04
Oct
13

Howe Sound Sea to Sky and Vancouver slideshow

After a solid week of rain, the clearing skies reveal the season’s first snowfalls on the surrounding peaks.

It’s easy to forget all that wet when what comes after looks like this:

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I must have driven that highway more than a thousand times over the years, seldom stopping to take in the scenery.  Took it for granted it would always be there.  But it changes all the time with the light and season, and in what’s amounting to a pre-retirement trial run, these days I’m not in much of a hurry.  So I did two things nobody else seems to do on that highway: drove the speed limit, and turned off to look around at every viewpoint.

A bit of a dangerous move nonetheless.  Standing on the new dock at Porteau I had this stab of regret at having left all this beauty behind one day so long ago.

One photo I could not get because there was no place to pull over I’ll just have to describe.  Locals will know what I’m talking about.

Driving south of Windy Point just after the new cut before you go over Deeks Creek you could see a long bank of cloud to the south hovering over the ridge above Horseshoe Bay.

Although the entire east side of the Sound was in still in dark shadow, that cloud bank was acting like a giant light disperser, diffusing the bright sunlight from behind the ridge to bathe that part beneath it on the eastern side in clear, white light.  Trees and ridges popped into view out of the shadow, the shoreline a strange orange glow.  Come to think of it, I don’t think my camera would have captured it.

01
Oct
13

I kissed a cod and I liked it

First off, let me just say that I am not a fisherman.  Stick a fishing rod in my hand, plunk me on the dock or in a boat, and the fish just know it’s time to head for the farthest shoreline.  So this isn’t about fishing, lures, or where the best spots are.

Newfoundland dead capelins beach But in three months of traversing Canada from Cape Spear and Bonavista to Courtenay on Vancouver Island – with a little hop between Toronto and Edmonton to skip the uninteresting parts –  we’ve seen a lot of fish.

Our piscatorial perambulations started at Twillingate, Newfoundland.   On an early-evening outing to a cliffside lighthouse we ran into a couple from New Hampshire who casually asked us if we’d seen all the millions of capelins on the shoreline a mile or so back.  Nope.  Never heard of capelins before, actually, but we were intrigued enough to tear ourselves away from the lighthouse and dramatic coastal views to go have a look.

We parked beside a beach and made our way the short distance through the grass to the Newfoundland capelin eggsbeach.  Right away we were struck by the strange, spongy feel to the sand, but thought nothing of it as we walked along the shoreline to some people with buckets and nets gathered by some rocky outcroppings at the northern end.   We passed by a few dead fish the size of large sardines or small herring scattered here and there – nothing approaching millions – but by the time we reached the end the fish were piled up six inches deep in places, and with every wave more were being thrown ashore.

These were capelins, which do indeed arrive by their millions in Newfoundland every June to spawn.  The females leave their eggs in the sand and the males come by to fertilise them.  Then they all die.  Keeps the divorce rate low, I guess.  Anyway, that spongy feel underfoot all along the beach were, in fact, the eggs.  They’re pin-head tiny, but there are billions of them, so they pile up thick on the shore.

Kissing that cod.

Our next fishy encounter was a few days later in Trout River, a former outport town on the western shore of Newfoundland just west of the Gros Morne National Park boundary.

Newfoundland Trout River north

Trout River wasn’t the prettiest town we visited, but in true Newfoundland fashion the people were very friendly and the more you hung around, the more you learned from them .  We talked to a Fisheries and Oceans Canada fellow staying in the cabin next to us about his life and work, how he goes out on the fishing boats monitoring catches and making sure they’re keeping within pre-set guidelines.  He suggested we drop by the local museum for their traditional codfish salt preserving tour, so we headed over there one rainy day and got the full face of it.

In a tour halfway up and down the shoreline boardwalk our guide described how Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River gutting fishNewfoundland life was back in the old days before TV and roads and a way out, much of it dedicated to the harvesting and preservation of fish.  Salt was what they used to preserve it back in the day before refrigeration, so after letting us try our hands at splitting – what we call gutting – the cod – she let us carefully scoop a half-bucket of it over the filets we’d managed to carve out.

Newfoundland Gros Morne Trout River kissing cod

Then it was time to kiss the cod.  This ritual is only one of about three – some say there are up to eight – hoops you have to jump through – be you a tourist or recent immigrant – if you’re ever going to be a Newfoundlander.  Others involve drinking Newfie Screech, parroting back dialectical utterances to a Newfoundlander after having downed said Screech, and other stuff we won’t get into.

Up she held a fresh cod, out puckered our lips as we took turns smooching the dead-eyed creature.  I can’t say it was the most enjoyable kiss I’ve ever had, but to reveal how bad back in the day some of my dates were, it wasn’t the worst.

Giving it away.

After Trout River we had plans to head north to l’Anse-aux-Meadows to the world-famous Viking archaeological site, but didn’t want to put ourselves through yet more driving, so we headed back west and pulled into Elliston, a village a few minutes down the coast from Bonavista known for a rather large colony of puffins.Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston puffin

The puffins were cute and fun to watch as they waddled about on the grassy rocks and dive-bombed for fish, but what I’ll always remember about that place were the cod.

Newfoundland used to be the world capital of cod fishery, but over-fishing and gross mis-management led to a collapse of stocks and a complete closure more than 20 years ago.  Today the stocks are still low, but there are enough out there to allow your average joe and jane fisherperson an inland cod fishery two or three weeks at a time twice a year depending on location.  One boy in another town said, “we were supposed to catch 15, but only got nine,” when asked how the day went, humourously confusing their daily limit with obligation.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston splitting codEarly one morning I got up to look at the puffins, then kept on walking down the path to a nearby bay just to watch the waves roll in and maybe spy one of the many whales plying the Atlantic coastline.  I saw three men in a small boat heading for shore, and by the time I reached their tiny cove they were already onshore splitting their catch.

I headed down there with my camera and was immediately assaulted with the stench of old fish obviously discarded over days past.   Some were crawling with maggots.  Stepping over and around the carcasses I went up to the men and asked for a closer look at their catch.

Newfoundland Bonavista Elliston trio splitting cod

“Ya just missed tha biggest one,” said an elderly gent who must have been in his late seventies.  I would have liked to have seen the size of it, because the ones still in their buckets waiting to be split and thrown in coolers still looked pretty sizable.

“My wife and I were in Bonavista yesterday looking for some cod to buy on the docks,” I told them.  “My wife can’t understand why there’s no place to just pick one up from a boat.”

“Can’t sell’em,” the youngest one said, “but you want some cod?”

He pulled a couple of filets out of the cooler and threw them in an empty bucket.

“Here ya go,” he said.  “Ever had cod tongue?  How ’bout britches?

We’d heard about cod tongue, a tender, almost jelly-like part from the underside of the head, and britches turned out to be the roe, but we’d yet to try either.

They threw in a few of those for good measure and after a few more minutes’ gab sent me on my way.  Though it was barely past 10 they were finished for the day, and getting ready to pull the boat above the high-tide line for the night.

Mashed-up fish on Mashiter Creek

A month later clear across the country – it would take you 96 hours to cover the 7,402 km from Bonavista, Newfoundland to Squamish, BC according to my GPS thingy – we drove over a tonne of pink salmon without even knowing it.

Canada British Columbia Squamish Garibaldi Elfen Lakes trailThey were thrashing like crazy under a bridge we’d driven across one morning to reach the Elfin Lakes trailhead 14km up a winding road through the forest, but we had no idea they were there until many hours later on the way back down when we met a man from France in a hiking shelter.

Well, we didn’t know he was from France until he oPENNed his mouse and started struggling to talk like ziss…

So we got to chatting in our sadly little-used French and he said he was amazed at how so many fish were crowded into so small a creek, you could have walked across on their backs, and it was just down the hill a few kms away.

“Is that bridge just after a golf course on your right and a bunch of industrial buildings on your left?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Mashiter Creek,” I said.  “That has to be it,” realising I was about to have another experience in this town that I’d heard about all my life growing up but never bothered to have: see the fish spawning.

Once there we got out and stood on the bridge at the spectacle below us.

“We’ve got to go get the red-haired teen and show her this before the light’s gone,” I said.

So we headed back to our place and I hauled her back to show her the fish.  We didn’t just stand on the bridge and take a couple of snapshots, though.  We headed through the bush on the east side of the bridge to the water’s edge, marvelling at the sight of it all.  And up close, the stench.

Feeling the need to go see the fish as they turned off the Mamquam River up the Mashiter British Columbia pink salmon maggots roeonly 30 or so metres downstream, we walked through the sand and scrub to the confluence.  The salmon were thrashing like mad to fight the flow of both rivers, one after the other, a seemingly endless supply of them.  Along the way I stepped on a dead fish and got a footload of stench and maggoty goodness, but that only added to the fascination.

I suddenly realised that all this dead meat lying around might be a good place to see eagles and bears feeding –  the former majestic, the latter potentially dangerous – but surprisingly, we didn’t see either.

Nevertheless, we didn’t linger, even if the smell in our nostrils did.

24
Aug
13

Germanised Canadian in reverse culture shock

After 16 years living in Germany, you start to pick up a few German habits.  You don’t cross the intersection when the light is red – it sets a bad example for kids.  You greet colleagues around lunchtime not with hello, but with a cheery Mealtime!  You say hello to everyone waiting already when you walk into the doctor’s waiting room. And whenever you’re at the supermarket checkout counter, or picking up stuff at the cleaners, or dealing with a teller at the bank, you do NOT make idle chit-chat.  In and out with sometimes barely a nod to civility is how it’s done.

So after eight weeks travelling through this great land we call Canada we arrive in the unusually parched Wet Coast west-coast town of Squamish, and it’s time to go to the bank.  I’m out of cash – not an unusual state this time around considering the incredible jump in prices we’ve seen for everything from fish to fowl – so the first morning after we get in I head to the bank, stride up to the teller and ask for my daily withdrawal limit.

After keying in my PIN number she informs me that acquiring the cash will take a minute as the cash must be dispensed from a machine back around a corner, and it’s in need of some sort of re-boot or whatever, and I say that’s OK, and then she asks me, So, do you have any plans for the rest of the day?

I look at her and hesitate that telling half-second which gives me away as someone with as much social savvy as a deer staring at headlights.Canada Osoyoos wildlife deer on trail

As I said, I’m kind of out of practice at this sort of thing, and after 16 years of dealing with German checkout counter ladies and bank tellers, it hits me as if she’s asked me if I’ve tried out that crazy new brand of multicolour condoms with the spiral ticklers.

“Yes, well, uh, I’ve got lots of plans lined up,” and I see out of the corner of my eye that the teller to her right has turned her head to look at me as if to ask herself, gee, he looks like a regular white guy and he’s got no accent, so what’s his problem?

I instantly switch to Canuck mode and try to come back with the breezy-bantery reply you’re supposed to, but it falls flat.

“Well, uh, we’re doing laundry at the moment, actually, it’s the fourth load already.  We let it pile up as we’ve not had a chance to get any done since Canmore and since then we’ve been through the Kootenays and well, you know how it is.

“Well, at least you’ve got a nice sunny day to do it,” she replies, the cash finally having been delivered to her wicket and I can count on the ordeal being over that much sooner.

It’s a good thing the cash came when it did as I was going to add, “and later on I’m taking my Mom to a funeral, well it’s not an actual burial, more of a memorial service for my former principal who passed away, and I was very saddened to hear it and I want to be there.”

I hope October is here soon so we can all start talking about hockey again.

03
Aug
13

Newfoundland slideshow

Nearly three weeks on Newfoundland and we don’t want to leave, but the west is there and tBonavista peninsula hikinghat’s where we’re heading.  After our first three weeks in Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City seeing the sights and meeting up with old friends and relatives – including one fine lady who just turned 100 – Newfoundland has been like going back in time and space.  Here the pace of life is slower, and it slows you down.

For example, we had plans to head up to the northern tip of the island to a Viking archaeological site called L’Anse-aux-Meadows, a remote snip dangling off the nail of Newfoundland’s finger at the end of the aptly named Long Range Mountains on this, the world’s seventh-largest island and nearly the size of Britain.  For its historical significance and magnificent setting everyone says it’s a must-do on the island.  UNESCO World Heritage this, Canada National Historic site that… yaddda yadda yadda.  We did not do, because we looked at the map, decided it was just way too much driving on an 8-week summer wander that is already going to top 10,000km spread over five provinces and three rental cars, so we stayed put.

Not that it was such an easy decision to make, because the allure is strong, but we heard a while later from someone who made the trek that the place is disappointing for the usual reason: as remote as it is, it’s crawling with the cruise-ship bus-tour set, no doubt fresh from cheesing up the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

What we have been up to is hiking.  We’ve been up and down many island trails and never once gotten tired of seeing what’s around the corner.  The place is unspoiled – at least it is to my eyes.  I don’t know anywhere else you can just park the car, walk up, take a seat and spend the afternoon watching tens of thousands of nesting birds clinging to cliffside crannies tending for their young.  The Northern Gannet, the Puffin, the lesser-crested horny twirl-flitzer – they’re all there, and you don’t have to take a boat tour to see the whales, either.

The walkabouts haven’t been all fun, though.  Wife K having wisely begged off, the red-haired teen and I slogged up a rubble-strewn gully of pure scree and torture on Gros Morne, 800 vertical metres of unstable foot-placement that will always stick in my mind as the hike I wish I’d never taken.  But two hours later and several degrees cooler, the view was worth it.

I hope this is worth it, too.  Take a gander, b’y!

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03
Jun
13

Back on the mountain bike again and it feels great

Ian back on the bikeIt felt so good to be on the bike again – my real bike, not my daughter’s and definitely not the one that replaced the one that split in two as I was crossing the road last year – that I rode 45km along the Elbe just because.

Tuesday it will be three months since my ski injury, and only three weeks ago the physiotherapist at rehab said to me in a gentle, roundabout kind of way that my goal of getting back on the mountain bike would have to wait.

“I think we all knew that riding again by the end of your time here wasn’t going to be,” she said, “but I think by the end of the year you’ll be ready.”

The end of the year?  Another seven months of taking the bus?  I went home feeling despondent.  I was making progress on getting the knee to bend more and more, so why such a long, drawn-out recovery?  Maybe she was just trying to make sure I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high for a quick return to full range of motion.

By some scheduling quirk they assigned me a different physiotherapist the next week.  She’s no better than the first one, but somehow she stretched me out one day so much, it made all the difference.

That same afternoon – the Friday of week three – I got up on the exercise bike, the real one, the one with the real crank and not the one you adjust shorter for those with limited flexibility – and gave it a turn.  And another.  And another.  I could not believe it.  It felt tight at the top of the circle, but I could do it just fine.  I was so happy, I wanted to scream with joy.  It was like climbing to the top of a ridge when you’re heading for the summit and taking in an incredible view knowing that you’re finally over the first big push.  I clenched my fists, bowed my head,  wanted to scream but couldn’t, so it just happened – a gush of tears.  I could not hold them back.  I was so happy, so incredibly overjoyed at once again proving to myself my leg was going to get better enough to allow me to do this simple task once again.  I tried to hide it by swiping my towel, taking in deep breaths, but it didn’t work.  It was like a release from weeks of frustration and doubt.

I looked over to my right to the desk at the corner of the gym and there she was, the physio who only two hours before had had both my legs stretched out on the table saying, “Gee, you’re really doing this well.”

I wiped off my face and walked over to where she was sitting, leaned over and said as sincerely as I could, “thank you! Thank you!  Thank you!”  She didn’t know what I meant, but I pointed over to the bike and said, “over there, the bike – I can do it!”

I led her over and got back on and showed her, thanked her again, and kept on it for another 20 minutes.

Yesterday, after practising in the  meantime on my daughter’s bike, and the dreaded split-in-two bike, I took out my bike – the one I watched them build from scratch – and took it for a spin.  The right thigh might still resemble a sausage with a slice down one end, but it bends and is getting stronger.  It feels great.

11
May
13

A little bit more every day

Things are coming along.  To compare:

Four weeks post-op:

Quadriceps tendon ripped bending knee

Seven weeks post-op:

Knee injury quadriceps tendon rupture

Today, just shy of 10 weeks post-op

Knee flex post-op 10 weeks

Of all the things I’ve had to do to get this knee to flex again, this has to be the most difficult:

Knee flex rope pull

It’s part of about 90 minutes in what the physios at rehab call the torture chamber.  When you arrive you’re given a set of exercises that target your problem.  I’ve got about 10 different things to do in order to build up my quadriceps muscles and flex the knee, and could go into detail about each one, but that photo is all you need.  It’s the worst.

The rope is appropriate, because it’s like self-flagellation.  I flex it as far as the muscles will take it, then start pulling slowly on the rope until it hurts.  Then I pull just a little bit more and hold it for 30 seconds.  After about 15 seconds, you start to go a little numb in the head, but wake up again when it’s time to release it.  Then the pain comes back double as you slowly let the foot down to the floor.  Repeat six times, once a day.

Good news!  I get to keep doing this.  My rehab is going to be extended one week, after which I will have the opportunity to drop by the centre for a workout as often as I like.  Physio should also continue twice a week after rehab finishes May 21st.

30
Apr
13

Vaginal cream chocolate bar. Yum.

For readers with small children in the area, this post contains words and pictures which acknowledge the existence of sexual organs, so you might want to make the print really, really small.

The red-haired girl has a job for a few months now.  Up to three times a week you can find her at a local pharmacy picking up prescriptions for delivery to customers in the broader neighbourhood.   She gets eight bucks an hour plus tips, which sometimes can be substantial.  I call her our drug-runner.

Yesterday she came home with a package I’m still puzzling over.  Take a look at this:

Vaginetten Myko Kombi chocolate bar Vaginalzäpfchen suppositories

What do you first think of when you see a chocoate bar named Vaginetten?  I know what I think.  Ewwwwww……

Especially when the translation of that fine print at lower left sinks in:

White Chocolate, tenderly melting like Vagisan’s Cremolum Myko Kombi.

Vagisan Myko Kombi white chocolate yumUh, now I get it.  The creamy-white anti-yeast-infection cream suppositories Vagisan vaginal suppositoriesthey’re pushing melt in your hoo-ha just as smoothly as this creamy white chocolate melts in your mouth.

Only people who graduated in the bottom half of their marketing class could have come up with this.    Seriously, what were they thinking?

“I know!  We’ll package up white chocolate bars to give away at pharmacies.  People will pick them up and wonder who could be dumb enough to market vaginal cream with white chocolate, they’ll take it home, take a photo and throw it up on social media.  Voilà!  Free advertising!”

They’re not so stupid after all.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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