Mid-Week Tangent: the quest for gelato perfection begins

I still dream of Italian gelato on the regular. I have zero regrets for eating up to three a day while on vacation last year. In fact, I regret not having eaten more of it. Since then, gelato has been notably absent from my life. Sure, on the odd occasion, I’ll buy a store-bought brand but, let’s be honest, there’s rarely a discernible difference between store-bought gelato and ice cream.  In my heart, I long to find the perfect gelato a little bit closer to home.

This weekend I tasted some damn good gelato, which got me wondering if I am missing out on all sorts of hidden gelato gems in and around this city.  And so, I’ve decided that I will boldly dedicate my summer to finding great gelato here, in and around Vancouver. Okay, I’m not actually going to devote my entire summer. My waistline certainly doesn’t need that, plus I’ll eventually be working again. It’s more like if I see a gelato place, I am going to try it. That’s half-assed dedication at its best!  Along the way, I will document the good, the bad and the ugly.

Today I’ll start with the best find I’ve found so far. Granted, I’ve eaten minimal gelato so far in the city. I used to live by Mario’s Gelati so I went there on occasion. Despite what many others think about it, I don’t like their gelato (gasp!). I find its texture to be quite grainy with ice crystals when what I want is silky creaminess. I blame mass production. I’ve also gone to the locally famed La Casa Gelato, which now boasts 238 flavours. I haven’t been in at least a decade, at which time they had a paltry 120 flavours I think, but I remember not being blown away and thinking their fame had more to do with quantity and gimmicky flavours (wasabi gelato? really?) than quality.  But there are so many more places to taste. And taste I shall.

As I mentioned, this weekend I found some brilliant gelato. It had all the hallmarks I personally look for: intensely creamy, boldly flavoured, interesting flavour selection, and made on the premises.

It looked better before I ate half of it and before it started to melt in the sun. What you can gather from this picture is that I lack the self control to wait even 30 seconds before starting to devour gelato. Truth.

Where: Dolce Gelato, White Rock

What I Had: A firm believer in never having just one flavour, I opted for Foresta Nera (vanilla with chocolate, nuts and booze-soaked cherries) and Meringa (heavenly meringue gelato, with massive meringue shards and chocolate).

What stood out:  Oh my god, I could have eaten those meringue pieces forever. I have no idea how they stay crisp in a sea of dairy, but they do and it is wonderful. The cherries in the foresta nera were heavenly as well, incredibly flavourful. I shouldn’t have to say things like ‘they tasted like real cherries’, but most cherries in ice cream bear little resemblance to real fruit so I will explicitly proclaim that these tasted like legit cherries!!!!  I had a hard time selecting flavours here as there were so many that looked unique and delicious.  In particular, I’m sad that I didn’t get to try the Casatta (candied orange peel, nuts, chocolate and orange liqueur) because it looked amazing and like something I would have seen in Italy.  I opted against it because candied orange usually isn’t my jam, but in hindsight I think I may have missed out on something different and delightful.  In other words, I will return and I will devour more flavours.

Until next time, here’s hoping you find a place to get your gelato on.*

*and if you know of a place in my general ‘hood, please send me recommendations!


Trail Tuesdays: walking in the spiderwebs

Can I tell you about something that fills me heart with even more terror than the thought of being attacked by a 500 lb grizzly bear, that has caused me to abandon hiking plans a full 2.5 km into a trail, and that makes me look a crazy, skittish, jumpy freak on the trails?

Ready for it? It’s walking through spiderwebs.

I know it’s ridiculous for a grown adult/outdoor enthusiast to have such an irrational fear of not just spiders but also their empty webs. I live in a place where there are incredibly, incredibly few (in fact, I’m not sure there’s really any) deadly spiders. Those empty webs are just as bad as they serve as a powerful reminder of terrifying spiders’ existences. Plus, I loathe that feeling of wispy strands of spiderwebs clinging to my flesh, invisible to the eye, harmless, and yet so incredibly icky.  I try to remind myself that spiders are good for the ecosystem, that they mean me no harm, that their webs are just their way of catching a mid-day snack.  All of that works only as long as they stay off my trails.

Particularly in early mornings, when few if any hikers have passed through a trail, the risk of spiderweb encounters is at its peak. But even when trails are crowded, I have been amazed at how quickly new webs are spun. It’s like spiders don’t learn that it’s not really worth it to work their magic across well-trodden paths. As a result of this unpredictability, I’m always on watch and always at risk of making an utter fool of myself. Here are just a number of ways in which I have embarrassed myself when encountering spider webs on trails:

–Forced my father or friends to walk ahead of me for significant portions of the trail for the explicitly stated purpose of knocking down spider webs.  The taller the person, the more likely I am to rope them into lead hiker/spider-web-killer.

–Walked for several kilometres swinging my fully-extended hiking pole up and down in front of me like a crazy person to try to knock down any spider webs that may be in my path.

–Shrieked such that friends have been certain I was actually being attacked by a ferocious forest beast. In fact, once when I was a child, my father actually got angry with me for doing this. I was off playing in the woods by our campsite when I passed through a spiderweb and screamed bloody murder. My father ran through the woods convinced I’d suffered some legitimate injury or attack only to find me perfectly fine (aside from the emotional trauma, of course). Apparently it’s super uncool to cry wolf in the woods.

–Repeatedly thrown small branches or rocks at the spider and his web in an effort to knock it down so I can continue without fear of the spider/web potentially landing on me.  This sounds simple and straightforward, and yet I’m so afraid of getting close to the web that I end up throwing both rocks and branches from such a distance that the branches don’t reach the web or the rocks veer off target. You do not want to know how much time I’ve spent employing this tactic.

–Stood there for five minutes having an internal argument with myself about whether I can possibly continue on the trail. I am embarrassed to admit I have turned around before…after hiking 2.5 steep kilometres…when I only had one day for adventuring in the area. In my defence, this was a mammoth spider smack dab in the middle of the trail and about the fourth of its kind I had encountered in the last kilometre alone, all of which I’d had to “clear” with the aforementioned stick/rock throwing technique and under extreme emotional duress.

–Had a minor panic attack and proceeded to spend the next ten minutes furiously trying to dislodge a spider from my person (with no evidence to confirm that a spider was even on my person). Imagine something akin to the running move in Flashdance.  Actually, let me provide a better visual, which is Chris Farley doing the Flashdance dance in Tommy Boy.  In other words, it’s not pretty.

What I’m really getting at here is that, if I could have a super power, it would be to make spider webs in my path magically disappear, without harming the spiders of course.  Also, I would happily accept a permanent hiking lead/spider-web-knocker-downer to be at my beck and call for the remainder of hiking season.

ps. One last sad fact: I was going to insert a picture with this post but even the Google image screen of spiderwebs was too terrifying a prospect.

Monday Musings: the long and winding road

We have had an absolutely amazing couple of weeks weather-wise. For me, any time the sun shines for days on end, I start to feel guilty at the thought of staying indoors or working out at the gym. The trails begin calling to me. Once I answer their call, once I taste that first trail of the season where there is actually a view, where the air’s aroma is that perfect mix of dry pine needles and all the greens of Spring, where the tree canopy offers just the right amount of shade from what’s starting to become a sweltering sun, I am a goner for the rest of the season. I’ll see you on the trails.

This is the state I’ve found myself in these last couple of weeks.   I want to hike. I crave the terrain, the search for ever-higher viewpoints, the familiar rhythm of my steps up steep slopes. The only problem is that my body hasn’t caught up with my mind. Instead, my body is like ‘holy f#^@, girl, you are way too outta shape for this!”

In recent years, a large part of my identity rested on being ‘the hiker girl’. I loved that I was fast on the trail, that I could cover so much ground in a day, that I rarely felt that even the steepest of trails were all that difficult. Now, trails that I would have deemed too easy to even warrant my time leave my lungs winded and my legs sore and exhausted.  In the last four days, I’ve hiked three times, a combined total of 32 km on easy to moderate trails. That was often a one-day distance tally for me and, even spread out over three days, it has left me sluggish and ready for a break. I have used this word before, but ‘humbling’ is the best word I can think to describe it.

No matter how much I want to jump right back into the types of trails I’ve been accustomed to, I won’t be able to do so right away…at least not without accepting that it will be slower, feel harder and, because of this, lead to some frustration. It doesn’t feel good to be in the position where things that were once so easy and natural feel impossibly hard again. The road to injury recovery truly is long. It has highs, it has lows, and it involves many, many (many) rough patches. Even though I am moving forward, ever-so-slowly regaining my hiking mojo, it often feels like two steps back (bonus points for anyone who has that classic Paula Abdul song stuck in their head right now…and I’m sorry).

Every time I push myself on more challenging, steeper and longer trails, it feels like I am right back at square one. I have been here before, though, a decade ago when I took up hiking and made it a mainstay in my life. I have just conveniently forgotten what it felt like to work hard to gain trail legs, growing complacent as my fitness plateaued at a high level. If I pause and reflect on the past, I know that what I’m going through now is just a part of the process, and that every journey has its valleys and its peaks. I’m just looking forward to getting back to one of those peaks some time soon. Until then, I will find solace in the fact that the tired legs and overly laboured breathing are exactly what I need to get me there.

TWIR #61: sunshine!

Omg, Spring has finally arrived in my neck of the woods. It has been warm. There has been sunshine. I know it’s banal to talk about the weather, but seriously we’ve had the wettest, greyest, most thoroughly depressing Fall/Winter season so this is news worth celebrating. What about my workouts, you ask? Well, they’ve been okay too:

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 65 min (I think?)
Observations: To be perfectly honest, I forgot to make note of my workouts throughout the week and I cannot recall exactly what I did. It’s possible there was a pre-strength-training cardio component.  I remember the important things from Saturday, though, things like going for a walk through the old ‘hood with my friends and their little ones, and going for fish n’ chips at the beach. Doesn’t that sound more fun than details of my workout?

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: 8 km river walk with patio refueling break
Observations: There’s this wonderful trail near our place where we can walk 4 km in one direction, encounter a charming little heritage town, and then walk 4 km back to our car. What’s wonderful is that little town half way along the trail has all manner of sins to encourage you to stop. There’s a delightful bakery, there’s a craft brewery, and there’s a riverfront pub with a patio. We opted for cider (well, for me) and nachos on the patio. Now, there’s no real need for refueling after 4 km of leisurely walking, but…dammit, it was sunny and sunshine calls for patios.

Activity: semi-planned rest day
Relevant Stats: pitch & putt + driving range
Observations: I contemplated an actual workout after our morning round of pitch & putt but we were just having too much fun. I know that’s a pretty flimsy excuse and I don’t care.  Instead, we walked to the driving range, hit some balls, and chilled out on the patio with some beer and appies. Seriously, it hasn’t been sunny in what feels like months. There was no sense wasting perfectly good long weekend patio weather.

Activity: personal training session + short cardio
Relevant Stats: 60 min. training + 20 min. spin
Observations: I have a love/hate relationship with my trainer. I dread our sessions because I never know what new cruelty she will unleash on me, but I also love seeing the gains. This week’s torture was a new variation on prior hanging exercises, wherein I was told to slowly lower myself from above the bars to an active hang over the course of 30 seconds. Ugh.

Activity: Run
Relevant Stats: 8.75 km!
Observations: Finally! A decent run.  It started off rocky, but by the time I got onto the farm country road, I was feeling like if I just kept my pace slow and steady, I might just have a good run. I was right. I did my full “farm loop” as I like to call it, and even survived the final hill, which really isn’t that big a hill but feels big these days. I did forget to stretch upon my return, though, which led to some seriously tight hamstrings by evening.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 70 min.
Observations:  Too lazy to drive to a trailhead for a hike, I opted to get my strength on. I upped some of my weights for some extra challenge…well, and because my gym sucks and bars and weights mysteriously go missing all the time. You never know what equipment you’ll have access to. I cannot wait to find a new gym when my membership expires.  I also decided to keep my phone on me all day to see how many steps I take just doing random house work throughout the day. Though I occasionally forgot to put my phone in my pocket, it was interesting to see that I walked just shy of 2 km just doing housework!

Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 8 km + bonus km when I decided to see if the logging road was faster than the bottom part of the trail. Not only was it not faster, it led to a dead end. Ugh.
Observations: Finally, I got off my lazy ass and drove to a trail. It turns out my recent lack of motivation to drive to trailheads may not have been pure laziness.  Prior to my car’s recent $2000 service, any time I drove the highway for extended periods I felt like my engine might explode at any second.  As it turns out, I should have been more worried about my wheels suddenly flying off and/or losing total control of the vehicle, because since the ball joints and struts and something else related to that was fixed highway driving feels fine. Yay to driving safely to more hikes!  But enough about driving. As for the hike, it was both painful and lovely in the way that only happens when you’re out of shape for hiking. To be honest, I didn’t want to keep going past the 2km point, but I kept bargaining with myself (“I’ll just walk another few hundred metres and see how I feel”) and somehow made it to the top. I was dreaming of beer the entire time.

Today’s hike has also confirmed that, though my legs are just as strong (if not stronger) than in the past, my hiking fitness is way, way off. Today’s trail is one I used to hike all the time as an easy maintenance hike. I use to fly up the trail whereas today I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace.  Sigh. Still, nothing is going to get me down because this has been a good week of workouts and I have an entire weekend of sunshine ahead of me. And somewhere (like inside my fridge), a bottle of rose is calling me.

Mid-Week Tangent: what I learned at my first pitch & putt

I was less calm and tranquil than this setting. Damn you golf!

Over the weekend, I played my first 9-hole round of par 3 golf. It was comical at times, given that I’ve never done anything more with a golf club than putt or chip (poorly), and yet also a tremendous amount of fun. It even had a good dose of terror.  Let me explain that part…

We selected a course that claimed to be perfect for beginners, which happened to be in a pretty rural setting.  When we arrived there was no one there, including in the little office where you were supposed to pay. It looked like a scene out of Wrong Turn (one of my personal favourite bad horror movies), as in a place where we may be murdered at any given moment, our corpses churned into fertilizer to keep the greens lush so as to lure future victims, and our car stowed behind the numerous trucks, trees and tool sheds to the side of the property such that every last trace of us vanished. Thankfully we weren’t murdered, and the lack of other golfers was actually ideal as no one was there to witness my ridiculous first attempts at swinging a golf club.

I am told that I didn’t play an abysmal round for a first timer, though I’m inclined to disagree with that assessment.  Let’s just say that I only made par once. Personally, I consider my greatest feat to be my avoiding a frustrated-rage spiral any time I hit a particularly bad shot, which was often. If you knew me, you would know this was, in fact, somewhat of a miracle. And now, with all of one not-even-full round of not-even-real golf under my belt, I am sharing my “wisdom” for any others contemplating their first foray into golf:

–It is bloody hard to get ball in the air: I had many a “runner”, as I called them (i.e. balls that barely gained flight but had some serious roll to them once they hit the ground…which was about four feet in front of me).

–Connected to above, you absolutely can lodge two balls in a row into a very, very muddy bank roughly ten front in front of the tee: Related to this, it is unpleasant removing caked-on mud from golf balls when you fail to bring a golf towel.

–You will absolutely need mulligans: After smashing two balls into a mud bank, I was at risk of a mortifyingly bad score instead of the merely embarrassing score I ended up with.

–Do not take your favourite flaming pink golf balls that your lovely boyfriend gave you for Christmas to encourage you to learn to golf:  You will lose at least one. Mine has been donated to an impossibly thick patch of weeds near the fourth hole green.

–Practice swings are not a total waste of time even for the unskilled: I had been taking all these practice swings which supposedly “looked good” only to hit ridiculously bad shots. I figured why bother with the extra step. That is precisely when I lost my favourite ball in the aforementioned weeds. Karma.

–Double bogies will feel like major victories: You may even jump up and down, which is completely unwarranted given the context. A par will feel unimaginably wonderful, once again ridiculous given the inconsequential nature of the situation.

Despite all of this, I will be back out there again, although I’ll at least spend some time at the driving range before the next round.


Trail Tuesdays PSA: be prepared!

Warning: this may border on preachy. Being adequately prepared for your outdoor adventures is one of my hot button topics. I’ve written about safety supplies and suitable gear before.  This weekend I was irked to hear of yet another series of search and rescue expeditions to retrieve hikers from local mountains. All of these trails were front-country, relatively easy half-day hikes in regular hiking season.  The common factor among these rescues: individuals were underprepared for conditions, which included snow at higher elevations.  The toughest part for me to swallow is that this will be the first of far too many similar rescues in the early season. There is enough that can go wrong in the outdoors even when you’re prepared, so why take the risk of going out unprepared and uninformed?

So as not to sound all negative, I’ll add that I actually think it’s great that people want enjoy nature, and I encourage people to get into hiking. However, I get quite riled up when I hear stories of hikers heading out with minimal gear, unsuitable clothing and footwear, and with little knowledge of what to expect in terms of trail conditions, including the intensity of the hike relative to one’s fitness level.  One of the beautiful things about our information age is that there is a ton of information out there to help you know what to expect on a trail. For the love of God, use it!

If you’re going to hit the trails this Spring season, make sure that you’re prepared for conditions:

1. Read up on trail reports: Early season hiking truly is some of the most risky for casual hikers. Warm temperatures and sunshine in lower elevations do not translate to higher elevations, where snow and ice are likely to linger for a long time. Not only that, the snow becomes less stable, which causes a lot more slipping, sliding and post-holing, all of which can cause sudden and unexpected injuries. Trickier conditions can also cause your casual hike to take way longer than expected, which can mean changing conditions and fading daylight can become risks. These aren’t things we tend to think about when it’s 22 degrees at the base of the mountain and yet we should. Provincial, federal, state and national parks have trail reports that are updated fairly regularly, and there are also a number of hiking websites where comments sections are used to provide recent trail conditions. Google is your friend.

2. Pack your gear: I wrote a whole post on being prepared for shoulder season, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say temperatures drop quickly and suddenly in the mountains.  If you get stuck waiting for help because of an injury, or even if it’s just that it takes you way longer than you thought to finish your hike, extra layers may save you from discomfort or even mild hypothermia and a headlamp may help you find your way back to the trailhead safely even in the dark.

3. Know your limits: If you hit snow and you’re not comfortable, or your footwear isn’t giving you enough traction, just turn around. I see people labouring (i.e. slipping and sliding) up and down snow-covered trails in street shoes all the time. My completely obvious pro-tip: if it’s hard for you to get traction going uphill, it will be ten times worse coming back down. It’s not worth it.  Just because others are easily navigating the trail does not mean it will be easy for you. If you encounter terrain that makes you uncomfortable, do not proceed just because others have no issue with it. We all have different experience levels with various trail conditions. Other hikers may be well-versed and geared for their snowy journey. If you’re not, don’t go.

4. Make sure you have route descriptions or a screen shot of a trail map: Most trails are really well marked, but in snowy conditions trails that are usually obvious may be less so. If you’re not sure you’re on the right track, don’t just keep going. Backtrack to the last time you had a clear trail marker or visible sign of trail. From there, if you cannot identify the actual route, do not keep going.

5. Hike for your fitness level: Particularly in early season, conditions may cause hikes to take longer than you think as well as make the hike more physically draining. There is a big difference in energy exerted on a dry, dirt path vs. post-holing through snow. If you’ve ever had to post-hole through crappy Spring snow, you know this. To add insult to injury, you’re probably less fit than you were at the end of last hiking season. Hiking time estimates are just that. A two-hour hiking time estimate assumes good conditions and average fitness.  That could mean you might take 45 minutes or you might take four hours, depending on your fitness and trail conditions. Keep track of your time and don’t assume it’s always faster descending a trail. Turn around if you think you won’t make it back safely during daylight hours.

Okay, I think this concludes my slightly patronizing rant. Like I said, this is a hot button topic for me. Most search and rescue teams are volunteer-based, which means these individuals are often working day jobs and then getting dispatched in the evenings and overnight, giving up their time and putting themselves at risk when searching for hikers. Let’s not put others into greater risk for no good reason.  Accidents absolutely happen on trails and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do everything in our power to be informed and prepared.

*end rant*


TWIR #60: arms good, runs bad

My arms resumed normal function this week, which meant some seriously great strength workouts. But, because the universe likes to keep things in balance, my running hasn’t been great.  Trade offs.  Perhaps one day I will hit my workout groove again. Until then, let’s see what the week had in store.

Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: one successful layer cake for mother’s day dinner
Observations: I did my first crumb coat on a cake and now I understand why they are essential. For the first time, I had a cleanly frosted cake without a single speck of cake crumb marring its surface. Win.

Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 70 min.
Observations:  I was so excited to integrate my arms back into my strength workouts that I stayed at the gym longer than an hour, even though I was trying to get home for the final round of the Players Championship. Thank goodness for PVRs.

Activity: cardio + strength
Relevant Stats: 30 min. stairs + 40 min. strength
Observations: I intended to run but it was absolutely pissing rain and, somewhere along the way, the thought of running in torrential rain has become completely unpalatable to me. I opted for the gym, which everyone else had also done, which meant it was crazy busy and also smelled particularly ripe.  Nonetheless, I managed a solid cardio warm up and even more strength training. These arms will get strong if it’s the last thing I do.

Activity: run
Relevant Stats: 31 pitiful minutes
Observations: This was the worst run I’ve had in months. We broke our no wine on weeknights rule on Monday, and I swear this bad run can be fully attributed to drinking half a bottle of wine. Though I love my wine, I am certain it impacts the quality of my sleep which, in turn, impacts my workouts. I managed a half hour, but let me tell you there were a lot of breaks-disguised-as-needing-to-check-my-phone. Terrible.

Activity: personal training session
Relevant Stats: 60 min.
Observations: I was petrified of returning to my trainer. I told her my arms hurt for 4-5 days and her response was a glib “Oh yeah, usually people’s arms will hurt for a week, but it gets better the next time you do that exercise”. I took this to mean I’d have to revisit the dreaded arm exercise, and I was right. Thankfully, I did fewer reps this week and seemed to emerge from the workout with a functioning upper body. What fears me about my trainer is how excited she’s getting at my upper body progress. I have no issue with her increasing weight and complexity with my lower body, but anything related to my upper body is terror inducing.  I think she smells my fear.

Activity: cardio + strength
Relevant Stats: 25 min. stairs + 60 min. strength
Observations: The one good thing about receiving a call that your car is going to cost you $2081 was that it lead to a good workout. I used my cardio warmup to try to work out my mild panic at dropping so much coin while unemployed, and then used the strength workout to manage my frustration at being completely unmotivated to change my employment situation. The result was one of my best workouts.

Activity: run
Relevant Stats: 45 min.
Observations: Don’t let the fact that this run was 24 minutes longer than Tuesday’s run lead you to believe it felt any better. It felt slow, sluggish and unpleasant start to finish. Plus, now that there’s even a semblance of Spring warmth in the air, I have turned into the world’s sweatiest runner. Seriously, it was maybe 14 degrees outside and I was a bucket of sweat. Ugh.

What’s that thing that runners always say? Something like, it’s the bad runs that make the good runs feel so good. I think that’s crap but I’m going to say it to myself today in hopes that next week brings some decent running to the table.  Until then, I’m going to get my long weekend on, which hopefully will involve all manner of sins like: wine, oceanside fish and chips, riverside walks with beer breaks, and gelato. Happy weekend y’all.