Backroad Adventures: SUP, Run, Bike the Blaeberry River

Golden certainly has its true gems. With national parks surrounding us at every angle, it’s easy to be drawn to the known trails and honey pot sites, but there’s equally a sense of sterility when you’re surrounded by Disney-like parking lots and lodges. After a failed first attempt for Ico and I to run Syds Trail along the shore of the Blaeberry river, we imagined a mission to cover the distance by SUP, foot and bike for the next attempt.

Not knowing how to read the river as well as Ico, I was mildly nervous at the reality of our unknown venture. Reading the reliable Canadian backroads book, there was a suspicious gap in the section of river we were looking to paddle. However, grasping a true sense of adventure – by that very definition a possible chance of failure or disaster – we decided to give it a shot and see how it would end…

Dropping our bikes at the head of the trail we would eventually run, we met a likeminded couple escaping the chaos of town and camping by the side of the peaceful river. Trustfully leaving our bikes and gear with them, we drove off up the FSR road to the put-in for our SUP board start. A combination of fading daylight hours and an absence of gas in the truck meant we cut the put-in point a little short, stopping at a bridge about 3 kms above the recreational site, which is normally the take out for float trips running this section. Digging out our gear and setting up the boards, a flash back of stupidity from one of our previous racing occasions jumped to mind. I had only one running shoe. Oops. In the hurry to get going, i’d left it in the bag with our bike kit, so the only solution was my faithful flip-flops – the consolation being they were at least a product of a legitimate running brand – so some way there to being up to the job…

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Gear packed, we set off onto the river, trying not to catch my SUP’s nose in the eddy-line, before a lively flow of water carried us down the river. I love the sense of being in the middle of a moving river, looking up to the surrounding mountains and knowing there’s little if no-one around you. Paddling calmly, we negotiated the trees, branches and rocks jutting out, trying to grab us as we floated past. I’ve a very respectful attitude to water, having had a few moments stuck in branches, tangled up in my leash and feeling the freezing rush of water down my back. I took care, but made sure to multitask and take photos of the moment too.

As we passed the recreational site, a couple were enjoying the peaceful spot from their camper van and stood up, rushing to side to wave to us and yell “You’re brave!”. I shouted back, “A little terrified!”. Soon after we paddled past them, Ico’s river sense sparked and he shouted at me to paddle to the side and catch the eddy. I moved as fast as I could towards the web of trees at the side, trying not to puncture myself on their unforgiving grasp. A rumble from below spelled danger. Captain Sensible on my shoulder was muttering, “I knew this would happen… we should have scouted better…” but then my  sense of adventure told him to shut up and enjoy the unknown. Ico called to me to come further down towards the rapid, a class 3 at least. We carefully crept onto the rocks and dragged ourselves and our SUPs through the tangle of trees to a safe spot. At this point, the river meets Split Creek, a equally vocal river running off the mountains close to the road. We spent several moments negociating the thick, dense forest and found our path to the side of the creek. A short but tentative struggle up the riverbed led us to the road bridge. I now know why British explorer David Thompson called it ‘Portage Creek’….

We’d paddle about 5km, a fun but short distance that left us wanting a little more, but we called it – deciding that a canyon that we could see further up spelled trouble and the hassle of hacking our way in and out of the trees was best left for another time. Abandoning our boards, we took off up the dirt track – a fairly dry, dull fire road that luckily led us to an intersection for Syds Thompson Falls. Our initial plan was to paddle to the falls, so this was a welcome site and turned out to be a beautiful addition to the trail i’d run a few weeks back. Once at Thompson Falls, a further 4km done covered, we stopped to enjoy the roaring and hectic water – just happy we didn’t end up chewed by the jaws of this awesome canyon!

Running along the winding, forest trail, my flip-flops held up and we made steady progress along the riverside, looking out the mountains on the other side. Syds Trail is amazingly runnable – some steep sections, but for the most part truly flowing and fun, with lots of roots and fallen trees to jump over. We didn’t see a soul.

11 km later and we emerged at the trail head, sweating and mosquito-munched – standard practice for any forest foray in BC. Chatting to the couple we met earlier, we grabbed our bikes and took off up the road – another face-palm moment after realising we’d left our bike shorts in the backpack with the SUPs. Oops. Oh well, good practice to have things go wrong, as it happens.

I won’t glorify the route back. It’s a fire road, of bumping, pot-holed, gravel strewn nature, but there’s no denying the surrounds are still stunning. We looked up to the back of Yoho National Park’s mountains and after puffing my way up the steeps, we crested out to see a lonely black bear right ahead of us. We slowed right down, so as not to scare him off. Carefully I tried to take a photo, but the camera-shy creature took off down the road and slid off into the forest. That was a special moment; I forgot how hungry I was and we both shared huge grins on our faces to have seen one somewhat in the wild…

Making our way back to the put in at the top off the road, we high-fived at our completion – both hungry but with a sated sense of adventure from our micro mission. We packed up, driving by to pick up our boards and were greeted with a big wave from our spectators at the recreational site as we headed for back home.

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