Day 4: Wednesday, July 29th I got up early to head out in search of water. The moon made for a bright, clear morning and I was in high spirits. After an extensive search, I found the stream bed in the forest. It was dry except for a few deep, still holes that had numerous signs of wildlife visitation. But there it was, water! As I began to treat the water I made note of the various tracks in the soil. Coyote, Racoon, Deer and... oh, a Mountain Lion! As the significance of these tracks sank in I had a very still, quiet feeling that I was being watched. Chiding myself for my imagination, I carried on with my task. But I couldn't shake the feeling and was happy to exit the dark forest with my prize and hide intact as the sun rose.
I was on the water by 9:00am and felt good physically, and was motivated to soldier on despite my setbacks and the increasing number of sea sores (saltwater abrasions) that were beginning to appear all over my body. I use a mix of body glide and petroleum jelly to try to limit them. The petroleum jelly does a good job of slowing the waterlogging of skin. The abrasions that this will cause are similar to 2nd degree burns. Petroleum jelly is crucial for your hands that suffer particularly badly, but one must be careful to put the petroleum on well before one grabs a paddle shaft. This works for the first 6 to 8 hours, but after that it wears off as the friction and miles pile up. Anything that has skin to textile contact (even neoprene!) will abrade in the saltwater. More so skin on skin. High quality paddling clothing and skin tight rash-guards will help, but all bets are off when you are out for 12 hours or more for several days on end and cracking the whip physically. The other aspect of sea sores is preventing them from getting infected. Easier said then done. I was careful to save a little freshwater for a sponge bath at the end of each day, and to use clean bandages and Neosporin at night. This eats a lot of time, but its a mandatory care regiment to keep your body running strong for so many days out in a harsh environment.
My target for this day was to clear the Hesquiat peninsula, and make my way to a camp at Hot Spring Cove or possibly Flores Island Provincial Park where I would likely have good access to water. This task proved very difficult, with a strong current pushing against a light, on again / off again NW wind and a large western swell. There were times when I made great progress, and this was the first time on my entire trip that I managed to catch ride on a handful of waves resembling a downwind paddle. But otherwise, I found the seas confused, bouncy and with very little directional energy to work with. Just mile after mile of hard paddling in messy, overhead water.
At one point I was paddling past a buoy offshore of Nuchatliz, noting the strange mooing sound that it makes as it sways in the swell. I recall staring at the buoy and reminding myself that sharks often hover near buoys in California. "Good thing to remember. Yup!" And then I glanced down to check my compass and noticed a shark swimming with me directly beneath my boat. Silently shadowing a strange new fish. I stopped paddling and just stared, totally absorbed like a child at the aquarium in the moment. The shark then swam up beside me, tilted its head out of the water and stared at me with a jet black marble eye before disappearing. I noticed a large number of gills, and figured it was probably a six gill shark and was roughly 6 feet long. Not big enough to worry me, but maybe it was someone's little sister? ONWARD!
As the day and miles rolled by, I approached the Hesquiat Peninsula at roughly 6:00pm feeling tired, but motivated to make the most of the day. However, the western swell made this a very demanding and dangerous crossing, as the breakers appeared to form three to four miles offshore, and zoomed towards the reefs closing out the entire bay. I thought I would be clever and save some miles by taking a tight, inside line. Upon doing this however, I was suddenly in a very dangerous spot as the reefs here are maze like and sometimes do not go all the way through and are loaded with kelp beds. And on this particular day 20 foot barreling waves were making easy work of the reefs, blasting over them and into a washing machine that made my local 520 bridge rebound look absolutely adorable by contrast. With the sickly, white lighthouse staring me down me like a witch tower out of the Tolkien trilogy, I delicately alternated between paddling over and through the tops of the breaking waves, and then turning back into them to surf down their backs to pick up speed as I tip toed my way through the gauntlet. After punching through an oncoming wave I took a deep breath and sprinted into the next rushing blow. I was so thankful to be in a solid, stable surfski as I was paddling at my absolute threshold in an absolute no fall zone. In my climbing days, we'd call this being run out on mank gear with a bad case of shaky leg.
Once clear of the lighthouse and safely past the backline, I had a difficult decision to make. The wind was picking up quite a bit, and I really wanted to make my goal of Hot Spring cove which I could see roughly ten miles away. I had at this point paddled 62 miles of rugged, open ocean. But the sun was setting, and it meant with some degree of certainty that I would be paddling an open water downwind in the dark. On the other hand, given what I had just gone through and feeling rattled, Hesquiat had a menacing, dark presence and I simply loathed the idea of a camp here. Remembering that the mileage is always greater than it appears, I reluctantly decided to head into Hesquiat bay reasoning that I could make a fast, efficient camp and exit in the morning.
As I paddled into the bay past a feature known as "Anton's Spit", I noticed an old sailing ship anchored just off shore. I wondered if perhaps it had been run aground there, as it looked to me in the fading light to be in rough shape and in shallow water. I thought it worth a closer look, and was surprised to see that the ship was occupied, and had a thick black smoke coming from a chimney pipe below deck. It's wooden boards had a slick, black oily finish with a tattered tarp and old dingy on the back that gave it a creepy vibe. I joked to myself that it was good to know Captain Sparrow had found a proper place to camp in between films.
The bay itself has a shallow water sandbar that enables a strange wave to form very suddenly out of the still water; breaking and then rebounding as it rips across the the bay. Like a wake of a ghost ship from an age past. If I were in an empty ski, this would be a very fun wave... but not tonight. Not now. This shit was getting old. I paddled up to the shore in the dark to the location listed on my map as a good camp, and realized that the shoreline of the bay was made up large, basketball sizes rocks jumbled on top of each other. I muttered "What next?" to myself as I contemplated briefly heading back out to sea in the dark, but then decided against it and to try to get the boat up on the beach without damaging it. It was here that I was nailed by an oncoming wave at the worst possible moment and instantly regretted asking "what next?" just moments before. It was a tremendous effort to keep my footing and I nearly dropped my beloved, loaded boat on these rocks which would have been a very severe blow. In saving the boat however with my last ounce of strength, I felt a sickening tear deep in my shoulder muscle and cried out. Not able to set the boat down in the waves, but not able to walk either. Just standing there. Frozen in a battle with myself. I took a few deep breaths, focused, and let my feet carefully try to find a solid footing in between the stones as I balanced on the slippery rocks and waves. It worked. I staggered step by agonizing step over the course of ten minutes out of the waves until I could set the boat down ever so carefully on the rocks. I then used my haul bag and raced two loads of gear out of the boat up the beach to my camp. After retrieving the now empty boat and bringing it to the shore, I realized I had missed a very nice, sandy beach. Ahah, maybe next time...
I made a hasty camp under the light of a full moon. I was physically waisted from the day, demoralized, and my shoulder muscle throbbed as I used the last of my fresh water to make a quick dinner. I debated not making dinner, but knew that I would need the calories to face the day to come. My map indicated a lake nearby, so I reasoned that I might be able to find it and draw water in the morning.
As I fell asleep, I heard a pack of wolves howling in to each other in the forest and summed my inner Jeff Bridges to mutter a gruff "Fine. Come see me. I'll be here." Sure enough, they did. I was woken up by their bickering as they went through my hastily made camp at 3am that morning. I decided to try and scare them off, and used my camera flash and a deep shout to send them running. Maybe not the most delicate way to make friends, but I was in a very bad mood and decided it was my day to be the bigger badder wolf. It had it's intended effect. Almost to the degree of comedy. I felt like a total jerk as I fell back to sleep. A big happy jerk. An important note: I had taken to the time to secure my food well outside my camp in a bear bag hung from a tree. As a guy who's spent a lot of time in the mountains, there are some rules you just don't break. Ever.
Day 5: Thursday, July 30th I awoke just before dawn very tired, very sore and very thirsty. I grabbed my light, ate some kippered snacks and choked down crackers, nuts and dried apricots for breakfast and broke camp as I wrestled with my morale. I did my best to cheer up, noting the fine weather and the potential to rebound. But my inner Gollum called my bluff. "This is not going well. We're losing precious. Piece by piece. Minute by minute this is slipping away from us Precious." Everything was hard. Packing was hard. Moving was hard. Thinking was hard. Complaining was hard. I briefly made a foray in search of the lake and water, and after taking a bad fall in the thick forest, I decided to retreat and just leave.
Getting on the water, I was thankful to be out of the ocean swell in a flat, quiet bay. It hurt a LOT to paddle, and as I slowly limped out of the bay I dared a final look back to Hesquiat. It was there that I realized I had paddled past some houses that night and not seen them. Crazy.
I entertained the idea of trying to rally and make it Ucluelet. But the more I paddled, the more I realized that that my strength was ebbing and my sea sores were getting quite bad, making it very painful to just sit in the ski. I knew that this was likely the beginning of the end of my attempt. Or maybe even the middle of the end. I had mixed feelings. The fighter wants to go on because the fight is still on. The tired, broken man knows sometimes dreams are just dreams. I chew on these thoughts and decide to make my way towards Tofino and try not to come to a hasty conclusion. Just paddle and see if things improve as the day progresses.
Then then wind comes from the southwest, and pushes steadily against a NW swell and makes the sea rise up in hissing white caps. I should care a lot about this, but I do not. I am numb to each slap in the face by the oncoming waves. I limp on, puttering forward. Not advancing as I have trained myself to do, but not stopping as I have trained myself to do. Defiant. Willfull. Pissed. Tired. Lonely. Wounded. Defiant.
Eventually I slip past the reefs and into the wind shelter between Flores Island and Bartlett Island in the early afternoon, and the beauty and still water of Clayoquot Sound seduces me. The sun is shining. The air is warm. And then, a family of gray whales surround me as I destroy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They are in a good mood and now I am in a good mood. My Avatar moment comes screeching to a halt as a jet boat roars up stuffed full of tourist in matching fluorescent orange jump suits. They wait jealously outside my holy wale circle, impatiently glaring at me. I am right in the middle in their shot, and they paid good money for this. Asshole. I casually paddle to the back of the whale boat, where I commend the warden for his work with the inmates. My joke earns his empty, glaring stare. Time to go.
I limp into Whitesand cove, and am greeted warmly by some fellow kayakers and a hiker. I learn that there is water in the nearby village and limp my way into town. I also make contact with my wife, and let her know that I have found a good, sheltered spot and will spend the day resting to see if my shoulder is workable. I know it's not, but after years of working towards this goal, I owe it to myself and those who believed I could do this before pulling the plug.
Day 6: Friday, July 31st The next day I make a quick study of my injuries, and decide that this is the end. I spend the day cleaning wounds, stretching sore muscles and soaking up the sunshine and getting to know my fellow beach friends. All of us come from different places, but are from the same tribe. Doing our best to live good lives that we think count for something. I make coordinate with my family, who have worked tirelessly to make arrangements for a pickup in Tofino. Incredibly I learn that my dad is flying out from Montana and then driving my truck to me. And other family have offered to do the same. Damn, its nice to be so loved. Damn I love my family back.
Day 7: Saturday, August 1: I head into Tofino in the morning and make good time on the fast currents, despite my shoulder. I have been offered a tip to head to the Kayaker's Inn, as they are very friendly to expedition paddlers and will likely let me stash my boat on their racks. Friendly was an understatement. I was greeted by a guide on the beach, and then introduced to Liam and a Tasi named Meg, who offered me a fabulous cappuccino and a hot shower.
I wandered around town the rest of the day in a dazed culture shock. Trying to adjust to the sudden influx of people, commercial zeal and cocktail of languages that is Tofino.
And then, I realized that I already missed the wild, beautiful places that I had just worked so hard to leave. Imagine that.
Read more from Nick Cryder at: http://www.fasterfarther.com/