Savouring North Okanagan Surprises in Vernon, B.C.

The aptly named “Serenity Room” of the KurSpa at the Sparkling Hill Resort is silent as I stand alone by the window. The room is dark save the moonbeams from the one day shy of a full moon. I feel transfixed by the lights I see casting a reflection in Lake Okanagan; the headlights of cars driving below sparkle sporadically. The switchback road is a diamond necklace on the mountain, catching the light and throwing it back to me. I feel tears pricking at my eyes at the beauty of it. I breathe in deeply, wresting every drop of peace from the moment as I fight the thought: “How am I supposed to go home?”

I’m not complaining about my everyday life. I don’t have it harder than anyone else, and I have it quite a bit better than a lot of people, I’m well aware. It’s been a busy past few days– a team building retreat for the editorial team of Family Fun Canada filled with raucous laughter, strengthened bonds of collegial friendship, delicious food with plenty of drink, and new experiences. It didn’t feel so much a work weekend with bits of fun as it did a fun girls’ weekend with bits of work. The reluctance to go home I feel is the last day of camp all over again. “It will never be this fun again. I’ll never feel this happy at home.” It’s not true of course. But a little last night melodrama is excusable. Well, I’ll excuse it anyway.


A daylight view of the Serenity Room

Part of my self-indulgent reverie and reluctance to break the moment is knowing that I won’t have this trip to look forward to when I go home. Does that sound weird? We had started discussing the retreat almost a year ago, first hoping for a springtime getaway, but trying to juggle the schedules of six busy women meant it was put over until the fall. A whole year of anticipation is hard to let go of, I discovered…a shocking realization for someone as averse to delayed gratification as myself.

There were several surprises in store for me this weekend. I thought back to the itinerary we had been sent and my first reaction. Wine tour: awesome. Spa: awesome. Stand-up Paddleboarding: less awesome. Golf: not awesome at all. Having lived through it, I was much too quick to judge.


A tasting room at Ex Nihilo, fully stocked shelves at BX Press, and the craft distillery at Okanagan Spirits

I fully expected to love the wine tour, and indeed I did. No surprises there! We had the supreme pleasure of being shepherded through a distillery (Okanagan Spirits), a cidery (BX Press), a meadery, and four wineries (Arrowleaf, Gray Monk, Ex Nihilo, and 50th Parallel) by the inimitable MJ from MJO Tours. I won’t get into too much detail, but suffice it to say, there was some silliness.


Seriously, crystals everywhere. You wouldn’t want to leave either.

Ditto the expected thrill of the gasp-inducing beauty at the Sparkling Hill Resort. It really isn’t an overstatement to call the property, particularly the spa, “world class.” Everything from the 3 million Swarovski crystals adorning almost every surface, to the crisp clean peppermint scent of the ice room is a study in opulence and luxury. I didn’t think I would want to leave, and indeed I did not. The saunas, the scented “experiential” showers, the infinity pool overlooking Lake Okanagan…everything about it is a little piece of magic.


SUP on Lake Kalamalka, and the proof I did it!

Now for the surprises… Guys, I’m not athletic. I’m actually scared of high fives because I never received them during my formative years, so now my reaction if someone comes at me for a high five is to flinch. It’s not super cool, but there you have it. So the thought of propelling myself across open water with only an oar while standing on a fiberglass board using balance, well. Even under the patient tutelage of an internationally ranked SUP racer. No thanks.

My boss is a persuasive lady though. (“Jen, you have to do this.”) and I like my job. So I went. Turns out, it was great. I fell behind the pack within the first 10 paddlestrokes but I wasn’t terrified. I didn’t cry or anything. Instead, I found myself really enjoying the meditative quality of the quiet, and thinking I might actually do it again sometime. Maybe.


Learning to swing like girls at Predator Ridge.

Now for the real shocker. Golf. We have discussed my athleticism. The fact that we were slated for lessons in a session called “Swing like a Girl” raised my feminist hackles and the absence of eagerness I felt for a morning at the driving range at the lovely course at Predator Ridge was a force to be reckoned with. BUT thanks in no small part to our hilarious and very down to earth instructor, AJ Eathorne, I found myself liking it. Like, REALLY liking it. I’m talking fantasies of Arizona condos on the green kind of liking it. I wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination, but I didn’t get hurt or hurt anyone, and I managed to make contact with the ball a good 65% of the time. That is what we call a near Olympic feat in my nerd circles. For the record, AJ explained that in golf, “Swing like a Girl” means having some finesse to your play, rather than sheer brute force that some of the more testosterone laden of the species use.

So on the last evening in Vernon I found myself alone with my thoughts, having surprised myself with the things I enjoyed.

On the plane home I take a break from the navel gazing to take advantage of the last few moments of grown up quiet and read a book, something I do woefully rarely these days. The author quoted TS Eliot “the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time.”

And I went home happy.


The Quail’s Gate Winery. It’s on the way to airport, in case you are wondering.