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An Ocean Retreat at Any Age

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I learned to sea kayak in 1996 when I was in my late fifties. It's not that difficult!My partner David was an experienced kayaker but I first joined him when we bought a large second-hand double sea kayak.

I learned to sea kayak in 1996 when I was in my late fifties. It's not that difficult!

My partner David was an experienced kayaker but I first joined him when we bought a large second-hand double sea kayak. With basic gear and water-tight marine bags for clothes, food, cooking equipment, tent, marine charts and tide tables, we first paddled around the Gulf islands near Victoria, British Columbia.

I had canoed before but not for 40 years and the only exercise I'd had in years was a little tennis, carrying over-loaded briefcases and walking in old-growth forests and demonstrations. After our first day on the water, I was so stiff I could hardly move. Those were muscles I'd never used before! But I was able to paddle six hours the next day and by summer, I was ready for our wonderful six-week ocean kayak trip.

At first I thought I couldn't last that long. By the end, I wondered if I ever wanted to return to the phones, meetings and obligations I'd left behind.

Kayaking is one of the best ways to rejuvenate and to feel healthy, both mentally and physically. Life gets pared back, out on the water: the big questions become what to eat, where to sleep, what to draw or read and where to explore the next day. Daily pace is slowed. One's powers of observation are intensified.

Each day starts with a range of possible destinations, depending on the weather, sea conditions, our moods and staying within a two-week distance of supplies and drinking water. We always break for lunch and to do a little hiking and stretching. A solar-powered mechanical radio lets us check for small craft warnings. Even in stormy weather and difficult ocean passages, we've never come close to tipping because of the stability of the double sea kayak.

Under the Stars

Finding a new campsite each afternoon can be difficult when the coastline is rocky. Even when privately owned (above the mean high water level), however, we were welcomed to use some great secluded beaches. In emergencies, kayakers can land anywhere.

One day near Pender Island, BC, orca whales surrounded us. Initially, we revelled in the whales leaping near our blue and white kayak, as if it were a fellow species. Suddenly, juvenile whales went under the boat and a large adult leaped out a few feet away. This was too close! We banged on the boat to drive them away but more whales surfaced nearby. Finally, I sang the Volga boat song in my best off-key voice. We were soon alone.

Kayaking is hard work, yet soothing and relaxing. It generates a good night's sleep, all important for health and well-being. It's also one of the best recreational ways to reduce the ecological footprint. It's been said, "Sometimes the best way to make your mark on the world is to make no mark at all."

Joan and David's Paddling Larder

In cold BC waters, food keeps fairly well in the kayak. When we camp, we leave it in the boat in a cool shaded area.

We always take a few loaves of homemade bread, a sourdough starter and organic stone-ground flour to make chapatis and pancakes. To make chapatis, we simply mix starter with organic flour and enough water to form a dough, knead it a bit and then roll out circles on a floured board or rock and bake over a fire. For pancakes, we mix starter with flour, eggs, water and powdered milk.

For dinner, we soak dried beans (soy beans, chick-peas, kidney beans) and lentils and cook them with rice or pasta, topped with sauces made from organic tomatoes, garlic and onions. We also make patties out of beans, vegetables, flour and eggs.

When they're in season, we bring organic vegetables from the garden kale, chard, garlic, herbs (oregano and thyme), potatoes and tomatoes. Otherwise, we always buy organic food, locally grown if possible. Oranges and apples travel well. We stop to pick a lot of salmon berries, blackberries, thimble berries and raspberries, growing plentifully in the wild on the West Coast.

We also bring along home-made nut butters, tofu, yogurt, powdered milk, salt and pepper. We enjoy a tea made with gotu kola, fototien and ginseng and carry bottles of wine as well as two four-gallon containers of water. Everything is stored in reusable plastic or glass containers to minimize packaging because everything has to be carried out.

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