Today I kayaked 25km, which is something I never thought I'd say. And did I mention this is only day 1 of 5 of my Canadian kayak adventure in Desolation Sound? How did I get here? What was I thinking? Am I even going to survive this? Today's post will answer all of these, but first a little back story of how I got here.
Way back in 2018, when international travel was... possible, I jumped on a Topdeck bus to tour Europe with a bunch of incredible humans. The first person I met on said trip was Doug, a random Canadian guy who I ran into in the hallway of Generator Hostel in London at 5.30am when he was charging his phone mere minutes prior to boarding the aforementioned bus. We were immediately best-buds as we were both hungry for adventure and wanted to do ALLLL the things along the way, cramming as much into each day as humanly possible. We were both avid lovers of the outdoors and between us did just about every adventure sport you can imagine, with his favourite being canoeing to my mountain biking.
A few years later in 2020 he came to visit me in Aus as we embarked on Doug & Dave's Aussie Adventure on which we were lucky enough to catch up with many of our fellow Topdeck Fam while traversing every mainland state. After such an epic trip, we decided there and then that our next trip would be the other way around, where I came to Canada to visit Doug. Thanks to covid it took us a couple of years to get this off the ground but I finally made it here, now in 2022, so Doug could return that favour. In place of the great Australian road trip, he's lined up the Canadian equivalent- a long canoe trip through the lakes, only with the slight twist that it's kayaking and sea water.
5 minute overview at 10x speed, or watch the full hour at actual speed
So here I am, after the initial Contiki part of my Canadian adventure, getting the final route plan from Doug as he casually says that its 25km on the first day, and a total of 99km.... Now thankfully I trust Doug with my life. We've been through enough together and proven on countless occasions that we make a fantastic team in both an outdoor skills sense but maybe more importantly that we function well together in an emergency situation. However that aside, I will admit that hearing a total of 99km my immediate reaction was that there wasn't a snowflakes chance in hell I would make that, but at this point I figured we would both be in the same two-person kayak so me "not making it" would just mean he had to do more of the paddling while I free-loaded. This was all well and good until we actually met up and he told me he'd booked the 2 one-person kayaks and we were good to go. But of course it was too late to back out now!
After a quick stop off at the local Mountain Equipment Company outdoors megastore, we hit the road and started our 4 hour drive north to Powell River where we spent the night before our trip started. Getting out of the city was an immediate relief for Doug, who was in much need of a holiday, and for me to escape the hustle of my hectic "cram everything in" Contiki trip. Two ferries and 150km later we arrived at the motel, only to find no one at reception. And no one was answering the phone. And the petrol had been flashing empty for 50km. Let the adventure begin!
Thankfully after waiting around and circling the building a few times someone came out and we were able to check in, and we got to the gas station briefly before it closed. The next morning we drive the last 30 minutes of dirt road to get to Powell River Sea Kayaks where we jump into the kayaks and head off. Getting out on the water of Penrose Bay in Malaspina Inlet felt like freedom on two legs... well, arms. Although the distance of 25km was initially daunting, we start making progress at a reasonable pace and Doug points out to me that thanks to starting early and the long summer days, we have 10 hours to average only 2.5km/h and its basically impossible to go that slow. He turned out to be correct of course and even including plentiful breaks on and off the water we still average more than 3km/h, stopping for lunch at Mink Island with a stunning view out across Desolation Sound.
After a swim to cool off and a much needed nap in the sunshine, its back in the boats and on to our first campsite in Roscoe Bay near Black Lake. It was impossible to wipe the smile off either of our faces at this point as the campsite itself was lovely and the nearby freshwater lake was another great chance to get in the water and feel human again.
With the success of Day 1 behind us, we set off the next morning to head up the eastern side of West Redonda Island. We make what seems like easy progress today thanks to a strong tailwind and get into Gloucester Bay 23km later at just 3pm, leaving plenty of time to set up camp and go for a proper swim. The site here is very basic, with barely enough space between the trees for a single tent, but the beach itself and the view out across the water more than make up for it. It's here we start to feel properly remote, away from the motorboats we saw on day 1 and with no other humans in sight.
We start to see all sorts of wildlife, including various birdlife and hundreds of starfish in all colours of the rainbow. Most interestingly we also see a lot of seals, and they get remarkably close to us along the way. We walk out to Gloucester Point and watch the sunset over the mountains, feeling like all the planning (and paddling) was finally worth it.
Day 3 turns out to hit us a little harder with a strong headwind as we come around to the western side of the island, and there's a substantial drop in motivation (on my part) due to not being able to take breaks from paddling. My normal technique up to this point has been to paddle for a bit then take a break, but now any break means immediately being pushed backwards which is not on. Due to this we start taking more off-water breaks, which takes more effort getting in and out of the kayaks at less than ideal shores, and the added challenge of the swell (both from wind and motorboats). It's at this point, with the added exhaustion from paddling against the wind that I have my first real stack. Although I don't dump the boat, I do fall into the water while trying to get out and scratch up my leg pretty badly. To add insult to injury, my phone was in my life jacket pocket, and despite being waterproof and splashed with water all trip, this brief dunk into the water then back out managed to get salt in all the wrong places and decides not to turn on, even after a proper rinse in clean water and being left to try out.
Of course this is also the night when my watch battery needs charging and I dig through my bag only to discover that I left the USB cable for it in the car. So here I am with no more watch battery, a full powerbank but no way to use it, and no phone to track with. Thankfully Doug manages to get just enough reception to download the Strava app so we can continue to track our progress using his phone.
Despite the slight mishaps, this ends up being one of the best days as we stopped at a tiny island on Connis Point where we saw more starfish than we could count and decided to stretch our legs by bouldering around the entire island. Nothing too challenging as our watershoes don't quite have the grip of real climbing shoes, but good fun all the same. We spend tonight at Lewis Channel Central, which is by far the most beautiful place we camped on this trip. The tent site is perfectly flat, there are trees in all the right places to set up a hammock in the shade, and the view from the point down the channel is just stunning as the sun goes down.
With my slightly injured leg (and extremely sore arms) I hit the sack early tonight, but a few hours later I'm woken up by Doug yelling "Dave, wake up, you've got to see this!". Now one of the main reasons we timed this trip to be mid-August was to see the bio-luminescent plankton which flourishes this time of year and when there was little to no moonlight to contend with, so Doug had indeed woken me with good reason as he finally spotted it. It turns out the water is full of this plankton which illuminates any time that it is moved, so with as little as a stir of the water with a stick you can see this fantastic natural phenomenon in all its electric-blue glory. Better still when a stone is thrown into the water or skipped along the surface, causing the fish in the water to swim away, brushing past all the plankton in the process. In essence, you basically get to see the outline of the fish as they swim through the plankton filled water, and the experience is just incredible.
Onto our second last day and my motivation takes a hit due to the constant headwind the entire 17km, the toughest of which was the final 6km in continuous open water with no chance of a break. This meant no more than 10 seconds without paddling at a time for fear of going backwards. I'm pretty sure I told Doug multiple times that I wasn't going to make it, and that he should leave me and save himself, but in typical Doug fashion he had nothing but kind words and encouragement to give. Things like "To be honest, you're doing way better than I expected you to" and "this is what makes it type 2 fun". Naturally I asked for a bit of clarification on what type 2 fun was exactly, and he informed me that its the kind where you don't enjoy it at the time, but you enjoy that you did it after the fact. Yes, by day 4 this was definitely some good solid type 2 fun. But you know what, we powered through that last 6km in only 1.5hrs despite the headwind and got to our final campsite on Kinghorn Island with plenty of time for a swim and an afternoon nap in the hammock, regaining the type 1 fun which I was hoping for.
The final day involved a nice early morning and we were on the water by 7am. With only 15km to go, the tide pushing us in, and the wind in our favour, it seemed all but inevitable that we would beat our goal of midday back at Penrose Bay where we started. By 9am it was looking like it would be closer to 11am, and by 10am we knew we'd even beat that. Coming in at 10.45am gave us plenty of time to unpack the kayaks, hit the road and get back to Vancouver in time for dinner. All in all an incredible adventure, which I couldn't have done without my right-hand Doug, and despite a few moments of type 2 fun, I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
Here's to us Doug, until the next adventure...