Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christ, Christmas, and Traditions

For many people December is a busy and festive time of year.  As a christian I proudly celebrate Christmas and love the reason why we celebrate.  The birth of Christ was, and still is, a huge even to put it lightly.  It is played out across many communities across the globe.  Now I don't claim to be well traveled or cultured so take this next statement for what it's worth.  The best reiteration of Christ birth is done by the St. Mark's Church at their "Living Manger" and it is coming up December 18th.

I have watched this event for the last 10 years.  It has become a family tradition where my wife and I invite our family to park in our drive way and walk a couple hundred meters down the street to where they host the "Living Manger."  Afterwards we all come back and have some hot chocolate as the kids play rambunctiously in the back bedrooms.  The chill in the air, the smell of the tree mixed with slopped hot chocolate, laughter, and music, it is a family tradition where we put Christ at the center of our thoughts, where family is important, and where memories are made.

Not only have I taken in this great event, I have also written about it here before.  Check them out if you want to know more about the event.  I encourage you to take it in December 18th with two showings in the early evening.

Corner Christmas Carols

An Alabama Rockwell Christmas Town

Living Manger

Friday, December 2, 2016

A Wandering Work Day

I am pretty fortunate to be able to work at a job I love.  It is different, not only every day, but every minute of that day.  Just like maritime weather my job continuously offers up something new.
A sign post from the Alphabet Ecology Trail
One project that we've been working on is an "Alphabet Ecology Trail" for a private school.  It is a trail slash board game where the students can explore their relationship with nature.  Using the letters of the alphabet and simple things found in nature we have developed a great learning experience.  Watching the kids engage while hiking this trail was a true blessing as I witnessed my humble idea come to life and the expression on the kids faces was as rewarding as any salary or pay check.
Getting ready to grab a water sample on the Kennebecasis.

This morning I was standing in the middle of the Kennebecasis River collecting water samples as a light snow fell.  The samples help identify threats or changes to the water quality of the river.  That in turn will allow us to better address threats, changes, and pollution.

If that isn't diverse enough, this afternoon I was writing proposals.  In order to complete projects I have to successfully apply for funding.  That means lots of proposals and writing.  It also means that my success depends on my ability to put good proposals together.  It leaves me with a strong sense of self dependence and I like that, however, it isn't for everyone as it can be stressful when the funds start to diminish.

Working for a non-profit has many rewards, none of which is the salary.  The idea of making a difference to the community you work and live in is an amazing opportunity.  It is a concept that seems to be harder to find in communities now a days.  In the Sussex area, where I live, it is common place though and those in the region should feel blessed to have as many volunteers and non-profit organizations working in their region.  As a non-profit manager, the organization I work for contributes a good deal of money to the local economy and we prefer to keep our money in the local economy.  I think most NPOs have the same ideal.  I only make this statement as some people would like to discard the value of NPOs without truly understanding not only the economic value we provide to the community we serve but also the social and (in my case anyway) ecological values.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reconnecting with an Old Friend: FFP 2016

In the beginning there were 8, then it fell to 6.  Shortly it was down to five.  Before we actually started it was down to 4.  In the end there were only two people left.  This might be a strong indicator of how difficult the Fundy Footpath truly is.  Of the 8 that expressed interest in completing a thru-hike on the rugged 50+/-km trail, 6 had been across it before.  The two others had only done sections.  Now to be fair I have to explain how people dropped off the list.  One ended up with a fractured heal before we started while one had a family commitment come up.  Another candidate fell very sick the week of the hike and decided it would not be wise, while another got called into work during our expected time frame.  That left four to start the hike.

My brother and I have each hiked the FFP multiple times end to end.  At one point in our lives we were hiking it annually but as we tried to remember the last time we hiked it, we were surprised to realize it had been 4 years since we had completed a thru-hike.  This prolonged absence would soon show itself.  Starting the hike with us would be my brother's two boys who had hiked the trail with us the last time we completed it.

Martin Head appears just as you prepare to cross Goose Creek.
We got away on a Friday morning, as planned, and arrived at Pointe Wolfe in Fundy National Park at around 9:30am.  Our goal for that day was to hike to Goose Creek and tent near the beach overlooking Martin Head.  Our long absence from the trail showed itself several times.   Personally I struggled more than I ever have and I even stumbled 4 times through the day.  I had scrapes and bruises like never before but I still felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend; maybe an old friend I had neglected for too long but a friend nonetheless.

Like me, my old friend had changed as well.  We were pleasantly surprised to see the newly routed high tide trail at Goose River.  This new side trail allowed us to avoid the mud flats and having to rush to beat the rising tides at Goose River.  We came down into the valley at a small tributary and the new perspective was a great addition to the trail system within Fundy National Park.

A moment for reflection on the FFP.
I wasn't the only one struggling, the boys were struggling too and one was suffering some severe blisters.  A discussion that night in camp led to a decision the next morning that the two boys would pull out at Martin Head.  We hiked the beach from Goose Creek to Martin Head as the tide was making the turn.  While we hiked we were able to reach a ride home for the boys, 16 and 20 years old, and my brother opted to stick it out and continue to hike with me.  The need to re-organize packs and contact rides meant once we crossed Quiddy River, we were going to have to hike back to the trail and not navigate the beach to Telegraph Brook as hoped.

We had made this bushwhack through the birch and spruce stands before and despite the steep uphill climb we made our way back to the white blazed trail.  Before long we were headed downward toward the mouth of Telegraph Brook.  We paused leisurely there and enjoyed a good snack and the waves, glad we had made the choice to hike the trail as the beach was pretty much impassable now.  In my brother's words "Let's not be the idiots in the paper who have to be rescued from the cliffs", and we were satisfied with our decision.

A smoother part of the FFP.
The rest of the day would be a tough slog as we still had Hunter, Wolfe, and Rapidy Brooks to go in and out of before we reached Little Salmon River.  We buried our heads and climbed out of Telegraph Brook saying very little until we reached the plateau.  We were finding our hiking legs now and so conversation started to pick up.  When we dropped into Wolfe Brook we shed our packs for another rest.  We explored a campsite which was new to us and we thought maybe in future trips it would be a good place to stop.  It was surprising to both of us how many changes had occurred in the last four years.  Many new campsites were visible and we wondered how the ecosystem and trail were with the more intense use.

A new bridge greeted us at Rapidy Brook, although we knew it was there as we had seen photos through social media.  It was here that we caught up with some fellow hikers we had met the night before.  As they moved on, Luke and I sat and filtered some water and explored the falls and rapids in this torrent of a stream.  We then buried our heads once again and made our way out of this steep valley.

When we reached the valley bottom of the Little Salmon River, I felt a wave of complete exhaustion come over me. I took a few minutes and sat in the shade and snacked on some bars and before long I was well enough to start setting up camp.  The cool waters of the Little Salmon River ran clear and I sat and watched for some trout while I filtered water for my supper.  I had a goulash on my menu and ate well as the sun started to drop below the steep valley wall.  Luke was in his element as we made a bonfire and hosted a cool couple from northern NB.  He made hot chocolate and a hot juice drink which went over real well and he made sure the fire stayed stoked.  We could have sat at the fire well past midnight but we all knew we had some tough climbs ahead the next day.

Our streak of good weather continued on day three and we enjoyed the estuary of the Little Salmon before we started the long, burning climb up the west side of the valley. I have always loved the plateaus along this stretch of the trail and the big birch trees that provided much needed shade on this day.  Before we knew it we were sitting on the shore again at Cradle Brook and we each decided not to sit too long in the sun.  That was a hard task because we really wanted to explore the rocks and the beach.  However we donned our packs and started, what I consider the toughest climb on the trail.  It is also one of the most rewarding as you can sit and the top and look out over the ground you just covered.
Our tent site at Seeley Beach.

The trek down into Seeley Beach seemed to fly by and felt easy.  My hiking legs were back under me and at that point I felt whole again and my "old friend" and I were getting along great.  As I stepped out of the woods onto Seeley Beach the sun shone incredibly warm and it reflected off the Bay.  I instantly took a few minutes to sit on the beach and take it all in.  We made our way down to where the brook runs into the Bay and made camp up on a shelf in the woods.  This location also had changed since my last visit as there were many more places to set up my tent.  We sat once again on the beach but this time we sat up quite late as we knew our next day would be a short one.  Conversation with two couples who were on the beach that night was enjoyable and the aura of trail magic was wrapped thickly in the moment as I made connections with everyone.

On day four we woke up and dallied around as the sun rose higher.  We stepped off the beach at around 9:30 and headed towards what I call football rock.  The stretch between Seeley Beach and Long Beach is a more leisurely hike but at Long Beach reality starts heavily creeping in.  Hiking can have that effect.  Our moods were lifted as we approached Big Salmon River and discovered our Dad coming in to meet us.  He had been sick most of the week leading up to the hike and had to back out.  The fact that he came in to meet us meant a great deal to both my brother and I, even though we're both 40+ year old men.

The trail is like that.  It will make grown adults appreciate all that is around them from both a social and ecological perspective.  As I walked across the suspension bridge over the Big Salmon River I looked down on the river and simply noted, I don't want to wait another four years to get out and hike a trail again. Check out the video for some more on our hike.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Invasive Technique

I work as a watershed practitioner.  My job is to understand, monitor, conserve, and restore the Kennebecasis River.  The non-profit group I work with has a great understanding of this exceptional waterway and have taken a logical and practical approach to reach their goal.  We do not want to manage a fishery but rather work with nature and help Her combat man-made issues or problems.  The goal is to create a balance where nature and man can live in harmony.  Unfortunately there are some occasions when man tries to manipulate nature and creates more problems.

One such issue occurs when we introduce a preferred game fish to an area with no consideration as to the impacts that species might have on the native stocks.  This is occurring right now in the Kennebecasis River with small mouth bass.  While this game fish is a worthy adversary for anglers, it is this same tenacity that creates issues for native brook trout and Atlantic salmon in the Kennebecasis.  I don't want to argue about pros and cons and the watershed group I work for will continue to manage the watershed and not fish and if the SMB take hold then we carry on.  The situation has come to a point, however, where the Department of Natural Resources, whose job it is to manage New Brunswick sport fisheries, have made some changes to the management of the small mouth bass within our river and this is important information no matter what side of any argument you are on.

A small mouth bass caught on the Kennebecasis River.

To insure you understand these changes I encourage you to learn how to identify small mouth bass and know the rules in your area.  Anglers on the Kennebecasis River, provided you are above tidal waters, can now keep up to five bass which is a large increase over previous years.  Further, the season for small mouth bass has been extended as well.  You can find out about the regulations for your part of New Brunswick by checking out the Fish NB Guide.  The Kennebecasis is part of the Lower Saint John drainage and in the 2016 guide can be found on page 28.

As an angler I have enjoyed a few evenings where I have targeted small mouth at a local pool, the photo above is a fish I managed to take on a blue smurf.  I have also managed to hook a few fall fish as well in the same reach.  Both species can be fairly large and entertaining to catch on a fly rod.  If you can get the SMB to take a top water fly...that is fun.  Remember that if you're fishing the mainstem Kennebecasis that it is fly fishing waters only and the river between McCully Stn Road and Portagevale is also catch and release.  Typically you won't catch small mouth up that high on the river... yet...and this new management approach implemented by DNR should allow trout and salmon to maintain a balance with the small mouth bass. I will likely try to do my part to help maintain the balance of the fishery and the watershed.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Last Minute Parties are the Best

My brother Luke casting his first flies over Trout.
There are times when you throw a party last minute and you have the best time. Those parties are always memorable. This evening at 5:10 I made a call to 2 good friends and told them I was going fishing. An hour later we were deciding what waters we wanted to cast on.

For my brother it would be a learning experience as he had only been fly fishing once before. For my buddy Troy and I we were glad to be on the river together again. My brother, Luke, was quickly hooked on fly as he caught his first trout within 1minutes. Ironically, when he did, Troy and I were in the trees.

As we cast over a large pool, the sun slowly fell behind the trees. The air temperature changed too and a mist formed over the water. The fish started rising all over and things got exciting. Each of us landed and released a number of healthy brook trout and smiled every time.

On a turn in the river a beaver swam leisurely as I cast my fly into his pool. I couldn't believe how calm he was. It wasn't until I hooked into a heavy 10" brookie that the beaver slapped his tail and took cover.

As the sun fell further we reluctantly decided to start our hike back to the truck. All of us wearing smiles that could readily be seen in the fading light.
Troy keeping the trout wet as he prepares to let it go.

Thanks for the party boys. Tight lines.

Healthy Brookies like this were caught and released all evening.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Creating Tradition

A lot has been written about traditions.  People find themselves in one of two opinions about traditions.  Some firmly stand behind doing the same thing over and over again.  They believe if it works or has been successful then why change or why not do it again.  Others think that tradition is safe and that it lacks challenge or ambition.  For me, I fall in the first of these mind sets.  I like creating memories and building family traditions.  My parents created traditions for my siblings and I and it provided me with a sense of family, security, and love and I want that for my children.

I've written before about how the Whalen's have a long affinity for bonding during fishing and  hiking trips and so it should be no surprise that one tradition I am try to build for my son is a birthday fishing trip.  For the last four years I have taken him and some of his friends on an overnight camping/fishing trip.  This year was no different.  Words can't adequately describe the trip or the pride and emotions it conjured up within me.

The fishing was slow to say the best but the laughs and memories were plentiful.  What is really cool is that this tradition frequently falls on the Father's Day weekend and I couldn't think of a better way to spend Father's Day.  Even better, my Dad has been with us on every trip so far. Here is hoping this is a tradition that continues for years to come.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Little Salmon River Wandering

The Fundy Footpath has long been my get away .  The place where I go to get away from it all.  My kids are now old enough to share a small portion of the Footpath with.  My Dad and I led my two kids and my nephews into Little Salmon River via the Dustin Brook access trail this past weekend and the kids handled it like pros.

The weather was awesome and we enjoyed the protected natural area around Little Salmon River.  We threw stones, explored the tidal marsh, and wandered up the river to the Eye of the Needle.  The water was cool but we bravely waded into it a number of times to access the Eye.  The trilliums were numerous and I loved seeing the different hues they possessed.  The two days flew by and before I was ready we were hiking back out to the trail head.  I'm sure the kids were ready to go home as they put on approximately 20kms over the two days.  I'm super proud of them and can't wait to share more of the FFP with them.

Here is a quick video of the adventure.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dusin Brook Access

I have been trying to share some of my Google maps lately but for some reason folks can't seem to get them.  I thought I would try it through here.  If you came here hoping for some profound tidbits on the Fundy Footpath you might be dissappointed.  Stay tuned though because I'm taking 4 kids below the age of 10 to the FFP this weekend and that could offer some entertaining material.

Here is the map....I hope.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hey all!  Sometime ago I was asked to contribute my ideas towards a project on the Fundy Footpath.  The project team has completed their efforts and are inviting folks out to view the series.  Below is the invite I recieved and I want to share it with you.  They have made it easy for folks in this region to take in a viewing.

You are all invited to a FREE test screening of a web doc series called Surviving the Fundy Footpath. This six-part series follows Bruce Persaud, a city slicker from Toronto, with zero camping experience, as he attempts to complete one of Canada's toughest multi-day hikes. 

There are five events in total between May 25th and July 6th. All of the events are on our facebook page. Please reserve your tickets via eventbrite - Links to each show follow.  

The series was directed shot and edited by Craig Norris of VideoBand productions, in partnership with The Fundy Biosphere Reserve and the Fundy Hiking Trail Association.

The best way to support this community building project is simple -Bring a friend and spread the word!!

We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wandering Disney - Part 2

Our first full day at Disney World was going to be spent at Disney Hollywood Studios.  Despite our long day the day before, we awoke early and made the bus ride to the theme park.  The park was offering extended early hours for those staying on resorts so we wanted to get there early to avoid some lines without having to use our fast passes.  I guess with that you have my first tip in this entry.  Check which parks have those extended hours and implement those in your planning.  My wife nailed all these through out the week and maximized our enjoyment.
We made sure to spend some down time relaxing in the shade.

By taking advantage of the early opening for us at Hollywood Studios we were able to get on "Star Tours" without waiting in line, not once but twice.  The second time, my daughters photo was used to mimic a Jedi spy on this Star Wars themed ride.  We had a blast with the electronically generated screen and simulator ride that made you feel like you were a passenger in a star freighter.  I honestly think that was Michelle's favorite ride of the week. By the end of the day we had enjoyed this ride a total of 4 times and we came back another day and rode it once more.

Throughout the day we saw Disney characters throughout the park.  To Michelle's disappointment our kids were not really into getting their pictures with the characters....well almost.  Chewbacca was a different story.  Everyone wanted to hang out with the oversized wookiee so we waited a few minutes in line to shake his hairy hand and have our pics taken.  Seeing my 6 year old daughter gaze in awe and wonder made the wait worth it.

As we left Chewie behind we had some time to kill before our next fast pass window opened.  We strolled leisurely through the main part of the park (don't forget to get your park maps), and I took in the landscaping, trees, and structures.  I was amazed at how everything seemed to be placed with a purpose.  A tree to block the unsightly power panel, and false wall to cover a girder that supported a ride or a shrub filled garden to cover a staff entry into a restaurant.  Every park seemed so well planned and I couldn't help but be impressed, despite my inclinations against the extreme commercialism.  So to that I have to say, while there I never once felt like I was being sold anything I didn't want.  Not once did a vendor holler at me and ask me to buy a trinket or toy.  Not once did a cashier try to up sell me.  Walt I was impressed and you won me over.

The weather was hot at Disney but not as hot as the action at the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular.
We wandered towards the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and as they prepared the crowd and the stage for the show we chatted and smiled broadly.  This cool show gave you an insight into how action films use stunt men and choreography to make the movies look real.  Both guys and girls can take and give punches.  It was really cool to watch as they explained the stunts in a movie I watched tens of times growing up.  Indy is just as cool now as ever, just ask my son who was blown away by the explosions and stunts.

From the fast paced action at the stunt show we slowed the pace and checked out the dining before taking in the Muppets 3D show.  This would be my first cartoon show and when I left the show I felt like a kid.  Growing up I loved the Muppets, especially Fozie, and this show made them come alive.  The 3D stage animation made Gonzo's nose tangible and Miss Piggy never looked so fine...I mean for a pig.

After that it was off to the "Rockin Roller Coaster" and the ride of our life.  I am a country music fan for the most part but in my younger days, I was into the hair bands and this included Aerosmith, which formed the basis of this ride.  As we approached the loading area for the ride we watched as a group in front of us took off.  I suddenly feel a bit of apprehension as the speed at which the ride took off was scary.  My fear wasn't for myself but more for the kids.  I was worried they would chicken out.  Do I feel silly.  The kids climbed in and the ride took off like a rocket.  Oh and I forgot to mention, you go upside down in this ride over to the Aerosmith show.  Both kids screamed in a high pitched, excited tone through the whole ride and Michelle and I were both right there with them.
One of my favorite Disney characters is "Lightning McQueen"

Before leaving for the night we watched the "Lights Motors Action" stunt show.  The impressive theater held lots of people who all sat on the edge of their seats as a number of stunt car drivers maneuvered cars at a high speed through a small staged villa.  The star of the show for the kids though was Lightning McQueen...that was until one of the stunt cars jumped across a gap between two trucks.  It was a great show and a great way to end our day.

We made our way back to the resort and spent some time at the pool.  The ability of kids to make friends was easily visible here as our kids quickly made a friend from Minnesota.  The young boy and my son quickly bonded and they would meet up a couple more times.  After over an hour in the pool the kids were tired and we crashed with high expectations for the next day.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Self Discovery While Fishing

There has long been some controversy between fly anglers and bait fisherman and I know that for the most part it is just anglers ripping on anglers.  Fishing is fishing right?  Wrong.
My first few fly casts on Trout Creek this season.

As I waded down through a stream tonight I suddenly realized something.  I was casting my bait line and it suddenly hit me.  As I reeled in my 8th brookie, I found my self reminiscing about my childhood.  When I came off the water I felt like I was 18 again.
One of the larger small stream brookies I caught on bait.  This beautiful fish was just shy of 10"
The night before I was out fly fishing and while I didn't have the same youthful exuberance I did have a great sense of tranquility and peace.  I felt mature somehow, maybe relaxed or reserved.  It was a completely different feeling than what I felt tonight with the bait rod in hand.

It might be just me.  I had a great childhood of digging worms and casting for trout so when I feel that tug of a fish on the line my memories instantly take me to my childhood.  I took on fly fishing as a challenge and as a way to challenge myself in my sport of choice.  With  the difference in how I undertook each it only stands to reason that each would have a different impact on my moods.
Fishing isn't always about the angling, sometimes you just have to take in the surroundings.
 What makes you smile when on the water?  If you love casting bait then cast away and if your preferred arsenal is flies then fire away.  Either way, get out there and enjoy the fishing.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Wandering Disney - Part I

As I stated in my last entry, my family and I recently went to Disney World.  Now when I say my family and I, I should clarify, there were 17 of us.  My wife's siblings and their families all made the journey and made the trip that much more memorable.

We arrived in Orlando on a Saturday evening and despite being tired, our excitement pushed us to leave the resort and take the short bus ride to the Magic Kingdom.  We wanted to meet up with some of the family that arrived before we had, which was actually everybody.  Not only that, how could you wait with the "Dreams" right down the street.

Right away I was impressed with the security presence and the number of staff who all worked to make our trip enjoyable and safe.  From the bus drivers, security guards, vendors, and janitorial staff, all of them were friendly and very helpful.  As we made our way from the bus to the park gates, as first timers, we got a bit overwhelmed and uncertain as to where to go.  No worries there were lots of people willing to point us in the right direction.

Once through the gates there was almost an instant moment of awe as we stared open mouthed down Main Street Disney to the Magic Palace.  Swarms of people, with cameras all clicking, and broad smiles, joyously and courteously made there way down the street.  We took the mandatory picture and then wondered "Where to first?"

Now for my first tip, if you're going to Disney, get the maps of each of the Parks you plan to visit and familiarize yourself with them.  We had maps and this made navigating the parks, including the Magic Kingdom, so much easier.  Our first stop was going to be Frontier Land where we had fast passes for "Splash Mountain".  So tip number 2:  Use the fast passes if you can.  They drastically limit the time you spend in line waiting for rides.  "Splash Mountain" is a very popular ride but we waited less than 10minutes for our first trip on the watery roller coaster type ride.  I'd love to have a picture to show you but it is impossible to have that much fun with that much water and take pictures at the same time.

Next was "Thunder Mountain" and again we loved it.  Our 6 year old daughter screamed with delight as we made twisting turn after twisting turn in the dark.  I was a little worried it might scare her but my fears were quickly abated when I saw the joyous grin on her face after the first big turn.  This roller coaster ride takes you through the mine of the 7 Dwarfs and on your first time on it you won't be able to anticipate the turns.  For us this was made even more difficult as we took the ride shortly after sun down.
For a crew that had been on the go for 18hours straight we look pretty good as we await the "Electric Light Parade."

Our last planned stop for the night would bring us to the rest of the group we were with and we met along the route of the "electric light parade."  This regular parade event is spectacular and leads up to the light show and fireworks at the Magic Palace.  Floats with LED lighting and lots of Disney characters and music make up this cool parade and the kids (and kids at heart) all watch with tired but excited eyes.  It looked like they were all coming off a chocolate high while eating cotton candy.

The start of the "Electric Light Parade".  You get the idea.

As our family starts to make our way towards the park exit, we quickly realize the herculean task we are undertaking.  A large crowd has gathered in front of the Magic Palace to watch the light show and fireworks which are still an hour off.  As we get close to the Palace the light show starts and we hustle the kids along as we intend to come back another night to take in this spectacle.  We effectively navigate to the exit and find our bus stop which has a bus every 20minutes directly to our resort.

Our first night at Disney and it was a memory for the books for sure.  There is no way that photos or this simple blog can convey the excitement and awe felt by everyone in my family that night.  We were extremely tired but there was no fighting, no tantrums, and no tears (unless they were tears of joy.)  Despite being tired, the kids wanted to take a short swim in the pool at the resort before going to bed.  Needless to say, following the swim and a quick snack, the kids were asleep within 5 minutes of hitting their pillows.  I think Michelle and I were asleep within 10minutes of that.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Wandering through Disney.- Introduction

There are times when you wake up in the morning and can't believe where you are.  You pinch yourself and make sure you aren't dreaming.  That happened to me recently as I woke up in Florida at Disney World.  Thanks to some great planning by my incredible wife who had us scrimping and saving over the last year, we were able to take the kids to Disney for this past March Break.
The kids wait to board their first ever flight.  They look good considering its only 4:00am AST.

It was an incredible experience and one that none of us will ever forget.  I have to admit that in the beginning I wasn't fully behind the idea.  I have always viewed Disney World as  money grab and an epitome of consumerism.  I didn't like the idea of standing in long lines waiting to take a 3 minute ride on a roller coaster.  The kids were excited to go and so too was my wife so I feigned enthusiasm and put on a happy face as the time for departure approached.

The plan was to drive to Fredericton and meet up with my brother in law and his family and from there, through a few flight connections, make our way to Orlando and the land of Disney World.  From the moment we landed in Orlando, it was easy to have fun.  Even after more than 13 hours of travel time, we weren't going to spend our time at our resort, instead we spent our first evening wandering in awe at the "Magic Kingdom."   By the time we hopped on a bus to return to the "All Star Music Resort" we were all tired and our 6 year old daughter fell asleep.
This was our resort for the week, "All Star Music".  We saw very little of it though.

Over my next couple of blog entries I'm going to take you through some of our trip.  I'll share some photos, some insights, and lots of memories.  I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Rolling Stones on Trout Creek

Today was a rare day.  It is only February but the weather lately has been more like late March or April.  Sun was in the forecast and I wanted to take advantage of some free time.  I  put out some calls to see if there was anyone interested in joining me.  Like many other times, my father called and said "I'm in."  I want to state how fortunate I am that I can still enjoy days like today with my father.  Him being with me adds a whole level of enjoyment that can't be defined and I dread the time when he can't be there.

The plan was to try and find a rock face that I somehow missed on a previous outing.  We would approach it from the opposite direction and the knowledge from the previous outing gave us a much better chance of finding it, despite not having a GPS this time.  We would start on a tributary to Trout Creek.  We would walk a little more than a half km up the tributary and then turn east and follow a small stream up to the top of the ridge.

As we reached the top of the small stream we found an unexpected rock outcrop where we hung the hammock and enjoyed a snack. We chatted about the weather and discussed politics while the dogs played tag with one another.  Things almost appeared to be moving in slow motion as we sat there.  A cold breeze moved up the steep hill and it eventually chased us back to focusing on our true goal for the day.

We moved easily over the steep terrain but our pace was slow and steady.  The frozen ground sometimes made the hiking difficult as you had to be sure of your footing.  Suddenly there was a change to the terrain as a small ravine opened up in front of us.  There was rock scree all around and I was certain we were close to the rock face.  We continued to move along the contour we had been following and then a small rock face appeared above us.  We climbed it and then more rock appeared further up again.  The sun shone brightly and we could feel its warmth as we worked our way up towards the top of the steep escarpment.

On the way up we stopped many times to appreciate the view but as we finally made the top of the face I felt a strong sense of accomplishment.  I had a broad smile and felt a bit giddy.  It wasn't a hard hike but it was such a great day and to be there with my Dad just felt incredible.

We made our way down through a steep ravine on the south east side of the escarpment.  Because of the steep grade we covered ground quickly and before I knew it we were walking along Trout Creek again.  There was some cool topography that puzzled us and again we marveled at God's creation.  The hike ended much too quickly and we'll both keep this one close for a long time.  Here is a quick movie on the day.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Wonderful Winter Weekend

Thanks to the great person who offered to take our photo.
Being outdoors is second nature to me.  I am more energetic, I ache less, and smile a lot more.  With my two kids now  more easily able to get outdoors with me, my wife and I are finding it easier to get out and enjoy the wilderness.  While these forays into nature are not what I used to engage in, any outdoor time is rewarding.

This weekend I was able to be outdoors 3 consecutive days.  If you're a parent, you know how rare of occasion that can be.  Given we have karate, swimming, skating, guitar, and drama, I'm lucky to get two (let's call them adventure days) a week.

The first adventure was a night at Poley Mountain where my son wanted to try snowboarding for the first time.  Since his karate teacher at Two Rivers Martial Arts was away as a judge at a tournament, we had a night off karate and thought this would be a good way to spend it. I was not ready to try snowboarding my self so I went and watched.  My church was hosting a Holy Poley night so I felt I could find someone to chat with if need be.  Our pastor was going to provide Seth with all the gear he needed and gave him some pointers to get him started.

Once he had his boots, helmet, and board ready to go there was no stopping him.  I walked with him as he confidently strutted out to the bunny hill where he spent the evening learning to turn, stop, and control the board.  His second run down, he went the whole way without falling.  He was hooked.  As the snow fell that night I continued to watch him and created a bond with him as I would help him strap back into the board each time he came back to the top.  For the most part he was alone while his peers skied on the big hill and he worked away at getting better.  Now I guess I'll be checking Kijiji for deals on youth snowboards.

The next day was a beautiful winter day.  Much to nice to spend doing the laundry and dishes that were piling up in our house.  Instead we packed up some gear and snacks and went for a hike to the Bluff in Sussex Corner.  The sun shone through the trees as we made our way to the rock face.  The kids shook the fresh snow from the night before off each tree and played games.  Their laughter was enough to make you smile, no matter how cold your heart might be.  A very nice person offered to take our family picture at the top and it turned out great considering it was only a cell camera.  We had a cup of hot chocolate and some light snacks while at the Bluff and then headed back to the Jeep.

Following church the next day, the good Lord blessed us with another chance to get out and enjoy another snowshoe adventure.  This time we joined a large group from Go Outdoors Sussex and hiked along the Cotter Holler Road.  The steep valley has lots of ice walls along its rocky ridges and the group enjoyed a side trail into a small ice cave.  My family spends lots of time in this area and my kids took pride in the fact they could lead the group up the road and to most of the sites.  My wife and I enjoyed the conversation with numerous people and loved catching up with everyone.

Words and photos can't do a weekend like this justice.  This was a quick recollection of the weekend and I feel silly even putting it out here but this is for my kids so that maybe later they can come to this blog and remember fondly such a great weekend.

See you in the woods or on the water.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Trout Creek Snowshoe

Getting ready to cross the small tributary above the waterfalls.
Sometime ago I hosted a meeting with  some people interested in looking at developing trails in and around Kings County.  I left the meeting thinking I should look closer at the somewhat defunct section of the Catamount Trail.  From the Fundy Footpath to Adair's Wilderness Lodge, the Catamount, is in pretty modest shape.  The trail however is pretty much non-existent when you head northwest from Adair's toward Sussex Corner.

I reached out to some people who I thought would have some information on the intended line for the Catamount Trail and they were generous enough to give me some map layers to work with.  I took those lines and my personal knowledge of the area and considered some possible route variations to look at.  One area I wanted to check out was a section off the Pleasant Lake Road where a rock face would provide a great look out and destination for a trail line.

So with my brother and father on a sunny January weekend, we headed out to find a route to the rock face I thought was there.  We got a late start so time was not going to be on our side and this would come back to haunt us.
I had the camera on during the crossing but nothing funny happened :)
On the first section of the trek we crossed a stream I'm familiar with.  The small but steep stream has a spectacular set of waterfalls which actually cascade right into Trout Creek.  That feature in itself would be worth considering for a trail route.  If there is an issue with this area it might be the fact that after you cross the stream, you head up a steep and difficult hill.  If you stop to catch your breath while climbing he hill though, take a look around.  There is lots to see with some spectacular yellow and white birch trees, interesting geology, and views across to the other side of the valley.

Every now and then we could see Poley off in the distance.
Once we got to the top of the ridge I had to try and determine where the rock face was and how best to get there.  This is where our late start would hamper us.  I had hoped to make the ridge and then work slowly back out towards the rock face, unfortunately dark was moving in and so I didn't find it on this trip.  I do know it is there though and I will find it.  From all I saw on this trek, it is a great hiking area.  I have included a map below for you but keep in mind it is private property.

Now the challenge will be to find out who the landowners are and determine if they would consider having a trail navigate across their properties.
So blessed that my Dad is still able to be on these treks with me and blessed for the sunset behind us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cotter Holler Winter Fun

The Whalen family has a long history of enjoying the small, steep valley of the Cotter Holler stream.  We walk the old road up the valley and explore the small streams, rock faces, large trees.  We laugh at tall tales, we share secrets and stories, and we bond as we build memories in this scenic little piece of paradise.  On a recent Saturday we built some more memories as some of us ventured out for some winter fun.

Hot chocolate, crazy carpets, a hammock, and grandparents.  This was the recipe for a great day exploring and everyone had smiles at days end.  I do my best to let the kids explore and at times I even let them get their feet wet.  Sometimes my protective nature takes control and I holler at them..."That's close enough to the water!" or "Careful, that ice is hard if you fall!"  My Dad would mock me a bit and I'd ease up control and let the kids explore a little further.

I made a short video and I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Snow Shoeing Into the Night

Dark slowly falls over the Mill Brook.
Winter is now fully on us with more cold nights in the forecast.  Winter time also means that in order to enjoy the outdoors, most of us will need to snowshoe, cross country ski, or even hike in the dark.  Unless you don't work a typical 8 to 5 job, the only time to get out and enjoy the elements is when it is dark out.  It is hard to be motivated to get outdoors this time of year and for some, fear of being in the dark is enough of a deterrent to dissuade you from going.  I'm hear to say that your missing out and the dark is no reason to be scared.  The same animals, insects, trees, and plants are in the wilderness at night as in the day time.

I enjoy the  rush of overcoming that fear of the dark and exploring the wilderness at night, especially in the winter time.  Sometimes I use a light and others I don't, tt really depends on my mood, the phase of the moon, and the weather.  I always have a flashlight and extra batteries with me.  Well usually, except once when I didn't have the batteries.  That was a rough hike out which resulted in a few scratches to my face and head but I made it.

Tracks across the Bluff during a winter snow shoe outing.
When the snow is on the ground and the moon is full with a clear sky, the woods at night can actually be quite bright.  Typically though on such nights it is really cold and the shadows can play with your mind.  Dress warm and keep your wits about you and the perspective is incredible and it truly is a different perspective every time out, even if you snow shoe the same trail night after night. 

Personally, I like the calm, warmer, nights when there is a light snow falling.  The snow gives a surreal feeling to the night and usually creates a calming sensation because it mutes out the sound of moving branches and other things that might be otherwise easily heard.  For couples, it can be a romantic setting and because of the warmer temperatures you don't mind laying down in the snow and cuddling a little if the mood hits you.  The warm temperatures also make it easier to stay out longer and enjoy more of the night.

Go Outdoors Sussex is hosting regular outings here in Sussex and if you haven't been out with them yet, you should make a date to join them.  I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't yet been out snow shoeing with them so I'm hoping to get out soon.  For those looking to gain experience hiking during the evenings, this is an ideal way to attain that needed experience and possibly meet new friends.