Saturday, August 13, 2016

Bike To Shop Day Vancouver

Today is Vancouver's first Bike to Shop Day! Though I've been biking to shop since I started bike commuting almost twenty years ago, I still get a bit of a thrill when I bring a bunch of stuff home under my own power. (Here's an illustrated list of some of the more impressive things I've transported home by bike here if you're curious)

Spring 2015 a hashtag all about shopping by bike went viral. #Quaxing was all over Twitter & Instagram--do you remember? Here's my post on what it is & how to be awesome at itSpoiler Alert: you don't need a ton of expensive gear to do it! 

Also last year, before Bike to Shop Day was really a thing in Vancouver, I wrote a list of six reasons why you should try biking to shop. Reasons to add to the list: win prizes! Get free snacks! Save money with discounts at participating businesses! Meet some new friends on the themed rides!

HUB has all kinds of fun planned today between 11am & 3pm, from Celebration Stations, like during Bike to Work Week, several themed rides with experienced bike to shoppers along the way to give you tips & tricks for things like transporting pets by bike, plus free bike repairs, snacks, & more at the stations. Find a map of the celebration stations & more information about the rides here. (PS: I'll be talking family biking at the Celebration Station in Victory Square downtown--come by & say hello!)

Register for Bike to Shop Day: it's free online & makes you eligible to win the grand prize: a trip for two to the Okanagan with Accent Inns and Pacific Coastal airlines! You'll also help HUB gain valuable data that they can share with local businesses & decision-makers. (*cough* Commercial Drive BIA *cough*). As long as you're biking to shop at some point, register by midnight & you'll be entered!

See you on the bike paths!

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Bronte 2.11

Making friends with some random women at Faculty Brewing

One month to go until Bronte is three! Since I'm getting behind in my posts again, I'll keep this one brief. Here's where we're at these days:

  1. Full speed ahead! Bronte has started running pretty much everywhere she needs to go, which is somewhat terrifying when we're walking on the sidewalk, & means that she falls a lot & has some pretty impressive wipeouts, since she's going so fast most of the time. Her legs are constantly decorated with bruises & scrapes.
  2. Doctor Bronte 'doctoring' me
  3. Not there yet with toilet training. She is pretty good about peeing on the toilet when she's not busy with something, when we're at home. However, she has never, to this date, actually pooped on the toilet. I'm not sure if she prefers to do it in a diaper or pull up, or if she's just not able to predict it yet. She can definitely tell us when she's already done it. Very frustrating with less than a month to go until preschool, where she is expected to be trained.
  4. Dressing herself most days. I can occasionally pick out a whole outfit & put it on her, but generally, she has Very Strong Opinions about what she wears, if she doesn't insist on putting it on herself.
  5. Helping herself. Bronte has also started getting her own food. If she feels like it, she'll just grab a popsicle out of the freezer. Or try to pour herself a glass of milk from the 4L jug in the fridge. Or dig out a handful of the birthday cake I just made for her brother that's cooling in the freezer.
  6. Very observant of details. Whenever we're riding, if there's someone on a Mobi bike riding by or a Mobi station, she points this out excitedly. She pays a lot of attention to birds & bugs whenever we're outside too. Not sure exactly why, but she has a bit of a thing against pigeons & will try to chase them off, while roaring, "Go away, pigeon!"
  7. Constant copycat. She wants to be just like her older brother, which is kind of adorable when she puts on his superhero costume & runs around the house shouting that she's Super Chameleon (with a French accent like he does it). Other times, like blowing snot out of her nose into the air just before I get there with a piece of kleenex, not so much.
  8. Scrappy Susan. Bronte & her brother get into fights, oh, at least hourly. More often if they're stuck together on a bike, in a car, at the dinner table, or trying to play with the same toys. Though he's three years older, about a foot taller, & 30% heavier than she is, it tends to be a fair fight. Or he loses... 

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Friday, August 5, 2016

#CarFreeCamping: Food for Four (+ 8 Tips)

Planning the food for four of us to spend three days camping was a fun challenge. Since we carried everything on transit, we tried to keep the food light & packable, picking up a few heavy or fluffy/crushable items in Nanaimo near the end of our journey to Newcastle Island. Here was our menu:

Making oatmeal for breakfast
Day one we were travelling until nearly dinner time:
Lunch: fruit, nuts, carrots
Snack: potato chips
Dinner: fire roasted hot dogs
Dessert: roasted marshmallows

Day two we walked around a bit & explored the two beaches near either end of the camp site:
Breakfast: oatmeal with chocolate chips
Lunch: fruit, carrots, nuts, peanut butter & jam wraps
Snack: potato chips
Dinner: pasta with tuna, peas & alfredo sauce
Dessert: roasted marshmallows, chocolate

Picnic lunch at Midden Beach on our long hike
Day three we went on a long hike (about 8km) so there were lots of snacks:
Breakfast: oatmeal & chocolate chips
Snack: nuts, raisins, apples, oranges
Lunch: peanut butter & jam wraps
Snack: chocolate, potato chips (yes, again--Oli bought THREE bags in Nanaimo!), carrots, cucumber
Dinner: brown instant rice with red lentil dahl
Dessert: roasted marshmallows
Snack: popcorn (Jiffy pop!)

Day four we packed up & left our camp site by lunch time, then spent the rest of the day in transit until a late dinner at home:
Breakfast: oatmeal with chocolate chips
Lunch: sandwiches, sausage, carrots, apples, cucumber
Snack: trail mix, cookies

Great new bike racks outside Famous Foods
For drinks, I packed quite a bit of powdered whole milk, but the kids didn't really like drinking it straight. It was great in our tea & in the oatmeal, however. I'll probably bring a lot less next trip. The kids are pretty good about drinking plain water, but just to keep them really hydrated, I brought a few single packets of Kool Aid. They loved it, even when made at half strength, & sported red 'moustaches' most of the weekend.

Oliver picked up a cheap 2L 'cardbordeaux' & a few cans of beer too, which we had at dinner & in the evenings. We specifically went for red wine & dark beer so they'd be tolerable to drink once they weren't that cold anymore.

A few useful tips I used on this trip:

Famous Foods selection of vaccuum packed pastas 
  1. Famous Foods is a great place to shop for backpacking food. They have powdered whole milk, which tastes way better than the usual powdered skim that I've bought elsewhere. Their freeze dried peas & onions are super light & taste good when rehydrated, which only took soaking in water (they also sell freeze dried corn & soup mixes). I didn't buy this, but there were some great looking vaccuum packed pasta & sauce dishes there too for about $5 for three servings. I think I'll try those next time
  2. Multipurpose ingredients make packing easier. Apples were eaten whole, sliced into tortillas for wraps, chopped to sweeten oatmeal. Chocolate chips & raisins also went into oatmeal & made trail mix with almonds.
  3. The Coghlan's multi spice shaker is refillable--I switched the paprika for cinnamon. We also used the salt, pepper, cayenne, curry powder, & garlic powder.
  4. Dense, light, high protein & fatty foods are great for active trips. We brought landjaeger dry sausage, which doesn't really need refrigeration, plus a lot of almonds, as well as a small amount of that 'powdered' shelf stable parmesan for our pasta dinner.
  5. No Name marshmallows are great--they taste just as good as the brand name ones, which is more than I can say for their vanilla ice cream. Ugh.
  6. Buy food according to cooking times. I got red lentils because they cook faster & don't require soaking rather than the green that I prefer. I chose rotini instead of other types of pasta because it cooks two to three minues faster. This isn't a huge thing, but on a multi day trip, it could make the difference between running out of stove fuel early or not.
  7. Tortillas don't squish. We ate wraps for lunch two days on the island--tortillas are great camp food, while not light, they are really compact & don't get damaged in transit. 
  8. Ziplocs are your friend. I measured the amount we needed for the trip & packed most of our food in zipper bags: oatmeal, powdered milk, chocolate chips, almonds, raisins, lentil dahl mix, freeze dried peas, pasta, pre chopped carrots, baby carrots.
Chocolate oatmeal for breakfast
I think we had a good balance of healthy food--we actually ate a fair bit of vegetables & fruit, kept fairly well hydrated, & didn't take too much food home with us. 

A few things I'd change about our trip for the next time: I brought way too much powdered milk, about 20% too much pasta, rice, oats, & lentils. We definitely didn't need three bags of chips--one would have been enough. More peanut butter would have been nice too, but we made the small amount last. Also, I needed to add more of the freeze dried onion to the dahl mix.

I'm pretty pleased with myself--this was the first trip I've planned where food weight was really a consideration. All our past camping trips were by car, where weight is fairly irrelevant, except for the bikepacking trip last summer to Galiano, but our friends planned the food for that one.

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Thursday, August 4, 2016

#CarFreeCamping: How To Pack Light for a Family of Four

On our recent camping trip, we decided to take the challenge of backpacking, rather than car camping. We really love bikepacking, but it's difficult to get out of the city here without riding along busy highways, narrow twisting roads without a shoulder or taking long detours since many of the bridges & tunnels don't allow cyclists. We picked Newcastle Island because it's doable by public transit. We didn't actually hike that far carrying all our gear--just a few hundred metres here & there in between buses, ferries & camp site--but we still wanted to pack light. I'm still figuring out what I'm able to do without suffering too much from the osteoarthritis in my hip, so I wanted to avoid carrying anything unecessarily heavy.

Here's how we carried everything:

Four packs, a cart, a purse, plus three fabric shopping bags of food (not shown, since we'd already eaten their contents)

The two large travel packs are from MEC, bought before our first trip to Europe together in 2005, including one of the daypacks that zips onto the outside. In our packs were the sleeping bags, our clothes, & tent, with the sleeping pads strapped to the outside on the way there. Linny's Deuter Junior pack (containing both kids' clothing) is also from MEC, it's the one he's used for school for the past year. Bronte carried Linny's old SkipHop mini daypack (all her diapers & wipes were in here) that he used for two years of preschool. I also brought a small purse to just keep bus fare, my phone, & my book handy while in transit. We carried all our food & some other supplies on a small wheeled cart that came with our cooler, with a milk crate bungeed onto it. We also brought a few cloth grocery bags which we used to walk the last things we bought in Nanaimo a few blocks from the store to the little ferry, then to the camp site.

On our way home, we were a little more streamlined, with two sleeping pads inside one pack, the rest in the milk crate & the dishes, etc, in the cooler where the now eaten food had been.

I packed fairly light in terms of clothing--we wore nearly every item twice. It was easy to pack since the forecast was for dry, sunny weather, so we didn't bring any rain gear & only wore sandals. I brought fleece jackets & pants for the kids, but the pants weren't really necessary, as it just wasn't that cool at night.

In terms of sleeping gear, we brought our MEC Camper 4 tent, two thermarests, two blue foam mats, four MEC Creekside sleeping bags. The weather was perfect--between 21-28c in the afternoons, down to maybe 13c at night. The tent stayed warm, but didn't get any condensation & there was no dampness between the mattresses & floor as we've had on past trips in cooler weather.

Since we were carrying everything on transit, we decided to leave the folding camp chairs at home. I was able to use the milk crate as a stool at the campfire--we may bring a second crate next time so two can sit  near the fire. The other 'furniture' we brought was our hammock. It's one we bought at Costco, not particularly light, but it packs down to smaller than a loaf of bread, so it's compact & having it was totally worthwhile to relax in or for the kids to play on.

All MEC, all the time: tent, sleeping bags, & sleep pads from there
We kept food fairly simple, (more on that tomorrow) cooking breakfast & two dinners on our new Primus stove from MEC. For $21 plus $9 for a large fuel bottle, this was more than adequate for our needs. I'm really happy we bought it just before we left. We decided not to get the wind screen for it, but were able to use the lid of the food locker box plus a few pieces of firewood to keep the stove from blowing out. (the photo below of breakfast cooking shows the makeshift wind screen setup) We cooked in two pots--a camping one with folding handles that nested about halfway into an old aluminum one from hand-me-down camping dishes. Both pots are between 1.5 & 2L, just barely big enough to cook a large meal for four.

For dishes we used the kids' plastic Ikea plates, bowls, cups, & cutlery. They are probably bulkier & maybe a few grams heavier than technical backpacking ones, but they stack fairly well, are just big enough for adults to eat on, & are fairly light. Durability was also a major factor, as the kids have managed to snap every double ended light spoon/fork in half. We decided not to bring the big plastic folding water jug with the spigot & didn't need it--it was only a short walk to get water, which we carried back to the site in a large water bottle, our two travel mugs & our two pots as needed. I also strapped a couple of extensible roasting sticks to the cart, which were handy for roasting hot dogs the first night, & marshmallows every night.

Home sweet home for three nights on Newcastle Island
We brought a tarp & two lengths of rope, just in case, but the tarp stayed folded & the rope was only used for a clothesline. We've found it really handy to string up a double clothesline between a couple trees, not just for drying things, but to keep stuff out of Bronte's reach, or away from bugs & animals.

Speaking of bugs, there were very few & we literally only saw one mosquito the entire trip. I had a tiny bottle of bug spray that got used twice. The sunscreen came out daily, & we used our basic toiletries kit of toothbrushes, mini toothpaste, plus my contact lenses, solution, & case. I took along qutie a lot of ibuprofen & tylenol in case my hip got really sore, but I took very little of it. I used my Nordic poles whenever I walked farther than a few minutes, which seemed to take enough weight off my joint so I wasn't that sore at all.

We decided not to bring any toys for the kids (we discovered a tiny Ikea stuffed skunk in Bronte's bag on our way there, however) just a handful of miniature story books. They were quite happy playing with sticks, shells, rocks, the hammock, & running around with other children they met.

Making oatmeal on the Primus stove with the Ikea dishes
We had a hatchet, which was somewhat dull & sadly inadequate for the HUGE pieces of firewood we bought from the park operators. I managed to get the fires burning enough to get through the big chunks, however, & we used the largest of them to sit on around the fire the first two nights. Oliver ended up packing several boxes of matches, two lighters, & we counted five knives once we got there--probably could have streamlined these a bit.

I brought my Urban Poling Nordic poles & used them daily whenever we walked any distance. They collapse to about half their length & strapped onto the back of my pack, which occasionally got in the way, but wasn't too bad. We also brought our Beco carrier for when Bronte got tired on our 8km hike. I think next year she'll be able to walk a lot farther, so a dual purpose item like a wrap that would be used as a carrier & a blanket might work better.

Overall, I think we packed quite well. Most of the things we didn't use were due to good luck, & not things we could have omitted: first aid kit, tarp & one of two lengths of rope, the kids' fleece pants, Bronte's socks, Linny's blue asthma inhaler. Next time I think I might bring a small potty for Bronte, plus I'd like to get a nicer set of nesting pots with a proper lid, & a sarong that can be used as a child carrying wrap & a beach blanket. I think we could probably pack almost the exact same things for a trip in slightly cooler weather too.

If you'd like to read about how we planned our food for this trip, check out #CarFreeCamping: Food for Four (+8 Tips).

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#CarFreeCamping on Newcastle Island: How to Get There

Gear stacked on the #257 bus
If you follow me on Instagram, you likely already know we went camping on Newcastle Island on the long weekend. Other than taking photos with my phone, I was mostly unplugged from mid Friday through Monday. It was a great break--I even read an entire book from start to finish on the weekend.

Thought I'd share with you more of the details of our trip over the next few days in case you're thinking of Newcastle Island as a destination, or curious about how we made the trip work with no cars or bikes.

Newcastle Island sits in the waters just off Nanaimo--so close that you can easily canoe or kayak it. The entire island is a Provincial Park, about the size of Stanley Park, with campsites at the south end near the small private ferry that runs from downtown Nanaimo.

To get there we took a bus to downtown Vancouver at 9am, then walked a couple of blocks to the #257 Horseshoe Bay Express. We could have ridden the #19 bus all the way to Stanley Park & transferred at the same stop on Georgia near Denman, but on long weekends this bus is packed, so if you have luggage &/or children, it's much better to get on at the very first stop on Dunsmuir at Hamilton.

Off the ferry onto the tiny bus in Nanaimo
We arrived in Horseshoe Bay with plenty of time to catch the 10:40am ferry to Nanaimo. Once on the ferry, we snagged seats near the Kids Zone, which has a couple of tiny play structures in it & a TV playing children's shows constantly. It was a bit windy on our sailing, which the kids loved, until Bronte got blown down on the textured deck. Oops! We also came across a Bluegrass quartet playing on the solarium on the top deck.

Once the ferry arrived in Departure Bay around 12:30pm, we caught the bus to Maffeo Sutton Park, a ten minute ride. It's under 3km to the park & apparently there is a seawall path you could take if you are on bikes or feel like walking 30-40 minutes. I met up with an old high school friend at the park while the kids played & Oliver walked over to pick up the last of our supplies (wine, beer, hot dog buns, chips). There's a newish craft brewery just a block from the park, called White Sails, which does sell bottles, or you could bring a growler with you.

Not too busy on the Protection Island ferry to Newcastle Island
The playground is within sight of the ferry dock, so when we saw the next one come in, we packed up all our stuff & headed down. The boat reminds me of Vancouver's Aquabuses, only holding 20-30 people. The crossing is only a few minutes, weaving in between all the sailboats, yachts, & kayakers in the channel. It stops on Protection Island first, (where there's a pub, by the way) which you can actually walk to from Newcastle at low tide.

From the dock to the Newcastle Island camp site is only a few hundred metres' walk along crushed stone paths or across the dry field. All the camp sites--there are 18 single camp sites in a row along the path across the island plus five group sites in the grassy field closer to the water. We were in #8, in the middle.

Trekking across the field to our camp site
From leaving our house in the morning to arriving at the camp site took under five hours, not including the visit with a friend in Nanaimo. It's a really affordable way to travel too--the bus fare in Vancouver & Nanaimo was under $28 round trip total; the private ferry was $18 round trip, & BC Ferries there & back cost us $84. A grand total of $130 for a family of four to take six buses, two ferries, & two boat rides.

The route home was only slightly more eventful. We made all our connections, but the info I got from both the Nanaimo Transit mobile website & Google Maps failed to mention that the ferry shuttle bus might not be running on a holiday Monday--luckily we talked to another bus driver & caught a different bus.

Tired tiny backpackers on the last bus of our trip
Bronte also told us she'd pooped & needed a diaper change just as we were disembarking the ferry in Horseshoe Bay, which ended up being a false alarm (groan!), but we missed the express bus back downtown & took the next one, getting us home about a half hour later than planned.

We packed as light as possible (more on that in a post tomorrow) so all four of us had backpacks plus one small cart, which wasn't too hard to get on & off buses & ferries. I'd definitely do this again.

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