About 5 years ago, I was lucky enough to live in a city with an active canoe club on a gorgeous lake in the middle of the city. It was a short walk from my house to go for a paddle after work, which I did 2-3 times per week. I signed up for kayaking, and after the orientation session (which was free the year I joined but not in the years following) was issued a key for the building and could just let myself in and go whenever I pleased. I miss those days; the glassy water, the smooth flow of the paddle… I even miss the days of wind, waves and whitecaps!
After being away from paddling for almost 2 years, I simply had to do something about it. I booked a May paddling trip with Pacific Northwest Expeditions based in Nanaimo, BC. What a great time I had! It was a 4-day trip at the Broken Group Islands, a wonderful area on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The guides were great, the food was fantastic, and the paddling unique.
Well, it’s been another 2 years, with just a little dragonboating, and the itch was starting again. Darren and I talked about it, and one day he said to me “why don’t you just use your days off to go to Edmonton and buy a kayak for yourself?” I love him so much! What a guy! So a few weeks ago, I did just that.
I spent a total of 5 days away from home — 2 travel days, and 3 days shopping, comparing and debating. I decided to buy not one, but two kayaks. I really fell in love with a 17-foot Prijon kayak. Great quality, nice lines, and an all-around great expedition kayak, which is what we wanted. The problem was, it was a bit of a monster (2 feet longer than my car) and quite heavy. I wondered if it was more kayak than we really needed. I wouldn’t be able to load it onto my car alone, which was something I wanted the freedom/ability to do. So I picked out a shorter, lighter kayak for day trips by myself — who says you have to have matching kayaks? We’ve gone on 2 short paddles and one “expedition” so far.
I started reading everything I could about reading rivers, the dangers of moving water, and the particulars of corners, sweepers, and sand bars. All my kayak experience was on lakes or the ocean (with great guides). Poring over the many maps I bought, we finally decided what to do. It was Darren’s idea, and although it sounds tough at first, it was a good way to go. We would go upstream on the Chinchaga River, that way, we could just float back downstream on the second day and not have to worry about getting picked up and dropped off. That’s the trouble with canoe/kayak trips on rivers — getting someone to pick you up at the end, and fetching the vehicle
you left at the start.* We checked the water levels from the government monitoring stations and packed our gear, despite the warning of high water levels.
The water was fast. It was a little churny where we first put in. It was exciting. It was tough! I set up for a good, strong pace I knew I could sustain, and as I glanced at the shore I realized I wasn’t moving! It was a like a treadmill — work, work, work, and never make any ground! Ack! So I turned up the power, and managed to go about an inch a minute! Geez! I admit, I got a bit discouraged, but we got through that tough spot to a better area, where the river widened. We had a few more really tough spots, where it took maximum force to make ground, but most of it could be paddled at a reasonable rate. We stopped at a huge sand bar to rest, then went a bit farther, but there were no better places to camp, so we floated back to the sand bar. We were exhausted, but it was so great to get out into the wilderness and onto the water! What a great day we had!
The next day we slept in, had breakfast, packed up and floated downstream for 50 minutes what had taken us 4 hours to paddle the day before! The GPS measured a floating speed between 5-7 km/hr. So maybe we were a little crazy to go upstream! And maybe buying that 17-foot kayak was a little crazy too, but it had more than enough room for everything we needed, and I’m glad we did it.
Going the easy way isn’t usually the most rewarding. Going upstream is harder than floating with the current. But as with life, it gives you confidence and helps you grow stronger, knowing you can do it, you have done it, and it was worth every bit of effort.
*I am planning on starting a paddling outfitting company, to help people with the pick-up/drop-off problem, and rent kayaks/canoes and other supplies. It’ll be fun!