Review: Kicking Horse Grizzly Claw

I’m going to start my review with a little story.

Two years ago, I bought a 1992 Mitsubishi Delica van, and in an uncharacteristic but enthusiastic fit of outdoorsiness, we took the van on a road trip through southern British Columbia. It seemed like the perfect summertime vehicle, with plenty of room for the kids and camping gear.

What we didn’t realize is this: old Delica vans are very very very SLOW. There’s no power in the poor thing — it just plods along, generously allowing you to admire the scenery, while scooters and VW Bugs race passed you on even a moderate incline. Our top speed as we came up the hill towards Hope? 60 kph.

We decided not to risk driving the Coquihalla Highway, because we were bound to roll backward if we tried to ascend those mountains, so instead, we chose to drive through Manning Park, a longer route but also quite pretty and whatever, we’re on vacation, right? We toddled along empty roads, bounded on either side by icy turquoise creeks and thick evergreen forests, as slow as a turtle.

And I guess, because we were so slow, we were also sort of quiet, because as we rounded one curve, we surprised a GRIZZLY BEAR eating roadkill in the middle of the highway.

Up to this point, my bear experiences had extended no further than the little cute black bears that inhabit Vancouver Island, which I can scare out of my apple tree with a shout and a hand clap. But this beast! HOLY URSUS MAJOR! The hump on its back was higher than the windshield of the van. The Delica has no motor in front, so suddenly, the only thing separating my knees from this cinnamon-colored Godzilla was a dashboard, a bit of glass, and a windshield wiper.

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It looked like this, but with more of an ‘OMG!’ expression.

Lucky for us, this mighty bear was not a fan of the Japanese automobile industry. It took off running down the middle of the road, and we found ourselves driving behind a gargantuan grizzly butt. It was huge. It was really, really huge. (Clarification: Not just the butt, but the whole animal.) I was much humbled by the speed of the bear, by the ease and grace with which it ran, and above all, its immense size and power. Man, those bears. They’re awesome. It made me love and respect them even more, which I didn’t think possible.

Anyway, all this to say, I’ve been sipping on a cup of Kicking Horse Coffee’s Grizzly Claw blend, and as I think back to the size, speed, and power of that wondrous creature, I’ve decided that this coffee is aptly named. It’s robust. It’s got a powerhouse swing. It’s fierce and ferocious and confident, with a clout that leaves you a little breathless. Grizzly Claw has a dark chocolatey sweetness surrounding an indomitable strength. I couldn’t possibly drink it all the time – it’s too strong for that – but when I need a little reminder of the brutish nature of the wilderness, a cup of Grizzly Claw will do just fine.

Final Verdict: If you want a bold coffee that savages your tastebuds and fills you with feelings of wild exhilaration, I’d recommend Kicking Horse’s Grizzly Claw. Plus, added bones: it’s safer than bumping into a real grizzly in the middle of the road.  Four beans!

 

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Filming Perseverance: Reflections on a Creek

The water is as clear as glass. It splashes and sparkles in the brief sunshine that squeezes between low-slung clouds, and in those few summery moments, the creek appears as merry and graceful as a dancer.

To call it a ‘creek’ does it a disservice. That small word diminishes this waterway’s grandeur and power; its importance to the landscape; and its relevance to the discussion of conservation and quality of life. This waterway has danced and bubbled over these polished stones for thousands of years – it is ancient, but perpetually renewed. On all sides, trees reach down their thirsty roots and draw life from the water. As they have done for generations, ferns and moss snuggle along the banks, lush with moisture.  Trout, salmon, otters, mink, bears, cougars, mice, squirrels, ravens, jays, crows, thrush, red-wing blackbirds, orb spiders, Pacific tree frogs, voles, newts, beetles… the list goes on and on and on, all of the creatures that rely on this water to survive.

And we are part of that list, too. We are part of that cycle, even though we try to forget it.

Accepting our role as part of the ecosystem hits us hard, reinforces our beautiful smallness and our mortality. The water moves forever down channels – whether creeks or rivers or stomachs or cells – but we have only a few precious moments to sit on the rocks and watch it flow by, and delight in the quiet determination of the creek.

This four-day walk of ours along the length of the creek, from source to mouth, has affected us deeply. Following its course is like watching a life, birth to death. But at the same time, the water always keeps flowing, day and night, an unstoppable spirit following the route outlined by the rocks. It is both a fragile and a powerful force; it is both fierce and nourishing to the complex web of life around it. The physical aspects that we see of the creek, the landscape and curves and depths and stones, are only a guide. The creek is more than just a blue line on a map. It reaches far under the soil, percolating into the roots, misting up into the air. The creek is a nurturing parent, far older than the oldest trees along its bank, and it has seen the rise and demise of civilizations.

To call it a ‘creek’ is an insult. It is not a creek. It is the heartbeat of the world.

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Filming Perseverance: Part Four

The fourth day dawns, and the children will have no more of our shenanigans. They refuse to leave the comforts of couch and computer for the wild adventures of the woods. We must buy their cooperation with promises of treats – donuts, to be exact. I suppose the technical term in the film industry is ‘craft services’. Or, in other circles, ‘bribery’.

But when we discovered our first abandoned vehicle in the underbrush, their enthusiasm returned by the bucketful.

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Cumberland is an old coal mining town, and our trek along the creek now took us towards the ruins of No. 4 Mine, along an old railway track that bypassed fern hollows and mossy ravines. History surrounds us. We found three old cars, railway tracks, concrete bunkers and old trails. In 1924, two separate explosions rocked No. 4 mine, and it was never a very safe or pleasant place to work – stretching out under Comox Lake, the slopes were filled with gas and the whole network was very damp and dangerous. No. 4 Mine closed circa 1935, but it left behind ruins, holes, and plenty of twisted metal artifacts.

We filmed along the creek, then took a detour through the coal heaps left behind by No. 4. These large hills provide a great place to bike and hike, and they have a strange, otherworldly quality to them: long, man-made lumps of detritus, studded with trees. Coal mining left a long legacy in the area, not only of family history and quirky buildings but also plenty of torn mountains, pitted earthworks and environmental damage, and the scars still mark the landscape.

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After a bit of bush whacking and cross-country stumbling*, we finally made it out to Comox Lake to film the final scene, and the sun was dipping low into the west by the time we wrapped up our last shot. We needed donuts, STAT, all of us.

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So back home we went, and instead of following the trail over the mountain and along the logging road, we decided to take the fast route home. Who needs a bridge when you’ve become one with the creek?

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If you’re in the Comox Valley, you can watch ‘Perseverance’ at the Cumberland Mountain Film Festival on April 10th, and at the Cumberland Community Forest Society’s Spring Trivia Event on April 17th.  For everyone else, I’ll be posting it here after I recover from trivia night!

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*during which we discovered a three-story tree house and a rope swing that required ten rungs to climb and boasts an arc that would turn your hair white. I can’t wait for summer!

Filming Perseverance: Part Three

“Are you okay? Hey! You down there! DO YOU NEED HELP?

I looked up towards the sound of the voice, coming from a kindly woman who had stopped her bike at the side of the bridge and was now peering down into the frigid waters of Perseverance Creek. She looked quite concerned.

Was I okay? Well, I was standing up to my chest in rushing water, soaking wet, searching frantically amongst the rocks and waves for my half-a-fishing pole, clutching a small plastic orange bath toy to my chest. Shawn was under the bridge, out of sight. He’d tossed the pole towards me from across the water, but I’m a notoriously bad catch, and I’d dropped it into the river. I’d watched it spiral away with a sense of horror, because not only did it mean we’d lost a vital part of our gear (used to keep a particular prop from being swept away by the current), but the fishing line would snag all sorts of creatures. Damn it!  There was a lot of swearing on my part. There was mud on my cheek. My purple hair was sticking up in all directions. From the biker’s vantage, I probably looked like I’d been hiking alone in the woods with only a toy to keep me company, and I’d fallen in, and was now flailing around trying to find solid footing, swearing loudly.

I paused in my cursing to reply cheerfully, “I’m fine!”

She didn’t look like she believed me.

But at that moment, I found the fishing pole, wedged three feet underwater between a couple of stones. I plunged down, pulled it out, and held it triumphantly above my head. “Found my fishing pole! Hurray!”

This seemed to bring it all together for her. She gave a big smile and a thumbs up and rode away. That had been the close of Day Two.

So, to recap: Day Two of filming had finished swimmingly, and I mean that in a “I’m soaking wet all the way through to my bones” sort of way. I expected Day Three to go much the same way – we’d be filming under another bridge, and I figured I was going to be in the water for most of the time.

However, the lower bridge on Perseverance Creek had a very different personality than the upper bridge. The upper bridge is constructed out of ten or twelve full logs, covered in moss and vines, and underneath the bridge, it is dark, spooky, and spider-infested. It’s a wild kind of bridge, made with only function in mind, and slowly reclaimed over the years by moss, mushrooms, lichen and bugs.

The lower bridge? Well, this is the lower bridge:

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Doesn’t that look inviting? So lovely! So magical!

Whereas the water under the upper bridge is fierce, deep, and forced through a narrow channel, the lower bridge is wide and bucolic, peaceful and green. I did spend most of the filming in the water, but on Day Three, the water only reached to my knees. I had given up on hiking boots and now wore my diving boots for our excursions – they have very little support, so it’s a bit like walking barefoot over roots and trails, but they keep the toes warm and are great at gripping slippery stones.

We set up camp by the waterway again, and the kids amused themselves by making forts and eating snacks while Shawn and I worked really hard (read: splashed around and laughed a lot) in the creek. We only saw one person riding a bike over the bridge, which seemed sad to me, because it was such a perfect day to be outside and surrounded by nature. The curve in the creek at this point swells into a huge, emerald-green pool, then winds around a gravel bar and between towering hemlocks, majestic cedars, and stately Douglas firs. It looks a lot like a set from Lord of the Rings, to be honest.

A lot of the shots captured on Day Three were close to the surface of the water, which required the jib arm to sweep down low, then circle around and rise up up up to capture the beauty of the pool. The BlackMagic Pocket Cinema Cam isn’t waterproof, of course, so there was a great deal of trepidation… but once those shots were finished, we could pull out the GoPro Black 3+ and the long pole and just have a silly time trying to get goofy underwater shots. The GoPro doesn’t have the dynamic range of the BlackMagic, but it oozes fun. It’s less worrisome. And man, it can take a beating – every time it bailed, it went smashing into rocks and tumbling over rapids, with nary a complaint.

As evening fell, we wrapped up and left for the day, and even after many hours in the forest, I was sad to go. Yes, I was wet and cold and very hungry, but I can only imagine how beautiful the woods must’ve been, as night fell and the stars came out, and the green water kept bubbling merrily by.

Filming Perseverance: Part Two

Where did I leave off? Oh, yes… end of day one, didn’t get all the footage we wanted, figured we could finished the next day.

Best laid plans of mice & men, yadda yadda yadda, all that jazz.

The next day, we decided to park the van at the base of the trail called ‘Hai Gai’, then hike up through the woods to connect with the section where we’d finished filming the night before. Then, we’d slowly walk back down Hai Gai, getting the shots we needed along the river, and load everything back in the van for a relaxing ride home.  This seemed like a logical plan.

But logic has no place in guerrilla filmmaking, friends. It isn’t about LOGIC. It’s about rolling with whatever the universe throws your way.

We crossed the lower bridge and started up Hai Gai, wearing the gear, carrying the jib, wrangling the children. I had heard through the mountain biking community grape vine that Hai Gai wasn’t really in good condition for bikes, but it was probably fine for hiking – the key word there is ‘probably’. While it is a stunningly beautiful trail that follows a ravine, passed waterfalls and rushing rapids, it’s also a very vertical sort of trail, with some steep inclines and crazy-awesome boardwalks over fallen logs. Going up was no problem! But coming back down with all the gear? Hmmm… I wasn’t so sure if that was going to work.

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We set up a little camp at one spot and filmed for two hours, and it was beautiful. Rushing water, birds, a little picnic, all very idyllic. If the Cumberland Forest’s campaign is a success, then this forest will be saved, but if not, this spot will be clear cut next year — the thought makes my heart ache. Shawn and I (wearing diving boots) stood in the cold stream and captured a lot of footage, and it was hard not to think that could be the last spring that all these trees will be alive and green and growing.

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Anyway, back to the story.

I realized fairly quickly that I wouldn’t be able to go back the way we’d come. The equipment was not going to allow for it – I’d be juggling cameras, lenses, pole, fishing rod, and a four-year-old while navigating down steep escarpments. We decided to push onwards to the upper bridge, where a gravel service road crosses the creek, and then take that route back to our house.

By the time we reached the road (after another few detours to film in a swamp, under a bridge, and in a pool of water so clear, I could see every stone through five feet of rushing rapids), the sun was going down and everyone was wet, tired, and quite happy. We’d spent a total of seven hours in the woods, and managed to film almost half of what we needed.

But you know what? That was okay. It meant we’d be back out in the forest again tomorrow, and everyone seemed pleased with the prospect. (What was not so pleasing was the brisk evening walk to the base of Hai Gai to pick up our poor forgotten van… )