One Week Until the Stairclimb!

 

13010604_10209331647917915_4955493524461631615_nI am both incredibly nervous and incredibly excited for the stairclimb. Our team is as ready as we are going to be, so now its a bit of a waiting game. One week. 7 days…

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The Not-So-Pretty side of being an Outdoors Woman

The Hair.

Messy hair, don’t care? Good. Because when you spend every minute you can outside, say goodbye to blowouts and cute curls. You will find yourself embracing such classic styles as ponytails and braids. And sure, there is lots of play to be done with those basics, but anything but the tightest braid will soon be undone when you get above the tree line on a mountain hike. In my world, every bun is a ‘messy bun’ even if it doesn’t start out that way. I have not blow dried or straightened my hair on a regular basis in years, because…why bother? My favourite hair accessory these days? A hat.

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^Messy Mountain Hair

Good luck with a manicure.

I can spend an hour clipping, filing and painting my nails, meticulously painting on the layers: base coat, two coats of colour followed by a topcoat. And then sit around and not touch anything for the next hour to let the polish dry and harden. And no matter what I do, by noon the next day there will be chips and scratches. Nail polish is one of those things that I have given up on as part of my daily life. I used to be the type of girl who matched her polish to her outfits, now I’m happy when I can scrub all of the dirt out of my nail beds.

Lips that turn heads.

But not for a good reason. I have tried pretty much every lip chap on the market, and while some are better than others, none seem to be able to really quench my dry lips long term. So I do my best, and use an SPF lip balm whenever I’m outside, but my lips will never be described as sexily pouty and smooth. I try to avoid lipstick even on nights out because that just seems to make everything worse.

Tan lines.

Unless you go au-natural 24/7, you will collect an unusual assortment of tan lines over the course of a summer. All those super cute strappy performance tanks? Think of the total of all of those lines, from every tank you own, in a pattern on your skin. By the end of summer, that’s what I’ve got going on. No matter how many times you wear a strapless top or go out in a bikini, the tan lines will add up. Also, sock tans are a thing that happens. My feet are usually about 5 shades lighter than the rest of me because of wearing hiking boots every day.

Calluses.

On your feet, your heels, your hands… I once shook another woman’s hand upon being introduced and she looked at me shocked and asked what had happened to my hands. As an outdoors woman, a firefighter and someone who lifts weights, my hands have calluses to rival the grittiest construction worker. Sure I use hand cream, but these calluses are permanent. And as for my feet? You don’t even want to know. But I am going to tell you anyways. I live in boots; whether it be hiking boots for guiding or steel-toed boots for working at the fire hall, boots are what I am used to and what I wear day-in-day-out. When I’m off work, I wear my Blundstones because they are comfortable and at the end of a long day, that is pretty much all my feet care about. Someone gifted me with a pedicure a couple of years ago and when the poor woman looked at my feet, I swear she was ready to cry. I tried to convince her that she didn’t need to try and file off the calluses, but she tried… and I regretted it for weeks afterwards! Those calluses had been what was cushioning my feet and losing them just meant I had to get them back in the form of incredibly painful blisters in what had previously been my comfiest boots.

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<Thanks to my calluses, I can walk across rocks for the best spot in a hot spring like a pro

High heels? No thanks.

Don’t get me wrong; I love a pair of cute heels as much as the next girl. But put me in heels and I walk like a new born calf. Sexy, right? I am just so used to wearing comfortable, stable footwear with good ankle support that putting me in heels for any period of time is torture.

Crusty noses and bruises, scrapes and bumps:

I know what you are probably thinking: this article is getting grosser by the minute. Sorry? Not really though. This is the honest-to-goodness truth of being an outdoors woman that you sure won’t see on Instagram. When you are hiking, face into the wind up a mountain for hours, your nose is going to run. No matter how many tissues you have, or if your gloves have that lovely nose-wiper patch built into the thumb, when you get back to the trailhead, you will have a moderately crusty nose.

I don’t bruise bruiseeasily, but in the course of scrambling up mountains and hiking through wooded areas, you can almost always find an assortment of bruises and scrapes on me. I don’t mind, its all part of the experience. But between firefighting and hiking, I sometimes look like I got beat up. Add black fly bites around my eyes and I can be a bit of a hot mess.

<One of my more recent bruises

As gross as some of these things probably sound, any outdoors woman will tell you that it is worth every bit of pain and grossness to do the things that we do. When your nose is crusty from the cold or wind, you are too busy living life to notice or care. All of the calluses? They represent hours of hard work and fun. Every wonky tan line represents a great memory of a day in the sun. My lips may be chapped, but they are always smiling. The prettiest women are the happy ones, and nothing makes me happy like being outside living life to the fullest. And besides, wild is its own kind of beautiful. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m trying to wrestle my hair into a ponytail and rolling my eyes at the 7 different sets of tan lines on my shoulders 😉

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^Moments like this make every scrape, bruise and callus worth it.

P.S. I would like to note that most of us clean up pretty damn nicely when we have to. We would just rather be on a mountain than in a mall.

 

Ice Cave Adventures

Since posting the photos from my trip a couple of weeks ago, I have had a lot of questions about the Ice Caves, so I figured that I should probably do a post about the trip. I am going to keep this short on writing and include lots of photos.

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Most people who visit the Columbia Icefields do so in the summer time; they park at the Discovery Centre across the highway and take the Snow Coach ride up onto the glacier. And while yes, I have definitely done that, and yes, it is a pretty cool experience, it is definitely not the best way yo experience this incredible environment.

I would like to note, right here and now, at the beginning of this piece, that glaciers are incredibly dangerous places, where you should not travel unless you have the proper training, experience and equipment. One fall into a crevasse, and poof! You’re gone. Buh Bye. So when travelling in and around the glacier, make smart, low risk decisions.

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Aside from the Snow Coach tour, there is another great way to experience the Columbia Icefield: park your car across the highway from the Discovery Centre and hike the ‘Toe of the Glacier’ trail. This trail takes you across a breathtaking landscape, where moraines tower over you and the ground is littered with erratics and alpine plants and wildlife. As you can see in the photo above, this landscape makes us humans look, and feel, tiny. I love the feeling of standing in a landscape that dwarfs me. It makes you realize just how very big this world is.

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So in the winter, if you walk the road down to the lower parking lot, you will see a trail where people have crossed the debris field at the bottom of the glacier and it leads up to the foot of the glacier.

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As you approach, you will notice a couple hollowed out sections in the foot of the glacier. I walked over first to the ones on the right, just to check them out. While these are not actually caves, its incredible to see the glacial ice up close.

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Being able to reach out and touch something this ancient is an absolutely incredible feeling.

Out of the three hollowed out sections, one is actually a cave. There really aren’t words to do justice to the cave, so instead I would like to show you.

1The entrance is really nothing remarkable, its not until you get closer that the light starts to catch the ice and light it up.

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For the entire approach to the cave, the wind had been tearing over the glacier and had been in our face and whistling in our ears. When we reached the cave and climbed inside, the abrupt silence was almost louder than the wind had been. There was no natural noise in the glacier, except for small creaks and groans from the ice mass.

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Up close, the glacier was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen; there was almost a lacework of air bubbles and frost inside the otherwise perfectly clear ice.

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Standing inside the glacier was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was so much more awe inspiring than just riding a bus to the top of the glacier, taking a selfie to say I was there and then leaving. I worked for this, I hiked through a mix of mud, ice and snow and I slid down a glacier on my butt to get to this cave and it definitely did not disappoint.

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Should you ever want to visit the glacier, make sure to check conditions with local park authorities, and remember, the ice caves aren’t accessible in the summer! No matter how you visit the Columbia Icefields, you are sure to be blown away and leave inspired.

 

FireFighter Gift Guide (Part 1)

It should never be hard to shop for a firefighter, we are all gear junkies. But just in case you are having some trouble, I have created Part One of the ultimate gift guide for the firefighter in your life.

Cool T-shirt:

How do you know if someone is a firefighter? Because all their shirts say so.

But seriously, firefighters love cool t-shirts. And nowadays there are so many cool firefighter owned companies making wicked t-shirts. Don’t settle for boring. This is an easy gift-able item, as sizing is pretty easy to find out or guesstimate.

Here are some of my favourites:

You can check them out/shop here:

Black Smoke Apparel

Black Helmet Apparel

Salty Dog Apparel

 

Recycled Fire Hose Belt:

Maybe your firefighter needs something to hold their pants up? There are all sorts of awesome belts on the market made out of retired and cleaned fire hose, but my favourite is from The Rustic Firefighter.

They have all sorts of different belts, ranging from casual to belts that, dare I say it, could be worn with dress pants.

 

Wedges:

No, not the delightfully seasoned potato. Wedges are an incredibly versatile tool that every firefighter should carry on them. Wedges range in size and from wooden triangles cut out of 2×4 to my favourite, the Wedge It.

The Wedge It is brightly coloured and designed to hold a door open three ways. My favourite way to use it is to hook it over the hinges and it props the door wide open. The bright colours make it noticeable, and harder to forget. Which is pretty important when you have 101 things on your mind.

 

Leatherman:

Growing up, my dad always had a multi tool on his belt and could fix pretty much anything on the go. I learned from a young age that a multi-tool was something that you should have on you at all times. This belief was re-enforced on my very first duty shift at the fire hall. I found myself constantly scrambling for this tool or that tool, when if I had been carrying a multi-tool I would have been all set.

Not all multi-tools are created equal. In my opinion, Leatherman are the best of the best. Made in the USA, and backed by a 25 year guarantee. My personal favourite Leatherman is the Surge. The Surge is rugged and large, but feels like your holding something real. There is nothing flimsy or delicate about this tool.

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My second favourite Leatherman is The Raptor, perfect multi-tool for medical calls. The Raptor tool is essentially an oxygen wrench, ring cutter and window punch built into a heavy-duty set of medical shears.

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Rescue Tool:

There are so many variations on a rescue tool, but most of them do the same basic things: Cut seat belts and break windows. My favourite is another Leatherman product, the Z-Rex. What I love most about this tool is the shape. It makes it easier to use than any other rescue tool I have gotten to use. Its also pretty reasonably priced and you can get replaceable blades for the seatbelt cutter portion.

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Globe Fire Boots:

Now this present is for the firefighter in your life whom you love more than anything. It is pricey, but I have learned that you don’t f around with footwear in any part of your life. Blisters can wreck your best day and make you perform sub-par. This winter I broke down and bought myself a pair of the 14” leather pull on fireboots from Globe and they are absolutely incredible. They are so comfortable, and come with two different insoles to customize the fit. No more sloppy fitting boots.

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Socks:

There is nothing worse for your feet than cheap socks. I used to be totally okay with buying 12 packs for $9.99 at Walmart, but nowadays I am a bit of a sock snob. Good socks insulate when its cold, wick moisture when its warm and stop you from getting blisters. My personal favorites are Darn Tough and IceBreaker. At $15-$30 a pair of sucks, they are pretty pricey, but 100% worth it. Both of these brands make mostly merino wool socks, which means they also cut down on foot odor. What makes the price really worth it? Aside from no more stinky feet, no more blisters and the most comfortable socks you’ve ever owned? The fact that they are guaranteed for life. Both Darn Tough and IceBreaker will replace your socks if you manage to wear them out. It does not get much better than that.

Icebreaker:

So I mentioned IceBreaker in the sock section, but what is it? IceBreaker is a brand of clothing out of New Zealand whose clothing is made almost entirely out of Merino Wool. Merino wool feels like the softest of cotton, so it is not itchy. But it is so much more breathable than cotton and last a lot longer. Merino wool doesn’t get stinky when you sweat into it and it can be washed in a sink and will dry within hours. Merino is also anti-flammable. You can light it, but it wont burn (within reason). This makes it great as a gift for wildland firefighters who have to wear natural fibers under their gear. I know what you are probably thinking, ‘Wool? In the summer?’ and yes, I am saying you should wear wool in the summer. Merino wool insulates in the cold but breathes when its hot, so it is much better at regulating your temperature in all weather. IceBreaker makes a wide range of clothing: baselayers, to t-shirts, to jackets. All of it is worth its weight in gold.

 

Recycled Bunker Gear Bag:

There are a bunch of companies that make things out of retired fire service gear, and love the variety of bags that are on the market. Most are customizable with your name or department, and some can even be made out of your, or a loved ones, gear.

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Past Into New, a company out Ontario makes some pretty cool bags, as well as a bunch of other neat recycled items.

 

Halligan Bottle opener:

A halligan is known as a tool that is meant to FSU (abbreviating in case kids read this, I’m sure you can figure it out). It’s a super versatile tool that can open pretty much anything, even your beer. Well, at least this mini version can. This is a pretty sweet little gift for an beer loving firefighter (me!). Buy yours here.

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VX Gloves:

My favourite vehicle extrication gloves were a gift from my parents. Schmitz Mitts are virtually indestructible, yet incredibly comfortable to work in. There are a couple different variations, from the basic to the waterproof to the winterized, so you can pick the pair that is perfect for you. I have an incredibly hard time finding gloves that fit me (being a woman and all…) but my pair of Schmitz Mitts in a size small are perfect. They took some breaking in to get them to the point where I have full dexterity, but they are now perfect.

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Rite-in-the-rain notebooks:

How many times have you dug through the med bag, looking for that crumples piece of paper so you can record vitals? It happened enough to me that when I saw the ‘Rite In The Rain’ Vitals notebook that I grabbed it, bought it, and put it straight in my grab bag for fire. The pages are sturdy and virtually indestructible, they are waterproof and easy to tear out and hand over to EMS. Check them, and their other First Responder notebooks out here.

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Anything from #IveGotYourBack911:

Seriously. This company is amazing. It was started by paramedics in Ontario as a social movement to raise awareness around mental illness, specifically PTSD in First Responders. It serves to remind all of us that we are not alone, we are a family.

They have an awesome assortment of clothing and gear, some of which can be customized based on your designation.

 

Well that is it for part one, stay tuned for part two!

 

Outdoor Adventure Show Calgary

Sunday, March 20th was one of the nicest weather days of the year so far; the temperatures hit 15 degrees Celsius and the sun was shining brightly in a perfectly blue sky. Patios were open across Calgary and it would have been the perfect day to be out hiking in a t-shirt or paddling one of the newly open mountain lakes. On any other day like this, you would find me outside. But last weekend I had a pretty awesome reason to spend the day inside: The Outdoor Adventure Show was in town!

As an outdoor professional and a passionate adventurer, I am a bit of a gear junky and travel nerd. I have a list of places I want to go, trails I want to hike and things I want to try, but I am also always on the hunt for new ideas and inspirations. Thanks to the OAS, I have a whole bunch of new places in mind!

Walking into the show is a bit overwhelming at first, at least for someone who spends most of their time outside in relatively quiet places. All of the booths were brightly colored, and tempted people in with flashy slogans, gorgeous adventure photos and bowls of treats or swag to give away.

With displays that included African Safaris, Eco tours in South America and some closer-to-home booths from Parks Canada and Jasper Tourism, there was something for everyone. Whether you were looking for an elaborate and lavish getaway in a foreign country, or a weekend road trip close to home, there really was something for everyone.

In the summer, I spend as much time as possible on the water in a canoe or kayak, and last year I took up Stand Up Paddle Boarding. I am in the market for a new boat (either a flat water kayak or a solo canoe, I cant decide yet) so walking into the show and seeing rack upon rack of gorgeous watercraft was amazing! One of the big highlights of the show for many people is the big pool set up in the middle of the hall. There was always something happening on the water; everything from paddling beautifully crafted canoes, to SUP yoga and even a lesson on how to roll a kayak. I found myself constantly circling back to the pool to see what was new.

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^This is my favourite photo from the show 😉

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Watching the folks from Tofino Paddle Surf doing yoga on SUPs was by far one of my favorite parts of the show! I am pretty new to the world of SUPing. My first attempt was about 3 years ago with an instructor on Lake Superior. Lake Superior is a massive lake that behaves a lot like the ocean, so trying to balance on what is essentially an oversized surfboard in giant rolling waves proved to be more than I could handle. I was pretty disheartened at how badly I did that first time, but last summer, with the help of a good friend who is a SUP instructor, I decided to give it another go and I fell in love. As much as I love SUPs and yoga, combining the two is definitely way above my current level for balancing. But give me time, I’ll get there!

After hanging around the pool for probably waaaaay too long, it was time for the Abandoned Alberta Photography Seminar. Scott Dimond and Robert Scott had an incredible portfolio of photographs that they shared with their audience. The photography seminar booth was full, with people crammed in the back and sitting on the floor, all to hear these guys talk about their search for the perfect abandoned buildings (and boats!). They shared their individual stories, and then talked about how they had met and come together. Nowadays they teach workshops here in Alberta on photographing abandoned structures. Each year they pick a new location for the multi-day workshop and spaces fill fast! Their three workshops for this year are already booked solid, but they have started a waiting list and if there are enough people they will plan another one. Both Dimond and Scott have travelled extensively, with some of their most stunning photos coming out of Iceland and Germany. This seminar was well worth the time, and I will definitely look at signing up for an Abandoned Alberta workshop next year.

All in all, the Outdoor Adventure Show was a lot of fun and gave me lots of great ideas for future trips. Its so nice to actually be able to talk to experts from different companies and locations, one on one and ask all those questions that you can’t necessarily just Google. These people know what they are talking about and they have lived these experiences, and at the Outdoor Adventure Show you get to meet them all in one place.

I am excited for the trips I have planned this year, to which I have added some new stops since visiting the show and I can’t wait to visit the show again next year!