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  • Writer's pictureJill Macdonald

Slow Travel

Paddle boarding is my new passion. I love being able to explore on my own, poking around shorelines, crossing lakes and rivers, and being able to make circuits or traverses without needing a guide or worrying too much about wildlife encounters. The dog can come along. A friend and I set an objective – 28km with a pre-arranged pickup to shuttle back to the launch. Things seemed reasonable – great weather, calm winds, not an ideal start time but we figured our timing could work.

It seems like every time I go on a trip, I have to relearn the basics. Think of everything, assume nothing! To make a long start short, we thought we knew where the launch was, overlooked the condition of our equipment, underestimated how long it would take to get going and failed to communicate our departure time. Could be worse, definitely could have been better. I prefer to call these glitches learning opportunities.

By 12:30 pm, we were on the water, conditions of circumstance and prior commitments. Lisa’s board was underinflated and we did not bring a pump, but no problem. She’s strong. Off we went under the blazing sunlight, hats on, clothes off. Bikinis all the way, it was finally summer! The Columbia River was swollen bank to bank, more like a lake than a river, with no shoreline to speak of, loads of waterlogged trees and great drifts of pollen brushed on the surface. We paddled hard for two hours, excited to pass each point of land and see what was on the other side. Classic adventuring. Our hometown waterway from a new perspective and the epitome of slow travel. We were the only people out there.

Three hours passed. By this time, we needed to change position, kneeling or sitting, then standing or kneeling, to ease pressure on our feet. We dipped in the refreshing water to cool off, dressed for the sun but didn’t take any significant breaks. By the landmarks, we knew we still had a fair distance to cover. No cell coverage existed to update our status or location. Time marched on. Typical of where we live, the breeze picked up. By now, Lisa’s board felt sluggish. Not as responsive as she would have liked, it also dragged in the water. She put in more effort to keep up and we kept close to shore because of the wind. Chop developed and when we rounded cliff bands, reverberations bounced back underwater, we rode out mini surge channels, our boards less stable and predictable. Kneeling was prudent but uncomfortable. Another hour passed. We were seriously lagging.

The beauty of slow travel is discovery. Lo and behold, we came upon a pier. A large, welcoming berm of land with tinnies docked on it, a couple of canoes pulled up on shore and a series of campers with shelters built over them lining the land above. It appeared to be a campground, one we had never heard of and were not expecting to find. It was an invitation to come ashore and readjust our program.

The first person we met was an older fellow in jeans and a T-shirt, can of beer in hand, headed to hang out with his cronies. I asked him, in all honesty, “Where are we?” By his expression, we knew he had heard this line before. Turns out we had stumbled onto private land owned by a group of folks in Revelstoke who bought the acreage from BC Hydro in the 80s and established a summer camp for themselves and their families. It was brilliant. Two little girls told us about their brothers who kept pushing them out into the “deep sea” and how they “don’t like them right now,” but they would be making hot chocolate together at the end of the blistering day in July. With marshmallows that miraculously never ran out.

We never made it to our new plan which was to hump the boards up to the highway and hitchhike to our pickup location, another five kilometres minimum, downstream. A ride was offered and accepted, we stuffed our boards under the canopy, piled into the pickup and learned the delightful history of the land, its people and our neighbours, none of us known to each other. As we drove along, I thought about taking photographs and how I resisted because this was the highlight of the day. It wasn’t about documenting, it was about being open, learning to walk the streets of Revelstoke with fresh eyes and being excited to meet new people where we live.

The slow travel adventure of paddle boarding turned into a far more rewarding experience than if we had met our objective and never pulled in there. We have booked a repeat effort, with more time, no deadlines and we are definitely going to stop in and say hello. With marshmallows and beer.

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