Take me out to the ball game

“I believe in the church of baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. And the only church that truly feeds the soul day-in, day-out is the church of baseball.” Susan Sarandon (aka Annie Savoy in the film Bull Durham)

My introduction to baseball was the film Bull Durham and I really love this quote from kooky baseball groupie Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon). The film conveys a game that is intricately woven into the American psyche, overflowing with colourful phrases and bizarre rituals honouring the winning streak.

But does Hollywood portray the real thing? I wanted to see for myself – and where better than New York, home to the most successful baseball team in history, the New York Yankees.

Even rookies know some of the folklore. In 1920, the Yankees bought the contract of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for $125,000, which was followed by a long drought for the Red Sox (who didn’t win the World Series again until 2004). In contrast, the Yankees have won the the title 27 times.

At the Yankees, Ruth reignited public interest in the game. In 1921, the Yankees clinched their first American League pennant and in 1922 construction began on Yankee Stadium. This marked an era of Yankee domination in the roaring 20s. In the 1927 World Championship year, Ruth, by then dubbed the “Yankee slugger”, hit a record 60 home runs.

“He was a circus, a play and a movie, all rolled into one,” said team-mate Lefty Gomez. “Kids adored him. Men idolised him. Women loved him. There was something about him that made him great.”

It was also the era of Lou Gehrig, who hit 493 home runs in a record 2130 consecutive games for the Yankees. In May 1939, he was diagnosed with a degenerative muscle disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and only two years later Lou Gehrig was dead. He had farewelled his team-mates and fans at Yankee Stadium in July 1939, in a now-famous speech, saying, “I am the luckiest man alive”.

Now I was inside that stadium, making my way to the highest point in the bleachers. We heard the announcer welcoming fans: “It’s a bee-yooo-tiful day for baseball.” Continue reading

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Supernatural, Twitter and the reluctant groupie

Loitering at the bus stop across the road from Great Pacific Pawnbrokers in New Westminster, Vancouver, I try not to look too conspicuous as the Supernatural (SPN) film crew prepares the location. But after several buses arrive and depart, without me on board, it’s fairly obvious I’m hanging out for a glimpse of the stars.

Fortunately, I’m not alone. There’s a young couple chatting animatedly as they steal glances across the road and a cluster of girls praying out loud that Jared (Padalecki) and Jensen (Ackles) will be acting today. Their excitement is contagious and, as I struggle to contain an uncharacteristic fit of the giggles, I have to remind myself that most of these fans are half my age. I’m way too old to be a groupie!

But then I do smile, recalling the episode Changing channels (from the fifth season) where Dean denies he is a fan of Dr Sexy MD only to come unstuck moments later as he confronts the Trickster. “You’re not Dr Sexy! Because I swore that a part of what makes Dr Sexy sexy is the fact that he wears cowboy boots not tennis shoes.”

Sam smirks and says “Yeah, you’re not a fan” and Dean replies “It’s a guilty pleasure”. Now I can totally relate.

So, how did this traveller from Melbourne, Australia, find herself at a SPN location?

It started as a bit of fun between two equally-obsessed SPN fans back home. I was going to visit my brother, who lives in Vancouver, and was ordered to keep my eyes peeled for Sam and Dean. I had no real intention of finding them. It was just a joke, the same way we’d joked about finding Mulder and Scully years earlier.

But this time, thanks largely to social networking, I stumble upon the location without much effort at all. Googling ‘Supernatural locations’, I find an article by Kevin McGran (of the Toronto Star), who writes about his quest to find SPN in order to keep his children happy. He enlists the help of SPN fans on Twitter to find locations and mentions the hash-tag #YVRshoots. By a stroke of good luck and/or impeccable timing my subsequent Twitter search hits the jackpot.

@DearHeartxoxo (who is passionately, not obsessively, dedicated to Supernatural) sends a tweet: “HAPPY DAY! #Supernatural will be filming all day in New West tomorrow on Canarvon St. #yvrshoots”.

My brother is bemused when I ask him how to get to New Westminster from Horseshoe Bay, as it’s not exactly on Vancouver’s list of ‘must-see’ places, and he kindly refrains from laughing when I reveal I’m in the process of re-discovering my inner-groupie. But he can’t resist a parting tongue-in-check comment, “Are you going to scream when the stars arrive?” My face reddens, “Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous!” But I’m thinking, “maybe just a little”.

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Photo story – Lake Kariba

In canoes we silently paddle our way amongst dead trees that are emerging from the depths of the lake. Slowly the sun descends, seemingly moving faster as it approaches the horizon. Its colour is intense, as if we are watching a fireball light up the sky. There’s an orange glow enveloping the sky, which gradually turns red. As dusk takes hold, the mood is eerie. Ghost-like trees are silhouetted against a sullen red sky. It’s just another spectacular sunset in Africa, with the scene played out on Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe.

The story the photo doesn’t tell…

Back then, I wore prescription glasses. I was almost blind without them. And, when we set out in the canoes I was wearing prescription sunglasses. But, once the sun set, I realised I didn’t have my normal glasses with me. This meant I was basically blind after sunset – the journey back to our house-boat, in fuzzy darkness, was an adventure in itself.

Arrive inspired, not dog-tired

“Skinny dip!” Someone yelled. Clothes were flung and naked bodies rushed past. Splashing and laughter ensued. A group of travellers caught in the spirit of the moment. Some hesitated, caught by surprise, but now it was too late to join in, without being conspicuous.

This was the story my sister told me about her first trip with Green Tortoise. She did two two trips – the popular ‘Coast to Coast’ tours from San Francisco to New York and return – a huge loop covering the best of the USA. She says that by the time she realised what was happening, she was too embarrassed to join in. But by the second trip, she’d psyched herself up and was determined not to be left out. The cry came…

“Skinny dip!” Tearing off her clothes she plunged into the chilly lake, resurfacing a moment later to find she was the only one in the lake and the only one naked.

The moral of the story, for me, was “expect the unexpected on a Green Tortoise tour” and, armed with this knowledge, I signed up for four weeks in Alaska. This promised to be an adventure to the last frontier; one of the few wilderness experiences left in the world. Sailing up the Inside Passage past islands and glaciers; spotting whales, seals and bald eagles. Hiking in magnificent terrain, with a chance to spot grizzly bears, moose and caribou.

But before any of that could happen, I had shake off my inhibitions and board the bus.

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Venturing into the impenetrable forest

A few years ago I travelled to Uganda with Intrepid Travel to see the incredible mountain gorillas living their peaceful lives in Bwindi National Park. My trip coincided with trouble in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rebels had forced rangers to abandon Virunga National Park. The experience left me reflecting on man’s inhumanity to man, but also admiring the wonderful conservation efforts that go into saving the species. This was one of my most memorable travel experiences; and one I would highly recommend.

The twisted jungle

‘You are about to enter the impenetrable forest!’ says our guide, and the excitement and nervousness of our group is palpable.

Even the name evokes imagination, of the deepest darkest jungle concealing another world and another time. When George Schaller, author of The Year of the Gorilla, first came to Africa in 1959 local Bantus avoided the forest, fearing wild animals and evil spirits.

Schaller taught himself how to track gorillas, but these days’ local villagers work as guides, trackers and porters. En route they point to flattened foliage, remains of plants gorillas eat and fresh dung.

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Hiking gems in the Canadian Rockies

The Canadian Rockies is one of my favourite places to hike.

I’ve travelled to the Canadian Rockies on two occasions and spent about four weeks exploring the region. On my first visit, I went backpacking with a friend and we did some adventurous overnight treks. We even encountered a grizzly bear, but that’s another story. The second time, it was a family affair, as I travelled with two brothers, two nephews and one niece. But, we still managed some strenuous hikes, as in the photo above of the Sulphur Skyline hike in Jasper National Park.

I’m sure you could spend a lifetime here and still not discover all the remarkable trails, so this is just a list of my personal favourites (so far). If you can recommend other great hikes in the Canadian Rockies, I’d welcome your suggestions. I do hope to get back there one day and discover more of the trails.

JOHNSTON CANYON & THE INK POTS – BANFF NATIONAL PARK

A caption at Johnston Canyon reads: Nothing lasts forever, not cliffs, not creeks, not canyons. Follow the boardwalk to see water surging through tunnels and over cliffs. Crowds dispense as you continue to the Ink Pots, which are colourful spring-fed pools, as in the photo above. Trail information.

CONSOLATION LAKES – BANFF NATIONAL PARK

Mountaineer Ross Peacock suggested that since the Valley of Ten Peaks was called Desolation Valley, this area should be called Consolation Valley for its great beauty. It’s a short and spectacular hike starting at the breathtaking Moraine Lake. Trail information.

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