Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer Cruise to the Head

Each year we take our 24' Bayliner out of the chuck (ocean) and bring her up the lake for a winter in fresh water. There are several advantages in doing this. The fresh water is good for the hull and every other exposed and internal part, the growth of algae and sea critters is brought to a screeching halt, and we have a bigger boat for lake cruises and for an added measure of safety during rough winter water.

This weekend we took the Bayliner for a summer cruise to the head of Powell Lake. Powell Lake is a glacial carved fjord that is 51 kilometres (32 miles) long with 480 kilometres (300 miles) of shoreline. From our cabin at Hole in the Wall it about 36 kilometres (22 miles) to the head. Our first stop was the logging dock. We hiked through the log sort and found it full of fresh cut trees ready to be dumped into the lake for transport. We were surprised to see so much action because of the summer and economic slowdown.

Next we passed through the camp built by Plutonic Power to support the construction of hydro lines from their run-of-river project in the Toba Valley. We continued up the logging road to the bridge that spans the Daniels River. During dry summer months, this is the main source of water for the lake. As you can see from the exposed stumps, the input isn't keeping up with evaporation and the outflow at the dam.

We then took the Bayliner to the east side of the large bay and anchored where we would catch the last rays of the setting sun. There aren't many places on this steep sided lake where you can anchor, but we found one near Jim Brown Creek. We lowered Mr. Bathtub (our dinghy) and paddled to shore for a hike up another logging road. On the way we found tracks from elk reintroduced here last year. It's good to see they are flourishing in the lush environment.

After a refreshing swim, we headed back for a shipboard BBQ of chicken and sausages. And boy was I hungry. The weather was warm and calm all night. Just a gentle rock and lapping sound on the hull. On our way back home in the morning, we saw lots of people enjoying the lake. Some were at their cabins, others camping along the shore. There's still a bit of summer left, so why don't you join Wayne and I up the lake. -- Margy

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Night of the Woodrat

Looks like fall is coming early this year. Typically, it's October before Mr. Woodrat appears. That brings to mind a funny story I call "The Night of the Woodrat." The second year we had our float cabin, I was able to go up the lake by myself the week before Thanksgiving. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I had lots of experience outdoors and camping. I was confident my solo trip would be a piece of cake.

Sleeping upstairs in the cabin's loft is usually peaceful and quiet. I built a fire in the wood stove to keep warm and turned in early to read. Before long, I drifted off, only to be roused by a racket downstairs. I keep a flashlight next to the bed, so I grabbed it and looked over the railing. At first there was no sound and nothing in sight. Then the quick scurrying of little feet caught my attention and a small furry critter scampered out of the darkness to appear at the foot of the stairs. There, as bold as could be, staring up at me was a woodrat (packrat). His large dark eyes and perky round ears were inquisitive, and his bushy tail twitched up and down with excitement. Now I must admit, as comfortable as I am with nature, sleeping in confined quarters with a small rodent isn't high on my bucket list.

My first thought was, how in the world did he get indoors. My second thought was, how in the world was I going to get him back outdoors. I cautiously climbed downstairs and opened the sliding glass door. Of course, he didn't cooperate and exit on cue. I tried chasing him, but he avoided going anywhere near the door. Then I thought I was so smart. I piled firewood into a barricade to encourage him out on his next circuit of the living room wall. I tiptoed behind and chased him back towards the open door. But he ran right on past and over the wall like an Olympic high jumper. By now I was pretty tired and exasperated. On his next pass from the kitchen back to living room, he stopped at the wood stove, dove underneath and up inside. That did it. I left the sliding door open and went back to bed. I figured if he wanted to be indoors that bad, I could share my abode for one night.

The next morning there was no sign of Mr. Woodrat. I'm sure he wasn't a dream (nightmare?) because the sliding glass door was open, it was a chilly 10 degrees inside, and there was firewood stacked in a tall pile leading to the doorway.

Each year, Mr. (or Mrs.) Woodrat has returned when there gets to be a chill in the evening air and the leaves begin to turn. He hasn't come inside again, but loves to harvest my flowers and vegetables for his winter stores. He also likes to set up house in our wood shed. Neither of these activities are appreciated, so we use our Havahart live trap to catch and relocate our occasional bushy-tailed visitors. Last year there were three. So far this year, the count is one. Hopefully it will be the last. -- Margy

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Powell River Turns Out for a Star Party

Tonight was the second Star Party hosted by Powell River Books at the Town Centre Hotel in Powell River, BC. Wayne (with a little help from me) set up two telescopes in the hotel's courtyard. The goal was to introduce people to astronomy and the availability of affordable telescopes. The Star Party was part of our contribution to the International Year of Astronomy. Around the world, amateur and professional astronomers have been hosting similar events.

The moon slipped below the horizon before darkness set in, so we set up Wayne's more powerful Meade LX90 to focus on Jupiter. Jupiter is currently as close as it gets to the earth, and viewing is excellent. The four largest moons were lined up in a row, and the bands were quite evident. Thanks to the computer driven controllers on today's modern scopes, we were able to easily find and track the evenings best celestial objects.

Participants of all ages had a good time, and they especially enjoyed their free commemorative hand painted constellation paper weights. Wayne and I want to thank Shelly, the manager of the Town Centre Hotel, for her ongoing support of events like these and Powell River Books.

Wayne is an enthusiastic amateur astronomer. He has three telescopes, a Meade ETX125 (125 millimeter) Maksutov-Cassegrain, a Meade LX90 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and a Edmond Astroscan (for fun). For newbie amateurs astronomers, here are a few of his recommendations:

I am amazed at how dark and clear the sky can be here in Powell River. It's a perfect location for night sky exploration, even from the corner of our float cabin up Powell Lake.

Do you have a favourite night sky viewing spot? Let us hear about it. -- Margy

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Available Online: "Echo of a Distant Planet" by Wayne Lutz

by Wayne J. Lutz
How would a distant intelligence contact earth? Shawna is an Air Force officer with remembrances of the future. Trapped in a structured military world, her unearthly memories persist for nearly three decades, culminating in a message from the stars. Meanwhile, on a distant planet, alien life is struggling to communicate with life on earth. Shawna is their target. The author of six books in the series Coastal BC Stories ventures into an exciting new genre, military aviation science fiction, where the C-130 Hercules is the biggest hero. Click here for a look inside.

Get the print edition now
online at

Get the Kindle e-book edition now
online at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Three's a Charm

Early in July, I wrote about the tragedy that struck our Barn Swallow nesting pair in And Then There Were None. All five chicks were either pushed or fell to their deaths from their nest under the peak of our cabin roof.

On July 12, I wrote a Barn Swallow Update in which we built a "safety net" for future chicks. Shortly after, Wayne and I left for our vacation trip to Newfoundland. When we returned to the cabin last week, we were greeted by our nesting pair and the chirping voices of three new chicks. We were amazed at how big they were already.

The other thing we noticed was how crumbly the nest appeared. This is its second season, and the second brood this year. The dry weather and heavy use was really affecting its stability. Yesterday morning when I went out to check on the chicks, the nest had broken loose on one side. One chick was still clinging to the left side, but the other two were nowhere to be seen.

Wayne went up on the ladder, but there were no little bodies on the pad (thank goodness). The mother returned to the one chick several times. She would land on his back and give a nudge with both of her feet, like she was encouraging him to fly. After watching for a while, I went inside to cook breakfast. When I returned, the last chick was gone. The broken nest may have accelerated the three chicks' flying lessons, but it wasn't the disaster it could have been.

The family spent the morning soaring, gliding and dipping into the water for tasty insect treats. Later in the day, the three chick returned to the cabin porch to rest together. Then this morning, they ventured out as a team to the swim ladder. It has been lots of fun watching them. I hope Mom and Dad return next year and rebuild the nest, only a bit stronger this time. -- Margy

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Canning: Strawberry Refrigerator Jam

When I got back to the cabin, my strawberry plants were loaded and there were lots of over ripe berries. I hated to throw them away, so I decided to experiment with some easy refrigerator jam.

Small Batch
Strawberry Refrigerator Jam

1 cup mashed strawberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup sugar

I picked, cleaned and mashed all of the over ripe berries. I then added some less ripe berries to bring the mashed mixture up to one cup. Actually, my recipe book recommended this as a way to elevate the natural pectin content. Then I added one tablespoon of lemon juice and one cup of sugar.

I gently heated the mixture in a heavy pot until the sugar was dissolved. Then I cooked it at a rolling boil until the candy thermometer reached 220º F (104º C). It cooked down a bit, but was still quite liquid. When it was cooled, it was still slightly runny, but oh so tasty! I put the jam in a sterilized jar, but did not complete the canning process. This jam is for immediate consumption and will be kept under refrigeration until gone.

I do want to try some real canning in the future, but for now this was a successful experiment with gustatory rewards. - Margy

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Ride to Elephant Lakes

Today, Wayne and I came to town for a quad ride. The weather was warm, just perfect for riding. Thanks to a new quad trails book written by Dave, the president of the Powell River ATV Club, we feel more comfortable striking out on our own.

For today's ride we chose the Elephant Lakes Loop. Heading south on Highway 101 we exited on Stillwater Main (the first dirt road on the left after the bridge over the Lois River/Eagle Creek). At .9 km we turned right on Lois Main Forest Service Road (FSR) Branch 1 and found a wide turnout to park our truck and trailer.

This is a popular road to the Powell River Forest Canoe Route launch site and campground. We popped in to take a look and there were lots of people enjoying the lake and camping. Back on Branch 1 we continued to the junction with Lois Main FSR Branch 3 (at 3.9 km). Just after the junction you will see a road sign to confirm that you are on course. Ride on Branch 3 for another 5.1 km to an intersection. Continue straight ahead and you are on the Elephant Lakes Loop.

The trail follows old logging roads. There are lots of trees and it's cool underneath the green canopy. We did pretty well using the guide, but also had our Garmin Oregon 300 GPS with the topo maps installed. Several times we stopped to make sure we were on the right road. We made one wrong turn, but we got back on course after a quick lunch break next to the Sunshine Coast (hiking) Trail.

As you climb into alpine country, the road narrows and gets rocky. We turned off at the Sunshine Coast Trail marker pointing to Saltery Bay. The short spur ends at the hiking trail the follows the lake shore. We parked our bikes and hiked in for a ways. The foliage still had dew drops on the leaves late in the afternoon. And all along the path there were blueberry bushes with plump berries. I tasted a few, and they are almost ready to pick. Rather than continue on the loop, we back tracked to our truck.

This map is an example from the ATV Trail Guide for Powell River BC. Each trail has a written description, level of difficulty and GPS coordinates. If you would like one, stop by the Powell River Books booth at the Blackberry Street Fair on Friday, August 21, from 6:00-9:00 pm. Dave will be there to answer any questions you have about the ATV Club or Trail Guide. And a good complement to the Trail Guide would be Wayne's book Up the Main. See you there! - Margy

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Coming Home

I flew 3,992 nautical in an airliner, traveled 364 miles on a ferry, and drove 4,096 kilometres only to come home to Powell River BC to the most beautiful sunsets of all.

There's no place like home.

It's so good to be home, well almost! -- Margy

Monday, August 10, 2009

Camping by Airliner

That may sound a bit funny, but that's just what we did this last week. We loaded our tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags and other camp gear in duffel bags and flew by West Jet from Vancouver to Montreal to start a 10-day Canadian Maritimes and Newfoundland camping trip.

This is the second time we've done it, and both trips were very successful. It's more economical than staying in motels and hotels. But more than that, we prefer camping as a way to get to see and experience new places. Flying to a distant location maximizes the time you can spend in your desired location, rather than spending most of your vacation driving to get there.

Here are some tips if you want to try it yourself:


  • Make airline reservations well in advance to get the best deals.
  • Our camp gear and clothes fit in four duffel bags (2@24" & 2@28") and two backpacks.
  • Check with the airline for bag limits. We got 2 checked and 2 carry-on each.
  • Even though they weren't heavy, a cart at the airport made bag dragging easier.
  • Check with your airline for good deals on car rental.
  • Choose a vehicle with room to spread out wet items to dry while driving. We got a small SUV by accident and found it indispensable.
  • Rent a vehicle with unlimited miles if you are taking a long trip.
  • If you have a GPS with road maps, take it. If not, rent with the vehicle. Ours helped us out immensely.
  • Buy a travel guide and map for planning, then stop at tourist information centres once you arrive.
  • Make campground reservations before you leave. Most now have online services and you can cancel up to a day in advance to get a refund just like a hotel.
Camping gear we packed:
  • Small waterproof tent.
  • Small ground tarp for under the tent.
  • Two Thermarest air mattresses.
  • Two sleeping bags that stuff into small bags.
  • Two collapsible coolers and 2-gallon Ziploc bags to keep ice from leaking, one for pop and one for food.
  • Two small pillows.
  • Flashlight.
Other items we packed:
  • Clothing and personal items (1/2 duffel bag each).
  • Travel books and maps.
  • Inverters for recharging devices in the car.
  • Rechargeable reading lights.
  • Bug juice handy in the backpack.
  • Computers, cell phones, books to read, etc.
Things we bought at our destination:
  • Two inexpensive chairs that we gave away at our last camp.
  • Food and drinks for snacks and emergency meals.
  • Bottled water in large containers.
  • Lots of gas and ferry fees.
On the road:
  • Eat out (taste the local fare) or fix simple meals rather than elaborate cooking.
  • At least one motel stop for a shampoo is nice, but many campgrounds have showers.
  • There are enough free hotspots to stay connected.
We're already planning a return trip in the near future. But next time we'll fly directly to Newfoundland. The airfare is higher, but our costs for six days of travel to get there will be eliminated.

If you have any questions, I'd be glad to answer them here or via e-mail. And for your next camping trip, take an airliner. -- Margy

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Road Trip

Tomorrow, Wayne and I are leaving on our first vacation away from Powell River since we discovered it in 2000 and especially since we got our float cabin in 2001. In the beginning, we were still working in Los Angeles, so we wanted to spend every vacation day we had up the lake. Now that we have our Canadian permanent residency, we feel we can take two weeks to explore a bit more of our new country.

One aid we will have on this trip is our new Garmin Oregon 300 GPS. We have Mac computers and sometimes companies like Garmin don't offer software compatible with our machines. But we were in luck, according to our friend George (Mr. GPS) at Marine Traders in Powell River. We purchased the Oregon to use when we ride our quads in the bush. But we also got the City Navigator North America road map software for our upcoming trip.

We're flying commercially from Vancouver to Montreal, then renting a car to drive to Newfoundland, camping along the way. I'm not sure if I'll be able to post about our adventures along the way. If I can find Internet connections, I will. A special thanks to Elaine (a Newfie by birth) over at A Scattering for the list of free library hot spots. I'll try to use one or more of them along the way. Stay tuned. - Margy

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Up! Up! and Away

Wayne and I've been visiting Mom in Bellingham, so the first leg of our Canadian adventure started at Bellingham International Airport. That's where we caught the Quick Shuttle which provides international bus service between greater Vancouver (including to the departure gate Vancouver International Airport) and Seattle, Washington. See my May 2009 post if you would like more information.

We packed all of our camping gear (tent, sleeping bags, air mattress, collapsible ice chests) in two 28" duffel bags we found at WalMart for only $17.00. They are sturdy with lots of pockets for smaller items. Our two older 24" duffel bags carry our pillows (Pikachu Pikachu), clothes, guide books and such. West Jet allows two free checked bags per person with a maximum weight of 23 kgs (50 lbs) and dimensions of 157 cm (62 in). We don't have much space for souvenirs, but that's OK.

We've flown in and out of Vancouver many times, but have never been in the Domestic Terminal. Today's trip to Montreal was our first. We chose to fly on West Jet because of price, and so far all has gone well. The check-in lines weren't too long, the agents courteous and the planes spiffy looking (now that's an precise aeronautical term). We chose to fly to Montreal because it was the furthest direct flight for a relatively reasonable price.

We depart at 4:15 and should arrive at 11:56 p.m. Montreal time. Because it's so late, we'll stay tonight at the Montreal Airport Courtyard. Then, in the morning we will rent a car and begin our camping adventure to Newfoundland. I can't wait!! - Margy

FREE HOTSPOT WATCH: Quick Shuttle Coach (slow) and YVR Domestic Terminal (excellent bandwidth).

Friday, August 07, 2009

Day 1: Highway High Jinks

Our landing in Montreal was on time and we took a cab over to the hotel. Jet lag didn't catch us too bad, so we were up at 8:00 a.m. to return to the airport to pick up our rental car. Wayne had reserved one in advance at Budget through West Jet (I love that airline!). We were an hour early, so they gave us a free upgrade to let us get on our way. We ended up with a Dodge Journey (SUV). It turned out to be the perfect vehicle for us. There's lots of room for our camping gear and the back seats fold down. We could sleep inside if the weather gets really rainy. In honour of his heritage and colour, I've dubbed him Monsieur Argent.

View Larger Map

The first day's drive took us through green countryside over mostly divided double-lane highways. Because it was going to be our longest (distance and time) travel day, we drove straight through. Our path took us east, then across the St. Lawrence River at Quebec City to Riviere-du-Loup. From there we followed Highway 2 southeast to a small town on the St. John River called St. Leonard. Most of the towns are either St, Ste, St. or Saint in this region. Must because of their French ties. Even though every local we met spoke French, they were friendly and accommodating with our English. That's a lot different than I remember from our last trip to Quebec by airplane.

We camped at a private facility called Grande Riviere just outside of town. We set up our tent next to a small river. I could imagine a French trapper paddling his canoe up such a stream to catch beaver. We had reservations, but wouldn't have needed them. We were the only tenters and there were hardly any RVs either. It was a nice park with lots of green grass, a few shaded sites, restrooms with showers, and a pool. Quite retro. I'm sure it looked just the same when my parents passed through years ago. After we set up our tent we went into town for dinner at the restaurant at the Daigle Motel. Good home cooking for a good price.

We had a bit of rain overnight, but today dawned sunny and warm. The mosquitoes were out last night, but I think the rain kept them to a minimum. Don't think I have any bites to show for my outdoor experience yet.

We stopped in Fredericton to find a hot spot. That's easy in this town because it has Fred-e-Zone or free citywide wireless service. We are sitting in Wilmot Park downtown under a tree to check e-mail and make this post. But I better get going, our destination of Halifax is still a long ways away. -- Margy

FREE HOTSPOT WATCH: Fred-e-Zone is Fredericton NB's free citywide wireless service. Excellent bandwidth, Wayne watching TV on Slingbox.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Day 2: Big City Lights

Day two of our Maritime adventure was another long driving day.

View Larger Map

After we left Fredericton NB (an extended hot spot stop in the provincial capital of New Brunswick), we got back on Highway 2 heading southeast. That will be three provinces in two days of driving! Our new Garmin Oregon 300 GPS has been quite a help. We've also learned a bit more about how to use it. We set in a destination of Halifax via Highway 2. When we exited at Fredericton, the GPS gave us the routing needed to return to our original route. Nice!

Back on the highway, I saw the first white-barked birch trees. Those few gave way to large groves in some sections. You always hear about birch bark canoes being used by First Nations peoples here on the east coast. You can see that they were in ready supply.

The road to Halifax was doublewide all the way. The climate seems drier here and the terrain in rolling hills interspersed with flat coastal plains. One section had a toll of $4.00. It was short, so they must have been collecting to pay for more than that little bit. Just north of town we turned off onto on Nova Scotia Highway 2 and headed to our campground for the night, Laurie Provincial Park on Shubenacadie-Grand Lake. It’s a small rustic camp, but the sites are nice in the shade of evergreen trees. We were lucky to get one on a bluff overlooking the lake. By evening, almost all of the spots were taken. Here there are more tenters like us.

After putting up our tent, we headed to Halifax for dinner. We entered town from the north through Dartmouth. There are two high bridges crossing the harbour, both of them toll bridges charging 75 cents. Must be the way Nova Scotia pays for transportation services. After a bit of fumbling at the tollbooth, we were on our way to the wharf area downtown. Cars were parked everywhere on the one-way streets, but we found a public lot just a few blocks up. I was surprised at how touristy it is. The boardwalk was very crowded, with lots of street musicians. We found a harbour view restaurant and had a much needed meal. We passed on the overpriced lobster for the Captain Catch plate and a cold brew. Double yum!

Using our GPS, we headed back to the campground. A glitch in the software took us to the wrong location, but our “cookie crumb” trail helped us rectify the situation and get back “home” for the night. That’s enough civilization for me for a long time. It helps me remember why I traded in the big city for Powell River. -- Margy

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Day 3: Oh What a Mournful Sound

Day 3 was from Halifax to Mira River NS. Not such a bad trip considering the last two days, but it still took us over four hours driving time.

View Larger Map

After our exhausting drive back to the campground (our GPS at first led us to the wrong destination), we turned in right away. It was a good thing we put up our tent before we left. As I was sliding into my sleeping bag, I heard a loon crying in the distance. We were surprised to hear one this far east, but the lake environment is perfect for them. We got a mournful serenade as we tried to drift off to sleep. And just when we were almost successful, we heard another mournful sound. Well, if it had been in the distance it would have been. But since the campground was right next to the railroad tracks it was a bit more loud than mournful.

Our first stop (after breakfast at Tim Horton’s that is) was Don and Marilyn’s house. As I’ve mentioned before, it is a small world. Our good friends Helen and Ed from Powell River were originally from Halifax. Helen’s brother still lives here so we stopped by to say hi and get some pictures for Helen. It’s been quite a few years since they’ve seen each other. Don and Marilyn live on two gorgeous acres northwest of town. Don does all the mowing, but I’m sure Marilyn has a hand in all the beautiful flowers. It was a quick visit, and then we were on our way north to Sydney and another provincial park camping spot.

The drive to Sydney was through green pastures then back to the mixed forest. There are more deciduous trees here than in Powell River. I guess that’s one reason they are so well know for their fall foliage. When we got to Cape Breton we had to cross the Canso Causeway across the narrow stretch of ocean that separates it from the rest of Nova Scotia. Just as we arrived the traffic stopped and the small bridge at the end rotates to allow two sailboats to pass. The canal they used wasn’t large enough for anything larger than a fishing boat. Large commercial boats must have to go all the way around the north end of the island.

Our first stop was for dinner in Louisbourg. It is the site of the historic French Fortress. Wayne found us a restaurant that wasn’t too touristy (The Grubstake) and then we went down to the docks to see the skookum fishing boats. Then it was back to the Mira River Provincial Park to camp for the night. We got a much-needed “bath” swimming in the lake and then were off to bed early. People have been coming here for generations. Here's the famous song "Out on the Mira" telling all about it.

Tomorrow we catch the ferry from North Sydney to Newfoundland so it will be an early start. - Margy

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Day 4: Time to Spare, Go by Ferry

Living in the ferry dependent community of Powell River BC, Wayne and I understand the problems with ferry schedules and service. Today we are getting a taste of it Newfoundland style.

View Larger Map

We woke up early, but knew we had to call the Marine Atlantic ferry to check on the scheduled departure for Newfoundland. They've been having ferry problems up here for a week and everything has been backed up. They thought they would get back on track earlier, but it hasn't happened. Our 10:00 departure was first pushed back to "after noon" then to 5:00 and now to 7:00 p.m.

So we stuck around the campground until the 1:00 pm checkout time. That worked out well, since it rained early this morning and was forecast to stop at noon. And at three minutes before twelve, it stopped. Just like clockwork. We were able to pack up our tent without getting drenched.

We headed over to North Sydney even though we had lots of time to kill. We found a nice restaurant called the Clansman not too far from the terminal. If you go there to eat, watch out. The portions are humongous! Then we drove to the ferry lineup to wait another three hours for loading. While we waited there was a musical group playing Nova Scotia and Newfoundland tunes for the captive audience. As I recall, the orchestra played during the sinking of the Titanic. I hope it isn't an omen (just kidding). -- Margy

FREE HOTSPOT WATCH: North Sydney Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in the ferry lineup. Not bad considering how many people must be online killing time!