Whistler Wrap-up

Of course, Whistler hasn’t always belonged to adrenaline junkies and shopaholics…before the Starbucks and the après-ski happy hours arrived, this land was the domain of two First Nations tribes: the Squamish and the Lilwat. A small but striking museum and cultural center has been erected in Whistler to showcase their customs, artwork, and traditions, as well as to preserve their heritage and languages. I joined a guided tour lead by a young woman who is a member of the Lilwat Nation who told us about the blanket weaving, canoe making, and totem pole carving traditions of her people. We also got to go inside replicas of a Lilwat Pit House and a Squamish Long House…they were both made of cedar and smelled sooooo good! I’m definitely going to have to work a cedar closet into my condo remodel somehow. She also taught us how to make a short length of woven “rope” from the inner bark of a cedar tree. Mine didn’t turn out quite long enough to wear as a bracelet, so I’m thinking it will be a new key fob when I get back to stateside.
I should preface this next bit by saying that I was seriously bruised and battered from my fall during my hike yesterday, and every muscle from my ears down was sore. So other than my cultural adventure, I only had the stamina to explore the shopping culture in Whistler village. Luckily, my credit cards didn’t get too much of a workout…guess they were fatigued as well.

The next day, I awoke feeling better, though sitting was still a little uncomfortable on my beat-up tailbone. So, I decided to canoe The River of Golden Dreams. It was a lot of fun! I’ve been canoeing before, but didn’t feel comfortable trying to navigate a river on my own. So, I signed up for a tour with a guide and a family of four…I was fortunate to be assigned the front seat in the guide’s canoe, so it was a relaxing and entertaining paddle. The family didn’t fare as well…novice canoeists, they had a little trouble steering and often wound up in the brush lining the river. The guide whispered that the alternate name of the river was “The River of Broken Marriages!” After listening to them trying to steer that canoe without swearing in front of their kids, I can see why! For me, though, it was all good fun and it was nice being out ON the water and not IN the water for a change!

And that, unfortunately, brings my time of healing, reflection, and solitude to an end. As I type this, I am waiting for my friend Katherine to arrive in Vancouver. She will be helping me transition back to the civilized world of Vancouver and Victoria before I have to head back to the Chicago area to face the music…at least I hope there will be music again at some point in my life. This time in BC hasn’t only been outdoor adventure and relaxation…I’ve done a lot of soul-searching here. Trying to escape the loneliness and heartbreak hasn’t worked. Trying to mask the pain with anger hasn’t helped. Trying to outrun, out-canoe, out-hike, or out-swim the fear of what my life will look like when I get back to Oak Park has only been a temporary fix. So, as I say “adieu” to Whistler, I say truly “à Dieu” (come on French-speakers, you can do it J) and do the only thing I can do: surrender.


Waterfalls and getting wet :(

A severely bruised tailbone, an insane number of bug bites and some wet undies later (it's not what you might be thinking...), I can still say that I'm glad I hiked the Rainbow Trail. I had read about this off-the-beaten track trail in a tourist "magazine" I picked up at the airport in Vancouver and had decided immediately that I had to see it for myself!

I got a slightly later start than I wanted to, so I knew I would have to hustle to make it to Rainbow Lake, the turnaround point for the 16 km/2700 ft elevation gain trail. I was anticipating a hot, sweaty climb since the weather was in the 30s C in Whistler Valley. However, the temperature dropped almost immediately as I entered the old-growth forest and followed the path that snaked alongside an icy river. Within 15 minutes of hiking, I found the aptly-named Rainbow Falls...it was so unexpectedly and breathtakingly beautiful, that I literally felt the wind knocked out of me. In spite of the time crunch, I took a break to let the roar of the rapids and the spray from the freezing-cold water pound the tension I hadn't even realized I was carrying out of me.

The trail continued the uphill climb until I broke through the trees and encountered a plaque informing me that this watershed was the source of all Whistler Valley's drinking water...some of the freshest tasting and naturally cleanest in the world. This was accompanied by a reminder to not swim or to throw garbage or other debris in the river or lake system...and to dig latrine pits FAR from the water if need be. Yes, folks...this is foreshadowing.

After about two hours of hiking vertically, I got my first inkling that this wasn't going to be just "a walk in the woods." I got to a small stream rushing downhill and while taking pictures and admiring the sound of the surge of water, I realized that I no longer saw the path ahead of me. Then I realized that the "stream" actually WAS the path. The snow runoff was so substantial that it had taken over the trail! I managed to find where earlier hikers had beaten a small footpath into the brush on the other side of the path/stream and managed to cross with only mildly damp feet.

Up and up and up I climbed...the only wildlife I encountered was a squirrel that squeaked angrily at me until I was out of sight and about 800 million and 1 mosquitoes. I genuinely think they were trying to nibble me into smaller morsels so they could just carry me away in pieces, but no such luck. I kept slathering on "natural bug repellent"...a stinky mix of citronella and other herbal crap...but to no avail. After all that, I can honestly say screw carcinogens!! Bring on the DEET!

Well, as I smacked and scratched and flailed my arms, I realized that the path was getting muddier and muddier and then snowy patches started popping up here and there. And I was running out of steam. Just as I was starting to get discouraged, the trees faded away and an amazing Alpine wetland opened ahead of me. The dirt trail became a wooden boardwalk that took me up and over the icy water and mud. The mosquitoes receded into the shadows and I got a second wind. Certainly, I was swollen and scratching like a leper, stinky, covered in mud, but I felt like I must be getting close to Rainbow Lake...the turnaround point!!

Surprisingly, two hikers on their way back down the trail asked me to take their photo and as I scratched and shot pics, they asked me if I had ever hiked the trail before. They seemed slightly cagey as I said no and asked how far was left to the lake. They let me know that it was probably another hour's hike with a solid mile of that hour through an area where the path was completely covered in snow. They didn't say it in so many words, but I could tell they thought I wasn't going to make it to the lake on my own.

They were right. As soon as I reached the snowline, I lost track of where I was supposed to be going and which way the trail led. The stubborn achiever in me desperately wanted to continue, but common sense ruled the day. I was tired, itchy, and would soon be lost in the snow if I kept going. So, I turned around. I didn't make it to Rainbow Lake, but had seen so many beautiful sights along the way (and lost so much blood to bugs) that I decided that I was not a failure for calling it quits early.

The descent went a bit quicker than the ascent, but the bugs were worse even than on the way up, if that's possible...so the descent may have gone more quickly because I was practically running from the blood-suckers. Well, it was bound to happen...I was going too fast on too-tired legs and my thoughts were elsewhere. So, when it was time to cross the stream/path, I slipped on a rock and flump! Before I knew what had happened, I was flat on my butt and up to my waist in icy, rushing water. Brrrrr! Once I got my bearings and managed to stand up, I realized that everything from the waist down hurt. Bad. Those rocks did not make for a soft landing...luckily though, the icy water kept the swelling from being too terrible.
Moments before biting the dust...or rocks...

The remainder of the hike in sopping, cold socks, shoes, pants and undies was substantially less comfortable than it had been just moments before. But, I made it. And I even laughed about it...two days later.

Honestly, though, I saw so much amazing natural beauty and had so much time to think and reflect on where I've been and where I'm going, both literally and figuratively, that I would hike the Rainbow Trail again in a second. I didn't make it to the destination I thought I was shooting for, but the journey wound up being its own reward.

And to the people of Whistler Valley, if your drinking water tastes funny over the next day or two...sorry. That would be me...it was an accident :)


Zen and Adrenaline

The last two days have been a study in contrasts...yesterday, zen. Today, adrenaline!

Yesterday, I got up early for a free outdoor yoga class, thinking it would be relaxing and soothe the sore muscles I was feeling after my hiking around the summit of Whistler. Unfortunately, the class wasn't the relaxing, slow-moving style of yoga I've gotten used to...so, today I have sore arm and back muscles to go with the sore legs! It was fun, though, and reaffirmed my decision to spend the rest of the day relaxing.

Off I went to the Scandinave Spa! As the name implies, this spa focuses on the a Scandinavian-style hydrotherapy experience. First step: you heat yourself up for 10-15 minutes in one of four heating areas...an eucalyptus steam room, Finnish sauna, thermal waterfall, or 104 degree pool. Step two: cool yourself down...rapidly!! There was a chilly waterfall, a cooling pool and a "Nordic" shower that made me feel like a football coach at the end of a big victory...icy Gatorade all over my head! Brrr! Finally, the third step was the best part: Relaxation. To allow your body to absorb the benefits of the hydrotherapy, I got to sit in comfy chair surrounded by wildflowers and flowing water and enjoy the play of sun and shade. It was amazing. I relaxed like it was my job...literally. I was there for seven hours :)

Today, on the other hand, I woke up to the first rainy day of my stay here. In spite of the rain, I headed out for a ziplining adventure! Meeting our guides, we had time to strap on the system of safety straps and harnesses and get fitted for helmets before reports started coming in of lightning in the area. Since the whole premise of ziplining is to attach yourself to a steel cable and zip out over tall trees and bodies of water, it seemed that going out in a lightning storm would be tempting fate just a leeeeeetle too much. So we sat it out, trading travel stories and tales of modern gypsying, which was a fantastic way to pass the time. Ah, to be a backpacker again...
After the storm passed, we headed out to the course for an amazing few hours of flying through the cedar forests and over the roaring river below. Within the forest, it smelled like Christmas and looked like something out of The Lord of the Rings. Once we shot out from the cover of the trees, the rain spattered our faces, the wind whipped our hair, and a sky full of clouds opened up over our heads. Magnificent! For the last zip, we were told to go "freestyle..." so I took the advice to go upside-down! A quick tuck and kick up into the air and I had a whole new perspective...I let go of the strap and flew across the ravine in completely inverse abandon! The video is about 15 seconds and isn't my upside-down run, but I hope it's fun to watch!

Following up the zipline adventure with a soothing trip to the farmer's situation, a long nap, and a good book was the perfect end to a rainy day. Oh, Oak Park, IL...you feel so blissfully far away!! I know I have to go back and face real life eventually, but I have a little more respite ahead of me, thank heavens!!