Posts Tagged salt spring island kayaking

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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New Year, Same Me…almost.

Yeo Point EagleIt is the 15th of January, 2015 and sitting at my laptop in my cabin on Salt Spring Island listening to a light rain tapping on my roof. I look at my blog dashboard and see that the last post was back in September of last year. Nearly five months and not one single word typed on the blank screen. What could have happened in those long months of the fall. A time when kayaking in the Gulf Islands where I make my home is so lovely, and plentiful once the motor boat traffic of the summer tourist season abates and the local camping spots empty out. My backyard paradise once again becomes a tranquil home to this humble paddler. But, this past fall found me in a different mindset away from my beloved kayak, and a new Greenland paddle I was beginning to make friends with.

Much has changed since the 15th of January 2014 and the biggest of those events was suddenly finding myself paddling solo once more. The turmoil of all of that and the ongoing aftermath of picking up the pieces and restarting took me away from my love of writing, and paddling and most everything else. A complete shut down seemed to occur and maybe that was what was needed to find new energy and a fresh perspective, lessons learned and heart slowly mending (with the help of a new and wonderful soul injecting some love back into my life). I begin this year with that old cliché adage, “a new year and a new me!” Never! No silly New Years Resolutions for this paddlingboy. What you see is what you get, kids. Perhaps somewhat rattled, shaken but not stirred, albeit disappointed in many ways, and dented, but virtually the same guy as this time last year.

A fresh start. Yes, that is the ticket but first keeping my head down through the fragile winter months until the first warm rays of Springtime reach my face out on the water. I turn 50 this year. A fact that with all else that has landed on me lately had been pushed to the back of the bus but now it walking forward clasping the top of each seat carefully awaiting that sudden jerk when the bus stops at that milestone. A fact that is reminding me that I begin a fresh start at a time of my life when, yikes I am turning 50. I had better get going on this new project.

Plans for big paddles shelved for the time being. Other things, many other things must happen first. But they will happen in their time. Yukon River Quests under the midnight sun for my 50th, the original plan for 2015, now seem to be a good idea for my 51st year. Just let me get this first year under my belt and then it will be all downhill smooth sailing.

So to all of you reading this first tender offering of a fresh new, and rather wet coasty evening at the start of 2015, good luck out there. Keep your special people close. Offer kindness to those who stepped over the line with you in the past. Put your paddle to the water, or whatever metaphor to a tranquil meditative way of being you choose. Go forth and be you, as you are.

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Gear Review: Smart Track Rudder System

Installation of a new Smart Track Rudder system on my Pygmy Coho.

Installation of a new Smart Track Rudder system on my Pygmy Coho.

Gear Review: The Smart Track Rudder System

 

To rudder, or not to rudder? That was the burning question for many years. When I built my Pygmy Boats Coho in my living room (I was not married then) it was quickly apparent that the lines of the kayak were such that even in a partly finished state it would float in an un-aided straight line. Once finished and in the water that assumption was proved to be true. The Coho glides like a razor in melted butter. Turns with only minor body movements and paddle skills. For nearly ten years I have paddled without a rudder. I am a believer that in many ways the use of a kayak rudder is a handicap to paddling, not an assistance. It causes lazy paddling skill sets, or in many cases the complete lack there of. A rudder should only be an extra aid for when those certain situations occur that an aid to navigation is needed. They are not a substitute for gaining good paddle skills but should be partnered with them.

An example of this situation was when I spent months restoring a wooden kayak to new glory and attempted to sell it. The boat was rudderless and did not need one as it handled easily for anyone who could use a paddle. On more than one occasion I had to talk someone through how to turn the kayak around as they had only used ruddered kayaks and had no clue what to do without one. Selling the kayak proved to be a difficult task and re-enforced my opinion of a rudder.

I installed a rudder last week to my kayak. A decision based on many needs and factors. I am not as young as I once was, the sad fact of tendonitis have arisen, and looking towards the next stages in my paddling career it seemed a good idea. Most of the time the rudder will be up but I see those days when the winds gather against me, or crossing open stretches of current with the voice in my head repeating with every one-sided paddle stroke “do I want to work that hard?” No! Been there, done that  and if I can take some strain off my arms all the better. As a photographer I have had to lose great shots due to the awkward nature of navigating a kayak while focusing a shot. The paddle under the armpit method getting rather old. Then there is the underlying subconscious idea of entering the Yukon River Quest in 2015 and to navigate the river without a rudder would be exhausting if impossible. So there you have it, after some research and sampling of different systems I buy a rudder and last weekend I took her out for a couple of afternoon trips to get accustomed to the new addition. I have to say it is tough to turn off the brain and switching off the need to steer the kayak via the paddle. The first half hour was a struggle to stop myself from this, and just let my feet do the thinking while I concentrate on forward strokes. It will take a while to flip that switch on and off without thinking, but I will get the hang of it eventually.

The Smart Track Rudder works! In a word, it is the most polished rudder system as compared to the more basic pulley controlled rudders with sliding rail foot controls. The foil rudder mimics the design of world cup boats to achieve as little resistance and drag as possible. An adjustment knob allows the user to make easy changes for better performance depending on conditions. The two features of the rudder set up that made my day on the water were the foot controls and the single cord to raise and lower the blade. The foot controls are unlike anything I have used before. My argument with sliding foot peg rudder controls, the standard is that you lose optimum paddler positioning with your feet moving back and forth. Losing that fixed, locked in feeling that gives the paddler the most efficient strokes. The Smart Track foot controls put an end to that loss of stability and give the paddler what they want the most. The foot pegs are perminently in two modes. A set mount for your foot with a separate lever toe control for the rudder’s direction. This keeps you locked in place, braced well while the slightest touch to the toe pedal moves the blade.

Installation of the system was fairly simple and retrofitting it to my wooden kayak was easy with the addition of a mounting bracket from Chesapeake Light Craft (I purchased the rudder system from them as well) that allowed me to avoid drilling a pivot hole in the stern of the kayak. Using a long-pin version of the Smart Track rudder housing with that bracket offered only minor adjustments to the boat itself was done in an afternoon. To anyone considering the addition of an after-market rudder system the Smart Track is the way to go. Priced competitively to the old standard systems makes the decision even easier and the set up gives a paddler what they desire. Ease of use, and zero compromise to efficient paddling and comfort.

 

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Lets Go Exploring: San Juan River Estuary.

The last ever frame of the cartoon strip Calvin and Hobbes had the pair sailing off on a sled into a white background, parts unknown. The caption simply read, “Lets go Exploring!” Three little words that ran through my head as we four unloaded kayaks, paddles and enthusiasm on a sandy access near the Pacheedaht campground at Port Renfrew, BC. The idea to paddle up into the San Juan River Estuary was one a couple of us had bandied about and on a recent day trip to the coast I was tasked with some recon. This consisted of driving back and forth over the single-lane bridge over the river’s mouth peering over the railings to see upriver to the first elbow. Other than a powerline stretched over the river decorated with red and white balls so planes won’t get snagged I had no idea how far anyone could paddle upstream. When asked back at home by those interested in joining the trip I said it was totally, “doable”.

The estuary by definition is at the mercy of a rising and lowering tide fed in by the perpetually windy Juan de Fuca Strait. The open mouth of the river turns into a shallow maze of sandbanks and submerged logs at lower tides. An exposed sand bar blocks the outflow to the sea completely at this time. Wind waves bashed ashore against it, but on the river side things looked calmer. The tide would rise considerably by the time we planned to return so simplifying our path to the launch site.

On the water, the wind found us, and the paddling to that first elbow in the river’s course was done by riding high on some substantial swells. The winds were forecast to increase overnight but for some reason we all assumed amnesty on the river from their effects. Around the corner the open ocean and its nasty winds were behind us. The air was warm as was the water and the tops of trees swayed. The water became quite deep in places in rich emerald green and so clear that the stones on the floor were visible. In a moment, the deep would disappear and then suddenly shallow signified by the noise as my rudder blade pinged off small round river-polished stones. Fallen old growth trees lined a section of the shore like sleeping giants side by side one by one like toppled dominoes. Dwarfed we were in perspective. With only a vague GPS map to guide us along the trip upriver was one of true exploration fed by the curiosity of what may be around the next corner, the next gravel bar, the next rapid.

Rapids, a word or two about them. I am a sea kayaker. If I see tidal rapids I tend to find a new course. I am not a white water adrenaline guy and none of us had ever been river paddling before. It was good that we all read from the same page on this account as there was not one person who had done them before and therefore egging the group to jump in the deep end only because they feel comfortable there. We paddled against the flow. Most of the river sections were flat, relatively calm and deep. The current, and there was current was barely noticeable on these stages. Until of course, we were met with a step up in elevation. The flow increased and more often than not it was so shallow that getting good paddle traction was impossible. I wondered along the way if it had been a better snow year would we be in for more flow, and certainly deeper water. Even the smallest rapids stopped us in out tracks and the portage beyond the obstacle at one spot was a mere five feet. The sweeper rapid on a sharp corner we all avoided and on the way back down it was the only one we got off the river to carry the kayaks to safer waters. The rest of the steps were fun, slow-moving drops.

For three hours we worked out way up river stopping only to walked the river shore often to see if the next bend was to be our last. Inevitably it was not and we continued. A log jam standing about ten feet high nearly stopped our progress completely if not for a one meter gap with a bunny hop over a slightly submerged tree. On the return I led the group enjoying the faster water and using my rudder to steer the gauntlet and through the gap without a single paddle stroke. From that point we eventually found the short channel that lead into Fairy Lake. Here we met a man with a small canoe and a kite he was attempting to fly in the gusts swirling around the bends from time to time. The tops of the Alders bend and hushed whispers sounded in their leaves with each padding gust of wind. A reminder that our last leg in open water may be difficult indeed. I assured the group, and told myself to believe it would all die down long before we reached that point.

The afternoon drew on, the sun came out to greet us as we wandered, paddled, walked through deep brush, ate plump berries (wondering if the bears noticed) and fell into tranquil self-absorbed silences in out kayaks for long periods of time. It was noted on a particularly dreamy patch of slow-moving deep green water with high walls of forest highlighting the slot of open sky a mist shrouded mountain that we all could be floating on any bit of water, on any bit of British Columbia, at any time in history. The mist cleared, and a unmistakable logging scar appeared shaking us back to the present and thus ruining our delusions. We paddled on.

The hour became late, we landed upon a gravel island in the middle of the river. A mild rapid flow peeled away from one side of it causing a convenient eddy to allow easy landings. The four of us basked there in the sunshine, the first we had seen all day. All was quiet, all was calm. I exhaled in more than just breath. Not much was spoken on that hour perched in the center of a river with so much ahead of us to explore until I broke the silence with the reminder of the one we had left behind in camp, and the fact all the food was in the trunk of my car. It was time to paddle home. The time back was less than half that of the upriver paddle even with gusts of wind that to my prediction were not nearly as violent when we rounded the bend into open water. The tide was high and a shoreline short cut was to be had.

A look at the map when I got home shows how far we had paddled and how much potential there was to continue had we left earlier in the day. Fairy Lake was just the tip of the iceberg and I plan to return with Hobbes and Calvin and anyone with a kayak to see what lay beyond our lazy gravel bar. Next stop Lizard Lake…Let’s Go Exploring!

 

 

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Not Just Another Setting Sun

Another beach and another sunset. I took another photograph from one of the other and remarked that I would be adding it to the now after many years overflowing file folder marked SUNSETS. Of course, most of these evening shots have my wooden kayak displayed prominently in the foreground cast in lens flares as I don’t much care for filters. It has become almost silly to constantly record local sunsets as inevitably they all come out very much the same. Golden light. Clouds if I am lucky to break up the scene are often back-lit, or illuminated from below in a pallet of reds, purples and orange. The water between myself and the orb are dancing ripples or opaque flat liquid reflecting to the sky, itself. Why keep taking these pictures?Jackscrew Island

On a small, privately owned island our gang of four landed and set up for a meal of take out sushi and beer on the limbo of the low tide line and out of sight of the luxury cottage. It seemed fair as we were not staying particularly long, and would not leave a single trace of our existence as we admired the setting sun over the Vancouver Island hills. Why take this picture? Because several years ago on the same exact beach my paddling buddy on that day and I sat, watching a sun go down when two Emu walked out of the trees and down the shore to where our kayaks lay. Once they had satisfied their curiosity the two birds walked calmly back into the bushes. I waited but to my disappointment the rest of the safari did not appear.

Much has changed on that little island in the interim years and now the humble cottage is more to the high-end scale of abodes. The frontage is landscaped and a cluster of totems stand guard in front of the house, and subsequently down the beach where we now sat. Somewhat out-of-place, and a smattering of a curiosity they are that makes me imagine the same beach in fifty years. Will it seem a scene from Haida Gwaii? Why take those pictures then, and now?

I have paddled so many times for the coordinated trading of places of sun and moon the night of a full moon rise. The monthly joy of setting out mid-evening to catch the last heat of a setting sun as I paddle out among the chain of islands so familiar to my boat, paddle and internal compass that I can navigate them after dark without aid of any man-made lights. The moon enters the play closer to ten o’clock and by then I have been on the water, or languishing on a beach for a couple of hours. The excitement is the same each time as I paddle backwards from the island further into the channel until the moon appears from behind the next island in the chain blocking my view. Phosphorescent sea lights up my paddle strokes and even the brightness of a moon no waxing can clash with the sparkle that is only seen to be believed and escapes language to describe.

A seal comes too close to shore at our next beach stop sending ripples of glittering water to the beach pebbles at my feet. He is blissfully unaware of our presence as the small rather scruffy and orange Mink that startled me by leaping over my out-stretched leg while I sat on a log quietly. It was as startled to find us there so quietly taking in the magnificence of our own existence that evening, and shot down the beach into the darkness after running the gauntlet of steeple chase hurdles that was our line of landed kayaks. Why take these pictures at all?

It is simple, the mind wanders from experience to experience, and event to event. Each journey out at night that will always amaze at least one person I tell who inevitably questions going out paddling after dark as unwise. To this, I can try to tell them why. I can only go so far to persuade them of the greatness and quality of life rewards of staying out on the water until 1:30 in the morning in a kayak. To the child-like wonder of causing the ocean to sparkle and to hold that speck of starlight in your palm for a moment. Paddles splashing about to light up the seas beside each kayak, and watching the harbour seals shooting along down below your kayak in greenish blue sparkled torpedo stealth with a warm breeze from the south after hours, heck months of holding fast against a northern chill.

Eventually, the unpersuaded aquaintance needs one more thing. Photo evidence of why anyone should do this year after year, summer night after summer night causing next day foggy drowsiness, which literally puts a stop to any real productivity due to lack of sleep. A picture of a kayak on a beach at sunset with a pair of Canadian geese out for an after summer cruise before returning to the fledglings in the nest. Not enough? How about a photo of the Moon shining loudly from behind patchy clouds over smooth still midnight waters so smooth  they reflect the sky to stary perfection? Oh come on now, still think it is silly to go paddling at night? Maybe a photograph of totem poles still newly crafted and undamaged and un cracked by the elements. Getting closer now aren’t I. Here, have a cold beer and a sushi roll and the warmth of a setting sun on your face. Now, after a long miserably long winter it is feeling like summer, birthing us anew. Take a picture of that!

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Tips for Camping in the Rain

Held in camp for a week in Clayoquot Sound in between heavy rains and high winds. At least we didn't run out of fresh water to drink. Photo by Dave Barnes

Held in camp for a week in Clayoquot Sound in between heavy rains and high winds. At least we didn’t run out of fresh water to drink.
Photo by Dave Barnes

The first thing you will notice about any summer day on the west ‘wet’ coast is that it is most likely to be raining. All you can do is weather the storm, (pun intended) with the dread realization that what Mark Twain said about the city of San Francisco counts here as well, that being “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

Now it is not all bad news. During all the kayaking trips I have done to the outer coast of Vancouver Island in the summer months I can count on the fingers of both my hands how many clear, sunny and perfectly windless days there were. It keeps things simple that way. More rain than sunshine makes preparing for a trip a lot simpler. Check lists begin with rain gear, coats, rainpants, tarps before PFD’s, paddles, and even food. Preparing for the worst and being pleasantly surprised when the worst does not happen is my kayaking motto, that and bring more coffee! And holding onto a cup of rainwater coffee under a tarp beside your tent while sitting on a damp log breathing in the humidity is pure joy.

So, onto the tips section now that I have you feeling dreary at the prospects of your summer paddling adventure being one of sogginess. It is not that bad and by no means do you have to spend all of your time on rainy days sulking inside your tent. There is too much to do, even if the conditions don’t allow you to get off the beach for a rainy day paddle. I advise those by the way, as once you are wet, you will not get any wetter. Often times the rainy weather will accompany a calm on the water. Low clouds and drizzle drumming in a hush on your deck while you paddle through an environment of muted colours and your paddle swishes through the raindrop dappled seas. See, that sounds good, huh. Okay, so not for every one, but it is meant to be an adventure, right?

Tip number one is to get your outdoorsy skills de-rusted and dusted off during dry good weather days at home. Go camping in your backyard and practice, practice, practice. The first thing to do is set up your home in the outdoors. When landing your kayak at your desired camp have your wet weather stuff packed in such a way that it is the first thing you grab out of the boat. Starting with a tarp. Speed will be at the essence here as you will be well insulated from the chill when paddling in the kayak, but as soon as you are out in the open air it is easy to get cold fast. Get a shelter up as quickly as you can. Find a suitable spot for your tent, but string up your tarp(s) first in such a way as to create a wind break as well as a roof over your head. The tarp will create a place for you to set up your tent, or hammock and stay dry doing so. Consider a shelter for your tent area, and another farther away for your kitchen space. Occasionally tighten up the tarp to avoid puddling and that unintentional dumping of a tarp-load of rain water on your head.

Now it is time to get that tent set up. Go for high ground so you don’t end up in a puddle. If your tent comes with a ground sheet, use it, or a spare tarp to help create a barrier between you and the wet ground. Once the tent is up toss in your camp clothing bags and set out your sleeping pad and bag. Do this inside your tent to avoid your sleeping bag getting wet. Now get that stove going to brew up a cup. Your camp should be shaping up by now and while you are waiting for your coffee to brew take the moment to change out of your wet paddling gear and into dry camp clothing. It is important to maintain a dressing regime of separating paddle clothes and camp clothing. The mistake is wearing your camp clothing outside of camp, getting them wet and now you have nothing dry as back up. Rain gear over top will do nicely and you will be comfortable while enjoying the reward of that tea or coffee, or soup.

Settling in, there is still much to do to prepare for a stretch of rainy weather. More practice at home is in building a campfire. It seems a simple enough task doesn’t it, but in a rainfall day with any wind coming in to shore this can become a daunting job. There are several methods for making fire starters. Do some experiments at home to find the way you prefer. The fire is something good to have while killing rainy hours. Firstly, it sets a tone in camp and gives you or members of your group the occupation of scouting out best bits of wood to use. Wet driftwood is a pain to ignite and so I bring with me a small stuff sack filled with dry wood, twigs and kindling pieces crucial to getting that infant set of embers glowing. Nurse that little fire until it is working well and set up your wet wood as a surround to help protect the fire from winds as well as aiding in the drying process. This activity alone has kept me occupied an entire afternoon as the rain tap-tapped on the tarp overhead. Secondly, that campfire will be your TV for the evening. It will keep you warm, entertain you and mesmerize you with its flickering flames with no commercial interruption.

Make sure beforehand that your basic camp supplies are where you want them and packed in the order of need. Clothing is something we take for granted but having the right stuff to wear is important. Most of you will know already the dangers of using cotton. It gets wet, and it stays wet which draws heat from your body and can lead to hypothermia. Synthetics for all-weather, and woollens are great because even if they get wet, you stay warm. Ever see a shivering sheep, noop.

Other things to have on hand inside your tent and always in waterproof bags are toiletries, a butane lighter or strike anywhere matches, headlamp, lantern, and a good book. I bring my cell phone which is in a waterproof case but as an extra bit of insurance I put it in a ZipLoc bag as well. As for footwear I have a pair of shoes to wear around camp. Most often I stick to sandals unless it is colder. These come in the tent with me at night and my water shoes hang out in the vestibule.

For any trip into the outdoors, and for times when the weather is not great it is important to know for certain that your stove works! The last thing you will want to discover is a stove failure. Sure, you can always cook on that campfire but what if you can’t get that going? That stove is your safety net. Make sure that your fuel is new and that you have an ample supply. Going OCD at this point is perfectly acceptable. Give the stove a few starts to make sure all burners are working.

With your camp set up, and the firewood stacked, and the rain pouring down it is time to go sulk in your tent. But wait one minute! Did you notice the trails near your camp, or maybe there is a big beach to comb. It is time to wander about and a little rain should not stop you from exploring your surroundings.

The final tip is this, go anyway. Rain or shine it is an adventure you are after and the real meaning of adventure is that they don’t always go as planned, and that is the point. But with a little forethought and planning you can hit the camp running and be warm, dry-ish and comfortable until the weather gods smile upon you with some clear blue skies and sunshine.

 

 

 

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Off to the Hippo Races

IMGP9886 The plan was simple enough, or so we thought. We would rendezvous at the beach house a friend had managed to finagle for one night, free, and then unload the gear, kayaks and all sundry paraphernalia before Mike and I took the vehicles into Tofino where we would secure parking for the duration of the paddle trip. Then we would hire a cab to take us back to the beach in time to pack up our kayaks and hit the Pacific Ocean for a ten-day paddling vacation in Clayoquot Sound. How hard could that be?

In the early twilight of morning I woke in the living room of th beach house. All was quiet except for the rumble of surf rocking the southern end of Chesterman Beach, a noted high quality surfers beach. It was a lovely backyard that we entertained ourselves with on after dinner strolls and smoking out Hobbit pipes on logs while the sun went down. It was a so far so good condition to be in. As the light of day began to highlight the sands others rose and the pre-paddle excitement manifested itself. Time was no going to be our friend as the tide was going out and none of us wanted to play the chase the water game later that morning with fully loaded boats.

We had done some preparations during the party the night before, packing up perishables and enjoying left over beer and wine from the family friends that had rented the house before we arrived. The house itself contributed to the festivities as it was our good luck to have it and not start this trip like so many before it, tired from the long drive only to have to paddle for hours to a suitable camping spot, sometimes racing the dark to do so.

Rolling carefully off the chaise lounge that had been my bed for the night and feeling the effects of dehydration, or was it wine hydration of the previous evening I nursed myself up and caught sight of a wave blowing up explosively on the sand then in a death, rushed up the beach. Out on the beach, early birds were already taking morning walks. Who could get up that early? I young guy with surf board under his arm walked out into the water as thumps came from the bedrooms above me. Though my head was rather foggy and full of flies I still watched the ocean with the fascination of a child. I envisioned our departure through throngs of surfers confused and scattering to make way for four lunatics in sea kayaks attempting to leave the beach like hung over sea turtles.

Our happy tribe has the unfortunate habit of slow starts. This results in us meeting up with troubles, long days, or losing sight of where to camp. And it always opens up the doors and windows that allow Mother Nature, cruel parent that she is to beat the crap out of us. This happens when we are leaving the sometimes uncomfortable camps so you can imagine the underlying reluctance to rush of and away from a luxury waterfront home. Knowing this and how our group dynamic works gave Mike and I plenty of time to relocate the cars and get back again.

Taking coffee orders before we left Mike and I headed into town. Parking in Tofino was easy and we found a lot that where we could abandon our vehicles for days near the RCMP Detachment office. We felt confident about security when we locked up the cars and walked up the road to a well-known local establishment, The Common Loaf. On the way the background of Tofino Harbour could not be ignored. It is a frenetic place even in late September. A mosaic of marine signals, buoys and speeding water taxis and noisy float planes. The boats and planes taking tourists to the Hot Springs a few hours away up the sound so they can dip their toes in the hot sulphuric waters pouring out of the ground. We think of these folk as taking the easy way out. The last time we set foot in the springs we had already paddled for a few days and earned the reward, we were also the only ones to get there by kayak.

The harbour was warming its engines for another busy day as we rounded the corner and up a hill from the Government dock to the cathedral of coffee and sticky buns, The Common Loaf. Our timing was just off, the last drops of the last pot of coffee ended up in the cup of the person ahead of me. No doubt he was killing time before his plane to the springs was set to take off. These people had it way too easy, but we could remain smug knowing that we had the advantage of spending less to see more. That is what always amazed me about these trips. The low-cost other than the ferry, gas, food and well, the kayak, the gear, and the new gear I just had to have for this trip. Once you get beyond the initial investment a trip to the sound was on the cheap so a cup at the Loaf was certainly in the budget while we waited for our ride.

We had to wait while the overworked girl behind the counter finished preparing several special coffee drinks before she could brew a fresh pot of the ordinary stuff. I waited with cups in hand for the miracle of coffee to come and Mike found the payphone to call us a cab. The coffee brewed and in hand Mike and I sat outside at a concrete table sipping and watching the routines of the locals. discerning who was home and who was tourist was not difficult. Tourists spoke with heavy German accents.

The morning sky remained overcast and grey though the forecast had called for full and glorious sunshine that was someplace else. Welcome to the west coast. We were on the outside and outed as tourists even though we spoke accent-free. Was it our manner, was it the way we leaned on the rock wall impatiently now, tired of waiting for the taxi to arrive that gave us away. This is what visitors to my island home on Salt Spring must endure as they sit outside our coffee shops and listen in on conversations that border precariously on the edges of eccentric.

Mike had this experience first hand on an inaugural day as an islander, over-hearing a discussion between a pair of new-age hippies on the subject of a worm. The question at hand was what happened to the worm if someone accidentally chops a poor worm in two? Which half of the worm does the soul belong too? Mike, then a chain-smoking coffee slurping hard ass of a guy from the big city ended up on the island to the events after a bad car accident. A refugee of the high stakes commuter traffic wars, still years away from being a kayaking yoga guy of today, he sat there hearing this with disbelieving ears. Life on the island changes you or you just have to leave. Ironically later on, a ban on Mike’s insistence of yogic chanting while paddling was enforced by the rest of the group.

The cab still had not arrived and we were becoming antsy. However, what had arrived on time were the local coffee gangs who show up limping, groggy, red-eyed and tired in search of a hit. A local youth still working on the results of the previous night’s escapades was clutching a half-finished worse for wear can of Lucky beer. The kid having a bit of the hair of the dog was told by the server and later on by a much larger male staff member to, “Lose the beer, or else!” The lad was fairly and near completely tattooed, straddled his chopper-styled bicycle and rode it back and forth stopping at each pass to chat up his apparently EX-girlfriend sitting with her apparently NEW boyfriend. As small town romances might go these two seemed to have an understanding between them and acted as cautious old friends who let a girl step between them.  Although, I doubted for a moment that this bunch spent lots of time worrying about the souls of worms.

Twenty minutes later and a dozen beer guzzling bike passes later the ex-boyfriend was no closer to winning back his sweetheart and we were no closer to sitting in a taxi cab. My coffee gone and the coffees we bought for the others icy cold I went inside to use the phone to contact the cab dispatcher.

“Hi, I am at the Common Loaf and I called about a half hour ago, we are still waiting, what’s up?” I asked, giving the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was stuck in the mud?

“Where are you?” asked the woman at the other end of the line.

“The Common Loaf, you know the coffee place here in town.” I replied, suddenly feeling a blush of stupidity flooding over me. But then again, maybe they didn’t know where it was after all and that is why we were still sitting out in the cold.

“Yes, yes. The driver went there but didn’t see you. He left, he couldn’t find you.” the voice said in an accent mixed from eastern European and liar. I paused. He came, he looked around, and he left. Did he happen to call out “anyone call a cab?”, nope!

“Let me get this straight,” I started and already regretting where this would go.

“Uh huh…”muttered the voice.

“Your driver came to the coffee shop, The Common Loaf, right?”

“Yes, and you were not there.” accused the voice.

“We were there the entire time!” I said, feeling smug. “Did your driver ask anyone here if someone called a cab?”

There was another long uncomfortable pause, long. Wind blew in the distance, leaves rustled and tumbleweeds did that tumbleweed thing, and all to the sounds of eastern European breathing. The thought then occurred to the voice. Maybe they had a very shy cabbie on their hands?

“Um, hello?” I asked.

“Yes…” said the voice.

“We are still here, sitting outside the coffee shop and would still appreciate a ride. Any idea when or if that will happen?
“He has left on another call to the airport right now, twenty minutes.” said the voice in a way that I felt as though suddenly it was I that was inconveniencing them.

“Terrific then. We will meet him outside by the rock wall.”

CLICK!

I stood watching the scrolling digital instructions on the payphone and replaced the receiver. Mike’s reaction was about what I had expected but we had little choice but to sit back and wait. Twenty minutes grew, by no surprise into yet another twenty and another coffee and the coldness of the morning was now eating away at our patience. It was Mike’s turn to call the cab, but as he got up to do so a mini-van rounded the corner, Tofino Taxi at your service! He silently spun the van around once we were inside and silently, so odd to have a mute cabbie. He must have been conserving his voice and he took us back to the beach house in a mere five minutes.

The instant we caught sight of the sand and surf and lovely grey/green ocean that would be our home for the rest of the week our moods returned to the first of the morning. “So, what took so long?”

“Shut up! Here’s your coffees, they are cold, sorry!” I said and looked to the pile of debris that somehow must all be crammed into the confines of my kayak’s hatches.

“Couldn’t get a cab,” said Mike, who now gave his own pile a similar questioning look.

I have told this story many times in the years since and by the response I find that I was not the only person to see the tragic side-effects of driving a cab, that being the sudden loss of voice. Now, I do not want to play the blame game here as it is not my way and I put my intolerance for the cab company as just part of my usual paddle-day jitters and the lingering head aches of my own doing. It really was as much my fault as theirs. You see we who call small town cabs should just relax, lean back and wait our turn and roll with the local customs and eccentricities. We should have made ourselves more visible, stand out, stand on our heads or perhaps just wore signs saying, OVER HERE!

In the end, if blame must be mine and I take full responsibility for thinking that a plan was simple. A plan is never simple, not matter how simple.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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