Archive for March, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle again…
Okay, so I have spent the better part of the past couple of years on my bum. Either putting the final edits on my most recent book The Hungry Kayaker, or organizing a wedding (my own) with only chance encounters with the water in my kayak in between. Life and the fact we down-sized to one car meant scheduling paddling times became awkward. But now, life is a little more settled and me being terminally out of work of late I have put more thought to kayaking and using it as a therapy of sorts. Life is always good on the water. No bills to pay, no worries, just keep paddling.

Paddling between the islands north of Salt Spring facing the North Shore mountains.

Paddling between the islands north of Salt Spring facing the North Shore mountains.

To that end, I have managed to get in some good late winter/ early springtime session. I managed to log nearly 40km in the past two days alone spending three hours at a time maintaining a good healthy pace. It feels good, my arms are happy (though the muscles are asking why, why, why) the hip is okay and I think all the walking (lack of car) has toned me up as well. The first paddle day was a shocker. About a month ago I took the water leaving from town and paddling 20km south to Fulford Harbour. It was a lovely calm day but that last half hour the wooden paddle, a rather heavy beast felt like lead. A few shorter paddles in the weeks ahead and slowly I am feeling the groove returning. So much so that I did back to back days as the weather was super. Repeating the town to Fulford run in just over 3 hours and a slower cruise yesterday around some of the islands north of here.

Spring is here, I suppose my cabin fever is inspiring my paddle lust to a point, but there are bigger visions in my mind’s eye. Longer paddle times, endurance, duration, food and fluid management are starting to enter into my kayak planning for each outing. This coming weekend the tide tables are in my favour, as maybe too, the lack of predicted winds for my first ever attempt to complete a circumnavigation of Salt Spring Island. I have done the paddle before, but as a three-day paddle/camping holiday spending my nights on the satellite islands as I toured around my home island. This weekend I hope to do it in one long shot. Taking advantage of the ebb tide all day to take me southwards through Sansum Narrows and with luck have most of the flood tide later that day to take me back up the other side of the island. It is ambitious since my conditioning is still a ‘work in progress’, but knowing my home waters is a plus, being able to jump out at anytime call a buddy to get me if I run out of steam, or even camping make it less daunting.

However, I know how long it takes to do town to Fulford, and keeping that solid pace I should be able to meet my goal of 12 hours. The fastest was 8 hours by my friend Gus in his speedy Epic 18 with a high performance wing blade while training for the Yukon River Quest. I’ll be in my beloved woodie with a standard kayak paddle. In all things we must keep the right perspective. I don’t care about speed at this point, just surviving!


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Tent Time is the Best Time

Snoozing in my tent with a faithful friend at my feet. Photo by Dave Barnes

Snoozing in my tent with a faithful friend at my feet.
Photo by Dave Barnes

Tent Time!

A friend of mine once coined the phrase, “bedtime is the best time.”

I would go one further and say that bedtime is the best time if it is tent time too. I love my tent. I love camping out in it, zipper sounds make me happy. I have had a few in past years and one by one they failed due to the rigours of outdoor life on the wild wet/sandy/gritty/moldy coast. I needed something built for damaging winds, sand mixed with salt and of course the torrential rainfalls I would face kayaking around here.

One day a Snowfield tent made for MEC and the Canadian Everest team came my way. Okay, this one might actually handle what I will toss it into. I mean, if it can face-off with Mt. Everest then what will a little beach sand do to it? Not much as it turned out. The Snowfield can take it. Though it was not construction, or materials that have me wondering if it is time to upgrade once more, it is age. It was a decade-old when I bought it from a buddy. I have added a few more years to it since then and lots of regular usage. One by one, the poles are giving out. Creaking in the winds and the occasional geriatric carbon fibre snapping occurs. Duct Tape always at the ready these days in my kit bag.

Something else has changed in my paddling/outdoorsy life and that is Jen, my partner and now lovely wife. Squirming in and out of the end-to-end vestibules on my own was one thing, sharing the tent space is another and this brings new challenges. Not so much to our relationship as we are definitely campers through and through, no it is the mid-night need to pee that is the new issue. Inevitably one will inadvertently wake up the other while extricating from sleeping bags and zipper doors. My good old friend has one wonky door so really, there is only one way in and one way out again. The solution was to invest in a new tent for married couples with side entrance vestibules and no climbing over each other to get in and out. It is pretty swank and I am getting used to it. Change, like all things is the one and only constant of the universe. However images such as the photo of the day today brings back another constant of the universe.

Here I was camping on Vargas Island and my friend for the week, Lolita kept me company while gale force winds had me camp-bound. Her  owner lives in a cottage up the beach (a well-known kayaking personality in his own right) Lolita never left my side, except for the occasional race up the beach to chase that pesky flock of birds.

Tent time is indeed the best time, no matter which tent you are in…and it never hurts to have good company.

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A Paddler’s Therapy on Film

It has been a few days since I last posted. Things got busy last week and then I was knocked off my feet (literally on my knees) and hugging the nurse, riding the porcelain bus…you get the idea so there is no need to describe in earthy goopy details the violent atrocities that occurred for about 48 hours. Needless to say I thank my wife Jen for the stomach bug that she had and finished with. My version was worse, yes I am that competitive.

Anyway, with tummy somewhat settling down if a big gurgling I plan a bit of kayaking therapy, another long paddling day this coming Sunday. Paddling from town (Ganges on Saltspring Island) to Fulford Harbour (also on Salt Spring Island) some 20+ kms to the south. I have done it before and is a sweet day out passing shoreline homes and Ruckle Provincial Park.

Being in the kayak no matter what is going on at home on land has always chilled me out. Call it what you will, floatation therapy, paddling or recreational therapy all I know is that it works. A few minutes in the boat and floating while adjusting my spray skirt or just simply floating before the thousands of paddle strokes begins, for that time I am melted into a happy place of deep inner calm. Which is good because an hour later I most likely will be dealing with rising winds and obstinate currents. These seem trivial when reading a story about a fellow paddler who has had some great weights upon his spirit. That paddler being Zac Crouse who sadly witnessed the death of a good friend in a kayaking accident. He fell into disrepair after than and diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

To help heal his heart and mind he chose a positive, to use both a love of music and kayaking as a mode of self-therapy. I encourage you to click on the link below, which leads to an Indiegogo campaign he has running to raise the funds for post production of his documentary, Paddle to the Ocean and accompanying soundtrack CD.

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Blog to Book, the New Travel Writer?

From a blog a book is born and arrives on the local bookstore shelf. But is it worth the read?

The other evening I clicked ‘download’ from the BC Library online site and in a flash an ebook arrived on my hardrive and then bought a ticket to ride on my Kobo for three weeks. The entire transaction took less than a minute (after the Kobo desktop wasted a few minute doing updates) and I settled in with a book that caught my eye about two young women who drove a Tuk Tuk, one of those three-wheeled carts that clog the streets of India and most of Asia. They were doing this adventure to raise money and awareness for mental health issues and a group in the UK called MIND. A worthy cause as one of the participants suffered from depression and had long-term association with institutions and hospitals.

As I ‘tukked’ in for the evening it started to become clear that the book was based on the blog they kept during the journey. Each of them contributing the daily events. This would have been fine if the two had done some basic co-ordination of who would say what, about what and when. Each entry was echoed soon after by the other person to the point that I found myself leap-frogging through the virtual pages skipping sentences and passages with familiar theme. If one told the story of the rain and potholes for 125 miles and stopping for a beer in Laos, the next person would detail it as well. A wonderful trip log became a short read. Only on a few occasions did each divert from telling the same story of the same day. One voice please!

This is one of the dangers of the latest trends open to us all through online book publishing sites such as My Publisher and Thier book was done through other means, however these sites and others offer template allowing simple transfer of your blog to book format. Now anyone can self-publish! I am a self-published author and heartily approve, but editing, proofreading and all the rest of the process must happen too. In the case of this book, worth a read but be prepared for a constant echo two people telling the same story might have been smooth if they had differing views. Chose sections of the trip to speak about or have chosen one person to do the writing. For the most part that did not happen. It was a book made up of short sound bite bursts of one paragraph post card posts on a blog. It read like a blog, sounded like a blog and essentially was only a blog. I needed more. I enjoyed the journey, but not the reading of it.

On the other side of this new way of selling your story is a book that came to my hands via a kayaker who approached me in the local coffee shop with a copy of my recent book, The Hungry Kayaker under his arm. I signed it for him and we chatted about kayaking. A half hour later on the ferry we met again, and it was then that he let slip that he too had a book out. It was available on and was a photo/blog of a trip he and another paddler had done around Vancouver Island. One hand shakes the other so when I got home I ordered a copy of his book. 910206-e734e2b39384ce0907ebc8a884f9f31c

On the arrival in my mailbox I sat down and browsed it. Blurb is good, I have used it too but for photos it is not so great. To get a rich colour plate from the restriction of uploading jpg quality images makes it challenging, however they kept the image size smaller and the crispness was still there. Stunning images. The text was another issue. In this book two travellers telling the same story but had the forethought to break it up between them. Each taking sections of the journey which deleted much of the perils of overlap and repetition. The information was great, the story telling clear, though neither was a writer, it didn’t dull the experience of wandering through the pages.

I don’t write my blog with book in mind. It is a place to talk about my passions for cooking and camping and kayaking, period. A place where i vent, rant and go on. In my world a blog is a blog and a book is a book. To mash one into the other can work. If you are in the process of  doing it right now, great, cool! Go For IT! Just keep the reader in mind especially if you are more than one person telling the same story.

From my own experiences using online publishing sites as with traditional self-publishing, you do get what you put into it. Take your time, polish the book and its pages. Read, edit, read and re-edit. Find form and function and make it work. Tell your story. But, with these online sites while you do have the relative ease of simple to use templates, the cost per book is slightly more than packaged deals from an outfit such as the one I use, Friesenpress in Victoria BC. Colour photos cost more to print no matter what the quality and the online bookstore pricing is tight when you are looking to make a profit. In fact, it will take a lot to make a profit. Self-publishing is tough, it is tough to sell your book without the giant engines of a so called ‘mainstream publisher’. Use your blog to sell your book, get creative, you’ll need to. However, a straight text blog to book is actually comparable to commercial pricing on these sites. If you are looking to publish your blog do some reasearch before transferring data from one place to the next.

As I said before, I doubt I will ever turn this blog into a book. But for those adventerous travellers out there updating followers daily on the trials and joys of taking a wild journey on their blogs it is a way to expand your readership by creating a book about your trip, or passions later on. The world of travel writing is changing. But after sampling two distinctly different approaches to blog to book publishing all I can ask is  that you please resist the urge to copy and paste your life to the pages of a book, unless you are willing to put in the hard work of turning that blog into a readable book.

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May Day!

How fast the weather can change.

How fast the weather can change.

Mayday, is a term that will be familiar to most as a standard way of declaring an emergency on the water, or air. It comes from the French term venez m’aider meaning ‘come help me.’

In the case of a seemingly benign paddling day a couple of years ago it was our own May Day. Hard to believe that upon launching at Southey Point on Salt Spring Island in gleaming warm sunshine on a Sunday morning that within an hour or so the day would be not so much May as perhaps November or December.

My mission, to take a friend’s girlfriend out kayaking prior to a week-long paddling trip. She was indeed a novice then and needed a tune up and it was believed that I would be more patient than my buddy. Good call. I refused to teach my wife to drive for that same reasoning. And so we set off, her in a borrowed kayak and me in mine. She had been given a Werner carbon fibre paddle that was as slight as a feather, and I with my heavy wooden paddle. After a time we swapped and she could not believe that I would use it. We traded back as we rounded the jetty of crushed shells and giants’ game of driftwood pick up sticks on the then named Kuper Island, (it is now been renamed Penelakut Island belonging to the Penelakut First Nations). The sun burned down on us as we rode the high tide flow through the sandy cut in between Penelakut and Thetis Island into a bay housing a pub. We didn’t stop there but opted instead to land across the bay on a pebble beach for lunch.

My subtle teachings of the ways of the paddle had been sinking in and she had transformed in an hour from a ‘lily-dipper’ barely making any forward motion to an efficient paddler keeping up with my boat stroke for stroke. The lovely May day was then rapidly lost to an incoming dirty cloud filled to the brim with rain. It advanced up the shore of Vancouver Island towards Ladysmith and for a time we assumed we would be missed by Mother Nature. Something happened, we must have attracted attention and the storm cloud drew over our heads dropping bombs of rain and accompanied by gusting chilly winds. The channel erupted into small waves that grew larger, some breaking against the direction of the winds. We got going quickly and my partner was forced into learning the kayaking skills needed to turn her boat into the wind, and in a hurry. It was an awkward maneuver and I had to come to the rescue to manually lower her rudder clinging to the cord holding it down. We spun in the wind an waves for a few wet rotations before with some coaxing managed to get us both pointed in the right direction.

I had not bothered with my Goretex paddle jacket, but thankfully she was better dressed. The winds did die but the rain did not as we inched our wat towards Tent Island and the last crossing back home. I was soaked but kept going and watched over my student. I could see her body language changing to ‘I love kayaking’ into ‘Kayaking is too hard!’. The wind then died as the squall moved northward and only a few drops of rain lingered as the skies again cleared and with it a renewed energy. The water was still tossed and the tide too low to squeeze through in between Penelakut and Tent so we had to continue around. The reward for this extra paddling effort was the Cormorant nests in the cliffy section of the small island, and upon turning towards home a lovely smooth channel sheltered from the remnants of the storm.

Our crossing back to Salt Spring took longer than usual as we were both stopping to snack and talk about the mini-adventure. Her paddling trip in the following week was to Johnstone Strait and into the Broughton Archipelago notoriously windy and cold waters. Without planning it I had given her not only the paddling skills lesson but as well a grounding in what it takes to head-butt a windstorm and deal with advancing wind waves. I had earned my beer, which was my pay for the May day outing.

Moral of the story, always bring extra dry clothing, wear the dang paddling jacket (just in case) and remember to release the rudder clip before leaping into conditions that require the assistance of a rudder, and if there is a pub near-by…stop! Waiting out a storm on an exposed beach or inside a pub with a pint? hmmmm.


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