This is a long one so you might want to scroll past, mute the post or settle in with a beverage of your choice. This is a true account of an experience I had in a place where I was expecting to have a wilderness experience. Turns out I didn’t do my homework.
Dave and I were into Day 5 of our trip around the north end of Vancouver Island. We left Sea Otter Cove intent on camping about 18 NM down the outer coast of Vancouver Island at Grant Bay. As the fog and overcast lifted the conditions greened up to 15 knots with moderate seas and 3 foot chop. From Commerell Point to Lippy Point everything was generally at our backs and life was very good. Wonderful paddling.
Rounding Lippy Point we entered Grant Bay and things took an odd turn. It’s about ½ NM to the beach once you enter the bay and things on the broad shore looked different than we had anticipated. From our viewpoint there appeared to be a building of some sort in the middle of the beach and the smoke from several scattered campfires rising into the air. A sailboat was anchored about 300 yards off the beach and music was blasting from its sound system. We paddled up to get the lay of the land.
Two men in their 20’s grinned like Cheshire Cats from the back deck. They were very friendly and very intoxicated. Shouting over the blaring music they welcomed us to Grant Bay and owned their state of intoxication. One of them gleefully shouted that he had “killed many brain cells today”. We smiled, wished them well and paddled towards shore suddenly realizing that the “building” we had seen was a large driftwood structure with a tarped roof and a driftwood swing set hanging off of one end. We were anticipating a secluded wilderness experience and, though a bit disappointed, we thought that we had seen the worst that Grant Bay had to offer.
We were wrong as we were about to meet the Beast of Grant Bay.
The moderate sea state on the outside of the bay bent around Lippy Point and approached the beach as sets of low swells. The loud music of the Booze Brothers was still dominant but as we moved outside of the range of eminent hearing loss I could detect the sound of surf and that surprised me. How odd. No visual hints looking at the backs of the low waves just a loud ripping sound accompanied by a bit of spray and foam appearing above the waterline. I approached cautiously to a point where I was very close to the break. Looking up the beach I could see that the waves were dumping on a fairly steep sand slope in about 2 inches of water. I surmised that timing was crucial or this landing was going to hurt.
It was then that I saw the Beast. She was dressed in a bathing suit bottom with a tight waist-length top. She was shaped like a barrel with breasts. The barrel look was completed with an auburn Howie Long flattop. She was carrying a drink in one hand and walking with purpose in my direction. Her abandoned beach chair was laying on its side next to a man who stared blissfully off into space. She was accompanied by a barking Pit Bull, clearly had something to say and looked as questionable to me as this landing I was about to attempt. I had enough on my plate and didn’t have the bandwidth to nurture a new relationship. What the hell did she want?
I paddled backwards against the waves that pushed me towards shore hoping that she had something useful to tell me but feeling that something was very wrong besides the dumping surf. Standing on the beach in front of me she started shouting out directions.
I was thinking: “Does she know something useful? She doesn’t look like a paddler. Maybe she does know something. I should listen carefully”.
She was shouting orders about when and where to land and gesturing wildly. She started telling me when to paddle forward and when to turn.
That’s when I realized that she was clueless. Any turning would result in an immediate window shade onto the sand. There was going to be no turning here if I could help it. I shouted to her to get out of the way. I told her that I was coming in, probably out of control and it might not be pretty. She stood her ground and continued to gesture and shout orders at me while her Pit Bull barked and snarled. Expecting the worst, I waited just a moment before paddling backwards into a sharp wave and then chased it for all I was worth. Surprisingly I held the boat in a straight line and planted myself firmly on the sand between the Beast and her dog who was immediately mere inches away from my right cheek growling and barking wildly. Saliva was flying onto my face with his every hot exhalation and what didn’t end up on me formed a frightening foam that dripped from the corners of his mouth. I avoided eye contact with him and tried to act nonchalant, like dog attacks happened to me every day. I was scared in a way that soiling my drysuit was not a concern (if you get my drift). The dog shifted his attention from my face to my right hand as I peeled my sprayskirt from the coaming. His hot breath and saliva sprayed my fingers which were, thankfully, still intact. My hopes of exiting the boat in possession of four fingers and a thumb at the end of my right arm were in question. The Beast stared at me with disapproval that felt like a death sentence.
I was expecting her proclamation of Death by Dog.
Thankfully her attention shifted from me to Dave who was maintaining his position just beyond the break. She strode towards him with Cujo in tow and began shouting orders. He had seen me land successfully so may have thought that I followed her directions or maybe he just got a little sideways at the wrong time. Whatever, he was quickly broached as the wave dumped and was shocked to look down to see nothing but sand where he was about to impact. He braced aggressively into the wave hoping to bongo slide, rode the wave down onto the sand and came to a safe but abrupt stop. The Barrel continued to gesture and shout while Cujo barked and spit in Dave’s general direction.
The pair walked away while Dave and I, in a state of shock, quietly congratulated each other on surviving and started pulling gear from our boats. Soon she returned with Cujo still barking and drooling and gave us each a small piece of sausage which we were directed to feed him. Once we did that he shut up and she told us that his name was “Hunter” and that we had no idea how important it was that we had become his friends. I wasn’t sure if that was a veiled threat but hoped that she meant us well after all and asked her if she had any suggestions on where we should camp.
We were at the west end of the beach where the campsite is marked in the BC Coastal Explorer. It mentions that the site is “awkward” but I didn’t yet know what that meant. She turned and pointed to where the stream exited the forest and ordered us to camp there but to not drink the water. She made a point of telling us that a wolf had come from there in the morning and that bear had come out just hours before our arrival and that she had the best campsite on the beach. I happily chose wildlife over the Beast and Hunter and started dragging my gear towards the forest.
I found that the stream was impounded and blocked access off the beach all the way to where the Beast was camped. That’s what “awkward” meant. Dave and I discussed our options and realized that we would have to carry our boats and gear 150 yards over hot dry sand to a reasonable place to camp. That turned into four miserable, sweaty trips that took us past the two chairs and their occupants. I swear, I could feel her staring daggers at us for disobeying her orders. On one of the trips I overheard her beau call her “Grace”. Odd, right? Grace. At least Hunter was no longer barking and spitting at us.
It took a while to do so but we set up camp within an uncomfortable proximity of Grace, Hunter and her beau who looked, for all the world, like a completely normal and stoned-immaculate human being. He smiled a couple of times and then returned to staring off into space.
The Booze Brothers came ashore in their Zodiac. One brother stood at the bow with a single oar and awkwardly paddled the boat to the beach. Once ashore they conversed with Grace and then walked our way. The Zodiac was hidden from our view by the sharp slope of the beach. As they walked towards us Grace began to behave even more oddly, making gestures that were hard to interpret. Her beau continued to stare out to sea and smile.
Dave had a conversation with the Booze Brothers, who had somehow made it to dry land with drinks in hand and told him about a rave that had been recently held at Grant Bay where generators, sound system and laser light show had been carried in. The whole beach had gotten high? Due to their inebriated state Dave wasn’t sure that anything they said was true.
Suddenly we became aware of Grace shouting at them to go get their boat. It was loose and drifting away from shore. The “Oarsman” ran to where the boat had been secured, stripped off his clothes, dove naked into the cold water and swam out the Zodiac. He got into the boat about 50 yards from shore, grabbed an oar and paddled awkwardly back to the beach while Grace gestured and gyrated in some other language. Once ashore he donned his pants, spoke with Grace and rejoined us. Grace continued to dance and gesture with movements that could be occasionally interpreted as sentiments of ill-will. Her beau sat in the chair still looking stoned and smiling serenely towards the open sea. The Booze Brothers took their leave and continued towards the east end of the beach.
Grace was a train wreck that I couldn’t stop watching. Something was clearly not right with her and I feared that whatever it was might end up being directed at us. While her beau sat quietly, she shouted and gestured towards the Booze Brothers who were, by now, well out of earshot. Her agitation grew and she started ordering her beau to bring her the shovel. He came out of his trance and walked obediently to the campsite (that I was thinking was too close to ours) and brought the shovel to her. Before handing it over he must have asked her what she was going to do with it because after much gesturing on her part he put it behind his back and wouldn’t give it up. She demanded that he hand it over and swore at him but he held firm.
She ran to the Zodiac and danced perversely in front of it. Then she ran to her beau demanding that he give her the knife. “Give me the f-ing knife” she shouted repeatedly. Finally, I understood that she meant to cut up their Zodiac. Was this over the loud music? The Booze Brother’s response to her? I had no idea. The beau held fast and turned no weapons of mass destruction over to Grace.
In frustration she ran to the Zodiac and tried to send it out to sea. I realized then that she had untied it and pushed it out the first time. This time the dumping surf foiled her plan and as she struggled to push it beyond its grip her beau tried to calm her. I ran over to him and asked him if he needed help. He glanced sideways at me, shook his head, returned his focus to her all the while keeping the shovel out of her reach. She grabbed an oar and threw it as far as she could. Then she grabbed the other (like why hadn’t the Oarsman rowed the Zodiac if he had two oars?) and threw it beyond the surf. The boat refused to leave the beach so she lifted the bow and flipped it over the dumping waves. Completely surreal.
The people with the large driftwood and tarp structure had been out playing volleyball and a woman came running up pleading with Grace to stop. She claimed that the boat was hers and didn’t belong to the Booze Brothers, and that she had purchased it with her own money.
“Why are you doing this to me?” she asked.
Grace argued with her and the woman worked hard to calm her down. All the while the beau stood out of harm’s way with the shovel behind his back. One member of the Driftwood Family ran down the beach to inform the Booze Brothers and soon they were on their way back.
The arrival of the Booze Brothers escalated Grace’s foul mood and many words were exchanged. The Oarsman turned the inverted Zodiac over and paddled out using his hands to gather the oars. Upon return many more words were exchanged and now Grace was squaring off with the Oarsman. Seriously? Are you kidding? These two are going to blows? Fisticuffs on the beach? Man against Grace? What is going on? Where are we, Dave? What planet did we land on?
Several people had gathered and the Oarsman dropped his guard and turned to walk away while shouting insults over his shoulder. Grace never stopped yelling and gesturing. A young member of the Driftwood Family (12 or 13 I would guess) ran up and must have said something wrong as Grace slapped her hard across the face. The girl walked back to her driftwood house holding her cheek. The Driftwood woman remained rational and continued to speak with Grace.
Eventually all members of the Driftwood Family drifted back to their abode while Grace started shouting insults to the retreating Booze Brothers about the presumed circumstances of their births. They responded with shouts about Grace’s canine ancestry. Dave and I stood aghast. We felt like strangers in a strange land. What were the rules here? Where were we? Do we radio for help? Is this a typical day at Grant Bay?
Grace retreated with her beau to their campsite but she was soon down at the Driftwood Family campsite talking with them and pointing at Dave and I. We couldn’t hear what she was saying but assumed that she was relating some Grant Bay transgression that we had unwittingly committed. Before she could get too worked up, though, the Booze Brothers started motoring their sailboat in circles just off the beach, their curses barely heard over the blasting tunes. Grace rose to the challenge, ran to confront them and returned their profanities. She gyrated her body as though possessed by a demon who couldn’t dance. Very awkward, strange and disturbing.
Eventually the Booze Brothers left the bay while Grace performed her disjointed victory dance which she completed by pulling her tight top up over her barrel tummy and flashing her breasts.
Dave and I fixed dinner and our new “friend” Hunter came over expecting handouts. When I shooed him away he started barking, snarling loudly and foaming at the mouth. I hoped that Grace didn’t hear.
On a kayaking trip like this there are many objective dangers that you plan to accommodate. Five days into our wilderness trip on the Nearly Never Noticed North Coast Circle Route we were wondering how we ended up on a beach experiencing the objective dangers normally found in the inner-city where I grew up. Neither one of us slept well as we half expected to be subjected to a withering shovel attack during the night. We determined that if we lived through the night we would sneak away at first light.
We were up and on the move pretty early tearing down and eating breakfast in stealth mode. The loudest noise we made was the hissing of my Jet Boil stove. We didn’t want to wake up Grace or Hunter.
Before we got all of our gear to the water’s edge Grace stumbled out of her tent dressed in the previous day’s attire to start stoking the smoldering embers of her campfire. She never looked our way but fired one last parting shot when she bent over and her bathing suit bottom slid down in back. Now we knew that Grace was a plumber by trade.
We hurriedly completed our packing and ran for our lives.