During our five days on the water north of Puget Sound near the Canadian Border we visited or camped on seven different islands, two of them devoid of human settlement.We explored the area's endless variety of rocky coastlines dotted with dozens of pleasant, sheltered coves protecting soft sand beaches.
This was once the land and water used for living space, hunting, trade and travel for another culture from another time. And the island group still provides everything a modern day recreational adventurer could need for a week of challenge and enjoyment. Our 18-foot-long vessel for the journey was no moulded plastic bath tub toy. It was a handcrafted fiberglass craft - totally seaworthy, tough and light-weight with spacious, water-tight storage and heavy, top-mounted bungee nets to kept our dry bag gear secure. We packed food, water, and camp.
We crossed the wide channels paddling effortlessly as the agile craft seemed to skim across the face of the water like an Indian spirit with a certain destination. You learn quickly that the kayak's elegant design offers no reward for digging in and paddling hard. Instead, a light hand on the double bladed paddle and an easy, coordinated, almost effortless motion of paddle through the water is all it takes to glide the sprightly boat along at optimum speed.
Occasionally, with the help of a good map, a tides table, and some advance planning we were able to catch a riptide heading in our direction that pulled us along riding securely atop the waves. Even the sea lions that stopped - heads bobbing in the water - and looked at us seemed to watch with envy as we flew effortless by. It's said there are killer whales in these waters - a local population that dines on fish, and migrating pods from the open ocean to the west that occasionally come by for a meal of aquatic mammal. We never saw any killer whales. But out there all alone with the water it's easy to imagine you're being observed, and not by sea lions alone.
We shared the water with elegant pleasure craft - sailing vessels, cabin cruisers, and the giant ferries of the state transportation system. We paddled through crowded marinas admiring the rows of million-dollar yachts. We visited a few of the friendly island towns, avoiding for the most part the islands' abundant tourist traps.
Here are a couple of good travel tips. If you take out at the Orcas Island ferry terminal there is a grocery story that runs an excellent, value priced deli sandwich bar. One of their pastrami and pepper jack cheese on dark rye sandwiches with a chocolate milk and you'll be ready for more kayaking.
At our stopover in Friday Harbor, the islands' biggest town, we took the chance for a hot shower break and found a clean, comfortable, private, friendly, and well-run "hostel" called Wayfarers's Rest where a room cost less than half the $200 per night rate offered elsewhere in the islands.
We poked around in tide pools and studied the variety of purple, orange and yellow star fish, crab, kelp, jelly fish and barnacle-encrusted shells. We gathered driftwood for our campfires, watched out for poison oak and ivy in the woods' lush undergrowth, and lazed in the hammock at our seaside stop-offs.
Our final campsite was on an uninhabited wildlife refuge where deep woods towered above a pristine, smooth pebble beach on the island's west facing leeward side. With sailboats playing in the distance, the sun that day slowly set from its perfectly cloudless northern sky and dimmed into a long-lasting twilight.
From a rocky crag overlooking two miles of open channel we witnessed with respect the tide changing; gazing down on the rushing, river-like currents that crashed over rocky high points and raised and lowered that vast, ocean like expanse by 13 feet in half a day.
An awareness of tides is essential if you plan to do any kayak navigation around the island group. A miscalculation could leave you fighting with futility against a strong tidal flow that wants to take you somewhere other than where you think you want to go. We felt the invigorating marine breeze and the cool, comfortable water. We talked, or just fell silent for long stretches of time and enjoyed the familiar feeling of dense forest surroundings made completely different from those at home by the presence of endless, constantly changing vistas of open water. The inner man was renewed by the bond of father-and-son companionship. The Cascadia Marine Trail links a system of some 50 primitive but well-kept campsites located throughout the waters of the Puget Sound region.
The system features camps that are located near the water and designated for use only by travelers using beachable, hand- or wind-powered craft. This thoughtful and well planned system helps ensure that a site is available close at hand for tired travelers without having to haul their gear long distances.
We rode on the state ferries four different times. They are a spacious and elegant experience, like a train ride through the water with picture window viewing everywhere around. We toured two of the islands in our SUV, and met a mob of affable landlubbers atop the islands' highest point - Mt. Constitution, elevation 2,409 ft. From the summit you can see volcanoes of the Cascade Range, and Canada, too.
The days were long and filled with wearying enjoyment that passed by much too quickly.blog comments powered by Disqus