Archive for May, 2014
DON’T Leave Home Without It!
In the recent issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine an article appeared suggesting we ‘Buy less and Paddle more. I whole-heartedly agree with the premise of the piece that not owning the newest, latest most elitist paddling gear such as carbon fibre paddles, multi-fuel camp stoves, and my personal favorite the self-inflating, six-inch thick, down-filled sleeping mattress should stop you from getting out there on the water. And though the author was not suggesting we head out willy-nilly without being prepared for any event, good or bad, she was well into a back to basics paddling ethic that I can back, along with her assertions towards spontaneity measured against months of prep for a trip. On reading the article I thought about my own approaches to kayaking and camping.
I confess, dreaming and visualizing about potential trips. It gets me through the winter months of most years and when it is time to actually plan a trip I am the guy to do it. Charts, tides, and a good idea of where I will be laying my head at night, and of course the menu, I love the planning! Again, measured against the trips that have happened on the spur of the moment that were no less enjoyable while paddling on a wing and a prayer with only same-day intel on hand. As for the gear junkie I once was, well that guy has softened up. I have since pared down the kayak luggage and even my goto cockpit bag is smaller and lighter these days. I go out with a blending of old gear and new pieces of kit. One of which I will get to later on.
I try very hard to stay gadget-free on my outings, although I do carry a cell phone (turned off) until I need it. I have a VHF radio, but avoid strapping my iPad to the spray skirt with a movable chart on the screen. On the deck of my kayak is a compass, or what my buddy called a ‘professional compass’. I can read a chart, the old-fashioned paper kind. I don’t have a cushy mattress, or a light-weight carbon-fibre paddle, (my paddle is now nearly 18 years old and weighs as small ton), but I did just pick up a second-hand SPOT Messenger for peace of mind for the gang back home. I kayak in a wooden kayak that I suppose could fall into the category of elitist, but as it ages and gains a weathered patina similar to my own, I doubt either boat or paddler would be declared outstanding.
My days and nights on the water, paddling and pulling out to camp at any convenient spot along the shore have not been tiresome, uncomfortable ordeals that make for fantastic trip reports in the pages of such magazines. But, as with the sentiment of within the article I do more with less and don’t feel the burden of anything lacking from the experience. With all of the above being said, the one piece of gear I now cannot leave home without no matter how uber-trendy or seemingly yuppi-town elitist it may appear to be. My campstove-topper four shot GSI espresso maker.
When out in the wilds after being kept awake at night by the irrational imaginings of hungry predators at every twig snap under the foot of a harmless deer, coupled with that tree root that was invisible when placing my tent, but at 3am was quite remarkably obvious to my right hip, I need some comforts. Upon rolling out of my tent I need, I dare say desire a cup of coffee. Take away the fancy paddles, the multi-season light-weight tent, made-to-order specialized kayak, iPad, iPod, GPS, VHF, PFD, LED, and all the rest, but leave me be with the quiet sleepy self-absorbed anticipation of that first spurt, and gurgle from the gadget. The sound and the sight of piping hot brown liquid falling into my cup that will make it all okay again. Rain or shine, wind and waves, tree root back aches be damned if I only can have that one enjoyable memorable experience of a cuppa in the wilderness. Back to basics kayak camping, a heartfelt yes! But even the cowboys of old got a cup of coffee before nursing saddle sores for another day on the open range.
Another beach and another sunset. I took another photograph from one of the other and remarked that I would be adding it to the now after many years overflowing file folder marked SUNSETS. Of course, most of these evening shots have my wooden kayak displayed prominently in the foreground cast in lens flares as I don’t much care for filters. It has become almost silly to constantly record local sunsets as inevitably they all come out very much the same. Golden light. Clouds if I am lucky to break up the scene are often back-lit, or illuminated from below in a pallet of reds, purples and orange. The water between myself and the orb are dancing ripples or opaque flat liquid reflecting to the sky, itself. Why keep taking these pictures?
On a small, privately owned island our gang of four landed and set up for a meal of take out sushi and beer on the limbo of the low tide line and out of sight of the luxury cottage. It seemed fair as we were not staying particularly long, and would not leave a single trace of our existence as we admired the setting sun over the Vancouver Island hills. Why take this picture? Because several years ago on the same exact beach my paddling buddy on that day and I sat, watching a sun go down when two Emu walked out of the trees and down the shore to where our kayaks lay. Once they had satisfied their curiosity the two birds walked calmly back into the bushes. I waited but to my disappointment the rest of the safari did not appear.
Much has changed on that little island in the interim years and now the humble cottage is more to the high-end scale of abodes. The frontage is landscaped and a cluster of totems stand guard in front of the house, and subsequently down the beach where we now sat. Somewhat out-of-place, and a smattering of a curiosity they are that makes me imagine the same beach in fifty years. Will it seem a scene from Haida Gwaii? Why take those pictures then, and now?
I have paddled so many times for the coordinated trading of places of sun and moon the night of a full moon rise. The monthly joy of setting out mid-evening to catch the last heat of a setting sun as I paddle out among the chain of islands so familiar to my boat, paddle and internal compass that I can navigate them after dark without aid of any man-made lights. The moon enters the play closer to ten o’clock and by then I have been on the water, or languishing on a beach for a couple of hours. The excitement is the same each time as I paddle backwards from the island further into the channel until the moon appears from behind the next island in the chain blocking my view. Phosphorescent sea lights up my paddle strokes and even the brightness of a moon no waxing can clash with the sparkle that is only seen to be believed and escapes language to describe.
A seal comes too close to shore at our next beach stop sending ripples of glittering water to the beach pebbles at my feet. He is blissfully unaware of our presence as the small rather scruffy and orange Mink that startled me by leaping over my out-stretched leg while I sat on a log quietly. It was as startled to find us there so quietly taking in the magnificence of our own existence that evening, and shot down the beach into the darkness after running the gauntlet of steeple chase hurdles that was our line of landed kayaks. Why take these pictures at all?
It is simple, the mind wanders from experience to experience, and event to event. Each journey out at night that will always amaze at least one person I tell who inevitably questions going out paddling after dark as unwise. To this, I can try to tell them why. I can only go so far to persuade them of the greatness and quality of life rewards of staying out on the water until 1:30 in the morning in a kayak. To the child-like wonder of causing the ocean to sparkle and to hold that speck of starlight in your palm for a moment. Paddles splashing about to light up the seas beside each kayak, and watching the harbour seals shooting along down below your kayak in greenish blue sparkled torpedo stealth with a warm breeze from the south after hours, heck months of holding fast against a northern chill.
Eventually, the unpersuaded aquaintance needs one more thing. Photo evidence of why anyone should do this year after year, summer night after summer night causing next day foggy drowsiness, which literally puts a stop to any real productivity due to lack of sleep. A picture of a kayak on a beach at sunset with a pair of Canadian geese out for an after summer cruise before returning to the fledglings in the nest. Not enough? How about a photo of the Moon shining loudly from behind patchy clouds over smooth still midnight waters so smooth they reflect the sky to stary perfection? Oh come on now, still think it is silly to go paddling at night? Maybe a photograph of totem poles still newly crafted and undamaged and un cracked by the elements. Getting closer now aren’t I. Here, have a cold beer and a sushi roll and the warmth of a setting sun on your face. Now, after a long miserably long winter it is feeling like summer, birthing us anew. Take a picture of that!