Photo of the Day (07.13.08)

Doesn’t this look blissful? Flickr user Bernard-SD took this shot at Yosemite National Park. Summer is one of the best but also the most crowded times at our country’s national parks, so it’s refreshing to see a great nature shot with nary a human to clutter the view.

Bernard’s photo is great not only for the scenery but also because it’s nicely framed. I like how the lone hiking path cuts across the foreground, winding off into unknown. The tree on the right is also a nice counterpoint to the gorgeous waterfall on the upper left. Just imagine yourself hiking down this peaceful path, the vista of the park’s mountains looming in the distance.

Have a great travel photo you’d like to share with the world here on Gadling? Add it to our Gadling pool on Flickr and we might pick it as our Photo of the Day.

Band on the Run: Hiking & Climbing Mont Rigaud, Quebec

Ember Swift, Canadian musician and touring performer, will be keeping us up-to-date on what it’s like to tour a band throughout North America. Having just arrived back from Beijing where she spent three months (check out her “Canadian in Beijing” series), she offers a musician’s perspective on road life.

It’s easy as a musician to suffer from the “everything I do, I do for music” syndrome. (And no, that is not meant as a cheesy reference to a cheesy Bryan Adams song!) What I mean by that is that when the wheels beneath us aren’t turning towards another gig, there’s so much else to do like rehearsing, recording, music business, correspondence, etc. I’m a perfect candidate for this total immersion and I regularly need to be dragged away from the various “must dos” of being an independent artist.

So yesterday, I went hiking on Rigaud Mountain [in French = Mont Rigaud] in Rigaud, Quebec.

Rigaud Mountain is a small (ish) mountain for Quebec – and certainly for Canada in general – but one can’t underestimate the power of a good climb that yields a good view. During the winter, it’s a modest ski hill. In the summer, this mountain is used for rock climbers and hikers. I had no idea.

It was gorgeous.


I have tried to snow board exactly once. My tail bone decided that it would stage a full-scale revolt if I ever tried it again. It still warns me with ghost pains if I even allow my mind to imagine myself as a good snowboarder. I think I’ll leave the descent down slippery hills on equally slippery objects to all you thrill seekers who have a sense of balance.

In fact, half way down this same mountain two years ago, after several hours of unofficial (and gracious) training from my friend who is excellent at this sport, I tore off the snowboard and put it under my behind. I continued down the rest of the hill on the snowboard like it was a toboggan. That was fun, actually. My legs enjoyed the rest!

Since then, I’ve only ever seen this mountaintop from the distance en route to Montreal or to cross the border at Vermont and into New England for various touring stops. Winding through the back roads to find the mountain during the summertime seemed strangely exciting, as though I were reclaiming a space that I had only associated with pain and humiliation. (Well, that’s being harsh; really, it was where I was once again reminded that I’m not that coordinated or “jocky.” I’m okay with that!)

The grassy path up the hill is beautiful and leads you right into the forest that is mostly a bed of red pine needles cushioning every step. The jagged rocks act like an erractic staircase which leads you to the sharp face of the mountain that was entertaining two separate groups of rock climbers. I noticed all the hooks already secured in the flat rock face that jutted up over thirty feet. It’s obviously been well climbed.

I spoke briefly with some of the climbers who were from Montreal (one hour to the east). They explained that this is a great place to train starting climbers because it doesn’t often get over-crowded and it’s easy to “top rope” some of the routes. I nodded like I knew what they were talking about. I am guessing this means that instructors can rope everyone in first without needing to be secured themselves? Let me know if I’m way off the mark here. I’m not much of a rock climber either, as you can tell.

We rounded the mountain and found what appeared to have once been a rock spill. Rocks were piled and frozen as though in mid-cascade between two large sections of the mountain in what could easily have been a gushing river or a large stream. We scaled these rocks easily to the top and found ourselves staring at the horizon on three sides – the Ottawa River, farmland as far as the eye could see, both Ontario and Quebec stretching out eastward and westward.

At this point, Lyndell told me that there was a lookout on the other side worth seeing. We scrambled back down from these lookout points and crossed the centre of the mountain towards the eastern edge. About fifteen minutes later, we were perched on the wooden lookout and photographing the curving highways and waterways that lead directly to the island of Montreal.

Of course, we shared that perch with a Christian cross. It’s very common in Quebec to see lit-up crosses on hillsides or mountainsides. “Mont Rigaud” is no exception. The cross here can be seen for many kilometres. I had just never stood beside it and I am here to testify that it’s huge! Quite an edifice to the belief of a second coming – a second coming that apparently will happen by aircraft and will need this very visible beacon!

Just about an hour later, we were back on the ground at the base of the ski hill again. A short hike, but a beautiful one. During the quiet walk down, I remembered a previously abandoned melody line for a song that I haven’t yet finished. I worked it out across the many descending steps, singing quietly to myself and solving part of the riddle to finishing this song that has been unfinished for over six months. Then, I stayed up until five a.m. that night working it out on my computer.

You see, hiking is good for music!

It loosens up the memory valves in the bell of the brain.

Keeps the blood, and the melodies, flowing.

A Canadian in Beijing: Proud Love for the Pedestrian Overpass

Alright, I have been excited about these things since I got here and I’ve felt a bit like a dork about it. Okay, maybe more like an urban planning design geek or something (no offense to a very necessary modern profession!) and so I’ve decided that I’ve just got to put it out there. . . with pride. . . so here goes:

I love a good pedestrian overpass.

Both Beijing and Shanghai have some of the most impressive outdoor pedestrian walkways that I have ever seen. These elaborate bridges are designed for pedestrians only – no motorized vehicles – and they’re all over the city. When I was in Shanghai, I found them there too. Both cities also have pedestrian underpasses that stretch under streets and often connect to the subway system, but the overpasses are the most structurally impressive.

I would venture to say that they’re often architecturally beautiful.

While walking around Beijing, I sometimes feel like I’m part of a herd. We are herd animals after all (right, Brrassie? See comment on this blog) and I realize that these street crossings have been designed to corral us from one side to the other without upsetting the flow of traffic. I don’t mind. I’ve happily swept up into these archways. I’m willingly lured.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, street crossing is a rather “interesting” experience here in China. Precarious? Death-defying? Brave? Ridiculously Random? Any of those descriptors will do. Where there are no specific crossings, i.e. overpasses or underpasses for the pedestrians, the mayhem ensues. I quite like the chaos, personally, and I’ve become quite used to forging forward into traffic flanked by several other equally insane human beings. . .

But, I’m equally charmed by these overpasses.

They seem so grand and elaborate but are just designed for a simple pedestrian like me. When I walk across them, I feel like I’ve been swept into an architect’s urban vision lit up under drawing lights on a drafting table. That’s me in my dusty sneakers and cap leaving my footprints across the crisp white page. That’s also me waving from the top at no one in particular.

When I was a kid living in Burlington, Ontario, there used to be a big pedestrian overpass across the railway tracks that ran parallel to Fairview Road. I have no idea if it’s there now, but it was big and made of painted-green metal and looked like a giant dragon’s spine that zigzagged its diagonal ramp up into the sky, stretched across and zigzagged back down. It was on the north-side as we drove east towards (what was then) the only mall in Burlington, “The Burlington Mall.” I would position myself eagerly by the back window when we turned onto Fairview Road because I always looked forward to the glimpse of that crazy structure that stretched past my imagination. I would picture myself climbing up into it and crossing it like it to the other (mythical) side like it was a giant amusement park ride that required no tickets or coupons.

When I learned that one of my classmates walked across that pedestrian overpass everyday, I looked at her in amazement. “What’s it like?” I asked, with all of my stories about this incredible journey stretching my eyes wide with expectation. I was deflated when I heard her response: “what’s what like? It’s just a sidewalk!”

Bite your tongue.

These are not just sidewalks; they’re gateways to the other side. They are proud pathways that feel regal under my feet. They’re an adventure with every crossing.

Now, I know you’re thinking that I’m getting carried away here, but let’s look at this logically:

First of all, they save your life. There’s no sidestepping vehicles or speeding bicycles in the crossing of these streets. There’s no potential death, shall we say.

Second of all, they’re a moment of respite from the direct fumes and the deafening noise of the Beijing (and Shanghai) streets and so it’s a peaceful experience! I usually walk a little slower up there just to take it all in from a different angle.

And finally, you can linger at the top of these pathways to get a great view of the street and your destination, especially if you’re lost. Trust me, I have used these overpasses as great places to study my maps.

Sometimes these pedestrian overpasses have “dianti” (escalators) and sometimes these escalators are covered and sometimes they’re not. I have often wondered about how snow mixes with moving steps, but I’m happy to be writing this in the summertime!

These ones in Shanghai stretched into elaborate sidewalks in the sky. They reminded me of images of “The Jetsons” cartoons. I shot endless photos much to my fellow sightseer’s annoyance.

I have a fond respect for these structures, as you can tell. Today, I crossed the street just because one was there beckoning to me with its amazing spiral staircases on each end. I crossed over and then walked up a few blocks before realizing that I had to go back under the street again to catch the subway.

I didn’t care.

It was worth it.

Next time you go across one, wave at the street below and to no in particular.

Why not?