Posts Tagged kayaking
No one was happier to see the blinking red beacon than I was, it signified the end of the mind numbing long journey along the shores of Lake Lebarge through waves and high winds. I was well behind my self-imposed schedule and turned into the checkpoint at Lower Lebarge around midnight, twelve full hours of sitting in my kayak without a breather or a chance to stand up erect. The mood at the rest stop was quiet, almost somber as those paddlers gathered there either sitting on the worn rounded stones or staggering about the beach carried the same exhausted expression. It was not over yet. Not by a long shot. I saw my new friend Glen sitting after standing for the same amount of time and distance on his paddle board as I had in my wooden kayak. We smiled at each other in that knowing way. We had braved the storms and the seemingly endless unchanging vista of the lake view together, though he had dashed ahead of me in the final kilometers.
I changed into my overnight paddling clothing. It was no easy feat to get undressed and redressed on that sloping shore with its cold round stones to add to my unsteady atrophied legs. I resorted to sit and wiggle my legs into my tights and waterproof pants. Nothing, and any long time paddler will tell you the same that there is nothing better after a long paddle than changing into fresh dry warm clothing. Usually, it is when the tent is up, the kayaks are put away for the night and dinner is simmering on the camp stove. Changing this time was in preparation of the next section of the over 300 kms to the first lengthy sleep break at a campground at a place between here and there called Carmacks named for the famous prospector who found gold sparking the gold rush.
I left before Glen and some of the others that had arrived before me. Call it a second wind, or just the stoic realization that the only way to get home was to just keep paddling. If I had any notion to pack it in, feeling the sharp twinges in my shoulder and under the weight of knowledge that I was venturing on in the way back of the race pack it would have been then and there. I got back in my seat, tugged my spray skirt back on around the cockpit, swung my paddle blade into the water and got a good push backwards off the stones by a very cheerful volunteer.
I set my GPS for the next waypoint, always this unit was my carrot on a stick. Planning my waypoints to set nice small bites of the river at a time because the mental drain of thinking about the daunting distances would have done me in. Instead it was smaller 20 – 50 km chunks that allowed my to not think about the next stop or checkpoint for hours. Just paddle. I did that, into the dusky overnight hours and in the winding faster moving narrow slot of the 30 Mile River section as the width of the lake closes into at times barely 50 feet from shore to shore. I could tell what was ahead and make out features along the shoreline as it was light enough even at 1:30 in the morning to paddle comfortably. My mandatory headlamp shining but was more an indicator to on lookers that I was there than means to illuminate any hazards. I was starting to be gifted with the midnight sun.
This part of the river was like a gift as well after the slog on the lake. The flow was swift and at times curled into riffles and small rapids. Gravel bars were something to be watchful for as was the pinpoints of other headlamps coming from behind me. I felt comforted to see them and as the wee hours of dusky night grew into early morning I could make out the spires of tree tops and aimed for those places far ahead now and then glowing brighter than the surroundings. That sun glimpse would be short lived as rain would greet me by mid-morning, but for now it was a pleasant paddle with the current on my side. I glided with my paddle up to have a snack after about an hour from Lower Lebarge of gummy bears and a full can of Red Bull that I slugged back rapidly. I looked around. I was very much the only one in sight as the bends in the river blocked my views forward and back. It was a strange mingle of daylight and dark that played tricks on the eyes. Small whirl pools spun at my bow and swirled as I paddled by them. Things on shore were not what they seemed. I was on the constant look out for wildlife, bears, wolves, moose and the beavers that frequently came to swim with me.
I had heard rumours of the racers in the past who in fits of tired paddle-weary moments fell into various stages of hallucinating. I pushed those thoughts aside when preparing for the Quest. Stories of paddlers seeing burning trees, wildlife that was more tree stump than bear and one story of seeing a Voyageur in full vintage regalia standing on the shore holding his canoe paddle. Nonsense! And with my last fistful of gummy bears I saw a white deer walking on the steep sandy river bank. I slowed my paddling to watch it and cursed the low light from letting me get a photo. A white deer! It pranced at my approach and scrambled up the bank kicking a spray of dark sand from its hooves. Then, it disappeared. I thought my eyes were playing tricks in the dusk then it reappeared but then with one more leap it evaporated completely. I looked at the time, it was only 14 hours into the race and I was already seeing things? It must have been the combination of gelatinous bruins and whatever evil resides in a tall can of Red Bull.
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.
The previous five minutes had been a blur. The starter horn blew. We all ran, walked or hurried to our boats lined up in order on the gravel beach beside the park, I was one of the hurrying types not wanting to use it all up before paddling. There was tussling of bodies ahead of me and I lost sight of Joe who was also of the hurrying kind. Reaching my boat after side stepping those in front of me who were seemingly less in a hurry to get going I found my wooden kayak and Anik standing at the stern awaiting her big moment to shove me out into the river, my kayak resting on a fresh strip of sod.
Ray, a volunteer on a sweeper boat was an acquaintance Gus had made on his many trips to the Yukon to compete in the Quest worked his family’s sod farm just outside of Whitehorse. The sweeper boat’s job is to follow the progression of paddlers up the river staying behind to round up, retrieve, aid, or rescue kayakers and canoeists who decide to call it a day, scratch or fall into trouble at the back of the pack. Ray would end up keeping the same ridiculous hours on the river as all the participants as he circled around the many islands and islets searching out the above mentioned boats.
After his short visit with Gus on the island Ray was on the same ferry ad I during my weekly trips to Victoria where Anik lives. Gus had pointed out my wreck of a car as I entered the terminal parking lot and told Ray that I was planning to paddle in the Quest. Ray sought me out. At first when he tapped a knuckle on my window disturbing my reading I thought he was just another hitch hiker looking to grab a ride into the city. He was not that but turned into someone else indeed. In the space of five short minutes chatting on the open deck of the ferry I had made a friend for life. In that meeting he gave me as much intel about the river that he could, and the offer to take me up river before the race on his jet boat to investigate the best route to Dawson. This encounter was the single most important tipping point in my decision to enter the race, though in the weeks to come I would be handed even more incentive. For now, I had a great new ally, a new addition to the team I was building and more important a new friend.
I wasted no time at my kayak as other racers madly paddled away. There was a rush of water, tension being released as finally after months of preparation we all were getting this thing started once and for all. I picked up my paddle and kissed Anik realizing two things at that moment. One being I could continue kissing her all day but that would significantly harm my finishing results, and two the remembrance of what Gus had told me earlier about setting up his GoPro camera up in a tree pointing at my boat. Its on film, the curtain was up and the performance had begun, I got to it. Sitting in the cramped cockpit I wrestled my feet into place in the rudder pedals and began the always tedious wrapping of the elastic of my spray skirt to secure it to the rim of the cockpit. Inevitably, whenever I rush this process it springs off at the back and I have to begin again. Usually resulting in an ocean wave threatening to fill my kayak wit sandy sea water. I knew this would happen and calmly as I could under the harried circumstances started from behind my back and all the way to the front pulling at the toggle until it fell into place. I gave Anik the thumbs up and she lifted the back of the boat and pushed me down my grassy ramp. I was actually paddling in the Yukon River Quest! I struck out hard but maintained my pace not giving into the temptation to race ahead.
Most of the front runners had long gone and the mid group was ahead of me. I set off into the swift current that rushed through the narrows along the Whitehorse city shore. Onlookers waved and cheered and it had been the first time experiencing anything like that. I never had fan fare before and it was a rush. In the time it took to redo my skirt I had lost considerable ground. I knew I could make it up if I stuck to my plan and raced my own race. However, others around me had alternative and unforeseen plans. The one aspect of the race that I did not count on before hand was the crowding at the start. Thankfully, most of the pack had already set out but I still had several boats and the long voyageur canoes to contend with as I looked for a safe line to take. I saw Joe up ahead paddling strongly on one side of his canoe and then the other. I kept his pace. A silly move and a small detour from my instincts, but the moment took over me. I was racing after all and wanted to keep up with Joe as long as I could. I looked around me. My head on a constant swivel in search of those around me potentially crowding my paddle space. I thought I was clear and cut across to the center of the river to hopefully find the strongest current that only three days before had been intimidating until I discovered the joy of moving water for the first time.
Clunk! I felt it before I heard it. The soft nudge from behind and then the horrifying reality of what was happening jolted me from my bubble. I was facing the wrong way. My kayak hit from behind by the Japanese tandem men’s kayak, their bow locking horns with my rudder housing and the force of the collision tossed me into a 180 degree spin in the current.
“Let go!” I shouted as the front paddler in the tandem held onto my kayak. What was he thinking was anyone’s guess at that point but all I knew was I had to get free and somehow right myself. I couldn’t go all the way backwards. I pushed at their boat and finally he got the hint and let go. They pushed ahead and paddled on but I still was sailing at quite a clip, in reverse! I grabbed at the water on my right with the paddle blade shaped like and elongated spoon, shifting the rudder that I was relieved to discover was undamaged. I grabbed at the water on my left. The wing blade scooping at the emerald green river water hard and in a few strokes and aided by the current to the cheers on the boardwalk I was going in the right direction with the kayak’s bow now pointed firmly north. It was a humbling beginning to my journey that would be filled with humbling moments, but of all that could have happened in the mayhem at the start line a mild bump from another boat was the least disastrous. All is fair in a race like this one and mistakes will happen. I settled back into my bubble as I left the outskirts of the city and followed the narrow path bordered by high white sandy cliffs towards Takhini River Bridge.
It is the off-season around here. It is the time of year that is especially frustrating for me as the weather is unforgiving, chilly and unpleasant at least until mid January so getting out for a paddle now and then is less likely. It is called the wet coast for a reason, and tonight it is wet with a hint of winter falling with each drop from the night sky. If it ain’t pouring rain it is blowing everything sideways with gales. Christmas on Salt Spring Island is almost always green instead of white, and well it is usually mud covered. Alas, this is home and though we only experience two seasons, wet and dry I would not want to live anywhere else. This year it is even more bothersome as I have entered the Yukon River Quest in 2016 and need to get into shape, (round is a shape, right). With all that hanging over my head and the rain falling on my cabin roof I can only resign myself to the days that are agreeable and get out running with my head lamp in my pocket just in case, and doing my nightly workout with the resistance band.
It is also that time of year that I read. Reading like cooking relaxes me no end. Catching up on a pile of books both real and of the e-kind that have gathered over the past months with the climax being those rare finds discovered at the island’s annual Big Book Sale. Each year the Farmers Institute building that only a couple of months ago housed flower arrangements, prized tomatoes, baked goods, preserves and other Fall Fair whatnots was filled with tables of books, books and more books last weekend. The timing of the sale is no surprise. Right before the dark gloomy grey days and stormy nights of the west coast wet season when staying in with a good book seems the right thing to do. Each year, I go in with a budget and a short list of titles I hope to find. The budget inevitably fails to that need for the extra one or two or five books over and above the stack I am clutching at the cash desk and needed to survive the winter months.
I have a job and it made me late for the first day of the sale giving me only minutes to browse, hunt, search and destroy before the 4pm closing. After that I was off to the ferry for a weekend in Victoria. This was my only chance to get the damn books. How can anyone be expected to enjoy the experience of book browsing with the clock ticking. So, with the fervour of a game show contestant I ran around the hall. I have the same target zones each year beginning with the cooking section and ending on the opposite side of the building with a long stop in the outdoor adventure and travel bins with a brief stop in classics before I go.
This year it was about finding treasures to give away at Christmas. My own book stacks near toppling and to be honest I could not find a book that caught my attention and even sadder still, all the books available I have already read. Not daunted I went about my mission to find the titles and some I did not even think to find always end up in my pile at the cash counter in the end. I did good this time around and I did manage to find one for myself. My stack will surely topple now with that one added book.
The point of all of this is not complaining about bad weather, my increasingly bigger battle with seasonal affective disorder as the months grow into the deeper regions of winter’s all too long drive to the first crisp mornings of spring. It is not even about mud, the lack of kayaking time, or all the rain. It is that a book, is a gift. It finds its desired owner. One never lends a book, it has to be given as inevitably you will not get it back once it leaves your hands. Well, not always. I met a man who would eventually become a friend on the day he arrived on the island. He was an acquaintance of a mutual friend and we chatted by the dock in town. His connection to me was through this friend who had leant him a book. He wanted to return it. When he told me the title I laughed and said that I had originally given it to her to read over a year ago. He handed it to me saying then it was officially returned! “Did you like it?” I asked. He did indeed.
Now in a round about way I get to the real point, a story I was told this past weekend about another book and the powers of the universe that must be looked at for what they are. I met, rather randomly a friend when I was wandering the streets of Victoria doing some early Christmas shopping. He is the younger brother of a guy I went to school with and we all grew up on the island. It was nice to bump into him though I noticed we had both begun to go grey. We stood in Value Village, I on the hunt for anything that fit me and he for treasures of another kind. We chatted for a time and he confessed to falling on hard times but taking it with a positive attitude and leaning back on a hobby that could potentially pay the bills. Professional treasure hunting. Finding finds no one would look twice at and only to discover the occasional valuable item misplaced or mistaken for not. He took me through his routine and looking in a small magnifier to take a closer look at inscriptions and stamps on the base of cups. He gave me a short lesson in treasure hunting and as he did so told many stories of lucky finds and one about a book that could have held a different path for him if he had only paid closer attention.
Here’s the thing gang, I am an atheist and a proud one at that. I don’t go for it but at the same measure don’t hold it against anyone who does necessarily. All I ask is that they don’t go overboard with the beliefs and hold true to the higher values and avoid reading anything more into the words. To be honest about it all, to not be trite, hypocritical or maddeningly violent. We see everyday the results of that. I stay clear of it all and those reasons are my own. I lay out his disclaimer of sorts because his story of a book leads immediately to the idea that there was a higher power at work during the experience. I leave it for you to decide.
His story is this. Years ago he was on the streets, yes another bout of hard times had befallen him. I judge not as that edge to the abyss it seems we are all only one paycheck away. It was during this time of living rough outside that he found himself outside of the downtown Salvation Army thrift store rummaging through bags of belongings donated after hours and left under the sign stating clearly the hours that donation of goods were accepted. It was after one in the morning as he sifted though boxes and found a big book. A thick, truly heavy and finely leather bound and it was a Bible. See, the what was the first thing that came to your mind at reading that word? Bible, it has a lot of baggage attached making the book even heavier. I admit at this point in the story I thought, oh no here we go. God talk. He swung away from that to continue telling me how he opened what turned out to be a first edition (I quipped that it was written by the man himself) King James Bible.
He was only just learning the treasure game back then but did know what to look for to authenticate the book for what it was and he thought it would be worth a little bit as it was in good shape. He thought about it for a time but in his homeless situation the idea of lugging such a cumbersome object, even for a short time was out of the question. He reluctantly tossed it back into the box from whence it came and when it fell some of the middle pages folded and were permanently creased.
Some time later, he was reading the local paper. Yep, you guessed it. Someone else discovered the find and the Bible sold at auction for a very large sum of money and would have fetched a higher amount if not for the folded pages. In one moment, in that one night his entire situation could have turned around. Even at half the auction price it would have taken him off the streets in one flip of a page. Was something looking out for him? Was the universe giving him a gentle nudge in the right direction. Who is to say. Not me. Random chance, put that Bible in his hands. Laziness took it out of them according to my way of looking at things. Putting the prize in his hands only to watch him toss it away. well if there is a God would that have pissed him off somewhat? Humans, why bother? Is it too late for a second flood? If it keeps raining like this all winter there may be a chance of that.
We live, we learn and sometimes we have to take a second look in that bargain book bin of life before we get it.
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.
I like kelp. I have fond beachy childhood memories of family trips spent car-camping on the beaches that are now, but not back then in the 70’s a National Park. Running and riding my bike on hard damp sand after the tide receded leaving our beleaguered Volkswagon campervan tired from the struggles of too many mountains on the potholed and washboard textured roads to the Pacific coast was now half sunk in the sand as my dad did not read the tide table correctly. In those days, one could park on the3 beach and camp and oddly enough the very spot we preferred to park is now a paved parking lot.
Herds of beach folk, squatters mainly who inhabited the alder and scrub lined barrier between highway and surf came to attempt the excavation and pushing of the van before the next high tide. Great fun for a 10-year-old getting his first hints of the sea air that would draw me back and back so many more times to paddle these same shores. Making ramps with beach wood to leap my bike over tangled gnarls of these twisted sea weed cords as the crowd gathered and a party began, and warm beers were drunk as now it was a clear job for the only tow truck in town. Some of the bundles of kelp spread out with loose tendrils reaching towards the sea. All manner of debris collected in the tangles as the tide rose and fell, tumbling them like unraveling logs on the sand. Some heavy and immovable stayed on the beach while other smaller rafts were pulled back to the ocean.
For me, these bundles were natures puzzles. To pull a single length successfully from the mesh was nearly impossible. I would then turn to a lone length washed up. The starter of a kelp bundle waiting patiently for others to curl and hug and cuddle with it. These slender kelp tails worked well as bull whips, and I would be found swatting anything that moved. Lines of cans on a log, imaginary enemies and I am sure my baby sister has tales to tell about me chasing her around with the stuff.
A walk on just about any beach will result in a kelp find. I have photographed the best of these messy tangles and am enthralled by them. On the water, these great rafts can be a tremendous obstacle. I have paddled, poked and prodded my kayak through large rafts of kelp. Oft times my kayak resting up on them as I struggled to pike pole my way across and seeking out any gaps big enough to get at least one good swish with the blade.
Coastal kelp is far larger than the puny gardens or lone stragglers bobbing about in my home waters of the Gulf Islands. Out there on the wild coast it thrives, and as much as it can be problematic for kayak navigation, this is a good thing. Kelp gardens breed life. There is a fine balance between us and nature and occasional tipping of the scales by interfering with the natural balance such as the decimation of the sea otter population on the coast of Vancouver Island driving them close to extinction. This caused the environment to drastically change. Without the sea otter diving to the sea bottom and snatching up tasty urchins, the urchins took over, as did namy other species of shellfish. The shellfish over population aided to the removal of the kelp. They destroyed it and in doing so removed the homes of many other species. The scales so tipped so far that a new industry formed all along the coast and into Washington State. Shellfish became the latest harvest replacing the otters and claimed itself a tradition.
In 1969, a mere 89 otters were relocated from waters in Alaska to Kyoquot and the Bunsby Islands just south of the Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island. They have been moving southwards and colonizing. I had the lovely opportunity to glide my kayak quietly into one such colony near Nootka Island. Since 1969, that small group has grown to over 3,000 individuals. Astonishingly good results. However this has caused a problem. Sea otters eat shellfish. Good for the health of the kelp forests and all that live in them, as well as good for the otter as in his absence the growth of urchins has made a smorgesbord for them. The problem has come from some grumbing from the shellfish industry people who claim the reintroduction of the urchin-eaters is causing a downfall in their catch. The cute little otters are going to destroy them! I seriously doubt this. For some years this industry has grown only due to the fact it had no competition for the resource. But I hardly think 3,000 otters could result in the ending of an industry.
As an ending note, I at the tender age of 48 picked up a long healthy length of kelp on McKenzie Beach near Tofino last year and in an attempt to use it as a whip, I most efficiently swatted myself in the face with its tip. Thanks sea otters!