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If it Doesn’t Challenge You, it Doesn’t Change You.

Updated: Apr 24, 2019

Focus on the outcome not the obstacles”  became my mantra as I was wrapped in a mess of tent, poles and wires.”

It began when I was approached by a woman’s adventure tour company to do a barter –  a 10 day sea kayak trip to Haida Gwaii (formerly known as The Queen Charlotte Islands) in exchange for professional travel photography of the trip with unlimited usage rights.

My first thought was, “Kayaking while Photographing? I don’t think so.”  Then I thought,  “Kayaking in the middle of beautiful nowhere, with a group of woman, doing the thing I love most? Hell, yes!”  So I agreed.

Guess I should have read the Disclaimer before making my decision.

It read:

‘This is an active adventure, sea kayaking in back-country. Novices welcome. 

Should be comfortable

*    in and on the water, as there may be unexpected winds;

*    carrying sea kayaks and gear over rough, rocky beaches past the high tide line and  back;

*   back-country tent camping; and

*   paddling a fully-loaded sea kayak for 4-6 hrs.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that this trip would push me beyond any recognizable place within myself.

© Marni Grossman Photography

The prep wasn’t too bad. I received a list of what to bring.  Some of the gear I had from other adventure photographic trips I’d taken and other stuff like dry bags, I had to purchase. My biggest challenge was preparing for taking photographs for 10 days in the wild, most of which would be on water, with no power to charge dead batteries, as well as, weight and space consideration.

Stepping off this 24-seat airplane onto the tarmac surrounded by unfamiliar people, 4,000 miles from home in the middle of nowhere, lugging stuffed dry bags and Pelican cases filled with camera equipment and no one to meet us was just the beginning of what looked like a hellish journey.

Apparently, the way to get to the house we would spend the night at, was to walk from the Sandspit airport. Without knowing where we were actually going, the other women, adventurous and determined, loaded up their gear and just started walking, leaving me behind.  I had two camera cases on top of my 2 bags and couldn’t leave any of it behind. After a time, someone from the tiny airport offered me a shopping cart like the ones you see in grocery stores to help me shlep my gear so I could try to catch up with the others. ‘Ever push a heavy shopping cart on a gravel road’?

© Marni Grossman Photography

The first morning we had an hour-and-a-half ride in a large old bus through the woods; then a 3 hour boat ride to get to the top of the Island to pick up our kayaks, food, tents etc. ; and then a half day paddle to get to our first camping spot.

We were all given a kayak, single or double and assigned a part of the kayak to pack up each morning and unpack each night. Have you ever seen a sea kayak?  The mounds of stuff we had to pack in there seemed like an impossible task.  I’d never been in or have ever packed a sea kayak and my camping experience was minimal to say the least. I realized I was out of my depth and in big trouble but there was no going back.

Thank god, I was assigned a double kayak with one of the guides so I could photograph while she paddled through the choppy water.  However the guide had her own agenda and stopping for me to take focused photographs was not part of it.

We finally arrived and I have to say it was the most gorgeous landscape I’d seen in a long time – quiet, serene, and stunning wilderness as far as the eye could see.

We were each handed a tent and told to find a place to set it up.  Really? I had a little pep talk with myself and thought , “Okay, yes! I can do this!”  I found a sweet little spot in the woods not too far from the others, with what looked like a soft leafy place to sleep. After much effort, I found myself all wrapped up in tent and wires and frustrated beyond belief. I looked around me and saw all the other women, mostly middle aged like me or older, tents up and ready for the next task. Thankfully, someone took pity on me and came to my rescue. That day I made my first friend on the trip. The others didn’t send me the warm and fuzzies, probably thinking that I was just the photographer and likely wasn’t going to do my share.

© Marni Grossman Photography

Tasks ahead were: gathering fire wood; making and tending to the fire; preparing dinner; cleaning up after we ate, all with us all racing against the setting sun. I’d never been so tired in all my life and wished I could magically have been airlifted home to my cozy bed. I climbed into my little tent, the darkness all around and I remembered why I hated camping – I don’t like small spaces and how could I be expected to sleep on the hard, damp ground.  I slept like a baby.

The next morning, (was it really only Day Two?) I woke up with everything I owned, soaking wet. I didn’t realize with the nightfall came the dampness, being next to the sea, in the wilderness. I quickly learned how to pack up my clothing in dry bags at night and cover my sleeping bag with a tarp while I slept. Thank god for the Pelican cases for my camera gear.

My next ah ha moment was when I went to look for my clean underwear and toothbrush. Next time I do this, (NEVER), I will buy all different color dry bags to be able to identify what’s inside.  Mine were all green, like a cute, little set – not good when everything is rolled and smooshed in like sardines and you can’t remember where you packed anything. It seemed like every time I went for something it was always in the last bag I looked.

This morning we were racing against the tides. I could feel the pressure from everyone waiting for me to be done my chores, packing my part of the boat and then strapping my camera gear to the top of the kayak, leaving out the one body and lens that I would shoot with that day. And when all that was finally done I needed help to get in the boat while carrying the camera and huge lens, which in itself was a humiliating process as the women waited impatiently.

I came to take photographs and quickly realized that I would get no special treatment and I would need to pull my weight as a full member of this adventure tour, which I was clearly not prepared for. The group was small and they needed every member to do their share. The challenges were endless.

Within a few days, I had toughened up and learned that I was capable of so much more than I thought. I came away feeling strong, confident, loved and inspired.  The landscape was exquisite, the Haida cultural history fascinating and the opportunities for gorgeous photography were endless.  It truly was “A place where you can still feel the warm breath of the creator spilling softly across your face.” unknown

Besides a new and improved self image, a stronger body and a great group of new pals, the gift in all of this was my connection with the Eagles. They were on every treetop, at every turn, young and old. Magnificently beautiful, strong and fierce.

© Marni Grossman Photography

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