Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas often involves travel - and that's true of many seasonal movies, too

If you have to fly in December, you might as well fly a biplane.
Christmas travel and I are old friends.

From the time I went to university, until the time I graduated, every Christmas would involve travelling from UNB in Fredericton, New Brunswick, home to Toronto, then back again two weeks later.

That didn't change a whole lot when I graduated and moved out west to Alberta. Every other year, I'd fly home to Toronto to spend time with family. When I moved to Fort St. John, B.C. that continued, in fact, it increased. It seemed every third year I'd go to Fort Nelson to visit Ann's family, followed the next year by a Toronto trip, then one year at home.

I'm really glad I don't travel too much at Christmas, any more. The last time I went anywhere in December was 2004, when I spent a wonderful week in the Titusville area, paddling among alligators, riding in bi-planes, visiting the Kennedy Space Centre and birding.

I love spending Christmas at home with my human-parrot flock (Ann, Coco, Einstein, until this year, Nikki, and now newcomer Congo).

I really enjoy watching many of the Christmas movies that come out every year. It dawned on me just recently that many of them involve travel - including five of my favourites.

Here they are in a countdown...

5.  It's a Wonderful Life. At first glance you might say, "Where's the travel?" It's hinted at, more than actually done. Jimmy Stewart's "George Bailey" wants to travel, buys a big suitcase to go - but can never leave, because of family commitments coming up every time he's about to catch a train. His honeymoon  is spent in a rundown house festooned with travel posters. And then there's those classic quotes: "Do you know the three most exciting sounds in the world? ... Anchor chains, plane motors, and train whistles," and, "I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum." So yeah, there is a strong element of travel in the story.

George Bailey would've used a suitcase like this. (

4. Christmas in Connecticut. A romantic comedy featuring Barbara Stanwyck as a magazine food columnist who is not what she appears to be. It revolves around a trip from New York to Connecticut to convince the publisher she is a married woman on a farm - not a writer in Manhattan. Lots of gags and funny lines, great watch for couples and families.

3. Christmas with the Kranks. A daughter travelling to South America (then back), a Christmas cruise - it has travel written all over it. Hilarious physical comedy scenes with Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis (especially the restaurant scene!), and Dan Akroyd as well as some very heart-warming moments make it a funny flick as well as good holiday fare. Good fun for all.

2. Home Alone/Home Alone 2. A trip to Paris. A trip to Florida. A trip to New York. Yeah, it's all based around holiday travel. But that's not why I watch them yearly. It's the incredible physical comedy by Macaulay Culkin, Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci, reminiscent of the Three Stooges shorts. Some great supporting actors pitch in, as well, like John Candy and Tim Curry. And when you watch it, don't forget to order the cheese pizza...

And the Number 1 Christmas movie that involves travel is...

1. A Christmas Carol (1951). There are at least 15 different movie versions of this Dickens story, and that's not counting cartoons or those flicks based loosely on this story. The Alister Sims version is the best in my opinion.
While the travel consists mainly of visiting locations in England, it ALSO involves time travel, back into the past as well as into the future.
And that would make it "king" in terms of travel in any Christmas movie.

Merry Christmas!

Who can forget some of the classic airport scenes in Home Alone and Home Alone 2?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Don't stop travelling - Paris, the rest of the world, needs travellers more than ever

Travel writers often desire to write about our own special memories of a place when that place is in the news like Paris has been the past week, particularly if it involves tragedy.

Unfortunately, the only memory I have of Paris involves running through Orly International Airport, trying to make a connecting flight to Madrid, Spain.

I was en route to Tenerife in the Canary Islands to attend an international parrot symposium at Loro Parque; I'd flown into Heathrow early that morning and my flight through the Netherlands had been cancelled, and re-routed through France.

Someone from Air France had me de-plane ahead of everyone else and led me on a run through a series of back doors and empty hallways to get me to the plane on time. I distinctly felt like I was stuck in a Home Alone movie, and I kept waiting for the theme music or  "Run, Rudolph, Run" to begin playing.
Nothing to do with Paris - plenty to do with
parrots in the Canary Islands.

I did make it. But I had no chance to even think about soaking up anything vaguely French in the airport. I haven't been back, since.

Now, some of my favourite movies of all time revolve around, or are set in, Paris. Movies like...
  • Casablanca ("We'll always have Paris!")
  • The Three Musketeers ("One for all, and all for one!")
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame ("Sanctuary! Sanctuary!")
  • Irma La Douce ("But that's another story...")
But, those films and a few others, along with my quick run through Orly are all I have to draw on in terms of memories of Paris.

Sadly, with the kind of event that took place on Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, there is a great deal of backlash that is unfortunate and undeserved.

I'm talking about reactions like burning mosques in Peterborough, Ontario...attacking a Muslim mother in Toronto as she went to pick up her children at school...those are just a few examples of the wrong types of knee-jerk reactions - the key word there being "jerk." As in the people doing that.

I won't spend much more time on that, as this is largely a travel blog, and others have written ad infinitum about that in political columns, on op-ed pages of newspapers, and so on.

With the anger, there is also an aura of fear.

No one wants to travel to Paris - or many other places right now.

What I will suggest is the one thing we CANNOT do is to stop travelling. To Paris - or anywhere. That way the terrorists win. It shrinks the world, it puts up more walls, burns more bridges, when we should be tearing down walls and building bridges.
Travel can help do that. 

Travel helps us connect to others, to people around the world, it helps us to understand we are just like them, and they like us.

For as Mark Twain said...

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

People need to let go of the fear and let go of the perception that Muslims are different and that all Muslims are terrorists. And we need to travel. Hell, travel to a Muslim country (make sure it's a moderate one, mind you.)

Azlina, our Muslim guide in Malaysia:
a very warm and knowledgeable hostess.
I've travelled in a Muslim country - Malaysia - and I did not really feel any different than I did travelling anywhere else in the world.

There may be a few dress codes that seem a bit more conservative than in our own North American or European cities - but that's also true in the very Christian African country of Malawi (more so, in fact, as I can attest to, having been there myself).

I found Malaysia actually had a very tolerant attitude toward all religious faiths.

In one city street, in the course of a few blocks, there were Mosques, Christian churches, Hindu and Buddhist temples. I wonder if the same can be said of other places in the world?

We need to keep travelling, to meet others, to build bridges, not burn them...tear down walls, not build them up - and the process, build friendships the world over.

For as another great writer, Robert Louis Stevenson (who visited Paris while paddling around France) said...

"We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend."

So go, travel, find an honest friend.

Now to leave you with a song about Paris, from another writer, balladeer Jimmy Buffet...

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Vancouver is haunted - and not just by Canucks' playoff failures

Terrifying trolley! (Photo by Vancouver Trolley Co.)
Was she a ghost? She looked like one, but I couldn't be sure...

That's a question you'll have to ask for yourself, if you go on the Vancouver Trolley Company's Haunted Trolley Ride.

In keeping with the spirit of the Halloween season, the company offers an annual "haunted ride" around Vancouver.

It's quite a trip.

When you first embark, you enter a bus full of skulls, spider webs, bats and other Halloween paraphernalia. Scary sounds echo over the sound system. And, of course, your guides look like they've stepped right off the screen from old reruns of the Addams Family or the Munsters.

Looking around, even some of your fellow passengers may look a bit scary...

Isn't that Ichabod Crane over there with the pumpkin head? And that looks like Dracula...albeit, a bit on the young side for a 300-year-old count. And is that really the Wolfman - or did that guy just run out of razor blades (about 2 months ago)?

It's all in good fun, of course.
Is that a faceless pumpkin? A bat-head? Or Ichabod Crane?
After everyone boards, the bus proceeds to make several stops around the city of Vancouver, places where there have been unsolved murders, inexplicable occurrences, and reported hauntings throughout the years.

Some of them look like they would make a good setting for movies like The Amityville Horror or Black Christmas. But other places, you'd never suspect...

For example, did you know there is (supposedly) a body buried under the intersection of 33rd Avenue and Fraser Street in Vancouver? That's what a local legend tells...

You'll learn more about that and other ghostly Vancouver sites during the tours.

Eventually, you do end up walking through a the dark...late at night...maybe under a full moon...

Be on the lookout for wandering wraiths. The one I think I saw, I caught out of the corner of my eye.

After traipsing through the graveyard, you'll have another Halloween treat: a stop at the Vancouver Police Museum. There you'll meet a rather unconventional M-E (certainly nothing like the ones on Castle or Hawaii Five-O) who will take you on a tour of the old city morgue.

After that, you might want to pop out for a cold one - or perhaps not.

The tours only run until Oct. 31 though, so you better hurry if you want to participate. That gives you two more days to get your ghost on, in Vancouver.

If you can't make it to a trolley tour, there are other spooky events you could could ride the Stanley Park Halloween Ghost Train, an eerily good time; or, stroll through the haunted halls of the Burnaby Haunted Village.

There are other "haunted houses" in the Greater Vancouver area, there's a list here.

Just be sure to keep the number for Ghost-Busters handy. Because if you get spooked, who else are you gonna call?

Ray Parker Jr. Ghostbusters by Celtiemama

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where does your spirit wander on a journey?

Machu Picchu and the rising sun. (Photo © John Geary)
Swedish author and diplomat Dag Hammarskjold wrote,
"The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny."

The line is a comment about a spiritual journey.

All journeys are journeys of spirit, although how spiritual each one may be depends on where you're travelling, what you're doing, and what you frame of mind is at the time.

If you're visiting a spiritual site, it certainly helps. However, you don't have to be at a "spiritual site" to have an incredibly spiritual experience. I've had plenty of those just walking through a local park, or even sitting watching nature at play.

But I've also had some incredible spiritual experiences while travelling to other countries. And while visiting a spiritual site does not guarantee you'll be "spiritually enlightened," I challenge anyone to not feel some kind of awe or maybe feel just a little bit of "perhaps there's something bigger than me operating in the universe" when you stand at dawn, overlooking the temples and structures of Machu Picchu.

Aside from literally taking your breath away (it's a big of climb up from the parking lot to the site, in very thin air), watching the sun come over the mountains in the east and shining down upon the site will take away the breath of all but the most jaded viewers (who probably wouldn't be there in the first place.)

I was fortunate enough to experience this during a trip with Mountain Lodges of Peru several years ago. No matter what else I get to see in my lifetime, I have a hard time imagining it could be much greater than that (not to say I won't try, mind you!)

Exploring the site, looking far down into the valley below its precipitous sides, dodging one of the wild lamas that call it "home" really does force one to think about, well, everything.

That's a spiritual experience I've enjoyed high up among the clouds.

I've also enjoyed them below sea level.

During a visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, I swam with dolphins.
Spinner dolphin off the Kona Coast, Hawaii.
(Photo © John Geary)

This was not one of those aquarium experiences where tourists get in a pool with tame dolphins not even native to the area; this involved going out into the ocean on a small craft early in the morning, tracking a wild pod of spinner dolphins much like one would when going to see wild gorillas in the African rain forest.

There was a good chance we'd see them, but no guarantee. Our leader led the six of us in a group prayer as we cruised out into the bay.

And we did see them. Then we got into the water with snorkel gear and swam around, never approaching, never touching them, just letting them come to us, if they chose. One swam right up to me underwater, looked at me a bit, then swam away. We even got to see a mother with a newly born baby swimming along beside her. We could hear them communicating with their clicks, whistles, and chirps.

If that's not a spiritual experience, I don't know what is.

Many of my spiritual experiences have involved birds. Every time I see parrots in the wild, as I have in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the Caribbean, it's a spiritual journey. Even seeing wild birds in a local park in B.C. is a spiritual experience for me.

Sandhill crane grooms near Delta, B.C. 

Ditto when I'm paddling. When I dip my paddle repetitively in calm waters while canoeing or kayaking, it becomes zen-like. Padding through the early morning fog of Alberta's Maligne Lake, canoeing in a misty rain and following an eagle in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan, seeing the biggest beaver ever during a desert paddling trip, kayaking down a river while hearing jungle sounds all around in Ecuador - they're all spiritual experiences.

And I cannot even begin to describe the feeling of seeing waterfalls like Mosi oa Tunya ("The Smoke that Thunders") or countless other small wilderness cascades.

Then there was the time I had a "weasel encounter" in Calgary's Fish Creek Provincial Park. Sitting there watching minnows swim around in a feeder stream, I got the distinct feeling something was there, looked over and five feet away sat a weasel, also mesmerized. I jumped a bit, it then jumped, and the spell was broken, but that encounter - and many more in the park I lived five minutes away from - was a great example of spiritual journeys taken close to home.
Ste Anne de Beaupre (Photo © John Geary)

While natural surroundings seem to help me connect spiritually, I've also experienced some moving moments in more urban areas. At the top of that list: the Basilica Ste Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. When I visited there, I could not help but look up in awe at this structure that was too large to capture in a photo, even with a wide angle lens unless I stood back so far as to make the photo unappealing.

Inside, it's not much different. I'm not a huge fan of architecture, but this place is really special. Allow yourself plenty of time to be awed if you visit there.

These are just a sampling of my own spiritual wanderings. There are so many places to visit, so many ways to take spiritual journeys, doing so really is a life-long adventure, an exploration of self and our relation to the Universe.

Let the journeys continue.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Like walking in the rain, writing can require overcoming intertia

Thoreau by the fire: why would I want to leave?
I stare out the window as the autumn rain pours down, washing yesterday's slate clean.

I am thankful for the needed rain.

However, the deluge is enough to discourage all but the most dedicated walker.

I love the rain; its sound always seems to comfort me. 

Further comfort arises from the crackling fireplace. I am in a cozy cocoon, from which I do not want to stir. 

Nevertheless, as I sit reading, like a larva whose time has come to metamorphose into a butterfly, I struggle against the boundaries of my unseen prison, unconsciously at first, then more attentively

I am reading Thoreau's "The Maine Woods," and more than once he tells of trekking in the rain. Finally I put the book down, my mind made up.

Why leave this...

...for this?

Rain or no rain, I will walk.

Motivating myself to walk in the rain is much like motivating myself to write. There is an inertia that chains me to my comfortable chair, preventing me from acting on my conscious thoughts. Yet, in either case, once I shed those chains, there is little that brings me greater pleasure.

As I pull out my rain pancho, I think this trek through the torrents will transcend a stroll in the sunshine. There will be fewer people in the park where I walk, so I may see more wildlife.

I am not disappointed. As the rain slackens, the wildlife stirs from its mid-day meditations. It seems I have the entire park to myself. I am Adam, alone in the world with no one but the animals for company. I spy a pair of deer, then a pair of ducks. Two geese wing their way overhead. I hear, then see, a downy woodpecker going about his business on a tree trunk.

Nature's magic is not limited to chance wildlife encounters. Each time I inhale, my senses revel in the fresh, clean scent of rain-covered forest.

Pecking away, despite the rain.
Half an hour into my jaunt, the rain ceases and I find myself missing the very element that kept me chair-bound earlier. The sun wakens from his mid-day slumber. 

As he wipes the vanishing clouds of sleep from his face, I awake also, to the fact others are walking the park's pathways. 

With that realization, twinges of regret begin to coalesce inside my rain-hungry soul. After hiding inside from it for much of the day, I now want the rain to return, and with it the solitude and serenity of a wet, wild world.
But I realize that for today, the winds of Aeolus have banished the rainclouds of Zeus from the skies.

I do not dwell on this realization for too long, for I know the rains will return. And that happy knowledge stays with me, adding a spring to my step as I wend my way home, ready to shatter those other chains, ready to sit down and write.

As I conquered the rain that kept me inside, so have I conquered the inertia that kept me from writing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The magic of rivers transports us across space and time - but can we keep the magic alive?

Ecuador's Rio Shiripuno: one of many magical
rivers I've journeyed upon.
In the book Wind in the Willows, author Kenneth Grahame wrote, "There’s nothing… absolutely nothing… half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats."

As someone who has been paddling for more than 50 years now, I can't disagree with that.

People often ask me if I prefer river trips to canoe circuits involving a chain of lakes and ponds. They are quite different types of trips, although they both involve water. The former involves starting at one point and finishing at another; the latter, travelling in a circle and returning to your original starting point.

They both have their good points, but the one thing that differentiates a river trip is the fact that it's an exciting journey that potentially sees you never return to where you begin from. That's not always the case, because you may end up shuttling back to your original starting point - but then again, you may not. On circuit trips you can often go either direction, clockwise or counterclockwise. Paddling in either direction can be l-i-t-t-l-e bit harder on a river unless you're on a really slow moving river. Paddling upstream - unless you're a salmon looking to spawn - is a lot of work and not the most pleasant kind of activity to engage in. 
Time to get wet again, on the Zambezi River!
(Photo by Zambezi Video Productions.)

Because of that, there is a magic to rivers, something you feel even if you don't paddle on one. When I was in high school, I used to walk past a river - the Holland River coming out of Fairy Lake in Newmarket - and there was always something about walking past that spot, especially during the spring runoff, that set my imagination to working. There is a timelessness to rivers, which is why they have the power to transport us across space and time. 

Often when you're paddling down a river in a canoe or kayak, you're paddling through history, because thousands of others have probably paddled there, most likely for several centuries. Many times when I canoe - and this is one of the aspects of all canoeing that really appeals to me - I like to imagine I'm a voyageur of old, heading into the wilderness for the Northwest Company, engaged in the fur trade of the late 18th and early 19th centuries across the wilds of Canada. 

My first canoe trips as a youth took me through areas in Ontario that were probably used by the voyageurs, although most of the paddling I did then was on lakes, ponds and very slow rivers.

Rollin' down the river - the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, that is

Since then I've gone on to paddle or travel on many rivers:

Because I have always loved being out in nature, on rivers and streams - and for that matter ponds and lakes - I developed an interest in conservation at a very early age. When I was 12, I decided to study forestry in university, to help conserve our natural resources. I started down that path but got sidetracked by a strong interest in journalism and broadcasting. 
One of the locals paddles a dugout canoe
on Borneo's Kinabatangan River.

However, my concern about the importance of conservation of our rivers is just as strong - if not stronger - than it was all those years ago. We ALL should be concerned. Water from rivers gives us life. Without it, life can be extremely difficult. It not only supplies water to drink but habitat for the fish we eat, as well as other animals that depend on the water and fish that live there to survive. 

That's why it's important to recognize and perhaps even attend a local event or two during World Rivers Day, which this year falls on Sunday, Sept. 27. 

There are several events going on at different venues in British Columbia to celebrate B.C. Rivers Day. For example, the city of Burnaby will host an event at the Burnaby Village Museum; the Fraser River Discovery Centre will host its annual Riverfest event, starting Thursday, Sept. 24 and running through until Saturday the 26th.

There are many other events all over the province, the country and the world, too numerous to list all of them here. But a quick search online should provide you with details about local events. Many involve music, conservation and nature displays, some paddle-oriented activities, and plenty of other stuff for families to enjoy - and learn about how we call can help keep our rivers healthy.

I started off with a quote, and I'll finish with one, by environmentalist and author David Brower.

"We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Time to pack it up and move on

G.I. Joe, G.I. Joe, hiking fool from head to toe...
Never actually got this pack.
If you spend anytime travelling - even if your biggest adventure involves a trip to a museum -
chances are, you've probably used a backpack of some kind.

Many of us have owned and used many different sizes and styles of backpacks over the years.

If you spend much time in the out of doors, you might be what consider to be a back pack expert.

I wouldn't call myself an expert, I feel a bit uncomfortable accepting that kind of term. I do know what works for me, and I can say what good and bad experiences I've had throughout the decades.

But thinking back to all the backpacks I've used over the years also brings back memories of the trips I've taken with them. And those memories are all pretty fond ones.

I first desired a backpack - or knapsack as we called it then - when I first went to Camp Richildaca near Kettleby, Ontario. We were going on a nature hike, and I wanted a pack to carry my lunch in, along with any other supplies I might need (which really weren't much, since it was only a two or three hour hiking adventure.)

I didn't get one that first summer. But the following summer I did, although not without some grief from my dad.

We'd visited relatives in Detroit for a week before I went to camp that year and spent one day getting a toy for me. My dad knew I wanted a knapsack for camp, and in the toy store, you could get an official "G.I. Joe knapsack and (plastic) entrenching shovel," it was part of the line of life-sized toys that complemented the popular boys' soldier-doll. (PC people like to call it "action figure," but hey, we knew it was a doll. Our answer to girls' Barbie. And he could kick Ken's ass. But I digress).

Anyway, he urged me to get that, but I chose the toy M-1 carbine instead (Hey, why get a knapsack when I can get another gun for my growing arsenal, eh?).

So, when I went to camp, at the end of the first week, I was bugging my dad for a knapsack. Even had one picked out that I liked. It was green, had "Trailblazer" written on the back. But my dad said, "You should have gotten the GI Joe pack!"
My official Boy Scout backpack.

It took a bit of cajoling, but eventually I got my pack. Looking back, it wasn't much, didn't even fasten with buckles, just a tie like a shoelace. But I loved it.

It did me up until the time I was ready to go to scout camp.

Then it was time to move up to a better model. And again I had a bit of a tussle with my dad over this issue. He thought to go to camp it would be much better if I just had some kind of big duffel bag, kind of like a hockey bag for all my clothing and gear.

But my dad was not that much of an outdoorsman; I knew there were going to be overnight canoe trips and overnight backpacking trips at this camp, and a duffel bag was not going to be very good for hauling gear through  the woods on my back, so again I cajoled him and eventually got the pack I wanted.

It was a gray knapsack, an "official" Scouts Canada pack purchased at the local Jack Fraser store (the official supplier of Scouts Canada back then) It did not have any kind of frame with it, it was really more of a larger day pack rather than a multi-day pack, but it had one mean compartment, two side pockets, and a smaller outside pocket on the back ... it was just exactly what I wanted and it worked great on the canoe trip - my very first overnight canoe trip, to Drag Lake in the Haliburton Highlands! - and then on my very first overnight backpacking camping trip as well.

That particular backpack did me for several more years until I hit 18 and was planning my very first "no-adults" overnight canoe trip in Algonquin Park.

Now this was a big thing for me, because every other canoe trip I never been on was supervised by someone older - a scoutmaster, a junior forest ranger foreman - so this was a special rite of passage trip.

Time for a Taymor!
Mine was blue not red, but same style.
I had my eye on a backpacking frame in Canadian Tire where I worked that summer. It was really cool, because it was essentially red with a white flap to cover everything - and it had a red maple leaf in the middle ... essentially it was a giant Canadian flag.

I bought it, and I loved that pack, using that for the next several years. For a few years, I stopped taking overnight camping trips just because I was in university and was often working and didn't have time to plan or carry out such trips.

Eventually I graduated moved out west and when it was time for me to go on a new outdoor adventure, it was time for a new backpack because the "flag-pack" had seen better days, it was 16 years old and hadn't been in any shape to take out west.

So off I went to my neighborhood sporting goods store and got a Taymor pack. My first trip with that was a three-day solo backpacking trip in Jasper National Park, to Jacques Lake.  It did me for several more trips after that, canoeing the Bowron Lake circuit twice, and on some other camping trips. But as with all backpacks, when your travel style changes, often your pack has to change as well.

For my first international trip to Belize - a two-week trip that involved sea-kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, caving, and all kinds of great outdoor stuff - I needed a suitcase. But I also needed some kind of small day pack.

A friend of mine lent me a catalog from Mountain Equipment Co-op, which I'd never heard of at that point in time. But they had something which was perfect: a very rugged cross between a suitcase and a duffel bag but which also had a smaller day pack that fastened to the main bag with straps and became part of the whole unit.

The suitcase itself could be turned into a backpack for longer trips as it had an internal pack frame. The detachable day pack was great, because it could carry food, a change of clothes, a camera, water bottle, and any number of things you might need to access when you're kayaking in the Caribbean or hiking through the Central American jungle.

Still use my MEC pack today, 25 years later.
This one is lasted a long time - in fact, I still use it today for some travel, which means it's pretty darn durable.  Since I bought it 1991,that means I've had it for almost 25 years in it still works. Yeah, here it comes... "They don't make much stuff like that any more."

Once I started doing freelance photography, which involved a lot of hiking in the mountains and other outdoor areas in and around Calgary and southern Alberta, I needed something sturdy and functional in which to carry my camera gear, since I wasn't using just a point-and-shoot any more.

So I bought a LowePro in 2000.

It's still my favourite backpack for carrying camera gear. It's been vary durable, although I have had replaced the zippers on the one I currently use on a couple of occasion . But it's 15 years old, so it doesn't owe me anything.

It's helped me photograph parrots in the Caribbean, orangutans in Malaysia, temples in Thailand and the vista of Machu Picchu in Peru.
Let's see, did I bring my cards?

Everybody who knows me knows I love to paddle and when you're canoeing or kayaking it's always nice to have something to keep you clothing and gear dry.

I used to just pack the frames and backpacks into the canoe, but there was no guarantee, they would stay dry unless we put a tarp over them. And once we started kayaking, well, you can't fit a pack frame into a kayak storage compartment.

So we evolved to dry bags. They're very handy for paddling, even canoeing, if you don't have any long portages, but they are meant more for kayaking than canoeing. Some come with straps and some bags even have an apparatus that turns them into backpacks.

However they do not become the kind of backpacks you would take with you on a camping trip into the mountains.

Guaranteed to keep stuff dry.
I think back fondly to all the backpacks I've used...As we go forward in life, we of course have to make room in our lives by letting go of certain things, we can't keep every single thing (although sometimes I wish we could.)

But I get wistful every now and then when I think back to all those first trips I took - my first nature hike, first overnight canoe trip, first overnight camping trip, first overnight canoe trip planned on my own, and my first international trip. Most of the backpacks I took on most of those trips are long gone.

Some wore out, some were donated ... but they're all so old, they've probably all bitten the dust, I doubt if any of them are even around, never mind in use any more.

Although today's modern day, super light, multi-purpose materials may make lighter and more waterproof and more functional backpacks, there's no taking the place of the memories associated with those old packs.

R.I.P., old backpack friends.

Some tips on choosing a backpack.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Here are my quintessential seasonal trips - what are yours?

Winter, spring, summer, or fall -
when's your favourite season to travel?
A few weeks ago on my regular Wednesday photo survey on my Bear Lair Communications Facebook page, I asked readers what was their favourite season of the year to travel in.

That got me to thinking … Perhaps I should share the quintessential experiences I've enjoyed while traveling in each of the seasons.

Now I should say there are a couple qualifiers in this. First of all, if you forget about traveling, autumn is my favourite season of the year, period. I love the fall colours and everything else about the autumn - but that doesn't mean that I would travel to a destination just have a "seasonal" fall experience - although there are some really nice places to go in North America for that.

And if I had my choice, I would pretty much always spend any cold months travelling to warm, tropical or semi-tropical destinations so I could paddle and watch birds and other wildlife in comfort. But because some of the places I've loved to travel to don't really experience four seasons like we do in North America, I'm going to restrict this particular article to places where you can experience a real distinct season. No trips to Thailand in winter, no sojourns to Antarctica or Australia during our summer.

In other words, it's places I've travelled to in North America. Here we go.

SPRING: Ah, spring...when a young man's heart turns to ... baseball. Well, some young men's hearts. The rest turn to ... birding.
The snow geese have returned!

Spring is the time when hundreds of flocks of migratory birds make their way north from their wintering grounds, to build nests, mate, and raise new birds. There are many places to see the flocks migrating, but one of my favourite places is the Cape Tourmente National Wildlife Area in Quebec, just east of Quebec City.

I had a chance a few years ago to experience the annual snow geese migration, and loved it. It's a great place to spot other birds and wildlife, as well. While you're there, be sure to visit the Ste Anne de Beaupre Basilica, Montmorency Falls, and Canyon Ste Anne.

SUMMER: This is a tough one. There are so many amazing places to go, experiences to enjoy in the summer, all over North America. I guess if pushed to pick one destination above all the others, I'd go with Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. I've visited there many times since the late 1960s, it's still one of my favourite places to go in the entire world.

The park offers something for everyone, from hardcore wilderness lovers to fishing fanatics, from campers to those who prefer to enjoy the outdoors from a cozy lodge. You can canoe, hike, fish, camp, go for scenic flights in a bush plane, tour the park logging museum and visitor centre, go bird- or wildlife-watching, participate in a wolf howl, enjoy some excellent art displays (or even learn to paint like Tom Thomson!). If camping isn't your thing, three excellent lodges service the park: Killarney Lodge, Bartlett Lodge, and Arowhon Pines Lodge.

It's tough to beat a misty morning on Algonquin's Lake of Two Rivers.

FALL: It seems like I'm falling back on Ontario again, but there's a reason for that: If you want to see autumn in all its splendour, Ontario - along with Quebec and the Maritimes - is the place to be.

This is just a very small hint of Ontario's autumn colours.
While autumns on the prairies have their moments, and B.C. falls are often like extended summers, the rich palette of colours created by the oaks, maples, birches, and other deciduous trees of Eastern Canada, the mix of reds and browns and yellows, cannot be rivalled.

I discovered this years ago, when I went on a family Thanksgiving weekend getaway to Deer Lodge in the Haliburton Highlands. At 14, I was really too young to appreciate for very long - I was a teen-ager stuck with adults, and upset I couldn't watch a CFL football game between Ottawa and Montreal - but looking back at some of the slides my dad took reminds me of how gorgeous early October is in the east. Ditto, when you drive through New Brunswick or Nova Scotia in mid-autumn.

Again, Algonquin is a great place to be in autumn; so is Gatineau Park in Canada's national capital region, just over the border into Quebec, outside of Ottawa. I've only been there in winter, but if photos are any indication, it is probably THE place to be, come October. (Just be ready for lots of traffic...)

WINTER: As previously mentioned, given my druthers, I'd ruther go someplace warm in the winter where I can paddle or watch birds and not have to put on five layers of clothing.  However that's not really winter is it?

The trouble is, I'm not a skier, not a snowmobiler, I don't really snowshoe very much (although I've done all three) and it's really hard to paddle a canoe or kayak in the winter. But if you want to have an iconic winter travel experience, you have to try dog sledding.

Mushing through the mountains!
(Photo courtesy of Snowy Owl Sled Dogs)
I've had the opportunity to enjoy it in northern B.C. as well as in K-Country - specifically, the Spray Lakes, in Alberta.  Snowy Owl Sled Dog Tours run some wonderful programs in the provincial park that incorporate different elements of winter experiences into their packages.

You can do half day trips, day trips, overnight trips and experience some Aboriginal culture as part of those trips.

There really is nothing quite like the silence of the Rocky Mountains, as as you mush along the trail at high speed, being pulled by a trained dog team... all you hear is the sound of the dogs' feet crisply pattering over the snow and the rush of the wind in your own ears as you glide over the frozen white carpet.

Well, there you have my personal favourites for travel in the various seasons. What are yours?