Sunday, May 14, 2006

Day trip

From yesterday:

Day trip.

Tired of planning trips for the club, I loaded my kayak this morning and set out on the river from my back yard with no real destination in mind. I let the family know when to commence panicking if they did not hear from me, and headed down to the harbour mouth some ten miles away. The "plan" was to look at the prevailing conditions and then decide whether to paddle east along the coast towards Caribou Island, or west to Melmerby Beach.
Heading downriver, I was surprised at the warmth of the water and the amount of algae blooming, both very unusual for this time of year in Nova Scotia. At this rate, with these mild temps, there won't be much oxygen left in the water for fish come late summer.
3 miles downriver the channel narrows and passes under a lift bridge, where the current was running hard and plowing into the lazy waters of Big Gut. The shallow water, sandy bottom and confluence of tide, harbour, stream and river normally make for a fun playspot here, but today conditions were mild, other than a small wave train at the lift bridge. 2 miles further on lies tiny Ballast Island, a favourite rest stop of mine. Ballast Island, as its name implies, is made entirely of the contents of ships' holds, dumped there after making the crossing to Pictou NS from Europe and the South Seas. Scattered among the boiler slag and clinkers you can find white marble slabs, old china dish fragments and whitened coral branches. There I could feel the beginnings of a sea breeze, so donned my paddle jacket and hat for the crossing to Pictou.
Another 2 miles across the estuarine portion of the harbour took me to the historic town of Pictou, where I arrived just in time to watch the Ship Hector replica being towed to her summer berth by a doughty little Cape Island lobster boat. The Hector brought my forebears from Scotland in 1773, desperate for a new beginning. I paddled up to her, broke out my water bottle and offered a toast. Local wharves were alive with lobstermen repairing gear and checking their boats, as the season is on. Many more were cruising in and out of the harbour with friends and family aboard, enjoying the early summer weather.
At Pictou I was surprised to find the marina's floating docks still stacked on the public wharf, and the concession stands tightly closed. Dozens of locals and tourists were wandering the waterfront anyway, nodding to each other as if sharing a secret and smugly pitying those who remained couchbound on such a great day. Noticing a handful of folks sitting at picnic tables nursing Tim Hortons' coffee cups, I left my kayak and gear on the tiny sandy beach beside the (closed) Saltwater Cafe and wandered up to Water Street where I got a nice hot Timmie's and a toasted bagel.
Had a great chat with a local woman who was walking her Labrador, she told me stories of the older, rougher days in Pictou when you simply didn’t go near the waterfront, and only went "down street" to go to a store or the movies, and then only in a group. Times have changed, thankfully, although she did ask: "Did ya hear? Pictou’s got a hooker!" In a small town, I guess that's news.
Well satisfied and re-energized, I paddled out to the harbour mouth and had a look at the beautiful stretches of sand beach lining the entrance to Pictou Harbour. While debating what to do next, I played and played in the swells as they collided with the outgoing river rush. The East, Middle and West Rivers all empty into the harbour proper, and must tussle to get out into the Northumberland Strait here at Pictou Roads.
Checking the time and doing some calculations, I realized that the nearest roadway for a possible pickup was at least an hour away, and would require a long drive for my family to come get me. Since the time was now approaching 4:00 pm, I opted to turn and surf the wind swells back to town, where I could relax while awaiting a drive. The tide had fallen to the point where re-entering my home river would be a struggle, and the slog home would be even worse. Much better to drive, and maybe stop at the ice cream stand on the way home.
At harbour centre, Pier C juts out into the waterway and impedes the tidal outflow, making for some beautiful wave trains, steep and quick. Looking at the water, I got the impression that the surface water was actually streaming towards me at a terrific clip, while the waves shoved me along from behind. Dizzying but fun!
The lowering sun was warm on my arms, and the water calmed as I approached the inner harbour. Deliberately I slowed my cadence, trying to draw out the remains of the trip as much as possible. Paul Theroux’s words from Sunrise with Seamonsters came to mind; "I have come to dislike the disruption of going ashore".
Once landed, a tiny boy approached me, wide-eyed, and said; "Is that a kayak?" I showed him the boat and let him heft my Greenland paddle, laughing inside at the sight of all that lumber in those tiny little hands. After an appreciative nod from his father, I sent him on his way, yammering about how great it would be to "go kayakin’!" Ah, another convert. Content, I flopped down in the grass beside my boat; head pillowed on my drybag and dozed off. Awakened by the rude honking and ruder shouting from my son in the mighty minivan, I loaded wet gear and boat and made the trek home.
Via the ice cream stand, of course.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Inspiration. Literal and figurative, it came to me last evening. I had been asked; "Why are you doing this?" in reference to the time and effort spent in aiding Wendy Killoran's "Round the Rock" Newfoundland circumnav.
Up until last night, I had no real answer to that, other than; "Because it's fun." But watching Wendy and her travel companion Freya Hoffmeister excitedly packing and re-packing their exped gear in my home hallway, I began to experience, by osmosis I guess, a heightened sense of the import of this great undertaking, this grand derangement. Whether it was Wendy's cheerful optimism, Freya's stolid capability, or the near perfect szyzygy of their newly forged friendship I don't know, but their combined energy and enthusiasm could power a small city I'm sure.

Suddenly all the glaring deficiencies in my own gear and paddling methodology tumbled to the fore in my mind, but was quickly overcome by the prevailing joie de vivre and can-do air surrounding Wendy and Freya.
You might say it was infectious.