The river behind the baseball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)

The river behind the baseball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)

Pulled by the flow: river stirs up childhood memories

Gazette editor makes trek through Port Hardy wilderness to swim in the river

I made it back from the river.

What do I mean by that foreboding opening remark, you might be wondering? Well, just keep reading and you’ll find out.

On Sunday I found myself accidentally locked out of my house. With nothing to do but wait for a family member to come home with a set of keys, I decided to go adventuring.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in Port Hardy as I walked up the hill towards the Ring Road baseball field. I looked over at the lush foliage that stood tall at the end of the field, and I was suddenly taken over by memories from my childhood exploding to life inside of my head. In particular, memories of the river that is buried deep within the woods.

When I was a kid, my friends and I stumbled upon a hidden gem of a swimming hole out there. You had to hike through the bush, and then go up river about half an hour or so before finally arriving at a deep swimming area with a large rock in the middle of it. There was a waterfall and two different rock cliffs you could jump off if you were brave enough (I once did a front flip off the highest rock, which all of my friends chickened out and refused to attempt).

We camped out at that spot one warm summer night, building a fire and telling jokes as the sounds of the forest came alive around us in the dark.

Without thinking twice, I crossed the road and entered the ball field, walking through the wet marsh towards the start of the trail that snakes through the woods down to the river.

The first part of the hike was pretty easy. After 15 minutes of walking through mud and avoiding tree branches, I began to hear the unmistakable sound of flowing water getting louder and louder. As I got closer, I crossed through some bushes and found myself right at the top of the cliff that leads down to the river bank below.

It was just as steep as I remembered. I’m turning 37 next week and I’ve had numerous knee injuries over the years from playing sports, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t climb down and see the water up close. Slowly but surely, I made my way down the cliff towards the rushing water, until I was about five feet above the river bank.

From there I jumped down, landing feet first on the rocks, and then stared out at the river that was right in front of me, calling my name.

I took off my shirt, emptied my pockets, and waded into the cold water with my jeans and shoes on. In hindsight, I should have stripped down completely, but I’ll explain why later.

I walked into the deepest part of the river, the cold flow hitting me right in the chest as the sun warmed me from above. I counted to three and then dove in, submerging myself and letting the current pull me this way and that.

When I came up for air, I floated in the middle of the river and thought about my old childhood friends and how almost all of them had moved away to different places in B.C. I felt like I owed it to them to hike up the river and visit our old swimming spot again, but I knew it was too late in the day and I wasn’t properly prepared for the trip.

Instead I swam through the water back to the rocks, where I quickly realized my jeans were too soaked to put my wallet and phone back inside of the pockets.

That’s when it hit me. I’d have to carry both items in my hands while I climbed back up the cliff to civilization. I shrugged, pulled on my shirt, and then started the trek back home.

Climbing up the cliff with only one hand was tough, slogging through the muddy trail and across the marshy ball field wasn’t fun, and walking down the street in soaking wet jeans and shoes was awkward, but I did it. I made it back home from the river, with only one thought circling around inside of my head.

Next time, I’m going to go all the way up river to visit the old swimming hole. I know it won’t be easy, but I feel like I need to see it again.

Yeah, I like the way that sounds. I need to see it again.

Tyson Whitney is an award-winning journalist who was born and raised in Port Hardy. His family has lived in Port Hardy for more than 40 years.


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Tyson Whitney