Added 5 May 2007
Thursday, 22 March 2007, Remote beach on Sea of Cortez, Baja California Norte, Mexico
By dawn, I had buried my face so deeply in the pillow that had I not heard Chuck moving around I would have missed the sunrise. Mercifully, the wind had died down to a steady, sturdy breeze. It was chilly, but beautiful. I went for a walk.
I decided to wander out towards the point, thinking that I might find the old sea turtle shell we had found the last time we were there. I didn't, but as I got close to the old fish camp that Chuck and I surmise gets used primarily as an emergency shelter, I noticed one of the resident coyotes nipping at something onshore up ahead. I decided to investigate what it was eating. As I approached, it begrudgingly moved away. I was rather surprised to discover that the coyote had found a rather large Humboldts squid. At first I found only the tail of the squid, but as I looked around, I found a chunk of the middle, and the later the head/tentacles. The body looked as though it had been cleanly severed, which seemed a bit odd. I gathered the parts together and sort of reassembled the squid on the rocky shore. I found an old milk jug that had been cut in half, and used that to ferry water from the sea to clean it up. I estimate that the squid, when whole, was probably about 5 feet long.
When I saw Marisa walking alongshore near camp, I yelled at her to grab Chuck and come over. After investigating the squid for a while we decided to walk up to the shrine on the point. After that, I headed down to a good-sized tide pool to see what I could find. Chuck went back to camp for breakfast, but Marisa stayed for a little while until she too got hungry and headed back to camp. I followed not long after.
After breakfast, I was determined to do some kayaking, despite the less than stellar conditions. Chuck decided to join me. We had never kayaked north towards the larger Bahía de Guadalupe, so we decided to head that way, feeling that it was also safer. Chuck and I quickly separated though, as I took a more straight-line path to the opposite side and Chuck stayed closer to shore. Once across, I too stayed close to shore, as the wind picked up and continued to blow off-shore. I wanted to be close enough to land that if the wind really started howling, I could put in a big enough burst of power to get to shore and wait the storm out or simply drag my boat back to camp.
When I stopped to try to make some adjustments to my kayak, and Chuck caught up to me. We continued on together for a short while, then Chuck decided to head back. I wasn't ready to let the wind win, so continued on, thinking of rounding the corner to go into another cove to the west. As I approached, I could see that the long, slender cove was acting like a wind tunnel, creating a highly noticeable and remarkable current heading straight out to sea. Opting for prudence over adventure (or safety over drifting at sea for days), I turned around and headed back to camp. The wind had picked back up again, and as I re-traced my route home, moving across the wind, whitecaps slapped over my kayak. Had the wind gotten much stronger, I would have had to angle in to the wind and would have had a long, hard pull to get to shore. I wasn't in a patently dangerous situation, but it could have gotten a little unpleasant.
And now for a Baja-inspired aside: why is it that our own advice is often the hardest for us to follow? The answer, I suppose, is that we think about the things that we struggle with, and that upon finding the solution to our problems, we find that a solution simply isn't enough.
While Chuck and I were out kayaking, Marisa went for a hike up to the point.
Back at camp, I just hung out, looked at maps, and took a brief nap. Meanwhile, Chuck hiked down the beach to a small pond to see what he could find there. He came back with a Zebra-tailed lizard, which was really pretty. By mid-afternoon, I was growing restless, and was a bit worried that I might not get out to Isla Alcatraz this trip. The wind had gone back to moderate and steady, raising small white caps out across the bay. Conditions were not ideal, but I felt quite manageable for a trip out to the island. I declared my intentions, expecting Chuck to agree to join me while hoping Marisa would not care to do the same due to her experience level. Neither expressed any interest in going, so I resolved to go by myself. The wind was basically blowing directly towards the island, so once I rounded the point, even if something bad happened, I would almost certainly hit the island. On the return trip, I would be going directly into the wind, which I deemed far safer than having to cut across the wind at an extreme angle. Again, if anything happened, the island would hopefully catch me. I took the precaution of going prepared to get stuck on the island for a spell. I also took Chuck's handheld 2-meter radio, so I could communicate with camp while I was out.
Despite all my precautions and self-assurances, I approached the point with some trepidation, but never put any serious thought into turning around. Once I rounded the point and could see Isla Alcatraz, I put all my focus on that little patch of land. The sea kicked me around a little bit, but made it to the rocky beach on the island without incident. I radioed that I had made it to the island safe and sound, then started to wander around. The weather gave the island a shipwreck quality that was quite dissimilar to my memories of the place. Other, more tangible things had changed on the island as well. The large sea turtle shell and skull that were there last time had been replaced by a couple much smaller, more severely weathered turtle shells. The beach seemed rockier. There were more birds, gulls mostly, with a handful of American oystercatchers as well. Each bird made it clear that I was unwelcome. As I wandered around the island I came across dozens of small bowls scraped into the dirt; nests. The birds were defending their nests, even though they did not yet have eggs in them.
I climbed up to the top of the mountain and, for as long as I could stand the wind, surveyed the surrounding landscape. All around looked grey and wind-whipped. Only one small chain of mountains to the north held any ray of light, looking golden as some small hole in the clouds let a bit of the heavens slant down upon it. After a large gust of wind nearly blew me off the island, I decided it would be best to descend and head back to camp in case the weather turned for the worse. Once back at my kayak, I could easily tell that the wind had picked up its pace.
Just before pushing off, I radioed Chuck and let him know I was heading back. I wasn't even 20 feet from shore when the wind blew a large patch of blue sky between me and the sun, creating a wonderfully warm scene all around me. For a split second I thought of letting the waves push me back to the island so I could get some pictures, but my arms never stopped dragging me forward.
Pulling against the wind slowed my progress, but I plugged away and simply kept the bow pointed towards the point. Once I rounded the point, I knew that nothing could go horribly wrong and relaxed a bit, at least mentally, because the wind wouldn't let me stop paddling hard. I made it back to camp without any problems and relaxed with a Mike's hard lemonade to top off my exploits while I watched the end of the day.
Though still windy, during dinner we were able to have a campfire and enjoy the evening outside. Still a little worn out from the night before, we went to bed shortly after "Baja midnight," aka 9 o'clock. I had done some more work on making my tarp more wind resistant, so had high hopes for actually getting some sleep. The wind did pick up significantly at times throughout the night, but my new set-up proved up to the task of protecting me from the wind. It wasn't perfect, but it was good.