Mendocino Magic

So many stories to share! I seem to be challenged with finding the time to post them all. Perhaps that’s just as well. I wouldn’t want to bore you with every single adventure. But then I consider this blog to be a log of my adventures, so why not share them all?

I’m going back to September when we put our kayaks in the water in Mendocino and had a magical paddle. Our kayaking club BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) has an annual tradition of spending a few days in Mendocino in September. This year with social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic, the club cancelled the event dubbed Mendo Madness. We had been planning on this trip for many months, so rather than just cancel we managed to spend two nights at Van Damm camp ground and two days paddling. One of those paddles on the Albion River I wrote about not too long ago. Now it’s time to share our coastal paddle.

On the morning of September 20 we launched from Van Damm beach and paddled north. The wave action on the coast was calm and we discovered that we could paddle places that are often to rough to access. Our paddle took us into some magnificent sea caves

I had a GoPro camera going on my helmet and I’ve finally managed to edit the video down to three minutes that I think will give you the feel for what it’s like to paddle here. Here’s the video clip.

Paddling into the caves with the water glowing a blue-green was magical. This wasn’t about covering distance but we did cover about four miles while poking along the rocks. We were back on the beach for lunch. After lunch we explored a few caves south of the beach. Here’s the track of our morning paddle.

Albion River

The Mendocino Coast provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking , camping and kayaking. And with a kayak, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions, you can surf, poke around in the rocks or paddle on the flat water of a number of rivers. We spent two days padding in Mendocino, September 20 and 21. On our second day, we opted for a flat water paddle on the Albion River. From our camp at Van Damme State Park we drove to the Albion River, where we paid the $10 fee and launched our boats.

We launched on low water and had the current with us paddling upriver. We planned to paddle for an hour and a half and find a takeout for lunch and an early return, thinking we might have a longer paddle back down the river with the current still flooding, pushing water up the river, and the potential for wind. As we approached our turnaround time, the river became narrow and winding. The game became “let’s paddle to the next bend,” and then “the next bend.” This went on until we reached a log across the river, blocking further progress. There we found a gravel bar and a pleasant meadow which looked like an inviting place to stop.

We pulled our boats up, ate lunch and put our boats back in the water just as the rising tide was threatening to take our boats. The gravel bar had disappeared in the 30 minutes we had been eating. We were amazed at how much tidal activity there was this far up the river.

We were happy to discover that our progress back down the river was good despite the current, and the wind did not materialize. We paddled through some old pilings, practicing boat control, and past the houseboats, some of them looking more dilapidated than they had the year before. We were back at our launch site at 2 p.m., four hours after our launch. Our paddle logged 8.5 miles, most of it in total peace and quiet save for a few birds and a river otter. You can view more photos here. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Mendo Madness

Each year our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), takes an extended weekend in Mendocino to do what we do best, eat food and paddle. Some members say we are an eating club with a kayaking disorder. Nevertheless, the event is great fun in a beautiful location with great camaraderie and fellowship. We headed to Mendocino on Wednesday September 18 making our way to Van Damme State Park. The next morning we were on the beach at Van Damme with our boats ready to get on the water. There was a good swell running and a number of paddlers opted to go hiking or paddle on calm water rather than deal with the wave energy being displayed on the coast. Joann and I took up the invitation to follow some of the more experienced paddlers who were offering a “Newbie Paddle,” for those new to the Mendocino coast.

This gave us some exposure to the rocky coast and we got to feel what it’s like to play in the rocks with waves with water surging this way and that and waves crashing on rocks. Mind you we stayed clear of the really active water. See my previous post Through the Washing Machine for more about that.

The next day, September 20, we opted for some quiet water after our rather adventuresome day on the coast. We joined a group of paddlers for a paddle on the Big River. The round trip paddle up the river and back was 11 miles and we were back in camp mid-afternoon to drink beer and soak up the sun.

Friday evening marks Bourbon and Brine, a social event with bar tenders concocting some unique mixed drinks. I had a Storm Cag with rum, ginger liqueur, Averna and orange juice. Joann had a Sea Palm with Gin, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur , celery bitters and a sprig of sea palm. Nathan and Krista, two club members hosted the event. Nathan outdid himself with his creativity as a mix master.

With most of these folks wishing to get on the water in the morning without suffering hangovers, drinking was done with moderation. I for one, did not want to find myself sloshing about in the waves suffering the after effects of alcohol.

Saturday night marked the club potluck dinner. With some 70 or so kaykers in camp it was an amazing feast.

Sunday was another flat water paddle on the Albion River. Our journey took us up the river past several houseboats, stopping to was river otters at play. We had a quiet paddle on smooth calm water. The paddle up and back covered six miles

You can view more photos of the BASK Mendo Madness activities here.

Through the Washing Machine

Through the Washing Machine. Rock Gardening near Van Damme

I call this image “Through the Washing Machine” for reasons you can imagine. This was captured on a recent trip to Mendocino. I had a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. I had intended to capture video, but for some reason I ended with a series of stills. It’s a challenge to take photos here. I’m not going to take my helmet off to see what the camera is doing and this isn’t the kind of place where I’m going to pull out my still camera. With water surging in every direction, keeping both hands on the paddle to brace is a good idea.

We were in Mendocino with our kayaking club, BASK, for an annual event called Mendo Madness. The club takes over the better part of the upper loop of camp sites at Van Damme State Park and spends several days paddling in various environments. Rocks and caves on the coast and quiet flat water paddles on the rivers. This day, Thursday September 19, some of the more experienced paddlers offered a Mendo Newbie paddle and I’m always game to tag along when the more experienced paddlers are offering to serve as guides. More about Mendo Madness in the next post. Here’s a couple more photos from my helmet cam. Note the other paddlers playing in the surf and rocks. You can see a kayaker punching through the surf in the right photo, the kayak is just under my paddle.

Anderson Valley

On Saturday November 24, with Thanksgiving behind us, we decided to hit the road for a three day trip to Mendocino. We grabbed a few items of food, a change of clothes, hopped in the truck and headed north, taking Highway 101 to Cloverdale where we turned west onto Highway 128. We logged 126 miles from our house to Mill Creek Retreat, where we had reserved a camp site ahead of time.  The drive took us four hours, since we’re inclined to take our time and enjoy the drive.

As we headed west on Highway 128 we were surprised at the color along the route. Oaks and willows were putting on a show of yellow. We stopped to take a few photos. We just drove past many wineries and tasting rooms along the way. Being preoccupied with the color and beauty in the valley we didn’t stop for wine tasting. We did stop at the market in Boonville to pick up a bottle  of wine from one of the local wineries,  a bottle of Husch Pinot Noir which proved to be quite nice.  There are dozens of wineries along this drive, so you could easily spend a day or more just visiting wineries. 

Treve, Carson and our Four Wheel Camper at Mill Creek Retreat

We arrived at our intended camping destination at 3:30, set up camp and let our dog Carson loose to roam free. One of our criteria for selecting Mill Creek Retreat was the fact that it’s a dog friendly and dogs can be off leash. We found this location through Hipcamp.com, a website that lists camping locations on private property that may not be listed on other camping directories.  

The next morning, before heading off to explore the town of Mendocino we walked down to the creek. I was curious to see what photo opportunities I might discover. I can usually find something close at hand. 

Sure enough there was some color along the creek, and with the soft-misty light of the clearing fog, I captured a few pictures. I had to improvise a camera support, since my tripod got left behind. I jury rigged three trekking poles with with a little  Ultra-pod. This seemed to be sufficient for my Sony RX 100.

At the end of the day we found ourselves at Van Damme Beach where we watched the sun sink into the ocean before heading back to camp.

Sunset at Van Damme Beach. Mendocino

More on Mendocino in the next post.