It’s been a record four days since I last posted. My apologies for not keeping you up to date of what’s been going on out here in California. It suffices to say that we’ve been very busy all week.
Monday and Tuesday were spent on land preparing for the symposium which kicks off officially this morning. As always when you have a huge event to prepare for a thousand little, unrelated, things pop up to distract you from the tasks at hand. It was true this week with what we call “the Monster Truck” (our large four wheel drive used to haul kayaks on and off the beach in La Jolla). The truck its self is a bit of a story and quite a sight to see. A four wheel drive vehicle is required by the city for all kayak rental operators driving on the beach in La Jolla. Not wanting to invest in a new truck to rust away in the salty environment last summer we found a well priced used four wheel drive in the newspaper. When Jen and I went to check it out we were a bit shocked at just how high it was “lifted” off the ground and by the sheer size of the tires, but the price was right, and we knew it’d never get stuck in the sand, so Jen bought it for the La Jolla store. The truck went unused all winter (we don’t do La Jolla tours in the slow season) and in its down time it decided to develop a list of problems that we discovered when we needed to put it into service on the beginning of this busy week. On Monday I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the tail gate down, the latch mechanism having frozen shut with rust due to the salty environment it lives in on the beach. Then Tuesday, after dropping in a fresh battery and taking it for a test drive, we discovered that the tail lights weren’t working. After hours of fussing with light bulbs and fuses we diagnosed a faulty headlight switch. I didn’t have time to change the switch but we did find that you can wiggle it out to just the right position where the headlights and tail lights come on at the same time. Too far and it’s just headlights… not far enough and it’s just tail lights… you have to find just the right spot…good enough for now.
Wednesday morning I did find time to paddle with the “Wednesday Morning Group” and we enjoyed a beautiful run out and around the OB pier. The fog played with us coming in and blowing out twice while we were out on the water.
Later in the day Jen ran to the airport and picked up the first of the guest coaches coming in to town to teach at the symposium. They were picked up and treated to a ride in the “Monster Truck”. Being from the UK they don’t see many vehicles quite like that one and seemed to enjoy the uniquely American experience of riding in such a ridiculous vehicle.
Thursday was finally a full day of symposium preparations spent moving boats and setting things up at “Campland” which is a campground on the northeast corner of Mission Bay about three miles from our store where the Symposium is held. Thankfully we had lots of volunteers pitching in. By the end of the long day we had rounded up all the guest coaches as they arrived from the airport and we regrouped for a chili dinner and a few beers in camp. The British coaches still couldn’t get enough of the big truck.
Jen's dad arrives with a load of decking
Yesterday was another day off the water spent on home projects at Jen’s house. While I finished up some electrical repairs Jen’s dad and cousin Patrick finished framing up a new deck and brought in the new decking.
Today wasn't all work, it started out with an early morning visit to La Jolla Shores with 16 year old local paddler named Otto Herrmann. Otto is an excellent paddler interested in Greenland style paddling, in little over one year in a boat, has mastered several Greenland style rolls and is now broadening his interests to other facets of kayaking. He called the other day to see if I’d have some time to get on the water with him while I was in town. It didn’t take a lot of arm twisting to get me motivated for a quick morning paddle up in La Jolla with a run up to Black‘s Beach to do a bit of sea kayak surfing. Of course what is a visit to La Jolla without a stop at the cliffs to see the caves and wildlife first.
The surf was small which can be excellent for surfing long boats but also allowed us easy access to the sea caves that the area is famous for. Of course we were entertained by the huge variety of sea live that can be found in the cove including Sea Lions, Garibaldi, and dolphins.
Check out this video of the day's adventures
Famous view looking out from the caves
We had a great time visiting the caves and doing a bit of surfing but all good things must end so we called it a day after a couple hours so I could get back to Aqua Adventures and work on more symposium preparations.
There was no rest for the wicked and no time for paddling today. Before breakfast Jen and her mom already had a coat of paint going on the walls of the kitchen and her dad and cousin were out back preparing to frame up a new deck. After dropping Jen off at Aqua Adventures I got started on a gel-coat repair on a kayak then doubled back to Jen’s house to run conduit for electrical supply for a new-used dryer. Things are shaping up nicely and it looks like the house will be all set for the arrival of the symposium coaches next week.
It’s always been somewhat ironic that when I’m around civilization is when I have the most trouble getting a post up on the blog. What happens is that I just get so darn busy with the people that I simply don’t have time. The last four days have been the busiest I’ve had in about four months which makes sense because it’s been about four months since I was last in San Diego working at the kayak shop. The activity and work surrounding the kayak shop has always kept us busy. This time the normal kayak store activity combined with symposium preparations, home remodeling projects, visiting family and friends, and paddling (of course) has left little time for writing.
I can’t imagine it’s so very different from other small specialty businesses like a kayak shop, but it seems like the normal work/activity load around here is always punctuated by unusual problems that creep up and rob our time right at the worst possible moment. This week brought a locked office door with missing keys, frozen breaks on one of our trucks, and an important computer that refused to send or receive e-mails. The door (my fault sort of) and the breaks came to me to take care of, while Jen got on the phone with the tech support people to sort out the e-mail problem. They were quick to say the problem was on our end until Jen dug in her heals and growled until, amazingly, they did find the glitch and got things fixed. Seeing her in action was a reminder of how small business owners are a tough breed and how Jen is one of the toughest of them all, which is one of the things I like most about her.
I can’t complain about my busy week “of work” as it was wrapped around several chances to get out on the water. By Tuesday it had been an entire four days since I’d been in a kayak so when Aqua Adventures summer employee Margie (in town on spring break for only a few days) hinted that she wanted to get out in some boats, I was happy to oblige. We met at the store at 8:00 but before we could get on the water I had to deal with the locked office door. My solution was to use a hole-saw to drill a 3” hole through the wall next to the door knob. A filing cabinet was in the way on the other side which required a bit of brute strength and excitement to “move” but then I was able to reach through unlock the door and we were in. The filing cabinet tipped back into place nicely (not too many files spilled) and a blank switch plate cover on both sides will cover the hole (sans drywall and paint) and nobody will be the wiser. It was time to paddle.
People have been telling me how dismal the weather has been around here lately, somehow I couldn’t believe them as the weather today and since I arrived has been picture perfect. Margie and I paddled out the harbor entrance into glassy smooth gently rolling waves then down toward the Ocean Beach Pier and back. It was a relaxing paddle and a nice break from the effort to get Jen’s house ready for her parent’s arrival Tuesday night.
Jen’s parents and cousin did arrive late Tuesday and after a brief visit with them I turned in so I could catch a few winks before getting up in time to get back to the store early the next morning to go out with the weekly Wednesday morning group. I got up bright and early thinking I’d drive in to the store early and get a blog post up. I walked outside and turned the key in what we affectionately call “the little truck” which is my old Ford Ranger. Always being a good runner, it started right up but when I put it in gear to drive away it wouldn’t move. I knew exactly what it was, the brakes were frozen, namely the rear left where I’ve had this problem before. I didn’t have time to deal with it then so I went back in and grabbed the keys to the other truck saving the task for an impromptu break job for daylight hours.
Being what I was told was the first nice Wednesday in a few weeks I was surprised at the low turn out (a big hint to all you regulars that didn’t show up… Jay, Bob, Robin, Neil, Herb, Mike, Joe, and others) but those of us who were able to get out of bed enjoyed crystal clear skies, smooth water, and warm temperatures as we did our usual morning loop.
Even from our position on the outside I could see that the large rolling swell that slid gently under us as we paddled was facing up nicely with a gentle off shore wind and breaking in long running shoulders on the beach. It gave me the thought of getting out in a surf boat later in the day but I did have to do -some- work, so I put in a call to my friend Thom and made plans to get out the next morning (Thursday).
What a morning it was. We met at Sunset Cliffs at one of my favorite breaks called “Garbage”. It’s a great spot with a nice deep channel running from the beach all the way out between two beautiful reef breaks on either side. For kayak surfers it’s a spot that can only be visited a low tide. Once the tide fills in it covers the rock beach at the bottom of the access stairs with waves smashing into the vertical cliff at the back of the beach. Surfers can seal launch off the large rock at the bottom of the stairs but finned surf kayaks don’t have that option. It’s the magical combination of a good west or southwest swell combined with low tide in the morning that I wait for to get a chance to surf here, thankfully the moment came while I was in town.
Thom was immediately in the line up for the bigger of the waves while I stuck to the small stuff slowly getting the feel for my surf boat again and remembering how to surf. I got my rear end handed to me on a couple waves but, it didn’t take long to feel like I knew what I was doing and soon Thom and I were both enjoying excellent rides on 5 to 6 foot glassy smooth Pacific Ocean waves. All you kayak surfers out east playing around on storm chop owe it to yourselves to experience waves and a morning like this. It’s what kayaking and kayak surfing are all about.
After helping Mike open the store I chauffeured a couple of guys from Maine up to La Jolla so they could paddle the nine miles back to our store in Mission bay. Thankfully the surf was it’s normal docile self on the beach up there and they had no trouble getting under way. From there I returned to the store where I suffered the effects of “surfer nose” the rest of the day (the result of large amounts of sea water being injected in ones sinus while being tumbled inside a wave) while I worked on the never ending list of boat repairs that comes from our large fleet of rental/demo boats.
At 5:30 I put my tools down and geared up again to join the “Thursday Evening Social Tour” that Aqua Adventures puts on every Thursday night. Robby and Dave were there as well as a couple other regulars and just before we launched we were joined by two young couples visiting from Michigan. The warm off shore breeze we had all day lost the battle to the onshore wind which brought with it a thick marine layer of low clouds which put a chill to the evening. Despite the cooler temperatures we had a great time showing our guests from out of town a few of the sights on Mission Bay.
If you clicked on the “Where Am I Now” button on this web site and saw a mysterious bubble way over on the West Coast. You should know that it’s not strange glitch in the satellite technology that shows my whereabouts, I truly am in San Diego. After the Crystal river paddle was cancelled last Thursday I decided to change my flights and come out here a few days early. The original plan for my trip included me taking the entire month of March off to fly to San Diego to help my friend Jen out with preparations for her annual Southwest Kayak Symposium. If I was to keep paddling north all through March I’d end up right back in the cold and wind of the Atlantic Coast, so it made sense to slow down anyway. As the trip progressed however we decided that a full month was more than was needed to get ready for the event so we changed it to two weeks. That was, of course, before she closed on her new house and was suddenly faced with a bunch of small remodeling projects that she needs to finish before guest start to arrive for the symposium.
Over the last couple weeks when I’d call to check in, I could hear the worry in Jen’s voice as she faced a mountain of work to be finished in one short month. I could have used the open days to paddle further north, which would give me more time to slow down and explore later on, but I was having no fun on the water thinking about how much more I’d like to be out here helping Jen out. While I was chatting with my friend Randy after he picked me up at the end of the Tornado day last Thursday, I explained to him what was on my mind. Right then he offered to drive me and my gear all the way back to Fort Lauderdale so I could see what I could do about getting out of town early. The way he put it, the weather was going to be equally bad (or worse) the next day, I’d end up camping on a soggy spoil island the next night, I’d have to sort out the complicated logistics of storing my boat with someone further north, then I’d have to find a bus ride all the way back to Fort Lauderdale so I could catch my plane a few days later. All of that effort would be for mileage that was pure bonus beyond the original plan.
With that in mind I accepted his offer for a ride and by 11:00 Friday morning I was back at my friend Neil’s house in Fort Lauderdale on the phone with the airlines getting my flights changed. By 7:00 AM the next morning I was on a plane headed west, and by Noon the same day I was at Jen’s new house surprising her by arriving five days early. An hour later I was already helping her out with the long list of projects that need to be done around here.
I am so glad I came in early.
It’s going to be a busy two weeks of work but I’m sure I’ll find time to get out on the water. It’d be a shame to come all the way out to the west coast and not get at least a little bit of kayak surfing in.
It was an eventful day on the water, as a strong tail wind swept me north along the Intracoastal from Juipeter Beach toward Fort Pierce I counted no less than eighteen manatee and one TORNADO!
Start: 9:15 AM- Boca Raton, FL (Boca Inlet)
Finish: 6:15 PM - Juiper Beach, FL
Daily dist: 43 miles
Total dist: 2286 miles
Weather: Mostly sunny, 15 mph tail wind, and very warm
Notes: Colleen was going to pick me up again so I was able to paddle a mostly empty boat.
It was another pleasant and somewhat uneventful day on the water. The wind was up a bit so after launching through the choppy surf on the beach in Boca I turned and went right back inside the cut to run north on the Intracoastal. The day was not without it’s highlights, along the way I saw eleven manatee (in four different groups), two spotted eagle rays jumping out of the water, and a few boats full of spring break girls in bikinis. I got a few pictures of the manatees, none of the eagle rays because they’re just too fast, and (sorry guys) none of the bikini girls because that would make me creepy.
After a later than normal start in the morning, and an extra long day in an effort to put in a few extra miles before I leave for San Diego, I didn’t get off the water until just after sunset in Juipeter Beach. Colleen and Megan arrived a moment later and once again took me home for the night. The rest of the evening was spent trying to sort out details for this weekends group paddle in Ocala. As well as travel plans to get me back to Fort Lauderdale early next week to catch my flight back out to San Diego for the Southwest Kayak Symposium. There is a fair sized group mustering for the day on the Silver river and anybody else that is interested is welcome to join us. Check out the announcement on the home page of this web site.
Start: 11:45 AM- Dania, FL (Jake’s old apartment)
Finish: 4:30 PM - Boca Raton, FL (Boca Inlet)
Daily dist: 22 miles
Total dist: 2243 miles
Weather: Partly cloudy, NE wind 10mph, high 70’s, some sprinkles
Notes: Colleen was going to pick me up so I gave her my camping gear last night so I was able to paddle a mostly empty boat.
After getting very little sleep the night before I slept in a bit this morning and took a couple hours to get caught up with e-mails and blog posts. After a quick stop at a grocery store for snacks I put in behind my old apartment where I last took out on the route several days ago. It felt strange to turn and paddle away from what was my destination for most of the trip so far, however knowing that every stroke I take now propels me closer to home is a great feeling.
Today was beautiful South Florida kind of day I dreamed of as I paddled down the icy Mississippi last December. It was very warm with broken rain clouds dropping occasional drizzle, just enough to keep the temperature comfortable. It was calm enough to paddle on the outside today but having paddled the open ocean along this section of coast many times before (when I lived down there) I opted to run the Intracoastal north to see what there is to be seen. I got lucky and the tide flows in and out of the inlets worked in my favor and I had a slight current helping me along the way for most of the day.
Typical house around here
The Intracoastal in this area is lined on both sides with high-rise condos, hotels, or multi million dollar mansions, of course with equally pricy yachts parked out back. There is never a shortage of something to look at on shore or in the water. Despite being in the center of a huge city I saw four manatee today.
At the end of the day I was met at a park just south of the Boca inlet by my friend Colleen Guido (from Blue Moon Outdoor Center)and her daughter Megan (the take out was somewhat close to Megan‘s school). While Megan signed my boat we loaded my stuff in Colleen's truck and then we drove home to their place west of Palm Beach where I met Megan‘s pony named Popeye and rabbit named Browny. Tomorrow (Wednesday) Colleen’s husband Fred is going to drop me off on his way to work and I’ll paddle north to the actual Palm Beach area where Colleen is going to pick me up once again. This trip wouldn’t be the same without the help of great friends like those two.
Wow things have been crazy for me lately, busy hardly describes it. I've hardly had time to sleep much less check e-mails and post on this blog. Sorry my reports have been a little thin over the last few days. I'd like to say that things are going to get back to normal soon but there really is no such thing as normal on a trip like this. Here is what's been going since you heard from me last.
After returning from the Everglades on Saturday we left our paddling gear in the truck for a trip back south with the “Brits” on Sunday to paddle with the big lizards on the Myakka River near Sarasota.
To say that it was exciting is an understatement. There is nothing quite like sharing a narrow river with literally hundreds of Alligators. We counted over 30 gators within the first half hour of paddling and later saw almost 30 on one beach. One woman in our group had a very close encounter when a gator diving off the bank barely slipped under her kayak and actually made chattering sounds as the plates on his back rubbed against the kayak’s hull.
After the gator experience, we returned to St. Pete and cleaned up all the gear from the weeks adventures. I then got myself all re-packed and organized before finally getting to bed just before midnight. At 2:00 AM my alarm clock rang and a few minutes later I was on the road for the four hour drive back to Fort Lauderdale where I was scheduled to do presentations to three high school classes from 7:00 to 11:00 AM.
The presentations went great and afterward I had lunch with some friends Colleen and Fred Guido who own the Blue Moon Kayak Outdoor company that I visited last week in Miami. After lunch I franticly checked e-mails and tried to plan the next week of paddling up the coast. Later in the afternoon I met up with another friend from the area Will Murphy and joined him and the a bunch of folks from the Blazing Paddles dragon boat team for a work out paddle on West Lake in Hollywood Florida. It was a fun time and an interesting change of pace from kayaking. Afterward we went out to grab a bight to eat where exhaustion finally caught up with me and I had to call it an early night and finally get home to bed.
I had planned on getting on the water early today (Tuesday March 9th) but decided that I better use the morning to get some rest and a little better organized before I get back on the water. So I’ve spent the balance of the morning catching up with more e-mails and ironing the wrinkles out of my plan for the rest of the week.
I’m hoping to be back on the water by 11:00 AM this morning (as soon as I get done with this blog in fact) and finally paddling north up the coast again. Much like my run down the west coast of Florida (from St. Petersburg to Naples) the next few days will see me sleeping on couches in friends houses as I paddle through a heavily populated and very developed area of the state. There are plans being cooked for me to join a group paddle on the Silver River next Sunday (March 14th) and Juniper Springs the following Monday. After that I’ll be leaving my boat and gear with a kayaking operator in Cocoa Beach and catching a bus back to Fort Lauderdale where I’ll be flying out to San Diego to help out at the Southwest Kayak Symposium but on by Jen Kleck and Aqua Adventures.
I know it’s been a strange ride over the last couple weeks and will continue to be so. But I’m hoping that I’ll still be able to share the interesting bits of my travels (which will include a trip to Baja) before I get back on the route full speed just after Easter. All I can say is stay tuned, it’s going to be an interesting month.
I’m on my way out in a couple minutes with the “Brits” on our way to visit the Mayaka River to see Alligators. In the mean time I wanted to share a few pictures from the last three days of our visit to the 10,000 Islands. The weather was chilly (by Florida standards) and windy but we had a great time and didn’t see a single bug. I’ll add more when we get back tonight.
Don’t check your eyes everyone, you’re not seeing double, I really was just here almost yesterday. However, that trip was for fun, today I was “working”. Yesterday (Tuesday Day 87) the group we affectionately refer to as “The Brits” finally arrived at Russell’s place. You may recall that the reason I’m hanging out over here in St. Petersburg is to help guide a group down in the Everglades, this is that group. Part of the adventure planed for our friends from overseas includes seeing manatee on the famous Weeki Wachee river. After much miscommunication we missed the chance to include this group with our adventure on the river Monday. Tuesday the wind was blowing at well above twenty miles per hour with rain in the forecast, which is far from ideal conditions for paddling even on the river, so we put paddling off and used the day to re-group and get everyone’s gear sorted. A brisk wind was blowing again this morning and a rain shower had us scrambling was we loaded gear into vehicles. But, true to prediction, the grey sky that brought rain in the morning broke up leaving fluffy white clouds floating across a deep blue sky. So it was off to the river to see the famous manatee.
On the way up we stopped at a road side stand to purchase some boiled peanuts. The, very southern, drawl of the vendor had our group in stitches. After playing with their well practiced “Deliverance” movie lines, complete with pretty good “American Redneck” accents, they were nearly overwhelmed by meeting someone that REALLY talks like that. I only wish I had taken them to Wal-Mart with me last night where they would have been exposed to a real sampling of the local subculture complete with people smoking cigarettes in the isles of the grocery section.
This trip served as a bit of a shake down of gear and paddlers alike before we head down to the Glades. It’s nice to be sure all the boats and gear fit and function properly before committing to a three day wilderness trip. In addition, most of the boating these folks have done has been in whitewater boats in the UK. They adapted quickly marveling at the speed of these long boats and the extra effort it takes to get them to turn..
Today with more time and energy we paddled all the way to the top of the river where the trail, somewhat disappointingly, ends at a line of buoys stretched across the river and a sign saying “No Watercraft Beyond This Point”. Years and years ago the top of the spring was turned into a large tourist attraction complete with waterslides and the famous underwater mermaid show. Having loads of kayaks sharing the end of the river with women swimming around in mermaid costumes and kids zipping off of waterslides would undoubtedly cause chaos. Just the same the river does keep getting more beautiful as you go up and it is worth the effort especially when you’re rewarded with a relaxing float all the way back to your car parked downstream. We did see a bunch of manatee again, along with more Yellow Tail Jacks, a variety of herons, turtles, and even raccoons.
The group was a bit chilled after getting loaded up to leave so the mission on the way home was to find a Starbucks to get some coffee. After twenty miles of looking we settled on a Mc Donald’s where everyone procured their body warming drink of choice. Next we headed back to Russell’s house where his wife Claudia was once again mobbed with a huge group of house guests for the night. Tomorrow we all leave and she finally gets a taste of normalcy for at least a few days. I‘m sure it will be a welcome relief after dealing with a house full of symposium coaches for the last two weeks. After dinner I went out to pick up a few last minute supplies. By the time I returned the group had already turned in for the night. Apparently the river adventure had taken it out of them a bit and they wanted to be fresh for the first day in the Everglades tomorrow.
Our plan is to spend three days in the Glades then check out the gators in the Mayaka river on the way back up to St. Petersburg. I'll probably be out of cell (and internet) contact until Friday but I'll give you an update of our experiences then. This is a very fun group and the weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect so I'm sure there will be good stories to tell.
With the fun, work, and chaos of the symposium behind us we loaded a trailer full of boats and drove an hour or so north for a relaxing day of paddling on the Weeki Wachee river. The Weeki Wachee is well known for its crystal clear water and abundant winter manatee population. Of the eight of us on the river only one, Jen Kleck, had not seen a Manatee before. This being the last opportunity on this trip for Jen to see these gentle giants we all hoped that we’d see at least one.
The boats were off the trailer and on the water in short order and only a few minutes of paddling put us over a deep spot in the river. There, through crystal clear water alive with schooling Yellow Tail Jacks, we counted at least a half dozen different manatee. Some lazed nearly motionless just a few feet below the surface while others came up for a breath every couple of minutes. Several of the more active animals even threw their tails in the air, much like whales throwing their flukes, as they dove for the bottom.
From that pool we continued lazily up the river a couple miles stopping along the way for lunch and to stretch our legs. Along the way we saw at least a half dozen more manatee. Two (seemingly a mother and calf) were sleeping in a sunny quiet spot on the inside of a bend of the river while others swam with the current like torpedoes as though they had an appointment to make downstream. We were well shy of the top of the river when we decided we’d better turn back in order to get Jen to the airport in time to catch her flight. So we turned ourselves around and enjoyed an effortless float back to our cars.