Last year’s Detroit vacation

Exactly a year ago, Alexis and I returned from a trip to Detroit. We took the the train to Windsor (Ontario), then went under the Detroit River by tunnel and spent about ten magical days in the city before a day and a half Toronto. I’m not sure why I never posted anything about the trip. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t happy with the photography, all taken using my cell phone’s camera, or that there was no way the pictures or text could capture the magic of what was quite possibly my favorite trip ever. I’ll mention some memories that come to mind before the pics.

  • A three-hour stop in Winnipeg, where we got to see the Forks beneath the Forks beneath the Forks; the Lap (from Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, which oddly enough we saw in NYC the previous year), and ended up in a great blues club called Times Change(d) to warm up, where they made an exception to their usual members-only policy for us. And the very cute (lady) drummer who was flirting with Alexis.
  • The Hiedelberg Project, a two-block mostly-abandoned part of Detroit that Tyree Guyton turned into art to keep crackheads out.
  • The walk from Hiedelberg to the cultural district, through still-viable neighborhoods, urban farms, urban prairie, and what we call “Murder Zone” (this was spray-painted on a wall), which had stuffed animals attached to just about every telephone pole (indicates that someone was killed there).
  • Alexis’ love for the Wurlitzer Building. It made her very happy for some reason.
  • The way nobody uses sidewalks and instead walks down the middle of the road. The way that in the rare case of seeing someone else walking, you size each other up like it’s a Western.
  • The way people are very wary initially, but become so warm and friendly once you smile and ask how they’re doing. The opposite of the forced politeness with nothing behind it that is so common here in B.C.
  • The Detroit Institute of Arts. The best museum I’ve been to in North America (maybe the world), full of knowledgeable and dedicated staff who obviously love the place.
  • Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry murals in the Rivera Court at DIA.
  • Dinner at The Whitney, which despite its hoity-toity reputation had mediocre food (did they think we wouldn’t notice that a dish which was supposed to have chanterelles came with common white mushrooms instead?) in a beautiful old mansion. I tried to write more about the experience but it was all so surreal that my poor writing ability cannot do it justice, but there was a bodyguard attempting to order spicy scrambled eggs from a befuddled waitress, a drug dealer rehearsing his wedding, Dr. Dave and his old-money Detroit godmother, and the ghost that haunts the mansion.
  • The pizza at Motor City Brew Works. Best I’ve ever had. The beer was good too.
  • Slows Bar-B-Q, where I’ve finally had proper BBQ.
  • Norris, who worked for the Inn on Ferry Street (where we stayed part of the time) and showed us around Detroit, full of stories. One of those geniuses who ends up driving a shuttle bus (the best kind).
  • John K. King Books. What a huge used book store should be. Powell’s doesn’t hold a candle.
  • The love that many Detroiters have for their city against tremendous odds.
  • Exploring Toronto by street car. Just hop on and hop off whenever it looks like you’re in an interesting neighborhood.
  • Korean food in Toronto at some place where nobody spoke English after walking for hours looking for the perfect place for lunch in a city full of restaurants.

Anyhow, I’m going to leave it at that because if I try to make this post perfect it’ll never get done (which is why it’s already taken a year before I managed to write anything).

Photo of: A token view from the train while crossing the rockies
A token view from the train while crossing the rockies
Photo of: The Hiedelberg Project
The Hiedelberg Project
Photo of: The Hiedelberg Project
The Hiedelberg Project
Photo of: Demolishing the beautiful Lafayette Building. The trial of the "underwear bomber" was taking place in one of the buildings on the right side of the street.
Demolishing the beautiful Lafayette Building. The trial of the “underwear bomber” was taking place in one of the buildings on the right side of the street.
Photo of: View of downtown Detroit and Windsor over the Detroit River, from Belle Isle
View of downtown Detroit and Windsor over the Detroit River, from Belle Isle
Photo of: Alexis in front of the old stables at Belle Isle
Alexis in front of the old stables at Belle Isle
Photo of: Alexis on the tire swing at the Toledo Museum of Art
Alexis on the tire swing at the Toledo Museum of Art
Photo of: One of many lovely houses (in various states of upkeep/decay) in the Woodbridge area west of the Cultural District.
One of many lovely houses (in various states of upkeep/decay) in the Woodbridge area west of the Cultural District.

 

Back from central coast kayak trip

I got home from my trip north on Saturday night, a day that involved 11 hours on ferries plus 5 hours in a car. All in all a great trip, even if the weather was rainier and windier than I had hoped it might be (but to be expected in September). I paddled a total of 225 km, with my longest day covering 42 km; encountered humpback whales, porpoises, sea otters and sandhill cranes; paddled in 4 meter swell, albeit only for about ten minutes before I chickened out; and saw rugged open Pacific coastline and mountain-backed ghost towns. Here are some impressions:

Photo of: View from Kynumpt Harbour
View from Kynumpt Harbour. Taken on Sun, 6 Sep 2009
Photo of: Sunset at Kynumpt Harbour
Sunset at Kynumpt Harbour. Taken on Sun, 6 Sep 2009
Photo of: Macmullen Group islands
Macmullen Group islands. Taken on Thu, 10 Sep 2009
Photo of: Macmullen Group island
Macmullen Group island. Taken on Thu, 10 Sep 2009
Photo of: Macmullen Group island
Macmullen Group island. Taken on Fri, 11 Sep 2009
Photo of: Sagar Lake beach
Sagar Lake beach Taken on Sat, 12 Sep 2009
Photo of: Rocky outcropping
Rocky outcropping. Taken on Mon, 14 Sep 2009
Photo of: Abandoned cottage at Wallace Bay
Abandoned cottage at Wallace Bay. Taken on Mon, 14 Sep 2009
Photo of: Lobby of abandoned building in Ocean Falls
Lobby of abandoned building in Ocean Falls. Taken on Tue, 15 Sep 2009
Photo of: Dam at Ocean Falls
Dam at Ocean Falls. Taken on Tue, 15 Sep 2009
Photo of: Abandoned house in Ocean Falls
Abandoned house in Ocean Falls Taken on Tue, 15 Sep 2009

Kayaking Prevost, Active Pass, and northwest Mayne

I’ve been getting fairly serious about kayaking lately. I first started paddling on Parker Island, since there were kayaks available to use, but didn’t really know what I was doing and mostly limited myself to the immediate area of Parker Island. Since moving to Mayne I’d been missing it, so after taking a friend’s boat out a couple of times and loving it I picked up a used Delta 15.5 in February. I’ve also taken a few courses to build my skills and feel comfortable paddling in more the more challenging conditions around Mayne Island.

The main allure of kayaking for me is that it extends my range, allowing me to reach places I hadn’t been able to before, which is a plus as hiking and camping opportunities on Mayne are limited. I’ve done overnighters to D’Arcy (from Sidney), Valdes (from North Galiano), and Tumbo/Cabbage (from Mayne), as well as various day trips. I regularly pop over to Sturdies Bay on Galiano to get take-out Indonesian food. I’m also increasingly enjoying paddling for its own sake and improving my skills.

My latest trip covered the south shore of Prevost, Active Pass, and the north shore of Mayne. I encountered perfect conditions, orcas, beautiful bays with pastoral meadows, the feeling of travelling back in time, and achieved by-far the longest distance I’ve ever covered in one day (29km, according to my GPS). Here’s a map of my route from my GPS track logs:

I started at  1  Village Bay on Mayne at around 6pm on Saturday. The plan was to cross over to Portlock Pt on Prevost, which always feels a bit treacherous on a Summer weekend due to the amount of ferry traffic through the channel. About halfway across, I saw a whale watching vessel rapidly approaching, so I looked around and lo-and-behold, there was another one hanging around Dinner Bay. Ok, must be something worth seeing there, so I sped back toward Mayne and kept a polite distance as I watched a  2  pod of orcas playing around the rocks off Dinner Pt. I was trying to take pictures as they headed north-west along the shore but gave up and decided to just enjoy the show instead. Just as I finished putting my camera away, I heard a loud snort to my left and saw two orcas coming up not more that 5 metres from me! This has to be every paddlers dream (maybe nightmare for some?).

Once the orcas were out of sight, I proceeded to the  3  Red Islets, a couple of islets with some nice shell beaches, where I camped for the night. It was high tide when I arrived and pulled onto a small beach that looked like a good landing site, but in the morning I discovered a major disadvantage: the beach is on a shelf, and at lower tide there was a five foot vertical dropoff to reach the water. I ended up carrying the kayak halfway around the islet to find a put in.

I hadn’t had a plan when I left on Saturday afternoon. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to take the kayak out since I was pretty tired and had some blisters on my fingers from stacking hay the last couple of days. I figured I’d just camp at the Red Islets, have a restful Sunday morning and maybe explore a bit of Prevost and then head back home, but in the morning I was feeling energetic decided I’d continue around Prevost. I paddled along the south shore, enjoying the many bays and coves with pastoral meadows at their heads. I had such a groove going that by lunchtime I’d hatched the idea of continuing through Active Pass.

I stopped for lunch at the  4  James Bay campground, consulted my current atlas and listened to the marine weather forecast, and decided the plan was a go. I wanted to hit Active Pass a little before slack tide when there would still be some flood current to help me through, but not enough to be dangerous. That gave me a couple of hours to kill, so I explored a bit of inland Prevost on foot. I’d seen a lake on my topo map that I wanted to check out, although I didn’t end up having enough time for a swim. Walking on the old tracks through the woods above the fields with cows made me think of what Punch’s valley on Mayne must have been like in the old days, and I’m so glad that most of Prevost still retains that character; it felt like going back in time.

Crossing over to Collinson Pt, I was “racing” a sailboat that was trying to run under sail power in almost no wind. I was beating it handily, when it decided to switch to the motor and soon passed me. This was my first time through Active Pass (although I’ve crossed it several times), and I had a lot of fun with all the eddies and playing on ferry wake. I stopped at  5  Sturdies Bay on Galiano and picked up some take-out Nasi and Bami Goreng at Max & Moritz, the amazing Indonesian/German lunch stand at the ferry terminal, to have for dinner with Alexis after I get home. Originally I’d intended to finish up at Oyster Bay on Mayne, but I was still feeling energetic, the current had switched to a favourable ebb, and it was still early in the afternoon, so I figured I’d just keep going until I felt like stopping. I followed the north shore of Mayne, rounded Edith Point, and finally stopped at  6  Spud Pt at around 6pm. From there it was just a few minutes to home.

I like to listen to audio books while paddling, and finished listening to Titus Alone by Mervyn Peake, the final book of the excellent Titus trilogy. It was written by a contemporary of JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis, who is less well-known but IMO a far superior writer, and who has a very different take on fantasy. I’ve heard it described as Tolkein meats Kafka, but that isn’t the half of it. I’ve also been listening to VALIS by Philip K. Dick, which is just… wow. Wow. I mean, what else can you say? Wow.

We’re Mayniacs

Incase you haven’t heard, Alexis and I are buying a place on Mayne Island. It’s a 3.7-acre property with an apple orchard, various other fruit trees, a house, and a cob cottage on it. We just finished moving our stuff over last night, and are currently living in the cottage while the current owner of the property awaits her visa for immigration to England. I’ll post some pictures of the property soon, but in the meantime you can check out some pictures of the cottage we’re living in: see the first set of images on this link.

We’re enjoying the novelty of being able to get our mail on the same land mass that we live on, and not needing to check the weather report before we go to buy milk. We’re also enjoying living in a space that gets natural light; we haven’t needed the lights on all day!