Snowpocalypse 2: Return of the Blizzard

This week has seen a steady stream of cold temps (by southern Canadian standards, my Yukon friends keep reminding me) and snow. For the most part it’s just been a few centimetre here and there, then yesterday it decided to dump on us. Again.

This morning I woke up to at least another 10 cm and the snow is still falling. As the one who works from home, the shovelling has largely fallen to me (except for Saturday when Doug did it and a snowblower-bearing neighbour came to help him. Lucky!). The shovelling has become particularly onerous since I now have to propel it over four-foot high embankments, or carry it several feet in either direction to dump. We’re simply running out of room!

So far the roof is holding, but much more and rooftop snow removal companies are going to be in major demand around the city. If they can reach the houses, that is: our cul-de-sac still hasn’t been plowed since the initial storm, making it nearly impossible for anything but the most rugged of SUVs and pickup trucks. The Mini Cooper has certainly been garage-bound for the week…

Now we come to a great Canadian game called “name that snowdrift!” If you can tell what’s under those blobs of snow by Riker in the photos below you will win the grand prize – a trip to Cuba via the U.S. of A.*

*This is obviously a joke… but I’d still love to know what you think is buried under all that snow!

Snowpocalypse 2011: Edmonton Edition

On Friday afternoon the snow started falling… and falling… and falling…

By Saturday morning there was a good 20 cm of fresh powder. Even though motorists were advised to stay off the roads, they didn’t look that bad in our area yet and so we piled the dog into the Honda Element (with snow tires) and headed for a hearty breakfast at Cora’s. Then off to the dog park with our snowshoes.

We certainly weren’t the only ones braving the snow and Riker had a good romp with some other dogs. As you can see above, the snow was already skimming the bottom of the park bench, and the storm was only half over!
Yesterday we didn’t attempt to take the vehicle out, and on our walks with Riker we strapped on our snowshoes at the end of the laneway!

Riker is just loving all this snow (he dives into drifts and banks head first) and we like how much the chest-high powder tires him out.

The city is slowly digging itself out this morning, but for some, rescue might not come until spring. Yes, that is a small pickup truck facing the sedan…

The big hit is done, but the weather network promises a few more flurries in the coming days even as the temperature plummets and the wind picks up. I feel pretty lucky, though – working from home I don’t have to battle the roads and I’m still acclimatized to the cold from my time up north…

Berton House thermometer during December cold snap

Of Rugby and Riker

This past weekend was a big one for our little family. It marked the opening game of Doug’s rugby season with Edmonton’s Leprechaun-Tigers (yes, that’s really their name, although they usually refer to themselves as the L-Ts. I wonder why?). Go green!
Doug played on teams all through high school and undergrad, and his last season was in Montreal with the Westmount Ravens in 2005. Grad school in B.C. didn’t offer many opportunities (plus he was too busy scuba diving) and not many people in Wyoming have heard of the glorious Commonwealth sport of rugger. Also, we decided we should wait until we had socialized medicine again before Doug engaged in the “game for gentlemen played by barbarians.”
The past few weeks of practice have been hard on him – and not left him with much time or energy for renos – but it paid off on game day. Not only did the team win but Doug scored a try. Now we just have to convince his coworkers I’m not the one roughing him up!
It was a nice day so I brought Riker along to the game. We were going to have our last beginner’s obedience class the next day and so whenever a player went down and there was a time-out for the medic to check him over, we’d practice commands. Needless to say, we had a lot of practice time…

And while he might still choose other dogs over us 99% of the time, we are mastering quite a few commands after 8 weeks of Pet Smart training with Vanessa (aka ‘treat lady’).

The happy graduate!

On the Road Again

On Tuesday, March 9th I hit the road for my big move from Wyoming to Edmonton, Alberta. Here is that journey in photos!

Leaving home bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the 2-day, 17 hour drive north.

What I saw in my rearview mirror. I can’t believe Doug made it all fit!

My “Ellie” had had engine troubles the week before and so I was worried I might have to join this roadside community in Idaho if I broke down. “Anyone want to trade a book for food?”

Crossing into Montana there was some beautiful scenery – when the clouds parted and the snow/slush/rain/hail stopped (it must have followed me from Idaho!)

Just me and the open road….

And Riker, who insisted on sitting (and sleeping) up front, even though we’d put his bed in the back (and I’d left several pairs of shoes at home to leave space for it!)

There were lots of cool rest stops along the way – and considering it was blustery and mid-March, they were all deserted. Great for getting out and stretching our legs!

Riker found a new friend in southern Alberta after we crossed the border…
Home Sweet Home. I took possession of the new place on March 11th. Pretty swanky set-up for my first meal (of leftover Korean food!)

Camping in style. Inflatable mattress? Check. Cardboard box/night table? Check.
Unfortunately, I ended up camping out more than expected. I couldn’t work the showers for the first few days (tricky set-up that several people couldn’t figure out and we couldn’t reach the old owners). Gotta love the old bucket bath… Then someone inadvertently turned off the furnace and we couldn’t get it working again for 24 hours (did I mention I’m in the northernmost city in North America? And that it’s March?)
But after a few panicked phone calls to my parents and a few tears, everything’s in working order and I’m settling in to a routine of writing, trips to Home Depot, and updating the decor. Stay tuned for all those project updates!

Canyon Camping in Utah

We are in the home stretch of our time here in Wyoming. As we’ve done in other places we’ve lived (Vancouver, Montreal, the U.K) we’ve started making a ‘Gotta Do Before We Leave’ list. Top on Doug’s: a canyon hike in Utah.

So last Wednesday morning we jumped in the Element (“Ellie”) and the Mini and headed along the I-80 West. Before venturing into the wilderness, though, we made our requisite stops in Park City at the recycling center, outlet mall, and Red Rock Brewery for lunch. Then we dropped off the Mini south of Salt Lake City for its last round of repairs and continued down the I-15 toward the Canyonlands, stopping briefly in the town of Helper to get Tylenol and muscle ointment: it was a really strenuous shopping trip!
The sun was setting as we pulled into Green River, Utah which is basically a glorified truck stop of fast food restaurants and motels. We went middle-of-the-road and stayed at the Super 8, which was clean and backed onto sage flats – perfect for letting Riker run after being cooped up most of the day. While we mused aloud about GR, UT being like the evil twin city of our current hometown of Green River, Wyoming, we alas did not run into twisted version of ourselves and our friends there… maybe we’re the weird ones already!
We got a decent night’s sleep after Riker stopped growling at people in the hall and by 6 a.m. we were up and ready to continue south toward our destination of Arch Canyon near Blanding, Utah. First we had to stop at the McDonald’s in Moab to grease up for the trek, of course, and ogle the insane number of R.V. parks chock full of these portable homes. Shudder….
At 10:30 a.m. we were at the trailhead with our packs strapped to us – even Riker had one so he could carry his collapsible bowl, kibble, and treats!
I was really surprised at how sandy the trail was, and it was a heck of a workout keeping our balance and getting up the hills.
There was a lot more vegetation than I had expected as well, some of which – like the trembling aspens – were wearing their fall colours.
After a 9-mile hike with breaks for lunch and a quick snooze we arrived at the junction of Arch and Texas Canyons where there was the biggest, most groomed campsite ever. Plus there was a flaming red maple tree/bush which we took as a sign that us two Canucks and our American dog should set up camp there. We made dinner – freeze-dried Katmandu Curry – followed by a dessert of freeze-dried dark chocolate cheesecake. In the real world these probably wouldn’t taste amazing, but out there after all that huffing and puffing, it was gourmet!
Unfortunately our freeze-dried pancakes the next morning didn’t turn out quite so well. Okay, they failed miserably. Probably because we had nothing to grease the pan with and the heat didn’t distribute very evenly. After one attempt that scorched the pan, we dumped the rest of the batter behind a tree. Which, of course, Riker proceeded to lick up.
So I quickly made up some wraps with pb, honey, sunflower seeds and dried fruit, a recipe I’d found in Backpacker Magazine and we ate them while hiking further up Arch Canyon with minimal gear.
By 11am we were back at our campsite at Texas Flats and had stripped off most of our layers: while it was hovering near freezing at dawn, it gradually warmed up as the sun found its way into the canyon, reaching about 18 celsius. We ate our mac and cheese and started breaking camp when all these ATVs came roaring up the trail right to us. We counted at least ten ATVs – a whole family at least – and decided we’d try and stick to the riverbeds and side canyons (where they couldn’t follow) as much as possible.
A couple miles back toward the trailhead we deked off to a side canyon on the left in search of springs we’d seen noted in the hiking book. After stashing our backpacks, we hiked for an hour, clambering over boulders and learned an important lesson: grey rocks = solid; red rocks = crumbly sandstone you can break your neck stepping on. Or in Doug’s case, his bum.

In the end the mythical springs turned out to be trickles of water dripping off moss on these rocks. Not quite the impressive founts we had imagined. But, the water was cold and wet and after pumping it through a filter, boiling it, and dousing it with chemicals, we figured it was safe to drink and cook with. And we must have been right, because no one got dysentry on the trip (well, Riker had an interesting day after the pancake batter…).

That night we hiked to another well-groomed camping spot closer to the trailhead. It was a little trickier to navigate all the cacti, but other than Riker getting one ‘spike ball’ stuck in his paw (and then in mine when I tried to remove it) we managed. At day break on Saturday we packed up and headed back to Ellie – and just in time to avoid a veritable onslaught of ATV-ers there to celebrate the Columbus Day long weekend by laying siege to Ute territory.
We made it back to the ‘real’ Green River mostly in one piece, but thoroughly exhausted from exercise, the long drive, and Riker’s ‘watch-dogginess’ that began with the birds’ rustlings at 4:30am. Then on Sunday we rectified the pancake incident by eating the most delicious home-made blueberry-flax pancakes ever (a high-altitude recipe I’ve been tweaking since moving here a year ago). Monday we celebrated the controversial Columbus Day aka Canadian Thanksgiving aka El dia de la Raza the right way: by gorging on margaritas and fajitas at Don Pedro’s restaurant! Ole!
Now the camping gear is stowed until the spring, except for Riker’s backpack, which is not only practical but cements our reputation as the yuppiest family in good ol’ Green River.

Hiking southwestern Wyoming: Scott’s Bottom, buttes, and Wild Hairs in Butts

Since we got back from Colorado, Doug has been extremely busy with work (for those who were wondering, he passed his oral exams with flying colours) and I’ve settled into my new schedule of working on For the Love of Flying things in the morning and doing background research for my novel at the library in the afternoon.

Of course, life can’t be all work and no play! The weather’s been hot and sunny for the most part, so I make sure I get Riker out for his ‘big exercise’ first thing in the morning. Three times a week that means going for a jog around the neighbourhood, dodging the inevitable stray dogs and unsupervised children. The other mornings I take him on more off-road adventures and there are certainly oodles of off-road places nearby when you live in southwestern Wyoming.
One of our regular walking spots (and a popular place with other walkers and bikers) is down at Scott’s Bottom/FMC Park. With the rainy spring, the vegetation is in overdrive down there and thistles (like the one in this photo that a bee is trying to gather pollen from) grow as tall as a person. Just this morning I was down there and spotted at least five mule deer. Luckily Riker couldn’t see them over the abundant field grasses and wild flowers!
With a very Wyoming logic, the Scott’s Bottom nature preserve abutts (if you’ll pardon the pun) the archery and shooting ranges. If you continue on past there, however, there’s an access road that takes you to acres and acres of open scrubland. Doug and I headed over there with Riker last week on one of his rare days off. The circle of life is in plain view in this sometimes harsh landscape.
Last Tuesday I, in the local parlance, woke up with a wild hair/hare up my butt to do some hill climbing. So I packed my day bag, “borrowed” Doug’s sunglasses, and drove down to Scott’s Bottom. There, I took a side path (which might just be the dry bed of an intermittent stream) and followed the game trail to the left. It was still pretty early, but the sun was warm, and I was certainly feeling the exertion as I crested one hill. Then I looked up and saw this butte (above) and decided to try and climb it.
Luckily in this butte’s case, there was a back way up, so I picked my way along the trails the pronghorn antelopes and mule deer had made, observing the occasional scat from coyote and other animals as I tried not to look down.

What a view from the top, though! Riker and I paused for a drink and to watch the hawk that was circling (likely hunting the swallows and field mice we saw) heard it give three of those otherworldly cries that always awe me. When we turned around to start picking our way back down, I noticed a buck antelope that was keeping an eye on us. Then he started moving away, and I saw that he was standing guard over a group of at least five female antelope (his fall harem), making coughing noises to warn them of potential danger (i.e. me).

They don’t have anything to worry about from Riker and me, though, since they can reach speeds of almost 100km/h for several minutes (they evolved in North America when there were prehistoric cheetahs hunting them). Me, I’m happy putting one foot in front of another to explore the area while keeping my butt in shape!

Adobe Town

Yesterday morning, Doug and I and Riker headed out in Ellie for Adobe Town, an amazing geological formation in the Red Desert about a two-hour drive south-east from our house. Armed with GPS maps, our camping gear, and about 5 gallons of water the plan once we exited the I-80 was to take the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roads and then take the jeep track as far as we could along Skull Creek Rim.

In our research, we had read that any rain could turn the roads into impassible quagmires. May and early June were among the wettest on record here and even though it’s been mostly sunny the past few weeks, we have had some wicked afternoon thunderstorms. This meant there were some puddles and some mud. For the most part I managed to keep us going, but partway up the jeep track we got stuck and Doug had to do some pushing. He got us out, though, and we parked in a nearby dry spot and decided to start our hike a little earlier than expected.

Strapping on our 20-lb packs (complete with tent, canister stove, sleeping bags and pads, water and food) we headed out over the sage brush grassland, wondering if Adobe Town actually existed or if we were already lost. You see, it’s an ancient river basin, so when you’re driving or hiking along the high plateau you can’t see it until you’re almost upon it.

I came upon this skull-shaped rock when we took a break about an hour into our hike. Maybe it’s why the area is called Skull Creek Rim?

Below is a greater short-horned lizard that gave away its position when Doug walked over it. Adobe Town is a proposed wilderness area in Wyoming and one of the reasons for this is its abundance of wildlife. We saw wild horses, pronghorn antelope, and heard a multitude of songbirds (that quickly went quiet when a large bird of prey circled overhead). Apparently there are lots of other species hiding out there as well but were smart enough to hide from the scorching sun.

Not so for us. Our original plan had us stopping for a couple of hours at midday in a shady spot or in the tent, but we were swarmed by great hordes of biting midges every time the wind died down. So there was no rest for us or we would succumb to madness. After hiking about 6 km we were at the half-way mark to our proposed camp site at East Fork Point. With rain clouds threatening to the southwest and no relief from the midges in sight, we decided to call the trip and head back to our vehicle.
This 13-km (8 mile) power march from 10:30am to 3:30 p.m. (i.e. hottest and sunniest part of the day) was exhausting and we were disappointed at our second bug-infested trip in what is supposed to be one of the least buggy States in the union. If we had known we wouldn’t be overnighting it, we also could have drastically reduced the amount of weight we carried on our hike.

Doug made it back out through the mud but these cows threatened to block our way (there are still a couple of active ranches in the area but oil and natural gas companies are rapidly encroaching). By dinnertime we were back home, sunburned, sore, and midge-bitten but still confident that someday we will combine a hike and camping trip in one!
p.s. Doug and I subscribe to Backpacker magazine and they did a great feature last September on Adobe Town. Click here for the article.

Back in Wyoming (Finally)!

While I tried to make the best of it in Regina over the weekend of the 13th, it was still very frustrating to be stuck paying hotel bills, eating restaurant food, etc when I really just wanted to get home. The folks at the Honda dealership were, however, nice enough to lend me a vehicle for a few hours on the Saturday, so Riker and I headed down to Wascana Park for a walk, some sunshine, and chasing birds (mostly him). Then on Sunday we hiked down to the off-leash dog park and had a ball – both of us got to hang out with some really great people and dogs.

Wascana Centre in Regina, SK

Monday, full of optimism, I checked out of the hotel, walked over to the dealership with Riker ready to wait out a couple of hours of transmission work. Nope. It had just arrived and the fellows would need at least 6 to 7 hours to install it and test-drive it. They assured me the it would be ready the next day.

Tuesday, June 16th at noon I showed up again and they handed me the keys, got me to sign the warranty paperwork, and off I went. Finally! Bouncing along the highway south of Regina to the border, everything was going great. I had a pleasant interaction with the border guards (who even gave Riker a dog treat) and I was on my way again through beautiful northern Montana.

Around 6 hours into my projected 8-hour day of driving the first sign of trouble kicked in: the malfunction indicator light turned on just as it had after the transmission tanked on the trans-Canada those long days before. With a feeling of dread in my belly, I continued on, ever watchful for more signs that the vehicle was going to crap out on me again. Then between Miles City and Forsyth, the green light encircling the “D” (for drive) on the dashboard started blinking frenetically and the light around the “2” would come on from time to time. The steering wheel also starting vibrating over 65mph.

With light failing, storm-clouds gathering, a dead cell-phone battery, and a week and a half of accumulated stress and worry I was not feeling great. Even so, I slowed down and pressed on for Forsyth, pulling into the Sundowner Inn parking lot with tremendous gratitude that I would not be spending the night on the side of the highway.

Doug and I spent about an hour that night exploring my options over the phone and internet. The closest Honda dealerships were at least a couple of hours drive away either in Billings, MT or Sheridan, WY. We decided that I would try and get as close to home as possible and that if I broke down en route, Doug would come and rescue Riker and I (and we’d get the Element towed to the closest dealership).

With a fully-charged cell phone (and an hour’s worth of additional minutes), five hours sleep, and what I’d like to think was a steely glint in my eye, I loaded up the Element at 5:45am and prepared for my 10-hour plus drive in a vehicle that might die at any time. For the first 20 minutes the indicator lights stayed off and I hoped against all hope they would stay that way. Not so lucky, however. First the malfunction lamp came on. Then awhile later the circle around the “D” appeared. Then the strange blinking around the “2.”

Even though I was pretty worried, I was not immune to the gorgeous scenery of the Bighorn Mountains near Sheridan, WY. Definitely on the to-hike list!

Every time I passed through a town I’d call Doug and confer about whether I should try and make it to the next one. Each time, I thought “what the hell?!” and kept going, willing the Element to survive ’till home. About halfway through the day I thought we might actually make it and starting thinking that even if we didn’t it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I could push the Element to the edge of the highway, set up camp, and sell my books out the back. I’d have Riker for company and he could hunt rodents for us…

Aside from the weird daydreams, something else strange happened: the indicator lights started to normalize. First the light around the “2” stopped appearing, then the one around the “D,” and around Rawlins even the malfunction light disappeared. What strange voodoo magic was happening?

In the end, I made it all the way back by dinnertime on Wednesday, June 17th. My brain was frazzled, my shoulders and neck were rock-solid with stress, but we survived. I still don’t entirely trust Ellie (our Element’s name), even after she got a clean bill of health at the local dealership and got us to and from Salt Lake City this weekend. She’ll need to earn that back by not stranding me in the middle of nowhere for awhile…

Canadian Book Tour: Part 2

Public humiliation has never been something I’ve consciously sought out, but you have to be prepared for a certain amount if you’re putting yourself out there as a speaker, writer, or say, Chapters bookstore greeter.

Luckily, that didn’t happen to me this time around. While I arrived in the Thunder Bay Chapters parking lot with butterflies the size of condors in my belly, I doused them with a good dose of Starbucks coffee and did my superman routine once again. Slapping on some warpaint (i.e. makeup) and a jacket does wonders for one’s self-confidence!

I did just about scare one shopper out of his skin, though. When I first walked in, I was so overcome with excitement at the sight of a pile of my books on “my” table that I exclaimed loudly to the man reading the blurb on the back cover – “that’s my book!” He looked visibly startled and sort of backed away. Note to self: tone it down a bit…

Over the next few hours, at least a dozen people stopped by to chat, including former Laurentian pilots Bill Howe and Ron Kyle (who brought along his 1970’s era LAS baseball hat). In fact, it turned into a bit of a reunion at my table as Bill and Ron ran into former air traffic controllers, pilots, and other folks they knew. Bush pilot Phil Mostow’s son happened to be in the store and he joined the conversation too. It sure is a small world!

At 5pm Doug and I rushed off to grab some dinner and go to a grocery store to pick up supplies for our evening engagement at the Thunder Bay Historical Museum. After quickly walking Riker (our dog), we started setting things up in the museum. Intially, Dr. Tory Tronrud, the director of the museum, had us in the main room with rows of seating and an intimidating dinosaur skeleton in the back. I made the decision to move to the room next door, which was more intimate, had lots of natural light, and was set up for refreshments. A couple of people involved in the Northern Ontario Aviation Heritage Centre came by to chat – Denise Lyzun and David Kemp – and Dean Mostow and Bill Howe joined us for a continuation of our earlier chat.

It was a very enjoyable evening, but we were definitely ready to check into the hotel come 9:15pm. Unfortunately, Riker was a little wound up and every time someone walked by the room, woke us up with one of his guard dog woofs. Needless to say, it was rough getting up the next morning for the 9-hour drive to Winnipeg….

Merry Christmas to Me!

As many of you know, Doug is in Scotland this holiday season, my parents are in Canada, and I am here in Wyoming. When people learn that I will be spending Christmas “alone” (I do have the cat, dog, and some friends here!) they get a concerned look on their faces and seem surprised when I say that I’m fine with it.

After all, Doug and I got to celebrate an early Christmas with the families in Ottawa in November and went out for an incredible Italian meal with my parents with not a Christmas pudding or fruitcake in sight! Also, with Christmas just a few days away, people here are still panicking about buying and wrapping gifts, preparing food, and dealing with travel delays caused by weather. Not me!

The only thing that was kind of getting me down was I really enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I like the anticipation: even in my mid-20s I go to bed Christmas Eve with little butterflies in my stomach and wake up super early to open stockings with Doug and whomever else is up or willing to be woken up (usually Dan, my brother-in-law, who likes stockings as much as I!).

This was in the back of my mind as I was surfing the net last night while watching tv. I had decided I would treat myself to a little reward/Christmas gift for finishing a couple of more chapters and was trying to figure out what to get. So I went on the local department store’s website – Herberger’s [pronounced Her-burgers down here] – and saw an answer to my holiday wish: today only they were opening at 6am, would be handing out goody bags at the door, and had huge store-wide savings!

I swear Handel’s “Hallelujah! chorus” started going in my head. I did have a few initial doubts: after all, a Walmart employee was trampled to death during a post-Thanksgiving early-morning stampede. But I figured I’d be pretty safe from the crowds here, even though it’s the Saturday before Christmas.

Reason #1: because it’s an oil-town, many of the citizens are bachelors. Everyone knows that guys never remember to do Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve.

Reason #2: many people around here are from Texas, California, or Louisiana (following the oil). It was -20 degrees Celsius plus a nasty 40km/h wind this morning. Those folks were not getting out of bed to go shopping! In fact, they are probably hunkered down until spring!

So after deciding I’d pretty much have the store to myself, I cheerily went and set the coffee maker for 5:30am, set my alarm, and tried to go to sleep. But just like on Christmas Eve, my stomach was all aflutter (although that could have been the root beer I’d just drank), and I woke up a full hour before my alarm (or the coffee maker). Still, I whistled while I put my boots and coat on to walk the dog in the frigid, pre-dawn air. I admired the clear sky and the sparkling stars. I thanked those lucky stars that someone invented head harnesses so Riker didn’t break my neck on the icy streets.

At 6am I arrived at the store and was one of three customers. I was handed a little goody bag with an ornament, a holiday-themed bottle of water, and some coupons. Plus I discovered that I was one of 25 lucky recipients of a $10 gift card. Yay! Off I went to pillage the clearance racks and the Clinique counter.

Now I am at home happily looking over my loot and feeling good and jolly. It sure feels like Christmas morning to me!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.