Tag Archives: Travels

Nepal: Let the Trekking Commence!

Howdy all! To work our way to the true ‘highs’ of the trip to Nepal, this post will now focus on the first few days of trekking. Well, actually, part of the post will focus on the DRIVE to get to the trekking, which was an adventure in itself! While I had hoped to share exact trekking maps for all parts of the trip, the first few days didn’t make it, as my GPS watch ran out of memory and overwrote the first couple days. Too bad, as one of them was a pretty good distance. At any rate, there are far too many stories to talk about EVERYTHING we did and saw along the trails, but the post should definitely give you a flavour of this section.

Kathmandu to Besisahar

View from Hotel

The next morning, after having supper at the tour company owners’ home the night before, we piled into a private car which was going to drive us from Kathmandu to a little village in the Annapurna region known as Besisahar. Before leaving the big city, our actual guide (Ram) and our personal porter (Purna) joined us for the ride. These two would be with us non-stop for the next couple weeks, so we hoped we’d all get along. For the ride, we did our best to start getting to know each other a bit, and also to try and figure out how their English skills were.

I’m happy to report they had excellent english, and while things weren’t ‘perfect’ the entire way, we all got along very well and we’d definitely recommend them if you ever find yourself in Nepal! The drive to Besisahar, while only 175km or so, took well over 5 hours. Believe me when I say that even though you’ll see lots of roads on Nepali maps, they are not ‘western roads’. At any rate, once we arrived at Besisahar, we had our first ‘acclimatization’ hike as a group. I actually think it was more a case that our guide wanted to assess our fitness level. Fair enough. We passed. It was stinkin’ hot here, but with little to do in the small town, Deanna and I headed off on our own after this hike to do a little more exploring, ending up a fair bit downhill by a river. There, I collected my 2 stones that I intended to carry with me and eventually leave one at each of our two major summit passes.

The plan was to overnight in Besisahar before hiring a 4×4 for the next days’ journey, which would take us to the start of the real trekking, which we were quite looking forward to.

Besisahar to Tal

Clicking the link below will take you to the full album on Flickr, or you can scroll through the images here.

Arriving at Besi Sahar
Alright, so this day started with a pretty amazing 4×4 adventure. While a car had been sufficient to get us this far, our next ‘road’, which took us from Besisahar to Chamje, would require some heavy machinery. Although it was only 37km of road, this trip took us almost 4 hours! Ironically, people would pay a lot of money for the 4×4 experience we had, but for us, and the locals, this was actually more like the ‘taxi service’. It was amazing, with sheer drops on our side, deep mud to get through in parts, and even sections where we all had to get out so that the road could be ‘fixed’ on the fly by either adding or removing rocks / boulders!

Creating Traction

After this very impressive ride, we arrived in the tiny village of Chamje to enjoy our lunch before *finally* starting the actual trekking portion of the trip. We both opted to have some tasty curry dishes to energize ourselves. This is where we first noticed a funny etiquette point of utilizing guides / porters. Ram and Purna would take our orders and relay them to the restaurant owners, but would then disappear and leave us alone. Apparently, they are not supposed to eat with us. Over time, we convinced them to dine with us a couple times, but generally speaking, they would eat with the other locals in the kitchen, then rejoin us. They also wouldn’t get to eat until we were served. Lucky for them, they can eat really fast, so they were almost always ready to go before us.

This first leg of trekking was relatively short and sweet. All told, we would be hiking less than 6km. However, given the jungle-like atmosphere, with heat and humidity, we were happy to not go too far on this first day. The journey took us along a very lush green valley. And when I say ‘green’, that involved a rather impressive marijuana field. Yes, I’m not kidding, we just trekked right through a weed field, and kept going! We also had our first experience with the local critters, including leeches that were all too happy to latch onto our heels / ankles (we each had a few). Later in the day, we also had a visit from a big spider in our room!

Verdant Views as we Hike

We finished our day in the late afternoon, and had our first experience of staying in a proper ‘guest house’ or ‘tea house’. Essentially, along major trails, all the villages comprise of enterprising residents. Almost every home turns out to be a guest house, a restaurant, and a store! Very rustic, but very practical. You can always be guaranteed of finding a place to stay. The plus side of having a guide is that they know the ‘good’ places with the best cooks. Never mind that the menus are pretty much IDENTICAL everywhere, but they can still be better and worse. For our first night on the trail, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We also learned on this day that once the day is done, there is very little to do, so we were glad we had Kindles, and feet to explore!

Tal to Koto

Clicking the link below will take you to the full album on Flickr, or you can scroll through the images here.

Leaving Tal

The next day, after a simple breakfast, and the obligatory tea, which we had in quantity anytime and everywhere we went, we set off on our way to Koto. Originally, we had been set to hike from Besisahar, stop in Tal, then continue to a place called Dharapani, but we’d changed things on the fly due to Ram’s recommendation. What that ultimately meant for this 2nd trekking day was a nice long day of walking. Total distance was over 22km. While that sounds like a short distance to those who know the races I do, this was NOT a race. We were here to soak it all in and experience everything we could.

The terrain on this day started out once again very lush and hot. However, over the course of the day, we climbed up from about 1600m in Tal up to 2600m in Koto, so the terrain did start changing a bit. While it was still predominantly green, I’d compare it to leaving a junglescape and making your way into more of a forest environment. The trail became more like a typical trail you might encounter on a wooded hike in the Rockies for example.

Continuing Trek

Along the way, we stopped at an obligatory checkpoint in a village called Dharapani (where we had originally been slated to stop the day before). Interestingly enough, we happened to show up there on the exact date of the 36th World Tourism Day. We were also the first tourists through, so we were treated to a special little ceremony where we got scarves, and I even got a typical hat worn by locals. It was a pretty unique experience.

Tourism Day Ceremony

After our little ceremony was completed, we carried on our way, with me feeling a little silly wearing the hat, but not wanting to appear ungrateful by taking it off. Our journey continued on along the road for a while before veering off into the woods once again. In order to make it to our lunch stop, we were now faced with a pretty steep climb straight up. I was loving it. The trail was a very impressive thing, with some sections actually more like a cobbled road, while other sections were really gnarly dirt tracks. Interestingly, these really aren’t just tourist tracks, but also a main way for local villagers to move throughout the valley. It was not unusual at all to bump into people along the way, and greet each of them with a warm ‘namaste’. It’s not just for Yoga over there, it really is the normal greeting.

Climbing Up

Today, like the day before, was not raining, but the skies were also not clear either. It was just a white / grey day overall. This prevented us from seeing any peaks in the region just yet, but we were pretty sure they would make an appearance in the next few days. After all, we were getting ever closer to the highest peaks! Our lunch stop was high up in the hills, and apparently would normally have a view, but instead, we just had a chilly light wind cooling us off up there. However, it was interesting as we learned more about how people live here. Most of the food you eat is basically whatever they have grown / raised on their own. Here, they had been drying out chili peppers and beans, to feed them over the next few months, along with other assorted vegetables. Everything is very fresh and tasty.

To feel more like a local, our porter Purna and I spent some time foraging for food in the woods. Our prize? 40 walnuts that ended up being lugged across all the high peaks for the next 2 weeks, as I patiently waited for them to be dry enough to be ready to open. More on this in future posts ;-).

We Are Belong to Nature

With lunch finished, we carried on our way, navigating another mix of access roads and trails to finish off in Koto, another small village. Most tourists continue up the road to a place called Chame. However, most tourists are trekking the normal Annapurna Circuit. We were about to start our own adventure in the Nar Valley, an area accessed from Koto, and only open to those with the proper permits and a guide. In other words, we’d be heading off the beaten path. As a result, in Koto, we were once again in a quiet town, although we did share our guest house with a few others. I also had access to some gas-heated water to approximate a shower of sorts. I cleaned up a little, knowing that it would be several days before we had that luxury again.

To close out the night in Koto, I had a chance to try a local home-made alcoholic beverage. It’s name: Raksi. This is a distilled spirit made from millet or rice. It is also made by many of the guest house owners, if they have the time. It is cheap compared to bottled beers, but definitely an acquired taste. I eventually learned more about the process, and am curious to try and make it on my own some day, but I’ll need the appropriate pots to make a go of it. As there isn’t a lot of refrigeration around these parts, the drink was served at room temperature, and left a nice warm spot in my stomach.

Trying the Local Raksi

Well, there you have it. The first few days of the trekking. They really are the tip of the iceberg, but were a great introduction to the sublime pleasures of trekking in the Himalaya, and in the Annapurna region specifically. We were building up our ‘team spirit’ for the next few sections, as we’d climb higher and higher. Stay tuned for our next installment, where we’ll cross our first high peak! For now, this post signs off at 2,600m a.s.l with a smile on my face thanks to the hooch!

Nepal: Sights and Sounds of the Cities

Well, it’s high time that I put fingers to the keyboard and started sharing with you all some of the stories from our epic trip of a lifetime to Nepal last fall. I wasn’t sure where to start, so to kick things off, I focused on getting the pictures posted on flickr. Luckily, that work is done, and you can see ALL the pictures in the collection. As you’ll see below, to make it as easy as possible, I managed to whittle down the ‘best of’ shots to just under 200! A tough feat in such a picturesque part of the world. You can scroll through them below, or better yet, watch the gorgeous full-screen slideshow (click the little “play” icon)! At any rate, this, my first post in the series, will focus on the relative hustle and bustle of the start and finish of our trekking, which found us in Kathmandu and Pokhara. Read on for the details!

Best of Nepal

As many of you are aware, I have decided that the mountain goat is probably my spirit animal. I’m always most relaxed when surrounded by imposing peaks. Some years ago, several people suggested I should make my way to the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal. It’s taken a few years to act on the advice, but last fall, for our 2 year anniversary, Deanna and I decided to do just that, and spend the better part of a month in the high Himalaya, and experience the true culture and beauty of Nepal.  We booked a trip with a local tour operator based on recommendations, packed our bags, and made our way to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu.

While cities the world over may seem substantially the same, any of you who have spent time in far flung corners will know that there are clear differences in all of them, from sights, smells, and sounds. We arrived in the late evening after over 24 hours of transit, so after a full nights’ rest, we were ready to explore and see the very sprawling city of Kathmandu. Luckily, our guide arranged for a driver and for him to personally give us a tour of the city. With only about 24 hours to see the capital before driving off into the more remote regions, we had to be efficient.

Colourful Wood Carvings

In our opening day, we managed to see major sites such as the Monkey Temple, the Garden of Dreams, and a traditional temple / monastery. More importantly, we did a lot of wandering through the market areas and just generally taking in the sights. We were particularly interested to see what sort of obvious damage was still visible from the earthquakes earlier in the year. We didn’t have to look far, as there were lots of clear signs of rubble, and of people still recovering. However, there was also a clear sense of perseverance all around us. Probably the most unfortunate view was the destruction of the Boudhanath temple, which is one of the largest Stupas in Nepal, and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Of course, it is only one of many treasures that suffered great damage.

Reconstruction Work

In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of the core of Kathmandu was a very special park that we visited, the ‘Garden of Dreams’. Although relatively small in size, this greenspace in the centre of the chaos is a great place to just relax for a little bit. It has apparently also become a go-to destination for young Nepali folks to go for a ‘date’. Easy to see why. Although you pay a small admission fee, once inside, it’s easy to find some peace in the gardens.

Flowers in Park

As a real treat for us though was the fact that at the end of the day, our guide (and company owner) actually invited us to his family’s home to share a meal with them. This was definitely something not to miss, as we got to see how the Nepali live in their own homes, and be treated to some great home cooking of a traditional Nepali dish, Dal Bhat. It’s a meal we’d have many many times over the course of the next few weeks! To cap off the night, we pored over the maps and itinerary for the upcoming trekking while sipping hot tea. All in all, a pretty amazing first day!

Tweaking Plans

We did spend another day in Kathmandu, but not until the very end of our trip, and by then, our focus was on picking up a few souvenirs, enjoying the last couple meals there, and reflecting on our whole trip. However, before that, we had spent a couple nights in the city of Pokhara, the largest city in the Annapurna region. Whereas Kathmandu was very chaotic and noisy, imagine Pokhara being Ottawa and Kathmandu being Toronto. Still large, but much more laid back. This is a true tourist town, with countless people in town either finishing off their trekking, or gearing up to head out. Since we were all done our trekking, this was our rest and recharging point. In fact, the first stop for me was to find a barber shop to have a hot shave, getting rid of my mountain man beard.

Stroll in Park

It’s worth noting a few things about Pokhara. First, it is a lake-side town, so it great options for heading out on the water and admiring the peaks around you. Unfortunately for us, it was a bit overcast when we were there. Secondly, thanks to a national fuel shortage (compliments of a blockade by India), things were even quieter than usual in the core of the city, with only limited vehicle traffic. Of course, that actually meant a few headaches for us as well (e.g. having to fly from there to Kathmandu due to lack of buses / cars). I think this is a town we could have easily spent an extra few days in.

Mountain View from Pokhara Hotel

As it was, we spent most of our time on foot wandering around the waterfront area, thanks to a plethora of bars and eateries. However, the stop wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a place called the World Peace Pagoda, an imposing structure high in the hills surrounding Pokhara. Getting there would have been a challenge, were it not for our sense of adventure. We ended up renting bicycles for half a day and making the trip on two wheels. Unfortunately, we hadn’t counted on it being so HOT and hard a ride up the winding mountain road. However, we were rewarded with great views of the Pagoda, as well as the entire city of Pokhara sprawling out beneath.

Looking out over Pokhara

In addition, having the bikes gave us a chance to visit a few of the other more far flung sights such as Devi Falls. As always with a bike, it also allowed us to explore the whole region with no fixed schedule or expectations. We meandered around here and there on side streets, getting somewhat mixed up about where we were, but stumbling across plenty of cool opportunities to interact with local and see the back alleys. Good thing we felt safe out there.

The Falls

While I’m always the first to tell you all that I don’t like cities, these two Nepali destinations would be on a ‘must see’ to any trip to Nepal. Firstly, you can’t avoid (nor should you) Kathmandu on any flights to the country. The entire Kathmandu valley is massive in size, with the population of this city of about 1 million sprawling out in an area of about 50 square kilometers. Pretty much all the buildings are below 5 stories, so you  can imagine it spreading out. Secondly, Pokhara is truly the ideal ‘chilling out’ town of Nepal. There is enough of an ‘east meets west’ vibe here, that there are endless options for entertaining yourself and people watching. For those reasons, this seemed like a good way to start the chronicles from Nepal. But much more exciting to me will be sharing the next major sections of the trip: the actual trekking! Stay tuned for those stories coming up.

Slideshow of the Sights and Sounds of Nepal Cities

Arrival at Kathmandu Hotel

All Training and Racing Makes ActiveSteve Dull

Hey all! Before I embark on another few big adventures (starting with a 125km Trail Running Race at the UTHC, and followed by 3 weeks in NEPAL!!), I wanted to take things down a notch. Specifically, I wanted to address any concerns people might have that I spend all my time training and racing. Truth is, that is only one part of my busy, fun life! I can assure you all that I have a lot of other interests, and that I definitely do my share of relaxing and recovering (sometimes more than I should methinks… I *could* be on the podium more I suppose if I tried…). With that, I bring you a short post on a few fun things I did in the last week.

First off, I got on a jet plane and headed to Vegas, baby! Now, ostensibly, I was there as part of my job, attending a conference on the mobile wireless industry, but it was Vegas nonetheless. And, seeing as I have a couple very good friends who live down that way, I was able to head down a few days early, stay with them, and have some quality pool and trekking time!

Slideshow from Vegas

Bring on the Fun

In addition to visiting them and taking in the strip, I also managed to sneak away with Troy to the nearby Red Rocks park to do a little bit of light trekking and test out the 4×4 capabilities of Troy’s Jeep Liberty. We brought a couple of the dogs along with us and made a day of it. I think my favourite part of visiting this part of the world is the fact that Mexican food is plentiful, and delicious. I’m a bit of a taco fan, and managed to each Mexican almost every day down there! Add in the tasty new beers I sampled, and cool gadgets I saw at the conference, and it made for a relatively enjoyable “work week”. The only downside was the fact that I spent most of the late nights catching up on real work from the office!

Troy and Otis

To cap off my week down there, I was extremely fortunate to score a ticket to see Love, the Beatles-music inspired show from Cirque du Soleil. This was a really amazing show with spectacular acts and awesome music. My biggest challenge while at the show was trying to figure out exactly where to focus my attention. There were acts on the stage, acts high up in the air, and other acts in the wings pretty much the entire 90 minutes. I think I could watch the show 3 times and still see new costumes and feats!

The second bit of fun that I wanted to share actually straddles the line between fun and racing. On a whim, I volunteered to be what is known as a ‘Beer Bunny’ at the Ottawa Beer Run. When I read the description of the event, I realized that it is what I’ve been training for my entire life :-). You literally run from brewery to brewery, sampling the beers, and finish off at a big post-race party with even more beer!

Slideshow from the Beer Run

Ready to Start

All in all, we were visiting a total of 5 breweries for my ‘wave’. There were two route options, so of course I chose the longer one, at 15k (I pushed closer to 17k with some back-and-forth running I did with my group). As a beer bunny, I was more of a ‘crowd control’ and ‘beer shepherd’ dude than a pacer. We had to try and get everyone to each brewery in a certain amount of time, and also make sure they all cleared out after about 20 minutes. In addition, since the course wasn’t marked heavily, nor were there any road closures for it, the 4 ‘pacers’ in my wave spent time going back and forth making sure everyone made the right turns and were having a good time!

Cheers from Route 2 Wave 1

All in all, it was a BLAST! I definitely want to do this one again in future years, provided it works into my always-busy schedule. It was fun chatting with people and helping them get to that next beer that was always waiting for them. My wave visited Lowertown Brewing, Mill Street Brewery, Kichessippi Brewing (in a ‘mobile’ location on Bate island), the Clock Tower, and finished off at Beyond the Pale. Some of the bars even had snack food waiting. For example, at Clocktower, not only were we early tasters of the seasonal Pumpkin Ale, but we also had POUTINE!! Does this event not sound like a match made in heaven?

Although the weather had started out quite foul with heavy rainfall the entire day before and overnight, when we actually hit the road, it was barely raining anymore, and the sun even poked out a few times. All in all, it was an ideal time to run. Also, there was no pressure whatsoever. No timing chips. In fact, we would end up bunching up when the group hit red lights that we had to wait together at before moving along. If you are looking for a little motivation to do a longer run, I highly recommend this. With the entry fee, you got a nice tech t-shirt, 5 stops at breweries to have at least 8 ozs of beer at each, and a really cool medal that doubles as, what else, a bottle opener!

Checking in for Beer

To round out the fun of that event, Deanna also volunteered to be a ‘Brewery Captain’ at Mill Street, helping us get our bibs punched and beers drank before sending us off to the next venue. That meant we re-convened at the finish line, and I could enjoy a few more beverages before having her drive my tipsy self home :-).

All in all, this was a great way to cap off a week of relaxing and recharging, especially in light of the next race looming on my calendar. Although I still have a sore foot on account of plantar fasciitis, I’m planning ton complete the 125km race and live to tell the tale! Then after that, some quality time celebrating my wedding anniversary in the high Himalayas! How’d I get to be so lucky?? Stay tuned for more exciting tales…

Beers, Baguettes, and Bikes

Brrrr… Cold enough out there for everyone yet? It’s been so cold, that my fingers seem to be perpetually frozen, which must explain why I’m late and delinquent on my reporting of travels and races that I’ve been plugging away at for the past couple months. Regardless, I will attempt to at least give a brief update on various happenings so that I can get that off my ‘to do’ list. First up? A quick tale of the most magical holiday trip to Europe that Deanna and I took. Specifically, our travels to Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. Obviously, there are LOTS of pictures, so I’ll embed a few of them linking to albums.

Why those countries you ask? Well, my sister and brother-in-law, along with my adorable niece and nephew, are currently posted in Brussels, with Andrea and Patrick both working for NATO. As such, we don’t get to see them often, and it seemed to us that perhaps spending Christmas with them, and the children as well, would be great. So, we took 2 weeks off, and planned a bit of a euro-jaunt which included Christmas in Brussels, New Year’s in Paris, and a side trip to Amsterdam and elsewhere in the Netherlands to visit a cousin I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the interest of brevity, the trip can be summarized in the following way. Weather was wet and chilly for much of it, many beers were consumed, new sights were seen, and amazing time was had by all :-). Now, for a Little more detail on each stop.

Brussels, Brugge, Antwerp, and Passchendale

The main purpose of our trip was of course to visit my sister, her husband, and the niece and nephew. They are currently living in Brussels for the next few years. As such, they were wonderful enough to let us use their home as a home base for explorations in the area. So of course that meant some fun touring in their backyard. Included in that touring were a couple runs with Patrick around the city, as well as some excellent city wandering. We managed to find numerous places that sold beer, which was another bonus.

Although Brussels is the main seat of the EU, and is in itself also the capital city of Belgium, we found ourselves a little surprised at how little there seemed to be on offer from a wandering and sightseeing perspective. Luckily, our hosts were resourceful, and always willing to help us plan adventures. On one day, we managed to head out to Atomium, a very famous sculpture / structure that you would likely recognize if you saw it. We got lucky in that we were able to see it in all its shiny glory under a blazing sun. To make it even more spectacular, I enjoyed a beer AND some frites in its presence, thanks to Patrick. We also got to tour around the Christmas markets with the kids and wade our way through crowds of other people doing the same. We were also shown the way to the Cantillon Brewery, a bewery that is exempt from EU regulations for the fact that they rely on ‘open air’ fermentation (in other words, bacteria in the air is what makes their beer special!)

On another fun day of local travel, or rather sombre day of travel, we loaded up my sister’s car and headed out to visit some memorials and cemetaries from WWII. As most of you are aware, many brave Canadians made the ultimate sacrifice in Belgium, and they have been memorialized for all time where they were struck down. As part of this trip, we visited both Allied cemetaries and a German cemetary as well. It was a very moving day, and really gave us pause and an appreciation for the fact that we have our freedom, and the freedom to make these kinds of trip around the world unencumbered. To pick up the mood a bit, we finished off with a wonderful meal at a country restaurant located not far from Passchaendale.

I’d say the highlight of the Belgium part of the trip however, has to be our day trip out to Brugge. Admittedly, I had no real notion of what was in store, which made it all the more spectacular. In a nutshell, Brugge was spared a lot of devastation that was suffered elsewhere during the wars, and is therefore a very beautiful historic city. We had perfect weather, and had a great walking tour of the city. Somehow, we managed to time things just right, and ended up at the town square during a New Year’s Levee. This 3 hour event featured… FREE BEER! Yup, it was as awesome as you might imagine. Meant for locals, we got to elbow with people in the know, and raise a free pint with them. It was a very cool experience. In addition to that stop, we managed to take in a neat brewery tour, AND found what I’ll argue is the greatest pub I’ve ever set foot in. Complete with great characters and an ambiance straight from the 13th century. No, seriously, it was in a 13th century gothic cellar! All in all, an amazing day.

Paris

Now, given that we were only a hop skip and a jump from the city of Love, we couldn’t very well visit the area without at least a night in Paris, right? Well, in fact, Deanna and I ended up booking two nights there, which included New Year’s Eve. We took a high speed train from Brussels VERY early on the 30th of December, and took a very late train back on the 1st, giving us 3 very full days in the city of lights. Using AirBnB we had booked a very typical local flat near the train station, and the owner was nice enough to basically let us check in on arrival, and not check out until literally 20 minutes before our return train. This gave us ample time to explore Paris. I must say, we were impressed. I’d been to Paris when I was very young, but 35 years later, I can say I FINALLY appreciated this city. There is so much history and culture here, we could have stayed a solid week. In addition, we found the city’s metro system and layout absolutely fantastic and well-suited to aimless wandering, which we’re very good at!

While 3 days may not seem like a lot, we squeezed in pretty much every major attraction, at least at a superficial level. That included dedicated well over a half day to exploring the Louvre (don’t even get me started on the crowds on our chosen day… NY Eve!). We also celebrated the new year properly by climbing the steps of the Eiffel tower in the first rays of sunlight on January 1, 2015, which was a magical moment for us. In addition, we of course saw Notre Dame, Montmartre, Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, the famous book vendors, and many other sites that I’m blanking on right now, but are captured in the above pictures.

Of all our visits on this trip, I’d safely say that we are definitely hoping to go back to Paris and see more of this great city. We also loved just grabbing baguettes, cheese and pastries and just finding a quiet park to enjoy them in. Although the weather was on the cool / damp side, our spirits were warmed there! And staying in a 6th floor typical Parisien studio apartment was the icing on the cake.

Amsterdam and Wageningen

Another little side trip that I really wanted to make sure we squeezed in on this vacation was a journey up into the Netherlands. Specifically, to a little town called Wageningen, which is where one of my cousins now lives, but also to Amsterdam, one of those places that holds a place in the lore of so many other people, that we just HAD to experience for ourselves. Once again, the train was the best option here, and we booked last minute for a jaunt from Brussels up to Amsterdam, then off to my cousin’s place, and back. We opted for a single night in Amsterdam, and due to the last minute nature of our booking, snagged an AirBnB that probably wasn’t worth what we paid for, but on the plus side, was very centrally located just off the Red Light District area.

On arrival, we had a bit of a letdown in terms of the weather. It was raining and very cold. As a result, we have very few pictures from Amsterdam, as it was just too rainy to bring the camera out of the bag. However, it didn’t stop us from heading out on a good walking tour of the city. On our walk, we picked up frites from the ‘best fries in Amsterdam’ place as recommended by several guides, and also popped into a museum (the Sex museum, if you *must* know). We were surprised how relatively compact the real core of touristy Amsterdam is, and yes, at the sheer number of bicycles that are found everywhere, although they weren’t out in as large numbers this day!

To keep things low key, we managed to scare up a half decent Shawarma for supper, before finally settling in at a nice brew put for pints and stories with locals. Sitting at the bar is ALWAYS the way to go when travelling, FYI. This was the approach we took at a number of our stops on this european trip, and we always met interesting people, and at a bare minimum, had the bartenders to speak to. There is something to be said about the humble bartender and their role as city welcomer!

The next day was less wet, but still cold. Luckily, the sun was shining. We squeezed in another quick walk to the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands (conveniently co-located with a brewery, which was sadly not open yet). After that, it was on to catch a train and visit with family, which was another great way to learn a bit more about the Netherlands from locals. We had a great night of beer, wine, and food, surrounded by folks who took us in and treated us like special guests in their home.

All in all, the two weeks we spent in Europe flew by. But not without a lot of memories being made and adventure being had. Our vacation time is always something we hold precious, so it was great to spend time with family while still getting the opportunity to visit a number of places we hadn’t been before. We’re already looking forward to whatever trips we can scare up next. Himalayas anyone? Stay tuned….

Journey to Jamaica – The Story

Greetings race fans. Welcome back to another riveting race tale. This particular narrative comes from the sunny and warm skies found in Negril, Jamaica, where I have just come back from participating in the 14th annual Reggae Marathon. So how exactly did I find myself in Jamaica for a brief 4-day reprieve from the Canadian winter? And how did I do in this hot weather? Well read on for the answer to those questions and several more that you haven’t even been asking yourself!

A few months ago, a simple call out came via Get Out There Magazine, whom as you know I do work for now and again. The call was to see which reporters might be interested in covering this event for the magazine and product 3 videos for it. Even though I was just back to work after 2 months of time ‘off’, and in spite of the pending move AND trip to Belgium for the holidays, I simply couldn’t ignore the call. I threw my hat in the ring, and was lucky enough to get picked! So now you know how I ended up toeing the line down there.

As to how I might actually perform in the event, I had high hopes at the outset, but life got in the way, and by the time I was flying down there, I had to come to grips with the fact that this would likely not be a very impressive performance by me. I’ve been having some ankle issues, rolling it a fair bit in the late fall on leaf-strewn and dark trails at night. One in particular had been sidelined for a good 3 weeks. Then, just when I felt I was getting better, I headed out for a very short, innocuous trail run, and ended up rolling the same ankle THREE TIMES!!! This was a week before boarding a plane. To add ultimate insult to injury on race morning, on the warm-up, in the dark, I couldn’t see a drop-off on the side of the road, and ended up badly rolling my OTHER ankle, forcing me to let everyone else head off ahead before I felt I could at least hobble across the start line and start my own journey to the finish. More on that later.

Despite the poor lead-up, there was no way I wasn’t at least going to have a great time while down there! I was again almost sidetracked the day of my flight, as the plane was delayed so much that they re-booked me on the NEXT DAY! That would shorten my trip to less than 3 days. Luckily, some quick work on my part and sweet talking had the airline re-booking me on another airline and getting me I Montego Bay only about 30 minutes later than originally scheduled. Crisis averted. That put me on the ground in time to catch my transportation to Negril, but didn’t get me to my hotel until round 5:30pm on Thursday night, with the sun already setting. But still with enough light to exit the hotel grounds, find a grocery store, and grab some local cold beers to sample. Yum. No problem, right?

So began my whirlwind 3.5 day visit to Jamaica. The next day, I grabbed a cab to the registration area to meet up with the organizers and some of the other international media folks. I picked up my race kit and took in the surroundings. Gorgeous blue skies overhead. Temperatures hovering around 30, and pretty high humidity. Pretty reminiscent of the hottest summer days in Ottawa. You know, the kind of day you’d really rather NOT run a marathon in? Before dwelling on that too long, I piled onto a shuttle bus to whisk us off for a ‘tour’. Sadly, it didn’t work out that well for me First stop was supposed to be at a school to witness Jamaican high school kids in the middle of a track workout. I was looking forward to getting footage of this. Unfortunately, we arrived too late, and the workout was over. The majority of media folks were staying elsewhere and had arrived earlier and caught the fun. From there, we were supposed to go to Mayfield Falls, a nice natural place nestled in the hills and wilds of Jamaica. Unfortunately, once our largish bus got the road we planned to take, we were strongly encouraged not to even try. 4x4s were okay, and MAYBE smaller cars, but definitely not a bus. So another strike on the tour, which instead turned around and headed right back to where I’d started my day! In other words, my tour was about 3.5 hours of sitting on a bus going nowhere.

Oh well, I certainly wasn’t going to sweat the small stuff. We ended up at Cosmos, a restaurant right on the 7 mile beach in Negril, and spent the rest of the afternoon there, eating first, then having ‘free time’ on the beach. In other words, they just off-loaded us there, a mere 500m or so from registration. On the plus side, I was getting to know some really cool media folks who do this stuff for a living, and heard some pretty wild stories. In the end, a writer with the LA Times and I bargained with a resort dude to get our hands on one of those oversized aqua-tricycles you may have seen. We figured we could squeeze in a leg warm-up. Hilarity ensued, with the resort eventually sending a speedboat after us in a mere 30 minutes. I guess they weren’t used to seeing people actually trying to locomote somewhere on those things. I don’t know if they thought we were making a break for it or not, but they basically shepherded us back to the start point. Either way, we’d had a good time out there, and were ready to end our fun!

Next up, back to the registration area to attend the World’s Best Pasta Party. Unsure what to expect, I can honestly say it pretty much lived up to its self-aggrandizing name. There were probably 1300 or more racers and local in attendance, but that wasn’t a problem. There were a ton of unique pasta booths there, manned by many of the excellent chefs from the various resorts in Negril. I was blown away when I realized that each ‘booth’ had its own twist on pasta and fixings, so you could truly get massively gluttonous there. Knowing we’d have to get up at around 3am the next morning, I tried not to gorge myself too much. They also entertained us with an excellent steel band as well as circus-type performers including aerialists, contortionists, and fire jugglers. It was pretty spectacular. Oh, and did I mention there was beer too? Luckily, it wasn’t free for unlimited, so I was good (in fact, I had only 1 beer that day!). Soon enough I was back in a shuttle, and at my hotel by around 9pm.

Good thing too, as I had to get all my race and filming gear sorted before heading to sleep. I was getting up at 3am, eating at 3:30am, and picked up by 4am to catch a 4:30am shuttle bus to make the 5:15am start! That’s a whole lot of scheduling for a country that operates a bit on ‘island time’ isn’t it? Turns out, my 4am taxi also didn’t show up until 4:26am, stressing me out just a little! However, I made it just in time to do a little shooting, stash my gear in the media tent, and head out to the darkened roads for my fateful warm-up disaster. Given that I had already planned on a pretty slow running day, the rolled ankle confirmed it even more, and dare I say even cast doubt on my chances to finish. Luckily, the whole course was flat and fast, and was double out and back loop, which meant in theory I could easily pull out at the ¼, ½ or ¾ mark if I really had to. But you know me, I really had no intention of stopping no matter what. Having just finished reading ‘Born to Run’, I was tapping into my sheer fun of being there, pasted a non-fading smile on my face, and got busy with the task at hand.

At 5:15, it was still pitch black out, with the rapidly sinking full moon our main source of illumination. This was simultaneously exciting and terrifying, as I couldn’t see potential ankle busting potholes as I dodged around armies of walkers and shufflers taking on the 10k and ½ marathon course. You see, it is a free-for all at the start, with all distances starting at the exact same time. Owing to my warm-up mishap, I literally started at the very back of the pack, so as not to risk anything. However, I soon realized this was a pretty big mistake, as I was in the middle of the slowest-moving mass of humanity for the first 5k or so. You see, all these people seemed petrified of the dark and apparently were devoid of any desire to actually move quickly in this RACE. Oh well, no biggie, this way I was also guaranteeing myself that I would push too hard at the start!

Let’s just cut to the punch line now shall we? This marathon ended up being the absolute slowest I have EVER run in! I was even slower than my first ever marathon. Oh course, I have a myriad of excuses, so I’m not really disappointed at all. Amazingly, it still nabbed me something like 26th overall! Nuts, right? The first half was also my slowest ever at that distance, but what really killed me (and all others around me) was the fact that when the sun finally rose in the sky, the temperatures becoming unbearable, and running in that heat was a true slog, Looking a the stats though, it appears it didn’t hurt me as much as others, as I was consistently moving up the rankings with each subsequent checkpoint, passing people all along the way. In spite of that, when I did finally cross the finish line (as the first place media runner I might add ), I was overheating and beat. Not to mention that once the endorphins were switched off, the ankle pain kicked in nicely. Thank goodness for fresh coconut water and beers!

Another sad consequence of the early mass start was that although there were all sorts of things planned out for the finish area, but the time the marathoners were wrapping up, of which there were less than 200 of us, the party had already subsided. Most of the free ‘stuff’ was all gone, and most people had already buggered off to escape the heat and continue their day. After all, it was only around 9am!! I stayed around to cheer on more finishers, including the media types I had hung out with the day before. Then, I tucked in to my 2 free Red Stripe beers, and had a fresh coconut. Afterwards, it was back to the hotel to pick up the pieces of my day. With the 3am wake-up, the effort of the marathon, and my ankle issues, my day was pretty shot. I dozed in a hammock for a while, finally had a nice big lunch at around 1:30, then showered and continued to just relax and read magazines. I was BEAT. After a late-ish 7pm supper, I basically returned to my room and crashed around 9:30pm, after sorting my luggage for a pending room change in the morning.

To avoid any sort of disappointment on my final day, I planned NOTHING. I was just going to have a straight-up relaxing day drinking beers idly, swimming, exploring, and doing some filming. After breakfast, I changed rooms, and then did some ‘work’, ironically filming a gear review for some thermal gear in the 30 degree heat! From there, it was back to my favourite cliff jumping spot at my hotel, to do some filming there too and swimming. I cruised around in the water till I decided I’d had enough exercise (and seen the neighbouring resorts from the water). That meant it was time to enjoy beers. I later also scored some snorkeling gear, so I popped back in the water for another 40 minutes. Upon emerging, I met a group of 4 couples who had just arrived. I befriended them quickly enough, and by later that evening, we were drinking up a storm and playing ‘Cards Against Humanity’. It was a great ending to my short Jamaica Jaunt. I closed out the night by myself at the water’s edge watching the stars and moon playing games in the sky while listening to the restless ocean crashing into the cliffs below. I turned in at midnight, happy with the end of my trip. One Love indeed. Everything always ends up the way it should when you just let life happen.

As I type this, I am high above the ocean in a plane bound for Ottawa. Forecast is calling for 20-25cm of snow in the next few days, so thoughts of waxing my skis are top of mind, as is returning excitedly to our new home. Looking just a little further out, I also just realized Deanna and I really have to start a little bit of planning for our Belgian holiday coming up way too soon!! So till the holidays, I hope everyone is doing amazing and enjoying life to its fullest. Respect. See you all back on the ground! To close, below I’m embedding the three videos I pulled together as part of my coverage.

Video 1: The Preparation

Video 2: Around Negril

Video 3: The Race

Enjoying a Little Rest and Relaxation

Greetings sports fans. This post is definitely well overdue, but as you can guess by the title, I was really more focused on the R&R then I was writing a blog post 🙂 One of the best parts about deciding to take a couple months off was the fact that it would give me the chance to do a little bit of traveling. Of course, I promised Deanna I wouldn’t take any really long or exotic trips. The longest I was booked to go anywhere was Las Vegas for 2 weeks. In addition, I booked a week in Nova Scotia to visit and spend time with my dad. This post will give you a little taste of what these trips were all about, and the fun I got up to during the trips. And of course, there will be lots of pictures! Read on if you feel like heading about several national parks in the U.S. and brewery tours, along with great hikes!

NOVA SCOTIA

First up in my trip itineraries was a weeklong trip out east to enjoy some Maritime hospitality from my dad and his wife in Pictou, NS. Of course, I grew up on the east coast, so heading back that way is always a bit of a blast from the past and a chance to catch up on the gossip and the comings and going of Pictou County. While the primary purpose of this trip was to spend time with my dad, it was obviously not the only thing I did while there. For a few pictures and a little taste of what I got up to, check out these pictures:

Running along in the open air taking in the smells of the ocean was of course one thing I did. In addition, I found out that a new craft brewery had opened up not 5km away from dad’s house. Uncle Leo’s Brewery. I convincedIn dad to join me in some tastings and meeting the owners. Some nice brews, and they keep it simple there, which was nice. I liked their porter best. I also had a chance to borrow a light and fast XC mountain bike and joined an old friend from some mountain biking in an area I never been to. I was pretty impressed with the level of riding that can be found now in the county. I’m sure it didn’t exist when I was growing up. But then again, mountain biking really didn’t exist at all!

One of my only real ‘needs’ of going out east was making at least one day trip to Cape Breton. Rather than do a whole loop of the highlands this time though, I opted to just get dropped off at a trailhead in the Mabou Highlands area, and proceeded to spend a few hours hiking and running in the hills and to the ocean. It was a great getaway. Dad and Nicole spent the time having a bite to eat and touring by car in the area. Once we were all back together, we visited another craft brewery (Big Island Brewing), then drove to a brew pub in Antigonish for supper. All in all, a great day. In addition to those activities, I squeezed in few visits with old friends (including a mini grad class reunion at a pizzeria serving up the famous Pictou County Pizza. Oh yeah, and in that week, I somehow managed to simultaneously sell our current house AND buy our new place in Chelsea! A bit challenging to do all the negotiations while out of the province, but we pulled it off!

LAS VEGAS AND SURROUNDING AREAS

After Nova Scotia, after a tough 4-day adventure race and after the stress of buying and selling a house was done, it was time to really unwind. To do that, what better place to head to than Sin City? Flights are cheap, and I actually have a couple old and dear friends that now live down there, so I had a built in HQ for all the crazy desert adventures I had planned. Vegas itself really wasn’t high on the agenda for this trip. I was really taking advantage of the proximity to the amazing sights including the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, Death Valley, Red Rocks Park, and the Hoover Dam. Yup, there was no shortage of things to do And thanks to Troy being free the whole time, I had someone to share some of the experiences with.

For a few of the days, the focus was on sampling new beers, playing pool and disc golf, and lounging in the pool and hot tub in the hot Vegas sun. Although temperatures up north had already started falling, it was still full ‘summer’ in Vegas! I managed a bit of running in it, and also Troy and I wandered off to the Red Rocks area for a nice little day hike with great views of the city in the desert. Before and after a weeklong trip to the parks, we did find time to hit the strip twice, with a focus on music. We hit the Brooklyn Bowl to catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which was amazing, and also later in the trip a visit to the Las Vegas Country Saloon to see Hank 3, which was certainly interesting, with his split of classic country and in-your-face punk! Obviously though, the highlight would be the road trips out of town.

First up was a day trip with Troy’s car out to Death Valley. We left early in the morning on a weekday and made good time to get there. Skies were pretty grey, so temperatures were nowhere near the highs that they warn you about. We even went on several hikes in the full sun. It was clear that this isn’t a place to be trifled with, but given the lower temps, we were fine. We made our way all around the valley, hitting up Badwater, and the Devil’s Golf Course, as well as visiting the sand dunes. These were all pretty cool. However, our final stop was high above Badwater at a place called Dante’s Peak, which is where a surreal thing happened. It rained! And hailed! Yup, one of the driest and hottest places you can find, and I got caught out on a peak with a crazy storm with lightening, and watched the rain pouring into Death Valley. Good thing we weren’t exploring any slot canyons!

Next up in the adventure was renting a car for a week so we could immerse ourselves in some of the bigger national parks. First up would be the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We had tried to visit Zion first, but it was absolute madness there! Instead we decided to head to the farthest point on our itinerary then make our way back over the week. The North Rim was also pretty busy, so we had to set up our campsite about 12 miles out of the park. No big deal, but man was it COLD in the morning. We had FROST on the tent! We also learned from a ranger that instead of paying for camping, we could just drive on forest service roads and camp for free without permits! Our second night we did that, managing to find a spot RIGHT ON THE RIM OF THE CANYON! Yeah, for free. With a nice fire pit, and amazing views. What a discovery.

In addition to the cool camping spots, we were obviously there for some hiking. Originally, we had planned on making an overnight trek down to the Colorado via a remote route, but discovered all the overnight permits were spoken for. We re-planned the trip, and instead did a nice long out and back hike via the North Kaibab Trail. We also hit the Angel Point trail, as well as another cool trail along the rim at sunset near Imperial Point (highest vertical point in the Canyon). When people say that the views are awe-inspiring, they aren’t lying. I loved every minute of the outdoor adventure in the Canyon, and tried to take pictures that would do it justice. Some were ok, but really, it is best experienced in person.

The second major stop on our mini-tour was Bryce Canyon. Ironically, I hadn’t originally planned on visiting that park, as each park carries with is entrance fees, etc., so I had planned to just visit two parks. However, in the end, Troy picked up an annual parks pass, giving us access to all parks, so we figured what the heck! Plus, armed with our newfound knowledge around ‘free camping’, we got a line on some nearby forest camping we could use. I must say, I’m REALLY glad that we did make the trip here, as Bryce Canyon is an amazing sight, particularly the amphitheatre section. The colours and formations of the sandstone and hoodoos here is nothing short of otherworldly.

My one takeaway from Bryce was that the scenery was probably more spectacular than the Grand Canyon, but from the perspective of hiking trails, Grand Canyon took the cake. That’s not to say that we didn’t hike though. We did in fact spend most of the day hiking all around the canyons, with every twist and turn leading to more gorgeous colours and shapes. It was definite eye candy all the way. After a full day hiking there, we drove off to a nearby national park where we found another amazing campsite with some cool hiking trails around it. We hiked high up a hill yet again over supper to enjoy another amazing sunset. We lit up out third fire in 3 days, enjoyed a couple beers, and turned in for the night.

Thursday took us to the final stop in the tour: Zion National Park. Zion was pretty much my real reason for making this trip. I had seen it on various tv shows, and others had commented on how amazing this park was, so I HAD to visit. I was NOT disappointed. We arrived quite early in the morning, allowing us to nab a camping spot early, and head out on shuttle buses to explore the park. Zion is unique in that visitors can’t drive in, they have to actually take shuttle buses operated by the park to the trails and views. This protects the region, and manages traffic flow. It worked as advertised and in no time we found ourselves at the Angel’s Landing trailhead. I can’t say enough about this hike. It takes you up, up, and up, finally following a knife edge ridge trail that features chains to aid hikers. The views from the top? Well, you can see some images above. I LOVED it. Troy had turned back earlier on account of a bit of vertigo, so I was on my own up there, and for the rest of the day.

After Angel’s Landing, I basically boogied my way to almost every single front-country trail in Zion National Park. This park is pristine and gorgeous. After seeing all the front trails, I realized that I will HAVE to come back and spend more time doing some of the overnight hikes that are available here. In addition to Angel’s Landing, there was another trail that follows the West Rim trail of the park to a place called Sentinel Point. Sadly, it is closed on weekdays due to maintenance. However, I learned that it would be open on Friday! Lucky me, since I’d be there in the morning :-). This was dumb luck, as we’d intended to spend Monday and Tuesday here, when the trail would have been closed. And I must say, of the entire week’s trails, this was probably my favourite. The view from the top pretty much defines for me the quintessential end of a hike. I was the first on the trail in the morning, and the first to summit at this, the highest point in the park. Sadly (or happily), my camera batteries were dead before I even started hiking, so I have no actual pictures. This just means that I’ll have to go back with Deanna to take her to the top to see the sights herself.

All in all, this trip hit all the high points for me in a vacation. I got to spend time with friends. I relaxed in the sun and played my heart out, board games, pool, disc golf, hiking, running, and biking. I saw amazing new sights forged by mother nature, and by mans’ own hands. I left feeling relaxed and ready for anything. Las Vegas may be known as Sin City, but I think from here on out, I will only see it as a jumping point for amazing adventures in the Southwest. There is still so much more for me to experience, and the flight prices are awesome! That’s it for my R&R, so stay tuned for my post on my next race, which was the County Marathon….