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Musings about Time and Place from the Inside Passage

From Bella Bella to Prince Rupert, 5 friends & family joined Nathan and I for a section of our trip. Over the next few months we'll feature blog posts from the team who made up our section 3 travelling town.

Author: Jay Slater (Nathan's dad)

An incredible trip!

The concepts of “time” and “place” are interwoven themes that featured prominently in my paddling experience from Bella Bella to Prince Rupert. But first….

A huge shout out to Nathan and Sanesh for living out their shared dream of paddling from Victoria to Alaska. It’s a truly amazing undertaking! And I offer up my enormous gratitude that they welcomed a “ragtag” group (see Sanesh’s recent blog) to share in a small part of their adventure. Thank you.

A lot has happened, obviously, since my pre-trip post. I did get several days of local paddling to assure myself I could do the distances. I practiced wet exit and self-rescue under the watchful eye of Sanesh. I got practical paddling tips from Nathan in the field (like “Don’t hold your paddle over your head and yell ‘Woohoo’ in big waves”). The weeks leading up to our Bella Bella launch are now a blur – but included getting boats and gear ready, outfitting the van to carry up to four kayaks, re-jigging food portions and menu (thanks Sylvia!), collaborating with the others to confirm ferries and accommodations on both ends of our trip, winding down work responsibilities, plus all the usual tasks of living in the city. On May 20 all that was left was to get to the rendezvous point about 1200 km to the north…

What motivated me to come on this adventure? First and foremost, as a dad, when my sons (I consider Sanesh my “other” son) asked me to join, there’s no way I wouldn’t step up. The fact that they had confidence in my abilities and wanted some extra company was truly heartening. Then, of course, there’s the personal motivation of going somewhere new and awesome – and pushing myself physically and mentally in the process. In retrospect, thankfully, there was never a time in our two weeks of paddling that I felt outside my comfort zone or that there was nothing left in the tank at the end of a long day.

For me kayaking is meditative, which is a segue to my reflections on time and place. Time both slows and speeds up – there’s the simple act of paddling, one stroke at a time, 30 times per minute (Barton’s calculation). Being in the moment - appreciating the movement of the boat, the conditions, the surroundings, the wonderful ad hoc conversations – it almost feels like time is standing still and nothing else matters. There are long periods of quiet, being “in the zone”, moving through time. Then there’s break - to stretch, eat, answer nature’s call. An hour and a half or two or more may have passed quickly (unless the butt is feeling it). Then it’s back in the kayak for another round. With this rhythm the paddling day finishes pretty easily and without drama – 6 or 8 hours to put up to 20 nm behind us. I loved having lots of time to clear my head and think, to view the amazing landscapes and wildlife, and to enjoy the chats.

Nathan wrote a beautiful piece in one of his blogs about acknowledging whose land and waters we travelled. He notes that we were not paddling in “wilderness”, since these territories have been occupied and these waters navigated by first nations for millennia. As I reflect on the notion of “place”, I think about the vastness and remoteness of our coastal route. The mountains on each side seem to go on forever, covered with lush green trees. On the water a few fishing boats or pleasure craft or ferries would pass each day, but otherwise we were alone on this massive backdrop, and I felt humbled by how small we are. A few things highlighted ‘place’ for me: A canoe slide (boulders on a remote beach, moved to create a pathway for getting craft into or out of the water) signified that we may be at an ancient village site….Two simple crosses on a rocky ledge above the water, at a place that seemed to be the middle of nowhere, marked where Shirley Rosette and Gerald Foisy lost their lives when the Queen of the North sank after running aground on Gill Island….The beautiful big houses at Bella Bella and Klemtu are testaments to stewardship and celebration of the land and culture of local first nations….Where we pitched our tents and cooked our meals became our home and community. We always found places with great views and protection from the elements.

There are lots of amazing things we experienced, too many to list in one blog. But broadly summarized they are the incredible natural beauty, the endless landscape, the fun and camaraderie of the group, and the pure, almost spiritual joy of what we accomplished. A truly incredible trip!

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