Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I did a trip last month around the San Juan Islands. I took 4 days and circled the islands, camping at a few spots along the way, mostly as an exercise to see what I'd be taking with me to Vancouver Island. To determine what gear would make the cut and what would not.

The kayak I'll be using is the venerable Dagger Sitka. This composite boat is almost 10 years old but it has been lightly used, until now. I paddled a different Sitka on my Newfoundland trip and was very pleased with the way it handled the conditions. Its integral rudder worked flawlessly and, with a 22" beam, it had great speed, even in rough conditions. I looked at a couple other candidates for this expedition, but kept coming back to this one. They don't make it any more, but they should.

Paddles come from Werner. Best blades anywhere. I'll be using a bent shaft Kalliste 220. PFD, drysuit, paddling gear comes mostly from Kokatat, one of the most dependable companies in the paddle sports industry.

The tent is a Mountain Hardware Muir Trail. I'll be wearing outerwear and technical clothing from Smartwool, Mountain Hardware and Arc'teryx. Drybags are from Ortlieb, and shoes are from Teva.

Most of the gear I'll be using belongs to me. I owned it already, before this expedition became a reality. I have it because it's what I use, it's what I trust. On the big trips, it's the details that count. Having a knowledge of what I am taking with me, and a familiarity with what works: this is a valuable detail for me.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Journalism 101

For a very short period in the early 1980's, I was a journalism major. I don't know how much of the curriculum I recall, but I do remember something about facts, and why they were important. Who, What, When, Where and Why: those were the big five.

So I'm going to take it slow, and take the time to go through the basic facts of the trip. By way of a proper introduction, if you will…

My name is Ken Campbell. I have been a sea kayak guide and instructor for nearly 20 years. I have expedition experience that runs the cycle from 3-day guided tours of the San Juan Islands to a 3-month, 1750-mile, circumnavigation of Newfoundland.

I have written several books about sea kayaking and numerous magazine pieces on a variety of subjects, from snowshoeing to canoeing to alpine ascents. At some point along the way, I chose kayaking as my central form of wilderness travel and it has taught me a lot. I have slowly learned, over the course of a very long time on the water, that it is the adventure that matters, the story. For me, the kayak is the best means for me to experience the natural world and to get to where I want to go.

I was co-founder of Azimuth Expeditions in 2003, and it remains the focus of my interactions with nature, adventure and the people who love them both. I hope to use Azimuth as a vehicle to assist in protecting the environment while encouraging the spirit of discovery.

The VI Circle expedition is an attempt at a solo sea kayak circumnavigation of Vancouver Island in winter, something that has not been done before. (Of course, there is always the possibility that it was done centuries ago, by a member of any number of tribes or bands of First Nations along the Vancouver Island coast, but there is no record of it ever having been done. )

Total distance will be between 700 and 800 miles and the expedition is expected to take between 7 and 9 weeks. The planned date of departure is January 14, 2008 and the goal is to complete the journey by March 21, 2008, within the winter months. I am currently planning on beginning the trip at Gooseberry Point, on the Lummi reservation, north of Bellingham. From there it's a straight shot to the northern Gulf Islands and then into the journey around the island, counter-clockwise.

I can think of several good reasons, big-picture reasons, for this expedition: in order, to my way of thinking, they are adventure, discovery and understanding.
The adventure of the task caught my imagination from the beginning. I have paddled some of the areas I'll be going to this winter, but never during the cold season. The dark season. The wet season. Is it different? How? Will it be hard to light a fire? Will the beach landings be safe? What will the wildlife situation be? Bears, raccoons and killer whales? Will the storms really be that bad? I wanted to find out.

Discovery is the notion that maybe it hasn't been done before. After looking into the question as thoroughly as I could, I didn't find any claim from anyone about going around the island in the winter. To be sure, it has been circled by kayakers many times before, but almost always in the summer, when the conditions are more conducive to travel by water. I could be the first, and this is an idea that continues to motivate me.

What motivates me the most, however, is the idea that, by immersing myself in an expedition like this one, I may come to an understanding of the places I go and how the environment shapes who I am and the experiences I have. Whether on matters of kayaking, or on the history of the places I will pass through over the course of this journey, I hope that I can get a better knowledge of the island, its various regions, climes and cultures. I am curious to see the practicality of travel by kayak during the winter. Was it something that could have been done by a paddler from a time long gone? How will my perspective guide my experience? There is really only one way to find out.

That's it. Those are the facts. But facts are not immutable. They evolve and grow over time. I am less two months away from the start of the expedition, and my realities are changing constantly.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I'm thankful for my family. I'm thankful for getting the day off, for turkey with gravy and for the Packer's game that is just an hour or two away. (Go Pack Go!) I'm thankful for clear water and dark beer, a driftwood fire on a cold night and steaming, black coffee in the morning. I'm thankful that I get to be here for another year, to live this life I've chosen, alongside the people that help make me who I am.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007


When I was getting ready to paddle around Newfoundland, I made it a point to paddle every day. For a few months in early 2000, I would get out of bed at 4:30 or so and go paddle Commencement Bay, here in Tacoma. I put in at Sundial Park, for those of you who might know where that is, and I'd paddle across the bay to Brown's Point and back. It wasn't far, no more than 4 miles on most days, but the key was that I did it every day. Regardless of the weather, no matter how I was feeling… I still went out. It wasn't for the minimal challenges associated with the paddle that I went… the idea was that, if I had psychologically prepared myself to paddle every day, it would be easier for me to get out of the sleeping bag once the trip had begun.

And it worked, I guess. I made it around Newfoundland anyway. But I haven't been doing the same regimen this time. I guess I know what I have coming up and I'll deal with it as it happens. There's a different feel to the Vancouver Island expedition.

I went out today though, across Commencement Bay. It was good to be back on the old training lap again, to watch as the Brown's Point light steadily got closer with each paddle stroke. It was good to pause near the point and drink hot chocolate out of the small thermos before starting back to town. It was good to watch the city wake up on a wintery day.

I may revive the training tradition in the next week or two.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Changes in the weather

Here in Tacoma today, the sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky. It's cold outside but it's calm, hardly a breath of wind. I haven't been on the water today but I would expect it to be flat and fast.

Yesterday was very different. Winds gusting to 50 knots, rain, just ugly weather. I would not have wanted to be out on the water yesterday. But that's the difference a day makes.

It's going to be like that on this upcoming VI trip. Each day will bring different weather and conditions and my challenge will be to adapt what I do to the changing environment I am in. I am expecting inclement weather and I know that most of the paddling days will be tough ones, but there will still be those other days. Days when the water reflects the mountains and the trees along the verdant shoreline. When the wind seems to have been defeated, if only for a while. When everything comes together to make it a perfect day in a wild adventure.

It's those perfect days that make it all worthwhile.