Friday, May 27, 2016

San Juan Island solo circumnavigation

      Last week after I finally saw a specialist and had my surgery scheduled (on the day of my birthday) the reality of it all sank in. Two months of being injured stir craziness combined with the knowledge that my injury had screwed up an incredible 3 months we had planned to have in South America. The end of World Tour for the foreseeable future mixed in a little anxiety about having surgery and general anesthesia (again – wisdom teeth, right ankle, surgical biopsy, left knee, and now left ankle) and I was depressed. What is the best thing for John when he is an Unhappy Camper? To go camping of course! Watching the weather/wind forecast I saw that there was at least a lack of wind window opening. It was supposed to still be cool and cloudy but wind is the most important factor when kayaking in the San Juan Islands. I had 10 days until my surgery which was going to make me physically worse before getting better since I will be on crutches and not weight bearing for a couple of weeks. Days with nothing planned and good weather coincided. I woke up Sunday morning and decided spur of the moment that I was going to leave the next day.

      I strapped on my foot brace, ran around for a day collecting gear, and headed up to Anacortes to catch the San Juan ferry. For a while I have wanted to paddle a circumnavigation around San Juan Island. I was able to leave my car on the mainland and rolled my boat onto the Friday Harbor ferry.
Ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor
 
The initial plan had been to take a leisurely pace and do it over 5 days but the best (ie: non-existent) wind forecast was for the first few days which pushed me to paddle faster and further each day. After the first 2 days of calm the wind was supposed to become progressively stronger each day afterward. The west and especially south side of San Juan Island is very exposed. Strong currents, strong afternoon winds, and being exposed to swells from the Pacific coming up the Strait of Juan de Fuca combine to make this a potentially very hazardous area to paddle.

Bald eagle that was fighting a vulture over a dead fish.

Posey Island camp with Spieden Island and Channel in background. 
Looking out on Haro Strait from Posey Island
Posey Island Camp                                          
 

      For the record: Do not paddle alone. Especially when in hazardous areas or if you are going more than ¼ mile off shore. That said, if I waited for people to do things with than I would never have done most of the paddling or summits that I have. And to be honest, there is part of me that likes the solo part of it. The added level of danger and knowing that I only have myself to get into/out of situations is part of the allure. I am also fully equipped and practiced at self-rescue situations though that will only get you so far when it really hits the fan.

Olympic Mountains visible down Mosquito Pass
I had never seen Haro Strait this calm         
Lunch break at San Juan County Park         
Lots of seals. :-)   No whales.  :-(                
 
      The San Juan’s are incredible. One of my favorite places to paddle in the world, both for the scenic beauty and the technical nature of the paddling. Not on this trip but there have been 3 times in the San Juan’s where I have almost been overcome by the strength of the tidal currents. Timing is everything. Timing is also why my favorite time to visit is the month before Memorial Day or the month after Labor Day. The amount of people around are a fraction of what is the case during the summer. I spent three nights on the islands (Posey Island, Griffin Bay, and Turn Island) and had all of these places to myself. I only saw two other (guided) groups during the 4 days.  There was tons of wildlife.  Seals, all sorts of birds, and deer.  No whales however.  If Knucklehead Adventure Tours ever offers to take you on a Whale Watch don't do it!  It is a scam.  If you are with me than you are pretty much guaranteed to not see a whale or bear.  

Lime Kiln Lighthouse - one of the (not scary) scary spots on the paddle
Turn Island campsite                                       
There are some incredible boats in these waters   
Deer on Turn Island                                
 
      All in all, the paddling therapy worked. I am still not looking forward to surgery but at least I was able to get out of the house and have a little adventure. There is only so much reading, writing, picking banjo, and writing I can do before I start to go crazy. For some reason for me to feel alive I need to put myself in situations where I have to work at staying alive. Mission successful. Next project will be looping Lopez Island whose south side looks even more challenging but that will have to wait until later this summer or fall. 6 days until surgery.

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