Roughing It Never Tasted This Good



Vancouver Island, BC – "This," said Jessie the guide "is your holy crap strap. If you go over, pull it!"

That all-important strap was stitched to the front of the spray-skirt, which would shortly be attached to my kayak – a kayak soon to be launched into heavy seas just off the shores of Vancouver Island.

Holy crap indeed.

Jessie's benediction concluded a two-hour loading and learning session (light things in the back and front hatches, heavy stuff like pots, pans and Coleman stove in the middle to keep from sinking at either end.) Instructions ranged from paddling tips to emergency survival techniques – all designed to get ten kayak virgins ready to hit the waves.

"I've been guiding for three years," Jessie finished reassuringly, "and only had one person tip."

Don't, I thought, let me be the second.

Showers are free

The senior kayak instructor and guide, James was also – and most importantly, in my gluttonous opinion – a superb chef. My love of food was what had convinced me to give roughing-it-in-the-bush a try. With visions of gourmet delicacies dancing in my head, I’d tried not to wince when James stuffed my neatly folded gear into dry-bags. When he then put his knee on top of each bag, reducing the contents to a chaos of creases, I’d taken a deep breath. I could be woodsy…just watch me.

"Well," I said cheerfully, "We'll sure enjoy those hot showers at the campground at the end of the day!"

That was the first of many unintentionally hilarious things I was to say and do over the course of that weekend.

"Showers?" snorted James. "You can jump in the ocean if you like."

Apparently, my interpretation of 'serviced campground' had been overly optimistic.

Paddling into the wind or “Are we having fun yet?”

Balancing a kayak, maneuvering a rudder with foot pedals and learning to swing a paddle is a trick under the best conditions, but when you're plowing into a headwind, the slogging gets tough. It took hours of serious paddling to get four single and four double kayaks to the shores of Pirate's Cove on De’Courcy Island.

As we pulled up to the beach, I thought my arms might fall off.

"Ready?" shouted James, bounding into the shallow water, "Let's get these kayaks on shore."

James soon had our motley crew staggering up the beach with the fully-loaded kayaks, and schlepping gear to our campsite on a small ledge overlooking the beach.

We were half dead but James and Jessie didn't look as if they'd even broken a sweat.

Grateful for new friends

"Here," said James, tossing me a blue bag. "Set up your tent."

Several centuries and a couple dozen careers ago, I ran a day-camp and set up many tents, but somehow, those skills had vanished, leaving me staring forlornly at springy silver rods and hectares of nylon. That’s when Kelly and Stoney, two other group members, took pity. Seasoned campers, they had my new home assembled in moments. Moaning my gratitude, I crawled in gratefully and collapsed.

I’d intended to lie down only for a minute, but passed out cold.

I woke to Jessie calling, “Get up, Liz. Lunch!”

Gourmet meals from a Coleman stove

I slithered into a sunny afternoon and headed for James who was putting the finishing touches on a magnificent Salad Nicoise – hot-smoked tuna nestled beside fresh boiled eggs, crisp green beans, fingerling potatoes and organic greens, all lightly dressed with a fresh basil vinaigrette. I fell on it like a wolverine.

It was delicious…as was every other morsel I put in my mouth that weekend.

The next day the sun shone, the wind dropped and I learned that kayaking – minus pots, pans and Coleman stove - was a breeze. We explored breathtaking sandstone cliffs and picnicked on Blackberry Point on Valdez Island. The lunch menu featured a west-coast version of the clubhouse stuffed with both hot and cold smoked salmon and avocado on hearty sunflower rye bread.

Dinners were even better. Not only did James’ magic Coleman stove produce such delicacies as chicken confit and roasted vegetables, complimented by B.C. Gewurztraminers, Pinot Gris, Chardonnays or Cabernets, but he also managed to pull rose petal meringues and luscious raspberries out of his bag of tricks for dessert. (How did raspberries survive when even my socks were squashed into oblivion?)

Great travel mates

The group members – the wild card on any trip – were a witty, congenial bunch that laughed, toasted, told great stories and shared vital newbie camping tips (Who knew that if you didn’t store your toothpaste and soap in the kayaks at night, mice would have a heyday in your tent?) Each night, I amused and appalled James and Jesse by pulling out my electric toothbrush, and again, each morning by washing my hair with icy water from the pump. We city girls are crazy.

If the Gulf Islands aren’t on your must-see list, they should be – and a gourmet kayaking expedition is the perfect way to experience their beauty, balancing full-on gluttony with a guilt-erasing three-day workout.

If you go:

There are a number of tour operators offering kayaking adventures from the coastal regions of British Columbia.

Destination BC has an amazing list of operators to choose from.

Liz suggests you check Sea to Sky Expeditions for their multi-day excursions.

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