Saturday, February 2, 2008


Back home again. Seems amazing how the miles that were so hard-fought on the water go by so fast when you're driving back. We have it pretty easy here in the 21st century, eh?

I wanted to conclude this story by wrapping up a few loose ends. First I want to make sure I say thanks to Kokatat and Werner Paddles, two of the finest kayaking related organizations out there. The paddle that I used was ideal for the trip, or any other trip for that matter. Light and strong, which is all you can ask from a quality stick. The dry suit, PFD and other paddling gear from Kokatat were absolutely flawless. Comfortable and easy, like I like it.

If I had it to do differently I would probably take a warmer sleeping bag. The one I had was good and it's not like I was overly cold during the nights, but I wore most of my clothes to bed too. It would have been better to have gone with a 10-15 degree bag, and I could probably have gone even thicker than that. Also, although I do like the thermette for its water-boiling capabilities using kindling, it was time consuming and difficult to get enough dry wood most of the places I camped. I had a stove with me as well, and I used it more than I thought I would. Which is ok, but the end result would have been that I would have burned through my fuel way too soon, had I continued.

I might have benefitted from taking better camp shoes or boots along too, although it was not a major shortcoming. I bought a phone card in Nanaimo to use to make calls home, the Vox America card. It worked great, but I bought $20 worth of time, and that was about 450 minutes. I don't care how homesick you might become, that's just way too much time. I could have bought a $5 card and still had time remaining. Also, if you buy one of these, realize that they are only good for a month... it's in the fine print.

In addition to all this, I really want to thank all the people who wrote me along the way, some of whom I may never meet. Getting a little howyadoin' from those of you who wrote really meant a lot as I paddled. Also to Jim and Marilyn Critchley in Sayward, for giving me a place to stay while I waited for my ride, thanks a lot!

This will be the last entry here on the blog. I'm going to post the trip, with a bunch more photos, on the Azimuth web site, so go to the Flag Expeditions page and check it out when you get the chance if you'd like to view some more images. Thanks for reading along, take care and I wish you all the best in your next adventure.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Still in Sayward, waiting for my ride. I've gone through all my gear, dried the wet stuff, repacked what needed to be put away. A lot of busy work mostly, filling time.

The story with my shoulder is that I have what appears to be a tear in my left rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a collection of four different ligaments that comprise the shoulder and although it's a very versatile connection, that versatility is its weak point. I've torn it before, and the repetitive motion and stress that kayaking places on this part of the body leaves very little room for weakness.

I have been aware of the shoulder since the trip started. The longer days usually had me in pain for the last few miles, even on flat water and in good conditions. Once I left Sayward, and encountered the toughest paddling conditions of the trip so far, I realized that there was no way I could continue. My bracing strokes on the left side were weak and ineffectual, and each attempt at a brace was accompanied by searing pain that seemed to stretch from my neck through my arm and into my rib cage. The bracing strokes were enough to get me through the windy tide race where I found myself paddling and I made it to shore ok, but it was with the knowledge that I wouldn't be able to do it again very soon. That night, lying awake on my right side, I reluctantly made up my mind to quit.

It was a hard decision. It's hard to quit something like this, hard to see the planning and the training that have gone into it be rendered uneccesary. For a while, I am sure, it will be difficult to look back on this trip with any feeling other than an empty, wistful sense of loss. But time, as they say, wounds all heels... I will survive just fine.

And so will this island. The idea of kayaking around Vancouver Island in the harsh weather of the cold season is still out there and someday, someone will be the first to do it. It's just that, this year, it won't be me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008



I have just been looking back at the last few entries on this journal and I am amazed by how much has happened since the last time I got on the keyboard.

So... I left Comox and paddled north. Hard. Got to Campbell River as the sun was setting. I ended up staying at the marina, in the laundry room, which is not nearly as unpleasant as it sounds. Heated, and next to the showers. I got up early the next morning (4am), to make the slack current at Seymour Narrows.

I got through the narrows and ended up camping on a beach not too far north of there, still in Discovery Passage. The ground was frozen. There were little pockets of fresh water on the surface of the beach, above the high tide line, and if I'd had skates, I coulda played some hockey. It was cold, like, Himalaya cold. I had camp set up and was in the sack at 11am for a nap.

Next day, I paddled into Johnstone Strait, through some pretty dynamic water at the corner of the straits and Discovery Passage, then on up the Vancouver Island side until the current shut me down. I camped in the woods above the beach, big trees, much darker than the daylight of the open beach seemed to be.

In the morning, I was up early. This is the one section of the trip that I do not have adequate charts for. I knew that the town of Sayward was up ahead, I just didn't know where. 10 miles? 2? 23? My goal for the day was to go as far as I could, or to Sayward, whichever came first. My shoulder had been hurting for the past few days and I didn't want to overdo it. As it happened, it was about 7 miles and I found myself at the entrance to the Sayward harbour entrance. I hauled up on shore and called it a day. At 10am.

And now, two days later, I am back in Sayward. There are stories here and I hope I have the time to tell some of the better ones. What ended up happening is that I left Sayward yesterday (Monday), and I'm back again today. The trip, other than the redeployment, the way back home, is over. It's a hard thing for me to absorb, to put into words. What was supposed to be a voyage around an island is simply a 200-mile romp, and it's disappointing and frustrating on this end. I imagine it's just as confusing and opaque from any other angle. Simply put, for the moment, let's just say that I am physically unable to complete the trip. So we're done then.

I'll write more on Thursday, when the library here is open again. It's the only place to get the internet around here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've covered about 35 miles since that last entry, from Qualicum Beach up to Denman Island last night, and then all the way up the east side of Denman and across about 8 miles of open water to Comox. (Actually, I'm staying about 4 miles further up, at Kin Beach Provincial Park, at a site just up from the water. The "camping season" is apparently not in session at the moment, but the caretaker gave me the ok.)

Today was not as cold as yesterday. I was in the boat before dawn again, just as the sky was starting to get light. I had camped on a little beach at the southern tip of Denman Island, with a great view of the buildings and the lighthouse on Chrome Island, just a few hundred yards off shore. A small cedar fire and a cup of tea took the edge off of the cool evening.

My feet have been really cold the last couple days, like blocks of wood actually. I'm a little concerned about how cold they've been getting, but they get better again at the end of the day once I get the Smartwool socks on them. I tried something different today: instead of brewing a themos of hot chocolate - like I usually do - I just filled the thermos with hot water. At my two rest stops today, I just poured the hot water on my booties until the feeling came back, all a-tingling. It worked, and I liked it, but I did miss the hot chocolate.

Tomorrow they're calling for snow and the winds increasing. I am hoping to get to Campbell River if I can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A quick stop

It's 10am or so on a fine, sunny Tuesday. I'm at the visitor's centre in Qualicum Beach, just getting the circulation back to my hands. My feet may take a little longer.

I went from Nanaimo to Rath Trevor Provincial Park yesterday (that's just a bit south of Parksville.) It was great weather and I wanted to continue, but my left shoulder was a bit sore and I felt like I'd done enough to merit an early stop.

This morning I woke up to find everything frozen. Everything. The waterbag was a block of ice, the tent flap was covered in snow from my breathing. The ground and all the drift logs around my camp site were coated in frost. It's hard to get up on mornings like that. Hot coffee took the edge off as I packed.

About 2 hours of paddling have brought me here. It's another nice day - I can almost see Comox in the northern distance - so I won't be on land for long.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Random visuals

I've found a different computer... let's see if these come out. The above shot is the entrance to Nanaimo Harbour.
Daybreak, Dodd Narrows.
One of the big boys.
Sunshine on the shores of Sucia.
Testing the waters at Larabee State Park. Thanks for the photo, Marc.
A rest stop on Wallace Island, Trincomali Channel.

Them old webbed toes

I'm a land mammal once again, at least for now. Still in Nanaimo. Got almost all of my chores and resupply items accomplished, and I'm planning on leaving early Monday morning.

It's interesting to contemplate the way that I go back and forth between being a land and water creature. Each element is so different, and requires a completely different set of tools to navigate. I think all of us have this skill, this ability to move freely between one reality and another. It's part of what makes a trip like this such an adventure.

Deep down, I think I'm really a marine mammal. Even on land, my webbed feet give me away.

Friday, January 18, 2008


No photo today, unfortunately. There have been some memorable visual moments, but I am unable to download photos at the moment... maybe later. Oh well, a word is worth a thousand pictures, eh?

If it's the right word.

Monday saw an inauspicious beginning to the adventure, although it was a good taste of what I'm sure is yet to come. High winds in Bellingham, no way to put in at Lummi, so Marc dropped me off at Larabee State Park, and I paddled for a grand total of 2 miles to an unofficial camp site in Chuckanut Bay. Not a great beginning at all. The wind howled all night and even with ear plugs in place, I could feel the changes in the air pressure as the gusts approached over the water.

At 4:30am the wind died and by 6:00am, the water was calm. I got underway at sunup, a bright, perfect day that couldn't have been more different than the day that came before. I passed the original launch site, rounded the north end of Lummi Island, and set out on the crossing to Matia. From there I went to Sucia Island and although I wanted to keep going, the wind had come up enough that I was easily persuaded that Sucia would be a fine place to spend the night.

Up before dawn the next morning and immediately crossing to Saturna Island. Made it to the other side of Boundary Pass just as it got light, then up Tumbo Channel and into the Canadian Gulf Islands. I stopped on Mayne Island briefly to call home, then paddled on to Montague Harbour, where I stayed at the Marine Provincial Park. (Its only occupant, actually).

Yesterday morning, I got up at 5:00am and was on the water by 6:15. I have never paddled anywhere that was so dark as Trincomali Channel in the hour before dawn. The solid cliffs of Galliano Island blocked all light from the east; a few navigational beacons were all I had to measure my progress until the sky grew light again. Then it was across to Wallace Island and on up the chain: Mowgli Island, South and North Secretary, then Norway and Thetis. I crossed over to Yellow Point and almost called it a day at the Yellow Point Lodge, where I'm sure I could have procured a bottle of Chardonnay and some peppered sausage while waiting for a manicure and a massage...

But the weather was cooperating, so I continued. Up the Vancouver Island shoreline to Round Island, a little speck of an island just south of Dodd Narrows. It was starting to get dark and there was no way I could make it to Nanaimo at that point.

This morning, after the first real good sleep of the trip, I got on the water, passed through Dodd Narrows on a 3 knot current and negotiated the whirl of marine traffic to get into Nanaimo. Log booms and tugs, huge ferries, even a freighter conspired to change my route and slow my pace. I still made it in by 11:00am, set up camp on Newcastle Island, and brought myself into town for some fish'n'chips and the internet.

That's right around 60 miles so far. I am planning on leaving tomorrow, but the weather may have other ideas. The high that has held for the past 3 days is supposed to give way tonight to some truly windy weather coming from the northwest. Since Sunday is going to be an off day for me anyway (Go Packers!), I may be a Nanaimo resident for the immediate future.

There are a whole lot worse things I could be.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


This time tomorrow, I'll be on the water. The physical part of the journey is about to get underway. This is an emotional time, this time in limbo. Not quite departed but almost out the door; it will be good, and less confusing, to get the trip underway at last.

This time yesterday, I was on the water. A breakfast paddle to Cutt's Island with Gary and Ana, Jules and Jim. We paddled out through a steady rain from Horsehead Bay to the island just as the sky was getting light. We met Marc there, where he already had breakfast going for us in two dutch ovens. He was in his element, making constant, tiny corrections to the meal as it cooked, the smoke from the coals mixing with the smells of the food. Breakfast was delicious.

Yesterday evening there was a buen viaje party for me over at Gary and Ana's. Good food and great friends. Thanks for a wonderful evening and I look forward to seeing you all again very soon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Too much information

OK. So it's getting down to the wire and I'm feeling… pretty good, really. I have planned and gamed this trip from just about any angle I can think of. I've memorized current windows, plotted weather patterns and mapped out route variances. I've done everything I can do without actually doing it. Which is all that remains, and I'm feeling ready for the push.

One thing that's hard to know is how often I'll be in front of a computer to update this journal. I think it will be fairly easy in most situations to find a connection, but it's impossible to be sure. I hope so.

Technology is so pervasive in the day-to-day; it will be odd (and oddly liberating), to not have the trappings of modern techno-life at every hand. There are those who take their laptops with them, who make daily sat-phone position reports to their "support teams," and who plot each paddle stroke on their GPS units and link their real-time progress to their sponsor's web sites. They're gone, but they still feel so close.

I do not mean to cast aspersions. It's just that I'm not one of these people. I'll stay as connected as I can, but then again, I'm not going to one of the wildest places in the Pacific Northwest so that I can catch up on my email. I will do all I can to make sure my family and friends know how I am and where I am, but I already know there will be times when contact will not be possible. That is one of the side effects of traveling along the edges of the map, and it's not a bad thing. In a strange way, I'm sort of looking forward to it.

Besides, how can they miss me if I never really go away?

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Of all the years...

For the sake of those who may not be football fans, I will make this brief. I am torn right now. Torn between all the planning I've put into this trip, the excitement I have for the experience I have ahead of me, between these things and the excitement I have for the playoffs and the stellar season being put together by the Green Bay Packers.

I am a Packer fan. I think most people who know me would agree. I am easily as much of a Packer fan as I am a kayaker, maybe more. I thought they'd be ok this year, but I never would have predicted this: 13-3 record, 2nd seed in the NFC with a first round bye. Playing next weekend against the Seahawks at Lambeau for the opportunity to go back to Dallas (probably), where they are way, way overdue for a win. Two years ago they were 4-12. Last year they went 8-8. I thought maybe they'd go 10-6, and that's because I'm an optimist. Now it is starting to look like they could possibly go to the Super Bowl, and I pick this year to go kayaking around a big island.

Apparently I have poor timing.

I am ready for the coming week, my last week of preparation. I'll be paddling in the mornings for the next few days, then pulling the boat into the shop for some last-minute repairs and a static load to see how it will pack up. I am expecting to paddle next Saturday with a group of friends and then I'll be gone two days later. The time is getting compressed now.

I'd like to make it to Comox by the day of the NFC championship game. GO PACK GO!!