Monthly Archives: April 2014

In search of Sasquatch in Harrison Hot Springs

hunter sasquatchWe have splurged and are staying one night at the Harrison Hot Springs Hotel so we can play in the hot springs. It’s a small resort municipality (vs town) an hour east of Vancouver, at the end of a road, that is 100% geared towards tourism. It also seems to be the home of the most Sasquatch sightings, which would go hand in hand with Sasquatch provincial park being just down the road.

tim harrison lakeWhen on road trips, our approach to hotels is to check in as early as possible to get the full benefit of running water, showers, roof over our heads, watching TV in bed etc. We showed up just after noon yesterday and hit the pools for the afternoon. They have 5 pools of varying temperature, with 3 being outdoor and 2 being indoor.

tea at harrison hot springsWe were sure to stop in the lobby for complimentary tea, cookies and cake at 4pm – it was packed! There is an older crowd here right now and this was definitely a hit with them.

harrison lakeThe rain was pleasantly absent so Tim and I had a nice late afternoon walk all along the lakefront and up to the head of the springs, which was found in 1858.

tim alice springs signWe’re off to catch one more swim and a big brunch this morning before heading out the door and starting our drive north, where there is still snow on the ground! These are the last beautiful blooms for a few weeks.

lee harrison flowers

Exploring the Comox Valley

quadra island boatsOur goal last week was to explore as many of the Gulf Islands as possible. Goals are a nice thing to start from and we’ve learned that they are even better when you adjust on the fly… With multiple days of rain scheduled, we had to adjust our expectations along the way.

Day One of exploring was on Quadra Island. We caught the ferry over from Campbell River and made our way to Smokey’s Bike Shop to say hi to our friend Finn, who was down taking a bike mechanics course. We then spent a few hours doing laps of the community centre bike trails, managing to put in 15km. A quick lunch (thanks to travelling with our kitchen) and we were off to drive around the Island. We were surprised at the fact that the entire north end of the island is actively being logged and there is no real residential presence. We were also surprised at the fact that there really isn’t a main “village” as you find on other islands. People are spread out all across the mid and south island. We had a nice walk out on Rebecca Spit, checked out the lighthouse at Cape Mudge and then caught a late ferry back as none of the restaurants were open on Monday night for dinner.

With rain off and on all week, we still managed to fit in some time at the Comox Skateboard park during non-rainy windows of time. It’s a great park, always full of kids and a diverse set of features.

Our next island adventure was Denman and Hornby, which are just south of Comox. Our original plan was to stay overnight so get the most of our ferry spend and get lots of mountain biking in on Hornby Island. It was grey and drizzly when we left the mainland and that proceeded to pick up all day, to the point of it being torrential rains when we were in Hornby driving around. We made the decision that the trails would be soup the next day and opted to catch the last ferry home instead.

It was only moderately wet when we were exploring Denman so we hopped out of the truck and went for an exploration wander when we hit Fillongley Provincial park on the east side of the Island. Denman actually has 3 provincial parks on this island and this is the smallest of the 3. It has 10 campsites, which are first come first serve and packed in the summer time, lots of beachfront to explore and a wooded set of trails.

Unfortunately we hit Hornby on the Thursday night of easter weekend and it seemed to be just waking up from Winter and getting ready for “outsiders”. A few places were open, but most don’t open up until the May long weekend. I was definitely disappointed that more things weren’t open as it looks to be quite an eclectic culture, with shops and restaurants that I would enjoy and Tim would describe as “hippy”.

With a break in the weather, we spent the afternoon up in Campbell River on the Snowden Demonstration Trails. They were a nice mix of terrain and trail difficulty and not at all soupy from all of the rain. A perfect place to blow off all the energy we had built up over 3 rain days. We got 12km in, some bush whacking and lots of smiles as well.

Saturday was cool, windy and overcast so we caught the farmers market in the morning and then drove up to see Mount Washington as it was their last weekend. They had a bit of a tough season this year as it was an abnormally cool and dry winter on Vancouver Island, which meant very little snow for them early season. The rain was still holding off so we hit the skateboard park when we were back in town. Hunter had another great session, with no signs of being ready to stop after 90 minutes AND THEN the rain came… it was just light but when you put rain + spray paint, it makes surfaces slippery. He went down a drop and was on his way up the other side when the board slipped out from under him and his right cheek hit on a metal rail. OUCH…

The Easter Bunny found us in Comox and we awoke to eggs and treats all around the camper (which was a feat in itself). The campground management also put on a hunt for all the kids, which was an extra treat.

Monday was only a light rain so we wandered down the street from the campground (Cape Lazo RV Park – fabulous… we stayed here in the fall as well) to the Lazo Marsh trails & conservation area. It is a set of trails that make for an easy family walk – enough to keep you amused and a manageable length.

IMG_1576Tuesday saw us up early in the morning to drive to Nanaimo and catch the ferry over to Tsawassen (mainland). This is the official beginning of our drive home – ack!!! (more on that later). Ferries are a very expensive part of our adventure as we are over in our height and our length. It costs $300 each way so we are sure to make the most of our Island time.

Cumberland in the springtime

tim cumberlandWe had so much fun on the Cumberland trails in the fall that we wanted to make sure we came out again, especially now that we have a better sense of how to read the map. Having said that, it doesn’t mean that the trail map is easy to read… we still had to stop a number of times to pull it out, ask other bikers or ride backwards up a down direction trail to get where we were trying to go.

A beautiful early season saturday had lots of people out on the trails and the local Rocky Mountain reps out doing bike demo’s. We decided to go for our ride first and then come back to ride a demo bike.

We rode up the access road, which Hunter does not love (a true downhiller at heart, desperately hoping for a shuttle ride) and then straight to the Crafty Butcher loop that is our favourite, thanks to all of the wooden features. I did this stuff in the fall a number of times and know I can do it and yet the butterflies STILL showed up – when does that go away???

IMG_1443We made it back in time to be able to take 3 Rocky Mountain bikes out for a demo ride. That was a potentially expensive decision as they were SWEET and we all found noticeable differences between the demo bikes and ours. Lighter, effortless on the uphills, the pleasure of full suspension for Hunter. Not in this summer’s budget but it’s never too soon to start saving for next year!

Ever been kissed by a Water Buffalo?

waterbuffalo tongueBack in the fall we (ok I) purchased a membership in a program called Harvest Hosts after I learned about it from the wonderful Hedderman family. It is a site that connects you with farms, ranches and vineyards across North America that will allow you to stay for free (or a low cost) and experience their facility in some way.

bison sign

We had not had any luck using it up until now and I was excited when I went to look at the choices on Vancouver Island and discovered a Bison farm just outside of Comox! With a quick email to see if we could come and stay, we were on our way to experience the magic of the Island Bison Ranch and the Vance family.

truck by bisonWe pulled in on Friday afternoon after driving from Tofino in the rain and were full of smiles. We were surrounded by Bison! After figuring out where the best place for us to park was, we got ourselves settled (aka the sprawl started).

bison out the windowI was pretty thrilled with the view out the camper window! As HUGE as bison are, the herds here are so well cared for that they are not all wound up and grumpy. That’s not to say that they are friendly like pets, but you certainly didn’t feel any anxiety being parked 5 feet away from them on the other side of a basic fence. They were really curious about us and often came wandering up as a group to see what we were up to.

tim feeding bisonIt probably didn’t hurt that we were given a bucket of alfalfa pellets to feed them every once in a while!

hunter & chaseThe Ranch is run by one big, wonderful family comprised of Grandma & Grandpa Watson and Marc & Lisa Vance and their 4 kids. Hunter and Chase (their almost 11 yr old boy) connected in the first 5 minutes and we didn’t see him  until we went and got him 8 hours later at 11:00 pm! They continued to hang out off and on all weekend and that was certainly a treat for Hunter.

Along with life on the ranch came wildlife and Hunter has now learned to pick up snakes – ack!

tim & linkAnd Tim made friends with Link the friendly pot bellied pig…

bison headAnd BOB the Bison that doesn’t know he isn’t a pet. Sunday morning Tim was sitting outside in the chair reading and Bob came up to the gate that was about 20 feet away. He started lightly snorting to get Tim’s attention. Tim wandered over and they hung out for a good 20 minutes, chatting and petting and munching on grass. Pretty amazing for a 2500lb bison. BOB was bottle fed as a calf and doesn’t seem to know that he is supposed to be grumpy. He also does a great job taking care of the calves when they are being separated from their mom’s – just the right temperament!

waterbuffaloIn addition to Bison, the ranch also has a herd of Water Buffalo. IF they weren’t so big you would think they were puppies – all they want to do is lick you and get petted, even similar in how they will bang your hand to get you to pet them…

tim & vanceBig excitement on Saturday was the arrival of a new 2 week old Water Buffalo calf – newly named Vance. We stopped by to visit him in the afternoon and he was pretty keen to suck on just about anything as he got settled in! Tim successfully kept his fingers.

hunter feeding vanceOne of Hunter’s highlights was getting to bottle feed Vance. The calves are fed a special formula twice a day until they reach 260 lbs, at which point they are weaned for about 10 days and then straight onto hay and alfalfa mix like the big kids.

waterbuffalo calves runningSunday afternoon Hunter got to help with the weighing of the Water Buffalo calves to see if they had reached their weaning weight. It was their first time out of their stalls and made for some good humour (for those of us watching) as Marc and the boys took the calves for a “walk” from their stalls to the scales.

We had a truly memorable experience at the Island Bison Ranch. We were welcomed onto the property and into their operation and invited to participate in everything that was going on. We learned ALOT about Bison and Bison Ranching and continue to have enormous respect for those that choose the farming life. When we left Sunday evening, we felt as though we were leaving friends and are hopeful that our paths will cross again some day.

Hunter is already asking about other Harvest Host locations before we get home so I think it was also a success in his books.

Tofino – it just keeps getting better…

starfishAfter leaving Tofino in the fall, with it continuing to be cemented as my top “happy place”, I was a little hesitant about heading back for a spring visit. We’ve always visited in the fall and I just didn’t know if spring would bring us the same kind of experience or 7 days or straight rain.

snow out of port alberniHeading westward out of Port Alberni and the weather had us wondering… We spent the night in the Walmart parking lot in Port Alberni and were pleasantly surprised to awake to sunshine. 30 minutes down the road and we were staring at snow and wondering what things were like on the other side of the mountain…???

TUFF City skate parkWe rolled into Tofino with the sun just breaking through and breathed a great big sigh of relief. Hunter has spent weeks waiting to get back to the Tofino skateboard park as that is where things really clicked for him in the fall. As parents we were cringing as he hoped to relive an experience and we were worried about him being rained out. After a quick brunch we went straight to the skatepark to catch the sun while it was out. Hunter was thrilled to discover that he has gotten better over the past six months and that he can successfully tackle more of the features.

lee condos & bootsThe foundation of our stay was unit 37 at the South Chesterman Beach condo’s, which was very generously lent to us by a friend for the week. It is a one bedroom unit with pull out couch, great amenities and you walk right out of the complex to South Chesterman beach. Not only was it great to have a bit of space to spread out in when it rained, and a place to dry our gear, it was also nice to be able to walk right out to the beach with our surf stuff. (P.S. – it’s for sale and is used as a vacation rental if anyone is in the market…).

We surfed almost every day, rain or shine. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was not cold in my super duper wetsuit that I bought in the fall. The waves were great – even better than California! It was a nice place to finish off our surfing for the trip.

We went out for at least one beach exploration a day, mostly at low tide to see what we could find.

We also wandered out to Frank’s Island every day to play in the tide pools – an experience we really missed in the fall. Every day we found something new and different.

We made it back to the bike park once and the skate park a number of times.

puppies playing cardsWe also had fun with daily/nightly card games, in between playing outside and getting school work done.

sunny tofino beachOnce again – worrying turned out to be wasted energy… yet another fabulous stay in Tofino 🙂

south chesterman beach low tide

Back on the Island – spring visit

hunter tim ridingOur entry point back into Canada was via the Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. Our original plan was to stay at West Bay Marine Village in Esquimalt and spend a few days walking around downtown Victoria and checking out the historic sites. That plan went out the window when we pulled into the driveway and the attendant looked at our length and went – Ohhh, I didn’t understand when you explained your set up… you won’t fit here.

pedder camp groundMoving on to a quickly created plan B – Pedder Bay RV resort & marina in Mechosin, just west of Victoria. It is a new campground facility run by the Oak Bay Marine Group and it is beautiful. It is between Mechosin and Sooke, out in the country, and right on a small bay. Big sites, beautiful views and clean facilities. No cell coverage but decent internet.

hunter tim lake rocksThe weather was beautiful (15c and sunny) so we got ourselves organized and headed out on the Galloping Goose Rail trail. It is a bike trail built on an old rail trail that runs from west Victoria all the way to Sooke. We hadn’t been biking for over a week so it was great to get out and moving. We found a great sunny stop beside a lake for snacks.

hunter sooke skate parkDay Two was spent doing school work and at the Skate Park in Sooke. Another sunny day so we hung out and played, flipping between skateboarding and wiffleball, with some lunch in between.

We ventured out for a quick hike before dinner and were welcomed into the world of slugs… Hunter was the first to spot them on the trails and Dad (who we make do everything first) picked one up so we could investigate. Hunter then decided that it might be OK to hold it – after the first squishy feeling he was a fan, and carried the slug (whom he named) for the rest of the 40 minute walk. With much dismay, he returned him to a bog as we refused to allow him in the camper.

We ended our stay here with a fun dinner with Great Uncle Neil and Aunt Susan, whom we haven’t seen for a while. They generously drive out from Victoria to the rural sticks where we were and we got all caught up over dinner at the    My Chosen Cafe.

Nice to be home Canada

canada usa flagCrossing back into Canada was thankfully a non-event. We intentionally chose to cross using the Port Angeles Ferry to Victoria, which is a smaller border crossing and has the added feature of people needing to be cleared relatively quickly in order for the next ferry to be boarded. While we were within our import limit ($2400 for the family), what we were hoping to avoid was a bored or curious border guard or a random check that comes at larger crossings.

Being in the USA is probably the closest that you can be to being in Canada so coming home was not as extreme as when you come home from a true foreign country. At the same time, it is different.

It was nice to be back to where our cell phones both work, there is no currency exchange and there is a Tim Hortons on every corner and a Canadian Tire in every town. Comforting.

Our first trip to the grocery store felt like the first few trips in the US – it was reverse change. Back to our favourite brands that we couldn’t find in the US, but now we’ve developed some new favourites and they aren’t available here – small changes can be frustrating some times. That’s on top of realizing we really do have higher food prices…

Other small changes are the transition from $/gallon to $/litre – I have to relearn all over again what a good price is for diesel!

It is also nice to be back in the land of universal health care and advanced banking systems where you can actually email money and easily access funds from anywhere.

We’re spending the month of April in BC as there is still snow at home and we aren’t really ready for that transition yet!

Washington State – not quite spring yet…

tim port angelesJust before crossing the border into Washington we stopped at Fort Clatsup – a national site that celebrates the journey’s of Lewis & Clarke. We read all about Lewis & Clark in October in preparation for our drive through Oregon so it was neat to be able to catch this park on the way home. Hunter remembered most of what he had read in the fall and worked through his junior ranger badge quite quickly.

We headed straight up highway 101 from Oregon to Neah Bay, the farthest NW point in Washington State. We had a great time here in early October and had our fingers crossed that we would be able to replicate it… We pulled into the Hobuck Bay campground after a day of driving with intermittent rain. Unfortunately, that trend continued and we had 3 days of winds and off/on rain.

All of the indoor time was put to good use – Hunter decided he wanted to learn to cook and has started making dinners and breakfasts. No fingers lost or major burns yet!

olympic national parkFrom Neah Bay we headed into Port Angeles to visit with Morgan and Steve (the dog). Morgan runs Olympic Raft & Kayak and we met him when we were here in the fall. If you are in the area, you should definitely stop in and experience his tours – fabulous knowledge of water and this area! Steve will play catch forever and this works well for Hunter.

hunter & steveWe grabbed lunch with Morgan, played lots with Steve and then got ourselves parked in line for the 8:10 am ferry the next morning. We got in line at 3pm and were 3rd. The line grew all night long… The nuance is important – we were not camped on the side of the road in downtown Port Angeles, we were parked in line for the ferry!

We spent the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and exploring the trails of Port Angeles.

Port Angeles is still very much a logging town so it was also neat to see all the forestry operations.

IMG_1234

Tillamook Cheese Factory

tillamook cheese factoryThere were groans and odd looks when I said that we were going to do a cheese factory tour as part of our drive along the northern Oregon coast. What??? Huh??? How interesting can that be??? Well – the Tillamook Cheese Factory Tour was a hit (hah!).

Tim & Hunter as dairy farmersI’m sure it helped that they also make Ice Cream and as you walk in the front doors of the Factory you are presented with this very large Ice Cream shop… we held out and waited until the end for our treat.

a day in the life of dairy farmerTillamook is actually run by a cheese co-operative, with the dairy farmers as the owners. It is a pretty cool story and has been in place for over 100 years. It helps them ensure high quality standards and have an end to end view of the cheese / yogurt / ice-cream process. As cool as having cows would be, we all agreed that we are not ready to make the lifestyle commitment to become a dairy farmer.

There is a wonderful viewing area on the second floor that enables you to look down on the entire manufacturing process. Milk is delivered from the farms daily (to ensure freshness) and within 24 hours it is turned into a 2ft x 2 ft block of cheese. It is vacuum packed, put in a cardboard box and then goes off to aging storage for between 60 and 180 days. It then comes back into the manufacturing area where the block is cut into bricks and packaged up to go to the store.

At the end of the tour there is a sampling area where you get to test out 7 or 8 different cheeses. Hunter and Tim are pretty much Marble Cheese guys so this was a great opportunity to expand their horizon’s with minimal risk. We came away reaffirming that Tim likes Squeaky Cheese (cheese curds) and Hunter doesn’t. They also both discovered that they like smoked cheddar so we bought a small package of that at the handy retail store.

the Tillamook LOAFmobileWe all enjoyed our ice-cream (frozen yogurt) at the end and headed back into the rain to continue our drive northwards…

Tillamook cheese factory

Northern California – trees, trees, trees

hunter on the trainWe left rainy San Francisco and continued our journey northwards with the goal of getting to the southern end of Redwood National forest that night. We had pockets of no rain that let us appreciate the beauty of wine country (from the side of the road) and the treat of a rainbow.

During one of the gaps in the rain we pulled over to deal with a kayak that had become loose. Rather than haul the ladder out of the trailer (a complicated effort), we used teamwork to get things fixed! It gave Hunter a lot of giggles…

lee & tim fixing kayak

We pulled into our campground in Myers Flats in the dark and pouring rain. We looked at the incredibly soggy ground and thought there was no way we could park here as we would never be able to leave in the morning. Luckily someone else arrived at the same time and the owner came out and found us 2 gravel sites (still really muddy) that we would live with for a short stay.

IMG_1183

We pulled out in the morning and headed up the road towards the park. We pulled off in Scotia to get gas and did a small detour to check out the sawmill. Turns out Scotia has a pretty neat history as a company town (Pacific Lumber Company) from the 1880’s – it recently went bankrupt so is going through transition now.

redwoods forest screen shotWith intermittent rain, fog and chilly weather we stuck to the main highway (101) through Redwood National Park instead of driving the Avenue of the Giants. Being 49 feet long (and heavy), we have learned that windy mountainous roads are not really our thing – doesn’t make the truck happy and doesn’t work well for Hunter in the back seat.

We stopped in at the Ranger Station to get our usual Junior Ranger program and he generously deputized Mom so that we could do the program in the car and I could lead the reading of the oath and hand over the badge upon completion.