Saturday, January 31, 2009

76th Whig Standard Bonspiel (Kingston, ON)

The Whig Standard Bonspiel

For the fourth year in a row I found myself making the trip to Kingston to shoot some rocks with Craiger, Lester, and Paul. This year marked Kingston's 76th Whig Standard Bonspiel (that's curling eh) and win or lose (most likely the latter) we were bound to have a good time.

This year we had to start off the Bonspiel down a player for our Thursday night's games as our 3rd was off coaching his daughter's ringette team. And as luck would have it, our draw saw us with two back-to-back matches on the Thursday night. That's a lotta sweepin' for a 3 man curling crew. The good part was that after Thursday it was a much easier pace as we had only one match Friday afternoon and then our fourth at noon on Saturday.

Bud girls at the Whig

Our first game was at the Royal Kingston Curling Club and the ice was perfect. The game was tight as we traded single points through the first 5 or 6 ends but then we crumbled and gave up a few too many rocks and decided to shake hands and call it a match. The second game was at the Cataraqui Golf and Country Club and was pretty much a repeat of the first with our excuse this time being our inability to adapt to a much poorer ice surface. Personally I was leaning more towards our once a year curling schedule.

By Friday we were ready to go with a full team as Mike drove through an Ottawa snowstorm to join us in sunshine Kingston. But again we lost. This time the game was tied going into the last end and then BLAMMO! we lost as the hammer came up short on the draw. Ouch.

After some more free beer and a supper of steak, potatoes, salad, and pie and ice cream for dessert we headed off to the Kingston Brewing Co. pub. This is a great little meeting place that serves a whack of micro brewed beer.

Kingston Brewing Co.
Kingston Brewing Co. Ticket Tuesday at the Kingston Brewing Co. pub

Saturday's match always brings a mix of emotions as by now we're eager to start the trip back home. However Saturday is do or die - if you win, you play another, and possibly even another. Depending on which group you fall into you could end up leaving Kingston by 10 or 11 pm. Well our worries were soon over as we lost our last game of the tourney and shut the door on our "one win a Whig" streak. Our reward was chicken wings, and free Budweiser delivered by a couple of (not so naturally) blond Bud Girls while The Emily Fennell Band rocked out in the background.

The Emily Fennell Band

Always a good time. Now the broom is jammed back up in the rafters for another year. Cheers mates.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Jack Pine ski

Swamp crossing

This afternoon we bundled up for the -22°C wind chill and headed out to the nearby Jack Pine trails for a family ski. No matter what time of year it is, this area is always busy with hikers, snowshoers, bird watchers and feeders, and fellow skiers of all ages. Today was no different with only 2 or 3 parking spots left in the lot.

Leaving the car, the trail was a well compacted path riddled with bird seed. Not ideal for skiing but before long we were back on a proper ski trail, though it was nothing like the groomed trails of Gatineau Park.

Poke the leader
Working on the new boardwalk Where did the bridge go?
Border crossing

One of the boardwalks crossing the swamp was completely ripped out with plenty of signs of a new one under construction. This didn't prove to be a problem for us though as the swamp was well frozen and easy to cross on skis from any and all angles.

On the return trip as we were crossing a small hump of land that splits the swamp in two we came head to head with a couple of deer. They weren't very eager to leave the trail for the deep snow covered swamp and simply continued to come towards us. The gap quickly closed and I was told to take the lead in case things turned ugly. That's when the deer finally turned tail and raised their white flags. It didn't take long for them to bound back down the trail and skip off through the trees at the far end.

Deer on the trail

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Comparing seasons in the GAT

Once again I snapped a couple of comparison pics at some key locations. Not much change from last year's photos (scroll to the end of last year's blog). Maybe next year we'll get some blue skies.

Fall and Winter
Bench at the crossroads Wolf Trail bench
Rust fringed swamp Snow covered swamp

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ski to McKinstry '09

Tripper at McKinstry

Gatineau Park: P12 to McKinstry (20 km)
P12 Meech Lake: N45 32.221 W75 53.968
McKinstry: N45 33.218 W75 58.387
Click here for a map showing the trails from P12 to McKinstry Cabin.

The ski from P12 to McKinstry is starting to become an annual trip (read last year's blog). Strangely enough, conditions were nearly identical to last year's - overcast, a fresh snowfall, and very low traffic on the trails. The only difference this year would have to be the temperature. Although the forecast was for a warm -1 it turned out to be -20°C with the wind chill. For the most part this didn't prove to be a problem but there were moments when the wind, compounded by a downhill ride, seemed to cut right though my thin cotton toque and stab its icy fingers into my brain. Mike likened the sensation to an ice cream headache which for most of you, is an easier visual than icy fingers (unless of course you remember the Snow Miser from the old Christmas special). Whatever works for you.

First climb out of the parking lot P12

The climb out of P12 to Ridge Road is killa but compared to last week's ski with Kenmore where we took Trail 2 (a black diamond), it was practically a cake walk.

Once up on Ridge Road the trail wasn't nearly as steep but more of a gradual climb with the occasional down hill ride. As per usual we stopped for a photo at the Wolf Trail bench and grabbed a quick snack to keep us fueled for the last 5 km.

Mike points the way
Cheers from the Wolf Trail bench

By the time we hit the "only 2 km to go" sign we were ready for lunch. As another group of 4 skiers passed us I shouted out a friendly request to start the woodstove for us. Luckily they heard me and we were greeted by a freshly stoked fire. Having said that it still took nearly 20 minutes before it started to kick out enough heat to toast our sandwiches.

2km to McKinstry

Fortunately for me, Mike had prepared us a little homemade soup. Alas the perfect chance for me to test out my new snap together Fozzil cup. The design of these cups is awesome - snap, snap and like magic you turn a piece of flat plastic into a cup or plate or bowl or even a spoon. Best $7.99 I spent this year.

Fozzy Flatwear, the duet

As per usual the ride down was dope. No wipe-outs on this roller coaster just tuck'n'go speed for a sweet ride all the way into the parking lot. At least this year there was no girl selling hot chocolate to dodge at the bottom.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Skate on the Rideau

5.0 mark on the Rideau Canal

This morning I awoke to a -26°C wind chill and a mild case of cabin fever. Rather than a morning outing I decided to run some errands and wait for the afternoon's balmy forecast of -17°C (with wind chill) before heading outdoors to get some exercise. By noon things were looking up so we flipped a few coins and took a family vote before settling on a skate on the Rideau canal. (Personally I think it was the potential for Beaver Tails that pushed the final vote in that direction.)

As per usual we parked in one of the back Carleton U parking lots and laced up on Dow's Lake. Although it was warmer it was still windy and overcast and by now the snow had started falling. Rather than fight the wind blowing across Dow's we decided to head down the canal towards Landsdowne Place.

The ice was rough after what I assumed to be a busy weekend of skating and I swear some of the cracks were large enough to swallow a Smart Car but to be fair, the plough and the ice scraper guys were working hard on the repairs. The trick was to follow them close enough to enjoy the fresh ice surface and block some wind but at the same time stay far enough back so as not to get run over.

The skate back to Dow's was much more enjoyable with the wind at our backs and the growing smell of fresh Beaver Tail.

Enjoying some beaver tail
...of course we stopped

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hut to hut traverse in the GAT

Thumbs up at Shilly Shally hut

Gatineau Park: P12 to the Gatineau Visitor Centre (15 km)
Start, P16 Pine Rd: N45 32.221 W75 53.968
End, Visitor Centre: N45 30.309 W75 48.745
Western: N45 30.840 W75 55.045
Huron: N45 30.342 W75 53.980
Shilly Shally: N45 30.438 W75 53.183
Keogan: N45 30.353 W75 52.816
Click here for a view of the map of the Gatineau trails.

Today I joined forces with Kenmore for a hut to hut traverse in Gatineau Park. We left one vehicle at the Visitor Centre and then drove up to P12 to start our day's adventure.

Conditions were perfect by my definition. Blue sky, temperature rising to meet its forecasted -5°C, and the groomers were out working their magic. Sweet.

Groomer monster machine

By about 11:30 we had reached Western hut and stopped for our first photo op and a bite to eat. Kenmore was hoping to toast up one of his wraps but unfortunately the people before us hadn't bothered to start the fire. As everybody left we cracked a summer ale and started to work on some flame. After a few minutes the fire was roaring but the woodstove was still too cool to toast up Kenmore's sandwich so strapped on the boards and continued on down to the next hut.

Western Hut We make fire

We hit Huron shortly after noon and the place was jam packed with retirees bustling about chatting and eating their lunches. Busy or not, we were hungry and the woodstove was hot and ready for toasting sandwiches. So we grabbed the last table and kicked back.

Tripper at Huron View from Huron

After lunch it was down to Shilly Shally. We were going to just snap a pic and move on but as luck would have it the hut was empty and the fire was going so we decided to stop in for another pint. This is a very small hut which is rarely empty.

Shilly Shally Hut IMG_4494

From here we skied down to Keogan and although it too was empty we were out of excuses (read beer) so we snapped the pic and moved on down the trail.

IMG_4497 IMG_4499

From this point on the all hills pointed down and the pace really picked up. Suicide Hill is officially marked "Steep" and about midway it comes to a "T" where you have to either take a left, a right, or come to a screeching stop before hitting a bench and going over the edge of a cliff. To make things even more interesting, I have yet to come down this hill without finding half a dozen people standing around the bench chatting. I don't think they realize that not all skiers barreling down this hill are Olympic athletes able to bob and weave and stop at will. Luckily I managed not to take out the old fogies.

Normally we take a right at the mid point of Suicide Hill and head down to P7 but this time Ken lead me down the left trail and its infamous Penguin Hill. Damn this is one fun hill! Thankfully conditions were not icy or I would have went down on my ass.

Penguin behind us we came to a spot that Kenmore laughingly describes as the section where "the elevator shaft drops out". Ha, I thought. How much steeper can it be compared to Penguin? Well I soon had my answer first hand and it was exactly as advertised and before I came to the second 90° turn I decided to avoid "death by tree" and I bailed. BLAMMO! My 3 year wipe-out free streak was officially over. Luckily nothing was broken but I did manage to bang up my knee on my ski. I'm icing it now as I type this blog... hold off on the Get Well cards please until I see whether or not I need a cab from the back parking lot at work.

1972 Sucrerie
Last hut of the day.

All said and done this was definitely one of my top 5 ski trips. Cheers to that!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

First family ski of '09

Virgin snow

The plan was to go for a family ski today. The "where" was undecided until the very last possible minute.

The first plan was to drive out to Gatineau Park but that wouldn't leave us with much time to relax back at home. Plan B was a set of trails along Corkstown Rd (see map of the 25 km of trails) but as we exited the 416 we noticed that there was a new blockade set up to keep drivers from whipping across 4-5 lanes to make the Moodie off ramp. Hmmm, decisions decisions.

Finally as we took the next exit I decided not to cut back to Corkstown but to head down March Road to the South March/Kanata Lakes ski trails. These trails are shared by skiers, snowshoers, and dog walkers but for the most part they are kept in reasonably good shape for us x-c folk.

Breaking trail

Turned out to be a good choice too. Sun was shining, trails were in good shape, and the crowd level was near zero. After a couple of hours we headed back home for some homemade soup and pancakes for lunch.

The gang on skis

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Saturday Skate

The gang on ice

After a couple of indoor soccer games this morning we decided to wrap up the day with a skate. A stretch of the Rideau Canal is open for skating but it seemed a little far given that we only had a couple more hours of daylight. So it was off to the old Nepean City Hall outdoor rink for a few laps.

Round and round we skated. Luckily it was getting close to supper so the crowds were down to just a few stragglers. Most people joining us seemed a little shaky on the blades but there was one man out there that seemed to think he was Kurt Browning on hockey skates.


Over all my years of skating on outdoor rinks I noticed that people tend to skate in a counter clockwise direction. What's up with that? At least on the canal it's straight there and back and on the indoor hockey rinks they actually have a guy blow a whistle every once in a while to change direction. But whenever I find myself on an outdoor rink it's counter clockwise. It's reached the point where I'm now convinced that I've become noticeably less comfortable skating clockwise. Next time I'm out I'm going to have to go against the flow of skater traffic in order to balance it out.

Mitten magic show
Check out Emma's new method of getting her mitts on under her coat sleeves.

Click here for a list of all the outdoor rinks and puddles and click here for a list of public arena skate times.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A visit with Charlie Neill

Charlie napping

It was the last weekend of the Christmas holidays and we decided to make one last getaway before having to deal with the impending approach of work and school (or for one of us both). After a quick call to the Neills, and their shuffling of prior dinner plans, we were off to Burnstown.

As an added bonus we would get to see Charlie their new puppy that had arrived only the day before. Charlie is a Gordon Setter and a damn cute one at that. Oh, and he is also a genius.

Fireman Mikey
Ice slide

We spent the day catching up on each other's busy lives and filled the spaces with music, fine food, bonfires, a beer or two, and many doses of Charlie.

Mike on banjo
Tea break for Laurel Down Charlie

Laurel spent a large part of the day buzzing about the kitchen cooking and baking up a storm. There is nothing like fresh chocolate chip Skor cookies... or fresh cheddar corn scones... or venison barley soup with red wine and garlic... or venison hamburgers... or homemade Belgian waffles... or venison and spinach lasagna... I think you get the idea. It was fine dining indeed.

Chocolate chip Skor

By the end of the visit we felt recharged and ready to take on Monday. Thanks guys.