Canadian Rockies Vacation - Part IV - Calgary 
Thursday, August 20, 2009, 11:21 PM
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LODGING
Located in the Kensington district and owned by the extraordinarily welcoming Deanne, we found the River Wynde to be an exceptional B&B. We spent one night in the main house on the day we flew into Calgary and then returned for our final three nights of the vacation and stayed in the adorable cottage in the backyard.



Deanne has created a warm, welcoming atmosphere that makes you feel like you're staying at a friend's house. She chatted with us over breakfast each morning, allowed us to use her computer and offered to throw our laundry in with hers when she was doing a load. I even heard her offer to loan a pair of bike shorts to another guest...which may be taking the customer service thing a little too far. But, when we left, we truly felt like we had made a friend.

Our only complaint is that there are no private bathrooms. Although robes and slippers were provided, we especially missed this convenience during our nights in the cottage as we sleepily stumbled to the house for midnight potty breaks. But, it was a small price to pay and we would stay there again in a heartbeat.





THINGS TO DO IN CALGARY

Shop at Mountain Equipment Co-op: This is Canada's version of REI and Paul cannot pass up a visit whenever he's in the country. In fact, it was our very first stop after picking up our rental car.

Knowing we would be doing lots of hiking in Banff and Jasper, we asked for bear spray, expecting a cute, little, finger-sized canister like our pepper spray at home. When the sales guy reached into the locked case and pulled out something that looked a hair spray bottle (but much more dangerous), we said, "Oh no, we want the small bottle." That was the small bottle. Then, Paul had to fill out a form and sign a waiver vowing not to use the spray on humans. It was quite an ordeal.



Head to the Paths: With 330 miles of recreational paths, Calgary is a dream come true for both athletes and environmentalists. As far as we could tell, these paths were well-used by cyclists, runners and inline skaters, as well as business commuters sporting sneakers with their slacks or skirts.

We spent lots of time on one of these fantastic pathways just a short walk from the River Wynde. We walked, we ran, we biked on a crappy tandem we rented one day, and, on the weekend, we watched the locals floating down the Bow River on rafts. We marveled at all of the outdoor recreational opportunities right in the middle of the city. Sure, Tucson's Rillito River Path is great. But this river actually had water!



Olympic Park: Calgary was the proud host of the 1988 Winter Olympics and is now the proud owner of some pretty freakin' cool training centers. On our way to the bike rental at the University of Calgary, we happened upon the Olympic Oval. At times, it is used as a velodrome, but, with another winter games fast approaching, it is currently set up for ice sports.

We thought we would take a quick peek, but ended up spending quite some time when we discovered that Olympic athletes were actually training in there. The large and small ovals were being used by speed skating teams from Korea and Japan. And the non-ice part of the facility was full of athletes doing plyometrics, sprints and drills.

Click here for a short video of luge athletes practicing their starts with wheeled sleds.



We also drove just outside of the city to Olympic Park. Part training center and part tourist attraction, they have added activities to bring in some summer cash, such as mountain biking, challenge courses and zip lines. There were also several groups of children enjoying summer camp at the park. That has got to be the world's best summer camp!



We rode the ski lift and checked out the ski jump towers, some of which had athletes actually practicing jumps. (There was no snow, but the jumps have a surface on which you can ski in any weather.)





We then walked the length of the luge/bobsled course while discussing whether or not these endeavors should actually qualify as sports. Our verdict - no.





Then we headed to the world's only indoor luge training center with ice. The runs aren't long, but are just long enough to give athletes a chance to practice their starts. After that, you pretty much just hang on, right? There was one athlete warming up, but we didn't hang around to see her practice. We did try out all of the equipment though!











Our last stop was the Olympic Hall of Fame which had lots of fun, interactive exhibits which I'm sure were designed to keep kids occupied, but which we played with anyway. Just for the record, I kicked Paul's ass at the hockey game.






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Canadian Rockies Vacation - Part III - The Wedding 
Sunday, August 16, 2009, 05:55 PM
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We departed Banff on Friday, June 24 and spent the bulk of the day - about 5 hours - on the road to Fernie, British Columbia, the small ski resort town that David and Catherine had chosen for their destination wedding.

WEDDING HIGHLIGHTS

- Staying, along with happy couple and some members of the wedding party, at The Timbers, an amazing 6 bedroom house in Fernie Alpine Village. It served as "wedding central" with the wedding rehearsal, rehearsal dinner and the post wedding reception party held there.



- Watching Paul and Jon play a game of table hockey that was more raucous than you'd expect from two men in their 40's. (I regret not catching that on film.) The Timbers had a sweet game room!

- The wedding morning yoga class, conveniently held right in the living room of The Timbers. There's nothing like sun salutations and a good shavasana to calm the nerves before walking down the aisle.





- The post-yoga, pre-wedding run with Paul on a beautiful 5-mile trail in the town of Fernie. We loved chatting with some locals who taught us about Saskatoon berries, but got a little nervous when we saw the sign below. Exactly what kind of animal are they talking about?





- Riding up the ski lift all decked out in wedding attire to get to the world's most beautiful wedding site. In addition to admiring the amazing scenery, we got to check out insane mountain bikers bombing down the ski hills.





- Watching the groomspeople (which included one woman) eat sack lunches at the edge of the forest before changing into their wedding attire...in the forest. Sorry - no photos.

- Being part of a wedding in which almost every guest played a role. Mine was to read a wonderful excerpt from The Velveteen Rabbit and Paul's was to be the sound man.



- The wonderfully personal ceremony planned out by David and Catherine. Lots of touching moments, happy tears and even a sing along! Curt and Tim played a John Denver tune while the rest of us sang using lyrics written by David just for the occasion.



- Dancing with my groom at the reception. Four years of wedded bliss and counting!

- A leisurely morning-after breakfast and walk with most of the wedding guests before hitting the road once again for a few final days in Calgary.

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Canadian Rockies Vacation - Part II - BANFF 
Sunday, August 9, 2009, 01:28 PM
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On Wednesday, July 22, after three wonderful days spent exploring Jasper, we traveled back down the Icefields Parkway. Banff was our final destination, but, on the way, we had reservations at the Columbia Icefield Centre for an Ice Walk, a 3-hour guided tour on the Athabasca Glacier.



As you might expect, we were first required to sign a waiver acknowledging the inherent danger in walking on a glacier and giving up any right to sue in the event that we fall into a crevasse and die. Then, we were loaned hiking boots, fleece hats and heavy duty gloves. Apparently crampons were only recommended after rainfall, although I gladly would have taken a pair.



Finally, a group of about 15 of us set off with our Icelandic guide who introduced himself with, "My name is Freon. Yes, I'm a gas." Freon proved to be knowledgeable and entertaining. He also addressed the topic of global warming with a practiced diplomacy that suggested he had come across a non-believer or two in his day.

Having never set foot on a glacier, I was greatly looking forward to this experience. That is, until I was actually on the glacier, at which point I was terrified. The ice was not flat and easy to walk on - it was rippled and uneven with small streams of water running down it and lots of cracks and holes into which you could slip and fall. I was frightened to the core that this excursion might actually lead to my early, tragic and very cold death.



Freon added to my concerns by, over and over, reiterating the inherent dangerousness of our activity, cautioning us to walk exactly where he walked, and reminding us to beware of large holes into which we might fall. At times, I was not just scared, but also pissed off. Pissed off that we had signed up and actually paid money for this terrifying experience; pissed off that there were no restrooms at the meeting point because now I had to pee; and most of all, pissed off that I was the only person in the group who seemed to have any anxiety about sliding around on a gigantic ice cube full of holes. Didn't they know we could die out here?!? I just thanked God that the 5-hour tour had been sold out and counted down the minutes until I would be on solid ground again.

Here is Freon holding my backpack, so that I could look into one of the big, dangerous holes. He was telling me to step closer for a better look. I declined.



Paul was a saint. Of course, once we were safely off the glacier and in the privacy of the car, he let loose with the teasing, but, while the fear was still very real, he was sweet (and smart) enough to offer nothing but encouragement.

Knowing how much he was enjoying the experience, I tried to play it cool. Apparently, this coolness was only in my head as Paul later told me that I was "freaking out." He let me cling onto him as we made our way up the glacier, stopping occasionally for an interesting lesson from Freon the Gas Man who was always kind enough to wait for us before beginning his spiel since my slow, halting steps caused us to lag significantly behind the group.



About halfway through the tour, I finally got the hang of walking on ice. Before long, I was keeping up with the group and, though never completely free of fear, I did become confident that I would live to see Banff.

Click here for a brief video Paul took on the glacier. It gives you an idea of how windy it was out there.

Next stop - Banff!

LODGING
We spent two nights at Casa Banff, a B&B just a short walk from downtown, where I was treated to amazing breakfasts of fresh-from-the-oven baked goods and homemade granola. I say "I" because Paul, expecting just a run-of-the-mill continental breakfast, had not thought to forewarn the host of his gluten allergy. She seemed genuinely disappointed that she had not been able to prepare some gluten-free baked goods for him, but was kind enough to whip up Rice Krispie treats for the second morning and insist that he pack some for later in the day.



My only complaint with this B&B concerns their "no shoes in the house" policy of which I was firmly reminded when I accidentally broke the rule almost immediately. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the policy, it made me feel on edge throughout the visit, not wanting to touch anything unnecessarily lest it get dirty. While well-equipped and very clean, it did not have a "make yourself at home" kind of feel.

FOOD
We were 3 for 3 in Banff with fantastic meals at Nourish, a tiny vegetarian restaurant tucked away on the second floor of a small mall; the Balkans, a Greek restaurant at which we enjoyed everything that passed through our lips; and Masala Authentic Indian Cuisine...which is self-explanatory. We highly recommend each of these restaurants if you are fortunate enough to find yourself in Banff someday.

ADVENTURE
I have to start by saying that Jasper was our favorite location of the trip. Most visitors do not venture past the Banff/Lake Louise area and have no idea of the beauty they are missing. However, it is because of their absence (in other words, the smaller crowds and less commercial atmosphere), that Jasper was so much more attractive to us, and so part of me appreciates people's unwillingness to drive the extra 3 hours.

On our one full day in the Banff area, we spent a short while at Moraine Lake which was highly recommended by many as simply spectacular. However, having spent time at Peyto and Bow Lakes earlier in our trip, we found that Moraine Lake, though lovely, paled in comparison.

However, we did have a fantastic day on the Plain of the Six Glaciers Teahouse Hike at Lake Louse. I was finally feeling recovered from all of the mountain climbing we did in Jasper and was raring to go.



We started the hike at the beautiful Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise Hotel amidst hundreds of other tourists milling around and taking photos. The first 1/2 mile of our trek was on a paved path that took us to the far side of Lake Louise and was packed with people. As we crossed onto dirt and began to climb, the crowd thinned somewhat, but never as much as we had anticipated. It was wonderful to see so many people showing an appreciation for the trails, as well as the endurance for a 9-mile round trip hike. However, the constant company did take away from the quiet and solitude usually offered by trails.



As you may have inferred from the name of the hike, our destination was a teahouse. Yes, an actual teahouse in the middle of mountain trail. They stock up at the beginning of the season with the help of a helicopter and then supplement supplies by having employees pack in items when they hike up each week for their 5-day shift on the mountain.



This fully-operational restaurant was quite impressive considering the lack of electricity and reliance on propane stoves. Their menu features soup, sandwiches and pies, but we settled on hummus with tortilla chips and a peach-ade drink which came, understandably, lukewarm and without ice. It was all quite delicious!



As suggested by our B&B host, we continued past the teahouse about 1 mile until we came to the very end of the trail and a spectacular lookout from which we saw a stone hut perched at the top of a nearby glacier. We later discovered that it was possible to hike to and spend the night at this rustic hut. Paul, of course, thought this was fantastic and wished we had known about it beforehand, so that we could have added it to our itinerary. I, on the other hand, am grateful for our ignorance on the matter. I have no idea how you would get to the hut, but am fairly certain that it would involve walking on a glacier.





We hiked back down the trail and, as we neared the hotel, I had a moment of panic when I saw a dead body lying half in the bushes and half in the path. Then I noticed that a hat was neatly folded under the head of the body and realized that it was actually an alive, yet sleeping, man. Mind you, there were hundreds of people walking this path - not a great place for a nap.



Check out some photos of wildlife below and stay tuned for the Fernie, BC and wedding report. Also, click here to see all of Paul's photos from the trip.

ANIMALS






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Canadian Rockies Vacation - Part I - JASPER 
Sunday, August 2, 2009, 11:30 PM
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When David and Catherine decided to get married in Fernie, British Columbia and to honor us with an invitation to the big day, we decided to go all out and make the trip into an 11-day Canadian Rockies adventure. I'll post more on Banff and Calgary later, but read on for Part I - Jasper.

It all started on Saturday, July 18 when we flew non-stop from Phoenix to Calgary and spent one night in the city before hitting the TransCanada Highway. We made brief stops in Canmore and Banff in search of underwear (can you guess who forgot to pack any? here's a hint - it wasn't me.) and then enjoyed the breathtaking views of the Icefields Parkway on our way to Jasper.

Lessons From My First Few Days in Canada
1. The summer days are ridiculously long in this part of the world. It's difficult to sleep when it is light outside and so we were often up until almost midnight (which is way past our bedtime). However, you can really squeeze a lot into the day when sunset is at 10pm.

2. High school math was useful after all. My experience with racing (i.e. 5K, 10K, 50K) made it fairly easy to convert distances in my head, but I had to work a little harder to figure out temperature in centigrade. Also, I was shocked to see that gas was only $1, until Paul reminded me that they use liters, not gallons.

ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

Bow Lake Summit - Our first taste of the beauty that would overwhelm us throughout the trip.






Peyto Lake - Yes, the lake really is this blue. It's due to the very fine glacial "flour" in the water and it is absolutely spectacular. We parked and took a short hike to an overlook which was conveniently located next to the tour bus parking, which meant sharing this beautiful scenery with throngs of camera-toting tourists.






Sunwapta and Athabasca Falls -
Amazing! Click on this link for a video that Paul took. (It may take a few minutes to load.)






LODGING
Jasper has an impressive system of private home lodging for visitors, which can be more comfortable and often less expensive than a hotel. We had three pleasant and comfortable nights at A&A Accommodations and especially appreciated the kitchenette which saved us from eating out every meal. The location allowed us to walk to the downtown area and the separate entrance gave us lots of privacy.

FOOD
Evil Dave's
We stopped here right when we drove into town, hungry and weary from the long day on the road. The drive is only about four hours, but, with all of our sightseeing and photo op stops, it took most of the day. The soup of the day was fantastic, but our main dish was rather over-spiced and resulted in very clear sinuses and lots of sweat. On the plus side, they had a separate gluten-free menu for Paul - always greatly appreciated.

Coco's Cafe
A tiny, but fantastic spot for breakfast or lunch. They keep gluten-free bagels on-hand for their Celiac customers.

La Fiesta

I know, I know. Why would we travel from Tucson to Canada and go to a Mexican restaurant? Because the guy at Coco's recommended it as another Celiac-friendly place. It was fine. Not bad, but not as great as you'd expect for the prices.

THE ADVENTURES
Jasper Discovery Trail
After two days of travel, we were feeling stiff, lazy and ready for a run. Jasper has a fantastic 5-mile route which circles the town and offers short, rolling hills and quite a bit of trail. For me, it was one of those euphoric, pain-free, full of energy, it's-a-great-day-to-be-alive running experiences. Life is good.





Mt. Edith Cavell
After the run, we spent the remainder of the day conquering Mount Edith Cavell, our most spectacular hike of the trip. We climbed to a point where we looked down on a glacier and waterfall, and then, a few hours later, we were down at the glacial lake with all of this beauty looming over us.





When we arrived at the turnaround point of the hike (according to the map anyway), we were greeted by half a dozen or so furry creatures that I learned were marmots. They were adorable and not the least bit afraid of us hikers. They had obviously met many a human who disregarded all of the "don't feed the wildlife" signs.



Although this was the official end of the hike (again, according to the map), the trail did continue and a number of people hiked on. Paul, of course, was raring to go. I, on the other hand, was second-guessing our decision to do a morning 5-miler before climbing a mountain. But, I finally caved when someone told us that, just a little farther up, there were two caribou laying in the snow. We decided to split up, with me turning back at the wildlife and Paul hiking ahead and continuing on to the summit.



Then I started chatting with a few hikers on their return from the peak who raved about the amazing mountain views at the top, as well as the nine caribou resting on the opposite side of the peak. And the next thing I know, I'm scrambling (on all fours at some points) up a steep pile of scree, hoping to reach the top before Paul started his descent. I'm such a sucker. As luck would have it, Paul had trouble finding the first set of caribou and so wasn't too far ahead.

As promised, the view was magnificent. And it was a fantastic feeling to know that I had made it to a spot to which only a few people venture. However, the best reward was the look of surprise on Paul's face when he saw me approaching the summit.





Click on this link for a video that he shot just before he saw me. (It may take a minute to load.)

While climbing the final, steep incline, I was less concerned about the labor it was taking to get up than I was about how I was going to get back down. One slip would surely send me tumbling, ass over tea kettle, down this gigantic pile of sharp rocks. In the interest of safety and with complete disregard for style, I sat down and used a combination of sliding and crab-walking until we reached more solid ground.

We hiked and jogged our way toward the glacier where we checked out an amazing ice cave (safely from the outside, of course) and then followed the glacial stream back to the trailhead. We stopped along the way to dip our feet in the flowing water and found that the initial shock of the cold quickly gave way to unbearable, stabbing pain. We decided to try to soak our feet for one minute and Paul lasted the longest before the pain became to great - 6 seconds.







WHISTLER'S MOUNTAIN

The Jasper Tramway offers visitors a scenic 10-minute ride to the peak of Whistler Mountain. Whistler's Trail offers a steep 4-mile, mosquito-infested hike to the peak of Whistler Mountain. Keeping in mind that I am married to Paul, how do you think we got to the peak?



The hike was actually gorgeous - dense forest gave way to scrub and, finally, rock as we ascended about 4,000 feet. My legs were tired from the previous day's 12 miles of running/hiking, but stopping to rest meant risking being carried away by a thirsty swarm of mosquitoes. Paul typically hikes ahead and then comes back every so often to make sure I haven't gotten lost or fallen down (which has been known to happen), but my fear of being eaten by a bear meant that he was not allowed to wander more than 20 feet away from me and so he had to suffer at my slow pace.

We came across just one other soul on this expedition - a trail runner who effortlessly jogged past us jingling his bear bell as he went. Paul, ever the loyal husband, resisted the urge to run along with this kindred spirit and leave my slow ass to the bears. He's a good man.

At some point during the hike, I stopped and told Paul that I needed a pep talk. This is code for, "I'm going to have a complete meltdown at any minute." I was wiped out. My energy was gone and my legs were toast. I was an empty shell of the woman from the previous morning's euphoric run. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Paul gave me a hug, told me how much stronger my quads would be as a result of this hike, and made sure to offer praise and encouragement every so often until it appeared the crisis had passed.

My outlook brightened as we got closer to the top of the tram and I realized that I would, in fact, survive. However, it dimmed slightly when I saw all of the well-rested tram-riders happily trekking up a hill and realized that the top of the tram was not the top of the mountain.

I sent Paul ahead, feeling confident that I was safe from bears at this point, and slowly trudged up the path. I was passed by both energetic kids and strolling senior citizens alike, and had to restrain myself from telling every single one of them that my sluggishness was due to the fact that my hike started at the bottom of the mountain, not the top of the tram...and I did 12 miles yesterday, thank you very much.



I arrived at a peak and, seeing that I could hike just a bit farther to a slightly higher peak, decided that the view was just fine where I was. I found a nice long rock on which to lie while Paul hiked around and took photos and then we headed to the tram for food (because I was ravenous) and a ride down (because there wasn't a chance in hell that I would be hiking the descent). I was disappointed that we had to pay for a one-way ticket to ride the tram down. After all of the effort it took to hike up, you'd think they could at least offer a free lift down. However, once on the tram, I decided that the cost may be an attempt to deter smelly hikers from squeezing onto the crowded tram with the clean, well-groomed passengers.

MALIGNE CANYON
We drove from the trailhead right to Maligne Canyon. It was a short visit as I'd hoped to sit and look at something spectacular, but found out that I had to hike to look at something spectacular. Without the slightest bit of exaggeration, I felt like I had just run a marathon. I was completely exhausted and, after a short walk along the canyon, informed Paul that we really needed to do something sedentary.






LAKE ANNETTE

We returned "home" for a bite to eat and much needed showers, then packed a picnic of fruit, cheese and chocolate, and headed to a nearby campground beach to sit and read. Sure, it was 7:00pm, but we still had three good hours of daylight to use! The view was stunning and we even came across an elk when we took a short walk.





Banff and Calgary Reports to come. Click here to see all of our vacation photos on Paul's website.
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Bring on the Birthday! 
Friday, July 17, 2009, 12:17 AM
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Paul and I hit the road Saturday morning for a 90-minute tandem ride. We were motivated to get out fairly early as it was forecasted to be 110 degrees that day. All was going well until, about 1.5 miles from home, I heard a strange noise and then felt something slapping me on the back. Paul hit the brakes and then expertly maneuvered us off the road and onto the dirt shoulder. I was sure that we were going down, but he somehow managing to keep us upright and, for this, he has earned my lifelong love and admiration. Okay...he already had those, but the situation certainly reinforced my wise choice of husband and tandem captain.

It turns out that the noise was the tread coming completely off of the tire, and the painful back-slapping was the tread hitting me each time the tire rotated, until it got wound up and looked something like this.



The tube was still intact and so we were able to remove the shredded tread and ride home - very slowly.

I was in bed early that night wondering how I had let Denise talk me into doing the inaugural Run With the Roosters 5-Miler. When I signed up, I had thought that 5:15 a.m. was not a bad time to run at all. I get up that early and run on my own sometimes. What I didn't take into account was that the race was at Old Tucson Studios - a 40-minute drive - and that we needed to be there at least 15 minutes early. All of this meant a 3:30 a.m. wake-up and out the door at 4:00.

As it turned out, once I was awake, I was fine. Or so I thought until I met Denise to carpool and realized that I had left her race packet on my kitchen table. Apparently I was not as awake as I thought.



It was a beautiful morning; the scenery out by Old Tucson is spectacular; and the temps were very comfortable for the entire race. I was impressed that almost 300 people showed up for this early morning event.



I really had no idea how I would do at this race. I had no goal and did not warm up beforehand. My plan was just to run and see how I felt. As it turns out, I felt great! I have absolutely no idea why, but nothing hurt, I had lots of energy and I kept of a good pace despite the rolling hills.



At the first turnaround, I kept an eye out for friends and fellow Tri Girls to holler encouragement and I thought it was strange that I hadn't seen Shari. However, when I stopped to grab some water at the next aid station, I discovered that she had been right on my tail matching my pace. I stayed right in front of her until the final aid station when I stopped for a drink and she kept going. The last bit of the course was uphill and so it was nice to have Shari in front of me now to keep me motivated. I caught her just before the finish and we crossed together which was great.



I highly recommend this race - it's worth the loss of sleep. Denise and I hung out for some breakfast, socializing, free massages, and the awards ceremony. Congrats to Renee for picking up some hardware!





I was thrilled with my time of 48:02 (9:37 pace), especially on such a hilly course, but was disappointed that this still left me at 14th out of 31 in my age group. Could it be that I am an aged 34 year-old in the 30 - 34 age group? You know, competing against all of those young, spry 30-year olds. Studying the results (which were posted that afternoon - always a nice touch) I found that, had I already been bumped up to the 35 - 39 group, I would have come in 8th out of 22. So, I welcome my 35th birthday (which is in 11 days) and look forward to having new goals in a new age group.

Next up? Canada! Paul and I leave Saturday for 11 days of adventure in the Calgary area.
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