The kind of happiness you get when watching a sunset 

By: Jessica Ries, high school alumna High School Adventures, Wildlife Biology

Wow, what can I say? This past month has been the best of my life. Why do people think happiness lies only in what they can gain or accomplish? In these 25 days I have been happier than I thought anyone could be, but not a surface happiness because I’m doing fun activities. This happiness is much deeper and lasting. The kind of happiness you get when watching a sunset, viewing the tide come and go, or best of all sitting in silence with close friends.

I was so anxious when I walked off my plane to this new adventure. I suppose we all were. Conversation was sparse, as we waited for all participants to arrive. One by one they came into our circle, on the floor, and sat down. Megan was to meet us later at the ferry since her parents mistakenly told her the wrong date. Luggage, we very quickly found, was to be our first adversary on this trek as we loaded and unloaded, packed and unpacked, and every time we did, the pile grew by at least fifty pounds.

The next morning, after a ferry and bus ride the previous day, we loaded up again for the trip to Bamfield, where we were to meet our kayak guides. It was so long and bumpy everyone was grateful just to be walking again when we arrived. Long bus rides, though, are the perfect way to get to know your traveling companions. Being well acquainted, we made our way across the channel, loaded with more luggage, of course, to the kayak center. We met Don and Rose, our instructors, ate lunch, and prepared to load up for the trip, but not before we walked down the boardwalk to the tree house toilets, no really, it’s in a tree. Anyway, after the briefing, the very long briefing, we plopped into the kayaks and took off. That night as we snuggled into our tents, after a warm talk around the fire, we looked forward to morning with the eagles, the sky, and the Pacific, all ours to enjoy and care for.

Our three day excursion is, perhaps, the most difficult of all to describe. If you’ve never been camping, I mean really camping, you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about. If you have, you know that some adventures are sharable and some are too magical to speak of without someone misunderstanding. How do you explain a feeling? All I can say is we connected: with each other, the ocean, sweat and salt. We sang, laughed, and fought with the ocean as we kayaked. From yoga on the beaches, to the sharing of Broadreach traditions, to silliness around the fire, we experienced life, every moment, moments you would miss if you had distractions like TV’s, computers, civilization. Things that are not bad in themselves but have a tendency to steal from us the things that truly matter. As it came to a close we felt almost as though our entire adventure was ending; little did we know all of the exciting surprises that awaited us ahead.

Our next portion was one of academics with not only long lectures, but also field trips. The days were tiring and a tad stressful because of the tests and our upcoming projects, but we shouldn’t have worried. Anne, our guide, was an expert at mixing relaxation and learning, such as beach walks. My absolute favorite was during the latter portion. We assembled at the docks at 9:30 to view bioluminescence: tiny glowing creatures know in the day as plankton or whale food. It was beautiful! If you put your hand in the water they glowed green even brighter; all of us treasured that night as a favorite.

The first real whale watch, though we had seen one during our kayaking, came at this time as well. It was a choppy day and several of us dropped out of the excitement to empty our stomachs. It may sound cruel and silly since I was one of them, but the whole experience struck me as extremely funny. In between my waves of nausea, I had to stifle my laughter to risk getting the wrath of the others in our small “back boat” party.

Telegraph Cove our final intensive segment had come upon us. Many apprehensions and excitements filled the, you guessed it, bus ride. The first introduction to Jackie, head naturalist, and Nadine, whale interpretive center volunteer, stifled all fears as we found them to be enjoyable and just plain fabulous. Our group dubbed “Orcinus and the Spyhoppers” found that we must, oh horror, be split up into smaller groups during the day. Fortunately this did nothing to dampen our togetherness, and, actually, I found I brought us closer. The fires were more special and being in smaller groups allowed those few remaining insecurities to dissipate into nothingness. This was probably to our counselors’ dismay, as we became increasingly silly. Our affection was shown with back rubs which started off as a quite painful tradition. Alex thinks he’s skilled in massage, but really as we found out is more skilled in Chinese torture.

Orcas, finally, graced our presence. Out on Straitwatch zodiacs or on the stunning Lukwa they were just as magnificent and wildly breathtaking as you can dream. TC is devoted to them as the voice for the seas. They have a mysterious aura to them being only viewable for the short time they blow their misty breath into your dry barren world. On the last day, Lindsey and Greg took us to an empty parking lot overlooking all of Telegraph Cove. They presented us with tokens to tie around our necks and on it was an emblem of an orca with the word “loyalty.” The emotions were raw as we shared the words that exemplified our adventure together, private words that only should be shared with family, but then that’s what we had become, a family, like the close bonds of orcas in a pod.

To end our journeys, we took a zodiac to Sophia Island which is in Johnstone Strait. We kayaked some, but mostly relaxed and reflected on our epic adventure. I would sit in the warm sun on the rocks overlooking the pacific with cool familiar sea breezes tickling my hair and remember: the inside jokes, making whale calls, evading random guy, the beaches, learning true conservation, being with nature, the nightly bear hugs, “hauling out,” crying, laughing, singing, but most of all the people. Our pod: Alex, Anna, Bill, Greg, Me, Kristina, Lindsey, Megan, Rachael, Robyn, and Spencer, I love them all.

Our departure was obviously tearful, and I, the first to leave, was bombarded with tight hugs. Even through their bleary eyed faces (yes, I made them wake up at 3:30am) there was love. We will reunite because that’s what you do in a pod, you don’t leave anyone out, each one has a place, and distance is irrelevant because your closeness is in your soul. Find love, truth, and peace for yourself. Explore, discover, and give back. Take adventures and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Learn but don’t learn too much. Find and be found.