On the Hunt for Aurora Borealis with Paul Zizka

Feature photo from Travel Alberta Winter Magazine 2014-2015. Photo by Paul Zizka.

It is not every day that you get assigned a story you’ve been dying to write, and even less likely to be asked to write about a person very close to you. So, I was ecstatic when Travel Alberta approached me about writing a story about my husband, Paul Zizka, and his quest to chase the Northern Lights here in the Canadian Rockies. Having the insider’s perspective on this crazy chase, especially during the solar maximum in 2013, I could have written a lot more about life at home, and how it intermingles with aurora forecasts, solar flares and Paul’s incredible ambition to capture the dancing lights. But I left myself out of the story, and talked purely about Paul’s efforts to photograph the aurora borealis, and the resources he uses to track the likelihood of their appearance.

It was a cool night on May 31, 2013, when professional photographer Paul Zizka left his home in Banff to drive to Herbert Lake, a small body of water along the world-famous Icefields Parkway in Banff National Park. Eagerly, he glanced upwards through the windshield, checking the skies at regular intervals. All forecasts predicted the aurora borealis, aka the northern lights, would put on a show – perhaps the best one of the year. “I knew I was on the verge of what could be one of the greatest photo ops I had ever encountered,” Paul explained.  → Read the rest of the article, starting on Page 30 here. 

Travel Logs from the South Pacific

I’ve been a bit quiet on here the past few months, but that’s because I’ve been island-hopping in the South Pacific with my husband (photographer Paul Zizka) and my now 13-month-old daughter, Mistaya.

Our travels have taken us to New Zealand, Niue, French Polynesia (the islands/atolls of Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Tikehau and Fakarava), and Hawaii. Throughout the journey, I have been writing about the process of travelling abroad with a baby – the joys, challenges, enriching moments, and the struggles.

You can find all of these blog posts using the South Pacific tag on The Adventures in Parenthood Projecthttp://adventurousparents.com/tag/south-pacific/

Here is the archive:

70 Days in the South Pacific

Finding Our Bearings on the Banks Peninsula

Is Adventure Worth It Even When It’s Miserable? A Baby on Jetlag

Solitude and Separation at Punakaiki Beach

Finding Our Groove in Opunake

Why My Husband Hiked a Volcano in the Middle of the Night

Discovering More Than Meets the Eye in Niue

Paradise, Milestones, and a Reality Check in French Polynesia

6 Awesome Things About Travelling Abroad with a Baby

Thoughts Turning Homeward in Tikehau

Determining Success Amidst the Hardships of Travel

Interview with Where.ca

Where.ca recently contacted me about participating in their Travel Tuesday Q&A. I promptly agreed. A chance to talk about my favourite place on the planet (The Canadian Rockies)? You bet I will!

They asked me lots of questions about my favourite spots in the Canadian Rockies, my life as a writer, and my own travel habits. My favourite question: Are there any common misconceptions about the Rockies region that you’d like to dispel? You’ll have to read the article to find out!

6 Things I’ve Learned About “Living Off My Lifestyle”

“How do you make a living out of your adventures?”

This was a recent question I got from Marissa over on The Campsite during the latest Stoke the Fire, a post in which I ask readers to share what’s on their minds about any and every topic to do with outdoor adventure. “How do you pay your bills? Is it selling articles to publications? On your blog? With videos?” she asked.

Working in Boghara, Nepal. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I let out a deep sigh of “if only you knew!” when I first read these questions. We all have people we admire or perhaps even envy in life. From the outside their arrangement seems so perfect. They seem to have found “the way,” the ideal equilibrium in which their playtime becomes a source of income and they have endless amounts of time to pursue adventure.

But I think that’s an illusion, at least partly. And it definitely doesn’t describe my personal arrangement.

To answer Marissa’s question, I make a living out of my adventures by working extremely long hours; being self-employed; learning to cope with an unknown future; networking the heck out of social media; choosing projects that will develop me professionally, even if they aren’t for pay right away (like Mountains in Motion and The Adventures in Parenthood Project); and learning how to be rejected over and over again.

On the plus side, the rewards are well worth it: I get to write about topics that inspire me, get invited to cover stories or events that are outdoor or adventure-related, seek opportunities less and less and instead wait for them to come to me (which they often do!), meet and interview amazing people, and control my own schedule so that I can make time to pursue my outdoor passions.

Without divulging all my secrets of how I pay my bills, I’ll offer up a few things I’ve learned along the way. Keep in mind that our career paths are ever-evolving. These lessons are based on my experience in the here and now.

6 Things I’ve Learned About “Living Off My Lifestyle”

1. The process is never completely linear for me. I based my niche as a writer on what I love to do, but sometimes it will be years before a trip I take turns into content for a story or lands in a brochure. For example, an article I recently wrote about Nepal was something I pitched in November 2010, submitted March 2012 and won’t see published until at least this July. Also, the many years of hiking and exploring Banff National Park have enabled me to write and suggest content for my local clients, particularly for the marketing materials I produce for the park. It could be four years between the time I meander my way down a trail and a description of that trail ends up in a hiking brochure for Banff or Lake Louise.

2. Many writers have their passion projects and ones that they do for pay. After learning the hard way, I now choose projects that I will enjoy and that align with my own values. If I do something only for pay, I end of compromising majorly on my happiness and lose motivation. Words come more easily when I’m not trying to fake them.

3. Ask and you may receive. If you don’t you’ll never know. I attribute some of my bigger successes to the times I took a big leap of faith and put my head on the chopping block only to discover that it actually never gets chopped off! Every query letter, request and idea is a stepping stone, even if the person on the other end has to decline or say a flat-out “no.”

4. If you want to love what you do for work, you may have to let go of certain types of securities and comforts (having health benefits provided by an employer, vacation pay, a pension, regular pay checks).

5. I have learned so much about the industry by joining a variety of associations, including the Professional Writers Association of Canada, Alberta Magazine Publishers Association and the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition. There are resources, and other people, out there to help you achieve your work and lifestyle dreams.

6. Last but not least, giving back to the outdoor/writing community, providing feedback to other writers, volunteering my skills, commenting on blogs and articles, and engaging with people on Twitter and Facebook have all helped me grow and learn as a writer, outdoor enthusiast and a person. Supporting others in their work is the best way to grow in your own.

Any other writers out there have some lessons they’d add to the list?