“Sort-of-Sabbatical” Day Seven, Saturday June 9
Today’s travel involves not a motorcycle so much as a boat. Because that’s the only way to get to Channel Islands National Park. The gray misty morning sea departure brings back childhood memories of ocean fishing, and, although I’m not sure why I didn’t see it coming, standing at the bow of the boat, feeling the wind and the spray, smelling the clean brisk salty air, and hearing all the sounds of the sea is turning out to be an unexpectedly powerful experience. How happy I am! And now – look! - here’s something new to add to my experience, even before we land. A pod of dolphins, perhaps 50 or more, has decided to accompany us on our way, leaping about, playing in the wake, and doing all those things I’ve only read about. I look down and there is one, practically at my feet. It’s barely a foot under water, and at most, a foot away from the starboard side at the bow. I watch him rolling and flying along at high speed, keeping in perfect formation with the boat, not for a fleeting second, but for minutes upon minutes. I can imagine the turbulence he must feel as I see him roll this way and that, pointed snout piercing through the transparent forces of streaming water, and it recalls my feeling of riding in a strong headwind. But somehow this seems a joyous and playful battle, and I can do nothing other than hold my breath and watch in wonder at the strength, grace and spirit of the spectacular animals surrounding me.
So, no. No dolphin photographs for you. But here’s one of the ocean spray.
Channel Islands National Park is comprised of five of the eight California Channel Islands, and I’m headed to Santa Cruz Island for a few reasons. Boat trips to each island do not happen every day, and this one fits my schedule. And as intriguing as kayaking around Anacapa Island sounds (already added it to the never ending “to do” list), I’m not equipped or skilled in this department. I really want to hike, and all research tells me the hike to do is on Santa Cruz Island. This particular island is interesting since part of it is owned by the National Park Service and the other, larger part by The Nature Conservancy. The islands were decimated by sheep – by that I mean grazed completely bald right down to the dirt - and The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is considered the most beautiful, since it has had 10 more years to recover from the ovine assault than any other part of the park.
The fog graciously lifts as we approach the island.
Access to The Nature Conservancy portion of the island is highly restricted, and those of us hiking to Pelican Bay must be accompanied by a guide. I much prefer to hike on my own, but Joel is friendly and informative and doesn’t keep our leash too short. Right off the bat, he points out that the bird that has landed in a small tree just out of our reach is an Island Scrub Jay, found nowhere in the world but on this very island. In fact, some in our guided group have made the trip solely to see this bird. He points out “roadside produce,” as I call it: wild fennel (not native to the island) and Lemonade Berries (yes, the sticky coating around them tastes just like it) and has a stash of hidden artifacts of the Chumash people who inhabited the islands long ago. And the hike is definitely, definitely worth it.
We hike down and up several small canyons, and under twisty gnarled trees that only partially conceal the marine paradise below…
…and over grassy hills where where we catch our first glimpse of our destination…
…along with a sparkling view of where we began.
We have some time to explore Pelican Bay on our own. The water really is this tropical aquamarine color!
And the childhood memories resurface as I poke about the tide pools.
As I return to the mainland, and later, my campground, I think that the bar has been set very, very high indeed. And despite there being very few miles added to the Ducati's odometer, nor anything decent at all to eat, I wonder, can the rest of my trip possibly live up to this day?