Monthly Archives: September 2013

Wildplay Nanaimo – great family stop

family wildplay photo

Having spent the last 6 months working with the Wildplay team as part of my role on the board at Mount Sima (Whitehorse), I was anxious to check out another of the Wildplay facilities to see how they operated and what we could learn to bring back to the Yukon.

Wow… the Nanaimo Wildplay location is amazing. Tucked away off the main highway it is a lush, forested play park that is intimate yet like an adventure waiting to happen. The sun was beaming down when we got there at 10:30 and it had the makings for a great day.

Thanks to the generosity of the Wildplay corporate team, we were able to partake in all of the park’s offerings and are happy to fully recommend every single one… Primal Swing, Bungie Jump, Dragonfly Zipline and Monkido Aerial Adventure.

Hunter was fairly disappointed  that he wasn’t old enough for the Primal Swing and Bungie Jump but the staff did an amazing job to engage him all the same. After signing all our paperwork at the front desk (fairly simple process), we headed up to the “Bridge” where the Primal Swing and Bungie Jump are based. Here he is getting the Bungie experience at the top of the bridge 🙂

hunter testing bungie

I’m not a big fan of free fall – don’t really like roller coasters etc., so Bungie Jumping was left solely to Tim but I did agree to do the Primal Swing with him in tandem. It turns out that I MISTAKENLY thought it was just a big swing off the bridge… should have watched the video’s a little closer! Remember my opening statement???

tim lee primal swing

After getting into our harnesses, we are seated in 2 plastic seats at the edge of the bridge. I first start to sense a bit of trepidation when our harnesses are attached to what looks like a big slingshot and the guide is working hard to offset the pressure that is being pulled on us. The butterflies in my stomach started to really dance when the guide started to let go of the harnesses and we could feel the pressure. Then it was 1-2-3 “GO” and OMG!!! I was free falling and screaming my head off. The only thing that made it manageable was having Tim sitting right next to me – and he was grinning from ear to ear and laughing his head off so it couldn’t be that bad right? We fell down towards the water and then swung in a big arc back up into the air opposite of the bridge. At that point my immediate thought was “what goes up must come down” – OMG!!! and back came the free fall again… thankfully the swing arc decreased after that and it was a fun swing with no free fall components. Hunter had his way with the guides up top on the bridge and we got lightly dunked but not soaked so all was good.

After getting picked up by the boat on the river, we headed back up the stairs for Tim to do his bungie jump. As we were in the swing, he said “I’m not sure I’m up to the Bungie…”. I was very supportive of the fact that he didn’t have to do it, but that I was NOT doing the swing again with him. I actually renamed it the Primal SCREAM for anyone I spoke with that entire day. With Hunter pushing him on, Tim boldly stepped in to the Bungie platform and actually dove headfirst off the bridge towards the river. With a scream and then a massive laugh, he bounced up and down and had a great time.

tim bungie

After a short wait we were off to the Dragonfly Zipline. It is a 2 line zip line that runs over and back across the River. It is a great introduction to ziplines for those that haven’t done it before or might be feeling a bit of trepidation. We had experienced the Zoom Ziplines at the Wildplay Yukon facility last year, which are over 1km in length, so were excited to have some more fun. As Hunter is under 100 lbs he had to go tandem with one of the guides. Brian the guide did an amazing job of being his buddy. They would take a running start off the platforms to see how fast they could get going… it sure makes it seem cooler to have a buddy than to go alone! By the time we were done our zipping it was perfect timing for a lunch break. Lucky for us our camper was just out in the parking lot so we headed out for a lunch break and some hanging out.

hunter tim buddy course

 

We spent the afternoon in the Monkido Aerial Adventure course. Hunter is JUST (by the tips of his toes) tall enough to do the buddy course so he and Tim were buddies. What this means is that the kids get to do the kids course once and then get to do 2-3 legs of the full course but not the final “black” leg, which is the hardest. Their “buddy” is on the course with them to ensure that they are being safe and have help when required.

Hunter is an old hand at Monkido courses, having spent a bunch of time on the Yukon one. He zipped right through the kids course and was ready to move right into the full course. Being “just tall enough” does create some challenges on the course as it means that the tether between your harness and the safety line can be very snug at times. We came up with some creative approaches to work through this and he had a fun time. The course itself is fabulous – it winds through the trees and many times you can’t see what the next obstacle is due to the lushness of the forest. The obstacles  push some peoples comfort zones and yet are 100% safe and secure. I view them as a big kids jungle gym and would be happy to do this every day!

wildplay nanaimo

 

We definitely recommend this (and any of the Wildplay facilities) to families that are looking for some outdoor, active fun together!

Jasper National Park

athabasca river Jasper

We had originally planned to head south from Prince George through the northern interior of BC to mountain bike and then check out Whistler and Squamish to see what all the noise is about.

That was changed on the fly when our friends that were coming back to the Yukon from Colorado were able to pick up 2 softtop surfboards for us from Costco super cheap. We hauled out the maps shortly before leaving home and estimated that Jasper would not be too far out of our way and would be somewhat along their path. Jasper is always a great fall visit so everyone said YES and we picked Sept 10th to connect.

We had hoped for a relatively quick 4 hour drive from Prince George to Jasper on the 9th but we managed to land smack in the middle of mountain blasting 20 km before the park and sat in various places on the road for 90 minutes. Hunter was fairly enthralled as there were lots of machines and they were placing dynamite directly into the rocks to blow the shale off…

bike paths in Jasper

We stayed at the Whistler Campground run by the National Park Service. It is a large campground but one of the few that is open past September 1st. Full services, very clean and very professional staff.

An afternoon ride to town to check out the bike paths was just what we needed after spending all day in the truck. It was an amazing Indian Summer day – 25c, big blue skies and lots of sunshine! Jasper has a fabulous set of tourist oriented bike paths along the main roads and they made for easy riding, which was exactly what we needed. Boys being boys we found many sets of stairs to ride down and things to jump over just to keep the challenge going. So far so good that I am still keeping up!

Lee Athabasca River Jasper

The morning of the 10th we enjoyed a sleep in and then headed off on our bikes to explore the renowned Valley of the 5 Lakes Trail. Having learned from our Burns Lake Epic mistakes, Tim and I both agreed that it was not likely we would complete the 17km trail and that there were a few logical turn around points noted on the map. The trail starts just on the other side of the Athabasca River – a Canadian Historical River that is magical for its glacier silty blue colour. It is a very family friendly multi-use trail (bikes, hikers & horses) and starts out with a fairly gradual uphill. That gets you about 1.5 km down the trail and then you hit a series of abrupt (i.e. push your bike) uphill slopes that really suck the energy out of 10 year olds that are the same size as their bike! We persevered and made it about 4km down the trail…

Using all of the learnings from Burns Lake, we were in the midst of a rocky/tricky long downhill when it dawned on me that Hunter would have to push his bike back up all of this and that maybe it wouldn’t be smarter to make it to the bottom and then make the decision. Who said we were too old to learn! Hunter worked hard and pushed his bike back up all the downhills because he was determined to ride the downhills back to the trail head. A great lesson about goals and motivation!

There are a series of smaller loop trails on the opposite side of the river just west of Jasper town centre and if I could do our ride over again, I would have chosen one or two of those loops taking the heat into consideration. As much as I am a hot weather person, Tim and Hunter are not and the heat just seems to drain their energy. More learnings for us as we adventure plan.

We headed back into town and hit up the Coldstone Creamery Ice Cream shop and then parked ourselves on the lawn of the Jasper Park Visitors centre to access their free WiFi and for Hunter to complete his Junior Warden book… A fabulous but quick 2 days in Jasper. Well worth the stop!

Hunter Jasper Jr Warden

Burns Lake – A MUST STOP family mountain biking destination

 

We learned about Burns Lake through the Video “Not Another Ghost Town” and loved the combination of biking, camping and the swimming dock. Having no real idea what to expect, we stuck it on the list and are now raving supporters of this mountain biking community…

We rolled into town on Friday around lunch time and made it up to Boer Mountain with only one small wrong turn. If you are actually paying attention to the signs it shouldn’t be an issue – trying to turn our adventure rig in traffic sometimes results in a missed sign 🙁 Boer Mountain is 3 km outside of town and it’s an easy access road to drive. The campground (free) is right off the main parking lot and there are a handful of car camping sites, 12+ walk in tent sites around Krager Lake and a large parking lot for RV’s to find a home in. There are no amenities and it’s “Pack-in / Pack-out” with respect to garbage etc. so it’s important to be self contained.

wee piggy skills park

Right off the main parking lot is a very kid friendly skills park that keeps everyone occupied during any downtime.

The Burns Lake Mountain Bike Association has done an amazing job at Boer Mountain. It is truly a community resource that has something for riders of all types, styles and skill levels. It is also a perfect family facility and the 2km trail around Kager lake is a great place to get your riding started. It is a dirt trail that starts right from the campground, with small ups and downs and parallel boardwalk trails to keep things fun.

burns lake bike park

Next up is the trail network over at the Bike Park. It is a series of cross country and light downhill trails, nothing more than a couple of kilometers in length and they all start and finish from the Bike Park itself. The loops were just the right length to keep Hunter motivated and not overwhelmed with the climbs to get back up the hills. The bike park skills area is another great example of family friendly – lots of low to the ground features that enable everyone to challenge themselves while also providing some stretch opportunities as well. One of our favourite trails on this side of things was Smells Like Bacon, which is marked as a black diamond but we found very manageable and it is chock full of boardwalks, tabletops and small downhill sections.

One of the best parts of biking at Boer Mountain (rebranded as “BOAR” hence all the Pig like trail names) is the lake at the end of the ride. Both Friday and Saturday we ended our day by launching ourselves off the dock and into the water. Absolutely refreshing.

hunter kager lake dock

The other best part was the people that we met – a super big thanks go out to Ken from Burnt Bikes, as well as Pat and Susan from BLMBA. Everyone we met on the trails was so friendly and supportive and didn’t hesitate to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for mountain biking.

lee & hunter boer mountain

Saturday  morning we were up and into town early to deal with a flat trailer tire. This meant we were ready to hit the trails by 10:00 am and decided to drive the truck to the top of Boer Mountain to catch the downhill trails. Our first run down (top to bottom) was Charlotte’s Web, Waterlew, Fire Crew, When Pigs Fly and BTweaked. The top of Charlotte’s was a bit tough as Hunter is still adjusting to his larger bike and the tight switchbacks were a bit uncomfortable for him. He was rewarded with the 800 meters of boardwalk on Waterlew and we loved the view point at the end of Waterlew. We were all hooting and hollering when we hit the lower section of Pigs Fly and understood exactly why it is their signature trail!

burnt bikes shuttle van

The best part was when we hit the parking lot and saw the Burnt Bikes shuttle van… on most Saturdays through the riding season, the staff of Burnt Bikes and some BLMBA volunteers run a shuttle van up the mountain. You pay by donation and it’s another great example of the community mindedness of Burns Lake. We hopped on the chance for a shuttle to the top and did When Pigs Fly from top to bottom. It is a MUST DO ride for anyone. It’s like a pump track that runs sideways down the mountain – nothing but berms and tabletops with gravity helping you along… All 3 of us had grins from ear to ear.

Our last shuttle ride to the top had us itching for more so we hooked up with Susan (local BLMBA biker) who was testing out their new EPIC trail from the top. It’s been 2 years in the making and they started from the bottom so the top section is just in the last stages of completion. FULL DISCLAIMER – this was a BAD parental decision, resulting from the absolute mountain biking highs of the past 24 hours. The EPIC trail (not yet opened to the public) started with a ride down a boggy cat track that was more hike than ride, a short bush wack and then 5km of very fresh trail. Overall we rode 18km  of down/up/across/down trail and it took us just over 3 hours. We had tears, we had grumps and we had smiles. We even had an amazing burst of energy when we were close to the end. It will be a fabulous trail when it is burnt in next year. They are hoping that the entire 30km circuit will become BC’s 3rd certified “EPIC” trail and it’s definitely got all the right pieces – technical, view points, surrounding amenities. We would not recommend it for anyone with kids below the teen level. This is Tim and Hunter “resting” about half way down…

tim hunter resting on epic

 

We couldn’t head out this morning without doing one more run down When Pigs Fly. To keep things simple, I shuttled the boys up on the ATV (which Tim has of course decked out to work as a bike shuttle) and then went for a very enjoyable walk around the Kager Lake trail. Smiles all around for everyone.

atv bike shuttle

 

Soooo – be sure to put Burns Lake on your Mountain Biking itinerary and be sure to stop and visit Ken and Dave at Burnt Bikes.

Smithers, B.C.

Lee & hunter smithers campground

We hit the Smithers Riverside Municipal Campground after a very long day of driving on Weds September 4th. It took us 8 hours to travel down the bulk of the Stewart-Cassiar highway due to road conditions, construction and a small adventure in search of gas. At $29.00 per night (electricity, water, sewer, firewood, showers & wi-fi) it is a great place for families. There is a fabulous all wood sustainable playground for kids that is within sight of every campsite so the kids can wander off safely.

Lee & hunter smithers sign

Smithers is a town of 6000 people located half way between Prince Rupert and Prince George along the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) in Northern BC. It is a vibrant mountain community nestled between the Skeena river and Hudson Bay Mountain. It came about in 1913 as a divisional point in the Grand Trunk Railway and was named the first incorporated village in BC in 1921. It shifted to a full fledged “town” in 1967 as the economy steadily grew through commercialization of local agricultural & mineral resources as well as the development of a tourism industry.

Thursday morning we got up bright and early and hit the school books for an hour to get that out of the way. We then spent the morning enjoying the great biking (and running/walking) trail system in town as well as checking out the local bike shops to get trail maps and pick up a few odds and ends.

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The mountain biking in Smithers is best described as “Old School”. There are 3 distinct riding areas around town and all are downhill trails with mostly black and blue level trails. We chose to ride The Bluff trails as they seemed the most family friendly. Unfortunately they are also the one area that is not accessible via shuttle. A five km ride was 3km uphill and 2km downhill.

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The lushness of the forest and sunny weather made for a great afternoon out riding. The green run “Uphill track” made it feasible for Hunter to make it up to the top of the hill, however riding with kids results in lots of breaks so it took us close to an hour to climb what the bike shop estimated was a 15-20 minute ride.

We rode a mixture of black and blue trails down and ended up doing more walking than riding on the black sections due to the combination of steepness and trail erosion. It had rained the day before and there wasn’t a great amount of drainage built into the trail system. The wooded features were fun to check out and we certainly enjoyed walking and running over them. Somewhat sketchy in nature, we decided to acknowledge that the riding of these would be over our heads!

And we’re off…

Teslin scenic shot

For all those that have driven across Canada, you know how long it takes to get through Ontario. Well, it’s the same experience “leaving the north”…  We feel we hit civilization aka Smithers, B.C. after 14 hours and many would still consider that being “in the north”!

We hit the road on Tuesday September 4th and managed to make it out of the driveway only 45 minutes later than our target, which was pretty good considering all the last minute things that seemed to crop up.

We are learning how to recognize “homeschool moments” and did some quick geography work when we came across this Continental Divide plaque just outside of Teslin, YT.

continental divide + hunter

 

We headed south on the Alaska Highway until just before Watson Lake where you turn right onto Highway 37 and start the journey down the Stewart – Cassiar Highway that leads into Northern BC. With dusk coming and smoke from a forest fire starting to settle in, we called it quits at Boya Lake Provincial Park in B.C.. A fabulous deal at $16.00 per night  – nice play ground for kids, well treed camp sites, 1.5km wooded walking trail and a swimming dock for those hot summer day.