So off we went to Nelson BC to start a new adventure. We spent the first night camped out at Cottonwood Lake since we hadn't been very good at keeping in touch with the farms or couchsurfer hosts that we had contacted prior to arriving - normally they like to have a few days notice but our plans changed too often to stick to one. It was nice though, a peaceful little lake with some picnic tables. There were a few groups of people enjoying the sunny day who were all very interested in chatting with us. The next day we found a place with internet and noticed that we got a response from someone who could host us that night in her spare bedroom. We were so happy to meet Gabrielle who cooked us up a delicious dinner and told us about the many hiking trails around Nelson. We were expecting to stay for only a day or two before heading out to Chuckleberry Farm to volunteer for a week or two before my yoga course started, but in the morning Gabrielle informed us that there was a family emergency and she had to take off for a few days. Unfortunate news, but we were very happy to stick around and look after her beautiful little place while she was away.
Before Gabrielle left she put us in contact with her daughter, Vida, and a friend who couch sat with her a year earlier, Peter, who is also a mechanical engineer and now lives in Nelson. After meeting Peter a few times Peter mentioned that he had just bought a house and would be moving in soon. He hinted that it had two extra bedrooms and we took the bait, agreeing that after our time at Chuckleberry Farm we would stay in Nelson with him during the yoga course. It was so funny because we had been getting a little worried that we hadn't planned enough for this trip but suddenly, things were falling into place. Gabrielle's neighbours even invited us over for a very lovely potlach Thanksgiving dinner. Nelson was slowly but surely taking us in.
Since being back in Canada our adventures have not ended. Admittedly, we haven't been taking as many photos or writing as many blog posts, but there are still a few things we want to share. It has been amazing to spend so much time with family while we continue to explore new corners of the world - the ones right next door from home.
After our Yukon time we bought a Nissan Cube (long story) and drove down to Vancouver to meet up with Kim, Nate and Harrison! The drive down was quiet and lovely. We stopped at the Liard Hot Springs for a night to soak up the volcanic waters. The fall colours were intense and we were lucky enough to spot a moose in the swamp beside the board walk to the hot spring. Please enjoy a few photos from the rest of our drive.
The Drive from Whitehorse to Vancouver
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After experiencing so many beautiful and colourful birds in Costa Rica, Mandrew got a bit obsessed with his feathered friends. Here's a collection of his favourite bird photos from our wanderings around the Americas. Enjoy!
To check out the album in Flickr, click here.
The highlight of my summer was definitely our incredible two week canoe trip down the Teslin and Yukon Rivers. Unlike last year’s trip, this time Chelsea and I had some company – both our dads (Doug and Jim) came along for the ride, and Chelsea’s brother Shawn & his friend Sarah joined us for the second half. As much as we enjoy each other’s company, it was a nice change to have some other people around to mix things up (and allow more options for the evening card games!). One of the best parts for me was being able to share such an awesome trip with my dad, who’s the main reason I’m into all this outdoorsy nature stuff to begin with. Thanks everyone for helping pack the trip with so many unforgettable moments! =)
Since it’s taken me such a long time to put together this post (I’ve been busy, get off my back!), I’ll skip the nitty gritty details and stick to some of the more memorable moments. If you’re interested in the practical details on the trip, I stuck those at the end. So, with no further doo-doo, I present to you "Stories from the River". Enjoy!
Who needs bear spray when you’ve got Mandrew Musk™?
One morning before we’d all gotten up, Doug was lying awake in his tent when he heard something moving around beside him. He peeked out and saw a black bear sniffing about. Not wanting to alarm anyone (or the bear) he quietly watched as it made its way around our camp and over to our tent. Just as it reached us I happened to rip out a nice loud fart, startling the bear and causing it to flee for its life. Yup, I've got skills.
"Six days, 228 miles, a close grizzly encounter, way too much sun, an incredible thunderstorm, and a constant feeling of awe - this was a trip we'll both remember for a lifetime."
Having grown up in the Territories, there are things that I'd accepted as "normal" all my life and would never have given a second thought to, until I met the world.
When I moved to Toronto to attend university in 2003, the first time I was really able to step out of my own comfort zone and immerse myself in a new environment, I began to learn many new things. And I found out that most of the things I had previously experienced on a regular basis while living in the north, were considered "once in a lifetime events" or things that may never happen to most people. In fact, most people I met in Toronto had never even considered any of my experiences to be a possibility.
Things like; having to watch out for grizzly bears (literally like a dozen one time) while walking around the neighbourhood on the way home from school, or having to fend off bears by yelling and waving your arms while hiking or canoeing, pulling a frozen icicle from your tongue and having a pack of wolves follow you home in the winter because of the blood trail, being snowed in for several days during a blizzard and having people come and dig you out, singing and whistling to the northern lights and having them surround and shoot down at you (which was very terrifying I have to admit), spending time out fishing on a lake in the summer and not knowing whether it is 2:00am or 2:00pm, catching a 20lb Arctic Char and having groups of children begging you for the guts and fish eyes because they taste like candy, having a special room in your house for canned and dried food that could last 2 years just in case the grocery barge couldn't make it during the only 2-3 week window in the summer that it could dock, hopping on floating ice chunks in the ocean during break-up and laughing when someone falls in, never really having to "meet" anyone because you already know pretty much everyone in town, spending nights partying by bon fires in the bush with all your friends.
The experiences were one thing, and the opportunities were even more impressive. Opportunities like; being able to play competitive sports and travel to national events and tournaments, spending 2 semesters of high school on field trips around the Yukon and BC to learn astronomy, biology, forestry and more first hand rather than through text books, learning how to live off the land as part of the regular elementary school curriculum, filling your freezer with hunted meat and fish, and picking berries and mushrooms in the summer and knowing first hand where all of your food comes from. All of this let alone the scholarships and bursaries offered to students attending university programs in the provinces.
But rather than continuing to outline many examples of this (and believe me I have many more) and you taking my word for it, I have gathered a few news headlines, from here in Whitehorse, that I think will help colour the picture for you. These are headlines from just the past month and a half while we have been up here.
Of all the crazy things that Andrew and I can continue to be amused at, it is the differences in the ways we've grown up that keep us surprised by each other. We view the world through very separate lenses and enjoy hearing our stories from our different perspectives.
What are some other crazy news headlines from around the world? We would love to hear 'em!
We spent the last few days revisiting Haines, Alaska to enjoy the pink salmon run. The obvious goal was to catch some salmon, although fishing in Haines comes with the added bonus of breathtaking scenery and the incredible spectacle that the salmon run attracts (eagles, seals, grizzly bears, fisherman and, of course, tourists).
The life of a salmon is a pretty intriguing thing. Pink salmon hatch during the winter and soon after make their way to the ocean where they spend 18 months feeding on plankton, small fish, crustaceans & squid. Once they've eaten their last meal, they make the epic journey back upriver, drop off their eggs & sperm, and then ... die.
For whatever reason, pink salmon are shiny and silver-coloured while living in the ocean, but once they start their sex death journey they turn pink and the males develop a large hump on their back and a hooked upper jaw. Seriously, I'm not making this up.
What I find really interesting is the way the salmon affect their environment. By feeding like crazy in the ocean and then dying in their freshwater spawning grounds, the fish transport an incredible amount of nutrients upriver. This is extremely important to the surrounding wildlife (bears, eagles, etc.) as well as the plant life that grows along the river. Cue the Lion King's "Circle of Life" - naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, sequenyaaaaaaaaaa, mamameeeeeecheeewawaaaaa....
The fishing itself is quite different from any other fishing I'd experienced. Because they're no longer interested in eating once they've begun their journey back upriver (one track mind?), it's pretty tough to convince them to bite your lure. You can either use a lure that resembles roe (fish eggs) drifting along the bottom of the river in the hope that an altruistic salmon will take it in its mouth and try to secure it to the riverbed, or you can cast & reel with a shiny lure in an attempt to annoy a fish into biting it. We went with the latter strategy and had decent luck, though we still caught many more fish "by accident" rather than by enticing them to bite. It's pretty crazy to think that there are so many fish in the river that you can't avoid hooking into their bodies (like shooting fish in a barrel!), and unfortunately the rules force you to release any fish caught by "snagging". Being the honest folk we are, this meant we kept only four fish but released over a dozen others.
Besides the fishermen, there are also plenty of other creatures around taking advantage of the salmon run. One evening there were eight grizzly bears feasting on salmon along the 1.5 km stretch of road that follows the Chilkoot River river connecting the Gulf of Alaska to the Chilkoot Lake. Because they're well-fed and fairly used to people (tourists are brought in by the bus load on wildlife tours), though, there's little danger as long as you don't succumb to the temptation to go in for a hug. In fact, at one point we calmly watched from within 30 feet as a large female made its evening trek along shore and then back uphill through the campground (where we spent our nights in our little tent, a feat the locals refer to as making "bear tacos").
As ridiculous as this all sounds, it's completely safe (especially if you're not the slowest runner in the group). All joking aside, there really is very little to worry about, and any doubts are quickly dispelled by the ever-present Parks & Wildlife staff as they patrol the river and keep an eye on the bears (and the tourists). At no point did we see a bear without first being notified that there was one approaching and that we could keep on fishing; they'd come warn us again before it got too close. In our few days there we got to know some of the staff and a couple of the bears. The one with Chelsea in the photo above was well known - this was her 28th year fishing on the river - and her daily trek down the river and through the campground was like clockwork.
When we weren't fishing or bear watching, we were looking out for bald eagles and trying to catch a video of one swooping down from the treetops to snatch up a salmon. I'm not sure we got much usable footage here, though we did get a great video of an eagle pooping (which is even better in my opinion).
During high tide there were also a number of seals that would make their way in from the nearby saltwater to feast. In fact, we found that the best time to fish was just as the tide reached its high point, since by then the seals had chased a fresh batch of salmon upriver for us to try and annoy.
Although this was my third trip to Haines (and Chelsea's umpteenth) I'd definitely come back if I get another opportunity - it's just too damn magical.
To open the slideshow in another window, click here.
Six days, 228 miles, a close grizzly encounter, way too much sun, an incredible thunderstorm, and a constant feeling of awe - this was a trip we'll both remember for a lifetime.
There are few experiences more humbling than being alone on the river, floating through such a vast and beautiful wilderness. With the current constantly pulling you along, it's all you can do to eagerly peer around each bend and discover what surprises are in store: breathtaking rock formations, charred remains of forests, sand & gravel islands, looming storm clouds, and plethora of wildlife. This was the kind of trip that reminds you that you're just another one of nature's creatures.
The paddling itself was quite non-technical and effortless; with the current flowing at about 7 or 8 km/h you can cover ground just relaxing and letting the river do the work. Much of the actual work we did was to investigate some of the smaller side-streams and islands along the way, or to avoid being drawn into areas that were too shallow or full of fallen trees. There were only a handful of small rapids, most of which we worked hard to get to just for a little excitement.
We'd both recommend the trip to anyone who's had any wilderness camping experience. If you're well equipped for camping, you should have no trouble gaining your canoeing experience on the river.
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Daily Trip Log
We started our trip at Tatchun creek, a couple hour drive from Whitehorse (thanks to Chelsea’s mom for the ride!). This put us just downstream of the Five Finger Rapids which we were too scared to attempt right off the bat. In retrospect, we totally could have handled them – we may go back just to prove it to ourselves. As we loaded the canoe and tied down our gear, a First Nations woman hanging salmon nearby warned us that there was a bear very close by. Needless to say, we didn’t dawdle long for our goodbyes.
The first day of padding was quite casual. As we got used to steering through the big eddies and quick current, we spotted a moose on shore and floated quite close before it got spooked and took off. Later in the day, just before Minto, we spotted a large black bear on shore who didn’t pay us any mind, reminding us that we should take care at camp to avoid any encounters: cook, eat, and store (in airtight containers or drybags) all food, dishes, and anything else with any kind of scent, including clothing worn when cooking or eating, a good distance away from where you sleep and where you store your canoe. Despite this reminder, our dinner of rice and bean burritos proved impossible to contain, forcing us to move from our initial island camping spot just across from the Minto airstrip. That spot was a bit too cozy anyway and we had no option to move our tent more than 5 or 10 feet from where we were eating. Lesson one: burritos are a bad meal choice in bear country. We covered 37 miles, as the river flows, putting us just past Minto.
We ended up spending the night instead at a spot marked “Thom’s Location” on the map, with a nice camping area and a usable cabin. Because there was fresh bear scat nearby, bear claw marks on the trees, and wolves howling in the distance as we were stoking our camp fire, we decided to sleep inside the cabin, with the door tightly tied shut. And because Chelsea was afraid of spiders, we pitched the tent inside the cabin. This was a restless night for me, with hours spent listening to the scampering of rodents throughout the cabin. I guess we shouldn’t expect to be the only ones taking advantage of such a cozy cabin – the tent was a good idea after all.
Another day of beautiful weather and wildlife spotting (mountain sheep, beavers, bald eagles, ducks and other birds). We stopped for a long break at Fort Selkirk (a historic trading post of the Hudson’s Bay Company) to have some lunch and explore some of the old buildings and artefacts. After an easy day of padding, covering about 26 miles, we stopped at a large sandy island with a beautiful beach. Lesson two: when you’re on a remote beach, it’s impossible to resist getting naked and playing frisbee.
Our third day was definitely the most exciting. We awoke in sunshine to rolling thunder from a distant storm which we watched for a few hours as it slowly closed in around us. Before the dark clouds and lightning got too close, we took shelter on shore below some cliffs and nervously watched the show. With cliffs on one shore and hills on the other, the thunder echoed and rolled on for minutes at a time. We managed to duck under a tarp just as the sky opened up dumping rain and hail on us.
Later that day once the rain had dried up, we started to wander from the main drag and explore more of the side streams and island channels in the hopes of finding a good fishing spot and spotting some more wildlife. This brought us to Seventeen Mile creek, where after tying the boat to a fallen tree in a channel no more than fifteen feet wide, Chelsea was caught mid-pee (literally with her pants down) when a grizzly bear poked its head over some shrubs on the opposite shore about 10ft away. I managed to alert Chelsea by shouting “Bear! Bear! Grizzly!” allowing her to demonstrate her ability to multi-task under pressure by quickly pulling her pants up, getting back into the canoe and untying the rope, all the while blowing her whistle, waving her arms, and assertively chanting “Hey! Hey! Get outta here!”. Although we couldn’t see it, we could hear movement in the bushes beside the bear, probably from a cub (eeks!). Luckily, after contemplating coming in for a closer look (perhaps to eat us), the bear slowly turned and went back into the bush. Lesson three: before stopping close to shore, make a ton of noise!
Despite the earlier scare, we found a great fishing spot on shore at the mouth of Selwyn creek and managed to catch a couple grayling for the evening meal. After covering about 41 miles, we set up camp on another sandy island and finished the day.
Days 4 & 5
The fourth and fifth days offered an unexpected challenge: intense sunlight. With the long, northern summers (over twenty hours of sunlight) the sun can really take a toll. We had run out of sunscreen early on the fourth day so we were forced to hide under clothing instead (at one point I wore a pair of shorts over my head to keep my ears from burning).
Despite the heat, there was a good variety of wildlife along the river. I’m not sure how, but Chelsea managed to spot a lynx in some bushes on shore (I didn’t see it until we had paddled to within 15 feet of it). We also spotted a wolf about a hundred feet downriver, though it didn’t hang out to give us a better look.
After passing White River the water became even thicker with silt, making it tough(er) to filter directly from the river. Luckily there were the odd creek with cleaner water to use. You could actually hear a “hiss” from the silt as the canoe moved through the water, pretty wild.
Day four was a long one (we covered 51 miles) – we decided to pick up the pace and try and arrive in Dawson a day earlier (the sun had amplified our thirst for a cold beer). The sun had finally taken its toll midway through day five, so after 37 miles we stumbled onto an island, set up a tarp for shade and had a long, cool nap. Lesson four: spray-on sunscreen works fine, but only holds about a dozen applications - useless for a long trip. Bring lotion!
On our last morning on the river we awoke to smoke in the air and a haze in the distance ahead of us. With a summer as hot as this, its common knowledge that there’s a risk of forest fires, but what would we do if we found ourselves padding into one? We decided to press on and re-evaluate if the smoke got much thicker. Luckily, after a few hours it cleared and we were able to continue on. Later that day, as we neared Dawson City, we could see a large plume of smoke in the distance on the left shore – the fire was still there, but the wind had shifted.
After covering the final 36 miles, we arrived in Dawson City. Although it was nice to be done and enjoying some patio beers, we both admitted to each other we wished we had just a couple more days…
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Assuming we can get all our ducks in a row today, tomorrow we take off down the Yukon River to head to Dawson City, the heart of the 1898 Klondike gold rush. We'll be putting in just past Carmacks, giving us about 6 or 7 days on the river depending on how energetic we feel.
After the first couple days we'll be deep in the wilderness, so we've got to make sure we've got all the necessary safety & emergency gear. We need to be prepared for bear or moose encounters, wind, rain, sun, forest fires, bloodthirsty mozzies, and tons of angry beavers.
Mandrew's looking forward most to burying his poopie in the dirt and wiping his ass with fresh river water. Chelsea's excited to sing as loud as she can without anyone hearing (including Mandrew, since marriage has quickly trained his selective hearing).
Wish us luck!
With Andrew's parents visiting we couldn't resist a little Alaska visit. We drove from Whitehorse to Haines on Monday - suuuuuuch a cool 5 hour drive! Lots of awesome scenery, we saw a black bear and her two cubs eating dandelions by the side of the highway, drove over the mountain summit, all of it in perfect sunshine. Spent a few days in Haines checking out the Chilkoot river where the Sockeye salmon were running. Sadly, the Sockeye run is very low this year and fishing in the river was shut down. Good to see the fisheries managing the run though. The Grizzly's were hungry and must have found a better place to eat, but we did see one big mama Griz and her cub which was ADORABLE AND A HALF!
We also did a very quick one day jaunt up to Juneau on the Fjord Expedition boat where we saw sea lions, seals, porpoises, hump back whales and eagles. We also stopped at the Mendenhall Glacier where we did a small hike. The next day we took the Malispina ferry to Skagway with the car. We had sun and hot weather the entire time, which is very rare in Southern Alaska. We got a little cloud in the sky on Friday when we drove back to Whitehorse. The drive from Skagway to Whitehorse is the most amazing drive in the world! So glad the Marston's got to do it, and get a small taste of Alaska. Jim said he was very surprised by how lush and hot it was.
Hope you enjoy our pictures! I know we took a lot, but we figured that since we always get questions about what it's like, we figured we would go all out for ya's!
To open the photos in a new window click here.