Write On!

I started 2018 – work wise – by listening again to an archived version of TED Talks. The speaker was Elizabeth Gilbert, author of freakishly successful (in her own words) novel, “Eat, Pray, Love.” Gilbert’s talk wasn’t about the book. It was all about fear and creativity and genius. Write on!

It made me laugh

In the past, muses were disembodied creative spirits, first called daemons and then geniuses. If your work bombed, it wasn’t your fault. Your genius was lame. Love it!

It made me think

Gilbert talks about poet Ruth Stone at one point, and how poems would  come roaring down on her and she would have to run. Run like hell to get into the house and find and pen and paper to write it down before it roared right through her to find another poet. How is it that ideas come out of the blue? Is it that genius, that muse, that daemon waiting in the wings?

Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’t claim to be a pipeline, waiting for the genius to rush through her. She’s a mule, like most writers. She does the best she can and, in moments of doubt, occasionally talks to her genius and lets them know if they want the work to be better, they have to show up to do their part of the job. Write on.

Writing is work. Sometimes it flows and sometimes it falters. Sometimes it sings and sometimes it sucks. And sometimes… yes, sometimes there is genius. If you want to read more about Gilbert’s take on the whole thing, check out Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

It made me get to work

I’m still waiting… for the genius, that is… but I’m doing my part. New Year’s Resolution’s don’t work for me. This year, it’s more of a deadline-based project. I’ve dusted off my research files and started in again on a project that I have had on the back burner for years. It’s a children’s picture book. I’m going to be back off the work-for-hire educational titles and focus a little more on my own ideas. The title of this one will be “Run Percy, Run!”

I’m talking to my genius now. I’ll do my part if you do yours. Here’s the deal, by April 1st (no joke, it’s written in ink on the calendar), I will have the manuscript out to a publisher. With or without a muse, or daemon or genuis, it will get done.

What project are you holding back on?

Are you afraid it won’t be good enough? Join me in letting go of fear and getting the job done in 2018. Write. Onwards. Upwards. Let the whole world hear your words sing – genius or not!

 

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Writing About Travel

2017 is winding down and what a year it’s been for this freelance children’s writer who also fills her time writing about travel!

One writer’s life exploring Nebraska!

The Freelance Life

Work-wise, it was probably one of my least productive years – five children’s non-fiction books completed, an article on Nashville’s Germantown for German Life, an adventure piece for Victoria’s Vacation Guide, a round-up of pet-friendly things in Calgary for WHERE Calgary, a piece on summer in Kananaskis Country for Avenue Magazine, and an article for Senior Living on a Moroccan adventure.  All, but one, of the travel pieces were new markets for me.

Sadly, I also said goodbye to teaching a continuing education class at Mount Royal University on travel writing. The numbers have been steadily dwindling over the years and there were only two students registered for the November course. After more than 11 years, it was a mutual decision to close the course for good. I’ll miss the opportunity to talk writing and travel – two of my favourite things – with like-minded souls.

Now this may all seem slightly less than positive, but 2017 was truly an inspirational year!

Taking Time to Travel

2017 was less time in the office, less money in the bank, but more time actively exploring this big, beautiful world of ours. The year started with a ski getaway to a mountain hostel, followed by another backcountry ski adventure into Assiniboine before diving into the Galapagos and summiting mountain passes in Peru on the way to Machu Picchu.

Barely home long enough to wash clothes and I was off again kayaking and hiking in Door Country, WI and wandering along snippets of the Oregon Trail in western Nebraska. Summer ushered in a paddling trip on the South Saskatchewan River, camping at B.C.’s Premier Lake, walks on the endless beaches of northern B.C.’s Haida Gwaii, hiking in southern Alberta’s Castle Country and climbing passes in Jasper National Park.

A season of summits. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Fall into winter meant taking a trip to check out the Magnolia Magic happening in Waco, Texas, camping/hiking/biking trip in southern Utah and Colorado, cross-country skiing in Kimberley, B.C. and climbing sacred steps in multiple Mayan ruins in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas.

Writing About Travel

I took time this year to start – note to self: must continue – several online courses about blogging. Krista Dickson’s “Profit from Your Passion” covers everything from building your brand to creating crave-worthy content to using social media strategically. Best takeaway so far? Creating the elevator pitch (sell your blog in 30 words or less) and tagline.

My elevator pitch was easy: Time.Travel.Trek. is a history travel blog for people who love uncovering bits and pieces of the past – especially if it involves a hike, bike or paddle to get there! Tagline: Actively Looking into the Past.

Climbing into the past! (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Melyssa Griffin’s “Blog to Biz Hive” focuses more on learning how to create email lists, content upgrades and online courses. Best takeaway so far? How to create an opt-in form and add to website.

Build Blog Freedom, by Digital Nomad Wannabe superstar Sharon Gourley, starts with goal setting, surges forward with using keywords effectively and dives into affiliate marketing. Best takeaway so far? Learning about DA – domain authority – and key ways to increase your site’s DA.

Future Plans

I still have much to learn when it comes to blogging. I’m still tinkering a lot with the travel blog’s appearance. There are times when I’m confused about how to get it to look the way I want it. Hoping one day soon I’m happy with it’s appearance!  I’m frequently distracted from blogging by paying projects. I can’t help but wonder if the time and effort expended on blogging will pay off in the long run.

Still, the plan for 2018 is to focus on writing more about travel and ease off on the children’s books. After more than 80 books, I think I’m ready to slow down. Trust me when I say I’ve got a backlog of travel material waiting to be published.

I’d also like to fire up this site, a blog about one writer’s life, and make it more of a freelancing “how to” site. I’d like to come up with an online course about writing children’s non-fiction for educational publishers. I’d like to come up with an online course for writing about travel in print markets.

Next year we’re kicking off travels with a trip to southern Arizona. The plan is to fly our mountain bikes down, rent a camperized van and explore the land of cacti while the serpents sleep. And yes, I will be writing about it… somewhere… eventually!

What are your writing plans or travel goals for 2018?

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Finding Focus as a Freelance Writer

Being a freelance writer is awesome – you get to pick when you want to work, do what you want to do, and go where you want to go. As I’ve said before, you drive the bus – or ride the mule!

Being a freelance writer is horrible – work never comes when you need it the most, almost always hits when you’ve planned to take time to travel, and because the paths are endless (fiction, non-fiction, travel, children’s, anthology, blog, e-book…) it can be hard to get traction to get moving. Sometimes, the mule gets a little stubborn and slow.

I don’t set goals or make resolutions in the New Year anymore because they always seem to start off big and fizzle out fast. This year I’m not making plans. Instead, I’m simply digging in to a steep learning curve to get this blog on track.

Hiking Northern Spain. (Photo: M. Kopp)

That doesn’t mean I’m not working on a e-book, still writing children’s non-fiction, and penning travel pieces – I am – but it does mean I’m focusing spare time on becoming a better blogger.

Let’s face it, I suck at consistency when it comes to non-paying projects. My aim is to make this blog a passive income machine. Pay it forward. Possible? Apparently. Over the next few months, I’ll post occasional updates on my progress.

First Steps – or how to get that bus moving again! I am starting slow and learning to walk before I run. Step one: sign up for a little education on the topic. I chose “From Blog to Business” by Wonderlass Allison Marshall. Part of her package is support and additional training opportunities, like a productivity party. Trust me, it’s not fun and games. It is all about sweat equity and it comes with a 25-page workbook. I’ve just finished p. 2 – Celebrate.

Celebrate – it’s time to write down your accomplishments over the past year. I was hesitant at first because it didn’t feel like I had a productive year in 2016. Well, colour me happy! I was pleasantly surprised when I took the time to look back at what I’d accomplished.

Deep thoughts. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Work

  • wrote 9 work-for-hire children’s non-fiction books
  • penned 9 articles for paying markets
  • taught 2 travel writing courses
  • submitted a post to new paying blog market
  • wrote a book review for a paying market

Training

Travel

  • long weekend ski trips to Panorama and Assiniboine, BC and Waterton Lakes National Park, AB
  • multiple day trip skis and hikes
  • 6-day mule trip into the canyon of Sierra de la San Francisco, Baja MX
  • month-long hiking trip Northern Spain and Morocco
  • 6-day canoe trip on Bowron Lake Circuit, BC

A little slice of paddling heaven! (Photo: M. Kopp)

And More Travel!

  • 12-day trip to Vancouver Island for family and backpacking
  • 6-day backpack across the Chilkoot Trail in Alaska and the Yukon
  • 6-day trip to Northern BC to spend time with a girlfriend
  • 5-day road trip to Tofino with my daughter
  • 11-day bike/hike trip to southern Nevada and Utah

Write down your accomplishments last year – go ahead, give it a try. Your accomplishments can be related to writing or work or fitness or travel or whatever it is that you do. The act of writing it down not only feels good, it gives you a clearer picture of what actually happened and it gives you “the motivation to keep moving forward.

Keep moving forward! (Photo: M.Kopp)

Bring it on 2017!

5 Tips for Wet Weather Hiking

 

Assiniboine Lake - beauty in the clouds! (Photo: M. Kopp)

Assiniboine Lake – beauty in the clouds! (Photo: M. Kopp)

July was a soggy month, of that there is no doubt. Calgary, Alberta saw 206 mm of rain. The average is 66 mm. We didn’t let that stop us from getting out into the mountains, though. More often than not the clouds drained themselves rather quickly and vanished into thin air. In fact, summer 2016 turned out to be a superb season for day hikes and backpacking trips alike.

  1. Pack a good rain jacket. Good being the operative word. You want something that works.
  2. Carry an umbrella. Yes, purists will scoff and you may be dubbed “princess”, but you’ll be drier than them!
  3. Use gaiters. ‘Cause even Goretex-lined boots don’t seal at the ankle.
  4. Buy a lightweight pair of rainpants. Even if you haul them around unused 99% of the time, that 1% makes them worth every penny.
  5. Suck it up. Seriously. You will have the trails almost to yourself – something that is becoming increasingly rare – and you’ll never find that pot of gold if you’re not out looking for rainbows.
Looking for rainbows in the Columbia Valley. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Looking for rainbows in the Columbia Valley. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Northern B.C.’s Ancient Forest

Ancient Western Red Cedars. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Ancient Western Red Cedars. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Sometimes the best travel finds are those easily overlooked. Take the Ancient Forest Trail, for example. The big sign on Highway16 between Prince George and McBride, BC stands stalwart. We’ve driven by many times, but with miles behind us and many more ahead, we felt a need to get out and stretch our legs.

Slow Start, Big Rewards
The parking lot, overgrown and looking little more than an old gravel pit, is not immediately inspiring. We scan the introductory signage and trail/boardwalk sponsor list and then catch our breath as we head uphill to find Big Tree. Flowering thimbleberry plants quickly give way to Devil’s Club. Scrubby alder disappears in the shadows of ancient cedar trees. Interpretive signs dot the trail, offering snippets of natural history. Bits of boardwalk turn into a steady chain of wooden planks as we climb up into the land of giants.

Over a thousand years old, these cedars are giants. (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)

Over a thousand years old, these cedars are giants. (Photo Credit: M.Kopp)

Naming the Giants
Big Tree measures 5 metres (16 feet) in diameter. It measures its age in millennia. This massive Western Red Cedar is estimated to be several thousand years old. Dubbed Treebeard by local hikers, one of the giants shares its moniker with a character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. Perhaps the most important tree is Radies Tree. It’s not the biggest or the most unusual; it’s just an old giant named in honour of one Dave Radies.

In 2005, the graduate student was studying old growth forests. Radies discovered markings on a few of the cedars and learned that the area was to be logged. He spread the word. One year later, the Ancient Forest Trail was built. In 2008, logging plans were cancelled. Thanks D.R.

Near the base of this giant are red survey markings; a tangible reminder of how close we were to losing this special forest. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Near the base of this giant are red survey markings; a tangible reminder of how close we were to losing this special forest. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Let’s take our hearts for a walk in the woods
and listen to the magic whispers of old trees.
~Author Unknown

 

 

Ireland’s Skellig Michael (Part 2)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, distracted by puffins on Skellig Michael. Other travel adventures, work, and life have kept me from finishing this story, but what better time to get back to blogging about Ireland than St. Patrick’s Day?

We agreed that once off the boat, we’d head straight for the monastery dating back to about 700 AD. It is perched on top of the green isle, so we’d save picture ops for the way down. Throw in a puffin or a hundred and out come the cameras.

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A posin’ puffin! (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Shoot! They are too dang cute!

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Pausing for puffins. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

I could fill a dozen posts with puffin pics, but let’s get back to the hike. If you’ve watched the latest Star Wars epic, you’ve seen a little bit of Skellig on the big screen.

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The ascent up Skellig. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

The climb is steep, really steep. So steep that a misstep can – in fact, has been – fatal. But the views…

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Stopped for photos. It’s a long, rocky way down. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

And then there it is, the summit hermitage. Why did the monks choose this remote, storm-battered rock in the Atlantic? What made them stay for over five centuries? What was the best part of life on Skellig?

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Entering the hermitage. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Climbing past the beehive shelters lies the high cross. It’s weathered and worn and full of wonder.

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The High Cross towers over Little Skellig. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Skellig Michael. It’s a walk on the wild side.

Teaching Kids about Writing

Head down, office door closed, the last couple weeks of September and into October have been full of work. With seven books to wrap up, two magazine articles to write and travel queries to send out, there hasn’t been a lot of spare time.

Okay, maybe a little spare time… but not a lot!

So when I received a request for a school program late last week, I had to turn it down.

Not!

I jumped at the chance to talk writing while soaking up the positive energy that comes from a roomful of kids. It didn’t matter that taking another afternoon out of the office meant working late that night, those two hours were full of excitement and interest – and I think the kids enjoyed it, too 😉

Spending an afternoon with these keen kids wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege. Pushing my ability to multi-task when my plate was already full showed me that I was capable of more than I thought. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found playing small–in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

3 Tips for School Presentations:

  1. Start strong with a hook. I began telling the kids how I wanted to write a novel full of adventure and drama when I first started writing. The problem was that I wasn’t any good at writing fiction. I pulled out a copy of my first Reader’s Digest article and read a paragraph of Marianne trapped on a ledge, yelling into the wind at her rescuers in the distance, and watching the lights disappear. I wasn’t good at writing fiction, but I was skilled at writing non-fiction. They were hooked!
  2. Circulate. I always make sure that there are several hands-on activities for the kids to do. Instead of twiddling my thumbs at the front of the room, I wander through the groups, offering suggestions and answering questions. The kids enjoy the one-on-one time.
  3. Break it up. Be sure to build in bathroom and stretch breaks. Everyone will be happier and better able to focus.

Skellig Michael: A Walk on Ireland’s Wild Side (Part 1)

There are places that beckon, that call to a place deep within your soul and say “you must come.” Skellig Michael, off Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is one of those places. It spoke to me. No, that’s not quite right. Skellig Michael didn’t speak, it yelled.

And I listened.

My daughter and I only had two weeks to travel from Canada to Ireland and tour the Emerald Isle for the first time. I really didn’t have any must-sees as long as we worked in time to drive to the Ring of Kerry to find the little harbour town of Portmagee for the chance to board a tiny boat and ride out over the waves to climb 600 stone steps up a cliff to a monastery dating back to 700 A.D.

'Sceillic' means steep rock. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

‘Sceillic’ means steep rock. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Was I crazy? I hate rough seas. Not just a little bit, I’m terrified of rough water. Truth be told, I’m not always that good with heights, either. But I couldn’t help it, I had to go.

The trip out to Skellig Michael (a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996) is not a guaranteed event. An average of two days out of seven, it’s simply too rough for locals captains to ply their vessels. With this in mind, and a somewhat flexible schedule, we decided to wait until closer to the date to book our trip. When we did, it was full.

“You can try standby,” we were told.

Skellig Michael tour boats in harbour at Portmagee. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Skellig Michael tour boats in harbour at Portmagee. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Arriving an hour early, we stood in a line that grew to almost 40 individuals – all looking for last-minute passage over to Skellig Michael for the day. There are 12 boats in total running from three locations that hold licences to land at Blind Man’s Cove each day. As the boats began to fill, we stood by the gate and crossed our fingers. Five seats were available for standby.

We were the last two to get on.

Final two seats on the Anchorsiveen. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

Final two seats on the Anchorsiveen. (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

The captain’s assistant handed out extra waterproofs to cover legs for those of us who hadn’t thought to bring rain pants. The calm inner harbour soon became gentle waves and then rock and roll. Cold, salty water misted faces over and over again. I kept looking back, watching the cape recede. I couldn’t see our destination ahead. My girl smiled and reminded me – yet again – that I was the one who wanted to do this trip.

At the end of the day I asked our captain how he would rate the seas for our trip - with one being the best possible crossing and 10 being the worst. Our trip was only a four! (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

At the end of the day I asked our captain how he would rate the seas for our trip – with one being the best possible crossing and 10 being too rough to go out. Our trip was only a four! (Photo Credit: M. Kopp)

As we pulled into the lee side of the island, 11.6 km from the mainland, the waves died down to a rolling swell. Bobbing up and down beside the concrete dock, we jumped on slippery steps and scampered up to terra firma.

Looking back at the landing in Blind Man's Cove on Ireland's Skellig Michael. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Looking back at the landing in Blind Man’s Cove on Ireland’s Skellig Michael. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

I could have kissed the ground – but I was too distracted by the sudden warmth of the sun. Shedding layers, we stuffed our backpacks and began the stroll up the gently climbing paths that led to … OMG… puffins!

Puffins can be seen on Skellig Michael until early August. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Puffins can be seen on Skellig Michael until early August. (Photo credit: M. Kopp)

Not one, not two, but hundreds of puffins land on the tiny isle to breed every summer – along with guillemots, fulmars, razorbills and…

(Read Part 2 here)

Circumnavigating Kananaskis Country’s Tombstone Mountain

I should have paid closer attention to the details.

We shouldered our backpacks in the Elbow Lake parking lot on Highway 40 in Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Alberta, and joined the day hikers heading for Rae Glacier and the young families traipsing up to the lake. The short 1.3 km uphill was quickly covered and we left most of the crowd behind to head out alongside the headwaters of the Elbow River towards the Piper Meadows turnoff at 3.8 km from the lake.

Looking at the topographic map, we saw the “shortcut” across the meadows. The main turnoff was less than a km down the trail, but why go downhill, just to climb back up again? Why not take the direct route and save a little time and effort?

You know where this is going, right?

After a little cursing and more bushwhacking, we came up on the trail. No time or effort saved; probably the reason Gillean Daffern didn’t mention the “shortcut” in her guidebook. Happy to have a trail once again under our feet, we ambled through the forest, steadily climbing to Piper Meadows in full bloom.

Wildlfowers in full bloom on the approach to the meadows below Piper Pass. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Wildlflowers on the approach to the meadows below Piper Pass. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

A single Bighorn sheep skittered off to the scree slopes as we entered the meadows and old bear diggings marked the search for juicy roots as we got closer to the pass. What looked like uniform, fine brown dirt from a distance turned out to be slippery and steep scree up to the pass. The views back towards Rae Glacier took some of the sting out of the effort.

Climb, climb, climb up to the pass. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Climb, climb, climb up to the pass. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

Layers, snacks and drinks took precedence at the pass (5 km from the Big Elbow trail junction). Piper Pass was named in honour of Norma Piper, an opera singer who married local legend George Pocaterra in the 1930s.

At the pass overlooking the route down the West Fork. (Photo: M. Kopp)

At the pass overlooking the route down the West Fork. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Looking over the other side towards the small tarn that was our original destination for the evening, I almost gasped at the faint trail – I swear made by the shaggy sheep that was looking up curiously at us. Had I been paying closer attention earlier, I might have heard “cliffs and vertiginous scree slopes” and “for experienced scree bashers and route-finders only.”

The descent off Piper Pass is challenging with loose scree and next to no trail. (Photo: M. Kopp)

The descent off Piper Pass is challenging with loose scree and next to no trail. (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Ankles and knees still operating at almost full capacity, we stopped at the tarn and assessed the weather. The warm, sunny summer’s day was turning cloudy and without a doubt a storm was going to hit. The small alpine meadows offered little protection and we agreed it would be best to head for the shelter trees near the valley bottom. This is where it turned ugly… the route that is, not the surroundings!

Side-hilling across grassy meadows on the right and descending through some blocky scree we eventually reached the avalanche paths mentioned in the guide, hoping to see a sign of a trail. There really wasn’t one. Pushing on in the direction we knew we had to go, we bashed through the trees and finally found a bit of a route… oh, lost it… there it is… no, it’s gone again.

Finally on the "trail" - West Fork is a test of route finding skills. (Photo: B. Kopp)

Finally on the “trail” –  the West Fork of the Little Elbow is a test of route finding skills. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

By the time we reached the small canyon, a fairly well-defined trail led us down to an old hunter’s campsite beneath a towering ribbon waterfall. Perfect place to pitch a tent and hang a cooking tarp – all accomplished just before the rain set in for the night.

The problem with rainy nights and bushy trails is that no matter how waterproof your boots are or how high the gaiters rise, you are going to get wet. Especially when the trail disappears from time to time beneath the ravages of the 2013 floods. We kept heading downstream and angled across the wide meadows until we intersected the trail.

Moist meadow walking. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Moist meadow walking – yes, there is a trail here! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

At this point, I’m really not sure why I bothered taking off my boots for the first of four creek crossings for the day, but damp is different than soaking wet. On the creek bank, fresh wolf tracks were spotted in the mud.

Glacial creek crossings are part of the adventure. (Photo: M. Kopp)

Glacial creek crossings are part of the adventure. (Photo: Brad Kopp)

It was a challenging 3.5 km from our camp to the end of the exploration road where the route heads up to Paradise Pass. With clouds threatening, we made a hasty route change and opted for the easier hike 4.9 km down to Romulus Campground, up towards Tombstone Pass and back around to Elbow Lake rather than heading over Paradise and out Evan-Thomas as originally planned.

Spending another night down the trail from the pass, we took the side route in the morning into Tombstone Lakes. So close to Piper Pass and yet, so far.

Lower Tombstone Lake - Piper Pass is right on the other side of those rocks! (Photo: M. Kopp)

Lower Tombstone Lake – Piper Pass is just on the other side of those rocks! (Photo: Megan Kopp)

Yes, I probably should have paid closer attention to the route details before heading out on this adventure, but if I had, I might have objected and missed the chance to circumnavigate Tombstone Mountain – and the opportunity to savour this little slice of heaven.

Total distance travelled: ~39 km
Guidebook: Daffern, Gillean. Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 2, 4th ed. Rocky Mountain Books, 2011.