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Tony Waiters and Canada’s first World Cup adventure

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In 2006, players from Canada’s 1986 World Cup team reflected on their exploits in Mexico for a story I wrote in The Province. They were coached by Tony Waiters, who sadly passed away two years ago. Tony would have been thrilled to see the current men’s team qualify for the World Cup for only the second time in this country’s history. Tony was a talented player and coach, and exceptionally generous with his time, especially when it came to football. He moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2016 and spent many hours helping local coaches, including me. On the eve of the FIFA 2022 World Cup kicking off in Qatar, here’s a look back at Tony’s contributions to the sport and to Canada’s first appearance in the men’s tournament, as recalled by the players who were there.

Tony Waiters in his element, coaching Canada in 1983. Photo courtesy Tony Waiters

For Tony Waiters, the 1986 World Cup marked the culmination of a coaching career that’s unparalleled in Canadian soccer. A professional soccer goalie who played for England’s national team in the 1960s, Waiters coached England’s youth team to a European Championship title in 1973 before leading club side Plymouth Argyle to promotion in 1975.

In Canada, he coached the Vancouver Whitecaps to the Soccer Bowl NASL championship in 1979; led Canada’s men to the Olympic quarterfinals in 1984; and oversaw Canada’s qualification to and participation in Mexico ‘86. Waiters wrote numerous books on soccer coaching and developed World of Soccer, a company producing soccer equipment and other resources for coaches and soccer associations.  

Tony Waiters pictured at Roberts Creek Beach in 2016, helping to coach the U18 girls’ rep team.

“Of all the teams at the 1986 World Cup, we were as fit, if not fitter than any of them,” recalled Waiters. “The commitment of the Canadians was incredible. My hope was that we wouldn’t get blown out of the water, that we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves,” said Waiters. “And we didn’t.”

Canada held France 0-0 until European Player of the Year, Jean-Pierre Papin, scored the winner with 10 minutes remaining. (France went on to beat Brazil in the quarterfinals but fell in the semis to West Germany.) Canada went on to lose to Russia and Hungary, both 2-0 defeats.   

Tony Waiters in quotes

On coaching his son’s U13s team after coaching Canada at the FIFA World Cup.

“The parents were more impressed than the kids were.”

On the perils of World Cup qualifying … in Honduras.

“I actually put a ban on the team using the elevator in the hotel. Because during the previous qualification, they’d gone to the same hotel and five of the players got stuck in the elevator. On every floor was an armed guard, which is a bit intimidating.”

… and in Guatemala.

“The fans were marching around the hotel and chanting all night. We went for a morning run to the stadium, which was about a mile from the hotel. The stadium was full three hours before kickoff. We asked someone, what’s going on? And they said, they’re waiting for you.”

… and dealing with “Montezuma’s Revenge” in Mexico.

“When we got eliminated the bottom fell out of our world. When we got back to Vancouver the world fell out of our bottom.”

On coaching.

“I think you’ve got to believe in the players. And make them believe in themselves. You’ve got to encourage players and genuinely encourage them. Believe in them and believe in their potential. You’ve got to make every practice session interesting and fun. People love the game so you‘ve got to take advantage of that. Some coaches get so intense in what they’re doing, they take the fun out of the game.”

  • Adapted from Coast Life magazine, Fall 2016

The greatest 79 minutes in Canadian men’s soccer

The following story first appeared in The Province in June 2006.

The narrow players’ tunnel at the Estadio Nou Camp, in Leon, Mexico, is not known for its ambience. In the summer it’s like an oven and soccer players have little choice but to rub shoulders with one another before they take to the pitch.

Yet members of Canada’s 1986 World Cup team have a hard time forgetting that tunnel: It was June 1, Canada’s opponents were France, the reigning European champions and pre-tournament favourites.

“I remember lining up in this dark tunnel next to the French players, and I remember thinking, ‘I know these guys, I watch them on TV every weekend,”‘ says Ian Bridge, who at the time was playing club soccer with Swiss side La Chaux de Fonds.

“Standing there and seeing that feared team… that was, for me, a little overwhelming,” recalls fellow defender David Norman.

Teammate Bob Lenarduzzi recalls looking down a line of French players led by midfield maestro Michel Platini and thinking, “Oh Jesus… “

For Norman at least, that tunnel was the scene of his “single greatest moment” in professional soccer. It might have been the single greatest moment for Canadian soccer itself. The 1986 tournament remains the only World Cup Canada has ever qualified for.

Tony Waiters with national team administrator, Les Wilson, relaxing at the 1986 World Cup. Photo courtesy Tony Waiters

Qualification had been clinched eight months earlier on Sept. 14, 1985, a cold, drizzly day in St. John’s, Nfld. Needing only a point, Canada got goals from Victoria’s George Pakos and Igor Vrablic of Waterloo, Ont. to clinch a dramatic 2-1 win over Honduras. Honduran players braved the cold, wearing tuques and gloves, while most of their travelling fans had mistakenly gone to Saint John, N.B., where they ended up watching the game in bars.

Bridge had to leave the game injured and couldn’t even bear to watch. “I listened to the reaction of the crowd while I was in the showers,” he laughs. “We were up till 2 a.m. having drinks with the mayor of St. John’s. “Qualifying for the World Cup, just knowing that we were going to play among the best teams in the world, that was like winning the World Cup for us.”

Coach Tony Waiters developed the core of a Canadian team that had taken Brazil to a quarter-final penalty shootout in the 1984 Olympics and thrust them into intensive training camps and tours to prepare for the World Cup.

Pitted against France, Hungary (which had beaten Brazil in a World Cup warmup months earlier) and the Soviet Union, Canada had drawn their own Group of Death. But on paper at least, it wasn’t expected to get any tougher than Game 1 versus France.

Paul Dolan, then 20, was given the nod in goal. He recalls enjoying the team’s role of underdog. “We weren’t expected to do anything and France was loaded with talent,” says Dolan. “I just felt that this was a great opportunity and I’m glad I looked at it that way because I felt how much fun it was.”

After his moment of truth in the tunnel, Norman relaxed, too. “When we ran out and got going it became just another game. It was just 11 vs. 11.” Watched by a television audience estimated at over one billion and buoyed by a sellout crowd of 36,000, Canada took the game to France.

“I don’t think they believed that we would play such a high-pressure game at altitude in the heat of the day,” says Bridge, who was marking future European Player of the Year Jean-Pierre Papin. “But we were naive enough to do that. We were an unknown quantity.”

As Canada began creating its own chances, French fans turned on their team with boos and whistles. “To hold the French would have been momentous in soccer, not just Canadian soccer,” says Norman, who still has the game on videotape but has yet to show it to his seven-year-old son. “We could have stunned the soccer world.”

It wasn’t to be. In the 79th minute substitute Yannick Stopyra connected on a long cross into the penalty box, heading the ball across Dolan’s goal to Papin, who finally escaped his marker for a simple tap-in.

“Paul Dolan, who had been brilliant, came out and was going for the cross,” recalls Lenarduzzi. “I assumed he was going to get it and stepped away. He missed it. I should have just headed it out for a corner but it was headed back across for Papin.”

Canada lost its other two games. The Soviet Union, which had thumped Hungary 6-0, took 59 minutes to break down Canada, eventually winning 2-0, the same scoreline Hungary recorded over Canada.

“I don’t have any regrets,” says Dolan. “I played in the World Cup and that was the pinnacle of my career.” Twenty years later, the ’86 team is barely mentioned on the Canadian Soccer Association’s website and players have never had a reunion.

Perhaps it’s about time.

Written by nevjudd

November 18, 2022 at 9:02 pm

Zoom, zoom!

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On trails and roads, electric bikes are putting the “coast” in Sunshine Coast

Like everyone else on the Sunshine Coast, I live near a hill. For 20 years, I knew any ride in or out of Roberts Creek would require exertion, some sweat and a little resolve. That resolve would often disappear at the mere sight of my car keys.

Then I bought an electric bike. Turns out, I’m not the only one!

“The e-bike flattens the hills quite nicely,” says my friend and fellow Creeker, Randy Shore. “I had been riding a Devinci hybrid for about 20 years, but I had fallen out of love with steep hills.”

Out on a recent ride with TraC, (Transportation Choices Sunshine Coast) a volunteer member-based group, which encourages people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles by changing local culture towards active transportation.

To clear his mind and to enjoy the sunshine, Randy mostly rides backroads on his Specialized Como to avoid the noise, dust and highway bike lanes.

“The bike lanes on the Sunshine Coast are at best incomplete,” he says. “But even the lanes that exist are badly cracked or covered in so much debris that they are too dangerous to ride on. Even when a lane is available I feel safer on the road.”

Teacher, Sheena Careless commutes a few days a week from Gibsons to Roberts Creek Elementary School, sometimes dropping off her eight-year-old son, Toby, at Gibsons elementary. She’s clocked 1,800 kilometres on her RadWagon electric cargo bike since purchasing it in February 2021, a choice her family made in preference to buying a second car.

“I can do a week’s grocery shop, ferry two kids … I could do the recycling if I were more organized!

“The highways are not awesome, so we take back-routes when we can,” she adds. “I don’t e-cycle for the exercise; I e-cycle because I want to get somewhere. I don’t want to show up sweaty. I can e-cycle to school and be ready to teach.”

Commuting in the opposite direction for the last 20-plus years is Alun Woolliams, president of TraC (Transportation Choices Sunshine Coast – transportationchoices.ca). A volunteer member-based group, TraC encourages people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles by changing local culture towards active transportation. It’s also about encouraging local and non-local governments (The provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure-MOTI) to improve infrastructure.

Guerrilla bike-lane cleaning is among the many events organized by TraC. Other activities include Active Transportation Weeks, (formerly Bike to Work Week) bike polo and e-bike scavenger hunts. Photo courtesy transportationchoices.ca

“An e-bike is a brilliant replacement for the car,” says Alun, who bought a Giant e-bike three years ago. “It takes the hills away and makes it so much easier to get out of bed and get on my bike.”

TraC organizes Active Transportation Weeks (formerly Bike to Work Week) and events such as bike polo, e-bike scavenger hunts and guerrilla bike-lane cleaning. (When I call Alun, he is literally at the bottom of my driveway, cleaning the Lower Road bike lane with fellow TraC members.)

The group has worked closely with the Sunshine Coast Regional District, Town of Gibsons, Town of Sechelt and MOTI to establish a designated bike route. It has also hired a consultant to assess the feasibility of a “Connect the Coast Trail” – a multi-use path between Langdale and Sechelt. However, four government jurisdictions plus private land ownership mean a plan is rarely simple.

“It’s not acrimonious, they’re trying to work together,” says Alun. “It’s complicated but there’s room for improvement.”

TraC president, Alun Woolliams. Photo courtesy transportationchoices.ca

For respite from the Coast’s somewhat unique multi-jurisdictional bureaucracy, Alun can still escape to the forests where he continues to mountainbike the old-fashioned way – unassisted.

“If I’m going into the forest, that’s just recreation and I don’t feel like I need assistance, but I think it’s great that people do, if that makes it more accessible.”

Avid mountainbiker and trail-builder, Dale Sapach, counts himself as an e-bike convert. “They have a whole different fun factor to them and they make going uphill trails really quite enjoyable,” he says.

“One of my trails on Mount Elphinstone was super steep; 50 minutes full on pedal to get up there. When I started building that trail, it became obvious that I’d never finish it.”

His Specialized e-bike changed that.

“It still took me over a year to finish the trail, but regardless, that’s kind of how I got into it. I think it’s great these things exist. You can keep pushing your limits and keep riding with younger people.”

While the assist of an electric bike may make uphill trails easier, it does not necessarily make the sport less skillful, or less risky, says Dale. On the contrary: “The pros, the downhill racers know how to keep their speed through corners. You’re ultimately limited by your skill. And that potentially is an issue for some people who lose control.

“I think the biggest issue with full-power e-bikes is the weight. You require more upper body strength. When things go sideways a bit, they can go sideways a lot worse when your bike weighs 52 pounds.”

Gary Jackson agrees: “Where many people believe the e-bike is cheating, as one of the most experienced mountain bikers on the Sunshine Coast, I believe it’s much harder physically and technically to ride an electric mountainbike.

“You’re riding a bigger vehicle faster over more terrain. Because they’re more capable, I end up riding steeper terrain, higher technical climbs, aggressive technical loops, where on a pedal bike you’d have to go around to come back down. An electric bike allows you to ride fall line all day with much more elevation.”

Separation anxiety or eBike envy? Either way, Leah deals with Sylvester’s issues.

Gary owns Off The Edge Bike Shop in Sechelt. When I drop by for a quick chat, we’re still talking an hour later. He’s passionate about bike safety and dispelling what he sees as misinformation about e-bikes.

“Everybody asks, ‘how much power does it have?’ and my answer is always ‘way more than you need! You want to be talking about efficiency, weight, reliability, warranty, all that – they’ve all got lots of power.”

While it’s difficult to track the growth in popularity of e-bikes locally with any accurate measure, Off The Edge sales provide some insight. The store, a fixture for 15 years, sold its first electric bike in 2016. In 2017, it sold eight. In 2018, it sold 40 e-bikes. In 2019, it sold more than 100.

“In 2022, I’ll sell as many as I can get,” he says.

The Coast’s baby boomer demographic with its disposable income means e-bikes sell faster here, according to Gary. He recounts the experiences of older customers who thought their best cycling days were behind them. Now they’re riding to Phare Lake before breakfast, followed by the base of Mount Hallowell.

“It’s like Viagra for bikes!” he laughs. “Boomers have figured out how to not age.”

Gary sees e-bikes as not just removing hills, but also overcoming political obstacles.

“Boomers get stuff done,” he says. “Now it’s a voting entity. All the sudden, where the 60-plus crowd was not a voting demographic for the cycling community, now it is, and they’re going to have their voices heard.

“E-bikes are going to bring infrastructure. E-bikes are going to bring bike lanes. E-bikes are going to bring much needed revenue and resources into a very difficult economy. E-bikes are going to bring conscientious, enthusiastic volunteers, to help build and maintain trails. “Cyclists can learn from e-bikers and we’re lucky to have them.

Cold comfort

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Cold-water plunges too good to limit to New Year’s Day

It’s a raw, rainy November afternoon when I join Sherryl, Donna, Maggie, Tara and Meaghan at Porpoise Bay. Some dog-walkers are around but it’s safe to say, we’re the only people wearing bathing suits.

At the water’s edge, Donna Shugar confides: “My husband Ken thinks he should be here; just in case I don’t return.”

“How come he’s not doing this?” I ask.

“He’s from California,” Donna replies. “He says he hasn’t been warm since he moved to Canada.”

It’s true, cold-water exposure is not for everyone. There’s nothing inviting about today’s leaden skies and grey ocean. But seconds later, in fading light, we’re in, submerged, swimming, floating and talking. I stifle the urge to pant.

Donna Shugar, Maggie Guzzi, Sherryl Latimer, Meaghan O’Brien Spithoff and Tara Swann are undeterred by the cold rain falling at Porpoise Bay.

“There’s always a shock but I don’t really think about it anymore, I just do it,” says Sherryl Latimer. “I do a deep-breathing exercise for the first 30 seconds and then I am submerged, and it feels great.”

Like most of the others, Sherryl is a cold-water convert. She organized today’s swim and hopes it will become a regular event for like-minded enthusiasts. Sherryl invited Tara Swann and Meaghan O’Brien Spithoff, who swim with a group that meets multiple times a week at Henderson Beach in Roberts Creek.

For reasons as varied as the growing number of people who practice it, cold-water immersion is no longer just for New Year’s Day.

Meaghan is inspired by the contrasts between “the powerful ocean and the vulnerable human that enters it”.

“It’s breathtaking,” she says. “It feels like an internal strength develops inside you the more you swim and yet the ocean soothes you at the same time.”

Her friend Tara craves the connections made in the ocean – and not just human connections.

“I felt a little like I cheated the social isolation in the last year,” says Tara. “We come alone and meet up together. We’re distanced. Anyone is welcome and it quenches a social need while you compete only with yourself.

“Every day the water’s different, the sky is different, your body feels different. I dip my head like a daily baptism. It’s like how I imagine church to feel for others – replenishing.”

“Rejuvenating” is how Sherryl describes it. “After swimming in the cold, it feels like you’ve had a massage inside and outside your body. I have underlying heart and lung issues, and I live with depression. This just makes me feel so good. It lifts my mood and spirit. During Covid, I found the periods of depression came more often and for longer. When I swim more, the depression spells lessen.”

Sherryl keeps a detailed log of all her swims, recording weather conditions, tides and time spent in the water. Her attempts to form a weekly group are now making headway and she draws inspiration from a group in Powell River.

“I went up last spring and swam with them. It’s mostly women and 10 or 12 who swim every day. Right away you feel a camaraderie because it’s a special kind of person who does this. Now with the few women who have joined at Porpoise Bay, you have this thing in common, it’s out of the ordinary and there’s a sense of adventure.

“The overall benefit is of feeling wonderful afterwards and sharing that feeling with others.”

Storms, wind, rain and snow are no deterrent to the women, who are not about to let the weather come between them and their cold-water fix.

Tammie Lumsden and George Vourtsis relish a rare sunny Fall swim at Georgia Beach in Gibsons.

The stormier the better for George Vourtsis, who started a group pre-pandemic as an extension of the Gibsons-based boxing club. The group meets Sunday mornings off Franklin Road.

“Storms! That’s the best time to come out,” says George. “When it’s nasty and the wind’s blowing and the swells are up and you know you’re going in, you get a rush – it’s a good feeling.”

Another regular, Tammie Lumsden, can vouch for George’s enthusiasm. “One Sunday was super stormy, and I was standing at the edge, saying ‘I just can’t do this, there’s just no way’. And George said, ‘yes you can, you can do it’. I just got in and it was totally fine.”

Ironically, it’s a cold, calm, crystal-clear Sunday when I join the group. (Two humpback whales even make an appearance!) More than one person remarks that the weather’s actually too good. Most of the group remain immersed for at least two minutes, although one or two prefer to quickly run in and out.

When I ask why swim, I hear familiar feel-good responses of camaraderie, connection and health benefits, including better circulation, stronger immune systems and improved mental health. That word “rejuvenating” comes up again.

Simplicity also strikes a chord for Tammie.

“It’s free! You live on the Coast! I grew up next to water my whole life. Why wouldn’t you?”

Almost all the people I speak to are familiar with Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete and so-called Ice Man, who has popularized specialized breathing techniques and cold therapy in books and videos. Less known to us now is Vincenz Priessnitz, who extolled the virtues of hydrotherapy more than 150 years ago. Hippocrates, considered the founder of medicine, was prescribing cold water as a curative circa 400 BC.

Science would seem to validate some of those shared but subjective feelings of exhilaration. A 2000 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology (“Human physiological responses to immersion in cold water of different temperatures”) found that the increase in dopamine from cold water exposure is comparable to levels recorded after taking cocaine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that in sufficiently high levels can lead to feelings of bliss, euphoria, greater motivation and concentration. The dopamine release triggered by cold water, unlike cocaine, is sustained, continuing to rise for up to three hours, long after exiting the water.

New year’s day swimming in Roberts Creek. It’s always a little faster getting out that going in.

I’m beginning to understand why a free, legal, non-addictive, long-lasting high might be so appealing!

For all its potent stimulus though, swimming here at this time of year is not to be undertaken lightly for first-timers. Sherryl heeded her doctor’s advice of “take it slow and listen to your body” before becoming a full cold-water convert. “It’s at your own risk, learn about what you’re getting into and have someone spot for you if you’re swimming by yourself,” she adds.

I’d add that neoprene booties and gloves are pretty skookum, too!

For now, Sherryl is hopeful more people will join the group, which currently meets at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park one to two times a week. (Search “Sechelt Cold Water Swimmers” to find the group on Facebook.)

“Perhaps we’ll be doing this every day,” she says.

Written by nevjudd

February 5, 2022 at 1:30 pm

Slow train to Winnipeg

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There is no fast train to Winnipeg. VIA Rail’s meandering service from Vancouver to Winnipeg fits a country that’s meant to be savoured. Yes, you could fly in under three hours, but if you’re looking for a more immersive experience and can spare three days, take the train. It’s not meant to be fast.

Leah and I checked in at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver on a sunny, Friday morning in late July. The forest fires that shrouded most of western Canada were still two weeks away and clear skies beckoned. Friends had been surprised to learn of a rail connection. Almost as surprised as by our destination. True, Winnipeg’s not the first place you think of for a summer holiday, but we live on the Sunshine Coast. A break from tourists would be good for the soul.

Our noon departure left 15 minutes late, but few passengers seemed to notice. Most people were busy exploring their new home for the next two nights; four nights for Toronto-bound passengers.

Private sleeping quarters in Prestige class come with your own concierge.

A large American tour party, each traveller wearing a name badge, patrolled the corridors for the first hour, marvelling at the cleverly concealed shower closets, the premium-class cabins and the viewing cars. With 72 hours ahead of us, we decided to pace ourselves, watching East Vancouver, Burnaby, and New Westminster pass us by before venturing from our seats.

VIA Rail trains come in three classes and various carriage designations. The best views are to be had in the Skyline cars with their scenic dome sections, and the Panorama car, which features windows to the ceiling. The Park car in the caboose is an elegant throwback to bygone lounge luxury and is limited to the train’s Prestige passengers at certain times of the day.

Prestige is the priciest of VIA’s three travelling classes, offering private sleeping quarters and a personal concierge. We travelled in Sleeper Plus, which saw our seats being transformed by a carriage attendant at night into comfy bunk beds shrouded behind a thick curtain. (The attendant reverses the process in the morning while you’re at breakfast.) For Economy Class, picture your seat becoming a La-Z-Boy with pillow and blanket. All meals are included in the price for Prestige and Sleeper Plus.

An excellent three-course lunch, including a sautéed prawn and scallop salad, set the tone for our meals ahead. Duck, rack of lamb, and beef wellington were among the hot, fresh dinners somehow served from a tiny kitchen, which also offered vegetarian options for every dining course. Canadian wines and craft beer choices from Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver, were a nice surprise too. We soon got to know our Winnipeg-based crew, who were proud of their hometown and quick with recommendations.

Seats by day transform into bunk beds by night in Sleeper Plus.

Meal times presented a chance to meet fellow passengers – mostly American visitors, including one woman from San Francisco who had been suffering Trump-induced anxiety attacks. “Two days with no news has done me the world of good,” she confided.

There were other little surprises along the way. Complimentary mimosas went down well on Saturday morning while stuck for an hour outside of Jasper. Informal wine tasting with one of the crew in the dome car eased us through the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border. Lounge car patrons were entertained by a classical guitarist in an afternoon performance.

The real star of the show though was the view, otherwise known as Canada. First criss-crossing the Fraser River and then the Thompson, the train follows a route largely uncharted by the highway. At dinner on Friday night, heads swivelled to see a series of attractions appearing on or by the Thompson: a solitary eagle, a herd of elk, an abandoned church and a forgotten Chevy truck, circa 1960, all punctuated the dry beige canvas of thirsty cottonwoods and parched underbrush.

Dinner-time distractions as we skirt the Thompson River near Kamloops, BC.

Sun set to be replaced by a full, blood moon. It cast its spell on us as we settled into our bunks and watched it rise, glowing red and irresistible over Kamloops Lake. I fell asleep realizing that after almost 12 hours on the train, I had yet to crack a book or suggest a game of Yahtzee with Leah.

VIA Rail’s not quiet. There were times during the night that I thought a crash was imminent, such was the screeching on the rails. “You’ve got all day to nap,” I told myself as I opened the blind to see daybreak in the Rockies. Our attendant told us we’d made good time overnight, getting up to 80 kilometres an hour, which might have explained the noise.

After a night on the train it was good to stretch our legs in Jasper on the Discovery Trail.

The American tour party alighted at Jasper where the remaining passengers had a couple of hours to explore. In minutes we were walking Jasper’s Discovery Trail, heading towards Old Fort Point. At the first viewpoint overlooking the city, a menacing gang of Bighorn Sheep blocked our path. We hesitated for 10 minutes, taking photos from a distance. The sheep looked less menacing when a jogger breezed right by them.

Bighorn Sheep – not so menacing in hindsight.

It took all day to reach Edmonton. Numerous stops for freight traffic, (which have priority) including a two-hour standstill, put us in at 7 p.m., a few hours behind schedule. We disembarked to skip rope a while on the platform (three solid meals a day and a sedentary lifestyle take their toll) and take photos of the City of Champions in the distance. By 8 a.m. the next morning after a better night’s sleep, we’d caught up an hour or two and were in Saskatoon for another 20-minute stroll on the platform.

Our final day of gazing out of the window introduced us to place names that seemed to herald a story: Punnichy, Ituna, Spy Hill and Atwater – population 30. Potash mines are the only hills on the Prairies, looming on the horizon occasionally like elongated pyramids. The old, wooden grain silos, so iconic to this region, seemed harder to find. Kelliher, Saskatchewan produced a nice one though.

Our last stop before Winnipeg was Melville, Sask., home of the Melville Millionaires junior hockey team and named after Grand Trunk Railway president, Charles Melville Hays, who died on the Titanic. We rolled into Winnipeg at 8.40 p.m., 90 minutes late but still warm and sunny outside.

We never did play Yahtzee!

 

 

 

 

Get up, stand up!

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With ocean and an abundance of lakes and tidal rapids, stand-up paddleboarders are spoiled for choice on the Sunshine Coast. Photo by Alpha Adventures

One evening last year, Jamie Mani was driving home late after coaching at Chatelech Secondary, where he teaches. Awed by the beautiful sunset at Davis Bay, he instinctively pulled over to inflate his stand-up paddleboard. A few minutes later, he was plying the calm ocean with just the setting sun and a rising full moon for company: alone, or so he thought.

“This whale appears,” recalls Mani. “So, it was just me, a whale, the sunset and a full moon!”

Whether on an inflatable or a hard version, a stand-up paddleboard, or SUP as it’s commonly known, offers a variety of escapes depending on your location. On the Sunshine Coast that could mean a peaceful, flatwater glide on Trout Lake; a touring adventure up Sechelt inlet on boards equipped with dry-bags full of gear under deck-line bungees; or an ocean jaunt to Keats Island or Pasley Island off Gibsons. For experienced SUP boarders, there’s world-class surfing at the Skookumchuk near Egmont.

“We’re so lucky on the Sunshine Coast, we have access to so many styles and bodies of water – coves, lakes, inlets, open strait, wave, no-wave,” says Mani. “And on any given day, if you’re willing to travel, you’re probably going to find calm water.”

Even old people can standup paddleboard! Hitomi Makino photo

Mani runs the Wilson Creek-based outdoor adventure store, Alpha Adventures, and was among the first group of instructors to be certified to teach SUP by Paddle Canada. He introduced SUP to the Sunshine Coast through Alpha shortly after trying it while on vacation in Hawaii.

“It was early to mid 2000s and in Hawaii, SUP was already taking off. I rented a board and loved the experience. Having been a kayak guide for decades, I do love paddling. But paddle-boarding is a completely different interaction with the water. I could go surfing on it. But I could also just look down at a reef, see turtles, see fish, check out the sunset. There the visibility is so good, it was almost like I was snorkelling, but standing up.”

An avid old-school surfer, Mani quickly realized another SUP advantage.

“I’d always liked surfing so when I saw those other surfers on SUPs, I thought: ‘It looks so easy because they’re out of the water, and they are able to catch waves, and they are always back out in the lineup way faster than any of us.

“That was kind of my second epiphany; this is amazing and I’m getting older, so this is easier, so it was a natural. Whether or not it was going to work for the business, we knew it was going to be part of our lives. We were hooked.”

During the mid-2000s, as the boards began to appear in adventure stores like Alpha, many viewed SUP as a craze, sure to be short-lived.

“One of our customers, who’s actually a teaching colleague, said to me: ‘Is this going to be the Crocs of watersports?’ I can almost remember the day he came in seven years later, and he said: “I was wrong. I’d like to know more about buying a board.

“We’ve always had a strong instructional component in our business, our foundation is on teaching and lessons. We really worked hard at getting people out on the water and realizing, we don’t live in a high surf area, so you can paddle in flat water conditions, sheltered coves, lots of lakes, calm days in open water like Davis Bay.

Alpha Adventures rents and sells boards, runs lessons, and hosts Summer SUP nights. Alpha Adventures photo

“It took a little while for people to realize, I can find a use for this where I live here on the Sunshine Coast.”

Board designs have changed a lot from the 12-foot behemoths that launched the sport. For surfing, SUPs are becoming shorter with more rocker (a more dramatic curve in the board upward from nose to tail) allowing quicker turns. Hybrid SUPs are good for calm, sunset paddles or small waves at the beach. Boards are increasingly tailored to weight and body size, says Mani, with children a growing demographic. There are even highly stable SUPs for anglers!

For the extra-adventurous, there’s foil boarding, which incorporates a hydrofoil beneath the board to elevate it and create the experience of levitating across the waves. “It’s just jazzy, you’re flying!” says Mani, who is bringing a foil board to the store.

What hasn’t changed about SUP is the benefit of instruction and the need for safety.

“I see people out paddleboarding, and there’s no personal flotation device (PFD) on their vessel or on their body. They don’t have a leash, and they’re definitely not prepared to fall in the water.”

Alpha’s SUP lessons spend about 20 minutes on land discussing the board, stance, style, and safety.

“The lesson philosophy is that it’s a whole paddling experience. It’s not just ‘hey, this is a board, here’s how to paddle.’ We look at safety considerations, the weather, immersion gear.”

That way, everyone is prepared, says Mani. Perhaps for a whale, even!

Alpha Adventures photo

Going downhill. Fast!

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“Tobogganing, which has sprung into such sudden popularity, is only a form of coasting. There is no more exciting and exhilarating sport for ladies and gentlemen than this on a clear, cold winter evening.”

  • Modern Manners and Social Forms: A Manual of the Manners and Customs of the Best Modern Society, James Bethuel Smiley, 1890

On the eastern slopes of Dakota Ridge, Emma Judd prepares for takeoff!

 

Even down at sea level and despite its name, the Sunshine Coast is no stranger to snow. Anyone who has grown up here can attest to cold snaps and snow days. Despite claiming to be 29, my mum-in-law Mary Vandeberg recalls the winter of 1954 vividly.

“We spent a lot time tobogganing down Davis Bay hill that winter,” says Mary. “We had spotters, but there really wasn’t much traffic to speak of in those days. And if there was, it wasn’t getting up that hill.”

Trouble with a capital T, Mary Vandeberg with her sister Gail somewhere on a road near Davis Bay, circa 1954.

For Mary’s daughter, my wife Leah, tobogganing the road down from Chatelech Secondary, was the ultimate way to celebrate a snow day.

Even in the snowiest winters of recent years, it’s difficult to image tobogganing Highway 101 from Selma Park down to Davis Bay, as Mary describes. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other popular places to slide.

Located 14-km up the forest service road at the end of Field Road in Wilson Creek, Dakota Ridge is one of the few, if not the only sanctioned sliding area on the Sunshine Coast. Created in 2013, the sliding area has become a popular addition to the winter recreation venue, accounting for 30 percent of total traffic, according to the Sunshine Coast Regional District.

Especially popular with young families, the groomed hill is right behind a Quonset warming hut, which is equipped with a wood stove and picnic tables. If you’re craving some off-piste thrills, there’s a long, gentle clearing off Balsam Loop on Dakota Ridge’s eastern slope that’s perfect for building bumps and jumps.

We have liftoff! Ariana Harder takes to the skies above Dakota Ridge.

Local Cavin Crawford, who’s helped plow access roads to Dakota Ridge and the Tetrahedron for years, recommends a 200-metre slope at the eight-kilometre mark of the forestry road, near the turnoff for Dakota Bowl.

“You can drive up around the corner, let the kids out and drive down and pick them up,” says Cavin. “But please, do not toboggan on the road.”

Winter tires and chains are essential, if you’re planning to drive to Dakota Ridge; or catch the scheduled shuttle with Wilson Creek-based Alpha Adventures.

Closer to sea level, school fields are popular with the younger crowd. “The slope behind Gibsons elementary is good for younger kids and pretty good for building jumps,” says 12-year-old Kaishan Nonacowie. There’s also a gentle slope behind Elphinstone Secondary.

Flume Beach Park at the junction of Flume Road and Beach Avenue in Roberts Creek might be the closest you’ll get to sledding on the shoreline. It was a favourite spot when my kids were growing up and offers the added advantage of a scenic picnic area, plus the option of building a beach fire to warm up by.

In their element, Ariana Harder and Emma Judd on Dakota Ridge.

A poll of friends and family on Facebook elicited numerous favourite spots and a theme quickly developed: roads seem to be where it’s at. Some short, some steep, and most dead-ends. (My son suggested School Road in Gibsons, which might have been feasible in 1917-18, but not 2017-18.) While there’s room for discretion on secluded roads in particularly heavy snowfalls, as a rule, cars and toboggans don’t mix, especially for emergency services, highway maintenance contractors, and stranded residents.

Back in the 1970s, it was a different story, according to life-long Coast resident, Warren Hansen.

“My favourite hill was Benner Road, in Selma Park,” recalls Warren. “Back then, there was no such things as immediate plowing. People had to park on the highway in Selma Park and walk up to their homes. For at least a couple of days, kids could slide down Benner Road, or the top of Snodgrass and Chartwell, or the top of Radcliffe Road. Every kid from miles around would converge on this location.

“I remember a bunch of us piled on a toboggan racing other toboggans down the hill. We knew that once we passed a certain driveway it was time to bail otherwise we would blow the corner and get hurt. And most kids did get hurt from getting run into, going into the ditch, or bailing off the sled sliding at breakneck speeds.”

Mary Vandeberg and her sister Gail in the snowy Sunshine Coast winter of 1954.

Hansen acknowledges those days are over, but has mixed feelings.

“The plows, climate change and over-sensitive parents ruined the great sliding opportunities on Benner Road, which hasn’t been the same since those days. Then again, it could be because I grew up and know now that I would never let my kids slide on Benner Road.”

Wherever you end up sliding this winter, keep a few precautions in mind. BC Children’s Hospital recommends that young ones wear a ski, hockey, or bike helmet for tobogganing. Make sure your kids know how to control their speed and stop properly. Choose a slope away from roads and free from obstacles, such as rocks, trees, and fences. Never ride on a sled that is being pulled by anything motorized.

Bundle up, stay safe, and enjoy the snow!

 

The one that didn’t get away

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Ryan Judd consoles himself with the thought that it’s a dry cold, as he patiently waits for a bite.

Brad Knowles doesn’t care much for bananas. Not when he’s fishing, at least.

“Did you bring bananas?” he asks from the driver’s seat.

I check with my son Ryan, sitting across from me in the back of Brad’s truck. No, we didn’t bring bananas. We check our packed lunch. No bananas, although the hot chocolate seems to have spilled.

Bananas will jinx fishing every time,” says Brad, who double checks that his assistant guide, Matt, has not brought bananas. Matt, a bass fisherman from Mississauga – where he’s known to some as “The Bassassassin” – knows better than to bring bananas.

We’re on our way to Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton. From mid-November to late-March, give or take, the 6.5-kilometre lake near D’Arcy is ice fishing country.

6.5-kilometre Blackwater Lake, about an hour out of Whistler, east of Pemberton.

At this time of year, Brad’s company, Pemberton Fish Finder, runs ice fishing tours. “It’s for people who want to escape the Whistler bubble and experience the lakes, wildlife, catch some fish and listen to some stories,” says Brad.

Brad has lots of stories. He grew up in Pemberton and is something of a local celebrity, starring in his own fishing show on Whistler Cable for a while. Together with running a fishing store, Pemberton Fish Finder keeps him busy year round.

My only adult fishing story involves a crab trap and a capsized canoe. I had always assumed ice fishing would involve a flight to Prince George or Edmonton.

Brad Knowles, owner-operator of Pemberton Fish Finder.

Blackwater Lake is idyllic. Serrated peaks loom all around us and under blue sky, the ice is blinding. The air temperature is just below freezing, there’s no wind, and the sun is flirting with the clouds. But for a creek in the distance, the only thing I can hear is my heart beating.

“Australians lose their marbles when they see this,” says Brad. “They ask me, ‘You’re sure we can stand on this?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m 300 pounds, you can stand on this.’”

Brad sets about cutting holes in the ice with a gas-powered auger. He and Matt set us up with rods and we bait the hooks with freshwater shrimp, which are native to the lake. Everyone gets an upturned bright orange bucket and a thermal pad to sit on.

And that’s it, we’re ice fishing.

We immediately get bites. Brad and Matt coach us on setting the hook, otherwise known as the hook-set – a quick upward thrust of the rod before reeling in. One by one though, we lose the bites and rue our bad luck.

“Well there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching,” says Brad.

After about an hour, Brad carves out new holes and we spread out. Under his guidance, I switch bait from shrimp to trout roe. Ryan and Matt are several hundred yards away but the air is so still, it’s easy to talk without raising our voices.

A lone whisky jack keeps us company, occasionally stealing a shrimp from the bait bucket, and otherwise mocking us.

A lone whisky jack steals bait and taunts us.

Brad’s been fishing in this region for about 35 years, chasing all five salmon species, plus pike minnows, steelhead, cutthroat, bull, brook, lake and rainbow trout. Together with his dad, Ivan, and his brother, Sheridan, Brad has carved out a living here and now employs his wife in the guiding business while raising three kids.

“There’s not a day I don’t wake up and look at the mountains, excited to go to work,” he says. I can see why. Fish or no fish, Blackwater Lake is quite an office. There’s a small forestry campground nearby with a dozen sites and in summer, lily pads and extensive weed beds flourish here. And somewhere beneath our boots and buckets today are rainbow trout ranging from 10 to 25 inches and weighing as much as six pounds.

Just as I’m beginning to think the shrimp bait looks tasty we decide that it’s lunchtime.

Brad carves pairs of holes a few inches apart and sets up a shelter in seconds. We’re not cold but from inside the shelter the water appears even clearer through holes that take on a luminous quality. “Sometimes you can see the fish before you catch them,” says Brad. For now, we watch our bait descend beyond sight and remain ever hopeful.

No bites but the sandwiches help.

As 2 o’clock nears, Brad suggests we concentrate on a shaded corner of the lake. We exit the shelter and set up one last time, trying to ignore the creeping cold. I start to wonder whether one of us is actually carrying a concealed banana. Then I think back to growing up in the UK. As a schoolboy, I used to accompany friends on night-fishing trips in the Kent countryside. In two years of those fishing trips, I never caught anything but a cider hangover. It occurs to me that not only have I never caught a fish, I’ve never actually seen anyone else catch a fish.

Perhaps I’m cursed?

One rainbow trout, about 10 inches long and just in time for dinner!

I decide not to share this thought with Ryan, and instead concentrate on the hole, which I realize is freezing before my very eyes. Then I’m shaken from my thoughts.

“YEAH!” shouts Brad. I turn just in time to see the rod bend for a moment and a plump rainbow trout flop into Brad’s palm. “No way we were going before we got one,” says Brad as we celebrate the catch. It’s closer to the 10-inch end of the scale and a beautiful looking fish.

Hopeful of more to come we continue fishing for another half an hour, but to no avail. “That’s fishing,” says Brad philosophically as he drops us back in Whistler. Ryan and I both warm up while a friend cooks our catch. It’s more than worth the wait: fresh, flavorful and not even a hint of banana.

nevjudd.com

If you go

For more information about guided ice fishing trips with Pemberton Fish Finder, visit pembertonfishfinder.com.

Do not bring bananas.

Trail and tribulation in Powell River

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Make it to the top of Tin Hat Mountain and you will be rewarded with 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes. Plus you’re half way to finishing the trail! Photos courtesy Eagle Walz

Connecting Sarah Point, near Lund, to the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay, the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail now ranks among the greatest hiking trails in the world, according to Explore Magazine’s Top-50 list. Not only is it more than twice the length of the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, it’s Canada’s longest hut-to-hut hiking trail, and it’s free!

The trail’s mix of old growth forest, mountain peaks and sandy shoreline, attract thousands of visitors from around the world each year. Fifteen beautifully constructed huts en route provide overnight accommodation on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s beginning to be seen as an economic driver in Powell River,” says Eagle Walz. “It’s the biggest recreational tourism resource we have.”

Walz is a trailblazer, one of a handful of outdoor enthusiasts who in 1992 realized that accessible old growth on the Upper Sunshine Coast was fast disappearing. They formed the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS), a non-profit committed to setting aside protected areas on a trail sufficiently unique to lure locals and tourists alike.

Eagle Walz in his element, hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail. Walz is a co-founder of the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society, the non-profit behind the trail’s creation and upkeep.

PRPAWS mobilized volunteer work parties and began connecting the bushwhacked paths, deactivated roads, and disused railway grades left behind by a century of logging. In some places that meant constructing bridges – some 120 feet long – to ford creeks and rivers. They found enduring allies in a group of bloody old men, otherwise known as the BOMB (Bloody Old Men’s Brigade) squad. Comprising mostly retirees, many of whom practiced their trades at Powell River’s paper mill, the BOMB squad helped build bridges and huts, and are still counted upon for help in the trail’s never-ending maintenance.

The first time I interviewed Eagle for a story back in 2000, he was fending off criticism from a variety of sources over liability issues and the environmental concerns about sensitive wildlife areas. Walz and his cohorts had run into a host of jurisdictional challenges, too. Crown forest land, private land owned by logging companies, and Tla’amin Nation land are among the eight jurisdictions through which the trail crosses.

Seventeen years ago, he addressed those questions with a question of his own: “Would the trail have been built if we’d settled all these issues first?”

When I caught up with Eagle earlier this year, that question at least, appeared to have been answered. “You couldn’t start this trail now and try and make this happen,” says Eagle. “But that doesn’t mean the logging companies won’t stop logging. Western Forest Products, with their tree farm licence, they are the biggest interest. We manage to work together and eke out considerations. I only wish it would be a bigger buffer along the trail than we get most of the time.”

That buffer can be from 10 to 30 metres, sometimes more. Occasionally, the trail must be relocated in places. Overall, says Eagle, compromise and varying levels of protection ensure the trail’s viability.

“Our vision is that in 100 years, we’ll have no more logging near the trail,” he says. “It will be designated an old growth trail to be enjoyed by future generations. It needs someone to be the champion for it. We’re hopeful the younger generation will take over and certainly a lot of younger people are using it. People of all ages.”

Perhaps more challenging to PRPAWS is pressure on the trail from non-hikers.

“Mountain biking is very popular here, as it is everywhere else. The pressure is always to turn something into something else. But a multi-use trail wouldn’t have the same appeal as a single-use trail. We’re struggling to remain a hiking trail only because that’s what’s given us the edge in the market place. That’s what is bringing people by the thousands from all over the world to Powell River.”

In the meantime, trail maintenance keeps Eagle busier than ever. Ten years retired as a teacher, Eagle says he has time to enjoy the trail, but it’s usually when he’s part of a work party. The day I call him, he’s about to leave on just such a mission – a five-night trip to Confederation Lake, a steep section of the trail in Inland Lake Park, north of Powell River.

Eagle Walz takes in the view from the hut atop Tin Hat Mountain.

It’s a favourite spot, he says, before adding: “I think usually where I’m working, I like that part the best.” Eagle’s other cherished locations include Tin Hat Mountain with its 360-degree views of more than two-dozen lakes; and Mount Troubridge, popular for its magnificent stands of Douglas fir and yellow-cedar old growth.

When Eagle’s not on the trail, he’s writing about it – though not in the way he might have envisaged in 1972, when he moved to Powell River to write poetry: “I write hundreds and hundreds of emails,” he says in a deadpan voice. “That’s basically the extent of my writing.”

  • Visit http://sunshinecoast-trail.com/ for everything you need to know about planning a trip, including the definitive guide to the trail, written by – who else? – Eagle Walz.

The Missing Link: Connecting the Coast to Squamish

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Yellow sections on this Google Earth map indicate about 10 kilometres of work needed to complete a trail connecting Sechelt with Squamish.

Yellow sections on this Google Earth map indicate about 10 kilometres of work needed to complete a trail connecting Sechelt with Squamish.

The map looks straightforward at first. As the crow flies, little more than 50 kilometres separate Sechelt and Squamish. Then you notice contour lines, crammed together like intense low-pressure systems, numerous splashes of white, indicating icy peaks, and deep blue streaks showing alpine lakes and ocean inlets. In between are green valleys that never seem to quite connect. Old logging roads, new hydroelectric projects, powerlines and pipelines present an extra layer of complexity revealed by Google Earth.

A cursory Internet search turns up more than 100 years of failed attempts to build a road system between the Sunshine Coast and “the mainland”.

So when Geoff Breckner tells me he’s about 10 kilometres away from completing a 75-kilometre trail connector, I’m interested.

If successful, the trail would reveal a side of the Sunshine Coast unfamiliar to most residents, including a series of spectacular waterfalls between Pokosha Pass and Clowhom Valley.

If successful, the trail would reveal a side of the Sunshine Coast unfamiliar to most residents, including a series of spectacular waterfalls between Pokosha Pass and Clowhom Valley. All photos courtesy Geoff Breckner

“With 10 capable guys and permission it could be finished in a week or two,” Breckner tells me by phone from Squamish. “But there are channels to go through, rules to be followed … funding.”

Breckner is recovering from major back surgery. When his doctor advised him to exercise he began hiking into the backcountry near his home in Squamish. The 53-year-old estimates he spent 200 hours during the last two summers working on the Squamish end of the trail.

A self-described “mountainbiking nut,” and “bush rat,” Breckner grew up in Deep Cove when the sport was still a novelty. He opened Pemberton’s first bike store, High Line Cycles, in 1994. A trail connecting Squamish with the Sunshine Coast makes a lot of sense, he says.

“I thought this was a great place for a bike trail. I knew there were logging roads up there and I researched as much as I could, checking out the feasibility of a route to Sechelt.”

Geoff Breckner’s tent at the south side of Pokosha Pass, near Mount Jimmy Jimmy.

Geoff Breckner’s tent at the south side of Pokosha Pass, near Mount Jimmy Jimmy.

Visit Breckner’s Facebook site ‘Squamish to Sechelt Trail’ and you’ll see a Google Earth image of the proposed route. From Upper Squamish and the Ashlu River Road, the route first heads north over existing trail through 4,000-foot Pokosha Pass before heading south, then due west following Clowhom Lake to Salmon Inlet, skirting the Tetrahedron Provincial Park, and on towards Sechelt via the Coast Gravity Bike Park.

About 55 kilometres of double track roads, and 20 kilometres of single track trails make up the route, says Breckner. The 10 kilometres still to be cleared comprise three sections of one kilometer, four kilometres and five kilometres.

“Once complete, it would be a long ride – two days for most people, but I hope to have a hut or shelter so people don’t need a tent and can travel light,” says Breckner. “The main problem would be lack of use, rather than overuse. The more use the better, to keep trail maintained and established.”

Breckner has received numerous offers of help from this side of the divide. Doug Feniak of Tillicum Bay is among those pledging assistance.

A self-described mountainbiking nut, Geoff Breckner rarely goes anywhere without his ride.

A self-described mountainbiking nut, Geoff Breckner rarely goes anywhere without his ride.

Feniak grew up riding with Breckner in Deep Cove. “It was a dream of ours when we were young, to be able to ride from Squamish to the Coast,” says Feniak. “We hiked into the Tetrahedron in August, looking for the best way. It’s super steep into Thornhill Creek but it shouldn’t be too bad after that because it’s old roads covered with Alders.”

Trails are in the Feniak family’s blood. Wife Jessica Huntington and son Linden both build trails, the latter professionally. Daughter, Holly, was 2012 downhill mountainbike Junior World Champion.

Doug says he expects to have a group working on this end of the trail in the fall.

“It would certainly be good for tourism here and I could see the B.C. Bike Race using it,” says Feniak.

Long-time local trailbuilder, Richard Culbert, says a trail to Squamish is “common sense”.

Culbert built the trail to the summit of Mt. Elphinstone, opening it on his 70th birthday. Now at 75, he’s busy clearing a trail up 4,700-foot Polytope Peak, which connects with Rainy River Road and Port Mellon due south. He believes that a trail from Squamish stands a better chance of completion if it veers south to Port Mellon, rather than to Sechelt.

Salmon Inlet from the top of Gray Creek Forest Service Road, looking north across Thornhill towards Clowhom valley. It's about 60km from here to upper Squamish.

Salmon Inlet from the top of Gray Creek Forest Service Road, looking north across Thornhill towards Clowhom valley. It’s about 60km from here to upper Squamish.

“The trail I’m working on is about a kilometer from a logging road, which appears to connect with this route,” says Culbert pointing at a printed version of Breckner’s route. “It also avoids Thornhill Creek [near Salmon Inlet] where the road is covered in alders.”

Warren Hansen concurs. “That gap after Salmon Inlet is some of the most rugged terrain I’ve ever walked in,” says Hansen, forester/area manager for Chartwell Consultants and an avid trailbuilder. “A lot of that area was logged in the 60s and 70s, so we’re talking about logging roads half a century old – many of which have been heavily deactivated and are covered in alder.

“I admire following an idea, but I worry about the sustainability of it,” adds Hansen. “The skeptical side of me thinks that there won’t be enough people using it. It will need to be on a lot of people’s bucket lists to make it sustainable.”

Hansen identifies with Breckner on one level.

“I believe in unfettered access to crown land. You live in the city, you can’t do this and that, but you have spoon-fed amenities. In a rural environment you don’t have those amenities, but you do have unfettered access to crown land. You can hike it, bike it, pick mushrooms in it, build trails. So you use it as you see fit, knowing that one day, it might be logged.”

Perhaps the person most excited about a possible connection is Bjorn Enga. The Granthams Landing-based filmmaker is the founder of Kranked, an online store for electric-assisted mountainbikes. They may upset purists, but bikes capable of climbing mountains in minutes, as opposed to hours, are catching on, says Enga.

“I’ve been riding on the Coast since 2000, and it’s an amazing coastline,” he says. “Suddenly, I’m thinking how much more I can see up there riding an e-bike. Imagine how phenomenal it would be to offer overnight tours with a fully charged battery for the next day.

“The Sea-to-Sky Corridor could become the e-bike capital of the world.”

Enga is helping Breckner with route planning and believes that trail completion is a matter of when, not if.

“Geoff goes way back to the start of mountainbike culture, before the glamour of the parks,” says Enga. “He’s done the hard part and one way or another, the trail will happen.”

In the meantime, some adventurers will continue to blaze their own trails. It seems as though everyone on the Sunshine Coast knows “a guy” who knows a route to Squamish. But their identity can be as elusive as the route.

More falls in the backcountry between Squamish and the Sunshine Coast.

More falls in the backcountry between Squamish and the Sunshine Coast.

Not so, Todd Lawson and friends, whose epic three-day trek from Lake Lovely Water, Squamish, to Sechelt via Clowhom Lake and Salmon Inlet, was featured in a 2014 issue of Mountain Life magazine. The trio packed inflatable stand-up paddleboards for the trip, which featured untold hours of bushwhacking through endless alder roots and Devil’s Club – an experience Lawson described in the story as “torture”. (He also wrote of the route, “It looked good on a laptop.”)

A different hazard awaited Denis Rogers of Sechelt, and fellow Coasters Mark Guignard and Al Jenkins, who hiked to Squamish in 2004 after being dropped by boat at the head of Narrows Inlet.

“It took us five days,” says Rogers, whose group followed a route from the head of Tzoonie Valley to a 4,800-foot pass, and then down to Falk Creek and a logging road leading to the Ashlu River and Squamish beyond.

“The third day was an interesting one,” recalls Rogers. “I fell in a lake and broke my watch, and Mark, the only one of us who didn’t bring bear spray, had an encounter with a black bear. Mark was about 20 yards ahead of us, picking his way through the boulders, when we shouted to him that a bear was taking an interest in him.

“The bear started down towards him, but then turned back. We suggested that perhaps the bear had been deterred by an offensive smell.”

Some hazards you won’t find on any map.

Whistler mild and wild

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The Polaris 570 cc RZR has never met an obstacle it didn't like.

The Polaris 570 cc RZR has never met an obstacle it didn’t like.

Close to the highest point of Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Course, the Blackcomb River dissects the manicured greenery and drops the air temperature about 15 degrees. The water’s arrived directly from the Horstman Glacier atop Blackcomb peak, which explains the cold and why this is a popular spot during record-breaking heat.

“It’s like instant air conditioning,” says a friend. It also makes the mosquitoes disappear, I think to myself. At the clubhouse, we’d just finished an indulgent meal, which somehow featured bacon in every course, including the caesar aperitif and the Nanaimo bar dessert. The temperature is still in the 20s and haze from the Pemberton forest fire lingers.

If you like your adventure on the mild side, the Golf Clubhouse Dinner and Nature Tour is right up your fairway. Enjoy dinner as the sun sets behind Rainbow Mountain, then board a golf cart for a nature tour of the course. The carts are equipped with GPS, which seems like overkill to me, (how hard can it be to navigate 18 numbered holes?) but given the 400-foot climb in places, I’m happy not to be walking.

The Fairmont's Golf Clubhouse Dinner and Nature Tour covers several food groups, but mostly bacon.

The Fairmont’s Golf Clubhouse Dinner and Nature Tour covers several food groups, especially bacon.

Even for non-golfers like me, there’s much to enjoy about the tour, which traverses creeks and milky-green glacier-fed ponds, ancient Douglas Fir, and granite bluffs. Sadly, the bears aren’t out tonight, but a protective mother grouse is strutting around the 13th hole with her three chicks in tow. The course has erected bat houses close to the 18th green, with more in mind than just encouraging wildlife. A single brown bat eats up to 1,000 mosquitoes in an hour!

If you like your adventure in something more agile than a golf cart, a RZR (that’s “Razor” when you say it out loud) Tour will safely push you a little further beyond your comfort zone. RZRs are four-wheeled, off-road vehicles capable of negotiating the gnarliest of boulder-strewn logging roads and creek beds. The morning after our night at the golf course, we rise early at the Fairmont Chateau Whistler for a RZR Alpine Sunrise Tour by The Adventure Group (TAG). Alongside its ever popular Superfly Ziplines at Cougar Mountain, about 10 minutes’ drive from Whistler, TAG’s RZR tours are an exhilarating way to quickly find yourself in the rarefied air, high up in Whistler’s backcountry.

With a guide driver at the front and ‘spotter’ at the back, we each board a Polaris 570 cc RZR and make final adjustments to dust masks, goggles and helmets. With no rain for weeks, and exposed to the elements but for a roll cage, we’re about to get extremely dusty. And as I turn the ignition key sparking the engine to life, I can’t help thinking a GPS would be better suited to a RZR than a golf cart.

Superfly ziplines 4

For the ultimate in thrill rides, Superfly Ziplines are hard to beat.

It’s a bumpy ride – extremely bumpy in places – but with one foot firmly applied to the gas, the RZR is capable of clearing anything in its path. The bucket seats absorb most of the jolts and on the steep bits, the brakes respond better to a few taps than to sustained pressure.

Our tour takes us through Ancient Cedars and Showh Lakes, hiking areas known for giant trees and good fishing. Lupins and fireweed are everywhere at about 3,500 feet, where we park to admire hazy views of Mount Currie and the Soo River below. It’s a world away from the bustle of Whistler village, and I begin to think of how much fun it would be to ride a snowmobile up here. Back on this tour, there’s more fun to be had at an obstacle course created in a clearing that features a teeter totter, berms, and steep embankment trails for those who hold their nerve.

During the 15-kilometer, two-and-a-half tour, we rarely exceed 25 km/h, such is the heavy going on Cougar Mountain’s rocky roads. But bouncing around on trails all but impassable to any other vehicle is half the fun. For anyone with $11,000 to spend and a quiet air strip, RZRs can accelerate from 0 to 35 mph in four seconds, and clock over 80 mph!

For similar speeds at less money, you might want to check out the Superfly Ziplines.

If you go

Fairmont Chateau Whistler offers numerous summer packages, including golf vacations and the B.C. resident accommodation offer, which saves 15% off best rates. Visit fairmont.com/whistler

The Adventure Group’s Alpine Sunrise Tour at Cougar Mountain costs $219 (2-seater) or $319 (4-seater). TAG also offers a two-hour Wilderness Ride and a three-hour B.C. Tour. For details, call 1 855 824-9955 or visit tagwhistler.com/

Fairmont’s Golf Clubhouse Dinner and Nature Tour includes a three-course dinner and costs $69 per adult ($35 per child) and is available Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. Call 604 938-8000.