Trip Report: Paddling from Bellingham to Victoria BC and back again. 


Day 1: Ready for launch, and lunch. 

Day 1: Click to Enlarge

Friday afternoon (May 19th, 2017) I paddled from Bellingham Bay to Jone's Island. I took a direct line more or less on the southern aspect of Orcas Island with some little twists and turns to add extra miles. I met my buddies, Kirk Christiansen and Greg Bawden at Jones Island who each paddled out from different locations, one from Anacortes and the other from a launch point near Lummi Island. 

On the way out, I had an important business call to take so I put the boat in park and joined a conference call... bobbing happy as a cork on the sea on a wonderful, warm and glassy spring day. It was really a funny life moment when you think "Ok, I think I have it all" as you discuss the serious but not really existentially-serious things of corporate life. At that moment I heard a boat approach, and was greeted by some smart jeering... sure enough it was some sailing friends on their way to Cypress Island who spotted me sitting in my surfski. I put my call on hold, and kindly explained that "some of us have real jobs!". After my call ended I chased down their plodding sailboat and had we a laugh about my absurd business habits. 


"Man... It's like a spaceship just landed on the beach. This is like seeing the future."


At about the half way mark, I approached a little beach on the north shore of Obstruction Island where a man was working on a dingy. I glided silently up to him from behind unnoticed and tried to not startle him.

"You mind if I stop for a quick lunch on your beach?" was met with "WhoooaAAAHH!" for a response, and then a dry "It's not my beach... but it doesn't bother me if you go gorilla." with a hint of old hippy accent.

I replied "Gorillas eat fast" as I stepped out of my still gliding boat and walked ashore in one fluid movement, not allowing my boat to touch the ground until I had found a soft patch of sand on the beach to set it. We traded a quick introduction and he shared that he was himself a long-time kayaker but he had never seen such a vessel before. We chatted about the old days of paddling on the west coast of Vancouver Island. I happily shared details about the concept behind surfskis and what they are capable of in terms of speed, range and rough water performance as he took pictures to share with his wife. His offered a succinct summary in response to my many words and simply stated "Man, it's like a spaceship just landed on the beach. This is like seeing the future..."

As I ate my lunch, an interesting intersection of past and present between us emerged. Each of us have participated in a the cultural phenomena of our respective paddling eras. His an era long gone and full of bold paddlers and personalities executing expeditions with what is now considered primitive gear and no recourse in the event of disaster. Mine a blossoming era of fitness minded paddlers using bold inventions and reinventions that have brought liberating advances to every aspect of the ocean sports world. As we wrapped up our chat, I contemplated the the paradox that the advances that have expanded my horizons have also diminished the very thing I deeply desire, adventure and freedom. I envied his era, and he mine. I had the subtle feeling that this exact conversation has been repeated since the invention of the first kayak four thousand years ago. Some things never change as they change. 

With the remainder of the ebb making easy work of the remaining miles, I arrived at Jones island and found it in full tourist mode with boats and kayakers in nearly every nook and cranny. We had agreed to meet up on the south eastern aspect, where there are some fine beaches and rock top camping spots with outstanding views. Arriving first, I snagged the last perch and savored the sensation of encountering a new place for the first time. It just never gets old.

Kirk and Greg each rolled in within 20 minutes of each other, and we all set up shop for the night. We soon realized that the island water had not been turned on as advertised on the state website, and we had to put on our most pitiful faces and go beg the power boats in the marina for water. They were very kind and obliged the island vagrants of our wishes. Good vibes for them, dinner and breakfast for us. 

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As we made our dinner, a rustling sound interupted us and we found a true island vagrant raiding my food bag inside of my tent, just a few feet away from our camp table! It was a brazen raccoon who had found my energy bars and was now running full speed away from the scene of his crime. Being a man of justice, I gave a spirited chase and ran the little bastard down and soon treed him. His look of utter bewilderment from the relative safety of a pine bough gave me the impression that not many people of the pasty water folk give chase. I grabbed a chunk of driftwood and lofted it in a perfect arch to his position, at which point he felt the true measure of my limbic system's intent to bring him to account for his theft. 

My camp mates were perhaps a little horrified and amused at my savagery. I offered that should they elect to spend spend more time with native Montanans and they'd know that I am in fact quite polite for my species. 


Day 2: Eye on the prize. 

Day 2: Click to Enlarge

Day 2: Click to Enlarge

The next morning I rose early before dawn, wanting a crisp start to what I intended to be a grand day. The rising sun brought a faint glow to the basin around us, and as my camp mates slept in their tents I sipped a wonderful cup of coffee and contemplated how surprised I am to live such a full, rewarding life of adventure surrounded by people I enjoy and love deeply.  


"The garbage from their raid was strewn about camp like graffiti, a brazen and unmissable billboard for the bipeds; "Nature Always Wins!"


The coffee kept me longer then I intended, and soon Kirk awoke to find that the raccoons had repaid my vengeance to him. They had broke into his tent vestibule mere inches from his head as he slept, and made off with some of his best food for the weekend. The garbage from their raid was strewn about camp like graffiti, a brazen and unmissable billboard for the bipeds; "Nature Always Wins!"

I packed up the last of my belongings and wished my campmates safe voyage. I then journeyed west to Flat Top Island and on to Stuart Island riding the flood at great speed. My desire was to dip my toes into the fine waters of Canada and get close to Victoria where I could lay eyes on the prize of Vancouver Island. There is a strange thing that happens when one visits another country unannounced. You feel a type of distant freedom that in ages past others may have never contemplated, but surely enjoyed. I was happy to revisit the concept on my own terms and quickly departed back to US waters. 

Not your average boat launch, eh?

Not your average boat launch, eh?

From there I cruised back to Roche Harbor, through Mosquito pass behind Henry Island and along the south western aspect of Orcas Island. It was a lovely ride full of contrasts between the wild islands and the very tame. The flood soon ended and brought my freewheeling mileage hungry aspirations a stiff reality check. The ebb had begun in earnest, and it drained the speed from me. Cruising along at 8 and 9 mph one minute, and then in the mid-5's the next. The heavy reality that the next 40 miles would be spent against the tide sunk in as I chewed through the miles to best of my ability and tried to stay cheerful despite my pour route planning.  

I elected to thread my way through the islands rather than face the full throttle of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and then the Rosario, so Cattle Pass seemed like a bargain as I pushed through in mild conditions past Friday Harbor once again. The miles drug on and on and on against the ebb. The lack of speed is demoralizing, and one must come to grips with the fact that the straits can either make you look very very fast, or very very slow. Today was the latter and there was no hiding it. 

Fighting the hard reality of a 70 plus mile day, I stopped l just a few hundred yards off shore from a summer cabin on Sinclair Island and tried to find a thread of coherent motivation to finish the day well and polish off the last ten or so miles back to Bellingham. I heard the sound of a lawn mower, and then the cheerful chirps of children running and playing in the woods as the smell of a BBQ wafted out to meet me. It brought to me a flood of memories from my own families' cabin on Anderson Island in the south sound. I missed home deeply, and wondered at why on earth I choose such hard goals so readily when the comforts of family and home are there for the enjoyment? 

And at that very moment, I found both the motivation I needed and a now flooding tide to make it so. And once again I was speeding along the tides of life like the champion I imagine myself to be as the last shreds of the day light up Bellingham Bay. Thanks happy children in the woods and lawnmower BBQ guy... I needed that. 

Later when I checked in with Kirk who had stayed one more day on Jones Island, he relayed the information that the 'coons had thugged him up pretty good; breaking into the hatches of his sea kayak and taking nearly ALL of his food. This of course demands a deft response, and I shall return to avenge my friend, spaceship in hand. 

Later when I checked in with Kirk who had stayed one more day on Jones Island, he relayed the information that the 'coons had thugged him up pretty good; breaking into the hatches of his sea kayak and taking nearly ALL of his food. This of course demands a deft response, and I shall return to avenge my friend, spaceship in hand. 

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