In Celebration of Life - my "annual" Harrison River Kayak Trip
Today was the day I picked to do my "annual" marathon kayak run from the house on the Hope river, up the "River" and up the Harrison river to Harrison Lake and Resort. I pick high water times although it makes it much harder to paddle up the Fraser because it's the only time you can paddle the Harrison river upstream. At lower levels the current is much too swift and "weird" to make any headway. I did it once in late August. I had to camp halfway up overnight and continue the next day.
Today was a nine hour run with only a fifteen minute break at the turn-around point. Best time yet, but I had help from the weather. It turned rather nasty out there; the temperature dropped suddenly and two storms rolled in, engulfing the mountains in black clouds and mists. The first storm came from the north-east down the approximately 40(?) mile long Harrison lake and billowing into the funnel created by the Harrison river. This whipped up some pretty nasty waves, which only got nastier when that front met the later one sweeping in from the south-west. Twice "the floodgates of the heavens" opened up and it pelted everything from fine wind-driven rain to huge rain drops to border-line sleet. I ended up wearing every item of emergency winter gear I keep stowed in the kayak's bulkheads, including the paddle mitts. Very strange weather.
The Fraser - the "River" - wouldn't let me use my normal route today. Too many snags and fallen trees uprooted and thrust across the current. I had to use to cliff side where huge stone monoliths jut out are semi-regular intervals and cause great swirling whirlpools that pull down as deep as three feet then reverse themselves and cause what I call "mushrooms" of water that shoot out above the normal surface at any moment. I got caught in one such place on the way up, couldn't back down for the risk of being dashed against a vertical rock face and flipped was too real and the roiling water wouldn't cooperate and give me the "go-ahead" break fast water kayakers know to look for. It was tense. I heard myself saying, "Shit! I'm f----d!" a couple of times as I spun around there like a cork on water. I couldn't even get my rudder in deep enough to keep straight.
You've all heard of that thing we can do with our bodies in times of stress; that "super-human" strength that we can tap into to lift a load or get out of a bad situation? I did it. Just delved down into those untapped reserves of muscle and determination. I inched my way out of the maelstrom (of course I did, I'm here writing this aren't I?) and within minutes I was in the Harrison and paddling the second half of the upstream run to Harrison lake.
Paddling the Harrison river can get boring as it's mostly just steady slogging. At high water there are no surprises, just mile-wide stretches of flooded deltas from smaller mountain tributaries like the Chehalis river and Morris Creek. So I have hours of thinking time. I went back over that episode with the whirlpool trap. It made me wonder about my body. How much reserve does it have before the tank really goes empty? I know that I've lived a more physical life than most of my known contemporaries. That has led me to some startling discoveries. If you use up your reserves on a regular basis then replenish them slowly and carefully you remain healthier and probably live not only longer, but productively so. Today's people may live longer lives than their forebears, but are they alive? I see people who take time off work for every reason; who believe that if they feel tired they should sleep; who rush to the nearest "food dispenser" if they feel the least bit hungry and always have something to suck on so they don't get thirsty. (They always seem to be thinking about food or something to drink.)
The human body is not designed to be made comfortable or to be pampered or given everything it wants. It is the mind's child and it must be disciplined. It functions best when it is forced to "go" beyond that point where it says "I quit." It's not up to the body but the mind to decide when it's time to quit. The body must be made to understand that it is expendable; a temporary construct. The thing I did today was hard on the body. There doesn't seem to be a single muscle that doesn't hurt tonight. Yet I feel wonderful. Even flipping the kayak once (a bit of carelessness) and filling the cockpit with ice-cold water didn't take away from the adventure: it added to the spice of it.
Some points to these observations. I did not go out to seek mindless excitement and I wasn't competing against anything or anyone, except perhaps testing my own endurance levels compared to last year's. I went out to be a part of my current world. To see, hear, smell and taste it. I wasn't disappointed. Here's a list of some of the things I saw or heard in that short trip. Beginning in the Hope river, song sparrows, robins and a variety of warblers were all active and singing - that was at 8:00 this morning. Along the Fraser I saw the beautiful Bullocks orioles and heard the black-headed grosbeaks singing. The early morning was partially sunny and muggy still so the swallows (barn and tree) as well as empidonax flycatchers were out in droves. I saw a very large otter (or some such creature) on a floating log. It was twice the size of any river otter I've ever seen, grey, with a short rather bushy tale.
To conclude with the birds, it's very different on the Harrison river. The flooded marshes are home to armies of small marsh wrens. You can't usually see them but they are very noisy. There were yellowthroat warblers, also giving voice to the morning and various sandpipers as well as bald eagles, blue herons and vultures flying about. I saw one pileated woodpecker (yes, I mean pileated -- they are not extinct -- it's their cousin the larger ivory-billed that is considered all but extinct now) and a couple of red-shafted flickers. At the entrance to the lake I encountered a pair of arctic loons and another lone one later on the way back. Ducks and geese are still raising young ones and the little families are seen everywhere. For the first time I saw a covey(?) of baby common mergansers. Now those are cute!
As the storms were rolling in and the winds rising both the time vaux's and much larger white-throated swifts came out hunting. I knew then I was in for rain - these swifts are always certain harbingers that rain is in the offing.
I'm not as skilled describing diverse types of plants, particularly wild flowers, I encounter but I can give it a try. More wild flowers bloom in June than at any other time of year. Spring flowers are still blooming and summer ones are already opening. So you have a bit of everything, in every colour. Wild splashes of whites, yellows, blues and purples. You have pentsemons, paintbrushes, yarrow, pearly everlastings waving crazily from cracks in the perpendicular rock walls. Wherever it can find a place for its roots the lush ocean spray wave over the waters. In the marshes and at the water's edge you often find stands of hardhack or "Spirea Douglasii" with its pink tufted heads and sweet smell.
And of course wherever the current does not drown the sound, you constantly hear the wind - from light breeze to howling gale - in the manifold type of leaves, each tree, each leaf, making its own particular music in celebration of life.
And that's what it would teach us all: to celebrate life, always.
(a picture of some hard hack tufts taken some years ago here in the Hope river)