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OffTrackTravel’s Best Adventures in 2019

Here we are at the end of another year (and indeed, a decade!) and I’ve come to the conclusion that this one was the best so far.

While we still had challenges (no year is perfect), the experiences and achievements on both professional and personal levels have just made this year incredibly, incredibly good.

We continued to explore the world, made money and stayed healthy and happy. I can’t ask for more really. Here are the highlights!

JR standing on top of mountain with clouds hiding the ground below
On top of the world – Tin Hat Mountain, Sunshine Coast, BC
Kayaking paddling on aquamarine Moraine Lake, bordered by mountains
Paddling Moraine Lake near Banff
Patio doors looking out to beach and Pacific Ocean
The views from our amazing beach house in Tofino
A colourful paraglider flies in front of a range of mountains
Paragliding in Revelstoke, BC, was definitely one of my 2019 highlights
Gemma looking up towards a huge cedar tree
Meeting the largest and oldest living creature I have ever seen on Vancouver Island, BC

New destinations

2019 was a fairly extensive year of travel for us, both at home in Canada and abroad. We started the year in Australia, housesitting for my brother in Perth. After exploring a little of Western Australia and spending time with my family, our destination for the next three months was Thailand

Thailand has been on my travel list since 2007 and it was everything I was hoping for – awesome food, stunning beaches, beautiful temples, affordable massages, and more. While in South East Asia, we also dipped into Myanmar, Singapore and Malaysia (where we saw wild monkeys!)

Back in Canada, we reunited with the van for a 6.5 month road trip around British Columbia, Alberta and Washington (USA). We fit in many long awaited destinations (Wells Gray, Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, the Kananaskis Valley, Valhalla Provincial Park) as well as some completely spontaneous ones (Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park, Waterton, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, Revelstoke). 

To finish the year, we headed to Europe to explore Christmas markets in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia before flying to the UK for the holidays. 2019 was one of our busiest years of travel but we still found plenty of downtime. It provided a much better work life balance than 2018. 

Gemma and JR peeking out of rock pinnacles
Checking out the Pinnacles in Western Australia
JR swimming in ocean off coast of Koh Phangan, Thailand
A classic beach day in Thailand! This is Koh Phangan
Festive Christmas Market with carousel and Christmas tree
Riga Christmas Market in Latvia

Backcountry heaven

Spending almost a month worth of nights in the backcountry of Canada, 2019 was a great year for outdoor exploration for us!

As well as plenty of day hiking and short paddling trips, we went on eight overnight backcountry adventures – 

Wallace Island Marine Provincial Park – 4 nights kayaking camping

Wells Gray Provincial Park – 5 nights canoe camping and backpacking (14km)

Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park – 4 nights backpacking (60km)

Valhalla Provincial Park, Slocan Lake – 4 nights canoe camping

Valhalla Provincial Park, Gwillim Lakes – 2 nights backpacking (12km)

Sunshine Coast Trail – 5 nights backpacking (72km)

Desolation Sound Provincial Park – 2 nights kayak camping

Cape Scott Provincial Park – 1 night backpacking (25km)

Writing about all of these backcountry trips is on my to-do list for early 2020, so I will link the relevant posts later. 

JR hikes away from the camera in a forest, with sunlight streaming through the trees
Hiking the Sunshine Coast Trail, BC
Coastal scenery in Desolation Sound, with small islands and rocky coast
Desolation Sound Provincial Park, BC
Gemma sits in elevated position looking over lakes and mountains
Gwillim Lakes, Valhalla Provincial Park

Exploring the alpine

This summer was all about mountains. As soon as the alpine snow started to melt, we were climbing peaks. We were trying to beat the wildfire smoke that has become so inevitable from mid July onwards. But it didn’t come this year. So we stayed in the mountains and made the most of this rare, smokefree summer. 

In the Rockies, Kootenays and Coastal alpine regions we discovered soaring peaks, delicate meadows, pretty wildflowers and aquamarine lakes. We spotted Bighorn Sheep, caribou, coyote, marmots, bears and even a cute pika or two.

In Alberta’s Kananaskis Valley, we stayed at a beautiful mountain lodge with impressive hikes all around.  JR has always described himself as an ocean person, but he is now thinking twice. 

Gemma hiking up hill towards camera, with gorgeous views of mountains, lake and alpine meadows
The beautiful alpine meadows near Sunshine Village, Banff
Close up of pink alpine flowers
We saw so many gorgeous wildflowers this summer!
View through trees of alpine scenery in the Kananaskis Valley
Alpine hiking in the Kananaskis Valley, Alberta

Vanlife perfection

Returning to Canada in May, we were so excited to get back on the road again. Western Canada is, in my opinion, one of the best places in the world to live the vanlife. The free camping opportunities are endless, the scenery sublime and the summer weather just perfect (plus, very few mosquitoes!)

We’ve been waiting years to get back to some of our favourite Recreational Sites in British Columbia and our high expectations were met. This summer was incredible and being able to explore using our van was an important contributor to that.

Our morning view was different almost every day. We woke up next the ocean, in the middle of the prairies, in front of a mountain panorama or next to a quiet lake. It was just perfect.

Van with doors open, Gemma sitting inside
Gemma and Hanna, the Savana
Looking out from the back of the van towards turquoise river and mountains
One of the best van views we had this summer
JR sat by campfire, with van parked behind

Running fit

While I’ve been lucky enough to always have good health, my fitness levels have varied. Ending 2019, I’m the fittest I’ve been for years. It’s a mixture of all that alpine hiking plus a mixture of climbing, paddling and running. I’ve been on and off with the latter for a long time, but this year I made great strides (pun totally intended). 

I started the year with my first 5k ParkRun in Perth. I continued to complete another seven across three continents plus independent runs. I would have liked to have done more but ParkRuns are still quite thin on the ground in Canada. I’m not fast and 5km is definitely not that far, but I’m happy to be able to do it fairly confidently. 

Gemma looking out to mountains and alpine scenery
Hiking in the Kananaskis Valley, Alberta
Windswept sandy beach with figure walking near ocean
Nels Bight beach, Cape Scott Provincial Park
Tent and picnic bench on sandy beach, in front of calm lake surrounded by low mountains
Camping on the shores of Slocan Lake, Valhalla Provincial Park

Celebrating 10 years

Jean Robert and I met in Thames, New Zealand in September 2009. We knew each other for about three days before I had to return to the UK.  Initially staying in touch via Facebook and MSN Messenger, we were soon talking, emailing and texting every day, almost non-stop. Six months later, JR flew to the UK and the rest is history. 

Ten years on and we’ve visited over 25 countries, moved continents, managed a store together, converted and lived in three vans, started a business, become digital nomads and spent an unimaginable amount of time with each other.

While we’ve had our ups and downs, this last decade has been amazing and I owe a lot of it to the incredible partnership we have. I can’t wait to see what we do in the next ten years!

Selfie of Gemma and JR in the Kananaskis Valley
Hiking in the Kananaskis Valley
Back view of Gemma (in red jacket) and JR (green jacket) looking up at snowy mountain
Sunset, Mount Assisiboine Provincial Park
Gemma and JR climbing the Via Ferrata course towards the camera
Trying out the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Other adventures this year included:

Tofino Whale Watching: How, When and Why You Need To Go 

6 Fast and Fun Hikes in Leavenworth, Washington

Lake Huron Fishing with Angling Algoma, Northern Ontario

Climbing the Via Ferrata at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, BC

Some of my personal highlights of 2019:

Being able to see my brother become an Australian citizen in January

Becoming an Open Water Diver and diving with a whale shark in April

Attending the Travel Media Association of Canada (TMAC) conference in Ontario in June

Turning 30 (JR also had a big birthday this year!)

Reaching 120,000+ page views for the month of July

Launching a second website, Ski Season in Canada, in October (still in development)

Two guest spots on CBC Radio in May and August

Celebrating our second anniversary of location independent self employment 

Completing a full year of monthly newsletters (you can sign up here!)

Gemma standing on top of mountain waving a Canadian flag
Celebrating Canada Day on Wavy Ridge, Wells Gray Provincial Park
Gemma and JR on top of ridge with amazing views of mountains and lake behind
Hiking on Tent Ridge in the Kananaskis Valley, Alberta
Dry canyon with waterfall plunging in the middle, with mountains in background
Hiking in Waterton National Park, Alberta

Stats and fun facts

In 2019, we visited eleven countries – Canada, USA, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, UK.

From 1st May to 20th November, we road tripped 16,500km around British Columbia, Alberta and Washington (USA)

Some road trip stats:

300+ kilometres hiked

100+ nights free camping

27 nights in the backcountry

7 ferries

7 National Parks and countless provincial parks

5 black bears, dozens of elk, 6 mountain goats, 3 coyotes, 1 grizzly & 1 wolf spotted

4 canoe camping trips

4 backpacking adventures

3 oil changes

1 broken camping stove

1 trip to the garage

1 emergency room visit (I fell down a step and hurt my foot)

1 travel insurance claim (JR had a blocked ear)

0 blisters!

Gemma sat on wooden deck looking out on valley view above Golden
At Mount 7, Golden, BC
JR kayaking in front of a waterfall, Lake Revelstoke
Lake Revelstoke, BC
A waterfall cascades down the steep fjord rockface in Princess Louisa inlet
Princess Louisa inlet on BC’s Sunshine Coast – one of the most beautiful places I have ever been

Looking to 2020

In 2020, my main priority is to work. That may sound a little odd, but I’m so incredibly excited to have to time to really work on this website and reduce my incredibly huge ‘to do’ list. We’ve been travelling and exploring so much over the last couple of years and I haven’t put enough words on the screen as I would like.

The last six months in particular have been a muddle of trying to find consistent wi-fi as well as trying to balance research with writing. This will all change in 2020 and I couldn’t be happier. Yes, we’ll be travelling less but we’re both totally OK with it! 

The biggest enabler to being able to work in this way is having a fixed home again. We’re hanging up our full time travel hats for a while to live in one of our favourite places – Penticton, British Columbia.

We lived there for 2.5 years prior to going location independent and absolutely loved it. The opportunity arose a few months ago to return to our old duplex and we immediately took it. 

Of course, not being on the road full time won’t stop us from exploring….so watch this space for more adventures!

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