Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Last Round Up

I've been feeling like an old man for the last few days. I've been troubled by some low level back spasms, something that's never bothered me before, which naturally leaves me wondering if this is just a minor injury or strain that will heal in a few days, or is this the start of chronic middle-age stiffness and the slow start of declining abilities and health. I also seem to have banged my right foot on something and bruised the underneath of it which is causing me a bit of a limp which is obviously not helping my back at all. Even worse, I can't remember when or how I banged my foot, so clearly my memory is rapidly failing me as well. Alzheimer's can't be far behind.
Through a bit of a communication gaffe, we ended up paddling on Saturday instead of our usual Sunday paddle, but it was probably all for the best as Saturday was terrific for paddling, a gorgeous late summer day that was warm and full of sunshine.
We decided to head up-Island to Ladysmith. And although we have been there many times before for the annual Vancouver Island Paddlefest, we've never gone there and explored the area.
The start of our journey involves driving north from Victoria along Highway 1 over the Malahat Summit (what we locals call "over the 'Hat"). You can see from this picture taken at the summit that you make quite a climb considering that the drive from Victoria starts at sea level. Keep that thought in mind -- we'll get back to it.
You can also see in the photo some of our other paddling places in Saanich Inlet. The island across the inlet is what we call among ourselves 15 Minute Island (because it always seems about 15 minutes away) but is really called Senanus Island. The cove to its right is Brentwood Bay and further down to the right behind the trees is Finlayson Arm.
Sannich Inlet Pano

We arrived at Ladysmith and our put in at Transfer Beach. Sealegs Kayaking operates right on the beach and it looked like they were doing a rip-roaring business renting kayaks.
Transfer Beach

Soon we were in the water and underway. Paula and Bernie had rented a vehicle from the Victoria Car Share Co-op and Louise and I used my van, so we were able to get all four big boats on the water today, and it was well worth the effort. We crossed the inlet to the far side and meandered around the islands.
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The islands seem to be made mostly of sandstone. It's so odd to see solid rock with holes like a sponge and as bubbly as an Aero bar. And yet, here we were surrounded by these beautiful formations.
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We found long shelves of sandstone that paralleled the shoreline, and at the water line these shelves seemed to have been compressed to the thickness of paper or cardboard.
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Then Bernie had what he called "a serious WTF moment."
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Looking down he discovered a trailer sitting in the water just off a small uninhabited island. Go figure.
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Bernie's back was bothering him, so he returned early. Louise, Paula and I pressed on to Coffin Island...
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...then made our way back to Transfer Beach.
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As we put in, Bernie, feeling better now that he was moving about a bit, cheerfully told us how he'd holed his kayak while loading it on their rented van. A small hole, about a couple of centimeters square, but a hole just the same. He was so cheerful about it, however, that we were wondering if he was overmedicating on his pain meds. But no, he was fine and looking forward to repairing it. I mentioned out loud that it might be a good article for the blog (hint hint).
After a quick bite from the concession stand, it was time to return to Victoria. Louise and I bid good-bye to Paula and Bernie as they were going to hang out in Ladysmith a little while longer.
As Louise and I headed south, we got closer to the Malahat and the climb we and the van would have to make. Leaving Victoria heading north, as we had done in the morning, the climb is long and mostly gradual, but heading south, as we were doing now, the climb is a quick and steep ascent. It has claimed many a car. It was about to claim another.
As we started up the hill the van responded fine, but about half-way up, an unusual knock started in the engine. As we crested the summit, the van began losing power, and the knock grew louder. Louise and I exchanged worried looks. Getting stuck here, halfway between nowhere and nothing was going to make a long day even longer. We made the summit and we began the long downhill. The van seemed to have enough power to handle flat stretches, and I was hoping we could nurse it home, but another small hill loomed and that was the end of that.
The knocking increased and suddenly something snapped. It sounded like something broke free in the engine and fell off, but we never found anything.
A loud bang, total loss of power, puffs of smoke. None of these things were good.
I pulled the van over and we jumped clear. Something had gone seriously wrong under the hood. Smoke was coming off the engine, and we quickly began preparing to off load as much gear as we could and our kayaks onto the shoulder of the highway. But soon the smoke cleared, and any immediate danger passed. We were just stuck on a dangerous and busy highway with a dead van carrying two kayaks on its roof.
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We phoned for a tow truck -- it was going the cost the equivalent of the national debt to tow the van back to Victoria. But what else could we do? Paula and Bernie drove up a few moments later and they offered to take Louise and some gear back to town while I waited for the tow truck. They scrounged up all their half-drained water bottles and left them with me as they took Louise back to town.
Soon the tow truck arrived and I told to the driver to take it my house. The van looked to be in a sorry state as she was loaded up for the trip home.
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My father bought the van new in 1981, and when he passed away eight years ago, it became mine, and since I discovered kayaking four years ago it has served yeoman's duty in transporting my gear and myself, as well as my fellow paddlers. But like me these past few days, it has been feeling its age the last few years. It has served my family well, but it has served its time. After some expensive transmission repairs last year, it is just not worth sinking more money into it. And from the loud bangs, I'm sure that whatever's wrong will cost major moola.
The tow truck operator hooked up to the van, and I climbed into the cab of his truck. My faithful steed made its last trip home empty and alone.

2009-09-12 Ladysmith

Trip length: 11.74 km
YTD; 303.09
More pictures are here.
The Google Earth kmz is here.

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