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Coming to Terms in Tofino

20 Jun

Tofino. It is a word, a name, that people say with excitement, with wide eyes and wonder in their voices. Dropping it into conversation with a past visitor can entirely transform their demeanour. Old folks and young folks will look at you and tell you with conviction that you need to go and see it. Guidebooks talk about ‘stunning beaches’ and ‘wild waves’ but none of this praise really describes a seaside destination that is out of the ordinary, or conveys what it is about Tofino that takes your breath away and pulls people back again and again. There is something very special about this little town at the edge of the world. I will try to explain it.

It is a million gorgeous pictures. More. Infinite gorgeous pictures. Crashing ocean and misty grey clouds hanging low over dramatic, forbidding mountains that rise suddenly from the water like an image from a prehistoric paradise. If I could paint I would spend my life there trying to capture one moment in the life of the sea. Every second it changes to produce new and never to be repeated beauty. Agitated, lapping waves, blue and purple and green mashing and melting together on the surface of creasing, bubbling, peaking and shifting water. The wild landscape reminded me of how massive, how diverse and mysterious the world is and that people, our worries and workings, are only a very small part of that whole. Tofino is its own little universe, even the trees that hide the beaches stand aloof on rock faces. Shaggy cedars with limbs like beckoning fingers they draw your eyes and thoughts high above and outside yourself. Ancient trees that are so utterly unaware of, unaffected by man’s whole history and existence, flourishing, independently, lush and alive and not ever considering the people who stare at them in awe.

My journey to Tofino began when a couchsurfing acquaintance got in touch about hitchhiking there. Up until then i was still WWOOFing at Damali Lavender farm and getting used to a very pleasant life: I had lovely hosts; the company of some brilliant Germans; the use of a bike to explore spectacular Cowichan Valley and; a double mattress to myself. But none of these luxuries could compete witha  chance to visit ‘the best place in the world’. Even the mission of getting there didn’t put us off. With a vague idea of the route we needed to take we started hitching from Duncan at ten on a Monday, smiling and optimistic (we had even made a sign). Tofino is literally at the end of a long and winding road. Through a rainforest. As various drivers brought us along different stages of the journey we grew increasingly creased at the corners. Standing on the edge of the highway with your thumb out watching truck after truck thunder past it became difficult to keep a genuine smile on your face. 8 hours and 5 cars after we had set off we arrived with some of our enthusiasm for our magic destination left in our wake. All of a sudden I was feeling precious, I didn’t want to be uncertain about where my next hot shower was coming from anymore and I was tired of talking to strangers, something really quite unheard of, I just wanted to be around someone I had known for more than a week who already knew me. For the first time since getting to Canada I had a bad feeling about a place.

I see the reason now. I came to Tofino at the end of my year abroad, the most amazing year of my life, already struggling with all the memories I was going to miss out on because I wouldn’t be here anymore: the trips to unexplored places; the nights out; the hikes and; festivals and; new friends. All of these feelings came to a head in Tofino where others were arriving to begin their Summer seasons, they had all of it ahead of them: bonfires and music and hypnotising waves. They would discover for the first time things others had already found and claimed as their own secret possessions and they would make them theirs for however long they stayed. I was catching a glimpse of all of this and I hated that I couldn’t share in their enthusiasm for this new, unknown place that they had months to get to know.But just as Tofino brought my sadness at leaving to the surface it also helped me come to terms with it. As beautiful as it was in that remote place I had no roots there and nobody I was connected to, either from home or friends I’d made in Canada (who at this stage really are family). That feeling that I should be experiencing it with my friends helped me to see that my time in Canada was coming to an end, Tofino was ripe for adventure but they would not be my adventures, I had had mine, a whole ten months packed full of them. Now it was time for something new, somewhere old, I could feel it, the next stage of my life was about to begin and wherever it took me the beginning would be in Ireland. I had a family to reconnect with, friends to look out for and have the mad laughs with, it was all waiting for me, home was where I was supposed to be. My mood and outlook changed entirely when I realised this. I could appreciate Tofino not as something I wouldn’t get to fully experience but as something I simply saw differently to the new locals. The last new destination, a wonderful place for the sun to set on my trip. Tofino gave me this little epiphany. And as far as I am concerned that is the reason for the amazement and the superlatives it awakes in people. A place where the splendour and potential of nature can be felt so strongly that it can quiet the conflicting voices inside us and reconcile us with the inevitable. As much as it exists independently of humans it filled me with a feeling that we are still part of one connected world and that the universe has a plan, a winding path laid out, for everything in that world, including me.

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Naked on a bridge at Nanaimo (or the view from Vancouver Island take 1)

7 Jun

You meet some pretty awesome people on exchange. One of the brilliant things about these new people is that each one brings something different to the table. In the case of my dear friend Bones it is nudity. I’ll elaborate- Bones really likes getting naked. And while naked she has done rather a lot of interesting things. So she’s always encouraging of any activity that might involve getting the clothes off and when she heard that Wild  Play in Nanaimo were trying to raise funds for the BC Schizophrenia Society by hosting a naked bungy jump she didn’t waste any time signing up and spreading the word to the rest of us (God only knows how she found out about it actually…was she just googling naked bungy in blind hope?). My initial reaction to the idea was mixed; a bungy was something i would never forget doing and it was a thrilling excuse to spend a few days on Vancouver Island, which i had yet to visit. But in the nip? Leaping naked from a bridge in front of a crowd of spectators definitely didn’t appear anywhere on my bucket list.  But then a lot of the best things that we have done this year came from last minute decisions or unexpected ideas. So we paid online, locked it in and all that and besides the odd day when we’d all be sitting in a cafe eating cake and somebody would suddenly say ‘you know we have to be naked in public in about 6 weeks’ we just let the day get nearer without giving it much thought.

Then suddenly it was upon us. We got ourselves to Nanaimo, sorted some couchsurfers and early on March 5th (yes I realise it’s taken me a while to publish this) we made the short drive out to the jump site. Curiously there was no wait to register; we had expected a heaving crowd of excited naked folks psyching each other up, chanting clever slogans incorporating the theme of nakedness and giving one another motivational massages, a sort of carnival atmosphere really. But there was only the odd nudie wandering around, with others concealing their modesty under fur coats and grass skirts. After we had the admin behind us we idled at the base of the bridge for a few minutes to catch a glimpse of what was in store for us. A girl of similar age jumped just as we came up to the railings. It was worse than I’d feared; even at quite a distance away you could see EVERYTHING, and hanging upside down from a rope that has you bouncing all over the place is not exactly the most flattering position to be in when wearing only your birthdaysuit.

With that image in my mind I was seized with a desire to get the whole thing over with so having stripped down except for an easily pulled off strapless dress myself and my 7 cojumpers started the climb up that seriously intimidating set of stairs to the top of the bridge. I may have mentioned this earlier but one serious advantage to signing up to bungy naked is that you don’t really spend much time being nervous about the actual plummeting from a  bridge part; the prospect of stripping off is pretty distracting, but now that we were actually looking down the 55m of thin air to the river below the old fight or flight was starting to kick in and adrenaline was spinning around my insides like a hummingbird. I was going first because at moments like this the longer i have to wait around and think about what is about to happen the surer I am to hesitate and need coaxing off the ledge. While the others watched the people ahead of us in line make their dives or jumps or arm flailing falls i was having the harness tied around my ankles. For the only thing that’s keeping you from well….falling head first into a river it’s a surprisingly basic set up- they just wrap a towel around your ankles and then attach the rope to that, but I wasn’t going to go doubting these guys’ expertise. With my feet bound the moment of truth had arrived- not wanting to delay I whipped my dress over my head, got the ‘ok this is me naked’ over with in front of everyone in line and shuffled to the edge. At this point there was some confusion; the lad in charge asked me did I want to get dunked in the river. I told him I did, just down to my waist and when he’d adjusted things accordingly I asked ‘was that it?’ meaning ‘can I go?’ He nodded, turning away, so I jumped,  thinking this was all the advice i needed. Apparently I was actually supposed to await further instructions on how to jump without damaging my spine. Luckily the only technique required is to put your hands out above your head, which wouldn’t you know came kind of naturally anyway. But the lesson here for anyone reading and considering a jump in the future is that no matter how impatient you are to get the waiting over with wait for the guy to fully instruct you before jumping as you may miss something important.

Anyways he turned back around to tell me what I needed to know and at this point I was somewhere in the air. For the first few seconds my body had no idea what was going on; one minute it was on solid bridge the next it was floating, then slowly turning upside down and gathering speed. At least my brain had some clue as to why I was in this position or I probably would have panicked. Then suddenly I was seeing the tops of trees, the crowd of people watching, the railings the banks, all rush by until I hit the water, hard, plunging right down to my ankles (not my waist….stupid bungy technician man). I was still processing this change when the rope pulled me back up and I started to bounce. As soon as i could breathe again all I could do was shout out how awesome this was; the bouncing was intoxicating, the weightless feeling addictive. Any residual panic was gone and I was laughing and swinging my head around trying to see everything from my new upside down angle, but after 2, maybe 3 repeats I was slowing down, and then there was a guy in a raft holding out a pole (with a glove on the end, nice touch) for me to grab so I could be lowered down. I couldn’t believe it was already over. Clever bungy people, it’s so short you just want to do another one immediately, what a perfect moneymaking scheme!

It could have been a bit awkward being pulled onto a raft naked by someone you’ve never met and waiting for him to untie your feet before you can start covering yourself but I was on too much of a thrill high to really notice my nakedness at that point so our small talk about how long he’d worked there and whether he’d gotten himself on the rota for naked jump day on purpose was interspersed with my random outbursts on how brilliant that had just been. The low point of the experience came climbing the very long flight of steel steps he delivered me to(not fun for the barefoot soaking wet naked person) but it was all up from there. Reunited with my clothes I got to watch the rest of the girls jump, Bones the seasoned bungy expert barely blinked as she leapt off the platform but others struggled with serious fear and managed to do it anyway, a pretty amazing feat. No matter how we ended up in the air each of us came off the bungy cord with a  smile a mile wide and a need to express just how flipping deadly the experience had been. And it was all thanks to Bones and her aversion to being clothed.

what a miracle!

6 Nov

It’s autumn for real now. Took a stroll down to Wreck Beach this evening and half the leaves are brown and gold and some of them were falling as we walked. I know I should be panicking at the season change since it’s going to bring the unending rain we’ve been warned about but so far it’s been just lovely. At home you only get those crisp days when it’s cold enough to see your breath, here we’ve had a whole week of them and I haven’t had to wear a coat once.

We’ve ticked a few more typical Canadian experiences off the list. Two weeks ago it was Thanksgiving here and one of the girls volunteered to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner- turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, gravy, pumpkin pie (which I did NOT expect to like but in the event it was pretty spectacular, ditto the pecan pie), the whole shebang- it was epic! We all brought along our own food contributions too, Kirsty and I volunteered to make a veggie dish, take a look at the recipe below, it’s a variation on a bbcgoodfood classic. When all of the food had been laid out on the table (feast is the word!) and 15 or so ravenous exchange people were just about to lay into it, one of our cooks asked us all to stand and give thanks- you know, that tradition that’s supposed to be the point of the day! I know it sounds a bit cringey but it was actually really lovely and I think having a holiday that’s all about stopping for a minute and being grateful for what you have is a brilliant idea. I like to think that i don’t take the things in my life for granted and I really believe in telling the people you love how much you appreciate them and how much they matter. If it’s something you don’t do often enough or haven’t done lately Thanksgiving is a good time to step back and remember that really life is pretty good. I also really like that it’s a secular holiday, I mean almost all of the big occasions in the Irish calendar are linked to Christianity, and I guess that makes sense since we’re a pretty homogeneous little country but some people do get left out and at Thanksgiving nobody does because it’s just about eating a massive meal and hanging out with your family, which are things universally enjoyed.

The wonderful dinner came at the tail end of a really fantastic weekend so we had that to be thankful for. We went on a bit of an adventure through the Fraser valley and up to Adams River in search of the spawning sockeye salmon. Every 4 years masses of them swim upstream to the exact spot where they were born to lay their eggs and then they die. It’s strange that salmon have no parent-child relationship, who do they blame all of their problems on when they reach adulthood?

The trip was a truly marvellous laugh. It was Crazybones brainchild- she’d heard about these determined salmon, and that at a certain point somewhere east or north of Vancouver there were so many that they filled whole river. So 5 of us packed off in a rented car with only a vague notion of where we were going and limited knowledge of how to get there. We drove until we hit a small town called Hope. I know- it sounds like the name of a sitcom. And it did have a certain Twin Peaks vibe. Its an unassuming little place, petrol stations, a dairy queen, a couple of shops and bars a very ordinary place in an extraordinary setting- it sits nestled in the shadow of the massive, splendid mountains and the Fraser River thunders along its edge- yet the town is so normal looking, it barely seems to notice its impressive surrounds, if it does it just carries on regardless, minding its own business. When I told people we had visited their faces took on almost sympathetic expressions ‘there wouldn’t be much to do at night in Downtown Hope huh?’. Actually there is rather a lot, Friday night in Hope was one of the funnest I’ve spent in Canada!

It started off with a sign that read ‘karaoke at the Eagles, guests welcome’, assuming the Eagles was a pub we made our way up there, post a pleasant dinner and a few glasses of Naked Grape, only to learn from a lady in the Car Park that the Eagles was not a bar at all but the local headquarters of an organisation called the Fraternal Order of  Eagles. The old FOE is a social club with a charitable message which claims responsibility for Mother’s Day, Friday karaoke was buzzing with Hope’s most high profile FOE members. The sign had told us guests were welcome but that was a little bit of a misrepresentation- members like members you see, luckily we bumped into one of the more fun loving of these just outside the Eagles and she signed us in as her responsibilities (if we’d behaved badly she would have been banned for a month). Luckily we were a hit, breaking the ice with a lively rendition of Proud Mary complete with frenetic dancing and crowd participation. Having gotten ourselves nicely warmed out we continued to roll out the hits until closing (partly because Naomi kept signing us up to sing without telling us, hence a mystified me being called away from a hilarious chat to belt out Billy Rae Cyrus’ Achie Breaky heart….cringe and off key don’t begin to cover it). Afterwards Darlene and Naomi, our new best friends in Hope led us to the Gold Rush, the main meeting point of Hope’s hot young things where we got more chances to dance like mentals and generally soak up the place’s brilliance.

Over the next 2 days salmon hunting began in earnest. They had been and gone from the Fraser Valley so on the advice of the man who runs the river rafting in those parts we headed further north towards Kamloops to the Adam’s River. The journey took us through a variety of landscapes and from the windows of the car we saw some breath taking things. On plenty of occassions we hopped out to take snaps like this one

Popped by Coquihalla national Park to see the Othello tunnels, a line of tunnels (as you may have guessed) that were blasted through the granite walls of a canyon by Andrew McCullough,  a mad, visionary 19th century engineer. He was like a human salmon really, chasing that impossible dream, finding a way nobody thought he could! In his case the mission was to bring a railway to Kootenay BC and the only way was through the canyon. He pretty much risked life and limb to do it and in the event the train only ran that way for a couple of decades. His legacy is still there, the tunnels draw plenty of tourists for a gander (us among them obviously) , but somehow I don’t think that would be any consolation. Sure he’s immortalised, but I reckon he’d rather be relevant.

After another sleep and many more miles of driving in a confused manner we finally made it to salmon. We arrived at the Salute to the Sockeye festival at 8 o’clock on Sunday morning, entirely exhausted but eager to see the fish at the end of their rather more draining journey. As we got near the smell hit us: the salmon who’d already made it, spawned and said goodbye. At the time I thought the whole thing was incredibly sad. They swim all this way, overcome enormous obstacles, finally make it and then die, leaving their little orphan babies to face the same thing in 4 years time. Actually it’s kind of awesome. You’re born without parents. You learn all there is to know about being a salmon from instinct and just live your life without any of the responsibilities of dependents (aging parents or parasitic children) then when you feel it’s time to grow up and enter the mature stage of life you get to head off on this ridiculous adventure with all the other salmon from your generation, leave behind a load of eggs and never worry what becomes of them. Might be the best life cycle ever. Stupid lucky salmon!

Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet potato mash

400g tin of lentils

400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 courgettes cut into chunks

butternut squash cut into chunks

2 fairly big sweet potatoes peeled and cut into chunks

3 carrots cut into chunks,

2 tsp oregano

a chunk of ginger, the size of 2 thumbnails I reckon, grated or chopped

25g butter

cheddar

Boil the sweet potato in a saucepan until tender. Drain and mash with the butter and season to your heart’s content.Meanwhile fry the garlic, onion and ginger in a  little oil until the onions are tender. Then add the carrots, water, tomatoes and oregano. Throw in some salt and pepper and a spoon of cumin if you feel like it. Simmer for ten minutes then add the lentils, juice and all, cover and simmer for another ten minutes until the carrots are tender. Ladle into an oven proof dish then spoon over the sweet potato mash until covered. Finally grate some cheddar over the top then pop into an oven preheated to 190 celsius/170 in a fan oven for 20 minutes

that was our variation because of some ingredient constraints but do feel free to try the real deal

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4382/veggie-shepherds-pie-with-sweet-potato-mash

Back on the Road

28 Aug

IMPORTANT (well perhaps not in the grand scheme of things) The following is not a typical bantics post but a bit of a rant/rumination on a personal fitness goal- if that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing you’d like to read don’t worry, from now on posts of this nature can be found at my new blog about fitness goals rerunnersprogress.wordpress.com, and it will be banter and antics as usual on this site.

Today the Warriors Run takes place for the 26th time and I’d imagine that even the fittest of folks descending on Strandhill are a wee bit nervous. The run is a 15km race with a difference- though it starts on paved terrain at the beachfront in Strandhill runners soon find themselves struggling through fields and heather all the way to the top of Knocknarea and back down again! Personally I’d find 15km on flat surfaces to be challenge enough. But hearing about the race has gotten me thinking. There was a time when I was fairly all right at distance running… I never hit 15km but I used to clock up about 6km four or five times a week. This was three years ago and since then I’ve made various attempts to return to running (the most recent attempt being this summer where I spent about 3 weeks only reaching about 3km a day and then went on a few trips and never got back to it, depressed at my loss of pace and endurance) but as of yet it has failed to stick.

I really do miss it though. Reading about the Run and the recommended training involved has pulled at something. I want to get my fitness up to that point again. I want to experience that gorgeous feeling of elation after a really challenging run, when you’re fully charged and energised and endorphins are coursing through you, your body grateful for the chance to show what it can do. So I am going back to it. Today will be my first run in about two weeks. I am not expecting much and I may have to walk about. I’ve looked online for guidance on getting back to running properly and hopefully this time I’ll be able to keep at it and get up to my old distances and even build on them.

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/your-first-run-starting-slowly-but-surely.html

Of course in two days I’m heading to Vancouver, so new terrain will have to be found and explored. Ideally I would love, when I’m starting to gain pace, to try some uphill running, maybe here

http://www.trailpeak.com/trail-UBC-Pacific-Spirit-Park-near-Vancouver-BC-47

and who knows, if I keep going, perhaps I could be one of the nervous people warming up in Strandhill this time next year?