San Juan Serenity

This past weekend I ushered in Fall with a three day paddle trip in the San Juan Islands with Discovery Sea Kayak, the premiere kayak outfitter on San Juan Island. Our guide Jason Gunter brought his seven years of leading multi-day trips in the San Juans to bear by showing us the best the islands have to offer--scenic beauty, dynamic weather, blissful tranquility, and charismatic wildlife. We set off from San Juan County Park on the west side of San Juan Island and got right into the melee of Haro Strait--hoping to see orcas breaching--where winds and tides converge to make for challenging paddling.

Day One saw the group of eight guests and one guide make 11 nautical miles in under four hours to arrive at our campsite on Stuart Island near the Canadian border well before supper time. While Jason prepared his makeshift cookshack with a propane camping stove and a couple of strategically placed tarps, us guests kept busy putting up our  tents and getting acquainted with our wilderness home for the next two nights. Then out came the wine and cheese and smoked salmon, and we toasted our hard day on the water and our luck at spending the night outdoors in still mild and not yet rainy conditions.

Fearing the worst, we awoke to the best the next morning. A golden sunrise had burned off the morning mist. Hot coffee and flapjacks with bacon beckoned. With our bellies full of carbs (and ibuprofen), we shoved off for an 11-mile circumnavigation of Stuart Island. The nautical miles flew by as we muscled our way around the rugged and forested isle in the northwest corner of the San Juans, out into the harrowing waters of Boundary Pass where huge freighters, ferries and cruise ships created wakes enough to scare even the hardiest newbie paddler. But Jason had a firm grip on the group, instructing us every step of the way in regard to where to be, whether to "raft up" with one another and when to power through or take it easy. We ate lunch of cold cuts and veggies on seeded bread with chips on a forlorn and windswept but sunny (!) beach on Boundary Pass, then begrudgingly got back in our kayaks and made our way through the chop, taking in views of eagles and seals along the way and getting what may have been the last real sunshine on our arms in a while.

That night, back at camp on Stuart Island, just as some of the group got back from a five mile hike across the island for a sunset view of the lighthouse at Turn Point--which we all had paddled by earlier in the day--the skies opened up and we dined al fresco under the tarp while persistent raindrops provided an almost musical backdrop to our evening. After a bit more wine and merriment we all turned in for a long rainy night, although our tents stayed dry inside. Overnight, the rain failed to abate but we got on our way anyway in the morning, fueled by Jason's french toast and yes more coffee. The heavy fog and mist lent a spooky hue to the morning, but flat water made easy work of the paddle back to San Juan County Park. With sore legs and arms and wet clothes, most of us were glad to be back on terra firma, but as for myself, I could've stayed out there for an eternity. Sadly, we never did get to see any orcas, but there's always next summer....

Jason brought the Spot along with us on our little voyage. Check out our route over our three day adventure, which was updated via satellite in real time back at Discovery HQ in Friday Harbor as we