Summary of Summer (part 2)

So, continuing on from my last post, I’ll take you on a little journey through some of the other hike/run adventures I had this summer, but this time they’re all in the Squamish area. You might recall me talking about Squamish last summer, and how it’s become the new ‘cool’ place to live if you love the outdoors – it seems like it’s still riding that high, and this summer I did get more of a chance to discover why so many people want to live there.

Garibaldi Lake

An Instagrammers paradise, this 20km out and back route is famed for it’s glacial blue lake, with an incredible backdrop of mountains and alpine vistas…unless you’re caught in the haze of hundreds of nearby wildfires. Sadly, this wasn’t the day for epic views, but it was the day for a lot of fun (too cheesy?).

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Hazy lake views

I tackled this one with a group of 6 others, and we power hiked the first 6/7km of switchbacks uphill through the forest, before arriving at the lake. Inspired by some girls who were jumping in (mainly for the social media, but still), we decided to brave it as a group and also aim for an epic Instagram shot. Once we managed to drag Pargol in on the second go, we dried off in the sun for a bit (and warmed up – the lake was FREEZING) before heading back.

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The money shot

We ran back down, which is immensely satisfying as relentlessly hiking down switchbacks isn’t the most exciting thing to do when you’re getting tired and hungry. Sadly, our favourite Squamish eatery, Mags 99, was closed so our post run hunger had to be satisfied with a food truck veggie burger instead.

Elfin Lakes

A couple of weeks later we were back on Highway 99 to Squamish, this time heading to Elfin Lakes. While the car park for Garibaldi is just a kilometre down a paved road from the highway, for Elfin Lakes you drive for closer to 5km down a dusty, pot hole filled track.

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Views of Mount Garibaldi on the way up

Similar to Garibaldi, the first few kilometres of the hike are uphill switchbacks, but at Elfin Lakes you come out into beautiful alpine trails for the second half, making the actual hike itself a lot more scenic, and not just the end point. The views of Mount Garibaldi and Garibaldi National Park surrounding it were stunning.

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The lakes, with Mount Garibaldi in the background

After a few more kilometres of rolling gravel track, you reach Elfin Lakes; two alpine lakes surrounded by mountains. You can camp in what might be the most scenic campground in the world, or just stop for a photo break by the lakes, one of which you can swim in.

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Most scenic campground ever

On the run back down (again, hiking efficiency at it’s best) I did nearly step on a snake, which wasn’t my favourite thing to happen all summer, but I did come to the conclusion that at least when you’re running you can get away from it quicker…

Watersprite Lake

Even though we did this one just this week, I’m still going to put it under the Summer adventures file. Feeling extremely adventurous, Hollie and I braved this one alone, heading out along 20km of logging road from the Squamish highway into what felt very much the backcountry, watching as the temperature dropped…and dropped. It was 0 degrees when we parked the car, I was wearing shorts and t-shirt and had brought suncream. Thankfully I also had a long sleeved top and a jacket which were immediately layered on.

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Looking back down towards Squamish (my legs are so short!)

Another out and back, and again mostly climbing on the way there and lovely downhills on the way back, the views once we reached the top of the treeline back down through the Squamish valley were incredible. The terrain was fairly easy for the first few kilometres, and we naively thought progress would remain fast for the whole hike. About 6km in we were met with a pretty large boulder field to negotiate. That, plus some steep, rocky, rooty trails meant for a pretty slow last slog up to our final destination.

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The second boulder field up to the lake

Watersprite Lake is up in the alpine, and the perfectly clear turquoise water is surrounded by mountain peaks. We were lucky enough to have the lake to ourselves, which made for easy photograph taking and a lovely quiet spot to have a snack.

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Watersprite Lake

Progress was much quicker on the way back down, especially once we had reached the other side of the boulder fields, so we picked up the pace a bit and jogged back down to the car. We were desperate for lunch at this point, and thankfully Mags was open this time, so we wolfed down a massive Mexican lunch before heading back to Vancouver.

 

Some (possibly) interesting facts/more details for you…

  • All of these hikes took us somewhere between 4 and 5 hours including photo stops/snack breaks
  • We mostly hiked (fairly quickly) the ups, and ran the downs. A pace that Hollie likes to call hogging (hike/jogging)
  • I can’t underestimate the importance of taking extra food/water/clothing on these adventures. I haven’t always done it, and I shouldn’t be so blasé about it. The Watersprite Lake hike this week was a stark reminder that the weather can be very different up in the mountains to down at sea level
  • Yes, people do go to work in Vancouver (myself included), but a lot of people have fairly flexible schedules
  • We were lucky to be able to do these hikes mid-week. Garibaldi on a sunny weekend is not really worth the hassle
  • Having a car here is invaluable. I am incredibly lucky to have friends with cars, who will shuttle me around to these places. A HUGE thank you to Hollie for being my personal taxi all summer (all year round really)
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Thanks Hollie! You’re awesome!
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Summary of Summer (Part 1)

I don’t really want to do a Summer round-up, because that would be acknowledging that this summer is over…I’m going to keep faith in there being a few more warm, sunny days before the constant rain is no doubt back to keep us company for a while. I’m currently sitting under a blanket writing this, so I’m not holding out too much hope. 

Since the end of June, there have been literally only a handful of dull days in Vancouver – it’s been so nice to make plans a week or so in advance knowing that the weather will be dry and sunny. I wore jeans the other day for the first time in months, when the temperature finally dipped low enough to need some extra warmth on the legs.

Even though I work most weekends and therefore have days off during the week, I’m lucky enough to have several friends here with flexible schedules, plus some teachers who had time off over the summer, making for lots of awesome day trips, hikes and adventures – something that was seriously lacking last year, and these summer trips really do make living in Vancouver (and enduring the endless rain) so worthwhile.

I don’t think I have the stamina to write a full recap of every hike I did this summer (and you’ll probably die of boredom reading them) so I’ll share some highlights over a couple of posts, along with some photos.

First up, hikes on the North Shore of Vancouver…

St. Mark’s Summit

We kicked off July with this hike which starts at Cypress Mountain, at the base of the ski slope, and covers the first part of the 30km Howe Sound Crest Trail which goes all the way up to Porteau Cove further north. A 10km round trip, it’s 5km of uphill, then straight back down the same way. It might not sound that exciting, but the views are 100% worth it, and the trail through the forest to get there is gorgeous and easy to follow.

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Hollie & Julie at the summit

This hike was a mini birthday celebration for Julie, and we were under strict instruction that it was hiking only, no running. Fine by me! It took us about 3 hours in total, and we spent a decent amount of time at the top admiring the views, playing with the chipmunks and swatting flies. From the summit you have incredible views to the west, across the Howe Sound to the Sunshine Coast, back to Vancouver, and all the way across to Vancouver Island on a clear day. 

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Cheeky chipmunk stealing snacks

 

It wasn’t a desperately hard hike and the trail is well marked, but we did see quite a few underprepared people on their way up when we were coming down (this was a theme of the summer), and it’s always a worry when someone asks how much further it is to the top when they’re only about 2km in.

Tunnel Bluffs

A little further along the highway from Cypress is this little hike. The biggest challenge here is parking and crossing a 3 lane highway to get to the trail head – fun! Hollie and I managed not to get flattened on either end of the hike which was a positive. We did this one towards the end of August, and after a couple of months with next to no rain, the trail was as dry as old chips, which meant a serious dust tan by the end.

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Hollie at the viewpoint

An 8km round trip, and another classic up to a viewpoint and down again, the first couple of kilometres were almost as steep upwards as the Grouse Grind in places, but as we climbed away from the highway the trail turned into forest and the flattened out somewhat before reaching a series of flat, exposed rocks, several hundred metres (I would guess?!) above the highway, again with stunning views over the Howe Sound to the West of Vancouver.

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Looking back along the Sea to Sky highway towards Vancouver

Mount Seymour

I made two trips to Mt Seymour this year, the first at the start of July with Julie, and we were greeted with a bit more snow than anticipated, which meant actually finding the trail we wanted was a challenge in itself, and we basically slid on our bums most of the way back down. Snow burn on your bum is painful, in case you were wondering.

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From the first peak in July, looking across to Deep Cove and the Indian Arm

The second trip was more successful – my friends John, Candice and I made it to all 3 peaks of Seymour on the Labour Day long weekend in September (Julie and I just made it to the first one). It was a scorching hot day and the wildfire smoke was beginning to roll in again, but the 360 degree views from the top were insane – looking north (away from Vancouver) and seeing nothing but mountains into the distance is just incredible.

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From the third peak, looking north away from Vancouver

The trail is quite steep and technical in parts, and it was busy because of the long weekend so progress wasn’t fast and we were cooked by the end – I’ve never downed a can of ice tea so quickly as when we got to the end of that hike.

Flint & Feather

There’s only so many times you can do the Grouse Grind before it gets a bit tedious (although tell that to my friend Pargol who hiked it 13 times in one day…). Luckily there are a couple of other options to get you to the top of Grouse Mountain (one of which is cable car), including Flint & Feather trail.

Starting off on the Grind, you take a turn off about a quarter of the way up – it’s NOT well marked, so I’ve only been with more experienced friends – and hike up a LOT of switchbacks until you get to a rock face which is (just about) scrambleable. From the top of there, you get the most incredible views of Vancouver, especially as the sun is going down.

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Downtown Vancouver from the F&F lookout

It’s also a perfect spot for a little picnic, especially as it’s a lot quieter than the Grind so you normally only have a few people trampling on your snacks as they try to get past you and 12 friends sharing cake and drinking prosecco on a ledge about a foot wide.

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Celebrating Hollie’s birthday in style

That’s it for one post, plenty more to come!

SeaWheeze Half Marathon 2017

I had a short burst of motivation to write something today, and as that seems to happen less and less frequently these days I thought I’d better get it down on paper (screen) quickly.

Apologies for those expecting to read about summer adventures, travels, food, drinks, etc. but this one is about running. It’s kind of hard not to talk about it seeing as it is a part of pretty much my every day life here. There is more to come about the fun things I’ve been doing this summer though, I promise.

A couple of Saturdays ago I ran the lululemon SeaWheeze half marathon. You may remember I said I hated ‘racing’ races – well I proved that point right, but I did manage to make it through a very tough race with my stomach still in tact (just) and my legs didn’t quite fall off either.

Love them or not, lululemon are a HUGE part of the fitness industry in Vancouver, and they know how to put on a good event. SeaWheeze attracts 10,000 runners from all over the world to Vancouver every summer, and so there’s no denying that’s a great thing for the city. It’s popularity does mean that getting a place in this race is probably harder than the running itself – unless you’ve got 2 laptops, a phone and a very strong internet connection, you may as well not bother even attempting to register.

I did not get a place in the initial registration (I didn’t really try, and have terrible internet), but there are a lot of people who will buy a place purely for the coveted shorts in an exclusive print each year, and closer to the time have the realisation that they don’t want to run a half marathon. Bib transfers can now be done officially, after years of people just selling them on the side for cash, and although my place went through 2 other people first, I found myself about 6 weeks before the race with goal to train for after quite a long time of running somewhat aimlessly.

Fast forward to race day and in the days preceding, the city was cloaked in a rather oppressive blanket of smoke from the devastating wildfires in the BC interior. I went for a short ‘shakeout’ run the day before the race and the smoke and heat meant I had a hard time keeping a relatively easy pace for 5km, which was a little worrying considering the time I hoped to get involved running significantly faster.

Luckily, the next morning, as promised, the smoke had completely cleared, the temperature had dropped and it was near perfect running conditions, save for our somewhat hurried dash to the startline. Relying on buses in Vancouver is risky at the best of times, let alone when you have to be somewhere on time, and early in the morning. We arrived at the bag drop at about 6:35am for a 7:00am race start – eek. There were, of course, HUGE queues to use the loos (oh god, I almost wrote bathrooms) so it was 6:56 when we jogged outside to find our way into the starting pen…the nearest pacer held a 3:15 sign. We kept moving around the edge of the pens, sure that we’d at some point find a gap we could squeeze through, but no luck. Thankfully, a security guard actually told us we should jump the fence, so that’s what we did. We didn’t get too many evil eyes, and only one of us (Devon) nearly ripped their leg open on the fence.

For this race I had employed the services of my friend Devon as my personal pacer. Fresh from a huge marathon PB of 3:21 (whaaaaat) a couple of weeks earlier, and a half marathon PB of 1:34, I knew she’d be able to drag me round to a sub 1:50 – I just had to grit my teeth and keep running. Once the gun went off, we spent the usual first couple of miles/km (I’m going to speak in km here, so you’ll have to do your own conversions if you want) weaving around people, trying to find our pace and generally trying to settle into the groove of running.

Let it be known, Vancouver is NOT a flat city. Yes, the seawall is predominantly flat, but in most instances you have to go up/down a hill to get on/off it. Plus, there are bridges. A lot of bridges. In this race, from about kilometre 6 to 11, you roll up and down more than is particularly comfortable, and when trying to run at a somewhat uncomfortable pace, it shows. To try and distract you from this pain, the SeaWheeze organisers put in place ‘entertainment’ in a number of places – think loud music, people in fancy dress, people on spin bikes, firemen spraying hoses, and people sitting on rocks dressed as mermaids. They do help, but I won’t lie, despite all the distractions, I was not a happy runner when we got to the end of the last bridge climb at about 11km in. I was hot, couldn’t breathe, and my legs didn’t want to move that fast any more. In reality my heart rate just needed to calm down and my legs to stop going uphill so much – as soon as we hit the seawall I felt infinitely better. Maybe we could do this after all?!

There was a moment of panic shortly after I’d taken a gel when I though I might have to dive into the bushes, but for the next few kilometres things ticked along pretty well. Devon wasn’t doing too badly either – she had dutifully given me most of the water in her handheld bottle whenever I demanded it, ran ahead at each water station to fetch me a cup so I didn’t have to contend with the crowds, calculated our pace and regularly let me know how much time I had banked, and held my sunglasses for most of the race because they were annoying me.

At about 17km, we ran underneath the Lions Gate Bridge and straight into a headwind. My favourite! I really was about ready to give up by this point, but Devon kept pushing me on, and a girl who we kept leapfrogging with was really annoying me, and I really didn’t want her to finish before me. Eventually we turned into Stanley Park and up one last hill (actually there were two – I might have yelled at Devon a little bit when I realised there was a second one), and back down onto the seawall to the finish. Seriously, 1km has never seemed so long. The course has 5 or 6 turns before you can see the finish line, and in previous years it’s been a bit long (don’t even talk to me about incorrect distance races) so I was fully expecting for my Garmin to get to about 21.3km before crossing the line, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the finish line approach at approximately the correct corresponding distance on my watch. I gave it a final sprint/shuffle to the line, my legs just ready to stop running, and Devon was most likely sick of my whinging by then so she let me cross a second in front of her in a time of 1:47:58, a new PB by about 2 and a half minutes – woo!

The post-race swag is pretty good at SeaWheeze, so we were coaxed through a funnel of medals, cool scented towels, protein bars, water and a brunch box before I was allowed to sit down and rest my weary legs. The sun came out just at the right time, and my post-race wet wipes and flip flops came out (seriously, you’ll never regret packing wet wipes in your drop bag) and other people we know joined us to revel in the excitement of a new PB. 

I won’t lie, although I’m extremely pleased with the time I got, the experience of ‘racing’ didn’t really make me want to sign up for another one right away – I’m not the sort of runner who wants to keep whittling down their times, especially at the cost of actually enjoying the experience. But I will give another huge shout out to Devon, who was exemplary in her pacing duties, and I would highly recommend her services – it’s a heck of a lot harder to stop running when someone is telling you not to!

Expect more on summer adventures very soon(ish)! Maybe…

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How to have the best time ever on Salt Spring Island

When Helen (my sister, for those not in the know) first booked her trip to Canada, she had a list of ‘Canadian’ things she wanted to tick off while she was here. The list included swimming in a lake, staying in a cabin, hiking in forests and eating lots of pancakes. I also wanted to go somewhere new, and the islands off the coast of Vancouver looked very nice, and like they would enable us to tick off quite a few things from Helen’s list, so basically just picked one and went with it. It turned out to be a good choice. Salt Spring Island is known for it’s hippy, artisan feel, and is home to lots of tiny galleries and studios of the hundreds of artists who live on the island, as well as being a big producer of food (cheese, jam, oils, etc.), but with plenty to do outdoors too.

We managed to formulate the perfect trip, just by following a few simple steps…

Step 1. Order perfect weather

We were insanely lucky to have pretty much perfect weather for the entire 3 days we spent on Salt Spring Island – blue skies and temperatures around 20-24 degrees. I’m sure we would’ve still had a great time had it rained the whole time, but hiking and swimming in lakes is a lot less enjoyable in the rain, and I’m pretty sure that the constant sunshine had a lot to do with us having the best time ever.

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Step 2. Find an excellent AirBnb

Our first choice AirBnb got snapped up before we had a chance to book it, so instead of a remote, rustic cabin with ocean views we ended up with a quaint looking country cottage close to the main town, Ganges. I’ll be honest, the main draw was the numerous reviews of the host’s homemade granola and baked treats – she did not disappoint – but it ended up being the best of all worlds as we could walk into town for dinner, but it was nice and quiet. The place itself (and the hosts) did conjure up memories of a stay with the grandparents, but it was so sweet (and the freshly baked bread was so good) we couldn’t fault it.

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AirBnb breakfast

Step 3. Hike all morning

Due to the aforementioned good weather, we spent most mornings exploring some of the trails on the island. We managed about 6km along the coast in Ruckle Provincial Park, a beautiful rugged forest trail with mostly fairly gentle ups and downs, but when the round trip option including a potentially strenuous climb and I’d already been freaked out by a snake spotting, an out and back suited us just fine.

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Ruckle Provincial Park

The best hike was to the top of Mount Erskine – the trail was only about 1.5km each way, but it was quiet and had incredible views to the north of the island from the top. We also drove to the top of Mount Maxwell along a very dusty road full of pot holes, where the viewpoints looked out to the south over the San Juan islands in the US. We also had an encounter with a couple of hikers who for a moment we thought were dead…they were in fact just enjoying a post-hike afternoon snooze until we freaked out and yelled at them. Sorry again to those poor, poor, people.

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Views from Mount Maxwell

Step 4. Swim all afternoon

After all that walking, we enjoyed a little dip most afternoons – the most lake swimming I think I’ve ever done. There are several lakes on the island of varying sizes, and it’s a bit of an adventure finding the swimming spot at each one. None of them have much a of beach to speak of, and the maps of the island aren’t totally clear on where the best place to stop is, so we spent quite a lot of time driving slowly along the edge of the lakes, watching to spot a tiny strip of sand and a tell tale strip of cars parked on the road, then mastering a tricky parking manoeuvre (often involving a blind bend) before changing into our swimming things between the car doors or under our towels – memories of childhood beach days coming back to haunt us.

Cusheon Lake won the top prize for best lake, largely because there was a decent amount of space to park and there was a reasonably clean portaloo to change in, but also because you could walk onto the dock from the beach. We also swam in St. Mary’s Lake (the biggest, with the largest ‘beach’ too, but very busy as it was a Sunday when we visited) and had a quick dip in Stowell Lake (the smallest lake and closest to the road) but someone saw a snake in the grass there too, so I wasn’t keen to hang around for too long.

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Helen (the fish) jumping into Cusheon Lake

Step 5. Eat excellent food, drink excellent drinks

 

As mentioned in Step 2 our AirBnb host supplied us with a huge array of homemade breakfast treats, and even made a special trip to the farmers market to top up our supplies for the last morning, so we ate breakfast in the garden every morning. We stretched it out to lunch a couple of times too, keeping the backpacking dream alive. I had my first experience with a Weber one evening, which was thankfully uneventful, but we tried a couple of places in Ganges for food too, including the Tree House Cafe, which was like the Garden Cafe in Frome on steroids. Salt Spring has a reputation of being a bit of a hippy hotspot, but this was crazy. A folk group called Adam, Gwen & Friends was playing, and I’ve never seen so many people with long, grey, wavy hair and kaftans in one place before. After we managed to avoid being sat at a table right in front of the live music, we did have some really good food and an incredible sunset topped off the night nicely.

 

I’ll also mention Salt Spring Island Ales as it was really good, and in a lovely little forest lined spot in the middle of nowhere.

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Amazing sunset in Ganges

Step 6. Order a pod of orcas to spot on the ferry home

The ferry across to the the Southern Gulf Islands is notoriously beautiful, especially on a clear, sunny day, and spotting whales is something that people often talk about but it seems like it’s quite rare that it actually happens… We were about 10 minutes from docking back in Vancouver, and the captain announced that we should go back to our cars, oh and that there was a pod of orcas on the starboard side of the boat. Cue lots of very excited people trying to work out which side of the boat is starboard…luckily someone (not us) figured out it was the right hand side, so we walked casually (read: skipped so excitedly we almost tripped over) so see what was going on – it was pretty darned cool.

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Incredible orcas

And that just about rounded off a perfect little Canadian trip. Apart from we got stuck in terrible traffic on the way back from the ferry which made me quite ragey. Sorry again about that Helen. 

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To Portland we went

Last weekend was Victoria Day here in Canada, which is a Bank Holiday to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday – confusing as we don’t get this holiday in the UK…anywho, it meant an extra day off work, and what better to do than go on a little road trip south of the border to Portland.

I’m not really sure why Portland is on people’s radars, as there isn’t a great deal in terms of sights to see, but Vancouverites kept telling me to go there, so who am I to disagree?  We made an early dash to the border on Monday morning, and it turns out crossing with a Canadian is a lot less suspicious than with someone else who also isn’t from either of the countries you’re coming from/going to (sorry Chloe), and while we still had to get a secondary check and add to the border guards’ doughnut money fund, we were through pretty quickly.

The drive to Portland is basically on one very long, very straight highway all the way from Vancouver. You skirt around Seattle (or crawl, depending on the traffic) and continue south for another 3ish hours to Portland. Google Maps will confuse the heck out of you as it can’t tell whether you’re on the main highway or the smaller road parallel, but as with most north American cities, it’s pretty easy to find your way through the downtown core thanks to easy block navigation.

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Giant falafel wraps

First stop was lunch at one of the many clusters of food trucks set up around the city. We munched on falafel wraps the size of our heads while stretching out our legs from the long car journey. Oh, and it was a balmy 34 degrees, so we melted a bit too – seriously, after months of temperatures barely hitting double digits this was quite a shock to the system. We do what all cool climate dwellers do when in a hot city and ran from air conditioned shop to air conditioned shop, complaining about the heat (which we moan we never get normally when it’s raining and cold). We went to Powell’s Books, which is the world’s largest independent book shop…what else can I say other than there were a lot of books?! I wasn’t really in the market for anything (plus I have a Kindle…) so we moved on pretty quickly once we were sufficiently air conditioned.

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Random pet books at Powell’s Books

We booked an AirBnb in the south east of the city, in an attic conversion of the home of our hosts, Chuck and Carole. They were lovely, if a little intense – Carole wanted to know what we were doing alllll the time, although I think this was a motherly thing more than anything else, and she was quick to make sure we were following house procedures accordingly (taking our shoes off at the door, shutting all the windows IMMEDIATELY when you turn the air conditioning on).

What Portland lacks in tourist sights, it makes up for in quaint little neighbourhoods filled with boutique shops, coffee shops and independent restaurants, so we basically spent most of our trip hopping between different areas to explore. On the advice of many, the first place we headed for was ice cream at Salt & Straw – luckily there was a branch a 15 minute walk from where we were staying, and cold treats were very much needed in the aforementioned heat. The ice cream itself didn’t disappoint, however we both agreed that the waffle cones weren’t a patch on our Vancouver favourite, Rain or Shine.

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Ice cream from Salt & Straw

We followed this up with a couple of frosty beverages (we shamefully had to sit inside for the second one as we were wilting in the heat by now), and we went to Pok Pok for dinner, which had also been recommended by several people. It was mainly food from Northern Thailand (I think), and while a little more expensive than some places, was really tasty and also served a decent G&T.

To the disappointment of Carole (who wanted us to join her in the garden for some special cigarettes) we were not the young party animals she thought we were, and went to bed pretty early, but the heat also meant we were up at 7, ready and raring to go (ha) for a run before it got too hot.

We contemplated driving across the city to some of the trails to the west, or even out to Mt Hood National Park for some hiking, but after spending a lot of time in the car the day before, we decided to keep it local, and set out to run to Mt Tabor, about 3km away. Mt Tabor is an old dormant volcano, which now has a reservoir at the base, and some lovely shaded trails at the top. I should add that Ali (who knows stuff about rocks and geology) informed me that Mt Tabor never actually erupted, which means some people could be in for a rude surprise at some point. Anywho, volcanos (dormant or otherwise) are quite steep, so it was quite the slog to get up to the top, especially when fuelled by a mountain of Thai food, several beers and accompanied by intense heat. We pottered around at the top for a bit, enjoyed the views, found a water fountain (thank god) before heading back down in search of breakfast.

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View over Portland from the top of Mt Tabor

We headed for a French style bakery on the promise of an excellent Turkey croissant (weird), but it was hot, busy and only had warm water to drink so we snuck out, which is always really awkward when you’ve already spoken to the person behind the counter and drank their free water… Anywho, there was another place next door that served excellent eggs on toast (they put cheese in their eggs too – sooooo good) and coffee, and had breakfast al fresco, which is one of my absolute favourite things to do.

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Alfresco breakfast

Carole was basically waiting for us when we went back to freshen up, flabbergasted that we’d already been out running and had breakfast too. We decided to take advantage of Portland’s shared bike scheme (which is sponsored by Nike – this would work perfectly in the UK where people say Nike as one syllable without the e, so Nike bikes. Unfortunately, they say Nik-e here, so it’s really a missed marketing opportunity in my eyes) and use them to get around the city for the day. As with most shared bike schemes around the world, the bikes themselves are somewhat heavy and cumbersome, which made for some interesting manoeuvres at times. We made a couple of stops in small neighbourhoods in the suburbs for a wander, then headed downtown to cruise along the river for a while. It was all downhill (literally) to the water, so we made the immediate decision that we would not be cycling back again later.

We had a bit of a wander around the Pearl District after lunch, which was very similar to Yaletown in Vancouver, and with lots of murals and things painted on the sides of buildings. We had another little cycle along the river before retiring to one of the many, many breweries in Portland. We are not beer aficionados, so we basically just went into the first brewery we saw and each ordered a flight of 4 samples to try. The Commons Brewery is apparently famed for it’s European style beers, so maybe that’s why I liked them so much? Or maybe just because it was pushing 30 degrees outside again and they were cold and refreshing.

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Small world syndrome kicked in again in Portland, and we went over to the North East part of the city to meet one of my sister’s best friends from school (who I used to babysit – she’s now married to an American guy. I feel old) who lives in Portland for a drink in another cute little neighbourhood full of cafes, restaurants and breweries. On advice of the local resident, we walked a few blocks to find dinner at a taco bar (tacqueria?!) called Porque No? and while the queue was out the door, things moved quickly and the wait was worth it – the tacos were amazing, as were the pint sized margaritas, and freshly cooked tortilla chips. YUM.

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We finished the night with another ice cream, this time at Ruby Jewel, but I think I was a bit ice creamed out by this point. I definitely couldn’t manage one of the ice cream sandwiches. Rejoicing in reasonably priced taxis, we took an Uber home, which when confirmed on the app was labelled as ‘Spaceship PDX’, and our ‘Captain’ was on his way… Turns out it was just as weird as it sounds – after leaving his tech job, the guy had started driving Ubers and wanted to try and make it more fun, so fitted his car out with all kinds of crazy spaceship type paraphernalia. It was weird, but entertaining nevertheless.

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Inside Spaceship PDX

We tried to make a run for it the next morning with bumping into Carole, but she was on patrol and having none of it, so we endured the obligatory small talk goodbyes before we headed off. But I’m not done yet, sorry folks, this is a long one. One last breakfast was unintentionally at a veggie/vegan cafe where the guy behind the counter heard my accent and tried to engage me in football talk, specifically Arsenals latest woes. Whhhhhhhyyyyyy. Just give me my eggs.

We decided to venture west to the hills overlooking the city before heading home, and first stopped at the rose gardens, which were decidedly underwhelming thanks to the massive amounts of construction and late blooming of the roses this year. Still, we managed to see a few nice flowers and made an old couples’ day by giving them the left over time on our parking ticket (after they realised Ali wasn’t trying to attack them). We made a quick stop at Pittock Mansion, an old building by US standards, which was built in 1909. It made me quite nostalgic for a good National Trust day out, but we really just went for the views over the city, which were non existent thanks to the cloud that had settled in.

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Views (of sorts) from Pittock Mansion
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How to be a cat lady circa 1948

One last stop at Trader Joe’s and we were on the road back to Canada. That I-5 seemed even longer on the way back, even after stopping for lunch at NW Sausage & Deli – don’t ask. I even got to drive a manual car again for the first time in over a year – poor Ali probably thought she was going to die a passenger in her own car. Not only was I a little rusty on the gears, but using the gear stick with my right hand took a bit of getting used to. Still, we made it back alive.

So that was Portland! Lots of eating and drinking, lots of bumbling around on bikes, lots of converting prices back to Canadian dollars – the exchange rate is terrible right now, which is strange, given the whole Trump debacle. Oregon does have the bonus of not having a sales tax though, so finally I was able to pay the shelf price for things again – it’s the little things.

Rain, rain, go away

So, again I should apologise for not keeping my blog up to date – I’m nothing if consistent at being consistently bad at updating it.

I can’t exactly say I’ve been full of the joys of Spring since my last post – after the ridiculously cold winter here, we were treated to an insanely wet March, and only this week has it been warm enough for me to stop wearing my down filled coat. This has also made me very jealous of all the gloriously sunny weather back in the UK over the past few weeks…hopefully the tables will turn soon.

Anyway, some highlights from the last few weeks for you…

Because of the aforementioned rain and large amounts of (very wet) snow in the mountains, activities have been somewhat limited, but I braved the rain with my friend Ali a few weeks back for a repeat of the Quarry Rock hike out at Deep Cove. I got to try the famous Honey’s doughnuts this time too, which definitely lived up to the hype. Highlight of that hike was seeing people hiking with umbrellas.

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This is a colour photo, I promise

I also recently got to experience my first taste of North American football (by this I mean soccer, or just football to us), which was just a little different; the crowds are a lot less rowdy, there is a lot more emphasis on eating whilst watching the game, and once the Whitecaps scored more than 3 goals, everyone in the crowd was told they could take their ticket stub to a local hairdressers for a free haircut, and to a smoothie place for a free drink… The Whitecaps were playing LA Galaxy (quite sad that David Beckham doesn’t play for them anymore, Ashley Cole does though – this lead to some extensive UK celebrity googling when I got home about Cheryl Cole, or just ‘Cheryl’ as she apparently now wants to be known?! And as if she’s had a baby with someone from One Direction?! Sorry, this is quite a tangent) and every time someone scored a goal, the crowd would chant the players name three times, but shouting the last name really loudly, and then chant ‘Thank you – YOU’RE WELCOME!’ at the end. SO Canadian.

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Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy at BC Place 

At the end of March, two people who had become really good friends here left Vancouver to move to their (sort of) native Toronto. It was a bit weird saying goodbye to people already, but a trip east is surely on the cards at some point.

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Mike & Alison will really thank me for this one, I’m sure

Trying to keep up with the crazy levels of running here has also started to take it’s toll a bit, and my poor 32 year old body has started objecting somewhat, so while I don’t have race plans on the horizon, I’m trying to take it a bit easier on the mileage and get reacquainted with the foam roller. Warning to anyone who runs: DO NOT neglect your foam rolling. I promise doing it regularly and consistently is a far better option than screaming into your fist whilst foam rolling for the first time in year.

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Trail running fun

Easter was a weird one here – only Good Friday is considered a Bank Holiday, so I had that day off but had to work the rest of the weekend, and you only get Monday off if you work in a Government type job. I did manage an Easter Sunday roast dinner though, which included Yorkshire puddings made with wholewheat bread flour in a mini muffin pan – surprisingly successful. I also attempted my first ever gravy from scratch, which also wasn’t terrible.

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Easter eggs on snowy trees on a Good Friday hike

While I don’t have enough new content for a full Canadianisms post, my latest discovery about this maple syrup loving nation is that they seem desperately terrified of their groceries touching anyone else’s on the supermarket conveyor belt. Seriously, if there aren’t any dividers available and I start to put my shopping down behind theirs, they give me a petrified glare – do they think I’m going to expect them to pay for my shopping? And when I’m the one in front, as soon as I put that divider at the end of my shopping, they will invariably give me a gracious ‘thank you’ before quickly unloading their shopping onto the sacred space.

Well, this is all quite dull isn’t it?! I think I was going to write a post about snowboarding at some point, so maybe I’ll line that one up for my next one. And I have a trip to Portland planned for May, so that’ll give me something a bit more interesting to write about.

In the meantime, don’t forget that my sofa bed is available for guests – it doesn’t rain here ALL the time…

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A rare sunny day 

Since my last blog…

Not that I haven’t done anything recently, but nothing seems exciting enough to warrant its own blog post – there’s only so much I can write about the new mattress I bought this week. So, here’s a little summary of things I’ve been up to since January.

A sunrise hike (of sorts)

The idea was to hike Hollyburn peak at sunrise, but our plans were thwarted when we arrived at the base of Cypress Mountain (where we needed to go to get to Hollyburn) to find the road blocked and a very grumpy man who was strictly enforcing the road closure that was in place until 7am. As soon as the clocked ticked over we up there at break-neck speed, and while we missed actual sunrise, we were still able to catch some amazing views on our (very steep) hike up to the top.

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Jamaica – yeah man 

 

I spent an amazing week with my family in Jamaica, celebrating mum’s 60th birthday. Highlights included:

  • Spending most of the week horizontal with a book in my hand
  • Drinking more margaritas than I can remember
  • Dad getting a bowl of cheese at the breakfast buffet, thinking it was exotic fruit
  • Climbing Dunns River Falls (although not so great was battling HUGE crowds, and being made to hold hands with a random man from Manchester)
  • A general feeling of being warm all week and being able to wear flip flops
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A blurry family selfie
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Dunns River Falls 

Also, this was the first time I’d been on a plane since arriving in Canada – 9 MONTHS AGO. I think that must be some kind of record. I also couldn’t tell you the last time I went on a train – how times have changed.

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Caribbean seas and skies

Whistler Days

Because apparently I’d had enough of being warm, I spent a day snowboarding up in Whistler, and while the snow was a bit icy for my liking, the views were amazing. Of course they’ve now had almost a metre of snow in the last week, such is my luck. I did finally get to go on the Peak2Peak gondola though – it’s was closed the previous 4 times I’ve been to Whistler, so I was glad to tick that one off the list. I won’t lie, it was a bit sketchy being attached to what looks like a piece of string whilst hundreds of metres from the ground, half way between two mountains.

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Peak2Peak

 

Birthday fun

I turned 32! The celebrations kicked off the night before my birthday with savoury waffles and a trip to an Irish bar with my friend Chloe. Things escalated when she told the barman that it was my birthday and he bought us shots of Jamesons. Ugh. I’d been drinking red wine, so that made for a nice fuzzy head the next morning when I got up at a reasonably early hour to go for a run (what else?!). My lovely friends made me wear a birthday sash to run in, and despite my less than ideal state, we enjoyed a little loop of the seawall. Bacon for breakfast and I was back on track. We pounded some burgers for dinner, topping off an excellent start to my 32nd year (or 33rd? this always confuses me).

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My face is a treat as always (photo credit: Devon)

More snow

Seriously, this is most unlike Vancouver. Luckily it hasn’t been as debilitating for the city this time around, but the last dump in February cost me four delayed flights on my way to/from Jamaica, and it’s now lead to two cancelled running races. It does mean that the snow on the local mountains (and Whistler) is still amazing, but I am quite looking forward to not having to wear a down coat every day at some point in the not too distant future.

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Snowy trails in Capilano Canyon in March

 

Engagements

Two of my lovely friends here, Megan and Allan, got engaged last week in front of a group of us after a run. It was lovely and I cried like a baby – congratulations again guys!

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A blurry screenshot from the moment it happened!

Life lessons with Ali

My lovely friend Ali is helping me work through all those life skills I’ve never quite mastered. Lesson one: french plaiting (braiding) my own hair – important stuff.

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First attempt – not too shabby