Posts Tagged solo kayaking
No one was happier to see the blinking red beacon than I was, it signified the end of the mind numbing long journey along the shores of Lake Lebarge through waves and high winds. I was well behind my self-imposed schedule and turned into the checkpoint at Lower Lebarge around midnight, twelve full hours of sitting in my kayak without a breather or a chance to stand up erect. The mood at the rest stop was quiet, almost somber as those paddlers gathered there either sitting on the worn rounded stones or staggering about the beach carried the same exhausted expression. It was not over yet. Not by a long shot. I saw my new friend Glen sitting after standing for the same amount of time and distance on his paddle board as I had in my wooden kayak. We smiled at each other in that knowing way. We had braved the storms and the seemingly endless unchanging vista of the lake view together, though he had dashed ahead of me in the final kilometers.
I changed into my overnight paddling clothing. It was no easy feat to get undressed and redressed on that sloping shore with its cold round stones to add to my unsteady atrophied legs. I resorted to sit and wiggle my legs into my tights and waterproof pants. Nothing, and any long time paddler will tell you the same that there is nothing better after a long paddle than changing into fresh dry warm clothing. Usually, it is when the tent is up, the kayaks are put away for the night and dinner is simmering on the camp stove. Changing this time was in preparation of the next section of the over 300 kms to the first lengthy sleep break at a campground at a place between here and there called Carmacks named for the famous prospector who found gold sparking the gold rush.
I left before Glen and some of the others that had arrived before me. Call it a second wind, or just the stoic realization that the only way to get home was to just keep paddling. If I had any notion to pack it in, feeling the sharp twinges in my shoulder and under the weight of knowledge that I was venturing on in the way back of the race pack it would have been then and there. I got back in my seat, tugged my spray skirt back on around the cockpit, swung my paddle blade into the water and got a good push backwards off the stones by a very cheerful volunteer.
I set my GPS for the next waypoint, always this unit was my carrot on a stick. Planning my waypoints to set nice small bites of the river at a time because the mental drain of thinking about the daunting distances would have done me in. Instead it was smaller 20 – 50 km chunks that allowed my to not think about the next stop or checkpoint for hours. Just paddle. I did that, into the dusky overnight hours and in the winding faster moving narrow slot of the 30 Mile River section as the width of the lake closes into at times barely 50 feet from shore to shore. I could tell what was ahead and make out features along the shoreline as it was light enough even at 1:30 in the morning to paddle comfortably. My mandatory headlamp shining but was more an indicator to on lookers that I was there than means to illuminate any hazards. I was starting to be gifted with the midnight sun.
This part of the river was like a gift as well after the slog on the lake. The flow was swift and at times curled into riffles and small rapids. Gravel bars were something to be watchful for as was the pinpoints of other headlamps coming from behind me. I felt comforted to see them and as the wee hours of dusky night grew into early morning I could make out the spires of tree tops and aimed for those places far ahead now and then glowing brighter than the surroundings. That sun glimpse would be short lived as rain would greet me by mid-morning, but for now it was a pleasant paddle with the current on my side. I glided with my paddle up to have a snack after about an hour from Lower Lebarge of gummy bears and a full can of Red Bull that I slugged back rapidly. I looked around. I was very much the only one in sight as the bends in the river blocked my views forward and back. It was a strange mingle of daylight and dark that played tricks on the eyes. Small whirl pools spun at my bow and swirled as I paddled by them. Things on shore were not what they seemed. I was on the constant look out for wildlife, bears, wolves, moose and the beavers that frequently came to swim with me.
I had heard rumours of the racers in the past who in fits of tired paddle-weary moments fell into various stages of hallucinating. I pushed those thoughts aside when preparing for the Quest. Stories of paddlers seeing burning trees, wildlife that was more tree stump than bear and one story of seeing a Voyageur in full vintage regalia standing on the shore holding his canoe paddle. Nonsense! And with my last fistful of gummy bears I saw a white deer walking on the steep sandy river bank. I slowed my paddling to watch it and cursed the low light from letting me get a photo. A white deer! It pranced at my approach and scrambled up the bank kicking a spray of dark sand from its hooves. Then, it disappeared. I thought my eyes were playing tricks in the dusk then it reappeared but then with one more leap it evaporated completely. I looked at the time, it was only 14 hours into the race and I was already seeing things? It must have been the combination of gelatinous bruins and whatever evil resides in a tall can of Red Bull.
I have a year! There is no turning back now, the team is coming together. The kayak is kited out, and fitted out, and tweaked to perfection in preparation of something I have been pondering as a kayaking trip for a few years, the Yukon River Quest. All that is left to do is get myself into racing shape. Yikes!
When did this madness begin?
In 2011, I was part of a support crew for a tandem kayaking team entered in that marathon paddle event starting in Whitehorse at the blowing of the paddlewheeler SS Klondike’s horn and ending, for most paddlers a few days later in the historical gold rush township of Dawson City some 715 km later. Our team scratched at the midway rest stop at Carmacks due to injury, but by that point I had the bug. The combined comeraderie among the teams, support crews and race volunteers created a community of like-minded nutters with a common goal, to get that boat and paddler to the finishline before the cut-off time.
By Dawson, the tremedous explosion of paddles and boats that left the riverside at Whitehorse became a trickling of pooped but elated paddlers arriving one at a time to the finishline greeted one and all by the crowds watching on shore and loved ones. How awesome it would feel to land there after kayaking both day and night virtually non-stop and earning a place in that club, the club of nutters willing to endure long hours in the seat, cold, sleep depravation induced halucinations and fatigue just to get to the gold rush after the bars close.To finish is the goal and for now I am not concerning myself about my personal best time, just to have a good time just me and my kayak and many hours to consider all those things left at home.
The consoling thought when I lay awake doubting my sanity at this decision is that while I am fighting the sleepiness and sore muscles at 3am someplace between Whitehorse and that first rest stop 300+ kms away at Carmacks is I won’t have to do the dishes!
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.
Summer it seems is showing the signs that the last act of the play is about to start and a season of heavy kayaking has come and gone for me without much time on the water. This was a summer of working, not playing. That said, I pulled my wooden kayak off the seas for a well-deserved renovation and care. The new job slowed the process and though I had the enthusiasm, the body was pooped and my days off spent catching up on rest and other more important things.
Alas, October is now scratching at the door like a wet cat and my kayak sits partly done. sigh. Today I realized that my gelcoating efforts should be beefed up as sanding her belly smooth revealed more wood than smoothness when removing the orange rind dimples I really should have been more generous with the gel coat… Another few coats to be added and a few more evening, and weekend sessions wet sanding to get the pro finish I really want. My newbie efforts at refinishing are showing but a bit more elbow grease is okay with me. She deserves it after so many years of keeping me safe and joyful.
So my summer project becomes a fall project. The kayak rebirth in the new year, her tenth year on the water with a shine and a new look.
(This is an older post from my older and now extinct kayaking blog, but one that I kept in the folder as it is a great read, an awesome book, and worth repeating here on the new-improved kayaking blog)
Living on a small island has its ups and downs. It has its problems and its perks. One of the perks is a friendly association with your local rural mail man, or in this case mail courier woman, person, um…she delivers my mail. I know her well because a few years back I was working for her, delivering that very same mail. And she is a kayaker as well and we have exchanged various books over the years via my mailbox.
I bumped into her at the box the other day and kayaking is the usual topic at hand. I told her about the amazing 2.5 hour paddlers video diary of a solo kayaker paddling from Vancouver to Alaska with little experience, or gear I had just posted on the Kayak Rogue and as it happens I think I was the last to find out about it. Check it out at your convenience.
After a brief discussion about that, she mentioned that she had just finished the book about Freya Hoffmeister, titled Fearless. I wanted a go at it and this morning low and behold Fearless arrived in my mailbox.
It is the story about a 46-year old former sky diver, gymnast, marksman and even a Miss Germany contestant who left her 12-year old son behind to paddler alone around Australia. It was a daunting task that drew criticism from expert paddlers as foolish and possibly deadly journey.
Determined to paddle faster than the only other paddler to complete the route 27 years before she set out to kayak the 9,420 miles of shark infested waters.
Acclaimed outdoor journalist Joe Glickman follows Freya’s year-long journey around Australia, and writes an account based on conversations with Hoffmeister and what he can discover from her daily blog posts as she paddles. While reading this book I could only imagine the frustrations from a writer’s stand-point. Hoffmeister is a truly annoying subject who reveals little about her exposure to the element, the difficulties faced each day or shows much interest in the colour and culture of where she is paddling, other than repeated notes about her birthday suit. Glickman fills in the blanks as best he can and it is his writing about the incredible backdrop of her kayaking adventure that creates a sense of the enormity of what she is doing. Only a few of us has ever known the pain of what sitting in a kayak for 12-14 hours feels like, and what it does to a body. Freya will not divulge such information and you can comb through her blog posts and find no complaints at all. A piece of piss, this kayaking around Australia. However, as a kayaker who has done some considerable miserable hours in a kayak I smirked at Glickman’s example on page 47.
– Three hours in a kayak is uncomfortable; double that and it’s like flying coach in the middle seat with linebackers on either side and a nose guard in front of you with his seat all the way back; double that time, and you had better be a former gymnast with an ass of a draft horse and a lower back like Gumby’s- Joe Glickman.
As a marathon kayaker, Glickman knows of what he speaks and I agree with his assessment, and with no offense directed at a writer I have followed over the years, it is just a shame that it is not her words about the journey that count in this book.
By the time I had read through a third of Fearless I was struck by how boring this paddler actually was. I cannot say I agree with how she approaches life, or kayaking. To paddle around that little island to me would be epic, not just physically and mentally but emotionally as well. I am not Freya Hoffmeister, I can’t say I even like her much from the impression I get from the book. How wonderful to read a book about a kayaker attempting something that could at any moment bring her to her demise, yet who does not arouse a sense of sympathy at all. However you view this person, remember she is athlete first and she was not there to take in the scenery or to soak up the experience in its fullest. Freya Hoffmeister’s goal was the key to why she was put there cruising the shoreline of pristine untouched wilderness around an island so big it classifies as a Continent. Hoffmeister has little or no interest in the history, the culture, the place. Australia is just something to paddle all the way around and in a pigheaded, rather vain manner. She is a single-minded paddling machine with one purpose, to be faster than the last guy.
Freya Hoffmeister overcomes what had to be real, if unspoken fears. She masters the art of endurance paddling, and accomplished this in record time. No matter what you may think of her as a person, that feat alone is enormous, and awe inspiring.
Fearless is a great read about a hero that you may or may not like that much. Alike the controversy about Canadian runner Steve Fonyo, sometimes you are placed in a position to admire someone for what they accomplish, and not for who they are. This is the case with Freya Hoffmeister, sky-diver, gymnast, mother, and endurance kayaker. For those who want to paddle vicariously in a tiny kayak on the edges of the unknown southern land, Fearless in the book for you. Though you don’t get to choose your paddling partner.
Bricks were piled on my chest, or at least ir felt that way as my breath came hard laboured and stripped from my lungs in abject irrational panic. The tent walls usually a cheery yellow and blue from the diamond pattern of the fly that made my Snowfield tent appear to be inspired by the Swedish flag, now was dour and muted in the early morning half-light. I panted unable to move, my arms still one over my chest and one seemingly strapped down to the ground with invisible restraints. My legs were still and made of concrete of cold chewing gum. I tried in vain to move, to leap from my sleeping bag and fight the monster outside.
The ominous shadow that brushed the nylon and plucked at the flexible aluminium poles of my flimsy fort circled, grunted and at any moment I expected the tent to collapse over me from the weight of the black bear investigating my camp. I was aware of the flare gun beside my head. My knife too at the ready, but my body unable to fire or stab at the monster. I lay in a panic waiting for the inevitable death by bear attack. The lines pulling at the tent fly plucked like stings on a guitar making an awful sound that I attributed to the dampness and they being soaked through by the rain and morning dew. Another brush of animal fur against the tent and I flinched, and woke from my lucid dream still feeling the paralysis in my limp limbs. Breathing harder than at any time before in my life I slowly recovered my senses, realizing where it was that I had set up my tent and scolded myself for the weakness of spirit.
I rose, dressed and tentatively unzipped the tent flap and that of the outer vestibule. The fresh sea air met my face washing the claustrophobic tightness away. The view from my tent door was directly down the fiord-like bay facing a mist shrouded mountain. The largest off-shore on the coast with the exception of those on Vancouver Island. I was camping in Roscoe Bay a boaters’ hideaway at the entrance to the channel dividing East and West Redonda Islands. The mist was rising after a damp few days and the water was alive, moving with common jelly fish. The bay filled shore to shore with cabin cruisers and sailboats of all makes and sizes. It was a noisy bay in the morning. Generators hummed and rumbled as they powered breakfasts and entertainments to distract one from the nature outside the porthole. I stood in wet sandals and prepared a mug of coffee. Shaken still from the images in my mind’s eye and as I sat at the picnic table looking at the half-dozen rubber dinghy that had come ashore with boating dogs busting at the seams, I felt a fool. Sipping the hot coffee I punished myself thinking that I was made of tougher stuff than that.
I later learned that my paralyzed state was nothing unusual for that level of sleep, and Redonda Islands both of them are teaming with black bears, save a heavily populated bay of loud humans with dogs. My primal trigger to sharing an island with bears got the better of me. As I sat with a second cup warming my hands until the sun reluctantly rose and over-powered the morning mist to dry my soggy gear that I had just spread on the dry grass, something occurred to me. Perhaps it was not a weak moment of human fragility in the face of unknown dangers of the wild but instead a message being sent from beyond.
Had I had a shaman to share my coffee pot with I am sure he would agree that rather than monstrous foe, the bear in my waking nightmare was only that of a spirit. A guide who was in his own clumsy bruin way attempting to introduce himself to me as my own animal spirit. He had been looking for me but as I travel so fast by kayak he would inevitably arrive too late to greet me at any of my other camps. This one however, I had stayed longer so he was able to lumber down the sloping path from the warmest lake I had found that summer to my tent early in the morning. Not wanting to wake me from my beautiful slumber in the great outdoors he quietly rooted for nibbles in my camp until I got up and we could shake hands, or hug or whatever it is one does with a first encounter with an animal spirit.
I packed my gear and kayak that morning and once the sun had risen shining on the jelly fish I paddled out of the bay and down the shore of the island to my next camp on the Martin Islets. I would have happily spent time with my new bear spirit friend, eating snacks and sipping wine until the sun went down, and maybe he would have inspired something in the large, rather unfriendly group that was camping there.
Solo Kayaking to Alaska, the book.
With great delight one lazy Sunday afternoon, when I should have been hunkered down in the seat of my own kayak I sat instead with my laptop plugged into the tv watching a long Youtube video about kayaking. It is not my practice to watch instead of doing but this was different. During the two and a half hour video I was taken along as passenger, confident and observer to one Danny Wilks’s solo paddle from Vancouver, BC to Alaska. This sort of thing is not news. Many have paddled this route including a local Salt Spring Island kayaking guide. The difference this time was he had the forethought to document the trip and more importantly, his own interpretation and thoughts of where he was, and how he was travelling. The kayak was just a bit player on his journey that took him, a novice kayaker at best to places few of us will ever see. Living simply as part of the land, fishing for his supper and becoming fully entangled in the coastal way of being. Sitting out storms in a hammock for days, dealing with the intense grey gloom that can settle on these shores at any time, linger and work against his ambition to reach Alaska.
Months later he appeared with a new page on Facebook to update everyone on the progress of his book about the trip. He occasionally asked questions of his fans on the process, which photo to use for the cover etc. I was happy to put my two cents worth into the pot, hopefully I was of help after my own experiences with self-publishing.
Over the weekend he announced that it was now available on Amazon in Kindle version. My heart dropped as I am a Kobo guy, but voila I was able to download the Kindle app for free at Amazon. Problem solved.
The book is as intriguing as the video and he has a humble and smooth way of revealing his tale as though he was sitting across the table and telling it over a pint. From his self-assured adventuring and an introduction to kayaking, his approach to nature and landscape is something most of us kayakers can relate. I liked him on the video and felt he would be the type of person to paddle with on such a journey. Again, in the pages of the book, though I have not had the time to sit down and read all of it, already I felt that same kinship. My only problem with his book is that it appears to be shorter than I would like and am sure that by the end I will want more.
This is me, the book is just that. A portrait of an adventure. In his own words…
This is not a story about cutting off body parts to survive, or going to brink
of existence in an unforeseen twist of fate. This is an adventure born from
watching old movies and programs of people living and travelling in the
Alaskan/Canadian wilderness. It is a story of a solo quest to get to Alaska by
kayak with very little experience, surviving in the wilderness along the way;
it’s a story of learning to believe in yourself when some others think you’re
crazy, of putting one foot in front of the other each day, and of trusting your
wits to get you out of a situation if it all goes wrong. Some describe it as
crazy, some say it’s a spirit quest. All I know is that I needed to do it, so I