by Laurel Archer
From the shore of Toquart Bay on the west coast of Vancouver Island, I scan the horizon sporadically along with nine other women. Jan is my co-guide while the other eight are basically novice sea kayakers.
The wind is up already. We have a significant crossing ahead of us to get to the Broken Group Islands, our destination for this leg of the Wild Women Expeditions multi-sport adventure trip. Today we may not reach it. A strong northwester is blowing up. As I carefully check the loaded crafts on the beach, the somewhat nervous laughter of the women swirls around me, carried on the growing gusts.
With all equipment and gear in place and the hatches battened down, I suddenly connect with the moment entirely. All is as it should be. It is the inspiration found throughout our journey into the wild that matters, not the actual geographic location we set as a goal. It is my job to help this group navigate the challenges a route may present. This not just my career choice, this is my passion. The salt on my tongue says, “Alive! This what it means to really be alive!”
Today, we are heading out in our tiny needle-like crafts onto the vast Pacific Ocean to explore the far edges of the islands – all there is between Canada and Japan. We are ready to go, each of us with our own thoughts and questions, yet totally at one in our desire to see where the sea meets the sky, to face open water with no land in sight.
The whitecaps are creeping into the bay now. The sea sparkles in sun. Fine weather can mean windy afternoons here. Maybe we will make the crossing to the ‘End of the Road’ archipelago or maybe we will have to stop on a random tiny beach part way and wait out the wind, paddling through dusk to our base camp. Making the Broken Group this afternoon or not is all the same. In fact, that is the adventure. It’s why we are here.
I have been guiding people on waterways for twenty-four years now, and I am constantly reminded that what we are all seeking in the wild, as we travel under our own power, is the challenge of the physical and the unknown, the joyful rendering up of our desire to control our environment, and the discovery of the strength and limits of our bodies. We greet the weather with laughter as we connect with our common sense, collective nature and knowledge in order to stay safe.
At the Stopper Islands, where we would start the open crossing to Hand Island (the closest of the Broken Group), we are stopped in our tracks by a heavy head wind and breaking waves. We tuck into a tiny cove with white sand, have lunch and explore the forest behind the beach. Culturally modified cedar trees stand tall in the green depths. The group is captivated by the fact that the local First Nations women harvested the inner bark of these towering giants to make waterproof hats and capes without harming the trees.
The marvels of the rainforest and the creatures of the inter-tidal zone keep us absorbed for hours. It is guaranteed that the stiff sea breeze will go down at some point; that’s just how it is. The question of when we may be able to paddle across to the Broken Group is still just blowing in the wind. And, as one of the women notes, “Who cares? How often does this Toronto stockbroker get to play Gilligan’s Island?”
This is sisterhood. This is real. This is wild.