Spring Waters 2015 – A Sea Kayak in the Desert

by Nancy Soares on September 21, 2015

Editor’s note: Thanks to Rebekah Kakuk and Robert Kendall for being my travel buddies and helping with the photos.

Robert and Stella, the beautiful Tsunami X-O

Robert and Stella, the beautiful Tsunami X-O, at Borax Lake

Sometimes we deviate from sea kayaking and wander into the desert. As Tsunami Ranger Capt. Jim Kakuk heads off to Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada and the smoke from thousands of acres of burning forest rises from the Rogue Valley my mind drifts back to my annual pilgrimage to the hot springs of Eastern Oregon: Spring Waters 2015. And yes, there’s kayaking involved.

Rebekah takes a turn on the lake

Rebekah takes a turn on the lake

This was my fourth tour in the Alvord Desert. The first time I didn’t bring a kayak. The next three times I did, because there’s water in that there desert. One of the most astonishing things to me about deserts is how they actually have quite a bit of water. In fact, they have all the water they need. Man is the one always wanting more.

Dang, it wasn't too hot to soak in last year...

Dang, it wasn’t too hot to soak in last year…

In the desert, the very lack of water makes every tank, wash, river, creek, pool, lake, reservoir and spring significant. Water is always on one’s mind. Do I have enough? How can I conserve? Where/when can I get more? Is it drinkable? Is my pee clear? And there are kayaking opportunities in the desert. Naturally we think of the Colorado River, and others of that ilk. But there are smaller, more secret opportunities if you’re interested in what you might call the Huckleberry Finn approach to water travel. That’s my kind of desert kayaking.

Just follow this road...

Just follow this road…

The first time I went to the Alvord, I discovered Borax Lake. At Borax Lake crystal clear mineral water comes up at 10,000 gallons per minute from two sources forming a lake of roughly 9 acres. A wide swath of built-up tufa around the edges of the lake makes entering a bit challenging. This is why I wanted a kayak – to get past the tufa and out onto the lake so I could look down at the sources. Also, it just seemed really cool to take a sea kayak out on a giant hot lake in the middle of a desert. To check out some really hot water, click on the video link below.

This water’s too hot!

This year I got my wish. In April, Rebekah, Robert, and I drove to Borax Lake and Robert and I schlepped the Tsunami X-O to the edge. It’s about a quarter mile or so hike through soft tufa. We took turns paddling out. Taking my trusty pool thermometer, I checked the water temperature: 92 degrees. The water at Borax allegedly issues from the source at 103 degrees, but you never can tell with undeveloped hot springs. Later, we tried to soak in a pool we used last year, but at 114 degrees it was too hot. Temperatures vary. In fact, we were told that the water at Borax periodically comes up in a big superheated belch that could scald you in seconds. Oh, and did I mention that the lake and the surrounding pools are full of arsenic that will kill you if swallowed?

But it looks so benign!

But it looks so benign!

I’m not sure if the rumor about the superheated belches is true, but it’s certainly possible, and the upwelling water created a spooky blue eye in the center of the lake. I was the first to paddle out, and let me tell you, it gave me the heebie-jeebies. I have heard of people swimming in the lake, and part of me wanted to jump in and swim around in the clear, warm water. But when I looked down, all I could see was the water growing darker and darker as it disappeared into the depths, and some bubbles on the surface to indicate the sources.

Paddling out to the Great Eye

Paddling out to the Great Eye

I’m no coward, but the thought of paddling over that big, blue eye set me back a bit. I reminded myself that my friends were on shore (yeah, a lot of good that’d do if a superheated upwelling occurred or some crazy, giant monster rose up from the depths of the earth. Balrog!!!) I hovered nervously around the little bubbles bursting on the water’s surface and then paddled vigorously toward the shallows. Once I could see the bottom again, I relaxed and started to explore. There were ducks floating (alive) near the edge at one end, and I found a place where the bottom was solid with some kind of porous rock that would allow a would-be swimmer access to the lake without having to sink knee-deep in powdered tufa.

I guess the ducks don't mind the arsenic...

I guess the ducks don’t mind the arsenic…

It was really beautiful out on the lake. The longer I stayed, the more comfortable I felt. I still don’t fancy swimming there, although if I could go in with other people I might be willing. But those stories of scalding water just made me not want to do it, and neither did Rebekah or Robert. So after we took some photos and we each took our turn paddling, we sauntered off in search of a hot pool to soak in.

Looking for hot pools

Looking for hot pools

Using the pool thermometer, we located a nice little glory hole just about right for three. (This one’s tooooo hot. This one’s tooooo cold!)

This one's just right!

This one’s juuust right!

We spent some time soaking, hidden in the tall grass, looking up at the big, beautiful desert sky, watching Cloud TV. Then we went back to camp. Another great day with a sea kayak in the desert!

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A Paddler’s Journey by Bryant Burkhardt – Review

by Nancy Soares on August 31, 2015

Read this book!

Read this book!

An adventure is an outing where the outcome is uncertain. – Bryant Burkhardt

This book does not disappoint. Bryant has done it all, from dodging icebergs in Alaska and exploring the Channel Islands to creeking in L.A. and captaining the U.S. National Kayak Polo Team. His kayaking resume is truly amazing. It’s a testament to how one person can not only dedicate his life to the pursuit of paddling but cover almost every aspect of our sport in the process.

As I read the book, I learned to both like and admire Mr. Burkhardt for his thoughtfulness, commitment, and sheer determination. The book covers his introduction to kayaking and the subsequent development of his skills into those of an all around master of the sport. But the book isn’t just the story of how to develop all those skills; it’s the story of someone who discovered his path in life through his passion for kayaking. Along the way, Bryant develops a philosophy of life through kayaking. I enjoyed the description of a student kayaker turned teacher. As a teacher myself, I loved his discovery that teaching makes you better. If you want to get better at kayaking, teach it. Teaching also nets you paddling partners.

I also loved his emphasis on the importance of appropriate paddling partners. Getting to know “sonofabitch” Pedro and others who assisted Bryant on his journey was fun. Without our paddling buddies where would we be? It was great too reading about his introduction to surfing and the story of his first wipeout – ah, yes, the first big trouncing at the hands of the sea.

One of the things that made Bryant’s story really stand out to me was how he describes the lessons about ego he learned on his journey, particularly during his experience with the UCLA Instructor Training Course and during his kayak polo years. “Pride is a delicate thing,” he writes. Ego can drive you to succeed but it can also wear you down. In one chapter, Bryant compares an outing with a team of friends on the Merced to kayak polo: “If it had been a polo game, the morning would have been a harsh defeat. But that’s the difference between competition and recreation, between losing a game and facing a setback. It’s also the difference between men fighting for their egos and a group supporting each other against adversity. When bad things happen on the river, everyone comes together and turns it into a win.” Good stuff.

A Paddler’s Journey is a well-written story of one person’s discovery of a life path through kayaking but one of the things that made me like his book the most was Bryant’s emphasis on how important the human element is to our sport. In the beginning, it’s push, push, push to learn the skills, meet the challenges, and keep raising the bar on personal achievement. All this is admirable, but as he understands at the end of his solo expedition to Haida Gwaii, it’s the people, not just the paddling, that make kayaking so special: “No longer worried about accomplishments, kayaking became a means to an end and not an end in itself; a medium to reach other people and enjoy beautiful places. Part of me still wanted to push myself, to use my skill and experience to do something cool. But not alone this time.” And again, “The drive to reach a goal had taken away some of the pleasure (of the trip). That drive can be a good thing, urging you to greater heights and personal accomplishment. But a focus on results undercuts the joy of the journey itself.”

Follow Bryant through the highs and lows of a career in kayaking: self-doubt, fatigue, injury, and burnout vie with the satisfaction of plans carried out, the thrill as each new skill is mastered, the joy of meeting like-minded people, and the sheer jubilation of accessing the amazing places only accessible to kayakers. This is the best of good kayaking. For Bryant Burkhardt, kayaking has truly been a path to understanding, acceptance, and maturity. Buy this book, and don’t forget to check out Bryant’s blog at www.paddleca.com. Thanks, Bryant, for a wonderful, entertaining read!

You can purchase A Paddler’s Journey by going to http://www.bryantburkhardtkayaking.com/bookindex.html I highly recommend it.

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