Lifestyle

KITSAP EXCURSIONS: Traveling Kitsap by water trail

Joker’s Peace attempts Paddle Kitsap,

ends up capsized

in Liberty Bay.

This weekend kayakers from around the country will be descending on the Kitsap Peninsula for a paddle of colossal proportions.

Paddle Kitsap is a two-day, 35-nautical-mile voyage around the North End of the Peninsula, from Port Gamble to Hansville to Kingston to Poulsbo.

Slated as a two-day trip with a barbecue and bash in Kingston heralding the end of Day 1, the course and event were designed by a local group of paddling pioneers led by John Kuntz of Poulsbo’s Olympic Outdoor Center.

“I had this idea in 1994,” Kuntz said. “It’s just that I never had the wherewithal to do it.”

But this year ushered in the formation of the North Kitsap Trails Association which became the impetus for Paddle Kitsap’s emergence. The NKTA is a group dedicated to creating and preserving a network of trails throughout the North End for present and future generations. Falling right into the framework of that idea was the idea for this north peninsula-encompassing water trail.

“We could make it six miles and have every recreational paddler do it, or we could make it longer and make it more challenging,” Kuntz said of the trail, which he and a crew pioneered earlier this spring. “What that does is gets the (kayak) enthusiasts involved.”

Though I’m a beginner and absolutely a recreational kayaker, I wanted to take the water trail to provide a view from the proverbial cockpit.

AT THE DOCK

Kayakers don’t wear socks. Especially not black socks. They look ridiculous with board shorts and a life vest.

That’s the first and foremost rule of paddling which I learned stepping onto the Poulsbo dock at Liberty Bay preparing to climb into a eight-foot long kayak for a first-person Kitsap paddle (albeit backwards from Poulsbo to Port Gamble).

Rule No. 2 — never capsize in Liberty Bay. But we’ll get to that later.

“Are you wearing socks?” the dock mistress, Megan Grandall, asked in astonishment.

“Of course not,” I replied, trying to play off the fact that this was my first time in a kayak in about three years, and I was attempting to navigate the biggest body of water I’d ever set sail in.

Once the socks were off, Grandall ran myself and my kayaking partner, North Kitsap Herald staff writer Kelly Joines, through the spiel of how to work the vessels and what to do in the event of a capsize.

Capsize, I scoffed, in Liberty Bay? That’s out of the question for me. Don’t you know there’s been almost a million gallons of raw sewage leaked into that bay over the past five years? Seriously. But I digress.

I tried unsuccessfully not to think about all that nastiness as I boarded my kayak, not-so-gracefully, allowing a little bit of bay water to slosh inside.

We paddled past the harbor seals and boat moorage at the Poulsbo dock and headed toward Keyport and the mouth of Liberty Bay.

AND THEY’RE OFF

About midway through the beginning of our excursion, I got a little overzealous with my newfound paddling skill and challenged my kayaking companion to a race.

It should be noted that Joines used to be a kayak instructor. She’s a two-legged mermaid type that’s been either kayaking or on the water for most of her life. Myself, it was my first time paddling on open water, my only other kayaking experience having been short stints just for fun in a river I grew up near in a landlocked desert.

But I was getting the hang of it, getting into the groove, swiveling the entire upper body in the motion of the paddle, keeping a fairly straight ahead course, and enjoying that gliding feeling.

So ... “Ya wanna race,” I said.

Of course, she was game.

Ready ... set ... go ... and we were off. Well, she was off. I was at a frenzied standstill, digging my paddle into the water in a figure eight, swiveling feverishly, splashing water everywhere, including some more inside the kayak. I nearly dumped myself into Liberty Bay, repeatedly.

It was halfway through the race, when my foot went completely numb and I realized that kayaking is not a sport for the big and tall.

That tingling, burning, sleeping feeling traveled from my foot up my calf until I basically couldn’t move my leg.

Each time I tried to reposition the dead weight, I would compromise the all-important forces of balance. And then, it happened.

Trying to regain feeling in my leg, pulling my knee to my chest mid-paddle, my vessel leaned, in slow-motion none the less, until it finally dumped me into the middle of Liberty Bay.

I squelched. I could hear the seals laughing, along with my racing nemesis who had by now crossed the finish line with ease and was ready for more. But I was ready to dock. And shower. No Paddling Kitsap for me this year.

That’s another aspect of Paddle Kitsap, which organizers hope will become an annual affair.

“The people that want to can paddle farther and see more, while it gets those recreational people thinking I want to Paddle Kitsap next year,” Kuntz said.

Check out www.paddlekitsap.com for tips on preparation, and the North Kitsap water trail.

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