This year has been an interesting one for many, including skier Cam Mclellan of Invermere, British Columbia, who writes about how he’s been adhering to a 100-mile diet of adventure.
I’ll never forget the day Covid-19 closed my local ski hill. My wife and I had been enjoying powder turns in the slack country when we came down to the base at the end of the day. The sight was bewildering. People crying, ski racks being put away, folks running around acting like it was the “end of the season” when it was nowhere close. My wife and I looked around in confusion as we picked up on a vibe neither of us could describe.
“I think they closed down because of Covid,” said Stef. “No, no way they did,” I replied.
After a few moments of stunned silence, I walked over to a friend who worked for the ski hill. He informed me that they had spoken to the government and had chosen to close the ski hill to help with combatting the pandemic that had arrived in our area at last. Walking to the car I felt like I was in a dream. Life was about to change significantly.
Then came the next phase: Lockdowns, social distancing, anxiety, fear, being unable to see friends, freaking out every time you accidentally shook someone’s hand for fear of contracting a virus that was killing thousands of people around the world. There was more uncertainty than any of us had ever known. If you weren’t good at being alone, you were looking at a steep learning curve. Skiing and all the activities we loved took a back seat as we had to focus on staying put and prepping for potential disaster. My wife is a physician and supporting her became my number one priority at the beginning of all this as her life became even more stressful.
Seeing entire aisles of toilet paper completely cleaned out sparked thoughts like “What are we going to do if we run out of food? Where does our food come from anyways? What about dog food? Or contact lenses, are those made in China? What about my prescription medications?” Seeing hand sanitizer and toilet paper under lock and key at the grocery store made us realize how fragile the global supply chain is during a disaster when every country acts out of self interest. Like many other people we became a lot more interested in sourcing food locally. I was starting to have visions of learning to fish. Stef had always been a big gardener, and had introduced me to the joy of growing our own food the year before but it suddenly took on a whole new urgency.
After the initial fear phase we begun to accept the drastic changes that Covid had brought upon us all and we slowly started to venture outside again. At first, we kept to ourselves and stayed clear of others. Saying hello and socializing from a distance was tough. Some folks were following safe practices and others were doubting the current situation and acting like nothing was wrong. Walks with the dog were about the extent of our comfort zone at first. We would come home and immediately wash our hands several times. We did not want to do anything risky, for fear of being a news headline.
When cases of Covid in BC had dropped to single digits and the province began to roll back some of the restrictions we felt comfortable venturing out further. Spring was rainy and cool, and it felt like we got an extension on the winter that had been interrupted so suddenly.
Our first foray was a trip to Farnham Glacier in late May to get some skiing in. We drove up the logging road early in the morning as far as Mother Nature would let us. A recent avalanche had blocked the road towards the end leaving us with a slightly longer approach. It was a beautiful day. Due to the cold spring the snow line was lower down than usual and we were able to put skis on much sooner than expected. It had recently snowed and we found twenty centimetres of fresh snow. We were like fat kids in a candy store and couldn’t get to the top fast enough. Once we peeled skins and pushed off from the top, it was like all our Covid anxieties just melted away. The experience was surreal. We had been to Farnham many times before but this was different. It was a taste of freedom after two months of lockdown and a reminder of pre-Covid life. We were happy and wanting more.
Driving home we were quiet in the truck. My thoughts were drifting as I was thinking about how Covid had affected my life. I thought about how lucky I was to live in this remote beautiful corner of a country that had by and large done well with the pandemic. If anything, Covid forced me to really appreciate what I have in my backyard and not long for far away places. In the past, I had skied all over the world. I had travelled to New Zealand or South America for summer skiing. Yet we had some incredible summer skiing right in our own mountains, only a bumpy drive on a logging road away.
In the weeks after our trip we focused on sustainable enjoyment of our new “pandemic” life. We searched for a plot of land we could use as a garden but many people had the same idea and all the community garden beds were rented. Finally, one of my wife’s colleagues offered us the use of a fenced garden that was way bigger than expected: three raised beds and a three hundred square foot patch of dirt. We started working right away and excitedly planted potatoes, peas, squash, radishes and anything else we could think of. The thought that an enormous zucchini grows from a seed smaller than my thumbnail still boggles my mind. Planting, weeding, and harvesting vegetables brings me more joy than I could have ever imagined. Even though gardening is a bit of work, eating the things I have grown myself is a beautiful feeling.
Once the garden started taking off and we began to enjoy some of our own greens and veggies, I started thinking about how else to become more sustainable in terms of our diet. I was wondering how to incorporate protein. I had always wanted to learn how to fish. It seemed a good way to bring more protein into our diets. While I appreciate that hunting is a good option for many people, I was not too keen on the idea of owning a gun. However, fishing was something I figured I could learn. I purchased my license, tags (so I could keep my catch) and all kinds of other gear, and I was off to the races. At first I was excited at the idea of being a beginner again! However, I was skunked quite a few times and started losing patience. I read too many articles on the internet, all promising the best but often conflicting advice. I changed, lost and bought way too much gear, much to my wife’s chagrin. I talked to the old guy who worked at the gas station and he gave me some helpful tips. Finally, a calmer approach helped me land my first two fish. My luck had finally changed and I began catching fish regularly. We had some entertainment trying to learn how to clean, debone, and fillet fish, using advice from the internet. But I kept making progress. I learned that a simple approach and some patience was the key to keeping fish on our table and in our freezer.
With fishing and gardening now a part of our routine, Stef and I were getting restless and wanting to get into the mountains again. We had both wanted to explore the Commander Massif for some time. We excitedly packed for a three day summer ski mountaineering mission. After several days spent at Farnham we knew that summer skiing conditions were all time. The fat winter snowpack and cold spring meant that we could likely still ski on the otherwise broken Commander Glacier and hopefully get onto the bigger peaks.
So we found ourselves on another bumpy drive down the Horsethief FSR to the Commander trailhead. We were equipped with overnight gear and some keen attitudes as we set off down the trail carrying our skis and boots on our packs. We climbed into the alpine jonesing for more summer skiing. When we finally reached the glacier we were able to put skis on and skinned up to our campsite on a rocky rib high up on the glacier. After setting up the tent we skinned up the slope above camp for a ski run but turned back before reaching the top as the clouds looked threatening. We had a fun run down and had just reached camp when a freak July snowstorm broke loose which dumped a good 5cm on our camp. The next day we crossed the glacier and skied to the Commander col. The weather toyed with us as we would suddenly lose visibility only to regain it ten minutes later. We climbed the South Ridge of Commander Mountain, which overlooks Lake of the Hanging Glacier. We could see across to Jumbo and Karnak but the fickle weather forced us to leave those peaks for another day. We crossed over and climbed the East Guardsman and the Cleaver, finally skiing back to camp on a great fall line run. We had amazing summer skiing, wild terrain, and some excellent navigational challenges. This trip solidified our “explore home” mantra.
My wife and I both agreed that the mountains in our backyard hold the potential for more than a lifetime’s worth of adventures. In the days after our return home from Commander we began to discuss other objectives that are within a hundred miles of our front door and we are pretty excited for future trips.
This pandemic, despite bringing a world of hurt onto society, has forced sudden real changes, and much of it for the better. Be it reduced carbon emissions, the recognition to support local businesses, or the renewed interest in gardening – Covid has brought many positive changes. Jokesters have called 2020 the “year of hindsight,” but I do feel like that statement is true. I have taken a real interest in living more sustainably and I have also been reminded of why I love where I live. Instead of always chasing after new experiences all over the world, I am learning to deeply appreciate my home. Covid definitely caused me to take a step back and really look at life differently and focus on a new 100-mile diet.