The stubby branches of the submerged tree menaced so close they felt like they were reaching out to grab me. And no matter how hard I paddled, I could not seem to put any distance between my board and the dilemma of these two horns a mere metre behind me.
We were on the San Juan River on the edge of the wilderness where the road from Victoria, on Vancouver Island, B.C., ends. And a howling wind hit peak velocity as Pam guided me closer to shore where there was a respite from wind and tide.
If only I could gain a few precious feet and pop free of this watery treadmill I was on. And my mind raced. We were off the grid with no cell service and only a footpath running alongside the river for an exit.
Stand Up Paddler in Training
This was not quite what we had in mind for me to gain more confidence in the buildup to our cross-country trip to celebrate Canada’s 150th and the nation’s waterways.
But it’s not an adventure if it doesn’t throw a scare into you and this was both test and slight fright.
So the wind abated enough to get clear of the threat and we settled down (on knees and butt respectively to minimize the wind’s resistance) to a slow, determined paddle back to our launch point.
Pam plotted a path along seams of slack water between the chop of incoming tide and the bridge where the river spilled into the estuary of Port San Juan began to take shape. I will forever call it A Bridge Too Far.
The joy of the easy ride on the tide up the river was lost in that slow slog home and I cursed my impatience in not simply idling away another hour on a pristine bar of sand while the tide turned.
Anyway, it is a sweet little river to meander along, alive with bubbling water and birdsong and almost totally ours one glorious afternoon save for a few kayakers.
Wild Renfrew – “Wilderness Within Reach”
We were able to put in about a five-minute drive from Wild Renfrew where we stayed. It was a small but well-appointed accommodation called a Wharfside Studio, with either sunrise or sunset views and little patios with gas fire pits to ward off the evening chill. There’s also cottages which enjoy bay and mountain views and lodge accommodation with kitchenettes.
Port Renfrew, which is a 90-minute drive from Victoria, has been rebranded as Wild Renfrew and recreation outfits like Pacifica Paddle Sports are setting up shop to serve leisure and adventure paddlers.
The dining options are limited in this area, but the three options all scored good marks.
Renfrew Pub at the West Coast Trail Lodge offered the widest range of food and is open later, to around 8 p.m., while the Coastal Kitchen, also operated by Wild Renfrew, and Tomi’s are breakfast and lunch places.
But there’s food for the stomach and food for the soul. Wild Renfrew delivered plenty of the latter.