A Little Bit of Spruce

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For the first time in many Sundays, no commitments. It’s snowing again and unusually I’m very happy to be inside in the warmth with a cup of herbal tea at hand – and an embarrassing amount of coloured pencils. I’m not sure if I just drew a spruce, pine or fir branch, I’m think it’s a spruce!

Ode To The Bicycle

“Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring” – Desmond Tutu

Apologies to those who love fishing! But I think you get my gist. Once upon a time I would have rated my hiking boots my most prized possession, followed by my cross-country skis followed by books and photos, then, well, not much else actually. I don’t have a lot of things – partly out of necessity, two of us live in a shoebox-sized apartment – but also because I don’t want to feel too weighed down with stuff.

Travelling in New Zealand years ago I discovered the joy of moving forward on your own two feet for extended periods while hiking the Routeburn, Greenstone and Abel Tasman trails. I’ve worn out a couple of pairs of boots over the years, my last pair stood me in good stead on some long hauls here in British Columbia, finally coming apart at the heel. I got blisters for the first time ever in twelve years or so of wearing them. They’ve been replaced but their hierarchy has changed. I’ll never not love hiking, but cycling, well, that’s taken over for the last few years and my bikes have precociously shouldered my humble boots aside to take top spot.

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Bicycle on display, Design Museum, London UK

It’s amazing how much ground you can cover on a bike. Start cycling at the beginning of the day and you could end up in a totally different environment at the end of it. Zipping around town to run errands and collect groceries often takes a fraction of the time than on foot or in a car on congested roads. Freedom, self-containment, fresh air, exercise, the soothing whirr of wheels – unless of course there’s an unexpected and frustrating click, clank or hiss necessitating a usually infuriating session of ad hoc bike maintenance, this is when I don’t love my bike.

Cycling has made me feel stronger than I thought I could possibly be. At times when I’ve despaired getting up a trail on a mountain bike, I’ve had to relax, take my time and just plug away at it. I’ve surprised myself at my tenacity and felt a real sense of achievement when I’ve crested a hill. I’ve also learned to read my energy levels much better. If I’ve had enough, that’s ok too. And there’s not many times a bike ride doesn’t put things into perspective.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking” – Arthur Conan Doyle

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Chilling out on a leisurely trail

Oh, and here’s a few fun facts and figures in an article at Climate Central.  By undertaking just 10% of urban trips in cities worldwide by bicycle instead of motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 11%. The article concedes the potential difficulties of installing infrastructure for bikes in certain areas and the cultural shift towards bikes needed in others, but the general agreement seems to be that the science behind those figures is sound. And I don’t think there’s much dispute that exercise is good for you, I’m not saying that cycling is the reason Robert Marchand is still riding a bike at 105 years old, but I don’t think it hurts either.

“Riding bicycles will not only benefit the individual doing it, but the world at large.”
Udo E. Simonis, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Policy at the Science Centre, Berlin, January 2010

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Snowshoeing Joy

Winter shadows

Winter shadows

Generally speaking I don’t tend to get too down, a bit flat occasionally and that’s enough to make me feel uncomfortable and a bit despondent about how the world is behaving. I should qualify that and say how the human species is behaving and affecting the world – the latter is just doing its thing.

Above all, getting outside is one of my first choices to alleviate this sense of unbidden  dispiritedness, and I recognize (how could I not?) how very, very lucky I am to be able to do so.

Before the holidays hit, we tramped up to nearby Seymour Mountain where temperatures had started out in the morning at around -11c. I had on two pairs of thermal leggings under waterproof trousers, a thermal top, fleece, jacket, ridiculously massive gloves that I’d normally use skiing, hat, thick socks, sturdy hiking boots etc. I had no intention of getting more cold than I needed to thank you very much.

Snowshoeing is a madly active sport depending on how you approach it and calories burned range from 300 to 500 or so an hour (with some reports of 1000 calories burned per hour but that would be for extreme athletes I think). I’m not interested in the calories, just that working that hard does keep you warm.

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Looking into the sun

Looking into the sun

Once you’re up the mountain, all I can say is….the light! The blueness of the blue sky! The sharp, crystalline air that you gasp in! That ineffable, pervasive scent of snow! And then you look down and in a moment of stillness notice the intricate, delicate and unbelievable complexity of a single snowflake and how different it might be from that other snowflake (I just read that despite all the different snowflakes they are all six-sided – extraordinary, to me at least since I didn’t know that). Then you’re off again, running or stomping or whooshing through the snow.

We were flattened over the holidays by a fierce flu that, as it did to many, burnt through us like a fire leaving us drained and perpetually tired. We’re recovering now and headed up to another local mountain a couple of days ago to test our lungs. It was cold again, but it was a tad warmer and it showed in snow-free trees.

Photo by Scott

Photo by Scott

Looking out to Bowen. Photo by Scott

Bowen Island lookout, Cypress Mountain. Photo by Scott

We tramped with some effort through a patch of old growth forest, testing our strength and happy to feel our muscles respond as we expected them too, if a little slower, stopping to admire a stand of old growth that we’ve seen so many times before but are always awed by.

Winter light, photo by Scott

Winter light, photo by Scott

Old growth forest

Old growth forest

After a couple of hours we headed home, in a state approaching something like relaxed alertness. Dinner that night was home-made pizza accompanied by a glass of wine and it tasted as good as anything I’ve ever eaten and drunk. It’s the small moments stitched together that end up creating a sense of contentment.

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Seymour Mountain

Quadra Island

In early September we drove north on Vancouver Island as far as Campbell River and from there it was a ten minute ferry ride across to Quadra, one of the so-called Discovery Islands that resides along the Inside Passage seaway between Vancouver Island and the mainland and which sits at the edge of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Despite the often unreliable weather reports in this part of the world we’d planned a break for a couple of days, naively trusting the forecast of ‘mostly sun’. Although the latter did pop out now and then from behind banks of clouds as if to say ‘boo!’, surprising us with its warmth and brightness, it was more often a metallic grey sky that accompanied us on our walks during the time we spent away. That grey, and the rain, has its own beauty though.

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The island has a lovely rural feel to it. As we travelled around on the quiet, leaf-strewn roads we spotted small farms, goats and sheep wandering in fields and signs advertising bags of apples. A woman we met walking her dog mentioned she had an overwhelming amount of berries she’d had to freeze following this year’s bumper crop. We also found Quadra unexpectedly mountainous (at least on the north end) with a surprisingly busy forestry industry. A friend told me he remembers being flown in with a group of workers by helicopter to do some tree planting over thirty years ago. For the last twenty years there’s been an inspiring and protracted push to protect the environment and the effort seems to have paid off. The island also has a distinct and prosperous indigenous presence. The We Wai Kai band of the Laichwiltach people (part of the Kwa’ Kwa’ Ka’ Wa’Kw First Nation) largely reside in Cape Mudge, one of three main villages on the island.

We drove through verdant forest thick with trees, moss and ferns, until the road we were on ran out. After parking we walked to the waters edge, chatting with another couple we bumped into who were hoping to spot whales (they never appeared), and gazed across the rain-stippled water at a homestead, it’s back protected by a wall of trees.

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There’s a great hike (one of many on the island) up a lovely area called Chinese Mountains. A few steps off the road into the forest and after that we didn’t meet a soul for the next couple of hours. It was mulchy and damp on the trail, banana slugs strewn around as if they’d been thrown there. We tried to avoid victimizing them with an unthinkable squelching as we picked our way around them, attempting to avoid slipping on a trail that was largely made up of wet, sharp rocks. It was only lunchtime and already the mossy greenness seemed to be getting darker; the rain was moving in but we wanted to get to the top for a view of the Coast Mountains and Vancouver Island.

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Use all four limbs to climb up this part of the trail

Despite the fog and mist obscuring most of the vista the truncated view was worth the effort. We huddled under a tree eating a chocolate bar as the rain started to get heavier. I was antsy and wanted to retreat before it completely poured, I had visions of us barreling down on our backsides in a torrent of water. As it was we had to be careful to pick out the occasionally obscured trail as the misty dampness roiled around us, at one point backing away from a sheer drop we had somehow managed to walk ourselves out to.

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View from the top

Appropriately, now that I think about it, the north end of the island was enveloped in mist, cloud and rain the entire time. It was on the south end that we enjoyed some sun. It made an appearance when we were taking a look at Cape Mudge lighthouse, one of the few accessible by road in Canada. It’s manned too, which is rather cool (although the romantic in me was a bit disappointed to find out the lighthouse keeper – isn’t that a lovely vintage sounding phrase – doesn’t actually live there, but in a building behind the lighthouse). The latter sits on the edge of a sandy beach where we found a comfortable log to lean against and fell asleep for a few minutes in the sudden warmth. Our hopeful whale watching friends had mentioned that they’d heard the whoosh of a blowhole from a whale whilst they had been here. We of course heard seagulls, the plop of waves….. and the distant throb from tugboat engines.

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Cape Mudge lighthouse

Actually it felt as if we were seeing the world in a micro rather than a macro way for our entire stay. On the way back from a lodge after dinner we spotted several deer, of mostly bambi size, and even a tiny frog that leaped heroically away from the glare of the car headlights (we drove very slowly) and at the small but fascinating salmon hatchery we spotted an undulating group of tiny salmon hatchlings sheltering at the shallow end of their nursery pond. Whether it’s small or large wildlife, whether it rains or shines, it really doesn’t matter.

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View from Rebecca Spit, east side of Quadra Island

 

Autumn Goodness

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It feels good to fly a little free and figure out the colours needed for a drawing, like this one of an autumn leaf, rather than copy faithfully from a book. The latter is a great way to learn and I’ll refer to those same books for suggestions when I get stumped, but the training wheels had to come off at some point (as they did with the plum).

The clocks have recently gone back and I never quite know how to feel about this, waking up is a little easier with more light, rather than burrowing back down into the duvet whilst the darkness lingers. But then it gets darker in the evening so much sooner, which is not really appealing to me. Perhaps though the autumn/winter seasons are some of the potentially most creative times? The energy is more withdrawn, less exuberantly outward, which can feel like a kind of loss at first, but if you can channel that saved energy it might actually be replenishing. With less time to be outside there’s more time to rest, to draw, cook, read, learn more about photography, to write…. (I’m just talking about what I enjoy, insert your own particular interests and hobbies).

Speaking of comfort food (we were weren’t we?!), I tried making a pumpkin pie, which I haven’t done for a few years. I used the same pastry recipe as I did for a fruit pie – once again omitting added salt as I used salted butter – and my own recipe for the pumpkin filling, which is as follows:

1 14oz (or 400mls) can of organic pumpkin

I cup of soy milk

2 eggs

1/4 – 1/2 cup of maple syrup

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all together, pour into a nine inch pie dish lined with the pastry, cook at approx 350f for about 45-50mins or until the pumpkin is set. Voila! Delish with added whipped cream.

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“It was one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins.” P.G.Wodehouse.

Enjoy the rest of the autumn!

Plum Pie With Coffee Ice Cream

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Prune plum

Autumn means many things to people. Windswept streets, leaves turning vibrant copper and red hues, falling rain. It also means for many, myself included, warm pies using the last of the summer fruit before segueing into pumpkin pies – a very North American tradition that we’ve just enjoyed with the Thanksgiving weekend (I also often turn to frozen fruit once the summer is over, it works well too).

There seemed to be an abundance of prune plums around in the late summer and I got the chance to not only draw one (see above) but also to make a couple of pies with them. For one pie I added in a couple of late season nectarines that couldn’t be eaten raw – they’d become very mealy.

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Plum pie, with a couple of nectarines thrown in

I also made coffee ice cream from a great recipe by Nigella Lawson, no ice cream maker needed. Unfortunately I made a tactical error by adding in not espresso powder, but espresso coffee I’d ground myself. A rookie mistake, the ice cream had the oddest granular texture. It tasted good though.

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Pie and grainy coffee ice cream

The only problem with making ice cream in Canada is the difficulty in finding fatty enough cream. I had tried to make a lemon & saffron ice cream recipe from a favourite food/living in France blog I follow called Manger. I couldn’t get the cream to thicken. Perplexed I emailed the author, Mimi Thorisson, for her advice. She very kindly wrote  back and suggested the lack of fat might be the issue. Hmm, what to do? And then I had a brainwave. In a recipe using 300ml of cream, I used 200ml of the thickest cream I could find here (whipping cream at a mere 33% fat) and added the final 100ml using imported English Double Devon Cream which can be found in quite a few stores (I found mine at Wholefoods). It’s so whoppingly high in fat, 48%, that it more than made up the balance. Not very scientific but it worked.

I used this pastry recipe, omitting the salt since I used salted butter. I cut the plums roughly into quarters and placed in the pie dish, removing the stones of course; added a little orange juice for moisture and about a tablespoon of sugar to the fruit then covered with the remaining pastry. I cooked the pie in a preheated oven at 350f for about 45mins or until the fruit seemed to be bubbling and the pastry was golden. Our oven runs hot so I may not have cooked it as long as some might need to.

Oh, and I remade the coffee ice cream with powdered coffee the next time! It was delicious. And, yes, smoother.

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Successful coffee ice cream

Two Cycle Routes in The Okanagan

For four days in June we’d made an escape to one of our favourite campgrounds on the far side of Skaha Lake, across from Penticton in the Okanagan.

sx̌ʷəx̌ʷnitkʷ  Provincial Park, formerly Okanagan Falls in the town of the same name, is now managed and run by the Osoyoos Indian Band. The name means ‘little falls’, and although the falls themselves for which the park is named no longer exist – in the 1950’s they were blasted to make way for a flood control dam – at night we can hear the rushing water of the Okanagan River by the side of the campground. It’s challenging to describe the allure of this spot, jammed as it is between the river and a road just off the highway. It’s small, it has very limited amenities (certainly no showers), there’s little to no privacy for each site. But its compact size is part of the charm; tucked around the corner of the mountainside as it is, the highway noise is eliminated.  The riparian vegetation encourages birds and bats. As so often happens in campgrounds, despite the open tent sites, there’s an unspoken agreement to  preserve the illusion of privacy. A friendly nod as you walk past sites and then eyes are politely averted.

The weather was mercurial during the week we stayed. Thunder and lightning the first night accompanied by cool rain. Perhaps we hadn’t brought enough warm gear? Then the sun broke with a vengeance, the temperature shot straight up to 30c and suddenly the swim gear and sun umbrella for scrubby Skaha Beach didn’t seem to be out of the question anymore. It also meant we needed to tactically time a couple of bike rides, we both cycle better in slightly cooler temperatures.

Holidays to me don’t mean getting up at six or seven in the morning, even though I was the one harassing us to get moving this time, so thank goodness for coffee. And food, ahhh food! I do love it so (I have to segue here and mention a great little compendium of recipes created and put together in a book I bought called Bike. Camp. Cook by a couple who have bike toured a huge amount, who clearly appreciate good food and who wanted to eat well and nutritiously on their trips. I originally stumbled across their book on Kickstarter but they now feature it on their website Going Slowly. They recommend a cooking set that we purchased and it has made our lives so much easier. I’ve followed their recipes for french toast, mango/avocado salsa, baked bananas, feta cheese and zucchini fritters, all so good. I photocopied the recipes I wanted to use, a useful way to save weight).

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Mango and avocado salsa, I added tomatoes.

Fortified by caffeine and french toast we struck off for what was actually a short (one hour) ride, but a pretty one. At the far end of Okanagan Falls we turned onto McLean Creek Road, a popular local cycling circuit. It wound up a couple of steep turns then levelled out into a gently winding route past farms and well tended, prosperous looking ranches before dropping down to the east side of Skaha Lake and so back to the campground. As we started out the sun was already burning (hence the arm protectors), the sky a gorgeous blue.

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Early morning light. Photos by Scott

A day later we woke to a hot but overcast day, the sky an oppressive stony grey. Our circuit this time took us in the opposite direction for a two or three hour ride. We tackled two outrageous hair pin turns on Green Lake Road which runs beside the campground, passes a vineyard or two and turns onto White Lake Road, leading to Twin Lakes Road and thence to Highway 3A and back again. There’s a beauty to this sage-filled landscape that can’t be denied. During most of the time riding out and back to the campground we rarely saw a car, sometimes a motorbike and as there were no fondos on at that time (it’s a popular area for group rides), just a few  cyclists. Once we’d reached the highway we spotted a nearby gas station and stopped outside to drink chocolate milk and stretch. As we relaxed in the shade a red-faced dad, mum, teenage son and daughter, all impressively geared up in matching cycling gear, rolled up, ran inside and emerged with the largest ice creams I think I’ve ever seen. We exchanged ‘hellos’ and route suggestions. People are friendly here anyway, it’s part of what brings us back each year, but I’m nearly always struck by the camaraderie of the cycling world, it’s a lovely thing.

If you like cycling there’s so many more routes to ride nearby, this is just a taster of this beautiful and diverse area, and you can always stop off for a glass of wine at one of the many vineyards. We certainly did.

White Lake Road

White Lake Road

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Fresh Watermelon and Lime Juice

I don’t normally publish another post so quickly, my average seems to be about every two to four weeks, but, I do have to share a fantastic juice recipe. I sort of collated it from several different sources and then adjusted it a bit to make it my own (no sugar added, and an extra lime).

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It is completely delicious. I used a jar that originally had ice cream in it to drink from. I hadn’t yet done the washing-up and we’re majorly down on glasses because I am, how can I say, quite clumsy. I break things, or burn things, or spill things onto things, quite a lot. I know, it’s not good, I’m working on it.

For the juice I used as much chopped watermelon as I felt like, in this case about a third of a mini watermelon and the juice of two fresh squeezed limes. That’s it. Nothing else. I try to use organic watermelons and limes if I can. Watermelon has of course tons of water in it (!) but apparently also good amounts of vitamins A and C, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants and amino acids, it appears pretty much the same could be said of limes. I threw the watermelon and lime juice in a blender, and that was it. Refreshing and very, very good.

 

Four Nights, Three Days and Some Cycle Touring

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Fulford Harbour

We were itching to do some cycling touring, to stretch out our legs and be entirely (or mostly, ferries notwithstanding) self-sufficient. To that end we decided to ride back to a favourite southern gulf island in BC, Salt Spring, and combine it with a visit to our friend in Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was wonderful, around 130kms of moderate riding over the course of four days ( a perfect amount in hot weather and for a more relaxed break) incorporating a gorgeous island, some farm stands to munch local fruits and veggies from, scenic roads to ride, fresh water lakes to swim in, some freezing ocean to dip in, and a leafy city to wander around near the end of the trip.

We did our special of stealth parking in the quiet back streets of Tswwassen itself and belted up the causeway (about 7kms on a bike route) to the ferry terminal and rolled onto one of the frequent ferries that makes its way across the Georgia Strait to Swartz Bay. I love being the first on and first off the ferry and the fact that you’re saving about $160 when you don’t take a car (insanity! When did it become so expensive to travel by ferry to nearby islands, and on the same note, when did BC Parks get so expensive? Salt Spring is still bearable at $20 a night for a tent site, with no showers, but most now seem to be up to $30 or more, and don’t get me started on the private campgrounds. No wonder more people want to wild camp where they can, it’s something we might have to look into. End of Rant). Once at Swartz, we rolled our bikes over to the connecting ferry for Salt Spring, which deposits you roughly twenty-five minutes later at Fulford Harbour on the island. In the summer you can take a direct ferry to Salt Spring or a meandering one which stops in at Galiano, Mayne and Pender Islands en route and takes about 3 hours. Both latter choices dock at Long Harbour, the main ferry terminal at the other end of the island to Fulford. It takes us about two hours to ride from Long Harbour to reach the campground we stay at on the island. If you want a longer ride it’s a great route.

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local apples

If you ever do this trip I recommend that you immediately head to the Salt Spring Mercantile Store in Fulford village which is about a minutes walk from the harbour entrance (Fulford is tiny) and pick up several of the house-made Giant Cookies. They. Are. Amazing. We bought nine of them over three days. A bit cheekily I asked if the recipe might be available. It’s not, naturally, but they were so reasonably priced I would’ve happily bought dozens more. At the Mercantile, one of those lovely and increasingly rare local grocery stores that stocks a bit of everything, you can buy the basics like milk and bread, coffee and more exotic fare like in-house spanakopitas, gluten-free quiches and, of course, cookies.

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Ruckle Park farm

It’s then about a 9 or 10km ride to Ruckle Provincial Park. It doesn’t sound much, and it isn’t but……there is no straight bit of road. It’s all hills and corners, which is why it’s so special really. The first hill out of Fulford is a bit brutal, there’s no getting around it. We felt every pedal turn as we pushed up the first steep corner out of the village with our panniers laden with tent, sleeping bag, food, tent pads etc. (Why is it that when you pack you need as much for three or four days as you do for ten or fourteen? It’s a mystery I’ve never been able to solve. It’s probably because we take a lot of food.) A car passed me as I toiled up the steep corner and a woman yelled out the car ‘you got it!’. I nearly rode into the ditch in surprise but it made me laugh. After that it’s rolling hill after rolling hill as you pass farms stands, a couple of lakes, pastures and orchards. It’s pretty idyllic, as is Ruckle Park. The park was first homesteaded in 1872 by Irish immigrant Henry Ruckle and his descendants have farmed the property since. The Ruckle family donated their land to BC Parks in 1972 but still operate an ‘active farm’ area of the park. Sheep wander around spacious fields whilst turkeys stalk freely across the road you ride in on.

I love the campground, you’ll have to forgive me for waxing poetic about it once again in this post. Some tent sites are tucked away in the woods, others occupy spots close to the shore, all have plenty of space. It was as peaceful as ever. I caught the tail end of the Perseid meteor shower one evening as several fireballs streaked through the sky, one leaving a distinct vapour trail. Another night two owls flew across the campground, landed in a nearby tree and hooted away for a while before taking off again. I realized it’s been years since I’ve heard owls. Deer, rabbits, raccoons (pack away your food!) and apparently mink (I’ve yet to see one) abound. We read books, wandered around the shoreline and rode back along the road to one of the lakes for a swim in significantly warmer water than the ocean.

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evening in the campground

Considerably lighter after we’d eaten most of our food, we headed back to the ferry for the Victoria leg of the trip. Sixty or so kilometers round trip on the Lochside Trail after a convivial evening in the city spent wandering around tree-lined streets whilst we talked and caught up on life with our friend. Not a bad way to spend three days.

 

Thoughts From a Small Island

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Our trusty steeds and tent

Slowly I came to in the tent, the nagging sense of ‘damn, I need to pee’ nudging me awake. I lay still as my senses attuned to the enveloping silence of the campground, the darkness and the gentle breathing (with the odd snuffling snore) of Scott beside me. After a half-hearted attempt to try to get back to sleep to avoid the hassle of backing out of the tent like an uncoordinated small animal emerging from its den, I found myself shuffling around in the dark on damp grass as I tried to quietly find a spot to make use of without disturbing anyone, overcome by the physical need to respond to the call of nature.

So here I was, back in a campground again. A couple of days earlier I’d been burrowing into our messy cupboard digging out shorts, t-shirts, fleece leggings, waterproofs – who knew what the weather would be like with our luck lately – and I’d wondered why we were headed out for another camping trip, the third in the space of five weeks of four or five days each. Our first four days had been characterized by torrential rain and a deepening lake forming each night on top of our tarp, and the second by thunder and lightning crashing overhead the first night as I’d wrangled vegetables into a frying pan over our camp stove.

Now, a couple of hours drive and three ferry rides later accompanied by sporadic rain, we were on Hornby Island, a Northern Gulf Island sitting in the Georgia Strait between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Hornby, famous for several soft sand beaches that slope gently and shallowly enough that the sun (if it’s around) makes the water the warmest in the area, enjoys the moniker of ‘Little Hawaii’. The ocean in its salty freshness was some of the clearest I’d seen in this region although I’m not sure the tropical waters of Hawaii are the most apt comparison considering the invigorating temperature of the sea here, but then I haven’t been to Hawaii yet so, hey, it might be so. Driving to the end, literally, of the one main road on the island we’d pitched tent in a peaceful campground, characterized by family groups and one shower shared amongst twenty or so sites. Any food scraps we had we were asked to throw to the resident chickens who scratched around in a coop and came running up to the fence when someone walked by, excited at the prospect of some leftovers.

For the next four days we pursued the sun as it made its sporadic appearances. The shadows from Douglas Fir with their chunkily scabrous bark, Western Red Cedar and the orange-red coastal Arbutus trees crisscrossed the not-so-gentle ups and downs of rough pavement as we explored this tiny but varied (and hilly) island on our bikes, often passing deer unconcernedly chewing roadside grass. We ditched the bikes and walked through a forested park on paths packed with fir and pine needles, suddenly opening out to high undercut bluffs made golden by grasses, a fitful and contrary wind blowing hither and thither, showering us with rain one moment and pushing clouds aside another to bake us in sudden heat. Scattered amongst the grasses and Arbutus were Garry oak trees, so gnarled and fantastical you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d spotted an elf peeking out from behind the branches.

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Golden grasses

Alternating with sandy beaches we found pancaked layers of rock where we sat patiently by intertidal pools. These oceans in miniature came alive with tiny crabs pushing aside shells and seaweed, scuttling around each other in a complex dance of deferment and domination. Parts of the seashore offered rock eroded by sea and weather, looking as smooth as cream until we brushed our hands against the stone and felt the roughness chafe our skin.

Bald eagles soared on thermals over the island, their wickedly curved beaks turned to the left then right as they scoured the area for prey. Sea lions popped their heads out of the water, checking out their surroundings, and us, from their watery home, whiskered noses lifted to the air.

We nodded at two cycle tourists we’d noticed on the ferry who arrived late the first evening at the campground and who escaped the drizzling rain to crash out in their tent. Over shared coffee the next morning we chatted with them for a couple of relaxed hours, swapping cycling stories, even revealing personal struggles and adversities that had been overcome, the state of the world and how travelling opened (hopefully) our eyes and our minds. All so nourishing, and yet, and yet…..

It was as I was inching my way back to the tent that night that I heard it, the voice in my head that said ‘look up’, a reminder from other trips where my first reaction as night set in was to crane my neck and peer at the stars. I’d omitted to check out the night sky on this particular excursion. I looked up, and it was spectacular. Pinpoints of light filled the sky and my eyes swept back and forth, to and fro, taking in the tiny fraction of the cosmos that I could see. For a while I stood outside just looking, enjoying the solitude of the moment, this experience of the night. Finally, as I chilled down, I crept into our tiny tent and still I couldn’t stop looking. I kept the fly open for a while longer, wrapping my sleeping bag around me and gazing at the sky. It was a complete moment. I’d remembered why we make this effort to get away. To experience the deep silence and darkness of the night far from city traffic and light pollution, to be lucky enough to spot wildlife in a relatively unspoiled corner of nature. To smell salty ocean air, fragrant earth and to sit on a rock or bench sipping coffee under the benign shade of a tree, looking out to sea with barely a thought in our heads.

This is why when we get home, we’ll unpack the camping gear, wash our clothes and get ready for the next trip.

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