July 24, 1997
Westport, Washington, USA
It was 7:00pm before I put my kayak into the water that evening. My destination was the town of Westport, approximately five miles due west. The wind was gusting from the west, the waves were huge, and the sun was going down. A short time after leaving the beach, I was a mile from land - tired, wet, cold, and kicking myself for not wearing my drysuit. If I made a mistake - it would be my last.
The wind and waves smashed against my face. It took all my strength to keep moving forward. Every couple hundred feet, posts marked the channel. Several times a minute, Id look back at the last post to check my progress. It was always farther back than Id guessed. Instant gratification... I love it!
It must be adrenaline that allows me to paddle like that. Normally, I couldnt paddle that hard, for so long - not even on a calm lake with no wind. Whenever I get scared, the energy is just there when I need it. Ill get fatigued, but, at the time, it seems irrelevant. To stop paddling isnt an option. I sang to distract myself from thinking about my tired arms. However, it did little to keep me from worrying about the fading light.
A half-mile from Westport, a massive mud-flat blocked my path. I couldnt stay on it for the night; it would be covered with water when the tide came up. It looked like the only way around would put me another extra two miles out of my way. I didnt have that kind of time. It would be dark soon, and I would be way too far out to find my way back in safely. I desperately wanted dry land.
I pulled my kayak up onto the slab of mud so I could assess the situation. To my surprise, I was standing on an island. With my spirits recharged, I pulled on my drysuit and headed back out immediately. I was now warm, and knew where I was going.
As I paddled around the lee side of the island, hundreds of pelicans rose into the sky above me. With their large wings and long beaks, they resemble Pterodactyls. There were so many of them, it was almost frightening. I thought they might crap on me, so I paddled farther out from shore. As they descended, I captured pictures in my mind of their silhouettes suspended against the brilliant pink and orange sunset. It was a spectacular moment.
Before long, I arrived at a marina and began looking for a large boat to dock beside. I was looking for a friend - someone who would let me sleep on deck aboard their vessel. I paddled up alongside a large yacht. Through a window, I could see a man inside browsing nautical charts. On the stern, were the words, "Mystic Rose - Vancouver". I remember thinking, "Great! A fellow Canadian... this will be easy!"
Soon after docking, I boarded the yacht and presented my request. The man was in his thirties, traveling alone, and not a Canadian as I assumed. He lived in Vancouver, Washington, and was on his way home from Olympia. A few minutes into our conversation, Kerry offered me a bed for the night.
While I was cooking my supper in his cabin, Kerry made a suggestion that would change the course of my entire voyage. "Sailing this by myself is difficult. Why dont you throw your boat on, and sail with me down to Astoria? I could use your help..." he urged. "I would love to!" I exclaimed! "But... I cant... because I am going to paddle the entire distance by myself; and when I cant paddle... Ill walk!"
I badly wanted to learn how to sail, and I wanted to join him more than anything I could imagine. However, at the moment when I replied, it seemed that having a fat ego was more important. When I told him, "I want to do it alone.", I felt a tremendous amount of pride and independence. I was proving that I was a person who can stick to their guns - a person who chooses not take the easy way out - a person who should be admired and respected for his courage and determination. I suddenly realized, that I was sounding like a person who is just doing something... so others would think he is cool.
Then I asked myself a few tough questions, like "Why am I on this journey?" and "Why do I want to paddle the entire distance?". The answers were not hard to find... But accepting them was a challenge. "This journey isnt about kayaking." I pondered, "It never was. Its about meeting people, having interesting experiences, and learning from them both. Its about living life to its fullest, and not waiting until Im old or confined to a hospital bed to realize that every day healthy and free is precious."
I want to paddle the whole way because of pride. I want to say, "I did it by myself!" But at what cost? What is pride worth when I am alone... on the ocean... miles from the nearest soul? When all I pray for is safety... do I care what people think of me? ...So why give up the opportunity to make a friend, learn something new, and have a lot of fun?"
Kerry let me sail most of the way. I was even at the wheel going through the Columbia River bar. Many ships have gone down there. At times it can be one of the most dangerous places to sail in North America. I had a blast! We arrived in Astoria at four oclock that same afternoon. For supper, Kerry took me out for Chinese food. At the end of our meal, I opened my fortune cookie. The message inside read, "Now is the time to try something new!"