My third Kayak outing took me to the Fern Ridge Reservoir a few miles West of Eugene. This is a very quick and easy drive from our house, so despite some lousy weather I set out a few days ago to try it out.
By now I'd got my preparation routine sorted. With car in garage, put kayak on top and strap down (straps and roof-cushioning system stored in kayak when not required). Lifejacket and paddle in trunk. Get any snacks/refreshments ready in backpack. Squeeze into wetsuit, wetsocks, new speedo footwear, and put a loose button down shirt over the top (for disguise). Hop in car and drive to location carefully. The roof-securing system is excellent, but the straps do vibrate in the wind so there's an exciting buzzing noise at anything much above 20mph.
I was headed to Orchard Point recreation area on the NE corner of the reservoir, but was foiled briefly by a closed gate. However the next gate along was open, so I drove in and parked in my preferred position near a wooden footbridge. The ticket machine was sealed in black plastic bags but with no sign, so it was unclear whether parking was currently free or forbidden. I chose to believe the former, and unstrapped the kayak and started heaving it towards the water. Here my inexperience kicked in. I was about 50 yards from the water's edge, and hadn't realised that most of those 50 yards were sucking mud.
I struggled along for about 10 yards, then realised I would never cover the whole fifty without losing a shoe or myself to the mud spirits, so I changed direction and headed for some wooden landing stages instead. These were resting a couple of feet above the water's surface, but afforded me a solid surface from which to launch. The water was only inches deep however, so as soon as I sat in the kayak I was stuck on the mud again. A minute or two of adjustment, mostly putting my feet in the icy water and shoving the kayak forward, got me moving. Still in only a foot or two of water, my paddles were pushing on the muddy bottom as much as paddling, but eventually I cleared the bottom and was able to paddle normally.
My launching site was sheltered behind an island, and I could see slightly choppy waves where the wind was whipping across the lake from the south. I headed into that regardless, put the nose into the wind, and paddled away. The waves occasionally sloshed over the nose and dumped a cupful of water into my lap, and the paddles dripped further lakewater across my legs. I've already ordered a splashdeck to relieve this problem, but for now I had to accept some dampness. The waves here were nothign compared to sea waves, but they were a good test for my paddling skills and the kayak's wave-worthiness. The trick here is to time your paddle strokes with the waves so you aren't paddling thin air, and to keep the kayak headed into the waves for minimum splash.
I paddled out into the wind for a few minutes, then turned about (happily with no feeling of even a possibility of capsizing) and went back to the shelter of the island, then repeated the process. That was enough for today, as my hands were getting numb in the chilly wind and wet, so I headed back and looked for a place to land.
Viewed from the lake it was now obvious that the best place to launch and land was a slipway some 200 yards from where I had parked, so I paddled across to that, but found myself stuck on the bottom about 15 yards from the shore. Stepping gingerly into the water I dragged the kayak to dry land and a few feet up the slipway, then feeling a trifle foolish walked self-consciously back to the car. First off I wasn't sure if I should really be there at all, and a bright blue lifevest with blue and black wetsuit underneath does not make one blend in, but there was nobody around (or at least nobody came to shout at me), and I quickly got the car up to the top of the slipway and loaded up the kayak. Now with numb hands and frozen feet I sat in the car for a few minutes and guzzled some tomato soup which I had brought in a thermos flask, also letting the car engine warm up and blow some hot air onto me. A wetsuit is so snug that it's difficult to get out of in a dignified way, especially as one is naked underneath. You peel it off and it turns inside out while you do so, and part way through you are starkers with you feet still trapped in the suit. So far I have chosen to sit on a towel to drive home and change there, where a hot shower and dry fresh clothes complete the process.
Back home I discovered that my annual parking pass had arrived, so I am now displaying that on my windscreen, and can park at any of the Lane County Parking places without worrying about day fees. The lake is much more hospitable, and much fuller, in the Spring and Summer, so once we have the worst of the Winter behind us I will revisit the site for a longer exploration.
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