The River of Broken Dreams
Alta Lake to Green Lake, Whistler BC
August 9, 2018
There is something truly amazing about connecting with a soul sister. I met my friend Charlene on a group hike in Japan 23 years ago and we instantly had a connection. In spite of our relationship having some potential awkwardness (we dated the same guy, whom neither of us keep in touch with anymore), we became fast friends, spending time together whenever we could.
After my year in Japan, we kept in touch, she came to Toronto for our wedding, and I visited her in Seattle a few times including her wedding where I had the honour of being in her wedding party. Then we started having kids, life got busy and although I thought about her often, we weren’t in as close touch as we once were. About a year and a half ago, we got back in touch again and it was as if no time had passed. We had this plan to come to BC, so I asked if she might want to meet up with us while we were here – which brings us to today.
We met Charlene, her husband Mark, and two of her three kids for a few days in Whistler as part of our great BC adventure. As soon as I pulled into the driveway and opened the car door, before I even got out, Charlene practically tackled me! I was so happy to finally see her, I almost cried.
We unloaded our stuff into the condo and our kids immediately started playing cards together. They connected instantly. Their older son is 18 and wasn’t able to come on the family vacation, but they brought their younger son who is 15 and their daughter who is 13 – it was a great fit.
The weather was hot. Almost 34 degrees celsius. We decided that instead of mountain biking, we should float down the “River of Golden Dreams”. It was billed as a lazy river you can blissfully float down over a period of 2 – 4 hours. Considering the heat, this seemed like the perfect choice. Charlene’s family drove from Seattle with everything they could possible need in the car, including one Kayak, all of their mountain bikes, and 5 inner tubes to float down the river.
I got up early that day to try and procure some inner tubes for our family as well. After visiting a few different stores as soon as they opened, I ended up at an auto parts shop that started carrying “floaties” specifically for tourists like me that kept showing up looking for a way to float down the river. It was going to cost almost $80 each to rent kayaks or canoes, so we figured this would be the cheaper way to go. I ended up buying 5 dinghy rafts for $42 each, with only 4 oars (that’s all they had). We packed a couple of cooler bags full of snacks and lunch, and my waterproof ukulele so we could sing songs as we floated down the lazy river. It was shaping up to be a great bonding day on the water.
We started at Alta Lake, in Rainbow Park, a gorgeous lakefront park surrounded by mountain peaks. Aubrey and Mark dropped one of our cars off at the other end of the river while Charlene and I organized the kids and supervised the inflation of the “floaties”. It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the kids tossed around a disc and we waiting until the men came back from the car drop off.
We started off in Alta lake.
It was quite windy and there were lots of waves. We struggled to make our way part way across the lake to the mouth of the lazy river. Luckily, Mark had brought one Kayak and spent much time herding all of our floaties as we got swept away by the wind, towing us to safety when necessary – Our hero!
Finally we reached the mouth of the river, and we slowed right down. Now all we had to do was float – or so we thought. Because of the lack of rainfall (note current significant issues with out of control forest fires in BC, Ontario and California), the water levels in the river were very low. There was practically no current. We had to paddle ourselves along the river. Our oars quickly proved themselves to be of little help, causing many of us to spin round and round awkwardly. Some of the inner tubes were too large to paddle with our arms. It was quite comical watching everyone trying to make their way down the river, sometimes being grounded completely, having to get up and trudge through deep muck at times to pull our floatation devices along. We alternated between different paddling positions and propelled ourselves mostly with our ams. it was a good workout!
We encountered many beaver dams along on the way, and had to pick up our floaties and carry them precariously over the piles of sharp sticks.
Typically, Charlene and I were at the back of the pack, Mark shepherding the group with his kayak, making sure everyone was ok. Charlene and I reached one of the beaver dams to find our group stopped to repair 3 of our 5 rafts, as all 3 had been punctured by the sticks in the dam. Lucky for us, we had decided to bring the patch kits with us, just in case. We also were smart enough to bring a foot pump so we could re-inflate the rafts when necessary. None of these obstacles dampened our spirits. We were still all having a blast – it was all part of the adventure.
We were not the only ones on the river. We were passed by several kayaks and canoes who definitely not struggling the same way we were, but they didn’t seem to be having nearly as much fun. At one point I realized that my Waterman (waterproof ukulele) was serving as a much more effective paddle than the oars that came with the dinghy. For at least twenty minutes, I lay on my stomach on my dinghy like a beached whale, pasty white legs sticking out the back of the boat, paddling with my ukulele, laughing all the way. This picture in my mind’s eye seemed so absurd that I had a laugh attack that didn’t cease for at least 10 minutes. What a great release!
There were a few other parties on the river on at the same time as ours. One group was a family of Eastern European background. Many of them lived in the Vancouver area, and some were visiting from overseas. One of them bought a Zodiac from Costco (no outboard motor on it though) which they paddled through the river, and then there were other assorted floating devices as well: a swan with a crown, a doughnut, and a poop emoji floating raft. They were a hilarious group, with several little kids in tow. One of the women sprung a slow leak in her doughnut, so every time we met up with them, she would borrow our pump to top her up.
Sometime later, we encountered another beaver dam, and my dinghy was punctured, probably because I had been feeling smug earlier when the kids’ rafts were punctured, and I was thinking to myself that they “needed to be more careful” with their rafts. Another repair was needed, and another break. Unfortunately, we didn’t wait long enough for the glue to make a proper seal, and now I was the one stopping every now and then to top up my dinghy with the foot pump.
There was another interesting group floating down the river, made up of young people from many different places: a couple of Aussies, Brits, Kiwis, one guy from Ireland, two women from Saskatchewan and a couple women from BC and Alberta. They were the party float. They had an assortment of floating rafts, many coolers of drinks and were clearly drunk and having a great time.
I was chatting with the European group when I realized Charlene had fallen quite a bit behind. I said goodbye to them and waited for her on a river bank. After they rounded the corner, they came face to face with a 300 pound bear. They started banging their paddles and making noise, scaring the bear up into a tree. I saw the bear in the tree and decided I should alert the party group and wait for Charlene. I paddled over to the international party group and let them know about the bear in the tree and some of them (clearly intoxicated) immediately started panicking and trying to swim up river, dragging their rafts behind them. I told them all to calm down and we made a plan. At this point, I had no idea what kind of bear it was (it looked brown from where I was sitting), so I suggested we wait for Charlene, raft together, and float down past the bear and hope for the best. I had seen the other group float by with no problem. I figured were were safer in numbers.
So that is what we did. We paddled by the bear, the party group freaking out while taking lots of photos and some video. Once the bear was out of sight, Charlene and I headed out on our own to catch up to everyone else.
When we finally arrived at the put out point, we noticed two conservation officer cars in the parking lot. Apparently, after we saw it, the bear had come down out of the tree and ripped a backpack off of someone in the park. They were called to hunt the bear and redirect it with rubber bullets. Crazy.
The parking lot in the late afternoon was still hot in the sun. But the entire time we swam and floated and paddled our way along the river, we were pleasantly cool and comfortable in the sun, soothed by the glacier-fed river.
The River of Golden Dreams was only 4.5 km long (plus our lake crossing) and it took us over 5 hours to “float down”. We definitely could have walked faster, but it was never about the destination, or the timing, but about the journey. We all made lots of memories that day.
photo credit: Charlene Li