Archive for category Salt Spring Island Kayaking

September, I remember…

Vargas Island ,Clayoquot Sound 2006.

Vargas Island ,Clayoquot Sound 2006.

I don’t know what September is like where you are, where ever you are, sitting reading my blog post. And thank you by the way for stopping by. Here on my island home of Salt Spring on the evening of August 31st the climate changes. The air is cooler, damper and has a taste of something intangible. The light is different the morning of September 1st. How does it know when to change? Is there a meter, or a counter that click click clicks through the months until it reaches those sad last gasps of summer and then clicks one last time and Fall arrives. Labour Day weekend being a weather crap shoot every year. Will it rain? Will it shine? All our hopes wrapped in the last desperate hours of that final weekend of freedom before it all comes crashing down like a Berlin wall of winter. Yes, to my mind there are only two seasons on the west coast. Summer and that other thing. Not winter per say but a thing, a creature, an entity that comes around to torment me with months of grey and rain and the damp cold that digs deep into your bones. They don’t call this the ‘wet coast’ for nothing. September is the last gasp month. Not quite summer anymore but not quite that other thing either.

September brings with it sweet and bitter memories, of back to school, romances come and gone, kayaking trips and walking bare foot on cold sand with a hot cup of coffee in the sunrise hour. With all its connotations September remains my favorite month of the twelve. It is the light and the slight dampness. It is the call for warm sweaters in the morning and begging for a cool t-shirt by 2 pm. It is the time of confusion for dressing and whether or not to have the doors open past a certain evening hour. It is the morning mists holding tightly to the ground and gathering in the apple trees in the valley below my house. It is the fact that I can still leave my bedroom window open at night, at least for now. It is the dry grass knowing that with the first rains of October (and that rain will come) all will return to green then blanketed by the fallen maple leaves that started to give up the ghost early this year. It is the threat of a first frost. It is the embrace of adding a log to the fireplace. It is dark too early and increasingly shorter days. Time to dig out those books collected and wine to drink. It is the beginning of a cosier time to slow down after the wild and so short-lived summer months of not caring about interior things.

September, welcome. I was expecting you to show up at some point this year but not as fast as you have. Were you ahead on schedule or was I behind? In any rate, there is no fighting with you. You are now here and all I can do is say hello, come on in. Sit your bones down as you may be tired from the journey. I do hope you will help me out in making yet another set of September memories to add to my list of those you seem always to inspire. It is time to dig out the tent, the cook stove and embrace the damp morning on a beach with a fresh hot cup of coffee and wet chilly sand under my bare toes.

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Before and After the Yukon River

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

I have been away from the blog for months now as life and work and all sorts seems to take my energies away from my writing time. But as I did my weekend walk from my girl friend’s palatial apartment building and down through the tranquil Ross Bay Cemetery with a cup of coffee in hand it occurred to me that three months from now I will be doing the same darn thing on a Saturday afternoon as is my tradition while she is at work, but in three months time I will be doing this stroll recovering from and hopefully revelling, and not despairing the Yukon River Quest experience.

Now that the weather has improved my training has officially begun and I have set a 20km loop around the islands north of my home on Saltspring Island. Set in Trincomali Channel it can be flat calm one day and a tossed mess of white capped waves the next, and in the case of my paddle the other evening all in one day! I am relying on all sorts of gadgets to record my times and help assess my progress…if any over the next couple of months. I feel good, the boat is great and am looking forward to bringing a kayak I built in my living room over a decade ago to the Yukon River and put myself and my kayak to the grand test of racing from Whitehorse to Dawson City, a mere 715 plus or minus kilometers against the clock and against my own fatigue.

I admit to waking up some mornings wondering what the hell I have gotten myself into this time. Then, I sit in my kayak and all is well. While blasting through wind waves the other evening, knowing full well they, and the tide were conspiring to ruin my 20km lap time I was laughing. Like riding a bike. I have not put my butt in a kayak solidly for a couple of years other than occasional evening or weekend paddles. I am starting from scratch and feeling fitter with each outing. The sun of springtime helps, and I wonder how it is for my fellow competitors who may not have the availability of luxurious backyard waters to train in, and in such nice conditions. I am lucky in where I live, and the support team I have to help me undertake the crazy task of making it so very far on my own, alone on a winding river up in the great white north under a disinterested midnight sun.

I will keep you all posted from now on with regards to training, thoughts and with luck, I will be sitting on my girlfriend’s front porch in three months time writing the opening pages of the post Yukon experience.

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The Art of Zen Wildlife Photography

I don’t have a photo to post for my blog. Not one that any of you can see at any rate. The picture is forever seen in my mind’s eye and there it sits until the last breath I take. What I would call a Zen Photo. If I am lucky, my faculties will sustain me to that last breath and my encounters with wildlife that were left forever unrecorded by my camera will linger and entertain me as the lights of this life go out. With even more luck, that last breath will be some long time from now and I will have ample opportunities to see amazing things on those days that for one reason or the other, I have been traveling in nature without my camera.

I don’t regret the images not seen on my laptop screen due to the fact, either that the animal was out of range, the lighting was wrong, it caught me by surprise (this happens more often than not) and I didn’t have the speed at hand to get the camera set and ready to capture the encounters. Or simply, as with the past weekend not bringing the darn thing with me at all. This was when the resident pod of orca put on a frolicking show near the entrance of Active Pass on the Georgia Strait side of Galiano Island as I rode the ferry back from Vancouver. They must have know there were tourists on board because the pod pulled out all the typical stops for a whale show that one might see if unfortunate enough to pay big buck to see captive whales doing their best to entertain us in small tanks. The pod came close to the ferry and began leaping high out of the water. Breaching, spy hopping (a vertical rise from the water like a submarine’s periscope) and both tail and flipper slapping and splashing. All this was being done as the sun was low and casting glittering sparkles on the water.

My seat on the ferry was hot, I had picked the wrong side of the boat to sit and in my sudden tired state could not find the will to move to the port side and out of the direct sun. I sat, sweating, reading my book and half-ease dropping on the three young women seated in front of me. I am old enough to know and recognize that these three thought they were cooler and cool, alternative to an extreme and sadly, that look had been done before. Nonetheless, they prattled on, piercings and attitudes glinting in the sunshine as each made passive aggressive commentary in response to what ever one of the others had said. This went on for some time, to the point of becoming annoying. I had found inner strength to move to the other side where I would be free of the uber cool and find some shade.

The announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were in good luck as there was a large pod of orca dead ahead. I gathered my stuff, put away my book and spilled my coffee on my last clean shirt in a hurry to get outside to the deck railing to watch the show. As I got up I heard the lead girl speak. “I have seen whales before, nothing new here.” and so they stayed. Her two companions fixed in their seats under the weight of peer pressure. I shook my head and ran outside to find my joy.

I did, and had I looked back into the glare of the window opposite where the girls sat, I would have seen them all, face down, scrolling through all too important Facebook junk. Whales, shmailes. I buried the sadness I felt for them, those poor too cool for words soulless creatures. I instead stood, bag over my shoulder clutching the un-spilled remainder of my cup of coffee watching in lovely awe the twelve or more young orca at play. I cast an eye to my right and found a woman, maybe somewhat older than I but not by much standing watching, tears running down her cheek. I hesitated to interrupt the rapture but made a small comment about the show at hand. She had never seen anything wild, and so close. I was stifling my own usual emotional response to encounters of the like. I never bore or tire of them. I choke up and smile so hard my face hurts for an hour afterwards at seeing a bear, or wolf or so many whales from the seat of my kayak. I mentioned an encounter I had in Johnstone Strait a few years back. The woman gave some interest but I knew I was intruding and fell silent. Her eyes closed, the sun bathing her face and dried tears. It takes time to fully develop a Zen photo and that was exactly what she was doing.

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Wallace Island Camping Improvements

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Kayak camping in the Southern Gulf Islands is plentiful as the entire chain is part of the Marine Trail system. Though, my home island of Salt Spring Island lands in the middle of all of that, it does not offer much in the way of easily accessible locations to spend a night or more while paddling. Ruckle Park at the south end of the island is suggested in many guide books but as a local I would be hard-pressed to attempt a landing at the camp ground. Constant wave action created by passing motorized pleasure craft and the BC Ferry fleet traveling back and forth in the channel and the rocky shoreline all combine to make for a tough launch/landing situation. A small area on the west side of the island near Musgrave Landing is a sweet spot and included now in the trail but easily passed if you are not sure what to look for.

That said, the islands surrounding Salt Spring are incredibly attractive for paddle camping trips, and I have included a few posts about them in the past. Within an hour in any direction you will find something and somewhere to raise your tent. One such island is situated on the eastern side of Salt Spring, in the middle of Trincomali Channel called Wallace Island. It is a long ridge of rock covered in eagle-nesting trees, seal colonies, mink, otters, and raccoons (which I will talk about later). The island has a colourful past and a book written about Conover Cove, which is a favourite anchorage for boaters, David Conover’s Once Upon an Island highlights that past and a great read!

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The island has camping space available on the grass at Conover Cove amongst the old buildings, but the best spots are to the north at Chivers Point and around the shady side of the island at Cabin Bay. I have camped at both locations in the past during multi-day paddles around Salt Spring. Chivers Point has many raised tent pads, an outhouse a short hike up the island-long trail and one of the best scenic places to sip a glass of wine with dinner and admire a sunset. Cabin Bay on the other hand has only two pads close together at last count, making this a good place for a close group to set up camp. An outhouse is a short hike up the hill and though more secluded than Chivers or Conover, Cabin Bay loses the sight faster. No sunset viewing here but a background of the eroded cliffs of Galiano across the remainder of Trincomali Channel and a very accessible landing, and sweet spots to sit with dinner with that glass of wine and maybe a book.

I admit it has been some time since I stopped to get out anywhere on Wallace as I use the island as my weekly evening paddles as the boat ramp at Hudson Point just a kilometer beyond the Fernwood Café is close to home.

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However, on a recent evening when I decided a picnic dinner was in order I pulled in at Chivers Point as a half way mark. I was surprised to see a few changes and one in particular was something I joked about on previous camping outings. ‘The racoons are so bad and bold here that they should put up bear caches’. And so they did. A large aluminum box has been installed to protect your food bags from those pesky bandits that have more than once been seen ripping off my cockpit cover searching for any goodies. They are unafraid of us and plentiful on Wallace. The other change was the removal of the old rotting picnic tables, including one that always seemed to be moving around on its own four feet to various locations around the campground.

Wallace is an ideal paddle destination from Salt Spring Island. With so many jumping off points such as Hudson Point, Southey Point (ironically located at the north end of Salt Spring) at the end of Arbutus Rd. As well as potential for longer days by launching from the town of Ganges or Long Harbour. From either Hudson or Southey Points getting to Wallace requires a short crossing of the Trincomali Channel. From Hudson to the island it is about a 15-20 minute paddle, and from Southey Point closer to 45 mins to an hour, island hopping to Jackscrew and then South Secretary Island. A seal colony resides between those two islands so enjoy the playful and curious seals but remember to also give them ample room and respect.

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One Paddle Stroke at a Time…

IMGP1530I had not realized to what extent that sound meant to me, what depth and part of my being it reflected, and how familiar the sensation even after a long absence from floating in my kayak. That first full paddle stroke to the chilly March waters. That splosh, and that spatter of sea water droplets falling from the blade’s edge as the opposite blade bathes as well for the first time in over six months.

Life and other things managed to divide me from the seat of my kayak for months now but that thread is broken, and the return to my prior self is in progress. I had big plans for this coming year. I was going to challenge myself, my body, my mind and my imagination in such ways by attempting things in my kayak that are far bigger than myself. Scary, but wonderful things such as entering the Yukon River Quest. Maybe next year…yes!

With such distances to travel to get ready for that race of over 700 kilometers from Whitehorse to the gold mining town of old, Dawson City attempting this feat this year would be foolish. I am turning 50, a flabby mess with a head full of flooble from a rather stressful year before. Time to get fit, time to remember who I am, and get my head back into the game of paddling.

Sitting in my kayak waiting for some friends to catch up on this lovely late winter, or early spring day, feeling her drift with the sun warming my left cheek and springtime brought to the island by a small almost warm breeze at my back I felt it all coming back to me. Out of the long sleep, and awakened to the idea of doing something new.  One paddle stroke at a time…

 

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Water!

148 1Water, water everywhere but not a drip to drink!

Seen here on a log at my lovely beachside camp near Port Renfrew BC is my water bottle. “Life is Crap” makes me laugh as a touch of outdoorsy snark in the face that no matter where I am with my kayak, it is anything but crappy. That said, today I would like to mention something we take for granted, as the news from Detroit worsens and the memory of not having running water at home for a time still fresh as a mountain stream to my mind.

It is suddenly summer here after a noncommittal beginning and long spring. The heat and humidity of the past week has been a challenge. A morning paddle the other day began with the idea that if I got out on the water early enough I could beat the heat. How wrong I was as it met me clearly as I unloaded the kayak and gear. My only saviour was my Life is Crap buddy who along with two more one litre bottles of water rolled around between my legs as I paddled against the tide for an hour in the heat.

We tend to forget about it. I get lazy with taking in enough water while kayaking. I towed a paddle boarder home to shore once after she ran out of gas on a late summer evening that was too warm not to remember water. She had none! I gave her the last of mine, hooked her up and dragged her across to safety. I am waiting for a new drinking tube kit to attach to the dromedary bag I keep filled with fresh water behind my seat. This removed the issue of cumbersome water bottles and sipping sun-heated liquid from the bottle on the deck and I am more likely to sip on the fly instead of stopping to take in water.

My outdoorsy tip for this week which will be closing in on the 30 celsius out here in the rain belt is the bring more water than you think you will need. Likely, you will want it. Stay hydrated, stay cool. Try not to paddle during the peek heat hours of the day. Dunk your sun hat in the water to cool your head and remember to drink, sipping small amounts every half hour or so and your life will remain heat stroke and crap free.

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Paddling the Summer Away

I declare it to be summer.

I base that statement on the very real fact that if you can do the same outdoor activity two days in a row without uncomfortable weather conditions, it is summer. The lack thereof of any kinds of weather. Rain, high winds, coldness, big seas, and combinations of such make it unsummer. This chain of not-so-great June-uary weather took a long weekend over the past few days allowing me to get out in my kayak not just once, but two afternoons in a row! The only weather-ish item to greet me on my second outing was a slight northerly breeze that was actually welcomed as it was overly warm, another hint that summer has finally arrived.

I was keen to get out there. Not just because of the desire to sit in my boat, but I had spent a week retrofitting the stern end to accommodate a Smart Track Rudder System. The kayak really doesn’t need a rudder. It tracks like a razor through the water. I decided, if reluctantly to add one simply because I am tired of working so hard to ferry across currents and wind the old-fashioned way. I am not as young as I once was. The rudder will not get much in the water time usually, but for those above reasons and the fact that focusing a camera while the paddle is tucked under my armpit to attempt to steer…not easy. new rudder 2

I am a believer in paddle skills and after many years without a rudder, I have good skill sets so I don’t owe anything and will not rely on the rudder much, unless conditions require. Wind, currents, combinations of both and perhaps in the next year the flow of the Yukon River at my back. This leads to the subconscious decision-making while I explored the local islands over this lovely sunny beginning of summer weekend. As I worked hard against the tide cursing the fact that the kelp leaves indicated my opposing course against the forces of nature mt mind wandered to fanciful visualizations of paddling the 714km Yukon River Quest Paddling Marathon. I must be nuts! But the addition of a rudder makes any last excuses based on navigation on a river fade away. I find myself thinking more about logistics. Borrowing an extra tent so my wife has a place to sleep at the midway rest stop at Carmacks. What type of food will I have on the route? Making a list of gear I will need and checking it against what I already have on hand. I’m doomed! If I can muster the funds to enter the race next year, I’ll be on the river. Can I finish? Well that is the real question isn’t it. I’d like to think I have what it takes mentally to get from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the require time. I do have a year to prepare and a good friend offering his knowledge and assistance as my crew who has already paddled it, (2 1/2 times) finishing twice and last year winning his class. The list of reasons not to enter are shortening.

The Yukon River Quest 2014 edition begins in two days and I see in the roster of paddlers a few familiar names. I wish them well. As for me, I will paddle the summer away. Occasionally checking my speed to see if there is improvements and staying fit.

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