My stare is fixated on the water in front of me as I wonder if this is what an LSD induced trance feels like. I am mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of patterns appearing on the surface, constantly changing and distracting me from my task. The silence was deafening and I found myself for a brief moment, lost inside my inner cortex, deep within a complex web of electrical pathways and synapses. The patterns were continually morhping into yet another “trip” inducing screen-saver right in front of my very eyes.
All of a sudden, I caught myself and regained my balance just before I fell off my paddleboard to get another soaking!
I am on Okanagan Lake, and this is the penultimate day of my latest adventure, the first one in Canada for a long time. Typically I travel overseas to climb mountains, scare myself racing motorbikes or cars through deserts or generally have a lot of fun doing what some people deem to be slightly crazy.
This time however, I was in my own back yard. I have lived in Peachland with my family for 12 years now. It is a place I love to come back to as I travel the globe in search of more donors for our charity. We have a “lazy” acreage in the hills above the lake, it is a quiet respite for me to be able to recover from the most recent adventure. It never takes very long before I turn the whole house in to mayhem again, planning the next adventure.
I had explored some of the local lakeshore in the past but to my knowledge nobody had paddled around the entire perimeter of the lake before on a paddleboard. It never was my plan either, but now I find myself here, somewhere between Naramata and Peachland heading for the ominously titled Rattle Snake Island. The steep cliffs on the east shore tower above me as I admire the reflection in the mirror calm water today. Even more ominously, Rattle Snake Island is rumoured to host the underground home of the rather shy but reportedly large Ogopogo, our domestic equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Thankfully, there has been no sign of the Ogopogo for the past few days on our trip.
This adventure started about a year ago. I met Peter Dodenhoff, a local Paddleboard instructor and enthusiast. I introduced myself and asked if he knew any paddleboarders who would like to accompany me on a swim around the lake (nobody had done that either!). I needed some “outriders” to keep boats away from me as I attempted to be the first person to swim around the lake. I had never tried paddleboarding before and so Peter suggested I come out and give it a try before I commit to swimming.
My first real paddleboard experience was an unexpected downwind run in a Force 6 wind from Peachland to Kelowna. I have no idea how many times I fell in. The freak winds came out of nowhere at the same time as some idiot had dropped a cigarette but in a parking lot 500m from my house and sparking the biggest fire Peachland has seen in many years. As I looked back and saw vast amounts of smoke spewing onto the lake in a fiercely strong Katabatic flow, I could only wonder if my family was OK and hope that when I finally got to Kelowna, I would be able to contact them somehow… for now I had to focus on surviving the next 13 kilometres in what appeared to me to be gigantic waves!
Interestingly after that slightly epic paddle, I was hooked. Out of that experience was borne, the SUP4Life. A charitable paddle adventure around Okanagan Lake together with my new friend, Peter Dodenhoff.
We set off from Kelowna on September 1. Naish had provided their latest Naish 1 inflatable boards which were loaded past the gunnels, but frankly seemed very stable. A couple of friends came to wish us good luck and wave us off, and away we went on a 45km first leg to Vernon. I was at first skeptical about using an inflatable board. The practicalities of being able to pack your board away in a small backpack and go paddleboarding on your motorbike was intriguing nonetheless. In time, I began to understand how well the boards would perform in the variety of conditions we were about to encounter.
It was immediately noticeable that we were in for a gem of an experience. Every corner we rounded gave us unique and expansive vistas of the lake and accompanying scenery that were just not possible to experience from the roads. As we moved further north, the boat traffic kept us on our toes as curious onlookers no doubt wondered why we were going so far in one direction and what all the gear on the front of our boards was for. It didn’t take long for my board to resemble a gypsy caravan as I kept diving into my dry bag to get one more useful item. Pretty soon, as in every expedition we settled into a tidy routine that was to define the rest of the journey.
I had been away with the army all summer long on a training exercise and the one thing I knew is that I had the whitest legs in the Okanagan. I should have thought more about the problems which would result from such exposed skin but it wasn’t until later in the day that I felt the sharp sting of a sunburn on the backs of my legs… I now had a sup tan!
At the end of the day, tired and happy, I set up my Eureka Chrysalis hammock on the side of the lake, ate some salted almonds and made a cup of tea. My son showed up with a friend to take out the boards for a short twilight paddle. It was a unique experience compared to the weeks of loneliness that can be experienced on some expeditions. I appreciated the opportunity to text my wife before I settled into my hammock for an amazing nights sleep on the shore of Okanagan Lake.
The next morning we set off to head into the arm of the lake at Vernon. We were joined for this leg by expert paddleboarder, Bob Purdy. Bob is the founder of Paddle for the Planet and for the past 900+ days has paddled every single day without missing a beat. As a conservationist, Bob spreads a message of encouragement for everyone to do a little every day to make the world a better place. I really enjoy the time I get with Bob. It is a chance for me to hear a refreshing perspective on global conservationism.
Last year, Bob paddled the length of the lake from Vernon to Penticton in less than a day… he is no stranger to endurance adventures.
Before long we exited the arm and said our goodbyes to Bob to head north in to the Armstrong area. To this point we had the most incredible weather and wind. Almost no wind in fact, which made for lazy paddling although we were pushing ourselves hard. The first day had been close to 45km in 8.5 hours.
The shoreline changed radically as the landscape flattened out into pasture rather than the forested hills we had become accustomed to. After an hour of paddling we were greeted by a strong headwind, one of the curses of being in flatter land.
What was going to originally be a simple paddle to the end of the lake turned into a marathon session to reach our objective. We stopped briefly on the shoreline to organise the boards and set about making small gains to our destination. The treat of course would be a downwind run.
We reached our turnaround point, took a short break and jumped on the waves to head back for a fast run south. Like any good plan, the only thing you can guarantee is that it will change, as did the wind after about 15 minutes. The lake went mirror calm and the oppressive heat started to cook my torso that was wrapped by a hot black life jacket.
We were meeting my wife tonight at a campsite somewhere north of Fintry. By 4pm we seemed to be so far from our destination that we were wondering if we would make it by sunset. Then, once again a headwind, this time form the south whipped up from nowhere to further impede our progress. About 5 kilometres ahead was a small peninsula that would offer a brief rest in terms of a shadow from the wind. I saw a beautiful piece of green manicured area that looked temptingly like a well kept camp site. Heads down, bend down to reduce the profile into the wind and dig deep.
This had been the hottest day so far. The largest challenge I was faced with was drinking enough. I had designed the project, like all of my adventures to be charitable in nature. We were raising funds for a water well in northern Kenya and so I had promised the media I would drink from the lake. The juxtaposition with Africa is that they would drink from a pond with scum and monkey faeces in it. Just to be safe, I used a Lifestraw, a simple light weight filter that would ensure that I would stay healthy despite whatever occasional bad water I would come across. The difficulty came in stopping the board frequently enough, getting on to my knees and sucking small volumes of water through the straw that created some back pressure. As a result, I was dehydrated, which a pounding thump in my head kept reminding me of.
After a few hours we were on the shore of what turned out to be a small gated community – no campers allowed! I was hoping to call my wife and tell her we had found a beautiful spot, instead we had to paddle another 3 kilometres in the twilight to a forestry campground. Finally, hungry and tired, we landed just north of the historic community of Fintry. It had been a 10 hour day and another 40+ kilometers in some headwind conditions. I was surprised at how my 50 year old body was handling the repetitive motion of paddling. Peter, who was nine years older than me was in his element and loved the upwind slogs!
The fact that I had been training with the Army all summer long in some grueling conditions had certainly helped. I always love pushing myself physically and this was a totally new sport to me. Day by day, my body would adjust to small refinements in balance and efficiency in my stroke.
The next day we tackled the longest paddle yet. While I was accustomed to the effort, the view of Kelowna somewhere on the distant horizon had me nervous. It was about 50km away and I wasn’t sure we would make it.
Part way through the day we were doused by a very loud and gnarly thunderstorm that briefly dropped a gust front to create yet another headwind for us to paddle in to. We decided to stop for lunch at the beautiful Lake Okanagan Resort. Nobody was around, this really was the end of the tourist season and so we sat on the waterfront and rested before jumping back on the board and paddling the final 15km or so to our destination.
This time we were treated to a downwind run into Kelowna. We passed the Delta Grand Okanagan Resort and Conference Centre who had so kindly supported our efforts by hosting a media presentation and gifting us some rooms to auction off for the charity.
The wind certainly helped and I felt fresher than I had done the night before. Today we were clocking off early which was a good idea. An advancing cold front which was causing the unstable conditions and thunderstorms would drop the temperatures tomorrow so rest would not be a bad idea.
Along the way we had already met so many kind people. People had offered us food, water, even made donations. Others came up to us in their boats to offer support and advise that they had been following our live internet tracking. It felt good to be doing something close to home that could actually have an impact in the lives of people far away in Kenya.
Interestingly, the news had just come through of a radical find in Northern Kenya. Engineers had proven a large underground lake in one of the driest regions of the earth, the Horn of Africa. The underground aquifer was reported to be approximately 300 cubic kilometres.
The next day’s paddle would have been a straightforward one were it not for the constant thunderstorms that were embedded in the layer of cloud above us. Never too sure whether we were about to be struck by lightning or simply blown off the boards, we just kept putting one paddle in the water after another. It had now become a rhythmical routine that my brain disengaged from. Strangely I found it very relaxing although with every paddle came a small abdominal crunch… I wondered how may I had done so far?
We finished in Peachland which was so close to our homes that we took an opportunity to stay with family for an evening and bring them up to speed on the adventure. My Icebreaker Merino wool clothing had kept me incredibly warm and dry. There remained three more legs to the end. We hadn’t been fast, but we had been consistent, and that counts for a lot in my books. By this point we had raised close to $5,000 which was almost a third of the funds required for a well in Africa that could provide safe water to 1,500 people.
The next day we left Peachland to head to Penticton, approximately 35 kilometres to the south. As soon as we left the shoreline, a hint of an unpredicted headwind hit us straight in the face. The forecast today was for light and variable winds. According to the forecast, they would come out of the south much later in the day and then for only an hour or so. For the next two hours we paddled into white caps crashing over the front of our boards. The depressing sight of trees on the shoreline barely moving behind us was enough to make me want to sit and wait it out on the shoreline. In truth, it was excellent exercise though and the boards were cutting through the chop very well indeed. We made it to Summerland for a late lunch and thankfully the winds dissipated allowing us to paddle in to Penticton at the end of the day.
The Penticton to Peachland leg was uneventful and beautiful. Mirror calm water for almost the whole day just painted pictures of reflections for us all day long. Whether it was each other, the steep cliffs or the countryside around us, you could look at masterpieces all day long as you paddled north, back to familiar waters and the home of Ogopogo, Rattle Snake Island.
The final day was to be a paddle along the shore of Okanagan Mountain Park. A landscape that had been devastated by fire in 2003. In one evening alone, 30,000 people had been evacuated from their homes because of the ferocious devastating force of the wildfire.
Today, we were in for a treat. The wind was at our backs. It picked up nicely as Bob Purdy once again paddled with us too the finish in Kelowna. All three of us felt like children playing on the waves as we surfed our way along the shore. It was great to get the boost on the last day and as we neared Kelowna, the sun shone brightly and the wind dropped as we turned north along the Kelowna shoreline. It was an epic finish to a fantastic adventure that had been logistically simple. We had tremendous support from the good people at Naish which I am truly grateful for, as well as other sponsors that have supported me for a while now.
For now, my respite from the world was over. I was back into a land of telephones, computers and meetings. I knew that I would crave my next paddleboard adventure. I have been talking about heading down to Nicaragua and paddling around Lake Nicaragua. It is the largest lake in Latin America, but is also in a stunning setting of Volcanoes on the Pacific Coast… hmm! I don’t think my house will be quiet for long.
Total number of paddle strokes: 500,000
Amount of water in Lake Okanagan: 24.6 cubic kms
Average annual rainfall 380mm
Average water consumption of local resident: 394 litres per day
Amount of water in Lake Turkana, Kenya (saline) 204 cubic kilometres
Average rainfall 250 mm
Average consumption of Kenyan resident 8.7 litres
# of deaths per year from unsafe water in Okanagan
None – several drownings in the lake
# of deaths per year from unsafe water in Kenya…
15 million people without adequate access to safe water or sanitation. A child under 5 days every 20 seconds. Child mortality is increasing not decreasing. Half of Kenya’s 43 million people are reported to be drinking unsafe or contaminated water!