Last weekend, my wife Wendy and I finally did something we’ve been talking doing for a long time: We got a pair of kayaks.
Trust me, my aging body won’t be doing much “floating” in the shallow waters of some of the region’s rivers, where you often don’t really float, but rather drag your vessel from pool to pool. Don’t get me wrong, when the Jack Fork is running high enough, there’s not many more enjoyable experiences than cruising between its bluff systems on a warm day in spring, summer or fall.
But what we’ll be focusing on now that we have a couple of 9 ½-foot Perception boats at our disposal is “flat-water” paddling – the kind you do on a lake, swamp or other body of water that doesn’t move or present the potential for having to do as much hiking as floating. Floating on flat water is typically much easier on the muscles and joints, and putting in and taking out at the same location is undoubtedly pretty convenient.
Anyway, the trip to Ozark Mountain Outfitters in Ozark (and the subsequent pleasant learning experience with Gavin, one of the store’s very knowledgeable employees) brought back a memory of a flat-water kayak adventure Wendy and I experienced back in our days in Western Washington.
We lived for many years in Gig Harbor, a small town on Puget Sound, about 35 miles south of Seattle just west of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.
One weekend in about 1995, we rented a cabin right on the harbor, surrounded by all manner of powerboats and sailboats in a classic marina setting. The use of a tandem kayak also came with the deal.
Now, I wouldn’t recommend or attempt the use of a tandem craft on an Ozarks river, because maneuvering it in tight spots and making quick moves to avoid obstacles would at best be impractical and at worst dangerous. But in the space offered by the more open waters of a lake – or the huge and unique saltwater inlet that is Puget Sound – it’s pretty dang cool.
After enjoying walking on the rocky and oyster shell-lined shore near where the harbor and main sound meet, and savoring the nautical atmosphere in and around the cabin, we bedded down in anticipation of some early morning paddling.
To say we were well rewarded would be a major understatement.
The morning air was absolutely dead still and the temperature was in the classic (virtually year-round) Seattle area range at about 48 degrees. On most days, the surface of Puget Sound is covered by various sizes of choppy waves, and it can almost never be called calm.
But on this rare, wondrous day, the water was like glass. It was as if the surface was one massive sheet – there wasn’t a ripple anywhere from Vashon Island to the Key Peninsula.
Half in awe of what we were observing, we set out on our salty float trek, and in no time were living the meaning of the word surreal.
As we moved away from the marina area, the only sounds were the paddles entering and exiting the water and a few distant calls from seagulls. As we made out way into open water, it was as if we were alone on a giant waterbed, and some unseen force was moving us about without our own effort.
Then we noticed we weren’t alone. Seals’ heads repeatedly popped up from the surface, and they would look our way as if wondering why nobody else was around and how we got so lucky. The slick mammals kept company with us for what seemed like hours, not minding us as adversaries but rather viewing us as part of the morning’s setting.
We slipped through the water’s smoothness until we were pretty far from shore, out where the Sound gets deep – really deep. I’d guess the water might have been 300 feet deep below us, possibly with some of those huge octopuses that are only found in the Sound wandering around on the bottom.
Here and there, a very slight mist hovered just about the water’s surface. And to the east stretched a gorgeous view of the Sound’s populous eastern side.
As we finally headed back in, there was no fatigue or strain – only relaxation and satisfaction, and a feeling of gratefulness that we had witnessed (and been a part of) such a remarkable moment in God’s creative production.
I’m not sure we’ll see any seals if we’re paddling at Pomme De Terre or cruising at Clearwater, but that’s OK. A fair day in a kayak beats a good day doing a lot of other things.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.