2017

I love the yearly recap so much, and I love how hard it is to choose only as many adventures as will fit in a 3×3 grid! Last year was tough in a lot of ways but mind-blowingly amazing more often than not and I accomplished a lot of life list items that I will spend this year – going to be a quiet one – mulling over. Before all of the excitement happened, things were just a little bit shitty. My office closed down and most of my team was laid off, but I was kept on and had the privilege of working from home all winter / heading to LA every 6 weeks or so.

That was fun until my dog, Tyler, had to go through two ACL surgeries on his back legs, complete with PTO exercises and weekly water treadmills. And then I crashed my motorcycle, and while I escaped with only a busted finger and damaged knee, it meant that I was sitting out of most of my winter sports and activities.

But! Then I quit my job and went to India, by way of Vancouver (to visit my mom and sister and to check out some new cocktail bars), Montreal (to visit my friends), Ottawa (to do some business at the embassy), Toronto (to visit more friends), and finally London (to wander the British Museum and leave my computer at my UK office).

India is a place I have been wanting to visit for a long time but have listened as so many people tried (and succeeded!) to dissuade me. This time even I wasn’t sure I was going because I had my bag packed but I still didn’t have the India portion booked (and was still working remotely) when I was 3 weeks into being on the road.

India did not disappoint. Random people approached me daily to tell me that I have a good heart and that I’m a lucky one – don’t I know it! I was able to spend the day with an elephant and fed her banana sandwiches to her heart’s content, rode a camel who tried to still a kiss while I got a selfie, showed videos of my dog playing in the snow to young boys in the desert while we drank chai and listened to the sand blow around outside, wandered down to the “back” end of the Taj Mahal where I hung out with security guards / ate free dinner at a temple and was ultimately coaxed out into the boat that takes women home from the temple, so I could see the Taj Mahal at sunset from the water (stunning but even better were my new friends who chatted with me as if we spoke the same language and hugged and kissed me like we were old friends after a crossing that maybe took 8 minutes). And then in Varanasi I met a friend who, after the mother Ganges festival, took me on a tour of the “hidden” places – an ashram of gurus, a secret temple to Durga and finally a “ruined” temple in the abandoned palace that looks over the Ganges which one will find (after crawling through the broken door and through corridors I wouldn’t have attempted on my own) is still very much in use and has regular visitors. Plus so many other amazing bits that will stay with me always.

For the rest of the summer, I spent as many days in the garden or outside with the dogs as I could before I headed out again for about 5 weeks, riding my motorcycle through Washington, Oregon and BC (Cascadia, yo!) and then Arkansas (!!!), visiting friends and family. And only then did I tuck in and start looking for a job, landing at Nordstrom just before it was time to back up again and head to Ecuador (a trip booked a loooooong time ago) where I rode a motocycle through the Andes, dove with marine iguanas, hammerhead sharks, and Mola mola, then camped out in the Amazon for almost a week with monkeys and giant river otters and an insane amount of tropical birds.

Wishing you all the best and lots of love to you and yours for the next roll around the arbitrary calendar! 😘 Happy New Year!

City of Angels

Los Angeles

I’ve been down to LA a few times this year and seems like I’ll probably be back again. At first I was dismayed but I have found myself loving it. It’s a cool city.


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.

Socorro

fish

A long time ago I saw an IMAX movie about diving in Mexico where the diver came face to face with a giant manta. It glided around him effortlessly – even though it was more than 20 feet across – and fearlessly. That experience lodged itself deeply in my subconscious and my life list plan and after a scouting trip to Cabo San Lucas, much planning and saving and waiting, we were off to the Revillagigedo Islands (better known as Socorro after the largest island) with Big Fish Expeditions this past March.

wave

We had packed and re-packed our bags, trying to find the balance between bringing everything we might need and keeping the bags under the weight limit, and we had practiced saying Revillagigedo over and over again but nothing could have prepared us for flying into Cabo on Spring break *and* St. Patrick’s day. “Plane’s late, we’re doing shots!” and “Has anyone seen my passport?” were both things we heard even before boarding (a guy vomiting off of a second floor balcony at our hotel was something we heard much later).

I despised Cabo the last time we were there but we were only in town for one day before setting off on the next leg of our journey – almost 400 km out to an island chain that we wouldn’t even be able to set foot on. Adventure time!

Sharks

As we approached the island, boobies and other sea birds started to appear and then humpback whales with their calves – teaching them how to breach and tail slap – and then a manta ray and then a silky shark. This is from the BOAT, mind you. Amazing animal sightings and we hadn’t even gotten wet yet.

We came for the giant mantas but after a couple of checkout dives at the Canyon (on San Benedicto) we headed over to Roca Partida – “Split Rock” aka Disneyland for Divers, aka Heaven Under Water – and over the next 2 days found whitetip reef sharks (with some obviously pregnant females) crammed onto the ledges carved out of the rock , Galapagos sharks, silvertip sharks, hundreds of scalloped hammerhead sharks, some tuna and THEN a whale shark (a couple of months earlier than expected for the area) and then finally, yes, there was a manta. There were also lots and lots of fish. Through it all we could the humpback whales singing their hearts out. Like I said, The Happiest Place on Earth (or at least Underwater).

Whale shark

The first manta we saw was flat black, like a Stealth Bomber, with silvery remoras stuck to the top side. Then a larger black and white one came in and checked us out but it was a bit like being in a three ring circus with the sharks and the whale shark and the mantas so it wasn’t until the next day at Cabo Pearce (on Socorro Island) that we had our first proper encounter with them.

Dolphins

But first there were dolphins. I thought the crew was joking when he said the dolphins showed up at 8 AM sharp, like greeters at Walmart but when we arrived at the shark cleaning station, hanging onto rocks in the strong current, they suddenly appeared behind us, clicking and chirping. There were probably about 20 of them and unlike when we dove with them in Cabo Pulmo a few years ago, these guys came close and stuck around. Over the next few days we dove with dolphins 4 or 5 times and each time they were curious and unafraid, playing with each other and cruising around to see what we were all about. What an unexpected treat!

Giant manta

Like the dolphins, the mantas were also curious about us and came in close to check us out at Cabo Pearce (on Socorro Island) and The Boiler on San Benedicto. The Boiler is a beautiful site even without any pelagic creatures in it but when the mantas started showing up they were between 12 – 20 feet across, gliding majestically and hovering near the divers in order to look at us. Several times I had my camera in front of me to take a photo and the manta would hang out until I had lowered it, recognizing that it wasn’t my eye. Incredible! And then they would swim through the bubbles, coming close enough that I was eye to eye with the remora fish stuck to their bellies more than once. The mantas come to the area for cleaning stations where Clarion Angel fish clean them of the parasites that they pick up (and the fish do such a good job of this that they nibbled at my hair a couple of times too!) but they largely ignored the fish in favour of bubbles and a sometimes the individuals would even follow us up to our safety stop and then to the surface. At one point, it seemed like a large female was trying to follow us out of the water – she had a wing out of the water as we climbed into the Zodiac and then continued to follow us. It’s pretty hard not to anthropomorphize that kind of behaviour and we were just in awe…grinning for days.

Manta ray

In between manta encounters we watched the sea birds play in the wind and humpback whales teaching their calves to breach (as well as other whale behaviour) in the bays around the boat. So cute as they tried to emulate their mothers and only sometimes got it right! At one point the wind was up and the swim grid of our boat was slapping the water pretty hard. In response, a humpback calf started slapping its tail against the water – a form of non-vocal communication in the whales – and did about 20 slaps before diving back into the water. We took the Zodiacs out a couple of times to free dive with whales and got to see a mother and a calf up close a couple of times. They are absolutely stunning creatures, and also staggeringly large – with one twitch of a tail they were out of sight almost instantly.

Dolphins

As the week went on, the dives kept getting better and better and the trip more and more unbelievable. I caught myself saying greedy things like, “it would be cool to see a hammerhead today since we haven’t seen one in a couple of days,” and then laughing into my regulator when my wish came true every time. Matt and I agreed several times that we were going to have to find a way to come back every year – until we realized that we had had an exceptionally good time of it and probably wouldn’t be so lucky on every trip.

But still, I can’t wait to go back. It was everything I hoped it would be and so much more. The crew was excellent, the food was amazing, ship was great, our group of new friends were just awesome, the animals were absolutely incredible…even the weather was perfect. A trip of a lifetime, to be sure. ¡Hasta luego, Socorro! See you again real soon.

Manta ray

Here are the rest of the photos:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157644447318893/

And here is the official trip report from Big Fish: http://bigfishexpeditions.com/Socorro_2014.html

Desert

 

Hawai’i: Maui and Kona

Flying

Hawaii was nice. How can Hawaii not be nice?! Unlike Kiev and Prague, this trip has been on the books for a while – it was Matt’s pick after we got back from the Bahamas last winter and he has especially been looking forward to going somewhere beachy and warm so a quick trip to paradise to get in some sunshine, downtime and great diving was just so nice.

Hawaii

It had been a long time since I was last in Hawaii last and probably a decade for the time before that, but my grandmother used to live in Makaha on Oahu part time and so we went what seemed like often when we were kids. I remember falling asleep and waking up to the sound of the ocean, crawling the beach to collect little knobs of coral and digging big pits (instead of castles) in the sand. When we were still too small to swim in the surf my my grandmother used to hold us and body surf us through the waves until our homemade swimsuits were full of sand. When we came inside, she would cut up fresh papaya for a snack and these things must have made an impact because I have never lost my love of the sea and fresh fruit.

Honoloa Beach

Matt had never been to Hawaii so we split the difference between Maui (which I thought he would like best) and Kona (where I wanted to go on the manta ray night dive) and that worked out well except that we both wanted to spend more time in both places. Ah well, next time.

Honokowai

MAUI

I was pleasantly surprised to find Lahaina less horribly touristy than I remembered (although we did have a couple of terrible meals there and why does every restaurant or retail shop in Hawaii seem to have a T-shirt for sale?) but we were still happy to be staying in quiet, tiny Honokowai, with a lush garden in front of our condo and the ocean working its endless magic steps away from our door. The first night after we got settled in to the condo we went and sat by the ocean until we lost all the light and could only hear the waves lapping at the seawall beneath our feet.

And then went to bed because we had a 4 AM wake up call to go and see the sunrise on Haleakala. Diving and flying gets complicated on an archipelago with 10,000 ft peaks so we decided to get the heights over with first thing and booked in our diving after that.

Haleakala

Thankfully we had the time change on our side because it actually didn’t seem that bad when we were stumbling around getting dressed. The summit is a polar region and we hadn’t packed accordingly so I just wore all the warm things I had; a t-shirt, my rash-guard, a paper-thin windbreaker…and flip flops. Matt had said so many times leading up to the trip that he just wanted to sit under a tree and read that I hadn’t even bothered to bring shoes or socks. That’ll be my lesson learned.

 

Haleakala

The last time I climbed Haleakala I made it about an hour’s hike into the valley before I was overcome by altitude sickness. I didn’t know what it was, just that I felt like I was moving through toothpaste and my boyfriend was getting farther and farther away no matter how hard I tried to keep up. Finally I just sat down next to an alien-looking tree and cried. We eventually figured out what was going on but then we still had to climb all the way back up to the visitor’s centre. It wasn’t fun and I wasn’t anxious to repeat it so I made Matt go slowly and stop whenever there was a pullout which made the two hour trip drag. By the time we got the to summit, the morning light had illuminated the clouds and brought some definition into the crater. Several people had assembled, wearing whatever warm things they could collect from their rooms – beach towels and house robes were common – and I was not the only one with toes showing! What a motley crew we looked like to greet the rising sun!

Walterses

Haleakala means “House of the Sun” and in Hawaiian history, the summit was only accessible to priests. It’s easy to see why it was considered a sacred space. We were on top of the world, high above the clouds and the light reflecting off of them and into the moon-like crater was incredible. Through the occasional break we could see all the way to the sea and in the distance far below us the West Maui mountains that had seemed so large when we drove past that morning.

I’m not normally one for sunrises but when there is in fact something magical in watching the first ray of sunshine break into the day and even more so when a park ranger chants a mele oli” (chanted poem) in honour of it:

Haleakala sunrise mele oli

Dolphins

The next day we headed out to sea. After discussing with Lahaina Divers, we decided to do the Cathedrals – beautifully formed lava caves – off the coast of Lana’i and the hammerhead sharks dive off the coast of Moloka’i. Later we added a couple of dives on Maui to round it out but even before we got to our first dive site we were joined by a pod of 40-50 dolphins. They surrounded the boat when it slowed but as soon as the captain resumed speed they sped up excitedly to ride our bow waves then dropping back to leap through and do flips in the wake. I laughed out loud at the site of such pure and obvious joy – they are truly the puppies of the ocean.

Cathedral

The Cathedrals were as beautiful as I remembered and we got to see the rare albino black coral “chandelier” that hangs from the ceiling. It’s a testament to the dive shops in the area educating divers that it’s still intact…we saw much coral-kicking on this trip but at least the stony reef-building corals are a little heartier.

Fish

We were enjoying the chill diving so much that we decided to just stay on the boat for the afternoon dives too. That turned out to be an excellent idea because our last dive on at Mala Pier was one to remember!  It’s a collapsed pier so it has the air of a shipwreck with all the beams and boards piled on each other and provides some great swim-throughs for divers and/or hide-outs for turtles, sharks and schools of fish – we saw all of them as well as a squadron of spotted eagle rays.

Urchin

Perhaps because it’s a busy site also accessible from the shore, or perhaps because there were so many places to hide the creatures didn’t seem to be bothered by us in the slightest. One giant turtle kept a baleful eye on me while he surfaced for a breath but a moment later I turned around to see him swimming by right behind me. And I hurriedly snapped a photo of the eagle rays on the first pass, expecting them to bolt but they cruised by so many times afterwards that I got tired of pointing them out. Even the sharks were chill.

Matt

It’s a stunning dive site and I look forward to diving it again some day – hopefully at night.

Walterses

The next day we headed out to Mokuho’oniki Rock off the coast of Molokai to dive with hammerhead sharks. This was a life-list item for me so I was really happy that we were in Hawaii on a date that the shop was going out. They considered it an advanced dive so Matt had some detailed questions about depths and current and etc. but it turned out to be me who needed to be nervous because getting there involved crossing the dreaded Pailolo channel – Hawaiian for “crazy water.” In the briefing the captain warned that meds might help any people prone to seasickness on normal trips but on this one we were pretty much “f——“. Yikes!

Hammerhead

I wouldn’t pass up a chance to dive with hammers even if I had to be dragged behind the boat so we signed up anyways and it turned out to be not too bad at all. The first site of these majestic creatures made it all worth while anyways and we were lucky enough to see three hammerheads and a Galapagos shark gliding through the blue water on each dive, with two of them swimming along together on the last one. It was just so beautiful to watch and I only wish that we were a little bit closer or that the photos had turned out a little better but I think Matt got some video as well. At any rate, life list item #64 completed!

Degan

One drawback  of all that sun and salt is that my hair had almost no red in it by the end of the trip (more like a pinky coral colour) so I love this photo that Matt got of me underwater where I look like some kind of tropical fish (also showing off the new octo tattoo in its natural element!).

Jeep

Maui is pretty spread out so we spent a fair amount of time in the Jeep driving around. On one of the days that we were going to Lahaina there was an accident and way too much traffic on the road so we decided to just take the long way around the West Maui mountains and see what we could see. We had an Adventure-Mobile, after all.

Honoloa Beach

As we drove north from Honokowai we came up to stunning Honolua Beach where there is good surfing and snorkeling / diving on alternating days. Then the road narrowed and as we got into some seriously lush countryside we passed several signs that warned we were on a one lane highway (as if that wasn’t obvious) and that we had left the official roadway behind. We learned later that this was also the point you weren’t supposed to take the rental cars past but it was great to see the rugged coastline and rural communities up there and it took a lot less time than driving to Hana.

Driving

KONA

Life list item #67 was to do the manta ray night dive in Kona and it seems a bit incredible to check two things off in one week but we only had two days on the big island – one to do the manta ray night dive and one to get the nitrogen out of our bloodstreams before flying – so that meant we weren’t able to summit Mauna Kea or see the lava fields on Mount Kilauea or do the pelagic magic night dive… so while I may have checked some things off the list,  I’ve also added a few to it as well.

manta ray

The build up to the manta dive terrified me. The boat was full of both divers and snorkelers and no one seemed to have any idea what was going on but they were all doing it exuberantly. When we got to the dive site we found that we were not the only ones, but apparently one of several such boats all decked out with lights and surfboards rigged with PVC pipes ready to see some manta rays. The idea was for all 70 – 90 people to be in the water all at about the same time. Matt saw the incredulity in my eyes and asked out right, “this is going to be worth it, right?.” The dive master assured us that it would be but a few minutes later when he asked who was on their first night dive I thought it was a joke because I could not imagine putting new night divers into that chaos.  And then we were in the water, trying to keep one eye out for manta rays and another on our guide.

The idea is that the divers stay low to the ground and shine their lights up while the snorkelers hang on to the surfboards and shine their lights down. Plankton is attracted to the light and then the rays come to feed on it. It all started when a hotel (now the Sheraton) was shining lights into the bay for their night swimmers and noticed that the rays were gathering. While the hotel was closed for renos the site moved to the current location where we were diving but they seem to travel up and down the coast – we went to the hotel for dinner later and saw a couple of manta rays from the patio!

We only saw one manta ray on our dive – Eli, the same juvenile that we had seen on our check-out dive – and I found out later that the record number of rays they’ve seen there is 44,with the norm being somewhere between 17 – 20.  So I consider ourselves just a tiny bit screwed on the manta ray front but by the same token it was such a spectacular dive with an octopus and several trumpet fish and eels hunting off our lights and I also consider myself very lucky to have been so close to the manta ray so frequently during the dive. Many people didn’t see him at all.

Degan Walters

On our last day in Hawaii we didn’t have a lot of options. We couldn’t dive or go above 2000 feet (so no horseback riding or ziplining or summiting volcanoes), we didn’t have a car (so no plantation tours) and we needed our gear to dry (so no snorkeling) so as a pretty awesome last resort we walked into town and hung out at the Kona Brewing Company for lunch. We had been in love with the Big Wave golden ale since the day we landed in Maui but I tried a couple of blond and wheat variations and Matt dug into the IPAs and we were both pretty happy about that.

dog camp (1)

Riley was at Camp Good Dog for the first time and it seems like she may have had as much fun as we did.

Here are all of the photos from our trip:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157637717057644/with/10897388444/

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

summer

You know those summer days when you were a kid that stretched on an on? You would ride your bike to the store and then a friend’s house and entire days would pass where nothing happened except being hot. And then just when you thought you could not be more bored, it was time to go back to school and you instantly wanted to take back all the bad things you said about sitting around doing nothing. My summer was not like that at all. So much happened this past spring – we decided to move to and did all the prep for moving to Seattle and then deferred it until next year, I applied for and was accepted to the Masters in Digital Media program at the Centre for Digital Media in September, I went to Tofino for an epic spring break to go surfing and diving, and we got a dog and closed our company – that I planned a summer off to recover from the burnout.

I’m not very good at sitting around, I know this about myself, but I planned to hang out at the dog park every day and read books, except for the days that we went on hikes in the mountains and swam in lakes. It was going to be lazy, hot and glorious.

But let’s start with the basics – small white puppies can’t spend all day outside at the park. They get sunburnt and are too excited to sit on a blanket while I’m reading. They also don’t know how to swim and can’t go on hikes longer than an hour (although we did get in a couple of laps around Buntzen before I learned that). So I did a lot of reading, but it was mostly on patios close to home while she was having a nap. (Ah, the joys of being a new parent!)

I can’t blame it all on the pup though. I am an awful person to travel with if you like beach vacations. Before the tickets are even booked, I will inevitably have a long list of places I want to visit and have no problem zig-zagging across town or eating 2 or 3 lunches in order to fit it all in. So I should have known that faced with a vast expanse of summer days, I would get antsy and start finding exciting ways to fill them up. We went to puppy training and we learned to sail, I started Crossfit, deferred my MA until next year, took about twenty classes online, and read a lot of books.

We had some adventures too (see below). It was, in fact, glorious.

Summer

Diving Skookumchuck

So in June I went on a dive trip to Powell River with friends. We did a couple of dives in Mermaid’s Cove at Saltery Bay before heading to Egmont and doing some wreck, drift and wall diving at Agamemnon Channel, the wreck of the HMCS Chaudiere, and the rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. I find the mermaid statue (the star attraction of Mermaid’s Cove) to be a little creepy and for all the talk of Skookumchuck being some of the fastest water in the world, I think one of our dives in Browning Pass last year was faster but this was a fantastic trip.

Warbonnet

We were in the water with orcas not very far away (although we didn’t see them underwater), I got a chance to try out my new underwater camera that Matt had just bought me as well as to test out my new Deep and Wreck PADI diving specialties. The life out here is amazing and the hospitality at Porpoise Bay Charters is so homey and welcoming I could have easily stayed.

Barnacle

Here are the photos from the Powell River trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634176861753/

Temple

Visiting the International Buddhist Temple 

I was at a bit indecisive at the beginning of summer – get a dog or go travelling – but I figured with Matt working so hard getting a dog would be some joy (and pee!) that he could share. I was (and still am) hungry for travel though, so I took myself to Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple for a mini-adventure. It has the largest gold Buddha in North America and many beautiful murals and gardens and once inside, I really did feel transported. I would have loved to stay and read my book or meditate by one of the pools. There’s also a restaurant on site where you pay by donation and that was pretty exciting for me although they brought me way too much food.

Walterses

Riding Highway 20

In July we checked an item off of Matt’s life list – to ride Highway 20 through the Cascades to Osoyoos and then home through Manning Park. He wasn’t in it so much for the stunning mineral-rich turquoise lakes, beautiful wastelands of flooded river banks, mountains or valleys but rather for the sexy S-curves and the lack of stop lights. When I stopped to take a photo of the scenery, Matt took one of the road. It was hot but we were both so happy.

Osoyooos

We stopped for lunch in Winthrop, a delightful gold-towny surprise and then stayed in Osoyoos, which is much more of a dump than I remembered. “Are those real leathers?” the guy at the front desk asked when we checked in and then goggled a bit when we wrote “Ducati” on the vehicle registrar. Needless to say we had not made it up the valley to any of the wineries but we wouldn’t have had anywhere to put bottles anyways. – same problem with fruit from Keremeos – but we were just there for the road so next time we’ll stay in Winthrop and ride it all the way back too.

Keremeos

Here are the photos from our Highway 20 road trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634953729684/

Quadra Island

Visiting Quadra Island

We had tried and failed to go camping a couple of times so Matt finally found us a cabin on Quadra Island for the August long weekend. Quadra Island is pretty far away but in exchange for a bit of a car ride (which Riley would give half her breakfast for anyways), we got an enormous house (sleeps 10!) with an enormous patio, a hot tub and a bbq. Hell yes, this is the life! We were so stoked about it even before we saw how clear the water was (I could see urchins 60 ft down and REALLY regretted leaving my dive gear) and the porpoises playing in the channel or went canoeing out to our little island and exploring the bluffs. Riley was equally stoked about being able to run around outside by herself and explore under the deck and she did go in the canoe and in the water with a little coaxing but we weren’t there long enough to get the ‘city’ out of her – she still peed in the driveway every morning.

Walterses

We liked it so much that we’re planning on coming back next year, although it’s going to be even more of a slog from Seattle…we might have to come for a week. And I still want to go camping at some point.

Sea

Here are the photos from our Quadra Island trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157634951331674/

art

Nick Bantock Art Workshop

The next weekend found me on another ferry, this time to Sidney-by-the-Sea by the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. I went for an art workshop with Nick Bantock that was even more awesome than I could have imagined. It was less technique heavy than the workshops I’m used to with Jeanne Krabbendam but provided enough ideas and energy to get me started on several projects – which I will probably have to revisit in winter.

Browning Pass

Diving Browning Pass on the Mamro

I lasted about seven months after the last trip to Browning Pass before I had to book it again, this time on a liveabord. I wanted to go back with a camera but now I think I may just have to go back every year. I’ve been diving in some amazing warm water places but this has got to be one of my favourite places in the world, mist and mountains (and more orcas!) topside and a world or colour down below – corals and sponges covered in fish and invertebrates – stretching as far as the eye can see.

Undersea

There were only 6 of us on the boat which was nice and cosy. We had an opportunity to stop at Telegraph Cove  – an old whaling station – on the way up to Port Hardy and have a look through the museum. The whole town is on boardwalks around the cove and the museum has whale skeletons of all varieties. You think you understand how big whales are but it really hits home when you can stand inside a jaw with other people or use a vertebrae as a stool.

Whale vertebrae

Here are the photos from my Browning Pass dive trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635245601126/

wedding

Jenn & Jordan’s Wedding

And then even before my gear was dry we were off to Salmon Arm for Jenn & Jordan’s wedding. It was a beautiful ceremony with lots of lovely people in attendance and the rain just made it a little more interesting.

Here are the photos from the wedding and our trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157635239166625/

 

I had planned to settled in in September and get a job but Matt’s going to Europe for a couple of weeks so I’m going to tag along! We’re certainly going to need home for a rest after all this.

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/

the Bahamas

8482769222_79b2c0a9ad_h (1)

Boaters have a saying that if you’re lucky, you go to the Exumas when you die. Not only had I not heard that saying before we booked our trip, I hadn’t even heard of the Exumas. But after spending a week on board Blackbeard’s MV Morningstar, a 65″ sloop sailed by Captain Red and an excellent crew, I feel like there may be something to it. There are  365 cays and islands in the Exumas chain alone with any number of coves and reefs to explore – and yes, the water really is that colour.

photo

It was our first liveabord experience so we were a little startled when we saw that 29 people (23 guests – and all their gear – plus 6 crew) were going to be sharing such a small space but we soon got into the routine of getting up early, getting in the water, and exploring. By evening we were so spent from exercise, heat, fresh air and the early hour of darkness that it only took a beer or two to send us off to bed.

db

I would have liked to see some more and bigger sharks but it was a great trip and we had so much fun with our friends. It was an excellent intro into what it can be like at sea and on a liveabord, as well as some more diving experience for Matt. Some other firsts:

  • Matt’s first (and several more) shark sighting
  • Matt’s first time in a blue hole (below)
  • Our first time traveling with someone else, my awesome dive buddy Talia (who took that photo of me, above).

mw

It set the stage for some exciting trips that we’re already planning for next year but I’d also like to make it an annual thing where we travel somewhere warm with some awesome people and without any internet access. Here are all of the photos:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/degan/sets/72157632793337412/

walterses