A Tale of Two Boats

On November 30 we put our two wooden boats on the water at Drakes Estero. It’s a 50 mile, 75 minute drive from our house to the launch point. We opted to drive out to the Point Reyes peninsula the day before and spend a couple of nights at a lovely little Airbnb rental so that we could enjoy the paddle without having to get up early. High tide was predicted for 10 a.m., and my plan was to be off the water by 2:30 when the sandbars would likely be exposed.

I’m paddling a Pygmy Coho, a kit boat from Pygmy Boats. The Coho was built in 1999, so it’s marking 21 years of use. At 17.5 feet long it’s a full size sea kayak. Joann is paddling the Ronan, built in 2017. I have to confess that if I have my choice I’ll choose the Ronan. The Ronan is 14.25 feet long. The Coho has very little rocker, so it’s fine for passage making when you want a boat that tracks straight. It’s also great for camping since it will hold quite a bit of gear. Sad to say, Pygmy Boats is not producing kits at the moment, and it remains to be seen if they will be back in business. The Ronan is a bit livelier with more rocker and a hard chine, and I find it a more playful boat especially if there is some wind, waves, or dynamic water. Today we anticipated flat water and little wind, so the Coho seemed like the boat for me.

I decided to capture some video with my GoPro camera. Here’s a link:

I alternated camera positions between my helmet and the deck, experimenting with different camera vantage points. I’m never content with just one point of view.

We paddled out the Estero to Sunshine Beach, just opposite the entrance to the Estero. Here we found ourselves feeling just a bit of the swell from the ocean while paddling through the glistening fronds of a kelp forest. After a quick stop, we were back on the water hoping to get across the sandbars before the tide dropped and before the wind picked up. We meandered back through Home Bay. In Home Bay we found the propeller of a WWII P-39. Check out an earlier blog about the sunken treasure.

Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles. On the return trip we did find that we were paddling into the wind, with the wind blowing 12-15 miles per hour, not enough to cause concern. Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles, a very pleasant paddle, and we were back on the beach at 2:15, ahead of the falling tide. We did see a few birds, including white pelicans and numerous shorebirds, along with a few harbor seals.

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It has the feeling of a pristine section of the California Coast. It’s within the boundary of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, so there are no motorized vehicles. The Estero is subject to closing for seal pupping; check with the park service if you plan to visit.

Check out an earlier post here. And an earlier Youtube video here.

The Mojave Road

The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.

For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.

Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.

Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.

There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.

Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.

A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.

More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.

We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.

South America 1978-1979

With the coronavirus pandemic giving us an excuse to stay at home, my wife Joann and I decided it was a good time to start rummaging through photos and journals from some of our past adventures. Most notable was a trip to South America some 42 years ago. Going through files of film and journals was a daunting task. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, since I’ve discovered much long-forgotten content that is destined to find an audience. And our first product from this effort is a book about the month we spent in South America at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979.

Our adventure started on December 22, 1978. I had been on an oceanographic research ship in the South Atlantic and I joined Joann at the airport in Santiago, Chile. From there, our travels took us to Torres del Paine National Park where we spent a week backpacking.

In 1978, Torres del Paine was a remote location. There was no public transportation to the park. We teamed up with a couple of Germans and hired a taxi to drive us to the park. After a long, bumpy ride on dirt roads the taxi dropped us off, returning to Puerto Natales with the Germans. We really had a sense that we were at the end of the world.

How we got back to Puerto Natales is another story, but once we were back to civilization we flew to Puerto Montt where we spent time in the Lake District before traveling to Peru to visit Machu Picchu.

You can thumb through the book on the Blurb website, or buy a hardcover copy or PDF. I posted photos from the book in a gallery.

San Francisco Waterfront

On Thursday, July 31, I had the opportunity to go paddling. I connected up with fellow BASK member Eoin and we arranged to meet at the Emeryville Marina. Given the tides and weather prediction, I thought a paddle around Treasure Island with a landing on a little beach on Yerba Buena Island would be in order. A round trip of nine miles or so. It was gloomy as we put our boats in the water at 10 a.m. The last few paddles I’ve done, I’ve left my GoPro camera at home. This time I thought I’d try to capture some video as well as stills. I find the best way to manage the GoPro is to wear it on a helmet, hence the helmet you see in the photos.

We paddled out of the Emeryville Marina and made our way west across the bay to Treasure Island, paddling into a steady wind of 8 to 10 knots. Slack water was at 10:30, so we had no current to contend with on the crossing. As we rounded the northwest corner of Treasure Island, Eoin suggested we make our way to San Francisco, landing at Pier 1 1/2, a public pier. We were making good time and, with the weather starting to clear, the San Francisco waterfront looked inviting. It was about 12:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water onto the pier. We had our lunch with appropriate social distancing and took a stroll along the Embarcadero checking out the Ferry Building and the Gandhi sculpture just south of the Ferry Building. After lunch we put our boats back in the water. The dock is rather high so Eoin steadied my boat while I lowered myself in, and then I rafted up along Eoin’s boat to give it more stability. Getting into the boats seemed easier than getting out onto the high pier.

Back on the water, we decided to paddle along the water front, checking out the the lagoon at the Exploratorium. Interesting enough, you can paddle under the pier at the Exploratorium into a lagoon.

Having explored the waterfront it was time to head back across the bay, and the current was now giving a bit of an assist pushing us north. You can see from the track on the map below that the current carried us a bit north of our westbound track. After leaving the waterfront we started to pick up the steady wind through the Golden Gate. We found the water a bit lumpy with two- to three-foot wind waves following the predominant wind with an additional set of waves coming from the north, which created some bouncy water. Once we were back around Treasure Island it was a straight downwind run and the waves settled into a consistent pattern. It was about 3:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water. I logged 15.8 miles, including our walk along the waterfront. An excellent day on the water.

Paddle from Emeryville to San Francisco

Bound for Home

As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.

Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.

Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.

In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.

We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.

Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.

Boondocking in the Bodie Hills

On Saturday, June 27, I hopped in the truck to drive over the mountains for another family visit. I decided to break the drive up into two segments, with an overnight in the Bodie Hills and a visit to the Bodie State Historic Park.

It was 11:30 a.m. when I got on the road, a bit later than I had anticipated, but with plenty of time to reach my intended destination by sunset. The drive took me over Sonora Pass on highway 108. I was quite impressed with how many campers were out. It seemed like just about every patch of bare dirt had a tent or RV on it. Summer has arrived and it seems people are anxious to get out and enjoy nature after three months of sheltering in place with the COVID-19 pandemic; or at least that’s my interpretation.

When I reached Bridgeport, I turned north on highway 182 and then I headed up Aurora Canyon Road, a dirt road. I had directions to a dispersed camp site called Paramount, named after a mining claim, about 11 miles from Bridgeport. This is a nice flat location in a grove of Aspen. When I got there, it was occupied, with a large tent, tiki torches, and a pile of firewood that indicated these folks were going to be here awhile. I headed up the road about a half mile to another grove of aspen. Not quite as nice a location for camping, but suitable for a quick overnight camp. I drove down a clearing to what looked like a good spot to park the camper, but on inspection I determined that I would fall out of bed given the slope. I moved the truck up closer to the road, and with much maneuvering in the confines of the aspen, I manged to position the rig and level it for a good night’s sleep.

This location was closer to the ridge with sweeping views, which suited me for potential photos of sunset and sunrise. With a few clouds overhead, I was hoping for some color in the sky. I didn’t get the color I was hoping for, but what did catch my attention was the lichen covered rocks and the patterns of clouds.

I’m calling this image Rock and Sky. I love the color of lichens on the rock, and how the design in the clouds seems to draw attention to the rock. I’ve just added this image to my art store, available in a variety of sizes on fine art paper, canvas or metal. Check it out.

It was a very windy night on the ridge, and I was concerned about camera vibration in the wind. I was camping at an elevation of 9000 feet and, while the temperature was a mild 55 degrees, the wind made it feel 10 degrees cooler. The camper is a fairly secure place even with the 50 mile per hour gusts, but even so, it took me a while to drift off to sleep.

Sunday morning I was up at 5 a.m. for the sunrise. Sunrise is always a wondrous event, with the early morning light changing from blue to gold as the sun rises. The wind was continuing to blast it’s way over the ridge and threatening to topple my camera and tripod. I grabbed a few exposures, made coffee, and had a bowl of raisin bran; not my preferred breakfast, but good for a quick getaway.

I arrived at the Bodie State Historic Park at 8:30, half an hour before it opens to the public; I was the first visitor to arrive. I had a brief chat with a ranger who directed me to the entry kiosk. I had come in the back road and it wasn’t obvious where the main entry was. The day use entry fee is $8.00, with park hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. My dog Carson was happy to know he could join me on leash, rather than hole up in the camper while I did my tour.

Bodie was established as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in 1859. In it’s heyday, it was home for some 8,000 people. The last mine closed in 1942.

I had been researching photos of the town and wondering how photographers manage to take nighttime photos. It seems there are several photo tours operated through the Bodie Foundation that provide access with extended hours; something I’ll check out for future visits.

Escape From the Bay Area

Five o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off. I looked out the camper window and decided it was too dark to get up. I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later I awoke again and was surprised how much the light had changed. I was quickly out the camper door. At 5:15 I had my camera pointed at the sky above the rocks. The brilliant and fleeting color lasted just a few minutes. By 5:25 the color was gone. Sunrise was 5:34, so the lesson is to get up early to catch the sun.

I’m camped in the Alabama Hills. The photos from the big camera will have to wait until I get home next week. I managed to get away without a card reader to transfer the images from the memory cards. Needless to say the iPhone does a good job for capturing images to share here.

The Alabama Hills is in the Eastern Sierra, in the Owen’s Valley, 375 miles from home. While it’s still in California, it seems like a world away from the anxious throngs of people in the Bay Area hunkered down with stay-at-home orders to avoid the risk of COVID-19. No masks here. There are quite a few campers considering the location, but we are all quite spread out. This is dispersed camping on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. No services, so you need to be prepared.

After a morning in the solitude of the rocks and desert, I’m feeling quite refreshed. Three months of shelter-in-place was taking a toll on my mental attitude, wondering if I’d ever get out in the camper again.

We brought the camper over to spend some time playing grandparents while our son and daughter-in-law work. My wife will spend several weeks. I’m spending a week and a half. We justified our escape from the stay-at-home order by considering our childcare services to be essential. So here we are. And while visiting, I’m inclined to go explore some of my favorite haunts in the Eastern Sierra.

Earth Day 2020

Zodiac boat ride in Southern Chile

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

In 2007, I made my second trip to Chile to hike the W-Route in Torres del Paine National Park. The first trip was in 1980, long before this became a destination. I was browsing through my photo archive looking for something to share on Earth Day, and this image caught my attention.

Cake and Champagne Paddle

March 5 marked my 70th birthday. So what do I do on my birthday? I go paddling with friends. What better way to celebrate than being outdoors in the fresh air, doing something active with the camaraderie of good friends. I volunteered to be the trip initiator, and after reviewing the tides and currents with some knowledgeable fellow paddlers, I opted to plan the paddle from Emeryville to Point Isabel. With a strong ebb sucking water out of the bay for most of the day, paddling along the east shore of the bay would avoid strong currents. The announcement I posted on the BASK club bulletin board read “Thursday Paddle: Cake and Champagne.”

We met at the the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina and, contrary to the signs that said “Paid Parking” and the a warning that parking might be an issue, we were able to park close to the boat ramp for free. It seems the signs are out of date.

We were lucky enough to have our good friends Danny and Susan show up with a double that they had just acquired; a very long boat. It took four people to get it on the water.

After a safety talk and radio check we were on the water at 10:30. We had calm water and overcast skies when we launched, with a prediction for winds of 8 knots with gusts to 12 knots in the afternoon.

Our paddle took us north along the east shore of San Francisco Bay. As we approached the Berkeley Marina, we were beginning to feel the effects of the wind as wind waves kicked up a bit. Everybody seemed to be comfortable with the conditions so we paddled on, past Berkeley, past the Albany Bulb and on to Point Isabel. The landing at Point Isabel only accommodates one boat at a time on a rocky beach, so we took turns bringing our boats in.

As we were breaking out the cupcakes and champagne, who should show up but our paddling buddy Tom, on a bike, decked out in a PFD and spray skirt. The best way to explain this is to share Tom’s post from the club message board:

At breakfast this morning, Ellen is perusing Buzz and says “Oh, Treve’s having a birthday pedal today to have cake and champagne at Point Isabel. He says you have to wear a PFD and spray skirt to attend.” She caught me at “cake”, and I replied “When will they be at Point Isabel?” The answer, “probably around noon.”

Now I’ve never ridden my bike wearing a PFD and spray skirt, but Treve’s an interesting fella and might know something I don’t about this.

So I got OTB [on the bike] around 11:15 and had a smooth pedal down to the bay and along the bay trail, no ferry angle needed. Approaching Point Isabel I am astonished to see Treve and his buddies not on bikes, but paddling kayaks! Huh?

Oh well, at least they did let me have one of Joann’s homemade cupcakes and a sip of bubbly.

How was it pedaling with PFD and spray skirt? Not recommended, but if you do, best to secure the grab loop to a buckle on your PFD to prevent tangling (thanks, Susan, for the tip). I didn’t attempt a roll.

Happy birthday, Treve! And it was great to see Danny and Susan on Danny’s Thursday paddle. As it should be.

Tom C.

After lunch it was back in the boats for the return trip to Emeryville. The wind which had been threatening to build moderated a bit, and we found ourselves riding a bit of chop heading back around the Albany Bulb and into Berkeley. As we approached the Berkeley Marina we opted to duck inside the marina. It seems Susan’s legs were going numb from sitting in the back cockpit of the double. Susan swapped places with Steve and we were back on the water. From Berkeley it was an easy paddle back to the Emeryville boat ramp, returning at 3:15. Our paddle covered 9.9 miles. Not a bad day for a 70 year old. You can view more stats on the tracklog here and more photos here.

Track of our Thursday Cake and Champagne Paddle

Paddling with Danny

On Saturday, February 20, we congregated with some friends to take our good friend Danny paddling. Danny, an avid paddler, suffered a stroke in January. A few friends decided it would be good to get Danny on the water. We scared up a a double kayak and took to the water. The plan was to launch from Schoonmaker Beach in Sausalito and paddle to Bayfront Park in Mill Valley for lunch. The weather prediction was for calm winds and flat water. As we were gathering at the beach, though, the wind was threatening to kick up.

Richardson Bay is fairly protected and usually a flat water paddle. After some discussion we decided it was safe to launch.

Our course took us past marinas full of pleasure boats, and past houseboats, both high-end glamorous floating palaces and the less glamorous but intriguing low rent floating homes. Then it was under the Highway 101 bridge to our lunch stop a Bayfront Park in Mill Valley.

After lunch we discovered that the receding tide had left us launching in the mud. With some maneuvering we managed to get back in our boats without getting stuck. We retraced our route back to Schoonmaker Beach, a round trip of 6.5 miles. Danny was all smiles and delighted to be back on the water. What better therapy is there than being on the water sharing the fun and fellowship of friends. You can view more photos here and see more information about the track log here.