Each Sunday morning I used to run with Maggie my big yellow Labrador retriever up to Cleveland Dam along the canyon beside the Capilano River. Here’s the April 10th 2001 version, the last time I ran with Maggie.
I awoke to hear the rain pelting on the side of the house. Quietly I rolled out of bed and slipped on my running gear trying not to wake Virginia. Walking past the kitchen I saw my daughter Jordan sitting at the table. She’s home for a few days from school in Montreal. If I’m lucky she runs with me but today she looks out the window and shakes her head no. Maggie and I headed out the back door and started with an easy pace through the quiet tree lined West Vancouver streets. My glasses soon fogged up so I took them off and carried them in my hand. We ran past poet Pauline Johnson’s Klee Wyck to follow the Capilano Pacific trail up the west side of the canyon. The trail here is fairly straight with the occasional turn and now and then you can see the precipitous cliffs looking down to the river where storms and slides have shaped the canyon sides.
We turn east behind the Capilano Suspension bridge fence still on the west side of the river. The trail is narrow here and exposed rocks and slick roots threaten my footing. Maggie takes off up the trail to one of the many streams and lies on her belly with the water sliding over her thick yellow coat, her nose cocked up like a snorkel. When I pass she jumps up snorting and shaking, crashing through the bush.
By this time I have been running for about 20 minutes. The rain is falling very hard. Everything is soaked. The streamlets alongside the trail are full to bursting. I can hear the raging river in the gorge below. This is my favourite time to run, no one is around and the rain has blocked the city sounds. fir, hemlock and pines tower over me and salal and ferns blanket the forest floor. Maggie urges me on and we pick up the pace.
When I was about seven years old my father hiked with me and my brothers here. We had been living in a hotel in Duncan for six weeks as he had been recalled to active duties during the Cuban missile crisis. We hadn’t seen him during this time and were happy and relieved to have him home. In those days the trails were not maintained and we bushwhacked around large washouts and dangerous places where the trail had collapsed hundreds of feet to the river below. It was exciting but we were unafraid, we felt safe with Dad. I have run this trail hundreds of times since then and each time I feel the same sense of danger and each time I think about that hike with my brothers and my father and the war that almost was.
We have reached the place where the Cap Pacific trail meets with Shinglebolt rising up from the river but we carry on straight up the mountain towards the dam. We have climbed almost a thousand feet and a heavy mist hangs in the forest. The last 250 meters of the trail to the dam are the steepest and Maggie and I push hard. My heart is pounding. Rain is streaming down my face. I am still holding my glasses in my left hand.
At the dam the mountains that surround the reservoir are hidden, the mist holds on the verge of the shore. It’s hard to see where the water starts and ends. On our last two weekend runs a movie company has been shooting a feature film here but today its just Maggie and I.
We continue east over the top of the dam to the east side of the canyon. Here’s the reward for the uphill. We sprint down the gravel service road towards the hatchery. We are mindless of the uneven surface reaching out to twist an unsuspecting ankle. There is only the joy of running now. The rain feels good and we pick up the pace once again. I am tired but I can feel the stress of the week draining from my pores
Just past the fish hatchery we run into three German tourists. Each of them speaks perfect English and each is dressed perfectly for the weather and each carries a camera. They politely ask for directions then send us on our way with a smile and a wave. We carry on past cable pool where the fly fishers congregate. Its here in the steep canyon sides that the odd fisher slips into the river. Many times we have seen the fire fighters gather at the rivers mouth waiting for it to release the rubber clad body to them.
We pass pipeline bridge, this is our outlet back over to the west side of the river to Shinglebolt trail for a shorter run but not today, we carry on straight and scramble up a steep section over rocks, boulders and roots. Maggie’s coat is steaming now and her breath shoots out steam like a locomotive.
There is more old growth forest here, the trail is covered in ancient cedar duff and our steps are muffled. Cool mist hovers in the branches above. The river below boils and eddies. It feels very old here. In the summer I often swim across a cold deep crystal clear pool to get home but today the rivers too high and dangerous.
At the end of the trail I pop out on the road to the hatchery. Still descending I run down Capilano Drive to the highway overpass then follow side streets back home.
Virginia meets us at the back door with a towel for the dog and a demand that I strip naked before I streak to the shower.
Maggie and I have done this run so many times I have lost count but each time I finish I feel good about myself. For me this is the joy of sport, just feeling good about your self and if you have a companion like Maggie it makes it doubly good.
Not long after this run I lost my running companion. Virginia came home one day to find her lying on the floor paralyzed, that evening she fell asleep for the final time.