Tag Archives: vacation

The Calm Before the Storm

9,212m / 30,223ft. That’s the amount of vertical distance my legs carried me over a period of just over 1 week out in BC. This included a back-to-back 2 days of racing in the Squamish 50/50 event at the END of the trip, and a bunch of great hiking and running outings in the days leading up to the event. Perhaps not the exact prescription for a proper taper, but when I’m surrounded by mountains, and have time to take advantage of it, I do! Even better than that was the fact that I was sharing all the experiences with Deanna, who not only joined in on the hikes, but was tackling her first-ever 50 miler!! She didn’t exactly choose the easiest one to cut her teeth on, so it was going to be an interesting experience. Read on to hear all about our races.

Before we get into the meat of the race report, I wanted to take some time to write a post about the vacation part of the trip. Canada is an immense and beautiful country, and there are so many amazing places to visit. It will come as no surprise that being surrounded by mountains, the ocean, and lush forests, BC, and even just the areas around Vancouver, truly captivated me. More than once I imagined myself living there and being able to play in the surrounding trails all the time. On this trip, we at least got to experience a good cross-section of the adventuring opportunities around these parts, so read on to learn more about those adventures.

Touring Around Vancouver

BC 2017 - Around Vancouver

While at the Sinister 7 I only gave my self a glorified long weekend for the endeavour, with Deanna joining me for Squamish 50, we made it a 10-day vacation giving us time to explore what is essentially the Greater Vancouver areas as far as Whistler. We’d originally had plans to make a huge car journey all the way into the Rockies, but given the ongoing wildfires, and the how long the drive might take, we instead opted to only venture a few hours in any direction from Vancouver.

Fresh off the plan on a Saturday, we decided to grab the rental car and head straight to Grouse Mountain to tackle the Grouse Grind, because, well, why not? An 800m vertical climb over a short distance was the perfect way to shake out the legs after a long flight. Our only stop was at a convenience to grab granola bars and nuts as a snack. I’ve gotta say, the Grind was really cool There are some impressively steep sections, and it really would be a challenge to run that trail. Ultimately, at a brisk hiking pace, my time was about 1 hour. I figured that with a real effort, I could break 40 minutes. At the top, we enjoyed the world famous Lumberjack Show, hiking trails, and the Grouse Grizzlies. To cap it off, cold beers on the observation deck watching the Vancouver Harbour far off below. Great introduction to the West Coast life.

Still Happy Climbing

The next morning, we got out of bed relatively early to make our way to the Sea Bus and head into downtown Vancouver. Destination? A bike rental store of course! The plan was to cycle all around the city and take in the sights and the suds of Vancouver. This included a great little ride on the trails of Stanley Park before making our way to Granville Island to explore and have our first brewery stop where we also had lunch. Afterwards, more cycling and awesome beer tastings at other breweries. My only regret was that we could hit them all! This was likely the worst weather of our whole trip, and even then wasn’t bad. Slightly chilly, with a little bit of rain early in the day, but all in all great conditions for a day of bumming around on bikes.

Views along Seawall

Golden Ears Park

After our two days of exploring Vancouver, it was time to get a little further from civilization. We’d managed to borrow a tent and cooler from our friends in North Vancouver that we had been staying with, so we packed up our mighty little rental car and made our way 2 hours away to Golden Ears Park. While only 2 hours by car, it might as well have been 20 hours. Once in the park, we were surrounded only by gorgeous mountains and forests, and had no cell signal. Perfect! Of course, it was car camping, so there were others not far from us, but we had a spacious site, so we definitely felt like we were in the zone.

BC 2017 - Golden Ears Park

We had 2 nights booked here, and due to our slightly late start, opted to explore shorter hikes on day 1. I pored over a few maps before settling on a trail that would lead us up a canyon and ultimately lead us to a remote rocky beach with great views and some waterfalls. HOWEVER, as we hiked on the wide, gravel ‘trail’, I was a bit wistful, as it felt too civilized. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a little trail sign to our right heading up a steep faint trail labelled ‘difficult’. I somehow convinced Deanna it would be a good idea to head that way, even though we had no map or idea where it went. But when the direction is up, it always looks good to me!

After fighting and scrambling our way up this really cool back-country trail, we eventually arrived at a little pond higher up. I consulted the topos I had on my GPS, and figured that the trail kept going a LOT higher up to a summit. However, we were ill-equipped, and that would have been a bit more than the ‘forest hike’ I”d promised Deanna. Reluctantly, I turned back and we headed back down, and followed the original trail to the sights I had planned. They were still very much worth it, and little did I know just how much the next day would make up for it!

Day 2 at Golden Ears we got up early for breakfast, since we were going to tackle the Golden Ears Summit trail, whcih headed up to amazing vistas of the entire region. We decided to make this a bit of a training run, and geared up with running backs and gear. We set out at a good ‘ultra’ pace, making our way along the early parts of the trail in good time, as it wasn’t too steep yet. There was a lot of climbing to be done, but it was back-weighted, with the final push including the steepest sections. Unfortunately, Deanna wasn’t feeling super well that day, and although she kept pushing, I could see that it was unlikely she’d be keen to do the entire summit route with me.

Hiking Higher

Ultimately, we emerged on a bit of a plateau area that gifted us with really impressive views already. For Deanna, this was enough climbing for the day, and she wanted to head back. For me, it meant a tough decision, as I *really* wanted to summit. Eventually, we decided that she’d hang out on the plateau while I tackled the last bit alone. Partly for safety, partly because Deanna wasn’t too keen descending the technical bits alone (and a bit paranoid about wildlife). As luck would have it, shortly after I took off (at a pretty good running pace), I crossed paths with a group of three fellows who had been trekking and camping up here for 4 days, and were heading back down. I secured their promise that they would convince Deanna to descend with them. The benefit was that she’d have company for the descent, and be able to take her time, and for me, it meant I could push harder, sumitting strong, then having a good run back down to [hopefully] catch back up to them before the base.

Friends, let me tell you, that final scramble (which included another 500m of vertical in a short distance) was AMAZING, and exactly what I needed. I felt free, and was having a true adventure. I lost the trail on a snowfield, and ended up heading part way up another summit before realizing my error (I was packing a GPS with topos). The last push included pure scrambling, requiring hands and feet at some points. The reward was having my sandwich on the summit, surrounded by amazing views as I watched clouds swirling in a bit. The weather had been amazing, but I didn’t want to push my luck too long, so after about 10 minutes on the summit, I turned tail and started the super-fun scramble / run back down the trail. It took a long time before I finally caught up to the rest of the crew far below, and was happy to see Deanna feeling much better. Another hiker had been kind enough to give her some pain killers, and they’d kicked in for the descent.

Steve at the Summit

As a result, after coming out at another vantage point with the trio of hikers, we opted to start running again, to make it back to camp before too late in the day (as it was, we were on track for supper time anyway). We had a great run down, and thanks to having tired myself out with the summit bid, we had a similar pacing all the way down. Before finally wrapping up, we stopped at a water crossing to cool off our muscles. Yowza! Alpine waters sure are effective at cooling you off. What sweet relief! We enjoyed the warm sun, cold water, and good company for a bit before running the final few kms to camp. All told, my day saw me cover 20km and Over 2,000m of climbing. It was a memorable way to cap off our camping in Golden Ears!

Playing Tourist in Squamish

After another nice night camping in perfect conditions, we got up early once again to have breakfast, break camp, and make our way to the Squamish area. After, all, we had plans waiting for us there already! I’d been fortunate enough to work with Tourism Squamish on setting up a fun 2-day itinerary, and Day 1 had us heading up a mountain the easy way, climbing on said mountain the easy way, and of course, enjoying views and suds up there. If you’re looking for the TL;DR version, scroll to the bottom now, and you can watch the video I put together of our Squamish adventures.

BC 2017 - Sea to Sky Gondola and Via Ferrata

The first adventure was heading up the Sea to Sky Gondola, which whisks people up from the base of the mountain near Howe Sound to high up in the mountains. Of course there are really nice hiking trails to make that journey, but given the previous day’s hike, and the looming race in 2 days, I reluctantly agreed to the gondola. It was FUN! At the top, there are another series of trails, with a mix of family-friendly hikes, up to more advanced trails to head further into the mountains. Again, tempting as it was, I’d promised Deanna a more ‘taper-like’ day. So after strolling all the family trails, the amazing Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge, and marveling at the views from the main observation deck AND the platform on Panorama Trail, we were ready for another adventure.

That adventure? Why the Via Ferrata on the mountain of course! I’ve been wanting to try one of these for a long time, so I jumped at the chance. We ended up being the only folks taking part in the late afternoon group, so we had the guide all to ourselves and spend as much time playing on the granite face while securely attached. I’m pretty sure in the world of Via Ferratas this is one of the ‘easier’ ones, but the guide was good at giving me options to make it more challenging. This included me not using the rungs for my feet for most of it, and also tackling the final section without any use of the included aid, making it more like pure climbing. It was truly a fun experience, and a unique way to take in some of the spectacular views. Of course, as you can guess, we capped things off by enjoying beers and watching the day waning around us, as it was late afternoon.

Deanna Climbing Up

Amazingly, we learned that a mere week ago, they had NO views around here. The wildfires had brought very poor air quality. We saw pictures of days where you couldn’t even see Howe Sound below, and the sun was a mere orange blob obscured by smoke. We were so fortunate, as just as we had arrived in the area a few days ago, there had just been some rain, and the air completely cleared up. We had SPECTACULAR conditions!

Once we made it back to the bottom, we checked out the now-deserted Shannon Falls with amazing sunset colours playing on the cliff faces before heading to our hotel. We stayed in the Sandman Hotel, which had an amazing 2+ storey waterslide in the pool area. After playing on that for a while, and relaxing in the hot tub, it was off to sleep to rest of the next day. For our last day before getting race-ready, we opted to go tandem kayaking on the Howe Sound. I don’t think conditions could have been better!

BC 2017 - Kayaking Howe Sound and Breweries

The funniest part of the paddle was our guide. Why? Well, because I actually knew him. As in, I had suffered with him in a multi-day race. It was none other than Eduardo from Costa Rica, a fellow I’d raced the Gaspesie Adventure with a few years before! I didn’t even clue in that he lived in the region. It was great catching up with him as we slid across the water to arrive at Galileo Coffee, no doubt one of the highlights of the day for Deanna to have a delicious coffee! I was happy for it as well, as it meant she couldn’t get too annoyed by the fact that the rest of the day would be spent touring the 3 local breweries! However, before that, it was off to a locals’ favourite spot for lunch, Mag’s 99 Fried Chicken and Mexican Cantina, and yes, it was as awesome as you might imagine!

After a filling lunch, we wrapped up the tourist experience by visiting all three of the local breweries, meeting the brewmasters, and sampling their wares. After Backcountry Brewing and A-Frame Brewing, our final stop was Howe Sound Brewing, which for some reason treated us like royalty! Eduardo actually joined us there as well, and we stayed well into the night enjoying delicious food and flights of beer. We bumped into a few other racers as well who wanted to chat about the upcoming race. All in all, a fantastic way to cap off a couple days being a tourist in Squamish. It’s safe to say I’d love to spend more time there (retire there perhaps??). One more night at the Sandman before changing gears, moving locations, and getting ready for the races! But, to hear the tales of that, you’ll need to read the actual race report instead!

Beer Tasitng at Backcountry Brewing

Video of our Adventures Around Squamish

Nepal: Into the Jungles and Back to the Top

Hello loyal readers. I’m here today with the final chapter in our Nepal adventures. Yes, I could split this one into several shorter posts, but given that nearly 5 months has already passed, and that summer is around the corner, I decided to just wrap it up with one final post (well, that and the postscript post of 24 hour in Abu Dhabi!). As you’ll see by the map below, this part of our trekking trip was about 6 total days of hiking on the southern part of the Annapurna circuit. As you can see, we started low, worked our way back up in elevation, to finally finish off at a road where we hitched a ride to Pokhara. Read on for tales from this part of our adventure.

Khopra Region Trekking Map

Day 1: Tatopani to Chitre

Tatopani can be translated to mean ‘hot water’, and this little village is well known for its hot springs. The day before we started trekking, we’d taken a 4×4 from Jomsom, our last stop, through small villages and the beautiful mountain valleys to end at this little town (you can click through on the album embedded below). As we made our way from the northern part of the circuit, the air became thicker, and temperatures warmer. When we finally arrived at Tatopani, we were shocked at just how hot and humid it was. In fact, it truly was a jungle-like atmosphere, complete with citrus trees and dense vegetation. We stripped down from long sleeves and pants to t-shirts and shorts, and were still hot. What a difference.

Road through Valley

We ended up with a half-day and evening to relax in Tatopani, since we weren’t leaving to start the next trekking till the following day. We took advantage of this time to just stroll around the area taking in the views, as well as eventually making our way to the namesake hot springs. Upon arrival it was just Deanna and I plus one other gentleman who had made the trip from far away to take advantage of the healing properties of the pools. However, as time crept by, large groups of school children ended up there after their school day, and things got crowded! We packed up and made our way back uphill to our guest house, opting to take advantage a local ‘happy hour’, which meant beer and popcorn for a low price. It was just the two of us and the business owner, so very restful indeed!

The next morning, we got up, had our breakfast, and started our journey. We had about 14k to trek today, and would be gaining 1200m. It was already sweltering first thing in the morning, so no hope of avoiding working up a big sweat as we made our way uphill. We started out on the road, but soon crossed a river and were on the proper trails. Apparently there was a road that we could have followed uphill for a good chunk, but our guide opted for the more rustic (and steep) trails. In no time flat we all had sweat running down our brows and backs. This was STEEP terrain, and we stopped a couple times to rest.

Pause While Climbing

At one point, we popped back on the road, and paused in the hot sun to drink some water and eat apples. After a bit, another large group caught up to us there, surprised to see us. They’d left probably 40 minutes earlier than us, and never saw us. They’d taken the road, and were apparently also not big fans of the heat. They were surprised how quickly we’d gotten to where we were, which spurred us on to keep pressing on and gaining altitude, in hopes the payoff would be a respite from the oppressive heat. However, that makes it sound like this was a hardship. In fact, the hike was beautiful, and another clear reminder of the fact that Nepal truly is a land of varied terrain and environments. We felt lucky to be experiencing all the different areas of this spectacular country!

Around mid-day, we stopped in the little village of Shikha for lunch, fueling up on another great freshly prepared trekking meal. I swear as I type this I’m salivating for the food we had along the way at all our stops! For a rare treat, thanks to the heat, Deanna even treated herself to a bottle of the ubiquitous Fanta Orange pop to refresh. Lucky for us, after lunch, there was a slight breeze, and we found ourselves in a few more shady patches, so it wasn’t quite as hot!

Meandering Trail

We wrapped up our trekking about an hour and a half later, popping out at Chitre, yet another little village with jaw-dropping views. This stopping point found us a at 2,391m, but it was still very sunny and warm.  Given that we had lots of spare time again, we laid out our sweaty trekking clothes to dry while reading, playing cards, and enjoying tea and popcorn in the warm sun. We felt we could have trekked further, but got the sense that this was probably the best part to stop, thanks to the great views and fact that the next day’s trekking would again have us continue on a very much upward trajectory.

Front Lawn of Hotel

Day 2: Chitre to Khopra Danda

I mentioned climbing right? Well this day would have lots of that. In order to avoid a lot of backtracking to get to a main trail to our next destination, we opted for a less conventional track that lead us on a steep descent before embarking on the lion’s share of our climbing for the day. In fact, over a distance of less than 10k, we’d be climbint 1,800m, and would end our day at 3,660m, where it definitely promised to be a LOT cooler. However, the reason for this climb was to get to Khopra Danada, well known for it’s wide vistas of the surrounding mountains at sunset. Sadly, it wouldn’t be that way for us.

Forging Trails

Things definitely started out beautifully in the morning though. As we got underway, the sun was still lazily making its way up in the sky, and when we were in the shade, things were cool. The trail we’d chosen was not well indicated, and our guide ended up asking a few locals along the way to confirm our route. We also meandered through a village where our guide explained to us that as a young boy, he had traveled here on foot from his village with his football team to play in a tournament. What a different world. This place was over a mountain pass, inaccessible by road, and he would walk here for weekend tournaments, billeted by local families. It was actually an interesting side story that gave us more insight to growing up here.

We climbed ever higher, stopping only once at a single structure in the middle of nowhere known as  <Ever Green Rest Cottage>. At this place, we crossed paths with some wool merchants that were hiking down the mountain with giant woolen backpacks loaded down with the yak wool that they were seeking to sell. Here, we were also exposed to a neat kind of beehive that is set up within a hollowed out old log. We’d see a few more of those on our way, and that is why we were taught a bit more about how many Nepali people keep bees. Good thing they do, given the danger that bees are facing globally of being wiped out. Wanna learn more about that? Watch this TED talk on “Colony Collapse Disorder”. And yes, we should ALL care about this. But I digress (importantly).

Beehive Log

After our little rest, we kept climbing, but as the day wore on, and we got higher, we realized that we were most likely headed into a low visibility zone. It was becoming clear that not much higher above us, we’d be entering the clouds. Unfortunately, this would be the trend for the next few days. As such, the rest of this hike became a bit of a spooky walk in the clouds at altitude. For that reason, the story of the mysterious disappearance of a tourist in this very region was even more haunting. This fellow was part of a group, but had gone missing in the middle of a trek. No body had yet been found, but there were posters all over the place about his disappearance. Later, we’d learn there were rewards for finding him, and as such, entrepreneurial people were forming search parties and consulting spiritual leaders / guides to help in the quest.

More on that in the summary of the next day! Once we finally got to the higher elevation, we completed our day’s trek by wandering through large herds of grazing yaks to end up at Khopra Danda, a gathering place perched right on the edge of a high promintory. We wouldn’t see what was special about it until the next morning though, since we couldn’t really see more than 50-100 feet ahead of us!

Foggy Arrival

Day 3: Khopra Danda to Dobato

After a very chilly night up at altitude at Khopra Danda, I was anxious to see whether or not my luck had improved with the view from here. I knew that often, early in the morning, the sky is clear. As such, I was up before sunrise pulling on warm layers to go check things out. I was VERY glad I did, as I was treated to some very beautiful views. Not cloudless, but I could at least get a sense of the vistas around us (technically, what we were looking at were the  Dhaulagiri Himal) . Good thing I did get up though, as these views were quite short lived. Within an hour, things were clouded over, and the weather forecast didn’t sound good. We could have stayed an extra day in hopes of clearing weather, but from the last time I had checked forecasts, we opted to keep moving. It was the right call, as you’ll soon learn.

Go on now, click right and left to scroll through this embedded album!

Yak is Unimpressed

After marveling at the sights while eating breakfast, we packed up and headed out. Interestingly, we had two route options. The first would have us backtracking downhill only to climb back up. The second? Well, technically, it was a ‘closed’ route that was ‘not recommended’. Why? Well, remember that guy who disappeared? Yup, it was on this trail. So which did we choose? Did you even need to ask? Of course we took the ‘road less traveled’! After all, our guide is a certified mountain rescue guide. The warnings were more for people on their own. We set off on what was a very interesting trail hugging the steep contours of the hills, and semi overgrown. It would have been completely overgrown were it not for the occasional yak herders with their yaks and guard dogs. Yes, we had to step carefully around these dogs, as they are VERY protective of their yaks. No petting fido up here!

Trail Perspective

As the morning wore on, we continued winding our way along the mountains, eventually stopping in a little place called Bayeli for lunch. The morning’s trek had taken quite a bit of time thanks to the tricky footing in some places. our net elevation change on the day was -200m, but there was a fair bit of up and down.  This lunch stop was a good spot to warm up a bit with a hot chocolate. I’d opted to not wear too many layers that morning, and the cold damp wind blowing around us had put a bit of a chill on me. Also, and I’m loathe to mention it, but my foot was bothering me a fair bit that day. Grrr. At any rate, the rest, warm beverage and food set me up right for the rest of the day’s trekking, which turned out to not be too long at all, with only an hour or so of trekking after lunch.

Dobato in the Distance

Before too long, we were coming around a bend in the trail, and could see the next stop on our trip. Dobato. This collection of a few buildings once again proved that just because a place is on a map, it doesn’t imply there is much there! The guest house where we were staying, ironically named Hotel Mt. Lucky, was actually owned by a relative of our guide, so it was a bit of a homecoming, and you could see that both our guide Ram and porter Purna were getting increasingly excited as we continued this part of our trip. The reason is that we were now on ‘their turf’. They both grew up in these parts, and have many relatives. And given the sparse populations, inevitably when we passed locals on the trail, they knew who these people were.

Oh wait, I’ve gotten ahead of my self. I did say that Hotel Mt. Lucky was ironically named. Why would I say that? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because for the rest of the afternoon we sat through snow and rain storms??! Yup, after the run of great weather, we finally came face to face with some of the meteorological uncertainties in the mountains. We actually quite enjoyed getting to experience. Especially from the safety of being indoors and at the low-ish elevation of 3,426m. Higher up or more exposed, and things could be much worse. That’s why I said deciding to not stay an extra day in Khopra Danda was a good call!

Snow Flying at Hotel

Thankfully, since we were staying with ‘family’, we were very well looked after, with extra tea, popcorn, and great stories and explanations about the way that people live in these parts. We also learned a lot about the different farming implements they use in these areas, and the challenges they face in the simplest of activities like getting water, whcih they actually carry in from farther away during dry periods! All in all, a great night, and once again, we were all alone in this guest house, and boy was it cold that night. Once again, the plan was to get up early the next morning, since this place is very close to a spot called Mulde Point, from where you are supposed to be able to see 25 mountains such as the Annapurna range, Dhaulagiri range, Nilgiri, Lamjung Himal range and others. You can also supposedly see Fewa Lake from there and take good photographs of sunrise and sunset. Given the weather at night, we were apprehensive, but decided to bed down, get up before sunrise, and hope for the best.

Day 4: Dobato to Kot Danda

So, how did that early morning trek work out? Well, it was dark and cold when we got up, but it was not raining. Potentially a good thing, right? By headlamp, we stared the trek up to 3,637m and Mulde View, with many fingers crossed. We didn’t eat anything, as breakfast would be our reward upon getting back…

First Rays

Well, there you have it. Mulde View. When the sun started rising, we got a few little glimpses, but really, most of the mountains were obscured. You can click through the images in the embedded album above, but as you can tell, things weren’t quite as amazing as we’d hoped. However, in my mind, the clouds actually made it a very interesting view nonetheless, and we didn’t regret for a moment getting up early to see it. The entire place still felt very special, and we had it all to ourselves, making it that much more special.

One More Smile

Once back down, we had our breakfast and geared up for our day of trekking. We’d be covering about 12km total, with a lot of that being downhill. However, the end of the day would take us to a place called ‘Little Paradise’, and I’d been looking forward to it for quite a while thanks to the promises in the itinerary stating:

“Upon arrival you will enjoy the beauty of Little Paradise with its organic vegetable and tea gardens, beautiful flowers, and animal farming. Hammocks will be strung up in the trees, so put up your feet and enjoy some well deserved relaxation.”

That’s right, hammocks! Whee! However, to get to that point, there would be some work ahead of us. Remember how when we started this section I described jungle-like conditions? Well, given the drop in elevation, we were heading back to jungle town! And this time, with the ever-present threat of rain :-).  This part of the trek was actually really neat. The foliage was extremely thick, and we felt like we might be in some sort of west coast rainforest for a while.

Thick Foliage

To make sure we didn’t finish our day too early, we stopped along the way in a village called Tadapani where, surprise surprise, the place was also owned by someone in Ram’s family! We arrived early, so rather than eating right away, we first had a nice cup of tea to warm up. We also lingered a little longer there, as a group of trekkers coming through actually included our tour company’s owner Norbu, who was leading another group up. As such, this was a great chance to catch up with him, meet more trekkers (Canadians as well), and talk about plans in the next few days. As a result of the ongoing fuel shortage, he would be personally meeting us in Pokhara to help decide how we’d get back to Kathmandu.

After that pleasant lunch, we continued on our merry way, now with the company of raindrops. This was the first time in the entire trip I had to break out my rain gear, since it was well and truly raining. It didn’t bother us too much, given that we’d already been blessed with so many great weather days. And realistically, if you’re stomping through a rainforest / jungle, isn’t that what you’d expect?

Amazingly though, but the end of our journey, which culminated in a sort of ‘stairway to heaven’ rock staircase up to Little Paradise, the rain broke. Not only that, but by the time we’d settled into our room and I’d taken a quick shower with the available hot water, the skies almost cleared. At least enough so that we got the owner to string up those promised hammocks to enjoy a little swinging in the breeze while reading and rehydrating.

Weather Dries at Paradise

Later on in the evening, after we’d eaten, we also watched the owner (who is actually a local pediatrician that villagers from all over come to see) making butter using traditional methods. Of course, here they are also the ‘current’ method. They have simply always made their butter this way. Our meal also included some special treats including honey that was collected from his own on-site beehives. What a great treat! Time for bed and onto our near-final trekking in the Annapurna region.

Day 5/6: Kot Danda to Ghandruk and beyond…

And so we arrive at our near final day of trekking, where we started at Little Paradise, trekked down down down to Ghandruk for a single night, and then the next morning out to Kimche where we would be catching a 4×4 out to Pokhara.

Standing with the Wet Wool

And guess what? It was raining! Even more than the previous day. I even went so far as to put on my full rain gear, including pants, although with the heat, I’d live to regret that after a couple hours. However, our whole trek that day was going to be pretty short. Less than 8k, and mostly downhill. After another delicious breakfast, we headed down. With the heavy rains, we were once again reminded of the fact that this is leech country. Along the way, we saw TONS of little leeches stretching out their bodies from plants lining the trails hoping to hitch onto unsuspecting passers-by. While we could avoid them, we felt pretty bad for cattle / horses that share these trails, as they very often become leech meals!

View from Hotel

In almost no time, we found ourselves in our last Nepali guest house of the trip. We were given the choice of a traditional home-type of guest house, or to check into a more modern place. We opted traditional, and lo and behold, we ended up at a traditional Gurung guest house. Where did I know that name? Oh right, that is our guide’s last name, Ram Gurung! You guessed in, back with the family once again. Too funny. However, as with other places, this had its advantages. After settling in, we went for a good walking tour of this village, which acts as a regional center, so quite a bit larger than other villages. This included stopping in a traditional museum, as well as the local conservancy office for a presentation on their efforts to protect an enhance the region.

As we got closer to supper time, it was determined that this would be a participative affair. Deanna and another guest decided to take on the challenge of making Momo, the tasty dumplings we’d been enjoying all the way. Along with our porter Purna, another guide, and some locals, the cooking class ‘al fresco’ commenced. We now learned why we usually ordered food an hour in advance of eating each day, as it takes time to make such tasty food, especially with ‘amateurs’ cooking 😉

Having Fun

Luckily, I also kept myself busy. Remember a few posts ago when I spoke about gathering walnuts? Well, after 2 weeks+ of lugging them through all manner of mountains and carefully drying them in the sun when we stopped, it was time to reap the rewards of my harvest. Boy oh boy, I had NOT expected this to be so challenging, but they were very small, so as it turned out it took me, and 2 other people I convinced to join in the fun, longer to get the nuts out of those than it took for Deanna to make Momo! However, what that ultimately meant is that for supper, the two ‘tourist couples’ would now enjoy not only food the locals made, but also our own efforts. Admittedly, it did make that final night just a little more special, and TOTALLY justified the consumption of beer and a deep fried snickers bar 😉

Three is a Good Number

And with that, the trekking part of the trip basically comes to a close. After lingering just a little longer around the supper table sharing stories about all our collective adventures in Nepal, it was time to turn in. The next morning, all that remained was a 45 minute walk out to Kimche to grab a 4×4 to Pokhara, and ultimately, back to civilization and ‘western’ culture. As I type this, I’m already nostalgic for the simpler existence we both witnessed and experienced for ourselves. To those who feel this sounded like a tough trip with all the hiking, no real showers, electricity, or toilets, I will simply say that isn’t tough at all. We are spoiled, and while I am unlikely to every give the luxuries up, I had no problem adapting to a simpler way of doing things, and really just ‘living’ for a few weeks. There was no need to be ‘connected’, since I was. I was connected to my co-travelers, to the nature around me, and to the passing wanderers we met on the trails. Had there been an issue, it would have been resolved, and we were HAPPY, the entire time. I am SO happy that we made this trip and that I finally had my Himalayan adventure. I’m not sure yet what’s next on the list, but I’m sure it will be as equally rewarding! I hope you’ve enjoyed my stories (as long-winded as they can get), and remind you all to love what you have and take the time to marvel at the world around us! Till next time, keep exploring!

Final Farewell

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….

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….

Breathing Deep and Racing Across the Sky

Without further ado, I finally bring you my story about racing in Leadville, Colorado at the Leadville 100 mountain bike race. This is a [now] storied event that has seen the likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, and Floyd Landis try their luck in the high altitude around Leadville on mountain bikes. As it turns out, it was also a race that was on my bucket list that I wasn’t even aware should be on it! It seems the more I get involved in the racing community and travel to different events, the more I learn about amazing races in far-flung places that I wish I could do. I’ll have to settle with a handful of them, and this race now gets added to my memory banks as one of the biggies! There is of course a video review, and also lots of pictures, thanks to Deanna being there (this doubled as our vacation!). Now read on for the whole story.

Pictures from the Race

The official story starts over a year ago in the Adirondacks in NY State. Specifically, the Whiteface Wilmington 100 bike race, which was a qualifier for Leadville. I knew about Leadville, and love riding my mountain bike, so when I heard about the qualifier less than 4 hours from home, I figured I’d give it a go and see what happens. Although I hadn’t raced quite fast enough to be in the top slots for qualifying, I stuck around after the race and during awards just in case. They were drawing for extra spots at the end, and my name came up. After meeting the founder, Ken Chlouber and seeing his infectious enthusiasm, it was clear I had no choice but to say yes. My 2012 calendar was already full, so I ‘deferred’ for a year. The only downside to deferring is that my starting place was somewhat compromised. Instead of being put in a corral related to my Whiteface finish time, I would be put in the very back corral. I didn’t think it would matter much, as I really just wanted to experience the event, not go for the win . I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t you always go for the win?”. Well, yes, I always give 100%, but I’m also realistic. Being one of over 1500 racers fighting out in an internationally-renowned race with elite racers meant I had zero chance of getting on ANY podium!

Over the course of the next little while from Whiteface, I managed to parlay my way into doing some media coverage for the Leadville race, which meant at least my entry fees were covered. I then booked flights using reward points for both Deanna and I, and also tried to scare up some old contacts for places to stay. The whole goal was to try and not spend too much on this far away race, as we are counting our pennies while we save up for our wedding and honeymoon. In addition to 3 nights with friends, we booked 2 AirBnBs (if you haven’t used this service before, I can highly recommend it), and a couple nights in a motel (the night prior to and after the race). We rented a nice car, and were all set (even got an upgrade to a fully loaded Subaru Legacy for a good rate).

Deanna was also excited as she had some distant relatives in Denver, and we managed to attend a family reunion of sorts where she could talk all about family history stuff with new-found family connections. This was also her first time in Colorado. As such, we had a brilliant week playing tourist, trying out lots of local beers (and mead), and getting up into the mountains (like Pike’s Peak, Mount Evans, hiking, Red Rocks, etc.). There are, of course, lots of pictures from our touristy stuff as well. Check ‘em out! But of course, this post is meant to be all about the race, so with that little digression out of the way, let’s get back to the action!

Pictures from the Vacationing


Leadville itself is located at over 10,000’ above sea level, so going into this thing, I knew that my biggest challenge may very well be the altitude which I’d be pushing my body at. I have been fairly diligent about training and putting mileage under my belt, but there is no easy way to prepare for the altitude. I knew that I had the legs and physical ability to bike over 100 miles, but the challenge would be in doing so in the time allotted (plenty of people don’t finish every year). My race plan was simple: don’t blow up early. I would race mainly by feel, using my heart rate monitor as a back-up to make sure I wasn’t creeping up my heart rate trying to keep up with people going too fast. In the end, I also relied on the theory of numbers. I felt that if I stayed in the midst of the crowds in the back 1/3rd of the pack, I should finish right on time.

Our hotel was about 40 minutes from the race start/finish, so we had to get up bright and early on race day. The day before we’d gone through registration and race briefings. Once again, Ken was an inspirational force with his words of encouragement, making us all anxious to get going the next day. The medical director was also a hilarious fellow, but he was of course delivering serious messages about the risks. The final thing sorted out the day before for me was a bike. I had rented a bike for the race from Cycles of Life, a great local bike shop in Leadville. They hooked me up with a sweet 29er that I put my own seat and pedals on for the race. After a test ride, things seemed dialed in, and the fact that it was a hardtail should make it the perfect bike for a ‘road race on mountain bikes’, as this race had been referred to as.

Race morning was FREEZING! There was frost on the ground, and being ‘bundled up’ in spandex wasn’t all that toasty. I had on my wind jacket and even borrowed Deanna’s jacket at the start line, where I had to wait for 45 minutes or so before the start. The sun had not poked up over the mountains yet. However, soon enough, we were under way. The start was downhill, making things even colder for the first while. As a result, I had some early camera issues. I had 2 GoPros with me, and neither seemed to want to stay on. I had to stop a couple times to remove batteries, re-set, etc. Not a groovy start. I found myself in pretty much the very back of the entire race at this point! Luckily, there was nowhere to go but up. Both literally and figuratively. Literally because we started climbing our first big hill, and figuratively because I’d spend the rest of my day slowly making up ground and passing people.

Much of this race made its way along gravel roads, and mountain access roads, with only a few little sections of true singletrack. In that regard, it really isn’t a very technical race, just long and challenging from an endurance perspective. Climbing out of that first valley was an amazing precursor to the rest of the day. As we climbed, we eventually popped out on a dirt road high above the valley, where the sun had not quite penetrated. So while we were now bathed in warm light the valley far below was still very misty, still and cold. My racing companions also agreed with my assessment that THIS was what the race was all about. Of course, I’m sure things were a lot different far ahead of us, where new records were being pursued by the leaders. We were having amazing weather conditions for the day, and the course was in good condition, meaning that new records may be possible.

While I had no official race plan or schedule, deep in my heart, I had been hoping for a finish around 10.5 hours, with a realistic goal of 11 hours, but a stated goal of ‘just finishing’. As it turned out, I would be somewhere between stated and realistic. In all honesty, I think I could have made my secret goal, but with caveats. Firstly, I was stuck in the back of the race, meaning thick crowds, lots of bottlenecks, and difficulty making passes on tricky sections. This obviously cost me time. Also, I did stop on numerous occasions for filming duties, which also costs time. I don’t regret it at all though, as it was really nice to actually soak up the atmosphere and let the scenery overwhelm me a few times.

In order to stay on some sort of schedule, I had a little timesheet that told me time checks for reaching certain checkpoints in order to finish in a given time. I didn’t get the chance to check that out until about 60k into the race, and when I did so, I learned I was about 30 minutes behind my target time! Yikes! As a result, I had to turn up my own internal pressure to the next CP. The next section included some pretty neat bits of singletrack trail, as well as the most fearsome descent in the race, Pipeline. This is a long technical descent, very rutted out in places, and making it very difficult to pass people. I held my own while barrelling down, but one of my cameras didn’t fare as well. My GoPro snapped right off the mount and went flying off. I had to stop to recuperate it from the trail and tuck it back into my pack before heading back down the trail. I was also distinctly aware that my brakes seemed to be wearing down rapidly, and I still had another VERY long descent to make after the high point of the race.

With respect to the next checkpoint and time check, that was where my sweet Deanna was awaiting me. When I arrived, I was a bit of a whirlwind of energy. I dumped my gear, grabbed what I needed to and basically headed back out, in order to make up some time. I was legitimately worried about cut-offs already! Luckily, I had made my time back up, but was now about to embark on the long climb up Columbine Mine. This is a climb from around 10,000’ all the way up to 12,500’ with some pretty steep grades. The good news is that I felt good, and was able to dig in and push hard uphill. I actually passed a pretty large number of other racers. At one point while I was filming and providing commentary, I was accused of having ‘too much energy’. Not like I haven’t heard that before!

Of course, I have to say that the climb to the top was well worth the suffering. From the high point of Columbine, you have a commanding view of the entire area and surrounding peaks. It was absolutely breathtaking. And yes, once again, we’re talking literally AND figuratively  I took a good long pause while up there to take it all in, shoot some video, re-fuel on food and drink, and chat with racers and volunteers. I was feeling a little more confident about my time now, and even though I knew I wasn’t racing fast, in my mind this was the halfway point, and I had less climbing on the second half of the race. The climb up had taken over 1.5 hours, but to get back down? About 30 minutes. It was great. And not too tiring. The most tiring thing was squeezing the brakes and keeping the bike under control.

Arriving back at the bottom of the climb gave me a second chance to see Deanna. Determined to be a little more social, I stopped fully and chatted for a few moments with her. Gave her a kiss and thanked her for all her help and patience hanging out during the day while I raced. It really was great to see her again, and agave me a little pick-me-up before I pedaled off again. Sadly, as is usually the case with a race of this distance / duration, I did eventually hit a low point, and it was between this CP and the next one. The terrain wasn’t all that bad, just a lot of rolling trails and roads to follow. Sort of a hum-drum section. The views around us were great, but there were some wicked cross-winds that you really couldn’t avoid, due to constant curves. It sapped a lot of energy out of me. I could feel my pace slowing down and energy waning. I didn’t like it one bit! But I recognized it for what it was, and kept pressing on. I knew there would be fresh food at the next aid station, and just had to get there.

Speaking of aid stations, I should mention that these were well-stocked, and very well run by an army of volunteers. They would offer to help in any way they could and even anticipate your needs by looking at your bottles, etc. There were a good range of food options for racers. I guess after 20 years of putting a race on, you pretty much know what the crowd wants. For my part, I actually raced on ‘real foods’ for most of the race. At aid stations, I’d eat bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, watermelon, etc. It seemed to be doing the trick, so who was I to argue? This formula is exactly how I got over my low point. When I finally cruised into the aid station, I ate a pile of watermelon and bananas. I got back out on the bike, and within 10-15 minutes, I was feeling refreshed and much better. Which is a good thing, because up next was Pipeline again. And this time, going UP the climb. Another long drawn out affair.

My new-found energy came in very handy, as did the small can of Coke I got from the fine folks of Strava along the road before Pipeline. Although the sun was absolutely blazing on us, I tackled the climb with the fresh energy of earlier in the day, and beyond all expectations, I managed to bike the entire think (save for the very first, super crazy exposed section at the bottom. I got a lot of encouragement from other riders, most of whom were walking around me. They were polite and gave me right of way as a ‘rider up’. It felt amazingly good to pedal up while others were walking. Just what my spirit needed. When I finally reached the top and started making my way back down, I felt a great weight lift. I had done some calculations, and was pretty sure I’d make it to the finish well before the 12 hour ‘official’ time cut-off. But only if I kept pedaling!

The last couple hours of the race seemed to go on forever, with a never=ending slog of pedaling up and down climbs. My fellow racers were equally feeling the day wear on them now, as we’d been out for over 9 hours already and had struggled mightily through all the challenges to date. There was one FINAL long paved climb to tackle and energy was fading again. Enter the cycling Gods to my rescue. As I was pedaling, a shiny can on the side of the road caught my eye. An unopened Coke…. Hmmm…. Should I? I circled back and picked it up, intent on getting a shot of sugar and caffeine into my system. I carefully pried the top up as I kept making my way uphill. It was well shaken up, but I was careful to not open it too fast in anticipation of that. It was also swelteringly warm, having obviously been in someone’s jersey pocket a long way. HOWEVER, the sweet nectar was like medicine for my tired legs, and helped me turn the cranks over with a little less effort again. As someone eyed my comical act from behind the whole way, I finally ventured “Well, that just shows you, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure!”. Not only did I get a boost, but I was also picking up road litter. Karma points and energy points. Nice!

Now how can I describe the final ride to the finish? Well, for starters, the inbound route is slightly different from the outbound route. In fact, it adds 3 extra miles onto the race. So in fact the Leadville 100 is more like the Leadville 103! I had been warned about that in advance, but it made me no less comfortable as I passed the last few signs announcing distance to finish. I am almost positive they were fibbing with the signs, as it dragged on and on in the gravel. However, almost without warning, we popped back out onto pavement, and I realized it was about 800m to the finish! Another right hand turn and there it was, looming in the distance. The finish line crowds and yes, a red carpet! We actually get to roll up on a red carpet to cross the line. I filmed the moment, and scanned the crowd for Deanna. I also gave a big sweaty hug to Merilee (Ken Chlouber’s wife), who was putting my finisher’s medal around my neck. She has been doing that every year at the finish line for 20 years, regardless of the weather. I truly felt like I had arrived home to my family. It was an intoxicating feeling, and very emotional.

I finally found Deanna, yelling for me from the sidelines. I ran over and squeezed her hard over the barricades, letting the emotion and enormity of the day finally crash down on me. I had just biked over 100 miles in the high Rocky Mountains and finished the Leadville 100 in 11.5 hours. And it was good! Of course, the good feeling was soon replaced with the exhaustion, but not before doing a little touring around the finish area, having a celebratory beer, and eating some tasty kettle corn that Deanna had picked up for me. When we finally got back to the hotel, I was completely beat! Deanna poked fun at me as I lay in the bed nearly motionless. I knew I needed to eat something, but was having a heck of a time getting motivated. Our final meal choice? A horrible one I’m afraid: Taco Bell. I had 4 tacos and nachos supreme. But at least it was better than nothing.

The adventure wasn’t completely over however. The next morning we had to get up early once again in order to head to the awards ceremony. After all, it was the only way I’d be getting my belt buckle, the one and only reason to actually do this race . In addition, there were the presentations to the top racers, and we were also going to each get a finisher’s sweatshirt. Not until that very moment did I learn that the actual sweatshirts were completely custom, screened with both our names and exact finishing times! They had been made up overnight! Sadly, this customization is what also lead to us having to wait hours while they sorted them all out. However, in the long run, I’m okay with the wait, as I have one heck of a race memento now .

So ends my tale from Leadville. I’m sad to say that there are so many sub-plots that I didn’t get to share with you all. The stories I traded with riders, the pleasure and the pain I saw on faces, the absolute crushing sight of seeing people cross the finish line knowing they were not ‘official finishers’ due to being cut off. The near accidents, the mechanical issues. Yes, there is a LOT more that could be written, but it would simply be too long. Suffice to say, this sort of race needs to really be experienced to be fully appreciated, and if any of you are into mountain biking, I would absolutely suggest putting this one on your to-do list. Although I’d love to go back and challenge it again, I’m afraid the cost, and fact that there are so many other interesting races to try, probably means that I won’t. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t return to Leadville. After all, I’m now part of the family there, and it would be a homecoming of sorts! Next up in the race roster? Timmins for the Great Canadian Kayak Challenge! Stay tuned for that one!

The Video Review

Rest, Relaxation, and Racing in Switzerland

Morning Sky in Lausanne

Hello friends! As you all know well, I’m somewhat of a fan of taking part in races whenever I get the chance. Well, as it turns out, that apparently also extends to when I take some vacation time! This post will cover both the vacation that Deanna and I recently took in Switzerland (3 weeks!) as well as the half marathon that we both race in while there. Some of you may not realize this, but I am lucky enough to have dual citizenship. Canadian, and Swiss. I still have quite a bit of family over there, and it’s been a long time since I visited. Add to that the fact that Deanna has never been over there, and you can quickly see why this ended up being the perfect place for us to take a nice vacation. As you can well imagine, we took a ton of pictures, which you can all view in the collection that I put up on flickr. Eventually, I’ll pull together a ‘best of’ set, but for now, you can have a look at the whole lot of them. Read on for some of the highlights of the trip.

Best of Switzerland Pictures

I’ll embed the slideshow here eventually 🙂

Let’s start with the question of weather. Generally, I like taking October vacations. Many of the places I’ve travelled to around the world are ideal around that time of year. Morocco last year was splendid. In the southern hemisphere (South America, New Zealand), and in the Caribbean, also great weather. Because it is after labour day, there are less families travelling, and rates will often be a little lower, and availability of places to stay also better. Switzerland is no exception to this. The weather is generally agreeable. It is fall there as well, but still much greener, and stays above freezing for the most part. Unfortunately for us, we ran into a fair bit of less than perfect weather. All makes for great memories though. We hiked in the high alps in both pouring rain, and had to change plans on the fly when a route we wanted to hike was buried under 30cm of snow! On the plus side, it made for a very magical hike near the Matterhorn, as well as stunning alpine views of the Eiger, Jungfrau, and Monch. So no dwelling on the negatives here!

Next up: what do you think of when you imagine Switzerland? Ok, sure, you said, cheese, chocolate, and mountains, right? Well, don’t forget military. Hunh? Well, Switzerland is well known for it’s neutrality during global conflicts. However, to ensure that neutrality, they have always needed to be prepared to defend that neutrality. As a result, they have a well-established military history, and that extends to mandatory military service. While I personally never completed military service, I’ve always been somewhat fascinated with the system. So, it was pretty cool for Deanna and I to get to attend three uniquely Swiss events related to military. First up was a Swiss military concert, composed of the best military musicians. They put on 2 concerts a year, and we got to see one. Each region has their own military bands, and these are the best of those players. Fun night with good music. The second event was a full day of military demonstrations at one of the bases. It was friends and family only by invite, and thanks to a close family friend, we got in. This particular base focused on things like search and rescue, disaster cleanup, and fire suppression, so there were some cool demos and technology to see. We also were treated to some military marching, as well as a special flag ceremony. Our last event was a large military surplus sale in an arena, where tons of used and/or obsolete gear was being sold in bulk. Much as I wanted to buy 1920s helmets and 1930s glacier goggles, I sadly lacked the room. I only ended up buying a belt! If you’d like, here a direct link to a slideshow from the military stuff.

With military out of the way, let’s turn to the cheese and chocolate aspects of the trip. I’ll sum it up by saying, “yes please”. And I’d also add wine to that list of gastronomic pleasures. It’s safe to say that not a day goes by that we didn’t enjoy some cheese. Chocolate had a slow start, but once we got into the swing of things, there was plenty of chocolate consumption. We also enjoyed several fondues and raclettes in our travels. These were either made by our hand, or by family, none of that commercial mumbo-jumbo :-). We also quickly discovered that Swiss wine is both plentiful, and quite good. The reason you don’t hear about in our part of the world is that the vast majority of swiss wine is consumed internally. I can assure you that after wandering through kilometers of vineyards along Lake Geneva, there are lots of winemakers and great growing conditions. In addition to the vineyard hiking, we also spent an entire day on the Chocolate Train (see slideshow) an excursion on a 1940s train to visit both a large chocolate maker (Cailler) and a renowned cheesemaker (Gruyere – the only place it is made!).

I will admit however, that above the military, cheese, chocolate, and wine, I would place the geography of Switzerland. Yes, I’m talking specifically about the pointy bits that I love so much! I’m probably my happiest when outdoors, on a great hike, surrounded by mountains. All the better when I’m doing that with the love of my life, and when at the end of the day, we can enjoy a glass of wine and some tasty food. Due to Switzerland’s nearly unlimited hiking trail options throughout the country, it is very easy to find great day trips into the mountains that finish off with a short train ride back to where you started. This creates what I would call a very civilized mountain hiking environment, which we took advantage of quite often. We hit pretty much every major mountain village in the alps, and supplemented that with some of the best-known mountain train routes as well. Probably the two most stand-out days of our mountain hiking days would be the day we went up the Schilthorn (where a James Bond movie was filmed), and when we made a detour for an overnight trip to Zermatt (home of the Matterhorn).

For Deanna and I as a couple, I think it was on one of those great hikes that we made a possibly life-altering plan. At one point, Deanna turned to me and said “We should live here!”. That got us thinking, and formulating a 5-7 year plan which involves us finding some way to spend a year overseas in Switzerland. The could manifest itself as a house swap with relatives or something of that sort, with us hopefully finding some form of employment as well so that we can afford to have some fun while there. Nothing firm yet, but a goal we now have in our minds.

Race Time!

Stats from Race

Right, so now, what was that about a race? Well, picture a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The region is the Interlaken region, well known for it’s adventure sports mentality. The race was called the Brienzersee Lauf, which is apparently Switzerland’s oldest road running race, and rate the 4th most beautiful running race in the country by runners. There are a number of options for how to race in this event. The full 35km ‘Around the Lake’ is the classic event. There is also a Half marathon option, which is what we opted to take part in, and finally, a relay option where 3 people split the work of running around the lake.

Although the weather wasn’t absolutely perfect for the race, it was definitely good weather. The temperatures started out a little cool, but by the end of the race, we did see some sun, and were feeling pretty warm from the effort. There were perhaps fewer racers than I had expected, but at the same time, the people that did participate skewed more towards the ‘racing’ category, rather than ‘participating’ category. Lots of speedy people. For our part, Deanna pulled out a PB, in spite of the fact that the day before we’d spent probably 8 hours on our feet, and 6+ hours of that hiking! I followed along as the official event photographer for us. Although there were no medals, we did get nice race shirts, and the post-race events included a great beer gardens with a great atmosphere, and lots of racers and locals mingling around. However, in true Swiss precision, when the event was over, it was over. Finish line and starting corrals were dismantled and carried away promptly on time, in front of our eyes. As well, the makeshift changing room was being taken apart while I was still standing in the middle, buck naked, sorting out my stuff and getting dressed. Too funny. Great time though.
Although I can’t speak directly for Deanna, I think that one of her highlights was also the time we spent touring the beautiful Chateau Chillon. This is probably the single best preserved castle in all of Europe, which is constantly being renovated and new rooms opening up. This is a huge castle located right on the shores of Lake Geneva near Montreux. We arrived in the afternoon of a beautiful sunny day, and lucky for us, the crowds weren’t too heavy, so we had a lot of the rooms to ourselves to picture what life might have been like hundreds of years ago.

I could obviously go on and on about all the amazing places we visited, and the amazing rail system that is the SBB/CFF/FFS (Swiss rail system). Suffice to say I definitely wish I could make it over to that country more often than I do. However, there is a whole world out there, and I’m still itching to see a lot more of it, and with limited funds and vacation time, that makes things difficult. With the new 5-7 year plan though, I’m optimistic that I’ll get to spend more time in the land of my forefathers. This leads me to the final point about our trip. My family is great! We were fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time with cousins, friends, and my aunt and uncle while we were there. They shared their homes and their meal tables with us openly and offered up great advice and conversations. We had a lot of laughs and reconnected in person in a way that you just can’t over facebook, email, or Christmas cards! They are wonderful people and always treat us like more than just family (if that makes sense).

To close off, far too many people try to do a ‘Europe Tour’ in 2 weeks. In that tour, you get to hit a couple major cities per country (if you’re lucky), then go home. For us, we spent 3 weeks in Switzerland, trying to get a better sense of the people and the entirety of their culture. However, even there, I don’t think it was long enough. There are parts of the country we didn’t go near, even though the entire country can be driven across in 2.5hrs! We had a wonderful time, wish to thank all our hosts, and can’t wait to go back. However, it was back to Canada for us, and gearing up for the next event we had on tap, the Fat Ass Trail Run in Batawa, which will be the subject of my next post! Till then, get ready for the snow folks, I think winter is nearly upon us!