tofino kayak - living off the land

Living Off The Land

by Dan Lewis, Tofino

A A few years back, we decided to go on a 2-month expedition to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve – aka South Moresby in the Queen Charlotte Islands. We looked forward to the chance to do a long trip in a remote area we'd never seen, to live simply, and to deeply experience the wild.

This was Bonny's first Big Trip. At the time, I was into going very light on the food end of things – foraging as much as possible from the land and sea. After all, why lug around something that was easily at hand, hauling it up and down every beach, paddling it from island to island? Our plan was to eat berries, seafood, and wild herbs instead of bringing sugar, protein, teas and salads.

Unfortunately, no one told us that there are basically no berries in Gwaii Haanas. The deer have eaten them all.

You see, the deer were imported to the islands by some chap at the Hudson's Bay Company, back at the turn of the last century. Problem is, deer have no natural predators on the Islands – no cougar, no wolves. So their population has exploded. So much for wild salads. And the National Park Service is supposed to be protecting Bambi so they're understandably reluctant to be seen 'controlling' the population.

One day we were eating lunch on a log in the rain. Nothing unusual about it – same weather we'd been having most every day, and exactly the same meal. Lunch was organically grown almond butter on rye crackers. This was a tradition for me, going back to the late seventies, when I first started kayak touring.

Now as you can imagine, crackers and nut butter can be a bit dry. They're not too bad with a few berries, but as I mentioned earlier, there were no berries. I noticed that Bonny was having a hard time consuming enough food to maintain her body heat in the cold wet weather, let alone provide the fuel needed to paddle her loaded kayak another five or ten miles.

When I gently suggested that she might want to eat a bit more, she snapped, "Next time we go on a trip, I'm bringing my own snacks. If you want to live off the land, you can go right ahead. I'm carrying my own snacks in my own boat, so I can eat what I want, when I want to." I sensed that my culinary planning was not meeting her needs.

Later that day, we spied a boat approaching in the distance. Now there's not a heck of a lot of places to go at the south end of Gwaii Haanas, so this seemed like an unusual event. The boat stopped, and a man in a t-shirt came out on the back deck and started taking pictures of us. He didn't have the typical demeanor of a tourist (too hardy in a t-shirt in the rain).

I said to Bonny: "This guy is a professional photographer. He's probably trying to get the ultimate shot of kayakers in the mist, and the lighting is perfect. But without a model release, he's hooped. When he gets here, tell him you charge one chocolate bar per photo."

Sure enough, the boat came right over to us, and the photographer popped out again. "Do you mind if I take your picture?" he called out.

" I charge one chocolate bar per photo", came Bonny's reply. His jaw dropped. "I'm not sure we have any… chocolate", he stuttered. "Just a minute, I'll see what I can find", he said, disappearing below deck. Moments later he emerged.

" Would these do?" he asked, displaying a box of chocolate-covered marshmallow-filled granola bars. "Oh, yes", said Bonny, "those would do just fine!" She could almost hear the angels singing as he leaned over the railing, and handed the box down. "You mean, I can have the whole thing?" she asked incredulously. "Sure, go ahead," he said (probably thinking, 'they cost me two-fifty').

He started taking pictures of us. "Excuse me sir, do you think you could just"– he motioned with his hand, sweeping me out of the photo.

Later as the boat motored off, Bonny fumbled to rip open the box of delights. Her first impulse was to ration them, stretch them out for the second half of our 2-month epic. "Can I have one?" I begged. "Please don't make me grovel." Quite generously, I thought, she shared one.

Scarfing mine back, I said "These sure taste good. How 'bout another?" Bonny reluctantly agreed. We kept on paddling. Then, something snapped. We were tired of camping in the rain. We had arranged for our second month's supplies to be dropped off at a B&B in Rose Harbor. We decided (under the influence – sugar is a drug!) to just keep on paddling, stopping only twice more to eat another bar each. That day we paddled 23 miles, fueled by one huge sugar rush, arriving at Rose Harbor by nightfall-wet, tired, and very happy.

Dan Lewis and Bonny Glambeck operate Rainforest Kayak Adventures in Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. Visit their website at or call them at 1-877-422-WILD

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Living off the Land - A story by Tofino kayak guide Dan Lewis. Published by Tofino Time Magazine in January 2003.

tofino time january 2003