Flying through the Fog

“If you can’t see the mountain, don’t waste your time,” is what I read over and over when doing research on visiting Grouse Mountain.  But, I don’t like being told what to do, so we walked to Canada Place and hopped a shuttle to the base of the mountain.  We were hoping to go paragliding but fog seemed to be clinging to the mountain with no indication of dissipating anytime soon thus cancelling all paragliding tours.  However, the ziplines were running, so we purchased a zipline time for a little later in the day hoping to give the skies time to clear.

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Tickets in hand, we boarded the skyride which lifted us to the top of the mountain.  There we checked out the Lumberjack Show which even in the front row was hard to see due to the thick fog.  After the show, we took a hike with a guide who tried to tell us what we would see if it weren’t so foggy.  He gave us indications of how high the snow gets in the winter, where bears had created trails, and stories about First Nations people.

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Between the rain, fog, and wind, I was having a hard time staying warm.  At this point I was regretting the decision to leave the fleece in the hotel room.  So, in an attempt to both kill time and keep warm, we headed over to the two resident grizzly bears, Coola and Grinder.  Both bears were orphaned and brought to the mountain to be cared for by park rangers.  I watched as they lumbered around their habitat thankful that we had not run into bears this large in Ketchikan only days before.  These two bears were massive with intimidating claws that inspired a healthy fear of them.

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The fog had turned to drizzle as we made our way to the zip lining building.  There we met up with the guides and a girl from New Zealand that would be joining us.  A few minutes were spent going over how to safely hook up to the zips as well as the correct position for stopping.  These zips were not the kind that you find in the Caribbean where you use your hand to break, instead you flip back in your sling, shoot your feet straight into the air, and slam into a giant spring which stops you at the next platform.

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We practiced our form on the first zip which was very short and went above a walkway where people were headed to see the grizzly bears.  This was one of the only lines in which we could actually see the ending platform.  Lines two and three were longer than the previous and allowed us time to play around with our camera.

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Then we jumped on the Alpine Lift that took us further up the mountain for zips four and five.  Here we chatted with our new Kiwi friend who was living in Vancouver to do an internship as a doctor.  As we ascended the mountain, the fog grew even thicker.

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As Geoff and I prepared to race each other on zip four, we could not see the other platform.  As we stepped off and headed at speeds upwards of 50mph, we were enveloped in the fog.  The tops of pine trees poked out of the fog in our immediate sight line, but looking forward there was nothing but thick grey and white clouds.  The only sound was the whir of the zip line as we sped toward the next platform.  Being encased in fog was quite surreal.  What we could see of the forest below us took on a mystical feeling, and I felt like phantom flying through the air.  One minute later, we were slamming into the spring jarring us back to reality.

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The last zipline included a very steep hike to the next platform.  The “stairs” we had to climb were hewn out of the mountain and were sometimes so high I had to literally climb them with hands and feet.  Arriving at the wooden platform was a relief so that I could catch my breath before ascending fifty more stairs and hooking up to the last line.  All of the work getting to the last zipline was so worth it.  It was over 200 feet high and,if I remember correctly,  about a mile long.    Within five feet of leaving the platform all I could see was Geoff next to me.   Arms flung wide open, we sailed down the last zip, the wind slapping our faces.  There was an overwhelming silence as we cut through the fog which was punctuated by the slamming force of both of our slings hitting the springs indicating the end of our flying experience.

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While our day on Grouse Mountain did not include the sweeping views of downtown Vancouver that the brochures promised, we were rewarded in other ways.  I’m sure that when most people picture zip lining they view tropical lush canyons or white sand beaches.  Zip lining through the fog beats zip lining in any of those places hands down.  On my next trip to Vancouver, I would love to head up Grouse Mountain again, but maybe this time I’ll hit the snow-covered zips and and try my hand at some snowboarding.

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EPCOT’s Holidays Around the World

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is visiting Walt Disney World with my husband.  Whether it’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, or Animal Kingdom, Disney really knows how to go all out for Christmas.  Millions of lights, towering Christmas trees with oversized ornaments, and characters decked out in their holiday best inspire Christmas cheer from the moment you swipe your Magic Band.  This year we spent the day wandering around the World Showcase and experiencing EPCOT’s Holidays Around the World.

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Our first stop was Norway where we stumbled upon Sigrid who proceeded to tell the tale of a badly behaving Christmas gnome, Julenissen.   Julenissen lives in the woods and barns where he guards the livelihoods and welfare of the owners.  As long as the family whose barn he lives in kept him in good spirits, the family would be rewarded.  Julenissen, true to his trickster personality, would freeze Sigrid as she tried to explain how the tradition came to be associated with Christmas in Norway.  The seven minute show is worth a pause as you explore World Showcase.

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My favorite holiday presentation would have to be Germany where Helga told the story of the first nutcracker and how decorating trees came to be a common symbol of Christmas.  According to Helga, the tannenbaum is decorated by parents on Christmas Eve and is a symbol of the giving and goodwill so associated with the Christmas season. Soon after, Helga tells the story of her first nutcracker.  Upon conclusion of her story, she asks the children to close their eyes and then a nutcracker comes to life and is available for quick pictures before vanishing.

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While the storytelling was fun, the Prost! kiosk is worth checking out as well.  Glühwein,  a German mulled wine that is warm, sweet, and all kinds of delicious, is fun to sip on as Helga tells her stories.  Even though the Glühwein is very good, the Hot Salted Caramel was the highlight of the day.  Like drinking liquid Werther’s, the drink is so sweet it’s almost overwhelming.

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EPCOT has Christmas storytelling at each of the countries in World Showcase with the times printed on the guide you can pick up at the front of the park.  So, if you are headed to EPCOT this Christmas season, be sure to visit the holiday traditions storytelling locations and definitely pause at Prost! for some mulled wine or Hot Salted Caramel.

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What are your favorite Disney Christmas traditions?

Fort Matanzas: Small but Mighty

Black Friday usually means hitting the malls and emptying bank accounts, and while I’ve done these things in the past, I have in recent years started to hate the chaos associated with holiday shopping. So this year, instead of standing in checkout lines or elbowing people for the must-have deal, we took a leisurely trip to St. Augustine for the day.

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Our first stop was Fort. Matanzas National Monument. I had never been to this tiny yet significant outpost that kept St. Augustine firmly gripped in the hands of the Spanish. Upon arrival, we had to sign up for a boat trip as this fort is across the inlet on Rattlesnake Island and is only accessible with a park ranger serving as guide. We had about 15 minutes to burn before boarding the boat, so I spent some time fooling around with my camera on the beach.

20141128_102516The boat ride was quick, but riding over the cool waters made the 55 degree day downright frigid. Within ten minutes we were disembarking and following the ranger to the base of the fort. She went on to explain that once the fort was manned, always with five men and one officer, that the fort in St. Augustine, located only 14 miles to the north, was never attacked from this direction. That probably had a little something to do with the cannons that could fire up to three miles.

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After the ranger’s introduction and brief history, we spent the next 25 minutes exploring the outside foundation, peeking into the two rooms, and climbing narrow ladder to the roof of the fort where a Spanish flag still flies. Inside the tiny rooms were the impossibly small beds. A table was situated in front of a fire place. Cramped quarters to say the least.

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Then our time was up and it was back on the boat for the chilling ride back to the other side of the inlet. Before leaving I made sure to get my National Park Passport Book stamped in the visitor center. While the visit was short, being transported back in history for a few minutes was so much more meaningful than fighting hordes of holiday shoppers. In fact this might become one of our new Thanksgiving traditions. The best part…no fighting for a parking space.
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