Victoria Day weekend, sometimes affectionately referred to as “May long weekend” or “May two-four”, is Vancouver Island’s unofficial kickoff to the summer camping season. Year after year, thousands of families pack up their cars and head for the backcountry. I loyally follow this tradition, and this year is no exception, as my family and I joined friends on a three-night kayak trip to Kennedy Lake.
Horizontal Distance 39 km
Total Time: 4 days
As we were loading our gear on the lake shore, in the warm light of the setting sun, my mind drifted to considering the significance of this trip. It’s a reprisal of an excursion we made three years ago, a four-night dream trip on Kennedy Lake. That was Kim’s first multi-day trip, and it was also our last multiday kayak trip before the arrival of Hemingway: Kim was five months pregnant at the time. It was an amazing journey, one that friends frequently talk about. Skipping forward to 2016, we paddled along in our Libra –a double kayak with a centre hatch. Kim paddled in the front, I in the back, and Hemingway, doing everything in his power to slow us down, in the middle. We paddled with the same group of friends, and this time Shawn’s adult daughter joined the fray. And yes, yet again, Kim is five months pregnant.
Lawlee Island’s rocky shore, shallow water, and dense bush were a welcome sight after the long drive from Nanaimo. As we paddled, Hemingway played in the kayak. He dipped his hand into the warmer-than-expected waters, and looked to the mountains that grow from Kennedy Lake’s shores. I could see his small chest rise as he tilted his head back and smelled the air. Kim asked what it smelled like, and he replied,“It smells like mountains”.“It smells like mountains”.
Kennedy Lake’s grand size allows for many coves, islets, and secret beaches worthy of exploring. It’s in these features that we hoped to find suitable camping before the sun set. A brisk westerly breeze gusted as we paddled; over the weekend we became quite familiar with it, as it gusted every afternoon and into the evening. Today it worked with us, giving a much-appreciated push on our way to Lawlee Island.
The BC Backroad Map Book placed a camping marker on the northeast side of the island, and we expected to find a good site. What we found was a small space, suitable for a few kayaks, absolutely brimming with wood! We even had to move wood to make space for the tents. This is a harsh lesson about the book: it lacks detail. We were losing light, so we hauled our kayaks up the low angled shore, and rested them on the wood.
We quickly sorted camp, and prepared a light meal. Hemingway freely roamed the small beach, scrambling large boulders, tossing small rocks into the water, and smashing long section of branches. He discovered he could break the branches on large logs, and when he broke a cedar branch, he sniffed it and let out a small sigh of content. The night crept up on us: as the sun set behind the distant hills, the cold blue light of a nearly full moon illuminated the area, eliminating the need for a headlamp. As the stars appeared, Hemingway broke into “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. We sat up late into the night, listening to frogs and watching the stars: a great start to our adventure.
Our late night produced a late start on Day Two. We were in no hurry in the morning; we poked around camp and took our time loading the boats. As we finally set out on our way, the wind began to gather. We paddled the short distance to the western shore of Kennedy Lake. Protected from the wind, we admired the unkempt landscape, imagining a place where we could put in and climb a bushy route to the bluffs above. As we rounded a point, the wind hit us full force. It drove waves across the lake, crashing against the rocky shore and creating some intense cross-chop; the waves pearled over the bow of the kayak and into our hatches. Hemingway laughed, but I could hear the stress in Kim’s voice.
We pushed past the rough chop to the protected shore of a small provincial park, pulling our kayaks onto the low sloping gravel beach, and waited for Shawn and his daughter to catch up. As I explored the beach, I discovered a log with the name “Secret Beach” cut into it. It’s hard to believe this idyllic beach could be a secret! Mature forest backed the lovely beach, and just off the shore, a tiny islet enticed us to visit. The short three-kilometre paddle was exciting, and though we were tempted to paddle on, the sun shone bright, the beach drew us in, and none of us wanted to fight the wind.
We made camp and used the sunny afternoon to explore. Michael mostly explored the comfort of his hammock, and my family mostly played on the comfort of the beach. When we were too hot from the sun, we paddled the five minutes to the tiny island.
On Day Three, we set out much earlier, in an attempt to beat the winds. We paddled the calm lake and peered through the shallow waters. We travelled a good distance, passing drive-in campsites, and around Agnes Island in the Clayoquot Plateau Provincial Park, up the Clayoquot arm of the lake. Predictably, the afternoon brought the winds; as Shawn’s daughter suffers from chronic pain related to an old injury, we chose to make camp along rough shores of Clayoquot Arm.
We braved the jagged, rocky shore, in favour of the afternoon and evening rays of the sun. We set up camp, relaxed, went for walks, and, in the hot afternoon, swam in the cool, dark green waters of Kennedy Lake. I dragged Hemingway in with me as I swam—what a mistake! But, kids will always surprise you! When I tried to swim with him, he cried and wailed; but, when he threw three of his cars in the water in a fit of childishness, he entered of his own free will: it was a game for him. He demanded I go get them, but I refused. I told him, “You threw them in, you go get them!” To my surprise, he stripped his diaper off and waded naked into the water — the same water that he had WAILED and fought to keep out of. He wandered in up to his waist and bent over, even putting a portion of his head into the water to reach for the car. He did it! It was a big surprise to me, and even to himself. He had a huge smile on his face as he brought his car to shore.
As our last afternoon turned to night, I sat and reflected on the trip. Though we had not explored as much as I would have liked, nor did we visit our campsite from our first excursion on the lake, we did have an excellent trip. A lot happens in three years: sometimes, life kicks you in the gut. But I can’t let the good times be spoiled by the bad ones. My family is growing, and the bonds built between my family and friends is growing stronger. My friends stand by me, and I have the love of a three-year-old; at least for a few more years, his love is unwavering. I have to be grateful.