Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Reverend Dave’s Lopezapalooza

For several years Ian's friend Dave has reserved three campsites at Odlin County Park on Lopez Island for the 4th of July weekend (or a long weekend's worth of days if the 4th falls mid-week.). The years have not all been consecutive, because the three campsites are truly the best in the park, and if someone manages to beat Dave to the punch, he doesn't go. He was lucky this year, though, and scored the favored spots. They really are perfect: Odlin follows a curve of beach along Upright Channel, between Lopez and Shaw Islands, with most sites in direct sunlight right on the beach, and a few up on a bluff in the trees. These three sites comprise both environments, and are near a composting toilet as well.

Dave is quite the organizer, and this year was no exception: 24 of us (including a 10-year-old, a 16-month-old, and a six-week-old, and two dogs . . . well, they make 26) took him up on his invitation. The first night that Dave was there, with one other friend, the on-site ranger came by to talk to him about the numbers he was expecting, understandably concerned (we were a little, too). A maximum of 8 people are allowed to stay at each site, but 24 all together was a lot. Dave assured him that we were calm, quiet and mature, though, and that we were intending to pitch tents in the outer two sites and focus our kitchen and gathering space in the middle site.

In the event, the entire three night stay was awesome. First of all—the adults really all seemed to be adults. We took turns cooking and washing up, taking care of the kids, tidying up the campsites. I fancy myself a pretty competent cook in the kitchen, but these guys (primarily, with the notable exception of baked goods—biscuits and a pineapple upside down cake baked in Dutch ovens in the coals, done by ladies) were gourmet campfire chefs. Dave himself cooked a breakfast for the entire camp of scrambled cheesy eggs with peppers, hashbrowns, and bacon; another morning, S (who brought his boat as well) made breakfast burritos for the lot of us, including chorizo he spiced himself, peppery eggs, black beans, and of course tortillas kept warm in foil on the less hot part of the grill. There were pancakes and sausages, marinated grilled tofu, spiced burgers with grilled onions, cheesy grits and, of course, a couple salads and a lot of fresh berries and cherries (from enterprising salespeople on the ferries and in the ferry lines). I won't include all of them here, but Ian, as a good Taylor should, took a large number of food pictures over our stay.

Most people (including us) arrived on Thursday; it seems that most of the estimated 20,000 people who went to the San Juans for the long weekend intended to arrive on Thursday as well. Several campers in our group waited hours longer than they were expecting to to get on ferries; the couple with the 6-week-old arrived on the last boat of the night and had to put up their tent at around 12:30am; another couple was turned away late in the night and told to come back in the morning. They did, and made it to Lopez before we were even up Friday morning. They had to leave Sunday, and were out of camp silently and on the 6:30am return ferry with time to spare. They were taking no chances. Several of our group did, in fact, decide to stay an extra night.

This year more than previous years revolved around boating—Ian and I, of course, had our boat, and S (who recently moved back to Seattle after a couple years in the Bay Area) brought his 21-foot fishing boat. Dave and his fiancée and recently acquired a new dinghy, and he took on the responsibility of ferrying people and belongings to and from the other boats, which were moored at buoys instead of the dock.

S&L also came with a boat--an 8-foot long sailing dinghy.

Friday the 3rd, most people's first full day, a bunch of us decided to go to Roche Harbor on San Juan Island for, perhaps, lunch and cocktails in the afternoon. We put mostly boys in S's boat, and the girls in mine (Ian stayed back in camp). We took the southern route around San Juan Island, through a bit of sketchy water (a combination of two currents and some wind meeting infelicitously and creating a 2-3 foot chop), where I, white-knuckled, imagined L, our 10-year-old, falling out of the front seat of the bow where she was riding. We soon passed the most harrowing part, though, and started leisurely up the west side of the island, so that S could fish (Chinook season had just begun, and he was hoping for fresh grilled salmon. Alas, no luck.). Personally, I find fishing boring, and the ladies in my boat also seemed to think so. Still, it was sunny and clear, and Vancouver Island was right there, and we were on vacation. I finally couldn't take it anymore and piddled over the side of the boat, then another one of us did, then another did.

And then, suddenly, the orcas were around us.

Maybe 20 feet from the boat, a whale surfaced and blew, pwhoo, and sank back into the water. From our boat arose a universal squeal. From our VHF radio, S's voice, from the boat a few hundred feet behind us, said "SHUT UP." We quieted down immediately, and shut off the engine, and for the next 45 minutes or so, the pod (probably J pod) swam near us. There were a couple of breachings, but mostly in the distance. Also in the distance, we saw a whale lying on its back with its pectoral flippers flapping—perhaps engaging in an inverted pectoral slap. There were two babies in the pod, and at one point, one came up out of the water near us and went SQUEEEE before it sank back in. In all my years of visiting the San Juans, I have never been so lucky, and when we went out the next day with a different group but to the same place, the whales were there again! (photos are from day 2)

Roche Harbor was a madhouse of yachters celebrating the holiday—there are 377 slips, some accommodating boats up to 160 feet long, and the harbor itself was thick with boats at anchor or on buoys. We stopped and gassed up and grabbed quick bites to eat at the little grocery at the head of the dock, I piddled again (although in a toilet this time), and we headed for home.

Most of us didn't actually go into Lopez Village for the spectacular (Paul Allen-funded) fireworks display this year, preferring to laze about in camp and watch the phosphorescence in the water instead. On the 5th, when Ian and I headed off for our next adventure, a whole string of fellow campers helped us portage our camping gear from our beachside site to the county dock to load our boat.

And then we were on our own . . .


Jeanne said...

What an awesome experience. The whales are beautiful! Hope the rest of your trip is just as amazing.

Robert said...

Hello Calin,

Thanks for the San Juan Island travelogue so far. I'm hoping there's another installment!

-- Robert Valaas

KateMV said...

Wow. Wow.