As I sit surveying the vineyards and lake through my kitchen window, I recognize that spring has arrived. My view remains visible before the buds start to appear on the trees, but I know blossoms and leaves will follow and my surveillance of the Okanagan below will be severely reduced. It is the first day of spring in Kelowna and I need to be a part of it. The morning’s news report briefly passes through my thoughts as I recall the announcer describing Toronto, Montreal and the Maritimes with streets blanketed in a winter coat of snow that has long been absent from my street. The sun is warming our beautiful valley and I am looking forward to the run I will soon embark upon.
Spring in the Okanagan is my favourite time for running as the trails are newly revealed with everything fresh and novel. Spring allows me to, once again, set out on paths that have been denied me for several months. I belong to a gym and could run indoors during the winter months but reserve the dreaded treadmill for the very worst days of winter when the road’s slush freezes my tender feet and the wind nips at my face.
For years I ran in packs on rock hard roads with runners of the same inclination. More recently I have enjoyed just setting out alone, or with my two trusted poodle companions, for a solitary run on the multitude of mountain trails close to my home. My competitive nature set aside, I can just enjoy the day and physical exertion to the extent of my inclination.
On this morning, as is usual, I don my blue running vest with the tension beginning to build among my furry friends. The black poodle’s blood pressure visibly rises beyond a healthy threshold and the gray poodle starts peering around the corner to observe my evolving attire. They are never quite sure if I am going to take them with me, therefore manage to contain their exuberance until, finally, I lead them to the sliding glass door and release them to the world. That is their signal to cast aside all measure of restraint and begin a raucous refrain of barking and bounding. The final indicator is my opening of the garage door and their deliverance from the back yard to descend upon my poor vehicle for their trip to one of my running haunts.
This spring day the trails are bare and dry no matter how high I climb. I know routes that are relatively flat but prefer the vistas that massage my very soul as I ascend over Okanagan and Rose Valley lakes. The poodles are quite familiar with our runs and no longer need leashes that I only bring along to trick some park warden into believing I am a law-abiding citizen.
The Rose Valley trail system, that I most enjoy, is a series of four trails, totalling about 8 kilometers. The trails are plainly marked with successively darker colours for an increasingly more difficult experience. I begin on a light blue trail, then ascend to yellow, move on to orange, and finally, on my most energetic days, reach the dark purple trails for the best views and most challenging inclines. On this day it appears it may have snowed through the night as many shaded areas have a visible layer of moisture but the ground is firm and passable. I frequently encounter hikers with their dogs. As we appear in view, the encountered humans generally dart towards their pet in an attempt to secure them. I always inform them that poodles are not fighters and all will be good. Most relax and release their charges as we pass. There has never been an “incident” instigated by my poodles. The poodles normally stop to investigate their canine peers but know if they linger too long they will be left behind. So they usually take the obligatory sniff of each passing dog and bound on to ensure their place in our procession.
I have been running in these hills for about 5 years and have only once encountered another runner. It was much earlier in the spring on that occasion and very nice in the valley at my departure. Nearing the summit above the lakes, however, it began to snow. I had some thought of turning back as my knees were exposed to the elements but felt I was close enough to the top to complete the route and descend to warmer climes. The higher I trotted the thicker the snow became. I began to think I may have a few screws loose, and I am sure my bare knees were in agreement, when I emerged over the last rise, in near white-out conditions. Reaching the top, I rounded a tree-lined corner to almost collide with a man of about 40 years of age. This man is similarly slogging through the snow in shorts seemingly unconcerned about the weather while listening to some clamour on his earphones. We stopped and greeted each other warmly, both acknowledging the kindred spirit that would cause us to be on that spot at that particular time….in a snow storm. He informed me that his runs frequently take him on these trails and I have watched for him since but have never encountered him again.
My most memorable experience on the Rose Valley trails was during a much warmer summer day. On that day we passed the usual hikers and their dogs. We rose higher, zig-zagging along the mountain paths, finally reaching the darkest coloured signs. We paused at several vistas and observed summer in the Okanagan with boats on the lake and busy roads far below. We were on a long incline of ancient lava fields just prior to the final summit. I usually stop along the way to take in the view and did so on this day. As I gazed over the valley while catching my breath, the dogs took the opportunity for a brief repose. Glancing a little further up the lava flow I became aware of a very stately looking big-horn sheep, similarly gazing over Okanagan Lake. He seemed unconcerned about us and the dogs were completely unaware of his presence. I paused for a time to take in the new view of this majestic animal, clicking several mental pictures of the experience. Finally, it was time to move on and I shouted over to my friend, “nice view eh?” He ignored me and I took a wide berth around his apparent reverie. With the poodles still unaware and, perhaps, our friend, similarly unaware, we moved up the incline to be left with only a memory of this experience. Similar to my runner encounter, I have not seen my big-horned friend since but am always reminded of him as we pass that spot.
On this first day of spring I notice a few gullies filled with snow and a bit of ice still enveloping one of the ponds but no other runners or sheep. With trails generally dry and hard, the dogs are in fine form, initially darting back and forth on several side trails before emerging on the trail I am trudging along. I know, however, in about four kilometres they will soon be following as their energy wanes and they start looking slightly dishevelled. We reach the summit and I am heartened as I had no need to walk. I must have remained in relatively good condition through the winter and my impending seniority has not completely overcome me as yet. At the final summit I can view both lakes marvelling, as always, at the beauty of our Okanagan and feel very lucky for my good health. The dogs are happy to flop down for a needed rest before our long descent to the parking lot where we began our journey.
We return along the downward trails much faster than our ascent and are perspiring from the spring warmth as we finally reach the parking lot. I notice on my GPS watch that I have only completed 8 ½ kilometers of my intended 10 kilometer run. I, consequently, pass by the parking lot with visions of completing my goal. As I run past our vehicle, a quick glance behind reveals an absence of poodle. They have remained by my car with tongues lagging and much puffing. They seem to have banded together in a confirmed refusal of any further exertion. Taking pity, I turn around and welcome them to the back of my vehicle for a much-needed rest and some water. I wonder how they will survive a much warmer summer run with the added 1½ kilometers that I will complete before we reach the parking lot next time.