Kayaking: Exploring the San Juan Islands

We were up early on our second day in Washington in order to get to the ferry in Anacortes by 9:00. The ride on the boat was absolutely beautiful; coasting past islands, passing sailboats and other ferries, as the sun rose higher in the hazy, wildfire smoke sky. What a great way to get us in the mood for our day on the water!

Ferry boat rides weren’t new to me. I grew up splitting my childhood between our home in Duluth, Minnesota and the parsonage of the church where my dad was the pastor, a two hour drive and ferry ride away on Madeline Island, Wisconsin in Lake Superior. This ferry boat, however, was a whole new experience. The boat itself was huge, like 6 of the ferries I was used to all stacked together. I was also used to a 20 minute trip as opposed to the two hour journey from Anacortes to San Juan Island. I thought I knew ferry boats. I didn’t know squat.

I researched several tour operators and decided on Outdoor Odysseys because they provided lunch and had the best price. We couldn’t have been happier with our experience. The guide was fantastic. He was so knowledgeable, and he made sure we got the most of our time on the water. We met him just beyond the ferry landing in Friday Harbor where a van was waiting to take us to the launch point at the Town Park. After a brief tutorial upon arrival we were in our double kayaks and headed out to sea.

Sea Explorations
Learning about the limestone quarry and mine as we passed by.

It was a gorgeous day. The sun was desperately fighting to break through the smoke that lingered in the atmosphere from the wildfires burning in Canada, and the temperature was perfect. It took us a while to find our rhythm, and it took me a while to figure out how to use the rudder, but that tour along the coast of the island was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’d only kayaked once before and that was on a shallow, murky river in Ohio. It had been a blast, don’t get me wrong, but we ran aground twice, ran into one tree, and were run into by a canoe of Japanese tourists about 86 freaking times, and I swear they were doing it on purpose. So being out on the open water was a whole new world.

 

Michael, our guide, was a geologist who seemed to know everything there was to know about the islands. There were only three other people on our tour so we were all able to ask questions and he answered them easily. I was blown away by how much this guy knew: the types of trees, the different jellyfish, the minerals, he was like the Yoda of San Juan Island. I had a vibe from him throughout the whole trip: he belongs here. His passion and love for The Islands reminded me of how I feel about Madeline Island; like a piece of my heart is always there and I’m only truly whole when I am, too.

We paddled for about 2 hours, passing an old limestone quarry and mine before stopping at “Dead Man’s Beach,” in Lime Kiln State Park, just past the lighthouse, for lunch. The website advertised a “vegetarian” lunch which, although great for Vegan Lindsey, made me nervous. I’m not just a carnivore, but a carnivore who only likes about 10 foods, none of which are vegetables. I truly might be the pickiest eater on the entire planet. I sort of eat like a 5 year old, which is embarrassing, and gets really awkward on dates. “I know a great sushi place.” “That’s cool, but I know a place with awesome mozzarella sticks.” Much to my delight, the meal was delicious. Pita bread, organic peanut butter and jelly, fresh fruit, vegetables, cookies, cheese; it was exactly what we needed to re-energize our bodies for the paddle back.

 

The “paddle” back turned out to be more of a coast because the current basically carried us the entire way. We just kicked back and enjoyed the ride, gliding through the water, snapping pictures, admiring the coast and keeping an eye out for orcas.

Sadly, we didn’t see any whales. There was a cluster of a half dozen or so tour boats (with engines) about five miles off shore. Michael explained that those boats all went out in different directions every morning, and would radio each other when they found one of the resident orca pods so that they could all bring the tours to the animals. I think I was more disappointed about that than I was about not seeing any whales myself. I can’t imagine they like being surrounded by loud-ass boats that follow them everywhere, when they’re just trying to find some freaking lunch. They keep coming back though, so maybe they’ve just come to accept it as a part of life. It beats Sea World, I guess.

 

I suppose the best way to ensure whale sightings is to take a tour on one of the larger boats, but I’m glad we chose to kayak instead. Although we didn’t see any orcas, we saw harbor seals and a bald eagle, and were able to spend hours on the water, really experiencing, as opposed to just observing the islands.

The ferry ride back to the mainland went a lot faster than the ride there. After a glass of wine in Friday Harbor, I vaguely remember boarding the boat and getting two corner, bench seats. The next thing I remember is the announcement over the speaker system that we were arriving in Anacortes. I shot up, entirely confused, and looked out the window to see that we were, indeed, pulling into port. We’d been out cold since shortly after the ferry left San Juan Island, and had missed the entire ride.

Ferry Ride
A quick picture before we both passed out inside the ferry. What an amazing day.

Now that we were back on land all we wanted was to eat and sit in the hot tub. Once we got back to Winston House and had stuffed ourselves with pizza and breadsticks, we ate some CBD chocolates and climbed into the hot tub with a joint. We smoked and talked about our next day’s adventure: Rattlesnake Mountain. An hour later we were the picture of serenity; full, happy, excited and relaxed. An hour after that we were back asleep, but in our bed this time. Besties: out.

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