Posts Tagged saltspring island kayaking
The Joy of Kayaking, and the lack of landmines.
How lucky are we? How fortunate our lives are that though aware of the violence taking place daily around the globe, and our unshakable need to harm each other continues, largely we remain untouched by it all in our day to day here in Canada. I can walk to town to meet with friends for coffee unencumbered by nagging thoughts of danger should step off the pavement and by chance trip a landmine. The last time a scud missle landed in my backyard was, well…never! We take this for granted and so we should. Life here in the Gulf Islands is especially calm so much so that we can go about our daily business in giggly bliss. Then came a day that I met someone who touched my life for a moment and reminded me without words what is important. She was a girl living on the island that summer, but it was not until days before her departure for her homeland of Israel that we met and I introduced her to sea kayaking. To spend a summer on my island and never sit in a kayak, or smell the salty air at sunset was a crime that I could not let go. It did not take too much coaxing to get her to give it a try, She had already tossed caution to the wind by traveling the world and woofing on a local organic farm. Tzela pronounced ‘Say-ella’ had a chance to paddle.
I put her in my short Current Designs Pachena and she taught me that nothing can be too hard to handle as within minutes she was cruising along beside me as though she had kayaked all her life. We left a beach at the end of the road where I had grown up after a brief glimpse of my old house and apple orchard. She was in awe of the relatively quiet life we islanders shared and of some of my stories of growing up on Salt Spring Island. The carry of the two kayaks down the short path and zig-zag hairpin corner down the concrete steps designed not with kayakers in mind, she was silent. I mistook this quiet for a sudden shyness, fear, or anxiety at kayaking for the first time in her life, and going someplace with some strange man. It was none of the above, but a silent inner reflection on how a life can be lived, in peace, without fear, without bombs and without abject hatreds.
Launching from the beach at the end of Churchill Road we set out to the chain of islets in Ganges Harbour to a crushed shell beach known locally as, Chocolate Beach on Third Sister Island. The beach is a hangout for boaters and party-goers all summer long is also a nice evening paddling destination with views of the sunset. Our paddle began in late afternoon and she had the chance to view nesting eagles on Goat Island, so named because the natives kept herds of, yes goats on this long rock. After forty minutes of watching harbour seals observing us and explaining all the inter-tidal lifeforms our trip ended with the scrunching sounds of shell fragments meeting our hulls. We were in luck to have the beach to ourselves as we said good-bye to a tour group heading back into the harbour.
With a few hours of sunshine as a gift we settled in with snacks I had packed away in my front hatch, including the rewards of cold beer. A trail leads up the hillside away from the beach passed a funky outhouse and onwards to the opposite end of the islet to a ledge over a cliff where we were greeted with views of the channel. On our wandering back Tzela fell into a lengthy silence and only back at our camp on the beach while sitting on a log sipping the warm ends of her can of beer was the quiet that I had no heart to stop, broken. She laughed and stood up brushing bits of shell from her behind and set about a long series of cart-wheeling flips down the slope to the water’s edge were I thought she might keep going, flipping hand over feet into the sea and become a mermaid. Smiling in a broad beam she jumped straight up in the air and returned up the beach skipping, arriving breathless and dow-eyed at the partly submerged log that had become our dinner table. It was a pure, unmarked expression of joyous abandon that had been stored up in her cells since birth. “No landmines, Dave!”
She asked if we were allowed to go to the adjacent island, and I nodded. We packed up and in minutes arrived at the dock leading ashore to the old footings of an abandoned attempt at homesteading. We snuggled into a cleft of the rocks and I brewed tea. Tzela sat arms wrapped around her knees, and instead of watching the sun setting she watched the gathering darkness in the East. To this day, I wonder if this was a look homewards? Our return paddle was not a quiet affair. Tzela returned to singing as she had done at points on our way out. This time the song lasted the entire trip to the launch site. I was treated to a cold beer at the pub for my efforts, but was rewarded far beyond that with a memory of kayaking joy.
While I am off work this winter I have been cleaning up around the place, beginning with the kitchen. That task done, and with this week’s triumph of finding the workshop floor under months of clutter I have turned my attention to the computer files. A rigorous, some would say even brutal editing of my photo files has begun. Why is there seventeen copies of the same dang kayak on the beach image? Alas.
Another vexing question is why one camera takes video that will play on demand, while the other waterproof camera forces me to convert its videos before viewing. I think it might be time to invest in a GoPro and be done with this, but in the meantime I have been converting files that have no titles. My methods of cataloging as you may have guessed by this point are, well random at best. But hidden behind the mystery files have popped up some surprises and old friends. This video in particular taken a couple of summers ago with my good friend Mike as we paddled on this hot calm day out of Long Harbour around the point to have lunch at a beach known as Chocolate Beach. There isn’t any chocolate there, it went extinct. However, on this day we were Hobbits of the seas paddling under the ever watchful eye. To make matters odder still, you will hear a kitten meowing around the 37 second mark of the video. My point and shoot camera’s least annoying start-up sound.
Remember young Hobbits, One does not simply paddle into Mordor!
Winter’s chill made an early surprise attack on my little island freezing pipes and icing roads. We even had a minor dusting of snow the other morning that brought joy to some and panic to others. Though the snow barely settled before it was but a memory of winter’s past the chill has remained for days. About a month early for these parts and my weekend was spent partly attending to west coast winter dilemma such as rummaging about the workshop looking for that lost chicken coop heat lamp. There is nothing sadder than the scene of a chicken beak-frozen to the water trough. Alas, I take it with humour because it could be worse. December on Salt Spring Island usually means wet winter storms, high winds and power outages. I will always take a clear and chilly winter day.
With Christmas sneaking up fast and a space cleared in the living room of our cabin to be filled shortly with a tree the items under it wrapped with care and my anticipation of happiness at their giving, it is those items that cannot beat the gift of a Sunday morning coffee and a spontaneous outing to the woods at the south of the island with good company. What we found with our cameras was worth being pulled from the warmth of a coffee shop to standing chilly on the fringes of an icy lake and waterfall. Here is a sampling of what we found.
No wonder I was so stressed out all those years before I first sat down in the seat of a kayak and by pushing myself away from the safety of the dock, friends, home, work, bills, more bills, and the million and one small niggling items that take away from the real, the bigger picture I became free. It is harder to be on land than it is to be on the water especially when you have discovered the joys of kayaking. If you have ever had the experience of paddling once the foreign nature of the vehicle, and the perhaps precarious tippiness subsides you begin the fall back in time, fall back to nature to a place in our collective forgotten neglected memories of living in the natural world, not attempting to lord over it.
In a kayak I have had the time during those inevitable longer days in the saddle to delve into those thoughts that there isn’t much time for when I am on land, at home distracted by life. The closest to this comes on long hiking days, but they are somehow not the same. Perhaps it is the method of paddling, the repetition of the strokes, the breathing the wind and water and a slow-moving along distant shores as a meditation? All I know is what I have seen and felt and experienced in over a decade of being a paddler. The title of this blog post says it all. For me, being on land is much more a dream than when I am in the reality of kayaking.
The small stuff, bills, work, and a million and one small niggling items are pushed away in the back of the junk drawer and replaced with real stuff. The weather, what will the weather be like tomorrow when I peek out of the door of my tent in the early hours of the morning like some drunken squirrel. Will the wind be up? Will the tide be favorable for an easy day. Will there be rain. Oh how I hate packing wet gear in the morning. The small stuff is a list of items mainly concerning what the irrationally off-her-meds bad parent Mother Nature will conjure for me, mixed with the small comforts of a good camping experience, if I can find a good camp that day. My worries are not of the bills to be paid, taxes due or the price of rice (though I do pay attention to that as it is a mainstay of my camping menu). My worries are simple, less to do with underlying anxieties about daily life as they are more of the just staying warm, dry and alive concerns.
I am at my best on the water and as the months drag on over winter and my paddling days diminish to ‘now and then’, I do feel I regress to a sullen state. To my salvation this spring, it has been mild and the conditions have been truly inviting to be on the water even if the skies are gray and dour. The hardness of land has been easier to take, if by a small measure this year. However, I do have to be careful of other dangers of land living. Where a rogue wave may threaten to capsize my mere speck of a kayak in the big ocean, a day of hauling heavy wood from one pile to the other on the weekend has left me feeling in worse shape than the days after my recent around Salt Spring Island marathon. I can blame the land, yes I can! It is not that I am out of condition for a full day of heavy-ish labour. No, it is the fact that being in a kayak even on a rough day is easier to take than whatever being on land may dish out. So I nurse my pulled hamstring and hope that by Sunday I can get back into the relative safety of a kayak for a good long paddle around the islands just north of here.
The muscles are no longer sore, and that knot that had developed between my shoulder blades at 10am the morning of my marathon day paddle around Salt Spring Island has been untangled thanks to the care and nursing of my wife Jen. The bubble of happy kayaker slowly drains of air like a birthday balloon hiding behind the sofa a week after the big day. Land life settles in. Worries. How unfair is that? This time last week I was pondering my sanity at taking on a 72 km paddle with only a couple shorter days on the water to prepare in past months.
However unconditioned I may be I was excited at the prospect of viewing my home from the water and in an against-the-clock style. I am in no way an endurance extreme kayaker. I love the slower pace of paddling, the oneness with everything and the bobbing on the breathing of the earth. This time last week I had to excuse myself for a moment of wanting to do more, to accomplish a bigger paddle. To not get out so many times during the day and be truly at home within the bubble of my kayak seat. To make it so that I had all I needed, that land was an option for only extreme needs to get out and stretch between long crossings. Food, water, sports drink dry clothing, first aid kit, GPS, and iPod for distraction during duller periods on the water. It was all within my grasp and land, well I was determined to gain access to that current flow farther out in the channel with no popping in for a pee when the need arose.
Having made the spontaneous decision to the paddle I hit the internet for some advice and stumbled upon a good article written by Carter Johnson, a world-class endurance paddle racer and marathoner who in 2010 set the record time in the Yukon River Quest, a 700+ km marathon paddle event in a whopping time of 42 hours and 49 minutes. The article was on the subject of food (a personal passion) in marathon paddling. I figured this guy might know a thing or two and read it over. Much of it was simple common sense stuff that he broke down into before during and after the paddle. I took it to heart and with a few adjustments for my own comforts I created a program that I hoped would get me out and back again. It did. (I later read that Johnson’s success in the YRQ was partly due to what was found at the bottom of his kayak, several finished Red Bull cans and five hour energy drinks).
What did I learn from Mr. Johnson? First, hydration. I know, we all understand that our bodies are mostly water so it goes to figure that we should put some in during the day to replace what we lost. What I learned was to drink before I needed it. The day before in fact! Several glasses of water on Saturday for my Sunday event. Food of course was upped to a new level and more than I would normally gobble down. Pasta for lunch and double portions for dinner. I felt like a brickyard was forming in my stomach that evening but later the following day I would be grateful for that bloating. Muscles filled, skin and cells well hydrated I went to bed and attempted a fitful sleep.
The morning of the paddle, I had no time for the breakfast of champions and settled for apple juice, half a Vector bar (tastes like cardboard) and at the launch spot a good gulp of Gatorade/water. I had taken his advice again on not dumping too much on my system during the day by chopping up those tasty bars into one inch squares, easy to pop in my gob about every half out to forty-five minutes spreading out the calories all day long. Every fifteen minutes drinking a few sucks on the water tube or a few sips from the bottle leashed to my deck and riding on my spray deck with easy access. This was how I spent the day, watching my speed, watching the water and watching the clock to see when it was time to fuel up again.
The last thing I learned I didn’t take from Johnson’s article, but from my own personal need to well, pee while in motion. This was not going to be the usual Sunday kayaking day when I leisurely paddled the shoreline exploring nature and feeling good about myself. This was a workout day, an against the clock event to challenge myself after a long period of not. To get he best time posted as my personal best I would have to forego the luxury of shorelines and easy access to stepping out of the boat for a quickie by paddling further from shore and grabbing the peak flow of currents in my favour. For the first time in my decade and a half of kayaking I deployed the ‘pee bottle’!
Not knowing the in’s and out’s of this simple device (a reassigned red Nalgene bottle once used to carry red wine, note to self…write Pee Bottle on red Naglene) I gave it a go while riding the tidal currents down Stuart Channel on my early morning first leg headed south. I pulled my spray deck back, adjusted the stack of snack box and water bottles to give me room to move and undid the cap on the bottle. The next couple of minutes were a reminder of how many fishermen die each year due to standing up and urinating over the side of the boat. From the seated kayaker’s position the plumbing just doesn’t want to work. Oh, there was a need and a great desire to fill the bottle I tell ya, but it was a matter of shifting, bum lifting and center of gravity balance before I found optimal flow and maximum efficiency!
With that out-of-the-way, dumped and rinsed and my deck in place I paddled on happily but worried that the time it took to organize my bladder to bottle system would take more than it would had I just stopped ashore for a moment. Alas, there I was out in the middle later that day and again tempted the fates and imminent capsizing. I suppose the last thing in the list of things I learned on a 72 km non-stop paddling day was bladder control.
When kayaking around Salt Spring Island, one should always consult the tide and current tables, and the BC Ferry schedule!
I paddled in silence with the echos of the last song to play in my iPod before I tucked it away at my last break at the Channel Islands. I had a second wind and high spirits in the sunshine as I paddled the long diagonal course towards Nose Point and the signs of calm waters in Trincomali Channel where my day began. A large sailboat tacked across my path and for a time I paddled a parallel path and remarkably was keeping pace. It spun around in a flutter of sails and veered away, I made some ground on her then and by the time she tacked back in my direction we would be close enough to wave back and forth. I had hoped the pilot was impressed with my speed.
I shifted my path closer to Prevost Island and its baby sister Secret Island, which may have once lived up to that name when the first to settle and build a dream cottage arrived, but now was a cluster of waterfront vacation homes. I made my way into a second set of smaller islands and could see my last section coming into view. That long, lonely path up the east shore of Salt Spring Island and my end point a mirage. The tide was giving my a good push northward and I had to occasionally correct for the drift as I started my last crossing of the trip. From Prevost to Salt Spring and the opening of Long Harbour, the terminal of the ferry that tours the outer islands and then to Tsawwassen. There is a 3:30 sailing on Sundays, it was now 3:35 and the Queen of Nanaimo was turning from the dock and motoring out of the harbour. Four sailboats drifted in the light breeze at the mouth of the harbour and I hoped they would assist me. The horn sounded once, twice and one sailboat moved away, the other doddled and the ferry forced to slow patiently waited for the last boat to move and I to hurry across. I was in its path and knew it, and sprinted using up valuable energy I had held back for the final rally. Damn! Here he comes and around behind me with passengers on the deck waving to the happy kayaker, who was grumbling somewhat at this point. They no doubt envious of my day in the kayak under sunny skies. I was just trying not to be run over. I reached the pointy nose of Nose Point and rested, drank and rolled up my sleeves for the last paddle.
At this point, little to my knowledge my kayaking buddy would be preparing to launch from the same beach I had many hours earlier. His last look at the Spot tracker showed my stop at Nose Point and he feared I had stopped for good. By the time he was on the water I was moving towards him and home. Had I known he was coming out to paddle the last section with me I might have felt more uplifted by the experience. By now I was tiring, a lovely challenging day on the water without mishap and steady pace was now a struggle to move up the channel. I began to have a fantasy of a welcoming committee, but I knew I would only arrive to the launch site and say to myself, ‘well that is that’. My wife was visiting family out-of-town and those watching my progress on their computers most likely would continue to do just that. I paddled on.
Walkers Hook near my house was always in view but not getting any closer. Nearly and hour of steady motion and my pace dipping slightly I saw another kayaker. I thought to myself, ‘a good afternoon for a paddle, should I stop to tell them what I am doing?’ As the kayak closed in I recognized the style of paddling of the paddler. I wondered if it was Gus? Sure enough the black wing blades did have red dots on them that are maple leaves and the red tip of his Epic 18 was the real giveaway. He sped towards me, all smiles and asked how I was feeling.
“Good, great, pretty good actually, tired, but good.” I shouted as he wheeled around behind me and came parallel to me. I was overjoyed to see him though he was afraid that his appearance might be something I would resent having done this on my own all day, he couldn’t have been more wrong about that. We talked about the paddle and he told me how long it took him to meet me so I had a rough idea of what was left to do. He offered advice, encouragements, which included the fact that I was indeed going to easily break open my set goal of 12 hours. In fact, I could meet or break the time he set with his paddling partner as they prepared for the Yukon River Quest two years prior. 11:20 was the time to beat and the last carrot on the stick he offered was the large bottle of pale ale he had hidden in the creek at the launch site.
“It’s yours Dave, only if you beat 11:20!” I paddled on, harder.
Matching his paddle strokes and trying to meet his encouragement with 10 harder strokes and 10 easy over and over. My biceps burned, ached and complained to explode. My left shoulder had a golfball-sized knot in it since morning and it felt tighter as I muscled onwards. Passing the hook and the Fernwood Dock in view I knew it was soon over. Gus cracked the whip and I did my best to push on. Not sprinting at all well, but I felt my pace was better than it had after the ferry incident.
Gus moved ahead under the dock and to the beach pointing his kayak to where I could land. I appreciated that as I had no idea where my landing would be as I had never approached the shore from this direction before, and relieved to see it was closer than I thought. I heard him shouting to push. I dug in and landed in the eel grass and mud at the shore. Panting. Standing on the beach was a fellow who was chatting with Gus as I made my last dash and he was washed with an expression of confusion as to our celebrating when I was told, 11:17!
We told him what I had done that day and he was astonished and asking isn’t that a one or two-day trip?
We brought the boats up as the tide would eat the shallow beach quickly and I was sent on the treasure hunt for my reward cooling in the creek. Nothing had ever tasted so good as that first gulp of beer. My body reacted and I felt the rush of just what I had accomplished settling in as I sorted my gear out and put it in the car. My support not only came to paddle the last with my but came to help lift the kayak! A task I had dreaded for the past three hours.
We talked and Gus drove off home after a high-five or two for dinner leaving me alone to my thoughts as I had so many hours before. A friendly dog appeared and with it three people, each holding drinks. More high-fives and comments of disbelief. They left my to my beach, my cold beer and warm tired muscles. The tide rose nipping at where I had parked and it was time to go home. With one last look to the channel that greeted me with a quiet kiss in the dark that morning and now preparing for evening and nightfall once more, I drove home.
A friend of mine once coined the phrase, “bedtime is the best time.”
I would go one further and say that bedtime is the best time if it is tent time too. I love my tent. I love camping out in it, zipper sounds make me happy. I have had a few in past years and one by one they failed due to the rigours of outdoor life on the wild wet/sandy/gritty/moldy coast. I needed something built for damaging winds, sand mixed with salt and of course the torrential rainfalls I would face kayaking around here.
One day a Snowfield tent made for MEC and the Canadian Everest team came my way. Okay, this one might actually handle what I will toss it into. I mean, if it can face-off with Mt. Everest then what will a little beach sand do to it? Not much as it turned out. The Snowfield can take it. Though it was not construction, or materials that have me wondering if it is time to upgrade once more, it is age. It was a decade-old when I bought it from a buddy. I have added a few more years to it since then and lots of regular usage. One by one, the poles are giving out. Creaking in the winds and the occasional geriatric carbon fibre snapping occurs. Duct Tape always at the ready these days in my kit bag.
Something else has changed in my paddling/outdoorsy life and that is Jen, my partner and now lovely wife. Squirming in and out of the end-to-end vestibules on my own was one thing, sharing the tent space is another and this brings new challenges. Not so much to our relationship as we are definitely campers through and through, no it is the mid-night need to pee that is the new issue. Inevitably one will inadvertently wake up the other while extricating from sleeping bags and zipper doors. My good old friend has one wonky door so really, there is only one way in and one way out again. The solution was to invest in a new tent for married couples with side entrance vestibules and no climbing over each other to get in and out. It is pretty swank and I am getting used to it. Change, like all things is the one and only constant of the universe. However images such as the photo of the day today brings back another constant of the universe.
Here I was camping on Vargas Island and my friend for the week, Lolita kept me company while gale force winds had me camp-bound. Her owner lives in a cottage up the beach (a well-known kayaking personality in his own right) Lolita never left my side, except for the occasional race up the beach to chase that pesky flock of birds.
Tent time is indeed the best time, no matter which tent you are in…and it never hurts to have good company.