Friends and fellow paddlers cheered Alaina McNeil and Shannon Jensen into Majestic Ocean Kayaking on Monday evening as the pair triumphantly crossed the finish line of their Vancouver Island circumnavigation.
The local kayak guides left Ucluelet in a two-person kayak on May 7 and completed their roughly 1,150-kilometre voyage around the Island in 28 days.
“We had really good weather. We were lucky. I expected there to be more impossibly challenging days, we did have a couple but, all-in-all, it went pretty smoothly: no epics, no capsizes, no crash landings,” McNeil said. “It went by really quick. I feel like we left here last week and now we’re back.”
Jensen said the experience was much more substantial than she had expected.
“This was Elena’s dream and she needed someone to come with her. It sounded like a cool idea so I jumped onboard and had no idea what I was really getting into,” Jensen said. “It turned out to be more than just paddling around the Island. It was actually a really powerful spiritual journey. It was amazing.”
She said the solace she found travelling and camping around the Island’s remote landscapes was bursting with opportunities for reflection.
“There was so much time in each day, as you’re sitting for 12 hours in a kayak, to reflect on everything in life,” she said.
“We met fear a couple of times…and came out of it stronger and with the opportunity to grow and move on from that. It was so much more than just paddling. I’m very happy that I did this.”
McNeil and Jensen are both guides with Majestic Ocean Kayaking and the company’s owner Tracy Eeftink said navigating unfamiliar waters while keeping well-rested and well-nourished along the way is an impressive feat in itself, without considering the amount of paddling needed to get around the entire Island.
“There’s a lot of concerns about water hazards, currents, storms, boat traffic and wildlife,” she said.
“Once they got up to Port Hardy and they started coming around the top part of the Island, especially around the Brooks Peninsula, we were all going, ‘Oh my goodness, this is the part that’s really going to be challenging for them’ and they handled it so well…I was really proud of them.”
Eeftink said adding the circumnavigation experience to their guiding resume has brought McNeil and Jensen “leagues above where they were at,” and added the “grit, determination and bravery,” the two women showed is inspiring.
“I can say that they’re hardcore now because of what they’ve done. This isn’t something people just do everyday. This is completely amazing,” she said. “It’s ‘Girl Power.’ It’s empowering for them to do this. This is a big thing in their life.”