Thursday, November 28, 2013

Rainy Day Nehalem Bay

Not every weekend on the beach in Oregon can be warm and sunny. If they were, then the Californians would probably sue. So, in order to be left in peace by those sun whiners, it is fair and right that we have a goodly share of God Awful cold, windy, rainy, foggy weekends on the Oregon Coast.

Why, we had one just last weekend. This happened to be the weekend that my partner and I had rented a Yurt out at Nehalem Beach State Park and had signed up to host a paddle for our Kayak Portland Meetup club thingee.

View Tillamook HIgh Tide Paddle in a larger map

We went up Friday night, right after work. It was already rainy and having the promise of cold. But that does make for light traffic on the main drag out to the beach. We stopped at camp 18 for dinner. A fun place, Camp 18. It is a restaurant and museum that pays homage to the steampunk generation of planned deforestation that was the lumber industry in the early 1900s. The place itself is a huge log cabin. Huge in so many ways. The most impressive is the main pillars and beam of the place are made from (what I assume) is one HUGE tree. I mean HUGE. The sign says that it is the largest roof rafter beam made from a single tree in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE. Why does my Cap Lock keep getting stuck?

Here is a picture of the beam. Hard to get a feeling for the size of the thing. I am guessing it would take three people to join hands and reach around the thing. The restaurant has good american eating. You know, steaks, potatoes, chickens, Liver and Onions. My partner had the beef stew and corn bread (a humongous slice) and I had Pot Roast (and a lot of her corn bread).

After dinner we hurried out into the dark, it was raining pretty hard by now. I was driving my trusty Subaru Forester with 2 sea kayaks and a fully loaded sky box up on my Yakima rails. I was a little worried about wind and stability, but really didn't have any problem at all (and the wind was howling some). When we hit the coast, the wind stopped, but the fog rolled in. It was pretty thick right along where Neahkahnie Mountain is. Had to go very slow as I would have looked very silly going over the cliff. The kayaks probably would have kept the car floating (submerged) upright with our frozen bodies inside. Probably not as much fun as it sounds.

And then you pass Manzanita beach and there you are at the little gas station that guards the little side road that leads to Nehalem Bay State Park. I like this park. It is out on a sand spit that guards the bay we intended to paddle in tomorrow and it is filled with sand dunes and scrub oak. We had a yurt this time around and the park host had turned on the heat and the lights and left the key sitting on the table.

What? You have never stayed in a yurt? You don't even now what a yurt is?
Well, a yurt is a traditional dwelling for nomadic people that live in the colder climes of the Eurasian continent. It is a round building with poles in a circle holding up a circular roof with a round hole in the very middle. No poles in the middle. Then you wrap the outer circle in lattice and put canvas (well, perhaps Mammoth skins) around the entire thing. In the center, then, you would have your communal fire, and since it was round, everyone could be close to the fire and you don't have to kill your brother-in-law for his better place.

These yurts don't have a fire in the middle, but they do have a queen bunk bed and a futon couch that folds into a queen bed, a square table, a heater, and some lights. So, a good place to get out of the rain and cold and have a nice dry sleep. Perhaps even a game of Cribbage. No bathrooms or running water or cooking in the yurts, thank you very much.

Out front is a picnic table and enough of a covered porch to keep half of the picnic table to stay dry if the wind would just quit blowing dammit !! You really need to bring a huge blue tarp and set it up over the front of the yurt if you expect to be able to do some protected cooking out there. Besides, there is nothing that your yurt neighbors like more than to see a huge blue amorphous tarp stretched across the yurt next to them. Just like being back home !!

See How Pretty?

We got in sort of late so we just went to bed, but when we woke up in the morning, our friend Chip was parked across the way, asleep, in his adventure-mobile. We got some breakfast going (which means that I boiled water). Did you know that if you leave your partner's nifty camp percolator at home, after he hands it to you to pack, because “you didn't need it because you have your handy drip maker” and filters, only you didn't bring your drip thing, that you can make your own drip thing by borrowing your partners pocket knife and carving up his empty beer can from the night before? Well, you can. Just be careful not to cut yourself because though your partner might like to give you shit, he surely doesn't want you to be hurt, nor get blood all over his expensive Russlock Case knife.

Anyway, We drank our coffee and ate our toasted bagels and looked out on the day. It was rainy and wet. “
Gonna need to put up a blue tarp to stay dry on the porch” Observed Chip.
“Yep, “ I replied, “This sure is mighty good coffee”.

At this time I would like to mention some of the other visitors to the park that weekend. When I got up during the night to answer the call of the wild I ran into a little pack of Racoons. They were hanging out in the bushes and pretty much ignored me when I walked up to them and shined my flashlight on them. We also had a flock of deer that would wander through the area at different times. We saw them in the afternoon, and the evening, and then the next morning. The also didn't seem to care that we were there as long as we didn't walk to aggressively in their direction.


Enough fauna watching. Time for adventure. We went out to the launch site, out on the river side of the park, and checked things out. It was very windy. And Raining. And Cold. And I decided that it just wasn't safe enough for group event at 10:00. So I cancelled it. So much for Adventure.

Besides, most everybody except the 3 of us had cancelled already.

But still. We three had come all of this way and had hauled our kayaks and our cold weather gear and all and...... we could go out and just be careful, right? Sure we could.

The Tide was very high and just starting to ebb when we put our kayaks in at the launch. The wind was still whipping up pretty high and a little rain shower pelted through just as we were starting out. We put on our hats (they should have been rain hats, but I couldn't find mine so I am wearing a wool watch cap) and headed up into the bay.

Chip and I have done this paddle before, and even though that was also a rainy cold weekend, the weather out on the bay that time was much....... less complex. So, with the wind and down (up?) the bay we go. The tide is high. The tide is really high. I remember these logs as being in the mud, but now this one is actually floating (I am supposed to remember to put a picture in here).

My partner reminded me to add this. 

Well, good. That means more water under our buts and more time to make it through the not at all there at low tide channel over to the main part of the river. That is our float plan.

But. When the water is this high, you can't see where the channels are! Everything thing is big wide water bay. A big wide water bay that, with the wind at our backs and the wind waves giving us a good little surf east, we crossed quickly. Those wind waves also made for a little excitement. These are the times when my Partner says things like “ How you doin, Jon?” and “I want my kayak partners to stay close to me in case I flip over “ , when what she really means is she wants me to stay close in case I flip over.
Fair enough.


But we couldn't find the channel and we ran up into the low land marsh area that is on the East side of the bay. I could tell that the channel was off to the north a bit, over by the cliffs, but how to get there? As mentioned before, the tide was very high, and it look like there was enough water over the top of the marsh that we could just paddle right over it. So that is what I did. Well, that is what I ¾ did. I got stuck . Dammit. I turned around to tell my partner that we couldn't make it this way, but she was way the hell back by open water waiting for me to turn around. Damn. She didn't trust me. Chip and I got back out to her and she had found a more open channel running up through the marsh. She didn't like it. The current was starting to move now and she has had a bad experience with taking a 17 foot sea kayak up a windy little current before. Not fun. But..... she tried it anyway. We finally got to a place where she just didn't want to continue. I said, “Beach and stand up. You should be able to see where the current goes.”. So she did. She couldn't see anything. So we decided to go back with the current out to the bay. If you look on the map, you can see where we turned around. Good thing we did. The outgoing tide would have stranded us. The funny thing about that channel is how deep to it was. I know that when the tide is at medium, the grass is like a couple of feet over your head. The channel was only like 6 foot wide, but it was deeper than the length of my paddle.


Action Adventure Girl

Out in the main bay the wind was in our face and the waves were building up again. There was a group of stranded tree logs a few hundred yards away and I thought they looked like the trees where we had seen the eagles on a previous excursion. Chip didn't think so. But I really think so. I am provided photographic evidence of my inherent correctocity.

Low Tide
High Tide. The Eagles are underwater

Once past those snags I knew we were in the channel, and, in truth, we could now see around the marsh grass up to the cliff of land that runs south into the bay from the town of Nehalem. Once more the wind pushed us quickly up this channel. My partner was getting a little cold and tired and we decided to beach and have a rest and a Cliff Bar. I had holiday flavors: Pecan Pie and...... and.... oh, other things. I had the Pecan pie. We parked right by this little stretch of sand and live trees and.... a park bench? We discussed our plan. To continue on to the river, or to head back?

My partner thought we could go to the river and then ride the tide down the south side of the river and cross over the main channel close to the boat ramp where are cars are parked. I didn't like this idea. I didn't like the idea of the exposed crossing where outgoing river and tide meet incoming wind and wave. I wimped out. All of us agreed that we had been paddling downhill for the last hour or so and we had a long way back slugging upwind to get to where our warm dinner may or may not be. So we started back toward our put in. And the wind was really roaring in our faces. It made it hard to paddle and hard to talk to each other. Had work to stay together. For a time a rain storm passed through and the wind was blowing us backward almost as fast as we could paddle and the rain was smacking us in the face so hard that it stung. Mama. At least we were going directly into the incoming waves. That is by far the easiest way to deal with waves. Just slam through them. Maybe with a little bit of angle. I was heading pretty much West (perhaps a little north of West) thinking that we could get up into the lee of the Nehalem peninsula (where the park is) and out of the wind. I don't know if that worked for us or not. I think the little squall we were in passed by before we got close enough to the trees and the weather ameliorated by itself. At least for now.

This is that same "floating" tree

So after that the slugging up hill wasn't quite so bad. We spent a little more time enjoying the scenery. With the tide lower we could see the wide array of ancient forest debris (most of it logging induced) that had washed up on the shores. Many a huge log and stump line the shore like so many white dinosaur bones. My partner kids me because I so enjoy taking pictures of the dead trees. They have a lot of character.

When we got back to the ramp the cold wind was blowing right down the ramp. This is when I discovered that I was a little wet under my dry suit. Here is the deal, you step into a dry suit through a hole in the chest. You wiggle in your feet, and then the arms, and then you pull your head in and through the tight fitting neck gasket. My Suit is nice, but it is lighter than many others and it has a neoprene neck gasket instead of a tight rubber gasket. So it is more comfortable but may leak a little. Normally this is no big deal because even if you tip over, you don't have your head long underwater. But today I was wearing a wool watch cap to keep my head warm in the rain. It is true what they say about wool, it will keep you warm even when it is wet. But it drips down the back of your neck and some of that water runs through your neoprene seal and there you have a wet back; cold in the wind.

Good thing I can go warm up in the yurt.

So we got back to our campsite cold and tired, but all of us were happy with our little outing. We went to a new place (perhaps by accident) were few people ever go. We had a nice time out on the water with friends. We saw some grebes. We had a little adventure in the rain and waves and wind. A little challenge. A little excitement. And now we were ready for a nice dinner. We could either make spaghetti or drive 15 minutes into Manzanita for a steak. We did the drive.

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