July 12, 2003
I slept until 7:00, clearly tired out after my hike down from the hills yesterday. What with breaking camp and chatting with my neighbours, I didn’t launch until 10AM.
It was a perfect morning’s paddling. I came across two sunken barges, easily visible in the clear, fresh water. Like shipwrecks in the sea, these old hulks act as reefs and nurseries for life. They swarm with minnows and a few full-grown trout. It’s been beautiful gliding along hour after hour, just yards from shore, watching the lake bottom drop off into unseen depths on my left and the land towering out of sight on my right. The undersides of rocky overhangs dance with white streaks of light reflected off the water’s surface.
It’s very hot, but this is no problem – I’ve literally been soaking my head at each landing through the morning. At my lunch stop just south of Sand Point, I (also literally) jumped in the lake. My shirt and undies are drying in the sun as I luxuriate in the shade, enjoying homemade peanut-butter-and-chocolate squares that were a parting gift from Teresa. I’m watching in bemusement as a black ant drags away a crumb of my lunch biscuit that’s at least twice as big as he is.
Update at 17:30 hours. At about 14:30 the wind from the south began picking up. Within twenty minutes, the centre of the lake had gone from millpond flat to fully developed whitecaps.* By hugging the shore, I escaped the brunt of the weather, and snuck up to Nemo Creek Beach in the lee of its southern point.
*Fresh water is less dense than salt water, so wind can whip it into waves much faster.
The whitecaps are nothing my kayak and I couldn’t cope with while wearing my sprayskirt (this close to shore and in this hot and – up to this point – calm weather, I’ve been paddling without the skirt on until now) – but it would have been simply stupid hard work to paddle into the headwind. I’ve breasted enough headwinds in my day to have nothing to prove.
So I rigged the tarp as a rain shelter – thereby ensuring the few drops that were falling stopped completely. As I write this, the rice is simmering on the stove, to be accompanied by chicken breast from an MRE* pouch. The view across the lake is glorious: blue sky, puffs of sunlit white cloud, and tree covered mountains. Now that it’s calmed down, the sound of semis shifting gears on the highway carries across from the far side of the lake, which acts as a moat between civilization and wilderness.
*Meals, Ready to Eat. The indefinite shelf-life rations made for the military, and also sold to preppers, survivalists, and other unwary civilians.
Restaurant Review: What emerged from my MRE packet was a patty of preformed chicken particles with dyed-on “sear marks” and a chemical taste. It bore the same resemblance to “chicken breast“ as Spam does to a ham steak. That said, on the bed of brown rice, and disguised with chutney and peanuts, it was passable and filling. I know American soldiers get a Purple Heart for wounds from enemy action; would a Blue Stomach be an appropriate award for a gut busted by MREs?
As I was finishing dinner, who should arrive but the Park “Operator” (an employee of Valhalla Ventures, the contractor who’d won the bidding to collect fees, etc. See my rant in Part 1.) When I mentioned the semi-sunken barges, he launched into their tale. He may not have actually started with “It was a dark and stormy night…” but that is how I remember it. Anyhoo, apparently on New Year’s Eve in 1946, a tug and barge were carrying the train from Roseberry to Silver City, as it was done in those days. The crew (possibly under the influence of New Year’s libations) failed to notice the barge taking on water until it was too late for the bilge pumps to avail. Afraid they would be pulled down with the sinking barge, the crew cut their lines to it. At which point the barge tilted smartly to one side, decanted the locomotive and cars, and bobbed back to the surface, as wood would.
(For a more complete, and possibly more truthful, account of The Little Engine That Couldn’t (Swim), see page 8 and onward at https://www.exporail.org/can_rail/Canadian%20Rail_no256A_1973.pdf)
Apparently the barge drifted about Slocan Lake for years, a sort of low-rent Flying Dutchman and hazard to navigation, until some local worked up the initiative to beach it where I’d seen it that morning.
Mr Contractor went on to tell me about how his boat had been hired by treasure hunters a few years before as a platform for side-scan sonar. They had salvage rights to the locomotive, which would have been worth quite a bit in good condition, as they were hoping it would be since it was immersed in cold, fresh water, far less corrosive than sea water (I’ve dived on wooden wrecks in the Great Lakes that were mostly intact after a century on the bottom.)
Sadly, when the remote cameras were sent down, they revealed that while the regular train cars had settled gently on the lake bottom, the locomotive, plunging headfirst due to the weight of its engine, had Lawn Darted almost its full length into the mud. With the wreck nearly a thousand feet underwater, a depth that only NewtSuited divers can work at, salvaging it was not a paying proposition.
July 13, 2003
Up at 6, after a not very restful night – it was so hot, I was sweating just laying on my sleeping pad in my T-shirt and underwear with no covers. The artillery roar of the nearby waterfall hadn’t helped.
After bathing, I felt much better. Plus, with light cloud cover, it was pleasantly cool compared to the last several days. The water was so calm that I kept my Thermos mug of coffee with me in the open cockpit and swigged it as I paddled. I spotted a Loon and her several offspring (Lunettes? Or Quarters, Dimes and Nickels according to size?)
At this point, a slight headwind was blowing, that would have been the ideal speed had it (or I) been going the other direction. I landed at Cory’s Ranch about 9AM to pump out my personal bilges. In the time it took me to do that, the wind had reversed direction and increased enough to whip up white caps. I pulled on my sprayskirt for the first time on this trip and hoisted the sail. The first quarter-hour out of Cory’s Ranch was pretty hairy, with following seas on the port quarter and clapotis* from the cliffs nearby on the right. My spraydeck was regularly awash.
* Not, despite how it sounds, an embarrassing condition you ask your doctor to treat with penicillin. It refers to the complicated wave patterns that result when seas bounce off a wall or other obstacle and interact chaotically with the incoming waves. Feel free to use it in your next Scrabble match.
Once the wind had died, I carried on to Ben Creek, discovering several petroglyphs enroute. They were so vivid I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been “enhanced” with modern paint, or even faked completely. But the two park rangers who landed as I was pulling out my tarp at Ben Creek assure me they’re authentic. They also say that almost every beach on the lake has pits and other evidence of “the Lake People” who used to winter near what is now Columbia County in Washington State, then migrate here in the summer to catch and smoke salmon.
I decided to have a hot lunch today, both because I’m tired of hard bread, and because the cool rainy weather called for it. While rigging my tarp, I scrambled up a bank to tie a line off to a tree root. On my way back down, I slipped on a wet and slimy root, and landed very hard on my shoulder and back across another root; I could actually hear a cracking sound. Fortunately, I hadn’t gotten around to taking off my PFD yet, and it served as a sort of gambeson. So although the impact point smarted viciously for several minutes, it’s settled down to a dull ache, and nothing appears to be broken – though things might have been different without the PFD padding. Still, I won’t be surprised if it stiffens and/or bruises.
As I write this at 14:45, thunder is echoing intermittently up and down the lake, rain squalls are sweeping by, and scudding clouds periodically occult the sun.
Update: 20:00. The weather died down in late afternoon, and I had a pleasant paddle through the cool, green evening to Evans Creek. The rain considerately held off until I’d landed and rigged my tarp over a picnic table, using my trekking pole as the centre support. I supped on FD turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes, made more convincing by a sauce I stewed up from dried cranberries, water, and sugar.
My campsite is in the middle of the cold air current from the creek. In the heat of previous days, this would have been refreshing. In today’s rainy weather, it’s merely chilling, but my PrimaLoft jacket and watch cap are keeping me comfortable. You can almost always add more layers, but there’s a limit to how many you can take off!
June 14, 2003
I slept in ‘til 7:30. It’s cloudy but no rain. I accepted the offer from “Fee” (Fiona), one of the other campers here, to test-paddle her home-built wooden kayak, made from Pygmy plans. It tracked nicely, and carved better than my own kayak when leaned. When I attempted a roll however, the smooth varnished contact points were my undoing, and I simply pried myself out of the boat, much to the amusement of the onlooking children. I tightened the footrests, and snapped off an extended paddle roll, restoring honour and dignity. Sadly, I hadn’t thought to hand anyone my camera.
I got underway about 10, and actually managed to sail again. A couple of canoeists coming the other way accused me of “cheating”; as usual in response to such taunts, I pointed out that I’ve more than paid my dues forward with all the paddling into headwinds I’ve done over the years.
I discovered a final petroglyph, then sailed around the log boom where Slocan Lake drains into the river. I furled the sail just as the downstream current grasped the boat (congratulating the entire crew of the kayak on a smart bit of sail handling as I did so). After a quarter-hour float trip down the river, I eddied out in the lee of the breakwater at Smiling Otter, well pleased with the trip, and already planning to come back next year with my wife (though it seems wise to spare her the hike up to Wee Sandy Lake…)
The first part of this story is here.