Paddle Boarding

Summer's the best, my favourite time to be in Fernie. Barbecues, river floats, lake days and late nights, paired with Happy Cow ice cream and elaborate hikes. I was born here in the winter, I stay for the summer.

At least, that's what most people say when they find themselves year after year cruising the streets on their townies late at night, never returning to where they used to call home because Fernie's suddenly it. The curiosity for the unknown far outweighs any familiarity of home. Summer in Fernie has everyone enchanted.

To no surprise, from June through September I never take a lot of time to slow down, another new hike or trail beckoning me, another Wapiti Music Festival echoing off Fernie Mountain through town, pulling me in with its ever-epic lineup. There's always something to do, and sometimes, too much.

Until recently, when I discovered an adventurous activity that forces me to relax—paddle boarding.

My friend Christine (originally from Ontario) takes me to a lake in the Crowsnest Pass one crisp and fresh morning mid-May. Exceptional weather this month means summer's here early, and the non-stop 'must-do's' have arrived.

We pull up to Chinook Lake, a blue-green glassy delight surrounded by montane forest, the round and scree slope of Crowsnest Mountain towering overhead (already hiked it, thank goodness). Blue sky, eagles, pristine. Christine brings two paddle boards and paddles, I bring the watermelon.

“Well, this is beautiful,” I note, always surprised at hidden places I haven't seen despite my 30-some years here.

We collect the paddle boards, deflated and in their stow-away bags, and wheel them down to the quiet beach. We planned to paddle the Elk River, but decided against it with the extremely high and muddy runoff.

I'm happy to settle for a lake paddle. So, so happy.

When the boards are filled with air we leave shore and cruise the lake.

Christine's dog Roxy, a black lab far too energetic for her age, lays on the front of Christine's board, exactly where she needs to be. My watermelon container sits in the same spot on my board, and I wish I had my dog. Though he'd probably panic because he hates water, leap from the board, and send us both into the chilly lake.

The quiet helps me breathe, water gently lapping against the board with each stroke of the paddle. Once I navigate my balance, it's easy to stand up. We pass over old trees and bottom-feeding fish beneath the surface, and end near the other side of the lake.

“Can we lie down now?” I ask, my skin craving the sun. Though I'm in my bathing suit, I'm sure my translucence is a bit terrifying.

“I'll just put my foot on your board, then we'll stay together,” Christine replies. “Suntan time.”

And we do, for almost an hour our boards move with the slight breeze on the lake. Eyes closed, we drift left then right on the glassiness, my skin turning tanned with freckles, and I'm reminded of the importance of pace.

We talk about nothing in particular, just the things friends talk about while floating on a lake with no one in earshot.

“Canada's amazing,” I say. “Think about it, we get to drive anywhere and within five minutes there's this place away from everything.”

“It's true, hey? It's the reason I'll never go home,” Christine replies. See? Came for the winter, stayed for the summer. Here? Probably forever.

I love summer, for so many reasons. But especially because it's a season that makes being curious attainable. Trails ready for walking, lakes warm enough to swim through, endless possibility. Though, the adventures don't always have to end up at the summit of a new peak or in the depths of an unexplored cave.

Sometimes summer is the best when lying down on a paddleboard eating watermelon beneath a mountain you've already hiked, with a good friend and her good dog.