about 3 currently used big mountain trails and many old ones in various states of disrepair. I rode a couple of the ones that are survivable on a short travel soft tail, while wearing a non full faced helmet.

One of the trails was marked with a wooden placard nailed to a tree bearing the title Malice in Plunderland. I would say it’s a fitting name for a trail with such huge technical features. Any old trail has a skinny bridge drop of a few feet with a transition, but this one put the transition far enough away that you would have to be going fast to reach it. Fast enough that staying on its 6″ width at the end would be tough.

Video below of a crazy stretch of the Malice in Plunderland trail.

On to the simpler trail which might have a name, but I don’t know it. This thing has a lot of berms. First thing off the bat you have a choice of a lam speed sucking ride around or a 5 or so foot drop with a large, steep transition. The first time through I went for the ride around, second time I nailed it. This leads to a few wooden ladder bridge structures, nothing huge and terrifying, just good clean fun. From here there are a few more berms and then some jumps. You could just treat them as rollers if you were going slow. I hit them at speed and had a blast. Only one was menacing, as there was a large root ball from a toppled tree in the middle requiring you to really send it high. I made it on one run and back cased on the transition on the other. Front casing the root ball would be a hideous crash. On the whole, this trail rode like a four cross course, fast fun and not a moment to break your concentration. The only down side is that in true free ride fashion the only way up is a crappy fire road. I wished I had my dirt jumping bike, but on the whole I did fine.

I have no idea if these trails are legally constructed but they are certainly well known and no secret. Other riders I encountered were helpful in giving me the lay of the land and generally pointing me in the right direction. There are also tons of other trails in the area but I only had a few hours and this one was recommended by the bike shop in Whitefish.

Parks Day at Banff National Park

administration building, Banff National Park

Administration building at Banff National Park where the event was held

Last weekend we celebrated Canada’s Parks Day by volunteering at Banff National Park.  Banff seems to have the most active volunteer program within the Canadian National Parks system and we were lucky to get connected to an opportunity to help with an evening interpretive program about astronomy.  We often volunteer without really knowing what we will be doing and without ensuring that we have the required skills.  Sometimes this means we end up out of our element or feeling like we’re not able to make much of a contribution.  Well, the Park’s event was a lucky break for us.

Jay ended up setting up an activity about orienteering using a compass and a sextant.  This activity was meant to show families how the early surveyor, David Thompson was able to map almost 40% of Canada using these basic instruments.  Of course, most people these days just use a GPS, so it turned out that Jay was the only one there who actually knew how use a compass and sextant and was able to set up the activity without directions.  All those boy scout merit badges coming back to benefit!

I was placed inside to greet guests who were there to hear an astronomy presentation.  With a M.S. in Organizational Development and a lot of customer service experience I was also in my element.  I created a sign on flip chart paper to let guests know about the program and made small talk with the early arrivals.  One of the Parks’ staff complimented my ability to draw on flip chart paper and was surprised to hear I had actually had a 30 minute lesson in how to make flip charts.  When the presenter needed to stall while someone retrieved his clicker, I broke the awkward silence with a question so that he had something to talk about.  I believe the Parks staff were genuinely impressed with how helpful we were and gave us lots of thanks in addition to some really awesome t-shirts and stickers.  I wish we could have stuck around longer and helped with more events.


23rd & 24th Week in Review: Staying Put in the Canadian Rockies


view of Canmore from a trail near the house we stayed at

This post sums up the last two weeks because there is not as much to share.  Jay and I were both sick, which was particularly frustrating since Jay’s parents were still visiting us in Canmore.  We had hoped to do a lot of hiking and biking and sightseeing with them, but spent more time reading and visiting the doctor.  Good news is that the Canada healthcare system is quite good and relatively affordable.  Also, we have been house and dog sitting for a friend of my uncle’s here in Canmore.  This gives us a great home base and a way to save money, but unfortunately the dog, Louie, got sick right as we were getting better.  We switched from visiting doctors to visiting vets and kept close to home.  Luckily we are all recovered now and getting ready for the next leg of our journey.

Sharon and Jay at Spirit Island

us at Spirit Island where we went on the boat cruise with the Holts

Even with all that going on, we have been enjoying the Canmore and Banff area.  It’s a beautiful spot in the heart of the Canadian rockies and everywhere you go you stumble over awesome trails and gorgeous vistas, so its pretty hard to have a bad time.  We’ve visited all 3 nearby breweries and got treated to some amazing meals by Jay’s parents.  Also, we’ve enjoyed visiting with my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Tony, who I haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities to visit.  Tony is a well known sculptor in town and it when we got out with him it feels like we are the guest of a celebrity.

Tony Bloom and Barbara Parker

Uncle Tony and Aunt Barbara at Lake Louise where we went hiking with them

Today we get back on the road, headed west on a meandering route towards Spokane, WA.

Hours volunteered: 5 hours at Banff National Park assisting with an astronomy event for Parks Day

States & Provinces: 2, Alberta: Canmore, Banff, Jasper, British Columbia: Kootenay National Park

Budget: not sure

People Visited: Tony Bloom and Barbara Parker, Cindi and Morgan Holt

Nights under the stars: 0 – we are actually starting to miss our tent

Best meal: sushi at the Wild Orchid Asian Bistro in Canmore and a home cooked meal of kabobs that we got at Valbella’s in Canmore (thanks for the tip mom!)

Best beer: Stout from Jasper Brewery

Photo Review: Alberta

We have been lucky enough to spend most of the month in southern and western Alberta.  It is famous as a land of great beauty and extremes.  I hope you enjoy the photos.

view of Lake Louise from the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Flower near the top of Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

where the milky water from the edge of Lake Louise meets the rock wall

interesting rock along the mountainside on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail

Moraine Lake, along the Icefields Parkway

glacial lake

Glacial lake below Mount Edith Cavell (near Jasper)

Mistaya Canyon

I believe this is Mistaya Canyon, correct me if I'm wrong

Peyto Lake

Peyto Lake

bird at Grassi Lakes, Canmore

bird at Grassi Lakes, Canmore

hillside at Beaver Mines in southern Alberta

view from trail near Banff townsite

A Network of Paying it Forward: Napi Friendship Association and the Muskoka Foundation

I liked how Earlene, the Youth Coordinator at the Napi Friendship Association, explained to a coworker why we were there teaching photography to the kids.  She started with, “Remember when that man and that woman came in here with their little kids and they were talking about their photography…”.  Our volunteer experience in Pincher Creek, Alberta started 2,500 km away in Amado, Arizona at the Overland Expo where we met Jay and Alice, founders of the Muskoka Foundation.  When I heard Jay speak on a panel about how they were trying to help travelers “do good as they go”, I was excited.  That’s us!  We do that!  We connected with Jay, Alice, and Brian later that day to talk about what type of opportunities they could connect us to.

Our campsite for most of the time, at Beaver Mines Campground

One of the Muskoka Foundation’s signature programs is a photography workshop for youth in villages and indigenous communities along popular overlanding routes.  It’s a win-win-win type of program in which the kids get to learn a new skill, the village gets a chance to earn income through the sale of calendars made from the kids’ photos, and the travelers get to meet the local community and learn more about their culture.  We were excited to take on a project that would require more responsibility and allow us a lot of independence.

A view from Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and place of great significance for the Piikani First Nation

Jay and Alice had met Earlene earlier that year as they traveled through Alberta in their EcoRoamer.  They were introduced through a couple of fellow travelers, Doug and Karen, who live in Crowsnest Pass, 30 minutes west of Pincher Creek.  We followed in their tire tracks, climbing up the hill to Doug and Karen’s to learn about the area before starting the workshop.  Doug is a biologist with the Alberta Conservation Association and could share detailed information about the local environment and camping opportunities.  Karen works at the women’s center in Pincher Creek and was more familiar with the women and youth in the community and what types of challenges they faced.


Jay humoring me as I talk to the kids about framing a portrait

So this is how we found ourselves in the basement of the Napi Friendship Association with five Piikani teenagers talking about photography.  We were supported by a network of other travelers and people who work with youth.  Without this support we wouldn’t have made it through the week.  You learn a lot about yourself on a trip like this and we learned that we are not good at working with teenagers.  In fact, working with teenagers is the most stressful thing that we have done yet, besides getting Jay out of Death Valley after being burned.  They were good kids, but trying to keep a group of 11-15 year olds focused for four hours, three summer days in a row was a challenge we had no experience in tackling.  The workshop is designed for 5 days with shorter classroom time on each day and that added to the challenge.

heading out for our first photo walk in Pincher Creek

It was fun to see the kids’ excitement when they got to use the cameras for the first time.  It was cool to be accepted into this community, in which we were the only non-native people in the Napi Friendship Association building.  We welcomed the challenge of doing skilled work again, figuring out how to set up the room and present the material.  It was awesome to see the kids start using some of their new knowledge to critique each other’s photos or to decide which of their own photos were the best.  I enjoyed the chance to share something I am passionate about and reflect on my own photography.  It was also inspiring to be included within the tribe of travelers that Muskoka connects throughout the world.  That said, it was a very stressful week.

kids at Muskoka Foundation photography workshop

Seth and Jesse trying to capture a photo of a bird on our photo walk

We hope to work with the Muskoka Foundation again along our travels.  If we are ever back in Pincher Creek I would definitely drop in to say hi at the Napi Friendship Association.  However, Jay and I are planning to avoid any positions of responsibility involving teenagers again.  Lesson learned.

Fernie Part Two: Sharon’s Mountain Biking Review

This is Part Two, to read Jay’s post about the same trails, go HERE … ok, this is a longer than usual post, but there’s a great surprise ending if you can stick with it….

I had looked forward to mountain biking in Fernie, BC because I had seen an advertisement for a Women’s Only mountain biking clinic run by Sacred Rides on Fernie’s local trails.  The ad did not actually say that the trails were easy or great practice trails, but I was hoping that is what it implied.

Not exactly.

It turns out that Fernie is a great place for a mountain bike clinic because there are a lots of local trails with a lot of different types of obstacles to practice on.  There are in fact ZERO trails that are marked as “easy” in the guidebook we picked up.  The starting point for Fernie is “intermediate”.  Reviewing the guide book was only one of the many factors that led me to be practically trembling with anxiety as Jay and I arrived at the bike park to set out on an afternoon ride.

It wasn’t until I could turn my anxiety into self-deprecating humor for strangers’ amusement that I was able to move past the fear and start pedaling.  In an odd coincidence, I struck up conversation with some other bicyclists at the park, only to find out they were there for a Sacred Rides bike clinic that weekend.  Since they were novice riders, also nervous about the trails that awaited them, I was able to relieve the aura of tension that surrounded us by cracking jokes at my own expense.

view near the beginning of the trail system

Still acting as my own personal confidence buster, we pedalled around misguidedly, unable to find the old cemetery which was supposed to mark the start of the trail system.  I took this as a bad sign.  After looping around a few more times, we eventually saw the gates, separating the living from the dead, or in this case, smooth asphalt from rocks, roots, steep ascents, and terrifying descents.

I stopped every few yards for the first couple kilometers of trail.  If it wasn’t a log across the trail, it was a steep stretch which I lacked any momentum to summit.  Also, having rained earlier in the day, the trail was muddy, with a thick dark brown surface that would eat your tire and throw off your balance.  One of the keys to mountain biking is to maintain momentum, momentum carries you through almost all challenges and most obstacles are infinitely more difficult with little to no momentum.  With a steady uphill grade and intermediate-level single track, I lacked opportunity to build the momentum I needed to stay on the bike.

view along the trail

As we were reaching a less technical section that I was actually able to ride, I noticed a few women from the Sacred Rides class ahead of me, stopped on the side of the trail.  I perform better in front of an audience of my peers and I challenged myself to pedal as far past them as possible.  It was my longest stretch yet and I was ridiculously proud of myself.  It made it less embarrassing to walk my bike the final few yards to the intersection with a gravel road where the rest of the Sacred Rides class was waiting.

I kept working at it that afternoon for over 3 hours.  Jay and I wound our way through several trails with names like Broken Derailleur and Deadfall, a few of which I was even able to ride in short chunks.  Without the motivation and inspiration of the Sacred Rides group ahead of us, I would not have kept going as long.  Being surrounded by people who bike with Jay, I sometimes forget that there are novice mountain bikers.  It was great to watch the new riders and to realize how far I have already come in my riding.

sharon biking in fernie

That's me having completed the ride - tired, muddy, sweaty, and very proud

By the end of the ride I was encouraged enough to try riding again the next morning.  For the second day of riding, I set off on the Continental Heritage Trail because I thought it might be easier.  It was, at first … sort of.  It was smooth enough that I could stop and start every minute or so, setting small goals to ride as far as I could see.  I was riding by myself, letting Jay take on the big trails that he described in this earlier post.  My goals for the day were to just keep trying for a couple of hours, riding as much of the trail as I could.  I had the guidebook with me and figured I would ride the Continental Heritage Trail as far as I could and then bail off onto either the powerline road or the Ridgeline Road.

Beautiful creek along the Continental Heritage Trail

Somehow I managed to get past all of the easy connector trails without realizing it and ended up pushing my bike up steeper and steeper pitches.  I knew that I had to be pretty close to the road, it was basically paralleling the trail to my right, further up the mountain.  But I wasn’t sure the best way to get there.  I came to a steep narrow unmarked trail and figured that even if I had to push the bike the whole way, it would be better than backtracking.  This decision led to at least 30 minutes of full body workout, pushing the bike up rooted and rocky social trail (unofficial trail).  At one point I actually had to completely lift the bike over a large obstacle and then scramble up after it using my hands and feet.  After that I left the bike lying on the hillside to scout out ahead of me and make sure I wasn’t backing myself into a corner I could not climb down from.  Reassured that this narrow social trail met up with a wider smoother actual trail up ahead, I went back to pushing.

Finally I spotted a line of sunlight on the mountainside above me, indicating a break in the trees which I hoped was the road.  I summoned the last of my energy, reassured by the thought that I would stop for a rest and a snack at the intersection.  Sure enough I came up and onto a level, wide gravel road.  I took a huge sigh of relief before I spotted it…  a black bear.  The bear was in the road about 3 car lengths away, it spotted me before I saw it and had frozen, staring at me trying to make out whether I was predator or prey.

As regular readers know, we’ve been in bear country for weeks and the only bears I have seen have been from the safety of the car.  I have read countless guides on how to handle a bear encounter and they are universally NOT reassuring.  The one that stayed with me was the comedian, Mike Birbiglia’s account of what he was instructed to do: Announce yourself to the bear, let him know that you see him.  Of course at that point the bear is supposed to turn and run.  If this is not what happens, the guidelines get very confusing, alternating between “play dead” (which seems pretty ridiculous after having just announced yourself) and “go on the offensive”, either spraying the bear with bear spray (which I didn’t have) or entering into a physical altercation with the bear (which I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t win).

So I announced myself, “Hello Bear!  I’m Sharon, and I see you.”  The bear processed that for a second and then must have checked his own human encounter guidebook and thought “oh!  she announced herself, I’m supposed to turn and run now”.  He took off up the mountain in the opposite direction, and I yelled after him, “Thank you!”.  I also got right back on my bike with a surprising amount of renewed energy, and pedaled away to relative safety.

Part of Mike Birbiglia’s sketch about bear encounters … skip to the end if you just want to see the part I referenced.

Bacon: This post brought to you by Terri Tupper

While visiting Terri Tupper in St. Paul she informed me that their local grocery store has a bacon I have to try. Terri was even kind enough to provide a package of the bacon. Its called Elliots Up North Smoked bacon. This bacon is very likley salt cured and then smoked. It is thick sliced fatty ends as opposed to a more lean center cut. Right on, I always prefer that center cut bacon to be sliced thin and served crispy. Ends are much better thicker sliced and cooked until just the slightest bit crisp. Thick bacon should, in my opinion, be pan fried so this is how I cooked it. This stuff is good, one of the best store bought bacons, if not the best available for sure. Good saltiness at first and a strong smokey flavor at the end.

Thank you Terri.

Photo Review: WILDLIFE!

Over the last few weeks we have seen a wonderful array of different species as we headed into the Rocky Mountain west, first in the U.S. and then in Canada.  Since some of these species may be new to you (and at least one is yet unidentified).  See if you can identify these animals that I have managed to snap a photo of and then check in the comments (click on comments below the post) to see the answers.

Animal #1

Animal #2

Animal #3

Animal #4

Animal #5

Animal #6

Animal #7

Animal #8

Animal #9

Animal #10

Animal #11

Animal #12

Animal #13

Animal #14

Animal #15