Time Well Wasted Out in the Snow

Stomping around in almost knee-high snow after the snowstorm

So over the past two days, we’ve experienced a little more snow than we’re accustomed to in Toronto.  We’re not the only ones who got hit but of course but it’s quite amazing how people in a rush to do their day to day tasks forget how amazing it is to have snow in our presence in the first place.  Then there are the folks who enjoy their time laughing or cracking jokes at Toronto (although I really don’t know if they’d enjoy the snow anymore than the average Torontonian).

Either way, I am an avid fan of snow and I only wish Toronto received more.  Nonetheless, I decided to stroll (stomp) around the neighbourhood and see how the public spaces were fairing.  Most sidewalks that weren’t associated to a private property or a public facility weren’t cleared leading most residents to walk on the street.

One can find it quite refreshing to see blankets of white across all the houses, trees, and fields.  In fact, snow-covered trees is one of the few favourite elements of winter that come to mind consistently.  Curiously, no one’s playing in this park?  Still shoveling themselves out of the driveway?

Snow-covered parkette

I’m always eager to see what the trees and the forest looks like after a good snowfall.  There aren’t really any forests per se in the neighbourhood but I knew of some public spaces with a fair number of evergreen trees so I did some more stomping and leaping in and over the snow.  Didn’t bother with the snow pants — I was only in jeans (I know, any outdoors person knows jeans are typically bad but I was feeling lazy). At least there were some fresh tracks made by others.

Fresh tracks in the snow

Given it was already early afternoon, I wasn’t expecting much but I was pleasantly surprised with a fair number of snow-covered trees.

A few snow-covered trees

Many of which were covered with icicles which was a very rare treat in Toronto!

icicles on the tree

I’m always fascinated around the use of public spaces (although I’m not necessarily one to always use them) so I went over to the community centre nearby and was happy to see people out and about enjoying a game of hockey or throwing themselves into the toboggan!

hockey and public space

I attempted to walk and leap through the deep snow only to nearly get stuck in waist-high snow — I really should have brought snowshoes but either way, it was a nice distraction and break from all the work work and school work. We may not all like the snow and the cold, but I think there’s something to be enjoyed and cherished in the brisk cold air and snow-covered landscapes (urban or nature).

trees on top of a hill

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Step One: Towards Minimalism and Travelling Light

Over the past couple of months my friends and I have begun discussing plans for a trip to Peru and one of the biggest challenges is the agreeing on “how” to travel.  It’s probably one of the most peculiar debates to have come up but everyone has their own preferences around how they would like to travel.
For instance, some friends would prefer to avoid tourist traps entirely while others want to see the major attractions.  There are friends who want to travel and explore without depending on guides while others are not comfortable without having a guide in an unknown territory.

My take?  It’s really all about how much time you have.  If you have the time to spare, I completely encourage everyone to explore without the use of guides, but at an age where many of us are tied to vacation time for work, guides provide a service that really helps to optimize the travel opportunity.  I think there are benefits to all types of travel but there is a scenario that suits each “style” of travel.

Generally speaking, I’ve found myself shifting towards travelling lighter and lighter.  Ever since I started to camp in the backcountry, one of the major challenges I’ve confronted is the amount of “stuff” that I have to bring.  There’s all the camping gear, and then if you’re an avid photographer, there’s even more camera gear than camping gear!

I may enjoy photography, but it’s hard to enjoy yourself in the nature when you’re lugging around more than your own weight (I exaggerate).  So as I began to contemplate why I travel and why I hike or backpack, I decided to try and let go of all the things that I typically think I need in order to be prepared.

So as I plan towards Peru 2013.  One of my first steps has now been to sell off all my camera equipment.  It’s a bit weird this time of year for me as I’ve been trying to get rid of my stuff while everyone else around me has been busy acquiring new things for others or for themselves.

My First Goal:  To simply have one lens and one camera for documenting my travels and adventures.  Will report back soon.

Hiking down Mt. Crawford

The next step will be to sort out how I will pack for Peru and other adventures in the future.

Boston for a Few Days

Fenway Park

I know.  Another long-overdue post.  During early October I had the fortunate opportunity to attend eMetrics in Boston.  Aside from an awesome conference that I won’t go into detail here, I decided to take a few additional days to explore some of Boston and area.  One of the first places that I had on my mind was Fenway Park — just simply because of the history.

One thing I love about Boston is its public transit and the ability for someone to simply wander all over town by foot, stumbling on to used bookstores and very old architecture.  I even made use of AirBnB this time around (which might I add, I highly recommend for Boston because accommodation in the area is very expensive) so I got to hop on the local public transit.  I only wish I had the opportunity to try Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe.  I arrived by foot too late!

Trying to stick to budget was difficult because there simply were too many interesting restaurants so I ended up becoming a regular customer at Laz Cafe in the South End neighbourhood where I was staying for the week.  I think I went there so many times over the period of a week that the folks there thought I was a local resident.  Good people and generally good food and value.  I definitely recommend trying out one of their “roll ups” — I will caution that they are pretty large!

I had the opportunity to just sit back and relax and watch trains of tourists walk through and along the Freedom Trail.  I liked most of it but there were some parts that simply had way too many tourists hovering around.  I guess that’s to be expected.

After the conference, I waited until good weather settled into the Cape Cod area, I hopped into a nearby Zipcar early in the morning (3am to avoid the rush hour traffic) and took off for Provincetown. The drive was extremely peaceful and it felt like I was the only one on the road — that is until I got to the single lane highway leading into Provincetown where I grabbed an early morning tea, a fresh cinnamon bun, and a blueberry muffin … and walked out to the beach.  Everyone must’ve been in the process of waking up because there was barely anyone around.

As I strolled around town, I came across Bubbles.  Bubbles must be well-recognized internationally.

Say hi to Bubbles

One of my favourite moments during this trip was during my stroll through the main street in Provincetown, only to look down an alleyway and see an “Art” sign from a distance.  I have to say it was quite inspiring to walk down an alleyway out to face a beach on one side and an art gallery on the right.

Also for anyone visiting Provincetown, be sure to check out the public library — it’s got quite a view of the town and there’s an actual boat in the library itself.

Art in Cape Cod

I had originally intended on cycling across much of the national seashore but I just didn’t have the time so instead I ate some super fresh fish and chips and then drove out to see this stunning long strip of sand.  It was incredibly hot for a day in October but perhaps perfect given the fact that I was on a beach.  I can really see how there could be a significant number of people during the summer trying to get to the beach.  Wow.

Anyone travelling through the Cape Cod National Seashore should really check out the lighthouses — they are pretty spectacular.

Cape Cod National SeashoreProvincetown

My one day in Provincetown and the Cape Cod area made me yearn for more time to explore that region but with one day left before flying home, I decided to explore Boston and its public transit some more.  This included making a visit to Harvard Square which was enticing initially until the point when I arrived and saw the square packed with people (most of whom were likely students).  After wandering around the area a bit, I decided to hop back on a train back to the core … only to end up having a thorough discussion with some dude about yoga, meditation, and the rationale for meditating.  What a bizarre way to end my visit to the academic area of town.

Charles River

For the remainder of the trip, I simply walked some more around town hitting up used bookstores, and chilling out along the Charles River which was really a beautiful public space of the city to sit back and relax — watching the boats go by.

Boston Downtown

Also got to witness a very talented busker musician in the Quincy Market area.

Also have a clip of his performance too. Listen to the fascinating sounds of the market and him.

Southern Utah and the Green Chili Experience

Earlier this year in mid-May, a couple of friends and I went on a 2 week road trip out to Utah and back to Toronto.  Travelling is always a form of spiritual and philosophical adventure for me.  That said, hiking the Angels Landing trail at Zion National Park and visiting Bryce Canyon National Park were a couple of the main reasons why I wanted to visit southern Utah (as well as to get my hands on some green chili again)

The approximate route

Earlier this year in mid-May, a couple of friends and I went on a 2 week road trip out to Utah and back to Toronto.  Travelling is always a form of spiritual and philosophical adventure for me.  That said, hiking the Angels Landing trail at Zion National Park and visiting Bryce Canyon National Park were a couple of the main reasons why I wanted to visit southern Utah (as well as to get my hands on some green chili again). Some of the most memorable experiences involved hiking the lesser-known areas like Kodachrome Basin State Park.  To make the distance, we drove non-stop for about 48 hours (give or take a few hours) from Toronto to Moab.  The photos below are merely a few highlights of the trip but you may check out the full road trip highlights album as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of this journey was how isolated you feel when you’re in the car for such a long time — particularly during the night.  You see other cars but all you hear is the music or radio, and the sound of your friends snoring as you put your endurance driving skills to the test.

Your true friend at this point is your music collection.

Thankfully it didn’t feel like that long of a drive till we got to Moab and we went straight into Arches National Park for a hike in Devil’s Garden.  Needless to say, May is just the beginning of the high season so there were plenty of tourists milling about making it difficult to take a photograph without someone wandering into frame.

Arches National Park

In contrast, when we ran out of Arches to escape the tourists and head directly to Deadhorse Point State Park, there were very few people.  Now, there were plenty of people taking a look at the view from the visitor center but very few hiked deep into the park.  Despite its name, Deadhorse Point was probably one of my favourite places to hike during this trip.  The only low point to this hike was the fact that I was getting some serious sunburns … and I don’t burn easily!

Deadhorse Point State Park

Sticking to state parks, we then dropped by Kodachrome Basin State Park.  A beautiful little state park with very few visitors, it is definitely a hidden gem. Apparently Kodak (known for the Kodachrome film) had at one point asked the state park to change the name; only to have it changed back when it realized it greatly added to its brand awareness. As much as I appreciate the beauty that the national parks offer, the state parks had provided me with the best experience when taking in the vast and unique landscape that is southern Utah.

Kodachrome Basin State Park

When we finally made it to Bryce Canyon National Park, it struck me how little time people spent truly enjoying this park.  My friends and I watched as hundreds of tour buses would stop and give tourists 15 minutes to walk around and take photos and then have them hop back on to the bus to move on to the next destination.  I was completely bewildered and saddened by this behaviour.  You travel however far across the world to see a natural wonder so awe-inspiring, only to take it in for 15 minutes from a distance and not get to walk into it and touch it.

To be honest, I am glad to rid myself of tourists but their behaviour makes me grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to truly enjoy the area.  Even then, I know I’ll return one day because I have barely scratched the surface.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Right after Bryce Canyon we head straight to Zion National Park.  The funny thing about long road trips and itineraries are that they don’t work very well together.  I’ve found that once I am on the road for a day or two, I start losing track of what day it has been and when I’m supposed to be where for what.  This actually happened — I had thought we were running late for a campsite reservation in Zion when we were actually a day early.  Suffice to say, it made some people a little grumpy but you learn to simply go with the flow when you take a lot of road trips.

Everyone must experience the drive into Zion.  No kidding.  It has to be one of the most beautiful drives I’ve had the opportunity to experience into a national park.  It isn’t really something you can capture on video (unless you are perhaps Google) but even then, there’s nothing quite like experiencing in person.

Below is a shot of the Angels Landing trail in Zion National Park.  This was my goal for the trip.  If I were to do one thing on this road trip, it was to hike Angels Landing.  Consider it a challenge to myself.  Going into the trip, I knew exactly what I was getting into but I had no idea how it would feel in real life.  Unbelievable.

My only concern about this trail is its popularity and just simply how it works (i.e. it is in certain parts only capable of handling single-file traffic.  The trail itself is straightforward but the fact that there is very little room to maneuver is what makes it hazardous if people must get around one another.  There was one instance where one group of hikers I came across were sitting around and taking up room on the path.  Everyone knows they need to move out of the way but how to do that safely, is a different question.

So what’s the lesson?  Don’t go during peak season.  Be warned if you do. 馃檪

Two things you should do after the Angels Landing hike is reward yourself.  First with this t-shirt, and then second with a cold beverage while resting under the large trees in front of Zion Lodge.  For us, we added a third one and that was to reward ourselves with a hearty meal that included traditional green chili.  Anyone who is in the southwestern United States must simply seek it out and try it — it’s pretty much a required component of travelling through this part of the country — in my eyes anyways.

Looking down at the trail back from Angels Landing - Zion National Park

I also highly recommend anyone interested in doing Angels Landing to take a look at the videos that Kolby Kirk (The Hike Guy) had posted from his experience.

Antelope Canyon had made the list of “to dos” for this road trip ever since I was staying at a hostel in San Francisco in late 2011.  The guy kept raving about it and if anyone were to look up photos on Google, they would see plenty of jaw-dropping photographs.  My research had indicated to me that peak season (even in May) would be pretty bad but nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced.

Throw hundreds of people into Upper Antelope Canyon and what you see is a human train moving very slowly through a narrow canyon.  Everyone clamoring to take photographs of beams of light that shine through into the canyon (they occur at a very specific timeframe) is simply impractical.  The poor guides are trying to maintain some sense of order while photographers — amateur and professional — are feeling increasingly frustrated or stressed as a result of their inability to take the photograph they want.  Space is limited and so is time as each tour group must move through the canyon at a certain pace and traffic goes both ways!

There were some instances where I thought there would be a brawl taking place between photographers.  While the professional photographers were definitely irritated (and I can see why), I sympathize with the guides because they have such a tremendous responsibility to maintain order and peace as tourists try to mob one another just to take a photograph like the one below.  I think Antelope Canyon may possibly be the most photographed canyon in the world… do we seriously need more photos?  Go figure.  I have a feeling digital photography may contributed to this dilemma.

My opinion?  Visit at your own risk.  Enjoy the experience, but don’t expect to take amazing shots.  If you want a less crowded experience, visit the Lower Antelope Canyon and it’s less expensive too.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Happily escaping the insanity around Antelope Canyon, we ended up in Monument Valley.  Without a Navajo guide, you are not permitted to access much of the valley so I had arranged for a full day tour with K茅yah H贸zh贸n铆 tours a Navajo guide company that had made quite a good name for itself amongst photographers.  On arrival, I was saddened to find out that the founder whom I had exchanged emails with to arrange the tour had passed away.  The tour still ran nonetheless and we were privy to a beautiful sunrise.  We had to wake up at 3am for this but it was completely worthwhile and I am grateful to those at K茅yah H贸zh贸n铆 who kept things running and allowed us to see some of the beautiful land within Monument Valley.

Monument Valley in the morningMonument Valley

During our tour with K茅yah H贸zh贸n铆, there were a couple of photographers from California and they had pointed out that during one of the most memorable scenes in the movie Forrest Gump somehow solidified itself as part of the landscape.

Forrest Gump's Run ends here

If you make the visit, be sure to search for this reference to Forrest Gump. I did not expect to find this sign but I am thankful to have met the couple from California and the kindness they showed us.

There were so many great and memorable experiences through out this two week journey but I didn’t expect such an awesome Cosmosphere in the middle of Kansas.  Definitely some hidden treasure there.  I only wish I had the opportunity to watch Tornado Alley — an IMAX film that was showing.  Unfortunately because one of my friends had to make it back to Toronto on time to attend a wedding, we were running short on time.

Kansas Cosmosphere

That said, the more active part of the trip couldn’t have ended at a better point.  Just before the Cosmosphere, we had gone sandboarding in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes.

Sandboarding at Great Sand Dunes

The most interesting aspect about this road trip was really who I was with.  Travelling alone, I often have expectations but they change rapidly as the journey evolves.  In this case, two friends wanted to come along but they both had very different expectations and very different styles of travel.  Even with the numerous heads up and words of caution about how I travel (minimalist), sometimes I guess people need to experience it for themselves.  The great thing about the road trip however is that you end up — for better or worse — changed from the experience.

I’ve found that whether you change for the better or worse is heavily dependent on the reflection process during and after the journey.

Kabeyun Trail to Top of the Giant

Ever since I stumbled across photos of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park a number of years ago, I’ve yearned to explore the area.  Unfortunately the park being close to Thunder Bay makes it a little far for me to drive there from Toronto.  It’s a 19 hour drive, if not more. Finally opportunity arose when I had a single vacation day remaining and extended the weekend.  Add on a discounted flight with Porter and bonus!

Ever since I stumbled across photos of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park a number of years ago, I’ve yearned to explore the area.聽 Unfortunately the park being close to Thunder Bay makes it a little far for me to drive there from Toronto.聽 It’s a 19 hour drive, if not more.
Finally opportunity arose when I had a single vacation day remaining and extended the weekend.聽 Add on a discounted flight with Porter and bonus!

One of the craziest things about Ontario is that it is incredibly difficult for majority of its population to reach some of the province’s most unique and stunning landscapes.聽 It is both a good and bad thing.

Had the lucky opportunity to set up camp on one of the most beautiful campsites (in terms of non-back country sites) I’ve encountered.聽 My tent was set up mere steps away from from the interior lake Marie Louise.聽 Stunning views, although we had noisy neighbours and a family of ducks that kept visiting.

Best Campsite in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

What I did not know was that the hiking trails were located so deeply within the park.聽 After driving to the trailhead, there was still at least a 6km hike just to get to the real hiking trails.聽 Most people brought mountain bikes to make the trek shorter or made use of the back country campsites.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

Once on the actual trail towards the top of the giant, things got a lot more interesting as did the landscape.聽 Often stumbled across deer and rabbits — even the odd wolf and red squirrel!聽 Sorry no photos of those 馃槮

Crazy split tree in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

I was initially weary of the hike up the giant as I wasn’t seeing any truly good views but in the end, the climb up the giant was definitely worthwhile as we got to look out over Lake Superior.聽 Ran into a couple of hikers with glasses of red wine … interesting locals … and they were very kind to point out that it was worth hiking further to the Chimney rocks (cliffs).聽 Apparently there used to be a trail along those cliffs that got shutdown after a number of people had fallen or were injured by falling rocks.

Looking out over the lake was amazing, Ontario is often recognized for having a lot of lakes and not a whole lot of mountains.聽 We don’t.聽 But I’m glad we have steep cliffs such as these to sit on and look out from.

Views from the Sleeping Giant

After hiking further and going through some really peculiar turns and twists in the trail, the reward was one of the best places to rest and eat lunch.聽 The cliffs you see below are absolutely jaw-dropping in person.聽 I wish I were able to get a better shot but I was reluctant to get too close to the edge, although I did dangle my feet along the edge while having lunch.聽 You could even see Thunder Bay across the lake.

Chimney Cliffs of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park

On the way back, there were people who did not carry enough water and they had not even reached the point of climbing the giant.聽 The way to the top of the giant is a long one and I am actually happy that it isn’t easily accessible to everyone and that there is a challenge to reaching this point.

It just wouldn’t be the same if this cliff were crowded with people.

Long Weekend at Bon Echo’s Abes and Essens Trail

As much as I loved spending time at Bon Echo, the trail was a bit bland.  Add to the fact that the mosquitoes were out in force and seemed to have a taste for Chinese food … we decided to really motor it through the trail.  That said, there were quite a few great views of the lakes that the trail weaved around.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted.聽 I’m afraid the road trip to Utah, work, school, and life in general has taken a lot of time.聽 I hope to have some photos from Utah posted soon.
Over the August long weekend (in Canada) a couple of friends and I went up to Bon Echo Provincial Park.聽 I’ve been meaning to hike the full Abes and Essens trail — one meant for overnight back country camping, so this was the opportunity I’ve been waiting for a long time!

After arriving at the park around noon, we hiked into our first campsite.聽 Took a couple of hours and it was insanely hot and humid.聽 We were consuming water at a faster rate than expected.聽 Thankfully, we arrived at the Little Lake Rock just in time to relax and take a swim.

Little Rock Lake

Alas, I forgot my swimming trunks but Little Rock Lake was very tranquil and it was a great isolated location with no one passing through.聽 We were surprised to find hundreds of sun fish following along hoping for food.聽 I’m guessing they are accustomed to having campers washing their dishes in the lake.

As much as I loved spending time at Bon Echo, the trail was a bit bland.聽 Add to the fact that the mosquitoes were out in force and seemed to have a taste for Chinese food … we decided to really motor it through the trail.聽 That said, there were quite a few great views of the lakes that the trail weaved around.

Overall, not a bad hike.聽 Excellent campsite at Little Rock Lake but I came out of this trek with 50+ mosquito bites.聽 Let’s just say it was quite the itchy time.