Friday, August 18, 2017

What I Did for my Summer Vacation - the 2017 Edition - Part One

Just back from another summer vacation with LOADS of pics - and most of them actually involve cycling this time! We had so much fun on last summer's epic vacation. We thought, despite an upcoming kitchen renovation that will involve considerable time (and money!), we should at least go on a short trip this year. Perhaps something not quite so extensive or ambitious (or EXPENSIVE!) as last years.

For those that have been following along you'll probably know that our son Finnegan was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes at the beginning of last summer. Every summer Diabetes Canada hosts a D-Camp in Saskatchewan - a summer camp for kids with Diabetes. All the Paediatric Endocrinologists and a bunch of Diabetes Nurses and Dieticians all go up there for a week - plus I think most of the councillors are young men and women with Type One Diabetes. It's a great program. Last year he wasn't able to go - because he'd only been diagnosed in June it was a little late to sign up. They may have made an exception for him, but I think it was also during the vacation we'd already planned.

This year Amanda was determined to send him off to D-Camp however! I wasn't so sure. I'm not really sure Finnegan's the kind of kid that would really dig "summer camp". But Amanda was determined to send him, so I let her go with that. The point of all this, though, is that we were having to rent a vehicle to drive him up to Christopher Lake in August anyway.... so I suggested we maybe check out Prince Albert National Park!

We also wanted to make this trip something special for The Girl. Obviously we love both or children and try to spend as much quality time with both as possible. But this first year with Diabetes has been... I'm not going to say "difficult"... it's had its challenges... But Finnegan's been a trooper and just rolled with it and is very responsible and takes a very active role in his treatments and decisions. But it does take a lot of time. And The Girl has really felt we spend a LOT more time focused on Finnegan than her. So we wanted to take her on a vacation where it was all about her... Well not ALL about her - we wanted to have some fun too - but there was to be a significant focus on things she wanted to do.

She did have a lot of fun mountain biking last summer and she had expressed interest in trying horseback riding. Amanda had actually originally considered signing her up for a Horse camp - but it was just a day camp which would have meant renting or borrowing a car and driving her out to a ranch every morning and picking her up every afternoon. It didn't really seem feasible to me so I suggested maybe finding a place to go on a trail ride up near Waskesiu (when I had gone up there many, many years ago I remember going on a trail ride just outside Waskesiu... but that was 30 years ago... they don't do that near Waskesiu anymore!).

So we did some researching and booked a horse ride for Amanda and The Girl at a ranch near the West Gate of Prince Albert National Park. We even booked some accommodation at the ranch for two nights. I found some trails we could also ride on mountain bikes while we were there. Then we planed to drive to Waskesiu and stay at a cabin there for a few days from which we could go out riding on mountain bikes. All this during the five days Finnegan was to be at D-Camp.


Day One - Saturday, 12 August 2017

During our last ride, I'd noticed my chain had been a tad slack and had skipped a few times - which is super annoying and feels like I'm breaking something (like the chain or cog/chainring teeth) and it super kills momentum on a climb. So I thought "I better check the chain tensioner before we go". That last week before the trip was a little busy and I forgot about it until the morning of the trip. When I went out to grab the bikes I remembered this and decided to quickly make an adjustment. I threw the Purple Karate Monkey up on the repair stand, loosened off the axle, and tried to turn the tension adjusting screw.... and it wouldn't budge. So I took it of and discovered....



Totally bent bolt...

I can't begin to tell you how exceedingly disappointed I was by this.

I have been a bit fan of Surly for some time (and I still am!). Have no fewer than SIX surly bikes in the Bike Barn - the Cross Check, Amanda's Moonlander, the 1x1 I built up last summer, a Steam Roller that I have yet to mention on this blog but have had for a couple years now, The Purple Karate Monkey, and a Big Fat Dummy - which I also picked up this summer and haven't bothered to post about...) and Surly parts on a few other bikes... Surly has never failed me. The Tuggnuts I picked up for the 1x1 and Steamroller have been amazing and I've had ZERO problems with slippage since I put them on... so... discovering this to be wrecked after putting less than 100kms on it was a bit of a let-down...

I tried taking the tuggnuts off the 1x1 and Steamroller to see if they'd fit, but the "Snuggnut" here was designed for a 12mm through axle to go through it and the tuggnut only has space for a standard 10mm axle...

There may have been a few F-Bombs dropped at this point.

I had been looking forward to taking this bike on an epic adventure since we started planning this vacation and Amanda green-lighted the purchase of the Purple Beastie... What was I to do now?! Take it and know that every time I went up a hill the hub would probably slide forward with a big " "CLUNK" and I'd have to walk the rest of the hill and have to adjust the hub at the top and know I'd have to do it all over again on the next bit hill? I still have the 1x1 - I could take that? I could probably just take the Fargo? I mean, it'd basically the same bike - except with gears and racks, right?

In the end I decided to take the Karate Monkey anyway. I had been in the same boat last year with the 1x1 and rode the entire vacation without a Tuggnut without wrecking the bike... so... I knew there was no way anyone in town would just have a Snuggnut in stock - otherwise I might have tried to pick one up on the way out of town.



We loaded up the rental van and headed north!



Finnegan sitting in the back, drawing.



Dropped this guy off at D-Camp....



...and we were on our way again. This is a road that cuts through the south end of Prince Albert National Park - on of many gravel roads we had to navigate to get to the west side of the park. You can't actually drive all the way through the park - you have to leave the park and navigate around it to access the West end of the park.



Wildlife encounter #1 - can you spot the Deer? She's looking right at you!

We eventually made our way to the ranch, which borders on the park and is about 10km from the park gate by road. I think Amanda had made the arrangements though AirB&B. She had directions which got us there and the only other instructions were "call or text if there are any problems". No problem getting there... but there was no one there when we arrived. She went to try and call or text, only to discover there was zero service!? Eventually Amanda tried the door and it was open. No one home. Note on the bar.



Supper out on the deck.



After supper we wandered around a bit and said "hello" to the horses. Beyond the corral - in the washed out area of the picture is the Sturgeon River, which is the border to the park. All those washed out trees in the background are on the far bank and in the Park.



The girl found a DVD there she wanted to watch (Planet 51) and there was a big TV and DVD player... but among the half dozen remotes, we could not figure out how to get either of them to turn on!? So she ended up watching it on Amanda's laptop.


Day Two - Sunday, 13 August 2017

In the morning the owner's dad came by and we chatted with him. I asked about bear activity in the area and he said there was all kinds of bears in the park - we were SURE to see one (not actually the answer I was hoping for...). He also said we'd for sure see some Bison and probably Elk.

Later the guide showed up and started getting the horses ready.



the Grrrlz brushing down the horses.



Saddling up.



Off they went.



I stayed at the ranch and decided to get in a few hours of quiet reading. I ended up dozing off for much of the time they were away.

The Grrrlz got home mid afternoon and figured there was enough of the day left that we should go out for a bike ride! I initially hoped we'd be able to ride to the park entrance because, as the crow flies, it was only a couple kilometres away. But Amanda informed me the trail they took to get there went through a few streams with the horses waded through - as well as some deep mud on either side and it would not be ridable. The circuitous route by the road was about 10Km, so we decided to load the bikes up and drive to the park entrance.

The trails we road Sunday and Monday were part of the Valleyview Trail Network.



This map is ©2017 Parks Canada and I've borrowed it and used it here without their permission... 




At the trailhead next to the parking lot. We decided to do the Easy Loop  with the Stoney Plain Meadow Trail Spur.



The trail is very easy - nice and wide and well maintained... but it didn't look like it was well used. A lot of the trail is crossed over and not worn down to dirt by regular use!



Just 200m down the trail is a look out giving a nice view of the Sturgeon River Valley.



Back onto the trail - more of the same.



Rolling down to the Stoney Plain Meadow Trail Spur brought us down to a fairly open meadow and a barely used trail. The trail is marked by a series of white posts - each just in view of the next - because there isn't really much of an established trail.



That's me... The few pictures of me were taken by Amanda. She didn't take nearly as many pictures as me, but her's all turned out way better (she has a nicer, newer camera). But this is my blog and not her's so the only pictures of hers you get to see are the few of me she let me use.



Back up into the trees.



There are a lot of really excellent way-finding signs along the way.



Some parts are gravelled.



As you can see on the map above, all of the trails loop back to this wide trail, on which horse-drawn carriages are allowed.



This trail is wide and mostly flat and a nice easy ride. We rolled up this trail to the parking lot, loaded up the bikes and head back to the ranch for a late supper. In the evening we played some card games and went to bed.


Day Three - Monday, 14 August 2017

In the morning we loaded everything up into the van again - trying to keep the bikes accessible - and drove out to the park again.

The Girl had it in her mind that we were going to do the Moderate Loop, but I was really, REALLY tired and didn't think I was up to riding any single track and suggested we just ride the wagon trail out to the Sturgeon Lookout. This put her into a grumpy mood which was to last the entire ride out to the lookout and blew every little setback or discomfort WAY out of proportion. So many times along the way I wanted to say "Eff-it! Let's go back and call it a day!" This vacation was supposed to be about HER... sort of... but it was also supposed to be about US and we didn't want to let her ruin it for the rest of us and just hoped she'd eventually cheer up...



rolling down the wagon trail.



It just went on and on and on...



... and on...



and on... and eventually there were parts that were most grassed over and looked like they didn't see much use - like the single track trails.



It was a lovely ride though, through beautiful forest.



Me again. Leading the pack.



Every so often we saw signs of a recent wind storm that had blown down a lot of trees in the area! I remember it being windy in Saskatoon - a few trees were blown down there too! But not so many as up here!



The forest transitioned from Aspen to more Boreal at times.



and on we rode.



At one point we came to an area where a HUGE amount of trees had been blown down!



More way-finding posts at the junction with the wagon trail and the route to Amyot Lake.



and the trail continued on...






I think this ended up being the only (non-insect) wildlife we saw all day. A Garter Snake that Amanda  nearly ran over! I stopped beside it and The Girl stopped in front of it. In an effort, I think, to get away from me it bolted straight forward - straight at The Girl. Until she started screaming. And SCREAMING! Then the snake double back on itself, dodged around me and made off into the underbrush at the side of the trail.



At times the brush along the side of the trail got quite dense, which caused me some anxiety, considering what the fellow had said about how were would for sure see a bear! I could see how it would be very easy to get VERY close to one and not know it was there until you were almost on top of it. Luckily I think The Girl's screaming scared off any bears in the area!



Then we came to the first of two sections of the trail that went right through wetlands that had been filled in with rocks.



The Girl kept up with me over most of the rocks.



At the far end there was a big section of the trail that was still very wet and muddy. The Girl had lost momentum on the rocks and got bogged down in the mud and ended up putting her foot down in one of the wetter bits and had her shoe filled with mud. Which led to another bout of screaming and cursing us!

It reminded me of a bit in the movie Madagascar...

https://youtu.be/t7jZXt9luKQ

It was almost comical... well it WAS comical... and Amanda and I couldn't help but laughing at the absurdity of it all, which of course The Girl took as US laughing AT her... Which brought on another torrent of curses and fiery admonitions.



At the second section there was actually water running through the rocks which, in the state she was in, seemed like an insurmountable barrier... Seriously...



Here the rock section seems to be LOWER than the height of the water in the wetland and we held back by some sort of dam.



Shortly after that we got to the end of the wagon trail. The "wilderness trail" looked like it was just as wide as the wagon trail - but, as the sign says - it was not maintained beyond this point. The trail, in theory links up with Hunter's Lake and Elk Trails. Seems like it would be a great trail for a multi-day backcountry bike-blacking trip. I wonder how much deadfall there would be between here and Hunter's Lake?



From the end of the wagon trail - the route to the Lookout turned into the trees and onto a narrower trail - though wide enough for a quad to ride - and it looked like the ONLY use it had seen was people riding quads (probably park staff clearing or checking on the trail).



The view from Sturgeon Lookout (looking Northwest-ish)



More of the view from Sturgeon Lookout (looking West-ish).



Still more of the view from Sturgeon Lookout (looking Southwest-ish).



Me, taking the pictures of the view from Sturgeon Lookout.



The signage at the lookout.

Arriving had lead to even MORE disappointment for The Girl as she had envisioned a look out TOWER (and possibly a toilet). AND there were great grey clouds rolling in threatening rain! You'd have though the entire world was conspiring against her, determined to RUIN her WHOLE LIFE!?



Snacks were had.



The story does have a happy ending - as we started back she did cheer up and ended up having a pretty good time. maybe she was just hungry...?



More of the rocks.



Amanda riding the rocks.



More trees, some of them blown down...

You get the picture.

I didn't take nearly as many pics heading back as we wanted to get back to the van before it started raining - and we did. We then loaded up the van and headed back along the network of gravel roads to the east end of the park and headed north to Waskesiu.

But maybe I'll save that bit for another post...

Stay tuned for PART TWO