It’s been far too long, so long I felt the need to say something profound when I finally broke the ice and resurfaced. Then I realised we could all be waiting a long time for that, and simply put pen to paper.
Fall is such a tumultuous season. I struggled through it last year so I know what to expect. But it’s a constant rollercoaster for me, magnified in part by the dramatic change in weather and reduction of daylight. I’ve already had my fair share of ups and downs, been completely overwhelmed by life and the world and what I should be doing, and then just fallen back into the ‘ah well let’s just see what happens’ kind of mentality.
Since the Yukon River Quest life has continued at a fairly hectic pace. I’ve hiked trails, paddled, surfed, SUP’d, spent time with my folks, and presented about my race. I uploaded all my videos from the YRQ 2016 so you can now watch the unedited clips (if you were left wanting more), read my gear and food lists, and see the list of tasks I set for poor Morgan at the halfway point in Carmacks. I was hoping to review all my food and gear, as not all were effective or the best choices, but I’m at least sharing my opinions with another prospective paddler for next year, and so the baton of knowledge is being passed on.
Part of this month has been spent at job interviews wearing knee-length pencil skirts and ironed blouses, and the other at my current job Googling images for made up words like ‘Fug’, and learning how to tie bowlines between customer service. Working in retail has provided me with some of the most candid workplace scenarios I’ll ever experience, while introducing me to some of the most eclectic and wholesome people I’ll ever meet. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my vacation from the ‘real world’; from responsibility, corporate clothing, office cubicles and adults. I teleported 10 years back in life to experience an alternate version to the one I lived in fast paced international events, and I’ve come to realise I’m looking for something in between.
So this is where I’m at, contemplating all the the who (am I?), what (am I doing?), why (am I doing it?) where (am I going?), when (should I go?) and how (will I get there?) kind of questions we love to ask ourselves. The first two are easy to answer, but the other four take a little more thought.
I feel as if fall is the season for change, so although I’m not sure of the exact direction I’m heading right now, I’m just gonna ride the wave and see where it takes me.
Life has a way of throwing us the unexpected, and sometimes I feel I’m dealt that hand more frequently than some. When I took on the challenge of the Yukon River Quest, the longest annual canoe and kayak race in the world, I wasn’t 100% certain I had what it takes to paddle 715km non-stop down a river for three days. I figured to do this you needed to be a super human… like those who run ultra marathons before breakfast and climb mountains in their sleep.
My goal since the beginning of the year was to become this super human, to train and prepare my body for a gruelling exercise and to research and test every system and piece of gear imaginable to increase my chances of success.
In January I’d paddled no more than 25 uninterrupted kilometres in my life, but by May I’d increased that to 140 by putting in close to 1000 training kilometres throughout the winter months. By the time I reached Whitehorse in June, I’d eaten all the right foods, taken all the advised supplements, ticked all the boxes on gear, and ensured sufficient rest time before the big day.
When my boat finally launched from the banks of the Yukon River at 12:00 noon on June 29, 2016, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. I was doing what I’d been dreaming about every waking minute since the beginning of the year. My body felt strong, my systems were dialled, and my mind was ultimately focussed.
When I reached the 50km stretch across Lake Laberge just 3 hours in, I moved across it effortlessly. There was barely a breeze, the water was calm, and there was even time for candid conversations with fellow paddlers as I casually cruised by. I passed my friend Jason who was racing on a stand up paddleboard around the 60km mark. It was the first year the race organisers had agreed to include this experimental class, and because Jason and I had shared many a training session together in Vancouver, it was a special moment seeing him out on the water.
“You’re killing it,” he cried, and I replied the same to him.
The slight headwind that had rolled in kept our interaction brief, but I was certain at some point our paths would cross again.
Then 30 minutes later when I was half way across the lake, a mere 65kms and 7 hours into the race, my right foot pedal began to come loose. Not only does the pedal control steering, it allows one to use the stronger muscles in their legs and torso to power each stroke, alleviating the weaker muscles in the shoulders and wrists. I held my breath as it wobbled unsteadily beneath my foot, moving in a way a fixed object in a boat never should. The next thing I heard was an audible clunk, and suddenly the foot pedal was gone.
I was struck by a shockwave of disbelief. I didn’t know what was happening, other than my boat was starting to turn sideways. I stretched out my foot to feel the plastic pedal dangling along the rudder cable within an inch of my toe. I nudged it gently and the boat veered right, but the minute force caused the pedal to disappear altogether, along with my ability to steer.
My eyes widened with alarm. I stopped blinking. Thoughts littered my mind as I paddled towards the rocky shore on one side, praying for some kind of reasonable explanation as to what was happening. A family who was setting up camp watched me zigzag towards them, and a young girl and her mother held onto the end of my boat as I clumsily extracted myself from it, knee-deep in water perpendicular to the shore. Their faces expressed intrigue and a hint of bewilderment as I tried to force a smile to match theirs. But my world was being swallowed like liquid down a plughole, and my attention fell immediately on the task at hand.
I bent my head into the cockpit to assess the damage, extracting a sheared piece of plastic that had once bound the foot pedal to the side of my kayak. The balloon of hope inside me deflated, and a flood of tears came rising to the surface.
“My foot pedal’s broken,” I croaked breathlessly, gasping for air through my trembling lips.
The woman’s expression shifted dramatically, but the young girl seemed to be clinging to hope.
“My dad’s pretty handy,” she offered sweetly, her bright eyes aglow with the strength of possibility.
Though her words resonated above the cacophony of panic plaguing me, I stared blankly towards the shoreline, motionless in my inability to comprehend.
“Why don’t you come out of the water?” her mother coaxed gently, her concern beginning to mirror my own.
I lumbered out of the water with my clipboard and maps dangling heavily from the bottom of my spray skirt, attached cleverly with the industrial velcro I’d adhered only a few nights before (another ingenious system that had taken me months to concoct).
While the woman’s husband began his examination of the boat, I wandered up the beach out of view, squatting behind a log as I watched the other racers passing by.
‘Could they see me stranded? Had anyone spotted my boat and wondered what was happening?’ I wondered while my chest felt heavy and my senses went numb. I’d transformed into a spectator. Sidelined. Forcibly extracted from the race I was moments before participating in.
All the training sessions, the months of testing food, the gear I’d purchased, and re-purchased, and changed and purchased again. Nothing seemed to matter now. It was all drifting away like the boats on the lake floating past me.
As I walked back towards the boat I listened for hope amongst the man’s grunts and heavy sighs. He’d had his head inside the cockpit for 20 minutes, and when his face reappeared he looked defeated and forlorn.
“Unfortunately there’s not much I can do,” he said shaking his head apologetically.
My tears resumed their steady stream, and my audible sobs told the story of my utter disappointment.
“Do you think you can still paddle?” questioned the young girl with quiet curiosity.
I wiped my eyes on my damp sleeve in an attempt to recompose.
“I guess I can try,” I whispered hoarsely, resolved to the fact I had no other choice.
I lifted the rudder out of the water and climbed back into the boat as the three of them held onto the bow.
“You’re still a hero to me,” the young girl smiled courageously, her persistent enthusiasm clinging to me as her dad pushed me from the shore.
It was shortly after this moment I turned on my camera for the first time, capturing the thoughts, moods and emotions I fluctuated between throughout the course of the race. Over the last few weeks I’ve been stringing together these clips to tell my story, and while I leave you to watch my 30-minute video (I’ve actually edited it down to 18:23), I wanted to thank everyone who was cheering me on from the virtual sidelines, and to those who supported me while taking on this challenge (THINK Kayak, Zeal for Life, MEC & Deep Cove Kayak). I’m truly grateful for everything I experienced.
It’s been a week since I completed the Yukon River Quest, yet I still feel I’m digesting the experience. There are so many stories to tell, and to do them justice I need a little more time to collect my thoughts. The race was never going to be easy, and I expected that probably more so than most. But when my foot pedal snapped 65km in and I was left without steering for the first half of the race, a whole new challenge was presented to me.
It was one of the most disappointing yet brilliant experiences of my life, and in the end I wouldn’t change a thing. During my three days on the river I experienced almost every emotion possible. There were certainly some darker moments, but like the colour of the sky, that light at the end of the tunnel never fully disappeared.
I look forward to sharing more of the experience soon.
Today has been go go. Food prep this morning with Morgan baking, me filling tubes full of rice pudding and ziplocks with pre-cooked sausages and cheese, grapes, corn chips, chopped snickers bars, gummy bears, fig newtons and a whole variety of other treats. We then came into town, registered for the race, had photos taken, had the boat and my gear inspected, an then made sure my tracking device was still working.
Morgan is now in the support crew briefing and I’m stuffing my face with a roast beef and salad sandwich. My brain is overloaded and running on a few less cylinders than normal, but I’m pumped and excited and ready to get on that river.
We’ve been writing lists upon lists with sub lists and appendixes to each one. We even joked but then realised we actually do need a list for all of our lists. As we checked all of my gear for the last time under the midnight sun with swarms of mosquitos curiously hovering around last night, I realised I’m so ready for the preparations to be over. It’s really time to paddle!
I’m not sure if my video below uploaded from my phone, but it’s from my final practise paddle to Lake Laberge on Sunday:
Yesterday our crossing of the Georgia Strait from Nanaimo to Vancouver didn’t exactly go as planned. We were up at 3am, on the water by five, and 20km in we began to experience a 15-knot headwind that the weather report told us would only get worse. The waves were big, whitecaps and dark skies were on the horizon, and the more experienced paddlers of the group said it would be a safer option to turn around and go back. And so we did.
I was at an advantage being low down in my stable kayak, watching the poor team on their boards being thrown into the water multiple times, having to clamber back out of the waves. We knew the weather would eventually calm, but out in the middle of the ocean you don’t have the luxury of pulling to the side to wait out the storm. If we battled into the wind for multiples hours I’m not sure everyone would have made it, so as a team we decided the only choice was to turn back.
I was racked with disappointment after the energy and hype that had led to us being out there. I couldn’t help but turn to look around on many occasions, wondering just ‘what if?’ or ‘was this the right decision’? But in the end, though I would have loved to say that I’d crossed the straight, being with the team on what turned out to be an epic adventure home may have been all the more memorable.
It was a tough 20km paddle back to shore despite the wind and waves were in our favour. The excitement and motivation was now gone, and we still had 20km ahead of us. Had we known we’d have to scale a rocky embankment with 10 boards and a kayak, lift them up and over security fences with all our gear, walk them over and onto the ferry, wait for 90 minutes and then sit in damp clothing for another 2 hours until we reached Vancouver, I think many would have opted for the paddle.
But as we stood around our own self-hosted potluck eating the remains of the food that had gone uneaten from the trip, like the pre-cooked sausages, Oreo cookies, brownies, gummy bears and pizza that I’d packed, two women came over to ask what we’d been doing. When we explained our story one of the women shook her head with disbelief and said will such sincerity, “It’s awesome to take on a challenge that isn’t a given.” That one comment put the entire experience into perspective, and seeing my disappointed team mates smiling at the after party made me realise that ticking that box of completion was not the most important outcome.
There was a host of representatives from PADS (Pacific Assistance Dogs Society) to greet us at the party, who were so incredibly grateful for the money we had raised. We reached over $5,000 as a group, and I want to thank everyone for donating so generously.
To top off the evening, my friend Morgan (who’s coming to the Yukon as my support crew), drove down to the party at Kits Yacht Club to pick up my boat and me. He met some other folks that are heading to the Yukon, and on the drive home pulled over to show me something he’d made for the trip.
When I saw the banner I almost burst into tears. He’d figured I’d need a cheer up, and all I can say is that if anything, yesterday’s experience has made me even more determined for the Yukon River Quest. In just over a week we’ll be on our way up north, driving to Whitehorse for the next big adventure!
I’ve been operating on very little sleep lately so this is just a brief video update before the Salish Sea crossing on Saturday. Thanks to many generous donations I’ve made just over $600 for the Pacific Assistance Dogs Society. If you still care to donate the pups and I would be extremely grateful!
When I set out to paddle around Bowen Island with one of Vancouver’s best paddlers today, I did not expect it to be as eventful as it turned out. With one month until the Yukon River Quest, I finally tested out the closest equivalent to what I’ll be paddling during the race for this longer paddle.
I blew my seat cushion up as thick as it goes, and as a result my centre of gravity was a lot higher than what I’m used to in a boat like that. As we reached the southwest side of the island a headwind picked up, and I definitely wasn’t feeling as stable as I do in my bathtub of a plastic boat in the resulting waves, especially with a national paddler right beside me.
Before we rounded the south end of the island we were distracted by a pod of Orcas, which got so close I actually put the camera down in fear that it was going to knock me off my boat. Wes quickly encouraged me to keep filming, but also had a hair-raising moment when one of the whales came right up next to him.
As we continued on the waves started getting bigger, and we made the call to turn around as I wasn’t 100% comfortable in conditions like that in a less stable boat. It was definitely a good call, because even in the calmer waters around the smaller Bowyer Island, my core was engaged for the entire 35km paddle, and I barely ate anything because my stomach was so tense.
Just when I thought I was going to make it back dry, my boat flipped over and I took a swim. In a way it was excellent practise, because the boat was so top heavy with gear that it didn’t want to stay upright after I flipped it back over. My water bladder fell out, but because it was clipped to me it dangled in the water by my feet, and after some untangling I managed to get back into the boat while Wes steadied it for me. Fortunately everything else, (except my hat that I just managed to save) remained where it was attached, and other than not being able to reattach my spray skirt and paddling with a boat full of water to the shore it ended relatively well.
Because I was already wet I tested out the surf ski Wes was paddling when we got back to shore, and was barely able to stay upright for two seconds on flat water. Shows what 20 years of training can achieve!
Though I should technically be tapering down my training soon, I’m actually paddling from Nanaimo to Vancouver with a group of stand up paddleboarders across the Straight of Georgia in two weeks as part of a charity event. I’m going to be in a much more stable boat, but depending on conditions the paddle can take between 10 – 12 hours. To read more about it and to make a donation please click here!! I’m trying to raise $2000 for PADS – Pacific Assistance Dogs Society, so any donation would be very much appreciated!
I’ve been lying on my friend Sue’s couch whose house and rabbit I’m looking after while she’s down in Mexico, re-reading Wild which I picked up again last year as a fix of trail nostalgia. I’ve been picking up on so many details that hadn’t jumped out at me before I hiked the trail, and no, I still haven’t seen the movie, though I seem to be saving it like a bottle of wine or a block of cheese that I’m hoping will improve with age.
The reflection of raindrops outside the window was casting shadows across the pages as I read, and as Cheryl arrived at Crater Lake, which seems to be such a turning point along the PCT for many thru-hikers, my mind turned to Otter, and I immediately jumped up to see if there were any updates posted on his website.
I’ve been in contact with his sister Miranda recently, and I know she’s planning to post an update shortly as the conditions will soon allow hikers wishing to participate in the search to access the trail. I will post these updates on my blog once they’ve been published, but I recommend remaining updated via thesearchforotter.wordpress.com or their Facebook page.
It’s been a while since I’ve written. Probably the longest stretch since I started blogging before the trail in January of 2013. I received a wonderful email recently from one of my readers who clearly didn’t want to pry, but was curious as to what I’ve been up to this year. When January 1st ticked over I asked myself why I needed to post my life online for other people to read. I’m sure there’s many deep seeded reasons behind it which could be analysed to death, but I was doing it because I wanted to, because I enjoyed sharing what was going on inside my head and recognising through people’s comments that I wasn’t alone in my complexities.
This year I haven’t spent as many lonely nights sitting in front my laptop brewing on philosophies about what I’m thinking and feeling. I’ve just been living and working hard on various projects, while my world has become increasingly simple and small. I exist mostly within a 10km radius of Vancouver, and although I recently bit the bullet and purchased a car, I’ve only sat behind the wheel twice as I still much prefer to ride my bike around town. I know I’ll use it for trips outside the city once the weather improves, but for now the best thing about owning a car is that I’m no longer searching for one.
On a reconnaissance of the Vancouver Marathon route last night, (which I’m working on NOT running in), I discovered parts of the city around UBC (the University of British Columbia), which I’d never explored before. There are miles of trails through the preserved forest hugging the shores of the Georgia Strait, and I couldn’t believe I’d never thought to visit the area before. Pre-car, if an area was too far to bike to, it remained off the radar unless someone else was driving. But all of a sudden I realised my 10km radius has now expanded with infinite possibilities (within Canada), and truthfully it actually made me nervous.
My mum described me as a bird with clipped wings last year because of my residency requirements, which are forcing me to remain in Canada until I can renew my permanent residency. At times I guess I’ve felt like a caged bird, especially not being able to go back to Australia for Christmas or my best friend’s wedding later this month. But after almost a year I’ve started to get used to my surroundings, so much so I don’t feel like I’m in a cage anymore. It feels more like a safety net, where I can predict what’s going to happen and what I’m going to experience around each and every corner.
What I find fascinating about this analogy is now that the door of the cage has been pried open even just a little by the reality of owning a car; I’m hesitant to break out of my safety bubble. For someone who previously had almost limitless boundaries, I was shocked to admit to myself that I’ve developed some form of clipped wing syndrome (which is my own definition of a condition I’m sure exists), and was so astonished by it that I was compelled to write it down. I know this will disappear the moment I venture out beyond my regular boundaries, but it amazed me that I could experience such a thing, and it made me realise what adaptable creatures we are to our environments and routines.
My theory is that it takes one month to get used to a new job or environment, and three months to actually feel comfortable. After a year that job or place becomes the norm, and then to change it again that cycle just repeats itself. I love now having a place I call home and a job where my colleagues have become friends. I love working in an industry I’m passionate about and also, though I sometimes panic about the deterioration of my bank account, I love that I’m forced to live simply and that I’ve developed a heightened appreciation for everything life offers me.
To answer the question of what I’ve been up to this year, I’ve shared a video below of the most magical field trip I experienced with work last month (outside of my 10km radius!). We hiked to the summit of Rainbow Mountain from Whistler Olympic Park in the Callahan Valley, and it was the first night I’ve ever camped on snow and slept at -15 degrees. I’m not in a hurry to do it again, but experiencing sunrise during our climb to the summit was breathtaking, and well worth the restless night of sleep.
The New Year rolled in a few nights ago and despite spending a very relaxed night at home in front of my laptop, I was not inspired to write a ‘year that was’ or a ‘this is what 2016 has in store’ or a ‘reflection of the state of the world’ post or anything that happened to be floating around in my complicated head.
I’m happy to report that since that evening I’ve experienced the same non-desire. No inspiration to write or to say anything. I’ve been purely and utterly content with leaving the page blank. And you know what, it feels fucking great.
Instead of asking myself ‘why’, I’m just allowing it to be. I did enough thinking and soul searching in 2015 to fill this year’s quota too. I got lost in so many mazes of questions about who I should be and what I should be doing and what path my life is on and where my future should be heading. I let my thoughts lead me down winding roads that had no direction or destination, jumped into the thick of emotions and tried to rationalise my way out, bought into confusion, contemplated morals, and searched and hunted for meaning like it was a rare beast about to be extinct. And then I tried to explain it all in words to other human beings who were on their own spiralling roads with no direction or destination wondering where the hell they’re going and trying to catch that same elusive beast as me.
I asked so many questions I didn’t even allow for life to present me with the answers.
So today, when once again that niggling reminder of ‘my blog’ resurfaced, knocking on my door like an impatient editor looking at me expectantly with a questioning ‘well?’ poised on their lips, I felt like saying, “Look. I’ve got nothing that needs to be said, or shared or thought right now. I’m just fine, thank you very much.” And then in my self-derived scene of imagination I slam the door shut, dust off my hands and go back to drinking my warm cup of tea.
My New Year’s resolution for 2016 just kind of hit me in the face like a snowball of clarity. It wasn’t an answer, a voice, or the beast I’ve been hunting getting its own back. It was a feeling of calmness. A realisation that I don’t need to chase every question that pops into my head, shave and expose it to the world in the hope that everyone reading can dissect and understand it the same way as me.
I realised I’m actually happy where I am in life, with what’s happening around me and where I’m heading. I know 2016 is going to be an epic year, and I’m ready for what it has to throw at me both emotionally and physically. I guess my ‘realisation’ if you want to call it that, was that I’m simply happy to just let it happen without too many questions and analysis and metaphors and the requirement of tying it all together with a bow and then putting it on display for the world to see.
I think I just need to chill out and let things be and enjoy life and stop taking everything so seriously and stop asking so many fucking questions. Yes Pac Man, you heard me, I want to stop thinking for a while and let my brain go on a well-deserved holiday.
I was also somewhat surprised to discover that I felt happy to relinquish the gratification of having my voice heard, the feeling that I’m speaking words people may actually want to read. It’s certainly not the only reason I write thankfully, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that recognition doesn’t play a big part. I write to empty myself of emotion, and I could easily do that in a journal that I keep tucked beneath my bed. But I don’t. I leave that journal in the living room and on the kitchen table and at a bus station and in some stranger’s mailbox hoping that someone will sneak a peek. Or better still, I find that someone has written a message at the bottom telling me how much they loved my writing and how well they connected with my thoughts and ideas. Ridiculous right?
Well, welcome to the world of blogging!
Don’t panic though; I’m not exactly going anywhere. My ego is far too needy for that! Plus that niggling editor is likely to come back knocking at my door offering praise and acknowledgment when all those burning questions and thoughts storm my conscience like a squadron of militia and I simply have to release them by writing it all down.
But I thought it was neat all the same, that at the beginning of this New Year, all I really wanted to say was that I don’t feel the need to say anything at all.
Discovering what it means to be alive, one step at a time…