#384 Island hiking: all in the family
Family Walks and Hikes of Vancouver Island — Volume 1: Victoria to Nanaimo
by Theo Dombrowski
Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2018
$20.00 / 9781771602792
Family Walks and Hikes of Vancouver Island — Volume 2: Nanaimo North to Strathcona Park
by Theo Dombrowski
Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2018
$20.00 / 9781771602815
Reviewed by Christian Fink-Jensen
First published Sept. 25, 2018
Theo Dombrowski of Nanoose Bay continues his productive output of popular guide, travel, and hiking books with a pair of accessible Family Walks and Hikes of Vancouver Island, from Rocky Mountain Books. Reviewer Chris Fink-Jensen notes that Dombrowski’s trails extend from isolated walks and hikes to the edges of more settled areas. “Brace yourself for a bit of a shock as you come to a fence and vehement Private Property signs keeping you from trespassing onto the groomed lawns of a golf course,” warns Dombrowski. — Ed.
Family Walks and Hikes of Vancouver Island is a two-part series of hiking books by Vancouver Island author, artist, and illustrator, Theo Dombrowski. Volume One focuses on Victoria to Nanaimo and Volume Two continues north from Nanaimo to Strathcona Park.
Among hikers on Vancouver Island, Dombrowski’s name is already well known as the author of several other popular guidebooks, including the five-volume Secret Beaches series, Popular Day Hikes, and Seaside Walks. With so many guides already in print, one is apt to wonder why another two-volume set of guides is necessary.
As it turns out, the word “Family” in the title is the engine behind the books’ concept. Dombrowski’s efforts to detail hikes that can be enjoyed by young and old alike give these guides a focus I’ve not seen elsewhere. And a much-needed one, too. As most outdoorsy parents already know, taking the kids out for a walk in the woods can present a range of challenges. Choose a hike that’s too taxing and parents are likely to turn into donkeys, hauling the kids over hill and dale. Take a walk that is too much the same and kids are likely to become bored or, worse, find ways to entertain themselves by fighting. Dombrowski has kept these and other considerations in mind.
“Every trip in this book includes something special for children,” writes Dombrowski in the introduction. “Adults can be perfectly pleased walking sedately along a path that does nothing more than wind amongst second growth forest. Children often have a hard time feeling such pleasure. They want an element of fun, surprise, thrill or the extraordinary.” With that in mind, the author pays particular attention to features of each hike that may interest kids — from waterfalls and cliff views, to pocket lakes and great picnic spots.
The author also considers each hike’s difficulty but does so with unusual detail. Dombrowski’s reasoning is that describing a hike as simple, moderate, or difficult is “not helpful for families with toddlers and teens. What is easy for a teen may be insurmountable for a toddler.” He further points out that even the word “difficult” is unclear in the context of planning a family outing. Does difficult mean steep and treacherous, or just very long? Will you need to ford a stream over slippery logs or use ropes to surmount a rock face?
Just as knowing what attractions there are to look forward to, and knowing exactly what kinds of challenges a hike presents, is extremely useful information for parents planning a fun day in the woods. That said, future editions of the books might wish to colour-code the main area maps so that readers can quickly see which hikes are most suitable for very young children.
With these considerations in mind, the Family Walks and Hikes of Vancouver Island books cover all suitable park trails as well as an interesting selection of lesser known trails. The books don’t aim to be comprehensive or to present hikes that are already very popular (such as Thetis Lake in Langford) but, again, to highlight trails that have features of particular interest to younger trekkers.
Under each hike, you’ll find a short summary with highlights, a colour map and photographs, a description of the location, the hike’s distance, elevation gain, and difficulty. Also provided are recommendations about what times of year are best to go and, most importantly, a synopsis of what is likely to be of most interest to the kids. Wise parents will read ahead to help build a sense of anticipation in young hikers.
Dombrowski’s writing is clear and quite often entertaining, as when he writes, “Brace yourself for a bit of a shock as you come to a fence and vehement Private Property signs keeping you from trespassing onto the groomed lawns of a golf course.” This entertaining but informative tone creates a sense that Dombrowski is with readers on the trails, anticipating their questions and reactions. In other words, the author has done a good job of considering his audience’s needs.
This same attention to detail, I’m happy to say, has gone into the books’ manufacturing. Sturdy laminated covers, rounded corners, and a compact size mean these guides will fit comfortably into a backpack and are likely to withstand many years of casual use.
If there are criticisms to be made, it’s that the photographs would have benefitted from some professional editing. Perhaps a touch of HDR (High Dynamic Range imaging) techniques. In several instances (for example in the Mt. Tzouhalem Cross Trail section) the shaded portions of the photographs are so dark it can be difficult to appreciate, or even make out, the points of interest we’re being shown. Not all the photographs have this problem, but enough of them that it’s worth mentioning.
On the whole, these are great guidebooks that fill a much-needed niche. Teaching our kids to appreciate and enjoy what our spectacular wild places can offer can only benefit future generations. These books make it easy for parents to plan hikes that are suitable for the whole family and that, with repeated use, promise to create great memories that will last a lifetime.
Theo Dombrowski donates 100 percent of the profits he makes from his books to registered charities. You can learn more about the author at his website: https://theodombrowski.net/
Christian Fink-Jensen is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. His work has appeared in more than fifty newspapers, magazines, and journals around the world. He is the author and co-researcher of Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer (Fredericton: Goose Lane Editions, 2016), reviewed by Bonnie Reilly Schmidt in The Ormsby Review no. 35, October 31, 2016. In 2017 Christian was a finalist judge for the CBC’s Nonfiction Literary Awards. He lives in Victoria.
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