Solo by Design
“How can you stand being alone so long?” is the most asked question when friends hear of a trip I have done, or planned to take on alone. I have always been comfortable within my own head and periods of solitude that would intimidate some, I find to be a luxury. The sticker inside one of my boats states clearly a dire warning that you should never paddle alone and for years I didn’t.
Contented in the safety in numbers of a group dynamic that grew within a foursome of similarly outdoorsy friends coming to kayaking from all directions and interests, abilities and agenda. Though we were a drastically diverse gang of paddlers we all had this one passion of wilderness, ocean and the freedom of arriving at some incredible place that no one else had access, and most satisfying under our own power.
It was in that group that I honed my own wilderness living skills through some trial and errors that were never life-threatening but close calls and wet bottoms do get tiring. I became more conservative in my approach to the paddle days and measured it against the enjoyment meter. To have bold intent each day, goals to set, distances to achieve but with a sensible paddling intent became the beat I paddled to. If the day was too windy as would often be the case, well then heat up the Colman stove and brew another cup and watch the waves go by from camp. In a group there is always a negotiation and pressure to move along. Quite often I had an inner voice that wanted to stay and absorb a location more regardless of the conditions, but the group dynamic was a group dynamic and we all had agreement to itinerary. There was always negotiations, some good, some heated around the fire in the evening and I will not sit here today and say that was a bad thing for me. However, these compromises became an additional motivator to reach out on my own more often. I had acquired skills and confidence that years earlier I had not. It was time, and one summer I decided to ignore that sticker and take a step into solo kayaking.
Desolation Sound had always had an appeal even though it was a boater destination unfriendly for the most part to kayakers. The scenery of the coastal mountains leaning over the fiord-like channels around several islands, and the challenges of the Strait of Georgia which could not be ignored. I planned a two-week paddle into the sound to explore with a side trip down the strait, and across to the sandy shores of Savory Island to visit a friend who summers there with her sister selling crafts.
My float plan set, but never in stone I headed out from Cortes Island after a mad dash to miss a ferry or two. I chose Cortes Bay as a launch as there was good parking and a public boat ramp. The bay was sheltered but not from the south as I found out on my return day in a minor gale. The noisy night at the campground had me up and out as soon as the gates were unlocked that morning. Within an hour of taking down my tent it was packed in the kayak’s hatch and I was crossing the strait towards Malaspina Peninsula. The sun was shining, a small morning chop on the water greeted my bow, and the Sound lay ahead. Desolations Sound, what better place to find aloneness and solitude. This was the first time I set my own agenda and I was loving it! On the water when I chose, first stop where I chose and the night’s camping location (if accessible) was my choosing. No negotiations except with Mother Nature to whom I always consult as she can be a bad parent when off her meds. I was lucky that day to avoid the winds that would blow later from inland mountain valleys creating greenish grey frothing water in Homfray Channel where my destination of the Curmes Islets sat in a large notch. The group of women had less fortune with the winds when eventually landing on ‘my’ island no less than half and hour after I set up my camp neatly and lay on a sunny rock out of the breeze with a wooden goblet of red wine. I travel in style!
I enjoyed their company and even took charge of them for a day paddle up the shores and into the hot water lagoon beyond the reach of the boaters. I slipped away the next morning at dawn with a south-going tide to make for Savory, and my search for solitude. Again, I thought I found what I was seeking in the Copeland Island group that hugs close to the peninsula’s shore between the entrance to the Sound and the town of Lund across the water adjacent to Savory Island. I set up camp on the kayaker’s side of an island in the group that boasted a cosy anchorage for boaters on the opposite side. A short hike to the cliffs proved this to be true. Kayaker Bay and Boater Bay with a ridge of rock in between. This meant that I would have the view from camp being free of yachts and sailboats leaving only a westerly vantage point to enjoy another cup of wine with my evening meal and a sunset, but here comes some kayaks.
Though, once more I lost touch with aloneness and solitude I shared a communal meal of fresh prawns and other goodies with a pair of kayakers both like me paddling wooden kayaks they had built themselves. A sunset enjoyed with shared chocolate and wine, but by early morning I was off again while they slept in their tents.
My paddle the next morning to Savory Island was a bouncing and bounding exercise of technical paddling against the flow of wind and tide. It was great fun, and I arrived at the sandy shores of Savory in less than an hour. I came into the shallows and put my hand into the water that was near bathtub temperature. I got up and out and towed my kayak behind me as I waded in the tropics of BC until I arrived at the space of beach near, as close as I could recon to my friend’s instructions and land marks to find her house. A night of indoor life was odd. A fine meal with great conversations and a plan to stay on another day. By morning, with much disappointment on both sides I left due to incoming weather that would shorten my trip by a few days. Alas, it was low tide and it took me some time to shift boat and gear to the water’s edge, which kept going out and away from me. This was both a pain in the backside and a blessing as the north going tide would push me to my last night of camping at what I hoped to be a sheltered camp spot out of the predicted winds. They picked up shortly after my hasty departure from sunny Savory. The sky darkened and the paddle was not difficult with wind and tide at my back. I surfed a few waves along the way to speed up my progress.
At last, after a week of paddling alone I was finally truly alone. My tent set up in a close opening in the woods hidden behind a large fallen tree to look at it from the beach it seemed a cave. My only company was a raccoon who insisted on hanging about in hopes of finding some way of reaching my hanging bag of food.
Camping alone is a trick. The things we do while camping in a group in safety are heightened when alone. The smallest thing can become a bigger mess, or danger. Running a stove, boiling water, using a knife, walking up the beach to find a latrine location. The chance of burning one’s self, cutting one’s self, tripping and injuring one’s self all run in the back of the mind and remind me to slow down. After all, isn’t that why I came? The one thing that was not an issue for me was solitude. Kayaking alone is an opportunity to relax into thoughts that are pushed aside at home by all the at home things. It is a luxury to paddle methodically and just think thoughts, hum a tune or revel in the silence of the natural setting of wilderness paddling.
How can I stand being on my own that long? Those that have to ask have not tried to push themselves into the situation of solitude. To say it is not for everyone is an excuse not to try. We are communal creatures, of this there is no doubt. But if you still need to ask me that question then I ask you to go out and spend a night alone on a shore, with the comfort of a cosy tent and sleeping bag nearby, a sun setting as your evening’s entertainment. No noise, no at home stuff cluttering the mind, no cell phone, no laptop, just you and all of the above and a wooden goblet of red wine. Then ask me again how I could stand doing it more a week or more.