10 nautical miles
This is it, the bittersweet last day!! Just a regular morning today: alarm goes off at 6:30am, pack the tent, cook breakfast, sip coffee, take down the tarp, jump into the drysuits, carry the gear down the beach, carry the boats down the beach, pack the boats, a quick stretch, and we’re paddling. Mostly sunny with a little traffic in the channel over to Lummi Island. A slow moving tanker with two tugs passes by just as we’re shoving off the beach. We look both ways, smile at each other and dig in to cross our last shipping lane at slack and in good time. It would be a shame to get run over this close to home.
Rounding the north end of Lummi we enter Hale Passage as the flood tide is beginning to push north. Combined with a headwind funneling through the pass we’re slowed to a crawl. It looks like we’ll have to pull hard all the way home, no coasting today.
A flooding tide means that we’re able to get over the “portage” on the north end of Portage Island by paddling through the shallows and this puts us into the water of Bellingham Bay. Native gillnetters are out and about hauling nets and motoring around.
We take a break on Portage, break out the binocs and survey the Bay. Bellingham Bay is notorious for rough, steep waves when the wind is southerly. Today is no exception and Becky and I carefully evaluate the whitecaps speckling the last 4 miles of our expedition. We scan the shore of our home town too, taking in the well-known landmarks: Sehome Hill, the Fairhaven Drydock, the GP site, kites flying at Zuanich Park, clusters of masts in the Squalicum Marina, planes flying overhead making a bee-line for the airport on the bluffs that line the NE edge of the bay. It is all at once familiar and foreign.
In just a few short days Becky and I will be out of our boats and tucked into an outbound flight from that very airport, headed south to our wintery summer in Antarctica. It is nothing short of surreal to contemplate paddling these final 4 miles out of 1300 into that town in the distance where our friends are waiting. We linger on Portage Island, soaking up our last bits of solitary simplicity and savoring the anticipation of reconnecting with friends and family after a three month absence. Only four more miles!
Our break is rewarded with diminishing winds. When we finally push off Portage and aim for Fairhaven the whitecaps have all but disappeared. We’re able to shoot straight across the bay with only the occasional powerboat to worry about. Ever so slowly the landmarks grow to full size and the waterfront comes into sharp view.
Near the Taylor Street dock we meet the city shoreline and turn to follow the pedestrian walkway towards Boulevard Park. The day has turned sunny and folks are out in force enjoying the last bits of sun before the rains of winter set in.
Becky and I paddle around the dock at the north end of the park and there on the beach are our friends Mary Marie, Emmelina, and Lisiana!! When we catch sight of each other everyone begins cheering and hollering. Our boats glide the last few feet and connect with the beach side-by-side. We’re home. Hugs all around, excited chatter, treats from the picnic basket, questions bouncing back and forth, and more hugs. Becky and I embrace and string out our prayer flags for the obligatory “summit” photo. We look and feel like deer in the headlights! That evening Mary Marie hosts a party in our honor and we’re showered with more congratulations. Lisiana even created a 15’ welcome home banner for us! It is a surreal ending to an unforgettable experience that has expanded our horizons and strengthened our partnership.
Special thanks to Mary Marie and Emmelina for dragging our 50lb resupply boxes to the post office every couple weeks this summer. We would have starved without you!!!
Thank you also to our friends and family, both at home and up and down the Inside Passage, for encouragement, inspiration, and love. This blog is for all of you!
We hope you’ve enjoyed following the adventure!!
More reflections to come…