We drove to Red Deer over the weekend and I tortured Claire and her cousin a bit with some old music and (deliberately, right?) bad singing.
As much as I was a little sad to see the snow, the upside was that it was my first official winter driving experience in the truck. I ended up the day by putting on a little over 60km around the city –commuting, picking up Claire, running some evening errands– all on some moderately sloppy streets. It’s dangerous out there, and I don’t want to be too cavalier about that danger, yet it was a modest comfort to be able to try out the 4×4 on the snow-and-iced suburban trails and have that comfortable feeling of near-guaranteed acceleration at an intersection, or the confidence to keep a safe speed on the freeway in thick traffic. I saw enough vehicles in ditches, and at least one truck wrapped around a light standard, so I know that confidence can get away from some folks. But some of that lingering uncertainty I had about the truck dealing with the winter is slowly melting away.
I may have been gaming for most of my life, but time is no longer on my side. Finding an hour to devote to a video game is rare. Finding an hour to tuck in and try a game that is completely new? That’s both rare and precious… but I do it for you, dear reader. For you.
It’s been a loooong couple of weeks in the real world. Family stresses and security related stuff, the election and other nagging politics, professional re-configurations, running flux, and some wandering health hiccups. These things eat up your time and energy, particularly when they all mush together like that.
Plus, apparently I’m competing for television & gaming time with an eight-year-old these days, so… there’s that.
So, you likely no longer require a more serious attempt at an answer when you inevitably ask me this: why did I install a game called “Spintires” onto my Steam box and opt to spend a solid, mindless hour trying to explore the free-roaming, seemingly-objectiveless open-world of off-roading mayhem that is this game: Why? I’ll tell you why. It was pure therapy. Mindless, mud-filled, chaotic therapy.
To be fair, and in retrospect, at the suggested retail of thirty bucks this game would have been worth the hour-worth of therapy it provided me, sitting on my couch and continuing the button configuration war with my new Steam Controller, even if it did crash out on my twice while streaming over the network (I’m going to blame the button config again here!) Yet, since I paid a fraction of that, thanks to this game being part of a Humble Bundle, I don’t think therapy comes much cheaper… at least not legally.
The one-liner on the sales site pitches this game thus:
Take responsibility of operating large all-terrain Soviet vehicles and venture across the rugged landscapes with only a map and compass to guide you. Explore the levels and unlock portions of the map whilst discovering new trucks, fuelling stations, garages and lumber mills.
And I suppose that must be true, that promise of adventure and exploration and doing pretend real work from the virtual confines of a soviet-era big wheeler, but in my hour with the game something became very clear to me.
See, I was acutely aware that there was an actual 4×4 vehicle sitting in my garage, not ten feet below where I was camped on the couch playing this very game, a vehicle more than capable of many of the off-roading type adventures I was simulating in this little game. I was also acutely aware that with only an hour of starting this game, I had completely ruined three imaginary vehicles by taking them off-road, sometimes very literally.
You know those driving games that we all like? They span a wide gamut of realism. Something like MarioKart is insanely forgiving. You can drive over an obstacle and you do a little spin and then you press the gas and whiz-bang your off and back into the race. I used to play a game called Gran Turismo and that was much less forgiving than Mario’s race. If you drifted off the asphalt and hit some rougher road, you might spin out or flip the car, then the screen would go black for a second and you’d feel like a bad driver, just temporarily though, as the race continued with you reset on the track.
Spintires is not like that. It is trying to be as real as possible with respect to driving through a land that has seemingly never yet invented that magical and smooth surface we take for granted: a road.
It boasts something called deformable terrain, which is gamer-geek speak for “you can wreck everything.” And this includes the ground. Which is sloppy and wet, mostly composed of the digital equivalent of that goopy mud where you risk loosing your shoe to be later uncovered by archaeologists a million years in the future if you step too close. Your tires slip and slide through this, usually nudging up against hidden boulders which either give you a bit of traction, or cause you to completely stick and spin.
I tried to avoid a mud pit, and within about ten seconds my little 4×4 jeep-type vehicle was barrel-rolling down the side of a hill, like a four-year-old on ice cream, with the warning flashing at me that my engine had stalled.
I started again with a new car, drove down what seemed like a promising path, destroying about a hundred thousand dollars worth of virtual new growth forest in the process (because you can drive right over trees, of course) and found myself sliding on the slippery mud into a river. Unable to go backwards, even gunning the engine, I attempted to ford it.
This, as it turns out was a bad idea, and a few minutes later my little soviet-jeep knockoff was floating downstream and billowing great clouds of black smoke into the pristine natural air.
At this point I’d been playing for a little less than thirty minutes, my wife (from where she was watching from nearby on the couch with a mix of confusion and amusement) was not-so-subtly alluding to the fact that, no… I was not actually allowed to take the Tacoma off-roading anytime soon.
That, I suppose, is a completely different kind of therapy.
Find me on Steam, username 8r4d.
A little black truck, as per usual these days.
In August 2015 we spent two weeks cruising the British Columbia asphalt: a family road trip back to our old haunts around Vancouver, the lower mainland, and Vancouver Island. Along the way we saw some familiar sites, ate some long-missed food, and caught up with many folks who’ve migrated west in recent years. These are some of the highlights.
On Dark Tunnels & Hidden Treasures
We were literally the first on the ferry back to the mainland. Our car was essentially bumped up and perched right at the front lip of the boat, overlooking the approaching shore, and we were first to drive off when our ride across the strait was over.
After a ferry ride and a drive back through the Greater Vancouver Urban Sprawl, we found ourselves lingering in the Fraser Valley, and spending a night in Hope. It was not our first. There were trips a decade-long past (yet not too old as to have been written about on this blog, strangely) when we spent time here beside Kawkawa Lake in the cabin of one of Karin’s long-lost co-workers, planning for weekends away or ski-trips nearby. This meant more nostalgia tripping for Claire, and some hazy memories for us.
But it was hot. The temperatures had crept up into the low thirties (and would remain so for most of the rest of the trip back through BC) and so while Karin rested in the hotel room, napping after a long drive through Vancouver-ish traffic, Claire and I went out and scoped some geocaches before dinner.
And if you are ever pondering what there might be to do in Hope, that little blip of a town you zip by after you descend from the Coquihalla Summit and have Vancouver in your sights, let me tell you of the little gem in the mountain known as the Othello Tunnels: our serendipitous discovery of these abandoned train tunnels-turned-provincial-park netted us an evening stroll and a spectacular mountain wander deep into a quaint stitch of the fabric of Canadian history.
In the early 1900s, the Canadian Pacific Railway decided a route was necessary to link the Kootenay Region with the BC coast by rail. The railway was built over three mountain ranges. In the Coquihalla Gorge – the river cut a 300 foot deep channel of solid granite. A straight line of tunnels were built through it which are known now as the Othello Tunnels. [BC Parks]
They were dark and we should have brought better flashlights than that provided to us by our barely-charged iPhones, but Claire composed a little song to keep us moving.
On Wine, Lakes, & Fruit
We left the valley the next morning and drove into the Okanagan.
Admittedly, the Okanagan region of BC deserves a vacation unto itself, and we blurring through for a brief stopover to grab some wine and camp out with Karin’s cousin in Kelowna did not do it justice.
But again, the temperatures were soaring into the mid-thirties, and even a couple hours splashing in the lake (whilst, of course, teaching Claire the nuances of cryptozoology in the form of some tall Ogopogo tales) wasn’t quite enough to mitigate the heat-wave. We did rent a pedal-boat for a half-an-hour though… which sadly turned out to be yet another watercraft at which I am ill-practiced at controlling.
In the end, we scored some winery-direct bottles, spent a long evening discussing family, politics, travel and food with our gracious hosts, and went to bed a little more tipsy than was probably appropriate considering the looming drive ahead.
On August Weather
Karin woke up for the last day of our travels sick. And so I got to drive again, with little point in stopping anywhere along the two-and-a-half hour scenic and inviting drive from Kelowna to Sicamous.
She woke up for long enough to have an ice cream and fruit-stand break, but I was once again full-steam-ahead solo-driving through the mountains until we reached our last evening’s hotel, a mountain hotel used in the winter for the expensive and exclusive sport of heli-skiing, but a cheap summer stop-over near Golden in mid-August.
The plan was to cap off our great West Coast Road Trip Vacation with a swing up through the Alberta mountains. We needed to meander our way to Nordegg anyhow (to pick up the pooch) and so we were plotted out to drive up the Banff-Jasper Highway and (a) check out the relay course we’d run a few months prior (b) scope out the Columbia glacier, and (c) do that nifty sky-walk-glass-bottomed arch-thing they’ve got nearby there, all before backtracking for the dog.
We woke up to rain and a chilly ten degrees.
By the time we hit the Alberta border, the thermometer on the car said six, and it was pouring.
We passed through and onto the Banff-Jasper highway and could barely see the trees for the fog, rain and clouds, let alone the spectacular mountain view I’d run through in June. And when we reached the crossing (the branching mid-point of the highway where we could drive toward the glacier or towards the dog) the temperature was barely above freezing and we were pretty sure it was snowing up ahead.
We ditched the plan and (stopping briefly to pick up the dog who was camping with my parents) headed for home. We were home for dinner. Road trip complete, with about thirty-three hundred kilometers logged, a few thousand photos snapped, and enough memories of the west coast –new and refreshed– to last us all a couple more years.
No, I didn’t plan this question for the day after I bought a new truck… but given that we just bought a shiny new truck, I’m going to assume I don’t need to answer this question!
Ask Karin: definitely a passenger. Though, that’s not a symbolic metaphor for life.
“Well, for starters,” I queried, “how do you think you could you tell the difference between a boy and a girl?”
She paused only a second before answering, a bit of a questioning tone ringing weakly in her suddenly-uncertain voice. “By their hair?” She guessed.
Like so much of our heart-to-heart conversation, she had taken the opportunity of catching me (literally) while my back was turned. I was driving, her in the backseat of the car… and then she started asking about sex.
That line of thinking had itself stemmed from a vehicle sighting as we were waiting behind an intersection, an SUV with a neat row of those little ‘this is our family in stick figures’ stickers clinging to the back window. This particular iteration had featured five kids, three dogs, and two moms.
Five minutes worth of innocent questions about “how do two moms have five kids, dad?” and a few of my fumbling answers later, we were talking about sexual reproduction, and not for the first time either.
“What if you couldn’t see their hair?” I prompted.
“Boys have hairy armpits.” She offered, alluding to an insight that had found some traction in her little brain one day recently while we were swimming at the local pool.
“Okay, sure.” I fumbled some more, and continued to prompt. “But what is different about a girl’s parts and a boy’s parts?”
“Do you even know what is different?” I probed, cautiously. “Have you ever seen a boy without any clothes on?”
I was met with something of a restrained giggle, and an uncertain “no” that I was certain wasn’t a whole truth. We’re not exactly a let-it-hang-out kind of family, but we’re also not so private that she hasn’t wandered into the bedroom or bathroom and caught either of us in various stages of undress… or showering. But then, in my head I was rapidly making an inventory of when actually she may have encountered that particular bit of life experience, and I was coming up rather short.
“Well,” I took a deep breath then looked in the mirror as I turned down our street, checking to see that she was still paying close attention. “It’s like this. Boys and girls have different parts. Boys have a penis…” and then we spent ten more minutes parked in the driveway talking far more frankly than I ever thought possible about human reproduction.
fostering independence, rule 017
knowledge is freedom: be honest about sex
The “Talk” has (probably) always been a tricky topic for parents and probably always will be. It’s that moment in time when a probing little mind discovers that there is something more to the whole baby-making-equation than they’ve until then been led to believe. It is a topic mixed up with ideology and tradition, science, practicality, power, and perception. What parents tell their kids, how open they are, what they say and how they say it –from the very first words that come out of their mouths– undoubtedly frames a lifetime of perception, behavior and hangups. And it is entirely up to the parent to get it out just right when they are least expecting to be asked.
It’s not the role of this blog to suggest methods or materials, but rather simply suggest a single statement of position. In a society where sex and sexuality are so closely tied to power, independence and a perpetual struggle for self-determination and personal rights, being dishonest, vague or just plain timid with inquisitive children about the subject doesn’t seem as though does kids any favours, and may ultimately leave them dependent on those who are not so afraid to be more open… regardless of their methods or motives.
I wouldn’t even think of driving in the winter anymore without my winter tires. Though, I may need replacements soon.
From August 6 through 16, 2014 five of us — my parents, Karin, Claire and I — drove the Iceland ring road. Our adventures were numerous and my photos were plentiful. I chronicled our trips in a live-ish blog post summarizing the highlights of our trip, in chronological order… but I often find that after such a mind-blowing adventure, it’s good to step back and reflect on the many things that have left an impression upon your mind, body and spirit. This is the fourth of four of those Icelandic Reduxtions, reflecting more narrowly…
on Swimming Pools
The definitive Icelandic activity seems to be a soak. Or a swim. Or at the very least, a dip in the pool.
We’d speed through the smallest and remotest of towns, places with populations in the low double-digits whose names barely qualified for a dot on our map save for the fact that they had a gas station. But almost without fail, these little hamlets would have a swimming pool.
In my live-blog on our travels through Iceland I wrote about our pool experiences: showering under strict supervision in the nude, the reek of sulphur, the impressively advanced technology (RFID lockers and LED water slides) and the joy of a hot tub in a cool country.
The Blue Lagoon, that epic-touristy-you-gotta-try-that activity that so often gets associated with Iceland was the last activity on our tour, literally a detour on our way to the airport while we carted our luggage from one shuttle, into storage, and then back onto another. Some purists suggested that the Blue Lagoon was a little too-tourist-trappy, or not as natural as one is led to believe (being more a man-made lake of geothermal power effluent than some magic natural hot spring.) And yeah, while it fit into the which-of-these-is-not-like-the-others category of our multiple swimming experiences in Iceland, a couple hours there was something I wouldn’t have missed in retrospect.
on Vikings, Edda & Culture
In many ways I feel vastly unqualified to even hint at writing on this topic. The most I can offer is sharing the sentiment that we so often expressed as we gazed out the car window of “geeze… this place looks a lot like something from Lord of the Rings!”
It’s funny, though. We so often in the twenty-first century associate our perception of Tolkien’s fictional Middle Earth with New Zealand, if for no other reason than that all the films were recorded there.
But in researching upon our return I was only a little surprised to learn that Tolkien was greatly influenced by Snorri Sturluson, the thirteenth century Icelandic-viking-ish poet and politician and the author of the Prose Edda, who’s descriptions of his home and the tales of his characters who lived there seem to have inspired Tolkien as he developed the setting of Middle Earth. Some sites I’ve since read argue that there is no more Middle-Earth-like setting than Iceland because of this connection.
Of course, we saw that in the landscape, vast stretches of scenery that seemed constructed as if in compliment to Rohan or Mordor. It was also more than once that I walked through the entrance of an old turf house (museum, of course) and the mound of earth covered in scrub grass and built up to be as much a hole-in-the-ground as humanly possible, though to walk through the door into a fully furnished, hard-wood-floored, elegantly victorian-styled dwelling I would turn to Claire and say “You know you’re in a Hobbit hole, right?” Not that she was, but the feeling of it was as close as I ever expect to be, even were I to travel to the New Zealand sets of the movie and step into that fictional recreation.
on Hot Dogs, Bakeries & Orange Soda
Oh, that sounds pretty normal, you say. And while I’ve already written on the mishmash of food topics that are snack food and weird, nearly-inedible delicacies, I thought one more brief excursion into the world of Icelandic cuisine (from the perspective of this tourist Canadian, at least) was due.
Before we’d even got off the shuttle from the airport, our driver had detoured his route through the streets of Reykjavik and past a little silver-toned food court standing lonely in a small parking lot near the harbour. “That’s Bæjarins beztu pylsur.” He told us. “The best hot dog in Iceland.”
A day or so later, as I was munching-down on my own ‘pylsur’ I learned a couple of things about the so-called “The Icelandic National Food” (some of those facts conveniently downloaded on my phone from Wikipedia.) First, Icelandic hot dogs in Reykjavik are just ok. Sorry, guys. I ordered mine with “the works” and while I’m not denying that it was a taste and cost-effective treat, give me a smokie with some kraut and hot sauce from the Fat Franks cart near my office any day. Second, though it may be famous and the food to try when you visit, you may want to wait until your can find a hot dog joint from somewhere else in the country… like say, Akureyri… where I gave the Icelandic hot dog a reluctant second chance and was much more impressed the second time around.
Hot dogs were one of the cheap foods. In a previous instalment I had a little bit of tourist-rage going on for the extreme prices in our hosting country. But relatively speaking, hot dogs were pretty cheap. As were bakeries (which never really served us wrong for quick, cheap snacks) or picking up a bottle of Appelsín (literally, I believe) translating into “orange” soda.
on Tunnels, Narrow Roads & Driving
And finally, on driving. Driving. Driving. That thing which we seemed to do so much of, but of which at the same time I did none. Driving.
Karin and my dad took the two driver slots on our rental car (a third would have added significantly to the already high cost) and we rolled down the Icelandic Ring Road, aka Route 1, aka Þjóðvegur for hours each day, seeking out the next famous or interesting sight to see.
According to Wikipedia (now referenced twice in the same blog post!) the ring road is 1,332 kilometres long. We added onto that by going down an extra fjord (or three) and skipping the shortcut back to Reykjavik (so subtract a little and then add a lot more for detours.) But either way, I think it is fair to say that we travelled a great big chunk of that road on our nine day trip around the island. And for most of it, I sat in the front seat of our Land Rover (LR4 4×4, in white, with heated leather seats!) as navigator and chief map guy… though no one ever called me either of those names. *sigh*
Route One was arguably the best of the roads we travelled, yet in many places was barely a shoulder-less ridge around a cliff on the seaside, narrowed to a single lane (total, not each way) across major bridges, or burrowed through a multi-kilometer tunnel under a mountain. Don’t get me wrong: apart from a few gravel stretches or the occasional sheep on the road, it was a great drive: smooth and scenic, and an epic view of the country. (Some day, perhaps, I’ll post the stop-motion video I made from the front window of our car… or you’ll just need to come over to the house and watch it there.) Unforgettable, in many ways.
So, in the end, and after all my reflections on Iceland, my fumbles and my favorites, would I recommend driving it? Well, yeah… but also I’d recommend just going there. How you get around –by foot, by bike, by hitchhiking, or by the power of a 4×4 luxury vehicle– I don’t suppose really matters. Just bring a camera, your sense of adventure, and a few people to share it all with.
Thanks for having us, Iceland. It was fun.
No contest: I’m a public transit kinda guy.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (43/100) …finally, finally, finally swapped out both sets of winter tires. #summerchores