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Willapa Nights

Willapa Nights

The cold front washed through Thursday night, right on schedule, and temperatures plummeted. I had delayed going until then, hoping for improving weather. The National Weather Service forecast shifted from “rain at times” to “showers” for the next few days, so I left town over the big bridge with a fistful of upriver charts and three days food, intending to paddle to old haunts on the Columbia. To alleviate the boredom of the drive, I took the long way along Willapa Bay, scoping out widgeon and brant dipping in the bay. Squalls washed the air as I pulled into the under-construction parking lot at Refuge headquarters.

Old buddy Joel was in uniform along with a desk-person, so I joshed him and asked about the pair of empty yak cradles on the pickup alongside the construction zone: “Yeah, they’ve been there a couple days.” “Any idea where they went?” “Nope.” “Can I park there, out of the way of the construction?” “Yup, they won’t be in there until Monday, anyway. Weather is supposed to be better. Have a good trip, but be careful!”

Solitude on the Bay sounded good. Guess I won’t need those River charts.

I dodged a minor squall and off-loaded goodies as the tide rose toward the rear wheels of the pickup. The yak filled quickly while the sun danced with clouds. Dry suit on, did the duty with the pickup and slipped into the water, around the south end of the island, and westward. Tons of common mergansers around, dipping and diving, then scooting off in the air. Loons calling and herons fishing.

Nobody here! Pinnacle Rock was empty, also Smoky Hollow … lotta new mini-slides on beige cliffs. Seismic-stimulated from the February quake? An hour and a half later, ashore at Sandspit campground, no human signs except 4-trax tracks in the pebbles from buddy Larry’s potty-servicing two days previous. Up with the tent, up with the tarp, off with the dry suit, sunshine here and there. Gather beaucoup firewood from down the beach, worka worka. Seat pad alongside a log and beer in hand, watching the bay empty as distant oyster dredges disgorge work crews on two sides of the bay. Shorebirds dance on the flats while brant sqwak by, and dinner begins to call. Stir fry with spuds, cookie, cookie. Washa, washa.

In the night, an intense shower woke me for a pee break, but morning was not far behind. Everything wet. Good thing I put the wood under the tarp. Oatmeal and coffee to warm the toes … god! it’s cold! Clammers and oyster workers in the distance. Slowly stow gear and organize food. By ten I am off, walking green roadbed and marvelling at sunlight through the alders. A squall put me under a hemlock for ten minutes for the last time, headed to the north end of the island, eventually making the four miles to Lewis campground in two hours. Return was the same, with one ruffed grouse scare, tons of elk sign, and enough bear scat I had to watch the track. Slides are taking the road away in two spots, turning it into Willapa Bay mud.

Back in camp, the bay emptied as rain came down again and again. Good cup of coffee and nap time! Afterward, I scoured the beach rocks for SO Becky. Miserable hunting — score: one agate! Another beer-mediated stir fry under the belt, dishes out in the weather to “wash” and it’s back in the tent to listen to the rain … I thought this was just “showers!” That Joel lied to me!

Rained off and on all night, and the moon made some appearances, too, flirting with the treetops. In the morning, more rain, with shots of wind for spice. No tide until near noon, so no hurry. Slowly packed up, tossing the unused firewood out and stowing gear under the tarp. Sun appears, air warms up, Dave doffs clothes and shuffles the yak down to the flats and waits for the tide. Wait, wait. Rain completely stops, sky clears, birds sing, I don the dry suit and drag the yak the last twenty yards to the water. Loons, buffleheads by the score on all sides, calm water to High Point and around the south end of the island. Traffic is heavy on the highway and rubberneckers ogle me as I slide ashore at the ramp.

Tired, but happy.

Later, the yak is stowed and I am on the road south while a storm cell cleans the boat atop. Breakfast at one o’clock in Seaview is my reward.

Ya gotta like rain …

Dave Kruger
Astoria, OR

Copyright 2001 by Dave Kruger.
May not be reproduced or redistributed without author’s permission.
Originally posted on Paddlewise mailing list on 4/11/2001. Republished with permission.