Americas

Swimming the Grand Canyon

Swimming the Grand Canyon

When Whalen said nonchalantly, “coming up next is one of the rapids you can swim,” I thought, “you can choose to swim in the rapids?” That never even crossed my mind before; I had been doing everything I could to stay in the raft and not swim. Before I could decide if it was sane, Helen responded “I’m in!” So in solidarity, I followed with my own ‘In!” And eventually everyone in the boat volunteered – We were basically all abandoning ship on Whalen!

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Luckily, he didn’t take it personally and mentioned it was a good idea early in the trip to voluntarily learn to swim a rapid, a ‘training swim’, just in case you involuntarily got ejected from the boat later in the trip. He gave us some tips on how to breathe in the whitewater; which didn’t totally make sense to me.

Too late! The whole boat jumped in and floated swiftly downriver; a bunch of heads bobbing like corks as we drifted steadily towards the rapid. You don’t really swim, it’s more about treading water and keeping your head high and facing downstream.

I gained speed and hit the first wave head-on, and went straight through the middle of it. I was stunned, gasping for air, flailing my arms. This was totally full-on – I asked myself… Is this supposed to be fun?!

Then I remembered the advice The River Buddha had given us and quickly gulped a big breath before I hit the next wave. This worked much better as I started to get into the rhythm of the water. I tumbled through the rest of the rapid with a big grin on my face; Wait! This IS fun!

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Before I knew it, I was at the bottom and was hauled unceremoniously onto a different raft. There were people scattered all over the river, and we worked together to pull some other crew mates on board.

I finally spotted Helen. She had been swept over near the rocks, close to another raft who hadn’t seen her; she was having a harder time. She adeptly kicked off the rock wall bank and latched onto the back of the raft before it pinned her. She clinged on for a ride until they were able to get her in. She had apparently lost a contact lens and she is completely blind without them; so thankfully she was only half-blind!

Now we were still missing one from our raft. We maneuvered across the river and plucked our final crew-member who was trapped in an eddy upstream and finally we were all back on board together, soaked yet exhilarated.

Back on the boat

Whalen mentioned there would be more chances to swim other rapids later in the trip; I’d have to think on that. It didn’t take too long. Despite the fact I had just drunk a gallon of the Colorado River; Obviously, I was in.

 

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Categories: Grand Canyon - July 2017 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Rapids

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The strange thing about rapids when you’re on the river is that you hear them long before you see them. Some of them sound like you left the tap running, some sound like Niagara Falls. Obviously those are the ones to worry about.

It was day two, we were still green and we were running some of the biggest rapids of the trip. Our guide for the day was Whalen: The River Buddha. A calm, confident captain, storyteller, mischievous jester; He gave us a quick crash course: some basic commands and tips on how to paddle the raft in unison.

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Whalens pre-rapid pep talk

I heard Granite Rapid in the distance, a faint rumble at first, but I knew it was a class 9 out of 10. I’ve never been on a 9, but as Whalen started lashing down everything in sight, I knew I was going to get wet. “Get a good foothold, don’t forget to paddle, we’re gonna go BIG.” He shouted

Granite was a deafening roar now, but I still could not see it. Then almost in slow motion, the Colorado River looked like it was about to fall off a cliff. Now coming into view was total whitewater chaos. Huge waves rising above whirlpools; it looked like the river was boiling.

As we paddled we picked up speed into the oncoming mayhem and I questioned how this was going to work without me getting catapulted into the water.

We hit Granite Rapid dead center. It felt like being in a washing machine, and not the delicate cycle. Whitewater rushed past both sides of the boat; it was hard to tell which way was up; we were flung out of the wash spun sideways. We started to approach a growing, angry standing wave, broadside. I was naive but still even I figured that wasn’t the best way to hit the rinse cycle. With a sense of urgency I hadn’t yet heard from Whalen, he yelled “LEFT BACK!”. In unison, we on the left side paddled a hard backstroke. The boat spun straight and we hammered through the huge wave straight up. A quick rinse through the turbulent water and we were safely through Granite.

We had it more together as we hit the next powerful rapid; Hermit. We hit it square and plowed powerfully through the tsunami wave. Then we discovered these these two were just an appetizer, because Crystal Rapid was coming up next; One of the biggest and more technical rapids we would run all trip.

Crystal Rapid looks mellow from this distance.

I knew Crystal was big when Whalen said, “you hear that?….Sounds like a 747,” and it did and it was still very far away.

I knew Crystal was big when we all got out to scout it before we ran it. When I saw it from an overlooking bluff I understood why it had the 1-10 rating of 10 +.

10 + ? That’s like a 110%.

Whalen started talking us through how we were going to run it. Pointing out the line through all the unseen dangers in a calm and reassuring Buddha sort of way. It still looked scary but I started to feel good.

Then I walked by Tommy, one of the other river guides, as he intensely briefed his paddle crew, circled around him listening to his every word; “It looks like you can go through on the left. You try that and the current pushes you off that wall into the middle” he pauses, and starts slowly spinning his arm in a circle, “and into a hidden hole there” he points to a vortex in the river. ” His arm spinning faster. “It will take a raft, flip it over and over until it decides to let you go”; his arm abruptly stops. His crew is completely silent, everyone looking at him, then at the river. Hidden by their sunglasses, you couldn’t see but you knew everyone’s eyes were really wide, as were mine. He was freaking me out, I headed back to the raft.

Crew looks ready

We quietly loaded up and pushed off. It wasn’t long before we were launched into the teeth of the rapid. It was hard to paddle the chaotic whitewater, sometimes missing altogether as the raft bucked. We dug in and avoided the hole, coming within feet of the cliff bank to hit our line for the rest of the run. We powered through whirlpools, waves that towered over the raft; it was like being power-washed. But we hit it perfectly and came through unscathed.

A celebratory Pabst post-Crystal Rapid.

Sometime early in the day I invented a call before we hit a rapid. Some other paddle boats shouted and whooped before they dived in. My call was a rather unique high-pitched double squeak; ” Eek Eek! ? Not sure where it came from, it was a little strange but it became the rally cry of the boat all trip.

Our confidence had grown as we went through the rest of The Gemstone Rapids. They were all good-sized and we had some fun with them. Whalen always hit them big, and we started to mix it up; some we’d go through standing up, and Whalen had us spin the raft in circles as we bounced down Bass Rapid.

Standing on the rail in Gem rapid.

As we pulled into camp we had paddled 28 miles and 22 rapids under the majestic walls of the Grand Canyon. Hard to believe; an insanely fun day. It was only the first full day on the river but if this was any indication of the rest of the trip, it was going to be something I will dream about for years.

Categories: Grand Canyon - July 2017 | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

It begins

Bright Angel trail at dawn

I wanted to do something big for my 50th birthday. I figured rafting for nine days, down one of the biggest, deepest canyons in the world would do it. It has been something I’ve always wanted to do and this seemed to be the perfect occasion.

We were lucky to get spots on an AZRA all-paddle rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, traveling 136 miles over my birthday week. One of the first, and most important things we then did was organize beer and wine for the trip. We pre-ordered the maximum amount, (obviously) and AZRA would then pack it all into the raft before we embarked so we didn’t have to carry it in. I liked this rafting company already.

We started packing our stuff months before, but it didn’t take long. It turns out that you don’t need much in the desert, we had limited on space on the raft and we had to hike in anything we wanted to take down The Bright Angel Trail. We packed a lot of cotton clothing, as it keeps you cooler when soaked in river water; and it was all about keeping cool. This was odd for me; I’m used to packing polypropylene for camping trips.

The night before the big trip, we arrived on the touristy south rim of the Canyon, and headed to the trip orientation. They outlined the basics of the trip and gave us some necessary equipment; 2 dry bags, snacks, electrolytes, a coffee cup and a pee cup. Yeah, we had to pack a plastic cup in case we had to pee in the night to then dump in the river in the morning. Interesting, all pee was to go in the river, but you didn’t want to risk being swept away in the night!

We talked about the next morning’s hike down the legendary Bright Angel Trail and that it was a grueling 8 miles that drops 4300 feet and that it would be stupid hot. The guides stressed how difficult this hike would be and so to beat the heat we would start out at 4:15am! Noooo.

4:15 am!

But oh yes! Our alarm went off and it was just starting to brighten in the east as we headed over the rim. We were just able to make out the trail at first but as we slowly made our way down, the Canyon revealed itself in all its glory as the sky gradually brightened. Shadowy outlines gave way to brilliant red walls as the sun rose higher.

Sunrise

We were lucky though; A light cloud cover kept the sun at bay and the heat down;
to a manageable 95 degrees! We had a quick snack under the trees of Indian Garden and then sweated our way around the steep corkscrew section of the trail. After 6 hours, we finally reached the powerful Colorado River, dumped our packs, soaked our feet and scrambled for shade.

Colorado river foot bath

After a few more hours, everyone was assembled and we loaded up our boats, pushed off and caught the current; we were off. Finally, this was it.

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I hadn’t known exactly what to expect; 9 days rafting, totally off the grid, camping deep in the Grand Canyon with a bunch of strangers. But what I did know now – It was going to be epic.

Categories: Americas, Grand Canyon - July 2017 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Dead relatives tour

On our travels we often search out graveyards, and we have visited hundreds all over the world. It may sound a little strange, but we wander these boneyards searching out famous, infamous, political, and historical graves. Over the past few years I have become slightly obsessed with discovering ancestors in my family tree and I have spent countless hours locating every gravesite of my dead relatives. As many are buried in New York City, upstate New York, and Boston, when we visited the East Coast for thanksgiving a few years ago, I was determined to visit as many of them as possible.

Greenwood Cemetery

Greenwood Cemetery

My great, great, great-grandfather, Thomas Craddock born England 1822, died NYC 1882. Buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.

It was a warm fall day; the trees were bare as we kicked through their leaves, past weathered gravestones and gothic mausoleums. We had a map with the rough location of the final resting place of my great, great, great-grandfather, but realized it could still take a while to locate; Greenwood Cemetery is almost the size of Central Park. It opened in 1848 on a Brooklyn hill overlooking Manhattan, and is now filled with elaborate victorian crypts under hundred-years old oaks.

Grave plot #

City grave plot #10975

We finally arrived at city plot 10975, the supposed location of my relative. Unfortunately, it was almost the size of a football field with hundreds of marked and unmarked graves; this was not going to be easy.

Helen and I started a systematic grid search of the area, looking at every grave we passed. We had almost finished our sweep with no luck, when Helen spotted an old-timer studying a three-ring binder full of maps. When she asked him if he could help us, he was more than willing. A classic New Yorker, he chain-smoked and swore like a sailor with a heavy Brooklyn accent, as he told us this was his hobby, finding and recording missing graves. He showed us his historical maps of the area, still somewhat incomplete and vague.

Location of Ed Craddock

Location of Thomas Craddock

For a half hour we searched together, cross-referencing graves, pacing off distances between plots. Finally he looked at me, “OK, I believe he is buried where you are standing right now.” I looked at the grass under my feet, I spun around. As we had already realized, there was no gravestone, but I was more than satisfied. We thanked him profusely and he said he would do some more research to confirm it. So we gave him our email and then we hurried off, late but happy, to meet an old friend.

My great-grandparents Patrick and Hannah Ford born in Ireland. Buried in Calvary Cemetery, Newton, MA.

My Irish grandparents died before I met them. I’ve heard a few stories and seen pictures and knew that they lived in my hometown of Newton, Massachusetts. But I had never given much thought before to where they were buried.

A few years ago, when I was looking into my Irish heritage, I realized that they were buried only a few miles from where I grew up. I thought back; I don’t remember visiting a cemetery as a child or even my father mentioning it. I called my sister in Boston, and she too had no idea. My 89 year-old father’s hearing has deteriorated, so I called my Aunt Coupie and she confirmed their location.

Grandparents

Patrick and Hannah

So this trip back home, my sister and I went to the Calvary Cemetery office and got a map with the location of the grave. We found a large, beautiful, dark marbled granite family headstone. Not bad for poor Irish immigrants; some of our cousins had apparently done well in America.

Mom. Buried in Newton Cemetery, Newton, MA.

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My mother’s grave is the one place I always visit when I’m home. This trip was no exception. Helen, my brother Mike and I drove the familiar road through the cemetery, up to her gravestone. Mike, like he always does, immediately started cleaning up leaves and twigs and the shrubs on either side. And, like I always do, joined in. We paced around cleaning up debris, until the whole area was clean. We left a poinsettia in front of her marker before heading off to Mom’s brothers for dinner.

William Archibald 1822-1883. My great great great-grandfather. Born in Scotland. Buried Bovine Cemetery, Catskills, NY.

We had to drop off the rental car back in New York City at 5.30pm, before we flew home. We calculated that we had just enough time to visit Archibald in a small town deep in the Catskills, but there was no room for error. The economy car’s engine whined loudly as I floored it, up and over the rolling, forested hills.

We pulled into Bovine Centre and stopped at the old town store for directions. Swinging open the wooden screen door, it felt like stepping into a museum from a hundred years ago; Original cabinets and furnishings filled the massive wood-paneled store. I asked the two older women wearing dresses from decades ago: “Just down the street.”

The cemetery was on top of a small hill. We had a picture of the gravestone, but had no idea of its location. Because of our strict schedule we only had about 15 minutes, so we divided up the cemetery and started searching.

William Archibald

William Archibald

The cemetery was old and the stones weathered, so it looked like it might be a slow process. But just as time was running out, Helen found it! The gravestone was in good shape for being 127 years old. I took a picture and we raced back to NYC. We returned the rental car at 5:25pm, just in the nick of time.

Searching for these graves seems like a big game of hide and seek. But there is always an emotional feeling when you’re standing there, looking at the name of family member on a tombstone. I have recently discovered that there are a few more buried relatives scattered around upstate New York and Vermont. Only a few more to visit, in America, but I know my family originally came from Ireland and England. I think there will be a dead relatives tour the European addition in my near future.

Categories: Boston - November 2015 | Tags: , | 1 Comment

MLS Cup 2016

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We have been season ticket holders for the Seattle Sounders since 2001 (pre-MLS!) and we were not going to miss their first trip to the Championship Cup Finals, even if it was in Toronto in December.

CNN Tower

CNN Tower

After arriving late the previous night, we got up and hit the town. We wandered around Toronto and kept on running into Seattle fans in their green Sounders gear. Hours before kick-off we went to The Loose Moose bar where Sounder supporters had planned to meet. The bar was packed with a few hundred Seattleites; We fought our way through and ordered a beer and talked with our fellow fans. The bar occasionally erupted into raucous song and chants about our beloved team. Everyone was all smiles, but they became nervous smiles as game time quickly approached.

Cold but all smiles.

Cold but all smiles.

When we headed off to the game the temperature was in the low twenties. That’s football weather, not the usual temperature for a soccer match. We layered up, put on knit hats and long johns, but I wore my lucky Van sneakers, not the most ideal cold weather footwear.

Walking through the streets and into the stadium we talked with Toronto fans. You gotta love Canadians, so friendly and welcoming. Waiting in line for drinks, we exchanged some friendly banter with a Toronto fan wearing a funky red wig. We bought him a beer before setting off to our seats high up in the stadium, in the area designated for Seattle supporters.

Toronto fans

Toronto fans

I was already freezing cold as they kicked-off and sadly, the game was not poetry on the pitch. Play was slow and the game dragged on and our nervousness increased. After the end of regulation and two extra time periods the score was still 0-0.
Finally after 3 long, cold hours, we won the game on penalty kicks, not the best way to win, but we didn’t care! We jumped around and shouted ourselves hoarse with the rest of the Seattle fans for another hour, which finally stopped feeling so cold! Yes!

I can’t reveal how we obtained access to the team after-party back at their hotel, but we did. It took a few beers but I finally built up the courage to shake some players hands. I tried to keep it short, I didn’t want to act like a stalker; “Congratulations… I’m so proud…. I’ve been a ticket holder since 2001…” But it was late, I was a tad bit tipsy, so it came out a little incoherent at times. The Spanish-speaking players clearly had no clue what I was saying. It was past 3am by the time I met the coach, Brian Schmetzer. My speech was impaired and my train of thought, derailed. I blabbed nonsense at him as he made his escape.

Helen and her favorite player Tyrone Mears

Helen and her favorite player Tyrone Mears

It was a long way to go. It was the coldest match I’ve ever been to. It was one the worst games I’ve witnessed. But we won and in the end that’s all that matters.

MLS Cup 2016

MLS Cup 2016

Categories: Toronto, ON - December 2016 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Rationing

While kayaking, there is limited space for provisions. During long trips I have to ration and on this ten day trip it was vitally important. If you get stuck out there for a few more days because of weather, or even a simple thing like lacking willpower you could easily run out of the necessities. That would be serious.

To be clear, I’m not talking about food, or water. It’s the inadequate supply of beer and chocolate, that I sneak into every possible nook and cranny of the boat. Did I forget to mention the bottle of Jamison I stuffed into the bow of my kayak? That’s also under strict rationing. Every night, I could have beer or two, a few squares of chocolate, and a shot at sunset.

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Things simplify when you camp; you have little more time to deal with the basics. One basic is spending hours trying to keep your beer cold, in any way possible. It usually involves some scenario with me trying to submerge them in the ocean.

 

Kayak beer cooler

Kayak rudder beer cooler

Beers cooling in the surf.

Beers cooling in the surf.

Bad weather and a terrible forecast cut my latest cruise short by a day. As I kayaked to the take-out spot, I realized I had one beer left. It is bad luck to return from a trip with any beer left.

So I stopped for lunch and rescued the lone beer that had been rolling around the bottom of the kayak for nine days. The can was dented, covered with sand and warm. But it was satisfying. This last beer symbolized the end of my voyage. I couldn’t help but reflect on my trip as I sat on the beach nursing the warm Ranier. An epic trip filled with adventure in a pristine wilderness. This expedition had it all; sun and rain, was both terrifying and relaxing, yet always stunningly beautiful. One thing is for sure, after nine days in the wilderness I had happily settled in; a wild child, and was reluctant to return to civilization. Yet return I must, I was out of beer.

Last beer standing.

Last beer standing.

Categories: Clayoquot Sound, BC - August 2016 | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

It rained all night.

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I set up camp, high on the beach, during a brief lull in the rain. I positioned the tent behind a large driftwood stump to block the wind; The swell and waves were getting larger in the bay as the westerlies kicked up. As the sun dropped below the horizon, the rain started to fall. I retired to the tent. It rained all night.

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The rain starts

12 hours of continuous rain.
I woke up the next morning to torrential rain. I stuck my head out of the tent into a gale to view chaotic seas. Way too rough for the kayak. Clearly I was going to have to spend another night on this beach. I sat in the tent and read, only finally crawling out at 11:00am into the downpour. I decided to take a big hike though the coastal rainforest, which was fully earning its name. Down the trail, that resembled a stream more than a trail, past huge hundred-year-old cedars dripping with moss. I continued along the coast in the afternoon fighting along the wet and overgrown trail, as far as the small First Nation reservation with run-down houses and packs of dogs.

When I got back to camp late in the day, the weather was getting worse, not better. I set up a tarp in the only suitable place I could find; On the trail as it entered the forest. No big deal really, it was pretty deserted. I then moved the tent to a more protected spot behind a rocky outcrop on the beach. I have never been stranded for long before, but I had a bad feeling about this storm. I battened down for the long haul. It rained all night.

Camp night 2

Camp night 2

36 hours of continuous rain
The next morning it was pouring and the wind was howling. I got out of the tent and was surprised to see a small stream had formed in the sand and was running under the corner of the tent. It was raining so hard that all along the beach rain run-off had formed rivulets running from the forest to the ocean. I dragged my tent out of the running water and built a barricade with driftwood to divert the stream away. I retreated under the tarp as the wind kicked up; I wasn’t kayaking anywhere today.

Tent under threat of wash out.

Tent under threat of wash out.

I decided to stay at camp, under the tarp. I couldn’t afford a big hike and getting soaked again, I was running out of dry clothes. It was a pretty relaxing day, I read, drank lots of coffee and battled to keep my tent from getting washed away. Most importantly, I stayed dry, but I was going stir-crazy stranded on this beach.

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48 hours of continuous rain
It was raining hard as darkness fell. Big waves were crashing and the tide was coming in fast. So I retreated back to my last line of defense; I dragged my tent underneath the tarp at the trailhead. It was a good spot, I could hold out here through anything. Although I was starting to wonder if I would ever get off of this beach. It rained all night.

Last line of defense. Tent under tarp. Heavy rain.

Last line of defense. Tent under tarp. Heavy rain.

The next morning I opened my eyes, it was so quiet… I sat straight up, stunned – It wasn’t raining! After well over fifty hours of relentless rain, it had finally stopped. I peered outside: Dreary, low fog, but relatively calm seas. I’m out of here!!
I packed everything as fast as I could. The tent was soaked, I balled it up and just stuffed in the kayak. Like I did with everything else – A panic pack. H and I have a name for this type of advanced backwoods packing: ‘Chuck and go’. I wanted off this beach as fast as possible.

On the water, finally

On the water, finally

I launched in a heavy fog and had to navigate by compass; not ideal. I didn’t care, I was off the beach.

Categories: Clayoquot Sound, BC - August 2016 | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Never get out of the boat.

“Never get out of the boat! Never get out of the boat!” Chef – Apocalypse Now.

Beach at Gibson, Flores Island, BC.

Beach camp at Gibson, Flores Island, BC.

In a driving rain, I landed on the desolate sandy beach. It would have been more inviting, if not for the weather. I was glad to land, the wind was picking up, and the seas were getting angry. Also I was a little off, feeling tired, not on top of my game. This was going to be my spot for the night. I searched for the backwood campsite and found it in the dunes. It was a nice sheltered site, level with a wooden tent platform, metal food cache box and pit toilet. This was luxury compared to the beach camping I had been doing. I couldn’t really complain though; any beach camping ain’t that bad.

As I explored my accommodation for the night, I noticed a strange mound on the beach with crows circling above, so I went to investigate. It proved to be a large, recently deceased sea lion washed up on the sand. As I walked around the carcass, a chill went down my spine. His neck was ripped open and he was surrounded by a large amount of canine prints that led back to the tree line. They were fresh and large, too big to be coyote. I instantly knew what had left them; wolves!

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Wolf prints, lots of wolf prints

Wolf prints, lots of wolf prints

Wolves are known to roam these beaches. I spun around and nervously scanned the area, nothing. I pulled out my bear spray and grabbed a thick stick with a knot on the end; wolf club. I reconsidered, this might not be the best place to camp after all.

There was another beach beyond the headland, a few hundred yards away. I decided to recon to see if it was suitable for camping. I figured it wouldn’t take long and the nocturnal beasts wouldn’t be active in the afternoon. (Did I now think I was an expert in wolf behavior?)

I walked over the headland through dense, pristine old-growth forest and saw that the next beach was a protected place to land from the surf with a few good spots to camp on the sand. So I headed back to get my kayak in order to relocate.

As I left the forest I quickly scanned the beach with my binoculars. I saw the kayak, it was fine, so then I checked out the sea lion. My heart stopped. There was a large wolf on top, tearing its skin off and he was between me and my boat.

It suddenly hits me what an idiot I am! Basically I see a dead seal surrounded by wolf prints and I go for a stroll!? Anyone with half a mind would have immediately got off the f****** beach. I was disappointed in myself for that bone-headed decision. As I said, clearly not on my game. I knew this situation had to be resolved fast – I had to get to the kayak with all my provisions in it and launch, preferably without getting mauled.

I have had some experience with wolves in the wild, so I knew they tend to be shy of humans. Hmmmm. Unless they are defending a food stash? Again, clearly I am not an expert in wild canine behavior. But I did need a plan. And quick.

I was about three hundred yards away and I didn’t think he had seen me yet. So my cunning plan was to let him know I was there. I mean, What’s the worst that could happen? I reviewed the options.

A) He would see me and run off. Good

B) He would ignore me and continue chewing on the seal, blocking my escape route. Not good

C) He would charge me and I would have to defend myself with my weak, completely inadequate arsenal of pocket knife, bear spray, wolf club. Really bad.

Hoping wildly for the first option, I took a deep breath and shouted; deep, guttural and loud. My voice boomed and echoed across the bay. Standing tall, I started waving my arms. The wolf’s head popped up in the opposite direction; He slowly turned and looked my way for about ten seconds and then he continued tearing away at the seal.

Great, now what? I’m screwed. It was a massive seal, he could be eating for days.

Suddenly he started behaving differently, twitchy. Surprisingly, he jumped off the seal and trotted off. He took a quick look my way as he disappeared into the trees. This was my chance; I started moving quickly down the beach towards the seal.

As I pass by, I saw him along the tree line, only 75 yards away! We watched each other cautiously as we walked in opposite directions. He again disappeared into the trees. I threw everything into the cockpit, dragged the kayak into the water and clumsily launched. I was reminded of a line from a favorite movie – Never get out of the boat.

Massive!, very fresh wolf print on the beach.

Massive! Very fresh wolf print on the beach.

I landed at the next beach which was, in reality, only about a quarter mile away. So as I unloaded I wasn’t surprised to see wolf prints here too. In my mind I tried to reassure myself; You have camped in wolf territory before, it will be fine. Taking advantage of a lull in the rain, I started setting up my tent feet away from a pair of wolf tracks.

Wolf prints near the tent.

Wolf prints near the tent.

I was skittish, my head swiveled continuously, scanning the beach. I had wolf club nearby and the bear spray in my pocket, with the safety off, ready to go. A rookie mistake, I know better. As I bent down to unload the kayak, I heard the mace go off. For the second time that day I thought ‘what an Idiot’.

I closed my eyes and held my breath. After a few minutes I slowly opened my eyes. they didn’t sting; I wasn’t choking. Phew! I got lucky. Then I looked down the front of my pants and from my waist to my knees was soaked in pepper spray. Not good! The burning sensation came on quickly. I don’t know if you ever maced yourself in the nuts before. It’s a unique kind of pain. It felt as if you juiced one hundred jalapeños and poured it down the front of your pants. I ripped off my pants faster than a teenager in heat. I danced around the beach and waded out into the ocean. For days my thighs were stained deep orange, and every once and a while they would heat up like a sunburn.

I slept well that night despite reeking of mace, the driving rain, and the threat of wolf attack. Because of circumstances beyond my control I was forced to spend three nights on this beach, and I never did see another wolf.

 

Categories: Clayoquot Sound, BC - August 2016 | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Inauguration 2013

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We found out just a week before that we had scored tickets to President Obama’s second inauguration; we had applied to our Senator for them months before. We had already committed to going to DC for it, so it was a bonus to get tickets that would put us a few hundred yards from the podium, rather than millions back, on The National Mall.

After we landed, we went straight to our senator’s office and were a little dismayed when the receptionist couldn’t immediately find our tickets, but after a few calls and some hunting around, she finally found them. It all seemed a little disorganized; apparently this was to be the theme for the entire trip.

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We thanked her as she handed us a large envelope, and excitedly, we immediately ripped it open. Inside was a gold-lettered invitation and ticket to the main event, maps of the area and, somewhat oddly, a line-drawing of Obama; an inauguration survival kit.

The next day, after a rather late night, we still managed to get on the subway early and easily, despite the crowds. So far, so good. We disembarked at the station, a short walk to the gate, and through security – no problem.

Things began to go south as we approached our ticketed area, it was packed with people and it was unclear where to go; we were at the mercy of the masses. The crowd was so dense your arms got pinned to your side as you slowly shuffled along with the flow. After fifteen slow minutes of this, everyone ground to a stop. There was no more room to move; this was to be our spot to watch the inauguration. Not a bad spot, we were about 200 yards from The Capitol with a peek-a-boo view of the podium through some trees.

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Not a bad spot, except for one major inconvenience, apparently we were under a tree that an anti-abortion right wing nut (wing nut or WN for short) had climbed earlier. Scruffy clothing, unkept, patchy facial hair; He looked like a red-neck Rip Van Winkle that just crawled out from underneath a double-wide after a ten year nap. From his perch atop the tree, clutching his homemade sign; WN proceeded to yell random anti-abortion rhetoric. Some of his favorites: “Obama is a baby killer”, “What about the dead babies?” and “Obama is the Anti-Christ”. WN shouted these throughout the speeches, marine bands and even Beyonce’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner was not immune to his rants.

Wing Nut.

Wing Nut.

The only time we got any relief was when Chief Justice John Roberts came on stage to swear-in Obama, WN screamed “Roberts is a good man, he is against killing babies -listen to him” and he promptly shut up. If he was going to be quiet for any part of the ceremony this was the best time, the actual swearing in of The President. But as soon as Roberts left the stage, WN picked up where he had left off, with a few new improvisations; “Nancy Pelosi is the devil! – what about all the dead babies?!”

Finally the police had cleared a small perimeter around the tree and brought in a few ladders. An officer with ‘negotiator’ printed on his jacket climbed up, but the higher he went, the higher WN climbed. As he neared the top, WN’s weight was bending and starting to break branches and he was in danger of toppling out of the tree. The officers gave up and climbed down the ladder; WN was safe and in for the long haul.

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Later we found out that WN does this all the time. He climbs one of the few trees around The Capitol and starts popping off. If they know him and what he does, how did he even get through the security check-points to climb a tree without being stopped in the first place?! It is a presidential inauguration and lunatics are running around the capital climbing trees

So for two hours, WN spouted his BS message and everyone within earshot was forced to listen to him. The press took photos and wrote stories. His message got though to me; he jack-hammered it into my skull.

WN was annoying but I wasn’t going to let him get to me. It actually felt fitting and reflective of the time we are living in. A single person with an extreme agenda can cause chaos by simple means and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him.

The worst thing about it was that he won.

Written February 2013.

.lincon memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Categories: Washington DC - January 2013 | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Danger paddle

In planning my kayak trip through Clayoquot Sound, there was a stretch I was fretting about. My route included a seven mile stretch of rugged coast that would take three hours of paddling, exposed to the Pacific swell and westerly winds. It was going to be challenging and full of hazards; I nick-named it ‘danger paddle’.

I became obsessed; studying nautical charts for hours, but it didn’t help; it just made me more nervous. I had the chart laid out on the floor. I would hover over it on my hands and knees, drops of sweat formed on my brow as I studied it during the summer heat. There were shoals, submerged rocks, exposed points and lots of shallows. That spelled trouble – boomers: unpredictable waves that rise out of the shallows and are catastrophic if one hits you. It was going to be like paddling through a minefield.

The cons were endless, with most scenarios ending in my capsizing and huge waves mashing me into the rocks.

There was only two pros :

1 If I didn’t do danger paddle, I had a 20 mile detour; A full day and half worth of paddling. That would put a big kink in my schedule.

2 It would be intense, exhilarating, scary. I wanted to do it bad!

The bottom line; I was only attempting it if everything was perfect; both weather forecast and sea conditions. But the only way to know if everything was perfect was to check it out in person.

Helen isn’t a big fan of my solo kayak trips. She was definitely was not happy about this one; Ten days and out of cell phone reception the whole time. For safety reasons, we went through my trip itinerary before I left, like we always do. We mapped out my route on the nautical charts and went through each day and all my notes. Everything was fine until she flips to day five on the notepad. “Why is day five titled ‘danger paddle’?” I hemmed and hawed a little, and muttered, “It’s an exposed area … But it shouldn’t be that bad.” H – “If it’s not that bad why did you call it danger paddle?”
Crap. I just made her more nervous than she already was.

But I was going to be careful, I always am on these trips. All alone, miles from anyone, no cell phone reception. If you’re in trouble, there is hardly anywhere to land. If you can even make it ashore in the massive surf and jagged rocks, you’re on a deserted island.  If it goes bad, you’re on your own.

Early morning launch

Early launch in the morning mist.

Finally, the big day arrives. The Pacific is usually calmer early in the morning with the off-shore wind building throughout the day. So I woke up before dawn and stuck my head out the tent. A perfect day; a little mist but no wind and the ocean was calm. I quickly broke camp and launched.

The swell built as I paddled west out of the bay, but sea conditions were still manageable as I swung well off-shore. The waves passed under me and thunderously broke against the rocks; foaming and chaotic. Soon I could see the first large point that extended a half mile out into the sea; a massive headland with 100 foot cliffs. Large waves exploded off it’s face and whitewater bubbled and churned all around the point. I would have to swing over a mile off-shore to get around, and this was the smallest of four points I would have to pass.

The power of The Pacific was terrifying; I felt tiny in my little kayak bobbing in the powerful swell. The wind had slightly increased, and the waves had less rhythm to them, which was disconcerting. This was the point of no return.

I went back and forth. I would be fine if the conditions didn’t get worse. But what if it did get worse? It’s not easy turning back, but the whole scenario freaked me out; in the end I had a bad feeling, a sixth sense that said “don’t do it”.

So disappointed, I slowly turned around and headed for calmer waters. Instantly my blood pressure dropped, my head de-stressed, my body relaxed. Two hours later, a strong wind kicked up, It was like I won the lottery! I would have been right in the middle of danger paddle; it would have been ugly.

Cruising calmer waters

Cruising calmer waters

I had a big smile on my face as I cruised the long way on perfectly calm channels.

Categories: Americas, Clayoquot Sound, BC - August 2016 | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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