Tag Archives: carfree

New Parent Adventures: Strollers and Car Seats

Baby preparations are well under way. We’ve been slowly acquiring baby stuff, mostly hand-me-downs from friends, family, and neighbours. Emily has put her sewing skills to work creating a stuffed elephant and a wrap to carry the baby in. For big ticket items, we bought an Ikea crib, but we’ve been struggling to find a stroller and a car seat.

Considering we’re a car-free family and plan on staying that way after the baby arrives, a car seat may seem like a weird purchase, but it’s the only mandatory item we need before the baby arrives. The hospital won’t let you leave unless you have a car seat to put the baby in. Plus, we’ll need it whenever we use car-sharing vehicles and rental cars.

Our main criteria for a car seat:

  • light and easy to transport
  • can be installed quickly and safely without a base (we found European belt routing while researching the options)
  • can be integrated with a stroller for those times when we need to walk a few blocks to get to a Car2Go or Modo vehicle
  • not ridiculously expensive (since it will hopefully be used infrequently)

A few weeks ago we bought a Baby Trend City Clicker LX Travel System from Babies R Us. It was on sale and we liked the minimalist stroller frame when the car seat was attached. After hauling it home (in an Evo car sharing vehicle), we set it up and were dismayed to find two problems -a defective wheel lock and a broken plastic clip. We contacted customer support at Baby Trend and after a several phone calls and emails that went nowhere, I gave up and returned it for a refund. The car seat seemed decent, but the stroller was flimsy and cheap, with crappy wheels.

Baby Trend City Clicker LX Travel System

After that disappointment, we did a bit more research and agreed to invest in a better system. We decided on getting a Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35 car seat (which we’ll pick up soon). The car seat might be a bit more expensive than we wanted, but we’re convinced European belt routing is essential for a car-sharing family and there aren’t many car seats sold in North America with that feature. We found a used Peg Perego Book Plus stroller on Craigslist and picked that up last weekend. It’s really well designed and I think we’ll be happy with it. The real test comes when the baby arrives next month.
Stroller test drive

Car-Free Weekend – Saturna Island

Dinner on the Docks
Car-free travelling is care-free travelling, especially on the long-weekend when ferry reservations are in short supply and border line-ups are hours long. Our latest car-free adventure was to Saturna Island, one of BC’s Gulf Islands.

Saturna Island is one of the more difficult islands to reach by ferry, requiring at least one transfer at Mayne or Swartz Bay. Saturna seems more relaxed, friendlier, and quieter then the other gulf islands I’ve visited (maybe because it is more inaccessible). This is island life at its best. The locals are friendly, we were able to book last minute accommodation, the roads don’t have a lot of traffic, and we had no problems hitch-hiking around the island.

We stayed at the Breezy Bay Bed and Breakfast, located in a charming old farmhouse with an interesting history. It was originally built in 1892, then it was turned into a commune, was a free school for several years, and now it’s a bed and breakfast. I highly recommend the Breezy Bay Bed and Breakfast – it’s a great old building with some interesting spaces, the farm has frisky cows, and unlike some b&b’s I didn’t feel like I was intruding on someone. Matt and Meg, who are currently running the joint, made us feel welcome and cooked up some wicked breakfast, including gluten-free and veggie options.

On Sunday, we biked down to the other side of the island and hiked around Narvaez Bay. We ran into deer, wild turkeys, feral goats, and lots of sea creatures in the tidal pools. Emily got a flat tire, which we were able to pump up enough to get her home, but it wouldn’t hold enough air on Monday. So we ended up hitch-hiking around the island. Two of the friends we were travelling with didn’t bring their bikes and had no trouble getting rides, so we decided to hitch hike to and from Winter Cove. Saturna doesn’t have an informal car taxi system, like Mayne Island, but most locals will stop to pick up passengers. The General Store has couches in front where people wait to get rides. On our way back from Winter Cove, we were picked up by one of the owners of Breezy Bay, and he told us some interesting stories on the ride. I still prefer cycling, but hitch-hiking is a great way to meet the locals.

Saturna Island is home to a winery (which we didn’t visit, but we did try the pinot gris in the pub and bought a bottle at the General Store to bring home) and Go Nuts Burgers, which we were disappointed the pub sold out of, but you can buy them in Vancouver. There isn’t a lot of restaurant options, other then the pub and a cafe in the General Store. The one attraction we missed visiting (due to bike problems) was East Point, where whales can often we seen of of the coast. We’ll have to save that for the next trip.

The only downside to a car-free, bike trip to the gulf islands is getting to/from the ferry terminal with your bike. It’s a long ride from Vancouver to Tsawwassen and you have to shuttle through the Massey Tunnel, so I don’t recommend biking there. You can take your bikes on the bus, which is what we always do, but it’s a stressful journey because each bus only takes 2 bikes and there are lots of cyclists vying for those spaces. On the way home we had 8 bikes rush off our ferry to jockey for bus spots. Luckily, we were all able to get on the next 4 buses that left within 30 minutes, but I wish Translink would offer a more reliable option for cyclists trying to get to/from the ferry terminals.

Travelling By BikeSaturna Island Gas StationSaturna Island By BikeBreezy Bay FarmBreezy Bay Bed and BreakfastTwin Beds
MegBreezy Bay Living RoomBreezy Bay LibraryBreezy Bay Dining RoomBreezy Bay BreakfastPoke the Cow
Practice PokeWild TurkeysCarry a Big StickField BathtubGulf Islands National ParkDown By the Bay
Wild GoatsSea AnemoneKayakersSpottedSaturna WaterfallMe and the Waterfall Emily and the Waterfall Fern Gully Saturna Pub Dinner on the Docks Breezy Bay Glide Relaxing in Winter Cove Travelling By Bike Bikes on the Ferry Bike Lineup

Saturna Island 2011, a set on Flickr.

Car-Free Weekend – Mayne Island

Vancouver is a great city to live car-free in. You can bike all year round on a great network of bike routes, most of Metro Vancouver is well served by public transit, and there are two car sharing options (my favourite being the Cooperative Auto Network). However, getting out of the city for weekend trips is sometimes a challenge without a vehicle.

One good option is exploring the Gulf Islands, which is easy (and cheap) to do with a combination of bus, ferry, and bike. 2 years ago Emily explored Gabriola Island by bike, and this year we explored Mayne Island.

Getting to Mayne Island is relatively easy. The Canada Line allows bikes on board at all times and will take you to Bridgeport Station, where you transfer onto the 620 Tsawwassen bus. The bus takes you to the ferry terminal where you’ll find a few sailings to Mayne Island. The trickiest part is getting your bike on the bus. Each Translink bus has 2 spots in front for bikes, and they go quickly. On the way to the ferry terminal there were 5 bikes that wanted to get on our bus. On the way back there were 8, plus several people biked into town from the ferry terminal hoping to catch a different bus. Luckily, in both directions we had bus drivers who were accommodating and squeezed extra bikes into the space where wheelchairs normally go. Although both bus drivers said it was a one-time-deal and not to count on extra bike space, we heard other cyclists had similar experiences last weekend. I would be great if Translink found a better long term suggestion – like a bike trailer for the ferry routes on weekends, or extra bike racks on the back of buses.

Now assuming you can get your bike to the ferry terminal, it only costs $2 extra to take your bike on the ferry, and judging by the dozens of bikes we had on our return trip from the gulf islands, it is an increasingly popular travel option. Mayne Island is relatively bike friendly – it is quick to get around the small island, the roads are well paved, and the traffic is light, but there are tons of hills that make exploring a real workout. In addition, you don’t want to be caught biking after the sun goes down. Our ferry was late arriving on Friday night, and at 10:30 the roads are pitch black and the bike lights we had did little to illuminate them.

We stayed at the Springwater Lodge in Miner’s Bay – a short ride from the ferry terminal that felt very long in the darkness. The Springwater offers very basic lodging, in 5 rooms above the pub with a shared washroom. There was noise from the restaurant until midnight on Saturday night, but otherwise it was a quiet – possibly because we were the only guests. If it wasn’t for the shredded curtains, crappy mattress, missing smoke detector, and broken hot water tap this would have been a great place to stay. A little basic repair work would go along way here.

Our exploration of Mayne Island led us all around the island. We hiked the trails in Mount Parke and climbed up to the top of Vulture Ridge.
Mayne Island Hiking Map
There are a few hiking loops in Mount Parke, all along well traversed trails. Halliday Ridge and Old Gulch Trail were the best hikes – 2.8 km of medium difficulty trails that take you up to a viewpoint and back. The viewpoint provides vistas of Pender Island and, unfortunately, the gravel pit below. There is also the Plumper Pass Community Park Trail (2 km loop), which was a boring hike. The Mary Jeffery Park trail was an easy flat trail with a giant arbutus tree on the southern portion. We spent just over 2 hours doing all the hikes in the park.

We started our Vulture Ridge hike at Punch’s Alley and hiked half of the Doreen McLeod Beach Access Trail and then ascended Vulture Ridge to the viewpoint. Both trails were slightly overgrown and we had plants whipping at our exposed legs. This was definitely a hike you should do with pants on. The viewpoint from the top of Vulture Ridge was nicer then the one on Halliday Ridge and there was even a bench to sit on. The return trip to the viewpoint from Punch’s Alley took us 90 minutes.

We also explored the area around the light house at Georgina Point and the park at Campbell Point. Both areas had nice sandstone formations, and Campbell Point had a sandy beach for lounging and swimming (although it was too cold for that when we were there).

We ate really well on the island. We had dinner one night at Wild Fennel, a restaurant serving meals highlighting local ingredients. They had a good vegetarian selection but the portions were simply too big. The restaurant is cozy with a nice patio and the walls are lined with great art created by one of the owners.

We also ate the Springwater Lodge one night. I was expecting sub-standard pub food, especially considering how budget the rooms are. But I was surprised by the quality of the food we got. They also have a big patio with great views of Active Pass.

Springwater Lodge Mayne Island Farmer's Market Captain Colander Tinkers Sharpening Service Eating Local, Island Style Pumper Pass Lockup Wild Fennel Climbing the Arbutus Textured Sandstone Perched Arbutus Sandstone Sandals Beach Lounging Mount Parke Indian Pipe Giant Arbutus Mayne Island Car Stop Tinkerers Bed & Breakfast Busy Bee Little Ferry, Big Ferry Gulf Island Leap Purple Starfish Clam Conversations Long Island Walk Spirit of Vancouver Island Vulture Ridge Springwater Lodge Food Island Emily Deer on Road Blackberry Picking Ferry Foot Fetish Cow Horn

Car-Free Weekend – Portland

5 years ago, Portland was up there with Omaha in terms of places I wanted to visit. I had barely heard of the city. When I worked at Microsoft, it was only ever mentioned as a shopping destination, a place to buy a new computer or tv, as Oregon has no sales tax. Since I moved to Vancouver, everyone seems to speak of Portland as an environmental utopia – a place where everyone bikes, public transit is free, and restaurants serve local, organic food.

As a birthday surprise, Emily planned a trip for the two of us to Portland. Amtrak has been running a direct train to Portland for the past few months (and will continue until at least the end of the summer – I highly recommend the trip!). We got up really early on Friday morning, road our bikes down to the train station (5 minutes, all downhill), and at 7 am our train left en route to Portland.

Pacific Central at Dusk

I really love travelling by train. The seats are comfortable, there is lots of leg room, the ride is smooth, you can get up and walk around, and there is no such thing as a traffic jam. Supposedly, you can even drink your own booze. I’m not sure what the ideal time to show up at the train station is – we were there an hour early, and that was too much time, even for clearing customs (the other great benefit – not stopping at the border for customs) and loading our bikes into the baggage car. The train has a plug for every pair of seats that we used to watch movies on my laptop.

Amtrak Bike Storage  Comfy Amtrak Cars  Bike + Train = Awesome  Go by Train - Union Station

The only downside of rail travel is it is slower then driving or flying. The infrastructure in Canada and the US has barely been touched for 40 years. On a lot of bridges, the train had to slow down because it is not safe to go at full speed. Can you imagine if that were the case on any highway? People would freak out. Yet it is the norm for train travel. On our journey south we had to transfer onto buses between Everett and Seattle because a mudslide the night before had made the tracks unsafe for passengers, even though our train was allowed to continue without us. Luckily it only delayed us a few minutes, but a small delay on passenger rail often grows. Later we had to stop to let a freight train pass (which slowed us down by another 10 minutes), as freight has priority over passenger rail and is allowed to go faster because less people care if a freight train derails.

SkyBridge  I'd Rather be on the Train

Portland lived up to many of the stereotypes I had of the city. There’s a quite environmentalism that pervades the city. People just bicycle, recycle, and eat local. There’s no smugness to it, it’s just the way things work here. The hotel we stayed in (Marriot Courtyard City Center – highly recommended!) was LEED certified, celebrated earth hour, and had bike parking for guests, but it didn’t seem overly environmentally friendly.

Earth Hour at our Hotel  Hotel Bike Parking  Courtyard Marriott

We visited the farmer’s market on Saturday morning and it blew me away. I thought Vancouver had great farmer’s markets, but this one was about 5 times larger then Vancouver’s biggest market and was packed with people, all enjoying a sunny morning in a park in the middle Portland State campus. Most of the restaurants we visited emphasized their “sustainable” menus items, which I think was meant to indicate that the food they served was local and organic.

Portland Farmer's Market

Experiencing the food in Portland was one of the highlights of the trip. Portland has two food innovations I’d love to see copied in Vancouver – the food cart and brewpub theatres. Food carts in Portland are more then just hot dog carts. They are converted mobile home trailers that are semi-permanently located on the edge of parking lots. And some of them serve excellent food. From what I read, some aspiring chefs start with food carts, as the start up costs are lower. Now, brewpub theatres are just that, theatres that serve beer – usually some of Portland’s fabulous micro-brews. Emily and I went to the Living Room Theatres on Saturday night and watched a great foreign film (Terribly Happy), and I got to have a beer and sit in a big, comfy sofa chair. It’s such a perfect idea, and it exists because Portland has looser regulations then Vancouver – the food carts, brew pub theatres, and many of the converted house restaurants we ate in would all be illegal in Vancouver.

Benson Bubblers  Farmer's Market Flood  Gluten-Free Heaven  Street Food Breakfast

Some of the other touristy highlights were:
– Visiting the Saturday market. It was too packed with people to do much shopping, but it was a vibrant scene.
– Walking around in the Japanese garden was very zen. Then we Zoobombed down on our bikes from Washington Park into Nob Hill.
– Shopping in Hawthorne Village, which was kind of like Main Street or Commercial Drive in Vancouver, with vintage clothing, Japanese nick knacks, and lots of good restaurants.
– Getting smarter at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. A decent science museum, similar to Science World in Vancouver.

Japanese Tea Garden  Japenese Fountain  Portland Saturday Market  Keep Portland Weird  Blast Off  Emily in Space

I’m really glad we took our bikes down to Portland. Amtrak only charges $5 for a bike reservation fee, and getting around Portland is really easy on bikes. When we first arrived and saw the street cars zipping around (all free downtown), I didn’t think we’d use the bikes. However, they really came in handy in Washington Park and for exploring the east side. Portland has done a lot to make biking easy. The street cars all have multiple hooks for hanging bikes inside. All of the downtown bridges have bike lanes. And, the biggest change from Vancouver – finding bike parking was easy. Everywhere we went had bike racks, and throughout downtown there are bike corals where they’ve converted a single parking spot into enough space to fit a dozen bikes on the street. The only problem we found biking around Portland was figuring out what streets were bike friendly. Luckily, most were, but there is definitely a lack of signed bike routes and connected bike lanes. Often we found ourselves biking down a bike lane only to have it disappear with no indication where we should go.

Portland Bike Corrals  Bikes on Street Cars

Portland is an impressive city, but it isn’t perfect: there are a few ugly freeways dividing large parts of the city; a lot of the commercial district felt very disjoint, even more so than Vancouver; and there were surprisingly high numbers of obese people and smokers. However, I loved the bike friendly feel and the great food options.

Tale of Two River Banks

I want to go back to Portland again this summer. The train makes it very easy to visit for a long weekend, and there is still more I want to see and restaurants I want to try. I also want to take advantage of the zero sales tax – I’m thinking of picking up a new camera or a smart phone next time.

Car-Free Weekend – Gabriola Island

To celebrate our two-year anniversary, Emily (being the amazing person she is) planned a surprise weekend for us – a surprise for me that is, as she knew exactly what we were doing. I was just told to pack clothes for 2 days, including rain gear and a bathing suit, and be ready to leave Friday at 4pm.

When Emily arrived at my work with her bike, I was a little confused. Did she want to leave it in the bike room? No. Surprise! We’re going on a bike trip. I felt a little unprepared (luckily I had my bike pump to inflate my tires), but extremely excited about a biking weekend. I still had no idea where we were going. I followed her a few blocks to a crowded bus stop, where we waited for the Horseshoe Bay Express. Ok, that narrowed down the possibilities. We were taking a ferry somewhere – probably the Sunshine Coast, or so I thought.

Luckily, we were the only two people hoping to get our bikes on the bus, as it only has room for 2. At Horseshoe Bay we bought 2 tickets to Nanaimo (to my confusion) and boarded the ferry. BC Ferries allows people to bring bikes on ferries, but charges $2 on the big routes. The $2 is a minimal fee, especially compared to the cost of a car ($47.15 to Nanaimo plus a $17.50 reservation fee). I just wish they would provide some service for my $2. The ferry to Nanaimo had one overloaded bike rack, and on the way back there was nothing so we had to lock our bikes to a railing. The dogs are provided better facilities, for free.

Once we got to Nanaimo, I was still confused as to our destination. Nanaimo isn’t exactly a scenic place to visit. Emily led the way as we biked into town, along the seawall, and to another ferry terminal (it took about 20 minutes), this one to Gabriola Island – our ultimate destination.

Gabriola Island is one of the Gulf Islands. It’s a cute little tourist location, full of artisan shops, bed and breakfasts, local agriculture, and marinas. It’s also relatively bike-friendly, which is why Emily chose it. It was probably too hilly for Emily’s liking, but there wasn’t much traffic, so biking was pleasant. We only had to stop and push our bikes up a steep hill twice.

We arrived around 9 pm, and the owner our bed and breakfast (Cliff Cottage was waiting at the ferry terminal with a truck so we didn’t have to bike in the dark. The B&B was really nice – with fancy robes, a big bedroom, a hot tub (very welcoming after a day of biking), and yummy breakfasts both mornings (frittata and waffles).

On Saturday, the weather was gorgeous and we biked down to Silva Bay, stopping at Brickyard Beach and the petroglyphs behind the church. The petroglyphs were interesting, but hard to make out when they were dry. The museum near the ferry terminal had reproductions, that we looked at on Sunday after it rained, which were much easier to see and enjoy.

At Silva Bay, we took a kayak tour from Jim’s Kayaks. I figured the kayak “tour” would shed some local insight on the area, but it turned out to be just a follow-the-leader kayak trip designed for people who were afraid of kayaking. It was still good, but we would have gotten just as much from a kayak rental and a map. The islands around Silva Bay were great for kayaking, with sandstone cliffs that have been carved into weird shapes by wind and rain, and loads of seals sunning themselves on the rocks.

Sunday brought the rain – luckily we were prepared. It wasn’t too bad, by 11 am, when we were set to roll out, it was barely drizzling and stopped soon after. We biked down to the Malaspina Galleries, a particularly impressive sandstone cliff on Gabriola Island. We sat under the overhanding cliffs and ate a snack. We were almost stranded when a passing ferry sent huge waves and forced us to scramble to find dry ground. Afterwards, we checked out some of the shops and ate a late lunch before taking the ferry back.

In the end, it was a perfect weekend. Emily did an amazing job planning and keeping it a surprise. Gabriola Island makes a for a perfect bike trip from Vancouver. Biking is a lot cheaper then driving, especially since we would have had to rent a car plus pay over $150 extra for the ferries. And with the bikes, we could just walk on to any ferry, without having to worry about reservations or lineups. The only concerns were getting our bikes on a bus and handling the rain, which luckily were a breeze.

Biking on the Ferry Bath Robes The Bed in Bed & Breakfast Giant Shower View from our B&B Cliff Cottage B&B Steep Hill Brickyard Beach Garlic Chocolate? I'm a Kayaker Kayaking Emily Sandstone Cliff Kayakers Ingenious Fly Ingenious Soup Plea for Slow Sex Long and Windy Hill Alien-Head Biker Me and My Bike Petroglyph Boogy Bug Man Bug Man Male Alien Crazy Petroglyph Petroglyph She's All Mime Dancing Alien Peanut Man Off With Your Head Spiderweb Danger Emily! Malaspina Galleries Pocketed Rocks Jaws High and Dry Bikes on the Ferry