Seeking soft but robust adventures, we first settle atop Forbidden Plateau. Our lodge’s floor-to-ceiling windows frame Comox Valley’s green forests, islands dotting Georgia Strait and faraway snow-capped coastal mountains. In this inspiring setting, our resort offers us a detailed program for improved fitness.
Like many guests, we aspire to lose a few pounds. Gina assesses concerns, sets goals and records our weights, noting that participants generally shed three pounds weekly. Measuring waists, forearms and thighs, she describes several elements of the fitness program, “Therapeutic Swiss Balls and weights strengthens core muscles. Twice weekly massages sooth aches and work out knots; you’ll love soaking in the open-air spa!”
Our mornings begin with energizing sunrise yoga. Posing as warriors, frogs, triangles and mountains, Tracy instructs us to breathe deeply, stretch and find inner peace. Sessions conclude with palms together over our hearts, eyes closed, heads bowed and uttering “Namaste.”
Owner and head chef Andrea serves nutritious, delicious meals in the splendid post-and-beam dining room. During breakfast, trek leader Mike briefs us, “Underfed, dehydrated hikers get grumpy, so everyone packs nutritional snacks and lunches, plus two litres of water! And today’s world class trail will feed your soul!”
Aboard the van, Mike points out Vancouver Island’s derelict first ski hill. “Now downhill bikers come for rip-roaring rides on its rugged mountain trails.” He also nourishes our brains with this area’s history. “Long ago, Comox warriors hid their families up in this haven while battling another tribe. Returning, their women and children had vanished. Algae tinted the snow blood red, so they thought bad spirits harmed them. This area became taboo - the Forbidden Plateau.”
Passing by Mt. Washington’s ski lifts and chalets, we arrive in nearby Strathcona, British Columbia’s first Provincial Park. Using walking sticks, we amble off into Paradise Meadows, looping along boardwalks beside sub-alpine evergreens, burbling streams and reflective ponds. Under clear blue skies blossom carpets of pink heather and clusters of maroon shooting stars, dwarf dogwoods, marsh marigolds and yellow alpine buttercups.
Mike points out another trail, “It extends to Coastal Trek on Strathcona’s eastern edge. Fitness builds, so I’m often leading guests along that 26-kilometres route to our lodge by the end of the week.” Up over a forested hill, we descend alongside a string of pristine lakes savouring snacks and our scrumptious picnic on two of the rocky shores. Our awe-inspiring nine-kilometre hike ends with us feeling tired, but triumphant.
Next day, our five-star hike begins at Helliwell Park on Hornby Island. Trekking through dry forest, we emerge on its rocky southern shoreline, ascend onto spectacular black sedimentary bluffs offering sweeping ocean panoramas and return inland through wind-shaped shore pines, gnarly Garry oaks and amber hued arbutus; a five-kilometre loop.
Driving onward, we lunch at Tribune Bay among driftwood logs facing its vast white sand beach, very inviting for summer dips. Bald eagles, turkey vultures and a rare osprey soar above. After admiring naturally sculpted Heron Rocks and hiking a portion of Shingle Spit Trail, we catch an afternoon ferry back.
Departing the resort on Monday, we’re inspired to burn off more calories and hike into nearby Nymph Falls. Enjoying forest birdsongs and wildflowers, we sight our first furry critter at the falls: a barking German shepherd, who soon befriends us as his master snaps our photo. Asking about the lack of deer, this local quips, “Cougars lurk hereabouts, smart deer hang out in Comox!”
Crossing Courtenay River, we drive through Comox admiring this pretty retirement community. At Filberg Heritage Park, we immediately spot one wise Bambi entering through thick hedges. At the shoreline of this early lumber baron’s estate stands his century-old lodge, where a gardener reports, “Several deer mamas live on our grounds. One birthed a little fawn yesterday; another has week-old twins.” We’re delighted to see them grazing and romping fearlessly on enormous manicured lawns.
Settled in Courtenay, a short walk takes us to the shore where kayaks await. After giving basic instructions, Mike White accompanies us onto the breezy river. Greenery covers steep banks, hiding the fact that town-centre lies nearby. Exercising arms and torso, we propel our sleek watercraft forward and steer into a slough. Two kingfishers dart above; a rare green heron stalks along the muddy shore. A dockside pub appears around a bend, undoubtedly a popular kayaker destination. Manoeuvring around moored gill-netters, Mike explains that he guides tours and rents or sells kayaks to adventurers, who often travel out into the bay, sometimes collecting oysters.
In the early evening, we stroll along Courtenay’s 1.3-kilometre Heritage Riverway. Perusing storyboards illustrating community history, we buy deli sandwiches in town and munch them on a waterside bench.
On Tuesday, we go to Courtenay’s Museum for a booked fossil hunt. Guide Pat enthusiastically recounts how his twin brother discovered its prominent Elasmosaurus in a local river. The replicated skeleton swims and snarls above display cases full of fellow Permian Period denizens. Surrounding murals depict this dagger-toothed sea serpent, monster mosasaurs, strange fish, shelled creatures and other marine dwellers.
Our fossil quest begins a few kilometres away. Wearing backpacks and high rubber boots, we wade through the Puntledge River’s fast-flowing shallows on layers of sandstone and shale. Already looking out for deep potholes, Pat warns, “Watch for slippery river snot! That white algae’ll cling to your boots.” Within minutes, he points out an ammonite impression and several dark stones in the shale. “These concretions often yield fossils.” Gripping small sledgehammers and chisels we pound countless primeval mud balls. Two split open, revealing a ghost shrimp and small clam. Meanwhile, Pat chips out Inoceramus vancouverensis, a giant clam for our growing primordial collection!
Driving 40-kilometres south to Horne Lake Caves that afternoon, we join other eager spelunkers signing waivers and donning headlight helmets. On our kilometre hike up an early logging road, guide Janna stops to point out towering second-growth 85-year-old timber. Then she shows us a fragile one-inch calcite soda straw emphasizing, “This is over a century-old! Beware! Touching such cave structures destroys them.”
Nearing Riverbend Cave, she explains, “Vancouver Island originated from an 80-million-year-old seabed off Baja California. Drifting northward, volcanic eruptions lifted this limestone plate. Glaciers later covered this new island. Its melting water and limestone combined as carbolic acid, carving out this island’s unique karst topography where 1,400 caves have been discovered.”
Unlocking the cave’s steel door, bodies awkwardly twist one-by-one into the small opening and descend a steep iron ladder. Feeling our way in dim light and cautiously crawling over huge boulders, we find footholds and slither downward. Gathering in a series of three chambers, headlamps shine onto high ceilings and walls revealing dazzling limestone creations: creamy popcorn, bacon stone, moon rock, stalactites, draperies and stalagmites. Natural sculptures include a cigar smoking alligator, Winnie-the-Pooh and a white wolf. “That wolf springs to life, devouring destructive cavers,” Janna warns. V-e-e-r-r-y carefully, we scramble upward.
Toned and tanned after five exhilarating days around the activity-rich Comox Valley, we travel homeward. Getting into shape is challenging, yet fun. Our healthful getaway motivates us to eat wisely, exercise consistently and embrace further adventures outdoors!
OCTOBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND
When You Go:
* For planning ~ www.comox-valley-tourism.ca
* Health program details ~ www.coastaltrekresort.com
* Kayak rentals and tours~ www.comoxvalleykayaks.com
* Fossil Hunts~ www.courtenaymuseum.ca
* See www.bcfossils.ca for information regarding scientific collecting
* Spelunking details~ www.hornelake.com
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