Lovely Lakeland! Late season paddling

I’ve already posted about two trips to Lakeland Provincial Park, and I hope that there are many more in my future.  It’s just wonderful to be able to paddle around lakes where nobody can drive to the edge.  There are a few smaller motorboats on the lakes, but they’re generally busy fishing and they don’t do much to interrupt the peace and quiet in this lovely area.  In fact, we also realized on this trip that there are some great trails, with picnic areas and outhouses for cross-country skiing in the winter, so I may be able to enjoy another season in the area!

This trip was interesting for me because it was organized by the Borealis Canoe Club, in Fort McMurray.  I “joined” several canoe clubs around the province on their Facebook pages, so that I would have more opportunities to join in on trips. I had never met anyone from this club, but I posted a lot during the Fort McMurray fire when I found helpful information about services that were available for evacuees. They apparently have a tradition of visiting Lakeland every year for the Labour Day weekend, at the beginning of September.  As soon as they posted this trip, I signed up.  After my canoe rack broke, I checked back to see what I should do.  I could have rented a rack in Edmonton, but it would have cost a huge amount of money.  Luckily for me, the club offered to bring one of their boats down with them, carrying 2 canoes on one vehicle.  Their plan was to leave Fort McMurray around 6 am Saturday, arriving at Jackson Lake around 9 am.  I reserved a site at Beaver Lake, on the road to Lakeland for Friday night.

Friday, I organized and packed all my gear, after spending a couple of weeks evaluating what I really needed and didn’t need. I knew that it was likely to be pretty cold and wet. I picked up groceries and gas on the way, stopping for a little while in Lac la Biche. I checked in to the campground just before the office closed at nine, and it was very dark by that point.  It was also raining extremely heavily. I decided that I didn’t want to pack up a wet tent in the morning, so I settled down in my car for the night, inflating my Thermarest and getting out my sleeping bag.  I actually slept quite well, although I got completely soaked when I got out of my car to pee during the night.  I had locked my car before going to sleep, and it was awkward in the morning because my doors were locked.  Finally, I reached into the front seat to unlock all the doors.  After I heard the click, I hopped out of my car, closed the back door, and went to open the front door.  There was a lot of swearing after that!  Instead of unlocking all the doors, I had locked them all.  My keys, purse, food, and phone were all inside the locked car!!  It was about 7 am.  Luckily, I had dressed in warm, dry clothing just before that.  I searched for a way to get into my car, but nobody had a wire coat hanger, and that didn’t work, once I found one.  Luckily, my neighbours in the campground took pity on me.  They let me use their phone to call AMA (the Alberta Motor Association) to get a locksmith to come out, and then they let me check my Facebook, to find the phone number of my new-to-me paddling partners.  Luckily, they were still on the road because there’s no phone service at the parking lot.  Finally, around 9:30, the locksmith arrived (he had to help someone who had locked a baby in the car!) and he opened my car.  I grabbed a quick snack and then drove to meet my fellow paddlers.

When I arrived at the Jackson Lake Staging Area, I was still pretty stressed, so I tried to take my time packing up my gear.  I hadn’t unpacked very much the night before.  Everyone else was ready and waiting, and they were very calm and patient while I got ready.  Finally, we started out on the 3-kilometre+ portage with our canoes and gear loaded onto carts.  As soon as we got started, the rain began again, and it didn’t finish until late that night!  After our portage, we paddled to the middle of Kinnaird Lake.  For about 20 minutes, we battled huge (to me) waves and heavy wind on Jackson Lake.  As soon as we got under the bridge, onto Kinnaird Lake, the wind and waves stopped.

One of the group members had started out ahead of us, to make sure that we had a campsite in Kinnaird Lake.  When we arrived, most people pulled out food, and started eating, but I went straight to set up my tent and change into dry clothes.  It took me awhile, and when I finished, I realized that I had no more warm, dry clothing, other than what I was wearing.  I came out to join everyone to eat a little bit, but even under a tarp, the wind and rain meant that I would be wet again very quickly if I stayed outside.  I gave everyone my regrets and crawled back into my tent, wrapping up completely in my sleeping bag and fleece liner.  At that time, it was only about 3 pm.  For the next 5 hours, I slept, waking up occasionally to change position, but I didn’t take off any clothes or layers until at least 8 pm.  I could hear the others saying goodnight around that time, but I wasn’t willing to come back out into the rain.  I read for an hour or two and then went back to sleep until 7 or 8 in the morning.  At 3 am, I could hear that the rain had stopped, so I stepped out to go to the bathroom, then crawled back into my sleeping bag.  In the morning, I had a headache from eating so little, but I still didn’t have an appetite!  Apparently, I was pretty hypothermic the day before!


Unlike Saturday, Sunday was an excellent day for being outside.  The weather was cool and cloudy, but there was NO rain!  After all of us prepared and ate our breakfasts, the group decided that we would attempt to make a full inner circuit of the lakes, while our gear stayed in camp.  I would highly recommend this method of making a circuit of the area since it’s a WHOLE lot easier to portage unloaded canoes!  One of the group members brought an excellent cart for our portages, and another member seems to prefer carrying his canoe on his shoulders! We paddled to the bottom of Kinnaird and found carts available for the 600-metre portage.  At the end, there was a further detour of about 200 metres which wasn’t passable with the carts.  Next, we were in Blackett Lake, and paddled to the longest portage, about a mile long (1.6K).  A kayaker was here after going to the other end to pick up a cart.  We used what we had and this trail was relatively smooth to portage.  Now we were in McGuffin Lake, and we visited a large campsite in the NE part of the lake, taking a short walk to visit the memorial cairn for Squadron Leader W. C. McGuffin, a Calgarian who was killed in WWII. It was interesting to see that a minimum security work crew (prisoners) had created their own “memorial” at the site, paving a small picture of a wolf.  This campsite is located on a trail system, which may be groomed for cross-country skiing in the winter (accessible from Shaw Lake staging area).  From McGuffin, there was one more short portage (300 metres) into Jackson Lake.  Along the shoreline, we gathered firewood, now that we didn’t have to carry the canoes anymore.  There were a number of dead birch and spruce trees that were pretty easy to saw branches off of.  The last stretch was a longer paddle, but preferable to more portaging.  The water was quite calm.

Sunday evening, we all prepared larger meals and enjoyed a great campfire.  Throughout the last 2 days, we saw a great variety of birds, including migrating sandhill cranes and Canada Geese, Bald Eagles, a kingfisher, many loons, and some grebes and gulls.  There were plenty of rose hips on the bushes, and a wide variety of mushrooms and fungi, none of which I can identify.  There were no mosquitoes or horseflies and sunscreen wasn’t necessary.  I took a quick dip after supper, to clean off.  The water was brisk but tolerable.

Monday, we got started by 7:30 am, in order to have enough time to take care of everything.  People packed up pretty quickly after breakfast and we had a pretty easy paddle back to the Jackson Lake portage.  Once we were on the water, the sun put on a show for us.  It wasn’t a hot day, but it was sunny!  The final portage seemed like it got longer while we were on the lakes!  Back at the parking lot, everyone was excited to change into clean, dry clothes.  I opted to sponge off in the bathroom at the Lac la Biche Boston Pizza.  We had a fabulous lunch there before my new companions returned to Fort McMurray, and I came home.  Alberta has so many highways, so I drove on a route that was new to me, with no traffic to worry about.  I stopped at Linda’s Market Garden in Smoky Lake to load up on the last of the lovely fall veggies and fruit.

August long weekend @Whitney Lakes Provincial Park

I first visited the Ross Lake campground at Whitney Lakes in 2014, and I was really impressed with the place.  Campsites are extra-big, and quite private. There are several very nice lakes, where swimming is very nice, and it’s close to several hiking trails, including the Iron Horse Trail, and the historic Carlton Trail.  I recommended the trip to my cane club(s) and outdoor club last year and this year, but people seem to have different ideas about how to spend a long weekend.  Luckily, there was one member of my outdoors club who wanted to go camping someplace new.  Depending on how you go, and whether you stop, it takes about 2 1/2-3 hours to drive to Whitney Lakes from Edmonton, on quiet highways. We stopped in both directions at Mundare & Two Hills, and we also paused in Elk Point and Myrnam on our return trip.

I was hoping to paddle for one day on the North Saskatchewan River, but we didn’t have another vehicle to provide shuttle service. Nevertheless, paddling was very pleasant on Ross Lake, as well as Whitney Lake.  I really enjoyed the calls of the loons on Whitney Lakes.  Swimming was also quite lovely on both lakes. On Sunday afternoon, the weather was warm and sunny for 2-3 hours, long enough to nap on the beach, and to enjoy going back and forth between warming up on the beach and cooling off in the lake.  The area is very popular with families.  There were motorboats on the lakes, but they weren’t terribly noisy and busy.

We tried hiking around Whitney Lake, but a portion of the trail was underwater, in both directions. The Iron Horse Trail out of Lindbergh was a nice spot to enjoy all of the birds, berries, and butterflies that were plentiful.

The days were pretty cloudy, with rain threatening much of the time. It rained extremely heavily on Saturday and Sunday nights.  Our neighbours helped us out by setting up tarps over our tents, including one of their own.  They set them up while we were off canoeing, and they drove away from the campground very early Monday, leaving us their tarp and ropes!  Evening campfires were great, and we ate very well.

On the way back to Edmonton, we enjoyed the traditional Ukrainian church in Myrnam.  In Two Hills, we were curious to visit the “Mexican Family Store”. When we went inside, we saw that about half the store sold fabrics and Bibles for Mennonite families in the area, and the other half had a wide range of Mexican food and cleaning products.  It seems that the town is being settled by Mexican Mennonites, who also speak German, and there is a large Mennonite school in the town.  I picked up vanilla, panela (solid cane sugar), and a number of other spices and Mexican foods.  We also noticed that the main restaurant in town advertised Mexican, Ukrainian, and Western cuisine. That was a pretty big surprise, in rural Alberta!  In Mundare, we visited Stawnichy’s Ukrainian (Mundare) Sausage, a famous, long-standing business (0ver 50 years). It was a great place to pick up assorted meats, and some delicious Ukrainian food, including fruit perogies and cabbage rolls.

Canoeing the Athabasca River: Fort Assiniboine-Vega Ferry #2

I paddled this stretch of river in 2014, and really enjoyed the area.  It’s a good, easy river run, relatively close to Edmonton, but very peaceful, once you’re on the river.  I invited members of my outdoors club to join me this year.  There were some folks who are usually hikers but who wanted to try paddling. Most people on the trip had a fair amount of previous paddling experience. We made the trip with 8 people in 4 canoes, which was a perfect number for staying together and moving along.

There is a really decent municipal campground adjacent to Vega (Klondyke or Klondike) Ferry. We camped both nights at the campground for $12/site, and there was firewood and a cook shelter available. Most of us gathered at the A&Ws in Barrhead, where we could also purchase food & beverages nearby.  There was a worry about how high and fast the river might be, so we met at the bridge near Fort Assiniboine to assess. The group decided that things looked manageable, so we locked up our canoes by the bridge, before proceeding to our campsites. Saturday morning we started out fairly early, returning to the put-in with 2 vehicles.

Most of the day on the water was very pleasant.  Although there were dark clouds on both sides of the river a lot of the day, there was no heavy rain or lightning. The speed of the river kept us moving at a comfortable pace. We spotted deer and moose along the river, eagles, and assorted other birds and wildlife. As we neared our destination, the wind picked up and we had to work very hard to keep moving forward for about 30-45 minutes. Luckily, the wind died down again and we reached the campground with plenty of time to relax and fix dinner.  Some of us returned to pick up our vehicles from the put-in, and I enjoyed the old-time general store and lovely coffee shop in Fort Assiniboine.  Some of the group checked out a short hike in the morning. My trip partner had an injured ankle, so we explored the discount stores and

On Sunday, some of the group checked out a short hike in the morning. My trip partner had an injured ankle, so we explored the discount stores and Pokestops of Westlock on the way back to Edmonton. There were hearty, healthy lunch dishes available at the grocery store.  It was lovely to watch the crops and livestock along the highway. An excellent weekend adventure!

Lakeland Canoe Circuit, a beautiful weekend with friends

A misty morning on Jackson Lake2 years ago, I enjoyed one of my best canoeing experiences, when I visited Lakeland Canoe Circuit, near Lac la Biche, Alberta.  One of my good friends had a similar experience, in the same location, a few years earlier.  We talked about trying to enjoy the area together.  She really wanted to share this lovely area with some of her closest female friends, from Southern Alberta.  Early this year, we began to look at our schedules to see if we could find a time to enjoy the area together.  She talked to her friends, and we decided to make our trip at the end of June.  For her friends, this was their very first trip without cars, and for one of them, it was her first time ever sleeping in a tent!  We talked and planned a lot, to try to make this a very special weekend for everyone.

Thursday night, we met at Beaver Lake Provincial Recreation Area, just south of Lac la Biche.  Because our cars were parked nearby, we could use a lot more equipment and clothing.  Taking showers and using flush toilets were also possibilities.  We took time Thursday night and Friday morning to determine exactly what to pack for the next part of our trip, and what to leave behind.  Thursday night rained heavily, and we could see from the forecasts that rain and lightning were going to be continuing all weekend.  Because of the weather and our friends’ inexperience, we decided to make our backcountry trip as “easy” as possible.

Around noon, we arrived at the Jackson Lake Staging Area, a parking lot where we could load our canoes onto wheeled carts, for the next part of our trip.  All of our gear was packed inside the canoe, and we paired up for a 3-kilometre hike, down the trail to the lake.  The first time I did this, I was shocked at how easy the hike felt.  This time, it didn’t feel so easy.  I think this is probably because I broke 3 bones in 2014/15, and I’ve needed to take a lot of time off exercise, in order to heal from my injuries.  There is a lot that I can do now, but I can’t do it as easily, or as quickly as before.  At any rate, we arrived at the lake about an hour after leaving the parking lot.  When we arrived at the dock, we unloaded and reloaded the canoes, this time in the water.  My friend and I each paddled “stern”, in the back of the canoes, since we needed to steer for our friends without paddling experience.  The water was calm and lovely.  In order to keep things simple, we had decided to stop at the main Jackson Lake campground, just before the lake joins with Kinnaird Lake.  On arrival, we set up our tents and organized all of our gear.

For the next 2 days, our focus was on relaxation, conversation, fun, and the natural beauty of the area.  The campsite we chose is very big, enough to accommodate a scouting or school group.  Since we had it to ourselves, we could arrange things in any way we wanted.  Throughout the 2 days, there were several periods of rainfall and thunderstorms, primarily at night.  We used tarps to protect ourselves from getting really wet.  Whenever we felt hot or dirty, we wandered over to the water’s edge and had a swim.   There was a trail through the campsite, so some of the women went for a short run every day.  A big bag of wine managed to disappear.  We cooked and shared some delicious meals, including a fantastic steak dinner.

One of my favourite things about the canoe circuit is the abundance of natural beauty that surrounds the campers.  Loons were never far away, and their haunting cry warms my soul.  There were tiny ripe strawberries, wildflowers, butterflies, and many kinds of water birds in the area.

Sunday morning, it was time to pack up, paddle back to the trail, and hike back out to our cars.  I’m so glad that we all had this peaceful time to share with each other!


The Magnificence of Canada in 13 Stunning Photographs

What a big and beautiful country Canada is! We are so lucky here to have so much wilderness and nature that is available to enjoy. Take a look at these lovely photos that come from each of Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories!

With Canada as the topic for #FriFotos on Twitter I thought I’d showcase the magnificence of the country in 13 photos taken in all 10 provinces & 3 territories.

Source: The Magnificence of Canada in 13 Stunning Photographs

Early Paddling season: excellent trips near Edmonton

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Readying our gear at start of day 2, Drayton Valley-Keephills

Spring started very early this year, with open water already available in April. This is a terrible thing for our planet since it’s probably due to climate change, however, it’s an excellent thing when you’ve been waiting all winter to get out on the water. I’ve been very lucky to get out and enjoy different adventures every weekend since late April. Here are some images and stories from those trips. None of them involved driving for more than 1.5 hours from downtown Edmonton, which is a big advantage.

End of April: Islet Lake, Blackfoot Natural Area

Blackfoot Natural Area is a fantastic resource for anyone who loves to be outdoors since it’s only about 45 minutes away from most parts of Edmonton (when there’s no Anthony Henday construction!).  There are about 85K of multi-use hiking and biking trails, many of which are also available for equestrians.  As well, Islet Lake is a lovely, sheltered lake, which you can access from the Islet Staging Area.  Ceyana Canoe Club had an early season paddling outing to the lake.  Quite a few club members came out to use their paddling gear early in the season, and the paddling was followed by a potluck barbecue (everyone brings food to share).  I needed to hurry off that day, so I didn’t have a long paddle or any BBQ, but it was a beautiful afternoon on the water.


Early May: Burtonsville Island Biking/Camping Trip

At the end of May, some other cyclists talked about a weekend camping trip that was being organized by members of Edmonton Bicycle Commuters. Cyclists were planning to bicycle 100K each way, to camp overnight on Burtonsville Island, southwest of Edmonton, and south of Keephills, on the North Saskatchewan River.  Because of my broken bones during the winter, I had been training very little, so I knew that I couldn’t do a long bike ride like that.  However, I offered to drive out to the island and carry any extra luggage that cyclists didn’t want to carry.  I also offered to share my car, tent and cooking gear, if anyone else wanted to go by car, instead of by bicycle.  Although there was very little time in advance, I was able to find a travelling companion, in time for the trip.  We drove out from Edmonton in the afternoon, with our camping gear and food.  Cyclists had to bike through rain, heavy wind, and hail, so it was a difficult day for them!  Because I live in an apartment, I store my canoe on my car all summer.  It was very helpful when I arrived at the end of the bike route.  Although Burtonsville is technically an island, it’s possible to walk onto the island by crossing an old beaver dam.  Needless to say, this isn’t a very easy walk, especially if you are carrying a lot of camping gear.  Cyclists locked their bikes together on land, and then walked over to the island.  I used my canoe to ferry their gear over to the island while they walked over the dam.  Once on the island, there were narrow “trails” though the woods, marked with lids from freezer orange juice cans.  Sometimes, these were easy to follow, and other times, they seemed impossible to find.  I had brought too much gear to comfortably carry, so I dropped some of it beside the trail.  Because it was still early Spring, it began to get dark pretty early.  I returned to shore, to try to locate some of the cyclists who hadn’t yet arrived.  The final cyclist arrived right at dusk, and we had to hurry through the bush to find the other campers.  I was glad to locate my dropped gear on the return trip.


Once we arrived at an open area for camping, it was rather magical to be on our own on a peaceful island.  I could see a lot of elk scat (poop), so I knew that they lived there.  We could hear many creatures throughout the night, and the group set up a big campfire, and prepared their suppers quickly.  Most people were pretty tired after their long rides. In the very early morning (4 or 5), most of us heard a creature moving past our campsite, barking 3 short barks in a row, followed by a very short howl, again and again.  It was a very unusual noise, and there was no answer from another animal.  In the morning, the fog was really lovely on the stream by our campsite, and I saw that there were frog eggs on a cattail in the stream.  We discussed what kind of animal had made the noise, and one camper suggested that it was an elk.  In fact, when I came home and compared the sound of elk, to the sound of coyotes, the sound was much closer to that of an elk.  What a surprise for me!  Several cyclists packed up and left in the early morning, as did I, and again, I carried some items in my car so that they wouldn’t be overloaded for the return trip.  Burtonsville Island was lovely, and I was very happy to be able to share it with a group.  Many of the cyclists stayed until Monday so that they could spend all day Sunday relaxing and exploring the very large island.

Mid-May: overnight at Rainbow Valley, overnight trip, Devon-Big Island-Laurier Park

On the May long weekend, my sister and brother-in-law visited Edmonton and we enjoyed a Thursday night together, camping at Rainbow Valley Campground, on the banks of Whitemud Creek, next to Whitemud Drive.  It was a lovely, peaceful environment, where we spent the evening outside, visiting, singing songs, and eating and drinking.  Rainbow Valley is a perfect place for you to try camping since you can always pack up and drive home in the middle of the night if anything goes wrong!


Ceyana arranged an early season, overnight trip to allow club members to start out the season easily.  They have done this trip over many years so that new paddlers can get the idea of what an overnight trip is like, without travelling too far from home.  We started out midday from Edmonton, and we were lucky that Mark Lund, founding club member, was organizing this trip, since he has all kinds of paddling gear at home, including a canoe trailer and a truck to haul it. He loaned a canoe to 2 of us to share since it had more space for cargo.  This stretch of the river is quite easy to paddle.  We made good time, paddling to our destination for the night: Big Island.  This is another “island” that is actually connected to land and on our arrival, there were a number of quads and trucks driving back and forth.  Nevertheless, we followed the signs posted by River Valley Programs and located an open area, with a wilderness “throne” (open-air bathroom seat) nearby.  We set up a very comfortable camping area and settled in to prepare our suppers.  After dinner, we walked around the island a bit to explore it.  We saw and heard evidence of a lot of wildlife, including bald eagles, woodpeckers, and mule deers.  We passed a very comfortable night.  Luckily, we had pulled our canoes very high up on shore because water is frequently released from upstream dams during the night.  In the morning, water was about a foot higher on shore, and people who drove to waterfront campsites the night before were now surrounded by water.  It was an easy return to the truck at Laurier Park.  We were fortunate enough that a club member rode out with us to Devon the day before and drove the empty truck back to our take-out point.  As a result, we could just load up the truck and return to our vehicles quickly.

Early June: Drayton Valley-Keephills Overnight Trip

A joint trip was organized between Ceyana Canoe Club and Northwest Voyageurs Canoe and Kayak Club.  The original plan was to paddle on the Red Deer River, but water levels were too low.  The alternate plan was to paddle between Drayton Valley and Keephills (the site of the old Genesee Ferry crossing).  A group of 10 people in 6 boats met in West Edmonton and dropped off 2 shuttle vehicles at Keephills.  Following that, a hearty breakfast was eaten at Teddy Bears Restaurant, near the junction of Highways 39 and 22.  After breakfast, we proceeded to Willey West Campground, just across the river from Drayton Valley,  This was the put-in point, and all of the vehicles that had carried boats were parked here.  After getting out on the river, there were a number of rapids and waves to deal with during the first couple of hours.  By paddling standards, these were nothing, but for me, they’re somewhat stressful to negotiate, especially since my canoe is not designed for river paddling.  With a bit of bailing and some changes in loads, we carried on, to enjoy over 40 kilometres of paddling for the day.  When we stopped for the day, it was on a small island that was opposite of Burtonsville.  I would have like to explore Burtonsville from the river side, but it sounds like there have been many changes to the river over the years.  It might prove to be difficult to access some of the trails and campsites from the river.  The cyclists who camped there earlier reported that they never saw the river during their stay.

One of the things that is most interesting about going on a group paddling trip is seeing all of the different arrangements that people make for carrying their gear, and for preparing meals.  Our trip organizer had paddled for longer than most of the participants had been alive, and a lot of his gear is gathered at garage sales, or it is repurposed from other household items (i.e. TV trays, vitamin bottles, peanut butter jars).  Others had everything fresh from an outdoor equipment store.  Everyone really enjoyed their supper, and all reported getting a great night’s sleep.  After breakfast, we were back on the water, but this 27K+ stretch was far calmer.  We did very little paddling on day 2, letting the current carry us towards our takeout point.  After getting off the water, most of us shuttled back to Drayton Valley to pick up our vehicles.  The participants who stayed behind found that they were surrounded rather quickly by families with Pit Bulls, as well as by people who came to the Crown land to shoot guns!  It was stressful and they were happy to see us return so we could load up and get back home.

June daytrip: Capilano Park-Fort Saskatchewan

Because I’m trip coordinator for Ceyana, I receive emails from many people who want to go paddling in or near the city.  The FIFA Women’s World Cup is being held in Edmonton so there are many visitors to the city.  One of them is a photographer from Texas who wanted to do some paddling in the Edmonton area.  Fortunately, we could both get away on a Friday afternoon, so we paddled a very lovely stretch, between Edmonton and Fort Saskatchewan.  That day was very windy, and the dark clouds threatened heavy rain all afternoon, but we only had a very brief stretch of “spitting” rain.  We paddled into a headwind for a lot of our trip, but my partner had paddled a number of long-distance canoe races, so he relished the challenge.  He handled the stern duties very effectively.  It only took us 3 hours, 13 minutes to paddle the 27.5 kilometres.  We had shuttled my car to the takeout and we made a quick return to the city after finishing our trip.  We saw plenty of pelicans, some osprey nests, and some really nice grasslands and cliffs.  I’d recommend that stretch to anyone who wants to start out with river paddling.  There were no real obstacles along the way.  The river runs more slowly, but it still moves you along.

Can You Canoe? Try it out in Edmonton

All summer in Edmonton, there are many interesting events, and a lot of them are free!  Many students know that I’m crazy about canoeing, and it looks interesting to them.  They wanted to know where they can find out more about this activity.  An excellent opportunity is at Edmonton’s “River Day”, when many clubs and businesses that use the river meet together to show Edmontonians how they can enjoy the river.  One of the activities is lessons for boats, including kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards.  The classes are low-cost, so they’re very popular.  Go sign up soon after the event begins at 10 am.  There will be 4 canoeing classes and 2 kayak classes, and possibly 2 standup-paddleboard classes.  Instructors will make sure you have the correct equipment, and they’ll give you the main idea for these activities.  You can also enjoy a free pancake breakfast, and you can try fishing and other activities.

River Day :: City of Edmonton.

Another time and place when you can learn about paddling is at MEC Paddlefest, which will be held on Sunday, June 28, at Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park this year.

Astotin Lake, Paddlefest

Astotin Lake, Paddlefest

You can buy some delicious food to eat, during your visit to Edmonton Paddlefest.

You can buy some delicious food to eat, during your visit to Edmonton Paddlefest.

Edmonton Paddlefest, Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park is another great place to try out paddling sports.  Many vendors and clubs provide instruction and the chance to try out their equipment for free.  You can also register to take quite a few different classes for free.

If you want to try out paddling, and you can’t attend these special events, you can also rent equipment from MEC or Totem Outfitters to try at any river or lake, or you can rent at Astotin Lake from Haskin Canoe, for $25/hour. I recommend that you search YouTube first for a video about how to canoe.  It’s not so difficult, but if you have no idea how to steer the boat, it’s really frustrating!

If you want to get more involved in paddling, and have regular practice, you can also join a paddling club.  There are several in Edmonton, but I’m a member of one of the more active clubs:

Ceyana has weekly practice evenings at Rundle Park Paddling Centre (Tuesdays), instruction for many kinds of paddling, trips, and practice sessions in the big (voyageur) canoes.  Members enjoy a wide range of paddling, from whitewater river paddling, to practice on a pond.  For me, my favourite activity is going on canoe trips, spending at least one night away from home.  A canoe club is a great place to meet other paddlers, to learn new ideas, and to share gear and knowledge.

The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things

The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not ThingsThis is an interesting article about research on what makes us happiest.  From my own experience, spending time and money on experiences makes me very happy for a long time.  Since I returned to Canada from Việt Nam, most of my purchases have been for equipment that will allow me to enjoy many outdoor experiences: second-hand bicycle, skates, skis, and roof rack for my canoe, as well as new running shoes, climbing and camping equipment, ski passes, and gym memberships.  I really enjoy getting to know other people while we are doing an activity, like a hike or canoe trip.  I hope to use the equipment that I’ve purchased for a very long time.

The Science Of Why You Should Spend Your Money On Experiences, Not Things.


I want to stay alive (survive)

On a recent weekend, one of my activity groups arranged for several of us to take a wilderness survival course at Boreal Wilderness Institute. I was really wondering about spending an entire beautiful Sunday in a classroom since the program ran from 0830 hours to 1730 hours. It’s very difficult for me to sit still and listen to someone speaking. As much as possible, I prefer interactive, hands-on learning. However, this course was well worth the time and money that I spent to learn about how to survive in the wilderness. I took 10 pages of notes at the class, and the instructor gave us a 100-page manual, so I won’t be writing about everything that I learned in the class. For me, I will share a few specific things that I realized when I took the course.

When I go camping or on a canoe trip, I carry many different survival items in my car or in my canoe. As long as I have a problem at my campsite, I probably have most of the supplies that I need to solve my problem. However, I often go hiking or canoeing without carrying survival gear on my person. There are many reasons that I could need these supplies quickly:
• Car accident or breakdown (I don’t keep a candle, matches, or sleeping bags in my car)
• Canoe is swamped and washed away. If I lose my canoe, I’ve lost all of my food, fire-lighting, and other survival gear, and I’m probably cold and/or injured
• Injury or getting lost on the trail. If I’m stuck out on a hiking trail overnight, I don’t usually have any shelter or fire supplies
As a result of these realizations, I decided that I must take a critical look at supplies that I already have, to see how to adapt them for use in my hydration pack, my life jacket, and my vehicle. Of course, I don’t want to carry a tent, firewood, and lamps for a 10K hike on a marked trail, but there are compact supplies that would be very useful if I had a big problem. These are excellent articles, with pictures, to help plan emergency supplies.

Another thing that I realized is that I’m very comfortable and confident about fire-lighting, shelter-building, and food preparation under ideal conditions (at a campground, with dry supplies for my car). However, in an emergency, conditions will not usually be ideal. I need to practice making a fire in wet conditions, setting up a tarp as a shelter, and also, taking care of first aid in a backcountry location. One useful adaptation might be to bring a small tarp or garbage bag, to set up as a “sterile field” for wound dressing or other first aid, if necessary.

Our instructor, Bruce has life-long experience with survival teaching, and he was able to show us many useful (and not-so-useful) supplies to carry, whenever leaving home. He really stressed the importance of fire, for warmth, an emergency signal, cooking, and purification. Bruce carries 3 different methods of fire-lighting in most settings. One tool I have depended on was the “space blanket”. According to Bruce, these are almost completely useless, except to block wind or rain. Instead, he recommended carrying brightly-coloured garbage bags, which can provide emergency shelter, and which also improve our visibility.

We learned that most missing people in Canada are found within a few days, at most, but people are often stuck because of poor visibility/darkness. It’s always a good idea to carry a headlamp because darkness will increase our panic, and make it harder to think clearly. Many people who need to be rescued have stopped in one place because of darkness. It’s best to be aware of the time because finding firewood, or preparing food will all be harder once it’s dark. Spending a lot of time in the wilderness will improve your survival odds, because you won’t panic so much.

In an emergency:
Orient yourself
Plan: planning is always useful, even if the plan isn’t really excellent since the act of planning will calm you down.

When going out in the wilderness, the act of driving there is always our highest risk activity, and wildlife and other factors are very low risk. When choosing supplies, a toque is much more practical than bearspray. Warmth and fluids are extremely important for survival, so it’s important to have some method of water purification available, as well as items like handwarmers, that can be used to reverse hypothermia. When trying to get warm, or stay warm, your neck is an area that can cool you down, or warm you up very quickly, depending on whether or not it is covered up. Synthetic or wool clothing is far more effective for warmth than cotton (“Cotton Kills”). Mild hypothermia affects your brain function very quickly, and it can also worsen rapidly. Carry handwarmers to use in the groin, armpits, and neck if body temperature begins to drop.

Personal factors, such as optimism or mindset are critical. Being in a group always maximizes your resources, because far less effort is needed for fire and shelter-building. Also, group dynamics often mean that 1+1=3. In other words, when a team begins to work together, the group can often think of new ideas that individuals wouldn’t consider.

If you can, take this course, so you have better ideas about what to do in an emergency situation. Bruce has a variety of courses, to help you survive in various situations. You can also go out in the bush, for an extended course, where you practice shelter-building and other important skills.

Planning food for longer canoe (or hiking) trips: Tips from an expert

If you want to take off into nature for several days at a time, you need to have some food and liquids for survival  I asked an expert to share her experience.  Mark and Lois Lund are found members of Ceyana Canoe  While Mark generally handles the logistics of paddling, Lois is usually the person who makes sure that everyone in the group has something to eat along the way.  Their family has taken several trips that lasted 3 weeks or more, and some of those trips were taken with 3 young/preschool aged children in tow!  Food is the fuel for the trip, and there are no grocery stores or hospitals along the way, so everything needs to be carefully planned.  Lois cooked a bannock and a pot of her camping hamburger soup, and she shared some of her main trip with a group of us on Sunday.

Chili that was cooked at home and frozen, tasted great in Lakeland Provincial Park.

Chili that was cooked at home and frozen, tasted great in Lakeland Provincial Park.

No set rules, except “don’t forget coffee”. You always need to consider water needs, for any trip. The Lunds start with city water for any trip that they do. They take 1 or 2 20-litre big blue water jugs for any trip. They always bring a water filter for any trip. You only need to get beaver fever once to avoid untreated or unfiltered water. Boiling water is ok too, and is recommended, even for campground water. Iodine and other chemical treatments are adequate, but the water filter is reliable, provided that none of the components are misplaced. A paddling trip with portages means that carrying a lot of water is less practical. Boiling OR filtering should be adequate. In the far north, the muskeg taste of water isn’t very good, so you should always carry some sort of flavour crystals, so that everyone keeps drinking. Bring extras to add to your tea and water because the flavour can be so bad: Crystal Lite is good because it is lightweight. Nuun tablets will also flavour water, as well as adding electrolytes. Paddlers carry drinking water a number of different ways on their trips, but you should always keep drinking water close at hand, to avoid dehydration. A Camelbak, or a water bottle are both convenient, and can be lashed to the canoe or kayak. Out in the middle of the lake or river is the best place to filter water, and you should always have extra drinking water available.

Beginning the portage into Lakeland

Beginning the portage into Lakeland

Washing and rinsing dishes is also really important. On one trip, the dishes weren’t rinsed, and everyone began to get “the runs. Camp hygiene can deteriorate really quickly, once group members have GI bugs/diarrhea. The Lunds usually use 2 hard, round dish pans that they can store all of their cooking pans inside. With a large group, use bleach for rinsing dishes, for the first rinse. Hand sanitizer is also really important for group cooking. Lois and her son both got “beaver fever” while eating meals at a group-use facility.

Early in trip planning, cooking plans need to be made. The meal organizer needs to be clear about which meals will be shared, and to find out what all of the food allergies are. Some people may need to prepare their meals individually, due to special needs. Carrying gear depends on trip length and logistics. Stacking plates and cups for everyone may be the most practical, for a large, shared trip. You need to stick with your meals and days, so that you don’t run out of food. Packing: can be arranged by the day, or by the meal, with a preference for dividing up each meal for each day. Everything needs to be separately bagged and labelled, but the bags can all be stored together, to be re-used later. Use new bags when packing for a trip – soggy crackers or pancake flour is not a treat!

Dehydrating: Lois doesn’t find that most meat dries very well, so she takes cans of flaked chicken or ham, and the cans get stomped and burned every night in the campfire. The used, burned cans are light, and easy to store to pack out. Drying veggies: it’s okay to just cut and dry onions. You can buy a giant bag and fill the dehydrator, when they’re on sale. All other veggies need to be blanched first. Frozen veggies dry very well, since they’ve been pre-blanched, particularly peas and “California mix” (cauliflower, broccoli, etc.). Pasta needs to be very small, or it won’t cook. Zucchini is very good sliced and dried. Kale is good with salt or soy sauce, dried in the oven. Use dried soy burger instead of meat, in a variety of meals. Lois often dries large batches of sauces, which can be rolled and cut, like fruit leather. Sauces may need to be blended, so that the drying time is consistent. Because of the fat content, Lois worries about regular hamburger going rancid, and causing food poisoning. Soy protein or canned meat is more reliable. Chicken dries quite badly.

Drying fruit: easiest to just buy most of it already dried, since the flavour and consistency is very good. Pineapple is really good dried, if you buy a giant can of unsweetened pineapple rings. Apple is also really good dried. Homegrown apples make good chips. Add cardamom and cinnamon with a little bit of salt in the oven. Granny Smith and other green apples are especially tasty. They can be sliced by hand, with the skin on, no problem. Lois likes drying yogurt. She used it for a long trip with the kids, using flavoured yogurt. It tastes like candy. It’s quite sticky. There needs to be fat in the yogurt, or else it just disappears. It can be rolled with Saran wrap, and then it can be cut up. Plain yogurt is good, rehydrated, but you need to use filtered water. The plain yogurt is good for various sauces or dips. Start rehydrating everything at the beginning of the day and then start cooking as soon as you arrive in camp in the evening.

Stoves: Kim often uses campfire, since it’s available. Jetboil can be used for boiling water as quickly as possible. You shouldn’t depend on fire in a lot of areas, because there are often fire bans, and you may not always be able to light fires. A 2-burner propane or white gas stove is most convenient with a family or larger group. Always keep a kettle at the edge of the campfire, so that water’s available for cleaning. The Dutch oven is used for campfire cooking, with a trivet under the baking tin, inside the Dutch oven. Cut a circle of parchment or wax paper to go in the bottom of the pan, and it’s good for baking a cake. It works much better, buried on the fire, and with coals or briquettes on top. The Lunds got many aluminum Dutch ovens made in a foundry. Always bring a cooking glove (can be packed inside the Dutch oven). Lois ties a bright tag on the cooking glove, so that it doesn’t get lost.

Leftovers from regular home meals can be frozen or dried. When there are leftovers from several different meals, they can all be dried at the same time in the dehydrator, from the freezer. All of the instructions need to be written on the outside of each package. Carry some staples, like cooking oil. You should bring a small strainer, for dishwater, and then burn or carry out the strained food, to avoid attracting animals, and leaving a mess.

Foothills whipped butter or ghee will keep long-term for tripping.

Breakfast: porridge: Red River or Sunny Boy cereal is good in the morning. Porridge can be varied a lot, with only a few different ingredients. Travelling on a 24-day trip, one paddler had 3 different porridge blends in large buckets. Powdered eggs are really ugly, but they are convenient for baking. You can keep powdered egg substitute in the freezer for a long time. Most cake mixes need some extra ingredients, so read the package closely. Lois often adds milk powder and occasionally egg powder to baked goods.

Lunches: Most trips recommend that everyone bring their own lunch food, such as tortillas and peanut butter. Waxed cheese will last for a long time without refrigeration. Jerky needs to have all the moisture removed, or it will go mouldy. If you want to make your own jerky, ask the butcher to cut the meat for you for making jerky. You can add soy sauce and seasonings like ginger and chili.

Fresh oranges and cabbage will last a long time on your trip.

Most of what the group members pack for trips, comes from the grocery store, not from an outdoor store. Commercial dehydrated meals are often full of sodium, and very expensive.

My camp cooking is usually for 2-3 day trips, so I can often bring fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as frozen meat. Eggs don’t require refrigeration, but need to be protected from breakage. I usually prefer hearty pancakes for breakfast, using the Bulk Barn multigrain mix, some nuts, and fresh fruit. I prefer to use a camping French press to make coffee, and bought a separate press to keep with my camping supplies, since I left it at home on one trip. Starbucks Via coffee also tastes good, but not as good as freshly made coffee. For lunch, I often buy a sandwich from the Italian Centre, which I freeze before leaving. This will make 2 good lunches for a day of hiking or paddling, and it packs very well. For supper, there are many low-cost side dishes that can be prepared quickly with fresh meat and vegetables (Side Kicks, Bistro, Hamburger Helper). The meal is satisfying and quick to clean up.

I found some good meal packing and preparation ideas at these locations:

5 Important Reasons To Embrace A Little Adventure

5 Important Reasons To Embrace A Little Adventure.

My students often roll their eyes when I tell them (again!) how important it is for them to go have adventures when they have free time.  It can be very stressful living in a new place, using a new language, and being away from friends and family.  It often seems that going out and doing new things will only add to that stress.  However, science and my own experience show repeatedly that adventure enriches your life, and makes everything in it more possible and more enjoyable.  It’s true that it can be expensive to do new things, but if you commit yourself to trying something, you will usually find a way to make it possible. Perhaps you can’t travel the world, but you can join a travel group and enjoy the photos and adventures of other travellers, or you can join Couchsurfing and meet or host travellers from around the world.  Before the New Year begins, make 3 promises to yourself for 2015, to do something that will bring you great joy.

2014: Year in Review

Returning to Canada from 3+ years in Viet Nam has been one of the hardest adjustments that I’ve ever made. Everything here seemed very foreign to me, after time away. As well, I was starting from scratch, with housing, employment, career, family life, and recreation. I still had my car, and a few personal possessions, and I also shipped back some books and household goods from Viet Nam. For the first year, I worked half time as a Starbucks barista, since the job offered a healthcare plan, paid vacation, and great deals on coffee and food. Nevertheless, it was a very challenging job for me. At the same time, I rebuilt my ESL teaching career, while completing my Diploma in TESOL from Mount Royal University. Sometimes I had a lot of teaching work, and other times, I had none. It took time for me to move out of my daughter and son-in-law’s place into my own apartment. The first year was really stressful, and it only got a little bit easier during the second year “home”. Even the third year was still really hard.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to keep busy and active, and I’ve worked really hard to find and continue activities I enjoyed. Meetup and Couchsurfers have been fun social groups for group meals, movies, and outdoor activities.  After the first couple of years back in Canada, I started camping on weekends, and I did some hikes with clubs.  in 2013, I joined Ceyana Canoe Club, and I did an overnight camping trip at Maligne Lake in Jasper (with another group), as well as a river trip, from Rocky Mountain House to Drayton Valley.  This was really thrilling to me!  At the end of the summer in 2013, one of my running friends from Boston visited, and we did some paddling, as well as a race.  We learned about some crazy club called November Project Canada, who met for outdoor exercise, 3 mornings/week at 6 am!!  Luckily, I convinced my friend to come join me for my first visit, because I’m sure that I would have stayed in bed, otherwise!

During 2014, my participation in November Project, Ceyana Canoe, Meetup (various groups), and Dead Runners Society (an online group of runners from all over the US, and a couple of other places) has been really important to me.  My year has been really full of exciting activities, and most of them are possible because of the support and teaching from these 4 groups.

I started 2014 in Victoria, BC, with my dear sister and her family.  We toured Vancouver Island, as well as the breweries of Victoria for the week between Christmas and New Year.  I began some indoor climbing, and did a lot of hiking and snowshoeing on the weekends.  There have been various running races at least monthly.  In March, I joined my friends from Dead Runners’ Society in San Diego.  I stayed downtown, and saw plenty of sights, and tried plenty of great food, while renewing my acquaintances, and completing a half marathon.

As spring came to an end, I started doing more longer hikes, including the Iron Horse Trail, between Waskatenau and Smoky Lake, Alberta.  I completed the 50K ultra at Blackfoot Natural Area.  By the end of June, I was starting to camp outside Edmonton almost every weekend.  I was able to paddle and take several canoeing classes with the Ceyana members, and I joined the board as the Social Media person.  Lakeland Provincial Park was a heavenly place to paddle, and I loved a couple of trips on the Athabasca River.  My good friend Helen and I spent the August long weekend in NE Alberta, where we again hiked on the Iron Horse Trail, this time between Heinsburg and St. Paul, Alberta.  In September, I joined the Ceyana crowd in Jasper for the weekend, and then went down to Lethbridge to do the Lost Soul Ultra, 54K of coulees through the day, and into the night.

My teaching schedule has been full, and satisfying, with a class of cooks from Mikado Restaurants for the first part of the year, and several different classes at CCI/LEX, where I’ve been teaching since my return to Canada.  As well, I’ve had a very interesting group of private tutoring students, who want individual help to achieve their goals.  The schedule means that I usually have very little free time during the week, but I’ve enjoyed a bookclub at Woodcroft Library for a couple of years now.  There are so many books that I enjoy, and it’s lovely to have a group to discuss them with.

The absolute highlight of every week is the time that I spend with my darling grandson.  Usually, he comes over 1 evening/week, and sometimes, he comes to stay with me overnight, so that we have plenty of time for adventure in the morning.  He is such a cheerful and curious little person, and he’s happy to try anything and everything, especially if it means that he can do some running, jumping, and climbing.  We’ve enjoyed museum trips, swimming, skiing, sledding, and picnics in parks all over the city.  He’s talking more and more about what he wants to do, and that’s usually almost everything.


There have been some rough patches through the year, especially when I recently fractured my right wrist.  I needed to spend 3 nights in hospital waiting for, and recovering from surgery to pin the wrist.  Luckily, it seems to be healing very well, and I’m very excited about some time to spend outdoors, enjoying this great city and area over the holiday season.  I would still prefer to have a group of friends to enjoy activities with, but I’m slowly building relationships in the different clubs, and people reached out to be helpful when I was hospitalized.

Life is quite different from the way that it used to be, but in almost every way, I would say that it is better now than it ever has been.