Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Boy & His Paddle...

So a few months ago when I purchased my kayaks, I got the crazy idea of kayaking from Seattle to Anacortes.  I put the idea on the back burner as I focused on other things throughout the summer.  Last weekend, I previewed the weather forecast, bought some cool gear, tested my rescue skills in Lake Washington, & decided it was time to proceed with my original goal!

All my gear & supplies.  I wasn't sure what to expect so I erred on the side of safety!

I began my journey early Monday morning & really enjoyed slack tides & fabulous weather for most of the day!  As I paddled my way through the mouth of Elliot Bay heading North, I couldn't help but take a few pictures of the beautiful morning & scenery.
Ready to begin my journey!
Good Morning, Seattle!
Making great progress early on Day 1

Like I said, I really erred on the side of caution, so I was wearing my triathlon wetsuit.  For those unfamilar with a tri suit; it has 5mm thick rubber around the legs & front torso & free range of motion in the shoulder & under arm area alowing for long reach without restriction.  This would work perfectly for me; in the unlikely event that I capsized, I would be able to stay calm & not freeze in the water, yet I would not be restricted & uncomfortable while paddling.  However, I quickly realized going to the bathroom would be no easy task.  After roughly 2hrs I stopped for my first of many breaks on the first day & peeled the top half of my wetsuit down, the day was quickly heating up & it was only 8am!
Stretching out, reorganizing my gear & enjoying my first break near Discovery Park

I was cruising along on the calm tides & making super progress.  I kind of laughed at how tough I had thought this was going to be & wondered why I had brought "so much" stuff.  After a few more hours, the sun really started to beat down & I thanked my inner self for packing the little things like vaseline, spf 30, & spf chapstick.  Paddling with a nylon life jacket w/o wearing a shirt became uncomfortable & without the vaseline I would have been absolutely miserable.  Thankfully I'm a runner, so we tend to think about packing stuff like that! :)

Enjoying the sunshine & relaxing just North Edmonds-Kingston Ferry
This crab reminding me that I needed to keep up on my nutrition!

I noticed things that I normally never take the time to notice.  That's the nice thing about being by yourself for 3 days out on the ocean.  You have nothing else to do, but to notice the beautiful things in life that most of us are guilty of taking for granted.  Birds, sealife, trees, mountain shapes, different sounds, also I noticed that I really don't know any of the words to my favorite songs as I tried to sing out loud.  I seem to always know the words when the song is on the radio, but having to come up with them on my own was difficult.  I found myself sort of humming/mumbling the lyrics, then belting out the chorus!  Whatever keeps you sane I guess.

I also noticed that there's a railroad that runs from roughly Carcreek Park near Shoreline, all the way up to the Mukilteo Ferry.  It runs along the coastline for most of the way & solely on the coastline for roughly 10 miles from the Edmonds Ferry to the Mukilteo Ferry.  Watching & listening to all the trains go by, I never realized how much we still rely & use trains.  Burlington Northern, Amtrak, & the Seattle Sounder kept me entertained chugging along the water.  Little did I know this coastal railway would be the cause of a grueling end to Day 1 later on.
All these years in Washington & I never knew these tracks ran along this coastline?
Things had been going so good for me on this first day!  I had been making great progress & this was turning into a very fun & gratifying adventure.  I had planned to start looking for a good place to camp & to beach my kayak a couple hours before it would get dark.  It was soon 6:30pm & it had been over 12hrs since I first left, & I had about 9hrs of paddle time under my belt, so I figured I'd start looking for a good place to call it a night.  I had matches stored in waterproof containers & had even packed a couple hot dogs, just in case I could find a place that was campfire friendly!  However, as I veered towards the coastline, all I could see was a solid rock wall for as far as I could see.
The coastline was like this for miles!

I simply thought to myself, "Well, once I get to that point, there will surely be a beach area for me to land.."  Around this time it was getting closer to high tide & the current was getting stronger.  I was battling against the stronger currents, but I just needed to get around the point & I'd be home free.  Well, after an hour of tough paddling I finally reached the point only to look & see that it was a solid rock wall for far as I could see!  It was now just after 7:30pm, I was exhausted, my right wrist was really starting to ache & I had nowhere to go.  This is when the whole experience became "real" for me.  Being physically exhausted, mentally overwhelmed, & overall just defeated, I sat my paddle on my lap & just looked ahead.  I was thinking, "How could I have let myself get to this point?"..."I saw these tracks, why didn't I realize this sooner?"..."What can I do now?"  About this time I looked to land & realized how far back I was drifting.  This is when I knew I had only 1 option & that was to start paddling.  The sun went down, my back was aching, my shoulders were burning, my neck felt like it was in a vice, & the pain in my wrist was becoming unbearable.  I was doing just what I had planned NOT to do, paddle at night.  One quote I have on my refrigerator; "You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option you have."  The next time you ever find youself in a bad situation, remember that quote.  

The good news was that I could see the Mukilteo Ferry & I knew that there would be somewhere near the Ferry Terminal where I could land.  I finally arrived at the terminal around 9:30pm.  The area available to "camp" wasn't ideal, but at that point I didn't care.  I never thought about quitting, but at this time I realized that this was going to take 3 days, when I orignally thought it would take 2, & I was beginning to question if I could even finish it.  I pride myself on being in pretty good shape, but the demands I put on my body were much more than it could handle.  To add insult to injury, I had to physically lift my kayak & move it to the rocks that were on higher ground.  I set my tent up next to a fence & tied my kayak to my tent as my rope wasn't long enough to reach the fence & there was nothing else around to tie it to.  I figured if the water came up that high & my kayak started to drift, I would wake up when my tent started moving.

So much for a campfire & a happy first night...

To my amazement, I actually slept for 7hrs only waking up a few times during the night.  I'm guessing my body was just trying to recover, little did it know what I had in store for it on Day 2! :)

Even though I had a good nights sleep, I woke up feeling like I had carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist & like I had been kayaking for over 12hrs the day before.  It took a little while for me to pack everything up & get going.  The last thing I wanted to do was get back in that kayak & start paddling.  I did though, & about 2 minutes into paddling I thought to myself; "well, there's definitely no turning back now...that was your chance, you could have called somebody, told them to come to the Mukilteo Ferry, & that would have been that."  I knew I wasn't going to be calling anybody begging to get picked up off some random little island in the inside passage, and I felt really good about that.  I really felt like the worst part was over & I could deal with the aches & pains, it was another gorgeous morning & I was ready to make some progress!

Mukilteo Ferry

More calm tides & a fresh outlook to start Day 2!

The sun was really blazing on Day 2, I'm one of those people that LOVE the sun! And I mean, I like it HOT! I prefer running in the heat, I like laying on the beach, when the sun started beating down, & the tides continued to stay calm, I was really starting to enjoy all the progress I was making on Day 2. Before I knew it I had reached the SE end of Camano Island & took my first break.
Camano Island

Soaking up the sunshine!

I was racing Austin Powers for a bit
I was heading up Port Susan & making good time.  At this point I made it my goal to make it to Skagit Bay by the end of the day.  I really enjoyed watching all the beach goers on Warm Beach, all the water skiers, & plenty of seals that kept popping their heads up around me to keep me entertained.  Just before I went through the passage into Skagit Bay I snapped a couple pictures, one of an awesomly built stairway that went straight up a cliff & another of the absolute-smooth water through the channel.

Stairway to Heaven

I was due for some stressless kayaking :)
I like to stay consistent, so I conveniently waited until almsost 8pm, when I found myself desperately looking for a place to camp for the night.  Not many options through the marshy/wetlands area into Skagit Bay.  It quickly became dark & once again, I was out in my kayak, with my headlamp on, trying to find a place to camp IN THE DARK.  I found a spot that would suffice on the NE end of Camano Island.  I only took 2 breaks today, & stuck it out in my kayak & grinded out the miles, I didn't have the current at my back like yesterday, but I had calm seas, so after 14+hrs of paddling & a long 15+hr day, I was exhausted once again.  As I put the kayak up on the sand, I let my exhaustion take over & carelessly stood up to get out of my kayak.  The kayak quickly started to rock, I lost my balance & the kayak flipped over.  Talk about a deflating moment.  The tide was going out, so I only fell in about 12" of muddy water, but not only was I soaked & it was getting cold as it was nearing 10pm, but I had to flip my kayak over, & gather all my water bottles, food bag, camera bag, etc etc...that was now floating in the water.  I had to pump all the water out I try to clean myself off the best I could before I set my tent.  I was so tired & beaten down at this point, I just had nothing left.  I struggled to get my tent set up & even contemplated just sleeping inside the tent without propping it up with the extender sticks.  I had been rationing both my remaining food & water all day, so my energy level was extremely weak, like I said; I originally thought it would only take 2 days, but I figured I had brought enough for 3 days.  Well, I underestimated the amount of calories I would be burning through, especially being out on the water for 14-15hrs each day.

It's hard to tell in the pic, but I am soaked

I took this about 30-45min after I fell in.  The tide was going out & you can see in the mud where I fell.

Again, another 7hrs of sleep!  Again, my body ached all over & I felt like I had just paddled 14hrs the day before.  Today however, was different.  I was full of optimism & knew that I would make it to Anacortes today!  I didn't know how long it would take me, & I was most concerned about finding Swinomish Channel, as I wasn't familar with it. 
Another beautiful day, I was greeted with seals & scenic views.  The tide gods were good to me again & I was cruising along.  I only had 1 blueberry muffin, a little bit of buffalo jerky, a powerbar, a cliff bar, & 2 bottles of water left.  Not much fuel, & my engine needed some maintence, but it was all good because I could see Fidalgo Island!

Looking haggered & weary, but excited to realize my well-earned goal!
I took a break on the NW end of Fir Island, texted my Dad that I'd be there in about 5hrs & headed up North.  What I failed to realize was that all I needed to do was loop around the island & head East into Swinomish Channel.  After about a little over an hour of paddling I realized that I was up near Hope Island & had overshot my destination.  As if that wasn't deflating enough, the tide was quickly going out, so going back would become an extreme problem.  In some places there was only a few inches of water, so I was constantly getting high-centered & having to use my paddle to pry myself free & pull/push myself forward.  After about 6 feet, I'd get high-centered again, & this continued for the next 2 and a half hours.   All in all that missed turn cost me roughly 10 extra miles, 4 extra hours, & I was so exhausted, I was forced to eat my remaining Cliff bar & drink the last 5-6oz of water that I had.

On Fir Island, just before my crucial missed turn...*sigh*
I had already had a couple low points on this journey & I was already so close to my final destination (if you want to call 5hrs of paddling, "close"), so although I was greatly dissapointed, I decided not to let it get to me.  Coming up through the Swinomish Channel gave me a chance to reflect back through the past 3 days & really appreciate what I had accomplished.  If you're still reading & aren't completely bored by now, I would definitely recommend to everybody to do something that takes them out of their comfort zone for a few days.  One year ago I was just learning how to swim, now I'm confident enough to go alone up the Pacific Ocean almost 100 miles.  It doesn't have to be dangerous, you could go on a 2-3 day hike, guided horseback ride in the mountains, whatever.  It's just good to get out of your daily routine & experience what we're here for, & that's to live life.  Although I did this on my own, I felt like I was never alone, thanks to the 21st Century & text messaging.  Mom, Dad, Kirsten, Kohl, Sarah, & Daryl kept me company throughout the trip. Thanks guys! :)

Coming into Anacortes!

Totals = 62hrs - 38.5hrs paddle time - 95 total miles

The aftermath - tendonitis in my right wrist/forearm.  I won't be winning any thumb-wars anytime soon!

It's hard to tell from this pic, but my right arm is pretty sore & swollen


  1. I would love to do something like this someday. Thanks for the great story and congrats on reaching your goal! It is inspiring to see someone doing something difficult for purely personal reasons, in a culture that doesn't especially encourage that.Thanks!

  2. That was a good blog :) I am glad you wrote it for everyone to see!

  3. Very cool Jawn! I'm amazed at what an athlete you have become, very inspiring :) I like all the pictures especially the one where you fell in the mud, it looks like the dead man outline ;) tee hee

  4. John--you are the man! What happened to the chubby guy that would stumble back from the Bamboo on Sat. nights? It's miraculous to see the transformation from party-guy to iron-man athlete. What an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing, you're a great inspiration to slackers like myself. I really enjoyed your blog.

  5. Congratulations for persevering .Geoff Hornsby

  6. What an incredible accomplishment! Congratulations Jawn!