Friday, May 29, 2015

Angel Island

The winding trail keeps going up. Climbing steady with the view of the bay ever-changing. It started on pavement, leading to steps and then a trail twisting through a canopy of oaks and madrones. Crossing over the fire road the North Ridge Trail is interrupted with a picture post card view of Ayala Cove.
In the summer of 1775, Captain Cook has just completed his second voyage around the globe, George Washington was given the command of ragtag bunch of rebels fighting in a fledgling revolution and Juan Manuel de Ayala and crew of the San Carlos became the first vessel to enter the world's greatest natural harbor of San Francisco Bay.
Ayala later reported, "It true that this port is good. Not only for the beautiful harmony that offers to the view, but is does not lack very good fresh water, wood, ballast in abundance. It's climate though cold, is healthful and free of those troublesome fogs we had in Monterey."
Spanish navigators had been missing it for more than 200 years, but on Aug, 5th  The San Carlos battling powerful currents and using a crescent moon to steer by slipped past the Golden Gate into the bay. He saw an island and named it Santa Maria de los Angeles or as we call it in present-day Angel Island. Looking to protect his ship, he anchored it in Ayala Cove and remained there for nearly a month while is crew explored and mapped the bay area for the first time.

Over looking that cove today, ferryboat after ferryboat cruise in daily dropping off and picking up tourists at the island's visitor center and museum. The little cove is abuzz with activity as  visitors look forward to their new discoveries on the island.
 I'm here with four others from Bayside Adventure Sports. A church sports group based out of the Sacramento area. While most people visit the island via ferryboat, we all paddled in  and are camping at the kayak camp on the northwest side of the island. I had paddled around the island earlier today and now the goal is to hike to its top. A 788 foot climb up Mount Livermore.
The entire island is within Angel Island State Park boundaries and administered by California State Parks. The island has a history of being used in a variety of purposes including, military forts,  missile site,  an US Public Health Service Quarantine Station, and an US west coast Bureau of Immigration inspection and detention facility. Historic building, battery strongholds and installation facilities have been left behind to view on guided tours.
We are steadily climbing up North Ridge Trail on the east end of the island.  We have ascended between 500 to 600 feet since leaving the visitor center. Through the trees we catch views of old Fort McDowell and the bay.  It's a sailor's paradise today. Vessels can be seen skimming across the water in every direction. Their white and shiny sails bounding over their tops on the blue water. Like stars in the heavens there are way to many count.

It's a 5 mile trek around the island. For a dollar extra people can bring their bikes on the ferry or rent one in Ayala Cove while visiting the island. There are 13 miles of hiking trails and roadways on Angel Island. Cyclists have access to 9 of them. However, for the two and half mile trip up to Mount Livermore its all hiking. Steep switch-backs make the trail challenging to even the best of hikers.
At 700 ft. the trail splits into three. While two trails lead back down and one goes to the summit. The trees yield way to the bay for its view. There is still evidence of the 2008 fire that scorched 250 acres there. At 88 more feet we were rewarded with an island's awe-inspiring expansive 360° views of the San Francisco skyline, Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County.

It is a view Ayala never got to enjoy for himself.  Ayala had accidentally shot himself in the foot and left most of the exploring to his sailing master Jose de Canizares. On September 17, 1775 he sailed the San Carlos back out through the Golden Gate never to return again. A year later explorer Juan Bautista de Anza led the first colonists to the hilly peninsula facing the Golden Gate and and chose site for the  future city of San Francisco.

 Our visit was short also. When we loaded our kayaks up with our camping gear and paddled away the next morning, unlike Ayala we all look forward to our next visit to the little island.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Under the Golden Gate

I come back to the sea. In my case it is usually San Francisco Bay, than which no lustier, tougher, sheet of water can be found for small-boat sailing. It really blows on San Francisco Bay. During the winter, which is the best cruising season, we have southeasters, southwesters, and occasional howling northers. Throughout the summer we have what we call the "sea-breeze," an unfailing wind off the Pacific that on most afternoons in the week blows what the Atlantic Coast yachtsmen would name a gale. ---Jack London

When I think back on all those places I have ever wanted to kayak. I would dream of clear forest lakes, whitewater in a rocky mountain canyon and a sea view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
It is undeniably one the greatest views ever. The Golden Gate Bridge is an icon of America. As I began unloading my kayak into Horseshoe Bay just to the north of the bridge, even in the early morning hours,  folks have already begun to congregate at the water's edge with their eyes fixed on the bridge in reverence.
It is a calm and beautiful morning. Out of the safety of Horseshoe Bay, I have heard about what  challenges await. San Francisco Bay is legendary to the sea kayaker. Some of the wildest sea conditions on the entire West Coast can be found just past that sea wall. The bay is known for steep waves, fast and swirling currents and howling winds blowing through that Golden Gate. The last time my paddling partner, Erik Allen and I paddled the bay we faced a tiring wind on the return trip. I laughed at it anyway.
"You have never paddled Lake of the Woods at Zipple Bay, have you." I told Erik, and then exaggerated just a little, "They use a log chain for a wind sock there."
Erik might have been concerned about the wind,  however I'm worried about the tides and currents. Sea kayaking is still a foreign language to me. Ebbs, slacks, floods and tide tables make up words in a sea kayaker's secret code. A flood tide makes it easier to paddle out while ebb will aid in the return. Finding the ideal time optimal for one's paddling experience.
Adding to even more the chaos are the pleasure crafts, ferries and ocean-going vessels competing for the same waterway. All of these factors should be considered when paddling in the bay and caution should always be exercised.

I picked a good time to paddle. It is early and the winds are light and the tide is in my favor.  I'm going solo across to Angel Island to join my camping party for an overnight on the island. They came the day before and I will be joining them. My kayak is loaded up with my camping gear, a change of clothes and assortment of freeze-dried foods and power bars.
My heart races as I exit the Horseshoe Bay and enter the swells of the ocean. It is an exhilarating feeling as I round Yellow Bluff, a 90 foot cliff just of east of Horseshoe Bay. The waves crash gently against its walls. I enjoy views of seals bobbing their heads up above the surface of the water.  They are my only company so far. It is way to early for ferryboats. Their traffic won't begin till mid morning. I stay along the shore for a while before making a northeastern turn towards Angel Island's Stuart's Point. To my left is Richardson Bay and Sausalito, to my right,  Alcatraz Island and San Francisco while behind me is the Golden Gate Bridge. Straight ahead is Angel Island silhouetted against the sun. Its dark mass rises out of a hazy glow.
It's a little less than 3 miles across to it. The island looms larger and larger with each stroke. I spot a few fisherman and sailboats on the horizon. It is an easy paddle till I catch the swell of and rapid water of Raccoon Straights. It pushes me past Stuart Point and towards the kayak in campsite. In the grass I catch sight of my party's kayaks nestled in the grass. Up the hill,  I'm just in time for breakfast.

The day had just begun. After unloading my gear and quick breakfast I'm back on the water again with the group of paddlers. We make a quick trip across Raccoon Straights to Tiburon followed by a trip back through the straights and around the island.
  Angel Island is the bay's second largest island. It's about five miles to hike around which gives me idea of the distant I will paddle while circumnavigating the island. I team up with fellow paddler Phil Montanes for the trek around the island. I watch Phil and his kayak disappear and reappear in the bounding waves while crossing the ferryboat lanes to Stuart's Point. Going around the west end of the island we take on the full brunt of the bay's winds. At times we don't even seem to be moving. We paddle hard past the rocky ledge before the bay winds decrease. From there, we sweep along the south side of the island, where we have the best views of Alcatraz and the cityscape of San Francisco. After Blunt Point, the bay is as calm a Minnesota lake on summer's afternoon. The eastern side of the island usually offers protection against the prevailing west winds. Here we catch our breaths and pass the historic sites of the island. The fort and the immigration station stand like silent witnesses to another time. Rounding the corner again we catch the wind and the view of Ayala Cove. This where the tourists arrive and depart the island via ferry boats. We have almost made it. Just past Point Ione, we see our kayak camp's beach and the far off view of the Golden Gate.

 Part Two of my trip to Angel Island next week in Outside Adventure to the Max.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Kayaking Fargo, Red River Reminiscence

 Originally published on May 6 2014. This post has been an Outside Adventure to the Max fan favorite. 

The city of Fargo has been all the news this past year. It has a new hit TV series that shares it's name. ESPN College Game Day came to town for a visit last fall,  and it received rave reviews from the national media about it's urban trendy downtown nightclubs, restaurants and bars. It seems, Fargo is cool. After living and raising a family there for quite awhile it nice to see it get some positive attention. But, for me, the best part is it's river.
 Slicing through the communities of Fargo and it's next door neighbor, Moorhead, Minn,  is the Red  River of the North. This slow motion friend doesn't seem to be in a hurry at all.  It meanders 550 miles from it's source in Breckenridge, Minn all the way to Lake Winnipeg in Canada. In one of the world's flattest places,  the river can pick and chose it's own way.  There are not many straight lines in this waterway. In some places along the river, Minnesota is on west bank, while North Dakota is to the east. Moving very slowly and sloping at just a half-foot per mile, any beginner can navigate this river easily.

Urban paddle through downtown Fargo and Moorhead
Sunset on the Red River.

 Kayaking or canoeing has never been so easy. Along with the cities' parks departments, the Riverkeepers, a non profit organization established to protect and preserve the integrity and natural environment of the river in the Fargo-Moorhead area, have developed several access points along the river. Two favorites are located above and below the Midtown Dam in Dike East Park. The dam has been retrofitted with a rocky slope. Fishermen hang out here daily during the summer months.
 From here one can paddle either north through the center of the cites to get views of the skylines and  bridges, or go south towards Lindenwood park to escape the bustle.
  It is hard to believe this is an urban paddle as one winds and weaves around with the stream. Willow, cottonwood and box elder trees cradle the river at each bend. In either direction don't be surprised to see beaver, river otters and white tailed deer. It feels like a trip into the wilderness.
 Of course in other places, one can tell they are in a city.  The sounds of traffic and train horn echo off the water. The music of a jazz guitar floats down from a riverside venue or the Oak Grove High School Band plays it's fight song at it's football field near to the river. It is always good to remember pizza or a glass of wine are minutes away after the kayaks are loaded up. 

Kayaking only stops when the Red River is frozen.
 One of the more popular events on the river is the annual Race the Red kayak and canoe race sponsored by the Riverkeepers.  Each year area paddlers come to challenge skills, raise money for Riverkeepers and have fun. The race features a 10 mile competitive race and a 2 mile fun paddle. The race begins at the Lindenwood Park bike bridge and ends down stream at the floating bridge above the Midtown Dam.  For more information log on to

Lining up for the race.

Debbie and Nick after placing in last year's race.
 I'm now part of the Red River's history. I'm sure no one in recent times had paddle up and down it so much. It's muddy looking waters, ever changing direction and rumble of it's dams still call and always will. I have seen picturesque sunrises and sunsets,  cool morning mists and tranquil snow falls at each bend. I have enjoyed time with family and friends floating on the river as well as solo trips of solitude. The river was a wonderful friend in my journey of life.

Paddling the Red River.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Up River Without A Shuttle

 “Going up that river was like traveling back to the beginning of the world, when the plants ran wild and the trees were kings. We sailed up an empty river into a great and silent forest"  --Joesph Conrad,  Heart of Darkness...

 In the past couple of weeks I have been taking trips up river and then back down. It is challenging in a way for me. All explorers went up the river from Lewis & Clark to Teddy Roosevelt. It's the drive to see what is around the next bend and the anticipation of not knowing what will be seen.

My kayak partner Erik Allen and I were for that challenge last month, when we paddled up the North Fork of the American River from Upper Lake Clementine. We had traveled up another section of the river before at place called Rattlesnake Bar and above Folsom Lake. There its a mixture of lake and river. Above Lake Clementine it would be all river. Going up the North Fork follows an ever rising gradient. The water comes in swift fashion. We would paddle pool to pool portaging through the rapids. Erik's longer sea kayak would help him muscle through the fast current a few times by vigorously paddling as hard as he could to pass over the ledge where the water was in a boil. Its nature's rowing machine.

"This is a marathon, not a sprint," Luke Kimmes told the Des Moines Register  "Physically, it's very demanding to paddle nine to 12 hours a day, but a lot of it is up here (he points to his head). It's that mind over matter idea."
Kimmes and five others are on different odyssey this year. They are on the Adventure to Rediscover North America Expedition, canoeing from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean. The journey will take them through ten states, and five Canadian province traveling most way the upstream on the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Its well past 2,000 miles upstream before they are finally going downstream in the Red River Valley of the North and into Canada.
"This is the type of trip I dreamt about when I was a kid," said Kimmes, "It's a passion of mine to show others that getting outside and enjoying the environment is good for the soul. It's a lot better than sitting at a desk."

 I compare it to climbing steps. On some rivers you will feel a gentle tug or push. When a river turns, it forms a bend. The strongest, and deepest current will usually be found on the outside of that curve. So while Erik tries to power paddle through, I take the easy way, finding where the rapids are the narrowest to the pools. Locking my boat against the eddies , a relative calm where the main current flows reverse,  I climb out of my kayak and push it through the fast water. Leaning into the streaming and bracing against the boat.
I have waded before. In the Midwest we could never really wade in many rivers. Their bottoms were made of mud and silt. You would quickly sink up to your ankles or knees in muck. Don't even think of wearing a pair of shoes. You would either leave them stuck in the mud or spend the next hours trying to scrape the sludge off them. There it's better to go barefoot with the mud oozing between your toes.
 Water shoes are a must today. A couple of weeks ago this water was snow. It is still cold against my legs and feet. This water has enough power to knock me down and the rocks underneath are slippery and jagged. My neoprene boots hold in my warmth and also protect my feet in the rocky river bottom. In my mind, I think about to the explorers and gold miners who stood ankle deep in in this cold stream searching for new lands and new treasure. Before long we are back flat water with roar of the rapids behind us.

"Really, it speaks to what this trip means to me, which is if you have a passion, part of passion is struggling and sacrificing for what you want." said the mastermind Adventure to Rediscover North America Expedition, Winchell Delano in the same interview with Des Moines Register, "The feeling when you cross that divide and you're going downstream again, it's like delayed gratification through cathartic pain."

In the Midwest the slope is measured in inches. It's like pouring water on a pool table and watching it meander to the table's lean. In the foothills of California, if there is water, it comes cascading down the canyons offering scenic beauty and solitude.  At one spot we are treated with the sight of a bald eagle. It pays us no mind as we paddle on in a quiet pool. When soaring, it could be on to the next canyon in the time it takes us to paddle around one bend. It's all new to us, even though it has been mapped, surveyed and Google earthed. When we are out here paddling up stream little matters. It's like we are the first to see it, hear it and touch it.
"Just one more bend," we say to each other. Or maybe even one further up. Lets see how far we can go, powered by trail mix and granola bar before turning back. Then we can turn around and ride the bouncy gentle rapids back to still waters.