When kayaking around Salt Spring Island, one should always consult the tide and current tables, and the BC Ferry schedule!
I paddled in silence with the echos of the last song to play in my iPod before I tucked it away at my last break at the Channel Islands. I had a second wind and high spirits in the sunshine as I paddled the long diagonal course towards Nose Point and the signs of calm waters in Trincomali Channel where my day began. A large sailboat tacked across my path and for a time I paddled a parallel path and remarkably was keeping pace. It spun around in a flutter of sails and veered away, I made some ground on her then and by the time she tacked back in my direction we would be close enough to wave back and forth. I had hoped the pilot was impressed with my speed.
I shifted my path closer to Prevost Island and its baby sister Secret Island, which may have once lived up to that name when the first to settle and build a dream cottage arrived, but now was a cluster of waterfront vacation homes. I made my way into a second set of smaller islands and could see my last section coming into view. That long, lonely path up the east shore of Salt Spring Island and my end point a mirage. The tide was giving my a good push northward and I had to occasionally correct for the drift as I started my last crossing of the trip. From Prevost to Salt Spring and the opening of Long Harbour, the terminal of the ferry that tours the outer islands and then to Tsawwassen. There is a 3:30 sailing on Sundays, it was now 3:35 and the Queen of Nanaimo was turning from the dock and motoring out of the harbour. Four sailboats drifted in the light breeze at the mouth of the harbour and I hoped they would assist me. The horn sounded once, twice and one sailboat moved away, the other doddled and the ferry forced to slow patiently waited for the last boat to move and I to hurry across. I was in its path and knew it, and sprinted using up valuable energy I had held back for the final rally. Damn! Here he comes and around behind me with passengers on the deck waving to the happy kayaker, who was grumbling somewhat at this point. They no doubt envious of my day in the kayak under sunny skies. I was just trying not to be run over. I reached the pointy nose of Nose Point and rested, drank and rolled up my sleeves for the last paddle.
At this point, little to my knowledge my kayaking buddy would be preparing to launch from the same beach I had many hours earlier. His last look at the Spot tracker showed my stop at Nose Point and he feared I had stopped for good. By the time he was on the water I was moving towards him and home. Had I known he was coming out to paddle the last section with me I might have felt more uplifted by the experience. By now I was tiring, a lovely challenging day on the water without mishap and steady pace was now a struggle to move up the channel. I began to have a fantasy of a welcoming committee, but I knew I would only arrive to the launch site and say to myself, ‘well that is that’. My wife was visiting family out-of-town and those watching my progress on their computers most likely would continue to do just that. I paddled on.
Walkers Hook near my house was always in view but not getting any closer. Nearly and hour of steady motion and my pace dipping slightly I saw another kayaker. I thought to myself, ‘a good afternoon for a paddle, should I stop to tell them what I am doing?’ As the kayak closed in I recognized the style of paddling of the paddler. I wondered if it was Gus? Sure enough the black wing blades did have red dots on them that are maple leaves and the red tip of his Epic 18 was the real giveaway. He sped towards me, all smiles and asked how I was feeling.
“Good, great, pretty good actually, tired, but good.” I shouted as he wheeled around behind me and came parallel to me. I was overjoyed to see him though he was afraid that his appearance might be something I would resent having done this on my own all day, he couldn’t have been more wrong about that. We talked about the paddle and he told me how long it took him to meet me so I had a rough idea of what was left to do. He offered advice, encouragements, which included the fact that I was indeed going to easily break open my set goal of 12 hours. In fact, I could meet or break the time he set with his paddling partner as they prepared for the Yukon River Quest two years prior. 11:20 was the time to beat and the last carrot on the stick he offered was the large bottle of pale ale he had hidden in the creek at the launch site.
“It’s yours Dave, only if you beat 11:20!” I paddled on, harder.
Matching his paddle strokes and trying to meet his encouragement with 10 harder strokes and 10 easy over and over. My biceps burned, ached and complained to explode. My left shoulder had a golfball-sized knot in it since morning and it felt tighter as I muscled onwards. Passing the hook and the Fernwood Dock in view I knew it was soon over. Gus cracked the whip and I did my best to push on. Not sprinting at all well, but I felt my pace was better than it had after the ferry incident.
Gus moved ahead under the dock and to the beach pointing his kayak to where I could land. I appreciated that as I had no idea where my landing would be as I had never approached the shore from this direction before, and relieved to see it was closer than I thought. I heard him shouting to push. I dug in and landed in the eel grass and mud at the shore. Panting. Standing on the beach was a fellow who was chatting with Gus as I made my last dash and he was washed with an expression of confusion as to our celebrating when I was told, 11:17!
We told him what I had done that day and he was astonished and asking isn’t that a one or two-day trip?
We brought the boats up as the tide would eat the shallow beach quickly and I was sent on the treasure hunt for my reward cooling in the creek. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that first gulp of beer. My body reacted and I felt the rush of just what I had accomplished settling in as I sorted my gear out and put it in the car. My support not only came to paddle the last with my but came to help lift the kayak! A task I had dreaded for the past three hours.
We talked and Gus drove off home after a high-five or two for dinner leaving me alone to my thoughts as I had so many hours before. A friendly dog appeared and with it three people, each holding drinks. More high-fives and comments of disbelief. They left my to my beach, my cold beer and warm tired muscles. The tide rose nipping at where I had parked and it was time to go home. With one last look to the channel that greeted me with a quiet kiss in the dark that morning and now preparing for evening and nightfall once more, I drove home.