What a Scary Sea Kyaking Trip Taught me about Awareness and Preparing for Tsunami's & Earthquakes
Can you imagine living in a state of "ignorant bliss", then one day being on vacation with your family, hearing the tsunami warning sirens go off, and not having a clue what to do?
Or not knowing what the game plan is for the days that follow with no electricity, running water or help?
Last weeks (Jan 23, 2018) Tsunami Watch on the west coast of North America made this situation real for thousands of people. My Mom happened to be on vacation in Victoria, BC when it occurred... with little idea of what to do next and what the options were.
This may surprise some of you, but when she contacted the lobby of her hotel to ask what to do, all they could do was repeat generic warnings from the news, "get to higher ground". They did not know either. And the irony was that they were already on the higher ground, yet this is what they told her.
If this is not a case study to show you need to take your safety into your own hands, I don't know what is!
A lot of people choose to live in "ignorant bliss" when it comes to these kinds of topics, I know because I used to be one of them.
Many people feel thinking about these matters is scary, uncomfortable, and what is the likelihood of it even happening? But again I ask, is it not WAY more terrifying to be ignorant and then hear the sirens ringing or feel the ground shaking with no game plan?
Let me share a quick story about a wake-up call I had
In my early twenties, my girlfriend (now wife) and I made a trip up to Haida Gwaii, a remote island, eight hours by ferry out into the Pacific Ocean. You can see Alaska from the Northern tip. It is one of the wildest and most beautiful places I have visited in my life.
Picture long ocean coastlines with a convocation of twelve to twenty Bald Eagles feeding on fish. Local folks harvesting crabs on the beach, misty rolling mountains and the silhouettes of black bears and mule deer moving through the northern rainforest habitat. It is an absolutely stunning and invigorating place to visit.
To make a long story short, we rented sea kayaks one morning, headed out across a still and sunny inlet to tour the coastal shores of some of the nearby islands. We were in ignorant bliss.
Well, our bliss turned to fear and potentially deadly consequences on what felt like the turn of a dime. While heading back across the inlet, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and suddenly we were out on open ocean water. Four foot plus rolling waves were quickly growing larger.
We could not paddle straight across the 2km stretch as this would leave us broadside to the quickly growing waves. We had to paddle in a zig-zag formation continually turning into and away from the waves to avoid flipping our boats. This was exhausting and time-consuming. Every turn had to be timed perfectly to avoid capsizing. Keeping our kayaks close to each other was very difficult.
Both of us became mildly hypothermic, and we were well aware that if we flipped;
1) We would become severely hypothermic quick and
2) No one would be likely to even see or notice until hours later. We were in serious trouble, the consequence of flipping was possible death. There was also the risk of the waves taking us further out to sea.
So, in the end, we made it to shore. We were in shock and disbelief. The lessons from this experience were nothing short of life-changing for me. Ignorance is NOT bliss! Hazard awareness is well worth considering and can lead to more enjoyment of the natural world. I still take risks at times, but now I take calculated risks. I know the hazards, the indicators of things getting worse, and I almost always have a plan A, B, and C.
I am also always growing my ability to read the signs of nature. I'm sure on that day in Haida Gwaii there were many signs from nature telling us of the shift in weather, but I never used to consider things like that or their importance to my survival.
I have come to enjoy the process and the amazing learning that comes from considering hazards and learning to read the signs of the natural world. Whether sea kayaking on the ocean or traveling to coastal areas where earthquake and tsunamis are a real threat, we can use these hazards as opportunities to enrich our experiences and be better people.
We can learn about ecology, grow our awareness and knowledge, build our confidence in our ability to weather storms and the unexpected situations thrown at us. We can become more adaptable and resilient humans like our ancestors and the explorers that have come before us.
I have learned a lot in the thirteen years since my sea kayaking adventure. In part two of this post, I will share how I recently prepared to visit a place where the threat of Tsunamis is real. Where statistically and geologically we are "overdue" for a MASSIVE earthquake.
Want to be better prepared while having fun and learning about the ecology and beauty of the world? Part two has actionable steps you can integrate now and into your next vacation.
Stay tuned, part two will be out later this week with how I planned for tsunami's and earthquakes on my recent trip to Vancouver Island.