Thank you Tyrion Miskell for this submission of this lovely article by Wayne Still titled Length of the Lake. Who wouldn’t want to join in after reading this?!
There is just enough predawn twilight to see the shapes of OC-6s on the grass of Kin Beach Park in Vernon at the north end of Okanagan Lake. The park sprinklers have been busy overnight trying to fill the boats with water so our first job is to bail them. As the sky brightens in the east we dolly the boats down the beach and into the lake. The skipper of an escort boat lying at anchor off shore gives us the thumbs up. Last minute organization of clothing and nutrition is made as the crews ready themselves and their boats for their 100 km race to the south end of the lake at Penticton. How hard could it be?
That’s the question members of the Penticton Racing Canoe Club asked themselves in 2000 when they first conceived the idea of an ultra endurance paddling race using Okanagan Lake as the course.
Okanagan Lake is one of the geological beauties of British Columbia. It is the northern tip of the rain shadow desert which starts as the great Sonoran Desert in Mexico passing through the US and into Canada. When drifting tectonic plates created the mountainous western region of North America the result was ridges and faults. Over the aeons of geological time glaciations rounded the ridges and scoured the faults leaving the spectacular mountain and valley landscape we see today. Swiftly flowing meltwater from the ice sheets which covered the area further sculpted the landscape creating alluvial fans and benches along the steep sided valley leaving us a long, deep lake. The geology has made Okanagan Lake spectacular for paddling: fantastic vistas along the shores and the vast lake with big curves provides unpredictable changes in wind and current, a combination no paddler can resist. This is the backdrop for a long paddle down the lake.
The race was named Length of the Lake. Because of the distance to be covered it was divided into five legs of unequal distances. The distances were determined by convenient places to locate aid stations, marked by an orange tarp, where crews could make beach changes. But it works out that a crew that does one, three and five will paddle about the same distance as a crew paddling legs two and four. Also because of the distance the race was originally conceived of as an OC-6 race with teams of twelve divided into two mixed crews of six. In the intervening years the field has been opened to OC-1s, OC-2s, single and tandem kayaks and surf skis. Crew composition has evolved to the point where any combination of paddlers which has the best chance of getting a clubs boat to the other end of the lake is a go. It has been ironed several times by paddlers in small boats but to date never in an OC-6.
As the paddlers make their way down the lake they pass by heavily forested wilderness hill sides. Blackened areas of recent forest fires are signs that this is indeed wild country. Interspersed are the more orderly rows of lush green vineyards and orchards. As they move ever southwards lakeside resorts and developments become more common around the bustling city of Kelowna and its unique floating bridge. Leaving the aid station at Peachland the vista ahead of them is the verdant green of a new forest growing on the slopes of Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park. In 2003 the park was the scene of a devastating wild fire which burned more than 200 homes in south Kelowna as well as the famous railroad trestles around Myra Canyon. Below the mountain is Squally Point and Rattlesnake Island. Local lore has this as the lair of Ogopogo, the resident lake monster. It has never been known to attack a boat but if you are lucky you just might catch sight of a long undulating body swimming along side. Keep your camera handy, a verified photo of Ogopogo would be a ticket to fame and fortune. As the race comes into the home stretch the vistas are more desert like with prominent clay banks on the shore line. To the east are the many orchards and vineyards of Naramata Bench. And straight ahead is the goal; the peach shaped concession stand on Penticton’s Okanagan beach. The finish line is the iconic peach stand, a paddler sprints up the beach to kiss the peach.
Be well prepared to paddle this race. A lake this long in mountainous terrain can and does have very changeable weather conditions. On any given day a paddler can encounter strong winds, big water, rain, sunshine and chilling cold though not necessarily in that order. In 2009 a strong south wind with associated big water created conditions so challenging that several boats had to beach. One crew was rescued from a rocky beach by a safety boat. They found out how hard it could be!! Boats which made it as far as Squally Point that day got a tail wind for the rest of the race. An interesting phenomenon of the lake geography is that Squally Point is located at the apex of a large sweeping bend which has the potential to split a strong wind into opposite directions. Safety is a major consideration in organizing this event. We have four safety boats to escort the racers and ensure that any emergencies are dealt with in a timely manner.
As your boat nears an aid station the crew prepares to make the change to the next crew. This can resemble organized chaos as one crew jumps into the water to stabilize the boat while the new crew gets on board and paddles away. Water bottles and paddles which have been tossed into the water are retrieved and the crew changes into dry clothes. Times and positions are checked, then the next challenge of the race is undertaken. The logistics of moving racers and vehicles from one aid station to the next do take some organization and should not be underestimated.
Penticton Racing Canoe Club is a small club located in a small city. We greatly enjoy staging this race and love to welcome paddlers from the many clubs from across Western Canada and the US. Penticton is located on a huge alluvial fan which creates the south shore of Okanagan Lake and the north shore of Skaha Lake to the south. This makes it, along with Interlaken in Switzerland, one of only two cities in the world located between two lakes. The temperate climate is ideal for agricultural production. High quality apples, soft fruit, wine and table grapes along with a wide variety of vegetables are grown in large volumes. There are many fruit stands in the area while organized wine tasting tours offer the opportunity to experience up close the landscapes of the aforementioned Naramata Bench. Many restaurants in the city offer fine dining opportunities. But the finest dining after the race will be found at the awards ceremony where we wrap up the days adventures.
Come join us on September 4th, 2016 and take the challenge of Length of the Lake.
Will 2016 be the year your club sets the record for ironing the race in an OC-6? How hard could it be? Registration opens April 1st. www.pentictonoutrigger.com.