Fun in Fernie

After a long Christmas season at work, I headed West for a slice of (real) winter and a visit with one of my oldest friends–Jessica! Nick and I flew into Calgary Thursday night after work, picked up our rental car, and headed to my other longtime family friend Mark Taylor’s apartment, or “Maison de Mark” as he calls it for Airbnb guests. We were up by 8 with ambitious plans to get in a half-day at the slopes in Fernie after our 3 hour drive SouthWest from Calgary. We were able to reach our goal, landing in Fernie at Jessica and Matt’s awesome hill-side pad around 11:30AM and heading for the hill by noon!

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I had originally planned on bringing skis for the trip based on my fond memories skiing through the tree trails of Fernie on previous trips; however, I was forced to opt for snowboarding after not finding any ski boots. By the second run they had “accidentally” taken us down a double black diamond and any “confidence” we had garnered on our Blue Mountain test run the weekend before was sufficiently shattered. It wasn’t long before beer o’ clock struck and we happily took a break at Lost Boys–a mountain-top bar with a killer view. We left with some liquid courage to replace the real stuff and got a couple more long leg-burning runs in before the hill closed at 4PM.

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That night we went out for an awesome supper at the Brick House and were joined by Mark and his girlfriend Hilary, as well as a friend of Mark’s from Lindsay and his girlfriend. Regrettably, we did not take the opportunity to capture this reunion of our childhood friend-group on film, as we were too busy chatting and later dancing down the street at the Northern. The bar was hosting a DJ whose “thing” is to wear ski goggles while mixing…very Fernie.

The next day we had an earlier start on the hill after a recovery meal at Big Bang Bagels downtown. The conditions were even better on Saturday with really nice groomed powder for the better part of the day. The scariest part of snowboarding at this massive hill for me was taking some of the cat tracks–very narrow trails that run across the mountain to connect lifts and runs, but usually border on cliffs or worse, black diamonds! Inevitable, we accidentally ended up on a couple more black diamonds throughout the days–with Jessica losing both skis on one, but it’s all a part of the experience right?

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After a solid day at the slopes, Nick and I headed for Lake Louise where we had 1 night booked prior to our early cross-country ski departure. We stayed at a rustic mountain lodge in Banff National Park and enjoyed an awesome dinner and breakfast the next morning despite the fact that we almost had to sleep in the car because I booked the room for Sunday instead of Saturday (oops).

The next morning we were up bright and early to set off on our adventure to Skoki Lodge! By 830, we had checked in and picked up our rental back-country skis and skins (fur pelts for the bottom of your skis to give you better traction for the uphill battle we were about to endure). With an hour to kill, we headed to Lake Louise for a quick look around. On our way up to the Lake, we were extremely puzzled by a number of people walking down the road with shovels. We were able to catch the beginning of a cross-country ski race, get a coffee, and check out the ongoing ice sculpture competition! What we realized on our way out of the park was those people carrying shovels were building part of the x-country ski trail across the road at 3 different points of the race…oh, and they were re-building it every time a car inevitably drove over it!

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We eventually made our way to the parking lot for Skoki Lodge, where a driver shuttled us to the trailhead in order to save us from the 4km uphill. On the shuttle, we met most of our fellow guests; 1 guy from Alberta was snowshoeing in with downhill skis on his back, and 2 girls in med school who seemed to be off to a rough start, as one had two different sized skis after accidentally grabbing one of her husband’s.

A night at Skoki was my Christmas present to Nick and came recommended to me by Jessica as one of the “must-do” trips on every ski-bums list. It is a luxurious (but rustic) lodge in the middle of Banff National Park that is only accessible by 11km cross-country ski, snowshoe, or snowmobile (for lodge staff). The lodge has no electricity or running water and has outhouses for bathrooms. Prince William and Kate visited Skoki in 2011; however they arrived by helicopter–full bathroom in tow.

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Quite honestly, the 11km cross-country ski-in did not scare us one bit…far less than it should have; we completely under-estimated the 1600ft rise in elevation from Trailhead to peak elevation. It was very physically challenging but a super BEAUTIFUL ski into the lodge, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous!

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The skins–which neither of us had heard of before–proved to be vital going uphill as much as they were going downhill. Uphill they allow you to remain going straight, rather than “pizzaing” or side-stepping, and downhill they slow you down enough to get some semblance of control. I still managed to completely take Nick out on 2 different downhill portions of our journey in.

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Finally, after 3.5 hours of gruelling uphill, we arrived at Skoki for an amazing lunch spread of homemade biscuits, soup, and divine cheese.

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Doing sports outside your domain is certainly humbling–there was a couple in their 60s that skied in for lunch and back out in the same day! For the rest of the afternoon, we relaxed by the fire, played rummy cup, and went for a walk around the area. The lodge consists of one main cabin–with around 5 rooms upstairs, and several smaller guest cabins around the property.

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By 6PM, all 7 guests had arrived and gathered in the common area by the fire where we got to know each other a bit before our communal dinner. One of the things I had read the most about was how amazing the food at Skoki was, so I could not wait for dinner! At 7PM, Katie (the owner) brought out the delicious spread of lamb, vegetable, and fettucine; each dish, as well as the dessert was to-die-for! After dinner, we relaxed by the fire a bit more before heading to our very comfy bed.

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The next morning we indulged in a delicious breakfast consisting of two rounds! The first was fresh fruit, homemade oatmeal and granola, and yogurt. While the second was eggs, chicken sausages, and orange pancakes–so yummy! We didn’t waste much time before getting back on the trail, knowing we had a full day ahead. The first third of the trail was pretty tough and mostly uphill until the peak elevation point, but after that we were laughing (and falling a lot) going mostly downhill. On the bigger downhills we mostly opted to slide down with our bums on the back of the skis, as it seemed safer than toppling over from an upright position.

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Once we began to cross paths with other skiers going into Skoki, we felt it was our duty to put the skins back on for the safety of all other skiers. The second half of the trail is quite a bit narrower and windier and skins were the only thing that could slow the wrecking balls that we turned into. When we got to the trailhead we began to realize that 4km stretch we had been shuttled up going in, we would have to ski-out to the parking lot. The trail is officially part of Lake Louise ski resort and is a marked blue trail (FOR DOWNHILL SKIERS). Needless to say, it was a fun ride to the car. As a reward for all of our hard work, we treated ourselves to a swim at the Banff Hot Springs before our long car ride back to Fernie! Once we arrived, we headed out to Nevados for a lovely dinner of Spanish tapas with Jess & Matt.

We got a pretty full last-day in on the hill Tuesday. Jess and Matt decided to head up to Polar Peak at the end of the day–Fernie’s highest chair where the only way down is a double black diamond or a skinny cat track along the top of a cliff. We happily parted ways and met them back at the house.

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Jess and I headed into town to browse a bunch of the super-cute local shops before she taught spin in the evening. With plans to go to a wizard-themed party, Nick and I headed to the nearby bargain shops, as he was dead-set on dressing up. We were all quite convinced he would be the only one dressed up and we could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, when you have a bunch of 20-somethings living in a small town like Fernie doing almost nothing but skiing, people have time to get quite creative for things like wizard parties. There were around 200 people at the party, with about 60% in costume; the host of the party even set up a fortune telling/tarrot card reading/palm reading booth under her stairs. A successful last night in Fernie to say the least!

We set out the next morning for Calgary to leave room for unforeseen delays and ended up with a couple of hours to check out the downtown. We headed to 17th street as per my friend Meredith’s recommendation and enjoyed a nice lunch and a bit of window-shopping. Later on we met up with Mere–a high school friend–for a quick drink before heading to the airport!

And now I am ready for a vacation from my action-packed vacation!

Playing in P.E.I.

Now that I am an adult with limited amounts of vacation, my travel addiction has been curbed…slightly. In reality, it has simply forced me to be more strategic. I am taking a week off for my rugby National Championships this week, so I decided to piggyback a quick long-weekend getaway on the front-end to maximize my time off.

Nick and I flew into Charlottetown late Wednesday night; our ignorance about the size of the island was highlighted the second we walked out of the airport to find not a cab in sight. Unsurprisingly, Uber also turned up no results. The cab driver that arrived after a few phone calls informed us that the entire island is home to only 150K people, with Charlottetown itself having only 35,000 residents. The first stop of Day 1 the next morning was the Wood Islands lighthouse, where we stopped for a quick tour of one of the last lighthouses open to the public. After that, we headed to Red Point Provincial Park. The sun graced us with its presence, so we took advantage and chilled out on the beach before hitting the cliffs for a little free form rock climbing.

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Our last stop of Day 1 was Basin Head Provincial Park. Unlike most PEI beaches, Basin Head is a white sand beach and it is famous for its “singing sands,” that squeak as you walk on it. It’s also a popular stop for adrenaline junkies looking for a quick rush jumping off the bridge that links the two areas of the beach. Our visit was cut short by some light rain, and we made moves towards our airbnb for the next two nights. Luckily, it was every bit as cute as it looked online–an adorable bunkie situated on the shoreline of Campbell’s Cove.

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The next morning we were up bright and early for Deep Sea Fishing with Captain Jeff–a minor celebrity in the world of tuna fishing. The outing started with a nice cruise along the north shore and past the East Point Lighthouse to check out the local porpoises! After that we were able to try our luck at fishing; I narrowly avoided being the ninth person in 15 years of his business to catch nothing on a trip. Eventually I was successful at reeling in a small fish, only to realize this meant I had to take it off the hook..with my bare hands–bitter-sweet victory.

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We made an impromptu decision to scrap one of our beach stops in favour of a local distillery (it was raining, don’t judge). The distillery is the only retailer in Canada licensed to make and sell moonshine, which we got a taste of! P.E.I. had the longest period of prohibition in Canada by far (1901-48), so making moonshine was a family affair for generations. We got a really informative little tour from the owner, who explained the process for making moonshine and other hard liquors.

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We stopped at Rick’s Fish & Chips in Saint Peter’s Bay for their Food Network famous fish & chips. I also had my own agenda on the trip: eat as many variations of seafood possible in four days. Our final stop of the day was Greenwich National Park, where we pulled out our raincoats and umbrella to braved the elements. We went on a really nice nature walk along the bay that was filled with a grid of buoys; we later learned each buoy was tied to a mussel trap. Inspired, I ordered mussels for dinner at a favourite local restaurant in Souris–21 Breakwater–and boy were they delicious!

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The next morning we departed our beautiful spot on the beach and headed west along the north coast for a day of beach-hopping with our best weather yet! After our first walk on the beach, we headed to Dalvay by the Sea–a National Historic Site of Canada. The beautiful mansion currently operates as a 5-star hotel and restaurant under a public-private partnership. The 120-year-old home is fit for a queen, making it unsurprising that the property was a stop on the Royal Family’s tour of Canada in 2011. We couldn’t help but stay for lunch at this scenic spot.

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After lunch, we made our way to Brackley beach and eventually to Cavendish Beach. Cavendish gets a bit of a bad rap from locals since it has become quite touristy over the years. Once we arrived, it was easy to see why it was so popular; despite having the most people, it was definitely the most beautiful beach we visited. We hung out on the beach for a bit before putting on our runners and hitting the trails. First we did a short walk through “duneland” that ended at the beautiful red cliffs P.E.I. is famous for. Our second walk was through the forest to a peaceful open field that surrounded a small lake not far inland from the shoreline.

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After working up quite an appetite, we headed to the famous New Glasgow Lobster Suppers–a family business since 1958. Patrons can choose 1lb, 1.5lb, or 2lb lobster servings that come accompanied with essentially all you can eat soup, salad, rolls, mussels (served in a bucket), and dessert. Needless to say, we were in paradise.

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We headed for Charlottetown for our final day on the island. It was quite rainy all day so we spent most of the day indoors (eating). We stopped in at the COWs factory location for a self-guided tour and to browse their famous t-shirt selection. We headed to lunch at the Gahan House–inside one of many historic buildings that make up downtown Charlottetown. This bar/restaurant doubled as a micro-brewery for the PEI Brewing Company. Inspired, we decided to head to their large-scale brewery for a very informative tour in the afternoon. The tour covered the history of the brewery as well as a detailed explanation of the beer-making process and, of course, a few sneaky samples. We enjoyed a delicious final meal downtown before calling it a night at our beautiful 19th Century Victorian B&B.

P.E.I(‘ll be back).

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Visiting Victoria

To prepare for a jam-packed summer of rugby, I decided to go on a ‘rugby-oriented vacation’ to the lovely Victoria, BC–our nation’s unofficial rugby capital. I reached out to my friends on the island, got a 2 week pass with one of their local club teams, and booked my ticket! I flew in Friday after work to Seattle to meet the team at their hostel; we got up early the next morn, enjoyed a killer breakfast at none other than Pike Place Market, and headed to the pitch. I had played with 4 of the girls on various different teams before in years past, but as per usual in the rugby world, it didn’t take long to feel like I had played with everyone for years. We played an awesome game against a strong Seattle side that resulted in a big W and dethroning the first place team in the league.

We headed back to the island on bus to Van, and then by ferry to Vic. Nearly the whole team headed straight for the infamous ferry buffet to get our post-game meal in, while taking in the scenery from the best seats in the house. Some of the girls invited me to play on their 7s team tomorrow for a casual exhibition tourney that almost everyone was playing in; I happily obliged considering the goal of my trip was to get as much rugby in as possible. The tournament ended up being stacked FULL of super high calibre players and teams–the Canada “B” team, Aptoella Angels–mostly current Canada 15s girls, and UVic to name a few. This is simply another Sunday in Victoria–super-casual, national level rugby.

Sunday afternoon, I headed into town with Zoe–my good friend from exchange in Australia–to see Parliament, as she is currently working there for the Minister of Agriculture. It is a truly beautiful old building that looks out over the harbour. Afterwards we checked out the BC Museum next door, which had some pretty cool exhibits on the BC history.

    
On Monday, I headed into Vancouver with a friend from McGill. We drove onto the ferry and into Kitsilano for lunch with another McGillian once we got into the city. It was my first time in the city since I was very young, and boy, was it beautiful. Our friend invited us to stay the night at his parent’s home in West Van and we couldn’t resist. I checked out Gas Town and Stanley Park before calling it a day. Before heading back to Vic the following day, I made a quick pit stop at our YVR Amazon building. I connected with a few of my colleagues at the site and checked out the many differences between our building and theirs. I got back to the island just in time for practice that evening; man, it is a nice feeling being able to run around outside in shorts in the middle of February. 

Wednesday morning, I had brunch with some old teammates that are part of the centralized 7s program in Victoria. Nadia and I headed for a walk on Dallas Road afterwards–a beautiful road in Victoria along the ocean looking into the mountains. The only downside being it CANNOT be captured on camera. We also hit up the Oak Bay marina to see seals and I checked out the Floating Village downtown before heading to a skills session with all of the long-listed Canada girls living in Victoria.

  
 My friend was gracious enough to lend me her car (and her dog) while at work on Friday so that I could do a couple nearby hikes. The first was Mt Finlayson–the harder and longer of the two–with a stunning view of the surrounding ocean and mountains. The second hike was to the old train trussel in Goldstream Provincial Park; as the name suggests, at the top of the climb train tracks jut out of the forrest on stilts 100 ft in the air. In the forest below, there was also a beautiful waterfall…let’s just say it’s easy to see how the hashtag #beautifulbc came to be. There is certainly no shortage of outdoor activities. Thursday night, we had another club practice and I ordered myself a pair of shoulder pads from an inspiring entrepreneur on the National Team who has her own rugby apparel business–Aptoella.


 I spent my last full free day in Vic exploring the downtown core a little bit more. I checked out the plethora of cute little hipster West Coast shops and cafes. I did some afternoon yoga with a girl from the team and was confronted again with my love/hate relationship with yoga. I met up with Zoe for dinner at a well-known restaurant that certainly lived up to the hype.

My last day on the island was obviously spent playing rugby; we played Seattle again and were able to snag another big W on home field–an awesome end to my rugby-oriented vacation! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t sold that the West Coast is the Best Coast.

Seeing Seattle

I arrived in Seattle around midday after an early flight out of TO. My friend Zoe from exchange was coming down from Victoria to meet me at my hostel around 7:30 so I had the afternoon to kill before she arrived. I decided I would head to Fremont–a quirky neighborhood of Seattle located just outside the city limits. I opted for the hour long walk to get there since it was not raining, for once! The route took me along the scenic west shore of Union Lake, where tons of sailboats were out taking advantage of the nice weather. Finally, I crossed the colourful Fremont Bridge which is preceded by a sign that welcomes visitors and residents to “The Centre of the Universe.” I have yet to reach any concrete conclusion as to how this nickname arose.

I headed straight for the Fremont Sunday Flea Market which I had read about. The market was full of unique vendors selling everything from jewelry to vintage furniture. The people-watching was also a highlight of the market.


After I was done browsing, I wandered around Fremont and visited many of it’s many peculiar landmarks: the troll under the bridge, a massive Lenin statue a past resident had brought back from Poland, and a Soviet Era Rocket to name a few. The neighborhood is a also a hub for cute shopping, great restaurants, and microbreweries!  

I planned my walk back to the hostel through Kerry Park–one of the more famous views of the city, and it did not disappoint. The clear skies allowed for a perfect view of the sunset over the Seattle skyline and mountainous backdrop that is hard to appreciate from the city centre.


Zoe arrived by ferry right on time and, in typical West Coast style, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Local 360–a farm-to-table joint near our hostel. We proceeded to plan out a very full next day in the city with the help of our bartender before calling it a night.
The first stop on our itinerary was a tour of the iconic Pike Place Market—conveniently located steps away from our Hostel. I am so glad we got a tour because what could seem like a tourist attraction, is actually a historical landmark that has stayed very true to its roots for all these years. Started in 1907, it is the oldest continuously operating public farmers market in the U.S. The number one rule of the market is that you must be the producer of what you sell; the concept originated in the early 1900s to cut out the middle man and pass the savings along to farmers and consumers. There are a few exceptions to the rule, in order to create year-long diversity that does not limit the market and its consumers to seasonal produce. We were there early enough to see the market coming to life; vendors are allowed into the market to setup in order of seniority–with the oldest vendor at 50 years of market tenure.


We visited the famous fish-throwing stall, whose unconventional practices have inspired a management philosophy adopted around the world–even my mom’s old company Teva. The four tenets of the philosophy are:

  1. choosing one’s attitude,
  2. playing at work,
  3. making someone’s day, and
  4. being present.


One of the last stops on the tour was the famous Gum Wall. Although the City recently scraped all of the gum off to assess if the nation’s grossest tourist attraction had been causing damage to the underlying walls, it was back in almost full force.


The only chains you will ever see are ones that originated in the market–like Starbucks, where I enjoyed an exclusive Pike Place Roast after the tour. We also hit up Beecher’s, an amazing cheese shop which has become recently famous after being dubbed Oprah’s favourite Mac & Cheese. After agreeing with Oprah, we headed to the Beneath the Streets tour. The tour took us below street level in Pioneer Square to what was ground level in the early 1900s, before the City of Seattle decided to systematically raise the streets. This decision was made to combat a number of problems associated with being located at sea level. We also explored many of the underground establishments that turned into speakeasies in prohibition, and some that remain as fully-functioning businesses today.


We spent the afternoon exploring Capitol Hill, a trendy area where many of the Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing Yuppies reside. We wandered around before settling on Capitol Cider Co.–a board game bar–for dinner and drinks.

Zoe had to head back to Victoria early the next morning; after she left, I headed to the new Starbucks Roastery & Reserve. It is a truly beautiful space where they actually manufacture all of the Reserve Roasts on-site, in gorgeous brass equipment. I headed to the “Experience Bar” to get my coffee fix. I opted for the Siphon flight; my barista performed what looked like a science experiment in front of me, before pouring my two tasting pots of coffee.

  

In the afternoon I met up with friends from work for lunch and then we headed to the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum had an extensive and stunning collection of Chihuly’s best work.


The next two days were spent on the “primary purpose” of my trip–work. It was super cool to see our HQ, which spans a number of city blocks. Corporate employees are allowed to bring their dogs to work, a perk that wouldn’t work as well in a massive warehouse. Despite the lure of working in a cushy office with more regular hours and my dog at work, operations still seems more exciting at the moment! I also did 2 drop-in classes at a well-known Seattle Crossfit gym–Belltown Crossfit, owned by one of the orginal Crossfit girls Nadia Shatila. It was by far the most beautiful Crossfit gym I’ve ever stepped foot in, with exposed brick walls, brown leather med balls, dark wood, and an in-gym whiskey bar!


Next stop, Portland. Sea(ttle) you later!

Kicking it in Cabo

After a very hectic and stressful last couple months at work, I could hardly wait to get to Cabo and kick up my feet for a week. I met my mom, Jess, Sue, Casey, and her friends who had arrived a couple days earlier on NYE. I was greeted with a welcome margarita and all the discomfort of a twelve hour travel day was washed away. We dined at Panchos—one of our Mexican go-tos—for my first meal; following supper, the party animals of the group (Jess, myself, and ‘the moms’) went for a night on the town. We started at Happy Endings—a total hole-in-the-wall good for cheap drinks—where ‘the moms’ ran away from the jello shooter girl for the better party of our stay. We finished off the night at La Vaquita (the cow), an interesting newcomer to the Cabo nightlife scene; as the name suggests, it’s completely decked out in cow-themed décor including cow print walls and large hanging cows. Here, we danced the night away to some awesome throwbacks and, Sue’s favourite, Bollywood hits.

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The first day consisted mostly of soaking in the sun, a long and competitive girls vs. boys beach volleyball game, and happy hour at Mango Deck—an iconic Cabo beach bar. We made fun of the guys we were playing against for wearing water shoes to protect from the hot and coarse sand; however, they got the last laugh when walking in the sand became unbearable for the next three days for us. We ate dinner in the marina area which, for future visits I would tend to avoid. Though it is a nice atmosphere, the food is generally over-priced and average in quality.

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The next morning, I joined Casey and her Crossfit-crazed friends to work out at NorCal Crossfit’s new Cabo location. I convinced Jessica, and ‘the moms’ that we ought to head out to Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach to watch a perfect sunset from the Sky Pool. We enjoyed a delicious supper at The Bistro afterwards; at the end of our meal, a sales rep approached the table proposing enticing offers to attend a timeshare presentation the following day. Of course, I jumped at the chance to earn $400 resort credit and 2 whale watching tickets, even if it meant (attempting to) pose as a 30 year old—the minimum required age to attend the presentations. Sue—or “Zoo” as the sales rep pronounced it—signed up as well to boost the pot to $800!!

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The following morning I put on my best “mom” outfit—flowy harem pants, Sue’s top, and my mom’s sunglasses—for my upcoming acting gig. We headed out to Pueblo Bonito where I was quickly denied access when my “I forgot my ID” excuse did not hold up. Sue stepped up and took one for the team and attended the presentation alone while we lounged by the resort pool and explored the private beach. The moms enjoyed massages with Sue’s winnings and we ate and drank away the rest of the credit.

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We started the Evans’ last day off with breakfast at the Office—our longtime fav beach brunch. After our meal, we did some quick haggling with the beach vendors. Casey, Jess, and I got sunglasses and I relived my childhood by getting some braids because ‘When in Rome.’

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Our last deal was with a water taxi operator to take us to Lovers Beach for the afternoon. The boat toured us around to the sea lions, Lands End, and the iconic El Arco. Once on Lovers Beach, we walked over to the other side—Divorce Beach—where Jessica and Sue soon had four iguanas perched on their body; I dodged this bullet by performing a tuck and roll down a nearby hill (running away and completely eating it).

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The next morning we bid the Evans’ goodbye and prepared for our afternoon excursion to go whale-watching. While I was initially very excited about this, my excitement became clouded by fear as my mother bombarded me with information about a fatal freak accident the year prior, where a breaching whale landed on a boat of snorkelers in Cabo. I pushed on and took my seat in the small inflatable 20-person dingy—about 1/10 the size of a whale if I had to guess. We set out towards the Pacific side, going further and further from shore when we started to have whale sightings. We saw many tails and bodies grazing the surface, but the highlight of the tour was certainly the 360 degree breach we were able to witness. Though I was filled with anxiety the entire 2 hours (thanks Mom), seeing an animal of that size jump completely out of the water was a pretty amazing feat of nature to see. For dinner, we headed to another one of our Cabo favs—Salvatore’s—to indulge in their signature lasagna!

The following morning my mom and I set out to hike Mt. Solmar. I had done some research about the hike on tripadvisor; the consensus among reviewers was that it was a stunning hike and you better find this infamous “Enrique” to open the gate past some aggressive dogs. Sure enough, we followed the instructions and found Enrique at the gate of his dog compound. After some metaphysical rambling about the energy of the mountain, he assured us that the dogs were ‘in balance’ and wouldn’t hurt us (despite their rough appearance).

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We followed him through the property, while 10-12 barking dogs ran and jumped around us and mom nearly cried, until we arrived at the base of the hike. One review I had read mentioned following a set of posts to the top and so we did. It turned out that we had definitely gone ‘off the beaten path’ and were forced to do some scrambling, which I didn’t mind. The amazing 360 view at the top made the trek totally worth it. The peak is the highest point in the chain of rock formations that leads to Land’s End, and it is possible to continue hiking all the way to Divorce Beach. Thankfully, a couple we met at the top helped show us to the actual trail for a much smoother descent.

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That afternoon, our tanning session was interrupted by a sea turtle that came ashore to lay her eggs! I watched every minute of the nearly two hour ordeal, in which the turtle dug and abandoned two holes and, finally, laid 121 eggs on her third attempt. A conservationist was on the scene to collect the eggs and take them to a hatchery to prevent them from being crushed on the busy beach. The mother turtle’s return to the ocean after “burying her eggs” (which had already been removed) was heartwarming and met with cheers from a large audience of passersby. For dinner, my mom and I tried out a stellar newcomer to the Cabo restaurant scene, Roasted.

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The following day, most of Casey’s friends headed back to NYC and just four of us remained. We worked on our tan for the better part of the day and Casey and I rekindled our tennis rivalry in the afternoon. I did some Yelp resto research and got us a reservation at a highly rated new restaurant Templo. It turned out to be a great find, as the food and service were amazing and the location was such that we never would have stumbled upon it. Casey’s NYC roomie departed the following morning and shortly after we set out on a walk up to Pedregral—a swanky gated community on the mountain with beautiful homes overlooking the ocean. A number of celebs are said to have homes in the hills of Pedregal and it was easy to see why. On our final evening, we celebrated Casey’s birthday at Peacocks—another one of our go-to restos that has stood the test of time (and Yelp).

On our final morning, we indulged in one last walk on the beach before an excruciating 24 hour journey home. I have been asked by my publisher to refrain from commenting any further on the matter, in an effort to protect my reputation as an author. All in all, a fantastic week in Cabo for some much needed R&R. Until next time, adios amigos!

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A Visit to the Valley

The last neighbourhood I needed to get to before I felt like I had really seen San Francisco thoroughly was the Mission—unofficially known as Little Mexico. The area is known for its culture, burritos, and up-and-coming shopping/restaurant scene. It lived up to all of these expectations and more. Valencia Street is packed with great spots that each scream San Francisco in their own way. From sustainable chocolate cafes, to a backpack store specifically for biker commuters, my favourite concept was Beta Brand—the physical store-front for their online platform. The website allows any designer to submit a design online, have users vote on what should be created, and winning designs will be crowdfunded and then carried online and in-store.

  
Another famous area of the Mission is an alley between Valencia and Mission St. that is lined with street art. I was really impressed by all of the murals; most works contained very political messages surrounding local issues such as displacement, drugs, and black rights. I couldn’t leave the neighbourhood without trying an authentic Mexican burrito from one of the many tacquerias in the area.

  

Stanford has really risen to the top of my radar over the last couple of years for prospective grad schools, if I ever chose to pursue an MBA, so I figured I may as well stop by to check out the campus while in the area. I was blown away by the size of the campus; it is so big that most students bike around because walking would take too long. The buildings are really historic and beautiful and my visit only confirmed my attraction to the school. With a 5% acceptance rate, I’m not holding my breath but a girl can dream.

  
My last “why not” stop of the day was the Google campus. I wasn’t sure how far I would make it before getting kicked out, but it was actually quite acceptable to stroll around outside of the offices. When I inquired about a tour, the security guard said they did not exist but the Google store and the android statue garden was now open to the public. I briefly contemplated sneaking into the office but quickly decided it was in my best interest to not get blacklisted from the number 1 company to work for in the world. I did, however, check out the statue garden and the store and it was just cool to walk around the campus. Cool things I passed by: employees using google-coloured bikes to get around campus, Google-sponsored workout classes, and of course more free 24/7 cafeteria access.

  

   After a great three days of exploring, it was time to go to “work.” Our FC is located in Tracy—about 60 miles East of SF (in the middle of nowhere). But the building was really awesome, as it was my first time in a Kiva site; Kiva is the name of the robots that transport all of our shelving to and from associates in newer FCs. All in all, another successful trip of business mixed with pleasure!

 

Biking the Bay

After another early breakfast I began to make my way towards the waterfront with plans to rent a bike for the rest of the day. I took a longer scenic route to check out a few of the areas I hadn’t seen yet like China Town and North Beach. SF is known for its many distinct neighbourhoods; simply crossing the street can throw you from one of the nicest parts of town to one of the worst. Another thing that sticks out in San Fran is the prominence of homelessness. Homelessness is a complex issue but some of the major contributing factors in SF seem to be drugs and gentrification resulting from the tech boom.

From the waterfront, I set out towards the Golden Gate Bridge along the National Bike path that follows the water. I was lucky enough to have a beautiful clear day with views unobstructed by the fog SF is famous for.

  
Shortly after the end of the bridge, I came into Sausalito—a posh little bay village frequented by tourists from the city. I parked my bike for an awesome burger at a local restaurant and a quick look in the village shops.

The man at the bike rental office recommended that I continue past Sausalito to Tiburon—the next town over—for a more authentic Bay Area experience. This advice proved true, as I was the only person on the bike path for my hour and a half ride from Sausalito to Tiburon. The ride takes you through some very affluent residential areas along the water and right into historic downtown Tiburon. The quaint town has a lovely main street lined with upscale boutiques and restaurants. After checking them out and treating myself to a post-bike ice cream, I headed back into the city on the ferry which provides you with an up-close view of Alcatraz.

When I got back to the pier, I spent some time watching my new friends flop around on top of each other and retaliate loudly.

Afterwards, I headed back to my hostel for a quick power nap. I continued to be exhausted and amazed by the steepness of the city; from what I know, the hills are as steep as the cost of living. By the end of Tuesday, my fitbit said I had climbed 200 flights of stairs!

 

I finished my day off having dinner at the Dropbox HQ with a friend that recently started working there. Unsurprisingly, the office is beautiful and there wasn’t a single employee that looked over 30. 3 catered meals a day is pretty much standard at all the tech companies in SF; I was able to choose from 5 different hot meal options and a full beer fridge. I decided on steak that was prepared by a chef right in front of me. It was really cool to hear what it is like working in the tech capital of the world and San Francisco in general.

Strolling San Fran

I was up early with the time change and without my partner in crime Elai, I knew I had to get started on research for the best part of travel–food. I selected Brenda’s French Soul Food for its rave reviews; its popularity was confirmed by the 20 person lineup before it even opened the doors at 8. The fun atmosphere, friendly staff, pulled pork eggs benedict, and ghiradelli chocolate beignet did not disappoint. 

 
Afterwards, I went for a walk through the civic all the way to Alamo Square to see the Painted Ladies–made famous by Full House. Though they are lovely, they are definitely not the only ornate colourful townhouses worth admiring 

 
I walked back through a really cute up and coming area called Hayes Valley–filled with shops, cafes, and cool installations. I headed towards Fishermans Wharf to tour the waterfront and meet up with my friend from work. Of course it would have been wrong not to make a stop in the original Ghiradelli shop when passing through Ghiradelli Square.
 We headed towards Lombard Street–famous for its garden-lined switchbacks. Most cars driving the street were clearly tourists from their gopro filming; however the street is lined with real homes and  getting out of the driveway in a hurry would be impossible. I had heard prior to my visit that SF was hilly, and let me say that this is an understatement.

We hopped in Lisa’s car and made our way to Golden Gate park. The park is massive and the highlight for us was, without a doubt, people watching at the park’s outdoor roller rink. Next we strolled around the adjacent neighbourhood–Haight Ashbury–as per Lisa’s plane mate’s suggestion. The nieghbourhood is colourful to say the least and home to an eclectic mix of shops.  

We finished the night with amazing Greek food and were joined by Lisa’s friend from exchange. All in all, a great action-packed first day in SF with beautiful weather. 

Moab: 3 Parks, 1 Town

We had our hottest and scariest nights sleep yet at our new favourite campground. Around 4:30AM we woke up to some pretty bright lightning overhead; although it was a pretty awesome light show, we eventually decided it would be best to observe from the safety of the car. Once Kayley–our on-site meteorologist–had deduced (based on the trusty counting method) that the storm had travelled a safe distance from us, we returned to our tent. For the first time on our trip, we decided to stay at the same site for two consecutive nights. This was very exciting, as it meant no tent takedown or setup for one whole day! I had originally scheduled us for three days in Moab–one for each park–but our decision to stay in Zion an extra day meant we had to condense. This turned out to not be a bad call based on the close proximity of all the parks to each other in Moab.

Our first park was Canyonlands National Park just North of Moab. After our routine visit to the Visitor’s Centre, we settled on Neck Spring Trail since it was “desert scenery” vs canyon views (which we felt we had seen a lot of at that point). As promised, the trail covered 5.8 miles of dry, rocky, desert terrain, but had less spring action than the name suggests. Over the course of the hike, we drew many parallels between the trail and the landscape of the Lion King. Unlike other hikes we had done, the trail was less obvious–marked only by “cairns,” small inukshuk rock formations. Additionally, we did not cross any other hikers on the entire trail which was really nice.
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After 3.5 hours in what became blazing heat by the end of the hike, we were pretty beat by the time we made our way over to the park “next door.” We arrived at Dead Horse Point State Park with the best of intentions to complete another short hike, but fatigue had set in and the 37 degree weather had us longing for the AC of our car. We opted for a drive around the park to get out at the primary lookout points. Dead Horse was similar in landscape to Canyonlands; both parks are very well suited to not just hiking but also mountain biking and 4WDing. I later found out Moab is actually widely regarded as the mountain biking capital of the world.

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That evening we returned to the campground to start preparing the meal we had all been waiting for–breakfast for dinner. Caiti and ELai had taken on the Head Chef roles in the group with Kayley and I behind the wheel. After the first bit of pancake mix had been poured on the grill Caiti soon realized we had run out of propane. As it turned out, the first fire of our trip was created not by choice but out of necessity. 15 minutes of firewood collecting later, we were back in business with Caiti carefully cooking our pancakes over the fire; the adversity made them taste all the better.

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The next morning we headed for our final stop, Arches National Park. The park’s claim to fame is the fact that, as it’s name suggests, it is home to more than 2,000 sandstone arches. The most famous arch in the park–Delicate Arch–is featured on the Utah license plates. We selected a 4 hour hiking route that passed by 9 of the most famous arches. The trailhead is located 20 miles deep in the park and the drive through the park is very scenic in itself. A large portion of the trail was labeled “primitive” and involved scaling rocks and navigating the cairns again. The climbing around like monkeys part was definitely mine and Caiti’s favourite part, while it was a source of stress for ELai and Kayley.

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With that we set off for our final destination, Salt Lake City! We camped outside Salt Lake in the National Forest at a really nice campground. The only problem was that there was no showers so we decided to drop-in to a local Crossfit gym the next day to workout and, mostly, use the facilities. We enjoyed a great brunch at Park Cafe, walked around Temple Square and the rest of the downtown core, and spent the rest of the afternoon at the only place we could handle the heat, a waterpark of course. Salt Lake was much smaller than I had expected with a population of only 200,000 but it was a relaxing place to spend the last day of our trip. The Last Supper was spent at none other than Chipotle–somewhere I look forward to frequenting in TO!

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip before I get thrown into the real world! I was also reminded of how much fun and how cheap camping is–travel dollars go a lot further when you’re paying $4/night for accommodations!

“Of all the paths you take, make sure a few of them are dirt.”

Bryce Canyon National Park: Hiking the Hoodoos

From Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon was only a two hour drive–one of our shorter commutes. We arrived early enough to secure a campground in the park which was awesome, as we had had to stay at private campgrounds the two nights prior. Although private campgrounds usually have more amenities, they are far more expensive–$30+ vs. $15 at national park sites. Not to mention, they are a lot less “campgroundy” in general–closer to town, less spread out, and in one case a part of the Marriott (they’ve really started to diversify)? We were planning to make a fire and finally make some smores but ominous skies prevented us from following through with this plan. Instead we indulged in the uncooked version of smores, or what we coined, “Smores Tartar.”
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The hike selection process usually went something like this: myself and Kayley would look over the hiking section of the park guide, select the one with the most intriguing description, and present it to Caiti and Elai. The first question was always: “What is the rating?” The answer always seemed to be: “Strenuous” and was met my sighs, followed by a self-assuring comment that nothing could be more strenuous than the North Kaibab Trail. In our defence, we generally felt “strenuous” ratings were rather dramatic–based more on distance than actual difficulty.

For Bryce Canyon, we ended up selecting the “Figure 8 Loop” that combined three smaller loops–the Queens Garden, Navajo, and Peek-a-Boo. From the beginning of the hike we were in awe of the amazing orange rock formations called Hoodoos that fill Bryce Canyon. Our hike took us from the rim down into the heart of the canyon next to the base of the Hoodoos. We actually crossed more groups of horseback riding tours on the trail than humans.

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The entire park was much quieter than the Grand Canyon and Zion but was ranked number 1 park that we visited by two of my friends! There were different and gorgeous views around every corner of the trail that took us around 4 hours to complete.

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After a quick lunch we set off for a long 4.5 hr drive to Moab! The scenery along the way is extremely beautiful and the civilization is sparse. We stopped half-way at our shopping location of choice for the trip–Wal-Mart–to re-stock on groceries. After a very long campground search, we finally happened upon our best site yet!

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