Heavens Open for Gulf Islands Sea Kayaking Journey
Exploring Pristine Valdes Island by Kayak
Andrew Renton - Contributing Writer
North Shore News -
The Voice of North & West Vancouver
The Times Colonist - Victoria
I have to confess to a moment of mild panic when the envelope arrived. A polite confirmation of my three-day kayaking trip in The Gulf Islands together with several pages of equipment suggestions lay within. Help!
I resisted another glass of wine, hid the cigarettes, and immediately thought up ways to turn an aging dissolute body into Rambo by the weekend. Following instructions, I tipped out every drawer and gathered a motley assortment of quick-dry fleece clothing. As an apartment dweller I searched out a little used parking lot to spread my tent and applied recommended silicone spray to the seams. A gust of wind. My tent took flight. I hung on like a novice paraglider, ignoring disconcerting stares from passers-by.
Clad in long underwear and two fleece jackets I checked my appearance in the washroom mirror. A cross between a ballet dancer and a garden gnome. The ancient Queen of Coquitlam gently nudged into its berth at Nanaimo's Departure Bay beside the two immobile Fast Cat ferries. Reminder of a dream gone wrong.
Ominous black storm clouds rolled in. A row of sleek brand new kayaks were already lined up on the beach. No turning back now. A huddle of people were already cramming essentials into the colourful little craft. I guiltily unloaded a mountain of stuffed clear garden refuse bags and apologetically sought advice on what to leave behind. Magically, everything disappeared into tiny compartments.
As a nervous novice, I was in good company. Fully half the people sheepishly admitted to never having lifted a paddle. We went through all the safety drills and techniques including the dreaded what if?
I gingerly entered a frozen, dripping foot into the rocking kayak, determined not to be the first fatality. I was overcome with a glow of relief as I tucked the waterproof skirt into the rim of the cockpit and got underway. The heavens opened. A head sea developed. Waves splashed over the bow and tested my little craft, which felt surprisingly stable.
We paddled along DeCourcy Island where, in times past, the infamous Brother Twelve had his way with the wives of cult followers, and stopped for lunch on the Southern point.
Who goes on these trips? This was the first bonding opportunity for our disparate little group as we huddled under a tarp drinking hot chocolate, and chomping on smoked salmon bagels and homemade cookies. The Iranian banker from L.A. had left his Porsche at home with the girlfriend who sold Gucci on Rodeo Drive. The couple from Texas had appeared in black leather aboard matching Gulf Star Motorbikes. The "would be" rocker from Pennsylvania, whose day job was a computer programmer, had found it on the Internet. The house-husband from Tacoma was on his fourth trip and the young Australian radiologists were on their way home after a year's secondment to a clinic in Calgary. In other words, there is no rule of thumb.
A preoccupied otter ambled past as we folded the tarp and packed up lunch. Brian and Gillian, our cheerful, efficient, and knowledgeable hosts had made arrangements with The Lyackson First Nations People to build a campsite on Valdes Island and were determined to attain their goal. The wind began to subside as we rounded DeCourcy and blue patches appeared between the dark clouds. When the rain ceased so the spirits rose among our little flotilla as we glided across the Strait.
Valdes Island is little known among Gulf Island aficionados. It is pristine and forested. It belongs to First Nations people who prefer to "bank" the timber and live elsewhere. There is no hydro, running water or ferry access. Apart from a short stretch of beach at the Southern end near Porlier Pass, the steep cliffs and deep waters make anchoring a real chore.
We paddle close to the walls where thousands of years of winter storms have carved bold lacy masks and eerie caves into the sandstone. A lone Arbutus is stranded precariously on a thin stone shelf above the boulders which once offered support but now lie far below. Victims of time. Eagles float overhead and Pigeon Guillemots fly from their convenient homes in cliff hollows to greet us. They are small black birds with smart white wing markings and pink feet on which they perform indelicate landings. A seal pops up for a closer inspection.
We aim for a crack in the rock where a small creek flows into the sea, and carry our trusty kayaks way up into the meadow above. A team effort is needed. Brian and Gillian have built a minimal impact, orderly campsite. That's the kind of people they are. The outhouse is hidden in the trees up a well-travelled path. A simple bench surrounds the fire pit. We throw a tarp over the driftwood posts which now becomes the kitchen from which gourmet delights and copious quantities of red wine will soon be dispensed.
The ancient logging road follows the edge of the high bluffs to provide a private, view campsite for each of us. Self-consciously I carry my bundles of stuffed clear garden refuse bags to the chosen spot. I unpack my tent and lay out the instructions well away from the prying eyes of passers-by, smug in the knowledge that, if I ever succeed in the erection process, at least I will be dry! A flock of wild sheep, charged with cropping the grass, come close enough to wink.
I never became a Rambo but then nor did the banker from L.A. or the bikers from Texas. I learned that kayaking is a gentle sport that blends people with nature. I learned that, sitting around a campfire with a group of strangers who have no more in common than a desire for adventure, is a real high. I also learned that for the price of a good Bed and Breakfast I could have three gourmet meals a day and paddle new kayaks into the unknown with fun, caring, knowledgeable hosts. No contest.
At the end of the three-day trip, my jaw hurt more from laughing than my shoulders from paddling.