Last night I had a dream inspired by the arrival of my Yukon River map book from Yukon Books in Whitehorse. It is a surprise to me that my sleep has not been invaded more frequently by river paddling themed dreams as the clock is not ticking away month by month towards a nutty adventure of paddling my wooden kayak in the Yukon River Quest. It is a constant in the back of my mind these days and an hour or so browsing the many pages of river map between Whitehorse and Dawson City, the terminus of the marathon must have implanted a nugget. The dream however, was abstract and for some reason the Yukon River was sucked nearly dry. Much of the paddling I did in the dream was replaced with dragging my kayak behind me as I waded over smooth round and rather slippery river stones. At one point, for reasons I can’t recall I was sent back to the beginning to restart as some sort of penalty.
I am no stranger to strange dreamscapes in my head as I sleep. Nor am I likely to ever escape those pesky anxiety dreams. I class last night’s river musings in that category and moved on with my day. This race is unlike anything I have paddled before. I am not a racer, nor a marathon junkie looking to suffer for the fun of it. It is a milestone adventure and one I will take on as best I can. There are bound to be dreams such as these in the coming months. And a few sleepless nights as well I am sure. You can train and get stronger for an endurance level of paddling. It is another thing all together to train a mental attitude in such a way that all that matters is the finishing.
Another likely contributor was my hour or so on the lake last evening. Only the second such outing with my latest addition to the gear closet, a hand carved western red cedar Greenland style paddle. When it arrived on my doorstep and pulling it from the bubblepack, it was love at first sight and last night on the lake things between myself and the paddle began to click. As this paddle will be, I hope my secret weapon against the fatigue and joint strain that paddling a mere 715 kms might incur. I wanted to avoid that let-down feeling if things did not click and just let it loose.
The second hour-long session was much more revealing and I am becoming accustomed to its need to dive upon each catch. A slightly disconcerting sensation at first stroke, which is something I am getting used to. My speed is better as well and can only improve with better technique. I still have time. It is exciting to me to relive the learning curve of kayaking and this paddle is teaching me a few things. I just hope that one of them is how to avoid being sent back to the start line!
Seen here on a log at my lovely beachside camp near Port Renfrew BC is my water bottle. “Life is Crap” makes me laugh as a touch of outdoorsy snark in the face that no matter where I am with my kayak, it is anything but crappy. That said, today I would like to mention something we take for granted, as the news from Detroit worsens and the memory of not having running water at home for a time still fresh as a mountain stream to my mind.
It is suddenly summer here after a noncommittal beginning and long spring. The heat and humidity of the past week has been a challenge. A morning paddle the other day began with the idea that if I got out on the water early enough I could beat the heat. How wrong I was as it met me clearly as I unloaded the kayak and gear. My only saviour was my Life is Crap buddy who along with two more one litre bottles of water rolled around between my legs as I paddled against the tide for an hour in the heat.
We tend to forget about it. I get lazy with taking in enough water while kayaking. I towed a paddle boarder home to shore once after she ran out of gas on a late summer evening that was too warm not to remember water. She had none! I gave her the last of mine, hooked her up and dragged her across to safety. I am waiting for a new drinking tube kit to attach to the dromedary bag I keep filled with fresh water behind my seat. This removed the issue of cumbersome water bottles and sipping sun-heated liquid from the bottle on the deck and I am more likely to sip on the fly instead of stopping to take in water.
My outdoorsy tip for this week which will be closing in on the 30 celsius out here in the rain belt is the bring more water than you think you will need. Likely, you will want it. Stay hydrated, stay cool. Try not to paddle during the peek heat hours of the day. Dunk your sun hat in the water to cool your head and remember to drink, sipping small amounts every half hour or so and your life will remain heat stroke and crap free.
I have a year! There is no turning back now, the team is coming together. The kayak is kited out, and fitted out, and tweaked to perfection in preparation of something I have been pondering as a kayaking trip for a few years, the Yukon River Quest. All that is left to do is get myself into racing shape. Yikes!
When did this madness begin?
In 2011, I was part of a support crew for a tandem kayaking team entered in that marathon paddle event starting in Whitehorse at the blowing of the paddlewheeler SS Klondike’s horn and ending, for most paddlers a few days later in the historical gold rush township of Dawson City some 715 km later. Our team scratched at the midway rest stop at Carmacks due to injury, but by that point I had the bug. The combined comeraderie among the teams, support crews and race volunteers created a community of like-minded nutters with a common goal, to get that boat and paddler to the finishline before the cut-off time.
By Dawson, the tremedous explosion of paddles and boats that left the riverside at Whitehorse became a trickling of pooped but elated paddlers arriving one at a time to the finishline greeted one and all by the crowds watching on shore and loved ones. How awesome it would feel to land there after kayaking both day and night virtually non-stop and earning a place in that club, the club of nutters willing to endure long hours in the seat, cold, sleep depravation induced halucinations and fatigue just to get to the gold rush after the bars close.To finish is the goal and for now I am not concerning myself about my personal best time, just to have a good time just me and my kayak and many hours to consider all those things left at home.
The consoling thought when I lay awake doubting my sanity at this decision is that while I am fighting the sleepiness and sore muscles at 3am someplace between Whitehorse and that first rest stop 300+ kms away at Carmacks is I won’t have to do the dishes!
In four days one of the longest, toughest paddling marathons begins. The Yukon River Quest draws the lunatics of paddling together for a 700km+ *about 444 miles* up the winding river from Whitehourse to the Gold Rush Mecca of Dawson City for more than two full days of non-stop kayaking or canoeing. I was up there in 2011 assisting as support crew for tow friends attempting the task. Sadly, the mission ended at the mid-way point of Carmacks due to injury. Being support for a team was truly difficult. Managing logistics, food, kayak, tents, and then there was personalities…need I say more? By the end of the week I realized that it was possibly easier to paddler the race than to support a team. Erase all of the above responsibilities and all that is left is “just keep paddling”.
A couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and ordered a rudder system for my kayak. I had paddle for nearly a decade in this Pygmy Coho, which I cannot say enough about as far as it’s over all performance and comfort. It tracks like a dream, so why add a rudder? Two reasons, I am a photographer and steadying a kayak while attempting to shoot is next to impossible, two, I am tired of working out so hard to ferry against the elements, and sure there are really three reasons. Somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of running the YRQ has been rumbling in my soul. Subconsciously, the addition of a rudder simply means I am committing to the idea of racing the marathon from Whitehore to Dawson. Can you tell I am talking myself into this mania?
Today, the first day of summer, the longest day turned out to be warm, sunny and virtually windless. What better opportunity to hit the local waters and drop that rudder to see how it performed and more importantly, how it changed the handling of my kayak. I can say as far as official review of the Smart Track Rudder System it is hands down the most polished rudder set up ever. A single cord controls the up and down and the set pegs allow for firm bracing while the sensitive toe controls work the rudder easily. Five stars for that, and gosh golly darn it that means not having a rudder was my only out for putting myself through the ordeal.
My thoughts were that if I deleted the paddle control and added a rudder I would be able to focus fulling on forward motion, and even though I am out of shape today, I did manage to add a bit of speed to my average flat water pace. Maybe the old girl will get me to Dawson next year? Time to start conditioning, training, paddling and maybe I can get the woodie past point 5 at light speed after all.
A few years ago I stumbled upon a grass-roots fundraising team dedicated to the support of those facing cancer. The ring-leader of the group as I discovered during a few emails back and forth had very similar experiences with the disease to that of my own. In fact, the parallels were astonishing between our lives. I began to invest in that year’s fundraising paddling event on the waters near Victoria BC, but alas the weekend of the event landed on my first wedding anniversary. As relaxed as she is about my needs to be on the water, skipping our event for a fundraiser seemed inappropriate.
My story begins on a late August weekend at my mother’s home in Qualicum Beach. I visited her often but on this sunny afternoon she dropped a bomb. The cancer was terminal. She had dealt with the illness for many years, and by Christmas of that year there was little anyone could do. By Easter she was dying in the Nanaimo Hospital and I literally postponed my own life and became a live-in caregiver at the palliative ward. She was stubborn in her leaving and after over seven weeks of steady decline she passed away. Spent, probably unemployed by now and in a haze I returned to my island home, dizzy. It was not long after her passing that I was in my kayak paddling with friends on the outer coast of Vargas and Flores Islands in Clayoquot Sound. In my dry bag at my feet was a small glass jar containing some of her ashes. I had planned a scattering at the right moment some time during the week-long paddle trip, but no idea until rounding the point before the beach that would be our first camp.
As the guys landed one at a time in the shelter behind an islet facing the now setting sun, I turned the opposite direction and paddled out towards it. I drifted, admittedly struggling to reach the handle of the bag with my now cramping big toe and free it from the gear surrounding it. In time for the last flash of sunlight I held the jar firmly, said a few words to the horizon and the sea she and I both loved, and tossed the ashes. I recapped the jar now holding a message and tossed it as well. The note had my contact information. But my message in a bottle bobbed twice and sank to the bottom. Such is life.
My weeks in the hospital were revealing and an awakening to the difference even just a bit of outside support can bring to a family, or a patient. At times, too stressful for words, and at others moving beyond anything I could imagine. To go through something so intimate and astonishing as that and not be changed is impossible. As an advocate, son and paddler the organizer of Paddle For Health, Don Lowther and I are one in the same. I scattered her ashes to the sea and Don honours his mother with an annual fundraising event bringing laughter, love of paddling and much-needed cash to those who need it most.
This year is a different story and thankfully the paddle fundraiser benefitting the new Vancouver Island Family Support Program and to aid in expanding the levels of support to Island-based families who have children with cancer is on a different weekend than my anniversary! And I am glad to be taking part, raising some funds with a goal of a mere $500 and of course, recruiting a few more paddlers to do so as well for this September’s day on the water.
Below are a couple of links. One is my chimp.com secure fundraising page. The next link is to Paddle For Health’s website so you can learn more and hopefully, sign up and join the fun.