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. 

Finding Inspiration at the Banff Mountain Book Festival

Considering the quantity of sold out events this year at the Banff Mountain Book Festival, I think it’s safe to say that it is no longer a best-kept secret, and no longer the ‘little sister’ to the Banff Mountain Film Festival. On a more personal note, the book festival has always been my favourite part of the festivals – not only because it offers a more intimate experience, but also because words are my medium of choice, the way I process information, my lifeline.

As a writer, the Banff Mountain Book Festival encourages me to dig deeper, to find the story really worth telling and to continue sharpening my skills so that perhaps one year it will be me up on that stage presenting my own book. But for now I’m content to learn from others, to absorb from a seat in the audience, and bring the stories of others to you.

I can’t recap the entire book festival, but the events today offered a particularly good mix of topics and styles. They also brought with them lessons we can apply to our own lives, which I’ll summarize here:

The Calling.Barry Blanchard kicked off the with the presentation of his book, The Calling: A Life Rocked by Mountains. I was familiar with his book, having reviewed it for The Campsite a few weeks ago, but it was refreshing to hear him reading his own words. In fact, the book read better aloud than it did in my head, and listening to Barry gave the stories new life and the audience an opportunity to laugh. It is clear the crowd – a home crowd for Barry – simply loves this man, and that spoke as loud as his words. One thing I learned from Barry, both through his climbing stories and his account of challenges writing the book, is the importance of perseverance. If you eventually want to see something in print, you need to work away at it, letter by letter, word by word.

Paddlenorth.Next, author Jennifer Kingsley presented her book, Paddlenorth – an account of a 54-day, 1100-kilometre journey she made with friends on the Baillie and Back Rivers in Nunavut. While she didn’t intend to write a book about the trip, the experience motivated her to do so. She didn’t reveal too much about her book (I’ll have to read it!), however a few things she said caught my attention. First, she made a comment about how modern travel allows you to get from one destination to another very quickly, but that does not mean that you have caught up emotionally and psychologically. This also ties into a comment she made about returning home from such a voyage: “This is the kind of trip that when I got home, it wouldn’t lie down,” she said. Having been on a few longer stints of travel, I can relate to both of these comments – to needing time to catch up to my destination and needing time to unravel the threads of the experience once I’m home.

Great Bear Wild.Finally, photographer, conservationist, and author of Great Bear Wild, Ian McAllister, took the stand. I was familiar with McAllister’s incredible photographs, just not the stories behind them. Walking the audience through the backstories of his images, McAllister conveyed a deeper understanding of these magnificent creatures. By explaining their contexts through human analogies, I could relate to the wildlife in a way I never had before. I appreciated these stories because these are the creatures and habitats (alongside First Nations communities) under threat due to the plans to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Through McAllister I learned that the Great Bear Rainforest is actually an area that is seeing regeneration and a resurgence of life. It would be a shame to see that compromised. Be sure to check out PacificWild.org for more information on what you can do about that.

The festival doesn’t wrap up until Sunday night, so be sure to check out the Banff Mountain Festivals to snag any remaining tickets.

Keep following along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for dispatches from the field!

Special Announcement: The Campsite Finds New Owners

Back in January 2011 I had a vision: to create an online community that would facilitate discussion about the outdoor lifestyle and the inner journeys we experience there. To give budding writers, or those wanting to hone their skills, a home for their words. To network with the outdoor industry – from longstanding gear companies to grassroots campaigns. To feature high-quality, curated content that would distinguish this outdoor website from a field saturated with outdoor blogs.

Nearly four years later, The Campsite has become just that. It has a loyal community of readers and it has explored the outdoor journey in various forms. It continues to produce highly curated content, and has supported many writers, photographers, organizations and companies along the way. It has nurtured an impressive network. And, finally, in 2014 it was noted for its quality content with a nomination for USA Today/10 Best Readers’ Choice Award for Favourite Hiking and Outdoors Travel Blog – landing in the top ten.

But like many things in life, The Campsite needed new wings to let it evolve. Being a freelance writer, a full-time mom, and a woman with many passion projects, I wanted to see The Campsite thrive, but knew that I would not be the person to take it there. I considered shutting it down, then thought I could bring on someone to help keep it going while I figured out my next steps (thank Helena Artmann for being such an amazing team member!).

The Campsite.

The Campsite.

The Sale

About one month ago, I decided I would list The Campsite for sale using freemarket.com. I used a few websites to get a sense of its value, and took the bold leap to find it new owners. I had no idea what to expect. I had never built and sold a website before. After a quiet first few days, with the odd spark of interest, I got a phone call from a local acquaintance showing a bit more sincerity about taking over The Campsite. After a flurry of text messages, she and her partner were well on their way to putting together an offer for me. I knew instantly that these were the women meant to take over my beloved website. For me, it was about finding the right people to take over and I couldn’t believe these two women had pulled through. To find two other Canadian Rockies souls was a big bonus.

So, I’d like to introduce you to The Campsite‘s new owners as of 2015: Alannah Jensen and Jen Whalen. Alannah, of Lannie Rae Gourmet, and Jen, of Mountain Bound Photography, are teaming up to bring you the next iteration of this outdoor lifestyle blog! They are stoked, to say the least, and I’m equally excited that The Campsite will have the power of these two women behind it. We’ll be sure to give you a proper introduction to these women in the weeks to come.

Of course, I’m a bit sad. It is hard to let go of something you love so much, of something you built and nurtured. But we must let go of things in order to make space for new opportunities. And that’s where my life is leading me right now.

Jen and Alannah, I wish you all the best! And thanks to all of you for your loyal support. You taking the time to read my articles makes it easier to do what I do each day.

Keep Following The Campsite

New E-Guides Available for Adventurous Parents

I’m excited to announce that I now have two e-guides available for adventurous parents, Adventure Travel with a Baby: 40+ Tips and Insights and Essential Gear for Travelling with a Baby (a handy checklist for packing!). Versions of these articles are available on adventurousparents.com (see below), but if you want to full version, you can now download it for a small price. Newsletter subscribers can receive them free! Check out details below.

e-guides:

e-guideAdventure Travel with a Baby: 40+ Tips and Insights

Buy it here!

Description: Adventure travel takes on a whole new meaning when you add a baby to the mix! After 20+ flights and four countries with a baby, outdoor, travel and adventure writer, Meghan J. Ward, has compiled her best tips for globetrotting as a young family. 

A condensed version is available on the blog here.

e-guideEssential Gear for Travelling with a Baby

Buy it here! 

Description: Gear doesn’t make the world go ’round, but having the right gear on-hand can sure make your life, and travels, a lot easier! If you’re bringing a baby along, refer to this checklist compiled by outdoor, travel and adventure writer, Meghan J. Ward, with her recommendations for the best gear for adventure travel. 

A version is available on the blog here. For the handy-dandy checklist (perfect for packing!) you’ll have to download it.

Please note that e-guides contain affiliate links. By clicking on them you say “thank you” to Meghan J. Ward by providing a small commission from your purchases.