Category: Activities

The Climes They are a changin’

The Climes They are a changin’

Hello Readers (both of you :-),

As usual, an apology for not keeping you abreast of what we’ve been up to. I (Scott) tend to think that it’s because we’re not up to anything interesting, but Kathy (in particular) has a new passion which is keeping her busy and mentally engaged, and I thought I’d write a bit about it. She’s been working pro bono on climate change projects in conjunction with Anthros Consulting, which has brought her variously to the Adirondack region of New York, the British Virgin Islands, Palm Springs California, and the recent culmination of one project has had her spending a bunch of time in downtown Tucson – a half hour or so from our Oro Valley, Arizona home. She’s been hobnobbing with many of the country’s premier Climate Scientists. It’s been an awesome experience for her and I am enjoying it vicariously.

I don’t entirely understand the breadth of what she’s up to, but I know this: it is captivating for her. We’re apart at the moment (I’m in British Columbia, she’s in Arizona) but to hear her talk about the work and how gratifying it is for her warms my heart, and brings us closer despite the geographical distance between us. Maybe this short post will give her the incentive to write more.

US Road Trip 2014 – Arizona to Florida… and Caribbean

US Road Trip 2014 – Arizona to Florida… and Caribbean

Free, for the moment, from the need to reside in Canada full time, after returning to our house in Tucson, Arizona, I’ve started on a road trip of about 4800 miles / 7700km.

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There’s something “zen” about long distance, solo driving for me (Scott) and this trip is no exception. The route is Tucson, Arizona to Lubbock, TX, on to friends in East Texas, a couple of days to party in New Orleans, a visit with a colleague from long ago in St. Petersburg, FL, rendezvous with Kathy in Orlando and a couple of days at Disney, then on to the Florida Keys where Kathy’s dad has a house. And that’s just half way – we still have to drive back to Tucson.

The trip has been long but cathartic. I had initial trepidation: had been “torn” from the comfort of my urban lifestyle in British Columbia to our lovely if relatively (compared to Vancouver) “rural” Arizona home, then after just a few days, starting a road trip, mostly solo eastbound, with no pre-identified time or route back.

Our trusty-steed, a 2007 bright red Toyota RAV4 is much easier to spot in a big, unfamiliar parking lot, and eminently more practical for long distance touring than a dark blue BMW. Much as I miss the bimmer, our little SUV is the right vehicle for us now (much as I remain nostalgic over the Teutonic precision). Anyway… as I write I’m in New Orleans Louisiana at a bed & breakfast outside the din of the French Quarter in the adjacent Faubourg-Maringy neighborhood. Its quiet-ish and you can park a car – both safely and for free. Neither of those is an option “in The Quarter”.

But once en route, armed with trail mix, tortilla chips, a surfeit of pop/soda and enough audiobooks to get us to the at least Argentina (hypothetically), plus our 3rd generation of “Priscilla” (our GPS), I didn’t even need a rendition of “On the Road Again” to experience the joy of The Road Trip.

Lubbock

The first stop was Lubbock, Texas – my first experience with a couchsurfing host, and I picked a great one. I’ll skip the details, but “a good time was had by all”.

Second stop was Gladewater, Texas, a town rural enough that many Texans haven’t heard of it. But it is home to decades-long friends – we’ve seen their kids grown into adulthood, experiencing some of their growing pains (and their parents’) vicariously. They’ve all turned out well, and two out of the three find themselves back in Gladewater. The visit was short but sweet – just two nights – and the next, about 400 miles across Texas and Louisiana, I find myself in…

New Orleans

I’ve been here many times – perhaps a dozen times. The city is at the same time dynamic and invariant: on one block are scenes I remember from being here in the 1990s, yet others have changed completely. Case in point North Rampart street; when I was first coming to N.O. I was admonished not set foot there particularly a night. Walking along it today towards Armstrong Park, I noticed the signs for “luxury condos”. At the same time, New Orleans institutions – Cafe du Monde; many of the French Quarter joints – are frozen in time.

As I age (I am 57 + 11/12ths as I write this), my reasons for coming to New Orleans shift. A decade ago (still not exactly a youngster) I was attracted to the French Quarter “scene”, the drunken adolescent revelry I never really experienced as an adolescent, as if I could somehow reclaim that period of my life vicariously. Now it is more nostalgic: old haunts whether visited or not; restaurants that I associate with some long-ago pleasant memory. I guess it doesn’t really matter why I return, only that it is enjoyable and… harmless. I was about to stop at an old-favorite bar but I was a bit hungry. I asked for recommendations and they suggested a place with which I was already familiar. After a tasty burger there I’d lost the motivation to hang out a bar, and headed back to my comfy bed. The previous night’s Bacchanal might have contributed to that decision. Perhaps I DO learn from my excesses.

the-renewed-covenant-houseI did a couple of different things (from past visits) in New Orleans. First, I went on a long rectangular walk from the Faubourg-Maringy neighborhood where I was staying, out to Armstrong Park (which is lovely), down to the CBD (Central Business District) – and along the way I stumbled upon Covenant House (I volunteer with them in Vancouver). We chatted for a while, comparing the needs and offerings between the two “chapters”. Vancouver (to my knowledge) doesn’t do anything special for the change in weather: New Orleans has special programs for when the weather is freezing – uncommon there but dangerous. Otherwise, the programs themselves and the clientele are about the same. It was an interesting happenstance. Along the way back to my B&B, I had a “Ferdi Special” at old favorite “Mothers” in the CBD. Costs more, but still delightful. That evening I met up with a fellow (Vancouver) volunteer – Sofia – and her husband — we’d been working together and discovered we’d both be in New Orleans at the same time. Remarkable coincidence (and nice to have company).

Next: Bob Hessinger after 30 years, a meet with The Mouse, and holidays in the Keys. Watch this space.

Signing up for ObamaCare

Signing up for ObamaCare

…how I got health insurance (for less than the GDP of a small Latin American country) last weekend

I am so tired of the endless harping and gnashing of teeth over ObamaCare. They never have stories of people who actually signed up, and what it was like, good and bad. Are you curious? Here’s my story.

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The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

The Road Home – Canadian Rockies 7

After saying goodbye to our friends, we headed west to Kootenay National Park. The sun lasted long enough for us to explore Marble Canyon. It’s a deep, narrow canyon carved by a bright blue glacial stream. Quite the sight. The surrounding area was burned by a huge forest fire about a decade ago – you can just see the re-growth starting.

As we walked back to the car after visiting the Canyon, the heavens opened up with rain. So we gave up on the rest of our hiking plans for the day, pointed the car homewards, and arrived home before 6pm. Can’t wait for our next trip!

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6

Saving the Best for Last – Moraine Lake, Banff 6


The original impetus for our Rockies trip was to visit a couple we had met on a cruise ten years ago. Like us, they were focused on travel and very early retirement. They are from Atlanta, but have a rental property near Banff, and had planned to spend a month there enjoying the Rockies in the falls. Fortunately for us, they invited us to spend a couple of days with them. Their property is beautiful – if you need a place to stay in the Rockies, check out Birch Haven. We had a wonderful time trading tips  on the ins and outs of frugal living, investment strategy, and traveling cheaply.

The rain  finally relented, and we set off for an awesome hike near Moraine Lake (another bright blue glacial lake), through Larch Valley. “The Larch”, besides being the punchline of a Monty Python skit, is also a deciduous pine tree – ie it loses its needles in the winter. And, up in the mountains in mid-September, the larches turn bright yellow before they drop their needles. We had a 10+km hike on the Larch Valley trail, with sweeping views of golden trees, topped by a row of 10 mountain peaks. It had snowed the night before – first time this season – so we were treated to bright white peaks.

It was a (here’s that phrase again) a stunningly beautiful hike, the best of the whole trip. Check out the slide show below.

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Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5

Traveling in the Canadian Rockies – 5


Though we had absolutely no problems whatsoever, there some things you should beware of when traveling (driving or hiking) in the Canadian Rockies.

The first danger is the infamous Rental RV. We believe that 14.5% of the BC population rented RVs and drove them to the Rockies the exact week we were there, and we offer the following picture as proof. Every third vehicle on the road is an RV. And they all drive slow. And the narrow, twisty roads have few passing zones. (Though, to be fair, Canadians are so polite that the RV drivers will often pull over when they see they have a line of cars behind them.)

Although more of an annoyance than a true danger, the main east/west Canadian railroad threads its way through the Rockies right next to the roads you drive on and the towns you stay in. Simply because there isn’t any other way through these steep mountains. As long as you don’t mind whistles and rumbling every 20 minutes throughout the day and night, it’s not a problem.

Then there are the avalanches. While we weren’t in much danger in mid-September, they can be pretty dangerous much of the year. Every few miles, it seems, there is an “Avalanche Danger” sign. In some sections of Glacier National Park, the avalanches are so frequent that they bow to the inevitable, and build “avalanche sheds”, so that the avalanche will just skid over the roof of the shed, and continue on downwards. To be sure the avalanches don’t get too big, the road crews have mobile howitzers they shoot into the snow building up to trigger a (smaller) avalanche.

Hiking carries its own dangers. Besides black bears and grizzly bears, one must be especially careful during the elk rutting season. And there is always the danger that the glacier you are hiking up to see could calve a huge iceberg into its glacial lake, sending a flash flood over the trail, carrying away everything in its wake (think tsunami, but much colder). And the ever present avalanche danger imperils hikers as well.

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Going up and down mountains brings still more perils. Still more challenges on the steep mountain roads – chain-up areas, runaway truck lanes, steep grade warnings, signs flashing “extreme and changeable weather”, and switch-backs that require large vehicles to back up in order to make the turn.

Still not deterred? Consider the results of an impact with a moose, herd of caribou, or other multi-ton animal. On the upsides, this is an indirect way of learning about which (large) animals are most common in the area you are driving through. . .

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Never a dull moment traveling in the Canadian Rockies…

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

Yoho National Park – Canadian Rockies 4

West of Banff, and back across the BC border, is the beautiful and relatively unknown Yoho National Park. “Yoho” is the Cree word for awe and wonder. Besides being stunningly beautiful, it is also home to the Burgess Shale, one of the world’s most celebrated fossil beds.

We stayed at a hostel in the tiny town of Field. It was still raining during most of the visit, but we did manage a couple of excellent side trips during the breaks in the clouds. First stop was Takakkaw Falls, the second highest falls in western Canada, and reachable only through a steep series of tight switchbacks. It’s name comes from the Cree, “it is magnificent”. And it was pretty awesome.

Next stop was the aptly named Emerald Lake, a brilliant green lake surrounded by mountains and glaciers. We hiked entirely around the lake. One one side is a dry micro-climate, the other is rain-forest like. The two sides were completely different in their trees and plants. The dry side was repeatedly overrun with avalanches – as evidenced by the lack of trees on that part of the mountain (which you can see in the picture at the top).

One of the mountains surrounding the lake is home to the Burgess Shale. This site is famous because of its fabulously well preserved fossils from the Cambrian Explosion, a time when life madly diversified. We really would have like to have hike up to it, but it’s an extremely strenuous all day hike up a steep mountain side, and we decided we weren’t fit enough yet. Maybe next year.

Enjoy the pictures of  our Emerald Lake Hike. 

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Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

Icefields Parkway in the Rain – Canadian Rockies 3

After  two stunningly beautiful hot, sunny days of sightseeing in the Canadian Rockies, reality set in as the first rainy cold front of the fall season swept in. Unfortunately, this was the day for us to drive down the “Icefields Parkway”, a ~100 mile stretch of (here’s that phrase again) stunning beautiful glaciers and glacial lakes and glacial rivers. The Columbia Icefields, at the continental divide, feed eight major glaciers along the parkway, including one that comes down just about to the road itself, pictured above. One can tour this glacier with a purpose-built bus-like vehicle with huge tires (to prevent it from plummeting into any crevasses that may have opened up). In the picture above, you can see them as tiny ants about a third of the way up the glacier. Given the icy driving rain and wind, we decided to hold off on this tour until our next visit.

We saw a few of the sights between rainstorms, but it was a pretty miserable day…

 

 

 

 

 

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Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

Jasper, Alberta – Canadian Rockies 2

We headed out from Vancouver, our first time across the interior of British Colombia, on our way to Alberta. The BC interior is very big, quite mountainous, without a lot of people or towns. Lots of logging. Quite beautiful, but not pristine. Scary signs about sudden changes of weather, chaining up, avalanche zones, falling rocks, beware of bears…. Fortunately, we were traveling on bright sunny 80 degree day and proceeded without a hitch. We spent the night in Tete Jaune, BC at a lovely little motel on the Fraser River, whose owner supplied us with free pizza because the only nearby restaurant had closed for the season.

Next morning, we were off to Jasper, Alberta, a small town in the heart of Jasper National Park, where Scott purchased a polarizing filter that he had forgotten to pack – an expensive mistake but pretty much a necessity for this kind of photography.  Our first stop was Lake Maligne, a beautiful glacier-fed lake about thirty miles away through thick wilderness.  Like most  mountain lakes in the Rockies, this one is stunningly blue or green, because of the “glacial till” in the water – basically flour-sized particles of rock that have been pulverized by the glaciers that feed the lake. We took a boat ride around the lake, including the world-famous view of Spirit Island you see at the top of the page. We just missed seeing a mama bear and three of her cubs at a pond next to the road on our drive back into town.

We stayed at an inexpensive B&B in Jasper — hotel prices, even in mid-September, are very high, so this was a lucky break. Some really excellent restaurants in town – we especially liked Raven Bistro, an innovate, mid-priced bistro right downtown.

Next morning we went on a strenuous (for us, anyways) 12km hike to Cavell Meadows & Angel Glacier. Yet another chance to be gobsmacked – soaring mountains, hanging glaciers, hoary marmots, chirping little pikas, glacial terminal moraines, babbling mountain streams, you get the idea. See the slide show below for our favorite views from the hike.

Despite our exhaustion after the hike, we immediately headed south to Athabasca Falls, a thundering waterfall that has dug its only little mini-canyon.

 

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Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

Gobsmacked by the Canadian Rockies

At the tail end of our beautiful British Colombian summer, we headed off in our car for a week in the Canadian Rockies, on the border of BC and Alberta. Having seen the US Rockies several times, we thought we knew what to expect. Well, we were wrong!  We were gobsmacked by how stunningly beautiful the whole area is — much more rugged, glaciers everywhere, not nearly so commercialized. Hard to believe we’ve lived next door to this natural wonder for nearly 10 years, and haven’t visited until now.

The instigation for this trip was an invitation we received from a couple we had met in 2002 on a cruise around South America. They own a beautiful rental property in the southern end of Banff National Park, were going to be staying there for a month, and invited us to join them for a few days. We had met them just after we had retired; they were seated at the same cruise table we were at. In an amazing coincidence, they were undertaking a similar retirement/travel strategy as we were. Our get-together in Alberta would be a chance for us to compare notes for the first time in over ten years!

We did a circular tour through the Rockies, visiting five different Canadian National Parks – Jasper, Banff, Yoho, Glacier, and Kootenay. We’ll take you through some of the highlights in the following pages. Here’s the route we took; the northern leg was outbound. You can click on the map to see a more detailed version.

 

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