Archive for October, 2015

That Damn Hat

the hatThe Hat!

“Hey Dave, I put a beer in the creek at Hudson Point for you, but you can only have it if you beat the time that Blake and I set in the double.” shouts Gus across the Trincomali Channel as I plough my way up feeling the back lash of each stroke through the paddle shaft.

There was a beer in the creek, chilled and wet and lovely and mine, if only I could find the energy after over 10 hours of non-stop paddling around Salt Spring Island on a warm Easter weekend. If only I could muster the power to paddle the last 4 kilometers to the spot that I launched from at just before 6:30 am that day. He was fresh, after only an hour of paddling leisurely and I was bonking. At the distraction in meeting up with him on the last leg I realized one big mistake I was making. I forgot to keep eating and drinking. I was running low and should not have let my eagerness to keep up with my friend who was a finisher of the Yukon River Quest foil what was to be still a brilliant and successful day on the water. A lesson learned that I will always keep with me. Ego, and apparently the promise of cold refreshing beer at the end of a long day nearly took me out altogether.

I did make it and somehow during that last stretch found the inner something to pick up my pace just enough to beat his best time in a tandem by a whopping 3 minutes. Not much, as slim margin at best but it did tell me that I was paddling fast enough to keep up with a duo in a kayak. Eleven hours, seventeen minutes and another five searching aimlessly for the beer carefully hidden behind a streambed stone, I was home. Oddly enough, ten minutes later I was feeling like I could do the day all over again. Was it the beer, or the adrenaline or both? Either way I was ready to get in the kayak. I felt immediately encouraged by this sudden full-bodied enthusiasm to continue. The River Quest dream started that night and the following day as I hiked up Mt. Erskine to a favorite spot overlooking the beginning of the narrows I had paddled less than 24 hours earlier. The weather had changed. The calm slot towards Burgoyne Bay where I so easily glided was now frothing and white-capped. I picked my circumnavigation day well it seemed, but then I thought again and wondered if I could have managed a second rotation around the island in tougher conditions. Nearly the same distance would be what I faced on the Yukon’s famed Lake Leberge notorious for squalls and wavy conditions.

Today, I sit sipping a cold beer after work and the anticipation of the weekend approaches as does that River Quest dream. On Sunday the registration for the 2016 edition of the paddling marathon on the Yukon River opens and I hope to be one of the first to enter. I will be at a family event so it will be done among supporters and well wishers. Upon completion of the registration I will be allowed to do something I am told by Gus who yet again placed a carrot on the stick for me. If I register, I can wear that damn hat! I hope that he will be holding it for me when I arrive at Dawson City, tired, sweaty, accomplished.

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Madness Under a Midnight Sun

In a week the registration for the longest paddling marathon on the planet opens and I will be one of the first to sign up. Call it a bucket list item, a midlife crisis gone off course from fast cars and dating inappropriately aged women. Tell me I must be nuts to even think about entering the race. I would reply, a little of column A and a little of column B. In the past couple of years as I really began to put some serious thought about paddling the 715 km distance between Whitehorse and Dawson City also known as the Yukon River Quest (the Quest) some have questioned why do it at all.

Painted on the wall opposite Klondike Kate's cafe in Dawson City, Yukon Photo by Dave Barnes

Painted on the wall opposite Klondike Kate’s cafe in Dawson City, Yukon
Photo by Dave Barnes

“You could just paddle the river as a holiday adventure.” as an example of the most common response to my crazy scheme. I have to say to that, it will be a holiday. I love road trips and the last one I took to the Yukon is a long story for the telling later on down the road. But I was hooked by the place, and especially the people I met along the way. And it is an adventure. The whole point is not whether or not I manage to stagger to the finish line, or fail to make it even to the first rest stop. That is the meaning of adventuring. If there was no question of success, a guarantee of completion without hardship or personal trials then why bother. So the naysayers I challenge you to go with the flow and accept that I am rather bent and willing to subject myself to long hours in a kayak, wildlife at every turn in the river, a growing tiredness and the need to pee.

During which I will meet people and witness wilderness from the unique perspective of a kayak that I will never un-see for the rest of my life, and sensations I will never un-feel for the rest of my years. I will face demons and doubts along the way. I have great people backing me, morally and physically. My support crew is a good friend who has finished the race several times. I trust him without hesitation and that only leaves the paddling to me. And though I know I will not be as competitive as he, I know he will get me as far as my body and mind will take me. I made a random contact on the ferry the other evening with a fellow who knows the river well and lives in Whitehorse. My team grew by one more as his knowledge will get me a long way. I have a lady in my life who felt that kayaks were death traps but after an afternoon in a tandem kayak with me this past summer she began to see why I do what I do. Although she may quietly think I am bonkers but is coming for the ride nonetheless and will love me no matter how bad I smell by the end. I hope.

Now the hard part. Training time. Today I strapped on the runners and went for a gasping, wheezing run but know that I will find my pace again and get back into fighting form for a long haul. “You could just paddle the river as a holiday adventure.” will come into my head at some point along the long crazy river sometime around Canada Day next summer. I will face that one when I get there.

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