Monday, July 13, 2009

best laid plans

Sometimes things work out exactly as they are predicted and yet somehow that still surprises you. Ever since I moved to norther California a couple years ago I've looked at Pt. Reyes on the map and thought it would be a fine coastline to paddle around. I looked into doing a multi-day camping trip, maybe as part of a larger coastal trip. I looked into doing a one -day (though 30 miles was the minimum distance between launch and landing) with a lengthy shuttle. But the combination of variables, especially the shuttle, and finding someone up for the paddle and good weather just never seemed to come together.

So this past weekend I wanted to get in some more distance training for my upcoming BC trip and I decided I would do Pt. Reyes the quick and dirty one day version with a bike shuttle. Launch in Tomales Bay, paddle out the mouth and around the lighthouse at Pt. Reyes, and then tuck into Drakes bay and land at the beach parking lot. Route Here

I drove down on Saturday to check out the launch at Heart's Desire and learned that it didn't open until 8am - way too late. But there was a roadside beach I could use that only added a couple miles to the trip. So after a little day paddle on Tomales Bay I drove out to Drakes beach and locked up my bicycle for the shuttle the next day and drove back to Petaluma to check out the city for the night (it's a cool place by the way). The marine forecast for Sunday called for winds increasing to 15 to 25 knots and a small craft advisory in the afternoon.

Sunday morning I awoke just after 5am and the wind was already a steady breeze in spite of the heavy fog. I was on the water paddling by 6:30am into a constant headwind. The big safety concern was the 18 miles of exposed coast I had to paddle after leaving Tomales and with the headwind slowing me I figured I would assess conditions once I reached the mouth but most likely turn back. When I got to the mouth the the fog wind were still there but I was feeling good and the open ocean didn't look too rough so I headed on. I cut straight to the lighthouse instead of following the coast which saved a few miles but left me in blind greyness for several hours. But the wind was now a tailwind and the waves quartering so I got a good push and kept a four knot pace for that section. Just as I approached the light house the fog lifted and the sun shone down on a beautiful day of ocean paddling. I thought I was home free.

But just as was forecast and as only natural when the sun breaks out the wind picked up. At first I wasn't worried because I was just running before it. But the gusts became strong enough so I was just steering as I rode down the waves created and hoping not to have the paddle torn out of my hand. But it was just a short distance until I reached the point where I'd be able to turn in and use Pt. Reyes as a wind block as I covered the final four miles to the beach. But as I rounded the point the wind was even stronger and dead into my face. I could barely inch forward and quickly landed on a nearby beach to rest and reasses. Nothing like paddling 35 miles only to get to the hard portion of the paddle! But after some more food and water and a short cat nap I got back in and worked my way up the coast slowly before crossing the wind to ferry over to the beach. The wind let up a little once I got out in the bay so it wasn't so bad.

After surfing a one foot wave into the beach I packed everything into my kayak, changed into dry clothes and had a little more food and rest before beginning my ride. The ride started with a killer climb up of the beach to the ridge - leaving me totally exposed to the wind gusts. This was the scariest part of the day: careening down a narrow winding road with traffic whizziing past as my exhausted muscles tried to keep me upright. But after what seemed like a long time to cover the 11 miles I made it back to my truck and was safe. Then I got to run shuttle, load up my boat (very hard in about 40 mph gusts at the parking lot) and make the long drive back to Folsom.

All's well that ends well. Not many pictures due to fog and rough water I'm afraid.

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