After weeks of extensions to what I thought would be my departure date, I was finally loaded and ready to roll. I chose to start my venture in Vernon as it’s my birthplace and the Okanagan Valley had been my home for most of my life. Wanting to beat the traffic through Vernon, to reach Kalamalka Lake, I was underway before 7:00. I was towing far more weight than I hoped I would be. It was only the previous day that I had piled everything into the canoe and obtained a total weight. In making my equipment purchases I had hoped to keep the weight of the canoe, cart and gear to around 150 pounds. The scale revealed I had almost 250 pounds. The night before I tested that weight on an 8% road grade and found it not possible to ride and very difficult to push. Getting over the mountain passes was going to be a problem but no such grades along the 10 km route to Kal Lake and I was able to ride the entire distance.
Kalamalka Beach on departure day. Not as I remember it as a kid though, then the pier included a diving tower, the beach was crowded, and Perry Como tunes blasted from transistor radios.
Bike and cart stowed in the bow. My first transition from land to water took over an hour. With the wheels removed, the bike when folded, and inverted, slides right up and into the bow. Then I fill the spacing around it with any heavier food storage items. That weight forward is key to how the boat handles in rough water. Here I have the wheels and tires stowed in the bow as well. Time would eventually find them a better place on the deck, on top of the spray skirt.
The paddle down the lake was pleasant with calm waters for the most part. Pleasant except for the noise from the highway along the western shore, even though I followed the east side. Kalamalka is also known as ‘The Lake of Many Colours’ and is one of the prettiest lakes in B.C. – when those colours are revealed, which wasn’t the case this day. (It’s a ‘marl’ lake and the colours show when the water warms.) Kal Lake is joined with Woods Lake by a short canal at Oyama. A tailwind picked up as I was entering Woods and using the kayak paddle I made good time in reaching its southern shore. I did so just as a thunderstorm let loose a bit further south. I was able to get the canoe onto the cart before the rain started but it was pelting down by the time I was on the road. It’s a short hop over a steep hill from Woods to Okanagan Lake and it was necessary to push the bike to reach the top. The grade was likely about 6% and although it was steady work it was doable.
I arrived at a boat launch site in Okanagan Centre, about four o’clock, to find Okanagan Lake in a hostile state. Ominous bands of dark clouds were visible to the south and the south wind had the lake near whitecap conditions. I readied the canoe but had no intention of leaving until things settled down. Once the canoe was loaded I took shelter in the doorway of a men’s washroom waiting for things to improve.I will now switch to the format of a series of books popular when my boys were young – ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’! You, dear reader, get to do just that and I’ll keep my choice to myself.
“You arrive at the Okanagan Centre boat launch site as thunderstorms are sweeping up the valley from the south. South winds have the lake in an unfriendly state but following the shoreline, it would be possible to make some progress south through the wind and rain. With conditions as they are you are alone at the boat launch site. There is a cement washroom building with both a men’s and women’s washroom. They have been recently cleaned and the dry floor in each indicates they have not been entered all day. The women’s washroom is fragrant with the smell of cleaning disinfectant – the men’s has a fragrance all of its own! Do you.
a. Throw everything to the wind and launch the canoe as making miles is important to you. Or wait until near dark and with the winds not abating: b. Pitch your tent on the tiny bit of rocky ground in the lee of the washroom building c. Lock the door and set up to sleep on the floor of the men’s washroom. d. Lock the door and set up to sleep on the floor of the women’s washroom.
The next day was ‘learn to row day’. I had set the canoe up with a rowing unit similar to what the competitive racing sculls have. (The use of two oars in those boats is called sculling whereas rowing is when there is only one oar per person.) Those set-ups use sliding seats, mine differs in that the seat is stationary, and the oarlocks are designed to slide – called sliding riggers. The oars are nine and a half feet long and made of carbon fibre with ‘hatchet’ blades. Rowing is not at all like the rowing I did as a kid. When you pull the oars towards your chest they must overlap or the handles will bang together as they are made with extra length to provide greater reach. Like anything involving coordination, it takes plenty of practice to get it right … more so for some of us!
The rowing unit. The seat is stationary and leg action causes the bar holding the oarlocks to slide back and forth. The canoe has three means of propulsion. Rowing, which uses both arms and legs, is the most efficient use of the available ‘horsepower’ and results in the fastest speed. At best I can row at 8 kph (briefly!) whereas, with the kayak paddle, the top touring speed is 6 kph and with the single canoe paddle 5 kph. Rowing, however, means backwards travel and I prefer to see where I’m going rather than where I’ve been. Rowing is also reserved for calmer waters. The rowing seat is higher and the canoe is much less stable with me seated there. When weather conditions allow, my preference is to mix up rowing and paddling. Making the switch over does require going ashore though. Before rowing, I move gear from the bow to the stern to better balance things. It would be very difficult to try to empty the stern of gear from on the water. Also, it would require me to turn around in the canoe. That is not something easily done and certainly not to be attempted in any rough water. This video, taken on the Saskatchewan River, shows the canoe being rowed.
A light rain fell through most of the morning but the lake was calm. Ideal conditions for both learning to row and proving the rain gear. I rowed to just past the Kelowna bridge and then went ashore on the west side and switched up to paddling. Before leaving, I phoned a cousin and mentioned that the rowing was going well but I was likely getting tired, as, beyond the bridge, my coordination was messing up resulting in too many splashy strokes.
I wanted to paddle along the uninhabited east side of Okanagan Lake and as the winds were light I set a diagonal course south rather than straight across the 3 km distance. I hadn’t quite reached the middle of the lake when the wind picked up from the southwest and in a short time, I was battling against white cap conditions. The only course then was straight down the channel in the direction of the wind. It’s difficult for one person in an eighteen foot canoe to stay on course against a headwind. On any course, except directly into the wind, the bow wants to swing, like a weather vane, downwind, and if this is allowed to happen there is the danger of capsizing once perpendicular to the wind and in the wave troughs. It’s likely my boat, with its ballast, (all my gear) and inherent stability would stay upright in such a turn but not having had any experience with its stability it was all hands on deck for the next four hours to keep the bow into the wind. Being mid-lake I continued to try to make headway for the eastern shore. It was more likely to be a lee shore than was the western side and if so I could expect the wind and waves to diminish as I got closer. It wasn’t possible though to make any gains eastward without having to battle hard to not be swung downwind. The kayak paddle proved its worth whenever the wind started to get the upper hand. It’s an extra-long paddle (280 cm) designed for canoeing and its reach gave me the leverage necessary to turn back upwind whenever either a gust from a different quarter or my attempts to angle into the wind caused the bow to start to swing. Eventually, I gave up on trying for the east shore as it was easier to just head directly down the lake directly into the waves. The canoe is fully spray skirted and a wave can’t wash into the boat. No waves ever washed onto the spray skirt but they were big enough that a few times they came right up to the full height of the bow as it pitched down to meet the next wave – and that pitching was more slam than slow dunk. The plan now was to make slow progress down the lake until the wind let up. I was able to gauge from watching the shore that I was making some headway but it was likely only a couple of kilometres an hour. With the concern that the wind might not let up before dark, I eventually decided to try to return to the west side shoreline. This slowly yielded results and the closer I got to the shore the more the wind diminished and the more I was able to quarter into it. I was aiming for a landing just past the last residential area south of the Westbank area. As mentioned, I thought I was getting tired after switching up from rowing before starting across the lake more than four hours earlier. When it was ‘game on’ with the wind the endorphins kicked in and I was at the top of my game for the entire period. Once out of danger though, paddling the last kilometre to shore became a chore and I was eager to find someplace quick and simple to spend the night. Something on the shore looked strange. It was a big black spot that didn’t look natural but wasn’t anything man-made either. What it was became obvious as I got closer. A huge cave! (Truly, I’m not making this up!) An ideal spot to spend a rainy night. Even better, upon landing, I discovered it was regularly used, and the last ones there had left a quantity of newspaper and kindling, making starting a fire a cinch. Redeeming too, I thought, considering where I’d spent the previous night.
Fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the shore but awoke to a gentle ripple only. The first thing I noticed was a raven poking around my stuff, which I’d spread out in the open under the overhang last night. What he’d found of interest – and consumed the contents of – was a ziplock bag with four large pieces of what I dubbed ‘trail cake’. Lesson learned. (I would find out too that seagulls can’t be trusted to not quickly steal anything food like.)
Trail cake. It’s my own healthy recipe and includes oatmeal, flour, sugar, whey, soy, oat bran, wheat germ, ground flax, raisins, craisins, and ground sunflower seeds. I made over 400 pounds of it which is vacuum packed and stored in twenty-pound boxes. I will have it shipped to me by bus when and where needed. Here I have had access to an oven but the same batter makes great pancakes too.
Trail cake production. Vacuum packed it had an amazing shelf life. Made in 2013, I ate the last of it in 2017.
Calm waters and rowing soon had me across the lake and following the eastern shore south.
Deer on the east shore of Okanagan Lake. Easy enough now to see deer in almost any town in B.C. but these are certified bush deer.
At Rattlesnake Island I stopped to stow the oars and switch over to paddling. Once around Squally Point, a tail wind aided my passage to Summerland where I spent two nights. While in Summerland I was able to give the canoe cart a much-needed upgrade thanks to Ripley Stainless who I had dealt with in the past. I replace the stock aluminum axle, which was not designed to handle the weight I carry, with one made of stainless.
Squally Point, the legendary home of Ogopogo, Okanagan Lakes equivalent of the Loch Ness’ ‘Nessie’.
This was ‘learn to row heading into a stiff south wind day’. I didn’t get away until late in the afternoon and the headwind made for slow progress to Penticton. Strong south winds had me ducking into a bit of a breakwater, adjacent to the highway, for a chance to consume some calories. Met Denis who was cycling north to Summerland. We chatted while he kept my bow from hitting the rocks. Turns out he works for the couple who bought my house.
The dam at south end of Okanagan Lake. Not a power dam but for flood control only. Water too turbulent to put in right away though so a chance to stretch the legs.
Paddling familiar waters. Now in Okanagan River, a short distance from Skaha Lake, the home of the Penticton Racing Canoe Club, an outrigger canoe club that I had been a member of for many years. On reaching Skaha Lake I noticed that the club boathouse door was open. End result, the canoe in the boathouse overnight and me in a bed. Thanks, Wayne.
Rowed south to Okanagan Falls with four of the paddle club joining me in outrigger canoes. Pleasant company on a beaut of a day. I had paddled on Skaha many times but never had an inkling of how far these same waters could lead.
Took out at the Falls, and as there were weirs, as well as the dam to get around, it was necessary to use the bike and cart to reach the free running channel north of Vaseux Lake.
Continuing down the Okanagan River north of Vaseux Lake. Bike and cart stowed on deck as they would soon be needed again.
A very strong south wind to paddle into heading south on Vaseux Lake but the lake is very shallow and the resulting wave action was much reduced and of no concern. Landing at a boat launch site I was aided in getting back on the road by the www.warmshowers.org host in the area. A chance meeting but I’ve been a member of that organization for five years. I had planned on putting back in at the north end of Osoyoos Lake but it was too late in the day. I was expected at a friend’s place so I continued cycling to Osoyoos, arriving just before dark.