Although the BC coast is vast, and paddlers are few; fewer still are sheltered coves with gently sloping sandy beaches suitable to beach a kayak for the night; so we all tend to wash up on the same shores, marking them religiously on our charts, and sharing their location judiciously with fellow initiates.
Tents pitched, and boats secured above high water, we relax and do what kayakers do best – staring into the embers of a driftwood beach fire, we pass the bottle, tell tales of epic paddles – the wave heights increasing with each telling – and we gossip.
Make no mistake, there is an active bush telegraph on the coast, and gossip spreads with the speed of a brushfire along that string of secluded coves. So it is no wonder that when Paddlin’ Bette set off solo from Seattle, bound for Alaska by kayak, news of her passage spread up the coast far faster that the 20 or so nautical miles she paddled daily. It spread almost as fast as the news reverberated that Joselyn had finally gotten fed up with Bare-foot Brian, and had de-camped from their rustic floating B&B in storied Marijuana Cove to the bright lights of Sointula.
Although approaching her sixth decade, the word, from the greybeard fraternity, was that Bette was a very handsome woman- quite a complement when considering how difficult it is to look alluring in a dry suit after 8 days without bathing. Her vital statistics were repeated, campfire to campfire -( you know -boat type, paddle length, and so forth,) as was her pedigree- a solo Vancouver Island circumnavigation, and another of Newfoundland, and many lesser paddles. Bette was clearly a figure to be reckoned with- strong , sexy, and, (of special note to mature batchelor paddlers), single and unattached.
Bare-foot Brian didn’t rate quite so highly amongst the ladies of the campfire- he’s become a mite eccentric after four decades in the bush, but on the plus side, he has long term squatter’s rights on some prime back country real estate, and the collection of unique floating cabins he’s built over the years has become a mecca for wilderness kayakers. He is a man of substance in the backcountry.
Bette, defeated in her attempt to reach Alaska, not by any hardships of the expedition, but by a covid-closed border, had begun re-tracing her steps when she first heard of bare-foot Brian on the bush telegraph. Now, To paraphrase Jane Austen- “it is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a backcountry B&B must be in need of a female companion.” Bette, being of forthright nature, immediately professed herself to be in need of a man- and pointed her bow towards Marijuana Cove, Brian locked firmly in her sights.
Bare-foot Brian, via the same telegraph, quickly learned there was a target on his back, and that romance was paddling inexorably his way, at about 20 nautical miles a day. Never one to mince words, he provided his thoughts on the situation at some length to the kayakers held captive as passengers on his semi-regular water taxi service back to the big island. A sanitized precis ? – he didn’t much like being anyone’s target, and a woman was the last thing he needed in his life at the moment.
While the stage was thus set, from the seat of a touring kayak the world floats by walking pace, so it would be weeks of suspense before our protagonists could meet. The gossip mill fairly buzzed with anticipation and the bottle was passed around campfires up and down the coast, with speculation growing intense. As Jane Austen also wryly observed “For what do we live but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”
Oh to have been a fly on the dock when Bette finally paddled into Marijuana Cove and two strong-willed and fiercely independent individuals at last confronted each other, but alas, the meeting was private. Probably for the best, since gossip functions best when unencumbered by facts.
Was the encounter cordial, or did sparks fly instantly? Was the atmosphere electric with animal magnetism, or rife with the odor of revulsion and unwashed paddling gear? Some pundits delighted in inventing outlandish scenarios- while others offered quotes from a well -thumbed copy of Jane Austen to their fellow kayakers. Was it:
“they had no conversation together, no intercourse but what common civility required”
or , “Is not general incivility the very essence of love ?”
or perhaps “It is not time or opportunity that is to determine intimacy- it is disposition alone. Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others”
All we know for certain is that a few days later a lone female paddler was spotted headed south, head held high, with a beautiful forward stroke effortlessly eating up the miles towards home.
“adieu to disappointment and spleen. What are men to rocks and mountains?”