Vancouver Folk Festival 2015

This year I attended the Vancouver Folk Festival on the Friday night and most of Saturday, and as always, I had a great time. I think the Folk Fest qualifies for my outdoorsy blog since the whole thing happens outside at the beach!

My friend Chloe (left) and me enjoying the show from the back of the crowd at the main stage.
My friend Chloe (left) and me enjoying the show from the back of the crowd at the main stage.

The thing that always impresses me the most at the Folk Fest (besides the musicians) is the fact that everyone is just there having a good time. People are friendly and polite. It is a family friendly environment with plenty of kids and activities for them to do, but there is also a beer garden and yet no one seems to get out of control or obnoxious.

There is an artisan’s market which is accessible to the public as well. I bought a lovely blue and teal batik for $15. I bought two last year, but I ended up using them on my furniture to keep cat hair off my couch and chair, so I needed to buy another one to use as a beach/picnic blanket. I also bought a portable charger for my phone which will come in handy when I’m camping next weekend (stay tuned for a post about that as well as a review on my new tent).

There are lots of good eats at the Folk Fest as well. They have a “food court” of food trucks with plenty of tasty options. Although I must say, I was disappointed that the Kaboom Box wasn’t there as had been advertised. I’d been looking forward to having their amazing veggie Buddha Burger since last year. I’m not even vegetarian but that is seriously one of the best burgers I’ve had. I believe they are usually downtown so if you come across them I highly recommend you give them a try.

My favourite act that I saw perform twice was the The Strumbellas. They are listed under country on iTunes but I would describe them more as upbeat folk-rock. I bought their most recent album yesterday morning and I’ve been listening to it non-stop.

Some of the other acts I saw included Hawksley Workman, Frazey Ford, Adam Cohen, Perch Creek, Pokey LaFarge, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, The Sadies, Basia Bulot, and Trampled by Turtles. Overall, I was impressed by the talent.

I even got to chat over dinner with the drummer and fiddle player from The Jerry Cans, a band from Nunavut. They were really nice and I was disappointed that I missed their performance on Saturday morning.

The venue is amazing. The stages are all set up on the grassy areas at Jericho Beach and sometimes you are treated to beautiful sites like this as you are dancing along to the music:

Beautiful sunset at the Vancouver Folk Festival on Friday night.

Canada Day 2015

View of Downtown Vancouver from Spanish Banks
View of Downtown Vancouver from Spanish Banks

Yesterday was Canada Day and I was off work. The weather has been gorgeous and I always like to get outside on Canada Day. Why? Because one of the things I love most about this country, and particularly my region, is it’s natural beauty.

So, me and a friend packed up our beach towels and walked down to Spanish Banks for a little R&R in the sunshine.

Low tide at Spanish Banks
Low tide at Spanish Banks

If you are in Canada, or a Canadian living abroad, let me know how you celebrated in the comments!

Training for Hiking – Stairs and a Surprise Nature Show

If you’d love to get into hiking but are worried about your fitness level – worry not! Part of the reason I am writing this blog is to encourage people to get out there and appreciate nature. I was not in shape at all when I first started – but I still went. I started with easier hikes and took lots of breaks and built my way up gradually. I’m still working on improving my fitness level so I can do more challenging trails.

One of the best things you can do to get your body used to going up steep slopes is to do stairs. I recently signed up for a month long stair climbing challenge at work and part of my motivation for doing that was to kick up my fitness level a notch in preparation for some bigger hikes this summer.

Yesterday two of my colleagues and I headed to Trail 4 near the Museum of Anthropology which leads down to Tower Beach (see map here). Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture of the stairs but I will post one the next time I do them. The 339 stairs take you down through gorgeous trees with lots of light dappling through and you come out and see this:

Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view
Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view
Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view
Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view
Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view
Tower Beach, Trail 4 exit view

We admired the view for a minute and then got to work going up those 339 wooden steps that turn and twist their way back up to the access trail. We paused at the top for a quick stretch break and then headed back down again.

We decided to sit on a log for a bit before heading back up for round number two and luckily that was the right call because within a couple of minutes we were treated to all sorts of wildlife! We had two seals bobbing their heads up and down very close to us (unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to get a decent photo), three herons wandering, flying and posing for the camera, and two goose families.

herons in flight
Herons in flight
Lone heron in flight.
Lone heron in flight.
goose family.
Goose family.
Graceful herons posing.
Graceful herons posing.

It was such a treat to see all this going on during our workout! We ended up sitting there for about twenty minutes until the herons flew away and the goose families had wandered further down the beach.

Then we went up the stairs again! I actually found the second round easier as my muscles had warmed up. We did a little more stretching and then headed home.

I’m not always able to go hiking as much as I’d like so I feel very lucky that I can keep myself in shape for it and enjoy a bit of nature so close to my home and work. If you are trying to get into shape to start hiking, stairs are the perfect way to go!

I’m a Cover Model! My friend’s hiking book.

I’ve mentioned before that I only discovered my passion for hiking in the last few years and the main person I have to thank for that is my dear friend Chloë Ernst.

canoe, paddle, river, hiking, west coast, vancouver, outdoors
Chloë paddling towards Widgeon Falls.

She took on a contract to write a book of hikes near Vancouver and invited me along to do a few of them with her. I wasn’t in very good shape at the time so it was pretty tough at first. Luckily for me, Chloë was very patient with me, and also very good at picking hikes that would challenge me enough for me to make progress, but not be so hard that I would be turned off hiking altogether.

The first hike that really made me fall in love with hiking was Upper Shannon Falls near Squamish, BC (Distance 7.5km, Elevation gain 470m, Intermediate).

When we reached the top and I looked out over Howe Sound, it…changed me. I was in awe and knew I needed more of this in my life. Plunking down and drinking in the rugged beauty of nature while eating a well deserved snack in the sun made me so happy. I was addicted.

view, hiking, howe sound, upper shannon falls, vancouver, west coast
View of Howe Sound from Upper Shannon Falls viewpoint.
hiking, west coast, vancouver, view, mountains, upper shannon falls, howe sound
Chloë admiring the view of Howe Sound from Upper Shannon Falls.

Hiking is my therapy. The combination of nature and exercise melts the stress away. Seeing incredible mountain views remind me of the big picture and how the little things really don’t matter all that much.

Over the course of about a year or a little more, I did several hikes with Chloë for her book. My fitness level gradually improved, and I started spending (too much) money on gear and technical clothes because I knew I had finally found a hobby I was passionate about and would stick with. We ended up redoing some of the hikes so she could double check her notes and add in more details, and I was very pleased to see the progress I’d made in terms of fitness compared to my first time doing them. That’s another thing I find rewarding about hiking – you can really see how your fitness level is improving. Minnekhada is actually one of the first hikes I ever did, and when I do it now it really shows me how far I’ve come. I still have a ways to go but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

minnekhada, hiking, vancouver, west coast,
Part of trail at Minnekhada. It seems very shire-like for you LOTR fans.

During these hikes, both of us were snapping pictures regularly, and then one day Chloë sent me an email asking me to give her approval to use some pictures of me for her book. And THAT my friends, is how I became a cover model! I’m also on four pages inside!

You can (and should) buy Chloë’s book here. It features directions, summaries, statistics, route details, stats, pictures and maps for each hike. It also includes interesting facts, history or tips on nearby events or restaurants for some of the hikes as well. You can look up hikes by certain criteria such as being dog friendly. And, best of all – you can throw it in your bag and bring it with you for reference (your phone won’t work everywhere when you are hiking)!

Not my best photo but here I am thrilled to get my copy of Chloë's book. That's me on the cover!
Not my best photo but here I am thrilled to get my copy of Chloë’s book. That’s me on the cover!

The book is done and published, but we are still hiking, and I feel like I’m just getting started!

Thank you Chloë for bringing me along, being patient with me when I was horribly out of shape, and making me a cover model! And most importantly, thank you for being such a great friend!

hiking, widgeon falls, vancouver, west coast, beer
Chloë also has great ideas like packing beers to enjoy in the sun beside Widgeon Falls.

Gear Review: Therapik Insect Bite Treatment

The Therapik next to a pen for scale.
The Therapik next to a pen for scale.

Therapik Insect Bite Treatment: Bugs LOVE me and my body reacts to their bites quite strongly with swelling and redness and itchiness that lasts for days! I was browsing the MEC website and came across this little device that heats up and apparently helps draw blood to the area. I didn’t really believe it would work, but the rave reviews convinced me to give it a try because I was scratching myself raw. I just tried it out today, four days after getting the bites (they say it works best when used right away) and…it WORKS! So far anyway. I used it about two hours ago on the worst offenders, and they aren’t itching now! I think this little thing is going to live in my hiking bag from now on! It’s a little clunky, but it’s pretty light.

All you do is place the end against your bite and push on the big blue button for 30 seconds (or less if it gets way too hot). Apparently the heat causes blood to rush to the area which helps clear away the ‘bug poison’. (Please read their official description as that is really not a very technical description!)

Caution: Make sure you don’t hold it on your skin for longer than 30 seconds. I have a high pain tolerance and wasn’t paying attention once and ended up burning myself and getting a nasty blister. I’m hoping it won’t leave a scar because that’s not exactly a cool scar story.

Gear Review: La Sportiva Thunder III GTX day hiking boots

la sportiva

La Sportiva Thunder III GTX day hiking boots: These boots look great and seemed to fit well in the store. I had a MEC staff member check the fitting and he thought they fit well. I wore them around the house for a while and they felt good, but as soon as I went hiking – pain and blisters. I took them on four hikes, hoping they would break in, but, no such luck. I think it was a combination of the fact that there is a rough seam up the back inside of the heel, and the fact that the sole is very stiff. But, this is exactly why I always buy my gear from MEC – because of their Rock Solid Guarantee I was able to return them hassle-free! I’m going to wait for my heels to heal before I go trying on more boots to find their replacement.

Mount Seymour

View from top of Mount Seymour first pump
Mount Seymour, First Pump

Monday was a holiday here in Canada and it was a beautiful day. My friend and I loaded our day packs, got a breakfast sandwich and then headed to Mount Seymour to hike up to the first ‘pump’ (peak). The website says it’s not open until July, but we’ve had hardly any snow this year so many trails have been clear much earlier than usual.

Now, it’s going to be hard for me to write a good account of this hike because I was in a lot of pain from about 20 or 30 minutes into the hike. I’ve been trying to break in my La Sportiva Thunder III GTX hiking boots, but things just kept getting worse. I tried moleskin, doubling up my socks, loosening the laces, tightening the laces…but the blisters kept coming. So, this hike felt a lot harder than it would have otherwise. There were also a LOT of bugs, which was hard to get used to after the joy of bug free winter hiking! Four days later I’m still nursing about a dozen nasty bites – and yes I used bug spray! But last night I grabbed a Therapik from MEC and it seems to be working really well! I will review that in another post.

That being said, it was a good hike. We took the “road” route, which for much of the way was pretty open and sunny. In the beginning it was loose smaller rocks, but as we went on the path narrowed and the stones became larger and more stable.

I had to take breathers much more often than usual because the pain in my heels was really getting to me. Shortly before we reached the first pump I actually started to feel a little light headed…but I was determined to see that view before heading back! I also didn’t want to let down my friend by giving up.

So we made it up and found a sunny spot to sit and eat…and ice my heels in a patch of snow! (Note to self – remember to pack Advil on hikes!) Up top the bugs were mostly absent and it was nice and warm so we hung out and relaxed for a bit.

Photo by Chloe Ernst. That little pink, black and skin coloured patch on the rocks is me!
Photo by Chloe Ernst. That little pink, black and skin coloured patch on the rocks is me!
Photo by Chloe Ernst. Me taking a break and basking in the sunshine.
Photo by Chloe Ernst. Me taking a break and basking in the sunshine.

Once we’d had enough of a break and snapped a few pictures we decided to head back. Going down was much easier on my feet and we made good time. About 15 or 20 minutes from the trail head it started to rain – at first it was just a few big fat raindrops here and there but then it started to pour. It felt great though – it was still sunny and warm and the cool drops were actually quite refreshing.

I must say, I’ve never been so happy to take off a pair of hiking boots and slip on my comfy runners in my life. I fully plan to do this hike again with different footwear, and a better coating of bug repellent.