Sunday, February 26, 2012

Adventure Number Eight: Tsolum Spirit Park

Trail head

Our adventure this week took us into deep Merville, down Tsolum River road, off of Headquarters road to a wonderful little spot that is relatively unknown by outsiders of the Comox Valley. Our options were many since the day was bright, albeit quite cold and windy, but the sun was out in full force with nary a cloud to be seen. We already had to be in Merville this morning, so the choice was quickly narrowed down.

Tsolum Spirit Park was created in the early nineties by the Area director from the Regional District and Tsolum Elementary students. Read the sign in this picture for the whole story.

The walk down to the river on the old railway grade is a short and flat route, easily accessible regardless of abilities. One short hill brings you out at river level to a hitching post and out house. Natalie decided that the hitching post was a balance beam and she tried to walk on it, with out success. She didn't fall, just couldn't get up on her feet. We made our way to the river and found Marshall already there in advance of us, front feet in the river waiting to swim. Brrr. I wish I had a dogs aversion to cold. We could see where Dove Creek flows into the Tsolum creating a confluence pool before the river shallows and creates a fast moving riffle.

Hitching Post
The Tsolum River was once a great salmon stream. Like most of the rivers on the East Coast of Vancouver Island, it has been detrimentally effected by man. Logging, and agriculture have been a factor, but an abandoned open pit copper mine on Mt. Washington had the biggest impact. The leaching from the mine site  poisoned the water and killed the fish in the river. After 40 years of the leaching, the Tsolum River Restoration Society successfully lobbied the Ministry of Environment to cap the mine and seal the copper under a geomembrane. The copper levels have already reduced by 70% in two years and it is hoped that the salmon and trout will be able to re-build. My girlfriends dad is involved with the group and I need to volunteer. It would be great to have a river full of salmon again.

Confluence Pool
Marshall did go in swimming, and Natalie and I spent sometime breaking ice that was in small puddles close to the river. They were in beautiful sunburst patterns.

Pretty Icy Patterns

Frozen edges
Shortly after arriving we had a close encounter with an immature Bald Eagle, it passed not more than twenty feet above our heads. We also saw another bird of prey, but was unable to identify it. Half a dozen beautiful Western Yew trees were well rooted on the bank of the river. I would love to see these with berries on them. We could see the Douglas Fir on the far bank that were not far from falling because of erosion, the roots exposed like scraggly white hairs.

Natalie and I had a short, but fun adventure today to a place her and I hadn't been since she was very young. I hope to return in the summer when the heat will draw us into the water with Marshall. What a fantastic little spot, hidden away in the Comox Valley. Find Adventure. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Natalie goes to Richmond.

This weekend, unfortunately for me, Natalie was whisked away by her mom for a brief visit to her Great Grandma's house in Richmond. While I had plenty of fun and adventure staying home and going out with my girlfriend and Marshall, we broke our streak of seven adventures in seven weeks. I promise we will meet our goal of 52 adventures this year, but they will not necessarily be an successive weeks. A big trip is planned for July and we will have many great stories, pictures and adventures to report on. I might even be able to blog from the road.

So I asked Natalie if she would like to write this weeks post and explain what she did on her second trip of 2012 off of Vancouver Island. She declined, stating that she had no idea what to write, but she would dictate to me and I could jot it down. So from this point on I will become Natalie's secretary and write down what she tells me too.

It was a great weekend. Mom and Chase drove me to the ferry terminal. And we had two hour and fifteen minute ride across to Tswassen. Grandma Karen picked us up at the terminal in great grandma's car. Monty was there too(Great Grandma's dog) And the next day we went to the mall. And we went to Ardene, and I got two surprise bags. And then we walked over to Earls and had lunch. That night Grandma and Great Grandma went to some ballet. Me and Mom had been forced to lay back and relax(giggle, laugh, laugh, laugh) We had homemade mac and cheese for dinner with tomatoes in it. It was delicious. The next day we had to leave. We took Monty out for a walk, and then we took two buses  and the sky train to get back to the ferry. We got the ticket one minute late but they still let us on. Then we had food. When we were done our food, Grandma saw some friends she hadn't seen since her birthday. I found out how to make hair extensions with yarn. When we were in Fanny Bay, mom and Chase were talking about driving past daddy's house and I would have to just jump out of the window like a super hero. But they were just pulling my leg and they stopped the car so I could get out like a normal person. When I got into dad's house I was relived because I was tired of travelling. The end.

Well, I am back. Nice job Natalie, you just wrote your first blog. Thats my girl. I am sure more happened than you told me, but that is okay with me. Now she just told me that Monty can talk and they watched the Food network together. Kids, I tell ya....... Find Adventure.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Adventure Number Seven: Oyster picking

Union Bay

Warning: If you plan to harvest shellfish be sure to check with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to see if there is any harvest closures in your area.

As I have written about in a previous post, harvesting wild edibles is a favorite hobby of mine. Be it berries, mushrooms, fish or game. There is something primitive and earthy about it. During the winter the variety of things to gather is limited, especially if one doesn't have a boat to harvest from the sea, including winter chinook salmon, bottom fish or prawns. For us, less marine mobile, all is not lost. We have incredible shellfish resources so close to home and it can be plucked from the inter-tidal zone in Baynes Sound. It should be noted that the supreme time to reap the rewards of the shore is the winter. The old rule of thumb was any month that has a "R" in it. I would concur, although December, January and February are the best.

"Here is a good one"
Natalie and I drove south, just beyond Union Bay, to a shellfish reserve. The reserve is open to the general public, and has no allowable commercial harvest. To take advantage of this place, one must purchase a tidal fishing license. It costs about $20 for an adult and is free for anyone under 16. We have gone to this particular place a few times previous, and I knew where the good patch was. In short order we already had enough oysters in a bag to satisfy the bag limit of 16. Natalie does not possess a license for the 2011/12 season, so we only took one limit, which is enough for our supper. Gluttony does not bode well for the future of this reserve. Oysters take approximately 4 year to grow to harvest-able size in a wild environment, so only take what you can eat and leave many for others.

Pacific Oyster

We took the bag up to a large piece of red cedar driftwood, and I began shucking. Of course I also had to slide a few raw ones. That is one of my favorite things to eat. The salty nectar is just fantastic, plain or with the addition of citrus juice or hot sauce. I offered one to Natalie and she hesitantly took it. It was really quite petite, and her drama about taking it was hilarious. She finally decided to swallow it, and as she tipped it to her lips, the oyster fell on the ground. Laughing, I picked it up and offered it back to her. She took it, and tried to pop it in her mouth, and it fell down in her shirt. I nearly fell on the ground in side splitting snickers. It was so funny. She squealed and hopped around trying to get it out. Now she was giggling and it came out of her clothes. Once we calmed down I convinced her to try it again. I went down and found a really tiny one, and she managed to get it down. She said it was yucky but I don't think it was that bad for her. Maybe next time she will do it again.

What a trooper!

We ended up with about a half liter of oyster meat. We packed the empty shells back to the patch where they came from. It is really important to do just this. The oyster spat travels about in the current and will settle on old shells. Once attached the young oyster will use the calcium in the old shell to help it grow it's own. Plus it lets the barnacles and other small sea creatures alive that live on the shell. The Pacific oyster is a introduced species that was brought to Canada in the ballast water of cargo ships from Asia, to return with coal and timber from the east coast of Vancouver Island. Now the introduced species has thrived in the sheltered waters of Baynes Sound and has displaced the native Olympia oyster. The Olympia does still grow in waters more exposed to waves and storms as they attach themselves to rocks and are more streamlined to fend off the angry sea. The Pacific oyster, along with other bivalve shellfish, has launched a large and important industry for the Comox Valley, employing over 600 people with annual revenues around 20 million dollars. The industry is lower impact than other types of aquaculture. No feed is used, or antibiotics. Shellfish aquaculture is truly organic. It has also become a meaningful source of income for the local first nations which has numerous shellfish tenures around Baynes Sound.

A bucket of dinner

Our trip to the beach was really fun. We had many laughs down there, and we used team work to harvest our dinner. A fantastic and tasty adventure. Picking shellfish is a sweet activity for children and adults alike. Teaching a child where their dinner comes from goes a long way to teach them healthy eating habits. I can't wait to take her clam digging. Find Adventure!

Perfect on the half shell


I have cooked this recipe for many people who were unsure or had a pre-existing dislike for this wonderful bi-valve. It has to be done properly, to be really enjoyable. I love them raw and well done, but to eat one that is slightly under done can be pretty awful. In the olden days, when I was young, it was common to take raw meat, toss it in some crushed soda crackers then fry. The results were ofter burned outside and under done inside. Not very palatable at all. The solution is to pre-cook the oyster meat first. I boil the meat for about 5 minutes, until it turns grey and floats. Drain and cool. Now a project for the kids. Get them to smash up between half a pack and a whole pack of Breton crackers. I usually sift it the crumbs to get the finest possible and then smoosh the coarser crumbs in the sifter with a spoon or something. The finer the crumb the better. Then using the wet hand, dry hand technique bread the oysters in order with flour, egg wash and finally the Breton crumbs. Once that is done, fry them in an oil of choice. I avoid straight butter because it has a lower burning temperature than most other oils. Olive or canola work really well. Turn once browned and repeat on the other side.

You will have a sweet, crunch morsel that resembles a chicken nugget more than the raw oyster it once was. Eat them as is, or with seafood sauce or my favorite, Heinz ketchup. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Adventure Number Six: Snowshoe Forbidden Plateau

The old chairlifts

With the promise of beautiful, sunny weather we headed up to Forbidden Plateau early this morning, to beat the crowd and get home before the Super Bowl game. Shoeing on Forbidden has been on my list all season, but I was unsure where to go, and how busy it would be up there, and the condition of the road. Even with the B.F. Goodrich AT's on the Element, only having two wheel drive makes me nervous if the conditions are not ideal. To my surprise the road is in very good shape, with packed snow only starting near the top. It was well graveled today and we only hit one patch of ice that made the Element spin a tire. I took it slow and made it up with no problems. Surprisingly only three other cars were in the parking lot. Great. I love going places where there are very few people.

Lodge foundation

A cold breeze was blowing as we organized. Did we have warm enough clothes? That always passes through my mind when departing the heated vehicle and entering the environment. Of course soon we would be walking and body temperature would regulate. Dressed in proper layers, gloves and hats makes for a more comfortable trek. Merino base layers and mid layer and a wind and water-proof outer layer works perfectly. In fact once about half way up our trek, Natalie had to remove her hat because she was over heating.

Someone built this nice "Frosty"

Forbidden Plateau was once a bustling ski hill. In the 20's, folks would hike up to ski Mt. Becher from Comox Lake in the winter, and a cabin was established. Over the years, a road was improved, a chair lift and a lodge were built and it was quite popular. Not as busy as Mt. Washington, but also didn't have the same quantity of snow. After a couple of seasons of very little snow, and not opening, the society that ran the hill decided to fold, running out of funds to keep operations open. Unfortunately, the lodge was burned to the ground in an arson around 1998, and since then there has been no attempt to re-open for commercial operations. The chairlifts still hang from the cables going to the top of the hill, as well as the t-bar lift. It is quite strange that nothing was dismantled. I guess it would have cost to much. The only symbol of the lodge is the concrete foundation at the parking lot.

Keep climbing!

We began by climbing the first hill that brings one above the lodge foundation and followed an existing track that has been packed down by snowmobiles. We spent sometime playing on a small slope, Natalie sliding down on her backside. Then, with some bribing, convinced her to walk up a really big hill so we could have a view. Incredibly, she made it all the way. It was a steep climb to the top of the t-bar lift, gaining about 90 meters in 1.5 kilometers, but the majority of the ascent in about 500m. A big hill for a kid. She kept saying she was climbing a mountain and I had to agree.

Snack time

We stopped to eat when the terrain leveled off to enjoy the view of the Coast Mountains and the Comox Valley. We could not see the ocean because of a fog bank that had rolled in a few days ago. We investigated a small hut that we found as well as deciphered a sign that was so faded that it was hard to see what it said. We did have an argument and Natalie made me very frustrated. She was complaining about going further along the flat part of the trail, and the whole weekly adventure almost was cancelled. No matter what adventure we do, there is always a setback of some kind. Environmental issues are easy to solve by having the right equipment, but what happened today can't be solved with a MEC order. We had several discussions today to, hopefully, solve this and be able to get along happily with what ever adventure we undertake.

She wanted me to pose this way

Descending took no time. We jumped, slid, and laughed our way down to where we started from. Now there were many others enjoying the snow. Several family tobogganing, having bon fires and feeding the Whiskey Jacks. I was surprised that the little Grey Jays didn't bother us when we were eating our lunch. Once back in the car, some guy on a snowmobile decided to take it up the same path that everyone was using to access the trails. Inconsiderate and dangerous. I was happy that we were back, I would have been choked at him.

A little shed, a door was on the other side. Outhouse?

Forbidden Plateau is a great place for free family fun, either winter or summer. With sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, berry picking, mountain biking and sight seeing and only about 20 minutes from downtown Courtenay, a perfect place to find adventure. Go get it!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I am in Port Hardy B.C. as I compose this essay. My place of work successfully bid the H.V.A.C. contact for the new North Island Veterinary Hospital. I, along with three of my work mates came up on Monday, to work ten hour days and to come home on Friday. It has been pretty good so far. I find it hard to eat and sleep properly in a new community and a strange bed. Browsing my blog, I was reminded that this en devour was started a year ago Friday. And this will be the 100th post. Oh the milestones.

I was thinking about the last year, all the events, adventures, disappointments and new experiences. I don't feel the need to re-cap the year, as it is all here already, and would like to invite you to browse the archive and see what I got up to this past year. The blog has evolved. This blog started as a forum to blow off some steam when things got frustrating. I was newly sober and not sure if it was going to continue. The idea of writing was always there, just never having a place to practice and motivation to keep at it. Now I am writing and taking more photos about outdoor adventures, environments concerns, gear reviews, lofty ideas, goals and challenges. I have inspired other to change small things in their lives, which was another great pay-off of my pondering. I wanted to motivate more folks to get on a bicycle, and live a healthier lifestyle.

In the coming year will bring new ideas to take children out to help them learn about the natural world and to look after the planet. (There is a whole list) I will be undertaking a wonderful hike this summer on the North Coast trail, and hopefully a bike camping trip or two. There are also plans in the works to build a tiny house this year with my girlfriend as a full time residence for her. I will be blogging and photographing it along the way. Recipes, more home improvements, and my journey to shy away from consumerism and par down my belongings will be in there too. I have even considered writing and compiling some of my drinking stories. It could be fun to do. There might even be an order for some of those "My other ride" t-shirts and have them for sale if anyone is interested (check my store) 

I would like to thank every one who has spent some time getting "cynical". I appreciate it so much. Everyday when I see that page view counter go up, it warms the heart. The posts about my sobriety and Natalie's fight with cancer were especially powerful and the support of my friends and readers was positive and beautiful. I am a proud guy with so many fantastic people in my life. Thanks a whole bunch. Find Adventure Everyone!