Friday off to a late start Karen and I are on our way by 9:30. The weekend is already off to a good start, with little traffic we were checked in at Nickerson State Park by a cheery park ranger with a delightfully pronounced New England accent (or was it we speaking with Jersey accents?)
After unloading all of our gear we are ready to set up camp when a car pulled into our site and the driver asked if this is site 114. Yes, said I pensively. I’m supposed to camp here says he. We compare paperwork and sadly realize that he is devastatingly correct. We are at the correct site number but in the wrong section of this huge park. We repack the car and head 2½ miles down the road from section 2 to our correct site in the section 6 extension.
We are supposed to meet up with Lee and Bob to circumnavigate Strong Island, launching from Round Cove, Pleasant Bay however by now it’s too late so I call Lee and tell him to launch without us.
After setting up camp Karen and I decide to paddle the perimeter of Cliff Lake, located within the park. It’s a quiet paddle, just right to start the process of unwinding after 6 hours in the car.
We meet Lee, Bob, Mo and his wife Ro at Skippers in West Yarmouth for dinner and to discuss the next day’s paddle. I hate tide charts when they become my master requiring me to open my eyes in the middle of the night at 5:00 while the sun and most beings, with the faculty of thought, have the wisdom to remain asleep. It is solely for this reason, I believe, a merciful G-d has distributed Dunkin Donuts in strategic locations throughout the civilized world.
We meet at Sears Point in Chatham, My eyes still barely open perceive big winds and big surf. Wishing not to be dead we agree to head for a more protected launch. After a second ocean launch proves no less turbulent we move to the protected environs of the Pamet River in Truro. A lovely quiet paddle through tall sea grass trails and then back to the bay, having lunch on a beach by the bays inlet we watch the white caps in the ocean beyond the bay then head back to the launch.
After dinner at the Lost Dog Pub in Orleans we decide to attempt launching from Sears Point in Chatham the next morning (Sunday). Blessedly the tides are running an hour later.
We launch to calmer seas. With the wind on our backs and a favorable tide we make the 8 mile trip to the lighthouse on Monomoy Island Federal Wildlife Preserve in two hours (record time).
We hike the dunes to the far side of the island where we have lunch on the beach. Three or four curious seals (one at a time) float by, just off shore no more than 20 feet from us.
After hiking back to the lighthouse Lee, Karen and I decide to hike to the far end of the island to Powder Hole, (kettle pond) which I am told was visible from the top of the lighthouse. Mo having spent yesterday with Ro hiking around Provincetown, through craft fairs and art exhibits, decides to go directly back to the boats and sit this one out.
On the trail we spot a harrier hawk, a magnificent creature we had not expected to see and several sets of coyote tracks. After seeing kettle pond we decide, rather than hike back the way we came in, to keep going till we hit the beach and walk back on the beach. We shortly see an apparition. On the top of a high dune sits a wise man with a red cooler chest. Lee shouts up to him asking if the trail runs to the beach. He answers no. Karen decides to hike up to the Guru to seek further council while Lee and I continue on our quest for the beach. We signal Karen to join us before we lose sight of her.
The three of us trudge on along the burning sands, the illusive beach getting ever closer, then farther as we switch back along our newly forged trail. We can see the beach over the top of some foot high scrub which is supporting a healthy growth of poison ivy. I decide to go for it. 150 feet later we are in a tidal pool, the beach in view just beyond it. We decide that walking along the edge, knee deep in salt water would be a good thing. The scrub disappears behind us in several hundred feed. I find a path across the sand to the beach. Upon reaching the beach I raise my arms heavenward and give a celebratory shout. Tied to a bush on the beach is an abandoned Mylar party balloon, I pick it up and read its message. It says Congratulations! I smile broadly.
We head back to our boats which are a mile or so along the beach. About half way back there is a tidal pool that the receding tide has turned into a sluice as the rapidly moving foot deep water exits into the sea, carrying with it any marine life captured within it. Several dozen sea lions and seals are stationed at its mouth awaiting its bounty. They are only 10 feet from shore and don’t spook as I approach the water’s edge. I imagine that they believe there is strength in numbers and do not wish to lose their place in line. We watch in fascination for several minutes before resuming our journey.
Along the way I see our Guru of the Red cooler chest. Approaching I ask if he was the visage on the top of the dune. He is headed back to his motor boat and lets us know that Mo, who he met on his way out, is safe and anxiously awaiting our return.
We load our boats and head home. The wind that sped us here in record time is now undiminished and in our faces. The homeward paddle takes four hours. To the amusement of spectators, we, now stiffened to near paralysis, attempt to exit our boats and to the accompaniment of creaking joints try to stand up to a non-Neanderthal position and re-acquire, with great difficulty, our land legs. The best narcotic for the pain we feel is its association with the great day of paddling just experienced. We get back in time to witness a beautiful sunset with a full moonrise and agree to touch base around 9:00 tomorrow morning (Monday) to plan a short paddle before the long ride home. Lee, Mo and Ro meet for a late dinner at Yings, Korean, Thai, Sushi Restaurant in Hyannis, while Karen and I go back to the Lost Dog which is only 3 miles from Nickerson State Park.
I awaken at 7:00 to the realization that I am alive, were I not, I do not imagine that the stiffness and pain in my muscles would be as severe. A hot shower and two aspirin later the medical necessity of coffee is making itself known. We pack up our campsite and by the time we reach Wellfleet Harbor and our launch for the day the need to paddle overwhelms the desire for coma. We meet Dave who will join Lee, Karen and me for the day. Mo and Ro opt for a walking tour of Wellfleet.
At the put in several thousand two inch long silver colored fish are schooling. I watch the patterns formed by the chaos of their movement, the swirls and undefined, unregulated motion of thousands of moving bodies. We paddle out about an hour to a sea grass marsh and have lunch at its far end then paddle back out before the outgoing tide makes it too shallow and we have to walk back.
The high sand cliffs that surround this side of the harbor look surreal in their subtle shadings of orange, rust and brown.
By 3:00 we are loaded up and ready for the trip home. Tired bordering on exhaustion, we say goodbye. I feel a deep sorrow for any who do not participate in a sport such as this, who have never known the peace, contentment, beauty and sheer wonder of this experience.