Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Canoe-tripping with Terri

After a decade in Canada, I feel qualified to say that the most Canadian (hmm, Ontarian?) summer activity is canoeing. That means that when I got an out of town, province, country and hemisphere, visitor, Terri, canoeing was at the top of my list of duties as tour guide and organiser. What follows is of course the recounting of perfectly planned and executed canoe trip.

The week prior was spent arranging to borrow gear - little things like a canoe and stove (thanks, Geoff & Lin!), tent and compass (thanks, Noah!) and car (thanks, Wallis family!). Without time to leave Friday night, and nowhere to store a canoe overnight, we opted to pick up a canoe from Geoff's on Saturday morning, on the way out of town. Then we decided we should get a map of...err, where are we going?...and some fuel for the stove. So we drove back downtown, along with several thousand Blue Jays fans, through inevitable construction sites and lane closures. Once Terri bought maps of all the possible parks we might be going to, and fuel, and whatever other essential details I'd forgotten (while I drove around with a 16-foot water craft on my roof, looking impatient and out of place), we headed north.

Terri called for camping permit availability on the way there, after we decided Algonquin was the place to go. Somewhere near access point 3... I was momentarily distracted by an errant foam block coming off the car roof & canoe and bouncing into traffic, which required taking the slightly less than ideal Hwy 427-Finch-Hwy 400, route and the creative use of a towel, but other than that, smooth sailing all the way to Kearny.

Kearny has a backcountry camping permit office (for the spontaneous canoe tripper) and is nicely situated a few minutes outside the park itself. The lady who took our reservation cautioned us that since the paddle to the far campsite of the closest lake (Rain Lake) may be 3 hours, and it was now (ahem) 5pm, we shouldn't dilly dally, we took off with a renewed sense of haste. 30 minutes later we were unloading the canoe at the put-in, and another 15 minutes or so had us on the water. We were happy to see the first campsite after just a few minutes, and that it was not occupied, but we decided to keep going. Half an hour
Starry sky
later, we'd paddled half the length of the lake, found a ideal campsite on a point, with a tiny beach and one of those perfect rocks for walking into the water or perching on the edge of while collecting water, watching the stars, and/or feeding mosquitoes. Good thing it was a quick paddle...after a quick swim and the initial stages of dinner prep, we were back in the boat to retrieve the matches "somebody" left in the car. :) But really quite an amazing evening: almost-hot weather, a slight breeze to keep the bugs away, deliciously cool water, and after a great sunset, clear skies for star gazing and watching the fire flies.

The next morning was just a touch misty, but cleared to more blue skies and warm weather. After the requisite bacon and eggs, we scoped out a loop on the map, counted the hours back from the desired time to return to Toronto, and made the schedule fit accordingly. I figured Terri needed to try a portage or two, to get the real canoe-tripping experience, so I found a route with six portages totalling 3-4 kilometres...more portaging means an even real-er experience, right? We set off.

The portages were generally easy to find. The first involved stairs up a brutally-steep hillside, but as Canadian ambassador to the Australian tourist, I wasn't about to indicate a diet of double-doubles and donuts makes even a half-Canadian soft, and I threw the canoe on my back and charged up. About 500 metres of balancing a few dozen kilos on my C-6 vertebrae, I requested a change in back-packs, but otherwise we knocked of the first 780 metres of portaging with a minimum of fuss. We stopped for a break on another rock outcrop, and enjoyed some terrific paddling.

The bugs seemed to call ahead to each portage, and the swarms of horse/deer flies buzzing about us as we lugged our boat and gear were somewhat reminiscent of a circling biker gang, striking
unwatched/unreachable locations (of which there are many while carrying 4 bags or a canoe) with impressive skill. We also had a slight diversion in a portage easily seen from the water, but once we lodged ourselves in a marsh full of carnivorous plants (cool!) and shoe-theiving weeds, became hidden. But all part of the fun.

Terri knocks off a canoe-toting portage

Pitcher plants!

All these travailes prepared us (or had us dreading) the final 1810 metre portage from McCraney Lake back to Rain Lake. We doused ourselves in DEET and alternated walking and shuffle-jogging, while swatting vigourously and swearing, and even more so when the trail walked BESIDE the destination lake for far-too-bloody long, but reached the end alive, and made us all the more grateful for the cool escape as we dove in for a swim.

That was pretty much it. We retrieved our tent we'd left at the campsite, paddled back to the car, and made it to a river-side patio in Huntsville in the daylight, for Terri's first poutine, while sitting with well-to-do and decidedly less-scruffy-looking locals.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a car to return. :)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Kayaking serendipity

After a half dozen sessions in this pool this winter, practicing rolls with Geoff, I've been fortunate enough to take advantage of great spring kayaking conditions. I kicked off the season with two fun runs down the Credit River in town, with Amanda one day and Ian the next. But that was just super mellow class II stuff - the real action began last weekend when Amanda and I ventured up to the Head River.

It didn't start off perfectly, when I discovered I'd misplaced the tie-downs. I thought I had a whole bag of webbing somewhere? Nope. A visit to Honest Eds for a replacement, another stop for food, and we were off, albeit two hours later than planned, thus missing the scheduled meet-up with others. Fortunately the Quaker Oaks general store near the put-in was able to tell us where the take-out was, and when we got there, the guys I'd arranged to meet had just finished. Adam wasn't sated and joined us for his second run of the day. That was awesome - yay, no scouting required! It also turned out he's a former river guide, so was a constant source a invaluable tips.

The main rapid of the river is called Triple Drop. Once again we would Adam lead the way, followed by Amanda, and I was bringing up the rear. On the previous rapid I had trouble seeing what line he was taking, so I figured this time I'd follow Amanda a little closer. Bad idea. Amanda got stuck in the backwash of the first falls, and I was too close to take a different line. I turned sideways as I ran into her, immediately got flipped, and pushed underneath her boat! She flipped as well, so when I rolled back up, she was swimming while holding her kayak and paddle. Adam had eddied out, so he was now last, and I was furthest downriver, trying to offer Amanda assistance, while floating backwards. Adam yelled for me to turn around for the next rapid - oh, yeah, right! I barely managed to turn downstream in time to go over the biggest of the three falls (maybe 2 or 3 feet). Yikes. Amanda floated/swam over it, Adam shunted her boat to the side, and I fetched the paddle. Fortunately she was fine, and even better, wanted another run at it.

While carrying our boats back and scouting the run, we saw a fish trying to jump upstream. Then another. And then we saw that the eddies at the falls were filled with dozens upon dozens of fish. I think we decided they were catfish. Super cool! I was able to put my hand in and pluck one out - big guys, probably almost 2 feet long and 2-3kg? We ran Triple Drop again, and finished the run without any further drama.

A week later we continued to have absolutely gorgeous weather. Cloudless skies, just a breath of wind and a hint of summer humidity. Ian's workmate Eoin is in town for a couple of months for a job. He left his four! kayaks back in yes, he's very good! We decided to head to the Upper Black, off Hwy 7 north of Belleville, because, like Head River, it's only runnable during the high water of spring runoff. Great to be both doing something new - an adventure!

After scouting the takeout, we drove to the put-in, launched, and were immediately greeted with fun rapids. I'd previously been given a heads up that some of the rapids are tough to scout by foot, but fortunately Eoin's experience allowed him to get a good sense of each from his boat, and eddy-in part-way through rapids to look around corners and such. This alone saved us hours of repeatedly exiting our boats and scouting by foot, but was almost essential for the really fun, but committing, canyon sections.

On one such section, I paddled into the eddy where Eoin was waiting, and he said to me "Did you see the dog?" I looked back over to the other side of the canyon, and sure enough, on a small ledge just higher than water level, a mangy, red dog was pacing and looking at us forlornly. Medium-sized; a Setter perhaps? She looked quite emaciated, and would howl and yip occasionally. Eoin said she looked like she might have jumped onto my boat as I passed. She'd clearly been stuck there for some time, days at least, perhaps when the water was high enough to wash her up there. We called out to her, and although she skittered about near the edge, couldn't be coaxed into the foaming water rushing by. Eoin decided rescue her. He ferried over, and leaning precariously from his boat, was able to have her come to his hand for a pat, and then he half-persuaded, half-yanked her onto his deck. Now he had a had a petrified dog crouched on top of his paddle, and he was floating backwards through boulder-strewn rapids! He bounced off a rock and nearly went over, and then was able to wrest his paddle from under the dog just as they were swept over a little drop. The dog fell into the water but was able to swim to the embankment, which was now the base of a hill rather than a vertical canyon wall. Eoin signaled that he was fine, and we started off again. The dog ran beside the river for a little ways, but eventually disappeared to who knows where.

We'd also read that there was at least one, and possibly three, required portages and big grade IV rapids. We got out of our boats to check out the first big one, and I was pretty shocked that Eoin was tempted to run what looked to me like a 10 foot high meat tenderizer (to support my thinking, there were multiple "Portage, Please!" signs on the bank). So when we saw the next one, and it was slightly less ridiculous, I suspected he would want to run it. He felt confident, scoped it out from land, and ran it like a boss. He was signalling what looked much like he thought I could give it a go, but I definitely wanted to clarify...I walked to the base of the falls and from there, couldn't see over the top - it was a solid seven feet high, and maybe thirty degrees of foaming, boulder-strewn carnage. But he was so confident, I was able to summon the courage to give it a go. I tried to take the same line as he did, and was just a foot off, but that meant I bounced like a pinball off all the features we had said to avoid... Still, I made it to the bottom, upright and intact. Woooooooo!!

The rest of the run was great fun. We even saw a porcupine float through a rapid and saunter off, just a few feet from our curious gaze. After 4 hours we were happy to be done. We took the kayaks out in someone's grassy backyard beside the Queensborough weir, and started jogging up the road when someone started calling out to us. The person living there wanted to give us a ride back to our car (actually, she was volunteering her husband). Skip the 14km walk/run to the put-in? Yes, please! And so we were on the road headed back to Toronto before dark. Also, two out of two trips finished without needing a headlamp? Win.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Cervelo P3C for sale *SOLD*


I'm holding off for another year to break into the triathlon circuit. So I'm selling for flagship steed, my P3C.

2010 Cervelo P3C 56cm with Dura Ace gruppo
Excellent condition, almost solely used for races, never crashed
Rear 2011 Zipp 808 and front 2005 Zipp 404 carbon tubular wheelset (i.e. race wheels)
Front and rear 2010 Shimano R500 wheelset (i.e. training wheels)
Giro Advantage 2 time trial helmet

Monday, April 15, 2013

Beware the killer drone

There are clubs in Toronto to cater to every possible interest, sport and hobby. Some are mostly for day-dreaming (Alpine Club of Canada) or weird fringe sports (underwater hockey). I joined a bunch of programming-related groups last year, but hadn't gotten around to going - they've either not been presenting something that interests me, or the travel time just seemed overly onerous.

However, a couple of weeks ago, I got an email saying that the Toronto Javascript group was holding a presentation centered around quadcopters. Cool! And, it was in the MaRS Commons offices, in the same floor of my building! Perfect!

Funny coincidence - the two gents giving the talk, Taz and Josh, were actually guys I met when I hot-desked at the Uniiverse offices. They gave a really entertaining talk about how they were discussing how to take over the world, came up with a few options, but settled on using flying machines that they could potentially attach lasers to. hehe Cue the Terminator2 powerpoint slide. :)

Their first attempt was to buy an assemble-yourself Arduino-controlled metal beast, but decided the soldering, programming their own network protocol, and writing code to sync the four rotor blades all sounded just a weeee bit overly complex! so they replaced it with a consumer version that came equipped with wifi out of the box. People in the audience checked their laptops - sure enough, there was a network called quadcopter123 or something - neat. That left them with the job of connecting to quadcopter via firmware API, and writing a client. They chose to create a Chrome app in Javascript, used AngularJS framework for it's MVC functionality, and came up with a pretty neat solution in a matter of weeks. By making it available on github, I was able to fork the repo and load it on my own machine without leaving my seat. Voila! Once they disconnected and I connected, I had control of a killer drone in the atrium of MaRS!

The star of the show posing for the paparazzi

Creators and presenters, Taz and Josh

Drawing a crowd

I have the power!! Muahahah!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Synaptive is growing

My office last week:

My office this week:

My company, Synaptive Medical, is growing! We're also hiring - know anyone who's smart and gets things done?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Citizen Canuck

Good thing they allow dual Australian-Canadian citizenship - I've still got a bit of Aussie in me.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thai cooking school

In the first week of our holiday, we did a family day trip to a Thai cooking school on Siray Beach, Phuket. Super fun, learnt a lot, and stuffed ourselves with great food.
Dragonfruit at the Phuket Town market beforehand
"Can I have a volunteer please?" Brendan on centre stage.
Creation number two: papaya salad, complete with rose made from a tomato
What could be more dangerous than five Holmeses with knives? 
And because we're Holmeses, we went running during our break, rather than sit on the patio overlooking the bay. Also, nothing says pristine beauty like a random garbage bag sitting on the beach.
Mum showing off her culinary chops.
Oh yes, what you need after five courses is some fruit to snack on. Ok, yes, we ate them. Dessert stomach? Longans and I think longons, mangosteens, and rambutans - mmm!