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. 

Y Leadership and The Shirtless Dancing Guy

“The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.” – Derek Sivers on TED.com

The Bow Valley of Alberta is a remarkable place. The scenery, of course, draws millions of tourists each year. Visitors and residents alike flock to this Mountain Mecca, allured by the invigorating fresh air, illustrious peaks and an opportunity to connect with nature in a new way. People come and go like waves on the shore. And while the area is known for its transience – students coming for summer, Aussies coming for winter and weekenders coming for a short holiday – the region is chock-full of inspiring people that are here to stay. Passionate people have emerged from the woodwork and done amazing things as leaders in their communities. (Chandra Crawford and her Fast and Female campaign to empower girls through sport comes to mind.)

There is so much more bubbling beneath the surface. This weekend I’ll be attending Y Leadership, a foundational leadership development program for 18 to 30 year-olds, that intersects leadership and experience-based learning. This program, being offered by local partners, including The YWCA, Reframe Leadership, Pacific Center for Leadership and Corporate Funk, is in its pilot phase and I have the opportunity to learning and growing along with a dozen other attendees. I’ll be there to develop professionally, but I’ve also been asked to come as a writer who can bring the message and learning from this program to others through online and print publications.

One thing I’ll be thinking about is how I, as an outdoor, travel and adventure writer, can be a leader in my community, through the pieces I publish and the research I conduct on a daily basis. How might my own learning as a writer affect the planet?

The program faculty sent us two things to take a look at prior to the course starting on Friday. One was a fascinating article in the Financial Post about how Generation Y Will Evolve Leadership. The second was a TED talk by Derek Sivers about How to Start a Movement. At only 3 minutes, the video is well-worth watching here and now! Plus, it’ll answer any questions you might have about the title of this post.

The program runs this Friday, August 5, to Sunday, August 7th. Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting leadership program in Banff National Park.

First 10km Race Ever

At the Finish Line

At the Finish Line

A month ago I had the chance for a spot in a road race that is usually sold out the day registration open. Melissa’s Road Race is a popular Banff road race and has been awarded as one of the best road races in Alberta. Sponsored by the famous Melissa’s Restaurant (a place my parents used to take us to at a very young age), the race is an exciting gathering of locals and runners from all over the province.

So I had my chance to run. I always wanted to sign up for Melissa’s Road Race with the intention of having a goal to work towards. I also wanted to overcome a major fear of mine that I’d developed from bad experiences running track in elementary school: racing of any kind… especially among a large group of people.

Anyways, I had only a month to ‘train’ and I had to just trust that the hiking and climbing I had been doing all summer would help me out. Still, I hadn’t been for a run since May and sprained my ankle in August, so I was feeling a bit skeptical. All I managed to do before the race was run a 9.25 km route and a 4 km route.

Showing up on the race day, I felt a little bit silly… that is until I saw the kind of ‘racers’ that were there. Being a popular road race celebrating its 30th year, there must have been years that some of these people ran, but as time wore on, it turns out they were now settling to walk the whole way. This gave me a bit of a boost of confidence despite the super-runners that were stretching in unimaginable ways beside me.

My iPod pumping tunes in my ears, I was surprised by how fast I was going, but some unseen force was definitely driving me onwards (even up the hill on Tunnel Mountain). I crossed the finish line with a time of 58 minutes and a  pace of 5:48 per kilometre. Is that good? I don’t know.

All I know is that I had a blast and overcome one of my major fears. Amazing.

© Meghan J. Ward, 2009.

New Article on Travel Alberta Website

Photo by Paul Zizka.

Photo by Paul Zizka.

The latest article is up and running on the Travel Alberta Website! The article will also be featured in Fresh Tracks, a publication of Travel Alberta, in their August 2009 edition. Find out more about the history of mountain guiding in the Canadian Rockies, the Conrad Kain Centennial and where you can hire a guide today by reading the article here.

Excerpt: Climbing equipment is more sophisticated and modern guidebooks describe routes in enough detail to assist with route-finding on an ascent. As a result, more peaks are accessible to experienced amateur climbers. However, books and equipment don’t always help with decision-making – and they can’t kick steps up a snow slope for an aspiring climber. Almost any climbing party will benefit from the knowledge and skill of a certified mountain guide.