CBC, HomePod, and Siri

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information available on how to access CBC content using Siri on HomePod and HomePod mini, so I decided to put together a guide based on my experience and research. Last updated October 2022.

All results below are from tests on my 2018 HomePod stereo pair running HomePod Software Version 16.0 on October 2, 2022.

I bought my first HomePod in June 2018. I listen mostly to Apple Music, along with some podcasts — and CBC news and radio. More than half of my interaction with HomePod is via voice.

CBC has several pages addressing HomePod support:

  1. How can I use Siri to play CBC? (last updated circa mid- 2020)
  2. Do I have to enable anything on my Apple HomePod? (last updated circa 2019)
  3. How to play CBC Radio on your new smart speaker (December 2018)

Here’s a review of the commands provided on those pages, and their current status.

Page (above)“Hey Siri …”Result
1“… play CBC Radio.”Siri says “CBC Radio now playing” or “Okay. Here’s CBC Radio,” but plays various other things. As of September 2022 it played random tracks on Apple Music; but in October it went back to random podcasts such as “The Debaters” or random Apple Music tracks.
1“… play the latest news from CBC.”As of October 2022, plays “The Podium” podcast.

When I started this page, I got “The World This Hour” podcast. As of December 2021 Siri played “Sermons” from the Central Bible Church; trying to go to the item in Apple Music on macOS gave me the message “The item you’ve requested is not currently available in Apple Music in Canada.” In July 2022 I got the “Writers and Company” podcast.
2, 3“… play CBC Radio news.”Plays “Because News” podcast. Previously played the “Quirks and Quarks” podcast.
2, 3“… play CBC Radio 1.”CBC Radio One Vancouver. Not sure whether this is because my location is being referenced.
2“… play CBC Radio Music.”As of September 2022, after months of playing CBC Radio One Vancouver, started playing CBC Music Vancouver! Again perhaps it’s using my location.

CBC had fixed this some time in 2021. Previously I got random episodes of “The Debaters” or “Afghanada;” once I got The Massey Lectures, and earlier in 2022, “The Debaters.”

On the 2018 page (3), there is a video with Piya Chattopadhyay demonstrating the “play CBC Radio One” command. The video ends by promoting a url, cbc.ca/smart, which as of this writing only has instructions for Amazon Alexa.

Page (2) states “We will continue to work on our Apple implementation of the voice experience and will announce late in 2019 when it’s ready to go. Stay tuned!” Page (3) says “New experiences are coming in 2019.”

Communications with CBC

I wrote to CBC in June 2019, and received the following from CBC Audience Services:

“CBC Radio One is limited to the Ottawa feed on HomePod.  CBC Music is not officially supported on HomePod either. All a work in progress and changing constantly. We are continually working on improvements and upgrades on all digital platforms.”

There is a lot more CBC content Siri on HomePod can access besides Ottawa Radio One (see below). But since that message, CBC had stopped responding to emails or tweets on the subject until, quite unexpectedly, an email arrived July 11, 2022, which stated in part:

“This is a known issue which we are currently investigating. Please read the following CBC Help Centre article referring to this issue: NEW Issues connection to CBC Radio networks on internet devices [apparently updated around the end of June 2022]. We do apologize for any inconvenience.”

It’s not clear whether by “this” they were referring to issues with HomePod in general — every time I email or tweet CBC I include a link to this page, but have no way of knowing whether they’ve looked at it — or some specific issue, perhaps the recent problem with CBC Music Vancouver.

It’s also unclear who has responsibility for ensuring that Siri can be used to access CBC content. The page sent to me above says to “reach out to the software support team for your device or service and ask them to contact CBC directly.” But is this TuneIn (the service that provides radio to Apple Music and hence via HomePod)? Apple? I replied with all of these questions, but in a response sent July 19, 2022, only got back “As the article link from our help centre says:” with the first and third paragraphs of the above page quoted, and “That’s all I can give you for the moment.”

Siri Command Reference

Particularly with the introduction of the HomePod mini, these issues would seem to be a significant oversight on the part of CBC. But in the meantime, I’ve discovered through trial and error that there are other commands that work, over and above the few documented on the original web pages from 2018-20. I also looked at the TuneIn pages for CBC stations and music. The following is my analysis of what plays based on various commands. (I have omitted podcasts, since they can be asked for directly; some generic commands like “play the CBC news” happen to redirect to podcasts.)

“Hey Siri…”ResultNotes
“… switch to CBC news.”“Sorry, I’m unable to switch your news source preferences to CBC.”Used to work, and still plays The World This Hour when I ask “…what’s my update?”
“… play the CBC news.”The World at Six podcast.This used to — and I think should — play The World This Hour.
“… play CBC Music.”CBC Radio One TorontoWas playing CBC Radio One Vancouver for me in August 2022, perhaps based on my location; regressed to this previous behaviour in October.
“… play CBC Music Vancouver.”SuccessAppears to have been fixed as of August 8, 2022.

As of July-August 2022, I was getting Barbara Peatland: Canadian Composers Portraits. Starting around July 2022, resulted in “Now play CBC Music Vancouver, Provided by TuneIn. … Sorry, there was a problem with Apple Music.”

For a few weeks in May 2021, this no longer worked as CBC Music Vancouver disappeared from TuneIn. I tweeted at CBC and TuneIn and only TuneIn responded. They wrote, “CBC Music Vancouver have decided to restrict their stream within mobile device users only. This means CBC Music Vancouver can’t be accessed through smart speakers or receiver such as HomePod.” However, a week or so later the station had been restored to TuneIn. But this makes me wonder whether there might be a movement at CBC to try to force people to use their Listen app.
“… play CBC Music Halifax.”SuccessFixed some time between July and August 2022; for a time I got back, “Now playing CBC Music Halifax … Sorry, there was a problem with Apple Music.”
“… play CBC Music Edmonton.”SuccessFixed some time between July and August 2022; for a time I got back, “Now playing CBC Music Edmonton … Sorry, there was a problem with Apple Music.”
“… play CBC Music Winnipeg.”SuccessFixed some time between July and August 2022; for a time I got back, “Now playing CBC Music Winnipeg … Sorry, there was a problem with Apple Music.”
“… play CBC Music Toronto.”Norma Beecroft: Improvvisazioni Concertanti No. 1, From Dreams of Brass, Collage ’76, Jeu II, Accordion Play (Canadian Composers Portraits) [link]Strange and longstanding error. CBC Music Toronto is listed on the TuneIn Local Stations page, although for some reasons with the old 1970s logo rather than the CBC Radio One logo.
“… play CBC Radio One.”SuccessUsed to play CBC Radio One Toronto for me; now plays CBC Radio One Vancouver for me, and I assume my location figures into this.
“… play CBC Radio One Vancouver.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One St. John’s.”SuccessSt. John’s, Newfoundland
“… play CBC Radio One Saint John.”SuccessSaint John, New Brunswick. In October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Kelowna.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Toronto.”SuccessStation artwork is, for some reason, the 1974–1992 CBC logo rather than the CBC Radio One logo that all the other stations use.

“… play CBC Radio One London.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Kitchener-Waterloo.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Halifax.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Moncton.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Edmonton.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Prince George.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Ottawa.”“I couldn’t find CBC Radio One Ottawa in your Apple Music library. You can ask me to play a radio station, or ask for your music on a different app.”This has stopped working since I started this page.
“… play CBC Radio One Winnipeg.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Sudbury.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Montreal.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Victoria.”Success
“… play CBC Radio One Charlottetown.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Regina.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Fredericton.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Thunder Bay.”SuccessIn October 2022 I noticed that this is no longer listed on TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, but it still works.
“… play CBC Radio One Goose Bay”SuccessIn September 2022, I checked TuneIn’s Stream CBC page for the first time in a few months, and discovered this station had been added. Bonus!
“… play CBC Radio One Barrie”“I couldn’t find CBC Radio One Barrie in your Apple Music library.”As for Goose Bay above, discovered this had been added. However, Siri isn’t able to find it.
“… play CBC Radio One Kingston”“I couldn’t find CBC Radio One Kingston in your Apple Music library.”Again, new to TuneIn some time in 2022 but can’t be accessed by Siri on HomePod.
“… play CBC Radio One Peterborough”“There’s nothing playing.”In October 2022, I checked TuneIn’s Stream CBC page, and discovered this station had been added — but it results in an error I haven’t heard before.
“… play CBC Radio One Saskatoon”SuccessAlso added some time in September 2022.

There’s clearly some room for improvement here. CBC should at least fix the incorrect mappings. It’s unclear to me what the relationship is between an entity like CBC and Apple, but there’s a blurb and link on Apple’s Siri for Developers page for integration of a streaming service with HomePod (I don’t currently have an Apple Developer account, so I can’t view the page).

Please let me know if you have any updates or other information, and I will try to keep this page current.

Three Tracks: 2020

Three pieces that I kept coming back to in the (first) year of Covid-19.

Nine Inch Nails: The Worriment Waltz

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross said “the current [pandemic] crisis was the reason they completed the two records in the first place, ‘as a means of staying somewhat sane'” (Pitchfork). While my neighbourhood was boarded up in the spring, this track in particular seemed the pitch-perfect soundtrack; but both albums — Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts — helped get me through that initial strange, disconnected time.

Apple Music · Spotify

Kelly Lee Owens: On

A Hopkins– like perfect balance of melody and electronics; her second appearance on these lists of mine (see 2017). The outtro, hinted at through the verses, is crowning. “And so / Let go of the hope / That it could / That it could be.”

Apple Music · Spotify

Phoebe Bridgers: Garden Song

That processed guitar sound on the classic changes! “No, I’m not afraid of hard work / I get everything I want / I have everything I wanted.”

Apple Music · Spotify

Other

No real honourable mentions this year; I am starting an equivalent “Three Albums” list that mostly takes care of that. My Jazz list also moves there this year.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

Three Albums: 2020

I’ve posted a “Three Tracks” list for a number of years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020), but have always run into a bit of a problem: single cuts versus album tracks. A lot of the listening I’ve done has always been album-oriented; this has only increased for me in the era of Apple Music and HomePod (“Hey Siri, play the latest album by …”). So this list represents full-length works from which I have found it difficult to pull a single song — though I’ve done so for the videos below, largely randomly.

Fiona Apple: Fetch the Bolt Cutters

A masterpiece. The album that convinced me that I needed a separate list for complete works, not just songs, every year.

Apple Music · Spotify

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud

A pleasure from beginning to end, over and over.

Apple Music · Spotify

Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts V: Together and Ghosts VI: Locusts

These two ambient albums got me through the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Apple Music (Ghosts V, Ghosts VI) · Spotify (Ghosts V, Ghosts VI)

Honourable Mention

Live Forever, Bartees Strange (Apple Music, Spotify) — must get back to this one; it’s really struck me the few times I’ve put it on.

Jazz

I’m not as much of a knowledgeable or dedicated or focused jazz fan, though I listen to it a lot; here are a few albums I played many times in 2020.

SOURCE, Nubya Garcia (Apple Music, Spotify); Suite: April 2020, Brad Mehldau (Apple Music, Spotify); Blue Note Re:imagined, Various Artists (Apple Music, Spotify); Gogo Penguin, Gogo Penguin (Apple Music, Spotify); Rythme De Passage, Emie R. Roussel Trio (Apple Music, Spotify); Life Goes On, Carla Bley, Andy Shepperd & Steve Swallow (Apple Music, Spotify); Essais, Volume 4, Pierre de Bethmann Trio (Apple Music, Spotify); Dance, Tingvall Trio (Apple Music, Spotify).

Three Tracks: 2019

Three tracks that satisfied my ears in 2019.

Sharon Van Etten, “No One’s Easy to Love”

True. “Don’t look down, my dear, don’t be surprised […] Don’t look back, my dear, just say you tried.” Bonus points for striking perhaps the most musically interesting note of the year: the second note of the second “love” in each chorus’s “No one’s easy to love.”

Apple Music · Spotify

Vampire Weekend, “This Life”

Song of the summer. “I’ve been cheating through this life and all its suffering / Oh Christ, am I good for nothing?”

Apple Music · Spotify

Patrick Watson, “Here Comes the River”

Pathos for a difficult year. “Well Mary kept sewing / Holding on to her TV / Even if the water was rising past her knees.” I believe this is the only one of my yearly “Fall” playlists (all songs I’ve gathered in the last few years are here on Apple Music) to make it to this list so far.

Apple Music · Spotify

Honourable Mentions

“Terminal Paradise” (Apple Music, Spotify), or pretty much anything from either of their two great 2020 albums, by Big Thief. “Venice Bitch” (Apple Music, Spotify) Lana Del Rey. “Sisyphus” (Apple Music, Spotify), Andrew Bird.

Jazz

I listen to a lot of jazz, but I’m not knowledgeable enough and my listening is not sufficiently comprehensive to produce any kind of narrowed best-of list. I put some of my favourite albums into a Recent Jazz playlist on Apple Music.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018.

Three Tracks: 2018

Three tracks that defined my year in 2018.

Low, “Always Trying to Work It Out”

Hard to pick a track from my favourite album of the year, but this is a standout. “Everybody says that the war is over / It isn’t something you forget so easily.” Can’t wait to see them live in March. I hadn’t seen the video until I put together this post.

Jon Hopkins, “Singularity”

The wait was worth it. Moves in a melodic/rhythmic way that seems unique to him. Great live, as well.

Lucy Dacus, “Night Shift”

Women seem to be making the best rock music these days. “Hooo-oo, woo-oo-oo oooo-oo, whooo-ao-oo waaa-yyy-yooo, ya-aa-yoo i-yoooo; oo-ii-yaaaaaaaa, i-yaaaaaaa, aa, aa i-yaaa-yoo, oo-waaa-aa-aa.” Best lyric of the year, makes me tear up every time I hear her wail this.

Honourable Mentions

Snail Mail, Stick (“What is it about them / They stick around”); Thom Yorke, Suspirium (“Is the darkness ours to take? Bathed in lightness, Bathed in heat”).

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017.

Three Tracks: 2017

Three tracks that defined my year in 2017.

Big Thief, “Shark Smile”

Ah, the sound of this track makes me move, makes me tear up. This is my music. “And she said woo, baby, take me. And I said woo, baby, take me too.”

The live performance on KCRW is worth checking out, though the mix is poor.

Kelly Lee Owens, “8”

Epiphany jetting up into the sunrise south out of Whitehorse. “See it, oh.” The video below is the whole album, which is great; the individual track is available on Bandcamp.

Aldous Harding, “Horizon”

“Say again, this place.”

The live performance on KEXP is worth watching.

Honourable Mentions

I didn’t realize until I was done choosing that they’re all female artists. Some of the other candidates were perhaps too obvious, and not because they’re mostly men: “The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness” by the National; “I Ain’t the One” by Spoon (saw an incredible live performance of this song in September at Malkin Bowl); “Soak” by Zola Jesus; “HUMBLE.” by Kendrick Lamar.

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018.

How I Dramatically Improved My Fondo Performance in Just a Year

In September 2016 I rode my first Whistler GranFondo. I’d only participated in one other fondo before this, the Fraser Valley, in July; in that event, I had struggled in the last 30km or so. The Valley is a long ride, over 160km, much further than I’d ridden before. While Whistler was 40km shorter, I had the Squamish to Whistler ascent to deal with, an unknown quantity since I had never cycled it before.

I finished in 4:33, which according to my coach was pretty good for the first time out. While I found the climbs after Squamish easier than I’d feared, I bonked with about 20km to go. There were three main reasons for this:

  1. Poor nutrition. I hadn’t learned how to pace my drinking, but especially my solids and gels. I simply didn’t eat enough, forgetting what I’d learned from the Fraser Valley ride [link to blog post], and figuring I felt pretty good through the first couple of hours. As they say, if you start feeling hungry, it’s too late.
  2. Not enough training. I had been doing just a ride or two a week, and I’d had a total of three weeks off in the summer, during which time I had not been on a bike much. It isn’t necessary to train as hard as I have this year—see below—but I just wasn’t in the condition required to do as well as I might have.
  3. Riding solo. Even if you’re not part of a team, you can find a group with an appropriate pace that will save you a lot of effort. In 2016 I just wasn’t confident or experienced enough to do it.

I was still pretty happy with my effort. But I started thinking about 2017, and what I could do to get faster. The first problem would be relatively easy to solve; #2 and #3 required some work.

A few weeks after Whistler, my coach Paul Moffat took his Velosophy group to Bowen Island for an end-of-season ride. I’d been with Paul since the spring, but something finally settled into place for me on the island climbs. Squamish to Whistler had gone fairly well, but this reinforced it: I’d finally started to overcome the psychological hurdle of hill climbs; and I was getting stronger.

Finally (almost) keeping up with Eric Purtzki. Photo: Paul Moffat

But where could I go from there? The season was over.

I’d purchased a Wahoo KICKR earlier in the year, mostly to do some FTP tests. So I set up the small room at the entrance to my place as a cycle room/pain cave. I bought an industrial-strength fan along with a tool chest and wheel storage hooks, and I was ready to go for the winter.

I’ve written previously about my indoor training experience: see A Winter of Indoor Cycle Training. I worked through a few of the TrainerRoad programs: Sweet Spot Base Mid-Volume I and II, and Sustained Power Build Mid-Volume. I was interrupted for a few weeks by a slight Achilles tendon issue, but overall put in about 100 hours from November to February. This was more work than I’d done outdoors during the summer season, and I was feeling some gains and also improvements in technique. Unlike some, I don’t mind the monotony of indoor training rides. I mostly focused on the TrainerRoad coaching text, and listened to podcasts during some of the longer sessions. As spring approached, I tried a couple of Zwift races and enjoyed them.

In February, the Velosophy group was invited by the Pender/Dopo Bici club to participate in their training rides and the subsequent GranFondo in Malibu. I was excited about this; I had started to consider doing a cycle trip like Haute Route or Trek Travel; but this was closer, cheaper … and right now; I was on a flight to California within a couple of weeks.

The indoor training paid off: although I’d only had one outdoor ride to that point in 2017 and felt a bit shaky being back outdoors—you have to steer when you ride?—there’s no way I could have kept up without the training I’d done over the winter. We did a few training rides during the week before the fondo; the area is amazing for cycling, with great climbs and twisting descents. The fondo itself went fairly well, though it was only my third such event; and after twice working in small groups to get back to the lead peloton, I was finally dropped for good about 85km in.

Malibu training ride. Photo: TLBVelo Photography

It was hard to come back from bright, summery California and start spring training in the cold and rain. But just a week after Malibu, during the first Velosophy ride of the season around Richmond, it was obvious that I’d made significant progress. It was the same ride we’d started with a year previously, which had been my first real outing with a group and a coach. (I had trained with Team OvCare for the Ride to Conquer Cancer the year before, but that was very casual, with no drafting allowed.) In areas where I’d struggled to keep up a year prior, I found the level of effort to be moderate or low; and noticed that a couple of the new members were struggling as I had in 2016. The flip side of Rule #10 is that it gets easier at the same speed.

I’d met a few of the Pender riders in California, of course, and joined the club for some extra training. I wanted to ride more than a couple of days a week; and although I enjoy going out solo, I was sometimes missing the social aspect and wanted to develop better group riding skills. Starting in early May, I attended the weekly Thursday night rides coached by Laura Brown. I rode rain or shine, and on June 15 it was pretty wet; I left my Cervélo R5 at home and put fenders on my Opus Allegro, and for the first time met Assaf Yogev, the Pender men’s team coach.

This led on to a few things. I decided to try racing, and the next week began Escape Velocity’s “Learn to Race” course; I got my UCI license. I started attending the Pender team skills clinics; unfortunately, I had a crash in mid-July and threw my shoulder out. This delayed my first attempt at racing, though I still rode the Valley Fondo the same week and it was my best fondo to date, 53 minutes faster than 2016. I switched over to Assaf for coaching, and going forward he scheduled six sessions a week for me in TrainingPeaks. These varied from intense hill repeats to skills sessions and recovery rides. I had no troubles handling the work, even though it was far beyond anything I’d done before. It was a big time commitment, but I really enjoyed all of it.

In August I participated in the Cypress Challenge, and took eleven minutes off my 2016 time. I also rode the last few World Tuesday Night Championship criteriums of the year. I started in Cat 4 at the suggestion of Bill Semrau, the very supportive Pender team captain, from whom I learned a lot in just a few races (his wife Tammy L. Brimner does excellent cycling and other photography, including a couple of the photos in this post). I generally did pretty well, not placing, but handling the pace and learning strategy and technique.

WTNC—that’s me in Pender red. Photo: TLBVelo Photography

And then it was September. I’d put in over 300 hours and about 8,500km of work by this point in the year, 6,000km more than I had leading up to the 2016 event. I did one last “hill smash” on Belmont out near Spanish Banks on the Tuesday before the event, then tapered.

I was given the choice to ride with the lead group, or support the mixed team. I agonized over this: I knew I could improve on last year’s time, perhaps dramatically; but the lead group was going to finish in about 3:30, an hour faster than I did in 2016. I take a while to warm up, and feared being dropped on Taylor Way and riding without any Pender crew. Just a few minutes before the start, I decided to go with the mixed team, which was aiming for four hours.

It turned out that Taylor Way was the biggest challenge of the ride for me; I registered my highest heart rate there. After we spread out some, the team came back together on the Upper Levels. It started raining earlier than I had expected, and it was a pretty wet ride, though we were working hard enough that the cold didn’t register until we stopped in Whistler.

We worked well together and maintained a good pace. We had one flat, and lost two riders to that. By the last 20km or so, it was just Bill, myself, and two of the Pender women. Unfortunately, we didn’t win in the mixed team category—but we were not far behind. Next year!

I finished in 3:50:29 (chip time), 43 minutes faster than 2016. I placed 14th of 330 in my age group, 96th percentile; and overall 191st of 2,937 riders, 93rd percentile. I sacrificed some time to work for the team, but I don’t regret it at all. The overall pacing was excellent, and riding in a group was key; I never felt I was working particularly hard. I ate several bars and one gel; and drank about two and a half bidons of Roctane Gu and Vega electrolyte hydrator, largely through the first two-thirds of the race. That worked well for me.

Nutrition; dedicated training; and group riding skills got me to the finish about 16% faster. It’s worth noting that I reduced my alcohol consumption to near zero, and I suspect this was a component of my success. See “Is Alcohol the Reason You’re Not Getting Faster?” on the TrainerRoad blog.

I am pretty confident that in 2018 I can take another ten to twenty minutes off my time, and place near the top in my age group; and hopefully play a part in a Pender team victory. I’m largely back indoors on my KICKR now, and will be meeting my coach soon to plan for the 2018 season.

Bring it on.

Yukon-Alaska September 2017

A random encounter, an invitation, a whim, a ticket. Excepting great circle flights I’d never been north of Prince Rupert, which seemed to be the waterlogged, depressing and depressed end of the road. I was on a flight to a place that makes that feel decidedly southern; to a town where a couple tens of thousands of souls, for months in the winter, brave almost around-the-clock darkness and cold, and appear to spend at least some of the rest of their year desperately girding themselves for it.

The Yukon in September is a beautiful calming salt and pepper mix of yellow deciduous and green coniferous. In the south, these two tend to exist separately, the fall colours confined to stream beds. Breaking through the clouds and coming in over Grey Mountain, I didn’t know yet that the scattered coexistent pattern appears to be the norm for a large expanse of the northern landscape.

I spent the first couple of days mountain biking on Grey Mountain in Whitehorse and Montana Mountain near Carcross. I’m a dedicated road cyclist, and had never been on a trail, never mind fat tires and suspension. It was odd to feel like a beginner on two wheels, a combination of exhilaration, frustration, and some fear.

This was my first experience of the Yukon outdoors. Around Vancouver there is almost always the sense, if not the sounds, of nearby human activity. But here, more than 70% of the population lives in Whitehorse and there’s the suspicion, and probably the reality, that there’s not much beyond the town but wilderness. So it’s quiet and seems even quieter. I heard one jet fly over in the four days I was in the north.

I got up a couple of times after midnight and despite clear skies, there was no aurora.

The third day my new friend drove me and her 12-year-old Greenland dog west along the Alaska Highway to Haines Junction and then south towards Haines, Alaska. Having left behind the treed area of the Yukon, we stopped at one point along a stretch reminiscent of the Scottish moors, although part of the reason for this assessment was that the high mountain peaks were obscured by fog and cloud. We walked for an hour or so into Tatshenshini-Alsek Park, which is actually in the upper northwest notch of British Columbia. This is a landscape barren with low-lying life not apparent until the mosses and lichens and heather are underfoot and you start scrambling through stunted brush. It’s almost ghostly: there are no birds, and no sounds other than the wind—and my guide occasionally calling out “hey-oh” to warn any nearby bears. We never saw one, or any evidence.

In Haines we stayed at the Hotel Halsingland, an historic building with a charming little bar, one of those that seem to encourage camaraderie among strangers. Northerners in both countries are quick to say hello, or at least give a nod, and open to conversation. One of the things that repeatedly surprised me is that by September, much has closed down for the winter. Like the hotel owner, many are off to places like Israel or Florida for the off-season. Many or most seem to be from elsewhere, whether long-time residents, passing through, or running a seasonal business. Maybe there’s a recognition that along with the light, human presence itself is fleeting, and people are not only few but literally far between. Bulletin boards, rather than the web, are the primary means of advertising events and services. There appears to be a community of small communities reminiscent of that of the Pacific islands I saw when in Kauai, gathered together over distance by common remoteness.

The next day was clearer than when we’d arrived, and the coastal mountains were sharp and stunning. We drove up Lutak Inlet towards Chilkoot Lake. This was going to be a good place to see grizzlies, but there were none. The scene of salmon spawn and seagulls in the fall sunlight was beautiful.

We took the ferry to Skagway, and drove up through yet another distinct geographical and botanical landscape, almost a moonscape but again packed with low growth. We tried scrambling down a cliff to, I believe, the Taiya River. It was too steep for the dog, and probably for me; although I mostly managed to keep up with this experienced hiker, we never went very far or very hard. We went back over the highway and had a short walk in a haunting landscape with numerous pools and rocks and stunted trees whose roots were completely out of proportion to their height. I thought about how the whole area would soon be completely snowed in; the highway was bordered on both sides by thousands of white-out markers.

We got back to Whitehorse a bit too late to see the movie we’d planned on, Dawson City: Frozen Time. Instead, we went to a house concert—no, not house music, but an actual performance in someone’s living room. A duo from Winnipeg, whose names I don’t recall, played some beautiful guitar with enjoyable but slightly clichéd country-ish singing and lyrics. Beforehand, I spoke with a couple of people who had given up city life, and had definitely compromised to do so. After four days, I was only just beginning to understand why.

That was my last night.

My host, a long-time resident of the northern Territories, was one of the more fascinating people I’ve met. Senior in government, volunteering much of her time, and spending the rest almost obsessively hiking, camping, and biking, squeezing in every possible outdoor activity before the winter—though she has a fat tire bike ready for that, too—I wondered how much of this lifestyle is common to the area. She has a quiet confidence and expertise in being in the remote wilderness, and on our long drives pointed out numerous places she’s hiked. Yet she’s still considered, or considers herself, a cheechako after some years in Whitehorse. Her friends seem equally occupied with outdoor and other social activities. Counterintuitively, my city friends seem to have more downtime.

I vaguely expected northern lights and bears; instead I think I got a tentative sense of the north and the people who choose to live there. Home in my Gastown apartment, with only rain, barely cooler temperatures, and slightly darker months on the way, I look north now with an awareness and appreciation and a bit of longing. It’s great to be back on my road bike, on pavement. But I hope to go north again.