Paris, the Start of Our European Vacation

European Vacation to France, Italy, and Spain

In 2008, my wife Mary, three daughters, and I went on a Mediterranean cruise, our first trip to Europe. At the time, the cruise made sense for us. Meals, lodging, and many language issues were taken care of for us. We’d sign up for a tour, arrive in port, and follow around a guide holding up a flag. What could be easier? It was a wonderful, but a bit touristy trip, and we vowed to visit Europe again.

We finally got around to it in May, 2019. Thank goodness we did it before start of the pandemic in 2020. For our second time to Europe, Mary and I didn’t want to do it like the first. We decided to so it in a more challenging way, no cruises, packages, or tours, just us having to find our next meal and how to get to our next destination. We wanted to immerse ourselves in the experience and have to communicate along the way, even though we knew almost no French, Italian, or Spanish.

On our 18 day trip, we covered a lot, visiting Paris, Venice, Matera, Cinque Terre, Tossa de Mar, and Barcelona. Our transportation included: 8 flights, three boat rides, 14 trains, 16 buses, 21 metro/subway rides, and one car ride. We also walked many, many miles. As avid hikers, we liked that part. This blog only covers Paris, but I’ll get to our other stops soon.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris

Paris, France

Our walking started with 10.5 miles our first night in Paris. Actually, that story started a little earlier, in the Iceland airport. During our five-hour layover at Reykjavik airport, we came upon two close friends of ours who now live 1800 miles away from us. What a coincidence to run into them in Iceland! Not only that, but they turned out to be on our flight to Paris, sitting directly behind us. They had a hotel booked in the center of things, near Notre Dame. Our hotel sat a 1.5 mile Metro/subway ride away, in a lower rent district, so we agreed to meet at 7 pm in front of Notre Dame.  Unfortunately, the major fire a few weeks earlier meant we could not see the inside.

We met our friends and started a long walk along the Seine River, past one incredible building after another, such as Sainte Chappelle, the Louvre, d’Orsay, Grand Palais, and many more. The river itself provides much to watch, with a variety of boat traffic going up and down the river. A lot of activity takes place on the walkways along the river too, including countless vendors, cafes, and walkers like us.

Pont Alexandre III Bridge and Cafe

We crossed the historic Pont Alexandre III bridge, with a popular café below, and made our way to Paris’s most famous street, des Champ-Elysees, where we ate at a busy restaurant with exorbitant prices, like $40 for duck liver pate, an appetizer. Maybe I’m just cheap. Anyway, our walk continued all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, a 164’ high arch where you can find fantastic views from the top.

By the time we made our way back to Notre Dame, our friends’ app said we’d walked nine miles. Mary and I headed for the Metro, for our 1.5 mile ride to our hotel. The doors were locked! It turns out the Metro doesn’t run late at night, so we walked through dark streets and alleys arriving at our hotel in the early hours of the morning.

The Solar Hotel turned out to be a nice place to stay, as long as the Metro was running. For breakfast each morning, the hotel served coffee, croissants, rolls, and jams. Instead of a supermarket, our neighborhood had a whole variety of individual shops for meat, cheese, wine, fresh produce, and a bakery with delicious pastries and pastries. It was wonderful to see friendly people with small businesses succeeding. In the US, so much of what we buy is from large corporations. Visiting a variety of small shops also gave us a lot of opportunity to practice what little French we know, and most Parisians we met were quite friendly and patient.

We found the most useful French words to be bonjour, oui, and merci.


Our sleep schedules were seriously out of whack, but we didn’t want to sleep the day away.  I woke up groggy and fumbled with our pill bottle. Instead of taking Levothyroxine a small white pill that’s supposed to increase my energy level, I accidentally took my wife’s melatonin, a small white pill that helps people sleep. That morning, I stumbled around like a total zombie!

Montmarte and Sacre Couer

Navigating the subway system challenged us, as we struggled to get on the right trains and get off at the right stops, especially that morning of Melatonin. When stops were announced over the speakers, we were amazed how many of them sounded nothing like the way they’re spelled. Guess how you pronounce  Aubervilliers – Pantin – Quatre Chemins.

We did manage to find our way to the Montmartre neighborhood, a charming place with shops, artists, street-side cafés, and Sacre Couer, one of many Catholic churches we visited on our trip. Most of the churches we visited are much older, so the architecture of Sacre Couer (opened 1914) is quite different but quite beautiful with large domes.

Sacre Couer, Paris

Sainte Chappelle and the Louvre

Sainte Chappelle (opened 1248), another of Paris’s famous churches, has 1113 scenes depicted in its incredible stained glass windows.

The Louvre, the largest art museum in the world, is quite incredible. To see everything might take days, so we devoted one day and decided to wander until we’d had enough. The paintings and sculptures are amazing, but the building itself was almost more impressive to me. In fact, in many places we visited, I was amazed by the stonework and the fact that these buildings had lasted for centuries. I wonder how many modern buildings will last that long. Every 20 years, our houses seem to need new siding, roofing, and most components.

The Louvre, Paris

Leaving Paris

We enjoyed Paris a great deal, but it is a big city with a lot of people. We live in a quiet place in the foothills of the North Cascades. After our three days, we felt ready to move on to Venice, another beautiful, but smaller, city with a long and fascinating history.

Kauai, Vacation Destination for Nature Lovers

Kauai, the Garden Island, is a wonderful vacation destination for nature lovers. As absolute lovers of nature, my wife Mary and I had contemplated a trip to Kauai for years. Somehow, we managed to visit all the other major islands first (Maui, the Big Island and Oahu) due to cheaper airfares and/or more direct routes. We finally splurged and spent eight glorious days in Kauai. I’m very glad we did.

My idea of a tropical vacation includes secluded beaches, waves, snorkeling, and beautiful scenery. We found all of those in Kauai, and more. On beaches, people reach meditative states effortlessly, and we did, soothed by the sun, sand and sound of waves. If you don’t have the opportunity for a tropical vacation, try this Beach Visualization Meditation.

Rather than rambling on about each day of our trip, I’m going to share some highlights, in hopes they’ll inspire and inform.


There probably is one, but I’m not sure. Our nightlife consisted of having a glass of wine on our lanai and going to bed early, so we could get up before sunrise the next morning. I may have this backwards. Maybe we went to bed early, because we were so tired from getting up before sunrise in order to fit in as much hiking, snorkeling and exploring as we could.

Our second floor lanai actually sat directly above the poolside bar, at Islander on the Beach. We never even got around to having a drink at that bar, but it did sound like a few people were having fun there. They were quiet enough to be drowned out by waves crashing on the beach. If nightlife is a big priority, you should probably go to a different island. There is an article covering the 10 Best Bars on Kauai, none of which we made it to.

View from our condo at Islander on the Beach, Kauai

View from our condo at Islander on the Beach

Restaurants and Food

I don’t know much about restaurants on Kauai either. As budget travelers, our first stop was Costco and a grocery store, where we bought enough food to take us through most of the week. Farmer’s markets are popular on Kauai, so we picked up some fresh produce at one. We did have a few meals at the Island Country Market deli, across the street from our condo project. That doesn’t really count as a restaurant, but they had good, reasonably priced food. Actually, we also had a nice Italian dinner at Bobbie V’s and delicious coconut shrimp at the Shrimp Station in Kapaa. Now that I’ve covered the stuff that I don’t know much about, I’ll dig into the important stuff, like hiking trails and beaches.

Hiking Trails

Now this is where Kauai excels. There are many fine trails with some spectacular scenery. If you want an idea of the kind of scenery you might encounter, consider some of the countless movies that were filmed on Kauai, including: the Jurassic Park movies, Donovan’s Reef, South Pacific, Blue Hawaii, Pirate of the Caribbean, Lord of the Flies, Tropic Thunder, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fantasy Island, George of the Jungle, King Kong, and many more. If you recall these movies, you might have surmised that there is lots of lush tropical jungle on Kauai. There is, along with miles of sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, craggy inland cliffs and a vast variety of plants and birds.

Speaking of birds, there is no avoiding the thousands of roosters and chickens on Kauai. They’re everywhere. Apparently, hurricanes destroyed chicken coops in 1992. The chickens bred with red junglefowl, brought over by the Polynesians. Now, you encounter chickens in the jungle, in parking lots, and on the beach. While sleeping on Poipu Beach, Mary had a chicken and her little chicks running around by her legs, then over to a neighboring beach chair, where they hid under the person sitting in it. They are quite entertaining to watch, and since we were up before dawn most days, the rooster crowing didn’t bother us. They’re actually quite entertaining to watch.

Hikes we did:

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Waimea Canyon, Kauai

Waimea Canyon Trail

On our first full day, we planned to drive to the end of Waimea Canyon Road and hike the Pihea Trail, with stunning views looking down on Kalalau Valley and the blue waters of the Pacific. When we reached the trailhead, we found ourselves inside a misting rain cloud, with a wet, slippery red clay trail. So much for that. We headed six or so miles back down the road to the Waimea Canyon Lookout. The Waimea Canyon Trail took us to waterfalls deep in Waimea Canyon, a 3000’ deep gorge known as Grand Canyon of the Pacific, carved out by the Waimea River.

Mahaulepu Beach Trail, Poipu, Kauai

Mahaulepu Beach Trail, Poipu, Kauai

Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

The trail starts at Shipwreck Beach, tucked between the Grand Hyatt Hotel and Poipu Bay Golf Course. The beach is popular with surfers, boogie boarders, and cliff jumpers. The trail itself climbs from the sandy beach up onto cliff tops, following a spectacular rocky shoreline. Part of the trail collapsed into the sea, so the hike took us along a fairway of the golf course, with mountain views over the golf course one side and waves crashing into cliffs on the other.

Sleeping Giant Trail

This trail was a mere six minute drive from our condo in Kapaa. It climbs to a mountain top with panoramic views of the whole east side of Kauai, along with miles of the Pacific. Near the top, there a hole through a cliff, known as the eye, a great natural frame for photos.

Kalalau Trail

Curt on Kalalau Trail, Kauia

Curt on Kalalau Trail, Kauia

One of our goals, in going to Kauai, was to hike the famous Kalalau Trail, along the Napali Coast. According to the Huffington Post, it’s “hands down the most incredible hike in America.” Unfortunately, I had no idea how difficult it is to get a permit to hike more than the first two miles of this trail. We never got one.

The trail starts at the end of the road, in the northwest corner of the island. On the short part of the trail we covered, we did reach the very scenic viewpoint featured in the Huffington Post article.

Kuilau Ridge Trail

This trail is a real jungle hike, following a ridge and looking down into lush valleys. We did this hike on the rainiest day of the trip, slogging through mud. The weather did seem to add to the jungle feel.

Smith Family Garden

This really is more of a relaxing stroll through a botanical garden setting, with mountain views, all sorts of plants, and possibly even more birds. I bought a couple bags of cracked corn and held some out in my hand. Zebra doves swooped down and literally piled up on my arm, trying to get at the corn. For some strange reason, I had a hard time convincing Mary to try it. All the birds following us reminded me of that old Alfred Hitchcock movie, The Birds.

Rudderfish, Poipu Beach, Kauai

Rudderfish, Poipu Beach, Kauai

Beaches and Snorkeling

There are a lot to choose from. We managed to arrive during an unusually cool and cloudy stretch of weather, with plenty of sporadic rain, so we checked weather forecasts and often based our destination for the day on seeking sunshine. Weather varies a lot on Kauai. Polihale Beach (southwest) seems to get the most sun, followed by Poipu (South). Our location on the east side of island is reasonably dry, and the lush north shore gets more rain, but it doesn’t come close to Mt Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest places on earth with an average of 374 inches of rain per year.

Like I mentioned under “Restaurants and Food,” Costco was one of our first stop. The local Costco also carries a variety of beach gear at very reasonable prices. They have boogie boards, snorkeling sets, Tommy Bahama chairs, and Hawaiian shirts.

East Side

Islander on the Beach

There are miles of beaches along the east side, including the beach directly in front of our condo, Islander on the beach. We found this to be a very quiet and relaxing place to kick back and relax. Other than at the military base on the west side, beaches are public. If you can find access, there are lots of places to find your own little patch of sand to hang out for the day.

Lydgate Park

When we arrived to snorkel, we put in alongside a beachside wedding that was taking place. Lydgate can be one of the few protected places to snorkel, during rough weather, with a wall of boulders to protect it from surf. After some underwater searching, I found a lot of fish gathered together along the boulder wall, but the water clarity was close to terrible that day.

South Shore

Poipu Beach Park is popular, and for good reason. It had sun, good snorkeling, and an endangered Hawaiian monk seal, hanging out on the beach, one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world and the rarest seal in US waters.

Our condo came with two very versatile Tommy Bahama Backpack Beach Chairs, which seemed to be all around us at Poipu Beach. As we went to leave the beach, we realized that we had no idea how to fold the chairs. There’s a trick to it. None of the people sitting in the same chairs offered to help, as we wrestled with our chairs. I began to feel increasingly foolish and soon gave up, leaving it to Mary. She enlisted the help of an elderly woman near us who flipped our chair on its back and pushed in the right place. It made a click sound then folded right up. Now that I know how to do it, I’m going to buy a couple of those chairs for our neighborhood beach in Washington.

Of the four Kauai beaches we snorkeled at, Poipu was the best; however this changes with the season. Some of the north shore beaches are reportedly better, but the surf was really pounding the north shore beaches while we were there.

West Side

Polihale Beach, Kauai

Polihale Beach

Polihale Beach Park

Just getting here was an adventure in itself, bouncing five miles down one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on.  The state park recommends four wheel drives, one of the reasons we rented a Jeep, although I did see a couple of conventional cars here. I have to admit that I’ve always wanted to try a little Jeep Wrangler, so I didn’t need much of an excuse to upgrade from our planned compact car. The Jeep was fun, but by the end of the week, it made me really appreciate the space, comfort and mileage of our Subaru Outback.

Polihale State Park’s enormous and remote beach reminded me of the vast beaches of the Oregon Coast, except it’s actually warm in Kauai. Here’s another Oregon Coast blog. Views to the north of Polihale look up at the rugged cliffs of the Napali Coast.

Salt Pond Park

This has a very local feel, like the place you’d go to if you lived in Kauai. We found a nice stretch of protected sand and reasonably good snorkeling. The park gets its name from salt ponds that have been used to harvest sea salt for generations.

North Shore

Kilalauea Lighthouse

Kilalauea Lighthouse

The North Shore has so many beautiful beaches, however we arrived during rough surf. At Kilauea Point and Lighthouse, waves smashed into the cliffs then bounced back, colliding with the next wave and sending enormous plumes of spray into the air.

At Tunnels Beach, we watched a pair of brave surfers venture out into huge waves, at the beach where Bethany Hamilton lost her arm to a tiger shark.

Hanalei Bay, the setting for South Pacific, seemed reasonably protected, with small enough waves for boogie boards and beginning surfers. The scenery from the pier is great.

Ke’e Beach is at the end of the road, the trailhead for the Kalalau Trail. The outer reef provided enough protection for snorkeling, although currents were strong, and fish were relatively few.

Kayaking (Not Really)

Catamaran in Rough Seas

Catamaran in Rough Seas

As a serious kayak enthusiast, I really wanted to paddle 18 miles along the Napali Coast, which is listed in a book in a book I have, 50 Places to Paddle Before You Die. After booking our March flights, we found that they don’t start the kayak trips until April. Instead, we booked a dinner cruise, on a 65’ powered catamaran, with Holo Holo Charters. The seas turned out to be too rough, even for the 65’ boat, so we only saw part of the Napali Coast. I guess it’s a good thing we weren’t out in kayaks. As we got farther up the coast, the waves got bigger and two foolish passengers on the bow got wetter and wetter. A few other passengers in the cabin got sicker and sicker. Once the captain turned the boat around and ran with the waves, the motion settled down, so we could enjoy Maui Beer and fish tacos. We finished the cruise on the protected south side, watching humpback whales surface while the sun dropped into the Pacific.

Sunset over the Pacific

Sunset over the Pacific

Next Time

Of the Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the last one we visited and the first one we’d return to. For an outdoor enthusiast, there is so much to see and do. For our next visit, we plan to go later in the year to make sure we can kayak the Napali Coast, snorkel at Tunnels, and hike the Kalalau Trail. Even without those highlights, Kauai is a wonderful vacation destination for those that enjoy hiking, quiet beaches, and stunning scenery.

In the speech below, I share some of our mishaps in trying the reach the Kalalau Valley on the Napali Coast.

Kayaking Desolation Sound

For a profoundly satisfying experience, venture deep into nature and immerse yourself in her solitude. ~Curt Remington

The above words came to me while writing a speech about our trip to Desolation Sound. In this blog, my goal is to share our trip with you and to encourage you to venture into nature for your own profound experience.

Kayaking into Desolation Sound

Kayaking into Desolation Sound

Our kayaking adventure actually started with a very scenic drive and two ferries, bringing us to the northern end of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. In fact, we spent our first night in the historic Lund Hotel, across the street from a marker for the northernmost end of Highway 101, the longest highway in the world. The other end is 9312 miles south, in Castro Chile. Lund may be the end of the road, it is also the “gateway to Desolation Sound,” and a rest stop for boaters headed up the Inside Passage.

Lund Hotel in Lund, British Columbia

Lund Hotel in Lund, British Columbia

Leaving Civilization Behind

For us, Lund is where we left civilization behind, first thing the next morning. We stuffed containers filled with gear, food, and water into our kayak hatches, donned drysuits, sprayskirts and pfds, then paddled out past docks and boats. Lund is open to Georgia Strait and is fairly exposed to a westerly wind, and we definitely had a westerly wind that morning. The bow of my heavily loaded kayak occasionally plowed deep into a wave, sending a good deal of water up the deck and into my midsection, making me glad I had a drysuit.

My real concern was Mary. She is not a fan of big waves and wind, and she had been worried about what kind of conditions we might run into. This didn’t seem like a good way to start. I nervously kept an eye on her as she kept paddling onward, wide eyed and looking tense but handling her kayak well. She’s a much more competent kayaker than she gives herself credit for. After a few miles of hard work, we reached shelter behind the first of the Copeland Islands. What a difference!

Through the Copeland Islands, we hugged the shoreline, minimizing wind and getting an up-close view of the rocky shoreline, the evergreen forests, and the fascinating scenery below the water’s surface, where schools of minnows darted and jellyfish slowly swam in pulsating contractions.

By the time we reached the north end of the Copeland Islands, the wind had dropped significantly, and we’d only seen a few boats speed by. We started paddling more direct routes, crossing large expanses of open water as we made our way around Sarah Point, stopping for lunch at Feather Cove, and continued the last nine miles to the Curme Islands. Our direct route shaved off miles but also put us a considerable distance from the nearest shoreline. By the time we reached the Curme Islands, we’d covered about 15 miles, more than enough paddling for Mary in one day. I was so anxious to explore, that I set out and kayaked more, once we got camp set up, while Mary took a much-needed nap on the deck.

Curme Islands

As to our camp, we arrived on a Thursday, expecting serious competition for one of the nine campsites (deck platforms) on West Curme Island. Instead, the only other people on the island were one other couple and a very quiet and private single woman, in her own campsite. After the first night, the other couple left, leaving just three of us on the island. Eventually, the very solitary woman warmed up to us, at least a bit. I would bet she didn’t appreciate that we’d picked the campsite next to hers. We had chosen it based on the view, expecting the other campsites to fill up too. If we’d known it would just be the three of us, we would’ve gladly camped farther away from her. Oh well. We were quiet. She was quiet, and there was roughly 100 feet of trees and bushes between us. We really didn’t notice each other much.

One of the Curme Islands, across from our camp

One of the Curme Islands, across from our camp

By the way, the Curme Islands are beautiful. I have no idea why George Vancouver named the area Desolation Sound, unless he arrived at the most depressing point of a long winter. We had beautiful weather, stunning scenery, and apparently we’d arrived (late June) just before the crowds showed up.

Exploring Desolation Sound

On our trips, we often rush from place to place, trying to see as much as possible. In the Curme Islands, we stayed in one place for a few days and really started to relax, meditating and connecting with the beauty around us. We sat and watched the changing light on distant mountains and islands. We walked and kayaked around the nearby islands, encountering some of the wildlife, like eagles, seals, hummingbirds, red mergansers and seals.  The water clarity was so good that we focused more on undersea life, including shiners, minnows, starfish, more jellyfish, crabs and lots of oysters. We had passed an area where humpback whales had been breaching, but they didn’t cooperate for us. When I did spot creatures underwater, I just set my waterproof camera on video and held it under my kayak, aimed in the right direction. While on the island, Mary took the camera and sat along the shore, watching and filming crabs and fish scurrying about in the shallows.

On day four, we paddled along Bold Head, into Tenedos Bay, lined with steep cliffs. At the end of the bay, we hiked up to Unwin Lake for a freshwater dip, rinsing a few days’ worth of salt off. We also restocked our fresh water, ending up with more than we needed.

With much more to explore, I set out alone that evening and paddled up a narrow channel between Bold Head and Otter Island, east of the Curme Islands. As I emerged from the channel, I looked beyond more islands to the east, up at the Canadian Coastal Mountains. The vastness and rugged beauty, with many inlets and passages to explore, beckoned me.  We simply didn’t have time on this trip, and I knew Mary was probably watching for me anxiously. I turned my kayak back towards the Curme Islands and took gentle paddle strokes as I skirted Otter Island, watching for fish in the shallows.

Connecting with Nature

Our time in nature was truly rejuvenating, reminding me of a quote in my book, Simple Meditation.

In nature, we’re more aware of and are connected to our surroundings in an expansive way. Our senses open up to the damp smell of the forest, the cool breeze on our skin, the layer of pine needles beneath our feet and the orange and pink clouds of the sunset. Spending time in the outdoors connects you with the more primal you, the one that understands without analyzing. By making this connection, you can return to your usual environment more at peace and aware.

Copeland Islands

After a few days in the Curme Islands, it was time to leave. We broke camp early and started back towards Lund, however we decided to camp in the Copelands, breaking up the return paddle. Mary had no interest in another 15 mile day, and we both looked forward to a more relaxed pace. On North Copeland Island we pitched our tent on a south facing deck with spectacular island views and views of the distant mountains of Vancouver Island, to the west. Of the ten campsites, only one other was occupied, giving us a great deal of solitude. We felt incredibly blessed to have so much beauty to ourselves. After dinner, we hiked to the north end of the island to watch the changing water, as the tide filled channels and the stunning sunset painted the sky in shades of blue, turning to golds and shades of orange.

Sunset in the Copeland Islands, BC

Sunset in the Copeland Islands, BC

Time to Go Home

On our drive home, we camped at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park, feeling reluctant to end our vacation.  During the drive, I contemplated the many kayak destinations along the British Columbia coast. Desolation Sound is on the sheltered side of Vancouver Island, providing for calmer conditions, warmer water, and sunnier weather than the exposed west side of Vancouver Island. I definitely planned to return to Desolation Sound, to explore more of those areas we didn’t have time for. On our next BC kayak trip, I’d like to visit the wide open Pacific, like we did on our Oregon Coast trip.

We found our time in nature to be profoundly satisfying. If you plan to do some venturing too, the BC coast and Desolation Sound is a wonderful place to do it.

The Oregon Coast Revisited

Rugged Coastline with White Sand Beaches

The Oregon Coast is rugged, beautiful, and fun, so when a forest fire in the North Cascades cancelled our backpacking plans, we happily switched to a fall trip back down to the Oregon Coast. I say “back down,” because we’d made another great trip to the Oregon Coast a few years ago.

Cannon Beach, Oregon

For camping, my wife and I have been moving toward a minimalist approach, having sold our 23’ travel trailer in the spring. We didn’t even bring our pickup truck or use a tent. Instead, Mary and I slept comfortably in the back of our Subaru Outback. While hanging around camp, this forced us to spend more time outdoors, surrounded by nature. This also made breaking camp a breeze.

For this trip, we did a couple of other things different too. We brought a couple of sea kayaks with us, and instead of working our way southward down the coast, like we did on our last trip, we took I-5 down to Cape Perpetua then worked our way north, so we ended the drive closer to our Bellingham, Washington home.

Kayak Surfing Attempt

One of my big goals for this trip was to paddle my sea kayak out into the wide open Pacific Ocean. On our second night we camped near one of Oregon’s many enormous white sand beaches, at Beachside State Park.  Mary was kind enough to help carry my kayak to the water’s edge and smart enough to leave hers in camp.

I paddled out into the breaking waves, surfing a few breakers towards shore. Eventually, I gained enough confidence to crash through the breakers, which lifted my bow and soaked my face. After a good deal of effort, I found myself out past the breakers and in gentle rollers of the open ocean. I raised my paddle and yelled, “hooyah!” After a few moments of enjoying the Pacific, and letting my breathing slow down, it was time to get back to my no doubt anxious wife, waiting on the shore.

A few sweep strokes brought my kayak around facing shore, so I could survey the situation. The safer thing to do would have been to follow the back of a wave, but I love to kayak surf. I have to admit most of my surfing had been in a whitewater kayak, on whitewater rivers, so surfing with a 17’ sea kayak was a bit new to me.

I watched for a good size wave and started paddling forward. The roller started growing beneath me. With a couple more quick strokes, I was suddenly accelerating fast and headed down the face of the wave. The nose of my kayak started to bury, which could lead me to going end-over-end. I lifted my knee and angled the kayak, shedding the water. About then, the wave started to break, crashing into the stern of my kayak and pushing it sideways, in to a broach. I leaned into the wave and started to side surf, bracing with my paddle buried in the wave. This works well in a flat bottomed whitewater kayak. Apparently, with a sea kayak, you have to use a lot more lean. The shallow v-shaped keel on the bottom of my kayak caught, and next thing I knew I was upside down in the foamy part of the wave. 

I had practiced rolling all summer, but short of breath and being dragged through foamy surf, I felt I was not in a position to roll. My thought was, I want to get out of this kayak. Over anxious, I yanked off my sprayskirt and clambered to the surface. At least I had enough sense to keep ahold of my kayak and paddle.

Now what? None of the assisted rescue techniques I’d practiced would work, since there were no other kayakers with to assist me. As to the self-rescue techniques, I’d already blown the roll. The next fastest is the Cowboy Rescue, which involves straddling your kayak like you would a horse. I threw my leg over the stern of my kayak, but a wave immediately broke over me, filling the cockpit of my kayak. The Paddle Float Rescue requires inflating a float, slipping it over your paddle,… No way I had time for all that.

My last option involved grabbing the stern of my kayak and letting waves pull the kayak to shore, dragging me along behind. That worked pretty well. Soon, I found myself in chest-deep water, able to walk behind my kayak. Almost into waist-deep water, I suddenly stepped over a drop-off, and current swung my kayak around behind me, trying to drag me back out to sea.

Shit! I’d stepped into a rip current, where all the water washing into shore is carried back out. Usually, the best thing to do is not to fight the current, swimming parallel to shore until you’re free of the rip. I was so close to shore that I swam hard, side-stroking, with my kayak dragging behind. Out-of-breath, I finally stumbled up to a very anxious Mary, waiting on shore. I’m very glad she didn’t jump into the rip current, trying to rescue me.

There were three things I wish I’d done differently, that I want to share with you, in case you’re ever caught in this situation.

  1. I should’ve followed the back of a wave into shore, at least the first time.
  2. After flipping, I should have waited longer upside down. My kayak would’ve settled into position soon, and I could have rolled. It would’ve been much better to be in my kayak.
  3. In our car at camp sat an excellent book, the Art of Kayaking. I should have read the section on surfing. It emphasized being very aware of rip currents and avoiding them when you’re trying to get to shore.

Or the wiser choice might have been to do like Mary did and enjoy the ocean from the beach.

Another Kayak Adventure, at Beaver Creek

The next day, Mary and I set out by kayak into the Beaver Creek estuary at Brian Booth State Park. Paddling through marshy channels, we had close encounters with lots of ducks, kingfishers, egrets, cormorants, a hawk, and at least three turkey vultures circling over us.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

Yaquina Head Lighthouse

At our next stop, Yaquina Head, we almost left after a quick look at the lighthouse, which we’d already seen on our earlier trip. Instead, we decided to descend the stairs to Cobble Beach. We were very glad we did. Gray whales were spouting, as they passed back and forth, just beyond the rocks. Watching carefully, we started spotting little clouds from whale’s blowholes as they came to the surface to breath, farther out to sea. The cove had all sorts of action, with crashing waves, sea lions and a variety of birds. If we’d had the time, I could’ve stayed there watching and taking photos for hours.

Gray Whale

Cannon Beach and Ecola State Park

An Oregon coast trip wouldn’t be complete without walking Cannon Beach to Haystack Rock. On this trip, serious waves pounded the shore, demonstrating the power of Mother Nature. Cannon Beach is gorgeous, as seen from our next stop, an overlook at Ecola State Park.

We also visited Ecola’s Indian Beach. A small corner of the beach held dry sand, so we checked the tide table and found the tide had just turned. We threw down a blanket and napped in that one dry spot, listening to the pounding surf and feeling a bit apprehensive about the sneaker wave warnings. Fortunately, we were never woken by a wall of water engulfing us and dragging us out to sea.

Indian Beach, Ecola Beach State Park, Oregon

Indian Beach, Ecola Beach State Park, Oregon

Last Day of the Trip

We spent our last night at Fort Stevens State Park, like we had the first night of our earlier trip. The next morning, we came across a small elk herd on the way to the historic military remnants. The fort’s history dates back to the civil war, guarding the mouth of the Columbia River from the British. In 1942, a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells at the fort, making it the only military installation in the continental US to take enemy fire during WWII.



Our last stop was at the longest beach in the world, Long Beach, Washington, where you can drive for miles and find a very secluded spot. We had work to get home to, so we just took a quick look.

This may have been the last day for this trip, but we decided it won’t be our last trip to the Oregon coast. With spectacular beaches, stunning scenery, and lots to do, we’re going to make sure the Oregon coast is a vacation destination that we get back to every few years.

Be sure to visit my report on our first trip to the Oregon Coast.

Sunset on the Oregon Coast

Sunset on the Oregon Coast

Warm, Sunny Get-Away to Moab Utah

We love our home, in the lush green forested foothills of the North Cascades. But, this past winter provided a bit too much lushness, countless cool, wet and gloomy days, what many people think of when they imagine the Pacific Northwest. By winter’s end, we felt in need of a change of pace.Curt Remington at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah

What could be better than a warm, dry and sunny place, more of a desert location, at the opposite end of the color wheel? We opted for the red rock canyons of Nevada and southern Utah, far different than the lush green forest of our western Washington home.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah

Moab, Utah sounded like a good base, so we rented an Airbnb just outside of town. Moab is definitely different, clearly catering to outdoor adventure sport enthusiasts. Along with cars, streets are lined with ATV’s, Jeeps, and a whole variety of serious off-road contraptions. For those of us that prefer quiet in the wilderness, the area also has mountain biking, rafting, hiking and lots of photography opportunities. On this short trip, I focused on the last two, hiking and photography.

For hikes, we crammed half-a-dozen or so short ones into three hiking days, including: Devil’s Garden, Delicate Arch, Dead Horse Point, Wave of Fire, White Domes, Las Vegas Strip, and Negro Bill or Grandstaff, depending on who you ask.Mary Remington in Arches National Park, Utah

Even on the trip, we saw some sharp contrasts, like the throngs of people in Las Vegas versus the empty, wide-open freeway with 80 mph speed limits or the noisy casino versus the peace in remote desert canyons.

On an earlier trip, discovering Teddy Roosevelt National Park was a real treat. We had driven by it countless times, not realizing it is well worth the stop. On this trip, Valley of Fire State Park, an hour outside Las Vegas, was a similar find. There are spectacular and surreal red and white rock formations that have been used for both science fiction, western, and action movies and television shows, such as Total Recall, Star Trek Generations, the Professionals, One Million BC, Wasteland, Transformers, and lots more. Highlights included bighorn sheep, a slot canyon and the wave of fire, a masterpiece created by the greatest artist, mother nature.

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Mary at Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Like so many, this trip was too short. We did manage to dry out, relax in the southwestern sun, and we came home with some beautiful memories and pictures. We even came home with a tan.

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Desert Bighorn Sheep

Rafting the Main Salmon River

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Six Spectacular Days with a Primitive Tribe

Rafting the Main Salmon River held a prominent place on my bucket list for years. It turns out, I had it there for good reason. This past summer, my wife, Mary, and I finally made that trip and spent six sunny days surrounded by beautiful scenery, thrilling rapids, and learning the special customs of a unique and friendly tribe.

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Our Aire Super Puma Raft

Trip Details

On this run, the clear waters of the Main Salmon River, plunge deep into Idaho’s 2.4 million acre River of No Return Wilderness, “the largest contiguous federally managed wilderness in the United States outside of Alaska.” This area contains parts of three mountain ranges, a 6,000-foot-deep canyon, almost no roads or stores, and far more wildlife than people, including bears, mountain lions, wolves, and rattlesnakes. The 80 miles of river we covered holds countless rapids, vast white sand beaches, and canyons lined with steep granite cliffs.

As to logistics, I was a bit flabbergasted when I learned it would cost $475 to have our truck shuttled to the takeout, 80 miles downriver. Then I mapped the driving route and found that because of the vast wilderness area, it was a nine hour, 409 mile drive, with many miles on exceptionally rugged and remote roads. I decided maybe the $475 was quite a bargain.

Way of Life on the River

With that background info out of the way, we can get onto the part about life on the river with a primitive tribe. I better clarify things a bit here, because the tribe wasn’t really that primitive. In fact, they looked a lot like normal people. They just had some interesting, primitive customs that we had to adapt to. Our group consisted of 15 people in seven rafts. Many of these were serious outdoors people that had rafted together for 25 or so years. Three of them had spent their careers working for the US Forest Service.  Their interesting customs included:

  • They pooped in ammo cans and peed in the river. Actually, the forest service requires people to do this, otherwise this tribe might not have followed this custom. These requirements force tribal members to become pretty uninhibited about their bodily functions, often continuing a conversation while nonchalantly urinating into the river.
  • Most tribal members slept on the beach, tent-less, amongst the spiders and snakes. We did notice that after a rattlesnake encounter, two of the tribe members started sleeping in a tent, like Mary and I.
  • Upon finding a rattlesnake that made threatening gestures in the poop can vicinity, tribe members eliminated the rattlesnake. For safety’s sake, this actually made a lot of sense. I may have even taken part in this.

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

    Tribal Members on a Big Beach

  • Once at a campsite for the day, male tribe members spent a lot of time sitting in, arranging, and adjusting their rafts and gear, while the female tribe members drank intoxicating beverages and focused much of  their time on food preparation. This sort of behavior seems common to many tribes, although many primitive tribal males might focus on carving weapons rather than fiddling with rafting gear. Something that surprised me about this particular tribe was the quality and the elaborateness of meals and intoxicating beverages they prepared. It seemed to me as if the tribe had developed such a strong bond that they strived to honor each other with outstanding meals, including appetizers, side dishes, desserts, and a drink of the day. My wife and I found ourselves enjoying this custom immensely and will try to better honor tribe members during the next trip, with more elaborate gourmet food and unusual drink.
  • On the river, tribal members watched out for one another, waiting at the bottom of a rapids, ready to assist if another member needed help. Then, they generously complimented each other on river-running prowess, after avoiding the majority of boulders in a particularly challenging set of rapids. When tribal members smashed their boats into boulders, others politely pretended not to notice. I appreciated that.
  • Cooking and cleaning was accomplished without electronic appliances or devices. This also applied to communication. Rather than using texting, email, or even phone calls, people actually spoke to one another, telling jokes and breaking into spontaneous laughter.
  • On certain nights, tribal members would have celebrations and ceremonies that included dressing up, dancing, birthdays, and river stories around the campfire. They did use an electronic device (iPod and speakers), rather than traditional drums, on the dance night.

What Set this Trip Apart

Bighorn Sheep

Bighorn Sheep

On a Lower Salmon River trip we took, Mary, our daughter, Heather, and I had only each other, and Mary and I do most of our wilderness trips alone. On our Main Salmon River trip, the tribe is what really stood out. We had been a bit apprehensive about joining a group of people we didn’t know, but they turned out to be a very nice and welcoming bunch of people, with some fun customs.

One of the retired rangers told me that they had been more than a bit apprehensive about letting a raft join their group, without actually knowing the skill level of the people that would be running the rapids. I absolutely understand that, because it could be life-threatening having unskilled people on a remote wilderness whitewater trip. He assured me that after the first set of rapids, the group knew we were perfectly competent to run the river. That was nice to hear.

As we fell into the rhythm of sunny days on the river, we became tanner and more relaxed, increasingly feeling like part of the tribe. We also grew in our river-running confidence and competence. Reading rapids on the fly, and sliding effortlessly past boulders became second nature.  I had initially thought that six days sounded like a long trip, but the days streamed by and were over before I knew it. On the way home, I started thinking about our next rafting destination.

Mary & Curt