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Northwest Territory April 10, 2014

Ways to Enjoy Spring in Yellowknife

Yellowknife, Canada

Most visitors come to Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territory for one thing and one thing only: to see the northern lights. Its location on the 60th parallel (sub-arctic), flatness, and lakes makes it one of the best places in the world to see the auroras.

As seeing the northern lights is an exclusively nighttime activity, I was worried that there wouldn’t be anything to do during the day, Yellowknife being a small (20.000 people) and remote town. Fortunately we heeded the advice of our host and came in March when the temperature is milder (usually I wouldn’t call -23F ‘mild’ but it’s all relative) and there’s enough daylight to do stuff around town.

The Snowking Winter Festival

Yellowknife's snowcastle

Yellowknife’s snowcastle

Each year in March, the Snowking and his helpers build a snowcastle on Yellowknife Bay. Like the name suggests, it’s a castle made completely of ice and snow. The snowcastle acts as a venue for local bands and performers in weekend evenings. During the day, the castle is open for visitors.

The highlight of our visit was the giant slide made completely of ice. SO.MUCH.FUN. So fun we had to elbow kids out of the way. That alone made it worth the $5 admission.

Giant slide made of ice in Yellowknife's snowcastle

Giant slide made of ice in Yellowknife’s snowcastle

Surrounding the snowcastle are colorful houseboats, stuck in the frozen lake water for the time being like M&M’s on vanilla frosting.

Colorful houseboats in Yellowknife Bay

Driving on the ice road

For you guys who are used to super cold weather, this might not seem like a big deal. But for us, the fact that whole lakes can freeze solid, so solid that trucks can drive on them, is just wild. We’re talking BIG trucks too – did I mention this is where the TV show, Ice Road Truckers, was filmed?

Of course we had to check to make sure that we just won’t randomly collapse into the lake by stomping and jumping on the ice as hard as we can. And pushing it very firmly with our hands. Very scientific-like.

Jack testing the solidity of the ice

Jack testing the solidity of the ice

Walking on a frozen lake

We also got a kick out of this:

We’re driving on a lake!

Eating northern specialty seafood at Bullocks Bistro

Bullocks Bistro serves arctic char, pickerel, trout and other locally sourced fish. The menu is simple, “Do you want your fish deep fried, pan fried, or grilled?” and at $30+ per plate, it’s not cheap. But nothing in Yellowknife is.

The kingfisher plate from Billocks Bistro

The kingfisher plate – an assortment of local fish, grilled, and doused in delicious dressing.

Despite the price, the restaurant had a casual, ‘old town’ atmosphere that we enjoyed. It could get crazy busy though.

The interior of Bullocks Bistro, Yellowknife

The interior of Bullocks Bistro: walls covered with bumper stickers, business cards, posters, and what not courtesy of previous clients.

The walls of Bullocks Bistro, Yellowknife

And of course there’s the snow.

The crunch of dry snow beneath our feet and the blinding whiteness that filled our vision wherever we looked were our constant companions.

Not surprisingly with all of this snow, dog sledding and snowmobiling is a popular activity for visitors. However, we opted for something lower budget: we bundled up in as many layers as we could and played in the snow,

So much snow in Yellowknife

we went hiking up to the Pilot’s Monument to get a great view of the town (and more snow!),

Pilot Monument Yellowknife

and walked all over.

Ice cave in Yellowknife

We visited an ice cave, an hour trek away from town.

Life in this town is so vastly different than what we’re used to everything was novel and exciting in our eyes: the snow (so much!), the cold (so cold!), the bush planes, the ice roads… even the license plate!

spectacular northwest territories

Spectacular indeed!

Spring time is a fun time to visit Yellowknife. The harsh winter is behind and sunshine is aplenty while the northern lights graze the night sky.

It takes a special kind of toughness and hardiness to live this far north. I don’t think we’d make it a year. How about you?

Quebec July 29, 2013

Velo Volant: Flying Through Treetops On A Bike

Sutton, Quebec

When I first heard about Velo Volant, a newly built attraction located in Quebec Eastern Township, admittedly I was skeptical. The premise sounds intriguing from the start:

“Be one of the first to soar through the treetops on a suspended recumbent bicycle…”

This canopy cycle was such a new concept (there are only 3 in the world so far) there was little information I could find online. I didn’t quite know what to expect.

The flying bike, VeloVolant

During my Quebec roadtrip, I stopped by Au Diable Vert, a camping resort near Sutton to check out this flying-bike thing.

True enough to its tagline, I learned that VeloVolant allows you to pedal a bike-like contraption through the forest canopy… while being suspended up to 100 ft high above the ground.

I eyed the cable suspiciously. Would it be strong enough to hold my weight? I was assured it’s strong enough to hold 5 cars.

From an engineering point of view, the installation of Velo Volant trail system was interesting in itself. Guy-wires attached to trees are used to suspend the cable in place as the it winds through the forest canopy. In places where the trail turns a corner, bent steel plates guide the wire, and in return the bike.

Jeremy, the owner of Au Diable Vert, on a velovolant

pedaling high above the ground, velovolant, quebec

VeloVolant, Quebec

The trail was relatively flat and pedaling was easy.

So easy that many times I found myself racing through the trees, banking corners, and trying to pedal as fast as I could. Branches flew by me in a blur on my left and right. The ground is so far below I stopped worrying about it soon enough. I could hear Jeremy, the owner/guide, shouting at me from behind to slow down, ‘It’s not a race! You’re supposed to relax and enjoy.’

Jill racing among the treetops on a flying bike

Looking down to the forest floor from such a height was a thrilling experience. Once I get used to the sensation of pedaling through the air (and learned to slow down), I found it completely relaxing.

When I closed my eyes, I could hear the rustling of the leaves, the birds, as I swayed along with the breeze. It felt like being on a hammock. So relaxing the only worry about falling asleep is to fall out of the bike (don’t worry, it has a seatbelt).

Velo Volant in Au Diable Vert

I had never experienced anything quite like this and was admittedly smitten by its novelty. I couldn’t help but thinking that somebody needs to build the skyscraper version where you can bike among tall buildings. It would be really cool.

Would you go on a ride on the flying bike?

VeloVolant Info

Length: 1km, or 30 min ride
Address: 169 Staines, Glen Sutton, QC

Not recommended for: those who are afraid of height (d’oh)
Note: I was a guest of Au Diable Vert

Ontario June 18, 2013

Canoe Algonquin Park, Can it get more Canadian than this?

Ontario, Canada

When I found myself in a canoe, paddling in along in Algonquin Park, one of the Canada’s largest and most well known provincial parks, I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘This is so… Canadian!‘ I’ve always associated ‘Canada’ with ‘canoe’ (along with moose, beavers, maple leaves, and universal health care).

Aaron and I on a canoe

Aaron and I on a canoe

Algonquin Provincial Park is just a couple of hours’ drive from Torono and Ottawa. The wilderness heart of this 3000 sq-mile park is accessible only by foot or by canoe. Algonquin Park is truly a haven for those looking to get away from it all. It is possible to spend days out there without seeing other people.

In a way, you can say that Algonquin Park is made for canoeists with maps clearly marked with canoe routes, designated campground and portages.

A quiet way to explore the wilderness

A canoe glides noiselessly across the mirror-like watery surface

The silence is broken only by the wind rustling among the reeds and the ocassional squawk of birds or loons.

In my case, the silence is broken by Aaron and I arguing.

My friend Aaron and I shared a canoe and we were having problem making it go the way we wanted to. With the wind and the current, we zig zagged our way along Hailstorm Creek, getting stranded at every single clump of floating island we encounter.

“Aaron!” – I hissed. “We need to go right. Right, Aaron!” apparently he couldn’t see the clump of mud straight ahead that I’m trying to avoid.

I heard the clang of his paddle against the canoe.

“Ssssh! – I hissed again. “You’ll scare away the moose!”

I heard him hiss back, “I’m trying, Jill! Stop sushing me!”

I felt a thud as we ran the canoe straight onto the mud island.

“S*it! Not again!”

The hardest thing about canoeing, I learned, is going in a straight line.

Jerry, our guide from Algonquin Outfitters

Jerry, our guide from Algonquin Outfitters

This is Jerry, our guide telling us, “You are supposed to go around the floating island. Not into it.”

(No, just kidding. He could’ve. But he was too nice. He was actually telling us how in a few short weeks, the whole river will be lined with flowering water lilies and how pretty it would be.)

I wonder if all of the banging and the yelling was what scared away the moose that supposedly frequent the area.

Your chance of seeing a moose is highest in Algonquin Park than anywhere else in Canada. On the way to the lake, we saw 11! So I wasn’t too upset that we didn’t see any on our canoe trip. Instead I simply enjoyed the sensation of gliding across the surface of the water.

There’s something therapeutic, almost meditative really about canoeing. It’s the lack of noise I think. If done right (aka, not what we were doing) canoes can be eerily quiet on the water.

Algonquin Park: A water wonderland

So many places to go, so little time

So many places to go, so little time

In Algonquin, the option for multiday canoeing trip is virtually limitless. When I was shown the map of the area, I couldn’t stop gawking. Hundreds of navigable lakes and rivers form a 1,200 mi long interconnected system of canoe routes. So many endless possibilities, so little time.

You can take a water taxi to your starting point in Algonquin Park

You can take a water taxi to your starting point.

At the end of the day, Aaron and I made it back to the water taxi without further complications (yay!). As bonus points we spotted a couple of loons, a bald eagle, and a strange island that has been over taken by cormorants.

Strange because all of the trees on the island have been killed off by the acidic waste of the cormorants.

Algonquin Park dead trees

The cormorants have killed off the trees on this island

I’d love to give multi-day canoe trip a try someday, maybe during the Fall when the maple leaves turn into this crazy display of orange and red against the blue color of the lake and the sky.

And hopefully with less cursing and less zig zagging.

Have you ever gone canoeing before? Would you go out in the wilderness for days on a canoe?

Info on Algonquin Park

Hailstorm Creek can be reached from Lake Opeongo, the largest lake in Algonquin Park. The staff from Algonquin Outfitters by the lake can help with rentals, water taxi, and logistic planning.

Water taxi rate starts from $25/per person.

This trip is hosted by Explorer’s Edge