A disappointing adventure
Trip Start Jul 10, 2009
10Trip End Jul 19, 2009
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Where I stayed
Troll House Cottage, Anacortes
There were many tasks to be accomplished on this day. We were going kayaking on the straits around the San Juan Islands, in the hopes of seeing orca, or at least porpoises or harbor seals.
First, we had to make the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. I determined that if we didn’t catch the 8:45 am ferry, we’d run too great a risk of missing the pick-up for the trip. I woke at 5:30 am, and looked out the loft windows at a stunning view of majestic pines towering above the sea. I was about to go back to sleep when I saw a small yellow and black bird with an orange face
By the time I got back, Valinda and Julie were up. I hurried them out the door to the ferry (they didn’t see the urgency, which just made me more anxious), and we got to the terminal with plenty of time to spare. The ferry arrived at Friday Harbor at 10, and the kayak outfitter’s van was scheduled to arrive at noon. I wanted to sit under the tree at the rendezvous point and wait two hours, but Julie and Valinda insisted on walking around town. The whole downtown area is nothing but your typical waterfront tourist trap, but there were some nice houses along the residential streets. When the vans pulling the kayaks arrived at the rendezvous, several of the other kayakers weren’t there yet, so the outfitters waited for the second ferry to come in. We hadn’t needed to catch the 8:45 at all.
Our guide was Kim, a young woman who’d spent most of her adult career working as a counselor in wilderness camps for troubled teens. After burning out on that, she’d started leading adult wilderness adventures. She found it to be quite a relief to be dealing with adults who actually wanted to be going on the trip!
In her profession, she's constantly moving from place to place looking for work. She’d been in the San Juan islands for all of two months. I tried not to think that this could be a problem.
Kim and her fellow guide, Randy, took us out to the launch site, and then explained that usually the water is as smooth as glass, but today the wind was fourteen knots, and that "small craft advisories" go out at ten knots. Therefore, we’d have to stay close to shore and probably not travel as far as on a normal trip. OK, I thought, maybe we'd still get to see some cool marine mammals.
The most important part of our training session was not on what to do if you capsize, but on how to get into and out of a kayak. Randy, in his eight years of guiding such trips, has never had anyone capsize, but has had people break wrists and noses when getting out of kayaks on dry land because they stood up in the boat and it tipped over, throwing them into rocks, other kayaks, or angry geese (okay, I made the last one up, but that would hurt, too).
Julie and I shared a kayak. She was in the back steering, and I was in the front. Valinda, since she was the odd-woman out in our party, got to ride with Kim.
Normally they take you south around this point, but the wind was far too strong for that, so we turned back before reaching it and headed north. The waves were pretty intense. Sometimes the kayak would hit air, and slap down again into the water, spraying ocean all over my sunglasses, leaving a rime of salt that made it increasingly difficult to see. The wind picked up while we were out there. By the time we stopped for lunch, it was up to twenty knots out in the middle of the strait. Basically, our trip consisted of several hours fighting chop. I am rarely on the ocean, so I forget how three dimensional it is. Swells came at us from all directions. Julie struggled to master the art of steering with her foot pedals, periodically crashing us into other kayaks, or veering toward the cliffs (I took my turn at it after lunch, and it definitely took getting used to). Even though Julie is a strong paddler, we always ended up trailing everyone else, and Kim had to wait around for us to catch up. Valinda thought that was great because she'd get a break when paddling.
At lunch, we discovered one of the other women in the group also lived in Minneapolis. Small world.
We received several lectures during the day. We learned that kelp makes an excellent anchor, an interesting horn, and is edible if you don’t mind the taste and texture. It is also practically impossible to paddle through. The kelp up there is seasonal, and can grow as much as six feet a day. Because it is only around in the summer, it does not attract sea otters. Canada Geese can apparently live on salt water. There are three pods of resident orcas in the straits, and they "speak" a different “dialect” from the orca pods who live up in Alaska, and a different one still from the transient orcas, who have a much wider range and eat sea mammals as well as the fish the residents subsist on.
All of that was very interesting, but we saw no orcas, no porpoises, and only one harbor seal and her pup, but from such a distance, they could have been logs for all I could tell through my salt-encrusted glasses. We also caught a glimpse of some oyster catchers and some bald eagles, but since we see bald eagles all the time at the cabin, they weren’t a big deal.
I’d expected to see at least some wildlife on the trip, even if it wasn’t orcas. Without that expectation, the trip would have been fun and challenging all on its own, but because of the expectation, I was disappointed.
When packing for the trip, I thought they’d gone a little overboard with the warnings to bring wool sweaters and socks and rain gear, but it was chilly enough that I ended up wearing all of it. The thing I’d forgotten, though, was that when I came out of the water, my shoes and pants would be wet and it would be nice to have something dry to put on. After the van returned us to town, we had time enough for dinner at the Ale House before the ferry arrived. Valinda left a puddle on the floor under our table.
Washington seems to draw people from all over the world. We stopped for an ice cream before getting on the ferry, and the girl who served us had a Russian-sounding accent. I asked where she was from, and she said Moldova.
Back at the Troll House, we decided to get into the hot tub to unwind from our strenuous adventure. I had a bathing suit, while Julie and Valinda made due with bras, shorts, and underwear. The water seemed kind of tepid to me, and the thermometer said it was a little under 100 degrees. Let’s see, if my body temperature is about 98.6, is 99 degrees going to seem very warm? Not really. We turned on the heater, but it didn’t make a lot of difference. Still, we hung around in our warm tub for another twenty minutes and cracked bad jokes until we exhausted ourselves with laughter.
Notes about the Troll House: There is no internet access, and no cell phone service for AT&T and Verizon.