As Shiojima San and I sit for breakfast, our attention firmly glued to the TV, we wait for the morning weather forecast. As the forecaster begins her announcement, none of which I can understand less some key words, I pay close attention the graphics; small yellow arrows pointing towards our direction indicating a head wind of 6-8 meters per second. Shiojima looks up the the TV and says “Look Its yellow, its not red so its okay.” I nod, in agreement with his statement but I still have this visceral panic about the wind, which I can hear blowing against the house. Realizing that the small yellow triangles sealed my fate, I walk over to one of my dry-bags, pop a motion sickness pill out of the blister packaging, and place it in my mouth.
Waiting on the beach, our kayaks laid facing the turbulent waters, Shiojima San excises himself and runs to the bathroom leaving me to face the ocean and the 5-7 meter per second gusts pushing directly towards us. My attention is stolen by some movement to my right. Looking over, I see Shiojima San’s kayak literally push to the right after a large gust came off the ocean. He returns and I begin to feel even more uneasy then before, I say “Kaze Tsuoi” which means “The wind is strong.” He doesn’t even pause, so I realize that he interpreted what I said as more of a rhetorical question that an actual statement of concern, although it was intended as one. We snap a few photos and push our kayaks into the water and into the headwind.
Paddling out of the protection of Teishi Port, the wind starts to push at my back and as we become fully exposed to the 7-8 meter per second tailwind. As we paddle, all of my attention and energy is devoted to maintaining a upright position but my focus slips as I hear “wahooooooo” behind me and quickly glance back to see Shiojima San riding a wave. I laugh, realizing how different our responses to this situation actually are. Shiojima San, obviously able to handle himself, taking every opportunity to ride as many waves as he can, while I am still clutching my paddle with a grip that is making my knuckles white. As Shojima San passes me, I paddle a little faster trying to catch up with him but also catching some of the swells moving under my kayak. While watching his small red flag disappear as I close the gap between us, I see a fairly large wave forming horizontal to his kayak. This wave, which his showing every sign that it will break on him, starts to reach a peak and is seconds away from the moment of impact. I could swear that I heard “oh no” but that may have just been my imagination or my mental projection of how I felt watching this situation unfold. Just as the wave begins to lift him up, it slows and the peak sinks back into the turbulent ocean. He straightens his kayak as if nothing has happened.
As we approach Kyusaburo-ya, a small bay protected from the wind exposure by its shallow waters and unique geography, Shiojima San instructs me to make landfall on the ramp of the boat yard. Lifting my legs out of the kayak and pushing off my cockpit to straighten my body, I walk towards Shiojima, who is taking a drink of water. He points towards the bathroom and after receiving ourselves, we take a few steps over to a small bridge overlooking the coastline we have yet to paddle. The wind still howling, he says “I pray the wind calms down.” Slightly taken aback by this comment, I nod and think that it wasn’t that bad after all but then again, with the little expedition experience I have, Im sure he may be aware of something I am not. We spend a few more minutes standing by our kayaks, eating what snacks we’ve brought. My snacks consist of some very sweet dried pineapple, a gift from from Endo San.
We get back in the water, with the same strong tailwind, yet this time we are protected by all the rocky outcroppings of Tsumekizaki Park. As we pass the park, Shiojima San points to shore, signaling he will depart. I paddle over, saddened to se him go, and shake his hand. As we paddle away from each other, my mind recollects all the people I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with but eventually have had to leave, so I could continue the expedition. It also reminds me of the the main tenants of Buddhist teachings regarding the sadness that is brought by attachment. By no means am I advocating non-attachment, in fact quite the opposite, I take that idea of non-attachment and use it as a reminder to live in the present while recognizing the fleeing nature of time. With all this in my mind, I still feel a hint of sadness that I’m leaving Shiojima San, looking back once more to see Shiojima San’s flag disappear into the distance.
Moving into the second hour paddling myself, I decide to take a break, mostly to quiet the pain in my back. Desperate to reposition myself in the hopes of relieving dull throbbing on my vertebrae, I grab the sides of the cockpit and lift my lower body out of the seat, straightening the drysuit fabric and positioning myself so that the top edge of the hard plastic seat does not dig into my vertebrae. This back pain is something that I’ve been consistently dealing with since I started the expedition and its caused by this geometry of this seat. Because the seat of this kayak is hard plastic, compared to the most common soft nylon “hip straps,” and actually extends above the cockpit, it always finds a way to force itself into the vertebrae of my mid back. This was okay for the first few weeks but after about a month, I was experiencing pain on a daily basis. There were of course other options for a kayak, but beggars cant be choosers and when my kayak instructor, Koji Hara, was kind enough to offer my his 30 year old kayak for free, I jumped at the opportunity. Although this pain is something that I often deal with, I’m glad I have enough experience to now know that it can be prevented by choosing the proper seat.
As daylight fades and and I’m paddling towards what I believe to be Okawa or Ito, the two being over 10 Kilometrs apart and at least a 2 hour paddle, I take a few minutes to stare at my map. Still not sure, I continue to paddle and see what I believe to be hatsushima, which confirms my intended path of travel to Ito. I angle my kayak in the direction of Ito but start to feel a but feel a light but persistent port wind, increasing in speed until it becomes a formidable enemy. In response to this onslaught on wind, I angle my kayak directly towards land and have only the desire to make it to shore. My mind begins to go into panic mode and my muscles contract as my grip tightens. To my right is a long line of fishing buoys stretching towards shore. While I’m paddling, I’m looking over realizing that while I’m putting some serious force into my forward stroke I’m almost at a standstill. I look back, thinking that if I cant make it to land I can just drift to Oshima Island. While this idea sounds appealing, I quickly realize that I will be drifting at night due to the impending darkness, which could also mean missing Oshima and potentially drifting into the Pacific Ocean. With this fate is not at the top of my expedition to-do list, I paddle even harder, putting my full body into every stroke. I begin to notice that I’m passing the buoys, although very slowly. After about 15 minutes of some serious paddling, I made it close enough to shore to find a respire from the wind in the shadow of small mountains. Now its time to paddle to Ito and camp for the night.