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As another polar vortex makes nestles itself across North America for a long deep slumber that the rest of us aren't too happy about, we all begin the ritual of bitching and moaning about the cold. We shut down all our planned activities, grab several blankets and bury our heads into our mattress as we await a spring reprieve.
However, we must not have this mentality - even though it is cold it doesn't mean you can't be outside. Exercise is incredibly important for my mental health and my ability to ward off seasonal depression. I know I am not alone in this. While escaping south for a week is a great break you still have the other 20 or so weeks of winter to contend with.
Every time I tell someone that I run in the winter they think I am crazy, but running in the winter is a beautiful and rewarding experience. There is just something amazing about running through fresh snow and a frozen landscape as the sun sets that just melts away the stress of the world.
You don't have to be the world's greatest athlete to go for a winter run, my times aren't putting me into the Olympics. It is just about going outside in the winter, taking a deep breath and taking some time to run from winter.
My goal is to teach what I have learned and the type of gear I have invested into making running in any weather a cozy breeze. So far the coldest I have tested my gear is -31C. Even in these temperatures I still worked up a sweat!
The best way to start running in the winter is to start small. Make the first run just a short 3km. See how you feel, dial in your gear and try again. It's important to remember that the first run is hard, the second run is the hardest now that you are sore and the third run is what gets you addicted.
Here is a snapshot of the gear that I use and some additional tips.
Click herefor a larger version of this image.
I wear all my layers on any day that is -18C or colder. If it gets above -18C then I will ditch my black wool sweater. Once the temperature rises to about -12C, I leave behind my warmer gloves and just use my thin ones. Even when it is -20C or colder there will be times that I take my warmer mitts off for a bit to cool down. You will notice that my legs only have one layer, I never find that my legs get cold at any temperature. However, if your legs do get cold double up with a pair of wool long johns. Do not use cotton, that will only make you colder once you start sweating! You need to hone in on the gear that works for you at different temperatures. What works for me, might not work for you but I hope this gives you at least a starting point. For example, I thought I could double layer my thin gloves on a -17C day and that would be fine. By the time I got back my hands were so frozen, I could barely open the door. That was a lesson learned that day. In the beginning, it is best to start with more gear and then figure out what you can shed for layers for the next run. Keep mental or written notes about what you wore on each day and what the weather was like to help you make decisions. You should always be sweaty at the end of your run, but you shouldn't be freezing cold. You should be just as hot as if you ran on a nice summer evening. A good rule of thumb is to start your run feeling a little bit cold. You shouldn't be so cold that you are shivering uncontrollably. A small chill down your spine is the right starting temperature. You will quickly build up heat under your layers and be the perfect temperature after your first kilometre. Make sure you have layers with zippers so you can open them up if you need to cool off if needed. I recommend getting a shell layer that blocks the wind. After getting mine it really improved how I felt on windy days. I also recommend getting a FlipBelt for your phone that you place under a layer of clothing. Not only is it much more comfortable to run with, but it will also keep your phone from freezing and getting wrecked. Focus on taking shorter strides, it will help you maintain your balance and you'll be less likely to wipe out on a hidden piece of ice. You can run in summer running shoes, but just take extra precaution. The best piece of gear that I invested in was shoes with cleats built directly in. (pictured below) I never found buying ice cleats that attach to your shoes to be that helpful and frankly they hurt my feet. I have a pair of Salomon Spikecross 3's that I highly recommend. Visit your local running shop and they will help you get the right pair of winter running shoes. If you are going for a winter run in a less populated place, make sure you let someone know where you are going and for how long. Things happen, and having someone know where you are makes all the difference. Make sure to buy clothing that has reflectors. It isn't also the worst idea to hang a light off you if you are running in the dark. People aren't expecting someone to be running in the winter so they won't be looking for you. Be careful in crosswalks and remember that people can't stop like they do in the summer!
What the bottom of my cleated shoes look like.
If you think this is all crazy and that I am crazy for suggesting running in the winter, I just ask you try it once and see how you feel. I find it is easier to run in the winter than the summer in a lot of ways. In the summer the humidity makes me feel like I can't get a full breath. The dryness of the winter air is perfect to take big slow breaths to quickly slow your heart rate and get you back into a rhythm. Plus, you never have to share the trail!
By pushing yourself outside you will quickly realize that winter isn't a lion it's just a little fluffy kitten.
What winter really is.
If you have more questions, please ask me in the comments and I will try to answer them the best I can.
Enjoy your run! I know I will!
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Kingsmere River Trail
How many times in a week do you hear, “Winter is so long and brutal here in Saskatchewan! I can’t wait for summer!”
Saskatchewanians love to complain about winter. I get it – on paper winter sucks. You shovel driveways, put on a coat just to go outside, it gets dark at 5pm and the list goes on and on. But what if I were to tell you there is a place in Saskatchewan that takes everything you think is bad about winter, the cold and the snow, and flips it on its head?
You can probably guess by the title of this story that it is Prince Albert National Park.
Parks Canada and the Waskesiu Wilderness Region recently invited me to experience the park in all its winter glory. The park is open all four seasons, yet it sees little traffic in fall, winter and spring. I hope to help change that! What I found shouldn’t just be my secret. I want you to experience it too.
Waskesiu Lake
Saskatchewan people are lucky. Not everyone gets to experience the swishing sound of boots breaking trail after a fresh snowfall, the heavy silence of a winter slept forest, the seemingly purposeful perfection of boreal trees draped in snow or the opportunity to face extreme elements head on that most of world runs screaming from.
Prince Albert National Park is full of winter opportunity and offers something for anyone who is willing to step outside and take command of winter.
Remember, there is no such thing as too cold outside. (99% of the time….) This sentiment is often the hesitation I hear when suggesting to others to venture outside on those -25C and lower days. When you are working hard and enjoying the snow it is never a problem of being cold it is a problem of being too hot! You will be surprised how much heat you can create under a few small layers while cross-country skiing or hiking.
While exploring Prince Albert National Park I was lucky enough to get perfect winter weather of -15C. That may seem like frigid temperatures if you only experience it on your morning commute while sitting motionless in your car seat begging your seat warmers to save you from your violent shivers, but if you are on the move in the splendor of winter that temperature is so hot that you will be quickly shedding a layer, going barehanded and wishing you had more water in your thermos.
Prince Albert National Park is littered with easy to access cross-country ski and hiking trails, winter wildlife and thousands of unexpected surprises. Saskatchewan isn’t a place where you can easily look at a mountain and understand that the top of the peak is the thing you should be looking at and be impressed. We are a place of nuanced moments that only are discovered if you go out and find them.
During my weekend in Prince Albert National Park I was bombarded by these moments. You know when you experience something, and you just know it is going to be a story later? Well, that seemed to be a regular occurrence in my 48 hours in Prince Albert National Park.
Hanging Hearts Lake
Ingrained in my mind are vivid moments from my weekend exploring. I said hello to one of the biggest moose I have seen. I relaxed on the shores of the Waskesiu Lake and listened to the ice create an alluring, booming echo as the ice sheet struggled to make more room for itself. I was startled by a wolf pack that darted across the road. I made friends with a curious grey jay who sat on the roof of my vehicle asking me where we were headed next. I was soothed by the bubbling sounds of the Waskesiu River fighting to continue to flow in plummeting temperatures. I watched the sun fight away the clouds to briefly create a brilliant shimmer on the snow burdened trees around me. I heard the sound of my own throbbing heartbeat as the only noise in a completely silent world. I spent the night snuggled deeply into my sleeping bag inside a shack that quickly became my home on the edge of Kingsmere Lake.
Who knows what unexpected winter surprise you will find in Prince Albert National Park? The only way to find out is to come and visit.
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This story was originally presented to a room of people at IGNYTE, hosted by SYPE Saskatoon.
While my name is Jay Brown, to some I am known as SaskHiker.
So, what is SaskHiker?
Saskhiker.com is a free-to-use website that provides people with the information they need to get outside and explore Saskatchewan’s hiking trails. When I am not hiking, I am a marketing and communications consultant here in Saskatoon.
Now that you know what SaskHiker is and what I do, I want to tell you why I started it. I don’t have much of an agenda or advice to share with you. Take whatever you want from this short little story.
To understand why I made SaskHiker and where the idea came from, I am going to need to tell you some history about myself.
During the winter of 2015 I was unemployed for several months. I was let go from what I thought was going to be my dream job; instead it had left me broken.
For those of who have spent any time unemployed; you most likely have felt that tight grip of anxiety that slams you in your chest every time a cover letter you agonized over is lost into the blackhole of a hiring manager’s inbox.
During my prolonged job search I began to lose confidence in my career experience, “Maybe, I don’t know anything. Maybe, I am worthless.” These were the thoughts that burrowed into my brain rejection after rejection.
For every door slammed I was given the same line, “we found someone who we feel is more qualified than you.” It was clear that I wasn’t valuable enough.
My intention isn’t for you to feel sorry for me, but I really don’t think I ever would have started or even got the idea for SaskHiker if I didn’t lose my job. It is pretty crucial to this whole story.
Okay, so now that you know where I was at that moment in my life. I need to go back even further to my childhood for you to understand where the roots of SaskHiker are.
I grew up on a 100-acre acreage 30 minutes east of Regina. My family is home to some of the last remaining natural aspen forest in southern Saskatchewan and thus my backyard was an unofficial nature preserve.
My brothers and I spent our childhoods out in the bush following the tracks of coyote packs who had stalked a deer in the night, peaking our heads into badger holes when someone dared you to, and listening to the distinct chattering of aspen tree leaves in the wind.
I had grown up outside, but after moving to Saskatoon, attending University and starting my career I for some reason stopped venturing past my front door.
Okay, so let’s snap back to me, wallowing on the couch, wearing sweatpants I hadn’t washed in weeks, constantly refreshing my inbox waiting for an opportunity to come my way.
It was my girlfriend of 10 years, Britney, who gave me the motivation to peel myself from the cushions. I knew she was anxiously watching my confidence wither away and wanted to find a way to help me. I don’t know when she said it to me, but one day she looked at me before leaving for work and said, “You need to do something. You need to get out of the house.”
She was right, but what the hell can you do when you have no money? Well…. walking is free.
That first hike was just me going down to the river and exploring the hidden paths of Saskatoon.
To me hiking is a form of meditation. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other and trying to pretend that your backpack isn’t heavy. You aren’t running a race, you are just getting from Point A to Point B.
Hiking allows you to take time to reflect on yourself and let new ideas seep into your brain. The bombardment of stress in our day to day life often gets in the way of a fresh perspective. But on the trail, it’s just you, your thoughts and the breeze in the trees and maybe a bear or two.
As I began to explore more trails in the province it became quickly apparent to me that online hiking information in Saskatchewan didn’t really exist.
You couldn’t just type, “Saskatchewan Hiking Trails” into Google and get anything of relevance.
So, does it seem cliché that the idea for SaskHiker started on a Saskatchewan hiking trail?
During this period of my life, the biggest resource I had was time. I had all the time in the world to learn new skills that might help me in my job search.
When I started building SaskHiker, my goal was just to make it a portfolio item that I could show a potential employer that I could do something, anything, more than the person they interviewed that morning.
As someone who is a marketing professional, I need to show that I can make a brand, create a communications strategy, buy digital media or design a website. I need to show that I have value and that’s where SaskHiker comes from.
SaskHiker was born out of necessity. I needed to explore the natural world again to save myself, and I needed to learn new skills to make myself stand apart from my competition. I saw the market need, I knew it was something I could be passionate about, and I saw how I could increase my value.
I launched SaskHiker on Tuesday April 14, 2015.
The next day CBC contacted me to talk about it on air and before you know it, I had 235 people visit the site. From that first day to now I have had over 130,000 people use SaskHiker to fuel an adventure. I wonder how many blisters I have caused?
So, what has SaskHiker given me and why do I continue to do it? Well, it has given me the opportunity to be on a ‘reality web-series’, get thousands of dollars in free gear and I get paid once in a while to visit the places that I love.
Professionally it has given me two very rewarding jobs, a wealth of knowledge I never thought I would have and a continuing outlet to learn and test new ideas.
But SaskHiker has done more than just help me professionally and monetarily. It has given me the opportunity to share the nooks and crannies of Saskatchewan, a place that I love.
I routinely get messages from people looking for ideas on how to explore Saskatchewan. It is always fun to help people plan a weekend adventure.
People have even come up to me and said things like, “Hey are you SaskHiker? I just hiked Grey Owl trail in Prince Albert National Park – it was awesome thanks for the info!” I mean, how cool is that?
SaskHiker has also been a source of many new friendships as people have shared their love of hiking and the outdoors with me. And my desire to add new routes onto SaskHiker has led to many of my old friends tagging along for the fun as we explore somewhere new together. It’s in these moments that we have made lifelong memories.
Finally, SaskHiker has allowed me to build and strengthen my relationship. My girlfriend and our two dogs have marched many kilometers on the trail together. It is here that we have planned our lives, shared our fears and passions, and talked about the weird stuff that only comes out in the privacy of nature.
My slogan for SaskHiker is simple, it is, “Go outside. There’s fun stuff out there.”
This was what I said to myself as I worked up my lost courage to get off the couch. That first step has led to this one and who knows where the last one will be.
What started out as a spark of an idea on a Saskatchewan hiking trail has grown into something. I am not too sure what it is, but it is something I am proud of. SaskHiker is by no means a massive achievement for mankind, but it is something I get to share with others.
I think everyone has the potential to do the same. We all have passions, lets share them. It always starts with the first step.
Thank you for letting me share my story.
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Biking to work
Okay, before we begin - I want everyone reading this to take a deep breath and put aside the whole 'bike vs. car' debate and just hear me out. This isn't a 'Pro-Biking Manifesto' where I am going to say that no one should ever drive cars and that the bikes will inherit the earth. I also am not saying you need to be on a bike all the time, all I am trying to do is outline to you how 'bikeable' Saskatoon is and to encourage you to spend some more time behind the handlebars exploring the city.
SaskHiker's tagline is, "Go outside. There's fun stuff out there." My whole mission with SaskHiker is simply to encourage more people to go outside and explore Saskatchewan.
Alright, back to business; so why would I make the claim that Saskatoon is the most 'bikeable' city in Canada? Well first, I figured it would be a good clickbait headline to get you this far. So if it worked, sorry?
Secondly, I bought a new cross-country bike this spring with the intention of bike commuting to work a few days a week. My commute is roughly 23km and I would say I am averaging 3 days a week biking to work and have over 1000km for the season on the seat.
With all that time behind the bars huffing it back and forth between Willowgrove and Broadway and other places, I couldn't help but appreciate how easy and great it is to bike around Saskatoon. Now, I will put a caveat on this statement, that it is much much better to bike around when there isn't snow on the ground but it isn't impossible to bike around in the winter. It's just a bit more slow going.
Our tremendous biking assets are often left out the conversation when we talk about cycling in Saskatoon. You don't need a fancy bike to put on some miles. Even if you just do one ride a week, I think you will start to see what I mean about how Saskatoon is the most bikeable city in Canada.
(Note: there is no scientific data to back this statement, but let's claim it anyways! We call ourselves the 'Paris of the Prairies' too. Ijust got back from the real Paris and I can tell you that our two cities aren't even close to the same but yet it has stuck for some reason.)
Reason #1: Saskatoon is incredibly flat
Saskatoon is flat, very flat. map of the entire city. There is the odd 'hill' you have to climb in the river valley, and McPherson Drive by Rotary Park can sometimes feel like a mountain, but other than those small handful of hills you might gain 10 meters of elevation from one area to another. In the world of hills - that is virtually nothing.
A flat city provides two advantages for biking; speed and ease. When you aren't contending with elevation you can easily buzz around without working up a sweat and if you want to pick up the pace you can easily do so. Climbing a hill for 30 minutes really slows things down and makes you a sweaty mess by the time you get to your destination.
Embrace the flat.
Reason #2: We are littered with more bike paths and trails than you think.
Outside of Meewasin we have extensive muti-use paths that snake there way through the city. Just check out this map below. Look how you how many multi-paths and routes you can hop on. These trails make it much easier and safer to for of all ages to bike.
Click here for the City of Saskatoon's cycling guide for more information.
I know that a lot of people don't feel comfortable having their child bike with them on a street, so use these paths to your advantage. If you are living somewhere that is a little far from a path, I suggest just tossing your bikes in a vehicle and starting your family outing from one of the path entrances.
Tip: A great place to start is the parking lot in front of the Weir, or the parking lot in front of the Canoe Club to access the Meewasin Trail.
Reason #3: Saskatoon is small.
Saskatoon isn't that big. I built this map to show you just how small it actually is. At our widest point we just over 15km wide. On a bike, 15km is nothing for an adult. It might seem far, but you can easily bike that distance in an hour or less.
Now most of us probably won't bike across the entire city, but we all probably bike downtown or to Broadway for an event, or maybe just to a friends house that is less than halfway across the city. No matter where you are in the city, a bike downtown is maybe 30 to 45 minutes tops.
Anecdotally, my girlfriend and I for the last couple years often will bike downtown from our house in Willowgrove for a night out instead of driving and struggling to find a parking spot. It really makes you feel less guilty about stopping at Calories on the way home for a slice of cheesecake.
Reason #4: Winter isn't as long as you think it is
The more time you spend outside the more you realize that the stereotypes of Saskatchewan are the boogieman. Yeah, weather happens here that can be extreme but I find most days are quite exceptional regardless of the time of the year.
It's amazing how hot you can get once you start moving. A 5 degree day is the perfect biking day. Just cold enough to keep you from sweating profusely and just hot enough that you don't need your parka.
A warm winter day in Saskatchewan. They happen more than you think.
Okay, I said I wasn't going to get preachy - but this is one thing I want to get off my chest. The first thing you hear when you someone mentions the words 'bike infrastructure' is, "It's winter 8 months a year here!" I have two responses to that.
First, that is a gross over exaggeration based on your definition of winter. Our shoulder seasons of spring and fall are often overlooked for their accessibility for outdoor activities. Secondly, if you really believe it's cold three quarters of the year here, why wouldn't we want to invest in infrastructure that maximizes the hell out of the summer months?
Let me put this another way. The Waskesiu marina in Prince Albert National Parkreceived $7.4 million dollars in 2015 for upgrades. The marina is only used in the summer and in reality is only going to be used by a limited amount of people, but yet and rightfully so, we invested in it. Why? Because we should invest in summer activities because we need to maximize our hot days as much as possible!
Now what if we applied the same logic to building more multi-use paths? Why wouldn't we want a system that is dope as hell when it's hot out so we can maximize our time in the sun? Seems like a good idea to me. We can design these paths to be useable for almost everyone, regardless of their mobility issues. A good example of this done right, in my opinion, is the upgraded path along Spadina Crescent between the University Bridge and Train Bridge. The path is wide, smooth and awesome.
Invest in summer!
Reason #5: There is usually a side street
I get it, there isn't always a path, as much I was maybe selling that above. But there is usually a side street that basically has no traffic on it.
Do you need to bike down Clarence Avenue? Bike down Albert Street instead. Need to hoof it down 8th Street? 9th Street is right there. 21st Street? How about 23rd Street?
Now I am not saying this will work perfectly in every neighbourhood, we do have some accessibility issues in some areas of our city, but one of the things you realize quickly when you hop on your bike is that are many nooks and crannies you can use to your advantage.
There are numerous places to cross Circle Drive and the river is also easily crossed. You might not be getting there in the most straightforward route but like I argued above, Saskatoon is not that big so this doesn't matter too much.
When you are in your vehicle you think about getting around Saskatoon only by using its main arteries that are far from bike friendly. When you hop on your bike you start thinking about how you can use the design of the city for your advantage; routes and possibilities start to open up to you that you never knew existed before.
Tip: Meewasin trail is the Circle Drive of biking.
Reason 6: We have a free bike valet at many of our festivals
One of my favourite initiatives is Saskatoon Cycles. This group is awesome! Did you know pretty much every summer festival has free bike valet? It's the best! You just hand them your bike in a secure area, they hand you a tag and you are on your way. I mean how awesome is that?
Look at these stats from the Jazz Festival. They parked 2,000 bikes. That's a lot of cars that didn't come downtown!
Reason 7: We have hidden mountain bike trails.
Did you know that there are hidden trails in the river valley that are incredibly fun to rip down in a mountain bike? They are mostly on the east side of the river, with many of them north of Circle North Bridge. If you are looking for a thrill - check these out. There are technical and so much fun!
The bad stuff
Okay, I know I can't just paint this all with sunshine and rainbows. There are some bad things about cycling in Saskatoon that we need to address. Bike theft is a problem that really can suck out the fun. The best thing you can is to buy a good lock. Don't buy a flimsy cable that is easily cut. When you buy a bike budget roughly 10% to 15% of its cost on a lock.
To help combat this problem the Saskatoon Police Service just launched a bike registryto help you get your bike back if it is stolen. Make sure to register your bike!
We have the odd problems with bikers and drivers not respecting each other. This isn't an exclusive problem to Saskatoon. I think that most of the time it is just that both parties are confused about how to interact with the other. Also, people don't realize that they are saving mere seconds in their day by taking actions that can make it dangerous for the other party.
What is the point of all of this?
I just want more people to explore Saskatoon behind the handlebars. I can guarantee you that your perception of the city will change. You will notice things you've never noticed before and you will start saying to yourself, "I didn't know we had that!"
People often tell me that it is crazy to bike 23km a day for work, or to hike for 5 days straight or spend a weekend alone camping in the dead of winter and my response is always this - the thought of starting is always much harder than actually doing it.
Go outside. There's fun stuff out there.
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I have been asked this question a thousand times - "Do you know of any hiking or outdoor groups in Saskatchewan?" and until now I had no answer.
I figured if I asked the SaskHiker Community they would have the answer! And boy did they! I put a list together based on people's suggestions so hopefully more people can share the joys of hiking and being outdoors!
If you have a group you want to add to this list - email me by clicking here!
Hiking Groups in Saskatchewan
Saskatoon Hiking and Skiing Meetup - Click herefor their Meetup page.
Regina Hikers /1000 Milers - They hike three times a week in the South Central area of the province. For more information contact Robin Blais 306-807-4759. Tell them SaskHiker sent you!
Regina Outdoor Club - Click here for the Facebook group.
Nature Saskatchewan - They host birding hikes throughout the year. Check out their website for more information by clicking here.
Boreal Outdoor Recreation Association (BORA) - They are an active group in La Ronge that helps maintain trails and host mountain biking events. Check out their Facebook page here.
Saskatoon Nordic Ski Club - Nordic Ski Club based in Saskatoon. They maintain the cross country ski trails in Saskatoon and the Eb's Trails north of Duck Lake. Click here for their website.
Women’s 306 Outdoor Tribe - A group based out of Saskatoon. for their Facebook page.
The Lady Alliance - This group operates throughout all of Western Canada. Click herefor their Facebook page.
SaskOutdoors - They host hikes throughout the province. for their Facebook page.
Saskatchewan Outdoor Enthusiasts - I think their name says it all. They are a group on Facebook that you need to request access to. Click here for their Facebook Group link.
Women Who Explore Saskatchewan - A Facebook group that encourages women to get outdoors. Click here for their Facebook link.
Am I missing someone that should be on this list? Email me.
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It's time to face the cold
It happened again - much of Saskatchewan has been sucked into the depths of a frigid hell, with temperatures crashing like the 2014 price of oil to -40C. Everyone is battening down the hatches to get through another week of frozen eyelids, snotty noses and burning red cheeks.
When the weather dips like this, everyone, including myself, grumble and complain. And if you are like my girlfriend and I, you seriously contemplate the logistics of faking your own death and moving to Costa Rica to open a Tiki Bar.
It is times like these that I have horrible flashbacks to working in the service industry, where I was forced to live my own version of Groundhog Day with every customer that frantically came out of the cold into the store.
"Staying warm?" every customer would ask with a half-cocked smile framed by tomato cheeks.
"Trying to!" I would reply, with the same half-cocked, albeit warm-cheeked smile, even though I was now being held hostage in a conversation I didn't want to have for the 100th time that day.
Please god, don't make me do it again!
We all yearn for summer. Life is simpler when it's warm; less layers, less frozen fingers fumbling for keys, less aches and pains from our joints literally freezing up. But, this is the world we live in, (unless you live in Maple Creek) and like it or not - we need to find ways to enjoy every aspect of this beautiful place - even in "it's so cold it hurts" weather.
Life on easy mode.
I know winter can be tough. But you are tougher. You aren't some Texan who shuts down your schools and roads when a little bit of snow falls. You are a Saskatchewanian - whose wrinkled and worn skin is a written record of the winters you've endured. You know what it is like to drive down a highway during a whiteout where the only way to stay on the road is to open your car door and look for the lines (that might just be me) and you sure as hell aren't going to let living somewhere that is colder than Mars keep you down!
Pictured Above: A 14 Year Old Saskatchewan girl after winter.
No, you are going to go outside and you are going to say to Old Man Winter, "You can take away the feeling in my face but you'll never take my bunnyhug!"
Don't retreat and hang the white flag. Instead, attack winter. Load up the layers until you feel like an overstuffed burrito, jam on a toque, hang yourself with a scarf, ball up some tissues in your pocket like your Grandma, step out your front door and proudly shout, "I am a Saskatchewan Winter Warrior!"
Don't use the cold as an excuse, use it as a challenge. Don't come to work on Monday with the story that you "Netflixed and chilled" over the weekend (yes, I know what it means), instead come to work on Monday with a story like you "cross country skied and chilled" or "snowshoed and chilled" or "tobogganed and chilled." Be the weekend hero that your coworkers admire.
The next time you catch yourself thinking that the best solution to get through a Saskatchewan winter is to roll yourself into your blankets to create a duvet-cocoon that you will awaken from in spring as a beautiful butterfly, you should be reminded winter fat is the same as summer fat, just a bit more pasty white.
This winter, I challenge you to step outside, take a sharp, deep breath of that frosty air and be the Saskatchewan Winter Warrior you were destined to be! You will not be defeated.
Life only found on cold days
On a more serious note, the frigid temperatures can be extremely difficult for those in our community facing challenges. Please consider donating your time or funds to the many shelters throughout the province who provide services for those less fortunate. Stay warm out there and be safe!
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Five friends and I recently spent 3 days on the stunning South Saskatchewan River where we paddled from Outlook to Saskatoon. This easy, pleasurable and rewarding paddle is the perfect trek for those just getting their feet wet into the world of canoeing.
It is impossible to get lost as there is only one route to take, there is access to hundreds of fantastic beachside campsites and there are is no white water to contend with. If you are looking for an overnight canoe but feel like you don't have enough experience for some of the more challenging northern routes then I recommend this to you!
This guide will tell you how to paddle from Outlook to Saskatoon and will outline where we camped, how far we went each day and what you can expect.
Before I fully dive into each of the days in more detail here are some overview facts about the canoe from Outlook to Saskatoon.
The total distance on the water is just under 94km. That means you need to average more than 30km a day to make this a 3 day trip. While that may seem daunting it is more than achievable. I suggest doing this trip in either June or July when the water levels are still high. By the end of August and September the spring runoff is long gone and the water will be quite shallow. The reason for this is because of Gardiner Dam that controls the flow of water. As the season progresses they usually hold onto more water so the water level will drop. Even with a decent level of water we still had many sections where we had to get out and walk a few hundred feet to find deeper channels again. These are actually welcomed breaks as you get to stretch your legs!
When paddling pay attention to the flow of the water. Find the "express lanes" when you can, but also focus on taking the most direct path that is possible. You can add a lot of distance just zig-zagging across the river.
Make sure you bring tons of sunscreen. We lucked out and had a 30 degree weekend, but that meant lots of sunscreen and hats!
There is cell coverage for most of the trip for when you need it or just want to see where you are on the river.
During the entire paddle you will pass kilometer after kilometer of pristine beaches. We didn't wear shoes the whole weekend because you just don't need to. You will be hard pressed to find softer sand anywhere else. I kept saying the entire trip that people spend thousands to go to Mexico for white sand beaches when they can just drive 30km south of Saskatoon instead!
Remember - pack out what you pack in. There is no excuse for leaving garbage on the beaches! You carried the full weight of it there, you can carry the empty weight of it out!
If you need to rent canoes there are two places that I know of in Saskatoon that can help you out: Eb's Source for Adventure or Classic Outdoors. Make sure you book well in advance to ensure you have boats for your crew!
Okay - let's get into the details!
Day 1 - Launch
If you aren't familiar with Outlook, it is a small town that overlooks the South Saskatchewan River about 100km south of Saskatoon on Highway 15. It takes about an hour to get there by the highway from Saskatoon. Since this is a three day trip we started early Friday morning. We met at a friend's place at 7:00 AM in Saskatoon, ate a quick breakfast and were on the road by 7:45 AM.
The best place to launch from is on the west side of the river outside of Outlook, follow Highway 15 west and cross the river. There you will see an unofficial boat launch of sorts that gives you access to the water. Do not enter the property that is there, the turn off is just before it. From here you can bring boats and gear to the water. With our 7:00AM start time and after we finished unloading and a quick bathroom stop we made our first paddle strokes at 9:30AM.
From here you are with the current heading north back to Saskatoon. I suggest recruiting someone to drive your vehicles back to Saskatoon, if that is where you are launching from, so you don't have to pick them up 3 days later. You will be tired enough as it is!
The first day we experienced a significant headwind and managed to do 34km before 6:00 PM. There are two landmarks that are a good gauge to see where you are. The first is Big Pipe, which is literally a giant pipe that is in the valley. We reached this around 4:00pm. The next are two white towers that have power lines stringing across the river. We set up camp about a 2km further up river from these.
Big Pipe
The first night we camped on an island that had a perfect beach and places to set up tents. I recommend finding campsites that have a bit of tree cover but a nice flat beach. The trees provide shade and firewood, the flat beaches make for the perfect camp and bonfire spot.
Day 2 - Paddlin'
Day 2 is much like Day 1. Lots of paddling, lots of dodging sand bars and lots of beautiful scenery. The entire trip you will pass shifting dunes, green rolling hills and loads of wildlife. We saw bald eagles, osprey, deer, vultures, swallows, hawks, bullfrogs and basically anything else that calls the river valley home. Plus you get the added benefit of complete quiet. You will feel isolated even though you are not that far from civilization.
The water is a bit deeper here so there will be less walking, but it really depends on whether or not they are letting water out of Gardiner Dam. We broke camp at 9:30AM which gave us plenty of time to paddle for the day.
I suggest paddling another 33 to 35 kilometers this day as well. This will leave you a nice leisurely Sunday to roll into Saskatoon. We purposely positioned ourselves south of the famous Berry Barn. Which you will learn about why in Day 3. We found a great campsite along the shore where we could pull up our boats, have a fire and pitch our tents in the shade. The sun get's very hot in the morning so position your tent so it is in the shade in the morning. We got to camp at around 5:30PM which left us plenty of time to set up camp, have a beer or four and play some frisbee.
Day 3 - Heading Home
Day 3 is really when you will cruise. For the most part the river is deeper here and you won't be walking too much, however the river does snake a bit so you will be putting on a few kilometers without heading north. This is where your hard work paid off. You will only paddle 25km on Day 3 to get home.
We broke camp at 9:15AM and headed to the Berry Barn for a heavy breakfast. If you aren't familiar with the Berry Barn it is, in my opinion, one of the best breakfasts in the Saskatoon area. From our campsite to the Berry Barn was about a 50 minute paddle so still eat a light breakfast before heading out.
It is easy to spot the Berry Barn from the water, look for the big red barn and the patio that overlooks the water. There is a small beach to pull up on for your boats where you can leave them while you gorge yourself inside!
So worth it!
From the Berry Barn to Saskatoon is about a 3 to 4 hour paddle.. You will pass Fred Heal Canoe Launch along the way which can be a good place for an emergency pickup if the weather changes, but for the most part you are on Easy Street.
The best place to get picked up is at the Saskatoon Canoe Club which is located in Victoria Park. There is a public dock you can use to pull your gear out of the water. You will have cell coverage coming into the city so you can coordinate with your pickup if you need to.
That's it! You have just paddled 94km and spent three days on the beautiful South Saskatchewan River! If you want to add more distance you can start from Gardiner Dam, plan for this to add another day to your trip but much of the tips here are the same.
If you curious on what you need to bring for gear and food. Check out my gear list by clicking here.
Have any tips or tricks or have done this paddle before? Let us know in the comments!
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Our Nation's birthday is rapidly approaching. The best gift we as citizens of this giant chunk of rock get is an extra day off to spend time exploring what makes this country great. Our own backyards!
To me there is no better way to celebrate being Canadian than by heading out and exploring the bountiful and beautiful natural places that we have. Here are just 5 places I recommend you visit to celebrate Canada 150 this July Long weekend!
As you are well aware it is free to get into the National Parks this year, but you are probably worried about how busy Prince Albert National Park is going to be. If you don't have a campsite booked it might be near impossible to even get one at this point.
That is why I think you should turn south and visit the only National Park in Canada that protects such a important ecosystem as our grasslands.
The park is full of natural wonders such as 70 Mile Butte, wild bison herds and vistas and night skies that will take your breath away. As a Dark Sky Preserve there is an effort to reduce and eliminate all light pollution. If you are lucky you will get clear night and you can fall asleep trying to count all the stars.
This park is one of my favourites in Saskatchewan. It is chocked full of pristine lakes that are packed to the brim with fish. Plus with all the rolling hills you will get the opportunity to get above the treeline and gaze at the never ending green tops.
The best place in Narrow Hills is the Gem Lakes. They are a small pocket of lakes in the northwest corner of the park that are only accessible by foot. Here you can spend a few days soaking in the tranquil blue waters, fishing from a canoe or kayak and enjoying the stunning beauty around you.
Lac La Ronge Provincial Park rests on the famous Canadian shield. Here you can explore billion year old rock amongst the towering evergreens. In my opinion the best way to experience the natural beauty of the park is spending a night at Nut Point.
This 30km round trip hiking trail is a real northern treat. Find vistas of the lake, blueberries everywhere (when in season) and a perfect campsite and swimming area on the rocks that is the best way to spend a hot summer day.
If you are looking for easy front country camping with the opportunity to explore ancient sand dunes then Douglas Provincial Park is your ticket.
Located within the park are active sand dunes which are something you have to experience. There is nothing quite like taking your shoes off and feeling the softest sand you've ever felt in your life squish between your toes!
Plus it rests on the shores of Diefenbaker Lake, so there is still plenty of opportunity for some beach time!
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Located in the far southeast corner of the Prince Albert National Park is the Elk Trail - a 53km trail built by conscientious objectors during World War 2. These workers carved out the trail through the surrounding aspen forest to create a fantastic easy to navigate trail.
To get to Fish Lake you need to enter the Elk Trail. Fish Lake (13km one way) is located about a kilometer off the main Elk Trail. Expect it to take about 4 hours to hike with generous breaks. There is very little elevation to worry about and there may be the odd fallen tree on the path.
I recommend Fish Lake for people who are looking for an easy overnight back country hike. The trail however is more than doable in one ambitious day if you pack light. Elk Trail is a multi-use trail so you can bring your horses or bikes on the trail as well. We passed a few people on hard-tail mountain bikes you were out for a quick ride. If you want to just make this is a day trip I suggest doing it on a mountain bike.
Elk Trail is a beautiful wide trail that meanders its way through towering aspen trees. The trail is wide enough to easily walk side by side, and soft enough that we saw a few people picking up their shoes and walking bare feet.
Tons of room!
The trail itself is easy to find. Just enter the park on Highway 263 through the scenic route. You will turn off at the Christopher/Emma Lake and continue straight until you reach the South Gate park entrance. From there it is another 5 minute drive to the trailhead. It is well marked with a sign. There is a large parking lot that over looks a babbling creek.
To start the hike continue up the old paved road. This sections is about 1.5km, eventually you will see a pole in the road and to the left will be the beginning of Elk Trail. There is no sign, but you want to start walking on the grass.
Cooling down in a creek.
Elk Trail is well maintained but depending on when you go, the grass on the trail might be a bit longer. This creates a problem if it rains as your feet will become soaked from the moisture in the grass. Elk Trail also has a few low spots which requires you to navigate around puddles but for the most part it is easy going. The earlier you go in the spring the more puddles you will have to worry about. I suggest bringing a set of gaiters to help keep your feet dry.
The first section of the hike will take you along the shores of Sandy Lake. You might see the odd fisherman out on their boat as you make your way along. Once you pass Sandy Lake its about 4km before you get to Kapesiwin Lake and 6km to where the trail splits to Fish Lake or Camp Lake.
To get to Fish Lake you will need to cross two creeks. The first is at about the 2km mark and was created by a massive beaver dam. Take some time to check it out, there might be some beavers home.
The second is at Kapesiwin Lake, depending on how high the flow is you will need to take your boots off and forge over the rocks. Be careful not to twist an ankle! From here Fish Lake is about an hour.
Kapesiwin Creek Crossing
Elk Trail passes many pristine wetland habitats, which are home to thousands of birds, millions of frogs and a billion bugs. I highly recommend bringing a bug net if you are hiking in the summer. You will be swarmed in certain sections. A bug net will go a long way in keeping your sanity.
If you want to get around the bugs, hike to Fish Lake either in late spring or early fall.
A storm rolling over Witsukitsak Lake
I strongly suggest filling up your water at Kapesiwin Creek if you are spending the night at Fish Lake. The water at camp can be quite dirty. Don't expect to be drinking perfectly clear water. Bring a water filter and you may want to use chlorine tabs as well.
About a kilometer past Kapesiwin Lake you will come to a fork at the start of Witsukitshak Lake, turn right here to continue to Fish Lake. There will be a sign that directs people heading the other direction to Sandy Lake.
The camp at Fish Lake has only two firepits but lots of wood that is dropped there by the park. There is an outhouse, but bring your own toilet paper - there is no guarantee there will be some waiting for you. There is also a bear hang, but in my opinion it is in a wrong spot. It is right in camp where everyone will be sleeping. Instead bring a dry bag and set it up on the many high aspen trees further down the trail and away from camp.
The campsite has plenty of room for quite a few tents, but because there is only two firepits you will have to share with your neighbours. I would expect the camp to usually have a few people staying in it. You don't need to book a site but check in with the park office before you head out.
Fish Lake often floods into the surrounding forest so there isn't a real good beach to swim from. I didn't take a dip but by the looks of the water it could be a good place to get a leach or two.
Fish Lake at Sunset
Remember you are in bear country so be prepared to meet a black bear on the trail.
Have you been to Fish Lake? Share your experience in the comments below!
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Thanks to Tracy my fellow Saskatoon Search and Rescue team member for putting this together! As the weather warms and the landscape comes to life around us so do the creepy crawlers! Here is some great information on ticks in Saskatchewan and how to deal with them.
Feeling itchy just looking at this?
What are Ticks?
The best description that I’ve ever heard is that ticks are little walking bags of pathogens. A more scientific description is that they are a little 8 legged parasitic arachnids that feed off the blood of a host. Hosts include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and search and rescue volunteers. Knowing that a tick is an arachnid, and not an insect is important. Regular insect repellents and insecticides don’t work on arachnids.
Ticks often start to make their appearance in May. Last year it started in April. They start to show up when the weather reaches @ +4C. Ticks can move around large areas by hitching rides on migrating birds. Ticks are most active in spring and fall, but can be found year round depending on weather and the host. (If you feel like nightmares, Google ticks and moose.) The most common tick in Saskatchewan is the American Dog tick. There are also some areas that have Rocky Mountain Ticks and the Winter ticks (moose tick). These little guys range in size from a little poppy seed to the size of a grape when they’re engorged from feeding. Fortunately they don’t carry Lyme disease, but they do carry other diseases. Black Legged ticks that carry Lyme disease are pretty rare in Saskatchewan. They have been found here though, and there have been cases of Lyme disease in Saskatchewan.
How many ticks do you think are in this photo?
How to Combat Them
Ticks move by crawling and running, but do not leap or fly. They love to hang out in tall grass and brush. Ticks cling to grasses, and then grab on to hosts as they walk by. They find hosts by smell, so they can tell that we’re coming. When we’re out on a search, we tend to be extra desirable to them because we’re all hot, sweaty, and exhaling lots of carbon dioxide. After they’ve found their host, they look for a good place to attach, and bite their host. Good news is that it can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours to attach. Also good news is that disease transmission normally doesn’t occur instantaneously when they bite. It can take 6-8 hours for disease transmission to happen, but more often it’s about 24 hours.
The best advice to avoid ticks is to stay away from tall grass/brush. That’s basically the opposite of what search and rescue volunteers and hikers do. So what can a SAR member or a hiker do since they can’t avoid tick prone areas? The key is to prevent ticks from reaching your skin and attaching themselves. This can be done by the following methods:
1) Tuck your pant legs into your socks, and duct tape to seal it closed. (Personally, I often wear multiple layers, overlapping socks and pants, and then putting gaiters over top of it all.)
2) Wear light coloured clothing and hat if possible, as it makes ticks easier to see. (This works great with our shirts. Some people also wear light coloured gaiters.)
3) The international travel clinic recommends the use of DEET or Icaridin (also known as Picaridin) insect repellent. A higher concentration of DEET is recommended as being more effective than lower concentrations. (I’ve used the Picaridin, and find it quite nice. It doesn’t wreck synthetics, so it doesn’t damage your clothing.)
4) The international travel clinic and the CDC also recommend applying a Permethrin insecticide designed for clothing and other gear for greater protection.
Permethrin and What you Need to Know
Even though Permethrin is recommended by Health Canada, it has not yet been approved for sale here. It is possible to order it from the United States though. One of the most common products is called “Sawyer’s Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent”.
I’ve used it, and I like it. It’s safe for synthetics like Gore-Tex, and can be used on clothing and gear like tents, backpacks, etc. If you are interested in the product, check to see who else might want to order it too. Shipping and duty fees often cost more than the product. It’s also readily available in the US at stores like Cabela’s, WalMart, etc. If you know of someone travelling down, have them bring some back.
*** Caution. Use it only as directed!!!
- It is not recommended to pick up insecticide designed for use in home and gardens. The concentrations are different, plus there are additional chemicals that are not meant for human contact.
- Do not use tick collars made for dogs. These are very hazardous to your skin. Dogs have a fur coat to protect them, people don’t.
- Do not use around cats. Permethrin is highly toxic to cats. I spray my gear in the garage, and do not bring it into the house until it’s completely dry. Even then, I bag it up so that my cats can’t reach it. This is why you can’t find tick collars or treatments for cats.
Okay, so you’ve taken all of these precautions, but you still might have ticks on you. Here is where the most critical and last line of defense is. The tick check! Throughout your hike, do quick tick checks on yourself and team members. I often see them crawling up someone’s back, headed for the collar where they can sneak in underneath the shirt. Simply flick them off and keep going. At the end of the day, you must do a very thorough tick check.
1) Carefully remove your gear and clothing, and bag it up for further inspection later on. (I do this standing in a dry bathtub. It's easier to spot them as they fall off of you.)
2) Comb out your hair, check behind your ears, your armpits, between your toes, bellybutton, and other rather personal areas. This is where you might need to find someone that you really trust to help you check the parts that you can’t see.
How to Remove Them
It’s important to know that ticks can survive the freezer, survive submersion, and can live a long time without feeding. I’ve found one in my hair after showering. I’ve also sorted through my gear the next day and found ticks crawling in my “checked” gear. They’re tricky little guys. (This is why I’ve started using Permethrin on my gear.) Basically, you have to put your gear through a hot dryer cycle to kill them. For the gear that you can’t put in the dryer, do a very thorough check. Also, check your car and go through it with a lint brush if you drove it.
So now you’re done all of the prevention that you can! However… you still find one attached. Once you’ve finished using some profane language, it’s time to remove the tick.
- Do NOT just grab onto the largest part of the body, as this squishes the contents of the tick into the wound.
- Do NOT force it to back out by using Vaseline, nail polish remover, matches, etc., as it will regurgitate bacteria and disease into the wound.
- Using fine tooth tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible, and then firmly pull it up and out. A tick key also works.
- Place the tick in a sealed container, or between two strips of clear tape. Then submit the tick to the U of S for testing.
Watch for signs of illness, and go to your doctor if you develop a rash, fever, or other symptoms (check the CDC website). Symptoms can sometimes take weeks to show. It’s also important to note that less than 10% of people who get Lyme disease developed a bulls eye rash.
What About My Dog?
Okay - SaskHiker back here to finish this tick-fest off. Do you have a furry friend who also loves outdoor adventures? If you do, they probably are having a tick party all summer. However, there have been some recent new products that have come on board that work wonders for your dog.
My vet has recommended a new product calledNexGard that is a chewable pill that your dog takes during tick season. It will kill ticks and fleas and prevent them from ever biting your pooch. After using this I went from hundreds of ticks a year to a small handful.
We once used a product that is a oil that you would put on the spine of your dog, but have since found this to be much more user friendly and effective. Talk to your vet about the pros and cons of using this product to make the best decision for you and your dog.
Living that tick free lifestyle.
The Final Word
Tick Buddies!
The purpose of this is not meant to scare you, just provide some more information to help you deal with ticks.
It should also be noted that there seems to be a bit of a "tick line" starting from the North Saskatchewan River and anything south. It is rare to find a tick in the northern forests but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep on eye out.
One very important thing to remember is that ticks need to be latched on to usually more than 24 hours before Lyme disease is transmitted and not all tick species carry Lyme disease, nor does every tick. For example the American Dog Tick which is most common in Saskatchewan does not carry Lyme disease. However it can transmit other diseases like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
While ticks are a part of hiking in southern Saskatchewan don't let it deter you from being outside! I grew up in what can only be described as the "mother-land of ticks" they are just something you get used to. To me, I would rather have to deal with ticks than mosquitoes any day!
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