Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Two goals, one day.

Since I started kayaking the Northumberland Strait at the age of 10 or so, I dreamed of paddling to Pictou Island, a gorgeous lump always hanging tantalizingly on the horizon. In my early teens, a trip to this Shangri-La in a small but doughty Cape Islander made me realize the enormity of this proposition. We slammed from wavetop to wavetop, braced with knees, elbows and foreheads into awkward positions within the tiny cabin, trying to keep from getting tossed overboard. I have never before or since been so glad to tie up to a government wharf. A night spent in a sleeping bag under the stars watching the meteor showers almost made me forget about the hazards of this crossing, and only strengthened my resolve to one day return under my own power.
Last weekend I did just that, several decades after forming that resolution. Added to that was the opportunity to attain another goal, that of paddling from one Canadian province to another.
Four of the best paddling friends a kayaker could have invited me to accompany them in a crossing from Caribou NS to Pictou Island, where we would camp before venturing even further across the horizon to the province of Prince Edward Island, some 15 kilometers beyond. They even agreed to wait for me, as I had previously agreed to take part in a breast cancer fundraiser that day, paddling in a Dragon Boat race on the East River in New Glasgow. My team made it into the Grand Final round, which tickled me no end but unfortunately made me far too late to join my pals. I reluctantly phoned them from the river and begged them to get under way before darkness impinged. They agreed with much protestations, and set out without me.
As soon as our team was finished our race, (we got third, wow), I bolted for the Caribou boat launch, jammed my gear in the Chilco's hatches, suited up and phoned Lynda-Marie on the water. Even though there was thunder in the distance and raindrops beginning to fall, I hoped to make a mad dash across the roiling water to join my friends. The tension in her voice was immediately apparent when we finally connected, and she warned me not to put in. She and the others were encountering crazy 2 meter seas from all directions, and were white-knuckling it the last 3 km to landfall on Pictou Island. Talk about mixed emotions, on the one hand she had possibly saved me from blundering into conditions beyond my ken, but at the same time deprived me of a lifetime goal. Of course she was right, but I was in a royal blue funk as I unloaded the kayak and slammed my gear back into the van. It takes a true friend to do what she did, and I'm grateful.

The next morning I woke at the crack of dawn and drove the few kilometers from my home to Caribou. The sky was leaden grey, and rain was threatening but there was not a breath of wind, and the water was (to use local fisherfolk terminology) "flat as piss on a plate". I reloaded the Chilco in record time, said my goodbyes to the locals onsite (geez, I'm getting tired of being called "crazy") and set out into the haze. Several times I glanced at my GPS and forced myself to slow down, knowing I had a long day's paddle ahead. Just as I began to cross the ferry lane, I heard the Holiday Island radio her position to the local Coast Guard. Scanning the horizon, I could just make her out as she began her long sweeping turn towards the shallow confines of Caribou Harbour. There was nothing for it but to begin a sprint, as nothing would mortify me more than to cause a ferry captain to rain curses on yet another "crayon" in his way. Thankfully, a 9 kph run got me well away from the ship, and I was able to relax into a somewhat more sensible pace. The West End light soon appeared and grew larger, and I rounded the tip of the island to encounter slight overfalls at every point. The current sweeping around the island is quite strong.
A few kilometers along the back side of Pictou Island towards John Dan's Cove I finally spotted 4 dots on the horizon and soon was able to pick out Patrick, Jacqui, Lynda-Marie and Wayne by their distinctive Greenland strokes. They were a little surprised to see me that far along, but I think perhaps they underestimated my enthusiasm to get this trip done! After a short leg-stretcher on shore, we struck out for Wood Islands PEI, invisible somewhere on the hazy horizon. Parts of PEI were closer, and therefore within sight but we decided that Wood Islands would provide the safest and most comfortable landing spot.
I must say that viewing the figures on my GPS was a bit daunting, as I'm not used to seeing such large numbers on the screen in terms of distance and time remaining. We plowed along happily though, reveling in the calm sea conditions and brightening sky. Soon we were paddling in blazing sunshine, and began shedding layers of neoprene in an effort to avoid heat stroke. Lynda-Marie pulled out her hand-cranked radio/MP3 docking station and played us some great Cape Breton fiddle tunes as we paddled. Great way to relieve the monotony!
During one of our rafted-up snack breaks, we were joined by a small pod of porpoises, some of whom stopped to lie on the surface and eyeball us curiously. These breaks were crucial I think, in that they broke up the trip into manageable bits, and provided great morale boost. The pee breaks were somewhat less pleasant, especially for the ladies who had yet to master their new "Devices". Apparently, heckling from the owners of more permanently installed equipment does not help the learning curve....

Landfall at Wood Islands was very pleasant, on an isolated sand beach with a red sandstone outcrop providing a good view of the area. After a round of back-slapping and congratulations, we scouted for possible campsites, and finding none got back in our boats and wandered East along the coast to a very promising looking meadow on a prominent headland. We had our tents set up in jig time, and set about preparing a hearty supper to try and restore some lost calories. My GPS indicated 38 kilometers from launch to landing that day.
We enjoyed a sunset stroll along a beautiful sand beach, then returned to build a small campfire and twist open a few cold ones. Bedtime was not long in finding us, and we slept the day's exertions away soundly. Next morning we breakfasted heartily, and the group decided not to break camp as we were not likely to find another such great spot. How right we were, as a 20km jaunt further East revealed nothing but steep sandstone cliffs and tiny cobbled coves.
Returning to camp in the late afternoon, the gang graciously waited while I packed up and loaded my boat, then accompanied me on the "paddle of shame" the three kilometers to the ferry terminal. Due to prior commitments, I had to bail out a day early, and was not happy about it. During the paddle to the terminal, Patrick intoned: "Glenn, you are the first member voted off the Island." LOL
We just barely beat the incoming ferry to the dock, and while I in neoprene river shoes ran the long stretch on hot asphalt to the ticket office, my pals attached my Freyamobile cart to my boat and dragged it to the waiting ferry just in time for me to grab it and run on board as a "walk-on with kayak". I can't tell you how glad I am to have friends like these. The deck hand in charge of the lower deck was more than helpful in getting my kayak positioned safely, and mentioned that he had seen us on our crossing earlier. Thankfully, he did not use the word "crazy", even once.
A 90-minute crossing and two slices of ferry cafeteria pizza later, I was back in the mighty minivan and on my way home to hot showers and cold beer. What a weekend.


Blogger Michael said...

Wonderful account of a great trip, Glenn. There's nothing like seeing a long held dream become a reality. Good for you and the rest of the gang - I'll think of them as your 'support crew'!

12:28 a.m.  
Blogger Richard Hayes said...

Great stuff, Glenn - the paddling. of course, and especially the writing. Gotta convince you come to come over and try our waters - but - no long crossing for this boy :->))

10:01 p.m.  
Blogger Aquavit said...

Really Jealous you being able to Kayak Nova Scotia. Tried a couple of times, trips have been canceled or when we were up there on vacation it was too windy!
Have you ever done the Canso Barrens area? I really want to go there some day.

12:17 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Glenn. I have a question about NS Kayaking I was hoping you might be able to answer... can you drop me a line at and let me know if you get this comment?

2:55 p.m.  
Blogger Paddling Otaku said...

lovely post. Makes me want to head north.


11:14 a.m.  

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