Getting reaquainted

Posted by Ken Campbell April 19, 2008 0 Comment 879 views

Three months ago this week, I left on what was to have been the first winter sea kayak circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. I got about three weeks into the trip when a torn rotator cuff stopped me cold in Johnstone Strait. Mary and Micah made the drive up to Sayward to pick me up and I came back home, Back to work, back to the gray cold of a Tacoma winter.

I couldn’t kayak when I got back; the shoulder needed time to heal. As of this writing, it’s still in the healing process, still not 100 percent. Over the past dozen years or so, I’ve been kayaking constantly. It was a rare week that I didn’t get on the water at least three or four times, usually more, and now here I was with an injury that would keep me out of a kayak for the next few months. I had some choices to make, as far as what I would do next. What eventually came out of the situation became the beginnings of this blog, and a renewed commitment to exploring the Olympic Peninsula.

When I first got to Washington, I was a new Air Force recruit, flying for a living. I traveled around the world as an aircraft loadmaster, and during the one week a month that I got back home, I would hightail it out to the Olympics, hiking and climbing. Sometimes with a friend, usually alone. I climbed Olympus a couple times, Mount Constance and Mount Jefferson, hiked Anderson Pass and the Enchanted Valley trail. I spent a 4th of July alone in Royal Basin, casting for trout in the lake, watching the goats pass through my camp, climbing in the day and cooking pasta and pan-fried fish in the evening.

At some point, I started working in the outdoor industry. That’s what they call it, the “outdoor industry.” As with any career, the longer you do it, the more specialized you become. I chose sea kayaks as my specialty because I love the freedom and choices that kayaking represents to me. The down side is that, because I spent my time paddling, I no longer allowed myself the opportunity to climb. Or backpack, canoe, snowshoe or ski. I identified myself as a kayaker and this eventually came to mean that kayaking was all that I did. A simple self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

I taught hundreds of classes. I led hundreds of tours. From a few hours in length to days, then weeks. I kayaked around Newfoundland during the summer of 2000, three months of daily paddling, nights spent in a tent and days on the wild north Atlantic. (Not always wild, but wilder than most.) I kayaked in BC, in Mexico and the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. The idea for paddling around Vancouver Island in winter was another in the long string of kayaking trips; the unforeseen benefit of my shoulder injury has been that I have begun to rediscover the things I used to do, because I now have the time.

Not only am I canoeing again, and hiking, and planning a few climbing trips this summer, I’m also getting reacquainted with the Olympic Peninsula. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone – maybe it’s just a product of getting older – but I really feel the need to know the place, and only time spent will do. I knew, from the very first days I was in Washington, that there was something special about the Olympics, that they are unlike other places, and that I felt drawn to the peninsula in ways I still can’t explain. After so much time spent traveling the world, I have a need to develop that sense of place that comes from knowing one part of the planet from many different angles.

I still feel torn about the Vancouver Island trip. There is a part of me that wants to go back, to finish the job. I haven’t made up my mind yet as to whether I’ll go back, but I could see it coming up again.

What is really driving my imagination at this point, however, is knowing that every trip I take in the Olympics is getting me more familiar with the place. I don’t know what will come from this pursuit, but at the very least, it will allow me to gain an understanding of the peninsula that only comes from repetition.

It doesn’t mean that I’m through with kayaking. Far from it. I am still teaching classes and I have a few tours lined up for this summer and fall, so I’ll still be spending a big chunk of my time on the water. It just won’t be the only thing that I do anymore.

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