Flash Back Fridays

BOB PICKERING 1981

I was there from May-August 1981, working on an unpaid internship from Queen’s University Faculty of Education, specializing in outdoor education. I could not have found a better internship experience!

In June of that year, I led a group of grade six students and their class teacher on the standard overnight canoe camping trip down Buttle Lake. We chose to camp on the shore of a small bay off the main lake. After unloading, we began to set up camp. Looking up the lake I noticed that the sky was getting dark and it was raining at the north end of the lake. It was late afternoon and the students were granted permission to practice paddling their canoes around the bay. The teacher and I collected firewood and began to set the campfire. The skies grew darker and closer. The kids were still paddling around the bay. All of a sudden a hundred foot waterspout appeared out in the lake. We quickly called for the paddlers to return to shore, grabbed all of the loose equipment and battened down the hatches. The waterspout headed directly toward us, then moved right into the bay and began to swirl about, sucking up water and blowing with violent winds. There were still four boats out on the bay, struggling with the winds and choppy water. One canoe made it to a safe landing on shore. The second canoe almost made it but capsized in shallow water. A third capsized in deep, rough waters while the waterspout caught the fourth canoe and set it spinning and eventually capsizing. Children were screaming and crying. The teacher was freaking out. She and I quickly jumped into a canoe and paddled out to rescue the capsized boats. We boarded the first two kids and paddled the other two to shore. The last two were standing waist-deep in shallow water. By this time the waterspout had blown itself out. Everyone was fine, although the swimmers were a little chilled. We quickly lit the campfire and the teacher made hot chocolate. Within thirty minutes we were all sitting around the campfire, warm and dry, recalling the exiting event with relish. By the time I got back to the Lodge two days later they were calling me ‘Hurricane Bob’, an appellation that I endured for the rest of that summer. One Saturday night Jim Boulding invited a bunch of us with nothing else to do, down to the waterfront to play kayak soccer.

Canoe jousting, like kayak soccer, is a rough sport

There were about a dozen of us, mostly decent paddlers, but a few, like me, novices in a kayak. In kayak soccer as in regular soccer, boats are used to move the ball across the goal line. We each grabbed a boat and the game began. Early on, someone passed me the ball and I began to paddle like hell towards the opposite goal line. All of a sudden Jim was beside me in his kayak. He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder. I anticipated a supportive shove towards the goal line, when suddenly he flipped me. As I sputtered to the surface, Jim was paddling away with the ball. He turned to me and said with a grin, “Welcome to kayak soccer, Strathcona style!”

And then there was the story of Jim Boulding’s paddle. Jim asked me to lead an ocean canoeing trip out of Kyuquot Sound. While comfortable canoeing on fresh water, I had never led a trip on the ocean before. Jim decided to hire a floatplane and fly me over the route. A bunch of us had been to town the night before, so I was feeling none too chipper the morning of the flight. Fortunately there was a good supply of barf bags. The flight was a great idea, but it did not help much once we were out on the water.  Just prior to the trip, Jim offered to lend me his paddle for good luck. Jim’s canoe paddle was a behemoth. It stood a good 6 feet, with a large fibreglass blade and a beautiful T-type wooden handle. It had an amazing draw. It may have been the right size paddle for Jim, but it was way too big for me.  The trip put out of Kyuquot Sound in mid-July. We were a group of seven, in three canoes. We paddled down the west coast of Vancouver Island, camping at pristine, isolated beaches along the way. We took our time, appreciating the scenery, the weather and the water, enjoying life in the moment. On the morning of the fourth day I got up at 4:30 AM to check the water. The waves were crashing in, threatening a hard put-in. I was scheduled for a pick-up at Tahsis in two days, and we had no more time to spare. I asked myself what Jim would do, and immediately knew the answer. We put in at 6:00 AM and luckily all three boats made it out beyond the surf. But that was just the be- ginning. By 8:00 AM the waves were huge as we attempted to round the cape into Nootka Sound. Each time I was in a trough all I could see was towering water all around me, and each time on a crest, I could not see either of the other boats. The shore- line was rocky with no safe landing and there was no margin for error. It was scary. My bowman was barfing over the side every two minutes.  Somehow we made it around the cape and headed eastward into the sound. By now we had a tailwind and were practically surfing. I was ecstatic that we had all made it through the rough water and into a strong tailwind. In a momentary lapse of control, I lost my grip on my paddle and quickly watched it float out of reach behind the boat. I could not believe I had just dropped Jim Boulding’s paddle! I grabbed my (by now use- less) bowman’s paddle and tried to swing us around but it was hopeless paddling solo into the wind. I called to one of the other boats and fortunately one of them was able to paddle back and retrieve the paddle. We rendezvoused on a nearby gravel beach and after camping there for the night finished the trip into Tahsis the next day. I never told Jim that I almost lost his precious paddle, but I was sure glad that I could return it with simple thanks.  Myrna, my long summer at Strathcona Park Lodge was a formative experi- ence in my life as an outdoor educator and I am grateful for the opportunities for growth that it provided. I am grateful also for the opportunity to have worked with you and Jim, pioneers and successful entrepreneurs in the field of outdoor education.