As some of you are already aware, my expedition came to an abrupt end yesterday. I will explain over the next two blogs so as to keep my travels detailed but also explain what transpired.
During the crossing from Savary Island to Quadra Island, the first two hours were in rough water and a strong NW wind. I should have made good time to Mitlenatch Island, a bird sanctuary to Savary’s west but was still a ways away after a couple hours in. Most of my ailments to this point were actually improving, namely my hands and my knee. My back however, was progressively giving me more trouble.
Rowing as a whole is very synchronous, your left side emulates your right and you catch, pull, feather and repeat as you work through the oar stroke. Add headwinds and turbulent waters and now it becomes more of a delicate balancing act. One side powers more than the other, an oar catches nothing but air as you put power to it and quickly it becomes a dance of trying forward progress that taxes your body and mind and no two strokes are the same. It is what it is, and you just go through the motions so long as progress is being made. I thought to turn back, but my stubborness and arguably my ego thought it better to continue. Needless to say it was not a pleasant start to the morning but I knew this was never on any level going to be a walk in the park.
Soon after falling into the lee of Mitlenatch, I stopped. I truly took an inventory of everything I was feeling. Despite a suspect back issue that I was trying to ignore, I felt spent, hopeful and somehow elated. I knew I’d get through the crossing, I just didn’t know what I would feel once I got there. I pacified my mood and pains with thoughts of the ‘finish’ line. I could envision the final few hundred meters and what it would feel like to hit the dock some weeks later knowing I have put 1,100km and a pile of stories behind me. Knowing that my goal was met both as a project and as an adventure. I broke into prayer, speaking to my grandmother and others, asking and willing them to please talk to the Wind Gods and ask them to throw me a bone. It felt helpless, but it was one more thing to occupy the mind and distract me from the arduous task at hand. With these thoughts in mind, I continued.
As Ivy has already explained I made it to Quadra Island and had a wonderful evening at April Point.
The next morning slack tide was slated for 6:40am at Seymour Narrows. This means that the water flowing through this rock venturi would slow, stop and start flowing again in the opposite direction. I wanted an ebbing tide which would flow in my direction of travel, so getting to the start of the narrows on time was paramount to avoid excessively turbulent waters when crossing and the potential for boils, swirls, or confused waters. My mistake was not referring to my charts but rather sighting the distance and asking a local skipper what it was. He stated ‘3 miles’ and I did my math and figured I would need under an hour to get there. I timed my wake up accordingly and got out on the water with what I thought was enough time to get to the narrows, cross them safely and use the ebb current to my favour.
As it was, the actual distance to the narrows was 12km and with a flooding current against me to start, took me two hours to get through putting me at the narrows at 7:25am. By this point the current was moving decently and you could hear the ‘rapids’ that were building through the 3km stretch that the narrows occupy. A tug and barge were going through as were other boats, so this made for tighter quarters. My focus (as Bill Steele eluded to in his comment) was to not look at what was coming, but rather punch through with a tenacious effort and row hard. The boat carved through the waters all the while having the current in my favour but a countering NW wind which made the waters choppy. The cockpit took on water, but there was no time to bail. I needed to get through the short stretch of ‘fun’ and hope for calmer, wider waters ahead.
The balance of Discovery Passage was bumpy for sure, and as I neared Chatham Point and the opposite shores of Sonora Island, I saw that the waters were flattening out. I made the left and entered the infamous Johnstone Strait. I was truly in a wild place now with much less obvious habitation around me. Soon after getting past Rock Bay, the wind picked up and was blowing strong. This is where things came apart for me. The efforts of the days prior and never having a favourable wind, the hard push to make the narrows on time and now yet another strong headwind made for some difficult rowing. I caught myself in a counter current and as I tried to muscle through it my back went into intense spasms. I can only explain them like an electric charge of sorts and you feel like a bit of a contortionist without the ability to control your movements fully. I arched my back, shifted in my limited space trying everything to alleviate the pain. During this process I could not pull on the oars and as a result the boat would turn broadside to the waves. More water came over the side and I used one oar to try and straighten myself out, all the while telling myself the spasms would subside; and they did.
I took a shallow angle and began to cut to shore. By this point I didn’t care about my planned stop at Palmer Bay, I was looking for anything that could host a tent and boat. Between recurring spasms, keeping the boat on track and trying to inch forward, I found a spot on my chart that was only a few km’s away. I eventually made my way to Bear Bight.
Upon arrival I noticed a logging camp of sorts, log booms and what appeared to be an RV on shore. To my surprise I heard the barking of dogs and saw a figure appear from the trailer and motion for me to come ashore.
As I approached the makeshift dock, I was met by Gary. He was the full time on site watchman for Mike Hamilton Logging, tasked with managing the camp and keeping all the equipment safe. Gary was shirtless, wearing a pair of jeans and surrounded by his dogs. I asked if I could pitch camp on shore and he replied I’d best stay with him in the trailer or the first aid shack as a resident bear was in the area and would probably pay me a visit, purely out of curiousity but not worth the hassle or encounter.
After securing the boat, unloading necessities and negotiating a 30ft log to walk across to get to shore (thankfully my balance was oddly intact) I crumpled after a 54km slog. I had my moment. I reached out to home on my satphone and came apart and knew that my days on the water were truly numbered. My back was done and no matter the stretching I attempted something was just way off and not right. All of the foreshadowing I had created in my own mind of what lay ahead was erased in a dark moment of realization that the expedition was in grave danger of being over.
Gary and I sat and chewed the fat for the balance of the afternoon. We watched as bluejays, squirrels, hummingbirds and crows all shared the same feeder and co-existed. I couldn’t help but think of all the unrest in so many countries and how we as a human race couldn’t figure out how to live harmoniously yet here before me were wild animals without masters degree’s or formal components of communication but able to play nice and exist as one.
As supper hour approached, Gary offered to drive me into town for a stop over at his main home where his wife lived and a quick bite at a local diner in Sayward. Along the drive on the Rock Bay forest service road, he explained how logging once was and even pointed out the remnants of old trestles that once supported rail cars for transporting fallen tree’s. He explained what the wildlife was like and told me about true stories of survival he was a part of. I could have listened to him for hours.
His wife Donna and their helper Tim, joined us for dinner. Tim was described to me as different and having some issues. After engaging him in conversation it was clear that he had some form of ASD trait(s) but regardless, he was perhaps not fully understood at a societal level, but loved and cared for by his family and friends. He worked feverishly for Gary and Donna and always with a smile on his face and a mouthful of good conversation to share. I have never seen someone eat fish with so much tarter sauce or make short work of a blueberry pie slice draped in whip cream – but it was undoubtedly well earned.
I learned through Gary about the town of Sayward and along the drive back I shared with him my concerns regarding my trip and did my best to conceal my emotions. He offered to drive me and my boat into Sayward or Campbell River. He was so nonchalant about things that it had a calming effect. A truly ‘so what?’ mentality to the idea that this might be it. It wasn’t a disregard for anything in particular but rather, looking at the whole thing subjectively and breaking it into what was the journey really all about? This question stayed with me all night and into the next day.