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First Ascent Guide Caroline George Embarks on a New Adventure: Kayaking in the Bahamas
Posted on November 4, 2011

By Caroline George

With motherhood on the way, I felt it was important for Adam and me to do something new and exotic that we could remember as good, fun, loving times after the hardships of the first year of parenthood kicked in. But we also wanted it to be an adventure. Thinking I would be way bigger than I ended up being at five months, I thought a climbing trip would out of the question. So we opted for kayaking—something neither of us had any experience with. So that met the “new” criteria.

For “exotic,” we chose the Bahamas, since a friend of ours had recommended it, and we could get there for free with my frequent flyer miles. Our friend put us in touch with the local outfitter, who rented us all of the necessary gear and maps for our adventure and drove us to our starting point. For the “adventure,” we thought a “Kayak Haute Route,” as Adam called it, would be the perfect avenue.

Adam and I are more used to rock in the shape of mountains than sand; water in the shape of snow and ice than ocean; and freezing temperatures than warm tropical humidity—so we were fully out of our element.

There we were, standing on a white, sandy beach next to our red Wilderness Systems sea kayak, with dry bags loaded with clothes, five days worth of food, cooking, camping, and snorkeling gear, and trying to figure out how to fit it all into this kayak. As my client Michelle told me, fitting these bags is a lot like a game of Tetris.

We were soon on our way across stretches of smooth turquoise blue water and paddling along beautiful white sandy beaches with the wind at our back. When we had enough, we pulled on the shore of a deserted beach, set up camp and went hunting for fish for dinner. We found lots of beautiful multicolor fish swimming in the glow of the sun rays reflecting through the pristine water, but we didn’t find any of the good edible ones. It’s a good thing we weren’t relying on fish for survival, because we didn’t catch any all week! “This is the life,” I thought to myself as I walked out of the water.

But reality soon kicked in: When the sun set, bugs started attacking fearlessly, and I had to resort to wearing my BC 200 jacket to protect myself from them while eating dinner through the small opening in my hood; I ran to the shelter of my tent by 6:30 p.m. with the prospect of a long night ahead. Laying down on my sand-covered mat with my skin offering the perfect stickiness for the grains to uncomfortably adhere to, it was hard to enjoy the moment. When I finally fell into sleep, I was awoken by a pinch on my butt: A small hermit crab had found his way inside the tent and was now letting me know who was the king of the castle. Unable to fall back asleep, I started reading on my Kindle. Eventually I put the Kindle aside as I felt I could finally sleep and woke up to the sound of a crack: I had rolled my elbow onto the screen and broken it—on the first day! My worst nightmare! Adam kept waking up, fearing that the kayak might be getting dragged out to sea with the tide coming awfully close to our tent. And so the sleepless night went on.

When we woke up to the beauty of the surrounding scenery—palm trees, white sand, warm water, solitude, peace, and quiet—the ordeals of the nights were quickly forgotten. Our itinerary was to paddle north of Exuma Island, in the so-called Great Bahama Bank along the western side of the Cays (pronounce Keys), which are a succession of little islands protecting boaters from the strong Atlantic currents and with water so shallow—a very reassuring fact for rookies like us—that you could walk instead of paddle if you wanted to. Yet, the Cays are not always linked and we had to cross some pretty big channels defined by big, white crashing waves. Although we always gave those a wide birth, the current and waves were still pretty strong and big, which made it quite exciting. That’s when I wished I had taken the time to Google that whole capsizing-and-flipping-the-boat-back-over thing before heading out on this trip.

Two days later, when we turned around after reaching our most northerly point—Normand’s Pond Cay, in a full-on tropical storm, which we later found out was the edge of a hurricane off of the Atlantic Coast—I wished all the more that I’d brought “Kayak for Dummies” along on the trip: The waves were huge by our standards and the rain drops were hitting us straight on, feeling like snow pellets in a blizzard, only warmer. I guess that’s what you get for going the Bahamas when the chart clearly states that October is the off-season. We found shelter under the overhang of a secluded beach. It was raining so hard, with nonstop thunder and lightning and the sound of crashing waves from the nearby Atlantic sounding way too close, that we didn’t sleep much that night. Upon setting up my prototype tent, I wished for a tent that had already been tested by others. What if it didn’t hold up under heavy rain? The idea of getting soaked through and through in a tent is never appealing. But the tent passed the test with flying colors!

We spent the next two days kayaking back to our pick-up point with strong winds against us but beautiful weather, which am sure we wouldn’t have appreciated as much if it hadn’t been for the excitement of the bad weather. In the evening, we hung out on the beach, went snorkeling, read (I did have a paperback with me), cooked up dinners, and were in bed before the bug war could even start.

Looking into the setting sun, I thought about the baby girl growing inside my belly. Did she realize that was going on? I reflected on that in my journal: “The girl seems to have enjoyed this adventure. She was quite quiet the past couple of days. I bet she liked getting rocked from side to side in the boat, the feeling of being in the water, the warm temperatures. I thought of her on this trip often, as in of her in a year or two, hanging out on the beach, naked with sand all over her, discovering this worry-free life. I am looking forward to a life of adventure with her. When I go biking, I look forward to when I can drag her behind me and eventually have her ride with me and climb with us. I am excited to see life through her bewildered new eyes, taking in every little detail for the first time. And I am all the more excited to all that with Adam by my side. I really hope she will be open to the life we have to offer to her, more than I was with my parents.”

Pregnancy has so far been an amazing way to open up myself to new adventures, in preparation to the adventure that motherhood will be. Before heading out on this kayak adventure, I was a little resistant, because I was so into biking that I didn’t want to stop. But I was blown away by the whole experience. The Bahamas is all but touristy (at least where we were): I was expecting resorts everywhere, but much to the contrary, it was pretty undeveloped, with little in the way of restaurants or infrastructure. We ate each night on the island at the local Fish Fry, a little shack on the beach with home-cooked, often deep-fried meals, a place to mingle with locals only. People live a very simple, frenzy-less life. What blew me away the most about this trip was how used we were to being busy all the time, with driving places and time on the computer that we don’t know where the time goes. There, on the islands, with only a boat to worry about and little in the way of distractions (since I had broken my Kindle), time went by so slowly, yet so fast. More than ever, I was forced to be in the moment, and taking in everything around me like I had forgotten how to.

First Ascent gear used on this trip:
BC 200: great against raging bugs and torrential rain
Sirocco jacket: This is the jacket I have worn the most this year, in the mountains, guiding, biking and now kayaking. I wore it a lot kayaking to keep from getting sunburned, and it acted both as sun protection and cooling because it got wet while paddling. Yet, it dried off pretty much instantly on the beach. A must-have for all activities.
Tent: a prototype tent that I have used camping in the desert, in the mountains, and now in a tropical climate. I have never been so impressed by a tent: comfort, space, breathability, weight, ease to put up, and, most notably, waterproof. Keep your eyes open for this tent in the future!

Author: - Friday, November 4th, 2011

  1. Charly

    An ocean “map”, like its labeled on the photo, is actually called a navigation chart, Good luck on this adventure

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