June 24 – 26

“On Being Where You Are – Crossing the Columbia”

This was gruelling paddling. I was spending an hour paddling in 5-minute intervals. Literally – I’d paddle, think I was at 5 minutes, look at my watch, and it had been 2 minutes. Another 3 sounded impossible. Finish the 5 minutes, and do it again 10 more times. I think of intervals as being a training technique to build endurance. These intervals were about breaking it down in order to make this possible.

Waiting with the guys at Willapa Bay

I’d been pretty proud of myself. I’d holed up in Willapa Bay for several days waiting for the right day to cross the Columbia River – the right tides, low swell, low wind. The forecast had held for several days, and this was the day to paddle to where I’d be one day out. I got up early in order to catch high water. Crossing the mouth of the bay are a lot of sanders that create big breakers when the water is low. I hit the tide just right and crossed with very little wave action, which meant I didn’t have to go way out and around. I was feeling good about my timing, my judgment, my prediction of what would work…

As I approached Lead enter Point, my progress seemed slow. Was I getting pushed out by the ebbing tide?

Sunset at Willapa Bay

Another hour in, I was only making 3 knots average travelling speed. My usual is 4, and I’d been averaging 3 and a half on this trip. Then the paddling started to get hard. By 11:00, it was really hard. I was paddling full force and barely making 3 knots.

I realized I was paddling 20 miles towards the Columbia, and the tide was ebbing. This is a big river. When it ebbs, it doesn’t just push out into the ocean, it pushes out to the sides up and down the coast. I was fighting the full force of the Columbia River.

Landing at the south jetty (can you spot me?!)

At 11:00, with high water at about 7:00 am, it should be letting up a little. Except the river ebbs a lot more than it floods, so the max ebb might well be in another hour. At noon, I paddled my hardest, took a break to look at my watch, and it had been 5 minutes. And my hour of 5-minute intervals began.

So this is how it was going to be. The day before, waiting on the right tides for crossing the river, I had realized I needed to get OK with being where I am. Not where I want to be instead, but where I am. It was easier the day before. Right now it was about one stroke after the next.

The day before was a bit more Zen. I was waiting on neaps (good tides, with the least amount of water going in and out), good swell (smaller waves, with less time between them), good wind (as little as possible). I was prepping for my early launch the next day, and I was antsy. I hadn’t wanted to wait the several days I did. I was anxious and impatient and not enjoying the beach or the view that a bunch of people had come to over the weekend for their vacation.  Here I was in the middle of it, not enjoying it. And I thought – “be where you are.” I was here, and I could fuss about waiting or about prepping for where I wasn’t yet, or I could stop. I could enjoy the beach, the sunset (it was the best sunset of the trip so far), my dinner, the evening. I met Ed and Gayle, who had a home close by and were checking out the changes in the beach (this beach is eroding fast – over 40 homes have washed away in the last decade). They were a lovely couple, very pleasant to talk to.

Be where you are. It was all good.

Today, “Be where you are” meant “I would really like to be done.” I under-estimated the distance, me, the difficulty. My mom picked me up off the beach – she got a motel room for my last night in Washington to have a good place to land today and to launch to cross the Columbia. She picked me up about 5 miles north of where we planned, and we scouted out a place to launch the next day a few miles south of where we planned.

Columbia River buoy

— I do not regret not paddling that 6-8 miles of coastland! —

Be where you are. Waiting in Willapa Bay, fighting the ebb, a 4 am wake-up the next day. All of this got me on the Columbia River at the end of the flood with no wind and low swell. It was glassy calm, stunning, incredible. “Be where you are.” Because this is gorgeous. This is unique. This is worth paying attention to. 

This is worth being in those other places, waiting and pushing and wondering why in the world I was doing this.

Post-Expedition Thoughts

“Be where you are.” Few of us are where we want to be right now. And we are decidedly where we are. 

It’s a bit too “easy”, too trite, to say “be where you are”. Be OK with it. Because this is hard. It’s not a place anyone should feel fully good about being.

Still – I expect that on our better “Corona Days”, there’s something to be learned. Or re-learned.  Because we can’t make this go away. We can’t not be here.

If it’s one of your “not better” Corona Days, I hope the stories or photos of my Columbia River exploits help a little bit.