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Creek Running North

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October 11, 2004

Homo ludens

The UPS truck got here at about 9:40. By 10:45 I had the kayak assembled and loaded on the truck, and at 11:00 I was on the water.

The bay had about a one and a half foot chop on it. Not quite as big as I've seen it here, but not far off. The little boat she is perfectly happy to roll sideways up over top of each small breaker without spilling her cargo, and down the other side. These little waves are the perfect beginner's practice playground, and I must find them when I can: the bay is usually like a pane of glass around here.

With neither rudder nor expert pilot, the kayak veered only slightly from the course I set her on. Out through the foam a hundred yards to the old Fernandez Wharf piling — a hundred square feet of rust and concrete and guano — I headed around the bar to the mouth of the creek, where the breakers were taller: maybe 24 inches at most. I paddled head-on into each one for a while, actually grabbing a little bit of air off the largest. (I hope the folks on shore forgave my involuntary yelp of glee, though the waves were hardly noticeable from land.)

Then came the fun part: turning 180 degrees to run up the creek. Sidling up the concave sides of breakers is a little nervous-making, despite my being in perhaps four feet of water. It was easy to forget that I could, at any time, step out of the boat and walk to shore: in fact, the shallowness was the reason the two-foot waves were breaking in the first place. The kayak kept wanting to turn its bow into the waves, and I spent some time figuring out what I was doing before I got us pointed at the creekmouth. One breaker jumped right into the cockpit with me, but as my underwear thoughtfully soaked up every last brackish drop, the craft's seaworthiness was not affected. Next time I'll bring the spray skirt and wetsuit, just in case.

I lazed up the creek, which was glassy-still, sheltered from the wind, and sun-warmed. I realized I'd left the two quarts of drinking water on the table at home. Ah, well. Instead, I drank in dragonflies and pickleweed, the yellow marsh composites and the wild rye submerged by the tide. I slipped under the railroad bridges and the Bay Trail footbridge, paddling slowly toward the head of navigation on Pinole Creek — a tiny riffle at the foot of the big buckeye tree.

Dragonflies and swallows. I turned around, struggling a bit against the wind, and ran north with the creek, imagining Polaris behind the flawless blue. Ten minutes had passed since I went beneath the bridges, and the lowest now passed a mere inch above my head. I peered into the seasonally vacant cliff swallow nests on the underside.

And then the mouth, and the waves again. I paddled out into the breakers once more, played a bit more, then decided against heading for the beach from which I launched. My shoulders were getting a bit tired, and I'd have needed to paddle out through the (relatively pathetic) thick of things to get there. Next time, for sure: once I'd gotten in position, the waves would have pushed me right on home.

Instead, I surfed back into the creek and used a decrepit, filthy boat launch there to get back on dry land. Halfway there, an onlooker came to the bank and asked whether the waves had been too much. "For me, a little. Not for the boat, though. I'm just getting a feel for what it can do." I played with the paddles while we talked, nosing into and out of the marsh grasses. He seemed disappointed with the answer. Or maybe it was just me: I know I was a little sad to get off the water.

Is it supposed to be bad luck to take a boat on its first voyage, even an hour of splashing in four feet of water, without naming it? If so, we both survived. The kayak was back in the yard, rinsed off and soaking up the October sun, before a name arrived. I dubbed her Roroo-ka, correctly pronounced to rhyme wiith "mocha." It's a phrase from Mutsun, the Ohlone dialect closest to the local Huchiun with a still-extant glossary. Roroo-ka: "I am playing."

Posted by Chris Clarke at October 11, 2004 01:56 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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That is a _perfect_ name.

I'm glad you had fun -- and look forward to hearing about more of your adventures! :)

Posted by: Rana at October 11, 2004 06:10 PM
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Lucky guy. I still haven't had a chance to use my new kayak. I guess that gives me some time to name it. Any suggestions?

Posted by: Paul Tomblin at October 11, 2004 06:12 PM
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Dear god, Chris. She is breathtakingly beautiful. And what can I say? I love the name. (The title of this entry isn't bad, either.) I'm impressed that you went out without a sprayskirt. My paddle-wielding skills are such that I get soaked even on the stillest of waters.

(And did you break any bottles over her bow?)

Posted by: Siona at October 11, 2004 11:43 PM
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Sounds like it was well worth the long wait. And good that you let her name tell itself to you rather than impose it on someone else's schedule...

Posted by: Pica at October 12, 2004 06:38 AM
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WONDERFUL! now we'll never get stories. you will be too busy experiencing them! it sounds so fun.

Posted by: Anne at October 12, 2004 08:52 AM
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The Bay got nothin that kayak can't handle. (You, remains to be seen.) Oooooooh, I am so jealous!

Posted by: Doc Roc at October 14, 2004 10:42 PM
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