(Warning: Post is much longer than normal)
It wasn’t our first choice. It wasn’t even our second choice. But when it came time for our summer vacation, we settled on a few days of exploring the Kootenay region. BC was advertising open for business, except for some of the more remote communities, and because our holidays were booked months before the Covid crisis, it seemed a shame to not go somewhere.
Planning was difficult. Many businesses had chosen to not open for the 2020 season. I left messages – no one responded. I booked tours, only to have them cancelled. I tried to book campgrounds, hostels and huts. I tried to book cabins. By the time all was said and done, I had one confirmed stay, at the Hostel in Nelson. I wasn’t too worried. From my backroad adventures, I know that rec sites abound in BC, and if I was willing to take the time to look, I’d find something. As I stated on Facebook, we were headed out with a map and a tent. What came next was anybody’s guess.
I’d packed all my writing, painting, drawing and photographing necessities. I’d packed all my camping equipment and a cooler full of snacks. I’d packed extra bedding, clothing and water toys. I packed my walker. What I didn’t pack was a map-book for the region. I didn’t realize that the one I had didn’t cover the Kootenays until I was trying to find a place to stay in Nakusp.
I was disappointed to find that due to Covid-19 we were unable to get out of our car on the ferry ride from Needles to Fauquire. Not that it mattered. The car was so stuffed with all of the things we might need that I couldn’t reach my camera equipment. This turned out to be an issue throughout our vacation. Not only did I make very little time for writing and none for drawing or painting, I took far fewer pictures that I would normally. In fact, the photos I’ve chosen for this post were all taken with my phone.
For me, the highlight of Nakusp was the waterfalls, both Gardner Falls (above) and the Ione Falls (below). Both are accessible from the road and don’t require any walking at all.
We visited the hot springs in Nakusp. The new rules require a reservation, preference given to those staying at the hot springs campground. Only 25 people are permitted in the pool at one time, and only for an hour, when a new group is allowed in. We had a blast enjoying the warm water and the cool mountain breeze. We were sharing the pool with a European family of 11 blonde-haired, blue eyed beauties – mom, dad, three boys, five girls and a baby. How do people even do that in this day and age? All the girls had their blonde locks in perfectly formed ballerina buns atop their heads, and their wide blue eyes reminded me of Cindy-Lou from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The boys all had closely shaven heads, little bristles that made you want to reach out and touch them.
Santana walked the beachfront while I did some of the only writing I did on this trip, and later we braved the lake, a welcome relief from the heat. We cooked over the campfire, played card games, and even watched a local ballgame. Nakusp, which has a population of just over a thousand, has ten teams in its beer league. Apparently, Nakuspians love their baseball.
The only drawback was the actual camping itself. Oh, I love the camping. I love the campfire, the smell of pine trees, the sign that read “Bear in Area”. But our tent was pitched on a cement pad, and after two nights of struggling to get in and out of the tent without hurting myself, I finally had to concede my camping days might be over.
After two nights in Nakusp, we made our way to Kaslo. Santana found a remarkable place to stay in Kaslo, with small cabins that were more like well-appointed one-bedroom apartments. My bed was large and frightfully soft – one could actually get lost in there. Santana didn’t fare quite as well, sleeping on a fold-down couch. While it didn’t try to eat him, he’s about two feet too tall for comfort. We rearranged the furniture for the second night so he could sleep diagonally. The cabins were located right in the centre of town, making them the perfect place to stay in Kaslo, a beautiful village with many of the original storefronts lovingly maintained. Santana toured the SS Moyie, an old sternwheeler converted to a museum, and was amused to find another museum in the basement of a coffeeshop when he went to get me a cup of Kootenay coffee. The thing about Kaslo, at least in the time we were there, was the wind. It was strong, cold and never-ending. Even with high temperatures, our stay in Kaslo was made more comfortable by the wind.
On our first night we made our way to a Mexican restaurant, lured by the promise of tacos. The restaurant opened at 4:00 and we were there by 4:30. The only table left was an uncovered table on the patio. Our server told us that if it rained, they would not be able to move us inside, as they were booked for the night. We decided to take a chance. Santana rummaged around in the back of the Rodeo and came up with the beach umbrella. I chided him for the decision, as there was no where to plant it, and he’d have to hold it the whole time. The other diners on the patio were laughing at us as Santana tried to hold the umbrella against the wind. They weren’t laughing for long. That crazy wind brought, not just rain, but hail and while the other diners were fighting to protect themselves from the elements finding their way, sideways into the patio area, we huddled warm and dry beneath our beach umbrellas, laughing our faces off at the ridiculousness of it all. Best fish tacos I’ve had since Tofino, by the way. On our second night, we took advantage of the courtyard barbeque and cooked up a mess of chicken, shrimp and veggie kabobs. Everything about Kaslo was beautiful.
We left Kaslo, intending to go to Ainsworth, and the hot springs there. Along the way, we stopped at yet another waterfall. This one, I sent Santana to on his own, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the hike. He was gone for a long time. Just when worry was starting to bubble to the surface, Santana returned. He was apologetic for taking so long, but found the hike, the falls, and the beach below, to be the most spiritually uplifting place he’s been to since Cathedral Grove on the Island. He didn’t want to leave.
Ainsworth, as it turned out, was closed. There were no accommodations available, except the odd campground, and the hot springs themselves were shut down for the year – to my great disappointment. I was thankful we made the decision to stop at the hot springs in Nakusp. We decided to keep moving on, taking the “longest free ferry ride in Canada” from Balfour to Kootenay Bay. Again, we were unable to leave our vehicles, making the longest free ferry ride in Canada a little less appealing. We made our way to Creston, but didn’t really have any reason to be there. After one night, we moved on to Nelson.
Nelson. Ahhh, Nelson. If I were twenty years old, I would love Nelson. The combination of lakes, mountains, fine dining, historic buildings and funky little shops would have made me very happy. As it stands, Nelson is not made for someone like myself. All those hills! Parking is challenging, and trying to use a walker to get around is a nightmare. We had reserved a private room at the Hostel and while we were a day early, it was no problem to book the extra day. The Hostel in Nelson is a charming century building with steam radiators and no air conditioning. Temperatures that week were all over 30 degrees, and we ended up using wet towels as blankets, just to be able to sleep.
Our first day we found a small beach on the other side of the lake. It was windy and rocky, but we were having a blast on our floating rings – at least until the point where Santana’s got away from him. He tried to get it back but the water was moving faster than he could swim. Eventually he just gave up. At that point, someone jumped into the water and swam out to retrieve it for him. That someone turned out to be a topless female sunbather. Bit of an awkward moment, for him. I, on the other hand, was vastly amused. While he was otherwise occupied, in my effort to get back to shore, I managed to bang my feet so hard into the rocks that I broke a toe. On our second day, we went to the city beach. Much safer. Capping off our second day in Nelson, we had dinner at the Library Lounge, where our patio table overlooked some of the historic buildings of Nelson, buildings I had hoped to draw, if only I hadn’t misplaced my sketchbook in the car.
After the second night of trying to breathe in unbearable heat, I decided I’d had enough of Nelson and wanted to move on. I’d already paid for the third night, but it couldn’t hurt to ask – all they could do would be to say no. The staff came on at 9:00 am. I made my way down the stairs to the lobby. Or tried to. My broken toe had a different opinion on how this should be managed. I ended up missing a step and falling the rest of the way, sliding across the lobby floor and coming to rest face down on the ground. As the staff member came flying around the counter yelling, “Oh my God! Are you okay?” I calmly rolled over, looked up at him and said, “We were thinking about checking out a day early. Will that be a problem?”
Turned out it was no problem at all.
The final stop on our tour of the Kootenays was Castlegar. Our reason for going to Castlegar was a rafting company. I’d tried booking a rafting trip in both Nelson and Meadow Creek. Both companies were not operating this year. The one in Castlegar was operating on a part-time basis. I didn’t think it was going to happen, but Emily at Endless Adventures was tireless in putting together a group large enough that we could go out on a day they wouldn’t have been operating otherwise. She called me while we were in Nelson to say it was a go.
“Emily, I know I told you before, but I am overweight, with very limited mobility and not a lot of arm strength. I can’t walk more than a very short distance, and I won’t be able to paddle much. Are you sure white-water rafting is something I can do?”
“Yes, absolutely. Did you bring your own lifejacket?” I told her I would as standard life jackets don’t fit me.
“Then we’re all set. See you in a couple of days.”
We stopped at the Brilliant Suspension Bridge on our way into Castlegar. From there, I took this photo of the bridge leading in to town.
Castlegar is another charming little town. Every year they hold a sculpture competition, and the winning sculpture is purchased by the city to grace its streets. You can take a walking tour of the sculptures. We checked into a motel that had the best air conditioning I’ve ever come across. Due to the extremely high heat, we ordered Chinese food and stayed in that night. The A/C was so powerful that even on it’s lowest setting, we had to turn it off a couple of times through the night. Alas, the room was only available for one night.
Our rafting trip was scheduled to start at 3:00. We arrived at the raft shack, signed our waivers, got fitted with helmets and donned our lifejackets. Then we just had to go down an embankment, cross the busy highway, make our way through the parking lot, and go down an even longer and steeper embankment to reach the river. I looked at Santana.
“You can do it,” he said.
By the time we got across the highway, my legs were done. Even without the banged-up knees and broken toe, my legs would have been done. I was using my hips to try and propel my legs forward and that, combined with 38-degree temperatures and oh, yeah, a heart condition, made breathing difficult. Santana was doing his best to help me, and our river guide, once the raft had been deposited into the river, came back to help. It was no use. I had to lie down on the dirt path, rip open my life jacket, panting and sobbing. I was going to have to quit. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t do this. But if I gave up and went back, Santana would have to come with me. I wouldn’t make it back alone.
“Relax,” said our guide. “No hurry. Take your time.”
I looked back at the raft shack. I looked at the river. The river was closer. All I had to do was get to the river. Then, if nothing else, I would have two hours to recover before I had to figure out what to do.
It was exhausting and painful, but I made it to the river. I was going to have a chat with Emily when I got back. Though I could hardly blame her. She was barely twenty and skinny as a blade of grass. Her idea and mine when it came to limited mobility were obviously quite different.
After a few minutes of instruction, we set off. I was determined to stay on that raft. People apparently fall off quite often. According to our guide, it’s not a big deal. The other rafters just grab you by the back of your lifejacket and pull you back in. Seriously? I don’t see that as being an easy thing, in my case. I tucked my foot-with-the-broken-toe in as tightly as I could manage, said a silent prayer to the river gods, and gripped my paddle ferociously.
There are six classes of rapids, with one being the easiest and six being the hardest. On this trip, we would be going through rapids levels one through three.
I survived them all. In fact, not only did I survive them, by the time we hit the level three rapids, I was laughing with pure joy. Why did I wait so long to try this?
Two hours later we pulled up to a little spit beneath a bridge with a rope swing. We were welcomed by yet another topless female sunbather.
“Seriously? What is with these people?” Santana muttered under his breath.
It was a fitting end to our vacation – the one big adventure we managed to pull off.
And I almost quit. I almost quit.
Maybe I’m not quite ready to give up camping after all.