Baja Sea Kayaking (Part 1): On Forming a Stellar Adventure

“Hey, we’re getting great gas mileage with these tailwinds,” Lothar said, a statement tempered by angry gusts of crosswind testing the integrity of our 22-foot sea kayak, hanging way out on the roof rack of our Toyota Forerunner. We were still a long ways up a hill when I finally glimpsed the Sea of Cortez backed by pristine azure sky. I was thrilled to finally see the only objective that we had in mind for our road trip from Smithers in British Columbia, Canada to the Baja Californias, Mexico. We had our sights set on fulfilling a long-held dream of a Baja sea kayaking adventure in an environment radically different from the one we were used to paddling in: the inside and outside coastlines of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska. We were on a quest for contrast—notably familiar, wet, and mild versus foreign, dry, and hot—in one of the finest forms of travel I know.

As we descended, I savoured the expanding seascape on the tail of a surreal day serpentining through wilderness desert, painted in rich earth tones, from the village of Guerrero Negro on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula. But in short order, whitecaps—kicked up into a frenzy by El Norte, the grande wind of winter—stole my peace. As we zoomed in, I could make out sweeping strings of white dancing on a sea of midnight blue. By the time we reached the water, I was consumed by the maelstrom. Never, in all my years of sea kayaking, had I been greeted like this when launch day was imminent.

 

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For two days, we drove through stunning desert from El Rosario on the Pacific side to Santa Rosalia on the Sea of Cortex side of the Baja Peninsula.

 

At the earliest opportunity, we grabbed a pullout and clambered out of the truck to connect, yet again, with our surroundings. Over wailing wind and beating waves, Lothar broke our silence: “well, we can always do shorter trips if we need to.” Racing thoughts snuffed my response. The wind’s fury shocked me, even though it was just rising up to the stories I had read about it. Plus Lothar blind-sided me: he’s never offered to downgrade sea kayaking plans due to weather. Even so, I appreciated knowing that I wouldn’t need to renegotiate my veto power. Long ago, we forged an agreement in a preemptive discussion about our differences in risk tolerance, giving me the power to unilaterally declare land over sea if my sensibilities call for it. Over the years, I’ve been mindful of using it sparingly, yet wisely. We climbed back into the truck and resumed our trajectory to Loreto. I felt humbled yet resolved. We’d come a longs ways in the twelve days since we left winter at home to pursue our dream of a Baja sea kayaking adventure. No discussion necessary, at least not at this point.

 

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Finally, with somewhere near 5,000 km of road between us and home, we met the Sea of Cortez just north of Santa Rosalia. I was humbled by sea state conditions—created by the interactions of the atmosphere with land and sea—that overshot my expectations before we even got the boat in the water. Negotiating with myself, all by myself, I worked to keep our dream of a Baja sea kayaking adventure within reach.

 

Last Christmas Eve, Lothar and I set out on a road trip to Baja California, via the coast of Washington, Oregon, and California; sea kayaked from just south of Loreto to La Paz; and then returned home, five weeks later, via the eastern side of Sierra Nevada Mountains.

When it comes to sea kayaking, this trip trashed my conclusion that it takes me at least three weeks to settle into an adventure. This time, conditions were prime for a stellar, full-on experience in just 10 days and 250 km of padding. On our way back home, we met a fun young couple that was cycling from northern Alaska to southern Argentina. They were just about to get back out on the road following a few rest days. They told us that they had been pedalling for six months and that it wasn’t getting easier. They were feeling tired and rushed. I was keenly interested in their experience because we also have dreams of doing a long bicycle trip. I wondered if I would find bliss in pedalling like I do in paddling. As we talked about our travel experiences, I searched for words to describe the magic that we find in our sea kayaking adventures, including the one we’d just finished: in part, to support them in finding solutions that work for them and, in part, to understand for myself the conditions and process of forming adventures that rejuvenate, inform, and transform my very existence.

 

Adventures are like snowflakes.

 

Q: So, why are no two snowflakes exactly alike?

A:
Well, that’s because individual snowflakes all follow slightly different paths from the sky to the ground —and thus encounter slightly different atmospheric conditions along the way. Therefore, they all tend to look unique, resembling everything from prisms and needles to the familiar lacy pattern. – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

 

Like snowflakes, each of our sea kayaking adventures crystalized into to form a pattern of it’s own—no two the same. Yet in all, I found symmetry in the most precious facets of life. As I shrug off contemporary culture, I regain my bearings. I restore. And in many ways, I grow stronger. But it takes time for Lothar and I to discover the innate rhythm of a trip. And it takes rhythm to find an adventure, at least for the kind that’s sustainable. For me, the adventure is in the journey, physically and psychologically, not in the destination. Mostly it’s about connecting and exploring on personal, inter-personal (yes, I mean my relationship with Lothar), cultural, and environmental levels. Theses trips are voyages of unfettered discovery and, to me, that’s in a large part what it takes for a stellar adventure to form.

So last fall, when Lothar proposed that we drive the Mothership to the Baja over the Christmas season, I thought it seemed like an unmanageable and unruly idea, given that I was short on time and our commitment to consider our effects on climate change in our decision-making to reduce our contributions to the problem. Adventures take time and a trip that far for a few weeks seemed frivolous. Nevertheless, our last sea kayaking trip, my last holiday was 20 months ago. I was in need of a boost following a drawn out and pretty much horizontal recovery from a broken ankle. Furthermore, we’d been dreaming about sea kayaking in the Baja for years. So I soon warmed up to the idea.

On most of our sea kayaking trips, we prepared by deciding on a departure date, destinations for launching and wrapping-up our trip, and a general direction of travel (north or south for long sections of coastline, clockwise or counter-clockwise for big islands). For several weeks, we prepare and pack food. In the last few days, we pack gear. The hardest part for me is getting out the door. When the Mothership is finally afloat, the journey unfolds hour-by-hour, day-by-day.

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On Christmas Eve, 2015, with a fresh skiff of snow (and visions of family, friends and skiing dancing in my head), we set out for a sea kayaking adventure in the Baja Californias.

This time, the only decisions we made were for our departure and return dates. I did a last-minute Internet search for a sea kayaking guidebook covering the Baja. I was excited to find Dave Eckhardt’s The Guide to Baja Sea Kayaking: the Sea of Cortez and Magalena Bay but there was no way that the postal system or even a courier would get it to us in time. So I contacted Dave to see if he could help me. He promptly replied, offering to send it general delivery to a post office en route but with further discussion he recommended checking with Sea Kayak Baja Mexico in Loreto, Baja California Sur. Maddie Player, the Operations Manager, promptly responded too; yes, they have some in stock.

Destination? Check. Passport? Check.

Food? Water? Weather conditions? Shoreline features influencing camping feasibility? Well, we”ll just have to figure out those parts when we get there. We loaded the sea kayak onto the roof rack and gathered up the rest of our gear and threw into the truck. With a hint of regret (on my part)—as in, missing festivities with family and friends at home—we rolled out the driveway on Christmas Eve.

We officially drove out of winter (the snowy kind) in Williams Lake (central British Columbia) and in somewhere around thirteen hours of driving we were crossing the border into the U.S.A. I generously estimated one week to get to Mexico. Instead, it took two weeks, filled with stunning landscapes, exciting ecosystem transitions, familiar and unfamiliar species, sunshine, and wind, plenty of it. And that was before the real adventure started.

 

This post is the first in a series combining my musings about social—ecological connections encountered on our trip and my journal entries from our Baja sea kayaking adventure.

How do adventures crystallize? I’d say they do so in many ways but I think Lothar and I have learned the key conditions that make for a stellar experience for us.

 

Watch for more posts to come soon.

While you’re waiting, I highly recommend visiting Gareth Collingwood’s websites El Pedalero: Life, on a bike, in Latin America and The Days of High Adventure: the fork less travelled, the later chronicling Gareth’s and his partner, Jean Medley’s, meandering bicycle adventure through Latin America, in progress. They know, implicitly and exquisitely, how adventures form. If you’re lucky enough to cross paths with them, you’ll feel it.

(Oh! And then just as I wrap up this post, I visited Gareth’s site to find that the feeling of kindred spirits is mutual. But then I’m getting ahead of myself because Gareth and Jean don’t show up in our story until we’re in the throws of summiting a mountain of our own).

2 Responses

  1. Danny Walden
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    Hey Debbie, you guys probably drove past us at some point in the Baja! We celebrated Christmas in San Ignacio, New Years in Ciudad Constitucion, then spent the first three weeks of the new year in and around La Paz. Would have been great to see you, and I’m looking forward to the next post! I’m going to check out Gareth’s websites too. We’re in Costa Rica now; maybe we’ll see them!
    All the best,
    Danny

  2. Deb Wellwood
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    Ouch! That hurts. I am sorry that I never kept better track of you guys. I saw lots of cyclists and one real sea kayak (and a roof rack). I’ve been busy getting back up to speed following ankle recovery. I found the link to your website yesterday. For anyone that wants to read about Danny and Tamara’s big adventure, cycling from Alaska to Argentina, you can visit them at http://bikesandbackpacks.blogspot.ca/. They stayed with us on their way through Smithers, a breath of fresh air they were. We connected with them through http://www.warmshowers.org, a “free worldwide hospitality exchange” for cyclists.

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