Category Archives: travel

Mount Norquay

After a day in Banff, I took everyone for a drive up Mount Norquay because Wendy and Mark wanted to see and sit in a Parks Canada Red Chair and I knew two would be up there.  At that point, I didn’t realize the upper Moraine Lake trails were closed because of grizzly bears and I hadn’t thought of going to into Yoho to see Takakkaw Falls yet (nor did I think they would have some red chairs.)

On the way to the chair, I got a phone call asking for Wendy.  She just got the word her father had died.  While she processed that news, a sports car pulls up and a guy and girl pop out because they want to pet Marley.  It was so weird and random but it happened that entire day.

Wendy soon joined us and as a family we walked down to this meadow and took in the views of Banff and the Bow Valley.

I should also take some time to point out that earlier in the day on the way to Banff and Sulphur Mountain, Wendy had her own bear sighting.  We were driving down the Bow Valley Parkway and a black bear popped up over the guard rail.  We had seen another black  bear and we are pretty sure we saw The Boss, a giant grizzly bear beside the road but they were in the middle of a bear jam and out of principle, we didn’t stop.  Wendy just mocked people for being stupid.  So when we saw this bear and we were by ourselves, Wendy was so pumped up.  It was hilarious and she was on a high all day.

Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2878Mt Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2881The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

I am not sure how it happened but it looks like Mark got a hold of my camera.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2907The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkIMGP2920

I was accused of giving Mark the finger here but I think the photographic evidence is solid, I was just pondering what a bad kid he is.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

We met this guy (or gal, I really have no idea) on the way up.  Wendy took some photos and we kept going.  On the way down he (or she) was in the exact same spot.  It was probably pondering what a bad kid Mark was as well.The view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National ParkThe view from Mount Norquy near Banff in Banff National Park

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.

Castle Mountain

After hiking up to Silverton Falls, we drove further down the Bow Valley Parkway until we got to the base of Castle Mountain and stopped at the site of the Castle Mountain Internment Camp used in World War I.  It’s not a proud part of Canada’s past.

Castle Mountain Internment Camp in Banff National Park

Life at the camp was brutal.  Rations were poor, abuse was widespread and some froze to death during the winters.  They were essentially used as slave labor to build the Banff National Park infrastructure.

From there we checked out the Castle Mountain lookout which had a Canadian Pacific rail line go by it.

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

I am not sure what happened here but both Mark and Oliver just stared for ages at Castle Mountain.  For Mark it was almost a spiritual experience.  Finally he goes, “So this is why you love the mountains.” 

Views of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

Then as we were talking, you could hear the familiar sound of a eastbound Canadian Pacific train coming in the distance.

A Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkA Canadian Pacific train heads east along the Bow Valley near Castle Mountain in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National ParkViews of Castle Mountain and the Bow Valley in Banff National Park

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

Johnston Canyon Campground

Well we are back from vacation in Banff National Park and later Yoho National Park.   It was a great week but once that almost didn’t happen.  A few weeks ago they took me off my antibiotics because they thought they had killed the infection (again) and of course we know what happened.  In three days I was overwhelmed with fevers and extremely sick just before the holidays.  So I was back on my medication but it takes weeks for it to catch up to the infection.

The day  before we were to leave, I was really sick.  It had gotten worse and I was really suffering.  I went to be knowing that all I wanted was to sleep for the next week.

I got up early last Sunday and felt even worse.  I talked to Wendy and said that her and the boys should go without me.

They loaded the car and went to leave.  I had gotten some sleep and felt a little better. I didn’t feel strong enough to go but I had some food and talked it over with Wendy and decided to go.  I did warn her that I may do nothing more than sleep all week.  She was okay with that.

We had intended to leave Saskatoon, contact some friends and grab some coffee as we passed through town.  Now we left Saskatoon really late and it was going to be a rush to get to the campground before nightfall.

Sadly we were very  early onto a horrible motorcycle crash.  Guy on a road bike, wet highway, looks like he lost control.  When we got there, he was lying on the highway and being held down.  It was a horrible sight but ambulance was on route and First Responders were already there.

We rolled in Johnston Canyon Campground around 9:00 p.m. and Mark and I rushed to set up the tents.

This was Wendy’s and mine tent.  I know it’s massive.  It is an eight person tent that I picked up at Walmart a few years ago.  I am not a big fan of Walmart tents but I bought some Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof and applied it.  The SolarProof protects the tent from UV radiation at higher altitudes while making it waterproof.  We did get some heavy rain a few days and nights and we never had a leak all week.  Several times I found myself laying in it and going, “this should be leaking” but it wasn’t.

Our tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

The tent doesn’t come with a ground sheet.  So I decided to pick up some tarps.  I measured the tent spent $3 on tarps from Dollarama and used Gorilla Tape to fasten them together created one.  The ground sheet saves the bottom of the tent and acts as a bit of a vapor barrier between the tent and the ground.

A five person tent at Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

We had some tents already but my brother Lee gave this tent to the boys when he upgraded.  The 8 person tent served as home for Wendy and I while Mark and Oliver lived in the smaller five person tent.  It’s a three season tent with a big vestibule.  They loved having their own space.  The fact that it came from their uncle and aunt made it even cooler for them.

The only complaint was we never had a night where I felt 100% confident that we would not get rain.  Oliver really wanted to “sleep under the stars”.  Either that or he really wanted to see what else was going on while he slept in the tent.

An eight person tent is too big for two people but one can stand up in it and there was room for our queen sized air mattress.  Since I had a dog sleeping in my arms every single night, all of the space we could get was needed.

I had purchased Wendy a hammock for Mother’s Day.  I gave strict orders to the boys that this was Wendy’s hammock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had my hammock as well.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

According to this, I was late giving the edict that this was MY hammock.  By the time I went to lay in it, it had already been infested.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

You have no idea how hard it was to get them out of this tent.  There was one of them in it the entire time we were there.  Mark called it a Bear Taco.

This is Wendy getting everything set up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Something is wrong with this photo.  There are only three lawn chairs.  Obviously they were packed when I wasn’t planning to come out.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

Wendy had some help from Marley in setting things up.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

This is the view from the back of the campsite.  Just through the trees is the main line of the Canadian Pacific Railway which thrilled all of us when it rolled through between five and ten times a day/night.  Some might have found it bothersome but we loved it.  The railway were such a big part of the story of Banff National Park, it was cool to hear them roll through, even if it didn’t make for the best alarm clock.

Views of the Johnston Canyon Campground in Banff National Park

I had originally wanted to stay in the Castle Mountain Campground because of it’s location but you can’t reserve there.  In hindsight staying in a place with a hot shower was the right decision.

There were only four showers for 100+ campsites but it was enough.  There was a bit of a lineup in the evenings but most people took really quick showers (although Wendy waited as a women took a 40 minute shower one morning).  The one oddity of the campground was there was two plugins in each washroom which were always being used as people charged everything from laptops computer to cameras and phones.

Parks Canada staff kept the washrooms immaculate although one of them said, “It’s not that hard, people are really good here.”  I’ll take her word for it but the fact remains those washrooms were the cleanest of any campground we had ever seen.

The campground wasn’t that large and was extremely quiet.  We were surrounded by Americans and Europeans for most of it.  It was hectic in the morning as everyone got up and got going, then it was silent for for most of the day as everyone was gone.  It got slightly busier at night but mostly people flaked out after a long day of hiking.  There were two cycling clubs there who were working out together in the mountains all day long.  Most of the noise was people slowly cycling by.  If you are looking for a nice campground, this is it.

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.

Exploring with the 2016 Ford Flex

As much fun as the 2016 Ford Flex is to drive around Saskatoon.  Today is why we have it.

Today starts the 20 kilometer hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin.

A couple of hours ago, we loaded the Ford Flex with a cooler full of ice and drinks (for when we are done the hike and get back to the Flex), topped up the tank with gas, tossed three loaded expedition sized backpacks into it and one smaller one for Oliver and a dog backpack for Marley and then headed out the door for Prince Albert National Park.

After we get into the park, we will register with Parks Canada and then head about 40km north of Waskesiu to the trailhead near Kingsmere Lake.  From there we are hiking 17km to the Northend campground where we will make camp before walking another three kilometers to Ajawaan Lake.

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After we check out Beaver Lodge, we will head back 3 kms back to our camp and call it a night.  Then its up and at it the next morning and back to the trailhead where that cooler of orange juice, Gatorade, Diet Coke, cold water and Coca-Cola awaits.  If we don’t make it back, you know we died a painful death at the hands of a bear in the wilderness.

A week

His sunglasses are packed somewhere

I took this photo of Mark today just minutes before we drove him to Bedford Road Collegiate and dropped him off for his school canoe trip.  He is headed to Sturgeon Lake and if all goes well, he will return Tuesday.  If it doesn’t go well, this photo will help search and rescuers find him.

As we pulled up to the school, other kids were walking up with full body pillows and big luggage.  It reminded Mark and I over every failed exploration documentary ever.

The Expedition brought along fine china and suits from the best tailors in London.

Provided he does get back, we will take another trip on Saturday with the 2016 Ford Flex (Thanks Ford Canada, we appreciate it) to Prince Albert National Park.  After stopping in Waskesiu, we will pick up our back country permit and then we drive north past the Waskesiu Marina until we see this sign.

Grey Owl's Cabin in Prince Albert National Park

Then we take a big gulp, tighten up our hiking boots, grab our bags, and then start to walk for 17 kilometers until we get to Northend Campground.  When we get there, we will make camp, store our food up high and then push on for another 3 kilometers until we get to Ajawaan Lake and see Grey Owl’s cabin.

Once there, we will check it out and then head back to the campground for the evening.  I am told that nothing beats smokies and Kraft Dinner after a long hike in the backcountry so I will put that to the test.  Personally I think perfectly barbecued steaks would be ideal but Wendy doesn’t want to carry the barbecue and Oliver is balking at carrying a full propane tank for it.  It’s obvious someone hasn’t bought into my vision for the ideal hike.

As for gear, Wendy, Mark, and I all have expedition sized packs. 

I get to carry:

  • Mountain Hardwear Drifter 2 Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Clothes
  • Camera gear (
  • Primus Classic Stove and fuel
  • Water
  • Coffee Press
  • Stanley Travel Mug
  • Mess kit
  • Food
  • Hatchet (Northend campground has firewood but I need to split up kindling)
  • Headlamp
  • Multi-tool and knife.
  • Wendy is carrying

    • Sleeping bag
    • Clothes
    • Pot for boiling food
    • Food
    • Water
    • Travel mug
    • Mess kit
    • First Aid Kit
    • Headlamp

    Mark is carrying

    • Eureka two person tent
    • Sleeping bag
    • Clothes
    • Water
    • Mess kit
    • Travel mug
    • Food
    • Lantern
    • Headlamp

    Oliver is carrying up

    • Sleeping bag (it’s fleece and a lot smaller than other sleeping bags)
    • Clothes
    • Mess kit
    • Travel mug
    • Water
    • Food
    • Headlamp
    • Flashlight
    • Bushnell Backtrack GPS (he won’t need it but he got it for his birthday and is super excited about it)

    Marley is carrying

    • Dog food
    • Dog dishes
    • Bear bell

    We also have some things like GPS’s (which aren’t needed as the trail follows the lake but it is nice to know how much further), headlamps, flashlights, and some reading material for Friday night.

    Food is pretty simple.  We are all a fan of Marty Belanger’s hiking videos on YouTube and he has this short video on how to pack food for a multi day hike (I just refuse to use instant coffee).   He pre packs his meals into zip lock bags which do for each of us.

    Friday Meals

    • Breakfast at home
    • Lunch
      • Tortilla shells
      • Broccoli and Cheese Rice to go inside of shells
      • Cliff bars
    • Dinner
    • Kraft Dinner
    • Smokies cooked over a fire announcing to all Black Bears in Prince Albert National Park that we have food they might enjoy.  We will cook these 100 metres or so from campground as suggested by Parks Canada and common sense.
    • Chocolate bars for dessert
    • Tea and hot chocolate
  • Snack
    • Oysters over the fire

    Saturday Meals

    • Breakfast
      • Oatmeal
      • Granola bars
      • Hot Chocolate
      • Coffee
    • Lunch
      • Sidekick pasta
      • Tuna wraps with tortilla

    Raman noodles as needed and we do have enough food in case there is an emergency.

    The only thing that concerns me is that we both have two person tents and the dog likes to sleep between Wendy and I.  That could be for a long night where one of us is sleeping in the vestibule.   That person could be me.

    If all goes well, we will be out by mid afternoon on Sunday and back in Waskesiu for supper.   The Ford Flex has both air conditioned and heated seats.  I am unsure at this time which I will be turning on first as we leave the parking lot.

    This expedition does have it’s own website here.    We’ll be posting much more once we are done there.

    Well this doesn’t look good.

    So the other day I was messing around with my photo project Bridge City and everything went wrong with the database.  My WordPress database was messed up.  The backup was less messed up but it was a mess.  I felt like hurling.

    For those of you know follow it, you know that I have uploaded about 750 high resolution photos of Saskatoon to the site, organized by neighborhood.  For the historical buildings in Saskatoon, I tracked down the architect and learned a lot about the city in the process.  There was David Webster the father and David Webster the son.  Many historical records claim David Webster as architect when he wasn’t and some historical records have contradictory information which often means the building construction is more complicated than we ever thought.  Personally I think at one point in our city’s history, if we didn’t know who the architect was, someone at the back at the room yelled out, “David Webster” and someone said, “sounds good” and that was it.

    The project has been a lot of fun as I have spent many a day off buried in archives and online tracking down a list of questions that I can’t find an answer for.

    Since the project is to document the important buildings in the city, it has gotten me off the couch and out in the streets, often with Mark and Wendy in tow as we try to capture the building.  This process has attracted building owners, neighbors, and even Saskatoon City Police officers to see what I am up to and then share some of what they know.  It’s been a lot of fun.

    The good news is that the photos aren’t lost but the information and research is.  For a couple of days I was torn between recreating the site or just posting the photos here.

    From a branding perspective, having my photography under my site and name makes the most sense but I really like being able to browse by neighborhood and creating a resource that is used by a lot of you.  For all intents and purposes my Flickr account does the same thing but I enjoy going through it, researching what I have captured and filling out the site.

    The plan is to upload and post 10 archival posts a night to Bridge City and of course one new one each day.  Hopefully the site will be back to where it was (and maybe even better) by late summer.   So if you are one of the people that checked it out and used it as a resource, thanks for reading, commenting, and correcting.  I love the input.

    I get asked all of the time why I spend so much time documenting and capturing the city.  Basically as a writer, I find myself writing about what is messed up with the city.  I write about social justice and City Hall.  I deal with politicians who look me in the eye and lie to me.  That kills one’s enthusiasm for the city you live in.

    Then I go out with my Pentax K-3 or a cheap point and shoot and I see the city in a different way.  The city slows down.  There is time for coffee and chatting.  I find myself falling in love with this city all over again.  In the end, carrying a camera and shooting some photos or video connects me to the city and it’s people.  That’s still kind of important to me.

    Heading back to Ogema

    By the time this publishes, I will be driving a 2016 Ford Focus (not the one below, this one is white) south to Regina where I meeting up with adventurer and author Robin Esrock.  He is a Ford Canada brand ambassador.  After meeting up (and I assume getting coffee at the Starbucks), we are heading south to Ogema, Saskatchewan (a place where I explored last year with Ford), testing out some food, riding the Southern Prairie Railway, taking in a museum, and then heading back to Regina.

    In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan with a 2015 Ford Focus

    Wendy and the boys are coming along for the trip.  Instead of heading south with us, they are going to explore Regina and in particular, Wascana Lake and the Saskatchewan Legislature.  I’ll post some photos from the trip to the blog tonight.  I assume they will as well.

    If you don’t want to read my account of the day, check out Elan Morgan’s blog.  It’s always a good read.

    There is a book signing with Robin Esrock in Regina at 7:00p.m.  at the Chapters.  If you come on out, I’ll be there.  I won’t sign your book but we could totally do a selfie or something over coffee. 

    (Ford) #ExploreSask

    Ford Canada is lending me a 2016 Ford Explorer to take to Swift Current tomorrow and take in some of the 2016 Ford World’s Women Curling Championship.  

    2016 Ford Explorer

    I don’t know if Ford knows this but the drive from Saskatoon to Swift Current is a lot of fun.  First of all you drive from Saskatoon to Rosetown which is no fun at all.  Then once you turn south, the drive gets better.  You get into some hills and curves.  The scenery is great.  There are giant wind farms.  There is Saskatchewan Landing.  Just thinking about taking that SUV down to Swift Current makes me smile.  I love driving that road.

    So why am I doing this?  Well let’s get this out the way.

    • I don’t work for Ford.  Nor am I paid for anything that I write about Ford vehicles.  They give me complete freedom to write what I think about their cars. Over the years when I have written about things that I may not like, I have been contacted by people from Ford asking for more feedback and ways I think it could work better.  That’s it. 
    • Basically the only restrictions that Ford places on me is insurance related and I am not allowed to smoke in the car.  Since I have never smoked, that isn’t an issue.
    • For this trip, Ford Canada is paying for my hotel (at the Motel 6 in Swift Current), gas, and some of the food.  I mention some of the food because I decided I wanted to pay for the red licorice I am buying tomorrow out of my own personal money.  That way I don’t have to share if I don’t want to.
    • Having thought long and hard about this but if I could own any car in the entire world, it would be a Ford Escape Titanium edition.  You have your favorite vehicle, that is mine.  I love that vehicle and every Ford I write about is compared to how it stacks up to that car. 

    Okay, so I mentioned Ford is putting Wendy, Mark, Oliver and I up at the Motel 6 in Swift Current.  The place looks like the inside of an Ikea show hotel.  I can’t wait to take some photos and show you.  I actually am nervous sleeping in it because I am afraid that someone is going to wander through and want to buy part a piece of furniture on their way to go and look at oversized coffee mugs.  The most cutting edge hotel in Saskatchewan is a Motel 6 in Swift Current.  Try to get your head around that. 

    There isn’t a lot to do in Swift Current but I will see what I can photograph and explore there.  Several locals have given me some suggestions on where to eat.

    Once we eat and are secured safely back into the Motel 6 with the NCAA basketball tournament on, I’ll post a review on how the 2016 Ford Explorer handles and a little bit about the trip.

    One last thing, Mark is in driver’s ed but doesn’t quite have his learner’s license yet.  In his (delusional) mind he was so close to test driving the Ford Explorer that he could taste it.  Then I told him that he had to be either 18 or 21 to be able to drive one which pretty much crushed his spirits, hopes, and dreams.  He was quite happy tonight to be able to ride in the front seat.  As he said, “all he had to do was picture being in the U.K. and it was like he was driving.”  I admire his spirit.