What I Learned Kayaking the San Juan Islands

As I thought about my second post, I wondered, “What would my two followers want to read?” Both are accountants who live in Washington and like an active vacation. I thought I could write this as a public service to them and anyone else who may have a friend ask them, “I’ve always wanted to kayak the San Juans – want to join me?” This happened to me about a year ago when a friend invited me on a three day kayaking trip, and I wish I knew then what I know now. At least then I would have been mentally if not physically prepared.

1. If you’ve done half day kayaking trips before, this is nothing like those. I’ve done a number of half day trips in a variety of places, and they have always been pleasant, scenic and mostly relaxing journeys. Sometimes the paddling was a little tough, but it was always broken up by breaks and stops to snorkel, take in the scenery or wildlife, eat a snack or take photos. You don’t get any of that on this trip. Well at least I didn’t (see #5). The funny thing is that we were on the water for only about four hours each day, but we crammed 11 miles of kayaking in wind and current into those four hours.

2. Playing Tetris is good training for fitting all your stuff in a kayak. I wasn’t much of a Tetris player, which was probably why each day I had to stick at least one of my things in my friend’s storage hold and keep other things with me in my seat.

3. Don’t worry if it’s too foggy to see. Your guide knows what he’s doing. Plus, the ferries are big and have horns.

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4. Kayaking gives you an excuse to eat more. At least I think it does. It definitely should given how much pain it puts you through. One bright spot of the trip was the food. Our guide, who was a drill sergeant on the water, turned into a great camp chef on land. He made some tasty chili, a veggie laden spaghetti and (my favorite) chocolate chip strawberry pancakes. He also offered us fresh smoked salmon at just about every meal and plied us with wine and apps before dinner – all of which are pretty quick ways to my heart.

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5. You never get a break if you’re so slow that everyone has to wait for you to catch up. My friend and I were the youngest and slowest kayakers on the trip. Before we launched the first morning, our guide lectured us all on the importance of the group staying together on the water so big boats could see us. That didn’t really happen for us, because often we were the lone kayak hundreds of feet behind everyone else. The group was nice enough to stop and wait for us every now and then, but as soon as we finally caught up they started paddling again. No break for us!

6. Camping isn’t all bad. I like nature, but I don’t want to sleep in it. Before the trip I was dreading the camping the most, but it ended up being one of best things about the trip. We stayed at two beautiful campgrounds, one of which was open only to “human powered beachable watercraft.”

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We had actual toilets, including this one which made you feel like royalty.

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Our group was full of well-traveled, interesting and funny people who made for fun and entertaining conversation around camp. There were also the sunsets.

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7. A kayaking trip is the worst bachelorette party idea ever if you want to keep your friends. I don’t know if this is actually the case, but when I saw a woman in a bridal veil leading group of kayakers to our campground, I thought that couldn’t be a good idea. I’d rather go to a bachelorette party in Vegas, and I don’t even like Vegas. The friend I went on this trip with is threatening to do this, so I guess we’ll see how that works out.

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8. The currents and wind are stronger than they look. Nothing more to say here. They just are.

9. Thick skin is good. This will help with the inevitable blisters, sun, rain, wind and getting yelled at by the guide when you get stuck in bull kelp.

10. Don’t count on having fine motor skills for a few days after you get home. This might have been the biggest surprise. The trip ended on a Sunday, and I think I had trouble typing and gripping things until about Thursday. The rest of my body fared pretty well, but I felt like I had the hands of an 80-year-old.

While I think I’ll leave the multi-day San Juan kayak trips to the hardcore kayakers in the future, I did enjoy the experience and am glad I was able to see a very beautiful slice of Washington in this way. Next time though I’ll stick to the ferries and whale watching boats.


2 thoughts on “What I Learned Kayaking the San Juan Islands

  1. Susan Howson

    I can really relate to #5. In Tuscany, they put me with the experienced cycling group, even though I said I was new to cycling. I had strong legs to climb hills, but no great speed on the downhill. And Tuscany is HILLY! Going really fast freaked me out. I though I would die the first 3 of 8 days. No rest. I would catch up with the group on their stop. As soon as I got to them, off we went. Wow, I was sore.

  2. roamingcpa Post author

    So Susan, I think you are saying that had this been an 8 day kayaking trip, days 4-8 would have been better! Your pictures from that Tuscany trip were amazing. I hope to do something similar someday.


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