Friday, May 27, 2016


The struggle for spirit has replaced the physical, and in his evolution psychologically man’s greatest minds have become aware of the emptiness of material striving. The struggle has become a positive drive toward perfection, all in keeping with his final hope: realization of the kingdom of God within him. – Sigurd Olsen

The day started much like all my other trips. An early morning two-vehicle caravan from Sacramento, along Interstate-80, to Highway 101 and then unloading our kayaks in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge at Horseshoe Bay. Hazy skies and calm seas greeted us along dozens of Marin County Firefighters taking part in a training exercise at the Coast Guard station there. It was a  reminder that 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. On the eastern horizon emerged Angel Island.

In August 1775, across the continent, the American revolution was just beginning. George Washington had just taken command of the Continental Army.  In England, legendary sea Captain Cook had just completed his second voyage around the world and looking out from where we currently were,   Lt. Juan Manuel de Ayala had brought his ship, the San Carlos, into San Francisco Bay for the first time.  Every other sea captain like Francis Drake had sailed on past the fog encased bay entrance by the time Ayala stumbled upon the now world-famous bay.
His purpose for the trip along the California coast was to give a detailed account of the area that future Spanish ship captains. Ayala’s pilot, Don Jose’ de Canizares, explored and mapped the bay, while Ayala stayed aboard the San Carlos anchored in a little cove island that now bares his name.  Following a custom then common among Catholic explorers of naming sites for the religious feast days nearest to the time of discovery, he christened Isla de Los Angeles, (Spanish for Island of the Angels).

"This is certainly a fine harbour," Ayala reported "It presents on sight a beautiful fitness, and it has no lack of good drinking water and plenty of firewood and ballast. Its climate, though cold, is altogether healthful and it is free from such troublesome daily fogs as there are at Monterey, since these scarcely come to its mouth and inside there are very clear days"
Ayala and his crew stayed for 45 days along the island exploring, mapping and trading with Indians, only to sail out the bay and NEVER return.

It would be his loss. I mean who hasn't left their heart in San Francisco. Angel Island now part of the California State Parks system is just one of the many gems the Bay Area. This is my second kayaking-camping trip to Angel Island with members of Bayside Adventure Sports, an active Sacramento based outdoors church group. Transformation through recreation in God's creation is the guiding ideal for participants. The group organizes weekly biking, hiking, skiing, and kayaking outings, along with camping and ski trips throughout the year.

"Starting a good tradition," said Brian Hughes, one of the paddlers on the trip,  "Each year is different because of different weather conditions and exploring different parts of the island and the Bay. It's a challenging experience with awesome buddies. It has made me appreciate God's creation and the value of friends."

We caught the "Flood" tide for a free tide directly to the island. Our hearts seemed to pound a little harder as we exited Horseshoe Bay and feel the surge of the ocean. My longtime paddling partner Erik Allen and I traded off taking the lead across the 3-mile stretch as Angel Island loomed ahead of us, getting larger with each stroke.

Last year, Hughes paddled a sit on top kayak and towed a paddle board. This year he has a sleek sky blue touring kayak he is paddling for the second time since he bought it. Ron Bischel missed last year's trip us and is kayaking the bay for the first time. It's an easy paddle till we catch the swell of the rapid waters of Raccoon Straights. It pushes us past Stuart Point and towards the shore of the island. Up the hill through the trees is our campsite.

In an article titled Catching the Late Show in this year's spring issue of Adventure Kayak, writer Charlotte Jacklein says it's a fundamental fact that one of the greatest things you can do with your kayak is to go back-country camping. She wrote, "Day trips are certainly fun and beneficial, but camping out of your kayak exponentially magnifies all the joys of paddling and spending time in nature with friends."

Angel Island is within view of 4.8 million people around the Bay Area and has countless visitors on daily basis hiking Mount Livermore and touring the historic features of the island. But, when the last ferry left and the sunset, the island was pretty much its own world. It became an extraordinary backcountry adventure, offering the solace of any wilderness camp except it had stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the twinkling lights of San Francisco. That night tired after paddling in the wind around the island we reflected and philosophized about the day's paddle, life and God in tranquility.

 "Fellowship and strenuous fun, " said Hughes, "It is a major part of my social and faith connection.  Without it, I wouldn't have much going on that gets me revved up. We had one less person this year, but was still good"

Paddling guru Sigurd Olson knew about paddling and camping together and how it can lead to deeper understanding of our relationships with each other, nature and ourselves when he wrote "There have been countless campfires, each one different, but some so blended into their backgrounds that it is hard for them to emerge. But I have found that when I catch even a glimmer of their almost forgotten light in the eyes of some friend who has shared them with me, they begin to flame once more. Those old fires have strange and wonderful powers. Even their memories make life the adventure it was meant to be."

We hiked to the top of the 788-foot Mount Livermore the island tallest point on the island the next day before paddling back to Horseshoe Bay. It was a few days away on land and sea that recharged our lives and souls till we all can paddle and camp together again. Ayala may have never returned, but I'm looking forward to more paddling trips with the guys to the little bay island for many years to come.

 Click on the following links for past stories about kayaking in San Francisco Bay and visiting Angel Island in Outside Adventure to the Max.

Angel Island
Under the Golden Gate