After a five thousand kilometre odyssey through the Rockies I was back in Nelson. A town that was really starting to feel like home, located at the heart of the West Kootenays it is close to the mountains, next to a lake and has just about everything you could ask for in amenities. Quaint architecture, interesting people, real sense of community. Nelson is an easy place to fall in love with.
My Cherokee, Jeb, was tired from the journey. Whining upon starting and groaning as we drove, I took him to the shop and it turned out he needed to stay a while, get his legs back under him. That was OK, gave me a week to hang out in town and get some work done. By the second day though, I was getting anxious. It was hot out, maybe thirty-three, sun was beaming, and the thought of sitting in the office for the rest of the week didn’t sit well. An old friend had been talking about kayaking down Slocan Lake, about forty-five minutes away and at this point I didn’t need much convincing. We grabbed beers at Mike’s Place, a pub downtown, tried to figure out how to get to Slocan and grab kayaks once we got there. They didn’t have a car and for the time being neither did I, we called some friends but they were busy, thought about hitchhiking but that might get tricky along Highway 6 where the traffic sputters out. Then Tommy suggested the bus, or at least to check if it went out that way. I figured it was too far, too obscure, but checked anyway. Sure enough you could do it, and with only a single transfer; by the looks it took about an hour which really wasn’t much longer than driving. I didn’t think it was possible to take transit through the winding highways of the West Kootenays; I was wrong.
Climbing on the bus, the three of us took a seat somewhere around the middle. It wasn’t full, but it was busy; two women holding groceries and chatting hurriedly across the aisle, a man with headphones listening to something that sounded very seventies louder than seemed comfortable, and two old fellas near the front chatting with the driver as if he was an old friend. Looking back he probably was, they had probably rode that route toward Castlegar a few too many times and I’d bet for most of those trips he’d been driving. Tom, Helen and I talked amongst each other for a bit, my attention wandered as I continued eavesdropping. Inside that bus was a lot of what I loved about small towns; greeting one another by name, asking how the family is, and chatting with someone you only know through a friend of a friend (which if you stick around long enough leaves pretty much nobody unturned). It was a neat sort a friendliness, an earnest curiosity, a sense of community that’s tough to find in the city.
We had swapped buses by now and were headed up toward Slocan City, a few hours early to pick up the kayaks, so still some time to kill. As we wound around a corner I noticed an old bridge up to the left, wasn’t sure if the bus stopped here or not so I asked. The driver said ‘no’ but that it didn’t matter much because he pulled over anyway. As we climbed off he let us know the stop was about five hundred yards ahead if we needed to get back on. I was ecstatic, my friends confused – told them they’d find out in a minute. After a few months in the Kootenays I knew these bridges were just high enough, and the water just deep enough to jump off. So we did, after some hesitation, and it couldn’t have worked out better. The river was flowing slow and the water was nice and warm. After building up the courage to dive off of the three or so story high railing, we took off, hoping to catch the bus that was to come in around fifteen minutes. It wasn’t four or five before it came lumbering over the horizon.
An hour or so later the three of us were sitting at the south end of Slocan Lake packing our kayaks and getting ready to face the angry southbound wind that would add something to the eight kilometer paddle. Once off the shore it was tough to talk to one another through the waves and wind. We pushed towards the west side of the lake which was also the boundary to Valhalla Provincial Park. As the sun set slowly and the light poured above the mountains grasping for the land, we slipped into the shade. Still an hour away from Evans beach, the wind died with the daylight and made the final push a smooth one.
Crashing into shore, we climbed out of the boats and dragged them up to land. I could smell a campfire not far away, it smelled how I imagine perfection might. Unpacking we set up camp above some driftwood maybe fifteen feet from the waterfront, they pitched a tent as I hung my hammock. The sky, once cloudy was now completely clear, it was going to be a new moon. We sat around our own fire talking about life, cooking smokies and sipping on cider. It was dark now, quiet but for the fire crackling, I watched the sparks fly up dancing into the sky, a sky now littered with stars. The milky way cut its way across the darkness, almost tracing the lake. All I could do was smile, smile about today, a good. No. A great day.