Friday, June 27, 2014

'Kayak Kid' takes to the Moss Landing waters after abstaining from the sport for decades

PERFECT SETTING, CALM CALIFORNIA WATERS HELP GIRL GET BACK IN THE BOAT

Pelicans at Moss Landing were part of the lure to get Cookie back in the kayak after an accident derailed her.

Cookie musters her intrepid bravery chip and prepares to kayak again.

 STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER

A KAYAKING KID am I now,  thanks to friends who coaxed me back onto the water.
They knew I'd had a kayaking accident on my one and only attempt at the sport -- hit by a wave in the South Pacific and overturned in Bora Bora.
So I'd been reluctant -- even though that was 20 years ago.
The soothing setting of friends' redwood forest home
prepared our travelers for a tranquil time in the kayak.
They assured me that the waters at Moss Landing, near Santa Cruz, California, were welcoming and gentle.  And that we would return before the tide made kayaking difficult.
AND SO it came to pass.
We ladies sipped coffee on the redwood forest patio of our hosts while the boys put the kayaks on top of the van.  The girls packed jackets and waterproof booties in the economy car and we met at the pretty little village.
Moss Landing is a quaint, historic fishing town smack in the middle of California's Monterey Bay coastline. Although I'd traveled this stretch of coastline many times, I'd never stopped to savor this hidden treasure.
Moss Landing is at the red "A" marking
BESIDES galleries and shops, there are many nature related activities including whale watching and simply walking the unspoiled beach. Beautiful, historic accommodations and fun restaurants lure tourists. In fact, surfers were readying to ride the waves as we unpacked the kayaks. I fortified myself with herbal calm pills.
Brad Smith, old friend and college buddy of Keller's, guided me into our kayak and helped me arrange myself comfortably.  I was in the front.  Keller was in the rear, and soon we were paddling our way out into Elkhorn Slough, internationally known for its splendid
Brad Smith, left, and Bruce Keller: a water-laced friendship.
wildlife viewing. Brad and his wife Maggie led the path into a marshy panorama.
SOME FOLKS venture out into the harbor in search of whales, but because of my
long ago mishap, our friends recommended staying in the calmer inland waters of the Slough, which provided us close-up views of dozens of river otters.  We could hear them crunching on crabs, opening them on rocks or their own breast bones.  Crack, crack, crunch, crunch.  It was wonderful.
A river otter basks in the sun and readies himself for his water borne meal.
The Monterey Bay's river otter diet consists of crayfishes, crabs, and other aquatic invertebrates. More daring otters also eat frogs.    They dine on the water, lying on their backs, with their food on the chest. Takes dining al fresco to new heights!
DESPITE CONCERN that otters compete with game fishers, the fishes otters like are mainly non-game species. Otters  also occasionally prey on birds, rabbits, and rodents if they get too close to the water. Thanks to Brad's and Maggie's kayaking expertise, we watched sea otters dining for a couple hours.
Maggie and Brad Smith enjoy the serenity in their kayak.
Then came the pelicans, the other star of our adventure, also adept at eating on the run -- or shall we say "on the fly"?
WITH ITS showy plumage and distinct feeding methods, the brown pelican we watched at Moss Landing sets itself apart from seven other pelican species. It's a small species, and the only one known to dive and dine. Most pelican species feed by corralling fish into shallow waters through a group chase before scooping them up with their large beaks. Brown pelicans have their own method: once they spot the light reflecting off the scales of fish, they plunge
Brad packs the kayaks up again.
into the water from heights of up to 70 feet, scoop up fish, drain water through their beaks and tip their heads back to swallow. Air sacs beneath their skin protect them from injury when they hit the water.
KAYAKING got us up close and personal to the otter and his neighbor the pelican -- with dozens near us on the shore, and many swooping overhead to fish and frolic. We also saw many large sea lions and smaller seals.
And a fish lunch, made to order, after the adventure.
I NOW trust kayaking, and will try it again.  I found it to be a relaxing sport, with sound instruction (which I obviously didn't have my first fateful time), and with good equipment, which Brad and Maggie provided.
The Inuit word, kayak, means "man's boat" but we girls held up our end!
We weren't exactly "at one" with our kayak -- Keller is a better paddler than I  -- but after a couple kayaking hours, we looked like we knew what we were doing.  Mostly. And from the beginning, I was relaxed, calm, full of wonder, grateful for kind friends and the opportunity to conquer an old demon.
The Sundial Bridge in Redding, Calif., is world famous and a wonderful walking adventure.

NEXT UP:  Location, location, location.  The Sundial Bridge in Redding, Calif., is a wondrous, walkable work of art. It's in a pretty city you might never have visited.  And it's both a bridge and the world's largest sundial.  And a unique B&B is walking distance from the bridge.  What makes a B&B special? Find out next as we visit the Bridge House Bed and Breakfast, and take a stroll across the famous bridge. We're about travel, the arts and adventure, with a sense of fun. Join us on a northern California wildlife trek, a return to Hearst Castle, and our picks for "hot, hip coastal hotels." Explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at: www.whereiscookie.com
   

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