CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Best of Arizona – Outdoor Adventures in Ahwatukee

While there’s plenty of outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee, Ariz., I still have some mixed feelings about the area.

On one hand, it’s a dense cluster of red-tile-roofed McMansions. It’s the sort of place where people drive to yoga classes in gas-guzzling SUV. It marinates in suburban blandness (though this has changed somewhat since I originally wrote this in 2011).

On the other hand, it is the main access point to the 16,000-acre South Mountain Park. And it’s by far one of the Phoenix area’s best outdoor amenities. It’s riddled with trails for hikers and mountain bikers.

My favorite is the Desert Classic and its various spurs and offshoots. It’s easy to put in a 20-mile ride that never stops being fun. Fast and flowing, with the occasional rock garden. Sometimes, you’ll even glimpse a rattlesnake trailside. Be careful out there, especially in spring and fall! They love the shade from creosote bushes. (Find out more about dealing with a rattlesnake encounter.)

There are some swooping turns where you can countersteer, dig in and lean your bike way over at high speed. There are some sandy sections, so you’ll want to be

Really, the only downside is that everyone knows it’s awesome. So the trails are often crowded, and not everyone has good trail manners. On my last ride, though, I was tickled to see a mom and dad teaching their under-10 son and daughter the mountain biking ropes. Both kids were doing a fine job on the trails as they enjoyed some outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee.

outdoor adventures in Ahwatukee
View from the cockpit. That’s a wide bar!

As always, water is mandatory (I could say this about helmets, too, but that really ought to go without saying). And snacks are a smart idea, too.

What about after the ride? Get out of Awhatukee and get something tasty in your belly. Nearby Tempe has plenty of restaurants. Post-ride, though, I’d lean toward the Cornish Pasty Company. Maybe some locals will chime in with cool new  Ahwatukee spots.

Mtbikeaz.com has a great Desert Classic map.

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Best of British Columbia – Vancouver

 

raccoons, stanley park, vancouver
Raccoons out for a stroll in Stanley Park.

Alright, it’s time to wrap up my look at British Columbia. I can’t thank Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com enough for all her help. She had info that some schmoe like me who’s in town for a few days couldn’t find on his own. Be sure to visit her blog. If you’re late to the party, check out our posts about Whistler/Squamish and the Victoria area!

Justin’s Quick Hits

Yes, Vancouver is really as cool as everyone says it is: a big but friendly city that’s progressive but not snooty. There’s a blend of old-school and new architecture. You’ll find awesome parks like Stanley Park, and you might catch some trials riders hopping around the beach areas. My favorite thing to do was just to walk. We’d pick a direction and go. You’ll find plenty of things to do, like the Granville Island Public Market and Chinatown.

Vancouver is pretty at night - view from the Lonsdale Quay Hotel

We stayed at the Lonsdale Quay Hotel, which became my favorite hotel in Vancouver. The staff was friendly, it has great views and it’s perched atop a very awesome marke. It’s also close to a ferry stop, which offers a nice ride to the downtown area (a novelty for a desert guy and his ex-sailor wife). Vancouver has a very international population, so you’ll find any sort of cuisine. I’d be thrilled to have such a glut of awesome Asian food in my hometown. And watch for the fresh fruit. I got a hold of some life-changing blueberries.

I know Teresa will yell at me about this, but I’m not a big fan of Tim Horton’s – neither the donuts nor the coffee.

I'm hunting for wild blackberries - this is seconds before I fell into the bush and got ventilated by thorns.

If you’re a futbol fan, see if you can squeeze a Vancouver Whitecaps match into your schedule. It begins its first season in Major League Soccer this summer. Yes, I know it’s not exactly the Champions League --

Teresa Tells It All

What?! You don’t like Tim Horton’s?? Oh no!! Well, the good news is Vancouver has really good coffee with Artigiano’s and Delaney’s topping my list. Both are local coffee chains that take pride in their coffee. The owners of Artigiano’s actually spent time in Italy to learn how to do it right before opening their first location on the corner of Pender and Thurlow in downtown Vancouver.

A trials rider hops on the logs in Vancouver.

But enough about coffee … let’s talk about riding! Mt Fromme is found in North Vancouver and one of the more popular places to ride, along with Mt Seymour where you’ll find the trail Severed Dick. Severed Dick is one of the original North Shore trails and is a good intermediate trail with minimal stunts. A word of caution, even the easy trails here may be much steeper and technical than what you’re used to. Trail maps are found at all of the local bike shops, I really like Obsession Bikes. They have a really helpful staff and will point you in the right direction if you need trail recommendations.

The sky gets dark over Vancouver.

There is a great bed and breakfast at the base of Mt Fromme that caters to mountain bikers that I highly recommend. Lynn Valley Bed and Breakfast has a secure area to store your bikes and an area to wash them as well. A great place to stay that’s close to the trails.

Well, this concludes the “Best of British Columbia” series. Come back soon!

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The Iceland Epic – Husavik and Reykjavik

whale penis, husavik, iceland
Specimens from whales on display

One false move, and I could wind up impaled on a taxidermied whale penis. The walls bristle with them. All species. All sizes.

There are also clear acrylic capsules filled with them. Floating in preservative, maintaining their original glory.

Yes, whale penises are the centerpieces of the Iceland Phallological Mueseum in Husavik. It’s Husavik’s star attraction, and rising in fame internationally. (Bad news for Husavik – the museum has moved to Reykjavik since my visit. Too bad. It’s a beautiful town, and you should go there anyway.)

You’ve come to the right place.

The building is crammed with penis specimens. Field mice, cetaceans -- just about everything under the sun.

Human? Yes, it’s on its way. You may have seen news reports of the recently deceased Icelandic man who pledged his manhood to the museum upon death. I guess he beat out the guy pictured at the museum: an American, sitting on a stool. Wearing nothing but a smile. I’m guessing the room was chilly.

Ready for a whale of a time?

Iceland, by the way, is also crazy for team handball. You can see casts made from the members of the members of the Icelandic team after winning silver at a recent team handball World Cup.

When you enter, the curator gives you a thick binder and a "how to tell what sort of wang you’re looking at" primer.

This attraction is definitely worth ejecting a few krona. The lighting could be better for photography. And it should open earlier (we had a flight to catch in Akureyri in a few hours).

Iceland, Husavik
Husavik – a pleasant town in the far north.

We started our day in Reykjahliđ, our base for nearly three days of tromping around Myvatn. We broke our camp at Vogar and headed west in our Suzuki Jimney. We headed in the back way to Husavik, up Road 87. The Jimney gamely cruised along, even after the road turned to dirt.

We saw few cars. The scenery was green, but not exactly lush. No surprise there: Less than one percent of Iceland’s land is arable. Yet there was still the occasional farmstead and meandering herd of sheep.

Husavik, Iceland, horse
A horse grazes near Husavik.

You have to be careful on unpaved roads, so it’s best to keep the speed down. Especially in the successor to the Suzuki Samurai! After a few hours, we arrived in Husavik.

30 Miles from the Arctic Circle

This is as far north as I’ve ever been. A chilly wind blew in from the water. Husavik is a very beautiful town, though. Since the Phallus Museum isn’t ready for action until 11 a.m., we had some time to kill. We roamed the town, had coffee, petted horses.

Grazing, horse, Iceland, Husavik
More horses!

It’s very tranquil. Groups of kids going to and from soccer practice roamed around. It’s the sort of place where people probably don’t lock their doors – ever. Some rolling hills, beautiful views of the ocean, snow-capped mountains not too far distant.

We also hit a bakery for a few snacks while we waited.

Racing to the Airport

Husavik, Harbor, Iceland
The harbor at Husavik.

I drove the Jimney for all it was worth. We pulled into Akureyri with time to spare, long enough to grab a falafel. We turned in our Jimney, boarded the plane and headed back to Reykjavik.

We checked back into Guesthouse Isafold, our reliable Reyjkavik base. And then we finally rested. Because our day isn’t over: Tonight, we’re running the MiÄ‘næturhlaup, a 10k race that starts at 10 p.m. The name means Midnight Run.

It’s perhaps the most pleasant 10k ever: Two laps through the zoo/botanical garden area, followed by a nice free soak at the Laugardalslaug swimming pool we’ve come to love. All in nearly full sunlight, by the way. The clouds broke and we had beautiful temperatures in the 50s. With sun and sweat, that was perfect. And the hot tubs were crammed with our fellow runners and their families. Good times!

How’d I do? First American finisher! You can read my full post about it.

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The Iceland Epic – Hverir, Viti, Krafla

Viti Iceland crater
Viti explosion crater - and its bright water.

Glowing magma from horizon to horizon. A never-ending blanket of fire. I’m captivated just thinking about what this area looked like as recently as 1984.

If I’d been standing here back then -- well, I don’t even want to think about it. Even now, the ground still spews fumes. I can smell the beanie, farty, rotten-egg stench nearly everywhere.

Blackened slabs of sharp-edged lava. A grey sky. Bleak desolation. I know it doesn’t sound appealing … unless you’ve wondered what the world was like when humans were billions of years into the future.

For me, that’s the wonder of my ninth day in Iceland, exploring the Krafla fissure area.

Hverir Iceland geothermal
Hverir is a contrast from the surrounding lavascape.

A Day in the North

ReykjahliÄ‘ is a town of about 300 people. You might think that means there’s not much to do. Yet I plan on a day packed with activity. Just like yesterday.

Sarah and I start off at Hverir. It’s not just another geothermal area: It’s a single slab of mountain that is many shades lighter than the surrounding area. When we approached Myvatn yesterday, I thought the sun was shining through a hole in the clouds. But now, that’s just the brightness of the rocks.

The flatulent stink is at its strongest here. It’s the smell of the earth reconstituting itself. There’s something I love about the odor. It tell me the world is alive, not just lifeless rock and concrete. It’s awesome.

The Krafla fissure Iceland lava
The lifeless and barren Krafla fissure.

There are plenty of trails. Obey the signs – the ground is soft in many places. And you don’t want to get scalded in a mud pit. You can summit some of the large hills in the area for spectacular views.

The Road to Hell

There are two craters in Iceland called Viti. That’s Icelandic for hell. One of them is up the road from Hverir. The crater is filled with electric green water. The wind is absolutely howling, making me reluctant to get near the edge. I wonder if anyone has ever fallen in. The water must be freezing, and scrambling out and back to safety would be a real test. Best not to find out.

Krafla Iceland
Sarah, with Krafla in the background.

Nearby, there’s some machinery from the power station. It’s harnessing heat from a nearby fumarole. The power is astounding: The roar from the fumarole is loud as any jet engine.

This was about 45 minutes of walking.

To the Fissure

This is not the Caribbean. It is not warm, inviting, relaxing. Harsh, barren, stark – at best. And a reminder of your own insignificance to this planet. A signal that you are nothing.

The Krafla Fissure has tried hard to drive people away. It’s nearly destroyed ReykjahliÄ‘ more than once. As implacable as the lava can be, it isn’t sufficient.

Hverir iceland geothermal
Sarah walks past a little fumarole.

I picture the lava fountains, the winter sky contrasting with the orange radiance of the magma. I wonder how many lava tubes lie under the wasteland, just waiting to be found.

I could spend weeks here walking the lava flow.  As it is, a few hours is all I have.

This is an amazing place among amazing places.

One the way out, we made a quick stop for the presentation Krafla Power Station. You can check out parts of the inside, and watch a movie about the fissure, the eruptions and the station itself. It’s more fascinating than it sounds.

Myvatn Nature Bath
Myvatn Nature Bath (Photo by Petr Brož)

Time to Kick Back

Currents of murky blue water swirl around me. The water temperature changes every few steps. One moment, I feel like a live Maine lobster getting cooked. Seconds later, I’m scrambling to find a warm spot.

This is the Jarðböðin við Mývatn (Myvatn Nature Baths). If you’ve heard anything about Iceland, you’ve probably heard of the Blue Lagoon. It’s only one of Iceland’s main attractions. This is its more remote, more scenic, more laid-back relative.

It’s smaller, but still filled with amenities like saunas and steam rooms in addition to the naturally heated, silicate-rich water.

And the most important amenity of them all: ice cream bars. Sarah and I have noticed the Icelandic tradition – families will hit the local pools together. They’ll swim some laps, lounge in the hot tubs, then top it off with an ice cream bar. Sounds sensible to me!

That’s most of our day, minus a repeat visit to the Cowshed and a decent pizza at Papi’s. It’s another nice night at Vogar. It wasn’t our busiest day. But I loved every second of it.

hverir iceland
Don't we look happy in this stinky place?
krafla fissure iceland
Stinky earth vapors escaping the cracks of Krafla.
hverir iceland
Looking from the top of Hverir
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Best of British Columbia – Vancouver Island & Victoria

The Transmission Forbidden trail. Awesome forest, eh? Photo courtesy of MtnBikingGirl.com.

Here’s the second post in the Best of British Columbia series. Extra-special thanks to Teresa from MtnBikingGirl.com for the super Vancouver Island advice! Missed the first post? Well, then, go back and read it.

Justin’s Quick Hits

I only got a quick day excursion to Vancouver Island, but I can definitely say it has the best brewery I found during my visit. The scenery is pretty spectacular, and the ferry ride from Vancouver is a novelty for desert folks like me. Victoria is a really walkable city that actually reminds me of a shrunken-down Brisbane, Australia – well, with a much cooler climate. But it has that same healthy, friendly, scenic elements. A bit touristy, but it’s too pleasant a city to hold that against it. The bus ride from the ferry dock to the city is also really pleasant. I was able to get out for a quick boat tour with a crazy marine biologist, which was tons of fun. I spotted some seals and even plucked some fresh seaweed out of the ocean and chomped on it. Good times!

But you’re hear for mountain biking, right? Over to you, Teresa!

Teresa Tells It All

Lots of riding over here! To drive Vancouver Island from Victoria, at the south end, to Port Hardy, at the north end, takes approximately 7 hours and almost every community has their own set of trails. If you do plan on coming over this way, you’ll definitely need a car and a few days to really get a taste of it.

Cabin Fever (photo from Teresa at MtnBikingGirl.com)

To get over here you’ll need to take a ferry. Ferry routes and schedules can be found on the BC Ferries website. I recommend buying a CirclePac which allows you to include the Sunshine Coast route at a discounted rate.

Here are my top picks for riding on Vancouver Island:

Victoria – The main place to ride is an area called Hartland (aka The Dump). There are trails here to suit every level of rider and the trails are marked like ski trails with green – easiest, blue – intermediate, black – hardest. You can find trail maps at the local bike shops but if you want to take a peek of what’s available, I found this one online.

Sooke – Located 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, Sooke is a real gem. I recently rode the Harbourview Trails there for the first time last month and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner! When you head up the fireroad there’s a series of fun, flowy XC trails but if you continue on up the road to a trail named "FM Radio" you’ll be treated to stunning views of the Sooke Harbour from the top of Mount Quimper. I should forewarn you, this is a 45 minute trek from the road and you’ll come across a couple of sections that are "hike-a-bike". It may seem like a long trek up, but the downhill is worth it! Recommended for advanced XC riders.

Cumberland – Part of the Comox Valley and day 1 of the 2011 BC Bike Race, this is where I live and is approximately 3 hours north of Victoria. We are spoiled with our network of trails here. Not all Cumberland trails are marked so you’ll need to buy a map from one of the local bike shops or if your budget allows, hire a guide. There are also some great trails on Forbidden Plateau. You can ride up the fire road to get to the trails here but most of the locals shuttle (it’s a long, dusty ride on a well travelled road). For more information and to view trail maps, go to cvmtb.com.

Campbell River – Campbell River is approximately 45 minutes north of the Comox Valley and will be day 2 of the 2011 BC Bike Race. The best riding here is in the Snowden Forest which boasts over 100 km’s of trails. Most of these trails are for the intermediate to advanced rider, but there are some easier trails as well. I recommend talking to one of the local bike shops (Swicked Cycle is on the way) for trail recommendations and a trail map. With such a large network of trails, it’s easy to get lost.

If you want to continue along the BC Bike Race route, the next stop is Powell River…

Powell River – To get here you need to take a ferry from Comox (this is where the CirclePac I mentioned above comes in handy), which takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes. Powell River is one of the newer mountain bike destinations, and I have only ridden here once before and the trail network has really expanded. The trails used for the BC Bike Race are on the Bike Powell River site and for futher information I would recommend contacting someone at Bike Powell River directly.

Sunshine Coast – There isn’t much information online about the Sunshine Coast trails, however one trail that I know they’ve really put a lot of work into is the Suncoaster, which is a 33 km trail that was designed to take people from ferry to ferry on trails and back roads. It’s also one of the trails that the BC Bike Race follows. Other trails worth checking out here are the Ruby Lake Trails. And as always, I highly recommend talking to the local bike shops to get the real scoop and find out trail conditions, etc.

The ferry out of Langdale will bring you back to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.

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Best of British Columbia: Whistler and Squamish Mountain Biking

This is the sort of action you'll see at Crankworx. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is the first of three posts about the awesome times a mountain biker can have visiting British Columbia. Hang on and read on!


Sometimes, two bloggers are better than one. That’s definitely the case when I get a message from a Spanish mountain biker planning to visit British Columbia for some fun this summer. I’ve been to BC and have some decent info, but my friend and BC resident Teresa of MtnBikingGirl.com can turn a decent reply into a slam-dunk. 

So here’s our situation: David and his friends are bringing their own bikes and plan to be in BC July 30 – Aug. 16. He assures me they’re skilled enough to handle all of what BC can hurl at them. They plan to hit Vancouver Island, Squamish and Whistler. He’s also hoping Teresa and I can hook him up with some non-mountain biking activities.

Alright, let’s take a look at what we’ve got here:

Squamish Valley - scenic and silly with great trails. (McKay Savage)

Squamish

Justin’s Quick Hits

Squamish is packed with outdoor activities. Mountain biking is high on its specialities, especially cross-country racing. Word is there’s something like 600 trails in the area. The Test of Metal race sounds pretty awesome. I would definitely like to spend more time in Squamish in the future. I was just there long enough for pit stops between Vancouver and Whistler.

Just getting there is a treat for the eyeballs, with spectacular views in virtually any direction.

Teresa Tells It All

One of the "must ride" trails is Half Nelson. Only one word describes this trail: FUN! It has a bit of everything that should suit everyone and is one of the BC Bike Race staples every year. Squamish has an extensive trail network and it’s hard to just pick a few trails to ride. Tourism Squamish has done a great job of posting videos and descriptions of some of their trails. They are the "go-to" place to find out more information to find out more information about the best trails to ride.

Airing it out on the Whistler jumps.

Squamish is also our rockclimbing mecca so when you drive past the Stawamus Chief (massive granite rock monolith, you can’t miss it) look up! You’ll almost always see people climbing the face. You can also hike to the top of the Stawamus Chief. If you have the time and energy after your ride, you’ll be treated to some pretty incredible views. And if you’re really lucky, you might meet a base jumper or two, as well.

Whistler

Justin’s Quick Hits

What can you do in Whistler: fishing, hiking, skiing (well, not in summer) -- and mountain biking of every flavor. You’ll see cross-country hammerheads, dirt jumpers, downhillers, trials mutants and combinations thereof. It’s stocked with shops to dispense gear and advice. It’s a real mountain bike culture, the likes of which I haven’t seen before.

Something to keep in mind: Everything in Whistler seems absurdly expensive (my wife and I ate at a Mongolian-style BBQ place that set us back about $40 US – that’s about $16 in Arizona). I’d suggest renting someplace with a kitchen so you can save some bucks on food.

David’s schedule coincides with the  Crankworx festival, so he and his buddies can snag test rides on some sweet bikes and mingle with all sorts of bike nuts.

Teresa Tells It All

There is lots of great riding around Whistler and not all of it is in the bike park! Around Lost Lake there is a great series of trails if you’re looking for a shorter ride. Then there are the classics like Cut Yer Bars and Kill Me Thrill Me which are for the more advanced rider. Looking for something a bit more epic? Then you will want to check out the trail Comfortably Numb.

Whistler’s Bike Park is well known and for good reason. If dirt jumping is more your style, you’ll have an excellent time on Crank It Up and Heart of Darkness. Far too many trails to list here, but you’ll need a downhill or all-mountain bike and a full-face helmet for most of these trails.

In the next post, Teresa and I will spill the beans on the awesome Vancouver Island. We’ll follow that up with the dirt on the city itself. Subscribe so you don’t miss out!