Posts Tagged sea kayaking
“Hey Dave, I put a beer in the creek at Hudson Point for you, but you can only have it if you beat the time that Blake and I set in the double.” shouts Gus across the Trincomali Channel as I plough my way up feeling the back lash of each stroke through the paddle shaft.
There was a beer in the creek, chilled and wet and lovely and mine, if only I could find the energy after over 10 hours of non-stop paddling around Salt Spring Island on a warm Easter weekend. If only I could muster the power to paddle the last 4 kilometers to the spot that I launched from at just before 6:30 am that day. He was fresh, after only an hour of paddling leisurely and I was bonking. At the distraction in meeting up with him on the last leg I realized one big mistake I was making. I forgot to keep eating and drinking. I was running low and should not have let my eagerness to keep up with my friend who was a finisher of the Yukon River Quest foil what was to be still a brilliant and successful day on the water. A lesson learned that I will always keep with me. Ego, and apparently the promise of cold refreshing beer at the end of a long day nearly took me out altogether.
I did make it and somehow during that last stretch found the inner something to pick up my pace just enough to beat his best time in a tandem by a whopping 3 minutes. Not much, as slim margin at best but it did tell me that I was paddling fast enough to keep up with a duo in a kayak. Eleven hours, seventeen minutes and another five searching aimlessly for the beer carefully hidden behind a streambed stone, I was home. Oddly enough, ten minutes later I was feeling like I could do the day all over again. Was it the beer, or the adrenaline or both? Either way I was ready to get in the kayak. I felt immediately encouraged by this sudden full-bodied enthusiasm to continue. The River Quest dream started that night and the following day as I hiked up Mt. Erskine to a favorite spot overlooking the beginning of the narrows I had paddled less than 24 hours earlier. The weather had changed. The calm slot towards Burgoyne Bay where I so easily glided was now frothing and white-capped. I picked my circumnavigation day well it seemed, but then I thought again and wondered if I could have managed a second rotation around the island in tougher conditions. Nearly the same distance would be what I faced on the Yukon’s famed Lake Leberge notorious for squalls and wavy conditions.
Today, I sit sipping a cold beer after work and the anticipation of the weekend approaches as does that River Quest dream. On Sunday the registration for the 2016 edition of the paddling marathon on the Yukon River opens and I hope to be one of the first to enter. I will be at a family event so it will be done among supporters and well wishers. Upon completion of the registration I will be allowed to do something I am told by Gus who yet again placed a carrot on the stick for me. If I register, I can wear that damn hat! I hope that he will be holding it for me when I arrive at Dawson City, tired, sweaty, accomplished.
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.
Seen here on a log at my lovely beachside camp near Port Renfrew BC is my water bottle. “Life is Crap” makes me laugh as a touch of outdoorsy snark in the face that no matter where I am with my kayak, it is anything but crappy. That said, today I would like to mention something we take for granted, as the news from Detroit worsens and the memory of not having running water at home for a time still fresh as a mountain stream to my mind.
It is suddenly summer here after a noncommittal beginning and long spring. The heat and humidity of the past week has been a challenge. A morning paddle the other day began with the idea that if I got out on the water early enough I could beat the heat. How wrong I was as it met me clearly as I unloaded the kayak and gear. My only saviour was my Life is Crap buddy who along with two more one litre bottles of water rolled around between my legs as I paddled against the tide for an hour in the heat.
We tend to forget about it. I get lazy with taking in enough water while kayaking. I towed a paddle boarder home to shore once after she ran out of gas on a late summer evening that was too warm not to remember water. She had none! I gave her the last of mine, hooked her up and dragged her across to safety. I am waiting for a new drinking tube kit to attach to the dromedary bag I keep filled with fresh water behind my seat. This removed the issue of cumbersome water bottles and sipping sun-heated liquid from the bottle on the deck and I am more likely to sip on the fly instead of stopping to take in water.
My outdoorsy tip for this week which will be closing in on the 30 celsius out here in the rain belt is the bring more water than you think you will need. Likely, you will want it. Stay hydrated, stay cool. Try not to paddle during the peek heat hours of the day. Dunk your sun hat in the water to cool your head and remember to drink, sipping small amounts every half hour or so and your life will remain heat stroke and crap free.
Solo by Design
“How can you stand being alone so long?” is the most asked question when friends hear of a trip I have done, or planned to take on alone. I have always been comfortable within my own head and periods of solitude that would intimidate some, I find to be a luxury. The sticker inside one of my boats states clearly a dire warning that you should never paddle alone and for years I didn’t.
Contented in the safety in numbers of a group dynamic that grew within a foursome of similarly outdoorsy friends coming to kayaking from all directions and interests, abilities and agenda. Though we were a drastically diverse gang of paddlers we all had this one passion of wilderness, ocean and the freedom of arriving at some incredible place that no one else had access, and most satisfying under our own power.
It was in that group that I honed my own wilderness living skills through some trial and errors that were never life-threatening but close calls and wet bottoms do get tiring. I became more conservative in my approach to the paddle days and measured it against the enjoyment meter. To have bold intent each day, goals to set, distances to achieve but with a sensible paddling intent became the beat I paddled to. If the day was too windy as would often be the case, well then heat up the Colman stove and brew another cup and watch the waves go by from camp. In a group there is always a negotiation and pressure to move along. Quite often I had an inner voice that wanted to stay and absorb a location more regardless of the conditions, but the group dynamic was a group dynamic and we all had agreement to itinerary. There was always negotiations, some good, some heated around the fire in the evening and I will not sit here today and say that was a bad thing for me. However, these compromises became an additional motivator to reach out on my own more often. I had acquired skills and confidence that years earlier I had not. It was time, and one summer I decided to ignore that sticker and take a step into solo kayaking.
Desolation Sound had always had an appeal even though it was a boater destination unfriendly for the most part to kayakers. The scenery of the coastal mountains leaning over the fiord-like channels around several islands, and the challenges of the Strait of Georgia which could not be ignored. I planned a two-week paddle into the sound to explore with a side trip down the strait, and across to the sandy shores of Savory Island to visit a friend who summers there with her sister selling crafts.
My float plan set, but never in stone I headed out from Cortes Island after a mad dash to miss a ferry or two. I chose Cortes Bay as a launch as there was good parking and a public boat ramp. The bay was sheltered but not from the south as I found out on my return day in a minor gale. The noisy night at the campground had me up and out as soon as the gates were unlocked that morning. Within an hour of taking down my tent it was packed in the kayak’s hatch and I was crossing the strait towards Malaspina Peninsula. The sun was shining, a small morning chop on the water greeted my bow, and the Sound lay ahead. Desolations Sound, what better place to find aloneness and solitude. This was the first time I set my own agenda and I was loving it! On the water when I chose, first stop where I chose and the night’s camping location (if accessible) was my choosing. No negotiations except with Mother Nature to whom I always consult as she can be a bad parent when off her meds. I was lucky that day to avoid the winds that would blow later from inland mountain valleys creating greenish grey frothing water in Homfray Channel where my destination of the Curmes Islets sat in a large notch. The group of women had less fortune with the winds when eventually landing on ‘my’ island no less than half and hour after I set up my camp neatly and lay on a sunny rock out of the breeze with a wooden goblet of red wine. I travel in style!
I enjoyed their company and even took charge of them for a day paddle up the shores and into the hot water lagoon beyond the reach of the boaters. I slipped away the next morning at dawn with a south-going tide to make for Savory, and my search for solitude. Again, I thought I found what I was seeking in the Copeland Island group that hugs close to the peninsula’s shore between the entrance to the Sound and the town of Lund across the water adjacent to Savory Island. I set up camp on the kayaker’s side of an island in the group that boasted a cosy anchorage for boaters on the opposite side. A short hike to the cliffs proved this to be true. Kayaker Bay and Boater Bay with a ridge of rock in between. This meant that I would have the view from camp being free of yachts and sailboats leaving only a westerly vantage point to enjoy another cup of wine with my evening meal and a sunset, but here comes some kayaks.
Though, once more I lost touch with aloneness and solitude I shared a communal meal of fresh prawns and other goodies with a pair of kayakers both like me paddling wooden kayaks they had built themselves. A sunset enjoyed with shared chocolate and wine, but by early morning I was off again while they slept in their tents.
My paddle the next morning to Savory Island was a bouncing and bounding exercise of technical paddling against the flow of wind and tide. It was great fun, and I arrived at the sandy shores of Savory in less than an hour. I came into the shallows and put my hand into the water that was near bathtub temperature. I got up and out and towed my kayak behind me as I waded in the tropics of BC until I arrived at the space of beach near, as close as I could recon to my friend’s instructions and land marks to find her house. A night of indoor life was odd. A fine meal with great conversations and a plan to stay on another day. By morning, with much disappointment on both sides I left due to incoming weather that would shorten my trip by a few days. Alas, it was low tide and it took me some time to shift boat and gear to the water’s edge, which kept going out and away from me. This was both a pain in the backside and a blessing as the north going tide would push me to my last night of camping at what I hoped to be a sheltered camp spot out of the predicted winds. They picked up shortly after my hasty departure from sunny Savory. The sky darkened and the paddle was not difficult with wind and tide at my back. I surfed a few waves along the way to speed up my progress.
At last, after a week of paddling alone I was finally truly alone. My tent set up in a close opening in the woods hidden behind a large fallen tree to look at it from the beach it seemed a cave. My only company was a raccoon who insisted on hanging about in hopes of finding some way of reaching my hanging bag of food.
Camping alone is a trick. The things we do while camping in a group in safety are heightened when alone. The smallest thing can become a bigger mess, or danger. Running a stove, boiling water, using a knife, walking up the beach to find a latrine location. The chance of burning one’s self, cutting one’s self, tripping and injuring one’s self all run in the back of the mind and remind me to slow down. After all, isn’t that why I came? The one thing that was not an issue for me was solitude. Kayaking alone is an opportunity to relax into thoughts that are pushed aside at home by all the at home things. It is a luxury to paddle methodically and just think thoughts, hum a tune or revel in the silence of the natural setting of wilderness paddling.
How can I stand being on my own that long? Those that have to ask have not tried to push themselves into the situation of solitude. To say it is not for everyone is an excuse not to try. We are communal creatures, of this there is no doubt. But if you still need to ask me that question then I ask you to go out and spend a night alone on a shore, with the comfort of a cosy tent and sleeping bag nearby, a sun setting as your evening’s entertainment. No noise, no at home stuff cluttering the mind, no cell phone, no laptop, just you and all of the above and a wooden goblet of red wine. Then ask me again how I could stand doing it more a week or more.
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.
Living in the Gulf Islands we wait patiently through long wet winter months of seemingly endless grey skies crying down buckets of tears. We wait with anticipatory visions of gliding through the water in the summer heat. The reality is startlingly different when summer does arrive and all we can hope for is that the local islands will grow a mile or two higher to give some early shade as we paddle. Where is the relief from the humidity gathering in the cockpit under the spray skirt? Where can we refresh ourselves? How about on a patio overlooking the sea under the protection of an umbrella with a cold pint of amber ale in hand. What could be better than a paddle to the pub?
The paddling day begins from Southey Point eccentrically placed at the northern tip of Salt Spring Island on a day the islands surrounding us would never grow high enough to cast any shade, we pointed to Penelakut Island. This island is native land and formerly named, Kuper Island. The spit near the village of Penelakut is visible from Southey Point and we chose to cruise the shallow sandbars of Penelakut. The water was still around our kayaks and in the clarity it was easy to view schools of frantic fish zigzagging to avoid our approach. Crabs nestled face down in the sand were no match for a tag-team effort between two paddle blades scooping them up at will. Dinner would be simple if it were crab, not the grog and burgers that was our prey that day.
In the heat haze on the water the white stick ahead was thought a marker of some sort, but only recognizable as a man when our group paddled closer. Walking waist-deep along the shore, but still far from shore a resident of the island was flicking up crab into a garbage bag with a garden rack with the handle cut short. We chatted and he offered some of his quarry to which we refused gracefully. Onwards around the jetty where the chop rose slightly in the confusion of water not knowing how to go, and into the cut.
We had planned out outing around the tides, something not entirely crucial in the Gulf Islands baring any needs to sneak out into the Strait of Georgia where the narrows between islands can get up to 10 knots of current. To get to the Thetis Island Marina Pub from this direction requires a higher tide to navigate ‘the cut’. This shallow groove meanders through high sandbars, once prime clamming beds in between Penelakut and Thetis Islands. At low tide be prepared to get out and push, pull or drag your kayak, and at higher water levels keep and eye out for small motor craft coming and going from the marina. The cut narrows and becomes shallow in a bottleneck forming a muddy land bridge at low tide before opening to deeper water at the marina.
Thetis Island Marine Pub is nothing fancy and the patio is a slender deck facing the docks but the food is great and the beer is cold, except on this day. A large pleasure boat had left the bay dragging its anchor and thus severing the underwater cable giving power to the island. The sandwiches and room temperature beer was delightful, and in the many return visits to the pub I have enjoyed much of the menu of good pub fare while sipping a cold pint. As I lazed on the patio watching eagles admiring boater life from high snags on Penelakut as though separated in time.
The day ending with the return paddle in Stuart Channel, a belly scrapping slip in between Penelakut and Tent Island before crossing back to Southey Point. The beer refreshed us only if for a few moments as the late afternoon sun slowed our progress accompanied by digestion. We stop at Tent island for a brief stretch which resolves to be an afternoon nap. The only thing better than paddling to a pub is the kayak nap soon after on cool pebbles.
It’s Valentines Day, so to be in keeping with the lovefest here is a picture of my wife and I having a kayak cuddle moment one lovely paddling day north of the island heading towards the pub at Thetis (Penelakut) Island. This day trip from Salt Spring Island will be the subject of an upcoming post in my series about the world-class paddling in the Southern Gulf Islands. What could be better than a paddle to a pub?