Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tambopata Research Center

We're now at TRC for two nights. Four hour boat ride to get here. The
highlight was seeing a group of capybara on the shore. We were quite
close and they didn't seem bothered by us.

TRC is not quite as fancy as the last place but still quite nice.
Shared bathrooms but that's no big deal. Still wifi although it's slow

Went to the macaw clay lick at 4:30 am this morning but got rained
out. We'll try again tomorrow. More walks today to see what we can see.

At breakfast some of the "chicos" arrived. These are macaws that were
rescued as chicks and raised by hand. They live in the wild now but
still come back to beg for treats. Pretty cool to see them up close
instead of in the distance. Yesterday we saw quite a few toucans, also
very cool with their huge bills.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Into the Rainforest

We flew from Cusco to Puerto Maldenado, took a bus, then four hours by
boat to Refugio Amazonas. It's a pretty neat place. The rooms are open
on one side to the rainforest and we even have our own hammock in our
room. No hot water or electric lights but that's ok. And amazingly
there's wifi in the main lodge!

Back from Machu Picchu

We made it through the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. We had Shelley's 82 year old father (Earl Ballard) with us so we weren't the fastest group, but he did great and made it through a tough hike.For example, one day includes a 5000 foot climb up to an almost 14,000 foot pass. Another day is 16 km including long (thousands of feet) steep descents on stone stairs. And this is the rainy season so it rained a lot. Word soon spread through all the trekkers and many people congratulated Earl and told him what an inspiration he was.

Machu Picchu itself is very impressive. Too many tourists of course, but not as many as in peak season. And it's a big place so it's still possible to wander parts of it almost on your own. 

We spent the night at Aguas Calientes and then took the train back to Cusco and spent the night and now we're off to the jungle and off the grid again for a while. These short (for me) trips with a lot packed in are hectic! Barely time to read our books! We'll slow down when the others leave and post more detailed information at that time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Photos from Cusco

Been too busy to write much, but here are a few photos from the ones I've had time to look at. Tomorrow we're off for the hike to Machu Picchu so no internet for a few days. Then we're back in Cusco for one night before heading for the jungle.


Monday, December 21, 2009

The Tale of Three Generations

- by Shelley

The first part of this trip is a bit different for Andrew and I. My whole family is joining us for a 4-day hike into Machu Picchu and then a few days in the jungle. The whole thing is very strictly planned with guides and schedules (not our usual fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants travel style). The players are as follows:

- Andrew and I
- My dad Earl and my stepmom Elaine
- My sister Bev
- My nephew Andrew and his wife Gretchen
- My niece Nicole and her boyfriend/fiance Austen
- My niece Julie and her boyfriend Grayson

It's a widely divergent group in many ways. We range in age from 17 (Julie) to 82 (Dad); some are totally comfortable with camping, roughing it and, when necessary, going days, even weeks, without a real shower (Andrew and I), while some are lovingly referred to as "high maintenance" with makeup, hairdryers, always fashionable and perfectly put together (Elaine); most of us are fairly well traveled but some not so much away from the western world; some are happy to go along with whatever the plans are and my sister in particular wants to see every possible site she can in the time allotted (she's an accountant and we joked that if she started making spread sheets for us we were all going to run away!). I've got to give her credit for the monumental task of organizing all of us on various schedules and logistics.

It's a fun crew and Dad and Julie especially create a lot of entertainment value. As Julie said on her facebook page . . . "11 people, 3 generations, 2 weeks of bonding and 1 mountain to climb!!!" My Andrew jokingly replied "Bonding??? Are we on the same trip?"

Andrew and I left a day ahead of the second crew (Dad, Elaine, Bev, Gretchen, Julie, Grayson). They left from Edmonton and the last legs of their flights were with Taca. Apparently Taca oversells many of their flights and it's pretty much first come, first served. They got bumped to standby and were facing an overnight in San Salvador which would throw out several other flights and plans in Peru. Between them, they used every trick (aka sob story) in the book -- 82 year old father, meeting family, tight schedule, etc. etc. They made it and we ran into them in the airport in Lima enroute to Cusco. But then their flight to Cusco got delayed and they had to move to Lan airlines, arriving several hours later than originally scheduled.

The third crew of Andrew J., Nicole and Austen are coming a few days from now due to university exam schedules. They and Elaine will take the train and meet the rest of us at Machu Picchu. Gretchen and Bev have emailed Andrew J. with tips to try to make sure their travel goes smoothly.

We're gradually getting acclimatized to the altitude in Cusco and walking up the hill to our hotel gets easier each day. Machu Picchu here we come! 

Andrew, Shelley, Gretchen, Elaine, Bev, Earl, Julie, Grayson - Cusco in the background.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

First Batch of Peru Photos

The Cow Parade -- There are a cow sculptures everywhere! Decorated quite elaborately. We took photos of a few that most caught our eye!

Huge Christmas trees in all the parks/squares! Seems strange with no snow and so much warmth!

Note the doberman police dog with the muzzle. Doesn't look quite so friendly as our German Shepherds!


Not in Saskatchewan

by Shelley

We arrived in Lima at 0100 hrs. Only 1/2 hour late. But by the time we got through customs, waited an inordinate amount of time for our luggage, and got to our hotel it was just after 3 a.m. A whirring mind (still thinking about work), a too fat pillow, chirping birds, and being over tired made it difficult to get to sleep.

As we drove from the airport I was vaguely disappointed. Large, new modern buildings, casinos, big Toyota and Hyundai dealerships, Starbucks and Scotiabank made it seem like we'd hardly left home. But the rows of shops with metal garage overhead doors, the cement shell of buildings almost falling down, and the warm humid air blowing through the open windows of the taxi reassured me that "Yes Shelley, you're not in Saskatchewan anymore!" And if there was any lingering doubt, a number of things over the past two days sealed the deal: crowded streets and the overpowering smell of exhaust fumes; excessive amounts of graffiti; excessive numbers of police in riot gear with an armored tank; standard shift, very small taxis that rattle as if parts will fall off at any moment; taxis with no meters; the feeling that you're getting ripped off by drivers of said taxis with no meters; thanking God that you managed to survive a ride with said taxi drivers; roof top gardens; laundry hanging from rooftop clothes lines and balconies; big glasses of fresh fruit juices at ridiculously low prices; and . . . bougainvillea!

Our hotel is Villa Ponciana. A very small (6 rooms) and out of the way place run by a very friendly Peruvian man named Harry who has been extremely helpful with suggestions on where to go, places to eat, what to do and see. Yesterday we wandered in the older Central part of Lima and just happened to arrive for the changing of the guards at the palace. Also a quiet lunch at an out of the way museum and tour of the museum. Today we went to the zoo which was quite large, had some interesting animals, but was not the greatest in terms of making animal habitats that were the best for the animals. We also went for a walk along the ocean front; lots of parks and walkways on the clifftops overlooking the water. Beautiful!

Tomorrow to Cusco...

Small Coffees

We're back in the lands of small (but good) coffees. Actually, that's
pretty much everywhere but North America where we've all been super-

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Morning in Lima

Breakfast at Hotel Villa Poinciata. Nice litlle (8 rooms?) place in
Miraflores neighborhood. What did we do before we had the Internet?

Got here late/early at 3am, slept in, and feeling ok now. The owner
has suggested a plan for the day, including a museum with a nice
restaurant with vegetarian options.

It's a beautiful day mid 20's - a far cry from -40!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On the Road Again

Actually, not literally the road. We're in the Toronto airport waiting for our flight to Lima.

Had the usual "alpine" start - up at 3:30, taxi at 4:15, drop off our bags (checked in online yesterday), breakfast at Tim Hortons, then through security. Flight at 6:30.

Annoyingly, this time the coffee place inside security wouldn't put my tea in my travel mug and insisted on giving it to me in a disposable cup. If I'd been more awake I would just have said no thanks. I hate disposable cups (and bottled water).

I used to really enjoy airports, not so much for the airports themselves but for the association with adventures and new places. Nowadays I'm too conscious that this kind of travel is not sustainable. But at the same time I'm here and I'm doing it so I might as well enjoy it (and I will). Every generation has its own kinds of guilt.

The terminal for our Lima flight seems new. Not much in the way of shops or restaurants. But we found somewhere for lunch with a vegie burger and Pad Thai. And there's a Starbucks for a coffee later. And a bookstore to browse :-)

I've started reading The Global Soul by Pico Iyer - good so far. (thanks Penny!)

I'm typing this on my iPhone - not bad for typing but awkward for editing.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Seashore Scavenger

These are from our kayaking trip from Gabriola Island a few months ago.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I was working at the computer and I happened to glance up and see a red tinge to the sky. I stood up to check out the sunrise and it looked pretty good so I grabbed my camera, threw on shoes and a jacket and ran down the back alley to the top of the hill overlooking the river.

The power line tower is a little annoying, but it was still a spectacular sunrise. And yes, the color was really like that, I didn't mess with it in the computer. We've had some good sunrise's and sunset's lately.

The annoying thing was that after the light show was over I looked at the display on the back of the camera and saw that the anti-shake / image stabilization was turned off!  I've been caught multiple times by not putting settings back to normal and I'd carefully checked the focus and iso and exposure adjustment etc. But I had forgotten to turn off the remote release after the previous bird pictures. And when you have the remote release turned on, it assumes you're using a tripod and turns off the anti-shake. I wish there was an easier way to reset all the settings. (There is a "green" mode that does that, but it only shoots JPEG not RAW so I don't use it.) Of course, some of the settings are actually physical knobs and levers (how quaint!) which a reset button couldn't handle. But it could still beep and flash and make it obvious so you'd know to manually reset those ones.

I hadn't thought to grab the tripod, even though it was right there. I guess I'm not a serious photographer yet! Luckily, I did sit down and brace my elbows on my knees so I was reasonably steady even without the anti-shake.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

There were a dozen of these little guys around the feeder so I got out the camera and tripod and remote.

They were pretty skittish, even using the remote they could obviously hear the shutter through the window and would fly away.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bird Book

There's a new coffee table book called "Bird" of amazing bird photographs by Andrew Zuckerman.

You can get see many of the photographs on his website: Don't miss the videos under Films, I really liked the Aviary and Behind the Scenes as well as the first Bird Film.

I see he had a previous book called Creatures that looks pretty cool too.

His main web site is I liked the video under Work > Films > Wisdom.

I also see some of his bird photos are in the latest issue of Audubon magazine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Killing Things

Saskatchewan has put a bounty on coyotes.

Trevor Herriot comments on this.

Basically, people complain that coyotes (or gophers or wolves or buffalo or ...) are a nuisance so we should kill them. Of course, because our god, money, is involved it's regarded as much more serious. But every business accepts restrictions (that cost money) for the good of everyone.

The logical conclusion of this attitude of our culture is to kill everything except our beloved, precious human beings and the things they eat.

Don't other living things have a right to the planet as well? And even if you don't believe that, do you really want to live on a planet with just us and our food? (If that's even possible, since we rely on the ecosystem a lot more than we realize.)

And for some extra craziness, if we did succeed in wiping out most of the coyotes, we would then list them as endangered and spend large amounts of time and effort trying to "save" them.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Bill C311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, has been stalled again.

NetNewsledger via Nature Canada

As a result of of an email I sent, I recently received an email from Justin Trudeau (a canned response) that made it sound like the Liberals, unlike the Conservative, are 100% behind this bill. They must have a different definition of "support" since the Liberals joined forces with the Conservatives to stall the bill.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Photo of the Day

I was going through my Australia photos getting ready for a slideshow (2pm Fri. Oct. 23 at the downtown library) and came across this one from the Sidney Taronga Zoo. Quite the display!

I've uploaded a big enough image to use for a desktop background if you're interested. (Click on this image to see the bigger version. Right click on the big version and save it if you want to use it for a background.)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Beautiful Fall Day on the Prairies

After snow and -10c it was great to have a beautiful sunny +16c day.  Too nice to stay inside.

2009-10-17 Prairies
It was very calm, hardly a breath of wind. Not much stirring. Even most of the bugs were gone after the frost and snow. As I was walking back to the car I could hear some birds calling. It turned out to be a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes (scroll down and listen to their distinctive call)

Some friends were lucky enough to see some rare Whooping Cranes today.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Fees and More Damned Fees

The Forest, The Trees and the Bag Fees - The Brancatelli File at

I love it - the airlines that tacked on the most fees lost the most money. There's payback!

I suspect you could make the same case against banks and their never ending attempts to gouge more fees out of you.

So are we going to be bailing out the airlines next?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Vancouver Island Sea Life

More photos from our trip to Vancouver Island at the end of August.

2009-08 Vancouver Island sea life

We went scuba diving with Ocean Planet Adventures. They're a small outfit but they seem like a good bunch of people. The water was cold for wet suits, around 13c. Remember to bring your thermos of hot water to pour in your wet suit between dives! You can see why everyone switches to dry suits if they're going to be diving much. Despite the cold, it was definitely worth it. I love poking around in tide pools as well, but underwater is a whole other world.

The sea life is very different from tropical coral reefs, but it's just as rich in its own way. It was pretty murky and dark so all the underwater shots are with the flash. It's amazing how much more color stuff has when lit up by the flash. It looks much more drab in the low light.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Fine Feathered Friends

We have a bird feeder in the tree outside the dining room window and I love to see the birds that visit it.

Red-breasted Nuthatches like the one on the right are pretty cute. We had a Downy Woodpecker last evening. I thought it was a Black-capped Chickadee at first because of the black and white head. They're another favorite.


Of course, I picked a dark, cloudy day so it's not the greatest photo. I'll have to try to remember to take some pictures on a sunny day!

Driving Mentality

I was walking home yesterday after work, through residential streets. I approached an intersection. There was a car coming from the side street, but it was a ways back and not going too fast so I continued walking across the intersection.

The car slowed down for me (it didn't even need to stop) but at the same time it blasted its horn repeatedly at me. I assume for having the nerve to impede its progress. The driver raised her hands at me as if to say "what do you think you're doing". Uhhh ... I'm crossing the road, legally and properly, at an intersection. I didn't step out into traffic or anything silly. It was broad daylight.

What happened to pedestrians having right of way? It's obviously a thing of the past. Interestingly, a woman with two small children was waiting on the other side of the intersection to cross. She obviously knew that pedestrians no longer had rights and didn't even attempt to cross when there was a car anywhere in the vicinity.

I realize this is not the normal case. That's when you stand by the side of the road and watch the cars zoom by without them even considering slowing or stopping to let you cross. After all, we're walking, and therefore second class citizens, and must have all the time in the world to wait. Whereas they are driving, and all drivers are on urgent missions and have to get wherever they're going as fast as possible. Heaven forbid you should get in their way.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thanks for Not Driving

Once more, I give thanks that I get to walk or bicycle to work this way instead of sitting in a car in traffic.

This is the river end of the connecting path to Innovation Place. It wasn't that many years ago that it was a dirt track between a field and the railway tracks. The trees on the right between the field and the path are growing up nicely. And I have to admit that when it's wet the paved path is nicer than the mud used to be.

And here's a shot of a solitary end of season flower taken with my iPhone on the way to work.

The Smaller Majority

If you like nature and don't mind "creepy crawlies" have a look at The Smaller Majority by Piotr Naskrecki. Your local library probably has it (the Saskatoon library did).

The photographs are amazing and the text is great too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Only in Saskatchewan

Shelley and I had planned to go kayaking this weekend but the weather didn't cooperate (rain and 50 km/hr winds) so we went down to Regina so Shelley could take part in the police memorial parade. Looking for somewhere to stay, I googled for "regina boutique hotels" and this was one of the top results:

Pretty sad when a Holiday Inn Express is the "premier boutique hotel"!

We ended up staying at the Hotel Saskatchewan - the price wasn't much different (via Expedia) and it's a little classier :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Weather Ups and Downs

I just got back from an overnight kayak trip on the Hanging Heart Lakes and Crean Lake near Waskesiu. (Shelley was on call so I was on my own.)

The two days of weather couldn't have been much different. Saturday was 30c, sunny, very little wind. I started at the dock at Heart Lakes. (satellite view is best) There were all kinds of people out enjoying the day. The paddling was easy and relaxing. I kept going until the sun was getting ready to set.

It was too hot for the bugs on Saturday. ( I wonder why they don't operate in hot weather?) I sat outside and ate my supper and watched the sunset and wasn't bothered by a single mosquito. But as soon as the sun went down and the temperature dropped a few degrees swarms of them appeared like magic and I quickly retreated to the tent. Of course every time I went out and came back in it took several minutes to eradicate all the mosquitoes that snuck in with me.

This morning (Sunday) was much cooler at 7c, windy, and raining. I camped in a relatively sheltered spot but once I got out in the open water it was ... interesting. The waves bounced me up and down, spun me around, and slapped me in the face. It was a bit like a Disneyland ride, only I didn't have to pay, there were no lineups, and it lasted two hours. Crean is a pretty big lake (over 10 km across) and the growing whitecaps made me a little nervous. But the kayak is pretty stable and the spray skirt kept most of the water out, and I was close to shore if I did get tipped. Despite going mostly against the wind I made steady progress.

In the middle of this, two bald eagles appeared and flew around me for a while. I had to be careful not to get too distracted watching them and get creamed by one of the bigger waves. 

Once I got off Crean and into the Heart Lakes it was a lot calmer and I could relax, although I started to get cold once I wasn't exerting myself as much. Despite the rain gear and the spray skirt I was still pretty wet and sitting in a puddle of water. I can see why paddlers wear rain gear that seals around your wrists - getting a wave pouring water down your sleeve is a tad unpleasant!

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the paddle back through the rain. Out of the wind it was quite peaceful. I had to stop a few times and listen to the sound of the raindrops hitting the lake. It was an almost musical pitter patter. The loons were also adding their own accompaniment. (When I searched I also found this video of a poem about loons.)

One advantage of the bad weather was that there were no other people anywhere to be seen. I was especially happy to be rid of the power boats. If you ask me, they should ban powerboats on at least some of the lakes. But that would no doubt be so unpopular as to be impossible.

I'm pretty lucky to be within relatively easy reach of more or less unspoiled countryside. The moss on the forest floor and the lichens on the trees, the ducks and loons and eagles - it's all pretty magical. I should get out here more often.

(sorry, no photos this time)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Summer's Final Fling

The weather lately has been gorgeous, warm and sunny and not even too windy. I've been trying to make the most of it - running, cycling, having coffee where I can sit outside. It's supposed to get up to 30c today!

Of course, it is the middle of September and the days are getting shorter, the leaves are starting to fall, and the Canada geese are congregating.

Although our winters are harsh, I still love the cycle of seasons we have here. If you compared winter to summer you'd think it was two different places entirely.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

No Fly Zone

It's becoming increasingly obvious (to me) that flying isn't sustainable due to it's impact on climate change. Depending on whose numbers you believe, it's about 10 times worse than buses or trains. And unfortunately, there are no obvious (or even obscure) ways to make flying sustainable. You can have cars and buses and trains powered by electricity generated in sustainable ways. But airplanes require a concentrated fuel. Even hydrogen isn't a good fit.

The trip to Peru we've got planned this winter will contribute somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 tons of CO2 per person - more than what we should be producing in an entire year. I can buy carbon offsets but that doesn't change my impact, it just means I expect someone else to cut back.

So after Peru I'm going to quit flying for a while. For someone that loves to travel that's a hard pill to swallow. But if I'm not willing to sacrifice, how can I expect other, less motivated people to do anything?

People are willing to do things that don't require much sacrifice - changing light bulbs, recycling, insulating their house. But that will only go so far. The changes we really need require a lot more sacrifice and that's a show stopper for most people.

It's not all bad. In a way I'm excited about the possibilities. Constraints often end up encouraging enough creativity to more than compensate for the limitations they impose. I don't intend give up traveling entirely - there's lots of places I'd like to visit in North America that I can reach by bus, train, bicycle, etc. Even our Prius with two people in it is a lot better than flying. (And I'm less likely to travel as far by these means so that helps too.) Saskatoon is a Via Rail stop so I can get east or west that way. I could even get to Churchill Manitoba to see the polar bears before they're gone. The Amtrak rail network in the USA goes lots of places and connects to Canada in Vancouver and Quebec. Unfortunately, it's not easy to go south from Saskatoon - neither the trains or the buses go across the border except in Vancouver and out east. And once you're in the US the trains primarily go east/west except on the coasts.

Traveling by bicycle would be even better, but distances in North America are large. One option might be to travel by train or bus with my bike. For example, I could take the bus to close to the Saskatchewan border, bike across and then use buses or trains in the US. Of course, that might be a little tougher in the winter! Maybe I need a Montague folding bike (there I go again falling into the trap of needing more "stuff")

Shelley thinks I'm a little crazy, and she's not the only one. Of course, they're right, but not necessarily because of this :-)

Too many people are keeping their heads in the sand, even people that are supposedly committed to solving the problems. For example, I recently ran across the International League of Conservation Photographers. It sounded great so I went to see what they do and found they're organizing a conference in Merida, Mexico. So a whole bunch of people are going to fly long distances to go and talk about how they can save the planet. Maybe they'll talk about not flying?

The standard defense is the old "the end justifies the means" - that the good they're doing makes up for the damage. Come on, can you really get people to stop doing something by doing exactly what you want them to stop doing? Bah!
The campaign against climate change is an odd one. Unlike almost all the public protests which have preceded it, it is a campaign not for abundance but for austerity. It is a campaign not for more freedom but for less. Strangest of all, it is a campaign not just against other people, but also against ourselves. - George Monbiot, Heat

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tofino Sunrises

I've been working my way through my photos from our recent trip to Vancouver Island. It's taking a while so I thought I'd post a first batch. When we were in Tofino I got up for the sunrise a few mornings to take pictures. I even used my tripod. Thankfully it was late enough in the summer that sunrise wasn't too too early.

2009-08 Tofino Sunrises

Leopard Frog

It was a beautiful day yesterday and I was out roaming around on my bike. This Leopard Frog (probably a Northern Leopard Frog) jumped out of a puddle on a trail close to the river. It's nice to see it around because they're not doing so well these days. I'm not sure where it came from, as far as I know the only permanent water around is the river and I don't think they can breed in moving water like that. Maybe it came down the river from somewhere else. Or maybe it they are breeding in people's backyard ponds.

I took the photo with my iPhone since it was all I had at the time. It does a surprisingly good job for a phone. The fairly wide angle lens means you have to get quite close but I moved slowly and the frog cooperated for a few shots before leaping off into the undergrowth.

A couple of years ago I did a series of blog posts on some Leopard frog eggs that I brought home and raised:

Tadpole Progression
Tadpoles Grow Legs
Tadpoles to Frogs
Formerly Known as Tadpoles

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Saskatoon Bicycling Paths

At Jan Gehl's talk in Saskatoon recently the city was handing out a brochure on "Spaces and Places to Ride in Saskatoon".

It's nice to see the city thinking about bicyclists. Saskatoon does have some good paths, along the river and a few other places.

Saskatoon has two "Exclusive-Use On-Road Cycling Lanes" - along part of Preston and part of Spadina. I use both regularly and it is really nice to have a separate lane for cyclists. Of course, because the lanes are "just" for cyclists, and because they're at the edge of busy roads they tend to get full of gravel, which doesn't make the nicest (or safest) cycling.

On the map in the brochure the most prominent network, outlined in red, is "Shared Use On-Road Cycling Lanes". It also has the most "Proposed" sections. This is the one type of "path" that is not explained in the brochure. As far as I can tell, it simply means a road that bicycles are allowed to use. In other words, a regular road. Having cycled on many of the outlined streets, I don't recall anything special about them - no signs or markings.

In other words, the big red network is hype. Bicyclists will realize this. The problem is that non-bicyclists (most people) will see it and think "what are these bicyclists whining about, look at all the cycling paths they have".

And that's not the only part of the brochure that's hype. The map in the brochure shows the Spadina section extending from 33rd to College Drive. This is pure fabrication. Spadina on this part is barely wide enough for one lane in each direction plus parked cars on one side. And on top of that, it's full of potholes. As far as I'm concerned the only time it's safe to bicycle on this section is when there's no traffic (e.g. when Shelley goes to work at 5am). There's certainly no "exclusive use cycling lane". They are currently resurfacing this section (which should at least fix the pothole issue) and maybe they plan to add a cycling lane, although I doubt it because there's no room for it.

I don't think this hype is conspiracy or malicious or even deliberate. I just think most of the people involved are out of touch. I bet they haven't even looked at most of the paths in person, let alone cycled on them. The other symptom of this is discontinuous paths - bike lanes that suddenly end and sections of path that don't connect. They look ok on paper and add to the stats, but they're not so good for actual use. (Check out the path along Whiteswan, it's a crazy collection of discontinuous pieces.)

I think, at least unconsciously, there's this image of cycling as being something you go out and do on a sunny Sunday afternoon along the riverbank. Not something as mundane as trying to do your shopping or commute to work. That's pretty obvious when you look at where the good trails are - along the river. Where the shopping is it's almost impossible to cycle. This is true even in areas that are supposedly more "enlightened" like Broadway. Try maneuvering between stores on 8th Street on your bicycle.

It's also obvious when there is absolutely no provision for pedestrians or cyclists, only cars. For example it's almost impossible to get from my house in Richmond Heights to the restaurants and shops very close by on 42nd Street. You have to play Frogger and dodge traffic across 6 lanes of busy Warmen Road, then get across the train tracks (ignoring the no trespassing signs) scramble up and down the embankments, and then cut across a car sales lot. And it's even more fun in the winter with the snow and ice.

Studies show that traffic expands to fill the available space. Enlarging roads or parking to reduce congestion almost always has the opposite effect - it just increases traffic. The best way to reduce traffic is actually to shrink roads and parking. So on Broadway, for example, where people would say there's no room for a bike lane, we could just convert the parking lanes into bike lanes, at least for the summer. Of course, the drivers would complain and they have a bigger lobby so it's unlikely to happen.

It would also be nice if the city demonstrated a little more interest in input from people. Deliberately or not, the brochure did not give any way to contact anyone. No phone number, no email address. Only the web site for the city as a whole ( There is an advisory committee for cycling in Saskatoon, but from what I hear, the city primarily uses it to announce what they plan to do, not to actually get input.

Oh well, I shouldn't complain, it's nice to see some attention to cycling.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Where Are We Headed?

I'm in the middle of reading Heat by George Monbiot.  It's a few years old but still an excellent read.

Check out a couple of his recent blog posts.

Not Even Wrong

Should We Seek to Save Industrial Civilisation?

I find it very hard to know what to think of our current situation. Should I retreat to a cabin in the woods and attempt to live a pre-industrial life? But a few people doing that won't save us. Or do I give up and live it up while I can?

The middle ground of making some feeble personal attempts to "reduce, reuse, and recycle" seem almost pointless when the people around me are buying SUV's and McMansions. And when I, myself, hypocritically continue to travel by air, eclipsing any savings I might have made other ways.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Minnesota Zoo

I always try to go to the zoo when I travel. I love to see the animals, although I'm conflicted because I also hate to see them caged up. In the balance I think zoos are good because they make people more sympathetic to the plight of animals, but not everyone agrees.

The Minnesota Zoo (in Minneapolis / St. Paul) is quite a nice zoo. It's not huge in terms of numbers of animals, but it's in quite a large park-like area with lots of trees and ponds. And the animal enclosures are quite large and natural - not too many overt bars and cages. They also had a good butterfly exhibit (as you can tell by the photos!).

2009-08 Minnesota Zoo

The only negative was when I came out the main gate to find these signs:

The zoo may not have done this themselves, they may contract out the grounds maintenance. Maybe it wasn't even zoo property, although it was immediately outside the gate. Even so, for a place like this, that makes a big deal out of conservation and protecting the environment, it seems a little contradictory to be spraying poison around within 100 yards of animal enclosures. Not to mention all the kids and babies passing by going in and out of the zoo.

I emailed the zoo about this, but got no response. (I know they received it because they had problems receiving the photo.) This seems to be the norm when you report issues to most organizations. I can't understand it - it seems so totally "wrong" to me. How hard is it to reply? Even if it's just to say "we received your message". It wouldn't even cost them anything to say they'll look into it. To me, the worst possible response is to ignore it, or at least to appear to be ignoring it. I can't imagine that my software business would have survived if we had ignored customers reporting problems.

I even told them I'd be blogging about it and that I'd be happy to include their response. I thought that might help elicit a reply, but I guess that was wishful thinking.

Of course, I got home to find similar signs on the park half a block from my house, only this time they were poisoning the gophers. Even if you have no qualms about poisoning gophers, do you really want poison that kills small mammals being sprayed all over where your kids play? I'm sure the chemical company says it's safe, but given their track records I wouldn't put a lot of faith in that. Personally, I enjoy seeing the gophers and their antics and I'm not sure what they're hurting. Obviously they offend some people. Some of those people offend me, but I'm not allowed to poison them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Gear for Superior Trip

In case there are other gear junkies out there (and for my own records) here's what I used on my recent 9 day backpacking trip on the Superior Trail.

My pack was a Marmot Eiger 48 that I bought recently, partly with this trip in mind. It's about the right size and it's fairly light (just over 3 lbs). I wouldn't say it's the most comfortable pack I've carried. At the beginning of the trip, with about 40 lbs in it, I had sore hips and shoulders by the end of the day. By the end of the trip I was no longer sore, but after eating all my food, it only weighed about 25 lbs. I wouldn't want to carry much more weight in it, but then again, it isn't big enough to carry much more. Despite the initial comfort issues I'm pretty happy with the pack.

My tent was a Mountain Hardwear Spire 2. This is the lightest two person, four season tent I've had. The Spire 2 is just over 4 lbs - the newer Spire 2.1 is slightly heavier for some reason. At first I wasn't sure about the side doors and vestibules - I'm used to vestibules at the ends. But I've grown to like it a lot. They have a three season version, the Skyledge 2.1, but it's only a few ounces lighter. For this trip it would have been fine, but in the mountains I tend to prefer a four season tent, since it can snow and storm even in the summer. I considered taking our Black Diamond Firstlight tent since it's a pound lighter, but I'm glad I didn't because it rained quite a lot at night and the Firstlight is not great for lengthy downpours.

It wasn't that cold at night so I took my North Face Kilobag. I tend to avoid down bags because they're useless if they get wet, but with a good tent, and enough good weather to dry it out, it was a good choice for this trip. Of course, the nice part of a down bag is that it's light and packs small. Under the bag I used a 3/4 length ProLite 3 Thermorest.

On my feet I wore Salomon Fastpacker goretex boots. I've had quite a few pairs of Salomon trail shoes that I really like and these boots have a similar fit. I considered wearing trail shoes, but for carrying a pack over a rough trail in possibly wet conditions I figured I was better off with the boots. They worked well, keeping my feet dry and providing some ankle support, but not weighing much more than a trail shoe.

I only took cold food - granola for breakfast, trail mix for lunch, and homemade energy bars for dinner. I had originally planned to take my Jet Boil stove to make tea and coffee but in the end it didn't seem worth the hassle. Especially since you can't take fuel on the plane so you have to track it down when you arrive. And hot drinks aren't as important in the summer as they are in colder weather. It did mean no coffee for 9 days - yikes! - but I survived :-)

I used an MSR HyperFlow Microfilter water filter. Unfortunately, it lived up to its reviews - very fast and easy to pump when it's new, not so good after it's been used for a while. At least I knew what to expect, and it was still usable. As a backup I had taken Aquatabs water purification tablets. Since I had them and they're so easy to use, I ended up using them in addition to filtering the water. Better to be safe than sick.

That's about it for gear. It all worked well and if I was doing it again I don't think I'd change anything.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Hiking the Superior Trail

It all started when I picked up a copy of Thru Hiker's Guide to America: 25 Incredible Trails You Can Hike in One to Eight Weeks. One of the trails it praised, the Superior Trail, also happened to be one of the closest to Saskatchewan. I've been wanting to do a backpacking trip and this seemed like a good choice.

Lake Superior forms the north-east corner of Minnesota and the Superior Trail runs for 280 miles parallel to the shore. I did about 180 km (110 miles) of the trail over 9 days at the end of July. Although the biggest hills are only about 300 feet, some sections of the trail go up and down a lot, so it takes some effort. But the trail is very well maintained and marked and only foot traffic is allowed so it's very pleasant. And the trail guide available from the Superior Trail Office is excellent, giving details of each stage and all the campsites.

It turned out to be a little awkward to get to the start of the trail. I flew to Minneapolis, took an airport shuttle to Duluth, and then a taxi to Two Harbors (no other public transportation that I could find). I could have rented a car, but it would just have sat the whole time I was hiking so that didn't make much sense. From Two Harbors there is a trail shuttle that offers transportation to various points along the trail. Most people park their car at one end of the section they're hiking and then use the shuttle to get to/from the other end. I used it to get to the beginning of the trail, and then again to get back from my end point.

The weather was mixed, it rained every day, but not a lot, and I only ended up hiking in a downpour for one hour out of 9 days so I can't complain. And as you can see from my pictures, I got lots of sun too.

The bugs can be bad in this area, but they weren't for me. A couple of mornings they irritated me enough to put on insect repellent. They were out in the evenings as well but I could hide in the tent then.

I didn't see a lot of people on the trail, usually only 2 or 3 per day. (Other than where the trail went by roadside tourist attractions like waterfalls.) The back-country campsites were small, usually only a handful of tent sites at each. I only shared a campsite with other people one night.

The trail goes through a lot of forest, but it regularly tops out on ridges and high-points with great views. And there were lots of streams and rivers and waterfalls. I didn't see a lot of big animals - a few deer and a moose. But the plants and birds and insects and frogs etc. gave me more than enough to enjoy.

If you like backpacking, I'd give this trail two thumbs up. I think it would be awesome when the fall colors were out.

Of course, I took lots of photos.

2009-07 Superior Trail

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Pentax K7 Camera

I recently traded in my Pentax K10D camera body for a new Pentax K7. I kept the same Tamron 18 - 250 mm zoom lens (equivalent to 27 - 375 mm on this body). Despite the camera shop salesman telling me its quality isn't really up to the new camera, I love the huge range from mild wide angle to decent zoom. As I've mentioned before, I'm just not ready to carry around several lenses and switch back and forth. Besides, my main quality issue isn't the lens, its hand-held shots without a tripod!

The first four shots were from a batch taken in the backyard as soon as the battery was charged enough to use. The next four were from a kayaking trip to Redberry Lake the next day. And the last four were from walking to work the following day. They're drawn from a limited number of shots with the new camera, but so far I'm pretty happy with it. It seems to focus faster, expose better, and have better low light capabilities - all things I was looking for. And it's slightly smaller and lighter than the K10D which is a nice bonus.

2009-08 new Pentax K7
The other big new feature is that it can shoot video. It always seemed funny that almost every little point and shoot camera does video, but dSLR's didn't. Now that's changing, with most of the new models supporting video. But it's first generation technology and there are limitations - for example, on the K7 there's no auto-focus while shooting video. But unlike some point-and-shoot camera, you can zoom the lens while shooting.

Although you can shoot 1536 x 1024 video it's hard to find anywhere to post video at this resolution. The example here was stabilized with iMovie (to remove the jitter from my usual hand-holding) and then exported at HD resolution (1280×720).

To see it in HD, click on "Vimeo" to go to the video on their web site, then view full-screen. Depending on your screen resolution it'll probably look better if you turn off scaling.

The content of the video is nothing special, it was mostly just a test. It's too bad there's no easy way to post the full resolution version since it's quite a bit nicer.

Walking Across China

A time-lapse video made by Christoph Rehage as he walked 4646km across China.

I recently read Planetwalker: 22 Years of Walking. 17 Years of Silence. about another walker.

I find the idea of long distance walks strangely appealing, but I can't see myself ever walking these kinds of distances.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Dams Go Down

Explorer - As Dams Go Down, Kayaking Rises -

I recently read Derrick Jensen's Endgame and he talks a lot about taking down dams, mostly about how it isn't happening. So it's great to hear that it actually is happening to some extent.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cheap Food

We seem to have an expectation that food should be cheap, that it's somehow "wrong" for good food to be more expensive.

But that seems strange to me. Don't we normally expect "better" to be more expensive? You expect "better" cars to be more expensive, better tv's, better cameras, better holidays. So why is food different?

Over recent history, the percentage of income we spend on food has declined drastically. People in many other countries expect to pay a much bigger percentage of their income on food

Maybe we've gotten so used to this dropping cost that when we encounter more expensive food it somehow seems "wrong". Then again, maybe it's corporations like MacDonalds that have brainwashed us into thinking that cheap is the only choice.

When you consider that we're talking about our bodies and our health, our life itself, you'd think we'd place more importance on food. But no, MacDonalds is cheaper so we'll eat there, even though in most other things we wouldn't be caught dead going for the "cheapest" choice.

I'm not talking about people that are starving or can't afford to buy food. I'm talking about us privileged people who spend all kinds of money on consumer goods, but still resent having to pay for good food.

It seems to me, that when I buy an apple and it's coming all the way from New Zealand, that it ought to be expensive!

Personally, I'm lucky to be able to afford good food, local food when & where I can get it, organic food where possible. And I don't mind one bit paying a premium for it. My only frustration is that it shouldn't only be people that are well off that can afford to eat well.

Where's the happiest, greenest country?

Nature Canada Blog: Happy Planet Index 2.0 - Where's the happiest, greenest country?

Canada is 89th on the list. :-(

Nine of the top ten are in Latin America.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Few Days in the Rockies

After our mini-epic on Mount Brock we took it easy for a few days, doing some hiking and some renting bikes to ride some of the trails.

2009-07 Kanaskaskis

And in case you're looking for the restaurant reviews, we did fit in a nice supper at Grappa in Kananaskis Lodge :-) And, of course, a few cold ones at Woody's

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Long Day on Mount Brock

This last weekend we headed out to the Rockies. On our first day of climbing we decided to tackle the South-East Pillar of the West Rib of Mount Brock (map), as described in Selected Alpine Climbs by Sean Dougherty.

The route goes up the left hand pillar on the edge of the sun and shade.

We got up at 5am in the dark and were on the trail by 6am, headed up King Creek. It's a nice canyon, but the trail criss-crosses back and forth across the creek on makeshift log bridges so it's a little slow.

In typical guidebook speak we were to follow the north fork past five gully systems until below a prominent drainage. We counted and recounted gullies and I think in the end we went up the right one.

The gully below the climb was still full of steep snow and we were in approach shoes without ice axes. The snow was just soft enough to kick steps. It would have been a long slide if we'd slipped.

We reached the bottom of the pillar about 9 am - 3 hours and the guidebook said 3 -4 hours so we were doing ok. We probably should have started a bit further up the gully but we'd had enough of the snow.

The climbing was reasonable, loose in places but that's to be expected in the Rockies. Some sections were nice and solid. According to the route description there should have been a ledge cutting across the face after two or three pitches where we figured the normal start would join up with us. We never found anything that fit the description.

That's Shelley highlighted, heading for the sun.

We were moving way too slow, mostly because of searching for protection and belay anchors. The rock tended to be either solid, but no cracks, or loose mounds of rubble. Neither are very amenable to placing protection.

According to the guidebook after about 6 pitches we should have reached easier 3rd class climbing. After 8 pitches, it had eased a bit but it still wasn't 3rd class scrambling. We started to wonder if we were on the right pillar. There'd been some signs of other climbers lower down but nothing after the first few pitches. And what we did see were signs of people rappelling off in retreat. Was that because they realized they were on the wrong pillar?

9 pitches took us six hours. It was 3 pm. The top still seemed a long way away. And it wasn't clear how we'd get to the descent ridge, which was supposed to be "easy downclimbing", but who knows what that meant. We had to make a decision whether to go for the top and hope for an easier descent, or cut our losses and try to descend the way we'd come up. At the speed we were going, either way we'd be lucky to get off by dark.

We decided to retreat. On the way up I'd been thinking I was glad we weren't going to have to come down this way. So much for that idea.

10 rappels later we reached the ground at 9 pm. Again, way too slow. Again, mostly because of searching for anchors. And, of course, trying to find the way down, keeping a clear line to pull the rope without snagging it. It meant leaving gear behind. A few spots we were able to loop horns. We rapped off single anchors more than I'd like. Not to save money, but to save enough gear for the rest of the descent. We always backed them up for the first person, but it's still riskier than I'd like.

After 12 hours of climbing on loose crap without either of us getting nailed, Shelley got hit in the leg by a rock I knocked off trying to straighten the ropes on the very last rappel. Luckily it wasn't bad enough to stop her walking out.

Damage from falling rock.

We made it down the steep snow and headed downhill to the creek in increasing darkness. Surprisingly, and thankfully, we found an easier route down than we'd taken on the ascent. I think there were a lot of nice wildflowers but it was hard to tell in the dark. And we actually found a path down the north fork of the creek that we'd missed on the way up.

By the time we reached the car it was almost 1 am - close to 19 hours since we'd set out. We hadn't taken more than a five minute break the whole day so we were pretty bagged. Amazingly, we'd had perfect weather all day. A bit windy in the afternoon, and a few high clouds, but nothing threatening. It would have been a miserable descent in the rain.

Looking at the mountain the next day, I think we were on the right route. It was hard to tell how high we reached. It might have been quicker to continue up and over the top, but I think we made the right choice. At least descending we knew the route.

In the end it all worked out ok, other than not reaching the top. We underestimated the length of the climb, and weren't in practice to move quickly enough. And I should have done a little more research, for example this report rates it 5.8 not 5.6 and they ended up having to bivy (didn't make it in a day). At least we avoided a cold bivy.