May 11, 2016
By Kris Parfitt
Illustration at right: Artwork by Kris Parfitt ©2016
Twenty years ago my friend, Peter Kittas, and I kayaked the southwestern shore of Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands sandwiched between Vancouver Island, British Columbia and Anacortes, Washington.
We had rented boats from Lopez Island Sea Kayaks when it was managed by Drew and John Adams; the founding brothers have since opened Glacier Ski Shop on Mt. Baker Hwy in Glacier, Washington.
It had been a fun but challenging trip that was meant to be only three hours long, but dense fog, tidal-direction changes, 3-foot eddy fences, submerged rocky islands and ferry boats made for an interesting five-hour paddle.
Knowing we were late to return the boats, we took advantage of the fast-moving north-going tide in the channel between Lopez and Orcas Islands. In the current we were tracking fast and paddling hard when about 10 yards off the port side of my bow a minke whale surfaced.
Minke whales are the second smallest of the baleen whale family but they average about 30-feet long which is roughly two-and-a-half times the length of a kayak.
Peter and I were far apart yet we both had the same thought: “Whales travel in pods and if that was the first one to surface that means the rest of the pod is under our two boats!”
We were both in a bit of panic and awestruck at the same time, so we hit our right rudders — hard. Paddling furiously out of the current we whooped with glee and mild hysteria while we listened to other pod members surfacing for air behind us.
The experience was a humbling combination of witnessing nature close-up and fearing the proximity. Peter and I agreed that we wished we hadn’t panicked. But we also agreed that to be calmer while paddling in wild and natural areas requires more paddling experience so that encounters with wildlife can be more deeply appreciated and observed, and safely navigated.
I hope the 2016 spring edition of OutdoorsNW inspires you to experience more adventures in wild areas.
Read Amy Whitley’s story on paddling the San Juan Marine Trail with her family, and learn where expert kayaker and SUP’er Ken Campbell likes to paddle on the Puget Sound.
Our publisher, Carolyn Price, shares her story of a water-filled road trip to northern Idaho. Be sure to turn to page 39 for information on where to find free copies of the Tillamook Coast Water Trail guidebooks that detail over 200 miles of waterways in northwestern Oregon.
We also have great reads on North Cascades hikes paired with local beer, an update on captive orca whales, an interview with Tonia Farman (the founder of Kiteboard For Cancer) and an in-depth feature on adventure around Crater Lake National Park. These pages are ripe with ideas on where to paddle and adventure more often.
What are you waiting for?