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Alaskan journey begins in Oak Bay waters

Victoria resident Alan Campbell launches from Willows Beach for a three-month journey by kayak to Juneau Alaska. Campbell and his two fellow kayakers, David Maxwell and Rob Zacharias, left Oak Bay on May 8 and plan to return by July 30. To track their progress check siska.ca and click on North To Alaska. - Sean Roper/News Intern
Victoria resident Alan Campbell launches from Willows Beach for a three-month journey by kayak to Juneau Alaska. Campbell and his two fellow kayakers, David Maxwell and Rob Zacharias, left Oak Bay on May 8 and plan to return by July 30. To track their progress check siska.ca and click on North To Alaska.
— image credit: Sean Roper/News Intern

Sixty is the new 16 for a group of Victoria paddlers.

Instead of putting their feet up and taking a break, the recent retirees have stuffed their packs with provisions and launched their kayaks into the adventure of a lifetime.

Starting from Willows Beach last Thursday (May 8)  Alan Campbell, 66, David Maxwell, 68, and Rob Zacharias, 60, are paddling north to Alaska.

“I’ve been paddling for 20 years, others like Fred (Pishalski, who will paddle with the trio to Savary Island just north of Powell River) and David have been at it for a few decades,” said Campbell.

Also joining the trip for the first leg to Savary will be Robert Dill from Pender Island.

All five men are part of the Catfish Kayak Group which grew out of a still active men’s group formed in the early 1980s. Henry Graymen, from Vancouver, will join the paddlers in Prince Rupert for their final push into Alaska.

“David Maxwell and myself will go the entire distance, others will just go as far as Savary, and Rob Zacharias’ will leave us in Ketchikan because his daughter is getting married this summer,” said Campbell.

Zacharias may be a familiar name to those interested in kayaking, he made a solo journey 1500 kilometres around Vancouver Island in 2004 – a 52-day trip. “That was a tougher trip,” said Campbell. “He experienced open ocean the entire time.”

Campbell described the Alaska journey as unremarkable.

“People do it every year. For all the years we’ve been paddling we’ve talked about doing it, when a couple of the guys retired this spring we thought ‘it’s probably the time to do it – we’re not getting any younger. We paddle every week, we’re in shape, let’s make it so.’”

After a few months of planning, including preparing and drying 53 meals and shipping items ahead to Campbell River, Shearwater and Prince Rupert, the men were joined at their launch by a few members of the South Island Sea Kayaking Association (SISKA) a non-profit organization dedicated to sea kayaking on Vancouver Island.

“This definitely took more advanced planning that what we’ve attempted previously,” said Campbell, explaining each summer the group takes an extended trip of up to two weeks with their kayaks.

“The logistics of this one are significant but hundreds of people have done it. For many Americans it’s an epic journey that people dream of. We were able to consult others who have done it. … We’ve come to terms with the fact that we can’t carry enough food.”

They also added layover days, breaks from five- to six-hour days of paddling in the 84-day journey that will see them travel up the inside passage to Juneau, Alaska. They will then return home via the Alaska Ferry to Bellingham, Washington. At that point they will paddle from Bellingham back to Willows Beach, arriving home on July 30.

“David Maxwell is the one who put the idea forward to paddle from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy. … We thought that was a big enough trip, then decided if we’re going to do that and be away for that long, why not paddle up the Island? Then, if we could go to Prince Rupert, why not Alaska? … The idea expanded a bit, that’s probably how it got to be 80 days,” said Campbell.

“Alaska is unknown to us. We’ve not paddled there. We’re assuming it’s going to be similar to here, a long, island-filled coast with more wildlife, more unpredictable weather. But I predict it will be lots of fun. … and it might inspire others to extend themselves a bit.”

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