I’m not quite sure how it happened, but it did, and I am glad it did.
A few weeks back I was chatting with a co-paddler – Marianne- about my swim in the strait this year and my need to get in the water way more. She mentioned something about a Paddle for Kids along the peninsula. It was a 10 to 12 hour relay paddler in a voyageur canoe – something I had always wanted to try – the canoe part, not the 12 hours.
The next day I had an email from a man named Joe and by Sunday I was in the boat with a group of people from the Victoria Canoe & Kayak Club. We were headed up Finlayson Arm for their last practice before their annual Paddle for Kids. I was in the boat for my first practice before the the big event. My job: decide if I was in for Paddle for Kids and if yes for how long I would paddle.
We were on the water for 3 to 4 hours that day and I loved it! The “switches” were new to me and something that I would have to get used to, but I felt comfy enough in the boat and with the community of people that I signed up to iron Paddle for Kids. It would be a great opportunity for me to test my fitness level, endurance threshold and my my mental space. Plus I would have the opportunity to paddle a portion of the waterway I plan to soon swim.
I spent the next 5 days getting myself ready with my biggest concern being feedings and washroom breaks. I sorted through the paddle logistics with Joe and Phil, two of my fellow paddlers, and was able to plan from there. The boat would be changing crews every few hours so I could grab quick snacks and visit the loo each time they stopped. My tasty treats would consist of peanut butter sandwiches, protein bars, maca bars and gel packs – pretty much the same as I use on my swims. I would use my paddler water system so I could sip water throughout the paddle and I would bring 2 bottles of electrolytes that I could sip during breaks. Some of my food fit in the pockets of my life jacket, the rest would be carried in a small dry bag that I would keep with me. 2 sets of warm clothing would be left on the paddlers bus just in case we tipped at any time and I needed a set of dry clothes.
HERE’S HOW IT WENT
On Saturday, April 1 – no joke – I was up at 4:30 am and at the Victoria Canoe and Kayak club by 5:45. The paddlers for the first shift had all assembled and were ready to hop on the bus to Brentwood Bay- but there was no bus. Word at the clubhouse was the driver thought the early morning April 1 shift was an April fools joke.
A few dozen phone calls, emails and text and we were on our way!
It was a beautiful morning with a gentle fog over the bay. Three crews assembled at the start location, unloaded the boats from the trailer and put them in the water. I assumed that I would be in Tillicum as I was for the practice but soon found out that was not the case; I would be starting in the Monroe – the tippy boat – and sitting in seat 2, not seat 5! Good morning to me.
I was a bit nervous as I didn’t really know anyone in the boat, I had never sat in seat 2 and I knew that the boat was a tipper. Immediately following our first switch I heard a number of gasps and then a wee bit of instruction to help us focus. Thank goodness the water was flat when we first headed out or we may have just landed ourselves in the water.
In seat one was Debbie, a lovely woman from Vancouver, and just behind me Jim. They would become my good companions for the next 2 our so hours. Debbie was a fantastic stroke – if that is the correct name in a voyager – who could hold a good solid rate for a long period of time. She was also quite fun and really enjoyed the paddle. And how could one not, we were in a beautiful place at a beautiful time of day.
We made our way along the coast following the other two boats. I wasn’t quite sure where we were but knew we were headed somewhere near the BC Ferries Terminal. About 45 minutes into the paddle we “rafted-up” for a bit of a break. I took advantage of the opportunity and grabbed some electrolytes. We paddled on until we were arrived at the Ferry Terminal. It was our first switch spot and my number one priority was to go to the washroom. I jumped out of the boat and quickly made my way down the dock looking for a place for my pit-stop. And there was none….
As with marathon swims, one must quickly learn to adjust to their environment, so I did.
For the second leg of the journey I was in seat 5 in Tillicum. Once I was settled in my seat we headed out to meet up with the other boats. Again I took advantage of the opportunity to eat and grabbed a half a protein bar and some electrolytes. As we made our way beyond the ferry dock and toward Sidney we could see dozens of sale boats. It looked like there was some sort of regatta and we were in the middle of it. We paddled on.
After about an hour Monroe, with it’s new crew, was a bit behind. We rafted-up with the other boat to wait for them. Another opportunity to eat. Things were coming together. The pauses and breaks were quite similar to what happens during a marathon swim, with the only difference being you get to sit in a comfy boat.
One thing I tried to do during the trip was loose all sense of time. I didn’t want to know how far we had gone, how much further we had to go, or how many hours we had been paddling . I have done this during some of my swims and I have found it to be a bit of a distraction. It seems to work better when I focus on swimming, or in this case paddling, rather than time. At some point though, I did hear someone say we were over half way, which I found quite shocking, as I wasn’t feeling fatigued.
We found our way to our next switch spot and just in the nick of time. I really had to go to the washroom again. I ran up the shoreline just after landing and before I could make my way to the nearest relief spot I was greeted by a teammate who handed me a burger and some coffee! I was such a nice thing for them to do. I felt a bit overwhelmed and very much appreciated my Monroe crew thinking of me while they were on their break. Joe told me to take my time but I didn’t want to hold things up, and I am quite used to eating quickly. It’s something I practiced over the past few years while preparing for my swims. I quickly went to the washroom, guzzled the warm coffee and stuffed some food in my mouth and made my way back to the boat while chewing. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.
I was off again in the Monroe with Debbie in front of me and Jim and a full crew of other paddlers behind me. I was a bit nervous about the switches but remembered that when I was in Tillicum Pat would call them out loud and very slowly. I used the same technique in Monroe and things seemed to go a bit better. We paddled on and on, enjoying the view of the shoreline along the way. The water started to get a bit wavy. Debbie was having fun with the bumps. I could have spent my time worrying that we would tip, but instead decided to play along with her.
Within a few hours we were ready for another switch and I was back to Tillicum again. I was out of one boat and into the next with ease – no washroom break this time, although I was told there was actual washroom at this stop 🙁
I started to recognize more of the landmarks as we got closer to Victoria. I remember seeing Caddy bay and Willow’s Beach. The sun had come out, it was nice and warm; I wanted to jump into the water. As we paddled on the wind picked up. By the time we hit Trial Island the water was moving quite fast. Our paddle across the bay to Clover Point was quite bumpy with some nice waves making it difficult for us to turn. Search and Rescue was trying to call us but Joe, who was sterning, was not able to answer because of the conditions.
We managed to catch up to them on the other side of the bay where we were protected from the wind. The suggest was that we pull out were we were as it would be too difficult, and potentially dangerous to paddle around clover point and to the harbour. Without any discontent everyone did.
Once settled on land someone called for our bus and boat trailer. While waiting it was suggested that we trailer the boats just up the road and put them back in at the boat launch in James Bay where the water way is a bit more protected from the wind. We all happily agreed and prepared for the last leg of our voyage.
The paddlers were well organized and the portage was brief. We had time for a quick photo in at our last launch spot and we were off again into the inner harbour. Joe kindly checked with me to make sure I was OK to continue to paddle. I had been on the water since 7 am and it was about 5:30 or so. My left wrist was a bit strained but otherwise I was feeling great and was happy to carry on.
It was strange being in a voyageur for this part of the journey. I paddle the inner harbour on a regular basis in an outrigger with Ocean River but have never canoed it before. It was quite lovely. My left arm was quite sore and would cramp up when I paddled on the left. Luckily every 30-40 strokes there was a bit of relief when we switched to the right.
Within 20 minutes or so we had paddled up the gorge to the narrows. We stop for a bit and enjoy our last few moments in the boat together before paddling under Tillicum Bridge.
The tide must have been slack as the water was calm as the three boats paddled beside one another under the bridge. Some members of the club had come out to greet us and cheer us in as we made our way to the canoe house.
I was happy that I made the journey but also a bit sad that it was over. It had a been a long day, but also an incredibly enjoyable one and I met some wonderful people along the way. I hope to paddle with the club again next year as they take on other waterways.
As a training run for my upcoming swim it couldn’t have been more perfect. I was on the water for close to 12 hours, in the waves, and in the cold for a good portion of the trip. I am feeling pretty comfortable with my current fitness/endurance level. This leaves me with more room to deal with big wave and cold.