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Gone with the wind

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A muscular six-foot-three and weighing well over 200 pounds in his wetsuit, Stefan Benko is not easily swept off his feet. That is unless he’s afloat on a carbon-fibre board and attached at the waist by a harness and 100 feet of nylon lines to a polyester kite.

Just add wind and waves for lift-off!

“It’s just me and the elements,” says Stefan. “The beauty of being on the water is a fantastic feeling, especially here on the Sunshine Coast. I have been out in 35-40 knots, incredible winds, swells so big you get in a lower spot, you don’t see land, you’re in a bowl, and then on top you take off because the wave propels you up.”

Tacking up and down the coastline on a stormy day, kiteboarders can generate speeds in excess of 40 kilometres an hour, leaping 30 to 40 feet above the waves. Not surprisingly, there’s a learning curve to be navigated.

Attention to detail and painstaking preparation are essential for a safe and enjoyable kiteboarding experience, says Stefan Benko, pictured both in his element and prior to departure.

A south-southeast wind is gusting 15 knots on the sunny day we meet at Davis Bay. Stefan is part of a close-knit but welcoming community of kiteboarders who can often be spotted on windy days, plying the ocean waves from Langdale to West Sechelt on the Sunshine Coast, northwest of Vancouver, Canada.

Many are self-employed like Stefan, connected to each other by the messaging service, WhatsApp, and highly motivated to hit the beach when conditions are right: Davis Bay in a south-southeasterly; Bonniebrook or Wakefield in a north-northwesterly; Shoal Channel between Langdale and Granthams Landing when summer thermals are blowing; or off the mouth of Roberts Creek when a southerly wind blows over the pier.

“We are all connected to weather apps and weather change usually means wind,” says Stefan. “Sometimes though unexpectedly the wind just pops up in the morning. You have two hours and then it dies. If the wind dies, the kite doesn’t fly and I have to swim back. It can be a long swim!”

A fickle wind is just one of several potential hazards of which kiteboarders must be aware. Stefan’s preparations begin in his van where he sorts through equipment based on conditions. A harness, bar and board, boots, wetsuit, impact vest, lifejacket and a helmet if it’s particularly rough are foremost on his mental checklist.

Then there’s the choice of kite. Like boards, kites vary in material and size based on your weight, level of discipline and wind speed. Strong winds mean smaller kites – about seven square metres. Lighter winds mean bigger kites with more surface area to generate better pull.

Today, Stefan is excited to use his new, 12-square-metre foil kite, which unlike inflatable kites, generates more power and operates well in lighter winds. “It’s the Rolls Royce of kites,” he tells me as we head down to the beach. “It just wants to go up, up, up. I love it!”

At the water’s edge and now in his wetsuit and harness, Stefan unpacks his gear – all of which weighs little more than a few pounds. Connected in a bridle, the nylon lines look like a bird’s nest at first. Stefan painstakingly makes sure that lines are straight and not crossed.

Rocks and barnacles are never too far from the sand of Davis Bay and a sudden gust of wind could potentially drag and damage the kite or cross the lines. That could spell calamity if equipment malfunctions half a mile offshore. Wind can also up-end a kiteboarder before they’ve even made it into the ocean.

Stefan recalls the first time he saw kiteboarding. “It was 1997 and I was in Maui, Ho’okipa Beach, and windsurfing was at its height. On the beach is this guy. He has a surfboard in one hand and two handles and a kite in the air. He is being dragged down the beach by the wind, there was so much force.”

Stefan rushed to assist. “I held him, we walked to the edge of the water and he put his feet in the suit-board straps and off he goes. Soon he’s flying, jumping, up and down. And I go, ‘what the heck is that?’”

Stefan had helped Marcus ‘Flash’ Austin, a pioneer of the sport, later to become its world champion for many years. “I used to windsurf, snowboard, wakeboard, anything to do with boards. When I saw kiteboarding, I thought ‘this is the sport, I want to get into.’ I used to paraglide. It’s the same idea of flying and hanging off the strings and controlling the wind and the kite and being able to lift. It was a perfect combination for me to get into it.”

With his lines straight and his final check over, Stefan is almost ready to launch. He’s keen to emphasize to anyone considering the sport, take lessons. Kiteboarders the world over always help each other, he says, but starting off with proper instruction is essential. (Several schools run out of Squamish.)  

“There are so many things that can go wrong in a split second,” he says. “A sudden gust can shatter your confidence; it can rip the kite out of your hands or you’re being dragged by the kite, out of control, face first, hurting yourself, or someone else. Learn how to fly a kite and get the sense of balance, counter-balance, the pull and learn what not to do with a kite. If it flies out of control, there’s no way back.”

Mastering the art though can reap rich rewards and not just speed and big air. “A few years ago, here I was kiteboarding feet away from a pod of orcas. Last Fall, I was in the mouth of Wilson Creek and a salmon jumps and hits me in the thigh. Really!”

“Are there any conditions you’d refuse to go out in?” I ask. After a brief pause, Stefan answers: “No wind.” We laugh and with that, he edges into the waves, the slack in the nylon lines soon stiffening as the kite extends overhead.

Seconds later, he’s skimming the whitecaps heading west, before tacking into the wind and returning towards the mouth of Chapman Creek. Reclining at a 45-degree angle, edging into the waves and gaining speed, Stefan finally takes flight, and is suspended in mid-air. Seven seconds later, he descends.

I’m almost certain he’s smiling.

Written by nevjudd

February 22, 2022 at 7:41 pm

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

Hearing is believing in the kindness of strangers

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Growing up in the shadow of war, Dzenana Osmanagic and Dzenita Dzemidzic made the best of childhood in the besieged Bosnian town of Goražde.

In 1995, when the Internet was still a novelty and people posted photos in albums, not on social media, Brian Sadler met Dzenita and Dzenana. He was in his early 50s, a 35-year veteran of the Canadian military and a civil affairs officer with the United Nations. Civil war was tearing apart the former Yugoslavia and Brian had just driven his rented 4×4 into Goražde, a besieged Bosnian town with no running water, no electricity, little food and a lot of bullets.

Dzenita Dzemidzic and Dzenana Osmanagic, then aged nine and 11, were among a crowd of children who gathered around Sadler’s truck, which carried a generator and six months’ worth of supplies.

“I pulled into this empty street and immediately all these kids appeared,” recalls Brian. “Through gestures, I asked them to help unload boxes of stuff. Two girls joined the queue and these Bosnian kids started waving them away, telling me that these girls couldn’t hear and couldn’t speak.

“Then I realized that the girls were being – shall we say – isolated. So, I shooed all the kids away, except for the two girls.”

Brian Sadler in Bosnia, circa 1996.

The story might have ended there. Except Dzenita and Dzenana, best friends unused to being singled out so positively, told their parents of the experience. Through an interpreter, the families thanked Brian and welcomed him into their community. He now found himself accompanied most days by his two new friends, communicating with them in a rudimentary sign/body language. “The girls wouldn’t leave my side!”

After a career spent parachuting into trouble spots from the Sinai to Somalia, the highly decorated peacekeeper was entrusted with overseeing the UN protection of 60,000 Muslim residents. But Dzenita and Dzenana needed more than just protection. Brian believed they deserved the chance to hear and speak, opportunities denied them because of war.

What followed was a story that embodies the kindness of strangers and an unlikely journey to the town of Gibsons on Canada’s west coast.

Coming to Canada

Within a couple of months of that first meeting, Brian was asked by the father of one of the girls whether it might be possible to get the girls examined by doctors. Travelling 100 kilometres to Sarajevo was ruled out because of the Bosnian Serb Army that had besieged the town since 1992.

“I came up with the idea that I would try to take them to Canada and get them examined by Canadian doctors,” recalls Brian, who contacted former air force colleagues about “catching a ride” on a regular scheduled flight. “They said, ‘we’d love to but you’re going to need a sponsor because you’re a civvy [civilian] now.’”

Dzenita Dzemidzic and Dzenana Osmanagic make themselves comfortable en route from Bosnia to Canada.

Brian contacted the Canadian ambassador’s office in Zagreb, Croatia. “Within days he said, ‘absolutely,’ insisting I bring the girls to his office, so he could personally authorize their visas.”

On April 24, 1996, Brian with Dzenita and Dzenana – who had never set foot outside Goražde, let alone Bosnia – stepped off a 437 Squadron Polaris aircraft at CFB Trenton for a layover, before continuing their trip west.

The girls’ journey and their 36-day stay in Canada is captured in a photo album. It’s one of three copies Brian made – one each for the girls and one for himself.

“There’s a wonderful photograph of the girls on the plane,” says Brian. “It amuses me because they’re pretending to read a newspaper. They loved reading the paper and they really enjoyed taking pictures of me with my camera.”

Travelling celebrities!

Dzenita and Dzenana underwent examination by a Vancouver doctor, who confirmed the girls could be treated. Treatment duly followed in Edmonton by an audiologist who provided the girls two computer-driven hearing aids and a year’s supply of batteries each.

“After they were fitted by the audiologist, we were driving along the three of us back to my home in St. Albert in my two-seater ranger – Dzeni would sit in the middle on a lunch box. They were exclaiming with noises or excitement because they had never heard the traffic,” recalls Brian. “It was a whole new life! I had to really concentrate on driving.”

Brian and the girls became local celebrities. They were guests of honour at Edmonton City Council, which made the newspaper! While the girls were visiting a school for the deaf in Spruce Grove, AB, Dzenana developed a serious toothache requiring immediate attention. The diseased tooth was extracted the same day for free by a local dentist contacted by the school.

Dzenita and Dzenana trying pizza for the first time.

When Brian brought the girls to Gibsons to meet his parents, Jack and Pat, Coast Cable featured their visit in a one-hour TV special. (The girls can be seen smiling and signing with Brian while he’s interviewed in the sunshine.)

“The girls charmed their way through,” laughs Brian.

Pat Sadler was part of a prolific knitting circle that created countless balaclavas and scarves, packaged up by Jack Sadler and flown in numerous standard military shipments to help children like Dzenita and Dzenana through cold Bosnian winters.

“I give credit to all the Canadians who helped the three of us,” says Brian. “The cooperation was phenomenal. And willing cooperation. I never went to anyone and said, can you help me by doing this gratis; I asked, can you help me by doing this and this, without mentioning gratis. And everybody reacted gratis.”

Brian’s mum, Pat and her Sunshine Coast knitting circle created countless balaclavas and scarves to help children like Dzenita and Dzenana through cold Bosnian winters.

Reconnecting

After retiring to Gibsons in 1998, Brian lost contact with Dzenita and Dzenana for 20 years. Last year, they reconnected on Facebook. Now in their 30s, both women have careers; Dzenana is married with two children. With the help of Dzenita’s English-speaking brother, Adi, they answered questions and shared their memories.

“Childhood during the war was tough,” they write. “It was scary for everyone; you can’t imagine how hard this was for two little girls.

“It was Brian who first told us we were going to Canada. We couldn’t believe it and we were actually a little bit scared. Brian told us that we were going there by plane. It was amazing for us and until the trip we were looking in the sky every day.”

Dzenita and Dzenana recalled Brian taking them to McDonald’s and also persuading them to eat pizza for the first time. (“He was begging us just to try it and we did, and we loved it!”) Bowling with new friends, trips to the cinema and meeting Brian’s parents also stand out. They still have the photo albums Brian made.

How did the experience change their lives?

“We came from a city that had no food, no water, no electricity. Here was a man who helped us; who found doctors to help us. We are very emotional when we talk about Brian and we really love him and miss him. He is true proof that kindness is a feature of great people. Brian is a great man and we will always be thankful to him.”

“The treatment helped us a lot. When Dzenita came home, we were sitting on the balcony. She said, ‘Dad, I can hear the birds.’”

Now in their 30s, Dzenana Osmanagic-Kovacevic (above) and Dzenita Dzemidzic (right) are still good friends and cherish memories of Brian and their 36 days in Canada.

Written by nevjudd

November 16, 2019 at 2:56 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!

 

 

 

 

Men of Steele

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Next time we'll bring snowboards and deckchairs.

Next time we’ll bring snowboards and deckchairs.

My friend Tom and I had been planning a trip to the Tetrahedron for about 10 years. This weekend we finally did it. In hindsight, hiking to Mount Steele cabin would have been easier when I was 36, not 46.

At the base of 5,114-foot Mount Steele, the cabin is one of four two-storey cabins in Tetrahedron Provincial Park, each built to accommodate 16 people – first come, first serve. The others are at Bachelor Lake, above Edwards Lake, and between McNair and Chapman Lakes. The cabins are connected via a 25-kilometre trail network and are maintained by the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club.

Lower Mainlanders enjoying lunch at Edwards Cabin.

Lower Mainlanders enjoying lunch at Edwards Cabin.

We set off on snowshoes from the trailhead up Grey Creek Forest Service Road. In true Sunshine Coast fashion, the Tetrahedron is not signposted from the road, despite being a Class A provincial park. That might explain why there are only three other cars in the parking lot on a sunny January weekend.

Six thousand hectares of mountains, lakes, streams, wetlands and forest, the Tet, as it’s fondly known, has long been cherished by the backcountry enthusiasts who can actually find it. We finally meet some of those enthusiasts about two hours into our hike at Edwards Lake. They’re a group of 12 skiers and snowshoers from the Lower Mainland who are planning to stay at Edwards Cabin. We stop for lunch with them there before pushing on at 1 p.m.

So far we’ve been hiking for about two hours. There’s been no new snow for a week, temperatures are above freezing and the sun’s out. The sign at Edwards Cabin says it’s just three more kilometres to Mount Steele Cabin. It doesn’t mention the elevation gain of 1,300 feet, but that much is obvious from the contour lines on Tom’s map, which look like an intense low pressure system; that and our occasional glimpses of Mount Steele – white, jagged and way up there beneath the bright blue sky.

Downtime at Edwards Lake. We opted not to test the ice.

Downtime at Edwards Lake. We opted not to test the ice.

The climb begins almost immediately, as does the sweat, pouring off me and soaking me from head to toe. The steeper it gets the happier Tom becomes. He shouts encouragement and I try to ignore the chafing of 20-year-old longjohns and the borrowed 40-pound rucksack on my back. Following tree markers, we zig-zag our way through amabilis fir, mountain and western hemlock, yellow cedar and white pine while Tom yells to me about his merino wool base layers. “Not a drop of sweat,” he shouts. “This material wicks all the sweat away!”

I don’t say anything. I’ve stopped talking to Tom.

After an hour of this I’m resting every 10 steps. I’m eating snow to try and and conserve my water. We appear to have cleared the forested section but that brings its own problems. We can’t see any more tree markers. So Tom checks his map and his compass and we decide to climb one of Steele’s lower open slopes, figuring the cabin will surely become visible as we ascend. But with no more markers in sight, we get cold feet – actually, mine are soaking wet. (Tom’s aren’t. He has merino wool socks … or something.)

So we descend, covering the same distance in 10 minutes that took us 30 minutes to climb. It’s 3:30 p.m. and for the first time all day, I have one eye on the time. The sweat is freezing on my back and it will be dark in 90 minutes. After some searching though, Tom spots a marker and we’re off again, climbing in a different direction toward a ridge that he swears will take us to the cabin. From the ridge we’re treated to views of the Tantalus Range and the markers continue to guide our way.

Mount Steele cabin, as seen from the top of Mount Steele.

Mount Steele cabin, as seen from the top of Mount Steele.

Just before 4, I hear Tom from up ahead. “I can see the cabin!”

Thank God he’s not lying, I think as I catch up a few minutes later.

There it is, its red roof standing out against so much white. We savour the last few steps. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a location quite so beautiful. We have the place to ourselves. According to the guest book, we’re only the second visitors this year. An hour later at the metal kitchen table, we’re eating curry and naam bread cooked on the wood stove, washed down with a couple of beers. The cabin is well equipped, with mattresses in the attic, firewood in the basement, a kitchen counter with utensils and a couple of sinks. We melt snow for water and turn the stove down to a slow burn. Pretty soon the entire cabin is toasty warm.

It would seem impossible to put a price on such an amazing place, but the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club came up with $10 a night, which seems more than reasonable. More than a quarter of a century ago, the club used to be known as the Tetrahedron Ski Club. Back in 1987, the club mobilized more than 200 volunteers, 45 businesses, schools, community groups and several levels of government to build the Tetrahedron’s cabins and trail network.

Beer, curry, mates - just another Saturday night.

Beer, curry, mates – just another Saturday night.

The cabins were built at Sechelt airport before being disassembled and flown by helicopter to be reassembled on site. Forestry company, Canfor, and the Sunshine Coast Regional District donated timber, Sechelt Creek Contracting provided logging service, Airspan donated some air time, Gibsons Building Supplies provided crane trucks and the Outdoor Recreation Council pitched in with chainsaws. For one of the few times in Sunshine Coast history, one great idea united governments, businesses, and local volunteers – in the midst of a recession, no less.

For all the day’s exertions, I can’t sleep. After midnight I set up my tripod outside and try and capture Mount Steele by moonlight with varying results. Fog covers Georgia Strait but I can see lights twinkling on Vancouver Island. There’s no bite to the breeze blowing and I feel like the last person on Earth. I may be delusional. I go back to bed.

The moon over Mount Steele. Sometimes not sleeping isn't so bad.

The moon over Mount Steele. Sometimes not sleeping isn’t so bad.

In the morning under clear skies we hike to the top of Mount Steele. It’s difficult to reconcile this rugged terrain and such epic landscapes with the place I call home. For me, the Sunshine Coast typically conjures images of rainforest and beaches, not jagged peaks and frozen lakes. But then visiting this place would surely alter anyone’s perceptions.

Tom vows to bring his snowboard next time. I’m thinking a deck chair. We pack up, sweep up, and head out for the descent to civilization. Yesterday, it took us six hours to get here. Today we’re back at the car in just over two hours.

I relish every step of our tracks with a smile.

  • For more information about the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, visit www.tetoutdoor.ca
  • Four-wheel drive and chains are essential for visiting the Tetrahedron. For more information about the park, visit www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks
  • There can be a significant avalanche risk on Mount Steele. Before heading out, check with www.avalanche.ca/cac/bulletins/latest
  • For more on the history of the Tetrahedron Outdoor Club, visit my earlier blog post here.
  • If your fitness is kind of sketchy and you’re inexperienced in the backcountry, consider taking Tom with you. I couldn’t have done it without him.

Quebec City by bike

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Taking a break in Quebec City at Place Royale, site of Samuel de Champlain’s first permanent settlement in New France.

Resting in Quebec City at Place Royale, site of Samuel de Champlain’s first permanent settlement in New France.

The older my children get, the more discerning they become about holiday activities. My teenagers Ryan and Emma are not big on cycling, history or museums. And like most people they don’t like rain much either.

So there we were with our bikes in the rain, standing outside The Museum of Civilization in old Quebec City.

“Well at least it’s dry in the museum,” I reasoned.

“Can’t we just find somewhere to eat?” asked Ryan.

It wasn’t the first time Quebec had witnessed a clash of wills – what military historians might call an impasse. After a three-month siege in 1759, it took General Wolfe and the British about 15 minutes to beat Montcalm and the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Keep your head up riding through crowds of shoppers in the narrow, cobblestoned lanes of Quartier Petit Champlain. Once a fur-trading portside village, it’s now full of boutiques, bistros and frescoes.

Keep your head up riding through crowds of shoppers in the narrow, cobblestoned lanes of Quartier Petit Champlain. Once a fur-trading portside village, it’s now full of boutiques, bistros and frescoes.

It took the Judds about the same time to finish arguing, lock their bikes and enter the museum. Then something remarkable happened. “Game Story, the exhibition you play,” read the sign in the lobby. Yes, besides first-rate exhibitions about Quebec history and a showcase of Paris between 1889 and 1914, The Museum of Civilization was hosting a video game exhibition, featuring 450 artifacts and 88 video games to play. Everything from World of Warcraft to Pong was available.

We were still in the museum long after the rain had stopped and the sun had returned. It was just the first of several surprising events during our two-night stay in Quebec City. That night we cycled our bikes to the Port of Quebec Agora, an amphitheatre hosting Cirque du Soleil’s Les Chemin Invisibles. Quebec City might just be the only place where Cirque du Soleil is free! Had they been charging, our floor tickets would have cost a fortune because most of the show unfolded just a few yards from where we stood.

The Harbour of Lost Souls is the fifth chapter of Les Chemin Invisibles. The employees of an old customs officer decide to put on a show for his birthday in the hopes of helping him to find purpose in his life. The show is spectacular in its conception with performers suspended from cranes just a few feet above the audience and on moving stages that spring up in the crowd.

Just across from the National Assembly is the Fountaine de Tourny, built for the city’s 400th birthday. It's a popular spot for wedding photos and knackered cyclists.

Just across from the National Assembly is the Fountaine de Tourny, built for the city’s 400th birthday. It’s a popular spot for wedding photos and knackered cyclists.

Cirque du Soleil is a tough act to follow, but the Image Mill is timed to follow it and succeeds if only for its epic setting. A legacy of Quebec City’s 400th birthday in 2008, the Image Mill is a sound and image show projected onto massive grain silos in Quebec’s harbour. We joined the hordes lining the harbour to watch this summer’s show, a tribute to Scottish-born, Canadian filmmaker, Norman McLaren. A pioneer in synchronizing animation with music, McLaren, who died in 1987, would surely have approved of his work being presented on the biggest ‘big screen’ ever conceived.

Back at the Hotel Royal William in Quebec City’s trendy New St. Roch neighbourhood, we locked up our bikes and I ventured out for a nightcap on Boulevard Charest Est. The Mo Resto Bar had one more surprise in store for me; beer pumps at the table! The beer is metered of course (it’s not heaven) at 35 cents an ounce. But for my wife, I might still be there pouring modest amounts of Belle Gueule Blonde or Red ale.

Thanks to the success of Day 1, we sold the kids on a guided bike tour the following day.

At first glance, Quebec City doesn’t appear built for bicycles. Narrow lanes, cobblestones and hills usually look good in postcards, not from a saddle. But first impressions can be deceiving. A few bumps and the occasional grind are a small price to pay for a two-wheeled tour of North America’s only walled city and UNESCO World Heritage site. For visitors with more time, there are several hundred kilometres of bike trails to ride beyond the fortress walls.

Our guide, Marc Lupien of Cyclo Services, has been riding the same Nishiki road bike for 35 years (“I changed the brake cable once or twice – and the seat!”) and has seen the growth of bike culture here.

Chateau Frontenac, said to be the most photographed hotel in the world and surely the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.

Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world and surely the inspiration for Hogwarts.

“It’s not uncommon to see people buying $10,000 bikes in Quebec City,” said Marc. “It’s a relatively short season, but cycling is growing faster than golf here.”

While bike lanes line the edge of the St. Lawrence River and part of the escarpment above, cycling through Vieux Quebec itself takes some improvisation. In summer the streets are busy with pedestrians preoccupied with their centuries-old surroundings. Fortunately, it’s legal to ride the sidewalk and we were soon slaloming on either side of the kerb.

Marc’s tour skirted Laval University, formerly the Seminaire de Quebec and the oldest centre of education in Canada; the Citadelle atop Cap Diamant, adjoining the Plains of Abraham; Quebec’s National Assembly and Chateau Frontenac, said to be the most photographed hotel in the world. (I’d swear it was the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.)

Just across from the National Assembly we stopped at the Fountaine de Tourny, built for the city’s 400th birthday and a popular spot for wedding photos. It was hard not to notice the monolithic Hilton and Delta hotels, whose desperately unimaginative architecture is in dramatic contrast to most buildings in Vieux Quebec.

We lingered in Place Royale, site of Samuel de Champlain’s first permanent settlement in New France. Grey stones mark the footings of where Champlain’s home once stood, right outside Notre Dame des Victories, the oldest stone church in North America, dating back to 1687. There are similar grey stone markers all over Old Quebec, said Marc, signalling other historic sites that would be impossible to excavate now.

Near the Citadelle atop Cap Diamant, adjoining the Plains of Abraham.

Near the Citadelle atop Cap Diamant, adjoining the Plains of Abraham.

We rode the waterfront and part of the old port of Quebec before an adventurous ride through crowds of shoppers in the narrow, cobblestoned lanes of Quartier Petit Champlain. Once a fur-trading portside village, it’s now full of boutiques, bistros and frescoes. A funicular railway connects the area to Dufferin Terrace, a beautifully landscaped boardwalk with the best view of the St. Lawrence River. It seemed like a fitting place to stop for an ice cream and consider the view Champlain enjoyed in 1608.

People had told me that Quebec would remind me of an old European city. Aside from medieval Bruges in Belgium, I don’t know of another place as beautiful as Quebec City. Even Ryan and Emma liked it!

If you go:

In the heart of old Quebec City since 1995, Cyclo Services offers bike rentals and a variety of guided bike tours. Visit http://www.cycloservices.net or call 1 877 692-4050.

The Hotel Royal William is in the heart of New St. Roch, a neighbourhood full of great bars, coffee shops, restaurants and independent stores. It’s a few minutes bike ride from the old city and the train station. Packages start at $99 per person. Visit http://www.hotelroyalwilliam.com/en/

Free shows by Cirque du Soleil and the Image Mill are known collectively as Rendezvous sous les Etoiles and run Tuesday to Saturday, concluding with a Sunday performance Sept. 1.

For more on Quebec’s Museum of Civilization, visit www.mcq.org/en/mcq

For all other travel information about Quebec City, visit www.quebecregion.com/en

Written by nevjudd

October 2, 2013 at 9:09 pm

Splendor in the snow

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ski out2

Skiing takes on a surreal quality when it’s 28 degrees and you’re wearing a T-shirt. That’s part of the appeal when it comes to skiing Blackcomb Glacier, a time-honoured summer tradition at Whistler.

Most of the shale atop Blackcomb started as mud on the seafloor about 100 million years ago. The place still resembles a beach in July. That’s when summer skiing is in full swing and public displays of nudity are commonplace. OK, not full-on nudity like Whistler in the 60s, but there’s plenty of flesh visible 7,500 feet up on the Horstman Glacier.

I’ve never been summer skiing before and I pack with excited anticipation bordering on paranoia: neck-warmer, gloves, fleece jacket, Under Armour and longjohns compete for space in my backpack with water, emergency chocolate and a camera.

It’s too heavy so I ditch the longjohns and eat my emergency chocolate.

It’s 11 a.m. when I upload on the Wizard Express at the base of Blackcomb. The temperature in the village is about 25 degrees. (Thank goodness I ate the chocolate.)

The first thing I enjoy about glacier skiing is the journey. My skis are stowed on the chair in front; I’m wearing a T-shirt and enjoying the warm mountain breeze. Compared to the winter experience, it’s liberating.

Another tough assignment - but someone has to do it.

Another tough assignment – but someone has to do it.

Above Merlin’s run I spot two deer and on Upper Main Line a solitary bear appears from the bushes. We switch to another quad chair – Solar Coaster Express. The first snow comes into view moments later above a black diamond run called Sorcerer, and there are more banks of white where the Nintendo Super Pipe used to be.

Solar Coaster takes us to the Rendezvous Lodge and the Peak 2 Peak Gondola where a bus awaits to ferry us the short ride to 7th Heaven Express and the last chairlift to the Horstman Glacier. Two T-bars, terrain parks and endless blue skies await.

At the top I find every kind of tourist: adventurous seniors hiking on the shale, international students up for lunch at the Horstman Hut, couples posing for photos at the inukshuk, and parents watching their kids play in the snow. Then there are the skiers and boarders – mostly half my age and seemingly unencumbered by back packs full of winter gear.

Undeterred, I spend the next hour skiing numerous variations of what are essentially two runs to the Horstman T-Bar. It’s where most of the skiers and boarders are funneling and the lineups are surprisingly long. But it’s warm, the views are spectacular and everyone’s happy. Not surprisingly the snow is soft and slushy in places, but I’ve skied on worse in January.

For a while I perch beside the public terrain park and photograph the jumpers whose attempts to defy gravity mostly end in wipeouts. I tell myself I’d try it, but what with the backpack and all; I don’t want to land on my camera, right?

Half-pipe or jump? Photographer Javier Carranza mulls his next move.

Half-pipe or jump? Photographer Javier Carranza mulls his next move.

I stop for lunch at the Horstman Hut and lather on yet more sunscreen, putting extra under my chin and nose – the most vulnerable spots for snow-reflected sunburn. I order a beer and a deli platter of bread, meats, cheese and pickles. From the deck, Black Tusk’s ominous spire is hard to miss in the distance – it’s the kind of day photographers set aside for brochure assignments.

With some effort I step into my skis again and prepare for another run to the Horstman T-Bar. That’s when I notice the Showcase T-Bar has largely emptied. It’s normally reserved for private lessons, like the Dave Murray Ski and Snowboard Camps. With an hour of skiing left till downloading at 3 p.m., I ski across and get the green light from a liftie to ascend.

The only way is down to the Horstman T-Bar and the Showcase T-Bar.

The only way is down to the Horstman T-Bar and the Showcase T-Bar.

It’s only about a 500-foot climb, but the Showcase T-Bar takes me to one of my favourite winter skiing spots, the entrance to Blackcomb Glacier. I seem to have this side of the mountain mostly to myself for the final hour and take full advantage, picking my routes beside the jumps, the half pipe and the inflatable landing spots for aerial gymnasts in training. With a bouncy castle to land on I’d almost consider attempting a jump. Almost.

I leave myself a little time to ski out on Green Line, a narrow strip of snow left among the rocks and the wildflowers beginning to bloom. Twice I almost fall while mesmerized by the epic landscape before me and it’s a relief on my legs to finally board Solar Coaster for the download. A mum and cub are basking on one of Blackcomb’s lower runs. At the bottom, a dozen horse-riders are wending their way uphill.

Within an hour I’ve revived sore muscles in the pools and hot tubs at the nearby Chateau Fairmont Whistler where – as luck would have it – the Mallard Lounge is serving $5 happy hour drinks and free appies. Somehow on reflection, those terrain park jumps don’t seem so daunting.

Maybe next time.

The thin white line. Almost time for apres!

The thin white line. Almost time for apres!

https://nevjudd.com/

If you go:

Weather-permitting, glacier skiing on Blackcomb is one of a multitude of summer activities on offer in Whistler. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park is in full swing and the Alpine Wonder Routes – a vast network of hiking and running routes – is becoming more accessible with every day the snow melts.

The Peak 2 Peak Viewing Gallery is a new series of videos showcasing construction of the gondola linking Whistler and Blackcomb. It’s on a raised walkway in the Peak 2 Peak Terminal on Whistler Mountain. Also new is the Alpine Theatre at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain. Movies with an alpine theme air every 30 minutes.

During our weekend in Whistler, I got to relive my adolescence dancing to The English Beat, part of the free Whistler Presents Concert series. Whistler Olympic Plaza hosts free weekend concerts throughout the summer.

Details of all these activities are at www.whistlerblackcomb.com/

The Fairmont Chateau Whistler is a few seconds’ walk from the Wizard Express chair and offers numerous summer accommodation packages. For more details, visit www.fairmont.com/whistler/ or call 1 800 606-8244.

The Trail Collector

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Creator of sunshine-coast-trails.com Becky Wayte is probably the Sunshine Coast's most avid nature bather.

Creator of sunshine-coast-trails.com Becky Wayte is probably the Sunshine Coast’s most avid nature bather.

You might call Becky Wayte a wanderer. Almost every day for the last 20 years, Becky has hiked or biked a trail somewhere on the Sunshine Coast. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago though, that she became a collector.

Some people collect stamps; others baseball cards. Becky collects trails, maps them with a GPS, and documents them on sunshine-coast-trails.com, a website she created for outdoor enthusiasts. The site lists hundreds of trails, from Langdale to Earl’s Cove, with descriptions, maps, difficulty ratings and useful links. She has her favourites – three of which she describes in her own words in a sidebar to this story.

In 2011, hiking three to four hours a day, almost every day, Becky managed to map almost all of the Sunshine Coast’s trails in six months. She’s been updating her collection ever since. The Coast is home to some prolific trail builders, it seems.

“I actually thought it would take me a couple of years,” she tells me. “But I quickly realized that I’m a little obsessive. When I start something, I need to see it through to the end.”

But the truth is, collecting trails never ends. New trails are always springing up and some remain well-guarded secrets. In a recent interview with pinkbike.com, local mountain-bike phenom, Holly Feniak, describes the Coast’s trails as: “Dreamy. Loamy, mossy, bouncy, incredibly green, and in the secret spots … all that and steep.”

Cliff Gilker Park, Roberts Creek.

Cliff Gilker Park, Roberts Creek.

She might have added ‘never-ending’!

“For heaven’s sake, stop building trails,” Becky laughs, when I ask her about the Coast’s trail builders. “I actually love finding new trails and I admit, there might be the odd one I don’t know about. I’m always trying to keep up!”

For a moment, we think we may have found a new one. It’s an unusually hot day in May and we’re walking through a dusty trail off Field Road in Wilson Creek. We’re accompanied by Cody, a large, lovable dog from the nearby SPCA where Becky volunteers each week as a dog-walker. The path veers past someone’s back yard and into the forest.

“Let’s take a look,” says Becky, in her element. A few minutes later we come to a dead-end. Cody looks at us expectantly and we return the way we came. So what inspired Becky to take on this labour of love?

“I have three dogs and one has issues with other dogs, so I wanted to find new trails to hike where there weren’t so many people,” she says. “There were few websites, but they only featured the most popular hikes, places like Mount Daniel, so I decided I’d do it myself.”

Becky’s well qualified. Not only does she love the outdoors, but she learned to build websites through her work teaching computer courses in the Adult Basic Education Program at Capilano University in Sechelt. With the website established, Ryan Robertson, a Squamish-based app developer, who specializes in creating trail applications for iPhones and Androids, contacted Becky. Becky provided the GPS (Global Positioning System – the satellite navigation application) data and Ryan created the app. Trailmapps: Sunshine Coast costs $10 and is available at the Apple Store and Google Play.

For old-school trail lovers, she’s also created waterproof trail maps that are available in Gibsons at Spin Cycles, and in Sechelt at Source for Sports, the Sechelt Visitors’ Centre, and Off The Edge Adventure Sports.

Outdoors, technology couldn’t be further from Becky’s mind. While she’s always hiked to combat weight gain, she’s also convinced of nature’s therapeutic benefits. The Japanese have a name for it: shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing. Becky cites Japanese research, which points to the many benefits of simply being in nature – lower blood pressure, higher creative aptitude and boosted immune systems.

“I prefer the term ‘nature-bathing’ because I find just being out in nature makes me feel better. I always come home feeling better than when I left.”

Well, almost always.

Becky sheepishly recalls one particular hike that went awry, much to her husband’s despair. “I was hiking up Elphinstone and I’d let people know where I was going and what time I’d return. It took a lot longer than I’d expected though and my phone died.

“I got back around 7:45 p.m. – not the 5 p.m. I’d told my husband. He was pretty mad.”

The experience didn’t sour Becky’s love of Mount Elphinstone. In fact, the Mount Elphinstone Summit Trail ranks in her three favourite hikes and bikes. (See below.)

 

Kinnikinnick Park, West Sechelt.

Kinnikinnick Park, West Sechelt.

Sidebar

My Three Favourite Hikes & Bikes, by Becky Wayte

Mount Elphinstone Summit Trail (hike only)

This is a long, fairly difficult climb, but the view at the very top is worth it. The trail to the top can be accessed from the top of Sprockids or via some feeder trails off B & K logging road in Roberts Creek. If you take your time and enjoy a picnic and rest at the top, this hike will likely take you five or six hours.  Make lots of noise or wear a bell so the bears hear you coming.

Ruby Klein Traverse – Suncoaster Trail (hike or bike)

Beautiful views of Ruby Lake and a hand carved bench greet you at the highest point along the trail.  Easy to make a whole day trip out of this even though the hike itself will probably only take you a couple of hours. You can visit the Iris Griffiths Centre, take a swim in Klein Lake and there is even a feeder trail down to the Ruby Lake restaurant (Trattoria Italiano).

McNeill Lake Circle Route (hike or bike)

This is one of my favourite destinations in the summer months because I always combine a bike ride with a swim. The lake itself is not that well known so often no one else is there, especially on weekdays.  There are several trails that connect to create a loop around the lake, with access to the lake from a couple of spots. I park on Middlepoint Forest Service Road and take Copper Head, Dry Feet, a logging road, Old Pole Road and back to Copper Head. There is a short trail off the logging road just north of Dry Feet that takes you into the lake. This is an excellent place to ride your mountain bike if you have pre-teen kids or you just want a fairly flat ride (we don’t have many flat rides on the Coast). Hiking it probably takes about 1.5 hours and by bike about an hour, unless you stop to enjoy a swim.

For the definitive web guide to the Sunshine Coast’s trails, visit http://www.sunshine-coast-trails.com.

One night in Flin Flon

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What minus 40 looks like in Flin Flon, birth place of Bobby Clarke and the phrase, "it's a dry cold".

What minus 40 looks like in Flin Flon, birth place of Bobby Clarke and the phrase, “it’s a dry cold”.

They don’t sell postcards in Flin Flon, Manitoba; at least none that I found. It’s a desperately cold place most of the year.

“Chilly” is how the pilot describes it upon landing. Helen at the car rental desk confirms that, yes, it’s cold. “But tolerable without the wind.”

How cold?

Minus 39.6, according to the airport’s only baggage handler. “We’ll call it minus 40,” he says.

Celsius … Fahrenheit, it doesn’t matter. My idea of cold will never be the same. Lager’s cold. So is a dip in the sea off Margate. But February 1st in Flin Flon is worthy of its own definition of cold.

A kilometre below where Javier is standing it's about 55 degrees warmer - which isn't much consolation really.

A kilometre below where Javier is standing it’s about 55 degrees warmer – which isn’t much consolation really.

My colleague Javier and I are here from Vancouver to film a video in Flin Flon’s copper mine. We try to look casual, hauling our camera gear across the car park to the rental truck. “It’s not that bad,” says Javier. “No, not so bad,” I wheeze, acutely aware of snot freezing in my nose.

The pallid sun we’d last seen during a stopover in Winnipeg has long since set and we drive in twilight to Flin Flon. Manitoba looks grainy monochrome, a stunted boreal forest dotted with lakes frozen into frigid stillness.

In Flin Flon, we plug our truck into a block heater outside the Victoria Inn. Inside, we eat perogies and drink beer. Our server tells us that minus 40 is mitigated by the fact that Flin Flon’s cold “is a dry cold”.

Her tongue is not in her cheek.

Fortified by curiosity, we drive into town, and then walk down Main Street. Most of the houses are old and wooden, with rooftops wilting under snow whipped into drifts. At the Co-op I buy myself a Flin Flon Bombers hockey jersey. I tell the cashier about a friend from Saskatchewan, who hated coming to play hockey against Flin Flon, the toughest team in the Canadian junior league.

At first she’s offended. “Why,” she demands. “Because they knew they’d have to fight,” I tell her. She smiles. “We love our Bombers,” she says.

We tread gingerly on a snowy sidewalk up the street to Flin Flon’s war memorial and a view overlooking the town. Fumes from the mine are the only thing obscuring a sky full of stars. The only other person on the street nods hello as he passes us, and calls us pussies for wearing gloves. He’s not wearing gloves.

A short drive away, we arrive at Flinty, a statue of a cartoonish-looking prospector. Gloves off, I photograph Flinty – built in tribute to Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. Flonatin appears in a sci-fi novel called The Sunless City. He pilots a submarine through a bottomless lake and into an underground world through a hole lined with gold. Prospector Tom Creighton had a copy of the book when he stumbled on a rich vein of copper here in 1918.

Flin Flon might be the only town named after a character in a dime-store paperback.

But that’s another story.

Written by nevjudd

May 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Whistler for parents: Kids optional

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Written by nevjudd

November 26, 2012 at 12:53 pm

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