Posts Tagged adventure kayaking
The conversation went as follows, “If it is raining tomorrow, we go home. Agreed?”
It was only partly agreed upon to break camp the following morning if the weather that had dogged us with rain for nearly the entirety of our two-week paddling trip to Nookta and Nuchatlitz did not relent. Our foursome had been quarreling about intent and agenda and itinerary for much of the journey but now it was taking hold of our collective spirits. Was it time to call it a day?
Paddling on the west coast of Vancouver Island is a game of weather fronts and dealing with the forecasts of clear skies and sunshine that never come to pass. It is more a mental game than a physical one as on the stormy days one will, if one is smart stay put in came and make the best of things. The coldest winter paddle I did was in the summer on the coast and drowning was less likely in the kayak than it was in camp. It is called the ‘wet coast’ for good reason. If you plan a trip, plan to bring rain gear.
Around the campfire after an adventurous exploring of the cracks, crevasses and what presumed to be called caves on Catala Island we discussed our options. That evening it was warm, dry and pleasant. It had been lovely all that day after the monsoon that had occurred the previous three days finally moved on to drench someone else, someplace else. Our group had regrouped after a brief trial separation to accommodate two differing agendas and when reunited enjoyed a perfect afternoon crossing from the Nuchatlitz group of islands to Catala on emerald-green seas and rolling deep but manageable swells. The skies had cleared as had the mood within our group dynamic. The marine forecast given by Environment Canada was dire. Arguably it was not nasty at all where we were but that was not to last. It was decided that we would break up once more into two groups if the weather deteriorated in the overnight hours. There was talk of hunting for fresh drinking water at a falls nearby as our supplies, rainfall or not it was running low. Two of us would head for home saying it was a good trip, but not worth spending another day in the rain foraging for drinking water off tarps, while the others remained to take their chances for another day or so.
We retired slowly to our tents and knowing that I might be off early got a head start at packing my gear so all that would be left me was my tent and sleeping bag, and of course the stove would have to cool before being packed. I was not going anywhere without at least a cup or two of coffee in the rain if need be. I was ready and good thing too as around 6 am I peaked my head out of the tent to wet my face in a light shower. My friend who would was the impetus for leaving that day was already in his rain gear and shuffling about his tent pulling pegs. We were going! Within an hour we were sliding out kayaks down the shingle beach of pebbles to the water pecked by small ringlets caused by small rain drops. Hardly the downpour of days before, but enough. We waved good byes and set out.
Did we wimp out at the end of a good trip, regardless of crummy weather? Perhaps, but then again we did not endure the storm that would come the day after that hounded our companions all the way up the inlet with hard sideways falling rain, winds and seas to match. Hindsight being what it is, I say that we made a good call to bail early. Perhaps we had run our limit on endurance when it came to being wet hours and hours on end. Still, as my friend slept through the rain storms earlier in the trip and I sat tending a smoky campfire all the while attempting to dry wet driftwood I can’t say it was all that bad. Certainly the warm drizzle that met me in my t-shirt and shorts while enjoying a beer at the back of Rosa Island was not unwelcome. It was a calm day four days before we would leave Catala for good. It was misty in the distance and the barking of sea lions somewhere out there kept me company. The rain on my shoulders and watering down my brew did not change that fact that I was out there in the first place. Rain or shine I was doing something that not many people get to feel and experience. A rainy day spent on the back of some small island that no one knows about. Listening to sea lions and the gurgle of swells rushing up a cleft in the rocks below my pare feet. That my friends is camping on the wet coast at its absolute finest.
In the past few days there have been repeated warnings of a big winter storm approaching the southern coast of BC. Although, I doubt it will be the storm of the century, there is a knee-jerk tendency out here in the rainy coast to over-react to the news of even a single snowflake at sea level. Being outdoorsy I see this as an opportunity to break out the camp stove in the case of the power outages (snow+wind+tree branches and powerline equations) that often accompany such events. A few candles too, my headlamp and if the power is out for a lengthy period we have cozy sleeping bags as well. Not to worry!
The current wind chill and arctic outflow winds brushing across the southern gulf islands has been a tough one to endure this week. I look out at the harbour to what looks like a brilliant day to paddle into the winds and ride the waves home but detoured by the fact of temperatures. If it were a summer wind I would be out there wave riding. Minus 15, well…
Call me a wimp if you like, but the real reason other than the air making my face hurt is that I don’t own the right gear for extreme winter paddling. Most years I can get out there virtually every month as the conditions in January and February are often very conducive to comfy day paddles far from the level of extreme. Perhaps I should label myself as a three-season paddler? That being said, the forecast for some snow by the weekend wakens my desire to have a perfect snow day paddle. To strike calm water with my paddle under torn down pillow clouds leaking snow flakes as vigorously as feathers down and all around me. I have romantic notions as I have never had the experience. I imagine the hush of snow on water as each crystal melts immediately upon contact with mother sea. The silence of it all, which I know from many pre-down walks inspired by being the first other than deer and small birds to leave a mark in newly fallen snow. I imagine the gathering of flakes on my decking. First a light dusting but as the paddle continues its motion through the dark water, the deck changes to a snow-cap. At a distance I hear a gull breaking radio silence and disturbing me for a moment, then all goes quiet once more.
The shoreline transformed from recognizable landmarks to alien coast once it is all covered in white. I paddle by a local beach to see a cold but bundled family group walking a large dog who appears to be getting more from the winter’s day than the humans. Another gull crying out marking the time to turn the bow for home. The snow is easing now and breaks in the cloud cover reveal the crisp blue cold above, and the only colour in a monochrome world. It will be near dusk by the time I return to the launch spot and the reality comes of carefully returning the kayak to the car’s roof racks up slippery slopes from the beach.
Tick list item done, if only in my mind’s eye.
As the gathering winds of January blow chilly and cold the images of wintertime paddling would not be the one above taken on a spectacular morning with plus-side temperatures, and calm waters in Stuart Channel near my home on Salt Spring Island. On this day we set out for a lunch on a nearby islet and the only limitation on the day was daylight hours. Only by noon did the winds pick up enough to damage the mirror of the sea with a slight mischievous ripple. The best summer day of paddling, it was just in winter.
By contrast, a lovely morning paddle in that same stretch of water turned ugly, grey and challenging for the novice kayaker who paddled with me that day in, not November, December, or even January, but in May! We had a fair morning with calm waters to practice paddle strokes and techniques, a brief stop for lunch and our entertainment was the darkening skies looming on the opposites shores. Time to head home, but not before the squall packing gusting winds and heavy chop battered us. It gave my friend a tiring but fruitful day of learning to cope with good ol’ Mother Nature and her bad parenting skills. It gave me a chance to tutor someone through the storm. It was a terrific wintertime paddling day, it was just in May.
“Is that your tent near the trail head?” asks one of a pair of women clad in windbreakers hiking towards my wife and I strolled in the calf-muscle tightening slopes of pea gravel that make the surf eroded landscape of Sombrio Beach.
“Yes” I replied, “why?” assuming a pole colapse, the rumoured Juan de Fuca Trail thieves pilfering our belongings or worse, almost inevitable public campground dog crap steaming fresh and warm by the tent.
Not even a half-hour into our romantic weekend stay on the historic Sombrio Beach had I encountered something that cannot be changed by evicting a thriving community of ‘squatters’, surfers and hippies for the sake of logging and the Juan de Fuca Trail installment. The simple fact that wilderness no matter how many human footprints are left, wilderness remains, and the pair of black bears who were indeed long gone by the time we reached our camp had left a calling card. Namely, a rather large trench dug in and under a tangle of kelp. No doubt rummaging for grubs, small crabs and any other snacks. Luckily I had left our food stuffs in the car at the top end of a ten minute hike to the parking lot. Was this a taste of what the individuals who lasted here for some years, living off the land, caring for each other’s needs, wants and hardships, not to mention the surfing had to deal with?
In my years of kayaking I have landed in places such as Sombrio Beach. Places of quiet (other than the constant sounds of waves meeting land), places to tuck in for a night to two surrounded by rainforests, or the remains of them as so nibbled are the hills of Vancouver Island. Places of legend, of human history dating back and beyond European settlers. Places where bears dig on the beach for snacks.
I was not concerned with our potential furry neighbours as just after dusk the group of teens landed with coolers of cheap beer, bad music and boring behaviour. Needless to say, bears were scarce now, as was my ability to sleep. We moved down the beach early the following morning. The clean beer-can and litter free days of the squatters were gone. Hooligans and silliness had moved in, though I am sure this was only an isolated incident. Surfers and trail hikers as with my community of kayakers are for the most part tidy, quiet and respectful.
We explored the beach and found remains of garden plots and cabins, we hiked the unworldly shores of Pacific plate rock pushed up into high cliffs home to bonsai trees, lazed by our campfire and took the requisite number of afternoon naps that weekend. The air-filled with silence, overnight rumblings of high tide tossing pebbles and all the while felt it. That un-named sensation of belonging, tranquility and one on one with the nature from which we so firmly have separated ourselves. Was this too what drew a certain type of person to come and stay and build adaquete shelters and raise families unencumbered by the needs of the outside world? A night here on a cool fall evening, the crack of firewood warming your bare feet and it hard to imagine going home again.
A terrific DVD documentary about the squatter years is available via the link here. Well worth a look and as with Long Beach near Tofino has similar repocussions both human and wilderness.
When I think about Tofino, BC many images come to my mind’s eye in an overwhelming stream of memories from childhood wanderings and play on Long Beach (now Pacific Rim National Park) amongst the hippie kids and resident squatter community living a sandy lifestyle of the mid-70’s, and my more current experiences kayaking the area.
Much has changed in the little village that is quite literally at the end of the road to the west side of Vancouver Island, and much has remained the same. Time and tide are the constant though Tofino endures an annual invasion of summer tourist that whips the local routine into a frenzy. Campsites are bursting to overflow, beaches packed with wanderers and surfers. The town is populated with bus tours and backpackers. But in the fall, much like my home on Salt Spring Island, which is also a tourist destination the flow slows. Regulars in town reappear after a summer hibernation and everything returns to a normal pace.
In the case of Tofino that pace remains humming as the ‘storm-watching’ season begins. The surf warning sign is changed from low to moderate or even high, the campsites are plentiful and the air is always clear and crisp. That is the first thing that hits me each time I set out on whatever beach I am closest too upon arrival in Tofino. The air at home is still, rainforest calm scent of trees and seaweed. Out there on Chesterman’s Beach, McKenzie Beach, Cox Bay or Long Beach the air is like a chilled white wine by comparison to my luke warm Merlot air of home. West coast Pacific air immediately refreshes the spirit and it all seems somehow brighter.
Last week my wife and I revisited the place of our honeymoon and the familiar scene that welcomes us even after a two-year absence. We set up camp near the ocean and our soundtrack that first night would be pounding surf mixed with the rapid attack of raindrops on our tarp. By morning, nothing but high clouds and mild temperatures greeted us as we sipped coffee at the Common Loaf Bakery in town before heading to Cox Bay, home this year to the Queen of the Peak women’s surf competition hosting wave riders from all over, with the high content of local talent. The first day of the meet was the short boarders hitting the larger waves of the weekend following some stormy days. This was my first experience watching real surfers doing what they do best and the show did not disappoint. The joy, smiles and pure athleticism of these women was astounding. Making the paddle out through a rockery to sneak out behind the incoming sets of waves was made to look easy. The rides were in some cases long and the return paddle to get the next wave equally daunting.
This was a trip that led me to Tofino at the head of one of best kayaking destinations around, Clayoquot Sound once more without my kayak on the roof rack? Though I was not there to paddle the Tofino experiences only added to the library of lovely memories from my first sight of the endless beaches when I was still in single digits and all the way to present day when I can share the experience and love of a place with the love of my life. But next time I am taking my kayak!
Summer it seems is showing the signs that the last act of the play is about to start and a season of heavy kayaking has come and gone for me without much time on the water. This was a summer of working, not playing. That said, I pulled my wooden kayak off the seas for a well-deserved renovation and care. The new job slowed the process and though I had the enthusiasm, the body was pooped and my days off spent catching up on rest and other more important things.
Alas, October is now scratching at the door like a wet cat and my kayak sits partly done. sigh. Today I realized that my gelcoating efforts should be beefed up as sanding her belly smooth revealed more wood than smoothness when removing the orange rind dimples I really should have been more generous with the gel coat… Another few coats to be added and a few more evening, and weekend sessions wet sanding to get the pro finish I really want. My newbie efforts at refinishing are showing but a bit more elbow grease is okay with me. She deserves it after so many years of keeping me safe and joyful.
So my summer project becomes a fall project. The kayak rebirth in the new year, her tenth year on the water with a shine and a new look.
(This is an older post from my older and now extinct kayaking blog, but one that I kept in the folder as it is a great read, an awesome book, and worth repeating here on the new-improved kayaking blog)
Living on a small island has its ups and downs. It has its problems and its perks. One of the perks is a friendly association with your local rural mail man, or in this case mail courier woman, person, um…she delivers my mail. I know her well because a few years back I was working for her, delivering that very same mail. And she is a kayaker as well and we have exchanged various books over the years via my mailbox.
I bumped into her at the box the other day and kayaking is the usual topic at hand. I told her about the amazing 2.5 hour paddlers video diary of a solo kayaker paddling from Vancouver to Alaska with little experience, or gear I had just posted on the Kayak Rogue and as it happens I think I was the last to find out about it. Check it out at your convenience.
After a brief discussion about that, she mentioned that she had just finished the book about Freya Hoffmeister, titled Fearless. I wanted a go at it and this morning low and behold Fearless arrived in my mailbox.
It is the story about a 46-year old former sky diver, gymnast, marksman and even a Miss Germany contestant who left her 12-year old son behind to paddler alone around Australia. It was a daunting task that drew criticism from expert paddlers as foolish and possibly deadly journey.
Determined to paddle faster than the only other paddler to complete the route 27 years before she set out to kayak the 9,420 miles of shark infested waters.
Acclaimed outdoor journalist Joe Glickman follows Freya’s year-long journey around Australia, and writes an account based on conversations with Hoffmeister and what he can discover from her daily blog posts as she paddles. While reading this book I could only imagine the frustrations from a writer’s stand-point. Hoffmeister is a truly annoying subject who reveals little about her exposure to the element, the difficulties faced each day or shows much interest in the colour and culture of where she is paddling, other than repeated notes about her birthday suit. Glickman fills in the blanks as best he can and it is his writing about the incredible backdrop of her kayaking adventure that creates a sense of the enormity of what she is doing. Only a few of us has ever known the pain of what sitting in a kayak for 12-14 hours feels like, and what it does to a body. Freya will not divulge such information and you can comb through her blog posts and find no complaints at all. A piece of piss, this kayaking around Australia. However, as a kayaker who has done some considerable miserable hours in a kayak I smirked at Glickman’s example on page 47.
– Three hours in a kayak is uncomfortable; double that and it’s like flying coach in the middle seat with linebackers on either side and a nose guard in front of you with his seat all the way back; double that time, and you had better be a former gymnast with an ass of a draft horse and a lower back like Gumby’s- Joe Glickman.
As a marathon kayaker, Glickman knows of what he speaks and I agree with his assessment, and with no offense directed at a writer I have followed over the years, it is just a shame that it is not her words about the journey that count in this book.
By the time I had read through a third of Fearless I was struck by how boring this paddler actually was. I cannot say I agree with how she approaches life, or kayaking. To paddle around that little island to me would be epic, not just physically and mentally but emotionally as well. I am not Freya Hoffmeister, I can’t say I even like her much from the impression I get from the book. How wonderful to read a book about a kayaker attempting something that could at any moment bring her to her demise, yet who does not arouse a sense of sympathy at all. However you view this person, remember she is athlete first and she was not there to take in the scenery or to soak up the experience in its fullest. Freya Hoffmeister’s goal was the key to why she was put there cruising the shoreline of pristine untouched wilderness around an island so big it classifies as a Continent. Hoffmeister has little or no interest in the history, the culture, the place. Australia is just something to paddle all the way around and in a pigheaded, rather vain manner. She is a single-minded paddling machine with one purpose, to be faster than the last guy.
Freya Hoffmeister overcomes what had to be real, if unspoken fears. She masters the art of endurance paddling, and accomplished this in record time. No matter what you may think of her as a person, that feat alone is enormous, and awe inspiring.
Fearless is a great read about a hero that you may or may not like that much. Alike the controversy about Canadian runner Steve Fonyo, sometimes you are placed in a position to admire someone for what they accomplish, and not for who they are. This is the case with Freya Hoffmeister, sky-diver, gymnast, mother, and endurance kayaker. For those who want to paddle vicariously in a tiny kayak on the edges of the unknown southern land, Fearless in the book for you. Though you don’t get to choose your paddling partner.