Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Three Things I liked best about St. John's Newfoundland: The Views, The Whales, and The Man in the Fur Bomber Cap.

The three things I liked best about St. John's, Newfoundland: The Views, The Whales, and the Man in the Fur Bomber Cap. 

The Views

It all started out very touristy. The classic climb to Signal Hill—a hill overlooking the city of St. John's, where the final battle of the Seven Years war was fought in 1762. It's also the location where the first wireless transatlantic signal was received by Guglielmo Marconi in 1901.

My travelling companion was my sister and we started out on the street, climbing up Signal Hill Road. Cab drivers had said it was "crazy" to climb the hill, it being steep and long. We thought they vastly overestimated the effort it took to climb, and veered off to scramble up the hill itself. It was July and purple thistles and other pretty underbrush were in bloom as we reflected on the views before us. St. John's harbour, with orange oil rigs and Coast Guard ships lined neatly in a semi-circle, and the Atlantic Ocean, framed by the craggy, grass-covered rock Newfoundland is known for. It was a sweet morning, taking pictures and meditating on the landscape.

St. John's Harbour—View from Signal Hill
Atlantic Ocean—View from Signal Hill

The Whales

In the afternoon, we booked a whale-watching boat tour. "Iceberg Quest" was the name of the company who promised to "sail in search of icebergs and whales on a true Newfoundland cultural adventure".  With the large number of people lined up for the boat, I thought it might be a cultural adventure just boarding ship. But, we all fit, and off we went in search of whales, as the summer 2014 was too warm for icebergs. 

I had heard other's tales of whale watching tours where typically none to few whales were spotted. So I was excited when the Captain directed our attention to the first whale and I took this lousy picture. 

Then I put the camera away. I erred on the side of probability that I wasn't going to capture best picture award for my wildlife photography. I'm glad I did. Because soon people were gasping in awe while pointing, cheering and clapping as humpback whales dove and breached beside the boat. Two came up beside my sister and I, playfully rolling onto their backs, showing their white underbellies that looked aquamarine in the water and the knobbiness of their jaws. One went under the boat and another breached within arms reach beside us. Not even the couple fighting beside us (awkward!) could ruin the magnificence of seeing these creatures in their habitat. 

The wind whipped our hair as we headed back to the harbour, passing sea caves and puffins skipping along the water, East Coast folk music blaring out a loudspeaker. It was one of those moments in time where if you died right then and there, you could say you experienced life, really lived. I was happy.

The Man in the Fur Bomber Cap

We decided to end our day by buying tickets to the George Street Festival, an annual festival where thousands of people cram onto the pedestrian-only and pub-filled George Street to see live bands, drink, and dance. We hadn't known about the festival until we checked into our hotel, but decided we didn't want to miss out on a piece of fun East Coast culture. The whole day had been like this, spontaneous and serendipitous.

Seven thousand people occupied the two-block long George Street; standing in the street, hanging out of windows, sitting on patios, and drinking in bars. People donned yellow rain hats and we were given some gaudy red flashing glasses to wear. The band Shanneyganock headlined and everyone sang along to the East Coast tunes. Thanks to my third grade teacher, I was able to join in for Drunken Sailor and Ise the Bye. 

George Street Festival, 2014
Sailor Rain Hats. A George Street Tradition?
Um, what?
The man in the fur bomber hat topped the night. He was operating a hot-dog cart while wearing his fur cap and a dead-pan face. It seemed his best accessory were his tongs, which he used to rhythmically flip his hot dogs in sync with the music. His head bopped and his body jerked. He did this all at a feverish rate. I couldn't stop staring. I wish I had taken a picture.

My Saturday in St. John's was one of those days that stick in your head, a series of simple, wonderful, and funny moments. Moments that I hope will allow me to revel in nostalgia if I'm lucky enough to grow old. These memories of the views, the whales, and the man in the fur bomber cap.    

If You Go:

Signal Hill National Historic Site:

Iceberg Quest:

George Street Festival:

Also, I beg you to check out Raymond's Restaurant. The best meal I've had of my life, so far. Voted top restaurant in Canada in 2014.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Beginning my Journey. Section Hiking the Bruce Trail.

On January 3, 2015, I began my goal of hiking the Bruce Trail. I plan to section hike the trail a few times a year, making this a long, but worthwhile, journey. I took a video at the Southern Cairn in Queenston, Niagara, to commemorate my beginning. 

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Failure, More Failure, and Algonquin Park. How Nature Healed Me.

The Self-Pity Monster
August, 2011. My dog was scrambling into the rented canoe faster than Captain Schettino had jumped ship. Despite being a Golden Retriever, he had an unnatural fear of the water but was willing to brave it, as he was afraid of being left behind. My partner took the back of the canoe, wearing his typical cheerful disposition, and I settled into the front but in a foul mood. I was wallowing in self-pity ever since I found out I hadn't gotten the promotion at work. I felt like I had failed again at my career, another job I couldn't make work.

It wasn't my last lesson in failure. The weather started off serene, but soon clouds rolled in across the sky. We were in the middle of the lake when the rain came. We hadn't rain-proofed our gear, we had no life-jacket on our dog, and we still had to cross the lake to get to our site. Planning fail, right there. But, we paddled hard, and as a bonus I momentarily forgot my self-pity. I continued to focus on the tasks at hand as we set up camp, dried off, prepared our meal, and clumsily hung our bear-bag.

The next morning, my present-focused Zen-like state had vanished. I was staring woefully out at the lake, crying, in a real pitiful state. I knew it was bad when I began taking poor-me selfie shots. In black and white. It was time to take charge NOW. So, I asked my partner to take me out canoeing. I wanted to see if I could canoe on my own.

Partner and Dog. Both totally cool with canoeing. 
My God. I didn't expect it to be that bad. It was like a tourist driving the Arc de Triomphe roundabout for the first time. Round and around and around we went, never getting anywhere. If it was up to me, we would have never exited the water. But, again, at least my mind was off my problems, and focused on circling. 

I decided, in my present state of mind, that it would be wise to do something I was good at, like hiking. Get my confidence back up. So my partner canoed me to my location and I set off to solo-hike the Centennial Ridges Trail in Algonquin Park. I hadn't done much solo hiking before, and I was quaking in my boots. I kept imagining a human predator around every rock, behind every tree. Yet, I used to rollerblade home at 4:00 am in Toronto from work and was never afraid. Because people were around. We're so conditioned to feel safe in cities and imagine the worst in the woods. But that's another post. 

No predators awaited me and I finished the trail safely. A man smoking a cigarette sidled up to me at one point when I was sitting on a rock taking a break. But, he presented no threat and we had a friendly conversation. I thought it incongruent, the smoking part, but didn't mention it. And, I was right, my confidence was back up.  

Lookout on Centennial Ridges Trail
I won't say that for the remainder of the trip I was happy and cheerful all the time. But, being in nature, focusing on something other than myself (and horrid selfies), helped heal my disappointment about the promotion and grief over old wounds triggered. It helped me realize that you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have, the facts of life . . . ? Ya, I just did that.

I am happy to say that three years later, I am in a new job that I enjoy and that I'm better suited to. I continue to hike, mostly solo, and I no longer quake in my boots. I still cannot canoe.