July 4, Tuesday
Of course, no island adventure would be complete without a trip to the beach. The Pacific is not known for being warm, but with all the boondocking I’ve been doing the past year and a half I’ve gotten quite use to jumping into cold water and am much more willing to do it now than I was before I started RVing. And when I say jump in I mean it, the secret is to get in as quickly as possible to avoid chickening out.
Parksville, BC is the closest location I can get surface water temperatures for, in July the average is 53 degrees. I’ve done colder. I get in the water three different times off the coast of Lasqueti during this trip, twice at the boat ramp near the studio and once here at boot point.
I consider shoes a necessity.
Lasqueti’s shore is rocky, and there are lots of barnacles and shells in the water. But those gray rocks heat up well in the sunshine so those of us who brave the water lay out afterward to warm back up. Seagulls fly overhead on occasion, and boats pass up and down the channel. Otherwise the place is ours.
Upon closer inspection, the gray rocks are actually multi-colored. Not brilliantly so, but with subtle hues of blue, red, and green. The only color we fail to find is yellow. Likewise the driftwood is also surprisingly pretty when viewed up close, with the ripples in the wood smoothed out.
In the evening, I learn a new skill: how to crack an eight foot bullwhip. Poi lessons are the priority at this retreat, but after regularly scheduled classes, students are encouraged to teach other props they know. I’m nearly positive that being able to crack a giant whip won’t turn out to be a useful life skill, but there is a certain cool factor to it. On another night, I learn how to juggle. By the end of the 45 minute lessons I can do five catches on a standard 3-ball cascade, which considering I started with nothing is pretty good.
The last three evenings of the retreat, we play with fire.
Some people only know poi spinning as fire dancing because for many poi performances, fire poi are used. Fire dancing can be poi spinning, but it can be other things as well since most flow arts can be done with fire. There’s fire hula-hooping, fire staff, fire fans, etc. Some people also see spinning with non-fire props as just practice, with fire being the end goal. For those who want to make money with flow arts that’s probably true as fire is more theatrical (for instance Julia makes a living fire dancing on her island home), but plenty of experienced poi spinners never use fire as a matter of personal preference.
Personally, I’ve only burned (not literally burned, it’s just another way to say spun fire) once before, it was just a couple weeks after I started learning and under the watchful eye of Cherie. At that point I wasn’t comfortable enough to do anything more than make circles forwards and backwards, but it was fun, and Cherie made sure I didn’t do anything stupid. I don’t own any fire poi myself and it’s not something I could do normally in my travels, because you need a person to act as fire safety while you do it and I travel alone.
There are six of us at the retreat who are either completely new to fire spinning or like me have limited experience. On the afternoon of the 6th, Karina, one of the assistant instructors, leads us in a two-hour fire safety course which covers gear, clothing, fuel, how to light and extinguish, safety equipment… the works. Karina leads a troop that does fire dancing, she’s very well versed on the subject and does a great job going over the rules and risks of spinning with fire.
By the time she’s done, we’re all more nervous about the whole thing than we were at the start of the class, which is part of the point. Responsible fire dancers take safety very seriously, and never let themselves get nonchalant about it.
Our nerves come not just from being reminded how dangerous fire can be to a person however.
The first burn on the evening of the 6th is only a minute long and is for photos, the second on the 7th is going to be accompanied by a live DJ and the full length of a song (which not coincidentally is about how long most fire poi last before needing to be re-fueled). Both are going to be inside the studio, and in case you haven’t been paying attention to my pictures in the last two posts, the studio is mostly untreated wood. Yikes.
Also, we’re all going one by one which leads to some performance anxiety. Everyone in the class is going to be watching, and it’s the event leader himself who’s taking the pictures of us. To help put things in perspective, Nick Woolsey is a world renowned poi spinner who has thousands of hours of experience and has taught poi to thousands of people. In this community, he’s a legend.
At this point, I have about 120 hours of experience. When the average member of the public watches me spin, they’ll say I’m pretty good. But stick someone of my level next to a master and the difference is easy to see, even if you don’t know anything about poi. And all of these people watching us fire newbies know plenty enough about poi to notice everything we do wrong.
Looking back as I type this, I really had nothing to fear. The instructors were very supportive, the fire spinning was a celebration more than a performance. There was no reason to feel that pressure…but it was there all the same. For photo night I and a couple others don’t use poi at all but wands just to keep it easy. Meredith – another attendee – does my makeup and lends me a corset (real leather, you don’t want to fire dance in synthetic materials). Take note readers because I’m really not a makeup kind of person and it might be another five years before the next such photo.
The night of the 7th I do use fire poi and I manage not to burn myself, success. And while it wasn’t advertised as being a photo event (probably just as well or I may have chickened out), Nick still brings out his camera and so I have picture proof:
After everyone gets their one song with fire, we all switch back over to LED poi and jam together on the dance floor until the DJ leaves, it’s my favorite night of the retreat. Playing poi alone is fun, but together with a group? The feeling of connection is impossible to ignore.
On the last night, we go back to Boot Point to spin fire on the beach. The sunset is beautiful with high, wispy clouds overhead.
I spin with Tristan, a fellow fire newbie, and I manage not to burn myself OR him, even more success. In past years, larger groups of people have gone at the same time and I would have enjoyed that (you just need more people acting as fire safeties the larger the group is), but as it’s high tide there isn’t enough flat beach for more than two people to go at once.
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After breakfast on Saturday the 9th, we all start the long journey back to our respective homes.
To say I had a fantastic ten days would be an understatement but it’s hard to put into words exactly what this trip meant to me. I definitely upped my poi game big time, I loved the island, but it was the community experience that stands out most at this time – the rest of it wouldn’t have been as special without the amazing group of people.
Did we all just win some sort of lottery of chance that we all got along so well, or is this normal for this sort of event? Did the fact that we had no internet or real connection with the outside world during those ten days make a difference? (I think it must have). Did we ‘work harder’ at having fun and getting along because we had to pay for it? Is such an experience possible without the long flight and big price tag? (and if it is, would spending less time online be a prerequisite?) Would it be possible to create an experience like this around RVing? I’ll be pondering these questions for some time, but at the same time I definitely intend to attend another poi retreat in the future.
In the meantime, this was the first vacation I’ve ever had that I hadn’t dreaded it ending. This was also the first vacation I’d taken since I became a full-time nomad. Coincidence? I think not. For now I’m back home at the Casita… but the next adventure is calling.
On the 21st I’m driving with my best friend Julie up to Lake Superior, where we are going to get on a ferry and then spend a week backpacking Isle Royale National Park from end to end, we’ll be getting back to civilization at the end of the month. Yes, another island adventure IN THE SAME MONTH. No, I didn’t intend for it to happen that way, but the dates for Leviathan were out of my control and when Julie was inquiring about vacation time early this year this was the week that worked best for her and her place of employment, so two island trips in July it is! Which I can manage because my schedule is so flexible as a full-timer.
And Isle Royale? Also gorgeous.
So again, between these write-ups on Lasqueti I’ve been working on other blog posts that’ll go up twice a week as usual while I’m without internet, and when I get back you’ll have that adventure to look forward to hearing about.
I’m probably going to be very tired of adventuring by the end of the month… well, maybe not. Is it really possible to have too many adventures in one month? It’s a question I’m looking forward to taking on!
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