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Spotted on the Roadside: The Gastown Steam Clock in Vancouver, BC

Lose track of your steampunk friends somewhere in Vancouver? You’ll probably find them in Gastown, pointing their goggles at the steam clock and talking about zeppelins. This popular tourist landmark was built to cover a steam vent so no one could sleep on it–not all cities have the giant brass balls it must take to turn their anti homeless measures into destinations for tourism. I don’t expect to see flyers directing me to the best spiked sidewalks in London, for instance.  You’ll note they didn’t put their less-savory reasoning for installing the clock on the plaque, and it may disappoint your steampunk friends to find out that the clock was built and installed in 1977 so it’s not exactly ‘victorian’. Buuut there’s a steam-y bar down the street where they can drown their sorrows in some brews and, uh, talk about zeppelins–just, for the love of god, don’t order anything mid-rare.


Spotted on Water St in Vancouver, BC

Scenes From the Vancouver Aquarium








van-city-22-of-41There is nothing I don’t love about this shark’s huge mouth.





If I had “fuck it” money, I would definitely use some of it to install a huge jellyfish aquarium in my fortress of solitude. Like, an entire wall of jellyfish that I could read alongside, watching them swish and float as I pause and contemplate a phrasing or passage. Obviously, my fuck it money fund would also have to include the care of an aquarist because I didn’t get rich spending all my time cleaning tanks (presumably).  Until then, I’ll just get my relax on by visiting aquariums wearing noise canceling headphones and pumping up my seratonin by watching this smooshy faced baby:




You Can’t Stay Madrid in Madrid

Not that I was, uh, mad-rid to begin with. I had a belly full of waffles, it was a gorgeous day, and I was on the road from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. Sure, I could have taken the highway and gotten there faster, but I was keen on taking the Turquoise Trail and getting a peek at Madrid. Formerly a bustling mining town named Coal Gulch, it was left mostly abandoned in the 1950s when demand for coal died in favor of natural gas. And then in the 70s, the hippies came. These artists and craftspeople revived the town, setting up shops, galleries, and services for locals and passersby, and thus the town of 300 or so people has a funky, arts-y, welcoming vibe. Their shops showcase local turquoise jewelry and pottery, they have their own artist quarterly, and they host events like mailbox painting contests to bring their community together.

I had a grand time in Madrid, shopping around (I bought an ammolite ammonite at a really reasonable price, the ammolite I saw when I last wandered into the Gastown museum in Vancouver cost the Earth), taking silly photos in Connie’s Photo Park, and soaking in that much-needed sunshine. I also was able to grab a few photos from the road of the Turquoise Trail Sculpture Garden & Studio, which was unfortunately closed–but fortunately, it gives me a reason to go back. Aren’t those origami sculptures cool?!?





Freaky Friday

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

When the store shelves are loaded

with skulls and fake blood and so much pumpkin beeeeeer

It’s the mooooost wonderfulll tiiiime of the yeeeear

It’s convenient that my two favorite yearly celebrations are nearly exactly six months apart–my birthday and Halloween, which gives me time to get super pumped, make big plans, do something over the top to celebrate, and then recover before getting super pumped again. And, you know, maybe do some other stuff in between if there’s time. I will acknowledge that my birthday celebration is a wholly selfish endeavor (me, me, look at meeeeee), but Halloween? Halloween is about sharing my love of the spooky with everyone who will allow it, whether that’s organizing a trip to a corn maze, giving out king size candy bars to trick or treaters, or decorating my yard so much that my house is starting to get a reputation. Seriously, this summer when I was out gardening, a woman walked by with her children. As they passed me, one of the kids said something that I didn’t understand–the mom explained that he was asking where the spiders were, that every time she walks past our house he asks where the spiders are, and she tells him that I only put them out at Halloween.  I’m pretty stoked to be known as the spider house, not gonna lie. Plus, I’m playing the long game: these kids are going to grow up remembering that my house is the awesome Halloween house, and when they’re teenagers, they’ll probably pick a different house’s fence to pee on or lawn to start on fire with axe body spray.

I will admit I’ve been stalking retail establishments for Halloween goods since early August, because building a truly spooky home takes passion, commitment, and a willingness to elbow your fellow shopper in the face over the only skull cake stand on the shelves. It also helps build anticipation for the holiday in me, gets me plotting on larger projects to build, and maybe even gets my wheels spinning on a costume. I think my two favorite places for Halloween stuff are Home Goods and Target–both places have stuff that could potentially make it into the year round collection. Home Goods is especially great because they get new, different stuff every week, and it starts rolling out as early as mid-August. Target’s stuff can be good, but their stocking is also a little frustrationg: even though everything shows up on their website in August with a bunch of cool things that are store only (which gets me even more pumped), they’re easily the last place to get their Halloween stuff out in store (gotta squeeze every last nickel out of back to school), and so after a month of anticipation, I find that the things I was most interested in buying aren’t stocked anywhere within 100 miles of me. DAMN YOUUUU!

acquisitionsI didn’t elbow anyone over this skull cake stand, but it WAS the only one on the shelf, and almost immediately after it was in my basket, someone else came to ogle it and asked where I got it. MINE.

Anyway, after two solid months of getting pumped up, once October finally rolls around, my spirit and enthusiasm for projects I’ve been working on can start to wane a bit, which is both understandable (it’s hard to maintain a manic level of pumpedness for a full quarter of a year) and a little ridiculous (given that it’s finally close to the thing that I was so damn pumped about for two months straight already). So each Friday this month, I’m going post about the stuff that I’ve worked on, stuff I’ve done in the Halloween spirit, and any macabre media I’ve been taking in to remember the season and keep it spooky.

When doing my yard decorations, I always try to straddle the line between creepy and fun–I don’t want to make anyone pee their pants or give anyone nightmares with over the top gore. It’s totally fine by me if that’s what other people want to do, but it’s not my style. And now that I have the capability to build more sizeable decorations, I don’t want to necessarily leap from theme to theme and end up with an entire storage unit’s worth of Halloween decorations, only some of which are reused*. And I also didn’t want to have to theme my costume to my yard every year, which would be super limiting. AND I didn’t want to have to do an insane push to build a whole new yard display every year, so instead, I’m doing a vaguely Tim Burton yard, which I’ll add to each year as the mood strikes me to build something. It fits that spooky but not gruesome mold I’m going for, and there’s a large library of references to draw from. This year, I’m focusing on The Nightmare Before Christmas**. So far, I’ve built:

zeroZero’s tombstone

nbc-signsSally’s herb signs

candy-wheelOogie Boogie’s Wheel of Candy

The candy wheel was obviously a lot more involved than the other two. The wheel is hand painted, I sculpted, molded, cast, and painted every single tiny Jack Skellington face on the pegs, I carved and finished the foam dice and black and white newt monster thing, and I made Oogie out of burlap and wire, burning myself pretty well with a glue gun while I was at it. Trick or Treaters are going to spin this baby to determine their candy haul–I still need to attach labels for various candy, but that needs to wait until I’ve actually bought the bulk of the candy, which I’ll do at some point next week. I did take a trip to Vancouver to buy some spooky-themed Canadian candy for the question mark slot, because what’s more exciting and mysterious than a whole new kind of candy you’ve never seen before? I also want to make sure those Skellington faces are firmly attached so they don’t go flying off with vigorous spins.

I’m also working on some other yard stuff but none of it looks like anything yet, so it’ll be posted if and when I finish it on a future Friday.

I also made, assembled, and delivered invitations for my Halloween game night party this week (all but a couple, which I need to get in the mail ASAP because the doorsteps in question are controlled access so I can’t drop them off like I did the others). I bought the coffins premade, which I then disassembled, woodburned, stained, painted, and reassembled. I then made an oogie boogie die from apoxie sculpt and learned to make a two part silicone mold so I could cast it in resin, which was definitely a learning process for me. I ended up having to make two masters and two silicone molds because I hated the way the first one turned out–the first master was, in retrospect, just OK, and the mold wasn’t super well done which made an OK sculpt cast even more poorly. Once the dice were cast, they needed to be sanded and airbrushed. The invites themselves are on the face of the skull cards, and I threw in a gold coin because I felt like it needed something else. I was going to customize poker chips but honestly, these were enough work already and it was more important that I get them out in a timely fashion so as not to arrive after people have already accepted other Halloween night invitations.



I bought some fabric with skulls and pumpkins that screamed neither skull nor pumpkin(spooky, but somewhat subtlely so) which I used to make pillows for the living room. I had some scrap left over, so I made pillows for Napoleon’s bed, which he infrequently uses but I pretend he appreciates anyway.


I also decorated the house, and I’m proud of myself for waiting this long to do it. It’s been fun turning on all the spooky lights every evening to watch movies/TV. So far, not much spooky media has been happening in this room (I blame Luke Cage) but as I wrapped that up earlier this week, the full supernatural barrage of my regular programming can begin.

fireplaceYes, Gibralter is dressed up as a mummy. T-Rex costume forthcoming.



lord-farnswoggle    Lord Farnswoggle, Earl of Cumberbunch, and his faithful companion, Nipper. I’m thinking that he still needs a moustache and a monocle.

This coming week, I’m planning on continuing work on both yard stuff and my costume. My costume is almost completed, but I’m definitely at a place of fatigue with it at the moment. Why is it that every idea I’ve had for costuming lately involves making hundreds of something? I’m hoping to get the yard decorated this weekend. This week I’m also planning on making time to get caught up on the Monstress comics, maybe continue watching Penny Dreadful (I want to like it, but it really has yet to grab me which means it probably never will), and the rest is TBD. Just typing all this out has helped raise my spirits!


*I am fine with filling a shed in the yard with decorations though, and it’ll probably come to that so as not to make it impossible to get at non-Halloween stuff like bikes and the recycling bin and the water shut-off.

**Since it’s Nightmare Before CHRISTMAS and all, does that mean I can leave it out until January?



Salmagundi West






van-city-3-of-41Super awesome art by Michael deMeng

van-city-9-of-41In case you want to start your own House on the Rock-esque creepy clown collection.


van-city-11-of-41This hat looks awfully familiar.



I had a friend tell me that coming to my house is like coming to a museum, that every time she sees something new and unusual. As someone whose aesthetic is undeniably “creepy museum”, I was thrilled to hear that. While I respect those who live simple, minimalist lifestyles, I can’t do it myself. I tried minimalism for about three days and then awoke at 4am on day three to find myself feverishly sleep-browsing craigslist for gothic antiques. I’m not advocating living under a mouldering pile of newspapers, clutching onto every one-use kitchen gadget or instruction manual for shit you don’t even have anymore, or mindlessly consuming trendy stuff you’ll almost immediately discard. And sure, the best things in life aren’t things. However, things are forever. The objects we choose to surround ourselves with can tell a story, set a mood, remind us of happy times, tell us where we’ve been and where we want to go.  I always have an eye out for anything that belongs in my creepy museum, and that’s why no trip to Vancouver is complete without a stop at Salmagundi West, home to oddities, antiques, antique oddities, and odd antiques, plus a smattering of outsider art and occult ephemera. In other words, it’s like stepping into my alternate dimension living room. It’s fun digging through all the drawers of the card catalogs in their “magical basement” for treasures, and it’s even more fun to try to explain what exactly I bought to the border agent without sounding like someone whose trunk they should probably check for body parts or something. And sure, I can’t take it all with me when I go–but my ghost can preside over one hell of an exciting estate sale.




I’m just a sweet chimney cake…from traditional Transylvania

I’ve done precisely zero research on the matter, but it is my understanding that Transylvania has two main exports: vampires and chimney cakes. I never drink…wine. But I do eat cake. Maybe too much cake, but that’s really neither here nor there. So when I happened across a Vancouver bakery specializing in Romanian pastries, including the aforementioned chimney cake (or kürtőskalács), I knew I definitely wanted to incorporate it into my next visit to British Columbia, as a trip to Romania proper is a bit more involved than taking an afternoon jaunt across the border. A chimney cake is made of yeast dough which is wrapped in a spiral around a wooden dowel and baked, similarly to meat on a spit. As it rotates, it’s basted with butter until the sugary outside caramelizes into thin, golden, crackle-y perfection, which can be further augmented by rolling it in other toppings like chopped nuts. When it’s served hot, steam vents out the top like a little chimney and it’s charming as all get out.

There are two (one, two, ah ha ha ha) bakeries in Vancouver that make chimney cakes: Transylvanian Traditions, and The Kürtősh Cafe. Of course, I had to go to both. First up was Transylvanian Traditions. Transylvanian Traditions makes a variety of pastries including the chimney cake, and the chimney cake is offered in only one flavor.  When I arrived, I got one hot and fresh from the oven, steam merrily venting from the top. The cake is a revelation–soft and chewy toward the center, crisp on the outside, tangy with lemon, and light like a raised doughnut.


The Kürtősh Cafe is the newer of the two bakeries, and they specialize solely in chimney cakes, offering it in a wide variety of sizes, flavors, and combinations, including savory cakes and cakes smeared with nutella and stuffed with ice cream. Jason got a chimney cake with nutella and almonds, Tristan got a cinnamon sugar chimney cake, and I got a half size coconut matcha chimney cake. The cakes are beautiful and well presented…but just not that good. All three of the cakes were cold, a sign on the cafe’s table proclaims that they use no butter in the cake, and between those two things, you end up with a cake where the outside is chewy rather than crispy, more like the outside of a bagel. None of us were really taken by any of them, which was really a disappointment, because I never want to say anything negative about a cake. I’d be open to trying them again closer to when they open in the morning in the hopes of getting a hot cake for a fair comparison.



So basically what I’m saying is, like blood, you want it hot and fresh.



Scootin’ San Juan Island

scootin san juan map


scoot coupe

Almost a year to the day from my last visit, I set sail for San Juan Island, this time to explore more of what the island itself had to offer. Rather than take my car across on the ferry, I elected to rent a scoot coupe: a two-seater, three-wheeled moped that tops out around 40 miles per hour. The only thing standing in my way was the fact that my moped experience was limited to riding on the back of my second host father’s scooter in Taiwan–I’ve really always been more of an indoor kind of rebel, saving my leather wear for goth clubs and looking cool rather than for anything that might require that sort of protection.

My rental place did go over the ins and outs of driving a scoot coupe: don’t leave one of the buttons pressed in or your battery will drain. You have to manually disengage the turn signal because otherwise it will just keep blinking forever. Always put the wheel chock in front of a tire when parked. Always engage the brake lock when parked because of the inevitable kids playing on and around the coupe and their tendency to dislodge the chock. There is no reverse, one of you will have to get out and push in a reversing situation. Don’t go on any road that’s not on the provided map. Don’t try to u-turn on any of the roads because your turn radius is so enormous you’ll end up in a ditch. Speaking of which, pull over when cars are behind you so you don’t impede traffic but don’t just pull over blindly or you’ll probably end up in a ditch (don’t end up in a ditch). Got all that? Ok, drive that baby across the parking lot. You now have ten feet of experience and out into traffic you go! Of course, I immediately got flustered and missed the first turn, which meant poor Jason had to figure out the map and shout the new directions out at me because those big ass-helmets they have you wear are not super conducive to hearing. Or my ears clamp shut when I’m in a panic-type situation. Maybe both.

Once I got the hang of things (which actually happened fairly quickly), I had a lot of fun driving the scoot coupe. It felt like I’d somehow escaped a carnival with a souped-up bumper car, and had a great time careening around corners with the wind blowing in my face. It was late in the year, so there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the roads save for other scoot coupes, and we always honked and waved, which made me feel like I was part of a tiny adorable gang.

Since you can essentially drive around the island in one big loop, my first stop was at American Camp. As I’ve briefly talked about in a previous post, San Juan Island was the site of a territory dispute between the United States and England, with the island’s strategic position between the United States and Vancouver island, and as a result, both Americans and the English attempted to settle it. One day, an American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, found a pig digging up and eating his potatoes (not for the first time, either), so he shot it. The pig turned out to belong to an Irishman, Charles Griffin. Cutlar offered Griffin $10 for the loss of the pig, Griffin demanded $100, the British threatened to take Cutlar into custody, and in response, the other Americans on the island called for American military protection–thus sparking what is now known as the pig war. There was a lot of saber rattling on both sides, warships circled the tiny island, but ultimately no shots were fired. An American camp was established on the south of the island and an English camp was establish in the north, and eventually outside arbitration from Germany determined that San Juan lay within the boundaries of the United States. AT&T, however, still disputes that notion as I received a text message welcoming me to Canada and helpfully informing me that I’d be charged out the wazoo for data.

american camp

american camp site

american camp buildings

american camp view

eagle cove

eagle cove san juan

At American Camp,  in addition to the visitor’s center and some historical buildings, there are a good number of walking trails that take you down to the various coves and the lighthouse at South Beach. I ended up taking one of the trails to Grandma’s Cove after briefly seeing what there was to see in the visitor’s center–it was too gorgeous out to stay inside for very long. I didn’t end up hiking to the lighthouse because I was concerned about spending too much time in one spot on the loop, so after a bit more time checking out the laundress’ and officer’s quarters, it was back into the scoot coupe to putt to the next destination: Pelindaba Lavender Farm.

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Happy 33rd Birthday to Me!


I turned 33 yesterday, and had my most sacrelicious birthday celebration yet: Mellzah’s Last Supper. A group of us met up at the Lunchbox Lab and indulged in a stupidly decadent meal that may or may not have involved tater tot and milkshake communion. Yes, I’ve totally gone there for a different birthday and I don’t even care that I’m repeating myself, but I am a little bummed that The Last Supper Club couldn’t hang on juuuust a little longer because it would have been the perfect venue for this theme.

For her 31st birthday, my friend Boolia came up with a really impressive list of thirty-one things she wanted to do in her 31st year, and I watched in awe as she checked them all off–go skydiving, fly a helicopter, basically be a badass for an entire year. What I think makes it so much better than a bucket list is that you really have no idea when you’re going to die, so it’s easy to put off all of those experiences and goals with “someday,” “later,” “maybe next year,” whereas the one year deadline is hard and fast. Either you make it a priority and do it, or you don’t. Some of these things are big, and some are small–I can’t cram all of the huge experiences I want to have over the course of my life into the next year because there are always time and money constraints, but I can make sure this year is both exciting and fulfilling for myself instead of wondering where in the hell the last year went…which I’m kind of doing this year. I mean, when I really think about it, I did do a lot of stuff last year– I united some friends in mawwage, packed in a bunch of activities in Denver including the world’s most exciting restaurant, was miserably sick in and around NYC but still managed to have my mayoral photo taken, took SoCal by storm, took a day trip to Vancouver, went to some museums, checked out some festivals, read a bunch of books, wrote some stuff, cooked some stuff, did some house renos, made some stuff, and saw a hell of a lot of roadside attractions,while still leaving time for all-important puppy cuddles. But there’s always that drive to do more, that fear that I’m wasting what little time I have. I think I’d have that fear even if my consciousness was uploaded into an indestructible super-robot. “Why didn’t I go and see the Florida Keys before the ocean swallowed them?” I’ll moan on my 300th birthday. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

33 things I’d like to do in my 33rd year

  1. Finish that app I’ve been working on hahahaha no
  2. Swim with sharks
  3. Become confident using my camera in full manual and overall improve my photography These days I use manual more often than not, and I feel like I’ve improved but there’s always room for more improvement.
  4. Go somewhere I’ve never been (city, state, country…I’m open! A new restaurant or grocery store does not count.) New Orleans. Iceland.
  5. Become more comfortable with having my picture taken I’m getting there. Slowly.
  6. Fill a sketchbook from front to back. Not necessarily good sketches or things I’d want to show people, but make the time to draw. I made good progress on this one but didn’t finish. I will, though!
  7. Float in a sensory deprivation tank
  8. Hike in the Olympic rainforest
  9. Make myself and Jason an awesome Halloween costume I did this, eventually I’ll post about it. Who doesn’t like really out of date Halloween posts?
  10. Feast at Camlann Medieval Village
  11. Have a lifecast made of my face so I can…
  12. Learn to make foam appliances  FAILED I waited too long to get started on these two, I wanted to mostly lose the weight first so I’d have a better cast to work from (if I’m doing it, I want the stuff I make to work with my face for more than ten minutes)  and since I’m still losing, it’s not yet time.
  13. Visit the dinosaur town with volcano toilets
  14. Go to Diablo Lake
  15. Check out an actual ghost town
  16. Run a 5k FAILED
  17. Plant a tree
  18. Try an average of one new recipe a week to avoid boredom and advance my cooking skills. I had a huge success with this, I tried so many new things and techniques, and I feel like my cooking has improved a lot and I’m not as reliant on the same couple of tricks.
  19. Achieve my ideal weight FAILED This one is not going to happen–while I’ve lost in the neighborhood of 70 pounds this year, I still have more to go. I did well, but some things just take a little longer.
  20. Fly in a hot air balloon   FAILED. I booked a trip to fly over the tulip fields, and two weekends in a row, I woke up at the asscrack of dawn, only to have the weather shut the operation down…and then tulip season was over. I am hopeful that this is something I can do next March–if I’m going to spend the money to do it, I want it to be special.
  21. Learn a new language or take my Chinese or Spanish from utterly pathetic from disuse to closer to fluency. FAILED. I worked on both Spanish and Chinese this year but neither are close to fluency. I will keep plugging away.
  22. Take a hike before dawn that ends with a spectacular viewpoint for the sunrise
  23. Dye my hair a fun color FAILED. I wanted to wait until I was less fat and then time got away from me. It’s still going to happen, it just didn’t happen this year.
  24. Indoor skydiving (baby steps!) FAILED. I bought the pass but I just did not get it scheduled before my birthday. Soon, though!
  25. Go river tubing  With the drought this year, this one is not going to happen. Instead, my goal is to fix the back deck so I can have parties out there without fearing that it’s going to crumble right off the house and kill everyone. Hey, not all of them can be exciting. DONE! And holy balls, it was expensive. But worth it.
  26. Get to the point where I can hold a freestanding handstand. FAILED. That’s another thing that I wanted to wait to do until I got thinner so it would be easier and as it turns out, I still have more weight to lose.
  27. Throw a party that doesn’t revolve around movie-watching (I love B&G&P&P but it’s a very passive kind of party and it feels like the only kind I’ve had recently)Done, I had a good Halloween party. It *did* feature a power hour, but the point of the gathering was not to watch TV.
  28. Go to Tillicum Village
  29. Go to Cape Disappointment
  30. Go horseback riding on Orcas Island
  31. Have afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress (Scheduled but past my birthday, the place is currently under renovations and if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right, by gum.)
  32. Go on the Elk bugling tour at NW Trek Done, post coming eventually.
  33. Go to Viking Fest

I’m already excited!

Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Temperate rainforests are located in only a few regions around the world; they’re characterized by high annual rainfall and the ability to generate new growth without relying on fires. The largest area of temperate zone rainforest in the world is in the Pacific Northwest, stretching from northern California to Alaska. Located in north Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park takes you on an ecotour through part of this coastal rainforest, moving you from forest floor to canopy via a series of bridges and treehouses. We decided to make a daytrip of it rather at the last minute, apparently because we both enjoy visiting Canada underprepared. As AT&T customers, we shut off our cell phones once we hit the border to avoid getting nailed with roaming fees, but as we’re both heavily reliant on phone GPS, we really should have a plan in place or a map in the car in case of necessary detours. Do as I say, not as I do. I printed out directions before we left, and the directions noted that one of the roads we were taking was a toll road. Toll roads are the bane of my existence, because it seems like there’s never any good information about where the stations are, what the rates are, and what form of payment they accept, or I am very poor at my internet search parameters when it comes to toll roads. I tried to look this up before we left, and was informed that there were only two tolls on that road, neither of which were near where we were going. It should therefore surprise you not at all to find out that there was indeed a toll almost immediately after we merged onto Highway 1, and zero information about how one could pay that toll, which left us scrambling for Canadian currency. We ended up at a convenience store on the outskirts of Surrey so we could withdraw cash from an ATM (which, to my delight, is a polymer that’s pleasingly see-through), made our way back to the highway, crossed the toll bridge, and discovered that you pay online. I have no regrets about being able to keep my see-through money, however. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA At the entrance of the park is an area that informs visitors of the history of the land and of the suspension bridge across the Capilano river, which was originally built in the late 1880s to connect the sections of forest George MacKay had purchased. It’s changed hands (and bridges) multiple times since then, and one of the owners also invited First Nations tribes to place their story poles at the park, so it now houses North America’s largest private collection of First Nations totem poles. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a simple suspension footbridge in that it’s anchored at either end with no deck stiffening. The bridge’s main supports are the handrails with the deck suspended underneath, which makes the handrails sturdier but creates a lot more side to side motion on the deck itself. At 450 feet (137m) long, I can say to you with no reservation that each foot is more terrifying than the last. The bridge lurches sickeningly underfoot, rolling and pitching with your movements and those of everyone else crossing at the same time from opposite directions. We visited on a sunny and high-traffic day, and I’m certain this only amplified the effect. I felt as though I were fighting to keep my balance with every step, and after crossing it a second time (as you have no option but to return the way you came), I felt unsteady and nauseated for hours afterward. The handrails and side barriers make it virtually impossible to fall off, but high above the river on a wildly swaying bridge, you are keenly aware of your own mortality. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Once you’ve crossed the bridge, there are a number of things to see and do. Immediately after you step off the bridge, there’s an outdoor exhibit that teaches visitors about the rainforest and how the park helps to keep it alive and thriving even with tourists moving through it daily. For instance, they stock their pond every year with around 800 rainbow trout, which provides a food source for otters, herons, and osprey. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On Raptor Ridge, they have several birds of prey, along with two falconers available to answer questions. My first question had to do with the sign cautioning dog owners to keep away: had that been in issue in the past? As it turns out, it had. “People would bring their dogs right up to meet the birds, and some of the birds were…too interested in the dogs. Like Smaug, the female Harris hawk–she has no fear or sense of her size. She would try to take down a bear if given the opportunity.” The sign on the kestrel cage said that kestrels weigh as much as a quarter pounder with cheese, and I remarked that was an oddly specific unit of measurement. “That’s the female, for the male you’d have to subtract the bun and the pickles. But people are so health-conscious these days that we’ve been thinking about changing the sign to something a little less controversial.” I suggested a head of kale, but in retrospect, I think a cheeseburger is a perfect measurement unit for a raptor: meaty, exciting, and dangerous. Something leafy and floppy just doesn’t have the same effect. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA The Capilano Treetops Adventure starts off in a treehouse and continues on seven suspension bridges up into the canopy of old-growth Douglas fir trees. They’ve designed the structures with a compression system so that nothing is driven into the tree itself, which means that no harm comes to the tree and it can continue to grow naturally. In fact, their adjustable collars allow the attraction to grow upward with the trees! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After we were done walking through the trees, we did the Natures’s Edge walk, which is a long boardwalk along the edge of the rainforest that gives you views of the suspension bridge and the Capilano river. Approximately every ten feet, there was a sign telling people not to graffiti the wood railings. People complied with this order and instead defaced nearly every single sign, indicating that either a lot of smartasses visit, or one smartass was particularly dedicated. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Back on the other side of the suspension bridge is the new (as of 2012) Cliffwalk attraction, which consists of suspended walkways along the granite cliff faces. They sell this as the EXTREME (in the Mountain Dew sense of the word) part of the park, but honestly, I felt much safer on the Cliffwalk than on the suspension bridge or even the treetop adventure, as the Cliffwalk structures were firm underfoot. The only part that gave me pause was the portion in which you’re standing on glass, but that’s just because I have an inherent mistrust in the ability of glass to hold my fatassery, so your mileage may vary. Plus, I’m extra wary as I know that my role in life is to live as a warning to others, and I would really prefer that my epitaph not read “So fervently enjoyed the cheeseburger that no glass could hold her.” OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After you’ve visited all of the areas of the park and stamped your passport as proof that you braved the bridge, they give you an “I survived!” certificate which is suitable for framing and makes you feel like you really accomplished something other than walking around for a few hours. I’d like more certificates in my day-to-day life as affirmations that I’m awesome. “You haven’t let the house fall into utter disrepair!” or “You got groceries before letting the pantry get to the point that you’re forced to eat macaroni and cheese that’s been expired for a year!” or “You didn’t fake a headache in order to get out of your dentist visit!” But making the certificates and awarding them to myself is a little odd, plus awarding myself a certificate for making the awards certificate could result in an infinite loop where I just photoshop until I die. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On your way out, you would be remiss if you didn’t give a Mountie that also happens to be a bear a low-five.


Road Trip Essentials

Summer is almost here, which means it’s time for that hallowed American tradition: the road trip. Whether you’re packing for a day trip or a longer excursion,  here’s my list of road trip essentials, some of which I learned that I needed the hard way. These are the must-haves–feel free to supplement with the fun stuff like custom playlists and cameras and your world’s largest burger eating hat. This is the stuff that minimizes your vulnerability when you’re out on the road so you can concentrate on having fun!


  • Water — I don’t care if it’s in a disposable bottle, a camelbak, or one of those uber health conscious BPA free aluminum or glass things. In the event of a breakdown where you have to wait for help or if you get caught in an unexpected traffic nightmare, staying hydrated is important on a hot summer day when you’re trapped in a sweltering sweatbox. In a pinch, you can put it in your radiator if your car is overheating and you just need to be able to limp it to the next town. I’ve had two cars with radiator problems, and while water is not the IDEAL fluid (coolant is best), it will work temporarily.
  • Snacks — little bags of nuts are perfect to keep you energized and keep away the hangries. For something a little more substantial, Quest bars are my favorite. Again, just something that fits your dietary needs and can hold you for a few hours if need be–I don’t care if you pack a cooler of sandwiches or grill eggs on your engine block or live for bags of funyons, just have something.
  • AAA card — This has saved my bacon more than once. Once on a longer trip when we blew not one, but TWO tires outside of LA, and once on a cross-town trip when I blew a tire going to an event that most of my friends were already at (phones off!). If you can swing it, go for one of the higher membership tiers as they cover a LOT more towing miles (100-200 miles vs 5 miles) and the per mile fee outside of the covered range adds up fast.
  • Map — GPS devices and phones are great for directions…until they aren’t. Lose the signal, deplete your battery, run up to an unexpected road closure, and you’re in trouble. On a trip to Vancouver, we didn’t pull out the GPS until after we crossed the border (as it’s a straight shot up until that point), and were unpleasantly surprised to discover that our GPS had decided that there were only two provinces in Canada, neither of which were British Columbia, so we were left scrambling for a gas station that was still open that late at night. It was terrible. If you’re a AAA member, you can even get city/state/regional maps for free, so learn from my mistake and have one in your car.
  • Car multi charger– you can charge on the road, you can charge in your hotel/motel/Holiday Inn. This will save you from having to remember how to read a map and from being in an “Oh shit, I had a full battery this morning, what happened?!” situation.
  • Cash. ALWAYS. HAVE. SOME. CASH. It doesn’t need to be a ton, just enough for unexpected tolls, for some gas, for roadside stuff. Don’t assume that anybody anywhere accepts credit cards. Ideally, you’ll have this cash in a few locations–some on your person, some (hidden) in the car.



Everything from the shorter trip section plus:

  • Gas can — There are some long stretches of road with few services, or services that aren’t 24 hours. It doesn’t hurt to fill up when you hit the half-tank mark, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the road ahead. I assumed there’d be another gas station within driving distance when I was passing through North Dakota and I almost ran out of gas because the cute little gas station in Medora near Theodore Roosevelt National Park was closed for the day and I had to backtrack MILES (like 30+) on E to one I’d seen earlier because I didn’t have enough gas to go for anything other than the sure bet at that point. This was pre smartphone, with printed out mapquest directions, and I was alone, with no AAA or any other safety net. If I hadn’t made it back to the gas station (and I made it with about a shot glass’ worth of gas left in the tank), I would have been in trouble. Don’t put yourself in that kind of trouble.
  • Full size spare tire with a tire jack, and you should know how to use it, ESPECIALLY if you don’t have roadside assistance. None of this doughnut crap when you’re hundreds of miles from home.
  • A car safety kit with jumper cables, a flashlight, some road flares, screw driver, duct tape, bandages, and spare batteries. It doesn’t matter what brand, there are plenty out there for around $20.
  • A blanket, whether it’s one of those thermal space age ones or just a regular blanket. Something to keep you warm if you’re waiting at night for roadside assistance.
  • If you’re crossing mountain passes, have chains, and know how to use them. Odds are you won’t need them (especially in the summer), but they can be lifesaving if you do.
  • Toilet paper, because rest stop bathrooms are often terrible to borderline unusable.
  • A credit card with enough to deal with a emergency situation. If you’ve got one where you can earn frequent flyer miles by buying stuff like gas on THIS trip to help fund your NEXT trip, even better.
  • Get an oil change/check your fluids before you go. Get a tune-up! If anything is going to go drastically wrong with your car, it’s going to happen on these longer trips when the car is running for 12+ hours a day instead of in 30 minute bursts across town.
  • Above all, have a plan. You don’t have to plan every minute, but you should have a rough idea of how long you’re going to travel each day, potential stopping points, and for what you’re going to do at night. Drive in shifts? Stop at a rest stop? Check in at a hotel? You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, exhausted, and have to face the question of sleeping somewhere you feel unsafe versus continuing to drive and risk falling asleep on the road. If you decide to sleep in your car for whatever reason but you’re closer to a town than a highway rest stop, keep your eyes peeled for a Wal-Mart. Regardless of how you feel about their business practices, their parking lots are generally open to car campers and are well lit and potentially more secure than a rest stop. Use your personal discretion, as always, and never stay anywhere that makes you feel unsafe.

Some of this stuff you’ll use, some of it you’ll toss in the trunk and never use. The important thing is to have it if you need it. This stuff keeps you safe, keeps you going, and keeps you from having to wipe with your sleeve. It’s a big, beautiful country out there–go see it!