For long stretches on Tuesday afternoon, the Sammamish River belonged only to me. Well, to me, an occasional dragonfly, and a few meandering ducks.
I started from the Park at Bothell Landing, where I rented a single kayak from Whats Sup Stand Up Paddle and Kayak. An employee of Whats Sup helped me board my boat and pushed me off from a small dock at the edge of the river.
When I asked how far toward Lake Washington I could go in under an hour, he said that “three bridges and back” was a good rule of thumb.
Kayaking a river like the Sammamish is different than kayaking a large lake or bay. The enclosed environment keeps houses and other buildings hidden for much of the journey. The high brush and tree cover protect the river from city noise. Unlike on a lake, there are no motorized watercrafts vying for space, and unlike on the Puget Sound, there are no waves to rock your boat.
After several minutes of paddling, I came to an especially calm portion of the river. The dock was no longer in sight. No other kayakers or paddle boarders appeared. A gaggle of Canadian geese floated along the riverbank. I stopped paddling. I let my boat drift.
And I realized, it had been a long time since I’d experienced actual quiet. Leaves-rustling-in-the-trees quiet. Wind-rippling-the-water quiet. It was a blissful and much-needed break.
With locations at the Park at Bothell Landing and at Log Boom Park in Kenmore, Whats Sup Stand Up Paddle and Kayak rents stand up paddle boards and single and double kayaks of both the “sit on top” and “sit in” varieties. According to an employee at Whats Sup, the “sit on top” boats are actually the most stable for beginners, though the small holes in the bottom of the kayak do mean a lot more moisture.
Other nearby rental locations include Northwest Paddle Surfers in Kirkland, Issaquah Paddle Sports on Lake Sammamish, Cascade Paddlesports in Bellevue, Blue Heron Landing in Bothell, and at Alki Kayak Tours in West Seattle.
In order to get some more kayaking tips, I spoke to two experienced local kayakers: Jane Carter and Bill Coyner.
Jane Carter has been at the sport for about 25 years. She kayaks mostly for the “critters:” birds, sea stars, salamanders, and other creatures.
“When I first started kayaking, I went up to Barkley Sound in Canada, which is one of the primo kayaking places,” Carter said.
Usually though, she and her husband go out for shorter day trips. Chambers Creek in Steilacoom out to Chambers Bay (near the golf course) is one of their most common routes.
“We’re pretty low key,” she said. “You can’t really bird watch and stuff if there’s too many people whooping and hollering.”
Other trips Carter recommends: Discovery Bay near Port Townsend, Ketron Island, and Penrose State Park.
Bill Coyner has been kayaking for about five years. He also enjoys encountering wildlife on his excursions. “There are numerous harbor seals that are curious of the kayak and they sometimes get quite close,” he said.
But mostly, Coyner is in it for the solitude.
“Whether kayaking in an urban waterway setting or in a remote area, you are the sole occupant of the kayak,” he said. “You are always analyzing the waves and water and constantly making adjustments to keep the vessel upright. I find it relaxing to focus on this single mission in life while on the water.”
When kayaking alone, which he often does, he always wears a life jacket and stays close to the shoreline for safety.
Coyner typically kayaks on local lakes and out on the Puget Sound. Calmer waters with acceptable wind and swell height are key, he said.
And though summer is coming to an end swifter than most of us would like, Coyner said kayaking isn’t just for the June-July-August months.
“Rain doesn’t matter. Cold weather is not much of a problem,” he said. “No special gear required other than hat, rain gear or coat and gloves.”
It’s comforting to know that even after our beloved Pacific Northwest summer is over, we can still track down a little outdoor solitude.
My next kayaking trip to try: the Mercer Slough Nature Park. I plan to rent a boat at Cascade Paddlesports at Enatai Beach Park and paddle from there into the slough.