In 2018, I paddled down the coast of California to Baja, starting in Malibu and ending at Santa Rosaliita, about 580 miles. It was a self-supported trip. There is a woman who is paddling around North America, Freya Hoffmeister, who has already circumnavigated South America and Australia, as well as many smaller accomplishments. She likes to have paddling partners now, so I joined her for a stretch. She asked me to write a little for a book. Below is what I sent her, and below that are the posts I wrote while on the trip and a few photos:
Paddling with Freya was a trip I’ll always remember. I only knew of her through a mutual friend, who gave me a copy of her book about circumnavigating Australia. I followed her on Facebook and saw her posting, seeking partners to paddle with. I was working as a sea kayak guide at the time, but I hadn’t done anything remotely close to what paddling on the open coast would require. Still, I messaged her anyways, and she agreed to paddle with me. I spent the time leading up to the trip getting prepared: taking a few classes, practicing what I could, and getting my gear in order.
When we first met, I really liked her energy. She is slow to anger and takes everything in stride. For me, the trip was far outside my comfort zone, but I like to experience things that way. I had spent several months in Baja the year before, but to venture unsupported into the really remote areas was a whole different experience. Spending a month straight with a person can be challenging, but we got along well.
There is something pure about travelling that way. You’re able to focus on the day’s work; there is no need to worry about anything else. Your days are spent paddling, setting up camp, eating, with intermittent excitement. The repetitive motion is meditative and allows your mind to wander anywhere you want it to go. Feeling the muscle soreness, knowing your body is getting used to long hard days, is such a rewarding feeling.
I learned so much on this trip and got to experience places and see wildlife in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. It was a fantastic challenge, with so many great learning opportunities. I still use the tips and tricks that Freya taught me on other trips I take. I’m grateful I was able to do the trip, and I’d be happy to paddle with her any time.
I’m now two days and about 50 miles in to my kayak trip from Malibu, California to Baja with
Freya Hoffmeister. We spent the first day, when I was dropped, off shopping and preparing.
The best part of the day was getting to relax in a hot tub at the house we were staying at. Much more luxurious than expected!
Yesterday was a nice calm day for getting used to the boat and paddle, and learning Freya’s methods. She’s been great at helping me with my forward stroke and passing on tips for a long day in the boat. We saw the Santa Monica Boardwalk, some fancy LA houses and some incredibly expensive yachts, but not much in the way of natural scenery yet. I was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable the boat was for the full nine-hour day.
Today I woke up feeling less sore than expected, but that may change tomorrow! It feels great to challenge my body this way, and I’ll be used to it in no time. We had a nice foggy morning after leaving our campsite. The long stretches of beach weren’t too exciting to look at, but the paddling was relaxing and I felt more comfortable in the boat than yesterday. Also: dolphins! I’ve seen a few before from a distance, but these were almost touching our boats. We saw sea lions and plenty more dolphins throughout the day. Later on, we had some nice stretches of rocky bluffs topped with big houses to look at before finding a beautiful beach with an easy landing to camp at.
All in all, not bad!
I feel quite happy today, for several reasons! Last night we stayed at a house with a fellow kayaker from the Bay Area, Morris Ho. Freya took a tour of the Laguna Beach area and experienced an American Halloween, while I was more than happy to relax and catch up on some sleep.
The past few days I’ve had a strange elbow pain. Tired muscles and sore hands are expected, but the elbow felt different. I think I didn’t have great technique the first two days with the wing paddle I’ve been using. My stroke has improved (I hope!) but I still don’t always get it just right, leading to some uncomfortable and frustrating miles yesterday.
On a baseless suggestion from my dad, who has never even held a paddle, I switched to my Euro paddle today, not expecting any improvement. It seems like this paddle is more forgiving; my arm felt fine. I’ll use it again tomorrow and perhaps try again with the faster wing once everything has a chance to recover. This chance is much appreciated!
Today we had some great scenery too, and plenty of nice fun rocky areas. It was calm again which is fine with me, although Freya might have been happier with more interesting conditions. The water was clear enough that we could see fish below, and one close dolphin. I can’t wait to do some snorkeling!
Again tonight we have a cozy place to sleep. We came to a state beach campground and asked a woman if we could put our tents at the edge of her site. The friends she was waiting for couldn’t make it, so we were happy to eat the food meant for them and keep her company. It worked for everybody!
Made it to Mexico today!
We had a nice weekend off to let the muscles recover and make our Mexican paperwork official. Freya gave a talk in San Diego. The talk was about her circumnavigation of South America. It was interesting but hearing some of the stories made me second-hand nervous! Fortunately, Cape Horn is not on the planned route for this trip.
On Monday, we were back on the water for my longest day yet, 28.3 miles. This would have been fine with freshly well rested muscles, but we had an unpleasant headwind for the last several hours. Finding a place to stay was again difficult and time consuming. After two Uber rides, the help of a Good Samaritan, a three-block walk with a kayak trolley, and a flight of stairs, we were able to get some good rest in a kayak shop in La Jolla. Thanks Jen!
On Tuesday, a fellow sea kayaker, Gary, helped us get to the beach and paddled with us for a while. We passed some cool sea caves and I enjoyed talking to him and trying to get pictures of a sea lion family. We’ll see if any come out! We were promised another headwind, so I preferred to cut across the bays we passed to get as far as possible before it came. Fortunately it never really manifested.
Crossing the San Diego Bay entrance was pretty interesting. The tide and wind clashed creating some more dynamic water. It reminded me of the times I paddled in the San Francisco Bay. The paddling was the easiest part of the day; finding a campsite for our last night in the US was a long ordeal. We ended up doing three landings and two launches. The final landing was in the dark in the biggest surf out of the three. It was a little nerve-wracking but worked out fine. Now I can say I did a surf landing in the dark. I did have an embarrassing capsize on my first landing but the next two were good.
We did eventually get to our campsite, after another hour and a half or so of shenanigans.
Today, it was only a few miles to get to the border. We saw up to five US helicopters at a time, shameful! We had no trouble crossing to Mexico at all and enjoyed the nice tailwind and fresh scenery, especially the dolphins! My body has now adapted pretty well to the long paddling days and from here on it should be lots of easy beach camping (and tacos..?) It’s good to be in Baja!
Beach west of Rancho El Refugio
It’s been an interesting few days. We woke up to some tent-shaking wind on the day we paddled to Ensenada. Being a Tomales Bay veteran, I’m not at all unfamiliar with paddling in the wind, but wind on the open coast has the added psychological factor. Freya made it clear she wanted to go but let me decide if I was comfortable with it. Fortunately, going was a good choice and we only had a few hours of wind, followed by a totally calm afternoon. There is incredible clear green water here.
Victor picked us up when we arrived in Ensenada, and it was refreshing to stay in a nice apartment with laundry and shower. He showed us a tasty taco place and I was reunited with Jamaica, my favorite Mexican drink.
The next day we had a meeting with an admiral from the Mexican Navy. They were extremely friendly and their help with storage and transportation at the end of the trip will be invaluable. We did some browsing of the tourist area of the city and refrained from buying anything extra to carry in the kayaks. A cruise ship was in town and the salespeople were extremely forward with their attempts to get customers into the shops (including pharmacies!). Afterwards Victor dropped us off at the grocery store for a long shopping session to get three weeks worth of food.
Yesterday, Victor joined us for paddling to his kayak tour bunk house in La Bufadora. We were able to paddle empty kayaks for the first time on the trip, this was a nice change. Definitely faster but less stable, especially when not in motion.
We got to play around near shore in some rocky areas with arches and caves, really beautiful. This long, delicate boat is not the ideal rock garden boat, but there was plenty to enjoy. And purple sea urchins!
We got to enjoy one more night of hospitality before heading out into a very long stretch of backcountry this morning. It could be three weeks before we can shop for food; we’re not likely to have much more cell service, and getting water may be a challenge.
Today we had good weather and a nice view of a small wildfire. The smoke made the sunlight really beautiful; it looked like an early sunset. Actual sunset crept up on us today when our goal landing spot turned out to have very big surf. We had to paddle further but luckily Freya was able to pick out a steep stony beach with good landing conditions just before we ran out of light.
Thanks Jen, Shan, & Victor!
Here is my final expedition update:
And this is the end of this kayak trip! We ended the trip a bit early in Santa Rosaliita due to a minimum of six days of high swell and some wind coming.
The lonely stretch of coastline we just completed was one of the reasons I wanted to join Freya on this section of her trip. From just south of San Quintín it’s around 185 miles until the next town; worse, there is a long section of maybe 90 miles with very few well protected landing spots.
To prepare, we had stocked up on food back in Ensenada and borrowed some extra empty water bags. We knew we had bad weather coming so we paddled for eleven days straight to use the time we had. On one day with big swell we landed at offshore Isla San Martín to have a safe landing.
The next day our options were to land after only a very short distance or to risk having a rough landing in that day’s larger swell in an exposed area. With beginner’s enthusiasm (foolishness…?) I suggested a third option: paddling to the next day’s goal, our last certain water source. This was 43 miles of tedious open water crossing. The best excitement of the crossing was when I tossed a mealy apple over my shoulder and a seagull swooped in to grab the treasure. We landed at night in low surf, greeted by three men with guns, no doubt to make sure we weren’t rival fishermen sneaking in under cover of darkness. Tired but happy to set a new distance record for myself, we weighed down our kayaks with almost 70 liters of water total to continue paddling the next day.
Fortunately Freya has a well-practiced talent of finding the best landing spots by looking at satellite images. We did have some challenging landings and launchings but never had to worry about staying out all night, something I had prepared myself for.
The Pacific Coast of Baja is incredible, rugged and wild. It does have more people than expected, at fishing camps the outdated satellite images don’t show. We had plenty of dolphins, sea lions, birds, and lobster fisherman.
We spent last Thursday through Saturday off for wind on Playa Cuchillo and used this time relaxing, hiking, and reading after many days of paddling. There is a line somewhere between relaxing and boredom, and we definitely took a step over it. By the end of the rest day my muscles had recovered and I was eager to be somewhere new. Chores were done, my Kindle was almost empty, and we had both walked in every direction from our camp.
We still had plenty of water and battery life in our various electronics. While we were technically fine on food (one can survive on pasta for a long time), I can say it felt like we were desperately low on good food. We did have some wonderful culinary surprises: a fisherman brought us four big grilled lobster tails at one camp, and two American surfers and spear fishermen gave us a couple of freshly caught fish to cook on Playa Cuchillo. In Santa Rosaliita I was finally able to introduce Freya to the wonders of machaca.
We spent two days at a room at the wonderful Abarrotes Jessy’s doing cleanup and making travel plans (gracias por todo Maru Ojeda!) We have had many transfers on the route back, including a pickup truck to drop off the boats for storage, a police car that had to turn on lights and sirens when our bus passed us without stopping to pick us up as we were eating breakfast, an eight-hour luxury bus ride back to La Bufadora, and my favorite part, a car ride with a stop for tacos & churros with Jen back to San Diego.
I’m still enroute back to my truck. (Is it really general knowledge that you can’t rent a car with a debit card or cash? This is a long bus ride!). I’m looking forward to getting to see friends and family again.
We had amazing weather for most of the trip, but enough interesting days to grow my skills. I learned a lot, particularly about paddling, surf landings, and expedition planning, and got to meet some wonderful people and see some beautiful places. All in all it was a great challenge and fun, too. Thanks for the opportunity Freya!
Total number of:
Miles: 582 (937km)
Paddling days: 25
Hours on buses: 19
Footrest adjustments: 37