This letter was a long time coming; it’s been well over a year already since this trip! I suppose it’s a symptom of how we live our lives. Between raising you kids and my club adventures, I’ve been busy living and not stuck at a keyboard typing. Still, it’s good to sit down and reflect on the time that’s passed, review pictures of you two at such a young age, and remember the stories.
Octavia, you were only 10 months old when we took off for Blackberry Point on your very first multi-day kayak adventure. July had been a busy month – I was off hiking and leading trips for friends – so by the time our trip to Blackberry Point sailed around, I was excited to spend time with the whole family. Hemingway, you might remember that when you were a baby, Blackberry Point was the location for your first multi-day kayak trip. It holds a special place in my heart for many reasons, and the connection to you three is high on that list.
Over the months, my memory has distilled the best elements of the trip and probably allowed a few of the not-so-great memories to fade away. With such a long and eventful journey, I’m grateful that I journaled on the trip, since I was able to refresh my mind to write this letter.
To my children, Hemingway and Octavia,
We just survived our first overnight kayaking trip as a family! Hemingway, this was your first trip as a four-year-old, and the first time to act as a responsible big brother to Octavia in the backcountry. It may not have been incident-free, but I’m so proud of how you behaved. And, Octavia, you’re a star! Aside from the distaste for your wetsuit – really, it was way too small – you travelled well, ate everything we put in front of you, loved playing in the sand and ocean, and displayed a cheerful demeanour that made the trip amazing for all of us.
But, I’ll admit it: we were too ambitious. Our original plan was to camp two nights on Valdes Island and return home, and this would have been fine. Then, when my other club members cancelled at the last minute, your mom and I decided to add an extra night to the trip– an attempt to recreate the magic of the first multi-day kayaking trip with Hemingway. The weather had other plans for us!
Friday Night Paddle to Valdes
It was an idyllic evening paddle to Valdes Island. Octavia, you were fussy; this meant I paddled our 22′ behemoth on my own, while Mom held and rocked you, and Hemingway tried to throw things overboard.
We rode the flood tide between Link and De Courcy Islands, paddling south along the east side of De Courcy on the route to Valdes. As I expected, it took many songs to keep Octavia entertained; but, Hemingway, we were surprised when you joined the chorus. It was the first time you did this! Together, the three of us managed to quell the crank-monster inside your sister enough to make the paddle enjoyable for everyone.
As 8:00 pm ticked near, already an hour past your regular bedtime, we landed the kayak at Blackberry Point. We were surprised to find Shawn, Linda, and Leila (their grand-niece-in-law) waiting on the shore. When we landed, Hemingway, you hopped out and started playing with Leila right away while Shawn helped us move boats and gear to high ground.
Hemingway, while Mom was occupied dressing Octavia, you did your best to “help” me put up the tents and unpack the sleeping bags. Eventually, we got camp settled, and by the time we finished dinner the sun was sinking below the horizon. Not long after, Mom and Octavia retired for the evening; Hemingway, we stayed up just a bit later because you forgot to bring your storybooks. These few minutes of play were enough to tucker you out, and once we were in the tent I needed to sing only a few songs before you fell asleep.
Day 2: Bushwhack
As often as I’ve been to Valdes Island, I’ve never been to the highpoint, Mount Mexicana. For one reason or another, it always seemed too far away, but this time we were set to try. Hemingway, you came with me, while Mom and Octavia made their own fun on the beach, which included a mommy-daughter nap in the sun.
We didn’t have a route description to work with, so the plan was to work our way through the bush to the old road that transects the island. You were excellent in the light bush and along the road, but when we started heading back into the dense forest, you demanded to be carried. I’m sure to an onlooker it must have looked terrible as I juggled you over deadfall, under low branches and through dangling brambles. It isn’t what most people think of as fun, but you seemed to like it, and there wasn’t much complaining from anyone else.
At one point I left you with the other three and tried to route-find my way up the bluff. Although there is a route up a gully, it’s steep and filled with loose dirt and debris; there is no way the group would make it, so we turned around.
On our way back to camp, we followed a more leisurely route down the road. Having another young child on the hike was great; when you got tired, she invented a game that kept you squealing with glee. By the time you lost interest, we were almost back at camp.
There we discovered that another large family had arrived on the beach. They were camped just 100 metres down the beach, so you spent a good chunk of the evening playing with their toys and the other kids.
In the late evening, we took some time to swim in the cold water and enjoy the last rays of the sun. The cold waves felt good after the hot day, and you really needed to wash the soot from your hands and face- the sand is really dirty in places. While you still can’t swim, you were determined to get yourself into the deeper water. In the end, we zipped out of the water, toweled off, and huddled together to eat dinner before bedtime.
Something cool happened before bedtime, Hemingway. Two young women who had set up camp beside us recognized you. I was asking them about their paddle from the mainland, and they told us they found a trip report detailing how great it is on Valdes. At that moment their eyes opened wide as they connected the dots: you were the kid from the trip report they read!
Day 3: To Pirates Cove!
Although our original plan was to camp on Valdes one more night, the weather forecast shifted, and we changed our plan. Rather than stay another night on Valdes, we paddled north to De Courcy Island and camped at Pirates Cove.
We packed in good time, but by the time we hit the water a stiff headwind was ripping down the channel between Ruxton/De Courcy and Valdes. As we paddled, the odd wave crashed at the bow of the kayak, causing Mom to gasp when it crashed over the coaming; Octavia, you didn’t seem to mind much, and were content with Mom’s songs.
Paddling into the wind was exhausting, and progress was slow. Once we rounded the south end of Pylades Island, the wind buffeted the boat. It was a fight to muscle the kayak into the channel between Pylades and Ruxton. By this time, we had outrun Shawn, Linda, and Leila; we thought they had headed for the east side of Pylades (we later learned that they went to the other side of the channel, to the east side of Valdes).
Between Pylades and Ruxton, we took only a short break, as I was worried about the worsening conditions. Hemingway, by this time you were face down on your seat. You were not at all happy with the waves and the wind, but you still didn’t want to get into your rain jacket (boy did we come to regret that!) When we paddled around the east tip of Ruxton Island, we were hit with the full force of the wind again– it had picked up while we were resting.
By this time, Octavia, you were asleep in Mom’s arms, but when I couldn’t manage any movement into the wind on my own, Mom tucked you deep in the cockpit on the floor of the kayak between her legs and took up the paddle. Rounding the corner of Ruxton, the chop crashed over the hull every few seconds. The cold water pearled over the deck and the mist blew over Mom’s head and down the boat, eventually making it over Hemingway’s head to me. Mom gasped at each one; she’d never been in wind and wave before. It’s a good thing the conditions weren’t worse — at least we were paddling into the small waves.
It took both of us paddling to manage a creep forward. A stretch which should have taken only four minutes instead took closer to twenty, and Hemingway, that’s when you broke down. I should have fought harder for you to put your jacket and rain pants on, even though it was in the mid-twenties and sunny. Tears were streaming down your face, and you were shivering with cold. I had to get you warm to calm you down. I shouted instructions to Mom to paddle forward while I threw some wind protection on you. And while I did that, Mom belted out directions for rudder control–it was a real show!
Once you had your rain layers on, I resumed paddling, and within another five minutes, we pointed the boat into a small protected cove. I beached the kayak, hopped out, and hauled you and a bag of dry clothes onto the beach, out of the wind.
As I was stripping you down, a man called out from his deck, asking if we needed help. We really didn’t, but I was happy enough when he came down to check on us; after all, we were using his cove. When he saw what I was doing, he gasped, “You’ve got a child!” At this point, the man’s wife called out from the balcony on their house overlooking the cove to make sure we were fine. It’s just then that Octavia woke up and Mom extracted her from the cockpit. Wow, I wish I had a video of their expressions and voices: “Oh, you have a baby!”
After that, we had to accept an invitation to come up for a drink. While Mom had a hot tea, Tony offered me a beer. So we sat on their deck, entirely out of the wind, and talked about families while we watched the channel until the wind died down.
Later, we loaded back into the boat, waved goodbye, and cruised into Pirates Cove on De Courcy Island on near-glassy waters. It was a busy place, but we still managed to find a tent pad in the trees. And fortunately, some of the others helped me put the boat up on the beach logs while Mom got you two changed and fed.
For me, the best memory from the trip came after dinner. Mom set out with Octavia’s bedtime routine. This left Hemingway and I time to explore. I suggested a walk around to look for some treasure. As we walked the trail out to the point, I started up a story about a troll that was chasing us. We took turns ducking behind trees, looking around the rocks for treasure, and always checking over our shoulders for the troll.
By the time we got near the point, we were deep into the magic hour. The sun’s warm hue created strong silhouettes in the trees and their long shadows on the dry grass that looked golden in the sun. There was only a light breeze carrying the scent of the ocean and cedars. You were just starting to lose interest in our game when I stopped short, pointed, and shouted, “Look!” You squinted and stared, and when you spotted it, your jaw dropped: a huge treasure chest.
There was nothing I could do –you bolted! Straight down the trail to the treasure chest, you ran. You dug in and found a wide variety of goodies. We definitely found the treasure.
That night, after you were both asleep, Mom and I went to the water’s edge to watch the sky sink from purples and pinks to the greys of dusk. Bats skirted the still glassy sea, and mosquitos buzzed at our ears, it was shocking to look at the water and remember that we had only just paddled through it. It’s only at this moment that Mom exhaled.
Day 4: Home
Our paddle back to Cedar by the Sea was much more relaxed than the previous day. We kept to the west side of De Courcy and stopped whenever you kids wanted to peer into the ocean, examine the rocks, or watch the birds. The wind was mild and the swell gentle, but I noticed that Hemingway was on edge.
When we neared Round Island, the swell started to become small waves, and Hemingway, you cowered against the seat in the centre hatch with your face pushed into the seat. You were on the verge of tears, probably due to anxiety spilling over from the day before. And on top of that, you started complaining about needing to go pee!
We were still a good ten minutes away from shore, and you were starting to cry from the discomfort. We sang songs and paddled as hard as we could into the shallows near Round Island. I hopped out and pulled you onto a small rock that protruded from the water. You audibly sighed with relief; I guess you must have been holding it since we got into the boat!
Back at the beach, we all sighed with relief to be one step closer to home. As Mom and Dad emptied the boat and loaded into the Jeep, you two were wandering up and down the beach laughing and playing in the gentle surf at the shore’s edge.
It was an excellent first trip for the whole family. Even the ugly bits left an impression on us and helped bring the good parts into a rosy highlight that we still talk about.
Hemingway, this weekend left such an impression on you that for months after you referred to your Coast Guard Lego figure as Tony, and talked and talked about the kayak trip around Ruxton.
I love you two.
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