My Day With Billy

The day started like any other, unzipping my fly, and letting the dog out. For six months my wife and I lived in a tent on our property in Nova Scotia while working on the Bay of Fundy. It wasn't 'traditional' work on the water, scallops, lobster etc. We were kayak guiding around the Cape Chignecto Provincial Park. For more info on the area, follow this link. http://www.coastaladventures.com/CapChig.html If you have never been to this area, be prepared for an experience of a lifetime.

During one of these lifetime experiences our guests arrived thrilled, and ready to explore the Fundy by kayak. It wasn't a particularly sunny day, nor was it cloudy. It was just one of those days that sat in between serene filled bliss, and astonishing heart-racing fear. A typical Bay of Fundy day that could change at the drop of a hat. While the guests were doing the necessary paperwork for the one and only kayaking company in Advocate Harbour, I was in the Provincial Park at the Red Rocks launch site getting kayaks ready for the day. During this time, I kept a watchful eye on the weather and water to make sure that nothing particularly heinous was going to happen to the guests, should I decide to put them on the water. Soon enough, the guests arrive and we go through the usual safety speech, adjust some foot rests and seat backs, and launch. With gentle waves hitting the shore line it seemed like a pretty usual day. The sun was starting to break through the clouds and the day was promising to improve.

The selected tour of the day, from Red Rocks to Refuge Cove, was about sixteen km's return along the shore. Not a super long tour, but long enough to let you know you paddled for the day. Coupled with a slow rolling swell roughly two feet high, and no wind to speak of, it was like being on a slow continuous roller coaster. Just going up, and down, up, and down, up, and down,.... This apparently had an ill affect on one of my guests Billy. Billy, as it turns out, has a weak stomach. Judging by his wife's reaction in the front of their double kayak, this was not the first time Billy had shown his weak constitution on their annual adventures.

Once I noticed the pallor of Billy's face, it became apparent that something interesting was about to happen. Not wanting to miss the action, I slowed my pace and let the owner of the company I was guiding with take the lead and hung back to get a closer look at the show should anything spontaneous happen. That and to make sure that if Billy did decide to chum the water, and fall in, I would be there to first; pull the more than likely upset wife from the vomit infested Fundy waters and get her back in the boat before she decided to drown the poor man and be done with it.

With roughly four clicks behind us, Billy decided this was a great place to pull the plug, before it popped on its own. So, the group went to shore, and Billy went to find a bush to "look for wildlife". During this time, his wife informed us that when this happens, he is done. I can't be certain, but I think she may have been taking bets at this point as to whether or not they were going to finish the tour together. "Unlikely" was the consensus, so nobody wanted to take that bet. So with the lack of gambling action, we made plan "B". For Billy. Not wanting to leave him alone on the beach for the rest of the day by himself as the owner of the company had suggested, I decided to take a chance on the fact that within our group, there was a kayak designer that knew how to paddle. Obscure thought sure, but oddly enough, there was, and he had actually designed one of the boats we were using that day, the boat he was in! (this fact had been revealed on the beach before launch) This said to me, he knew how to paddle. So I took this man out of the twenty five inch wide, never going to tip over in a hurricane kayak, and gave it to Billy's wife. I gave my boat, to the kayak designer from Montreal. With this shift, the group was ready to continue for the day. Leaving Billy and I on the beach with our double kayak to wait out the cacophony of gurgling coming from his innards. I'll be honest, I did not sit very close to him, even though I was water proof from head to toe. After about thirty minutes of rest, and some water I suggested we head back to our launch site to wait for the crew. The look on Billy's face almost made me laugh out loud, as he REALLY did not want to get back on the water.

Appreciating his feelings on the subject, I brought forward a question for Billy to ponder as softly as I could, "How else are we going to get back to our vehicles?" and just let it hang in the air until he came to the conclusion on his own. Which came back surprisingly fast.

"Okay, let's go" was all he said. Head hung low, a little ashamed, a little fearful, we started gearing up. Without a word spoken, we were ready. I put my hand on his shoulder and he looked me in the eye. Not wanting to make Billy feel any worse than he did already, we simply looked at each other. I gave him a look that said one thing, and one thing only. "We are going to be okay." With silent understanding, Billy nodded, held back his fears, and climbed inside the kayak.

"This is going to be the longest four clicks I have ever paddled" I thought to myself. There is no way this guy is going to make it back without blowin' chow. Being in the back of the double, I really did not want this to happen. The first fifteen minutes, were pretty quiet. The tension in Billy's body was so immense, I could literally feel it coming through the kayak in his movements. Jerky and tight motions that made the boat lurch from one side to the other as he tried to convince himself water was our friend, and there was nothing to fear. Neither of us believed for a moment that he was convincing himself, as we had only traveled about three hundred yards in twenty minutes. This guy was paralyzed with fear.

Not wanting to have the group return before we did I decided to hum a little tune. The swell was at our stern, pushing us along slowly, I made up a song the best I could to match the rhythm of the ocean. It was complete gibberish, but it worked. A few minutes later I felt the boat relax. It started to move as a boat in water should. It was working! So I continued to hum until I got sick of my own voice. At which point I asked Billy how he was feeling.

"Better" he replied with apprehension. With that, I was happy. So I started to ask him questions about his adventures, and where he had been on vacation. Surprisingly, the man really got around. "Australia, Europe, Hawaii" he replied. But with his reply, his demeanor started to change, and the boat began to stiffen.

"This always happens." he says, "I always get sick doing things like this, my wife hates it."

No shit, I thought to myself. She looked like she was going to blow a gasket and chum the water with Billy himself and then finish the tour like nothing had happened.

"Hey Billy, let's see if we can paddle a little faster to match the speed of the waves. It will help with the way you are feeling. It will make it feel smoother in the boat." This was complete bullshit, but I really wanted this guy to paddle so we could get to shore. There was still three kilometers between us and happy-land, and I wanted them to slip by sooner rather than later.

"I'll count to four and we'll match paddling strokes. It will be fun."

"Okay" he replied, soft and unsure. I think he knew what I was up to, but didn't let on.

"ONE"

"TWO"

"THREE"

"FOUR"

repeat...many many times. Until finally we did it. I matched Billy's paddle strokes, and we matched our speed with the waves.

"Hey we're doing it Billy!" I exclaimed as excited as I dared. I really didn't want to startle him.
"You are doing great! Let's keep it going!" We were eating up the distance, quickly. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can get out of this boat."

"ONE"

"TWO"

"THREE"

"FOUR"

After about ten minutes of this, I was starting to get bored with the counting. And I think so was Billy. But it was enough of a distraction that I think he forgot about being sea sick. Which was perfect in my opinion, but not wanting to miss a perfect opportunity to learn from my experiences, I decided to poke the bear to see what would happened.

"Billy!" I said, happy and full of giggles. "You are a machine! Look at us go!" slowly the boat coasted over the top of the waves as they passed us back to front. Undulating if you will, was the boat.

"I think you have what it takes to take it up a notch." I suggested with pure confidence. Not allowing any argument from my front man, I continued quickly. "Let's paddle just a little bit harder, and a little bit faster, and try to surf these bad boys home."

With that, I dipped my paddle into the water fast and hard. The boat lurched forward slightly. Not enough to scare the man, but just enough to make him commit a little more energy to the job at hand. Together we moved forward a little faster. Enough to start making some distance and to start matching the speed of the waves a little more closely. Sitting in the rear of the boat I had the rudder controls at my feet so I maneuvered the boat through the waves at first so as not to "catch" a wave, but to feel enough of the slope that it actually affected the direction slightly causing a slight flutter in our belly. At first Billy wasn't sure if this was the right thing or not, his body stiffened, but I did not relent. I kept on, steering the boat into the trough, and back out again playing on the wave slightly. No puke. Let's keep it going I thought. So, I picked it up a bit, until finally, we hit a wave! The boat caught the front edge of the wave, and we were cruising! Really fast. Compared to the speed we had started out with, this was like a rocket!

"WAHOOOOO!" I exclaimed trying to bring good energy to the event. "Nice one Billy! We caught a wave!"

Nothing from the front. Did he pass out? No, he's still paddling. Knuckles are white, shoulders are rigid, yup, having a good time. So "we" did it again. Caught a wave, rushed down the front, slowed in the trough, popped out the back. A few more times and still nothing from the front. Shoulders seem a little less rigid, hands a little more relaxed. Perfect. Getting tired. You can't freak out if you are too tired to do so.

A few more shots down the wave front and we were set for home. As the time passed with the distance, Billy even though quiet and uncommunicative, was looking relaxed and soon enough the beach came into sight that we were to land on. Admittedly, I was relieved. I really wanted to get off the water. My energy level was really starting to dwindle.

A brief talk about landing the boat, and we made our approach. As smooth as we could manage we landed the boat on the beach without incident. After hoping out and assisting Billy from the kayak, I pulled our boat from the water and dragged it up the beach alone. Billy, had gone as far from the water as he could get without leaving the beach area. Not really sure what else to do, he selected a picnic table and laid down on the top facing the sky taking mental note of what he had just been through.

"Okay Billy, this is where the group is going to meet up. Chill out here, I am going to put away the gear."

With a nod, he went back to staring at the clouds. I moved all my personal gear to my van, stowed the company gear in the truck, and slide the kayak up on the grass by the trailer. Once complete, I looked back at Billy, checked my watch, and realized it was just before noon. Our lunch, was on tour and this guy needed to have some food. With that, I hopped in my van, and went into Advocate Harbour a few minutes down the road. The best place in town to eat was the gas station so that is where I went. It had gas, beer and wine, chips, foot long homemade subs, and various grocery items over priced and out of date. Beer and subs it is then! Not wanting to make an incomplete lunch, I grabbed a bag of rippled chips and back to the beach I went . Still laying on the table, it looked as though Billy had not moved an inch. As it turns out, he went looking for me and found that I had left. Thinking I had left him alone, he made his way to the table and went back to pondering.

"Did you think I abandoned you Billy?" I asked as I approached the table.

"Yes, I did" he replied not moving.

"Nah, I wouldn't do that to you my friend. I just went for food. Do you like beer?"

BOING! Billy's head popped up like that carnival gopher game. "Yes I do" he said.

"Cheers!" I said and handed him a Kokanee still cold from the fridge. "I brought back subs and chips. I hear it is the lunch of champions." I smiled to him.

Not really sure what was going through his mind at the moment, he looked at me with both surprise and appreciation in his eyes. "Thank you" was all he said. He quickly devoured his sandwich, and a good portion of his beer. A hand full of chips later, he began to speak.

"I found my mother." he said. Completely out of context. Completely random. So I sat quietly eating my lunch, and listened. Offered another beer, and waited. For the next two hours Billy shared with me his amazing story of how he had been searching for and found his mother. He had been given up for adoption at birth. For thirty-five years he had searched for his birth mother, and finally, he found her on the East coast of the United States. He shared with me the never ending feeling of abandonment, fear, and sadness that filled his soul and the intimate details of his life. Details I had absolutely no right to know. Orphanages, foster parents, beatings and abuse, failed relationships, bankruptcy, endless searches for his mother that sent him spiraling into a deep depression that lasted for a decade. Finally, with the help of an adoption service, he tracked his mother down, and six months before our meeting, he made first contact. He shared with me the fear he had around becoming attached to her again. Knowing absolutely nothing about his own mother, he worried that she would not like who he was, or what he had become. Tears filled his eyes, but he did not cry. Slowly the story unfolded in front of me. With each detail, I sat in awe of this man and his journey. His resilience.

"Until now" he finished, "I had nothing to share with my mother, that I could be proud of." his head hanging low looking at the table between us. As he looked up at me, I could see an energy shift is his presence, in his posture. "But today, I surfed a kayak on the Bay of Fundy." And with that, he cried, wiped his tears away, and thanked me for not leaving him alone, and listening to his story without judgement. And for the beer.

With a crackle in my voice, all I could say was, "You're welcome. I am glad we met." and shook his hand with the table between us. He nodded his head and turned around to see the rest of the group a few hundred yards off the beach, returning from their trip. With that, I packed up our lunch and got ready to catch people as they came ashore. Billy caught his wife's boat and pulled her in. Once out of the boat, Billy hugged and kissed his wife, and together they walked back to their car. Over his shoulder Billy looked back to me, and we waved to each other goodbye. I think of Billy often, and wonder if he is still in contact with his mother.

In my heart, I hope the answer is yes.