A coastal journey of discovery

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We are all but lonely travelers on this crowded planet. This past summer, I set out on a 33-day solo kayak trip from Victoria to Bella Bella—a distance of roughly 710 kilometres. There were many reasons for the journey that are best explained through the story. This article and the pictures shown are almost fully transcribed from a journal that I kept while paddling.

An important part of this trip was to do it as mindfully and cheaply as possible. About 90 per cent of the food I brought was rescued from local grocery stores, or was salvaged from the UVic residence disposal bins at the end of April. Much of the food was dehydrated for preservation and weight purposes. My friend Henri lives on Cortes Island, so I sent up a food cache with him when he went home after school. All cooking was done on a campfire.

Four kilograms of oat cereal mix/trail mix
One kilogram of chocolate
Four kilograms of dried chick pea and brown rice mix
Half a kilogram of dehydrated vegetables
Half a kilogram of dehydrated fruit
Four kilograms of dehydrated meat
Gummy worms
Scuzzy hot dogs
One kilogram of peanut butter
Half a kilogram of jam
Forty granola bars
Fresh vegetables (potatoes, cabbage, avocados, broccoli, onions, peppers)

1991 17-foot Seaward Kayak
Personal floatation device
VHF radio
Slack line

Day 1: 31 km
Victoria to Piers island. Wind SE 5-10
I bring an assortment of things, but in the end all you need is yourself, your peace of mind, and a little confidence that life will work out. I leave from Queen Alexandra beach, five minutes from the University of Victoria where I study Geography and Environmental Studies. The beach has special meaning to me. It was the place where I first fell in love with a girl, and at the same time, the ocean. I have likely skinny-dipped off the point over three dozen times. My roommates, sister, and favorite dog (Sugar) come down to see me off. As I wave goodbye, I enter solitude.

Day 2: 52 km
Piers to Tent Island. Wind light with rain
I have my first run-in with the notion of private property. I camp on a local beach, and have an interesting and uncomfortable interaction fueled by a miscommunication. Ultimately, ownership is a human-imposed boundary held by the strings of the governing social system as well as our own attachment.
The morning holds off in the rain department but only for a short moment. Droplets break the surface of the water. I paddle towards Salt Spring and hope to get a boost through Sansum Narrows with the flooding tide. The currents are complex and go both ways depending on the coastline. Through the pass I am surrounded by orca whales. They guide me in the yellow rain to Tent Island. I lose my sandal somehow.

Day 3: 74 km
Tent to Sand cat Island. Wind light
I sleep until I feel ready to open my eyes. My wrists are sore. Patient paddling is the solution. I have a recovery morning and nap on the tarp until the sun comes out. It’s late in the day as I set out and I leave my sunglasses on the beach as a token of my forgetfulness.
“There is no fear, when you let go of everything you know.”

Day 4: 101 km
Tent to NewCastle Island. Wind SE 5 kn
I sit on a log barge and marinate on my existence. After ramming a couple peanut butter bars, a humpback whale says “Hello”. I wonder what it’s doing in such tight waters (False Narrows). This morning, I awaken on sand grain rock to birds, and after an hour I see some welcome sun. I peel up through the De Courcy Group with some favourable wind.

Day 6: 132 km
Sangster Island. Wind SE 20-25 kn
Stranded on Elephant Eye Point, Sangster Island. Weather day.

Day 8: 192 km
Texada to Savary Island. Wind SE 10-15 knots
I dry out my life in the morning sun. I stretch out. My body needs love. The sun blasts. I paddle up Texada Island with the company of porpoises. I pass Vivian Rock which is covered in carnivorous sea lions. It’s getting dark, and my only option is a five kilometre crossing to Savary Island. I decide to let the stars and angel seagulls guide me through the shadows of a rock field. My first real night-paddle of the trip. I weave boulders by moonlight onto a sandy beach. I rig up, eat cereal and jerky, brush my teeth, stretch, meditate, and go to bed.

Day 10: 205 km.
Cortes Island
I restock food on Cortes Island. Past self packed a good box of food for future self!

Day 12: 238 km
Cortes to Rendezvous Island
I awaken to whales. Four orcas breach near my triple island encampment. They say “Hi” and stream north, reminding me of my journey ahead. I paddle up Cortes enjoying a soft pace. I go for a snorkel and am surprised at all the life! Sea urchins, cucumbers, and tube things line the sea floor as fish dart past my feet. I cross to the Rendezvous Islands where I reconnect with my whale buds. I sleep without the tent at first, but the mosquitos are too much.

Day 13: 255 km. Dent rapids
I sit with two eagles on a log.

Day 15: 275 km. Green Point rapids
My mind balances delicately on the edge of an unknown precipice.

Day 16: Green Point to Whirlpool Rapids
The world melts into oceans that flow like rivers, shape shifting trees, and my mind . . . my mind ebbs and flows. I find solace at times in a busy intersection of thoughts: thoughts of others, the past, the future, as well as pure fantasy.

On love:
Love is a warm feeling when a person enjoys something, or someone, beyond comprehension. That’s what makes it so elusive, confusing, intricate, delicate, and simple. There are no real words to do it justice so we settle with love. The problem with love is that it gets easily mixed up with emotional attachment, or simply a dependence of sorts.  Unconditional love is, more than anything, a true love with one’s self. This may sound a little surprising, but before you can love someone else fully you have to love yourself. If not, you will depend on that someone to fill up a part of you that you are missing.
So how does one love one’s self?  It’s the question of our time really. Do MDMA? Adopt orphan kittens? Buy an expensive armchair? Maybe start by accepting and transcending your past, embracing your current situation, and ultimately enjoying that you are alive! Against all odds, you are a thinking human! For Pete’s sake, you’re not an urchin or an oyster; you are a human! Relish in the moment. Remember, we are the universe’s reflection: also a liberating thought. Love on. Love yourself.

Day 17: 294 km.
Whirlpool Rapids to Poyntz
The northwest winds have me in their clutches. Yesterday, I paddled into waves from Green Point. Eating urchins in Whirlpool Rapids, I pull off and have a nap. Today I enjoy the morning sun, and get sucked through the rapids. I then paddle into a strong headwind. The wind is pushing madhouse. I nap on a point and then paddle to Poyntz Island. A nice cove with small aggregate greets me. I rig-up-cook the most delicious Hot Pockets in the universe. I climb around a bit. I only paddled maybe seven kilometers today. Sometimes, one must wait for the winds.

Day 18: Day off
The wind searches its way through the shoreline pines. It finds only itself. The water turns to white caps and I stay the day napping, writing, and reading. I fail to catch a crab.

Day 21: 331 km. White sand beach
And if it rains and pours, it’s OK it doesn’t really matter anyways. And if it pours and pours and pours some more, it would have happened all the same.

On Intuition:
How does one follow their heart? It’s easy to reject our deep connection with the greater whole when it feels uncomfortable, or challenges our norms. When you hear the world’s advice, take it unconditionally. It’s hard to know what exactly you’ve missed when you ignore intuition.  It takes being uncomfortable to tap into the full potential of your surroundings. In short, you don’t know unless you go. I’m sure as you continue to say “yes” and listen to moments of intuitive advice, they will multiply, and continue to be louder.

Day 22: 365 km. Minstrel island
Human interaction. You kind of forget about it when you’re totally out of the loop. I hang out with Bruce the Spruce Goose. I write a letter to Mom and Pa. All is well. I set up shop in a decrepit gazebo.
The past is a mystery, the future history, the present a gift—might as well unwrap it.

Day 23: 393 km. Compton Island
The collapse of Minstrel Island. At one point it seemed as though Minstrel was a metropolis. A hotel, pub, fuel, dock—it had it all. What made it unable to sustain? I explore the ruins of modern society in awe. I pick berries and dumpster dive from the wreckage. The place is abandoned—a testament to nature’s ability to creep and crawl back into old territory.
I eventually head out around 3 p.m. The waters are calm. They fire up for a bit and then turn to glass in Beware Passage. Rain turns off and on creating ripples. Dolphins play around me. Eventually, I arrive at Compton, tired, hungry, and kayak-drunk (sea legs, etc.). Gruel, stretch, swim, bed.

Day 24: 402 km. Owl Island
What is the difference between a shared and solo experience? The perception of surroundings changes immensely as well as the associated actions of those involved. For the most part, I believe that other people bring out the best in myself. I feel more duty and accountability to my actions. I’m not saying I’m super lazy when in the absence of others. Only that I act differently. Part of this is the ego. We constantly compare ourselves, and imagine how others perceive us. When sharing time together, roots grow deeper, creating an interconnected memory. This linkage of time, space, and minds makes the experience that much more enchanting. Solitude is needed for balance and perspective. More than anything shared experience solidifies the awe, wonder, sadness or whatever the feeling of the moment was. A perceived solidification of time satisfies our desire for permanence in this world of constant change. More than anything it is nice to hold someone else’s hand.

Day 26: 468 km. Jeanette island
I’m exhausted.

Day 27: 504 km. Arm Island. Wind NW 20-30
I wrestle out of my dreams and into the real world. Or vice versa. Its 4 a.m. I pack up and stumble my boat and gear to the water. There is no sunrise, only an increase of light. Its grey out. I paddle quick. I know nothing lasts forever. The winds begin blasting from the north. I am past the top of Northern Vancouver Island now. There is no turning back. The exposed Pacific Ocean is my only companion. The North Westerlies blast me.
A lone man from a nearby fish farm rushes out on his little boat. “You all by yourself?” I chat him up a bit in an awkward swell and wind conversation. It was nice to share a smile with someone. I paddle on. By 9:30 a.m. the winds and swell are so deadly that I have to pull in. I sleep in a cave. Tomorrow I’m going to paddle around Cape Caution—pushing the boundaries of my paddling ability. I hope I don’t die.

On choices and death:
We are always one step to the left of death. This is liberating and empowering to say the least. It’s also scary because we depend on living. What is to live? It is everything and nothing; the open eyes of the universe. I’m not saying I’m ready to die—only that if I do it is OK. Just as I squash the life out of a little mosquito buzzing around me, I must be accept that one day I too will be squashed. Hopefully it’s not tomorrow, as I would still like to make some people smile.

Day 28: 540 km. Table Island
The logs on this beach are withered and battered, each with a story still being told. They grace my feet to test my balance, and offer me a seat to sit and think. They are the eternal meditators. From standing to fallen, from seed to sea. One day, we too will be washed up on the beach of oblivion.

Day 32: 690 km. The trap
I’m on the home stretch. It has been over a month now, but time becomes nothing but melting ice cream on a trip like this. It has melted into winds, waves, and starlit campfires. My hands and feet are covered in cuts filled with sand. I am healing. I feel strong. I take a transition day and try to become familiar with a new chapter that starts tomorrow. Bella Bella. There are no ends—just transitions of moments.
What have I learned from this trip? At the least, each moment is unique, therefore a gift to be honoured and enjoyed. Food is sacred. Anything is possible.
To be disciplined takes discipline and perhaps a watch. The ego is nothing more than attachment to an idea. Accept and transcend. Take responsibility for your situation.
More than anything, be patient. The world is always working in your favour. If it’s not, it’s because you think it’s not.
Also, laugh when things go sideways. Life likes to point out when you’re too invested in a future outcome. Roll with the waves. Take care of your body. Calm your mind. Fall asleep in weird places.

Day 33: 710 km. Bella Bella
School’s out. It’s super hot.  I walk through town in a daze. Kids run around. A neighbourhood dog looks more scuzzy than I do. I smile at my surroundings. A new chapter begins.