Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kayaking the Gulf Islands: a Metaphor for Life

The sky is blue and a brisk wind is creating a smattering of whitecaps as I lower my red kayak off the dock on Pender Island and start my annual solo, overnight expedition. I work against a headwind and tidal current. Soon I’m in the middle of Plumper Sound and enjoying the solitude, floating on this watery world that I cannot see into. One stroke automatically follows another. Time passes. My initial destination, Mayne Island, gets closer very slowly. It’s like watching the hour hand on a clock. For the last part of the crossing the wind picks up, whitecaps increase and I paddle harder.

Then I round St. John Point and it is bliss. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can beat sitting in a kayak with the wind and current flowing with you and surrounded by the soft landscape of the Gulf Islands. An eagle passes overhead and a seal’s head pops out of the water to inspect my progress.

Soon I am through Georgeson Passage and emerge into Georgia Strait and the Belle Chain Islets. The wind becomes calm, the sea surface is like gently rolling glass, and nary a cloud mars the perfect blue sky. I pass a rocky islet crowded with seals and sea lions, whose roars and grunts can be heard far away. After lunch on an islet a strong head wind suddenly appears and the bull kemp, the weather vanes of the sea, tell that the current is also running against me, contrary to what the current atlas predicted!!#@! Now the work becomes difficult and after an hour I am exhausted, for my aged body is not used to this. I pass an eagle and eaglet eating a fish on a driftwood log. A river otter with a long tail is sun tanning on an islet. Curious seals regularly check me out. Slowly I inch southeast along Samuel and then Saturna Islands. After an eternity I reach East Point and the aptly named Boiling Reef. I go ashore, eat a granola bar, gather my will power and then head around the point.

At first it’s not so bad. My kayak cuts smoothly through the eddies and swirls. But as I proceed the waves rise and become chaotic. The wind and tide, of course, run against me. I paddle like a maniac stabilizing against the tossing waves and turning to face the larger ones. Every now and again a wave surprises me from behind and rolls over the deck. Even in my weariness I notice that the light is soft and the waves form beautiful sculptures that are constantly changing shape. In contrast, the sandstone cliffs with delicate whorls and grottos are also beautiful, but are frozen in time. While battling through this wild art gallery a small fishing boat bears at me, stops and a man shouts out that I shouldn’t proceed, it’s too rough. But I have no choice, I can’t go back. I struggle on and after an agonizing hour arrive at the Narvaez Bay campground, part of the Gulf Islands National Park, about 2.5 hours behind schedule.

I hope it’s a metaphor for life, but having passed through purgatory I am now in paradise. Two Canada geese and their yellow, fuzzy gosling are in residence, the campground is sheltered from the wind, my tent is bathed in sunlight and, best of all, no one else is here. I’m alone in solitude.
For information on the Gulf Islands National Park visit:

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