Marty and a friend of hers, Martin, planned a camping trip together in Point Reyes National Seashore. The park is always booked months in advance on weekends, with every campsite full. But the last few times Marty and I had been in the park we noticed that it was deserted on Sunday Night. So Marty planned this trip for a Sunday and Monday night, and were able to get reservations on short notice. They would take Monday and Tuesday off, hike in by land, and I was invited to come by sea in my kayak for the first night at Wildcat Beach. I would get up early on Monday and paddle out to go to work in nearby Nacasio. The hikers would hike to Sky Camp and stay another night. That was the plan.
The week before the scheduled weekend, the swells at sea rarely dropped below 10 feet. I started to worry that I would not be able to do the trip in the kayak. On Saturday the swells were still 10 feet high off Bodega Harbor and I almost gave up. But on Sunday morning they were down to 8 feet. The weather service had predicted 10 feet, and 9 feet for Monday. If it stayed 8 feet and got less on Monday, it would be calm enough for me. I tried calling a woman at BASK (the Bay Area Sea Kayakers) who was pointed out to me as a local expert on Drakes Bay, where all the paddling would take place, to ask her opinion but she was not home. (Probably out kayaking). Finally I decided to bring the kayak with me to the beach and go for it if the water looked calm enough. I figured that the wind and waves might make it an uncomfortable trip, but I could live with that.
When we got to Limantour Beach, I ran down to shore to check the waves, which were very mild. The reason I had to run to check it out was because Marty wanted to use the large comfortable backpack if I was not using it. If I had been hiking in with them, I would have carried the lion's share of the food and equipment and I would be wearing that pack. If I went by kayak, I was carrying in the lion's share of the food in the kayak, and an extra bottle of wine to boot. So when I came back from looking at the waves with the news that I was thumbs up for launch, we had to re-arrange everything. In the process, Martin discovered that he had left his sleeping pad in his parents car. His parents had dropped him off and were going on a day hike nearby, so he and Marty planned to go try to recover the pad. This meant that although they helped carry all my stuff down to the beach, they had to hurry off and would not be leaving at the same time that I was. I had considered pacing Marty down the coast trail, but now I was on my own and didn't want to wait until they came back. I was abandoned alone on the beach to pack my kayak and launch shortly after 1:00 PM. I told them I would meet them at Arched Rock Beach.
Launching was not a problem. The waves in Drakes Bay were so mild that I didn't bother to put my wetsuit jacket on. I slipped over the mild waves and headed south. There was a mild wind blowing from the northwest and the sky was overcast, although all morning the radio had been promising the overcast would burn off soon. The weather service also promised strong winds, but the one that helped blow me south was much less than predicted. I zoomed down the length of Limantour Beach with ease and past the first few rocky outcroppings.
From my last trip past here I recalled seeing a sinkhole in the side of the cliff that emptied out into the ocean through a small cave. Since I probably had lots of time and the waves were mild, I decided to check it out. I saw the sinkhole and headed towards shore. The water was high enough to wash into the cave, but was too narrow for an easy landing. I landed on the beach just south of the cave, and pulled the kayak up out of the waves. I waded around the point into the cave through the surf. It is interesting that I'm not afraid of being in the water to dive, or on the water in the kayak. But there is something about being halfway in the water, especially in the surf, that bothers me. Having my legs trapped in foamy water makes it difficult to move and makes me worry that something will happen and I will not have the mobility to escape. I scooted around the rocks and into the cave with no problems. This cave was large enough to walk into with plenty of headroom. Inside the sand sloped steeply up into the sinkhole, with a level spot halfway across the bottom of the hole. If you were not expecting a really high tide, or bad weather, you could camp in here. I would worry about the high tide, and that would make sleeping difficult.
While I was wading into the cave, I got my camera wet, and when I tried to take a few pictures I noticed that the view through the viewfinder was very poor. Trying to mop off the camera on the dry spots of my T-shirt did not help. If the lens was seeing the same cloudy image I was, then none of these pictures were going to be worth keeping. That has been one of my main worries with my trick of recycling the waterproof boxes these camera come in: Every time I slide the camera in or out of the pocket of my vest, the rough nylon puts scratches in the box. Every time I wipe sea water off the lens, I put more fine scratches in the soft plastic. I have been thinking of buying scratch-proof sapphire optical windows for my camera boxes. But the cost of one little piece of synthetic sapphire would buy two more camera boxes with the camera and film inside. On the other hand, these molded clear plastic boxes were never really "optically flat" to begin with. Even a commercial grade sapphire window from Edmund Scientific would probably improve the quality of every picture I take by a great deal. I'll probably pay for them anyway, partially for the fun of milling the recessed groove in these cheep Fuji camera boxes to glue in a piece of high-tech material.
Back in the water, the next point on my trip was Resistance Point. I took lots of wonderful pictures of this incredible spot on my last trip past here. I was worried this time that the water would be too rough to go through the arches, but Drakes Bay is a lot calmer than the 9 foot swells reported north of here at the Bodega Bay buoy. There is a rock just off shore here that had a colony of mueres on it. These, you may recall, are those wonderful little seabirds that look almost exactly like penguins accept they are smaller and have a more pointy beak. And they can still fly. I had to either travel way out to sea or very close to shore to avoid bothering them. Close to shore I naturally had to go through the arches. I'm not doing this for the thrill of it, I'm trying to be nice to the wildlife. Yeah sure. Actually the waves were mild inside, if a little choppy, and I had time to stop and admire the view through all the arches and up through the magnificent chimney. Around the south side of resistance point there are some inaccessible sandy beaches where some of the smaller arches stick through. I landed on one of these where the water was sheltered from the prevailing waves from the northwest. When I used to be more afraid of landing and taking off in the surf, I avoided any unnecessary landings and usually stayed in the water for the duration of every trip. Now I find myself reveling in beautiful secluded spots like this where few other people have landed to look around. From this sheltered spot, I easily launched again and paddled the short distance to Arched Rock Beach.
I had paddled past this Arched Rock point the last time I stayed at Wildcat Beach, and had been disappointed to not find any really interesting arches. This time I had to land to meet Marty and Martin, so I was anxious to find the correct spot. The closer to Milliner Point I got, the more people I saw on the beach, but I did not see how they got down there. Did these people climb down the cliffs? Marty would never do that. As I approached the rock that is called Arched Rock, I followed a family on the beach that had small children with them. These kids didn't climb down the cliff. One of the kids waved at me, and I waved back. I read an interesting article in the Exploratorium Newsletter recently that mentioned Fiddler Crabs and small children share this trait: If you wave at them, they will wave back. I watched them approach the steep cliff under Arched Rock. Then they walked THROUGH the cliff. Finally I saw what this beach was all about! The point that I had walked out on top of with Marty once before has a large arch under it that you can walk through at reasonably low tides! There is a creek on the south side that has carved a reasonably easy path down to the beach, then you go under the arch and can walk north quite a distance on the sand if the tide is low. This arch is only 9 kilometers from Limantour Beach, and it is a reasonable day hike for a picnic in a wonderful location. I highly recommend it.
I paddled around the arched rock and looked at the beach on the other side. The waves there looked too rough, so I turned back. There was another rock offshore just north of Arched Rock that might have some calmer waves behind it. As I paddled closer to that rock and closer to the sandy shore, a large wave rose up and broke offshore from me. I figured the decision about where to land had just been made for me, so I turned shoreward and paddled like mad. I didn't have time to paddle much before the breakers caught up with me and I turned sideways to them. I braced into the breakers, which rose up to my shoulders, and managed to stay upright. Then I got a wild ride all the way up onto the beach. I also slid forward while being carried sideways, and worried that I might make it to the next point and miss the beach. But this didn't happen and I safely thumped down on the sand. The adrenaline rush, however, allowed me to pull the heavy kayak way up above the high water line before I ran out of steam. When I opened the kayak to get a dry shirt out, I found evidence that the breaker had sprayed a little water in through the hatch seals onto the drysacks.
I changed into sandals and a dry long sleeved shirt on top of my wetsuit farmer john, wandered through the arch, and climbed up the creek to the hiking trail. Marty might have some trouble climbing down the side of this creek, but she was not here yet. I sat on the point of the arched rock, (the trail goes right out over the arch to the tip of the point) and watched the waves for a while. I plotted where I would get back in the water to avoid the worst of the breakers. I sat and contemplated the wildflowers growing all around the edges of the rock. I watched the ospreys riding the updrafts rising off the cliffs. Crows and pelicans and (of course) sea gulls drifted by almost within reach just off the edge of the cliff. I just sat and enjoyed the view south and then north of the arch. I had a wonderful time. But after a while, I walked up to the top of the next cliff and scanned the trail north of me. No sign of Marty and Martin. I tried taking a nap. Finally, I went back down to the kayak to look at my clock. I had been there for two hours. It was a NICE two hours, but we really should have had a contingency plan: "If you guys are not here by 5:00 PM, I am going to head on to Wildcat Beach.".
At 5:30 PM I sat down to eat some of the bagels and smoked salmon I was supposed to share with them for lunch. I wandered around the next point north on the beach and found a beautiful little cave in the cliff. Water was dripping down the cliff and leaving curved grooves in the sand at the opening of the cave. The drops pattered off the top of my hat. Wildflowers farther up the cliff had rained down yellow pedals on the sand to complete the decoration of the beach. I wanted to share all of this with Marty, but I also really wanted to get going before sunset had me lost at sea and trying to find Wildcat Beach in the dark. I went back to the kayak and carved a message in the sand that (I hoped) could be read from the cliff. It said "M2>WC" (M squared arrow W C) which I hoped they would see and interpret as "Marty and Martin, go to Wild Cat". As I was rinsing the sand off my neoprene booties to put them back on, Marty finally showed up on top of the cliff. By hand signs, she indicated there wasn't time to stop, and we all should all go on. (She couldn't figure out my message). I probably got back in the water after 6:00 PM.
The wind had died down, and the sun was finally burning through the overcast as promised. I paddled between all the jagged rocks offshore at Milliner Point, and easily recognized the saddle of Wildcat Beach. To my left was half of a chopped off mountain, a vertical cliff over 300 meters tall. Marty and Martin have to climb over this and back down to camp. Going around my way seemed like a quick trip, but my watch beeped 7:00 PM before I was lined up to make my landing. The tide was lower than the last time I was here, and apparently there was a long shallow shelf of sand just offshore. This made the waves break farther out to sea than I recalled, and I didn't see anyplace that I could avoid the breakers. I got as close to shore as I felt comfortable, and waited for some large waves to go under me. I followed the third one in, and apparently had great timing. The next small wave broke behind me and pushed the kayak forward without having to turn sideways and brace into it. I rode this breaker most of the way to shore pointing in the direction I was going! When it petered out, I probably could have gotten out and walked the rest of the way, but instead I turned and let the next small breaker carry me a little farther up onto the sand. I hauled all my equipment up to the campsite, changed into dry clothes, and carried the kayak up above the highest high tide line. The whole trip had been scenic and relaxing. I had a wonderful time and was glad that I had made the decision to do the trip by kayak.
While I was unpacking, I discovered that the screws for the latch on the food storage box in our camp were missing. Marty and I had discovered last trip here that the Raccoons were very aggressive about getting stuff out of these boxes. I put some of our stuff in the box of the next camp over, and flailed around for some way to improvise a repair. In my shirt pocket I found a few nylon cable ties (not your normal camping equipment). I augured the screw holes wider, ran cable ties through them and strapped the latch back onto the door. Marty and Martin were still not visible coming down the trail. I had all the food for dinner and the briquettes to cook them on, but Marty had the fire starter. This was just some paraffin soaked sawdust, so I improvised by chopping a few centimeters off the bottom of a spare candle. A little after 8:00 PM, I saw someone who might have been Martin coming down the trail alone, and decided that I would start the fire, which would take a half an hour to get hot enough to cook on. Sure enough, Marty had sent Martin ahead with the fire starter, but my piece of candle was doing a pretty good job.
Marty finally showed up a little after sunset, which was at 8:35 PM. The two hikers sat down at the table to rest, and I took care of dinner. With the kayak to haul things in, we had been generous and taken two bottles of wine, a big bag of vegetables, and two frozen salmon steaks. The steaks were still frozen at 7:00 PM, and I had thawed them in the last dregs of sunlight before I could cook them. I sliced the vegetables thin and grilled them plain over the fire. We had three kinds of squash, red bell pepper, and some large portabella mushrooms. Later for desert, Marty had brought a large chocolate bar to divide up. Gourmet cooking on the beach, again. We didn't finish and get everything put away until midnight.