The washing of the water

Several years ago my husband and I joined some friends on a kayaking outing up at Tomales Bay. The excursion was strenuous for me, not being much of an athlete, yet also relaxing: the scenery so beautiful, the air positively delicious, and the sound of the ocean just beyond the bay all conspired to raise the experience to a level I can describe as meditative.

I have often reflected on that day in years since, and recalled the memory of being a speck on the powerful waters as a means of smacking me in the head with some perspective in those moments when my mind and heart are too much engaged in the world of mediocrity (which, unfortunately, is rather more often than I should prefer).

Memory grows sparse without reinforcement, so on Sunday a friend and I headed to the Oakland estuary for a kayaking basics course led by Sou at Cal Kayak. I had considered a more advanced course, but given the number of years since my initial outing I felt it best to start from the very beginning, and indeed the experience of the day suggested this was a wise decision. My upper body strength is poor, and I found myself continually padding on the wrong side and direction when attempting a turn, so much practice and patient coaching by the instructor was a necessity.

The outing felt like an adventure, and afforded a unique view if the estuary, that not even a walk along the shoreline could provide. We began from Jack London Square and crossed the channel toward Alameda, then headed southeast toward the High Street bridge. A fleet of Navy boats heading to the open Bay passed us, and a couple of the sailors waved. Several sailboats were also trekking Bayside, and at a wider spot in the estuary A sailing class or club was working at some exercises. We passed a small neighborhood of houseboats, the view of which provided me with some material for future daydreams.

Having waited out a couple of pleasure craft, we crossed back toward Oakland after passing a pretty marina, and took ashore for a lunch break at Estuary Park – lots of potential for beauty here but sadly, a shabby spot. We then headed up a side channel toward Lake Merritt, passing under a couple of low bridges. The channel doesn’t go through – at least, not yet; there is some chatter about opening up the channel to connect lake and estuary. The exercise was not without some perils here, as a swift current combined with silt barriers required some focused paddling and many adjustments to prevent being caught on barnacle-encrusted columns. I nearly became tangled in the silt barrier, but pushed through with some great effort that my arm muscles regret this morning.

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Returning to Jack London Square marina was quite a bit easier than the easterly trek, as we followed along the current. The hazard here, though, was that the current pushed one toward the center of the channel, and being center would place a small, relatively fragile kayak in the direct path of larger, engine-powered craft. A good amount of adjustment was required to remain closer to the shoreline.

The day was lovely fun, and though I was sunburned (on my knees where it didn’t occur to me that I might require sunscreen) and a bit sore this morning, I am eager to take the next course and hazard the more challenging waters of San Francisco Bay.

By the way, I recommend the company. Their people are knowledgeable and helpful, and the prices were reasonable. My friends in the Sacramento area may be pleased to note that the company has an office in Rancho Cordova, and offers tours in Folsom, including a moonlight paddle at Lake Natoma.

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