Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adventure Number 12: Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park

Ta da

Another goal that I have for doing all these adventures this year is to visit as many Provincial Parks as we can. I haven't counted how many are close enough for an easy day trip, but I figure it could be as many as 15 or 20, so we could get almost half our adventures this way. Just by visiting the different places in Strathcona Park we could have many adventures.


On our way home from the west coast of Vancouver Island, I thought that a stop in a Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. Located just off of Highway 4, between Errington and Port Alberni, this pretty spot is an easy place for an afternoon adventure. The park encompasses the Little Qualicum Falls as well as the southern shore of Cameron Lake. Included in the park is a campsite as well as a day use area at Cameron Lake and the network of trails at the river. A wonderful forested trail follows along the gorge with two separate sets of falls, upper and lower. A chain link fence provides a safety net from accidentally leaning to far over for the view and and having a serious fall. Bridges cross the river above and below the falls to make for an hour long circle loop around the river.

Upper Falls

I was pleasantly surprised by how many cars were in the parking lot when we arrived. And also shocked by how much heat was in the sunlight. It has been such a damp, unpredictable past month. Feeling the core warming sun was fantastic. The smell of the kinnickinnic and dry moss was intoxicating as we maneuvered our way along the path. Arbutus trees, Douglas fir, and Red Cedar trees lined both sides of the gorge. Pretty, fragile looking Licorice fern growing in the moss in places that would give a mountain goat shaky knees. The gin clear water allowed us to view the stones lining the river bottom, with all their contrasting colors.

Middle Falls

As we approached the upper falls, the sound of the rushing water filled the air with a powerful symphony. Mist swirled around the tree branches and making the breeze visible. I never felt unsafe having Natalie (and Dusty) wandering around the edge because of the fence. The barrier isn't to tall to restrict the view, just enough to feel secure and safe. We did take one route that I figured was not built by the parks staff. No fall restriction was in place in this area so we quickly vacated the area. Natalie was awe stuck by the views and the amount of water coming down the narrow rocky channel.

Lower Falls

I love the potholes and water features that are so prevalent on Vancouver Island. These gems are not as rare as one might think. Vancouver Island rivers are relatively short compared to main land flows, and with the rapid elevation changes, many rivers will have some kind of falls. Go look around for them in your backyard and Find Adventure.

Adventure Number 11: Florencia Bay

The Tree House

This past Friday evening Natalie and I along with Sheena made the three hour drive across Vancouver Island to Ucluelet. Natalie's Grandpa and Grandma's house was our destination for this visit, and we would also see her Uncle and Aunt. I try to get over to the west side of the Island at least once a year. The property that they own is so impressive. Reg and Kelly are die-hard gardeners and landscapers.  The rugged piece of land includes many meters of trails, rock piles, moss gardens and palm trees. He has been growing from seed many varieties of palms for about fifteen years and the count on the property is exceeding 275 individual trees. Bamboo grows next to western hemlock, Fishtail palms next to western red cedar. The mix is beautiful along with the various driftwood sculptures and hidden frog statues. It is a place that a person can sit and think. Peaceful and serene. A new addition to the trails are cement walking stones that elevate the trail above a particularly marshy section of forest. One of Natalie's favorite places is the tree house that was built many years ago when her mom was little. She has to go have a look on every visit.

Natalie loves the cement brick road

We were blessed by the good Mother with beautiful clear skies on Saturday morning. A frost had laid overnight, and disappeared rapidly as the glowing orb warmed the air. We ate breakfast and sat on the south facing side of the yard, overlooking the vegetable garden, soaking up the rays. It was decided that we would cross the highway and walk the 1.4 kilometers to Florencia Bay. Florencia Bay is located with in Pacific Rim National Park.  The park is best know for Long Beach and its growing surf culture, the West Coast Trail for hiking and the Broken Island group for paddling. The park stretches 125 kilometers from Tofino southward to Port Renfrew.

Florencia Bay

Florencia Bay has been a favorite beach to visit since I first started going west about a dozen years ago. The fact that the trail head is just across the road from where I stay makes this so easy to access. It takes about 30 minutes from the time we leave the front door to get to the beach. The foot only path is packed gravel with a couple of small rises. It is a fairly easy walk for anyone with decent fitness and mobility. The hardest part of the trail is the 170 steps that are at the top of the hill above the surf. Before one can access the beach, the stairs must be ascended. Coming up this stair case can be a lung burner. Last summer I ran up and down them with Natalie's 10 year old cousin. That was wild!

Tangled Driftwood

The beach was a tangled mass of driftwood from the winter storms. The top of the staircase had an unusually large pile of garbage from people beach combing. Floats, Styrofoam, plastic bottles and shoes all make up the pile. One bottle was some kind of beverage with what I assume was Japaneses writing on it. That is a long trip across the Pacific. The sun was in full force for the end of March. We had a delicious meal of crackers, goats cheese, veggie pate and smoked salmon, with stuffed dates for desert. Natalie soon was aching to play in the water. We convinced her to remove most of her clothes and just get her t-shirt wet, so she would have something dry to wear on the walk back to the house. She was hollering and screaming at how cold the water was, jumping and running from the waves. I just sat back and laughed at her good time. Sheena also got in for a swim. Not this cowboy, brrrrr.  Another thing I appreciate about this beach is that it is usually very empty. This day it was busier that normal, but that was to be expected on such a magnificent day.


After a few hours and a couple of tears because her legs were cold and the sand was scratching her while trying to put her pants and socks on, we left the beach. Natalie and I counted the stairs on the way up, and playing a game tossing Dusty around while we walked back. This was the first time she didn't cry on the way back in her life. I was a very happy guy. I suggest if you wish to find a more secluded place to enjoy a west coast beach, forget Long Beach and pay a visit to Florencia Bay, bring a picnic, and get lost in the sights and sounds of the Pacific coastline. Find Adventure.

Watch the waves!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Adventure Number Ten: Eagles, Beavers and Waterfalls.

Clam Nose
After taking a break last weekend to watch the snow fall and work on building a 1300 piece lego project, we got out for a quick adventure this afternoon. I had spent most of the weekend canning and smoking salmon. I had about 30 pounds still in my freezer from the summer that I needed to process so after about 10 hours over two days I had it all wrapped up and needed to get out for some sunshine. Plus there was a bowl full of salmon trimmings that needed to go to the beach to feed the gulls, crows and eagles.

A salmon eating Raven

Natalie decided that we would first go to Royston to "compost" the salmon remains. As we left Cumberland, yet again, hail began to fall. It has been such a random weather month. One minute the sun is out, then suddenly snow or hail or rain will come from the skies. We arrived to the sun shining and the tide high. I wanted to try to get pictures of the feathered friends that would cruise in for a meal. I didn't put the bait out too far onto the beach. We waited for about a minute until the first gulls and crows showed up for a feast. Unfortunately we were to close to the pile and the birds wouldn't approach so we retreated to the car. Then they came in without hesitation and a feeding frenzy was on. Those gull are such pigs, as Natalie claimed. They can gobble up so much food in a hurry. Soon we saw a larger bird gliding in from a distance. He had a black body and a bright white head. The American Widgeon ducks that were in the bay scattered at its presence. He circled over the car and before I was able to ready the camera, swooped in and snatched a salmon head off the cobblestone beach. Damn, I missed that opportunity. After several more minutes after the gulls had eaten all the rest of the trimmings another eagle approached from the east and this time I was ready. I put the camera on video mode and captured it as it flew away with dinner. We were impressed with its speed and grace. The action was over so it was time to head back to Cumberland.

Eagle Video

I wanted to take Natalie to a waterfall close to the Comox Lake campground for sometime now. I am not sure of the height of this fall, but I estimate it at over 200 feet. I believe this is a prime rock climbing bluff, as there is a well defined trail off the road to the base of the falls. The trail is marked with a gigantic boulder some 15 feet high and nearly the same in diameter. A short walk up a fairly steep trail brings you to the bottom. Not a huge amount of water dropping from the sky, but it makes up for it in beauty. Hundreds of small streams run off the face down to the bottom pool, the rocks lined with moss and licorice fern. A true place of beauty, and some quite large western red cedar trees to boot. Natalie got dizzy looking skyward up at the rocks and trees. This is another majestic beauty in our back yard in the Comox Valley.

The waterfall and nice cedar

Our next and final stop was the old China Town site, between the Village of Cumberland and the Comox Lake campground. It is impossible to miss. It is marked by a rustic log cabin at a pull out, off the Comox Lake road. This is Jumbo's cabin. To my knowledge, Jumbo was the last person to live in China Town. Cumberland has a rich history in coal mining, and at one time, had the largest China Town on the west coast outside of San Francisco. This once thriving community was torn down in the early 70's and has now been reclaimed by the forest and the swamp. The area is being remembered with plaques and signs marking where buildings once stood. A picnic pavilion has been erected with a dedication to the Chinese people who once live here. With out the labor of these foreign workers, the Cumberland mines would not have been as successful. I feel that it is important to remember the sacrifices that these people made so our community could be built. We walked along and looked at the signs along the trail, pondering how a building once stood where now it is a swamp. I think the beavers might have something to do with this. A nice beaver dam can be seen just before the gate on the left hand side when entering the China Town site.

We continued down the road, past where the Cumberland Rod and Gun once had a clubhouse and shooting range. At the end of the road the Cumberland Community Forest starts. The terminus of three different downhill mountain biking trails is at this point, and I wanted to check it out. We crossed a small rivulet over a bridge and soon came to a skookum new cedar bridge, much more professionally built than ones normally constructed by trail builders. It was beautiful, as was Perseverance creek, which was running gin clear. There are little sandy beaches and smooth stone stretches. I was really impressed and wondered why I never explored more back here. More large trees, lots of green and still some remaining snow. I also was drawn to another nice waterfall in through the forest. Gorgeous. I will be back. By this time Natalie was getting tired and we played a chase game on the way back to the car.

I had a quick look to see if the stinging nettle had started growing yet, but didn't see much. I will have to wait for another few weeks. For a very impromptu adventure we sure found some. Next weekend we will be off to Ucluelet to find adventure over on the west coast of our wonderful island. Go find some for yourself.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Well finally, after so many months of nursing my bum right knee, I was able to commute to work three times this week on my bike. What a beautiful thing. I left Monday morning with flurries falling from the Cumberland sky, not sure what to think. I really wanted to go, it was time to begin commuting for this year. I have been taking it easy. Granny gears are my friend. Over use was my down fall. I always wanted to go as fast as I could, thinking that was the only way to get in shape. It is nearly impossible to get fit while injured, so what good did all that hard work do for me? Not one thing. All that I gained was mostly lost in the last five months of inactivity. My new approach for this year is to cycle slowly, take my time and enjoy the ride, whether it be on the asphalt or the trail.

I have notice how much fun I have been having early this season with my commute. Last year it turned into a drag. I think it was probably a combination of knee pain, mental fatigue from touring, and so many projects on the go. I just burned out and had to shut it down due to the knee problem. I hope to keep it fresh and fun so I will keep riding for many months and try to stay injury free. I discovered that my iPhone fits in the chest pocket of my rain jacket that I wear every morning en route to Courtenay. I can stream my favorite radio station, CFOX, from Vancouver during my ride. It is more like driving in the car plus getting exercise. Too much fun.

Last night I had the privilege to be a guest with the Sprocket Podcast. The Sprocket is a podcast from Portland, where they discus such things as cycling, alternative transportation, music, the interweb, simple living and in general the good things in life. I have been a devout listener for close to a year now. One of the hosts, Brock, contacted me after I started listening and we began casual email conversations about bicycle touring. He asked me to join in for a chat about my tour into Alaska. It was pretty cool to be able to be interviewed by someone who I have been listening to for so many weeks. The episode will be posted at a later date, I will keep everyone posted.

My full suspension mountain bike that I purchased last spring has been a disappointment. It just hasn't met my expectations. Too many problems, not enough good times with it, so I have decided to put it up for sale. I plan on buying a brand new one this time, but I was offered a really good deal on a frame, and could build a bike on it. I am tossed on this one....

Life is going really well. The crocus are flowering in the front garden, the days are rapidly getting longer, I am having so much fun with Natalie on our adventures, and I am riding to work again. I am a very happy guy right now. I love having such a good time, all without alcohol. Find adventure!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Adventure Number Nine: The Enchanted Forest

Raring to go
Natalie said to me last week" Daddy, why don't we go to the Wacky Woods for one of our adventures?" What a great idea. This was another fantastic spot in the Comox Valley that I did not think about when we made our initial list. I had only visited this magical place once before, in high school, with one of my chums who lived on Ships Point. Having Natalie suggest places to visit helps her feel involved and more inclined to have fun, and did she ever. We were joined by her friend Hanna again, as well as my girlfriend Sheena.

Practicing duck walking
Rain was falling as we drove through Union Bay, heading south on Highway 19. Luckily we all had rain jackets because we didn't know what we would be getting into with this late winter/early spring season. Last week the surrounding areas had warm sunny weather on the weekend, only to have a late snow fall on Tuesday. This is such an unpredictable time of year. The trail head and parking lot to access the Enchanted Forest is approximately one kilometer past the Fanny Bay Inn, and it is on the left hand side travelling south. You can't miss the large pull off and large yellow gate.

The grand entrance
The trail, as well as accessing the Enchanted Forest, also is inside the Fanny Bay Conservation Area. This 160 hectare area protects the Cowie (Cougar) Creek estuary and tidal mud flats. This is an important area for waterfowl, song birds, and the inter-tidal species. The trail is lined with Red Alder, Big Leaf Maple, Red Cedar, Douglas Fir and Sitka Spruce, along with Snow Berry, Salmon Berry and Sword Fern. It is well compacted with a few muddy, wet areas. Gum boots or water proof shoes are recommended.

"What does this mean?"
Only about 500 meters along the trail one will spot a small wooden bridge and a sign that reads, "Enter at your own Peril". This is the first access point to the Enchanted Forest. We used this route, but would recommend taking the next one a little further along the main trail. This first access is very muddy, most likely all year aside from the summer months. Immediately you will begin to see sculptures in and around the trees. Painted rocks abound, as do cedar books wedged into holes carved into Red Cedar trees. Carved faces, a hinged door on a cedar stump, a spike in a stone, old tools and machinery, bicycle parts, mirrors on root wads, and carved fish floating "dead" on a small pool of water.

Well said Mr Sawchuck
George Sawchuck was a sculptor who over 30 plus years slowly etched out this wonderful place of art, reflection, contemplation, confusion and awe.(To read more about Mr. Sawchuck, please click this link) I am not going to try to pretend to be any kind of art admirer or critic. I will say that this is the kind of art that is enjoyable in my eye. Most of the pieces have ties to the forest. Cedar is used in most sculptures and mother nature will slowly reclaim this gallery and it will change every year, every season. Unfortunately George passed away this winter, so the Enchanted Forest will not be changed by the artists hand, but nature will take over for him.
Pretty girls
Natalie and Hanna ran around, giggling and pulling books out of the trees. It is a gallery that encourages participation from its attendees. Some sculptures seemed silly to them were something that Sheena and I stopped and had to think about what he was trying to convey. I had no idea the George had such strong environmental background and I gathered he did not believe in capitalism and was dead set against the proposed coal mine behind Fanny Bay. The books and signs contained beautifully written prose by George and other philosophers and writers. The message was clear, life a full life, look after the planet and try not to follow the masses. I found these writings inspirational and I must return without children to really get deep into these words.

Two of my favorites
I encourage everyone to visit this wonderful place at some point. It is very fun for children and adults alike. We all enjoyed it for different reasons of our own. So find inspiration and adventure and visit the Enchanted Forest.

Peek a boo