Preface

In about February 2006 I got a notice that the geographical information systems (GIS) conference called AutoCarto would be held this year in Vancouver Washington, and as it had been years since I attended a small technical meeting I was curious. When I also noticed that REI was putting on a kayaking trip to Vancouver Island, I was really tempted (although the entire state of Washington separates the two Vancouvers). Over the next several months I first sent in an abstract, then made inquiries about the trip, and eventually signed up. The advantages of piggy-backing a vacation on a business trip is that I save some air fare and spread the pain of a cross-country flight over 2 weeks instead of one. But there are disadvantages as well: more hotel rooms, fiscal legerdemain, etc.

This whole trip had a slightly reminiscent quality to it. First, I had recollections of smells and sights (and that 7th sense that seems to register humidity) of visits long ago in the 1950s to the Northwest. Our family used to take vacations roughly every 2 years to the region; we'd head north from Los Angeles and within 2 days would be north of San Francisco and into the Redwood forests, Portland, even Seattle. We lived in a hotel in Portland for perhaps a month, and I lived with my father in Vancouver for a few weeks. But more recently, in November 2005 I spent a week on the Olympic Peninsula, making a circuit around the mountains and spending 3 days on Lake Crescent. So it hadn't been so long since I was in the Northwest.

(The title photo is looking northwest from the camp on Gilbert Island; in the distance is the Sawtooth Range, about 1400 meters, still with patches of snow.)

June 25-28 AutoCarto, Vancouver WA

This was your typical scientific meeting: formal talks from 8 to 5, posters, meals to chat about research, jobs, etc. What was unusual was the weather: hot, especially for the usually cool northwest. I think Portland had a record 104° F. one day. Personally I enjoyed the heat, as I usually do when it is also dry. I did enjoy the meeting; a few old friends, and there were lots of serious scientists from abroad. Twenty years ago when I attended the first one of these scientific meetings I expressed mystification about these things to a senior colleague; his reply: 'never underestimate the power of ritual.' Business people spend a few hours watching PowerPoints and then head for the golf course. Scientists will do it all day, and even into the night, day after day. It was uplifting to know that I'd be spending the following week doing what I like best.

Thu June 29 Drive to Seattle

I had driven from Seattle to Vancouver, Washington the previous Sunday and some of it to and from Mt St Helens, so it was more of a commute than a journey. The outskirts of Seattle are the typical American sprawl, except that you see Mt Ranier much of the time, to the west, and you get occasional glimpses of Puget Sound. The end of this leg was hassles: circling the one-way streets to get to the front of the Mayflower Hotel, dropping off the car, some last minute REI shopping. But the room was excellent: a corner room on the 8th floor looking down 4th Ave to the south and across to Macy's to the west. How fortunate that a few of these old hotels are still around and are modestly priced! As I am (the husband of) an amateur birdwatcher, I was particularly amused to see out my window on the roof of the adjacent building two crows harassing a seagull who was tearing into a dead pigeon; the scene appeals to my cynical nature.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around downtown which, (Portland, Victoria, etc.) is full of tourists this time of year: it's summer and the climatic window is wide open. Like SF, much of the city's charm is due to its situation on protected seas so that we can get as close to the tame salt water as we wish. A highlight of the day was the Public Library, which is as innovative and spectacular as Bob Breuer says. Everyone is still writing books, so we need more space for them and libraries keep getting bigger...for another 100 years, when print (if not words) may start to disappear.

Fri June 30 Boat to Victoria

I began with a Somali-driven taxi ride to Pier 69 where the Victoria Clipper was waiting. The last time I made a trip like this was in about 1955 when my father and I took the Princess Patricia from Vancouver to Seattle via Victoria. All I can recall from that visit is a rather spooky mummy in the basement museum of the Parliament building.

As this is a trip of 140 kilometers, many vacationers are in a hurry, so the Victoria Clipper hydroplane screams over the water at 30 knots, making the trip in about 1/3 of a decent ferry ride. Speed, of course, is not necessarily progress, certainly not where water travel is concerned. I was able to hang out on the tiny rear deck among the baggage containers, with a beautiful view of our wake and what we were leaving. The window and near-window seats give a decent view of whatever side of the boat you are sitting on, but the center seats are too far from the windows to give you a feel for an ocean voyage. There is a bigger, slow boat from Pt Angeles...and I missed the Princess "Pat."

I didn't talk to many people in Victoria as I was coming off a conference where there was quite enough talking, thank you. I did chat with the Scots couple that runs my Crystal Court Motel, a comfortable if a bit shabby place that I was told would soon be the site of another condo. They hadn't been back to Scotland in a dozen years and said they found it cold and damp--a hopeful sign. I tossed my bags in the room and set off to explore the city, 50 years later.
I wandered around Victoria trying to remember how it had been 50 years ago but gave up to enjoy the moment, finding it quite pleasant, with its lovely harbor (including the almost constant buzz of little seaplanes), grand old buildings, and sunny dry weather. I also tried to do a sketch and walked around the northern waterfront, admiring a few rude sculptures and murals. The past was gone, the future will never come; there is only the present, which was OK...

Victoria is a small city rapidly being developed to cater to the tourists and I suppose many retired people. There is something artificial about a place with so many visitors; do people find that being catered to itself destroys much of the interest of a place? It's one thing to be in Orlando or Las Vegas where everyone knows the point is entertainment; and it's exciting to be in Philadelphia where people actually live and you can feel yourself a resident, but so much of Victoria (San Francisco, London...) is trying to amuse that I can't see much genuine behind the artifice. No doubt the passengers on the 85,000-ton Oosterdam were delighted with the city; though I've never been aboard a mega-liner, I can only imagine that such passengers could easily glide from the shops of that aircraft carrier to the streets of BC's capital. In fact, it seemed to me that the hulls of these superliners is the same design as container ships: instead of boxes for Chinese stuff we have boxes for people, stacked on a utilitarian hull for the maximum return on investment. Having spent a few winter months in Juneau, I cannot imagine what she does to that little town's waterfront.

I smelled marijuana at several points in my visit, but no one offered me any. The favorite drug of this Canadian/northern/British region is alcohol. I walked around the northern edge of Victoria Harbor, watching the seaplanes buzz in and out, the kayakers paddle about, and the ubiquitous joggers, and arrived at a pub full of people loosening up for the Canada Day weekend. I joined them in a beer and cigar; alcohol improves my mood, and I wonder how many just plain depressed people medicate with alcohol. It doesn't make me happy, just less sad. And I'm still in transit, still haven't arrived at my destination (would that be the first campsite on the Islands?) so I fret about the supplies and clothes I may not have or whether I'll get an immobilizingly sore lower back or shoulder, or even the weather. Again, I question myself: is all this worth it? Of course I can see the answer: nothing but my mood is really unwell, so change it, be in the moment, tell whatever it is that's nagging me to shutthefuckup. Often travel is a distraction from the pain, but even travel isn't reliable. And all you need to do is look out in some direction to see the mountains with their fascinating land/sky line of no length but separating fixed areas, or the sea with its restless inanimate or animal/human activity. Are these the objects upon the ground of my melancholy or is it the other way around?

As a geographer, i.e. (among other things, amateur urban anthropologist) I like to poke around in the typical quarters of the city, so I walked back from the pub towards downtown on a street chosen at random and found myself in a pleasant neighborhood of single-family homes that might have been somewhere in the near suburbs of Boston and that led to a light-industrial section and then the strip malls leading back to downtown. No matter where you are, there is always the DNA of a developed Western city. Naturally I was looking forward to being on the water.

Sat July 1 Bus to Tofino and a night in Ucluelet



Small bus/vans run from Victoria to the Tofino/Ucluelet peninsula in about 3 hours. As noted in the Rough Guide, the route is not particularly pretty until the last leg down the mountains to the ocean. I had expected Vancouver Island to be cold, wet, and wild and found my introduction to be hot, dry, and developed. The British Columbians stream onto the Island to internally combust across its roads, coasts, and lakes; like the Americans (homo vehiculari) they resemble. How much this huge island has changed since the days of the Nunh-chat-nulht people. Still, parts of it (as is none of say Virginia) offer some of the relatively exotic places of the world. It's not easy to get to, the climate can be wet and cold, and water interrupts an excursion in any direction. The perfect place for a kayak.

The cross-island bus left me at the junction where I chatted with the National Park Rangers as I waited for the "beach bus" that shuttles up and down the Tofino-Ucluelet peninsulas. Rangers are always helpful, usually enthusiastic, and often delighted to know that I work for the USGS and am in a sense a fellow federal naturalist. This connection benefited me even more a few days later. But I only had a few minutes until the shuttle arrived; a full-size school bus driven by a school bus driver on a vacation job. It was his first day, so I needed to help him navigate to the B&B, which we found down a side street and parking lot that he negotiated with the skill of a tugboat captain. I really didn't get to notice much of the landscape as we arrived. In fact, I'm not much of a multitasker: I can talk or look but not both (talk and enjoy my food but not both, and so forth).

After a week of hot dry weather I was disappointed to find it cool and cloudy just at the coast, which reminded me of summers in the SF Bay Area, when "The City" is foggy and the East Bay hot and dry. Someone told me that the same patterns apply in BC: the coast pays for the interior's summer weather, and I read an explanation about moist oceanic air blowing over cold coastal water, and maybe interior updrafts draws it in; must look this up.

Once I was settled in my (slightly too fussy) room I spent an hour sketching an watching a bald eagle family with a nest nearby. The birds make a silly sound but are impressive fliers. One juvenile (I was told they appear larger than their parents because their feathers are fluffier (?)) was practicing "strafing" runs on the beach, swooping low as though seizing something on the ground. But I really was restless after all that busing, so I asked one of the staff about walks in the area and she suggested the Wild Pacific Trail to the Amphitrite Point light south of Ucluelet, which was a superb jaunt, first down the road, which was edged by new houses and small-scale (but still large) developments (soon to be B&B's no doubt), and then through a planked look and a gravel trail around the end of the peninsula. On the road I was passed by two young women jogging and chatting in strong and not breathless voices (how do they do that) one of whom addressed me 'Hi, I saw you on the bus!' but before I could reply they were down the road. I met them again coming the other way still maintaining their pace, still chatting, and I shouted 'Your wearing me out!' but they only giggled. Keeping those endorphins going is hard work.

Some of us were staying at Majestic B&B and the rest at other B&Bs. These seem to range from the traditional establishment (old large houses with too many rooms for a couple) to freestanding houses built expressly for guests. The Majestic also organized our kayak expedition and the place is run by an extremely competent woman who apparently was a guide herself and then took to running a complicated kayak tour + bed&breakfast operation. Her logistical skills are impressive, although I never got to know much about her as she spent most of the time busily organizing trips, meals, land transportation, and the dizzying behind-the-scenes logistics that enable we clients to enjoy an adventure without having to face the dirty work! The personalities of her guides more than made up for her own interpersonal limitations. As someone who has also faced the challenges of organizing a dozen people into a new and positive positive experience - and who himself is introverted - I can appreciate the inner struggle she must overcome to pull off a grand show, every week, all summer long.

Sun July 2 Paddle to Clarke I. camp

We were told to pack all of our gear into 3 variously-sized dry bags and that anything else would have to be left ashore (at least this is what I remember), as the kayaks were to carry all our food, tents, and the the equipment required for the 'gourmet' meals, etc. I had brought my own personal flotation device (PFD - what happened to the trusty old "life vest"?) and my fins/mask/snorkel in the hopes of investigating life underwater, but I had little trouble fitting all I wanted into the bags. Again, owing to the commanding presence of the trip operator, this had the feeling of a quasi-military operation ("...we leave at midnight, pass it on!...") rather than a more casual vacation paddle, but I did try to get into the logistical swing of things. Always searching for ways of injecting insolent humor into any situation, I yelled 'OK you grunts, time for muster!' Just before we pushed off one of the guides asked 'How is everyone feeling?' and I replied 'frazzled!' What for them was just one more weekly foray into the Sound, for me was a step off into the unknown. But once I was settled in the boat and the boat was on the water I felt much more relaxed. It does help to have some experience with these situations.

After the a brief briefing on the basics of paddling, the trip began with a chilly, foggy paddle from Toquart Bay to a lunch on the southernmost Stopper Island. I was in my element, although I think that a few minutes of "bobbing" in the sea would have given everyone a sense of the water, the wind, the movement--but we were on a mission: 14 km almost due south, with a stop for lunch, and I think there was some urgency because the guides wanted to be first at the campsites; as Parks Canada warns, 'kayaks abound.' Human ecology has become something of a dismal science itself; anyplace attractive and easy to get to soon becomes crowded. For the moment the Broken Group is relatively empty, but it is by no means a wilderness. Of course I'd not want to capsize in a wilderness, so this was wild enough for me.

This picture gives an idea of the Clarke Island campsite with a few of us clustered around guide Lenny and his trusty ax with which he would reduce drift logs to kindling in a few minutes and with almost no sound (a murderer on the lam?), and a rare patch of sunlight highlighting one of the tandem kayaks, which I called 'pigs.' A definitely anthropogenic feature of the beaches of the Northwest are the many and often huge drift logs; some of them are trees that fell into the sea or were carried to it by the many rivers of the region, but almost all of the newer logs show signs of having been cleanly cut at the base, so they must have escaped from log rafts (if such things still exist)...or maybe rolled off of logging trucks? Although too numerous for my pristine taste, they are a boon to campers and this is a National Park from which not a blade of natural grass may be removed. So apparently you can chop up logs with cut ends, but presumably not remove them? Which brings up the subject of what you may leave: nothing, except...there are compost toilets at each official campsite (you may camp nowhere else), so what the literature calls 'human waste' isn't a problem. As usual, however, I prefer pissing in the ocean (or in my trusty Gatorade bottle at night), and crapping as well, which is OK so long as you do in in the sea or bury it in the intertidal zone. Courtney also gave us other options, including the 'shitapult' which as I recall involves pooping on a board and then flinging the turds seaward, but I think this also somehow involved an oyster shell; the principle is simple. I've always found shitting outdoors the most pleasant way to go, and to smell the intertidal zone is to be reminded of how tight is the cycle of decay and renewal where we were spending our few days.


I really can't keep straight the next 3 days. I know we spent 3 nights (July 2-4) on Clarke Island and then one night on Hand I, but what exactly we did between leaving and arriving on the 'mainland' I cannot keep straight. Unlike Baja, where our entire voyage consisted of jumps down the coastline with a few large and distinctive islands in view, cruising the Broken Group in overcast weather can be disorienting. More than disorienting, because I never knew where north was as the sun was obscured. I did have a compass on my kayak, but I guess I'm not enough of a seaman to let that provide me with the sense of just where I might be facing at any given time. But a more profound source of disorientation is simply that one is on the surface of a kind of stew of islands/rocks all covered with trees of a fairly uniform color, so there is no sun to the west, "mountain to the north" or "mainland to the east" to let me know where I might be or might be going. I have a few GPS waypoints to fix my location when I stopped long enough to get a position, and a bunch of pictures to remind me of various scenes, but the 5 days really are a blur. And because the tides ranged up to 3 meters, a seascape you thought you knew at 10 AM might be utterly different at  4 PM . In fact, I really liked the fact that the guides (and those of us who were playing at pioneering) needed to be fully aware of the state of the tides--not only where we were in the cycle, but what the cycle was doing that particular day. This is real in a way that 'aligning management priorities in light of a re-engineered vision strategy' somehow just isn't.

But the blur of the five days has within it clear memories and images, and among the most distinct for me are naturally associated with elemental water. We coasted along a seascape of blue-to-green water fringed in almost all directions by a few meters of rock topped by shrubs and trees. The color of that water was generally greener than the aerial photo at left. The graphic at left is a combination of an areal photograph of the Broken Group (our major stops shown in red) a large scale map of the Ucluelet area, and a small scale map of the north of  Barklay Sound. Although our route isn't shown here, we basically paddled out of Toquart Bay (misspelled on the map) through the Stopper Islands, to the main group. The guides graciously gave each of us a marked-up map of our route, and even though I studied it carefully, I couldn't really relate our 'trail' to the experience. Still, looking back on the journey does give a slight thrill. On the map the first day's paddle was about 11 km from Toquart Bay through the Stopper Islands to lunch on Willis Island then another 5 km to camp on Clarke Island.  Our fleet was on the move!

Mon July 3 Visit to Gilbert I.

This picture can summarize what we saw from the elevation of the cockpit of a kayak. We were in a perfect composition of land/water/sky (though I could have done with more sun) rock/tree/wave. You knew you were in an unusual place (everywhere you turned there was a postcard) and you had arrived there under your own power, quietly, with no smell, adding excess greenhouse gases by maybe panting and perhaps an excess fart. And we carried everything we needed--and more. No place can be experienced independently of mood or history or future. For some reason the time passed so swiftly (or I was tired!) that I don't remember spending many moments contemplating the landscape, but we were surrounded by beauty; nothing was ugly or even alien (except the hemispheric/geodetic tents and of course the pretty kayaks), so I could just stare in any direction and be soothed.

In my sketching I discovered that there are no lines in nature, because a 1-dimensional set with no thickness is invisible; there are just boundaries, and we sometimes draw them with pencil lines, but a truer (and harder) way to do this is with the contrast between one color or gray value or texture and another. NOTE: try to draw a scene with no lines. Of course this makes me think of the boundaries between the 3 realms: sea, land, sky: like any geometric abstraction they are fractal sets, and the first is generally a plane seen obliquely and the second a projection seen from far away. Can you use this artifice in your art?

On Clarke Island we interacted briefly with other campers, who owing to the situation have to be somewhat interesting (although it's quite often the case that boring people do interesting things, and vice versa). Two guys one of whom does kayak day trips on the Columbia and Willamette were spending a few weeks in the Broken Group, but they also kayak on the Oregon coast, which is pretty impressive as I know it has some of the roughest surf in the US and maybe the world. Then there was a trio: attractive woman and her probably (but who the hell knows?) Type A husband and their delightful daughter who sat like a princess in the center hatch of their big tandem kayak. The guy made an elaborate meal of a chicken cleaned in the sea and skewered on a stick that the crows tried to clean, while the little girl chased the birds with her own stick. It's amazing how one forms allegiances and hostilities and then allegiances so quickly. I was wary of my group, then grew to identify with our band but resented the campers we found at our site except once I got to know them and then turned my resentment on the later arrivals until I got to know them. Was this the way it was with the native people—well, they went to war with strangers—but it was probably like this with settlers traveling across the continent 2 centuries ago. No doubt most people don't feel this tension so strongly as I do, but most of us are probably forced to be too close to others than we would wish.

As for the crows, they were ready for us when we arrived, and stayed around to clean up when we left. I suppose most Canadians and Americans are surrounded by crows, and I've always liked them, comparing them to gangs of noisy but harmless teenagers always looking for excitement. At first, however, I was offended by the nervous, opportunistic American Crows who pestered us at meals; their human habits and dependency on our abundance made me feel a bit of shame at their situation. But then there is the synthesis; they're just part of the scene, with more right to be where we were than we had, and they would find a way to make a living whether we were around or not.

Tue July 4 Visit to Tiny Group

In the rainforest everything seems to grow on everything else: artfully as at the left, or haphazardly, as at right. This applies to the entire landscape, which contrasts with that of Baja. Having paddled in the Gulf of California just two years earlier I naturally compared this experience with that, and concluded that I had preferred kayaking in the hot, dry canyon of the Sea of Cortez  because, as a Californian, I am fascinated by the naked landscape of the desert and found myself wondering what the skeleton of the raniforested landscape would look like if it were denuded of all that vegetation. In fact, since acquiring a telescope a year ago I've been wistfully contemplating the other, lifeless planets of our solar system and feeling a mild aversion to the parasitic, mutualistic, endlessly networked organismic system that dominates Earth. Is this a higher (or lower) form of environmentalism, or just another example of my sometimes contrived cynicism?

In the rain forest everything seems to grow on everything else; sometimes artfully and sometimes haphazardly, although these are merely human judgments; nevertheless, life is abundant. This applies to the entire landscape, which contrasts with that of Baja, where the vegetation is sparse. Having paddled in the Sea of Cortez just 2 years earlier, I naturally compared this experience with that, and personally concluded I had enjoyed kayaking in the hot, dry canyon of the Gulf of California for several reasons. One is that (perhaps as a California) I am fascinated by the naked landscape of the desert, and found myself wondering what the topography of rainforest might look like if it were denuded of all that vegetation. In fact, since acquiring a telescope a year ago I've been wistfully contemplating the other, lifeless planets of our solar system and feeling a mild aversion at the life that covers so much of Earth. Is this a higher form of environmentalism, or just my silly sometimes contrived cynicism?

I also went snorkeling at our campsite. I had brought my fins, mask, and snorkel all that way, a wetsuit was found for me, and people were asking me when I was going to use them. As soon as I went in the water my arms and head were coldcold so I got out and put on my fleece cap, which did keep my head warmer. I must have been in the water for 15 minutes or so, but the water was cold and not very clear (the oysters were spawning or something, which accounts for the plate-green color of the water in the picture above) and it was even colder when I dove down, so this dive was mainly to prove a point. I like to push the envelope, if only slightly, and I got another chance on Hand Island the next night when Courtney suggested we wait for dark and paddle among the bioluminescent organisms she expected to find.

She threw a few stones into the water but said she thought there wasn't much activity, but when I tossed handsful of sand into the water arcs of light suggested that there was something going on. So Courtney, Forrest and I paddled around the bay of Hand Island creating as much turbulence as possible in order to stir up the light. Each stroke of my paddle left streamers of blue-white light in the water and when my kayak reached a certain speed the turbulence of the bow wave left a perfect inverted V streaming off my prow. I raced around the bay and almost ran aground, wondering who would be responsible if I holed my boat. Again, this is something I enjoyed the doing of but also enjoyed knowing I would remember, tell others (and write) about. It is probably difficult to photograph this phenomenon as the light levels must be quite low. I recall swimming amidst bioluminescence in the much warmer waters of Martha's Vinyard three decades ago, and briefly thought about putting on the wetsuit, but I'd had my fill of immersion in that North Pacific water. 

The guides clearly enjoy their job, which is to keep us entertained, and they are a central part of why these adventures are so much fun. I still remember the 3 fellows in Baja with affection, perhaps more so because they guided us and gave us a small window into Mexico. Lenny and Courtney were equally charming though not so exotic, they were 'only' Canadian, and I have no doubt that they would have gotten us out of real difficulty had they been challenged, say by a broken leg, near-drowning, or sudden change in the weather. It's the little camp counselor things that also charm, like Courtney's "banana boats" consisting of a banana with half of the fruit removed lengthwise, replaced by a couple of marshmallows and squares of chocolate then balanced on an oyster shell (carefully collected by us during the day for some mysterious project) and placed on the hot coals of a mature campfire. A dozen minutes of waiting produces a hot thick sweet stew that would be cloying after a gourmet meal but is perfect at the peak of a fireside evening.

Wed July 5 Camp on Hand I.


This was our last full day among the islands, and as I've said I had no specific recollection of many of our locales, but more a reminiscence of mood: peaceful, a bit chilly, sore in parts, struck by the beauty of our surroundings wherever I looked. And I certainly liked my boat, a Current Designs Solstice model, although I'd probably never own one as I need something more rugged for tumbling around on the Potomac and dragging over boat ramps, but if I ever did own two boats, this would be a nice choice. Thinking about my own Carolina 14.5' kayak—which one saleslady called 'cheesy' and made me proud!—I compared the smells of the Pacific Rim with those of the eastern US rivers where I do most of my paddling. Because it was humid I was more aware of smells than if it had been dry, so we were among the aromas of the ocean: does "pure" seawater (if there is such a thing it would be a sample mixed from all the oceans of the world) have a smell? 

This picture was one of several I took on the last passage back to Toquart Bay when we were in a channel open to the sea and feeling more of the multi-frequency of the ocean than in mot of the protected waters.The one thing that I would have added to our adventure was more time "bobbing" and playing on the surface. Although I don't feel as though we had a lot of "free" time during the 3 1/2 days in the Islands, most of it was ashore and not afloat. But there are 2 distinct kinds of transportation: cars and bicycles and planes, which are used to get you somewhere and in which stopping is either impossible or difficult and in any case entails a change of state; and kayaks and feet, in which stopping is just that, setting your velocity to zero. Of course there are situations (rushing crowds, stormy seas) where stopping may be dangerous, but in the vast majority of situations you can stop a kayak and sit indefinitely, feeling the multiple rhythms of the water, watching the multiscale periodicities, and hearing the sounds at the interface of the two liquids in which you are suspended. (Of course when I stopped to meditate in San Francisco Bay in March I promptly capsized, but that's another story. In fact, I overturned in confused seas that a freighter heading out the Golden Gate to our south didn't feel at all.

As usual, scale is pervasive, whether you're in a kayak or a freighter. I was able to briefly meditate (and photograph) by paddling ahead of the group and then stopping for 10 minutes. I felt and saw at least four distinct frequencies: 1) the swells that cause "sets" of 2) waves, upon which less organized 3) the smaller waves ride (caused by the wind?) and finally 4) ripples upon these. In fact, a power frequency spectrum shows these as well as other more extreme tidal "waves" induced by the solar system as well as by small-scale turbulence. As a fractologist, I never tire of studying these roughly self-similar patterns... I love all kinds of boats, and enjoy rough weather; the drama of your experience is a function of the ratio between the energy of the environment that the size of your vessel. Learn to brace without thinking, that's all.

Thu July 6 Whale watch & hot springs

This day was a triple adventure: 1) a 30-knot wave-tossed Zodiac race in search of 2) whales at the end of which is 3) a dip in hot springs. Even if you don't see whales (I guess this is almost guaranteed at certain times of the year) you still can get a thrill slapping across the swells making noise that I'd think would drive out to sea any animal with hearing, let alone echolocation. But we did see animals (otter, puffin, gray whale), and I always enjoy studying the sea: in this case I wondered why the ocean ahead of us was green, that behind blue, and then I looked up to see that it was cloudy above the former, clear above the latter. I also enjoyed the patter of our young, enthusiastic pilot, who was eager to tell us more than he knew, say, about the eyesight of bald eagles. Although he'd been at the job six years, he certainly seemed to love bounding over the waves in front of twin Mercury 200s.

The walk to the hot springs was very pleasant in my bare feet. Like the loop to Cape Flattery that I took in November 2005, the path to the hot springs is paved with cedar planks, which I guess keeps our feet dry and makes for very easy walking, but does make a lot of noise if you're wearing hiking boots, which I suppose is the source of all the little gouges in the boards. So I took a soak in the hot springs (with dozens of other tourists) and then took a dip in the ocean at the mouth of the rivulet of hot water. As I'd been soaking in hot water I didn't mind the cold ocean (especially where the warm water was mixing) and I wasn't really aware of the fact that the surge was tossing me among the mussels, but when I got out I found that I was bleeding at a half-dozen places, quite messily from my left big toe. I limped over to Courtney and she enthusiastically cleaned up the toe and applied a bandage. Later she suggested dressing the other wounds, but I knew they'd be OK, so I put on long pants and told her I'd 'dressed' them myself.

Although I would have just as soon spent another day (or week!) in the islands, we are at the mercy of the mystical 7-day cycle and REI's need to give us more variety than 'merely' camping and paddling. I'm sure that doing nothing becomes easier for some of us as we get older because there's the sense that too much activity just hastens the passage of time--and therefore death. And yet so many of us seem addicted to movement: driving, TV, rushing from meeting to meeting, even paddling to the next island. Not only do we need to move, we're often not where we want to be, so beyond the love of movement itself is the constant push from here and pull to there. Maybe I've always had the ability to meditate on the scene, but it seems that only lately have I really cultivated the skill, and I'm a rank amateur. Kayaking puts you in the world of a bobbing sea bird, though you can neither fly nor dive; but you see the ocean and the shore from a comfortable seat and a superb vantage point.


Fri July 7 Bus to Victoria

Here's a rule: always check your schedule. The Tofino-Victoria bus schedule is not easy to read, and I assumed I was to be on the 11 AM bus so I arrived early only to be told by the harried driver (most of them seemed harried) that I had no reservation. He was correct; I was on the 3PM bus, so I had 4 hours to kill. I chatted with the Ranger at the Park headquarters and he suggested a walk to Florencia Bay after letting me store my bags in his office. Once my self-directed anger subsided I headed off to the southwest. It was an hour each way with another hour for sketching the bay. Although the drawing has a many flaws, the ranger said he recognized the representation and even noted the many little channels made by the heavy rains draining from the cliffs to the bay. Of course it helped that he knew where I was going, but still it pleased me that I'd captured a signature feature of the landscape.

One highlight of the bus ride was the girl who sat next to my trip mate and who kept up a constant and lively chatter as she traveled alone to meet her grandparents; she seemed completely comfortable talking to this stranger (who has a daughter of a similar age, I think) about almost anything. After he left she and I talked fitfully, but I kept losing the train of conversation; although I fancy myself a child-friendly fellow, Forrest was always ready with an appropriate response to keep her interest. One reason I find it difficult to chat with people while traveling is that I usually find something to examine even through the most tedious landscape. The world is so beautiful, so ugly, so banal.

Sat July 8 Boat to Seattle

Seattle and Victoria are the portals through which I had to pass and therefore not experienced for themselves as destinations but rather as the frames of this adventure. And so again, the roaring Victoria Clipper to Seattle, but this time I was more warmly dressed on the rear deck. It's quite a ride, and because the boat is a hydroplane you can see the jets streaming out the stern, almost always in motion. I asked the captain why the ship appeared to maneuver so frequently and he said that they had to avoid debris (not to mention other boats, etc). "The engineer doesn't like to clean the baskets!". This was a transport-dominated day. As I didn't feel like schlepping my bags to the Seattle bus (where's that?) and then figuring out which bus to take, I decided to take a taxi to the hotel near airport, so I told the dispatcher that I was going to the airport. A tall fellow came around the corner and beckoned me to his limo and the dispatcher called out "airport, $28" or whatever the going rate was. I settled into the leather seats of a Lincoln Town Car and started to make small talk. "May I open the window?" "It's too hot; I like the air conditioning" "But it's a beautiful day..." Then he chattered on his cellphone, after which I asked him where he was from. "I'm Russian" but I said "I don't think you were speaking Russian on the phone" to which he replied "I'm Georgian." I asked if he got tired of people asking him why he didn't sound like he was from Atlanta and he said he spoke Russian, but I knew Georgia had always been an 'independent' state, etc. He didn't have much original to say, but the fact that he sounded perpetually impatient caused me to speculate on truth of the Galenic humors: this guy was classically choleric. When he dropped me off at my hotel (perhaps 1/2-kilometer from the airport) he said the fare was $45, but I protested that this was more than the agreed-upon rate to the airport. We lightly argued and then I gave him $50 and he stuck out his hand that we might part on a neutral note, which was fine.

It was about 3PM when I settled into the hotel, which was an OK room facing what used to be highway 99 (did we travel it in the 1950s from LA to Seattle?) the west side of which literally looked down on the runways of SEA-TAC. I went back to the 'street' and after contemplating the strip 'scut' of the 'neighborhood' I decided to head back downtown, as I certainly wasn't going to spend my last day 'on vacation' dodging the hurtling traffic of the SEA-TAC 'neighborhood.' I asked the receptionist about transport and she said I could get the 194 bus direct to downtown and for $2.50 I could ride all day— for 1/20 of the price of my limo ride I could go anywhere in the region.

So I wandered around downtown, starting at the Central Bar in an older section of the CBD, then snacked and sat and thought about the past week. I was sad to feel the adventure winding down, especially as the whole project seemed rather rushed (was it after all so smart to tack this little expedition on the end of a 'business trip' which itself sapped some of my energies? Is this feeling captured in my sketch of Seattle's Harbor Steps? San Francisco tore down the Embarcadero Freeway after the 1989 earthquake to prevent its collapsing (like the East Bay Nimitz) in the next big one; but the Alaskan Way Viaduct remains an ugly wall just one block east of Seattle's waterfront. The city will either get a reminder and remove it, or nature will do the job for them. Whatever the quality of the sketches, the activity itself is centering; I enjoy the challenge of capturing shapes, orientations, and precedences, although there's the usual moody dialog going on behind the pencil. And of course I see more: patterns, objects, colors, the eternal dance of stuff and things. Another treatment for what ails me: mild depression aggravated by negative ideation. (NOTE: click on the sketch to see a photo of the scene, then to see the sketch, then to return...)

Epilog

Consider: a group of middle income Americans, three of them men in their low 60s, able to dip our consciousness into the world of the aborigines at a place that probably isn't much different from the way it was 1000 years ago (except for the other kayakers and the rare fishing boat and the occasional contrail). Although we live near the pinnacle of a world still dominated by poverty and subsistence, thousands of us pretty much go wherever we want on the planet, enjoying the comforts once exclusively the right of the nobility or plutocracy. Our adventures entail thousands of kilometers of travel with the production of prodigious amounts of CO2 (although not much other waste, yet these kayaks will have to be disposed of someday), and I think: carpe diem, the planet and my body are in decline, so now's the time to enjoy what's left? And other times I think I should sit under a tree, taking shallow breaths.

On the whole the adventure was a bit more work and moving than I'd have wished, but this assessment is partly due to my age and various painful weaknesses. Keeping up with two 25-year old guides who do this for months at a time—even occasionally on their days off!—I'm sure was a stretch for most of us; although someone said he admired my pace and rhythm: little did he know, but the sense of being watched (if only by oneself!) does  keep me going more smoothly than I often realize.

It was not exactly fun, and only occasionally relaxing, but certainly an adventure, as REI rightly calls it,and full of memories: images, feelings, sounds, smells, and of course that reflexivity based on remembering experiences part of which was the knowledge that you would be remembering them. Humanity is going everywhere (I even saw a guidebook to Nigeria, of all places) and usually we voyage to places full of other travelers by traversing artificial routes: highways, railways, airways, ferry ways. But our experience was participation in an "adventure" that is itself artifice but has at its core quite real challenges. Setting up and organizing your tent is a new challenge, as is cooking outdoors; although we didn't cook, nor were these primitive meals. When you paddle the 5 kilometers of moderately rough seas between Hand and St Ines Islands you must maintain your course, keep up with the group, remain above water, and manage (or ignore) the various pains. Failure to do so could result in injury or even death and at a minimum will certainly entail some embarrassment (perhaps a fate worse than death). Affluent, reasonably fit members of the intelligentsia, we climb mountains, hang-glide, sail, and paddle in order to face and cheat the primeval dangers: hypothermia, falling, drowning; something we never have to do sitting in warm dry rooms facing video screens. The risk keeps us coming back and, more importantly as Frankl tells us, we often have nothing more important to do than to make our meaning.

Technical notes

  • Written using Mozilla Composer.
  • Photographed with a Canon PowerShot A520, camera producing 1600x1200 (4MB, aspect ratio 3/4) jpg images.
  • All images were cropped, reduced generally to 25%, and many color-adjusted using PaintShop Pro 9.10.
  • Sketches made with Derwent pencils on 7"X10" Canson sketch paper then scanned on an Epson 2480 scanner and reduced/grayscaled/color adjusted in PaintShop.
  • My map is based on digital imagery and raster maps from Natural Resources Canada input to ArcMap, and the locater map is from Microsoft Encarta 2003.
  • Any of the original images are available if you email me...

  2006-08-09
Lee De Cola
LDECOLA@COMCAST.NET