A Life Well Lived

In February of this year I got a call from Nan sea Metts telling me that a book was now available: Stories for My Friends by Robert L. Metts. Bob had passed away the previous year and he left a gift of this book. It’s well worth reading, chronicling a life well lived.

Bob was a classmate of mine at San Lorenzo High School. After high school I went off to college and lost track of many of my high school friends. That was 1968. Then in 2004 I got a phone call from Bob and we reconnected. I was astounded to learn what he had accomplished in the years that had gone by.

In the mid 1970s Bob had become somewhat of a legend on the Stanislaus river with his good friend and rafting partner Dennis Fantin. You have to understand that Bob was crippled from polio. He could not row. Dennis was blind. Somehow the two of them learned to work as a team to guide a raft down a raging whitewater river. You have to read the book to get a sense of how they worked as a team. Once you get into the stories you won’t be able to put the book down.

I bought a copy of the book shortly after Nan sea called me. I read a few pages and put in on the coffee table. Before I could get back to it my wife picked it up and read it. She passed ot to my son, who then passed it on to his father-in-law who was also a river rat on the Stanislaus River in the mid-70.

Not wanting to wait for the book to come back to me, I ordered a second copy to read on my Kindle.

From his rafting adventures Bob went on to become a professor of economics, and he helped develop policies and programs to assist disabled people all over the world. His travels took him to Viet Nam, Yemen, Indonesia, Lebanon, Switzerland, Chile, Kenya and Russia.

Bob also liked a party. He was known to host parties at his house, a log cabin that he and Nan sea built in Chilcoot. Parties would go on for days with musicians jamming and everyone eating delicious food.

One quote from the book that strikes me is the mantra one of the river guides gave Bob: “Focus on the channels, not the rocks.” Good advice for any life journey.

Get the book. It’s a great read and a source of inspiration.

Wind and Chocolate

August 5. I had planned a paddle that would originate from Ferry Point going to Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. When I arrived at the parking lot at 9:15 I was surprised to see that none of my paddling buddies had unloaded their boats. The boats were still on cartops. Everyone was concerned with the wind. After a quick consultation we decided on an alternate plan, to launch from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor and paddle to Point Pinole for lunch. Our thinking was that this might be more sheltered from the wind.

Eight of us were on the water at 10:40, paddling in some wind and chop with the wind and waves coming at us on the stern quarter. This was a good exercise in boat control, since my boat, a Pygmy Ronan, was tending to weather cock and I was constantly correcting for the wind. At noon we were breaking out lunch at Point Pinole, having traversed the 4.2 miles in an hour and 20 minutes.

During lunch Steve broke out a stash of chocolate. Mind you this was no ordinarily chocolate. A well-known Napa Valley restaurant is apparently about to launch their own chocolate brand. Steve managed to get his hands on some samples. We had a treat tasting five flights of chocolate starting with milk chocolate and moving on to some amazing 85% dark chocolate.

We were back on the water at 1 p.m., slogging into a headwind and choppy water. Our strategy was to head towards Riviera de Garbage, and hopefully find some protection from the wind in the wind shadow of the land. At 2:45, we found the boat ramp at Riviera de Garbage and stopped for a welcome break. It had taken us an hour and 45 minutes to cover the three miles. On the crossing we were entertained by pelicans fishing, dive-bombing for fish quite close to our boats. My efforts to photograph them were unsuccessful. From Riviera it was an easy paddle back to our launch site landing at 3:40.

Everybody agreed that the paddle was a good workout and we were back on the beach without an incident. We logged 9.8 miles over the course of our paddle. You can view more details on my GAIA GPS account, and you can view more photos here.

Don’t Trust the Map

This adventure takes place on July 16 as part of our three-day trip to Point Reyes while camping at the Olema Campground. We spent one day kayaking and one day hiking. We based our hiking plan on a map that turned out to be out of date.

Perhaps we are a bit old-fashioned, but there is something comforting about being able to spread out a printed map and get a sense of a place larger than what you can see on a smart phone or GPS unit, not to mention that you don’t need to recharge batteries. So having consulted the map in the morning, we decided on a hike that would originate at Muddy Hollow, follow the Muddy Hollow Road the the White Gate Trail, then on to the Estero Trail, looping back to our origin. This is a lovely hike that meanders through oaks and pines, crossing several streams lined with lush green ferns and alders, and out onto the more open coastal savannah.

We had a very quiet hike, seeing only a half-dozen people over the course of the day. We did see a few elk, at a distance, a few wildflowers and a few birds. When we got to the halfway point, we were looking for a trail junction that never appeared. It showed on our printed map, but not on the GAIA GPS map I was using to track our hike on my iPhone. We had to surmise that the trail on the map no longer existed, which led us to walk a few more miles than we had planned. When we returned to the car we had logged 10.6 miles. We were happy to know that we can still hike that distance over easy terrain. You can view more photos here and look at the track of our hike in more detail here.

Hearts Desire to Pelican Point

July 15, 10:00 AM. We were climbing in our boats at Hearts Desire Beach. Four of us. Hearts Desire is a lovely beach on the Point Reyes Peninsula, part of the California State Park system. I chose Hearts Desire as our launch point because the weather prediction was for wind on Tomales Bay. Hearts Desire and the west side of Tomales Bay is protected from the prevailing wind, so it provides a good launch site when the launch sites on the east side of the bay are windy.

We were launching on a low tide, and while some beaches can be muddy at low tide, we found firm sand. Paddling north along the bay we stayed close to shore. We saw racoons foraging along the shore as well as Great Blue Herons, egrets and osprey. Overhead we had pelicans reeling about and, in the water, jellyfish. With the low water, the eelgrass would occasionally grace our our boats.

Our intended lunch stop was Tomales Beach about three miles from our launch site. When we got there we decided to continue on to a more secluded beach. There were a handful of campers on Tomales Beach. We landed at a beach just south of Pelican Point. True to it’s name, we saw several White Pelicans on the point and opted to land far enough south so as not to disturb them.

After lunch we returned to our boats. We were back at our launch site at 2:30, having logged 9.2 miles. You can see more details about the track here. A beautiful day on Tomales Bay, one of my favorite places to paddle. You can see more photos here.

Kayak to Quinn’s

Quinn’s Lighthouse is a bar and grill on the Oakland waterfront. It was originally constructed as the Oakland Harbor Lighthouse in 1890 and sat on a wooden pier marking the entrance to the Oakland estuary.

On July 8 I joined some fellow BASK members for a paddle that included a stop at Quinn’s for lunch.

At 9:45 we were on the boat ramp at the Grand Street Boat Ramp in Alameda for our usual safety talk and radio check. Across the water sat three Coast Guard cutters tied up at Coast Guard Island. I suppose if we needed help we could simply yell. At 10:00 we were on the water with our route taking us southeast under three bridges–Park Street, Fruitvale and High Street. This section of the estuary was dredged to create a waterway in 1913, turning Alameda into an island.

Once under the High Street Bridge we paddled past the houses lining the shore and across San Leandro Bay, stopping at the boat ramp at the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline. A couple members of our party saw a huge bat ray near the bridge, and numerous pelicans were wheeling overhead as we crossed the bay. We also passed several rowing shells that were out training, with their attendant coaches giving chase in their powerboats. After a brief stop at the shoreline we decided it was time for lunch, so we climbed back in our boats and paddled past Arrowhead Marsh retracing our route.

The dock at Quinn’s is a little awkward for disembarking from a kayak; there is not much to hang onto and a bit high. We took turns holding boats steady and scrambling onto the dock. Then we found our way to the outdoor dining deck at the pub. We noted that the main dining room was closed. It was quite fun to be dining with friends without having to worry about social distancing and masks, at least among ourselves. The staff wore masks.

After lunch it was back on the water, with one of our members proposing a stop at California Canoe and Kayak in Brooklyn Basin to pick up a hatch cover. From there we completed our circumnavigation of Coat Guard Island, returning to the Grand Street Boat Ramp. Over the course of the day we logged 9.3 miles. You can view more photos here and look at more details of the trip log here.

Immersed in Van Gogh

With museums opening up we decided to visit the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit in San Francisco. We bought tickets ahead of time for an off-peak visit for an 11 AM entry on June 22. This was our first venture out into a public space in over 15 months.

To experience the exhibit you enter a large room where animated images of Van Gogh’s work are projected on all four walls of the room as well as the floor. Music accompanies the visuals. It’s a spell-binding experience. In the middle of the room is an elevated viewing platform. We waited for the opportunity to climb the stairs and spent some time on the platform letting the images and music wash over us. Then we returned to the ground floor where we found a spot to sit with the cushions provided and experience more of the show. My still images do not do the show justice.

I’ve been around long enough to recall when a high tech slide show used two slide projectors and dissolve-synchronizer, so this seemed mind-boggling considering how many projectors were involved and the technology required to create and produce this show. The show was created by Massimiliano Siccardi and a team of creatives.

We were mesmerized by the moving visuals and the music, and we found ourselves using our iPhones to capture video clips. Here’s a two minute compilation of clips that will give you the feel for the show.

The show cycles about every 35 minutes and we found ourselves staying through two cycles. Our only regret was driving. Parking was a challenge. In hindsight, it would have been easier to take BART. After driving around looking for parking we ended up paying $25 for public parking a short distance away.

Boat in a Bag

How about a kayak that you can check as airline baggage for that remote expedition? I’ve been intrigued with the idea for some time, and when the opportunity came up to try out TRAK kayaks I signed up. So Saturday, June 26, my wife Joann and I grabbed our paddles and PFDs and drove to the Antioch Marina where we met Kathy Bunton of Delta Kayak Adventures. Kathy walked us through the process of assembling the kayak. It’s quite an ingenious system. The frame is aluminum tubing that unfolds and snaps onto the ribs.

The frames are color coded, with the bow sections being blue and the stern red. You slide the frame into the skin, and then you attach three hydraulic jacks that put tension on the frame. You can see Kathy adjusting the tension on the keel jack. You can also use the keel jack to adjust the rocker. With a few pumps, the bow and stern come up to give the boat some rocker. Release the tension and the keel goes flat. You can adjust the rocker while you are paddling; I was surprised to see how sensitive the boat was to the rocker adjustment.

Once we had our boats together, foot pegs adjusted, and the float bags in place, we paddled around the marina a bit to get a feel for the boats. Then it was out onto the San Joaquin River, around Point Antioch and into into Corteva Wetland Preserve. There we found some calm water and I asked Kathy to take a photo of the two of us in the TRAK boats with Mount Diablo in the background. We paddled up a few of the waterways in the preserve where we watched river otters, racoons, herons, ducks and turtles. Then it was time to head back to the marina.

Back out on the river, we had a good ebb current pushing the water to the west and a good breeze blowing from the west kicking up a few waves and even creating a few white caps. I ventured out into the rough water playing with the current and the waves a bit to see how the boat handled. Overall I was impressed with the performance. It felt more like a hard shell kayak that I expected and I like the way it edged. The hard chine felt a lot like the Pygmy Ronan I often paddle. Out in the wind and current, the boat did tend to weathercock a bit, but with a bit of practice I think it would handle well. While we didn’t cover any real distance, we did manage to log a little over three miles, and to get the feel for the boats on flat water and lumpy water with some wind. It was a fun and adventuresome paddle.

You can view more photos here. And take a closer look at the track of the paddle here.

Loch Lomond to Windsurfer

In the midst of a very busy work season I had two days open up that I had not anticipated. What to do? Go paddling! So on Tuesday, June 15, I found two paddling partners to join me. This is the windy season here in the San Francisco Bay area. As the temperatures warm up inland, the rising air sucks in the air off of the ocean. This often gives rise to foggy mornings and windy afternoons. Wind is no friend to kayakers, so the trick is to plan a paddle that takes advantage of the tidal currents, avoids getting stuck in the mud at low tide, and stays out of the wind. For these reasons, a paddle from Loch Lomond seemed in order.

The boat ramp at Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor is a good spot to launch on a low tide when other locations are exposed mud. Three of us were on the water at 10:10 AM paddling out the harbor on quiet water. After leaving the harbor, we headed east towards the Marin Islands paddling in water that was barely deep enough to get our paddles in the water. And, of course, the breeze picked up coming straight at us. Not enough to deter us, but not the predicted wind. Once at the islands we turned south, passing between them; of course, the wind rounded to the south, so we found ourselves continuing to paddle into the wind towards the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

We passed under the bridge. As we approached San Quentin Penitentiary, we stopped to take photos of each other with the prison in the background. The lyrics to “Don’t Fence Me In” come to mind.

After lunch we were back on the water, and we found ourselves paddling into the wind again. Once we passed Point San Quentin we set a course for Loch Lomond, and with the wind on our stern quarter we had a mellow paddle with wind and current pushing us along. You can view more photos here.

Intro to Rock Gardening

It’s time to get caught up on a few of my recent adventures. The past two months have been quite busy providing photographic services to my architectural clients and caring for a family member that is recovering from a hip replacement. That in itself has been an adventure worth writing about, so stay tuned.

Before that, though, I’m going to turn back the clock to May 15 when I had the opportunity to join a few fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASKers) for a paddle out the Golden Gate. The plan was to paddle out for an introduction to “Rock Gardening.” Most of us have had some experience paddling around rocks, so this was somewhat of a refresher course. You’ll notice that we are all “dressed for immersion,” as well as wearing helmets and paddling plastic boats. It’s better to scrape a plastic boat on the rocks and barnacles than a fiberglass boat.

Once on the water, we poked along the coast inside the bridge to get a feel for the rhythm of the waves. Then we paddled out around Lime Point and under the bridge. Our leader Jan pointed out a number of features suitable for testing our skill and timing at navigating the rocks. It’s all about timing. Time the wave right and you can experience the thrill. Time it wrong and you can end up in the water.

Since paddling in the rocks requires keeping both hands on the paddle, I did not take many photos. I did have a GoPro camera on my helmet and I captured some video including a few frames where I ended up going for a swim. Fortunately my paddling companions were well practiced at rescues and they had me back in my boat in no time. I had been thinking it had been quite some time since I had practiced a rescue, so I guess you could say I got my wish. A fun day on the water. More photos available here.

Distributing Food

Today’s adventure started with a bicycle ride into Berkeley where we met with a team of people to help distribute food to those in need. The event was sponsored by CityTeam, a faith based organization united by the belief that God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves. The venue for the event was provided by First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, and since my wife Joann and I both serve as deacons here we decided we would see if we could rally a few people from our neighborhood parish to help with the event. We joined a number of other people that had volunteered for the event.

Our work involved unloading groceries from the City Team truck, opening boxes and organizing the food into bags for distribution. People could then drive up in their cars or walk in for food pickup.

Since most of us have been away from the church campus for over a year it was also fun to see our church friends face-to-face rather than the Zoom meetings that have served us through the pandemic.

We were a little disappointed that more people did not show up to collect food, but with this being an ongoing event happening the first and third Saturday of the month, we’re hoping that more people will take advantage of future event. We’re also looking for volunteers for future events.

You can also view more photos of the event here