Friday, October 9, 2015
We gathered near the shore, floating in our kayaks, waiting: nine of us- coaches who'd got together after the symposium to share a shuttle and a ride on the Shubecanadie's famous tidal bore. We'd met in a dark parking lot at five am and drove for four hours, a caravan of car-topped kayaks winding along a quiet Nova Scotia highway. We didn't even know who were in all the other cars until we pulled-off for a coffee and stood in line, a group of tired, but charged-up ruffians in stinky clothes. Finally, the caravan snaked along a smaller network of roads and arrived at the put-in in Maitland, near the head of the Minas Basin. Just after the full moon, or the Supermoon as everyone was calling it, the tidal range was anticipated to be around 54 feet- the largest in eighteen years.
Some had paddled the Shubie before- Rebecca had ridden the chocolate-brown waves the previous year- but for some of us it was hard to imagine the tidal bore- a wave that would, according to prediction, come surging toward us and rapidly fill the basin of the tidal river. "There it is," someone shouted, and it took me a moment to see how the distant water surface had turned bumpy.
We weren't really sure where to position ourselves. A group of Zodiac tour boats also waited nearby and a guided group, led by symposium organizers Committed 2 The Core coaches occupied a stretch in the middle of the river. We didn't want to get in their way, so we held position near the edge, not really comprehending what would happen when the bore reached us. But then the wave came. It seemed to descend almost in slow motion at first, lifting the guided group and propelling them down the middle of the river. Some of us managed to surf the wave as it caught us, but others were piled-up along the edge, pushed higher along the bank by the tide like so much driftwood, unable to maneuver in the shallows, subject to the whims of the current.
I managed to avoid the knot of boats, but still wound-up stranded in shallow water, watching a couple of boats surf away ahead of me. There were a few capsizes in this stretch, and after I got loose, I watched as a standing wave ahead of me rapidly increased in size, roaring as I bounced through it. We all finally gathered on the opposite side of the river and caught our breath. Rebecca's boat had a crack in it- presumably from the weight of the other boats that had ridden over her in the pile-up. I quickly patched the gash and inflated a flotation bag in the front hatch. The water level rose very quickly.
But the tidal bore is just the first of many features. For the rest, we paced ourselves, letting the water fill-in, developing stretches of standing waves that we drifted down into and surfed. I only took pictures in the quieter moments between features, but it's a gorgeous area: tall red cliffs, eroded like the sandstone I usually associate with the southwest US deserts. A rainstorm came and went.
One stretch, known as "The Killer K" (K=Kilometer) produced massive haystacks of red standing waves. Balanced on the crest of a tall mound of ochre, foamy mayhem, I had a moment to think about all the things that might happen next before I was propelled down a steep wave face. I really just had one thought, and I heard it come out of someone else's mouth: "holy shit!" I'm glad someone else said it.
We took some long rides, some through stretches where you could feel the enormous volume of water surging overwhelmingly around you. At times I couldn't tell if I were flying forward over the waves or if they were rushing backwards beneath me: usually a bit of both.
We took short time-outs in the eddies to make sure everyone was accounted for, and kept moving with the amplified current up the river. The sun came out.
We went around the last corner, a reddish bluff protruding into the river, and gathered in the eddy. On one hand I felt like I wanted more- it had been just a few hours of focused paddling. On the other hand, I felt exhausted. The others seemed a bit spent as well; we drifted around the last turns with a dream-like slowness, paddling up a tributary creek, savoring those last moments on the water before we had to pack our cars and go our separate ways.
Here's another Shubie video from the Committed 2 The Core crew.