HAVE MICE, I read the engraved graffiti on the wall, indicating the well-known fact that the annoying nocturnal critters regularly visit our campsite. I look around for more scribbles that might keep my mind occupied but aside from a few John Doe Was Here, Rules and Regulations and a disclaimer that you can actually burn a plastic bag, the level of entertainment is at an all-time low. I ponder on my situation… Adding the word MISERY to the wall discussion would be relevant: a storm rolled in late afternoon, announcing the imminent arrival of autumn and I have taken refuge in the last place one would define as a cozy dwelling: the outhouse, or as we more appropriately refer to as the Shitter. I’m standing there, sheltered from the biting cold as the door ferociously claps under the pressure of the howling wind, thankfully held shut by the tiny hook I latched, locking myself away from the hostility of the world out there. I am grateful for the warmth and lack of foul smell while the rain pounds on the tiny metal roof joining the roaring symphony of the swells breaking on shore – one could easily be fooled into thinking that the glass-calm lake from a few hours ago turned into an angry ocean. The summer that seemed endless has finally come to a brutal close, and with a fire ban enforced across the land, turned the annual fishing trip meant to be a relaxing and rejuvenating week into an absolute mental toughness boot camp.
I would not define myself as a crybaby when it comes to challenging conditions (though AwesomeNonRunner (boyfriend) named an area of the lake Cry Baby Point after a certain incident a few years ago, it was entirely related to the “tragic” loss of a large fish snapping my line rather than a complaint about the weather) but I won’t pretend that being uncomfortable is highly enjoyable. Perhaps I was born with mental toughness buried somewhere in my genes but my life adventures and travels certainly offered plenty of hardship opportunities that helped me “Harden the Fuck Up”. I don’t seek that kind of torment, but I can certainly endure it and even sometimes actually gain satisfaction from overcoming it. That’s what allows me to run far, fast and free. Sometimes I break, but mostly I wander to that special place in my head where I numb external factors, reminding myself that everything is temporary.
Some temporary lasts longer.
Like a week of frosty mornings, crisp days, chilling rain and arctic winds with, aside from the Shitter, no other shelter than a tent and a few tarps, often threatened to get ripped off by sudden howling wind. We knew ahead coming into this that the fire ban would likely result in dealing with less than ideal conditions, but as I stood in my newfound haven, I began to wonder what the hell we had been thinking. “We must really love fishing” I sighed out loud.
Every fall we travel to SecretSpot, BC, in the hope of catching a few large rainbow trout that feed on the bright red spawning kokanee. It is time sensitive and therefore frequently comes with less than stellar weather, but the excitement of the hunt is well worth it. Our large and heavy Clipper canoe (a relic from AwesomeNonRunner’s childhood we put back into action a few years ago) allows us to travel with all the comforts a perfect fishing trip requires: great food, proper gear and lots of booze. “Light packers” would not describe us accurately and our boat has been referred to as the Beer Barge (we officially named it Beer Management). The 2.5k portage to the motorboat-free lake fortunately seems to thin out the crowds of “yahoos”, but our heavy load required two trips of grunting and back bending labour, an ordeal fast forgotten once we set out on the water with our tall cans and large bag of Miss Vickies. We quickly figured out at the launch that another party was targeting the same campground we were and as we expected friends to join us later in the day, we decided to skip fishing and make a go for it, in the hope of securing a nice spot to accommodate us all. The competitive runner in me awakened: I was in full race mode, paddling hard, focused and determined, looking over my shoulder every once in a while to see if my rivals were catching up – they were nowhere in sight, probably still drinking beer on the dock. I needed to simmer and get into vacation mode… Wasn’t I here to get away from all that? The marvelous summer of endless warmth and rain-free days had been filled with races, competition and achievements, culminating into a full-on First World crisis: running had gone from bliss to burden and I no longer felt like performing. Words such as “killing it”, “crushing it”, podium and leaderboard would send me over the edge and I backed away in a dark little corner seeking some much needed introspection. Wild trips up stunning peaks, bucket list feats and a lot of time spent jaunting the backcountry by myself helped me reconnect with my love of running but I was still dubious as to what the future held. Like whether or not I still wanted to take a crack at tackling my first ever 100k, now barely a few weeks away. I counted on this outing to act as a forced taper camp (the lake lacks proper running opportunities) hoping to get much deserved rest and make a decision upon returning to reality.
While we endured a bit of suffering, mostly a perpetual feeling of chill, there certainly was some fantastic downtime to clear my mind and be at one with nature. We set camp under a perfect blue sky next to the kokanee-filled stream, under the watchful eye of a family of bald eagles. The mergansers, grebes and loons were keen to join the party, as they had in previous years, and we even heard of a mama bear teaching her cubs how to fish, days before our arrival. The first few days were tolerable with the sun shining bright and, along with our friends, we enjoyed some serious fishing sessions, followed by social drinks on the beach. I caught my second largest trout ever (my number one was hooked at the same spot two years prior and at just under twelve pounds still holds the lake record), a gorgeous nine pound bruiser that I released back, marvelling at the pink hues on its sides as it shook its tail and disappeared into the seemingly bottomless lake. Fishing is so random that you can’t make it a competition – some outings AwesomeNonRunner gets all the action, while other times my reel is the one that keeps screaming. The best days are the ones we both repeatedly hook into big fat chromers, but the reality is that on many occasions we both get shamefully skunked.
As the days passed, I began to feel more and more rested and ceased thinking about life worries. In an attempt to stay warm, I kept active by making multiple trips along the beach, going for walks, collecting food from the bear-proof lockers or, when the rain got really bad, taking temporary shelter in the Shitter (I eventually discovered that a mouse had elected the same spot for similar reasons and drastically cut down my visits). I remained entertained by our camp neighbours: CaptainUnderpants paraded around in his Jockeys while the rest of his crew, the KamloopsKlan, spent afternoons armed with slingshots, targeting empty beer cans on the beach. We even had a swimmer, a lone fisherman, who somehow managed to capsize his canoe early morning on dead calm water, forcing us to elude the law and build a small fire to thaw the poor man (there was way more ego involved than actual suffering). I decided to keep my beer cans organised and cool (not that the latter was actually necessary due to the thermometer never creeping up very high) and maintain tight control on daily quotas by getting into serious Beer Management and building a small weir amidst the hundreds of fiery-red kokanee that filled the creek. A spawned-out individual insisted on sneaking through one of the holes I had left for flow, finding shelter from the current as it was dying, its body slowly rotting away. I quietly mulled over the fact that salmon have such extraordinary lives of grand travel culminating in such depressing deaths. The stubborn fish would leave when I came to extract a lager, but always returned, determined to end its life in my man-made structure of stones. I suppose there are worst places to expire than a giant beer-filled tub…
Evenings were frigid, to say the least. Without a campfire, the moment the sun disappeared behind the surrounding peaks, things got crisp and we had to bundle up. When the rain came, the situation went from uncomfortable to miserable. As I find myself getting older, I seem to lack more and more finding pleasure in cold elements. As much as I enjoy snow-filled activities, should the thermometer drop below a certain point, I get grumpy and lose all motivation to get off my butt, run out there and seize the day. Needless to say, as summers come to a close, my mind falls in the depths of despair… Waking up to a zipper-jamming layer of frost on the tent is quite an uninspiring way to start the day. Once AwesomeNonRunner delivers a mug of hot chocolate and Bailey’s to the vestibule, I slowly consider extracting myself from my cozy down-filled cocoon. “Are we going fishing?” is the decisive question that will determine my level of motivation. We seem to take things casual and let the world warm up on the front end of our trips, but as the week flies by, we are out on the water at the crack of dawn. Rain or shine. Warm or not.
Sadly, after active days of angling, rewarded by many beauties (most of which we released but a few were turned into tasty meals), the bite turned off and the trout moved on. We tried every lure, experimented with depth, trolled at various times of day… nothing. The rain stopped, the sun shined again, the turbulent lake turned still, but the fish never returned and we had to face the bitter fact that we were going home with an empty cooler. And no trophy pictures of our catch to brag about.
We were granted a sunny morning to pack up our dry gear (a first) and we foolishly commented on how wonderfully calm the waters were as we quietly paddled away from the Creek. I always feel sad when we leave – I cried in silence as I said goodbye to that special place I crave to return to every year. Heavyhearted, I sensed something was missing, as if the trip was incomplete. I wasn’t ready to leave but the Lake had decided otherwise: quickly snapping back to reality I noticed the flat water surface had suddenly given way to undulations and within minutes, winds from the West rose and we found ourselves forced into a grueling paddle through rolling swells. SecretSpot never releases you easy, something we had experienced many times before, some kind of forced sentiment of closure as one reaches the dock in the lagoon thinking “Thank God I’m out of here!” But by the time we reached the truck and cracked open the beers that were waiting for us, a much anticipated post-portage grind reward, we were already discussing our return for the following year.
It was dark by the time we reached the bottom of the forestry road and returned to civilization – we decided to check into a nearby resort that offered the luxuries of a real bed, steam shower and Jacuzzi bathtub. Bliss. Connected to the world again, I was pleased to find out Dumb and Dumber (Trump and Rocketman) hadn’t nuked the shit out of each other taking along a few fractions of the world as collateral. I checked the extended forecast for the location my race was to take place – a mix of sun and clouds, chance of rain, high of 20. Prime running weather for me. I really had no excuse. I definitely was not at the height of my training but my summer experience would surely carry me through. They were giving us 18 hours to complete the difficult course and I was planning to use them all if need be. Soaking up to my nose in a tub filled with the warmest water I could tolerate without cooking my guts, I was finally shaking the perpetual feeling of cold out of me. I reflected upon the past days and smiled. Short of some good fish for the freezer and having to deal with a certain level of discomfort, it had been a good trip. SecretSpot had not failed to content. My mind was ready for my ultimate summer grand finale.