by Fred Burgess
February 25 – March 1, 2019
The Ottawa Jail Hostel parking lot immediately let the 20 arriving club members know what was in store for them Feb. 25-March 1: Prepare for an intense stay in Canada’s capital city.
The glacier-like parking lot offered testimony to recent freezing rain that not only made unloading luggage treacherous but made the region’s skiing trails unusually challenging.
It turned out snow-grooming machines mitigated many of the trail issues as the week wore on, and some group members ended up raving about their skiing experiences. But other trip participants opted to hang out in Ottawa rather than spending much time testing the slick trails outside town.
“The most uniquely interesting part of the trip was our lodging,” club member Mark Kern said. “The jail was most unusual.”
Those who went on the hostel’s organized morning tours learned that “hanging out” was appropriate for guests, as the jail had been the site of 3 official hangings of men convicted of murder and probably many “unofficial” hangings arranged by angry prison guards intent on eliminating problem inmates.
Club members who took the tour heard about the inhumane treatment of inmates, dozens of whom died of disease and exposure, and were treated to views of a noose swaying above the trapdoor through which the condemned men would plummet to eternity.
“I’m glad we waited till the end of the trip to take the tour,” Barb Sears said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to sleep another night there after learning about all those deaths.”
In addition to listening to neck-stretching tales, club members took advantage of mind-expanding opportunities at attractions such as the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Museum of Nature, the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian National Museum and the Canadian House of Commons.
Some club members spent hours on foot downtown, taking in the sights. “I really enjoyed all the opportunities that Ottawa offered for cultural events and found the Canadian people to be very welcoming,” Barb said.
“I love, love Ottawa,” Pam Dunn said.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride Centre was a favorite destination for several club members, including Jim and Ginny Magee and Bill Pickering, who got hours of special attention from accommodating Mounties because so few other members of the public were visiting the horse-training facility that day.
The first day of skiing at Gatineau Park across the Ottawa River in Quebec was disappointing for most of the dozen or so club members who ventured out of town. They had wanted to play it safe but found the route suggested by the visitors’ center too bland, as it consisted of miles of climbing a wide road that had been closed to motor traffic.
As Pam summed it up: “Somewhat icy skiing… climb, climb, climb….”
Frigid temperatures and a brutal wind failed to add charm to that Tuesday outing.
At the suggestion of club members seeking better conditions Wednesday, the group bypassed Gatineau Park and drove to Nakkertok Nordic Trails, which belongs to what is billed as eastern Canada’s largest cross-country ski club. The group found it was deserted except for the operator of a grooming machine that had just begun working on the trails. No paper maps were available at the visitors’ payment box – so Kick ‘N Gliders who want to ski there in the future are advised to print maps from the Nakkertok website ahead of time.
A few deemed the conditions too icy and departed in short order, but others followed Bernie Labuskes, who had his sights set on a series of trails that involved steep climbs and then blood-pumping descents on the perimeter of the ski network.
Caroline Coleman and Mark stuck to the inner loops of the trail system and eventually came across a Nakkertok official who told them someone from the club would have started grooming the trails earlier in the day and would have started a fire in the club center had the Kick ‘N Gliders emailed a notice a few days prior to their visit.
Caroline had mixed feelings about the trail system. “Nakkertok is certainly a worthwhile ski center; a gem to be better enjoyed another time,” she said.
Bill Hoffman liked it well enough to return there Thursday to take advantage of the groomer’s work.
Other Kick ‘N Gliders ventured that day to the far end of Gatineau Park. Temperatures were ideal and the trails there were to everyone’s liking.
About half the group stayed at the far end of the park, but Bernie hatched a more ambitious plan that involved steeper terrain and more miles. He was followed by Denny Dunn, Brent Linde, Gil Linde, MaryAnn Linde and yours truly, who was more than a little nervous. That’s because an oversized sign at the trailhead warned that, despite its intermediate rating on the official park map, much of the last leg of Bernie’s route boasts black-diamond hills. Previous “issues” there involving overconfident skiers apparently prompted the posting of the warning sign.
As it turned out, that leg of the route offered the most exhilarating descent of the Ottawa trip – and everyone got down that long, steep hill without mishap.
Ellen Hughes, Bonnie Gardner Close, Barb Sears and yours truly, who stayed a couple of extra day, returned Saturday to Nakkertok and found it had been exquisitely groomed. Many teens and younger children impressed the visitors with their skiing prowess and with their polite reaction to finding Americans plodding up the hills.
The four Kick ‘N Gliders stayed in a Gatineau City condominium complex in which the room temperature could be adjusted and where a limited number of vehicles could be parked underground. That complex could play host to a future Kick ‘N Gliders trip to the Ottawa area, depending on whether the trip leader(s) prefers a quiet, out-of-the-way refuge or more rugged, colorful accommodations in the midst of multiple downtown attractions.
This trip report would be remiss without mentioning Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, which offers what is billed as the world’s largest skating rink and which attracted many Kick ‘N Gliders. Among them was Bonnie Telegraphis, who joked that she, Ken Britton and Barbara Brandt “skied on ice on the trails and skated on ice on the canal.”
“The weather conspired against us,” Ed Cook said in summarizing this year’s trip. “But everyone I spoke with was having a good time, me included.”