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Wendy Cooper

Happy 14th Birthday Mark!

While the rest of the world celebrates Queen Victoria’s birthday this weekend, we are celebrating Mark turning 14 at the cabin.

He has been saving up for a DLSR camera for months.  When I upgraded my Pentax K-x, he thought I traded it in for a new camera.  Instead I took it upstairs and have been saving it to give him for his birthday.

Pentax Kx DSLR camera

After having the camera’s sensor cleaned, I bought him a new 16 GB memory card and cleaned all of the lens up perfectly (if you don’t have a Lens Pen, you are doing it all wrong).  

Wendy and I had bought him a a new Roots sling camera bag and placed the camera in along with some of my older lenses.  Along with the camera, I gave him this 18-55mm lens that came with the camera, a really sharp manual 50mm lens, a Pentax 100-300 lens, and a Takumar-F 28-80mm manual lens (that to be honest, really sucks) but it will give him a macro to play with.  I have an older Sigma 70-210 lens that I may give him as well but I am awaiting a replacement for it.  Until then he can borrow it.

We also tossed in one of those Eneloop battery chargers and some amazing Eneloop XX batteries (best recyclable batteries on the planet) and a National Geographic magazine

Mark and his Pentax K-x

To celebrate his birthday we are heading north from the cabin for a long nature walk along the shores of Last Mountain Lake where we will hopefully get some shots of some birds and someone can test out his new camera.  I expect you will see some photos of the day as soon as we get back into the city.

Mark blogs about his birthday here.

Wendy at Galaxyland

Wendy at Galaxyland

Turning 40

Today mark’s my 40th trip around the sun without being tossed off.  I guess it also means that I am middle aged.  That being said, Time Magazine once said that 50 is the new 30 so I guess that makes me 25 or so.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

To celebrate my birthday, we have spent the last couple of days where it all began; in Edmonton.  Yes I was born in Edmonton.  I don’t like to talk about it because it wasn’t my choice and it is Edmonton after all.

We got up at Sunday at 5:00 a.m., left Saskatoon at 6:00 a.m., were in Lloydminister for breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and in Elk Island National Park by 11 a.m.  After talking some photos of some bison, it was off to Edmonton.  Wendy used some Airmiles to book a decent hotel, the boys have spent the last couple of days enjoying West Edmonton Mall and I got out in the warmer weather and took some photos around the city.  I’ll post them online when I get back to Saskatoon.

I don’t really think of Edmonton as home.  I was born there and only lived there a year before moving to Rainbow Lake and then settling in Calgary for a decade.  Growing up as a Calgary Flames hockey fan, I used to despise Edmonton in the same way someone from Springfield thinks of Shelbyville.  Since things have changed (and both Calgary and Edmonton can’t play hockey),it is nice to be back, even if it does mean wandering up and down a mall.

Invicta Watch

For my birthday, the boys gave me a Pentax WG-10 rugged compact camera while Wendy gave me a GoPro 3+ Silver Edition and a really nice Invicta dive watch.  Maggi gave me a Denver Broncos sign that I will hang at the cabin.  Two of the four gifts say, “get outside more often” and after this winter, I can’t agree more.

The plan is to have dinner with the boys tonight at a local restaurant and then head down to Winston’s for a Diet Coke with some friends.

My brother gave me a DeWalt cordless drill and a bit set.  We are planning to build the deck on the cabin this summer and he included his ideas as well.  A 10×10 deck out back and a 8×8 deck in the front yard.  We should have it built in a day.

Wendy’s new website

Wendy has had a blog for over a decade and has been trying to decide what to do with it.  She also publishes The Cooking Blog.  Since she doesn’t have the time or motivation to write for both of them and wanted to do something else with the site.  

Several people have asked me what they should do with their domain name and I always tell them to check out Hemant Naidu’s website.  I found it a while ago while searching for something local and found it.  It’s hosted by Flavors.me.  Depending on your options, it can be either free or $20 a year. 

It’s a one page template and does everything that Wendy wants it to do.  I set this up for her in 20 minutes.  Most of that time was Wendy stressing out over the font and the photo.

Wendy Cooper.org

About.me does something really similar but costs about twice as much.  If you are looking at parking a domain name, it is the easiest way to do it.

Christmas Eve

After a long day of work, we spent Christmas Eve at Lee and Brittany’s place in Warman.  They had come by the house earlier and picked up the boys and the presents so all we had to do was go home and then drive out to their place.  We had a nice non-traditional Christmas dinner (some of that tomorrow) and then opened up presents.  The key to Christmas Eve is to eat quickly and no small talk (Lee famously said to Mark one year, “Less talking, more chewing”) so we can get to the presents quicker.  The tradition of the last couple of years has been to even put off dessert post Christmas present opening.

Wendy

  • I gave Wendy a Fujifilm Finepix JX600 compact digital camera.  She has been looking for a new once since her Fujifilm Finepix J10 camera needed a desperate upgrade.  This one will let Wendy take better photos, HD video, and yet still be small enough to take with her wherever she goes.  It also features 3D shooting options which means I will be asking to play with it.  I also lucked out in that it has the same battery that I just got Wendy for her old camera for our anniversary.  A nice bonus for her.
Fujifilm Finepix JX600
  •  Times Ladies Ironman Triathalon WatchMark gave Wendy a ladies Timex Ironman Triathlon watch.  Wendy rarely remembers to put a watch on and is always taking it off.  The hope is that if we got her a watch she would love, she would actually wear it.  So far so good but it is early yet.
  • Oliver gave Wendy some earrings and a lightweight tripod so she can do some night photography.  Personally I think he just wants to stay up later and is using the tripod as an excuse to hang out with mom.  He also gave her a print of him and Mark out for a walk.
  • Santa Claus surprised her with an Olympus PEN ELP-2 interchangeable lens camera.  it was used but barely used.  Wendy has been looking at a Nikon J1, some Sony NEX series cameras and a Fuji X series camera but apparently Santa found her one with a 14-42mm lens.  I was a little nervous supporting a second lens family (yeah I know how funny that sounds) but there are some really affordable Micro Four Thirds lens that we can add that she will love.
  • The dogs partnered up with Santa and got her a 16gb memory card, a Crumpler One Million Dollar House camera bag, and a 37mm lens filter.  I think she liked the camera bag more than the cameras.  Story of my life.

Olympis PEN EPL-2

Mark

  • I gave Mark a Vivitar Action Camera.  He probably wanted a GoPro but I was on a budget and he is thrilled with it.  It comes with a headband, helmet mount, and bike mount.  Expect to see him doing things that will hurt himself soon on his YouTube account.  That’s quality parenting right there folks.
Vivitar Action Camera
  • Santa Claus stopped by and gave him a Sony Xperia J cellphone.   Mark has had two other smart phones, the Samsung Galaxy 550 and then last year we gave him a HTC Desire C and he has taken very good care of them.  He loves the Desire C but it is seriously underpowered and really slow running Android and would not run some apps he really likes.  The Xperia J should speed up his life a little bit. 
  • Wendy gave him some 100 watt 2.1 computer speakers while Oliver gave him some portable X-Mini speakers.
  • The dogs gave him a pen and notebook set.
  • Lee and Brittany gave him a set of Huskie Athletics sweats and hoodie.  He’ll never take them off.
  • Wendy and I gave him a Canon 28-135mm DSLR lens mug.  It’s the closest thing he is coming to a DLSR camera this Christmas.
  • Since he is doing some winter camping at school, we gave him a couple of pairs of wool socks.  He is going to need them.

Oliver

  • I gave Oliver a set of walkie talkies and some 4×30 compact binoculars.  He was thrilled because Mark has a pair of binoculars and I gave a pair to Lee as well.  As for the walkie talkies, what kid doesn’t love walkie talkies.  Oddly enough Wendy is thrilled with them because they do Morse code.  I hear beeping in my future.
  • Wendy gave Oliver, Little Big Planet 2 which has less puzzles to solve then the first one which means he won’t be bugging Mark about helping him solve them.  Of course we also got a great family game as we got him Little Big Planet Karting.  It should be fun.
  • Mark gave him Lego Batman 2 for his Nintendo DS.  Oliver loves Batman and insists that Mark is Robin.  Mark isn’t so crazy about that.  We also got Oliver a Batman bobble head.  Something to inspire him with.
  • Santa Claus dropped off a boom box for his room along with some CDs.  Apparently Santa knows that Oliver loves chilling to music with Mark.
Memorex CD Player
  • Hutch got him an art set
  • Maggi got him a compact camcorder.  It’s only standard definition but if it was good enough to shoot Knight Rider in, it will be fine for Oliver.  He loves to make adventure movies with Mark so I can’t wait to see what he shoots.  The camcorder was being blown out at $10 and I tossed a 2 GB SD card in it.  At only 640×480 resolution, he should be able to record himself doing a “slow punch to the face” for days.  I guess I need to get him set up on YouTube (where he could be Mark’s second camera operator).
A $10 Vibe Camcorder

Lee

  • I gave Lee a full sized set of binoculars that should last him for decades.  Very similar to the ones that I have and similar to the ones my grandfather gave me.  The only thing that makes me sad is that they don’t come with leather hard cases like they used to (long before I was born).
  • The boys gave him a framed print of themselves being idiots while out on a walk.  It seems to sum both of them up so well.
Mark and Oliver Cooper at Arlington Beach in 2013
  • We also got Lee, Bobby Orr’s autobiography.

Brittany

  • Wendy gave Brittany a small cast iron pan with ingredients to make up brownies
  • Since Wendy loved the griddle I got her last year, she gave one to Brittany as well.

Me

Pentax f1.7

Canon 17-135 lens travel mug

I also got a Lowepro Classified 160 AW camera bag

LowePro Classified 160 AW camera bag

Well that’s enough from me tonight.  We are sleeping in tomorrow (as if) and then heading over to our friend’s Jerry and Gloria Reimer where we are enjoying Christmas dinner.  Then it is back to work on Boxing Day for Wendy and I.

Anniversary and new site design

Wendy is blogging about my anniversary gift to her and her site features a new theme and feel. 

The OurYXE Podcast with Cam Broten

I forgot to post this but we had a great interview with the Leader of the Opposition Cam Broten the other night.  The interview went well, the behind the scenes did not.

Last year I was at Cam’s house for a meeting (he is my MLA) and his wife Ruth made these cookies that everyone was raving about.  The plate went around and ran out before it got to me (am pretty sure Frank Quesnell took two).  I was sitting right beside Cam so I couldn’t really make a run at the cookies while he was talking.  The cookies were so good that their goodness actually interrupted the meeting as people savoured the cookies.

Later Ruth came out with batch number two of the cookies but Cam declined then and because of sitting arrangements, the guy next to me got the cookies and the scene was reversed.  Long story short, everyone went on and on about how awesome the cookies were.  I went home and made a note of never sitting beside a politician if there are cookies being served.

Cam showed up for the podcast with a bribe, some fresh out of the oven cinnamon buns made by Ruth.  I was momentarily excited and then I realized that I had a MacBook in front of me and computers but cinnamon buns do not mix.  As soon as the podcast was done, Sean Shaw made a move for them but only took one of the two containers.  I scared Hilary off when I pulled a cutting torch out of my bad and pretended to head towards her bike.  

There I was, the last cinnamon bun.  If I had worked fast, it could have been mind then but we were driving to the Rook and Raven in Shaw’s new Volkswagen and if I had gotten it sticky, he would have made me walk home.

After some beverages (Diet Coke), I make it home, open my bag and before I can pull out the cinnamon bun Wendy grabs it and eats it.  Says it was the best cinnamon bun she ever had in her life.  I have never been so betrayed.

I went to the fridge, gagged back a glass of V8 and went to bed.

You can listen to our podcast with Cam below.  I’m off to find something to eat.

Episode 020

Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes

La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam

On Sunday I decided to take the family along the backroads to Prince Albert.  We explored the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Ascension, Fish Creek Church, and eventually the La Colle Falls Hydroelectric Dam east of Prince Albert.  Mark shot some video footage while there which you can see below.

Wendy wrote a little more about the day on her blog.

Alfred Gilkes

Wendy doesn’t have a lot to do with her family but long after she was estranged from everyone else, her grandfather and her would continue to write letters to each other.  His life started in Guyana in 1906, he was orphaned at a young age, lived in a penal colony as a child, explored the interior of Guyana as a diamond broker, fought a tiger, and then travelled the world on some adventure or another.  When he retired he became a very talented tourist and wrote about that as well.

If he had been born later, he would have been a blogger but instead he did it old school and typed out his autobiography for his family to read.  

Wendy wanted to make it more accessible for Mark and Oliver to read and so we formatted about 200 pages of stories, uploaded them to Blogger and started to research every single thing he wrote about while adding hundreds of links and photos to the story..  After going through it about 15 times, we found two factual errors.  One could have been an OCR mistake and one he spelled out the name of something as he heard it is in English when it was actually a German term.  Okay, that and I am still trying to figure out what a tiger was doing in South America (zoo escapee?)

Wendy isn’t done it yet but it is good enough to let the world know about it at alfredgilkes.blogspot.com where it is there for the world to read about.

Father’s Day

Sadly I didn’t get one of these for Father’s Day.  I never quite get what I want :-)

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Wendy and the boys did get some nice stuff and my awesome wife blogs about the day here.  The day would have been perfect but the garbage hound I have for a dog got into a bag and spread it all over the house.  I had no idea Maggi had been bred with a racoon.

The Grey Owl’s Expedition Gear Guide

Since we are still planning to do a hike to Grey Owl’s Cabin, we have been picking up some gear for the trip.  A lot of people have been asking us what we are taking so here is the quick list of gear that is going.

Backpacks: To carry the gear, we have some frameless backpacks with hip straps.  You can spend a lot of money on these and after reading around, we think we found the right balance between comfort, durability, and price.

NORTH 49® CYCLONE BACKPACKS

If I was walking the Appalachian Trail, I would definitely have purchased a more expensive backpack but it’s only a day and we are only taking so much stuff.  I bought our bags on clearance for $30.  They are 40 litres and have the external straps I want.  They should do the job. 

Tents: Wendy and I are staying in a three man tent we bought for $16 from Wal-mart.  They had a loss leader going this winter and we got it then.  It’s light and just big enough for the two of us.   The tent opens up and hopefully we will be able to sleep under the skies rather than under the fly.  If it does look like it could rain, we’ll be fine underneath it.

Ozark Trail Tent

If I was going camping rather than backcountry hiking, we would have gotten something larger and higher quality.  Weight and size are a factor.  Also the price was insanely cheap ($16 on sale).  If it doesn’t last, no harm done but the reviews online were pretty solid.  It’s no where near as durable as a tent from the North Face but then again, it won’t be asked to do much more than keep the mosquitoes or drizzle off of us.

0765159 1

Mark is staying in a one person tent from Eagle’s Camp.  It is small but it will be only him and his bag.  I don’t know how long it will last him but once he gets to big for it, it can be used by Oliver at the cabin.  Either way it is really light and since Mark will be carrying it in and out, he will appreciate the weight.  We bought some ropes to add as guy wires which opens it up a bit.  It’s small but it is light.

We did waterproof and seal the seams and upgraded the tent pegs to something lighter and more likely to stay in the ground.  If the weather is miserable, we should be okay.

Sleeping bags: Mark had a sleeping bag but Wendy and I wanted new 1.5 pound sleeping bags.  We picked up two at XS Cargo for $10 each.  We will have sleeping foams as well.   Walmart is charging $20 for their sleeping pads but we bought ours at a liquidation place for $3.  We also bought some compression straps so the sleeping bags take up as little as room as possible.

For lighting, Wendy bought me a new headlamp for my birthday and both Mark and Wendy have headlamps and lanterns  We also have a flashlight and Nite Ize LED zipper tags on our backpacks so if we wonder out in the dark, we can be seen.

For the kitchen, we have a Primus Classic Trail Stove and Primus fuel canisters.  Stoves have their own fanboy culture which I understand but for the price, it can’t be beaten.  I know this isn’t the stove to use when it’s winter but since we are doing the hike in July, we should be okay.   It also has a five star review on Amazon.com so it seems to be doing the job.

100119

Coleman also has a propane stove which uses their fuel.  The big advantage was that you can get the propane at almost any store while you need to get fuel for the Primus at a specialty store like Cabela’s, MEC, REI.  The disadvantage of the Coleman stove is the weight of the larger canister and the stove itself.  in the end it made more sense to go with the Primus stove which is small enough to be tucked into our cooking gear.  Of all of the things we have purchased for this hike, the Primus Classic Trail Stove is my favorite.

For backup we have a Magic Heat Stove and canisters.  I picked them up because they were cheap, good for winter travel, and lightweight.  I don’t expect to have to use them but we will take them depending on the weather forecast.  If it is going to be nice, we will leave them but if there is a chance of rain and the idea of fighting with wet wood doesn’t appeal, then we will take the backup stoves.

As for the camp kit, years ago Lee gave Wendy a great camp set.  We picked up three sparks and we are set to go.

As for water, I have talked to a lot of people who had drank right out of Kingsmere Lake with no side affects.  There are giardia warnings about the water so we will have some water filters.  It’s way cheaper using purification tablets but I am told they are disgusting.  Since we are walking along side the lake, we will be using collapsible water bottles to keep weight and volume down.

Food: Basically MRE’s.  We have been to Cabela’s weekly testing out one or two of them each time.  We will eat some snacks on the way in, have a nice dinner (well away from the campground to keep the bears away) and then a big breakfast in the morning on our way out.  Hopefully we get going in time to be back in Waskesiu for a late lunch before heading back to Saskatoon.

Clothes: I went out and invested in some decent hiking shorts and shirts this summer.  As a friend of mine told me that chafing is not something that you will want to do while on the trail.  We also went to Cabela’s and got tested by the Dr. Shoal’s machine for the kind of insoles we all need.  While the custom Dr. Shoals insoles are right there, a row over are competitor insoles designed the same way for a fraction of the cost.  They make hiking boots feel a lot more comfortable and will hopefully make the trip more pleasant.

Technology: We won’t be taking much technology along although we will have a GPS, binoculars, and some cameras.  The idea is to keep the weight down as much as possible but at the some time we want to have some photographs and video.  I don’t expect to have cell coverage on the hike but it won’t matter as our phones will be turned off.  We will have our multi-tools and a hatchet with us but I don’t know if that is considered technology or not.  In case we do get some rain, we have some gadget bags which are essentially waterproof zip lock bags for gear.  It says that you can submerse them but I’d rather not.  What they do a good job of doing is if a tent or bag does leak, your stuff will still be safe.

We bought everything local.  While MEC had a good price on some stuff, by the time we calculated shipping, it was less expensive to get something at Cabela’s and Wholesale Sports.

The problem hasn’t been getting the gear that we want, it’s the issue of realizing that everything we do take is going to have to be hauled in and hauled back out.  Let me know if you have some suggestions in the comments below.

Five Years

Oliver turning five

Oliver turned 5 today which his a fairly remarkable achievement considering his life so far.  Five years and a day ago, Wendy had been hospitalized a couple of weeks after struggling with pre-eclampsia for most of the pregnancy.  The hospital trip was a roller coaster as every day her condition was changing.  She went from being in the hospital to being in intensive care to being on the verge of being let out and sent home.  I had every expectation of bringing her home the next day.

Instead at 5:00 a.m., I got a tearful phone call from her saying that they were going to do an emergency c-section and I needed to get to the hospital right away. The nurse told me that I had a little time so I grabbed a quick shower and raced through the city to Royal University Hospital where the parking lot was closed.  I parked at metered parking with this kind of funny realization that I bet Oliver was going to be born at the time I needed to plug the meter again.

As I went up to the room, there was chaos in Wendy’s room with doctors and nurses in an out taking her vital signs.  A doctor grabbed me and said that Wendy was in better shape than another mother and child and they didn’t think they would survive if Wendy went first.  It wasn’t as if I had any say in it but I kind of said, “yeah, no problem”.  Sadly their child didn’t make it.

I sat with Wendy, called Lee, and just waited.  Wendy was unconscious for most of it and had no idea how serious her condition was.  A doctor came in and told me how bad it was for Wendy and said, “there is a good chance she is going to have a heart attack or stroke during the caesarean”.  There wasn’t much for me to say.  He asked what I did for a living and I told him.  He looked relieved and said, “I don’t think you will freak out in there but if you do, I am going to toss you out of the delivery room.”  I replied, “I seem to the only one who isn’t losing it this morning.  I’ll be fine”.  At this time it was 6:00 a.m. and I offered to do a coffee run for the nurses that had spent the night with Wendy.

The Starbucks was packed and my heart kind of stopped when a nurse came running up to me but she just had some money and was going to help me with the coffees.

We sat for hours as I just kind of sat there and held Wendy’s hand.  Her vital signs were getting worse and her blood pressure was getting higher.  Finally another doctor came in and was yelling at someone else that “this baby should have been taken days ago and the mother is going to die.”  I remember thinking, “Really? This is what medicare cuts have gotten us.  Doctor’s who don’t even realize they are in the room with the father.”  As they left, the nurse came over and said, “Fucking idiots”, told me to ignore them and then realized that it was going to be impossible.  She was mad at them for having that conversation in front of me and offered me another coffee.  I took her up on her offer.

Finally Wendy and I were taken into the delivery room.  A resuscitation team was there as was a team to take Oliver to the NICU. Everyone was just looking at me like, “What the heck is the father doing here” and the doctor would just say, “He works at the Salvation Army, he’s cool” and that seemed to satisfy people.

The caesarean section was over quick and more than Oliver, everyone was looking at Wendy’s vital signs.  The radio was playing the song that was on when Oliver came out was YMCA by the Village People.  There was a massive screen up between Wendy and I and the baby.  As Oliver came out, a nurse and doctor raced over the other side of the screen and kind of yelled, “The baby is fine!” while everyone was looking at Wendy’s blood pressure.  As the tensions left the room, one of the doctors came up to me and said, “I’d be okay with my kid being born to the YMCA.  If it was a Bette Middler tune, his life may have been meaningless”.

Wendy was taken to the recovery room while I wandered out.  I don’t know how but Lee and Mark were in the waiting room and they poked their head into the recovery room and said hi to Wendy who was too tired to know what was going on.  Wendy’s blood pressure hit dangerous levels off and on for the next week.

As I left with Mark to go to Alexander’s for lunch, of course I got a parking ticket.  I wanted to fight it on the basis that I had no other options but I just paid it.

I was able to go up and see Oliver the next day in NICU.  Mark was too young to see him but they made several exceptions for him and Lee.  Because Wendy was too weak to walk, she wasn’t able to see him for the first week which went over poorly.  A combination of fatigue and the medication had her believing that this was a conspiracy but we got over that.

Oliver Scott CooperOliver Scott Cooper

Oliver spent 23 days at RUH and we finally took him home on July 2, 2008.  Before we got home, we actually took him to the Salvation Army Community Services and then to Reimers so it was a late day before he experienced his new home.

Despite the stress of his entry into this world, there was one more obstacle and that was Maggi.  Maggi is like a bull in the China shop and I was nervous that a dog that physically assertive would not do well with a child who was two months premature.  We took him home, set him down in his car chair and a very gentle Maggi slowly approached Oliver and gave him a gentle lick.  It wasn’t until he walking and the height of a wagging tail that her protectiveness and gentleness diminished.

So now he is five.  Time flies when you repress some of those memories.

Today he woke up and excitedly opened his presents:

  • Spiderman water bottle
  • Kick scooter
  • Green Army men
  • An NFL football (from Mark of course)
  • Ninjago book (his two favourite things, Ninjas and Lego)
  • Some new shirts
  • An Angry Bird hat

He is off at A.H. Browne Park with Mark on his new kick scooter wearing a brand new shirt.  He is off to take over the world.

This isn’t going to end well

Standing on the dock in the marina (wasting time)

Despite Wendy and I being right there the entire time, Oliver still got wet and no one knows what happened (the dog isn’t talking).

Review of 2013 Ford Escape

For the last couple of weeks I have been reviewing and test driving a 2013 Ford Escape, compliments of Ford Canada.

Ford Escape2 t618

It’s not the first time I had seen a Ford Escape.  I was a part of the Escape with Ford event last summer, a day I called the greatest day in my life.  My wife and kids weren’t impressed.  I still stand by my statement.

The Ford Escape I had was a black 2013 Titanium edition.  It’s hard to describe my first impressions because I already loved the vehicle.  So here is what I liked about the SUV.

  • I am 6’4″ tall.  I am comfortable in it despite it being a crossover.  Lots of leg and head room.
  • I didn’t have my dog Maggi in the car but there would have been lots of room for her in the back.  Maggi is a Lab/Weimaraner cross and is a big dog.  It would have been perfect to take her to the lake for the weekend.  Knowing Maggi, she would have tried to take the passenger seat and have Wendy in the back but whatever works.
  • The traction control is quite incredible.  In Mayfair and all over the city, the streets are deeply rutted with ice and are quite dangerous to drive on.  The Ford Escape shows how hard the traction control is working and it was at work driving through our side streets.  One morning last week while driving 20 kph down Avenue E, the SUV in front of me driving the same speed went sideways in the ruts.  The Ford Escape didn’t move at all.  Traction control works amazing.  It’s one of those things I don’t think you would think of in a test drive but then when driving it prevents a collision.
  • Speaking of collisions.  While at the Escape with Ford event, we did a high speed driving course and one of the parts was collision avoidance.  When swerving at high speed, the Escape actually settles down for more control.  It’s cool on a closed course but amazing when you are driving along Circle Drive doing the speed limit and someone decides to cross three lanes of traffic at about half your speed.  I had Wendy and the boys in the back, hit the brakes and swerved to avoid the idiot.  Despite hitting the brakes and swerving hard to avoid the accident and other cars, the Escape never lost control for a second and I am not sure the boys realized how close we were to a serious accident.  As I said to Wendy, “This thing just saved us from being seriously hurt”.   I have never cared that much about safety features until I tried the Escape. 
  • I am a big Ford MyTouch fan.  So are my kids.  I turn on the navigation screen and Oliver is fascinated the entire time we are in the car.  He actually asked if we could go for a drive so he can watch the “Ford TV”.  Whatever works folks, whatever works. 
  • It has a USB charger built in.
  • Since I don’t use the Ford Sync that much, it starts out like a therapy session.  I ask it one thing and it says, “did you mean…”  Its like having a therapist in your car.  After two weeks I am communicating with Samantha a lot better (apparently that is what the voice is named according to Ford)
  • It does come with Sirius Satellite Radio which is awesome.  A commute is made tolerable because of ESPN Radio.  I don’t know if I drive enough to make it worthwhile in the long term but I love it when I have it.
  • After I bought my Bose headphones, I started to listen to my music in a whole new way which was a good way of listening to the stereo in the car.  It is the Sony factory system and I really enjoyed it.  Using the Ford MyTouch screen in the car, it is easily customizable.  After a couple of minutes of changing the preferences, I was able to get an amazing sound from it.  
  • The kick lift gate.  Here is another feature I was introduced to at the Escape with Ford event.  We played a game of how quick we could carry a box and get it into the back of the SUV.  The rear lift gate can be opened by a kicking motion.  At the time I thought it was a stupid feature but again, you are surprised at how awesome of feature it is in the real world.  
  • The Ford Escape’s soul is a sports car.  At the Escape with Ford event, we got to push the Escape’s to the limit on the closed course.  Around town I drove it pretty conservatively (my fuel efficiency was quite a bit higher than Chris Enns.  Of course the flip side is that the Ford Sync always seemed sad when I got in instead of Chris.
  • A friend of mine is going through an illness making him very sensitive to the cold.  He was talking about how awesome heated seats are in his car because they keep him warm until the heater starts to kick out heat.  I never thought of it but the seats do make a big difference on a cold Saskatchewan morning.  For those of you not from Saskatchewan, some of our mornings are -40 and it can stay that way for weeks at a time.  Heated seats make a difference. 
  • A bonus from the heated seats is that I can easily turn up the seat without the passenger knowing it.  There is some comedy gold there folks.
  • I did have it through two snow storms and you would never have known it was anything less than summer driving conditions.  With traction control it never slid or lost control.   It’s an ideal SUV for winter conditions.

Some random thoughts based on my experience with the Ford Escape

When I picked up the Escape from Chris Enns, he mentioned that the Ford Sync wasn’t syncing with his iPhone.  This was bad as Chris is one of Saskatoon’s Alpha Geeks and if he couldn’t fix it, it was broken.  It would not do it with mine either.  I looked around the Ford MyTouch, found the master reset and rebooted the Sync.  It still would not sync.  It didn’t sync with Wendy’s Android either.  

One day I left work right after Pope Francis was named pontiff and it recognized my phone.  Coincidence or divine intervention?  The Vatican just says that the miracle is being attributed to St. Francis.

The collision avoidance sensors get dirty and covered with grime and ice in Saskatoon’s winters.  When that happens, they beep.  A lot.  Kind of like this.  BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.  

Then the next time you are stopped at a light.

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

That starts

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

to get under

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

your nerves

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

after

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

a

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

day

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

or

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP

two.

I finally just tossed a micro fibre cloth in the Escape and would wipe the sensors off every day or so.  On a totally unrelated note, I have no idea where Wendy’s micro fibre cloth went.

The kids (Mark and Oliver) didn’t like the lack of heating in the leather rear seats.  They were actually fine with it until they realized Wendy and I had heated leather seats.  The remedy of this is not to take the kids car shopping.

The Ford MyTouch is a bit sluggish.  I thought it was my Ford but according to the interweb it’s the software.  I know it’s hard to believe that Microsoft would ship sluggish software….

Specifications (snagged from Car and Driver)

  • VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 5-door crossover
  • ENGINE TYPE: turbocharged and intercooled inline-4, aluminum block and head
  • Displacement: 122 cu in, 1999 cc
  • Power: 240 hp @ 5500 rpm
  • Torque: 270 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
  • TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
  • DIMENSIONS:
  • Wheelbase: 105.9 in
  • Length: 178.1 in
  • Width: 72.4 in Height: 66.3 in
  • Curb weight: 3804 lb
  • Zero to 60 mph: 7.0 sec
  • Zero to 100 mph: 19.6 sec
  • Street start, 5–60 mph: 7.5 sec
  • Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.5 sec
  • Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.8 sec
  • Standing ¼-mile: 15.3 sec @ 90 mph
  • Top speed (gov ltd): 118 mph
  • Braking, 70–0 mph: 172 ft
  • Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.81 g

This is one of my favourite vehicles that I have ever gotten behind the wheel of.  It’s a powerful, quick, and responsive SUV which is big enough for my family, whether around town or on a longer road trip.  It’s also one of those cars that unless you test drive it during a blizzard, you won’t realize how incredible it is until that first winter or first time you need to brake and steer more aggressively than you thought possible.  There is a lot more to this SUV than a test drive will show and I am glad I was able to have it for a couple of weeks.

The 2013 Grey Owl’s Cabin Expedition

A couple of months ago I was surfing the web and saw this great post by explorer Alistair Humphries on micro adventures (it also caught National Geographic’s eye) and it started me thinking about life and my life when we lived in Calgary.

I loved Calgary.  My bedroom looked out at the Rocky Mountains and it seemed like I was only hours away from adventure whether it be in the Banff National Park or in Kananaskis.  Closer to home there was Fish Creek Provincial Park which had it’s own element of adventure for us as kids.  We hiked, explored, drank water we shouldn’t have (it looked so refreshing coming off the mountain), and even fed deer out of our hands (friend’s timeshare had a sign up that said, “Don’t let deer inside the building” which I have always wondered if that went up before or after a deer came into a room).

Ever since moving to Saskatoon in 1984, adventure was something that you experienced somewhere else.  Our zoo isn’t fierse and every time I drive by “Mt” Blackstrap, I struggle with momentary depression.  Adventure without hills?  Pffft.  It can’t happen.

The adventures that I have had since moving to Saskatoon are urban ones but in other cities.  Exploring south central Los Angeles alone and at night.  Riding the subway in Chicago into the most violent neighbourhood in the United States.  Breaking into abandoned churches and apartments to hand out cigarettes and make connections with homeless people during the middle of winter.  Having breakfast in a stairwell to stop a local gang from using it to move drugs.  It’s something but not what I was looking for.

A couple of weeks ago I started to talk to Wendy and Mark about doing something this year.  Mark will be 13 and Wendy just turned… ummm… she looks 25.  After the usual suggestions of camping (umm, we have a cabin) were tossed out, I suggested we walk the 20 kms to Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park.  I figured it would take us 5 hours but according to the video below it took the Saskatchewanderer over 8 hours.

This is the hike.

2013 Grey Owl's Cabin Expedition

As far as a backcountry hike goes, it is really easy.  It’s only 20 kms each way, it’s impossible to get lost and there are some backcountry camping spots that do include bear caches.  While we are in black bear country and we will have to cook 100 metres downwind of our campground, there isn’t a lot of danger.  The plan is to camp at the Northend Campground, make camp and then head to Grey Owl’s cabin.  It looks easy but again it was an eight hour hike according to the video and some articles that I have read.  Personally I would like it to take us around 6.  I always assumed that there would be others on the trail but after reading some of the accounts of the hike you are often totally alone out there. 

To start the process, we need some backcountry camping gear which sent me to Wholesale Sports, Cabela’s, and MEC.ca for advice and information on what to buy and bring along with us.  Do we want a light weight stove or cook with fire?  Do we want to boil water, chemically treat it or use a filtration system.  What’s more important, saving weight or sleeping comfortably?  Mark insists that he wants his own tent and plans to carry his one person tent up there with him.  We’ll see how that one works out.

We will be taking the plunge on June 15 and 16th which is before Waskesiu gets too busy and yet there is still a chance for some cool evenings.  The funny part of the trip is that last year I watched this video featuring Ben Saunders planning The Scott Expedition using Basecamp and thought it was pretty cool.

Wendy, Mark and I are using Freedcamp to use do the same thing albeit on a much smaller scale.  So it will be our micro-adventure for 2013.  A 40 km walk in the backcountry where we will see a fraud and bigamist’s cabin that he shared with a beaver.  Now I need to go and find expedition sponsors.  Anyone have a contact with Land Rover or The North Face?