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Sunrise at Cape Spear: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailedness be damned

I’m not exactly what you’d call a morning person.

Wait. Who are we kidding? As a lifelong night owl, this pretty much sums me up after waking too early in the wee hours:

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…and that’s on a good day

Growing up, my poor dad was tasked with dragging my grumpy arse out of bed every morning and getting me to the breakfast table before school. No small feat, lemme tell you. Without fail, getting a rise out of me took multiple trips upstairs, taking his life in his hands each time.

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Then there was my sister. All giddy and gay, skipping down the stairs each day, greeting everyone with a cheery “good morning” before tucking into whatever dad had whipped up, served with a steady side of death glares from my end of the table.

Needless to say, I haven’t been witness to many sunrises.

But there are times that being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed is over-rated. Having the chance to watch the day begin at Cape Spear is one of them.

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You see, as the easternmost point in the North America, the sun rises first here. And who doesn’t like being first? There’s a reason Newfoundland has its own time zone, after all. We’re always ahead.

After bumbling around in the dark to get ready, Cape Spear is only about a 15 minute drive from downtown St. John’s, as long as you and the moose steer clear of each other. Although they’re big, they’re also fast — which I am not at this hour — and you never really know when they might pop out of the bushes to make an appearance in front of you on the road. So just try and avoid them. They always win.

Morris The Moose

Arse on dat!

While you many not be the only person who’s had the idea to take in the show from these rugged cliffs, Cape Spear isn’t ever going to feel crowded. Here you can stand with your back to the rest of the continent. The next thing east is Ireland.

CapeSpear from Signal Hill

Looking across to Cape Spear from Signal Hill.

It’s a dramatic and striking span of rugged coast. Lying before two lighthouses, with ocean on three sides, there’s nothing but horizon stretching out in front of you, waves crashing against the shore and more often than not, wind whipping around you. At least in the summer it’s warm. But when Mother Nature’s in a bad mood, you’re gonna feel her wrath out here more than most places.

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Cliffs. Lots of cliffs.

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Love me a lighthouse. This is the original.

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…and this is the newer house with the operating light.

At the right time of year, it’s also a prime location for passing icebergs and playful humpbacks — this is smack in the middle of Mutt and Jeff’s stomping grounds.

As someone who has four sound machine apps on their phone and snoozes every night to the sound of waves, everything about the scene, coupled with the fresh, salty air, is enough to lull me back to sleep, but before long, the show gets underway. Things start to lighten off in the distance, with hues of pink and purple breaking up deep blue that’s carpeted the sky around us.

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The show begins

It’s then that those first trickles of orange light start to paint the sky like brush strokes. As that bounces off the clouds, a glow rises from where the sky meets the sea: the pink star of the show has arrived.

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The massive Oceanex Connaigra for scale.

The light at this hour is unlike anything I’ve experienced. Everything is aglow and awash in warm pastels. It’s a dream scene for an impressionist artist and an incredible sight to behold. For the most part, it’s yours alone. You know this is more than a mental picture that won’t leave you any time soon; it’s been an experience you’ll carry with you.

Beams of sunrise

Love how this little vessel lined up

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Postcard worthy

Needless to say, I’m not thinking about the time. This show is more than worth what it’s cost me in sleep.

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Bushy-haired & bleary-eyed…crooked glasses & all.

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I’ve got high hopes for you, 40

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How cute is this fellow?

I spent the last hours of my 39th year thinking back on the last decade.

And without a doubt, it’s been a great one. My favourite one yet.

Your 30s don’t have a word like ‘fabulous’ attached to them as your 40s do, but they should. I’m just not sure what it should be: If we’re sticking with alliteration, ‘terrific’ lacks a certain something. As does tremendous. And thunderous? Not quite.

Regardless, the last 10 years have been a hell of a ride. I’m a bit sad to leave my 30s behind. Not because I have any problem with moving onto my 40s — though for the record, this feels more like it should be birthday 32 — it’s just that there’s been so many wonderful things that have happened along the way, the bar is high for the coming decade. I’m all about learning new things, making discoveries and collecting experiences — good and bad. On the ‘firsts’ front, my 30s didn’t disappoint. They’ve been filled with them:

  • First newspaper awards…years of paying my journalistic dues finally paid off
  • First dives…the highlight is still a night dive with manta rays
  • First motorcycle…my fine beast, Margie
  • First solo trips…everyone should do this
  • First time owning my own property. And then another…
  • First time as a landlord
  • First time volunteering at a Christmas dinner for the disadvantaged. And then again. Wonderful experience.
  • First repeated appearances on national television…do something every day that scares you, right?
  • First MRI, CT scan and mammogram…a real highlight, amirite ladies?
  • First job loss…which turned out to be an incredibly liberating blessing
  • First furry…who wasn’t a family pet. Ernie has been by my little wingman for nine years…
  • First turtle encounters…helping them across the road
  • First time snowboarding in the Rockies
  • First time at hot yoga…where myself and Stimpy very much failed to ‘respect the silence of the room’
  • First time witnessing a human come into the world
  • First time watching a loved one draw their last breath and leave this world
  • First double whale breach…the most magical of days
  • First go at zip lining…with Roo!
  • First attempt at making pottery…and a damn good one!
  • First mountain climbed…who knew I could drag my ass that high?
  • First photography classes…to learn a smidge of what my fabulous photojournalist colleagues knew about making magic with a camera
  • First time a question I asked of a doctor I was interviewing sparked research that completely shifted thinking on asthma
  • First time online dating…oh the stories!
  • First time being self-employed…I never want a 9-5 job again!
  • First visits to Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Hawaii, New York, Chicago, California…Those that weren’t solo were with my favourite Lovely League ladies. Sheri…we must return to the Emerald Isle.
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Lovely League in Barcelona

 

Of course there are more….not all of which are fit to print :) But in the spirit of holding on to what’s been great in my 30s, I’ve made myself a little fabulist to ring in the first year of my 40s in fitting fashion.

LetterFIt’s brought to you by the letter ‘F’…

  • Freeze my rump off in Iceland & dive between two tectonic plates
  • Dive the famous Blue Hole in Belize
  • Visit Old Faithful
  • Dive with sharks in Fakarava, French Polynesia
  • Become (somewhat) fluent in Spanish – thanks for the book Cathy!
  • Take in an NFL game…just for the experience. I don’t actually like football!
  • Face the fiercest finned friends: great white sharks off Cape Town…from a cage
  • Fly first class on a long haul flight…preferably via a free upgrade
  • Snorkel with the biggest of fishes: a whale shark
  • Drive a very fast car….Formula One, baby!
  • Explore a rainforest
  • Fly in a fighter jet….I’ve sat in a CF-18…solid first step
  • Visit France….the battlefields have been on my to-visit list for some time
  • Visit Finland…if there’s time
  • Watch sea turtles hatch in Fethiye, Turkey
  • Peek into the future with a psychic
  • Find out what it’s like to fly….OUT of a plane…
  • Freewheeling fun in Amsterdam!
  • Floss more…tho let’s be honest, this probably isn’t going to happen
  • Take in a taping of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
  • Finally buckle down and finish the book I’ve mulled writing for years
  • Not drop the ‘effin ball and post to this blog more than once a month

The given here is that there’s also plenty of foolishness with my incredible family and friends. I figure at this point that goes without saying.

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Stuffed fools at Raymond’s

 

 

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With Stimpy at Cape Spear

 

I’ve got high hopes for this decade and I figure if I knock off more than a few of these, it will kick things off on the right foot. This is hardly a comprehensive list – or set in stone – so if you’ve got a good idea that involves the letter ‘F’ in some way, I’m all ears.

And try to keep it somewhat clean, peeps…I know how some of you think!

If you make lists like this, I’d love to hear what’s on yours.

And if there’s something on this one you’re game to help me check off, holler! Stimpy’s already stepped up to sort out the skydiving. God help us….!

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My first travel story

So yesterday here in Ottawa, it was 15C. Yay…no socks!!!

Today? We’ve woken up to more snow on the ground. Boo, socks. Now, I grew up in Labrador and loved winter. You had to. You wouldn’t survive otherwise. But the last few years? That love has waned — except around Christmas. That said, I’ve refrained from taking to Facebook with weather forecasts every time flakes fall from the sky.

But I feel this captures my mood this morning, minus the Uggs:

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At least it’s sunny.

And it doesn’t make this post as off topic as it might have been otherwise.

Last week I set out to find the first travel piece I’d ever written because I knew it had been about 10 years since it had been published. I have the tearsheet somewhere I’m sure…in the Rubbermaids full of 10 years of newspaper clippings…but didn’t know where to begin to find it.

So, it was Jon Willing to the rescue once again. He’s the Ottawa Sun‘s city hall reporter and still has handy dandy access to the online archive. A few search words later and boom, Big Willy had the story in hand…

 

IT’S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE
Nestled among rugged mountains in western Canada, Big 3 resorts offer spectacular skiing, snowboarding and scenery

Monday, March 21, 2005

BY HOLLY LAKE, OTTAWA SUN
BANFF, ALTA.
Section: Travel Page: T28

Everything is postcard — but real.

Those were the words of my guide as we sat about 1,300 feet up the side of Mount Norquay in Banff recently, strapping on snowboards and gazing out at some of the best scenery Mother Nature has to offer.

And it’s no exaggeration. Having spent a week atop her mountains, you realize there are no bad views to be had in the Rockies, only breath to be taken.

That’s to say nothing of the ski and snowboard conditions these huge rugged beauties offer.

While the area saw next to no snowfall throughout February, leaving many locals frustrated with the lack of fresh powder and praying for flakes, you really have to keep it in perspective. That’s easy enough to do when you spend most of the year on hills around Ottawa. Conditions deemed to be merely good in Banff and Lake Louise are great by eastern standards. The locals just don’t know how good they have it.

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Mount Norquay. Photo: SkiBig3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just six minutes from Banff, Mount Norquay rises 1650 feet above the village. Widely considered the area’s best-kept secret, it’s the smallest of the Big 3 resorts between Banff and Lake Louise, but it’s not to be dismissed.

“We’re known for being steep,” says Cory Deith, a guide and snowboard instructor. “And we’re famous for our fast grooming.”

Ninety percent of the mountain is groomed every night and its half-pipe is cut every other night. Home hill of Thomas Grandi, the first Canadian man to win two World Cup giant slalom races, Norquay hosts many races throughout the season. Fast and steep pretty much sums it up. When there is fresh powder, many say Norquay is hard to beat.

That’s not to say it isn’t for beginner and intermediate folk. As an intermediate boarder myself, I fared just fine — with the exception of one sliding, ass-burning incident on what was likely the steepest run I found myself on all week.

Small, intimate

That said, each run is distinct and it’s a mountain you can pretty much have all to yourself.  Small and intimate, the family-owned resort is the only one in the area to offer lift tickets by the hour, which leads to turnover throughout the day. Weekday or weekend, congestion is never a problem.

Nor is the weather, for the most part. Because of where Norquay is nestled, it’s protected from the nastiness and never has to shut down due to wind.

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Molehills no more…

However, it’s been a bizarre winter and the mountain did close for three days earlier this year after its winding access road turned into a skating rink. This season, temperatures have jumped from -30C to 8C in a matter of days.

“It’s definitely been a season of extremes. But we’re faring much better than the folks on the West Coast,” says marketing director Robert Cote, referring to resorts in B.C. where rain has washed away much of the snow on the lower parts of mountains. “We’ve actually fared very well though it all. That’s a testament to the area here. We’ll always have snow.”

And they’re confident it will be good snow, as the hill provides a one-hour money-back grooming guarantee, so great conditions are pretty much a given.

Canada’s best snow…

Just a little further along the Trans Canada Hwy., 15 minutes west of Banff, is Sunshine Village. It’s tucked away and for the most part can’t be seen from the parking lot, but once the resort’s eight-person gondola takes you to the village, you quickly realize this place is aptly named. Comprised of three mountains that circle around, its large sheets of white glisten in the sun. With so many wide, walls of snow, Sunshine Village is stunningly spectacular.

It has earned the rating of “Canada’s Best Snow” from both Ski and Snow Country magazines. Not a surprising feat considering it averages 33 feet a snow a year. That allows for a season that stretches from early November to mid-May.This year’s last run isn’t expected until May 23.

Like Norquay, Sunshine is part of Banff National Park. Unlike Norquay, however, it spans two provinces. While riding the Continental Divide Express chair you pass through B.C. briefly, before being welcomed back to Alberta, as you make their way to the top.

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Jerry Kernen marks his 97th birthday at Sunshine in 2013. Calgary Herald Phot0

 

From there, the view is a sea of snow-blanketed mountains as far as the eye can see. These are the Rockies in all their glory and there’s nothing like being in their midst.

Jerry Kernen, 88, has been coming here since 1962. He was a ski patroller for 10 years and has skied everything in interior B.C. at one time or another, but Sunshine keeps pulling him back.

“This is my favourite. All you have to do is look around and see how pretty it is,” says the retired farmer from Saskatoon. “Sunshine’s got good people. It’s got good snow.”

Kernen comes to Banff to ski Sunshine for six- to eight-day spans several times a year before heading home for a week. His home hill has about 300 feet of vertical.

“That’s kind of tame,” he says. “It’s quite nice, but it doesn’t compare to Sunshine.”

An eccentric character, Kernen is an institution in these parts — he’s known in Lake Louise and Sunshine’s named a run after him. He chats up and humours visitors and locals alike as they share his chair to the top.

Delirium Dive

His habit is to ski every run, every day. That includes the Delirium Dive every year on his birthday. Reopened in 1998, the Dive is in-resort backcountry skiing and it’s definitely not for everyone. Spanning 700 acres and 2,000 vertical feet of chutes, cliffs and steeps, access is limited to expert skiers outfitted with an avalanche transmitter, a shovel and a partner. Kernen’s the oldest skier to go down the run.

“The ski patrol, they always draw straws to see who goes in there with me,” he says with a proud grin.

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Yeah, he’s a charmer. Photo: vueweekly.com

Last September, Delirium Dive was featured in the finale of The Amazing Race. Three teams battled to be the first to reach the Continental Divide by snowshoeing up the slopes near the extreme Dive.

Sunshine is a family-owned resort established in 1928, but $40 million in capital improvements in the last decade have brought it into the big leagues. The largest among them was the super high-speed gondola, which eliminated log lineups at the base in 2002. Sunshine touts it as the fastest gondola in the world with its 13-minute ride from base to village, giving boarders and skiers alike quick access to the longest vertical drop in the Rockies.

Jewel of the Rockies

For Kernen, time in the car is time that could be spent on the slopes. For that reason, he doesn’t make his way a half-hour further west to Lake Louise. But it’s a beautiful drive through the mountains and what’s waiting for you when you arrive is well worth it.

Lake Louise touts itself as the jewel of the Rockies and few would argue with that label. Home to a men and women’s World Cup downhill each year, Louise also boasts 4,200 skiable acres. That’s said to be more than can be skied in a week.

While the resort’s new Grizzly Express gondola opened Feb. 14, it was out of commission the day we arrived. When it’s running, the six-person ride replaces a two-person chair, and takes boarders and skiers up three visually stunning kilometres to the top. Even without the gondola, we had no trouble making it to the top of Louise’s four mountain faces, which let us follow the sun all day long.

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Oh, Louise

As you follow the paths, there’s no shortage of varied terrain. For those who are just beginning to those who like backcountry skiing, there is plenty for all. Novice, intermediate and advanced runs start down from every chair, and for those who love diamonds, they’re here in the doubles.

As was the case with Norquay and Sunshine, a beginner green run at Louise is the equivalent of an intermediate blue run here. Same goes for their blues — many would be black diamonds here. Having said that, there were times at Louise I made my way down blues that were steeper than many of her diamonds — steep but definitely do-able.

Although new snow was scarce in February and powder was anything but plentiful, good conditions were not. Still, on the message board of one lift was a chalk-scrawled plea: Pray for snow. Mother Nature must have pulled some strings as March has seen those prayers answered.

Happy Stimpy

Happy Stimpy

In 2002, Skiing Magazine voted Louise No. 1 for scenery and it’s not hard to see why. While taking a break part way down a long run — they can span up to 8 km — I sat on a mountain face overlooking the lake and the Chateau Lake Louise.

Beautiful? Without question. But all I could think was how majestically tranquil it was.

This is snowboarding and scenery you can’t help but get hooked on. For those who want a fix, luckily, this is a season you can ride into May.

For more information:
www.skilouise.com
www.banffnorquay.com
www.skibanff.com

DivingIn

Diving In!

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Not the St. Lawrence River….

 

I’ve been meaning to start this blog for a long time.

Years.

It’s been a new year’s resolution more than once, been on numerous to-do lists, but yet it never happened. Life, travel…and plenty of writing for magazines, websites and other people’s blogs….it all conspired to keep this beast on the back burner.

One thing I know for sure about myself is that after living my professional life on a deadline, if something doesn’t actually have one, it will inevitably get bumped down the to-do list by things that do.

But here we are…diving in. April Fool’s Day seemed like as good a time as any!

It’s sink or swim time, baby

Which is why it’s probably a good thing I’m buoyant!

I love travel, diving and the ocean, but I know it’s not for everyone. For a lot of people, the ocean is a big blue unknown — and they’re scared of what might be lurking beneath the surface.

Fair enough. I was that person at one time. Jaws did a real number on me as a wee whipper snapper and it was really only once I started diving that I got past that. Actually, it was my first foray into snorkelling that got the proverbial ball rolling. While it wasn’t entirely uneventful — few things are when I’m involved — I survived and walked away determined to give diving a go, barracudas and sunburned bum be damned!

Which is a tale for another day….

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Howdy from a humpie…

 

But I’m so happy to have had that introduction. What I quickly realized as a diver is that there’s a whole other world down there and very little of it is scary. Beautiful and magical are better ways to describe it.

Through stories, I hope this blog can take you there.

Fifty shades of blue

Why? Well, for one, I happen to think there’s no place like it.

But more importantly, we’re not being very kind to the ocean and that’s not only hurting the incredible creatures that call it home, it’s hurting us. Every breath we take is thanks to the ocean. We owe it more than it’s getting from us right now. It’s big, but it’s certainly not immune to the damage humans are doling out.

By telling some of the endless stories big blue has to share, I hope I can play a small part in encouraging people to care about it. After all, as Jacques Cousteau wisely noted,“people protect what they love.”

And goodness knows an ocean can never have too many lovers.

That said, while this is a blog with a heavy blue, ocean-inspired slant, I know very well that incredible experiences happen on dry land too.

I’m all about new experiences so they’ll land here too on occasion.

Bear with me for the first bit. I’m finding it’s much easier to write blogs for other people, so it might take a few posts before I get my sea legs, but by all means, let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!