About 5 years ago, my wife and I were moving to the East Coast for work. It was while on I-90 East going through the panhandle of Idaho that we realized how much we were going to miss the Pacific Northwest and how much we had yet to explore and experience this great region. Fast forward one year and we were moving back to the great Pacific Northwest. It was during the 3,000+mile trip back across the country that we decided that we would correct some of our wrongs and explore more of this amazing region. Within one month of our return, we booked a trip to to San Juan Islands to try out sea kayaking and camping in the islands. At the end of this two-day trip we decided we MUST return!
A few years went by with obligation after obligation getting in the way. Finally, we made it a priority and booked a trip through Next Adventure for a 4-day kayak and camping trip in the islands. As the trip approached I was bamboozled by my graduate program schedule. I would be forced to schedule multiple classes on a Monday totaling 12 hours. This would encroach on the 4-day trip as it was originally Friday through Monday. Wanting to communicate this issue with the paddle trip organizer, Michael Bowersox, I was completely floored at the magic that Michael was able to work with the guide company and other trip participants to adjust the trip to suit my needs.
With the trip shortened from a 4-day to a 3-day trip, we prepped and packed our gear and headed north to Anacortes where we took the ferry from the mainland to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. If you’ve never been to Friday Harbor, it’s a kind of like being to a smaller version of Victoria, B.C. It has quite the hustle and bustle to it, while still maintaining a small town feel. Unfortunately, once off the ferry, we weren’t able to stop and look around much. We headed to the Northwest corner of San Juan Island to Roche Harbor to meet our guide Rylie with San Juan Outfitters. After a quick meet and greet with everyone with San Juan Outfitters, we packed our boats, went over the game plan for the weekend, ate an amazing lunch prepared by Rylie and set off for Stuart Island.
The day was completely bluebird with light winds and a cooperating tide. As we crossed Spieden Channel heading towards Spieden Island we kept a keep eye out for marine life. As we skirted the southern shore of Spieden Island we were able to get our first sighting of Harbor Seals soaking up the warm sun on the rocks. Most of them seemed as if they could care less that we were passing while a few of them plopped, wiggled and squirmed into the frigid water.
After passing through John’s Pass between John’s Island and Stuart Island, we paddled into the calm and protected waters of Prevost Harbor on the North side of Stuart Island. The entrance to the harbor is very shallow as we were only in a few feet of water the majority of the time. Massive rocks lined the bottom of the Northeastern entrance of the harbor. It wasn’t until we entered the Western end of the harbor when the water deepened and moored sailboats filled up the tranquil waters. Rylie was able to work his magic with some of the other guides, who were already setting up camp, to score us some amazing waterfront campsite real estate. Since we arrived a little later than everyone else, we had just enough time to set up camp, get into some warm clothes, watch Rylie transform from kayak guide to 4-star chef, eat an amazing meal and head off to bed. It was so nice sleeping so close to the shore listening to the water lap against the boats moored in the harbor. I slept like a bump on a log.
We enjoyed a beautiful (and very bright) sunrise the next morning followed by a mouthwatering, belly filling breakfast by Chef Boy-R-Rylie. Over breakfast, Rylie explained that we would be leaving shortly after breakfast, as we would be circumnavigating Stuart Island that day. With a couple of bathroom breaks, amazing views of the several hundred foot tall cliffs, several boat side visits from Harbor Seals and yet another amazing meal prepared by Rylie, we made it around the island in half a day. This allowed us to get settled in, grab some warm clothes, eat yet another phenomenal dinner and finish the day with a 4-mile, round-trip hike to the several hundred foot high bluffs at Turn Point Light Station to watch the sunset. And what an amazing sunset it was. Turn Point is the most Northwestern point in the continental United States and is less than a mile from the U.S./Canadian border in the Haro Strait. The group sat on the grassy slope watching birds oar, seagoing freighters steam by as the sun slowly fell behind the island filled horizon. Once back at the campsite, a few of the members of the group set out for a night paddle to enjoy the night sky and check out the bioluminescent organisms in the water.
The next morning came early and it didn’t seem like any of us were ready to leave the island. Our incentive was a bit of a turn in the weather and what would be a fairly challenging tide. After making our way through John’s Pass and past Spieden Bluff, Rylie informed the group that one of the whale watching boats has reported a special sighting. Rylie advised that we would raft together and wait to see if we see anything. Within a few minutes we observed a small pod of transient Orcas making their way right at us!! Unfortunately, within a span of 15-20 seconds, the entire area was filled with literally dozens of commercial and private boats attempting to catch a glimpse of the pod. That was the last we saw of the pod and things actually got a little scary for us as all of the boats haphazardly began to leave the area. It was at this point that Rylie reiterated to us the kayak guide’s saying that, “you never see dorsal fins alone; they are always accompanied by at least a dozen motor boats.” How true it is.
Finally across Spieden Channel, we pulled up to Posey Island for one last quick meal before arriving back in Roche Harbor. As all the others before it, this meal was amazing, yet bitter sweet. We ate, told stories, laughed and toasted drinks. As the rain clouds continued to threaten us, we decided to pack it up and head back to the harbor. As if we had scheduled it with a Swiss clock, the moment we finished pulling the boats onto the dock and loading the van, the clouds unleashed their heavy cargo on us in a refreshing, yet cold bath of rain. The drive south to Friday Harbor was filled with the flip-flop sound of windshield wipers, drooping eyelids and even a couple snorts and snores. The only problem with an amazing weekend with amazing people with amazing scenery is that it leaves you wanting and yearning for more. I already can’t wait for next year!