42 - Aliens

For weeks in the North Pacific, all we knew were howling gales and ice-cold, violent seas. Entering the strait of Juan de Fuca, the universe shifted radically. Our instincts and emotions must have been running absolutely amok. The sudden calm was freakishly unnerving -- foreboding. Wind speed: zero. We were adrift. Directionless. Boadicea rose and fell on huge, glassy swells, as though the ocean itself was breathing. On deck, we sat motionless under dripping, lifeless sails, staring out at what didn't seem possible. There was nothing to talk about, nothing to do. I'm pretty sure, we were both a wee bit shell shocked.

Vancouver Island rain-forest from Juan de Fuca strait photo Elena Vaytsel photo elenameg.com

[Image 42-1] Coniferous rain-forest on SW Vancouver Island looked sinister and foreboding to Elena.

Off our left side, shrouded in mist, an immense, dark forest slid by. Vancouver Island. The West Coast Trail. Paths I'd backpacked. Where were the tears of joy? The feelings of accomplishment? The slow-mo montage of heroic flashbacks? I gazed at Elena. Looking into the only face I had known for months, and saw nothing but exhaustion. Resignation. Fear.

Further into the Strait, the mist and clouds lifted. "I cannot believe what I am seeing is real." Elena gaped at snowy mountains on the American side. "I have never seen before, such mountains, with snow on top. Hard to think such things exist."

Sending email ahead of our arrival -- with a laptop duct-taped to the table -- I was dreaming of a stable world until the engine growled, coughed and attempted to die. Something beneath us rumbled and the boat shook.

"Meeeeg!" Came from the cockpit. "Serpents! Snakes are everywhere. I think in the propeller!" She slammed the throttle lever into neutral.

"Snakes!?" A psychotic break? I scrambled topside, relieved to see that we really were entangled in a mass of hideous, boat-eating serpents. Laughing, I told her, "Kelp! This stuff is called, kelp. It's a plant. You know, seaweed."

"Vodoroslie? Never have I seen such seaweed. Everything here is huge, like from Tolkien or Doyle."

Having hacked our way free of the writhing mass of giant kelp, a pod of gargantuan, black and white dolphins surrounded us. Snorting and hissing clouds of steam, they came alongside to give Elena the evil eye. Her panic went nuclear when I shouted, "Orcas! Lenna, these are killer whales! Wow, do you know how lucky we are to see them, to have them approach, to greet us and welcome us home? They are beautiful, intelligent creatures."

"I do not love such things that are killers and so huge. This place to which we have come is like another planet, and we are aliens."

Olympic mountains Washington State hurricane ridge snow covered and shrouded in cloud photo Elena Vaytsel photo elenameg.com

[Image 42-2] The Olympic mountains in Washington State, the American side, seen from Juan de Fuca strait.

☸ ☸ ☸

You'd have thought that once we were finally, motoring sedately through Canadian territorial waters, we made it. Could wrap this narrative up with a choir of angels and home-safe codswallop. Right?

Wrong! The Canada-USA border runs right down the middle of the Strait, and the bloody Canadian side of it was closed by the United States Department of Homeland Security for gunnery exercises!

"Hoe-lee kapoosta! All traffic is being diverted to the American side. That is through US territorial waters. Lenna, we're screwed! Close enough to spit, and they finally get us. Whyyyyyy!?"

"We go back to sea? Wait for gunning to end and Canadian side of strait to be open?"

"Back into a gale right on the nose?" I'd been up for maybe thirty-six hours, thought we'd made it. Blimey, I was seeing places I'd camped at along the shore. We were that close. "For weeks we fight north to clear the thousand mile chasm, and now this!? This can't be real. This can't be happening. I must be going insane." It's true. I was actually on the edge, at the breaking point. Worst of all was thinking that after all we had gone through, to get so close, I'd doomed Elena, anyway. I had to regroup, reassess, reboot before I lost it. "You're at the helm. You decide. Hold position here, go back to sea, transit US waters. I'm leaving it up to you."

Juan de Fuca strait from chart plotter photo elenameg.com

[Image 42-3] The chart plotter shows Meg and Elena's position in United States waters due to traffic diversion around the area to the top of the photo (with little flame symbols) that was closed for US Dept of Homeland Security gunnery exercises.

She looked at me, frightened. Searching for any reassuring telltale. Then she straightened up, took a deep breath and told me to go to bed. I crawled into our nest and tried not to fall apart. I thought about all I had left unfinished in my Arts & Crafts bungalow, mere miles ahead. The dream home, the ideal past and the perfect future I had been building by hammer and by hand. I should have felt something -- anything -- crawling along, so close to home. But I felt nothing. What was bloody wrong with me? I worked so hard, shed so many tears, spent so much money for that life, that dream. How was it even possible that after Elena and I risked everything fighting so hard and for so long to make our way home, I felt nothing but empty and hollowed out?

It made no sense, and that frightened me more than anything. My unused, return plane ticket was crammed in the chart table with other soggy and mouldering vital documents. I tried to imagine Elena in the world we were closing on. I couldn't, not in a million years. She was truly an alien.

She told me later, that while I crumbled like a stale biscuit, she steered into US waters and joined the line of ships heading east. She concentrated on the droning of the engine and the calm, dark water ahead of our bow. At one point, a US coast guard cutter roared by close enough to wave. Elena stood in place until it was safely distant. She kept telling herself that every twelve minutes put us one nautical mile closer to crossing the border back to the Canadian side. She didn't engage the autopilot. Didn't even sit down. She just stood behind the wheel, counting every minute, every mile.

In the dead of night, we rounded Race Rocks lighthouse, and a edge-on galaxy of twinkling lights stretched across the horizon before our bow.

"Victoria?" Elena asked.

"Uh huh." I nodded, still trying to imagine myself among those lights. Wondering how-in-hell that person, boarding a plane from there, more than a year -- and a lifetime -- ago, could have possibly been me. But it wasn't, and I knew then, I would never be that person again.

I too, had become an alien.

Boadicea rests at dock in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Elena and Meg yacht. Photo elenameg.com

[Image 42-4] Boadicea rests at dock in Victoria, British Columbia.

[[ updated -- photos Apr 24, 19:24 GMT ]]