“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s learning to dance in the rain.”
May 16th was the big day. The goal: a through-paddle of the Inside Passage. A private beach on a small island in the northwest corner of Washington State, the starting gate. Friends, with champagne and poetry in hand, had marked their calendars to see me off. A few would paddle the first three miles with me to the first landfall, a tiny island, and set up camp as I continued on—for another 1,200 miles—to Sitka, Alaska.
This wasn’t the blog I had intended to write. I envisioned a gala announcement, complete with a Garmin tracking link so folks could follow along. There’d be snippets of my adventure planning glee as well as Google Earth screenshots of my intended route, photos of charts, books, and other planning resources I’d spent an inordinate amount of time studying. Things like that.
A year of planning, saving, and training. A year of committing to this undertaking and all that it entails. Then the shifting winds of circumstance roared in like a lion. Reality changed for all of us; some in a jaw-dropping magnitude. Turns out we’re all in the same boat, stuck in a harbor, moored to a dock, waiting for the brunt of the storm to hit us. We’re all navigating the same stormy waters and all we can do is take it one day at a time—and perhaps learn to dance in the rain.
Well-meaning friends have joked that a solo long-distance kayak trip would be the ultimate form of social distancing. I wish it were that simple. For starters, we are amphibious creatures. We can only carry enough food in those long skinny boats for about two weeks, and that’s a stretch. Every port along the route marks a milestone in the adventure. It’s where we often find a roof over our heads and a pillow under. We grab a hot meal that we didn’t have to squat to cook. We encounter harbormasters, campground hosts, grocery store employees, laundromat attendants, and belly up next to interesting characters at the local bars. In the paradox of seeking solitude, we need to come ashore and enter civilization. In today’s uncertain world, therein lies the problem.
There’s also the "little details" such as Washington State being in lockdown and the Canadian border being closed. Most, if not all, of the indigenous communities along my proposed route have understandably closed their "doors" to anyone from the outside. To quote directly from this article, which clearly spells out the gravity of the situation, “Dr. Evan Adams, chief medical officer of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), said it is fair to assume, if not presume, that Indigenous communities’ “susceptibility to COVID-19 will be higher than in the general population” because Indigenous peoples already suffer poor outcomes in a range of health factors, including communicable diseases.”
The other coastal municipalities that I would rely on for support, such as resupply boxes, wifi, and a hot shower, are not welcoming anyone. The infrastructure I would need to get home such as a ferry, barge, plane might not be available. My expedition budget has been severely slashed with one income source cancellation after another. I can hardly continue with any serious training paddles as Washington State has closed all beaches and water access areas. And I know there's no way in hell I'm going to paddle away from this reality and think I'll be sitting on some beautiful beach, enjoying the sights and sounds of the Inside Passage, no matter how magical, while this pandemic continues to unfold.
I’m not alone. Adventurers are canceling all kinds of expeditions all over the world. World record attempts aborted before they were barely started. A friend cycling from the Mexican border to Bellingham, Washington had planned to meet me, pick up a kayak, and paddle to Skagway, Alaska. Devastated, she pulled the plug on her amphibious journey when COVID ramped up. She'd barely cycled into Oregon. There are many more on this list.
Ironically, it seems that something that I'm so passionate about, something that is so core to my being, that I’ve poured my heart and soul into—all of a sudden seems so trivial. The Inside Passage will always be there. I’m grateful that I have the health, time, and financial resources to plan and pull off something like this in the first place. It’s a privilege, not a necessity. In the end, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what’s best for the greater good.
And so we collectively watch and we wait. And we hope. We organize one more drawer, one more closet. We make another phone call or log onto Zoom. Like a kayaker stormbound on a remote beach, waiting out a storm at sea, we worry about how long and how strong the coming storm will be, and if our preparations will be sufficient. But instead of worrying, why not learn to use our time wisely? The media reminds us that Shakespeare composed some of his most enduring work during the plague of 1605 and 1606. Newton discovered gravity and invented calculus under quarantine—and they both did it without Twitter! Personally, I’m focused on the bittersweet twist of how the world is slowing down and healing. Our skies are clearer. Our oceans are quieter. Our city soundscapes are changing every day. We can hunker down and wait for this storm to pass, worrying about what we can’t control, tuning into the never-ending news, or we can learn to dance in the rain and use this time to the best of our ability. We are at a juncture where we need to reimagine our earth, and in doing so, perhaps reimagine ourselves, emerging on the other side with a greater consciousness and understanding of what needs to change in this sphere we call home.
I think I’ll go organize another junk drawer. Maybe I’ll find more of those trial-size hand sanitizers!
What will you do today to find your silver lining?
Better days, and more fun waves, on the horizon!