2015 in Pictures

This has been an ongoing problem since I started blogging in 2001 – I generally have more adventures than time to write about them. But last year was spectacular so I don’t want to forget it. I saw the northern lights for the first time – hanging out on top of a mountain all night in the Yukon – and I narrowly missed seeing the Southern Cross while we were hiking the Inca Trail in Peru. I drove on an ice road and did two speedy drift dives through narrows in BC and Washington. I made it (barely) up to Dead Woman’s Pass at 13,700′ and down to about 130′ underwater to see Gorgonian corals, but most of the summer was spent on the road – either on my motorcycle or camped on the ground beside it. Between commuting, camping with the Rainier Ravens and going on a couple of trips with Matt, I put a lot more miles on my bike than I have in a while (plus met some amazing people) and ventured down the Oregon Coast, near to Mt. Adams, around Crater Lake, over to the Olympic Peninsula and through Joshua Tree National Park.

I also got a job I loved, hit publish on my 500th blog post, made a coffee table, and cooked up an incredible amount of delicious food. I had set a goal for myself of eating less meat last year and inadvertently became a vegetarian again – except for a handful of meals I found I just didn’t want meat. In addition, I’ve been trying to cook as much gluten-free food for Matt so our tastes and dining habits have changed pretty significantly but we still had fun reviewing a lot of cookbooks last year. We ate some truly incredible meals in Lima then closed out the year by buying a home in Seattle and moving into our lovely blue house in the last few weeks of December. Phew! I crossed so many things off my life list that I’m tempted to sit back and take it easy for a while but knowing me that won’t last long.

Here are my favourite photos from 2015:

Dive boat

Egmont

Early in the year (so early I almost forgot), I went on my yearly dive trip to Skookumchuck Narrows – one of my favourite places – with Porpoise Bay Charters and my Vancouver dive crew -some of my favourite people. We revisited all of our favourite sites and had a bit of a more exciting time than we intending surfacing at night in the middle of the channel. Skookumchuck means ‘strong water’ and it’s not a place you want to be too far from shore or the boat. Afterwards we warmed up with port and cheese and the telling of tales.

Yukon

Northern Lights 2

Northern Lights

Yukon

Yukon

I am only beginning to understand the nuances of night photography but what I experienced in Dawson City couldn’t have been captured on film anyways – bright colours streaking and dancing across the sky, then dipping below the horizon only to come back around and surprise you. Most Inuit have some folklore around the northern lights being spirits of the dead playing ball with a walrus head or skull and it was not hard to imagine this at all. One of the most profound experiences of my life.

More photos from the Yukon

Red Irish Lord

Boat Street Cafe

Vegetarian

Austin

Sisters

My sister and I are slowly exploring the US on little city breaks – for my birthday it was Austin and we had an absolute blast. Between cocktails, food trucks, cocktails, live music and more cocktails, there was maybe more laughing than remembering but that’s just fine with me. Next year we’ll go to Memphis, Nashville and Chicago.

Austin

More on Austin

Jellies

Jellies

Riley

Ever since my sister and I went to the Oregon Coast last year, I’ve wanted to take Riley down to play on the beach. Oregon is so civilized that dogs are allowed off leash on all the beaches and there are just no sad dogs to be seen anywhere. Riley literally played until she couldn’t stand up anymore – she looks drunk in this photo! – while Matt and I celebrated our anniversary drinking Champagne on the sand.

More on the Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast

A few weeks later I was back down on two wheels although I didn’t actually get down to the beach.

More on the Oregon Coast

Field table

Outstanding in the Field

It has been a life dream of mine to go to Outstanding in the Field but I have always put it off because of the expense. Matt surprised me with tickets for my birthday and I can’t say it’s a great deal in terms of value but the food was excellent and we had a lot of fun wandering around the farm and meeting new people.

More on Outstanding in the Field

School of Rock

Matt joined a band program with another friend with ours so for the first time I had the opportunity to see him perform on stage instead of on our couch!

Ravens' campout

Hurricane Ridge

Hot tub

Summer really ramped up in August where I felt like I was on a motorcycle trip every weekend. Lucky me! The Ravens (my motorcycle group) put on a spectacular camp out event where we had about 50 women join overnight to Port Townsend on their bikes. I’ve done some camping on a bike before but certainly not on the Ducati so it was a fun project to get it all loaded up with gear. We camped out in the trees, road up to Hurricane Ridge, went to a drive-in movie, had a hot tub and basically the best time ever. These women are incredible. I can’t wait until next year.

More photos from the Ravens’ Camp Out

the Dream Roll

Dream Roll

Another, larger camp out was happening the following weekend so some friends and I headed down for that and luckily brought our rain gear because that was some of the wettest riding I’ve done in a while. The countryside was beautiful and the roads were amazing but I had to keep reminding myself that it was August and not October. That’s summer in the Pacific Northwest, I suppose!

More photos from the Dream Roll

Painted Hills

Crater Lake

In September some friends and I had planned to ride to Glacier National Park but sections were closed due to snow so we headed south and went to Crater Lake in Oregon instead. It was still incredibly cold on some of the mountain roads and as the roads got dark and full of deer we pulled over earlier than we had intended. The views didn’t disappoint though – the lake is deeply blue and serene and the ring road needs to be done (despite crappy pavement and an abundance of RV’s).

More photos from Crater Lake

Nevada

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Desert

I thought I might have had enough of women’s motorcycle camp outs but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride through the desert to Babes Ride Out in Joshua Tree (now in its third year, it is one of the inaugural events that are inspiring all the others). Some friends and I flew to Vegas and rented Harley’s – well, I rented a Bonneville but that’s another story – rode down to the campground, pitched tents and then got up and road almost all the way to L.A. on some very sweet roads. In the morning we got up early to ride through the park and take a look at the strange looking Joshua Trees. Amazing trip. Next year Matt and I will go to a co-ed camp out in Moab, Utah.

More photos of Babes Ride Out

Lima

Lima

Lima

Maido

Lima

Cusco

Peru

Sacred Valley

Cusco

Inca Trail

Macchu Pichu

There’s not much I can say about Peru yet…I’m still processing it (and Matt’s still processing photos). We went to Lima to eat and we ate exceptionally well at the 4th, 14th and 44th best restaurants in the world – Astrid y Gaston, Central and Maido – then flew to Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude before hiking over the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Despite all the photos you’ve ever seen, being there is absolutely magical with the clouds coming in and out and hiking for four days to get there made it a prize well deserved.

More photos of Peru

Degan

Finally sitting still, on the stoop of our new home. This winter is going to be a quiet one but here’s to 2016!

 

 

 

Nootka Sound

Tahtsa Dive Charters

I was asked to do a trip report of our dive trip to Nootka Sound for my new dive club newsletter. I’m not through writing about Japan and the National Parks road trip yet but this will serve as a good blog post in the interim!

Nootka Sound

In remote Tahsis B.C., a November morning is a quiet, misty and grey affair. We got our first view of town on a Saturday so all the boats were still in their driveways and there was no one about but us divers. As we gathered at the dock to wait for the boat we watched the faintest sliver of pink emerge over the mountains but otherwise the grey dock was reflected in the grey inlet and grey as far as the eye good see. We didn’t yet realize the amazing array of colours that awaited us just a little ways down the inlet and down into the water.

Nudibranch

There were four of us from Marker Buoy; Carl Baird, Bruce Brown, Ken Gatherum and myself – so new to the group that this was one of the first outings I had seen posted. We had met the day before to load up the truck with our gear (at least 15 tanks and I don’t know how many cameras plus bags and suitcases) before starting the long drive north. Tahsis is on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, not such a bad trek as the crow flies but our route took us through Tsawwassen ferry terminal, by boat to Nanaimo, up island to Campbell River then east to Gold River where both the pavement and the cell phone towers ran out. I had plenty of time to get to know my new friends and we finally pulled up at Tahtsa Dive Charters HQ around 6 PM, tired and hungry.

Tahsis is a tiny blip of a town, so small that in winter there are only 2 restaurants with limited hours. On Halloween both were closed because there were hot dogs and fireworks at the local school so we settled into our rooms at Nootka Gold B&B and got ready for diving. Most people in town have more than one job; Jude from Tahtsa Dive Charters is also the mayor while husband and Captain Scott Schooner works at the fire department and ambulance. Our host at Nootka Gold B&B, Silvie Keen, also runs the Tahsis Time Grill restaurant and the other restaurant in town is also the gas station and grocery store. I really liked the vibe. It’s a town that can’t support slackers – everyone has to pitch in and be kind and decent.

Anemone

The Nootka Sound area is huge with a complex system of deep inlets popular with sport fishermen in the summer, as well as kayakers and hikers. The sound also has historical importance. It’s known as “the Birthplace of British Columbia” because this is where Captain James Cook first came ashore in March 1778. To his relief, the Mowachaht First Nations people wanted to trade and not attack so the site was named Friendly Cove.

It’s possible to go by boat to explore the landing area (and I think I would like to come back to do this) but our group headed up Espinosa Inlet to “The Gardens” instead, the place Little Espinosa Inlet empties into the larger Espinosa. It’s a relatively narrow passage and that means lots of life. Captain Scott clearly knows the area very well and the visibility was excellent. We saw swimming scallops, Noble Sea Lemon nudibranchs, a Giant Dendrenotid nudibranch, huge rock scallops and a wolf eel dotted across a carpeting of pink strawberry anemones. The pink was startling at first, like coming across a girl’s birthday party, but then there was the yellow of the sea lemon nudibranchs, orange golden dirona nudibranchs, giant purple sea cucumbers, blue bat stars…all the colours of the rainbow. At one point Bruce and I came across an egg yolk jelly that appeared to be stuck to the wall but as I look back at my photos I think the strawberry anemones were actually eating it, very very slowly.

Nootka Sound

Topside again we made our way out to “Double Island” mouth of Esperanza inlet. It’s unsheltered and there was a bit of current and chop that made the dive a bit rough. I was having gear issues and by the time I was finished dealing with them decided to sit this dive out. I was lucky, the weather was in our favour and so I bobbed about in the sunshine with Scott, watching sea otters and diver bubbles.

Wold Eel

I wasn’t the only one who was appreciative of the sunshine. Tahtsa’s dive boat is fast enough to get out to the open sea and back in a day but the sacrifice is that it is a pretty bare-bones vessel. There is no cover or windbreak on the boat, which had caused us a bit of trepidation in the grey dawn, although it seems that there are many closer dive sites for wetter days. There are also no bins or dry areas so plan to bring your own dry bag and containers if that’s a need. Finally, there is no head on the boat either so Captain Scott kept his eyes out for beaches where we could make a pit stop between dives.

It all worked out and our trip back up the inlet was gorgeous; evergreen covered islands dropping right into sea, rocky outcrops full of tide pools and otters, sea lions and eagles making an appearance at regular intervals. When we stopped for fuel the caretaker told us that his dogs had cornered a bear under one of the cabins the night before. This place is teeming with life.

Cloud Sponge

Our third dive of the day (and where we stayed for the rest of the trip), was Mozino Point. This is the darling of Nootka Sound, close enough to Tahsis that a boat can get there in ten minutes but diverse enough to serve up a different dive every time. Mozino Point is the site of the lighthouse at the junction of Tahsis Inlet and Tahsis Narrows, an area that sees a huge interchange of water and is hundreds of feet deep. Captain Scott told us that 90% of the time the tide is flowing out to sea but on our afternoon dive it had got itself turned around and was heading into town. There was a bit of confusion underwater and then the consensus was to go with the flow.

The colours at Mozino Point are even more spectacular than the Gardens. Pink and red strawberry anemones start of the splendour, decorating rocks, barnacles, scallops without prejudice. Nudibranchs all of kinds and colours lay around languidly. Then we arrive at the cloud sponges, eggshell white and just as fragile, surrounded by several kinds of rockfish and tunicates and a few white reticulated sponges thrown in for good measure. Farther below this are the rare and fragile Gorgonian corals which we would see the next day.

Gorgonian Coral

The dive boat comes out of the water at night and although it seems safe enough to leave all the gear on it (Scott told us that many homes don’t even have keys), he was going out with a group of hikers before us in the morning and needed room for them. The late departure combined with the daylight savings fall back meant that we had much more time to kill in the morning than I’m used to on a dive trip – and frankly more than made me comfortable, considering our 12 hour journey home – but we were organized and at the dive site in no time. From the lighthouse it was down 140 feet or so to get a look at the rare Gorgonian corals. These are lurid pink fan-shaped corals, some fuzzy with polyps out feeding and some closed up, looking dormant and stony. I saw one that had an orange peel nudibranch draped over several coral protrusions. Sea pens seem to grow in abundance in the area so we saw a lot of those near them and from there we made our way back up through the cloud sponges, checking in each of them for any critters that might be hiding out. Then into the strawberry (anemone) fields for more pink, more scallops the size of dinner plates, huge barnacles fishing, swimming scallops chattering like false teeth through the water, and decorator crabs in all the latest fashions. Coming up towards our safety stop I realized we had covered quite a bit of distance and the scenery had changed again. Here was ribbony kelp, purple sea urchins,  and some perch. A few feet below the surface Bruce pointed out a small jelly to me and we realized at the same time that there was a smack of them, all around us. I surfaced laughing and ready to do the whole thing again. A five star dive, to be sure.

Nudibranch

We waited only as long as we had to before getting back in the water again but we passed the time eating granola bars and watching the sea lions hunting not far from the boat. He wasn’t bothered by us at all but as soon as we entered the water he cruised by us to take a look. This dive was similar in features to the previous day, substituting the deep Gorgonians for the inclusion of a huge China rockfish and a wolf eel but it was equally delightful and made me wish that this amazing site was not quite so far away.

As always, there are more photos on flickr.

Spring (break)

Long Beach

Certainly somewhere girls were going wild last week but I spent my spring break being relaxed and restored; surfing, sleeping, diving reading, walking in the woods and on the beach. I had a trip planned to go surfing in Tofino with some girlfriends that got extended into a dive trip to Barkley Sound with some personal time at the Black Rock in Ucluelet in between. Spoiled, right? I know. I often lament that I don’t spend enough time exploring B.C. and in a way that seems laughable because more than anyone I know, I am the one who will hop in a car and head to Cape Scott (just to see what’s there) and who has stopped to fill up my motorcycle at most of the small towns within a day’s riding distance. But where I excel at going, I lack at sitting and soaking. Holidays for me are a time to see all the things there are to see, and then write about them on the train to the next place. This drove me nuts when I was a kid, that we would vacation over and over again in the same place and stay for weeks at a time, but it’s come to be something I appreciate and it feels good to settle in to some of the places that I’ve been visiting for a long time (starting with Seattle) and settling in a bit farther into myself too.

Good friends

Spring means ducks and bunnies and flowers and rain and enough cat hair in my apartment to make an entire second cat but of course it also means new life. The Persian new year celebrates spring and renewal and I just think that makes so much more sense than trying to be resolute and rejuvenated in the middle of winter when everything is dead. I may adopt it. I LOVE spring and inevitably I change my Facebook picture to the one of me playing in the cherry blossoms and post something about the world being mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful and run around all giddy, but I found this quote recently that I just love:

“Spring, spring! Bytuene Mershe ant Averil, when spray biginneth to spring! When shaws be sheene and swards full fayre, and leaves both large and longe! When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, in the spring time, the only pretty ring time, when the birds do sing, hey-ding-a-ding ding, cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-wee, ta-witta-woo! And so on and so on and so on. See almost any poet between the Bronze Age and 1805.”
-George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying

because everyone loves spring!

Sunset

And you could see it on the island. There were many people out on the beach and in the waves, shedding winter. The goats weren’t on the roof in Coombs yet but the dogs were bounding up and down the beaches, full of joy and later in the week I saw grey whales on their migration north, a black bear out of hibernation and a transient mother orca with her calf.

Wild Pacific Trail

Surfing in Tofino felt like summertime, it was so nice out and we had a beautiful cabin with a hot tub and filled it with great people and lots of wine. I didn’t realize that it had been so long since I was surfing last and I was quickly reminded that I’m out of surfing shape but surfing is one of the only activities where you can have fun no matter how good you are. Even just bobbing in the water in the sun, it feels like a great day. But I decided take a lesson a few days later and not only was that very educational but my instructor was great and we had a fantastic time in the surf. We even saw a grey whale breaching.

Birch

Then the weather turned stormy and I sat on my deck at the Black Rock (or in the hot tub) watching waves pound the rocks over and over again. I read my books and wrote. I also tried to work in a hotel room without a desk but just never mind that, the rest of the week was great. I was hoping to be able to dig deep and think about some things on the horizon; my acceptance into grad school and the MDM program and how that would shake out with our move to Seattle and Adience, an art project I’m working on, etc. but all I realized was how burnt out I am. Whenever I tried to think about what I wanted to do, all that came to mind was surfing and diving (because I am almost never too tired for that), making bread and reading and walking dogs. So more resting is on the horizon, as well as a puppy.

Bamfield

For stage 3 of the adventure, I went to pick up Talia from Nanaimo so that we could go diving in Barkley Sound. When I was hiking around the Wild Pacific Trail in Ucluelet, I realized just how close we were to Bamfield (16 nautical miles across the bay) and that just made me laugh* to think about driving all the way across the island and back to almost the same spot but there you have it. The drive was beautiful in any case and although it’s an active logging road with several clearcut areas on it, there are also many stands of silver birch and some rivers and lakes. On our way out we saw some beautiful deer in the trees.

*Now that I’ve seen Revolution about how I’m not laughing anymore. Go and see it please, it’s important.

The cut

Diving in Barkley Sound has been on my radar for a while but there are no operators in the area any more so you have to team up with a trip going from somewhere else. We went with Amanda, a photographer I know, and Ogden Point and stayed in a cabin owned by the operator. The town is divided into east and west, with the west side only accessible by boat and has some interesting amenities – there’s the marine research station which puts on talks and events and a bunch of cat cabins built for the feral cat colony. It was my first time in Bamfield since I hiked the West Coast Trail in university and I had forgotten how beautiful it was. Of course back then I didn’t even get out into the sound, which is where I really fell in love. By the end of the weekend I was noting prices and locations of cabins for sale. It’s a bit far from Seattle but I’m still thinking about it.

Undersea garden

Underwater was even more beautiful. Incredible surge on the first dive so that when we were sometimes moving 6-9″ back and forth through the water, and rounding the rock to swim through the cut where the surf anemones are, we were flung through so quickly that all we saw was the wall of green. I was tempted to go around and do it again but surge in another direction pushed me too far up to the surface (this was a very shallow dive) and I saw a wall of mussels and kelp blocking my way back down again so I waited for Talia and we went over to the another rock for a similar ride. I described it afterwards as like being at the aquarium and Playland at the same time and kept giggling into my regulator I was having so much fun. The rest of the dives were considerably calmer (although far from flat) with still the same amount of colour. Pink and purple urchins up against blue and orange sunstars, bat stars, leather starts, lime green surf anemones, soft purple corals, pink and purple hydrocorals, iridescent blue seaweed, green eelgrass and red-tinged kelp, huge abalone, lurid orange scallops, nudibranchs the size of rabbits and so many more things.

Orcas

For dinner the first night we had a moose roast (my first time eating moose) and then we were back out again in the morning for more of the same underwater splendours. A huge sea lion came and played with us for a while, jumping completely out of the water three times after we had surfaced to see where we were at, and then on our way to the next dive site, we encountered the orcas and spent some time with them before moving on. In every photo of me coming out of the water, I have a big grin on my face. It was just so incredible and I can’t wait to go back. Our captain described the sound as a place where you could dive every day for a year and still not dive the same site twice (see my earlier comment about buying a property there).

Beautiful BC

A friend described it as a perfect B.C. vacation (especially if I could have snuck in a trip to Whistler!) and it was just so wonderful to spend that much time out on the water surrounded by amazing beauty with some great people. I’m very grateful.

Here are all of the photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157633215145771/