When a grizzly bear swaggered by their camp in Burnett Bay, when they spotted sea lions off Eden Island, when they watched a black bear swimming across the channel â€“ only a few feet away â€“ in Echo Bay, when a grey whale spouted off in a nearby bay off Vancouver Island, when they caught a few glimpses of resident wolves keeping their distance but watching intently in Burnett Bay, or any one of the daily visits from bald eagles fying overhead â€“ all these sightings reinforce for Spirit of the Coast Canoe Journey paddlers why their 1,300-kilometre quest to Alaska is worth it.
Poor weather conditions, the temporary loss of their skipper, a broken wrist, the passing of a team memberâ€™s uncle â€“ these and other hiccups on the journey are momentarily forgotten when members of the team catch a breathtaking view of such wildlife.
At one point, one of the core team members Brandon Gabriel â€“ an artist and member of the Kwantlen First Nations â€“ wrote on facebook of some of their wildlife encounters.
â€œLife is good. We just saw a grizzly bear outside our camp. It was scoping us out. So we are being extra vigilant and ensuring no food scraps or any other enticing goodies are left out in the open. There are also there grey whales who have been frequenting the bay we are camped in.â€
He described the grizzly as â€œquiet young lookingâ€ placing it at about two years old and said it was skinny, obviously hungry, and looking for food.
In another â€œmind-blowingâ€ encounter, he was walking along the beach in Burnett Bay and spotted â€“ about two kilometres from their camp â€“ â€œa huge flipper breach the surf in about 10 feet of water, about 6- feet from me. It was an adult humpback whale coming to shore to clean itself and frolicking. The display lasted for over an hour before it spouted off one last time and disappeared out to sea. It was beautiful.â€
He described it as an experience he will never forget, but scolded himself for not having his camera with him.
â€œPerhaps it will become an art piece, and that is how I am meant to share the experience with other,â€ Gabriel said, joking that one form of wildlife he hasnâ€™t appreciated on the trip is the mosquito.
Itâ€™s all about bringing awareness to the majestic but fragile eco-system that exists along the B.C. coastline, said Pitt Meadows adventurer Chris Cooper. And the 66-year-old grandfather of four said his goal is to alert people to the potential peril that could face the West Coast if more care isnâ€™t taken to protect it from environmental threats such as a potential pipeline.
â€œWeâ€™ve had some great challenges, and some harrowing tales,â€ said Cooper, but itâ€™s all been worthwhile if it can bring attention to and education about the irreplaceable coastline.
Cooper, who returned to the coast last week to get Xrays and treatment for a knee injury, is still convalescing at home this week. He will rejoin his team in Hartley Bay on Aug. 10.
â€œOverall, itâ€™s pretty amazing what weâ€™ve pulled off so far,â€ Cooper said, reflecting on the first 50-plus day of the journey. But now, he admitted, heâ€™s chomping at the bit to get back up with the team and see it through to the end.
The team left Bella Bella Wednesday, and will take a few days to travel up to Klentu. That 43-mile trek will be followed by two more days of rest, and then an 80-mile leg to Hartley Bay.
The team is running almost a week ahead of schedule, and expects to be in Prince Rupert â€“ only 20 miles from the Alaska border â€“ by Aug. 17. There is some talk now that they could conclude the journey by trailering the canoe inland a bit to Kitimat where the First Nations people might host a celebration.
â€œOur mission is not yet over, our vision has yet to be realized, and our hearts and minds move forth with the loving embrace of our songs and drums, and wrapped in the beauty of our love for this land and water, and of course for the loved ones who have left us far too soon. The journey continues,â€ Gabriel said.