Posts Tagged salt spring island
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.
I stood, or more accurately I was pacing and shifting from one foot to the other on the grass in Whitehorse’s Rotary Park under the nearly noon day sun with the 250 paddlers of the gathered 95 teams of kayakers, canoeists, and the newly added stand up paddlers. Our team names were read out in turn by the mayor and one of the territory’s member’s of parliament at the microphone who were sheltered from the heat under the covered stage area. It was a long process and added a half hour to the traditional half hour wait of anxiety until the starting horn sounded.
The sudden weight of what I was about to enter into fell upon me about fifteen minutes into this speech making and I could barely register when my name, Team number 7, Paddlingboy from Canada was read out to the crowd. A rush of self doubt was swimming in the back of my mind. There were too many moving parts involved, I had come too far and spent too much money to back out now. People were looking, counting on me and I was the recipient of more support than anyone could ask, but still it was laying heavy on my shoulders. I am not an endurance racer. I am no athlete as my high school gym teacher would testify, and that has not changed in the ensuing years so what the hell was I doing standing on the grass surrounded by life jacket clad river warriors. Imposter syndrome was kicking in and I wondered if I was truly prepared, or was this going to be a huge failure if I had actually bitten off more than I could chew as a kayaker. I tied once again to build that bubble around me. My race bubble that I had formed and practiced in the months leading up to the Yukon River Quest was now difficult to establish. It would not fully formed, it was irregular and had holes letting in distractions and concerns.
About midway through the reading of team names my friends and support crew, Gus and Pia arrived at the rope fence around the coral of racers and waved me over. I jumped out of my stupor, and this would not be the last time that Gus managed to accomplish this feat. I walked over to them to receive good luck hugs. We were supporting two other solo kayakers, Wayne and Brad so Gus and Pia had to leave to be ready at the riverside to help push kayaks into the flow of the Yukon River. I had my partner Anik stationed by my kayak to do just that once I was in the boat and ready to start my paddle. A few words from them and a bit of love and somehow I became more relaxed and went back to where I was standing but now sat down reclining back on my elbows in the warm grass. Was I prepared? Did I actually know what I was getting in to? The answer is simple, maybe. There was the little guy on one shoulder and another little guy on the other shoulder. One, dressed much like I was in a ridiculous outfit of spray skirt and life jacket, pockets of which were filled with safety gear like fire starter and an emergency bivi sack in case of worst case scenarios. Those scenarios were the least of my worries.
I was navigating through a small last-minute crisis of confidence and on the other shoulder perched a fellow resembling that kid I was once. In fact, he could have been any version of me at just about any age. I am not sure that I would have committed to this event even a few short years ago. Was it lack of confidence then when I was younger leading my to a 51-year-old case of mid-life angst pushing me into the prospect of kayaking thousands of paddle strokes over the race course of 715 kilometers to Dawson City? The kayaker guy said go for it. “You got this!” he exclaimed smiling and waving a kayak paddle proudly in the air above his head. The other one, well he was less encouraging. He was a bit of a downer. I know he was only trying to keep me real, to add some common sense to this crazy thing I was about to do, he was only trying to help but I wanted him out of my bubble. He reminded me that I could have trained more, I was not sure I had the right amount of gear in fact in hindsight I did have too much. What if I scratched? Would that be a sin, a crime and evidence of fraud to those whom I now see as my peers. Would they understand. Some paddlers don’t make it its true. By Carmacks which is the first mandatory rest break a good portion of those who start the race, quit. Fatigue combine with heat or cold exhaustion taking hold along with dehydration, injury and all manner or other potential problems lay ahead on my river quest. Would I be one of those fallen. Would it be my own fault for being here?
I chose to listen to the first guy, my little kayaker buddy who seemed to believe in me as much as my team and it was too late to turn back now. I dug into my internal self and dredged up a character trait that I knew would get me started and keep me paddling throughout. stubbornness! I stood up and whipped my hands then hooked my thumbs into the shoulder straps of my life jacket also referred to from now on as a PFD (personal floatation device) and its yellow. The confidence renewed and I envisioned myself somewhere on the long river in my kayak, in my element doing what I do best. I began a last minute chat with a fellow paddler, a canoeist Joe Evans whom I had met years before. He appeared far more prepared both boat and equipment wise as well as in attitude. He took this all in stride. He spoke with me as a comrade. Asking me if I was ready and to that I could only laugh a little. “I guess I can tell you that at the end of Lake Laberge, Joe!” He grinned and never once made me feel the newbie that I was. In his mind, just being here on the grass waiting to run the first 400 meters of that 715 kms to our boats was enough to initiate me into the fold. The horn sounded and he and I jogged to the waterfront passed cheering family, friends and tourists who had come to watch the Klondike spectacle. I arrived at my kayak resting on fresh green sod to aid the slide into the river saving the belly of my kayak from the shore line gravel. I kissed my sweetheart goodbye, sat down in my kayak and fumbled restlessly with the cumbersome skirt as I pulled its edges around the cockpit opening. I gave Anik the thumbs up and she shoved me out into the river proper. I was off! I would not see Joe again until a few days later as within a couple of kilometers of river he sprung well ahead of me. I was in my bubble however, but this time that preciously thin cocoon was larger and encompassed 250 more people sharing an experience.
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.
A friend today reminded me that change, or the prospect of change either on our life course, or more internally can be scary. This fear of changing ourselves through a chosen experience is one we all face on some level. Her imminent departure on a trek so many before her have done and word that it had changed them drove that fear home. She claimed that she was comfortable in who she is, and not wanting anything to alter that state of mind and being. Understandable to any of us who have faced the prospect of a life-changing experience. In this case, a pre-planned version of those unlike the ones thrust upon us as the sudden death of a loved one, or the loss of a job you have held for years. New paths are what we live for, and to grow is our truest greatest inner need. Change is not always easy, or good, or even bad. It just is. It is easy to look at what we fear the most in the eye, that being the unknown or the unseen future and flinch for a moment of extreme hesitation. But to not go forward, to not put boot to trail head or paddle to water, to avoid life for fear an event may change who we are is to stagnate and do our soul the unfortunate disservice of experiential neglect.
To that, I put some thought to all of the above and looking back upon my own experiences, relationships and journeys and realized that they all came with that hesitation. Where any of them life-changing? Path altering perhaps, and one or two might have left a mark and lessons to be examined. Did any of them change who I am as a person? Maybe, but only in the subtlest of manner. We are who we are, and I look at them carefully and try to cherry pick the positives and seeing clearly that at no time has stepping outside of myself ever really been a negative.
That needing to turn back, to avoid, to not go, to find numerous excuses why I should stay dwelling in my fortress of comforts have all slapped me in the face at one time or another. To stay means only after the event had come and gone without me in it that I would have learned nothing from staying comfortably me. I let those life experiences, adventures in the outdoors being the pinnacle of those unknown fearful mornings at the beginnings of a treks, trips or paddles pass under my feet. They happened and the courage I needed to face the unknowns I found flowing freely within my spirit, but only in the time after the experience had passed. Then, and only then did they form from the future of wondering and anxiety to the recent past and become fond memory.
As a kayaker, I have faced many scary moments. I seem to add continually to my list of knees-shaking against the inside of my kayak experiences. Each one finding me without compromise, and forcing me to ask if the fond memory will be worth it. To that nameless fear, and to that hesitation at something possibly changing me forever I hope the answer will always be a soundly loud, yes.
I had not realized to what extent that sound meant to me, what depth and part of my being it reflected, and how familiar the sensation even after a long absence from floating in my kayak. That first full paddle stroke to the chilly March waters. That splosh, and that spatter of sea water droplets falling from the blade’s edge as the opposite blade bathes as well for the first time in over six months.
Life and other things managed to divide me from the seat of my kayak for months now but that thread is broken, and the return to my prior self is in progress. I had big plans for this coming year. I was going to challenge myself, my body, my mind and my imagination in such ways by attempting things in my kayak that are far bigger than myself. Scary, but wonderful things such as entering the Yukon River Quest. Maybe next year…yes!
With such distances to travel to get ready for that race of over 700 kilometers from Whitehorse to the gold mining town of old, Dawson City attempting this feat this year would be foolish. I am turning 50, a flabby mess with a head full of flooble from a rather stressful year before. Time to get fit, time to remember who I am, and get my head back into the game of paddling.
Sitting in my kayak waiting for some friends to catch up on this lovely late winter, or early spring day, feeling her drift with the sun warming my left cheek and springtime brought to the island by a small almost warm breeze at my back I felt it all coming back to me. Out of the long sleep, and awakened to the idea of doing something new. One paddle stroke at a time…
It 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.