Thursday, February 11, 2016

National Parks Bucket List: Channel Islands National Park, California

Recently, Daniel and I have started to be bitten by the travel bug. I think it's a combination from having steady, non-minimum wage type income, along with nearing the end of our Master's programs - it's making us realize we're going to have more ability and means to experience different things going forward!

So with that introduces our current outdoor travel goal... to hit every USA National Park! We started this past January with our first - Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Ventura, California, while we were out on the west coast visiting our friends, Laura and Mitchell!

It was an interesting experience, though not my most favorite at the time. Between the plane ride, 6 hour round-trip road trip up the coast, the boat ride out to the island and back, and then being on the open water... I've been reminded that as much as my motion sickness has improved from its severity when I was a kid, it is still in full effect when it wants to be - like when on the Pacific Ocean! 

Our trip started at 5AM with a three hour drive north of San Diego to Ventura, taking us through LA and we even got to see the Hollywood sign for the first time! We elected to do a guided kayaking tour, so we arrived, checked in, and were briefed on the trip ahead.... From there, we boarded the boat. The boat ride - I have to say - was worth it, in and of itself! They don't simply treat this shuttle service like a shuttle - we stopped, slowed and even changed direction several times to be able to spot wildlife, including dolphin pods, a humpback whale (!!!) and sea lions.

Unfortunately, I lasted about 15 minutes of the hour and a half boat ride before I had to sit and brace myself to keep from vomiting all over the floor... oops.

Attempting to look like I'm enjoying myself while glued to the (cold and windy) back of the boat with these random people I didn't know, where it was supposedly "best for motion sickness"....
Given that winter is not necessarily prime time groups think about going out onto the ocean, our boat was actually relatively empty, unlike this photo alludes to! However, that gave us only one option for which of the four islands to visit if we wanted a guided kayaking trip - so we ended up visiting Santa Cruz island. My other top choice was to visit Anacapa Island because of some of the views highlighted by the National Park Service, but Santa Cruz didn't disappoint by any means!

The pier at Santa Cruz is busted, so you have to take a small motorized raft from the boat to shore, and luckily, because we were in the kayaking group, we were the second to go - thank goodness! I was so happy to plant my feet on land... not really processing that kayaking would be right back out on that ocean. I have put in a lot of time in kayaks and canoes in the Adirondacks and Finger Lakes and honestly didn't even consider my sea sickness/motion sickness when getting excited for this trip -a mistake I won't make again. But we'll get to that...

So, once on dry land, we got suited and geared up for the brisk air and water temperatures with gear -all seamlessly provided by our guides from Santa Barbara Adventure Company, which I would highly recommend working with, based on the knowledge, professionalism and level of comfort our two guides brought to our trip.

Ready to go! Mitchell apologizes for blocking my face :-)

And with that, we set off on the water. The plan was to head up one side of the coast, cross back over our starting point in case anyone wanted to be done at that point (about 1.5 hours in), and then do the other half of the island.

Mitchell and Laura head off!

View of the busted pier from the water... I was stunned by how blue the ocean was even with the cloudy day we went on!
From there, we had an amazing experience. We saw a lot of cool birds (our guide worked for the local Audubon group and bonded with Laura and Daniel over their excitement of the animals!), went through sea caves (SO cool!), and the guide gave me candied ginger (it was chewy like a tootsie roll!) to attempt to help me with my motion sickness... he was so nice, understanding and empathetic to my situation, mentioning how often he'd dealt with it.

Water got on the lens and I couldn't figure out how to get rid of it on the water :(

Needless to say, at the halfway point, I was done. Laura and Mitchell were some of the few troopers out of our group who kept going and kayaked the other half of the island too - proud of them!! I am so grateful to have experienced that, but sea kayaking is something I'm content with never experiencing... ever again. BUT - I am so thankful that we did end up stepping off, because it gave me some time to gather my equilibrium a little bit, and Daniel and I got to take a 2 mile loop hike around the island, which included seeing their endemic fox species (it only lives on these islands and is highly protected, and thus not afraid of humans at all), and we also got to see one of the best views in the Channel Islands!

Ladies and gentleman... Cavern Point:

One of the most breathtaking and transcendential experiences I've had to date. We crested a hill and the view emerged... it was amazing.

gotta ask fellow visitors for a couple photo!

From there, we finished the hike out, back to our meeting place... with just about 10 minutes to spare before catching the boat ride back.

All in all, National Park #1 out of 59 absolutely did not disappoint... aside from my sickness, but that shortly subsided and I'm left with nothing but amazing memories and grateful feelings.

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