I paddled the Fraser River from Fort Langley to Coquitlam for FraserFEST!

Once I had a vision:  I was a young native man, and I was walking down the mountainside to  the water. I could see my canoe down at the shore.  As I walked down the bank I noticed a bear in the distance. I placed my canoe on the water, got in and took my paddle. A wind came up suddenly and the skies darkened. The water turned choppy and I felt the rain spray across my face. I became afraid. So afraid, that I thought I might die. I remembered the bear, and I found peace in my uneasiness. I began to focus on the shore across from me, and found my rhythm in paddling. I became one with the waves, and before I knew it, I was safe upon the shore across the inlet. As I stood solidly upon the river rock, I heard an eagle’s cry. I  looked up to see the clouds had opened, to blue sky…

I am new to canoeing, but I am registered to begin training with Nothin Dragon, a 50+ paddling team that trains in Port Moody, BC, close to where I live in Coquitlam.  Being a director of the Hoy-Scott Watershed Society and I manage their social media pages, I try to keep in touch with other like-minded community groups.

Last Friday, while winding up my work day, I received an email  from Rivershed Society of BC about FraserFEST, a 3-week event created to educate on the Fraser River’s history, culture, and the issues threatening its health. The mighty Fraser is the longest river in B.C.  The email advised that spots were still available on a 25 km canoe trip from Fort Langley to Coquitlam that coming Sunday.

I thought, how perfect it would be to get a taste of being out canoeing, before I start with the dragon boat team in October. Within minutes I had registered for the Sunday morning event (even though my mother was moving in on Saturday night), and later on Facebook saw that they still had openings available, likely due to the foreboding weather, so I tagged my eldest daughter and encouraged her to join me, which she did.

Our Voyageur Salute! FraserFEST paddlers on the Fraser River, en route to Colony Farm Regional Park Left to right: Fin Donnelly, Loryn Blower, Robbin Whachell, Jon Torrence, Samantha Lorber, Deb Taylor, Brenda Flynn, Michael M, Rob Lorber, Thom Giberson, Yuan Radies (Missing from photo, photographer and skipper, Doug Radies)
Paddles up for a Voyageur Salute! FraserFEST paddlers on the Fraser River about to leave Fort Langley. —— Left to right: Fin Donnelly, Loryn Blower, Robbin Whachell, Jon Torrence, Samantha Lorber, Deb Taylor, Brenda Flynn, Michael M, Rob Lorber, Thom Giberson, Yuan Radies (Missing from photo, photographer and skipper, Doug Radies)

“It is no coincidence communities and cities are built on large and healthy waterways tend to also have healthier financial foundations with more abundance of wealth and prosperity to go around.”

A solid number of intrepid cyclists and paddlers showed up on August 20th at Colony Farm Regional Park, which is located on Kwikwetlem First Nations territory at the Coquitlam River, and served as host site for the Coquitlam festival portion. The forecast called for rain, winds and possibly lightening, but we were all geared up as ‘west coast’ people know how to, and were ready for an adventure.

We  were treated to coffee and yummy Uprising Bakery goodies.  I was not aware this was the inaugural event, nor that cyclists would be joining us. They would be pedaling along a trail on the north shore of the Fraser as we made our way by water.

The group was welcomed by Kwikwetlem Band Council member, Ed Hall, and founder of the Rivershed Society of BC, Fin Donnelly, who is also an environmental activist, and local politician. Donnelly is well known for  swimming the 1,400 km length of the Fraser River twice, and was our excursion leader for the day.

I had heard Fin speak before, and I introduced him to my daughter,  asking him to tell her about his historic swim and the annual 20 day trip that he leads each summer providing young adults the amazing opportunity to travel down the Fraser River.

"Canadians are explorers..."
“Canadians are explorers…”

Later, bikes were loaded into a transport vehicle, and we boarded the school bus to Langley. Being new to canoeing, I was a bit nervous about the weather, which worsened as we crossed the Port Mann Bridge. After meeting a few people on the bus, I learned I was not alone with those feelings.

“FraserFEST’s goal is to increase watershed awareness of those who live, work and play in the Fraser River Basin, through river adventures and community festivals blending music, art, speakers, food and culture…”

In Langley we were greeted by Wendy Dadalt, Manager, Metro Vancouver Regional Parks. Bikes were offloaded, and cyclists mounted up and were on their way along the 25 km trail beside the Fraser.

The rest of us were traveling by canoe, and we were joined by Jay Lundy of Voyageur Adventures, who expressed that the canoe is a symbol of Canada’s culture. He spoke of the early years and spirit of Canada, and how we still rely on our waterways, to connect us, providing us food, energy, and enjoyment. “As Canadians, we are diverse and we are explorers,” said Jay.

It made me think of my Canadian-German grandfather, who was a Hudson’s Bay trapper. I wondered if he ever went by canoe when he would head out and lead trapping exhibitions in the 1940s. I bet he did.

My trapper grandfather Heintz married a Metis woman, and I noticed Jay Lundy wore a Metis sash on his hat.  Jay made sure we were educated  on the basic canoeing strokes, and showed us how to do a ‘voyageur salute’ with our red paddles, which was fun.

Amid a heavy rain, we got seated in the 34’ voyageur canoe which are built in Alberta. I sat up front behind Fin, and my daughter Loryn was behind me with Michael, a young member of the Kwikwetlem Nation, who has just moved up from the USA and was also new to canoeing. He was honoured to be with us and his people had given him a special Kwikwetlem paddle to use for the journey.

“A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and is never still. It’s always changing and is always on the move. And over time the river itself changes too.” – Aidan Chambers

Fraser River log boom (Photo: Robbin Whachell)
Fraser River log boom (Photo: Robbin Whachell)

From historic Fort Langley, with Fin leading as stroker, and Doug at the back as our steerperson, our 12 member group got underway! Our aim was to keep in unison, but it did become tricky at times, especially as arms tired. With Fin in front of me, and setting a pace that never waned, I did my darnedest to keep up with him, and I feel I did a pretty good job over the 4 hours.  There were moments when I’d get into the strokes, and my mind would wander, and then I’d snap back to reality, finding I’d lost the group’s rhythm. We were encouraged to take breaks when we were tired, or get water, take photos, etc. The large canoe felt extremely safe, and hardly tipped sideways, event when we were met with choppy waters.

On our journey we paddled past Barnston Island, under the Golden Ears Bridge and by Douglas Island to the mouth of the Coquitlam River. The weather changed many times, and we saw eagles and seals. When we stopped for lunch at a camping area, we watched a log boom pulled by 5 tugboats go by – a scene common to the Fraser.

The cyclists who were well ahead of us, waited for us to catch up at a dock along the trail, and it was so nice to see them.  They waved, cheered us on, and took photos as we saluted them with our paddles.

After 4 hours we were elated to finally turn in, and head up the Coquitlam River  into Kwikwetlem territory, where we were greeted by those we’d seen earlier in the day, as well as many newcomers.  We helped hoist the canoe from the water, and then formed a circle as we were officially welcomed back by Kwikwetlem Nation.  Each of us were given flags to carry into the festival area, where we enjoyed a hot meal of salmon lasagna from Pasta Polo.

P1040914
The inaugural FraserFEST at Colony Farms during a short reprieve in the weather (Photo: Doug Radies)

The sun came out over the festival grounds, as well as a rainbow,  and along with others, we enjoyed live music,  a variety of speakers, and educational community booths.  Words were offered by Founder, Rivershed Society of BC, Fin Donnelly, MP, New Westminster- Coquitlam & Port Moody; Selina Robinson, MLA Coquitlam-Maillardville; Mark Angelo, Founder, BC Rivers Day / World Rivers Day;  Bonita Zorillo, Coquitlam City Councillor; and Ed Hall, Kwikwetlem Band Council.

“Our early forbearers held many festivals to give thanks to the land and the rivers from whose bounty they thrived. The Fraser River is still one of the largest salmon producing rivers in the world. FraserFEST will culminate with World Rivers Day, the last Sunday in September. Participants are invited to come celebrate the watershed in which they live while enjoying local entertainment and food.” – Rivershed Society of B.C.

There are three more festivals planned this week, in New Westminster Quay on September 24th; in Vancouver at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf on the 26th; and the final one in North Vancouver at Cates Park on Sept. 27th. FraserFEST will be held annually.

Listen as Fin Donnelly speaks about FraserFEST to our group that morning.

You will find more information about FraserFEST at: www.rivershed.com

SEE MORE PHOTOS on Facebook, or Google+

Looking forward to Coquitlam Crunch Challenge 2016

CC-Robbin-WhachellThe weather was perfect for the 6th installment of the Coquitlam Crunch ‘Diversity’ Challenge on September 12th as the 2015 edition took a shorter 4-hour format.  This year I stepped up my involvement by coming on as an assistant coordinator of the event. I helped with PR and social media, photography, etc. It’s a great event at one of my favourite places in Coquitlam. I was able to get in one lap myself, which I try and do at least 3 times a week on my own.

Approximately 200 people came out, and walked or ran the Coquitlam Crunch Trail to support local charities: the Coquitlam Foundation ‘Diversity’ Fund; SHARE food bank; and the Blanket BC Society.

“We are so grateful for how supportive the community and volunteers have been,” said event founder, Alex Bell. “People came forward, on their own accord to offer their support. There is no way we could have raised more than $16,000 since 2010 for the Community Diversity Fund without the support of individual donors, sponsors and volunteers. This fund is now a legacy for our community.” In 2015, the Coquitlam Diversity Fund generated its first grant of $500 to the Tri-Cities Brain Injury Support Group to help fund social interaction and community recreational opportunities for brain injury survivors. With donations still coming in, this year’s event has raised approximately $2500.

The Make it Or Break It category started at 8am, and has sparked a growing competitive spirit over the years. It had 30 registrants, (4 times that of last year) all vying to see how many times in 4 hours they could go up and down the Crunch Trail, which starts beside Scott Creek Middle School and finishes up at Eagle Mountain Drive, 2.2 km from bottom to top.

Over 100 people registered for the Recreational category which started formally at 10am. Refreshments and snacks were provided at the bottom and at the top, along with treats for the kids.  The Kangho Hapkido Martial Arts Academy were out in full force, and not only did they lead the warm up for the Recreational category, but they presented a $595 cheque toward the Diversity Fund.

“It’s been interesting to watch the growth of the Make it Or Break it category,” said event founder, Alex Bell. “This year we had an almost even male-female ratio and a few children came out, with the youngest being 10 years old. It was great to see a couple senior athletes also involved.”

Matt Sessions, who is the 12-hour event record-holder with 17 loops, won this year’s 4-hour Make it Or Break it challenge by completing 8 loops. He was followed closely behind by Ray Barrett. With the average loop ‘walking’ up and down the Crunch being around 1 hour, most of the Make it Or Break it  competitors completed 5 – 7 loops.  Winner, Matt Sessions clocked 24 minutes on his first loop. The new 4-hour format, most definitely added the speed component. Out of the women that participated, Jackie Senchyna was the top competitor with 6 laps, and out of the youth,   Gracie Lorenson completed 7 loops.

“The competitors are already giving us their feedback, and although 6 years ago, we started as a simple charity event, we note the dedication of the athletes, and like other competitions, we will have to step it up to include times, age groups, etc,” said Bell, who has already met with his team to review improvements for next year to include down-to-the-second timekeeping, as well as formal top overall male / female and age group recognitions.

Next year the event is slated for September 10, 2016, and organizers are looking to the corporate community for ideas, funding, and man-hours in order to make the event more efficiently and accurately run. Any persons or businesses who can offer help toward time-keeping, signage and printing, traffic control, event-day volunteers, and t-shirts, are asked to make contact.

“This year we had 20 volunteers that proved invaluable, and we were able to enhance the safety of the street crossings along the trail,” said Bell. “To grow again, we need even more hands on deck and we are looking for people or businesses who would like to be part of our 2016 organizing team.”

A prize was offered to the Make it Or Break it winner, as well as 5 draw prizes were given out provided by Maxfit Movement Institute which included fitness/running assessments and massages. CKPM FM provided 2 extra prizes.  “I’d like to thank all those who stepped in this year to make it one of our best events,” said Bell. “This event is taking on a life of its own. It has the potential to become a signature event of Coquitlam.”

The public is invited to provide feedback, and may do so by emailing coquitlamcrunch@gmail.com. You can also join the event email list at coquitlamcrunch.com.  Event photos have been posted to the event Facebook page.  The 2015 Coquitlam Crunch Challenge was proudly supported by 98.7 CKPM FM, Eagle Ridge GM, Maxfit Movement Institute, New Earth Marketing, Pasta  Polo, Vancity, Magenta Printing, Pack and Ship, City of Coquitlam, Coquitlam Foundation, Kangho Hapkido Martial Arts Academy, Northside Foursquare Church, and McDonald’s.

More information can be found at coquitlamcrunch.com

(Photos: Robbin Whachell)

 

The BC Windstorm of August 2015

 

It came out of nowhere and only lasted a few hours, and then we saw the devastation…

On Saturday, August 29th I was recovering from a very late night with little sleep as I allowed my 21 year old son to have a party post-birthday since it landed in the middle of the week this year.

He was on the phone and I was noticing the eddies of leaves along our street, and heard the wind come up through the trees.  He went to head up the hill here in Coquitlam to stop in at his girlfriend’s. He’d only been gone a few minutes when he called me all upset. My mind raced to my worst fear that perhaps he’d totaled the car, but then he told me he’d been narrowly missed by huge falling trees on Pinewood Drive, just below our fire station which closed that street.

BC Hydro deemed it one of the worst natural disasters its seen in 10 years.  710,000 of its 1.4 million BC Hydro customers on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland lost power. It’s been deemed the single largest outage in the company’s history. Hundreds of street intersection lights were knocked out, causing huge traffic delays throughout the lower mainland.  Winds were up to 90km/ hour at its peak.

After my son had called me, I put on a jacket and headed out to see this windfall he mentioned for myself. I cut through a small portion of Hoy Trail on my way, and soon regretted that move. Sounds, which I first thought were lightning strikes, were actually trees cracking and my short 50 yard walk through the trail turned into a sprint for me as limbs snapped from branches and dropped around me.

11874835_10156020614765182_763599763_o
These trees may look small but the two on the ground were taller than I and I had to climb over them to get home.

I later walked along the full loop of Hoy Trail behind Douglas College and in two spots the trail was impassible as beautiful very old trees had come down. I had to climb up over them to get home.

Our power remained out for over 48 hours (some suffered through 72), and it was crazy to find out the large area of the lower mainland of Vancouver that was affected, out to White Rock and Abbottsford.  Apparently the winds came up from the south, which was rare, and we’ve had such a dry, hot summer, and the trees were in full heavy leaves that it cause for more to be uprooted.

What I found most interesting, when I review my photos now, is that many of the trees actually snapped in half or higher up, and were not uprooted.

I took this photo 4 days after the storm... trees just snapped like match sticks.
I took this photo 4 days after the storm… trees just snapped like match sticks.

The power outage was a pain, but my family is used to the hurricanes of The Bahamas so this hardship was light in comparison. We had running water, our barbecue, and Coleman stove, and electricity was spotty throughout Coquitlam, so could run out to charge phones, etc.

Mother Nature remains a force to be reckoned with and makes us ‘humble’ humans at her call…

11984387_10156020608725182_1728982238_o
Coquitlam firefighters talk to residents of a condominium on Lasalle Place which had a huge tree fall onto and through the roof. The roped off area is the top of that tree, the trunk is at the back end of the condo.

See more of my photos in my Facebook album.