Safe in God’s Pocket: Kayaking in British Columbia
By Linda Hagen-Miller
Sometimes you have to get your teenagers off-the-grid to see them become kids again. Skipping stones, acting goofy with hunks of seaweed, yakking it up with their new best friends. And sometimes, on that very same adventure, you get a glimpse of what your kids might become.
Sea kayaking in God’s Pocket, British Columbia, sets the stage for family bonding in ways you’ll never experience at home. In this remote provincial park east of Vancouver Island, your teens are bereft of electronic distractions at a rustic, nine-room lodge where paddling, hiking, relaxing and learning become their new and improved screen saver images.
After a six-day God’s Pocket trip with outfitter Sea Kayak Adventures (SKA), parent Louis Zurlo wrote, "I just came off a trip with my teenage son. He told me this was the best time of his life so far."
Best as in kayaking within yards of orca whales, sea otter and seals, poking around tide pools, hiking through an old growth forest, hanging out on the dock after dark watching bioluminescence turn the ocean to fairy dust, counting eagles till it gets "boring." And hanging out with "really cool" guides.
As much as we would like to believe our kids are getting their vacation kicks out of a nature transfusion shared with us, the reality is that SKA’s God’s Pocket guides are the ones putting them into a blender of joy and self-discovery.
"My children said what they liked best about the trip were the guides," says participant Linda Ferguson of Nova Scotia, Canada. "Our youngest son cried when we left as if leaving a friend."
Those crafty guides integrate fun, safety lessons and education so subtly that even the adults miss the merge. First day, gather on the dock for Kayaking 101 and learn the proper way to secure your PFD (personal flotation device), how to push rather than pull when paddling, and how to adjust your spray skirt.
"Always stick together," the guides say, "and see this loop in the front of your skirt? That’s the holy-crap strap, the one you yank off the kayak cowling if you tip over and need to get out of the boat fast." Nervous parents shudder, but the guides offer firm reassurance, in depth how-to, and soon everyone’s ready to choose their own popsicle-colored double kayak.
SAFE, NOT SORRY
Parents worry and wonder: Will my 13-year old be scared once we leave the harbor? Will I? What if we get tired? Will whales come close? What if…what if…
But after the first day’s easy paddle from cove to cove, always within sight of land, after your kid has insisted for the fiftieth time, "I’m fine, Mom!" and the spectacular British Columbia scenery seeps into your psyche like warm milk, even the most skittish parent begins to have confidence in their guides. To believe in their child. To believe in themselves.
And in the coming days, your memory bank fills with images: crossing Christie Passage and visiting the lighthouse, kayaking around Balaklava Island, picnicking at an ancient First Nations’ village, gliding down narrow passages past sea walls decorated with blue and orange sea stars the size of your hand.
One day you might decide to skip the kayaking, settle into an Adirondack chair and read that book you’ve been toting. Or walk into the forest and retrace yesterday’s guided hike. Now you can recognize a cedar tree by its bark and you know it was the First Nation peoples’ most useful plant. You poke in the shady spots along the trail for banana slugs, and you chuckle at the legend your guide told about how a crafty, near-sighted eagle traded eyes with a simple minded slug, never returning the eyes to the rightful owner. You’ll remember the way your teens soaked it all in -- legends, ecology, geology, nature and more. Learning by doing, touching, smelling and feeling.
Sea Kayak Adventures (800-616-1943, www.seakayakadventures.com) runs several God’s Pocket kayaking tours; June 28-July 3 and July 5-10 are designated for families; minimum age 13. $2295 per person for nine or more guests; $2395 if fewer than nine; 10% discount ages 13-17. Passport required.
Sea Kayak Adventures was named National Geographic Adventure Magazine’s Best Outfitters on Earthy and National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s 50 Best Trips of a Lifetime.
Trip includes sleeps in a seven-room lodge with private bath, various bed configurations. Hearty meals. Cocktail hour.
Linda Hagen-Miller is a freelance writer based in the fair state of Washington. This is her third article for BAFT. She believes in packing light and seeing as much of the world as she can.
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