Category Archives: Holiday

Curse You Temple

On the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald (~2600 metres above sea level) with Rick and Paul.
On the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald (~2600 metres above sea level) with Rick and Paul.

Mother Nature has foiled us again. After much discussion, plotting, and organization, she decided to throw a huge wrench into our Mount Temple conquering plans. With winter conditions and blowing snow, Rick, Paul, and I decided for safety reasons that we should postpone our Temple adventure until next year.

Nuts.

For those of you who don’t know, this marks the third attempt in three years to climb Temple. It has officially become our nemesis. We shake our fists at you Temple. We shake them long time.

Fortunately, being the easy-going lot that we are, a back-up mountain was found. May I introduce you to the splendor and beauty that is Mount Lady MacDonald – a steep 7 hour hike with an elevation gain of 1.2km right next door to the town of Canmore. The peak offers an excellent view of the town and surrounding area, and it also offers an epic knife-edge ridge walk. On one side of the mountain is a near vertical drop to the valley below. On the other side, a very steep drop to rocks and scree below. To put it another way – a straight plummet followed by death if one were to fall away from Canmore, or a long painful fall across mostly flat rock and death should one fall towards Canmore. Exactly what we were looking for!

Me and Paul at the start of the ridge.
Me and Paul at the start of the ridge.

We started the hike at 10am and quickly fell into a good rhythm. Every so often we’d stop for water or snacks, or to catch our breath given our angle of ascent, or to snap photos of the area. The weather varied from sunny and hot, to cold, cloudy, and windy. Extra layers, rain gear, gloves, and toques were added as necessary. Fortunately the snow and wind that had accompanied us part way up the mountain dissipated, leaving blue sky and sunshine as we reached the summit (about 3.5 hours after we started).

The views were breathtaking. We sat for a time at the top of the mountain taking everything in, comfortably resting in the safety of a small plateau. Of course, we didn’t sit too long before we debated the safety of the ridge walk. The photos we snapped only provide a small sense of what we were facing – vertical to near vertical drops on either side, and only a narrow path to follow. Part of the path looked wide enough to walk on, but other parts were quite literally the apex of a triangle. Walking on these areas would demand that we keep our bodies low to the mountain, finding footholds on either side of the peak to secure ourselves. Whatever lay before us, we knew that one misstep would be more than enough to send us over the edge to a rather splendid end.

After a short rest and after snapping several photos, it was agreed – we were doing this.

Leaning over the edge of the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald.
Leaning over the edge of the ridge of Mount Lady MacDonald.

I took the first steps onto the ridge and realized pretty quickly that this part of the adventure was going to be amazing. I walked upright for most of the first part of the ridge, getting low where necessary. Rick and Paul followed behind. In some spots I was quite literally straddling the mountain – a required move to figure out where next to put my hands or feet. Looking down to the valleys on either side of the ridge was incredible. With every step away from the security of the plateau I found myself feeling more and more blessed at having the opportunity to experience the world in this manner.

We continued on, pushing further and further along the ridge, inching closer and closer to the end of the path. Of course we snapped numerous photos. When we could we walked upright, moving cautiously but confidently from rock to rock, ignoring the potential disorienting effect caused by our peripheral view of the valleys below.

Sadly our adventure was cut short. In the distance I could see another storm coming towards us. We debated the safety of continuing to the end of the path, but ultimately decided we should turn back. This was probably the smartest thing we did all day. As soon as we reached the safety of the plateau we were hit – ice pellets, strong winds, and cold temperatures. Turning back was very much the correct decision. I can’t imagine what the ridge would have been like if we were caught on it during the storm.

Traversing the ridge.
Traversing the ridge.

We quickly made our descent to escape exposure during the storm. Despite the ice pellets and wind, screeing down the mountain was still a blast. By the time we reached the safety of the trees the sun had returned and the temperatures climbed. We rested for a few minutes, lost a few layers of clothing, and began our long descent back to the car.

To be honest, while we’re a bit disappointed in not being able to conquer Temple for the third year in a row, our adventures really have very little to do with any specific mountain. The time I get to spend in the mountains laughing with Rick and Paul is far more important. So thanks nerds for yet another excellent adventure. We’ll get Temple next year.

China By The Numbers

Although only one thumb is shown here (as the other was working the camera), this trip gets two thumbs up.
Although only one thumb is shown here (as the other was working the camera), this trip gets two thumbs up.

On my travels throughout China I was constantly reminded by people I met about the luck of certain numbers. This first came to light in Dalian where several weddings were being performed on the 6th of July. More recently I learned that the Forbidden City of Beijing contains 9999 rooms – 9 being a rather lucky number1, 2.

Being a numbers person (although a different kind of numbers person), this got me thinking, how did my trip stack up numerically?

So here goes:

  • Distance travelled (by plane or train): 25404.64 km – or approximately 63% the circumference of earth.
  • Travel time (by plane or train): about 40 hours.
  • Distance travelled by foot: no clue.
  • Distance travelled by bicycle: about 14km around the old city walls of Xi’an.
  • Days away: 33 – June 29 through July 31 (a little more than 9% of the year).
  • Cities visited: 5 – Dalian, Xi’an, Hua Shan, Shanghai, and Beijing.
  • Total population of those cities: approximately 60 million, with Shanghai and Beijing being home to about 45 million people combined.
  • Spur of the moment travel decisions: at least 3 – extended stay in Xi’an with Peter so we could climb Huashan, extended stay in Shanghai after Sass and Andrew returned to the hostel from their canceled flight, and cancellation of my flights from Beijing to Dalian due to delays at the airport.
  • Mountains climbed: 2 – Hua Shan and the Black Mountain of Dalian.
  • Temples explored: Too many to count.
  • Photos knowingly taken with strangers: Too many to count.
  • Instagram photos/videos posted (so far): about 440 – or approximately 14 per day.
  • Blog posts (to date, including this one, but excluding those about China that were written prior to leaving on the 29th): 21 – although there will be a few more because I have a few other things I need to write about.
  • Warmest temperature: 39 Celsius (not including humidity).
  • Coolest temperature: 25 Celsius (not including humidity).
  • Countries represented during the trip: 8 – Britain, Ireland, United States, Australia, Germany, Brazil, Canada, and China.
  • Local dishes sampled: at least 4 (not including the oddities listed below) – Peking duck, hot-pot, dumplings, and noodles.
  • Silkworm pupae eaten: 4
  • Snakes eaten: 2
  • Scorpions eaten: 1
  • Starfish eaten: 1
  • Spiders eaten: 1

While I don’t necessarily believe that any of these numbers are lucky – because we all know that only pi has that characteristic – I do know that I am very lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to explore China for these past 30+ days. I’ve had an amazing time here, and I’ve met so many amazing people. It really has been an incredible and unique experience.

I’ve also realized that 30+ days is too short a time to really capture China, which means I’m just going to have to return. Perhaps next year. Perhaps for 60+ days. And perhaps including some of the neighbouring countries. Because let’s be honest, a trip that ends without further wanderlusting just wouldn’t be a successful trip in my books.


1 The number of rooms in the imperial palace is also in reverence to god whose home was believed to contain 10000 rooms. Apparently the emperor didn’t want to piss off god by presuming to have the same number of rooms in his house. Probably a wise move.

2 According to Wiki, the exact number of rooms might not actually be 9999. Whatever.

Beijing – A Litte Bit Different

Street dinner with Till.
Street dinner with Till.

Beijing has been a little bit different from the previous cities in China I’ve visited, but that doesn’t mean it has been any less amazing.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I opted to stay at a hotel while in Beijing, mainly because the hostel I wanted wasn’t available, but also because the hotel deal was too good to pass up. The problem, however, with staying in a hotel versus a hostel is the type of people who share accommodations with me.

Hostels are mostly filled with travellers and backpackers; people who don’t mind getting dirty, sharing bathrooms, sleeping in bunk beds in 6 or 8 person dorms with complete strangers, and randomly striking up conversations that begin with Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going? These conversations always seem to develop into some sort of instant friendship, and before long, you and your fellow traveller are out experiencing the city together, writing crazy new adventure stories to tell at the next hostel.

No admittance? Pfft. Whatever.
No admittance? Pfft. Whatever.

Hotels are mostly filled with business folks and tourists; people who expect a certain level of pampering and sophistication, room service, and guided tours. Any conversations are limited and short, and have rarely led to adventures (at least in my experience).

Why is this problematic for me? Well, tourists and business folks aren’t likely to strike up a conversation with a random dude travelling on his own. And as has been my experience, they don’t necessarily open themselves up to a random dude striking up a conversation with them. Don’t get me wrong – they talk back – but it’s usually limited to casual chatting and small talk. Backpackers and travellers ignore the small talk and get to the stories. That’s how I met so many great people in Xi’an and Shanghai.

However, this doesn’t mean that I’ve not met some amazing people while in Beijing. I randomly met Brian – the second person from Nashville I’ve met while in China – while touring the parks next to the Forbidden City. He was almost caught in a selfie that I was taking, and that of course led to hello, some laughter, and before long lunch, beer, dinner, and wandering the city at night. We also managed to explore Tiananmen Square, spending part of our time getting photos with locals, and the rest of our time trying to figure out where Tank Man was last photographed as he stood defiantly in front of a line of tanks in 1989.

Photos with Brian and a troupe of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square.
Photos with Brian and a troupe of Chinese students in Tiananmen Square.

And as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I spent a few days on a gastronomic adventure with Till. From Peking Duck to silk worm, scorpions, and spiders, we tried pretty much anything we could. We enjoyed beers while chatting about travel, education, and other random things. We compared cities, and the people of China to our expectations and experiences at home. And we talked about Munich – where he’s from.

When I explored the Great Wall I met Arneau and Rihanna – travellers who had the exact same idea as me when we saw a sign that informed us that the public were not allowed beyond said signage. Clearly this was meant to be ignored. And so the three of us trekked on and found ourselves probably 1km or more beyond the no-admittance declaration, along a section of the wall that hasn’t been repaired as of yet. It also afforded us some amazing views of the wall as it ascended and descended the various mountains we could see. Breaking the rules – always the best decision (that’s a rule – you should write it down – ha, see what I did there).

The Great Wall is really great.
The Great Wall is really great.

Last night I had dinner with a Brazilian that I met who’s in Beijing for only 2 days on business. Having been to the city numerous times, he knew of some great restaurants. We ended up eating at La Pizza, where I had western food for the first time on my trip – seafood pizza if you’re curious. While eating, the sky decided to open up and pour for the first time since I’ve been travelling. The rain brought with it thunder and lightning, and apparently sent all of the cabbies into hiding. After eating we did our best to stay dry, but I ended up soaked and having to walk about 3 km before I was finally able to hail a cabbie to get me back to my hotel. Fortunately it was a warm rain and ultimately refreshing given how hot and smoggy it had been that day.

Anyway, while the people I’ve met here have been no less amazing than those I’ve met elsewhere, the ways in which we met have been vastly different. Regardless of how we met, Beijing has been an amazing experience and I’m definitely going to miss it.

Hello Shanghai

Leaving our mark at one of the local pubs.
Leaving our mark at one of the local pubs.

Today is laundry day, so what better thing to do than write a few blog posts.

I arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday last week. The flight was a bit rough but ultimately uneventful. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Xi’an, but other adventures were calling my name.

To save some cash and get a sense of the city I opted to take the No. 2 Metro line from the airport to a station close to my hostel. Fortunately signage was both in English and in Chinese which made purchasing a ticket (4 Yuan, or about 69 cents Canadian) and making my way to my destination rather simple. At least in theory. In practice I failed to consider my own stupidity and exhaustion. After falling asleep on the subway, I woke to find I’d missed my first stop and had returned almost all the way to the airport. Feeling like a twit, I quickly corrected the situation and was back on my way to my home away from home for the week.

Scotch on top of Shanghai
Scotch on top of Shanghai

After checking in, I decided to saunter around the neighbourhood. Within about 5 minutes I stumbled into Andy whom I’d met in Xi’an the week before. Having been here for a few days already he gave me the lay of the land, and then we went in search of food.

Since then, I’ve hung out with him and several other travellers – the Brits Laura, Chloe, Sam, and Hugh, the Aussie student-couple Andrew and Sassica, and the Americans Jack, Ben, and Lauren. Various subsets of us have opted to explore the local pubs and clubs together, and that of course has led to some rather late nights/early mornings. From the dark and dingy yet strangely inviting and friendly C-club, to the overpriced but entertaining Cheers, to the posh techno shoulder-to-shoulder deafening thump-thump and visual assault that was M18 and Myst, and to the not-so-crowded, not-so-loud techno thump-thump and free booze of SoHo, we’ve pretty much been all over the place.

Street BBQ is the new crack.
Street BBQ is the new crack.

Between bar-hopping, I’ve managed to make my way to the financial district – where fellow professor Chris and I celebrated with a scotch on the 87th floor overlooking the nightlife of Shanghai – to the Bund, and to the major shopping district of Nanjing Road. I’ve been amazed by the contrast between old colonial buildings and the new modern flash of skyscrapers. The street BBQs have turned into a staple after-bar snack. I’ve snapped my pic with an M&M dressed as a panda, I’ve enjoyed fresh coconut water and probably too many dumplings, and I have been entertained by the various Chinese to English translations that I’ve read. The people, as in Xi’an, are exceptionally hospitable and welcoming.

In short, this city is vibrant and amazing and has so much to offer, I think I might just be in love with it.

Good-Bye Xi’an

The moon over Xi'an
The moon over Xi’an

While I’ve technically be in Shanghai for 5 days already, I’ve been out having too much fun to sit down and write. I figured that I probably should write a little bit about my experiences today before I find myself looking at the city from my seat on a bullet train to Beijing.

Before I get into my adventures in Shanghai, I thought I’d offer up a huge thanks to Xi’an and the people who call that city home. Xi’an was amazing. So much so that I extended my stay a few days so that Peter and I could conquer a mountain. There was seriously so much to do in that city, and I can definitely see myself returning there in the future. Exploring the Bell and Drum towers, eating my face off in the Muslim District, cycling the walls of the old city, and visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors were all highlights of the trip. My adventure to the top of Huashan and subsequent plank walk were icing on the proverbial cake.

But it wasn’t all site-seeing and history. The city also connected me with some amazing people with equally amazing travel stories – some profound, others hilarious, all fascinating. There were nights spent sitting in the streets with locals and two students from France, drinking beer until the early hours of the morning, and other nights wandering the city with no particular goal in mind.

Adventuring with this nerd was clearly a blast.
Adventuring with this nerd was clearly a blast.

On one particular eve, Peter and I found ourselves looking at the almost-full moon through a massive telescope that someone had set up near the Drum Tower. We also found ourselves sitting and staring at the Drum Tower, amazed at its simplicity and beauty, amazed of where we were and how we got there, all while listening to a local musician play what we assumed was traditional Chinese music. It had all the makings for a cheesy romantic date-scene in some equally cheesy romantic movie – but all that was quickly shattered when we realized the musician had switched into Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On. Obviously laughter ensued.

I’m definitely going to miss Xi’an. And I’m definitely going to miss the band of misfits that I got to call friends for a short period of time. With any luck, I’ll meet up with some of them again on some random adventure in some random city in the future. If travel has taught me anything, it’s that the world is a rather small place, and stranger things have happened.

So long Xi’an, and thanks for everything.

Conquering Huashan Part I

Silhouetted crowds at the East Peak of Huashan - around 3:30 in the morning.
Silhouetted crowds at the East Peak of Huashan – around 3:30 in the morning.

Monday marked the day after my adventure with Peter biking around the city walls of Xi’an. Much of the day was spent figuring out the next legs of our respective adventures. At one point I was going to join him on his journey to Chengdu, but that opportunity seemed to flit away as soon as we realized that the buses, trains, and planes were all full – save for a few late night options.

We also were beginning to wonder how we were going to fit in Huashan – the epic mountain climb I had mentioned in previous posts – given the remaining options available to get Peter to Chengdu to see his friends.

We decided that Huashan would have to be a night climb. This way we’d be able to meet all of our schedules and take part in a very unique experience.

Figuring out how to get to Huashan was our first challenge. Trains were booked. Buses were booked. Renting a car would be too pricey. Everything was working against us. That is, until the opportunity for two standing only tickets were made available. We rushed to the train station with all of our hiking gear to purchase our tickets, only to find out that the train was indeed full. Fortunately for us, the ticket agent offered us two first class tickets on the high speed train. We gladly purchased these and were on our way – sometimes reaching speeds of almost 300kph.

As we raced towards the mountain, we chatted about the coming adventure. Specifically, we discussed the fact that we really didn’t know how to get from the North Huashan train station to the mountain, and the fact that our conversational Chinese was limited to saying hello, thank you, or asking for the bill, and the fact that we didn’t know how we were going to get back to Xi’an the next day. We probably should have been nervous, but what’s an adventure without a bunch of unknowns coupled with poor communication skills?

As we exited the train station, we were greeted by a very lively scene; people snapping whips (seriously), and a very large number of taxi drivers fighting to take us to the mountain for insanely inflated prices.

And then we met Gavin.

Gavin, from the US, had also decided to hike the mountain. Like us, he also wasn’t fully prepared for what was about to happen, but in a different way. While we had no idea how we were going to get to the mountain and home, or how to communicate with the locals, he had no idea what the hike involved or what equipment he might need.

Fortunately between the group of us we somehow formed a kick-ass team.

Gavin organized the taxi and got us to the mountain. Peter and I helped get Gavin up the mountain. It was a win-win situation.

Waiting for the sun to rise.
Waiting for the sun to rise.

After buying a twelve pack of beer (because why wouldn’t we want a twelve pack of beer for hiking a mountain?), and purchasing our entrance to the park, we started on our big adventure. The time was about 10pm and the way was lit only by the moon and the headlamps people were wearing.

The trek started simple enough – along what is known as the Soldier’s Road. The incline was gentle and the path was composed of a very well constructed set of stairs; stairs that went on. And on. And on. And on. And got steeper, and steeper. Oh, and steeper.

We weren’t alone on the trek. It seemed that thousands of locals were making the trek with us. Up and up we hiked. We stopped from time to time to catch our breath and give our legs a rest, and to enjoy a beer. We commented on the variety of people making the hike – some looked early on as if they weren’t going to make it, others looked strong and determined. Our collective goal – the east summit, where we’d be able to watch the sun rise around 5:30am.

In some sections the stairs were narrow – very narrow. In some sections the stairs were only big enough to put less than half your foot on. And in some sections the stairs were so steep (80% incline) they looked more like a wall with notches carved into it. And yet still we hiked, higher and higher up the mountain and into the night.

Eventually we found ourselves face to face with the steepest section. Imagine if you will a wall that leans out slightly towards you. Imagine three chains hanging down from above – setting up two lanes for potential climbers. Imagine stairs that are about 1 inch deep. And imagine people attempting to climb them, freaking out, and having to climb back down while others attempted to climb up. It was a bit chaotic. It was a bit insane. It. Was. Amazing.

Of course, it wasn’t necessary to take this route. There was a way to bypass it – and many people did. We talked about it, but I knew immediately that I was doing it. I hadn’t come all that way to wuss out. Peter and Gavin felt the same way. We were going to crush this.

All smiles as the sun starts to peak above the mountains.
All smiles as the sun starts to peak above the mountains.

As I approached the wall I simply took a breath, got my footing, grabbed the chains and started my ascent. I looked down, often, because why wouldn’t I? With each step closer to the top, I smiled more and more. With each step I took a moment and thought out my next move, then confidently made it. And it felt amazing. I fully expected some fear, but there was none. There was just an awesome sense of crushing the challenge.

And just like that we were past the wall and heading the rest of the way to the peak.

After about 4.5 hours we reached the eastern peak. The moonlight provided enough light to see that the valley below was expansive and incredible. The sky was huge and decorated with countless stars. It was an amazing moment and it was great to share it with both Peter and Gavin. We sat there, smiling, taking in everything, and celebrated with a couple beers.

We spent several hours chatting and napping on the mountain as we waited for the sun to rise. At some point I just sat there listening to the sounds of nature, and marvelling again at how lucky I am to be able to experience something like this.

I am the luckiest bastard I know.

Adventure Time Approaches

Operation China Adventure begins!
Operation China Adventure begins!

I ventured to Toronto on Monday to get my visa. I won’t lie, I was giddy with excitement as I handed over all of the necessary items – completed application, one passport sized photo, and an official letter of invite from Dalian Nationalities University – to the very friendly woman who was working behind the counter.

On Friday I’ll be returning to Toronto to pick up said visa – bringing Phase I of Operation China Adventure to a close. In case you were wondering, Operation China Adventure is what I’m officially calling my trip.

Before I leave, however, I have a few tasks to complete (what I’m calling Phase II of Operation China Adventure):

  • Organize all of my projects, and leave explicit instructions and a set of deliverables for all of my students, to ensure that my return is stress-free.
  • Organize dates for Elliot. He gets lonely when I’m not around.
  • Organize the house-sitters. Identify the comfiest spots in my condo for a nap.
  • Figure out how to post to the Twitters and the Facebook while I’m away. I’ve learned that both of these sites are blocked in China. Fortunately, the Instagrams are not. At least, not yet.
  • Finish designing course materials that I will be presenting while in China.
  • Set up meetings with students and colleagues while I’m gone.
  • Finish up all of the reports, grants, papers, and other deliverables that need to be completed.

No big deal. I’ve still got three working days to get it all done.

Anyway, the bottom line is that I’m stoked. I haven’t had an adventure like this in ages, and it’s making concentration rather difficult. For example, while I should be working on any of the things listed above, I find myself watching this over and over.

Adventure time! W00t!

Bi-Polar Vortex

Walking on the road because the sidewalks are covered in snowdrifts.
Walking on the road because the sidewalks are covered in snowdrifts.

With a -30 something wind chill this eve, my walk home from the office was a bit of a chore. With every gust of wind I shivered and cringed and tried to ignore how painfully cold the exposed bits of my face were. I also tried not to curse Mother Nature whenever she decided to blow snow – which felt like tiny frozen razor blades – at said exposed bits.

It’s usually around this point in the year when I begin to lose my patience with all things winter. My walks to and from the office become a little less the air is so crisp and clean and the snow is beautiful and it’s all so wonderful and magical, and a lot more holy fricking shitcakes, I’m going to punch the next snowman I see in his stupid, stupid neck. 

Fortunately winter hasn’t completely destroyed my spirit, which means any snowman I meet is safe – for now.

The thing I find ultimately weird is how easy it is for me to run in weather like this. It’s almost like some bizarre badge that I wear, and one that I wear proudly. Just yesterday I ran in similar weather for 30 minutes, through snow drifts and crazy-stupid cold wind. A few days before that I returned home with my eyelashes and eyebrows encased in ice. In both cases I ended my runs feeling like I’d just conquered a small country, and loving that I was able to take on winter. Today, however, I spend 25 minutes walking home and I want to assault a snowman and then collapse into a defeated quivering pile.

I think the solution to my bi-polar1 response to winter is that I leave all of my work at the office. My non-homework laden self would then be able to run to the office in the morning, and home in the evening – filling me with conquering winter pride instead of murderous snowman rage.

Or, another solution might be a wee vacation somewhere warm and tropical and filled with servants who bring me coconut based drinks.

Tough call.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel websites to peruse.


1 Polar! Ha!

On The Topic Of Wanderlust

The world is so much bigger than North America
The world is so much bigger than North America

While my friends Beth and Rick were in town over the Christmas holidays, we spent some time chatting about travel (as we are wont to do). Both Beth and Rick have been on some pretty fantastic adventures over the past year (for example, read about their awesome but separate trips to Ireland here, and here1), and it’s always great to hear about travel related shenanigans.

One of the interesting things to come out of the conversation wasn’t exactly expected. We were chatting about off-continent trips, and I began to wonder when last I launched myself through the air in a people-filled lawn dart3. For someone who loves travel as I do, I was actually shocked by the realization. My last trip off-continent was back in the old-time-y days of 2011 when Rick and I adventured our asses off in Hawaii4, 5. The year before that also saw me in Europe twice – once for Christmas with my brother, and once to celebrate the successful completion of my PhD.

Clearly this close-minded North Amerocentric travel practice can not be permitted to continue. It’s just not right. Think of all of the cultures that I’m not learning about. Think of all of the shenanigans I’m not getting up to. Think of all the adventures that aren’t being adventured. It’s a travesty I say.

Fortunately I have a few plans up my sleeve. One involves Asia, the other involves a return to Europe. Both could occur sometime during the summer. In the former case I’m looking at a potential exchange program that would allow me to bookend a two-week teaching/researching adventure with shenanigan filled adventuring. In the latter case I’m looking at several conferences that are separated by a few weeks.

In any case, it’s very clear that I haven’t been living up to my wanderlusting potential. This is something that I must correct in 2014.


1 Also, why haven’t I been to Ireland yet2?

2 Honestly, 2013 seemed to be the year that everyone I knew when to Ireland or Scotland. I may or may not be jealous.

3 Also known as an airplane.

4 While Hawaii is politically part of the United States, it’s actually in the region known as Oceania.

5 Which means that the three year anniversary of that particular trip is only a few weeks away. I should figure out a way to celebrate said adventure-filled vacation.

Let The Semester Begin!

My walk to work starts here. Granted, it doesn't usually have ice covered tree branches in the way.
My walk to work starts here. Granted, it doesn’t usually have ice-covered tree branches in the way.

Today is the first day of the winter 2014 semester, or as I like to think of it – Reading Week bookended by class. Twelve weeks of class to be exact; six on either end.

I’m actually pretty excited to get back to work. Don’t get me wrong, working in the comfort of my pajamas is always better than trudging myself to the office, especially when that trudging involves ice and snow and howling wind. However, until I figure out a way to effectively lecture 70+ students in User Interface Design whilst sipping a coffee and enjoying my fireplace, my need to be on campus will remain. And if I’m being completely honest, I love teaching so trudging through the winter weather is very much worth the trouble.

Despite the fact that today is day one of a semester that still has that new-semester smell, I’ve been mulling over potential destination ideas for Reading Week. Apparently wanderlust never dies. Since it’s only a week-long, the destination can’t be too distant. As much as I’m crazy enough to fly somewhere (Japan for example) for a week, I’m going to save that type of travel for later in the year. I’m thinking I may keep myself confined to North or Central America.

Deciding on a location, however, is the second decision that needs to be made. The first decision is to figure out what type of vacation I want/need. That is, should I go with an adventure vacation (think hiking, mountain climbing, zorbing, skydiving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, etc.) or a relaxation vacation (think well tanned hotties serving me drinks while I read/nap on the beach)? Or perhaps a blend?

So what do you think, dear readers? If you were vacationing over reading week, what type of vacation would you be taking?

Buyer’s Remorse? Not Yet

The wee fuzzball, enjoying a quiet Christmas night

Today is a comfy-pants kind of day.

Like many of you, I spent yesterday celebrating the Christmas holiday the way it was intended to be celebrated: with lots and lots of food. And booze. And more food. And coffee. Also scotch. And pie.

And because I’m a spoiled bastard, I did all of this while barely contributing much more than my presence to the Christmas celebrations. Personally, I think the Christmas day hosts got the short end of the stick. They prepped and cooked and cleaned and served and served some more; I was chauffeured around, delivered to and fro, stuffed full of treats and coffee, and I was fed and then fed some more.

Today my waistline feels as if it has expanded into territory it hasn’t seen since a hasty retreat several years ago. While the food was definitely worth it, I’m sure a case of buyer’s remorse is going to kick in soon enough. But that’s something to worry about another day. For now, I’m going to enjoy the quiet comfort of my home, and the wee fuzzball snoozing next to me.

I’m also going to spend the day with the very comforting knowledge that I have an amazing group of friends; people who invited me into their homes, treated me as family, and shared their holiday traditions with me. So thanks again Bang, Lindsay, and Henry for an awesome Christmas brunch. And thanks Mark and Julie for a fantastic Christmas feast. I’m so very fortunate that I have you nerds in my life.

Merry Christmas all.

 

19 Again

Christmas mimosas – it’s what’s for breakfast.

For those who follow my Twitter account1, you’re likely already aware of the fact that I had a bit of an incident at the liquor store yesterday. Nothing crazy of course – I made no scene, there was no need for security to be called. Regardless, something happened; something that was a mix of amazing and surreal and ridiculous and hilarious.

I had sauntered over to the liquor store early yesterday to pick up certain key ingredients for the traditional Christmas morning mimosas. Surprisingly the store wasn’t very busy when I arrived, so I only had to wait in line behind one other person. I placed several2 bottles of Christmas cheer on the counter and pulled out my bank card.

Could I see some ID?

I was only slightly surprised to hear this. I’ve heard this request before and I’m sure I’ll hear it again because I realize that I look younger than my 38 years. Further, the staff of the liquor store are required by law to ID anyone that looks 25 or younger. The legal drinking age is actually 19, but the law is in place to honestly, I have no idea what the intended purpose is. 

You might be asking, do I look younger than 19? Unless you are visually impaired, drunk, or high, I’m going to guess no. I’m not even convinced I look 25. However, the liquor store employee decided that she needed my ID.

I happily passed her the ID I’ve been using for the past 10 years.

I’m sorry, but this has expired.

I stared blankly back at her, not realizing what she was saying.

I can’t accept this. Do you have another piece of ID?

I didn’t. I told her so.

It was at this point that I realized what she was getting at.

It was at this point that I realized she wasn’t going to sell me the booze.

It was at this point that I realized that Christmas might be ruined.

I tried explaining that it was the same ID I’d always used. I never thought to reiterate the fact that I’m almost 40. I just kept staring at her assuming that my impressive powers of persuasion and my out-of-date ID would convince her that I was worthy of the bottles placed before her.

I clearly was not. Instead I had to pack it in, sad-faced, empty-handed, and convinced that Christmas was ruined. Denied at the liquor store at the tender young age of 38, because I apparently didn’t look old enough to pass as someone of the legal drinking age in this province.

But don’t worry folks – all was not lost. My little brother dropped by later to buy the necessary mimosa ingredients. That’s correct – my little brother bought me Christmas cheer because apparently I’m not old enough to buy my own.

It was a weird but wonderful Christmas miracle.

Merry Christmas everyone.


1 @thedangillis

2 Read 3.

Falling To My Death? Not Today Indefatigable. Not Today.

The Mount Indefatigable trail - hitting both north and south peaks.
The Mount Indefatigable trail – hitting both north and south peaks. Image via: http://www.soistheman.com

Yesterday Rick, Aidan, and I jumped into the car and headed to Kananaskis country to face the challenge of climbing Mount Indefatigable (stopping first at Starbucks and Safeway for necessities like go-go juice, snacks, and lunch).

Approximately 1.5 hours from Calgary, Indefatigable actually represents two peaks and a ridge connecting the two. The southern peak is approximately 2556m (8386ft) above sea level, while the northern peak is slightly higher. According to this website, the peak reaches 2678m (8786ft) above sea level. Not the highest peak that Rick and I have ever done, but still a solid adventure.

Rick, getting close to the southern peak of Mount Indefatigable
Rick, getting close to the southern peak of Mount Indefatigable

The first half hour included a rather steep incline, and amazing views of the lakes surrounding the region. The weather was perfect – not too hot, not too cold – and the company was fantastic. The hike included a lot of laughter and chatting, and every few steps hooting and hollering. Why? Well, it turns out that we were hiking a decommissioned trail; decommissioned because it is home to several generations of grizzlies. The hoots and hollers were to warn them of our presence, and hopefully scare them off. The last thing we needed was to be eviscerated by a hungry grizzly.

Once we passed the tree line, we were greeted by the ridge that defined the Indefatigable trail. According to the experts, the trail from north to south would be tough, but we were determined to conquer it. There were a few sketchy areas that gave all of us pause – partially to figure out our footing and grip, partially to breathe, gather our thoughts, and quell the voices in our head that might have been screaming to turn around because holy shit why would we put ourselves into such a crazy situation? To put the climb into perspective, there were sections where, while not quite vertical, we were forced to hug the mountain for fear that the slightest slip would send us falling several hundred metres to the valley below. In fact, the major hazard described for this climb: falling to your death. 

Rick pretending to be Icarus on the sketchy part of the climb.
Rick pretending to be Icarus on the sketchy part of the climb.

Talk about a rush.

Fortunately none of us fell to our death. And despite a few breath caught in our throat moments, we reached the north peak with only a few scratches and scrapes. Our reward – absolutely spectacular scenery. Honestly, the views were probably some of the best that I’ve ever seen from a mountain top.

After resting for a bit, we began our venture along the ridge from the north peak to the south peak. Walking at times on a path about a foot and a half wide, with very steep drops on either side was amazing. Strangely, we all felt quite comfortable traversing the ridge.

A nerdtacular shot at the top of the north peak.
A nerdtacular shot at the top of the north peak.

We reached the southern peak around 5:00pm. Tired, but still energized, we took some more photos, soaked in the scenery, and then began our descent. The trail here was steep at points, but well-defined and quite easy to hike. Along the way we ran in to some mountain goats who seemed to be enjoying the views of the valley from high above.

The entire trail took us about 8 hours, including several stops for snacks, lunch, and about 10 thousand photos.

Honestly, yesterday could have only been better if our friend Paul was able to join us.