My Eastern Destination

By | October 31, 2019

I enjoy planning a vacation almost as much as being on one. You start with a blank page and ultimately arrive at a milestone where you have all airfare, accommodation and top attractions identified. You research so much about the cities, tourist do’s and don’ts, and outdoor activities that you feel you could be an honorary ambassador for that location.

For the last decade we have taken our vacations abroad (England, Iceland, New Zealand, Italy, Hawaii) but in 2019 we became tourists in our own country. In June we touched the Pacific Ocean and in August we touched the Atlantic after we spent two weeks in Atlantic Canada.  It was pretty special to get to Eastern Canada but it wasn’t done without hours of research and a bit of luck.

Here are some takeaways of our trip and pointers to help others if they are struggling to see these provinces.

Preparation

Why does Atlantic Canada require a blog post?  It’s within our own country so what’s so difficult?  Two weeks is a good length of time to work with but the challenge was getting to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Travel blogs, Tripadvisor posts and YouTube videos rarely covered all four provinces in a single trip and fewer did it in a fortnight.

This was an ambitious plan and not one that was commonly recommended.

Two weeks for the Maritimes (NS, NB and PEI) is manageable but would still require sacrificing sights.  Adding in NL without backtracking was a logistical challenge and one I relished.

The Itinerary

For reference here is where we were each day:

  • Day 1: Halifax, NS
  • Day 2: Halifax, NS
  • Day 3: Moncton, NB
  • Day 4: Moncton, NB
  • Day 5: Kensington, PEI
  • Day 6: Kensington, PEI
  • Day 7: Port Hawksbury, NS
  • Day 8: Chéticamp, NS
  • Day 9: North Sydney, NS
  • Day 10: Bonne Bay Pond, NL
  • Day 11: Bonne Bay Pond, NL
  • Day 12: St. John’s, NL
  • Day 13: St. John’s, NL
  • Day 14: St. John’s, NL

I will back up and explain how that came to be.
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My New Zealand Experience

By | April 11, 2016

In October 2014 Jenna and I spent 22 days travelling the North and South Island of New Zealand. This was a trip I had been anticipating for eight years and over that time my expectations for the country grew exponentially. Thankfully the country met and exceeded every hope I had for it.

For three weeks we didn’t sit still. We each battled an illness at separate times on the trip and went sightseeing in all weather conditions. Each day was magical and full of experiences that it is difficult to articulate in speech, let alone text. In the past I broke up significant trips in to multiple posts. A trip of this magnitude would occupy at least five installments and that is slightly too much for anyone to read, so I will capture the important travel bits and write up the highs and lows.

By the Numbers
Using a daily journal and our credit card statements here are some numbers about our trip.

  • Number of fill-ups: 7
  • Total mileage: 3795KM
  • Cost spent on fuel: $539.89 NZD (~ $491 CAD)
  • Number of nights camped: 21
  • Number of nights dry camped (no utilities hook up): 7
  • Number of nights free camping: 4
  • Cost spent on camping: $600 NZD (~$528 CAD)
  • Cost spent on food: $733.73 CAD

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My Walk on the West Coast Trail

By | August 28, 2015

Gord and I planned our first West Coast Trail experience for nearly a year and August 13-19 2015 we did it! Leading up to the hike I tried to find answers about fuel, bug spray and itineraries for daily hikes and meals. Now that I have experienced the trail I wanted to share some of that knowledge for others who would be looking for the same details.

By the numbers here was our West Coast Trail hike: total distance of 75 KM covered in 25 hours and 43 minutes of hiking time. In that time I took nearly 222,000 steps and we spent six nights and seven days on the trail.

The Hike
We went South (Port Renfrew/Gordon River) to North (Pachena). There weren’t any compelling reasons to go the other way for us, but the appeal of attacking the harder terrain (60KM to 75KM on the trail) first was a bonus. When the Gordon River ferry drops you off on the trailhead you are overwhelmed with the age of the forest, the scale of what you are up against and feel a bit like storming enemy territory as you and your other ferry mates hit the trail.

Years of alpine hiking prepared us for this hike. What elevation gains there were in this section was done over a well groomed trail with roots and more roots. We saw everything the trail had to offer on day one, with rotted boardwalks, tricky roots, mud and ladders. Having long legs and poles helped us navigate the roots and mud with ease but you still had to plan your steps because the roots are slippery and we were only a misplaced foot away from a serious injury.
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My Commute Data Collection

By | August 29, 2014

I enjoy data. I like seeing details on the mundane, figures on the minutiae and histogram on the meaningless. I track which songs I listed to on Last.fm, how many steps I do with FitBit and for the last two and a half years, have been keeping track of when my Sherwood Park transit bus would arrive in the morning and afternoon.

What started as a way for me to become familiar with the frequency of the buses turned in to a habit and each time a 425 or a 401 bus would arrive in my life I would take a screenshot on my phone and mark the date and time of that specific bus in a spreadsheet.

On September 2 the Sherwood Park transit routes are changing and my routine will have to change. All the data I have collected since April 2012 is now useless, but instead of putting that to waste let’s see what information I can pull out of this spreadsheet.

The timing of my morning bus was captured 454 times and my afternoon bus was captured 375 times. This difference is attributed to not starting to capture afternoon bus time until nearly three months later. There are also times where I would take an ETS bus elsewhere to Edmonton, commute on the LRT to ride home with Jenna, or find another way home. There were times I would drive to the transit center and not need the local commuter so on those days I would only record my afternoon numbers.

The morning information was useful to determine when the bus would arrive at home. The afternoon data was used to see when I typically left work. My average work hours could be determined from below, so a typical day to and from work is from 6:49 AM until 4:44 PM, which is closer to eleven hours than ten when you add the time for the commute time home.

Morning commute data:

  • Earliest bus pick up: 6:23 AM
  • Latest bus pick up: 7:11 AM
  • Average pick up: 6:49 AM
  • Mode: 6:56 AM

I spent the first 2/3 of my commute to TELUS going in at 6:56 AM and started to go in 15 minutes earlier catching the 6:40 AM bus in 2014. This explains why the Average is closer to the Mode since the majority of my mornings started at the later, 6:56 AM, time.

Afternoon commute data:

  • Earliest bus pick up: 2:37 PM
  • Latest bus pick up: 6:41 PM
  • Average pick up: 4:44 PM
  • Mode: 4:22 PM

Number of times caught the afternoon bus:

  • …before 4PM: 8
  • …after 5PM: 100
  • …after 6PM: 14

For the first six to eight months at TELUS I typically caught the 4:21 PM bus. As my responsibilities grew so did my time at the office and I ended up catching a 5:00 PM or later bus. I aim to be logging off between 4:30 PM and 5:00 PM, but I found the afternoon bus schedule to be inconsistent so needing to be in the elevator at a certain time to catch a bus didn’t matter because I would need to wait until closer to 5:00 PM to catch a bus anyway. As someone who strived for consistency in data the variance in the afternoon schedule bothered me, but eventually a bus did arrive and I would always get home.

Let’s view this data in graph form!
Morning commute data for the 425:


Afternoon commute data for the 401:

What does all this mean? Very little. My mornings were pretty set and the afternoon was a gamble on when I would leave and when a bus would be there to take me home. I like knowing when my morning bus arrives and plan my routine around that and the afternoon information is purely for entertainment purposes to see what time I leave the office.

I will continue monitoring the bus schedules in September but will start a new worksheet and maybe in a few years time post a similar summary of my data to see if my working hours have changed at all.

My New Ride

By | August 13, 2014

In the summer of 2005 I was working at Dell and living at home with Dad. I wasn’t paying any bills and with my first decent paying job I was getting more money than I had made before. With my earnings I was spending carelessly and as I was making plans to purchase a studio microphone and a four track deck to record my jam sessions with friends Dad urged me to consider looking at vehicles instead.

I had been fortunate to always use a family vehicle but never had one myself, but he made a valid point. Within a few days of Dad’s urging we went to Southgate VW and I was signing the paperwork on a new 2006 Jetta TDI. The Jetta was loaded on the inside, upgrades on the outside and came with a monthly payment that would stretch my budget for a few years.

The car may have been outside of my means, but the loan was eventually paid down and I was left with a low mileage vehicle that could run forever. The car was amazing for a lot of things, but what it was best at was gas mileage. I got so used to being about to go 900+ KM on a single tank of gas I thought every vehicle had that kind of mileage. The car was my own, every scratch or repair done on it was under my watch. I grew up in that car, transitioned through some major life events and although I never did try driving to Vancouver in it the car travelled Alberta and ventured to Saskatchewan once.

There were a lot of nice things to like about the car, but there were also some items that were grating. The heated leather seats were a blessing because the heater in the car was abysmal and would take 20 minutes to heat up. In the winter the trunk wouldn’t latch properly so I had to force it down or ignore the interior warning of the door being ajar. The car seated four comfortably and had a huge trunk for cargo, but after being in a house for a while the realization that I needed a truck for garbage runs, hauling tree branches or picking up larger items grew in my mind.

It wasn’t until Jenna suggested we look at a truck in early July that my plan was able to come to fruition. I started looking at small vehicles (Ford Ranger, Dodge Dakota) but the long term practicality was missing so when I sat inside a four door Toyota Tacoma a light went on. Just like the Jetta was my ideal first car, a Toyota truck was something I had envied since back in High School.


After a week of looking through the Used section of dealerships and Kijiji, test drives on several trucks, I made my decision and traded in the 2006 Jetta TDI for a 2010 Toyota Tacoma TRD.

The Toyota is rugged but comfortable. The interior is roomy and has clean lines, a comfy bucket seat and some upgrades over my previous car (ie: Bluetooth, standard Auxiliary input, backup camera). The truck sits high but I don’t feel like I am crowding the lines on the road. After adjusting the garage around the truck fits, albeit with a paltry three feet of clearance, but it fits.

I have taken several truck loads to the garbage dump and it recently made a trip to Lac la Biche. The ride was smooth and I didn’t feel sore from the two and a half hour journey. Jenna was comfortable in her spot and the cats in the back were actually the quietest they had been in a vehicle in a long time. I miss the trunk but we put everything in Rubbermaid boxes for the lake so the open air box works just as well for now.

The truck isn’t new and has quirks. As best I can tell the vehicle came from Nova Scotia and had a past life as a fleet vehicle, but yet it has low mileage and not much wear and tear, but enough to show that it is used. The front driver side mudflap is missing, the brake pedal rubber cover is gone, some bed accessories like the plastic cover for the storage compartment or the sliding bedrail cleats are absent; but these can be replaced.

The interior fan has a ticking sound like a cricket when the fan is spinning, and according to others online, this is a common problem and some tightening of screws on the fan blade fixes it. I haven’t been one for doing anything myself in a vehicle, but fixing the fan noise is on my list now. Unlike the VW manual, the Toyota one actually tells you how to remove and inspect items. When I tried to change the Jetta’s battery in 2013 I had to search online for the information before the manual mentioned nothing about how to change it yourself, only the hazards of doing so and ensuring it was an official VW battery.

The benefits of a truck come at a cost: gas mileage. Instead of making multiple trips to the cabin on a single tank I used 3/4 to go there and back. The tank is 80L and thankfully gas is cheaper than diesel, but it does cost a bit to drive. Toyota carries a strong and reliable brand recognition and if I can avoid expensive oil changes or maintenance bills the two may even themselves out over the distance I drive the truck.

All in all having a truck has been fun and it’s been great to put a garbage load in and go, and not have to coordinate borrowing a vehicle. When winter comes the 4×4 feature will provide peace of mind during the really bad days. I miss the Jetta but I am enjoying the Toyota, especially as some have said it looks a little like a Stormtrooper.

My Tunnel Exploration

By | October 29, 2013

Guatemala SinkholeI have a strange fascination with sink holes. It is the only topic I seem to post about on Google Plus. I admire the symmetry of a sink hole and its cylindrical hallway to doom. I love that a sink hole appearing in the middle of a street looks like a Photoshop. However, I understand that they are very serious and deadly phenomenons. In Florida a sink hole appeared under the bed of a man sleeping and was never heard from again. This is a terrifying thought and perhaps my curiosity with sink holes is what makes me interested in tunnels for transit systems.

Chunnel Side View

The entire construction of an underground tunnel intrigues me. The tunnel boring machines used to dig tunnels are mind-boggling. The ability to dig under a body of water, be it False Creek in Vancouver, the East Side Access bringing Long Island and New York together (YouTube video, Huffingtonpost) or the English Channel between England and France, is all amazing. The fact that the London Underground is older than the University of Alberta and that more complex transit systems have lines layered on top of each other excites me like a kid on Christmas.

During my weekend courses at NAIT a team member in our group mentioned they were an installation coordinator on the North LRT line in Edmonton. His previous work experience includes the Canada Line in Vancouver as well as lines in Montreal. After the North LRT line is finished he will return to Vancouver to work on a 13 KM extension. I confessed my tunnel obsession with him and he offered to take me in to North LRT construction area. Once I removed the shock from my face I immediately agreed to his offer.

The tunnel boring machines have been removed from the site but the tunnels are in various levels of completion and I was able to see completed tunnels that could see a train tomorrow, and others that required a lot more infrastructure in place before they could carry cars.

Did this experience live up to what I imagined it could be? Yes! I am a fan of symmetry and pairing that with underground construction the photographic opportunities alone were worth it, and being able to walk in an area that few will legally be allowed to explore was icing on the cake.

Almost as if this was an organized birthday present to myself I put on the safety boots purchased just for this occasion, strapped all the camera gear to me and went in to the tunnels. My tour started at the MacEwan station, walked under CN Tower and took the new LRT line until it met with the Churchill Station. Below are some of the photos from the trip, and others can be found in the Gallery here.

What impressed me most was how much work is required to put a tunnel together. It’s more than digging a hole and laying in a track, the infrastructure for communication, lighting, water all has to be considered before concrete is poured and the number of teams involved in such a project is staggering. The amount of material that is beneath the scenes is not something I could fully comprehend but seeing conduits, fire-proof access boxes and other important areas in the tunnel lead you to understanding there is a very complex system surrounding another complicated system.

My guide admitted to me that the North LRT line lacked the glamour of other lines and may come across as simple, but that doesn’t mean this line is without challenges. Case in point are the track switches at Churchill Station. This is where the Metro line will be coming in to Churchill Station, crossing over existing track and arriving at the platform. The original track had to be replaced to allow for the track switches, and the software to control the direction of the tracks is currently being tested.
Track Switch
Two lines, each with a north bound and south bound car, arriving at a single station may be small apples to larger city lines, but standing in front of the track and seeing how much has to happen in a small space to ensure a car gets to where it’s going is overwhelming. If you think of the logic required to control a traffic light and get frustrated when you are sitting still for longer than necessary. Now extrapolate that to managing the tracks that will control the meeting point of two LRT lines in to one.

Crumpled BlueprintsTo take a step back and apply a project manager view on this, I was most surprised that there is still room for error on tasks or that specifications can be interpreted differently. This isn’t to say they are wrong or faulty, just that this is far from the first underground transit line created and the best practices done by other teams elsewhere should set a standard for other projects to follow, but they seem to be more of a guideline and not a rule. What the North LRT line is doing is not unique but a simple line may have been made more complicated through the teams involved in the execution. The mentality that ‘my way is the best way’ goes beyond software development and debugging a faulty line of code or re-wiring electrical could likely have been avoided if more time was spent in the beginning of the project.

I am not about to switch my careers and begin working on tunnel construction but the variety of jobs and tasks required to complete a line are more than team of blunt instruments digging a hole. There is a lot of finish work that ties it all together and it was a great opportunity to see behind the curtain. First and foremost I was a curious bystander and secondly I was taking a work perspective on this, picturing network diagrams of how work can be organized and trying to plan the project in my head.

This was a fantastic opportunity and I will be looking out the window of the LRT a little more fondly now knowing a bit about what is beyond the rail car.

My Local Southern Comfort

By | October 14, 2013

After yearly trips to foreign locales and enjoying what other countries have to offer we did something different with our vacation this year. We left our passports behind and became tourists in our own backyard. Our vacation consisted of borrowing Dad’s truck and camper and hit the road in late June to spend 11 days going through the Okanagan.

Over the years we have marvelled at sights locals take for granted and decided to see what Canada has to offer. There are many areas we’d like to see in Canada but for now we’re starting small and going through the BC Southern Interior. Perhaps in the future we’ll visit the Maritimes or go north but this time we’re chasing sunshine, desert conditions and vineyards.

BC Route

Our trip took us through the BC interior going in a clockwise drive with stops in Golden, Kelowna, Penticton, Osoyoos, Christina Lake, Kimberley back to Golden and then home. Where possible we reserved a spot on a lake or within walking distance of sights and activities. If there was a bike or walking path nearby all the better.

Planning a trip within your own country is easier than international trips, but contacting camp grounds during their winter season made the reservation process slow and we had to modify plans as we went (one day here and take away a day there). We started our planning as far back as January knowing that some places wouldn’t accept reservations until March and we wanted to be ready to book the moment they were open. Some items that caused us troubles were required length of stays in the high season summer months and restrictions around long weekends. We had to modify our Osoyoos/Christina Lake itinerary to fit in to a spot in Osoyoos over Canada Day weekend but more time in Osoyoos was not a bad thing by any means.

It was a great vacation that went by too fast. Some highlights were…

Experiencing +40 weather in Osoyoos. We went to the tip of the Sonoran Desert and weren’t disappointed with arid conditions and hot weather. Locals were talking about it being too warm for them so we knew we were experiencing something special.

The weather was great on the whole trip and we only experienced one morning with rain, which didn’t last long before warm weather broke through. The camper is equipped with air conditioning so on hot evenings we were able to bring the unit to a reasonable temperature.

Wine PurchasesWine, wine, wine. We left Edmonton thinking we were fans of red wine and were exposed to some great tasting whites. I still enjoy a full red but now a Gewürztraminer or a dry Riesling may suit me fine. I also understand what I like about red’s and am looking at all types of red’s with a new appreciation. On the day we went to six wineries (a wine tour so we weren’t driving) things became hazy before high noon and we had to be poured out of the van at the end of the day.

Over the course of the trip we visited 18 wineries and bought wine at almost all of them. Some were better than others, and we came back with 60 bottles. The true test has been seeing if the wine is still good back at home and so far our favorites in the Okanagan are still our favorites back home.

Walking along the beach in Penticton. Of all the places we stopped at Penticton stood out for us. There was something about the town, some vibe, which made it unique from other places we visited. Situated between two bodies of water and rolling foot hills it is a pretty scenic location. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the tourist center in Penticton has a liquor store that stocks a lot of BC wineries so you don’t need to drive up to Kelowna or Naramata to get your favorite bottle.

Bluth Stair CarThe drive between camp sites wasn’t horrendous, however it couldn’t be avoided that some days were longer than others. At most we travelled 7.5 hours and other days it was a quiet 90 minute drive down the road. The worst part of any day was managing the truck on the roads, busy or not. I felt like I was in a stair car, stepping on the gas to speed up and then immediately going on the brakes because there was a red light four blocks away.

Travelling through a major area on the Canada Day long weekend was a bit of an oversight, and we had some hairy moments amongst the traffic, but we survived and it made for an adventure. Once we reached Vernon and started towards Kelowna it felt like we were in one big traffic jam. The ingredients were there for a tedious drive: long weekend in July, start of holidays, great weather; all reasons why others were probably on the road too. Thankfully this was the exception and not the norm when we travelled, but I was always happy to park for the day and know that I wouldn’t need to head out again.

We limited some of the sights we went to because we knew driving there would have been a challenge (ie: the trestles in Osoyoos, or any of the switch backs that lead to a hiking trail). This is not to say the unit wouldn’t have made it there, it just would have been extremely stressful and slow going.

For as big as the truck/camper is on the road the amenities it offered when we parked was worth it. We could put the air conditioning on to cool the camper down, take a shower, cook all of our meals and had enough on board water and battery power to sustain us when we had to dry camp in a provincial park. I have a new respect for large units on the road and more that venture on the mountain roads from Golden and Revelstoke; those corners were taken extremely slow in the truck and I am amazed that the shuttle we take there for skiing in the winter time manages that, and in worse conditions.

The trip was a nice break and a calm before the storm of house renovations, cat emergencies and unplanned expenses and it left us wanting to return to the Okanagan region sooner than later. Plus, we now have a fully stocked wine cellar and the weekly debate of ‘drinking the good stuff or a bottle we bought locally’.

Images from the trip can be found in the Gallery here.

My Return to the Orchard

By | October 10, 2013

A few months ago I shared my thoughts on the BlackBerry Z10 and now look like a fool since I am eating my words a few months later.

BlackBerry may never be able to compete with behemoths like Samsung as they push for larger displays and bells and whistles, but for a functional device that keeps me connected to home and work the BlackBerry fits the bill and I hope others see that too.

BlackBerry LogoBlackBerry proved me wrong with a larger screen device in the Z10. However, my affair with BlackBerry has come to an end. My Z10 has been sold and I back in the familiar embrace of Apple using a new 5S. I left Apple a few years ago in my transition from Rogers to Wind, it was under good terms and would have used the iPhone on Wind had it been compatible. It wasn’t, so thus began my handset journey from Android to BlackBerry.

I was never disappointed with the Z10. The construction of the handset was still impressive months later. The phone never let me down but I started wanting more from it. The lack of apps did start to become tiresome, especially when I read about new and exciting apps released for other devices. The promise of OS 10.2, which would have brought some necessary improvements, always felt like it was just around the corner and I grew weary.

I read an analogy that described BlackBerry was a well built house with amazing security but set in an empty neighbourhood with no streets or amenities. Apple and Android are nice houses but they are in a thriving community where everything is in walking distance. I thought I could survive in an empty community but it is a larger draw than I suspected. I may never buy a piece of hardware to function with my phone, but not being allowed to make that choice because BlackBerry wasn’t supported was restricting. On top of that, the downward spiral of the company financially all compounded in me to consider changing devices.

iPhone 5S Line UpMy options were the new Nexus Google handset or the just announced iPhone. I decided to go with the iPhone because I like the walled garden Apple has with iTunes. I have other iPod’s at home, our computers are all Apple’s, the iPhone fits and I comfortable with giving up the ability to customize and tweak the iPhone the way I could with an Android. Another factor was battery performance, and sacrificing screen size for this is fine with me.

As for staying connected to work, there is a strong push for a ‘bring your own device’ at the office and new software (transitioning from Good For Enterprise to MaaS360) is being rolled out that will improve upon what the company had previously, so this should satisfy my urge to check work email away from the office. The frequency at which I have been changing phones is alarming but I am hoping I can stay with the 5S for more than a year, and being in the honeymoon phase right now I feel that anything is possible.