Monday, April 26, 2010

Canada after the Para-Olympics

Following the para-Olympics I spent a week in Whistler staying with cousin-Laura. My hat goes off to anyone who can put themselves through what she and hundreds of other Australians put themselves through to live and work a ski season in Canada. Accommodation is phenomenally expensive, food and beer the same high cost as in Australia and they work for around $10 per hour. The fun of going out and partying with hundreds of other Australians "poorer than Uni-students" and skiing/boarding in between shifts is the fun part.

In Whistler I put back on the ski's and board after a few years off...both are just like riding a bike, you never forget how to! My summation of Whistler/Canadian Mtns = better than Australia's! People complained about the long lift ques...10min waiting...they complained about the snow...least there was no rocks or glassy ice! Skiing between the tree's was different as pine tree don't have multiple trunks and twisted branches trying to snag you like gum trees. The sensation of boarding on fresh powder was like no other and can see why people love to snow board however the control of ski's still makes my day more enjoyable. I realised again how much like my old man I have become when a good day was not to crash/fall over/wipe out!

One of the more novel things I did was to ride a bike through the snow packed trails...the bike had no brakes and the handlebars didn't stay up but the constant comical crashes onto soft snow made up for any lack of control.

After realising I was spending my Canadian experience pretty much entirely with Australians I decided to go to Jasper and find my hiking boots again. Jasper was gorgeous, a small town in the mountains and offered some stunning mountain views, lakes and elk encounters. I had the chance to snow shoe through the beautiful pines and bald mountains of Magilne Lake, mountain bike the trails often still covered in ice, walk on a frozen river in the canyon to an ice waterfall and then bed-sled. I tried the local brewery tasting collection and found out after ordering that it was 3 pints of beer, I hadn't eaten for 5hrs and had been hiking all day so finishing them in 30min so that I could catch the bus back to the hostel put me in a jolly mood. Bed sledding was great fun til l sobered up and realised the potential for injury, when you landed on the mattress after going over the jump it was a hell of a lot of fun, if you miss the mattress you tumbled over and over though the snow till coming to a stop also fun when not sober!

I jumped in on the offer to share a car and drive to Banff. This drive CAN be stunning but the day we drove the icefields parkway we had nice foggy weather suitable for sitting inside and drinking hot chocolate. Lake Louise was fun to walk across but we couldn't see the other side and then it started to snow...such fantastic powder snow, 50cent piece size flakes whose shapes actually looked like the snow crystals hung from Christmas trees. The ensuring snowball fight and random attacks on other people made my first time at Lake Louise fun never the less.Johnston Creek Canyon was spectacular to wall/slide into as it was also frozen and the stunning ice water falls and glacial coloured ice made some fantastic photos.

I took and instant dislike to is like comparing Wanaka and Queenstown in NZ. Banff was a town without a soul, pumping to the tune of the rich spending big on ski holidays. It had enough walking tracks around it to amuse me for a few days, then a days skiing (skiing by yourself is never great fun, there is no-one to talk to on the lifts or watch for when you crash and help pick up the pieces).

Hence I found myself back in Lake Louise for a second time and hired ski-touring skis. These are like Cross-country ski's (heel comes up) only they are wider and were perfectly suited to the fresh snow in the National Parks. I headed off solo ski camping, this was a new experience for me as was being in bear country! The amazing views, the silence (snow muffles every sound) and the speed at which you can cover ground skis made some fun days. The fresh snow was not without its drawbacks, avalanche danger meant I followed the river on the valley floors and kept moving until the crust of hard snow gave away and I was up to my waste trying to get out of a hole with ski's and pack still on.

The snow also covered Lake O'hara which I assume being higher than Lake Lousie would also be solid enough to ski on. Half way across the lake realised that when I pulled my pole out that it had slushy wet snow on it...DANGER...I got out of there quick smart and used up a fair amount of luck to have not gone through (going though would have meant a summer trip for M&D once/if I was found). I later found out Lake Louise is packed by the resort all winter long and hence the surface is much stronger ice! Camping in the snow was great fun, my tent and sleeping bag paid for themselves as it was minus 9deg Celsius (inside the tent) and I was still warm. The last night however I could not find the campsite so I could not put my food in the bear proof lockers (hidden under snow) so I left my food, stove, lip balms and other bear attractants 100m away from my camp and crossed my fingers (the trees were not high enough to dissuade a bear!)

After four days of peace & quiet skiing by myself I was back in Banff and I got out of there ASAP. I went to Calgary (a bigger city ???) and planned to hire a car to travel around in, fortunately I was also able to get tickets to a NHL hockey match. What a great game...I'd never play it but enjoyed watching it as it is fast and rough. Nothing compares to the atmosphere and crowd inside the stadium. The non-stop music, chants, flashing lights and crowd engaging beats turned the stadium into a crazy seething mass of of supporters. When the "Calgary Flames" got a goal the response was crazy, the first sign of a goal was the release of a ball of gas/flame above the rink and then the crowd took over. It may have been a bit commercial and over the top but was one a fun experience.

My road trip took me 2000km through west Canada's most impressive national parks. Soaking in hot springs in the mountain valleys and inside a cave I will remember for a long time as I will the vista's of mountains, snow, lakes, wineries and ALL the crazy Canadians overtaking me when I was driving 20kph over the limit already. The wineries offered ice wine which is picked when the temperature is below minus 8deg Celsius and this has to be liquid gold. My last day in Canada was stunning weather, crisp, cold, clear sky's and fresh snow on everything. Hence I took another stab at driving the icefields parkway and was suitably impressed...possibly the most beautiful 200km through mountains ever!

I spent the last night in style by sleeping in the higher car at the airport carpark in order to ensure got to airport for my free cavity search by the USA immigration on time ...lucky for me that I did so as they had massive ques.

Next chapter...Texas!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Para-Olympics (12th March 2010)

With the road trip finished Adrian and myself were in Vancouver for the winter para-Olympics.

During the Winter Olympics (non-disabled) what coverage I saw of the games I did feel a twinge of regret that hadn't decided to attend those games...BUT the decision was a great one as the para-Olympics were better than I could have ever imagined.

The first event that we attended was the Wheelchair Curling, it was a first for me on both accounts as I had never seen a wheelchair sport or curling. Essentially it is a form of lawn bowls on ice! These athletes complete from their wheelchairs and they push the stones down the ice with tactics and precision. Fortunately the Canadians were playing and the crowd was going wild with every shot...can I remind you that it is like lawn bowls...hardly a sport you can cheer for but we managed. Can't say I would go out of my way to go again but it was a fun 4hrs watching the crowd and the tactics at work.

The next event we went to was the Sledge Ice Hockey. These guys are crazy, they push themselves across the ice with their upper bodies and at the same time receive and pass the puck with precision. The best part undoubtedly, like any ice hockey was the crashes and brute force used against each other. It kind of looked like watching hermit crabs play soccer on fast forward...hope that image is not to complicated to conjure. Also just like any ice hockey half the fun comes from the antics off the ice and in the crowd. Dancing, music, drums, t-shirt canons and more.

The most rewarding event to attend was the cross-country skiing and biathlon. The track was set up really well so that you could see the entire race unfold, it had many loops that wound around the stands. Events included sitting, standing and visually impaired...yep shooting blind! (they have a gun that connects to headphones and they use sound to aim the gun). Every event was inspiring to watch but 2 of these moments are worth writing about.
  • The women's sit down 12.5km biathlon had a lady who finished about 15minutes behind the rest of the field, I'm not sure why or what happened to her but she never gave up. You could see the pain and exhaustion from the close up TV shots and how hard it would be to push yourself uphill on a sled/toboggan with only your arms. The crowd went wild when she finished showing there support for her outstanding effort. Thing amazing thing really is that her time was approx 50min...12.5km in 50min...this is the same time that I run 12.5km and she is just using her arms! Then consider that FOUR times during the 12.5km she deliberately tips over her sled, controls her breathing/heart rate and shoots the 5 targets (each miss being a 1min penalty). AMAZING!
  • The men's standing biathlon had German athlete who's disability was that he had no arms...fair enough that you can still ski without using your arms but biathlon involves shooting? He had a modified gun that he shot with his teeth!

The final events were the downhill & super-G. It was fascinating to watch the athletes with different levels of disability all competing in the same event. It seemed unfair that someone with 2 legs could have less time penalty than someone with only 1 leg...I later found out she didn't have either leg below the knee. The other category that I was most impressed with was the visually impaired, these athletes often had NO sight what so ever and were skiing at ridiculous speeds. The bond between them and their guide must be the highest level of trust I will ever see.

I admit coming to the para-Olympics to see some spectacular crashes but the accidents I did see were not as "fun" as I would have thought watching on TV. Watching a skier strapped in a chair tumbling out of control right in front of me wasn't amusing at all and horrible to watch. The only somewhat amusing accident was the visually impaired skier who when the crowd started cheering couldn't hear the guide telling her to stop and skied straight into the fence at the bottom...she was fine...needless to say we didn't cheer until the blind skiers had come to a complete stop after that!

Vancouver is a beautiful site for a city with the huge Stanley Park, the state and National Parks 20min from city centre (see Lynn Canyon if you get there) and also ski fields 20min from the centre and did an outstanding job of hosting the para-Olympics. One of the best things was that family's and school groups could go to events and afford to also with the ticket price being only $19...the full Olympics had tickets typically x4-x5 that amount. Security was near non-exisitant...after all your not making much of a statement by blowing up a bunch of disabled people and their supporters.

Following the Para-Olympics I headed to Whistler, Jasper & about these in the next the rate I am going it will be mid-May before I get it out...I have better things to do than type story tales whilst on holidays!

:) Tim