Friday, December 7, 2007


Picture this: A dark sand and gravel beach. Chunks of driftwood and assorted jetsam line the high tide mark. It's hard to determine exactly where the shore ends and the water begins. What little light there is comes from a few streetlights out on the main drag; not much filters down to the water's edge. Across the bay, the beacon at Brown's Point flicks on and off again, right on schedule. A light rain is softly falling. It's 4:30am and I am just getting started.

I don't remember the last time I paddled in daylight. A month ago? Maybe more. The thing is, there just isn't that much daylight to be had around here this time of year. So I go when I can, which is early in the morning. Real early.

It's a 2-mile paddle across Commencement Bay to the light at Brown's Point. Maybe a little more. Round-trip takes about an hour, perhaps longer if I drink my hot chocolate slowly at the point. There's a little house down on the water near the lighthouse that I like to look at as I sip from the thermos. It's older, not too big, not a trophy home like some of the others further inside the bay. It's got a good vibe though and I like to think I might have something like it one day. At some point, I cap the thermos and head back.

I think of it more as a morning meditation than any kind of workout. It's not a long distance, but it's long enough to get the big muscle groups fired up, long enough to feel like I've done something. I've never planned to paddle by night on any big trips I've done before; if I've been out after dark it's because I did something wrong. The VI Circle is going to be different though, especially during the first few weeks. I'll be in more protected water, for starters, and if timing my day with the current means being on the water before the sun is in the sky, then so be it. The shortest periods of daylight will be at the beginning of the trip. If I want to maximize early progress, and I most definitely do, then I should probably plan on paddling in the dark.

So I come out here every morning, or almost every morning anyway, to get myself used to the idea that I will be doing a fair bit of this before I'm done. Some days are calm and fast, others are choppy and interesting, sometimes real interesting. Added to the conditions is the frequent freighter traffic that typically runs at right angles to my course. I have a light mounted on the back deck of my kayak but I am not really under any illusions that I can be seen from the bridges of any of these behemoths. Sometimes the simple 2-mile crossing feels more like a kayaking version of a Frogger game, but it does keep me paying attention.

It's a ritual, a meditation, one that I am hoping will ease the transition from city living to a wilderness expedition. At least, that's what I'm thinking now.