Posts Tagged marathon kayaking

All is Fair in Love and Paddling

Sod kayak launch pad donated by The Sod Farm, Whitehorse.

Sod kayak launch pad donated by The Sod Farm, Whitehorse.

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.

Starting my paddle in the YRQ.

Starting my paddle in the YRQ.

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.



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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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Kayaking All the Way Around Salt Spring Island, part 1

My foot is wet and I knew that would happen…

Sorting out my gear for the marathon day around Salt Spring Island.

Sorting out my gear for the marathon day around Salt Spring Island.

I have lived on Salt Spring Island most of my life with emphasis on ‘lived on’. Though aware of the ocean and that awareness only heightened from my kidhood days walking to or from school to our waterfront home via a crushed shell beachfront, it, the water was only a fact of life. My off the island life has been in the seat of a sea kayak and to my regret only began in my mid-thirties. Until then, land-lubber that I was I had no idea what a spectacular bubble I had chosen as a home. My water-side perspective has altered my perception and only increased my love of place, this oddity always in social flux, tourist-centric in summer months and left to sleep in the autumn and winter weeks, but yet remains my community, my Salt Spring.
From the vantage point of my wooden kayak I see the island for what it is, what it will always be long after I, and all I know are mere dust in the wind. A lovely lump of rock thrust up on the ragged coast of BC. Not covered with a sprinkling of salt as my childhood imagination saw things before moving to the island in the 70’s. Instead Salt Spring is coated deer, forests, sheep, vineyards, retirees and youthful exuberance. A small town surrounded by water with all the love, joys and local gossip of any small village, and all of the above very transitory in the big scheme of things.
It is this that I ponder along with my sanity as I wake long before sunrise and am paddling away from a beach north of Fernwood dock aiming for Southey Point where I will meet the start of the ebbing tide that will help me down and eventually shoot me wildly through Sansum Narrows. My mission on this tender morning, to start a circumnavigation of the island in one shot, all 72 kilometres of it. It was quiet and quite dark when I staggered back and forth to the car by the headlamp light with the required gear for a marathon. Tent, sleeping bag, (just in case) stove, fuel, emergency food and water, clothing life jacket, paddles etc. It never fails to amaze me that whether on a day paddle or a two-week excursion the amount of bits and pieces needed is about the same.
A mild light begins to rise around me as the air chills my face and I switch off and then remove my headlamp (I hope not to be needing it by evening). A sun waking and yawning from its southern travels is about to greet me, but I am cold and wearing my paddle jacket and toque knowing in a couple of hours I will have to stop to strip down for the warm spring day ahead. My foot is wet, and I knew that would happen. One Wet Foot should be my native moniker. I am blissfully aware that my day has begun uncivilized in the dark, and decaffeinated. Somehow to me a big drink of water, an Ibuprofen and a few sips of Gator-Aid are no match for a good cup of coffee. Coffee is forbidden on a marathon day.

I have spent the previous day loading my body with the nuts and bolts and fuel to at least make this long 12 plus hours of non-stop paddling less painful. I am hydrated to the point my ears are leaking, I have carbs burning and a box of goodies to keep me fueled all day long. Peeking tentatively over the wall of silhouetted treetops of Wallace Island to my right is the sun at long last.  I paddle by sleeping seals floating blissfully unaware of my presence and the cacophony made by the geese nesting on every rock in the channel.My nerves were up in the dark, wondering what the day would have in store. Would the forecasted light winds be mythical, or would I round Ruckle Park facing northward to home in blissful calm waters? Would I fatigue part way and have to call for a ride? Would the playlist in my head keep me occupied paddle stroke after paddle stroke. Now that the day has officially broken and I am well on my journey it is time to turn the corner on the day, around the northern tip of Salt Spring Island and begin my southern run.

The easy part.

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