Getting Started: Puget Sound Challenge Leg #5
Melissa Spangler’s Journal:
Puget Sound Challenge Leg #5—Southworth to Portage and back
I was nervous about this leg of the Puget Sound Challenge. Thinking about paddling 18 nautical miles had me concerned about my endurance and ability for the paddle if the weather and current were adverse. This leg was the longest paddle yet, 4 miles longer than I had ever paddled on an outing. I had the Necky Looksha 17’ for the second time and felt comfortable with this kayak’s stability. Getting prepped for each leg is taking less time, as I’ve memorized my packing list and I know what to expect.
The pre-launch checks are also becoming second nature: checking the foot pegs, back-up flotation, paddle float, paddle and spare, spray skirt, drinking water on deck with extra bladder in cockpit, stuff bags with extra clothing and safety gear, lunch, bilge pump, whistle, PFD, etc. The routine is becoming more fluent and familiar.
We didn’t need to arrange a shuttle this time since we were launching from Southworth, directly beside the ferry dock and returning to the same location. The weather was perfect with more sunshine than on previous legs of the Challenge. I listened to some of the other paddlers debate about clothing preferences for a 65-degree to near 70-degree sunny day. Many paddlers opted to forgo their drysuits, wearing farmer-john style wetsuits with wicking shirts and bottoms. Some paddlers complained about “baking” in a full drysuit while others insisted that drysuits were a better alternative if they were to capsize in the frigid Puget Sound waters. On this occasion, I wore a wicking shirt and pants under my semi drysuit. I had overheated on previous legs when I had worn an additional insulating layer of fleece. I also kept in mind that it was easy to cool down by immersing myself in the water while wearing the drysuit.
The launch was smooth and we headed south into very calm waters. After a long week at work, I felt somewhat exhausted and not fully energized for this challenge. I pushed on and found my muscles awaken as the muscle memory took over. It didn’t take long to get into the groove, although this leg wasn’t easy for me to conquer. I found that if I start the leg without much energy, my paddle strokes become sloppy and my form suffers. The tough part is that poor form wears you down faster than good form does. I managed fairly well the first half of the Challenge.
Vashon Island was beautiful and lush with green everywhere. I enjoyed the view of Mt. Rainier to the south as we rounded the tip of Vashon. No matter how many times I see this mountain, I still find it so majestic and simply breathtaking, especially when seen from a kayak. We were rounding the point and found that it was not possible to land at Portage because the high tide had covered every possible landing space. It was close to noon and as there was no beach at Portage we opted to pull in on a nice public beach with lots of interesting driftwood on the eastern shore of Vashon. A kind woman was walking her silvery-grey and very animated dog named Neuman who made his way around sneaking crumbs from the paddlers as we ate lunch.
On each leg of the race I see some familiar faces and meet new kayakers. It has been so nice to sit and get to know the different people and hear the various stories about how they came to kayaking, along with other tidbits about their life. I find that kayakers come from all walks of life and each of their stories is intriguing in a different way. I am certainly beginning to feel a significant sense of community with this network of kayakers.
After lunch, we launched and headed back along the route that had brought us to that point. The wind that had favored us with a light tailwind, now created a headwind that required me to increase my level of effort. It was a tough journey, but as always there were a few highlights. A fully loaded freighter passed our group creating an incredible swell. I find these deep swells enticing and irresistible. It feels odd to see a kayaker so far above you while you are in on the low side and then you are riding the crest and another kayaker is several feet below. Another few yards to my left, waves crashed violently against the protective concrete seawalls then bounced back to jostle our kayaks again in the swell. As we rounded the point the wind block was reduced again and I had to dig deep with each paddle stroke. Leaning into the wind, I paddled fiercely. My lower back and arms started aching with each lurch forward. I was tiring with the final miles. We were nearing the Vashon ferry dock where I was thrilled with the opportunity to ride a ferry wake. While some paddlers find peace with uneventful, calm water, I find myself ecstatic with each opportunity to face a new challenge and embrace turbulent water as it rises and falls with the wakes. I love this sport, despite the aches and pains that come with inexperience and lack of endurance. My skill set is expanding weekly and I am enthralled with this newfound passion. I look forward to each new challenge. Each leg presents lessons, adventures and great camaraderie.
Kayak: Necky Looksha 17
Paddle: Werner Premium Camano
PFD: Kokatat Orbit
Clothing: Kokatat Women’s SuperNova Paddling Suit with 2-mm neoprene gloves
Footwear: Chota Posi-Lok High Top Zip Bootie
Roofrack: Thule Hullavator
Paddle float, float bags, bilge pump