Gulls

Kayaking Baylands Preserve, Sept 2018

Baylands Nature Preserve is a little piece of the San Francisco Peninsula that was a yacht club, then a landfill, and is now a two-thousand acre tract of pickleweed marshland protected from development and owned by the City of Palo Alto, with fifteen miles of trails and a kayak launch.


It’s adjacent to San Francisquito Creek and the Palo Alto Flood Basin.


We kayaked there a couple weekends in September.


The water’s pretty shallow, and the winds, blowing northeast, were a chore. We talked to a wind surfer who said a 15 mph northeast wind is pretty typical there.


It was very scenic though.

We saw gulls,


great egret

some beady-eyed vultures

the cutest least sandpipers


and some metal birds (Palo Alto Airport is a stone’s throw away).

And on one occasion, we were serenaded by a talented saxophonist

as we packed up to go.

Resources Consulted:
How to Identify White Herons—Excerpt from “Better Birding” Book, The Cornell Lab or Ornithology
Least Sandpiper, Audubon Guide to North American Birds
Map of The Baylands, City of Palo Alto
Officials unveil first phase of San Francisquito Creek flood protection, Palo Alto Online
Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve (Wikipedia)
Palo Alto Baylands Preserve, San Francisco Bay Trail (lots of great information and photos in here)
San Francisquito Creek Baylands Map, Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks
Shorebird Identification, Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey

Sea Lions and Otters and Whales oh my! Jul-Aug 2018

Santa Cruz was one of the first places we explored upon settling down in San Mateo County. Why? Well, it’s surrounded by redwood forests, it has a magnificent wharf, it’s the birthplace of Santa Cruz Skateboards (the screaming hand logo is awesome), and it has an amazing outdoors scene.

Santa Cruz Harbor is on the Monteray Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which is part of the migratory route of many whale species, and the site of massive kelp forests that are home to sea otters, seals and sea lions. We went there to kayak almost every weekend in July and August.

South Harbor Launch Ramp charged $8/day for parking in 2018 (according to their website, the fees change so regularly that it’s not worth listing them), but did not charge a launch fee for kayaks. Although the parking lot is large and we always managed to find a spot, it did get packed on days when the weather was perfect.

Harbor staff were very friendly and very helpful, which is amazing given the demands of their job: they’re under the hot sun, directing parking, and coordinating the movement of boats – big and small, commercial and personal, from water taxis to tugboats – and even liaising with ambulances.

One day a murmur moved through the crowd of pedestrians threading their way along the South Harbor sidewalk to restaurants, bathrooms and the beach, that a boater had burned his hand at sea while maintaining his engine. As we inflated our kayak with a yellow hand pump, I heard snippets of conversation over harbor staff walkie-talkies that seemed to confirm the rumor. Sure enough, an ambulance pulled up and, just as we were about to launch, a tugboat pulled into view. As we pushed off of the pier and paddled away, harbor and ambulance staff, who had been saving their energy and keeping cool under whatever shade they could find, jumped into action.

Our first paddle in Monteray Bay was absolutely amazing. The water was still as oil (“comme l’huile” they say in France), and there was so much to see: pelicans and cormorants diving into the water, people old and young fishing along the harbor walls leading to Walton Lighthouse,

surfers queuing up and catching waves in Steamer Lane,

otters frolicking in the kelp forests,

seals making a ruckus inside the labyrinth of beams that hold up Santa Cruz Wharf, onlookers on the Wharf craning their bodies over railings to see what the ruckus was all about,

dolphins playing the way only dolphins can (sorry, no photos), birds having a good gossip over their morning tea,

sleepy sea lions reclining on Seal Rock,

flocks of common murre floating peacefully, boaters sailing slowly out to sea, and here and there clusters of colorful rental kayaks that seemed to extend the colors of the canvas created by Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Amusement Park out onto the water.

One time we saw a blue whale. Heading out to the bay, I caught what sounded like the word “whale” over a megaphone as we moved over to let an O’Neill Charter Yacht pass us. Intrigued, we decided to paddle in the direction of the yacht. Only moments later, we saw a huge plume of water shoot out of the bay about 200 feet away, followed by the sudden appearance of a gigantic tail! The megaphone informed us that it was a blue whale. Every minute or so huge plumes shot out of the water as the giant, watery shadow of the whale moved northward.

On another occasion, a gang of seals (or “sea dogs” as Ollie likes to call them; the expression on his face when they disappear under the water is priceless) surrounded us. We were paddling slowly over the kelp, puzzling over what type of bird it was that was making a sound like “adam,” when we saw a herd of seals ahead of us. We followed the National Marine Sanctuaries guidelines for ocean etiquette and began back paddling away from them, only to discover another herd behind us. So we stopped paddling and waited for them to pass. But instead of passing us, they began to pop their heads up out of the water, one after another, and look at us. It became a game to try to predict where the next head would pop up. We weren’t too worried about Ollie, safely ensconced in my spouse’s lap. But I was worried that they’d decide to take a closer examination of the kayak. Luckily only one seal was interested enough to make a close perusal, swimming slowly along the surface of the water, two feet away. Then suddenly the heads stopped popping up out of the water and they were gone.

Perhaps the experience that got our adrenaline up the highest was the time we paddled out to the Santa Cruz lighted whistle buoy (“Mile Buoy”), a mile out to sea. We’d been enjoying the thrill of the rise and fall of gentle ocean swells, when we heard the plaintive sound of Mile Buoy’s whistle. It seemed so close that we decided to paddle out to it. For thirty minutes the swells seemed to get longer and steeper. It was very quiet. We could no longer hear the pelicans, cormorants or gulls, and with no boats around, the only noise was the steady pulse of Mile Buoy and the sound of our paddles stroking the water. It was an eerie sensation, being out there all alone in a kayak with sixty feet of frigid ocean water beneath us, our vision focused on Mile Buoy, raised high and lowered down by the swells, like us, but out of sync, and the horizon hidden by fog. Finally, when we were close enough to Mile Buoy to see sea lions lounging on its base, we turned around and returned to the bustle and safety of shore.

There’s another thing to recommend Santa Cruz: it’s microbreweries. Few things in life are as exquisite as a day of paddling Santa Cruz Harbor followed by beers at Humble Sea Brewing Co. or Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

Resources consulted:
“30 Years of the ‘Screaming Hand’ — An Icon of Santa Cruz Skate Culture,” NBC Bay Area
gpsnauticalcharts.com online chart viewer
Humble Sea Brewing Company
“Kelp Forests,” SIMoN: Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
“King of the Buoy – Sea Lion Fight in Santa Cruz” (YouTube)
“Lighted Whistle Buoy set to hold anchor,” by Yvonne Falk, Santa Cruz Waves
“Ocean Etiquette,” NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries
O’Neill Yacht Charters
Monteray Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA
Monteray Bay Whale Watch, LLC
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
“Santa Cruz Breakwater (Walton), CA,” lighthousefriends.com
“Santa Cruz Harbor (South Harbor Launch Ramp),” California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways
Santa Cruz Harbor: Gateway to the Monteray Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing
Santa Cruz Skateboards
“Santa Cruz Surf Spots,” SantaCruz.com
“Santa Cruz Wharf,” City of Santa Cruz
“Swell (Ocean)” (Wikipedia)
“The Ultimate Nor Cal Brewery Map,” San Francisco Chronicle
“Whistling Buoy,” Dictionary.com

Bike Camping on an Undulating Plateau, Jul 2017

The route: Truro to St. Agnes, St. Agnes to Lelant Saltings, Lelant Saltings to St. Ives (by train), St. Ives to Lamorna via Penzance

Cycling Cornwall is not for the faint of heart. Arriving by train in Truro, the county capital, and stepping off the platform, we quickly learned what a twenty degree incline looks like. “An undulating plateau at three hundred feet” is how one local told us his secondary school teachers had taught him to regard Cornwall’s geography. “You notice the contradiction in terms?” he said, “A plateau by definition can’t undulate.” Cornwall has many plateaus atop many undulations, he explained, which we can attest to.

Truro to St. Agnes

St Agnes was our first stop. We camped overnight at Trevellas Manor Farm Campsite, owned and operated by the Trevellas family since the 1840s. Every year the family undertakes a new improvement project, and this year it was renovating the toilet and shower facilities. They were fantastic. To get to the campsite, we followed a trail overgrown with foxgloves. Looking up the trail, the sky was a blue disc.

Shortly after setting up our tent, which the landlord thoughtfully located next to a westerly hedge to protect us from the wind, we were inundated with fog as thick as pea soup, as the saying goes. A dusk walk into town was somewhat treacherous. We took a narrow road, which we mistook for a minor road. As cars raced past us we were invisible in the falling light and the fog, which caused Gauthier to instruct me to “Be prepared to jump into the bushes,” by which he meant “Be prepared to leap into the thorny brambles that thickly cover the steeply inclined shoulder of the road.”

Dinner at The Taphouse consisted of fresh crab, rocket salad with bell-shaped tomatoes, steaming ciabatta bread, and berries and meringue for dessert. It was worth the perilous journey into town.

On the way back we followed a trail through the Blue Hills Tin Works. The site is now more famous for motorsport races than its rich industrial history. We stopped at Trevellas-Porth Beach. Crumbling smelt stacks poked out of the earth amidst ferns and flowering bushes, and a little stream flowed quietly under cracked stone bridges to meet waves that crashed onto a pebble beach. A hundred or so feet out to sea were shadowy sea stacks like the hands of a giant, rocky time keeper.

St. Agnes to Leland Saltings

Next we headed for St. Ives. The roads undulated with the curvaceous landscape, past coastal towns with names like Porthtowan and Portreath. Many a hill we walked our bikes up, panting. But there was always a pub to quench our thirst when we reached the top. We cheated a bit nearing the end of the day and took the train from Lelant Saltings Train Station to St. Ives.

St. Ives was bustling, and Ollie in his basket was a major attraction. I don’t know whether it was talking to so many strangers or the ride, but I was absolutely exhausted by the time we got to Ayr Park, the campsite where we were to spend the night. And hungry! So imagine our dismay when we discovered at 8:30 pm that restaurants in St. Ives close at 9 pm. For half an hour we searched in vain for a restaurant that would take dogs. Then we bumped into The Sloop, an inn dating back to 1312 with the only kitchen in town that stays open until 10 pm. And they took dogs!

St. Ives to Lamorna via Penzance

The next day we rode just south of Penzance via Mousehole (pronounced “moozle”) to Boleigh Farm, a working dairy farm with a fenced off field for campers. One of the farmers pronounced Gauthier’s name right on the first try, dispelling any doubts we had about the connection between the cultures of Cornwall and Brittany. Dinner at the Lamorna Wink, in breath-taking Larmorna Valley, was phenomenal. A modest river flows down the valley, surrounded by enormous ferns and other plants we had only ever imagined could exist in pacific temperate rain forests, and were certainly not a feature of any other place we had visited in England.

On day four we caught a train from Penzance back to London, vowing to return to Penzance as often as possible. And next time, to shop at the fish market! Before we left Cornwall, we had “cream tea,” which consists of tea and hot scones spread with jam and clotted cream… served the Cornish way with the cream on top of the jam.

Truro to St. Agnes was the only muddy leg of the trip.

St. Agnes stone city marker.

Having missed a turn, we found ourselves at the end of a dirt road and confronted by three boys assembled under a tree who forthrightly informed us that “You’re on private property.” Thankfully their dad popped his head out of a door with an injunction to the boys to “Show them how to get back onto the trail.” A hidden bridge brought us here.

The overgrown trail to the Travellas Manor Farm Campsite

Foxgloves!

Walking from the Travellas campsite to the narrow, but not so minor, road into town.

A Blue Hills Tin stream

Blue Hills Tin Works

On one of those plateaus. Near Portreath, on our way to St. Ives.

St. Ives

On our way to Lamorna.

Moors!

A very old, crumbled down stone fence on the moors.

A seagull with a view!

Boleigh Farm where the campsite was separated from cow paddocks by a three-rail fence and a hedge.

Lamorna Cove

Mousehole

Apologies for the low res image, but this is where we had cream tea. Our waiter was unlike any waiter we’d ever had before. In appearance and accent he resembled a sailor. I was uncertain how to address him at first, but he was friendly, funny and knowledgeable, equally at ease talking about scones, pilchards and local history.

From the Downs to the Sea – Day 2, Apr 2017

Emsworth to Portsmouth via Hayling Island offered a change of scenery. We swapped rolling, grassy hills and ancient ewe tree forests for port towns and low-tide trails. It was chilly, and rainy, and the wind was so strong at times that it almost blew us off our bikes, but there were plenty of pubs happy to serve dripping-wet customers a warm tea and a Young’s real ale.