More wonders of wildlife: An addendum to Crazy Thing #22.

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When I started this year’s ski season I had many goals –distance skied, covering all the trails in both directions, and photographing wildlife. My photography goals included photographing a moose, lynx, and owl. On Christmas Eve I got the most awesome Moose pictures I could imagine. I kept seeing lynx tracks, and other people were getting photos of them, but I kept missing out. As the season was drawing to a close and conditions (at the time) were not spectacular, I wasn’t holding out much hope.

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“Are you coming?”

On Sunday, March 6th, I was coming home in the morning from enjoying a great night with some friends in Logan Lake. I had been up until 2 am and I was seriously tired. I stopped at Stake Lake for a short ski. It was a bit slushy and it had been too warm to get the big groomer out so the tracks weren’t great and it was a little slippery. Still, any ski is better than no ski. I headed out on the green trails and felt myself following instinct again. I had no plan. I started on Ponderosa and thought I would turn right on Hoss but after making it about 10m on the trail I changed my mind – I almost NEVER do that. I decided to go back and finish the loop on Ponderosa. It was nice but uneventful. When I came to the other end of Hoss I headed onto it for real this time. This is not my regular way of doing these trails and I’m a creature of habit so I don’t often vary my routine. I passed some snowshoers crossing Hoss, and right after them I met an elderly man skiing toward me. I said hi and kept skiing. Right around the corner I nearly crashed – there was a lynx walking away from me on the trail, about 20m ahead of me. I could hardly breathe. I looked around and there was nobody else coming. I grabbed my big camera in my right hand and both of my poles in my left and started skiing on the slippery track. Suddenly I was less afraid of going fast or falling – I wanted those pictures! The lynx stopped and looked back at me, almost as if it was saying, “Are you coming?”

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The lynx walked on the skate lane in the middle of the trail up a hill and around a bend. I skied after as fast as I could. I got pictures from behind but I really wanted pictures from the front. The corner is a blind corner and the cat disappeared at the top of the hill. Seconds later a guy skate skiing came flying around the corner toward me  in the middle of the trail and nearly fell because he saw the lynx just off the top. I caught up and both of us watched as the lynx walked about 5m from us. If that skier had been a minute or so earlier he would have run right over that cat! That would have made for an awesome picture!

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My glasses were fogged up so I just kept taking pictures hoping they would work out.  I kept taking pictures at the top and, while I didn’t get ahead of it, I did get along side of it and took some awesome pictures. It disappeared in the trees right after that.

Again I proved to myself that magic really does happen when I let go of control and follow my instincts. I was finally on the right trail at the right time and I was given an amazing reward!

 

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50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #44 – Ski a Half Marathon

20160220_132659On the same day I put a new hole in my head I decided to complete another crazy thing. I had been trying to schedule it for a while but it just never worked out. That Saturday afternoon I decided I had to make it work out.

The idea for this year long project, if you recall, came when I was drinking wine and surfing Pinterest. I started seeing Disney running costumes and suddenly came up with the idea of doing the Disney Princess Half Marathon, in costume, in Florida, two days before my 49th birthday. That was crazy thing #1. Since then I ran the Disney Tinkerbell Half Marathon in California, I hiked 21K (the distance for a half marathon) out on the Berg Lake Trail wearing a heavy pack (and nearly died), and I ran a half marathon without training with Jody. I figured the only way to complete the set was to ski a half marathon.

In the past, the longest I’ve skied in one day was 17K (I think) with two friends a couple of years ago. I remember being completely dead after. I expected the same this time. I am a very slow skier. Senior citizens still kick snow in my face, politely of course… most of the time!

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I don’t like skiing when the guys aren’t in the ticket booth – it just makes me feel a bit insecure, but I knew Lee would be there until about 4 pm and I knew my crazy thing would take me over three hours. Instead of heading out on a long trail and being far away from the ticket booth and a way to bail out if it wasn’t going well, I decided to do a shorter route near the parking area and just do laps. Lee and Leah were there for the first three laps and the last lap was a short one so I knew I’d be fine.

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I didn’t take as many pictures as I usually do because I wanted to get this done before it got dark. I did four laps, two were longer and two were shorter, and it worked out almost exactly to 21K. I ended up helping some lost snowshoers get turned around… how they got lost in that area baffles me! I had to reassure them that I knew what I was talking about and they were not where they thought they were. I did lots of thinking about the year and everything I’d done. I even tried to put what I learned in my cross country ski lesson with Lisa into play – for the first three laps. For the last lap I was just going and not thinking too much. I’m proud to say that I finished, it was still light, and I had a great time. I now know I can do longer distances without completely collapsing. And as a bonus, I could still walk the next morning! How cool is that!

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Note the bandaid on my nose – I didn’t want to get sweat in the new hole in my head!

Why was this crazy?

It was the longest I’d skied by quite a bit in one day. This year the longest I’ve done is 14K at once.

Would I do it again?

Now that I know I can do it – sure! There is something ultimately satisfying about setting a goal and reaching it.

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #36 – Downhill Skiing

20160207_102327So, to completely mess up my head and my body I decided to take a downhill skiing lesson the day after I took a cross country ski lesson. Let’s be clear here, I have NEVER downhill skied and I always swore that I wouldn’t. What part of this sounds like fun… down a steep hill? Speed? I even had a hard time getting off the chair lift at Sun Peaks in hiking boots – I thought I was going to throw up! But this year is all about doing things that have traditionally stopped me from joining in the activities of life. Seriously, most of my friends don’t cross country ski. They all want to downhill ski and a few have either consented to try cross country, or they are of the rare breed that can’t wait to get out there with me. I wanted to have the option to say, “Sure” if someone invited me to go downhill skiing instead of automatically saying no all the time.

So, I enlisted Jaydan Dick, who also desperately wanted to go. This will be fun… Jaydan will be skiing circles around me as we hurtle down a mountain. Fun times!

I assumed Harper Mountain would have an easier terrain than Sun Peaks for learning. I also assumed that all of my friends would be at Sun Peaks so the public humiliation risk was pretty low. I picked Jaydan up and we drove up to Harper very early in the morning. Harper has discovery lessons – one time only lessons to introduce you to the sport so you can see if you want to commit to more lessons. We thought this would be perfect and it was. We got there early and got fitted for our equipment. We also heard that our instructor, Cam, had been there since before motorized vehicles existed. He was the most senior of the instructors.

About the equipment – yuck! I had never worn ski boots before and I was not impressed. They are angled forward so you can’t straighten your legs, and they are super heavy. If I was thrown in water in those I would drown instantly… they are like cement boots! And the skis are super heavy too. I was wearing Gregory Griffiths ski jacket, which his mom had graciously lent me, and ski pants so by the time I had my skis and helmet on I looked, and felt, like the abominable snowman in cement boots!

Cam, our instructor, is 69 and an awesome human being and outstanding teacher. He was able to quickly figure out how Jaydan and I each thought and learned and he tailored our instruction to suit our individual styles. It turns out the wicked snow plow I had mastered on cross country skis served me very well… in the beginning. That was the ‘pizza’ stage of our learning – when your skis make the shape of a piece of pizza. Unfortunately, I had a harder time relaxing into stage two – French fries – where your skis are parallel and make you go faster.

I mastered (sort of) the rope tow, the T-bar, and I only fell once and that was coming off the T-bar. Jaydan fell more because he’s all legs and arms and because he grows so fast his centre of gravity is not as well established. I, with a firmly set centre of gravity, had a bit of an easier time of it. Finally! Being built like a bumble bee was an advantage over his 14-year-old spider physique! This is a reversal of fortune from our rock climbing adventure.

I was shocked when Cam was riding the T-bar with me and told me that the terrain for beginners at Harper is much harder than the one at Sun Peaks. Doh! He also told me that I would benefit from going to Sun Peaks and doing the Five Mile run there. He said my biggest problem is I would be just about down at the bottom of our run when I would start to relax. He said I needed miles under me to relax and get a feel for it.

I now have two friends who are desperate to take me to Sun Peaks and do the Five Mile with me. I am cautiously willing… cautiously.

My feet and shins were really sore from being super tense in those horrible boots so I stopped after our lesson and Jaydan continued with some friends from Logan Lake who met us up there.

It was an awesome lesson and experience and I think I will fell brave enough to take more lessons next year.

Perhaps the biggest thing I got from this experience, however, was not just the experience of downhill skiing. One thing Cam told me, and I’m sure it was just a casual comment for him, was that when you keep your head up and look ahead at where you’re going the world doesn’t whiz by so fast, you feel like you’re going slower. When you look down at your skis, at where you are, everything seems to be moving faster. Paying attention to the big picture while glancing down to check where I am occasionally, makes the world a bit more manageable. I’ve tried it cross country skiing since then and he’s right. It’s a hard habit to break – staring down at my feet, but focusing on where I’m going has a calming effect on me and makes the speed of the world, or life, a bit more manageable. Who knew?

Why was this crazy?

I have avoided downhill skiing for my entire life. Speed + Hills + Vesta = bad combination

Would I do it again?

Yes. I felt more in control than I thought I would and I want to take advantage of that before I forget it.

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #23 – Go Out for New Year’s

Again, this might not seem crazy to most people, but to me it’s big.

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The day lodge at Stake Lake – so pretty at night.

New Year’s Eve is pretty much a holiday I ignore. I’m an introvert. I’m not big on parties, and I’m really not big on getting dressed up. I have also been described as being ‘possessive about my sleep’ so late nights aren’t really part of my bag of tricks. When I was little I shocked more than one set of parents when I kicked visiting kids out of my bedroom and put myself to bed. I also fell asleep at my own 16th birthday party. New Year’s Eve? Apparently things happen at midnight that I see on the news the next day.

So, to slightly expand my options I decided to accept the open invitation to go to the Overlander Ski Club’s New Year’s Eve potluck and ski. I’ve avoided these events before because I don’t know anybody but when doing crazy things – point yourself toward what you avoid. Now, this potluck only went to about 9pm, but still … the point is I went.

It was ridiculously cold that night. Even with extra layers my legs and arms were burning. I skied for a bit on my own, and then went in and discovered that despite all my crazy activities this year, I was still an introvert. Sigh. Like a true introvert I hovered on the outside of a packed room filled with skiers who have all known each other for decades. I had fun though, I met a few people there who were new and didn’t know anyone else either, and I hung out in the corner with Jordan (a young guy who works at the ticket booth) and his girlfriend. Club President, Alan, who is not an introvert, merrily worked the room and sat with for awhile chatting the corner before moving on.

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Nothing says New Year’s like a disco ball hanging above a wood stove at New Year’s

I had fun, the food was great, the skiing was cold, I didn’t have to dress up. I still, however, didn’t make it to midnight…. maybe next year!

Why was this crazy?

Introvert? Know almost nobody? Go out on New Year’s – take your pick!

Would I do it again?

Sure, I can hold down the corner of a room like nobody’s business! More seriously, though. I do need to do this more often so it gets a bit easier each time. I actively avoid parties and that has to stop. Life rarely happens at home and even if I’m happily nestled in the corner, at least I got off the couch and out the door. From my corner I always admire people who mingle easily. Maybe someday, with practice, it will come.

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #22 – Follow intuition and rediscover magic

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Hello gorgeous! One goal accomplished but it was so much more than just taking pictures of a moose.

At the beginning of each ski season I set some goals – how many km I want to ski, how many times I want to ski, and what wildlife I wanted to see and photograph. I usually reach the km and visit goals, but never the wildlife ones. This year my goals are to ski 700 Km, go skiing 55 times, and photograph the front end of a moose, a lynx, and an owl.

Christmas Eve, 2015 – Like many of my other crazy things, this just started as a normal day.

First, some background. After I graduated from university I moved to Dublin for six months of doing nothing. I had already spent two months backpacking around Britain and Ireland.  It seemed like a stupid and frivolous thing to do, go back with no plan, but it was easily one of the most important things I’ve ever done.

I was exhausted from school. After graduating with a science degree all I wanted to do was be a writer. I felt, at times, like I had wasted four years of my life. I hadn’t it turns out. That science degree is always valuable when I least expect it. More importantly I felt like I had lost my way. The strong, intuitive part of me had been ignored and devalued. Moving to Dublin gave me an opportunity to reclaim that part of myself. I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I knew I would. It took me a few months to figure it out, but eventually I was able to let go of lists of things to do, obligations to others, and expectations of others. It’s probably the only time I’ve lived completely for myself.

I was alone, intentionally, and it was an incredibly important time in my life. I learned that when I followed my instincts I could create magic. Amazing things happened. Coming home, and in the years since, the challenge has always been to find a way to live that honestly with myself, and at the same time live in a world where I had lists of things to do, obligations outside of myself, and people I loved who had expectations of me.

This year on Christmas Eve I had to work a half day in Logan Lake at the Library. It was a good day – fun and festive. Two friends brought me pizza for lunch because I had complained that staff who worked Christmas Eve at the bigger branches in town were given pizza. In the smaller branches we got nothing. My homemade pizza and a can of coke arrived and it was delivered by two people I adore. It was yummy! Pretty awesome day so far. In the past few years I have surrounded myself with amazing people and they even bring snacks!

I planned to go for a long ski at Stake Lake after work and then get into the festive spirit when I got home. When I got to Stake it was almost 2 pm and I realized I didn’t have as much time as I thought and a long ski was out of the question. I’m a creature of habit so I thought I’d just do one of my other regular routes, a shorter one that would only take me an hour or so. As I was setting out, I realized that for some reason I wasn’t going to take that route and I really didn’t know where I was going. I felt that instinct sensation, a homing device in my spine, and I knew I just had to follow along and go wherever I felt like I should. I ended up in an area I don’t usually gravitate to because it’s full of steep trails that are often icy.

I believe that wildlife, or any kind of wonder in the world, allows you to find it, and you can only find it when you’re ready to receive it. You can’t go chasing it. You have to be open to it and it will let you in. It’s like riding a wave – if you catch the wave it’s amazing and you have that mythical feeling of being one with it. Sounds corny, but I think it’s true. If you try and force it – well that’s just painful and rarely gets you the results you’re looking for. I usually know when I follow my instincts and ride that wave, something special will happen. This time I wasn’t disappointed. I came around the corner and found myself face to face with a moose calf – one of the moose that regularly hang out around the ski trails. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a moose, or her in particular, but it was the first time I’ve been this close (and not in a car), and the first time I’ve had the time and the space to get some really good pictures.

As I came around the corner she looked up at me from where she was standing and eating. She acknowledged me, and then continued looking for food. We had at least 20 minutes where I slowly moved closer and took more pictures. I didn’t see one skier, and it was a busy day at the trails, the whole time I was with her. I was about 20 ft from her and I’m pretty sure I took over 100 pictures. Finally I knew I was done. I skied past her, maybe 10 ft away. She looked up at me, and then walked off into the bush. It was like she was waiting for me. It was the best Christmas present ever.

Why was this a crazy thing?

I had to slow down, and remember to follow a feeling that used to be so familiar to me. It used to be second nature. Now I have to remember it and relearn how to access and sustain it. Instinct is powerful and it’s like a muscle – it has to be worked and trained.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. I have to keep working that instinct muscle and I’m committed to stopping and taking the time to appreciate beauty when I see it. I have to be prepared to catch the wave and enjoy the bounty at the end. I still have the owl and lynx to go this winter and I may or may not get lucky, but that’s OK. I had the moment and that is better than anything. I’ve seen this lady a couple of times since, never in good enough conditions to get good pictures. I always smile at her, nod in acknowledgement. Maybe she’s smiling too.

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My moose selfie! I wasn’t brave enough to turn my back on her when I was really close so I waited till was further away.

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year #20 – Night skiing away from civilization

The date was December 10, 2015. This did not start out as a crazy thing.

I stopped at Stake Lake on the way home to go for a night ski. It was my first night ski of the season and it was snowing pretty heavily but the skiing was still pretty good.

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At the beginning of my ski… I was still smiling!

Normally when I ski at night I stick to some green, or easier trails, that are close to the ticket booth and the lodge. I’m usually alone and it just always felt like the thing to do. It might be that I just wasn’t thinking, or it might be that I had lost my mind, but on one of the darkest nights of the year I chose a 9km route that took me far away from the ticket booth on a two hour ski in pitch black darkness. Half way through I knew I was sinking seriously deep into crazy territory.

I realized, all of a sudden, that I had never done that before. Even when I skied with someone else at night we stuck to the trails that were closer to the parking lot and staff at the ticket booth. That night I didn’t see one other skier until I got back to the lit trail at the lake.

It was dark, snowing hard, and there were no stars or moon visible. All I could see was the dim circle around me created by my headlamp. I saw fresh animal tracks all around me and I kept picturing the mythical Gruffalo, from one of my favourite children’s books by Julia Donaldson, walking behind me. My overactive imagination didn’t help. I know there is a cougar out there, and some lynx, some wolves, and bunnies that are probably pretty vicious too. I was imagining all of them, watching me, in the woods, just out of the light where I couldn’t see them. Sure, laugh now, but if a fluffle of bunnies ganged up you when you had skis stuck to your feet you might not fare so well either. And yes, a group of rabbits or bunnies is called a ‘fluffle’ – there, now you’ve learned something new today. Sometimes they are referred to as traveling in a herd or colony as well. Either way they’re quick and they’ve got big teeth, and those feet…!

The whole time I was out there my imagination pretty much ran as wild as the wildlife all around me. “If you go out in the woods tonight…” at first I had this stuck in my head, over and over and over.

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For some reason my shadow didn’t seem scared.

Then I moved on to rewriting the Gruffalo, one of my favourite kids books ever, to feature a librarian instead of a mouse. I did it all in my head… over and over and over!

A mouse (librarian) went for a ski in the deep dark woods,

a (cougar/ lynx / moose / fox / wolf / chainsaw wielding serial killer) saw the mouse (librarian) and the mouse (librarian) looked good!

Where are you going to, little brown mouse (librarian)? come and have lunch in my underground house.

It’s terribly kind of you, (Fox/ cougar/ lynx/ moose / wolf / serial killer…), but no—– I’m going to have lunch with a gruffalo.

“A  gruffalo?  What’s a gruffalo?”

“A gruffalo!  Why, didn’t you know?

He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws,

And terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.”

“Where are you meeting him?”

“Here, by these rocks,

And his favourite food is roasted fox.”

“Roasted fox!  I’m off!” Fox said.

“Goodbye, little mouse,” and away he sped.

“Silly old Fox!  Doesn’t he know,”

“There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!”

At about the halfway point, with my heart pounding wildly from skiing and the side effects of my wicked imagination. I stopped to catch my breath and I actually considered turning off my headlamp to see just how dark it really was. This year I have faced many of my fears and I’m not one who is usually afraid of the dark, but there was no way I was turning off that headlamp! I practically gave my own head a shake. I was pretty sure that chainsaw wielding serial killer would be standing right in front of me when I turned the light on again. And at the point where I would turn the headlamp on again he would crank up the chain saw and I would absolutely jump out of my skin.

At the end of the 9km loop I reached the lit trail that circles the lake and leads back to the parking lot. I have never been so happy to see the lights of the trail system, civilization! I practically hugged the first skier I saw. That might have been awkward!

Why was this crazy?

Seriously? It was crazy because I managed to scare the crap out of myself without even planning to.

Would I do it again?

Maybe….

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This was actually taken the next night, on those lovely green trails closer to the parking lot and civilization. Me thinks they might be lynx!