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cross country ski trails

The cross-country ski trails on Mount Washington, midway up Vancouver Island. Exercise activities like cross-country skiing and kayaking involve continuous, low- to medium-level exertion. Both also create social experiences with friends and family. Photo by Mike Robinson

Mike RobinsonHave you given up exercise habits formed when you were raising your kids, replacing them with gym visits and more walking? Do you even think of how you exercised in your working, middle age?

Does your basement or garage storage area contain (even overflow) with unused exercise equipment? Do your cross-country skis vie for space with golf clubs, mountain bikes and camping gear?

If so, even if some of that gear hasn’t been hauled out, cleaned and used for 10 or 20 years, like us, it may be time to give it one more go!

Recently, at the invitation of our son, we decided to go cross-country skiing on Mount Washington, midway up Vancouver Island, half an hour by road above Courtenay and Comox.  That meant getting out boots, poles, skis, pants and jackets, gloves and gaiters that haven’t seen use in how long?

I’m still rummaging about the dark recesses of my Prairie memories of the first decade of the new millennium, say 2000 to 2005. Is it possible we did a family cross-country trip to Emerald Lake then? Or was it Goat Creek trail from the base of Ha Ling Peak to the Banff Springs? Or perhaps the trail up Castle Mountain to Rockbound Lake?

Come to think of it, those family trips could have been circa 1995! The last time we got out for a day on cross-country skis was at least two decades ago.

That’s a sobering thought.

To be fair, much of our out-tripping became summer ocean kayaking after we moved back to B.C. in 2009.

There are parallels between cross-country skiing and kayaking. Both lend themselves to overnight trips. They both involve continuous, low- to medium-level exertion. Both create social experiences with friends and family.

Some can be summed up in a sentence, uttered decades ago, but burned into lasting memory, like daughter Caitlin’s immortal, “Dad, seen one mountain lake, seen them all!” as we skied down the trail from Rockbound Lake after a long day when she was seven.

All these memories burst to the fore as we drove up to Mount Washington after getting the 8:05 a.m. ferry from Powell River, which in turn meant getting up at 6 a.m. to get ready.

We arrived at the Raven Lodge Nordic ski parking lot at 10:30 and were on the Jutland trail well before 11. We skied down to the Black Diamond loop intersection, and decided to turn about and follow the set tracks back to Raven Lodge for lunch at 1. There I checked the health app on my phone and discovered we had gone 7.2 km and climbed three storeys.

I looked around the lodge’s cafeteria as we drank coffee and ate veggie wraps. There were maybe 100 people in the room and only about 10 appeared to be over 65. Several of those were the tourists we had seen on the trail speaking Swedish or Norwegian to one another.

My mind flashed back to the old Health Canada advertisements comparing 60-year-old Swedes to Canadians in terms of general levels of fitness. The point of the old advertisement was still well taken. Now I’m the 60-something Canadian, and I was well and truly waxed by the elder Nordic folk on the last part of the set trail to the lodge, which seemed to go straight up.

After lunch, we put our skis back on and made a loop of the upper village, where private residences exist for the truly serious downhill and cross-country folk. After a rather lazy afternoon spent in the glorious sunshine, we headed back to our truck to await our son, who had spent his day on the downhill slopes.

After meeting up and comparing our days, we headed down to Courtenay for a meal in a favourite restaurant prior to catching the 7:10 p.m. ferry back to Powell River.

The big take-aways from our day on the slopes were:

  • we can still sort-of do a day-long cross-country ski;
  • we should bloody well do this more often.

The example set by our Nordic friends was taken to heart, with a smile!

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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