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

I’ve been haphazardly recapping/journaling memories from  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!

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 gravel  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!

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!

 

 

Rain in the Valley = Snow Up Top

I’ve been putting my Sea to Sky Gondola season’s pass to good use – this week, I went up twice to try my hand (foot?) at snowshoeing.

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I recently acquiring my very own pair of snowshoes – I got a heck of a deal at one of my favourite secret websites, 33 OFF. They had a bonus 10% off snowshoe deal, and their prices are already pretty good. (I also get my road running shoes from here because I know which model fits my foot well – the Mizuno Wave Riders).

This time of year, when it is raining in town, it is often snowing up in the mountains where it’s a few degrees cooler. I checked the forecast and web cameras for the Sea to Sky Gondola, which affirmed what I had suspected: yep, there is snow up there, and lots of it.

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Pro Tip: If it looks like this outside, it may still be worth getting out of bed.

(Remember when I hiked the Sea to Summit Trail the other week in pretty much no snow? It’s safe to say that there is a lot of snow on the trail now.)

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This is how much snow was on one tree branch. Hand for size reference.

I headed in the same general direction both days I went up. One day I snowshoed towards the Skyline Ridge Trail, the other I went partway up the Sky Pilot Valley Trail. Both of these trails are machine groomed – it’s like getting fresh tracks on a cat track.

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I like this post’s hat

Actually, when I went up mid-week, I did get fresh tracks – I had the whole place to myself. The conditions make it easy (and fun) to get an hour or two of power snowshoeing in.

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Fresh corduroy, brah!

Even when I went up on the weekend, it was pretty quiet. I saw a few other parties here and there, but I was largely on my own. I didn’t see anyone else head up the slightly steeper (but still very manageable) Sky Pilot Valley Trail.

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This is where the grooming ends on the Skyline Ridge Trail – continue on if you dare, it’s deep (see next photo)

Way back in the day when I lived in Vancouver, I – like so many others – struggled through the dreary January-March season where it is often wet, grey, and just generally horrible. One year, I discovered that I could head up to Whistler during this season and enjoy copious amounts of snow. It was the perfect cure to the winter blahs.

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I stepped slightly to the side by the bridge and sank down to above my knee. Yeah – probably no off-roading for me right now.

(Of course, it’s not all gravy – shoveling your car out from several feet of snow mid-March while your friends in the city post pictures of blooming tulips can get old pretty quick.)

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Now that I live in Squamish, I kind of feel like I have the best of both worlds. There are plenty of grey days, but if the temperatures cooperate as they did this week, I can get my snow fix with minimal effort. I don’t have to brush snow off my car very often, but Whistler is only a short drive away (in good conditions, anyway).

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Snowshoeing is officially being added to my repertoire of wintertime activities. I like that you can make it hard or easy, and I like that I don’t have to devote an entire day to it – I can head out for a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon and still get a lot done. I’m a fan.

Sea to Summit, Winter Edition

A few months ago, I waxed poetic about the fantastic Sea to Summit trail that winds from the bottom of the Chief up to the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola.

I put in a good three or four solo autumnal Sea to Summits until the rainy season set in, the days got shorter, and the motivation dissipated. But this past weekend, it was so beautiful and perfectly sunny – in the middle on January, no less – that I felt I would be insulting the Squamish weather gods if I didn’t go outside and enjoy it while it lasted.

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January 14, folks!

(Sure enough, the forecast says rain, rain, and more rain for the next little while.)

Although we had a good chunk of snow over the holidays, sun and rain have washed away most of it. I spied a few Sea to Summit hikers on Instagram and determined that it was probably in fine shape for hiking, so I laced up my trail runners (and threw my spikes in my running vest) and headed up.

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A quarter of the way – dry, dry, dry.

The trail was actually busier than I expected. Not only was it a weekend (and a stunning one at that), but it was “Social Sunday” on the Sea to Sky Gondola – meaning live tunes, board games, and pancakes (I think. I didn’t actually go into the lodge at the top on this trip, but I get the promotional emails.)

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Still, it was relatively quiet. Though I passed a few groups of happy hikers, I felt like I had the trail to myself most of the time.

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I didn’t need the spikes for a long, long time. For the bulk of the way, the trail ranged from completely clear to pretty clear. Any snowy bits were sparse and easy to plod through. The lower three quarters of the trail were maybe a little wetter than usual, and there were streams where I hadn’t noticed them in the summer.

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Things started to get snowier where the trail splits into the logging road portion towards the top. I popped on my spikes, though it is debatable whether or not I really needed them.

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There were some slippery spots where I was glad to have them, but there were also rocky bits were I had to tread lightly, trying not to wear out the metal. There were also lots of wet sections – some you could detour around, others that required you to walk right through. My feet got pretty wet, but it was close enough to the top that I didn’t really mind.

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I leapfrogged with another solo hiker for the final stretch of the trail, who had been out with friends but opted to run ahead of them to burn some energy. I can relate – while I love heading outside with buddies, sometimes it’s nice to just power up solo to clear your head and get your heart rate up.

So, there you go. This isn’t a groundbreaking post, but I thought that there may be a few people out there contemplating hiking the Sea to Summit who might like a trail condition update. Of course, things are likely to get a lot wetter with the rain coming our way – and if it’s cold enough, we could get more snow, especially at higher elevations. In fact, I would be perfectly fine with some snow higher up – I’m dying to do some snowshoeing this winter.

This Just In: SQUAMISH HAS A FRESHII!

Words cannot describe how gleeful I was when I heard an ad on Mountain FM informing me that Squamish has ITS VERY OWN FRESHII!

AND IT’S WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE FROM MY HOUSE!

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The most beautiful thing on earth :’)

Freshii is my favourite fast food choice on the planet. I first discovered it many moons ago when I was working downtown Vancouver. A Freshii opened up just a few blocks from my office, so I would go sometimes on my lunch break. It took a few visits, but eventually I figured out my dream order and I haven’t changed my go-to dish ever since (more on that later).

Here is why I instantly loved Freshii:

  • So many fresh vegetable options! While my office lunches often left me feeling like curling up under my desk and falling into a food coma, my Freshii meals never sat heavy.
  • I love that you can customize your order to a tee. There are zillions of possible combinations – if you haven’t found one you like yet, you probably just need to visit a few more times to tweak your order to personal perfection.
  • The price point fit nicely into my budget, which was around $10 per lunch. (PS – I can’t believe I used to spend $200 on lunches per month! But I did.) Note: if you customize your order, you can modify toppings to make your meal cost as little or as much as your budget allows. Flexibility – that’s why I love Freshii.
  • The whole vibe is very yoga studio/cool friend’s apartment. They have grass (fake, I think) growing out of walls and a very fresh (er… freshii… hehehe) green and white colour scheme that makes me feel calm and like I’m making responsible nutritional decisions.
  • Their soft serve ice cream is the bomb!

I loved Freshii so much that my colleague and I decided to look into starting a Freshii franchise. No joke – we contacted them, thinking that Yaletown would be a primo Freshii location. We never heard back from them, unfortunately – or else maybe I would be a Freshii franchise owner.

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The Squamish Freshii – note the Fresh Slice pizza also opening next door. Garibaldi Village is HAPPENING!

Moving away from Vancouver sadly meant moving away from Freshii. I still made a point to visit when I could – the Freshii in the Park Royal food court has satisfied my craving more than once. When Cedric and I traveled across the country in 2015, I always made a point of checking to see if the town or city we were in had a Freshii. And if it did, you better believe I re-routed our GPS to trick Cedric into taking me there.

Yes, I had to trick Cedric to take me to Freshiis across the nation because he’s (GASP) not a huge fan. Here’s the weird thing: neither is my sister. Aside from the coworker who considered opening a Yaletown Freshii with me, I’ve never met anyone who is quite as passionate about Freshii as I am. I honestly cannot figure out why. Freshii haters (or even likers-but-not-lovers), what is it that Freshii lacks for you?

Okay, enough about my personal Freshii anecdotes – let’s talk about strategically planning a Freshii visit.

Freshii: The Strategy

When you visit Freshii, you are immediately faced with a key decision: order off the menu or create your own custom dish.

Do NOT be afraid of customizing your dish. Some people are intimidated by the process, but let me assure you: it is easy peasy. First, look for the white clipboards with checklists clipped on. There will be mini pencils nearby – grab one of those, too.

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I am not Debra – I forgot to take a photo of the checklist but this lady named Debra took this one and she has also written a blog post about her own Freshii love, which you can check out here. Debra, I think we’d get along just fine.

(Note – the Squamish Freshii checklist is slightly different than the one pictured above)

Step one: write your name in the top right corner.

Step two: pick your meal type. Your options are salad, bowl, wrap, or soup. Within each of these categories, you must refine your selection as follows:

  • Salad: spinach OR romaine OR Freshii mix
  • Bowl: warm brown rice OR rice noodles
  • Wrap: brown rice OR romaine OR spinach OR Freshii mix; and then you pick grilled or non-grilled
  • Soup: brown rice OR rice noodles; and for broth type, 100% vegetable OR classic chicken OR spicy lemongrass

This is where people become overwhelmed by options. Relax – you can always come back another time to try something else. I personally always go with the rice noodle bowl.

Step three: pick your premium toppings.

Warning: premium toppings are pricey. If you pick these, you may not meet the $10 lunch budget threshold. I personally skip the cheeses, nuts, and fancy fruits and veggies. However, I do believe the proteins are worth it (grilled chicken is my protein of choice).

Step four: pick your regular toppings. At most of the Freshiis I have visited, you get six free regular toppings included in your order. Six toppings + chicken is plenty, which is why I never bother with the premium toppings. The regular toppings are plain old delicious veggies and other accoutrements. My go tos: black beans, roasted red pepper, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, and broccoli.

Step five: pick your dressing.

I have NO IDEA why I initially picked the spicy lemongrass dressing, but I’m so glad I did because now, I order nothing else. I have never found another dressing – store bought or homemade – that I love as much as I love this dressing. It makes my nose run and I always gulp down an entire bottle of water to regulate the spiciness – but it is soooo good.

Because Freshii cares about you, you get to decide how much dressing you want: a regular serving, half a regular serving, or 1.5x a regular serving. Prefer it on the side? There’s a box for that, too. I usually stick with the regular serving – it’s the perfect amount for me.

Step six: bring your completed checklist to the cashier and they’ll input everything for you. Wait a bit (usually 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how busy it is), then they’ll call your name and your perfect little order will be ready for devouring.

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Here she is!

I haven’t given much information about ordering directly from the Freshii menu. These are wraps, salads, bowls, and soups made with their tried, tested, and true recipes. The truth is that I never, ever pick a menu item. I always make my own. Why wouldn’t you?!?!?!?


In addition to the main meals, you can also get juices, breakfasts, and as I mentioned earlier, soft serve yogurt with pick-your-own-toppings (blueberry and strawberry for me).

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This is from the Freshii website


The Squamish Freshii

I hit up the Squamish Freshii for the first time a few days ago. Any time a new business opens, you naturally expect a few growing pains – but nope, not on my visit. The Freshii at Garibaldi Village was smooth sailing. My experience and meal was exactly like all the other Freshiis I’ve enjoyed across the country – which is exactly the point of a fast food place with multiple locations.

Lest you be concerned that this review is tainted by things like monetary compensation or free food, don’t be – Freshii doesn’t know I’m writing this love story about them. Freshii Squamish, I love you. Get to know my face, because you and I are going to become very, very good friends.

BCBusiness vs. Squamish: What Did I Just Read?

Let’s be clear about one thing: I very much appreciate a good tongue-in-cheek satire. Case in point: Dog Lotion’s recent spin on WB/Vail’s “breaking” announcement re: new Blackcomb gondolas and chairlifts was nothing short of perfection.

But after reading BCBusiness’s “Big Fat Deal: $4.7 million to be swish in Squamish“, I was left shaking my head and thinking, “What the heck did I just read?”

I subscribe to Google Alerts for a few of my favourite topics: Whistler, Squamish, Whistler Real Estate, and Squamish Real Estate. Every morning, I scroll through my daily digest before rolling out of bed. Today, the BCBusiness article was one of the links. The short excerpt made it seem like it was a showcase of a high-end Squamish home, so I clicked to read it in its entirety.

I’m pretty familiar with BCBusiness: it’s a BC-based (duh) publication that generally posts interesting, well-researched, and well-written news and profiles. I’ve never seen anything that could be described as funny or satirical on their website or in their magazine… until, possibly, this morning, when I discovered their biting “Big Fat Deal” real estate section. (I still can’t figure out if it’s 100% a satire.)

Let’s dissect the article.

Here is the house in question:

Britannia Beach House

It’s a 5 bed, 5 bath stunner located in Britannia Beach, listed at a cool $4.698M.

The skinny: Five-bedroom, five-bathroom, 6,225-square-foot house on a 39,500-square-foot lot in Britannia Beach, Squamish.”

In BCBusiness’s defense, the MLS lumps a few different communities together into the Squamish geographical area – but anyone who is mildly familiar with the Sea to Sky knows that Britannia Beach is a distinct community from Squamish. Wikipedia classifies it as a “small, unincorporated community” and, although it is in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional Disctrict (as are Whistler and Pemberton, among others), it’s not Squamish.

“Leaping large into the luxury price range comes Squamish, previously known as the “poor man’s Whistler.” “

Poor man’s Whistler – ouch! Although not exceptionally original, this jab considerably discounts Squamish’s history – both short term (logging, anyone?) and long term (First Nations, anyone?) – and its place on the map as a mecca for rock climbing, mountain biking (in a non bike park setting, thankyouverymuch), and kite boarding, among others.

Aspirational weekenders should no longer feel ashamed to call the former pee-stop to the mountains their home away from home.

It’s true – when I lived in Vancouver and weekend warriored my way to Whistler, we stopped at the combination Tim Hortons/Wendy’s for a bathroom break and a Frosty. But the use of the word “ashamed” is a little off-base. I’m not exactly sure why one would have ever felt ashamed to live in a community that is flanked by mountain ranges and an ocean and full of awesome people who like to connect with nature and improve their community… but sure, BCBusiness. Sure.

“Indeed, here you get to lord it over the miserable middle-class commuters who fled Vancouver for a back yard that didn’t cost more than your Lamborghini (and no, we’re not talking SUV), and the service workers of Whistler who can’t afford to even rent where the really rich people play.”

Where do I start here. The lawyers, real estate brokers, medical professionals, and other Squamish-Vancouver commuters that I know are neither what one would classify as “miserable” or “middle-class” (though, for the latter, what does it even matter?). Their commute along the Howe Sound is pretty breezy, with the only real hiccup being the dreadful Lion’s Gate Bridge (which even the Lamborghini-owning West Van crew must contend with). I wouldn’t worry about them, BCBusiness – judging by the smiles on their faces and the grass stains on their kid’s knees, they’re doing alright.

As far as the Squamish-Whistler commuters, I’m sure many of them belong to the service and hospitality industries that are the backbone of Whistler. But I know many others, too: tradespeople, teachers, filmmakers, writers, and real estate agents, to name just a few. While some of us move because of the nutso Whistler rental market (not just price-wise [$2,900 for an unfurnished 2-bed-1-bath is the most recent I can find on Craigslist] but supply-wise, too), it can also be exhausting to live in a Lala Land where we are expected to serve and entertain visitors with attitudes like that of the author of this article. Some of us like Squamish because we can find parking, seats on a patio, and other people who don’t think they’re better than the “miserable middle class” or “service workers”.

“For the price of a small, out-of-the-way townhouse in the world-renowned ski resort, here you get to be top dog.”

This one is just plain old false. A 2-bedroom (is that small?) townhome in Creekside (is that out-of-the-way?) is currently listed at $725k on the WLS.

The price point that this Britannia Beach property is listed it is comparable to the following Whistler listings (to name a few):

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White Gold

  • And a 3.5 bedroom home with a private dock on Alta Lake, built in 2016 (listed at $4.498M):

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Also, this may be overly picky, but the ranking of “Top Dog” in Squamish is not determined by the size of your home – factors such as which peaks you have bagged, whether or not you have personally named a bike trail, your finishing time in the Squamish 50, and whether you can snag a seat at Fergie’s at 9:30 AM on the Saturday of a holiday weekend hold much more clout. Of course, I can’t for sure say if the same is true for Britannia Beach – it not being Squamish, and all.

“Look at it as a stepping stone to your ski-in, ski-out mountaintop cabin; get in now and let the escalating Squamish prices lift you up where you belong.”

May I presume, BCBusiness, that you believe you belong in Whistler? If so, I hate to be the one to tell you – but prices there are on the rise, too. By the time your Britannia Beach home has appreciated to an amount you deem acceptable, all you’ll be able to afford in Whistler is (gasp!) an out-of-the-way small townhome in Creekside.

“Meanwhile, feel free to invite your (much wealthier) friends over for après drinks and nibbles on their way back to town—they’ll be so glad to avoid the washroom line at Tim Hortons, they’re bound to wait until they are at least back on the Sea-to-Sky before wrinkling their noses at your B-list postal code.”

See, sentences like this are why I am not exactly sure whether or not this article is a satire. It just packs a lot of meanness into very few lines. Let me break it down:

  • First of all, I am so very grateful that my baller city friends are still able to tolerate my company, despite the fact that I live in Squamish, which obviously means that I make no money at all and must be a very awful person (a miserable middle-classer, right?)
  • I am also flattered that my rich friends prefer snacking on my homemade bread to the overpriced and underwhelming nachos of the patios of Whistler. Of course, I wasn’t up on the mountain enjoying a few runs (I must be too poor to ski – I live in Squamish!) – I was busy arranging a charcuterie board and cocktails for my elite skiing friends. I hope they tip!
  • BCBusiness author, as someone who once skied 38 days as a weekend warrior and stopped at the Squamish Timmy Hos nearly every single time, both on the way up and on the way down, let me assure you that I NEVER had to wait in line for the bathroom. The efficiency of that place is astounding. Can I get a fact check here?
  • My B-list postal code is such an embarrassment to me that I rented a PO BOX in Vancouver so that when I send my Christmas cards, my return address doesn’t reveal my true self to my friends (who are royalty and who care about such things). [end sarcasm – seriously, postal codes?!?!?!?!?!?!?!]

The hidden extras: Sea view, self-contained nanny quarters, geothermal concrete floors, security system, just up the road from Mountain Woman’s legendary burgers. Take that, Whistler!”

You forgot about the mine museum, dear author!


In conclusion, here is my advice to you, BCBusiness: you’re not Mad Magazine (or even Dog Lotion). Reading this article was like watching a first-timer crash and burn on amateur night at Yuk Yuks. If you would like to discover Squamish, I’d be happy to show you around and fill you in on how there’s more to it than the fact that it is not Whistler.

Of course, you’ll have to find a Britannia Beach resident to give you the real scoop there.

Review: The Common, Squamish’s Coworking Space

The vast majority of the time, I work from my home office.

But every so often, I need to find a mobile work space to get my work done. On a few recent occasions that involved some outrageously expensive car repairs (ouch, ouch, ouch), I found myself stuck downtown Squamish in desperate need of a desk.

In the past, I’d have headed to the library. Now, I love the Squamish Public Library – but it is not the best place to get work done. The internet is a little spotty, the work spaces are functional but not necessarily comfortable, and things can get a bit noisy – particularly during the day when it becomes a toddler hot spot. It works, but it’s not ideal.

I’m also not one for setting up shop at Starbucks. I’ve done it in the past, but I don’t love it. I can swing it if it’s only for an hour or two, but if I’m parking there all day, I feel like I have to keep buying stuff every hour and the hustle and bustle is just too distracting for me.

Thankfully, Squamish has developed a perfect alternative: The Common.

The Common is a recently opened shared coworking space. I didn’t know much about it when I sent in an email to find out about the rates and availability, but I was hoping for a quiet, clean space where I could get my work done while I waited on my car/money pit to be ready.

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My expectations were exceeded in a big way. I walked into the space – on the main downtown drag (Cleveland Ave) – on a drizzly, grey day. It was super cozy and inviting. I kind of expected it to be on par with the offices I’ve worked at in the past (functional but somewhat institutional), but it was way better. The decor was super modern – I’ve never worked at a cool start up or tech firm, but I imagine it would look something like this.

I had my pick of desk types (they even have standing desks – cool!), so I set up shop and got to work. The Common has everything you need, and more – think fancy coffee machine (and even a fancy kettle that heats up your water depending on the kind of tea you’re having – whoa), a few printers, private rooms for phone calls and Skype sessions, and a boardroom upstairs that you can rent out.

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On one of my days there, there was just me and another person in the space. On another, it was fairly busy, with half a dozen or so people and more trickling in and out throughout the day. Both times, I found it easy to get into the zone and work my way through my to do list. The central location offers plenty of lunch options (I opted for Zephyr) and is super convenient if you’ve got other appointments or errands to run.

The price is most definitely right: the $30 a day drop in rate is very reasonable. Plus, if you’re a contractor or run your own business, you can most likely write off the expense. There are plans if you intend to become a regular – the more days you work there, the cheaper it gets on a per-day basis.

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Yup – that’s an air hockey table

I can’t think of many cons, except that it might get a little lively or distracting if all of the work spaces were filled – although I imagine that most contractor types are pretty respectful of other people at work. To be honest, the social aspect might be kind of nice for those of us who typically spend our days holed up alone at home.

This wasn’t a paid advertisement (or even a non-paid advertisement) – this a bona fide awesome resource for the mobile workers of Squamish. If you’re curious, I recommend checking it out.