When Brenda sent me an invitation to her wedding, I knew I had to go. It was to be on the 29th of December, a time when all should be departing the misery of London for warmer climes. So, I put plans of another diving holiday on hold and booked myself some tickets to Canada.
Having done this my thoughts turned to “exactly what do I want to do in Canada”. A thought instantly popped into my head. Snow mobiling. So off on a web search I went, and sent off a couple of emails asking people how they could entertain me & how much it would cost. Shortly after I got an email from Jeff Wilson of Klondike Ventures saying that he could sort me out & take me out camping & go dog sledding, ski joring & ice climbing. Snow mobiling it appeared, could be done, but really shouldn’t be encouraged. Nonetheless, it seemed that Jeff had a pretty cool way to fill in the time before the wedding & would leave only a few days after to be filled, so I was set.
Before I arrived I was a little concerned about the minor detail that I had been told that it got a little cold in Canada in winter, and this was something that I was not really used to, nor particularly prepared for. So I begged & borrowed a few items I figured might be useful, and thought positive thoughts. And Lisa was kind enough to give me a picket thermometer for xmas so I would know just how cold it was. This concern was needless. The temperatures were pretty balmy for most of the time, even reaching -5 a few times during the day. This was quite warm enough when trying to get a team of dogs to do as you wanted.
Of course it did drop to a slightly cooler temperature at night. This was not a problem though, as even when we were sleeping in a tent while dog sledding, these were outfitted with fire places & would therefore remain pretty much above freezing all night. On the night that I decided to forgo the tent & sleep outside under the stars in a sleeping bag, while the air was -22 or so, Pat was a whole pile warmer than nights sleeping in a dive bag in a field of daisies or a slightly windy dock in Weymouth. It seems that preparation is everything in sleeping out. Must remember that. And in answer to your question, it seemed like a good idea at the time. All of the times. And if you haven’t done it, don’t knock it. And you haven’t done it.
The cold weather did have some hazards though. And this is a nasty one. While the ice that is pretty much everywhere is ok with a little luck & standard rubber soled shoes, it becomes a whole new ball game when wearing leather soled dress shoes (I was going to a wedding remember?). This I discovered about two steps after I encountered said ice while wearing said shoes. Though I am not sure if the second step could really be counted as such, it was more of a flailing. Curiously the famous Canadian politeness & friendliness was conspicuously absent on this occasion as Leanne, a friend of Brendas I had met on our previous trip laughed at me. A lot.
Being made aware that leather and ice have a friction co-efficient only dreamed of by oil manufacturers made some difference to the success of walking in such a combination, but it was still somewhat erratic. What was curious though is that the addition of alcohol to the ice and leather combination made the progress a whole pile easier. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something. I would never have thought that there would be so many fruitful applications for that particular trio.
I am sure that a couple of you are thinking “what is ski joring & how dumb did Pat have to be to try that one?” Well the answers are being towed on cross country skis by Huskies & no more than usual. It is, as it sounds, something like water skiing, which I can do, so I reasoned that it could not be that difficult. Except of course that when water skiing you do not have to contend with trees, hills, rocks, steep banks, ice or if you were really lucky, combinations of the above. Unless of course you get it really wrong. These are apparently fairly normal features of cross country skiing, which I was only vaguely aware existed until I got to Canada. This of course resulted in me spending some time lying face down on the ground figuring out how to get my skis under me & pointing in the forward direction. This wasn’t too bad though, as the snow was generally pretty soft & the dogs were happy to treat these as sniff around the tree breaks.
While the ski joring was pretty good, the dog sledding was best. Imagine a team of 5 dogs who know that it is time for walkies tied to the front of a sled. Throw in a the normal features of cross country skiing mentioned above. Stand Pat on the back of the sled. Stand back.
The sled of course can be steered. Mostly by the dogs. Where they run, the sled follows. Partially by divine assistance, and least of all by me twisting the sled to attempt to coax it to steer away from whatever particular hazard the dogs had run around, and the sled was running towards. There did seem to be a knack to it though, and as the time went on I appeared to receive a little more attention from whatever divinity it is that looks over me.
Having mastered the basics, or at least been told the basics, we shot off up hills, down hills, along river valleys, all around places with just us & the dogs. And after the dogs had been running for a bit they even stopped barking. Sweet. The perfect antidote to that sprawling disease called London. And by the end of it, Jeff had managed to convince me that a team of dogs is a more fun way to bugger about in the countryside than a noisy snow mobile. Looking back, I dunno how it happened, but it did.
Ice climbing. This involves tying sharp pointy things to your feet & with the additional aid of two nice sharp axes, climbing up a shear, slippery wall of ice. Jay (my guide) assured me that it was perfectly safe though. Actually, thinking about it, he didn’t, he just had me sign a liability disclaimer. It was great though, and the focus on where is the best place to put your next foot or axe was a pretty good distraction from the little detail that you were getting a reasonable distance above the ground. Mostly. And Jay, possibly as he was being paid to teach me, did not laugh at me when I cocked things up, and even managed to keep most of his winces pretty discrete.
If you want to try it, they are making a pretty impressive ice wall at Shunda Creek hostel, which is a pretty good spot to spend a few days even if you intend to keep your feet on the ground. And thanks for the meal Tamara, it was great.
However good Shunda Creek was, it was here that the cold hit me first and worst. There I was, relaxing in the hot tub on Xmas evening, after a full days ice climbing, and decided that a cigar & drink would top off the day just fine. Alas I found that my Zippo did not want to work. It appears that a mere -15 is cold enough to stop them from working. Shocking isn’t it? But never fear, as resourceful as I am, I managed to hunt down some matches, which performed rather better. But I tell, you life is a struggle at times.
At this point I had better mention the wedding, because 50% of the people who ask me about my trip ask “how was the wedding?” It was good. But I know that is not going to be enough. Brenda (the bride remember), looked fabulous, all went off without any noticeable problems, and a good time was had by all. It was good to catch up with people I had met on the last trip & meet a few more. Thanks for inviting me.
At the wedding, thoughts turned to what I was going to do for the few days between the wedding & me flying out. At this point Leanne showed that she had not gained her “moderately evil” moniker for simply laughing at people wearing slippery shoes. She heard that I had never snow boarded before & would be flying out in a couple of days so said “hey lets go snow boarding in Banff”. I, ever cautious, said “cool, ok”. And off we went.
As I have not been skiing in quite some time, it had never seemed necessary to purchase a ski jacket. And I did not manage to borrow one for the trip, and here I was going boarding. This was solved by the simple application of a number of layers of clothing, and ignoring certain evil people laughing about how cold they thought I would be. However I had a plan. Every time I wiped out my woolen jersey got an extra coating of snow and ice, and in a short amount of time, these formed a nice windproof barrier on the outside of my jersey & thus kept me warm during the fastest runs. Cunning eh?
The Sunshine resort in Banff has a deal where you got a lift pass, board rental & introductory lessons for about the same price as the lift pass & board hire. This seemed like a good idea, so I was off. Unfortunately it was not. The lessons were based on the liability insurance school of teaching. At lunchtime I found that by the end of the day they aimed to have us making turns on the bunny slopes. Probably. This contrasted somewhat with my usual approach to learning such things. I am a firm believer that these balance activities are less hard the faster you go. There is a slight offset, in that the ground becomes harder the faster you go, but I had travel insurance.
Thoroughly bored, and having figured out the basics of turning by heading straight down the bunny slope a couple of times, I was looking for more. At that point Leanne came along and saw that she was not likely to get too many good laughs by watching me on the bunny slopes. So she did the generous thing and offered to show me how it is done on the way down a real hill, all for the small price of having her laugh at me. I am used to people laughing at me as I attempt activities involving grace and coordination, so it seemed a small price to pay.
On the way up the lift Leanne, being the good teacher, shared a few secrets about surviving ski lift accidents. Although these pretty much boiled down to “if things start to go horribly wrong, bail”. Not exactly the most inspiring advice. I also learnt that the ambulances in Canada were not free, and so if I hurt myself horribly & required their services, I would have to pay for them. Needless to say, this concerned me somewhat, especially when Leanne claimed not to know the location of the nearest hospital. Although I suspect that it was more likely that she did know, but figured that hauling me off to hospital would waste the rest of her days boarding. I would have waited Leanne.
Anyway, Leanne shared with me the essentials of snow boarding. Mainly that it is the art of falling down a mountain attached to a plank. The trick though is to make the board do most of the falling, while you stand on top of it. This looks much cooler, and is less painful than the other way around. The other essential of snow boarding is that as you have your feet tied to the board, you can pretty much fall on your bum or your face. I generally ended up on my bum, and by the end of the day, I was somewhat concerned about the prospect of a 7 hour flight home the next day. But it was a damned good day, spoiled only by the prospect that I was going to have to go home & then to work the next day.
But that was Canada, a special thanks to Brenda & Larry for inviting me to their wedding, Jeff & Jill of Klondike Ventures for the great times with their dogs, Jay Banks for taking me ice climbing, Tamara at Shunda Creek for running a great place, Leanne for her boarding lessons & driving me around Yvonne for a place to stay & dropping me to the airport (again) & everyone else for making me feel at home. It is a great place, I will be back (better change your addresses guys!).
Alas all good things must come to an end, it was time to go to work & start getting the next trip sorted.