Friday, September 21, 2007

Medals all 'round

When planning our canoe trip down the lake, I took the 34 kms and divided it out to get a comfortable 3 days, knowing that the wind blowing from the south can really slow a boat down. Then I doubled that to give a conservative estimate of what the pace would be like with four kids and all the extra getting-ready time, the pee breaks, the lower tolerance for sitting in a boat, the need to run around and explore, the extra payload and the extra bodies.

We finished in about 48 hours. It turns out we have powerhouse kids. They paddled hard and they paddled long, through wind and waves and cold rain that left the mountain-tops wearing bright new winter sweaters of snow. They helped set up and tear down camp, and honestly, they came very close to being a net asset in terms of efficiency on the trip.

With all the necessary vehicle-shuttling, we got off to an anticipated late start on Tuesday, hitting the water at about 4 pm. We paddled only about an hour, to a lovely forestry campsite called Wragge Beach. The wind had come up by the time we got there and spray was getting us wet, so it was nice to pull in to a nice campsite and get a fire going. We had a leisurely dinner and read aloud through dusk.

Wednesday was a beautiful paddling day. The water was calm, the sun came out for part of the day, and there was almost no wind. We easily passed both New Denver and Silverton by early afternoon and pulled in at a sandy beach point while the sun was still high. We bravely managed a swim and some play on the beach, then hunkered down around the campfire as the temperature dropped with the clear skies. We had put on some serious mileage, and began to talk about paddling the rest of the way the next day. The kids were really pleased with how much we'd accomplished.

Thursday morning was cold and overcast and it began raining almost as soon as we got up. We managed breakfast in the cold and rain, and packed up a soggy sandy bunch of gear and set off. Our one gear oversight was the lack of a waterproof jacket for Sophie. I had looked everywhere in the week before we left, in the local used-clothing place, at the high-end sporting goods place, at all the new and used kids' clothing places in Nelson. There were tons of windbreakers, and tons of fleece jackets, of which she already had both, but nothing waterproof. We could have ordered a GoreTex jacket in, but there wasn't time. So that morning at the campsite we had Sophie encased in a few layers of warm stuff, with a tarp-like thing in reserve. But we'd missed the boat ... she was already wet and cold. She paddled quietly and stoically for a while, then stopped paddling and was quiet, and gradually her "no, I'm okay's" got quieter and quieter until she was silently sobbing. We paddled on, into a bit of a headwind, with the chop picking up, looking for any flat area where we'd be able to put up a tarp and get a roaring bonfire going to warm her up and dry her out a bit. At the crucial moment we rounded a point and found a tiny cove, and above the cove was an old cabin. There are a few of these in the park, but this was one we didn't know about. We went in, lit a fire in the wood cookstove, put on water for hot cocoa and began stripping off layers of clothing to dry out. Within half an hour we were all cheerful again, and Sophie was cracking silly jokes and eating cheese. Within a couple of hours most of the clothing was dry and we were thinking about heading out on the lake for some more paddling, rather than spending the night in the cabin.

Then Sophie fell into the lake. The rain had eased to the point that the kids were happily exploring the rocks around the cabin. Some were very slippery. Poor kid. Fortunately she had one change of clothes, and the pants and shirt had been among the things I'd managed to get dry over the stove. We did some squeezing and spinning and wringing and it took only an extra hour to get her fleece and windbreaker dry. And so by mid afternoon we were heading out again, with the bluffs of Cape Horn in sight and the promise of a glimpse of Slocan around the corner. It was drizzling, but the wind had settled down, and it seemed like we were making good time. The monstrous bluffs were deceptive though ... it seemed like we weren't moving at all for the longest time. But we were, because suddenly there was Slocan. We saw the first other boats we'd seen on the lake the whole time -- six or eight canoes at the one obvious campsite between us and our eventual destination. Six or eight canoes makes for a pretty crowded creek mouth campsite, so there was no question of pulling our day's paddling up short. We kept our bows pointing towards Slocan and paddled hard. We pulled in just before supper-time.

What did I learn about my kids? Erin is strong -- as strong as many adults, and with a work ethic to match. Noah is strong for a 10-year-old, but more importantly has gained the ability to pace himself well for sustained activities like paddling. What a treat! He and I paddled together through the worst of the last day and he was a great partner. Sophie is stoical almost to a fault. She did not utter one complaint, despite all that frozen misery. And resilient. She bounced right back into her cheerful old self very quickly -- both times she got soaked to the skin. And Fiona is just a trooper. She sat in the "jump seat" (middle, rear-facing) in the kayak for all those hours of kayaking and looked around, kept up commentary, or nodded off to sleep, despite wind and rain and cold and boredom. And never a complaint.

Everyone feels justifiably proud. I think the kids deserve medals of some sort. Paddling the lake, especially in not-entirely-welcoming nippy fall weather, seems like a sort of rite of passage.

That little Canon Powershot camera looked like it got left at home in its Ziploc bag. I was ticked off at myself for forgetting it after all that. But when we got home, we found it in the bottom of the cooler under the last couple of bricks of cheese. Sheesh! I've uploaded a photo taken from the east side of the lake several years ago instead. Our second campsite was on the shore just off the right-hand edge of the photo. We continued left across the photo on the next day and on off the left end of the photo to Slocan.


  1. Wow, that is amazing. Medals AND hot cocoa for everyone.

  2. I imagine your kids are really proud of themselves. And poor Sophie--she is a real trooper, too!

    The trip sounds like a great deal of fun. One last expedition before winter.

    I'm sorry you have no pictures--but you do have the memories!

  3. Awww - I was eagerly awaiting photos of this venture. Too bad about the camera. And Sophie, yes a trooper indeed!

  4. I am so jealous!! Our wilderness trip was canceled because of a burn ban in our region! My mother just got back from your area... some sort of Canadian Rockies resort trip.. several resorts over 10 days I believe. I'll have to see if you shared the same lake at some point...
    .. Kudos to the kiddos... it will make future trips even easier to plan knowing what their strengths are on the water !

  5. What a great adventure!


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