Growing up, I took hand building pottery classes at the Cultural Centre in Beaverlodge on several occasions. Our instructor was a lady named Darlene Dautel, & her enthusiasm & patience provided an enjoyable first experience with pottery; when I look back on those classes I have nothing but warm memories. For a kid who was usually busy with sports, these classes were a chance to be creative. Once, Darlene even let us try the pottery wheel, fearing that clay would end up absolutely everywhere . . . & it did!
One of my goals for this year was to take an art class, so when I got an email saying that the Vermilion Pottery Guild was bringing in an instructor from St. Paul, Gladys Fleming, to teach a seven week beginner wheel class, I jumped at the chance. Each class was three hours, & it was wonderful to have such a large chunk of uninterrupted time carved out of my week dedicated to something tactile & calming. Working with clay is, for me, an antidote to stress & the disconnect that I sometimes feel from my body when I become busy. On the wheel, the clay does not lie; if you hold stress in your body, it will show up in the clay. Throwing on the wheel requires patience, letting go of the quest for perfectionism (I’m getting better!), & learning to embrace happy accidents.
I chronicled my progress, week-by-week, by snapping a few pictures. I like that now, after the fact, I can use the pictures to remind me of the skills I learned, from throwing a simple cylinder, to glazing. It’s also a reminder of the investment of time, energy, & care that goes into creating a single piece of pottery. Appreciate those artists people!
I liked Part A of my Open Water Diver course. Breathing under water in the pool was new & fun because it was contained in an environment I’m super comfortable in from my years of lifeguarding & teaching swimming lessons. The SDI Open Water course requires participants to take Part B, the actual open water portion, within six months of completing Part A. I knew this upon registering, so despite our summer being super busy (which is what happens when you decide to make a wedding happen in just four months!), I registered for a weekend of diving at Lac Beauvert in Jasper National Park. Here’s the part where I have to admit something that I’m not proud of; at one point, it occurred to me to just not go. I was scared. The thought of diving in a lake, instead of in the safety of the pool where I’m confident, made me nervous. Really nervous. But, I’d come this far, & couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing my investment of time, money, & effort be for naught either. So, I went.
By the time we picked up my gear in Edmonton, reached Jasper, set up camp at Whistlers, & got a good night’s rest, I’d convinced myself things would be okay. “I can do this” & “I can do hard things” became my mantras. We left the campsite in plenty of time to get to the lake & I was feeling pretty good about the power of my positive thinking . . . until we got lost on the way because I used Google Maps for directions, which took us to the completely wrong side of the lake, & showed up 20 minutes late for the first dive. Even worse was having to admit that I’d used the map provided when I picked up my gear to start our campfire the night before. Things were not off to a great start.
This negativity continued when I struggled to put together my BCD, tank, & regulator & no instructor showed up to introduce themselves or to help. I’d been hoping they’d go over set-up as a refresher, but everyone else in the class had taken their pool portion the weekend before & knew exactly what they were doing. I took mine back in March, so my memory was a bit foggy! Luckily, a really nice girl the next truck over helped my out (& ended up being my dive buddy), & soon a woman showed up to introduce herself as Angie, the instructor.
We met in a circle, introduced ourselves, & did a briefing. Our little group was made up of two couples, myself & my dive-buddy, our instructor Angie, who is one of the owners of The Dive Outfitters, & ~six other guys who were training to be dive masters.
Out first entry into the lake would be a quick snorkel dive, wearing both layers of the 7 mm wetsuits, our hoods, gloves, & boots, masks & snorkels, just to get accustomed to the buoyancy provided by the thick suits & to acclimatize ourselves to the chilly mountain water. One of the most stressful parts of the dives was getting on the ridiculously thick wetsuits (they did keep us toasty warm though). To give some context, a regular wetsuit you might wear wake boarding is 3 mm thick, & these are so large that my elbows hurt from trying to bend in them. The neoprene hood also made me want to gag & forced my vision forward, like a horse with blinders on. “If you can do this, you can dive anywhere,” one of the dive-masters-in-training commented. For a moment, I imagined a tropical beach, wearing my swimsuit, watching sea turtles, & admiring the coral. One can dream. The snorkel dive was easy though, & over in a
flash. We returned to shore to put on our heavy BCDs & weights & to have another briefing.
Each dive during the course had a certain number of skills that had to be performed. Dive #1 was to start with regulator removals, clears, & exchanges, & mask removals & clears. As we each followed the buoy rope, descended & settled onto the bottom to wait for further instructions, we kicked up the sand all around us. My mask was already fogged up, & the combination seriously reduced my visibility & sent me into near panic mode. It took every single fibre of being in my body & the greatest display of will-power I have ever made to make myself stay on the bottom, breathing in-and-out, in-and-out, instead of swimming back up to the top, declaring, “I don’t like this!” & going home. That experience, of conquering my fear, of controlling my body by controlling my breathing, & controlling my mind by choosing courage over fear, is something I will never forget because it’s something I wouldn’t have been capable of doing several years ago.
“To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around.”
― Richie Norton
Dive #2 included several more skills like partner tows, emergency ascents, alternate air-sharing ascents, & a fun swim focusing on improving our buoyancy skills. I was proud of myself for completing all of the skills successfully (we’d already had one member out of our little group of six decide to quit after the first dive), but wasn’t necessarily having much fun. The equipment was so awkward, my mask kept fogging up, & I was having a tough time staying near the bottom during our fun swim.
I was mostly looking forward to hitting up Jasper Pizza Place, having a nap, & enjoying a toasty warm fire back at the campground. The pizza did not disappoint, I got my nap, & then something incredible happened.
Brian said to me, “This isn’t easy for you is it? I’m proud of you.” & he was right. Here I was, doing something really hard, that most people don’t even attempt, & was beating myself up about it. My perspective changed dramatically thanks to that comment, & Brian deserves a giant shout-out for being my shore support & sticking around all weekend, helping me get the heavy gear on-&-off, & generally being his friendly, positive self. He even made us some new friends & possible future dive buddies! I couldn’t do these kind of things without his support.
The next day I returned to Lac Beauvert with a very different frame of mind than on day 1. We were early & had time to marvel at the stillness & beauty of the lake & the mountains. I set up my gear with confidence. I’d done this before & knew what to expect.
Then, the instructors pulled out a compass. Now, I’m an educated, middle-class women, so I know how a compass is supposed to work theoretically, but I’d never actually used one. With some coaching & practice on land, I got the hang of it, & overcome my hangup on anything that has to do with numbers. Dive #3’s first skill was underwater navigation. I definitely didn’t love this portion, & wouldn’t pursue it in a more advanced course, but it was interesting. After this, I’m also pretty certain I’d never go out with just a buddy, something I’d soon be certified to do, in large lake or an area we didn’t know well. My navigation skills aren’t the best & I would’t be comfortable relying on them without instructors nearby. During this fun swim I shot up from near the bottom to the surface unintentionally, & at a fast clip. I tried to go back down but by ears hurt, so I came back to the top in pain. With a lot of equalizing, I was able to go back down & finish the last couple minutes of the dive, but I was very careful to equalize often on the final dive, & ended up at the hospital a few days later just to make sure everything was okay.
The final dive was where the weekend really came together for me. No more practicing skills, just a fun dive like I’d imagined. I had my buoyancy figured out much, much better than on previous dives, I kept track of my dive buddy much, much better than on previous dives, & I was loving every minute! Because Lac Beauvert backs onto the golf course at Jasper Park Lodge, I found three golf balls, tucked them up between the layers of my wetsuits, & was able to bring them back to shore for Brian. Because we weren’t stirring up sand from the bottom, the visibility was great, & I enjoyed the cool feeling of the water as we swam along. I marvelled at the spring-fed water vents on the bottom of the lake, where the sand would rise, then be suspended, in small puffs as new water entered the lake from the earth below. I even felt the thermocline as we descended down to ~40 feet, the deepest I had ventured in my life. I returned to shore grinning from ear-to-ear. I’d done it! I was now a certified Open Water Diver!
One thing that stood out to me over the course of the weekend was how friendly, helpful, & passionate the diving community is around Edmonton. It was cold, it was raining, & it was a rare summer weekend in Canada, yet all these people chose to be at Lac Beauvert. Between dives they don’t hide in there vehicles with the heaters on (which I may have done once or twice). Instead, they eat their snacks standing up, in a circle, chatting about their love of diving their equipment, & the sport in general. It was easy to see they really love SCUBA diving, & that it would be a great community to be a part of. I think Brian picked up on this vibe too because by the end of the weekend, despite his ear issues, he was asking me if I thought he’d like it, & was making plans to take the hour-long Discover SCUBA course at the NAIT pool this winter to see if he’d like to take his certification course. For someone who generally chooses to sit on the shore while I swim, that’s powerful stuff!
My biggest takeaway from this experience is the realization that sometimes the challenges that I choose to take on are going to be really hard. It is in the challenge, & in the courage & perseverance that it takes to push myself out of my comfort zone, that I grow into a better, more capable, more confident, person. & that’s a win I’ll take any day!
“I will not die an unlived life. I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire. I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me, to make me less afraid, more accessible, to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing . . . ”
In the fall of 2013 I completed my first hike in Grande Cache with my friend Darla, several of her amazingly energetic aunties, & their furry friends. Standing at the top of Flood Mountain, knowing I had made it all the way up there under my own power, was an extremely empowering feeling. It gave me confidence & a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt in a long time outside of university coursework. The vibrant fall colours were breathtaking, & made every step up the path worth while. It was also a huge check off my bucket list, as climbing a mountain was on my original list of things to accomplish by the time I turn 30.
But . . . the goal setting for hiking & peak bagging did not end there. Grande Cache is home to a program called Passport to the Peaks, which is split into three levels.
The Bronze level features novice to intermediate half & full day hikes &, of course, I want to be able to say I’ve done them all! Many people carry a passport from the visitor information centre, & stamp their passports from the cairn boxes on the top of each summit, but I’ve decided to track my progress with pictures instead. I am considering picking up a passport in the future though, especially if I take on a higher level.
The Bronze level consists of six mountains:
B1: Grande Mountain: 6520′ Completed June 25, 2016.
B2: Flood Mountain: 6000′ Completed fall 2013.
B3: Mount Louie: 6075′
B4: Mount Stearn: 6625′
B5: Ambler Mountain: 6275′
B6: Mount Hamell: 6986′
Currently, I have completed two of the six hikes. One of my goals for 2016 is to complete two more of the Bronze level peaks, so I need to get down to Grande Cache one more time before the snow flies. I think a scenic fall hike may need to be planned!