For years, Canmore resident Margaret Rees loved to climb mountains.
She would strap a pack on and set off, looking for adventure; but time and age takes its toll and eventually her knees wouldn’t support adventure in the mountains anymore. So, always in search of the next big adventure, she turned her eyes towards the sea.
Vancouver Island is 460 kilometres long and 100 wide at its largest point. It is the largest island on the west coast of North America and circumnavigating it in a kayak became the goal for Rees and two of her friends, Bob and Elizabeth Purdon.
The Island never stood a chance.
The trio of friends set off from Victoria on June 23 and finished the trip on Aug. 19, paddling their kayaks in a counter clockwise direction around the island for the entire trip, which lasted 58 days and spanned over 1,255 kms.
“During the whole trip we just kept saying, ‘keep Vancouver Island on your left and you’ll be fine,’ that’s all you needed to know,” laughed Rees. “You have to have great trust in your boat and I did. I trusted my boat and felt it could handle anything. I felt that with all the experiences I had in the past that I was really prepared.”
To train for the trip, Rees spent the winter cross-country skiing to build upper body strength. She then travelled to Victoria a month before they started to begin preparing her kayak. Although she’d done 15-day trips before, this voyage was a different beast.
The trip was motivated partly out of ego, partly out of the knowledge that if they didn’t go now, they may never go. Rees is 64, Bob is 65, and Elizabeth was the youngest of the group at 60 years young.
“As I said to my friends, this is about ego. It’s an ego thing to do a big trip like that. To say, ‘I want to do that,’ that part is ego,” Rees said. “Very much on a day-to-day basis it becomes about getting in a rhythm and knowing you’re on a journey. Looking at the landscape, it very much puts you in the moment.”
The trio faced impenetrable fogs, ferocious tides and an unrelenting wind that was determined to sidetrack them some days. Of the 58 days, about 48 were spent paddling, with another 10 being lost to weather conditions. Toward the end of the trip, Rees’ tent was held together with duct tape and good intentions.
“We had rain, we had fog, we had some days where we couldn’t move because the wind was so strong,” she said. “There were some very sporty waters. You can get into situations where you have the tide coming in and the wind blowing in the opposite direction, and it actually makes the waves stand up. It gets very, very choppy.
“We had one landing in what’s called dumping surf … Unfortunately, my timing was slightly off, and my boat got thrown around a lot. They are made to take a great deal of punishment, and it came out with a few scratches, but it’s only paint and gel coat. The hull was still integral.”
At one point, the surf was so strong that a wave breaking beside Rees capsized her kayak and had her floating upside down for a moment. Rather than panic, her training took over and she was able to roll the boat upright. Her friends hadn’t seen her go down and didn’t realize what had happened until she told them.
The group was underway before 6 a.m. every day, lugging nearly
250 pounds of gear into the boats in order to get ready for the day’s paddling. They packed enough food for a month, repair gear, tents, sleeping bags, and an emergency beacon. They stopped three times during the trip to resupply on shore from provisions they’d mailed themselves.
“You carry all of your gear with you. Not only are you paddling, but you’re camping along the way, so you have to be self-contained for food, water, shelter, and be ready to deal with any instances that come up.”
They also brought along different coloured wool for knitting, and a ukulele to distract themselves during the days the wind was too strong.
“That was part of our preparation, we had to go to the wool shop,” said Rees with a big smile.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom during their grand adventure, however. They explored up and down the coast, finding secret waterfalls, making friends with food truck drivers and bonding with one another.
“Some days it was really easy paddling and you put your mind on cruise control. I learned to sing. I would sing, it was my thing. I learned ‘Barrett’s Privateers’ by Stan Rogers. I wrote the words down and I’d have the words, so I could sing it all by the end of the trip. Corb Lund’s ‘Horse Soldier’ as well.”
To greet them on their return, Elizabeth’s daughter arranged a welcoming party for the intrepid adventurers.
“We actually had a welcoming committee, we had champagne, they had a cake for us. Like 30 people … they were great, they carried our boats and our gear,” said Rees. “We were all ready to be finished, but it gave us such a boost to see all those people there.”
Now that she’s back in Canmore, Rees’ body still hasn’t adapted to sitting still for any period of time.
“We could feel the difference in our physical bodies from the beginning of the trip to the end of the trip … When I got home my body wanted to go paddling, it didn’t want to stop.”
During the trip the group set up a Facebook page called Bobby and the SeaStars, which provides a look at the day-to-day adventures they found themselves getting into.