Category Archives: Travel adventure

Drinkin’ Thinkin’


A Canadian Cyclist’s View Atop An American Barstool

I am so proud of my friend, Brian Mulligan, who followed through on his dream to publish a book chronicling his solo cycling adventures. It’s a beautiful book and a great read.

Brian is no ordinary guy. Although he is well-loved by a large circle of friends, he’s also a bit of a loner, and likes to cycle long distances alone which gives him extended stretches of time to ponder life.  At the end of the day he’ll find a bar in whatever small town he’s reached, grab a bite and a beer, and talk with the locals. They share their stories with him because he’s a good listener.

In his book, Drinkin’ Thinking‘ we meet a few of these characters while also reading about some of Brian’s many cycling adventures. In short, it’s a book you can gobble up in one sitting or stretch out  by reading one chapter (read: adventure) at at time.

Following is the Foreward that Brian asked me to write for the book. I was honoured to do so.

Shortly after I met Brian I approached him at a noisy social gathering. Debbie, his wife, had told me about his biking trips, how he was cycling from Canada to Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific by riding for two weeks every year. The whole idea of it fascinated me and I wanted to know more. 

“What do you think about when you’re pedalling along those endless highways?” I asked as a way of jumping in. Continue reading

Fear of heights? What the…?

Because I’d viewed this photo before we hiked up to the cliffs it never occurred to me that there’d be a problem. I knew what I was getting into. Our competent Irish guide, Gerry Greensmyth, led the way. It was Day One of our hiking adventure and we were on Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland. Spirits were high.

As we crested the ridge I caught a glimpse of the sheer drop-off down to the wild coast below. It hit without warning, a physical response, a dizzy light-headedness as all my blood seemed to rush to my  heart which just might have stopped beating for a moment. Next came a floating sensation and I hoped I wasn’t mid-faint. I think it was a panic attack, but I don’t know if that’s the correct label. All I knew then was that I absolutely could not stand there on that cliff-top with my friends to admire the view. I felt sure I would pass out and fall over, or worse, hurl myself over. Then, to further increase my anxiety, one of my dearest friends stepped oh-so-close to the edge to peer down. And it was a LONG way straight down. And did I mention that the wind was blowing hard? That really stirred up the strange physical sensations I was experiencing.

“C’mon, Shelley, come a little closer,” Gerry urged, wanting me to experience the full magnitude of the vista. After all, we had climbed this steep mountain for that very reason

I tried to cover up my embarrassing reaction by making light of the situation. “Did we sign any waivers before we took this hike?” It was supposed to be a joke, but my face likely conveyed my fear.

“Waivers are meaningless. C’mon, hold my hand,” he said and grabbed it without waiting for a response. He tugged me closer to the edge. That’s when I lost it.

“We don’t know anything about you!” I cried out, trying to put on the brakes. “For all I know you are a crazy man, luring naive tourists up here and then pushing them over the edge.” (Novelists have vivid imaginations.)

He may have experienced hysterical women before, I don’t know, but he remained calm and did manage to drag me close enough to the edge that the full beauty of the coastline unfolded before us. I am grateful for that. But as quickly as I could I took a mental photo and scrambled back to relative safety on the other side of the clifftop.

Admittedly, this was not the first time this has happened, so I should have been better prepared. It happened in the wind turbine on Grouse Mountain. When I stepped out of the elevator into  the observatory at the top, it hit me equally as hard and as unexpected.  I had to turn around and step directly back onto that elevator that returned me to the ground instead of walking around to enjoy the 360 degrees of  magnificent views.  Suspension bridges are another trigger. I won’t be crossing those anymore.

I didn’t have this fear of heights until fairly recently,  I don’t know where it came from but I would really like it to go away. Does anyone know any strategies?

Anchll Island photo credit: Gerry Greensmyth.

Eye of the Wind Photo Credit: Grouse Mountain Resort

Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

I thought of this famous quote when I was a passenger in a car in India, our driver weaving through the mad jumble of rickshaws, pedicabs, cows, motorbikes (with entire families clinging to them), tuk tuks, herds of goats, bicycles, pedestrians and other vehicles. Our North American rules-of-the-road were not adhered to there. I was amazed that it all seemed to flow anyway, even though it looked and felt so chaotic. Each day I thought might be my last, especially  on the highways where truck drivers seemed to take such risks when passing other vehicles. I had to cover my eyes many times as  freight trucks barrelled down on us, switching to the other lane at the last second…

I’m thinking of this quote  again as I prepare for a cycling trip that will take us across Prince Edward Island. This will be a full week of doing something every day that scares me.  I signed on to the trip as I thought this would be a great way to see a part of Canada I’ve never visited. Apparently the route is mostly gravel pathways, and relatively flat. Trouble is, although I ride bikes occasionally, I am not a cyclist, and 60 kilometre days may be a stretch for me. I’m not a spring chicken. It seemed like such a good idea eight months ago.

I’m beginning to prepare  in earnest now, with less than a month before the trip begins. Doubts and fears are creeping in. Will I be the lone cyclist at the back of the pack each day? Will I need to find other transportation to get me to each day’s destination? Will the bicycle seat be comfy???

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

And we want to continuing growing, don’t we?

I think I’m up for the challenge, comfy bike seat or not.


My Love Affair With BC Ferries (or why I hate flying)

I wish I all my travels could be taken aboard a BC Ferry.

Consider air travel vs ferry travel:

  • On a plane you’re strapped into a cramped seat with minimal leg or elbow room.  If you have a window seat and nature calls you have to climb over your travel mates or ask them to get up. This ‘call’ usually arrives just as they’ve fallen asleep.  On the ferry, however,  window seats aren’t boxed in and you can opt to sit alone if you’re not feeling friendly. The seats are spacious, cushy, you don’t need to strap yourself in and there’s no problem accessing aisles. You can walk around the ferry for the entire trip if you don’t feel like sitting. You can even shop aboard the larger vessels.
  • Washrooms on airplanes are scary, noisy, cramped spaces and there are very few. If one becomes “unusable” for any reason, the line-ups for the remaining few become long. Washrooms on ferries are numerous, spacious and, in my experience, clean.
  • Unless you’re flying business class, food on flights is limited and expensive and your first choice is usually unavailable once the flight attendant reaches your row. (Same with the beer and wine.)  On BC Ferries there are a lot more options as well as tables for dining.
  • The scenery from the window of a BC ferry is spectacular and ever-changing as compared to the view of  endless sky and clouds when you’re in the air. (And you see nothing if your seat mate has closed the window screen.)
  • Boarding a ferry does not require frustrating security checks and you don’t have to pay extra for your bags.
  • Turbulence is more unsettling than rough seas – there’s further to fall.

Part of my love affair with ferry travel is that feeling of suspended time. There’s nothing you have to do but read, nap, nibble or eavesdrop while seated in a comfortable lounge. Much the same may be said of air travel but with the comfort factor removed and if you forget to bring nibblies you’re out of luck.

I never grow tired of watching ferries come around the point and glide into the bay, majestic giants, quiet and snow-white against a backdrop of blue ocean and moss green mountains.

It’s a shame that air travel is far faster and you can visit significantly more places than with ferry travel.

Perhaps the greatest reason I love ferry travel is that it always coincides with the start of  beloved cabin time, or time spent with a dear friend. Perhaps that’s the real reason I look forward to riding BC Ferries.

Mothers and Babies

IMG_0244The animal behaviour that struck me most profoundly in Uganda was how well the mothers cared for their young. I expect  that most of those mothers would have battled to their death to protect their babies. It was especially evident in the primates, but we observed it in the elephants too. When a family of them stepped onto the road right in front of our jeep we watched in amazement as the adults quickly shuffled their positions so that they were surrounding the baby, keeping it safe, and then they resumed their forward motion, in a pack. There was no verbal communication, not that we could hear anyway, but each of the adults knew exactly what they had to do. Continue reading

Mountain Gorilla Trekking

imagesIn single file, eight tourists and two porters followed our guide through the dense Ugandan jungle. The going was tough and I relied on my porter to push and pull me up the steepest slopes. Thistles bit into my sweaty skin. The guide’s machete hacked away at the lush green vegetation.
The crackle of a walkie-talkie brought us to a halt. After a quick conversation with the trackers who were ahead of us, scouting out the direction in which the mountain gorillas had been moving since yesterday, our guide said, “We’re almost there. Take out your cameras and leave everything else here. Remember, seven meters, that’s as close as you may get to them.”
My heart was pounding, partly from exertion, but mostly from excitement. Were the gorillas really just ahead of us? Was my long-time dream of observing them in the wild actually coming true? Continue reading