February 6, 2017

Rise of the Phoenix

It’s been a while since I’ve thrown up a post, so I’ll try not to make this one too insanely long. I could update you on all things going on, but for the moment I’ll leave it at some of the adventures I had last week!

I was able to go down to Phoenix for a work conference, and on either side of work days, I had a few hours to get out and explore.

First of all, I was really impressed how quick the flight is. I don’t know why I hadn’t contemplated just how close to Arizona we are (by air, anyway). So at just over two hours flight time, I could even contemplate taking my family to a spot like this. Further, the flights were cheap!

I digress.

Upon arrival, I did a zig to the hotel before zagging out to Camelback Mountain for a couple hours of hiking. It was a perfect day at 23 degrees, and as the afternoon wore on, it got to that lovely long-shadow time of day. Camelback is an aggressive vertical trail in many places, but the view from the top makes it worth the effort. There are no other hills nearby, giving you an uninterrupted view of the Valley of The Sun, in any direction you may choose to look. It was fabulous.

The Camelback trail was busy, but not ‘crazy busy’, and I often had stretches all to myself. It was two hours round trip, and that was with ample time up top, and stopping along the way for water breaks and photos. You can catch some video of that climb in one of the two videos I’ve put on my YouTube channel! 

 It does make an appearance in this video, however (part two of the video linked above!). Following the conference, I had a few morning hours left before departure. My wife’s aunt and uncle, conveniently, live in Scottsdale. Jacques, one-half of this dynamic duo, is a steward of the Sonoran Desert Preserve, and he gave me a fantastic tour of a small corner (Lost Dog Wash) of this expansive section of protected desert. 

It was a whirlwind tour, but a memorable one. How many of you have been to Phoenix and area? I’d go back in a heartbeat, I think!

The peak of Camelback

Once back in the hotel, I managed to connect up with some of my never-before-met-them-in-person colleagues who were in town for the conference as well—there’s not much to say about tripping around our hotel area on foot, as it’s all sidewalks, six-lane roads, strip malls and gas stations.
I’ll gloss over the conference, cause that’s my work and while I may be super-stoked about it, you might not be all that interested :P 

The saguaro cactus is one of the defining plants of this area. They are huge, columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age, and are probably the most iconic thing you can think of when you picture this type desert. Reality is, though, there is a multitude of cacti species in the area, as well as many other desert plants. It was very cool to have a knowledgeable guide to tell me all about these things, as well talk about the animals in the area, geography, and a bit of local history, too. 
The trip concluded with a nice bit of brunch back at Jacque’s house, with his wife, Mercedes, before being taken back to the airport in time for my flight home! 

But for now… it's back to shovelling snow! D’OH! 

Last but not least, I'll say that I've thrown a LOT of videos on my YouTube Channel lately. Head over there for plenty of family fun! You might even consider subscribing... I seem to do more videos than blogs these days! 

January 10, 2017

New year, same course

Beautiful Vancouver on an acceptable winter day

Ugly Vancouver on an icy, crummy unacceptable winter day

and more winter beauty. 
Happy 2017, everyone! 

It seems like the last month of 2016 was nothing but chatter about lighting a match to the old year and watching it burn. So many bad things in the world, from Syria in shambles (actually bad), to celebrity deaths (lots of them were getting older... so, not actually bad, just 'life playing out') and plenty in between, it seemed like there were a lot of people staying up until midnight on New Years Eve just to make sure the year actually ended.

Me, not so much. I had a personally very satisfying year. No major traumas in my own life. Great work, good sport and health, fun with family. All I needed was there. So for 2017, I'm not interested in resolutions. I'm interested in more of the same.

There's plenty to be concerned about on the world stage, I'll say that. But at my doorstep, life.is.good.

Now, around Vancouver, we could use a little less winter weather at the moment. Yes, we know we're a laughing stock for how the season gets managed. See my previous post, if you wish to continue that debate with me.

We've had some great snowy adventures both at the end of 2016 and the start of 2017, so I'm attempting to make the most of the snow... up in the mountains where I generally prefer to see it :D.  Cruise over to my YouTube Channel for some of the latest videos in that respect.

Here's to hoping you have some adventures of your own lined up for the new year, and in general, wishing all of you a happy, healthy 2017!

December 12, 2016

An open letter: Snow in Vancouver is actually a big deal.

OK, I know I’ve already lost some of you right from the headline. Or, you’re snorting to yourself in that ‘Okay, buddy, sure’ sort of way.

Before you get all ‘Canadian Winter’ on me, hear this: I do know a thing or two about snow.

I grew up in Kamloops, back when Kamloops got snow on the regular. The deep stuff, the cold days. And no, I never got a snow day from school.

I also spent a few years in Edmonton. Props to the people of central Alberta. You know how to do winter. My shovelling muscles were never so well developed. Alberta, I’m pretty sure, is where block heaters were invented. -40 temps AND mountains of snow… I’ve been there, and I ain’t never going back.

In summary, I know how to drive in it, I know how to shovel it, and I know how to bundle up against the cold.

And here, my final disclaimer: Unless I’m skiing on it, I have no use for snow. I hate the stuff. Looking pretty on the trees is not enough payoff, as far as I’m concerned, for all the work that’s involved in dealing with it.

Now, Vancouver. There are some things you need to know about Vancouverites before we talk about snow.

1.Of imported Vancouverites like me, I’m certain that most of us love it here because there’s only a small chance each year that we will get any hint of the white stuff. Bring on the 400mm of rain, I say. It, at least, has the decency to head for the drain as soon as it’s hit the ground. We Vancouverites like it between 17-22 degrees, with variable sun, cloud, or showers. And that’s how it is, most of the time. Bland, predictable, not too hot, not too cold.

2. Along with that, we like our transit options, we like our bike lanes (well, some of us), and we like having to mow our lawns, year-round. Whenever the words ‘Snow’ and ‘Vancouver’ are uttered in the same sentence, it’s usually because someone is making a joke, or rolling their eyes at the chaos that always ensues during a Vancouver Snow day (see video below for just a touch of that).
But the truth is (and this is a biggie)

3. Snow in Vancouver… isn’t snow (skip to 6. for the full explanation) Not like most Canadian’s know it, anyway. And Vancouverites don’t even receive it each year, which makes everyone extra-panicky when the snow shows up.

4. Obviously, many Vancouverites do create their own problems around snow. Many do not own snow shovels, far too many people think they can get away with all-season tires, or worse, and the locals think a credit card makes a good windshield ice scraper. This is still Canada, and that laissez-faire attitude is just stupid. And when Vancouver “snow” falls, those tires just don’t cut it, and having no shovel or salt for your sidewalk is just plain neglectful.

5. The City of Vancouver, as an entity, creates its own problems. It’s fleet of 49 salt/sand/plough trucks are, for whatever reason, are never quite ready to go on time, and they never quite manage to actually plough/sand the whole city, no matter how long the snow lasts. I can pretty much put money on the fact that my street will never. ever. see a plough or drive-by sanding.

But here’s the real deal: 

6. You see, the snow that falls out of the sky in Vancouver isn’t like the snow you get anywhere else. Our snow is a form of white Teflon.

And you are at its mercy.

There are those folks who just recently moved here from “somewhere else” with their pickup trucks and ‘Vancouverites don’t know how to drive in the snow’ attitudes.

These are the first people to be humbled.

I see you in the ditches. 
I see you spinning out on gentle slopes. 
I see you doing your paperwork on the sidewalk after you’ve just rear-ended someone because you figured you could stop in time. 
I even see you spinning your tires, just trying to get out of your parking spots. 
Because, sometimes, the snow is so slick, even good snow tires are made impotent by our special brand of wintery goo.

As evidenced by the recent viral video of downtown Montreal, where two buses, a commuter car, a police car and a tow truck all slid into one another, NOBODY knows “how to drive” in that kind of snow. That snow was out of the ordinary for Montreal. Here in Vancouver, that’s basically the only kind of snow we get.

sure, it looks pretty...BUT WHAT GOOD IS THAT TO ME?!
First, it falls slick as snot, causing initial commuter chaos. 
Then, it becomes slush within hours, clogging drains across the city. 
Then, if we’re lucky, it freezes, turning the entire city into an ice rink.

I’m going to go ahead and say that the majority of Vancouverites hate snow. My modest-sized house on my modest-sized lot—just like all my neighbours’—is worth millions. Surely, with all that expense, we shouldn’t have to deal with snow, too? Oh, the injustice.

The only real winners in Vancouver snow are the kids who head for any local hill they can find, using anything they can get their hands on, to do some sledding. Cardboard, plastic bags, crazy carpets, cut-up milk jugs… anything that could be perceivably used as a sled. And the payoff is big. Within just a couple of runs, the Teflon snow has condensed, and kids are setting land-speed records that would make Clark Griswold jealous. And snowmen? You’ve never seen packing snow like this. You can roll an entire field of snow into a single ball that won’t break apart (but don’t get too excited, that snowman will melt the same afternoon when it starts raining).
So the kids have fun with the snow, and that’s as it should be.

But the rest of us suffer.

We miss our walks on the beach, and we just want to get back to having clear sidewalks and roads. It’s hard to get to the marijuana dispensaries and Starbucks with all this muck underfoot.

So please, Canada, take pity on us, and thanks for listening.

November 14, 2016

Quality over quantity.

A few days ago, I received an award from Canoe Kayak BC for being the top para canoe/kayak athlete in the province for 2016. It feels pretty good. Really good, actually. 

The plaque says: "success is not limited by one's abilities."
As mentioned before on this blog, I’m not much one to receive accolades. I do what I do because I love to participate. I do not do it for reward. This is generally true of any pursuit of happiness in my life. And, in the specific case of para canoe/kayak, I do it to try and bring some awareness to what is a relatively new discipline. When an award becomes a bi-product of my involvement and engagement with a particular activity, that’s awesome.

I digress. So, the other night after winning my award I posted a picture of me with the plaque I won. I got great response from it—more than I expected I would, actually. Thanks for that, gentle readers!

I also got some side comments, as I have before about this discipline within this sport, and it’s high time I get something off my chest. It shouldn’t bug me, because as I said, I do what I do because I love doing it, and that’s enough. But I’m only human, and if I hear enough of one thing, it’s sure to bug the ever-lovin’ crap out of me.

The comments come out in different ways, but always carry the same meaning: you’re being rewarded because there’s no one to compete against.

Let’s educate the masses, shall we?

I got my name on something!! 
High performance sport is, in general, a lonely world. Whereas you can find a decent chunk of the population participating in sport generally, only a small percentage of those folks are engaged at a high level (by high level/ high performance, I mean ‘requiring highly-specialized coaching, facilities, athlete services and direct financial support’, such as amateur national-level or Olympics-bound competitors, for example). Thus, the percentage of people in all of Canada engaged in high performance sport, as a percentage of the population, is small (thank you, captain obvious).

NOW, for perspective on the para sport world: in Canada, an estimated 3.8 million adult Canadians (This study relates 'adult' as age 15 or older) reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability in 2012. This represents 13.7% of the adult population. (source, stats Canada)

Here’s the math. If that 13.7 per cent chunk of Canada’s population is 100 per cent of the nation’s population living with a disability, and only a small per cent of THAT chunk of the population engaging in high-performance sport, you’re looking at a VERY small pool of disabled people either willing or even able to come out and participate. It is a minuscule fraction of the population. Based on all that, I don’t disagree with people who recognize that when I race para canoe/kayak,  I race fewer people. it's just a statistical reality that this will be the case, and you cannot get blood from a teeny, tiny stone.

Do I like it that way? Of course I would prefer it if there were throngs of competitors. And, as you move up the food chain, there are more and more people to race against. National and international pools are respectively larger. But locally/provincially, no, there aren’t many people to compete against. It varies from province to province and sport to sport, but overall, competitor numbers are fewer in para-sport compared to able-bodied sport.

Back to the question of ‘yeah, but do you have anyone to compete against?’ Part of my answer to this is all that stuff as stated above, and of course I would prefer a deep pool of competitors.

But here's the thrust of it:  I don’t require a deep pool of competitors to push MYSELF as hard as I can. Sure, we all like drinking the sweet champagne of victory from the skulls of defeated foes, but it's really not a driving factor for me.  

There are time standards to measure performance, whether there are one, two, three, 18 or 27 people on the race card. No one is handing me cheques if I come first, if I don’t make a certain time standard to go with it. If I go to national team trials (as I have) and if there’s only a few people vying for a team spot (as has been the case), and if I win the race (as has happened) BUT I don’t make a time standard (as has also happened), guess what? I’m not representing Canada. It’s not as though someone says ‘You won! Go represent us!’ You still have to measure up, as is only right.

And in the last year, I. Measured. Up. And for that, my provincial sport organization recognized me. 

The next time someone wants to ask ‘yeah, congrats, but who are you competing against’, I may smirk at you because I have nothing clever or concise to say in the moment, but know that my answer is this:
Congratulate me for why I am competing, not for whom I am doing so against.  
Congratulate me for being representative of others who currently face too many barriers to sport.
Congratulate me for bringing awareness, and hopefully encouraging others to try it out. 

Most of all, when it comes down to me and my paddling: ask yourself, is this a question I would ask of an able-bodied athlete? Then, do as you would for said able bodied athlete: congratulate me for the length of the course, not the width of the lake on which I race.

November 1, 2016

Halloween 2016 is in the bag

A firefighter and a zebra. Respectable, if I do say so myself. 
Halloween has come and gone, and predictably, many posts on my Facebook page are from parents, resigning themselves with an eyeroll to the days of sugar highs and lows that now await them.

Not so in our house.

We adopted a practice from some friends a few years back that has worked out well for us.
For the last few years, the ‘Halloween fairy’ has been coming to the house, to exchange candy for some sort of toy or art supply. This year, the kids are old enough to have us just tell them that we’d be exchanging their candy for some sort of pens-and-colouring-book set. And they’re cool with it.

The concept, for anyone who wants to try it next year, is simple. 
  • The kids get to go trick-or-treating to their heart’s content. 
  • Come back with as much as you can carry. Dump it all on the table, with no separation of ‘whose is whose’. 
  • Sort out the razor blades, syringes and fentanyl pills, and then let the kids gorge. In our experience, it only takes 15 minutes of straight candy eating before the kids are tired of it. 
  • As they eat, they get to choose a handful of treats to stash away—we say 10 pieces. 
  • And then, the rest goes into the candy bowl to be handed back out to other trick-or-treaters who come to our door.
  • In exchange, the kids get (Insert material object here).

The sugar high from all that gorging is basically offset by the exhaustion of a late night running around the neighbourhood (bedtime was no problem!), and from there, the kids can choose a treat for their dessert each night until the candy is gone.

The usual Trick-or-treating mayhem
Now, I get it. It was fun to have all that candy as a kid. But the stash in a house with siblings was a difficult asset to protect, for one thing (JAMIE, I am looking at YOU… thieving older brother), and really, eating mini chocolate bars by the time Christmas rolled around was pointless, since the fresh Christmas goodies were on their way into rotation.

What do you think? Are we terrible parents for using this system on our kids? Or are we the BEST MOST AMAZING PARENTS EVER?!*

We've figured out how to cut down on the candy.
Now if we could just get our son to stop doing the 'Dab' dance move. 
Give it a try next year, and see how it works out for you!

And, for a lil’ video of the Halloween experience at our house, have a looky-loo. All the fun, with 95 per cent less candy! https://youtu.be/5CO7SlvmzC0 

Ooh, also, I had a haunted house for work, a couple days before halloween. If you're still feeling spooky, that video is here: https://youtu.be/mfd2SrMARBc 

ps - lots of video on my youtube channel since my last post. head over to my channel for various and sundry items! 

*does not denote personal bias. That’s all in your head.