Friday, May 1, 2009

I made it to the ocean!!!

I arrive at the Pacific ocean. 2 months, and 880 miles from the start of my journey in Revelstoke, BC.
The final leg of my trip turned out to be everything I had hoped for, and more. I went fast, the weather and wind cooperated, and the wildlife incredible. Arriving at the ocean brought me a sense of accomplishment I have experienced only a few times in my life. It was an amazing journey, that I'm glad I undertook but one that I'm also glad is over for now.

Starting my final leg at Jared Jackman's house at 9:30 am, I wasn't even on the water when I realized I had forgotten my skirt. I decided to push on without it, realizing it may cripple my ability to travel in poor conditions. The theory was tested right away as some of the biggest waves of the trip rolled up the river formed by a 10 mph headwind meeting the current pumping downstream. It was quite intense as a big wave could fill the cockpit and make for a very interesting paddle to shore. luckily all went well and before I knew it I was paddling under the I 5 bridge in Portland 30 miles from the start of my day. It was only 3:45 and there was plenty of daylight ahead of me. Just before
dark I passed the Willamette river as a storm threatened, so i took off
the river and had my camp set
up just in time before the rain started. I slept soundly knowing I had paddled over 50 miles in 10 hours, and was glad to be warm and dry as I watched the rain poor down. it was a blessing since it filled all my pots with fresh water which would end up coming down to the wire.

The rain was still falling when I got under way in the morning. I couldn't
complain since the river was calm and the rain kept me cool while I paddled. I was surprised that the current kept up at full steam and I was making
time again. Paddling right in the shipping channel, I kept my eyes open for boats but it was the fastest line and I wanted to maximise on the good weather. By noon the rain had cleared, and I had already made it over 25 miles to the town of Raineer. The factories and shipping docks gave way to forests and islands and I enjoyed up close and personal osprey, duck and eagle sightings. The river makes a dramatic bend to the west after following the mountains north since Portland. Driftwood filled the calm water and I knew I had reached the tidal water. There was still a little current and I enjoyed its last little bit of help while the sunlight streamed through the clouds onto the mountains in the distance. I saw a sea lion off in the distance wondering if i would get a closer look. my wish was answered a moment later when I heard a loud blast of air leaving the lungs of a large specimen only 15 yards off my stern. It officially scared the crap out of me, I know nothing of sea lion behavior and didn't wait around to find out if it was being curious or Territorial. I let out the bellow of a man fearing for his life, slapped the water with my paddle and turned on the afterburners. He didn't look like he could run that fast so I sprinting towards shore. I could swear it was following me at first, and I was sure it could swim faster than I could paddle. I made it halfway to shore when I looked behind me and saw it had given up the chase. My heart
was racing and I
knew that I could go the rest of the trip without another sea lion sighting and not be disappointed.

Thankful to be done with the close encounter with my nemesis, I paddled for a couple more hours as a mild headwind kicked up and a raincloud formed in front of me. I saw a bridge in front of me and made it a few mile past it before I spotted a duck blind on stilts. It was a modest home but with its dry plywood floor and a small roof I
could enlarge with my tarp it would prove
to be a perfect spot call home for the night. it was 6:15 and I had made it another 50 miles in 10 hours. I was tired and my hip was hurting pretty bad but I was glad to be only 30 miles from my destination.
In early morning, maybe 4:30, I woke from a
crazy dream I was having about dropping my boat into the river, to realize there were waves splashing under the duck blind and my boat was banging up against the stilts. I jumped up worried that my dream might be coming true. I had done a good job of tying up my boat but I wanted to double check. I had anticipated the water coming up pretty high but didn't realize my little island would be completely under water at high tide. It was still dark but I was restless so I slept lightly waiting for the tide to ebb as by boat banged gently against the blind. When I woke again the grass was showing on my little island, I ate fast knowing that you cant stop the tide, and I wanted to be on it. I had decided to stay close to shore on the Oregon side for the rest of my paddle. There were little islands and channels there which I could use to protect me from the swell if the wind picked up. It was a little longer than going straight across the bay to Astoria, but the scenery would be better and it would be better than sinking my boat miles offshore. The tide was ripping and I was making amazing time again, I felt extremely lucky to be having such ideal conditions 3 days in a row. At about 11 I stopped for lunch where 2 fisherman had a fire going. Josh Massett and David Reyes were there names. They were both in there late 20s and were enjoying the sunshine trying to catch Chinook salmon. No luck today but they did mention my good luck as this was one of the biggest tides of the month and would last an extra hour giving me more time to get to Astoria.. I was enjoying there company, but still had another 7 miles to go, so I thanked them for there hospitality and set off with the ebbing tide. The last few miles are unprotected from a east wind, a good breeze picked up and helped push me right into Astoria. I was going to paddle right past town but the smell of hamburgers drifted by me and prompted me to treat myself to lunch at a diner. It wouldn't hurt to let the tide switch anyways. My waitress at the 100 year old diner was Tami Oconner, a tall brunette with a sparkle in her eye and a nervous pace like anyone would be with a kid at home and to much coffee from the lunch rush. The place slowed down we chatted for a while. She told me her story as I told her mine. This is my 3rd diner to stop at along my trip and they have all proved to be a genuine American experience. One that gives me hope that humans aren't so bad. they are genuine and caring, always curious about the guy in a srysuit. I eventually got a hold of Ginny my girlfriend, she was surprised to hear I had mad it so far and wondered if I could make it to the ocean that day instead of the following day like we had planned. It was 3:45 and it gets dark a little after 8. with 8 miles left to go I felt confident I could make it, even though I knew the wind and the tide would be against me. I hurried to my boat and began what I knew would be at last 3 hours of hard paddling. I had a 3 mile wide bay to cross with the tide, and wind going against me, then I would be free of the tide and would be able to hide from the west wind on the final 5 miles. With only 3 hours left before I was finished with over 800 miles of paddling,, I pulled for all I was worth and made it to the inside of the Stevens state park sandbar by 7pm. a short walk through thigh high grass proved to be brutal but with the thought of being so close I kept at it without stopping. I wanted to stand in sight of the ocean with my boat next to me. This proved to extend the challenge, for the last 50 yards was up a steep hill with loose sand. I was on all fours clawing my way up the final hill. At first the horizon line and then the crashing pacific surf marked the end of my journey. I didn't know how to feel. Tired for sure as I stood there breathing hard from my final exertion but what else. I was happy as hell to be done, sad for it to be over, humbled by the suffering I had
endured, mad at the politics, sorry for I wasn't here with the whole team, proud for finishing, calmed by the crashing waves, deepened by the complexity of the whole experience. Flooded by all of this emotion. I stood there for a while watching the sun settle on the horizon, knowing that I would be whisked back into the rigors of daily life. Of all the things that was the one thing I liked most about this trip. Not having to live in the time frame of daily civilized life but one of the earth and the natural ebb and flow of every day, tide, moon. it seems to be a pace I relate to . I will miss is dearly. I walked down to the edge of the ocean where the waves slide up onto the sand and tasted the water, making sure I was actually there. It all seemed like a dream and I wanted to make sure it was real. I've never tasted in a dream, and the water was salty and cold, it was confermed I was standing in the pacific ocean.