North Coast Series: My Special Source of Mission Support

A 400-mile sea kayak voyage down California’s Pacific shore

Paul McHugh paddles his well-equipped Prijon Kodiak out of Albion harbor

Paul McHugh paddles his well-equipped Prijon Kodiak out of Albion harbor

By Paul McHugh

OCT. 1, 2005 — It's been said that behind every successful man is a great woman.

However, I'd say that's dead wrong.

If a man happens to win the good fortune of staying connected to a great woman, she'll radiate her being out around him in every conceivable direction. Front, back, top, bottom and all sides, sometimes in ways and manners you'll not even begin to perceive, let alone appreciate, until years after.

Skill at great nurture is like that.

Regardless of what Saint Paul (or the epistle writers who claimed to be him) might've been right or wrong about in other respects, he (or they) hit the nail on the head like a journeyman carpenter bashing a 16d sinker into a top plate with a 24 oz. framing hammer when he (or they) crafted the following lines: "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous, love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends."

Now, that's truly speaking with the tongue of angels.

Up to the Winchuck with My Gal

And it makes a fine way for me to intro my paean to the astonishing level of support provided for this voyage by my partner and wife, Dawn E. Garcia.

It even started two months before we launched on that foggy morning from the mouth of the Winchuck River.

While I unrolled charts on our dining room table and began drafting possible course lines with a ruler and protractor, Dawn was in the kitchen stuffing sliced vegetables into a humming dehydrator. She knew that dried soup mixes would constitute most of my provisions, and she wanted to make sure I got enough fiber, minerals and vitamins. So she purchased a dehydrator, loaded it with organic veggies, and produced a buffet of Ziplocs crammed with broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, etc. etc… each proudly labeled with Sharpie drawings of little cartoon hearts.

Though logistics of this trip demanded I leave her alone at home for more than a month as I paddled south, she never complained about that. Instead, she threw herself into helping move all the gear, plus me and my companions up the coast, gave me a sweet and heartfelt send-off at the Winchuck, then drove home alone. She maintained a mood of stout optimism, even though long periods went by when she got no phone contact from me whatsoever, days when she knew I was struggling to face down hazards like scampering through gales, trying to land in harsh zones like the Klamath River bar or Cape Mendocino, or pull off that ultra-marathon paddle to Shelter Cove.

A Meet-up Near Mendocino

Finally, mid-voyage, we managed to conjure a conjugal visit. That was supposed to occur right after Weed and I arrived in Albion. However that didn't go according to plan.

After we paddled away from our sumptuous repast on Portagee Beach in Mendocino, Weed and I tipsily traveled through fog and surging seas to Albion. Here, as we rounded Albion Head, we spotted the cheery sight of Stan from the Lost Coast Rowing Club out in the channel, afloat in a Gordy Nash Whitehall dory with a big U.S. flag flapping from his mast. He'd come to escort us in, and he made a splendid show of it. We cruised in under the classic wooden bridge for Highway One, built atop Tinkertoy towers made of stout redwood timbers, and went up the estuary past Schooner's Landing – where I'd planned to camp – to a second campground Stan knew well and vastly preferred. Well, he had taken the trouble to escort us in, so who was I to quibble?

A Tale of Two Campgrounds

Here we pitched tents, and I set about trying to complete my rendezvous with Dawn. I had told her to meet me at the campground, but did not specify which, not knowing there were two. Assuming she'd try Schooner's Landing first, I borrowed Stan's rowboat – just to be afloat in a different craft, for a change of pace – and rowed back out the estuary, calling her name. No answer. So I rowed back to camp, hopped out, and decided I should hike up out of the harbor and go to the Albion River Inn to check at the front desk. That was our fallback plan for communications, that we would leave notes for each other at the desk. (Cell phone signals were quite spotty along the North Coast in 2005 – and haven't improved greatly since then.)

We'd made landfall at dusk, and since it was now early October, night was coming on fast. I strode up the estuary road to the house of the campground host, and asked him to drive me up to the Albion River Inn. He agreed, and we set off through the gate and up the road, where I saw walking all by herself in the gloaming, a woman carrying a blackberry pie that had been baked for me… my wife. She'd parked at Schooner's Landing and been hiking around in the darkness and calling out my name, but hearing no reply except for the barks of distant dogs.

Needless to say, our reunion was joyful, though a few tears of sudden relief misted its start.

I transferred to Dawn's red Subaru Forester and we motored up the road to a room she'd booked overlooking the sea. We admired the last scrap of sunset light, I took the first hot shower I'd savored since Shelter Cove, more than a week earlier. I ate a slice of pie – which she'd made from berries picked from bushes up on the shores of the Winchuck. And then we proceeded to enjoy the rest of our visit. I went away the next day with one bit of special knowledge reinforced in my mind: I had someone wonderful I could go home to. That made me feel even more determined to reach San Francisco promptly on time.

Just two-and-a-half more weeks of paddling (plus stints of reporting and writing) lay ahead.

 

— See all posts from the NORTH COAST SERIES

Ed. Note: Paul McHugh’s North Coast Series first appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and on S.F. Gate in 2005. The posts, edited and updated for this version, follow McHugh, John Weed and Bo Barnes on a 400-mile, sea kayak voyage along California’s shore. The stories will be posted on CanoeKayak.com almost daily as they appeared 11 years ago, following the crew from their launch on September 6th through their paddle under the Golden Gate Bridge on October 16th.