Category Archives: personal

Some thoughts on Pat Lorje losing in Ward 2

Pat LorjeSome of you know this but Pat Lorje is a good friend of Wendy‘s and mine.  She was a friend as a councilor and I am proud to call her a friend of mine now that she is not.

I don’t have any thoughts on her loss, the people of Ward 2 did that but I am going to share something about Pat which will probably make her mad.  Why, because Pat has the honor of telling me off for more columns than anyone else.   Not only that but she does it better than anyone else.  More about that later.

Pat won’t remember this but I remember literally running into her in the Legislature.  I was running for the Progressive Conservatives under Bill Boyd in the 1995 election and Pat was a NDP MLA.

Along with Bill Boyd and Dan D’Autremount I was heading to the Legislative cafeteria.  Storming at us was Pat Lorje who informed us that they were serving liver (I think).  That stopped all of us in our tracks and we all took her lead and headed the other way.  I am not sure where Pat had lunch but the Tories went to Outback Steakhouse.

Later I crossed her at The Salvation Army and we met more formally.  She had made some incorrect statements (I’m trolling her) about social agencies and we invited her to talk with us about her concerns.  We dealt with each other on a variety of issues and later became good friends.

Not only did she become my friend but Wendy’s and Mark‘s as well.   Privately during the worst of Wendy’s depression a few years ago, Pat’s ability to project her personality literally helped Wendy get through the tough times.  For Wendy, if Pat could deal with the city, she could get through her depression.

She was over at our house once with several other politicos.  She told a funny story about a politician that Mark should not have heard and one that hated me (still hates me) deeply. The problem was that Mark was sitting very quietly and as still as a statue in the corner because he wanted to hear this story.  Pat noticed him about the same time everyone else did and didn’t miss a beat and introduced herself by the name of the politician she was talking about.

If Pat phones, Mark will still tell me, [insert scandalized politician’s name here] called.

Pat’s friendship always surprises some people because we have very different opinions on a lot of things.  I have taken aim at her in more than one column.  Those columns have always been greeted with a phone call and being told exactly why I am wrong in very clear language.  Generally I explain back why she is completely wrong. I don’t think either one of us have ever backed down.

Of course the only thing I did that made her really mad was several years ago.  Sean Shaw and I disagreed with a policy she had worked on for years and we had both lobbied the rest of council to vote against it.  They did and Pat was livid.  After a week of being told off, we made peace at the Rook and Raven.  We didn’t concede anything but we did pick up her glass of wine.

Like all losses there are a lot of factors.  Hilary Gough ran a winning campaign and there was a feeling of change that moved across the city.  Only Montgomery voted for the status quo and Atchison and no doubt that hurt Lorje.

So why am I writing this?  I don’t know but there seems to be a general lack of class that happens by the chattering masses when someone loses.  There was more than post and tweet that crossed the line.  Yet there is a side to all politicians that we never see.  Pat Lorje wasn’t just the Ward 2 councilor or a politician, she was and is a great friend to my family.  I’ll miss debating with her but I look forward to spending time in the future.

Things I think I know

  • I write this guide to vlogging over at the Don’s Photo blog yesterday.  I had done one back in April based on Casey Neistat‘s setup but some of the feedback was that it was too expensive.  Of course thinking through more affordable options now has me thinking about picking up either a Canon EOS Rebel T5i or a Canon EOS Rebel SL1 and Canon’s 24mm f/2.8 lens.    That’s the problem with being given the freedom to write this stuff, I end up selling to myself.  At the price point, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is a great camera and with the size of that an the lens, it is not much bigger than the $1600 Fujifilm X100-T with the same sized APS-C sensor.  That and I love the 35mm focal length for almost everything.
  • Speaking of work, we are doing a fall photo walk starting at the Diefenbaker Canada Centre tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.  Some colleagues are joining me and then we will head to Alexander’s for some food and drink afterwards.

It's this Sunday

  • We are going to do a winter one after Christmas.  For photographers in Saskatchewan Christmas is both awesome and horrible.  We get all of this gear and then are trapped in winter for months.  So during Wintershines, we will head downtown, take some shots of people skating at the Cameco Meewasin Skating Rink @PotashCorp Plaza, head through the downtown to the Saskatoon Farmer’s Market and use some of the gear we all got for Christmas.  It should be fun.  Cold but fun.  Also I just cut and pasted the skating rink name into this post from Meewasin’s page.  I just noticed the @PotashCorp in the name.  Interesting.
  • I expected the Broncos to be 8-8 this season so the losing isn’t unexpected.  They might get to be 10-6 but since they won the Super Bowl last year, I can’t complain.
  • I love the Blue Jays but if Cleveland won the World Series in the same season they won the NBA championship, I wouldn’t be upset.

Just a couple of things….

  1. We are heading north to Prince Albert National Park this weekend if it doesn’t get snow for Thanksgiving.  We will stay in the Narrows Campground and tent in two tents.  We upgraded our sleeping bags for this and will have lots of blankets.  Plus the dog gives off some heat.  The plan is to do some hiking, get some photos of some wildlife and hopefully get a shot of some otters.  Of course this all dependent on Mark not getting hurt playing football this Thursday night.
  2. It’s an insanely busy time for me at work as I am publishing three gift guides a week for the month of October.  So basically if you want to buy a camera or a lens this Christmas, I’ll have you covered.  At a couple thousand words a piece, it’s like writing 8 columns a week.  Oh yeah, I have some of those to write as well.
  3. The SaskatonianSince I have some extra time on my hands, I am launching a new project after the election.  It is called The Saskatonian.  It’s a longer podcast with video that will be with some public figures in Saskatoon.  Where the OurYXE podcast was policy and political, this will hopefully be more casual and have some culture, sports, and banter in it.  We won’t be shooting it in any particular place but it will be all over the place, often over a drink and a bite to eat.  The length is going to be longer but we will probably have multiple guests per episode.   The name came to me when Paul Wells called us Saskatoonians.  Umm, nope.  That’s not it.  It’s Saskatonian.    Expect to see some episodes being released after the election.
  4. I haven’t said a lot about the cuts to The Lighthouse but they make no sense from any kind of policy or even political perspective.  The intox beds are obviously double billed as the person who uses that bed is on social services and they are being paid to stay somewhere.  But when they show up there out of control or high, they often are turned away.  So at that point there are three choices.  Get arrested by the Saskatoon Police Service for public intoxication and go to police cells, go to Larson House (which is so full that it is the reason why the program was started at The Lighthouse in the first place) or be put out on the streets where people die yearly.  The idea that people are drinking and using drugs so they can somehow abuse the system is long held in governments who see themselves as the victim for any spending in their department but is ludicrous.  Addicts won’t go home if the funding is cut for the intox beds, they will end up in police cells or end up in Royal University Hospital emergency which are far more expensive or they will die on the streets.  It is why the program was set up but in the minds of social services, it isn’t their budget line so who cares?  Governments are asinine and this one is no different.
  5. I was asked this week if I give campaigns heads up on my columns.  The answer is no.  They can read them in Monday’s The StarPhoenix like the rest of the world.
  6. Rode VideoMic MeI plan to shoot and upload a video a day in 2018.  I don’t mind shooting video and have long enjoyed it.  I have edited quite a few over the years, including some that many of you have seen.  Doing it has never been that big of a deal for me, I just never have put in the work to make sure batteries are charged every day and the gear is good to go at all times.  Also I find it really hard to take photos of a weekend and capture it with video.  A friend of mine who is much better at this as I am basically told me the same thing that it is almost impossible to get great photos and great video at the same time of an event.  Once I got that figured out in my head on how to do, it made a lot more sense.   Everyone sees me with my Pentax K-3 and goes, “Why can’t you do what Casey Neistat does and do both?”  First of all, he doesn’t do both.  He shoots video with his Canon EOS 70D.  Also Canon is a much better video platform that my Pentax (and if I was being totally honest, is a much better photographic system as well but I’m not prepared to be that honest).  So yeah, I can plug in a video microphone into my Pentax but it doesn’t have the fast focusing that a Canon EOS 70D and a Canon EOS 80D does.  To be honest, even Nikon doesn’t have anything that compares video wise to that camera.  Also Canon has some video optimized lenses that are amazing that Pentax nor Nikon really has (why do I shoot a Pentax and not a Canon?  That is a long story).  So to do so, I am ordering a Rode VideoMic Me to go with my phone and then using some other gear like the Nikon Keymission 80 next summer and the DJI Mavic Pro drone.  So yeah, expect to see a lot of Wendy, Mark, Oliver, and Marley on here next year.
  7. So I did a Twitter poll about whether or not I should get a Bluetooth speaker for my shower and the response was overwhelmingly yes.  I now feel like I know more about your shower habits than I should.
  8. Finally there is a new guy in the neighborhood who walks all over the place, all times of the day and night and he is always loudly busting out these really bad rap lyrics about killing white people and taking back the land.  3:00 a.m.  Bad Rap.  10:00 a.m.  Bad Rap.  4:00 p.m. Bad Rap.  It’s like living just down the street from Drake.

Monday

The weekend that was: It was a quiet weekend.  I worked Saturday and then on Sunday, Wendy, Oliver and I drove to Moose Jaw to say goodbye to the last weekend of the summer at Deja Vu Cafe, one of our favorite diners.  Mark had to work and we ordered way too many delicious wings, especially after Oliver got full on his milkshake and ate a total of two wings.  This morning Mark and I were up early because he had a photo project to shoot the entire alphabet.  We went downtown early and photographed much of the downtown.

On my to-do list this week: On Tuesday I start the morning talking municipal politics with Phil Tank on CBC and end the day talking politics with Hilary Nelson and Lenore Swystun on CFCR.  In  between there I get to spend some quality time at RUH where I get to find out why my ankle hurts so much (it’s the infection) and I can’t walk in a straight line (that in concerning).

Procrastinating about: I am writing 15 gift guides for work this Christmas.  They start going live every three days in October.  I am done one of them.  It’s going to be about 30,000 words when it is all said and done.

Book I’m in the midst of: I saw a great tweet by Rosie Barton saying, “Elections are my Olympics” which made me laugh but I am not a big fan of the process.  With some friends that are working on opposite campaigns, I kind of find discomfort in the entire process and can’t wait until it is done.  To get my mind off this, I am reading Jared Diamond’s Collapse again.  It sounds bleak but I love the sections on society that avoided collapse by working together for solutions.

Music that seemed to catch my attention this past week:  A shocking amount of Bjork on Spotify.

How I’m feeling about this week: I’ve got some cool projects coming up that I can’t share yet so I am counting down the days until they happen.

The Best Star Trek Series Ranked

I was tweeting this out the other day and was told how incorrect I was.  Apparently my ranking of Star Trek: The Next Generation was too low for almost all of you.  Still I stand behind my statement.  The Next Generation sucked but not as much as The Original Series.

  1. Star Trek: Starfleet BadgeStar Trek: Deep Space Nine:  Dark, moody, had a two year long war that saw hundreds of Federation ships destroyed.  Gene Roddenberry would have hated it but it’s my favorite.  Also Avery Brooks who played Captain Sisko was Hawk on Spencer for Hire.
  2. Star Trek: Voyageur: I liked it even before Seven of Nine joined the crew.  My only issue was while almost everyone else got a promotion, Ensign Kim never did.  Was his performance so middling he couldn’t have been made a lieutenant? 
  3. Star Trek: Enterprise: The idea of Starfleet going out with in deep space with an under performing Enterprise helped by duplicitous Vulcans, I’m okay with that.  Plus it had a beagle on board.
  4. Star Trek: The Next Generation:  The Enterprise D was ugly, Riker can’t keep the shields up, Tasha Yar was killed off in a horrible way.  Outside of the Borg episodes and the one where they brought Yar back, the series sucked.  Okay that one episode when the U.S.S. Phoenix went rogue was pretty cool. The Nebula class starships look so much cooler than the Galaxy class ships.
  5. Star Trek: TOS:  I’ll watch it if nothing else is one.

That being said, I am a huge fan of the movies including The Next Generation movies.  Of course the premise is often darker, the sets are better, the uniforms look good.  If only Riker could keep the shields up.

Every once in a while I have something to say

Over the last two years, I haven’t had a lot of fun doing much of anything.  Work has been painful and I found myself coming home many night and just collapsing into bed.  I often needed a nap between coming home from work and when I wanted to go to bed.

It’s the infection in my leg.  It just won’t leave and it takes a lot out of me.  The worst parts are when the specialists go, “You are cured!  Congratulations!”.  The next thing you know I am back at Royal University Hospital being pumped with antibiotics to stop the spread of the infection and for weeks after that I am waiting for the medication to beat it back into my leg.  I am losing entire months at a time doing this.

When I have been strong enough, I found myself writing some extra columns for The StarPhoenix because there were times when I was so weak that finding that pre-written column, editing it, attaching it to my email, and sending it seemed like a major accomplishment.  Luckily even though I have bad days, I don’t have those kind of bad days any longer.  It was horrible. 

Basically for every four columns I write, I have three that I don’t write for a variety of reasons I will share below

  • They are too long.  Sometimes 650 words isn’t enough space to say what I want to say.  I know that if I was a better writer, I would be able to say it in that but I am not.
  • It’s about the ethics of sports and that isn’t what my column is about.
  • It’s a about some aspect of my column that I want to expand on but it didn’t work or didn’t fit into the column I filed.
  • It’s an idea that I think Murray Mandryk or Tammy Robert is going to do a way better job of writing about and I want to see what they have to say first.  In other words, it is a provincial matter.

I was going to do something with them on a different website with some advertising and sponsorship and even some guest writers  but that started to sound like competition, even if it was a niche idea. If only I had a place of my own where I could post my own writing….

Oh right.  The perfect place for them is to post them right here.  So Wednesday mornings, expect to see some long(er) form content here. 

P.S.

I get asked how the ankle is doing.  The swelling is more manageable then ever but at night the pain from the damage to my nerves is intense.  I still wear an ankle brace for compression on it but more or less it is doing better.  I am on antibiotics for another full year and then we will see if things have improved.  Yes, I know you are not supposed to be on antibiotics for a year.  By the time I am off them, it will be close to three years of antibiotics. 

A lot is going on here

Jordon Cooper

First of all, thanks to Mark for the photo.  I generally hate photos of me being taken which is why I am always behind the camera but the problem with being a part of a family of photographers is that they have cameras as well.

Now you will notice the pockets in my shorts being wet.  It has just poured and was cold so I put my hands in my pockets.  This resulted in them looking like this.  You win some, you look like an idiot in others.  Thanks to Mark for capturing the essence of what it means to be a dad.

I am off to find my cool, from this photo it looks like I lost it.

The Natural Bridge

While driving in Yoho National Park I saw a sign for The Natural Bridge.  I would have sworn under oath that it was in Kootenay National Park but I have happy to be wrong and so we went and checked it out.

It was pretty cool and as we were leaving, a family asked if they could have a family selfie with Marley.  Again, who takes selfies with strange dogs in strange countries as part of their Canadian Rocky experience?  Apparently quite a few people do. 

The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Wendy pointed out that it does look like a giant toilet bowl being flushed.  The Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National ParkThe Natural Bridge in Yoho National Park

Spiral Tunnels in Yoho National Park

So after a fun morning in Moraine Lake, we went to Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen for lunch.  That place is amazing and if you are ever driving by Lake Louise, make sure you stop there for something.

Instead of turning back towards the Johnston Canyon Campground or Banff, I went west towards British Columbia and we spent the rest of the day in Yoho National Park where the plan was to see Takakkaw Falls.  Soon after heading across the border into B.C. and the park, I saw the sign for the Spiral Tunnels.  The inner nerd in me forced me to turn out as we checked them out.

Spiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National ParkSpiral Tunnels near Field B.C. in Yoho National Park

Quick nerd break to explain why this was so cool. 

To complete the Pacific railway as quickly as possible, a decision was made to delay blasting a lengthy 1,400 feet (430 m) tunnel through Mount Stephen and instead build a temporary 8-mile (13 km) line over it. Instead of the desired 2.2% grade (116 feet to the mile) a steep 4.5% (some sources say 4.4%) grade was built in 1884. This was one of the steepest railway lines anywhere. It descended from Wapta Lake to the base of Mount Stephen, along the Kicking Horse River to a point just west of Field, then rose again to meet the original route.

Three safety switches were built to protect against runaway trains. These switches led to short spurs with a sharp reverse upgrade and they were kept in the uphill position until the operator was satisfied that the train descending the grade towards him was not out of control. Speed was restricted to eight miles per hour (13 km/h) for passenger trains and six (10 km/h) for freight, and elaborate brake testing was required of trains prior to descending the hill. Nevertheless, disasters occurred with dismaying frequency.

Field was created solely to accommodate the CPR’s need for additional locomotives to be added to trains about to tackle the Big Hill. Here a stone roundhouse with turntable was built at what was first known simply as Third Siding. In December 1884 the CPR renamed it Field after C.W. Field, a Chicago businessman who, the company hoped, might invest in the region after he had visited on a special train they had provided for him.

At that time, standard steam locomotives were 4-4-0s, capable enough for the prairies and elsewhere, but of little use on the Big Hill. Baldwin Locomotive Works was called upon to build two 2-8-0s for use as Field Hill pusher engines in 1884. At the time they were the most powerful locomotives built. Two more followed in June 1886. The CPR began building its own 2-8-0s in August 1887, and over the years hundreds more were built or bought.

The Big Hill “temporary” line was to remain the main line for twenty-five years, until the famous Spiral Tunnels were opened on September 1, 1909.

The improvement project was started in 1906, under the supervision of John Edward Schwitzer, the senior engineer of CPR’s western lines. The first proposal had been to extend the length of the climb, and thus reduce the gradient, by bypassing the town of Field at a higher level, on the south side of the Kicking Horse river valley. This idea had quickly been abandoned because of the severe risk of avalanches and landslips on the valley side. Also under consideration was the extension of the route in a loop northwards, using both sides of the valley of the Yoho river to increase the distance, but again the valley sides were found to be prone to avalanches. It was the experience of severe disruption and delay caused by avalanches on other parts of the line (such as at the Rogers Pass station, which was destroyed by an avalanche in 1899) that persuaded Schwitzer that the expensive solution of digging spiral tunnels was the only practical way forward.

The route decided upon called for two tunnels driven in three-quarter circles into the valley walls. The higher tunnel, “number one,” was about one thousand yards in length and ran under Cathedral Mountain, to the south of the original track. When the new line emerged from this tunnel it had doubled back, running beneath itself and 50 feet (15 m) lower. It then descended the valley side in almost the opposite direction to its previous course before crossing the Kicking Horse River and entering Mount Ogden to the north. This lower tunnel, “number two,” was a few yards shorter than “number one” and the descent was again about fifty feet. From the exit of this tunnel the line continued down the valley in the original direction, towards Field. The constructions and extra track would effectively double the length of the climb and reduce the ruling gradient to 2.2%. The new distance between Field and Wapta Lake, where the track levels out, is 11.5 miles (18.5 km).

The contract was awarded to the Vancouver engineering firm of MacDonnell, Gzowski and Company and work started in 1907. The labor force amounted to about a thousand and the cost was about 1.5 million Canadian dollars.

Even after the opening of the spiral tunnels, Field Hill remained a significant challenge and it was necessary to retain the powerful locomotives at Field locomotive depot.

Even though the Spiral Tunnels eliminated the Big Hill, the mountains remained and so too did the Field Hill. The Ottertail revision of 1902 and the five-mile (26,518 feet or 8.083 kilometres) long double track Connaught Tunnel of 1916 were other improvements made to the original line in British Columbia. It was not until the late 20th century when a major new project of 20 miles (32 km) including the 9.1-mile (14.6 km) Mount Macdonald Tunnel reduced the grade to a very manageable average of 0.82%, (maximum 1%) opened in December 1988.

There is a hike along there that we did not take but I intend to next year that should be a lot of fun.

Vacationing with Mark

Several of you who are parents seem surprised that Mark enjoys going on family vacations still.  Many of you hated going with your parents at that age and some have kids who are resenting going on trips with them.

I don’t have a secret but here are some things I have done so Mark wants to go on vacation.

  • Scott Theede suggested we purchase Don’t Waste Your Time in the Canadian Rockies which is a book that evaluates hiking trails in the Rockies so you don’t take bad ones.   At first glance it seems expensive at almost $60 but it worth it when you consider it is 677 pages and if you are like us, refer to it often.   I have read the book cover to cover and so has Mark.  In fact he wants his own copy.   When we planned this trip (and are already planning the next one), I had Mark plan it as well.  I spent a lot of time getting his input and helping him figure out what he wanted to do and seeing how that can happen.  Mark suggested going to the Banff Upper Hot Springs and spent some time researching fun things to do.  He was also a part of decisions like, “Do we take the dog?”  It was Mark that convinced us that we should.  At the same time he also said, “I’ll help the dog on the Banff Gondola”, a decision that seemed a lot simpler in Saskatoon than it was in line at the base of Sulpher Mountain.

  • Mark and Oliver were comfortable in their own tent.  I kept hearing from people how much they hated sleeping in the tent/camper with their parents and how much of a different it made even as adults to have their own space.  Mark and Oliver have their own space.  They have their own duffel bags, sleeping bags, air mattresses, compact chairs, and gear.   They really appreciated having their own space.  It was worthwhile.   Parks Canada campgrounds only allow for two tents per campground (although I saw some that had a third small one) but I was clear to Mark that if he wanted his own space separate from Oliver, we would make that happen, even if it was a different campsite for him.  I’ll post the gear that we have for the boys in a later post.
  • I bought Mark the gear that he wanted.  In case it rained, he wanted a new deck of cards, a decent lantern for his tent and a great coffee mug.  The cost of all of those things was very low when you consider that they all made camping nicer.
  • I checked out the day’s itinerary with Mark every morning.  Now we have everything planned out a long time in advance but he appreciated the quiet conversation we had about what we were going to do and what ideas he had to make it better.
  • Despite being in the mountains before, this was the first trip he ever took where he was in awe with what he saw.  He fell in love with Castle Mountain and wanted to hang out and linger longer at the lookout.  He wanted to risk life and hypothermia by climbing up a stream and waterfall at Moraine Lake.  I just let him soak it in at his pace.  Same with Oliver.  Oliver’s camera is waterproof and at a certain time he sat on a rock taking underwater photos and was having a blast.
  • He had his own money from work but appreciated shopping with Wendy and I as he figured out what he wanted to get.  95% of that time was mocking what we saw but I know he did appreciate the suggestions on what to get.  My only disappointment was that he never got a onesie.

For next year we have started out debate about what we are going to do (the big picture is using Lake Louise Campground as a base camp to explore Lake Louise trails and some trails in Yoho National Park before pushing towards Jasper).  We are working on a budget and making a list of what gear to upgrade before next year.  He is a part of all of those discussions because I want it to be something we all like, not just Wendy and I.

Lake Louise

We headed out to Lake Louise for the day while in Banff National Park.  We got up early from the Johnston Canyon Campground and headed down the Bow Valley Parkway.  The plan was to hike up to Lake Agnes Tea House but my ankle was still swollen, I was still running a fever from being taken off the medication for my ankle.  We got there in good time and got a good parking spot (Parks Canada staff running the parking lots makes it run  very smooth).  As we walked up the path to the Tea House, I realized that a combination of rain, a fever, and a messed up ankle, I needed to understand my limits.  We’ll head back up there next year.

Before anyone feels sorry for us, did I mention we were still on the shore of Lake Louise?  It’s pretty spectacular view and we were about to find out that our fellow tourists were pretty great.

Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2683Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkIMGP2695Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkLake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkOliver at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National ParkWendy Cooper, Mark Cooper, and Oliver Cooper at Lake Louise, Alberta in Banff National Park

From there we headed down the mountain and stopped at Laggan’s Mountain Bakery and Delicatessen

Laggan's Mountain Bakery and Delicatessan

Everyone I know that has been to Laggan’s raves about how great it is.  You have to see and smell it to believe it.  Wendy picked out some Jamaican Patties and got use some of the best pizza I have ever tasted.  The bakery is worth the stop if you are even close to Lake Louise.

Johnston Canyon

We hiked last Johnston Canyon last year.  It was packed and I didn’t really like it at all.  This is the photo of it that has stuck in my memory.  Way too many people.

After hiking to Silverton Falls and checking out some of Castle Mountain, we came back to the campground while Wendy slept off a headache in her hammock.  After dinner, we went back to a now empty Johnston Canyon and hiked up to the lower falls.

Johnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National Park

As we crossed this, we learned that Marley hates heights and really hates boardwalks.  She refused to walk across it unless I told her it was okay.  She would constantly look back at me and wait until I told her it was okay and then she would walk very low to the ground. This scene was repeated over and over again throughout the hike.  As long as she didn’t look down, she was fine.  If she did, she wasn’t happy.Johnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkSAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National ParkJohnston Canyon in Banff National Park

Growing up in Calgary after my dad left, we had no money at all.  Johnston Canyon was our summer vacation.  We would come up and hike the canyon and then have lunch at Sawback before heading back home.  It has always been a special place to me.  We always hiked it on a non-peak day so it never was packed like it is most days in the summer with people parked for miles in either direction.

Hiking it after dinner when the hordes have left was the Johnston Canyon that I recalled growing up.  Only about 20 people on the trail, let’s of room to explore, no idiots with selfie sticks whacking me on the head.  There were just a few people wanting to pet Marley which was a trend that would only escalate as the week went on.  It was a lot of fun.

If you are going to go in July or August, don’t go during the day.  Go early morning (before 8 a.m.) or in the evening (after 7:00 p.m.).  It is a way nicer hike on an empty trail.

Silverton Falls

On the second day there, we had planned to hike Johnston Canyon in the morning and then do Silverton Falls in the afternoon.  As Wendy blogged, I ran a high fever with an ankle feeling like it was going to snap for most of the trip.  She was exhausted as well so we slept in.  By the time we got up and going, the line to Johnston Canyon went a kilometre or so down the Bow Valley Parkway in each direction.  We hiked it last year and it was insanely packed with tourists.

Instead I drove down towards Castle Mountain and pulled into the parking lot for Rockbound Lake.  There is a short hike to Silverton Falls which I had never done and it looked like fun.  As we pulled into the parking lot, we met this camper from Wicked Campers.  The paintjob stood out just a little bit.

Wicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkWicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkWicked Campers at the trailhead for Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

With Mark turning 16, he is thinking of the kind of vehicle he wants, in part so he can travel with it.  We had a long discussion about GMC Safari’s and Chevy Astro vans on our way along the trail.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

After 400 metres or so, you come across this stream running down from the waterfall.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Then you start to climb up to the falls.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

A rockslide took a toll on the trail at this point.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Finally you get the falls which unlike Johnston Canyon, have no safety railings along the path.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

It’s a great view across the Bow Valley.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National ParkThe hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Finally it was back down the flank of Castle Mountain and back to the parking lot.  The hike is under a kilometre long and we met a total of 12 people on it which is far different then Johnston Canyon.

The hike to Silverton Falls in Banff National Park

Having a Bag for Adventure

This is one of the more popular posts I have written at work.  I thought I would put my own spin on it here.

Years ago I was reading Lifehacker and read about the Go Bag which they defined as a bag that you had packed and ready to go for any adventure that came your way.  After a particularly bad summer with Wendy’s depression, I made up a bag for her and she loved it.   It evolved over the last couple of years but we had made them up for Mark and Oliver as well and they leave them packed and ready at the front door ready for a moment’s notice.

They have made travelling way easier because all I have to say is “Grab your Go Bag” and we are ready to go.  No packing or fussing.  It’s all there and ready to go and it makes it so much easier to go and do stuff.

30 litre backpack

It starts with a bag.  Some people overthink this and go all out or it ends up holding them bag but all you need is something to toss your stuff in you aren’t embarrassed by.  We just use backpacks.  For Mark, he just grabbed his “last year” pack that has seen some wear and tear but is still fine.  We got Oliver an inexpensive pack from Canadian Tire that was on sale for $15.

SKROSS backpack

If you don’t have one, the best place to get them is Wal-Mart or Bentley when they are on sale.  It doesn’t need to be amazing, it just needs to hold your stuff and be ready when you are.  If you can’t find one that you like, check out Winners.

If you know you are going to be shooting and need your camera gear around, check out the Manfrotto Off-road camera backpack (it’s available in 20 litre or 30 litre versions)  The bottom half of the bag holds your camera gear, while the top half of the bag holds your other stuff.

Manfrotto Off-road camera bag

The coolest feature of the Manfrotto Off-road bags is their external frame.  Wendy and I both have them for hiking and when we want to go on a photo centric trip.

Mark has a Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW.

Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22L AW

No internal frame but it works pretty well for him.  It’s the same kind of thing as the Manfrotto Off-road.  The bottom have holds his DSLR and a few lenses while the top holds a jackets, drink, and other stuff he may need on a photo centric trip.

Your Rugged Adventure Camera of Choice

If you are looking for a rugged outdoors adventure camera, check out the buyer’s guide I wrote for work.  There are times when you want all of your gear.  There are also times when you need a bag full of gear and a camera to capture your adventure.  For those times I recommend a ruggedized compact camera but really any decent compact point and shoot will do.

I personally like the Ricoh WG-5.  It is 16 megapixels, waterproof, crush proof, HD video and made for adventures.  Make sure you toss a 32 GB card in it and have a backup battery.   With it I can capture all sorts of great moments with still or videos. 

Gerber Ripstop I Knife

Gerber Ripstop I Knife

I always travel with a multi-tool so this is just for times when I need a small blade (I hate using the blade on a multi-tool).  It’s only 3 ounces which is light enough to toss in and forget about it until you really need it.  Plus, you are going on a day trip, not doing a combat tour. Leave the fixed blade, serrated edge, hardened metal knife at home with your camping gear.  The reason you want this around is to cut pepperoni for a sandwich.

Having crossed into the U.S. border many times with a knife in my bag or vehicle, it is a lot easier to say to a border official, “I have a small jack knife in my bag” than a hunting one.  It is a lot less questions about what you plan to do with it.

Multi-tool

I own some great multi-tools but my favorite one is a generic one that I got for $10 at Wal-Mart.  It has multiple tools, grips that don’t hurt my hands and has lasted several adventures and crisis around the home.  You can pay more than $20 but at the end of the day, mine has lasted me really well and there are all sorts of ones to choose from.  If you are determined to get a high end multi-tool, you can do no better then the Leatherman CX Skeletool.  At a mere 5 ounces, it is the lightest multi-tool on the market.  One word of warning, it’s blade comes out of the packaging really, really sharp.   Rub your finger across it and you are bleeding all over your new multi-tool.

Adventure Medical Kits Adventure First Aid 1.0

Adventure Medical Kits Adventure First Aid 1.0

This first-aid kit is affordable and covers all the minor medical issues you might encounter, from headaches to allergic reactions to cuts. Plus, the carrying case has room for any extra medicines you need to pack along.  Like any first aid kit, take a look at it before you need it and add to it what you see fit.  We bought our First Aid kit for $10 from Walmart and it came with an even better equipped kit we leave in the car and a smaller kit we toss in Mark’s bag.

Beyond Coastal Active Face Stick

Beyond Coastal Active Face StickThis sunscreen from Beyond Coastal uses natural ingredients such as coconut oil and beeswax. The result: a face-stick formula that’s easy to apply and stays with you for hours. Bonus: Because it goes on thick, it also prevents windburn.

Off! Active Spray

Off! Active SprayMosquitoes are attracted to body heat, so as you and your family work up a sweat, you can become more appealing to these hungry pests. OFF! Active® products are great for giving your family on-the-go mosquito protection.

I think mosquito protection is a matter of personal preference.  I tend to not use it until it is really bad when I am up north.  That means when I need it, I generally want to use the stuff with Deet.  Since we do a lot of hiking and walking when out, I prefer the Off! Active Formula in the smaller spray bottle but your preference may vary.  The importance is to find a product that keeps you from being eaten alive.

Deodorant

Yes, I have a sensitive nose and yes I may hate body odor as much or more than most of you.  I can’t control how you smell but  I can control how I smell.  I prefer to smell like Old Spice Bear Glove.

Toothbrush and a Small Tube of Toothpaste

I am not one of those that need to brush their teeth 10 times a day but I do prefer a clean mouth after a day of hiking or photography.

Hand Sanitizer

Because I hate dirty hands.  I get one of those small travel ones from Dollarama.

Moleskine Notebook and Pen

Moleskine Notebook

What do you do if you come across a great idea in the middle of a road trip?  Share it with friends and family knowing that haters going hate.  Or do you write it down like Henry David Thoreau would do?  You know the answer.  Grab yourself a decent notebook and a Parker Urban Roller Ball pen.  I find the drive back from any adventure is the best time to plan for your next one.

Extra socks

Merino Wool Hiking Crew Socks

Something cotton and goes with both shorts or khakis.   Get the Men’s Merino Wool Hiking Crew Socks.  If your socks or feet get wet from water or sweat, it makes for an uncomfortable day.  Instead pack a pair of these amazing socks in your pack and change when you need to.  They are perfect for getting you through your day and good looking enough to get you through the evening.   Of course you probably have a pair of socks you have already you can use.

Van Heusen Men’s Short Sleeve Oxford Dress Shirt

Van Heusen Men’s Short Sleeve Oxford Dress Shirt

This is something to wear once your day of adventure is done.  Whether you are going out for a nice dinner, meeting up with some friends or just want to feel good on the trip home, this is the shirt you toss on.  It’s wrinkle resistant, comfortable, and has a timeless and classy look to it.

Nalgene Water Bottle

Nalgene Water Bottle

You can pay big money for a water bottle.  Here’s some advice.  Don’t.  Get a Nalgene and it will last forever.  The narrow mouth makes for an easy drinking experience on the road or the trail. The closure and bottle create a leak proof system with no o-rings that can fall out. All Everyday bottles are made with Eastman Tritan and are resistant to tastes and odours.

Energizer Vision LED Head Lamp

Energizer Vision LED Headlamp

Whether you have to navigate by map in the dark, barbecuing late at night or hike into a cabin or campground, having a hands free light in your bag is a huge plus on a trip.

Clif Bars

If you’re stuck on an airplane or just want to avoid fast food on the road, these bars, will keep you going with 250 calories and 43 grams of carbohydrates.  They aren’t bad but they do recommend you drink a fair amount of water with them.  The biggest advantage is they won’t melt and won’t leave you feeling gross on a road trip.  That being said, some of you prefer the iconic Eat More chocolate bar.  It doesn’t provide the same energy boost as a Clif Bar but it doesn’t melt like other chocolate bars.

A pair of under $40 headphones

Panasonic RP-TCM125 “Ergo Fit” headphones

Since these will spend a lot of time in your bag compared to how much time they will spend in your ears, I suggest the Panasonic RP-TCM125 “Ergo Fit” headphones.  They are The Wirecutter’s budget pick and former overall best in ear headphone pick.  If you find them on sale, you can pick up a pair for $15.   They sound better and more comfortable then the pair of Apple headphones that came with your phone or iPod.

BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard with $250 on it

BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard

Technically this goes in my wallet but it’s a big part of my travel arsenal.  Your bank may or may not have a similar option but if it doesn’t, you can get a BMO Prepaid Travel MasterCard.  It works just like a regular MasterCard but it is prepaid.  You can add money to it from an ATM or if you are a BMO member, it is linked to your account.  If you have an emergency, you can pay for a motel room, a tow, or grab a meal no matter how bad it gets.  Not only that but once you have that money down on it, you know that you are good to go for any road trip at any time.

Since it is prepaid, there is no interest or debt to pay back later.

So that is my bag.   Let me know what you think of it.

Review of the 2016 Ford Flex

Ford CanadaA couple of weeks ago, Ford Canada was cool enough to lend me a 2016 Ford Flex for a week to review it.   We drove it in the city, we took it on the highway, and we took it on a road that was under heavy construction and kind of scary.   Here is what I learned about the crossover.

The 2016 Ford Flex compliments of Ford Canada

Mark and Oliver liked it.  Especially Oliver.  The third row of seats is amazing when you have children.  There is no fighting, no arguing, just peace and quiet.  When they are sitting beside each other, it is like an uneasy truce both sides are trying to break.  When they are separated, it is peaceful, calm, and relaxing.

The second row of seats is large enough for myself and I am 6’4.  The rear row was fine for Mark and was large enough for Oliver to think he had his own apartment back there.  It is a legit third row of seating.

The 2016 Ford Flex compliments of Ford Canada

I should say that the 2016 Ford Flex broke Mark’s heart.  I have been reviewing Ford automobiles for the last couple of years and each one of them, Mark has been too young to drive anything other than his mountain bike.  In his mind, when he turned 16, he was going to get behind the wheel and put it through his paces.   He just turned 16.   Then I told him he had to be 18.  He was crushed.  Devastated.  Forlorn.

So I asked him what he was going to do about it?  I suggested he tweet at Ferrari that he was kid in the middle of Saskatchewan and if they could lend him a vehicle for a week to review.  Mark was like, “Really?”  I then told him to compare his Twitter following to Kim Kardashian’s and evaluate his chances.  Yes, I troll my own kids from time to time.

Oh well, there is hope for him in 2018.

Driving Around Town

I took the Flex to work with me for the week and we pretty much parked the Chevy HHR.  It is pretty agile around town.  It has a tighter turning radius than you would expect and quite a bit tighter than my old Dodge Caravan which made it a nice commuter vehicle.  While I drove it pretty conservatively, I had to stomp on the gas once to avoid a careless driver and it unexpectedly tossed you back into your seat.  For a vehicle that long, you don’t expect it to handle and have the power of a sports car but does.

The kids liked it.  I had to drop Mark off at Bedford Road Collegiate for his school’s canoe trip.  The response was, “When did you get that SUV?” and “Is that a new Ford Flex?”  Not a huge sample size but it is approved by high school students who love to explore.

At least the 2016 Ford Flex looks stylish

If you want to take a moment to point out that Mark did up the hip straps on his backpack to load it into the car so I could drive him like three kilometers to his school, go ahead, I don’t know what he was thinking.  The Flex had a lot of room for his gear but could barely hold all of the geekness.   The design may be a bit polarizing but the shape means there is all sorts of storage.  if you get the optional luggage rails and then add a luggage rack or pod, you have a vehicle that begs itself to be taken for long road trips.

Driving on the Highway

We took the car to Prince Albert National Park where we intended to hike the trail along Kingsmere Lake to Grey Owl’s Cabin.

My sherpa, I mean my son loads the gear in the 2016 Ford Flex

There were four of us and the dog.  We had a cooler full of cold drinks when we were done and three and a three quarters expedition sized backpacks.  They all fit comfortable in the back even if the dog was confused why she wasn’t driving.   Check out Mark loading the gear in he back when were done.  There was lots of room.

Marley and her backpack

It was a quiet drive using the cruise control on the way up but it’s a great highway vehicle.  Lots of room, Sirius XM radio, nice sound speakers and heated and air conditioned chairs.  It was excellent.  A combination of a long wheelbase and Ford’s suspension made for a smooth and comfortable ride.

Years ago a friend of mine bought a Ford Grand Marquis when his father retired from work.  He picked his dad up, tossed him in and they drove the Trans Canada highway to the east coast, came back, went south and joined up with Route 66 and drove that from coast to coast before heading north to Highway 1 again and headed back to Saskatoon.  I always wanted to do that and have always thought of the Ford Grand Marquis as the perfect vehicle to do that with.  If I was going to do a trip like that, it would be the Ford Flex. 

I do have a funny story though about the Ford Flex.  As we were turning into Prince Albert National Park right at LT’s Food and Fuel, I heard a horrible sound from the Flex.

LT's Food and Fuel near Prince Albert Provincial Park

I immediately slowed down but the noise go louder, I pulled into the parking lot and was about to call Ford over the still going loud noise when I realized that it was a Diet Coke I was holding.  I hadn’t done the lid up tight and the road was rough which shook up the pop until air and fizz started to leak out making this noise that had us all convinced there was something wrong with the car.  For the rest of the weekend, every time something in the Flex would make a noise, Mark would go, “Dad, the Flex is breaking! Better stop.”  I deserved that mocking.

The Ford Flex was quiet on the highway and while I didn’t have a lot of traffic to contend with, when I had to pass, there was power to pass which is what is really important.

Leaving the Pavement Behind

The main reason we didn’t complete the trip was that Kingsmere Road was under heavy construction during the week and was closed.  In what we had hoped would be a three day hike instead turned into a two day one which was more than Oliver could handle.

The construction did allow me to see how the Flex handled off the pavement on some soft and sloppy roads.  Parks Canada warned us about the roads before hand.  She said that it was passable but unpleasant.  I took the warning seriously but despite the soft spots, the Flex handled it easily.  Even coming back from trailhead after a large storm the night before where the road was worse, I didn’t worry.  Well there was one part of the parking lot where there was a D6 Cat that looked stuck, I avoided that part of the road.

Final Thoughts

Over a week, I developed some strong opinions about the 2016 Ford Flex.  Let me share them here.

  • For a family like ours that loves to travel, the extra space was amazing.  Three rows of seats but the second one was large enough for the boys travel comfortably without them bugging each other.  It’s the vehicle you want when driving to Disneyland, the west coast or Waskesiu for the day.
  • ESPN Radio.  It may not be your favorite thing on a roadtrip but it is mine.  Sirius XM radio is worth the money and if the car you purchase has it built in and ready to go, you are one step ahead.
  • Heated seats / air conditioned seats.  When you just walk a bazillion miles in the Canadian Shield, things hurt.  Heated seats make that pain go away.  Air conditioned seats cool you down.  They are amazing.
  • Cup holders up front, in the back, on the sides…. Let’s see we had coffee cups, pop bottles, and water bottles all going on the way home.  There was room for all of them.
  • The front and rear sunroofs are a nice touch.  The rear one is split.  At one point Oliver had his one open and Mark had his one shut. 
  • Designed to seat seven adults, the Flex is equipped with large, plush, overstuffed front and second-row seats.
  • The third-row seat dumps into a well in the vehicle’s floor, similar to a minivan, and because the Flex has a nearly vertical rear window and a square roofline, it provides an impressive amount of cargo room even when traveling with a full house of passengers.
  • For the 2016 model year Ford gave us the company’s new Sync 3 infotainment system in the Flex. Sync 3 replaces the MyFord Touch infotainment system, and it represents a significant improvement.

    Highlights of the new system include:

    • Capacitive touch screen with swipe and pinch-to-zoom capability
    • Improved graphics, faster response to inputs
    • Upgraded voice recognition technology
    • Siri Eyes Free, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
    • System updates available via Wi-Fi
  • Fuel mileage wasn’t bad.  You can check out Fuelly and see what other Ford Flex drivers are getting.  The average seems to be about 18 mpg.   I get around 25 mpg with my Chevy HHR but it is a much smaller and less powerful vehicle.

I am a fan of the Flex.  It’s styling isn’t for everyone but I have come to love it.  If you are a family who loves to travel or just wants a comfortable ride to the great outdoors, the Ford Flex is worth looking a closer look at, you will be impressed at what you see.