Kayaks, Currents, and Orcas
I just returned from a quick four day trip to the San Juan Islands off of the Washington coast. Two months ago, I didn't even know this cluster of gorgeous scenery existed. When I heard it's the place to witness Orca Whales in migration, I booked my trip without blinking an eye or checking my bank account. I didn't just want to observe the whales from the shore or from a tour boat, I wanted to get up close and personal. I Googled images of these majestic creatures coming within inches of kayakers. THAT is what I wanted my trip to be like. I knew not to expect that, but still I hoped for it. Fast forward to my departure, I sling my backpack - stuffed with a mess kit and waterproof gear - over my shoulder and I travel by plane, shuttle, and ferry until I arrive at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. There were two guides, 12 tourists, and seven kayaks. We slipped our spray skirts on and eased into the water. When I asked the main guide Charlie what the plan for our day was, he responded, "it all depends on group stamina and the currents." I didn't quite know what he meant, but I accepted it. For the first couple hours, we hugged the shoreline heading South until we got to Deadman Bay. Replenished, hydrated, and feeling strong, we head out further into the channel. The currents shifted, waters waked, and the sun sliced through the warm air and tinged our skin. It was a beautiful day, but the paddling was getting harder. With the exception of a couple seals and soaring bald eagles, we still hadn't spotted any large wildlife. I found myself focusing on my tight shoulders, cramping hands, and burning skin. I knew I would make it, but I wondered if I should have just booked the one-day excursion. I paddled on and then spotted Posey Island, a tiny island the 14 of us would claim shelter on for the night. The sun set at 9:30pm - sheer magic to have that much time in the day to relax and converse with kind strangers. I cozied up in my cocoon and slept soundly to a night dubbed with lapping water and distant campsite cheer. After breakfast, we loaded up and headed out. As my kayak partner (whom I now call friend) drifted away from Posey Island, I remarked, "I am happy for our trip, but I really hope we see some whales." I had no control over whether we would see any and I understood that. I had to balance the mental tug of war of hope vs expectation. Not more than thirty minutes later, Charlie points in the distance and directs us to draw our kayaks together. Our seven kayaks now act as one floating raft. We hold on to one another and hold our breaths, as a dozen Orca Whales dive, breach, and head straight toward us. They went right and left and under our kayaks. Blow holes spitting breath and fading as they swam further away. Our band of kayaks hung on for an hour as we watched killer whale after killer whale feed right near us, doing as nature directs them. When it was safe, we let go and paddled on. I wiped the tears from my eyes, acknowledging that another dream had come true. I wish now I had signed up for the five day excursion because I now know the lessons of San Juan Island - go with the current, paddle hardest when it's hardest, be patient, and be silent... It's all coming. Watch a video I captured on Sunday.