Wednesday, March 12, 2014
I'm rousing at the early light of sunrise and by ravens chattering at our camp kitchen below. I quickly dress and gather my pad and bag and scramble down from my perch to scare them off the trash. I make a mental note that we should have put it away and resolve to do it from now on.
So, I wouldn't complain if the wind stopped. I'm just sayin'...
The wind has shifted to the northeast and thankfully it's eased up, some. We can't see any white caps in the channel so we're moving on. After breakfast and stowing all the gear, we say our goodbyes and load ourselves into our boats and shove off. Chris and Anna head west, I head east, and after one last holler across the growing distance between us, I round a point and am alone.
Here I find the wind is stronger and the waves are bigger and within minutes I realize the vastness of my solitude; I'm questioning my resolve. I have over 100 miles and 18 days of solo paddling ahead of me. Am I in over my head?
I battle across the channel trying to gain the calm in the lee of Gooseneck Point where the waves and my nerves calm momentarily. But after a minute's rest I start around the point only to find that I'm headed straight into now stronger winds and increasing waves, with white caps. My inexperience is afloat in the lake of my emotions and as I rise with every wave my fear ratchets up incrementally. I claw my way forward to a small island where I beach the boat and stand trembling on solid ground. Fear has gripped me.
Last summer in preparation for this trip Pippa and I went to Jordanelle Reservoir several times when it was windy. One day the wind was comparable to today's and I crossed the reservoir without any concern. Once, near shore, I purposefully capsized, exited the cockpit and reentered using the paddle float. But that was summer, the water was warm, the sun was hot, and the lake was covered with other boaters. Here I'm alone, the water is cold (53°) and the air is chilled. If I capsize the results could be fatal.
I grab my camera gear and go for a walk. I summit the island, which is about he size of a small football stadium and gaze at the crossing to Gregory Butte. It's full of white caps. I watch as gusts of wind roar toward me darkening patches of the water as they move across it's surface. Doubt about my plan again fills my head and I decide to stay put until both the waves and my head calm down a bit.
Busying myself with shooting pictures takes my mind off my predicament but I'm not really focused on the images, it's just distracting busy-work. Looking at the images later, I'll trash them all. But the distraction serves it's purpose and after an hour my nerves and the waves have calmed enough that I'm ready to get back on the water. From the safety of the island's shore I make a plan to head straight upwind (east) until I can get into the lee of the cliffs on the other side of the channel where the waves should be smaller. From there I'll hug the shore to Gregory Butte which looks to have a decent beach and campsite. If I can make it there and the wind is still blowing, I'll call it a day and camp.
Back in the boat I sneak around the downwind side of the island and turn the corner to face the blasts. I paddle like hell. About halfway across I realize the conditions are not as bad as I imagined and I begin to relax a bit. Just then I notice a boat approaching from the right that will pass in front of me. I have a moment of panic as I realize I'm going to have to deal with their wake but as it passes I realize the boat is so big the wake is a series of swells rather than waves. Riding them is fun, and while I didn't stop for a selfie I'm pretty sure I broke out in a grin.
By the time I arrive at the beach at Gregory Butte, which is huge and beautiful, the wind has died down. So, instead of stopping I round the point and get a view to the east of the crossing to the point of Grand Bench. It looks calm so I decide to continue on but first I beach the boat to grab a quick bite and stretch my legs.
About halfway across the channel I'm glad I did because the wind picks back up and the renewed energy helps me fight through the waves. Once I'm around the point I find I'm in the middle of a 3.5 mile straight-walled channel with the wind barreling straight at me. The fear that gripped me this morning has left and with confidence I paddle straight into the wind and waves for what seems like hours.
As I reach the far end of the channel near red buoy #36 I'm spent and anxious to get out of the boat. I pull in on a south side muddy shoreline to reconnoiter the area and evaluate my options. The area where I've beached is marginal so I head east up the low hills to an overlook of the channel ahead to see if I can find a suitable campsite further on. From the top of the hill I can see east to the other side of the channel and what looks like a nice spot at the base of Billie Flat Top.
Back in the boat I start easy paddling through sheltered waters until I round the point and I'm back digging deep and heading into the wind. The potential campsite looked closer from the top of the hill and by the time I pull into shore I'm spent.
16:22pm 37° 06.12 111° 08.92
I started the day at red buoy #22 and now I’m close to #38. What a day! That's a lot of upwind paddling!
After sunset the wind calms a bit. I head to bed and watch the moon and stars for a bit before I shut my eyes and drift off.