Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: adventure

Make Safety Part Of Your Outdoor Adventures

To say that winter cannot make up its mind this year would be an understatement. It’s been a weather seesaw of sorts since it first snowed in early November. Cold, snowy, warm, cold, snowy; repeat, or not.

There’s lots of shoveling to be done, but beauty to delight in too. If you drive out of town for snowshoeing, skiing, or hiking, the rewards are more than worth the effort, more so on a sunny day when snow-clad trees push against a sky so blue it takes your breath away.

Every year in winter, our family aims for at least one overnight hike, where we each carry our sleeping bags and sleeping pads, and use a sled for all the other supplies. It’s a good workout plodding through snow, but most of all, it is yet another opportunity to learn about nature and why playing it safe always make fun better.

From deciding on the time we start on the trail to the estimated time of arrival (ideally before dark, so we have time to set up and get everyone warm,) to deciding how much stuff we take and whether we have what we need in case we get stuck somewhere, to letting people know that we’re heading into the wilderness, and assessing weather but knowing that it can change without notice, it’s all there.

When we go to one of the now frozen lakes around Kamloops, the questions revolve around that: could we fall in? How long till you get hypothermia? Then, there is the conversation about avalanches, which has been on the news lately, as it is every year.

There is a low likelihood of avalanches where we take the boys, but not knowing the way very well or hiking too late in the day could still get one in serious trouble. These conversations are never about inducing fear of exploring. On the contrary. Healthy fear encourages learning more and preparing better, and knowing when to hold back when necessary.

We live in a time when the access to information about backcountry is but a click away, and there are countless stores in town and online selling equipment. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Somehow, more people find themselves in dire straits in the great outdoors.

The stats from all the search and rescue organizations in British Columbia show a worrying trend. The number of calls has increased over the years, and most organizations had a record number of rescue missions. In 2017, the Kamloops Search and Rescue (KSAR) volunteers were called on 49 searches (a 32 percent increase from 2016) with over 3,500 hours they put in (more than double compared to previous year.)

Particularly worrisome is that this trend is seen all across the province. The increase from last year seems to hover at 30 to 40 percent. To note: the searches are all conducted by volunteers and the organizations rely on donations, but without soliciting by phone. That’s a lot of heart right there, and willingness to help, considering that sometimes the volunteers’ lives are at risk. Especially commendable is not losing faith after discovering yet again that some people carry very few or no items that can increase their chances of survival, such as extra clothing, matches, water or food.

While the admiration for the search and volunteers is boundless, the question remains: How come that more people, and not just in one area, but throughout BC (possibly other parts of Canada) are in need of assistance, at a time when there is enough knowledge to make one’s journey as safe as possible through supply, route, risk assessment and overall trip planning?

It is always sad to turn on the radio or read the news only to find out that someone was yet again caught in an avalanche while snowmobiling (which sometimes they caused,) or got lost during a hike, or went out of bounds while skiing, snowboarding. Sadder yet is to hear they lost their lives.

Can we possibly hope that in 2018, the news, warnings, and word-of-mouth will lower the numbers of people who access the backcountry unprepared, no matter the season? Or that people will think twice before putting at risk not just their own lives but also those of the search and rescue volunteers? I would like to believe so.

As for the boundless admiration for all the search and rescue volunteers… Feelings are great, always, but not nearly enough. Everyone should consider helping by donating to the local SAR team ( – more so because they do not even entertain the thought of charging people, thinking that some would avoid calling for help.

Another way to help is volunteering, if possible ( It is on my list of potential volunteering options once the boys are all grown-up. Until then, my husband and I will keep safety as part of the must-haves when our family heads out for adventures in the great outdoors.

Things To Keep

PeacefulIf you follow Westsyde Road all the way to the McLure ferry — the shortest ferry ride around — keep driving until you hit Highway 5. Drive toward Barriere and just before you enter town, turn right onto Agate Bay Road.

You will find yourself among beautiful, peaceful hills with trees touched by the breath of autumn. Every now and then there’s a farmhouse with a trail of smoke climbing into the overcast and you might be tempted to feel envious of their perfect surroundings.

We did. It was Saturday morning and the world seemed slow paced.

We spotted herds of deer that stopped, turned their heads and stared at us as we drove by. We stopped the car rather abruptly a few times because of some ruffled purple flowers that had to be photographed. Or clouds.

Black cows and calves peppered the fields draping the sides of the road. Everything was calm and quiet and green.

The road ended into a fork that hugged Adams Lake and said Chase on the right side. We turned left and started driving on a slick dirt road all the way to our chosen camping spot: Gordon Bay rec site.

It rained on and off, but we set up the tent and took the canoe for a paddle. We docked on islands and shores that had nothing but driftwood and rocks. We discovered a beaver’s dam and paddled around, looking at mysterious entry tunnels and imagining the busy pitter-patter of feet walking through muck and carrying branches every which way in a never-ending effort to improve the half-submerged home.

The boys have learned to paddle by themselves this fall, so they paddled along the shores and into a small bay. They had secret missions to accomplish and seafarers dialogues to carry out while we got the fire going. We ate, roasted marshmallows — “can we have one more?” is the refrain that comes with us on every camping trip — and then we went for a night paddle.

Try it. Water plants seem asleep as they sway with the gentle canoe wake. If all headlamps are turned off, you will find yourself suspended between the glossy, dark, perfect lake surface and a sky ballooned with ghost-white clouds.

We woke up late and lazy. I went to photograph dew on old summer grass, slugs eating mushrooms and rocks hugged by the gentlest lapping waves.

The sun burst out an hour later and all four of us paddled to the other side of the lake to a sunny rocky shore where we found a baby garter snake, no bigger than a pencil and cuddly if you cupped your hands over one another just so.

Rolled upA slice of sweetness, to hold the snake, I mean, a first encounter of this kind. We took turns and whispered as to not spook the black and yellow sliver that seemed to carry some emotions with it.

We drove back the next day, stopping by Roderick Hague-Brown Provincial Park to see the salmon run, a celebration of life and its immutable laws.

It had been a good two days.

We got home by seven.

It was the dead quiet that almost gave it away; our house had an eerie feeling to it. It was cold inside, as if windows had been left open the entire day.

“Why did you leave the back door open?” the boys asked as we stepped in. We had not. But the door was wide open. Shudder.

Our trip had all the good things a camping trip should have: lake to paddle on, islands to paddle to, baby snakes to wonder at and hold if you’re so inclined, rocks to collect.

The only thing that did not belong to the trip was finding our home broken into and our computers gone — with them, work and memories.

The people who broke in looked at our photos on the walls; they wrecked the collage with my sons’ baby footprints and their smiling faces, probably thinking it was the gate toward some secret treasure-laden safe.

We had a hard time settling in; eating; going to bed. Our home was hurt and we were hurt with it.

The boys kept asking if the people are still inside or coming back and we kept reassuring them. Memories of the camping trip almost melted away in sadness. How could anyone do this?

It took a whole lot of will power to do the cleanup the next day, as if someone had severed us from our own home. But we did it so we could all have our warm place back.

Then we looked at the trip photos knowing that there are things no one can ever take away.

Originally published as a column in the Kamloops Daily News on October 12, 2013


If You See The Tide Come In

In all fairness, Sasha wanted to go to the river. But I said let’s go to the secret place. So we did. Walk on the path, curtains of salmonberries plopped over and around. We pick and eat. Mom, this is mystic yummy land. It is. Sasha in front, Tony second. I chase them. Sasha carries a pole with him. Black metal pole, a former curtain rod from the old house that never got to be.

The secret place awaits. Reeds, leaves, mud. Mud. You can’t understand mud until you get here. Which you can’t because I won’t tell where. We take our sandals off, I almost leave my bag with books and phone behind but swing it off the branch as we head for the mud fields. Better take it with. Open fields of mud. You sink to your knees, it snakes through your toes and the squelching is to die for. Literally. Stick around and you’ll see.

We follow the rivulet then walk to this water hole, run to the next, follow the steps of herons leading to nowhere in the land of nobody. The murky liquid in the water holes is warm. “Mom, it’s so warm… come see…” I think elephants and hippos. Cooling off with mud armor growing on us. A bald eagle swoops over, close, very close, and lands on the tiny island in the middle of sprawled waters. “Did he come for us, mom?” No, it’s fish he’s after. The eagle watches us from afar. Like he knows something we don’t. He does. Like all eagles, he looks smug. Proud.

Tide’s coming in, look! Look! Tongues of water lick the endless mud fields. Coming from all directions, foamy water advances and I’ve never seen it this close. Mud rats we are but now it’s mud show. Majestic. The eagle watches as the water closes in around him. A feathered daredevil but how could he not be one.

We plan for a mud fight in the morrow. The boys relish the thought. Water slides in. Tony builds mud bombs. “This is how you do it…Guys, come watch.: We gather round as he picks a handful of mud… you dip it in the river of death (it is that blackened from the silt we stirred). He adds some moss, some clay from where our feet sank. I watch the feet marks. Holes. Deep. Sasha’s, Tony’s, mine… they fill with foamy water. It takes a couple of seconds for the first to fill. Then the next. Water rolls in, eerie sight. Quiet. Fast. I stare. It moves so fast. “Mom, you’re not looking, the bomb…” I look, but the water… “Guys, let’s go back.” The mud bomb ready for lunch. “Mom, wait…” No waiting. This way. No, the other way. Water covered driftlogs and rivulets, it’s getting all swampy. Reeds as far as we can see and above them, the woods. We run and sink. Sasha’s tiny legs sink. Tony runs through a former wading rivulet that is now deep. Down to his thighs, he breaks free and throws me a look that screams and freaks out. He doesn’t though. Almost all that muddy field is now covered in water, it moves quick. I don’t like it. Which way, which way? The reeds. We cut through the reeds. They are taller than me and they spew dust. My lungs swallow it but who has time for it. The boys follow, trustful, single line through the reeds. I think, I think and try to make my words come out calm and straight. How? How?

We go sideways thinking we’ll reach the path we know. “An opening, mom, I see it…” It’s nothing, just downed yellowed reeds. We’re barefoot and scared. We see nothing. I down more reeds and the boys follow faithfully. “Mom, we trust you… Sasha, mom knows…” Was planning to see a play tonight. We stop. We hear swooshing through the reeds. Water seeps towards us. “Mom, are we gonna die?” No, oh, come on, of course not.

“Will you make to the play tonight?” Of course, guys, we’re almost out. No, I can’t see the play happening. We’re not out. We’re not, I can’t find my bearings. New strategy. We will head straight towards the woods, at least that’s high and towards where we should be. More reeds, swimming, feet hurt. I think of Sasha’s soft feet. He’s not complaining. Tony had his crocs with, smart man. They fight to keep up, my brave boys.

We laugh when we get to the woods. But stop. The bramble is mean. Old blackberry branches like booby traps on the ground. Sasha whimpers. We move fast. Think, move, move. Not that way. “Mom, I see the path. No, it’s not.” Listen guys, the water stream. The trickle of water is close. We’re saved. No. It’s another stream that ends in a marshy grin full of old bramble teeth. They hurt our legs and feet. “Mom, what now?” What now? My mind is a revolving door swinging crazily fast throwing thoughts out but they hit the ground and die. We can’t walk through bramble. It’s thick, we’re wearing shorts and Sasha and I are barefoot. I pick him up, his pole gets in the way. It has a feather stuck at one end, an eagle feather. I tell Sasha to leave it behind, it gets in the way. He agrees but Tony offers to carry it. The boys make promises to each other, they tell each other good brotherly things. We’re stuck. I remember Tony’s socks and put them on Sasha’s scratched feet. My legs have bloody streaks on them, my feet are full of spikes but we keep going. We walk eastward and find a less tangly patch of forest. We make our way up towards the hill. We reach a crumbly wall of dirt. Roots stick out, we hang onto them. We scream with joy. Laugh loud, my cheeks hurt. Relieved. No matter where we end up, water can’t get us and brambles can’t build skin tents on our arms. We laugh our way up. I pull Sasha up and … we roll onto the most proper green gold field and a perfectly dressed gentleman ready to swing. He looks like a cutout from a magazine. We’re covered in mud, scratched and bloody here and there and barefoot. Tony holds the black pole but we lost the feather. Ha!

The tide came in, you see. We’re not sure where we are. The guy stares. Maybe this is part of the game? No, he doesn’t know, he doesn’t live in Vancouver. The grass is rich and soothing to our hurt feet. I never liked fields like this for environmental reasons but now, now I appreciate the hurtless surface. My feet kiss the grass. Smooth. I pick Sasha up and we walk to the four gentlemen who have never seen this before. They look so clean. I explain quickly. The tide, shoes are floating somewhere most likely, we want to get home. He tells us to follow the path and eventually we’ll reach the entrance to this posh members-only club. Right. We thank, they watch… Good thing I’m a writer, I tell them laughing as we head towards the path. Adrenaline rush over. We celebrate. Tony walks side by side. He turned 10 yesterday. Happy birthday indeed! He’s tall and determined. Sasha is on my back and that makes my feet sink deeper in the grass. Soft, cold. Tomorrow I shall go look for my sandals. I like my Keen sandals. But all that water, there’s no way… but it says on them waterproof. Cheeky, I know. Maybe I’ll find Sasha’s sandals and that bag of grapes too.

Half an hour later we’re all cleaned up and I am heading out for the play. It’s opening night.

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