New Toys

25 07 2013

It’s Thursday. That’s my night to ascend Grouse Mountain in a vain attempt to lose some weight and perhaps last a few more years. Especially as I can’t find the warranty card – if indeed I ever came with one!

The last couple of weeks I’ve used the longer but less steep “BCMC Trail” rather than the more direct “Grouse Grind“.

A couple of reasons really. For variety – I’ve done the GG plenty of times, and I get bored easily. Mainly though – I don’t like to be jostled when I’m hiking , and the GG is very popular. Now the weather’s hotter (Vancouver hasn’t seen a whiff of rain in 28 days) there are even more Lululemon models traipsing up the GG.

So tonight I did the BCMC trail again, but took along some new toys. I recently bought some “Komperdell Ridgehiker Cork Power Lock” hiking poles, and figured it was time I gave them an airing. Another reason not to do the GG – I’d almost certainly spike one of the many folks who like to barge past – safe in the knowledge that THEIR time up is so much more important than MY time up.

polesMy other recent toy though is much more nerdy.

I recently bought a new GPS. Number 1 offspring asked why I needed a new one, and I had to admit that with the ultimate irony… I’d lost my old one! Perhaps I should invest in a couple of “Tiles“. My new GPS is a Garmin eTrex20, and when coupled with their free download “BaseCamp”, it lets you do all manner of cool map-type things. Just to show off then, I present to you, dear reader, the track I took up Grouse Mountain, as well as a rather embarrassing graph showing how slow I was at some points along the way.

BCMC Trail

BCMC Trail

Elevation in metres for the equally nerdy amongst you.

Speed and Elevation as I progressed up the BCMC

Speed and Elevation as I progressed up the BCMC

According to the RFID timer chip, I did it in 1:34 – almost a full half hour faster than last week, but still 6 minutes slower than the week before. At least I’m consistently inconsistent! :)





Depends how you look at it…

20 06 2013

It’s Thursday today.

I’ve tried to do the Grouse Grind regularly on Thursdays, after work. Today was my fifth time this season. Tenth since I paid for the timer chip and started officially recording my ascents last August. The first time I ever got officially timed (last year) I did it in an hour and 20 minutes. Not especially quick but I was quite pleased with it. You may recall that last April I did the Sun Run for the first time, and so by August I was arguably reasonably limber. Well – compared to my former self. The other timings of the year didn’t bear that out though, and on average I was a round 1:30.

If you have the timer chip, your time is displayed on a wide screen monitor at the top of Grouse in the chalet. It’s quite scary to see. There are plenty of people with times in the 30-40 minute range. There are also plenty of names that appear multiple times – meaning the person has ascended the Grouse multiple times that day alone. Last week a name was there TEN times. The slowest time was still less than an hour! It’s only about 3km, but it’s 1,231m high… and there’s a lot of steps. Some natural, some man-made to minimise the erosion.

I began this season reasonably well with an hour and 26. The next couple of times I was within a few seconds at around 1:24. Things were looking up. I might even be getting fitter, and might get back to last year’s all-time best! (I’m also trying to lose some weight and generally try and not die any time soon).

Then came last week. I was 30 minutes slower at 1:56. Weird! A whole half hour slower?! It was really humid though, and the top of the mountain was actually shrouded in cloud. I’m not making excuses you understand… I just couldn’t figure out how I could suddenly be so much slower. I was actually overtaken by the “sweepers” – a couple of super-fit Search and Rescue lads whose role is to amble up the Grind after the gate is locked and nominally nobody else is ascending that day. (In practice people circumvent the fencing, so plenty of people popped out at the top even after I made it up there). I did question the benefit of having sweepers at all if they actually left stragglers (me) behind, but I guess that given the fact that there was no practical way (due to fence hoppers) of telling who the last person actually was, it made no difference.

Anyway tonight it rained. A lot. I ummed and ahhed about whether to go at all. Nominally my son was going to take the SkyRide and wait at the top taking photos until I burst magnificently into the late sunshine out of the woods at the top of the Grind. He bottled out due to the bad weather. Or maybe because his girlfriend made him a better offer. Not sure. It may be a pertinent fact that as I write this at 11:45pm he has yet to come home.

Anyway – I got decidedly wet on the Grind. It’s a tough call for appropriate clothing. You want to travel light, typically in running gear with rugged trainers, contrary to the usual scout “be prepared” preference I’d have – carrying a 75l rucksack with stuff that would allow me to live comfortably on the mountain for a week no matter what happened. I tend to actually carry a small day sack – primarily to hold a 1l water bottle and leave my hands free. I also carry a lightweight fleece jumper in case I meet a nasty accident and have to wait for an extended period waiting for the embarrassing rescue that hopefully would arrive eventually.

(When hiking or going into the back-country ALWAYS tell someone where you’re going and when you expect to be back in contact. Nobody plans to have an accident…).

Today though – I half expected it’d still be raining, so I also took my super lightweight running shell. It’s not really that waterproof, but it cuts the wind and helps keep you warm if you need it.

And a cap. I’m not big on caps, but I wear glasses. Glasses are really good at correcting faulty vision… unless they steam up or get rained on (I wore contacts for many years purely to avoid steamed up glasses when I transitioned from wet dales hikes in Yorkshire to the “prize” of a pub at the end). A cheap peaked cap does wonders to keep the bulk of the “liquid sunshine” – as we call it Vancouver – off your glasses. I set off in reasonable time (i.e. I wasn’t caught up by the sweepers this week), but by the half-way mark, I was already at an hour, and it was obvious that I’d be logging another poor time. And this started me thinking of an earlier conversation I’d had about the psychology of challenges.

Many years ago, I was a Venture Scout Leader in the UK. I took a group of teenagers on a challenge hike – 40 miles overnight around the moors around Sheffield. The route passed various TV aerial masts, and was called The Masters Hike. It snowed. A couple of the teens wanted to drop out and despite my cajoling them through one more checkpoint, they finally quit. I exited the event at the same checkpoint. As we waited the 10 minutes or so for the “body wagon” – a long wheelbase Landy – to pick us up with the other folk exiting at that checkpoint, I got my second breath. Too late – I was already marked as “out”.

It was a huge lesson to me. I was about 25 at the time, and I vowed I would never quit such an event again purely on “mental grounds”. After that I went on to do many other challenge hikes including “Endurance 80” – an 80km (50mi), 24hr hike through the night. Glad to see that one’s still going strong.

So every time I start up the Grind, I have these little arguments in my head.

“Are you mad?

Eh?

Are you mad? You’re nearly 50!

So?

You’re pre-diabetic and have a heart problem.

Again – so?

Well this is just asking for trouble. You’ve barely started and you’re panting.

It’s good for you. It’s called “cardio”. The doctor said I should do more of it…”

And so it goes on – often all the way up to the halfway mark, at which juncture I point out to myself that even if I were to give in, it’s as far to the start as it is to the end, so I might as well continue. But behind it all is the memory of that terrible feeling I had as a young pup when I gave in for no other reason than a weak mental moment.

And so I keep going.

One. More. Step.

That’s one closer to the end. Well – do it again then!

And so on. Despite often sounding like Thomas the Tank Engine when I finally emerge at the top, I am rarely achy or physically exhausted. It’s way more a mental challenge than a physical one.

And the point of all this diatribe, you might ask?  Having taken 1:50 tonight, I initially thought “You’re getting old. Slowing down. Everyone passed you. You’re last”.

But then I thought:

“Yes. But I finished. That’s 10 Grouse Grinds since I started logging them. Probably about 15 altogether. All these people were faster than me today. But what about all those who are at home watching TV? Or who caught the SkyRide up to the top? How many of them have even done it once?”

And I smiled. And I ordered my usual cup of tea and fruit scone in the café. And I felt smug as I rode the SkyRide back down… 20 years the senior of everyone else who was muddy and in shorts.

I hope to keep winning the arguments with myself.





This Is Yorkshire on Vimeo

11 06 2013

Not a climber myself, and not one to sit and watch other people climbing as a rule.

But THIS video is different. You see… it’s in God’s Own County. Lots of it in my old stomping ground in and around West Yorkshire. Shipley Glen, Embsay, Brimham Rocks.

As soon as the video starts, the tone and texture of the rock instantly transported me back to the countless hours I spent camping and hiking through that terrain.

The maker (Dan Turner) asks that you consider donating to Climbers Against Cancer if you like his video which sounds like a reasonable request.

This Is Yorkshire on Vimeo.





Very “intense” at FieldCandy

10 06 2013

First born, you may recall is “out East” at Waterloo. She’s a keen Rover Scout and always has half an eye open for interesting outdoor gear, sales and the like.

Today she told me about a UK company called “Field Candy“. They offer a range of tents very (and I mean VERY) similar to the Vango Force 10. Regulars may recall that I possess such a beast, and  very good it is too. Heavy to haul around, but that’s why you have Sherpas I suppose!

Force 10 up Seymour

FieldCandy hit upon the idea of spicing up the old workhorse (sorry – I mean their tent that just happens to look a LOT like the old workhorse) by offering a bewildering array of cool fly sheets. Limited editions too, to ensure that yours is always very special.

Perhaps you’d like the bubble-wrap look:

All wrapped up | FieldCandy.

Or perhaps you like to fall asleep between the pages of a good book…

Fully booked | FieldCandy.

The old UJ is certainly tempting:

Rule Britannia | FieldCandy. But at £395, I think I’ll just stick with ol’ faithful. We’ve shared more than a few adventures together over the almost 30 years we’ve been together. (Though she did get a new fly-sheet a couple of years ago when the zip finally gave way).

 

Mk4 Vango Force 10

 





Grouse II

26 05 2013

I like to do the Grouse Grind after work on Thursdays. Nothing obsessive you understand (Moi?!). But being as last Thursday was my Geburtstag, I gave myself the night off. By last night I was feeling slothlike. I’m doing some charity 5km race next Sunday, so I had to “get out there” and went for a run around the local environs. Today looked a bit rainy so I figured the Grind would be quieter, and drove over to the North Shore to partake in the madness.

Wrong! It was heaving. I smiled at myself clucking at some BMW driver trying to drive against the relentless flow of arriving grinders. Plainly a newb and unaware that the other way (hinted at by the Exit sign) was the way out. I gave him a disapproving look, which as a BMW owner he was plainly unaccustomed to.

Fortune smiled upon me and someone was leaving just as I cruised past. Some deft reversing and the trusty steed was parked.

Most of the hike was uneventful, but I do so enjoy catching up and over-taking the young bucks and buckesses that regularly storm past me earlier on the trail. They can usually be found gasping at the side of the path, or in the case of the less well brought up – right in the middle of the path.

By the half-way mark, I was feeling in a groove and quite fluid in my stride. There’s an artsy seating bench at the half-way mark which I have overheard several people mistake for a mountain biking “stage”. It seems to not occur to people that mountain biking and Grouse Grinders would be a disastrous mix. Anyway, as I arrived, the bench was covered with a handful of 20-somethings trying to catch their breath. I was a bit peeved that they weren’t offering their seats to the various ladies that were pausing to also catch their breath. I was itching for one of them to offer me a place, so I could rebuff them with sarcastic comments about how they needed the rest more than me. Alas they were all too rude to offer their elders a seat, and I stood to quaff from my water bottle. They all set off just as I was ready, but I passed them only two switch-backs later.

It was quite a trip in all though. I saw TWO babes in arms on the trail. One being breast-fed at about the 3/4 mark. The other was plainly not happy about proceedings and was clearly audible from way off.

Just as I got to the top, there was someone blocking most of the trail having a rest. I was about to make some comment when I noticed that they had a prosthetic leg. I was completely knackered by then, and I can’t imagine the extra effort and bodily stresses it must make to do the route with a prosthetic limb. Kudos!

Despite it feeling really humid, and me being convinced I’d done a shoddy time, I was actually 2 minutes faster than last week at 1:24.

English: Part of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver...

Part of the Grouse Grind in Vancouver BC, showing part of the hiking path. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My one over-riding impression though was about how much perfume and/or cologne people seem to think appropriate for a hike in the woods. It was overpowering at times. Somehow it seemed so out of place with the scenery – but then again, so in keeping with all the “look at me” attire that the typical walker was wearing. I wonder if Lululemon would be in business still if the Grouse Grind were to close.





Slept quite well in Seattle

22 05 2013

We just had a long weekend here in BC. Queen Victoria had a birthday conveniently close to my own, so plus or minus a week I get an extra day off to enjoy my encroaching dotage.

This year Mrs E and I went for an overnight visit to Seattle. It’s probably about a decade since we last visited, and I was keen to take some photos of the MV Kalakala. On our last visit we’d taken one of the tours on the ex-WWII Ducks – amphibian trucks – and had seen the Kalakala when it was still on Lake Union. As it turned out, that was too ambitious a goal and we never got to Tacoma to see the old tub in its current moorage.

As we drove down, we stopped off at the outlet stores near Tulalip in the hope of snagging some wacky Converse high tops or cheap skinny Levi’s 511s. Not quite sure how, but somehow we only ended up with a Le Creuset casserole dish. Moral of the story being never take Mrs E when you’re out bargain hunting.

We pulled off the motorway at Everett to find the Starbucks promised by a siren road sign. As we came to the junction at the end of the slip-road we were met with a blind choice. No hint of which direction would lead to the beverage emporium. For no particular reason I selected the innocent sounding “20th St SE” to the left, and almost immediately regretted it as the road became a long bridge and then a highway promising Wenatchee as a potential destination. Thankfully it emerged in a rural hamlet called Lake Stevens (sans café, incidentally) which at least offered a few residential turnings and therefore the means of salvaging the mistake before too much drinking time was lost.

No matter, we’d just head back the other way and no doubt be enjoying a “London Fog” before we knew it. No such luck. One block past the motorway, and we were in Deadsville, USA.

Now, in fairness, sitting here at home with the full power of Google Maps at my fingertips, I can see lots of cafés and places we could have stopped in Everett. I’ll remember that in the extremely unlikely event I ever again feel the urge to visit.  At the time though, it seemed deader than an engineering student’s potted plant. On the other hand, we were also spared “Seattle Reptiles” on Hewitt Ave, so on balance, I think we were ahead.

Deciding that the Starbucks road sign was in fact simply lying, we tried to find the entrance back to the motorway and to test our luck elsewhere. At this point I began to realise that road signage in the US is a matter left in the hands of the local village idiot rather than treated with the reverence it is rightly due. I swear we did three laps underneath the I5 before we zeroed in on an unlikely junction that thankfully, if a little unexpectedly, launched us back on our Southern journey. Mrs E made several remarks about “turning into your dad” and pantomime shooting me with loaded fingers, but we were back in familiar territory and heading once more in the right direction.

Our next attempt at refreshment was somewhat better signed, but in return lead us straight into a block-long traffic jam. Eventually we pulled into the Walmart carpark in Martha Lake and walked around the corner to Starbucks. Here I enjoyed an outrageously expensive “panino” (but not as you know it Jim) with my London Fog.

Searching for that last link, I finally discovered why Starbucks are so rabid about echoing “Earl Grey Tea Latte” when you ask for a London Fog. It seems London Fog is a proprietary name for a tea blended exclusively by Carnelian Rose Tea Co. of Vancouver, WA. Starbucks no longer used the name after being informed of the potential trade name conflict. Doesn’t seem to bother Murchies, JJ Bean or any other tea shop I’ve frequented in the Lower Mainland.

Where was I? Oh yes – Martha Lake. So, refortified with the requisite caffeine injection and over-mustardised sarnie, we set about sorting out accommodation for when we reached Seattle. It turned out there was some conference on that weekend, and HotelTonight.com gave dire warnings of the lack of cheap offerings. In the end we went for the “sight unseen” alternative at Hotwire.com, and after signing away $200 including tax, we were informed we were booked in the Red Lion hotel on 5th Avenue – nice and central. Described as a boutique hotel, we reminded ourselves that if it was REALLY bad, we could always drive home again.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and 5th Ave turned out to be trivial to find once we left the motorway on reaching Seattle. I almost missed the underground parking because I was looking at the old British red phone box at the Elephant & Castle pub that is in the basement of the Red Lion. An anonymous block of a building, it didn’t look particularly inspiring from the outside, but once we were in the lobby I began to get more impressed. It immediately began to demonstrate its 3.5 stars as we were very politely welcomed and checked in. I couldn’t help but smile as a couple walked in off the street looking for a room and were offered their cheapest at $100 more than we had just signed up for. We were in a king size room, but the young lady on the desk asked if we’d mind sitting for a while whilst she checked if the room was in fact ready. We were a good 30 minutes ahead of the official check-in time, so a curt “come back at 4pm” wouldn’t have been out of order. Instead though, she returned in a few minutes most apologetic for making us wait and gave us the keys and a smile.

Round about this time I began to notice that Seattle service staff are at least as polite (and probably more so) than Vancouver’s. I also noticed a lot of openly gay couples (which indicated to me a very embracing, open city culture), and no litter whatsoever. When I arrived in the Lower Mainland from the UK, I was in awe at how clean Greater Vancouver was. Seattle makes it look like a rubbish tip. To be sure it has its grungy bits, and I noticed myself taking a particularly firm grip on my camera once or twice, but on balance it felt pretty safe.

Our room was lovely. This is where the “boutique” comes in. It’s a large faceless hotel on the outside – just like a Marriott or a Holiday Inn anywhere in the world. On the inside though, it felt individual. It had everything any other hotel room might have – TV, tea making facilities, chairs, desk, bed. But the decor was smart and modern. Not that neutral beige I always dread so much in big name hotels. The rooms were wheelchair accessible, and though I don’t need to make use of it just yet, it was nice to know that if I did, there was a folding seat in the shower, as well as a detachable shower head for those hard to reach places…

Dumping our clobber, we headed off to REI, replete with the map given to us by the friendly desk-wallah. A large biro X marked our destination, just in case we missed the giant REI logo right next to it. Once there time (and money) drifted away, and before long it was almost tea time. We headed to the Space Needle, and took the monorail back to Nordstrom’s just a block or so away from the hotel. The Seattle Center (sic – it’s a proper name, so I can’t spell it “properly”) had a large outdoor Chihuly collection, but it was cleverly hidden behind large hedges and I wasn’t going to pay money to see it.

Back at the hotel we dumped our purchases, freshened up, and headed out once more. Having grown quite attached to the young lady on the desk, I asked for her recommendation for a fish restaurant and she steered us to Blueacre on 7th and Olive. It was already filling up as we arrived, and the greeter met us with a disdaining eye. Plainly she wasn’t local as she was not in possession of the hitherto ubiquitous warm friendly smile. Having asked for a table for two, I honestly thought she was about to grunt that without a reservation we were SOL. Instead she reluctantly admitted that there were tables to be had in the bar area, and she could follow us with menus. Novel idea I thought. Menus in a restaurant.

Thankfully this turned out to be a minor aberration in my theory of the friendliness of Seattlites, and the waitress was attentiveness personified. We started with cocktails, and I couldn’t resist the Bond-inspired Vesper. I was disappointed to not be asked if I’d like it shaken or stirred, but one can’t have everything I suppose. Mrs E partook of a “Victimless Crime” which appeared to consist of gin, various citrus things, aniseed and “bubbles”.

A plate of oysters casbarian turned out to be baked with bacon bits, stuff, things and whatnots. Actually, it was apple smoked bacon, spinach, fennel and anise. By the time I’d finished my pan blackened Alaskan rock fish in blue cheese sauce I was fit to burst. I think it was the exquisitely done (not at all greasy) onion rings it came with.

Full menu is here if you want to torture yourself more.

The walk back to the hotel was much needed, and though still quite early, sleep came quickly.

Sunday morning came early and was announced by the rhythmic pounding of the next door neighbour. Nothing saucy… we were right next to the hotel gym, and some eager beaver was hammering away on the treadmill. Rather than being grumpy, I got up and went and did 30 minutes on the elliptical machine myself. I worked up quite the sweat – to the extent that two days later as I write this, my calves are still a bit sore. Parking was good until 4pm, so we checked out, loaded our stuff into the car, and went exploring. Naturally we headed for Pike Place Market, which was vibrant and colourful.

We dined on sticky buns (I found some “healthy” seed and nut biscuit thing. It might have been healthier if it wasn’t large enough to feed a platoon), and managed to find a coffee establishment without the green mermaid on it. A swift amble along the waterfront, and back around to the hotel via Nordstrom’s Rack to appease Mrs E’s shopping urge, and we were done.

Coming back through the border was a little bit of pantomime. We have Nexus, and I’m not totally sure what the rules are for duty free, as I usually only get asked “did you buy alcohol or tobacco?” to which the answer is always “no”.

This time though, this was the transcript:

Nice customs lady: Did you buy anything, or were you given anything?

Me: I’m sorry, what? (I was thrown by the “given anything” part)

Less nice customs lady: I said – did you buy anything, or were you given anything?

Me: Yes – we spent about $450

Sighing customs lady (plainly this was potentially a form-filling occasion for her): How long were you gone for?

Me: Overnight

More heavily sighing customs lady (plainly the wrong answer, and forms and pens were beckoning): And what did you buy?

Me: We bought some clothes and a casserole pan.

Raised eyebrow customs lady: Was any item more than $200?

Me: No

Relieved customs lady (this was a pen-pushing event deftly averted, it seems): Thank-you. Goodbye.





The view from here

4 05 2013

As I mentioned previously, today I added The Chief’s First Peak to the list of places I’ve been. It was a lovely day with the views absolutely stunning.

I only hope the many climbers on the Chief’s famous faces were being appropriately careful in their enjoyment, and were well supplied with sun screen and lip balm. The iPod’s ability to dynamically build this image as I wafted it unceremoniously in the air is nothing short of amazing. Kudos Apple (and people who know me will agree that that is not something I lightly offer to The Dark Empire).

Click on the image to see a bigger version. The wiggly road to the left is the Sea to Sky highway, linking Vancouver to the left and Whistler to the right.

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC

View from Stawamus Chief, Squamish, BC








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