Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lost in the Haze

 Our first week in Calgary was a busy one as we took Brandyn to all of the attractions that we have always gone to with Cullen. The zoo, the science center, the farmer's market, play place and shopping on our only rainy day. Activities were planned around nap time so we were out early and home shortly after lunch.

We got in a few family bike rides with a varying cast of riders. Mike, Cullen, Brandyn and I did a long ride into Fish Creek Provincial. The recreational trails in Calgary are almost completely repaired or rerouted after the 2013 floods. Mike and I tried a new one in his area and came across a sign with a sponsor and named plans. I googled the name and the city has a plan for a 138km trail that follows the Stony Trail ring road. It will connect many of the existing trails and bring the total to over 1000 km. It's about 80% complete and they are adding trailside amenities so I look forward to making that ride in year's to come.

Along the Bow River Pathway we saw a huge flock of large white birds which I later googled and found they were American White Pelicans. I had a small lens with me and got a few shots. I returned the next morning with a bigger lens but could only find a few pelicans. A group of 5 came close to the bridge I was on and I watched as they swam and fed together. On return a few days later a large swarm of them was hovering overhead and I hoped they would land close in that skiing on water style, but they never came down.

In the middle of the park is Annie's Bakery, a great place for a mid ride coffee and baked treat. Cullen really loved to stop here after throwing rocks in the river and we returned a few times in that first week. Getting into the park means about a 150 foot drop (and the return climb) so we drove in once so the cast could include Nanny on a short ride to the river and back to the bakery.

Brandyn and Cullen got along really well despite the 8 years of age difference. They did laps around the kitchen island on various riding toys, played hockey in the playroom, made forts, played x-box sports, went to the park and watched tv together. I would really like to know how many laps have been made around that kitchen island in the last three years. At one point I'm sure I witnessed 50 laps in about 15 minutes as Cullen, Brandyn and Campbell were all racing round in circles.

We only got in two fires in the backyard before the smoke forced the city to ban all fires, but they were fun evenings roasting hot dogs and marshmallows, talking and just sitting and staring into the mystery of the flames. AJ, Jess and her mom were able to join us once making for a great night.

We made a short trip to Okotoks and checked out Costco and the Wheel Life bike shop where Mel had picked up a Felt Cafe similar to Sal's after extensive searching and emailing. A nice little shop with more bikes than floor space. I found a perfect set of grips for Lisbeth and a replacement spoke for Lael that had broken a day earlier. I spent an afternoon working on bikes, going over Mel's that had a few lose pieces and giving Mike's it's annual lubing of the chain. I replaced the spoke as I was still planning a long ride in Banff.

My only long ride ended up being on the 22nd as I found my way downtown through the Canal Pathway. I dropped down into the pathway about 5km from the house and followed it through the mostly industrial underbelly of Calgary. As I neared downtown the pathway became more scenic as I got glimpses of the skyline and was surrounded by more trees than warehouses. I few quick checks on my phone and shortly after passing literally inches under the Deerfoot Trail I was high above it near the Max Bell center, one of the most noticable building in Calgary. From there I saw the narrow overpass over the Deerfoot and headed for it. I'm fairly secure on a bike but the 3 foot wide overpass that took me over 6 lanes of heavy traffic was slightly unnerving. A few minutes later I was riding by the zoo which I had always wanted to do since seeing the bike path just outside the fence years ago. I turned for home after stopping on Memorial Drive, another ride I want to take someday as it parallels the downtown core right across the Bow.

On my birthday Sal and I made our only trip downtown for dim sum at the Regency Palace. It was great but our table seemed to be missed by some of the carts, not that we could have eaten much more anyway. It's always a treat to enjoy the delicacies right off the cart.

Week two meant that the boys were being slowly acclimated to their new day care in the morning and napping in the afternoon so we made other plans. The smoke from forest fires in Washington and BC had arrived and there was a haze everywhere. Normally we can see the mountains and downtown skyline from any high spot. From Monday on the mountains were totally gone and downtown was a mere smudge of grey rectangles. On a scale of 1-10 the health warning peaked at 16 due to a spider in the measuring equipment. "Stay indoors and keep your windows closed" we were warned.

On Monday, Brandyn Sal and I went to the Olympic Park. We rode the Skyline Luge, visited the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and played what has to be the toughest 18 hole mini putt on earth. The luge requires a chairlift ride to get to the top of the 1.8km long twisty track. Sitting on a small motorless go kart just inches off the cement gives the sensation of speed and driving the cart was a blast.

The hall of fame had tons of memorabilia and a few interactive displays. Nowhere near as interesting as the Hockey Hall of Fame but worth a visit. The mini putt, what can I say? In a word, impossible, frustrating, designed by the devil himself. It was beautiful to look at as it wound its way up the side of the mountain along a small creek with waterfalls, amid plenty of shady trees and with a view of the city far below. But hit a ball short and it would inevitably roll back to your feet. Hit it long and it would often bounce off of the brick enclosure and again roll back to your feet. Augusta has nothing on this place for breaks. It was hard just to get a ball to stay within 3 feet of the hole. We had no aces at all, except Brandyn who drained one into the wrong hole. The maximum allowed number of strokes per hole was 5 and there were more of those than any other number by far. I gave up on keeping score about halfway through, no winner no loser.

The plan was to drive to Canmore and start riding the Legacy Trail to Banff at sunrise Wednesday. Mike was going to join me and we would spend the day riding. Tuesday all reports were still saying it was a health risk to exert yourself and I confirmed that the smoke was still hanging in Banff with an online friend who lives there. I decided to call off the ride and at midnight I was was lying in bed thinking of the hours spent online planning which trails to ride, prepping Lael and just plain dreaming about it. We went shopping instead and the morning was probably as good as the week got, until the wind started up again. This was the worst part of the trip, maybe of the whole year for me.

Brandyn, Sally and I made the drive out Thursday without any bikes. About 20 minutes into the drive it was so thick we started texting Mike and AJ to see if we could get a house key as Mike was at work and AJ was supposed to be on his way to Banff as well. I was depressed but kept driving and eventually the sun came out and at least we could see the mountains that were close. We had a great breakfast with AJ, Jess, her sister and mom at Melissa's Misteak and then left for the Bow Valley Parkway. We didn't get shut out wildlife-wise, we saw a big buck deer cross right in front of us but no elk or bighorn. I stopped often to take pictures but am disappointed with the results, pretty much with the whole day. A few shots from Moraine Lake are different with the haze. The number of people was almost overwhelming at Lake Louise. It was funny to hear people saying how breathtaking the view was. Maybe they meant the smoke.

Brandyn wanted to climb the front of the rockpile, which oddly enough is a pile of huge rocks where you get up about 100 feet over the lake. He decided that the stairs provided were boring. There are signs all over asking you to stay off the fragile environment but many were ignoring this and he wanted to join the climb. We did the stairs and as I was clicking a few pictures he vanished. I didn't panic but was worried that he had fallen somewhere, the rocks would not be very forgiving and there are thousands of places to fall if you stray from the trail. I tried to text Sal as she was doing the same but there's no service. I went to the northern side for a look down into the parking lot after searching all over the top and there he was standing next to her looking up at me, I was surprised I didn't attract a grizzly or two as I growled in frustration. That ended our day in Banff and we headed for home and another drive through rush hour traffic which was no where near as bad as I had dreaded.

Friday we decided to stay with the boys instead of them going to daycare. We spent the morning just watching them eat and play, took a lot of pictures and then put them to bed. Brandyn and I went to fly his remote control plane that AJ got for him, in a windstorm.

Our last day started off almost smoke free and we drove out to Millarville for the weekly farmer's market. It had the real country feel with about 125 vendors mostly selling produce or products like cheese and sausage. Music, a friendly crowd and some homemade breakfast was enjoyed by all. By lunch the wind and smoke were back and heavy.

The drive home was uneventful, cruising along over the prairies at 75mph is still relaxing. Our hotel in Brandon was renovating the bottom floor so I had to carry the bikes up the stairs but at least it wasn't 37 degrees. Our last day started out early with light rain which made loading the bikes and luggage a quick exercise. Traffic was very quiet until we hit Dryden and some construction. Brandyn asked if the first lake we saw near the Manitoba border was Lake Superior, nope now just go back to sleep and we'll let you know when you can see it.

Cullen and Campbell lapping the kitchen island

Mike, Cullen and Brandyn on our first ride

the 3 Amigos glued to the tv

a tight fit but they all hit a swing outside the science center

Nanny tricks 'Sneaky" Cullen into eating

hard to believe their was no plan here, but honestly we just noticed they were all dressed in Batman t's one morning

at the Canadian Sport Hall of Fame

Brandyn loved Banff...I mean Brandyn loved leaving Banff

the Copperfield Kid

from the Canal Pathway

getting closer to downtown

the Bow River, yes there are mountains in the background

Brandyn at Lake Louise

Brandyn and the Great One

looking nervous before the chairlift to the Skyline Luge

whose your friend, or is that your butt? (inside joke)

Lael at the Max Bell Center
(only 1 picture of a bike, how depressing is that)

Moraine Lake from the rockpile
Campbell and Mike clowning around at Millarville

sort of synchronized rock throwing

a cool morning ride to a new rock throwing spot

Nanny rides the luge....slowly
(I had time to get off, take off my pack and grab the camera,
then wait a couple minutes)

Brandyn at the rockpile following a newly wed couple up the steps
(he wanted to climb the rocks to the right)

a rockhopper penguin at the Calgary Zoo

sleeping lion at the Calgary Zoo

now that's an alarm clcok

American White Pelicans on the Bow River

snow fell on the mountains

zebra at the Calgary Zoo