Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vancouver Island - Surf and Turf

Takala Ranch
LadySmith - Takala Trails Ranch

In our original family vacation scheduling we were supposed to have left a few days sooner, and we were supposed to have gone in an easterly direction (visit Rene's family in Ontario), however, due to unforeseen circumstances (tiny ants in Biblical proportions which wrecked havoc on 1/2 of my kitchen), we actually ended up going west instead, as far west as we could drive.

"So what are we going to do now?" Alora asked that earth shattering day 'when the ants came marching in'. We were all looking forward to driving across the wilds of Canada to meet up with loved ones we haven't seen in a while and the question was a simple question really, one that was on everyone's mind. We were down 2 days of driving time and expenses, "What do we do now?"
"Think surf and turf." Rene replied and said no more and walked away.
A little while later I got the gist of what he had in mind and went to work trying to find a opening spot on Vancouver Island where we could lay our heads for the 12 days we had left on our vacation. A few days playing in the surf and a few days playing on turf.
We had originally planned to take Alora for a family trail ride in the Albertan badlands for her Birthday. I found her birthday request a bit strange, she must be a horse lover if she wants to see her Mom and Dad on a horse and go trail riding. Mind you, this was the second request on the list, the first was a horse and our suburban backyard is way too small to accommodate a species from the equine family.
"How about one of those miniature ponies, the ones that are as big as a dog?" she tried.
"Can you ride it?"
"Forget it then."
"Can we get a farm?"
"HA ha ha... funny girl!" was my reply, however, she knows her Mom well and how much I would love a few acres one day.
Like Mother

Like Daughter

I found a ranch called Takala Trails in LadySmith, it sits on 48 acres NW of LadySmith right by the Nanaimo Airport, and it backs on to crown land. There is a cabin (min 2 night stay) for $95 a night (week long stays are discounted) and RV sites for rent at $25 a night. Mary and Doug were our hosts for five days.
Rene and the cabin
There is no running water but potable water is supplied in jugs and you can fill up anytime at the barn. There is a propane fridge available to keep things cool and there are 2 butane burners for cooking food inside the cabin. Cooking pots, utensils, and plates are all available inside the cabin. We never used them because we had our own camp gear with us and set up a kitchen outside at the picnic table.
There is a wood burning stove inside the cabin for heat, on those cold rainy winter days (which we did not experience), and there is a fire pit outside to roast hot dogs and marshmallows. Firewood is supplied and brought by tractor to your door.
If you find yourself in need of a lavatory it is located in a separate building a few steps away from the cabin. It has a toilet (RV kind that needs manual help to flush), and a shower room next door (Water is in a black barrel on top of the roof and heats up in the sun - you may need to manually warm up some water on those cold rainy wet dark days).
The Lavatory and Wash House

I know what your thinking, what about my conveniences? To make my life easier? To make my life more comfortable? My computer? My IPhone? My dishwasher? My running water? My flush toilet? It's crazy, I know, but truth be told I felt so much more relaxed away from these so called conveniences than I have ever felt surrounded by them. I know it's been amazing weather and that's helped with this 'living outdoors' thing. I get that, I'm not stupid, I haven't needed to make my morning coffee outdoors in a snow storm, but there is something deeply peaceful about living away from the business of society, the running around and feeling like you've gone no where really fast. The rush of living like everyone else and ending up stressed out with high blood pressure and on the verge of a heart attack. There is something genuinely wrong about living that way, and yet we somehow get sucked into it. It takes stepping out of it to catch a glimpse of what life was meant to be. Living off the land has it's hardships, don't get me wrong, it's different than the constant rumblings of bigger and better eating away at the spirit not to mention the physical well-being of us humans. Now, that I've lead you down a bit of a rabbit hole, shall I get back on track?
Did I mention the horses yet? There are many and one herd grazes in the acreage close to the cabin. There is a gate that closes to prevent them from grazing in the area of the cabin and RV sites, but we left that gate open and a few of them did stop by for a fire roasted carrot (just kidding, they prefer it raw). It was neat and a bit scary at first to see them emerge out of the darkness; massive ghost-like figures yet gentle giants.
The cabin sleeps approx. 5 people (queen bed and single up in the loft and a futon sofa bed below on the main floor). The stairs up into the loft are made from a 1x4 piece of wood and they are a little sore on the feet. For those with tender tootsies and or arthritis bring some hard soled slippers for the climb up and down.
The cabin also comes with it's own dog, no need to bring one, however, you can if you wish (please advise Mary or Doug before your arrival).  Alora and I found ourselves sitting on the porch trying to guess it's name.
"Manny?" Alora called out in hopes of a tail wag. Nope, no movement.
"Moose." she tried again. His ears twitched and he looked at us and sighed deeply as if to say, "Really? Moose? Is that the best you can do?" After a while he became exasperated with us and our dimwitted names and in a testy huff he got up and walked back to the barn in search of a more intelligent crowd. Later on that day, Doug advised us that his name was Copper. Please be forewarned and use the correct name to avoid the inconvenience of a cold-shoulder.
That first afternoon, Alora and I helped tack up horses for a 7 passenger trail ride ranging in age from teen to 75. Rene and Kalina went on an ocean adventure that day and weren't back yet.

The 7 passenger trail ride 
Alora continued to helped out Doug and Mary that afternoon and lead one of the 7 (a nervous Mom who had never been on a horse), on a 5 mile trail ride. I sauntered back to the cabin and started on dinner; Tomato Alfredo Beef Broccoli.
The most clever thing I have seen at this ranch is how Doug calls the roaming herd of horses into the barn. There they are just grazing out in the far back pasture and when Doug whistles, back at the barn, their ears twitch and their head goes up, cocks to the side as if to say, "is that what I think I heard?" They stand quite still for a moment and when they hear the next whistle off they trot, through the open gate, down the road and into the barn; each going into their own stall, except for Chester who gets a little confused sometimes, or perhaps he just prefers his neighbours stall?
That night Doug brought the herd's hay near the cabin for the evening feed. What a cool first day!
The following day was our family's turn for that 5 mile Trail ride... on a horse. Did I mention, I am afraid of heights? I get a touch of vertigo when I'm up high on something. Funny thing is I don't feel it when I'm in an enclosed area, like the 26 floor of the Harbour center for example (where I used to work right by the window) or an airplane. It seems I only get lightheaded in high places outdoors, like the Eiffel Tower in France (where Rene proposed to me) or on the back of a horse.
Alora rode Bree, Kalina rode Cimeron, Rene was on The Avenger (aka-Blossom, this was her real name - Avenger was only for that day), and I was on the disoriented horse named Chester.
"Now look Chester buddy, ol' pal, old friend... I'm not afraid of horses you see... I just have this thing about heights... I'll be a good girl for you", I whispered softly into his ear and massaged his shoulder to bond with him, "not much trouble at all. So, can you be a good boy for me? Help me out buddy? Do we have a deal?" He snorted at me and I took this as an affirmative.
My heart raced as I prepared to board Chester (sorry, that's my 19 years in the Travel Industry lingo coming out), "if  75 year old Granny managed him for 5 miles yesterday,  I could do it no problem today."   My mounting onto Chester was not as graceful as I would have liked (dis-mount was even worse), but I did manage to get on and was I facing the right way I might add (sorry, no pictures of this as I had the camera in my pocket and I refused to let go of the reins to fish it out of my pocket and lean sideways to pass it to Rene who was on 'The Advenger' and making Chester nervous enough to do a little side step dance... all to capture a 'Kodak' moment - I think not).
"So, is Mom going to move?" Doug our host asked me as the rest of my family galloped on their horses around him.
Alora and Bree

"You mean I have to move too?" I was very happy and content to just to be on this thing. I was still at the mounting block and it took me a moment to ease out of my vertigo. I was very grateful that Chester was not in a hurry to move.
"Are you Okay?" I happen to see Rene mouth the words to me as he sprinted by, he could see that I was way out of my comfort zone, and I found out later at the camp fire, so was he. The Avenger apparently lived up to her fraudulent name and was not a graceful moving blossom fluttering in the wind but a mover and a shaker... a go getter, so to speak.
"Just squeeze your legs together and say, Chester walk on." I was advised as my family was heading out the ring and towards the trail. It took Chester and I a few more moments to find the right pressure in the squeeze for the legs and the right tone in the voice. Not Chester's fault, he probably couldn't read my mixed signals. Inside I was screaming, "GET ME OFF THIS THING!" and on the outside I was whispering, "Chester walk on." It was only after Doug handed me a crop that Chester decided to move forward and follow the pack... and to think... I didn't even have to say a word.  Doug called it 'incentive'. I never really had to use the crop, just it's being there was sufficient 'incentive' for forward motion.
Chester and I enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the sides of the pathways. At first I thought his motivation to walk so closely to the trees and bushes was in hopes of knocking me off his back, but I saw quickly that he had no ill wishes for me and the need to see me plummet to the ground was not his intention at all. It was so he could catch a quick snack on a leaf or two as we meandered along the trail, it was a fine pace for me, my only irritation being an occasional mouth full of leaves for myself (Chester was very considerate that way).
After a while, I began to enjoy the slow side to side movement and I felt the tension in my muscles relax a bit as we dawdled through the forest. I had only a moment of panic when Doug and possibly Alora, decided it would be more fun to move a little faster along a forest service road and the horses were urged into an open throttle gallop.
"Mom... it was a canter, not a gallop." I hear Alora saying, but to me it was a gallop at full speed and it seemed as if the trees zipped past me in light speed fashion and me not knowing how to post (the movement your body makes to absorb the shock of bouncing). Needless to say, I'm glad I wore my sports bra, besides, Chester wasn't too interested in keeping at that break neck pace for long, so my gallop was not prolonged. Whew!
Me and Chester
"It was an amazing ride, and yes Chester, I would ride you again. Thank-you buddy for being such a good boy."
Nanaimo River

That afternoon, for a cool down we found a beautiful spot along the Nanaimo River and did a little swimming.


We brought along snorkel and masks and saw crayfish and trout.

Made Fabio's Italian Sausages and peppers in a Marinara Sauce for dinner that evening and relaxed. Funny, my rump felt a little bruised as I eased into my camp chair. Must have been the bouncing.

The following day brought us another amazing day... a day at our very own secluded beach on Tent Island. We took our Zodiac out early and launched it into the water at Chemainus.
Our Captain, who happened to be a rugged handsome fellow who drank a thick cowboy coffee each morning to put hairs on his chest, knew the waters well. He had been out there 2 days earlier with his youngest daughter.

These two knew exactly where they wanted to take us land lubbers. Tent Island was our destination.
The SW side of the Island that day was full of boats and people so we continued to the NE side and found a secluded cove. We snorkeled and explored, saw oysters, little fish with colourful stripes, sea anemones, star fish and what may have been an eel or a very long fish.
Next we headed towards the west side of Cooper and Thetis Islands. Half way between them is a rock jetty, and it was fill of seals and their pups.
We fished for a while and hung our heads over the boat to watch the jelly fish float by. It took approx. 15 minutes to cross the inlet from Thetis Island back to the boat launch in Chemainus.

Alora made dinner that evening, a cheesy ground beef and macaroni - Delicious!
At that evenings campfire we had 2 guests drop by, Blossom and Atlas. It was hard to just get up from the campfire and go to bed. Those 2 (Atlas and Blossom) didn't seem to want to leave, and it would have been terribly rude on our behalf to have forced them to leave. Needless to say we all retired very late that evening.

Sky helping Rene pack the car

Atlas, Alora and Kalina

The last day at the ranch and clean-up day was SundayAugust 12th. We wanted to have everything packed except sleeping bags and PJ's. Breakfast the following day was going to be at Goats On The Roof.
As I packed that day I noticed a distinct smell of cedar, campfire and Eau de Cheval (sounds like a fancy Parisian perfume, doesn't it?). It made me wonder if it was part of the cabin aroma or if it was coming off our clothes. Oh well... Ce la Vie... around chevals that is.
Atlas and Sky came for a visit that night, they helped to pack up the Zodiac and the two grapefruits we had left on the picnic table. Atlas had a bite of grapefruit before Kalina could get to it. He puckered his face when he spit it out.
The two must have slept close to the cabin that last evening, comforting each other at the prospects of missing us deeply the following day, needing to be close to the ones that hand out carrots for midnight snacks... because they were hanging out around the cabin the following morning too. They would miss us deeply... Ahem?... they would miss our carrots for sure and that's close enough.
Thank-you Chester, Atlas, Sky, Bree, Cimeron, Blossom (aka The Avenger) and Thank-you Mary and Doug Carr for your wonderful hospitality. You will most likely see us again in the near future.

Next stop Ukluelet...

The view from our back deck
Ukluelet - Wya Point Resort

Yurt on the beach... Wow! Words alone can not express the beauty of this place and the deep profound peace I felt at being here. I'm afraid I didn't write too much down for this segment of the holiday, because I was mostly in a state of awe. Images and snapshots are all I can share of waves, peace, wind, body surfing, family, sand and rocks. It was amazing.
For more adventures from a past blog on this side of the Island... see my Tofino blog.

Last leg, Parksville...

The kids 
Parksville - Rathtrevor Beach

Not much to say here as well... because it's all been said before... see Rathtrevor in my previous blog.
Rathtrevor did ease us back into the throngs of society again. It's sounding like a little city in there with the hum of generators, stench of lavatories and the cries and howls of small animals (dogs and kids). Truth be told, I was ready to pack it all up and head back to the quiet of the ranch again.
But... I love the beach...  and the way the tide goes out for miles. We did a lot of walking, resting and Sudoku. Lukas stayed with us too for the last two days. He said he missed camping with Speedo Man. See our Mable Lake adventure.

Here's a slide show for more photo's for those interested:
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For those interested in the Cowboy Coffee Recipe:

Items you will need - Coffee, water, a metal coffee pot and a flame (propane or wood fire).
Add water and coffee into a pot and bring to a boil, let them boil together for a few minutes. Pour into cups and enjoy! Add cream and sugar if need be. Very manly coffee! Full bodied flavour. Puts hair on your chest. Do not throw away the coffee grounds, just add a fresh scoop for the next pot, etc... when the pot is 1/2 full with old coffee grounds then throw out and start again.

For a less manly coffee... add a 1/4 cup cold water to the pot after grounds and water have boiled (this pulls the grounds to the bottom of the pot) and pour carefully into the cups. Throw out grounds and start fresh for the new pot.

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