Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Back door" opens new Delta paddling view

“Back door guests are best,” reads the sign over Mama's back porch. Which means that when you really like some folks, you just want them to come on in and make themselves at home.

So it was nice to receive an invitation from Dan Arbuckle of The Headwaters kayak shop for a “back door” Delta tour with the Lodi Paddle Club. As noted in a previous post, Dan knows this area well, while I tend to get lost in department stores. Another reason this paddle was not to be missed.

Dan approaches the "back door" -- where is it? (Photo courtesy of  Jim Snyder)
More than two dozen other paddlers apparently felt the same way, as we gathered at the Cosumnes River Preserve near Lodi last Saturday. Our group ranged from newbies to people

who paddle a lot and have some fancy boats to show for it. But we all shared an interest in exploring the preserve’s Middle and Lost sloughs, which took us to a “back door” that offers the only immediate access from the preserve to this part of the Delta.

Lordy, this couldn’t be it, I thought as we paddled up to a winding little brush-choked place that was about the size of, well, a back door. Though the tidal influence was with us, the water was still only inches deep at the crossing spot. By the time we returned, about three hours later, it had dropped to mud in some places. Not to mention those logs and rocks that had been hidden underwater. Glad I took “Sunny,” a well-used plastic kayak with lots of character lines – which some might mistake for a scratched-up, gouged hull.

Good place for a yak with character lines (Photo courtesy Jim Synder)
Once through the door, it's another world 
After we ducked through the narrow "door," a whole new world  opened before us,  a seemingly endless series of twisting channels and backwater bays ringed by cattails.  Against this backdrop, it was strange to hear the growl of I-5 traffic, gradually replaced by chattering bird calls that reminded me of an old Tarzan movie soundtrack.  At first, the "jungle" was thick with blackberry bushes, heavy with ripe fruit but tantalizingly out of reach. Later on, we found plenty of berries to pick and eat.

The best thing about this particular trip was the realization that you can find some really cool places to paddle – if you’re willing to expand your notion of “access” to include pulling, pushing, lifting, and yes, exiting your boat to slosh on foot a bit. We joked about leeches made famous by that classic movie, “The African Queen.”

Dan (back to camera) helps guest through the "door"

This paddle also required a bit of patience when two dozen kayakers, one by one, squeezed through a channel better suited to muskrat or beaver traffic. But we made it just fine, and I was especially impressed by paddlers in some rather expensive boats who kept their sense of humor when they encountered the occasional bumpy rock or log.  Good “back door” guests, one and all!

Paddler-blogger waits for "door jam" to clear (Photo courtesy of Farley Cross)
(NorCal Yak tips its cap again to photographers Jim Snyder and Farley Cross. Link to Jim's photo album. Farley's photos may be seen by friends on her Facebook page.)