By Ken Hegan for MSN
Quit what you’re doing. RIGHT NOW.
Sneak out of your office. Go for coffee and don’t come back till next week.
Or wait until really late tonight, then call your boss’s voicemail and tell her/him that you’re sick, paralyzed, or dead.
Then grab your sunscreen, hop on a plane, and get yourself to the Okanagan…because I’ve discovered THE MOST FUN YOU CAN HAVE IN CANADA THIS SUMMER.
Now, I didn’t actually discover the channel — Okanagan locals have been slowly spinning down this winding canal for decades now. Engineers built the channel in the ’50s to control flooding and water flow between the lakes.
Here are the step-by-step basics on how to do the channel right:
1) Find your way to Penticton, BC in the Okanagan region of southern BC. Population: 32,000. This area is fast becoming a booming and award-winning wine region. The city’s river channel connects Okanagan Lake (on the north end of Penticton) with Skaha Lake (to the south of the city).
2) Bring a floatie or buy one at Canadian Tire, which bills itself as ‘The Floatie Capital of Canada’. We got our 2-person floatie for $30.99 at Save-On-Foods next to the liquor store on Main Street.
Our floatie is made of two conjoined white inner tubes. White’s important, since it reflects the sun and stays cooler than the old, patched-up inner tubes that people used in the ’80s. And unlike that underarm-scorching rubber, our cool white floatie came with mesh bottoms so you don’t fall through, plus a built-in drink cooler (!) in the middle, and a neat little can holder by your wrist. The whole raft is ringed by a rope so you can tie it to the roof of your van, or tie yourself to other mattresses for a fun, mobile party.
3) Park near the launch site at 215 Riverside Drive on the north end of town, just off Eckhardt Avenue West. Best time of day is between 1 and 6 pm when the sun is hottest. WARNING: it was a rainy Spring so the river banks are high and partially flooding the parking lot. ALSO: if you don’t want to risk spilling your keys into the river, do what we did: bury your car keys near your car. If a stranger spots you, ELIMINATE ALL WITNESSES.
4) Pack ciders & ice into a beer cooler. Plus you’ll need cash or a credit card (for the taxi back) so keep it safe and dry in a zip-loc baggy. DON’T BE TEMPTED TO KEEP YOUR VALUABLES/SMOKES IN A GLASS JAR. Either the river water will break the seal, or the glass could break on the river banks.
5) Fill your inflatable mattresses with air. Coyote Cruises will quickly inflate your floatie for $2 or rent you a tube if you arrive empty handed.
6) Tie the mattresses to each other. It’s always more fun to float with a friend.
7) Walk down the steps into the river and place your floatie in the water.
8) Ease backwards onto your floatie. Then let go of the railing and allow the current to sweep you downstream in the sunshine.
9) Apply cold ciders to your mouth.
10) Tilt your head back and laugh at how great your life is.
You’ll see ducks gliding with the current, maybe a badly sliced golf ball at the Penticton Golf and Country Club, and a few cyclists up on the raised shoreline bike path. Your ride ends 1-3 hours later when the channel flows into Skaha Lake. During your 7-kilometer float, your mood and life will have improved 1000 percent.
Want to go again? We did! There are taxis waiting at the bottom of the channel. We called for a taxi van. The driver took less than 5 minutes to arrive, then he tied our floatie to his roof, we all piled inside, and he drove us to the beer store, then back to the top of the channel for about $22. Be sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and a rolled up towel for the end of the ride.
For bonus fun, try these options:
1) MARK MESSIER’S PRECIOUS
Legend has it that Mark Messier lost one of his Stanley Cup rings somewhere in this channel. You can find it if you swim the channel in scuba gear.
2) HALFWAY SNACKS
Most of the channel is refreshingly commercial-free. No stores, no billboards. Nothing but willow trees and ducks. But at the halfway point, on the starboard side of the river, you’ll see a first nations restaurant billed as a ‘rez-taurant’. Have a sandwich in the sun, then get back on the channel. Or take a bus back to your car for $5 each.
3) BRIDGE JUMP
About a third of the way down the channel, the shoreline rises about 20 feet on both sides. It looks like the remnants of an old bridge crossing. Suck up your courage, ease off your floatie, swim to the shore, scramble up the narrow cement wall, get to the top and then….JUMP DOWN INTO THE CHANNEL.
WARNING: it’s kind of crazy, you can definitely hurt yourself (the channel is shallow near the edge, so don’t dive…and when your feet slice the water, get horizontal as quickly as possible), and if you hesitate too long before jumping off, you might not catch up to your floatie.
I suspected all that…and then I jumped anyway. That’s me (above) in mid-flight; seemingly floating in the hot Okanagan air and loving every split-second of Not Making Lousy Small Talk In Some Stale Office.
Do it! Life is short and I’m sure my bum bruises (from banging on the bottom rocks) will heal by winter.
— Ken Hegan
Photos: S. Stanway and A. Steele
For more information on Penticton and the area, visit tourismpenticton.com