Capturing Olympic Glory? Vancouver & Whistler – Days 58-60

Children inside the Olympic Rings at Whistler

A decade ago I was fortunate enough to attend the Winter Olympics that were held in Canada (not the Calgary ones, I’m not that old). I believe that at that time, my brother and I got to see Vancouver and Whistler at their absolute best. We rode the newly built Sky Train, meandered aimlessly through the streets of Vancouver and bused our way up to Whistler on the expanded Sea-to-Sky highway. As for the events, we were very fortunate as we saw Canada win their first medal of the games and also got to watch the men’s hockey team score eight goals in their opener. The sporting memories are some of the most vivid of my life and we still laugh about how lucky we were to secure tickets. Over time these memories have overshadowed some of the hiccups (like the bus lineups, the rain, and the protestors). I was looking forward to reliving some Olympic glory. But alas, where Paige got fortunate with Saltspring living up to her memories, the same could not be said about Vancouver and Whistler.

Don’t get me wrong, the setting is still beautiful and they both still had some great moments. Once again we were fortunate with the weather as it was sunny with temperatures near 25 degrees. In Vancouver, we stayed at the gorgeous campus of Simon Fraser University with the idea of taking public transit into the core. We did not realize that the R5 rapid bus from the University runs right down Hastings street and the Lower East Side. Areas of Hastings street are in “rough” shape with tents lining the streets for many blocks in a row (Read about it here). We were caught off guard on the bus and our kids had a lot of tough questions for us.

That evening, we decided to eat at the Vancouver outpost of Tacofino (a famous food truck in Tofino where you wait 2 hours for a taco). We were happy to find a location in Gastown without the huge lines. We had a super-friendly waiter who brought the kids some really cool colouring mats that turned into a Tacofino truck. But just when the meal came, a couple of people wandered into the adjacent laneway (and by adjacent I mean 4 feet from where we were seated) and injected themselves. We quickly ate the meal and left. Overall the experience left us saddened.

We still did the standard Vancouver tourist stuff and visited the Granville Market, walked the UBC campus and explored the seawall. In retrospect, I am happy that I had never toured these campuses after highschool. I would have ended up going to school in Vancouver and would have had a very different life. At UBC campus, Paige and Julie went to the Museum of Anthropology and came back with a wealth of information about totems. Whenever we now see one, Julie has to take the time to identify all the different elements of the sculpture. “Dad, do you see the bear.” “No! That’s not a raven, it’s a thunderbird!”

Child pointing to Native American carving

As for Whistler, it was packed. I can’t even fathom what the town is like in the winter when you can actually ski. And the prices were ridiculous. The gondola was $90 for us to go to the top. No skiing, just an individual gondola ride. And yet despite the tourist craziness, it still can have its charm. We stumbled upon bike paths that were off limits to allow toad migration! We sat on a bench and watched a ginormous black make its way across the road and onto the golf course. And we camped at a provincial park just up the highway where we pretty much had a waterfall all to ourselves. It wasn’t the Whistler of a decade ago but it was a little bit closer to what I was expecting.

When I started writing this about a week ago, it was a much harsher blog post. I might have mellowed since we were there but I can say we were happy to move on to the next destination.

Where we stayed (5 words or less):

By the numbers:

  • Distance travelled so far: 12,350km
  • Length of time I waited to buy doughnuts in Granville Market: 16 minutes – it was sooo worth the wait
  • Iphone batteries fixed: 1 – after many attempts elsewhere, the apple store solved Paigey’s problem

Ciao for now

Mike

Time to play with other kids – Smonecten – Days 46-51

Family at picnic table in Smonecten

Months ago, Paigey sat online waiting on the clock for summer camp registration to open up in Sidney. This was the week we were to benefit from those efforts. Five days of kids off on their own at summer camp while we got to enjoy all the Victoria area had to offer. It wasn’t just the kids that were excited. I relished the routine of bedtimes, wake-ups and even packed lunches. Paige was excited about the weather and lunches without crayons or kids’ menus.

As it turned out, camp was a mixed bag. The day before, we found out Julie’s class had got cut to a half-day camp due to labour shortages. In the end, it worked out for the best as her organic farming camp took place entirely in a farmer’s field. 3 hours each day in a farmer’s field is probably all she could have handled in the 30-degree heat. Plus, some great memories are from just the three of us going for lunch in the town. And then there was the kids magic show at the local library we would never have stumbled upon if we didn’t have Julie with us in the afternoon. As for the organic farming, each day Julie brought home a new vegetable from the garden. By the end of the week, I had a perfect deconstructed greek salad. She insisted each day on wearing Izzy’s straw hat calling it her “farming hat”.

Child with flower at organic farm Sidney

Isabella’s tennis and basketball camp went off without a hitch. She hadn’t played either before and we were skeptical as to how it would turn out. Indoor tennis was manageable and, since it got quite hot, basketball which took place on pristine outdoor courts got replaced with swimming most days. Since this was BC, it meant the town had another top-notch aquatic centre that the day camps took full advantage of. The waterslide was so intense that it had a height restriction! Izzy was more than happy with her camp (waterslide) experience.

Child poking crab on wharf

While the kids were at camp, Paige and I took care of some necessary “trip” admin. We could finally get a spot at a service centre for the Jeep and brought it in for a check-up. We had been concerned with some noises that fixed themselves but wanted our fears allayed before driving back across the country. With that taken care of, we decided to give the Jeep her first car wash of the trip. The picture makes it looks like I did a good thorough job, but the dirt is so caked onto the vehicle, it was a futile exercise.

A final note about Sidney / Victoria: We had some delicious meals (every restaurant in Sidney seems to be 4+ stars online) but we had to wean ourselves off the restaurants. In the latter half of the week, we opted for some spectacular picnics along the shore instead. Thrifty foods became my new favourite grocery store. Plus each night after our oceanside picnic, the kids would walk the pier and help crab fisherman throw back their undersized catch. We even got to share this culinary experience with Uncle Leif. Spoiler alert, we have a visitor for the next leg!

By the numbers:

  • Visits to the Aquatic Centre: 3
  • Visits to the laundromat: 4 (don’t ask)
  • Iphones fixed: 0 (they did not have the part so we will have to wait for Vancouver)
  • Friends made: 1. Isabella met a girl at our campsite who was riding a bike across BC with her family.

Where we stayed (five words or less):

Wildlife Spotted:

  • Dungeness Crabs
  • Red Rock Crabs
  • Bunnies a plenty

Denman Island (an island just off an island) – Days 44 & 45

Family walking on beach with tide out

One of those places where the journey is better than the destination. That’s Denman Island to me. Paige and I had to fill a couple days before the kids started summer camp near Victoria so we decided on a two-night stay on Denman Island. I didn’t know anything about the place but it had availability and fit into the budget, so we gave it a shot.

Continue reading

Port Alberni – Days 42-43

Two children holding up a tree

It was raining when we broke camp in Tofino. We find it easier to leave a place you love when it is raining (at least emotionally easier). However, packing a wet tent sucks. It causes you to rush and amid the chaos we left behind Isabella’s bike lock. It was the first piece of gear we had “lost” on the trip. If anyone finds it, feel free to use it. The code is 61014.

Continue reading

The Inside Passage – Bring on them Whales – Day 37

Girls on back of ferry boat with mountains

Ferry Departure from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy was scheduled for 07:30. We had to be there for 05:30 (it is kind of like boarding a plane but a boat). We woke up at 04:45. We had the wherewithal to stop at Circle K to load up on snacks and water before lining up at the ferry. The kids were excited as it was their first time on a ferry and it was an enormous boat. Julie even cheered as we drove on the ramp to board. As soon as the car was put in park, they wanted to jump out of the car and explore the ferry. And that’s what they did for the first hour. Unfortunately, there were 15 more hours to go.

Continue reading

Drive to the Ferry – Days 32-36

Totem Poles erected in a field

So with Kluane in our rearview mirror, we could begin to get excited about the next “WOW” destination of the trip, Vancouver Island. There was only one problem, we were nowhere near Vancouver Island!

First, we needed to backtrack 400km across the Yukon, then we would take a highway down the middle of B.C. and then we would cut back to the coast to the port city of Prince Rupert. It was going to be easy. The little lines on the map connected the cities, we just had to drive the road. The reality is far different. Firstly, not all highways are treated equally. Secondly, this was the first section where we really didn’t have accommodations booked. Thirdly, we were coming off the high of having stayed in one place (the Yukon) for 6 full days. And finally, we had to say goodbye to our Nan who was heading home after a short visit. As they might say on the amazing race, this was a tough leg.

Continue reading

Bring on the Yukon – Watson Lake – Day 25

Woman posing at Yukon Border Sign

This was the leg that had us worried. It was just under 900km, all of it on the Alaskan Highway. There were huge gaps between stops. How would the kids handle that amount of time in the back of the car? How would we handle it? What was the highway going to be like? All these thoughts were in the back of our minds as we departed Fort St. John early in the morning. The morning walk had to be postponed to hit our 6:30 departure. Anyway, all the worry was for naught. This leg would turn out to be my favourite of the trip and the kids loved it.

The drive was like a northern version of African Lion Safari. We will just dive into the wildlife update as it is longer than normal.

Animals Seen:

Moose feeding in marsh
  • 3 Moose – Paige goes her whole life without seeing moose then sees one in Thunder Bay.  And today we stumble across moose three additional times.  And these aren’t far off in the forest viewings.  We stopped the car for five minutes and watched one feed in a marsh, completely ignoring us.
  • 1 Coyote – It was just running down the ditch beside the highway
  • 1 Wolf – flatter face than the coyote and much larger
  • 20+ Bison – There was an electronic highway sign telling us there were bison on the highway 150+ km further down the road. We rolled our eyes. What were the chances that the update would be even remotely accurate? But a couple of hours later, we see one bison, then ten minutes later two more, and then 15 minutes later an entire herd. 
  • 1 Grouse – It seemed to be playing chicken with the traffic – it survived but not sure for how long
  • 4 Mountain Sheep – crossing the road and Paige had to stop to let them go by
  • 1 Grizzly Bear – The previous day we saw a black bear, today it was time for our first grizzly.  The kids could see it out the window as it grazed up a hill on the side of the road.   It was eating berries and paid us no attention. Isabella suggested it was a brown black bear. But we could see the hump, meaning grizzly.
Continue reading

Time for the Big Drives – Fort St John – Day 24

Giant Beaver Roadside Attraction with Family

This was a long day for us. Before departing Edmonton the kids needed to go visit Elk Island National Park with their Nan. It was funny as we had been to that park four years ago so we knew where to look for the bison. Yep, you go to Elk Island to see bison and not elk. Also, there is no island. Regardless it is a great park and the wildlife is easy to spot from the highway. We had brought the bikes to the park too for the kids to hone their skills. Fortunately, they did not crash into any buffalo. We spent a couple hours at the park and then really needed to be on our way as we had a 7+ hour drive ahead of us. The kids said goodbye to their nan (who had planned to meet up with us in the Yukon in a few days) and off we went.

For lunch, we took the kids to Wendy’s for their first “chain” fast-food of the trip. They got happy meals and for some reason, we substituted their drinks for Frostys. Paige then bought us a medium Frosty to share. Needless to say, I ended up eating half a medium frosty and 3/4 of a kid’s frosty twice. If my math is done correctly, that is enough calories to run a marathon.

Continue reading

Family Time in Edmonton – Days 21-23

The kids said goodbye to the yellow fields of the prairies as our next destination was Alberta. Our plan was to spend three days with Paige’s extended family in St. Albert (located just outside of Edmonton). Isabella and Julie were looking forward to meeting their cousins for the first time. Paige and I were looking forward to having a kitchen, adults to talk to and some space.

The drive from Lloydminster is a mere three-hour drive on paper. But why do a trip in three hours when you can stretch it into six? We were then lured to the town of Vegreville with a giant Pysanka (easter egg) you could see from the highway. We hopped into the FREE paddle-boats at the tourist information and got a 360-degree view of the egg. And then we had our best roadside meal of the trip at some taco place in the town (Loco Burro). Great marks for Vegreville all around! What a pleasant stop. However, the kids were beginning to piece together that the promised three-hour drive seemed longer. Julie is on the verge of being able to tell time.

Continue reading

Ice Cream, Kayaks and Bears – Riding Mountain National Park – Days 16 & 17

Children in Kayak

After a week of Summer Camp in the city with the girls, we were ready to get back on the road. Our destination was Riding Mountain National Park and arrived in the early evening. Daylight lasts so much longer here, we had plenty of time to set up our site and check out the town of Wasagaming which is actually located within the park boundaries. We were blown away as you could walk to the town from our campsite (about 1km away). And the town itself felt like a mini beach town from home. It was busy yet it didn’t feel overwhelmed like the beach towns back in Ontario. There was a “street” of commercial establishments, a pier, a nice beach and many quaint cottages throughout the town. There were no fences, no garish multi-level dwellings and no garbage anywhere. I guess there must be some sort of park bylaws limiting the type of dwelling that can be built. And there were ice cream parlours!

Continue reading