If you're familiar with explore, you may have heard of our Live the Adventure Club gear box. However, you may not know that the LTA Club is a lot more than a quarterly subscription box.
One of our most unique features is our exclusive Facebook community. In this private group, we motivate members with weekly and seasonal outdoor challenges. Members are encouraged to get outside and compete for incredible gear prizes. We share exclusive content, including Live videos with experts and practical advice from explore's editors. The forum is also a friendly place for like-minded adventurers across the country to connect, discuss gear recommendations, ask questions about specific trails and areas, and share their adventure stories.
A few weeks ago, I presented members with the opportunity to share their stories and have them published on explore-mag.com. Although I was originally going to randomly publish five, they were all too good not to share. I hope you enjoy reading these motivational, funny and sentimental stories from Canadian adventurers just like you.
Micro-exploring on a Tight Schedule
By Terry Lazarou
Escaping the urban landscape to explore and recharge in the wilderness isn’t always possible because of time, money, transportation and family commitments. But when you've got to go—when you really need to feel the crunch of fresh snow underfoot or get close to trees and nature—a little creativity is all that it takes.
I found myself needing to get creative last fall, when I had no time to drive to an adventure, but absolutely needed to get away for a few hours. Like many Canadians, I’m fortunate to live in a city that has a large urban park. In my case it is Wascana Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan. The park has bike trails, foot paths and a small lake. It's used by locals and tourists from spring through winter for a variety of activities. It also has some wild places that encourage exploration but require some effort to find.
After a fresh snowfall, I packed my pack and put on all my gear, just as I would for a winter hike. When getting creative, being versatile is essential!
My adventure started with a three-kilometre hike past gas stations, office buildings and restaurants to get to the urban trailhead. Once I got onto the road less travelled by, that made all the difference. I discovered wild, secret places that, as a runner and a cyclist in the park, I never previously knew existed.
On this snowy hike I saw hares, birds and even a coyote. I also surrounded myself with trees and plants, now dormant for the coming winter, but still alive with colours and character against the otherwise flat, washed-out prairie landscape.
The highlight of the 12-kilometre hike was taking a break in a secluded bird sanctuary area, where bikes and vehicles are not permitted, and most people don’t usually access. I pulled out my Explore Magazine, Live the Adventure Club box micro-stove, a coffee maker and some food. And there, in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded on all compass points by city, I had a perfect, pristine moment in nature.
Sure, I could have just put coffee in the thermos, but the act of making espresso outdoors was an unforgettable hiking Zen moment. This experience recharged and nourished me for the coming week. Since this first time exploring on a tight schedule, I have taken to creating more “micro-explorations” on hikes, but also off-road on my bike and on snowshoes. The outdoors is all around us, it just takes a slight shift in perspective to see it and enjoy.
A Grumman Adventure
By Rose Ratliffe
My first job after college took me to Pinawa, Manitoba. I arrived in November and did not really realise until April that the big expanse of white out there was the Winnipeg River. Once thawed, it became our playground as there was a fleet of Grumman boats for our use. One lovely summer day, three of us decided to take the Pinawa Channel to the Old Pinawa Dam. Shuttles arranged and snacks loaded, we headed off. It was lovely—until we hit the marsh and the wind picked up. I had never seen whitecaps on a marsh. We battled on until it narrowed and we got some shelter from the wind. Soon we could hear water rushing and we looked forward to a break in paddling.
Up ahead there was a small drop before us. Not a problem. I directed us up the deep green middle of the flow but instead of the exhilarating drop, the canoe stopped. Then it pivoted. Now we were going sideways. Then it tilted slightly, enough to fill the canoe with water, then push it over the drop.
Before I really had a chance to understand what was happening I found myself sitting in a completely submerged canoe, water up to my chest, holding my paddle over my head and yelling, “Oh my, what do we do?” To which Will calmly suggested that we could stand up. Oh, yeah. That would work. Flotsam collected, canoe retrieved from the bottom and drained, we continued on. The third person never came canoeing with us again, but Will and I are still paddling together.
On a subsequent trip down the channel, I reminded a friend in another canoe to make sure the keys were secure in case they dumped on the rapid. The look on her face told me something was wrong. Turns out the keys were safe, very safe… in the car at the put-in, 10 kilometres from the take-out.
Exploring the Canary Islands
By Matt Lynch
We (Matt and Erica Lynch) spent a month recently exploring the Canary Islands as a father/daughter team. Erica had a head start, having worked in the area for 6 months prior to our adventure. The island of Tenerife is the main entry point to the Canaries with airports in the north and south. Tenerife's landscape is dominated by the Teide volcano. A gondola offers a ride up to all but the top 500 metres. The more adventurous can hike up to a climbers' hostel, stay the night and rise early for sunrise on the crater (details at volcanoteide.com). We had the hostel booked, but the park got closed completely by a late season snowfall.
Hiking is plentiful in this explorer's paradise. Traditional trails established by the Guanches known as "Camino Reales" link villages together. Trails often transition through a range of terrain. Steep inclines climbing out of or dropping into villages have often been aided by placed stone steps or more rarely carved stone steps. Hikers should be prepared to drop and climb up to 800 metres in one kilometre. Routes are sporadically marked with a series of double stripes of paint: red on white for national routes, yellow on white for regional and green on white for local routes.
We found the north of Tenerife preferable in climate and terrain to the south. Many scenic half-day hikes can be done from or to Cruz del Carmen which is a short bus ride from Santa Cruz or La Laguna. Full days can lead to long ridges, spectacular sea cliffs and iconic black sand beaches. The bus system on Tenerife is excellent (see titsa.com for details).
The island of La Gomera was our favourite. A wonderful week of trekking left us wanting more. We rented a car and travelled by ferry, but by plane is also an option. A travellers' apartment in Hermigua proved an excellent base with access to trailheads literally across the street. From here we easily created our own loops connecting various trails together or following more defined loops. La Gomera has a massive park located in its centre and many trails spider the rest of the island. We viewed a columnar basalt formation that reminds of the Giants Causeway called Los Organosby boat. It was well-worth the day off hiking. Altogether, our experience in the Canaries showed us it's an explorer's paradise.
East Coast Trail - Spout Hike
By Susan Windsor-Sheppard
Have you ever walked alongside the ocean? If not, you must travel to Newfoundland and find a section of the East Coast Trail to hike.
There are several hikes along the coastline ranging in difficulty, and many we have hiked before. My hubby and I decided that we would tackle the most challenging section this time, which is called the Spout. This hike has no short cuts. It is a full 22-kilometre trip, whether you go one-way or double-back. You see, the Spout is a natural geyser located 11 kilometres into your trek. When we hike, we do not like going back on the same trail, so we opted to do the hike one-way.
Knowing the area, we tackled the Shoal Bay Road first. It’s a gnarly six-kilometre road with lots of ankle rollers (small round rocks). Deciding to get this over with, we walked as fast as we could to access the coastline.
The first few hours of this section of the hike went well. We reached the Spout for lunch hour and spent a good amount of time taking in the views and relaxing. Then we realised: we now have another 11 kilometres to go.
Newfoundland’s coastline is very rugged. We climbed up and down so many times we lost count. Imagine being on a stepper at the gym for seven hours. This is how long we expected the hike to take. However, seeing how we went so fast at the beginning, my hubby’s knees were starting to have issues. Fast-forward and we ended up taking almost 10 hours to complete this hike. Now don’t be turned off by this, as there were people much older than us passing us along this route. This hike most definitely pushes your limits, but the rewards far outweigh any issues we experienced. If you don’t believe me, just check out the pictures.
By Tina Kuschel
It was Easter Weekend out on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, on top of Nootka – we were in the middle of the wilderness, and I saw something in the water. At first, I thought I was looking at a blue mussel. It looked so dark blue, I was amazed at the colours. Then I noticed the clear part, with all the regular fine lines and realized, I'm looking at something else. And then I remembered instantly: "Velella velella!" I'd never seen one, but had always wanted to! I'd heard so much about these!
So what are they? They are a monospecific genus of hydrozoa related to the jellyfish: carnivorous cnidarians. The cool thing is they have this clear sail that sticks up above water - so they float partly above the water line. This also makes them dependant on current and wind, and we realized later there weren't just the three in our bay, there were thousands! They use their stinging tentacles to feed on fish and larvae. They can sting people, but not enough to harm them. It was a very cool find. Plus, they are super beautiful. By-The-Wind-Sailor is their common name. This experience was something to check of our bucket list. We'd always wanted to see them in their natural habitat!
An Unforgettable Adventure
By Daniel Heffernan
Years ago, on our first week-long camping trip together, my wife Katie and I (and our one-year-old daughter Hannah) tried canoeing at Grundy Lake Provincial Park. It didn’t go very well, though. I had some basic Scouts Canada experience but still, I could not get this canoe to handle well. Pair a difficult vessel with a one-year-old, and Katie was uncomfortable going far. We soon gave up on it, never to return... until last summer!
This time, we had four kids to bring: our eldest Hannah was eight, Charlotte six, Andrew almost five and Laura was only two. We had been a very active family, camping and hiking over the years. Grundy Lake was a family favourite, though we frequented Awenda Provincial Park and a few others as well.
One of the unique features of Grundy is the lake/river systems and lack of motor boats. From many campers we met, we learned it was a paddler's paradise. A fresh desire to canoe awakened in us (in part thanks to the summer 2017 Explore Magazine article by Kevin Callan) so we decided to give it another shot and rented (this time) the best canoe available. It ended up being a Scott 16’ Tripper Kevlar canoe and we LOVED IT! At first we just went out in the main Grundy lake area but after playing around a bit and seeing other families our size out on the water, we all piled in and went off adventuring!
Grundy Lake and Gut Lake are connected by a river system. We wasted no time checking it out. Gurd Lake is reached by a short portage as are three other lakes in the park. The French River can be reached through a series of rivers and portages.
It was all a little over our heads but exciting given our new love for the sport. By the end of the week, we had spent a day in a thick marsh and reached a lake only accessible by canoe. We stopped on a three-foot-high beaver dam for a snack. For us, that day was heaven on earth.
We have since purchased a canoe for the family as a fun Christmas gift (and yes, I did get under—okay, beside—the Christmas tree!). The kids are super excited and so are we. I see more canoe purchases in our near future as the kids grow and many more trips. We've already booked a backcountry site at Grundy Lake to start teaching the kids the fun and adventure of backcountry camping via canoe. Thanks to Explore and the LTA club for the inspiration to get out and live the adventure!
Day 7-ish, Km 90-ish of the 180-km Sunshine Coast Trail
By Colleen Dear
"Let’s take a short cut today!"
"Look how much time we’d save!"
"We could take a day off. A day off."
Dubravko, the level-headed leader of our small pack, Milo the adventure dog and I set out from Tin Hat Mountain. We were so happy and dreaming of immersing our very foul-smelling bodies into the pristine mountain lake that awaited us—until we did a map check. Somewhere between singing the Fresh Prince of Belair theme song and “Material Girl” in our best Will Smith and Madona voices, we'd missed the trailhead. After a little meeting of the minds and a lot of scrolling on Google Earth, we were patting each other on the backs. “Just up ahead… it doesn’t look far…. it’s a shortcut to the shortcut. We will smell so good tonight!”
Shortcut to the shortcut. We had this.
The trail went from an old forestry road to quad track to forks in the packed grass. Too many forks.
My mantra of ‘keep moving forward, don’t go back, one foot in front of the other’ was challenged a few times with small backtracks. But we refused to go the several kilometres back to the original trail head.
The singing had stopped. So did we, to collect our thoughts and make a plan. We stared, slightly defeated, into the dark Sunshine Coast undergrowth, the sunlight barely able to penetrate the thick canopy beyond the treeline. Before I could start humming the ‘Jaws’ music, a much more ominous noise came from the forest. Ggrrrrrrrrruuumfff! The blood promptly drained from both our red and sweaty faces.
“Is that a—”
Dubravko’s words were cut off by the furious keening of my whistle as we found new energy to get moving. Quick.
Like a setup to a Hollywood B flick, we stumbled further down the wrong trail as it narrowed until we were climbing over and under fallen trees and low branches. My inner movie critic was screaming “don’t go that way! Go back to where you started!” But that would mean accepting defeat and doing a long backtrack. No day off at the lake. No bath. Definitely no shortcut. Unfortunately, we no longer had any trail. Teeny tiny Google maps, an iffy Topo map, and a compass convinced us we were just a couple of kilometres from the lake. Just over the mountain, through the Salal. Are you familiar with the thick vine that covers the forest floor called Salal? Neither were we. Twenty minutes later, I gave up singing the theme song to Indiana Jones as we had only made it 10 feet.
There were no shortcuts, or shortcuts to the shortcut.
We turned back. After hours of extra hiking and some valuable life lessons we made it to the lake, but not before belting out Journey's “Don’t Stop Believing” as we passed the dark growling forest for a second time.
Water for the Soul
By Tanya Phillips
I've always been a little high strung for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it stems from my perfectionist tendencies or maybe my history of depression, but whatever the cause, when it comes to stress I simply don't handle it very well. I have, of course, tried all the usual stress-managing activities to overcome it: yoga, Tai chi, meditation, exercise, even hypnosis. While I enjoyed most of the activities, nothing quite gave me that feeling of peace that I was looking for.
The path that lead me to kayaking was not a straight one. I am no stranger to the outdoorsy lifestyle. I grew up hiking, mountain biking and camping. I even went through wilderness survival training when I was in cadets but for some reason I had never been exposed to watersports. We have plenty of lakes and rivers around where I live but not having anyone I knew into watersports, I just never thought about them. That is until the day I opened a flyer and saw a small recreational kayak on sale. At this point in my life I was unemployed, having been laid off four months prior, and was starting to lose my mind with boredom. Here was something new to occupy my time for a while. And it was on sale!
A short trip into town later I was sitting in my own eight-foot bright-blue plastic kayak in the middle of a lake... with no clue what I was doing. I had no skills and absolutely no technique, but I loved it.
There, on that incredibly cold lake, I found Peace. It was just me and the water lapping against the sides of my kayak as loons dove under the water only to pop up on the other side of my boat. The ducks bobbed along with the ripples left by my paddles as the geese took flight, leaving glittering trails of water droplets behind them. All my cares and stress melted away with the rhythm of the water.
That was years ago now. I have gone through many changes as a paddler since. I have taken courses to build my skills and techniques. I have upgraded gear and seen my body transformed to a strong healthy one. I have gone on incredible adventures and camping journeys. But with everything kayaking has given me, I will always be most grateful for that day I discovered that sometimes the best medicine for the soul is water.
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