Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Retirement Gift to Myself

Livin' the Dream
Last weekend I bought a present for myself -- a retirement gift. I retired three years ago, so this gift has been a little slow in coming. In fact, I have waited far longer than I can believe for this.

I bought an ocean kayak!

I am now the happy owner of a beautiful Seaward Costa Grande. She's named "Sunny Side Up."

Sunny Side Up

First Launch

There it is, loaded into the back of Rob's pickup truck on the day we brought it home. It's a fibreglass kayak, gently used: 16.2 feet long and 52 pounds. I was looking for a kayak suitable for a smaller paddler, and lightweight enough that I will be able to manage loading and unloading it.

Seaward is a local Vancouver Island company. Today I took her out for her maiden voyage.  

Heading out into the Bay

Rob helped me launch at a favourite beach not far from where we live. I spent about an hour paddling along the shore and around some little islands. I cruised past a sea lion up on a rock, who watched me with a wary eye. Porpoises were swimming at a distance. It was really fun.

When I say that this purchase has been a along time in coming, I am not exaggerating. I first tried kayaking 35+ years ago in the early 1980s when I lived in Vancouver. I instantly fell in love with the sport. Two of my close friends bought themselves kayaks around that time and began going on expeditions to remote locations along the west coast of BC. 

My Friend W out for an Evening Paddle

 As much as I wanted to join them, I did not because year after year, there was always something that stopped me. I had no money. I moved to the prairies to accept my first career job. I moved back to the BC coast and had a baby, and then two more. I moved up north to the interior of the province. I became a single parent. I worked long hours at my job -- 60 or more hours a week. I became an empty-nester and almost immediately moved to the prairies again. Because of these various circumstances, it never seemed to be the right time to invest in a kayak. 

Bowron Trip: First Portage

But whenever I had a chance, over the years, I rented or borrowed a kayak and went out on the water. 

My friend W, one of the two friends that bought a kayak in the early '80s, has lent me her kayak many times over the years. I rented a kayak and went on a overnight expedition with W and some other friends in those early years. 

In 2009, Rob, my son, and I paddled the eight-day Bowron Lakes loop with friends B & V and two other people. In fact, Rob and I were in an 18-foot freighter canoe set up with oarlocks, and we rowed the Bowron.

Bowron Trip: Enjoying the Sunshine

Three of our party were in kayaks and the two others were in a canoe as well. My son used a kayak borrowed from my friend B, the red kayak in the header photo for this blog post. Sometimes my son and I switched for a while and I kayaked while he rowed the canoe with Rob. 

In the photos to the left, top to bottom, you see our group beginning the first portage. In the middle photo, we've stopped at a sandy beach for lunch and to bask in the sun. Our freighter canoe is in the foreground. In the bottom photo, my son is paddling down the Cariboo river.

Bowron Trip: Son Paddling Down the River
This was a five-mile stretch of river that connected two of the lakes. For this part of the trip, Rob and I paddled rather than rowed the canoe. It was a very special trip, and it reinforced my desire to get a kayak. But then I moved to the prairies, again.

 In 2015, Rob and I went on another fabulous trip -- an eight-day sailing trip on a 75-foot schooner in the ocean waters around Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). We travelled from Moresby Camp down the east side of Moresby Island through the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve to SGang Gwaay Llanagaay (Ninstints) and back. Ninstints is a Haida village site that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Burnaby Narrows: Sea Life

I had always intended to write about this amazing experience here on my blog, but still have not done so. The schooner had two kayaks on board, so I had several chances to paddle around.

I spent a lovely afternoon paddling through Burnaby Narrows on Haida Gwaii. It is an area with incredibly rich sea life. I took these photos with my phone looking down through the clear plastic viewing window on the kayak. The photo below is of a moon snail egg casing -- it looked like a rubber tire.

Burnaby Narrows: Moon Snail

Morning Paddle

While I was paddling around in Burnaby narrows, a group of kayakers came through. I chatted with them and found out they were members of the Nanaimo Paddlers. I said to them, some day I will move to Vancouver Island and join a paddling group!

In the photo to the right, I was out for an early morning paddle. I saw a commotion onshore and paddled in to see a raccoon in its natural habitat. Haida Gwaii is a very special part of the world and I feel very lucky to have spent time there. 

Since retiring to Vancouver Island, I have made a couple of friends here who are kayakers.  I have joined a small kayaking group.

This is a story of delayed gratification -- 35 years of waiting.  And now I finally have my own kayak!

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Entertaining in the Age of COVID-19

As the pandemic drags on and on, many of us are trying to find ways to live our lives again, while still following COVID safety guidelines. I'd like to share some of my strategies for hosting friends and family during these very strange times. 

Sunset at Parksville Community Beach

 Following Public Health Guidelines

Before I write about some of my strategies, I'd like to emphasize that I always look at our provincial public health website (BCCDC) first, and follow the guidelines there. In British Columbia, we have been successful at flattening the curve and reducing the infection rate, although during the last three weeks the number of new cases per day has begun to rise alarmingly. Lately, we've had upwards of 100 new cases per day identified, whereas a couple of months ago we were down to as few as 4 new cases a day across the whole province. On Vancouver Island itself, as of today, we've had a cumulative total of 190 COVID cases since the pandemic began.

During the flattest part of the curve, and in congruence with the advice of Dr. Bonnie Henry, our Provincial Health Officer, Rob and I felt comfortable gradually increasing the frequency of our outdoor socializing, and have hosted a number of outdoor get-togethers.

Knowing our Risks and Risk Tolerance

How we have evaluated our personal risk and the risk we pose to others has changed gradually as more scientific knowledge about the virus has become available. So our practices have slowly changed, and might change again should we need to adapt to an upsurge in infection rates. 

We have educated ourselves about what we need to do to stay safe and keep others safe. (See BCCDC  website linked above.) We are fortunate that we live in a semi-rural area and we're both retired. Therefore, we're not subject to possible exposure in a workplace. As well, neither of us has a pre-existing medical condition that puts us more at risk. Our biggest personal risk factors are our ages (64 for me, and 71 for Rob), and the fact that Rob is male. Neither of us is a caregiver for someone with fragile health.

Of course, other people have different risk factors to consider, depending on where they live, their personal health situation, work status, and their household members' circumstances. So consider nothing that I write here as a recommendation; it might not apply to you. Follow your local public health advice instead!

 Where to Meet

Mothers' Day 2020

The short answer to this is -- outdoors! We live in a climatic zone where May through September weather is usually quite lovely, and fine for gathering outdoors. 

One of our first get-togethers was with our daughter and her family for Mothers' Day in May. We met at a local beach. We brought separate food for ourselves and they brought their own picnic. We made sure to maintain two meters (six feet) of distance. 

Over time, we formed a bubble with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, so we now share food, sometimes meet indoors, and are more relaxed about the the two-meter distancing.

As well as meeting at parks, we have hosted people for gatherings on our deck. We have a large outdoor deck, where it is possible to have 10 or more people and still maintain appropriate social distancing.

Service Group Meeting Outdoors
For example, we hosted a meeting of our service club on our deck. I forgot to take a photo of any gatherings on our deck, but have included one here of our service club meeting outdoors at our local community centre, where physical distancing was possible. (Note that members of the same household were able to be seated close to each other.)

We've also continued to make good use of local parks. For example, my son and girlfriend met us at a popular picnic site at a lake. They drove separately and I brought my grandsons in my car. Although other families were at the park, we had no difficulty maintaining a two meter distance from them.

Picnic at a Park

We shared the same picnic, but used hand-sanitizer liberally. 

Finally, in our jurisdiction, public gatherings are legally limited to 50 people. However, for us, practically, we have limited gatherings we've hosted to a handful of people, and never more than a number that can easily keep a 2 meter distance on our deck.   

Cleaning and Sanitizing

People who know me well know that housecleaning is not my favourite activity. Nevertheless, I have done a lot of cleaning during the pandemic. 

When people come over to our deck, we clean the table and chairs with disinfectant. If no-one has used the deck for a number of days, we leave it at that (because the virus cannot survive for long outside in the UV light). But if it has been used recently, we also clean and sanitize the railings and any other surface that might be touched. When guests come, they select a chair cushion from the storage box, so that they are the only person who has touched their cushion.

We are fortunate to have more than one bathroom. So if we are expecting anyone to come over, we designate the main bathroom as the guest bathroom and do not use it. I clean and sanitize the entire bathroom, paying particular attention to high-touch surfaces such as light switches, faucets, door knobs, and the flusher handle. I provide single use towels, soap, and a spray bottle of disinfectant. I leave the lights on, toilet over up, and door open. After the gathering, I leave the bathroom to rest for a couple of days, then clean it again. 

We provide bottles of hand-santizer placed within easy reach of the guests. When cleaning up afterwards, I wash my hands with soap or sanitize them after handling anything someone might have touched.

In the cases when a family member has come to stay with us (my son or middle daugh

Wearing a Mask my Friend Made Me

ter), I cleaned the spare bedroom and then left it to rest for 2-3 days before they came. They had the main bathroom for their own separate use. Although they were inside the house,we practiced physical distancing during their visit (mostly). 

Food and Drink

As I mentioned above, early in the pandemic, we did not share food. Everyone brought their own. But as we've decided to once again offer guests food and drink, I have developed the following methods to reduce risks. I don't use all of these suggestions at the same time. It depends on who is present and their comfort level, as well.

  • no potlucks. I am the only person preparing food
  • drinks in cans and prepackaged items (although too much packaging is poor environmental practice, and the virus seems to be able to live longer on plastic packaging than on food)
  • only the host pours drinks
  • separate serving bowls and serving implements for the other couple
  • separate condiments for the non-household members
  • pre-plated desserts rather than self-serve, or only the host serves
  • provide hand-sanitizer and explicitly ask everyone to sanitize their hands before and after serving themselves
  • only one person or couple goes to the food table at a time
  • maintain 2 meter distance between people
  • compostable paper plates and compostable disposable cups
  • mask wearing except when eating
  • as the person preparing the food and setting out the dishes, I wash my hands before and after touching anything
  • guests not allowed to help with clean-up

Another thing we keep in mind is being prepared to cancel on short notice if either Rob or I don't feel well, or if the weather doesn't permit gathering outdoors. And, similarly, it's necessary to be understanding when a guest cancels, or doesn't feel comfortable gathering with others. I think it is good practice to explicitly remind people not to attend if they are not feeling well.

I will be interested to hear what others are doing in terms of hosting gatherings in places where the health standards permit some degree of social gathering.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Summer Fun With the Grandkids

One of the great joys of being retired and living back in BC again is that we have ample opportunity to spend time with our four grandchildren. Two live near us on Vancouver Island, and two live in Northern BC. 

Exploring Qualicum Estuary
 In the first half of the summer, we did several excursions with the two who live nearby. They are 5 and 8 years old.

E Claims his Private Island
Let's Build a Castle






The favourite destination on "Grandma Days" is the big playground at the Parksville Community Park. 

We Love to Climb
"Climb on, Grandma. We're taking off."

Ice Cream Cones, then a Walk on the Boardwalk at Parksville

Testing the Adult Gym Equipment

A Swim and a Picnic at Spider Lake

Bike Ride

Because our other set of grandchildren live in the northern part of the province, we don't get to see them as often. However, we were very fortunate to travel to Maui with them in late January, before the corona virus restrictions began. And we also were able to visit them this summer. 

They are 7 and 5, and love to ride their bikes. The first rainy morning, they rode their bikes and we walked through the new subdivision nearby that is under development. 

The dog enjoyed the walk too.


Grandpa and Granddaughter

We explored the Railway and Forestry museum, which was fascinating.


"Hurry up, Grandma!"

For Rob, a retired locomotive engineer, it was a walk down memory lane. The kids liked it because there was lots of interesting equipment to climb on. 

"Cool, I can reach the pedals."
"I'll race you!"


A highlight of our trip was a hike through The Ancient Forest. There were huge trees, the oldest perhaps 2,000 years old. 

Fallen Giant
On the Boardwalk

Admiring the Waterfall
Bat Girl

Another day, and another excursion on bikes. This on included a playground, a water park, and some time spent beside the river skipping stones.

"Let's shoot some leaves up the jets of water."
"That one skipped three times!"

Our grandchildren bring such joy into our lives.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

So Many Waterfalls

In my last post about our camping trip to Strathcona Park, I mentioned that Rob and I saw several waterfalls. But first, I'm going to start by showing you a photo of a waterfall close to home. 

Cedar Creek

 I've mentioned before that I live in a semi-rural area. There is a large network of trails right outside my door, and I walk on them several times a week. This image above is of a waterfall created by a small seasonal creek on "my" network of trails. I'm cheating a bit here, because I took this photo a couple of months ago when the weather was rainy. I hiked along Cedar Creek recently, and the waterfall has disappeared until the next rainy season. 

No Name Waterfall
 This dramatic waterfall is not really named "No Name Waterfall." I'm calling it that because neither Google Maps nor my Backroads map book supply a name for it. (I need to invest in a better map.) This waterfall can viewed from historical site and rest stop along Highway 28 between Upper Campbell Lake and Gold River. The photo you see is the portion of the waterfall above the highway. It crosses under the road and continues to plunge another 1,000 feet to the Heber River below. 

The Heber River passes through a narrow canyon at this point. Although it is hard to get a good view from above, there are some impressive rapids and waterfalls on the Heber River as well.

Rob at Lady Falls
Jude at Lady Falls
 These photographs do not do justice to this impressive waterfall. Lady Falls is much larger than it looks in the photos. Although it was a sunny afternoon, the area all around the falls was misty and wet from the force of the plunging water. 

What you also can't see is that the viewing platform is cantilevered out over the lower section of the falls. Rob is standing there bravely with his hands in his pockets, whereas I didn't quite bring myself to let go of the slippery guard rails. 

This trail is accessed off Highway 28, near the top of Upper Campbell Lake. It is a beautiful trail through big trees, Douglas Fir and Hemlock. I believe it was about 3 kilometers round trip, although we did gain quite a bit of elevation switch-backing up to Lady Falls.

Lower Myra Falls, Looking Up
Lower Myra Falls, Looking Down

Lower Myra Falls was, in my opinion, the most spectacular waterfall that we saw on this camping trip. It is a short drive away from one of the big provincial campgrounds on Buttle Lake. The easy, well-maintained trail is about a 1.5 kilometer loop. However, the disadvantage of Lower Myra Falls is that because it is so accessible, there were a lot of people there on this beautiful sunny summer day. It wasn't easy to get photos without people in them!

We left Lower Myra Falls and decided to do a second hike to Upper Myra Falls. In order to get there, we had to drive through a large, active mine. Myra Mine, which extracts zinc, copper, and gold, was fascinating, but I forgot to take a single picture of it. We signed in and parked within the mine area in order to access the trail head. This area in the heart of Strathcona Park is presently designated as a mixed use area, and there is a plan in place to eventually shut the mine down and have it revert to parkland. 

Our map book described Upper Myra Falls as an easy 3 kilometer hike. It was neither easy nor 3 kilometers. My fitness device recorded the distance we walked to and from Upper Myra Falls as 9 kilometers. 

As it turned out, the trail head was a one kilometer walk from the trail parking lot. We wasted a lot of steps walking in circles looking for the trail head. A diamond driller who worked at the mine and who was out for an afternoon stroll finally pointed us in the right direction. The 3 km referred to the distance one-way from the trail head to the falls. We gained a lot elevation on a narrow rooty trail to get to the falls, so I would describe the trail as moderate rather than easy. Nevertheless, it was a nice hike through the forest.

Upper Myra Falls

Upper Myra Falls was not as pretty as Lower Myra Falls but it had quite a drop. Those two brown sticks that look like toothpicks beside it are actually full-sized logs, so that gives you an idea of the height of the falls. 

We were tired, but happy that we'd explored another interesting part of Strathcona Park.


Monday, August 3, 2020

Everybody's Gone Camping

And we have been camping this summer too.

Driftwood Structures on the Lake Shore

Our Public Health Officer for the Province of BC, Dr Bonnie Henry, has encouraged British Columbians to get outside and enjoy the summer. Of course, to keep the infection rate of COVID-19 low, she reminds us to limit our contacts to (the same) small group, maintain a physical distance of 2 meters (six feet), wash hands frequently with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, and wear face masks in small enclosed spaces or indoors where physical distancing is not possible.

Sandy Beaches and Wildflowers

Our first camping trip of the year was to beautiful Strathcona Park, a huge wilderness in the interior of Vancouver Island. Established in 1911, it was the first provincial park to be designated in BC. A portion of the park lies within the Clayquot Sound Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO environmental reserve.

In the 1980's, the government of the day wanted to make the park smaller in order to expand industry into the area (mining and logging). Many people came out and protested, setting up road blockades. As a result, the park was saved and even expanded. A park management plan was set up.

It contains a number of tall mountain peaks, including the Golden Hinde at 2,198 meters (7,211 feet), the tallest mountain on the Island. The park also contains Della Falls, the highest waterfall in Canada. Della Falls is not easy to get to. There is no road access. People can get to it by canoeing down a lake, and then doing a challenging hike.

We did not go to Della Falls, but we did visit several other spectacular waterfalls in the area, which I will write about in a separate post.

A Windy Afternoon at the Lake

Strathcona Park has two large provincial campgrounds that can be accessed from Campbell River via the Gold River highway. They are the Buttle Lake and Ralph River campgrounds, both situated on Buttle Lake.

As it turns out, everybody in BC has decided to go camping this year. What better time than a pandemic to enjoy the beautiful outdoors? The provincial parks and most of the regional parks as well are giving priority to BC residents for camping reservations. It is almost impossible to get a reservation at many parks. And, whereas in years past, we were usually able to get a non-reservable campsite via the  "first-come-first-served" system, now many of the campgrounds are reservation-only.

So we felt very lucky to get a site for four nights at Buttle Lake. We were also lucky that our trip there was earlier in July when the weather was cloudy and cool; therefore the hiking trails and beaches were not crowded.

Although we had brought our belly boats and fly fishing gear, we ended up not taking our boats out on the water as it was quite windy most days. However, we did fish from shore (spin casting) and I caught and released a small one.

Environmental Restoration

A Beautiful Hike Through a Hemlock, Cedar, and Douglas Fir Forest
Along the shores of the lake, we saw environmental restoration of the sandy banks in progress. According to the informational sign, parks staff are exploring various methods of reclaiming damaged areas. What you are looking at in the photo above are segments of branches, or withies, that have been stuck in the ground and allowed to root. They used native plants such as willow, red osier dogwood, and cottonwood.

Site of Historic Battle
We did a lot of hiking on our short camping holiday. We explored most of the trails in the park that were within walking distance of our campsite. Our hikes included walks all along the lake shore and out to a marine campground, a hike to a lovely stream, and the Darkis Lake loop.

We also some side trips. including a hike to Lady Falls, a hike to lower Myra Falls, and a hike to Upper Myra Falls.

On one of the days there, we did a road trip to Gold River, an area of the Island I had never seen before. The highway curved around Upper Campbell Lake, then followed the Elk River to Gold River, a small community situated near t

he head of an inlet on the west side of the Island.

High above the river, we stopped at a historic site. According to the information sign, it was at this location the the Muchalaht and Mowachaht people met and had a battle.  Since that time, the two First Nations have combined.

This is an area I would be happy to visit again. There are so many areas to explore, and many lakes that are great for fishing.

But, during the summer of 2020, I predict that the competition for camping sites will continue to be fierce.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

A Gradual Reopening of Our Social Life

Nanoose Bay Estuary as seen from the Notch

June was the month of birthdays. It was also the month that we gradually began to see people socially again, although still with caution.

We are very lucky that we live in British Columbia, Canada. Under the wise leadership of our Public Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry and Provincial Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, BC has done an excellent job of flattening the curve. I also give credit to British Columbians, who tend to be socially aware and community-minded. (That's one reason I like living here.)

Therefore the province was able to begin phase-three reopening at the end of May. That meant restaurants, retail stores, and shopping malls began to reopen. They were followed by dentists, hair salons, and other personal services. Now pubs are starting to open up again, as is the film industry. In order to open, businesses must have a plan for how to maintain physical distancing, and strict hygiene protocols. Although masks are not required in BC, they are recommended in indoor spaces if physical distancing isn't possible. 

On June 1, there were 2,597 novel corona virus cases in total in BC, and about 10 new cases per day being reported. On Friday, July 3, the most recent day for which stats have been reported, there were 13 new cases, and 2,947 total cases in BC. Since May 22, there have been only 5 new cases on Vancouver Island.

We began to gradually form a bubble with my daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons. At first, I spent time with my grandsons only outdoors. But gradually we began to see them at their house and ours.

In early June, we celebrated my son-in-law's birthday at their house (carefully, using lots of hand sanitizer).
A couple of days later, my middle daughter came over from Vancouver and spent her birthday with us and visited for several days. She had been self-isolating in her small apartment, and we hadn't seen her since early February.

It was so great to be together again. We hosted a small family birthday dinner for her (seven of us in total). It was the first time my older daughter and her family had been in our house since before the COVID restrictions.

Later in June, my son had a birthday. He, too, came over to the Island and spent it with us. He and I went on a cave tour at Horne Lake Caves. There are more caves on Vancouver Island than in the rest of Canada combined -- more than 1,600 of them!

My older grandson rounded out the month of birthdays by celebrating his eighth birthday at the end of June. We went over their place and enjoyed ice cream cake on their deck.

We also hosted two other gatherings at our place, in both cases outdoors on our deck. We hosted the AGM and annual barbecue of our service club (15 in total) the last week of June (by some miracle the rain stopped for one day). The deck is large enough that we were all able to maintain a safe distance. And on July 2, I hosted a small writers' group meeting on the deck.

It has been a cool rainy month, but we have also gone for lots of walks and hikes.

Next plan -- camping!