It was difficult to find a decent place to pitch the tent. The beach was steep and the high tide mark showed the water had recently risen nearly all the way to the base of the loose escarpment where the forest trees began growing. I climbed up the escarpment, found a reasonably flat spot, but had to uproot much of the undergrowth.
The tide began falling around 5:00 am.. I noticed the footprints of an animal on the wet sand close enough to the water’s edge that it could not have wandered by more than an hour earlier. The paw marks had four round toes but no sign of any claws like those of a wolf.
“That could be a cougar. You better get moving and hope the big cat doesn’t come for you out of the bush. They like to catch their unwary prey from behind.” Said a voice of caution in my head. I have read that in India people who walk through forests wear a face mask tied to the back of their heads, so the tigers will think they’ve been spotted. Unfortunately, I had no such protection with me.
This was the first close encounter of a day filled with wildlife. Fifty yards off the beach in waist deep water I came across a creamy pink smudge, I thought it was a shallow sand bank. It turned out to be a mass of jellyfish. Thousands, perhaps millions of moons shaped flying saucers the size of dessert plates puffing about in all directions like little galaxies. How these creatures that drift where the currents take them came to aggregate together in the bay is a mystery to me.
At the entrance to Hot Springs Cove, I heard the deep gasp of a whale spout. It was far enough away that the mist had dissipated by the time I was aware of it, but I soon heard it again, this time much louder and closer. Then a minute later I saw three misty clouds break above the water and make loud puffing sounds rhythmically timed one after another. They were moving in my direction.
I counted six different spouts. Each closer then the next until I could see them poking out their noses to take deep breaths. Incredibly, the light refraction from the water makes the whales completely invisible from the kayak even when they are very close, and whales can only be seen underwater if they are swimming directly underneath you. These semi truck sized creatures hide in plain sight only a few feet away.
After seeing the whales bob in place like a bunch of logs, I concluded the hot springs must be a popular rest stop for them as well. Perhaps, even though they have a thick coat of blubber for insulation, they too enjoy the tranquility of the warm waters. During the South Florida winter, and especially after a cold snap, manatees gather in their hundreds near the cooling pond outlets from the nuclear power plant. To them it feels like a jacuzzi.
I had hoped to stop at the Cove myself, dip into one of the steamy pools, rest my arms, and perhaps even camp there for the night. Unfortunately, I had been forewarned that because of the COVID epidemic it was closed off.
“Oh, you should just go for it.” Justine had told me. “I think there’s a way to get to the springs from the water without having to stop at the refuge. And there’s a beach you can camp at on the opposite side of the inlet on Flores Island. Look around.”
I did look and indeed did see steam clouds rising above the trees, but no place to land in between the rocky crags, at least not on my own with a loaded kayak. The warm bath and relaxation were temptingly close, but out of reach.
Instead I kept on paddling around the backside of Flores Island with the incoming flood tide and then with outgoing ebb on the way out towards Tofino. This fortunate alignment of my direction and the current allowed me to cover nearly forty-four miles, though it was by no means an easy endeavor. I consumed all my power bars and then had to reach into my day hatch for a few packs of caffeinated jelly beans. I have nicknamed them the He-Man Jelly Beans as , within a few minutes of eating them I experienced an instant flash of renewed vigor.
When I reached Obstruction Island I was experiencing a full flush of caffeine induced strength. So much so that I made the somewhat silly decision to paddle around the far end of the island, thinking that it would be more scenic. That added five miles to my already longest day yet, and was the difference between arriving in Tofino at a reasonable hour, and navigating through the harbor low tide mudflats in the dark.
Compared to everywhere else I have been on this journey, I found the nightlife in Tofino to be lively and colorful. The local park was lit up by a kaleidoscope of streetlamps, there was a tenacious chatter of drumming music from pubs along Campbell Street, and the foot traffic competed with pickup trucks for space on the street. In their midst I prodded through town pulling my kayak behind me; the cockpit piled with the gear like a parade float.
My attire was a little bit unusual. It was a warm day,, I had been sweating profusely during the paddle, and my underlayers were soaked. After putting out at the boat ramp I undressed from the dry suit, removed the sweat drenched sleeved shirt, and kept on only the long-legged wool underwear for a minimum of decency. I got a few looks from people, but I was too exhausted to care.
On the way I found a pizza shop with a neon sign that they’d be closing in ten minutes. I stopped for a moment, looked inside and noticed a cheese pizza under an orange heating lamp.
“I’ll take the whole cheese pizza and that last chocolate cookie you got on the glass display.”
The waitress, who was probably a university student working a summer job, looked at me with a mixture of bafflement and dread, uncertain what to make of my request. Should she ask the manager to shoo me away?
“Oh, you have a bottle of sparkling water as well; I’ll take that too.” I said.
“I’ve been paddling all day. I’ll pay with a credit card.” That was my way of saying, I wasn’t a crazy hobo and seemed to take the edge of f the situation.
“From where?” she asked. I noticed from her accent that she must be from Quebec.
“Yesterday I was at Friendly Cove.” I answered, in French. “Lots of folks from Quebec working in BC, eh?”
“Yes, lot’s of us get jobs in BC on the summer break. It’s a great way to see another part of the country, and to practice some English too. I can tell you’re not from Canada. You’re American and you know French? What a rarity. Thank you for speaking French!”
“We are about to close. I’ll give you the last chocolate croissant. They are very good and you look like you’re hungry!”
Sea Kayak Vancouver Island Circumnavigation