Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cape Split Hike

Cape Split is a jut of land that extends northwesterly into the Bay of Fundy, home to the highest tides in the world. Twice a day the bay empties and fills with rushing seawater, eroding anything in its path. At the base of the start of the hiking trail that leads to the actual split, is a village known as Scot's Bay. It has a wonderful rock beach with all sorts of stones and minerals to be found; a rockhound's delight. In fact, I have a couple of specimens of amethyst from that site.

The land on which you'll find Cape Split was owned privately until 2002 when the province of Nova Scotia purchased it. The previous owners allowed access to the land by the public for many years and, as a result, a very definitive network of trails has been formed. Probably thousands of hikers use this trail every year and you'll find it listed in every hiking or walking guide of Eastern Canada.
It starts out at a few metres above sea level, taking you through prehistoric sites and old forest that feel almost rain-forest-like as a result of humidity trapped by the dense forest canopy. There are a number of rare or threatened plant species that call this forest home as it rises to 300 feet above sea level. It's not an easy hike for those of us with heat or mobility issues, but it can be done with the proper preparation. And the reward at the end of the trail is a view like none other in the world, if there's no fog.


This is Cape Split from the north at low tide. This aerial pic was taken by Bob Grantham, a geologist affiliated with the Nova Scotia Museum. (Bob also showed me purple sand from an unnamed beach in this province. It's purple because of the high garnet content.)

The Wookie has been talking about doing this trail ever since we met. So we decided that yesterday was the day to do it. We didn't get there until noon, my first mistake. Should have arrived at 8 AM. It is an uphill climb to the end. An 8 kilometre climb to the top of Cape Split. On a shaded and very sheltered (by trees) trail. The humidex was 33, despite the temperature at the start of the trail only being 18. About an hour into our walk I was thinking we should just stop and turn around or they'll only be able to just push me over the cliff at the top to get me home. But the Wookie so rarely asks anything of me, I really wanted to do this. So we carried on.

We were passed by everyone else on the trail that day. Kids with more energy than a 10 megawatt power station, their yuppie parents and even the grandparents passed us going up. About an hour and half into the trek we started to hear navigational buoys in the Minas Basin, on the eastern side of the Cape. On the western side we were getting brief blasts of wind and fog sneaking through a few breaks in the trees. The actual temperature was cooler than at the base, because of the fog, but because the trees were still fairly thick and we were climbing, we were quite warm.

We finally arrived at the top, in a small meadow after 2 hours and 15 minutes. I took in the air, the field, the screaming gulls, and straight ahead the first "split cliff" of the cape. And the fog. I couldn't see the Bay at all. Looking to the east I could see blue sky and some water, but some of the fog on the western side was creeping around the tip of the cape and making a good view impossile.

Here's what I should have been able to see:

I have to interject at this point to describe what may actually have been the highlight of this little walk. In the meadow was a family of 6-8 people sitting in a semi-cicle facing us. One of the young girls in the family was standing in front of the group doing a little dance and singing a song with her back to us. We stood about 20 feet from the group and watched the girl for a few seconds and the entertainer in me just broke out. I was watching her movements, very similar to a chicken dance, so started mimicking her moves, elbows up and out at my side, head bobs, and foot stomps. The observing family members who were already chuckling at the girl burst into full out laughter as I danced with her and slowly crept closer behind her. She finished her performance and turned around as she realized there was someone behind her. We all had a great laugh over that.

Anyway, I plopped myself down in the meadow, the Wookie went off to the other side of the meadow to take pictures and we recovered a little bit. I inspected the local insect life as well. At least the bugs that landed on me or in my arm's reach. I looked down at my leg at one point to see a Daddy Long Legs trying to bite me. I could actually feel his (or her) little palps trying to bite my skin. After 3 or 4 unsuccessful attempts at tasting my leg, he (or she) literally jumped off into the grass and disappeared. All I could do at that was laugh.

I did manage to get close enough to an edge (actually about 5 feet from the edge) to take this pic. Look closely between the crevice and you just make out the beach below, as the tide was coming in. Oh, yeah, the beach is about 300 feet below where I was standing.

The return trek was 2 hours. And despite the good hiking boots I was wearing could feel a couple of blisters forming. Once we got to the bottom and the car, the family we had seen at the top were leaving in their van and we all waved good bye to each other, big grins on the kids' faces as they passed me. The Wookie and I headed back to Wolfville for a bit of supper and then home.

We'll do the hike again, probably in autumn when there's much less fog. Probably about 10 years from this October.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bike Tour

The bike tour is over for another year. We raised over $389,000 with more money coming in. We had newbie and veteran participants, younger and older, and it was truly a pile of fun. And, as always, very inspiring to everyone who participated.

One of the things our President (of the MS Society Atlantic Division) mentioned was how many of us achieved or surpassed personal goals, whether they were fund raising or biking related. I managed to bike 73 kilometres, averaging 14.3 k/hr. I made it up Mount Denson with only one stop. Last year, I made 3 or 4 stops. And I managed to make it up all but one kilometre of Gaspereau Mountain, which is an ascent of 140 metres in 4 kilometres. To those who are hard core bikers or participants in the Tour de France, it may not sound like much, but I'm impressed with my numbers. The one kilometre that I just couldn't bike was about 5 k from the end. I had come around the corner, thinking I was at the top, and there was more hill in front of me. I was literally devastated. I was out of steam at that point in time and gladly accepted a lift from one of the drivers. He dropped me off to finish the last few kilometres and I cruised into the university to end my Day One.

We had drizzle and fog for the first couple of hours of Day One and glaring sunshine and heat on Day Two. So I ended my second day a little early, with 15 kilometres left. The heat was sapping my energy more quickly than I anticipated so decided at the first rest stop that I would go until I got to the next rest stop and re-evaluate. After pulling into the small town where the 2nd rest stop was, I joined a few other team mates for a coffee at the local Tim Horton's (a national coffee shop chain). They carried on to the end and I called it a day about 2 minutes further down the road when I arrived at the rest stop.

Now that I've rested up today I can evaluate my body's reaction to the physical stress. I experienced a few spasms in my right calf while biking but they quickly subsided with stretches. My right forearm is a little sore today, but I suspect that was from coming down Gaspereau Mountain with a death grip on my handle bars to keep from becoming air bound. That should subside by tomorrow. Aside from that, my butt is fine, as are my legs.

Mentally, I was exhausted last night. I always go through so many emotions at this event as I see the struggle some people go through to bike the distance, the struggle many have had to raise funds during a time of economic difficulty, or to see the struggle some volunteers (with MS) have to go through to attend the event and participate as volunteers or participants. And of course, since last Thursday I've been trying to deal with my emotions about my employment situation. Many people were just finding out about it on the weekend and their reactions were universally ones of shock and encouragement. Their words truly lifted my spirits and even on Facebook today, I had a message from a participant thanking me for inspiring him to participate in the Bike Tour. It was wonderful to get that message. I often wonder if my words and deeds have any impact on people.

So now that it's all over for another year, I can concentrate with what I'm going to do with the rest of my life. Tomorrow I meet with a woman from a Human Resources company hired to help those of us laid off deal with the fallout from that. We'll figure out the financial and insurance aspects, and then sort out what to do about future employment.

Now for the pics:
I left before everyone arrived for the team photo so am not in it, but we all wore our super hero T-shirts with little capes on the back. We were known this year as the Super Cycle Delics.

We were all dressed in different super hero costumes for the banquet Saturday night. The Wookie was Superman, we had two Cat Womans, a couple of Incredibles, and a Spiderman. I was Myelin Girl and I was going around putting duct tape on people all night telling them they had been remyelinated. We were the 2 Runner up Top fund Raising team.

My hero: Wookie as Superman.

At the bottom of Gaspereau Mountain at the Gaspereau Winery. Many stopped for a sample of the wine there. I just wanted a picture with the vinyards in the background (it is called the Vinyards to Valleys Tour after all).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Change Will Do You Good

It wasn't the happiest day of my life yesterday, or for my co-workers, as I and two colleagues were laid off. There are obviously some major league changes going on at the radio station that we will not be a part of, and we don't expect it to end any time soon.

That being said, I have had harder things to deal with than losing a job, so in the bigger picture, this is just another blip. I am lucky in that I was given a severance package and access to a human resources company to assist in the transition. It may have been a business decision on the part of the company, but it's not one that I, or a great number of people agree with.

I'm also lucky because of the outpouring of support from co-workers, colleagues in the business, and family and friends. I don't think my phone stopped all day yesterday and the e-mails were fast and furious as well. I know who to call when I need a shoulder- or a reference!

After the initial shock wears off I'll get down to sorting out future plans. But my first priority right now is the Bike Tour this weekend. 12 hours from now, I'll be getting my bike gear on and heading out the door to Windsor, Nova Scotia to bike to Wolfville (and back the next day). I will have pictures next week of our team and will regale you with stories of the Cycle-Delics' triumphant return to the road. I have raised $3600 for the MS Society...not bad, though far short of what I had hoped to raise.

I expect to be on the road biking for a grand total of 8 hours. That will give me plenty of time to ponder my options for the future and figure out how to start my own radio station....

We had Chinese food for supper last night and my fortune cookie spit out this: You do not have to worry about your future.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hypothesis: I'm Full Of It

We don't really understand how the interferons work. We have some pretty good ideas, but they don't work for everyone. One hypothesis is that they work by increasing production of a protein that facilitates the death of melin-reactive immune cells (the cells that destroy myelin) and prevents inflammation. If those cells aren't destroyed, you get MS. Simple, eh?

How do you test the hypothesis? You check the blood of people on the interferons for that protein. Presence of that protein is a good thing. Lack of it means the interferons probably aren't working for you.

Whose blood you might ask? Mine for one. Starting next month, I'll be enrolled in another study through the MS clinic in Halifax and have my blood tested at regular intervals to see if the protein is present. My hypothesis, based on the researcher's, is that I'm full of it.

The whole point of this particular study is to be able to predict, based on blood studies, who will benefit from receiving interferons (Betaseron, Avonex). As it stands now, docs are encouraging everyone to get on a treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you are on treatment, the better your long term outcome: fewer attacks means less permanent damage and less disability. For some people, that means trying one drug after another, which takes precious time and may possibly result in more attacks and greater disability. So if we know right off the bat that the interferons won't work for you because you lack a certain protein or ability to make that protein, the docs can move onto another non-interferon treatment sooner.

Scientific progress is slow, I know. But it is plodding along.


Sunday, July 19, 2009


Maggots are not the most pleasant things in this world, but they are part of the food chain and are a vital part of our ecosystems. That being said, when they have infested your green bin, they must be annihilated.

Friday night, we (the super, Kim, and I) noticed that there seemed to be a few maggots in the lobby of our apartment building; Kim and I figured people brought them in on their shoes after having dumped their waste in the green bin, located about 50 feet from the building. Around 9:30 Friday night, I was being all domestic, cleaning and taking out the garbage, including compostables. I noticed a large number of maggots on and in the green bin, but it has been very humid of late so didn't think too much of it. Around 11:30 I went outside to look for moths attracted to the lights around our building and when I got outside on the front walkway, I realized I was surrounded by maggots.

I just stood there, dumbfounded. They were "swarming" and marching up the walkway. At first I was grossed out, but I was also a little intrigued. What he heck were they doing traveling from 50 feet away? I scanned my immediate area and noticed the majority were headed to the building, with quite a few in the parking area, almost like reinforcements. As I stood there, looking down on this grotesque scene, I was struck by how similar this picture was to an aerial photo I have seen taken during World War 2 of ships leaving Halifax Harbour en masse for Europe. It was a flotilla of maggots. They were headed for the front door.

I felt like I was in the middle of some horror movie: Invasion of the Maggots. My only consolation was that the birds would have a feast first thing in the morning. I went inside, scraping my shoes all the way and fired off an e-mail to the building manager, Adena (who also happens to be a friend). I explained that the infestation was a little worse than first thought. The next morning Adena called and she said if I was grossed out then it must be bad. So she arrived loaded with bleach and salt after my suggestion for eliminating them.

Turns out we have indestructable maggots in Nova Scotia. They are the Arnold Schwartzenegger Terminators of maggots. The Hulk Hogans of maggots. You get the picture.

Because there was compost matter in the bin we couldn't dump it out or put it in the garbage. So, we boiled water, added bleach and poured it on them. We poured salt on them. We tried vinegar (and baking soda for a nice fizzly effect). That just made them mad. And still they kept moving. We really didn't want to use anything heavier so as not to upset the tummies of birds and other creatures that might eat the bodies. They kept coming. Truthfully, we did kill a good number of them. I think we probably drowned more of them than anything. We mixed soap and water and threw that at them. After a couple of hours of boiling water in my apartment and taking it outside and hosing down the parking lot to get rid of the evidence we stopped for a break and to rethink what we could do.

And the heavens opened up. It poured and poured, washing all the maggots away. The ones outside the green bin anyway. We still have maggots in the green bin, but not as many. The temperature is a little cooler today as well, so that's helping the cause.

The main problem though is that because we're an apartment building, the bin gets dumped by a waste company and tenants dump more stuff in it before it can be rinsed out. So we're thinking about a solution to this. And trying to get rid of the heebie jeebies....


Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Last night my neighbour, Kim, helped me to round up a moth stuck to the outside of the third floor window screen. She managed to knock it off and I gathered it up when it landed on the ground. A little googling and I discovered it's probably a type of hawk moth. Kim said it looked like a bat from a distance. It's a spectacular add to my collection:

Yesterday morning I found three wings of a polyphemus moth, one of the huge giant silk worm moths we have around here. A bat or bird had a great meal. Some birds actually pick the wings off the moth before eating it:

I also discovered those lily beetles still at it. Rather acrobatic aren't they?

Less than three weeks to the MS Bike Tour. Time to get moving some more...


Monday, July 6, 2009

More Pics

As promised, more pics from the end of last week:

This one will give you a sense of the fog. Nice and quiet on the pond, but on the other side of the pond is the beach and roaring waves.

There were a number of snails on the beach, of course, but the fun thing was looking at their tracks:

A piece of coral washed onto the beach with a few tiny clam shells stuck inside it. I'm not sure if the clams fixed themselves to the coral and it grew around them or is they just got washed inside it. Probably the former. I used the coral to draw a two inch line on the rock it's sitting on to give a sense of size. Coral is composed of calcium carbonate, found in a number of living organisms and rock:

The sea:

Friday, July 3, 2009

Vacation (Kind of)

I have been going non stop for the past two weeks. Work, personal appearances, remote broadcasts, and fund raising for the upcoming bike tour have occupied my time almost completely. Until this week. The Wookie and I left very early yesterday morning for a drive to Kejimkujik (called Keji for short) National Park. There is an old growth forest that the Wookie really wanted to see so we spent a couple of hours in the car in order to get there early enough for a hike. We traipsed through mixed wood forest and finally got to the hemlocks, some of which are 400 years old.

The Wookie taking a pic:

The beauty of this park is such that I am almost tempted to take up camping. Almost. As much as I love nature and the outdoors, I prefer to sleep in a bed with a pillow and use indoor plumbing with hot and cold running water.

Anyway, we only spent a short time in this park (for now - we will return) as we also wanted to go to the Sea Adjunct of Keji, 40 minutes drive away. The main part of Keji is in the middle of the province; the adjunct is a pacel of protected land right on the ocean. We hiked most of the trail through the park, after having checked in at the entrance and learning that a black bear had been spotted on the beach. And there were seals on the rocks off shore. Cool. So off we went.

We never did see a bear, though two kilometres from the end of the looped trail (and technically two kilometres from the start) we did find bear scat. Having already published pics of bear poop from one of last summer's treks, I declined taking a pic. We saw seals swimming and trying to sneak up on several ducks, including two eiders, and we startled a porcupine, the probable source of animal poop that was quite abundant on the trail and poop I did photograph for Linda:

We came across deer tracks on the beach and wild strawberries, ripe for the picking (and I did eat two). We also came across a small frog pond with at least 12 frogs in and around it. And the flowers! I had never actually seen a pitcher plant in bloom; actually, I don't think I'd ever seen a pitcher plant period. The barrens were covered in them. And the orchids were in bloom as well. I have known that we have orchids in Nova Scotia, but have never seen them. They were the most spectacular candy pink. And the blue flag iris were everywhere. Fields of iris, iris on the beach, iris next to the trail, clinging tenaciously and in various states of bloom. These wonderful flowers reminded me of Herrad, hanging on in the most discouraging of weather, living so close to the violence of the North Atlantic seas just waiting to pop open. Herrad, these flowers just made me think of you, biding your time as your sore heals and you can get out in your chair again:

The weather here has been atrocious; wind, rain, drizzle, fog, and mist and about 5 minutes of sunshine towards the end of the day just to tease us. We left the park and continued on to a resort for the night, where we ran into family friends. Of course, the two of us were absolutely exhausted and eventually collapsed into puddles (after I insisted we go to the marshmallow roast on the beach so I could have a few of those ooey gooey treats).

Today we headed specifically for two other beaches. One is Risser's Beach, a provincial park with a gorgeous sandy beach bookended by jagged rocks. There we found tons of snails, shrimp like creatures, and actual shrimp in the tide pools, and even a couple of live hermit crabs. What a hoot.

I will publish as many pics as I can over the next day or two. The Wookie and I are going to get some biking in this weekend. I'm off Monday as well so the first part of my summer vacation will be complete and the sunshine will return to this part of the world on Tuesday. When I get back to work.