As the line in Lord of the Rings goes, “somehow travelling south seems like going downhill.”
So it was that I rounded the northern tip of Salt Spring Island just after 7 am. An odd light cast over the trees and shoreline rock gardens, and my back was warmed by a waking sun. I had been on the water for no more than half and hour leaving shy of the more traditional launch site of Southey Point, which was now passing to my left. It was a considered decision to leave from a point on the island part way up the eastern shore as later that day I would again be facing north once again but this time not as fresh, but instead fatigued. the idea of facing even that extra 30 minutes on the water I knew to be daunting. Though the distance was the same all the way around, it was a psychological decision which would pay off, and it used the last of the north going flood tide to start my day.
As I rounded the pointed tip of the island and its shoreline homes with inhabitants still asleep in their beds unaware of the crazy guy paddling stroke by stroke in their water front view. I noticed a reading light in the livingroom of one rather unassuming waterfront home (smaller than the surrounding bigger than needed homes) and wondered, did they leave that on all night. I paddled on. My bow now in a southern direction and I eased farther from shore into Stuart Channel where I knew I would find a faster friendly current, and I was now paddling downhill. I watched the digital readout on my GPS trip computer counting up as my speed increased, 6km/h, 6.1, 6.4, 6.7, 6.8 and holding, good enough. I paddled on.
The Crofton pulp and paper mill spewed out some white effluent into the chalky light blue of the morning sky to my right, I ignored it as best I could but the plumes of smoke rising were a good wind indicator. Northerly. I knew it would cause me grief later in the day if it stayed steady or worse, increased in intensity as I made my last leg to home, I buried that thought for now. I was paddling downhill, a luxury of tide and increasing current that would last me well passed the narrows. The sun rose over the hill and warmed my side and the current carried me down beyond Vesuvius Bay where the ferry dock lay empty and I had time to cross its regular route uninterrupted. A few minutes later Booth canal far to my right and a haze of wood smoke backlit gave a sense of weirdness. I paddled on. Switching to a new mode with iPod turned on for the long point-to-point crossing where the sense of forward movement would be removed in spite of what my GPS told me. Maxwell Point at the base of the mountain of the same name was far away still. Far above as I passed into the first passage of narrow waters leading to the mouth of both Maple Bay on Vancouver Island and Burgoyne Bay on the Salt Spring side, and watched my speed increase ever so slightly I was not aware of my buddy up above on the adjacent Mt. Erskine. A fellow kayaker he was watching my progress on the Spot device he had leant to me. His photo from the top of Mt. Erskine was a ‘Where’s Waldo’ Kodak moment as I appeared a mere speck in the channel. Later I would mention that it was fitting. As larger than life as I always feel in the seat of my kayak, the reality is that I am a speck, nothing to write home about in the bigger scheme of things and as far as Mother Nature is concerned, well she always will bat last.
The narrows, Sansum Narrows a slim gap between the big island and my own appeared ahead after the crossing of Burgoyne Bay (the former site of a log sorting area now filled with life aboard boat people). I needed a stretch, REM hummed in my ears, ‘Seven Chinese brothers swallow in the ocean…’ a good drowning song on my around the island playlist. I pulled into a small gravel beach where a fisherman’s party spot including fire pit and tarp shelter made for a likely spot to get out of my boat if only for a moment or two. I planned only three such stops breaking the journey into easy to swallow thirds.
I got back in, I paddled on. Across the bay’s open mouth through back eddies and sideways currents as water, confused in direction swirled ahead. Past the bay and into the teeth of it I flowed into a faster stream. Sun glistened on the rippled waters by Bold Bluff (a former secluded retreat) as small gusts of sea air twisted up bending from the south. Whirlpools and eddies, my speed now 7.1, 7.3 and holding. Veering out of the path of a motor boat fighting against the flow like a hand on a cat’s back pulling the fur the wrong way. Motor straining. I hugged the shore at the end of the narrows to avoid a faster rip by a small island equipped with warning light beacon. I lifted my paddle and took a picture when the kayak suddenly gave way and pulled at right angles away from shore and out into the channel again. Before I knew it I was passing two guys in a boat who whooped at me as I rode the roller coaster, my speed now 12.4 and holding as I sped by the not-so-calm side of the islet. Out of the rapids and into easy to navigate swirls once more, and then 10, then 8, and back to a reasonable pace of 6.8km/h and holding. I paddled on only then noticing a bulbous blister formed on the ring finger of my right hand. Time for an unscheduled stop and a band-aid. I paddled on. Closing in on my half way mark still 10 clicks away.
I paddled on…turning to the east and the long haul around the fat bottom of the island.