I got up at 6:00am so I could do this trip on the way to work. A trip to Tomales Point is almost two hours one way, and it seems a shame to do it for only one reason. I had trouble getting my marine conditions report: my phone line has been developing a lot of static. Last time this happened, I found corrosion in the box where the phone company ends and my wiring starts, and moved to a different connector. Sure enough, the new connector has green corrosion on it, and two baby banana slugs inside the box. It was after 7:00am before I got the modem working, got my report, and left. It was after 9:00am before I got to the beach. Louis Valentino, a friend and former co-worker, has a map of Point Reyes on the wall in his office. The first time I mentioned the problems getting to the beach here, he emailed back saying that there were lots of places to get to the beach. But he failed to notice that many of these places have long trails from the road to the beach. McClures trail was half a mile long, and very steep. The Kehoe trail was level, but longer. Louis should come out here and help me carry the kayak, to teach him the difference between the map and the terrain.
Before getting ready, I walked half way out until I could see the ocean. From a distance, the breakers didn't look too bad. The trail runs along a marshy creek, and I started hoping that this creek would create a magic channel through the breakers the way I had found at other beaches. The trail is covered with imported ground-up rock, which I cannot slide the kayak over, so I had to carry it most of the way. I considered not goind, but I had great clear weather, a mild breeze, and mild five foot swells. I had to take advantage of it. Part of the trail was sandy, and some of it was grassy, so I slid the kayak some of the way. The trail turned up near the end and went over a dune. But the creek got wide here, so I got in the water and paddled around the dune to the beach. The National Park rents this land out to ranchers, and the cows had churned the creek banks into a disgusting slurry of mud and manure. I was sorry I had gone this way when I found globs of mud splashed on my equipment, especially the wetsuit jacket I would have to put on soon.
At the beach, it did look like the waves broke farther out on either side of where the creek emptied over the sand. I put on my jacket, but left the gloves off. In this mild weather, I'd rather have my hands cold but in better control of the paddle. The waves were milder than at McClures beach last week. But I had to walk out until the water was chest high before I was out to where the big waves broke. When one did, I was so buoyant it would pick me up until I had no footing, and then grab the kayak and pull us back to shore. One of these gave me a little rope burn when it jerked the kayak out of my hand and tumbled both of us back to shore. I'm not fond of the getting in and out of the water part of this sport, and again considered turning back. But I have to actually try to get through the waves at least once before I can give up. I wait until the last of a chain of big waves goes by. From water level, of course, they all look big. Finally, I jump in and head out with no problems over the next few waves. Looking north and south, I see waves breaking on either side and congratulate myself for being correct about the creek carving a magic channel for me. Once out to sea, I turn back and memorize the shape of the beach. I want to find the magic channel again, but I also need to be able to find the beach in general: Point Reyes National Seashore has miles and miles of almost identical white sandy beaches.
I could see Elephant rock before I even got in the water, the air was so clear on this morning. This rock was supposed to be 3 miles away, but it looked just ahead of me. As I traveled up the beach, however, it did not get any closer for a long time. Half way there, after I got to the end of the long sandy beach, there was a little point that had rough waves leading up to it. But when I got to the point, it had calm waves behind it and I was able to get close to shore. Once I got there, I discovered that I could paddle back south BEHIND some of the rough surf I had just gone around. These big waves would rise up, sometimes breaking, then calm down before they got to this little sandy beach behind the point. I could have landed here and removed my jacket in comfort, but saved that for later. Elephant Rock looks like a gray lump with a rounded top, and I hope to paddle around behind it. But when I get there, it has a row of jagged rocks between it and the cliff, just above the water line. There are also a lot of submerged rocks around it. I can only tell this by watching waves breaking over them. I have to memorize the positions and choose a path between them that doesn't have breakers on the large waves. Elephant Rock has 3 caves going into the south end that all connect together under two arches. The tide is low, and these caves have rocky bottoms with waves breaking through them from time to time. At high tide they are probably too low to paddle through.
On the other side of that rock is a rocky point that defines the southern end of McClures Beach. This creates another little cove with mild waves on the shore. If I had known this last week, I would have drug the kayak up here and carried it over the point to get in the water here. I'll probably do that one day when I'm coming back to take pictures of some of these places. There were two guys sitting on the side of the point, fishing into this cove. I see them watching me, but my attention is on the waves, and I don't have time to wave at them. Around this point is McClures beach, my turnaround point. I paddle out to sea to have my breakfast, and find a crab trap float. I tie the kayak up to this while I eat and take off my jacket. Without the crab float to moor up to, I would have had to work for my lunch. Both the current and the wind are blowing from the northeast, and I would have been pulled back towards the rocky point over and over again.
After lunch, a sugar-saturated drink and a bagel, I put on some sunscreen and head back. I travel far out from the shore, perhaps half a kilometer, to get the view from a distance. I find out why it's called Elephant Rock: From several angles, the caves line up to create an amazing likeness. The northern most arch over the caves has a sloping top that looks like an elephantine forehead. Where this arch enters the water, it looks like the mouth and tusks of the elephant (the trunk is under water). The western arch looks like the elbow and foot of the elephant, as if he is about to pull himself up onto a more upright position.
With the wind, waves, and current all helping me, the trip back does not seem to take as long as the trip out. I can see a couple on the beach from a long ways off, but they walk south almost out of sight by the time I land. I debate putting my jacket back on, and finally decide that it's something to do while I procrastinate and put off the inevitable. I find the magic channel to the creek, and as I head in I can see that the waves are breaking north and south of me already. I keep paddling and eventually a wave breaks around me. I let the kayak rotate to the left, and lean into the breakers, and I ride in for a short while until I slip up over the top. That wasn't so bad. I turn to shore again and get to paddle for a few seconds before another wave breaks behind me. This one really grabs the kayak, and we zoom up the beach. But with my paddle braced into the breakers, I begin to feel that I'm not going to get tossed out of the kayak. It actually starts to be fun, instead of scary. Of course that's when the keel thumps on the sand, and the ride is over. High and dry and ashore with no problems. Perhaps I will get good enough at this that the getting in and out of the water will be something to look forward to, instead of dreading.