Friday, May 21, 2010

VIP 2010

Ladysmith was, as usual a pretty good time. Paula and I headed up-Island on the E&N about 8:00am with two inflatable kayaks and a couple of backpacks, and got off the train just after 10:00am to find John, Louise, Marlene, and Tracy just getting the lay of the land.
The trip up was uneventful; the usual drinking tea and relaxing in big seats while the train rocked its way over the Malahat. As usual, the engineer stopped the train in the middle of each of the two trestles in order to let us all get a good look at the stunning views. The only excitement was provided by the three idiots walking across the second trestle as the train came upon them. But there are refuges provided and, thankfully, the three young men (I've a guy, and even I'm disappointed in these young men who seem to take the laws of self-preservation less seriously) were smart enough to actually get out of the way on the tracks.
The train pulled in to Ladysmith on time, and it took us only moments to hop off—even with the kayaks. We were a bit loaded down because Paula was leading a discussion on inflatable kayaks Saturday afternoon and so we were camping overnight in Transfer Beach Park, along with a couple of dozen other people. From the train stop to the beach was a fairly short walk (had we wished, it was a shorter walk across the highway to a motel we'd scouted out on a previous trip). The organizers allowed us some space to cache the kayaks until the discussion, and a little while later I had the tent set up. Before I could even tell Paula about it, she'd found it and changed into her paddling gear and was off to test out boats.

    I'm still interested in boats, but more from a design standpoint these days. I ended up interviewing John Rogers from 8 Dragon Custom Kayaks (who builds beautiful wooden boats), and then cruising the gear sales and checking out new boat designs. Among the more interesting ones was Delta's new Catfish design: a catamaran hull sit-on-top. It looks like a well-thought-out fishing boat, and was one of the few boats I would ave been interested in trying out. Not because I'm looking for  a catamaran hull sit-on-top, but just to see how well the design translates into function.

The Catfish

After renewing my acquaintance with Insomniac Coffee's coffee wagon,  Marlene and I settled in for a bit of a mid-day nosh, and were joined by a couple who had earlier recognized John and Louise from the blog. We ended up having a great conversation and were slowly joined by the rest of the group, more food, and a couple of bags of fresh-made mini-doughnuts.

Louise and Marlene talking to Mike Jackson

The afternoon passed in usual Paddlefest style, with meeting new people, discussing boats and paddling, and generally spending a sunny afternoon with a couple of hundred un-met friends. John, Louise, and Marlene decided to leave about 3:00pm, but not before Louise won a double kayak rental from Sealegs Kayaking—which apparently means at least one more trip to Ladysmith this year. Paula hosted her discussion on inflatable kayaks which made up for its small attendance with brisk and wide-ranging conversation.

    After the discussion, Paula and I packed up her boats and headed into Ladysmith to find dinner. We ended up at Robert's Street Pizza, where we were delighted with a very good pizza.
Roberts St. Pizza

We had several choices of restaurant, but found ourselves wanting something simple and light instead of some of the more elaborate meals on offer. Although the Greek restaurant, Transfer Beach Grill, received a good review the next morning from the couple with whom we had breakfast.
Eventually we wandered back to Transfer Beach and, after chatting with other campers, we went to bed early and slept late.

The next morning was bright, and the night had been warm (much warmer than I'm used to experiencing when sleeping in a tent), and Paula came back to the tent chatting with a woman. We ended up at In The Bean Time with the other couple and had both a great breakfast (In The Bean Time would definitely become my second home if I lived in Ladysmith) and great company.

 Almost regretfully, we four found our way back to the beach, where Paula inflated a kayak and took off for an extended paddle around the bay. I threw a few things into my new pack, and set off to break-in both boots and pack with a hike around Holland Creek.
The hiking trail extends from the marine trail that follows part of the bay, under the highway, and up through Ladysmith to one of the entrances to the Holland River trail.

The trail itself consists of three loops; the main loop, with one side being handicapped accessible and the other with some steep sections; the lower loop, which is fairly short and extends south from the Dogwood Road bridge (in itself a short and enjoyable hike); and the upper loop which is fairly difficult and takes you past Heart Lake (a lake advertised by the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce on their website, as a “good place for skinny dipping”).  Taken together, the three loops are about 14 or 15 kilometres long. The Marine Trail would add a few more kilometres to that.
I ended up hiking both the lower and main loop, although I ran out of time to make the upper loop. It was a great hike, And as the river is a salmon-spawning stream, there are warnings about bears in the fall, and the area is kept pretty pristine, making it a great hike. And right on the edge of Ladysmith —you could spend the night in a motel or B&B, spend the day hiking, have a swim, and spend the night indoors again, and have had a great time.

All in all, I'm very impressed with Ladysmith; from the support for keeping the historic buildings in downtown, to the free trolley making its rounds, to the beautiful park at the beach, the town has done several things correctly, making it a great place to visit. And the kid's playhouse I spotted in town was unbelievable.

Eventually, Paula and I met back up, packed up, and caught the E&N back to Victoria. We'd had a great weekend, and I'd had the chance to explore a bit more of the Island.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gear Day

Well, it's Paddlefest this weekend in Ladysmith (home to a lovely market, beautiful historic down town, and cool bus, and Sealegs Kayaking), and this year Paula is leading a discussion about inflatable kayaks. We planned last year to take the train up this year--particularly because it stops practically at the entrance to the park from the highway. On the other side of the highway is a lovely motel looking out onto the harbour, but I really want to make sure all the camping gear is ready for the beginning of June, so I'm hoping to camp out at Transfer Beach Park. The motel is a back-up plan.
While hauling all the gear out, Marlene came over, and we ended up setting up her tents as well as our own. She has a great Outbound tent in her earthquake preparedness kit:

I like the fact that the fly is double-sided, with one side shiny to reduce daytime heating. Marlene also has a Taymor "Walk-about," which I'd never seen before.

While it has a lot of interesting features (like the tunnel entrance, a semi-circular floor zipper so you can keep your boots from fouling the tent, and a large vestibule), I'm not as thrilled with the pole structure. The tent is not free-standing, relying on the tension between the guy lines and the poles to stay up. Still, its large and certainly usable.

I put up my bivy, which neither Paula nor Marlene had seen up before, and our new Sierra Designs tent.

The Sierra Designs tent ~1.5 kilos and the bivy is lighter than that. But the tent is a whole lot bigger and does allow some movement inside it without waking up to roll over. It was also a discontinued model that we got from Robinson's Sporting Goods for about a third of its original price.
I also set up the Tarn 2 from MEC. I've only used this once since getting it--that was the overnight at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park with Lila.

I really like the amount of space it offers--and the colour-coded set-up. It's too heavy to take backpacking for more than an overnight, but it should be great for bike camping--which I'm still hoping to do this summer.
One thing I did discover is that apparently I have a thing about the end of the world. I fully intend to eat after it happens. Unpacking the bins, I found I have this many stoves:

There are nine in the picture. Starting at the back, they are:
9. A Stormbuster single burner stove. This uses isobutane canisters (of which I have about 20--they went on sale), and I've taken this kayak camping. In fact, I specifically made the rear hatch on my kayak big enough to take this stove.

8. The classic Sterno stove; jellied alcohol and a fold up stove. Had this in the kayak for a while also.

7. This is an emergency stove I picked up in Cowichan Bay. You unscrew the cap, light the wick (it burns paraffin or alcohol or something like that) and then the screen unit screws on where the cap used to be. Mostly for heat, you're supposed to be able to heat a sierra cup of water on top of it. I think it was about $2, which is another reason I have it.

6. Ah, the Trangia alcohol stove. This is the Trangia Mini--it comes complete for under $30 from MEC. The stove, a small kind-of wind-screen that the burner sits in and the pot sits on, the pot and a lid and pot-lifter. Add a sixty-nine cent bottle of gas line anti-freeze and you have an emergency cooking system. Really a lovely inexpensive design.

5. The Whisperlite Internationale. Man, I wanted this stove. A tried and true multi-fuel stove, field repairable, light, and functional. But messy and smelly and burns through the fuel. This one is currently jetted for kerosene, but will also burn diesel, white gas, and pretty much anything else you can scrounge.

4. This one is an accident. It's an MSR Superfly isobutane stove that Lila bought and fell out of love with. I agree, and for the same reason--the potholders. They don't lay flat enough, and you can't protect against damage from the sharp tips on the wings. That said, it's light and works very well. These stoves are also pretty frugal with their fuel (in the red tin underneath it).

3 and 2. Alcohol stoves. #2 is a home-made version I made from the bottoms of two beer cans. I eased them together with a bit of fibreglass insulation in between them, and then punched holes in one side with a drawing pin. A hand-bent wire potholder and you're heating water. A bit frustrating to light at first, and the flame is invisible. But it works, and works well. Behind it, #3, is the titanium version of the same thing. This lives in my fanny pack for hiking along with a pack of matches and a bottle of gas line antifreeze. And it practically floats, it's so light.

1. The Optimus Crux. What a stove! 93 grams. Folds flat into a neoprene case that stores the stove in the hollow in the bottom of a fuel cannister. The red fuel cannister gives you about an hour's worth of burn time. Behind the Crux is my cooking gear: a GSI Pinnacle Soloist Cookset. The one litre pot holds the stove, the fuel cannister (the neoprene bag prevents scratching the inside of the pot) the folding titanium spork (with it's bag in front of the stove) and an insulated cup and a lid that fits both the cup and pot. Oh, and the bag it travels in is watertight, and meant to be used as a sink. A complete system that takes up almost no room and weighs almost nothing. Lila and I both have the same system, and it's our combo of choice for backpacking.

I'm not exactly sure what there will be to eat after the end of the world, but I'm certainly equipped to cook it!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Into The Trees

So on Sunday (28 March) I headed up to the University and joined a group of people headed off to Upper and Lower Avatar Grove outside Port Renfrew. We sorted ourselves into cars and headed off to Jordan River.
Jordan River was overwhelmed with cars--and not just the convoy of 23 that was us. There was a storm cell off the west coast of the island that was pushing in some perfect 1.5 metre waves onto the beach, and there were surfers littering the ocean like cormorants.
There were enough surfers littering the waves that I totally understood the fierce territoriality of the local surfers.
We reconvened, introduced ourselves, discovered that there were about 80 of us, and headed off to meet in Port Renfrew. The four other people I was car-pooling with had not been to Renfrew--heck, a couple hadn't even been as close to the west coast as Jordan River (JR isn't the west coast--it lies on the south of the island, protected by the Olympic Peninsula). So they found the drive up to be quite interesting.
We convoyed out of Renfrew about fifteen kilometres out and up a logging road so old it's actually paved. We pulled over and got our rain gear on--we were heading into a temperate rainforest and it was (naturally) raining.
There is no trail off the road--one of the group leaders cast about for a bit until he found the place he'd entered the forest on his last trip, and led us up. The big trees are so close to the road that I suspect that there were still people climbing off the road when the first hikers arrived at the trees.
I find being in the forest liberating. The silence, the humidity, these things release something in me. But that wasn't true for everyone. I ended up adopting four or five young Japanese ESL students who hadn't really understood the email that said "Hiking boots. Rain forest. No trails." And other similar things. They did, thankfully, have on water resistant jackets, but were wearing a variety of sneakers (including one set of low cut Converses), and jeans, tights, and other such unsuitable clothing. As we walked, they kept having trouble getting over fallen logs, or broke through the duff and dropped a leg in between roots up to mid-thigh. I started helping them over things, showed them where to put their feet, and suchlike. There didn't seem to be any point to them hating the day.
We made our way to the gnarliest tree found so far:
TJ Watt, who took the above photo, was with us on the trip. It really is an amazing tree.
I took a bunch of video and edited together some of the shots into the short video

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where I'm Headed Today

"Avatar Grove" I hate the name, but I get the reason for it.
Avatar Grove is about 15 km outside of Port Renfrew, and has some of the last remaining big trees in the Renfrew area.