We’ve made it to Port McNeill!! It’s been a long two weeks of gail force head winds that have left us days behind schedual and exhausted.
The owner of Spirit of the West kayak adventures invited us to stay at his beautiful camp that was probably the coolest place we’ve stayed so far with an artistically rustic hot water shower overlooking beautiful ocean views and tents perched on cliffs above the sea. We were woken in the late evening to a whale feeding just off the shore not 100 feet from our tent. They also had the most picturesque wood fire hot tub, that unfortunately was not set up for the season yet…
Doug is getting skinnier and his hands are freakishly tan, we both are looking ever more alien by the day…
Port Neville and the Deer Stalker
We spent three weather days huddled in Port Neville trying to get out of the wind. It was a beautiful setting, a homestead plopped in the middle of nowhere with an old store and giant manicured lawn. Although the amenities of store and post office had been shut down last year due to an aging owner that had to move back to town the lawn was recently cut and made for an ideal campsite. In the mornings we sat on the old store porch looking out over the water and mountains, with coffee in hand we would watch the sun rise in the sky and talk about how it wouldn’t be so bad to live in a place like this.
One morning we were making coffee and I looked up and saw a deer chasing the caretaker’s cat up a tree. It stood looking up at the branches while it pranced around the tree. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it and chalked it up to a coffee deprived morning hallucination. But as we walked around the porch the deer got site of lil’ bit and began to stalk him. I scooped lil’ bit up and the deer would lose interest, but as soon as I set him down the deer would come charging from across the lawn and stop about five feet from us looking with curiousity at lil’ bit, sniffing the air cocking it’s head, shifting it’s ears, blinking giant black eyes. Lil’ bit wasn’t sure whether to bark or whine and decided eventually just to sit in ambivialence and ignore the deer…untill it started to run, then his predetory instincts kicked in and before we could stop him he started the chase. The deer ran halfway around the yard before turning to face lil’ bit, the bravado seeped out of our little dog and he cowered, began to yip in increasingly higher octaves and turned tail to run with the deer in hot persuit. He ran back to us and the deer pranced around within arms reach for a few minutes before baiting lil’ bit back out by bounding just far enough away to incite the chase. Maybe it was playing? Maybe it thought lil’ bit was a rogue fawn that needed to be corralled? But after a morning of it we tied lil’ bit up and resigned ourselves to having a deer stalker that occasionally circled us curiously at an uncomfortably close distance.
Easy Rider Kayaks
I talked with my mom the other day and she said, “you know dad’s old kayak was an easy rider.” it’s strange how things come around. I remember my dad teaching me as a kid how to wet exit in that boat. We went down to the local gravel pit in the middle of a hot Fairbanks summer. He waded into the water waist deep with me and the kayak in tow. “Ok on three I’ll flip you, ready?” he’d say. I remeber the water being a shock but also how suprisingly easy it was to pull the skirt, exit the kayak, and pop back to the surface. My dad has had that boat ever since I can remember. He must have bought it in the 70′s. Easy Rider kayaks is a relatively small operation whose owner personally took the time to go over our boats (which we bought used on craigslist) before we left on this trip. It is a fitting, sentimental coincidence that the boat that I learned how to kayak in was the same small brand as the ones we are now piloting up the inside passage.
Today is a current day. We are in an exceptionally narrow passage way right now that in order for the ocean to squeeze it’s voluptuous mass through it must rush at astounding rates of speed, creating currents that make you feel as if you are on the world’s largest treadmill. Yesterday we paddled…and paddled, pushing against the current with all our strength, but little paddles and mere human muscle are no match against the sea. So today we will wait untill the sea is on our side and try to outrun the daylight.
Lil’ Bit and the Hobo Boat
Lil’ bit is sleeping in a ball at my feet. He likes the tent. He especially likes my sleeping bag. As soon as I take my sleeping bag out of it’s stuff sack lil’ bit instantaneously is there prodding it’s surface for the most comfortable spot. I have to lift him off to get in the bag myself and he puts up a fight of passive resistance, relaxing to complete jelly so it takes two hands to move him and as soon as I set him down, before I even have time to get a leg in he is back on my bed prodding it’s surface indignantly. He is not so fond of the kayak. He puts up with it but always looks a little anxious when we are out on the water. I have been trying to think of ways to make the experience more comfortable for him and had an epiphany when I saw a milk crate washed-up on shore. I tied this to the front of my kayak, broke out one end as a dog door and padded the bottom with fleece. I figured this is how he loved riding on my bicycle so maybe it would feel more familiar and secure. I stepped back to look at my boat. It had bags tied on the stern, a pile of junk on the outrigger, an overflowing deckbag, small items carabined to every open spot on deck, and now a faded half broken milk crate lashed to the front…it looked like a boat owned by a hobo. But lil’ bit seems more comfortable and if passing yachts think I’m a hobo maybe they will take pity and cook us eggs (the food I would sell half my soul for right now).
After over a week without showering, I tried to freshen up with spruce bows this morning and scratched the begeesus out of my armpits.
When we got to the campground we didn’t like the rocky pull-out with the level of the tide, so we kept going toward Lund. We ended up paddling into the Marina and spending the night, then getting our coffee and cinnamon roll before heading out the next day. From Lund we planned to get up to Lewis Channel, out of the Strait of Georgia, and into Desolation Sound. We had a good day of paddling and sailing, and covered around 19 miles. We ended up at the perfect campsite, on a small rock sticking out into the channel. Across the channel was Cliff Mountain. As we landed a deer stood on the only tent site. It was a perfect rock ledge above the water. It would have been nice to land a little earlier, so we could have had a campfire and enjoyed the evening, but we landed just a short time before dark. By the time we had camp setup and dinner made it was time to go to bed.
Bay the next morning. We had around 24 miles to Port McNeill, but again we had headwinds in the forecast. We paddled north and made good progress until the winds started to blow when we stopped for lunch. We thought we would try to continue paddling against the wind, but after pushing for almost an hour we decided it was blowing too hard to make progress with paddles. We ducked behind a rock and put on our sail kits. We shortened the sails and decided to try and cross the strait and make it to Telegraph Cove. We were able to slowly beat into the wind with shortened sails. The waves were breaking but small (1 to 2 feet). We crossed the Strait and tacked back and forth against the wind and now against the current for two or three hours, but finally made it to Telegraph Cove. We thought it was just a boat launch and campsite, but it turned out to be a resort. We ended up tying the boats in the near empty marina and getting a cheeseburger and beer in the Pub. The burger was one of my all-time best burgers. We stuffed ourselves and went to sleep so we could get up the next day paddle the last 12 miles into Port McNeill.
2 June 2010 — Yesterday was a weather day. We woke up to winds at 15-20 knots pedicted to rise to 30 in the afternoon and white caps decorating our path out. It was nice to sleep in and we spent the rest of the day luxuriously cooking, eating, and exploring the island. Fooled by light winds all day Doug and I did not see the necessity to move our tent. We had set it up with an optimal view through cascading rock outcrops and madrone trees to the calm, blue ocean. But as we crawled into our sleeping bags the wind shifted from walking to running and we awoke at midnight with it at a full on sprint, screaming strait off the ocean and through our tent, shaking it with the fury of the possesed. We debated our options to save our tent from broken poles. I thought it better to stake it out as best we could and stay put, Doug wanted to pull stakes and move to a more protected area. My visions of the tent snapping in our hands and being thrown into the ocean by the wind made me leery to this option, but just as I was voicing my opposition the tent’s ceiling bowed generously, nearly to the ground, and silenced any remaining thoughts of staying put where it was sure to snap it’s poles. I held the tent up with one hand and threw stuff out the door with the other while Doug and Zach worked outside gathering up our lives in bundles so nothing could be stolen by the wind. Zach who had set up his tent smugly in shelter drug himself out of bed into the driving rain and howling wind to help us rectify our mistake. We pulled the stakes, grabbed tent corners and moved in next to zach. It all went suprisingly smoothly. Our head lamps cutting small holes in the dark driving rain and our bright orange tent levitating in our white knuckled grasps, the lighthouse across the strait revolving rythmically in the distance. In the morning we awoke to still fierce winds and opted to stay another day in the shelter of the island. So doug and I cuddled in and watched Sherlock holms on my I-pod and ate granola like pop corn in the warmth of our sleeping bags. Maybe tomorrow we will paddle…
We left Nanaimo on Sunday, with light rain a nice tailwind. We were glad to leave the town behind. It is the last large town we will see for a long time. Nanaimo has around 80,000 people, and is spread out for miles. We stayed in a provincial park on Newcastle Island, a short paddle from downtown. We stopped for breakfast and to pick up some supplies before leaving, but weren’t able to find everything we needed in the city center. The outdoor stores, and by outdoor stores I guess I mean Canadian Tire and Walmart because they are the only outdoor stores to which the locals could direct us, are located out of town. So we loaded up and headed north without resupply in the early afternoon.
Our goal for the day was to reach Southey Island, about 4 or 5 miles from the Ballenas Islands, where we would cross the Strait of Georgia. We made it to Southey late in the evening, then went to bed with the rain coming down. Southey Island already looked remarkably different from the Gulf Islands through which we just passed. It’s a small rock with a thick patch of madrone and gary oak, and a small patch of grass that tilts toward the water. We had just enough time to make dinner in the rain and crawl into the tents before dark.
The strait is a large body of water between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland. The crossing from Ballenas is 5 to 7 miles depending on where you choose to land. We paddled from Southey north then east to Ballenas, where we could see what the water looked like in the Strait. The wind was blowing 10 – 15 from the South, and the waves were 1 to 2 feet. We figured this was probably about the best conditions we could expect, so headed over to the tip of Lasqueti Island, about 7 miles. We made it across easily, with me and Katey sailing, and Zach paddling and bracing through the waves. We only saw one other boat on the crossing, a tug pulling a large barge that passed way behind us. We rounded the tip of Lasqueti and paddled on to Jedediah Island to a nice sand beach. We spent 3 nights on Jedediah when the wind picked up to 30 knots. It was a great place to hang out, with plenty of trails to wander.
When we left Jedediah the winds blew us easily down the west side of Texada Island, all the way to a hamburger stand we had heard about in Gillies Bay. The southerly wind pushed the waves higher and higher through the day, but it was easy sailing for me and Katey. All we had to do was adjust our speed from time to time so we wouldn’t surf down the 1 to 3 foot waves. Zach, worked a little harder, having to concentrate and keep a close eye on the waves approaching from behind.
After hamburgers and showers we thought we might be able to make Powell River the next day if the winds cooperated. We got up extra early to annoy Katey (5 AM) and put in early miles in case the winds built up in the afternoon. The paddle started with flat water, but quickly became a light to moderate headwind that made it hard for me and Katey to paddle. Zach, with his lighter and faster boat was able to disappear ahead in short order. As we rounded the north end of Texada we were able to tack through the wind a bit, then just as we reached a heading that would allow us to sail the wind died. We paddled on, at least free of a headwind. After a while the wind picked up from a new direction and helped push as toward Powell River. After we caught up with Zach we stopped for some food and rest, then pushed across the last 4 miles to a campsite in Powell River.
It was a long 17 or so miles, but we made it in town early enough to set up camp and seek out another great mexican dinner. We have a lot of food with us, and we eat a lot of food, but I’m still famished most days. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to shove a plate full of spicy food down your throat after paddling for 8 hours.
From Powell River we finally start heading into the wilderness. Powell River has around 8000 people, and is one of the last towns accessible by road on the Sunshine Coast of BC. Our next town will be Port McNeill back on Vancouver Island, around 150 miles North and West of here.
Powell River is the last stop for Zach. He is going to catch a bus to the airport in Vancouver and fly back to Anchorage. It’s been really great having him along, not only to help carry our boats up the beach, but to provide entertainment around the cookstoves. It takes a certain sense of humor to paddle along day after day in the wind, the rain, and occasional sunshine, and still wake up singing annoying theme songs from the 80′s. Maybe Zach
and our friends John and Keeley can meet us in Ketchikan to paddle Misty Fjords when we get there?!
It’s a nice feeling to have nothing on your plate but getting up in the morning and paddling. To have the greatest worry of your day be “am I eating enough calories?” I think many people see what Doug and I are doing as dangerous but when it comes down to the daily scroll of this trip it seems far from dangerous, as our days are full of a monotanous paddle rythm, beautiful scenery, camping, sleeping, and eating. There is a lot of planning too, don’t get me wrong, because in order to have an uneventful day you must watch the tides, currents, winds, and your own fatigue to make sure everything coincides in harmony instead of backsliding into unnavigable current, feroucious head winds, and exhaustion. But bad days, for the most part, are avoidable with planning and patience both of which Doug has in abundance and I need to learn.
The theme for the last week was rain. It was raining hard while we packed up and left Sidney, and it rained some every day on the paddle to Nanaimo. The first day in the rain was beautiful. The water was flat chrome reflecting the low clouds, and the rain and cool weather didn’t bother us at all. It took us a while to pack the boats, so we didn’t get on the water until around noon. We paddled through the islands outside Sidney up to Prevost Island.
From Prevost Island we wanted to go up to Pirates Cove, but we were low on water. The water on Prevost didn’t look good, and a group of kayakers told us the water on Wallace Island wasn’t good, so we had to go to Montague Harbor on Galiano Island to get water. When we got there, it turned out the water at the marina wasn’t good either, so we had to buy water. While we were there, we figured we might as well have lunch. By the time we got back on the water it was almost 4:00 PM. We paddled another 8 miles from there to Wallace Island to camp.
The campsite on Wallace was a beautiful spot above a cove. Lil’ bit found a squeaky ball at the Montague Harbor Marina, and got to squeak and chase the ball around until it was lost between some rocks. He was very upset at the loss. We had dinner and enjoyed the evening, but after we went to bed the rain poured down. We had over 1/2 an inch of rain in our cook pot when we got up.
We paddled from Wallace Island to Pirates Cove the next day. A large weather system followed just south of us all day, but never caught up. Every time we looked back you could see the mountains seeping into the dense clouds and rain. We weaved in and out of the islands to avoid the current and the moderate breeze.
It ended up taking most of the day to make it to Pirates Cove on the De Courcy group. The rain held off until almost dark. After we went to bed, the campsite was attacked by a platoon of raccoons. We did our best to scare them off, but they came back again and again, reaching right under the rain fly of the tent looking for the good stuff. We ended up having to move pretty much everything into the tent to keep them away. We haven’t gotten into bear territory yet, so we haven’t started hanging our food, but I guess we’ll have to do something to keep the raccoons away.
The last day was an easy paddle and some sailing to Nanaimo. We got to a campsite across from town in the early afternoon, but had to haul our gear a couple hundred yards across low tide to a campsite. When we were done we caught a ferry into town and did some laundry and pigged out on Mexican food.
We’re going to continue on today towards Powell River. It should take about a week to get there, depending on the weather.
We’re in Sydney…Canada. Man it feels good to be in civilization, that first cold beer goes down like water from the gods bestowed upon famished thirsty souls. We’ve already found it entertaining to order the biggest meals on the menu and smile while the waitstaffs’ jaws drop as we scarf it in one sitting, lick our plates clean, and order another beer.
We are all sunburnt, Zach who joined us in Anacortes, is no exception. He keeps commenting on his exceptionally tan hands and knuckles that are slightly swollen from salt water, paddling, and various other insults that are inherent on a trip such as this. Our poor hands are in the worst shape, finger tips so sore they whine for sympathy as they display bloody hangnails on every other finger and splinters burrowed and nested deep in the rest.
But I have to say it’s worth it to pull up to an island campsite at 7 at night. The island like some kind of tiny paradise so small literally 50 steps would traverse its entire expanse. But in this tiny paradise was still room for a lush grassy plain big enough to set our tents on and a forrest dense enough to hide a doe and her two tiny fauns from lil’ bit’s predetorial instincts. As the sun dropped that night it left a bright orange streak that lit the sky and reflected into the ocean pointing to our tents as if to say you were never supposed to find this.
Deception Pass has currents that can exceed seven knots, so you need to be there precisely at slack to avoid excitement. When we checked the weather forecast that night, they were calling for high winds the next day (35 – 55 knots), with the storm arriving around 3:00 PM. Slack water was at 1:48 PM, which would only leave us around an hour to find a campsite on the other side of the pass before the weather turned. When we got up, the ebb tide was already flowing at three knots toward the pass, so we rode the current over to Coronet Bay and asked around for campsites that would get us out of the wind. We decided go through the pass and swing into the state park on the north side. We pulled in and had our tent set up just as the rain started to come down a little after 3:00.
With the forecast for winds above 20 knots the next day as well, I called Crane, a friend of mine from Seattle who grew up in Anacortes, to see if he had ideas for how we could get the ten miles into town to finish our grocery shopping. He called his dad, and his dad was nice enough to drive out and pick us up the next day. Chuck and his wife Jan were awesome. They let us wash our clothes and take showers, then watched lil’bit while we went shopping for groceries. One of our friends from Anchorage, Zach, was flying down to paddle with us for two weeks. Once he showed up we stuffed ourselves at the pub then caught a cab back to the campsite and watched Zach put his folding kayaking together.
After we left Deception Pass with Zach, we paddled north to Strawberry Island. It was supposed to be a water trails campsite, but it was pretty hard to find, and didn’t look like it was still supported. We camped out on a bluff with a western view over the water. The madrone trees, wild flowers, rocks, seals, and sunset were much nicer than the waterfront homes and towns we had been paddling past the previous week.
The last big step of this part of the trip was to cross Haro Straight to get to Sidney, where we had to clear Canadian customs. They were forecasting winds in the afternoon, so we got an early start to cross over to Spieden Island, then to Stuart Island, and then finally across Haro Straight. When we got to the protection of the Islands off Sidney the wind started to blow and the current really started to run. As we rounded Forest Island, the current was flowing like a river. At first we tried to stay in the bay to paddle up to downtown Sidney, but the current suggested we drop back behind a line of small rock islands, which was much calmer paddling and sailing.
After we got to the customs dock we tied up the boats and headed to town to get the last of our supplies and take a day off.
It’s been a lot harder to find connectivity and energy to post to the blog and upload photos than I thought. Eventually, there will be more routine, but now there seems to be a lot of work each day just to plan, cook, pack, paddle, eat, paddle, unpack, cook, plan, and sleep. We haven’t had a lot of energy left over to write down our thoughts or try to capture how beautiful it is. But even in the rain and wind we are having fun and somehow managing to get sun burned. Each day it seems we get the full experience of Northwest weather.
Here are a few photos from the first few days.