Downtown, Part One

Is it out of character of me to write a short post about the heart of the place I live?

See, I used to work downtown.

Used to, in that the job I currently have the privilege to do from the safety of my home was once and may again in the future be based out of one of the many high-rise buildings in the downtown core of our city.

Today it is based out of my basement.

This allows me to go for beautiful walks around my neighbourhood at lunch.

It lets me cook grilled cheese sandwiches on my barbecue grill whenever the mood strikes.

I’ll have the opportunity to work on my garden all summer.

I should be able to fit some extra runs in as the months wear ever onward.

And sitting on my deck with my dog by my side, a coffee in my hand, and a laptop computer humming on the table in front of me is a kind of work-life balance I could not have dreamed possible a couple years ago.

That said, this morning I made one of those rare trips “to the office” to sort out some administrative tasks that I cannot do remotely.

On my walk towards my tower, I snapped a photo of one of those notice boards, the kind where shows, plays, festivals, and a thousand other cultural touchstones hang posters with dates and times and locations. Or… where they used to do that.

Like the empty streets, boarded up shop windows, and mostly-vacant office towers, this felt positively apocalyptic to me.

Nothing new posted.

The old, ripped, torn, peeled off leaving behind a shredded, shattered mess, a snapshot of the time that never was to follow those months when back then, when I retreated from downtown along with a hundred thousand others.

My personal opportunity has narrowed and I’ve adapted.

I wonder how it will feel to find a way back to a rich cultural society, particularly when I see things like this.

What was the opportunity cost of my could-have-been-worse fortunes?

Camping: Of Annual Adventures Gone Awry

It’s Travel Tuesday and once again I’m reminded of the challenge of living through a global pandemic and a life dismantled by a thousand small cuts. You see, each year with — the exception of last year — we usually go camping with a small group of families.

Eight adults. The same number of too-rapidly-growing-up kids. Pets. Tents. Campfires. Walks in the woods. Weather. Lakes. Crafts. Bike rides. Outhouses. And whatever new adventure strikes.

I’m wondering today if this bit of local travel is one more of those cuts.

for whatever one photo is worth:

This past weekend as the rolling summer booking window started to traverse those optimal summer camping months, The Email made its rounds to the families:

What’s the plan for 2021? Y’know… with COVID and all that?

It was a long weekend in late-June and despite the pouring rain upon our arrival, we set up the tents and tried our best to keep our gear dry. We have a lightweight backpacking tent that sleeps three, but a huge truck-camping tent that would make up a hundred and fifty percent of my backpacking carry weight, but lugs out of the truck box easy enough and is rainproof enough to tolerate most of the seasonal weather.

I had pulled up my photo software and was poking nostalgically through some of my old photos of the last time we went out with that group. Kid cooking marshmallows. A day at the lake-side beach.

We’re being cautiously optimistic, the first reply came through, but we might cancel at the last minute if things don’t get better.

Cut?

We cooked that first night over a hot-spitting fire, fending off the dwindling rain with some steaming cast iron pans. This may have been the exact weekend when some beer-fueled conversations about my collection of pans inspired the registration of a domain name and would a year and a half later kick off a daily blog you may have heard about somewhere.

I just don’t think that I could keep my distance for an entire weekend while out there with everybody, came a second reply a half hour later. It would be really tough. Thanks for understanding.

Cut.

I have any number of summer plans, but one weekend with friends in a remote campsite still seemed like a safe bet.

Or maybe not.

Cut.

Perhaps there will be just the four of us, a fire, a tent, and some lonely cast iron over a gently smouldering fire.

Virtual Race Season, Take Two. Maybe.

Sunday Runday, and on our morning ten kilometer trail run everyone seem to want to talk racing season.

Except there is no racing season.

Twenty-twenty-one is a racing write off.

Or… it would be if it wasn’t for virtual races.

Virtual racing. Oh, those virtual races. And why?

Last year as the pandemic picked up its pace, another one of those little oh-yeah-and-that-too inconveniences was the cancellation of a bunch of running races. I was registered to run at least four big races, including the 2020 Chicago Marathon.

None of them happened.

Well, none of them happened as planned.

Over the course of the summer, as the clock ticked onward, each race in turn became a virtual race instead of a real one. No, we can’t bring five thousand athletes together on a crowded street, so, here’s what we’re gonna do instead…

Keep the spirit. Run the distance. Submit your time. Get a shirt and a medal in the mail. Virtual racing was the consolation prize for a lost season.

And I too ran a few virtual runs. A trio of half marathons. A few ten-k socially distant weekend excuses to meet up with my friends and celebrate… something. I don’t know exactly what or why, but hanging onto something seemed important.

Winter came and went.

Then the emails started appearing…

“Such and such is going virtual this year.”

“Join us for a virtual race.”

“We can’t run together but we can race virtually!”

The dissonance rings in my heart something like this: I want to race and support the races but I’m finding it tough to reconcile another season of pretending. I want to be motivated to train for long races, but paying a hundred dollars or often more to run through my own neighbourhood and get a t-shirt and a medal through the mail doesn’t seem like the way. Not this year. I want back that feeling of participating but I’m done settling for participating from afar. And I would rather delay bigger gratification for a while if the only other option is a virtual one.

On our morning ten kilometer trail run everyone seem to want to talk racing season because a bunch of them have been signing up for local and international virtual races. I’m going to keep running with them, but unless something dramatically changes I think my next race season will be 2022.

Local Adventures: Social Distancing at Spray Lakes

International travel is still something that hasn’t quite come back to normal, but fortunately we happen to live in a province of Canada that has it’s share of tourist destinations.

We’re spending some more there time over spring break returning to the spot where we took our first local pandemic weekend getaway back in July of 2020.

for whatever one photo is worth:

We had gone for a drive.

Kananaskis Provincial Park is a sprawling mountain nature preserve on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, touching the foothills and playing peekaboo with the city of Calgary just a few twists of the highway away.

There are thousands of kilometers of hiking trails wending their way through bear country and hundreds of lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls and spectacular mountain scenes speckle the landscape.

You can see a respectable sampling of it by driving for a bit, then hiking for a while, then driving some more. Our ultimate goal was to drive the full loop around the hundred and fifty kilometers (give or take) back to our hotel. The route led past a number of stops, from a trailhead for a full morning strenuous hike to a couple spots where we could step out of the car for a few photos and snack at a nearby picnic table.

Sparrowhawk Day Use Area fell into the latter category.

A small ten-car parking lot was virtually empty as we pulled off the gravel road. A five minute wander down to the shores of the Spray Lake Reservoir led us passing by an eerily quiet assortment of empty picnic tables and cold campfire pits. On a summer day like this in any other year there would have been cars lined up along the road for lack of parking, and dozens of motor-less recreational boats exploring the lake. The din of families enjoying this place would have hidden the absolute stillness with which we were instead greeted.

We walked along the shore for a while The kid skipped some stones into the still water. A canoe, far across the water, almost tracing the distant shore, was the only human movement besides us.

I took some photos of the lake, and this one too, looking North towards where the dam sits, up past the bend and at the foot of those faraway mountains. The water almost like glass in the late morning calm.

The ultimate in socially distanced places where no one else seemed to even exist.