This will most likely be my last post prior to departure on May 24th after which Ivy Vuu, our dedicated Site Administrator, will take over the blog. I will contribute directly while enroute, but in a very limited capacity.
The past week proved interesting. I have to admit that on a daily basis emotions and thoughts are scattered at best. I decided to make a trek out to the west coast of Vancouver Island, partly due to a pre-scheduled meeting I had in Mill Bay – more on that later.
I decided to take myself to Ucluelet, BC and test the open water. Meant more as a mental exercise, it proved to give me a taste of a not so ideal day. A gale warning was in effect and the winds were blowing steady 35kts+ from the southeast and eventually changing to west overnight. The day was overcast with heavy cloud cover and a steady rain was falling. I had mixed feelings but kept reminding myself that this was part of the program.
My first movements were stalled and I wasn’t yet on the water. A large sea lion had taken an interest in me and as the boat sat partly in the water, it swam in and said hello. It displayed an aggressive behaviour, darting in close and shallow, propping its head up and ‘barking’ in a manner as if to both tell me and show me who was boss. This was no Sea World and I was in their domain, not the other way around. Mostly docile, they are still an imposing presence at 800lbs. It soon swam off out of sight, and part of me took it as a ‘try me’ move while the other part of me just wanted to press on.
My first few oar strokes were guarded and no sooner was I several meters from shore that my loud and whiskered friend surfaced behind my stern and followed my movements. As curious as they are, Sea Lions if they chose, could easily upend a vessel of my size. The notion of that possibility forms part of the mental ‘worst case’ and although highly unlikely, it was still a present thought.
As I moved further into the harbour my focus changed to the weather and my stroke. I had perhaps less than an hours worth of rowing to get out to open sea and ‘play’. As I neared the last several hundred meters of Ucluelet Harbour the ocean swell was ever present. Commercial fishing boats were making their way back in and I took care to avoid their path. As they passed I was met with a friendly wave from the various deckhands and in some cases a head shake in disbelief. I rounded Francis Island and was met with two meter seas and a steady wind. I paid close attention to the boats movements and how it was reacting to the rougher water. Weighted with all of my gear she performed well. At no point was there ever concern of a capsize, but rather I just wanted to feel the water and wrap my head around the conditions. It was not a day to be out in my kind of vessel and with my level of experience, but that said, I needed to taste it. The surrounding reefs and islands would disappear as I fell into the swells trough and then they re-appeared as I rode the swells crest.
In the moment, it took me back to a Human Factors training course I took at the offices of Air Canada years ago. The task was to build a small structure out of some nuts and bolts that formed part of a test kit. We worked in teams of four with limited tools. As the timer started the room conditions were comfortable. With each passing minute the instructors would up the ante. Lights were turned off and music was blared into the room. Windows were opened and the air conditioning turned on. People with mega phones would walk up and scream in your ear. They would bump you with their hips or shake the tables we worked from. With each added element the task became more daunting for some, impossible for others and routine still for a select few. I fell into the latter category but namely because I thrive in those situations and knew the task well enough to accomplish it.
My current situation was different in that there were some foreign elements to my day. I am not a seasoned rower but have enough in my tool box to feel confident enough to try. And there in lies half the challenge if not more. Ask yourself this: What would you attempt if you knew you wouldn’t fail? In my case, I was trying to shake some doubts and give myself the opportunity to try things out in less than ideal conditions. Take away the dark skies, the wind, the rain, the ocean swell, the reefs and you’re left with a less daunting scenario – one that most would fair well in. However, add in the ‘extras’ and you start to thin the crowd. It was an interesting head game I felt going on and I was glad to have put myself there.
I soon turned back to seek shelter on the backside of Francis Island. I beached the boat and soon scouted the beach for a good camp site. The rain continued to come down in buckets and by this point my lower half was soaked through, but thankfully my jacket was performing as advertised and keeping me dry. A tarp was erected using existing logs on the beach and my oars as roof supports. Once lashed together and secured, it was time to set up the tent. Soon after, supplies were taken from the boat and camp was formally established. Purely as an exercise, I decided to gather what dry wood I could find. At first glance it would appear impossible given how wet everything was. However, using my ax I was able to split into various smaller logs and break off dry pieces below their wet surface. After a good half hour I had a decent collection of material to start and sustain a fire. I refrained from lighting it as it would prove futile. To enjoy it would mean to take the heavy rain on the chin and remain wet and miserable. I opted to change clothes, read and prep my dinner.
When all was said and done, it was near 6pm and I had nothing but time on my side. Its surprising where the mind goes when time seems to stand still and one has nowhere to go and nothing pressing to tend to.
All told it was a good decision to test myself, the boat and gear one last time. I still have no idea what the sustained and long term effects will be physically or emotionally but there in lies the magic.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Kirsten Musial this week, a local adventurer, kayak guide and wealth of knowledge when it comes to BC waters. After much note taking and sifting through all the bits of knowledge I have collected over the past several months, the desire to get underway has never been greater. Kirsten was able to give me direction on certain areas and spots that she found most desirable and equally others where caution will be needed. Her best piece of advice, and one that should resonate in all sport, was to row with respect…for myself and equally for the elements.
As of this writing, we sit just shy of the $20,000 mark for total funds raised to date. It is very rewarding to embark on this trip knowing we are so very near the half way mark of our fundraising goal. I urge you to continue to spread the message and help garner support for this project. Which leads me to my meeting in Mill Bay.
The purpose of our gathering was to discuss event planning for our wrap up party on July 19th hosted by Duane Shaw and Andrew Purdey of Mill Bay Marina http://www.millbaymarina.ca/ and the accompanying Bridgeman’s Bistro http://www.bridgemans.ca/. These two gentlemen have opened their doors to our cause and project. Working closely with the Canucks Autism Network and Row4Autism, collectively, we will put on a waterfront party at the marina complete with food service and beverages. Specific details will be released in mid June.
The net effect on my expeditions logistics will entail pausing my trip in Port Renfrew sometime in mid to late June. I will resume the expedition on the week of July 14th, completing the final leg sometime on July 19th. I urge you to save the date and join us on the island for what will prove to be a special celebration!
Hoping for fair winds and safe travels in the weeks ahead.