Enthusiastic inspiration is how I describe author and adventurer Bruce Kirby. His second novel, ‘The Dolphin’s Tooth ‘ has been nominated for the One Book, One Kootenay award and that’s what brought him to the Fernie library on Wednesday, July 10.
Kirkby isn’t what most people would expect from a professional writer. He comes across more like a professional adventurer, mixed with surfer dude and vagabond. ‘The Dolphin’s Tooth’ was written seven years ago and “was killed by one scathing review years ago”, so Kirkby is surprised his book made the list, especially with newer worthy competition. “It seems to have an extended life as I still get these notes once a week or every month from University students, sometimes handwritten, how the book meant something to them scratched on a little piece of paper.”
The novels describe his international and Canadian outdoor adventures with a new journey in every chapter. I read ‘The Dolphin’s Tooth’ when it was first published and his misadventures made me laugh. It’s the theme of each travel story, his love of wilderness and people and how he started with learning how to light his first camp stove to electrocuting himself accidently with a water heater on a bike trip in Pakistan; I got to witness a bumbler grow into a skilled outdoorsman.
Kirkby is not the kind of guy who goes on a trip or two then stretches everything out to make the material last. He packs every single bit of fun in even if there isn’t enough time for it all.
Early this spring Kirkby, his wife Christine and their two boys spent 10 days rafting the Green River.
Two weeks ago he paddle boarded across the Georgia Strait with friends Dave Quinn and Kalum Ko, even though Kirkby only started stand up paddle boarding this year.
“When my friends asked me to go, I felt the 100 km weeklong trip on an inland lake I had planned one week earlier with another buddy, Duff Gibson, would prepare me for the crossing. We did it for a fundraiser for CPAWS and Mountain Equipment Coop as they raised awareness for their Big Wild Challenge Program. The southern gulf islands were also the first place I ever guided and it was a chance to give back to a conservation cause. There’s a National Park being set up there. Plus we thought it was going to be so darn much fun. I hadn’t been there for twenty years so it was a return of sorts for me.”
The Georgia Strait trip was 150 km which they could have done in four days but they gave themselves an extra day for a weather window. They left from Spanish Banks in Vancouver and took five days to arrive at the Victoria Harbour. They spent half a day at Tsawassen waiting for the winds to drop.
“One of the main challenges was crossing the Strait of Georgia which at the narrowest point the currents are quite high and the winds tend to funnel. The crossing itself is only 22 km but still it’s a fairly big crossing. It’s a four hour commitment at least and it’s kind of rough through there with the wind and waves. It finally looked like the wind was dying down a little at the end of the day so we went for it. But we had to cross six major freighter lines, four ferry channels, and two ocean container channels so 12 km were congested with boats.”
Before the three left, people kept telling them that nobody would be able to see them and that they would get hit.
“You can buy these commercial radar reflectors but supposedly the most effective way, I read this study by the US Coast Guard, is by covering your hat in tinfoil. It works better than anything else. Because I was wearing this thing on my head, and had to paddle like heck for 12 km, man, my head was like a baked potato. I was so hot by the time I made it out of freighter land before I could take that hat off. We looked like fools but we survived,” said Kirkby.
As for the immediate future, Kirkby will be rafting on the Alsek River in the Yukon with Robert Kennedy Jr. before he travels to Haida Gwaii for a totem raising. He’ll likely bring his paddle board to explore Gwaii Haanas.
Later this summer Kirkby and his family, including his 74 year old mother are travelling across northern Saskatchewan starting at the headwaters of the Churchill River.
“My kids don’t know anything different .They’re used to it. Yes, my kids prefer hotels but it’s good for them to be outside. Last night my five year old son Bodhi said he liked camping. By the time he was 16 months old, Bodhi had spent four months in a tent, a quarter of his life. I didn’t think he’d ever beat that ratio again in his life unless he became a street person. People think you need to bring all these plastic toys because they have them at home so you bring a couple but all they end up playing with is sticks, caterpillars and frog anyways .”
“Bodhi thrives on routine and there’s something extraordinarily routine about expedition trips. We get up early, we eat, we pack up, we leave, we snack, we paddle, and we lunch. That has quite a calming influence on him because life at home is perhaps more hectic and less routine. This trip will be challenging with all the portaging with a two and 74 year old. But the water will be warm on the Canadian Shield. I haven’t been on any part of the Churchill yet.”
“I kind of worked backwards with this writing journey. I started with novels, went to magazines and then newspapers. I wrote an article for the Globe and Mail every week for 100 weeks. After awhile I was wondering what am I going to write about this week. That was a vacuum of experience. But I feel like books endure. It’s like I’m starting to go back to the beginning.”
“I tend to be greedy about my trips. I say yes to everything. My family and I are going to Ladahk or Bhutan next year to live in a village and teach English or something because I can’t navigate all this business. We just need to chill out. I look at the my full white board at home and say why did I said yes to going on this rafting trip with Robert Kennedy Jr. in a couple weeks when I should stay home and cut the lawn for gosh sakes. But it’s because I think I might get a good story out of it. It’s like a buffet. I’m bloated but I can’t stop eating even though I’m full.”