Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Back in the paddle again

The specifics of my most recent trip are coming up next, but before I get into the maps and photos and meal plans I wanted to write a long-overdue generalised post: Why I Love Ocean Kayaking.

The last two summers have been full of house buying and wedding planning and debt, and have kept me on terra firma and away from the world of paddles and sprayskirts. So the first few paddle strokes on Thursday were like a rebirth, a reminder of why I'm so happy in a kayak and why a salty fibreglass cockpit offers the best view of BC's spectacular coast.

I've never experienced anything else remotely like it. At approximately a walking pace, there's enough time and peace to take everything in. The sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the ocean and beach and mountains. The rhythmic splash of paddles hitting the water. The swells and rolls and occasional smacking great waves. The wildlife - seagulls and eagles and seals, oh my! I've never been lucky enough to see a whale from a kayak, but I've seen porpoises in Nova Scotia's Bay of Fundy, and seals literally everywhere. They come close, within a few metres, and regard kayakers with curiosity but no aggression. I could never get that close to the equivalent land predator (a wolf?) and feel so safe. The boats are incredibly stable and, with the exception of a couple of idiotic forays into rapids and strong headwinds (we learned a lot about what not to do in a kayak on that particular trip), feel as safe as a favourite chair. Especially if you're in a double kayak, and especially if it's fully laden with camping gear.

And that's the other thing. Kayaking opens up campsites that can't be accessed from land, but allows you to live a life of comparative luxury. My first ever camping trips as a teenager involved hiking around the Yorkshire Dales carrying all our gear, so we ate rehydrated packets of pasta and soup. On my first kayak trip we ate baked chicken, chili, and pasta salad made with fresh veggies, drank beer and wine, then followed up with coffee, French toast, bacon, fresh blueberries and maple syrup for breakfast. These days we always book a double kayak with a central hatch between the two paddlers, and we fill it with a large tent that hikers would die for, an air mattress, great food, plenty of booze, even ice! There's nothing like a nice glass of BC Merlot or a cold gin and tonic (with lime, of course) on a deserted beach.

You don't even have to go all that far, or go anywhere near a tent; I've seen seals, otters, eagles, leaping salmon, smaller flying fish (one landed in my sprayskirt once) and all kinds of bird life, all without leaving Vancouver harbour. I've paddled in the eerie calm of snow and of fog, all within a few hundred metres of roads and houses and shops and city parks. I try to persuade all our out-of-town visitors into a kayak, even if it's just for two hours along Jericho Beach, and everyone who's tried it has loved seeing the city from such a unique perspective. We try to get that same perspective on our own trips; the season was already over when we went to Portugal, but our day paddle in Nova Scotia was a resounding success, and also the source of my Blogger / Nature Network / Facebook profile picture - I really like that photo!

There is a downside, of course: sore muscles (mostly the stomach and back if you're doing it right, and mostly the arms and shoulders if you're doing it wrong), a wet bum, and sand all over your house for the entire season. How does it keep on appearing in the bath, weeks after the last excursion? It's a mystery I can only hope to solve by planning more trips. Two a year for the next thirty years should just about do it.

8 comments:

  1. wow! I even forgot my scardness (if that is a word) for kayaking when you describe it.... I'm fine with kayaking in safe, calm waters but in the ocean? nah... I'm too much of a chicken me thinks.

    But I do remember all the lovely nature around Vancouver. Sounds absolutely wonderful to have done the holiday you did. I hope you don't have to wait too long for the next one!!

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  2. Sounds wonderful, particularly the descriptions of wildlife.

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  3. You know, we never went kayaking when we were in Vancouver. It was always on the to-do list and we to-didn't in the end. It does sound wonderful. I've found a few places in the UK where you can do it - a few campsites in Scotland that are only reachable by sea kayak so maybe one year I'll chance the weather and do it - you've inspired me!! (I hear you're having good weather - enjoy!)

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  4. Chall, the ocean can be a bit scary - but it was astonishingly flat on this trip! The biggest waves we came across all trip were boat wakes, and even those were smaller than ones I've experienced in the harbour.

    Microbiologistxx, that's one of my favourite parts of the whole experience. Especially the eagles. I once saw a gang of seagulls mobbing a bald eagle that was carrying a fish - when it dropped its catch, one of the seagulls swooped down and caught it in mid air. Who needs TV?!

    Katherine, you can always come back for a vacation! I only got into kayaking when I moved here so I've never tried it in Scotland, but I'm guessing from having sailed on the West Coast that it might be a bit choppy and require lots of knowledge of local tides etc. I'm sure it would be worth it though. I've heard the West Coast of Ireland is a great destination too.

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  5. I love kayaking too - we just never seem to do it with everything else going on. Please can you remember to tell me where you went and where you camped? Gourmet camping is SO much fun!

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  6. Full details (including maps, photos and videos) are coming up next, so don't worry, I'm sure you'll be sick of hearing about it soon! There are some photos on Facebook already, and a couple of videos on YouTube (keyword VWXYNot).

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  7. That sounds awesome! I'd love to try it sometime.

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  8. Come on up and I'll take you out! (At the right time of year of course - roughly early May to late September).

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