Misadventures in the Snow

On Christmas Eve, Ottawa finally got some snow!  And then we got some more, just in time to save our New Year`s ski and snowshoe outing in Gatineau Park, which had been threatening to turn into a mountain biking or hiking affair.  The plan was to pack up our backpacks and the ski pulk on Friday for an afternoon ski to Ohomisi Yurt on Taylor Lake where we intended to spend the next two days skiing, snowshoeing and welcoming the New Year.

Diane, Henri and Gerry

The temperature had dropped to a frosty – 18 degrees Celsius as we strapped on our packs in the parking lot.  Food, water, pots and pans, dishes and cutlery, sleeping bags and other supplies weighed us down as we glided through the winter wonderland on our skis.  Marc also pulled the heavy ski pulk up the hills and along the trails – after all, we weren`t going to be roughing it for New Year`s!  A few bottles of wine and champagne were required for the celebration, as was the fondue set for our three course meal on Saturday night!

Henri and Diane, up from balmy Southern Ontario, are not avid skiers.  When we asked Henri if he needed to wax his skis, he said he had already put the tar on the wooden planks.  Tar???  We didn’t inquire any further.   Regardless, Henri skied along well, following Marc.  Diane, in her waxless skis of an only marginally newer vintage then Henri’s wooden ones, was bringing up the rear, while I was out in front.   All went well until we were a few kilometers from the yurt.  As we went down a hill, our novice skiers impressed with their talents, while I hit a bump and was thrown off kilter by my heavy and poorly balanced pack.  Down I went face first – the famous ostrich move – naturally in front of quite an audience of people working their way up the hill.

Andrea in front of Ohomisi Yurt

A couple was kind enough to come to my aid, as I could neither get the pack of my back nor get up by myself.  It turns out I had absorbed the fall with my left shoulder and elbow, both of which were complaining loudly about the abuse.  My lips had also been transformed by the face plant into something that looked like a mix between Angelina Jolie and Daisy Duck, but the stuff dripping off my nose was just melting snow and not blood.

Once I and my gear were picked up from the ground, we carried on and got to our yurt just as it got dark.  A closer examination of my arm revealed that I had left pieces of my ski jacket, shirt and skin on the trail. The one item of gear that none of us had brought along was a first aid kit, so toilet paper from the outhouse had to do for dressing the gauge in my elbow.  We settled in, got a bright fire going in the woodstove and then prepared a delicious pasta dinner.  This was followed by lots of storytelling late into the evening.


The next morning, the boys went for a ski and the girls headed out for a snowshoe.  The temperature was much warmer than the previous day and it was great to be outside in the winter wonderland.  Diane and I even bumped into the ski patrol and had my arm dressed properly as well as put into a sling.  A big shout out to the ski patrol guys and gals in the park who volunteer their time to help those of us who can`t stay upright on our skis!

After our workout, we headed back to Ohomisi for lunch.  Shortly after our meal, Gina and Gerry arrived to join us.  They, too, were loaded down with supplies, including plastic champagne flutes and Christmas crackers for our dinner.

We got some more exercise after lunch and then hunkered down for the feast.  The first course consisted of cheese fondue  – and not the packaged stuff either, but made from real Gruyère and Emmenthal.  Meanwhile, the bubbly was chilling out in the snow.  After a little break, we jumped into course number two – beef fondue with all sorts of delicious sauces.  Then, a few games of Taboo later, we were ready for the chocolate fondue.  Strawberries, apples, bananas, grapes, all dipped in melted Toblerone.

Marc, Diane, Henri, Gina, Gerry and Andrea on the first day of 2012

We popped the Christmas crackers way before midnight and put on our silly paper hats while big flakes of snow fell outside.  The battle of the boys against the girls in Taboo continued and only ended shortly before midnight in a tied game.  Now it was time to bring the bubbly inside and to get the corks ready for popping!  …. four, three, two, one – happy new year!!!

After all the fresh air and exercise, we were ready to hit the bunk beds and curl up in our sleeping bags to get a good night`s sleep.  We threw another log on the fire and each of us hoped that no trips to the far away outhouse would be required in the middle of the night.  For one of our little gang of six that wish did not come true.  In true gentleman fashion, to avoid waking any of us up by searching for a headlamp or shoes, he headed out barefoot into the snow.  What a guy!

In the morning, we had a delicious breakfast of eggs benedict and fruit salad and then it was time to pack up all our gear again to head back into town.  The ski pulk and our packs were much lighter now and the trip back to the parking lot was a breeze.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the arrival of a new year than surrounded by great friends. Wishing everyone a new year filled with friendship, health and laughter!  Happy 2012 and ski safe!

Training in the Nation’s Capital

As a runner and outdoor enthusiast, I can`t think of where I`d rather live and train than right here in the National Capital Region of Ottawa/Gatineau.  With over 550 kilometers of trails and recreational pathways, there are scenic, traffic–free running routes for every taste and any time of the year.  Plenty to explore in preparation for a 424 kilometer run across The Gambia!

View while running along the Ottawa River

More than 230 kilometers of the mostly paved recreational pathways follow the river system and the historic Rideau Canal, offering spectacular views along tree lined riverbanks and taking runners through city parks, past the impressive Parliament Buildings and many other Ottawa sights like the National Art Gallery , National Arts Centre, and the War Museum, to name but a few.

Spring is my favourite time to run along the pathways, as the bursts of colour from the tulip beds and the sightings of fluffy, newly hatched goslings will inevitably put a smile on my face.  The fact that the deep freeze is over probably also contributes!   Having said that, winter running on the frozen canal alongside the skaters can also be pretty entertaining, especially since not everyone skates like Sidney Crosby (myself included!).

Ottawa’s Greenbelt boasts another 150 kilometers of trail around the circumference of town.  Here we can find little gems, such as Stoney Swamp with its beaver ponds and forests or the Mer Bleue Bog, a 3,500 hectare conservation area of a northern boreal landscape.  Running along the trails and bouncy boardwalks through the bog will put a spring in anyone’s step.  In the winter, it is fun to explore these trails on snowshoes.  As a bonus, snowshoe running builds functional leg strength and will make running in just a pair of shoes feel easy.

Trails and cabins in Gatineau Park

Gatineau Park has to be my favourite, though.  165 kilometers of forest trails: some technical, some easier to negotiate, many offering spectacular vistas after a glute-burning climb, and all of them guaranteed to get your shoes and legs dirty.  Now that’s my kind of running! Bear and deer sightings are not uncommon.  In the summer, we often finish a run by one of the lakes to cool off and escape the bugs.  In the cooler weather, we gather post-run  at a café in the scenic community of Chelsea, Quebec, to warm up with soup and hot chocolate.

The park is also sprinkled with cabins that make amazing potluck dinner destinations.  Tuesday nights are popular potluck nights and we run or ski up to a cabin carrying packs stuffed with food on our backs to contribute to the feast.  Talk about earning your dinner!

In the winter, the park’s trails and parkways turn into groomed classic and skate ski trails, as well as into snowshoe paths.  You bet it’s cold – best not to look at the little thermometer on your jacket zipper unless you have to figure out what wax to use on your skis.

Snowshoe Running in Gatineau Park

But Ottawa is not only conducive to running due to its extensive trail network.  Each summer, the city’s and Gatineau Park’s parkways close to traffic on Sunday mornings to make way for runners, roller bladers, cyclists, walkers and roller skiers.  Kids practice riding their bikes with training wheels and parents push baby joggers along the river system while cyclists fly down the hills in Gatineau Park, safe in the knowledge they will not be encountering any cars.

And last, but not least, another huge plus for running in Ottawa/Gatineau is that we have a tremendous athletic community.  There is no shortage of talent and enthusiasm, as well as a ready willingness to support others that are part of the athletic family.   Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to spread some of that love in The Gambia as well!

Thanks for reading and for your support to Love4Gambia!