Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Try the Seal Bay Loop for an easy 10 km bike ride

By Keith and Heather Nicol
   With our kids, Michael and Kristie visiting from Vancouver we decided to show them a bike loop that they hadn’t tried before in Seal Bay Nature Park. Although there are a number of access points to this 10 km loop we opted for starting at the main Bates Road Parking area which has parking for lots of cars. Seal Bay Nature Park is a large park in the Comox Valley and is a great place to explore within its 1585 hectares. Most of the trails in scenic Seal Bay Nature Park are meant for walking but the outer Horse-Bike Loop is perfect for mountain biking. Although you could do the trail on a bike with no suspension we find that a basic hard tail bike is perfect this route since there are some roots and rocks in places. 

Kristie riding past through the tall douglas fir
    We recommend riding counter clockwise and it helps to pick up a trail map at the before you start. Otherwise you can use your phone and download the maps you need at  The map comes in handy at several junctions where you might not be certain which fork to take.  There is a shorter Horse-Bike loop which is 7 km if you want a shorter ride.  The route has a firm gravel surface for the most part which makes for a good riding. Because of the lack of technical riding features and generally smooth surface this would be classed as an easy mountain bike loop suited to a wide range of riders and we saw one family having a great time on this trail.  The trail winds through an open forest with a sword fern understory and there is some undulation to the trail. The downhills are fun as you weave between the trees and we saw 3 groups of cyclists riding the opposite way on our mid week trip on Tuesday, August 20. Since cyclists go both directions it pays to ring a bell if you ride around blind corners.  Also we came across several dog walkers so the bell warns walkers as well. We took abit more than 1 hour to do the loop which included time for a few pictures. 
Some sections of the trail allow for side by side riding
Since there are not many easy mountain bike trails in the Comox Valley so check these trails out if you are looking for a new place to ride. For more info see:

Snorkeling with Salmon in the Puntledge River – Courtenay, BC

by Keith and Heather Nicol
      Every 2 years the run of Pink Salmon in the Puntledge River ramps up and we have been checking out the waters at Puntledge Park for the last few days to see what kind of numbers have begun to show up. On Monday, August 19 with our daughter Kristie and son Michael in tow we decided to show them what we have been seeing for the past few days and we were not disappointed.  They have never snorkeled with salmon so they were looking forward to experiencing this phenomenal sight.

Michael getting ready to dive into the water
   We tend to swim just below the rapids at Puntledge Park and above where Morrison Creek enters the Puntledge. The cool water of Morrison Creek is likely one reason why this area is so good for accumulating large numbers of fish. We normally walk out into the river just below the rapids and try to go about 1/3 of the way across the river before diving into the river. This sets you up for being swept down river right directly over 100’s of salmon swimming upsteam.

You swim over tons of pink salmon
On this day there must have been hundreds of pink salmon in this area alone! The current is strong in places and the rocks are slippery so you need to pay attention to avoid being swept down river. We always wear kayak booties or good water shoes to protect our feet from rocks. Beside that, all you need are a mask and snorkel! Be prepared to be amazed at what is lurking below the surface of the water. In other years we have normally not seen these numbers of fish until into September so with a few more warm days forecast you still have time to see this special natural phenomenon.  Just remember that water levels can change dramatically on the river and that currents can sweep unwary swimmers downstream very quickly so take care!
Its hard to believe so many salmon are lurking below the surface

Video of snorkeling with salmon

Friday, 16 August 2019

For fun, value and challenge try Mulligans Golf Course in Courtenay

by Keith and Heather Nicol
 Golf is popular in the Comox Valley with many courses to test your skills but if you want to try a fine little course that allows you to still play 9 holes for less than $10 then check out Mulligans Golf Course. When we first did a blog post on Mulligans Golf Course in 2015 ( prices were abit lower but in 2019 they are still the best value in the area (and perhaps Vancouver Island).  Where else can you play 9 holes for golf for just $12 ( 8 am – 4 pm) and this drops to just $9 for those that want to play before 8:00 am and after 4:00 pm.  
The greens were in a great shape 

 They offer an executive course which means there are mostly par 3’s with some par 4’s and the longest hole is 337 yards. Total length from the blue tees is 1763 yards which is about a mile so it is also easy to walk for many people from younger children to older adults. But just because it is short doesn’t mean it is easy. There is water on 7 of the 9 holes and many strategically placed sand traps so depending on where the pin is placed,  making par can be a real challenge. The course also gives scenic views of the Beaufort Range of Mountains and has been landscaped to create undulations and mounds which add to the layout of the course. Of course with the lack of rain this summer the fairways were looking a bit brown but the greens were in great shape when we played the course on August 17, 2019.
Heather teeing off on the second hole with the Beaufort Mtns behind

In addition to a small clubhouse with an outdoor patio , there is a driving range, a putting green and a sand trap practice area where I need to spend more time. The driving range is another bargain since a bucket of balls is just $2.00 ! One of the friendly staff, Gannon told us that it is usually busiest between 9 and 11 am through the week and it is easiest to get on between 3 and 4 pm. Also don’t skip the weekend thinking it is too crowded since Gannon told us it if often less busy on Saturday and Sunday. Mulligans is located right outside of Courtenay and it took us about 90 minutes to play 9 holes. For more information see:  or phone 250-338-2440. This course is ideal for families or friends wanting to meet for a couple of hours of enjoyable golf.

Water comes in the play on most holes so you need to keep your shots straight


Thursday, 1 August 2019

How cross country skiers can improve balance in the offseason-Part 2

The bongo board is a fun challenge

by Keith and Heather Nicol
   Cross country skiers often train through the summer by doing various activities like sea kayaking, biking or hiking. Maintaining aerobic conditioning in the off season certainly a great way to get ready for the ski season but often cross country skiers forget about practicing balance exercises. The bongo board is a perfect fun tool for really challenging your balance as well as working on improving your reaction time.  As a cross country ski instructor at the early season Supercamps at Silver Star and Sovereign Lake Nordic ski areas near Vernon, B.C. , I ask my students if they do specific balance training in the off season.  The typical answer is “no” and I get the same response at Mt Washington ski resort where I teach through the winter.
    As we age both balance and reaction time deteriorate and it declines more rapidly as we get into our 50’s,60’s and 70’s.  Cross country skiing is a true lifetime sport but often people stop skiing since they lose confidence on the snow and have an increased fear of falling. But there are ways to improve balance and one bongo board is great fun way to challenge yourself. First of all start I suggest starting on grass. That way you can get a feel of how to balance on this tricky board. Once you have some confidence on grass then graduate to plywood and I suggest still placing it on grass so that if you do fall you will land on a softer surface.  A good transition is to use ski poles to start as I am showing in this case. Then when you are ready, try to bongo board with no ski poles. Since the bongo board is a demanding  piece of balancing equipment,   Fitterfirst who produces these boards recommends using a helmet and wrist guards.
Try using poles as part of the learning curve
   I like the bongo board since to avoid falling off of it you need to be forward on the board just like in cross country skiing.  Try to feel that your weight it centred just behind the balls of your feet. The last thing you want to do is get back on your heels since that throws your balance off very quickly. Keep your ankles, knees and hips flexed and hold your arms out for balance. This is very similar to how you want to cross country ski on downhill sections of the trail.  In addition to improving balance the bongo board also is great at speeding your reaction time.  Often when skiing we need to move our feet rapidly to avoid falling or to make a turn and the bongo board will help speed your ability to react swiftly.  So try a bongo board to improve your overall balance and reaction time and your cross country skiing will thank you for it.  Fitterfirst has many different types of products for improving your balance so check out their website for more information (
You need to keep your ankles,knees and hips flexed and arms out for balance
This video shows how the bongo board can improve your balance and reaction time 

Monday, 29 July 2019

Hiking the Ripple Rock Trail

By Keith and Heather Nicol
Trailhead map
       The Ripple Rock trail has been on our “to do” list for quite some time and so when our daughter Kristie and her boyfriend Eric came to visit for a few days we decided that this would be a good time to check it out.  The weather on Sunday, July 28 was forecast to be sunny and warm but we figured from the description in our guide book  “Popular day hikes – Vancouver Island” that it would be mainly through the trees which would provide some shade.  Seymour Narrows was the site of one of the largest non nuclear peacetime explosions and it was set off in 1958 to remove the infamous Ripple Rock which was a hazard to shipping.  Due to the strong currents in this area, navigating around Ripple Rock had long been a seafaring hazard and had caused numerous shipwrecks and cost over 100 people their lives! 
Kristie taking a picture at Menzies Bay
   The trail starts roughly 12 km north of Campbell River on Highway 19 and the trailhead is well signposted.  The parking lot is on the right (if you are  driving north) and has parking for 16-20 cars. The coordinates are 50.08.256 N 125 24.174 W. The trail starts off easy and after about 1.34 km there is a viewpoint of Menzies Bay which is worth checking out. Then you cross a metal bridge and the trail passes by a couple of huge Sitka spruce. Next the real climbing starts and the trail becomes noticeably rougher. There are a few viewpoints enroute at about 1.9 km and at 2.5 km (with a picnic table) and these are offer a chance to get an elevated view of Menzies Bay.  The trail winds along paralleling the coastline and you get frequent ocean glimpses as you trek along which is a real bonus. 
Krisitie and Eric enjoying the view of Seymour Narrows from the bluffs - Quadra Island is behind
     The trail drops down to the ocean at Nymphe Cove (3.7 km) and then it is a steep climb for roughly 700 meters to the bluffs overlooking Ripple Rock.  With the addition of walking to the various viewpoints my GPS showed a total of 4.4 km and the return trip (without viewpoints) showed a distance of 4.1 km (allow 3-4 hours to do the return hike).  We had lunch overlooking Ripple Rock and the north wind was welcome to cool us off.   We recommend this hike since it is not that long but has many scenic coastal views.  Also the whirlpools and upwellings in Seymour Narrows are impressive particularly when the tides are right. Be aware that the trail can be muddy after a rain so it is a hike that is best done in dry conditions. We also saw several families with children so it is trek that would appeal to a wide range of hikers. See you on the trails!