2009-03-29 49 -124

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Sun 29 Mar 2009 in Comox, BC:
49.6765237, -124.8240546

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March 29 was thepiguy's Birthday. He was determined to stop at nothing to reach these coordinates. They are in the Port Alberni graticule, west of the participants' home graticule. The closest land is on Vancouver Island, an hour and thirty-five minute ferry ride from the city of Vancouver. For anyone unfamiliar with the markings on the map shown, blue is ocean, and at maybe 10 degrees celsius, is cold enough that there is a good chance you would succumb to hypothermia before managing to swim the three kilometres between the geohash and the shore. Also the nearest shore happens to be at a military airbase, not visible in map view. As thepiguy said when this was pointed out, "This just keeps getting better!"


The plan included:

  • thepiguy waking up around 5:00
  • a van full of crazy people leaving UBC around 6:30
  • an 8:30 ferry
  • a 11:00 kayak rental
  • a long drive
  • a beach
  • a cake (Boy, was the lady at Dairy Queen ever confused! "And you want the cake to say... this?" But she did it perfectly, right down to the wikicode double brackets and the four-in-one Bic pen colour scheme).
  • no one getting hurt

The plan did not include, as we discovered during the day:

  • consultation of tide tables
  • allowance for paddling a kayak in 20 knot winds
  • allowance for driving a vehicle with two kayaks on top, in 20 knot winds.
  • meal breaks that did not occur on the ferry


In order of seating in the van, left to right then front to rear. (Although Arbron and Robyn traded places for one leg, slightly startling MylSh).

Not in the van, but part of the celebration at some point on the trip.

  • Elbie's parents
  • Many random strangers, none of whom was harmed in the production of this geohash


Mobile Updates[edit]

The following updates were all made by Arbron from his iPhone during the days events:

  • Met at UBC (status: all here)
  • Took ferry to the island (status: successful)
  • Got kayaks from guy at store (status: suspicious)
  • Driving to Comox somewhere much closer (status: terrified)
  • Flying a kite on the beach (status: glorious)
  • Traveling back to Departure Bay w/ kayaks (status: satisfied)

Getting to the Island[edit]

The meeting at UBC went exactly as planned. No one slept in. Everyone managed to find the east parking lot at the corner of Agronomy Road and Health Sciences Mall, even where it involved impossible left turns and subsequent U-turns of questionable legality. Everyone and their baggage fit in the geohashing van, along with a stunningly and professionally decorated ice cream cake of which you will hear more later in the narrative. The geohashing van departed the rendezvous point at 06:20 and was soon en route to the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal, thepiguy wincing at every bump in the road, knowing that the cooler and hence the cake was packed on its side, the only way it would fit, thus subject to collapse.

We reached Horseshoe Bay without visible mishap to the occupants or cake (although we didn't check the latter), and pulled up to the ferry tollbooth. "Two of you?" asked the toll-taker. She seemed surprised to learn that there were six in the vehicle, but quite capable of multiplying "too much" by six before adding it to the basic vehicle toll, and charging us that much. We parked in our assigned lane at seven a.m. "So, what time does the ferry leave?" asked someone.

"Eight-thirty," replied thepiguy. The assembled party of adventurers had a very high aggregate mathematics score, and soon asked the relevant question, relating it to the sound of alarm clocks sounding at five a.m. "You can never," explained thepiguy, "be too early for a ferry." The next hour and twenty minutes was spent walking around Horseshoe Bay, doing homework, trying to guess the WEP key to the nearest linksys network, playing games on Arbron's iPhone, and programming a route to the our destination, located in the "state" of "Canada," into the onboard talking GPS unit. It was neither a recent nor high-end model.

We were among the first cars loaded onto the ferry, managing to avoid our GPS's increasingly frantic insistence that we make a U-turn now. The GPS appeared to know of only one location in the state of Canada, and that location was somewhere behind us. We turned it off and divided the party into two ferry-based missions, to ensure that we would have both food (mostly Belgian waffles, with one holdout for bacon and eggs) and comfortable non-cafeteria seating, obtained for us by the non-breakfast eaters. We enjoyed both breakfast and after-breakfast activities. These included finishing an iPhone checkers game started before loading, playing tic-tac-toe just long enough to determine that all of us had mental ages adequate to avoid ever losing, as long as we remembered whether we were playing noughts or crosses, and looking for a wireless network within range. There may have been napping involved, too.

Napping was definitely involved elsewhere on the ferry, when after docking the car ahead of us appeared empty. After a few moments ferry staff came over and rapped on the window to wake up the driver. We're thinking he may not have been too awake to begin with, as his left turn indicator had been on throughout the entire boarding process, despite his having loaded on the right side of the ferry. He woke up and then attempted to drive over the ferry worker, not realizing that he had slept through his turn to lead his lane off the ferry. You snooze, you lose on BC Ferries. Once permitted to exit he drove up the ferry ramp and then turned right, without recourse to either turn indicator. We congratulated ourselves, perhaps prematurely, on our superior clue-having abilities and turned left into a boat launching area where thepiguy had arranged kayak rentals.

Obtaining the Kayaks[edit]

"It's behind the taco shop," Pi explained, pulling into a large, mostly vacant parking lot.

No Mexican restaurant was immediately evident. We could see the boat launching ramp, a pub, a very closed-for-the-non-tourist-season seafood market, and a closed-due-to-fire fishing licence outlet where a sign still advertised the availability of bait and tackle. "Is it possible that it is behind the tackle shop?"

And indeed the kayak rental place was behind the tackle shop. It also looked closed for the season, seeing as it was locked, unoccupied and displaying a sign "closed for the winter." Thepiguy, however, assured us that he had arranged for someone to come over from the rental shop at eleven to rent us some kayaks. That gave us half an hour to wait, during which time we watched the stiffly horizontal windsock and the white-capped waves in the bay, bravely assuring one another that two-person kayaks were faster than the single person variety, and therefore more capable of reaching and returning from the geohash despite wind and waves. We also saw a Belgian barge dog (apparently "it looks as if it would float well" is not considered a compliment by barge dog owners), watched a seagull eat a fish carcass, wondered if the Navy Dive team would be required to retrieve any members of the expedition, and considered filing an advance request for search and rescue at the coastguard station.

Kayak guy arrived on time and issued us two kayaks, four paddles, two emergency back up half-paddles, four life jackets, two bilge pumps. some rope and a couple of paddle floats. "You know how to use these, right?" he asked Robyn of the paddle floats.

"Oh yeah," said Robyn, confidently, because she was the one who had given everyone a pep talk about appearing to know what they were doing, so as not to raise the kayak rental guy's suspicions that we didn't. The paddle float is a buoyant accessory that fits onto a paddle blade to create an outrigger for additional stability during reentry. And as kayaks travel through time, it doesn't matter that Robyn learned that from the internet while writing this expedition report, as opposed to learning it before embarking on an open ocean kayak expedition. Re-entry, Robyn assumes, refers to getting back into the kayak after falling out, not transitioning from outer space to the planetary atmosphere. It's possible that Robyn's long kayaking experience (i.e. Robyn had previously been in kayaks, most of which are long) was not immediately evident from her demeanor, as kayak rental guy eventually asked her "you have kayaked before, right?"

The other members of the group displayed at least equal talent at acting as if they knew what they were doing, but for some reason kayak rental guy went through with the transaction. Thepiguy filled out a waiver and signed his name accepting all responsibility for the kayaks and what they did to us or anyone who happened to be in their path. He also filled out the "destination" blank on the form with what is probably the most precise destination ever specified by a kayak renter: N49°40'35.48", W124°49'26.59".

When thepiguy booked the rental, he had been assured that we could borrow roof rack mounting equipment for the boats. This turned out out be some webbing straps and four pieces of foam. As nonchalantly as possible, we asked kayak rental guy if he could show us what he recommended as the best means of securing the kayaks to the van. He went along with that, so apparently their business model isn't entirely based on renting kayaks to morons and then collecting the insurance on the remains of the kayaks. Step one was to put the foam things around the ribs of the existing roof tie down points on the van. Step two was to lift one of the kayaks onto the roof where it sat very nicely on the stiff foam supports. It seemed to take up considerably more than half the roof, but step three was to lift the second kayak onto the roof "next to" the first one. The "more than half the roof" portion of step two was not an optical illusion. Step four was to turn the second kayak on edge, so it laid against the first one, kind of like a sail. Step five was to secure everything down with straps, a procedure that we watched very carefully so as to be able to duplicate it without the assistance of kayak rental guy. The straps had to be tight enough to keep the boats on the roof but not so tight as to crack the boats. Robyn walked around and plucked at the straps so as to memorize this goldilocks state.

"This one seems looser," she said of the front left strap. Kayak rental guy assured her with just a touch of condescension that it was fine, because the second winding of that same strap was tight enough. "How did you think it was going to work?" asked kayak rental guy when Robyn voiced our group murmur that maybe two kayaks was too many for this rooftop.

"How far are you going?" asked kayak rental guy. When he learned that our destination was Comox, he decided we would also need a bow and stern line. "Did you bring any rope at all?" he asked us. We hadn't. He crawled under the front of our truck to find a place to hitch the bow rope to, but in the end did not use a stern line. Possibly his reasoning was that it was mostly uphill going north, and as there was no way we were going to make it back from this expedition, we didn't need to worry about the boats sliding off the van forward when going downhill. Arbron was reputed to be able to duplicate the trucker's hitch recommended for the bow tie-down, so we all made a mental note not to lose him during the expedition.

If you're wondering about the six people/two double kayaks situation, MylSh and Galaxstar were smart enough not to plan to kayak to a point in the open ocean. It's not that we were too smart to try and stack three double kayaks on our roof. At this point we were all a little dubious about the outcome of this expedition. We asked what would happen if we were late for the five p.m. return deadline. The short answer was that kayak rental guy would have to wait for us and the whole answer was "keep them overnight and pay for an extra day." Thepiguy got everyone in the van and hissed "let's get out of here before he changes his mind!"

Taking the Kayaks for a Drive[edit]

As we hit the first bump on the way out of the parking lot and heard a mighty clacking noise, thepiguy completely stopped worrying about the status of the cake in the back of the van. We were all far too terrified of the kayaks on top of the van to think of anything else. The clacking noise turned out to be the paddles (running diagonally through the inside of the van) shifting. We reassured ourselves with the refrain "it's just the paddles" until a second, non-paddle, sound became evident, and we had to add, "it's just the carrying loop swinging against the rudder." That second refrain may not have been as benign as soon Arbron and MylSh made sounds of strangled alarm and recommended that thepiguy take the first available opportunity to exit the highway. Thepiguy remained remarkably calm when we told him the rudder had fallen off. It had just become detatched from its mounting point, but was still attached to the kayak by the rigging. We secured it with duct tape and resumed the expedition.

Our next brush with death occurred when the bow rope shifted abruptly to the right. Turned out that front left strap wasn't tight enough after all. MylSh and thepiguy corrected that, but by then it was evident that kayaks travel through time even when strapped tenuously to a roof rack. It was past noon. We had another hour of driving to reach Comox, and then we had to unload the boats, paddle for what could be a couple of hours, reload the boats and drive back. If everything went right from here on in, we would be able to return the kayaks right at five p.m. Everything was not going right. We passed a highway distances sign. it was 81 km to Comox and 8 km to Parksville. Parksville sounds nice. Elbie's parents happened to be vacationing there, and Robyn had happy memories of the place as a small child. Parksville it was.

Neither kayak fell off as we negotiated the parking lot potholes. The tide was way out, leaving the sea at least a kilometre from the top of the beach, but there were picnic tables, cake and hungry people, easily combined to great advantage. The cake had survived its sideways transport almost unscathed and was delicious despite the 80 km discrepancy between the consumption location and the coordinates artfully iced on the cake.

MylSh and Galaxstar produced party hats, party blowouts and balloons. We offered cake to everyone who passed by, but it's startlingly difficult to distribute free cake to strangers. I mean, there may be some people sane enough not to want to eat ice cream cake outdoors on a windy day when the temperature is eight degrees, but surely "strangers might be fun and interesting people" is as important a lesson to teach your children as "strangers might be dangerous." We offered cake to a couple walking with a child and the mother declined on behalf of all three.

"He would like cake," we pointed out, indicating the ten year old.

The mother did not relent. While our expedition members ranged in age from twenty-one exactly, to six days past double that, all had previously been ten years old and knew that all children want cake. Even if they are diabetic, they want cake. The people who do not deny their ten year old child selves cake are the ones you want to meet at a geohash. We successfully gave cake to a recently qualified helicopter mechanic from Québec who was starting a year of world travel, a couple from the local area who assured us that by around three o' clock the tide would bring the sea right up to the concrete wall near our picnic table, and Elbie's parents, who arrived with fruit and roast chicken.

Galaxstar and MylSh had designed and built a kite, which they then launched and flew, giving everyone a chance to hold the string and feel it playing in the wind like a living thing. If you haven't flown a kite in years, you must do it at your next geohash. I recommend a slightly lopsided kite, with real fabric rags tied into its overlong tail, tethered with nylon filament wrapped around an old chair leg. Even without 80 km of kite line, and with the wind blowing away from the geohash, the kite transported us to glorious happiness.

We all went for a walk on the beach and found what surely was the very same driftwood fort Robyn remembers from her childhood visits to the beach. We also found shells, crabs, bits of former crabs, seaweed and salty puddles. We didn't carry the kayaks across the beach, because we had a new plan. We would leave the kayaks on the van, drive back to Nanaimo, and go kayaking right there at the boat launching ramp. The beauty of this plan, other than the obvious advantage of the boat launching ramp, is that we would not have to put the kayaks back on the van. We could carry them straight from the sea to the door of the kayak rental outfit, saving half an hour of time and a year of our lives in stress. On the way back in the van we listened to a nerd music mix heavy on Weird Al Yankovic. Arbron demonstrated the effectiveness of the iPhone Shazam app for identifying songs, even when Robyn is nearby. (Robyn talks the way she writes expedition reports: frequently, at great length, and with much unnecessary detail).

When we arrived in Nanaimo, some people were hungry, but were overruled in their request to search for food. This was a kayak now, eat later sort of expedition. Launching the kayaks was easy, withou so much as a wet foot, with Elbie and thepiguy in one and Robyn and Arbron in the other. By then the wind had mostly died down so the waves were minimal. The rudders worked. We saw masses of purple starfish, a ferry, a pole filled with bras, other kayakers, and numerous seaplanes, including one that took off right near us. We also saw a barge, but there were no dogs on it. MylSh and Galaxstar were steadfast in their decision not to go in the kayaks. No one flipped over or crashed into anything, we all had enough fun, and we had the kayaks and all the gear stacked neatly in front of the rental place with plenty of time to spare. We figured we owed kayak rental guy that after all the time we had spent in the morning.

Unfortunately we don't have a photo of his face when he saw that we were back, with the boats and that everything was intact. His astonishment and delight were so great he simply sent us away, preferring I suppose to stow the equipment himself over risking us wreaking any more havoc.

Returning to the Mainland[edit]

We all got back in the van and drove the short distance to the ferry line up, where we again had an hour and a half to wait. We learned to play Pandemic, a board game that looks a little like Risk or Diplomacy but instead of competing to control the world, players cooperate to combat disease outbreaks and eradicate plagues. We managed to build enough research stations and travel to the right cities in order to control the outbreaks and discover cures to all four of the colour-coded contagious diseases.

Next we played Chrononauts, a time travel card game with a role playing element. By preventing the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand we prevented World War I, but Arbron brought a pocket nuke to 1963 and set off World War III, leaving every part of the time line beyond that inaccessible to our time machines and inhabited only by super-evolved cockroaches. Fortunately Robyn was part cockroach and received a memo from her future self, allowing her to intercede before Arbron could launch his nuke. In possible retaliation, Arbron went back in time to where Robyn had carefully set up easy access to a clutch of brontosaurus eggs, and took newly hatched Emily the brontosaurus before Robyn did, leaving Robyn with nothing but broken eggshells. MylSh and thepiguy then entered a game of time machine chicken, each repeatedly arriving milliseconds before the other in order to make Emily part of their own collection. Galaxstar succeeded in restoring events to the chronology equivalent to the one her character, Yuri, grew up in, but was kind enough not to collapse time after doing that, so the rest of us could continue to struggle against Hindenburg saboteurs, forgers of the Mona Lisa and Senator John Lennon's new law banning guns. We provided entertainment for the people at the tables around us, as well as for ourselves.

At the end of the journey, we remembered that we were parked between starfish and sea otter on deck four. Galaxstar explained that a sea otter looks like a whale when you cut off its head, but we didn't ask her to tell us more about what she did for entertainment when not geohashing. No one in front of us fell asleep during ferry unloading, we found the correct exit from the Upper Levels highway and after fifteen hours of adventure returned to the UBC parking lot where it all began.


Check out a video of celebration too!

Note to other participants: please add more photos, or replace any of these if you have a better shot of an equivalent scene. Also, one of the photos should probably go to the main page for Sunday, but I don't know which.