P&H Custom Sea Kayaks Blog

Sea Kayaking Articles from P&H Staff, Team Paddlers, and Friends

My Father’s Kayak Roll

Photo Credit: Don Urqhart

Fathers play such a large role in our lives, they support us through the ups and downs, teach us skills like how to ride our bike or change a tire, and while my father did teach me those things, more importantly, he taught me how to kayak. 

Throughout my childhood, I dabbled in many different sports. I played basketball, practiced highland dance, and even tried karate for a year. The sport that spoke to me the most was sea kayaking. 

When I was five, my father heard about a kids’ night run by a sea kayak tour company (East Coast Outfitters) just down the road from our house. When he was younger, he had done some canoeing and kayaking through his Scout troop. Since he enjoyed it, he enrolled me in the kids program. That summer, every Wednesday we’d rush out the house far earlier than we needed to because we didn’t want to be late for kayaking. In following years, Dad started to lead the kids club and I continued to love my time out on the water. It was clear he’d taken to the sport. Instead of driving my brother to the preschool across the bay from where we lived, he adapted his kayak to carry a passenger and began kayaking my brother to preschool when weather permitted. 

Kayaking became our family activity. We’d go surfing, practice rescues, go on camping trips all along, all while picking up new skills. When I was ten, I got my first kayak. From then on, whenever we wanted to kayak we’d head down our neighbour’s driveway to the bay and practice. Countless evenings we spent on the water practicing rolls and different strokes; all with my father coaching me.

It wasn’t just through his coaching that he supported me: whenever I needed a tow he’d offer his line, yell “Go, Go, Go!” from the sidelines when I tried to catch a wave, and reminded me to drink water on long journeys because he knew I would forget. He’d do all this and more because, while yes he was my coach, he also was my father. Taking care of me and pushing me to do my best is how he supports me.

Because we used kayaking to bond, my dad and I have countless beautiful memories from days on the water. One summer my family took a vacation to Newfoundland for two weeks. During those two weeks there were only five days we weren’t out on the water. One of my favourite kayaking memories is from this trip. 

We started our day at our campground. After breakfast, we quickly packed up and headed off to Witless Bay. We had chosen to paddle in Witless Bay because of the ginormous puffin colony that lived on one of the islands. After about a half-hour drive we pulled into the parking lot. As we were unloading our gear from the car I saw a spout of water rise up out in the bay. At first, I thought it was some heavy fog but then I saw another. At this point I pulled Dad aside, pointed it out, and, sure enough, we saw more spouts of water. He told me to be quiet and not show my mother. Our paddle to see puffins had turned into a paddle to see puffins and humpback whales. There was one downside; my mother is petrified of whales. 

We got ready to launch like everything was fine. While carrying our boats to the shore, my mother put two and two together however it was too late; we were all ready to hit the water. There was no turning back now. 

The paddle out to the colony was smooth sailing. Puffins were scattered all over the water, and the whale spouts could be seen on the other side of the bay far away from us.  My mother was able to stay calm, sort of. It was easy because we were all laughing at the puffins. Puffins can only take off if they are flying into the wind. In addition, they’re prone to awkward landings. This means they end up doing a belly flop spin-out, which is very entertaining to watch. My favourite was a puffin that skipped like a rock off of two waves and ended up being flipped by the third wave. After the third wave, it shook itself off very quickly, then whipped its head around as if checking to make sure no other puffin saw its awkward landing. 

The paddle back from the colony made this my favourite paddling experience to this day. On the way back, we noticed that the whale pod was bubble netting the entire bay. This meant that they were swimming circles around the bay to trap fish to eat. Everywhere we looked we could see a whale spout if we waited ten seconds. It was so cool to witness this natural feeding tactic in person. As we paddled back, we realized we were going to have to traverse the circle the whales had created. This made my mom nervous since on the horizon some of the pod was breaching. But, the only way home was to paddle through. 

When we were about to enter the circle, my father told my mother and I to paddle parallel to the circle in order to enter at the right spot. We did this for a bit but adjusted our angle as we observed my father to do so. My mother and I were behind him when we did this, but we figured the coast was clear since he was making the adjustment. We paddled forward for about ten seconds when the colour of the water about 15ft in front of me changed to this beautiful blue green. The coloured water began to rise and before I knew it I was staring a giant humpback whale in the eye. My mother and I both let out a scream and the whale slipped back under the water after catching its breath. 

My father held in his “I told you so”. 

While it was a terrifying experience in the moment, having that magical moment to connect with such a beautiful creature is something I’ll cherish forever. The rest of the paddle was easy and the whales even became more interactive with us. A calf swam beside us, with the mom following closely behind. The whales were singing and you could hear their song, and when we left their bubble net we had two whales wave us goodbye. 

This magical family experience paddle would not have happened if my father hadn’t planned this adventure and as well as our initial times in sea kayaks, beginning our passion for being on the sea. Sorry Dad, it was scary but I don’t regret not listening to you on the water that day. 

A Different Type of C-to-C

My father has been my best friend on the water since I began kayaking about 15 years ago. He taught me the basic skills I needed to get to the point where I am today and, while I may have a different coach now, I’ll always be his kayak partner. He helped get me to where I am today and I will continue to push myself to bring him pride. 

Because of my father, I grew up being a part of the sea kayaking community in Nova Scotia. This led to me to be inspired to further develop my skills through Paddle Canada certifications and personal coaching. Achieving Level One coaching certification and joining Christopher Lockyer’s Committed to the Core Sea Kayak Coaching team, have been the highlights in my kayaking development. All made possible, because of my dad.

Over the years, I’ve noticed that the sea kayak community functions like a family does. We take care of each other, support each other, and push each other to become the best paddlers we can be. This was never more evident than in 2018 when my dad was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer which resulted in his left lung being removed. I was so touched by the supportive nature of the sea kayaking community. Since the initial diagnosis, our family has received endless support from the paddling community; drives, emotional support, and just being there for my dad, my brother and I. I truly cannot thank everyone enough.

The ol’ one lunger and I still get out on the water together. Even though he has one lung, he can still out paddle me if he really wants to. 

With the pandemic, getting out on the water became more complicated. I live with my mother and he lives on his own. So for a while last year our kayaking had to be put on hold. Luckily, we were still able to salvage last season and make the most of it. 

In March of this year we found out that his cancer had metastasized in his left frontal lobe meaning he would need to be treated yet again for cancer. He received his treatment and is now in recovery. The frontal lobe of our brain is responsible for personality traits and how a person acts but let me tell you, the tumor hasn’t changed a thing because he’s still as hungry as ever to get on the water. 

At this point we don’t know what the future holds, but what I do know is that I love my father and we love kayaking. I also know there is endless support to be found in the kayaking community. 

For Fathers in Kayaking

Happy Fathers’ Day, first and foremost. Kayaking is challenging, but raising a kid is a whole different level of difficulty. So thank you to all the fathers who give up time on the water to spend time with their families. 

I’d also like to give a special thanks to the people I like to call my “Kayak Dads”. These men are people who have heavily influenced me as a paddler and provided support and guidance when I needed it. So, Dwight, Daniel, Steve, Don, and Paul, thank you all so much for being there when I needed it. I’d also like to give a huge thanks to my coach and mentor, Christopher Lockyer. A thank you isn’t enough to make up for the time you spend helping the kayak community. It’s truly inspiring how committed you are to your endeavors, you show what it means to be committed to the core. 

And last but not least, Happy Fathers Day, Dad. I am so grateful for everything you have shown me. Thank you for getting me involved in this sport from a young age. It has become my obsession the same way it is for you and I’m so glad we can share experiences on the sea. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have you as my dad and no matter what you’ll always be my kayak partner. Go Team Dauphinee!!

So, fathers who kayak, let me give you some advice. I know how hard it is to be away from your family when you’re on the water, so bring them with you. The little ones, the partner… heck, even bring the dog if you want! It is a great way to bond and, if you’re lucky, you may get to form the same connection my father and I have.

Introducing: The Paddlin’ Dutchman

We’re delighted to announce that we’ve begun working with up and coming YouTuber, The Paddlin’ Dutchman (real name Lex van den Berg) to highlight the more accessible side of the sport to a wider audience, and illustrate the journey we’ve all either been through already, or maybe are currently still going through, on the way to becoming ‘experienced’ paddlesports enthusiasts!

Lex, hi! Tell us a little about yourself…

Together with my wife and kids (7, 5, and 3 yo) I live in the Netherlands, where I was born and raised 33 years ago (so definitely in my prime right now). When I am not paddling, or making videos about paddling, I design and make video games. I have been working in the games industry for over 12 years now as a Game Designer and Creative Lead, making games that have a positive impact on people and society. If I have time to spare I enjoy everything labeled “nerdy” (from board games to Star Wars), crafting, camping, and making music. 

Can you tell us when it was you first picked up a paddle and became ‘The Paddlin’ Dutchman’? What inspired you? 

I remember the first time I picked up a paddle very well. It was 8 years ago on a holiday in Argentina. My wife and I paddled a tandem on a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. It really resonated with me and I joined a local club as soon as we got back. Unfortunately -well, it’s how you look at it I guess- shortly after our first child was born and due to “life”, I lost touch with kayaking. Fast forward 6 years to 2019, all of a sudden I have three kids. I really neglected my health and wanted to change my life and become more active. Kayaking would be my weapon of choice! I enrolled in a beginner’s course. At that time I created the Paddlin’ Dutchman to keep myself accountable. What I did not anticipate is I would soon fall completely in love with kayaking. Ever since I got back into a boat it has become so much more than just exercise. It has grown into a huge part of my life, and I couldn’t do without it anymore! 

Where did you find out where and how to get started?

I have always been a big fan of “introductory courses”. I have done many introductory courses, from archery to rock climbing. It’s a great way to experience something new, and find out if you really like it. It’s also a great way to meet new people who are in the same headspace as you. So it felt really logical for me to start kayaking by taking an introductory course. One Google search later, and I had booked a course at our local paddling club, KV Waterwolf. They helped me out with everything I needed and taught me the basics. After the course, I joined that same club and never left! 

How quickly did you buy your own gear, and where did you get it from? What made you choose the equipment you bought?

Honestly? Probably too quickly. People who know me know I am a gear head. I-love-gear. So I am always keen on having my own equipment. But this also meant I had to make concessions due to budgeting when I started. Right off the bat, I invested in a good PFD though. But most other gear I bought in the beginning has been replaced by now. It takes time to figure out what you want, need, and like. Sometimes it takes a few tries, there is no shame in that. I would always encourage people to keep an open mind and experiment once in a while with different gear!

I always get all my gear at Kanocentrum Arjan Bloem who is a household name here in the Dutch paddling community. His store is like a giant candy shop! And even though I have seen all the aisles a thousand times, I can still spend hours there!

What were your ambitions in the beginning, and how have they evolved as you’ve gotten deeper into the sport?

They couldn’t be further apart! As I touched on earlier, I started kayaking just as a means to exercise. But as soon as I hit the water that all changed. I fell in love with the feeling of freedom, the exploration, the mastery involved and being one with the water. As soon as I started to develop some skills and learn new techniques, I wanted to learn even more and get better. I noticed learning new skills and techniques really helped me be more confident and comfortable in my boat. So much so it made me enjoy paddling even more. That was something I had to share with others. I wanted to teach other paddlers the skills to help them get more confident and comfortable too! So as I myself grow and learn I now try to pass on what I learn to others, and help them become better paddlers!

What achievement are you most proud of so far? What helped you learn?

Definitely learning how to roll, and doing my first combat roll. Being able to roll gave me such a confidence boost. It really helped me feel more comfortable to try new things and push myself, especially on whitewater.

Learning how to on the other hand was a whole different experience. It just didn’t click for me at first. During my first few training sessions I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I just couldn’t wrap my head around what I was doing wrong. After my classes had ended, I hadn’t learned to roll, and was left with so much frustration… But I really wanted to nail it. So instead of waiting for new classes, one afternoon I just asked my friend (and whitewater instructor) to help me out. It started where I left off, but within the hour I was rolling! Ultimately I think his different approach to teaching rolling is what made it click for me.

Did you have kayaking friends to begin with, or have you made any through paddlesports?

I didn’t really know anyone who paddled. But I certainly have made some lifelong friendships paddling! It is something I really appreciate about the paddling community; Everyone is very welcoming and helpful.

What’s next on your list in terms of skills to master and trips to complete?

Skill-wise I am still bomb-proofing my rolls (and honestly it has been a few months since I last did one)! I only ever rolled in my whitewater kayak, but now that I am paddling a Virgo, I can’t wait to finally start practicing rolls in a sea kayak! 

For now, we are still waiting for the borders to re-open again with Germany so we can get back to some of that sweet whitewater. In the meantime, there is always more to be explored here in the Netherlands! But I am most looking forward to some kayak camping, and surfing this summer!

What would be your top tips for newcomers to the sport right now?

Get comfortable flipping over! I’ve noticed a lot of people developing a fear of going over. This fear really holds them back to experience new things and develop their paddling skills. Practicing wet exits (safely with help on hand of course) and getting used to swimming will help you be more relaxed and comfortable in your kayak! As many have said before, we’re all just in between swims!

Thanks Lex! We look forward to seeing your adventures in that Virgo…

Make sure to subscribe to the Paddlin’ Dutchman YouTube channel so you can catch those adventures, too!

Subject: Thank you

We were humbled to receive the below email from one of our customers recently. Stories like David’s mean the world to us, and we wanted to share it with you in case any of the ideas, or just David’s spirit, could help or inspire you in some way:

“Dear Graham,

I trust this note finds you well and thriving amidst this challenging world with COVID-19 and all.

My name is David Mercer, a longtime student of John Carmody.   If the name doesn’t connect, maybe some of the alterations I’ve requested on my various boats from P&H will: performance seat with the Aries type cockpit, not installing the seat to allow for positioning the seat laterally to allow for the 25 pound lighter weight difference on my left side and most recently… the incorporation of d-rings in the front and day hatches of my new boats to allow for connecting ballast far to the port side. 

I’m writing with a much belated thank you!  And, in the process, want  to convey what a huge impact your accommodating my specific needs and paddling P&H boats have made in the quality of my life.

I lost my left leg to cancer more than 43 years ago at age 27.  I was very active and athletic before the surgery and was driven to not let the amputation slow me down.  Prosthetics were not as adaptable and innovative during those times.   I tended to sports where the mobility was provided.  I actively pursued downhill skiing and was addicted to speed.  The same with water skiing.  I was riding a bike during the summer without my prosthetic but I had been in search of another sport that wouldn’t rely so much on my lower  body.  

David at West Beach for a winter launch

My introduction to sea kayaking was quite by accident some ten years ago.  My wife and I had rented a cabin on a small pond in New Hampshire that had two of what I now understand to be plastic sea kayaks filled with leaves under the cabin.    I paddled every opportunity I could grab that week, while taking care not to ignore my wife.  I was like a fish taking the bait.  The hook was set.  

Returning home, it didn’t take long to find a rental for the remainder of the summer.  I spent that summer on the numerous flatwater lakes in our area.  I was getting the added exercise and loved paddling.   It was on a lake paddle that I bumped into a group of kayakers.  Conversation ensued and I was convinced to join them on a sea journey.   I had no idea what I was getting into.   That trip convinced me I needed a drysuit and possible lessons or coaching.  Through a twist of fate the drysuit connection happened to be a P&H paddler – Suz Hutchinson.    Suz introduced me to P&H boats and John.

John has been an extraordinary coach and mentor guiding my development and progression in the sport.   I quickly realized how much I didn’t know and actively pursued a course to increase my knowledge and skills.  

I swear by the Swede form design of the P&H brand.   It has been an extraordinarily stable platform as I deal with the significant lateral weight differential.   Additionally, once having been exposed to the more aggressive thigh braces and being able to adjust them individually I have been able to more easily adjust for the mass difference from my natural leg to the prosthetic side.  This has significantly benefited me by being able to develop a reliable roll.   The d-rings allow me to come close to a neutral position without the need for excessive leaning by adding weight to the front and day hatch without concern that they will move around. 

P&H became a socially acceptable addiction.  My current collection includes Carbon-infused versions of: Cetus MV, Aries 155, and Volan MV.  I also abuse a Delphin 155.   My son-in-law paddles a  Cetus MV and I just ordered a Virgo for family use.   

Kayaking has become a healthy obsession and one for which I am forever grateful.  I was on the water 106 days last year while maintaining a fulltime work schedule.  The opportunities afforded me by the sport,  impacting my physical conditioning, mental health and attitude are immeasurable!   I firmly believe that the tangible returns of enjoying international paddling journeys, paddling with our local club, pursuing individual skill and leadership knowledge through the BCU system, rock-play and surfing would not have been available had I not had the good fortune of being introduced to P&H boats.  I am a grateful and committed customer.  

Deepest thanks Graham for all your help along the way!

David Mercer”

Thank you, David!

If you have any custom requests that’ll help you get on the water more comfortably, please do get in touch: https://www.phseakayaks.com/contact.php

The Summer Isles

Having spent much of lockdown reminiscing on past adventures and planning exciting new adventures (the shelf of guidebooks has had to bear the burden of a few new additions since March), we were ready to make the most of the easing of restrictions. One of the new additions to our guidebook collection was Doug Cooper’s Skye and North West Highlands Sea Kayaking. In hindsight, it seems remarkable that it wasn’t already an established and well-thumbed favourite.

With kayaking, adventures, and overnight stays more than 5 miles from home all back on the cards, a plan was forming. It seemed that high pressure was going to dominate the North Coast for at least a few days, and after our enforced time away from the water we wanted a series of day trips with the option of an overnight camp or two.

“A week could easily be spent exploring this area, let alone the islands further south.”
– Doug Cooper on the northern-most of the Summer Isles.

Our plan for a few day trips around the Summer Isles and an overnight camp now formed, the P&H Virgo seemed like the perfect choice: In CoreLite X it would be light for daily lifting on/off the roof of the van; rugged for lots of rocky landings and if the swell picked up some rock hopping; big enough to accommodate our camping kit; maneuverable to allow us to explore the tightest of gaps.

The first few days were spent making day trips in Loch Ewe and around the Summer Isles. Rocky coastlines with imposing cliffs, white sandy beaches, small bays and inlets, crossings up to 8km all with a beautiful mountainous backdrop, crystal clear water and wildlife aplenty. Midway through the afternoon on our second day, as we emerged from the mist and confirmed that we had followed our bearing correctly, found a sheltered cove for a rest and bite to eat, it became clear that our lives were to become richer in two ways. Firstly the Virgo, and secondly the North West coastline that we had been exploring.

Having covered nearly 100km in the first 3 days, it was time for a slower pace for a few days. Boats loaded with overnight gear we set out from Achnahaird beach to explore the coast of Enard Bay, following the rugged coastline as far north as the Bay of Stoer. With a brisk wind blowing offshore we slowly made our way north, in and out of the countless smaller bays and between the smaller islands. Our Virgos continued to impress us, never feeling as cumbersome as some larger boats do when carrying enough chocolate spread, cheese, and biscuits to see us through. Having spent time getting up close and personal with the many seals on Soyea Island on the outward journey we took a break on islands of Fraochlan and Eilean Mor, the perfect vantage point to watch the large pod of dolphins leaping in the middle of the bay.

Local knowledge and advice often provides for the most memorable experiences and with Oldany Island coming highly recommended by Will Copestake of Kayak Summer Isles, it was the natural way to spend our last day in the area. Paddling out from the pristine beach at Clashnessie to the exposed outside of Oldany Island, with views back towards the Point of Stoer, we were soon rising and falling on the powerful swell with the crashing of the sea against the rocks adding a sense of exposure. As we rounded the island we again found ourselves engulfed in mist, adding to the atmosphere and creating a sense of isolation. With the disorientating mist and distraction of dozens of curious seals, we were soon lost in the maze of small islands, finding ourselves paddling into several dead ends before regaining the narrow channel separating Oldany Island from the mainland. The final few km along the coastline to Clashnessie provided plenty of interest and a magnificent archway to paddle under.

After a week of good fortune our weather window was closing and it was time for us to return home, our need for adventure sated for now, but with plans already forming for a return to explore more of this beautiful and dramatic coastline.

Day One: Loch Ewe
Day Two: Southern Summer Isles
Day Three: Northern Summer Isles
Days Four & Five: Achnahaird to Bay of Stoer and return
Day Six: Clashnessie & Oldany Island

Like an Expedition

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in event of success.”

I never thought I’d be comparing Earnest Shackleton’s famous advert to sitting at home on my sofa, yet here we are. I am locked down behind my keyboard in the times of a global pandemic. In a strange twist of fate, his recruitment to arguably the last great adventure in the golden age of exploration was posted just a few years before the previous global pandemic, the Spanish flu.

Low wages, tick.

Long hours in complete (emotional) darkness, tick.

Safe return (to normality) doubtful, tick.

Honour and recognition in event of success… thank you, key workers!

Bitter cold hasn’t come yet, but it’s entirely likely if nothing changes that come winter, many people won’t be able to afford their heating bill, so I’ll hold my breath on that one for now.

As phase 1 has arrived in Scotland and the wider UK is starting to take tentative first steps into a new normal, I can’t help but reflect on the parallels between lockdown and traditional adventure.

Can you remember the last time you watched a TV survivalist program? Bear Grylls, Stafford, Mears, or one of those survivor challenges like the Island or Naked and Afraid. Personally, I’ve binged on a few on Netflix in the last few weeks. I always seem to find myself comparing and analysing, wondering how I might fare in the same circumstances. Boom… 2020 happened.

We are now all thrown into our own survival challenge. Like the TV premised, unaware and unprepared, but less a camera crew. Some of us are in teams, while others are going solo. Some have a cushion to rest on, while others have a real struggle to survive. In this new challenge, we are not all on the same ship, but all of us are weathering the same storm in our own way.

Personally, I’ve coped by pretending lockdown was an expedition. This was largely because around the date lockdown was announced, I was supposed to be on one, paddling some 800km to Cape Horn and back in 35 days. To say the least, coming directly out of a full season of Patagonian kayak guiding to sitting on my sofa watching Netflix was quite a culture shock.

Will with his brand new Lightweight Kevlar/Carbon Infusion Aries 150, which arrived just in time for lockdown easement in Scotland!

I’ll premise this to say that compared to the many who have very real problems to tackle, my personal situation is and has been relatively comfortable. I am at home with my parents and my partner, everyone is in good health, and my business will survive to re-open when the time comes. But I’m also human and, as I’m sure many of you have too, I’ve felt at times a little lost, like I’m without a paddle, although not yet floating down s**t creek.

So how is lockdown like an expedition?

Like an expedition, our food shopping is back to a planned routine. No more ‘popping to the shops’. Instead, there are detailed meal plans to last the week, the assumption that anything not on the list is forgotten until the next available re-supply. Albeit our rations are quite a lot fresher and tastier than 35 days in a kayak, no eating butter with a spoon quite yet!

Like an expedition, our contact with the outside world is limited. Those phone calls and Zooms with family and friends become all the more important and treasured in the absence of regular visits. Meanwhile my partner and I, just like my friend and I when on an expedition, are now almost developing our own language of in-jokes and mad musing. I look forward to seeing friends more than anything else when this is all over…

I wonder if we will have separation anxiety?

Like an expedition, teamwork is essential. Those of us living with families or friends throughout this will already know this, without good communication and compromise, arguments happen.

Like an expedition, routine is everything. Regular exercise within our allocated time and distance, a structured day, making new plans and goals, filling the time. A mind with purpose is a mind of pleasure. Allowing rest and recuperation as part of the urge to achieve is just as important in a healthy routine.

Like an expedition, dressing has become a little easier. I’m essentially rotating through a couple of sets of joggers and t-shirts on a loop. At least, unlike my kayak expeditions, they get properly washed in between with more than the odd wave. Bathing is at least still a thing.

Like an expedition, there is a huge unknown. No matter how well-planned things are, there are broadsides. This is the definition of adventure. Experience is found in the gaps of planning and with each new stage comes new learning opportunities.

I’m sure there are more comparisons to be made. What would yours be?

I’ll finish by paraphrasing Shackleton’s diary from the same expedition he advertised for. This time from his bleakest moments where hope was waning and a good future seemed impossible,

‘A person must shape them-self to a new mark directly the old one goes to ground’

i.e. When situations degrade and seem too tough to bare, Keep Calm and Carry On.

Dre’s West Coast Adventure: “Inspiration”, Post-Expedition Thoughts.

Two weeks after I returned home from my expedition, I had jury duty. I learned that when radiologists (and other medical professionals) talk about an intake of breath, they call it an “inspiration.”

I love that!

I love that we can’t live without inspiration. I love that something we do every single day is an inspiration.

I’ve enjoyed being able to share a little bit with you about kayaking the length of the Pacific Coast of this country – from the northwest tip of Washington where I could see Canada, to San Diego Bay, where before rounding Point Loma to go into the bay I could see the Coronado Islands in Mexico.

It was breathtaking. Literally. Every day I held my breath as a whale languidly passed directly in front of my boat or a bevy of migrating birds stretching from horizon to horizon passed so close I could hear the air through their wing feathers. I involuntarily sucked in my breath when a wave collapsed on itself or broke over and around a rock. I laughed out loud when I went by Common Murre or Sea Lion rookeries with their grumbling and belching and chortling. There was the air expelled in sudden surprised tears several times, and (embarrassingly) great big loud ugly sobs when I made contact with the person who was picking me up on that day, when I was utterly exhausted and hadn’t been able to get ahold of him and thought I was going to land in a busy harbor with no place to go. There were the moments of sudden wonder that forced air out of my lungs in surprise- the moment I rounded Point Bonita and the Golden Gate Bridge came into view, the time a pod of dolphins swam out to me and split the pod on both sides of my boat, leaping into the air within just a few feet of my boat, and sank into the water, leaving my surprised breath as the only sound in the silence that filled in behind them. 


That word marked the start of the last day of my expedition. I was greeted with a video compiled from videos made by friends across the country and the world, congratulating me on completing this trip. I was given a bouquet of flowers and instructions to decorate my boat with them to remind me of all the colorful friends supporting me in this journey. I was given a white rose with those flowers in honor of Gio, a young man who went to Mexico with Chicago Adventure Therapy (CAT), the non-profit I founded and direct, and was shot and killed in Chicago 6 months later, one week before his 19th birthday. The rose was to lay on the water sometime this day, in honor and memory of Gio, and of the young people still alive, in part because of CAT. I was given a necklace. It was a silver lotus flower – a flower that grows into the sun from roots deep in muck and mud. The lotus flower was holding a piece of sea glass that had, like me, been tossed and pummeled by the sea, stripped raw and worn to the nub, to that essence where all that is left is breath and wonder.

I was greeted that morning by one last thing. A bag of flower buds. A note with them told me they “symbolize all the young people CAT has yet to inspire.” The note reminded me that “you can’t save them; you can only inspire them, as they inspire you.”

I cannot tell you that there is anyone who inspires me as much as the young people who are part of CAT. Young people who are gang-involved, non-binary, homeless, refugees, or have mental health issues or live under the poverty line, these young people have more grit and grace and courage than any other group of people I know. It is the honor of my life to get to paddle and climb and camp with these young people. I’ve cried (and sobbed) with relief, with joy, with worry, with frustration, in grief. I’ve laughed, over and over again. I’ve held my breath, expelled it involuntarily in sudden surprise. There have been moments of wonder as I watch the grace, the courage, the generosity of these young people who’ve been handed a raw deal in their lives. 

I learned in October that an “inspiration” is an intake of breath. I wonder – what takes your breath away?

* * * * *

If you are inspired by CAT young people…

If you are inspired by a 1508 mile paddling trip…

If there is someone in your life who inspires you…

~ I hope you will take a moment to make a contribution to CAT. 

Chicago Adventure Therapy is not closing our doors, or cancelling our summer season, because of the coronavirus epidemic. While Chicago is still under a Stay at Home Order, we are ramping up efforts to maintain connection with young people and provide referrals to concrete resources like rental assistance or food pantries that they or their families need right now. As the state re-opens, we will run modified outdoor programming where and when we believe it’s safe. Until then we’re working on engaging and relevant online materials, resources and activities to provide for young people, their families, and their communities. Your contribution will help us connect with our youth and provide respite, recreation, and relief to the fullest extent we’re able. 

Thank you.

Dre’s West Coast Adventure: “The shape of the coast”, An Overview.

Just past Point Sur, far enough past and on a beach behind a rock from the lighthouse so I could avoid the park rangers, I camped on a beach that had a different look than most of the places I’d camped on this trip. It got me thinking about the trip as a whole, instead of just in the moment or the next leg. If all went well, I was just two weeks out from the end. That was hard to believe. Almost as hard to believe as the idea, two weeks into the trip, that I was going to paddle the entirety of the West Coast of this country.

It highlights one of the pretty cool things, which is that I got to watch the slow change in the land. You’d be hard-pressed to mistake this for the Washington coast! And I got to watch the change at human-powered speed.

As I watched the land and vegetation change, I also got to see the individual pieces we usually see one at a time all strung together as a whole. Instead of this beach and that headland and this other cove, I got to watch them all come together in one coastline. I got to see beaches from the outside, the outsides of headlands that mostly just fishers get to see, the shape of the whole coast.

It’s interesting too how the coast breaks into chunks. Northern Washington was cliffs and smaller sand beaches and lots of sea stacks. Southern Washington was long sandy beaches with big bays. After crossing the Columbia River, an adventure in and of itself, northern Oregon kept the long sandy beaches and bays and added stunning headlands between them. The sea stacks got fewer and bigger. Then southern Oregon was long stretches of sand dunes interrupted by bays and rivers. There’s this little stretch of far southern Oregon that I want to go back to. It’s got lots of giant sea stacks that protect all these hidden sandy coves behind dark green water.

The people I met in the different chunks were different, too. Backpackers on those small Washington beaches among the cliffs and sea stacks of Olympic National Park. A father with two young daughters who helped me carry my boat up the beach when I landed at low tide (the dad was all over Girl Power and made sure to ask questions about my trip and to let his daughters ask questions); another family who helped me carry my boat back to the water in the morning, whose son was mostly interested in searching for crabs and whose daughter was all set to climb the “mountain” at the end of the beach. An evening walk through the campground above the beach revealed identical backpacking stoves set up but put away for the night. In the bays further south I met RV campers with big campfires and beer, and sometimes big (only slightly legal) fireworks. These beaches also hosted a lot more day users – locals walking their dogs in the mornings or evenings (I met so many great dogs!), vacationers coming to the beach for the day, couples taking romantic walks… In northern Oregon, I found people horseback riding and hang gliding along the long beaches in the north. The hidden coves behind the big sea stacks in the very southern part of the state are only accessible by hiking the Oregon Coast Trail (where overnight parking is prohibited in the parking lots, so it’s all-day users) or by boat (not motorboat – it’s too close to the rocks for them!). I met a couple holed up for the day in a cave at the top of the beach, chilling out with their didjeridu.

It starts getting more arid before California – the doug firs give way to pines and then grasses, the beaches smell different, and you start to see lizards. And you realize you really have moved south. I met a man from Spain with the same name as the Cape I was at; he’d found his soul in this landscape.

In Northern California, you get stretches of sea stacks and stretches of long sandy dumpy beaches. They’re interrupted by bays – but also lagoons that you mostly don’t see because they only have an opening to the sea when the sand spits get topped. The bays have a different shape – you get the feeling they’re more like those lagoons. In California, I started periodically getting picked up by local paddlers, many of whom I’d never met before, who would take me to their homes, feed me, give me the opportunity for laundry and a shower, and give me a place to sleep for a night or two with a roof over my head. Once, friends of one of these new-found friends picked me up and provided this hospitality. He’d surfed the California coast for 50 years and gave me good beta about the rest of the coast. The generosity of the paddling community is really remarkable!

And then comes the Lost Coast with mountains straight to the water’s edge and narrow beaches at low water that aren’t there at high water. The beaches that do stay have big dumpy surf – camping is definitely a search for protected beaches. And then you find these incredible gems once you walk to the top of the beach. I saw no one (other than hikers camped where I couldn’t land) on the Lost Coast – except at Shelter Cove. It’s a busy fishing harbor. The marina, though, is at the top of a cliff on land. When fishers head in for the day, they call ahead to the marina. For a small fee, the marina sends someone down with a tractor and a boat trailer, who loads the fisher’s boat onto the trailer and hauls it up to the marina at the top of the cliff.  Really and truly. I met a couple who just wanted a place on the coast where they could drink a beer and smoke a – well, we’ll call it a cigarette. They’d found it at Shelter Cove – and they spent days there on vacation drinking beer, smoking “cigarettes”, and watching the fishing boats come in and out. I met AJ, too. He’s an old Salty who grew up fishing in the area. He told me stories of heading out in an 8-foot dinghy with just a compass and a watch to navigate with. He was curious about my trip and told me about the brothers who took surfboards from Ketchikan, Alaska to Tijuana. (I crisscrossed with their story several places, starting in La Push, Washington where I stopped at a marina to inquire about a mailbox where I could mail a letter to my husband. They had stopped there to paint patterns on the bottom of their boards to ward off shark attacks) 

Fort Bragg and the Mendocino coast bring rocks and inside lines again (the chance to paddle on the land side of sea stacks or rocks instead of the ocean side. The small sea stacks – or big rocks – provide enough protection that I could have paddled close enough to the cliffs to touch them with my fingertips). As you head further south the human influence gets bigger – by the Sonoma coast, there are houses above most of the coastline and kayak fishers outside the protected coves. It was along the Sonoma Coast that I shared a beach with a Catalan couple biking from Seattle to San Francisco. We had matching tents for our adventures.

San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge are a piece unto themselves. The juxtaposition of natural beauty and a truly beautiful piece of massive human engineering is unique. Most beautiful places are natural or human-made, not both. Just before San Francisco was the second place I paddled with anyone else. (The first place was across the Columbia River). A friend who used to live in Chicago paddled out to my campsite in Tomales Bay at night and paddled around Point Reyes with me the next day. A group of 4 people paddled with me leaving San Francisco. Unfortunately, strong south winds coupled with a flood tide that was also working against us meant that we made the decision to turn back. (The flood tide meant that as we were paddling away from the Bay, the ocean was flooding INTO the Bay – so we were paddling against the sea…) Still – company on the water and off (beers and burgers after the paddle was a great time to swap stories) was lovely. 

And then you keep going, and things keep changing – and just a day out from the Bay you’re watching a notorious boomer field (a place where waves jack up over unseen rocks covered by water and can easily catch you unawares) and a long reef where Mavericks lays hidden until the right swell comes through. (Mavericks is a famous “big wave” surf spot with massive wave faces in the right conditions).

A few more days to Monterrey Bay, and then into Big Sur, where the waves against rocks felt a bit different to me – somehow more easily caught unawares. Like Mavericks, it feels like there’s a slumbering power there just under the surface. The water, when you have sunlight, is this amazing color. The cliffs come right to the water again, with very few coves that have beaches at the back. It feels similar to the Lost Coast – except there are expensive houses atop pretty much every cliff. (You don’t see them in the fog though…) The granite here made it seem like paddling next to the Rocky Mountains. I had company a couple different days after San Francisco, including crossing Monterrey Bay. In Big Sur, though, I didn’t see anyone. This is where I stopped at the place just south of Point Sur that looked so different from other places I’d camped. The next night saw one of my favorite campsites, with a freshwater lagoon and a big beach and a curious coyote in the morning. The coyote, and bugling elk at Tomales Bay, was one of the few land mammals I saw on the trip. Marine mammals, though, were amazing – whales surfacing and feeding and breaching, dolphins jumping within feet of my boat, sea lions chortling from the rocks, popping up behind me, or taking a good look at me from the front before careening away from me. And birds! I especially like pelicans. Pelicans and common murres. (They look like loons on the water – and like penguins when they fly or stand. Isn’t that just the coolest thing?) I was fascinated by egrets and herons in Big Sur – they stand on the kelp beds and fish!

And then you come out and head to Morro Bay, where it’s not far to Point Conception and Southern California. One of the more perplexing encounters I had was on the water just offshore of a nuclear power plant south of Morro Bay. I wasn’t the full mile offshore I was supposed to be – and a surfer-looking dude with wild blond hair, a metallic green wetsuit, and a lifejacket (?? OK, so that’s not so surfer-dude-looking…) on a jet ski came out to talk with me. 

“You OK?”

Yep, I was good.

“Awesome, man. Just checking in.” 

And he meandered off on his jet ski – towards the nuclear power plant. 

The jury’s out about whether he was a low key security guard, or a dude out enjoying the water…

Anyway, I’d been told everything changes at Point Conception, which was just a couple days away now – the swell, the water temperature and color, the level of risk. And it’s Southern California – I was almost done camping. (Because how do you camp through LA and San Diego? I’d been told it was possible – but I didn’t want to try to search for hidden camping spots in the midst of huge population centers). Things did change at Point Conception – the swell was minimal, the wind was minimal (despite several days of headwinds!), the water was decidedly warmer, the weather was mostly sunny and warm, and after a (marginally legal) final beach campsite with dolphins playing in the water next to me as I landed and bioluminescence in the waves after dark, I was done camping – nights were among people in civilization. The smell of the beaches changed – mostly you can smell the pollution. But sometimes there was this surprising sweet smell that wafted from the beaches.  It smelled a bit like freshwater. As in not saltwater. In the desert, a few beaches had this lush meadow smell coming off them. (I didn’t understand it). 

And then there was my landing, where the sounds stand out. There’d been sounds along the way. The grumbling and chatting of common murre rookeries; the belching and snorting and yelling and mumbling of sea lions; the pop of dolphins, sea lions, or whales surfacing; the Harley Davidson sound of elephant seals on a beach too far away to be as loud as they were; the sound of an actual engine of a boat off on the horizon or fishers talking through the fog or a shipping container turning or accelerating; the myriad sounds that water makes, whether it’s the fold of a wind wave behind me, the smack or boom of a wave that seems way too small to make that sound against the cliff it just hit, the slow, inexorable rumbling and crashing of a wave coming over and around a rock; the chortling and chatting of sea lions and birds on rocks far enough away that they sound like humans singing, reminding me of Odysseus and the singing of the sirens. In Southern California, the sound of music pulsed from the beach-side bars and I started hearing traffic (I also used a traffic sign on the freeway once as an aid to navigation). 

The sounds at my landing were unique. Family and friends were there to meet me. They’d told everyone on the beach what I was doing. So when I got close, the whole beach erupted in cheering and applause. There was whistling, a stranger’s assurance of a cold beer waiting for me on shore (it was actually champagne!).

And just like that, my trip was over. I’d paddled 1508 miles through a stunningly, exquisitely beautiful changing landscape. My journey through that external landscape changed my internal landscape. I don’t know the contours of this landscape yet. I hope what I will find includes a fierceness borne of the wildness of water against rock. A serenity that mirrors the calm protected waters in those inside lines behind the solid, immovable sea stacks. A joy that mimics the none-may-care, over-the-top abandon of the ridiculous and delightful sea lions chortling and belching and calling on the rocks as they go about our daily lives. I hope, at least periodically, that I can enjoy the everyday, mundane, breathtaking beauty in which we live and move and breathe – and chortle and belch – with the same reckless, absurd abandon of the sea lions.

If you’d like to read more about Dre’s West Coast Adventure, just click through to her author profile to find the full series.

Dre’s West Coast Adventure: Part Seven, “The worst leg.”

A word to the wise. No one sleeps in at an active fishing harbor! The first boats put in at 4:30. The rush was over and the parking lot over-full by 7:00. The town itself, a tourist town, wouldn’t start moving until 10 or 11. I decided rather than hanging out at the harbor I’d go in search of a coffee shop to wait for the tourist shops to open. I found Whale Bites Cafe, a lovely place with chai tea and giant homemade cinnamon rolls, owned by a marine biologist who does whale-watching tours and knows most of the individual resident whales. Beth was super nice, and a couple regulars recognized me as the paddler and chatted for a while. One was a kayak fisher. Conversation with him confirmed that the kayak fishers here who go out on sit-on-top fishing kayaks are really safety-savvy. It was a great place to sit for a while with lovely people.

I got nervous about the time, though, even though it wasn’t any later than I had planned for my launch at slack with a short day ahead of me. There was just something about this leg that had me unnerved. I got my flip flops and went on my way.

Of course, a late start meant more wind. I keep forgetting that wind causes waves! It’s the only thing pretty much that causes waves at home, but here I pay attention to the swell and keep thinking of the wind just as wind. It was definitely strong enough to kick up some good waves – a solid 2 ½ to 3 feet.  Not huge or unmanageable, but noticeable… It got cloudy and foggy again – everything always seems just a bit scarier when it’s cloudy. I got the forecast for the next couple days, and the swell was growing and a south wind coming in. I had planned a short day, with a really short day the next day, and a long day after that when there wasn’t much in the way of places I wanted to land. With a bigger swell and south wind coming in, I thought I should go to tomorrow’s landing spot so I could do the long day the next day before the bigger swell and south winds. Having already been nervous, I got myself psyched out again. It didn’t help when I passed my planned spot for the night, which was anything but protected with the southwest swell.

I went into Newport, and very soon came the next debacle of this leg of my journey. The beach I’d found on Google Earth looked not to have a beach at high tide. And there wasn’t much anywhere else to take out. I pulled out at the Coast Guard and hiked up to their building. I startled a young guy having some downtime in the sun by climbing up from below. He didn’t know what to tell me about where I could land, so he went and got his superior. (It turns out she’s the one who gave Freya Hoffmeister a citation for crossing the bar when it was closed!) There weren’t any good options, but they helped me find a bit of a spot to pitch my tent right on the other side of the fence from their property. (She apologized for not being able to let me stay on their property, which I thought was nice.) Anyway, it was this itty bitty loose rock beach. I took a tumble and hurt my toe. I didn’t think I’d injured it, but I changed my mind through the evening. I hobbled around setting up my tent on this itty bitty rock beach, and then hobbled to town for another restaurant meal. I was exhausted again. And my toe hurt. And the last thing I wanted to do was try to cook. I was only 2 days into this leg, and I couldn’t wait for it to be over!

Dinner was good, and the waitress was really nice. We had this amazing conversation about life, and being happy. (I think I forgot to leave a tip! When I have internet I’m going to find the place and send her her tip. There’s a special place in hell for people who don’t tip!)

I hobbled “home” and splinted my toe. I couldn’t wait for this leg to be done!

My sleeping pad sprung a leak. On this rocky beach. Uggh.

I was less than happy in the morning. I didn’t know if I’d need to leave my toe splinted, if it was dumb to go anywhere that day, if my toe was broken… I felt dumb for finding myself in this predicament and pretty exposed on this little “beach” on the channel into town. My toe felt a little bit better though, and I sure didn’t want to stay here another night, so I taped up my toe, packed my boat, and caught the ebb out of there.

I thought it would be a miserable day. It was 30 miles to a good landing spot, and it wouldn’t be the spot I’d thought because of the southwest swell. With a hurt toe and low morale.

It proved to be one of the best days so far. My toe did all right, the sun came out, and I finally found my “usual” paddling speed and cadence all day. I still psyched myself out for the small surf landing – which meant I “over-studied” it and styled the landing onto an iconic Oregon coast beach at Heceta Head.

I was planning to get up the next day (today) and paddle the last 10-12 miles to the pick up for the next mom-sponsored Airbnb and the end of this short leg. I decided instead to give my toe a break and stay here a day instead of look for a place to pitch my tent by the dive shop where my mom will pick me up tomorrow evening.

This beach may go down as one of the most beautiful, but this leg may go down as one of the worst. Or at least one of the ones I was most eager to end! Which is a little bit funny, because it’s also likely one of the ones with some of the best or most interesting memories.

Anyway – it’s a rainy day. I’m hanging out in my warm dry tent, but it’s about time to go cook some food. Here’s hoping I can end the leg on a good note tomorrow!

Post-Expedition Thoughts

When I let my mom read this post, she didn’t like it. She thought I downplayed my experience. My knowledge, the fact that I’m a good paddler with good judgment and solid skills.

Much later in the trip, an experienced expeditioner commented that I was doing it in a way that made it accessible to other people. I was really glad to hear him say that – because it’s exactly what I was trying to do.

I think one of the things that made it accessible is that I was open about the fact that it’s not easy. That the decisions are challenging. That there were times when I was scared. Really scared. That there were times I did it “OK” but didn’t do it “great.” There were times when I made some dumb mistakes.

Being scared, doing something dumb, questioning yourself – these things don’t mean you aren’t up to the task. They don’t make it a bad experience. They DO mean you need to be prepared enough to handle it when you make a mistake. Part of mitigating risk is about avoiding as many of those mistakes as possible. The other part is about having the knowledge and skill to handle it when you DO make a mistake. Because there will be something that goes wrong. If you only have the skills to handle it when you do it perfectly the first time – you don’t have the skills to handle it.

And I wanted people to know, and to see, that you don’t have to be a bad-ass hammerhead paddler to do something really big. I’m a skilled paddler. But I’m not a superstar or superhuman or a superhero.

You don’t have to be either.

You have to be good enough. “Good enough” was a high bar for this expedition. I took it very seriously to be as clear-eyed and as honest as possible with myself in determining whether I was “good enough”.

You don’t have to be perfect.

You WON’T be perfect.

So work hard to get good enough – and then have the trip of your life.

It will be scary and it will be full of mistakes and you will question yourself – and you will style it and it will be amazing.

Dre’s West Coast Adventure: Part Six, “Nervousness.”

July 9

Well – I can’t say that this trip is 100% wonderful, or that I’m doing it 100% right. I had more days off the water with my mom and her partner than I planned. I’m good with that – I think I’ll hit San Diego sometime in September.

After 3 nights in a bed and 2 days off in a motel room, Mom drove me back the 80 miles to the Salmon River south of Cascade Head. Every rest day makes me nervous again. This was a tricky landing and the beach where the river met the ocean wasn’t visible from the put in, so I was nervous.

I did just fine. Time the waves, go where they’re small. Natural river mouths with sand spits can be tricky, but I navigated this one just fine. Once I was out the surf though, the boat didn’t want to go. It also really wanted to go left. I was fighting it hard.

I didn’t understand why it was so hard. It was foggy, too, and the wind was coming from the south. The swell seemed bigger than the forecast, the surf seemed bigger than it should be, and I was nervous because it was from the southwest instead of the northwest. I was frustrated, to say the least.

About 6 miles in, I looked behind me for some reason and found the reason for the problem. The rear hatch cover was off! All the way off. It was dragging in the water (on the left – no wonder the boat wanted to go left!) The surf was landable, but I had myself psyched out. So I fixed it on the water. I can’t reach the back hatch. I hopped out of the cockpit, turned around, climbed onto the back deck, and put the cover on (I was going to pump it out, but the flooded hatch was underwater with me sitting on the back deck). I was glad I have the balance to be ON the boat. I was embarrassed I’d done this. More to the point – I was lucky this was the extent of the problems it caused.

The paddling was WAY easier now! Instead of fighting for 2.5 knots, I was going 3.5 – 4 knots. I felt like I was starting to settle into my regular paddling speed. I was 3 1/2 weeks in and was thinking I was going to be struggling the whole trip to get any speed or the type of control of the boat that I usually have.

It was an anxious day, though, and I got anxious again as I approached Depoe Bay. It’s a fascinating place with a very narrow channel into the bay between rock faces. It boasts its status as the smallest commercial harbor in the world. (I think the opening is too narrow or shallow for the Coast Guard boat at low tide.) Google Earth showed breakers outside the rocks and a swirly narrow channel that wouldn’t be visible until I was right out from the entrance. (The entrance wouldn’t be visible either).

Depoe Bay is known for its resident whales. The swell had felt bigger to me when I couldn’t get my boat to go and it was foggy. It was sunny now and my boat was moving, so I was more confident. I paddled in close to a viewpoint off the highway, wondering if I might be part of the view. A whale surfaced between me and the rocks, which was awesome! No one on land seemed to notice it – how lucky to be on the water!

The fog returned, and the swell stacked up against the rocks, and I got nervous again. My flooded back hatch meant my stern was riding really low, and the wind waves came right over the top. There were a lot of fishing boats – I was worried about visibility in the narrow channel. There were several kayak fishers – they seemed to have safety dialed in a lot better than most sit-on-top kayaks I see on the Great Lakes.  I appreciated that.  It also made me more nervous – they all had orange flags on the back of their boats – the flags increased visibility a lot. It made me nervous to not have one – the sport fishers would be used to seeing the flag to identify a kayak. Oy – I can really do a number on myself! The channel was perfectly visible once I was straight out from it, no fishing boats tried to run me down, the steepening waves weren’t trying to take me into the rocks. It was all good – and the channel into the harbor with the bridge over it was really quite beautiful!

When I landed, I had to deal with the swamped hatch and wet gear. I felt dumb again! I knew there was a city park at the back of the harbor. I asked around, and most of the fishermen thought no one would bug me if I set up a tent. They were right – but wow was it public! Why had I gotten myself set on stopping at Depoe Bay? I should have listened to my mom – she thought it was a bad idea because of the rocks. The rocks were fine, but if I had listened to her, I wouldn’t be camping in public next to the fish cleaning station!

I set up camp. A city employee came and asked if I planned to camp there – when I said yes, he said he didn’t see anything. He’s a paddler, so we looked at the chart together. He warned me off one of the stops I was planning, heading into a bay over a natural river opening. He used to be in the Coast Guard and said he’d pulled dead people out of that bar. I paddle the Great Lakes, where the number of people being pulled from the water is really high. The fact that people die in the water I paddle doesn’t mean I can’t paddle it safely.

I took his advice, though, and planned different landing spots.

The evening was lovely. I was more tired than expected – it was a short paddling day, about 16 miles, after several Airbnb days, but fighting the hatch cover, climbing out on the back deck, and being anxious all day left me really tired. So rather than cooking in a super public place, and maybe hanging around for the sheriff to tell me I had to move, I went into town for dinner. A nice guy at the boat launch asked about my trip and suggested a good place for dinner. Fish ‘n chips, a dram of bourbon, and an ocean view were lovely.

My next day would be a short day and slack wasn’t until 11:30, so I figured I could sleep in the next morning and go buy a couple more lighters (mine got wet) and a pair of flip flops (one of mine floated out in the hatch-cover-debacle. I loved those flip flops!)

To Be Continued…

Dre’s West Coast Adventure: Part Five, “A day early.”

July 4

So, I rounded Cascade Head a day early yesterday. “A day early” only means anything because my mom planned to pick me up here tomorrow for the first of three Mom-sponsored Airbnb stays this month – a bed, a shower, laundry, meals I don’t cook that I didn’t dehydrate a month ago… I suppose a purist wouldn’t approve, but I’ll take it! We got the timing wrong several months ago when Mom decided where and when to get the Airbnbs, so they’re a week behind me. Which means since I’m here a day early, Mom’s checking in and turning right around to drive 100 miles south to scoop me up. Best mom ever!!

On the ride home, Mom asked what about this has been what I expected, and what has been different. It’s a hard question because I’m not quite sure what I expected. One of the things I told her is that I’ve been surprised how often I’ve been around people. I expected a lot more isolated beaches until Southern California.

One of the side effects of that is that I’m getting to witness a slice of coastal Americana. Mostly folks on vacation, but also people who live along the coast. I’ve met Native folk and white folk who live on the reservations in northern Washington. I’ve met folk backpacking along the pacific crest trail in Olympic National Park, and people tenting and in RV parks right on the beach. I’ve met folk running campgrounds, marinas, gift shops, marina gas stations…  I’ve met people who walk the various beaches every day, often with their dogs. A black lab named Willow whose the dog of a lifetime for Jean who must be in her 80s, a dog that’s ecstatic every evening when his human in Willapa Bay hits golf balls along the beach for him to chase, Tink who helps her human manage a gift shop and despite being a small dog thinks she’s a mighty adventurer when she gets to go to the beach, a big goofy dog who’s scared of the campfire but loves relaxing next to it with his humans and even more loves jumping in the hammock with both of them. I love the creative, massive construction projects the beach inspires – driftwood forts, a not-quite-water hole 4 feet by 10 feet and 3 feet deep deliberately dug just to the water level and no deeper, sandcastles and the requisite sandcastle-smashing. People walking along the beach, clamming, horseback riding, surfing, hang gliding, drinking beer, watching the beach… Folk checking out and documenting the constant erosion of the beach and folk valiantly trying to stop the erosion. People who’ve been visiting the same beach since they were children, retired folk who’ve been visiting the area since they were children but just discovered their new favorite beach and are utterly delighted with it, and folk from across the country taking their family on an epic road trip to see the Pacific. A firefighter originally from Norway who lives off the grid. A woman whose Swedish relatives outside of Portland stopped speaking German in World War Two after their Japanese neighbors were taken to internment camps, and whose church paid the taxes on their neighbors’ farms while they were in the camps so they became some of the very few who were able to come home.

I didn’t expect to encounter this cross-section of coastal life. I’ve been fascinated by it. The fascination has slowly – except rather quickly as I’m only 3 weeks in – begun to change to this funny sense of feeling so lucky to meet so many people and learn a piece of their lives and histories and stories. I feel like there’s a certain reverence these stories require.

All this was unexpected. A few people told me that the best and most memorable part of the trip would be the people I met along the way – and to stay open to that. I believed them. But I also didn’t understand how this happens. So I planned the paddling part. The expedition part. And was much more focused on what I might see than who I might meet.

I consider myself lucky to get to see the headlands and sea stacks and whales and birds and beaches and coastline that I’m paddling. To paddle these waters. And I’m so lucky to get to meet all these people along the way.

I’m lucky to get to see a slice of this country in unexpected ways.

So I’m glad I rounded Cascade Head a day “early.” And that Mom came to pick me up a day early.  And that I got to spend 4th of July with family, soaking in a small town parade (and the young folk who watched from kayaks) and watching fireworks from the balcony. It’s the epitome of Americana.

Post-Expedition Thoughts

July 4 became sort of a touchstone for me. The people I met along the way became such a big part of this expedition. I’d been told to stay open to that, to make room for it. My mom’s question, during small town July 4 celebrations, helped me to see how it was happening.

It was really special.

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