Travel: Fruits, Wines, and a Weekend Half

Two years ago this past weekend the world was a very different place.

The world was different enough that we had no issues hopping into the car, driving for nearly ten hours straight, and wending our way across the prairies, over the rocky mountain passes, and into the verdant Okanagan Valley in nearby British Columbia.

for whatever one photo is worth:

The official travel excuse was that I had signed up for an October half marathon in Kelowna. Yet my wife has a healthy collection of extended family who have located to the micro-climate over the past ten years and we were due for a visit.

As much as Canada sometimes deserves its reputation as a vast semi-arctic wasteland, even the locale in a radius hundreds of kilometers from where I sit writing this (which is frozen and snow-covered for half the year), there are places in this vast and diverse country which are fertile and lush.

One of those less-often-frozen zones is the Okanagan Valley, a longitudinally positioned string of deep lakes tucked between the high peaks of the continental divide rocky mountains to the east and the lusher coastal mountains nearer to Vancouver to the west.

The weather-stabilizing effects of this location and the nearby water features means that a climate zone amenable to ample fruit tree orchards and sprawling vineyards exists and makes the region both desirable as a home for hundreds of thousands and a tourist destination for multiples more.

I would move there in a heartbeat given the right opportunity, but two years ago we merely wedged ourselves into the tourist category.

Two days in the area was barely enough to get a taste of everything, though.

On Saturday we visited the local famer’s market in the morning, ate lunch on the pier, collected my race package in the park, wandered through a corn maze on a hobby farm, and visited a wine tasting at a vineyard (pictured) along the road to the house where we had set up camp.

On Sunday I toured a twenty-one point one kilometer stretch of waterfront and urban streetways on foot and recorded one of my better half marathon times in the perfect autumn weather, before slipping back to shower, change and pack the car for the push back across the mountains and home.

Our intention was to make it an annual trip.

A run.

A visit.

Good food.

Fresh fruit and great wine.

Somehow though, the last two years has made the world a very different place and, like so many others around that world, even nearby adventures have fallen to the bottom of our possibilities list.

Hiking: Johnston Canyon

During the summer of 2021 we took a pair of casual family vacations to the mountains. The first and more southern of these was a trip to the proximity of Banff National Park. Four nights in Canmore, Alberta a mountain town just outside of the national park boundary served as the staging point for a number of family hiking days in Canada’s keynote wilderness area.

for whatever one photo is worth:

The effort it required us to reach the trailhead of this meandering family hike belied the apparent popularity of this mountain attraction.

Johnston Canyon is among the original generation of tourist hikes in this part of the National Park. Where most hikes in the area are marked by a small parking lot and a wooden sign at the trailhead, Johnston Canyon had a large paved parking lot, a tourist information kiosk, a plumbed bathroom facility, a teahouse, an ice cream shack, a restaurant with a balcony, and sat across the road from a medium-sized hotel. All this roughly thirty kilometers outside of Banff, down a secondary highway (which happened to also be partially closed to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists during the pandemic) requiring a lengthy (but very scenic) drive to reach.

The canyon itself is the showcase of the hike.

A small river with a series of small waterfalls has spent millions of years cutting a jagged gash across the face of the mountain, and the multitude of family hikers walk alongside, into, and over said canyon in an effort to reach the epic upper falls (or further for more adventurous sorts with more time on their hands to complete the extra four kilometers in each direction.)

To assist with the experience of closely encountering the scenery (and likely to avoid losing tourists to off-trail tumbles over cliffs, et cetera) a large stretch of the path is composed of suspended walkways clinging to the cliffs, concrete and steel spiked into the granite and welcoming tourists to explore nature in a kind of sanitized yet surreal safety mode.

We strolled up to the various waterfalls, took many photos, and found ourselves carrying the dog along most of these steel walkways (thank goodness she’s only four kilograms) because the gaps and the noise were a little too overwhelming for her little puppy brain.

On the way up we seemed to be ahead of the bulk of the crowd, only meeting a handful of descending adventurers. But on our own descent we passed literally hundreds of people, usually in groups of two, three or four, often want to meet our dog as they passed, and all slowly making their way to bear witness to and snap a selfie with the marvel of nature.

I find that it is a conflicted sort of thing for me to visit these places.

On the one hand they are popular because they are amazing and accessible and worth visiting, and have been that way for a long time, allowing many people to experience something awesome and inspiring.

On the other hand, the Disneyland-style crowds one can encounter in a popular hiking area spoils the very thing that one goes there to see, the majesty of nature and the tranquility of such an epic space.

Maybe if it wasn’t so hard to reach, it would be more of these all of things, and probably both better and worse for it.

Travel Run: Dopey Disney Florida Whimsy (Part One)

Way back at the beginning of 2014 I found myself standing on a strip of asphalt road outside of Epcot center in Walt Disney World in Florida preparing to run a series of four consecutive races across four days.

How I had decided many months earlier to take on the Dopey Challenge, a four race series consisting of a 5k, 10k, half marathon and full marathon in four days, is a long, winding tale full of hubris and running confidence tangled up in my wife’s love of all things Disney.

In retrospect, and now knowing numerous people who routinely run eighty-plus kilometer single-day ultra races, my seventy-eight point two kilometers of theme park jogging hardly seems as epic in comparison.

Yet, for me, running through Disney World (four times) was probably one of the highlights of my running life.

A five kilometer run with my family around the walkways of Epcot.

A ten kilometer jog in the rain on a similar but longer path a day later.

A half marathon that led us all to the Magic Kingdom and back with poses in front of the castle and along roadways cluttered with a dizzying array of Disney decor.

And on the last day, a full marathon through all four Disney World theme parks, a race track, a ball diamond, taking dozens of photos, and crashing across the finish line to hang multiple finisher medals over my neck.

I rested with a much slower, much more meandering wander through Disney World over the following days.

Fast forward to early twenty-twenty and with no intention of running on another vacation, we had booked a two week Florida trip over spring break… due to leave just days following rumblings that a global panic had started to emerge around a novel coronavirus and a contagious outbreak was leaping from country to country.

Disney World closed the Friday before our flights were due to leave.

The Canada-US border slammed shut a few days later.

Our flights were cancelled for credits.

Our hotel was spun into a chaotic series of emails and phone calls and future stay vouchers.

Our park tickets were suspended indefinitely.

We obviously never went to Florida in spring 2020, and we have been sitting on a heap of travel credits for the better part of two years since.

Time definitely does not fly when you’re sitting around not travelling.

Registration for the 2022 Disney World Marathon series is pretty much full up now.

While I am in no shape anymore (thanks, COVID.) to run the Dopey Challenge, at least one of those races would be another exciting way to kick off 2022, right?

So, if, say, I had been on the ball and had registered for, for example, a half marathon in Florida in January… and, say, I found an excuse to use a bunch of those travel credits… and, say, I was fully vaccinated for travel across international borders… that would make a much more interesting part two to this post, wouldn’t it?

Just saying

Half Ha Ling

This month marks a year and a half since our local area got caught up in the global pandemic that, among many other things, made world travelling near impossible.

We’ve made up for this by trying to find some room between the bad news, ever-shifting-work-life, and many cancelled plans to get away on some local escapes.

This summer was no exception, and over my blogging break we found ourselves in Canmore, a small town nestled into the Eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, where numerous small adventures were had, including a certain last minute attempt to climb a very tall mountain.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Stand on the main street of Canmore, Alberta and look towards the towering range of mountains standing to the south of town and you wont help but see a prominent jag of rock protruding high into the sky, standing with a sentry-like pride over the valley below.

That peak had borne many names over the years and stirred it’s share of controversy for the same, but locals now almost uniformly refer to it as Ha Ling Peak.

We spent the better part of a full week in Canmore in July.

We’d rented a small hotel room near the center of town.

We wandered on foot to grab groceries or breakfasts or beer or silly thing tourists buy when they visit small towns on vacation.

We loaded up the car to drive into the wilderness to tackle family-friendly hikes with the puppy and the teenager.

We hiked, relaxed, and ate, avoiding the heat and smoke as much as possible, while trying to make the best out of a local vacation in an admittedly beautiful place to be trapped during a global lockdown.

On the last night of our trip, sitting on a patio eating an early dinner, looking down that same main street, my wife asked me if I’d done everything I’d wanted to on our little family getaway.

”I’d like to climb Ha Ling … someday.” I replied. “But I guess we’re out of time.”

Most people set aside a full day, starting early to climb to the eight hundred meter saddle, and a further slog up to the summit and peak. It was just after five pm and we had at best four hours or daylight left.

“How far could we get tonight?” She asked.

”I’m staying at the hotel with the dog.” The teenager objected.

”We could go up as high as we can and give ourselves an hour to come back down before sunset.” I suggested.

Shortly after six my wife and I were standing at the trailhead in our hiking boots.

There are inherent risks in trying a new trail of moderate difficulty outside of the normally travelled hours. If something goes wrong while you are up and alone on a mountain with an encroaching night… well, that’s bad news.

We knew we wouldn’t reach the summit, but being fit and adventurous we gave ourselves two hours to go up as far as we could then come back down. We agreed: we’d hike until my GPS watch read exactly one hour then we’d turn around and hike back down leaving a good thirty to forty-five minutes of cushion for the sun to set behind the mountains.

And off we went.

About thirty minutes in we’d reached the first viewpoint.

At exactly an hour I could see the second a hundred meters or so ahead on the path.

We reached the half way point up the mountain and a few minutes over the half way point of our agreed time. We took a blurry selfie with light failing on the the smoky vista behind us. And we hiked back down along the slippy path, found the car, and were back at the hotel before the last sliver of sun had vanished behind the rocky crags in the distance.

It may have only been half a goal but it was easily a full adventure.

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