Wayne and I both read a book called Water and Sky: Reflections of a Northern Year by Alan S. Kesselheim. Alan and his partner Marypat loaded a large canoe with all the provisions they would need for a daunting paddle north on the Athabasca River to Baker Lake. This was true wilderness paddling with few outposts along the way, bears to contend with, and grueling portages. But it inspired Wayne to try some river kayaking in our own double sea kayak we lovingly call "The Big Yellow Banana."
Wayne did some research and found a book called Paddling Washington: Flatwater (that's what I like) and Whitewater Routes in Washington State and the Inland Northwest. There are lots of big rivers crossing the coastal plain in Washington and Oregon to choose from. Because our mode of transportation is a bit different, we were interested in other people's experiences. Sad to say, no one has written about using double sea kayaks. So Wayne picked the Skagit River as the best one to handle our size and shape.
Paddling Washington has excellent maps and river descriptions. We knew basically what to expect, but once you round that first bend, you're on your own.
Our good friend Jeanne helped by driving our trusty '89 Ford Tempo with its "Yellow Banana Hat." Our first stop was the Sedro-Woolley boat ramp at Riverfront Park to look at river conditions. We continued upriver on Highway 20 to Rasar State Park. Wayne made online reservations for a tent spot for $20.50. Kayakers can also use the walk-in hiker/biker section without a reservation. We dropped our camping gear in our site before continuing on.
Our original plan was to start paddling near Concrete. When we crossed the bridge, I saw some whitewater that made me nervous. Wayne was understanding, so we headed back down the road after a nice lunch/dinner at the burger place next to Loggers Landing. Another good choice would have been Birdsview Burgers. We followed the book's directions to the Birdsview boat launch. This was a perfect spot to drive the car right to the water's edge and load up.
At this point, the Skagit is a deep, wide, fairly fast river. Average speed was 4-5 mph without paddling. That's what Wayne was looking for. The afternoon was hot, but we didn't have far to go. This was a short leg to get me used to the feel of, and more comfortable with, the water. I am a bit wimpy, but Wayne takes good care of me (including a bit of good-natured kidding when needed).
When we were at Rasar Park the first time, we walked down to the river (a bit of a hike) to check out the landing spots and to mark it on our Garmin Oregon 300 GPS. We only have the streets feature, but the detail about the river was enough to keep us on track. In about forty-five minutes we were there. By now, most of the beach goers were gone and we found a somewhat secluded spot to stop. We pulled the kayak above the high water line and tied it to some bushes just to be safe. While the Big Yellow Banana had a nice spot with a river view for the night, we hiked up the trail to our campsite with nothing to carry but our backpacks.
Things we learned on day one:
- Being flexible is important.
- Taking time to get my "river legs" was a good idea.
- Dropping our camp gear made bag dragging easier.
- Frozen water bottles melted into the best drink after a hot paddle.