During the very early morning hours while the sun still had a couple hours before it rose, I woke to strong winds outside and the notion that a decision was pending. I knew by this point that it wasn’t a matter of if but when this trip would come to a halt. I shifted in my bed trying to steady my back and equally test my mobility and stretch at the same time. I convinced myself that I would under no circumstance be given a ride to town, as much as I knew the offer was well intended. I could not bring myself to succumbing to having to be ‘taken’ to a haul out point because I couldn’t get myself there under my own power. It would be about 24km to Kelsey Bay in Sayward from where I was and that distance would be rowed no matter how bad the winds were and no matter what sort of pain or discomfort I was in.
In such a short time it amazes me how attached one gets to new norms. Gary, his camp and his dogs were all I knew and all that shared my existence with for that period of time. Ripper, Sammy and Gypsy were such a welcomed distraction and quickly took to me as the new guy. I was already missing them and I hadn’t yet left.
A short time later Gary stirred and within moments the smells of fried bacon and eggs filled the trailer. He made a breakfast to feed an army and I was clearly his army of one 😉 Stuffed with his cooking, I told him my intentions and he simply got on with things. There was no talking me out of anything or encouraging me either. He simply gathered my dry bags and helped me load the boat back up. He offered his home in Sayward for me to stay that night and exchanged contact information. I expressed that as appreciative as I was, that if this was indeed my last stab at this, I needed to do things as I first set off to do and that was to establish a camp and be self sufficient. Gary understood, and with a stiff handshake and a million thank you’s, I set off.
This photo brings tears to me as I recall the feel of the wind on my face, the crisp air surrounding us, the movement of the dock and knowing that this man lives a life that at the very least is defined by at least two of three words I have detailed in characters on my boat, courage and solitude. I felt envious but somehow proud for him and proud to have met him.
Gary waved me off and before I rounded the bight and re-entered Johnstone Strait we shared one last glance and wave. I turned to look west, took my bearing and aligned the boat with a quick glance at my compass and resumed rowing. It was blowing strong and the Strait was a mess of whitecaps, choppy waves and a myriad of water features from boils to swirls to rips. I moved further into the Strait at times and others hugged the shore to make the most of the current and find the smoothest of water to alleviate the necessary force on the oars. It would be three hours or so to get to Sayward and it was time to reflect. I cursed out loud at the wind and at myself. There are fewer worse feelings when it comes to matters of endurance and knowing when the curtain call has come.
My sister and brother in law were already planned to be off for the week to travel the north island and meet me at dedicated stops along the way. We had chatted the night prior and they knew that the trip was now more about collecting me and my gear and that there would be no further travels. We agreed to meet in Sayward the following day.
I passed Helmcken Island through Race Passage and soon had the rusted hulks of the WWII ships that were placed as a breakwater to protect the small marina in Sayward within view. Just past this point was a wharf and floating dock that would be my final stop. Above the wharf laid a small private campground, which was open and had a vacant site for me to pitch on. As I neared the breakwater a small powerboat came out to meet me. The fellow driving slid his window open and greeted me then asked what the hell I was doing out there and where was I headed. He kindly pointed out if I had noticed the conditions and that further up the Strait things would get even gnarlier. I explained my stop was a few hundred yards further, we exchanged pleasantries and we each carried on our respective ways.
Emotions were relentless as I unpacked and set up camp, opened my sleeping bag and laid down to rest. The winds blew with more ferocity and a quick check of my satphone confirmed what I was seeing. Winds were forecast to be gale force for the entire balance of the week.
I made a few calls home got things all square and knew I had one more call to make. It was imperative that I reach out to the Canucks Autism Network (CAN) and advise them of my condition and altered plan. I hesitated as I knew doing so would seal my current fate and I felt the weight of so much hope teetering on my shoulders. Nobody put it there but me and I knew that I would hear all sorts of understanding and well wishes, but still it felt wrong, too soon and very much like failure.
I decided to take a walk into town and as I passed the marina and logging facility I watched as tugs worked the waters sorting, pushing and pulling booms into place. I sat in awe at the level of machinery required to do such laborious work. The tires on the machine below stood taller than me.
I finally picked up my satphone and dialed my contact at CAN. It went to voicemail and I explained what my situation was and my intended plans. As I pressed the red button to disconnect and end the call I knew as right a decision as it was to make, it was still one of the toughest moments of my life.
I walked and thought back on the past 14 months of preparations and wanted so badly to find a comforting moment, something to sooth the rawness inside but I wasn’t there yet and didn’t figure to be for some time. I continued on until I came across the same diner we had been at the night prior when Gary drove me into town. I sat again, this time alone, and ordered the same fish and chips meal. Mar as she’s known, served up her very own self line caught rock cod fillets that were as large as my hands. Essentially she plated before me an entire fish, both sides, along with some fries and slaw. It was delicious.
I returned to camp later that night, built a fire and sat and read. Every so often I would pull my hood back to feel the wind and glance across the water. I knew that my efforts were my best and that I left all that I had out on those waterways. I thought I could will myself through anything, and have so many times prior. But sadly it was not in the cards this time around and I knew I had to do some work to understand what exactly was happening with my physical well being. The next day would bring warm hugs and smiles from my sister and brother in law and I fell asleep knowing I would soon be in good familiar company.