Intense tranquility

Peter Ferguson


One of the best things about our culture right now is the phenomenon of extreme sports. In a time when you’re supposed to wear a helmet at all times, always sit in front of a screen, and passively receive pre-processed information, here’s a bunch of people saying “Who cares?” to safety, getting totally physical and, most important, making stuff up for themselves.


And they’re really cute. I mean, not only do they have tight abs and tight buns and tight spandex and tight sunglasses, they’ve always got big tight smiles on too, and this upbeat attitude’s entirely endearing. They’re just so pleased with themselves and their made-up sport that they’re like a bunch of 5-year-olds with a big bag of Easter eggs.


When my kids were young, we made up a sport, too: stoneboarding. You cut a piece of plywood to resemble snub-nosed boogie board, tie it to the lead foot, use the rear one to steer it and glide – well, rumble – down a washout or a hillside of scree. It was a gas, and it was the physical rush combined with the exhilaration of having done something new in the world that gave it a special savour.


We figured we could take it worldwide as millionaire stoneboard, clothing and accessory marketers. Problem was, though, the next step up was sneaking into gravel pits at night, leaving tracks and furrows on the stone piles, and getting busted. I figured the kids should be learning that sort of thing in high school instead of from me, so we dropped it. But who knows where it might have gone.


Here’s an even better one, though.


We live at the upper end of the Beaver Valley, at the south edge of The Black Forest. This huge woodlot runs a few kilometres along the Beaver River as it works its way towards Thornbury. “Black Forest” is the name because when the leaves are down it’s like a dark cloud brooding on the valley-bottom.


I always wondered why the farmers left this swath of trees smack in the most accessible part of their limited flatlands, but after a few seasons realized that, yes, it may be accessible to us, but it’s even more accessible to the river. The edge of the wood follows precisely the spring high water mark: there’s no point clearing land that’s going to be either mud or washed away. Hence the forest.


The Beaver is one of the most popular canoeing rivers in the region. The upper reach, Kimberley to Epping, is incredibly boring. An old river, the Beaver here works its way very gradually north in that classic snake-switchback manner, looping back upon itself in great erosion-inflected curves. You’re usually going sideways, if not backwards. It’s frustrating beyond words.


But. The best time to canoe is at spring runoff, when the water rises above the deadheads. That’s also when it tops its banks and starts to flow to the forest’s edge. And this is where opportunity presents itself. Forget the river course and its banks - just turn the canoe directly north and beeline through the woods. Now you’re cross-country canoeing.


It’s a whole different game. You get to make up the route, rather than let the river force one on you. You get to feel the tree trunks, huge sentinels standing in their ranks. You get to watch the forest bed glide by two feet beneath your keel. You get to cross the river, violating its stolid march. You get to get lost. You get to enter suspension as the trees reflect in the water, giant black marlinspikes floating horizonless above and below you. You get to cut the throats of fourteen pointless river loops. You get to cut your travel time in half. You get to be blissed and timeless and serene.


But does this sound like an extreme sport? Extremely tranquil, maybe, but you can’t call something “cross-country canoeing” and carry any street cred at all. Makes you sound like something between a Boy Scout and an old fart. But what say we initialize it – Cross-Country Canoeing – acronymize that – CCC – and then casualize that, well, then we got something: “Hey, we’re gonna do some C3 this weekend. I am so totally stoked for it.” Works, doesn’t it?


It’s a big wide wonderful world out there. Go and do something weird with it.


Oh, and stoneboarding? You do anything with that, we get ten per cent.