Life doesn’t get much better than this.
I’m sitting in the sun above a secluded cove eating brunch, watching seals and the tide come in, finishing a lazy brunch of eggs, refried beans, and a mug of tea. You can’t drive to this cafe. You can’t even hike. I paddled 39 miles yesterday to get here.
The forecast was 4-foot swell, with the period steadily dropping from 12 seconds several days ago. On yesterday’s paddle, though, it seemed higher and longer. I suspected a longer period swell was coming in – there were larger sets coming through all day, breaking further out than the rest and looking scarier than the predicted 4 feet at a diminishing period.
Fog rolled in around 6 to 7 miles from the beach I was looking for, one of the few protected beaches in 30 miles either direction. It got REALLY foggy about 3 miles from my goal. I could just make out those same big sets, that seemed bigger (I don’t know if they were or if it was the fog…), breaking into cliffs. I couldn’t see where I was going – just the shore I needed to stay away from.
Lost people go in circles. Trusting my compass to keep me padding along the shore instead of heading in made me feel like I was going in circles. I had to keep turning out from the shore to go out past the steepening swell. I had to trust my compass and my chart. Looking at the chart, I estimated I was about 45 minutes away from the bay where shore would get further away and I would need to go in behind rocks to find my protected beach. I was already terrified, and now more terrified. How would I navigate the rocks? There was big swell coming around them and breaking, and I wasn’t sure if there was a safe line through. I opted to go out and around. Which got me through the rocks, and turned around in the fog. I couldn’t see my shore, but I could see the rocks, and the chart showed me the direction of the line of rocks and my direction from shore. I was in behind the rocks and needed to head north to my beach.
I was terrified.
I was looking at what seemed unbroken cliffs with the big swell breaking onto them. But I saw an arch that was clearly Grenville Arch. There was a safe way in a bit closer to where my protected beach SHOULD be. And then I realized I was sitting in protected water, and the surf on this beach was much smaller. It was safely landable.
The beach disappears at high tide, so I had to make a level shelf on a ledge above the beach, with a little shelf to hold it so I wouldn’t slide, and a little “patio” so I wouldn’t slide off the cliff when I got up to pee at night. I was exhausted and still a little scared and I had massive blisters – this was all hard work.
The water came really close to my tent that night. I was up 40 minutes both sides of high tide. I got splashed 4 times and had my stuff in bags in case I needed to climb the cliff…
I was feeling a ton of stress, exhaustion and pain just 5 paddling days into my 4-month-long journey.
But before the fog settled in, there was a whale. Right beside me. It surfaced 3 times, all slow like a whale does, making its ‘pffffsssshhhh’ sound, barnacles on its back. And here I am, finishing brunch in the sun, watching the sea. And I’m so lucky I get to be here, to do this, to see this beach.
This day was one of firsts that became commonplace. My first 30+ mile day. My first whale. My first thick fog with rocks. My first time being scared. My first hard-to-locate landing. What stands out most about it several months later isn’t the fear of the swell against rocks in fog, or the dis-orientation of having to follow my compass when it felt subjectively like I had paddled in a full circle instead of a straight line along the coast, or the wonder of a whale close at hand. What stands out months later is the beach. It remains one of my favorite beaches of the whole expedition. The day ends up lodged in my memory as a good one. Which is kind of cool.