Mid-Week Tangent: ode to a Bavarian-themed town

Last weekend, we made our third annual trek to the town of Leavenworth. It would be more impressive if I could tell you it’s the only town where you can be served schnitzel by someone dressed in lederhosen while being serenaded by the sweet sounds of an accordion, but there are actually a surprising number of these towns scattered across North America.  Regardless, today I share my ode to Leavenworth, a town that holds a special place in my heart.

What makes it so special? Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town where you can buy a supposedly authentic stein in one shop, then walk next door to buy your toddler a trendy scarf printed with hot pink unicorns. Leavenworth may be the only Bavarian-themed town with a surprising number of pizza and Mexican restaurants which, I can only presume, is because someone falsely assumed that you can only eat so much schnitzel.  Leavenworth may also be the only Bavarian-themed village in which you can do something called “Hot Laps” which sounds dirty but is apparently some form of whitewater rafting. Leavenworth, as you can see, has a lot going for it.

What I love about Leavenworth is its unabashed kitsch and how it’s just a little worn around the edges.  Everything, including the big corporate machines like Starbucks, Subway and McDonald’s, has just a touch of Bavarian flair to make it fit into the townsite. There are twinkling icicles hanging from eavesdrops year-round.  There are more nutcracker and stein shops than you can count on two hands, even though every shop carries basically the same things.  There are two outdoor sausage haus’s directly across the street from each other, each vying for your attention with grilled meats, chilled beers and more saurkraut than you could possibly consume in an entire lifetime. Oh, and the pretzels, don’t forget the heavenly salted, oily pretzels. There are at least half a dozen places featuring schnitzel and spaetzle although, if you ask me, Andreas Keller is the only way to go (sadly they were closed this year, and I cannot express my deep dissatisfaction with our second-string choice without getting emotional).  Some even play live accordion music.  There is a gazebo in the centre of town through which peppy polka music is blasted at all hours, lending itself to craft-beer induced, spontaneous, moonlit dance breaks.

It sounds magical doesn’t it? But if you look a little more closely, you can see that all is not so magical.  The jolly Bavarian window shutters on the hotels could use a paint refresh, a sure signal that the interior is even more tired from resting on its Bavarian-kitsch laurels for decades.  The checkered tablecloths in the schnitzel haus’s are somewhat faded. The main street shops are letting the odd green mermaid into their offerings, which I assume does not fit the standard of traditional Bavarian decor (though I could be wrong as I’ve never researched Bavarian folklore). The hipsters have even landed with their sparsely-filled stores standing in stark contrast to the overstuffed traditional shops, and their brick-walled craft brewery/pizzeria that pays no homage whatsoever to Bavarian tradition within its walls, not even with a clever Bavarian pun to name one of its beers.  Most telling, perhaps, is that the tourists idling slowly down its streets do so without a twinkle in their eyes, as though they too can see the veneer of Bavarian magic is wearing thin.

It occurred to me this weekend that my love for Leavenworth is due in part to this undertone of sadness, of a town that was once lively and proudly Bavarian-themed but now gives off the impression of a couple who’s grown a little too comfortable in their relationship. No one’s trying all that hard anymore to keep things new and interesting. That probably sounds depressing, but this is the makings of nostalgia, of knowing that you can go back year after year and all your favourite haunts will still be there waiting for you. You know you can have a great grilled sausage and pretzel at the Sausage Haus and that, even though you’re not really hungry for dinner, you’ll make room for schnitzel at Andreas Keller. You’ll be sure to fit in a dinner at Los Camperos for the best prawn enchilada you’ve ever had. You’ll cram into the tiny tasting room at Dog Haus brewery and the same brewmaster will be there to greet you and dole out overly salted peanuts to fuel your drinking.  You’ll even run into the couple that you met last year on your trip to Leavenworth, the couple who also travels down year after year to partake in the same traditions, and you will warmly say hello like you are old friends, because you understand each other and your love for this Bavarian-themed town.


Training Tuesdays: almost forgotten joys of winter hiking

I have not hiked a single trail this winter. Contrast this with the last few years when I had an almost weekly track record, if not more frequently. Last year, for instance, when I was temporarily (and by choice) out of work, I was winter hiking at least a couple days a week. I couldn’t get enough of it, and I thought for sure that the same would be true this year.

Instead, I’ve found myself in this reality:  I’ve been working in a role that leaves me feeling exhausted and unmotivated. While winter hiking could very well have been my reprieve,  I found myself unwilling to spend my precious weekends driving to trails, dealing with crowds at our local ski/winter sport hills, and putting up with the heavy, wet, clumpy west coast snow.   As a result, and despite invitations to join others on the snowy trails, I’ve not ventured out even once.

Until this weekend.

We were blessed with the warmest of rocky mountain weather this weekend (i.e. temperatures just slightly below 0). When you are near the rockies and are greeted with semi-clear skies coupled with temperatures that warm, there is only one thing to do: hit the trails. And so we did.  And from the second we stepped into closed forest, surrounded by nothing but lightly falling snow, snow-capped trees, and the gentle crunch of snow beneath our feet, my love for the winter hike came flooding back.

There is something about winter hiking that is even more magical than summer hiking. There air is crisp and fresh. There is a deep silence that only snow can bring. Snow evens out the trail surface, making snow hiking far more leisurely and less technical than summer hiking.  In the rockies at least, there tends to be fewer people on trails than here in Vancouver, giving the experience an air of solitude.  It’s also amazing what a blanket of pristine snow can do for normally dull terrain. Even forest-enclosed trails become portrait worthy. I had somehow forgotten all of this and it took only two hours on trail to remind me.

If there’s snow and trails to be found where you are, I strongly encourage you to bundle up and head to the mountains, find a suitable trail (i.e. a trail that’s meant to be hiked or snowshoed in the winter), put one foot in front of the other, breathe deep and find the peace and solitude you didn’t even know you were missing. I just might do the same again very soon in my neck of the woods (despite the heavy, wet snow, neverending cloud cover and hordes of hikers).

Monday Musings: Old Haunts

This weekend was my father’s birthday, so off we went to Cochrane to celebrate with him.  In efforts to help him ring in his 70th year in style, we took him out to the mountains, one of his most favourite places. I won’t lie, they’re also one of my favourite places.  Banff and its surrounding area has always held a special place in my heart, and it occurred to me this weekend that somehow I let myself go a year and a half without stepping foot within park boundaries. I didn’t know just how much I missed it, just how much a part of me it is, until I found myself there again this weekend, standing on the banks of the Bow River staring up at the mighty Mt. Rundle.

Without a doubt,  this is the longest I’ve gone without visiting Banff since I was a child. When I was a kid, we camped around Banff every single year.  It captured my heart so much so that I moved there as an adult. I spent almost four years in Banff, and they were truly some of my best years.  I had hiking at my doorstep. In fact, it’s the place responsible for my true love of trails and the birthplace of my trail running adventures. For the first time in my life, I was part of a small community, the kind  where you couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone you knew. I was part of a quirky, delightful, challenging and absolutely fascinating team within an organization that helped me carve out a path for myself that I never would have considered otherwise.  Many of those quirky and wonderful teammates became friends, friends I still see to this day, though not as often as I’d like. It was a life-altering experience in many ways.

So this weekend, as we visited Banff and surrounding areas I found myself lost in my old haunts: browsing through the Christmas store even though it was nowhere near Christmas, agonizing over what type of fudge to choose from the Fudgery, cutting down back alleys to avoid the hordes of tourists,  thinking of nights out at virtually every restaurant and bar in town, remembering the smell unique to the Rockies in winter (a mix of snow and trees), staring in awe at the grandeur of the scenery in all directions,  and reveling in the familiar motion of winter hiking and the feel of dry, rocky mountain snow (so much better than west coast snow, by the way) beneath my feet.

It was a feast for my soul in so many ways. It reminded me of times when I was at my most active, invigorated by fresh air and the constant presence of epic mountain scenery.  It felt like coming home again. I always hear that expression ‘you can’t go home again’ and, to be honest, I’ve never felt it to be true. Of course places change and evolve. Even in Banff, so many storefronts and restaurants and neighborhoods are different than they were when I lived there.  That’s not the point. Home is nothing more than a feeling.  Being able to step foot into a place and have it feel familiar, even when the sights and sounds around you are not exactly the same, to have it instantly transport you back to a wonderful time in your life, that is what home is.  And I can tell you that any time I find myself in and around Banff,whether in town on on the trails, I am home.


Monday Musings: par!

My friends, Sunday was a great accomplishment in my golf life. Maybe I was inspired by watching Rickie Fowler’s 7 consecutive birdies (!!) in the Hero World Challenge.  Maybe I was picking up some pro golf techniques by osmosis as we watched hours on end of golf coverage. Or maybe, maybe the universe just knew I was due for a golf win. Whatever the cause, the end result was this: a sweet, beautiful, all-natural, mulligan-free, legitimate par. My first ever on a non-pitch-and-putt course.

It was just like any other day on the greens. I was trying desperately to get some air on my hybrid shots, hacking away (literally) at chip shots, and putting like a champ (seriously, it’s the only decent part of my game), and I was still lucky to shoot a 5 on a par 3. Then I stepped up to the fifth hole and everything changed.

I teed up. I grabbed my trusty hybrid club. I took a deep breath and hoped for the best because, let’s face it, that about all I can do most days and it’s even more true when I haven’t played golf in two months (unless you count the tiny putting green at Golf Town…which you shouldn’t). There were no practice swings. There was no positive self-talk. There was no conscious thought whatsoever. There was just me and my hybrid, in the zone for one brief moment.

I made good contact. I know the sound because it happens so rarely for me. I watched as, miraculously, the ball took flight up in the air.  I watched it flying closer and closer to the green, only to drop to the ground just shy of the green. But then the universe handed me a gift. I got a generous bounce, and then another generous bounce, and then a thank-you-lord little roll. Before I knew it, my ball was on the green.  I’ve done this only twice before. This in itself was a miracle. There may have been jumping up and down.

Once I made my way to the green, I knew this was going to my first legitimate birdie. Spoiler: it wasn’t. The ball was a good 40 feet from the hole but, here’s the thing, I am occasionally freakishly good with my long putts. I was also still riding the high of perhaps my best tee shot ever.  I was going to sink this putt. I took my time, lined up the putt, practiced a couple putting strokes. Then I putted.

I missed.

It was tracking the whole way, right on line, and it was all looking so magical, that is until the ball just petered out and came to a stop.  I didn’t get the weight right. I was still four feet from the hole, a dangerous putt for me since I have a tendency to think I don’t need to line it up from that distance. My boyfriend told me to take my time and line it up, and for once I listened. I looked at that ground from all angles, determined to find any sign of a break. I took another deep breath and gave that putt my all.

As a casual (i.e. undeniably unskilled) golfer, there is nothing sweeter than the sound of a ball falling to the bottom of the cup on a par putt. You would have thought I hit a hole-in-one for all my excitement and jumping up and down.  I know, I can see some of you giving me serious side eye right now, wondering how on earth one par score over months of golfing is worthy of an entire blog post. To you I say: you cannot steal my sense of pride and accomplishment here. I got a par. Without a mulligan. On a reasonably long par 3. That is a good day in the life of a wannabe golfer and I am going to ride this wave whether you think it worthy of celebration or not.

Never you mind that I shot a 10 on the next hole…


Training Tuesdays: walk this way

Anyone else have Aerosmith/Run DMC in their head now? No? Okay, moving on then…

It’s no secret to regular readers that I’ve been off the running train for some time now. I’ve been focused on building strength and trying to find non-running forms of cardio that don’t make me want to slam my head into a wall (if one more person mentions swimming or biking…). The reality is that my true workouts have been a far cry from what they used to be. But I can tell you that I’ve been doing something for the past month or so that’s made a huge difference to my overall health and well-being. It’s simple. It’s easy. Anyone can do it. It’s walking.

Calm down, now, I can hear your snorting and chortling from here. I get it, to real runners walking is not a form of exercise. It’s a way to get from A to B, or maybe something you do when social norms indicate that running isn’t an appropriate mode of transport.  Hear me out, though. I’m not suggesting walking to be a replacement for running, nor even a real replacement for workouts.  What I am saying is that walking can have some seriously solid benefits.

In the past month, I’ve gone from maybe 2 km of walking a day to an average of 6 km/day with many days above 10 km. Weekend days sometimes even creep past 15 km. That’s a lot of walking.  As a result of this increase in foot transport, I’ve noticed the following:

1. Better sleep: I’m having better quality sleep these days. I’m not waking up nearly as much and feel better rested as a result. I notice that I’m more tired on days when I walk more, and I’m asleep much sooner after my head hits the pillow than I used to be, which is a great segue to…

2. Better mental state: I’m a wonderful combination of naturally anxious and naturally negative. In other words, I’m a treat. Workouts are great for helping me to moderate my emotional reaction to life’s events, but I find that the combination of walking and being outdoors is particularly effective. There is something about the fresh air, paying attention to the environment around me, and good conversations that really calms my mental chatter. It’s a similar benefit to what I used to get from running, just minus the burning legs and general muscular discomfort and injury-crippling high impact. As an added bonus, the reduced mental chatter helps me sleep better (told you there was a segue back there).

3. Better injury recovery:  For the injured, walking is a wonderful remedy. I firmly believe it’s not just giving up running that’s helped my injury stabilize. Walking has allowed me to increase my general activity level without putting stress on an unstable bundle of ligaments and joints. My trainer has noticed my increased mobility and improved form and I’ve noticed a decrease in general stiffness and pain. For anyone who’s suffered a significant injury, you know that’s a winning combo.

So yeah, walking isn’t a replacement for running (or swimming or biking or hiking or [insert intense physical activity here]) and it’s not going to give you amazing cardiovascular fitness, but it can make a meaningful difference to your overall health and well-being.  There’s a reason something simple and easy is called a walk in the park. Why don’t you take a walk on the wild side and give walking a chance? Okay, are those enough tired walking cliches for you? I think so. Happy walking.

Tuesday Fitness Fail: Lost Tennis Opportunities

As we were packing up our house, I came across my tennis racket. I haven’t used my tennis racket in about a decade. In fact, when I say “my racket”, I actually mean the hand-me-down racket that boyfriend gifted me because I discarded mine years ago in Calgary when it had already been sadly neglected for close to 5 years. Suffice it to say, I haven’t played tennis in 10 years, so when I came across the tennis racket and had to decide whether it came to our temporary rental or went into storage until we move into our new place, the decision seemed obvious: send it into storage.

My thought process went something like this: I haven’t played tennis in 10 years. I don’t have anyone to play with, anyways. Where would I even play? It’s almost winter. I’m rusty and out of practice. It takes up too much space. The list goes on and on. All I can say now is: rookie mistake.

As it turns out, there are tennis courts all around me. There are some right across the street. There are other nearby courts. Worst of all, just 1.5 km from our house, there is a court with a practice wall! This was the most devastating of discoveries because the practice wall eliminates my most significant obstacle: having no opponent. It also doesn’t help that we’re having a gloriously sunny and mild Fall so far, which makes me want to do nothing but get out there and dust off the old backhand.

Now, every time we walk past a tennis court, I stare at it longingly, and imagine my poor tennis racket stuffed in a box with other fitness gear, never to see the light of day until next Spring. I think about how I could be getting my (supremely mediocre) game back in action. I imagine my former hustle, lightning fast chasing down balls. My whole game used to revolve around my hustle. When I imagine all of this lost opportunity, I kick myself and wish that I’d had the foresight to anticipate that the magical confluence of free time, neighborhood parks and balmy autumnal weather could resurrect my game.

Trail Tuesdays: I watched an outdoor survival movie and I’m never hiking again

Recently I wrote about watching too many murder mysteries. Well, in an effort to diversify my viewing habits, I unwittingly surfaced an even scarier breed of entertainment: outdoor survival movies.  It shouldn’t be surprising for me. After all, watching 127 Hours and Into the Wild weren’t just cautionary tales for me, they were horror stories pure and simple. As it turns out, as much as I am afraid of murderers and rapists like the vast majority of the population, my biggest fear is actually dying alone in nature. It may seem irrational, but given how much time I used to spend in the great outdoors, it is actually far more statistically probable than my being murdered.

This weekend, we watched a little-known Canadian movie called Backcountry. Years ago I watched a really bad made-for-tv horror movie about an insane predatory bear in the woods, so bad in fact that even a thorough Google search didn’t surface its name, and I expected Backcountry to be similarly kitschy, unrealistic and full of over-the-top bad special effects.  Well, Backcountry was kitschy for sure, but it was also more terrifying than I expected. Long story short, a couple gets hopelessly lost in the Northern Ontario wilderness and then gets attacked by a really unusually pissed off black bear. I’ll spare you the spoilers but suffice it to say that there were many, many a scene that I actually couldn’t watch because it was too graphically awful and horrifying. And when someone wasn’t in the midst of a vicious bear attack, I was experiencing deeply unsettling discomfort at the thought of being so very lost in such a vast wilderness.

Perhaps the fear of being lost in nature comes naturally to me, care of many of my own near-getting-lost experiences, one of which actually occurred in Ontario’s wilderness. That was the near-getting-lost event that sticks with me the most because in the depths of Ontario’s forests there are no directional markers. Out West, I would be more likely to identify mountain ranges that would give me a sense of direction and, because the West is so mountainous, it always feels at least a relatively safe bet to just walk downhill. In Ontario, however, there are no peaks and valleys and I can personally attest to the fact that every “viewpoint” from escarpments in the forest looks identical, to the point that even within a two hour hike I convinced myself that my brother and I were walking in an endless circle, destined to die from hypothermia on an unseasonably cold day in October.

Alas, we clearly survived, but that experience has stuck with me.  What made Backcountry even more terrifying was the added element of bear attack. I can think of nothing worse than being near death from a bear attack and also having no idea if you are heading towards safety or further into danger. To say watching this film was a bad way to spend a Saturday night is an understatement. Not only was I left emotionally scarred, albeit temporarily, but it also made me solemnly vow that:

  • I will never hike in Ontario again. Ever. Apparently, bears be crazy out there.
  • I will never go deep into any nature by myself again.*
  • I am done with outdoor survival films as a genre. My naturally anxious self does not need reminders of human vulnerability to the elements…and sadistic wildlife.
*I reserve the right to revoke this second statement at such time that the shock value from watching this film wears off, which is not quite yet, but hopefully soon.