Lessons from a Baby Boomer Paddling Expedition

Rob Lyon shares some tips for getting out there, no matter your age

IMG_7538e

By Rob Lyon

It was an honest-to-God Boomer trip, not the Cocoon cast exactly, but we had several guys pushing the later digits: one dude at eighty, myself at sixty-eight, our photographer on a slow boil sixty-three, and the rest of the guys at about the half century mark. We were a hands on bunch of boomers though, including a ranger, a Marine Colonel, an expeditionary, a West Pointer and a Golden Gloves champ, but the fact remained that ocean kayaking for older paddlers is a little different.

Our trip began when we took a water taxi from a deep inlet on the west coast of Vancouver Island, into deep green swell, then south to a white sand beach far from the madding crowds.

IMG_6990e

We spent the week with our kayaks pulled up on warm white sand before leaping salmon and sky-hopping minke. A quarter mile down the beach, Kapoose Creek twisted its way out of a deep marsh full of wildlife. We paddled up the creek on flood tides on the qui vive for salmon, trout, black bear, cougar and wolf.

Our dinners were total theme, an ongoing seafood buffet. Kayaking the West Coast is about fresh fish cuisine. Sitting around a driftwood bonfire at night, we ate grilled butterflied salmon, pan-fried halibut steaks and mint-green ling cod fillets–a different entree each night.

There is a certain spiritual component to such trips that sticks to the ribs of the soul like a big bowl of hot oatmeal smothered in butter and maple syrup on a winter morning. After I got home and dried out the tents, hosed down the gear and blew the last bit of beach sand out my headlamp, I sat down with a beer, a pencil and a pad of paper and wrote down my key takeaways from the journey.

IMG_7543e

Hiring Help is Okay Once in a While

The big adjustment for this trip was hiring a water taxi to haul our entourage to a basecamp out on the open coast. That was tough to accept. Much of the meat and bone of a traditional ocean paddling adventure is holistic, involving a self-powered journey over the water. It’s about pilgrimaging into the wild and back again. But at a certain point in our lives, it can feel as if we were swimming against the river just to get out there. Luckily, every big sound on the West Coast is serviced by water taxis and most of them are racked up to haul kayaks. I contacted a lodge in the area and contracted with them to meet our needs, which helped us get to a wild section of coast without any hassle.

Keep it Simple

Basecamp or trek: those are your options. Basecamping is generally friendliest on newbies, especially older newbies, while touring or trekking necessitates conditioning and prior kayaking experience. Trekking also requires a precise amount of gear because it all goes in the boats every day to travel. While basecamping, at least with a motor boat delivery, you can bring the sink because it all stays in camp.

Don’t overdo it though. Generally, more gear means more pain and bother, and it's easy to confuse comfort with excess swag. Keep it simple.

IMG_4194

Train

I've noticed that the length of my workouts have been inverse to my aging. And if I have a trip coming up, I add on more. In respect to kayaking, I have two solid training techniques that I've gravitated to in recent years.

Getting your blood pumping through aerobic activity is fundamental to whatever we do. I combine brisk walks down a country road with Nordic walking poles. I use Lekis and they've held up well for many years. Distinct from hiking poles, Nordic style poles are longer and trail behind you. Rather than counterstrike each foot placement as we do with hiking poles, you push backward on Nordic poles, propelling you forward and exercising not only your core with the lateral torque, but all the oblique muscles along with the triceps and latts, just what we need for paddling.

In addition to walking, I use a small trampoline to tone up my balance. Balance is fundamental to everything we do, of course, and a kayaking expedition is right at the top of the list. It is more than twice as effective as running without the extra stress to ankles and knees. I use a JumpSport with a silky smooth bounce that bungees provide instead of springs. I jump daily, and again, increase the workouts well before a trip.

Be in the Moment

I came home from BC to a much loved, long-tenured wife and was thankful for it. It reminded me how a long road with the things we love most has that enduring upside, be they people or our deepest passions.

I'd had an epiphany in that regard on the last night of the trip. It was midnight and storming. I was soaking, finishing a couple of pints with the crew under our kitchen tarp. After I turned in, it was a long night in a fine storm, but early that morning, as I mercifully drifted off to sleep, I was so very glad, that I had prioritized pilgrimages out to this wilderness seashore over the last 30 years which left a bounteous mental cachet of extraordinary memories of paddling. My takeaway early that morning was just that. Own the moment. Savor the poignancy of being somewhere between the doing and the done.

More from C&K

5 Indie Board Games for Your Next Paddling Trip

Canoeing in Kerouac Country