A Holiday to Remember
by Dan Lewis, Tofino
In 1979, I embarked on a winter getaway I will never forget. Jim Berta
and Merrily Corder, who were my kayaking mentors, planned to cycle
to California to visit his family for Christmas. Then Jim got the idea
of making it a paddling trip. Problem was, he wasn't free to
go until mid-October.
I leapt at the opportunity to join such an epic undertaking. Being
young and naive at the time, I failed to understand the implications
that late fall weather would have on our expedition: gale-force southeast
headwinds slowing us almost to a stand-still, massive storm swells
trashing us each morning as we left the beach and then pounding us
back to shore each evening.
Our small group of friends gathered on October 24 at Jericho Beach
in Vancouver and paddled off in moderate southeast winds and driving
rain. Sleeping at Tsawassen overnight, we crossed Georgia Strait
the second morning, arriving in Victoria the third day. Next came the
of Juan de Fuca Strait. I was too new to the sport to really understand
tidal currents, so the rapids at Race Rocks took me by surprise.
I remember thinking that the waves were very steep and pointy on top.
As we crossed the Strait, a cold southeast wind conspired with the
strong ebb current to drag us out to sea. We could clearly see that
we were losing ground. I was finding it unusually hard to keep up.
Jim tried everything from encouragement to insults to keep me going.
When at last we arrived at the Customs dock, we discovered that I
was sitting in six inches of water! My kayak had taken on water through
a pinhole leak in one end. Without bulkheads, this resulted in 200
pounds of water distributed the length of the boat!
Things got worse in early November as we rounded Cape Flattery at
the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. We were being hammered by incredibly
strong southeast winds, and could barely move forward. We decided to
bail out at the first beach south of the Cape. It was taking literally
minutes to claw our way past each rock. When I took a momentary break,
I was blown back, losing five or ten minutes worth of paddling instantly!
I realised that I had to find some-thing to occupy my mind, which was
whining things like "I can't do this" and "We're
all gonna die!".
The Juan de Fuca ordeal had taught me that the body can do far more
than the mind would think possible — I just had to occupy it
with other thoughts. As I punched my right arm forward, I thought "Mind
says, arms have power". Punching the left arm forward, I chanted "Mind
says, push on! "This mantra allowed me to carry on until we reached
the beach, whereupon I was unceremoniously dumped onto the sand by
the large surf!
Expedition life became a wearying routine. Wake up in the dark, put
on the wetsuits, take down the tarp. Eat porridge, surf launch at first
light. Paddle twenty miles south, land at sunset, set up the tarp,
cook supper, dry wetsuit by the fire, hit the hay by eight o'clock.
Although I can't say it was fun, I can say it was the trip of
Our trip ended just north of Taholah, Washington. We had pulled in
for lunch on a beach. Unfortunately you can never judge the size
of surf from offshore. Turned out this beach had a dumping shorebreak
and we were trapped there. I actually made it off the beach on our
third day there, with an assist from Jim and Ed. I paddled furiously
up huge walls of water, so thin I could see through them, praying
would not break and pitch pole me backwards towards the beach. Reaching
each crest, my boat would teeter over the top, and begin the terrifying
descent towards the oncoming trough. I would use this opportunity
to pick up some speed, in order to make it over the next juggernaut.
I actually managed to make it out, whereupon I spent the next eight
or so hours (I didn't have a watch) waiting a half-mile offshore
for the others to join me. I wasn't likely to make it out a second
time, and did not want to head in just as they made it out, so I waited
all day. Finally at sunset, I saw Jim raise a signal flag. As I headed
in, a monster wave caught me unawares and collapsed on top of me. Before
I knew it, I was swimming twenty feet away from my kayak, with assorted
bits of gear scattered about. I quickly grabbed what I could, and eventually
The next morning we discovered that the old skid road behind the
beach connected to an old spur road, that connected to a mainline logging
road. Within minutes we were in downtown Taholah, where Merrily and
Lawella had frantically waited four days for us to paddle the twenty
mile distance from our last rendezvous with the support vehicle.
The next day we called off the trip and drove to California in 24
hours, just in time for a huge Thanksgiving feast with Jim's Mom!
Lesson learned: if you want a relaxing winter getaway, don't
go looking for it on the west coast of Washington state!
Dan Lewis lives in Clayoquot Sound where he operates Rainforest Kayak
Adventures with Bonny Glambeck. Phone him at 1-877-422-wild, email
at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his website at www.rainforestkayak.com
Tofino kayak guide Dan Lewis writes about a Christmas paddling trip with Jim Berta and Merrily Corder.