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kinaskan lake

Restored by my pancake breakfast, I cycle another 20 kilometres or so and quickly come to the Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park. The last few camps have been hurried, rain-soaked affairs and I want to spread out and get my gear in order, so I pull in.

It is early in the day and I have my choice of sites. I stop at the last but one, which is already occupied. I make some lunch and hang out things to dry – tent spread on the ground, clothes dangling from the trees. Then, I turn my attention to the bike. I clean the chain, still gritty from the muddy road construction, as best I can, with a toothbrush, removing muck from the gears.

Frantically ringing bells alert me to some action. A a man on horseback, leading a string of other horses, thunders by and onto the lakeside walking trail. Another guy follows on an ATV. The men are clearly enjoying themselves and putting on quite a performance.

After organising my things, I walk down the trail where the horses disappeared and come across the guy on the ATV. He stops and I ask him what is going on. The men are hunting outfitters – they take rich Americans trophy hunting in the hills – a business their grandfather started fifty-seven years ago.

We talk for a while of the rights and wrongs of hunting, the guy immediately somewhat on the defensive. From the man’s perspective the rich Americans get their trophies, the meat feeds the local villages where they can’t afford to buy meat and it provides a decent living. I don’t like the trophy part, myself, but I can see the need to eat.

I walk on along the edge of the lake until stopped by a river and sit on the gravel bar watching the water and sky. Storm clouds over the mountains shift and seethe and as they edge closer I realise I had better go back and tend to my stuff. I still haven’t put up my tent, a little reluctant to pay the $15 fee that is standard in the provincial parks.*

Storm clouds gathering.

Storm clouds gathering.

Storm impending.

Storm impending.

I get back to the site and still procrastinate until the wind picks up and starts howling across the lake, raising noisy choppy waves. I pitch the tent in the wind, pegging it out carefully, and then stand on the shore watching as the storm rolls over, the worst of it in the distance, on the opposite shore. As I am standing there, another of the outfitters, one of the horsemen, comes to where I am standing.  He opens the conversation with a hackneyed remark about the weather but the conversation continues, in the rain, moving, as we start to get wetter, to the inadequate shelter of the conifers surrounding my tent.

A favourtie activity - watching rain fall.

A favourite activity - watching rain fall.

More stormwatching.

More storm watching.

And yet more...

And yet more...

...and more.

...and more.

Robbie is one of the local First Nation people, self-depreciating and proud in equal measure. All our various preconceived notions of gender and culture quickly bring us to awkward terrain. He asks me on a fishing ‘date’ and I make a non-committal agreement but we continue to talk until it is almost dark when he leaves to find his Leatherman knife at the river crossing by the lake where they swam the horses to the opposite shore. I return to the lake-shore in the gathering twilight.

Robbie passes by again with his knife and reiterates his invitation. I am shy and a little embarrassed but also keen to accept; I would like to catch a fish and the man interests me. He is knowledgeable and funny and has a way with words. When he leaves, I prepare myself for a boat trip, putting on my waterproof gear, even though I’m not sure if he will return. I am hungry but I snack out of the pannier instead of cooking in case he comes back, as promised, in his boat.

Dusk has deepened considerably by the time I see the boat approaching and I hover on the shores trying to appear ready and willing but not too expectant. The surface of the lake is still, the last light reflecting off it, silver and grey, with the darkening mountain looming above, trees jagged and black.

Dusk falling after the storm.

Dusk falling after the storm.

Dusk on the lake.

Dusk on the lake.

The boat comes ashore, Robbie introduces Ray, the navigator of the craft and we set off across the water. A rifle leans casually against the side of the boat. We are going, not fishing, but to feed the horses and check on the gear at the corral – a grizzly has been seen there. We skirt a gravel bar and some underwater snags and come to opposite shore.

Horse bells ring out over the water. We disembark dragging the boat up onto the beach. Ray goes ahead into the forest of huge trees with the gun and Robbie and I follow.

There are fifteen horses in a corral in a clearing: fifteen sleek, solid workhorses. Robbie and Ray distribute hay and I wander amongst the huge animals, towering well above my head. I make friendly overtures but they are only concerned with their feed. Robbie tells me the names, and points out the special qualities, of various horses. They are fine beasts and I dearly wish that I were heading into the mountain on the fifteen day expedition they are preparing for on the back of one of these horses.

We return to the boat, which has taken on a substantial quantity of water in our absence, and Ray takes it out onto the lake to drain leaving Robbie and I on the darkening shore. We talk of bears and hunting. I tell him that there was a population of eight bears in the Beskydy Mountains in Moravia – the last bears in the Czech Republic – until somebody shot one of them, probably rendering the remaining population of seven bears unviable. He laughs and tells me that there are more than eight bears on this side of the lake. He asks me to hold the gun for a moment, assuming it to be the first time I have had one in my hands. However, I have shot both a rifle and a pistol previously and I let him know.

The gathering dark.

The gathering dark.

Blue nightfall.

Blue nightfall.

Ray returns and we chug across the velvety black water. They drop me on the shore near my tent and we say somewhat abrupt and awkward goodbyes. I go to bed contemplating the encounter. In the morning, I would like to see Robbie again before I go, to say goodbye and thank you. I pack up and cycle past the outfitters lodge but I don’t see anyone around and I’m too shy to enter without an invitation. I ride off regretfully, continuing my half of an imagined dialogue in my head.

It takes me two days before the desire to return to the lake is no longer constant. When talking of hunting Robbie said of wolves, “Sometimes you see the beauty in them and you don’t shoot them.” He sees a wolf as a competitor – a hunter, too. He watches the caribou. He knows the mountain and their trails, talks of them with an easy familiarity. He had a way with words.

Kinaskan Lake is a dreamscape of water surrounded by mountains and fragments of poetry.

*In this case I needn’t have worried. The camp operator is very bike friendly and when she passed by she let me know that she generally waives the fee for bikers.

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