Wild Camping (sort of) in the Nicola Valley

mountain biking near Merritt

Autumnal riding

‘Can you hear the coyotes yipping?’ Scott asked. I turned my head slightly from where it was buried in his warm shoulder, freeing my left ear from the sleeping bag pulled up to nearly the top of my head.

‘Yes, wow, there’s so many’.

Not only were the coyotes out in full force, but an owl kept up a consistent ‘whoo whoo’; good hunting I guess by the light of the three-quarter full moon. Or perhaps the wild creatures were less hesitant to make themselves heard, claiming back more of their territory as the camping season died down with the approach of late autumn. I snuggled deeper into the layers of sleeping bag, old duvet and mounds of clothes we’d thrown on top of ourselves in the freezing night. Dressed in fleece pants, thermal tops and socks we were just about warm enough in our tiny lightweight tent. The moon lighting up the flimsy grey nylon made it seem as if it was permanently twilight.

tent and bikes camping outside Merritt

Our tiny tent, and bikes, with loo roll attached! Biodegradable and burnable!

Earlier, as dusk started to fall, we’d heard what sounded like a curious cross between a grunt and a rasping cough. Spooked, we’d all looked around sharply at where the noise came from, just behind us in a small grove of trees. Images of bears and mountain lions padded through our minds but the odd sound came from high off the ground. Later we heard it from treetops on the opposite side from where we’d camped. Perhaps another owl?

We hadn’t expected it to be so cold, but it was beautiful. Looking out of the tent in the early dawn the creeping light glistened off a hard frost. I was glad of all the warm clothing we’d brought for wild camping in the backcountry, in mid autumn near Lundbom Lake outside of Merritt in the Nicola Valley of British Columbia. In an area significantly higher than sea level, I knew it would be chilly during the night at the very least.

We’d arrived early the morning before, following detailed instructions, and found my sister, brother-in-law and their two dogs warming themselves around a robust fire. Tucked up an innocuous dirt road away from a nearby forestry campground, we revelled in the space and quiet away from others. There was no rush to change into mountain bike gear – part of the reason we were out here was to discover flowy trails in more open country, very different from the coastal riding we’re used to. Eventually though, after chomping through some mammoth sandwiches and donning all the cold weather gear we’d brought with us, we set off on a thoroughly leisurely ride.

open grasslands, near Merritt

Sun peeking out

Gorgeous autumnal colours drenched the landscape – all browns, yellows and fading greens. We rode through soft dirt and stones, loosened by horses hooves throughout the year, the sun chasing the clouds. I could feel my lungs working a little harder, that above sea level thing again, plus we were both getting over a bad cold, but it was worth the raspy breathing and constant nose blowing we had to endure. I’d never been to this area before and I loved it. We rode for three hours, not long really but enough to give us a taste of this open country.

mountain bike trails, Merritt

Interesting mountain bike trail names

Huddled around a huge fire later as dark fell we ate far too much, washing the food down with a good bottle of red (natch) wine and several beers. Even with the moon we could see the Milky Way; we sat craning our necks for ages staring at the night sky, one of my favourite pastimes.

fire at night, camping

Relaxing around the fire

It was only one night away, but enough to fill up with the freshest of air. And good timing too, the evening after we left it started to snow.

 

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Raspberry Rhubarb Pie with Coffee Ice Cream

raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream

Sometimes, shit happens.

Last weekend we rode to Victoria on Vancouver Island for an overnight visit with a good friend. It was great; we spent time chatting, drinking excellent wine, eating delicious food. Had a lovely ride out and back on the Lochside Trail. The ferry ride is always stunning– I even saw what I’m pretty sure were porpoises carving through the water. I was thrilled, I’d made a point of not looking at my iPhone, it’s amazing how much you miss when you look at a screen instead of looking around.

The day after getting back into town we decided to take a run up to Squamish and fit in a quick mountain bike ride. It was a stunning day, a hint of chill air tempered by the autumn sun. A chipmunk bounced up to my feet and stood on its back legs peering up at me as I threw on my camelbak. I smiled, its nice to feel connected in even the smallest way to the natural world and its inhabitants.

After an hour or so of riding, muscles and joints warmed up, we started down an area called Rob’s Corners. Fully in the flow Scott suddenly, with a screech of brakes and flurry of dust, slid to a halt hacking and coughing. Turns out some kind of wasp or bee had flown in his mouth, stung him on the inside of his throat and most likely ended up being swallowed. It was freaky how quickly he felt his throat swell up on one side. I was about to call for help but Scott managed to swallow two antihistamines and we made our way gingerly back to the car. Luckily he doesn’t have allergies to bees or wasps (he carries antihistamines for hayfever) but we were ready to duck off to a surgery if there was even the slightest hint that he was having difficulty breathing.

Maybe the chipmunk had been trying to tell me something. ‘Don’t go up there!’ (in chipmunk speak it was probably more like ‘nuts, nuts, I like nuts, do you have nuts?’).

It took Scott a day or two for his throat to feel back to normal. Obviously for the bee or wasp it was a significantly worse encounter. I’m aware that in the scheme of things all this was small potatoes but it’s still a bit of jolt to realize how fast a day can change. Oh, and apparently it’s always a good idea to carry antihistamines biking, camping, riding etc.

None of this really has much to do with raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream, except that maybe it does. You have to appreciate the small things, a sunny day, rain, being with people you love, good food, good friends, a walk, a ride. Simple stuff.

The season is over for both raspberries and rhubarb (I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while but never got around to it) but it’s really just as good with frozen fruit.

raspberry rhubarb pie

Raspberry Rhubarb Pie

I leaned on my usual go-to for pastry. Once I’ve lined a buttered pie dish with half of the pastry I fill it with about two cups of raspberries and the same of washed and chopped rhubarb. Sprinkle over approximately two tablespoons of coconut sugar (add more or less according to your taste) and pour about 1/2 cup of orange juice over the fruit. Cover the fruit with the pastry, cutting off any extra hanging over the sides and pressing down on the edge of the pastry dish to seal. I’ll usually whisk together one egg and a little milk and brush the mixture onto the pastry so it gets that lovely golden colour and sheen when it’s cooked.

On a side note, I’m enjoying organic coconut sugar. It’s supposed to be on the lower side of the glycemic index and has a delicious caramel taste. It is a bit more granular than refined sugar so bear that in mind. I actually like the texture and am using it for pretty much anything I add sugar to. And it is still sugar, so best used sparingly.

I couldn’t resist throwing some coffee ice cream into the mix based on Nigella Lawson’s recipe. I’ve figured out my happy place with the ice cream after a few tries. I did have what you might call mixed results before when I used ground coffee. Not my finest hour, although loyal friends did finish it off for me. I made the effort to track down some espresso powder this time and it worked like a charm. I also reduced the amount of powder and coffee liqueur from two tablespoons to one tablespoon each as I was finding it a bit strong. Perfect!

It’s the little things…..

Raspberry rhubarb pie and coffee ice cream

Pie and ice cream

 

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Fields of Lavender

‘To make a perfume, take some rose water and wash your hands in it, then take a lavender flower and rub it with your palms, and you will achieve the desired effect.’Leonardo da Vinci

Lavender rows, photo by Scott

…..or if you want to just inhale the gorgeous scent of lavender rub some of the flowers between your palms then inhale through your nose and breathe out of your mouth. That way you’ll not only smell it but taste it. It’s subtle, and delicious.

We’ve visited Sacred Mountain Lavender farm on Salt Spring Island, one of the Gulf Islands in the Georgia Strait, several times over the last couple of years but this is the first time we’ve actually managed to catch the flowers in full bloom. It was a baking hot day; we smelt the lavender before the turnoff for the organic farm after a sweaty bike ride up a steep and curving road.

Lavender Fields

Lavender in full bloom

The fields were fairly buzzing with bees as we wandered around the lower and higher fields, comparing the differing types of lavender.

Norfolk variety

I asked if we could have a look inside the drying room; Sacred Lavender creates its own products, including lavender oils, soaps, teas and ice creams.

Drying lavender

It was an idyllic way to spend an afternoon, wandering amongst flowers, birds and bees, eating lavender chocolate and ice cream bought from the farm store.

photo by Scott

‘The richness I achieve comes from Nature, the source of my inspiration’Claude Monet

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