Running Labrador: Hamilton River Road Bypass Trail

Red bench along trail

Red bench along trail

Runway Closure, Day 2
On day two of being one of the “Runway People”, I explored another trail.  You can read about my day one adventure where I ran on the fabulous Birch Island boardwalk trails.  I have to admit, I was quite happily stranded in Happy Valley-Goose Bay for a couple of days due to the Goose Bay Airport runway closure.

Always Talk to Taxi Drivers
Anyone who knows me knows that I’m no shrinking violet.  I love to chat with people.  Well, one of the first folks I chatted with when I arrived at the Goose Bay Airport from Nain, Labrador, just prior to the unannounced and quite unprecedented runway closure, was Melina from Cooney’s Taxi.  She drove me to my destination and while chatting I mentioned that I would be leaving the next morning to head home to Nanaimo.  She gave me her personal business card (on which was noted “CAR # ONE” – right on girl!) and away she went.

Early the next morning, just as I was texting her to tell her about the runway closer, which I heard via an email from Air Canada stating that my flight was canceled, Melina showed up at my door to tell me this exact same news. We laughed and instantly bonded.  We proceeded to text each other over the course of the next few days and even after I safely and eventually arrived home on the other side of the country!

The bypass trail

The bypass trail

Hamilton River Road Bypass Trail
It was Melina who told me about this trail.  I had seen it the day before when I ran past it.  It started right next to the Tim Hortons on Hamilton River Road, but I had no idea where it went. I recall, there was only one sign indicating that no motor vehicles were allowed on the trail.

A little aside… how did it come to pass that Melina told me about this trail?  Well, after my Birch Island run the day before, I had done a little grocery shopping and had returned home with a whole wheat baguette to go with my wine and cheese.  Unfortunately, my baguette was moldy… apparently, they are not big sellers in HV-GB.  So I just drank my wine without it. I was sad about that, as I LOVE bread, but what could I do about it?

But, there was some hope for more HV-GB adventure, when I heard that the runway was closed for yet another day.   Apparently, not everybody was thrilled about that, but I used it as a great excuse to explore the area some more!

Support Taxi Drivers in Small Towns
Taxi drivers in the small town of HV-GB rely heavily on the business they get from the airport traffic (both commercial and air force), which is pretty substantial for a rather remote airport.  With the runway closed, there wasn’t much other taxi business.  So, on day two of my unexpected stay, I called up Melina and asked her to drive me to the grocery store so that I could exchange the baguette, chat with her a bit more and give her some business.  After I told her about my Birch Bay run the day before, I mused about where to go for another run.  That was when she told me about this trail.

Up and Over the Unnamed Trail
Hamilton River Road is quite busy being the main conduit between the airport and the rest of the Valley.  Running or walking beside it was not at all appealing.  Even at the time of the runway closure, there was still lots of traffic, so this bypass trail was perfect for a run! This unnamed black-topped trail makes it easy for runners, walkers, and bike riders to transverse over the sandy terrain between the two small, but now combined, communities of Happy Valley and Goose Bay.

Stretching on red bars

Stretching on red bars

The trail starts conveniently between the Tim Hortons and the Federal Court building and across from the Labrador Health Centre.  It soon passes a residential area to the right and wilderness (trees and shrubs) to the left. It rises up to pass the multiple sports fields and buildings of the Mealy Mountain Collegiate High School.  Then up some more, but not too challenging, for a great view back down towards the Churchill River.  It levels out again and runs past more residential areas – with a few trial offshoots – before hitting Hamilton River Road again at the intersection with Kelland Drive.

While only about 3.5K long, this trail avoids the major Hamilton River Road, which according to Google Maps, would have taken me the same length of time to walk/run had I taken it.  But what a great alternative.  There are lovely red and blue benches along the way, perfect for push-ups, tricep dips, Bulgarian leg dips, leg stretches or if you must, sitting and resting. There is also easy access to the red bars around the High School sports fields, for additional exercises, if you are so inclined!

Downtown Goose Bay
Once I hit the second Hamilton River Road I was in “downtown” Goose Bay.  I explored the shops along this stretch of road, including Dorothys Crafts and Sewing, where I purchased a couple of small souvenirs (which I could run with).  I would highly recommend Dorothy’s for larger souvenirs, such as photos, paintings, plus Inuit made jewelry, clothing, and carvings.

I also stopped in at Merle Norman Cosmetics, which was right next door to Dorothy’s and vowed to return the next day for a manicure, if I was still in the area.  Alas, that was not to be as the runway was opened for a four-hour window to allow flights to land and take off.  To their credit, Air Canada delayed their morning flight to Halifax, aka my long overdue exit flight, to fit into this window and I was able to get out of HV-GB but not before taking a final taxi ride to the airport with Melina so I could thank her and tell her all about my explorations of the area.

Name that Trail
I’ve been in touch with a few folks in HV-GB about the name of this trail, but apparently, it is just called the “walking/bike trail.”  Come on people… think of a better name!  I noticed a memorial marker along the trail for a young man, unfortunately, I didn’t get his name. Perhaps someone else knows! I also recently heard the sad news that the mayor of HV-GB died in a tragic gun accident, so perhaps this trail could be named after him as he was apparently quite an outdoorsman.

Post Run Tim Hortons lunch

Post-Run Tim Hortons lunch

To end this unnamed trail run… since this blog is really about running, not airports, taxi drivers, shopping, or wine…  After my “shopping spree” in Goose Bay, I ran back down the trail and ended at the aforementioned Tim Hortons for a well-deserved chicken noodle soup, a roll, a donut, and hot chocolate (yes, with whipped cream). How Canadian is that?

Baguette, formage et rosé

Baguette, formage et rosé

Oh and that evening I enjoyed my rosé wine with a nice fresh (although non-whole-wheat) baguette and cheese. Speaking of rosé wine, I just have to mention that I was completely blown away by the rosé wine selection in a liquor store in this small community… was it due to the sophistication of the inhabitants or visitors? Who knows, but I liked it!

In conclusion, I would highly recommend this bypass trail to any HV-GB visitor or local inhabitant. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the Goose Bay Airport folks for closing the runway and keeping safety in mind! In addition, I want to thank my host, Andrew, for allowing me to stay in his apartment while he too was caught up in the runway closure, over in St John’s.  My final thank you goes to Melinda the # one car driver in HV-GB!

The runway tar problem

The runway tar problem

Posted in Destination Running, Food, Running, Touring, Tourism, Trails

Labrador Running: Birch Island

In early November 2017, I found myself faced with an unexpected stay in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador for a couple of days due to the Goose Bay Airport runway closure. Rather than get all worked up about this extra stay in a rather remote Canadian location, I fully embraced it!

The day was cold but sunny and that could only mean one thing – go for a run.

Sit and enjoy the view or run past

Sit and enjoy the view or run past

I did a bit of research on near-by locations and discovered that where I was staying, near the Labrador Health Centre, was only a short distance from a fabulous new recreation area, with trails! Say, no more… I got my gear on (including a down jacket and sunglasses), tied up my running shoes and headed out.

My destination was Birch Island. It was a few short kilometres to get to the trailhead, so off I went. I generally don’t like to run next to busy roads, so I headed down some back roads and happened upon the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce Visitor Information Centre.

What better place to stop and ask about my planned route?

Strikingly red dogwood branches

Strikingly red dogwood branches

Out came the friendly hospitality and a takeaway map! Apparently, I had selected right, Birch Island was the place to go! There were several kilometres of recently installed boardwalk that transect the Conservation Area over swamps and bogs, through black spruce forests, past birch trees and next to the mighty Churchill River. Well, that sounded like a great place to run!

I ran past the multi-denominational Happy Valley Cemetary (great places to run, BTW), past the Melville Public Library, which I visited on my way back, and past the police station (no problems there). Unfortunately, I did have to run on the shoulder of the busy Hamilton River Road before I turned onto the much calmer gravel Birch Island Road. A large wooden archway grandly announced the entrance to the park.

I ran over a bridge, over Birch Island Creek – an acknowledgment that this was indeed an island, past the first boardwalk, which I eventually returned to on my way back up the road, with the end of the road destination seemingly more inviting. Indeed it was. The road terminated in a parking area with vistas of the mighty Churchill River and the Mealy Mountains in the distance.

Fabulous boardwalk trails

Fabulous boardwalk trails

I took the lower boardwalk from there. It was magnificent! The sky was a brilliant blue as I ran past black spruce trees, plenty of birch trees (thus the island’s name), red branched dogwood shrubs, and up-close and personal views of the Churchill River. The wooden boardwalk and numerous river, swamp, and bog viewing decks were mostly ice-free in early November and made for a wonderful running surface. However, there were places where the shade preserved some of the ice, created by previous snow falls and crushed down by numerous walkers (and maybe runners), which caused somewhat treacherous running, thus slowing me down a bit. Did I care? No!

I met a few other people out for a stroll, but no other runners. Perhaps it was because of the time of day – mid to late morning on a weekday, but what a great place to run! There are currently multiple kilometres (my estimate is 5K) of wheelchair and stroller accessible board-walked trails, which are bounded in most places by side railings.

Boardwalk through swamp and bog

Boardwalk through swamp and bog

In a few areas, specifically near a very large river sandbar, there are no rails, but convenient stairs onto the sandy area, which I took, of course! However, swimming in this and nearby areas have been reportedly very dangerous with the shifting sands beds. This, of course, was not a concern for me as there was no way I was going for an icy-cold water swim!

The boardwalk trails through the swamps and bogs offer vistas of vast areas of beautiful low shrubs (dogwood, Labrador tea, and willow), plus numerous grasses and mosses. Unfortunately, many of the flowering plants were not visible, given the time of year. I imagine that Spring and Summer could be spectacular, for flowers.  Both the trails ended abruptly, but you could see that the plan was to continue with more boardwalk in the future, perhaps joining the two trails for a full loop.

The end of the boardwalk, with potential for more

A little background on Birch Island, as I recently heard on a recent CBC radio Labrador Morning podcast, was that this area was settled from the 1940s to the 1960s. Prior to that, a small community of labourers and their families were situated near the Goose Bay Air Force Base, at Otter Creek. When it was determined that it was too close to the Base, the community was relocated to Birch Island and Happy Valley. Then in the 60’s those who settled on Birch Island were again relocated, this time into Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Why this was, I’m not sure, unless the Island floods often, which would not surprise me, given its location in/near the Churchill River and its extensive low-lying riparian habitat. At the moment, there are no human inhabitants on Birch Island.

This area is now a Conservation Area managed by Healthy Waters Labrador. It is home to numerous birds and large mammals, e.g. beaver and moose, although, alas, I did not see any of those animals. An archaeological study of the area’s “recent past” is being undertaken by Memorial University MA student Julia Brenan, as featured in the podcast.

Lycopodiums

Lycopodiums

Plus as I mentioned above, the plants in the area are wonderful too. Especially check out one of my favourites, the Lycopodiums! You’ll have to look down on the forest floor for these, but there are great swatches to observe and ogle if you are so inclined.

The Healthy Waters Labrador group is currently running a Go Fund Me Campaign to raise funds for further wetland restoration and boardwalk construction. It would be wonderful to see both ends of the two boardwalk trails connected so that a large loop could be completed. I presume that is the plan.

If you ever find yourself in Happy Valley-Goose Bay or if indeed you live there, do head down to Birch Island and wander along the sturdy wooden boardwalks and enjoy the vistas and the tranquillity of the area. Although I ran on the boardwalks, it might not be prudent to do this during times when there might be many walkers there. This is an area where all can enjoy!

Jumping for joy next to the Churchill River

Jumping for joy next to the Churchill River

Posted in Destination Running, Life lessons, Running, Something New, Touring, Trails Tagged with: , , , ,

Summer and Fall 2016

My life was very eventful during the summer and fall of 2016! Having entered into a new age category earlier this year, I managed to win quite a few races in my age division. I also pushed through a selection of fitness challenges, which were fun! But my favorite event during this period was my Nanaimo Bar Trail Run: it kept me on a consistent running schedule and very much in the Nanaimo tourism loop.

The Nanaimo Bar Trail Run

Nanaimo Bar and Coffee after the run

Nanaimo Bar and Coffee after the run


This premier fitness, fun and eating event in Nanaimo ran (literally) every Tuesday from the beginning of July until the end of October! Each Tuesday morning at 9:30am we ran, toured, laughed and then eat a delicious Nanaimo Bar – from a restaurant on the official Nanaimo Bar Trail – at the end of the run! Next year look for this run to be part of the official brochure and will start in May. Plan your time in Nanaimo accordingly. We are looking forward to seeing you and showing you around. Contact us if you would like to register early!

55+ BC Games

Long Jump (photo by Sven Donaldson)

Long Jump (photo by Sven Donaldson)


I hadn’t done any track and field competitions since high school… many decades ago, but since running with the Bastion Running Club for a year almost on a weekly basis at the track, I thought it was time to change that! I registered for the 55+ BC Games in Coquitlam in September and set about practicing a wee bit more for the events that I thought I should run – all sprints and long jump. Much to my surprise I won gold in the long jump, bronze in the 100m and placed 4th in the 50m, 200m and 400m. Just think what I would have done if I’d practiced.

21 Day Stair Challenge

Stair running

Stair running


(Apologies to mobile phone users if I’m sideways!)I’m beginning to like these 21 day challenges! If you can do anything for 21 days you will be committed to continue doing it for good (maybe not everyday, but more often than before!).
This new one is intended to strengthen my legs and up the cardio quotient of my day.
Follow me on Instagram and Facebook at the hashtag: #21daystairchallenge

21 Day Balance Pose Challenge

Crow pose at OmTown Yoga Studio

Crow pose at OmTown Yoga Studio


(Again, blush, Apologies to mobile phone users if I’m sideways!)This challenge is done and dusted. I’ll write it up shortly for the blog, noting all that I learned (specifically the crow pose).
The challenge started when I heard the news that my aunt had fallen and broken her hip. She was 87 and within days she passed away. My mother, her older sister, is 88 and several years ago, fell and broke her hip as well, but with much perseverance she got through the surgery and pain and learned to walk again. She has since fell several times and is now confined to a wheelchair. I’m pretty convinced that the falls and broken hips could have been prevented if they had both worked on maintaining a strong core and regularly practiced balance poses. In order to honour these two women and to help persuade all you able bodied folks how important balance is in your life, I’m doing a 21 day balance pose challenge. Follow me on Instagram and Facebook at the hashtag: #21daybalanceposechallenge

Latest blog post: 22 Day 22 Push-up Challenge

End of 22 Days of 22 Push-up Challenge

End of 22 Days of 22 Push-up Challenge


I completed the 22 Day 22 Push-up Challenge and learned more than just how to do push-ups. Read all about it on the blog.

Track Running (It’s how to get faster)

Track speed work (photo by Fiona Hawkes)

Track speed work (photo by Fiona Hawkes)


Want to be a faster runner (no matter the distance)? Then run at the track. Join the Bastion Running Club each Wednesday morning at the Rotary Bowl Track (near NDSS) for some sprinting sessions with coaching. You will get lots of feedback from some long-time runners. Then we break for coffee, laughs and bragging at Bocca Coffee. Drop-ins welcome.

Races (besides food, it is why I run)

First place 60-69 age division in the Mt Washington 8K trail race (photo by John Jensen).

First place 60-69 age division in the Mt Washington 8K trail race (photo by John Jensen).

First place 60-64 age division in the Victoria GoodLife Fitness 8K (photo Mary Morris)

First place 60-64 age division in the Victoria GoodLife Fitness 8K (photo Mary Morris)

Sandy Bissessur and I proudly showing off our first place BC Cross Country Championship age division ribbons (photo by Cathy)

Sandy Bissessur and I proudly showing off our first place BC Cross Country Championship age division ribbons (photo by Cathy)

Posted in Nanaimo Bars, Racing, Running, Track, Trails, Yoga

Nanaimo Bars: the story & recipe

Homemade Nanaimo Bar

Homemade Nanaimo Bar

Who does not like Nanaimo Bars? Named after the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo and they are world famous! They were even served at the Trudeau-Obama state dinner earlier this year. Let me tell you more about them, especially those found on the Nanaimo Bar Trail! First there is the original: a three layer bar of chocolate, nuts, coconut and custard (see above).

Then there are the slight modifications with different flavours, such as mint, cranberry, peanut butter, bacon (yes, bacon) and gluten free ones, too. Add to that the cupcake, cheesecake, cinnamon and truffle varieties and we are talking delicious!

Plus there are also the drinkable delicacies, such as milkshakes, cocktails and martinis. And as if that is not enough how about the non-edible kind: the Nanaimo Bar pedicure, soap, massage oil and cup cozy.

I have a fond memory of my mother making these treats when I was a kid, but only at Christmas time. She would make these well before Christmas, most likely when we were at school, so we wouldn’t stick our dirty little fingers in the many delicious layers as she carefully prepared them. She would then cut them into squares, carefully package them into a container, and place then into the freezer until the right occasion called for them. This was usually when company dropped by, which if I recall happened frequently around Christmas. I wonder if that was because of my Mom’s awesome baking (shortbread, butter tarts, Christmas cake, etc) or my Dad’s scotch or it was just the thing to do during the festive season?

Nanaimo bars - ready to eat and into the freezer

Nanaimo bars – ready to eat and into the freezer


By the time my brother and I we were teenagers and each had bedrooms in the basement level of the house – near the freezer – we were wise to where these delights were stored. Nightly, he would take out one of the bars, carefully rearranging the others in the container so that it didn’t look like any were taken, place it on a shelf in his room allowing it to thaw and then treat himself later in the evening. The sneaky bugger! I, of course, would never do such a thing . Actually, I never even thought about it. However, I think my Mother was wise to him!

Over the years, I have kept up the tradition of making Nanaimo Bars, again, only at Christmas time. Given how somewhat complex they are to make and how deliciously rich they are, I figure that they should only be made on special occasions! Besides, I eat too many of them during my Nanaimo Bar Trail Runs in the summer! Over the years, I’ve adapted the recipe, omitting the somewhat traditional egg in the bottom layer and using almonds rather than walnuts. I’ve even made a vegan and gluten-free version for my daughter. Here’s my version the recipe (with gluten-free and vegan options):

Nanaimo Bars: bottom layer preparation

Nanaimo Bars: bottom layer preparation


Top layer:
½ c butter (salted or unsalted, your preference) (or use vegan version)
5 tbsp granulated white sugar
5 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp (or lid full) pure vanilla extract
2 c Graham wafer crumbs (or use crushed puffed rice for vegan and gluten free option)
1 c shredded coconut
½ c chopped almonds (or walnuts if you prefer)

Cream together butter, sugar, cocoa and vanilla. Add crumbs, coconut, and almonds and mix well. If this mixture is too dry and crumbly, mix in a couple of tbsps of melted butter. Press into a 9×9 inch pan.

Nanaimo Bars: middle layer preparation

Nanaimo Bars: middle layer preparation


Middle layer:
4 tbsps butter (see above for options)
2 ½ tbsp Birds custard powder (the best)
2 c icing sugar
3 tbsp milk (or vegan version)

Cream together all ingredients until very smooth and thick. Spread on top of the previous layer. Keep at room temperature so that top chocolate layer spreads easier over this layer.

Nanaimo Bars: top layer preparation

Nanaimo Bars: top layer preparation


Top layer:
4 oz (or 4 tbsp) of dark chocolate (Callebaut, is my favorite)
1 tbsp butter (see above for options)

Melt these two ingredients together and while still warm, spread over the middle layer, ensuring that it covers all the surface, right into the corners. Shake the pan back and forth over/on the countertop to get a smooth chocolate surface. Chill until firm, but before chocolate is too hard, score the top layer or cut all the way through, into whatever size pleases you! Store in fridge or freezer (but don’t tell your kids where!).

Link to just the recipe for printing.

Legend has it, Nanaimo Bars were created and perfected in Nanaimo, BC at some point in the mid 20th century. The story has lots of versions, but the Nanaimo Museum notes that the first published recipe was in the 1952 Women’s Hospital Auxiliary Cookbook. I personally think it should be MANDATORY that all of this city’s citizens know how to make these treats! You can buy these treats (in a multitude of flavours and formats) all year round in Nanaimo or in many other places in Canada, and even in some more refined bakeries around the world. To balance the richness of these treats, may I suggest you go for a guided run or a walk before you treat yourself to a Nanaimo bar at one of the many places along the Nanaimo Bar Trail or make your own!

Posted in Food, Life lessons, Nanaimo Bars

Bootcamp Storm

Denise Bonin - outside exercise

Outside Exercise: Stretching (photo by Fiona Hawkes)

Join us for a chance to beat the doldrums, freeze out the blues and pump up the heat!

You can’t just run, run, run all the time, without any other fitness activity. Sure running gets your cardio up and your legs fit, but what about the rest of your body? Sometimes you have to work on the other parts too. I mean really work on them. I believe in overall body fitness and you can’t get that from just running.

To be a better runner you not only need to have good endurance and strong legs but you should also have a strong core, powerful arms, and good body alignment, to name a few other areas. So how do you get those? Well, there are lots of ways… go to the gym and use some of the machines there; buy yourself a set of dumbbells and maybe a skipping rope and follow a program from home; or perhaps, may I suggest, attend a boot camp. If you live in or near Nanaimo, I have just the one for you!

I believe in overall body fitness and you can’t get that from just running.

I was recently asked to lead a boot camp at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo through their Campus Rec program. I have lead boot camps before and have recently completed a Boot Camp and Outdoor Fitness course, so I am ready for this! The coordinator suggested a name for my session: Bootcamp Storm I liked it, so I wrote up a description to match:

Let’s storm the outdoors! We will try to be outside as much as possible, so dress for the weather! We will be thundering up stairs; breezing around the track; doing lightning rounds of muscle tingling exercises to make you feel alive and fit and above all, having a gale old time. Join us for a chance to beat the doldrums, freeze out the blues and pump up the heat!

Doesn’t that make you want you to sign-up and notch up your fitness level? Make it a New Year’s resolution! Good for non-runners too!

Here are the details:

Class time: Monday and Wednesday, 12 noon-1pm (not Tues/Thurs like in the Guide)
First class: Monday, January 23, 2017
Registration: Opens Tuesday, January 3 at 8am
Fitness Class Registration Deadline: Thursday, January 19
Fitness Classes Length: January 23-March 29, 2017 (9 weeks)
No Classes: Feb. 13 (Family Day), 20-24 (Reading Break)

Make it a New Year’s resolution! Good for non-runners too!

Who can register? VIU students, staff AND community members! So what is your excuse, especially if you live in the Nanaimo area?! Spread the word and I hope to see you there! Register here.

Posted in Bootcamp, Cross training, Running, Something New