British Columbia’s Most Tranquil Bed and Breakfast

The vehicle’s engine hummed as we waited to drive onto the ferry to leave Telegraph Cove for Quadra Island — Both this cove and island were where we began our Canadian adventure and now where we were set to end it. The ferry line was long and the day, warm which only meant it was a perfect time for ice cream.

While our kayak guide Mike sat at attention at the wheel, Andy and I leapt from the vehicle, sprinting after our other guide Estelle who lead the way down the pier to my black cherry and coconut ice cream.
20190815_170338(0)By the time we got back (with ice cream for Mike), the ferry line was set to move forward and so we did — away from where our trip started, away from our dream weeklong adventure.

Moments earlier, we said goodbye to the rest of our kayak group as the eight remarkable people were dropped off at their destinations before their journeys home. For the past week, the twelve of us had sea kayaked with whales by day and wild camped in remote island rainforests by night — every meal, every sunset, every moment spent together so that we had built a strong attachment to and a relationship with each person in our group.  And this also meant leaving them was extremely hard.

My ice cream dripped past the cone and slid down my wrist, allowing me — for a few licks at a time — to focus on my melting dessert and not on the different places we were from — Connecticut, Oregon, Arizona, different parts of Canada — The miles seemed too vast to meet again.

Isn’t it odd how strangers can come into your lives and shape you so dramatically but — in another moment — your lives will be separated again?

And so it was true for our last goodbyes to Mike and Estelle as they pulled up outside of British Columbia’s Harbour House — the bed and breakfast where Andy and I would spent our last Canadian night before heading home.  I admit — tears slid down my cheeks as we waved then watched Mike and Estelle drive away.  Until they, too, were gone.

The feeling of being tucked away in your own secret haven for days that stretched in the most happy, serene, and hopeful way — It is one I am struggling to describe.  Then the feeling of having your love beside you — standing hand-in-hand, breath held, and knowing one single step further would propel both back into society, back in the world — Backward.  That quick adjustment, that impossible time to cope — that, too, is one I am struggling to describe.

But we had to — I suppose, you always have to, and so we took that one step forward.  Then another.  And another.  And soon, we were at the wooden door.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0240.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0238.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0223.JPG“Welcome,” the softest spoken woman said with the warmest and most genuine smile as she gestured in a breezy way for Andy and I to take off our shoes before we entered her home.  Her name was Susan, and I could not think of a better person to greet us after our secluded wilderness adventure.

Entering her house felt as if we had stepped into a protected shelter, and I breathed a sigh of relief as she glided across her floor and spoke slowly of our room, her house, the back porch, breakfasts, and more.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0224.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0225.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0226.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0227.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0228.JPGEntire walls were lined with glass windows, and outside white sailboats hovered in place over the blue of the ocean so that this, too, felt like tranquility but somehow in a completely different way.

“Please make yourself at home,” Susan said in an airy way that made me lean in towards her.  I had the feeling wanting to her to stay near me and so I asked about the history of her home and her past.

I learned Susan had spent her past thirty-five years on Quadra Island, with twenty-nine of those years in this house.  Having an avid interest in architecture, she designed the house herself then raised her children — two daughters and three sons — here.  Her house has been featured in a number of places, such as England’s National Geographic Magazine in an article called “100 Quiet Places to Book.”  Once her children moved out, she told us she wanted to open her home up to guests to enjoy, and the way she told this last part made me feel as if I had a special invitation to stay.

But Susan did not want to intrude on our time and so she finished with a motion to where the towels were and a recommendation of restaurants for dinner and a chat over a breakfast time and food.  “There is another couple — they are not here right now — but they are staying below on the main floor.  They do not have access to the entire house so you have the house all to yourself.  I only ask that you please lock up at night.”  Then, before we knew it, the door had closed and Susan disappeared.

“We’re here,” I whispered to Andy.

“We’re here,” he said back.  “Now what do we do?”

Turns out, we sat in the most comfortable silence at Susan’s kitchen table, watching the leaves rustle in the breeze and the sailboats ever-so-slightly rock side to side.

“Know what I want more than anything?” one of us said.

“A shower,” we both answered and so as Andrew had his first shower in a week, I went onto Susan’s wrap-around porch and took pictures of her stunning view.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0231.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0233.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0234.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0229.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0235.JPGThen I watched as a deer below nibbled on the neighbor’s flowers, and I listened as the birds chirped in song.  This is how beauty looks and how beauty sounds.
IMG_2318DCIM100GOPROGOPR0237.JPGAndrew had re-emerged, clean and a new man, and so I went into the bathroom to take the best shower I have had in my entire life.

Before, we had grand visions of exploring Quadra Island, of renting bicycles, of seeing and tasting our way through this tiny portion of Canada . . . but we were also drained mentally and physically so we settled on dinner, which meant a walk to a nearby restaurant that sat against the shore.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0241.JPG20190815_194646DCIM100GOPROGOPR0242.JPGAs we arrived, the sun was setting so we spreading our legs before us and sat on the dock enjoying the fact that we had nowhere to be.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0243.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0247.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0248.JPGAfter dinner we stumbled back to the inn, utterly exhausted and anticipating the best sleep on an actual mattress . . .

 

The following morning, we woke early to be greeted by Susan and a delicious fresh breakfast before our early afternoon flights back home . . .20190816_090009Thanking Susan for the wonderful breakfast, for opening up her home, and for her hospitality, we said our last Canadian goodbye before she called a taxi for us to leave for the airport . . .

and, as if British Columbia stay could not get better, this happened:20190816_114310Meet this furry little puppy that was full of smiles and sunshine who bounded into my lap the moment the taxi door opened.
20190816_114341Listen, I don’t need to explain how I felt to cuddle a puppy the entire way to the airport — That feeling is all over my face . . .

“We need to move to Canada,” I told Andy.  “Seriously and truthfully and honestly — We need to move here.”

His (rational) answer: “You do realize that not every taxi driver will have a puppy that wants you to love it, right?”

And while I know he is right, I also know he is wrong.

Canada is more than puppies in taxis.

Canada is wild and fresh and breathtaking.  Canada is alive and vibrant and has an energy you can feel as it courses through your veins.  Canada is adventure and serenity mixed in this bundle that is hard to describe but easy to experience.  Canada is not rumored to be the words “friendly,” “open,” and “passionate” but instead it lives by these definitions.  Canada is pure freedom in the most beautiful and simple way that can only be experienced underneath those grandfather trees or by the shore when filling your lungs with air as you breathe in.  Canada is all you need and yet still finds a way to brim with the ‘more’ that you only found you needed when you arrived.  But finally, Canada is also puppies in taxis and let’s be honest — Is there anything better in the world than all of this?

 

Back home, our plane landed and I felt both a bit empty and brokenhearted.  Already our trip seemed a dream.

“Oh wait,” I told Andy as we moved to pick up our bags.  “We can’t forget — We need to give Jeffrey our postcard.”

Jeffrey was our airline angel — He was the sole reason our venture was possible and so we walked back to the Delta desk and asked if the representative wouldn’t mind sliding our postcard into his box.  We knew it was a super small token, but we hoped it showed that we remembered his kindness and for that, we are incredibly thankful.IMG_4679

PS — A few months later, Andy flew out of the same airport on a business trip and he told me he saw Jeffrey.

“Do you remember me, by chance?” he asked our airline angel.  “We sent you a post — ”

“I remember you,” Jeffrey told him.  “And I’m glad you made it to Canada.”

 

* * * * *

 

Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.


We Left Our Hearts in Canada: Kayaking with Whales and Wild Camping in British Columbia

Let’s set the scene . . .

Andy and I miraculously made it to Canada after one frantic, adrenaline-filled journey last summer . . .

Once our plane landed, our kayaking group of two guides and ten people were immediately whisked away to British Columbia’s Telegraph Cove . . .

From there, we set off on a boat ride then overnight stay in the charming Paddlers Inn . . .

 

Day One on the water

And all of this means the following day, our group was well-rested and ready to embark on our week-long kayaking with whales and wild camping adventure!

For me, I was in high hopes — I felt comfortable, happy, ready to go even . . . which was a big deal because you may recall that both Andrew and I had zero kayaking experience yet (in our brilliancy) thought we could handle a holiday that required moderate paddling all day . . . for six days . . . around remote Canadian islands.  Not only this, but the apparent kayak goal was whale-viewing, which meant paddling our tiny kayaks stuffed in our tiny bodies over the ocean and within eyeball range of massive humpback whales and orcas.  As if that wasn’t enough, we decided to make our holiday more special by foregoing glamping opportunities — Comfortable mattress?  We don’t need that!  Posh tent?  Hell no!  Ability to shower daily?  I’d rather smell of the outdoors!  Wood-fired hot tub overlooking the ocean?  Psh, we don’t need that style and relaxation!  Therefore, this meant we ultimately preferred to wild camp, which entailed pitching a tent, unfurling our sleeping bags, and laying on the ground in a different location every night because that, my friends, is how you pamper yourself on a vacation.  Oh, and I forgot to mention we opted not for a private holiday but instead one with a group of highly skilled kayakers . . . because, you know, keeping our embarrassment a secret isn’t enough.

I hope, therefore, it is apparent that we booked this holiday when we were comfy on our sofa — probably in our pajamas, eating ice cream, watching a movie — when the excited idea of our next great adventure pushed aside realistic thoughts.  This is us after all.

Clearly, dwelling on the past though is no help, I told myself but still I was frozen in concern as Andy and I were about to begin our venture.  My wide eyes were watching our group, which had moved from their organized frenzy on the dock to the water in their kayaks . . . except — pause for a moment — everyone had to wait for our guides to assist me into my kayak despite the fact that I am a fully grown adult who should be able to slide into a kayak solo.  Thankfully (and after much assistance) I got in and moved my paddle enough to get relatively near my waiting-group.

This, I felt was a huge accomplishment so I grabbed my camera as our guides slipped into their kayaks, and I took this first picture of our course . . .
IMG_0166when my camera had a sudden, utter meltdown and stopped working immediately.  Blank pictures after blank pictures were snapped automatically — the shutter never pausing even when the camera was turned off — so that the only way to quiet the contraption was to pull the battery out entirely.

“My camera stopped working,” I told Andy.  What else was I supposed to say even though it was apparent to all around as the sound of my camera’s shutter came as loud as gunfire on the silent sea?

“Already?!” Andrew was in mid-paddle towards me, looking calm and content — Truthfully, he could have been confused as an expert.  “L — You just got into your kayak!”  Trust me.  No one was more surprised than me but with the serenity of one area broken, our group was eager to move on so I popped my camera into a drysack never to be used again for the remainder of the trip.  (For all curious, the rest of the images are either taken by Andrew or taken using his camera.  Oh, and by the way, my illogical camera magically worked again the moment we docked in Telegraph Cove . . . )

You need to keep going, I said and so, to combat a feeling of failure at the start, I took a deep breath in — one giant breath — before looking around at beauty so raw I got chills.
20190813_192534Silly incidents, such as an inoperable camera, should not be allowed to ruin such a tranquil trip.  This will be a trip you do for you, I said to myself.  A trip you will not feel the urge to turn into a story but instead a trip that will live in your memory and live in your heart.  With this resolution, I tried to follow the group.  In one blink, Andrew gained paddle strength to zoom ahead . . . and everyone else was a tiny fleck in the distance . . . and our guides were resting their paddles in their laps waiting for me . . . and I, well, I was still in front of Paddlers Inn.

“ANDY!” I yelled.  Hell, I already broke the silence of the wilderness once.  “I’m not moving?”  I remember posing this as a question to him because in my mind, it was a clear kayak-problem and he would see this — the way he spoted vehicle issues and diagnosed repairs.  Instead, he returned and stated this: “That means you need to paddle.”

Brilliant.

Then he took this picture of me before he went off again, skimming the water so that barely any ripples formed.
20190811_104246Needless to say, I tried to smile but did not feel it in my body as I struggled to turn my sudden cruise ship-sized monster towards our group.  From here, I did (somehow) learn to move my kayak enough to get within a few yards from everyone waiting.  This, they assumed meant I had suddenly mastered the ability to paddle — or at least gained valuable insight worthy of carrying me on — so off they went again . . . only to have to wait several minutes for me to arrive . . . late again.  And that is ultimately how our entire first day on the ocean went.
20190811_121155“I can’t do this,” I told Andy during one stopped phase before pleading (in tears) for him to please stay behind with me.  At this point I couldn’t determine which fear consumed me more: That I had a full five days left of kayaking or that I would fall overboard unseen and be eaten by a whale-beast below.  Listen, I have no problem admitting I just wanted one person to take responsibility of me — to feign care and concern.  I was childlike.  Sensitive.  I needed someone.

“It’s alright,” he said in his happy-go-lucky attitude that made my blood boil with rage.  “Oh look!” and he pointed towards the sky.  “Wonder if that’s an eagle!”  Clearly we were on different levels in life so to show spite, I refused to look.  Optimism unaltered though, he slow-paddled next to me and moved behind while I grunted and huffed and made war cries to try to get my kayak to move.  At this point, the most effective way I found was not in using my paddle but in using every inch of my body in a forceful rocking motion. I wish I could say I was joking but this is how much I struggled.

“L, what are you — ”

“WHAT AM I WHAT?!” I shrieked, knowing his question.  I think members of our group turned to look at our commotion.  Either that or they made an effort to paddle away as quickly as possible.  Oh no, we have one of those — A relationship argument now and for the rest of the week, they must have thought.  That or Why didn’t he leave this uppity city girl at home because she clearly has never spent time outside?  I felt the urge to yell to them my nature-résumé but in that moment, I confess I was not one for nature, the outdoors, or any type of adventure.  I was essentially that person playing loud music on an external speaker when you reach the peak of a mountain after a hike — You know, that person we all hate.

“I just meant — ”

“Just meant what?!  That I’m not paddling?  That I don’t know what I’m doing?!  I think that is obvious to even the animals in the forest, Andy!”  I said his name harshly — as were all of my enunciated words, and I should stop here to make this understood: When recounting this portion of the story, it is not one that makes me proud.

“Okay.  Let me help then,” he whispered while putting his hands in the air as if an unspoken truce was decided.  Then, he paddled closer — so close he may have even placed his hand on my kayak.

Help, I thought.  Finally help and it truly was like a ring buoy was thrown my way a second before I took my last breath and went under the water.  “Okay, I’m listening,” I told him and felt sudden peace.

“Right,” he responded before his next most serious question: “Are you even trying?”

Dear friends, to write in a way that shows how confused I was that he possibly thought I was pretending not to paddle well — Let’s just say it was clear in that moment that the ring buoy was filled with lead and sank rather quickly while at the same time Andrew paddled away following my furious roar.

And so I was on my own.

Again.

Tackling the uncharted waters, learning to survive on my own.

Hours went by in the same fashion — Our group paddled and waited, paddled and waited, occasionally Andy would brave coming back to check on me only to be eaten alive and spat back out, and then it was lunch time.

“Let’s have a snack today on the water!” one of our guides announced and I understood this to be code for “Because we are behind schedule due to L’s paddling, it will be too much time for everyone to get out of their kayaks on shore and eat a proper lunch.”

“Alright, let’s form a chain where you are beside another person on a kayak!” and here we all learned how to paddle not ahead or behind but to the side.  “This will allow us to lock together by holding one another’s paddle.  Now, let’s form that chain!”  Eyes darted from group member to group member determining the best place to form.  I’ll be honest, my eyes were looking at my paddle.  Learn to paddle to the side?!  I hadn’t even learned how to paddle forward!

“Our chain can start at . . . at L!” and I breathed the heaviest sigh of relief that — for the first time — I did not have to move but everyone else did.  Call me selfish but I was more than happy to sit and watch everyone else learn to paddle and move to me.

“Thank you,” I whispered to our guide.  “I know you have everyone coming around me because I am the weak link of the group but thank you.”  My heart was filled with gratitude.  If it weren’t for worrying I would fall out of my kayak, I would have hugged our guide.

“No way!  You’re going great!” I was told.  “I picked you because you have the brightest kayak so it is most visible!”  Guys, you tell me if a faded light green is brighter than red, orange, or yellow — but you know what, I’ve heard it said before that white lies are okay and I openly accept this as truth.

Following our quick lunch, we were back to paddling for hours and this also meant back to a new concern: I was soaking so much so that I honestly worried that my water-filled kayak would sink.

“How do I have so much water on me and in my kayak?” I whispered to Andy while both scooping water and noting that everyone else was remarkably dry.

“Well, you are obviously doing it wrong,” he told me and this, to say bluntly,  lead to another rant about how I was obviously kayaking wrong based on the fact that I moved a yard an hour; how all I wanted was for someone to tell me what I was doing wrong because I was trying, damn it, I was trying; how I was literally over this trip and how I would pay every penny I had for someone to medflight me out of the godforsaken wilderness; and how I could not wait to pick the next vacation because I sure as hell was gonna pick one that made him understand my all-consuming misery and torture.  I’m sure the list went on but basically Andrew and I agreed we needed kayak-time apart.

Then a miracle happened: After paddling for hours, one of the women in the group slowed her kayak to glide next to me.

“I admit,” Liza said breathing calmly and not breaking a sweat, “this is harder than I thought.”  I had the feeling she kayaked often but for that glimmer of a moment, I wanted to pretend she found the journey a challenge too and for that I appreciated — so much — her empathy.
20190811_121158Meanwhile, group members continued to slide beside someone new, carrying on pleasant conversations and getting to know one another.

I wish I could say I was in a positive mental space enough to carry on a proper conversation with Liza, but between my humiliating ability to paddle and my horrible effort to communicate, I was alone more often than not.  This was fine, too, because when I did open up, my conversations went like this:

“You look great!” Andy yelled as we kayaked on, surely near the end of our day on the water and therefore enough time had passed in our kayak-separation.  I shot him a look that said otherwise as he moved quickly and gracefully towards me.  “Really!” he said, probably chuckling.  “You do!  I wasn’t kidding!”

“Oh I know you are serious — but let me ask you this, Andrew.  If I said you looked great when your hips hurt and your legs have lost feeling — Does that help?”  Clearly my response was not what he expected.

“I mean — ” he started but I cut him off.

“That’s where I’m at — My seat cushion fucked off the moment I sat down in my kayak and I didn’t want to adjust it for fear of tipping over so my ass is numb.  Only my big toe touches the rudder pedals and they only touch with my legs fully extend so let’s hope I don’t need to turn anywhere.  My shoulders ache, I’ve already removed layers of skin from my hands so my gloves clearly aren’t helping, and my hands have locked up with arthritis because I’m holding my paddle too tightly — so when you tell me ‘I look great,’ forgive me if that doesn’t make me feel better.”

I knew my temper tantrum warranted me returning to time-out but if I was going out — I was going out in a puffed state of glory!  I had reached past a point of caring.  And apparently Andrew didn’t either.

“I was just asking.  Fuck off then” and with paddle dipped into water, in one fast movement he was yards ahead of me.

I mean, I totally deserved that, I thought.  It wasn’t his fault that I was reckless by nature.  It wasn’t his fault that I keep getting myself into situations I should not put myself into.  It simply wasn’t his fault.  I felt the need to apologize but the only way I could was to talk to him . . . and the only way to do that was to be near him but he was so far away and I was so far behind.

The good news is that it was time to drag our kayaks ashore on South Tracey Island.  To say I suddenly became the happiest person alive is an understatement.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0004.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0015.JPGThe shore was lined with shells — each layer showing a new time period so that in total, it dates back centuries to the First Nations, or indigenous Canadians who were the first people to come into contact with the Europeans when they went exploring.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0017.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0021.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0024.JPG
Directed to find a place to pitch our tents, our group split under the canopy of this old-growth forest while our guides made the most delicious, fresh dinner.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0005.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0009.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0029.JPGWe pitched our tent under this falling tree . . . which now that I type I — well, I don’t even know what to say.  Our decisions continue to astound me.

After eating, everyone assisted in cleaning and organizing the dishes so that it was complete before I felt we even started.

This also meant I had no more obligations — I didn’t have to keep up with the group, I didn’t have to help, I didn’t have to be present anymore.  I was done — I was done with paddling.  I was done with kayaking.  I was done with talking to strangers who all found our journey joyful.  I was done pretending so while our entire kayaking group leisurely strolled to the shore for an after-dinner pow-wow — I sulked away alone.  My body ached beyond misery, my head was pounding, I was cold and wet, and on top of that I had berating self-confidence reminding me that I was not only the group’s worst kayaker but I was the world’s worst kayaker.  I knew too well the only medicine I could provide myself was comfort in the one place I felt most happy, safe, and familiar: in the woods in a tent in a sleeping bag.  Let tomorrow come and the next day and the day after that — Let these days pass quickly because sleep was the only way to cure this sickness.

Andy crawled into the tent several minutes later to check on me, and I remember our conversation distinctly and the look he gave when he entered the tent.  It was a look that asked if I needed help (once more) getting back to the group.

“I went in here because I have a headache and I’m cold,” I huffed, tucking myself deeper into my sleeping bag.

“No,” he corrected me.  “You went to bed because you are miserable.”

“Whatever,” I grumbled rolling over so I didn’t have to face him.  “At least I didn’t get seasick.  I still have a chance to actually be cool around our new friends.”

“Sure, L.”  He said to me.  “But you didn’t even say goodnight to our new friends.  I just said goodnight for us so while you hope you don’t get seasick, I hope tomorrow you wake as a new person.”

And that, dear friends, is when I fell asleep.

 

Day Two on the water

Alright reader, if I haven’t lost you yet there is hope — I do get better at kayaking (in fact, not to blow my own horn but I master the hell outta it) and this trip was truthfully the most incredible experience I could ever imagine . . .

but . . .

and I’m gonna be blunt here . . .

You do still have to put up with the reality of the situation and that is that after my tears and temper tantrums and stalking off the day before, it was another rough — very very rough — day.

Day Two started with renewed hope that I could (somehow) learn to be a kayaker, but the reality is I learned there is no such thing as magic because if it was possible to be worse — I was undoubtedly worse.

Combined with being sore and having popped blisters on my hands, I was basically told the moment I was dry and warm, fed and watered, and therefore comfortable and happy — I was told I needed to re-enter my kayak to be wet, cold, more uncomfortable, and therefore more miserable and irritable.

But what can a woman do?  There were certainly no helicopters coming to my rescue, and trust me — I was looking often.

So off we went into the water and, no surprise, Day Two essentially passed the same as Day One.

It would be a miracle if I made it out alive.

Or if Andy still loved me.

Or hell, if Andy still wanted to cross paths with me again — even as some estranged person in a random grocery store encounter.

But he has this ability to stick by my side — no matter how dark the day actually is or how dark the day is only to me.

At one point in our kayak, he offered this helpful advice: “Why not ask a guide what you are doing wrong?”  This was a great question.  Why hadn’t I?  It was true — I did speak to nearly all group members and tried to (passively) seek advice from them.  The most noteworthy advice I got came Amy and Dave . . . 

Full of love and hope, Amy has one of the most compassionate spirits I have ever met so I was eager to hear how she successfully glided across the water.  She spoke to me between strokes of how she gets lost in nature and her thoughts then returns to nature and tries to lose herself all over again, and how that was such a beautiful experience.  I let Amy slide off then water-splashed my way towards Andy to report what Amy shared.  “Listen — The words ‘meditate’ and ‘kayak’ clearly do not have a relationship together.  I don’t know how she is able to do that — It is otherworldly and I’ve heard of people who go for ‘morning paddles on the kayak to start the day’.  Seriously?!  Who are these people?!  Getting into a damned kayak first thing in the morning — Oh ho ho!  That is definitely the worst way to start any day.”  I think I continued to grumble how this image was so unrealistic and I would never have believed it if it weren’t for seeing Amy firsthand — seeing someone who (and I am 100% honest) wore a smile the entire time we moved over the ocean.  Every single day.

Then there was Dave, who appeared to excel more on the water than on land.  He had a dry and straight-forth sense of humor so when I asked for his advice, I remember wondering if he was joking or not.  I, of course, went to report this additional finding to Andy, too, and I think I muttered that it didn’t matter if he was being truthful or not because he was clearly birthed in a kayak and knew how to paddle as a newborn.

So sure, I asked for help, though some could argue (okay everyone could argue) that I was not willing to receive help.  Still, I did as Andy encouraged.  I mean, clearly I have no problem appearing as an idiot or shying from a question so I asked the two people most capable to give help . . .

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked one of our guides as he paddled slowly beside me at the back of our group.

“What are you talking about?  You’re doing great!” Mike answered.  The sweet man, I thought.  He must have to boost everyone with confidence on a trip like this so that the people truly believe they can do this.

But I am not one of those people.

This is not a lesson to be learned — This was a rescue mission.  I had succumb to being last, I had given in to being a crap kayaker, I understood that all activities are not for everyone.  Now, I simply needed to know how to survive — how to barely survive — the next few days.

“Listen.  I know I’m shit — ”

“You’re not — ”

“I know, I know.  I know you have to say that — It is very kind.  But I am.  I am shit.”  I should say when I am angry or defeated, I cuss more.  Sorry but the pain was real.  “And I’m totally okay with being shit but I need you to be honest with me — truly — and . . . Can you just watch me while I paddle and tell me what I am doing wrong?”

I think he realized how desperate I was — how this was a need and not a want — because he nodded and agreed . . . then waited who knows how long for me to slow paddle past him to model my lack of skills.

It took all of two seconds for him to find my problem: Apparently, I needed to move my entire body — from my head all the way to my toes — and really engage every single muscle so that it aids the paddle, which therefore aids moving me.

Then he smiled at me and, bless his heart, I think he thought he handed me the most astounding treasure because he paddled ahead, modeling how all of his body was engaged.  And it was — his muscles were flexing and he was moving and gliding across the water in some superhuman way.

“Andy,” I whispered as Mike passed.  Then I just sighed — so heavy I felt the weight of my breath fall onto my lap.

“Yeah?  How did it go?  Did you ask Mike?”  I’m not gonna lie — Andy appeared to be cowering from me after our interactions the day before.

“I mean,” another sigh, “I did.  And he said I needed to ‘engage my entire body’.”  Then I hesitated — tears streaming from my face — “But I am.  I really and truly am.”  The fact of the matter was I was working out so intensely that I had shed the company’s kayaking jacket  . . . then my own rain jacket . . . and then bundled up my shirt sleeves.  My next step was going shirtless and showing off my sports bra but I felt my crew had seen way more than enough of me.  Still, even over an open ocean and in the Canadian cold, I was sweating buckets.

Poor, Andy.  I think he saw my sweat and exercise-induced redness.  The look of heartbreak in his eyes showed me how he understood my plight and was sincerely apologetic for picking this vacation.  “L, I’m so sorry,” he whispered back in a way that made me feel I was so pathetic that it may move him to tears.  “Listen, we have four more days and then we never have to kayak again.  Four more days.  Do you think you can do it?  Because if not, I’ll see if the guides can get a boat to us — no problem.  I have no problem asking that.  And they will understand too if you’re scared they won’t.  Everyone will understand.  Listen, this is hard — It is hard for me!  I’ve even heard other people saying this was more than they thought it would be.  So if you want to leave, we can leave.  It’s fine.  I’m not mad.  We can leave.  Just tell me so I know what to do, okay?”

His kindness, his sympathy, his ability to realize how close I was to falling from my kayak and sliding under water was uncanny.  And for some odd reason, it gave me hope.  This was his dream — to kayak with orcas and we hadn’t seen any — not even a fin so there was no way I could be that selfish and force him to leave.  I ruin his ability to make new friends on my pick of vacations after I vomit off the side of a boat (for hours) on scuba diving adventures so this was his pick.  He never imagined diving.  I never imagined kayaking.  I would do this for him.

“Thank you,” I said probably through tearful, snot sniffles.  “I think I’ll try it one day longer.”

“Are you sure?  Because we can leave, L.  We can leave and we do not have to talk to anyone here again.  There is no shame.”

“I know.  Thank you.  But I’ll stay — one day more.  I’ll stay.”  And then I paused.  “And Andy?  Can you please promise not to tell anyone here what we’ve talked about?  Please.  It would mean a lot to me and, to be honest, I just need to know that right now.”

“Of course,” he told me.  “No problem” and never a word was uttered to our group or guides so much so that I hope they had no idea any of this even happened.  Have I made it clear yet: Andy is a saint.

To make this long, painful, laborious, almost-hopeless story shorter, I continued — accepting my lack of abilities and speed.  I was no longer berating myself.  I was no longer fixated on my weakness.  I was just slowly following the group — the last kayaker next to the second last kayaker who was my incredibly sweet Andy.

And this allowed him to have time to take pictures as we slow-paddled together . . .DCIM100GOPROGOPR0039.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0033.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0034.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0026.JPG
We moved past British Columbia’s breathtaking rainforests . . . past huge eagles perched on rocks and in trees (which are hard to see in these pictures) . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0047.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0048.JPGHours passed before it was time to once more pull our kayaks to shore and search for the best place to pitch our tent on North Owl Island.

Docking once more filled me with some type of hope that I could possibly endure another pain-filled day . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0059.JPGand so Andy and I walked hand-in-hand to the forest to set up our tent . . .I felt safe here — safe on the multi-colored pebbled shore looking out at the ocean.

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20190812_193107This island had less space for camping due to the numerous trees, though, looking up — I was at peace knowing they claimed the land.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0050.JPGThe area felt too enchanting, too stunning to be real, and I found myself in amazement at how island forests — directly next to one another — could be so dramatically different.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0051.JPGFluffy green moss clung to tree trunks as it was explained how long moss lives and how it slow-grows.  As our guide talked, he handed us dead moss from the ground — Even then the soft moss still had beauty.

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As the sun went down, the tide crept back and we made our way to the trees and tent to end our second day . . .
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Soon a light rain began to fall.  Then, we heard a commotion next to us — a voice that sounded as if a woman was talking to herself.

“Andy, I think that’s Liza,” I whispered.

“I think so too” and so we sat in silence a second longer trying to decide if maybe she had some strange ritual of talking herself to sleep or if she needed help because something was wrong.  Moments passed — some silent, some with solo conversation — then we heard our guides talking.

Sticking our heads out of the tent, we learned Liza’s tent was leaking — This, after a day of hard kayaking . . . after setting up her tent, sleeping bag, and belongings solo . . . after being exhausted and desiring only a good night’s sleep . . . her tent was leaking.

We offered to help in whatever way we could before returning to our tent.

“We should ask Liza if she wants to sleep in our tent with us,” I told Andy.  I knew how it felt to have to keep going when all you wanted to do was give in and sleep.  I knew how it felt to —

“L.  There’s barely enough room for us in this tent, never-the-less another person.”

Life seemed fraught with bad situations.

 

Day Three on the water

I spoke earlier about there was no magic and now, I admit, I was wrong.

Canada is magical.  British Columbia is magical.  The forests there are magical, and in all of this — true magic does exist.  The next morning, this magic somehow filled me — filled my lungs, my body, and my mind with the sole resolution that I will learn to kayak.

The tide had fallen, leaving kelp to cover the rocks . . .20190813_072422and a sweep of sea fog hushed over us as we paddled out . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0159.JPG20190813_103535The fog at times blended with the horizon so much so that there was no distinction between water and sky . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0153.JPGand the water was so still — so still that I was worried my mere blinks would cause ripples.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0154.JPGAll was silent around us and so we mostly followed suit — waiting as the guides took the lead.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0156.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0158.JPG

For me though, I was on a mission and I realized how intent my mission was when one of our guides, Estelle, breezed by me.  The way she paddled was unlike anyone else in the group (and trust me, I had been watching everyone).  It was honestly as if she was not paddling at all.  She moved lightly — so lightly in fact that she never had a crease on her brow or squint in her eye.  I joke not but she held the paddle with a mere three fingers from each hand and — prepare yourself for the truth — extended her pinky fingers as if she was sipping tea while directing her large sea vessel.  In short, she glided quickly and effortlessly above the water — no ripples, no water drops, nothing — and even seemed to be mediating.  In short, she was the most peaceful and beautiful kayaker.

I must learn to paddle like her, I told myself.  If she can do this, I can too and so for mile upon mile I paddled behind Estelle — sometimes struggling to keep up, sometimes so close I hit her kayak, and other times passing her . . . PASSING HER . . . and it was then, I realized — I MASTERED KAYAKING!

I know.  It is almost too unbelievable and too crazy a thought.  But I did — I totally mastered sea kayaking mimicking Estelle.  I held that damned paddle so tight in each of my three fingers, making it appear I was learning to use chopsticks and my life depended on not dropping the sticks.  I extended my pinkies so forcefully one would think I had invisible splints on each.  I moved — awkward and twisted — in the most hideous way as I watched her body move — not forward and backward — but left to right.  I reached my paddle forward to the farthest point in front of me — not right beside —  then swept the water back until my paddle was at the farthest point behind me.  And I paddled in such a way that not a drop — not a damn drop — of water fell onto me so that with each stroke, I was completely dry.  Basically what I am trying to say is this: Gradually, I was one badass kayaker.

“L?” Andy said a bit out of breath as he paddled hard to catch up to me — ME! — as I held my pace at the front of our tribe — eyes unwavering from Estelle in front.  “I’m not trying to be funny but you suddenly look like you are actually kayaking.”

“I KNOW!” I exclaimed.  “I AM!” and it was true — I could feel it!  I could feel what Mike meant when he said to engage every muscle, and I could feel what Amy meant by finding peace once you get your rhythm, and I understood what it was sort-of kind-of like to be Dave and be so comfortable you may as well have been birthed in a sea vessel.  I could feel it!  “LOOK!  LOOK!” I announced to Andy, letting Estelle slide away — I could catch her easily now and I was up to the challenge.  “This is what I learned — I’ve just been watching Estelle and copying everything she is doing and this is what I learned!” and I then began to model all I have told you here.  I felt like a child running back and forth modeling the most simple and mundane, but my excitement was overwhelming.  “TAKE A PICTURE OF ME!!!” I shouted.  And so he did, and bless him — He took many many pictures at my request all of me looking like this goon with a huge smile . . .
20190812_130223(0)I felt calm and at ease so with elongated strokes, in seconds I was behind Estelle leading the group again!

Before I even realized it, Day Three was over and we were once more docking our kayaks . . .DCIM100GOPROGOPR0174.JPGand for the first time, I was letdown to get out.  ME! I thought.  LETDOWN!  Oh how perspective can change so dramatically!  And this was only one tick in my day of firsts . . .

Not only did I learn to successfully kayak . . .

but I got wraps and tapes to protect my blistered hands . . .

and this island was our first less rainforest-y island and so we scattered to claim one of the visible camping spots — some noticeable based on the smooshed grass, others closer to makeshift structures.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0171.JPG
Andy and I claimed this one, which was surrounded by these large, beautiful pink flowers . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0166.JPGbut let’s be honest — The main reason I was ecstatic was because there was a blackberry bush right next to our tent . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0167.JPGand I tell you — with emphasis and emotion — that nothing in life is better than eating vine-ripened berries outside in the summer heat.

So, friends, that is exactly what I did.

While everyone else was toiling away unfurling their tents and bags and belongings — I stood right there eatin’ blackberries, and I ate all the blackberries my hands could hold and stomach could take.

Sure, sure — I did notify everyone of the treasure that was awaitin’ and even offered my own just-picked berries from my hands, but they seemed intent on accomplishing camp.

“And?” I asked as he worked to set up the tent alone.  “First do you need help?  And second, do you mind if I eat these berries?  Because I will help with all of this but right now — there are berries!”  I think I must have had blackberry juice dripping from my mouth and onto my shirt and a grin so large my that blackberry-stained teeth showed — so Andy paused in his labor, looked at me and said this: “L.  Today is the first day I’ve seen you smile since we started this trip.  Eat all the berries you want.”

Y’all.  I love this man.

So that’s exactly what I did until camp was set up (courtesy Saint Andy) and we were strolling our way back to the shore, following the same pink flowers . . .DCIM100GOPROGOPR0164.JPG20190813_192550

From here, Mike offered to take us on a casual paddle around islands.  And while some stayed behind, I admit — That idea was appealing because why should I risk ruining a perfectly good day?  I decided to forego my judgement and instead take to my kayak again.

And know what?

I’m so happy I did.

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This paddle was leisurely as Mike rattled off information about the island, the island’s people, the plants — He was a wealth of knowledge.  More a living, breathing Encyclopedia Brittanica than man, and we listened with great interest.  We learned the area has granite, limestone, gneiss, and basalt rocks, and some have renderings by First Nations people.20190813_17081220190813_17043520190813_170809It was a quick but exciting casual paddle and so we made our way back . . .
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Once there, Estelle and Mike found a bit of shore, covered their faces with their hats, and had a quick snooze.  Hey, it’s rough being guides.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0177.JPGMeanwhile, the water was so blue, so clear, so calm that it must have beckoned to Andy and Crispin — Crispin, a kind-hearted and humble man in the group.  The two of them ran trotting towards the ocean before plunging into its icy waters . . . only to determine the waters were, well, icy so they ran back out.
20190813_132503Meanwhile, on the shore, I made these finds . . .
20190813_154914(from right to left) hermit crab shells, a whale vertebrae and other portion of bone, and a dried urchin . . .

The urchin — I truly have not seen a design more beautiful.  It was a vibrant white and so thin and intricate it appeared more as the finest lace.

Turning from the shore, Andy and I went to eat with the group and for the first time, I felt I could breathe and take time to get to know everyone.  That night, we were able to talk and joke and laugh, and I remember feeling as if I fit in with the kayakers.

We climbed into our tent that night before the rain began to fall.  Inside, Andrew and I listened to the pitter-patter of the drops as they fell onto our rainfly and, at some point, we fell asleep.

 

Day Four on the water

By now,  I had learned to kayak and was self-assured in my abilities to become a master-kayaker . . . that was until Day Four: The Day of the Bull Kelp.

The morning started the same way as the others — slippery rocks due to stranded kelp and a thick layer of fog over the ocean.
20190814_082306Loading into our kayaks, we began our journey through a series of bull kelp.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0149.JPGBull kelp is a super long kelp that grows thirty centimeters (nearly twelve inches) in twenty-four hours.  Similar to seaweed, kelp is very beneficial to the environment because it absorbs a massive sixty percent of the world’s carbon dioxide — which to give you an idea, we were told trees absorb less.

Kayakers can also like bull kelp because if there is a bit of current or a need to stop, holding the kelp firmly can create a type of anchor.

Because of all of these facts, I therefore began with a grand respect for bull kelp — I talked to Andrew about how eerie but incredible a dive through a bull kelp forest would be; and I praised the bull kelp aloud for its protective qualities as we passed.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0148.JPGThere is a catch with the kelp though: For the most part, you want to paddle around it because rudders can get stuck in it, rendering kayakers and their vessels in a struggle to remove the plant.

So, of course, I would get caught in it.

At the start, I was leery to get too close to the plant.  I would take extremes to paddle around even one bull kelp because, sure, I’ve seen sci-fi movies so of course bull kelp could suddenly grow three hundred meters in one moment and effectually trap me useless on my kayak . . .

which is essentially what happened.

Everyone somehow was many nautical miles ahead of me — well, everyone except for Crispin and his son Rhys who were only slightly ahead — when I got caught in the daggon bull kelp.

“I think I’m stuck!” I yelled to Crispin as he and Rhys continued paddling in their tandem kayak.  They had this dreamy way of moving their two-person monster kayak in a way that made it appear there was not a trouble in the world.  Well, until they paddled with me.

He slowed immediately — the kind man — so while his back was turned, I took the liberty to hack at the bull kelp with my paddle — fierce, powerful strokes at a ninety-degree death-angle.  Listen, he didn’t need to see that.  By now, we all knew I was a heathen but damned if I was going to let some sea plant prevail!

“I am — I absolutely am stuck and cannot get out.”  My hacking proved worthless against the plant-beast that seemed to pull my paddle into the heart of it and so I watched helplessly as everyone else paddled on.  Crispin and his son were my only hope.

By now, Crispin had succeeded in turning his kayak diagonally to get a better look at my situation and that’s when my heart sank.  “Oh no, L,” Crispin said in this tone full of disappointment.  That’s when I knew my entrapment was bad.  Not only did he give recognition to my state of affairs but he validated my short-comings by then saying this: “Do you need help?”

“Yes,” I wanted to say to him before explaining that in order to assist me, I needed him to remove himself from his own kayak, forego his son, and walk — literally walk on water — towards me to please tug me out of the kelp . . . but I refrained.  Instead, I flailed and jerked — forward and backward and side-to-side — until , in a heap of pants, I aloud begged, “Just — just don’t — leave me.”

By now the dire situation caught the attention of my group as kayaker after kayaker slowly turned our way.  I imagined them playing a game of Telephone where the one closest (I mean, closest is relative) to Crispin passed on the following words: “L’s stuck, again.” Gradually all kayakers had turned to watch the drama unfold.

Aware of my sea performance, I came to the conclusion that I would signal a need for rescue — The problem was I did not know the signal and so I determined the only way I could make this evident was by throwing my paddle over the side of my kayak.

Right when I was about to perform this last-ditch action and raise my paddle-that-symbolized-a-white-flag in the air, the bull kelp magically released me.

“I think . . . I think I’m out . . . “I huffed to Crispin as we slow-paddled back to the group.  By now I was sweating, panting, and exhausted . . . and that’s when Estelle announced, “Now we have to do a crossing!”

Great.

For all those curious, a ‘crossing’ means crossing a large portion of the ocean that can be dangerous due to the boat traffic.  Because of this, the number one important rule to remember is not to stop paddling but to keep going.  As a group together, kayakers are more visible; alone, one kayaker can be missed in the expansive ocean, which means there is little a paddler can do to avoid an approaching fast boat before there is a collision.

Basically what Estelle was saying is after my near-death battle with bull kelp, I now had to paddle non-stop and full-force for at least an hour across a portion of ocean.

Again, great.

But there was little to be done — The group was ready to go so I took a deep breath and paddled and paddled and paddled my heart out.

This crossing was unlike any we had done before.  For starters, it was the longest and therefore most serious of crossings.  Second, it was in complete fog, and I’m talking the most thick fog.

I would say I wish I had a picture but combined with the need to continue to paddle and the would-have-been image being entirely fog-white, the picture would not have done justice.  Just know this was one of the most otherworldly experiences both Andrew and I have ever had — It was as if we were paddling in a gigantic cloud.  Estelle lead the group and each of us packed tightly around her kayak.  One lapse in paddle and she would have disappeared entirely in the fog.  It was that dense.  Not only this, but our direction was on our pure faith in her abilities — We could see no land, no trees, no lights, nothing to guide us so if we were paddling into the heart of the ocean, straight into the shore, or over a sudden waterfall, we would only know the moment it happened.

And again, you cannot stop.

We paddled for what felt like days and then more days — with barely any talking as we all continued in full concentration, and this is when I realized how mediative kayaking actually is.

In the middle of this gigantic fog-cloud, I thought about myself and how far I had come — from a person with zero kayaking experience to someone keeping up with our guide in an ocean crossing.  I felt confident in Estelle’s abilities to lead us and in my ability to follow her.  I thought of how proud I was at my determination to continue this entire journey — how I am capable of this and more, how with enormous focus and strength I can master skills I have zero experience in, and how no matter how painful I can continue.  I thought of Andrew and how patient he was and always has been with me.  I thought about how far he and I have come together — to starting out as strangers interested in becoming hiking partners to crossing an ocean full of whales in kayaks in Canada.  I thought of our past — our bruises, our pains, our heals — and how we have learned so much about ourselves and each other.  And I thought about how incredibly fortunate I was to be — just be — in that moment beside twelve of the most incredible people I could have ever had an opportunity to meet.

By now, land was slowly appearing in front of us and so we all cheered for Estelle’s guiding abilities and talked and laughed with one another.  Paddling in and out of different conversations — This, I have to say, is what made our trip the best we have taken yet.  I learned about Estelle’s burning passion to help kids and how years ago Dave devised a plan to bump into a cute cyclist (unbeknownst to her at the time) who later turned out to be his wife, Sheri. I learned how Dave and Sheri have a heart for animals and have fostered so many that they consider themselves successful “foster failures.”  I learned how beneficial meditation is for the body from Mike and Amy and how muscles store emotion and memories and how that can be released in the most simple, focused movements.  I learned more about the people I was with and therefore the world through their eyes than I can fill the pages of this blog.  I learned about friendships and acceptance and respect and kindness, and I learned that feeling of my abs tightening from laughter and my face stretching from smiles — that feeling is rare in the company of strangers but not rare in the company of true friends.  They taught me to maintain a belief that the world is primarily good, and because of all of this I learned that if I could have this moment — this trip with these people — bottled so that I could return to it again and again, I would have given beyond asking price.

But another day was down — our last full day now — and so as we passed land I also thought about how soon land like this would be where we stand again, ready to return home.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0178.JPGPaddling towards shore, we made our way onto our last island where we would find our last place to camp.
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0198.JPGDCIM100GOPROGOPR0196.JPGHere, we walked into the rainforest and set our tent on top of a wooden platform next to bright green moss and under tall evergreens.

That evening, Crispin’s wife Sally and I helped Estelle with dinner . . . and by help, I mean Estelle basically did everything but we assisted where we could, such as in the chopping of vegetables.  This time with Estelle though felt sacred.  While she cooked, she told Sally and me legends — legends of why the trees are shaped the way they are and legends of why the trees carry pinecones, heavy branches, and more.
20190815_101225While the following legend is certainly not word-for-word, it is one I begged Estelle to re-tell so that I could rapidly scrawl it down.  I hope it captures not only the beauty of Mother Nature and her trees but the beauty of Estelle’s carefree personality . . . .

Long, long ago, Mother Nature wanted to recognize her hardworking trees in her prized Pacific Northwest forest so she told Douglas Fir, Hemlock, and Cedar she wanted to give them each a gift and present this gift to them the next day at 8:00 a.m.

The next day, Mother Nature was waiting — You know, she is always on time because she does what she wants.

At 7:50 a.m., Douglas Fir wakes and meets Mother Nature.  He’s reliable in the forest so of course he will be on time.  Because he is ten minutes early, Mother Nature is stoked.  She presents him with a nice fir cone — a pretty big, delicate, and beautiful cone with ‘mouse tails’ hanging out of it — and she says, “Dougie, you support life.  You are tall and strong and fire-resistant, and because of all of this, you get this beautiful cone.

Douglas is grateful and heads away, happy to be given that gift.

On his way back, he sees Cedar at 7:59 a.m.

Mother Nature welcomes Cedar over — He woke up and made it in time — so Mother Nature gives Cedar a beautiful smaller, flower-shaped cone that contains seeds to reproduce.  She says, “Cedar, man, you are the giving tree — You are the tree that gives life with your bark and your beautiful, strong wood and your amazing nutrients, and I want to recognize your part in this dynamic ecosystem.”

Holding his branches up high and proud, he leaves.

On his way back, he stumbles onto Hemlock — who has just woken up after 8:00 a.m so Cedar tells Hemlock, “Mother Nature will not be very happy about this.  Hemlock, dude, get to Mother Nature, man” so Hemlock groggily shrugs his branches and gets there about twenty minutes past eight.

Mother Nature is okay though — she has all the time in the world — but she teaches Hemlock an important lesson.  She says, “I gave away my most beautiful cone and my biggest cone so you will get the smallest cone in my collection.  You did not show up on time so while you do still get a cone for reproduction, I am not too happy.”

Hemlock shrugs and walks with slouched branches and to this day, he still sags his branches.

As Estelle told her legends, our group slowly began to wonder in and gather around her until dinner was ready and our bellies, hungry, could wait no longer.

Together, we ate our last meal then went to the shore to take in our last moments . . .
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Here, we performed various skits re-enacting our experiences and we each added a bit to the artistic shore rendition of our journey . . .
20190814_202952Then we built a fire and watched the sun set fire to the sky . . .
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“Alright!” one of our guides said.  “If you want to give me your maps, I can mark the route we took so you can see how far you came” and Andy and I sat, unmoving, watching everyone pull a map from his or her kayak.

Friends, it was here — after our five days in Canada battling the seas — that we realized we were the only ones never given a map.  I’d like to say no wonder we struggled — or I struggled — but let’s be honest: I struggled because it is me.  Since we missed the pre-trip meeting, it was an easy miss that the guides were incredibly apologetic over and an easy miss that we, personally, found hilarious.

So while Mike marked up all maps and noted our route, the rest of us walked towards our tents for our last sleep in British Columbia’s forests . . .

That night, Andy and I dipped into our tent and lay listening to the sounds of the island — Evergreen needles plinked on our tent like raindrops, the trees squeaked and groaned as they sang their old whispered songs, the gulls laughed with one another as they flew over the sea, and humpback whales exhaled powerful bursts of air from the water.  So far, we had yet to see any trace of a whale from our kayaks but their music gave me hope that they were there and that we could see them on our final day.20190814_214845
“You know,” Andy whispered to me in the darkness of our tent.  “It doesn’t even matter that we never saw a whale.  I mean, I know that’s why we came but it doesn’t even matter.  This trip was perfect in every way.”

Next to him I thought about ‘perfect’ and our future — how I yearned to hike and camp as much of Canada as Andy and I could walk, how I wanted to keep breathing in that clean British Columbia air, how I needed to see those protective grandfather trees above me whenever I looked up so this last night, I wanted to speak of dreams.

“Andy?” I whispered back, cuddling up closer to him, after awhile had passed.

“Yeah,” he answered.

“It feels like home here,” I told him.

“I know,” I heard him sigh back.  “I was just thinking that too” and I felt a tear slide down my cheek.

 

Day Five on the water

This was our last day.  It had arrived.

I remember waking and wanting to move slowly in the hopes that I could still time but people were packing around us then breakfast was being served and before we knew it, we were waiting for a boat to gather us and our gear.  The good news: We had a few hours to spare, which meant enjoying one last kayak.

20190815_065237Estelle stayed behind and took these super awesome pictures of not only her adorable smiling face but of us heading off . . .20190815_06544720190815_065547We slipped and slid over the kelp, helping one another into his or her kayak until slowly everyone was waiting in the sea . . .20190815_06592720190815_07024720190815_07044920190815_070504Then we were off on our last search for the elusive orca and humpback whales . . .
DCIM100GOPROGOPR0181.JPGand incredibly — amazingly — we found one.

On the last day, on our last kayak we heard and saw large blows of air from a massive humpback whale.  Paddling faster and faster, we got closer to this dream that all of us had held on to — this dream that lead each of us here — and there before us was the whale . . .GOPR0186GOPR0188
At first, we worried we would miss it because it appeared to be heading away from us but it quickly turned and came straight at our group before blowing again in front of us and disappearing under the water.

Heading back, all of us were filled with awe, energy, and smiles.  Sure, it was only a glimmer of a humpback and sure, we never saw an orca but truthfully, I liked it better this way.

Not truly seeing the whales proved that they are wild and not directed for human entertainment.  It proved that this part of British Columbia is undisturbed and breathtakingly beautiful for that reason.  It proved that animals and humans can exist in a relationship together as long as there is respect.  Therefore, I am grateful — I am grateful knowing there were massive whales around and under us but that they were able to stay hidden and safe and be just as happy as we were above water.

Waiting for our boat, we entertained ourselves by allowing baby crabs to dance across our hands . . .
20190815_095220and learning about ‘wish rocks’ (rocks created with the appearance of a line all the way around) . . .20190815_101621and — finally — seeing exactly how far we paddled.DCIM100GOPROGOPR0208.JPGThe answer: Thirty nautical miles!

Nautical miles are used for navigation and used on the earth’s circumference so they are a bit different (and slightly longer) than standard miles.  Therefore, one nautical mile is equal to one minute of latitude, which also equals about 1.2 standard miles.

Looking at the maps, I have to admit, I felt a bit overwhelmed and speechless.  To say Andrew and I had never truly kayaked before and were able to pull this off — well, I’m so insanely proud of us.20190815_095636
Then that was it — Our boat was here and our week, over.  It was time to leave . . .
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On the way back, Mike and Estelle kindly let us travel with them across the ferry where Estelle took us to get the best ice cream while we waited to board the ferry . . . 20190815_170338(0)then they drove us all the way back to Quadra Island where Andy and I were staying for our last Canadian night.  (More to come in another post soon!)

As the vehicle moved around bends in the road, I took pictures of the green swooshing past. Soon, we would be hurdled back into the hustle and bustle of society.  Soon, our lives were about to change again . . .20190815_141610
Since we have returned home, I’ve told people about our trip, of course in my self-deprecating type of way; and I’m continually surprised at their response: “Surely that didn’t happen,” they tell us through laughter.  

Maybe they say this because I nearly killed myself at sea more than once.  

Maybe they say this because they cannot imagine how Andrew can continually extend more patience and kindness towards me.  

Or maybe they say this because they cannot believe both of us made it out of Canada — not only alive but together.  

I like to believe, however, that they say this as a compliment — That the only way they can fathom our magical trip is by believing I simply created the entire story . . . .

For more on our Canada trip, head over to British Columbia’s Most Tranquil Bed and Breakfast!

 

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Our group

Sheri, Dave, Liza, Jane, Rhys, Sally, Amy, Andrew, me, Crispin

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Believe it or not, Andy took this picture of Guide Mike.  Now as to why Andy chose to sneak a picture of Mike through our binoculars — You’ll have to ask Andy that one.

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Guide Estelle

To our kayaking group, we truly hope our paths cross again.  Thank you for making our trip incredible . . . .

To Mike,
Andy says it perfectly: You are the type of guy that looks like he could build a house with a toothpick and tarp in the middle of a fire.  Essentially, you look like you can survive anywhere and this is a huge compliment because it means the moment we saw you, we knew we were safe.  Andy and I entered with no sea kayaking experience.  To say we were definitely over our heads on this trip is an understatement so thank you for your constant cool.  We were weak when we started but your encouragement and support made us work to become super strong kayakers, and we are still amazed we paddled as far as we did.  That feeling of accomplishment is one I will never be able to properly describe.  I found myself paddling faster to be next to you simply for an opportunity to learn more about the area.  You are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the history there, and I wish I had my notebook with me when we were kayaking (and an ability to kayak and write) so that I could have written down every fact.

To Estelle, our guide,
You have a personality that makes people gravitate to you, which I hope you saw every day but mainly on last when you approached Andy and me on the rocky shore and began talking to us about Canada’s nature.  Before we knew it, more of our group showed up, listening to what you were saying, following you down the shore, and eating whatever you gave — no concern because it was you (and trust me, we at least would not have eaten random forest berries or munched seaweed from anyone else).  Always keep your positivity, passion, and energy — As we talked about while paddling, I wanted to tell you that you made me see so much hope for our world so do not let people or events change you.  You are the goodness we need.  Thank you for telling me your legends over cooking (again and again so that I could write them down) and sharing glimmers into what you were taught as a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest.  Even if it was a passing comment or one of your stories, I walked away feeling as if time passed with a good friend.  I hope one day to improve my ‘Estelle-esque’ paddling.

To Crispin,
Andy and I have spoken of you probably the most, which goes to show we are in awe of you.  You have the most pure and kind heart of anyone either of us has ever met.  We feel you are the type of person that would give the last of anything if it meant helping another, and meeting someone like that is rare.  Your calm, down-to-earth, genuine demeanor is clearly evident in your relationship with Sally, your patience and care with your teenagers, your welcoming spirit towards all of us as strangers — and I hope we have more people like you in this world.  I’ve learned so much from you — things I don’t think you even knew I was taking in — You reclaimed my belief that marriage comes from one’s own definition; you showed me that there are remarkable parents in this world with just as remarkable kids; you challenged me to be the first to help but also be the last to eat.  In the end — not that Jane or Rhsy would ever say this — but on the off-chance a teenager tells you or Sally that you aren’t “cool” adults — Totally disregard this.  You two epitomize cool, truly.

To Sally,
You and Crispin are meant for one another — You, too, are kind and caring, and there is a sense of warmth that surrounds you.  I felt welcomed whenever I stepped near you and saw first-hand how you made an effort to connect with everyone.  You are also a great conversationalist and talk with you is easy so I found myself smiling whenever you joined a conversation.  One of my favorite moments was cutting vegetables with you while we listened to Estelle’s stories when we both stayed back from kayaking after setting up camp.  It felt, in some strange way, as if I were home.

To Jane,
Andy and I both loved sharing laughs with you — though I am certain your laughs were more to jest at Andy and I acting foolish!  I found myself wondering about your classmates often — Would they find it cool you hung out with a group of adults for a week?  Do they see what you do — sea kayaking with whales — as hip and rad?  If on the off-chance someone questions this, know you are one of the coolest teens we have ever had the pleasure of getting to know.  And I’ve met many, many teens.
You did not hesitate in joining a group of adults and taking part in adult conversation — To most teens (and even adults) this would be highly intimidating but you did this seamlessly.  Not only did you join in, but you added a great and different dynamic to all we did.  And PS–I’m still jealous I never got to ride in the kayak with you.  You are a force to be reckoned with.

To Rhsy,
Thank you for talking to me about your interests and thank you for also talking to me about mine.  I can ask a lot of questions and you answered all I threw your way, which is a challenge many adults cannot even manage.  I love your honest nature and found myself giggling with you at many things you said.  I hope you always stay yourself, and if you are ever pressured to be someone different to ‘fit in’ — I tell all of my students this: “Fitting in is ordinary.  Ordinary is boring; long to be different.”  Your kind heart is seen too, and Andy and I noticed how you never hesitated when asked to do something.  I’d love to see your pictures from comic-con conventions.  Honestly, I would so please share.

To Amy,
I’m going to miss your positive outlook on life and I’m going to miss your laugh.  It is not often I’m around someone who is as clumsy as I am, so first, I want to say not only do I understand how you felt but you are kickass for getting up each time to keep going.  It takes a lot of strength (as I know all to well), and every single time you were still in your kayak at the head of the group, you still had a smile on your face, and you still had kind words to say.  I cannot wait to tell you about my first try at yoga when the world opens back up, I cannot wait to learn about more of your adventures, and I also cannot wait to see more pictures of Murphy and you.  You have an amazing soul and I hope the world treats you with the kindness you put out because you absolutely deserve it.

To Dave,
Your kayak skills made us think you should also be a kayak guide — You were controlled and never wandered off course; you made kayaking look easy.  Not only this, but you always helped — from the moment we launched the kayaks to bringing them back in.  What I’ll miss most though is your sense of humor — Andy and I are finding ourselves still laughing over things you said (like when you told Estelle — with the most straight face — it was “hard being a guide” when she asked who would sit on the ‘boombox’ on the way to Bruce’s boat).  You have such a dry sense of humor that both of us found hilarious.

To Sheri,
I hope we are still invited to see you and Dave in Oregon because our travels there in our motorhome are now at the top of our list solely because of you two — and I cannot say this enough.  One of my favorite moments on the water was when we were paddling behind Estelle (trying to secretly be more ‘Estelle-esque’) and you told me about how you and Dave met and about your life.  I admit, I asked Dave to tell me the story of how you met when I happened to be kayaking next to him so to hear your side of the story, honestly gave me butterflies.  I admire you and your husband and your heart for fostering animals.  While I hope you do keep fostering, I also hope you are always foster failures too.  In the end, I’ll miss our conversations and your amazing smile.

To Liza,
As I’ve been writing, I’ve asked Andrew if he wanted to add anything and he was surprised I left out one bit for you: “She’s your spirit animal, isn’t she?” he asked and this is true.  I probably had the most laughs with you.  You (unfortunately for me) showed there is a definite difference in an elementary school teacher and in a high school teacher.  From your team-bonding at encouraging everyone’s hand in to cheer of ‘Humpback’ . . . to your attention-grabbers . . . to your ABC song and dance (which we still want to hear and see in full — well, except for your dangerous ‘K’) . . . to your children’s story with Amy — You embody all about being a great teacher.  I know you mentioned you did not camp often but you adapted easily and never complained.  You unpacked your kayak quickly, set up your tent just as fast, and — what wasn’t talked about but should have been — you were the only one to sleep in a tent that leaked and a paddle with a kayak seat that was damaged.  This wasn’t talked about because you never talked about it, and in a time where complaints are heard more, this goes to show how incredible you are.

To Andrew,
Thank you for being up for adventure with me, always.  I know this was your Bucket List Trip choice . . . and I also know you absorbed a massive amount of cuss words, frustrations, anger, and unhappiness from me on those first days when we were the last two kayakers.  You stayed behind because I was the weak link and you continued to encourage me even when we both knew I looked far from great.  In the beginning, I was working hard to keep up so when you asked what you could do to help and I said — I’m positive this was my quote — “For you to call a damn helicopter to fly me out of here,” I’m so fortunate and humbled by your ability to simply laugh, smile, and support me still.  I would have left me on that first day if roles were reversed.  Thank you, my love.  As I became a stronger kayaker, you were the one I wanted to share my excitement with and you were the one that listened and looked each and every time I exclaimed, “Look at me paddle harder!” and “Look at me paddle faster!” and “Look at me paddle smoother!”  Thanks for those many — many, many — looks.  I cannot wait for our next crazy adventure — You know the one where we continue to pick possibly the most advanced sport without skill or experience but take it head-on together.  I promise you we will find those orcas on kayaks one day the same way you continue to promise me we will find those whale sharks on a scuba dive.  In the end, I want you to know I noticed when you stayed behind with me so I wouldn’t be last, I want you to know I heard the sweet words you said about me and us in your conversations to others when you didn’t think I could hear, and I want you to know I saw the times you looked my way to tell me silently that you love me.  I love you, too — completely and honestly.  I love our crazy, spontaneous, over-ambitious life together.  Here’s to Year Three of adventure — The next will be even more miraculous, eh?

* * * * *

 

Disclaimer One: Due to COVID-19, this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.

Disclaimer Two: In case it was not evident, any negative thought I carried was in no way, shape, or form related to the Canadian company we kayaked with or anyone on this trip.  I cannot encourage you enough to try this adventure and — more importantly — to book with Spirit of the West.  Truly.  They went over and beyond and in the end, if I can do it — You sure as hell can too.

Disclaimer Three: I am a horrible blogger.  Despite trying, my pictures and writings may not be perfect so know this story exists in my memory of a time that seems so far away.  Still, I hope our pictures and words fuel your interests and desires to get outside and seek new challenges.  Thank you for reading, friends.


The Charming Floating Lodge: Paddlers Inn, British Columbia

Here Andrew and I were — on a boat gliding over the calmest water after leaving British Columbia’s Telegraph Cove.
IMG_0113Even better?  In a sheer miracle, I did not get seasick.  Let me rephrase: For the first time in my life I did not get seasick.

However, this is when I had a sudden panic-realization: Andrew and I were supposed to be kayaking on the open salty water . . . all day . . . every day for a week.  What — and I do mean what — was I thinking?!  I — the person who gets ‘seasick’ by simply standing on a dock.  How did this thought only now occur to me?

“Andrew!” I was in quite a tizzy.  “Andrew-I-just-realized-we-are-going-on-a-kayaking-trip-and-I-get-seasick-so-what-do-I-do-if-I-get-seasick-on-my-kayak-and-am-seasick-the-entire-trip?!”

This, as you may have guessed, came as one massive word.

I saw the panic wash over Andy’s face as he quickly concealed his worry.  Then, just as fast, his rationalization: “L — You have not gotten seasick so far on this boat — “

“Yes,” I told him, “because this must be a magical boat.”

“And you did not get sick when we kayaked on the river — ”

“That was a quick river paddle though not — ”

“BUT,” he said the word loudly and slowly, “you did NOT get sick either of these times.”

While this was true, I was willing to debate my body’s stubbornness when it came to proving its desire to binge over water.  Luckily though, food came just in time to distract and so we agreed to disagree, silently knowing we soon enough learn the answer — for good or for bad.

And so the rest of our lunch and boat ride consisted of flitting from kayaker to kayaker to chat while also taking in these incredible British Columbia views . . .20190810_13455820190810_141422The breeze was soft and cool while sun warmed my skin, and I could have happily lived on that boat but even more magical destinations were in store: We were headed to Paddlers Inn.IMG_0151IMG_0136IMG_0121IMG_0125IMG_0147Located near near Echo Bay and North Vancouver Island, Paddlers Inn is a charming floating lodge owned by Boat Captain Bruce and his wife.  Desiring to immerse themselves fully in nature, live off the land, and be self-sufficient, they had appealed to Canada’s government for the right to build on and live in this little forested island.

They alone live here too with their dog and together, they have built a company that welcomes travelers.
IMG_0134Still, besides the visits from family, friends, and tourists, they connect most with nature, which was visible the moment we arrived and found a black bear strolling along the shore.
IMG_0118Filled with color, wildflowers, and evergreens, Paddlers Inn felt a dream or a secret tucked away from the modern, busy world.
IMG_0141It is so beautiful, in fact, that Andrew and I talk of going back and getting married here.

Speaking of marriage, this was the topic of our first conversation as our guides announced this was where we were spending our first night so it was time to determine sleeping quarters.  We had the ability to choose from a private one-room building or the larger building next to it where there were several rooms.

“Is anyone here on their honeymoon?” our guides asked.  No one answered.  “What about a celebration of some kind — birthdays, anniversaries, something?”  Again, everyone shook their heads.  “We like to offer the private room for that first but if no one here has special reasons to celebrate, then you all decide!”  And here, dear reader, is how kind our kayaking group was: “Give it to Andy and L!” Crispin said, explaining that we deserved the room based solely on our hellish travel to get there.  Everyone immediately agreed, which caused tears to brim in my eyes.  While our trip to Canada was pure torture, it reminded me that there are people in this world that are kind and caring, even if they do not know you.  In the end, we protested their decision but they overrode it and so this cute, private beauty became our home for one night.IMG_0124
Given time to unpack and organize . . .

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Picture courtesy Dave

we then had our first kayak mission: Our guides wanted us to claim a kayak to hop inside for a paddle in the cove.  Suited with our lifejackets, we learned about kayak “skirts,” which are the blue material (you will see worn under the lifejackets) that tuck around and into the top of the kayak to prevent water from getting in).20190811_091535From there, we joined the group to pick a kayak, learn the proper ways to enter and exit our vessel, and individually adjust our rudder pedals.  This is the important bit because I thought I adjusted my pedals correctly.  As instructed, I sat so that my knees were slightly bent, my toes were pointed outward, and my heels were angled toward my kayak’s center — easy!

Finally, the moment we were all waiting for — our first mini-kayak.  Somehow I became the last one to get inside but I wasn’t going to let that get my spirits down!  I took the extra dock-time to observe how a proper kayaker should appear.
20190811_093054Andrew (of course) easily pulled this off . . .
IMG_0162and according to Andrew, I did too, though proof of that has disappeared so you can use your best judgement.  Still, I was able to steer my kayak in the water as I delicately paddled so I ended this mini-kayak feeling good.  My hopes were high, my attitude was positive, and my excitement amplified.  Plus, I did not feel the slightest bit seasick!  This adventure was in the bag for me, I was sure of it.

Having a delicious family-style dinner together, our group said goodnight to one another as Andrew and I watched the sun set in the pastel sky . . .
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The next morning, our time had arrived — Our kayak journey was set to begin!
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The start to this day began a bit rough for Amy and me though.  Amy somehow managed to trip over the uneven dock boards, which caused her to take a nasty fall and tear up her legs.  I tried to console her the best I could saying it was comforting to know that I was not the only one accident-prone and that I fully understood her pain and that I was sure to embarrass myself later . . . but I realized none of this was actually helping her so I slyly scooted to the side only to hear Andrew loudly ask, “L, is this yours?”

All eyes turned to him as everyone witnessed him pinching something between his fingers before producing it high into the air and here, dear friends, is when I realized he was holding was a thong . . . my thong covered in Valentine’s pink and red hearts . . . which somehow managed to find itself outside of my dry sack and on the middle of the dock.

So in case you were curious, that’s how I started my first full day of kayaking as we left Paddlers Inn . . .

(And in case you were curious, Andrew just now reminds me that I should feel lucky this was in fact my thong because if it was someone else’s — well, as he says, “That would have been embarrassing for everyone.”  Somehow though, I don’t believe him . . . )

For more on kayaking and camping adventures, seek We Left Our Hearts in Canada: Kayaking with Whales and Wild Camping in British Columbia.

 

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Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.


Canada’s Telegraph Cove: Starting Our British Columbia Kayaking and Camping Adventure

“I’ll take you to Walmart now.”  This is how a stranger-man greeted Andrew and me in Campbell River’s airport.

Campbell River as in our do-not-believe-we-made-it-to-Canada final destination following our travel hell — and let me say if you haven’t read that post yet you’ll learn when we say ‘travel hell’, we truly mean it.

“Are you with Spirit of the West?” Andy and I asked the man in unison.

Spirit of the West was, after all, the entire reason we were even in Canada.  Through this company, we booked a wilderness tour called the Johnstone Strait Expedition.  That journey entailed paddling in kayaks with whales during the day and wild camping in tents at night.  It was a continuously moving weeklong expedition, which meant we would never camp in the same place more than once, so that by the end — we would have kayaked several miles and camped around and on British Columbia’s archipelago.

The company was more than adventure though — We were already very aware of the kind people behind the scenes.  Due to our nightmare travel, this incredible company gave us a free pass on not arriving to the pre-trip meeting the night before our expedition.  It also promised to hold up our entire kayaking-and-camping group to ensure we could make the trip hours behind schedule.  Even more — When I messaged the company to see if we should turn around for home after cancelled flights to stand-by flights to delayed flights, someone encouraged us to keep going — messaging us mid-travel to say another person would pick Andrew and me up from the airport the moment we exited our plane . . .

That plane, by the way, was the smallest plane Andrew had ever been on . . .
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“Welcome on board!” a smiling red-haired man said laughing.  “There are no drinks or food because we aren’t on here long enough but even so, I’m the co-pilot so I’ll be a bit busy helping fly the plane.”  More jovial chuckles which made the few people on the plane smile and giggle too.  “But if you need me, just shout at me because I’m right there and there’s no door between us!” and he pointed to the cockpit before bouncing off and into the seat.
IMG_0063Before we knew it, we were in the clouds after flying over cities . . .IMG_0072Then over water before coming to the home of evergreens . . .IMG_0083It was our first quick and painless flight since we left home a day earlier; and as I peered out at British Columbia’s breathtaking landscape, I could not wait to get out and explore.

The only problem was that once Andrew and I got off of our plane, we had no idea who we were meeting and apparently a different idea of where we were going because the only person who appeared to pick us up wanted to take us to . . . Walmart.

That man — who was shorter than me but I gathered quite strong due to the tug-of-war we were having over my luggage — had greeted us by name before immediately working to remove my suitcase from my gasp.

“Spirit of the West?” the man asked, repeating the question we had for him.  Refusing to answer though, he re-asked us his own: “You are Andrew and L, no?”

“I mean, we are — or well, I am L and that was Andrew,” I said with a pointing finger following my disappearing fiancé who — suddenly confident all would work out — left for the loo.  Go figure.

“Good, good!  Let’s go!” the stranger-man announced and briskly took off with one final tug to successfully free my luggage.

“But Walmart?” I questioned the man, refusing to move as he left the airport.  “I’m sorry — I thought you said ‘Walmart’?”

What I also should explain here is due to our flight fiasco, I was a multitude of emotions — I was anxious, excited, fearful, ready but most of all I was exhausted.  In fact, I was past the point of exhaustion.  I felt I was in the act of falling over.  Or I had already fallen over so maybe I was walking and talking in my sleep.  And in that case, this had to be some type of fever-dream because why else would a man I did not know approach me, steal my luggage, and rather forcefully work to whisk Andrew and me to Walmart?  The only clear thought I could gather was that ‘Walmart’ was code for another place and he was going to kidnap me when my male companion was not looking.  But nooo, sir!  I was smarter than that!

“Yes, Walmart — Come, come!”  Stranger-man was now waving at me, almost frantic, standing in the airport entryway doors.

Come on, Andrew! I silently pleaded as I waited and waited without a glimpse of Andy.

“Come, come!” he said again to me as he seemed to be jumping and waving.  

Damn it, I thought and made a silent vow to give Andrew hell no matter how important his business in loo.  Taking on another vow to get my luggage back — or at least see where it was going — I hurried after Stranger-man who had disappeared outside.  Evidently, he was either in a hurry or had no patience.

“I’m sorry — ,”  my introductions to this man consisted solely of apologizes, ” — but who are you, what company are you with, and who are you supposed to be picking up again?”

He chose to only answer my last question.  “Andy?  And you?  You are L!”  The way he said this sounded more as if he was telling me “How do not know your fiancé’s name is Andy?  Why do you not remember your own name?  You are L!

“Yes, yes,” I told him.  “I am L but who sent you for us?”

I wish I could say I gathered some type of answer as Andrew came outside but all the man kept saying was something about a bumblebee and how he did not know what Spirit of the West was and how we needed to go with him because we were already late.  I mean we had been late this entire time so yeah, we were very aware of that.

“Spirit of the West is a company that was supposed to send someone to pick us up from the airport.  Were you told to get us from Spirit of the — No what?  Nevermind.”  I hopped into the stranger’s car and closed the door as Andrew followed me.  It no longer mattered who this man was or where he claimed to take us.  We had made it this far on pure luck.  We would see where luck continued to take us.

“So where are we going?” Andrew asked.  Dear friends, let this be proof for how much Andrew missed in his loo break.

“Walmart!” the man shouted with energy as he zipped down the road with equal gusto.

“Walmart?!” Andrew exclaimed.  His look to me was both full of alarm while also blaming me.  “WHY DID WE GET INTO A VEHICLE WITH A MAN TAKING US TO WALMART?!” he asked silently.

“Andrew,” I sighed, answering aloud.  “I don’t know.  You were gone and he was here and my luggage was there and I don’t know . . . ”  I was going to stop there but continued.  “The only thing I can gather is that I must have told Spirit of the West about our lost bags and they thought to have someone take us to Walmart to get clothing and supplies because they think we still do not have any of luggage.”  This seemed to appease him because it was true that we almost missed reclaiming our bags, which meant we almost went on an outdoor adventure without any clothing or gear.  Again, this trip epitomized ‘us.’

“How long until we get to Walmart?!” Andy now asked the man as I realized this was a very valid question.  It essentially meant “How long do we have to plot our next plan in case we are in fact kidnapped and taken somewhere unexpected?”

“About ten minutes,” the man said as he radioed people and they radioed him.  “They are expecting you.”

Winding through British Columbia roads, my concerns of who was expecting us were ignored as I got a glimpse of Canada’s beauty — evergreen after evergreen lined the highway without skyscrapers insight.  All was green, green, and more green . . .

“Alright, we are here.  Who you are meeting?”

This was comforting — We had control back.  “Spirit of the West,” we said in unison.  Then: “We think.”  That made three of us.

The miraculous news is that between Stranger-man driving in and out of each Walmart parking lot aisle and the three of us looking for who knows what — a flag with Spirit of the West?  People we have not yet met or seen? — Andrew and I finally saw a van with the logo “Spirit of the West” on the side.

Stopping behind the van, Stranger-man jumped out to remove our luggage while Andrew and I paused still inside to take a deep breath.

“This is it,” he said to me.  “A moment of truth” and I knew what he meant.  The moment we had been waiting for was here.  Not only were we now faced with a kayaking trip we had recklessly booked when we essentially never kayaked before (Read about our first kayaking flat-water paddle here), but we were seconds from meeting our kayaking group — You know, the group we did not meet earlier when we were supposed.  The group that we alone were now stealing precious hours from their trip.  I hoped they didn’t think we breathed entitlement because hell, we were anything but that.  Still how to make a good impression?  I could not remember a time I had felt this nervous to meet someone.  Or — even better — a group of someones.

“Let’s just hope they do not hate us already because this is going to be one long, hell-of-a-week . . . ” and so, with another deep breath, Andrew and I stepped out of the van to meet our kayaking group.

 

Turns out, everyone was super welcoming.  Almost alarmingly so.

There were our two guides: Mike and Estelle, both young and vibrant.  Mike was organized and had a sense of control to him.  He did not hesitating in greeting us by handshake while also apologizing for our rough journey.  Estelle was right behind him.  All charisma, she immediately gave us a genuine hug before exclaiming, “Crazy flights, eh?!  Can’t believe you made it!”  A sense of calm washed over me as more people came out of the van to introduce themselves . . .

Slowly we met the other eight people in our kayak group — Crispin and his wife Sally, along with their daughter Jane and son Rhys; Dave and his wife Sheri; Liza; and Amy.  Everyone already seemed so kind and it was here I honestly took my first sigh of relief since we left.

With an apology that we already needed to go and the recommendation to load back inside the van, one by one our kayak group disappeared.  Each person was allotted a certain amount of dry sacks, which Andy and I made swift movements to stuff.  Incredibly this was the first time we felt prepared as we had previously sorted our belongings into our own camping dry sacks, finding that we were under our individual allotment.  Another sigh of relief.

Loading into the van, Andrew and I squeezed all the way into the back and here is where I was reminded that poor Andrew could have anyone in the world to adventure and travel with . . . and yet he was stuck with me.

“Are you going to be okay back here?” he asked, highly concerned.

Let me be direct: Andrew was concerned for me, yes, but he was also concerned for himself.  What he was basically asking was, “Are you going to spew vomit all over the back of this van due to car sickness when we just met our new weeklong kayaking group?”  And that basically translated to him begging me, “Can you please not ruin my chance to be cool around new people?” . . . which, let’s be honest, I do uncontrollably ruin this for him on a regular basis . . . like when I beat the Guinness Book of World Records for “Person that throws up the most consistently” in Galapagos, which was around a new scuba diving group each time . . . but know what?  That’s a story for a different day.

“No, no, shhh — Please, please do not say anything,” I whispered to him, terrified he would announce my uncool factor.  I, too, was well aware of how my seat not going to fair well but damned if I was going to ask these people if I could sit at the very front!  These people — who had personally gone out of their way to pick us up after waiting past the time they should have waited to go on their vacation!  Hell no.  That oozed ‘privilege’ and in my vast experience, I’ve learned it is better to showcase my sickness — in all its glory — then ask for forgiveness . . . instead of requesting special needs immediately by explaining what would happen before it did.  Yep, I was staying put.

“How long will it be until we arrive to Telegraph Cove?” one of the kayakers asked.  Telegraph Cove — The location we, our belongings, and kayaks would load onto a small boat to be transported out for Day One of our water adventure.

“About two — eh, two and a half hours,” our guides said.  Great — multiple hours.

Andrew sighed at my horrible decision to not say anything before I noticed his act to move as far from me as possible, though I could not blame him.  The man had learned preparation when it came to traveling with me and here, the longer the journey only proved the more likely I would be sick.

“So did you get everything you needed in Walmart?” our group asked and it was here we learned Spirit of the West had requested we be taken to Walmart to get kayak and camping belongings after thinking our bags were lost.  This now explained why the taxi service — named Bee Line Taxi — had a driver that kept talking about some bumblebee when he radioed, and it also explained our driver’s firm decision to take us to Walmart.

Explaining we ended up finding our bags so it was not needed left us in several moments of silence.

Then one of the kayakers: “So what exactly happened to make you late?”

How do we possibly start?  How do we possibly explain?

Here, I leaned back and closed my eyes — focused on maintaining calmness and not nausea — as Andrew tried very hard to shorten our travel story . . .

 

At some point in our drive, Mike had pulled over for us to have a loo break and chance to eat a quick snack then we were off again.

Being aware I had not gotten sick yet, I decided to brave all and take in my surroundings.
IMG_0085As we drove, the blue mountains appeared in the far distance — the area, wild and expansive — and I could already feel butterflies in my stomach.  Was I falling in love with Canada this soon?

On the drive, laughter and conversation came easy between our guides and our kayaking group.  We learned more about everyone — There was a freshman and senior high school student; there was an elementary school teacher and a lawyer; and there was a dietician, occupational therapist, physician assistant, and traveling nurse.  I refrained from telling the traveling nurse I would openly stalk her, that I wanted to sleep in her tent instead of with Andrew, and that I would do anything to be her best friend because — because if you haven’t guessed already — I am accident-prone so having a nurse on the trip was my form of a dream come true.

Hours dwindled to minutes and then we were there: The unbelievably gorgeous Telegraph Cove.
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“I cannot believe we made it,” Andrew and I kept saying, verging on tears and hugging each other.
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“We are going to come back to this same spot so you will have more time to walk around Telegraph Cove when we return,” our guides said and so we were instructed to begin unloading our kayaks and dry sacks onto a boat, which happened to be the same boat a different Spirit of the West kayaking group was leaving.

Moving from our van to let this new group in, we watched as the team — who had spent who knows how much time on their water journey together — seemed at ease with one another.  They formed a well-oiled ‘train’ as they tossed belongings from the boat, up the dock, and to the van.

“Look!  That will be us after our trip!” we joked as we walked by, novice at how to carry our kayaks on the dock, unexperienced at where Bruce the boat owner wanted us to place our gear.

“OH NO!” I heard a shout while at the same time saw a sack topple into the water.

“I think it’s Amy’s!” someone said and sure enough — Amy’s unprotected-by-a-dry-sack sleeping bag went tumbling into wetness.  I next heard a gasp as I saw her move to retrieve it only to then watch — too far to help — the toe of her sandal get caught in a raised portion of dock wood.  She then stumbled a few feet only to regain composure before lifting her sleeping bag from the water.

“I mean . . . It’s okay!  It’s only a sleeping bag.  It will dry!”  Her voice was light and I could see positivity radiate from her as she did not hesitate in continuing to work alongside everyone else.

Meanwhile, Andrew and I made a massive effort to work the hardest due to our constant desire to mend our late start.

Soon all belongings were in the boat as Captain Bruce dictated the rules for boarding his vessel.  Motor starting, he lead the boat away from the cove and us to our incredible destination . . .
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In the distance, incredible homes are perched above the shore!

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For more on where we were headed and our first kayak paddle, seek The Charming Floating Lodge: Paddlers Inn, British Columbia.

 

* * * * *

 

Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.


Our Travel Hell to Canada and Why You Should Never Book with Expedia

I’ve heard it said many times that Canadians are some of the nicest people you will meet.

I’ve now learned this is true.

“If you need any help, we are here.  We can call people for you or get you to where you need to go — Anything, just ask.”  This kindness and concern came from strangers in an airport.  Three Canadian women stared at Andrew and I, genuinely listening and showing sympathy as we explained what happened.

“It all started the moment we arrived at the airport,” Andy and I said together and this is how we begin our story to anyone patient enough to listen . . .

 

We woke at 3am on a Friday to head to our small local airport where we would take off for a series of four flights that were supposed to last a total of twelve and a half hours.  Our first flight was set to Boston at 6:30am.  After, we would fly to Toronto followed by a flight to Vancouver then a last flight to our final destination of Campbell River in Canada’s British Columbia.  Campbell River was where we would spend one week kayaking around and backcountry camping in uninhabited wild forest islands.

This trip, by the way, was paid for one month short of a year in advance, which shows our overwhelming excitement for our next Bucket List adventure.  Normally, we are spontaneous planners: When we happen across a unique adventure that will challenge us, we immediately book the trip and set it for a few months away so that we cannot back out.

This Canada trip was vastly different.

“We’ve been scuba diving in search of whale sharks — twice,” Andrew told me and it was true.  This is my top Bucket List dream but after diving in both Honduras and the Galápagos Islands, the elusive sharks never showed so we still couldn’t check that box.  “I think is my turn now,” he said.

I agreed.  I had to.  It wasn’t fair to continue galavanting around the world with my dream solely in tow.  “Right,” I answered back.  “So what’s your dream?”  But we both knew — His was to kayak with killer whales.

This led us to Spirit of the West Adventures — and I’ll say here in case I forget to say later, if you have any desire for a kayaking adventure, book with this company.  Spirit of the West prides themselves on multi-day kayaking tours (in various countries) that offer “the best experience whale watching, paddling and reconnecting with nature.”  Simply put, the company is remarkable and I could go on eternally about how remarkable but hopefully this post will illustrate that.

And so our search for a Spirit of the West tour began: There were whale and wilderness kayak adventures; there were glamping (glamorous camping) and backcountry camping kayak ventures; and then there were coastal mountain scenery, rainforest, and island life kayaking trips.  The one we chose though was their ultimate package: the Johnstone Strait Expedition.

At the time, this expedition was the longest available and the only trip to combine all day kayaking with orca and humpback sightings, numerous wooded and rainforest-ed islands, wild camping, First Nations culture and history, and even a floating lodge the first night.  

The description kept getting better; however, I was sold at the start.  “Humpback whales?!” I shrieked elated.  My second Bucket List goal would be crossed off with Andrew’s first.  The opportunity to get close to a humpback, to see its tale, to see its head — its eyes! — I was beyond myself with the sheer thought.

“Yep, let’s book it,” Andy said without hesitation and so we booked the trip last summer . . . without a second thought to our absolutely and utter lack of kayaking experience.

Let me backtrack: See, Our Bucket List Quest started with my yearning to scuba dive with whale sharks . . . even though we were not open-water certified divers at the time.  Now Andrew’s dream to kayak with orcas existed . . . even though we had zero kayaking experience.  I mean, technically we both touched a kayak before and sat in one for our two-hour paddle on a flat river but truthfully, if you read that post, you will know I barely survived.  Now here we were, paying for a moderate-level kayaking trip with zero kayaking skill.

Even more shocking, we determined to pass on a custom trip — you know, a trip created and catered solely for us so that we could learn and grow and travel without pressure and at a pace we were comfortable.  But nooo — We passed on that custom option, determined we could hack it with a kayaking group.  Yep, that means we apparently welcomed embarrassment and shame in front of the judgement of super-skilled kayakers.  Because let’s be honest: They would all be super-skilled.  No one signs up for a week-long all-day kayaking trip in a different country without kayaking knowledge.  Again, our intelligence astounds me every time.

Trip paid for though, we had essentially a year to put aside our stresses and fears and concerns and basically ignore the inevitable . . . until it became the inevitable.  And so our trip finally arrived.

 

“Hi, we couldn’t pull up our tickets at the ticket kiosk,” Andrew told the Delta lady at the front desk the day of our departure.

“Okay.  I’ll just need your passports,” the woman whose nametag read Karen said while taping furiously on her keyboard.  “You don’t see it because it isn’t there.  Who did you book your trip through?”

“Expedia,” Andrew said.  “I have the information here” and he pulled our copies of email — proof of a paid for and planned trip.

“No need,” she dismissed what he produced with a flourish of her hand.  “Expedia cancelled all of your flights.  It looks like there was a change — You were to fly to Boston as scheduled.  Then there was a change and you would fly to Atlanta.”  She continued looking at our reservation, “But this has you flying from Boston when you would have been in the air heading out of Atlanta and — wait.  This actually doesn’t make sense at all.  That is an impossible flight.”  She hesitated while we open-mouth gaped at her.  “It also looks like the airline informed Expedia of their change, but Expedia never informed you or made an alternate itinerary that would work.”  She looked up at us as if giving us a final answer.

“We clearly weren’t told this,” Andrew repeated and this was true.  We had tracked our emails diligently.  We had checked our flights the night and morning before we left.  We had been diligent (There’s a first time for everything) and done all we could.

“Alright so you said we were to still fly to Boston so we can just take our original flight there and instead of leaving for Atlanta, we will stay and then board our original flight to Toronto and so on.”  This seemed an easy fix but what I would soon learn was that I could not even begin to fathom the horrid mess-up.

“You would think that, but your seats were given away.  As I said — Expedia cancelled your flights.  All of them.  You won’t be able to get onto this Boston flight — or any flights.  You don’t have any seats.”

The look on Andrew’s and my face cannot be reduplicated through actions or words.  Here we were after almost a year of waiting . . . for Andrew’s dream trip . . . bags in hand . . . pets dropped off at my parents . . . vacation requests approved . . . taxis, ferries, and B&Bs booked . . . holiday paid for . . . and this Delta woman said we couldn’t go.  I was at a cross of getting aggressively loud and also openly weeping in front of her.

In the end, Karen gave us her best advice:  “You only have forty-five minutes until your Boston flight.  The best I can do is put you both on stand-by and hope you can stay in Boston long enough to somehow get your original seats for Toronto . . . and Vancouver . . . and Campbell River.  But at best, you will more than likely be on stand-by for all of these so making them is extremely unlikely.”  I heard her fingers tap, tap, tap again on her keyboard.  “For instance, everyone has already checked in for this flight.  And it is a full flight.”  She stared at us.  We stared at her.  Clearly, we had missed her original message: “You have to run — You may not even make the Boston flight.  You only have forty-five minutes.”  Well, we did have two hours, Karen — not that I blame you for attempting to sort our un-sortable trip because little did I know then but her recommendation was the least impossible of what we would encounter.

Regardless, as we ran through the first airport of the day, Karen’s last warning haunted me:

“This happens often with people that book through Expedia.  If I could say not to do one thing in the future, it would be not to book through Expedia.”

With zero minutes to spare, we made it to the Delta desk as the Boston flight was being boarded.

“We have two stand-by tickets,” Andrew and I announced out of breath, producing our two tickets.  I felt embarrassed having hope for two — Two stand-bys held slimmer odds than one.

“Yep, I see you in our system,” Delta Rep Number Two said, looking at his computer screen.  His nametag read Jeffrey but know in advance it should have read Airline Angel.  “We have six people who have not showed yet — It appears one is a family of four and another is a couple.  And this man was waiting on stand-by before you.  But the gate will close in ten minutes though so let’s see if everyone comes.”

Anxiously, Andrew and I waited as the last people in line disappeared down the tunnel and onto the plane . . . and the previously waiting stand-by man walked past Jeffrey to board.  Time stretched in that slow way it does when one’s desire swells.

Eight minutes after departure, the family of four came tearing up to the gate.  They had their shoes in their hands, their hair tussled, their mouths all open as they gasped for breath.

Jeffrey scanned their ticket as my heart sank with each beep, beep, beep, beep the machine made.

“Don’t worry,” he whispered seeming to understand and also seeming to cheer us on.  “There are still two seats left.”  No sooner did he say that when a man raced to the gate yelling and waving his ticket.

“My son is still in the TSA line!” he shouted, hair disheveled, bags unzipped with contents spilling out, which he did not go back for and reclaim.

“Let’s hope he is here soon,” Jeffrey told him.  A minute more passed.  Nine minutes past departure now.

“Will you fly without your son?” Jeffrey asked the man who still stood son-less.

“No,” the man said.  “He’s coming” and he turned his back on our Airline Angel to call his son — again and again — in an effort to confirm progress.

By this time, Andrew and I had been talking to Jeffrey — We had shared our sob-story of our vacation plans to the point that I felt certain Jeffrey was also a certified therapist.  Seriously.  He was handing me tissues at this point while I was crying opening. “Expedia strands travelers often, believe it or not,” he had said.  “If you have to choose a third party booking site, I recommend Orbitz.”

Here we learned Orbitz was created by the airlines after they had enough of third-party booking sites — like Expedia.  To combat Expedia — Delta, United, Continental, Northwest, and American all invested millions into a company called Orbiz.  This essentially means these airlines care about the passengers because they have shares in the passengers’ purchases.  Good to know and good to pass on . . .

“Sir, I’m sorry,” Jeffrey said to the waiting man, “but I have to close the door — This is the time for boarding to end.  I’ve held the plane ten minutes past departure.  How far is your son now?”

“He’s coming!” the man exploded, not necessarily angry at Jeffrey but strung so tightly he snapped.  “I just spoke to him and he is through security!  He’s coming!”  The man appeared as Andrew and I — the three of us pacing, biting fingernails, dashing glances down the airport.  This man’s wish was where Andrew and I hoped he would falter.

“I’ve never hoped for someone to not make a flight more,” Andrew whispered to me and I understood.  While that man and his son surely had their own story, this is simply ours and this first flight wasn’t simply one flight — or even multiple flights.  This one mishap compromised our Campbell River flight — and that Campbell River flight was the last one of the day.  This is important because our tour left the next morning at 8am.  After that, the next Campbell River flight was at 8:20am, which meant it was too late and we would miss our trip entirely.  It wasn’t even as if we missed one tour or one hotel booking or one taxi-pick-up.  Sure we would miss those steps to get to our group, but our group would be gone — They would be traveling away from land to kayak in the ocean for a week.  Even when they would pause to camp, they would not have cell service on remote, uninhabited islands.  And even if they had service, we could not be solo-airlifted or boated in.  There was no way we would see or find our group again.

“I’m sorry but — ” and right when that word crossed Jeffrey’s lips, right when he was turning to us to offer two miracle-seats . . . the man’s son came racing down the hall.

My eyes flooded with more tears as the two disappeared.  I’ve never felt such heartbreak in disappointment.

“Hold on,” I heard Jeffrey call.  “Let me handle this plane but I think I can find another flight” and he disappeared for a moment only to return and re-tap keys again.

Here, he offered us a flight to Detroit and from Detroit, Seattle and from Seattle, Vancouver.  “This is the only shot I can give you,” he said and that was because the Vancouver flight was the last of the day that would allow us to still make our Campbell River connection.  Printing off the reservation, we had four hours to do the most impossible: Call Expedia to confirm the changes.  Because Expedia was our original seller, Jeffrey could only create a reservation but could not actually make the schedule change.

Long story short, our already-scanned bags left for Boston without us — our bags filled with our raincoats and kayaking and camping clothes . . . our bags that had our kayak and camping clothes neatly packed in multiple waterproof bags . . . our bags that contained our sleeping bags and camp pillows.
58700763986__D4841F89-F085-4B4B-A7FD-2C31C25696B0Even on the slim chance that we made it to Campbell River, the chance that our bags would go through four airports to greet us were slim.  We felt dashed of hope but we still had a resolve to try . . .

Because Andrew booked the tickets on his European computer, Expedia’s American number lead to a representative that refused to help.  “You have to call Expedia UK,” the static-toned person said before hanging up.

Three and a half hours later, we made and paid for multiple international calls.  Each time, after various number-option-pushes, we were able to speak to someone who would place us on hold for forty-five minutes or more.  That person would then point fingers at the airlines, saying they changed the flights.  The problem though wasn’t the changes — It was that Expedia never informed us of the changes or corrected the flights in a way that would have near reasonable.  When we explained this, the Expedia person would then promise to call back.  However, they never did.  Three and a half hours of this game we played until an Expedia man who spoke little English answered and claimed he would help.

By this time, whenever we got an Expedia person, Jeffrey would take our cellphone to take charge of the situation.  Being significantly more knowledgeable than Andrew and me, what was more impressive was how he was more knowledgable over Expedia.  This shouldn’t be a shock though: Jeffrey did admit he had to undo Expedia’s messes often.

“What is your confirmation code?” the Expedia man asked Jeffrey.

“I don’t know what you are talking about.  I already explained to you airlines do not have ‘confirmation codes.’  I just need you to confirm the schedule to the reservation that I created and sent you.  You said you see it.  You simply need to confirm it.”

“I cannot do that until you give me a confirmation code,” Expedia said.

“My system doesn’t give confirmation code — That is in your own system so you can get someone else to overwrite that.  There is no way I can provide you with that — If I could, I would but we don’t work in ‘confirmation codes.’  Listen, I’ve already done your part and created a reservation — which you should have helped them do in the beginning.  Now, I just need you to hit ‘approve.”

Long story short again: This was the most impossible part of our travels.

There was cussing.

There were tears.

There were hand gestures as Expedia continued to say, “Hold on.  I will try” only to place us on extended holds and then return again to re-ask for the same confirmation code or — even worse — this question: “Are you sure you want these flights?”

Meanwhile, with our cellphone in one hand and the airport phone in the other, Jeffrey was calling every single airline in our new reservation in an attempt to bypass Expedia’s useless existance.  As he did this, I took to emailing Spirit of the West and our B&B where we were supposed to stay the night we arrived.

Soon, four hours approached and our flight — our Only Hope Flight — was being held past its departure time at Jeffrey’s all-mighty command.  The hang-up was still Expedia clicking ‘confirm’ on the new reservation.

“If you leave one more time and do not do what we request — ” Andrew now has his cellphone back and was full fire and fury, threatening the Expedia man.  This was the first time I ever saw him truly angry.  His face was a red, his voice seething with flames, and his eyes, wild.

“Yes, yes,” the Expedia man said.  “Just one moment — ”

“No!  I will not hold one more moment!” Andrew yelled in the middle of the airport where everyone turned to stare. “Our flight is set to leave now — Do you understand?  They are literally holding the bloody door for us!  All you have to do is confirm the schedule that you didn’t even take the time to create when we asked. You need to hit ‘confirm’ and you need to do it now!”

“Just one minute, promise, just one” and off the man disappeared.

“Go!” Jeffrey interrupted.  “Just go!” and off Andrew and I moved to the neighboring gate.  “I don’t know if you have flights past this but you have this one at least.  Just go!”

“Thank you,” I said, darting to him to give him a hug behind the desk while tears glossed over my eyes.  “We will send you a postcard if we make it!”

“Go!” he yelled, giving me a small hug before pushing me on.  “I’ll get your flights resolved and your bags will meet you in Vancouver.  Just go!”

So off Andrew and I raced to the terminal, leaving our Airline Angel — the man that took four hours of his day to not only perform his every day tasks seamlessly but also provide the ultimate care and attention to two random passengers.  I kept glancing back at Jeffrey, but he never caught my eye as he stayed on the phone determined to make our flights work.

If it weren’t for Jeffrey, our story would have ended here . . .

“The Expedia man isn’t back!” Andrew yelled while we ran down the tunnel.  The Expedia man who had far surpassed his one-moment time put us in a precarious spot:  The hang up meant we could take this flight but risked having no other flights after.  But staying on the phone to get those flights meant we would miss the first one that would be needed for all others to follow.

“I’ll run ahead and explain to them,” I shouted and dashed ahead before shouting to the confused two female flight attendants who were poking their heads out of the plane, waiting for us.  “I’m sorry we are late — My boyfriend wants to know if he should hang up from Expedia because we know the plane has to leave but we don’t know what to do because we don’t have — ” and the looks on the women’s faces made it clear I made no sense.

“Come,” they said in the most bewildered way.  “Just come.  We are waiting for you — and get your boyfriend.”

Meanwhile the Expedia man was apparently back because I heard Andrew continue to rant at him.  “They are closing the fucking door now — I’m being told to turn my phone off because the plane will be taking off.  Sort it out now while we are in the air!” and the phone was hung up.  Squeezing our way down the aisle, we bypassed passengers with blame-filled gazes.  We were those people — the ones you hate and huff about under your breath.  And now we understand.  Shit just happens sometimes.  

Walking to the only two seats — sweating, shaking, and emotional — we had no idea what would happen.  Ask us where Detroit was and we didn’t know.  Ask us how long the flight was and we didn’t know.  Ask us what we were doing after this flight?  No idea.  But this flight was was our only hope.

“Here,” I heard a whisper next to us.  “I think you could use this.”  It was one of the flight attendants who produced two water bottles — one for Andrew, one for me.

Her act of kindness made me cry again because overall what I learned from this experience is that there are kind people, there are people that will go out of their way to help, there are people like our Airline Angel in this world . . .

 

When we landed, we hesitated none, going to the flight board to see what gate belonged to our Detroit flight.  “Do you see our names?” we asked the Delta representative at that gate.  We had not introduced ourselves so how she knew who we were was beyond us.

“Is it — ” tap, tap, tap and we held our breaths.  If our names did not show, Expedia had not confirmed anything and that meant we would literally be asking her for a flight home.  “L?  And Andrew?”  Celebration burst from our bodies as we screamed in happiness and jumped in front of the woman before hugging each other.  Jeffrey did it.  Expedia did it.

Unfortunately though, our travel hell continued when we made it from Detroit to Seattle.

We now had to race to make our next flight . . . a flight that (not surprisingly) was already boarding.

“We can make it.  If we hurry,” Andrew huffed as we ran-ran-ran through the airport, proving once more that we are those crazy airport people.

Turns out, our flight was delayed, which seemed to be great news at first until the delay went from five minutes to fifteen then to over an hour . . . and all of this means we missed our Campbell River flight that was set to leave an hour after we would have landed.  What is more, this illustrates the larger picture — We missed the opportunity to go on our kayaking/camping trip.
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“Should we go back home?” I asked Andrew with overwhelming heartache to have come this far — one flight from Canada — only to have to turn around.  “Or should we continue to fly to Vancouver and explore that city?”  The only problem with the second option was we didn’t have money to pay for a second trip because we had already paid for our earlier one.

“I’m sorry to overhear but we want to help — Why do you have to go home with the delay?”  This is how we met the three Canadian women I mentioned at the start of this story.

“We aren’t sure what to do,” we said and here we began our tale . . .

“If you need any help, we are here,” they told us in a genuine way as we thanked them and, rejuvenated that there could be hope, we decided to give our trip one last try.

“I’ll contact Spirit of the West,” I told Andrew.

“And I’ll contact the last airline,” he told me so that together, we worked to secure our trip until the Seattle flight lifted off the ground . . . which means we were finally in Vancouver International Airport, where our bags should have been delivered earlier to baggage claim.

This was the next feat.

“What do you mean it isn’t here?” we asked the French man behind the Delta desk.

“Vwell, it iz nuot ‘ere!” he said lacking the least bit of sympathy.  In fact, he even stood straighter as if proud of himself.

“But Jeffrey said it would be,” I explained to the French man, knowing he neither knew who Jeffrey was nor cared to know.  “And I trust — I know — that Jeffrey did this.  He promised our bags would meet us in Vancouver.  He got us this far — I know he did this.”  I was adamant.  Andrew was adamant.  We were not leaving without proof of where our bags were.

“Eh, noh.  Noh bags” was all he continued to say.

“Where are they then.” Andrew’s question was stated.

“Bostoun!” the man said, as if that were apparent.

“BOSTON?!” we shouted back.  “No.  No, that’s not right.  They definitely left Boston.  They had tags at the start to say they were taken here.  They boarded that plane.  They made that trip.  They are here — in Vancouver.

“Noh,” he said again.  “I can puut in an ordre for jyour bagz and vhen ‘de avrive, ve can mail zem to zou at jyour des-teh-nay-shion.”

Andrew moved closer to the desk.  I could sense his anger rising; I stepped back.

“Listen,” he tried unsuccessfully to be calm.  “You cannot ‘mail’ these bags.  There is no address to mail them to.  We are leaving on a kayaking/camping trip at 9am — the moment our plane lands in Campbell River — so unless you can get our bags to meet us in Campbell River tomorrow morning, we cannot take them.”

“No, no.  Zat ’tis not posseble!” the man said.  “But we vill sheep zem to jyou.”

“You can’t ship our bags to us!  We are being picked up from the airport and then traveling in a kayak during the day and camping at different spots on different islands at night.”

“Jes, jes,” the man responded.  “Just vrite down ze address of vhere jyou’ll be and ve vill sheep ze bagz to jyou.”

With a deep, booming voice, Andrew held back no longer.  “No, no — You aren’t listening.  Our address?  You want me to write our address?  Okay.  Give me the paper — I’ll write our address” and so he picked up the pen.  “ON A KAYAK.  IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN.  In British Columbia.  Does that help — British Columbia?  Do you understand now — There is no address.”  He paused to look the man straight in his eyes.  “Ohhh but maybe you want where we will stay at night?”  Re-hovering over the paper, he announced, “IN A TENT.  ON A DIFFERENT UNINHABITED ISLAND.  IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OCEAN!”  Then he moved the paper back towards the French man.  “There!  Deliver our bags please.”

“Ohhh,” the French man said.  “Ohhh, I zee.”

Andrew had a few more words to say to the man — something around bloody hell and “We are supposed to be camping” and “Without our luggage — which means we have no sleeping bags” and “Kayaking trip without clothes or shoes — beyond what we are wearing.”  “Listen, I’m not saying it’s your fault — I understand that.  However, if you’re going to tell me you cannot deliver them, you might as well send them back to Richmond and we will get them at the end of our trip.”

To cut this story down, I decided to hunt for the bags myself.  You know — in an airport in a foreign country.  “Excuse me,” I asked a petite woman at the counter next to the French man.  “Can you tell me where international baggage claim is?”  This is the location the French man reported no bags have arrived from, however, I trusted Jeffrey wholeheartedly: Our bags were here — I could feel it.

“What flight did you come on?” she asked me.

Turns out, instead of thinking we had just entered into the country — Our bags had already been in the country because they flew Vancouver to Toronto.

“Then it will be in domestic — not international.  Let me search that for you” and here she tap, tapped on her keyboard while Andrew and the French man continued to chat not so nicely.  “Your bags are here — L?  And Andrew?” she asked.

“YES!  THEY ARE HERE!” I screamed as Andrew came closer.  “OUR BAGS ARE HERE!!!”

The amount of relief and hope and happiness we felt as we cheered and skipped towards our bags cannot be replicated.

As we walked, we checked our emails to find the next most amazing news: The Vancouver to Campbell River flight rebooked us on the earliest 8:20am flight, which incredibly worked because Spirit of the West emailed me back saying they would hold our tour and send someone to pick us up from the airport when we landed.  It was nothing short of a miracle.  Ignoring the fact, of course, that we would now have to introduce ourselves to our new highly-skilled kayak group by explaining we were the ones that held everyone up on their trip  — Yea, let’s just ignore that for now.  What can I say?  We love to make a first impression.

With adrenaline pumping through our veins, we glanced out the airport window and peered outside.  This was our first pause since waking up at 3am the day before.  Finally, we could relax.

“At least we have our sleeping bags now,” Andrew told me.  “We could just sleep in the airport.”   I think he even yawned then.  What should have been twelve-and-a-half hours of flying had now turned into two days.

Because it is Andy and me.  These types of ordeals should no longer shock us.

“Why don’t you ask the airline to put you into a hotel?” a polite airline woman recommended after hearing Andrew.

So that’s exactly what we did — Delta put us up in a hotel and with grand desires to explore Vancouver, we instead ate half of dinner with heavy eyes then showered barely awake before crawling into our hotel bed.  Before our heads even hit the pillow, we were both in a deep deep sleep.

For more on our Canada trip, seek Telegraph Cove: Starting Our British Columbia Kayaking and Camping Adventure.

 

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Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19, I want ensure all reading know this trip was in August 2019 before the virus.