After years of dreaming of having my own kayak, I said screw it and bought one this May. Online from Amazon no less, because that's how you want a kayak to arrive at your home; carried up the stairs effortlessly by the muscled delivery man. I signed for it, shut the door and then just gaped at it, all ten feet long and two and a half feet wide, a giant cocoon of shrink wrapped goodness. I got out my knife and diligently cut away through three layers of cellophane to reveal my electric lime plastic adventure dream. I'd already bought my paddle through the mail from REI, and had my old life jacket ready to go. But while very light at just 35 lbs, the sheer bulk of this kayak suddenly seemed daunting. So I ordered a rolling rack that you can load the kayak on to portage it from your vehicle to the water, and it disassembles so you can carry in in the kayak with you. I was a little amazed at my own audacity. I've been poor for so long, and constantly stuck in the hilarious and ironic loop of paying down debt, that I forget what it means to buy something new and completely frivolous. I'm always waiting until "I have my debt paid down", which ostensibly means when I'm dead. And the most important thing about this for me is how I feel when I'm out on the water; it's an instant and palpable joy. To be right next to a completely different surface like that, gliding over it, through it, to be able to access nature from the water, well, that's just something I realized that I needed to have in my life right now, not sometime down the line. And to be able to do it on my own, to be self sufficient and still get on the water, that is ideal.
The usual additional expense typical to owning a kayak is purchasing a roof rack and all that entails. You could easily drop $3-400 on all the hardware and the kayak saddle from Thule or Yakima. This had honestly been a large reason why I'd put off getting a kayak. I have the same little 2WD Toyota beater pickup I've had since '95 in Olympia, replete with an ill-fitting canopy. Finally I just started looking at online posts about carrying a kayak in your truck bed. Turns out it's really common and very stable if you secure it well with tie downs. So off to the rack store I went to buy tie downs and foam pads for support. Then a quick stop at Andy and Bax for a dry bag, and I was ready to go!
I decided to head out to a place I'd traveled often by canoe and even in my old inflatable kayak, Smith Lake in North Portland. This is a wildlife area that I like to come to just to bird watch the shore and the woods surrounding the water.. It's a pretty shallow lake, and the channels that connect it to the adjacent Bybee Lake quickly become impassable as the summer months continue, and the water levels drop. With droughts coming over the last few years, this area of water is quickly becoming compromised, and as of June 4th when I headed out, the water was about 2 feet deep at best, less than that in other parts. The vegetation was so dense it was like paddling through a thick seaweed soup, and I felt badly for the fish that were struggling to find paths through the plant life. The fish die off's are increasing in mid to late summer because the water becomes too hot to support them. But for now, the lake was comically dotted with stalking Egrets, their feathers barely touching the water. I headed west across the lake towards the channel that would get me to Bybee Lake, if it was still passable. Once I was in the channel, I saw numerous cinnamon teal ducks, tree swallows, and got beached a few times.. I finally turned a bend to see that a beaver dam had been constructed across the width of the channel, and the tree directly above it contained an immature bald eagle giving off the vibe of "turn around now, lady". I snapped a photo, and took the hint, heading back the way I had come. Once out in the lake proper, I headed over to Pelican island, as I like to think of it, in the south east corner. As I paddled closer, I was disappointed to see no one home, but as I decided to call it quits, I looked up in the sky and saw the distinctive wings of a group of 13 American White Pelicans circling above me. It gave me goosebumps to hear nothing but the wind racing under their wings as they flew right over me and drifted in to the little dirt island they summer on. And then lo and behold, another 13 flew right in after them, followed by two other groups of around 30 apiece. As I watched, a couple eagles flew in nearby to start scoping out the new arrivals and strategize potential meals.. I was beyond happy to have witnessed some of my favorite birds, making the kayak trip seem all the more magical.. I paddled hard against the wind back to the shore and mildly exhausted, I was very happy to have wheels to get the boat and my gear back to the truck. Good first trip!
the brown is the mud bottom of the lake, about 18 " deep
immature bald eagle
June 15, 2015 Kayak Part 2
I was still a bit nervous about heading anywhere totally new so decided to head out to the Columbia Slough, which I've canoed with a friend before. I loaded my gear and headed out to Kelley Point Park on Marine Drive in North Portland. Right after you take the right turn into the park, there's a dirt parking lot on your left which is a perfect put in for small boats and is also a popular fishing spot. I was headed into the slough system and away from the entrance to the Columbia which was about 1500 ft northwest of where I put in.
The current was against me as I paddled, but I reasoned that this would make my return journey pleasant as I could just drift back, snapping pictures along the way, as I'd decided to bring the camera now that I had a sense of the stability of the boat. It was a really nice day, light breeze, lots of tree shade to paddle under if I got too hot. It seemed there was a great blue heron and subsequently a kingfisher to be startled every five minutes or less. I passed one other inbound kayaker, but otherwise had the water to myself. I heard some bells ringing periodically on my right side which sounded like something livestock would wear. But that seemed unlikely, as how would there be farm fields out in the middle of all this industrial river side, studded with warehouses and factories? I continued on and came to the split where the north slough divides and chose the narrower channel that I'd traveled before. It would end at a kind of blocked levy through which you could access the south side of Bybee Lake. I knew I could portage the kayak over the gate if I was feeling up to it, or just use it as a turnaround spot. The channel to get there was filled with quite a few downed trees and I had to navigate carefully to not get caught on wayward branches. I was definitely feeling a bit tired once getting there and thought I would just head back, using the current as a chance to rest a bit. Wrong..
I had hit the slough at exactly the wrong time this day, at the bottom of the Columbia's afternoon tide turning. So I had to paddle even harder to get back. I now know to look up currents for any body of water that is not a lake, and see what's going on the day I want to head out. Not the relaxing photo montage I had hoped for, but lesson learned.
I did hear those bells again on my way back and had to pull over to check it out. I clambered up a small hillside of nettles and tall grasses and popped out of the trees onto a dirt road. In front of me was a bright sunshine drenched field with hundreds of goats grazing. I didn't know who was more surprised, me or the goats. The white one closest to me kind of sidled over after a moment and gave me a polite and gentle stare, as if to say, "and who might you be?" This was #497, and I took several pictures of her, as well as a few others. I love goats, both their characters and their social interaction. Was a lovely happenstance moment, and I could have spent much longer there, but I was tired and still had a ways to paddle back.
this one had the bell around her neck..
love her expression and that grin
Was I ever glad to see the bridges approaching that signaled I was almost home. I did get a few pictures of a great blue heron and some swallows nests before I pulled out, so that was timely. I grabbed everything except the boat and took it up to the truck, setting up the tarp and foam blocks and tie downs in the back. I went back down to the shore and my stomach fell out as I saw that the kayak was no longer there. No, no, no, no, NO!!! But sure enough, it was drifting at a fast clip with the current back the way I'd just come. I stared like a deer in the headlights for two seconds, then raced back to the truck, grabbed the two halves of my paddle, raced back to the shore, threw my keys on the sand so I wouldn't lose them in the water, and dove in the channel. I was already exhausted and having to hold the paddle forced me to do little more than a dog paddle. I could tell right away I wasn't going to catch it at this speed, so I looked over and saw the vertical bank nearest me had become a reinforced hillside of drainage boulders, so I swam over and pulled myself up and clambered over them as fast as I could.. Was actually making time now, and saw I would catch the boat, so instead concentrated on not breaking my ankles. I got within maybe 15 feet of the kayak before the the rocky shoreline was about to turn back into a vertical dirt bank, but I was close enough and flung myself back into the water, swam over and grabbed it. I was so tired and freaked out and basically just cursed the poor boat for a minute. I think I might have even hit it? I was just mad at myself of course, and the takeaway here kids, is ALWAYS PULL YOUR BOAT ALL OF THE WAY OUT OF THE WATER.
great blue heron
exiting great blue
June 30, 2015 Kayak Part 3
I have recently discovered a wonderful new nature spot out on Sauvie Island, the dirt road extension of Sauvie Island Road, also referred to as Steelman Road. This area is closed from October 1st to April 15th of every year, somewhat ironically, for hunting as well as bird and mammal nesting. The area along the channel right before the Fish and Wildlife gate is a popular fishing spot and I had stopped there in the past, and seen the closed gate. It just didn't occur to me to check it again until this spring. I've been a longtime fan of Oak Island Road's nature trail, which has the same closure schedule, but in recent years its popularity has been growing and it has begun to feel crowded to me. This is in part thanks to the Sauvie Island website showing it as a trail. Steelman Road is pretty much for fisherman and hunters and locals only and I hope that anyone who reads this and decides to check out this spot will graciously keep mum about it. Just found a hashtag yesterday on facebook: #stopmovingtoportland, and I can sooo relate.. I've literally rearranged my work week to have my weekend on Monday and Tuesday because anywhere I used to go is now overrun on the weekends with eager outdoors enthusiasts, and their three dogs apiece. Bless the dogs, it's not their fault. And I can't get angry at people for wanting to enjoy the outdoors, I mean isn't that pretty much what I live for? At the same time, I have to say I really enjoy solitude and that's becoming a rare commodity around Portland these days.
So I set out for the very end of the road, where there is a roundabout with a couple choice spots right on the very pretty Gilbert River, which is a tributary that splits off of the Multnomah Channel. The embankment is about 5 ft high but I found a little canyon with a couple tree root steps, and a tiny little mud shelf big enough to hold the kayak once you've lowered it down. I got all my gear and was paddling about ten minutes later. There was one other family just a bit up the river, enjoying a picnic and fishing in a shady spot. The current was against me but it wasn't stiff, so I was able to make time and as the river opened out, I stuck to the east side where there was still some shade under the trees.
There were a lot of eagles on the river, both immature and full grown, and they seemed a bit surprised by my presence. I don't think a lot of people travel on this waterway. Saw some great blue herons but not as many as I saw on the slough, and no kingfishers on my way in. Also saw some goldfinches but no good pictures.
immature bald eagle
I paddled to the curve in the river and saw that it was at the fishing pier I'd driven to before, but no one was out yet. Another long straight stretch, and then the river veered slightly to the right before emptying out onto Sturgeon Lake. The current became very strong in the middle at this point, so instead of fighting it, I paddled to the north bank and was rewarded with a mature bald eagle hanging out. I surreptitiously snapped some shots, then headed out to the lake to the waiting flock of American White Pelicans. I could see Mt. St Helens to the north through the haze, and the lake was breezy and a bit choppy. It is pretty shallow, and I could see a family of eagles standing out in the water in the center. Pelicans were everywhere, on snags, and little islands, with a big group just east of the Wash on a sand bar near the shore. The Wash is the area where the Gilbert River connects with the lake and then continues to the south. The currents are fun and choppy and not particularly dangerous as the water is shallow. I casually drifted towards the other arm of the river and then snuck up behind the big part of the flock right behind a nice green hill of long grass. I sat there for the better part of an hour, looking through the binocs, laughing at the pelicans and snapping pictures. I gradually edged a little closer and they weren't fazed at all. Three eagles tried to sneak up from behind on the lake side and were chased away by a handful of Caspian Terns who just weren't having it. Go terns! They must have decided I didn't represent a threat which was a good thing, being scalped by a tern is not my idea of fun.
mt st helens showcase
Terns kicking ass like they do
Hilarious pelican antics; they were so chill
I'd had my fill and wanted to try to take advantage of the river current back before it turned, so paddled through the wash into the fast current. It was great to be travelling without paddling! My little boat doesn't track the best, so I still have to steer or I quickly wind up perpendicular to the current, but all in all, she's a winner. I spent less than $500 on the kayak and all the gear to be hanging out a couple feet from eagles and pelicans and enjoying my lunch drifting down a beautiful river? I got a serious bargain. I was able to take more pictures on the way back and even managed to catch a kingfisher and some swallows as well as an irritated heron. I was passed by two power boats heading out to the lake from the channel, and got to ride some waves which was fun. I got back to my bank and decided to head a bit further the other way. I didn't make it to the channel before I got tired and decided to head back, but I don't think it was much further.
Pulled the kayak all the way out of the water this time, and loaded everything up. Some people arrived right then and were happy to claim my spot since I was taking off. I pulled up to the bathroom at the next bend in the road, and snapped some pictures of some flowers and some turkey vultures that popped over the trees. It was a great day and I know I'll be back to paddle the Gilbert river again soon. If you check it out and love it too, remember to keep this spot hush, please..
just so you know, you can click on any of the pictures to see it larger.. happy trails!