A Travelogue

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

We laughed till we hurt. Then we laughed some more.

John Lithgow plays the Michael Caine role and Norbert Leo Butz plays the Steve Martin role. Man, is he funny! I'm so glad we went to see a comedy and not one of the other musicals.

Laughing out loud. What a perfect way to end a day.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Ground Zero

There is just a large hole in the ground surrounded on all sides by a heavy duty chain link fence.

Then we read the posters on the fence giving the timelines of 9-11. It brings back all the memories of that horrible morning nearly four years ago.

It is an emotionally charged place haunted by grief.

Then, the melancholy notes of "Amazing Grace" float towards us on the wind, played on a solitary flute. How very perfect.

Ellis Island

Ellis Island is a poignant place.

The great hall has been renovated to look very much like it did 100 years ago when 5000 immigrants per day flooded in carrying with them their meagre but precious possessions.

On our self guided audio tour we heard interviews from seniors who still remember when their parents bundled them up to travel halfway around the world seeking a better life. Often the children came with with their female relatives, the men having left years earlier to earn enough to send for them. One elderly woman wept as she recounted the reunion with her dad when she was only four. Her memory of that day is still vivid and she is very emotional when she tells how her Father sobbed as he knelt to embrace her.

One young girl of 11 travels alone from Hiroshima, Japan, to meet up with her parents.

There are sad stories, but luckily not too many, of people who were turned away because they had communicable diseases. When it was a child that was diagnosed with the illness, families were torn apart as one parent had to return with the ill child while the other was granted asylum with the remaining children. Luckily, this happened to less than 2% of the immigrants.

But there are many good stories. The staff processing the people were generally very kind and compassionate. One young gal had had a negative chalk mark placed on her coat, indicating there might be a problem. A kind staffer told her to turn her coat inside out since it was lined in a pretty silk pattern. Thus she was able to remain with her family.

And finally, this quote which comes from an anonymous Italian immigrant:

"I learned three things when I came to America.
1. The streets are not paved with gold.
2. The streets are not paved at all.
3. I am expected to pave them."

Sweat in the City

Our Hotel QT is quite a funky place. Evidently if we are under 25 we would receive a 25% discount. We are definitely uncool people in a very cool place and we're lucky we don't have to pay a premium, being so far over the age of 25! But what the heck, it has a pool!! That is my focus during our first day walking around Times Square.

Waves of superheated air boil up from the sidewalks. So hot, they take your breath away. Sometimes a heat wave is spiced with the pungent odour of sewer gas. Now that really takes your breath away.

The traffic is a ribbon of yellow as the cabs ply their trade on both sides of the street. There are no busses except for the "hop on, hop off" red double deckers which give tours of Manhattan. These are the best way to see the city especially as the temperature soars into the high 90's and humidity is thick at 87%. Walking is not an option. The tour guides hustle shamelessly for tips and to prevent you sneaking off the bus without leaving something, they escort you down the stairs and wait at the door to say goodbye. It works.

A street hawker hands out pink leaflets and pauses to wipe his brow with one of them. I hope he doesn't hand that one out.

In Harlem you can buy icy cool water from streetside vendors. The bus stops, you throw down $1 and they toss up a bottle. Hans buys two and rolls one across my neck and down my back. The relief is exquisite. "Better stop soon or it'll boil" I say, knowing it's true.

After our tour of upper Manhattan, which takes a couple of hours, we walk a block to our hotel but if you measure the distance in discomfort, it is infinite. I repeat my mantra: "Thank God the hotel has a pool" and the thought is revitalizing. I can't wait to plunge into its cool depths.

As we sink into the pool I am momentarily disappointed. It feels so warm, not at all cool and refreshing, so I order a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc from the glassed-in bar. It separates the pool from the air conditioned lounge and yuppies who drop in after work for a drink. I leave the window open to the bar and a welcome blast of cold air flows over the water. Hans and I pick a corner of the pool and curl up on the benches, water up to our shoulders and frosty glasses in hand.

It's perfect.

And it doesn't take long for the pool to melt the heat from our bodies. Soon, in fact, we're so cold we have to step into the sauna just a few steps up. I can hardly believe I'm in the sauna when a scant hour earlier when I was dying of heat I overheard a woman on a cell saying, "It's still so hot I want to kill myself", and I know exactly what she meant.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Sitting in a Jet Plane

I forgot to mention that our trip to Albany wasn't the usual quick and dirty fly-in/ fly-out.

We made it okay to Chicago. Then boarded the plane, taxied out to the runway, and the captain said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We've just been informed that due to a line of thunderstorms in Michigan we've been asked to wait indefinitely here on the sweltering tarmac while you sit in un-airconditioned discomfort. Thank you for flying United". Jerks.

It's possible that I'm not remembering what he said word for word.

We sat there for two hours. Two hours!

Did you know that they turn off their engines while they sit there? It's 100 @&#^$% degrees out there, and that's not factoring in the shimmering heat waves lofting up from the black runway. You know what your car's like when you step into it on a hot day. That's what this was like, only 150 times worse. That's because there were 150 bodies in the car with me this time. Yikes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Albany, NY

Here we are a little outside of Albany at the GE Betz complex.

The lodge, which is on the GE company site, is gorgeous. It's a recently built (2 year old) company owned lodge to house guests and visting GE staff. There's a fitness club, but it's a separate building and the tall trees between the lodge's deck and the club hid it from mhy view.

The complex is huge, with 1850 employees. The lodge is like a hotel, but alas, without a pool. I spent yesterday alternately in the beautiful air conditioned lounge and on the deck, which overlooks the brilliant blue Mohawk River below. When the heat got too much, I'd go back inside and sip a cool drink.

Every morning there's a continental breakfast with beautifully sliced, peeled and presented cold fruit, bagels, muffins, coffee, juice, etc. There's also a 24 hour pantry where you can get snacks, make specialty coffees (I tried cashew caramel) and help yourself to what's in the fridge. There's an open bar too. In the evenings we meet in the lounge have a glass or two of wine, then out to dinner.

Last night we dined in town at cafe capriccio where we were guests at the chef's table. This is upstairs in what appears to be the owner's dining room. A bar separates us from the kitchen where he and his wife cook for their guests, in this case, our group of 9. The rest of the restaurant is downstairs, but this upper area is special.

Jim, the owner chef, brought out platter after platter of exquisite tasting Italian appetizers, explaining what went into each as he presented each one with a flourish.

"Garlic scape with olive oil, zucchini with goat cheese and roasted red pepper. Here we have white beans Tuscan style with herbs and kale from the garden. There's a little more juice than I'd like but hey, that happens". There were golden beats with basil and nasturtium leaves and flowers, homebake bread, and a crisp Italian white to help it all down.

"This is home cooking, and you are like my family tonight", said Jim, whereupon I promply knocked over my wine glass.

"The bad daughter has spilled her wine", I called out, whereupon the attentive waiter immediately mopped up my spill and refilled my glass.

The appetizer were so good it was a struggle not to fill up on them, but Jim had warned us at the beginning that we would have a large meal and to leave room. Sadly, I pushed away my plate to await the next dish.

"These tomatoes have been blanched and sitting in herbs and oil. It's a light tomato sauce which I will cook in the time the penne is cooking, so it's just gently sauteed." This sauce topped a small bowl of penne and then covered with breadcrumbs crisply fried in olive oil. It was delicious.

Finally, we had butter-tender beef in a port and balsamic vinegar sauce, fresh beans picked from his garden out back, mushrooms and roasted potatoes with a mystery spice. We all thought it tasted familiar but couldn't identify it. Turns out it was lavendar. Fresh lavendar, just sprinkled on the potatoes. You couldn't see it, but the delicate taste was there and reminiscent of a light tarragon. Wow.

In honour of Hans' upcoming 60th birthday on July 23, Jim's wife made a light pastry wrapped around a horn and baked, then stuffed with Chantilly cream and accompanied by sweetened, sliced strawberries. Hans got a candle in his but was so full, he had a hard time blowing it out.

At the end of dinner, Jim presented each of us with a signed copy of his first cookbook which I browed through this morning. He's a delightful raconteur.

This afternoon we're off to a golf course where I plan to enjoy myself in the air conditioned lounge sipping wine and reading a good book!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Starry, Starry Night


It's 10:15 p.m. and everyone except Suzanne is meeting in the lounge dressed for a midnight paddle. Suzanne got a touch of heat stroke today and isn't feeling well, lying in bed drinking lots of fluids. Teddy is tired and her blistered thumb hurts. She doesn't want to go, but Lana insists, saying she'll chauffeur her and Teddy won't even have to paddle.

There's a plankton bloom in the ocean. Conditions are just right to see the very special effects this creates at night.

Off we go.

It's not easy carrying our kayaks down to the water's edge holding the boat in one hand and aiming a flashlight at our toes with the other. We whisper and giggle, and because we know we have to keep quiet so as not to awaken the staff, we try to giggle softly. But the rocks shuffle and tumble around our feet making too much noise. We giggle harder.

Amazingly, we're launched in record time. The water appears thick and oily smooth. We're still whispering because water carries sound so well, but we understand clearly that we are operating on a strict buddy system. Flashlights are off so as not to impair our night vision and voice contact becomes essential.

Finally far enough away from the lodge to speak normally, we look up and identify what we can in the sky. It's still a bit early and we have to wait for the night to get blacker. Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper wink at us through filmy clouds as transparent as northern lights. A half moon casts its shimmering glow on the water but tonight, the moon is our enemy. We need The Dark.

We paddle in a group to the Pinkertons but not before Judy and Gail paddle onto a log they can't see. We skirt around them and head for shore, hugging its edge looking for the deep shadows cast by trees. The clouds thicken and obscur the stars, the moon dips behind the cedars and we float in a void, surrounded above and below by a black abyss.

The first glimmers appear on our paddles as they cut the water. Each stroke leaves a glittering trail and little eddies of stars twirl away in all directions. It's utterly brilliant.

We trail our fingers in the water and leave a comet's tail of fairy lights in their wake. Wiggling our fingers intensifies the effect and thousands of little sparkles are stirred up and dance away. In the shadow of the trees we play, back paddling and splashing, laughing out loud, squealing like little children in the playground.

This night is so special. I want to find a picture to share what we saw but it's impossible to capture that effect on film. We are so lucky to see it.

It is completely magical.

Live Acquarium Lesson, Rescue and Scarecrow

Thursday was another perfect day.

An incoming low pressure system calmed the sprawling ocean and we skimmed along as on a mirror. It was so beautiful.

We were promised an easy paddle with lots of marine life, and that's exactly what we got. The early morning got quite hot and both Judy and Teddy needed to take off their jackets. Teddy's pedals also needed adjusting. Cal paddled over to Teddy first and lifted her skirt, reaching into the front of the cockpit to fix the pedals. Then he steadied her kayak and helped her undo the PFD, pull out her jacket and finally put everything back the way it was. Then he helped Judy do the same.

It was low tide and Cal took us to a section between some islands where we saw the most splendid display of sea life. There were constellations of brilliantly coloured sea stars shimmering in hues ranging from deep rich purple to pale violet, from brilliant blue to the prolific orange stars. Interspersed we'd see clusters of black batstars with webbing between their arms. The orange and dull purple stars were usually the largest, often around 12" from tip to tip with thick, fleshy arms.

Sea stars are symmetrical and their five arms are arranged around a central disk.
However, we also saw sunflowers. Cal pulled a large specimen up and we counted 18 arms.

Lana told us that sea stars have an unusual feeding habit. Instead of pulling their food into their mouth as we do, they flip their stomachs out through their mouth located in the middle of their bodies and digest their prey, such as a mussel, inside the mussel's own shell. When the mussel is completely digested the stomach is pulled back into the sea star's body.

The sea cucumbers we saw were sausage shaped and the size of a regular cucumber. They were mostly a fecal brown and covered with lighter coloured soft thorns. Judy picked up one of the slug-like sea cucumbers and draped it over her hand. Cal said when threatened they can shoot out water from their body, and that's exactly what Judy's specimen did. It looked like it was urinating a purplish fluid that just kept coming and coming and coming. Then it shifted its organs and got long and thin on one side and short and thick on the other. Apparently, they can shoot out their insides and then grow new ones and it may have been preparing to do so but Judy put it back. All this just to make itself more unattractive to a predator.

We saw lots of discarded moon snail egg collars. The snail lays its eggs in the sand and presses both egg and sand together with a mucous like glue. We examined the collars which are quite flexible and feel like rubber. Both John and Cal found a live moon snail with its fleshy foot. I held the one John had but it was flexing its and felt creepy. When I handed it back, long ropes of slime were dangling beneath it.

Moon snails eat clams and they do so by licking them to death. They lick the shell with their raspy tongues until they've worn a hole in the top, then they suck up the meat inside.

There were sea anemones and the occasional crab. Later we got a lesson in how to tell the difference between the males and females (females have a wider plate on their abdomen).

We had a late lunch (2:00 p.m.) on a broad beach and Brenda took the opportunity to go for a quick swim.

Lana's hair part was showing signs of turning very red, so Suzanne donated the pink scarf from her hat and with the aid of a cut-up juice box Brenda fashioned it into a cute little hat. I had a spare visor which went under the juice box brim and the effect was quite fetching. Lana is a beautiful woman with long ash blond hair and a generous smile, so it would have been pretty hard to make her look bad.

Following lunch we were given the choice of going for a longer paddle or heading back to the lodge. Since it was still an hour to the lodge, Teddy, Brenda, Suzanne and I chose to return so we could sit and sip wine on the deck. Cal accompanied us and in the lagoon by the lodge, he demonstrated a couple of rolls. On purpose.

Brenda wanted to try some rescue techniques so she rolled over and exited the kayak. Using the T-rescue, Cal hoisted the nose onto his spray skirt, draining most of the water. Flipping the kayak right side up, Cal stabilized it while Brenda pushed herself onto to stern of the kayak just behind the cockpit. Cal was able to grab the straps of her PFD to help her up. When she was lying facedown facing the stern, she slipped her legs into the cockpit and slid in until her hips were on the seat. Then she turned and sat. Perfect entry.

The next technique he demonstrated was the scoop. Again, Brenda is out of the kayak and holding her kayak with its bottom against the side of his boat, he lets the cockpit half fill with water to hold it in position. Lying in the water on her back, Brenda slides her legs into the cockpit and when her butt is in place, Cal flips her right side up. Then she has to pump out the water but this entry method looked easier than the first.

By now we were ready to go in, have a nice relaxing shower without having to line up, and enjoy the deck. Cal didn't stay but went back to meet up with the remaining group leaving his dry clothes behind for Suzanne to bring inside. Of course, Suzanne did no such thing.

She and Brenda poked a long branch through the arms of his shirt and hung it in a cedar tree. They attached his hat a little higher up, tied something around the waist of the shirt to give him a swimmers shape, and then filled another shirt with cedar boughs to use as shorts. Two stick legs stuck out the bottom. Then while they looked for a leaf to fasten to the front of the shorts, they heard some snuffling coming from the trees.

"Uuunh, uunh, uunh".

With two bear sightings already behind us,they chose the prudent path. They ran.

A little later they returned but were scared off again by more snuffling. But not before they fixed the leaf in place.

Cal took a picture of the scarecrow, but apparently felt the leaf was too small.

Stretches with Lana

Early Wednesday morning, 6:30 a.m. to be exact, Lana led us in a half hour "Greet the Sun" stretching exercise.

We started with hands meeting prayer fashion, slowly stretching above out heads and opening our arms in a delicious reach-for-the-sky motion. She followed this stretch with a variety of movements that worked and pulled everything from arms and shoulders to legs and buttocks.

We all felt so good afterwards that we unanimously agreed to do it again on subsequent days.

Middens and Fish Traps

We had lunch one day by an ancient shell midden.

Later we paddled to what appeared to be a random collection of rocks. However, it was really a cleverly constructed fish trap dating back to ancient times. These fish traps took advantage of high tides. The natives would beat the water and herd the fish into the inlet and over the manually constructed rock walls. When the tide receded, the fish remained trapped.

Bocce Tournament

On Tuesday Lana cleaned Cal's clock in Bocce, so he was keen to redeem himself.

Those Bocce balls are heavy!

We played on the front lawn of the lodge accompanied by the incessant chatter of the hummingbirds who darted back and forth from the feeder. It was impossible to count them, so quickly did they flit around, but there were easily a dozen. We were told they were still juveniles as adults fight for territory and don't willingly share their feeder.

The Bocce tournament was fun but we stopped after four games, each team having won two. Even liberally spritzed with a variety of insect repellents we got bitten by the mozzies who were out in record numbers and boy, were they hungry.

Private Purgatory

While I was enjoying my wild ride on the waves, Sue had the misfortune of single kayaking today and was locked in her own private purgatory.

Battling the headwinds is energy sapping. Battling the lumpy water makes it even harder. Lana stayed close to her, and so did Cal (with me in front). They took turns telling her silly jokes and at one point Cal asked if she want him to tie on, but the said she was okay, just getting tired.

It was a very hard paddle.

Surfing the Waves!

Earlier this morning, our longest day, Lynda and I had decided to partner in the yellow double. But as everyone was sorting and loading gear, discussion turned to who was going to double and who was going to single. Cal said he'd be my partner today. "Sorry Lynda", I said, sincerely grateful for his offer. "I'd rather have Cal".

As we paddled from Clarke to Benson, Teddy, who was with Lynda, glances over.

"He's not paddling" she said. And he wasn't. Cal said that the rule when paddling with him is that I can take a paddling break whenever I want (and apparently so could he) but I wanted to show him that I would be a good partner and do my part so I paddled harder. How stupid is that?? I'm sure he's laughing if he reads this, but I really thought I paddled harder on that day than on any of the others. That evening my wrists were swollen and I had to loosen my wristwatch two notches, but I still had the best day!

It was fairly hot which means that in the afternoon the winds pick up. We also had to cross three channels. The first one, Thiepval, I don't remember as being too bad. Of course I had a motor behind me. But by the time we got to Peacock Channel, the winds had kicked up considerably and we were in 2' - 2 1/2' chop with whitecaps.

"Do you want to surf?" Cal asked.

"Yes!! Just tell me what to do."

"Just paddle," Cal replied and in seconds our kayak faced the waves. Then he turned on the jets. Wow. Cal bench presses Volvos. Immediately we shot forward and cut like a bullet through the wave tips. The wind whistled through my hair and had you glimpsed my face, you would have seen an ear splitting grin. I smile just remembering it. Thanks Cal.

What a ride!

Porn in the Inter-Tidal Pools

After lunch on the beach at Benson Island Cal picked up a Horse Clam.

"It's quite rude looking", he said, stating the obvious.

Apparently the Horse Clam is kin to the Geoduck (pronounced gooeeduck) Clam which, incredibly, has an even bigger appendage. You can form your own visual image (or you can click on Geoduck above and see an actual picture). I can only assume that whoever named them got them mixed up.

Following this amazing discovery, nine of us went for a walk in the woods while the married couple stayed behind for a nap.

Cedar Walk

This was one of the highlights of our kayak trip. It was also our longest paddle day at 13 nautical miles (15 land miles or 24 kilometres).

Cal had arranged for Hank to take our group of 11 to the outer western islands. We loaded the kayaks right after breakfast so we could be on the boat by 8:15, but first, we spotted a mama bear and her tiny little cub just outside the lodge window. Hank scared her off with a few impressively loud rifle shots so she wouldn't pose any danger to the guests.

The way out seemed quite long even in the high-powered boat. At our dropoff point on Clarke Island Cal and Lana led us on a hike to an ancient gnarled cedar estimated to be 1500 years old. Its diameter must have been a good 20' but I'm terrible at estimates so if anyone has a better guess I'd welcome it. We couldn't see its top but glancing upwards, we saw a number of its "witch's brooms", a starburst of branches that is part of the tree's defense mechanism against the parasitic mistletoe.

Lana is an incredible resource of information about local flora and fauna. She explained how the cedar shoots out sideways branches and how the tree accelerates its growth on the underside of those branches so they can curve upwards and reach the beneficial sunshine as quickly as possible.

The walk was pretty boggy in places, slippery and squishy like stepping into a nest of slugs. My Tevas got sucked into the muck more than once making an audible popping sound when I pulled out.

Further on the forest revealed a pair of ancient lovers locked in an eternal embrace.
No doubt the natives have a romantic tale about the stately Sitka Spruce entwined with a beautiful cedar, its long, Rapunzel-like bark contrasting sharply with the scaly surface of the Sitka. A glimmer of sun found its way through the dense canopy, holding them in its warmth.

"What island is this?"

"Turret", Cal replied. We heard Tourette and immediately Teddy's and my shoulder started to twitch and we uttered expletives under our breath.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ready to Roll?

I met John as I was heading outside in full gear, ready to kayak.

"Ready to roll?" he said.

"Never say roll to a kayaker!" I replied.

But his comment was foreshadowing.

On one of our breaks Judy arrived at the beach and, having gotten in and out of her kayak numerous times without mishap, stepped out. And in she went. The wobbly kayak tipped her out.

It was a warm day so the quick dip didn't cause her any discomfort. That was a good thing because she did it again later the same day!

She named her kayak "Bronco".

Wild Life

I bet you thought this would be about us, but it's not!

On our very first paddle we saw a black bear grazing in the shallows. We stilled our kayaks and watched quietly but it seemed quite unconcerned with us.

We also saw two bald eagles perched high in the trees and jumping porpoises in the distance.

Took a little walk after dinner to look at a lake close to the lodge.

"It's only about 50 metres" said Cal. It was too early in our trip for us to know that Cal's estimation of distance and time are at odds with reality. I was keen to see the lake and asked if we could go there before taking another walk along a logging road.

We plunged into the forest.

There is no real trail. That should have been our first clue. Obviously this isn't a lake where the staff go swimming. We soldier on, once again picking our way around the icky slugs.

"Anyone know anything about slugs?" asks Cal.


"About how they do it?"


"Well you should read about it, it's very inteesting."

"Why don't you just tell us since you know."

"Can't remember exactly, but it's very interesting."

"Is it like a clusterfuck?"

Well Cal, I looked it up and you're right, it is interesting how the slugs do it.

Second Class Citizen

We pooled some of our clothes and decided to do a quick laundry that evening after dinner.

It's about 9:00 and we were all finally hungry enough to break into some of the appetizers we'd brought along so Lynda opened the package of smoked salmon we'd been carrying around for 3 days. Gail and I sat in the lounge and played a game of Scrabble. Teddy watched. Lynda prepared crackers for each of us with some cream cheese, salmon and capers and was serving us. My glass of wine was empty so I asked, "Teddy, would you get me some more wine?"

"I've done the laundry. I've been working hard."


Not long after, Gail's beer is empty.

"Gail, can I get you another beer?" asked Teddy.


I've been Slimed

It's our second day and Teddy is doubling with me in the yellow kayak.


I hear a sharply indrawn breath from Teddy.

"What's wrong!" I call out.

"Nothing" she says in a little voice, but I know she's lying. More indrawn breaths come from behind me.

"What!" I call again, feeling slightly alarmed. I feel the kayak shift, and she's doing something funny with her paddle. Like not stroking in the water but waving it in the air and banging it on the kayak. "Eeeuw!"

"Come on, what is it?"

"There's a slug on your vest! It's crawling up your back!!"

Now she has my attention.

"Cal", she calls out, "can you come over here? Hurry!"

I am so afraid to move. I sit rigidly and suppress the rising bile.

Cal is there in an instant and Teddy waves her paddle at the slug. She had been trying to reach my back to poke it off but couldn't manage it. Deftly, he swings his kayak over and plucks the offending slug off my back and flings it into the ocean. The cunningly hidden slug has apparently tucked itself into the crevice between the cockpit and the spray skirt.

I shudder in relief that it had crawled up and not into the cockpit.

Yellow Peril

This wasn't our longest day, but it was certainly a busy one.

Today Teddy and I switched positions. The steering with the rudder takes a little practice since the double kayaks, ours especially, are slow to respond to the rudder. So your instinct is to push down hard. By the time the kayak responds, it's usually time to hit the other pedal. And so we did.

There were many unkind comments.

"Don't follow the Yellow Peril" was heard. Others laughed at our zig-zag stich across the waters, saying we didn't have to tack since we had no sails. They were just mean. So we covered a little extra distance. Big deal. We got home first! Okay, so we missed the waterfall. But once we drew a bead on the lodge there was no stopping us and we homed right in.

Brenda, bless her, accompanied us to the lodge but still, Teddy and I were a little afraid we'd get into trouble. Cal was very gracious about it but felt it his duty to remind us not to do it again, especially if the seas were rough.

The rest of you covered 9 nautical miles that day. Cal thought we doubled that.

Our paddle today was on mirror calm waters and we headed to an island to visit our first Phoenix, an outhouse constructed at great expense ($30,000 to be exact) by the government. It looks quite specatacular from the outside but inside, it was the usual. The uniqueness lies in aromatic cedar chips available to sprinkle down the hole. Alas, they aren't quite aromatic enough.

Jen, another guide who works for Cal, was on the island with a group of wet and sodden camping ladies. Despite this, they seemed cheerful and invited us to share their tarp so we could stay dry while we ate lunch. Back at the beach we met a family camping with their two young daughters, about 10 and 12. In conversation with them, one of our group mentioned the lodge.

"There's a lodge?" echoed the two girls in unison.

"No. It's really just a large tent" replied their dad, rolling his eyes in our direction.

Seachart Lodge

We were met on the dock by a barefoot Kerry, who we would later learn is a woman of amazing energy. She likes to dress in white jeans and t-shirt that, unbelievably, remain pristine in the wilderness, despite all the work she does.

The Lodge is situated somewhere near the mouth of the channel and is run by Kerry and her husband Hank, whose primary duty (indeed only duty that we witnessed) is to drive the boat that we would be using later in the week.

We were only one group of several that Kerry had as guests, and she laid out the house rules for the Lodge:
. dining room is available all night for tea and coffee, fruit, bread, etc.
. party there if you want as it won't disturb other guests.
. two lounges - one with a piano, and one with a fridge. Use both.
. games like Scrabble, cards, etc. are available for your pleasure.
. stay on the floor which has your room.
. rooms have no locks on doors and each room has a sink.
. we share toilets and showers, which are down this hallway.

I was reminded of a conversation I had earlier in the week with a friend.

"I'm off kayaking for a week", I said, "but it's going to be really hard so I think I'll take a day off in the middle."

"Excellent!" said my friend. "You can spend the day getting a pedicure and massage."

It's not that type of lodge.

Then Kerry went on to give out the room assignments. Cal's group was given specific room numbers. We rushed off to claim our rooms but Cal said, "No no no. This is how the rooms are going to be divided up. Since there are 6 of you and these two rooms each have 3 beds, you'll be split into two groups of three. John and Brenda get one room with a Queen bed. Lana and Suzanne share one room with two twins, and I get a room by myself."

"That's hardly fair", said Teddy under her breath.

Then we were invited into the deliciously smelling dining and told to help ourselves to lunch. It was a soup kid of day, and there was a thick and tasty homemade beef vegetable soup and all the fixings for sandwiches: ham, beef, cheese, pita bread, other breads, cucumbers, pickles, etc. We ate our fill, unpacked our bags and met with Cal (Fearless Leader) and Lana (Assistant Guide)for our introductory kayak lesson.

The brightly coloured kayaks waited for us on the grass. As did the mozquitoes and little biting pirhannas called blackflies Cal explained about the rudder and how to adjust its pedals, how to wear and adjust the spray skirt, same with the PFD, and other fine points of kayaking. I eyed the kayaks and noted that, as promised, the double kayaks do have large openings. That meant I might be spared the bruises I got during my first kayaking experience and Kayak Lesson #2.
We were each assigned a boat and tested it out, adjusting the pedals, getting comfortable and to my great relief I was able to slip in and out of it without sounding like a cork being pulled from a wine bottle.

Once we were familiar with everything and had loaded our dry bags, we carried the kayaks down a small slope to the water. Getting in and out on flat, stable grass is a piece of cake. And surprisingly it wasn't much harder on the water. Either Cal or Lana would sit on the bow and stablize the kayak while we novices made our first ungraceful entry inside.

With a little help, we soon all had our spray skirts securely fastened off we went for our first paddle.

God, but it was great.

I loved it from the first paddle stroke. Loved it.

This first day, both Cal and Lana were in single kayaks so they could easily manouever around us and offer help and assistance if needed. We used 3 doubles and 5 singles. I was in a double with Teddy in front, Judy and Gail were in a double, Lynda and Sue were sharing. John and Brenda were each in singles since they are white water kayakers and so had more experience than the rest of us, except for Lynda. Suzanne, having kayaked twice before, was also less of a novice and got a single.

Cal led us through the Pinkertons where he gave us some instruction on sweeping paddle strokes and then we just followed him around on the calm waters. It was a gray day with a little drizzle but our legs were kept warm even when there was a bit of water in the cockpit because it's completely sealed. The comfort level was quite high despite the cool day and the misty air. Towards the end of our paddle (3 nautical miles today) it rained and except for poor visibility when your glasses are full of raindrops, it was still pretty good. The water was smooth and we knew we had hot showers waiting for us at the lodge.

But we sure felt sorry for the poor suckers who were camping.

Cal kept us out until about 5:30 so we hustled to shower before dinner and by 7:30 p.m. I was casting anxious glances at my watch wondering when it would be okay for me to head to bed. I wasn't the only one.

I was asleep by 8:50 that night.

And sometime on that Monday, my headaches went away.

Greek Restaurant

We had dinner at a Greek Restaurant since the Clam Bucket was full and we would have had to wait an hour. We didn't have the time since we needed to meet with Cal at 8:00 p.m. for our first briefing.

The Greek Restaurant was empty except for one table with 4 men (who were probably relatives).

So we ordered the food and impressed our urgency upon the waitress, stating we had to be somewhere in an hour.

"No problem", she assured us and went to place the order.

Thirty minutes later, she finally came with our food. She explained. "In his haste, the chef cut his finger and so I have been helping him", and shrugged her shoulders in explanation.

In the previous 30 minutes she had allowed a couple of girls to take a table but now, she was telling all customers that the chef was injured and that while they were welcome to come in, dinner was likely to be very, very late... Most took the hint and left, promising to come back another time.

B & B in Comox and Port Alberni

"Look for someone with a bloodied finger", Teddy said as we deplaned.


"We're late. She's been waiting and will have been twirling her keys around her finger for the last hour and a half".

Shirley was, indeed, standing there with her keys in hand but no bloody finger. Instead, she was all smiles as she helped us load our luggage and obligingly stopped at the liquor store on the way to her B & B so we could pick up a bottle of wine for the evening.

We had an amazing version of Eggs Benedict the next morning. The ham was thinly sliced and fitted into a muffin tin, filled with scrambled eggs, topped with a touch of Hollandaise and baked to bubbly perfection. The table centerpiece featured a fresh pineapple sliced lengthwise and both halves artfully filled with succulent melons topped with juicy red strawberries. A fragrant rose completed the fruit sculpture and my mouth watered just looking at it.

Then came the blueberry and cream cheese French toast. Wow. Unsurprisingly, that was the best breakfast of the week.

Lynda picked us up after breakfast and as we got out of her car, Teddy slammed her finger in the door. Her finger immediately swelled to twice its size so Lynda sacrificed the ice chilling our smoked salmon (intended for the group's appetizer that evening) and wrapped Teddy's hand. By keeping her finger on ice throughout a great lunch at the Black Fin, her finger actually returned to normal by the time we picked up the other three and headed for our next B & B in Port Alberni.

Any place would have been a letdown after Shirley's. Jacinthe was short on charm and quite brusque. After giving us the choice of hot or cold cereal for breakfast, she described in great detail how the group of ladies who had kayaked the previous week had had a horrible time, it rained every day, one member got terribly sick, and she thoroughly sucked away our high spirits.

Dispirited, we picked our way through the slugs and their slimy trails and retired to our rooms to have wine. Hah. Our choice of glasses was a styrofoam cup or a tiny, waxy, Dixie cup. I volunteered to approach her for different glasses.

"Bonsoir", I said, knowing she spoke French. We chatted for a few minutes about Quebec and then I asked if I could have a couple of glasses.

"Styrofoam or...?" I hate drinking wine out of styrofoam.

"No". I shrug my shoulders in a Gallic gesture. "We're having wine..."

"Oh, of course! Wine glasses then?" and off she went to fetch 6 pieces of attractive stemware.

Despite her change in attitude, we continued to slag her when we found the in-room menu which listed a variety of breakfast foods including bacon and eggs, none of which she had offered us. And to add insult to injury, as we ate our hot and cold cereals the next morning, each of us had a useless knife and fork at our place setting.

We were three to a room, each with a Queen bed and a single air mattress zipped onto some kind of rickety stand. Lynda volunteered to take the air bed and spent much of the night clawing at the sides to hoist herself out of the limply inflated mattress so she could turn around. The mattress hissed and groaned around her and I bet the rubber didn't smell too good either.

It rained all night. I heard it until dawn when the birds started twittering. Not a good start to our adventure.

What Kind of Holiday Starts with Advil?

So I ask you, what kind of holiday starts with a quick stop to the pharmacy on the way to the airport for Advil?

That's how it started for Teddy. She didn't know I already had enough Ibuprofen in my bag to keep us all pain free for the upcoming kayaking week.

We met in the Calgary airport to catch our connecting flight to Comox. I had already had an accident. Getting out of the shuttle bus I accidentally ran my heavy suitcase over my big toe. Blood quickly filled my sandal and I left a trail on the airport floor leading to the bathroom, but it didn't really hurt. It was just messy. But we laughed together as we talked about our fears for the upcoming week and a frisson of relief shot through me to hear I wasn't the only one worried. Turns out Teddy's neck and back were sore, and I confessed I had had stress headaches.

Turns out our worries were completely unfounded. We had an absolutly great time!! But we did use the Ibuprofen.