Wednesday, January 28, 2015

East Glacier / Essex Cross country skiing

We rolled into east Glacier 7:30 PM on an extremely blustery Friday night.

Vacancy, blinked the Circle R motel. I had made online reservations earlier that day and had paid for the first night. Alas, not a soul was to be found!

Wandering about the mostly shuttered up town I happened upon a young man who was receptive to my predicament.

“No one around at the Circle R? Sometimes they leave the door open to your room and leave the key on your counter, do you remember your room number?”

The young fellow was kind enough to walk with me over to the motel. Sometimes they leave the door open, he had said. Upon arrival, the young chap discretely shimmed the door open with a credit card. As luck would have it, our room key was lying on the counter, just as the young man had predicted. I felt a surge of gratitude and instantly liked this young fellow, who promptly disappeared into the night, his good deed complete.

The room smelled of smoke (although there was a no smoking sign on the door) and the garbage bins were overflowing and to boot, the bed had not been made. I was having thoughts of the Three Little Bears when K. said, this is exactly how most horror movies begin (the effect of that statement was amplified by the fact she was holding 17 month Gabby while Nicolas  ran wildly through the room). I was certain we had the correct room as per my online reservation but there was no point arguing, we were not waiting for Freddy Kreuger to pop out of a closet, so off we went into the windy night.

We couldn't miss the neon lights flashing 'Vacancy' for the Dancing Bear Inn just down the road. A lone dog trotted down the middle of the highway and took a right under the tunnel going north into the park as we popped over to check it the other motel. I explained our lodging situation to the fellow at the office and he tried to call around to get a hold of the Circle R.

“Well, I just feel that bad that this gives you a bad impression of East Glacier, I tell you every one in this Town is friendly. Let’s see if we can’t find you a room here.” Not only did he have vacancy but he put us up in adjoining rooms at a discount to our reservation at Circle R. Impression of East Glacier-ites redeemed! Twas the start of a great weekend.

Photo: Our adjoining rooms at the Dancing Bear The first night was crazy windy. Huge trees were dancing about like something from Sleepy Hallow.

I walked back and forth to the Circle R a few times until 10 PM but no dice, the workers were inexplicably gone for the evening. Back at our room, the curtains in our room at the Dancing Bear would gently flap to and fro with the wind bursts. Coming from the windy plains of Lethbridge we didn’t really notice the gale, nor did we mind the trains. After 10 PM, I watched a few minutes of cable TV with the kids asleep with their mum in the adjacent room and fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning we enjoyed a free breakfast courtesy of the Dancing Bear office room (waffles, coffee and yogurt).

Photo: We noticed the next morning that the sign for the Dancing Bear on the highway had completely blown apart. Most of the town in east Glacier is closed for winter with the windows shuttered up, and in the wind event some of the boards that had been placed to shutter up windows had also blown off!

In contrast, the morning was completely calm as we drove over to Essex to check out the cross country ski trails at the Izaak Walton Inn. “Why again did they name this place after Isaac Newton?” Kiki asked.

The blue skies of East Glacier gave way to fog in Essex and we ended up skiing in the rain.

 Photo: We had a fantastic little adventure carrying our skis and ski pulks (child carrier sleds you pull behind you) across the bridge to access the trails.

 Photo: View from pedestrian bridge crossing

Photo: Skiing at Izaak Walton

We did a short loop and detached the sled for Nicolas to get in a few runs on a slope suitable for sledding, then we headed over to the grand hotel for lunch. Nico actually got in a bit of exercise with his snowshoes, but mostly he rode along behind in the sled. Although conditions were generally poor there were a few other people on the trail. Not a lot, but I had the impression that the hotel and adjoining cabins were completely full and that on a nice day it would be quite busy.

The Izaak Walton was extremely cool. The kids had fun running around the lobby while awaiting lunch, which was reasonable and quite good – I had a pulled pork sandwich. The kids and I checked out the bar in the basement enroute to the bathroom and wandered upstairs just to take a peek.

Photo: Izaak Walton lobby

We parted ways with the Izaak Walton to get in some quality naptime back at the Dancing Bear, and as soon as we left, of course the skies cleared and it turned into a beautiful day.

 Photo driving back to East Glacier past Marias Pass.

 Later that afternoon we intended to do a bit of cross country skiing in east Glacier at the golf course, but there was hardly any snow so we headed further up the road towards Two Medicine.

  Photo: East Glacier

At the barricade we threw on our skis and headed up a short ways but the snow was quite bad and it was tough to pull one of our sleds fully loaded with a kid on a completely ungroomed trail. Nicolas wasn’t too interested in snowshoeing this time around, so I decided to sprint up a ways and take a couple of photos.

 Photo: Looking up the road past the barricade towards Two Medicine Campground

 Photo: Skiing on the barricaded road.

The wind coming up the valley was impressive, it sounded like a jet plane was taking off. We headed back to the Dancing Bear and had a great dinner at the little diner that is attached to the grocery store (Two Medicine Grill). We bought frozen treats afterwards and walked back to the Inn, seemingly in a completely different world compared to the strangeness of the place that we had arrived at 24 hours previously. All in all a fun trip. Poor snow and bad skiing but always good times with the family in Glacier!

Photo: We stopped by Many on the way home
Photo: View of Chief Mountain near the border
Photo: Photo of Chief from near Babb
Photo: Statues of Blackfeet braves near border

Thursday, January 15, 2015

40 things at 40 years old

1. A sea boiling with fish (capelin at Middle Cove). Waves crashing on a sandy beach with hundreds, thousands of small fish flipping about after being deposited by the receding waters.

 2. Picking raspberries growing in the woods near my house. They'd grow wild amidst the wildflowers and lupins.

 3. I climbed trees in our yard in St. John's from the time I was 4 or 5 years old. We had birch, maple, dogwood and wild cherry trees in our front and back yards that were suitable for climbing and I built a treehouse in the wild cherry tree.

4. Once when visiting my grandparents in Beamsvile, Ontario I climbed up high on the huge chestnut tree that dominated the middle of their huge backyard. My sister Nicole was hanging out on a hammock far below on some branches on the lower part of the tree. High up, I grabbed onto a dead branch that snapped off in my hands and took a huge fall - even though I fell from quite high i wasn't hurt. I must have hit a few smaller branches on the way down that slowed me down. When I hit the ground, nicole cried out my name and I pretended I couldn't reply, just to be dramatic. She ran to the house screaming for our mom so I promptly got up, worried that I would be in trouble!

5. When I was 11 or 12 I would bike past the hospital helipad for the health science centre at the edge of the forest and scramble up to the top of the unnamed forested hill via a rough pathway. There was a big radio antenna at the top, enclosed by chain link fence with a great view of the City below. There'd be stacks of dirty magazines amongst the trees that some perv. left in the woods. Neighborhood boys would sometimes go looking for the stash, a weird treasure hunt for soggy girly mag.'s. 

6.Growing up, I was fascinated by binoculars and the concept of being able to see things that were far away. From out house in St. John's  I could see forested hills a few miles off in the distance and my mother would tell me that with the right binoculars, you could animals crawling all over in those distant hills (lions and bears, etc.). When I was older I realized this was not quite true but I still wanted binoculars to see far away. By 8, I had saved 50 dollars by stealing coins over a long period of time from my dad's stash on the mantelpiece above our fireplace, enough to buy my first pair of real binoculars.  I would watch birds on our feeder in our back yard for hours - evening grosbeaks, slate colored juncos, bluejays, starlings, house sparrows, purple finches, fox sparrows and the like. I would wake up at the crack of dawn before school, as early as  6 am and watch the feeder and get caught up in a different world.

7. I was in the scouts program for a number of years and we had a cabin out by St. Michael's. Our group'd head out there at least once a month. We'd hike out to the ghost town of Lamanche and check out the 1 abandoned house that was still standing and the foundation of other houses that were no longer there. We had a few young, enthusiastic leaders who were just 17-18 year old themselves, perfect for the role. I can still remember their names, Darryl and Kevin, both worked at Woolco and another older guy named Terry that everyone said was retarded. He obviously wasn't full on mentally handicapped, but you never forget those old prejudices. Hiking, camping, building fires, skipping stones, beach combing by the sea. One time we walked out onto ice flows in a bay jammed full of floating ice. Not very safe at all but we survived!

8. There were violent bullies at my elementary school and the odd time there'd be fights with sticks and rocks due to the proximity of the forest next to the school. The woods were officially off limits but of course us boys would invariably head off for some foolishness- building forts, smoking, treasure hunts for hidden stashes of soggy girly mag's, etc. I would carry a rock in my pocket for protection against the mean kids and engaged in a standoff or two with the meanest bully of them all, Adam Smith, 13 years old and still in grade 6. I never threw a rock and hit anybody to my knowledge but I did engage in a completely stupid episode involving numerous kids throwing all kinds of crap i.e. stick, rocks etc. at each other. My friends Chris and Teddy both got hit and had had huge bruises on their legs.

9. Snowball fights in the winter took on a similar dimension. Even though it was just snowballs, it would ignite such rage in us boys, sometimes spiraling out of control from a friendly snowball fight to full on fisticuffs.

10. One summer I became interested (almost obsessed) with butterflies and moths and spent the summer catching them and studying them in jars. I had a good guidebook and cataloued dozens of different butterflies and moths that lived in the woods near my schools and around my house.

11. Biking along the path along rennies's mill river and watching the trout spawn upstream in the fall, jumping up rapids and easy to spot in small clear pools.

12. Music recitals - playing the fiddle on Saturdays, piano... when I got older the guitar.

13. Labour day weekends and that feeling of quiet desperation and dread of the end of the summer and the start of autumn / the school year. You didn't want that long weekend to end but they always did.

14. The summer I was 13 I attended violin camp and stayed at my aunt peggy and uncle jay's in the Gatineau. At some point over that same summer my mum made the decision to move to the mainland and we never went back to the rock.

15. That same year I went to a francophone school for grade 9 (seconday 3), ecole secondaire St. Luc, intent on becoming fluently bilingual and proceeded to waste much of my youth and lunch money in videogame arcades and comic book shops. I wasn't that immersed in video games but it allowed for me to find a place amidst a certain social order, which was difficult given the circumstances of my adolescent angst and my Newfie French.

16. The Chain! One night, myself and my friends Guillaume and Siegfried decided to go for a hike in the woods behind Forest Hill to the Lookout in Westmount. We brought a chain for protection against thugs that we felt we might encounter in the night but Guillaume proceeded to chuck the chain into the woods when we crossed paths with a cop car while crossing a road. Just as the lights shone upon us we could see the chain rotating into the abyss with the cracking of twigs and branches off in the distance as it landed. We spent an hour in the dark trying to find that damn chain because we had 'borrowed' it without permission from Siegfried's dad, who needed it to lock up the laundry room in the building where he was the superintendent. We again crossed paths with another cop car while Guillaume was taking a piss in a random playground, with the lights shining perfectly on Guillaume's fountain just as they drove by. As soon as he was zipped up he took off running leaving me and Siegfried in the dust!

17. When I was 15 my dad moved to Nepal for work and me and my sister went to visit him in Kathmandu. The first visit was rather uneventful, since we we spent most of the summer cooped up in my dad's house watching the grass grow. It was the first of three visits during his work there and the country left its mark on me (certainly thoses trips left me with bad diareah!) At 17 my dad and I did a trek from the tropical lowlands to a point high up in a mountain valley where it was high enough to be cold enough to require a jacket. It was part of the Annapurna circuit, starting from someplace near Pokhara ending up in a town called Muktinath. Most of the locals spoke minimal English and my dad would spend the evenings chatting with the hosts of our guesthouses trying his damnest with his limited Nepali vocabulary. The hosts would invariably end up laughing in bewilderment but he was able to have (at least in his mind) some meaningful discourse.

18. At 18 I decided to go to college and took Agricultural engineering at the Macdonald campus of Mcgill university in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. Spent too much of the next few years in the library but met some good friends and the degree opened a number of doors professionally and allowed me to travel.

19. At 22 I got my first real job in engineering working in Edmonton for an outfit called Stanley Environmental. The job turned out to be a bust. Although I liked the city, the experience left me feeling very disappointed with people in general and feeling like a very small speck in the universe. I bought my first car, an 89 chev cavalier and drove it back to Quebec.

20. Farting around France the summer of my masters with my buddies Chuck, Dan and Mike. Dan, Chuck and me went over to visit my sister and her new husband Yann, as well as Mike who had recently gotten a job as a programmer over there. Train hopping. Good times visiting Bourdeaux to see Danny's Italian family.

21. One night in Paris we decided to go to the Moulin rouge but when we got there and realized it was going to cost a hundred bucks just to watch some glorified girly show, we decided to save our money and just go drink a beer at an establishment (ie peeler bar) next door. Some questionable ladies - prostitutes, obviously, but questionable as to whether they were women or men- sat with us. Danny agreed to buy a round while some heroin addict that looked as if she was about to die right there on the spot did a kind of a dance on the small stage. We engaged in some witty but bizarre conversation and then the bill came and we realized it was a scam, since the girls drinks cost 250 bucks each! We refused to pay then an absolutely huge bouncer appeared out of no where and wouldn't let us leave. I risked life and limb and debated heatedly with the owner and the bouncer, angrily and to my amazement, in perfect French (it seems anger helps with my grammar). In true Canadian fashion, we compromised and emptied our almost-empty-anyway wallets and they let us leave.

22. Canoe camping in the Adirondacks with Chuck and Tim. The pleasure of swimming in cool, clear waters, building a fire and setting up camp on one of those small islands away from other people and away from the risk of bears coming to bother you in the middle of the night.

23. The Northern Lights that one night in Edmonton. Green clouds shimmering accross the sky with pinkish hues, like a wild spirit alive in the night sky.

24. After I finished my master's I did an intership in the Philippines in the province of negros occidental. I lived in a town called Kabankalam for 11 months. The CIDA sponsored agricultural projects that I was involved with didn't have much of an impact but they did provide jobs to a number of people for a period of time, and the experience allowed me a better understanding of where my mother came from. I had a hard time reconciling the extreme poverty of the kind folks I lived amongst versus the comparative lavishness of my Canadian upbringing. Have come to terms with the fact that I may never be able to process an understanding of such things. Farmers dirt poor that can't afford to buy a damn shovel. It's a big old beautifool f$@&¥d up world, what can I say?

25. Fiestas in the Phillippines. Outdoor dancing with young and old to eardrum shattering American pop music.

26. Swimming in the ocean at night in negros and seeing phosphorescent algae in the water. Like swimming into galaxies.

27. When I was in the Philippines I did some hiking in a forested area and did some caving and rediscovered a forgotten of love of nature and outdoor pursuits.

28. Back in Canada I hiked the east cost trail by myself. Solo camped a couple of nights for one stretch next to the ocean. Spent hours whale watching from shore and feasting on blueberries. That red fox that walked right up to me, sniffing at my nalgene full of berries like he wanted to thief them out from me.

29. Hiking in the Rockies. 360 degree views from the summit and seeing nothing but sky and mountains and distant plains.

30. The perseids meteor shower. Maybe I had seen shooting stars before but always doubted it. Seeing the perseids from dark skies in the Cypress Hills would leave no doubt.

31. Met my Kristien and she took me on wild trips from touring ruins in Cambodia to canoe camping in the wilds of Quetico.

32. I proposed one day when we were going for a walk to do some bird watching. I hid the ring with the binoculars case i bought when i was 8. Got down on one knee pretending to take the binoculars out to check out some invisible bird in the coulees.

33. We got married and honeymooned on Vancouver Island going to Tofino and Ucluelet.

34. Nicolas's birth changed everything. It was the childbirth without end, my poor Kristien - 27 hours! Dr. Forceps got him out in a jiff after hours of pushing.

35. As a newborn, Nicolas always wanted to be held and he never slept. Nights holding him against my chest walking endlessly around the kitchen island, rocking him gently. Singing lullabies to pass the time and push back against the darkness that insomnia brings.

36. Trad rock climbing. The feeling of quiet desperation of trying to find that next hold, keeping it together despite the OMG-I-have-shakes-in-my-legs. The surprise and anger of a rotten hold coming out in one's hands on chossy Rockies limestone.

37. Ski touring in the mountains and icefields. The feeling of being completely lost in a whiteout. Glaciated views without end.

38. Gabriella's birth changed everything again. With a couple of pushes she was out.

39. We loved her from the start. Nicolas too. The kids both have good hearts and are unexpectedly kind to others and each other; their innocence and goodness have renewed my faith in everything.

40. Bedtime stories to Nicolas. Every night we invent a new one. Sometimes it's the story of the cycle of water, other times it's an invented fable. Some of the things on this list have been stories and others are stories to come.