Strawberry Island, San Juan Islands, WA 4–6 Sept 2021

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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467
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Seattle WA
[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]

Rachel and I began taking Maya kayak-camping in the summer of 2019, when Maya was not quite three years old. All along, I’d been planning to take her to Strawberry Island, my favorite place on Earth. Finally, this year, Maya was old enough that I felt comfortable exposing her to the steep cliffs and long paddle associated with Strawberry Island.

00 Route map.jpg

00 Route map. A flood tide moves water northward up Rosario Strait, which is helpful, but eastward up Guemes Channel, which is not helpful.

Just as I’d hoped, Strawberry Island proved the perfect place for a little girl to explore. I’ve remarked before that Strawberry Island is like a diorama of the planet’s ecosystems: there is a miniature mountain range, no more than fifty feet high; a miniature plain of grass, no more than thirty feet across; a miniature forest, no more than a hundred feet wide. None of it takes longer than a few seconds to traverse. All of it was just the right size for Maya.

Maya made up various new games on Strawberry Island. Her favorite involved taking her stuffed dogs down to the beach (yet another miniature landform), where I would hide them for her to find. The dogs hid in all sorts of unexpected places: behind boulders, under driftwood, high up on cliffs, and even inside our kayak and gear!

We also spent lots of time romping in the tent, Maya’s very favorite camping activity. It rained and blew a bit the first afternoon, so we had lots of time in the tent to bounce around on our huge, two-person air mattress, an innovation I copied from our camping friends James and Chelsea. The thing is so comfortable I might start using it for my solo trips.

01 Kayaking past Cypress Island.JPG

01 Kayaking past Cypress Island. I timed the currents less for speed and more for avoidance of any tide races.

02 Maya arrived on Strawberry Island.jpg

02 Maya arriving Strawberry Island. The first thing she did was put her doll, Cupcake Babe, in a baby carrier so they could explore the beach.

03 In the tent on Strawberry Island.JPG

03 In the tent, Strawberry Island. My hope of sleeping without a rainfly was dashed Saturday night by fifteen-knot winds and rain.

04 Alex and Maya on a hike.jpg

04 Alex and Maya on a hike. The Nootka rose bushes in the forest were head-high to Maya, so I had to carry her “up top” on my shoulders until we reached open ground on the east side of the island.

05 Building a dog prison.jpg

05 Building a dog prison, later a dog house. Everything, even the beach, was perfectly sized for childhood adventures.

06 Dogs on the beach.jpg

06 Oh no! Sedda and Biscuit have escaped their prison and climbed the cliff! It will need an extra-long stick to get them down!

07 Looking over Rosario Strait.jpg

07 Looking over Rosario Strait. Maya was very proud of her ability to climb these rocks without any assistance.

Strawberry Island is no longer listed as a campsite in the guidebooks, but it has not yet faded from the communal memory of local kayakers. During the three days and two nights we camped, we were visited by no fewer than seven other kayakers. Most were day visitors, but on the second night, two other kayakers camped on the island. They politely sited themselves high up in the interior, out of eye- and earshot from our campsite on the grassy plain.

08 Birdwatching on Strawberry Island.jpg

08 Birdwatching, Strawberry Island. Heermann’s gulls and black oystercatchers were the species of greatest interest.

09 Playing with Chips.jpg

09 Maya playing with Chips. Chips fixed a plate of dog food, consisting of grass and the cones of Douglas-firs.

10 Dogs on a log.jpg

10 Maya herself took this picture of three of the dogs on a log. Strawberry Dog, Ruby, and Chips are wearing limpet shells for decoration.

11 Sunset Strawberry Island.jpg

11 Sunset, Strawberry Island. Days like these are precious.

12 Dinner in the tent.jpg

12 Dinner in the tent. Maya stayed nice and warm in Rachel’s enormously thick down sleeping bag.

13 Kayaking back to Anacortes.jpg

13 Kayaking back to Anacortes. We just barely caught the tail end of the morning ebb.

This two-night camping trip was Maya’s longest yet. She did miss Rachel and Leon, but she was so busy having adventures she never became homesick.

The adventures will never end. They will only get bigger and longer.

Alex

[Cross-posted on alexsidles.com]
 

Philip.AK

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Jun 30, 2012
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Kodiak, Alaska
The adventures will never end. They will only get bigger and longer.
This ^

I remember doing trips with my dad as a kid. It was often unpleasant from my perspective. The gear was pretty basic and the comforts very limited. Cold food, lousy equipment. He grew up in post-WWII Germany and so had somewhat different ideas about what defined ‘suffering’ than a kid growing up in suburban Oregon in the 70s and 80s like me. But the seed was sown, and I have taken backcountry adventure much farther than he could have imagined during those family trips. And it was really just through exposure, that basically said, “hey, here’s a thing that is possible to do if you want to pursue it at some point in your life.” Not all recruits return to nurture a love for adventure and nature, but having a foundation on which to build is everything.

Keep it up.
 
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cougarmeat

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Sep 17, 2012
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Bend OR USA
What attention did you pay to the prevailing currents? I’m curious because on similar trip to Doe Island (further up the road), the kayak club was very strict about reaching a certain point - past a buoy - at a time in the ebb/flow cycle so we’d be pulled north instead of east.

So I’m wondering what sort of “… slack is at X time so I must leave the beach by Y time …” attention you had to pay to that. Like is it really critical or more casual?

Thank you for the report.
 

alexsidles

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Jan 10, 2009
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467
Location
Seattle WA
Thanks for the kind words, Phillip. Of course I hope Maya and Leon will take an interest in camping when they get older, but if they don't, that's OK, too.

Paul, I did not worry too much about currents. My main objective was to catch currents that were favorable but weak. So I started at the beginning of the flood on the northbound leg, and at the tail end of the ebb on the southbound leg. Thus, currents were never more than a knot or two during my passages. With such slow currents, there is no need to play the kind of route-optimizing games you describe with the buoy.

Frankly, I'm skeptical that even during peak flood it is such a necessity to pass a particular buoy by a particular time on the northbound leg. If the flood did push you too far east, such that you lost the main northbound current in Rosario Strait, the worst that would happen is you'd have to hug the south shore of Cypress Island and crawl back west until you regained the strait. I suspect your guide's rule of thumb is true for people who are trying to optimize their route efficiency during peak flow, but for people who are not traveling during peak flow or who do not care about efficient routing, it is safe to disregard the rule.

Alex
 

cougarmeat

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Sep 17, 2012
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Bend OR USA
Or, or ... you could not tell your party the destination and if you were swept east it's because you wanted to camp at the south end of Cypress. "I meant to do that!"
 
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