Sunday, June 30, 2013

My first ever canoe trip

I've decided to re-enter the blogging scene to talk about a canoe trip I went on last weekend. I've never been on one before so didn't quite know what to expect. Well, I had a blast! It was so much fun and so nice to be out in the wilderness of Algonquin Park.

I went with my husband Cliff and our friend Ron and his sister and niece. All of them had been on a canoe trip before. I was the only newbie. I thought I was going to have a hard time learning the ropes, but they were all so nice and helpful and relaxed about things, that it was super easy for me to stop worrying and start enjoying myself.

We took Parkbus from Ottawa on its inaugural run from the Nation's Capital. What an amazing service these guys provide; it's a wonder no one has ever thought of it before! Parkbus has been taking people to Algonquin Park and a few other parks from Toronto for the last three years and they have finally decided to expand to another city - and Ottawa happens to be that lucky city.

We took the bus to Canoe Lake and rented our canoes from The Portage Store, where we saw this awesome canoe planter:

 After a quick lunch and loading our supplies and equipment, we pushed off at Canoe Lake, which was a smooth as glass, though I was told that it's usually pretty rough and that I should enjoy it while it lasts.

On our first day, we did three fairly short portages. But even with them being short, I was not used to carrying a big pack, and it got pretty heavy towards the end of each one. Here is me unloading my awesome Cross Country Ontario daypack (I got it from the Ontario team at last Ski Nationals) at our first portage:

The portages also had pretty bad mosquitoes, which I was expecting, so they didn't bother me too much. The mosquitoes were practically non-existent on the water though, and it was so nice to be paddling on these calm deserted lakes with the beautiful Algonquin landscape all around us and the wonderful forest smells in the air.

 After the first two portages, we came across a mama moose with her baby, and that was quite a sight to see. We got close enough that even I could see them!

We got to our first campsite around 6:30 p.m. and, after unloading the gear and setting up camp, we had a wonderful dinner that took a little while to cook on the fire. But we had quite a bit of wine with us to keep us entertained while it was cooking. We stayed up late making s'mores, drinking wine, telling stories and laughing - just the way camping in the woods should be. :)

The next morning was pretty rainy so it took us a while to get out of bed and get going. But after breakfast, consisting mostly of delicious bacon, we finally got going again. We were originially going to have a really hard day with 8 portages and a lot of paddling, but because Cliff had hurt his ankle the week before, we actually ended up doing only 2 portages, but a longer paddle. That was really nice, because I think if I had to do 8 portages, I may not have enjoyed my trip half as much. The weather was a tad drizzly that day, but it was nice and refreshing and major rain stayed away.

We camped on Tom Thompson Lake our second and last night of the trip. We found an awesome campsite on a point overlooking the lake. It had the coolest firepit surrounded by a semi-circle of rock. We had a heck of a time finding the kybo though, it was hidden way back in the woods! Here's a pic of the firepit. Some nice person even left us a bunch of wood, which was in short supply on this site because all the trees were pine.

And here is a picture of Cliff and I at our rockin' site.

Our second night was pretty much a repeat of the first - lots of fun and laughter - except Ron's niece Amanda decided to go to bed early as she was tired.

The next day, we had to get up early to make it back to the Parkbus for 1:45 p.m. It was a gorgeous sunny warm day, but it was also more windy so we had to work pretty hard paddling back across Canoe Lake, which did get rough that day, which I was told was more normal for it.

When we finally made it back to The Portage Store, I was definitely wiped and ended up sleeping on the bus all the way to Renfrew.

So all in all, I really really loved our trip, and we're already planning another one in August. Hopefully, the bugs won't be quite as bad at that time!

Good night from Ottawa!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Last day in Sochi

So today is our last day here and we finally get to go home...well, not quite. We get to go to Vancouver and then on to Whistler for Ski Nationals. I get to stay with Team Ontario near Squamish. I'm excited to see my teammates and to race in Whistler again.

But first, I must talk about yesterday's race I guess. It was interesting again. I thought I skied it pretty well: kept the asthma in check and maintained a good pace. The shooting was a different story, however. I got to the range on the first lap, and I think I must have been breathing too hard as I missed all 5 shots, so I had to do 5 penalty loops, which was not fun. But I kept it together and didn't let it get to me. My second time in the range went much better: I missed only 1 shot, the very first one, and then fired off 4 more cleanly in rapid succession. I can't really tell you why it didn't work the first time or why it did the second time, but I can say that I need a lot more training in biathlon and with a coach, not by myself. Anyway, I finished the last lap as quickly as I could. It would have been a good race if not for the first round of shooting. Needless to say, I got no World Cup points as everybody else shot very well and skied way faster than I as always.

So today, we went up to "Laura" for the last time this year. Phil and I went for a 2-hour recovery ski. The conditions were super slow and it was very hot. But I made it through the 2 hours and here's hoping that it will be good prep for my first race at Nationals on Sunday.

Now all of our stuff is packed up and we go for a team dinner at some pizza place in about half an hour. Then we get ready for an epic day of travel. We leave this place at 1:20 a.m. tonight and fly out of Sochi at 5:20 a.m. Our first stop is Istanbul, then London Heathrow, then Vancouver. We get to YVR at 5:20 p.m. tomorrow with an 11-hour time difference. Andrea is picking me up from there and taking me to Squamish, and then we have 1 day to rest and get ready for 3 more races next week. I think those will be a lot more fun though.

See you on the other side of the globe!

Good evening from Sochi.

P.S. Robin just brought Colette and I a beer. This day is picking up! haha

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sochi: day 7 - recovery after 15 km classic

We are taking it easy here this morning to soon head up to "Laura" for some recovery skiing and biathlon training.

Yesterday's race was no picnic for me again. It was tough going all the way. To begin with, since it was a classic day, it of course had to be around 0 degrees and snowing - the trickiest waxing conditions. So there was a big scramble with figuring out which skis to use. Phil and I had hardly any time to warm-up what with ski and wax testing. Our rub skis did not work well and we ended uo going with a hard wax. This resulted in our skis icing up for the first lap, but thankfully they got better after that. The real problem for me was the asthma. Since it was super humid again with the snow coming down, I had trouble breathing right from the start. In the middle of the third lap, I got a major asthma attack and couldn't really breathe at all. I was trying to keep going anyway, but Phil told me to stop and get my breathing under control. We kept going once I was able to breathe again. When we were passing the coaches on the fourth lap, Phil asked me if I wanted him to get them to bring my inhaler over to the side of the course so I could take it for the last lap. I'm quite thankful for his presence of mind because it was a great idea and it did help a little bit to ger around the last lap. It took them a little while to find it, but Shane handed me the inhaler just as we were heading for our fifth lap. And to top off the adventure, I took a nice tumble off the course somewhere in the mddle of it all. There was a spot on the course where the tracks were set too close to the edge of the trail and somehow a hole had formed that, when I somehow stumbled into it, made me completely lose my balance and fall into a ditch! Apparently, it looked pretty funny; I wish someone got a picture or video. Also apparently I wasn't the only VI skier who fell there.

So, needless to say, I was pretty tired today. We went up to ski in the later afternoon. The skiing went quite well with Phil showing me a few technique adjustments and a better position to get around corners. The shooting really didn't go well so tomorrow's race might be interesting again. But since I haven't had too much coaching in shooting lately, I was told to regard tomorrow's race as more of a practice so I will not stress out about it and just take everything in stride. Something's got to go right for me here and tomorrow is my last race and therefore my last chance!

We are racing the short biathlon tomorrow so I had better go to bed and get some sleep.

Good night from Sochi.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sochi: day 5 - Sprint races

Today was a very foggy and soggy day up at the "Laura" cross-country ski venue. The fog was so thick that you couldn't see too much in front of you. When I mentioned to someone that I never got a picture of the foggy conditions for my blog they said "Just take a picture of a white wall; it will look about the same." So that gives you an idea. The snow was very wet and rutted so you were either catching a rut or sinking through. In other words, far from my ideal race conditions.

Phil and I practised our course quite a few times. I was having trouble with the big downhill, which had given me no trouble earlier in the week. Finally, I managed to ski it to our satisfaction. Once the course was closed so the races could begin, there was nowhere left to ski to warm-up so we had to jog on the mushy snow along the snowmobile track where gas fumes were really bad.

Finally, we managed to do some sort of warm-up, triggering a bit of an asthma attack in the process what with the snowmobile fumes and the extremely high humidity, and it was time for the qualifying race.

I started the race relatively well and did the long uphill the way we had planned. The downhill was much more rutted from all the racers that had gone down it befoer me. So I caught a rut and bailed about where it started to come back up a slight hill through which you would normally carry a lot of speed. I got completely turned around in my fall and lost a bit of time getting up. I got up fairly quickly though and continued up the hill. By then I had of course lost all of my speed and therefore didn't make it into the semi-final.

Overall, it was not a great day for me today, but, as I've said before, the first race often doesn't go well for me. So here's hoping for better weather and better racing tomorrow. We're racing the 15 km tomorrow and the forecast is again for snow overnight (which did not materialize last night) and cooler temps of about -3 to -5. So I'm looking forward to seeing what it will be like up there tomorrow!

For now, good night from Sochi.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Quick update

And the sprint races are a go tomorrow! They must have managed to get power restored up there and the races begin at noon tomorrow with my category starting at 1 p.m. It's apparently still raining up at the top and it might not snow at all tonight, but I guess we will find out for sure tomorrow. Anyway, yay for racing tomorrow!

Good night from Rosa Khutor!

Sochi: Day 4 - rain and wind, wind and rain

Today brought an interesting turn of events...

I had my alarm set for 8:30 as my race was not till after 1 o'clock. After the alarm went off I was just lying there and dosing for a bit. Suddenly the door opens and in comes Colette, who is supposed to be up at the venue by now. She says, "Well, you might as well stay in bed. The races are cancelled." I sit up in shock, all possible reasons for this running through my mind. "A tower blew down and the gondola is not running," she continues. I say "Oh my God!" and jump out of bed.

We don't actually know if a tower really blew down but it's apparently extremely windy up at "Laura," the cross-country venue, and the gondola is not running for safety reasons. Apparently, there are also some trees down at the site and a lot of the tents have blown away. The official press release is on the IPC website. It is currently raining here and up at the site and they're calling for snow overnight - 50 cm of it! They are hoping to run the sprints tomorrow afternoon as planned. I really hope they can!

In the meantime, there isn't much for us to do here. We are supposed to stay at Rosa Khutor (our little hotel strip) and the poor guys staying up top have to stay in their cabins or the restaurant. At least, Colette and I were able to go for a good 50-minute jog outside before the rain began. A decision on tomorrow will be made by 8 o'clock tonight so all we can do now is rest up and wait.

This is the view from our balcony right now:

I will post another update when I know more.

Good afternoon from rainy Sochi.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sochi: Day 3 - Skiing in the sub-tropics

On the agenda for today was race prep for tomorrow's 15 km classic race. It wasn't as sunny today but more muggy up at the ski site (there's a sentence you don't hear every day!). We don't think it dropped below zero overnight so the snow was very sugary and mushy. It flew everywhere as you went down the hills. So of course we had to use Klister (everyone's favourite glue-like grip wax), but at least it worked.

Tomorrow's race promises to be challenging but it will be that way for everyone. My guide Phil and I went around the course a few times testing wax and doing a few pick-ups and sprints in order to wake up our muscles. Mine felt a little sluggish from the long travel and the jetlag starting to kick in. We met Brian McKeever on one of the hills and I asked him for some advice for tomorrow's race. He gladly gave us a little lesson on how to take uphills conservatively on the first few laps in order to save some energy for the big push at the end, which was much appreciated.

This afternoon Phil and I went over our race plan in fine detail so we will be as ready for tomorrow as we can be. Our start time is at 1:22 p.m. and our category is pretty small unfortunately. But we will totally give it our best and stick to our race plan.

I just got back from a nice evening stroll with Joanne, the team massage therapist, and Colette, my roommate (and a para-nordic ski legend, might I add). It was 15 degrees out there! We cannot believe how nice it is, except for, well, it makes for some wonky ski conditions. On our return from our walk, we watched two guys trying to walk a really drunk guy back to his room (it is Friday night in Russia after all). It was hillarious. At one point, the guy keeled right over taking one of the support guys with him, who fell right on top of him. We really wished we had gotten it on video!

Anyway. here are a couple of pictures before I go to bed. Better make sure I'm well rested for my race tomorrow!

This was taken on the edge of the IPC stadium yesterday or, as Phil put it, "on the edge of paradise." Pretty amazing, eh?

And this is one of the buildings on the little strip that we are staying on. I've still got the touch with photos, don't I? :) 

Good night from Sochi.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Sochi: first impressions

So my last few posts were over a year ago again, but the last ski season wasn't really that exciting to write about anyway.

This year we've got excitement though! I'm currently in Sochi, Russia, getting ready for IPC World Cup races at the Paralympic Test Event.

We got to Sochi yesterday after a very tiring journey that lasted over 24 hours for me, 10 of which were spent at the Istanbul Airport - a very loud and busy place. After arriving here in the morning and catcing a few hours of sleep, we set out to explore our surroundings a bit. The hotel we're stying at is super modern and practically brand new I think. It's very nice. The area we are in is all just hotels on two sides of a pretty fast-flowing river.

Today we went up the mountain to check out the ski courses and conditions, and I have to say both are much better than I had expected. The courses are pretty mamageable I think with no crazy downhills or really steep climbs and the conditions today, although soft and sugary, were still nowhere near as bad as the last race in Minneapolis last year (which I neglected to write about). It was pretty warm down here and up top, but it was nice to enjoy the sun!

I will have to write more about my impressions tomorrow as I had better go to bed.

Good night from Sochi.