Tuesday, 9 February 2016

White Water Rafting on Kicking Horse River - Trek America Canadian Roadtrip Day 7

This post should really be titled "Photos of me wishing I'd never got on the bloody boat"

More on that in a minute.

First, mountains.

After climbing the Athabasca glacier, we wrapped up warm and huddled close in the van. In that cosy cocoon, we drifted into exhausted slumbers, roused every now and then by the van pulling over to take in some of the viewpoints of Yoho.

We were on our way to Banff National Park via Golden so we were expecting to see sights like this a little later in the trip at Lake Louise. At first glance, the blue astounds. It's a result of all the minerals filtering down from the glaciers and into the many waterways winding through these infinite mountains. There were lots of people jostling for a view (this was taken just a few metres from a viewpoint carpark) so we took a quick selfie and headed back up to the van.

Our next quick stop was at the Natural Bridge over the Kicking Horse River, a river we would be getting to know on a very close and personal basis the very next day.

Again, the carpark sat adjacent to the viewpoint so whilst you don't have to do any hardcore hiking to get to the good views, you might want to take a little walk if you want to feel the serenity of the place.

The river rushed and coursed past us, dipping below the bridge it was slowly eating away at, its waters that delicious pale colour that reminded me of spas and bubble baths once again.

Although as it turned out, it was most definitely not delicious and bubbly and cosy.

And so about that boat I referred to earlier.

The next day, was white water rafting day. We were driven round to the base of Glacier Raft Company who operate trips on the Kicking Horse River. There, we were quite literally suited and booted in the weak sunshine, that teased us for a moment or two before fading behind the clouds. A little bus ride later and we had been dropped in a field beside the riverbank where we were handed helmets and life jackets.

Our group took hold of the (surprisingly heavy) raft and began carrying it down to the river. That beautiful cool water shimmered past.

"Who wants to go in the front then?"

I heard myself volunteer along with Michele. Being at the front would be the best place to sit, right?


I'll let the next sequence of pictures do the talking.

And that was pretty much my face for the whole rest of the ride!!

Within the first 10 minutes, I'd taken jets of freezing water to the face and arse repeatedly, mainly due to us being so far away from the guy yelling instructions at the back (white water has a fairly hefty roar) so that when we needed to duck down into the raft, I was still paddling away, happy as anything. There were a few times when we needed to drop down and hold onto the safety ropes in the raft and at times it really felt like we would be thrown into the river! I tried to sing "Just Around the Riverbend" but I just got mouthfuls of river so I gave up.

It was great fun, of course. But that river was SO DAMN COLD OH MY GOODNESS I HAVE NEVER KNOWN A COLD LIKE IT.

Pretty much as soon as we clambered awkwardly into the raft and pushed off from the shore, we hit a little wave and what felt like shards of ice shot up my legs and into my crotch from the drainage holes at the front of the raft.

This was going to be fffffuuuunnnn!!!!

I have to say, despite being an absolute water baby and adoring the sea and going swimming and all that, water that has just melted off a glacier is not my calling. It was extremely fun though, especially when we all piled up on top of each other to form a pyramid at the front of the raft to go through some rapids (yes really!)

I did however genuinely believe I was drowning when we all jumped in the river to go through some of the smaller waves on our backs and I got hit in the face by four consecutive waves just as my body was doing that "holy crap this is fucking cold water I'm going to take a huge breath in" thing. So you know, genuine drowning could have occurred. I felt like I was under the water for about 5 minutes when really it must have been 10 seconds max. But still!

Despite that, Claire and I decided to stay in the water as long as possible but were finally pulled back in as we approached base again (not before I managed to moor my arse on a rock though, it should be said).

I had never been so cold in my life! My circulation fails me at the best of times (and you can see my particularly pearly hand in the photo above) and it would not kickstart for love nor money. Luckily the clever chaps at Glacier have a campfire going and a rather abundant supply of beer which I knocked back like there were no tomorrow.

Meaning that the drive to Banff was a little uncomfortable because I have a bladder the size of a pea and in the end I had to jump out of the van as soon as we joined the queue for the campsite and run through the bushes towards the toilets (probably frightening some campers in the process, it's not every day you see a bedraggled girl burst through the bushes behind your tent and hurtle towards the shower block).

Would I do it again? Yes absolutely! Would I jump in the water again? Um, well, probably just because everyone else would do it again and I don't want to look like a loser. But if someone else were to stay in the raft I would absolutely stay for them just to keep them company...

We finished our evening off with s'mores around the campfire and copious layers of knitwear.

Canada, you are heavenly.

Monday, 1 February 2016

New Month, New Me?

It's Saturday morning and I'm waking up to a familiar feeling.

My stomach roils after last night's wine. My mouth feels strangely fuzzy. A headache dances just beyond the veil of conscious pain. I feel about as hydrated (and as limber) as a beached whale.

I stumble to the sink and gulp down cool water, revelling at its sudden luxury. Not for the first time in my life do I vow to start drinking less (who doesn't on a regular basis?!)

Except this time, I'm planning on sticking to it - for a month at least. The 1st of February marks the start of a month-long challenge in which I am giving up all alcohol and all animal products to become a teetotal vegan.

You see, I have (like so many of us) fallen off the New Year's Resolutions bandwagon and managed to actually go into reverse on my health goals. I'm running less and eating way more cheese and chocolate than I was before Christmas and I know that the only way to change my habits is to go cold turkey. A friend has also suggested we give the Vegan challenge a go and I've noticed that my eczema outbreaks seem to be linked to my alcohol consumption. It's time for change.

It was also my birthday this week so I'm treating this weekend as a big bingey send-off before turning into a bit of a health angel. Picture me this time next week, living off lentils and sipping green tea before doing yoga by the river.

How the hell am I going to do it?!

Well I've been practicing.

I was very lucky to be sent a big batch of Nakd bars, a healthy snack bar made by Natural Balance Foods. They sent me a box full of flavours to try; Cocoa Delight, Pecan Pie, Cashew Cookie, Cocoa Mint, Berry Delight, Rhubarb and Custard, Caffé Mocha, Cocoa Orange, Gingerbread and Bakewell Tart.

I'd tried a couple beforehand but was more than happy to take on the onerous task of trying a wider range of flavours for the purpose of scientific blog research (someone's got to!) In case you've not come across them before, they're essentially made from dates, nuts and natural flavourings which are then cold-pressed into a bar shape. They're gluten, dairy and wheat free and count towards your five a day - brilliant for me and my vegan challenge!

They're not sugar free as they are of course mostly made from dates (each bar has around 15-18g of sugar in) but they're far healthier than anything else I'd normally reach for when my sweet tooth starts nagging.

As I accepted the bars in exchange for a review, I decided that I didn't want to just take photos of them in my house and write about them - I wouldn't find that interesting and I'm sure you wouldn't either!

So I chucked them in my trusty backpack and used them as hiking fuel over the course of a week!

Hike 1 - Yeoford

The first hike came from this book which is a must for any nature lovers living between Exeter and Barnstaple. It has a number of hikes to choose from that all begin and end at one of the stations along the Tarka Valley line.

We chose a 6 mile ramble from Yeoford on a cloudy but dry day.

Every now and then, sunlight slipped from beneath the clouds and illuminated the colours of the countryside. The recent downpours had given life to the verdant landscape and freshened the air.

Which I really should have thought about more before choosing my footwear that morning!

Less than half an hour in and my feet were soaked through with cold, muddy water! The mud was so deep at points that we had to climb over gates as they refused to budge in the viscous ground.

We made it through to the other side, climbing out of the sodden sheep tracks and onto a nice, solid road, before making the last part of our ascent up to enjoy views of the beautiful Devon countryside; the perfect pit stop to refuel!

I'd grabbed a selection of bars for the walk that morning - in my scrabble to get them all out, I managed to drop one in the mud so ate that one first so that I wouldn't have to put it back in my bag with my clean stuff.

I had the Cocoa Mint and Michele had the Rhubarb and Custard which he had shotgunned the moment I opened the box.

I stole a bite of his and it was very tasty and juicy. The Cocoa Mint was a little drier but it hit the spot perfectly, satisfying my sweet tooth without making me feel too guilty about sugars and fats etc. (it counts as one of your five a day after all! God bless dates!) I'm a huge mint chocolate fan so it's a relief to know that I can quite literally have my cake and eat it.

We began to make our way back down the hillside in the afternoon sunlight.

Our route passed a large copse of fir trees and snaked across the ridge of a hill with fields of sheep dropping off to either side of us.

As the flavour of mint faded from my tastebuds, I decided to try another flavour (I have to say, I really enjoyed being able to eat at the slightest stir of hunger, all in the name of blogging!) This time I tried the Berry Delight which, like the Rhubarb and Custard, was very juicy and had a beautiful raspberry flavour. It kept me going for the rest of the walk, putting my hunger pangs to rest.

As the rain clouds began to roll in once more, we made a dash for the station and managed to catch the train a whole hour earlier than expected. Result!

Hike 2 - Salcombe

This can't really be counted as a hike as we pretty much just ambled around the town looking through the shop windows and gazing at the views across the stunning estuary.

Michele and I left my family in the pretty little shops to go view-hunting along the lanes.

It wasn't too bad at all!

Both Cashew Cookie and Pecan Pie have slightly subtler flavours compared to the others and you can taste the nuts and dried fruit a little more. I enjoyed them but they weren't my favourites - I prefer the bolder, fruitier flavours.

We carried on along the roads out of the town, looking out across the estuary at our dream houses and wondering whether we'd ever get bored living in such a beautiful place.

On our way out of Salcombe, we drove along the coast a little to explore the surrounding area.

As the dusk fell, we watched locals walking their dogs on the beaches and playing in the chilly surf.

The wind was freezing as it whipped around us, forcing us to draw our coats closer to us.

Before long, we could stand it no longer and bundled back into the warmth of the car.

It may have been a short visit but I will most definitely be heading back to Salcombe!

Hike 3 - Exeter

Yesterday afternoon, we waved my family goodbye after a weekend of cake, prosecco and more cake.

One of Exeter's favourite walks is indisputably that between the Quay and the Double Locks pub.

We had a couple of hours to spare so decided to go and burn off some birthday cake by taking a nice brisk stroll beside the river.

We ambled along pleasantly, playing "snitch dog" (a game Michele started a few years ago in which we have to shout snitch dog as soon as we see a dog and then earn points for every dog - double points for puppies and those the opponent says are cute!)

Our conversation then turned to politics (mainly revolving around the migration crisis and cultural tolerance) - it turned into a very in depth debate which led Michele to actually pause the game for the first time in its three-year history until he completely bent the rules and abruptly unpaused the game, snitched a load of dogs and then re-paused it.

I refused to talk to him again for a good five minutes.

To soothe my hurt pride, I tasted the Bakewell Tart Nakd bar which was easily one of my favourites!

I think this one is one of the best for doing what it says on the packet - it tastes just like a bakewell tart! The consistency of the bars isn't too far away from a bakewell tart either so this one really hit the nail on the head for me - an instant favourite!

At the pub, we stopped off for a final pint before my alcohol-free February began.

Please excuse Michele and his inability to pose for a photo without gurning.

It was chilly and we huddled together on the bench, watching robins flit between the trees and musing on life and family, slowly getting drunker and drunker.

By the time we left the pub, our single pint each had left us both a little worse for wear (we really are a pair of lightweights!)

I stopped to take this photo of the pub...

And by the time I turned around, Michele was on the other side of the river, running away from me!

I tried to run after him, expecting him to stop but every time I got closer, he'd see me coming and sprint away again! I couldn't run for laughing in the end - he's just such an idiot!

Of course, being slightly drunk, it was only responsible to have another snack as we made our way back to Exeter. This one tasted of Christmas with flavours of ginger, cinnamon and cloves! So yummy! Even better, as Michele had already sprinted away from me, I was able to enjoy it all by myself without his great beardy face getting in the way!

So now it is the beginning of February and I have renounced all alcohol and animal products! I'm less than 24 hours in and I'm beginning to falter. I can't believe I've said goodbye to cheese for the next four weeks and I'm already craving a glass of wine.

But at least I know that there's a brilliant alternative to chocolate to help me through this next month.

It was a tough call but I narrowed it down to these four as my favourite flavours. Caffè Mocha and Cocoa Orange for their chocolatey hit (and who the hell can say no to chocolate orange, am I right?) and Berry Delight and Bakewell Tart for their delicious, what-it-says-on-the-packet, no-nonsense flavours. 

If you're giving the vegan challenge a go, rebooting your New Year resolutions or perhaps considering giving up chocolate and desserts for Lent, I'd heartily recommend giving Nakd bars a go to help you through!

As mentioned earlier, I was sent these bars in exchange for a review and am pleased to say that all opinions are my own. Thank you to Natural Balance for the free food!