The OC and LA

I´ve been to LA a handful of times, and the city is always as big and intimidating as the last time. Within LA county, there´s so many neighbourhoods to visit and experience, and getting between them is hell, especially with the added charm of LA traffic.

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O´Venice, in light of St. Patty´s day

My week was based around visiting some familiar faces. I spent my first two nights in Venice, hanging out with Jake and his pregnant girlfriend and co. I met Jake in Iceland years ago when he was working on a film with Baltasar Kormakur, and we met up in LA once since. I met his friend Peter Harding again, a documentary film maker, for cappuccinos on the beach. Its some of the most decent coffee I´ve ever had in America, from a café called Menottis, and in the evening they´ve got live jazz downstairs at Townhouse to jive to.

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the Orange County Coast

My friend Luke, who I know through a mutual UBC friend, works in music and came to Iceland for Airwaves in 2013, trading an all-access VIP pass for rights to my couch. That’s a solid start to any friendship. This time around I got to surf his couch, with his dog that just got diagnosed with terminal testicular cancer. It was a bummer, so finding our temporary happy place watching Superorganism at the Echo where he books shows was in order. A friend from the WFR course also joined, and we after partied with a guy whose name I cant remember, but his look was unforgettable: he had visibly time traveled to the present from the 1960´s.

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the Surfliner, the train with a view between LA and the OC

Conrad, an American raised in Iceland that I met tango dancing in San Francisco nearly ten years ago lives in San Celemente. I took the train up through Orange County after finally getting my first glimpse of real Californian sunshine. People were out surfing, jogging in their Lululemon get-ups head to toe, and I finally got my first tan of the year. Conrad and I went tango dancing in LA, and drove back to San Celemente late that night with the top down on his BMW convertible, with the heat and music blasting. I cant think of a better way to stargaze.

I met a couple in Reykjavik last autumn who lived in Pasadena, and I met the woman for happy hour in North Hollywood. She´s a dog rescuer by day and got bit by one of her rescue animals, but even with a bandaged hand and her private car full of dogs, she glowed.

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the City of Angels wouldn´t have been much without these darlings

The reunion I cherished the most was meeting Moira, 12 years after we circumnavigated the world together on with Semester at Sea. She was happily married, living in Hollywood with the perfect husband and two cuddly dogs, in a picture-perfect home with their one and a half year old bundle of joy named Dempsey. I can´t believe how its possible to still relate to one another, and keep up with these people, half way around the world, from the many walks in life we´ve had to where we are now, all in different stages. I definitely have to thank social media for allowing it, but your people are always your people, despite how much or quickly the time goes by.

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Wilderness First Responder training in San Diego for an Iceland Guide

The tour guiding world in Iceland is exploding, and almost any people person who speaks decent English can get a job taking tourists around the Golden Circle. The problem is, a lot of them are either foreigners who don´t speak Icelandic or know Iceland as well as they should, or they´re Icelander´s who aren´t professionally trained in tour guiding or leading… yet. Its been evolving for the better the last couple of years, with the standard and safety of guide training getting better every year, but it´s not cheap to get all the licenses and certifications, so going abroad to train is still ideal for the career guide.

I have my first aid and CPR training from the Red Cross in Iceland, but it’s a single-evening course that you have to repeat every two years. This year, I decided to take an 80-hour Wilderness First Responder course instead, since that covers my basic training plus some, a whole bunch of some, and re-certification isn´t required until three years later. I had a handful of options as far as location – even Reykjavik was one – but I wanted the warmest place possible. That ruled Ohio and Colorado out, but California in, and last week, the Wilderness Leadership Institute ran one in San Diego.

We were five miles from the Mexican border, and the forecast said warm and sunny when I was packing my bags, but arriving in Jamul a week ago taught me that its not just in Iceland that the weather guy is wrong. It was cold and wet, with the most rainfall all year that area had seen all year, and my summer sleeping bag and one-season tent proved totally inadequate. Luckily our course had a lot of props to work with, so I borrowed a sleeping bag from the litter packaging and some warm layers from other students to survive the nights.

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practicing spine protection while lifting someone from a tree fall

We spent half our time in the classroom, learning about facts, figures and wilderness protocols, and the other half of the time outdoors running exercises and back-country medicine simulations. Sometimes you were the fake patient, practicing your Oscar acting skills, and other times you were the responder being tested, seeing if you could figure out what the right thing to do was, when to do it, how to relay it for other EMT or paramedic teams to understand, and when it simply wasn´t an emergency at all.

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being the fake patient; a double femur break means being carried down in a litter

I met some awesome people in the course, surrounded by like-minded, outdoor enthusiasts and leadership type-A people. A few of us drove into downtown San Diego on Saturday to celebrate St. Patricks day, and I left the course by ride-sharing with a guy to LA. It was such a relief to know I had passed, after a lot of intentional ASR and overwhelming amounts of information that I may or may not have absorbed all the way, and I was looking forward to a warm, dry night indoors in LA.

Spring Skiing in BC

My favourite time to be in Vancouver is springtime. I was a little early for the cherry blossoms, but the first warm weekend and sunny skies did have a few trees blossoming early. It was my first trip to BC that I truly felt like a tourist – renting a car and booking hotels is something I´ve never done before.

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Gastown´s steam clock

Fewer and fewer people from my UBC days are left, and the city has transformed so much since the Olympics that I barely recognised parts of downtown. Robson street and Granville look like old-fashioned relics of the good old days, Gastown looks the same but feels completely different, and I don´t even remember what the new Olympic Village neighbourhood looked like before it was there.

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UBC alumni reunited in Olympic Village

Going to BC means the routine family check up. My grandma would be furious is I was around and didn´t visit. But visiting her always means a cloud of guilt, for not visiting earlier or more often, not staying long enough, and not eating enough. This time, I got in the most trouble for not calling ahead since she didn´t get a chance to cook up a storm and overfeed me the best Guyanese chicken curry you´ve ever had, but it wasn´t meal time and we had places to go.

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the Fraser River

I was with Master Chef Thrainn, on his first visit to BC, and I wanted to impress him with the wining and dining scene. It wasn´t all fancy – Tim Hortons and A&W are Canadian musts, and wine tasting in Langley and visiting a BC liquor store to see the Okanagan selection were part of our master plan. I saw my oldest friend from Canada, Lisa, who took us around the vineyards, and visited her younger brother, sous chef at Coquilles, in Gastown. We had to go to Cactus Club and Earls, the two Canadian chains I owe all my server training to, and the trip highlight was hands down Araxi in Whistler; the shucked right in front of you oysters, fresh sea food and local wine list impressed even Thrainn, who doesn´t normally like oysters.

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The Peak2Peak Gondola, taking us from Blackcomb to Whistler mountain

We spent four days in Whistler, with fresh snow on our first day and a couple days of powder, but most importantly, we had three days of sunshine on the slopes with a hottub to soothe our muscles every night. I had a friend in Whistler and a few in Vancouver to visit, and we tried some local brews at the Craft Beer Market.

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feeding the birds on 7th Heaven

We started our trip with the first night at Cultus, and woke up to a glorious morning on the lake. We ended our trip with an upgrade at the Shangri-la hotel, in Vancouver´s tallest building, but looking across at Trump tower made us prefer the view from our other hotel balcony peering down Thurlow street to the Olympic torch. Stanley Park was still as I remember, but the one morning of dismal rain we had on our trip ruined our plans to bike around it. At least I have that and a few more cherry blossoms to come back to, so its not goodbye yet…

Oysters in Colorado

Colorado is one of those places everyone else has been, and I’ve been on my way for way too long. My best friend from Canada, Clio, moved there more than a year ago and I finally took her up on the standing invitation to visit. Spring skiing seemed like a great time, since Denver can reach temperatures of 20 degrees but the mountains still get fresh snow. The days are long, bright and sunny, and I was happy to realise I had two other old friends in town.

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Clio and I in Denver, enjoying the hottest day I´ve seen since Dec 10th last year

It was a rough start – after being stuck in Greenland for five days, I arrived in Reykjavik just in time to miss my flight to Denver, but then discovered it had actually been delayed a bunch, and then cancelled. It was a shame, but still very convenient for rebooking, although I was number 56 in line on hold when I had to call Icelandair.

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Denver and the Clock Towwer

Clio picked me up at the airport, and we went straight to a local brewery called Crazy Mountain Brewery, where you could try a new beer every day for weeks until they rotated their taps, and start all over again. We ate perfectly made margaritas and tacos at Machete, and tried bison burgers at the Bush and Bull – think about that name for a second. We watched the Oscars with bet sheets, and Clio lost, badly enough that she had to cook us breakfast.

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El Dora, with Clio and Damon

We thought we´d save money by skiing at a smaller resort like El Dora, skipping the busier Vail or Brackenridge slopes and all the traffic associated with them, but a day pass was still $120US plus rentals, so not the cheapest day trip. We made the most out of the drive by overnighting in Boulder, where Clio´s parents-in-law live and a friend from UBC I had forgotten about.

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Avery Brewing Co in CO

 

Visiting with Max at Avery brewery, which had more beers on tap than the Crazy Mountain, was a prefect pre-amble to my upcoming visits in Vancouver with all my favourite UBC peeps.

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Max and I at Avery

Ironically enough, when it was time to leave Denver, I checked in online on the way to the airport, only to discover my flight was delayed. It started with a two hour delay, and with dried out, uprooted tumble weeds blowing past the runway, I thought I´d get stuck another day in Colorado. It seemed like the curse of my travels lately, so I was ready for it. Luckily enough, my plane took off for Seattle only two hours later, and I knew my spring skiing plans for Whistler wouldn´t be shortened.