Archive for June, 2011


June 29th, 2011 4 comments

The grizzly was chewing on what appeared to be grass as she looked me in the eye.  To her left and right, her cubs alternated between feeding on the vegetation (maybe berries?) and rolling around.  I stood my ground, awestruck at the scene before me.

Hi there Mrs. Bear

It was my first time seeing a grizzly bear in the wild, let alone a mother with her cubs.

Don't get between mama grizzly and the cubs

Then again, I’m leaving out a couple important details, the two most pertinent being that I was 80 meters away from the bears and that an electric fence separated us.  It was hardly a wilderness encounter.  Instead, I was on the perimeter road of the tent camping area at Lake Louise Campground in Banff NP, Alberta, Canada.  The crowd that had gathered on the road was the thing that had tipped me off to grab my cameras.

Not quite wilderness

I felt sorry for the people trying to snap photos with cell phones

Even though the setting was a bit artificial, it was a great sight.  The bears were truly wild.  The fence was not bear-proof – it’s a deterrent more than a barrier – so there was still an element of danger.  And anyway, I’d rather see the grizzlies in a setting like that than in my backcountry campsite.

Mama bear again

The only disappointments about the experience had to do with the photography.  First, the light wasn’t very good.  Second, it seems that my AF often decided to lock on to the grass in front of the bears rather than the bears themselves, so a number of frames turned out unusable.  Third, and most significant, was I decided to run my 1.4x TC on my 70-200/2.8, which significantly impaired that otherwise tack-sharp lens. (In case you’re thinking “Wait… don’t you have a program that’s supposed to fix blurriness?” well… yes, but the blurs here were focus blurs, not motion blurs.)

Bear cub stands on its hind legs

So, yeah.  The photos were a bit underwhelming, but my first big-mammal experience of the trip  was a reasonable success.

Stampede City Hockey

June 26th, 2011 1 comment

When I was planning this trip, I decided to start by heading north from Minnesota because, as written on the route page, “Which place is more likely to have hockey in early July: Calgary or New Orleans?”  The flaw in that logic was that I didn’t actually check to see how much hockey Calgary would have in the middle of summer.  It turned out to be more scarce that expected, and that led me to stay in the Stampede City a day longer than I had planned.

I had put out a number of feelers in advance of my arrival.  Posts and replies on Craigslist, Kijiji (which is more popular around here than Craigslist), and hockey message boards came up dry.  So did calls to the local rinks operated by the city.  They had weekday lunchtime shinny, yes, but I arrived on Friday afternoon and had planned to leave on Sunday.

I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I got the list of all of the rinks in Calgary from Rinktime and started going through them one by one.  Near the end of the list, I struck gold: the privately operated Trico Centre had evening shinny on Saturday.  I gave them a call to confirm that the shinny would be happening, and then I relaxed, knowing that I would be able to check another province off the list.  Or so I thought.

Saturday evening arrived, and I made the 10-minute drive from my hotel to the rink.  With great enthusiasm, I announced my arrival to the (very attractive) young ladies working the front desk.

“Ok, that will be $5.25” one of the women said.

“Well, you see, I’m a goalie,” I replied.

“Oh, okay.  That’s free then.  Just check your name on the reservation sheet.”

Reservation sheet?  Uh-oh.  “Wait — I thought there were no reservations?”

“Except for goalies.  Goalies phone ahead in the morning.  The spots usually fill up right away.”


I hadn’t made a goalie reservation, and the window to execute my backup plan (a private lesson at The Goalie Shop) had closed about half an hour earlier.  I was a goalie without ice.

I stuck around for a little while to see if the registered goalies would show up.  They did, and I didn’t have the heart to ask them to give up their spots for me.

What to do, what to do.  I knew that there would be shinny around noon the next day in Edmonton, but that would mean a six-hour round trip to get there and back, or going there and skipping Banff, neither of which were appealing.

At that point, I did the only thing I could do.  I pulled the Minnesota card.


I said to the women at the desk, “Ok, here’s the situation.  I’m doing something that is going to sound either crazy or awesome, depending on your perspective.  I’m doing a road trip to every state and every province, playing hockey as a goalie in each of them.  Alberta is next on my list, and I really need to find a game here either today or tomorrow.  Seriously.  I’m really from Minnesota” at which point I pulled out my driver’s license and held it up for them to see.  “Is there anything that can be done?”

There was a brief pause, and then one of the girls said, “Well… it’s against the rules, but…”

And that’s how I found myself with a reserved spot to play goalie during Sunday’s shinny game.

The next day came, and I knew I was going to be in for a challenge the moment I walked into the changing room.  The half-dozen guys already there all looked about 20 years old and knew each other.  In fact, they played on the same rec league team.  That sort of situation usually indicates that they grew up playing hockey, which in turn portends a rather higher level of skill that I possess.  My fears were further reinforced by the topic of their discussion, the salient point being that their team played in the “A” tier, which is as high as the tiers go.

Things went about as expected.  I managed to get a photo of me in net: least that's what it felt like. (Cheese photo credit: Arz)

The good news is that the guys were good sports about the situation, even when I fanned on a puck coming from the other end of the ice and watched helplessly as it casually went into the net.  I had fun.

The next hockey will be in Alaska in a few weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time for my ego to recover.

From Saskatoon to Calgary

June 25th, 2011 Comments off

After a pleasant couple of days in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in which I had my first experience with AirBnB (thanks Valerie and Terry!), I continued on to Calgary.

Three buildings in the distance, west of Saskatoon

I’m not sure how many museums I plan to stop at along the trip, but the two I have visited so far have been enjoyable.

The first was the Western Development Museum in Saskatoon, which looked at life and farm equipment for early settlers in Saskatchewan.  They had  a nice collection of old tractors, some of which were positively gigantic.

The second was the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller, Alberta.  Drumheller is situated in the badlands of eastern Alberta, and it happens to be the location of a number of major fossil finds.  No wonder, then, that it is also the location of a major paleontology museum.

Alberta badlands. Note the golfers in the distance.

The town seems to be well aware of its dependence on dinosaur tourism.  Small fiberglass dinos are on many streets, and occasionally larger sculptures peek above the rooftops.

One of the world's most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimens. At the Royal Tyrell Museum, Drumheller, AB

Dinos in space!

Dinos in Space! (Children's art at the Royal Tyrrell Museum)

When I reached Calgary, the hustle and bustle was a shock to my system.  It had been nearly a week since I had last been in a major metro area (sorry Winnipeg and Saskatoon).  The sprawl, aggressive driving, and mountains in the distance reminded me of Los Angeles.  Or maybe Phoenix.  Or perhaps any number of other southwester American cities.

A traffic jam in Calgary! Oh, the novelty of it all.

Some more hockey tonight, and then it’s off to Banff tomorrow.  It will be a month until I’m again in a city as large as Calgary.

Canadian hockey

June 23rd, 2011 9 comments

The pleasant surprise in the email far outweighed the initial disappointment.

I had emailed a guy named Adam from in an attempt to find a place to stay in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  He wrote back: “Unfortunately we are renovating our rooms and are sleeping on the couch/living room right now,” so the couch was unavailable.  That was a bit of a let down.  However, he continued: “So, instead I’ve got a great offer. How would you like to play a real game tomorrow night? My team’s goalie just msg’d me that he can’t make it.”

Would I like to play hockey in a real game as a sub goalie?  Of course!

The little catch was that I was in Winnipeg at the time, and Saskatoon was a 9-hour drive away.  On top of that, I still had a drop-in game to play late that night.  It would be a busy 24 hours.

My Winnipeg shinny session got done around 12:30 a.m., and I finally got to sleep around 2:30 a.m.  The alarm clock’s clamor came at 8:00 a.m., and I was on the road by 9:30.

How to dry hockey gear in a dumpy (aka cheap) motel

Nine hours of driving later, including a time change and a major detour to avoid the flooded Trans-Canada Highway, I arrived in Saskatoon.

Nine hours of this...

...and sometimes this (better large)

Two hours to spare before ice time.

I was to sub-goalie for “The Eh Team”.   (What a great name!)  It was composed of an enthusiastic group of 20-somethings playing in the ASHL, the local adult rec hockey league.  Sadly, enthusiasm had not translated to much success during the season, and the team went into Wednesday night with a record of 1-8.

Before the game, the story of my trip was greeted with surprise and excitement.  “I wish I could do that,” somebody said, to which another lamented, “I wish my wife would let me do that.”

I felt good on the ice in spite of the short previous night and the long day of driving.  I think that the Winnipeg pick-up game helped, since it gave me an opportunity to calibrate to a slightly faster game than I was used to.  D2-level in the Saskatoon ASHL seemed about the same skill level as C2-level in the Minneapolis AHA (my league last winter).

Things went well.  That’s not to say that it didn’t get a bit hairy at times: I was making virtually all of my first saves, but I got burned by a couple of shots off rebounds and front-of-the-net scrambles.  Still, whether it was the clarity of instinct that comes from mental exhaustion, the large bolus of coffee I had downed, or my freshly sharpened skates, I made enough saves to not lose the game.  (Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.  Really though, it was the rest of the team’s offensive and defensive talents that saved the day.)

That’s right: we won!  The team’s record improved to 2-8, which was cause for much celebration.  It helped that a beer cart came around to the dressing room selling refreshments, which was something that I had never seen while playing in the States. (Oh, Canada.)

The Eh team

Team photo to celebrate the win, eh?

My first game as a sub goalie in Canada was great fun.

The First Day

June 21st, 2011 2 comments

Goodbyes are the gateways to growth.  This trip began with several.

I said goodbye to my mom.  I said goodbye to my sister.  I said goodbye to my dad, at least by phone.  I said goodbye to the family dogs.  I said goodbye to my roommate for the past year, Rob.

Mile 0: Fridley, MN

And then I was gone.

My first hockey stop will be in Winnipeg, Manitoba on Tuesday, but for the first night I stayed in Woodenfrog Campground just outside of International Falls, Minnesota.  It was a semi-rustic state forest campground, appealing for both its large pine trees and its low price.  The bugs tend to be horrendous this time of year in northern Minnesota, but a constant breeze and mild temperatures kept them at bay during my stay.  It was, overall, quite pleasant.

Woodenfrog Campground at Kabetogama Lake

Between Fridley, Minnesota (where I started) and International Falls, there is a city called Eveleth.  Like the other towns in the area, Eveleth is a mining community, its prosperity tied directly to the productivity of the enormous taconite mines on Minnesota’s iron range.

Sam looks tiny in comparison to "King of the Lode," a retired mining truck

Since Eveleth is a small rural midwestern town, it’s required to have a enormous statue of something to draw in tourists.  Since Eveleth is a hockey town, it should come as no surprise that the large gaudy object they chose was… a big hockey stick!

A HUUUUUGE hockey stick in Eveleth, MN. And a normal-size picnic table (?)

My encounter with the “Big Stick” was serendipitous.  I had not been aware of its existence until I passed billboards advertising it.  Given that this trip has hockey at its core, I knew I had to stop and see it.  A good omen, perhaps.

Given that the Big Stick was a big wooden hockey stick shooting a big wooden puck.  I knew what I had to do.

I think he's going high-glove. Might be a stinger. (That's me in the lower right -- click to zoom)

With the Big Shot saved, I continued on.

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