Ironman Canada 2016

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The day before the big day! Dropping our bikes off at transition. (I’m on the left and Nyssa is on the right).

It’s hard to know where to start with this one. I had a lot of excitement and expectation building up to this race. Especially after the let down of last year’s race. I was pretty sure I was coming into this one fitter, more prepared mentally, and more experienced.  I was still nervous (does anyone NOT get nervous for an ironman?!), but not the same way wondering if I could even do it. Last fall I’d done a marathon which had gone relatively well – I’d fallen apart at the end (but doesn’t everyone?), and still managed to finish within my “B” goal time of 4:05. And I’d done the full swim and ride distance several times now and knew I had no problem with it.

Looking back at the race 3 months later I’m not nearly as emotionally attached to the race as I was in the days after or even first few responses to “So, how was it?!! You’re an Ironman now!”. (Read: I’m sparing you the full race report version ie. play by play saga of the entire day long race!)  Even though I’m not training for an Ironman anymore, the last few months have been busy in other ways.  I’ve been diagnosed with a chronic health issue (possibly part of the reason I’m not meant to be an Ironman athlete) which has taken up a lot of time and emotions, and it’s also helped to put the race into perspective for me. We’ve finally had time to be social – to hang out with friends more regularly, finally try an escape room (best thing ever!) and get back to doing things around the house. So, here’s the short and sweet version of my 2016 Ironman Canada race.

Race morning started off bright and early – at 3:30 to be exact. My alarm was set for 4:30 but I just couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure how or why I woke up so early – I couldn’t get to sleep from restless, nervous energy till about midnight, so I was definitely not refreshed when I woke up, but I couldn’t get back to sleep so I tip-toed out and went downstairs to start making coffee and breakfast. I was so nervous that I could hardly eat breakfast, but I knew that I needed energy so forced down the bagel with peanut butter and banana and one egg.  At 5:00 AM Nyssa and I headed out. The house we were staying in was on Crabapple Dr, exactly half way between the swim start and the shuttle bus pickup, so we were going to walk to the shuttle bus since we needed to get body marking done and drop off our run transition bags.  We were kind of banking on catching a ride with some other race goers and figured anyone driving at that hour would be a part of the race and would offer us a ride into the village since we were wearing warmup clothes and carrying our race bags. Which is exactly what happened. After less than a minute of walking we were offered a ride by a friendly american and his cheering squad – perfect timing! Everything went smoothly right up to the race start. This year the race was implementing a rolling start, so after they played Oh Canada, Nyssa and I hugged and went off to our respective start waves.

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Ready to go!

The swim went relatively well. I knew I was a bit fitter in the swim but I wasn’t going to go for a faster time, instead my goal to come out with the same time as last year which would hopefully mean I had used a bit less energy. Somehow I managed to do exactly that and came out with a swim of 1:09:27 which I was very happy with. Even though the rolling start was supposed to make for a smoother more spaced out swim, I ended up getting swum over and had my goggles knocked off in the second lap which seemed strange to me since the year before, everyone had gotten nicely spaced out by the second lap.

The bike started off slow but well. I had my stopwatch set with a timer to go off every 20 minutes to remind me to eat or drink. I thought that not enough nutrition was the cause of my bonking last year and was determined to eat more no matter what this year. The climb up to Callaghan was slower this year, but I was also trying to conserve energy and not get into the mindset of racing anyone or even myself and to just ride at whatever pace felt comfortable. About 50km in as I was cruising through Whistler on a slight downhill, my chain suddenly jammed. I couldn’t move my pedals at all. Not backwards, not forwards, not even an inch. I tried not to stress out while stopping my bike and getting off to take a look. There were a few spectators nearby who came over to see what was wrong. They were aware they couldn’t help out without compromising my race so they stood to the side and just asked if there was anything I’d like them to do or if they could talk me through anything. But I couldn’t even figure out what was wrong. Nothing was moving. Everything seemed fine – the derailleur, the rear cassette, the chain, I just gotten it all replaced in May, but it was completely stuck. I had no tools on me other than to change a tire (but let me tell you , I was ready to change lots of tires with my 4 CO2 cannisters and 2 spare tubes!!) but no screwdriver or multitool which would’ve been helpful now. After about 25 minutes of fiddling with the rear derailleur I started to take off the rear wheel and noticed that the rear derailleur hanger was hanging with one screw half out (on the wrong side.. what??) At the time, in my race mode panic after fighting with the bike for 25 minutes I didn’t even clue in that the screw was stuck in the wrong side of the frame, I just saw that it was on it’s last thread and that it looked like the other screw wasn’t even in. Frantic, I put the rear tire back in and cranked the quick release as tight as I could hoping that that would hold it in place for the remaining 130km. That seemed to do the trick because the chain finally started moving again and I hopped on bike instantly to try to continue the race. I had just been reaching a breaking point where I’d thought I wouldn’t even be able to finish the race and was in tears as I got back on my bike. I knew how important it was to stay calm and get back into race mode so I worked on that for the next 5 minutes till I calmed down and got back up to speed. I think it helped a lot that I was leaving Whistler and there was mostly downhill for the next 30 km to Pemberton. I tried really hard not to think about the lost time, and to just have a good ride and get to the run. Which seemed to work pretty well. I rode the flat out and back from Pemberton to my parents place and back in the aero bars the whole time and kept up a decent pace. As with last year, when I reached the aid station my parents were running, and waved to them it felt amazing and gave me a huge boost of energy and excitement.  The ride back into Whistler got a bit stressful when I heard something grinding on my bike. I was already nervous after the derailleur incident that something else would go wrong and I just wanted to be back to transition and done with my bike. I ended up making it to T2 with no issues after 7 hours and 5 minutes on the bike. Not the time I’d been hoping for, but close enough with the time lost dealing with the chain. I’d really been hoping and assuming that I’d be faster this year since I’d been doing so much bike specific training for the tandem racing and my training rides had all had better splits without conscious effort. But I didn’t want to be worried or stressed out about times, so after handing off my bike, I calmly walked through transition looking for my bag. Which I couldn’t find. And all the volunteers were busy helping others. It took me a while to finally grab what I thought was my bag and make my way into the change tent. My first priority was to get all the black bike grease off my hands and legs. As I was doing this a volunteer started taking stuff out of my bag to help when I realized the size 12 running shoes weren’t mine! So while the volunteer ran out to find my actual bag I continued to try to clean up the grease which was everywhere.

10 minutes later, I was finally degreased and in running clothes and making my way onto the run course. As soon as I left T2 I saw John running along and cheering which was exciting!  He ran beside me for a bit until I waved him off so I could focus on my pace and get into the run.

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5 km in and smiling.

My plan for the run was to take a gel every 7 km and to sip on water at every aid station. I had thought that the nutrition on the run was where I’d messed up last year and had been a huge focus on my training this year. I purposely kept my pace slow this year as I wanted to minimize energy loss and make sure I was able to digest my food. Everything was going well until the start of the second loop. I was on my third gel and I just didn’t feel like eating it. I was starting to feel nauseous and was worried that if I tried to push through and not eat it, it would backfire later so I let myself walk with the focus on getting the gel in. But I just couldn’t do it. It was completely unappealing and I was continuing to feel nauseous. At the aid station at the 22km mark I sat down to get rid of the nausea and realized I was sitting beside a friend and fellow Ironman athlete who was now volunteering. Hearing my situation he told me I was salt-depleted and needed to drink some chicken broth to get rid of the nausea and headache. He gave me two cups of broth and told me to walk until I could drink it all then I’d start to feel better. So I headed off determined to get it down so I could get back to running. I was slowly drinking the broth and walking around Lost Lake but not really starting to feel better, when suddenly I felt a lot worse and everything came back up. I vomited everything out. It was horrible and I felt horrible. I was also starting to get stressed out because I realized this was starting to feel a lot like last year. I slowly kept walking to the next aid station where a spectator had alerted the first aid staff that I was sick and on my way. They made me lie down while they took readings on all sorts of things and asked all sorts of questions. They seemed pretty concerned with my situation and brought me more chicken broth to deal with the head ache and chills that I was experiencing. After the last reading was taken they let me sit back up to finish the chicken broth.. when I promptly vomited again. At this point I was getting antsy to get moving again since it was going to be a long walk to the finish at this rate. They were skeptical of letting me go on, but agreed to as long as I had someone to look out for me. So they were able to get a hold of John who said he’d follow me along the course for the rest of the race. To make a long story short, this pattern continued for the rest of the race. I would try to eat or drink something (eventually only water) and a few kilometers later I would vomit it all up. At one of the next aid stations with 15km still to go, I was feeling pretty dejected after another sick stomach and was wondering whether or not to continue, when the paramedic there came over to me and said, “everyone feels crappy at this point, just get up and keep going!” I looked at her a bit dismayed, but also relieved and thought, okay, get up, I need to keep going!  I eventually met up with a veteran Ironman-er named Sharon who was speed walking on target to finish in 17h. So I asked her if I could tag along and walk with her. She kindly agreed and chatting with her and knowing that I would be able to finish in time took my mind off my stomach problems and gave me some much needed positivity. I stopped trying to eat or drink anything except really tiny sips of water every second aid station as I knew it would just speed up my stomach troubles. I finally finished at 11pm, 16 hours 9 minutes and 56 seconds after starting my swim.  4.5 hours later than I was expecting. I didn’t feel that great sense of accomplishment when I crossed the line. I hardly even heard them say that I was an Ironman. I was so exhausted mentally and physically and generally dejected by how things had ended up and was just relieved to be done.

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I never expected to be finishing with a glowstick. But I have to say, the last few hours of my race, speed walking with Sharon and all the other people we met along the way were pretty amazing in it’s own way. When you’re out there and you’re no longer chasing down a PB or a spot at Kona, and you’re just out there to finish, to make the last cut-off, to struggle through, it’s a different world. Everyone was encouraging each other, chatting with each other, helping in anyway we could and joking with each other to ease the pain and exhaustion we were all feeling. When we heard (bear banger) shots going off in the dark (there was a bear with her cubs up a tree over the course which had caused an off-road detour for use earlier in the race) an American walking behind me jokingly said something along the lines of, “So that’s how they pick off the stragglers up here?! That’s some good motivation to finish on time!!) before picking up his pace and heading off ahead.

I’m glad I did it. I’m relieved I finished. And while I immediately started planning my next attempt after finishing, I’ve since decided to step back and take a break. I think my body is trying to tell me that for the time being, races over 10.5 hours aren’t my thing. No matter what distance I am into the race, this seems to be the point in time where things shut down. So for now, I’m going to listen and stick to distances and events that don’t require full days of training and thousands of calories just to get through. I’m going to be guiding a half ironman with Christine next summer which is exciting since we haven’t raced together in 2 years, and I’ve been doing some casual training this fall with a few 10Ks thrown in.  It’s going to be a change in mindset since for the last two years it feels like I’ve been consumed with all things Ironman, but I’m looking forward to it!

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Replacing the prong on a belt buckle

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John’s favourite belt (fixed!) – a Great Glebe Garage Sale discovery from his Carleton days!

The prong had come loose and fallen off John’s favourite belt (a Great Glebe Garage Sale find from our Ottawa days!), but because it was the favourite belt we couldn’t just throw it out, but it was also not usable anymore, so it was relegated to the dresser where it sat. And sat. And sat.. until I got annoyed that it was still there and decided to deal with it. I thought for sure Fabricland would have a replacement prong or some nifty trinket that would do the trick, but to my dismay they did not. Nor did they have anything even remotely close. So luckily Fabricland is right next to Home Depot so I just headed over there thinking I could find some sort of nail or screw that I could tweak into a belt prong. I was naively thinking I could bend the end of a nail into a loop and then just cut the rest of the nail to length… Luckily I didn’t have to resort to that!  It turns out the belt buckle was the exact length of this  $2.00 latch hook  from Home Depot.  I was pretty excited to get home and start working.

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With some needle nose pliers I managed to prise open the loop just wide enough to take out the screw and put the belt buckle in. And with the same pliers I squeezed the loop shut again. Then using a hack saw I cut off the hook end of latch to fit the buckle length. This took two tries to get right. Then using a hammer I flattened out the latch end and tried to get it to bend slightly to conform to the buckle. This part was pretty tedious and it took both John and I holding and pounding the latch on various curved surfaces with mostly no success.  Eventually we gave up and after filing down the end to make it smooth and flattening it a bit more to make it more belt like, it was done! All in all, a pretty simple and relatively quick project.

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As good as new! (Or used 🙂 )

Replacing a zipper in pants

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After putting this project off for the better part of a year, I finally decided to do some Googling / Pinterest searching to see if this was a project worth undertaking or not. Turns out it’s a pretty simple and quick fix!  These are John’s favourite work pants and clearly go through a lot more wear and tear than the rest. They’d been sitting in our closet for quite a while so I thought it would be a nice surprise if I could fix them one weekend while John was gone.  Less than an hour later and for about $2.00, the pants were ready for work again!

Measure zipper length and buy a replacement zipper. The replacement zipper options weren’t quite the same colour or length as the original, but since it’s not visible, as long as it is long enough and strong enough it will work. I used a 7″ zipper from Fabricland that cost about $1.79.

Cut out the old zipper.  Pull out all the stitches for the old zipper, then cut the old zipper off at the top where it disappears into the waist band of the pants.  I decided to not take apart the waistband in order to minimize the amount of visible stitching required to sew everything back up. Much less pressure this way!!  You will need to rip out some stitches at the bottom of the fly to get the zipper through (the two pieces of fabric that hold the front and back of the fly together).

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Another pair of pants showing which stitches will need to be taken out (plus all of the stitches holding the other (left) half of the zipper.

Cut the new zipper to length and pin in place.  Make sure to not cut the new zipper below the metal stopper otherwise the zipper head will just zip off when doing up the zipper.

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Pinning the new zipper in place.

Sew the new zipper in place!  This was my first time using a zipper foot attachment on my sewing machine so I was pretty excited to try it out. It also made it so easy to sew the zipper on – who would’ve thought?!

Note – for the side of the pants that will be the front (your left when wearing the pants), you won’t be able to sew all the way to the top of the zipper before hitting the waistband with the machine. You will need to finish sewing this part by hand (see below).

Sew the top of the zipper by hand.  

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Finish with the top stitching. This is the one seam that is visible so it needs to be smooth and the thread colour should match (or contrast appropriately) the fabric. You may have the imprint of the previous stitching still in the fabric, but I could hardly see it let alone follow it while sewing, so I just took this seam slowly and hoped for the best!

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Not quite perfect, but definitely good enough to wear again!

West Coast Vacation Part 3: The West Coast Trail

After a rainy but fun week in Tofino which consisted of surfing and then trying to warm up after surfing, we packed up the car and headed south to Port Renfrew. We had booked one night in a luxurious yurt/lodge in Port Renfrew so we could relax and dry out our camping gear before starting the West Coast Trail the next day. We stayed in the Tatoosh Yurt at the Soule Creek Lodge and enjoyed dinner at the lodge as well – I highly recommend it!  The meals are gourmet and absolutely delicious.

We went to the required pre-hike trail info session that afternoon in order to be able to take the earliest water taxi to the trail head the next morning.  The first thing they showed us was the forecast for the week – hot and sunny all week long!  Such a relief after the constant cold drizzle in Tofino. After an hour, we were briefed and excited about the hike, now it was time to check in to the lodge and deal with all of our wet gear.

Day 1: Gordon River Trail head to Camper Creek – 13 km, 5.5h

We had requested an early breakfast in order to make it to the hike info centre where we would take the 8:45 water taxi to the trail head.  The only parking is pay parking at the info centre ($5/day, cash only) which we weren’t aware of before arriving in Port Renfrew so this took a decent chunk of the cash we’d allotted for lunch at Chez Monique’s mid-hike.  Now we only had $53 which we’d heard should be able to get us a burger each and maybe a drink to share. We later found out (after leaving our wallets in the car) that Chez Monique now accepts credit card payment as well (kind of funny considering it’s a rugged remote hike but definitely convenient considering how much cash you have to have on hand just for lunch!).

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All smiles waiting for the water taxi across the Gordon River to the trail head. Photo cred: Felix, our new German friend and hiking partner for the next 4 days.

After a 2 minute boat ride, we arrived at the trail head.

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And we start with a ladder…

We were told during the trail briefing that we could expect to cover 1 km in 1 – 1.5 hours for the first 5 km of the hike (to Thrasher Cove) and that the next 8 km  to Camper Creek would take the same amount of time as the first 5 had taken. Our plan was to get to Camper Creek that day and we’d been hoping to be able to take the beach route from Thrasher to Camper but we knew it would be close with the tides. We managed to get to the Thrasher Cove turn off in 2.5 hours which was a pleasant surprise although we were certainly working hard (ie. sweating buckets). We’d heard the ladders to get down to Thrasher were ridiculous (lots) and we knew we’d missed the tide window, so after a snack break at the junction we decided to continue on with the forest trail.  Eventually we came to a beach access and decided to eat lunch on the rocks overlooking the ocean and then see if we could slide down to beach and walk for a while out of the forest.

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The trail goes under/through a tree!!
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Walking along the beach en route to Camper Creek.

We reached Camper Creek by mid afternoon glad to be done with ladders and roots for the day. We’d opted for a lot of fresh veggies and fruit (still in kayak camping mode) so our backpacks were definitely heavier than they needed to be and our legs were shaking by the last few ladders.

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Waiting for our dinner of burritos with fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and avocados to cook.

Day 2: Camper Creek to Walbran – 9 km, 4h

Everyone we’d chatted with (hiking north to south) had told us that today was going to be hard  – between the mud and the roots and the ladders… We realized afterwards that because the trail gets easier as you travel north, this had been the hardest day for them, but little did they know what awaited them the next morning!  So we really weren’t too concerned with the reports of a hard day ahead. We’d also heard that Walbran was the nicest campsite on the trail. It had a nice sandy beach, and a great swimming hole where the river pooled before seeping through the sand to the ocean.

We had a pretty lazy morning and didn’t leave camp till just before 10 am. The trail was pretty similar to the first day, but less elevation gain and drop and the mud was slowly drying up which was nice.  Instead of being really slippery it was only slightly slippery and you didn’t loose an entire boot if you accidentally stepped in the wrong spot!  We enjoyed looking for each kilometer marking and keeping track of our time from one to the next. We seemed to average about 20 minutes per kilometer except when there were huge sets of ladders going up and then back down shortly after. All that work to go down and back up a set of ladders and you’ve only covered 100 m of horizontal!

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John crossing a log bridge (ie. a fallen tree)

We arrived at Walbran early in the afternoon and after setting up the tent and hanging the fly to dry on some drift wood, we got into our bathing suits. With the sun out it was probably well over 25C, and I was determined to go swimming this time – not like last night where after 30 minutes of standing knee deep in the cold water weighing the pros and cons of swimming and watching nearly everyone else at the campsite start and finish their swim, I decided it was now too cold to swim.  I waded in and by the time John was across the pool I had jumped in. It was so refreshing and with the hot sun it was actually really enjoyable and such a relief to be able to “shower” after two days of sweaty hiking.

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The swimming hole at Walbran.  There was even a driftwood raft to play around on!

 

Day 3: Walbran to Cribbs Creek via Chez Moniques and Carmanah Lighthouse – 11km

After two days of mostly walking in the forest, we were really looking forward to a beach walk. We were sure it would be way faster to able to walk along the beach for the majority of the day. Turns out, it actually wasn’t that much better. Often the sand was grainy and loose and we were constantly trying out different parts of the beach hoping to get firmer footing, but were mostly unsuccessful. Typically the closer you got to the water the better it was, until you got a boot-full of tide water (John)!  So far we’d been lucky with hot sunny weather, and today was the same – beautiful and warm and dry – it might not have been much easier, but it was definitely a perfect day for it. So with our sights set on lunch at Chez Monique’s, we headed off!

 

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Home stretch to Chez Monique’s, with Carmanah Lighthouse in the distance. We had just taken off our boots to cross Carmanah Creek on the beach.

 

After a yummy (and slightly pricey) lunch of burgers we headed up to the Carmanah Lighthouse to check it out. When we got there the lighthouse keeper had a telescope set up and was watching the sea lions sunbathing and barking on a rock just off the coast.  They were so loud! And watching them sliding off the rocks and then back on was actually really neat to see – they’re so awkward and heavy that they have to wait for a wave to come and push them almost all the way onto the rock so all they have to do is shimmy up the rest with their flippers.

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Carmanah Lighthouse with a whale skeleton in front.

After meandering around the lighthouse for a while and daydreaming about living there (I’d bake cookies and make a killing selling them to hikers desperate for anything that didn’t come out of a tinfoil package), we signed the guestbook and were on our way. Only two more kilometers until we could set up camp for the night.

Again at Cribbs Creek, we found a nice but shallow swimming hole where the creek met the ocean. John swam in the ocean for the third day in a row before joining me in the creek for a “warm” swim/bath. Apparently after each dip in the ocean it made the creeks feel like a bathtub of sorts!

After our first meal of re-hydrated food served in a tinfoil bag, we joined the other hikers around a campfire. It turned out there were two other families from the Calgary area who’d started the day before us and were now on the same schedule as us when we caught up to them at Camper Creek.  There were also two friends from Alaska hiking the trail from North to South who rolled in to camp just as we were finishing dinner and who, as it turns out, were just as interested in talking about hiking gear as John is!

The other groups were planning on a 7 am departure the next morning in hopes of making the beach walk during low tide. We weren’t too into the idea of getting up early enough to make the tide, but after a marshmallow each and a few bright meteor sightings, we went to bed when the rest of the campfire crew packed it in.

Day 4: Cribbs Creek to Klanawa River – 19 km, 8h

The next morning we headed off on the forest trail knowing we’d be cutting it too close on the tide timing. After 2 km in the forest we came to a beach access, and looking after assessing the situation thought that maybe we’d actually be fine since it seemed like an easy and fast walk on the rock and the tide didn’t seem to be an issue at the moment. We didn’t realize until we got down there and half way around Dare Point, that the “beach” was actually a rock plateau and as soon as the tide was high enough the whole thing would flood.  It was already at 2 inches which was enough to make it annoying to walk through and it looked like every wave was bringing in more water. Not to mention the surge channel that we had to jump over as the water was crashing in. We were pretty stressed out with the rising water and crashing waves and after quickly cramming the camera into a backpack we all jumped over the surge channel one by one trying to time it with the less aggressive waves. Definitely not the safest moment on the hike, but as we were scrambling to avoid the rising tide, we noticed a rickety old set of ladders leading straight up the cliff ahead.  We hurried up them relieved to have found a way back in the forest and away from the tide.

We got into Nitinat Narrows at 12:30 after 3.5 hours of hiking ready for a hot seafood lunch. One of the groups the day before had lent us $60 cash so we could buy lunch at the Narrows. We hadn’t been aware that there were multiple lunch spots and after losing a third of our cash to parking at the start of the trip we didn’t have enough to cover more than the one lunch at Chez Moniques. (In case you were wondering, these are by far the most expensive lunch dates we’ve ever gone on, and two in one week, on a hiking trail no less!) As soon as we got in we ordered a BBQ salmon ($25), a crab ($30) and a ginger ale ($2).  As John was watching our crab being prepped, I munched on a nasturtium flower – a gift from Hippie Doug our soon to be ferry captain across the narrows after lunch. Gentlemen – in case you’re looking forward to enjoying an appetizer of nasturtiums in the middle of your hike, you should be warned, that Hippie Doug (this is what his name tag says, I swear!) reserves his flowers and candies for lady hikers only. No questions, no explanations. (Our theory is that he attempts to woo every female hiker passing through with one flower and one candy, in hopes that one of them will be so smitten, or so sick of tromping through the mud, that she will stay and live happily ever after with him at Nitinat Narrows!)

Lunch was delicious and worth every penny. The BBQ’d salmon comes with a baked potato, a heap of margarine and lots of salt and pepper. The crab is served plain – literally just a crab on a plate and you’re absolutely not allowed to contaminate the crab or the plate on which it comes with margarine. Hippie Doug patrols the picnic tables making sure that these rules are followed. But after one bite of crab, you understand why you’re not allowed any margarine. The crab is absolutely delicious on it’s own.

The going after the Narrows wasn’t too bad. There was a nice mix of forest and beach walking and it stayed sunny until we got to the Hole in the Wall about a kilometer from Tsusiat Falls when the fog rolled in.

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Overlooking the ocean and trail ahead shortly after Nitinat Narrows.
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A doe with her two spotted fawns casually munching on greens. They hardly noticed when we came down to the beach and we watched them eat for 20 minutes before continuing on our hike.
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John looking through the Hole in the Wall.

When we got to Tsusiat we put our packs down and wandered over to look at the falls. We’d been set on staying there that night since I’d remembered it as the nicest camp spot and a fun place to shower in the falls. But there were so many campers already set up there, and the falls actually didn’t look quite as nice as I’d remembered not to mention there was a flock of seagulls floating in the pond where we’d need to get our water from – that or wade waist deep into the water to get to the falls neither of which seemed appealing, so we put our packs back on and headed over to the ladders leading up to the trail. It was only another 2 kilometers to the next campground and we’d heard it had a nice river so we thought we’d give it a shot.

Klanawa River turned out to be one of the better campsites on the hike. And because Tsusiat is so hyped up and it’s already a long day to get there if you’re coming from the south, Klanawa was empty when we arrived. Over the course of the evening only 2 other couples camped at Klanawa and we were all nicely spread out among the driftwood. For the first night of the hike, it actually felt as though we were on a back-country hike in the wilderness! After a swim in river we made a little campfire and settled down for an early night.

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Our cozy camp spot nestled between the Klanawa River and the Ocean.

Day 5: Klanawa River to Michigan Creek and a bear sighting – 11 km

Today was a short day distance wise. We had a lazy morning and didn’t get going until mid-morning after the first group of hikers had already walked by heading north. It was the first day we hadn’t woken up to a bright and sunny weather and instead the thick fog kept rolling in from the ocean continuously. After a short photo shoot on the giant driftwood trees by our campsite we headed north up the beach. As usual we met hikers heading south – usually we stopped to chat about where they were hiking from and what their trail plans were and any ensuing conversation. So far along the hike we’d met people from Germany, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and the US, along with almost every province in Canada, but this morning the couple we met had a more familiar accent. It turns out they were from Brno (Czech Republic) so John got to practice his Czech for a few minutes!

 

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How do these trees get here??!!

When planning our campsites we’d heard a lot of good things about Darling River – that it was nicer and larger than Michigan, but the drawback when you’re heading north is that it’s an extra 2km on the hike out which can matter for some groups catching the shuttle – so we hadn’t been able to make up our mind about where to stay for the last night. We decided to decide when we got there. I have to say, Darling River was one of the coolest looking campsites of the trip. If we had to describe the campsites with vacation themes it would probably go something like this:

Camper CreekTofino Beach Front Resort (this was by far the busiest camp site we were at with colourful tents covering the beach)

WalbranCottage on the Lake (the beautiful swimming hole with the raft and buoy rope swing…)

Cribbs CreekAfrican Safari (those sea lions never stopped barking all night long!)

KlanawaPeaceful Treehouse Forest Retreat (we saw a bald eagle flying back to its nest with a fish in dangling from it talons as we were making dinner)

Darling RiverBustling Metropolis (There is something for everyone here! From the TV permanently tuned in to WCT channel and the custom made lounge chairs, to a state of the art tether ball court, rope swing and hammocks a-plenty.)

Darling River was so fun to explore! After John caught a few episodes of WCT TV (someone cleverly set up a washed up window frame in front of the ocean so the “TV” is permanently “tuned in” to the ocean) in the driftwood lounge chair we headed to the north end of the campsite for a tether ball match.  The tether ball was quite a bit larger than normal and the driftwood pole that it was set up on was definitely curved in John’s favour (my excuse for loosing round after round!), but it was still a fun break in the middle of a hike! The sun finally came out during our tether ball game so afterwards we took a break and enjoyed the sun and some conversation with a hiker setting up camp for the night. Mid conversation, we heard a rustle in the salal bushes and we all watched as a mid-sized black bear ambled out of the bushes. He wasn’t too far away so I jumped up to grab my camera and see if I could get a picture but as soon as he saw us he turned around and headed back into the bushes. We decided that we would also be on our way. He had seemed pretty harmless but it just seemed like a good idea to camp elsewhere if possible. Surprisingly there had only been one person planning on setting up camp at Darling, and after the bear sighting we all decided to head our respective ways to the next camp site en route.

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John catching an afternoon show on the WCT TV at Darling River campsite.

The fog rolled back in as we arrived at Michigan Creek and with the wind picking up it was a chilly evening. Definitely no swimming tonight, but that was okay since tomorrow we would be on our way out and back into civilization for the night.

Day 6: Michigan Creek to Pachena Bay – a rolled ankle and a lonnnng bus ride – 12 km, 2.5h

This was by far the fastest and easiest day on the trail. It was a combination of the well groomed trail and boardwalks and the very light packs (37 lb each at the end – John was convinced his was heavier the whole hike, but they were both the same at the end and I was carrying most of the food. Hmmm…). We had planned on leaving around 8:30 in the morning to make sure we arrived in time for the shuttle. The shuttle was scheduled to pick up hikers heading to Gordon River/Port Renfrew at 1:45pm, but we had heard rumors that the shuttle driver might be willing to bring hikers into Bamfield with him for lunch if you were there at noon when he was dropping people off at the Pachena Bay trail head. This was our goal. We had $10 left and wanted to spend every last penny of it in Bamfield if possible. Our plan was to leave at 8:30 from Michigan and arrive by 11:30am. We figured if we’d been able to average 3 km/h for the majority of the trail (or 1 km every 20 minutes) we should be able to manage a bit more on the last and easiest day.  We were the last group to leave that morning as it seemed no one wanted to take any chances with the shuttle and the campsite was empty by 8 with most groups having left even earlier. It turns out we were able to make great time! In fact we were on a roll and having fun speed walking and running and seeing how fast we could make it to the next kilometer marking. I don’t remember the times now, but we were setting (WCT hiking) PB’s left, right and center today!  Until John took it a bit too far… With just over 2 km left in the hike, John decided it would be funny to goof around with some branches while speed walking down a hill. Almost instantly he rolled his right ankle. And then we went from setting PB’s to painstakingly slow shuffling for the next few hundred metres, and then a (very) slow walk for the last 2 km. Thank goodness we were almost done and way ahead of schedule for the shuttle! And after a last few ladders (we weren’t expecting those at all! But I guess those North to Souther’s need something to get ready for the south end!) we were done. Six days, five nights and 75 km of hiking – what an adventure!

Ps. The shuttle never did come at 12 so we resigned ourselves to crackers, cheese and the last of the avocado which had actually held out very well for the whole trip.

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West Coast Trail complete! Taken at the Bamfield Trailhead office.

 

Our garden

We’ve been a little busy since we got back from vacation…

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On our drive home from Vancouver Island we stopped in Vancouver for a few days to visit with friends and family. Then we took the Trans Canada highway back to Calgary via the Okanagan so John could experience the warm lakes and fruit stands that I’d been telling him about since moving out west! We stopped in Peachland for an afternoon swim/play session at the lake side water park which was a ton of fun in and of itself. Road trips in Alberta just don’t involve impromptu lake swim stops which is something I remember a lot of from my childhood and was so excited to share with John.

After we tired of the zipline and rope swing we dried off and decided to drive a bit further south to find some fruit stands. We were set on buying boxes and boxes of fruit to preserve for the winter. After about 5 minutes of driving we found a fruit stand AND a winery side by side – bonus!  A quick wine tasting later we headed across the road to the fruit stand with a few bottles of wine in the back seat. A few minutes after that we’d managed to cram 2 – 20 lb boxes of peaches, a 40 lb box of pears and some plums for snacking in the car (barely). Now we could finally continue on home with a car full of fruit, wine and wet bathing suits.  Our little stopover in the Okanagan was complete though a little too short for our liking but hopefully we’ll be back soon.

When we arrived home that night we found our garden completely overgrown. Literally. Our mystery plant (which turned out to be an acorn squash) had spread out into the middle of the alley way and the neighbours had been carefully driving around it for the past few weeks. This was so cool! We’d half been expecting to come home to a mess of hail damaged plants but instead there were massive zucchinis and cucumbers growing through the fencing, tomatoes loaded with fruit turning red and the sunflowers were in bloom!

We spent that whole weekend and the next few weeks dealing with the garden. John made a big batch of delicious salsa, and I made zucchini everything – zucchini chocolate chip cookies, zucchini cheddar chive bread and of course zucchini loaf. We also found out our neighbour had a crabapple tree that was overloaded and she didn’t want to deal with them. So we did. Over the next few weeks we preserved 27 litres of peaches, 20 litres of pears, 16 litres of crabapple sauce and 3.5 litres of salsa. I think we’re ready for that long, cold winter that’s being predicted!

 

West Coast Vacation – Part 1: Kayaking the Broken Islands

This summer we took a month off work, packed our car to the brim and headed west for four weeks of visiting family (mine) and discovering BC (John).

First on the list was Ironman Canada in Whistler, BC where I was racing and John was cheering and exploring Whistler. It was a long day and there’s a long story (of course!) but more to come on that later.

Then off to Thormanby Island just off the Sunshine Coast for the week to recover and truly relax (and plan the last few details of our trip). After the Sunshine Coast we headed to Vancouver Island, first destination- the Broken Group Islands for a week of ocean kayaking.  I’ve technically done this trip before (as I had with most of the places we planned to visit on our trip, but it was so long ago it hardly counts – 23 years ago!).

We had a few delays on our way from the Sunshine Coast to the island – our trusty car decided that the Friday of the August long weekend would be the best time to have a flat tire and loose battery connection… So after missing our first ferry from Langdale we were greeted with a 2-3 sailing wait in Horseshoe Bay. It turned out it was going to be 3 for us after we missed the second ferry by a couple of cars. So we spent some time wandering around Horseshoe Bay and enjoying the beautiful weather. Not the worst thing to be doing while waiting!  When we finally arrived on the island it was already getting late and we still needed to get groceries for the week and drive the 3 hours to Toquart Bay where we were going to be camping before launching our kayaks for the week.

Being a bit unfamiliar with the concept of camping for the week (read: no refrigerated food) but not having to be as concerned about weight and space, we tried to plan a mix of typical backpacking meals and things we would normally make at home with fresh food. The only thing we missed was water… We don’t ever buy bottled water so it didn’t even occur to me that we should have purchased water for the week along with all of our groceries even though I knew we had to bring all of our drinking water with us in the kayaks.

We arrived at Secret Beach Campground shortly before 11pm.  We got completely lost trying to find our campsite so finally just stopped at an empty one and pitched the tent eager to go to bed and not worry about the rest of the logistics till the morning (we only had about a litre of water with us left over from the ferry).  I had assumed the campsite would have drinking water along with other standard campsite facilities and we could deal with that in the morning. Apparently I had missed the warning on the website about that…

The next morning when we woke up John headed out to fill up water for breakfast along with the 5 Gallons needed for the trip. Our next door neighbours kindly informed us that there was no water at the campsite nor was there anywhere to get any water until Ucluelet. However they were leaving that morning and we could have the rest of theirs which ended up being almost as much as we needed for the whole week. Such a relief!

We found some more water that was provided as utility water for washing dishes which we boiled while packing and loading our kayaks. Combined with another litre from some kayakers finishing their trip that morning, we managed to fill all of our water containers for a total of 5 Gallons and 3.5 Litres for the next 5 nights and 6 days.

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Packed and ready to go at Secret Beach.
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Turret Island: our first Island stop and lunch spot on Day 1.

Day 1: Secret Beach to Gilbert Island via Turret Island 

We left Secret Beach at noon and paddled for approximately 2.5 hours and 13 km before seeing other kayaks and realizing that we had made it to the Broken Islands. Not having brought an appropriate map for navigating and realizing that once on the water the layout looks very different, we’d taken a completely different route than planned and actually paddled quite far down the outside of the islands before finally making our way in. The kayakers we met happened to have multiple copies of some very detailed maps and were very happy to share. Relieved we were in the right spot, we decided to stop and have a late lunch on Turret Island before continuing on to Gilbert to camp.

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The outhouses!  I thought these were so cute and whimsical in the middle of the rainforest on the islands.

Day 2: Paddling around Effingham Island in search of the Sea Arch

We left our tent set up but packed all our food back into the kayaks for our day trip. On the islands you are given the option of hanging all your food in a tree or packing it into the kayak hatches as a deterrent to animals – we decided that packing it back into the kayaks was the easiest option.  We headed south from Gilbert and then west around Effingham towards the Sea Arch. When we found the Sea Arch we were hesitant at first paddling through but then had so much fun riding the swell through that we stayed to play for a while taking turns going back and forth through the arch.

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John heading into the Arch.
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Cooking dinner over the fire after our stove broke on the first night.

Day 3: Giant Tidal Pool & Sea Lion Rock

Day 3 was our longest day of paddling by far during the trip. Our goal was to head around to Wouwer Island along the outside of the Islands in hopes of seeing more wildlife in the open ocean en route. It was overcast and a bit choppy when we headed out and it only got foggier as we paddled which got us quite disoriented more than once.

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John waiting for me to take a picture (either of him or the seals that followed us around for most of the trip).
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Sea lions on a rock just west of Wouwer.

We had planned to have lunch on Wouwer Island after seeing the sea lions and before heading to the tidal pool, but we were so disoriented with the fog that we thought the sea lions were just off Howell Island which then caused us to keep going past Wouwer Island thinking Benson Island was Wouwer. When we beached on Benson Island we saw the totem pole and realized how far off course we’d gotten. So we stayed for lunch and a nap in the sun before heading back to Wouwer to try to get to the tidal pool before the tide came back in.  After a bit of bushwacking and then beach scrambling, we made it to the tidal pool!

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The tide pool on Wouwer Island (one of the largest in the world apparently).

Day 4: Gilbert Island to Gibraltar Island

We had a lazy day packing up our campsite and heading over to Gibraltar to set up camp for the next 2 nights. After arriving at our new campsite and setting up our tent, we played around with the drift wood – who knew forts and giant teeter-totters could be so fun?!

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Our newly renovated kitchen/living room/dining room/ laundry room on Gibraltar.

Day 5: Whale watching in Imperial Eagle Channel & Fish Traps on Jacques Island

After hearing that there had been whale sightings off the coast of Gibraltar earlier that week we thought we’d try our luck o day 5. Around mid morning we left the campsite and headed south-east out into Imperial Eagle Channel which, we soon found out, was fittingly named.

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A Bald Eagle was the first animal we saw in Imperial Eagle Channel!

After drifting aimlessly a couple hundred meters off shore hoping to spot whales, we finally saw a spout of water off in the middle of the channel. We watched for a while and when we saw more and could tell which way they were heading we started paddling as fast as we could into the channel. Eventually we managed to get pretty close or at least it seemed close since they were so huge!

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After watching the whales for a while and trying to follow them in the kayaks we eventually gave up and paddled back to the outside of Gibraltar where we checked out the sea cave for a bit before realizing that the tide was too high to paddle in. So we continued around Gibraltar and looked for a beach to stop on for lunch. After lunching on the south side of Jacques Island, we decided to paddle around to the north side of Jacques to look at the fish traps and hopefully find a good place to swim since the sun had finally come out and it was turning out to be a pretty hot day. Unfortunately when we got around to the north side of Jacques and paddled in to where we’d been told the fish traps were we realized that the tide was too high to see anything, so after exploring the inlets for a bit we headed back to camp on Gibraltar.

Day 6: Gibraltar to Secret Beach via Hand Island

We woke up the earliest we had all week in order to get an early start and back to our car by noon only to find that we were socked in by the heaviest fog we’d ever seen. You could hardly see beyond the beach let alone any of the other islands or landmarks we’d been planning on for the route home. Time to find out how good John’s compass skills were!

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John less than 50 feet away in the fog.

We managed to get to Hand Island in just over an hour which meant we’d been paddling pretty fast since we’d definitely been zigzagging a fair bit in the fog. As we were pulling up to Hand the fog started clearing up and by the time we finished our snack and were ready to leave it was completely clear and sunny. It made for a beautiful paddle back to Secret Beach, this time through the passage between the Stopper Islands that we’d missed on our way in.  What a beautiful and adventurous six days in the Broken Islands. Now off to Tofino for a week of surfing!

Some more pictures from our week in the Broken Islands:

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