Thursday, July 28, 2011

Everyone's idea of adventure differs

One of Helen Keller's most famous quotes states, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all."

While I agree with that whole heartedly, it does have to be balanced with the knowledge that each one of us has a slightly different idea about what constitutes "adventure." And in this day and age of  "adventure travel" there are even different levels of adventure: soft adventure, hard adventure.

As a travel writer, I often have to categorize what I write for potential editors or tourism boards who may want to help me promote their destination/product. Sometimes I am just given the option of "adventure" as a category; other times, I have to select "soft adventure" and/or "hard adventure."

So just what is the difference?

It often depends on the individual.

Jungle camping: soft or hard adventure?
I "googled" the term "soft adventure" and one website came up with this description: "Soft adventure. The sort of experience that goes beyond the typical tourist itinerary. There is no great physical challenge involved here."

On the Fodor's site it was described thus: "Soft adventure means different things to different people. We define it as any activity that balances mild physical activity with a lot of down time."

As for "hard adventure" ...

The Association of Travel Marketing Executives define it as "including such things as backpacking across rugged terrain, whitewater rafting or kayaking,  hot air ballooning, rock climbing or mountain climbing, off-road biking or mountain biking, hang-gliding, para sailing or windsurfing, parachuting or sky diving, skateboarding or snowboarding, roller hockey, bungee jumping, spelunking or cave exploring, snorkeling or scuba diving and survival games (e.g. paint ball)."

Wow. I didn't realize I was so adventurous. I've done seven of those activities, and never really thought about them as being "hard adventure." I mean, I'm not Indiana Jones; hell, I'm not even the dog.
("You're named after the dog???")

While canoeing per se, was not on the "hard adventure" list,
if you're this close to wild gators, it might not be "soft."

I personally didn't realize I had a different perception than most when it came to soft vs. hard adventure until a few years ago. I was interviewing a resort executive while working on a story about resorts for Western Hotelier magazine. We discussed soft adventure, and I used the example of a five-day kayak trip I'd taken in the Ecuadorian Amazon as "soft adventure."

"Whoa!" he practically shouted. "That's not soft adventure!"

But that depends on what your background is.

From my perspective, it's "soft" because while we were in a remote area, camping in tents along a jungle river each night, we had guides; we did no cooking or meal planning, all our meals were prepared; we did no navigating. We just paddled and hiked through the jungle.

Whitewater rafting: on the "hard" list. I guess it is -
I certainly had a scare falling into a Class V rapid on this trip.

Keep in mind, I've been planning my own overnight canoe trips since 1974; to me, if I have to plan my meals, plan my route, do my own cooking, chop my own firewood, use a map to figure out where I'm going - all without guides - that starts to resemble hard adventure.

If I'm doing a first descent of a river or hiking through previously unexplored jungle or climbing a mountain like Everest or K2 or Kilimanjaro, even - that's what I call real hardcore adventure.

I should point out, I've never done either. But from my perspective, that's what I would need to do in order to really feel I was participating in hard adventure.

But that's just me. We all have our own world view.

So I guess this is as much about perspective as it is adventure. One man's hardcore is another man's soft adventure.

Or as Friedrich Nietzsche put it, "You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way and the only way, it does not exist."

So don't think about it or try to categorize it: just go have an adventure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rainy days shouldn't stop you from having fun

Rainy days are a fact of life on the Wet Coast, so it surprised me one morning last week when I read how U.S. day visits to B.C. are down this year, and our rainy, cool summer is being fingered as one of the reasons, especially when we're talking about people who live in this same region, with essentially the same climate.

Personally, I prefer cooler weather for my outdoor activities; it's nicer to hike or paddle in 20 degrees C than say, 28 or 30 C. And there are lots of things for visitors to do in Vancouver and area even when it's raining.

I think the weaker U.S. dollar has more to do with it than anything; it takes more American greenbacks to buy the same products and services than it did a year ago.

That being said, I thought, "What kinds of activities and are available for day-trip visitors to the Lower Mainland who want to stay out of the rain? Or for those who don't mind a bit of a sprinkle?" Bear in mind, I'm an outdoor type who is usually unfazed by any kind of weather, so to me, unless it's a monsoon, I don't usually let it stop me. But I'll try to restrict this "top five" list to stuff you can do inside - or outside with very little exposure to the elements. At a later date, I'll probably write a list of cool "outdoor" stuff to do - and there's plenty of that in B.C.
So it's raining; life still goes on ...

I won't include details about obvious things like shopping, theatres or movies; this is a list of other activities, some fairly typical, others not so much.

And armed with this list - there should be no reason not to come visit here. No excuses - at least not the rain, please...
1. Visit Bloedel Conservatory. This is probably as close as you'll come to experiencing the outdoors - while staying dry and warm indoors. Set atop Queen Elizabeth Park in central Vancouver, this geodesic dome is home to hundreds of tropical and sub-tropical plants, as well as dozens of free-flying birds. One of the main draws is its small collection of parrots - macaws, a cockatoo, some Amazons and an African grey. They are not free flighted, but very easy to see and photograph. It's a great way to spend a few rainy hours. Just minutes away by foot from the conservatory is Seasons Restaurant, where you can eat lunch or supper, before or after, your excursion. And if it stops raining, check out the surrounding gardens in the park - and the view of the north shore mountains; you can see across to North and West Vancouver from just outside the dome, if it's not raining or cloudy.

A green-winged macaw,
one of the many colourful birds you'll see at Bloedel.
 2. Visit a day spa. There are numerous wonderful day spas in and around Vancouver. Raintree Spa is just 10 minutes south of the Vancouver International Airport, down Highway 99 and into the village of Steveston. There are several Eccotique Day Spas located around the city, including two in Metrotown Mall and one in the Richmond Centre, allowing you to do some shopping before relaxing at the spa.

If you don't mind going a bit further afield,
head north of the city toward Whistler, and you can enjoy another type of spa experience: the kind you'd find in Europe at Spa Scandinave. Alternate immersions in cold pools and hot pools/steam rooms/dry saunas, throw in a Swedish or Thai yoga massage, grab a bite to eat in their dining area and you're guaranteed a good night's sleep that night.

Of course, those above-mentioned spas all offer full spa services including different types of massage (many have RMT's on their staff), waxing, pedicures, manicures and other esthetic services. But if you want a really different, once-in-a-lifetime experience at a spa in Vancouver, the place to go is the Miraj Hamma Spa on Sixth Avenue and Granville Street. There you get a full Moroccan-style day of pampering that includes a steam bath, exfoliation massage, and full body deep tissue massage all topped off with Moroccan tea and cake in private salon afterward.
Spa Scandinave: winter or summer, a great experience

3. Do a Canada Line Rail Tour. This does involve getting off and stopping, and yes, you will be outdoors at some point, so bring an umbrella. This is not a packaged program; it's simply a way of getting to know different parts of the city. Start at the SW Marine Drive station at the foot of Cambie Street. Then head north. You can be right downtown at Waterfront Station in less than 20 minutes. But that's not the point; there are plenty of interesting places to get off along the way and explore the neighborhood. You can get off at Cambie and 41st to shop in the Oakridge Centre. Further along, there's a stop at King Edward Street. Granted, if you get off here, you will need an umbrella if it's raining. But there are some really cool stores, shops and restaurants between King Edward and the next stop, Broadway-City Hall. While the King Edward stop would involve a north-south exploration of Cambie Street, the City Hall stop gives you the opportunity to go north-south along Cambie, or east-west along Broadway. Vancouver City Centre is pretty self-explanatory as is the Waterfront Station (which gives you the option of taking a water ferry across to North Vancouver - there are plenty of cool places to explore within a 15-minute walk of the ferry terminal.)

4. Visit Granville Island Public Market. Located on Granville Island, this will allow you to stay dry if you decide walking in the rain with an umbrella is not your cup of tea. There are plenty of food vendors, food kiosks where you can buy lunch, coffee shops, vendors selling crafts and other non-food items. Of course, if you do venture outside, there are lots of other attractions, including Granville Island Brewery, which gives tours (and samples!) daily.

5. Visit a museum. Any museum. There are plenty to choose from in Vancouver. One of the more unique ones is the Vancouver Maritime Museum, which features an ongoing, ever-changing line-up of exhibits, permanent collections, a heritage harbour (featuring a Viking ship) and some interactive events and activities. Other interesting museums include the Vancouver Police Museum, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. These are just a few examples of some of the museums you can visit in Vancouver, I've barely scratched the surface. Tourism Vancouver can supply you with additional ideas.

So really, the rain is no excuse. You can do these things during a day trip to Vancouver and the surrounding area, rain or shine, but for the most part, you can do them on a rainy day, and stay reasonably dry.

Like Mark Twain said, "Everyone talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it."
 Well, this is one way of doing something about it: go out and have fun no matter what the weather.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Living like a Viking - or at least a Kirk Douglas Viking - in rural Wales

"Hail Einar!"

"Hail Ragnar!"

This is how Vikings greet each least, that's how they greet each other in the 1958 movie The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Ernest Borgnine. The movie revolves around the two male leads Einar Ragnarson (Douglas) and Erik the Slave (Curtis) vying for the hand of Morgana, a Welsh princess played by Leigh. Although they don't know it, it turns out Ragnar (Borgnine) is father to both of them, one by a Viking woman, the other by the Queen Enid of England. Through various twists of fate, they end up meeting as adults, and Erik actually turning out to be the successor to the throne of England.

These 1958 Vikings are a rowdy, raunchy lot and they often refer to women as "wenches."

But wait - it gets even more politically incorrect...

Odin's test for unfaithful wives (in the movie, anyway) consists of throwing axes at the accused wench's pinned pigtails; if they are cut off, she's innocent; if she's killed by an axe, she was guilty. One of the memorable scenes sees Douglas grab the axe from the hand of slighted husband, to save her from death by throwing it himself (he was the one who actually cheated with her!) while Borgnine yells, "You're too - drunk! You'll cleave the wench in half!"

The first of many pub stops in Wales.
As you can, women's rights did not get much consideration in this movie (keep in mind, it was made in the mid-50s).

So, you say, what does have to do with a blog about travelling and paddling (aside from the fact Einar's funeral consists of putting him in a boat and shooting flaming arrows at it as it floats across the lake)?

Funny you should ask...

Throughout the movie, both Einar and Ragnar keep referring to the kidnapped Princess Morgana as the "little wench from Wales."

Well, during time spent in Wales last year, you can bet I was on the lookout for .... (you guessed it!)... a "wench from Wales."

It didn't take long, actually.

Our first day in the country saw us wind up for lunch at a little country tavern called "The Pelican in Her Piety."

A pint of Brains served up
by a wench from Wales
Yeah, they do have some weird names for pubs, there. Even weirder: you can ask for a pint of Brains - and they'll give you one.

That's because Brains is one of the beers brewed locally in Wales.

Anyway, we're sitting down at this table and who should come over to take our order but .... (yep!) ... a wench from Wales.

Of course, I ordered a pint of Brains. Being someone who always likes to increase my intelligence level, I ordered more Brains. (I'll refrain, at this point, from making jokes about how beer made Bud wiser...)  

At the same time, I took the opportunity to chat up the wench from Wales, a little. I did, however, manage to refrain from asking if she'd ever had to undergo Odin's tale for unfaithful wives; I didn't even call her "wench." (She looked like she might have clonked me with an empty mug if I had.)

After lunch, we strolled through the ruins of an old castle, a fairly common site around the Welsh countryside. This one was Ogmore Castle, right by a small stream.

The next day, we got to do it all over again: lunch at a pub, Brains served up by a wench from Wales...and again the day after that.

Ogmore Castle, outside the Pelican Pub.
I was almost sad when we arrived at the St. Bride's Spa Hotel the fourth day of our journey along the southwest Wales coast. No wenches there - no Vikings, either; it was just too upscale. Although on our way there, we did pass through Swansea, the hometown of Catherine Zeta-Jones (Douglas), a modern-day wench from Wales (and a very comely one, at that!)

Hey, isn't it funny Kirk's kid Michael ended up marrying a wench from Wales...?

Wonder if watching Dad's old flicks had anything to do with it ... ?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

They came, they saw, they paddled

MEC Paddlefest 2011 has come and gone, and if I could do anything differently, I think I would have tried to get there earlier. 

Paddlefest 2011: a celebration of paddling.

That's because there was just so much to do, and not enough time to do it in. That's on me, of course; I didn't allow enough time.

Note to self: get there before noon next time...

 As soon as we arrived, it was off to yoga for paddlers, an hour of stretching and breathing exercises guaranteed to get you limbered up for stretching.

That was barely done, and then it was time to climb into a voyageur canoe, and paddle out into the waters of English Bay with David Wooldridge of Ridge Wilderness Adventures.

Dave Woolridge solos a voyageur canoe.

We paddled, we laughed, we got wet - in other words we had fun.

That mini-journey completed, we were off to see a demonstration of backwoods cooking, put on by Ryan Masson of Silva Bay Kayak Adventures. He showed us how to cook some very tasty coconut shrimp on a griddle on a Coleman stove. It came served up with some tomato-peach-cilantro salsa. Yummy! He also baked up some foccacia beer bread - also on an outdoor stove.

No time to spend too much of the day eating, though ...

Back to the water. Time for some stand-up paddling lessons with Coreena Fletcher of SUP Vancouver.

Coreena Fletcher makes it look easy on a stand-up paddleboard,
as she provides pointers to novice SUP participants.

It's harder than it looks, especially when it's a bit breezy, and a bit choppy. Lots of skill, good balance and core strength are required to participate in this type of paddling. I don't know if I'm ready to give up sitting in a kayak or kneeling in a canoe to take up this activity...but it's becoming hugely popular in the paddling world. There's even a magazine or two devoted strictly to the sport of standup paddling.

A 90-minute kayaking course for those new to the sport followed that, although with 20 years of experience sea kayaking in places like Belize, the Florida Everglades, Grand Cayman Island, the Bay of Fundy N.B. and Desolation Sound B.C., I opted to pass on that one. I watched a bit of it, as Georgia Campbell of Ecomarine put the newbie paddlers through their paces.

Georgia Campbell of Ecomarine Kayak Centre
teaches an intro kayaking course.

I did get a chance to check out some of the gear MEC had on display, including mini-dry bags for equipment like iPhones. Unfortunately, they're made for iPhones without the protective rubber casing, so I'm hoping next year, the company will come out with a product that will be a bit bigger.

I'm always fumbling for my iPhone to take pictures and videos while paddling, but it's awkward and time consuming. Having a quick-and-easy protector for it would certainly make things easier.

Other than taking time to chat with a few of the exhibitors like CPAWS and enter a few draws for some trips and a brand new kayak, that was the day. It was gone before I could blink, and I didn't quite find time to do everything I would have liked to.

Next year, I'm going to set my alarm for 7 a.m. instead of 8 ... 

(For additional images from Paddlefest 2011, check out my photo album on Facebook at )

Friday, July 8, 2011

Put a splash in your summer at Paddlefest

You knew once the warmer summer months arrived, there'd be more stuff about paddling going up on this blog, right? I mean, look at the title...

This Sunday, July 10, Mountain Equipment Co-op is hosting its annual Paddlefest Event in Vancouver. Yours Truly will be there at Jericho Beach, taking photos, maybe doing a bit of paddling, generally taking it all in...

The event is a celebration as well as a bit of trade show, all revolving around paddling and all of its associated activities. It began in Toronto in 2005, and quickly started popping up in other Canadian cities. The first Vancouver event took place in 2007. This year, Paddlefest events take place in 12 different Canadian cities, as far east as Halifax, and as far west as Victoria. Many of them have already taken place.

Paddlefest Toronto took place last month.

In Vancouver, the Jericho Beach event takes place this Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be water and dry land clinics, (including an opportunity for some to try stand-up paddling), demo boats for paddlers to try out and draws for prizes. New to the event this year is the Marketplace, which includes the MEC Paddle Swap where you can swap, buy or sell used boats, paddling equipment and necessities.

This year's exhibitors include the Canadian Canoe Museum, Stand-up Paddle Vancouver and Western Canoeing and Kayaking. And while it is a celebration of paddling, also participating are some non-profit organizations that while they are not exactly paddling associations, they do have a water connection, including the Vancouver Aquarium, CPAWS, Georgia Strait Alliance

Don't worry about spending all that time in the outdoors and getting the growlies - there will be food vendors there.

The on-water clinics cost $5, and you have to register; most of them are already filled. The rest of the day is free.

So if you're an experienced paddler, or just getting into kayaking or canoeing, or if you're somewhere in-between expert and beginner, you'll probably enjoy getting out and spending some time meeting new paddlers, re-acquainting yourself with old paddling buddies, trying out new products or just soaking it all in.

Hope to see you there, because like they say, a bad day paddling beats a good day doing almost anything else...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Getting out: rec sites offer a great alternative to B.C.'s provincial parks

So summer is here, and the first of three long weekends in Canada (not counting the Victoria Day weekend in May) has come and gone. That leaves two long weekends - the August long weekend and the Labor Day weekend - plus many other two-day weekends for those of us who love the outdoors and like to use the weekends to get and enjoy some time "roughing it." 

That term has many different meanings, depending on who you talk with. For some folks, even glamping is considered "roughing it," while for others, kayaking down a river in the Amazon can be considered "soft adventure" as long as you have a guide, and you don't have to cook or set up your own tent.

Then of course, there is car camping.

Again, that ranges the gamut from big honking RV's that are larger than some people's houses to drive-in tent sites where you pitch a pup tent to sleep in.

While I prefer to be some place really wild, a place where you can only get there by paddling, I do enjoy car camping on those weekends when I don't have the time (or inclination) to plan and carry out an overnight canoe or kayak trip. I don't like RV's, but I prefer something bigger than a pup tent, something like the SE Woods dome tent that you put up just by pulling on a knob. Now that's convenience!

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like "dome" ...
 Of course on long weekends - or even some two-day weekends - finding an empty campsites in B.C.'s provincial parks can be problematic, especially if they're close to Vancouver.

I found that out the hard way, last year. Planned a camping trip to Golden Ears Provincial Park. About an hour from Vancouver, you cannot make reservations there on Friday or Saturday nights. We got there about 5 p.m., but there were no sites left. We ended up staying in Harrison for a few nights, but our last night, we spent camping.

But not at Golden Ears. Or any provincial park for that matter.

The Chehalis River - 20 yards from our tent.

We stayed at a B.C. Recreation Site.

What's the difference, you ask?

Mainly price. And a few amenities. Oh, there were fire rings, firewood provided, picnic tables ... everything you need for a fun and successful camping trip at the Chehalis River Recreation Site.
 No flush toilets, though. No on-site stores, boat launch ramps or lodges, as there are in many provincial parks. They don't have canoe or kayak rental facilities, either; we had planned on taking advantage of that in Golden Ears. However, during our stay in Harrison, we did rent kayaks and spent an afternoon paddling a short distance up the Harrison River and back again.

As for all the other facilities...

Did we miss them?


Would we go back there again?

Where are the smores?


So the next time you're planning a camping trip in B.C., don't limit yourself to provincial parks. There are plenty of recreation sites where you can camp that are just as nice as their larger and more developed cousins.

If you are planning a trip, the recreation site link above will help. Still set on going to a provincial park? Check out the B.C. Parks website. Another good resource is Camping British Columbia by Jane Seagrave. The book features all the provincial and national parks found in B.C. (but not the recreation sites.) Another helpful website is HelloBC.

But whatever choice you make remember one thing:

A poor day camping beats a good day doing almost anything else.