22 days on the Salish Sea Marine Trail - a young woman's journey from Victoria to Vancouver via kayak.
Whether you spend time on the water for peace, adventure, solitude, comradery or inspiration, the Salish Sea Marine Trail has much to offer you as a paddler. It provided me with more than I could have imagined when I paddled the trail solo in its entirety during the late spring of 2017, as a 23-year-old in search of some quiet healing time.
It isn’t easy to put to only so many words my experience on the trail, because it offered me so much at such a pivotal point in my life. I took my sweet time; 22 days to cover roughly 260km in order to experience traveling alone, learning patience, and establishing self-love.
But! If you’d like the long-winded, whimsical version of the tale, give me call - let’s share a pot of coffee and hit the water, I’ll ramble on for hours. Until then, here’s a much more concise version of a very wonderful adventure on an epic trail, in a beautifully accessible part of the BC coast.
Day 2: Discovery Island to D’Arcy Island
Leg 1: Victoria to Sidney
I launched May 15th 2017; a misty and grey day, from a perfectly calm Odgen Point, Victoria. I recall turning and waving goodbye to my Mother and dog on the beach and not really believing that after many months of planning, fundraising, preparing and plotting, I was off.
What I took as a good omen, was a pod of orcas off the shore of my first stop: Discovery Island. Some people never see wild orcas and there they were, welcoming me (within hours) to the sea on my first solo adventure. With this, I knew it would be a good trip no matter what.
For the first 3 days I hit (in chronological order) Discovery, D’Arcy, and Sidney Islands, enjoying all the campsites to myself and the warmth of a sudden arrival of summer. Light winds and no boat traffic – a paddler’s delight. This is a great leg of the trail, and a good warm-up for the legs to come.
Sea Lion on Portland Island
Leg 2: Sidney to Nanaimo (The land of Trail Magic)
Arbutus Point, Portland Isl. was one of my favourite campsites, I was welcomed by a show of a majestic eagle gorging on the carcass, little raccoons running about, the passing ferries, and some time in my hammock, again in a campsite all for me. The next day, I proudly timed a perfect crossing to avoid the ferries during an exquisite sunrise, and stopped on Beaver Point, Salt Spring Island, for water, and saw the first campers since I started.
Montague Harbour was full of people and I appreciated the company of other paddlers and campers, though I would recommend camping reservations to future visitors. From there I went to Wallace Island, which was downright magical and I yearn to return to the beauty of Conover Cove specifically. It still remains in my top five campsites and islands I’ve explored.
The beauty and shelter of Trincomali Channel doesn’t disappoint at all, as it leads to Dionisio Point; a deeply spiritual and ancient place. I would recommend pulling up on the sandy beach and not the marked kayak pull out (especially at low tide or with solo travel). Sunsets are epic and the second growth Douglas Firs create a still and serene camp.
View from Dionisio Point
View of Mayne Island from Mt. Galiano
Dionisio brought out my sense of trust in Trail Magic. Here I met my first companion, Duncan, and I spent a few days hiking Galiano and getting to know this perfect stranger that happened to run parallel with my own adventure’s course. Going with the flow, saying yes to opportunities, and trusting in this unexpected flavour to my experience, it proved to be a good addition to the trip. We parted ways when I headed Northbound, stopping at Blackberry point for a randomly incidental lunch with two German paddlers headed Southbound. This all instilled my peaceful sense of trust.
Decourcy Island was a treat, and from there I headed through False Narrows towards Gabriola, where I met my first winds above 10km/hr and many boring log booms to pass. But I knew these were lucky things to have as my biggest complaints thus far. Newcastle Island was the next destination.
Nanaimo provided my largest dose of Trail Magic. I had (or thought I had) mailed myself a package of food to pick up in town. I mapped a bus route to the (intended) Post Office, and was ready as the right bus came. I faltered when it unexpectedly passed me by and suddenly, all I wanted to do was get out of the bustle of the city. Panicking, I sat in the Timmies by the bus stop, frantically using internet to re-plan for all of ten minutes, when a surprisingly familiar woman walked through the door. Jan, who I had met one brief time at a BCMTNA meeting, did a double take and we embraced. She happens to work not a block away and on her break, kindly drove me to the Post Office. It turns out my package was incorrectly marked and was sent back to my return address. Jan took me to the grocery store and I was happily on my way in a fraction of the time the bus would have provided. Jan smiled and shrugged when I expressed my gratitude and surprise at the small chances of the whole encounter. “Trail Magic” was what she said. And how true?? I knew it meant I was exactly where I should have been, when and how I needed to be.
Sunset at Dionisio Point
Leg 3: Nanaimo to Sechelt
Out of the city, I continued north towards the part I feared the most: the 10km stretch crossing the Strait of Georgia. Even as an experienced guide, I’d never made a large crossing, let alone all by self. I camped on Gerald, Southey and Ballenas Islands, and constantly stared across towards the mainland and said “It’s not that far…right?”
I was beached for a couple days during some higher winds from the South East and told myself to wait for a calm day, fearing the unknown of “open water.”
I said, “Don’t risk it, Chrysta. Wait for your window of calm.”
And then a little voice inside me cried, “But how will I grow?”
So instead of waiting for the calm day, in a fiery mood, I packed up my stuff in approx. 20km SE winds and set off. Mostly just to see if I could.
The best part: I did it. Without a hitch.
When I pulled up on Sangster Island (off Lesqueti) I checked my watch. 1hr 45 mins to cross. I thanked the high winds and their direction because I made it, yet I did it so much faster than I ever imagined. Over 5km/hr for a crossing felt pretty fantastic to me.
All that fear for nothing, and I surprised myself, to say the least.
View across the Strait
Lesqueti Beach Mermaid
I camped on Jedidiah, and headed to the mainland the next day. Another decent crossing from Texada to the mainland, but a new sense of capability fueled me. I headed to Smuggler’s Cove and ran into more solo travelers with stories to tell and sunsets to take in. Smugglers Cove has free camping and boasts amazing views, I would return there in a heartbeat.
I had passed my biggest test and I felt a new burning love for this epic adventure.
Sunset from Smuggler’s Cove
Leg 4: Sechelt to Jericho Beach
Past my dreaded crossing, I felt exalted and ready for the next challenge: the longest leg of the trail with no camping. My longest day was day 21: Smuggler’s Cove to Pirates Cove, Keats Island. 44km went by slowly on a calm, sunny day but I (again, somehow) surprised myself with my endurance. On Keats, I knew I was at my last night of the whole trip, Jericho Beach being only approx. 35km away. I remember my disbelief and my excitement to be a stone’s throw from accomplishing my dream. The next day I pushed myself and did the whole remaining stretch without break. Though I was a little numb from my hips down, when my boat hit the sand in Vancouver, I exclaimed and rejoiced by myself, and it was over.
Just like that.
When I was done celebrating, all I could do was laugh. I found a nice stranger (I believe his name was Steve) who let me use his phone and I called my Mother to come pick me up. I was salty, ripe-smelling, sun-kissed and ecstatic.
Most importantly, I’d achieved my goal: I successfully (and happily) paddled the entire Salish Sea Marine Trail, solo.
There were many small adventures not mentioned, many characters and stories that I could go on forever about, many spiritual moments left unsaid. I did crowd funding for gear, budgeting beyond my experience level, chart-plotting and acquiring of gear that contributed major elements to my experience and growth on the trail.
Many thoughts, realizations, deeper challenges and lessons fill in the gaps, but my experience was my experience. I would encourage anyone with a need for growth or healing to put themselves in nature and meet themselves there- where birds chirp and seals snort, and the wind decides your days’ direction and currents push you forward instead of back. To harness freedom on the massive energy of the ocean. To really, really live, just for yourself (at least once!).
I spent 22 days on the Salish Sea 2 years ago but it has effected every one of my days since. I would recommend it in parts or in its entirety to any adventurous heart seeking an experience of beauty and love on the BC coast.
Chrysta Wallin is coastal-BC born and raised, an avid paddler sporting 4 seasons of sea kayak guiding between Ucluelet and Halifax, a BA in Music, and is proud to be the first person to paddle the entire Salish Sea Marine Trail in one trip.