Friday 31 July 2009

Hot, Hot, Hot Cycle to Victoria

Up here on the West Coast of Canada, we are just coming to the end of a heat wave - something not seen around here very often at all.

Over the past few days, the temperature at Vancouver Airport reached 34.4° C. (94°F.), and inland, 36°C. (97°F.) and, further inland, over 40°C. (104°F.). Come on, this is Canada.

Anyway, my wife and I decided a couple of months ago to take the ferry to Vancouver Island and cycle from where the ferry docks (Schwartz Bay) to Victoria (a total of 33 km) and then stay in Victoria a couple nights and then head back. We have done this for years with the girls but being 16 and 19 with jobs, etc., we ended up on our own this year (and no, they didn't have a wild party and burn down the house).

We started at the ferry. There was a summer special on so for the two of us and our bikes it was only a total of $22. It's about an hour and a half ferry ride and the BC ferries are quite comfortable.

We rode the first 10 km and then stopped at McDonalds for lunch. Not particularly healthy but good prices and the restaurant is right on the route.

The route, incidentally, is called the Lochside Trail and it's part of a bigger bike path called the Galloping Goose. It's a quiet route on either dedicated bike zones or quiet streets.

We progressed through Sidney and then the different Saanich areas (North, Central and South).

We crossed the Blenkinsop Trestle which has a great view of the marsh and also includes a statue of old farmer Roy Hawes who must have lived there at some time.

The bike route brought us right into Victoria and we made the ride through downtown to the B and B. We stayed at a place called Heathergate House which we found on the net.

It was a wonderful place to stay with friendly hosts, a clean and nicely decorated room, an amazing breakfast both mornings, and the piece de resistance, the garden where a water feature bubbled while we sat in the shade, escaping the heat and cooling down after our ride.

We then headed to our traditional first night dinner, the Old Spaghetti Factory. Good food, cool drinks, friendly service and inexpensive prices had made this a tradition for the past few years.

We were tired as we headed back, past the inner harbour, and ended up back at the room, with a couple glasses of chilled rosé before trying to sleep for the night.

In the morning, after a breakfast of bacon and homemade scones, we walked over to the Royal BC Museum to see the latest exhibit, Treasures from the British Museum. It was an excellent exhibit, one well worth seeing, which covered artifacts ranging from Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, China, India, and more. My only complaint was that I had seen most of these objects for free when I was in London!

After some shopping downtown, we went to the Beacon Hill Park area of the city, first for a coffee at Moka House, then for a picnic lunch in the park.

It was very hot so we walked fairly slowly, pausing in the shade when necessary.

We slowly made our way back to the B and B and had a sort of siesta in their wonderfully cool garden.

At around 7 we ended up in the Heron Rock Bistro, not far from the B and B, and had a wonderful dinner.

The service was friendly but French - meaning it took us a good two hours to eat - and I loved it! Compared to the previous night where there was a move 'em in, move em out, atmosphere, the bistro was wonderfully relaxed about the meal.

We started with an appy dish of paté, olive and prosciutto followed by NY Angus steak salad for my wife and bouillabaisse for me.

Both were incredible! A fruit crumble with a double espresso finished off the meal. We then waddled back to the B and B and rested before our return trip.

We had a good ride back to the ferry with no incidents. Had a great chat with a father and adult daughter who were also cycling. He was from Indiana and she now lived in Washington, D.C. We had an interesting discussion about crime as Vancouver has had some unusual gangland shootings during the past few months and Washington is only safe, according to the daughter, in the tourist area (the NW section). Nice folks.

We finally arrived back at the ferry terminal and hopped on the ferry. A good end to a hot but satisfying mini-holiday.

Saturday 25 July 2009


Although this happened almost a week ago, it's taken me awhile to blog about the West Kelowna fires as I've been really busy this past week.

Last weekend, my eldest daughter and her boyfriend went up to the boyfriend's parents' vacation home in West Kelowna.

Kelowna is in a part of Canada called the Okanagan which is renown for its lakes, hot temperatures, and slow paced holiday lifestyle.

Saturday afternoon, I got the call that the boyfriend's Jeep had a coolant leak and needed a new radiator. Luckily, the shop had one in stock and would finish it the next day.

A couple of hours later, we learned of the beginning of the West Kelowna fire. It started in a place called Glen Rosa. As the afternoon progressed to evening, I monitored the fire. First 1000, then 2000, then 3000 people were evacuated and more were put on alert. The fire grew to almost 100 hectares but was still about 6 km from the vacation home.

At around 10 o'clock, there reports on Twitter of a new fire in Rose Valley - which was only a couple of kilometres from my daughter. I was getting nervous. We talked with my daughter, the boyfriend, his dad and each other until about midnight. The evacuation alert was growing but still did not affect them. I told my daughter to pack her suitcase,. leave the door unlocked and make sure she woke if someone came. As she didn't sleep all night, that wasn't a problem.

As things developed, I came to some conclusions. First, Twitter was an excellent source for the fire. By simply searching #kelownafire, I was able to get up-to-the-minute reports, links, and maps from many different people. Finally, a really useful application of Twitter!

Second, Kelowna radio (AM 1130) on the web was also a very good source of information. Although their website could have been better organized, the radio reports were frequent and current.

Finally, I concluded that Global TV was brutal. The news was old, the map of the affected area was laughable tiny and lacking in detail, the information was often inaccurate, and they played the same video clips over and over and over.

On Sunday morning, I reassembled the Firewatch Control Centre (TV, laptop, desktop, phones). Our first scrap of information from our daughter was that she was on evacuation alert now!

We encouraged them to set out for the repair shop and wait out the repairs in safety but, when they phoned, the shop said that they had the wrong kind of radiator and that it wouldn't be ready until Tuesday.

At that point, we decided t go on a rescue mission and pick them up!

Six and a half hours later and we got them from a shopping mall in Kelowna proper. The photos from today's blog were all taken at that time. Five and a half hours later, we were home.

A few days later and the fires are mostly under control and most of the 10,000 evacuees are back home. Three houses were destroyed by the fires - it could have been so much worse.

And when the boyfriend's dad flew up to pick up the Jeep yesterday, after about 10 minutes on the road, the axle broke!

I'm sure glad we went up and rescued 'em!

Friday 17 July 2009

From "Free RIde" to "Running on Empty"

Wednesday started off as a way to take advantage of a couple of things that will no longer be around. It turned into something quite a bit different, as things turned out.

I first decided to go to the beach for lunch - White Rock beach. I had gone there previously, taking the Albion ferry, but on Wednesday I thought I'd take the newly completed Golden Ears Bridge.

Wednesday was an excellent day to take the bridge as it was the last day that it was free. Starting on Thursday, a toll is to be applied ranging from $1.40 for a motorcycle that's registered all the way up to $3.90 for a car that is not registered. I scooted up this new structure happily (and freely) and crossed into Surrey in no time.

From there I headed down to White Rock. I arrived there and parked the scoot ($2 for an hour) and wandered around, in search of lunch. I didn't want a really greasy fish and chips lunch (although I absolutely love fish and chips) and settled on a place called the Kahuna restaurant.

I ordered a bowl of clam chowder ($3.50) which was excellent. The lady who ran the place, a German, asked if I'd like some fries as she was just eating them as they were leftovers. The fries were super - and the price was certainly right!

After that, I walked on the beach.

I saw this person flying a kit - seemed like a good idea.

After, I saw this girl - I like how she was isolated on the beach.

I did have some camera problems as this was my daughter's camera (my old camera) and had junk on the lens. I photoshopped what I could...

After my walk, I headed east on my Vespa. I passed a gas station in White Rock on 16th but thought I was fine until the next station. My low fuel light then went on. I'll be fine, I thought, there'll be lots of gas stations in Langley. I was on a fairly major street and I kept looking up and down the street whenever I came to a light or stop sign. Nothing. No stores, gas stations - just farms and houses. I ended up riding 60 minutes and about 45 kilometres until I came to a gas station. I filled up and my Vespa took 5.7 litres - which seems way less than the 8.6 litres it's supposed to hold. This seems rather odd to me - did I really have another 3 litres to spare? After an hour with the low fuel light on?

I finally made it to my in-laws in Abbotsford, there to borrow my father-in-law's truck. A couple of neighbours wondered if he'd traded his truck for a Vespa and his tenant congratulated him on starting a new motorcycle game!