Sunday, February 19, 12023 HE
Feel free to skip my preamble ramble and get straight to plog details.
- Hot Take(s)
- Occidental History
- A Tangent on Historiography
- Revisionist Revisiting
- Tangent Two: Ancient Apocalypse
- Fooling George
- Open to The Experience
- Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
- Bitten by the Bug
- Trust the Experts
- Aryan Archaeology
- Back to the River
- Final Thoughts
About the Blueways
I started exploring some of the Surrey Blueways in the summer of 12020 HE. So it is a bit surreal that it has taken nearly three years to get back to the Nicomekl River to tackle Phase III.
The Surrey Blueways are a trio of slow-moving waterways being promoted by the City of Surrey. The three waterways are comprised of sections of the Nicomekl, Serpentine, and Fraser (Sto:lo) Rivers.
For a broad visual overview of the waterways, see this link to a PDF of the Surrey Blueways Map. For more in-depth details see this link to the “Surrey Blueways Volume 1: Recommendations“.
My Past Blueway Travels
Previously, I have paddled on all three of the waterways. For the full accounts see these posts, “Nicomekl River: Phase I“, “Nicomekl River: Phase II“, “Serpentine River Circuit‽“, and “The Fraser River Challenge“.
Specific to the Nicomekl River, the Blueways Master Plan website states that “The Surrey Floating Nature Trail provides an interpretation-based and controlled paddling experience on the lower Nicomekl River, with enhancements to separate paddlers and other boaters from sensitive waterfowl areas and seasons.”
The Blueways Master Plan divides the development of the Nicomekl River portion into three phases. In the summer of 12020 HE, I set out on my inaugural adventure of the Surrey Blueways. I naturally started with Phase I of the Nicomekl as it seemed the most accessible and scenic from the description available. I launched from the Sea Dam at Elgin Road near Nicomekl Portage Park and paddled out to Blackie Spit at Crescent Beach, before returning. A few days later, I paddled Phase II from the Sea Dam to the 40th Avenue bridge with a friend. I had plans to complete Phase III, but other adventures and commitments got in the way. It is the longest section of the river phases and from maps looks like it may have some fairly shallow sections. After my experience with the Serpentine Circuit (or lack thereof), I think I was left more trepidatious about what the third phase of the Nicomekl would have in store.
Dam, Degradation, and a Dearth of Details
Most of the information that I found online pertaining to paddling the Nicomekl was about the first phase. The water in this section is cleaner as it is tidally exchanged via its connection to the open ocean. Inland of the sea dam the water is much more stagnant. The dams were constructed in the early part of the 119th century HE to control land in the flood plain. Despite this, the area flooded in the middle of the 119th century HE, resulting in significant farmland soil degradation from the salt in the ensuing years.
An older account, from 12003 HE, that I found on the Club Tread Forum told of smelly, stagnating waters between 176th Street and the Highway 99 bridge. This is the more stagnant section east of the sea dam as it is not tidally washed (and…gulp (or puke)… the section I was planning to paddle). Unfortunately, the sea dam’s protection of the farmland (yay food security) has resulted in some detrimental changes to the environmental health of the Nicomekl River. Clearing of the natural riparian zone for agricultural, residential, and recreational development has resulted in less shading and thus warmer water temperatures. Coupled with probable higher nitrogen levels from agricultural run-off, the river experiences higher microbial cultures and sometimes lower oxygen levels. Despite these instream habitat environmental stresses, the river still experiences extensive salmon migrations and is home to a wide variety of fish species. The online paddle navigation accounts definitely left me questioning whether I wanted to wade into these waters.
However, knowing that the “Surrey Blueways Volume 1: Recommendations” was published in 12001 HE, and called for changes to the waterways, left me hopeful. Furthermore, while my relatively recent travel on the Phase II section of the river didn’t leave me wanting to swim, it was passable and pleasant enough. It seems things had changed in the 17 years since the 12003 HE post and my 12020 HE encounter. Though make no mistake about it, you’re paddling at the interface of an urban-to-rural setting along slow-moving water aligned with agriculture. It is brown in colour and there was plenty of algal and vegetal growth. But if you know that going in and are confident in the control of your craft, it can be an interesting paddling experience, especially when you consider the history behind the river.
A Brief History of the Nicomekl
According to Wikipedia the word Nicomekl is from the Halq’emeylem used by the Stó:lō people, and means “the route to go” or “the pathway.” Before the 118th century HE, the surrounding area was inhabited by the Snokomish people. Unfortunately, they were largely wiped out by a smallpox epidemic with the surviving tribespeople joining the surrounding Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo peoples. A tragedy that was all too familiar to indigenous populations after the Age of Discovery with both the inadvertent biological transmission and advertent biological warfare that arose in the wake of the Columbian Exchange. As an interesting side, The Rest is History podcast is in the process of releasing a four-part series on Christopher Columbus. Episode one is titled, “306. Columbus: The Adventure Begins,” and is well worth a listen.
Recently a comment/question on my first Nicomekl River post (re)inspired me to complete the third and final phase. “Did [I] manage to ever try the Surrey segment North of 99 or the City of Langley Nicomeckl neighborhood greenway?,” the comment questioned? No, not completely.
Checking out the commentator’s content I connected to a post that touched on the history of the Nicomekl River. The post is a call to commemorate the quickly approaching bicentennial of the 11824 HE revisiting of the lower Fraser Valley for exploration by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The expedition was led by James McMillan and reached the Sto:lo (Fraser River) via the Nicomekl River and the Salmon River after a portage.
The author tactfully acknowledges the difficulties of commemorating this event. Depending on whose history you are part of, the event can either be a formative moment in the burgeoning of bounty for a colonial fur trading outpost at Fort Langley, that would eventually turn to agricultural and forestry when the fur trade lagged. Or the founding of the fort is a harbinger of harder times brought on by massive shifts in cultural and lifestyle practices from traditional hunting and gathering to a new economic system centred on the exchange of furs for European goods. This further disrupted the forebearer when the fur trade faltered and the Hudson’s Bay Company transitioned to other industries, forestry and farming, that further effed the indigenous people by forcing them off of their fatherland. Not to mention the introduction of European diseases to indigenous populations, to which they had no natural immunity. Something many of us are much more familiar with and sympathetic to now that we’ve lived through the experience of the zoonotic introduction of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2) into the human population. Considering our experience was buffered by the modern marvels of science and medicine, imagine the devastation of a new disease in the 11820s HE. Humans at that time had not yet discovered viruses, which were only discovered in the 11890s HE, which was only a few decades after the modern form of ‘germ theory’ came into vogue in the 11860s HE. The first antiviral medication was not in use until the 11960s HE. Despite not knowing what viruses are, humans had developed techniques of inoculation far back. The practice of variolation via nasal insufflation, in which dried powdered smallpox scabs were blown up someone’s nostrils is document as far back as the 115th century HE. If you thought getting a covid jab was bad, just imagine snorting up your best friends dried out smallpox scab. Medicine has come a long way.
Reading the post, I flashed back to paddling down the Sto:lo (Fraser River) on my Fraser River Challenge adventure. Looking at all the markings of Industry along the shoreline and knowing that there was a long history to the river, even if at the time I was mainly only considering the historic accounts relative to the river’s European namesake, left me in reflective contemplation. What stories did the river hold? And could they be brought to mind or told on a voyage down the river I wondered? It was at that moment that the idea of creating a paddling blog (a plog) solidified in my mind. And a more whimsical idea of doing guided urban stand up paddleboard (SUP) tours over historical waterways burgeoned but has since wilted.
The recent dialogue with the commentator nearly brought my contemplations from the Fraser full circle. While on the Sto:lo (Fraser River), the thought of indigenous peoples traversing the waters crossed my mind. But I had been more contemplative of the colonists’ travels in my musings. I’d like to think that my concern for colonizers was a result of seeing the physical manifestations of colonisation, the growth of industry, along with conceptualizing the waterway by its current colonial name, christened after the Canadian campaigner Simon Fraser. But the reality is more likely that it was an unconscious implicit bias that has been fostered by my immersion in Western culture. The benign view being that it is simply an associated externality of my Western culture’s mythological indoctrination. Subconsciously, we put greater value on the achievements of the Occident, as an unintended by-product of informational accessibility and familiarity. Though the malignant view would be that absence of prehistoric peoples in our collective mythology is intentional, part of a nefarious plan to maintain the status quo of present political powers. The reality, in my assessment, is that the truth is somewhere in between these dichotomies. We are all a product of our cultural upbringing and it is often easy to not question the myths of the status quo which ultimately perpetuates the present power structures.
In any case, at the time, I failed to envision a broader picture of the indigenous peoples that would have used both the Sto:lo (Fraser) and the Nicomekl Rivers while on my respective journeys. The Fraser River‘s name in the Halqemeylem (Upriver Halkomelem) language is Sto:lo. But the river has different names for the different tribes that frequented its waters.
Reading the commentator’s post challenged my preconceptions. As I reconsidered the histories of these waterways it became blatantly obvious that they had to have been charted waters before European explorations. It was an obvious truth in hindsight, though I needed it spelled out for me in the article. These waterways would have been traversed extensively by prehistoric peoples who were adept in watercraft transportation. The historic record is replete with reports of European rovers relying heavily on indigenous populations to help them navigate the local lands.
A Tangent on Historiography
As an aside, I think it is worth pointing out some of the preconceptions that language holds. While I know that the strict definition within historiography is that history starts with written records, whereas prehistory is the time before written records, I think the distinction can often be interpreted differently in common speech and in our subconsciouses. For example, the distinction between history and prehistory often assumes a value judgement. That the former is better than the latter. A dualistic oversimplification is often presumed: oral/writing, uncivilized/civilized, subjective/objective. And while I am willing to acknowledge that written records carry some benefits, it is worth noting that they can have cons too. There is an inherent bias to believe written text more than oral accounts as being more accurate reflections of the truth. Yet, we know that written accounts are subject to subjectiveness just as oral accounts are. The writers of written accounts are not miraculously immune to subjective bias. There are many examples in which the written records are not accurate accounts. The Bible, the writings of Herodotus, and the journal of Christopher Columbus are examples that quickly come to mind that are laden with assumptions, inaccuracies, and even blatant fabrications.
I suppose the main advantage of written text is its permanence. Written accounts serve as a more permanent account and the veracity can always be scrutinized at a later time. However, the lag between writing and interpretation always runs the risk of missing the zeitgeist of the time of composition. Whereas, the changing nature of oral accounts affects how accurately we can evaluate them, but gives them the added benefit of staying current with the forever changing times, as they are orated in real-time.
The distinction of “history” came to mind since to me we often have a tacitly assumed undertone that history belongs to Europeans. As if the colonist brought history (in the historiographical sense, not time in general) with them on their arrival. Maybe that’s just me? I know it is not that simple, and in the case of North America, the evidence suggests that there was no written text before European arrival. So in the historiographical sense, Europeans did bring history (i.e., the practice of writing). But I think it is important to acknowledge that rich histories (non-historiographic ones) existed pre-colonial contact.
My revisionist review now envisions the first European explorers relying on indigenous knowledge and guides to navigate the ‘new’ waterways. This a topic that I will need to delve into more to confirm and understand. But I think that collectively, historical revisionism is changing the past orthodox view of the transition in North America from prehistory to history. Needless to say that I am sure that the true history is complicated and rife with competing interests.
Two tangents come to mind. The first is a recent podcast, “The Old Stone Age in the Western Hemisphere,” from CBC Ideas I listened to which questions the common narrative of the first human migration to the Americas. For an excellently written account on the same subject check out this older article in The Atlantic, “A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas,” by Adam Rutherford.
For most of the 120th century HE, the belief was that the first humans came to the Americas over a land bridge through the Bering Strait connecting modern-day Siberia to Alaska around 13,000 years ago, the “Clovis-First Model.” The land bridge was accessible due to receding waters because of greater amounts of global ice. More recent findings have called this hypothesis into question as sites as far south as modern-day Chile, in the Americas, have been dated earlier than the proposed date of the crossing. It is possible that humans may have migrated coastally from Asia or Europe, but a consensus is yet to be achieved (a claim which does not appear to be supported by the available genetic data as highlighted in The Atlantic article by Rutherford). Unfortunately, it seems the evidence has mounted for some time for an earlier crossing, yet the scientific community has been slow to embrace the evidence, with some critics calling concerns of racist prejudice. What is coming to a consensus is that humans inhabited the Americas earlier than believed. Most researchers are suggesting a date of around 25,000 years ago, but some are suggesting much earlier, as long as 130,000 years ago!
The other tangent stems from an insight I came across in the fifth and final episode, “Episode 5: Survival Earth” of the “Catastrophe” documentary series currently available from Naked Science on YouTube. I vaguely recall from Jared Diamond‘s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” that he suggests early humans may have been responsible for the large mammalian mass extinction event that occurred around 13,000 years ago across the Americas. Diamond suggests that humans would have been able to easily kill the large fauna since the animals would not have been accustomed to humans as a species, let alone as predators. But if humans were on the scene much earlier than previously thought, perhaps an alternative hypothesis is in order. One alternative hypothesis, which is dismissed by Diamond in his book, was climate change. Diamond’s argument is that these large mammals had previously survived similar climatic changes, so why would they have died this time, except for the change in human contact. When I read the book, nearly two decades ago, his arguments seemed sound. But in “Catastrophe Episode 5: Survival Earth” they suggest an alternative explanation to the mass extinction, an extraterrestrial impact. Most of us are familiar with a similar hypothesis for the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. The hypothesis of an extraterrestrial impact approximately 12,900 years ago was first proposed in 2007, so Diamond can be forgiven for not considering this in his publication 10 years earlier. Ultimately, this would be an effect of climate change, though of the quick catastrophic type versus a more gradual catastrophe. It is worth noting that there are proponents and opponents of this theory as the evidence is not clear-cut. I am not a geologist, so I cannot speculate on the rock record, but the docuseries has me leaning toward the cosmic catastrophe as the cause of the calamitous collective crucifixion.
Tangent Two: Ancient Apocalypse
Enter the controversial 12022 HE Netflix documentary-style series Ancient Apocalypse. Here is the tagline from Netflix, “Journalist Graham Hancock travels the globe hunting for evidence of mysterious, lost civilizations dating back to the last Ice Age.” I was recommended listening to an interview with Graham Hancock (and Randall Carlson) on the Joe Rogan podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, by a client after our conversation about the CBC Ideas podcast mentioned above. I was initially reluctant to listen for two reasons. First, my client’s recount of the podcast sounded too conspiratorial. Second, while I can acknowledge the appeal of Rogan’s open curiosity to explore a range of topics, often controversial, previous listens to his show have revealed that he often presents erroneous information. Fine for a skeptical and informed audience, but fraught for an audience that is believing and ill-informed. I think that too often this is the case specifically for the topic at hand, and perhaps generally for Rogan’s audience at large.
A good case in point is the two-episode exchange with Rogan and Chris Kresser where they attempt to debunk James Wilks‘ documentary film, The Game Changers. The film promotes plant-based diets in athletes and attempts to dispel misconceptions on the topic with new evidence. I watched The Game Changers and was fascinated by the evidence put forth as I was still steeped in the lore of Frances Moore Lappé‘s 11971 HE bestselling book “Diet for a Small Planet,” which I read in young adulthood. Lappé introduces and promotes the method of combining proteins in real-time (meal-time if you will) in order to achieve a more meat-like protein profile. The method was popular at the time and used to combat skepticism about the ability of a vegetarian diet to supply sufficient dietary protein. It is now known that combining proteins in a meal is an unnecessary practice as you can accumulate all your amino acids throughout your entire diet. But for many, the dietary lore took hold in our collective nutritional imaginations and vegetarian diets were deemed inferior. Especially in the hyper-masculine sports nutrition world. Wilks strives to debunk some of our nutritional lore with newer evidence in the film and it is well worth a watch.
After watching The Game Changers, I later listened to Rogan and Kresser’s debunking of the film. I was vaguely familiar with Chris Kresser at the time and came away convinced by some of their arguments, mostly because previous content I had seen from Kresser seemed sound. Enough time had passed between watching The Game Changers and listening to the podcast that I didn’t realize that they were misrepresenting what was actually said in the film. And, I didn’t have any specific reason to think that he or Rogan would be motivated to maliciously misconstrue the content or egregiously error. It’s open to debate which of the two was at play. Thankfully, Rogan did a follow-up episode in which Wilks was invited onto the show to defend and debate Kresser. To me, the victory was clear cut, with Wilks setting the record straight and highlighting that Kresser (and perhaps Rogan) either intentionally misrepresented or were too vested in their own beliefs and simply confirmed their own biases with their interpretations of the film. I got the sense that Rogan was willing to concede the victory at the end of the episode leaving Kresser culpable for leading him astray. In any case, this particular debacle, along with other controversial content has left me deeply skeptical of Rogan’s show. Additionally, I find the episodes too long.
Open to The Experience
But, I decided to check my biases and give the episode a listen. I was on board with the initial ideas presented. That our archaeological record may be older than previously believed. Check. The shift in timelines echoed the CBC Ideas episode, “The Old Stone Age in the Western Hemisphere.” I also was open to the potential that the Younger Dryas‘ cooling period may have ended due to an extraterrestrial impact event. Check. This was in line with the “Catastrophe Episode 5: Survival Earth.” But, when Hancock branched off into speculation that the common hallucinatory (cough, sorry entheogenic) experiences with psilocybin mushrooms, N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and other psychedelics of humans seeing fairies and elves in antiquity and the middle ages as possibly being an access portal to an alternate reality in which they then, and we now, might be connecting with extraterrestrials, I had to stop listening. I am not saying Hancock’s contention is impossible, but it is highly improbable. The contention is worthy of calling “ECREE”, to borrow the neologism popularised by the late science communicator Carl Sagan. ECREE, the so-called Sagan standard, is an abbreviation for the aphorism that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence
I struggle to believe that we could be living in a world where we have technological marvels like the atomic clock, interferometer, and mass spectrometer yet are incapable of detecting this alternate reality with our “natural” senses unless aided by the magic of mushrooms or other psychedelics. That this alternate reality would be a true manifestation of the physical world imperceptible to sophisticated scientific instrumentation was too out there for me. A much more likely explanation for hallucinatory humanoid shapes while under the influence of magic mushrooms and DMT would be that as larger humanoids we are evolutionarily adapted to visualize anthropomorphic forms. In fact, medical conditions with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic visual hallucinations are well documented in medical literature, for example in Parkinson’s Disease and Charles Bonnet Syndrome. I will remain skeptical until there is extraordinary evidence to explain such extraordinary claims that cannot be more easily explained with common medical knowledge. Though the role of fungi in the story of life (and possibly the evolution of humans) is now understood to play a much more central part. For a great account check out the episode “What Was The First Fungus?” below from the History of the Earth Youtube channel (the entire series is a slow slog but highly interesting). The use of psychedelics in human history has likely had a profound effect on our collective cognition and philosophy as is evidenced by archaeological and religious records. An extreme hypothesis is the so-called “stoned ape theory” which argues that the radical acceleration in human brain development some 2,000,000 to 500,000 years ago may have been precipitated by the use of the psychedelic psilocybin. The evidence for such a claim is absent and is nowhere near the scientific consensus. But could it play a factor? The idea is being entertained, but in the interim know that ECREE.
Bitten by the Bug
Fast forward to a fall flight to Hawaii where I decided to give Ancient Apocalypse a try. And, low and behold I was hooked! Unfortunately, I had only downloaded the first episode for the flight by accident so I had to wait to watch more episodes until we landed. After which, I binge watched the series over our holiday. And if I am honest, I was taken by some of the arguments put forth. The series is captivating to be sure. Who doesn’t want to believe that maybe the ancient flood story pervasive to so many cultures isn’t just a myth and perhaps was a global catastrophic event that coincided with the end of the last ice age and rising sea levels? That part is quite plausible in my opinion and doesn’t necessitate the addition of a historically interconnected culture as Hancock contends. If global sea levels were to rise it seems plausible that many cultures would experience floods. Or an even simpler explanation could be that floods happen frequently, and when they do they are devastating so cultures would tend to create stories around them. Thankfully, my skepticism stepped in as I found it odd that Hancock was so dismissive of mainstream expertise in archaeology. A red flag in my opinion, or at least a yellow card. Some quick internet sleuthing revealed that mainstream science/archaeology was just as dismissive of Hancock, often labelling him as a pseudoarchaeologist.
I acknowledge that experts are not infallible. History is full of lessons where the experts have errored. The story of Alfred Wegener and the evolution of the theory of plate tectonics comes to mind. Even closer to this account, is the case of J Harlen Bretz and his theory of the Missoula Floods, which went from “an outrageous hypothesis” to the currently accepted explanation for the formation of the Channeled Scablands. More on this later in relation to Ancient Apocalypse. While these stories can be seen as examples of when science went wrong since initially both Wegener and Bretz’s hypotheses were rejected by their expert contemporaries. The alternate view would be that science came to win the day since eventually, the scientific consensus shifted and these theories, which we presently hold to be true today, ultimately came to prominence.
While I do think it is important to hold scientists and experts to account and remain skeptical, it is dubious to dismiss expertise full-scale. And this was the feeling I was getting from Hancock. My spidey sense/bullshit meter was tweaked. After watching Hancock’s one-sided arguments in Ancient Apocalypse I was left wondering what is the other side of the story. For all the arguments that he raises, that at times seemed sound, why is it that the other side of the argument, his so-called experts, sentiments are not swayed. What do the experts know that we laypeople lack in our understanding. As it would happen there are a whole host of reasons.
Trust the Experts
Surprise, surprise, I wasn’t the only one asking these same questions. Thankfully, I stumbled upon an excellent blog called, ArcheoThoughts. The blog is written by an archaeologist who does an episode-by-episode critique of the showing calling to question some of the claims. As I later found out from this article, “‘Ancient Apocalypse’ is more fiction than fact, say experts,” the author of the blog, André Costopoulos, is a professor at the University of Alberta. Here is the link to his first post critiquing the series, “Buckle up, Graham Hancock has a new pseudoarchaeology series on Netflix,” if you are interested. What I enjoyed most about the posts, was that Costopoulos does not discount Hancock full-scale. Rather, Costopoulos highlights that often in archaeology there is no way of truly knowing, “It is a fact that everything we claim to know about the past is probably not quite true.” So asking the ‘what if‘ type questions that Hancock postulates in Ancient Apocalypse sets up a sort of strawman scenario. Costopoulos highlights how the series plays with, conflates even, possible with probable. The two are distinctly different. What is possible is much more expansive than what is probable. And in archaeology, (as in any other scientific discipline) for possible to become probable, requires a body of evidence.
Episode after episode, Costopoulos points out that much of the evidence to support Hancock’s claims is absent. And while the antimetabole aphorism that an absence of evidence is not evidence of absence comes to mind, so too does the inaccurate paraphrasing of Ockham’s razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. A more accurate account of William of Ockham‘s philosophy recommends preference of the prediction that presumes the least when presented with opposing propositions.
A case in point from Ancient Apocalypse is the Bimini Road. Hancock’s presentation of the structure in Episode 4, “Ghosts of a Drowned World,” easily leaves one believing that it must be anthropogenic in origin. The facile argument that nature doesn’t make 90-degree angles is highlighted. But the anthropogenic origin, despite the facile trope toward nature, requires more assumptions than a simpler solution that perhaps nature does make 90-degree angles, and the road does not require a human hand. As Costopoulos points out in his blog, nature does in fact make 90-degree angles among other complex shapes. I would also point out that we humans are part of nature, to the extent that we are part of the universe, but that argument gets slightly tautological. More convincing than arguing the inclusion/exclusion criteria of what constitutes nature is the fact that Bimini Rock is not the only structure of this type and 90-degree rock fracture angles have been experimentally observed. Not to mention the lack of surrounding artifacts that would be indicative of road-creating civilization, again noted by Costopoulos. In this context, it seems more likely that the simpler explanation requiring the least assumptions is the most plausible. That doesn’t mean Hancock is wrong, we just don’t have probable evidence to believe him.
Back to the Scablands
The Channeled Scablands come up in Episode 8 of Ancient Apocalypse, “Cataclysm and Rebirth.” Strangely an interesting irony arises as the full story behind the Channeled Scablands serves as an example of the kind of seismic shift in a research field that Hancock alleges archaeology lacks. Again, Costopoulos comments on this fact in his critique of the episode, “Ancient Apocalypse archaeology update 7: How apocalyptic was the Younger Dryas?” To be fair, I do think that Hancock highlights archaeology specifically as resistant to change, and the example of Bretz and the Channeled Scablands is within the field of geology. Though I would suggest that scientific disciplines are interrelated and changes in one, in this case, geological epistemology, affects the enterprise as an entirety, archaeology included.
I will also acknowledge my bias or stake in the game here too. As mentioned, prior to watching the Ancient Apocalypse series I was already familiar with the Younger Dryas impact hypothesis from “Catastrophe Episode 5: Survival Earth.” Costopoulos points out that the asteroids need not have been a factor in the ensuing catastrophes at the end of the last ice age. While I am a fan of the impact hypothesis, I am open to letting the experts explain the evidence and reveal the most probable possibility. Which at this point, is still open to debate and the accumulation of evidence.
The last bit of my tangent ties in something that I found curiously coincidental. The use of the catchphrase “What are the odds?” likely isn’t warranted since, apparently, the odds were good enough. As noted in Julie Beck‘s article on coincidences, she quotes the statistician David Hand‘s remark that “Extremely improbable events are commonplace.” So, when several different threads came together seemingly in coincidence I was correct to not be surprised.
The first piece of interest was the charge that I came across looking up the background on Graham Hancock. While I have not read any of Hancock’s past books I came across references suggesting that Hancock has endorsed racist theories. Essentially, the charge is that his past suggestions (and arguably present ones) promote the idea that indigenous populations could not have created their megalithic structures without the aid of superior people or aliens, the former of which is depicted as light-skinned. The allegation is that these ideas perpetuate myths of the primitiveness of indigenous populations and white supremacy. The controversy is current as an open letter from the Society for American Archaeology was written accusing Hancock of disparaging remarks against archaeologists and the series’ alignment with racist theories of the past. I came across these accusations shortly after viewing the program, and while I do acknowledge the tacit affirmation of white supremacy I didn’t pay much attention to it.
A Plethora of Podcasts
Then enter coincident number two. I came across the BBC‘s podcast, Bad Blood: The Story of Eugenics, through their program Discovery. Bad Blood traces the history of eugenics, a story that cannot be told without a foray into Nazism. Though as the six-episode series reveals the Nazis were heavily influenced by American ideas regarding racism and eugenics at the time, which in turn were a by-product of general cultural trends including the popularization of recent scientific theories and discoveries.
Coincidence number three continued on the Nazi theme. In January, the podcast The Rest is History released a four-part series on the Nazis and their rise to power. The series is far-reaching but simultaneously condensed and briefly touched on the Nazi obsession with archaeology. So I was primed for the topic when another podcast that I listen to, Throughline, released their episode, “The Whiteness Myth,” in February. For a written account Nazis’ obsession with searching for the lost city of Atlantis check out this Big Think article, “Why the Nazis were obsessed with finding the lost city of Atlantis.” The Throughline podcast was coincidence number four. The episode highlights how the British philologist Sir William Jones revived the Indo-European language hypothesis (at the time referred to as Indo-Aryan languages). More recently this hypothesis has been corroborated with DNA analysis (archaeogenetics) assessing the expansion of the Yamnaya peoples who were believed to be responsible for the spread of Proto-Indo-European language. Unfortunately, as the podcast highlights, Jones’ work pointing towards a common Aryan, the Sanskrit word for “noble”, origin of this branch of the Eurasian language tree was coopted by the racist ideologies of the time (e.g., phrenology, social Darwinism, antisemitism, Nazism) to bolster scientific racism and the myth of white supremacy. Aryanism was misused to come to represent an ancient tribe of noble light-skinned peoples to which modern Germanic people could trace their heritage. If you have travelled to India, or are familiar with Indian religious symbols, then you are likely familiar with how the Swastika was appropriated by the Nazis in an attempt to bolster the connection of Aryanism to Nazism.
Biology vs. Sociology
We now know that race is a more modern social construct. A sort of mental heuristic to make categorizing humans simple. Scientifically speaking, there is no biological definition of race. Unfortunately, the term is linked to a complex history of a power-based enterprise of European colonisation brokered to justify the subjugation of non-European populations. The enslavement and subjugation of peoples were nothing new, humans had done that for millennia before. However, the colonial era and scientific racism created a new dynamic under which those practices were employed. From what we can tell, ancient peoples did not have conceptions of “race” differentiating populations along such phenotypical distinctions. Ironically, modern DNA evidence suggests that the people to which the misguided conception of the original Aryans is attributed were most likely brown-eyed, brown-haired, and light to intermediate in skin tone. Not the blue-eyed and blonde-haired hominids of Aryanism lore.
The final culminating coincidence was that the CBC Ideas program released an episode titled, “Atlantis and the Apocalypse: The World of Pseudo-Archaeology.” An episode inspired by the recent popularity of Ancient Apocalypse and an attempt to abrogate the awry account. Specifically, the episode retraces how Plato‘s allegory of the mythical city of Atlantis was transformed over time to be misinterpreted as a historical account by 119th-century HE amateur American scholars, most notably (pun intended) Ignatius L. Donnelly. Donnelly repopularised the idea of Atlantis as a lost city and the origin of the mythical Aryan race. While I haven’t read his works the summaries available online and in the podcast bear striking resemblances to the ideas put forth by Hancock. Hmmm…
Bringing this all back to what originally brought me to Ancient Apocalypse is the idea that perhaps some ancient tribes are older than we know. It is a titillating possibility and one that I am open to believing. The idea was actively rolling around in my head as I paddled through a piece of history in the Nicomekl River. But I will hold my arousal on the possibility until the probability is more pro-found.
See the addendum below for additional details.
Back to the River
Online searches for more recent information about paddling the Nicomekl River in preparation for Phase III revealed that not much seems to have changed in the past few years. There are some updates to the Surrey Blueways site, but aside from that, I couldn’t garner much more information about the Nicomekl. From my paddle on the Phase II section, I knew that there was a potential launch site near the 40th Avenue bridge. The updated Blueways Master Plan site highlights this launch spot but notes that there is no dedicated parking or loading zone. Searching Google Maps Satellite and Google Earth revealed a trail that looked easily accessible from the suggested parking area. I later found the image/information below on the City of Surrey website.
Thus, for Phase III of the Nicomekl River, my plan was to paddle from the bridge at 40th Avenue to the bridge at 184th Street. Below is the float plan I created in planning for the trip. I use float plans for safety and general trip planning. I find creating an itemized itinerary helpful for estimating a timeline for my routes.
Detailed Float Plan
SUP FLOAT PLAN: Nicomekl Phase III (Round-trip)
DATE: Sunday, February 19, 2023
ROUTE: Nicomekl River (40th Avenue to 184th Street)
VESSEL: Teal Blackfin Model XL iSUP
EST. DEP. From 40th Avenue: 0645
EST. ARR. @ 184th Street: 0845
EST. DEP. From 184th Street: 0850
EST. ARR. @ 40th Avenue: 1050
Water Levels (Nicomekl River at 203 Langley)
•Forecast: see Windy App
•southwesterly to southeasterly (SSW to SSE) 3-6 kt (7-10 kt wind gusts)
•Air: 4-6° C
•Water: 6.5-10.5° C
•0714 – 1739
•0641 – 0714
•0604 – 0641
Drive Distance ~42 km (one-way)
Drive Time ~35 min
Walk Distance ~350 m (one-way)
Walk time ~5 min
Paddle Distance ~18 km (round-trip)
Paddle Time ~4 hrs
TRAVELLERS: 1 (Mon Jef Peeters)
VEHICLE: Evo Car Share
0535 🚗 ↗️ Home
0610 🚗 ↘️ 155th Street
0610 ⚙️ ⏸️ 155th Street
0625🚶🏾♂️↔️ Nicomekl River
0645 🏄🏽♂️ ↗️ Nicomekl River (9 km)
0845 🏄🏽♂️ ↩️ Nicomekl River
1050 🏄🏽♂️ ↘️ Nicomekl River (9 km)
1055🚶🏾♂️↔️ Nicomekl River
1110 ⚙️ ⏸️ 155th Street
1115 🚗 ↗️ Nicomekl R.
1150 🚗 ↘️ Home
Weather and Water Levels
I woke early, just after 0500 hours. Knowing I wouldn’t fall back asleep I decided to start out. I quickly re-checked the weather forecast on Windy.com and river water levels. The water levels were higher this morning than they had been in the last few days which I was happy to see. I knew I would be leaving in the dark and even during the day, the water would be too dark to see underneath the surface. I would be crossing underneath several bridges where I was worried I might catch a fin on an old piling. I’d take all the clearance I could get.
The drive in the early morning darkness was peaceful. There were few people on the roads during the weekend pre-twilight. I arrived at the recommended parking area with no issues. My only concern was that pumping up my board would be too noisy in the dead calm of the morning. I wondered what any resident stumbling upon me might think as I prepared my kit. And only more so as I walked through the residential walkways that lead to the riverside trail carrying my SUP and dressed in a semi-dry suit. The dry suit was likely overkill as I had no intention of falling into the water. But intentions don’t always equal outcomes.
Underneath my Kokatat Endurance semi-dry suit I was wearing Icebreaker merino wool leggings and an Icebreaker top, Darn Tough wool socks, and SAXX underwear (I like my bits to be secure underneath leggings, particularly if I am also in a one-piece dry suit). I would likely run hot, but I suspected that I would be paddling at a slower pace through the unknown waters. I figured that a little extra warmth would not be a bad thing. I was riding my Blackfin Model XL inflatable SUP (12020 HE model). I was also wearing an Onyx inflatable waistpack PFD, Arc’teryx wool toque, a Black Diamond Storm 400 Headlamp, a Seal Line Seal Pak® Hip Pack, and NRS Freestyle Wetshoes. Inside the hip pack, I had my cell phone attached to a floating lanyard, electricians and duct tape (for emergency repairs) in a ziplock bag, and my NRS Hydroskin gloves. I also had a 20-litre MEC drybag with a water bottle inside and was using my BlackProject Adjustable Lava paddle.
The headlamp came in handy as I left the street and home sensor lights of suburbia to navigate the dark path to my intended launch site. The morning fog made the visibility slightly challenging on the trail as the light of my headlamp refracted and reflected off of the water droplets diminishing the distance of my depth of view. Though I was happy with the fog over the forecasted rain as previously predicted in the long-term. From the high embankment, I could see the river below with the 40th Avenue bridge in view. I was getting close to my launch spot.
Without the light of my headlamp, the riverbank was dark and daunting. I approached the river cautiously.
The view downriver revealed the green glow of a farm yard’s lights and the 152nd Street bridge in the distance.
Upriver was the silhouetted 40th Avenue bridge. I could hardly see the water in the morning twilight. Perhaps for the better, I thought.
Purple Pink Periwink
I stepped into the river and put my board in. The drop-off was steep enough for my fin to easily clear so I stepped up onto my board and was off. The twilight was enough that I no longer needed my headlamp. Especially since I didn’t anticipate encountering any other boat traffic.
Rounding the first (of many) horseshoe bend of my journey the twilight sky had me captivated. There was a mix of blue hues with hints of purple and pink. Fuschia mixed with periwinkle. Fuchsiwinkle. I used the night mode on my cell phone to capture an image in the dim light. There was a bit of wind coming from the east as I meandered through my first full 180-degree change in direction.
The water flattened as soon as I reached the east embankment that blocked the easterly wind flow. The riverbanks of the Nicomekl are high, preventing you from seeing out of the river channel. Not that there would have been much to see in the morning twilight. I wondered how much of the channel was carved by the natural erosion processes and how much of the bank had been built up to protect the farmlands from floods. The winding nature of the river reminded me of paddling on the River of Golden Dreams in Whistler and reading a children’s book about the formation of rivers and their bends. Here is another take on rivers, from The Guardian, on how humans have changed them from their natural form. I couldn’t help but wonder about the “natural” state of the Nicomekl without human intervention as I navigated its contours.
There were breaks of blue sky to the east and I eagerly anticipated sunrise as I weaved my way through the winding waters.
Pump(ing) Station Pass
I spotted a light in the distance and watched it approach as I slowly advanced. Was there a vehicle on the shoreline? The light looked like it could be a headlight for a moment. As it came into view I could see what would be the first artificial disruption to the calm waters. A pump station was pushing out water. I wondered how turbulent things would get as I made my approach.
As luck would have it the station wasn’t spewing waste, waves, or wafting odors. I passed without incident. The waters were glassy, mirror-like, reflecting the morning blues, creating a sublime duality of reality and reflection. Both in the literal and the figurative. I wondered how much the landscape had changed and how many people of the past had traversed these waters. The lone trees adorned along the bank left me wondering whether the prehistoric landscape of the littoral would have been forested? Or would the littoral land have been bare? It turns out it would have been a “well wooded” shore as I suspected, according to the Wikipedia entry.
I then spotted what I thought were yellow school buses in the distance along the shore. I wondered if perhaps there could be a sort of kid’s camp located out on the farmland. As I approach the Blue Bird bus logo became unmistakable. I realized that there were what looked like three decommissioned mini-buses parked along the bank. From what I could see, the backs of the buses had been removed and they had been transformed into a sort of flatbed hauler. Not a bad second life for a bus I suppose.
I approached the second bridge of my journey at 168th Street. While approaching I was musing in my mind about the surprising beauty of the paddle and how much I love paddling in the early morning when I was wrenched from daydreaming by a flagrant whiff of manure. So much for the natural beauty of it all. Though in some sense perhaps it was fitting as it was a full assault on my senses, sights, sounds, somatic, and smells. Just not the sort of smells that my heart sought to compel.
I learned later when examining my route on the map that there is a dog kennel in the area. I distinctly recall hearing the yelps and howls of canines around this time. Though I could be wrong about where exactly I picked up the foul fecal fragrance.
As the daylight broke the sunrise was less spectacular than I had imagined after the fanciful fuchsiwinkle forenoon. The riparian banks were mostly lined with grass along with scattered invasive Himalayan Blackberry brambles. Thankfully, I didn’t find that there was a lot of pollution from a domestic throw-away perspective. There were scattered bottles and plastics but they were not arresting to my attention.
Next, around a bend I was surprised to see the dock in the image below. At first sight, it looked like a city gangway to a dock. I was mistakenly under the impression that there was a dyke path that ran the full length of the river. Perhaps somewhere in my past Surrey Blueways searches I would have come across a Greenways Plan proposing a parallel pathway (as I found this one after the fact). It seems there was at least the suggestion of having some Greenway alongside the Nicomekl. Revisiting the Blueways Plan as I write this reveals that the pump stations were being considered as potential launch sites as they would already have the waterside infrastructure.
In any case, as I approached the dock, it became clear that it was a pump station rather than a public dock. And the apparatus appeared capable of raising or lowering the outlet pipe. A scary thought as the cautionary signs warned that the station could start without warning. I passed by quickly not wanting to risk a waste water wetting.
I continued to wind my path through calm and at times windy sections of the river depending on the direction of travel.
I reached the next bridge, checking my phone to confirm that it was the 176th Street bridge and determine the remaining distance to my destination. On the map, I noticed that there was a fork in the river just east of the 184th Street bridge. I decided that I would paddle past the bridge to the fork to check out what Armstrong Creek looked like before turning for my returning.
The 176th Street bridge was a much more industrious and modern-looking construction. There are potential launch spots here too if one were keen. Either contending with launching from the lubricious (in the slippery sense) riverbank or better from beneath the barren bridge for a more oblate and certain surface.
Going under the bridge I grazed my fin on what must have been an old piling. I was just left of the centre in the middle channel. Thankfully, it was just a scrape and I hardly even noticed. I wasn’t even sure that I had made contact with something. It was only when returning when my paddle glanced off the same structure that I was sure I had hit something.
Oak Tree Beaver-rat
Fun random facts, “Elon” in Hebrew means “oak tree“. And beavers are quite similar to muskrats…
A trucker spotted me on the other side of the bridge, honking and waving in encouragement. I was beginning to fade a bit at this point so it was well-timed. The paddle is not super scenic and I felt I had seen all there was to see. More winding waterways were waning in wonderment. As I continued on, the thought of the return paddle made me consider turning around early. Luckily, I came across this creature to liven things up.
My first thought was that it was a beaver. But as I paddled on I reconsidered. I hadn’t seen any signs of dam structures. So I thought, maybe it was a muskrat? Do muskrats make dams? Post-paddle, after searching for the differences between beavers and muskrats and rewatching the video, I initially thought that perhaps it was a muskrat. The tail slap didn’t seem all that deafening to me. But after a few more slow-motion zoomed-in reviews, I decided it was, in fact, a beaver. The stout stub, significant surface slap, and submerged swimming style all signaling the scoop on my sleuthing.
The beaver sighting was a historical tie-in that made the paddle all the more interesting. During the 12022 HE World Cup, The Rest is History podcast did an episode on each of the qualifying nations. The episode about Canada was titled “285. Canada: Beaver Wars.” Knowing that fur trading, particularly beaver pelts, played a key role in the colonial era European usage of the Nicomekl made the encounter all the more special. Though also unsettling when considering how humans ravaged beavers for their furs and other assets (pardon the pun). Castoreum is the yellowish exudate that comes from the castor sacs, located near the rear of beavers, that became a multipurpose commodity for humans. Knowing this leaves you reconsidering things like castor oil and vanilla aromas which are strangely analogous if you catch my pun. Recharged by the rodent rendezvous I refocused on my route with renewed rigor.
Under the Rope
A few more bends past the beaver sighting I came to another interesting obstacle. Another pump station, where Erickson Creek drains into the Nicomekl. This station was a bit more interesting. Along the north bank of the river, there was a pipe connected to a floating dock situated about one-third of the width of the river offshore. From the Google Maps satellite view, you can see that it is the outflow for an irrigation ditch. On the south side of the Nicomekl is a series of scary-looking chutes that are the outflow for Erickson Creek. There was a rope strung from the railing of the Erickson Creek chute slung across to the floating ditch dock outflow pipe.
I studied my options. Then decided I could swiftly traverse through closer to the Erickson Creek chute side where the rope rose out of the water to attach to the rail. As long as the chutes didn’t spontaneously open I would be fine. I manage to make it through unscathed.
A little while later in the narrowing river I noticed more brambles along the riparian embankment. I wondered if underneath the shoreline brambles maybe there was a concealed beaver dam. Though perhaps, with no rushing water sounds there was no compulsion for beavers in this water to build a dam? For a fun BBC Science Focus on beavers from a United Kingdom perspective, check out this link.
End of the Road
The 184th Street bridge came into view. Nearly there, I thought.
I crossed under without incident only to discover that the waterway was blocked. Perhaps it was one of my furry rodent friends’ handiwork at play. A fallen tree lay across the waterway blocking any further passage. I suppose you could clamber over or portage around if desired. I didn’t feel the need to test my luck with either. I took the blocked passage as a sign that it was time to turn around.
I took a pseudo-panoramic view of the end of the road before turning to return.
Starting the return route I could feel the slight difference in the current. It felt just a little easier paddling downriver. Though, it may have just been the wind rather than the current, as the ease of paddling seemed to be shortlived. Though most of the way back the riparian grass was swept in the downriver direction the ease of paddle seemed to be countered by the breeze of wind.
With the overcast skies, the only main blue hue remaining was my board.
For the most part, the wind was at my back. Though there were a few sections where the headwinds felt unfairly fierce. A by-product of the multi-directional natural river course.
I spotted a canine on the shore. I wasn’t sure if it was a coyote or fox, so maybe canidae is the better term. I think it was a fox, but I really have no basis for that claim. Other than it looked small onshore. See if you can spot it in the image below. If not, you can scroll to see a zoomed-in version. Funnily, on my first paddle of the Nicomekl River, I spotted a canine on the shore too, so it was a fun vixen flashback.
Back to the Beaver
I ran into the river rodent again on my return. Though this time it disappeared into the water without a tail slap.
Just after crossing underneath the 168th Street bridge, I could see the city skyline of South Surrey in the distance.
And I couldn’t resist recapturing the Blue Bird buses in the better light. Though I still kept my distance to not look like a total creep, since now it was more likely that the farmhands/owners would be out and about.
The sights remained the same. Now I just had more daylight to see the water and shoreline. But there wasn’t a tonne to capture my attention. Just a peaceful paddle down a stark stream.
Pump Station 2.0
Below is a better view of the west pump station in full light. The water was churning but it was fine to cross.
Back to the Bridge
Rounding the final few bends, the 40th Avenue bridge was back in sight.
As I approached a cyclist was riding past overhead. Surprisingly it was the first non-motorist human I had seen all morning. Below is the view westward toward the 152nd Street bridge in daylight.
And one last look at the 40th Avenue bridge from the water.
I landed and made my way up to the riverside trail. Then it was a short SUPortage back to my Evo Car Share before heading back home.
And a link to an Instagram Reel of my route created on Relive from the Geo Tracker data. If the video below doesn’t work, here is a link to the video on Relive’s site.
It was a long time coming, but I finally finished the Nicomekl Phase III. Purely as a paddle, there are more scenic and serene paddles out there for sure. My motivation to paddle the third section was mainly to finish what I started. Though, the history of the river added to the allure to be sure. The conditions were better than anticipated and I suspect that is a result of the season. My advice would be to try to paddle the river outside of the summer. More water, less run-off, fewer algae, and my guess… less odor. Just make sure to dress for the occasion.
After posting my post these episodes were released by the fellas at The Rest is History podcast, Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. For a more in-depth account that goes into intricate historical detail about a more plausible origin of the legend of Atlantis check out episodes “314. Atlantis: The Legend” and “315. Atlantis: Legacy of the Lost Empire.”
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