More Iron Horse Trail and Camping: Franchere-Mallaig, AB

Starting out at the beginning of a very hot day, Glendon-Mallaig, 15+K

Starting out at the beginning of a very hot day, Glendon-Mallaig, 15+K

Since I learned that there were 300 kilometres of completed trail in Northeastern Alberta, it’s been my mission to hike the trail bit by bit until it’s complete.  Last year, I hiked about 95K of the trail.  This year, I’ve started later, due to my broken bones in the winter, as well as my busy paddling season.  This last weekend, it was time to begin again.  I reserved a campsite at Franchere Bay, Moose Lake Provincial Park, close to Bonnyville, with the intention of hiking several stretches between Bonnyville and Abilene Junction, over the course of 3 days.

This campground was definitely not my favourite.  It was pleasant to be shaded by many pine trees, and to be close to a large lake.  However, there were many enormous trailers camped all around us, and a lot of them operated gas-powered generators for hours on end.  Others drove in and out frequently in diesel trucks, hauling their massive boats.  In other words, it wasn’t such a peaceful environment.  I enjoy the sounds of playing children as well as partying friends and families, and those sounds were also around us.  A very unpleasant surprise was finding out on day 3 that the lake was affected by Blue-Green Algae.  Unfortunately, we both swam in the lake on day 2 and had skin irritations following our swim.  Many children were swimming in the lake since the notice was only on the shower house, not on the outhouses or at the beach.  According to Alberta Health:

People who come in contact with visible blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), or who ingest water containing blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), may experience skin irritation, rash, sore throat, sore red eyes, swollen lips, fever, nausea and vomiting and/or diarrhea. Symptoms usually appear within one to three hours and resolve in one to two days. Symptoms in children are often more pronounced; however, all humans are at risk of these symptoms.

After our night of camping, we got up to hike on Friday.  To our disappointment, it was already one of the hottest days of the year, early in the morning.  Given that, it didn’t make sense to take an extra-long hike.  We rearranged our plans, and decided to hike from Glendon-Mallaig, leaving cars at both ends.  When we drove back to Glendon, we enjoyed the giant perogy statue, as well as a nice Chinese restaurant, across the road.  The town was quite pretty, and the restaurant owner was Vietnamese, so I tried a little of my language with her.  While eating, we were surprised when another member of our group just happened to choose the same restaurant, at the same time of day, out of the entire region of the Iron Horse Trail.  He had stayed at Whitney Lakes Campground for 2 nights but found that the Iron Horse Trail was too muddy for biking, and the highway wasn’t safe enough.  In other regions, he found that the trail was too soft to easily bike.  However, he spent time taking some excellent photographs in the area.  We had a nice campfire in the evening, thanks to some friendly neighbours who brought a lot of dry firewood from home.

Saturday, we woke up determined to hike from Bonnyville-Franchere, and we drove to Bonnyville.  However, the skies were full of smoky haze that morning, due to the forest fires in northern Saskatchewan and northern Alberta.  The smoke caused a headache and burning eyes and throat, even with the air conditioning running in the car.  Again, it wasn’t a safe day for a long, cross-country hike.  We spent time in Bonnyville, where I recharged all my electronics at the very friendly A&Ws, and I picked up some groceries and medical supplies at the Grocery Warehouse.  I managed to get a pretty bad blister on the trail, so I was happy that blister bandages were available in the store.

There was quite a bit of rain on Saturday evening, which meant that I needed to set up a tarp, to protect my tent from getting too wet.  It also made for great sleeping conditions, and we woke up to find no more smoke in the air.  Unfortunately, there was a Red Alert for Aurora Borealis that night, but it would be impossible to see Northern Lights on such a cloudy night.  In the morning, conditions wee good for hiking, cool and cloudy.  We walked from Glendon-Franchere, about 10K, meeting a very friendly pet sheep on our travels. On our way back home, we stopped for a coffee at a “biker bar” in Ashmont, and I bought some very fresh veggies at a market garden in Smoky Lake.  I also stopped at Sunbake Pita in north Edmonton, for some spinach pies.

We only hiked 25K over the 3 days, rather than the 70 that we had hoped for.  Nevertheless, it’s nice to be able to look at a map and see that we’ve hiked over more of the province.  The terrain on this stretch is very soft gravel, with quite a few large, loose rocks between Glendon and Mallaig.  Most of the trail has shrubs or trees nearby, with a few open areas.  There are plans to visit the area near Wasketenau and east, as well as the area around Cold Lake, over the next few weeks.  After looking at the Backroads mapbook, I realized that there is a further network of trails that connects the Iron Horse Trail in Waskatenau with the city of Fort Saskatchewan.  Maybe someday, I will have walked from the far west border of the province to the city of Edmonton!


Rachel Notley won the bike vote, proving transit solidarity is real

Our Premier rides her bicycle to work

As gas and vehicle prices get higher, and as people become increasingly aware of the environmental cost of driving, bicycling as transportation is becoming more and more important. I’m proud to say that I live in Edmonton now, knowing that our mayor, Don Iveson and his family are cyclists, and so is our premier. This is a huge shift from the days when our city mayor and the premier both had drivers, and giant SUVs. Sometimes, driving is the most effective transportation, but there are other options. This is an opinion piece about the shift in thinking.

Closing Out 2014 (YEG) | November Project

Closing Out 2014 (YEG) | November Project.

Now that my broken wrist is healing well, I can get back to my early morning workouts with November Project Canada.  What a positive group of people this is!!  We’re having a pretty warm winter, so it hasn’t been so hard to get outdoors for workouts at 6 am, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  This morning was quite a bit cooler than what we’ve experienced so far.  There were lots of smiles, shouts, songs, and hugs in the crowd.  I’m excited to start another year with November Project Canada!

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.

Things to check out in Edmonton over the Christmas holiday

There are many businesses and facilities that have shorter hours, especially on December 25 (Christmas) and January 1 (New Years Day), but most of us also have extra leisure time and holidays during this season. Go ahead and spend 1-2 days in your pyjamas during this cold, dark season, but also make sure to get out to see or do something new!

Celebrate a New Year!

This festival will allow you to try skating for free at city hall, there will be crafts for children and food to purchase, and you can also watch the movie “Frozen”, outside in Churchill Square, before midnight fireworks.  Edmonton doesn’t usually have nighttime activities outdoors in the winter, so this will be a special treat, if the weather isn’t too cold that night!

Visit a new gym!

Less than 1 kilometre from Clareview LRT station, there is a new recreation centre in Clareview, with a swimming pool, gym, library, skating rink, and multipurpose rooms. It looks like this will be a beautiful, bright rec centre, similar to the newer Commonwealth Recreation Centre.

If you live WAY down in Southeast Edmonton, east of Mill Woods, there is another new recreation centre, also with swimming and skating available.

Skate outdoors!

In many areas of the city, there are outdoor skating rinks, and it’s a lovely, inexpensive way to enjoy the season, if you get out and skate on them.  Victoria Park Oval (my favourite rink) is already open for the season, and so is the small rink at City Hall.  The legislature has a rink below the legislature building, and the Castledowns rink will open this weekend.  Shop for a used pair of skates at Totem Outdoor Equipment, United Cycle, or on Kijiji.  Get a helmet, since you only get one brain per person.  After that. skating is free!

Victoria Park Oval: A Zamboni gives most Canadians a warm feeling, since it prepares the ice for a hockey game, or some recreational skating.

Victoria Park Oval: A Zamboni gives most Canadians a warm feeling, since it prepares the ice for a hockey game, or some recreational skating.

Discover Program | Snow Valley: only $60: rentals, lessons, lunch, day pass!!

Discover Program | Snow Valley.

This is a fantastic deal to try out a new winter sport at a very nice local area.

Snow Valley is a lovely local ski hill, and a very safe environment to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time.  It’s very popular on the weekends, so it will probably be crowded, but you will enjoy yourself and feel confident if you start here.  If you don’t have a car, there are busses that go nearby.


Just Layer Up | November Project

Lots of my students believe that it’s not possible to exercise outside in the winter.  It’s kind of scary to go outside in the snow and ice when you’ve always lived in a tropical country, but it’s SO much fun to be active out in the snow, and it can be very comfortable, if you dress correctly.  This blog post shows you all of the layers you should wear, in lots of detail.  Look for the vocabulary for clothes that you need.  Just for going to and from school, you need to start with boots, a warm winter jacket, mitts or gloves, a scarf and a toque.  For more fun, start getting the items in the post.  We survived 3 mornings a week of 6 am exercise outdoors last winter, with plenty of mornings of -30 degree weather.  Come on out and have fun, meet great people, and defeat winter!

Middle layers for winter exercise

Just Layer Up | November Project.

Fun fall weekend in and around Edmonton

The summer has been a fantastic time of adventure for me, and I’ve spent every single weekend enjoying something new, usually outside the city.  Although I have the most fun in the summer, in many ways, fall is my favourite season.  I always feel like it’s the “New Year”, after many, many years of focussing on the academic calendar, new learning and new activity generally starts at the beginning of September.  I love the fall colours, and it’s nice to have cool evenings.  It’s also a time when our family has often spent time together, with many birthdays and anniversaries, as well as long weekends in September (Labour Day) and October (Thanksgiving).  It feels good to get “back to business” after a summer of recreation and to start to focus on new goals and learning.

One positive change has been my return to regular attendance at November Project Canada.  I love meeting this group of active, positive people for outdoor activity 3 mornings/week, at 6 am!  Friday was hills at Emily Murphy Park, Monday we exercised with the women’s hockey team at MacEwan University, and this morning we did stairs at Commonwealth Stadium, where the Edmonton Eskimos play CFL Football.  It was hard for me to attend regularly in the summer, when I was doing so much travelling, but now it’s easy to go to bed earlier, when it’s dark early, and it feels good to be back to regular business.  I’ve also spent time washing, drying, and reorganizing all of my camping and canoeing supplies, since I don’t expect to be using them again for a few months.

Saturday was exciting for me, since I’ve wanted to paddle from Devon to Edmonton ever since I moved to Edmonton, many years ago.  This was the first time I was able to do it.  Members of the Ceyana Canoe Club made a plan to do this day trip, and we met in Devon at 10 to take cars to Laurier Park in Edmonton.  After returning to Edmonton in 2 vehicles, we all set out down the river.  There were 2 kayaks and 7 canoes, and we spent close to 6 hours travelling the 34 kilometres back towards Edmonton.  One of the members baked a carrot cake to share with us all, and everyone brought lunch.  We were all pretty tired at the end, especially since it was easier for the kayaks to go quickly, and we tried to keep up with them!

I didn’t really have any plans for Sunday, except for continuing to cook and clean.  However, one of the November Project members sent out a tweet about going for a “leisure” bike ride in the afternoon, and the weather was just gorgeous!  I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to ride with other people, and the 4 of us got out for a couple of hours, riding 20 kilometres up and down the river valley.

Finally, one of my Meetup group members suggested spending the evening on a patio of a nearby pub and restaurant, to enjoy a beautiful evening.  It was lovely to enjoy the evening with a group of happy people, cold beer, and good food!

Enjoy the fall, it’s a magical time of year!

Fall paddling: Athabasca River, Vega Ferry-Smith, AB

What a fantastic summer I’ve enjoyed in 2014!  One of the members of Ceyana Canoe Club is trying to canoe the whole length of the Athabasca River in Alberta.  He proposed a 95 kilometre trip between Vega Ferry and Smith, Alberta.  A few weeks ago, we paddled from Fort Assiniboine to Vega Ferry on the Athabasca, so this trip started where the last trip ended.  Most of us gathered near the Vega Ferry on Friday night, and camped in the county campground.  Last week’s weather was terrible, with huge snowstorms in a lot of the province, so it was hard to get excited about outdoor activities.  The rain continued in Edmonton on Friday, but it was dry by the time that we got to Vega.  The campsite has a covered cook shelter, and a fire was already burning when I started to set up my new tent in the dark.  It was easy to set up, and it was cozy and warm to sit and visit in the warm shelter.

Early the next morning, there was a lot of frost on our tents, because the temperature was around 0.  We packed up camp quickly, so that we could drop off our canoes at the river’s edge, and then take our cars to the end of our trip.  One of our group had the boring job of just waiting around for about 3 hours for our return.  Another group member drove straight to Smith with a nearly-empty car, and drove us back to Vega.

By the time that we actually got out on the water, it was about 1 in the afternoon.  After a couple of hours on the water, a motor boat stopped to chat with us.  They asked where we were staying and we asked if they had any recommendations.  They said that they had a camp at Bell Island, where they recently stayed for 10 days, and they said it was equipped with a picnic table, and freshly cut and split firewood.  According to them, we were already about halfway there.  When we arrived at the next island, we investigated along the shoreline, until we found a nicely equipped site.  It was marked with a canoe paddle, with a poem about the river written by Herb Bell, a prospector who lived on the island 100 years ago.  We found enough flat areas for all 5 of our tents, and we enjoyed cooking our meals and relaxing on the wide. rocky shore.  Our distance on day 1 was about 26 kilometres.

Our group had 2 different styles of canoe camping.  The 3 younger fellows were all accustomed to backpacking, and their gear pretty much fit into a backpack.  They shared one small stove, and ate everything on the trip out of bags, after pouring in the correct amount of boiling water, and waiting the correct amount of time.  The 2 (slightly) older females packed everything including a kitchen sink, and cooked corn on the cob, chicken breasts, quesadillas, pancakes, etc.  In spite of our different styles, everyone worked together very nicely, and the group size was pretty much perfect for a trip of this nature.  None of us had paddled this stretch before, but the river was very calm and easy, with a few quick patches of water on the final day.  We saw a lot of bird and animal evidence along the way.  On Sunday morning, we saw hundreds of sandhill cranes migrating south above us.  Bald and golden eagles, ospreys and sharp-shinned hawks were everywhere.  A mink swam by, and there were plenty of beaver lodges.  Deer and coyotes inspected us from the shore.  In one area, there was a profusion of animal tracks, of many varieties.

The second day, we had a long push to get to our destination.  We paddled 45 kilometres, and it took us 8 hours.  It was another very pleasant day on the water.  Our solo paddler was a little weary towards the end of the day, so she switched with one of the younger fellows, and enjoyed paddling “with a motor” for the last hour of our day.  We camped the second night by a quad track north of Chisholm, AB.  This was another homemade campsite with fire rings, seating, and flat spaces for our tents.

On our third day on the river, we were well-rested and feeling confident.  There were long, straight stretches on the river at times, and there were also more rapid stretches and shallows than the other day.  We finally began to see evidence of human life, passing under the Hondo bridge (Highway 2), and a railway bridge.  There was a huge island in the river near the end of our trip, which we didn’t explore.  The day went smoothly, and we completed our 29K paddle after 4 hours and 40 minutes.  The guys returned to Edmonton by way of Vega, picking up the remaining vehicle.  I drove home by way of Westlock.  There was plenty of harvesting occurring on all of the farms I passed.  We noticed that fall colour progressed quickly through our 3 days on the water, since everything was still pretty green on day 1.

This was a lovely stretch of river with no major challenges, plenty of lovely scenery, and some very nice camping options.  I’d recommend it to anyone who wants an extended trip.  The original plan was doing this trip over 5 days, which would be good if people wanted to take time to relax or to fish.  It was quite manageable as a 3-day trip, for people who want to push just a little.

Final arrival at Smith

More than a marathon #2: Lost Soul Ultra 2014, Lethbridge, AB

When I began to run, I met some people who had done “ultra” running events.  This sounded really crazy to me, since it meant running more than a marathon.  Common distances are 50K, 50 miles, 100K, and 100 miles.  It was really interesting to me, trying to figure out how people could take care of things like eating, drinking, going to the bathroom, and keeping up their energy for such a long distance.  One good friend did the Lost Soul Ultra from the beginning of the race, and she really recommended this race.  I had done the 25K race at Blackfoot a couple of times, and I was interested in trying to go farther.  A friend and I went to Lethbridge in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2007.  I went the 50+ kilometres twice, but it was extremely hard, because the area is very hilly, and it’s often very hot.  Even so, I really loved this race, since there’s a fellowship among the racers, and the volunteers and race organizers take excellent care of the participants.  There was also quite a bit of time to go 50K, since the race is geared towards 100K and 100 mile racers.  There wasn’t enough time for me, starting out on Friday (12 hours limit), because I walk the whole distance, and I’m not a fast walker.  I was away for quite a few years, but this year, I’ve been very active all year, and I began to think it would be possible for me to go 50K again, especially if I could start on the first day of the race, with the long-distance runners.  I asked the race organizers, and they agreed to let me start early.  I registered, and made my plans to travel south in September.

There are many special things about this race.  In the past, the organizers carved a personal rock for every finisher, and I’ve kept these as souvenirs.  Now, they’re only awarded to winners in their age category, but I was able to purchase a special rock, to remember the several races I’ve done.

Lost Soul Rock 2014My friends let me stay at their home, and I relaxed for a couple of days, getting everything organized.  On Friday morning, I joined the 100K and 100 mile racers for the race orientation, and we started out.  I didn’t really see any of those racers again, except at aid stations, and when some of them started to pass me on their second lap.  It’s strange that it’s so enjoyable to spend an entire day alone, without any distractions, but I think that the scenery and environment is just lovely around Lethbridge.  I didn’t miss any of my gadgets or comforts, I just enjoyed looking at the sky, the hills, the flowers, the river…  The aid stations were far apart, usually more than 10 kilometres away from each other.  When I arrived at the aid stations, the volunteers tried really hard to find out what I wanted or needed, and they would hurry to get it for me.  They filled my water bladder, gave me potatoes, bacon, perogies, salmon, and any other kind of food or drink that was available.  This year, the 2 main aid stations are under cover, and it was nice to be able to sit at a table to eat, to organize my things and to relax.

The hills go up, and the hills go down on this course.  It’s amazing how much elevation change they’ve managed to find in the “prairies”.  Since it was my fifth time on the course, I felt that it was psychologically much easier for me to deal with the terrain.  I was surprised that I didn’t have to sit to do any downhills, until the very last harsh hill (in the dark).  I was completely freaked out about the gun range hill in the past, but just kept trucking along this time, stopping to take a few photographs.  I remembered that the Pavan loop was really, really hard for me in the past, so I told myself the whole time that it would be the “real race” for me.  In the photo of me, I’m about to begin the loop.  It’s still not even halfway around the course, but it already feels like you’ve covered a whole lot of distance by the time that you get to that point.  In fact, for this race, the hardest section was after completing most of the distance, since I had to do it in the dark.  My night vision isn’t great.  I left my good headlamp at home, and had problems with 2 different replacements that I purchased.  Nevertheless, I just continued on, and enjoyed my time.

I was almost halfway done here, at Pavan aid station.  It was time to eat and drink, and organize my gear for the next 16K loop.

I was almost halfway done here, at Pavan aid station. It was time to eat and drink, and organize my gear for the next 16K loop.

My very slow speed was the only problem that I had this year, and that was a problem I expected.  I don’t train consistently as a runner, so I didn’t try to run any of the course.  I really, really wanted to finish the course this year, so I paced myself accordingly.  Food and fluids seemed to work well for me (mainly water, with a few electrolyte capsules, some blocks, Kind bars, and the food at the aid stations).  I expected to be too exhausted to drive myself home afterwards, but I felt fine.  My legs never really bothered me afterwards, but I did have some real tightness between my shoulder blades, probably due to the weight of my hydration bladder, as well as using poles throughout the race.  No blisters or chafing!  I was amazed by how good I felt all the way through.  I did have some nausea and dizziness for a few days afterwards, but it wasn’t too bad.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to do Lost Soul again, it will certainly be nice if it’s possible.  I’m definitely glad that I succeeded in my goal of starting and finishing, after a long absence.  Thanks so much to everyone who makes this event possible, all of the directors and volunteers are amazing!  The Sunday awards breakfast is wonderful after everyone’s had the chance to sleep and shower.  Working out through the winter with November Project Canada was definitely one of the biggest factors that contributed to my success!

A muddy and sunny weekend

There were several muddy swims at the Mud Hero Run in Red Deer

There were several muddy swims at the Mud Hero Run in Red Deer

I love summer weekends!!  There is always so much to do, the days are very long, and the weather is often very good!  This last weekend was another good time.  My daughter asked me if I wanted to do the Mud Hero run in Red Deer.  I never did an obstacle race before, and I was nervous about it, but I checked the information, and it looked like a fun event.  We raced on Friday afternoon, at Canyon Ski Area, just outside of Red Deer, Alberta.  There was a very bad storm for the 24 hours prior to the race, with heavy rain, hail, and lightning.  By the time that we arrived, there was still a little rain, but the storm was over.  However, the heavy rain meant that the whole ski hill was covered with very heavy mud, dirt and water mixed together.  It was a lot of fun, but really, really hard to go up and down the ski hill on so much mud.  My shoes each weighed at least 2 kilos, because there was so much mud on them.  Everyone kept falling down in the mud, and it was really hard to stand up again.  Sometimes, I was just sliding on my bum, or on my knees.  There were many different obstacles on the course, where it was necessary to climb over things, or to swim through muddy water.  Sometimes, I just went around the obstacles, because it wasn’t really safe for me to do them, but I tried to do as many as possible.  The course was 6 kilometres long, but it seemed much longer, because it was so hard to move through the mud.  For the last 2 kilometres, I took off my shoes, because they kept getting stuck in the mud.  I bumped and scraped my toes, my knees, my fingers, and my forehead, as I went through the mud, but finally, I got back to the top of the ski hill, where there were a lot more obstacles!  My daughter and her friends were already waiting at the finish, and I passed them my very wet phone.  After climbing over more stuff and swimming through more mud, I was finished, and I could take a cold shower near the finish.  We drank a beer, but it was quite cold and nearly empty by that time, so we left the area.

I booked camping for the weekend at Twin Lakes Campground, near Crimson Lake Provincial Park, and Rocky Mountain House.  It was still cloudy most of the way over, and I thought that I might be setting up camp in the rain.  However, I picked up some groceries in Rocky Mountain House and then made my way over the campground to find beautiful weather for the rest of the weekend!  It’s very quick now for me to set up my tent, and I also cover it with a tarp every weekend, so that the tent won’t flood too badly if there’s heavy rain.  There was a “super moon” all weekend, really big and bright.  I sleep so well when I’m camping, and I love sitting by a campfire in the evening.  This was the first time that I managed to fit my bicycle into my car, along with my camping supplies, and I had a very nice ride around the quiet campground.  I would really recommend this camping area for people who prefer peace and quiet.  There aren’t a lot of trees around the campground, but the other campers were quiet, and friendly.  My site was on the very end of the campground, so my front door looked out at the long grass.  I rode around the small lake, and I had a refreshing swim in the water, and read my book for a while.  I drove over to Rocky Mountain House to buy some electronic and camping supplies, and I switched my SIM card into an older phone that wasn’t completely wet.  I ate a delicious pizza in a neighbourhood restaurant, and went over to the beach at Crimson Lake.  There was no drinking water at my campground, which was my only complaint about that area.  I grilled a delicious dinner and enjoyed another campfire, before enjoying the super moon and another fantastic sleep.

The next day, it was more fantastic weather, and I enjoyed a relaxing morning at the campsite, before taking down my site.  I went back to Crimson Lake to launch my canoe, and to swim in the lake.  There were Whiskeyjacks (Canadian Grey Jays) at the campsite, and a family of 4 loons on the lake. By now, my fingers and toes were starting to feel pretty good again, after Friday’s race.  Still, I really enjoyed an epsom salt bath after getting home.  As I spend more weekends camping, it takes less and less time for me to pack and unpack after each trip.


Heinsburg-St. Paul, Hiking the Iron Horse Trail #2

This gallery contains 11 photos.

I’ve been interested in hiking the Alberta Iron Horse Trail since I heard that it was 300 kilometres long.  Of course, I don’t have time or transportation to hike all of it at once, so I tried to figure out … Continue reading