Leaping into spring

We doggedly turned the pedals; eyes streaming, glasses fogged up, snotty noses cold and damp. My feet had long since gone numb and I noticed Scott slapping his frozen hands against his legs in a vain attempt to get some feeling back into them.

No, it wasn’t an epic trip along some ice-covered road in a distant Nordic country, just riding back to the ferry after visiting a friend overnight in Victoria on Vancouver Island earlier in March. The weather had changed overnight from cold and sunny, to frigid and sleeting. It felt in equal measures foul and fun (in a masochistic way, natch). We were dressed for the cold but not the wet, a point underlined as we disembarked on the mainland and booted it along the causeway to where we’d stealth-parked the car. Riding in full-on snow at this point as we sloshed through thick pools of water and slush, terrified yelps escaping my frozen lips as yet another truck barrelled past in the unofficial race off the ferry. My eyes were still noticeably swollen at work the next day, the after-effects of the wind and sleet that had somehow worked its way under, over and around my glasses.

Now that it’s finally warming up – cherry blossom bursting impatiently forth, a dusting of green on trees as leaves begin to unfurl – the first foray into mountain biking of the season has meant upending our tiny apartment as we dig out our bikes from a jammed closet. Three grinds up a gravelled road, and three runs down a bermy, easy run and we started to feel our bodies loosen up after far too long a break.

So March has been characterized by sporadic rides, lots of reading (Ashlee Pipers’s Give a Shit: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet has caught my attention for the last little while – plentiful ideas for upcycling, recycling, reusing – and I ploughed through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which frankly drove me a bit nuts with all the ‘thees and ‘thous’. I couldn’t put it down, but I have to admit I much prefer his essays from A Moveable Feast), and fitting in more drawing around work. Lately I’ve been working on some strawberries:

botanical drawing of strawberries

Strawberry composition

And I learnt a bit more about my backyard in British Columbia in This Mountain Life; both the staggeringly beautiful scenery this area contains, and the unique people who explore it, it’s well worth checking out.

 

Cross-country skiing, drawing and some sourdough starter.

I gave Grue his weekly feed today.

Grue is a bubbling, fruity or acidic or bready smelling (depending on the time of day and mood), occasionally slightly slimy surfaced sourdough starter. I haven’t had the courage yet to turn this brooding, alive, fridge-living monster into bread. I’ve just been feeding the little tyke once a week and sticking him back into cold storage until I a) get a digital scale, essential for accurate measurements of flour, starter etc etc. and b) have figured out how to transform the grommet into something we can eat. There’s a plethora of information on nurturing your starter and how to make bread, I just need to find enough time to study it as it does seem to require in-depth observation and dedication. I’m not adverse to the investment in educational time, quite the opposite, but I want to do justice to Grue and his tenacious will to live by being at least moderately informed when I begin the alchemical and essence-of-life process of baking bread.

sourdough starter

Grue, our bubbling monster. The elastic band shows how much he’s grown. Ah, bless!

In other news I just swallowed an advil with a great gob of red wine, which I’m sure is verboten but it was the liquid I happened to have in my hand as I reached for a painkiller. I was bent over double with a sudden and excruciating stab of sciatic nerve pain so severe that I felt like I might throw up. The advil and a quick hot bath seemed to do the trick. I had gone for a run yesterday and decided that to shake things up a bit I might try sprinting every other block. A few times doing that and I was soaked in sweat and felt great. I was also stiff as a board later and spent the rest of the day sitting on my backside drawing. Cue sciatic purgatory.

The drawing has been coming along though. Sometimes I feel horribly slow but I grab what time I can and am gradually building up a stock of images, some of which I’ve started to make into greeting cards. It’s deeply satisfying and at some point I will start to sell the cards online.

Illustration of daffodils

Working on a daffodil composition

And after a very delayed start, we’re finally seeing a decent dump of snow here on the west coast. Essential for a healthy snow pack during the summer months of course but also great for snow sports. A few days ago I was out cross-country skiing. Just so beautiful and so good to be out in the sparkling, squeaky snow. The (mostly) blue sky was a lovely bonus.

Hope everyone’s week is going well!

snowy forest

Snowy forest

snow, trees and blue sky

Snow, trees and blue skies

cross country trails

Perfect cross-country conditions

 

Discovering new mountain bike trails, Part three: Powell River

Bridge crossing a stream

Cooling stream on a steaming hot day

From the depths of a bottomless sleep, I slowly became aware of Scott’s muffled voice: ‘Are you awake? Can you hear that?’

As I surfaced consciousness, not entirely sure of where I was in the dense darkness of the forested campground, I pulled out my ear plugs (an essential defence against Scott’s snoring) and was immediately assaulted with an almighty cacophony of shouts, screams, singing and laughter.

‘It’s those kids’ I mumbled. I yawned widely.

‘What kids?’

‘The ones in the group campsite, they arrived this afternoon, I mean yesterday’. It was already after midnight.

‘Oh’.

Apparently Scott hadn’t noticed the group after we rode back into the campground after a full day of mountain biking; perplexed by both the level of noise and my unconscious state (I normally wake at the slightest sound) he momentarily wondered if there was some kind of crisis unfolding. That’s probably another reason I love outdoor sports so much, the combination of fresh air and exercise conks me out at night.

For three nights at Haywire Regional campground, tucked way behind Powell River down a forestry road and edged by the refreshing water of Powell Lake, it had been stunningly quiet at night – apart from the whisper of a breeze in the evenings rustling the branches of trees circling each site. But now we were into the weekend and slightly different, unwritten rules applied. Popular with the locals, this was the campground to come to for a family and friends get together. Lots of drinking, music and letting off steam. Nothing got too out of hand though, good-natured (if noisy) fun seemed to predominate. Just go during the week if you want to avoid the party atmosphere, or to the quieter, nearby Inland Lake Provincial campground.

Powell Lake

Powell Lake in the evening light

Powell River on the Sunshine Coast was the third and final new area of mountain biking for us last summer. Now a historic and cultural site – the city sits on the traditional territory of the Tla’ Amin Nation and the pulp and paper mill was once the largest in the world – the area is increasingly a playground for outdoor enthusiasts; some of the trails we were riding around the Duck Lake area had been custom-built for the BC Bike Race.

We already felt spoilt with our trips to Quadra Island and Cumberland and weren’t necessarily planning another break, but I shifted things around a bit at work and we headed out for a few days mid August. Not the smartest move; a hot and busy time of year and I hadn’t made any campsite reservations. Not sure what we were thinking really, it was very much a ‘go and see how it works out’ situation, if we had to we’d just come home. In a way, it was a choice made out of desperation; as the smoke from wildfires rolled in yet again, I obsessively looked up the air quality index to see where we might escape to and Powell River on the Sunshine Coast popped up. Two ferry rides away and some driving to be sure, but not that great a distance from Vancouver. Surely they’d have smoke too? And by the end of our visit they did, but not before we got in some gorgeous cross-country riding for five or so days. We had no problem bagging a camping spot either. Lucky.

And it was gorgeous; long, winding trails snaking through forest – aromatic with the scent of fir and pine. Sporadically the trails flirted here and there with the shores of Mud, Stewart, Haslam or Duck Lake. Every route seemed brilliantly maintained, obviously ridden a lot, but we barely saw a soul.

MTB trails, Duck Lake area

Scott, Duck Lake area

Map of Duck Lake trails

Map of Duck Lake trails

Each day we barrelled down gravelled roads towards Duck Lake, parked and picked our route. It was hot, but the forest protected us. We rode for hours, exploring the myriad byways. When we started to overheat, we sloshed water over our heads from streams and sat in the shade, guzzling the copious amounts of water we’d brought with us. And in the evenings back at the campground we threw ourselves into Powell Lake. A forested path close to the tent led us out to a smaller, less busy beach. Around dinner time it was often deserted and we lingered as the sun slid away, picking our way back by torchlight to our campsite for a glass of wine and hastily thrown together meal.

Mini waterfall

Mini waterfall

MTB trails, Powell River

Me taking a snap of trail signs

How does it go? Eat, sleep, ride, repeat? Check.

Illustration: Holly and ivy (oh, and some vegan chocolate cupcakes)

 

Illustration of holly and ivy

Holly and ivy

A seasonal illustration: holly and ivy drawn with coloured pencils – I decided to use this illustration for Christmas cards.

If you happen to be looking for a vegan chocolate cupcake recipe (and why wouldn’t you be?!) look no further. I stumbled over this one and it’s perfect, and oh so easy. I’ve made it twice now in the space of three days, both for vegan and non-vegan friends, and they seemed to go down well.

Enjoy!

Discovering new mountain bike trails, part two: Cumberland, British Columbia

Mountain biking Cumberland, BC

Taking a breather, Cumberland, BC

After three days of a rural retreat on Quadra Island in July, we headed for another mountain bike hub, Cumberland, the self-styled ‘village in the forest’ nestled in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. We were booked in for three nights at a local airbnb, a cute self-contained apartment with a full kitchen – so saving us a ton of dough cooking our own food – and oh joy, a washer and dryer; sweaty, rank bike gear no more!

I hadn’t realized exactly how close to the trail system we’d be. A step out of the door from the converted attic above a nice family home, one, two, three turns of the pedals, a couple of moments coasting down the road on a gentle incline and we were suddenly in the woods and starting up a forestry road. No driving to a trailhead, no fighting traffic, no muss no fuss.

The trails in Cumberland are excellent; well-maintained, clearly marked, extensive, fun and challenging when you want. Thanks to the efforts of the local bike club, the United Riders of Cumberland, the agreements they hold with private landowners have allowed the development and maintenance of a vast network of trails in a working forest. Additionally, the Cumberland Community Forest Society has over the last few years been raising funds to buy parcels of forest adjacent to the town and in the process are protecting an important ecological, recreational and historical area.

BC BC Bike Race, Cumberland, BC

BC Bike Race

Cumberland attracts riders from around the world. The last day of our visit the town hosted the second stage of the BC Bike Race, ‘the world’s best mountain bike race’ ~ Outside Magazine. The race next year is already sold out. We watched as over six hundred riders shot past our airbnb into the woods early in the morning, the spin of so many wheels buzzing like a vast hive of bees. The local sports field was a sea of red tents set up for the riders that night, and were just as suddenly gone the next day, on to another stage of the race in another town.

MTB trails, Cumberland, BC

Scott, Cumberland

Bike races aside, for all its popularity as a mountain biking destination once we’d ridden up the forestry road and veered off on the first of many trails we saw at most a handful of riders each day. On the second day dark clouds hove into view as a deep rumble of thunder sounded. Despite its throat clearing the sky spared us all but a spattering of rain and lightning. We traversed a web of trails that led us up into great swathes of logged, open land; stumps and replanting abounded instead of thick forest. At other times we were led back into gorgeous woods that had been temporarily spared the chainsaw or were soon to be felled, judging by the brightly coloured plastic ribbon that adorned them.

I’m conflicted about the areas we rode in. The trails are brilliant: loamy, rocky, rooty, flowy, techy, take your pick. But the cleared areas jarred. The forest society notes on their website that all unprotected forest is to be logged. Replanting can’t hide the evidence of chainsaws at work (at this point of the growth cycle anyway). Where new growth reached just over our heads, it was easier to deny the logging – the inevitable out of sight, out of mind.

In a way Cumberland is a lesson in survival and evolution (I highly recommend a visit to the Cumberland Museum and Archives, we learnt a lot in a couple of hours one afternoon). With the discovery of coal in the 1800’s, Union, as the town was once called after the Union Coal Mining Company, grew rapidly, swelled by the arrival of Chinese and to a lesser extent, Japanese, immigrants to work the mines in harsh and dangerous conditions. As coal production gradually declined followed by the depression and WWII, many Chinese returned home whilst the Japanese endured forced internment during the war years. Chinatown and Japanese Town were dismantled. Logging replaced coal mining as the primary industry. Bolstered by the conviction that the forest is now worth more standing than felled, the community is ushering in a new economy. It’s nice that mountain biking is a vital part of this latest growth; Cumberland, with its artsy, craft beer, music, outdoor enthusiasts scene will have fully evolved once again.

We’ll be back.

Vanilla MTB trail, Cumberland

GoPro screen capture from Scott of Vanilla MTB, Cumberland. Flowy, bermy, fun!

 

Illustration complete: horse chestnut

Illustration: horse chestnut/conker

Finished at last…..horse chestnut/conker

Handling a horse chestnut is a delicate process. To look at it makes me think of a naval mine or, somewhat more benignly, a sea anemone.

I got a few holes poked in my fingers placing the horse chestnut the way I wanted it; no pain, no gain kinda deal.

For good or bad I’ve started an instagram account, primarily for illustrations, but with a few photos thrown in for good measure. Some drawings will make their way onto the blog, more on the insta. If you’re interested have a look, and perhaps follow and share. Thanks so much.

 

Discovering new mountain bike trails, part one: Quadra Island, British Columbia

Sunset, Quadra Island, BC

Rain giving way to the setting sun, Quadra Island.

Cool days, finally some sun after a damp start to the autumn. Looking back it’s been a good summer of exploring in our backyard. Travel abroad is great but there’s a lot to be said for staying local. It’s cheaper for one. Usually there’s less preparation. Hopefully less stress. And in this region there’s some excellent mountain biking nearby – it’s been fun discovering new areas to ride.

We unexpectedly returned to Quadra Island for three days in early July – courtesy of good friends living part-time on the island in a lovely rustic cabin. We explored mountain bike routes so stealth that if we hadn’t our friend as guide we never would have found them. We rode both unsanctioned trails (meaning not necessarily maintained) but also official trails, like the excellent Little Black Dress.

I could count the number of other riders we met on one hand. Quiet woods, gorgeous lakes – my first swim of the year in Morte Lake was sublime.

Morte Lake, Quadra Island

Morte Lake

It was stellar weather, long before any hint of wildfire smoke destined to hit the region later in the summer, although hot enough that we had to rest in the shade of a tree after toiling up a steep rock and root strewn route that levelled out to a quiet, relatively smooth plateau of loamy, compliant trails.

Trails, Quadra Island

Barely there trails winding into the woods

Pretty good sunsets too.

Twilight, Quadra Island

Twilight, Quadra Island

Autumnal cake

Almond and Plum Cake

Almond and Plum Cake

It’s been a busy but good summer. Lots of camping, discovering new mountain bike trails (more on that to come), extra work (pays the bills), a new creative venture (more on that to come too) and entering some writing competitions (so far without success) hasn’t left a lot of time to catch up on blogging. Phew! Time to sit down for some cake and coffee.

Slice of almond and plum cake

Slice of cake

I ever so slightly adjusted this excellent Almond and Plum Cake recipe from a lovely blog (with a cute whimsical name to match), Mrs.Twinkle.

Instead of dairy milk I used almond milk, instead of orange zest I used lemon zest (it’s all I had in the fridge), and instead of regular sugar I used coconut sugar. I did still use icing sugar on the top to decorate. You could probably go full on vegan by replacing the butter and eggs and I bet it would taste fantastic but I haven’t tried that yet, so don’t quote me on it.

And of course I used those gorgeously wine-dark prune plums that have been around lately.

Fall leaves, a chill in the air but still enough daylight and late season sunshine for cycling or hiking. And when the wind and rain blows in, as it inevitably does, then hunkering down to read novels, magazines and blogs follows. With cake. And coffee.

Slice of almond and plum cake

The cake even worked for a birthday; simple but effective (more of an adult cake than a child’s cake admittedly).

Almond/plum cake as a birthday cake

A simple, but stylish birthday cake

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
(To Autumn: John Keats)

Indeed, There Is No Planet B

“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.” (The Road, Cormack McCarthy)

Sea to Sky Highway, British Columbia

Sea to Sky Highway, a distant ribbon below the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

I went for a great hike with my sister the other day, a roughly four to five-hour round trip to St.Mark’s Summit along the Howe Sound Crest trail on Cypress mountain outside of Vancouver. I used to hike it fairly frequently but it’s been a few years since I was last up there, mostly Scott and I are on the bikes. Woof, it was hard! It’s a challenging trail and clambering up roots and rocks isn’t quite the same as spinning circles, even on a mountain bike.

I was dismayed though at the utter disregard by some for this stunning spot, I don’t recall garbage being an issue before. Quite a few people seemed to be using the trail as an outdoor stairmaster; they appeared oblivious to the spectacular views surrounding them. Wet wipes, tissue, and bits of packaging were scattered here and there (I admit I was grossed out at the first two items and didn’t feel like picking up other people’s garbage on that day. Shame on me, I should carry a bag or something specifically for collecting trash). Some carried radios and music blared out as they stormed up the trail. It was enough to temporarily sully this glorious area. I was looking forward to a quiet picnic at St.Mark’s Summit, but the incessant sound of a drone buzzing around put paid to that. Once the group using it left, taking their toy with them, a sublime quietness descended and we were able to watch peacefully as a bald eagle rode a thermal, the Sea to Sky highway a distant ribbon below.

It was a similar story a week or two ago. I plunged into the sea water off Porteau Cove for a swim after a hot and sweaty mountain bike ride in Squamish, and watched as one, then several more orcas passed by in the distance. Astonishing. As I swam back to shore I noticed bits and pieces of garbage that I grabbed: a pen – it’s not bad, we’re using it at home – a half open plastic packet of something chocolatey, and an elastic band (that might have ended up getting tangled around a flipper, a fin or a beak) both of which I threw into the garbage. A girl paddling on her air mattress grabbed a floating beer can. Compared to many areas of the globe, it’s a minor amount of trash, but it’s depressing to see it all the same. We all drop the ball (and accidentally garbage sometimes), but mindlessly tossing trash, leaving wet wipes and tissue after utilizing the outdoors as a dumping ground is incomprehensible behaviour as the world around us burns and pollutants pile up.

For the first time in a very long time I cried the other day. I’d been reading recently about the struggles of the orcas in these waters known as J pod and I felt overwhelmed by the wrecking ball that we as a species seem to personify. When I sent an email to the David Suzuki Foundation to ask what we could do, the reply was direct and specific:

‘Thanks for your note. Reversing the decline of southern resident orcas is indeed complex, but there are straightforward ways that we could regulate a safer environment that would give a better chance for recovery.

Those include reducing the chinook fishery, improving upstream habitat, reducing shipping traffic speeds, creating marine refuges and protected areas, reducing pollution, among others.

As far as something that each and every person can do in their daily lives, reducing our carbon footprint, reducing consumption, etc. will also help to improve the environment in the long-term, and raise awareness. However, these elements will not lift orcas out of their current crisis.

Keeping decision makers focussed on these issues in the short and long-term are the best likely target to enacting remedies for southern resident orcas. So, what each and every person could do is contact their elected officials and fisheries and oceans staff to let them know their deep concern’.

Grieving over the environmental degradation we’re responsible for is one thing, but we have to act too. So pick up your garbage, better still, don’t drop it in the first place. Pick up other people’s garbage when you can. We need to be more aware of our impact. We should do better, we need to do better, we have to do better.

Howe Sound Crest Trail

View of the ‘Lions’, Howe Sound Crest Trail, Cypress Mountain