Woods Explorer Stories: Home Sweet Home on the Sea to Sky Marine Trail

I’ve been haphazardly recapping/journaling memories fromĀ  my 5-month, 14-leg trek across Canada back in 2015 – start here, if you’d like to catch up.

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Our final two legs took place in our very own backyard: Sea to Sky country. I can’t tell you how incredible it felt to get back home and sleep in my own bed (if only for a few nights). Having access to all my creature comforts was the most wonderful feeling – but my favourite moment was meeting up with friends on one of the first nights back. It was a very normal night – dinner at their house – and we swapped stories and caught up on life and what I’d missed over the past few months.

The best feeling was actually having stories to share with Cedric when I saw him later that night. I had loved spending time with him, but it was soooo good to spend time apart to recharge with our friends and to have our own experiences, if only for a few hours.

Our next adventure was one I was actually quite looking forward to: paddling the Sea to Sky Marine Trail in Howe Sound. I’d driven past the stunning Howe Sound more times than I can count, but I had never had the chance to experience it via kayak.

Let’s talk about marine trails for a second. When we paddled the Sound back in 2015, the Sea to Sky Marine Trail was still in the process of being “developed” – only it wasn’t so much the trails being developed as the campsites. There are a few campsites scattered on the shores of the coast and the Gulf Islands in Howe Sound, and how you make your way from site to site is pretty much up to you. So the moniker “marine trail” is a little misleading – the whole ocean is the trail.

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PERFECT WEATHER – so good.

In a typical leg, we would get a night or two at a hotel before the adventurous part began – this was to upload and send photos and videos (a task that took forever), to write blog posts, to do laundry, and to buy food and anything we might need for the adventure of the moment. On this leg, our home base was our actual home, so we had a bit more flexibility in terms of adapting to the weather. We ended up taking off a day later than anticipated, which meant that we enjoy perfect, blue skies the entire kayak trip. A++++.

The Sea to Sky Marine leg felt like a well-deserved vacation. We lucked out with mostly super calm waters, so we took our time and paddled leisurely, enjoying the sun. Remember – we’d just finished camping in Banff, where we’d slept in sub-zero temperatures and hiked in the snow. The sun and the sea felt mighty fine.

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The caption lies – this is Anvil, not Gambier

One night, we snagged a perfect campsite on Anvil Island. The tent pad was tucked away on a sandy beach, and there was only one other couple sharing the area. They were nice, but mostly left us to ourselves. We set up our Woods hammock (truly one of my favourite Woods pieces) and enjoyed leisurely breakfasts of toad in the holes. By now, Cedric had perfected his camp coffee-making skills, and our mornings were slow and wonderful.

This leg was not without its mishaps. On one day, the water was so calm that we didn’t need the skirts on our kayaks. Cedric set up the GoPro on the back of my kayak opening (I’m sure there’s a technical term) to get some footage, but I didn’t know it was there. At one point, I spun around to look over my shoulder – and promptly knocked the GoPro right into the ocean. It sunk instantly. That was not a great feeling.

On what was supposed to be our last night camping, we headed to our camping spot early. Cedric wanted to set up the tent right away to get a few photos, and as he went to put it up – something we’d done probably 60 times so far that summer – the centre pole snapped right in half. (I have to give it kudos – the tent was a prototype and went through some serious wear and tear on this trip.)

 

On most legs, this would have been disastrous – but on the Sea to Sky leg, we weren’t too bothered. Since we’d started setting up camp early, we had plenty of time to head back to Porteau Cove where our car awaited us. The waters were a little choppier, but we made it back without trouble and spent the night sleeping in our bed. I didn’t complain!

The final leg of the Woods Canada trek was kind of an odd one. We were supposed to go to Victoria to hike part of the Trans Canada Trail there, but the powers that be decided to leave us in Whistler to do some hiking around there instead. While I would have loved to spend time on the Island, the concept of being back home was still so novel that I didn’t mind.

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Fun fact: this photo was printed in GIANT in the Globe and Mail last summer for 2017 celebrations

We had one gloriously sunny day, which we spent hiking Panorama Ridge. The rest of the days were typical fall in the Sea to Sky weather: grey, cloudy, and endless amounts of rain. I was so grateful to have had wonderful weather on our kayak trip.

We continued to go on hikes, but we kept them relatively mellow – Ancient Cedars trail for the epic tree photo op; some runs on the local trails (oh, how I had missed running!); hikes up the gondola on Whistler.

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Perks of running during our Woods Explorer trip: I finally got some good running photos taken. Thanks Cedric!

It was a strange week – we were home, but our Woods Explorer journey wasn’t over yet. We still had to go back to Toronto for a week or so of media, debriefing, and wrapping up the whole adventure. It was a weird state of being in between – the setting was familiar, but we still weren’t in our regular routines.

This leg wasn’t the most novel or exciting, but what I loved about it is that I had time specifically carved out for playing outside. In regular life, it is easy to get caught up in work and appointments and errands and chores, that sometimes I find it hard to dedicate the time to enjoying everything that is around me. It was wonderful to have a couple of uninterrupted weeks where my sole purpose was to explore and document the process.


I guess that wraps up my Woods Explorer stories! It may have taken three years, and even though the memories aren’t all fresh, I’m glad I’ve organized them somewhere where I can look back on them for years to come. In hindsight, I am so, so grateful for my time as a Woods Explorer:

  • My absolute favourite thing was discovering various corners of our country. I’ve never felt so Canadian or so connected, and our time with Woods really made us want to continue exploring Canada (which we have been lucky enough to do).
  • From a relationship point of view, a trip like this either fuses you together or tears you apart. Luckily for us, it was the former. We both learned a lot about our own (and each others’) strengths and weaknesses and, though it took a few trials and errors, we figured out how to come together to form a wonderful, effective team.
  • It felt like a grand adventure – a last “hurrah” to close out my 20s full of epic memories that I’m sure I will be recounting when I’m in a retirement home.
  • Finally, it made me feel very comfortable in my own skin. I had moments where I felt invincible, and just as many where I felt challenged and out of my element. In the midst of living a spontaneous, on-the-fly life (which is very much unlike my regular life), I feel like I settled into myself in a way that, today, allows me to feel very happy, confident, and satisfied. That’s a very good feeling.

The end!

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Another Year, Another Squamish Days 8K Run – This Time at 29 Weeks Pregnant

At the start of the year – before I got pregnant, but hoping it would be a possibility in 2018 – I set out a goal to finish 5 races before the end of year. Over the August long weekend, I ticked off my fifth (and final) race at the Squamish Days 8k run – mission accomplished!

The Squamish Days 8k is a personal favourite. It takes place over my very favourite weekend to be a Squamptonian: the Squamish Loggers Sports Festival. This year, we attended the kettle boil on Thursday night (verdict: underrated and fun, especially when paired with the chili cook-off) and the Sunday World-Class Open Loggers Sports Show (verdict: as entertaining as ever, but SO HOT) – and of course, I ran the Squamish Days 8k for the third time in as many years.

The Squamish Days 8k is a well-run, small town, unpretentious race. The route is a simple out-and-back. It’s all paved and while one generally wouldn’t describe it as overly scenic, it is flat, fast, and is a great distance – a challenge for experienced runners who really want to push it, but friendly enough to accommodate first-timers and third-trimesterers.

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My friend and I fell into the latter category: I was a day into my 29th week of pregnancy, while she had never run more than 4k before and was attempting her first ever race. I had no doubt she would finish in one piece, and I had been keeping up with runs in the 5-10 k range, so I knew I’d be just fine – albeit a little slower than years past.

I first ran this race back in 2016 in the early days of my first marathon training program (and the day after tackling the Red Bull 400 – an excellent and very unique race that should be on your bucket list if you like such things) in a decent 41:44, and cracked the 40 minute barrier last year by squeaking in at 39:55 (which is average for a Squamish runner but REALLY FAST FOR ME). I had a hunch I’d be a litttttle slower this year (ha), but (spoiler alert) I still managed to cross the finish line in the forties.

It was a hot morning – what else is new? – but check-in at the local high school was easy and we had a cheer squad of 3 to keep us entertained until the race kicked off.

I mentioned in my last race recap that I appear to have hit an automatic maximum speed – I simply cannot exert a whole lot of power at this point, so I just cruise along at a moderate, steady pace. I like to think that this made me an excellent pacer for my first-timer friend! We had never run together before, but we spent the race chattering away and the kilometers seemed to tick by pretty steadily (each KM is marked in this race, which is nice).

My #1 concern with this race was the lack of bathrooms along the route. I’m at the point where I need to stop at a port-a-potty on even just a 5k run, so I was a little nervous about this. I’m not sure whether it was the company, conversation, or race day excitement, but miraculously, there were no emergencies en route. That in itself was a major success!

I won’t lie – the last couple of k on the open road beneath the beating sun were REALLY HOT! We were sweating like mad as we crossed the finish line (with our cheer squad going strong and a TON of cute dogs to motivate us).

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Post-race celebrations took place inside the gym, where I enjoyed copious amounts of watermelon and waited for them to post the time results. Here is my insider tip: don’t leave early – your odds of winning a draw prize are very high! My friend was actually the very first prizewinner announced and she walked away with a snazzy pair of 7mesh running socks. I won two tickets to the Loggers Sports event that afternoon, which we were planning on attending anyway.

Our final time: chip time 48:49 and 48:50, gun time 49:01 and 49:02, which placed us 98 & 99 out of 129 runners. I guessed we would finish around 50 minutes – pretty close! I appear to have bested my friend by 1 second, which we determined was based on the fact that my bib, pinned to my belly, protruded further out and hit the timing mat slightly ahead of hers. The perks of pregnant running, folks!

This year, I discovered that the run offers a STROLLER RUN category!!! And you BET I’m going to be running it with my baby next year (will this count as her second time running it?) Only 2 people raced in this year – but the girl who placed first ran it in 40:20, which is most impressive. Think I can crack Top 3 next year?

(Actually, based on the number of pregnant women swarming Squamish, I bet the field will be a little deeper next year!)

MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish Race Recap

Ah, yes, the succinctly named MEC Lower Mainland – Trail Race 4 – Rose Park, Squamish trail running race — I ran that!

This race took place a few weeks ago in my own backyard. I took part in a 15K MEC trail race last year in West Vancouver, but for reasons I cannot remember, I had to miss the Squamish stop on the MEC trail race circuit.

This year, I had the race on my radar, but I held off signing up for awhile because the date coincided with my leap into the third trimester of pregnancy and I just had no idea how I would feel. Luckily, not only are the MEC races outrageously affordable ($15 – which includes a timing chip and all that), but unlike many races, prices don’t go up as you get closer to the race, meaning you can make a decision the week of, as I did.

The bulk of my runs this year have been solo, but there is one girlfriend I have enjoyed running with about once a week or so since the early days of my pregnancy. She had signed up for the MEC Race and gave me the push I needed to finally pull the trigger. There are two distances in this race: a 5k or a 10k. We signed up for the former.

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A 5k romp in the woods – no biggie, right? WRONG! We had heard that this particular course featured some serious elevation, and folks – the rumours are true! I don’t typically run around Smoke Bluffs – in fact, the only time I’ve really run there was during last year’s Squamish 50 23k, which had me cursing the never-ending uphills – and MAN, was it steep.

The 5k route is said to have about 230m elevation gain, which doesn’t seem so bad. Except the course is kind of a lollipop shape, so that 230m elevation gain is concentrated in just half of the race. Now, the first 0.5 km or so of the race takes place on a paved path that leads from the start/finish at Rose Park to the trail head at Smoke Bluffs. What I’m saying is that the 230m elevation gain basically occurs in only 2km of trail, so it’s a lot steeper than the numbers would suggest at first glance. (The 10k features an elevation gain of 410m, for what it’s worth.)

If you’ve been around Squamish this summer, you already know that it has been relentlessly hot – I’m taking 30+ degrees day in, day out with little to no rain at all. Most of my runs have wrapped up by 8/8:30 AM to beat the heat, but this race didn’t start until 9:20 (the 10k runners took off closer to 9). I was a little concerned about the heat, but it was early enough not to be atrociously bad and the shaded trails kept us pretty cool overall.

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Picking up our bibs was pretty straightforward, and we swatted tiny biting bugs until it was time to take off. I haven’t been doing much trail running since June – the road has just been easier and offers fewer tripping hazards for a pregnant solo runner – but I have to admit, it was nice to ditch the pavement for the dirt for a change. Once you enter Smoke Bluffs, the trail starts off as a not-too-steep gravelĀ  trail, then eventually transforms into a narrower, more technical dirt trail.

It climbs. And climbs. And climbs. While we were able to run some of the gravel uphill, I had to walk most of the climbing dirt bit – and man oh man, did my calves ever burn. I tried to pick up the pace whenever the trail flattened out a bit, but the breaks in the climbs were usually very short lived. There was a lot of power hiking over kms 0.5 – 2.5. This part of the run felt a lot longer than 2km.

Of course, what goes up must come down, so the second half of the race is a nice treat for those who like to careen down steeps. I took it pretty conservatively on the downs, as I didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle or tripping over a tree root. The consequences of a fall right now seem a little more serious than usual.

We didn’t do this run to smash a personal record or anything, but I have to admit that as we returned to the paved trail and tackled the last half k to the finish line, I still had some energy and I wanted to really give ‘er. But it was strange: I already seemed to be at my maximum capacity. For whatever reason (smaller lung capacity? extra weight? blood pumping all over the place?), I couldn’t seem to move any faster than I already was – which, believe me, was nowhere near record breaking speeds. I wasn’t overly bothered by this – after all, I expected to slow down as the weeks went on – but it was certainly a big shift from the St. John’s half-marathon I ran just a month and a half earlier.

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The finish line was simple but sufficient: bananas, water, and electrolyte beverages were free for the taking. My favourite part, however, was the girl who dunked a towel into ice water and mercifully wrung it out over our sweaty heads.

In the end, we ran the 5k in a reasonably respectable 46:12 (chatting the entire way – not bad!), which placed us 16th and 17th out of 39 women (not sure how we ranked overall – the results are organized by sex). For the record, the fastest lady finished exactly 10 minutes faster than us in 36:12 – just to give you an idea of the terrain we were dealing with.

So that’s how that all went down. At the beginning of the year, Cedric and I made a list of goals that hit on various parts of our lives. In the fitness/sport category, I made a goal of running 5 races in 2018. This one was #4 – and though it was pretty short but sweet, it was perfect for where I’m at right now. Besides, now I have a time to beat for next year!

Race Recap: Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k

I had such good intentions of writing this post immediately after I finished the Loop the Lakes race… but I didn’t. So instead of writing it with fresh memories and emotions, I’m writing it about a month after the fact. It’s not nearly as satisfying, but better late than never, I suppose.

A quick background: I ran Run Squamish’s Loop the Lakes 21k race last year (recap here!), though under less-than-ideal conditions: I had sprained my ankle in March, so training was sporadic and limited. Plus, it was my longest trail run ever at the time, so the intimidation factor was considerable.

This year, I had the advantage of a few good trail races under my belt from last year – not to mention the fact that I knew the course inside out, having run the same race the year before and having incorporated many of the trails on my training runs. Speaking of training – I trained for this one! Properly and everything! You can read a bit about my training here. I dutifully ticked off each and every run in my training plan, and I even incorporated speed work and hill workouts, which I’ve never officially done before.

There was only one little challenge that popped up in the months leading up to this race: I got pregnant!

When I signed up for the Loop the Lakes 21k back in the fall, I knew there was a chance I would be pregnant by the time it rolled around. I figured there was also a chance that I might not be pregnant, and if that was the case, I certainly wanted to keep up with my running. I decided to sign up because the race would be relatively early in my pregnancy and there was always the option of dropping down to a shorter distance (8k or 15k) if I wasn’t feeling up to the half.

In the end, the entire training period aligned with being pregnant, and I ran the race at 18 weeks. The training runs weren’t always pretty (lots of chafing, lots of pee breaks – I will write more about pregnancy and trail running/running in another post), but they always got done. I was very lucky to feel pretty good overall during my first trimester, and on the days where I wasn’t feeling so hot, I always felt soooo much better when I was out on the trails, even if I was going at a snail’s pace. Being in the trees and moving around always seemed to do the trick for me – though I acknowledge that this is definitely not the case for everyone. (And I did have a few very discouraging training runs – again, I’ll talk about this in another post.)

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Classic pre-race photo – check

 

 

The weeks leading up to the race were HOT – like, 25 to 30 degrees hot. Yet somehow, race day ended up being perfect: cool, overcast, and all around optimal. I headed to the start line at Alice Lake and got a good warm up walk in as I walked from the parking lot to the starting line (be sure to give yourself LOTS of time for this – I arrived at the start just a couple of minutes before go time).

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KILLER finish line food at the Nester’s tent – although the oranges were the only thing I was interested in.

Before I knew it, we were off. I seeded myself towards the back of the pack, anticipating that there was a good chance that I would be one of the last of the half marathoners to cross the finish line. As we headed out to loop around the first like (Alice Lake), another girl made a comment about being happy to let others go ahead of her – she told me her motto for this quarter of the race was “slow and easy”. I never thought about having a motto for each quarter, but I liked the thought and decided to adopt it myself.

Slow and easy seemed especially fitting since it would prevent the keeping-up-with-the-pack start line jitters – plus, I have grown to dislike running the Four Lakes Loop clockwise in Alice Lake Provincial Park, and this motto would get me through it in one piece. I’m not sure why I don’t like it – I think it’s because I have run it a few times too many and it has just enough incline to be runnable, but annoying.

Anyway, I took it slow and easy through this first section of trails and found myself thinking that the small uphills weren’t as horrible as I’d anticipated. I pulled over at the same porta potty I stopped at during the 5 Peaks race for a pee break (for those doing the math – I was also pregnant during the 5 Peaks race), then got ready for the second quarter of the run.

The second quarter is actually my favourite part of the run – I love the technical parts of Entrails and the flowy, downhill Roller Coaster and Lumberjack segments more than anything. I had run these trails a ton during training and I surprised myself when I was able to pass a few people on some of the more technical bits. At this point of the race, I was feeling great – though I knew it was still early on. Still, rather than focusing on how things might start to hurt in a little while, I decided to enjoy feeling great while it lasted.

 

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These extremely unflattering spandex shorts are the only warm weather bottoms I have that currently don’t cause extreme chafing.

When I popped out of the bottom of Lumberjack, I adopted a new motto for the third quarter of the race: keep your head down and run. This part of the race features the Around the Rock section that I remembered from the previous year as being pretty uphill – zapping any evidence of a runner’s high that might have developed on Roller Coaster and Lumberjack. This was actually the only part of the race that I hadn’t covered in my training runs and, indeed, it did have lots of uphill and I certainly slowed down. The reward was none other than my beloved (not) Jack’s Trail – mostly the same section that is covered in the 5 Peaks race, where the incline is slight but relentless.

Throughout this section of the race, I felt like I was running alone – I saw virtually no one else out there, aside from some course marshals. This was fine by me – I did the vast majority of my training runs by myself, so it was nothing new. Besides, I was still feeling pretty good.

At long last, I found myself back at Alice Lake Provincial Park – but the race wasn’t over. I now had to run the Four Lakes Loop counter-clockwise for the fourth and final quarter. My motto for this leg: dig deep. The end of the race is so often where the wheels start to fall off, and in this race, us 21k runners actually run against a stream of 8k runners for part of the stretch. The 8k runners got to tackle a fun downhill, which for me was a slog of an uphill. But I knew that once I got through the uphill, it would be relatively easy until I crossed the finish line – mostly flat and downhill, woohoo!

I didn’t need to dig to deep after all (though I did take one more porta potty stop, for good measure). Overall, I was feeling pretty good – far better than I had for either of the two 19k runs I had done in training.

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Finish line fun

When it was all said and done, I crossed the finish line in 2:33:09 – placing me 26th out of 42 women. More importantly, I beat my time from last year by more than 21 minutes – at 18 weeks pregnant, to boot!

All in all, it was a great day. The runner’s high lasted me through the entire weekend. I was proud of having felt so good throughout the entire run – and I was really, really proud of all those training runs I had completed, even on the days where it was the last thing I felt like doing. Having a race like this was exactly the motivation I needed to get outside and get moving – two things I hope this future baby likes to do, too!

5 Peaks Alice Lake Race Recap: First Race of 2018 in the Books!

I am pleased to report that the first race of the season was a great success!

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Don’t mind our colourful wardrobe choices…

Cedric and I volunteered as course marshals last year at the 5 Peaks Alice Lake race, and as a thank you, we received a free into any 5 Peaks race. We saved it for this year’s iteration of the race and had a fantastic time on our respective courses (Cedric did the 8.5k sport course, I ran the 13k enduro course).

This was my second race in the 5 Peaks series, but it had been years since I ran my first one (which was up on Blackcomb mountain).

Logistically, the race was very well run. We picked up our race packages the day before at Capra, so we didn’t feel rushed to get to the start line on Saturday morning. Still, we left with plenty of time because parking at Alice Lake can be finicky. The pre-race email was very clear about parking; it advised to give yourself lots of time and noted that those who carpooled would be rewarded with the better parking spots.

Since we were only two in our car, we parked down by the highway and prepared ourselves for a long-ish, uphill walk to the start line. Luckily, we were able to hitch a ride up with another car – in the end, we only ended up walking 10 minutes or so to the start.

As the kid races were underway, I made my way to the queue for the porta potties. It was longish, but moved steadily and I made it in and out with a good 10 minutes to spare before the start of the race.

The enduro runners got a head start over the sport runners. The two courses start out the same for the first 4 or 5 km, so this gives everyone a good chance to space themselves out a bit. To help ease congestion on the trails even more, we seeded ourselves into different groups. Each seed took off a few minutes apart. I hung back, starting with the last group – speed wasn’t my goal for this race.

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I spy Cedric! Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

I should mention now that despite a nasty weather forecast, the weather was PERFECT. It was cloudy and cool for the most part, with the sun peeking through every so often. I saw people in shorts and tanks, and I saw people in down vests. It was that perfect in between weather. Despite a few days of steady rain leading up to the race, I didn’t find the trails to be too muddy at all. I had expected the worst weather-wise, but it ended up being just fine. I love when that happens!

The first part of the race takes you clockwise along the Four Lakes Loop. At this point, everyone was trying to find their place in the pack – there was a lot of passing and leapfrogging, but it wasn’t too bad. Things cleared up quite a bit as we approached the wide, flat stretch (where you hang a right to continue onto Four Lakes, rather than going left onto Bob McIntosh). I no longer felt like I was fighting for a spot as there was plenty of space.

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I like this photo because I’m such a ninny about running on the wooden parts when it’s wet – I always look down. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

Despite my pre-race porta potty visit, I had to pee again – but I knew there were a couple of outhouses along this stretch of the trail. The first one was occupied, but the second one a little further down was free. There’s a race hack for those who are stuck in a long line as the race is about to start – if you can hang in there for a few km, you can visit the on course toilets!

Shortly after the toilets (and aid station) is when the two courses split off. The enduro runners go for an additional loop along Tazer, Rupert, and some other trails. I happen to think that this loop features some of the most fun trails to run – I would definitely recommend it if you’re torn between the two distances. It starts of with a bit of uphill (still runnable, if you’ve got plenty of steam in your engine), then continues on to some fun, technical stuff with plenty of cool bike features.

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Solid game face from Cedric. Photo Credit: Rob Shaer Photo

The trail opens up at Tracks from Hell, which has a nice wooden bridge/platform section (I always like running these for a change of pace). Eventually, the course merges back and for a short section, you run a part of the course that you already covered a little earlier. It gives a bit of a sense of deja vu.

Shortly after, the course takes you towards Credit Line. I run Credit Line all the time, so I was looking forward to the long stretch of technical downhill. If you’re not used to the trail, this section can be tricky – I saw plenty of people taking their time, and I totally understood why (after all, this is the trail I sprained my ankle on last year!) I was feeling pretty good the whole way down and eventually, I was spat out onto Jack’s Trail.

I feel like Jack’s is an underrated menacing little bugger. It’s “just” a green mountain biking trail and it is pretty even and non-technical, compared to a lot of other trails in the area. But it slopes upward juuuust enough to tucker you out, especially at the end of the race. It also seems to go on forever and everything kind of looks the same.

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Luckily (or not), I run Jack’s often, so I have certain landmarks I like to look out for to break up the monotony. From Credit Line, you pass Mid Life Crisis on your left – they had a couple of marshals here, which was nice for a morale boost. A little while later, you pass 50 Shades on your right – when you hit this point, know that the distance between Mid Life Crisis and 50 Shades is about the same distance as 50 Shades to the finish line. In other words, you’re almost there.

The nice part about the course is that pretty much as soon as you’re done with Jack’s, you’re right at the finish line – no need to run around Alice Lake or anything.

So that’s the course (I wrote it out for any 2019 or beyond runners who want a detailed preview – sometimes I like to look up race reports to get any idea of what I’m in for).

In terms of how I felt, in a word: GREAT! Without getting into too much detail, I have been running a lot for the past couple of months (gearing up for my Loop the Lakes 21k race next month), but I have been pretty conservative with speed. That’s saying a lot, as those who know me know that I’m not much of a speedster to begin with. My goal for the race was to push myself comfortably (oxymoron?), to maintain my energy right to the finish, and to really enjoy myself.

I feel like I succeeded at all three! I love the racing environment, and even though I am generally not very competitive (unless it involves board games), I like the rush and extra push I get from the people around me. I felt strong and steady the entire run, so I feel like I paced myself perfectly. I crossed the finish line feeling great – and then I stuffed my face with sliced oranges from the snack tent. I ended up running it all in 1:45:32 – kind of mid/back of the pack, which is about what I expected.

Cedric is not usually much of a runner, but I’m glad he joined me for this race and I think he did really well. We celebrated our respective finishes with a hearty breakfast at the Crabapple Cafe in Brackendale. The home fries are to die for.

All in all, 5 Peaks Alice Lake was an awesome experience. I’ll be back next year – whether as a volunteer or racer is still TBD.

For the Love of the Adventure: “Snowshoeing” at “Garibaldi Lake”

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I am not what one would call a “peak bagger”.

Rather, I am a firm believer in the old cliche that the journey is the destination. In other words, if I have to amend or abort an adventure due to weather, injuries, time crunches, or other variables that are generally out of my control, I’m not really bothered.

I’m not concerned with reaching a summit; I’m more focused on getting outside and having a really nice time. So while a recent snowshoe trip to Garibaldi Lake ended up involving neither snowshoes nor lake, I still deem it a success. I got to play outside, enjoyed a rare and glorious sunny winter day to its fullest, spent some solid QT with friends, and capped my day off with (root) beer and snacks at Backcountry Brewing – by all objective measures, the adventure was a perfect one.

If you’ve ever done the Garibaldi Lake/Black Tusk/Panorama Ridge hike in the non-snowy season, you know that the first part of the hike involves a seemingly never ending series of switchbacks through the forest. However, in the snowy season, the hike starts one step earlier.

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The paved road to the trail head is not quite as easy to maneuver in the winter, when it is covered in snow, as it is in the summer, when it is not. Our first clue should have been the dozens of cars parked on the shoulder just past the turnoff. However, there were a few tough guy cars who had laid down some tracks along the road, and our Fearless Adventure Leader’s truck seemed as capable as any, so we happily bumped our way down the road to see how far we could get.

We got a decent way up, but the three point turn required to orient the vehicle properly for a smooth exit was a little trickier than anticipated. Luckily, our Fearless Adventure Leader had a sturdy avy shovel in his sturdy truck, so the rest of us got to feel useful as we dug and pushed it to a comfortable position on the shoulder of the road, out of the way of any other tough guy cars who dared make the trek.

Then, we were off. Though there was snow on the ground, it was fairly well packed and more easily tramped by foot than by snowshoe. We debated leaving our snowshoes in the car, but we ultimately decided to take them with us in case things got deeper and softer. Spoiler alert: we did not end up using them, though I am glad we took them because – as another hiker we bumped into with snowshoes strapped to her pack said – we got to take them out for a lovely walk. Snowshoes need fresh air and exercise too, right?

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Notably missing: snowshoes.

We lucked out on gorgeous, sunny weather, though under the canopy of trees in the switchbacks, we weren’t in much danger of getting a sunburn. The snow was a little sparse towards the bottom, but it covered most of the trail pretty solidly. I anticipate after some recent snowfall that the trails are even snowier – perhaps even requiring snowshoes?

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Cell phone cameras: taking poor quality selfies since the 2000s!

My biggest challenge with outdoor activities in the winter is temperature control. I have the attractive habit of sweating aggressively when doing any moderately strenuous activity (including hiking up switchbacks for hours). If I stop, say for lunch, the sweat cools instantly, chilling me to the bone. I’m usually able to reheat my core and my legs once I start moving again, but my extremities go yellow and lose circulation. (Google Raynaud’s if you want to gross yourself out a little.) I lose feeling, especially in my hands, and it is very uncomfortable and hard to regain feeling until I’m somewhere sheltered and warm and wearing something dry.

So, when we stopped around our pre-determined turnaround time to determine whether we wanted to keep going or call it a day – despite having not reached Garibaldi Lake – I was totally fine when we opted for the latter, knowing it meant I would regain feeling in my hands that much sooner.

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We came, we saw (some pretty trees, mostly), and although we didn’t conquer much, we had a great time, proving that one does not actually need snowshoes for an enjoyable snowshoe trip!

 

 

Flour Water Salt Yeast’s Same-Day Straight Pizza Dough Focaccia Pizza

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I was so very excited to receive my very own copy of the infamous Flour Water Salt Yeast cookbook for Christmas.

I have heard about this book for a long time – it is the cookbook of all cookbooks when it comes to artisan bread.

For the past year, I have been baking bread from my beloved (and currently extremely tattered) Bread Illustrated cookbook. I love Bread Illustrated for its simplicity, its excellent use of photographs to clearly illustrate each step, and the sheer variety of types of breads it covers. I fully plan to continue to bake from it because it goes beyond the typical rustic sourdough thing that seems to be popular right now. (Popular in bread circles, anyway. Sometimes I forgot that most people don’t spend a lot of time in bread circles.)

Flour Water Salt Yeast (which I shall call FWSY going forward) has a much narrower range of breadly recipes, but it goes much more in depth than Bread Illustrated. It’s basically like a college textbook of all things bread. It really, really goes into detail about various techniques and examines each and every variable that goes into baking bread, including temperature and time (and how to adjust each of these based on your own circumstances). It’s user-friendly, but it’s advanced.

I’m not going to lie – I find it a little intimidating. I feel like I need to read it cover-to-cover before I give it a serious go. But I did crack and try a recipe the other week – and it was fantastic.

You see, I wanted to make a pizza for dinner. I mentioned that I wanted to pick up some dough while I was in Whistler (Pasta Lupino sells its delicious dough dirt cheap!), and a girl in my book club said, “I thought you baked bread?!”. She was right – why on earth was I planning on buying pizza dough when I knew very well I could make it myself?

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Since rustic breads and pizza are the focal point of FWSY, I flipped open to the pizza section, which includes 15 pages on pizza and focaccia methodology before presenting four recipes: same-day straight pizza dough, overnight straight pizza dough, overnight pizza dough with levain, and overnight pizza dough with poolish. As I was somewhat short on time, I decided to try the same-day straight pizza dough.

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The ingredients – you’ll be shocked to know – are flour, water, salt, and yeast. One recipe yields a MASSIVE amount of pizza dough – enough for five pizzas. As the devoted pupil that I am, I read the methodology section before starting this recipe and realized that I could make two huge focaccia pizzas with the same amount of dough, so that’s what I did.

(We had pizza for days – and if you know Cedric’s appetite for pizza, you’ll know this is quite unusual.)

The recipe is super detailed when it comes to temperatures, which is awesome for making sure your dough turns out as perfectly as possible. It is on the cool side here, given that it is mid-winter, so I have created a proofing room of sorts in one of our bathrooms. It is small and windowless and easy to heat up without destroying our utility bill, and it served perfectly for growing my dough at just the right temperature.

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Here’s another intimidating thing about FWSY: it doesn’t use a stand mixer. You just use – gasp – your hands! Secretly, this is a good thing – I sometimes wonder if my weekly sourdoughs and other breads are too harsh on my KitchenAid’s engine. It will be good to give it a bit of a break, I think.

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Mid-pince

Of course, this means that rather than relying on a hook to do the bulk of the kneading in mixing, I have to use my own digits. The book outlines folding and pincing techniques (lobster claws, activate!) and it was actually kind of fun to squish the dough around to ensure all the ingredients got incorporated. I have a feeling this is the kind of thing that I will get better at over time.

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Daaaang look at those bubbles!

I also learned a new technique for creating smooth balls of dough. While Bread Illustrated talks about cupping the balls and making small little circles with it against the counter, FWSY uses a cup and drag technique, which I like a lot better.

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So, I made two massive balls of dough, which became two large baking pan-sized focaccia pizzas.

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I skipped the tomato sauce and topped them with bocconcini, caramelized red onions, proscuitto, and (post oven) arugula and Nonna Pia’s balsamic reduction.

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The pizza was delicious. The dough was easy to maneuver before baking and after baking, it was light and flavourful and completely delicious.

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The thicker focaccia meant we really got to sink our teeth into it and taste it, but I think it would be wonderful as regular pizza, too.

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If the same-day dough is this good, I can only imagine how tasty the other three pizza recipes in this book are.

More FWSY to come.