Archive for February, 2013

Bear Spirits

Bricks were piled on my chest, or at least ir felt that way as my breath came hard laboured and stripped from my lungs in abject irrational panic. The tent walls usually a cheery yellow and blue from the diamond pattern of the fly that made my Snowfield tent appear to be inspired by the Swedish flag, now was dour and muted in the early morning half-light. I panted unable to move, my arms still one over my chest and one seemingly strapped down to the ground with invisible restraints. My legs were still and made of concrete of cold chewing gum. I tried in vain to move, to leap from my sleeping bag and fight the monster outside.

Taken on the side of the Klondike Highway this black bear had little care for me and my camera.

Taken on the side of the Klondike Highway this black bear had little care for me and my camera.

The ominous shadow that brushed the nylon and plucked at the flexible aluminium poles of my flimsy fort circled, grunted and at any moment I expected the tent to collapse over me from the weight of the black bear investigating my camp. I was aware of the flare gun beside my head. My knife too at the ready, but my body unable to fire or stab at the monster. I lay in a panic waiting for the inevitable death by bear attack. The lines pulling at the tent fly plucked like stings on a guitar making an awful sound that I attributed to the dampness and they being soaked through by the rain and morning dew. Another brush of animal fur against the tent and I flinched, and woke from my lucid dream still feeling the paralysis in my limp limbs. Breathing harder than at any time before in my life I slowly recovered my senses, realizing where it was that I had set up my tent and scolded myself for the weakness of spirit.

I rose, dressed and tentatively unzipped the tent flap and that of the outer vestibule. The fresh sea air met my face washing the claustrophobic tightness away. The view from my tent door was directly down the fiord-like bay facing a mist shrouded mountain. The largest off-shore on the coast with the exception of those on Vancouver Island. I was camping in Roscoe Bay a boaters’ hideaway at the entrance to the channel dividing East and West Redonda Islands. The mist was rising after a damp few days and the water was alive, moving with common jelly fish. The bay filled shore to shore with cabin cruisers and sailboats of all makes and sizes. It was a noisy bay in the morning. Generators hummed and rumbled as they powered breakfasts and entertainments to distract one from the nature outside the porthole. I stood in wet sandals and prepared a mug of coffee. Shaken still from the images in my mind’s eye and as I sat at the picnic table looking at the half-dozen rubber dinghy that had come ashore with boating dogs busting at the seams, I felt a fool. Sipping the hot coffee I punished myself thinking that I was made of tougher stuff than that.

I later learned that my paralyzed state was nothing unusual for that level of sleep, and Redonda Islands both of them are teaming with black bears, save a heavily populated bay of loud humans with dogs. My primal trigger to sharing an island with bears got the better of me. As I sat with a second cup warming my hands until the sun reluctantly rose and over-powered the morning mist to dry my soggy gear that I had just spread on the dry grass, something occurred to me. Perhaps it was not a weak moment of human fragility in the face of unknown dangers of the wild but instead a message being sent from beyond.

Had I had a shaman to share my coffee pot with I am sure he would agree that rather than monstrous foe, the bear in my waking nightmare was only that of a spirit. A guide who was in his own clumsy bruin way attempting to introduce himself to me as my own animal spirit. He had been looking for me but as I travel so fast by kayak he would inevitably arrive too late to greet me at any of my other camps. This one however, I had stayed longer so he was able to lumber down the sloping path from the warmest lake I had found that summer to my tent early in the morning. Not wanting to wake me from my beautiful slumber in the great outdoors he quietly rooted for nibbles in my camp until I got up and we could shake hands, or hug or whatever it is one does with a first encounter with an animal spirit.

I packed my gear and kayak that morning and once the sun had risen shining on the jelly fish I paddled out of the bay and down the shore of the island to my next camp on the Martin Islets. I would have happily spent time with my new bear spirit friend, eating snacks and sipping wine until the sun went down, and maybe he would have inspired something in the large, rather unfriendly group that was camping there.


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The Eagle has Landed

The weather outside is frightful and my kayak is upside-down on its rack in the backyard, and my paddle and gear stowed away as the winds blow around 35km and the rain is coming down in a happy sideways manner. The sights outside my window were much the same yesterday, however it was not raining other than the occasional drop from passing clouds. In fact, it was almost a sunny late winter day but not a good one for small craft. Our usually calm wind rippled waters were grey/green and white-capped rolling waves found an end on the beach at Yeo Point were I stood facing into the winds howling in from the strait, weaving in and out of islands. And I was not alone.

I had the day free, something lately that has become a problem both for the fact that I am bored and my bank account is making blurbling sounds. To stave off the stress and all of that I hiked rather than paddled. Leaving the car at the park gate I hiked in the sheltering woods of Ruckle Park. The trial begins adjacent to the Ruckle Farm house. The park is still partly a working farm belonging to one of the oldest island families, the Ruckles. I passed by vacant pastures and the sounds of wind melding with the baying of freshly born lamb was my soundtrack. I passed the pond now encroaching on the trail with rising waters due to the pair of beaver dams blocking the outflowing creek. I scared a few ducks that took flight their wings disturbing the pond’s drizzle dappled surface. It made me jump in the quiet. I walked on to the connecting trail, one of many and wandered towards the sea. Checking my watch I decided I had time to take the extra distance along the rocky shoreline to Yeo Point at the outer edge of the park. There my wife and I had place a geocache a few years ago and from time to time I like to check up on it, making sure it is intact, dry and well-hidden. I rounded the small cove highlighted by a crescent beach of pebbles to the bald point of rock with one bent stunted tree as its distinctive landmark. Yeo Point EagleYeo Point Eagle

As I stepped up the jumble of rocks I saw what at first looked to be someone in a brown sweater sitting under the Fir tree next to the Arbutus tree that had the hole in it. Then I realized my luck. It was not a person but instead an eagle. It is a rare thing to see them so close and so close to the ground. I snuck up to about 15 ft away and moved no further not wanting to press my luck more. I squatted down as low as I could and watched. His white head feathers being split and tossed in the high winds the bird didn’t look around for some time. Staring intently out at the water for signs of fish and a late lunch. Then it must have caught a sense of me and the head turned slowly. One beady eye sizing me up and then looked back out to sea once more. I snapped a few pictures with my point and shoot, all the while regretting leaving the house without the better camera and lens. I rose up took my shot and lowered several times before the huge bird decided it had had enough of the tourist with a camera and took flight. It banked into the gusts and stopped cold, flapping hard it went straight upwards and easily soared around the point to land safely high in an adjacent tree, with a better view of the water, and not so many tourists.

As tough as getting by on the island can be from time to time, there are moments of connection and purity that bring the balance to all of that. A chance encounter on a windy rocky shore reminds me yet again why I never want to leave Salt Spring Island.

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Catching the Wave

Catch the Wave of your dreams and ride it until it breaks.

I have paddled many times on the west coast of Vancouver Island in the past decade or so. Though the beaches I have landed upon are familiar territory the landscapes of them are never the same twice. Tide, wind, and winter storms shape these places birthing them seasonally. In the spring it is the most evident that a birthing had taken place over the wet winter months. Silent in the changes a log that was once half-buried the summer before has gone out to sea or moved along the beach for a year of new perspectives and a refreshed view of the water.

On a week spent on one such beach I was gifted to witness the changes, daily during days and nights of winds and heavy rainfall that drummed on my kayak deck in the faint early morning when I could not sleep and opted instead to brew coffee under the tarps. Sand shifting and exposing treasures such as urchin remains, beach combing treats and a few bottle caps. The tidal creek that ran parallel to the shore widened and virtually vanished over a two-day period, only to reappear the morning we decided to take advantage of a window and skeedaddle home.

I never regretted the sudden stop in out journey and eventual cancellation of our route due to ongoing Mother Nature’s fury. It played to my kayaking aesthetic of paddling to a place and taking the time to soak it in. Well, I was soaked most of the time but enjoyed the feral nature of where I was, and how simply life can become at that stage on a far-flung beach.

Morning surf rolling in at WhiteSands Beach, Flores Island, Clayoquot Sound BC.Photo by Dave Barnes

Morning surf rolling in at WhiteSands Beach, Flores Island, Clayoquot Sound BC.
Photo by Dave Barnes

The flip-side of that week was ten-days of glorious sunshine only once interrupted with an evening of drizzle, and then back to sunshine. The paddling was incredible and we revelled in our luck to land on a surf beach, intact and relatively dry for once. Coming from sheltered waters practice in surf was impossible so each of us found our own way in. That afternoon we sat in hot sand, watching a calm sea swells meander by without a thought to us. The next morning I was again first to rise, restless from my tent and making a brew under blue skies and sand bathing the skin between my toes. I walked the beach with my camera (analog if you can believe it) and a spilling mug of coffee. I planted myself in the wet pavement-hard sand as the tide receded away from our camp. There I patiently waited for the wave of my dreams to wrap itself on the sand with a thunderous noise. I took several images not knowing for certain as it was film not jpg, and there was no instant gratification verification of photographic success. A week later I sifted though the photos of that trip and lo and behold, the wave of my dreams rolled towards me, frozen in time.

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Wooden Kayaks are Best!

Wooden Kayaks are Best!

For nearly eight years I have now I have been paddling a Pygmy Boats Coho and loving every minute of the experience. I built the kayak in the living room of my tiny cabin (still a single guy back then) I had two questions running through the back of my mind. Firstly, once the construction had begun I was questioning whether or not I could get the hull out the front door. The second question was more pertinent, was this the kayak for me or had I wasted a few hundred bucks and months of my life for a kayak that did not suit me.

Not having had the opportunity to test paddle this particular design before I bought the kit based on looks alone. The Coho is sexy! I did get it out the door knocking much of the items on my kitchen counter to the floor in doing so. And that day, Canada Day in fact when I lowered the freshly varnished gleaming boat into the water so as not to let a single stone scratch it, and sat down with all eyes of my paddling gang on me. It was a perfect fit. Stable yet playful and fast. I have not paddled anything else since then.

The wooden boat provides a different kayaking feel. Playful and organic, yet stable and solid. Looking out across the long nose of my kayak in the sunshine it looks like a guitar. Somehow paddling a wooden boat gives me a sense of being closer to the natural world I explore. Of course, there have been other kayaks on my back yard rack in the years in between. One boat stands out in my mind as i had spent many hours restoring it. The Woodfin. A painted wooden hull contrasted its red and yellow cedar pin-stripped decking. A brass name plate adorned the sheer by the cockpit and under the rear hatch a psalm from the bible about nature. It was around my yard for a couple of years  with a history before that of being built by a fellow in Clayoquot Sound and used as a commuter vehicle by its then owner who worked at a fish farm near Tofino.

Sadly, it disappeared in a storm not a week after I sold her due to a novice knot to a slim tree branch. Alas, it is gone but not forgotten and resides in happy memories of paddling trips to the west coast and one adventure in attempting a week to the hot springs but forced to live it out on a beach on an island instead. Pictured here.

My Coho and the Woodfin on Vargas Island, Clayoquot Sound BCPhoto by Dave Barnes

My Coho and the Woodfin on Vargas Island, Clayoquot Sound BC
Photo by Dave Barnes

Build one, from a kit or from your own head, and paddle. Take it from this convert, wooden kayaks are simply the best!

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What’s Your Style of Kayaking?

What is your kayaking style? Is there a right way or a wrong way to travel by kayak? Can clashes of style within your paddling group dynamic be avoidable?

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.Photo by Dave Barnes

Tandem team arriving at Carmacks, Yukon midway during the Yukon River Quest.
Photo by Dave Barnes

I once paddled with a group on several trips to the west coast. Our group dynamic was at the time a well established four-member travelling circus of kayaking. We had ticked-off a few of the coast’s wonders together and on the way learned about ourselves, at least I did and how we functioned as a group was to be functionaly disfunctional most of the time. In that foursome were two distinct twosome. Myself and a paddling friend who shared my style to a great degree, and the boys who were much more bold in their trekking ambitions. All four of us have strong personalities as well, which only added dry wood to a fire that was always smoldering under the embers of contentment.

Our dysfunction became more visible mid-way through a two-week adventure to Nuchatlitz Marine Park and the surrounding area. The issues arose over assumptions made rather than opting for better communication skills.  My ambitions for paddling run towards going someplace, sit and soak it up, then move on mode of travel. The boys wanted more, to see everything possible within the time frame we had set for the trip. I could not begrudge them that need, but there was defined friction within the group that boiled over and that was the match to the tinder.

We needed a break from each other, this was true. We settled the next morning to split for a few days and used our VHF radios (purchased for this very reason as the group did not have to stay together at all costs) to stay in touch at regular call-in times. The break gave myself and a buddy a chance to refresh in camp on a gem of an island in the archipelago, sitting out an incredible west coast summer wind and rain storm that in an hour had altered the sand beach into a mess of pimple-pox marks. I wrote the opening notes for a book about the trip and the place, Dreaming in Nuchatlitz while my buddy caught up on sleep and recharged for the remainder of the journey.

The boys went farther, across the inlet and explored on foot to the astounding waves and turmoil found at Third Beach. They achieved their goals, and satisfied their style. I suppose so did I having had no problem with packing up and paddling back around the islands to settle again for a second time on Rosa Island. It is a gem within a gem.

In my mind, there was no need for the friction to occur. I suppose years of paddling together and denying the obvious split within our group for so long, it had to pop! We remain close friends even after years have passed and many more paddle strokes. I think too that a realization within our group, that style means everything and it means nothing. Were they wrong in wanting more, and paddling more ambitiously? No. Was I wrong to hold my ground and suggest we paddle the within the means of the weakest of the group? No, again.

There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to go on a kayaking journey. Group dynamics, even amongst a clan of the closest of paddling buddies can erupt into more selfish behaviour. In our case, perhaps a clearer discussion at the pub before the trip of what we ‘each’ were looking for in Nuchatlitz would have softened the discussion on the pebble beach weeks later? I reflect on that fractious evening a lot.

Finding the place in your paddling needs that is comfortable to you is key. Finding people of like needs will only help to get you where you want to go, see what you want to see and have the outdoor experiences you desired in your imagination. There will always be someone who wants to go farther, to see the next island, or explore to see what is around the next point of land. These people are not trying to ruin your vacation, they are needed and their ambitions may clash at times with that of your own. Sometimes, ya just have to roll with the flow. If the day looks over your head, well, tell your mates to have a great day and you will have the campfire blazing when they get back.

To each his/her own. Kayaking should be for everyone, day paddler to multi-day adventurer. May the two never meet.

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Camping and Cooking, the Hungry Kayaker

The Hungry Kayaker

I can hardly believe that so much time has passed by since I first sat in a kayak 17 years ago. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I gingerly lowered myself into a burgundy Current Designs Solstice GT feeling the slight tippiness of a rounded hull on something so sustaining as the ocean. The moment I took hold of the paddle and pushed away from the dock at Sea Otter Kayaking where a good friend was a guide, I felt right. I had not even taken one paddle stroke when this sensation of rightness hit me like a ton of bricks. Then the joys of self-propulsion as I found my new wings in the seat of a kayak on a cool late fall afternoon. Little did I know how many kilometers I would travel and how much this thing called kayaking would take over my being. The Hungry Kayaker

The years of kayaking along wilderness shores with friends of like-mind or soloing gifted me with some insights that I had not had before my kayaking life. I also discovered, usually the hard way how to avoid some of the pitfalls and discomforts of wilderness camping and kayaking. The evolution and transition into all things kayaking was simple though and is my passion. As is eating. I love a good meal at the end of a paddling day, so the idea was born not long after I began kayaking to write a guide for those entering at the novice level as I had done. I had hte advantage of paddling and camping with people in the know and wanted to pass on a bit of what I have gathered over time.

The end result is the Hungry Kayaker-a common sense guide to cooking an camping.

With the weekend adventurer in mind, as not all of us can get away for longer trips I give some good old fashioned advice and tips for entry-level camping in the great outdoors. These tips are not for those hanging about parks but for those who go to find that out of the way notch in the shore line to pitch a tent for a night or two. There may not be an outhouse close by but that is not the end of the world. I will guide you through a set of routines that will have you out of the kayak and sitting comfortably in front of your campstove in no time.

A communal effort on the beach at Clark Island, Broken Group.

A communal effort on the beach at Clark Island, Broken Group.

The second part of the book is dedicated to eating. Seeing as you are only out for the weekend it is easier to bring the whole nine yards, kitchen sink and of course those yummy fresh ingredients that will take your camp cooking experience away from freeze-dried noodles, to something a little more interesting. In the Hungry Kayaker you will find several easy to create recipes for the camper. Most of which can be cooked on a single burner camp stove. With a little forethought, you and you paddling gang can eat like kings as the sun sets on another perfect day in the kayaks.

Spring is around the corner, and with it the start on another camping season. With that in mind, I invite you to head over to the link below and there you will find the Hungry Kayaker and a few more of my goodies.

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Geocaching by Kayak

Geocaching by Kayak

Old truck found on Wallace Island, BC while Geocaching by kayak.Photo courtesy Jennifer Barnes

Old truck found on Wallace Island, BC while Geocaching by kayak.
Photo courtesy Jennifer Barnes

A couple of years ago my wife Jen and I found out about the game of geocaching. For those not in the know, Geocaching is an activity where the use of hand-held GPS units and Tupperware combine. Using pre-set co-ordinates found on we set out around Salt Spring Island and places elsewhere in search of sometimes tough to find small containers of goodies left hidden by others. I have found caches as close to my house as a five-minute walk and as far north as Dawson City, Yukon. In fact, it is world-wide. Simply go to the website, click on the hide and seek section and type in virtually any location on the planet and you will find at least one cache hidden there.

But it is not just on foot that you can go geocaching. Being a kayaker I immediately searched for potential treasure around my own paddling backyard and voila, there are loads! The nearest other than the one is under a rock on a nearby trail, the next one is my excuse for an afternoon paddle over to Wallace Island.

Wallace is my usual paddle. From a launch close by it is a leisurely two hours on the water to cross part of Trincomali Channel and then round the long island of Wallace. There is treasure to be found there. Several hides appeared on the Google map on the website. All along the wonderful hiking trail that runs the entire length of the island. The first cache is one of three at Chivers Point where there is available camping so a weekend of kayaking and treasure hunting can be easily done.

My mission was to find a cache on Wallace, and with my Garmen Legend GPS in hand I loaded up the kayak for an afternoon adventure. And I brought along the video camera as well.

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